Ether Coven – Sadness and AngerTuesday, 7th January 2020
Starting off things in a very poignant yet crushing way is that of Ether Coven. Their latest album, Everything is Temporary Except Suffering, will be coming out this Friday and ushers in the new decade with plenty of sorrow and rage. Piecing together elements from sludge to doom and death metal, alongside more atmospheric ‘post’ elements and even a tinge of hardcore, the band is gracefully all over the place in a sound that feels unique and gritty. We got guitarist/vocalist Peter Kowalsky to give us some further insight into the band’s lyrical and musical approach, the connections to Remembering Never, and what he is eager to see in metal as we enter the ‘20s.
Dead Rhetoric: I’ve seen some PR about Ether Coven being an offshoot of Remembering Never. Could you talk about the connection to that band?
Peter Kowalsky: Ether’s was on for a few years and then stopped for a few years while Remembering Never was out of commission altogether. When we started the band, Remembering Never was actually on tour with Devin [Estep]’s old band. Their band contained the original singer of Remembering Never. He’s an old childhood friend of mine, and I’ve known him for a million years. So was riding with them from a show from like Philly to West Viriginia or something, and we were geeking out about bands. We were talking about Crowbar, Eyehategod, and Acid Bath. We were joking around, because I wasn’t a guitar player per say – I had played for Remembering Never but that was just a bunch of chugs [laughs]. So we talked about starting a band like that. How many conversations have you heard that start out with “Oh, we should totally start a band like that,” but we actually did it.
So Remembering Never and Ether Coven exist today side by side. We did share the same drummer when we first started, and Devin is also in Remembering Never, as am I and that original drummer. I understand that RN is more celebrated by far, but it can only do what it does, which isn’t a whole lot because the other three dudes have families and are doing their thing. Ether Coven is able to get out more now on a regular scale, where I never know when RN is going to have to take a break again.
Dead Rhetoric: How do you describe the sound of Ether Coven?
Kowalsky: I don’t really know, we are all really inspired by different things. I write the majority of the lyrics and I’m inspired mostly by political issues and a bit of personal stuff – you can’t really disconnect the personal from the political from our lives, realistically speaking no matter how much we try to deny it. Musically we are all over the place. Devin is a huge death metal fan. I am too, but probably on a lesser scale than he is. As far as what I try to do for Ether Coven is, if the music doesn’t make me want to kill myself or punch someone in the face as hard as I can one million times, it gets thrown out. No matter what. Whatever the riff is, if it doesn’t move me in a direction, it gets thrown out.
I’m only really inspired by sadness and anger. Those are the only things throughout the course of the day. I try to find that perfect duality between the delicate soft stuff and the super aggressive stuff. So we try to balance things out. I write a good portion of the riffs, and I listen to all kinds of stuff. We have also been able to figure out how to make 13-minute songs feel like they are 5-minute songs.
Dead Rhetoric: That’s funny. I was actually going to ask about that.
Kowalsky: Did it feel like 13-minutes when you listened to it?
Dead Rhetoric: No, not at all.
Kowalsky: Somehow it doesn’t feel like that when we are playing it, and I’ve asked people how long they thought a song was. They say like 5-6 minutes, and I tell them that it was 13-minutes and they are like, “what?” If you listen to a 10-minute song and it feels like a chore to listen to it, [it’s no good]. So we figured out how to take something longer and make it seem like a short thing. Thus making our short songs sound like they are seconds long.
Dead Rhetoric: Was there some sort of secret to it?
Kowalsky: I think you just can’t have filler. No matter what. As a songwriter in my adult years, I’m realizing that so much music has filler in it that is just there to take up space. If you eliminate all the things that only serve the purpose of taking up space, everything goes by so much faster. It’s so much more impactful. It makes for a more significant and memorable song. So we try not to have any filler at all, whatsoever. We try to make music that we want to listen to, and most people don’t want to listen to filler, so we avoid that.
Dead Rhetoric: You mentioned that you do a lot of the lyrics and riffs. How much of a given song is yours, when you look at the final product?
Kowalsky: I would say I probably flesh most of it out – the beginning riffs. Then Devin writes some other stuff as well, but he comes through really heavy on pieces of music for harmonies. All of the haunting, disgusting sounding stuff that goes over, to create one large depressing sound – he is the one that enables that whole thing. I start most of the skeletons. I set it up and he knocks it down. For harmonies, he is always like “Do you want Crowbar or Morbid Angel?” and I pick one. He never ceases to amaze me with what he comes up with. He’s one of the best guitar players I have ever played with in my entire life. He’s been playing for a million years. I feel fortunate in that he takes this scraggly kid off the street that barely knows how to play guitar and is able to write and make some sense of his riffs. It’s awesome.
Dead Rhetoric: Could you go into some of those lyrical ideas that you have on the record?
Kowalsky: The first song [“This House Is a Tomb of Memories”] is about a dream I had when I was in Europe, on tour with my old band. I had a dream about my ex-wife, and it was not even a year after that I had this dream. I woke up and I was convulsing and crying – it lasted probably 20-minutes. It was a really strange thing. You are in a weird place where you haven’t been before, and to wake up hysterically crying in a strange place a million miles a way is a weird experience. If you read the lyrics, you can get a gist of the dream.
The second song is called “Flower Crown.” That one is about, basically womanhood lashing back at a male-dominated world. It’s about how the patriarchy has fucked up most of the world at this point. Just celebrating womanhood and people who identify as women – to celebrate them as people. To encourage their contributions to the world, and how they are not just seen as delicate flowers anymore. They are a huge component of the world that has as much, or more, significance than their male counterpart in the equation. It’s 2020 and people are still fascinated with shitting on womanhood – it’s like, you realize that’s a person right? No matter what they started out with at birth, or no matter what they identify as now, or how they groom themselves. That’s a person, first and foremost.
In this male-dominated world, you’ve encouraged these norms or you have given validity to them in some way that aren’t necessarily normal. Everyone has their own set of norms, and you shouldn’t encroach on other people’s norms if they aren’t hurting anybody. It’s just strange how people still find validity in a male-dominated world. We haven’t really gotten it right yet, and I don’t think we will until proper equality is a formal thing, and not just written on paper.
The third song [“As the Noose of the Ever Changing World Tightens Around Your Neck”] goes farther into that, moreso about our day to day norms, capitalism, and how it’s destroying the Earth. How the working man is the most exploited, and how the world is changing, and there’s no real stopping it at this point, because we’ve already gone from having something to having almost nothing. We are trying do use something from the ashes of what’s left to make some sort of better life for ourselves, all the while battling western ideals that we have been dealing with since the dawn of America.
The fourth song is called “Of Bitterness and Shame,” which is about how you have those people in your family that you just don’t get along with, and don’t want to associate with. It’s about understanding that those people, no matter what, if they are toxic to your life – to shed them away from you. People will say, “But oh, that’s your mother or sister or father” – it doesn’t matter if they are terrible people. If you stick around with them, you are not going to do well in the end if they have access to your world. It’s about putting up roadblocks, being okay with boundaries, especially familial ones. The family that you make is the one that you have around. The family that you are born into, you take the good parts, and you leave the bad parts – fuck everyone else because it doesn’t matter.
The next one is the acoustic track [“House of Strangers”] – it’s got the toy piano and accordion on there. Erik Rutan never recorded an accordion or toy piano before. It was great – it was the end of the last night of tracking and I was like, “Oh shoot, we forgot the toy piano!” Erik was like, “We aren’t going to fit that in there!” It was super late, and we were done with everything. Erik had some doubts about it sounding right, but I convinced him to let me hold it in my arms and play it. Erik said it sounded pretty good, so we ended up keeping it on there. So that song is about absolute and utter loneliness. That one kind of wrote itself. “When Quiet Fell” was written by Devin, which was about some personal issues. “Enjoy Life,” the 13-minute track, is all about veganism and animal exploitation.
Dead Rhetoric: What do you like about that sludgy guitar sound? You mentioned the influence of a band like Crowbar.
Kowalsky: Crowbar has been one of my favorite bands since day one. I don’t know if it was because I was never super-into solos or thrashy music – I like Slayer and death metal, but I was never super-into mid-paced to fast music. I like slower to mid-paced music that’s aggressive. Every sludge or doom band sounds so different from each other if you look through the years. There’s so much gray area in the genre. Giant, being my favorite band of the mixed sludge/doom/post and then Crowbar would be a second favorite. Clearly we are very inspired by Giant. They sound like Isis but sadder and it sounds more honest – not sure how to say that any better. They have a full-length, a song on a compilation, and a split. But it sounds like a sadder, more significant sounding Isis to me, when they were in their mid-years. Their arrangements are just fucking miserable. It’s so heavy, and everything is so drastic sounding. It doesn’t sound coerced, it doesn’t’ sound calculated, it just sounds raw and desperate. The arrangements and huge crescendos are the biggest parts for me.
Crowbar is huge for me because of the harmony. We do a lot of similar harmonies – Crowbar can pop song arrangements with this sludge-type sound and it sounds wonderful. Clearly we don’t try to emulate that since no pop song is 13-minutes long, but how groovy it is in the harmonies, and how crushing the riffs are. Clearly those came from Sabbath and The Melvins – the originators of the genre. All of that stuff is going to be in there no matter what. Everything else is kind of secondary. I listen to a lot across the board, so even hip hop stuff has an influence, as far as how the vocal placement goes. Another band that is big for me with vocal placement is Cursed. That dude does something wild with his patterns that is catchy and fun. As far as the genre goes, we just write what we write, and wherever it lands is cool because we can have some Sabbath stuff, some blastbeats, some stuff like Godspeed You Black Emperor!, and no one is the wiser.
Dead Rhetoric: Being in a number of bands over the years, what do you feel you’ve gained from the different experiences?
Kowalsky: I think you learn something in all of your experiences, which is a generic statement. But one thing I learned from Remembering Never when we toured nonstop is that it is okay to have boundaries. If someone doesn’t want to be there, they don’t have to be there. I’m not sure why I couldn’t have learned this earlier, but if I knew then what I know now, RN would have been in a much different boat early on. It’s important to know boundaries, and to see what will and won’t work long-term. I think I am applying that now. We have a solid group of people who want to be here and to do the thing. They want to create and thrive on creating. That’s all I can ask for in a band like this. It’s important to be around people who you want to be around, not just because you have to be. That’s something we have really learned this year. That’s probably the most important lesson we’ve learned.
Another one, if I wanted to be successful, is to not put politics in the music. But coming from a hardcore background, I can’t really not do that. Yeah sure, we could sell a bunch of records if I talked about wizards and weed and whatnot, but I’m not going to do it ever [laughs].
Dead Rhetoric: What would you like to see in the metal/hardcore scene as we enter a new decade?
Kowalsky: I would like to see more representation of everyone. Of people that listen to metal and hardcore and everything in between. It’s awesome for a band like Hirs, who have trans members. Chelsea Wolfe is a big deal now, and she’s always been awesome. She plays in metalfests and whatnot. Thou has a pretty mixed band as far as not just being strickly white cis-men. Our friends in Sunrot, they are all over the place. I just want to see more representation of everyone that should be represented – it’s empowering to see someone that looks like you on the stage. We’ve seen what devastation can happen without representation.
Dead Rhetoric: What is planned for 2020, outside the release of the album?
Kowalsky: We will be touring early, we are doing 32 shows in 32 days. No days off. In the dead of winter. The one day we had off we picked up a show in Louisville because it’s a Monday and they have Metal Monday and it’s always amazing. We are writing, and we will see what else is going on. We are waiting to see back about a couple of tours as well. In the meantime, we will be writing and booking some shows here and there. We are working on a record swap down in South Florida, which will be like a food drive as well. We may do a clothing drive for women in distress and have bands play – have vegan food and have band play and distribute some food.