This feature was first published in Weightless in November 2013.
Eerily dense and hauntingly foreboding, The Haxan Cloak’s uniquely cinematic blend of dark ambient and noise has been crushing venues and unearthing the supernatural across the UK at the head of his 2013 tour of Europe. The Cloak was gracious enough to take time to speak with us before his Bristol show about his new LP ‘Excavation’, his recording process, and what music means to him.
You’ve just been playing at here at The Exchange with Eraas and Necro Deathmort, what else have you got planned for your tour?
Pretty much more of the same, but this is only the third gig into the new tour, so right now I’m just tweaking it and making it more physical. Just making it louder… better. [laughs]
Louder is always better! You’re also playing with Mount Eerie in Brussels later on in the tour.
Yes, I’m definitely looking forward to that! That’s on Thursday the 16th.
So, Excavation’s been getting some fantastic reviews, how have you been responding to that?
Pretty much in very quite awe. I was shocked at the response that my first album had, I never expected my second to even match up to that, and this one’s done maybe fifty times better. So the fact that I can come and play a gig where more than ten people will come is pretty cool for me.
I’m sure you have Pitchfork to thank for that.
[laughs] Yep. Thanks, Brandon.
On Excavation your music has been much more cinematic than on your previous release, do you owe that to any particular influences, perhaps Atrium Carceri or Lustmord?
No, not really. The artists I was listening to while making Excavation was pretty similar to the ones I was on the first record. But when I make music it’s more about restraint, it can be very hard to restrain your ideas, at least in my experience. With the first record I had a very distinct thing I wanted to accomplish, so I was stripping away all the layers back to get that, and with this one it’s more like, not necessarily ideas I couldn’t include on the first album, but showcasing a different side of my music, and also there’s a pretty distinct concept running through the record. Though I do like all the people you just mentioned.
How do you feel about the way ambient artists are often perceived as very mysterious or enigmatic by the music press? Do you feel you need to adhere to a certain type of image that reflects your music?
I don’t feel like I do because that’s not the way I was brought up to think about music. I mean when I first started making music when I was a teenager, I was in the DIY punk scene in my town, so that was very un-pretentious. Not that keeping your identity a secret is pretentious, but how so many people do it these days it’s become more of a gimmick, and there’s not many gimmicks about what I do, because, like, I don’t want to do anything else apart from this; I’ve always said that this kind of music is about honesty, really, and a clear channel of perception between what’s going in in your life and what’s going on in your brain and what comes out. There’s no point masking that in the stream of bullshit that can come with it.
There’s already a few myths surrounding the recording of Excavation, namely how you supposedly sealed yourself away without sleep or food for days during the making of it. Was it really that extreme? How was Excavation recorded?
[laughs] I mean- it’s extreme, I’m a workaholic when it comes to my music. Many things suffered, my relationship suffered, my sanity suffered, but it wasn’t as extreme as locking myself away like the Hunchback of Notre Dame. If I’ve got something I want to say, that I want to do, I’ll stop at nothing to get it done. Music means everything to me and there’s nothing more important in my life, so why shouldn’t I just go balls deep?
Lots of your other ambient contemporaries have been drawn to more lavish recording processes, Tim Hecker’s last album was recorded at a church in Reykjavík, which is a big contrast to your home setup. How do you feel about home recording, it’s advantages and disadvantages as an artist?
I don’t think there’s any real advantages apart from recording in a place where you feel comfortable. You want to record in a place where you feel comfortable, it’s easier to record in a place where you don’t feel, say, the monetary stresses of working in a studio. But as for advantages, if you’ve made a record like I’ve just made you don’t want to go to sleep and wake up in the same room where all that energy’s been pumped out. So it would be nice to have a studio at some point. There’s more disadvantages than there are advantages, that’s for sure.
You said before the show you had use of a full studio during the recording process, tell us about that.
Yeah, I was given a recording studio for a week by the Britain Peer’s Foundation in Suffolk, in a little village called Snape. It was through the estate of Benjamin Britten, and they gave me a studio for a week to just record whatever the hell I wanted. They had a multitude of pretty much every orchestral instrument you could ever imagine, so I spent a week being a kid in a sweetshop basically. I had some timpani, big orchestral bass drums, ’The Mirror Reflecting (Part 1)’ is in fact just some huge eight-foot gong I had recorded in a room for a day and just pitch-shifted and processed and did various things with.
Are you ever going to release your Sunn O))) remix?
Oh, on the Resident Advisor mix? Err, probably not. Maybe. If I could coerce Stephen into saying yes. But I doubt that. [laughs]
Sunn O))) could do a split with The Haxan Cloak, you never know.
I’d have to convince Stephen with some nice wine.
Thank you for speaking with us! Do you have any words you’d like to extend to our readers?
Well, thanks for giving a shit, basically. Cheers!
The Haxan Cloak’s ‘Excavation’ is available now from Tri Angle Records. Make sure to catch him on tour if you get the chance!