Interview: Snares Of Sixes
MoonBladder is the result of years of trial and error, trying to fit the wrong pieces into the wrong puzzle, until it just becomes right.
Snares Of Sixes is an epic project from Jason William Walton and have just released their latest piece of music entitled MoonBladder. A vast piece with a whole host of collaborators, this is an expansive and hypnotic listening experience with so much going on throughout its duration. Gavin Brown caught up with Jason to hear all about Snares Of Sixes, the creation of MoonBladder and the visuals that accompany it as well as his time as bassist of Agalloch and many other bands, his prolific musical output and his love for Lawnmower Deth.
E&D: Your new album MoonBladder is out now. How did the creation and recording process of the album go?
JWW: It was a long and laborious process, involving many people and many studios, all around the world. It actually started as a cover of Rush’s ‘Red Barchetta’. I had this misguided idea of creating a doom metal piece out of that song. I had found a MIDI file of the entire song, and slowed it down to about 25 minutes just to see what it sounded like. I assigned it a ton of weird synths and it sounded odd and uncomfortable. I thought after a lot of work, this might be fun to put on Bandcamp or something, but then the more I worked on it, the more I knew I didn’t want to waste my time on a cover when I could be making new original music. So, we kept building on this framework of ‘Red Barchetta’ for a few years, until we had MoonBladder. In the end the original MIDI file is only audible in one tiny section, the rest had been muted or deleted. I find it fascinating when the foundation for the song is almost completely gone, all that remains are the layers on top. The final product includes all this plus a couple of live sessions I recorded with various members, and even a small bit from the Sculptured’s The Liminal Phase drum sessions.
E&D: MoonBladder is one long track with plenty of vibrancy and variety throughout. What was your inspiration between making it?
JWW: I tend to compose like a painter, especially in a circumstance like this. I ask musicians to be like paint on a pallet, and I use them and their work like different colors and textures on the piece. MoonBladder is the result of years of trial and error, trying to fit the wrong pieces into the wrong puzzle, until it just becomes right. I rely on ‘happy accidents’ and chance often, but am meticulous with my sound. So, in the beginning it was more about crafting music that works together, but as the song evolved I was thinking a lot about our Moon, and how we as humans have such a strong relationship with it, and the sun. These celestial bodies dictate things in our life, and are ever-present, but I think we underestimate their impact on us.
E&D: What is the significance behind the title of the album?
JWW: The title is simply a way for me to anthropomorphize the Moon. What if the Moon had internal organs and body parts? Would we connect with it more? What if it was alive? What if it could speak to us? Silly questions and thoughts really, but I am always dreaming of something that would shake humans to our core, and make us question everything we know. What if we discovered that the Moon was once a living creature, and what we see now is just a heavenly corpse floating in our sky? What would happen if we proved without doubt that Dinosaurs did not exist? Imagine how that would change us, and our thoughts. Proving or disproving the existence of God? Massive.These are things that occupy my thoughts and also informed this album.
E&D: There are many guest collaborators on MoonBladder including Marius Sjøli (Sculptured, Fauna Timbre), Robert Hunter (Occulted Sound), Martti Hill (Barrowlands, Sculptured), Don Anderson (Agalloch, Sculptured), Toby Driver (Kayo Dot, Asva), Ron Varod (Kayo Dot, Psalm Zero), Ramin Hosseinabad, Lauren Viera, (Dreadnought), Andy Winter (Winds, Age Of Silence), and Nick Wusz (Dolven). How was it working with these artists and what did they bring to the sound of MoonBladder?
JWW: I hate the term “guest” in this context. Even if they are just on this record, and not on any other Snares of Sixes records, they are still members, even if for only this one album. Everyone I ask to be a part of Snares, is someone who I love as an artist, and as a friend. They have to be ok with me editing their work, and even often rejecting it. Again, it is a trial and error process all in service to the song. I have to work with people that I can trust musically, and personally, and know they aren’t going to get their feelings hurt or let their ego get in the way of the song. The fascinating thing about composing in this way, is that even the smallest contribution has ripple effects and informs and changes other people’s parts throughout the song. Just like Rush’s MIDI file I mentioned earlier, without that MIDI file, there would be no MoonBladder even though you only hear about a second of that file on the finished album. It is all about letting the pieces emerge and influence the other portions of the song.
E&D: You also have the UK’s Pete Lee from Lawnmower Deth, who are a great band. How did you hook up with him and what did he bring to MoonBladder?
JWW: This is one of my favorite, if not my favorite, stories in my career in music. I grew up being obsessed with Lawnmower Deth. I loved their albums so much, they were almost on a constant repeat. I painted their logo on my jacket and incessantly bugged my friends with their music. Growing up in rural Montana, England seemed completely out of reach. I never imagined I would ever see a band like Lawnmower Deth, or visit a place like England, let alone meet the members. Fast forward to around 2014, about 20 years later, and I am touring in Trondheim, Norway with Agalloch. I met Alan Pirie who is our handler at the venue. Backstage he takes off his shirt and he has this massive, glorious, Cob tattoo! I couldn’t believe it. It turns out he is friends with Lawnmower and does their art as well. Alan ended up introducing me to the band via Facebook and we all became friends. In 2016 Lawnmower Deth and Agalloch both played Bloodstock in the UK, and I finally got to meet the band. They also had me on stage as their sheep for the song ‘Sheep Dip’ and I absolutely couldn’t believe it. The fact I was on stage with this band, in England, still blows my mind to this day, and I really wish I could tell a 15 year old me that this would happen just to see the look on my face. Since then, we’ve all been friends and Pete has been on both Snares albums so far. Pete’s contribution to MoonBladder is barely audible. I challenge anyone to pick it out, but it is there. He is reciting the lyrics to ‘Red Barchetta’ in various places throughout the album. By the way, even though I have mentioned Rush many times so far in this interview, I don’t really even like the band save for a few songs.
E&D: Are you a fan of Lawnmower Deth and British thrash metal?
JWW: I love Lawnmower Deth, but I honestly can’t think of another British thrash metal band I like. I love British grindcore, and death metal, but thrash, I really can’t think of any others I like.
E&D: You have done a stunning video for the entire piece. Can you tell us all about that and how the making of it went?
JWW: My old friend Dave Brenner offered to do it. I was excited to work with him because I feel like his particular style works really well with the moods and concepts I was trying to capture with the album. We approached it much like the album itself. Dave, some members of the band, my friend Cody Keto, and I all shot different pieces and scenes. Dave juggled it all, and assembled it into the finished product. There are various scenes shot throughout the West Coast and the East Coast, as well as Norway. There are some scenes capturing different members playing sections of the songs as well as showing various gear and effects that were used. Like the music, each scene captures a bit of the member’s personality and environment.
E&D: Do you feel that there is a big visual aspect to the music of Snares Of Sixes?
JWW: Actually, no. I am not very visual when it comes to music. That’s why I get people like Dave Brenner to do the video, and Bridget Bellavia to paint the cover art, and Marius to do my graphic design. I know what I like, but I have a very hard time explaining what that is so I need to work with people that share common goals and interests to help me flush out the visual aspect to my work. I take the artwork very seriously, and it has to complement and work with the music, but it is a struggle for me.
E&D: What are some of your most inspiring works of visual representations of music?
JWW: That’s tough for me. I typically really do not care about music videos, it has to be really something special and unique to catch my eye. My favorite films are usually very slow, and often nonsensical. I appreciate visual art that is challenging, provocative and confounding. At the moment the only visual art that represents music that I can think of that I enjoy, are the music videos of Clipping. Their videos are smart, engaging and innovative and match with the music perfectly. Outside of that, I have a hard time nailing anything down. I really enjoy the work of Dave Brenner and Gretchen Heinel, both of them I have worked with, and they always turn in top notch and smart videos, but on the whole, music videos are not something I usually pay attention to.
E&D: What has the reaction to your new music been like so far?
JWW: The reaction to MoonBladder has been overwhelmingly positive. Shockingly so, actually. It’s an odd album. It makes people who don’t like noise, listen to a lot of noise without them even realizing it. A lot of people just want me to play bass in a metal band, but this is a huge part of my identity and I am very proud of this record. As of this interview, the album isn’t out yet, but so far the few people that have heard it have seemed to really enjoy it.
E&D: Have you had any through us about any new music for Snares Of Sixes?
JWW: I am currently writing a companion piece to MoonBladder. Well, that’s what I think it is right now, but that could easily change. So far I have three songs, or maybe sections, underway. At this point it is really hard to say what this will end up being like, but yes, I am working on new Snares material and with a few new members as well.
E&D: How did Snares Of Sixes start as a band?
JWW: I have a really bad habit of having too many projects, but yet writing with a certain band in mind. Which, for me, is ludicrous. Many years ago, I started writing an Especially Likely Sloth record. By the time the album was done, I realized that this was not an Especially Likely Sloth album, and was in fact something new, hence the birth of Self Spiller. Later, I was writing for yet another Especially Likely Sloth album, but that turned into the debut Snares album Yeast Mother. Snares simply started as a home for the songs that were Yeast Mother once I knew that they were not Especially Likely Sloth or Self Spiller. Now my goal is to have all tracks that are composed in this fashion be Snares songs.
E&D: Do you look back on your time with Agalloch with fondness and what were some of the high points in your time with the band?
JWW: Of course. Agalloch was utterly life changing. I am very grateful I got to experience that, and most of all, make music with my best friends all over the world. It’s hard to pin-point the highlights, but a few are selling out The Great American Music Hall in San Francisco twice, performing alongside bands like Morbid Angel and Obituary, travelling and experiencing foreign cultures and meeting so many musicians I have grown up listening to.
E&D: You’ve also been in the bands Sculptured, Dolven, Celestiial, Especially Likely Sloth, Poisoning Wave, Self Spiller and Sleepchains amongst others. Do you have good memories of working in those projects?
JWW: Yes, undoubtedly. All of these bands are filled with close friends and stunning artists. I am lucky to be surrounded by so many great musicians and friends.
E&D: What other music are you working on at the moment that you can tell us about?
JWW: There is a lot. BMG records just released a new Sculptured album called The Liminal Phase. I am also demoing for a new band called DeathCollector with Andy Whale from Bolt Thrower and some other amazing musicians. I’m working on full length records for Sleepchains as well as Poisoning Wave, there is a new Dolven album due out this year, and I have a few other projects that I can’t really speak of yet.
E&D: Who are your biggest influences as a musician?
JWW: It’s easy for me to say that my biggest influences are people I looked up to as a kid, or someone whose playing I admire a lot in one of my favorite bands, but really, the people that inspire me the most as an artist are the people I work with musically. The people who inspire me to play better, to write better, to re-think my ideas and to look at them from a different angle. Discussing the creative process, and creating art with other people is the most inspiring thing to me. Attending a concert, or having lunch with a co-creator is much more inspiring to me than watching a band perform. In that regard my relationships with people such as Don Anderson, John Haughm, Aesop Dekker, Scot Jenerik, Marius Sjoli, and Robert Hunter have been invaluable to me as an artist and as a person.
E&D: You did a cover of ‘Woman Of Dark Desires’ by Bathory earlier in the year with members of Bolt Thrower, Memoriam, Abadfon Incarnate, Zealot Cult and Darkened. How was that experience and would you do something like that again?
JWW: It was a lot of fun. Andy Whale just asked me if I wanted to mix it, and add keys. Of course I couldn’t turn that down! I would definitely do it again, especially with those guys, they are the best!
E&D: With such a prolific output of music, how do you for on all you do?
JWW: Well, I have been making music since about 1991, with very few gaps where I wasn’t creating some kind of sound. I make it a priority. It always has been, and it always will be. I love it, it is who I am. I’ve made demos on 4-tracks in a shitty apartment in Minneapolis, I’ve made albums in high-end studios, I wrote my bass lines for Agalloch’s Ashes Against the Grain with my first born infant daughter on my lap, I will always be creating for better or for worse. It’s a journey. I am always searching, always trying to achieve a certain sound, and yet, I hope I never find it, for if I do, I will have no reason to continue.
E&D: Is there any form of music that you haven’t yet done but would love to record?
JWW: Great question! Yes! Of course! I’d love to make any style of music that I haven’t thought of, or heard, yet.
E&D: What have been some of the highlights of your musical career so far?
JWW: There have been a lot, but I will list a few. Befriending Martin Van Drunen of Ashpyx was amazing, and starting a band with Andy Whale of Bolt Thrower, playing Roadburn as direct support for Voivod, Killing Joke, and Ulver. Being onstage with Lawnmower Deth was huge for me, oh, and hanging with Necrobutcher of Mayhem at our show in Oslo and then watching Fenriz of Darkthrone DJ at a nearby club. Of course meeting the fans and people involved all over the world, visiting amazing places like Israel and Romania, forging lifelong friendships and bonds with fans and crew, all the while being able to experience all of this with my best friends. I’ve been very fortunate.