While A CONSTANT KNOWLEDGE OF DEATH‘s Facebook page lists them as being based out of Long Beach, CA, this is slightly deceptive. In fact, their members live hundreds (thousands?) of miles apart from one another, run the band over the internet, and have only met up to do one live show so far. Despite this, the experimental rock four piece are doing well for themselves and have recently put out their third record ‘Vol. III, A: Forth From The Quiet To The Air That Trembles’.
We put some questions to vocalist JAMES GOLDMANN to discuss the band’s ideas, concepts, and how difficult it is to operate when their members live so far apart from one another…
FIRST OFF: WHY THE NAME A CONSTANT KNOWLEDGE OF DEATH? IS THIS A CONCEPT THAT HAS STEMMED ACROSS YOUR RELEASES?
The name is kind of a dumb story. I went through a few different ideas, starting with Exiles & Vagrants and then just Vagrants, but there were a million bands with that name already. So, in the spirit of The World is a Beautiful Place[…], I decided to make something no one else would ever reasonably take – thus, ACKOD.
Death is definitely one of the most pervasive themes in all our music, but we also focus on socio-political issues, communication and culture, and mental illness. For example, while Vol. III.a is indeed about death, the afterlife and divine punishment, Vol. III.b is about the growing disparity between the rich and the poor, and how various aspects of the former’s abuse of the latter affect our mental and physical health, while Vol. III.c is basically about killing Nazis and rapists, and Vol. III.d is about social media and isolationism. You know, accessible stuff.
DID YOU ALWAYS PLAN TO BE A CONCEPTUAL BAND?
Honestly, I never had a plan for this band. Back in 2012, I wrote a few acoustic-y post-rock songs (which ended up closing out Vol. II) and put together a four piece with Aaron and a couple other dudes. Things fell apart when they ghosted us after a few rehearsals. Then we approached Connor, who I have collaborated with since 2008, about making the band a home for all the stray songs that never fit in our other projects – studio only, just to push stuff out. The three of us shoved everything we had together and made it work.
THE BAND IS SIMPLY HUNDREDS OF MILES APART. HOW DID YOU EVEN BEGIN TO APPROACH THIS PROJECT?
Yeah, try thousands! The fact we’ve been able to keep this up as long as we have is truly a testament to the power of the internet, and modern aviation I guess.
When we brought the idea to Connor, they already lived in Florida for college while we were in California, so we resigned ourselves to probably never playing live from the get-go. Connor’s also the only real engineer out of all of us, so we’d wait until they were home for holidays or whatnot to crank out material. We ended up recording our first two albums over one winter break, I believe. These days I’ve also learned a bit of engineering, so we can record from each respective coast without flying people one way or the other.
WHEN IT COMES TO THE WRITING PROCESS, HOW DO YOU FEEL IT DIFFERS FROM OTHER BANDS?
From my experience, there are generally two types of bands: bands where everyone gets together and jams out songs, and bands with one central composer. In our collective, everyone is the central composer. Our first couple albums were glorified compilations of everyone’s individually written songs, and we contributed performances as needed.
We expanded on this concept with Vol. III – its many parts are full LPs written by each member, and we all delegated who we wanted to perform what on our respective albums. For example, I wanted to do pretty much everything on mine, but Aaron wanted Mike on vocals, Connor on bass and me on drums, while Connor wanted Mike on bass and me on vocals. We shuffled around a lot.
DO YOU FEEL THIS HAS ALLOWED ALL OF YOU TO HAVE ALL A BALANCED LEVEL OF CREATIVE INPUT?
I think so, yeah. We each had full control over our own records, and we put a self-imposed 20-30 minute limit so that no one could go too off the rails in comparison to the others. That was pretty much the only limitation, though – any genre was fair game, from acoustic metal, to sludgy djent, to extreme death, to industrial. We all got to play to our strengths.
WHAT HAVE ACTUALLY BEEN SOME OF THE CHALLENGES OF THIS?
Time was the biggest one, for sure. It’s a ton of material to drop in one year. We all work or study full time, we live in different time zones, and we all have to keep ourselves alive. It gets incredibly stressful when you have a finite amount of hours to track, or produce, or write. Thankfully, we’re all pretty good with time management and meeting deadlines, so we made schedules and crushed them.
Otherwise, communication and distance are both tough, in pretty much every aspect – day-to-day discussions, production, performances, everything. It’s significantly harder to explain how you want something to sound over text or email than it is in person. Since we’re all remote, we have to trust that the others will play what we want and expect. Sometimes it’s disappointing when you receive stems that aren’t exactly what you envisioned, but in our situation, you just have to make concessions. That said, I don’t think any of us have ever produced anything that the rest of us were completely unhappy with – minor grievances at worst. It’s always worked out.
WHEN IT COMES TO THE LIVE ASPECT, THIS HAS ONLY EVER HAPPENED ONCE. HOW WAS IT PLAYING TOGETHER? IS IT SOMETHING YOU’LL REVISIT?
It was a phenomenal, incredibly cathartic experience nearly six years in the making. As I mentioned earlier, Connor and I have been in bands together since high school, so performing with them again for the first time in the better part of a decade was a thrill. I would love to revisit it, but time and distance are rough obstacles. We’ll see what the future brings.
YOU’VE EXPLAINED THAT OVER THE COMING RELEASES YOU’LL EXPLORE VARIOUS GENRES. DO YOU FEEL THAT BANDS THESE DAYS ARE POTENTIALLY LIMITING THEMSELVES BY ONLY EVER PLAYING ONE GENRE?
I think ‘limitation’ is the wrong context to explore this topic in. Whether you completely overhaul your sound or stick with what you know, those decisions will have consequences. And there are so many factors that influence how those consequences unfold – your approach, your expectations for yourself, the expectations of your audience, even the expectations of those financing your work, if you have that privilege. Success and failure mean different things to different people, and are perceived differently in different scenes.
It’s too nuanced to truly break down without an academic dissertation on the industry and philosophy, which I’m most certainly not qualified to write. I just want to make weird shit. Some people would rather play it safe. I have no idea which is better.
AT THE SAME TIME, WHAT MADE YOU WANT TO PUT OUT ALL OF THESE RELEASES THROUGH ACKOD IN COMPARISON TO VARIOUS PROJECTS?
ACKOD has always been a home for whatever we want. Without putting any pressure on anyone to write or sound a certain way, we gave ourselves a lot more flexibility to make whatever we want. Consequently, though, coherency was a major issue on our first two LPs. Throwing acoustic-y post-rock next to brutal death metal on Vol. II was a… choice… and it worked out about as well as it could (barely). Vol. III’s structure attempts to eliminate that problem.
For some of us, this is our only project. For others, this is the only project where certain compositions fit. For all of us, this is the only project that offers enough freedom to pull this off. And we’re all masochists.
WHAT WOULD YOU SAY WERE THE MAIN AND LEAD INFLUENCES ON YOUR LATEST RELEASE, VOL. III.A?
I actually started writing this record way back in 2012 or so. I think it’s pretty obvious I was listening to quite a bit of TesseracT, Uneven Structure¸ Devin Townsend Project, bands like that, but I wanted to push that into a chiller, more acoustic territory and eliminate distortion completely. I also wrote it to my mediocre technical ability, which is why it’s not particularly shreddy, but I compensated for that with density. There’s an insanely massive Guitar Pro file for the entire record. I can’t count how many times it smoked my computer.
Lyrically, I’m a huge fan of Dante, and Inferno has long been one of my favourite pieces of literature. The idea of divine / poetic punishment for immorality, the vivid imagery of Hell, and how it all ended up influencing how Christians themselves view the afterlife is fascinating. I combined that fascination with my own thoughts on where I might end up should I be sent there, why, and how I’d cope.
I feel like I pushed myself to the limit on this album, both sonically and lyrically. Really hope I can top it one day.
NOT ALL BANDS ARE ACTUALLY LIVE BANDS THESE DAYS – DO YOU FEEL THE LIKES OF SPOTIFY AND SUCH HAVE ENABLED THIS TO HAPPEN?
Definitely, but it’s not just the increase in accessibility for both consumers and artists – basic recording equipment is affordable now, too. With enough time and effort, and a computer, you can make whatever you want with a $20 USB microphone and freeware. Having the time, energy and resources to do it is obviously still a massive privilege that many can’t afford, but it’s nice to know that you don’t have to be bankrolled by a giant record label to publish your art without setting your wallet on fire. That is, as long as you’re willing to not get appropriately compensated for self-publication via streaming services. But that’s another conversation.
AT THE SAME TIME, THEY ALSO SAY THAT PLAYING LIVE IS THE ONLY WAY A BAND CAN REALLY BECOME RECOGNISED. ARE YOU FEARFUL OF MISSING OUT ON THIS AT ALL?
Not really. Recognition has never been a particularly large motivator for this project. It would be nice, sure. We’d love to be on a cool label, get offers to play cool shows, and support ourselves with our music, but realistically, we all know how oversaturated the music scene has become, and that we’re not making the easiest music to listen to. Not to mention distance and all that. We’re proud of what we make, and that’s enough.
FINALLY, WHAT WOULD YOU SAY IS THE ONE THING PEOPLE GET WRONG ABOUT BEING IN A BAND WHERE YOU LIVE THOUSANDS OF MILES APART? HOW DOES IT ACTUALLY ALL WORK?
I think it’s pretty much what you expect. Lots of emails, lots of group chats. I guess the only potential misconception is that we aren’t as close as we would be if we were together all the time, but I feel the opposite is true. I’d say we’re all open with each other to a fault, and personally, I’m much more honest with them than with people I physically see frequently, even family. Maybe it’s the comfort of having screens and keyboards to filter our words and faces. Maybe it’s who we are as people. I don’t really think it matters. It’s just nice to collaborate with people you love, and who love you.