Conducting From The Grave

Metal music is often a kind of musical arms race; an exhaustive, chaotic struggle to shred the fastest, slam the hardest, and play the loudest. Sacramento deathcore mob Conducting From the Grave, who are scheduled to assail the 1078 Gallery on April 11th, navigate this hostile landscape with a dynamic sound that’s almost surgical in its approach. The intrepid five-piece certainly displays skillful musicianship, but they elect to step outside of the chaos of bigger-faster-stronger with a varied, progressive angle. I talked to founding member and guitarist extraordinaire John Abernathy in preparation for the show, wherein we discussed such topics as their successful Kickstarter campaign and their songwriting process.

It’s clear that you pride yourselves on having a very technical, guitar- oriented songwriting approach. What informs this method?

We basically try to write what we want to hear as musicians; we’re influenced by a wide variety of different metal… At the forefront of that would be lot of progressive stuff, like Between the Buried and Me, bands like that. Then there’s also the Gothenburg/Swedish type, like At The Gates and Carcass, stuff like that. So we take influence from all sorts of different stuff and… I don’t know, we don’t really think about the direction as much, just what we want to do. We’re like, “Yeah, that sounds cool,” or “Alright yeah, whatever, let’s play that”. We try to structure songs so there are verses and choruses, but we don’t limit ourselves to always being in that structure.

In underground metal circles, ultra-technical death metal is often criticized as valuing flashy guitar-work over earnest songwriting. What do you have to say to such naysayers?

I agree with that in a sense; I don’t think we do that necessarily, but I definitely feel like a lot of bands are all about the “look what I can do!” aspect, over actual songwriting. We always try to be about the song, but at the end of the day still put technical prowess in our music and show off little flashy guitar parts here and there. I always try to put in a little bit of structure.

Your music is extremely meticulous and precise—I can’t imagine these songs were simply “jammed out” in a practice space. Is the composition process as surgical as it seems? Or is it more organic and collaborative?

Yeah, the writing style on the latest album was a little bit different than the previous ones because we did most of it on a computer; more so due to logistical and geographic reasons—I wrote more of it at home on the computer because I live in Roseville, and my drummer Greg lives in Elk Grove, which is an hour drive. We practiced maybe once a week while we were writing it. It was more me structuring the stuff and coming up with ideas, and then my other guitarist, Jeff, would write riffs here and there, and we would talk about it at practice once a week. It’s a little different than the last two albums; When Legends Become Dust and Revenants were written more as a band, and we might have tried to cram more riffs than should have been in some of the songs, on the first album especially—some songs we probably could have cut to four or five minutes from six and a half.

Your new self-titled album was entirely crowdsourced using the Kickstarter, rather than being funded from a record label. What kind of freedoms do you enjoy, now that you’re independant? You point out on
the Kickstarter page that one of the fruits of independence is having total creative control over your music. Had this been an issue with your previous label, Sumerian Records?

Yeah, it was absolutely a problem with Sumerian. Some might view it as a problem and some might view it as a good thing, but the way I look at it, it’s our music. We’re the artists, and the label’s job is to figure out how to promote the art—NOT to tell the band how to make that art, you know? And there were certain trends they were trying to promote, like the new wave of the “djent” bands and stuff like that. So I don’t know, I always felt like the redheaded stepchild on that label because they never really gave us the support they gave to their other metal bands; they never gave us the promotion that they gave the others. Towards the end of this new album there was a lot of back-and-forth where we were sending them demos, and they were telling us to change things. For me, that was very disheartening and very demotivational. It was like, “Wow, you’re going to release this album that I don’t have 100 percent control over? I’m going to have some label telling me to change things, or else suffer
no promotion?” The new album would have come out about a year and a half earlier than it did (the album came out last October) had we not been with that label. We would send them demos, and they’d take sometimes up to a month to six weeks to even get back to us with notes on them that said, “It’s pretty good, it’s getting there, but you should make this better and change this part and change that part.” You know, I just got fed up with it. Once they had the phone call with me and said they were going to let us go after this new album- which was the last album of our contract anyway-we were like, “Thank God!”

See Sacto legends Conducting From The Grave at 1078 Gallery, April 11th! Featuring Armed For Apocalypse, Waves Of Leviathan, Emanakcuf, and Kill The Precedent. $10, showtime at 8pm. 

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