FeaturesAmiensus – Friendly Convocations

Amiensus – Friendly Convocations

With three full-lengths now under their belt, as well as ten years together as a band, Amiensus have been slowly making headway into greener pastures. The folk/black/death/etc sound that they have been able to capture is one that often evokes wonder and awe, even at its heaviest moments. The band has also been careful not to retread their footsteps along the way, always reaching towards growth and evolution in some manner. The recently released Abreaction stands tall for its ability to move the band back towards their established sound (following the mostly blackened All Paths Lead to Death EP) while continuing to leap ahead. We took the opportunity to speak with guitarist/vocalist James Benson to get his thoughts on all of these topics, as well as some future goals, split releases, and his work across a number of bands.

Dead Rhetoric: Amiensus is usually changing some things around with each release. What stands out to you about Abreaction?

James Benson: There were two major changes. Since our last full-length, there have been a lot of line-up changes. Three of us are still in the band that were a part of writing Ascension. Myself, Todd [Farnham], and Alec [Rozsa] are still here but we added Kelsey [Roe] in 2018, and Chris [Piette] in 2016. The difference is that back in 2015 we started playing live. That changed the dynamic of our band a lot. We didn’t even attempt to make any songs that were feasible to play. Usually there was like 5-7 of us in the band from the start. We’d have 80 to 120 track songs where there would be 16 midi instruments playing. It’s fun, and I don’t mind doing that stuff, but when we set out to make All Paths Lead to Death, that was a major thing [when writing].

We had done a few tours and figured out that it really sucked to backtrack that shit [laughs]. I was the only live vocalist, and in the records, there was myself, Joe [Waller] who was a fomer member, Aaron McKinney – they were both actually on this new record too. We still work with them, and I continue to work with them on things because they are good friends and live in the same town as me. I’m not going to say that we attempted to sound like we used to, but we wrote songs that we knew we could play and we wanted to return to some more ‘normal’ song structures. On the splits and EPs, I was thinking about big, epic pieces. They are more traditional for black metal, but I was trying to do things that had a verse/chorus type structure. That was different. We hadn’t been trying to do that since Restoration.

At the same time, we were still trying to write things that we deemed sounded like Amiensus. That’s a very broad stroke. We’ll listen to something and think that it sounds like something we can do, but then 5 minutes later we’ll hear something in a completely opposite direction and think the same thing. That’s kind of the whole point of the band in general. So there was an inclusion to write songs that we knew we could play live, but at the same time, expand our sound.

We know that we wrote an EP that was super focused on black and death metal songs. People were like, “What the fuck are you doing?” We just wanted to do something that was narrowly focused instead of having a track with 6 people singing on it followed by a half-acoustic track and in drop G on the seven string. We’ve been all over the place [laughs]!

Dead Rhetoric: You’ve moved around with some different labels over the years, as well as done independent stuff, is there anything that makes it tough to find a solid home for you guys?

Benson: Our first record label, Tridroid, they were really focused on their cassettes most of the time. That was their thing. They were a little bit niche. When we worked with Pest, it was pretty clear that there was absolutely no way that they could respond to emails faster than every 4 months. They had no PR – for like 5 years I did PR myself. I don’t even know what that means other than I was finding every tiny blog I could find. And I mean tiny! In 2010, I was looking up shit from the underground black metal scene in Chile and asking them to listen to my demos. I didn’t know anything, but I was like 19. I would just email people because I didn’t know who to talk to about releasing music, so I emailed everybody. I didn’t want to do that when I was 25 while starting a career and buying a house.

We have burned through a couple of labels. We have been pretty good friends with the record label that we aren’t releasing this album on. They announced the album in 2017, and we were very aware that it was taking longer and communicated with them that it was going to take a while. We had axed a few songs that had even been in the preview, and wrote new ones that are now on the album. When we had the first four songs mixed last winter, we showed it to them. They told us that they didn’t want to do it anymore. We double-checked with them because we had a one-album contract and we had the same with a previous label and they freaked out when we went to a new one. But they told us that we could do what we wanted – it worked out pretty well to be honest.

I knew the guys from Transcending Records already. They questioned if we were going to do it without a label, and at the time I was like ‘fuck labels.’ We had released some albums in the past without it and done better, and I hated giving my money away to other people…not that we have any. It’s more like, can I get 10% of these copies so I can have my own album? They were more than willing to do it, and whatever we thought was good…instead of handing me a shitty contract and losing the rights to the music forever. It might be like, 3 grand this year, so I end up getting about 30 dollars. I probably spent $1500 on it personally.

Dead Rhetoric: That’s the depressing part about these talks. I wish more people would have a reality check when they aren’t giving the band any support and just stream off Spotify or YouTube.

Benson: I’m all game for Spotify. We don’t get a steady stream of money from it with Amiensus, but I would say that every other month we end up getting paid out about $100. We might get $500 a year. That probably sounds pretty good to most people, and it really is. It’s not bad. It pays for like 2 rounds of printing shirts for us in a year, but that’s pretty miniscule [laughs]. I pay more than that on the bus’s insurance every year. We probably average about 2-3 hundred thousand Spotify streams and that’s all it nets you. But it’s a good discovery tool.

Dead Rhetoric: I found you guys on Bandcamp. Do you feel that consistency on the platform has paid off for you?

Benson: Bandcamp definitely hit a crescendo about 4 years ago. I still find stuff a lot of times through Spotify recommendations and then go on Bandcamp and buy shit. Even digitally. 99% of the time, I’m going to buy the digital and throw it on my phone. I buy vinyl too. If it’s like one of my top 10-15 bands, I might buy a cd but I don’t even have a cd player anymore other than the one that is built into my cabinet in my kitchen for some reason. Bandcamp is still my favorite as both an artist and consumer of music.

Dead Rhetoric: Do you feel the landscape and environment of Minnesota brings any textures to your music?

Benson: Definitely, yeah. We used it on our music video for “Drowned.” This was back in December of 2018, when we shot the video. We all got ticketed for trespassing, in a public park by the way. That was really fun [laughs]. We were shooting in Minnehaha Falls and got trespassing tickets and had to go to court in February of 2019. There was a nice snow storm, and they had to give us a misdemeanor. So there’s a good story behind that. I’m not a huge writer, in terms of nature as my inspiration. Nature is my metaphor for a lot of things, lyrically. Minnesota is pretty diverse. It’s 95 degrees in the summer and -30 in the winter. We don’t even live up north. I live in the south in Rochester.

When it comes to geography in that context, that’s more so in how it’s inspiring. Also, it’s pretty cold to do anything besides winter sports between November and sometimes April. It’s easy to curl up and write a shit ton of music. To be honest, I did that a lot last year before the pandemic hit. It’s been a nice summer of being stuck and not being able to do anything else. We are capitalizing on trying to put out records. Coronavirus is the reason that we finished this record. April came around and we were in the middle of lockdown, so I decided to get the files edited finally.

Our initial guy who was mixing, I don’t want to put him down, but he kind of backed out and he didn’t explain it until recently. He basically had some family and personal issues going on pandemic related, and didn’t have time to finish it. But that allowed me to reach out to Antoine Dufour. We had chatted in the past, and that’s kind of his gig now besides being an acoustic guitar player. He gave it a shot and we worked on it for a few months and finished it. I was flabbergasted to get it done. It had been a long time coming.

Dead Rhetoric: I had been thinking of the same thing. When you released a split earlier this year with your other band [Adora Vivos], I was thinking that there was supposed to be something bigger coming.

Benson: The fun part is, that going into May we had gotten a few of the mixes done again. I demoed a song that was like 10 minutes long, so I asked the guys if they wanted to put out a song for Coronavirus. Then George Floyd was killed in Minneapolis, so we ended up changing the reason that we were putting it out. Adora Vivos was in the same boat. We had some songs that we had worked on in the past, and had them mixed and finished so we just redid them quickly. But with Amiensus, we wrote, recorded, and mixed it in a month and released it pretty quickly as a song that hopefully would cheer people up a bit.

Dead Rhetoric: Amiensus has done a number of split releases over the years, do you like that approach of just taking a song or two and getting it out there?

Benson: Yeah. There’s definitely a song structure format and some songs that I start that are like ‘split songs.’ Based on how it vibes with other [bands]. Especially with the Oak Pantheon guys. I have been bugging them because I have some demos that I don’t think will fit on what Amiensus is doing next. It has the vibe of ‘split songs.’ They are more of the Agalloch style songs. I could just do a record of that, but I am not going to, I don’t think it’s what people want. But I can throw one on an album.

I could make 10 of them in a year, but they all sound pretty similar so I’ll pick the one that I want to save and toss them towards the Oak Pantheon guys. But they aren’t even there yet. They are trying to think about their next album, and that takes them forever. They are all awesome, and I’m always knocking them because I work at light speed all the time. That’s not always good. But they are uber-perfectionists. I can’t make them move on anything and I have known them for like 10 years [laughs]. I send them shit all the time, just to get their opinion on it. I haven’t seen any of them in like a year, but half of that year has been in pandemic.

Dead Rhetoric: It’s cool that you have that sort of a relationship with them. It seems between all of the bands you are in, and friends like that, you are pretty well connected with the local area.

Benson: To some degree yeah. I really don’t know the local black metal scene very well. I know the metalcore and death metal scene fairly well because of Fail to Decay. Fail to Decay has been very active playing shows over the last 7-8 years, and Amiensus has only been doing that since 2015. Even with that, there’s been a lot of local gatekeeping going on. We never really made it a priority to play around Minnesota whatsoever. But yeah, I know the scene pretty well otherwise.

Dead Rhetoric: What’s it feel like to have Amiensus reach 10 years old?

Benson: It makes me feel really old [laughs]. I will be 30 next year, and I was like 14 or 15 when I started playing music with one of the guys in the band still, and two of the dudes [Aaron and Joe], who I still play music with. Joe is in Adora Vivos with me and Aaron is pretty much contributing to every record at some point by doing clean vocals. He has also gone and went a bit above and beyond in writing some acoustic guitar with Kelsey and me for the next one. But I began playing music with those guys back between 2005 and 2008. It just makes me feel old. It’s a good old though.

It’s a good common bond that when a larger group of the Amiensus family, which is like 10-15 people, can get together and have a fire in the summer. We did one in July and we just make food, drink, and listen to our music and reminisce about certain parts, like, “Hey, remember when we wanted to strangle each other over this 4 second section of bass?” It’s fun to reminisce about those things, and that’s why I make music. I like to do it with my friends.

Dead Rhetoric: You are in a ton of different bands, is it because you want to be so productive in different ways or is it more along the lines of it sharpening the way that you work with one band, when you can work with other ones?

Benson: I would say I honestly haven’t thought about it the second way you described but it’s true. You pick up different things working with different people. I really got into the first, second, or third band that I was in by happenstance. Fail to Decay fell into my lap because my sister in law was dating the vocalist for like 4 years. So I would go on double dates with him, my sister in law, and now-wife. He told me that they were kicking out their bass player and asked if I was available for a few shows. So I got into it and after those shows, they asked me to join.

Around a year before that, Adora Vivos was half Amiensus at the time. We just planned on making records and maybe playing a show here or there. I think everyone else got too busy. That’s the story of Adora Vivos. We wrote like 3 albums and just haven’t finished them because we got busy doing other stuff. It’s probably our lowest priority even though we all wanted to do it. Everything after that was just a desire to make a different type of music. I wanted to get into other things. The right time and the right people came up that wanted to do that as well.

Dead Rhetoric: What would you like to see Amiensus accomplish still?

Benson: We haven’t had any of our records hit 5,000 sold. I am sure that sounds like a low number to some people, but we hit a couple thousand with the first one and pretty close to that with Ascension. But that’s more than double of what those have sold, so I would like to hit that number at some point. I’d still like to get vinyl done for all of them – mostly as a collector’s item for myself. I write music with my friends because I like doing that stuff with my friends. It’s something I want to listen to in some degree. Maybe it sounds selfish, but I like to listen to my own music from time to time. There’s memories attached to it.

I can’t say that I would love to go on any grand tours because I’m sick of those and it’s been nice not doing that for once. I like touring, don’t get me wrong – and I already have two potential ones next spring. But my biggest goal is just to keep doing it. I’ve told people in the past when I was younger, but Amiensus will probably never die as long as I can still make music. I would probably just keep going even if everyone in the band quit. I’d find new members and write new music, as long as they were on the same page. I think that having former members who are still kind of attached in that they do write some songs here and there with us – we can keep doing it without having to be a serious band that wants to tour. Another decade of Amiensus at least.

Dead Rhetoric: What plans for the fall and winter for all of the bands you are a part of?

Benson: We just finished up drums today for the third Chrome Waves record, so I’m down here tracking guitar and doing some vocals. So we are writing that album, and on top of that I have a new band with mostly dudes from Fail to Decay. It’s a rock/grunge band called Comatose. We tracked in June and finished a record. Hopefully that will be out this fall. We have gotten one mix back so far so we’re waiting on that. We have shot a music video too – so hopefully three LPs out this year.

I wish Oak Pantheon would get their heinies’ together because I didn’t want to wait 5 years between each Gathering. Amiensus has 9 songs already demoed for the next record, which is partially because we threw out half of the album last year that is coming out now. We reworked some of that now and we have been super productive. Kelsey wasn’t initially a huge part of Abreaction because of joining the band mid-way through it being written. Now he’s taking a much bigger role in writing. It’s cool because we haven’t worked too extensively – he’s a super good acoustic guitar player so I had him retrack all of the acoustic guitar I had done on Abreaction. Now I’m working with him and asking him how he writes songs, instead of having him just play something. It’s cool because if I can tell someone to play something I wrote, they are definitely a better guitar player than me. I can’t even play half the shit I write [laughs].

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