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:Ancestors"A n c e s t o r s

What Comes After

Los Angeles doom-dealers Ancestors are band that –– well, hang on, we’ve already lazily thrown them into a, like, bag, and that’d be a bit premature. Okay, what Ancestors are, first of all, is undoubtedly HEAVY, but then again they’re a lot of things, in a way akin to how the progressive likes of Pink Floyd and King Crimson were back in the early ’70s, a time when bands could throw just about everything into their magic teapots, then sit back and watch it explode –– often right in their faces. Foolhardy risktaking is, according to Ancestors, an admirable goal, a righteous one, an honorable and utterly rocking one.

Ancestors –– Justin Maranga (guitar, vocals), Nick Long (bass, vocals), Brandon Pierce (drums, gong –– yes, gong), Chico Foley (electronics, keys and vocals) and J. Christopher Watkins (organ, vocals) –– have a recent album out on Teepee called Of Sound Mind. A hairily ungodly hash of slab-thick stereo-distorto guitar rifferooney, ambient electronic interludes, soaring and kinda catchy, even, melodic gambits and a lot of interesting stuff residing somewhere in-between all of the above, it’s a way, way broody, real, real gloomy, extremely rainy-day-holed-up kinda atmospheric sludgehammer that takes you places, and suggests that you use your mind along the way.

I have to admit that I was lured in by all the journalist-baiting jive about how Of Sound Mind had all these these real neat-o reference points surrounding its genesis, such as the abovementioned Floyd and Crimson, along with Neurosis, Miles Davis, Eric Dolphy, forking Albert Camus and Henry David Thoreau, for god’s sake. Not only that, I was given to understand that theirs was a concept album, don’t you know.

But chief theoretician/lyricist Chico Foley defends/defines it this way: “We knew we would definitely take it somewhere with lyrical premises and ideas, but we were interested in staying away from all of that ‘conceptual record’ thing, while kind of circling ’round one specific theme. This record is loosely associated with something which is consciousness, psychology. That’s something that’s been done a million times before, but we have our own paradigms, our own perspectives and instincts.”

All that’s fine with me, actually –– I’m just devil’s-advocating off the whole post-punk prejudice that the very idea of rock bands attempting to beat grande opera at its own overblown game is silly and –– that most pretentious of rock-crit terms –– “pretentious.”Ancestors

“We were kind of afraid of ‘art’ concepts,” admits Foley, “’cause of how it was mocked originally, like with the prog bands in the ’70s, where it became jokeworthy. We wanted to take it seriously, but we don’t really want to be too serious, you know. In fact, we just did a seven-inch that was based on an imaginary graphic novel about a deer that got run over and became a mad sexual deviant.”

Composing the album, the band started by establishing a set of moods, which could be vague, or fairly specific feelings, and eventually focused those feelings into concrete concept. For this they took musical cues from a much earlier time, as much to pay near-literal tribute to them as to metamorphose them beyond all recognition.

“Pink Floyd, King Crimson –– we can’t deny the fact that we referenced them,” says Foley, “but we want to stay away from where it’s obviously a massive inspiration. We’re not trying to wear them on our sleeves; we wouldn’t want people to think we aspire to do anything they did.”

Well, again, though, even if they did aspire to such it’d be okey-dokey by me, because look: These days, if anyone wants to do a concept album, it’s a good thing precisely because it was something that was verboten in punk-rock’s now moldy old past. Also, I like AMBITION, and I also happen to be sick to death of sarcasm and irony, no kidding. But I was wondering, er, well, exactly is the concept? London-born Foley draws on his experience as a philosophy/poly sci student at an English university as he attempts to clarify:

“There are basically four main songs on the record, and each song has a specific lyrical idea that has something to do with human psychology, the first being about diaspora and why are we moving somewhere, for something or for nothing, or are we seemingly going nowhere? We were trying to stay away from mythology, but did refer to the gods of aspiration in general, maybe career or academic or intellectual. ‘The Trial’ is very romantic, but we tried to make it really loose. ‘The Ambrose Law’ is about how the parallels of schizophrenia in the human mind may be projected, as opposed to how society constructs it; it’s about human society as a human function, how some of this comes about from our own possibly schizophrenic minds…We’re all bipolar to some degree.”

Meanwhile the second song, ‘Mother Animal,’ seems to deal with absurdism, such as this situation where –– I mean, why, for example, are we even considering all these things that Ancestors are talking about in these songs?

“Is it all absurd?” asks Foley. “Why are we trying to accomplish knowledge when knowledge does not even exist? Why are we doing it? Are we thinking too much? It’s classic things that are thought about by the human brain.”

So you might say that the time feels kinda right for big-ass conceptual rock “works” that put you in a mood to brood, for these are, perhaps, long-attention-span times, if only for escapist respite from our collective certain tragic ruin. The band is acutely aware that they’ve got to add something new to that experience or hazard getting hock-poo’d right offa the stage.

“There is kind of a revival of these kinds of emotions and musical ideas of the early ’70s,” says Foley, “but for us we’re concerned how a lot of that has been rehashed by some bands, and there isn’t really any new form of direction. To aspire to some of these bands who were unique and knew what they were doing yet just trying to replicate a sound as opposed to be unique yourself is kind of pointless. Music evolves. You might have all these influences, but throw ’em all together and get it really mutated.”

“What we liked about a lot of the ’70s bands,” adds Watkins, “is that they were doing something new and original, and rather than replicate what they did stylistically we thought we’d replicate what they did as innovators. That’s the hard part, obviously.”

“The early ’70s was a great time ’cause you had a lot of freedom, rather than being controlled by what the market demanded,” says Foley.

That’s true, except that now, marketing yourself to a specific niche –– doom/metal/psych-prog/etc. ­­–– is a survival tool that every musician has simply got to have; accepting that you’re going to be categorized is part of the game.

“It always pops up,” says Watkins, “especially the way communication is now –– everyone wants a reference point, and there’s no way around it. It’s probably best to not think about it.”

Even as we speak, Ancestors are digging away at their new opus, whose title, rationale and theoretical content are still shrouded in mystery.

“The next one’s gonna be a little more about the story,” says Watkins.

“We’ve been talking about eight characters that represent archetypes, and stuff like that,” adds Foley, cryptically.

Aren’t they concerned about it being their third record and going out there and being, you know, a total wank job?

“I’m confident,” says Foley with a laugh, “that Ancestors are not capable of letting something get wanky.”