Fellahin Fall – Urban GloomTuesday, 16th June 2020
A band that we at DR have been paying a lot of attention to over the last half a year or so has been Brooklyn’s Fellahin Fall. For good reason, with their melancholic take on gothic and industrial flavors with some hints of doom giving them a unique leg to stand on. They put out an EP at the tail-end of 2019, and most recently have dropped their first full-length, Tar a-Kan. So there was much to discuss with founder/vocalist Nodar Khutortsov and guitarist Raphael Pinsker in regards to their urban spin on things, how the band came to be, and how the line is towed to avoid synth ‘cheesiness.’
Dead Rhetoric: How did Fellahin Fall come together?
Nodar Khutortsov: After our previous band, Fin’Amor, had split ways I was sitting on a lot of material. I wanted to still bring it to life, so I decided to start a project from scratch. I wrote the entire album, and then recruited members who were interested in the sound from that point. I ended up writing everything and getting it recorded, and then I started pitching the music to musicians that I knew – Raphael [Pinsker] and Eugene [Bell] from Fin’Amor, and Patrick [Reilly]. So little by little the guys joined up and we had a band.
Dead Rhetoric: You guys were both in Fin’Amor, were there any specific experiences that you brought into the band? Things that you either wanted to try or try not to do with Fellahin Fall?
Khutortsov: For sure! I think when every band starts, you have this cacophony of ideas. You don’t have an essence that makes the band yet. Usually over time, bands develop their signature sound or something that really makes them stand out. I think coming into this band, I knew what I wanted to do right away. There was no guessing. With Fin’Amor, there was a lot of trial and error. I had a clear vision of what I wanted: this industrial/gothic/doomy sound, and I knew how I wanted to write it. There wasn’t going to be a, “Should we add breakdowns, or this or that?” I think the vision was clear from the get-go. That experience in Fin’Amor really paid dividends here.
Dead Rhetoric: Could you talk a bit about the concept that both the EP and Tar a-Kan follow.
Khutortsov: The album and the EP were written at the same time. They were released separately but it was one giant idea. I wanted to narrate a near-future timeline. A man who was being changed by forces he cannot control. He talks a lot through the lyrics of his regrets. Of leaving humanity. Everyone thinks it’s great – we take advantage of our technological progress but with it, we lose a little bit…we evolved on the plains of Africa. It’s a very different world in 2020, or in this case, maybe 30 more years ahead. When the human condition really starts to change. The narrator is speaking to that. He is unsure if he wants it. He’s both nostalgic and happy. He’s a very unreliable narrator. Not everything he says is true, partly because he can’t decide himself whether he likes the state or not.
Dead Rhetoric: You mentioned before that the music was written before you recruited any members. Now that you have a full band behind you, are you going to continue to flesh out the writing yourself or will it be more of a band process?
Khutortsov: I’m open to fleshing out more of the writing. The musicians that are all in the band now are all very good, and I’m very happy that they are the members that joined. They are experienced. I trust their writing and their ears. There’s definitely going to be more input from these members going forward. Initially I had written the album and EP myself, so this time I am very much open to having these other influences drive the music a bit more.
Dead Rhetoric: In terms of the concept, how important is the urban setting in terms of an influence to the music?
Khutortsov: I think it is key. One of the things that you oftentimes see in contemporary metal and with smaller bands, is that everyone wants to be these woodsmen or Vikings. In black metal, it’s all of the Norwegian woods. It’s a little bit LARP-y. We live in New York City. If I were to sing about Norwegian forests, I don’t know…of course I like some of that music and those genres/styles, but I feel it is inauthentic to the reality of what I am influenced by. I walk outside and I see concrete. I don’t see these thousand year old forests and this imagery that you would see in these other metal bands. That’s not what drives my day to day emotion. It’s not what drives my surroundings. My society is one of NYC 2020. It’s not Scandinavia, it’s not Old Europe, and it’s not the forest. It is very much urban.
Dead Rhetoric: That’s interesting. I was talking to Imperial Triumphant yesterday and it was along those same lines. I think it’s cool that especially with bands from New York City are taking that urban setting and taking it to heart and running with it.
Khutortsov: Absolutely. There’s no point to shy away from it. I don’t think you can lie your way through this. I think listeners have a really good sense for authenticity. Sometimes you see bands or sounds that are very cool and role-playing, but it’s not really them. They go home and they are a different person. I wanted to let everyone know that I go home and it’s an apartment in Brooklyn [laughs]. I don’t go home to some tavern or outhouse somewhere. It’s concrete surrounded by 20-story buildings.
Dead Rhetoric: The cover art for both releases has been fantastic. How important is it to the mood of the music, again going back to that urban piece?
Khutortsov: Of course, and both albums show the transition. A man is being carried to the city. It’s supposed to be an involuntary thing. The man in the hat, it symbolizes time and progress. Man is resistant. Man is very resistant to change. Very few of us truly like change. We like to get comfortable. Especially with unknown change, we are very resistant to it. I wanted to show that man, when I talked to the artists, that I really wanted that to be the case. That we are being carried from this organic life to this inorganic future, and we have no control over it. We don’t have a choice. We have to deal with that reality.
Dead Rhetoric: Where do you feel the synthwave/industrial influence seeps in? What do you see as the role of that within Fellahin Fall’s music?
Khutortsov: One of the things is that I grew up, especially through high school and early college, on that kind of mid-2000s gothic/industrial sound. Like Combichrist or Imperative Reaction. I listened to those bands a lot. I was actually thinking about doing a whole darkwave/industrial project before. Then I decided to add the guitars and some metal. So it had a very big influence on my writing. Most of these songs were written synth-first, and later restructured and made malleable into metal. The metal came second. First it was a lot of synth and techno-y sounds before the guitars came in.
Dead Rhetoric: I think that helps in setting you apart from other bands. I do hear a distinct sound with you guys, as opposed to other bands that crop up – even within that doomy/gothic style.
Khutortsov: I guess you do hear a bit of that schizophrenic element. You have the synths and the guitars, but take out the techno-y stuff and really slow it down and give it a grim mood with the guitars. It’s an organic instrument, even though there’s distortion used, the guitar is a very organic instrument. I think that juxtaposition of the inorganic synths and the organic guitars help to bring a warmth that is missing from those strictly industrial bands that I would listen to.
Dead Rhetoric: What do you feel Fellahin Fall’s musical strengths are the greatest?
Khutortsov: You don’t want to sound conceded and say things like, “Oh, we have a unique sound,” but I do feel that the sound is relatively uncommon. Obviously there are bands that we draw influence from and bands that we have carried portions of their sound into ours. It’s not possible to be entirely unique. I’m not going to say that we are a super-unique band, but our sound is somewhat uncommon and there’s room in the metal landscape for something like this.
In American heavy metal, sometimes the keyboard is a questionable thing. Some people instantly don’t like it. They hear a keyboard and it’s not Americana. It’s not Lamb of God and therefore, maybe it’s not metal. In European metal, it’s much more acceptable, but maybe to the point of cheesiness. Sometimes you hear some of these melodic death metal bands that there is so much orchestration that it borders on cheesy. You can see why the American audience can be skeptical at times of very keyboard-y rock/metal music.
Dead Rhetoric: It’s funny that you bring up the cheesy thing. One thing I liked is that it has that gothic tone in it, but it doesn’t have that melodramatic and cheesy feel that some of those bands like that 2000s wave of HIM and Charon. What is a way that you feel you skewed the band away from that over-the-top vibe?
Khutortsov: It’s really difficult to see at what point you start to enter the cheesy territory. I think there is a subtly to it, and I’m not sure I can even verbalize it. There has to be a certain point where you are getting high on your own supply with the synthesizer [laughs]. You are writing more and more, and it sounds more and more emotional, but there’s that point where maybe it becomes too much. Maybe this is becoming, like you said, a mid-2000s ballad that has been heard a thousand times.
Sometimes you put on a song and you’ve heard it before you listen through it. Within the first five seconds you are like, “Oh yes, I’ve heard this song done a thousand times.” So that’s a good indicator to me. If I reach that point where it sounds maybe too recognizable to me, it’s a good point to start dialing it back. Like I said, you don’t want to hear that song for the 1000th time. It’s important to stay level that way.
Dead Rhetoric: I found it interesting that on both the album and EP, you had more or less a remixed version of a song. I don’t see a lot of that anymore. You used to see bands putting out full, remixed albums. Did you do that in regards to older bands or was it something you felt was just natural, given the industrial/synth-y piece?
Raphael Pinsker: It was a bit like playing homage. When we were discussing dropping the EP, originally it was supposed to be a full-length, but we settled on an EP. I was telling Nodar that with all of this non-metal material, it would be cool for people to see how these songs were reconstructed – and give them a taste for how they used to sound. We toyed with the idea, and Nodar had to fix up some of the songs, but the idea sprouted from us wanting to give people a taste of what the project was before we added all of these organic instruments.
Dead Rhetoric: So those two songs were like the starting points then?
Khutortsov: Especially with the remix of “Of Fallen Words.” It was pretty close to what you hear in the remix. Obviously I touched it up a little bit and shined up the edges, but generally the song started out in that kind of style. With “Rover,” it was that I really wanted that ‘80s Tears for Fears/Flock of Seagulls kind of sound, and I never had a chance to finish writing the song like that. So I decided to do “Rover” in that style, to show what I really wanted but due to time or whatever, I couldn’t finish.
Dead Rhetoric: So would you consider doing some of that with future releases? Putting on a song or so that is just tweaked in a way?
Khutortsov: I think so. I think Raphael had a really good idea with putting some of this material out there. Not too many songs, but maybe one per album or EP. It’s like the imagination of the song. When you hear “Rover” in its original, fully industrialized song, it plays to its genre. But when you hear the remix in “Rover (Isolate)” I feel that it shows a different emotional side to the song that maybe missing when you hear it without any of the subtlety of the original version.
Dead Rhetoric: Within a year you have an EP and full-length in the books. What goals do you have for the band moving forward?
Pinsker: Obviously with the Coronavirus, it has put a bit of a pause in our momentum. We had shows planned. We were supposed to play with Swallow the Sun back in April, and we were going to do some weekend runs during the summertime. We put a stop on that until a lot of the restrictions are lifted, not just in New York, but the regions around New York. But we are looking at 2021 to start playing shows again. Hopefully we will be able to practice before the end of the year and start playing shows next year. We really want to get out and do some weekend runs, and hopefully do some more touring. That’s what is on the horizon for us. Obviously Nodar is taking the time to write and stay busy with that.
Khutortsov: I have about 8-10 songs already more or less in the finished stage. We will see how soon those can get recorded and where they can be recorded. I guess that is the plan for the next year or so.
Dead Rhetoric: I know they rescheduled those Swallow the Sun dates for next year. Are you still going to be on it again when it comes through?
Pinsker: Yes, we will be playing one of those dates as well.
Khutortsov: It was such a bummer when that show got cancelled. Swallow the Sun has been a big influence on me and we played with them when we were in Fin’Amor at the Gramercy Theater and it was an amazing experience, so we can’t wait to relive that again.