Eager followers of Discovered may remember we interviewed A CONSTANT KNOWLEDGE OF DEATH‘s James Goldmann back in May this year.
In an ongoing series of interviews, we continue to chat with all the members of this unusual long distance band about how they make things work. Every album is written by a different band member, and utilises different vocalists. Their new record ‘Vol. III.b: Cognitive Predation’ was written by guitarist and founding member of the band Aaron Gutierrez, and is out now. We had a chat with Aaron about his contributions and how it all works…
DID YOU WRITE ALL OF THE SONGS ON COGNITIVE PREDATION?
The album is based on material I wrote over the past decade, which was mostly just guitars and bass. Connor contributed to a ton of ambience and layers, bass parts, and guitar solos, and wrote Pyrolysis in its entirety. James wrote all the drums and collaborated with Mike on lyrics and vocals. I was also fortunate to have a friend of the band, Josue Quiquivix, jump in and write some ridiculous solos for the closing track.
Even though the structure of the songs and riffs were mostly as I had originally written, the record ended up being a huge collaborative effort.
HOW DOES YOUR PERSONAL WRITING PROCESS DIFFER FROM THE OTHER MEMBERS OF THE BAND?
I’ll just noodle on the guitar until I stumble upon something I find interesting, or, when I’m not as lucky, have a riff come to me at 1:00am when I want to sleep. From there, I amass dozens of ideas in Guitar Pro that I can come back to whenever I feel like writing. I flesh those ideas out over months and sometimes even years; the main riff in Costa-Hawkins dates back to 2011. I tend to spend more time on how things sound on the computer before I actually play it on an instrument, which usually means I revise lots of parts when it’s time to record. I’m also much more limited in my ability to write entire songs when compared to someone like James, who can literally play everything, so I try to focus on making really solid guitar parts.
Getting Cognitive Predation finished, however, was a much different process than I’m used to. Considering the time constraints associated with releasing four albums in a year, I didn’t have as much time to try and perfect the sounds I was hearing in my head. I had a guitar in my hands at all times, and that resulted in me balancing out those meticulously engineered ideas with parts that felt good to play and fit the vibe of the album.
THIS IS A VERY POLITICAL ALBUM. IS THAT SOMETHING YOU’RE PASSIONATE ABOUT?
I’m not a particularly outspoken person, especially when it comes to politics, so while I don’t think passionate is quite the right word, I certainly have lots of feelings about the state of the world right now. Music has been a great outlet to vent those frustrations outside of private conversations with friends.
COULD YOU ELABORATE ON SOME OF THE THEMES AND TOPICS YOU ALL TACKLED?
It’s all about society favoring the rich and privileged while leaving the poor and underrepresented behind. The system is failing more and more people, and we wanted to highlight some of the ways that’s happening – how it’s leading to a global degradation of physical and mental health.
Costa-Hawkins discusses landlord-tenant relationships, cost of living, and local politics leading to the gentrification of neighborhoods we spent much of our lives in.
Asphyxia Caduceus is about how inaccessible healthcare is for the people who need it most, leaving them to choose between death and bankruptcy.
Outrage Fatigue is pretty aptly named. Every day we wake up to a dozen news articles about something shitty going on in the world, and it’s burning people out. We’re desensitized to it. Despite that, we still need to maintain hope and keep fighting.
DO YOU THINK IT’S IMPORTANT IN THIS DAY AND AGE FOR BANDS TO BE COMMENTING ON POLITICS?
I wouldn’t say its a mandatory thing. If you want to send a message, either through your music or just being a public figure, that’s totally cool as long as that platform is being used responsibly. Bigger bands have a louder voice, and that needs to be taken into consideration.
For me, I think it’s important because those thoughts and ideas in my head don’t have another outlet outside of ACKOD. If the stuff we write about resonates with somebody, or makes someone feel less alone in the world because we have similar views, then that’s really cool.
MUSICALLY, WHAT OTHER BANDS AND ARTISTS HAVE BEEN INSPIRING YOU LATELY?
That’s a hard list to narrow down. On the heavier side, I’ve really been enjoying the latest Frontierer and Periphery records. The new Chon album was super cool too. Everyone else in the band usually finds new music before I do, so they expose me to a bunch of stuff. Denzel Curry’s Zuu is probably the most interesting thing to come up recently that I wasn’t expecting to enjoy as much as I do.
HOW DID YOU DECIDE WHO YOU WANTED TO PLAY EACH PART AND/OR SING ON THE RECORD?
I definitely wanted to handle all the main rhythm and lead guitars since I was the most familiar with the material. James has written drums for my songs before, so I felt like he would be best there, and take care of clean vocals. I first heard Mike’s harsh vocals when we played live and thought they would be a great fit to make this album stand out from the rest of our recorded material. And while Mike is our resident bassist, due to time constraints Connor took that role. James and I had something like 2 days and a night or two after work to track all my parts, so we decided to also delegate the more soundscape-y parts to Connor.
I forget where the idea for Josue’s guest trade-off solo on Whence from the Heavy Laden I Departed came from, but it was definitely after I was done tracking, so Connor got stuck handling that one too!
HOW LONG DID IT TAKE YOU TO MAKE THIS PARTICULAR ALBUM FROM CREATION TO RELEASE?
Ignoring the fact that some of the riffs on the album are a decade old, it took about a year from my initial concept to release.
WHAT DOES THE TITLE COGNITIVE PREDATION MEAN?
In the animal kingdom, predators and prey follow the circle of life – it’s survival of the fittest. As humans, we don’t need to live that way anymore. We’re capable of collaborating to elevate society, yet people with power exploit the divide between themselves and everyone else for personal gain. There’s cognition involved in that process; it’s not an accident. They are predators.
WHAT IS YOUR OWN PERSONAL FAVOURITE SONG ON THE RECORD, IF YOU HAVE ONE, AND WHY?
Outrage Fatigue. Out of all the subjects on this album, this is the one that resonated most with me and has had the biggest impact on my life. I consider myself a fairly connected person when it comes to technology, but the current overwhelming negativity on social media compounds my anxiety and depression. I didn’t realize how numb I had become to it until I started to spend more time unplugged.
It was also the first song I completely finished for the album. I had been sitting on those riffs for years and I was really happy with how the whole track turned out. It’s my number one choice to play live now, if we ever do.
IF YOU HAD TO CHOOSE ONLY ONE SONG TO SUM UP THE OVERALL THEME AND MEANING OF THE ALBUM, WHICH ONE WOULD YOU PICK?
Eden, The Wolf And Predation really sets the tone for the entire album, both musically and thematically. Fracture is a nice bridge from Vol. III.a, with the ambient soundscapes and James’s vocal lines, but as it devolves to static and mechanical sounds, and then as Eden begins, you know it’s going to be a much different album.
In terms of lyrics, it’s the song most closely related to the title of the album. It draws the parallel between society and the animalistic predator-prey relationship.
HAVE YOU DISCUSSED ANY MORE LIVE VENTURES AT ANY POINT IN THE FUTURE?
So as of less than a month ago, actually, James moved out of California and in with Connor over on the east coast, leaving ACKOD with a 50/50 split between California and Massachusetts. We’ve floated the idea of having two separate live acts, where Mike and I will play on our own here, and James and Connor will do the same over there. I think it would be really cool to find the best material to perform to our strengths, and also bring other musicians onboard to fill in the gaps. It’s like having two bands in one!
That being said, I’ve been on the west coast my entire life, and I keep pushing for a small run of shows out on the east coast – similar to what we did here in California back in 2018. We’ll make that happen eventually.
WE DISCUSSED THE DRAWBACKS OF WORKING LONG DISTANCE IN OUR LAST INTERVIEW WITH JAMES, AND THOSE ARE PROBABLY MORE OBVIOUS, BUT WHAT WOULD YOU SAY IS THE BIGGEST BENEFIT OF A LONG DISTANCE BAND?
I can’t speak for everybody, but I feel like it’s way easier to have “work-life balance.” Everyone is super invested in the band – after all, we committed to this crazy four-releases-in-one-year idea – but we also have the ability to choose when and how much time we’re putting into things without it feeling forced.
Like James also mentioned in the last interview, we’re all incredibly honest with each other and exist in a judgement-free space where we can be serious and buckle down when we need to, but also share music and memes and shitpost to each other.
DO YOU HAVE GROUP SKYPE SESSIONS WHERE YOU DISCUSS EVERYTHING OVER VIDEO CALL, OR IS IT ALL JUST EMAILS? DO YOU HAVE A GROUP CHAT?
We mostly keep in touch via group chat on a day-to-day basis, but we’ve done some video calls in the past when we have a huge agenda to go over, like the 2019 release schedule. The last video chat we had was to let Connor spy on the tracking sessions for this record’s guitars so they could make sure I wasn’t fucking up too much.
HOW MANY BANDS DID YOU PLAY IN PREVIOUS TO ACKOD, AND WHAT’S THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN THOSE PROJECTS AND THIS ONE?
Just one! It was playing covers in high school gyms, so I’m not even sure that counts. There are some very cringe-worthy videos of those shows on YouTube somewhere. We were just trying to have fun, and I thought it was cool to pack as much distortion into my tone as possible. It’s impossible to compare, but ACKOD feels like a “real” band. We’ve found a level of seriousness and fun that works for everyone involved. We’re all accountable for practicing on our own time, so when we need to record or play shows, everyone is ready and we can be proud of how we sound.
WHAT’S YOUR FAVOURITE THING ABOUT PLAYING IN THIS BAND?
Working with James, Connor and Mike. I consider them to be way more competent musicians than myself, and generally more well-versed in the music industry. I’m always learning something new from them, whether it’s conversations about recording and mixing, or dialing in tones, or whatever. I was super ignorant of all of that before I met them.
WHEN YOU’RE NOT WORKING WITH ACKOD, WHAT OTHER HOBBIES AND INTERESTS DO YOU HAVE?
I have a career as a software engineer, so I try to spend some amount of time outside of work keeping up with the industry and working on side-projects to know what’s going on. I’m also into games – I play World of Warcraft to keep up with friends, and I’m a part of a few Dungeons & Dragons campaigns. I’m also trying to be way more active and healthy than when I was younger, so I’ve gone out to places like Joshua Tree to camp, and rock climb, and just disconnect for a bit. There’s another music project I’m getting off the ground right now, too – one that will probably be much more traditional than ACKOD. There’s plenty of things to keep me busy.
YOU LIVE OVER IN SANTA MONICA. WHAT’S LIFE LIKE THERE? DO YOU BRUSH SHOULDERS WITH A LOT OF FAMOUS PEOPLE?
I spend quite a bit of time indoors, and while that can be really isolating, all I need to do is step outside and walk a few blocks to get caught up in a stampede of tourists. It’s really polarizing. On the plus side, though, everything tends to be walking distance, so I get to avoid the hell that is LA traffic (for the most part).
I’m sure I’ve walked past a number of famous people without realizing! I try to avoid crowds unless I’m at a show or something. The only notable interactions I can recall are going to see Mark Holcomb of Periphery host a guitar clinic at a local music shop, and bumping into musicians from bands I’ve listened to a ton, including Sianvar and The Human Abstract. Those were pretty surreal and unexpected moments.
WHAT’S YOUR ULTIMATE GOAL WITH ACKOD, AND WHERE WOULD YOU LIKE TO SEE THIS PROJECT MOVE IN THE FUTURE?
I try not to have expectations for the band – honestly, it’s lasted way longer than I ever thought it would. The band sort of conforms to everyone’s tastes and crazy ideas, and I love that it’s survived all the changes. I definitely want to play live again, but for now I’m content having an outlet for heavy music with good friends.
You can check out the band’s new album right here: