Rosetta: Eric Jernigan & Matt Weed – The Heavy Blog Is Heavy Interview

Rosetta are held in extremely high regard around these parts. Ever since the mid 2000s the band has been releasing absolutely stunning metal music, leading all the way up to their newest LP, Quintessential Ephemera, which garnered praise from all directions. Aside from adding another guitarist, the band has remained one consistent line up and has continued to pump out great music like clockwork, playing shows the world over. A few days before the album dropped, I got the chance to speak with the guitar duo of Matt Weed and Eric Jernigan, the latter of which is a fresh face to the band, to talk about the state of post-metal, the album itself, and how adding a second guitarist really helped the band grow.

Welcome, guys! Let’s just get right down to it. The album comes out in a few days, so are you guys excited for people to finally hear it? I know the singles got a great reception.

MW: Yeah! I think I’m looking forward to it being out so that the stress of this whole PR process—the push, the administration, and everything else—will finally go away. I definitely feel as though I’ve been living in a black hole for the last month and a half just working on this thing. So now that it’s about to drop I can start to focus on going out and touring and that sort of thing. So, yeah, I’m excited for people to hear it. I think it’ll be cool!

Especially since you guys are self-releasing the record, it must be stressful to essentially have to do everything yourself.

MW: To some extent, although I think more so than on the last record we had a lot of people partnering with us on this one that actually helped a lot. With the last one it was literally just us with some help from the folks who produced it for us, but this time around there’s been a lot more people involved. So it’s like the work is more diffused but the amount of coordination that needs to happen has been more extensive than before.

At least you’re almost out of the thick of it!

 MW: For sure.

Speaking of coordination, you guys recently had your first ever lineup change by inviting Eric to become a part of the band. What prompted you guys to do that, and how has it changed the sound of the band?

 MW: Well I think it was a part of the thinking process after The Anaesthete came out where before that we weren’t really sure if we could continue as a band. There was no money left, and we were out of contract with our label and things were not looking good at all. Then The Anaesthete kind of changed all of that, and it did really well. Suddenly, we had all these options, and Eric was actually in New York when we were recording the record. He was friends with our producer Andrew Schneider who also did City Of Ships [Eric’s former band] records as well and so, yeah. Eric sang on track five from The Anaesthete and so we reflected on what that was like doing that, and so we thought it was a lot of fun and would be interesting to get him involved with more stuff if he was into it. So we batted that around and Dave [Grossman, bass] got in touch with him to be a part of the band. So, yeah. In terms of the second question, the sound is, you can correct me if I’m wrong on this, but there’s a good deal more optimism in the sound on this record than in the past, and it’s hard for me to know how much of that is Eric being a part of the writing process and how much of that is relative towards the change of context now, where things are a lot better than they were three years ago. At least to the extent that the band feels more creatively energized than we have in a long time, I think that’s mostly due to Eric being in the band.

EJ: I kind of wondered if the optimism might be because we have such a good report with each other, and reflecting on the many hours of writing and rehearsal over the last year and a half, the main memories that come to my mind are us laughing and making jokes and genuinely enjoying each other’s company, so I think that influenced the general direction of the sounds and the riffs and the way we chose to play something. I was thinking last night during rehearsal, we have certainly the fastest moments ever on a Rosetta record on happening on this record. So yeah I think it’s all a result of us being energized from being together and playing together. We play off each other’s ideas.

It’s funny you mention that, because when I was jamming The Anaesthete, I thought it sounded so dark just because of the label situation and you guys just being generally fed up with all that garbage, and then I felt this record is the antithesis of that. Whereas the last one was cathartic, the new record is basically you five saying “OK, now we got that off our chest. We feel better. We can finally do what we really want to do.” I’ve said it’s the only post-metal album you can listen to on a bright sunny day when everything’s fine.

 MW: [laughs] It’s funny because it’s just a matter of semantics kind of of like how you choose to describe a situation, but I guess in retrospect The Anaesthete was what we really really wanted to do at that point in time. There were some reviews that said “oh, this band is just phoning it in; they’re tired,” and, you know, they’re entitled to their opinion. I don’t have a problem with it. But I actually think that to the extent that we were in a really bad period, there were more elements in play than just simply the label situation. The biggest problem was that we had spent $8000 on a new bus to go tour in that lasted us nine shows before we had to scrap it. So we just lost all our money on this van that didn’t work and we were practicing and writing the album in a garage, so we had the cops called on us numerous times, and basically we were evicted from where we were practicing and we had no more money. We had the sense like, ok, we had been in a band for ten years, and this is the state of things? We have an audience that’s international and we’ve been a band for a decade and we’re being evicted from a garage while trying to write a new album? It’s like, what is wrong here? So sort of the generalized expression of disgust in The Anaesthete was sort of an authentic response to that, and so at that time it was exactly the record we wanted to make. I’m proud of that record. But I think it was also a necessary stepping stone to get to a new place, to get to something else. Now that Eric is in the band, the tone has changed, the band is doing well. This year Quintessential Ephemera is the record we wanted to make. It’s funny, when writing The Anaesthete I was listening to a lot of sludge and doom and 90’s hardcore, and that formed my musical outlook at the time. But on this record I was listening to Oceansize and Failure and the new Jakob record, so the stuff I was surrounding myself with was another indicator that the mood, the context, had changed. The hope is that people encounter it and it’s not what they’re used to and it’s different, so whether you’re talking about the exhaustion and anger we wanted you to feel on the last record or something like Quintessential that’s really uplifting, the hope is that people would encounter it with an open mind because it’s an honest reflection of what we’re going through at any given time.

You bring up an interesting point in the beginning with people saying you phoned it in. I was talking with an editor the other day about the record and he wanted me to ask you if post-metal is dead. To him, a lot of bands just make the same record over and over again, and to him they don’t enjoy it anymore or change completely. Do you guys agree, or that it’s just in a “down” period right now?

 EJ: To me there was a defining moment for that genre, and I think that’s passed. So to me it doesn’t really exist as like a factor in my quest for new music. I have a host of core album that I’ll return to for the rest of my life that reshape what I thought about heavy music. But I don’t see many bands operating in that genre at this point that are doing anything that you can define as strictly “post -metal”. I don’t see any bands doing anything in the genre that’s better or inspiring to me. And even my friends that are musical comrades don’t follow that as a genre as this point.

MW: I agree. To some extent, I’m actually less likely to check out a new band if someone calls them “post-metal” than if they don’t say anything at all about the band, because if they’re like “this is post-metal; it’s so great,” then it’s like I expect a certain type of dynamic progression, a certain type of minor key riff…

EJ: A certain tempo.

MW: Yeah a tempo, a certain clean-to-distortion kind of thing, like everything’s gonna be at 105 BPM, with downtuned guitars, and so I know exactly what it’s going to sound like before I hear it. All of a sudden the “surprise” valve is shut off, and essentially removing the possibility of being blown away by it. It’s less a problem with the actual music but more so a problem with the classification of it. Certainly any band that makes music—to get a classification, as opposed to making the music they want and letting people label it how they want—is more of a marketing thing than anything else. I don’t think that good, quality, intelligent heavy music is over. Maybe we’re moving on from the label and the set of conventions that Isis established that other bands copied, but I really hope we’re not done with cool, thought provoking, inventive music with cinematic qualities in it. That’s what I strive to do with this band.

EJ: In general I don’t see bands carrying banners of the foundations others before them flew. I like to think our newest record is helping break new ground. But, then again, you can even look into Rosetta’s past and see the influences of Rosetta and how that affected the sound. I look forward to moving away from those tropes that plague the genre of post-metal today.

For sure. I definitely see your new record as something that will hopefully break new ground and push the envelope a little bit. You mentioned that you guys were listening to a lot more positive stuff while writing and recording. Were you listening to anything new or just strictly older stuff?

 MW: I think, for me, the number one most important things for me last year was re-discovering the Oceansize discography, and since they broke up in 2010 I spent more time with their last record than anything else. I never really went too far back into their early stuff. For whatever reason I loaded up a playlist on my computer of their entire discography front to back, and that was just constantly on in the background. I didn’t appreciate this in college when it was all coming out. There’s all these moods and interesting things they’re doing with guitar counterpoints, and maybe the reason I was interested was because now, with Eric, we have two guitarists, and now I can finally do some cool interplay with melodic stuff that I didn’t and couldn’t do before, being the only guitar player in the band. But at the same time the other two most important records, well, actually three, of 2014 were all brand new stuff. The new Jakob record, the new record Atomos by A Winged Victory For The Sullen which I think is top 20 all time for me, and lastly the latest Boards Of Canada record from 2013, which is actually really dark and angry for them. All those records have nothing to do with metal and can’t be described as “pissed off” in any sort of way. There was a lot of rediscovery and new discovery for me. The common thread is that they had very little to do with heavy music.

EJ: I agree completely. Historically I listen to a ton of metal and heavy music, but over the last couple of years I’ve found that playing heavy music all the time and writing heavy music kind of makes me want to retreat to something more mellow, more uplifting. I’ve turned to a lot of ambient music, for sure. Boards Of Canada for sure. I love putting it on and just not thinking about it, just letting it kind of wash over me. I really try to use that kind of stuff in my guitar playing.

MW: Yeah, I’ve noticed how happy and energized that music makes me. A record having that effect is heavy to me, in a way. No crazy riffs, but its just beautiful and smart. It makes you empowered, wanting to go do stuff. Kind of like metal as a whole.

Going back to the new record, the only two songs that actually have titles are the opening track and the closing track. Was this a conscious decision by the band, or was it Mike [Armine, vocals] thought of doing?

 MW: The lyric process this time around was much more democratic than it ever has been. It’s always been exclusively Armine’s deal in the past but this time around everyone was involved to some extent. Eric and Mike most of all. The title of the last track “Nothing In The Guise Of Something” is a quote from the book The Fragile Absolute by Slavoj Zizek. He’s got this humorous section in there about caffeine free Diet Coke. He goes on and on about it being the distillation of pure exchange value, using Marxist terms. At the end, he basically said that caffeine free Diet Coke doesn’t do anything for anybody; you just consume this thing and it’s gone. So it’s ephemeral. And it’s literally nothing in the guise of something. It felt like that line fit with the title and with what we were trying to explore in the digital age life where people are constantly consuming nothingness in these virtual projections of themselves. The first track, I don’t even know if I should say this, but I suggested we should call it “The Funeral Of Post-Rock” and everyone else said it was too mean spirited to have on the album {laughs]. So we decided to play on the term “post” and call it “After The Funeral”, so that title is more of a joke. The untitled songs really beg the question: well, could we really add anything to these titles to make them more meaningful? If we can’t let’s just not title them.

EJ: I suggested at one point we use a series of symbols or blocks to denote the songs, and on the album jacket that’s how it is. But on someone’s digital music player, you can’t have a bunch of emojis or whatever [laughs].

Well technically the post you guys threw on your Facebook page about The Galilean Satellites was more mean-spirited [laughs].

 EJ: Oh, that was all Matt! [laughs]

GalileanTroll

MW: It’s definitely the best troll I’ve ever done, and in fact, it was the most popular post from our page ever. It’s mean-spirited yeah, but I try to separate that from the actual albums themselves, but when you talk to any one of us, we’re all totally funny like that. We mess around, we’re jokey people. I was simply tired of people trashing our album art, so I took 5 minutes in Photoshop and made a cover of what people wanted, and in the comments people actually posted real albums with the exact same cover! I was laughing so hard.

EJ: Social media is such a necessary evil now, that sometimes it’s painful to deal with, so it’s fun when we get to poke some fun back at people. I’m not too big on posting review links and hyping up and album because it’s tiresome. The funny posts like that are the ones I enjoy doing, and Matt does as well.

And that also goes back to you guys doing everything yourselves now. Is it harder being independent, having the Pay-What-You-Want style downloads on Bandcamp?

 MW: On the last record, that was the big question, was whether or not it would work. And actually the album did fairly well, and the average price paid for it was over $9.00, and the median was $7.50 even though three quarters of downloads were free downloads. It means there are people out there paying because they wanted to support. It makes more sense then crowd funding, where you’re promising something that’s not even done yet. This way the audience can hear, decide if they enjoy it, and pay for it if they choose. Crowd funding means you’re hoping for high rollers to help. This way there’s no psychological pressure associated with crowd funding. The album an make significantly less but we can still be okay because we’ve removed the middle man. Even after Bandcamp takes its share, which is incredibly fair, 90% of the album sales went to us, which helps us going forward. I’m grateful for it. It’s a lot more work being independent, but it’s more artistically freeing.

For sure! Unfortunately we’ve reached the end of this interview, but before I go, do you guys have any long term touring plans?

 MW: We have lots of ideas and we can do them, but people have lives and stuff like that. Dave now has a daughter who’s 18 months, so he can’t leave for 7 weeks at a time, Armine is a school teacher during the academic year, but we’re doing Europe in the end of July and beginning of August, and we’re stoked. There’s stuff that we haven’t announced yet. We’re trying to get down to the West Coast, and down South towards December. We’re trying to do Southeast Asia and Japan and stuff, but the plans are still a ways off.

Sweet! Once again, thanks for your time guys. Cheers, and congratulations!

 EJ: Thanks dude!

MW: Later man!

 


 

Quintessential Ephemera is available now for a Pay What You Want pricetag via Bandcamp. Stream the entire record below.

-SS

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