Isis – False Light Still Shines

Sunday, 31st March 2013

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Smart enough to go out on top, post metal KINGS Isis (had to put that in caps) are entering the posthumous portion of their career where compilations and reunion pleas will become the norm. For many, the golden trio of 2002’s Oceanic, 2004’s Panopticon and their 2009 finale Wavering Radiant are enough to stave off the need for more studio efforts, but as we’ve come to learn with legendary bands, going (and staying) away is a tall order. Therefore, there’s nary a soul that would be surprised if the band decided to reunite, as far-fetched as it seems at the present time.

The process of settling into their post-career begins with Temporal, a compilation of b-sides, extra tracks, and demo songs. As the first of what should be at least a few similarly-styled releases, Temporal may not help the band in the “Are they still together?” department, but it does enable Isis to release songs in high-quality fashion for those who have tried in vain to track down various leftovers and demo recordings. It also doesn’t hurt having searing rough-form versions of “Threshold of Transformation” and long-time live standout, “Carry” on one release.

Drummer, avid cyclist and all-around nice guy Aaron Harris was kind enough to discuss Temporal, the band’s breakup, legacy, and his involvement in Palms, his side project with two of his former Isis bandmates and Chino Moreno of the Deftones. Don’t be turned off by the number of times Harris uses words like “weird” and “strange.” You’d feel the same way if you were doing interviews for a band that broke up… The band has been broken up for over two years now, and while you handle promotion for Temporal have you started to feel a sense of closure?

Aaron Harris: To a certain extent, I’ve been pretty active even though we’ve disbanded. I feel closure in certain ways and in other ways, I don’t. It’s a cool a lot of people are out there that are interested in stuff we have left to release and the stuff we have in storage…stuff that we still want to put, but it’s strange when people comment that they’re confused, thinking we’re back together and we’re still releasing albums. Some of the things we mentioned in our press release when we did disband was that we planned on releasingTemporal and a couple of live things. Because you have so much stuff in the vaults, do you worry that you’ll ever be able to put the band behind? Or rather, would you even want to put the band behind you?

Harris: For my own well-being, I’ve put it away, put it outside of all those feelings, but I do feel like there’s some stuff that would be nice to release. It’s nice to put out Temporal along with the videos that never got released like “Pliable Foe” and “Great Divide.” I also have a lot of live stuff from when we were in Europe. We did that whole live series, but that didn’t cover anything past In the Absence of Truth. It got a little bit of that last era. It does a feel little strange to be releasing stuff and not be a band. I hope people realize we’re trying to put out quality releases and not try to make a quick dollar. For that last round of touring for Wavering Radiantaround May/June of 2010, what were those shows like?

Harris: It was really strange. I always knew there would be an end to the band, but when it actually comes and you’re there…it felt like weird. It’s a weird feeling. It’s something you put a lot of work into life then “poof!” you’re going to break up and it’s your last shows. We announced it ahead of time, so everyone knew. Again, at the same time, it felt like business as usual. There’s weirdness, but it felt like business usual. I’m not sure how to describe it…it was really strange. The weirdest one by far was the last show in Montreal. Driving up there, then sound checking…the whole thing was just really weird because it was like, “This is the last time.” During the recording of Wavering Radiant, was there a similar sense, as in “This could be our last album?”

Harris: It wasn’t anything we talked about. I never shared this publicly, but I did feel a little bit in my heart that Wavering Radiant could be the last record. Feeling that way, I tried to take it all in and enjoy it, and give my best. In the back of my mind, I thought for the first time…because of some of the things that were happening and the feelings I had [that it was the last album]. It wasn’t anyone else shared with me; we all internally maybe felt that way. Your press release said something to the effect that you did all you could and there was nowhere else you could go with your sound. Hypothetically speaking, is there anywhere else you could have gone?

Harris: Who knows…we could have gone further and done better, but I was really happy with Wavering Radiant. I thought it was our best record. Actually, I don’t think it was our best record, but I’m really happy with it. As for Temporal, was it easy to track down these extra songs and live recordings? Are you the gatekeeper for all Isis-related material?

Harris: [laughs] It’s spread around. We’ve been handed live recordings from fans or board recordings; we’ve even had stuff mailed to us from our tours. I do think I have the majority of it, though, but it was just a matter of all us going through what we had and determining what was best to share. Then we had too much to fit on the release, so we had to narrow some stuff down. There is a lot stuff, man [laughs]. In the raw environment, as in the demos, you sound heavier. I can point to “Carry” and “Wills Dissolve” as sounding heavier in demo form than the actual recording. Did you pick up on that as well?

Harris: I guess it’s more raw and a lot dirtier and sludgier. You don’t get the isolation of the instruments where you can EQ the instruments. We’re in the practice space and on that early stuff, those were just stereo room recordings. It’s a totally different vibe. The Wavering Radiant stuff was done live, but done via multi-track. The jump you made from Celestial to Oceanic was huge and came to define your career. Can you speak to the progress the band made during that time?

Harris: Clifton [Meyer] and Mike [Gallagher] had just joined when we started writing Celestial. We were finding our sound and those guys had just started working together with us on Celestial, so that happened. Once we got touring on Celestial and became more of a tight unit and knew each other better and everything was feeling more cohesive…there was a little drug use and we started writing for Oceanic [laughs]. At the time, I didn’t feel like we were on to anything. It just felt like writing another Isis record. It felt more of a tight unit and we finally had full-length with CelestialOceanic didn’t feel like we were onto anything. Looking back, it’s a pretty big step. The way in which I’ve always viewed your catalog is that you started this big phase with Oceanic, but Panopticon finished things off. That’s you taking Oceanic a step further.

Harris: I see the records a lot differently now that I’m not living the songs and not playing and touring them constantly. It’s weird…I can sort of appreciate the songs more and hear why people like the songs. I almost appreciate them more now that I’m not playing them. Do you see In the Absence of Truth differently now too? That’s considered your weak link.

Harris: That was a really weird record. That was when Jeff [Caxide] and Mike moved to the East Coast and Aaron [Turner], Cliff, and I were living here in town and Aaron had a lot going with his label [Hydrahead] and in his personal life. Cliff and I were jamming a lot on songs. It was a really weird record to write because we’d get together in these little writing blocks and work on the stuff everyone had. I think even though that record sticks out, it was an important record for us to make. It got a lot of stuff out of our system and we were able to try some new things that we realized afterward that worked or didn’t work. I listen to that one the least. Like I said, I really do feel like that was important record for us to make. My first thought in regards to that record is you guys touring with Tool.

Harris: That was really strange and amazing for a lot of different reasons. Tool is a band we liked for a long time. I remember riding home with Aaron and Jeff for early Isis rehearsals in Boston for Celestial listening to Ænima. We really appreciated their ability to build, like “Eulogy” and “Stinkfist.” For a major label band, we thought that was really cool stuff. Then you fast-forward a few years later, you’re out on tour with them. Those guys are so cool and really into underground music and into music in general. They treated us really well. It definitely helped us in a lot of ways. Over to Palms. You made it clear from the start that this will not be “Isis-meets-Deftones.” From your perspective, how is it sounding?

Harris: That’s a really tough question for me to answer [laughs]. Jeff put it really well in an interview that “It’s not Deftones and Isis, because Deftones and Isis would be really boring.” It’s different. People will hear it and it is a little bit of what is expected…it’s three guys from Isis and Chino. The songs are long and there’s a lot of dynamics and melody. There’s a little more electronics. It’s not full-on and heavy as Isis, but there’s heavy moments. It’s been really fun working with Chino; he’s a great guy and musician and adds a whole new element to how the three of us having been working. It’s been really fun. It’s cool to see how Chino does things and it’s cool to keep writing with Jeff and Cliff. It’s cool to see people are really into it…we didn’t know what to expect. It must be nice doing something without the Isis banner hanging over your head.

Harris: It does, but there’s a lot of pressure involved. I’m pretty confident people will like it, but at the same time, it does add pressure…people are expecting something. That’s just me being cautious.

Isis official site

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