Ancestors tangled with a deer in the dead of night and won on the way to SXSW. Tee Pee is re-releasing their clinically epic Neptune With Fire. They speak now on the way to rehearsal.
What interesting people did you meet when you had to hitchhike to Austin after you hit a deer and totaled your van on the way to SXSW?
Brandon Pierce (drums): Leatherface’s cousin came with one tooth and one arm. We went with this pop-punk band from Orange County with a GPS system, but Leatherface’s cousin offered to take us to a town where it was actually just Leatherface’s house. But we went with the pop-punk band.
How do you turn down a ride from Leatherface’s cousin?
B: We used the Englishman. It was less awkward.
Chico Foley (vocals/electronics): I think he muttered under his breath—‘You guys’ll taste like haggis.’
Where’s the van now?
Justin Maranga (guitar/vocals): Still there.
C: It was three days old. We got it three days before the crash.
B: It had TVs and shit.
J: We were watching Live At Pompeii when we hit the deer. I was sitting far in the back like ‘What the fuck?! What the fuck?!’ And then I was thinking, ‘Chico, open the fucking door—the van is filling with white crap!’ The airbags. I thought maybe I was gonna die? I didn’t know what was going on. And Chico couldn’t open the door because doors in Europe are different.
Because of the metric system?
J: Apparently they open counter-clockwise. But we got out and sat in the freezing cold.
C: Until the policeman shows up and steps out of the car and says, ‘Which one of you all is the deerslayer?’
B: His car was really warm—I napped in there.
J: While we all sat outside and froze our asses. We kept warm with the heat of Tweak Bird.
Did you rub them together?
C: Yes, that’s a lot of friction.
B: I was going through my records to put them in my closet and I found our hitchhike sign—SXSW OR BUST—and the enormous wolf dreamcatcher we had hanging from the rear-view mirror obstructing the view, which could have contributed to hitting the deer.
Did you write Neptune With Fire in two suites because you knew it would one day be on a vinyl record?
J: I’ve always wanted to have something on vinyl. Like a million other guys, I’m a record nerd. The plan was if we found a label, we were basically gonna demand vinyl—especially because of the length of the songs. How could you not? We’re all drawn to writing long songs because you can cram as much as you want in it. You don’t have to stop writing as long as you can link it together. You don’t wanna put the kibosh on ideas because the song is getting too long. When stuff is flowing, fuck it—keep going.
What was the early three-piece Ancestors like?
J: Basically a vehicle for me to jerk off on guitar for 45 minutes.
B: To play as long as possible the same riff over and over again. It was very carefree. Masturbatory doom-sludge-stoner shit. And with the addition of members, we started to hone something.
But you won’t ever forget your masturbatory roots?
B: Fuck no—we still masturbate on stage.
C: As long as you’re not drinking tap water, or you’ll get too much estrogen and have trouble wanking. Men are slowly developing breast tissues and losing the ability to make wanking solos.
What’s working with Arik Roper like?
C: He’s an amazing guy who’s heavily into the things you’d think we was into.
J: He and Chico went into an intense philosophical discussion while drinking a lot of booze.
C: A joined appreciation for Thelema and maybe other things I shouldn’t mention.
Neptune gets a lot of comments for its cinematic feel—are you soundtracking as you write?
J: I’m always soundtracking 8 1⁄2 in my head.
That’s like two questions ahead.
J: But it would be a lot of fun to do that. We’ll sometimes come up with a theme and soundtrack it.
Like what—love, fate, murder?
J: No—how cheesy is that? Sometimes if we come up with an idea of what we want the song to be about, the song will try and reflect what that story is. In Neptune, it’d be a lie to say we came up with the theme ahead of time like we are doing now. But I don’t wanna say anything about the new shit. If we had come up with the idea for Neptune before—War, Revelation, Celebration—we would have written the music accordingly.
C: We take an approach that’s fitting as much as possible to the sound. With the new record, it’s a stringent premise, or a premise that has been going into the songs. It’s definitely a step forward.
J: The Michelangelo approach.
I was just going to say that.
C: You are the voice in my head, are you not?
Hacking away slabs of rock.
J: And rock it is.
So what is the new stuff?
J: We’re going for four songs this time. A tiny bit shorter. Twelve to fifteen minutes and probably some interludes in between—acoustic and piano and what have you. Thematically shifting directions. More coming up with an overall theme and a story and going with that—definitely coming up with stories.
How do you come up with stories?
C: You have to take some drugs and stuff.
J: It also helps to have a crazy British guy. We have to make it abstract enough that it can be told with minimal lyrics, and the music can tell part of the story, otherwise we’d have to explain it to everbody. People get what Neptune is about, which is cool—there’s not much there lyrically, and it’s not like we’ve been telling everybody, but all we had to do is put four words in the layout and they got it.
What is the best concept album that does not have any distorted guitar on it?
C: Nektar—Journey to the Center of the Eye?
B: I’m cool with that—that was a big fucking thing in making the band.
J: How about Sketches of Spain? A very loose theme, but an approach—the first song is one of my favorite of all time. Without distorted guitar, but very good thematics.
B: Folkwise—Townes Van Zandt’s self-titled I think is really great. Very personal songs—they could be telling his story.
Are you pursuing the brown note when you play live?
J: We definitely make people nauseous—I’ve been told that a lot. Especially in smaller rooms.
B: After you’ve all watched Live At Pompeii 50,000 times together—that’s an intimate experience—you see all the gear and you’re like, ‘Fuck, I need that shit!’
What does the death-metal band who practices across from you think of your music?
J: The nu-metal band or the band that was legit death metal? The legit death-metal band was Reciprocal—who were fucking awesome, by the way. They were way into us. And we were way into them, so it worked. The new guy across the hall is always coming over like, ‘Wanna go to a titty bar?’
B: They’re terrible—his band sounds like Powerman 5000.
How did a band of atheists get booked to play a fest organized by a Jewish magazine?
C: We all love satirical publications.
Is Judaism is the most satirical religion?
C: Being all atheists, I’ve heard Heeb is for intellectual young Jews, but being self-proclaimed idiots, we haven’t read it much! They contacted Tony at Tee Pee and he forwarded it to us. The magazine is cool—it looks like a good thing. It’s gonna be like a Western Religion education class at school. Different opinions, but we can all hold hands and rejoice!
What’s the next religion you’d like to work with?
J: I hope it’s Scientology. Big parties.
C: And a bunch of idiots who might like our sound.
Ancestors hail from southern California and play a style that includes doom, stoner and various other sounds all swirled together. I recently got to interview to find out more.
First let me say that your Neptune with fire album is just amazing. So please introduce yourselves and tell what instrument you play.
Justin: I’m Justin and I play guitar and sing.
Nick: I’m Nick and I play bass.
Jason: I’m Jason and I play organ.
Chico: I’m Chico and I do noise and ambiance as well as vocals.
Tell us a little about your band’s history.
Justin: We initially formed as a three-piece: just bass, drums and guitar. We played a few shows with very loosely written songs that were mostly just “stoner rock” jams. We tired of it fairly quickly and were eager for additional inspiration. We were looking for an organ player, but during our search Chico fell into our laps and starting adding the soundscape type elements to the music. Eventually Jason joined the band as our organ player and it just took off from there.
Who are your musical influences?
Justin: Our influences are pretty diverse, but some are definitely more prevalent than others. I’d say that Pink Floyd and King Crimson are probably our biggest influences. As for others in the prog/psych realm would have to include Nektar, Hawkwind, Agitation Free, Arzachel, Amon Düül II, Rush, Gong, Ash Ra Tempel, etc. More experimentally, and I know I can speak for both Chico and I when I say, Lars Gunnar Bodin, Stockhausen, Luc Ferrari, John Cage, Schaeffer and the whole musique concrète movement have been a big influence on the more abstract and ambient aspects of our music. And as far as the more modern influences, stuff like Neurosis, Sleep and Kyuss are probably the most obvious choices.
Jason: I am a classical pianist and I like a lot of Russian romantic/modern composers. I like a lot of heavy music and all the stuff that Justin just said.
What are some of your favorite albums of 2008 so far?
Justin: Tweak Bird – Whorses 7″; Graveyard – Graveyard; Annihilation Time – III: Tales of the Ancient Age; REM – Accelerate
Nick: I haven’t really been paying attention to new music lately. Although I’m digging the new Melvins record. Tweak Bird’s Whorses 7? is killer, too.
Jason: I dont listen to much new music, however, I’m pretty stoked that we get to play with a lot of the bands who are actually putting stuff out that I like a lot like Earthless and Graveyard.
Who have you opened for? What have been some of your more memorable shows so far?
Justin: We’ve played a lot of great shows. We’ve opened for a lot of incredible bands like Earthless, High on Fire, Today Is the Day, Saviours, Witch, DMBQ, Black Cobra, Lesbian, etc. Our most memorable shows tend to be the shows we play at The Smell. They’re always a great time and we always play with really great bands like Jesus Makes the Shotgun Sound and Tweak Bird.
Nick: The Smell is great, we fit perfectly in that place. It’s also much more loose as far as set times etc.. it’s not a “Rush your ass off to set up, or cut into your own set time.” Type thing, like Hollywood venues we’ve played.
Jason: I was pretty excited to play with Today Is the Day. They had been one of my favorite bands since high school, they were totally brutal.
Are you all from Southern California or are you originally from other places?
Justin: I’m originally from Southern California.
Nick: I’m from Colorado but moved to Southern California when I was 19 with my band at the time.
Jason: Southern California.
Chico: I’m originally from London. I only moved to Los Angeles about two years and a half ago.
You have two songs on your album. How did the writing process go for the album? Did you plan from the start on just doing two songs or did you just work that out along the way?
Justin: We have a tendency to write long songs by nature. We have a lot of ideas flowing out constantly and have never seen a reason to cut off the ideas just because a song is getting long. A long song only feels long if you let it get stale, and we’re always trying our best to keep the songs from getting stale. Initially we were just writing songs to write songs, with no real thought as to what we were going to do with them. As the concepts started to come together we began to realize that a two song record would probably be ideal and that it would give us a lot of breathing room within each song.
What are your songs about? Where do you get the inspirations for your song topics?
Chico: The songs have so far been about endeavors within the human condition, in particular the egocentric and the dumbfounded. Until now, they have played upon the much expected platform of mythology, which I’m avidly in favour of abandoning for the context of the next record.
How do you think that your band has progressed since you first started out?
Justin: Our music has definitely gotten more progressive. We’re less focused on being heavy, which I think just comes naturally at this point, and much more focused on making interesting and intricate songs. The newer songs have more of an ebb and flow and moves a bit more than the songs on Neptune. And as far as the music prior to Neptune, it’s much more cohesive. The jams became songs. That’s not to say that we no longer jam, but it’s no longer the foundation of our music.
Nick: I think we’ve always been in a good environment where we tend to push each other to play better and take it to the next level. It’s completely natural. It’s just the order of how the five of us write together.
Jason: Everyone has gotten more used to each other but everyone has also gotten a lot better as individual musicians recently.
In what areas do you think that you still need to improve?
Justin: I think we could always get tighter. And as we progress we continue to develop what seems like our own sound, but we’ll never be truly satisfied until we get to the point where you could walk into a room and hear an Ancestors song that you’ve never heard and say “this is Ancestors.” If you were to hear an AC/DC song you’ve never heard, you would still know that it was AC/DC, despite the fact that they’re a rock and roll band and most rock and roll bands sound relatively similar.
Nick: We’re constantly learning how to balance our own critiques of our music and see clearly what works and what doesn’t. It’s a balancing act that only experience can teach.Jason: Levels are tough to balance when your band is ungodly loud.
What are you doing that sets you apart from other bands going today?
Justin: I would like to think that we have our own way of approaching the style that we play, whatever you want to call it. A lot of bands have similar influences, but I think that we implement them in our own way and that hopefully sets us apart. There is an ever growing “stoner rock” and “doom metal” scene and we’re growing increasingly more tired of the idea of being just a “doom metal” band. I hope that people will see us as more than that. But in the end, we’re making music to please ourselves so that’s all that really matters in the grand scheme.
Is this the only band that all of you are in or are any of you in any side projects as well?
Justin: Brandon and I are in a rock and roll band called Night Horse with the former vocalist from Bluebird.
Nick: I have a one man drone project called Bruinen.
Jason: When I get home I play jazz piano in my underwear to my cat.
I know you have a few dates coming up in your area. Any plans for more in the near future? Are gas prices forcing you to think about where you can really afford to travel to play at?
Justin: We’re playing Diamond Days Festival in Oakland on July 19. Gas prices have definitely put a damper on potential tour plans, though we do hope to get on the road a bit this winter. Until then we’ll probably continue our sporadic Los Angeles shows and occasionally take a weekend to go out of town for a couple of shows here and there.
What other interests do you have besides music?
Justin: I’m in law school and I work, so I don’t really have time for other interests with two bands. I like movies?
Nick: I like to party.
Jason: I don’t get out much.
Pick the band from each of the following pair that you prefer and tell why you picked them.
Captain Beyond or Sir Lord Baltimore
Justin: Fuck that’s hard…I’m not sure I could pick which one I like more, so I’m just going to go with Sir Lord Baltimore because I get all pumped up when I listen to them.
Nick: I’d have to go with Captain Beyond, because their rhythms and song structures are a little more complex than Sir Lord Baltimore. Though both bands are excellent.
King Crimson or Pink Floyd
Justin: That’s even harder. I’m not even going to answer that one because it would change depending on my mood. They’re even in my book as two of my all-time favorite bands.
Nick: That is really difficult. Especially considering both bands have had such a significant impact on our music. I think I’d have to go with Crimson in terms of experimentation.
Electric Wizard or Sleep
Justin: Sleep, hands down. I like Electric Wizard, but Sleep introduced me to the whole stoner rock thing and introduced the world to Matt Pike and that guy is a monster on guitar (aside from Asbestosdeath, but whatever).
Black Sabbath or Hawkwind
Justin: I love Hawkwind, but Black Sabbath is more timeless, so I definitely have to choose them.
Nick: Black Sabbath. They defined heavy.
Is there anything else you would like to say about your band or your music?
Justin: Not really, thanks for listening and taking the time to interview us.
Nick: I’m good. Thanks again.