Ahead of their new LP, we caught up with vocalist Andrew Trevenen to discuss narrative in metal, cinema, and the delicate politics of listening to Burzum.
Hailing from the experimentalist expanse that is Australia, ambient post-metal act Bolt Gun take a deliberately wide-screen, long form approach to their textured, blackened take on the genre.
Borne by a cinematic musical vision, Bolt Gun forsake post-metal’s stereotypical quiet-loud dynamics for gradual tectonic shifts in mood and intensity, smouldering rather than exploding, and are all the more interesting for that. Latest release Man Is Wolf To Man sees Bolt Gun coil their music around the hallucinatory, dystopic vision of Konstantin Lopushansky’s film A Museum Visitor, harnessing harsh, droning soundscapes and black metal melody to capture the essence of living in a world without hope or meaning.
Ahead of the 14th November release of Man Is Wolf To Man, we caught up with vocalist Andrew Trevenen to discuss narrative in metal, cinema and the delicate politics of listening to Burzum.
Can you describe your song-writing process? As a cinematically influenced band, do you start from a particular film scene when composing, or does the music come first?
I generally put together a noise/synth track with some programmed drums, which I’ll then put over different film scenes to see if there’s potential. If it is working, I’ll then send it to our guitarist and see what he comes up with. Then it’s really just rehearsing and putting it all together.
For this album, we worked mainly with Lopushansky’s Museum Visitor, but we have always spent a lot of time on Lopushansky.
How important is a sense of narrative and storytelling to your music?
It’s important for me vocally so I do tend to write quite a long narrative from an initial idea and then drain the lyrics from that. This new album was built around a concept of what it would be like to rebel against the various hierarchies in a Gulag, and then the experience of being executed for doing so.
What does your live set look like? Do you use visuals and if so does that present any challenged to playing live?
It’s pretty basic, our guitarist generally runs two orange amps with two marshall quad boxes, and a bass, which is the usual type set up. I have a mixer and computer to run samples, noise, synth etc. If we’re not using drums for a gig I’ll have programmed orchestral drums, like timpani/kettle drum sounds mixed with some noise.
We do use visuals which is generally not too hard to set up, most venues have projectors etc., hooked up already so it’s pretty easy. But we do have our own visual gear if we need it.
Is there something unique to countries with huge wilderness spaces that lends itself to post-apocalyptic art (Cormac McCarthy, Peter Weir, Konstantin Lopushansky etc.)?
That’s an interesting question, I think the experience of being in large landscapes of any kind can have a real effect on you, whether people apply that to post-apocalyptic art I’m not sure. Then again, even in a country like Australia, almost everyone lives in the cities, so the experience of being in the wilderness, or being properly alone in an open landscape is fairly rare.
Generally, I don’t think it really matters, I think most post-apocalyptic work is driven by some sense of loss or failure in the species, which I imagine most people feel from time to time. People from wide open countries like Russia, Australia or the US might express that differently to someone living in Tokyo or Jakarta, the aesthetic is different, but the motivation is the same, examining failure.
For a band with a lot of avant-garde musical and cinematic influences, do you have any guilty pleasures in terms of bands or films that you’d be ok with sharing?
Yeah for sure, I must have seen Peter Jackson’s Braindead a hundred times, I also love the classic Schwarzenegger films, Total Recall, Predator, Conan the Barbarian etc., anything by Verhoeven or Cronenberg is amazing. I’m also a big fan of Woody Allen. If I sat around watching films of people being crushed by life all day I’d be a shell of a man myself.
In terms of guilty pleasure bands I’m really enjoying the current 80s synth revival, like FM-84, Gunship and Dynatron. Even 80s pop as well, Kate Bush, Cyndi Lauper etc, is great, not sure if I’ll live some of this down.
If you could write a soundtrack for one director, past or present, who would it be?
So many masters, Tarr, Kieslowski, Tarkovsky, Lynch, but I’d have to say Konstantin Lopushanksy. We’ve been pillaging his work pretty hard for a few years now.
Musically, the new release seems to be closer to classic Isis / Godspeed post-metal/post-rock. Was it a conscious decision to move your sound in that direction, or is the black metal evidenced on Iron Surgeon still an important part of what you do?
I’m still a big fan of black metal, both old and modern, but it’s more of a starting point than an end point for us.
We decided to record this album with a drummer with a totally different style to the previous two, so we really wrote it to compliment that. She’s a jazz drummer with no metal influences or interests whatsoever, which worked out great.
But I’d be open to recording another black metal inspired album in the future for sure, the drummer we worked with on our first two albums is always good to work with so it’s always an option.
Are there any doom/drone bands from Australia that you’ve been influenced by? The influence of dISEMBOWELMENt emanates from the release, at least to our ears.
dISEMBOWELMENt are amazing, I listen to a lot of Whitehorse from Melbourne, and I also really like Oren Ambarchi. The new album by Omahara is a really good mixture of drone and doom which I’ve been listening to a lot lately.
As a band that lists Burzum as an influence, to what extent do you think that it’s possible to separate great art from its creator?
It probably depends on what you want to get out of it, for me it’s not hard to separate the two, for me, music is such a visceral experience, and not a political one, at least in the moment of enjoying it. Obviously, some people use music primarily as a political outlet, so depending on their views they could love or hate a band like Burzum.
But in the same way that I don’t agree with Ernest Hemingway on a lot of things, it doesn’t make The Old Man and the Sea any less of a great read. I also don’t believe in God but I find Hieronymus Bosch’s paintings inspiring. Likewise, I can enjoy Hvis Lyset Tar Oss without feeling like I’ve compromised myself in some way.
I don’t agree with a lot of bands I listen to, across the whole political spectrum, but you’re not always going to agree with everyone, that’s life.
If you had to choose Nick Cave’s hair or Warren Ellis’ beard to go into the National Museum of Australia, which one would you choose?
That’s a good question, I’m not a beard guy, as much as I love Warren Ellis, so it’d have to be Nick Cave’s hair. If it’s the 80s it’s that amazing wild post punk thing, and in the present, he’s really committed to the slick back receding hair line, and since we’re a band of receding hair lines it’s nice to know Nick’s got our backs.
What are your plans for promoting and touring the new release and when do you expect to start work on your next album?
At the moment it’s looking like we’ll hopefully have some shows in Sydney and Melbourne, and possibly Hobart and Adelaide as well, we’re trying to figure out the logistics of that at the moment.
We’ve started work on our next two releases, the first is going pretty smoothly and is looking like a split album with the sensational Dirac Sea, from Perth also.
For the other we’ve decided to re-score an old black and white horror we really like, which is challenging but fun.
Man Is Wolf To Man is out now on Art As Catharsis. Get your copy here.
Words: Andrew Day