Chicago is known for churning out an eclectic blend of musical styles. From the city’s early love of the blues, soul, gospel and jazz, to the birth of house music, to the uprising thrust of industrial, alt rock, sludgy doom metal, et al, the Windy City has graciously hosted a plethora of genres.
The musical potpourri of local band Czar (featuring former members of electronic/industrial bands Acumen Nation and DJ? Acucrack) fits right in, too. The trio’s second full-length album, No One Is Alone If No One Is Alive, was independently released on its own Cracknation Records last year and has received just praise for its innovative approach. Vocalist/guitarist Jason Novak, guitarist Brian Elza and drummer Dan Brill took turns firing off clever quips about the band’s latest album title, their own record label and their “eureka” moment.
Mosh: No One Is Alone If No One Is Alive is a great title. What’s the meaning behind it and the cover art?
Jason: I guess like most of the darkest elements of our band, the title was kind of funny at first. We originally wanted to focus on the idea of the “Whorchard,”i.e. the dead bodies swinging from trees like fruit, but then Brian just repeated the chorus phrase from the track “Aortic Flower” and we were like, “Yes please, that.”
Mosh: Speaking of that, the album’s title actually appears as the chorus of an entirely different song.
Brian: Naming your album after its standout track is so old fashioned. In rock, it goes from the Beatles’ Please Please Me up through Behemoth’s The Satanist. We knew “Aortic Flower” would be “the single” but didn’t think that title represented the album as a whole. We also have really strong opinions, so we needed a “eureka” moment to coalesce around. When it came to “No One Is Alone If No One Is Alive,”it immediately struck me as a profound, simple, beautiful, and brutal lyric all at once. And since reviews seem to think our music goes in so many stylistic directions, I’m glad our title covers a lot of terrain; Nuclear annihilation? The rapture? Suicide pact? Dropping a toaster in the fish tank? It’s up to the listener (to decide).
Mosh: The record was released through your own Cracknation Records. What are the advantages and disadvantages of owning your own label?
Jason: The advantages are that you can retain complete control and 100 percent of the profits outside of distributor share. You can also know exactly what is being done for your record. Which many times with a label, you are always asking, bugging, wondering, bitching. The downside of course is no one externally is saying, “I believe in you so much (that) I am going to risk some money on getting you further and selling your album.” In today’s DIY digital age we have some advantages. But the tried and true model of a label still gets you more exposure and helps with things like booking agents and festivals.
Mosh: How would you compare NOIAINIA to your debut album Vertical Mass Grave?
Brian: They’re pretty consistent in terms of length, attitude, gear, naturalness (no clicks!), sequencing, and artwork. But we embraced the extremes of our sound more – the sludge, the shimmering parts, even classic galloping metal and hardcore. NOIAINOIA also sounds fatter to me where VMG sounds roomy. Another difference is that we didn’t have everything 100 percent written before heading in (to the studio). For VMG, we knew the story we wanted to tell. With NOIAINOIA, there was a sense of danger: songs we didn’t test live, unfinished parts, some technical hurdles. After mixing the new one, we were tickled pink to find that VMG and NOIAINOIA form a pretty damn imposing diptych of doom.
Mosh: It’s somewhat difficult for people to accurately pinpoint the band’s influences or classify you by genre. How would you classify yourselves and who are your influences?
Dan: We take pride in our inherent genre classification difficulty, but we do not strive for this. It’s just how it is with us. The fact that people are actually taking time to think about that in order to help us get out there is great. We’re comfortable with the metal tag and all of the bands we’ve been likened to. So may it continue. This drummer’s influences include all old-school Genesis, Yes, King Crimson, Steely Dan, Ministry, Slayer, RUN-DMC, A Tribe Called Quest, Chicago, Muddy Waters, Johnny Winter, Jimmy Chamberlin, Jane’s Addiction, John Coltrane, 90.0 FM WDCB, Mr. Bungle … My list is long and might not make sense, so I’ll end it there. What comes out when I sit down behind my kit is CZAR.
Mosh: NOIAINOIA seems like a natural progression from your debut.
Jason: It was literally just the next wave of songs that we began vomiting out. There was an interesting thing happening as we began stitching the songs together to make a record; in that it kind of sequenced itself as a companion piece to VMG. The opener, “Whorchard,”has a lot in common with the VMG opener, “Family Crest.” Both slam directly into fast-paced second tracks with half-time endings. Then there are the hyper-emotional, longer closing tracks on each album; ten songs. Black and white art. But we did stop and note several times that there was less King Crimson and more King Diamond from time to time. Definitely a more traditional “metal”album. Now we have to decide, is it part two of a trilogy, or will our next album become something completely different?
Mosh: NOIAINIA was again recorded with Matt Talbott and mixed by the band at Cracknation Studios. What was the recording experience like and what did you gain from it?
Brian: We spent a little more time (a whopping two full days!) down at Matt’s analog wonderland outside Champaign. Once again, we didn’t have the budget to mix with Matt, so we took the results home to Jason’s trusty TDM. When you track to tape and mix in digital, it means you have less temptation to edit away the indexical performances you laid down under the gun; less room to edit down to “the perfect album.”It’s a structure that works for Czar. So if our record is noisy or swings too much or sounds like people playing music, bully! Mission accomplished. More importantly, we respect Matt, his ear, his work ethic, and his sense of humor. He’s one of very few individuals who has a hand in our sound.
Mosh: Your Beatles cover of “I Want You (She’s So Heavy),” named “She’s So Heavy”on the album, is psychotically-wonderful. What drove you to perform it in this way?
Jason: Originally, I had been obsessed with just the ending as a blast-beat wank, maybe just live or in the middle of a song somewhere. Then Brian pieced together the rest of it, which at first Dan and I were very resistant to. Bit by bit we got into its sludge factor… but no damn vocals! Then we started playing it live and just hollered “She’s so… heavy”at the end. A year later, we recorded it just as we had been playing it live, and at the last second I kind of said, “F*** it,”and laid the rest of the song’s vocals down. I think I had always been nervous to A) sing a Beatles song and B) sing such actual syrup as the verse-lyrics appeared to be. But it finally made sense and now the whole thing seems really natural. A lot of thought went into it, because, come on… it’s a Beatles cover, which I think puts a target on your back from the start.
MOSH-WORTHY: Suicidal Angels Divide and Conquer (Napalm Records), Iced Earth Plagues of Babylon (Century Media), Hatriot Dawn Of The New Centurion (Massacre Records), Savage Messiah The Fateful Dark (Century Media), Hirax Immortal Legacy (Steamhammer/SPV).
MOSH-WORTHY…LIVE: Behemoth, Goatwhore, 1349, Inquisition (House Of Blues, 03/01), Lord Dying (Empty Bottle, 03/03), Children Of Bodom (House Of Blues, 03/25)
MENTION-WORTHY: Local instrumetal band Zaius have released a three-song EP, Divided By Tides. Check out its lush textures and upbeat cosmic atmospheres at zaius.bandcamp.com. Drum legend Carmine Appice (Vanilla Fudge, Rod Stewart, Ted Nugent, Ozzy Osbourne et al) is putting the finishing touches on his highly-anticipated autobiography, due for a 2014 Fall release.
– Kelley Simms