Empires of Ash, the debut full length, from atmospheric black metallers Sojourner was released last year via Avantegarde Music and recently saw a cassette reissue via Fólkvangr Records. And if you count Saor and Summoning as favorites from this genre, there’s no better time to get in on the ground floor with the epic take Sojourner has to offer. Gruff vocals and frantic tremolo work earmark the bands black metal side but it’s the synth, melodic chords and angelic vocals that set this band — and album — apart. We recently had the opportunity to catch up with Mike Lamb (drums, guitars, piano, synth) for our Profile set of questions and he was more than generous with his answers. Keep reading to see what he had to say.
How did you first get into playing music and have you achieved the level of success that you always hoped to achieve?
We got started as a band when Emilio (vocals) contacted me after buying my other band’s album (Lysithea, with Sojourner bassist Mike Wilson). We both loved black metal in its various forms, so we talked about doing something together at some point. A year or so later I sat down and wrote the song that became “Heritage of the Natural Realm,” then I got Chloe on board to share songwriting, guitars, and tin whistle and Mike Wilson from Lysithea on bass, and it just went from there. We’ve actually received a lot more success than I had ever hoped for, we made it for ourselves and for fun but we didn’t expect to have so many people react so positively to it. We really appreciate all of the kind reviews and comments that we’ve received.
What’s the most you have ever debased yourself to get your band onto a show, into a magazine or otherwise promoted, covered, debased and praised? If you don’t have a story please tell us any embarrassing story.
We’ll, we’d never debased ourselves until we agreed to do this interview with some website called Nine Circles 😉 but no, in all seriousness we’ve got no really embarrassing stories since we haven’t toured or had much chance to get ourselves into any of those situations. Though once, while recording some of Chloe’s parts for the album, I had set up a really nice condenser mic the wrong way around and blew 3 hours and £80 worth of recording time because of it haha. Not a mistake you make twice.
What do you see as some of the great things happening in metal and what are some of the worst things happening inside the scene right now?
One of the greatest things about the metal scene is the sheer diversity that has come about with the technological advances in digital audio and the affordability of recording for bands now. It has lead to an incredibly diverse metal scene where there’s none of the old elite barriers to bands or artists getting their music out…which some argue has led to oversaturation and too much shitty music clogging the scene, but honestly, nobody is making you listen to any of it. Though that’s not to say that people shouldn’t at least take a bit of pride in their work and make an effort to learn to record properly, there’s some stuff out there that sounds like it was channeled through a potato. There’s something out there for everybody though, no matter what weird tastes you might have. Bands also have more say and control over their music than ever before with the shift in the way record labels do business now, which has less focus on binding contracts and more of a focus on licensing work for distribution.
The worst thing happening in the scene? Other than the fact that Agalloch broke up last year haha, probably just the state of uncertainty around the industry in general. We were incredibly lucky to have caught Avantgarde’s attention, but I know a lot of great unsigned bands that haven’t been able to find labels despite having music that’s easily as good or better than a lot of bands on labels already. A big part of it seems to be luck and being in the right place at the right time when labels are actually able to take on another band. I think, if anything, the metal scene is in the best place it’s been in ages in terms of the quality and diversity of bands at the moment.
It seems that now everyone has a passion for some cause and that those people are very open about displaying their passions. This is probably a very, very good (and progressive) thing socially. What are some of the most important issues (social/political/humorous/etc.) for you and how do you insert those issues into your music? (This question is especially appropriate for you since your music is quite an outlet for your physical and emotional pains).
For me, at least, when I write this stuff I want it to be a positive experience. I’m very much an optimist, though I absolutely love dark, melancholy stuff too. I studied both arts and science but my Masters is in Science Communication, and I think the best way to deal with the climate change deniers and racist idiots (among others) that seem to be simmering to the surface of society lately is with a more hopeful message than any sort of nihilistic, defeatist bullshit. Rather than convey something negative and misanthropic, I’d rather people came away from listening to Sojourner feeling like it’s worth fighting for things that matter rather than just accepting that it’s all fucked and giving up because they assume that nothing can change. But while I’m incredibly passionate about a lot of that stuff, I also don’t want Sojourner to be political in any way, I’d rather it just be an experience that people can have to get away from the real world for a bit.
What, or who, got you into metal and how old were you? How did your family take the news?
My older brother got me into metal with Metallica when I was 7 or 8, which is a pretty typical introduction to metal haha. I kept on seeking out heavier bands until I found Agalloch’s ‘Pale Folklore’ (among a few others) in the early 2000s. After that discovery I just started digging deeper and deeper into the various metal sub-genres. My family were incredibly supportive of me blaring metal day and night, they never said a negative word about it, which was probably part of the reason I was the least rebellious teenager in history…which isn’t very metal, I suppose.
What advice do you have for aspiring music critics and outlets out there? How can we all better serve the genre in the eyes of a hard-working musician?
I have a lot of respect for music reviewers, I know it’s not easy to essentially say a lot of the same things over and over about album after album while keeping readers interested. It’s also got to be hard keeping perspective after hearing your hundredth album for the week. The only criticism or piece of advice I have for reviewers generally, and this goes for any critics of music/books/film/game/art so I’m not just picking on music critics, is when they clearly don’t like the genre or sub-genre they’re reviewing but still give it a misleadingly low score when they’re completely incapable of being unprejudiced about what they’re reviewing. This isn’t based on any reviews of anything we’ve done, it’s a general thing, but I think you’ve got to know your tastes and the limits of those tastes so that if you come up against something outside of your remit then it’s perhaps more responsible and courteous to both fans and the artist themselves to pass it on to a fellow reviewer that’s going to be in a better place to judge the thing you’re reviewing.
No review is purely objective, it can’t possibly be, but it can be an educated review refracted through the lens of the work of that artist’s peers rather than some abstract comparison to an arbitrary measure of quality by comparing it to some other unrelated piece of work. I work in a video game company and I can’t count the amount of times I’ve seen a 1-star review with the line “not my kind of game at all”…uh, okay, but what purpose does your personal taste serve as a gauge of product quality? It makes no sense. Luckily most professional reviewers are above that most of the time.
What’s your goal? You guys thinking world domination? Maybe saving a continent? Maybe invading one? Any interest in starting a cult? Do you guys have day jobs or hobbies you want to share? Whatever it is, please let us know.
I currently work in a game company in Dundee in Scotland, I love reading and writing Weird/Horror Fiction, and I sometimes do soundtrack work if anybody needs it (eh? eh?). Other than that, no plans to save or invade anything. I’d like to start a cult though, something Lovecraftian for sure…or maybe something of the more Laird Barron kind, I think I could get behind that. All hail Old Leech.
Many thanks to Mike for his time!