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To me 'heaviness' equates with passion and honesty

Interview with Sunn O))).
Stephen O'Malley has been around in the doom scene for quite some time now. Having been in multiple cult doom acts like Burning Witch, Thorr's Hammer and Sunn 0))) (still active) he now has a new band called Khanate. Stephen O'Malley has, through the years, become a regular centre for drone doom. We at doom-metal.com found this more than enough reason to talk to Stephen about past & present bands, his passion for music and other activities of the recent years. As such creating the first ever true doom-metal.com interview.

Hi Stephen and thanks for doing this interview for doom-metal.com.

"Sure. My pleasure."

Khanate First off with Sunn 0))), Burning Witch, Thorr's Hammer and now also Khanate it is getting hard to keep track of all your bands. Did we miss any bands in that list or are you planning more projects in the neat future?

"I have participated in all of those projects. In addition I have released material under the moniker SARIN (a power electronics project Edgy and I had together in 1996) and LOTUS EATERS (an experimental project together with James Plotkin and Aaron Turner).

Because of all these bands you seem to sort of become the centre of droning doom. How do you see your own position within the music industry?

"Please don't say that. It's embarrassing. My own position in the music industry has moved form working for a magazine to record labels to primarily doing a few record covers and concentrating on my music for a change (the present)."

What magazine did you work once work for?

"I published my own magazine, DESCENT, for 7 years/5 issues. I have also written for Metal Maniacs, Ledo Takas, Seconds, SLAYER and a few other magazines intermittently"

How do you manage to combine all these bands and projects?

Sunn O))) logo "They aren't combined in any way. KHANATE, SUNN O))) and LOTUS EATERS are all active at the present time but none of them is a complete commitment so it is rather easy to develop the entirety."

If I could give an one-word description of all your projects (and probably most works from Southern Lord), I would choose the word 'heavy'. How important is heaviness and intensity for you in experiencing and writing music?

"I guess it's very important. To me "heaviness" equates with passion and honesty. Not necessarily with tuning or whatnot, although that may be the result in my case sometime. It's absolutely essential for me to purge while creating. Although being in a relatively good place at the moment the sounds of KHANATE are completely unfabricated."

Moving to your individual projects. Could you tell us something more about the band you just mentioned, Khanate?

"James Plotkin and I met last autumn and he convinced me to jam again. We met with Tim Wyskida (Blind Idiot God) and Alan Dubin (ex-OLD, Shadowcast) and immediately hit it off. 6 months later we have finished recording our first album and Southern Lord will release this in October already. It's been extremely productive but everyone involved has been making music for long enough to be clear about where we want to take the sounds.
KHANATE could be personally the next step of my own BURNING WITCH experience with a more experimental edge. James' production technique added something extraordinary to it all. Its heavy fucking doom with tortured vocals."

You were planning to take Khanate on the road right?

"Yes, KHANATE is an active band which will be playing shows in the New York area and touring elsewhere. We begin with 3 dates with THRONES in late august/early September in Brooklyn, Providence and New Jersey. There is a possibility that our first tour would actually be in Europe before the end of 2001."

Burning Witch From what I heard of Khanate it reminds me a lot of Burning Witch. Is there any connection?

"Just me and the mission."

Speaking of Burning Witch, it seem to be an either hate em love em band for most doom fans, mainly due to the extreme vocals. What kind of a response did you get?

"Not much for years then it sort of became a cult act. I have met BURNING WITCH fanatics all over the place. It's strange but the band got very little press and didn't play too many shows during our existence. Most of the interest was posthumous and the albums were each released years after they were recorded. Still, I am perfectly happy with the position the band achieved."

What actually happend with Burning Witch?

"The band broke up in 1997 when I moved to England from Seattle. It's probably impossible that the four of us will ever be in the same place at the same time again."

Let's move on to Sunn O))). The depth and heaviness of Sunn O))) seems to be unmatched. How did the composing process for such a project go? Is it improvisational music, or were the tracks already finished to the smallest details when you entered the studio?

Sunn O))) "On THE GRIMMROBE DEMOS we actually rehearsed quite a bit for the album and performed live as a two piece (myself and Anderson) a number of times prior as well. Stuart (G:Subharmonia) came in on the recordings but the three of us have a chemistry which works perfectly for that type of music. With 00 VOID we were living on three corners of the US, we planned to each bring one track to the recording and decided on a MELVINS song to reinterpret in the studio as well. We didn't rehearse the songs prior, or even play together for 7 months but the result was flattening anyway. for the upcoming third CD FLIGHT OF THE BEHEMOTH our recordings were culled from across our entire existence so the methods varied but were mainly improvised in the studio. FOtB has two tracks mixed/assembled/deconstructed/produced by outside individuals: Masami Akita aka MERZBOW and James Plotkin. So, it should be something altogether different.

I have heard that Sunn 0))) was inspired by cult-drone band Earth?

"Yes of course. EARTH is a major influence on my guitar playing. SUNN O))) is one of our altars to them."

Your Thorr's Hammer project is perhaps the easiest for most people to get into. You however only ever released one Mcd and then disbanded the band? Or are there still any plans for a follow-up?

"We have talked about a follow up but its just not logistically easy to pull off. Maybe someday. Not exactly a priority but it may happen someday."

Thorr's Hammer has a "nordic" sounding name, Norwegian lyrics and Runhild who sings on it is from Norway, giving the project sort of a Norwegian feel. Not something you would expect from a band based in the US. How did this come about? Do you have any special connection with Norway?

Thorr's Hammer - Runhild "These aspects were derived from Runhild's personal choices with the lyrics and vocals. That was entirely her department and I suppose it was completely natural for her to sing in Norwegian and regarding Norwegian mythological themes. My only special connection to Norway is her although I have known many Norwegian people in my life of course and travelled there in the past. Beautiful country and people! The name THORR'S HAMMER was half a modification of HELLHAMMER and half a result of Greg and my own impressions of Thorr."

Are you guys still in contact with Runhild?

"Yes, we speak every few months or so."

I've heard that 'Dommedagsnatt' was recorded in just two evenings??

"yeah that's right, mixed too! Not exactly the pinnacle of beauty is it?"

Southern Lord I always found the harsh sounds to work perfectly :). If we return to your "new" band Khanate, like all your other bands, you also signed it to Southern Lord. What is your connection with this label?

"Greg and I started it in 1998 after I moved to LA, or more accurately I helped him start it. It was his baby from day one but I was more involved when I lived in LA up until may of 99. My connections now are graphics and design for the label primarily. Greg is my warbrother."

Yeah I also seem to stumble across your name as the artwork designer for a lot of recent doom-metal albums as well as older ones. Is artwork design another one of your passions?

"I don't know if I'd call it a passion at the moment but in the last 5-6 years or so I've worked on probably around 70 releases of all sorts. I've been working professionally as a graphic designer and art director since 1996. The doom scene is refreshing to do design for since most individuals are unaware of my other work. I am excited to work on the new LAST CHAPTER CD on Brainticket soon!"

For us at doom-metal.com, the term "doom-metal" has a special significance. What does that term mean to you?


And would you consider your projects doom-metal projects?


Short but to the point :) To round things off a bit of a standard question, I was wondering what are the bands that you are currently listening to and/or influences on your music?


Is there anything I forgot you would like to add?

"No, thanks alot for the interview. People can check on southernlord.com and hydrahead.com for more information. SKIN COAT by KHANATE is available for preview on an mp3 at:


The KHANATE debut will be released in Europe on LP and CD October 8th, and in the USA on October 30th. SUNN O))) "FLIGHT OF THE BEHEMOTH" will be released later in 2001 or early 2002."

Thanx a lot and good luck with all of your projects and occupations!

"Thanks! Same to you and hail to BORIS, CATHEDRAL, GOATSNAKE and CORRUPTED!!!! Hail Tim Bagshaw"

Visit the Sunn O))) bandpage.

Interviewed on 2001-06-23 by Aldo Quispel and Kostas Panagiotou.
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