I haven’t exactly been quiet about how much I love Hope Drone, and with Void Lustre garnering much praise, I jumped on the opportunity to pick their brains about the music’s themes (projected or otherwise), politics, and gear. With three excellent albums in a row, I had plenty to ask, and fair warning, there’s a bit of fan-boying in there too. Karl Hartwig and Chris Rowden graciously responded regardless, so head on past the fold to see what’s what.
I’ve been a fan of Hope Drone since my very first spin of Cloak of Ash. It’s unlike anything I heard before or since, and Void Lustre continues that trend. What are some of the musical influences that led to your particular brand of unrelentingly bleak and oppressive metal? And while we’re at it, what are some of your favorite albums? I’m always interested in knowing what kind of music appeals to people who make music I enjoy.
K- A lot of the core building blocks of our sounds are bands like Neurosis, tons of different black metal from all eras and stuff like Godspeed or Swans. But these days when we’re making Hope Drone music most of the stuff I have in my head isn’t really coming from the genres people associate us with and I’m more interested in working ideas from across the musical spectrum into the DNA of our music while still retaining our core sound. Neurosis is one of my favourite bands but I love Tangerine Dream, The Cure and soundtracks just as much and they do genuinely inspire parts of our music.
There seems to be a clear emotional trajectory from Hope Drone’s self-titled release through Cloak of Ash, to Void Lustre. It seems that over time, your music has transformed from a more introspective acceptance of our imminent fate in Hope Drone, to a raw crushing bleakness in Cloak of Ash, to what now seems, in Void Lustre, a building anger towards the hand we’ve been dealt. Am I projecting here or does that ring true? If so, would you care to talk about some of the inspirations for your albums? How much of our current hell trajectory of global warming and the rise of fascism and white supremacy has influenced your music?
K- I think the current cultural zeitgeist is one of anger and it’s entirely valid a listener would project this feeling onto our music. Our music has always been about exploring our humanity and we’ve continued down this path for Void Lustre with our lives and experience shaping our view each time. I think amongst the bleakness we’ve always had a little shred of hope in there, and I don’t know if it’s burning brighter because we need it more, or with age comes the realisation it can all be taken away so easily.
C- I do often look around and despair at what the world is coming to. The decline of the environment, the rise of fascist ideals and movements, and seemingly a greater polarising of society. It appears that, in many ways, humanity is regressing. But Void Lustre is somewhat detached from current events. It explores an existential struggle that, whilst perhaps ever more prevalent in modern post-faith world, is timeless. It charts a path from despair to building hope and meaning from the meaningless. In that sense, it can definitely be contrasted against the bleakness of Cloak of Ash.
This is a weird question, but for a lot of albums, I feel like there’s always a perfect set of conditions to match the music. For Cloak of Ash, every time there’s heavy rain, I feel an overwhelming urge to put it on, especially if it’s chilly out. Void Lustre seems to pair well with oppressive heat. Do you have any preferred listening conditions for your albums?
K – My only preference is for people to listen to the whole thing and allow themselves to be immersed in it but we’ve definitely read people clicking with our records on things like long drives or stuck inside in the snow or rain.
C – I have never seen a heat association with black metal (ish) music. But it makes a lot more sense than cold given where we come from!
In terms of the music itself, one of the things that has always really grabbed me are your absolutely divine guitar tones. They have this raggedly abrasive edge that I find extremely interesting, yet can’t figure out. I know you guys also play some custom built Warmoth guitars; care to talk about some of your gear? I’m a bit of a gear head myself and can talk shop for hours.
K – We’re pretty big nerds about our gear that we’ve acquired over the years. I think the basic idea of our guitar sound is mostly just running drive pedals (in my case a Hotcake) with high output but low gain into the front of amps without too much gain and having a reverb on all the time. Chris is playing a Ceriatone Friedman-style amp which is a hotted up Marshall vibe and both Peege (bass) and myself have ended up with Verellen’s. The Warmoths are just really barebones tele’s made from nice pieces of wood and Bareknuckle pickups in them. Chris’ pickups are wound a bit hotter and kind of more modern while mine is slightly less so. We basically just put all that stuff in the room and then argue about it heaps and the end result is what is on the record.
C – Whilst I have recently gone back to the Warmoth tele, for my part, this album was predominantly recorded with a Caparison Dellinger FX-AM with a Bareknuckle Warpig. Those pickups probably have too much low end for what we are doing, so we ended up bringing out a bit more brightness when mixing. That probably partly accounts for the abrasive edge on Void Lustre.
My Warmoth tele has an alnico Bareknuckle Nailbomb, and I can’t say enough good things about that pickup. It has this incredible throaty midrange, which might explain some of the abrasive edge on earlier records. The best thing about the tele is just how comfortable it is though. I did all of the staining and finishing of that guitar myself. I remember it took days and days, with something like 20 coats of tru-oil. Then when it came to building Karl’s tele, we just wiped on some Danish oil and called it a day – and his probably looks better.
As for amps, Karl and Peege have monstrous Verellen amps, and I am now using a Ceriatone AH100, which is their take on a Friedman BE. I have always been a big fan of JCM800s, and hot rodded plexi style amps in general, but this amp seems to blow any JCM800 I have played out of the water. It is extremely flexible and aggressive, but has an amazing harmonic richness.
One other thing I’ve been curious to ask… as much as I love everything about your music, there’s an element to the drumming that stands out to me, and that’s (what I assume is) the hi-hat. Cloak of Ash was filled with what I refer to as the ‘hidden hi-hat theme’, and I heard it make a brief return on Void Lustre as well. Sometimes I point it out to people, because it really does sound like the drummer, on top of absolutely crushing it, has a third hand that’s just tapping out a completely separate theme at the same time. Is this an intentional act of songwriting? Because if so, fuckin’ bravo.
K- Francis is a very natural drummer who kind of just plays and does amazing things. We give him a rough direction and almost without thinking he’ll do something like that, which to me is kind of cooler than being overly meticulous about it.
C- Even before playing in a band with Francis I was mesmerised by his drumming. I am not alone in that – very good drummers that we tour with often ask how he does certain things and we either don’t understand (because we don’t speak drummer) or we can’t explain it. His style has a lot more feel than a lot of modern metal drumming, which comes across in those flourishes and suits Hope Drone perfectly.
On the topic of songwriting, there was a moment in “This Body Will Be Ash” where I thought to myself, ‘How is it possible for someone to write music that sounds this raw, this spontaneous?’ It felt almost as if you gathered together and just started recording the raw emotion that poured out of your instruments. Is that kind of thing part of your process? Or is it really all just planned out and meticulous?
K- Assuming you’re talking about the end of “This Body Will Be Ash”; those more expressive parts are something I have been trying to work into our material more and more. I feel like metal can be very binary at times, you’re either playing a riff or you aren’t. I wanted to include a more expressive abstract side of heavy music to contrast that. That part isn’t improvised but the structure is quite loose, I have a pretty strong idea in my head of where I wanted things to fit together that was slowly worked through as we started playing the song.
I’m curious about Cloak of Ash being released on Relapse Records, while your other albums are on Moment of Collapse. Moment of Collapse seems like a great match for your sound, so I’m just wondering if there’s an interesting story there. I know I definitely discovered Cloak of Ash because of being on Relapse. Was there a disparity between what Relapse expected and reality?
K- Relapse have a lot of reach and they’ve released some of my favourite records so it was an experience we really couldn’t pass up and we obviously gained a lot from working with them in terms of being exposed to a larger audience. At the same time on that label there are a lot of other bands that are much more important in terms of sales and popularity so we were obviously a lower priority there (which is perfectly reasonable). With Moment of Collapse we’ve got a bit more control because it is a much smaller operation which suits the direction we’re taking the band in.
C- We’re grateful to Relapse, but the reality of working with a smaller label is that the people are more personally invested and it is more about art and passion than it is about business. There are obviously lots of awesome passionate people in a label like Relapse, but I imagine it is easier from their perspective to be passionate about, say, Baroness who tours with Metallica than a small black metal band from the other side of the world.
Now, I know you are based in Australia, but what are the chances those of us in North America ever get to see you on tour? I live in Toronto, and I can promise that if you play anywhere within a four hour drive, I’ll be there.
K- In the right circumstances we’d absolutely play there but equally there are plenty of other places we’d love to go and very little time in which we’re able to do so.
C- Work and family has definitely made it difficult for us to find the time to tour extensively. That said, Toronto is definitely on my list of next destinations, whether for music or otherwise.
Anyway, with all that being said, I just have one last thing. I loved Cloak of Ash so much, and it means so much to me, that I was absolutely sure I’d be disappointed by a follow up. How could anything match such a juggernaut? And yet not only have you matched Cloak of Ash, you have exceeded it. So I just wanted to thank you for that.
K- Thank you, it means a lot when people have a strong connection to what we do.
C- Thank you so much for your support. This music is not for everyone, so we appreciate when people understand what we are trying to achieve.
Many thanks to Chris and Karl for their time!