Doom From On High: An interview with Bong
The chief of the gods of Pegāna is Mana-Yood-Sushai, who created the other gods and then fell asleep; When he wakes, he will make again new gods and other worlds, and will destroy the gods whom he hath made.
After Mana-Yood-Sushai made the gods and Skarl, Skarl made a drum and began to beat on it in order to lull his creator to sleep; He keeps drumming eternally, for if he cease for an instant then Mana-Yood-Sushai will start awake, and there will be worlds nor gods no more.
Men may pray to all the gods but one; Only the gods themselves may pray to Mana-Yood-Sushai.
Interview by Owen Coggins with The Bone Reader
Photos by James Robinson
TBR: First things first: Can you tell us a bit about the personnel and how Bong first came together?
Bong: We started out as a “power trio” and added sitar and another guitar down the line.
TBR: Bong’s sound is obviously quite unique. Did you set out with a particular idea as to how the band was going to sound or did it come more as a result of experimentation?
Bong: It’s just how it ended up. We never really planned anything or pushed each other into a particular type of sound.
TBR: Most of your early recordings were done live and along with a strong “DIY” ethic. There are also references to a few of the places that Bong have ties to (eg. “Novum Castellum” and “In And Around Newcastle) What can you tell us about some of these places?
Bong: We played a lot of small gigs with other friends’ bands to a close-knit group of people. There are other bands in Newcastle such as Jazzfinger who have been inspirational for their strong DIY ethic.
TBR: “Under Byker Bridge” sounds like quite an intriguing place! What was the scene there?
Bong: It is probably less intriguing than it sounds… It is a small practice space in an industrial unit that we have played a few gigs in.
TBR: Were there or are there any other bands in the UK that you’ve had any sort of kinship with through the past several years? I turned on to Moss about the same time as Bong… have your paths ever crossed?
Bong: We have played many great gigs with Gnod from Manchester and always got on swimmingly. We have never played with Moss though I have known Olly since they started out. We’re not the most organised of bands and the geographical separation has rather worked against us.
TBR: The new record, Mana-Yood-Sushai is great: the signature Bong sound but even more atmospheric. Was there a particular aim for the album? Did you approach studio recording in the same way as your live recordings?
Bong: Yeah, it was much the same approach but with added processing after the recording. It was still all recorded live.
TBR: The album looks great too. How did the iconic cover art come about?
Bong: I played around with several different designs until we had a cover we could all agree on.
TBR: Have you studied Indian classical music/ragas, or did you just find that the instruments worked well with the kind of long, slow pieces you create?
Bong: We just happened to know someone who played the sitar (and afterwards the shahi baaja) so we thought we would give it a try.
TBR: Have you worked with many collaborators outside the core lineup of the band over years? Any particular names or stories worth mentioning? Is there anyone that you guys would like to collaborate with – either in eastern music or in the world of metal?
Bong: We have done various split releases over the years and have another one with Pyramidion from Glasgow in the works. I’m not sure how a collaboration would work, however.
TBR: Do you listen to much Indian music, and do you find what you’re listening to affecting how you’re playing Bong songs?
Bong: Only very occasionally and I don’t think it really has any effect on how we play.
TBR: Please tell us a bit about the particular kit that each band member uses. In addition to any of the amps and things that are used, particularly interested in the more exotic instruments – especially if there are any stories around them.
Bong: We play through whatever amps we can borrow, generally. The only exotic instrument is the Shahi Baaja. We ended up using it instead of a sitar as we had problems amplifying the sitar adequately.
TBR: When I first listened to Bong, it was kind of exactly how I expected Om to sound before I heard them. Have Sleep and Om been a big influence? What other metal feeds into the Bong sound?
Bong: Sleep were a big influence, along with Come My Fanatics era Electric Wizard. I’m not really a fan of Om at all; everything seems too clinical and soul-less.
TBR: How was playing with Acid Mothers Temple recently? Is the Bong set or sound affected by the other bands you’re playing with at a particular show?
Bong: Not really, we don’t tailor our sound based on the other acts. The sound is much more based on our moods at the time and how much of our equipment is working.
TBR: There’s a recording from the Samhain Festival in 2008. Do any of you partake in Samhain/Beltane festivities on a regular basis?
Bong: We have played on this date on several occasions but there is no religious side to it for us.
TBR: Along with Skullflower-type noise, and drone/doom, I often go to Japanese stuff like Mainliner, Fushitsusha, Les Rallizes Denudes, Hijokaidan for heavy noise. Has any of that been an influence for you?
Bong: Our guitarist is heavily influenced by these bands, probably more so than any other music.
TBR: Also relating to Sleep, Om, and all sorts of other bands who play in churches and quote esoteric mystical texts, religion seems to be a frequent theme for drone metal bands. Is this something you consciously incorporate (I’m thinking of the Live at Roadburn vinyl cover, and reviews which reference ritual and worship)? What is it about drone that brings out this mystical interest?
Bong: The Roadburn cover was a surprise, as we had planned on a much more fantastic cover. There is not really any religious theme in Bong, merely the shared sense of transcending.
TBR: Having said that, some bands go in for quoting the Bible or the Bhagavad-Gita, but Bong song titles are more likely to involve Krull or, especially, Lord Dunsany stories. How did you come across Lord Dunsany, and why is his universe such a good fit with Bong’s sound? I think it’s interesting that Bong and other drone, because it’s so slow and expansive, can sort of create other worlds in a similar way to sci-fi and weird fiction stories.
Bong: I am a huge fan of Dunsany’s stories and they just seemed to fit well with the sounds we were producing.
TBR: Other than the instruments you use, what are the other vital ingredients for a Bong sound? And what would be the ideal venue/setting for the perfect Bong show?
Bong: A small, dingy venue and a crowd who are willing to sit down and enjoy the music are the best ingredients. That said, playing in a forest would probably be the ideal setting…
TBR: What’s next for Bong?
Bong: We have a few releases planned and Yellowstock festival over in Belgium.
TBR: Thanks for your time, and for giving us some great heavy drone sounds!
Bong: Thank you for your interest in Bong.
Bong – Mana Yood Sushai is OUT NOW on Ritual Productions.
CLICK HERE to buy direct.
Interview by Owen Coggins with The Bone Reader
Photos by James Robinson – www.jwrobinson.co.uk