|Posted by Kibitzer on May 13, 2011 at 11:24 AM|
In The House of Ana Kefr
An interview by The Kibitzer
Hail all Metal Heads!!! Yours truly, The Kibitzer, here to bring you a new discovery here at Karlsmetal.com. Gather around as I would like to introduce to you a band that isn’t your typical Heavy Metal band. With their latest release, “The Burial Tree” (Out on Muse Sick Records), a new adventure begins. Truthfully, I didn’t quite understand their music first but as I listened to the CD some more, I just couldn’t turn it off. If you haven’t picked up your copy yet, I suggest that you do because the trek that this CD takes you on is a ride you won’t forget!
Welcome guys to Karlsmetal.com and thank you for granting some of your time to be with us! How are things going?!
SHANE: Thanks for having us. We are doing great. Just released a new album and are getting ready to play a lot of shows to support it. Can't get much better than that.
I’d like to start off with the genesis and general blueprint of Ana Kefr. How did it all start for you guys?
KYLE: The blueprint of Ana Kefr started when Rhiis moved back to the States. I was already in a band but once his influences were a part of it, Ana Kefr was created.
What does the band’s name mean?
RHIIS: "Ana Kefr" means "I am infidel" in Arabic. You can get further into it by looking at the root forms of the words, and then "kefr" can also mean 'obliterator' and some other pretty metal-sounding words The name was inspired by my years spent living in Egypt and traveling the Middle East, I picked up on colloquial Arabic there and, when it came time to write for a band context, I found my experiences there were a big inspiration.
I was never familiar with the band’s history and sound as I only heard of you guys the day that I was presented with your latest CD, “The Burial Tree”. Now you guys have been around for a while and your debut CD, “Volume I”, was released in 2009 correct? What were your objectives at the time for that album and what kind of direction did you guys take on that CD?
KYLE: Our objectives have not swayed or changed much over these two or three years, it has always been about the music and the voice of Ana Kefr, to be true to oneself. The direction we took for Volume 1 was the start of our direction forward. We learned a lot from our first album, and we used that learning experience when creating the Burial Tree.
Did you guys accomplish everything that you wanted to do on “Volume I”?
RHIIS: I would say yes and no. No because, as musicians, we strive for perfection. "Volume 1" has a lot of flaws, and I'm sure every musician with an album looks at their finished creation and sees the holes and scuff marks in it. The production quality isn't the best, though it is above some releases I hear coming out of major labels these days (which is pretty sad, considering), and there are some serious issues with the drumming being sloppy in places. I'd say the title "Volume 1" is very fitting, in retrospect, because it is our first effort, our first album, first time in the studio, first offering to the world. And, just as you'd expect, a first effort is rarely perfect but some of the flaws shine with the idea that was behind it. And then I would say we did accomplish what we wanted because the album was meant to begin establishing our presence in the metal community, to put something out there that is more than a garage band's 3-song demo to pass out at shows or pimp out on Myspace. We got a modest amount of press for the album, all of it surprisingly very positive. I guess that, in the end, what you hear on "Volume 1" was meant to be, without it we would have never written "The Burial Tree."
What were the limitations and variables, if any, that you faced during the making of that CD?
KYLE: The studio was over-priced and under-equipped. Musically, nothing.
Do you have any left over material that was unused from the recording sessions of “Volume I” and if you do, did you save that for the current release that you have out right now?
RHIIS: We have a ton of left-over material, actually! But none of it made it onto "The Burial Tree," and none of it will probably ever see the light of day. To be honest, some of it is total garbage. There is the occasional riff here and there that is pretty cool, but when Kyle and I write something we are some of the pickiest people imaginable. We obsess over every note, rhythm and part, and their context in the whole of a song. When we write, we want to be 100% satisfied with every second of a composition, so if something strikes us as even ordinary or reminiscent of anything else, we throw it away. I do keep notes of everything we write, and have a pretty big stack of it all stored away, but there is usually a good reason a riff won't make it into the final cut.
What was the response of “Volume I”? How do you think the Metal community accepted it?
RHIIS: As I said earlier, we received a fair amount of press for the album and all of it was very positive. We didn't break outside of American and UK media, but the overall reception was very encouraging. As far as the metal community goes, we had a positive response as well. Nothing like huge amounts of attention, it was our first album after all, but people began hearing of us and almost all reactions were positive. With "The Burial Tree," it's been a totally different experience, we've had such a huge and amazing response from media all over the world, it's been amazing.
You guys have been referred to as “Extreme Progressive Metal” and “Deathcore” just to blurt out a few names. Are you comfortable with those labels? What do you guys consider yourselves as? To me, I’d like to call you guys “Chameleon-Metal”, lol. Your style changes so many times within one song!
ALPHONSO: Chameleon-Metal? Nice. Philosophical Metal is one that I like the most. Then again, why would anyone want to be labeled? Most people stick with their favorite type of metal. If we can fit in all then we will appeal to the masses. If you want to be deathcore, you will always stay in the same box and never break out to a bigger audience.
Given that you guys come from all sorts of backgrounds when it comes to your knowledge of music, did any of that conflict with trying to sound either too extreme or too experimental and were you afraid that people weren’t going to take you guys seriously?
BRENDAN: Surprisingly, there wasn't much conflict amongst the others when it came to the writing process, and I believe that a lot of that has been due to the fact that we all agree to keep an open mind and try everybody's ideas. We all listen to a wide variety of music and we all respect each others' musical tastes, even if the others don't particularly care for certain styles. But while we do have different tastes in music, we all share a very common interest when it comes to metal music. We also agree to not having boundaries and limiting our music as you can tell when you listen to the album and you hear obscure instruments such as saxophones, piano, samples, clarinets, djembe drums, a broad range in vocals, to even a rattle snakes rattle. It is always a little nerve-wracking when it comes to creating something new because you don't know how people are going to react. But we were very meticulous about what we were putting out and we knew with 100% confidence that we were putting out something that most people would react to in a very positive way.
Fast forwarding to 2011 with your latest CD, “The Burial Tree”, how different is this CD from your debut release? Would you consider them to be two different animals or do you think that they came from the same mold?
BRENDAN: Well, perhaps the largest difference between the two albums is the fact that there is a completely different line-up and you can really hear the difference. While there is the signature Kefr sound that remains true in both albums, thanks to Rhiis and Kyle, you can see how adding different musicians with different backgrounds can really shake things up. In fact, the previous album didn't even have any bass on it! So the band went from having two guitars, keyboards, drums, and three different vocalists, to having bass, guitars, saxophone, clarinet, keys, drums, samples, and four different vocals including female vocals (Nikki Simmons from Stay the Night). The structuring and arrangement of the music is also a lot more abstract and complex on The Burial Tree than it is on Volume 1. The two albums are definitely different in many ways, but there is also the signature sound that we stay true to that people can hear and say, "Yes. This is Ana Kefr".
The new material is more philosophical (as you guys put it). Can you tell us what is the concept behind the new material and were you guys targeting a specific or different kind of audience?
RHIIS: I don't know if we're targeting a specific or different audience, but I think there is a specific audience that will be more receptive to what I write about in our lyrics. I've written some pretty atheistic, humanistic lyrics, so that will turn off some people. "Volume 1" and "The Burial Tree" have been pretty critical of both religion and believers, which I feel somewhat burnt out on now. I think our future work will veer into a different path that is still Ana Kefr, there are only so many songs you can write about a similar thing before it gets old and repetitive. "The Burial Tree" has a ton of ideas in it, so I'll have to sum it up for you. One of the most important ideas of the album is the idea of enlightenment, the search for truth. There is this idea that many people have that ignorance is bliss, that not knowing can be a blessing, "what you don't know can't hurt you." As the second song, "Emago," says, "If from ignorance hails bliss, then with enlightenment comes the abyss." When we raise ignorance on a pedestal to worship, then the search for truth becomes a curse and a painful thing. The album is a kind of dark search for the truth, and all the thorns and realizations along the way. As I said, there are a ton of ideas on the album, so I encourage everyone to look into it themselves.
How much research would you say went into the writing process of the new material for “The Burial Tree”? It’s a lot more complicated than I thought.
RHIIS: If you mean musically speaking, no research, just a lot of jamming and tweaking material. Lyrically, months and months. I took forever just writing notes and ideas down, arranging ideas into groups and organizing thoughts. I went through a few different ideas, trying to find the one that fit, I knew that the lyrical themes needed to perfectly fit the environment, so I invested a lot of time to go over it and re-think ideas, weeding out ones that eventually appeared weak. It was probably a month or two before we entered the studio that I actually began writing the lyrics and arranging the vocals, I wanted to start writing only when the music was absolutely done and ready.
As I’ve noticed, I don’t know of any Metal band (and I really can’t say that I know of any that have done this in the past) that has ever featured a clarinet or saxophone on any of their CD’s. To a lot of people, that just isn’t Metal! Were you guys taking a dare on that one or was that was created by design?
BRENDAN: Well, it would be a little pretentious to say that we are the first to do it or act like we are. There are actually a few metal bands out there that have acquired those instruments into their sound and have been doing it long before we came along. However, I can say that we are perhaps the first to use the instruments in the way that we do. It's the combination of everything that I believe makes our sound unique, not just simply adding a different instrument. We understood that the metal fan-base is perhaps the most difficult to please when it comes to doing something new, since a lot of fans tend to be jaded purists who only like their particular style. But we really didn't care what those kind of people thought. We write music for people who have an open mind and can accept something that doesn't wall itself within the writing boundaries that most people deem conventional. Music is art, and when it comes to art there are no rules, only suggestions.
I liked the guest vocals by Nikki Simmons that were on “The Burial Tree”. How important was her role on the new CD? Is this your first time working with her?
SHANE: Well there's so much to say about Nikki. I had never worked with her until this album. But what I do know is that Brendan and her have been friends for a while now. So when we wrote the album and had the idea of having guest vocals by a female singer, Brendan quickly suggested Nikki. It was an easy decision for us because she has such a strong voice and knew she would be perfect for the part we had in mind. We originally only had the female vocals in The Collector. Nikki did so well Rhiis and Brendan asked her to do extra vocals on the album. Luckily for us she didn't mind doing extra vocals. We thank you for that, Nikki!!!! Thanks to her vocals, the parts in the songs she is in are even stronger than they would of been without her. Nikki is an amazing singer and a great person as well. Hopefully we will get to have her do another guest vocal again later on down the road.
You guys have a great since of dynamics when it comes to the overall production and sound. Did any specific influences come into play when making “The Burial Tree”?
RHIIS: As far as the production goes, we actually used Opeth's last album, "Watershed," as a kind of guide. We knew we couldn't get the same quality just because Opeth is Opeth and we're not a huge label-backed band, we're independent, with different gear and different studio capabilities. However, that album sounds INCREDIBLE. The guitar tones, the vocals, the bass, keys...it's so perfectly mixed, we felt it would be useful as a guide to mixing our own album, though our music is a lot more chaotic and jumpy than Opeth. As far as influences, though, I think we all have different people and bands we look up to as masters of the craft. The biggest influence may have been ourselves, meaning I was personally influenced by the rest of the band. For example, Brendan has totally changed the way I look at music now, the way he writes is totally different from my method so by working with him I feel like my musical eyes have been opened wider. And I feel the same about everyone in the band, they have taught me so much (hopefully they feel the same about me! haha).
Did you guys follow a specific template or did you guys just show up at the studio to see what will happen?
ALPHONSO: Well, most of the riffs were written before the new line up. After we had "Volume 1" down, we started working on songs which would turn out to be "The Burial Tree (II)". The songs were made and put into the best order for the album. Most of the time we already knew which song would follow the other. When we showed up to the studio, we just knocked it out. Following a template would have put a cap on our creativity.
Obviously you can’t please everybody and that’s understood, however, were you guys a little apprehensive as to what people may think about releasing a CD like “The Burial Tree”? Did you think that coming out with such an extreme yet experimental sound would scare people off?
SHANE: Well, no matter what music you play there will always be a group of people out there that are not going to like your music. I think we really used that as a guide when we wrote The Burial Tree. We wanted to write an album that was different than any other band that is out there today. Really, what's the point of writing music if you yourself don't enjoy it? So, were we apprehensive to release the album? No, not at all. The reason being is that we knew we wrote something special that true music fans would appreciate. If people don't like us then that's fine, because we will not go out of our way to get people to like our music and I think we show that in the music we write.
There is a lot of layering involved within the structure of your songs. Moreover, how did you organize all of that madness?!
RHIIS: Believe it or not, what you hear on the album really is just a rhythm guitar, a lead guitar, bass, drums and keys, plus my vocals and then the 'backing' vocals of Kyle and Brendan. I think what gives it such a thick feel is that no one in the band likes to follow the other instruments. Kyle and I will write the basic form of a song, then bring it to the guys and no one is ever content to play what Kyle or I are doing. Everyone wants to branch out and elaborate on the themes, to kind of walk and jump all over the song so that their instrument pops out just as much as the next person's. In a way, it's like all the instruments are almost always competing for attention. When it comes to writing songs, we're not big fans of repetition unless it feels absolutely right, and that is kind of rare. We enjoy music that constantly changes and evolves, I'd say we're actually heavily influenced by classical music. We approach writing from a classical angle, we just happen to be playing rock instruments. If you listen to our music, imagine it being played with real violins, cellos, pianos, booming brass and woodwinds, thundering timpani...there is always some method in the madness, sometimes chaos can be the most beautiful music.
When it came to the recording sessions for “The Burial Tree”, how did it go this time around? Was the recording process easier for you guys on this CD?
KYLE: Since this was the second time recording an album, for me, I feel it couldn't have gone any better. The process was flawless, Lunchbox studios is a professionally run business.
Before you guys made a decision to use a clarinet and a saxophone on some of the songs, did you guys toy around with the idea with filling in the gaps with computer simulated sounds of a clarinet and a saxophone or did you guys already knew you wanted to use the real instruments? Either or, those additions to the CD really caught my ear’s attention.
ALPHONSO: I think it was said when the songs were made that we should add sax and the clarinet. If we have the talent to play them, why not use it? I'm glad they caught your attention. Most people respect the fact that we did it this way. If we had the resources and the money, I'm sure there would have been a full orchestra on "The Burial Tree (II)".
“Bathos and The Iconoclast” is my favorite track from the new CD. What is that song about and how did you map out this song to compliment the other songs on the CD?
RHIIS: This song is actually about music itself, discussing in metaphors the evident ruining of art itself as people water it down. We live in a world where it pays to sound or look like someone else, where art has been twisted into a money-making scheme instead of pure expression. So you find thousands of sound-alike bands and artists sprouting every minute, the next -core, the next scene, all of them proclaiming individuality while remaining clones at heart. It's disheartening. 'Music lovers' empty their wallets in support of this crap, thereby ensuring the burial of artists who are actually making something worthwhile. The song is a kind of yearning for the destruction of false idols, the restoration of true ideals. All in the context of art. This song was one of the last songs written for the album. I had all the songs written on a whiteboard, along with what key each song began and ended in, to see how we could make them all flow into each other. It was pure luck that "Bathos" fit where it did, I feel like it is a kind of turning point in the album. "Bathos and the Iconoclast," "The Zephirus Circus," "Jeremiad" and "Apoptosis" are all actually based off of one musical 'theme,' meaning in the compositions themselves, you could almost say that the four make up one weird suite. I love it.
I was surprised to have learned that “The Burial Tree” was mastered at The Sound Lab in my hometown of Pennsauken, NJ. What made you choose them? Have you worked with them before?
RHIIS: I was born in Willingboro, NJ! But that's not the reason, just a fun anecdote. The Sound Lab is a place that does mastering without charging thousands of dollars for the job. It's a good option for musicians who aren't on a huge budget, and the quality is good. We had never experienced mastering before, but the difference was obvious when the masters came back - the final result was brighter, more rounded out and a bit warmer sounding in general.
Well guys, thank you so much for joining us here on Karlsmetal.com. Are there any last parting words that you’d like to say to the fans out there?
SHANE: Thank you for a great interview, and to our fans or any person who is interested in our band - go to www.anakefr.com for all the latest news on us!
Thanks again guys! This is The Kibitzer signing off and reminding you to support your local and unsigned bands! Now let’s RAGE!!!!