Pauze Festival: Sword Heaven
Ohio seems to be fertile experimental ground these days. The ground that spawned bands as diverse as Pere Ubu, Ohio Players and Bone Thugs N Harmony now feeds off that creative energy by unleashing a stream of bands with a passion for experiment. Among those underground dwellers there’s a band called Sword Heaven. Two guys, Aaron Hibbs and Mark Van Fleet, banging on sheet metal, pounding on drums, contact mics in attack mode and volume way up higher than is healthy, causing a deafening ruckus amongst the United States’ underground touring circuit. Seeing how they pull this dirging noise off live has to be the ultimate experience for oldtime Swans fan looking for an extremer fix. Last year’s debut full length “Entrance” which came out on Load, condenses much of that power on a tiny disc but people everywhere talk about live is where it’s at with this band. Touring with Skinny Puppy, also last year, might have damaged more ears than they ever could imagine.
It was great. I mean, we played the place that I saw my very first concert (Nine Inch Nails at the Agora Theatre, Cleveland 1994)! The first concert my wife ever saw was Skinny Puppy (in 1992)! I mean, how could that not rule? It kind of still makes almost no sense.
We did learn a few things. We got a small taste of what it is like to tour if you are a band like Skinny Puppy, in terms of amenities, but also in terms of professionalism. I'd say the main thing we learned is that if you are going to play a room that big, it is imperative to get a good
soundcheck. Because we always travel with our own PA, we usually don't worry about
soundchecks, but in rooms like that, your PA doesn't mean dick. We found out the hard way at the first gig with them in Chicago, where we blew out a tire en route, and got there with no time to really sound check. It sounded terrible. I think the next two nights we got it right though and it was awesome. Skinny Puppy was like my favorite band when I was 17 and they still ruled.
Is that even possible? In the alternate universe where it is possible, I will say yes, it would be awesome to be as "big" as Skinny Puppy. In the real world where we exist, I'd say I'm pretty happy to be in a band that is going to sleep on people's floors in Europe.
I used to go see Noumena, which was Aaron's "performance noise" thing
with Mike Shiflet and Chad Shepherd and was always blown away by Aaron's intensity. Mike and Chad also played with us in the early days of Sword Heaven, so in some ways Sword Heaven is a rock band extension of Noumena.
Noumena is still occasionally active as a solo thing for Aaron. I'd originally thought Aaron would make a great frontperson/vocalist type, but from the beginning he wanted to play drums and I think at our first practice, he hit them harder than I'd ever seen anyone hit drums, so who was I to argue?
We started with some shared influences that we agreed on from the beginning. Those were old industrial music, current noise and experimental things, and all forms of heavy rock music. We did start as a somewhat more song based thing I guess, but there has almost
always been a certain undefined quality. I don't think it's really improv, but the length of certain parts, and the overall lengths of songs vary from performance to performance. The overall structure and sonic palette (which electronics Aaron is using with a certain song, what
instruments I'm playing, what tapes, etc) doesn't really change. Mostly our songs are pretty repetitive so duration is usually the most "freeform" element.
Over the last few years, the beats that Aaron plays are more broken up as well. They sound more fucked up but are usually variations on an established pattern. I just try to follow him basically.
There is some. Again, I think you can look at it like the songs have a certain framework or boundaries, and what happens within that is not always clearly defined.
I think there is probably some tension, but generally, we work pretty well together, and have always agreed on what we like about the music we make. We have very similar taste, we're both the same age, and both grew up in the same general part of Ohio (Northeast), though we met in Columbus.
That said, we approach most things pretty differently. We both have certain strengths and I think we balance each other out in a lot of ways. Most of the sounds in our songs come from Aaron, and mostly what I do is act as some sort of editor, encouraging the use of certain sounds and structures (beats) or discouraging them, then I add a few more elements, and there you go. That's a Sword Heaven song.
Yes, 'Entrance' is the only full length album we've done, and because it is the most widely available release, we wanted it to be a coherent collection of material, and our best stuff. Different versions and recordings of most of the songs were available elsewhere on limited edition CD-Rs and vinyl and such. There were quite a few other songs that we recorded for it that didn't make the cut. Those will be released on smaller releases probably. Smaller edition things are usually live recordings, or demo or weird versions of songs, etc.
I like doing both, but I think it is possible to overdo releasing everything you've ever recorded just because someone wants to put something out. There are a handful of things that maybe we should have held back, but mostly I think our releases are solid.
I don't mind looking and searching.
Yes, somewhat. We do feel a connection with the US noise/ experimental underground. We are into that stuff, and have set up many shows for those kinds of bands. It's that community that has released most of our music. We don't fit in perfectly though as Sword Heaven is some kind of rock band, and I don't think most noise purists are that much into us.
I think we are somewhat related to our local rock music scene too in a similar way in that we don't fit in nicely, and yet are somewhat considered to be part of it. Lastly, I think we are connected a bit to some of the other bands on Load Records, and if I had to say the bands I think we're most similar to it would be some of those bands. Bands like Coughs, Air Conditioning or Sightings I guess, even though we are not really personally close with all of those bands.
This interview is conducted in conjunction with the upcoming PAUZE festival in The Netherlands & Belgium organized by (K-RAA-K), November 13-15. More information HERE.
-- Joris Heemskerk (29 October, 2008)