Lord Dying – Nothing Is Everything

Sunday, 14th January 2024

Photo: Neil DaCosta

Continually evolving from record to record, Lord Dying can’t be merely categorized as a sludge metal outfit. Aspects of psychedelia, progressive rock, all the way through to stoner and groove elements come in track to track – truly embracing an attack that contains numerous levels of sounds, tones, and emotions pouring through your favored listening device. Their latest record Clandestine Transcendence is the second in a planned conceptual trilogy – an almost hour-long odyssey that reflects the growth and understanding to position this quartet at the top of their game. We grabbed vocalist/guitarist Erik Olson once again for this quick, wide-ranging talk about the new record, working with Kurt Ballou, the process behind the singles/videos, benchmark tours in their career, his love of travel/books, what success looks like to the band, and future plans for 2024.

Dead Rhetoric: Clandestine Transcendence is the latest album for Lord Dying – the follow-up to 2019’s Mysterium Tremendum. How do you see this set of material fitting in the catalog for the band – and did the pandemic have any beneficial factors to dig deeper into certain aspects of the process that maybe you never took into account or considered before?

Erik Olson: Um, well… I would say with the new record we wanted to push ourselves further than we’ve ever done before. Which is what we wanted to do with Mysterium Tremendum as well. That’s the way we try to be with every album. The pandemic… I would say it had an effect on the writing for sure, just because of everything that everyone was going through. I don’t know if it shaped the record in a different way than it would have gone. Even psychologically I think the pandemic changed anyone that was going to make a record at the time. It was something really crazy to go through that no one saw coming (laughs).

Dead Rhetoric: What was it like working with Kurt Ballou at God City Studios this time around? What did you enjoy most about his outlook and process, and have you always been a follower and admirer of his work and professional skill sets?

Olson: Yeah, I definitely have always been a fan of his work. Even going into the bands, to Converge, they are incredible. They challenged the foundations of hardcore, they have no boundaries it seems which is amazing. I feel like he has the same kind of approach with recording. He just makes everything sound huge, we always wanted to work with him. It was a delight, he’s a great producer and really easy to get along with. Plus, he knows his stuff, he builds instruments, he builds pedals, it’s an endless amount of things to try.

Dead Rhetoric: Did you feel like you were able to experiment more because of the different gear and effects available to you this time around?

Olson: Yeah, we were able to do that. We always try to come in really prepared as well – we always demo everything and mix things how we want it. Although, we are also open to any ideas any producer may have. We were able to do with the bass and vocals we did more experimenting, which I thought was really cool.

Dead Rhetoric: Lyrically this record conveys the character of The Dreamer that you developed on the previous record, in the period of what happens beyond death. Where did you draw for inspiration for the storyline, and is it equally challenging to engage the right atmosphere and tone to match the musical themes with the lyrics?

Olson: I guess. It’s sort of something that I’ve always thought about a lot. It came pretty naturally to go with it. I do something where before we start writing the record, especially if it’s a concept record, I think of titles. That way I can kind of write a story around that. I had thirty or forty titles, and then you go ahead around that. Especially if a melody comes in over a riff that we write. I can decide what title works best and write a story around that. As far as thinking about what happens beyond death, it’s something I’ve always been obsessed with and always thought about. It is pretty natural and easy to narrate.

Dead Rhetoric: Then it was intentional to make a sequel concept record to the previous effort?

Olson: It was intentional. When we wrote Mysterium Tremendum we decided we wanted to make a trilogy, so there will be a third album as well.

Dead Rhetoric: Which songs for Clandestine Transcendence came easier to you? Also, which songs do you believe took on the greatest transformations from initial development to what the listener finally hears on the record?

Olson: I would say “Soul Metamorphosis” was one of the more difficult ones, vocally for me. Because it’s hard to get that much air for me to scream that long, especially on the slow parts. That changed vocally the most in the studio. Musically… I don’t know. We were pretty well-prepared with everything that we demoed, we write things down with sheet music too. We know what we are going to do when we get there. It makes the process go a little faster.

Dead Rhetoric: And when it came to the singles and videos, were these easy choices to figure out what you were going to premiere from the record? How do you feel about visual mediums and their use through social media platforms these days?

Olson: We chose the songs, and we chose the directors as well. There will be one more video before the record comes out, which Alyssa our bass player directed, actually. We love working with Zev Deans for “I Am Nothing I Am Everything”. That was a song we wanted to use specifically, we showed it to him, and he loved it. He happened to be in the Northwest at the time, doing a video for Mizmor so it worked out for him to do one for us too – otherwise we wouldn’t have been able to budget his team and him out from New York. We were really lucky that happened. And we love Lorenzo as well – he has done some cool stuff for Mastodon, Deftones. We always wanted to do something animated, and he really loves the song “The Endless Road Home”. That worked out – we are very happy with the way both of (the videos) turned out. They are my favorite videos we’ve done so far.

Dead Rhetoric: How would you describe the band chemistry now with Alyssa and Kevin having a few more years under their belts within the group?

Olson: It’s great. I would say it’s definitely our strongest lineup. Everybody gets along really well. We just got back from a European tour which was really great. There are more tours in the future. We will go through the USA, Canada, Europe again too. It’s been great. I can’t complain about anything. Everyone supports each other. We all live in the same city (laughs). It’s great.

Dead Rhetoric: When looking at the career arc for Lord Dying, what would you consider some of the highlights or benchmark moments for the group? Specific songs, releases, shows, tours, festival appearances or other excursions when you knew you were making more of an impact with your work as an artist/musician?

Olson: We’ve had a lot of great opportunities like that throughout our career. Very early before we even put a record out, we got to do a big US tour with Red Fang. Then they brought us to Europe for two different tours, playing in front of huge crowds for all of them. When we did the tour with Crowbar in the US and Canada, that was great. Going back to Europe again we did a tour with Voivod and Entombed that was really good. All the stuff we did with Cancer Bats was great – the UK, Europe, and Canada. We did a big US tour with Weedeater and Author & Punisher, that was very cool. Benchmark – I think Mysterium Tremendum was a big album for us. It was the first time we got to branch out, so we are really looking forward to what people will think of the new album. We are really excited; we think this is the best (release) that we’ve ever done.

Dead Rhetoric: Do you believe touring has been different coming back after the pandemic? That maybe people appreciate entertainment and the fine arts more, after having it on the sidelines for so long.

Olson: Yes, I would say so. We had more people up front, digging on into every song on this last European tour. It does seem like people were very excited for music to come back. And also, the challenges exist now because things are more expensive, so I think people want to go out to support their favorite bands.

Dead Rhetoric: You mentioned in our last interview your passions for music, travel and reading. What types of reading material do you enjoy (non-fiction, fiction), and are there specific sites or parts of the world that you would like to check off the bucket list when it comes to travel?

Olson: Sure. I can go off a long time about that. I love travel, I’m still working on visiting every country. I’m up to 132 now. I’m about to do another trip in January to the Caribbean, to visit the last countries I haven’t seen from the North American continent. For reading, I like to bring sci-fi or horror for fiction. I love Philip K. Dick. If it’s non-fiction, like right now I’m reading a book called Into the Wild. Great books.

Dead Rhetoric: Now that you are in your early forties, if you had the chance to change anything about what you did or what you wanted to accomplish as a musician or person in your twenties or thirties, what do you think you would have wanted to work on?

Olson: In our twenties, Chris and I were still doing bands, but I don’t think we had as much of an understanding of the business as we do now. I would teach myself more. I wish I could tell myself back then what I know now. Maybe we just needed to get started earlier, as we are in our forties now. What are you going to do? I’m just going to keep putting out records and touring. If we got going in our twenties, playing better, doing certain things better, I think we would have taken this a lot further. The way the record industry works, everything’s changed. When we were in our early twenties, the kind of music we played was more popular then. Now trends have shifted. What can you do? You have to just keep going.

Dead Rhetoric: What are your thoughts on the state of heavy music in the United States versus other parts of the world? If you had unlimited time, energy, finances or resources to make some changes for the greater good of all involved, what do you believe needs to be improved upon?

Olson: I think things have changed. I think that streaming has destroyed music in a lot of ways that I loved it, but I also stream music too so I’m just as bad. I love the art of making a record and being able to hold it – it’s a piece of art to me. Start to finish, I read the liner notes, the lyrics, the whole thing. And I feel like that is going away, that it seems to be more of a singles market, constantly putting things out so that people can be on the road. Even the state of touring may change if there are no more records, people won’t tour as much. It’ll be interesting to see what happens.

I would love to go see more festivals in Europe if I had unlimited money. The European festivals are so amazing. So many great newer, underground bands that get to play with classic bands like Judas Priest. It’s hard to beat the festivals over there.

Dead Rhetoric: Do you think the festival market is improving in the United States?

Olson: I think they are. It’s gotten better and better. One thing that’s troubling is insurance companies are starting to charge too much money for people to be able to put on these festivals. They cite climate change as a major reason. If the promoters can’t afford to pay the insurance fees, they won’t be able to pay the bands. I don’t know what will happen there. That’s the reason I think why we haven’t seen Psycho Las Vegas the last few years. I hope that comes back. I’m excited that Maryland Death Fest is coming back. Northwest Terror Fest is amazing, every year. The hunger that people have to see the bands is there. We hope to see more, but I’m happy the US is starting to get more and more festivals.

Dead Rhetoric: How do you feel about the differences between Lord Dying on record versus what we hear from the band live on stage? Do you enjoy one aspect more than the other – or are both equally interesting and engaging, for their own different reasons?

Olson: I love to do both things. We definitely made an effort with the new record that it’s all stuff that we could play live. That is awesome. With Mysterium Tremendum we did a handful of songs where we painted too much. There are parts where there are six to eight guitars going at once, we can’t replicate that live. On the new album, we made it so we can do it live. Every time we learn new songs to keep them tight, it’s going to be interesting. Now we’ve been around long enough, it’s cool to pick out some old songs and switch them out. It keeps it interesting. I also love writing, when I get a new record finished, I can’t wait to work on other songs.

Dead Rhetoric: How would you define success for Lord Dying? And has that definition changed since the inception of the group to where you are today?

Olson: Success for Lord Dying. We wanted to always be… (laughs). We always had the dream to be able to make some money at this. We haven’t made enough to say that we make a living doing it, but just enough now to be self-sustaining. It would be great to have to cross that line where we don’t have to work regular jobs. I am happy with where we are, and with all the opportunities that we’ve had, they are amazing. I look forward to the future too.

Dead Rhetoric: What’s on the agenda for anything related to Lord Dying over the next twelve months or so?

Olson: Definitely tours. We will tour the US for sure, hopefully Europe again. Festival dates, we will want to jump on. We want to play as much as we can this year.

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