Vision quest + An interview with Xozo

XOZO cover
Posted 13 August 2012   Interviews
It’s a known fact that “idle hands are the devil’s plaything”.  Hailing from Arnold, MD you’ve got to kill time before it kills you.  The guys from Xozo have been busy enough, but that sure as hell hasn’t kept them out of trouble!  The trio also shares two members with At The Graves who are widely acknowledged as killer band in their own right.

 

Where At The Graves veer more towards the vast possibilities of the abstract, Xozo is a much more visceral phenomenon.  The band’s debut LP, Farsight, is aggressive – maybe even somewhat caustic in places – but as the title suggests, it’s held together by a clear and unwavering sense of vision.Some might call their sound “progressive” but that’s almost a frighting thought considering that these guys are still so relatively young.  It’s downright scary to think of what these guys will be capable of more as time goes by. In any case, we sat down with Ben, Birry and Joe to see what the present holds.

 

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TBR:  So first things first:  What are the origins of the band’s name?  It’s pronounced “chozo”, right?

Ben:  Yeah, that’s right, but feel free to pronounce it however you’d like. We were originally going to call ourselves “chozo” but there were a lot of other bands with that name, so we added an x. I’m not sure why we did that at this point, but I guess it stuck, and it’s different, something we strive for. And yes, we are huge nerds; the Chozo are the mysterious bird-like race from Metroid.

TBR:  How did the band come together?

Ben:  Xozo evolved from this other band Joe and I were playing in circa 2008. I started writing some harsher, more intense stuff and decided it should be a new project. The original plan was for both Joe and me to play guitar in Xozo, but we had trouble finding committed drummers and bassists. For me the project was on the back burner for a while to both At the Graves and my then-main band Revolta. Eventually Billy listened to the demos of the songs we made (the eight song demo) and wanted to play bass. I said “fuck it” and just played drums so we could start playing shows.

TBR:  Word is that you guys are based out of Arnold, MD which seems to be somewhat off the beaten path.  What’s the scoop on local scene like there?  Any other cool bands in the area?   Has your environment shaped your sound in any way and if so, how?

Ben:  We’re based in Arnold because that’s where we can practice and record for free. There is no local scene here; the only bands here are the ones I’m in. We’ll probably relocate to Baltimore or Washington D.C. eventually; that’s where we play shows and interact with the scene. There are a lot of good bands in the Baltimore/D.C. area. Some of my favorites are Putrid Servant, Lady Piss, Bad Biology, Triac, Mind as Prison, Endless Bummer, Sky Burial, Heaviness of the Load, Multicult, Akris, Ilsa, Drugs of Faith, and surely a bunch more I’m forgetting.

Birry:  Ben pretty much covered a good share of some bands around here, but I’ll try my best.  I really dig Scum Again, Ecco, Moonshine, Necropsy, Marrow, Sinclair, not White Life…  uh…  Wargames are a pretty rad new band.  Voyage in Coma rule; so do Spoilage, Extermination Angel, Full of Hell & Jarhead Fertilizer, Musket Hawk, and Pansori.  Endless Bummer are my favorite though; I’m in love with all of those dudes.

Ben: I’d say all bands are influenced by their environment in some way, but it’s not always easy to discern how exactly. Arnold is a very green place (vegetation-wise), so perhaps our appreciation for nature shows in some of our lyrical themes. And obviously our personal environments have much to do with our sound. We’re a bunch of shy guys playing heavy music to release our demons.

TBR:  It’s hard not to have some discussion with a new band together and not talk at least a bit about their musical influences.  Rather than just going down the list of which bands who you guys like to listen to, tell us a bit about what it is about these bands that inspires you.

Ben:  Collectively, the band that’s inspired us most is Neurosis. Everything that band does, they do as if it was the last thing they ever did. That approach gives a weight to everything they do. I try to use that same approach in every band in which I’m a contributing member. Musically, we’re also inspired by the off-kilter drum attack of the Melvins, Greg Ginn’s angular riffing in Black Flag, Today is the Day’s penchant for noise, the dark intensity of His Hero is Gone and Tragedy, Dave Lombardo’s ungodly drumming in Slayer, Nirvana’s amalgation of pop and heaviness, and the melodies of the Georgia sludge scene in the last decade (Baroness, Mastodon, Kylesa).

TBR:  Some people may be aware that Xozo shares a few members with another band, At The Graves, which has also been very well received.  Were you guys very deliberate about the different kind of sound that you were going after with the two of bands or did the sound of each band just develop naturally?  

Ben:  I guess they developed their respective sounds naturally, but we don’t want them to sound too similar, otherwise there isn’t much point in having them both. There are some slower Xozo songs that we didn’t use because they are a little too similar to At the Graves. I write most of the music for both bands, and I think they tend to sound different because the guitar tunings are way different for each band. Also, each band has some creative boundaries: At the Graves can’t get too fast and Xozo probably won’t ever have clean singing.

In Xozo, Joe and I both play our “main” instruments (guitar and drums respectively). I’ve been a guitarist for almost as long as I’ve been a drummer, but I’m a lot better at drums, so I tend to play drums in bands a lot more than guitar. At the Graves is the band where I decided no matter what, I’m going to play guitar and sing. Joe wanted to learn how to play drums, so I taught him and he picked it up really quickly. This was around the same time At the Graves was down a drummer, so he joined. So that’s why we flip-flop instruments. I played some guitar on the Xozo recordings because I wrote a lot of the parts and it sounded good with both Joe and me playing. With Xozo live I only play drums and vocals, though.

Billy also plays guitar and drums. The result of all of us being multi-instrumentalists is we can be more critical of each element of the band and hopefully write better music.

TBR:  Both Farsight and Solar (At The Graves) sound fantastic and it’s my understanding that you recorded them both yourself. 

Ben:  Thank you! I recorded both albums in my basement/practice space. It’s a pretty big room which I’ve done a bit of acoustic treatment to, so it sounds pretty decent for recording. I’ve always been interested in recording music, and I’ve been recording my own and my friends’ bands for several years now.

My job used to be recording guitar cabinet samples for Red Wire Impulses (www.redwirez.com). It’s basically very accurate guitar cab emulation software. It was cool; Dave Mustaine and Dweezil Zappa even used them! People would torrent the files though, so eventually I couldn’t do it anymore. Anyway, I guess I know a thing or two about recording guitars. I didn’t use any samples on Solar or Farsight, though. It’s all amps, drums, and vocals as they sound in my room, for better or for worse.

TBR:  What were some of the lyrical ideas and themes that you dealt with?  Is the lyrical aspect of songwriting something that is important with Xozo or simply more of an abstract thing?

Ben: The lyrical aspect is very important to Xozo, even though the lyrics themselves come off as pretty abstract. We feel it’s important for a release to have a thematic flow. Farsight is really two releases; the A side (tracks 1-4) and the B side (5-10). The A side is our newer songs and the B side is our older ones. Likewise, they both have somewhat different lyrical themes. The general idea behind Farsight is seeing things differently, however that may apply to one’s situation. My approach to writing lyrics is to convey as much with each word as possible within the idea of the song, leaving the lyrics open to many interpretations.

Joe: When writing lyrics for the Farsight EP (side A) I already had the music as a reference to start thinking about vocal patterns for the songs.  I tend to try to make words fit with the music as best as I can and from there figure out a way to make it all work thematically.  As far as the lyrical themes go, I mainly used Ben’s “Lookback” lyrics as a base to build my own connections to what he was trying to convey in his own words.  “Regress” and “Resonance” are both meant to tie thematically to “Lookback” and consequently pull lyrical ideas from it as well.

Ben: “Lookback” has kind of an astronomical theme. It explores the concept of looking back in time as you look far into the distance. Then it pulls back and relates the concept to human relations.

TBR:  Likewise, I understand that Xozo bassist Billy Carnes did the album cover for Farsight.  It’s a great piece!  

Birry:  Aw, thanks.  Well, ya’ see, there…  This is a pretty weird piece to try to explain in a brief description, but basically there is a large rock formation located in Armenia that was created in replication of the constellation Cygnus.  From that you can probably decipher any deeper variation of its meaning that we had come up with.  As for other work goes I just like nature and Junji Ito and to procrastinate often so I don’t get very much done.

TBR:  Are you guys handling distribution yourselves as well?

Birry:  I mean as opposed to sending a lot out to random people who will like take 50+% of the profit to put it on a store shelves, yes.  Though, we are going to be in need of some help from our friends of course.  But I have a few distros lined up that will be helping us get this out there.  If anyone wants to distribute it though just feel free to email us!

TBR:  You guys have just come off a mini-tour with Mouth Of The Architect.  How did that come together?  Any harrowing tales of your adventures to share?

Birry: Well basically all I did was email their guitarist Steve, and they just happened to decide to start playing shows again earlier that day, so the timing worked out very well for us.  As for the tour Friday was pretty bust show-wise.  The space was cool and a good amount of people came out but my equipment shit-out after two songs and we started holding up MOTA’s set so then they only got to play for 30 minutes.  They played ‘Baobab’ and ‘A Beautiful Corpse’ with a couple new ones in between, which was fucking rad.

Saturday, we all went to New Jersey and waited for MOTA at a Chuck-e-Cheese, where we got pizza and I kicked a baby in the face while playing skeeball to hard and they realized their front tire was about to fall off.  So they went to get that fixed and we went to ABC No Rio to see Scum Again and this band Akkolyte (who fucking RULE!) and ate some oysters across the street.

The show at St Vitus was super rad on MOTA’s part, but my bass tone was still a little finicky for our songs.  Then we did some typical New York stuff and stayed up all night and I was all grumpy ’til we got back to Baltimore and watched the Dark Crystal paired with 50-chicken wings.  We played at Golden West, which was hands-down the best show of the tour.  Voyage in Coma killed, our sound was right, and MOTA just were spot-on as always.  Then I awkwardly said good bye to everyone and it was back to normal life.  Until I got fired from my job the next day.  Partiii!!!.

Ben: This was the best tour I’ve ever done; getting to play and hang out with one of my favorite bands was crazy. Even with all the technical difficulties and literally getting no sleep the entire weekend, it was a blast. I felt like I was going to die during our last set at the Golden West, though.

TBR:  Do you have aspirations to hit the road and tour more often or do you prefer to work in the studio and get the word out via recording?

Ben: Yes, we certainly want to tour more often; now that we have a full-length out it’s probably important to support it on the road. A band of our style and stature needs to get the word out through both our music releases and touring. I thoroughly enjoy both touring and writing/recording, but it’s hard to compare the two. Personally, I’m more comfortable with writing and recording since I have much more experience in those areas.

Birry: As far as all our bands go, this is my favorite to play live with.  So I really hope we get the chance to tour pretty soon.  Me and Ben’s other band dry clouds is touring in Dec/Jan so hopefully Xozo can do something else before that.  Ben pretty much has everything covered in the studio department so he can speak on all that stuffs.  I’d love to get to play some more shows with MOTA, and I really really wanna play in Canada.  I should ask Steve about a MOTA/Xozo Canadian tour…

TBR:  Final question:  What’s next for Xozo??

Ben: Well, we want to support Farsight as much as we can via touring, but we’re always working on new material and hopefully we’ll have a new release soon. We’re also working on some merch, namely patches and shirts, which should be available soon, most likely via our bandcamp. Thanks for doing this interview; we appreciate the thought put into your questions!

Birry: Basically what Ben said, I’m gonna make another attempt at printing all that stuff later this week and hopefully we can put together a 7″ or 10″ by the end of the year (though I really wanna do a split with someone…)  Great Depression Tour/Ben Edge Break 2012.

Thanks for the interview!

 

Xozo – Farsight is OUT NOW on digital and limited vinyl!

https://www.facebook.com/xozoband
http://xozo.bandcamp.com