Monday, 27 January 2020

Agvirre - Interview + Slience EP Review (Trepanation Recordings/Surviving Sounds)

(Photo Credit: Christian Manthey Photography)

In 2019, I embarked on an interview series called Mental Health In Music: A Musician's Perspective. I have no idea about the impact of that set of interviews; however small, until Frenchie from Manchester's post-metal band Agvirre wrote to me and expressed his thanks for doing it. We talked and that talking turned into an interview about the band's new EP and also about the themes around mental health, which have been woven into Agvirre's music. Below is that interview, along with a review of Silence, which was officially released last Friday. Please read on and I hope that you can get something from it, just as I did.

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TNIO: Please can you talk about how Agvirre formed and who is in the band?

Frenchie: Agvirre kind of came to me in April 2018. I was going through one of the scariest bouts of depression I had ever experienced. I'd been making and performing noisy industrial and electronic music under the name Hexagon Trail for a couple of years and I'd started to lose my tether with it, and ultimately packed it in after a show supporting GosT in the same month. It felt like everything was falling apart at this time and I was being swallowed into an abyss, but I was very determined to not succumb to my depression and fought hard to keep my brain active. I distinctly remember feeling miserable and numb on my couch, staring at my dusty electric guitar which I had barely touched in the last two years because I had been playing synths instead. I decided to plug it in and the basis of the songs that make up the Silence EP came pouring out of me very quickly. They came together faster than I'd ever written songs before and in a weird way it felt like those songs had already existed somewhere inside of me and were just begging to be poured out. It's safe to say that Agvirre really helped to lift me out of my depression and in return I've poured my heart, soul and energy into it ever since.

I went to see my good friend Ricardo who I'd already made music with over the years and played him these songs and he felt that they had potential, so throughout 2018 we worked on making demos for them. We originally decided it would be a studio only project called Aguirre, The Wrath Of God, named after the 1973 Werner Herzog movie, but it proved to be a bit of a mouthful to say out loud so we shortened it. Somewhere along the line, we felt that we were really proud of how these demos were sounding and that they deserved to have proper studio recordings and also be performed live.

Later on we found our lovely and wonderfully talented violinist and vocalist Robin by reaching out online. When we first spoke she was a Jersey girl living in Germany, but happened to be moving to Manchester soon. The first day we met, I took her to a Deafheaven concert where we went back-stage and interviewed drummer Dan Tracy. We hit it off and she agreed to help us out. From the start we wanted to work with another good friend known in the local scene as Badger. He is the go-to extreme metal drummer 'round these parts and was already playing in about four or five bands at the time so we were scared to even ask him, but luckily he ended up coming to us and said he wanted to get involved and was looking for a new challenge. We're still fine tuning our live line-up right now so who knows we might see more performers joining our ranks in the future!

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You’re about to release your first EP (Silence on 24th January). How does it feel to be releasing it and what was the writing process you all went through to create it?

We're all incredibly excited about it. It's been a long hard road. We all perform in other bands and have jobs and busy personal lives, so things have come together slowly, but we feel that it has been worth the wait. We said from the start that we wanted to have a finished record to release to people before we ever performed live and we've stuck with that. We're incredibly happy that two wonderful DIY labels have got behind us, with Trepanation Recordings releasing the CD and Surviving Sounds releasing the cassette tape, and their very first release no less. Dan and David respectively have been very patient, very hands on and have worked really hard with us, as well as being super passionate about what we do from the first time they heard us. We really hope other people get into our strange music and connect with the themes that Silence expresses.

As for the writing process, I guess it's a bit strange. We aren't at all a jam band and nothing is written in the rehearsal room. Both me and Ricardo will write our own songs at home, play them to each other and then add our own little insights and fine tune them. If we think it sounds great, then we will work on recording demos together, and once that is done we'll pass them down to the other band members so that they can inject their own magic. Even when we came into the studio, there were parts that ended up growing and changing right at the last minute, which keeps things exciting.

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I originally wanted to interview you as part of my “Mental Health In Music” series and you mentioned that the topic was one of the main subjects that Agvirre covers. Can you expand on this and talk about how you’ve woven it into your music?

I was really drawn to the interviews you have hosted on This Noise Is Ours, and I would like to commend you for bravely taking on such an important subject. The reason the EP is called Silence is because I feel like this word in particular has been following me and haunting me for a few years now. Agvirre wouldn't exist if I hadn't have fallen into a deep and dark depression, so I knew from day one that this is what our lyrical themes would be about. Being a diagnosed sufferer of mental illnesses, it's something I have to live with and think about every day, so I very much wanted Agvirre to talk about real, every day, down to earth things. It's been a very, very cathartic journey for me and I feel like the intensity of our sound and our performances reflects this. It's a safe place where I can pour my heart out and we also want to connect with other people through our music.

Silence can be a killer for those struggling with anxiety, stress, depression and suicidal thoughts and it is even more prominent in males who feel like they cannot talk about their deepest, darkest feelings of sadness and fear. We live in an overly masculine world where society can look down on men who express their deepest emotions. Of course this doesn't just affect men, but a lot of people feel like they can't truly express their darkest feelings for many reasons. It could be out of fear of becoming vulnerable around their friends and family, or perhaps not wanting to burden others, or even the fear of looking like a "woe is me" kind of attention seeker. But in reality, the worst thing a person can do is bottle up their feelings, because that shit can end up devouring you from the inside out. This was very much the lyrical basis for our song 'Muzzle & Mask'; it's about how people might feel awful inside and overwhelmed by these negative feelings, yet still they feel this need to put on a fake smile in order to face their friends, family and colleagues and try and cover up what is really going on. The suicides of Chris Cornell, Robin Williams and Chester Bennington really, really shocked and affected me. Nobody really knew about the internal turmoil that these men were facing, and we knew there had to be a change in the way society perceives mental illness to stop deaths like these happening further. The message hit home even harder when a dear friend and local scene legend, Eytan took his own life. Our record is dedicated to all four of these men.

We think of Agvirre as a collective and because our songs talk about the experiences and struggles of living with mental illness, we chose to reach out to other people who are struggling. Because I work as a music journalist, I really wanted to find a way to incorporate my experiences of journalism into our music, so I held interviews with friends and asked them about their own experiences with mental illness. Some of these responses have been incorporated with permission into our teaser trailers and into key moments of the songs themselves, adding extra texture to the record.   

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You’ve played alongside and personally know some of the people who I featured in that interview series previously. How important do you think it is to keep talking about mental health, especially amongst the DIY and underground “scene”?

It's incredibly important that everyone who may be struggling feels like they should have someone to turn to and not keep their feelings locked inside. We need to lift this stigma that if people are talking about their pain, sadness and personal woes, they are in no way weak, they're not failures and they're not bad people. Talking openly about sadness, depression, mistakes, regrets, anxiety and negative feelings in general is one of the strongest and most empowering things a person can do, and this strength should not be dismissed or looked down upon by anyone.

I'm glad that there are meds, therapy and hotlines available to help people who may be struggling, but that is not enough. Even though we have those tools to help people out, there are still many people out there who are frightened to be vulnerable and feel like they can't open up about their struggles. It is so very important that we think about others as well. It's not good enough to just post up a status on Facebook with a suicide hotline number and then be able to go to bed and sleep soundly, we need to get active. People who are depressed or feeling suicidal have their own subtle ways at hinting about it, even if it is through humour or something as small as an Instagram post. It is important that we learn to recognise when other people may be struggling and reach out to them. It's not hard to just take a minute to check in on someone, ask how they are doing, maybe even send them a meme or crack a joke that will get them laughing or smiling. We've got to look out for each other and those little things can go a long way to helping out somebody in need, but we also need to know how to look after ourselves. It may sound cliche, but it really is okay to not be okay.

Once again I think the interviews you have conducted have been phenomenal and it is great to see that more musicians are opening up about their own experiences with mental illness. In particular I was really drawn to your interviews with Paul Priest and Andy Curtis-Brignell. I joined Paul on tour last year when Hundred Year Old Man asked me to fill in playing synths across Europe. It was a mind-blowing experience because I'd been a total fanboy of HYOM for a couple of years and befriended the band, so to play in a band I adored so much was a dream come true. Paul is someone whose reputation I'd known about long before I'd actually met him as he has played in more bands than anyone I've ever known! His dedication to music is unparallelled and he is a total legend in the UK underground heavy scene. We got on really well on the tour and he is a very gentle and humble guy. We bonded as we were the only vegans in the van, so it was great to have a buddy to help me stay on track travelling across nine different countries! As for Andy, I used to live on the same road as him in Salford, and I've been a fan of Caina for quite a few years and even supported him a couple of times. Caina was one of the first bands I'd ever heard described as "post-black metal" and he is so fearless and has bravely opened up about his own experiences and struggles with mental illness in both his art and in the public eye, so he is a very inspiring person and another local legend. 

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While writing these questions, I was listening to 'Muzzle & Mask', which is currently available to stream via your Bandcamp page. It struck me that there is much more to Agvirre’s music than just post-black metal. Can you talk about what influences your sound and about what other instruments/effects you use in it, besides the usual guitar, bass, drums and vocals?

The common thread that links all of us in Agvirre is that we aren't really full blown metalheads as such. Most of us do really love metal of course, and have played in other metal bands, but we love so many other music genres too and it was important that Agvirre's music reflected this. Both me and Ricardo have made electronic music in the past so we knew that we wanted to incorporate synths and electronic elements into Agvirre. I've always had a fetish for rock and metal bands that incorporate non-rock instruments in interesting ways too, which comes from my love of Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Maudlin Of The Well and Kayo Dot, so I began looking for string players and discovered Robin, who comes from more of a folky background. We don't think of Agvirre as strictly "a metal band", but we knew from the start that our music would be heavy, intense and chaotic. I feel like in the future, non-metal genres will play an even greater role in our sound. 

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Once Silence has been released, what are your plans for the rest of 2020?

We're playing things by ear really, but what we can confirm is that we have been back to Noiseboy Studios to record a new song that we hope to release later in the year. We are already very much thinking about our debut full length album, with enough songs already written, and we have already started demoing them.

Our first live performance will be in support of OHHMS and Hundred Year Old Man in Manchester on March 7th and we want to travel further afield, so if you like what you hear and would like to see us play your town, please get in touch!

We have other big plans in the works too but for now, we really hope everyone connects with Silence.

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Labels: Trepanation Recordings/Surviving Sounds
Formats: CD/Tape/Digital
Release Date: 24 Jan 2020

Tracklist:

1.  Radio Silence (Fill In The ______)
2. Muzzle & Mask
3. Abandonment

Having read through Frenchie's interview answers and felt really moved by the honesty and candour presented, it feels like I'm not going to do this EP justice. It's was officially released last Friday and it marks a big step in the band's progression. Having previously only released a couple of single tracks, including an edited version of 'Muzzler & Mask'. Silence has been released on CD via Trepanation Recordings and on tape via Surviving Sounds (as well as digitally via Agvirre themselves). 

I don’t think people realise how much of a help music can be sometimes. It’s no substitute for talking but it’s always there when you need it. EP opener ‘Radio Silence (Fill In The ______)’ is very much a harrowing intro, taking from the band’s history of noise and injecting it with similarly stark voice samples and haunting violin.

‘Muzzle & Mask’ is where Agvirre’s post-black metal begins to show itself and while the band doesn’t want to be confined to that sub-genre, it easy to hear why it’s been described as being part of their sound. The violin played by Robin is effective in adding a calming edge to the music, while the percussion performed by Badger nestles neatly in the background, allowing the rest of the instrumentation and vocals to take more of a central stage. Musically, there are comparisons I could make here but that would be entirely missing the point of Agvirre’s music. The clean, choral vocals that adorn the song are scary and sobering, but even more so are the samples that Frenchie talked about in the interview above. The various movements of the song that are formed by heavy black metal, soothing instrumental passage and an intelligent mix of both of those, turn it into a journey and one that brings a whole host of emotions to bare.

Following ‘Muzzle & Mask” was going to be a hard task indeed but with 'Abandonment’, which also stretches past the twelve-minute barrier, Agvirre once again uses countless layers and textures to bring their sound and their message to life. It proves that it’s not always the heaviest, most aggressive music that hits home the hardest. Sometimes, it’s the more subtle and melodic music that reaches you. That’s definitely the case here. As the previous song was born of a place more angry and violent, ‘Abandonment’ feels more positive and homely. It’s amazing how all of the music contained on Silence can make you think, yet by the end it leaves you not with dark thoughts but with bright and happy ones. That’s really all we can ask for in life. 

You can stream and purchase Silence digitally below:-




Physical CD and Tape versions can be purchased from the links below:-

All that's left if for me to say a massive thank you to Frenchie for taking the time to answer my questions and being so gracious. Also, thank you to everybody who reads this. 

Also, if you want to speak to somebody, know someone else who does or just want to donate, please go to either of the below links:-

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