Clouds Collide, the solo project of Chris Pandolfo, puts out some of the best blackgaze available. His most recent album, All Things Shining, has garnered a surprising amount of attention and praise for a completely independent project. (Check out our review here). And when Chris isn’t putting out stellar, beautiful atmospheric music, he’s generally being an all-around “good dude” — and/or thinking about hockey.
Recently, Chris was kind enough to take some time out of his busy life to answer some questions from the Nine Circles team. Here’s what he had to say
Manny-O-War: You’re generally considered and known as a really good guy. I know this is probably an odd question to jump off with but, you’ve really cultivated that image for yourself. Is that something that comes to you naturally or have you had to curb your actual emotional rollercoasters when dealing with PR stuff?
That’s funny, Shayne [Mathis] asked something very similar due to what the awesome Kim Kelly wrote about me in her article…when some of my friends read that article they laughed because of how “nice” I am. I am a nice guy, always have been, but I’m also still growing up if you know what I mean. I’m also personable to people who I find to be genuine, so in that sense I am just being myself with PR people and they see I’m not an asshole. But yeah, I guess I try to keep my hatred for Eddie Vedder at a minimum on Twitter now, and try to remember that I write lo-fi, one-man black metal in basements and should never judge anything ever again. We’re all human. Even Eddie.
Your music is beautiful, even sorrowful at times. But it is definitely part of a new wave of metal. What are some of the older metal and black metal bands that you draw inspiration from when creating your new blend of metal?
As much as I love older black metal like the Emperors and Burzums and Windirs etc…they’re a part of a much bigger picture I think when I was thinking about these songs. Alcest really helped pull together my inspiration. I also started to fall in love with Agalloch and I’ve been a huge ISIS (the fucking band) fan, which I think kind of shows in the songwriting. Slowdive and dredg are also big influences. Very CULT bands haha. My friends always like to point out different things they hear in my music; I kind of laugh, and then I’m like “wait…oh yeah, definitely!” [laughs] Subconscious influence.
But yeah, I absolutely love Bathory and Summoning — however, so far, no subconscious or deliberate viking metal parts.
Returning to the idea of seasonal inspiration, you hail from Allentown, PA — which, thanks to Billy Joel, has quite a reputation as a worn down factory town that struggles to maintain its core. I’m sure the town has changed a bit since Billy’s anthem but what inspiration, if any do you draw from your physical surroundings?
The Lehigh Valley has a lot of beautiful areas within it. I wouldn’t say I drew any influence from Allentown in general, but certain areas of the valley. Also, Billy Joel is the man.
Your band is solo, which kind of amazes me. It takes a ton of commitment and confidence to produce something completely on your own. But it also probably can get quite complicated. Have you ever been in a band where you worked with others and do you prefer to work on your own? How do you write your songs from the ground up by yourself?
I used to play drums in several bands from age 13-21 or so. Anything from chaotic screamo, to hardcore, to metal, to post-rock. It was a teenage thing, I suppose, and it was fun. I admit to having issues working once I turned like 19 or 20. I wanted to write music but am absolutely horrific at guitar. This is ridiculous, and I laugh about it now, but I had like two full albums tabbed out in a computer program. I asked my brother and a best friend who played bass in one of the bands if they wanted to help me make a cool album. It was a little heavier…like atmospheric sludge. I could tell they weren’t into it because I had stripped them both of their creative input, and I became that asshole that I’d never want to be in a band with.
I began going to the practice space and recording bits and pieces of these daydreams on one of those little Fostex MR-8 track recorders. It was right around the time my mother’s health was getting worse so these melodies and thoughts all started brewing. That’s technically when All Things Shining started being written — some of it nearly 7 years ago. I’d say maybe 20 percent of the album I had attempted to demo for myself way back when. I realized I’ve always been better at just writing the music in my head. The songs were essentially just…daydreams. I never really picked up a guitar to play anything on this album before I began tracking guitar. I just know how it sounds in my head and I do my best to get there during tracking.
Dan: You’ve been compared to bands like Deafheaven and the aforementioned Alcest for the way you juxtapose aggressive, black metal passages against moments of clarity and serenity. What, to you, is the biggest appeal of that combination? Was it a conscious decision to pursue that yin-yang, or did it just happen naturally?
After I realized I could probably just do everything myself, the whole combination of black metal and shoegaze really just…happened. The music I was writing was more personal and painful, and that’s when the influence of black metal became apparent among all these other things. I think I was always drawn to the quiet/loud stuff being a huge Tool and ISIS fan. Just like I mentioned before, the subconscious influence is real!
Manny-O-War: I’ve seen you talk about All Things Shining as a spring album. Can you kind of describe what makes that album remind of you of spring? And how does Elestial fit in with the seasonal theme, if at all?
It may not remind others of spring, but that’s okay. A lot of moments on the album were written during spring but ultimately this is the spring album for me and my nostalgic subconscious. There’s a reason why I write a lot during specific times of the year. I get inspired in different ways. In the winter, it’s because I’m truly crushed by loss and hopelessness. In the spring, some days I become full of this coping, ignorance-is-bliss, hopeful feeling even before my mother’s passing but more so after. Since then, my memories still attack me but I fight them back differently. I can’t be the only one out there who doesn’t feel this strange, almost otherworldly “Everything is going to be alright” feeling when they walk outside on that first beautiful day of spring — especially following a scumbag of a winter.
I guess it’s hard for me to explain. Maybe there are others out there who mourn this same way and can relate.
Elestial is kind of a mixture of bits and pieces of things I had written from very long ago — some before All Things Shining; up until fall of 2013. Nic from Sleeping Peonies wanted to do a split and release it on Khrysanthoney Records. I was nervous because I had just released Until the Wind Stops Blowing and already had All Things Shining written. I was wondering how I would be able to scrounge up enough inspiration to write three or four new songs. They all do deal with nostalgia in a way, however I can’t say they conceptually tie in too much with the LPs. Oddly enough these songs were unintentionally perfect stepping stones from the sound of my debut to All Things Shining.
Due to the sad and unfortunate passing of Wilhelm [Khrysanthoney’s late owner and proprietor], we were unable to release the split physically. So we put our sides up on our Bandcamp pages as a pay-what-you-want.
Dan: What do you see down the road for Clouds Collide? Summer and fall albums? Working with other musicians? Dare we say…live performances? What’s the trajectory in your eyes?
A summer and fall album will definitely happen. Just like always, the process is slow. I have lots of details outlined for LP3 and a few actual songs written thus far. It’s going to continuously push the concept of nostalgia/mourning being affected by different times of the year…but there’s a lot of other things going into that that I don’t want to spoil just yet. It will once again be quite an emotionally exhausting experience to record but I know it will be worth it for me personally.
I’m also slowly putting together a few songs for a darker EP that won’t tie into the full-lengths.
There’s been talks before about live performances. I have some good friends who are willing to learn the material, even if it’s for just a couple shows. The problem is, I just don’t have time to even organize rehearsals. We shall see what happens.
Manny-O-War: As I said before, you’re a really good guy. And we met on Twitter discussing hockey — specifically, our beloved New York Rangers. This year we once again made it to the Eastern Conference Finals, only to be eliminated by the Tampa Bay Lightning. As a very, very serious fan, what do you think the team should change going into the 2014-2015 season?
It’s tough getting so close so many recent years and having nothing to show for it! I don’t think they should change too much, to be completely honest. I have to say, I am a firm believer in Alain Vigneault. Hockey is very long. Two years in a row he took a team who looked like they’d barely make the playoffs in December, all the way to the ECF. To me, it doesn’t matter how much depth, young players or vets you have; if the team can follow a successful system consistently, they’ll be great. We also have arguably one of the most competitive hockey players of all time on our team, and that’s our goalie.
[General Manager Glen] Sather is gone and is probably still behind a lot of things, but I don’t think there’s too much you can change besides maybe getting some bigger bodies on this team. Continue toward perfecting what works and what leads to victories. This team always wins ridiculously close and nerve-racking games and it gives us all near-heart attacks. But you and me both know we’ll take it every night if it means they hoist the Stanley Cup.
Many thanks to Chris for his time.