Photo by Jaimin Townsely
Wrekmeister Harmonies’ You’ve Always Meant So Much to Me is one of this year’s best surprises in the realm of metal. If, like me, you aren’t from the Chicago area, you wouldn’t have known about the supreme group of black metal royalty that artist JR Robinson put together last winter for a show at the Museum of Contemporary Art, which included a rare public performance from Wrest (of Leviathan and Lurker of Chalice). You also wouldn’t have known about how that piece, which stretches close to 40 minutes, was recorded at Electrical Audio in Chicago with Steve Albini. But now that it’s been released (on Thrill Jockey), you have your chance to find out just how great the piece is. It ebbs and flows, beginning with slight harmonium and electronics, eventually droning into strings and harp, slamming into a sludgy doom section with distorted vocals by Yakuza‘s Bruce Lamont, slipping away again for a very slow fade. For something that lasts two-thirds of an hour, it feels eminently listenable, and you’ll always feel the pull to flip the B side back to A.
Here’s a time-lapse video of artist Simon Fowler drawing the cover, soundtracked by an excerpt from the piece:
Below, an interview with JR Robinson.
What is your background with composing? How about metal?
I have no formal compositional training. As far as metal goes I’ve always been into it since I heard Black Sabbath as a kid all the way through the VBS documentary I did called One Man Metal.
When did this project start to come together? How did composition for the piece begin?
This particular version came together as a live score to accompany a film I shot a few years ago.
How did you choose your collaborators?
I’m incredibly lucky to be involved in a community that has very deep resources to choose from. I did what anyone who wishes to collaborate on a project does to realize an end result, and that is to simply ask.
How much of this piece was composed as opposed to coming out of collaboration?
Nothing written out…it was a concept that I verbally explained to all the musicians and they were all quite capable of understanding what I was trying to communicate.
Are there themes you see in other things you’ve done that emerged in You’ve Always Meant So Much to Me?
Not really. Each piece I’ve done is pretty specific. This was by far the most lengthy piece I’ve undertaken and with the most musicians involved.
What were some of your influences inside and outside of metal/experimental music?
On the experimental side I’ve always admired the works of Glenn Branca and Phill Niblock. The video artist John Seden (Random Eye Sore) was a huge influence on me as well as filmmakers like Michael Snow and Stan Brakhage. Metal would be Wrest, in particular his Lurker of Chalice project, Xasthur and Weakling‘s Dead As Dreams.
What is it like to play the piece live?
Both times I’ve played the piece live it’s been an incredibly rewarding experience. I feel very fortunate.
You’ve played some pretty interesting venues (art gallery, cemetery). How do you choose those sorts of places to play? Do you think they add something to the piece that a normal venue (i.e. a bar or club) doesn’t?
Aesthetics and atmosphere. It’s a very specific piece and it deserves to be heard in a unique setting.
Do you perform the piece itself live, or do you try new things with it?
At the cemetery performance we wrote a new heavy part that isn’t on the record.
What was it like recording the piece as compared to playing it for an audience?
Recording is work and the reward comes after a lot of labor. Playing live the reward is immediate.
Do you see anything else in the future for the project?
We’ll be performing it in NYC and in London, but nothing else is planned for it right now.