The album title “Black Market Entertainment” seems to insinuate that enlightenment is hard to come by nowadays. Was that the idea?
The albums title takes a pop at how I used to view LSD and cannabis when I was in my late teens/early twenties, and the irony of how I ended up actually suffering from a deep existential crisis, coupled with psychosis, panic attacks, chronic paranoia, derealisation and agoraphobia, despite the fact that I was convinced those drugs were the path to enlightenment. It took me 5 years to fry my wires. The artwork is also a reflection of that ironic journey. And yeah, enlightenment IS hard to come by nowadays. Religion in the form of Christianity is on the way out… it came in, removing our innate fascination with nature and energy, and then failed, leaving us with literally nothing. When you’re growing up you can get flashes of energy and artificial spiritual experiences from street drugs, and that’s kinda half the journey but a lot of people are blocked off from nature by miles of concrete, and its all pretty fucking unnatural. Wow, that got deep real quick.
How did the writing process for this album compare to previous albums? I know you’ve told me that you have s vault of songs in your head but you started from scratch, right? There must have been a driving theme that needed to come out!
Yeah, well, when I’ve been getting my songs together for every Antimatter release since ‘Planetary Confinement’, they’ve been a mixture of archive and new songs. And with this being the 7th Antimatter album (and with 7 being a really significant number for me) I wanted to push something out that was incredibly forward thinking. I knew that I couldn’t do this if I reverted back to the method of using a percentage of archive songs, as the old stuff has an old sound. It was frustrating at first because some of my older songs fitted the concept of ‘Black Market Enlightenment’ perfectly, as they were written back when I was still suffering with addiction and existential crises. But I stuck to my guns instead, as I felt that I had to go forward. Push forward and find new textures, new ways of writing, performing, singing. It was the right choice.
Were there any leftover songs or ideas? Because you were clearly on a roll here!
Totally… I had 13 songs in my list right throughout the working process, and it was like a horse race. Songs would be moved off and back onto the list. In the end I moved four songs off the album, including the title track. This is the first Antimatter album to not have a title track, although the song ‘Black Market Enlightenment’ was there right up until the 11th hour. In fact I moved it off the night before I went to Germany to record the drums with Fab Regmann, and replaced it with ‘Existential’, because I suddenly realised that ‘Existential’ absolutely had to be there, for both musical and narrative reasons. So it was just a case of ”Hey Fab, here’s a song you’ve never heard, but don’t worry, the drums go like this….”, and I played him the demo and he recorded it piece by piece. It turned out fucking great, it was totally the right decision. But this always happens with my albums. I still have 4 songs that didn’t win the race onto ‘The Judas Table’, two from ‘Fear Of A Unique Identity’. And its not that they’re bad songs either, they just had to go because the other songs shaped the overall picture of the album as a whole better. And then, because they’re written around a specific concept, they don’t get to go anywhere else because that concept is done and I’m moving onto another concept for the next album. Most of these songs were fully written, arranged, demo’d… I keep saying it, but I will have to do something with them all soon, because I also have a full albums worth of material of songs that didn’t make it onto ‘Saviour’, ‘Lights Out’, ‘Planetary Confinement’, not to mention my music from 1995-1998. That’s three albums.
Musically it’s the heaviest sounding album that Antimatter has done, at least for me it is. I love that! Was that a conscious decision?
It was a conscious decision to write away from the acoustic guitar as much as possible, in order to draw out new musical forms from myself. That then meant that I was spending less time with an acoustic and more time with an electric guitar in my hands, writing, experimenting. ‘Between The Atoms’ would never have come into the world if I’d have had an acoustic guitar in my hands that day. I love that about this track, its so far removed from anything else I’ve done, and that’s exactly what I was aiming for, fresh meat.
The album opens with the menacing The Third Arm. I think it’s an incredible opener. Help me out with the meaning.
It’s my own expression, and it comes from conversations I’ve with people where I’ve tried to describe to them what my own past addiction felt like, the processes I went through. How I always used to put it, was that I would start each day with a blank canvass, and try, day in day out, to not reach for my stash. But at some point during each and every day, no matter how tightly I held my arms by my side, some inner, third arm would reach out and grab it. It’s a really bizarre title, and not self-explanatory at all. I did try to come up with some other title that was more revealing to the listener, but it absolutely had to be ‘The Third Arm’.
Partners in Crime is often a term that is romanticized but here it has a totally different meaning. Fuckers…leeches…
Yeah, I’m focussing on the seedy relationships that form between users, and I say seedy because these relationships are based primarily upon getting together and being deviant, and not about any real personal connection. It happens all over. We have a saying in the UK, ‘Birds of a feather flock together’, and it’s true – people with common interests, common ground.. except these interests are completely squalid. Be it a pair of heroin addicts, a troupe of alcoholics, a flock of teenagers with a shared interest of a particular substance, its all about one thing – enabling, and fuck all about actual friendship. And its very, very hard to break out of a social framework, especially when that framework doesn’t want you to break out, for their own selfish reasons.
There’s some amazing musicians on the album, present company excepted. The sax in particular just works so well. Sanctification is one of my favorite songs and the sax makes that even more powerful. Wow. How do you work out arrangements?
I love this part. What I’ve always done is record an album and then get soloists in at the end to play in specific places. What they play varies from song to song and person to person. Sometimes I know exactly what melody I want, sometimes I have a ballpark melodic idea and sometimes I just let them go in blind on multiple takes. For the sax on Sanctification for example, I had the melody for the first 8 bars in my head, and then after that Paul just went off on his own tangents. I recorded about 12 takes, got it home and then spent 2 days editing the solo, going fucking nuts. But that’s where you get the really good stuff, and Paul is a complete professional by the way, so I had the run of multiple fantastic pieces to go off. My OCD brain always manages to find patterns, and then link them up from start to finish in a journey that makes total sense in terms of development. I’m quite nerdy in that regard.
I know you’re very close to your songs but tell me about some of your favourites on the album. How do these hold up against some of your older ones?
I’m in love with ‘The Third Arm’, for me its one of my best songs. Some people might agree or disagree, but personally, I love it. And its a good feeling to be like 23 years into my writing and come up with something that sits at the top of my pile, in my own humble opinion.
You are releasing this album independently which is a first for you. Why did you decide to do this and not go through Prophecy Productions?
I’ve been watching young bands on social media making E.Ps/albums, pressing small runs and working on getting sales, and something inside of me has been getting increasingly envious of people going down this route. It looked incredibly exciting, hands-on and rewarding. I’ve had my label for ten years now, which I’ve used to release little live things here and there on the side, and the DVD ‘Live Between The Earth & Clouds’ that I released last year did okay, so I just instinctively knew that this was the way I was gonna release the new album. Prophecy did want to re-sign me, and I made sure that they knew it was nothing against them, it was all about this urge inside of me. As it turns out, I think I made the right decision. I’m super fucking busy these days with all the packing and posting, but it really feels right, like a grass roots cottage industry or something.
Where can folks buy the album?
The main outlet is the official webstore https://antimatter.bigcartel.com and I’m also setting up shop with distributors/shops in Germany, Poland, Netherlands and hopefully UK too. Pretty much all of my time these days is spent getting CDs into parcels and getting them shipped off, which is great, but fuck me, I would like something resembling a week off sometime soon. That doesn’t look realistic though!
I hope you’re touring! What’s next for you?
We just finished the first leg of the ‘Black Market Tour’ which was the most successful Antimatter tour so far. I think it was really bolstered by the new song and video, and its been great to look out these days and see more and more people with their eyes closed singing along… Next up were off to Dubai, which will be the first time in the middle east, so, again, things are growing, developing. The ‘Black Market Tour’ second leg kicks off in March where we will do some eastern European cities.
As for the studio side of things, Luis and I are in the early stages of getting the next Sleeping Pulse album together, and I have a number of options as to what will be the next Antimatter release. I’m showing no signs of slowing down. It’s all good!
Great interview Rob. Watch Mick and this Band reach the heights.
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