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  • Interview: Isis

    Fri, 10 Apr 2009 07:31:53

    Interview: Isis - Isis frontman Aaron Turner talks <i>Wavering Radiant</i>, maintaining mystery and Wu-Tang Clan in this exclusive interview...

    "Progressive" is a term that's too loosely thrown around. It's often tagged onto anything that's got an odd time signature or a long, drawn-out guitar solo, but every once in a while something truly genre busting does come along worthy of that "progressive," or even "alternative," classification. Isis is unlike anything you've ever heard. From bellowing screams to serene psychedelic instrumental passages, if Led Zeppelin and Neurosis came together, you'd get Isis's new album, Wavering Radiant, which happens to be their best. Vocalist and guitarist Aaron Turner sat down with us in this exclusive interview to discuss Wavering and much more.

    Wavering Radiant feels like another natural evolution for Isis. How did you approach making it?

    I don't think the approach was entirely different from our process for any of our prior records. We started rehearsing after we finished touring for the last record, and we began putting together bits and pieces that we had lying around. It all grew from there. I think the major difference for us was that we spent more time writing this record. In the past, we often rushed to meet a recording deadline, and I think we felt somewhat inhibited by that, especially with the last two records. We wanted to leave Wavering more open-ended, and that's what we did. We made sure all of the record was entirely fleshed out before we set any recording dates. Having that extra amount of time allowed us to build the songs a bit more, spend more time demoing them and really fleshing them out to the fullest extent possible without overthinking it and losing all perspective.

    Did this record have a more solidified blueprint than other albums before you started recording?

    I think so. With each record we've done, we learned something. Especially with the last album, we learned that we shouldn't record anything until we're completely ready to record. While that might seem obvious, it took a while to fully see the extent to which that affected our ability to make the songs the best they could be.

    Would you say it's your most cohesive album?

    Yeah. It's interesting because I feel like these songs are our most diverse in terms of the overall sound and the dynamic shifts that occur in each song. I'd also say it's the most fluid and sort of symphonic. There's more interplay between the instruments, and there's a slightly larger degree of layering between the elements, and I think it gives it that orchestral feel. The way the record was arranged in terms of the song order gives it a somewhat narrative flow that's really interesting too. All of those things combined give it that natural, fluid feeling.

    Is there a certain place you were coming from thematically in terms of ideas?

    Yes, but it's not really something I'm willing to discuss. I don't feel like it's necessary to talk about. For me, I feel like it actually has a negative impact on the longevity of the record in terms of having to play it, perform it and think about it. In the past, whenever I've discussed the thematic elements, it hasn't really worked to our advantage. People have a tendency to focus on one narrow aspect of the overall concept or misinterpret it. Throughout the process of repeatedly explaining it, I end up losing my connection to it and interest in it. I'm sidestepping that this time around.

    Well, in many ways it's better to encourage people to keep coming back to your albums to find their own meanings.


    What was it like working with Tool's Adam Jones on a couple tracks?

    It was cool. Like anyone else we've collaborated with, we wanted to work with someone who would add his own musical personality to the parts they were contributing to but also who really understood our aesthetic and wouldn't detract from that. When we started discussing this with Adam, we felt comfortable that we knew where he was coming from, and he knew where we were coming from and that it would be a beneficial coupling in that sense. Adam is obviously a very singular guy in terms of his sound and the way he approaches things, but it's not completely removed from our aesthetic either. Tool has some pretty non-traditional song structures and a lot of instrumental passages. There's an interesting combination of melody and dissonance, so all of those parallels work out well. They did too. He was open to a dialog about what was going to happen too.

    Do you plan on playing this album from start-to-finish live?

    We'd like to do that eventually. I don't know that we'll do that on the initial tour to support the album. I think the songs are complex enough that some of them are going to require further rehearsal before they're really prepared for the live setting, so we're going to start with maybe four of the six songs from the record. Maybe a little later on after the album's been out for awhile, then we might try to do it from beginning to end. Obviously, it's intended to be a whole piece. The way it's put together, it would be nice to play the album in its entirety.

    You've mentioned you're a Wu-Tang Clan fan before, and your contribution to the rock world is similar to RZA's in terms of both having completely different perspectives.

    [Laughs] I would never draw that comparison, but it's a nice compliment. Thank you.

    —Rick Florino

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