That’s right, it’s a double feature! I’ve been listening so much to The Huntsmen‘s upcoming release, Mandala of Fear, that it only seemed right to set up something deeper than “just” a premiere. Lo and behold, the band agreed to take part in one of my favorite columns, The Anatomy Of, and gave birth to this excellent double feature. Now, let me clue you in on something regarding The Anatomy Of series: when we pitch it to bands, usually through their PR folks (hey Stephanie!), we add a few directions on how to write it. One of those directions is “you’re welcome to stick to the format but please feel free to have fun with it”. We want this column to represent how artists see their own influences and thus like to give them the option to go a little wild. When they do, it’s simply a delight and honestly what makes this column so good. I’m happy to report then that The Huntsmen totally took us up on our offer and decided to dedicate their Anatomy Of contribution to (not really) guilty pleasures.
But before we jump into their selections (they’re a doozy, I promise), we have “A Nameless Dread” and Mandala of Fear to talk about. Starting from the album, I can safely say that its one of the standout albums of the early phases of 2020 and will probably still stay burning strongly as we make headway into the year. It’s quite hard to nail down; think Mastodon by way of Circle Takes the Square with a tinge of black metal to boot. It’s an expansive, fuzzy, and bewildering album which isn’t afraid to dive deep (or wide, depending on how you look at it) into its influences and channel them in all sorts of interesting ways.
“A Nameless Dread” is a great example of that. Sure, the track starts off normally enough, channeling those progressive stoner metal vibes I mentioned above. But watch out near the middle of the track, when the harsh vocals soar into the forefront of the mix, accompanied by some downright furious blast-beats. Naturally, The Huntsmen won’t let one transition suffice; the music then fades right back into a stoner rock guitar bridge and then dual vocal tracks which channel everything into the emotional climax of the track, which of course then revisits those more acrid influences from the beginning of the track.
It’s a ride and a half and the album is no different. Along its substantial run-time, The Huntsmen land, alight, and take flight around these themes and ideas, revisiting their myriad influences in all sorts of cool and unexpected ways. Which brings us right back into their Anatomy Of (see what I did here?) and the, shall we say, unorthodox choices on it. So, what I recommend is to play “A Nameless Dread” via the handy link just above while you’re reading the band’s picks. Shaking and grabbing your head while murmuring “what the fuck” is not essential but can definitely amplify the experience. Oh, and when you’re done, make sure to head on over here to pre-order Mandala of Fear; you won’t regret it.
Marc Najjar (bass/vocals) – Lyle Lovett
We were on a tour with Livid and were amped up from all the shenanigans with those fellas. Pranks, roman-candle fights, texting voice memos of triumphant farts. The usual from two bands of miscreants. While making the drives, our soundtracks were superb and also very personal. Everyone enjoyed the selection, and it was quite diverse.
…Until it was my turn to pick. We had driven past one of those “HELL IS REAL” signs (you know the ones) and the spirit grabbed me. While driving, I immediately asked Kirill ‘hey dude…can you put on Lyle Lovett‘s album, Joshua Judges Ruth?'” Kirill obliged and we were off. I was so excited because I’ve loved Lyle Lovett since I was a kid, and no one in my circle of friends seemed to be familiar with his work.
So…first track was met with a somber “oh, this is fine…” vibe, so I yelled out “WELL WAIT UNTIL YOU HEAR THIS ONE!”
Song title: ‘Church“
The piano plays a G and a gospel choir finds their pitch in a heavenly triad. Then Lyle comes in, telling the story of his BATSHIT CRAZY experience at church from the Sunday before. I am clapping, singing my little heart out, all the while looking to my bandmates, my soulmates, for affirmation (“c’mon! you like this, right”).
So…I’m dad-rocking all over the place and look around. CRICKETS. After the song ends, I give the ol’ “so whuddya guys think?”
“IT WAS TOO MUCH LIKE CHURCH AND I HATED IT. WAAAAAAH. BOOOOO HOOOO”
Well, fuck those guys. I’m right. Lyle Lovett rules.
Marc – Michael McDonald
It was 2007 and I was having a particularly shitty day. My CD player on my car stopped working and I was delivering pizzas. Huge bummer for a 20 year old delivery driver, because that was my time to listen to new stuff. I turned on the radio to make the shitty night go by faster.
I was in a classic rock mood, so I popped on a classic rock station. The Eagles were on…Goddamnit. Not in the mood. Then the usual suspects — CCR (Sweet), Zeppelin, Beatles. And then, the Doobie Brothers.
I had grown up understanding that I was supposed to hate everything the Doobs put out once Michael McDonald joined the band, so when “Takin’ It To The Streets” came on after a particularly rude customer gave me an $0.89 tip (even though I was there in under 30 minutes, I might add), I was beyond pissed. I had reached “the highest level of pisstivity.” And now fuckin’ Mickey McDazz?
I was so irrationally pissed that, after coming up to the crowded North/Milwaukee/Damen intersection, I did what any normal person would do when they’re angry; I rolled down the windows and turned up the volume up as high as it would go and hate-sang that shit as loud as I could, just so others could be miserable with me.
The fucked up thing was that, by the time I crossed the intersection (after the first chorus), I was really starting to enjoy it. I actually hated it to the other side.
And now, a personal goal of mine is to collaborate with Michael McDonald himself! The dude has collaborated on so much incredible music. If you get past the unique vocal style, you’ll realize his musical genius. In fact, listen to his collaborations with Grizzly Bear and Thundercat and go ‘head and miss me with your petty bullshit about his voice.
Kirill Orlov (guitars) – Drake – Thank Me Later
The date is sometime in July 2010 and Marc, Chris, and I are on tour with our current band. Our first stop of the tour was one of the “easiest” drives…New York. Naturally, we wake up nice and early, I even spent the night at Chris’s house that night since I live about 40 minutes away from the rehearsal space and the rest of the guys. Side note, somehow that night, while asleep, I caught a cold or just became allergic to Chris’s cat because the next morning I was feeling like complete shit. Anyways, that morning we all piled into a CRV with an attached trailer, went off to the space to grab our gear, and set off into the sunset.
At this time in my life I just got out of a long lasting relationship with a little thing called Degrassi, I assume one of Canada’s most priced possessions. A few weeks prior to tour I learned that Jimmy Brooks (Drake) came out with a hip hop/rap/R&B masterpiece and I HAAAAD to listen to it. After several hours of driving, I knew I had to break everyone into the ONE and ONLY Drake. I really built up the album prior to us putting it on, noting its lyrical content and production thanks to Drake’s long time collaborators 40 and Boi-1da (among several guest producers); it was an easy sell. I’ll admit that we’re very willing to listen to almost anything in the car, so thank you guys.
Once “Fireworks” hit, first track that featured Alicia Keys, (in my mind at least), I knew I hit the jackpot and we’ll be listening to this album the rest of the trip. Once the album finished, per the title of the last track I knew they would “Thank Me Now”. I basically got a “that was alright” from most of the band. Forcefully, since I was in the front, I put the full album on several more times to prove my point – it was AMAZING. After that tour and 10+ years of being around each other we’ve never listened to “Thank Me Later” again. I still sing every lyric and I’m not ashamed of loving it.
Ray Knipe (Drums/Vocals) – Bob Seger
My story takes place in the distant past. And remember – we all learn from the dumb shit we used to do so if my mom ever reads this: I LOVE YOU AND I’M SORRY!
So, when I was younger I had started smoking and drinking at a pretty early age. I wasn’t a bad kid but I definitely had a problem with authority and I usually made my own decisions on what I could and should do. So most of my time was spent listening to and playing music, and getting high. There were multiple times before I was old enough to have a license that I would take my parents’ car to go smoke a joint or go to a party, etc. These nights would start with me silently sneaking out of the house, popping the car into neutral and letting it quietly cruise down the driveway to the street. Then I would turn it on and get out of there as quick as possible. The real problem was getting back up the driveway on the way home.
At this point in my life, I knew full well the repercussions of what I was doing, so every time I would take a late night cruise I would get very anxious when it was time to come home. That’s when my buddy Bob Seger comes in. Probably 4 or 5 times in a row the local classic rock station would play “Turn the Page” when I was about 5 minutes from being home, and somehow it made me less anxious about my impending doom. Then, after about the third night in a row hearing the soothing voice of ol’ Bob on the radio, I realized that this was an omen. I knew I would get home safe without waking my parents if I heard that song. Maybe it was the timeless themes of being an outsider, loneliness and aggravation that attracted a rebellious teenager like myself but that was my safe song. Of course I got caught multiple times by my folks doing this little maneuver later on but never after hearing “Turn the Page”.
Chris Kang (vocals/guitars) – Top Gun Soundtrack
The most important, formative album in my life was the Top Gun soundtrack. Among other immaculate tracks, “Mighty Wings” by Cheap Trick feels to me like liquid freedom. I used to visit Virginia Beach with my family each summer as a kid. It’s right near Oceana Naval Air Base. So I’d just lie in the sun, peaceful at last, and pairs of F-14 Tomcats would rip by overhead on drills. Obviously back then I didn’t know how to associate the gravity of war and bloodshed with them, so they just felt like strength, substance, and mobility, like being unfettered. I’ve never let go of that feeling and I try to remember to go to it when I need to check my compass.
I didn’t really have friends growing up who listened to cool music. There were no deep cuts or “this band was influenced by”s or “have you heard of”s. That’s probably fine, since it left me to be self sufficient in feeling out what I liked from among the cacophony, which consisted mostly of 60’s-80’s movie soundtracks, classical music (via my dad), and 80’s radio across all kinds of genres. I couldn’t tell you the band names or song titles of much of the music that influenced me the most, I just sort of passively soaked it up.
By the 90’s, it was grunge and alternative radio, nothing that will come as a shock- Smells Like Teen Spirit turned me on to heavy music, Alice in Chains showed me how to put structure and beauty around pain, Soundgarden showed me it was OK to just get weird while still conveying focused power.
But here’s the real gem you came for. I was a very sensitive boy, still am. So I really fell in love with Sarah MacLachlan. I saw her play with my mom and sister (yep) and it’s tied with Fleetwood Mac for best live performance I’ve ever seen. She’s why I think vulnerability is the most potent secret ingredient in any music you write.
So those are my biggest influences, “Mighty Wings” and “Sweet Surrender”. Exploring the confounding realms and twisting roads that lie betwixt is a real trip.