Are You Ready for Lesbian?

I sat down recently for a chat with Benjamin Thomas-Kennedy of Seattle’s psychoprog doomers Lesbian. We talked about the band’s history, other projects, as well as future releases. Check out this nice informative interview.

Nick: Hello, Ben! Thank you very much for having time to answer some questions for Prog Sphere and thank you and Important Records for allowing us to use a track from your album Stratospheria Cubensis in one of our recent Progstravaganza compilation. How have you been lately?

Ben: No sweat!  We are really glad to be a part of it. So many great bands! Things are going fantastic for us. We have been hard at work on our third album “Forestelevision”. Just wrapped up basic tracks at Avast! in Seattle with Randall Dunn.

Nick: Let’s get to the main thing. First of all, would you mind introducing us to the band called Lesbian? If I am not wrong, you guys formed the band after knowing each other from before, as some of you played in Golgothan Sunrise and the cult act The Abodox.

Ben: Yeah we were all roommates with a mutual respect for each other’s projects. We began jamming together and the rest is history.  That was in 2004 and we are still at it.

Nick: Lesbian developed as an idea to mix psychedelia and progressive rock with doom and black metal. Personally I am not aware of many bands doing something like this. Did you feel at the time that you were going to do something different and new?

Ben: We set out to make the music that we wanted to make and these are the sounds that presented themselves. We like to let the writing take us where it wants to go rather than setting out to make music of a certain genre. We are pleased that the result ended up being something that people saw as unique and new. That’s always a compliment to us.

Nick: Mixing those aforementioned musical sungenres tells that your musical tastes vary and that they are very eclectic. Tell us about the bands/artist who inspired you and brought you into the position to actually mix these subgenres.

Ben: Personally, I don’t listen to a lot of metal or even a lot of music with drums for that matter. I never listen to music hoping to hear ideas to use when we are writing. I just enjoy what I like and allow it to organically affect what I am doing naturally. I have been listening a lot to a band called Solar Bears that sounds like nothing Lesbian. I’m sure it will influence me somehow but not anymore than something in nature or a non-musical experience.

Nick: Okay, you released two albums so far so let’s go straight to the beginning. Power Hör was released in 2007 on Holy Mountain Records and what really amazes me about this record is that you can’t classify it. One day it occurs as pure psychedelia, the other day I find it extremely brutal, the next day it appears to be melodic. What’s the deal with it?

Ben: We like so many different kinds of music and we see no reason to stay with one style. We like to compose our music as journeys; and the more twists, turns, and new places; the more interesting the journey tends to be.

Nick: Holy Mountain Records announced Power Hör as “the next wave of American psychedelic metal” when it was released back in 2007. How do you see this album from four years in the future? I am aware it’s tough to be objective on this one, but do you find that the description you got then is justified?

Ben: That description was just a pun we thought was really funny. We didn’t really think we were starting a movement. Although we really still dig all of that material and if there were other bands going that direction we’d be psyched. We are certainly still very happy with the album.

Nick: Since the beginning it was more than clear that you are the band around which the dust is raised. Power Hör was produced by Randall Dunn, who worked with Sunn O))), Boris, Earth among others. Stephen O’Malley provided the cover art design and John Santos designed the band’s logo. How did you hook up with all these people?

Ben: We have known Randall for a long time just from the local Seattle music community. He recorded an album for Golgothan Sunrise. Santos too, is our bro just from hanging out at shows and having common interests in the same city. There are a lot of great artists that we have the luxury of sharing a city with.  We hooked up with Stephen through Randall.

Nick: Three years after the debut was released you shifted to Important Records to release Stratospheria Cubensis. First of all, why did you move from Holy Mountain? Holy Mountain is a pretty good label when it comes to releasing bands with similar genre orientation to Lesbian. Are you satisfied with your new home?

Ben: We are lucky to have the opportunity to work with two of our favorite labels. Both labels have such impressive catalogs. It just worked out timing-wise that each respective label had room in their roster at the same time that we had a completed album.

Nick: Comparing to Power Hör, Stratospheria Cubensis is less raw, but more of a doomy record. How did the creation and recording process for this album go? Did the final product meet your expectations?

Ben: When we wrote Power Hor, we were still feeling each other out musically. Arran was playing bass at first meaning we had two basses instead of two guitars. Over time he switched to guitar and we firmed up our writing process which had been partially improv based at first. Stratospheria Cubesis allowed us to write an album having a real good idea of how to play off of one another. I think it gives the album a proggier more articulate sound.  We are very happy with how it turned out.

Nick: Stratospheria Cubensis was described as “mushrooms in the sky with diamonds”. What’s that supposed to mean? Would you uncover the meaning of the description? From some reason it has something in common with my next question, but let’s see.

Ben: It has a little bit to do with mushrooms; but I think the phrase is intentionally vauge. We encourage everyone to eat somemushrooms and then read it again and let IT tell you what it means. It’s not the same for everyone.

Nick: What’s the meaning of the artwork for Stratospheria Cubensis? If I am not wrong it was designed by Seldon Hunt, who worked for Isis, Bruce Lamont, Wolves in the Throne Room, etc. I really dig his work and he provided a masterful design for Stratospheria.

Ben: We gave Seldon free reign to interpret the music visually however he wanted. Again, there is a mushroom theme; but other than that, it is simply how he expressed his perception of our expression.

Nick: How much of your work is based on improvisation and how much of it is studio effort? Do you lay the main structure of the songs down to the tracks and then just go over and polarize it?

Ben: We dabbled in improv early on in the writing process of Power Hor but everything is composed before it is finally recorded. We have a clear plan for how all of the basic tracks will be recorded. There is a little bit of experimentation when overdubbing guests and solos; but these albums are very intentional journeys.

Nick: You played Roadburn Festival in 2008, what resulted as a split 10” with Ocean. How was it playing this prestigious festival? Have you had more opportunities to play Europe at the time, since you were in Tilburg then?

Ben: Roadburn was incredible. One of the highlights of Lesbian’s career for sure. Its just a wonderful vibe. So many like minded souls from all over the world. We haven’t been back; but we will definately be back to Europe next year with our new album.

Nick: I think I’m done here with questions about Lesbian, but I would love to talk to you about your other projects. First of all what’s going on with The Abodox and Golgothan Sunrise? Are they active?

Ben: The Abodox was a band that Pete and I were in for 11 years. We retired only last year. You can get our entire catalog for free at theabodox.bandcamp.com.  We are very proud of the music that we made in this project. Golgothan Sunrise was Dan and Arran’s project that Pete and I were big fans of. I still can’t believe I have the opportunity to make music with these guys.

Nick: Besides working with Lesbian, which is your main concern, there’s a project called Fungal Abyss, which personally I find very interesting and fitting to my musical taste, as it’s much more psychedelic and in that way, more improvisational. The album called Bardo Abgrund Temple is set to be released on August 1st on Translinguistic Other. Would you mind telling me something more about this one?

Ben: At Lesbian rehearsal, we generally warm up with free improv and bong hits. We have a strong spiritual connection to these journeys and wanted to share them publically without taking away from Lesbian’s output. Fungal Abyss is also a project that allows us to work with more guests in a live environment. You can stream parts of our new album at fungalabyss.bandcamp.com.

Nick: There’s also an acoustic folk project called The Marrying Type, featuring you, Nathan Smurthwaite and Ryan Weaver, which appears pretty “easy“ compared to your other commitments. I guess you wanted to be in a band where exactly this easiness comes first. Am I wrong?

Ben: I am a big fan of easiness and of projects that explore different moods so in that regard you are totally right. The Marrying Type is the solo music of Nathan Smurthwaite from the Abodox. I play keyboards and drums with him at live shows and on his albums. You can check out his latest at themarryingtype.bandcamp.com.

Nick: Actually I am listening to Until Death right now and it appears very dreamy and fits my current mood quite well. Are you a dreamer yourself?

Ben: I think all music is dreamlike. I wouldn’t call myself a dreamer normally, but I do enter this state when playing any kind of music.

Nick: What comes next? New albums, projects, gigs?

Ben: Fungal Abyss’ debut album Bardo Abgrund Temple comes out in August on Translinguistic Other. Follow us on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/#!/pages/Fungal-Abyss/131109423634563 for updates. As for Lesbian, we will be finishing up the new album “Forestelevision” this summer. We are playing Seattle in August with High on Fire. Follow us on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/#!/pages/Lesbian-the-band/218998164805294 or on Twitter @lesbroham for updates.

Nikola Savić is a prog enthusiast, blogger and author, in addition to being the founder of Prog Sphere, Progify, ProgLyrics and the ongoing Progstravaganza compilation series.

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