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After some years of delay - the debut album was originally being "teasered" as coming in late 2018 - and some fairly significant changes along the way, Australian Baroque Funeral Doom band ESTRANGEMENT are getting ever closer to their goal. We caught up with main man JS for an in-depth discussion on musical progress in the post-Covid world...

Interview with Estrangement.
"It's been a full seven years since we last interviewed Australian then-solo-project ESTRANGEMENT, just after the release of the 'Belong Beneath' demo established their Baroque Funeral Doom direction of travel. They haven't been prolific as a band - with just one split EP the following year, in 2014 - but you can tell from their appearance on the Doom-metal.com My Dying Bride tribute that we have been keeping in touch. There have been some changes along the way, new members involved, and now with news on the horizon and new merch in the store, it seemed an entirely apposite moment to renew our more formal acquaintance with band founder and multi-instrumentalist JS."

In the hot seat today: ESTRANGEMENT founder JS.

Hello mate, and welcome back to doom-metal.com. Sadly, not the best of times, with the pandemic showing no signs of abating, lockdowns and emergency measures all over the place, and everyone's economies on the verge of tanking. How's it been for you: not too unendurable, I hope?

It’s a pleasure to be here, Mike. Thank you for inviting me back to doom-metal.com.

These surreal times have been inspirational times in the strangest of ways…

The bushfire threat was a national emergency in Australia, then shortly after danger subsided my home studio was flooded and now the COVID pandemic has hit. Despite losing a lot of time to be productive musically, I remain committed and determined if a little frustrated.

Any thoughts regarding the near future, in the sense of when or how things might return to some kind of physical normality? What would you most like to do to celebrate any announcement that it's all over now?

Right now, I really just want to focus on completing the ESTRANGEMENT album. Once it’s complete, may the world beware!

In the meantime, there's always music... So, back in 2014, some considerable time before the world went mad, you ended up splitting a Weird Truth-released EP with (and I say this with the greatest affection) already slightly bonkers Japanese band Begräbnis. How did that collaboration come about?

Weird Truth have been very supportive of ESTRANGEMENT since the demo days. I liked the idea of a split ep and mentioned this to Makoto (the label owner) who suggested I approach a band on the label to conspire with. I’d heard the Begrabnis demos and was attracted to the artistic extremity of their music so I reached out to their guitarist Harima and he was receptive to the idea of a split release. Begrabnis were a professional band to work with and an inspiring group of artists. It was a privilege collaborating with them - the rest, as they say, is history.

ESTRANGEMENT - 'Childlike Bewilderment' (Official, 2014):

Did you already have some structure or arrangement in place for your track, 'Childlike Bewilderment', or was it created specifically for the split?

Childlike Bewilderment was initially going to be the opening track of our debut album. The song was recorded on the same ‘entry level’ equipment as Belong Beneath which I soon came to realise was inadequate for a full-length release. As the song was nearing completion, I decided that a split release would be the most appropriate home for the track. It is also the first release to feature musicians other than myself so as a standalone track it works nicely.

That recording also marked the expansion of ESTRANGEMENT as a band, with the addition of flautist and violinist. Did that change any of your compositional precepts, or was it more of a change in being able to include parts you'd always visualized but couldn't necessarily execute yourself?

A bit of both actually. At that stage, Czar (violin) and Euterpe (flute) were tracking their parts over music I had already recorded so the bulk of the composition was already completed. That said, both of these musicians are fantastic improvisors, so much of the time it was me hitting the record button and just letting them rip and do their own thing.

With Czar (violin)...

We - well, to be honest, I - reviewed the release. It's some while ago, now, but do you feel the stormy, oceanic metaphor was a fair one? Did it capture something of the mood you wanted to convey? And please feel free to add any other relevant comment you'd like to see "on the record" regarding that review - it's never too late for us to learn whether we got it right on the day.

I thoroughly enjoyed the review and am greatly appreciative of the support, Mike. Thank you.

...and Euterpe (flute).

If I remember correctly, the next real contact we had was a couple of years later, when we asked if ESTRANGEMENT would be interested in participating in our planned MDB tribute. You gave us an extended, orchestrally-influenced take on 'De Sade Soliloquy', injecting melody and contrast into what was an utterly unmelodic original. Looking back on it, how significant was that piece in both representing and developing ESTRANGEMENT's influences and abilities?

I grew up, so to speak, during that era of My Dying Bride - when the music was blurred between death and doom metal without being either of those genres. As soon as your invitation was received, I knew what song we would cover and simultaneously knew that no other band would choose the same. It was a great opportunity for ESTRANGEMENT to inject our sound into something already in existence as opposed to starting something from scratch.

I would say, it was more an example of representing our influences and abilities as opposed to developing them. The recording process was very brief with the song being thrown together in a couple of hours if that (in contrast, ESTRANGEMENT songs take weeks to complete). This particular process wasn’t necessarily about development for us as artists; more, perhaps, about acknowledging the development of other artists. In any event, it was a great experience and we received some fantastic feedback from the fellow diehards out there - I salute them and thank YOU for the opportunity, Mike!

On that album, you also contributed to the last-minute international collaboration of Vita Dolorosa, with the comparatively funky piano-led 'She Is The Dark'. How was that experience for you, and how happy were you with the results?

Working with Dominik and SVC was an eye-opening experience as they are both dedicated musicians with profound ideas. I was very much a ‘reed in the breeze’ among them and offered to support their vision where I could. From memory I played classical guitar, cello, vocals and percussion on the recording, all quite sparingly, mind you. The bulk of the creative work and the vision, so to speak, came from Dominik as I remember. Overall, it was a great project to be a part of and I am grateful to have been involved.

Since then, I've seen footage of you working in an operatic/theatrical format. How did you enjoy that experience, and have you had - or intend to have - more exposure to that kind of live performance?

I became involved in a creative arts space in Sydney a few years ago and was subsequently commissioned to inject a lethal dose of heavy metal into an avant guarde (mis)interpretation of the opera La Traviata. Now, this is art that is out on the fringe: being too metal for the opera crowd, and far too opera for the metal crowd. Still, the performance had heart and soul and a bewildered audience applauded our efforts confusedly. Based on the ‘success’ of the production, director Michal Imielski offered me to the opportunity to co-compose the soundtrack to his debut feature horror film DEAD SUNRISE (which of course, I accepted). It was during this process that I met Ligamincer, another composer for the film, who has since joined ESTRANGEMENT as double-bassist, filling out our sound considerably.

JS and Ligamincer:

Guess it must be fair to say the two of you hit it off, then! How was the experience of jointly composing a soundtrack? I've always felt there's a cinematic quality to ESTRANGEMENT, but I suppose that's almost the exact opposite - creating music inspired by or inspiring a certain personal vision, as opposed to fitting music to an already-created sequence? How did the score turn out, anyway - as a horror film, would one be able to use the go-to "Goblinesque" comparison?

I remember my first impression was being bowled over by the amount of talent involved in the project. As a musician with over two decades of experience, you sometimes feel as though you’ve seen it all, but this endeavour really made me realise how much there still is to learn. Humbling. It was also funny at times, as despite playing 5 different instruments onset, the only question the other musos asked me was: ‘How do you make these sounds with your voice and not hurt yourself?’. The answer of course: “25 fucken’ years of metal, baby!”.

The soundtrack turned out great with a mixture of chanting, classical pieces and heavy metal songs that were adapted to various scenes of violence and party. The film ended up winning awards for both the soundtrack and the story which was extremely encouraging, I must say.

Funny how quickly things change - the vogue at the moment is a return to more analogue formats, such as vinyl, which wasn't really any kind of a thing when last we spoke. Do you have a view on that - whether it be as a natural format for ESTRANGEMENT to adopt or refuse, or as a listener with preferences for old-school or more modern methods of distribution?

I don’t take a firm view on these matters really. Of course, I enjoy owning my favourite albums on vinyl as there’s an earthiness to the sound and a thoroughness to the presentation you don’t get with other formats. To me personally, though, it’s the music that’s paramount. There are some albums (for example The Red in the Sky is Ours or Drawing Down the Moon) that I listened to so many times as a teenager that I don’t even need a format anymore – I can literally close my eyes and recall the entire album start to finish. Kingdom Fucking Gone!

Without leaping onto my high horse, I do think the digital only age is rapidly destroying the art of album composition, turning music libraries all over the world into ‘singles only’ catalogues. But I guess that’s just The Grief of Age, huh?

So, after a prolonged period of silence, there's finally news that the ESTRANGEMENT full-length debut is on the way. Has the band, or direction, changed significantly over the last few years?

I will say that the silence has not been deliberate. The delays I alluded to earlier have been all encompassing and the band have been working on music as much as possible the entire time. There really hasn’t been a break for us in the way that it may seem for the distant observer. We’re champing at the bit to get our new material out there!

The vision is the same but the sound has developed. The classical music component in particular features more heavily and with greater authenticity. The use of vocals, which has been sparing until now, has become prominent, varying more with the rapid musical changes. If you’re a fan of the classical infused darkness and ever-changing harmonic landscapes of our previous works, then this release, once it finally becomes available, is thoroughly dedicated to you.

Well, I am indeed a fan of it - but I'm curious about both the band dynamic and the technical side of it. I know it's cheating slightly, having heard some sample segments...but you've been working with Czar and Euterpe for several years now, and Ligamincer for at least a couple. How has that filtered into the songwriting, compared to, say, 'Belong Beneath' - has it shifted away from the more pure focus that a solo project can have and towards the more synergistic input of a fuller band? Both of those, I think, have their potential merits and flaws: how do you see, and manage, their balance?

The musicians in the band function in their unique own way and we’ve all learned to work better with each other over time. As we’ve grown as an entity, so has our collective confidence, and now there’s more input from the others, diversifying the sound, transcending the solo-project origin of the band. I still play all the ‘metal’ instruments, so to speak, but I seek out the input of the other members at every available opportunity.

ESTRANGEMENT only started as a one-man-band because I couldn’t find anyone interested in playing this type of music back then. Oh, how things have changed.

Original album teaser...from 2018:

You said earlier that one of the drivers for repurposing 'Childlike Bewilderment' away from the debut album was its 'entry level' recording tech. If we're talking about sources of delay - well, the time and cost involved in either either improving on home studio setup, or "going pro" and engaging someone else to do all the engineering work, can both be significant! Again, having heard the samples, there's clearly a step up in that side of things - how did you approach it? Is it all your own work?

I learned the hard way with Belong Beneath and Childlike Bewilderment but it ultimately came down to learning what equipment would improve what I was doing and spending money to obtain it. I’m not an audio engineer by any means, my mind just doesn’t work in that way; I came across challenges as they arose and slowly learned how to beat them one by one. Having said that, the album will be mixed and mastered professionally, as, while I’ve gone from being an absolute beginner to an amateur, I have vision beyond these things.

Is there anything specific you want to reveal about the album at this point? Perhaps anything that's more of a teaser, at this stage - working title, tracklist, hints about artwork, that sort of thing? Or is it all staying firmly under wraps until it's completely finished, and out there?

I’m going to pass on this one, my friend. All will be revealed in time.

Discography to date: 'Belong Beneath' (Demo, 2013), 'Childlike Bewilderment' (Split, 2014), 'A Lake Of Ghosts' (Various, 2017).

And, I guess, the follow-up to that - it can take a long time, even after producing the music, to get any sort of label backing for a release, which quite often leads band on to self-releasing, either as an interim or permanent measure. No criticism there from me: leaving aside questions of promotion or "label status", I own self-released stuff that ranges from basic electronic-only packages all the way to independently-manufactured triple-vinyl LP editions, and they're often every bit as well-produced as anything put out more commercially. Where do you stand on that: do you have a label lined up, or a plan to "go it alone" if need be?

ESTRANGEMENT has been fortunate with labels so far and the trend continues: we will be collaborating with Aesthetic Death for the full-length release (as long as they’re still around by the time we’ve finished recording this album).

And is there any sort of a provisional date for that, as yet?

Times are still unpredictable and if another COVID wave hits it would be the fourth time recording sessions have been put on hold for this release. Suffice to say, we’re absolutely committed to making this fucking album!

In my experience, promotion, more so even than production of the material, is one of the most significant obstacles in being able to make any sort of impact with a release - and that's hardly been helped by the current worldwide situation making it pretty much impossible to embark on any kind of meaningful live campaign. Do you have any ideas, or hopes, around being able to spread the ESTRANGEMENT word further?

Since we last spoke, I’ve ‘discovered’ social media (but I hate it). I try to give our small fanbase a bit of an insider’s look at what we do by releasing informal and improvised performance videos from time-to-time. That, and interviews like this, are the extent of my approach to promotion, really.

On that same theme: would you see ESTRANGEMENT as a band with live potential now - perhaps with the addition of some touring musicians to supplement the core members? Or does it still sit in more of a "studio" space, as far as you're concerned?

My view is that music is created to be performed and I’ll do whatever I can to bring ESTRANGEMENT to the stage. Whether it’s through touring musicians or re-shaping the songs so they can be performed with less people – one way or another, I want it to happen.

I know we're a Doom site, but sometimes it's nice to consider less gloomy topics - over here, we've had our spring and summer: they were pretty much non-events, and it isn't looking great as we head into the autumn and winter. Is there a more hopeful vibe, perhaps, in the southern hemisphere as your days start getting longer and warmer?

Well, the one thing you need to remember here, my British friend, is that Australia has a moderate climate for most of the year until the Summer hits and burns everyone to a crisp! I struggle immensely with Summer but I have an air conditioner in my studio now so I plan to survive this one unscathed. Next time you’re around, I’ll fire up the BBQ - hope you like goat meat?

Well, it's always a pleasure to chat, and I've greatly enjoyed catching up, so thanks for your time and participation - is there anything we've missed along the way, or anything you'd like to add in the way of last words?

Thank you kindly for the interview, Mike.

Anyone interested in checking out our music is encouraged to find us on Bandcamp where all our official recordings are available. We have also just recently printed up some new shirts which can be found there, too.

As always, if there are any fans interested in getting in touch, please do so. You can find ESTRANGEMENT through selected online channels or email us (estrangmentdoom@gmail.com) for a faster reply.

New Cello Ghoul T-shirt design.

Click HERE to discuss this interview on the doom-metal forum.

Visit the Estrangement bandpage.

Interviewed on 2021-04-20 by Mike Liassides.
Aesthetic Death
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