Apr 092013

(DGR interviews Timothy Pope of Australia’s The Amenta.)

Around the time we posted about The Amenta’s music video for the song “Teeth” and subsequently reviewed their album Flesh Is Heir, we were given the opportunity to sit down with one of the group’s founding members (well, sit down as much as we can through the magic of the internet) and really talk about the group’s latest releases –  as well as get a general overview of the band throughout the years.

Synth/keyboardist/general technology wizard Timothy Pope has been with the band from its foundations and has seen it through various incarnations and sounds. As you can all see below – the man has a thing or two to say about a thing or two and really helps give a picture of what happens when the group sits down to write music, as well as the general philosophy of everything that goes in to the band. He even graced some of my sillier questions with serious responses.

This one is a good, long read so beware that it’s a time investment, but it’s also fascinating to see the inner gears of a machine like this turning, and get a glimpse of what went in to each song. It also functions as a hell of an introduction and tutorial to who these guys are and what they are about.


DGR: Before we kick off, a quick intro for folks who may not be aware of the band. What’s your name? How long have you been with The Amenta? What instrument do you play?

Tim: My name is Timothy Pope. I am one of the founding members of The Amenta, so have been with the band since 2000. I play samples, noise, keyboards, and various other ephemera.

I think I am different from the usual keyboard player in a band because I despise the cheesy way that other bands use keyboards. We try to avoid the obvious sounds and melodic lines. A lot of bands use a keyboard player to pretend that they have the budget for a choir or orchestra. They think that some string sounds or some pre-set choir aahs give their music gravitas when, in fact, it sounds fucking cheap. So it’s always been my mission to avoid that kind of laziness.

I hate keyboards as much as the next battle jacket wearing Neanderthal, so I wanted to find a way to create truly ugly and disturbing sound. So I create sounds from scratch. Recording found percussion to sample into patches. I steal snippets of audio from radio transmissions and warp them into something I can play semi-melodically.

I think (and of course I would say this) that my sounds are very intrinsic to The Amenta. Our songs are about interplay between elements. Remove one element and the song doesn’t work, whereas with other bands, you remove the keyboards (which are just fluff on top) and you are still left with a guitar-based song. Our noises are just as important to the composition as guitars. Sometimes, what you might believe is a guitar is actually a sample of radio static.


It’s been some time between your guys’ last ‘full’ release and Flesh Is Heir, and in between you had the Vo1D release and the Chokehold single. Vo1D and Chokehold both had new music – but Flesh is the biggest collection of it. How long have these songs been in the works?

I think we actually began the songs that make up Flesh is Heir in 2010. As always with us, the process is initially very frustrated. In the first writing session we were just about to head over to Europe to tour, so inevitably the writing process was interrupted. When we get into writing mode it’s all-consuming but so is tour mode. Once we are playing live gigs we keep getting booked and so there is delay after delay. So I think we really began re-focussing at the end of 2011.

The smaller satellite releases actually document part of the process of creating Flesh is Heir. Our writing methods are about chasing the exciting idea. The only way that we can be motivated to pursue an idea is if that idea is exciting. Ideas that sound like something we have written before are definitely not exciting, so they are inevitably discarded.

The sounds that really get us hard are the new ideas. Ideas that are a new direction for us. Once you get these ideas then the whole album opens up for you. It’s a lot easier to write when you are inspired and have a direction. So the first part of our writing process is to search out a direction. We throw a lot of crazy ideas around to try to trigger that inspiration.

This used to happen behind closed doors, but we knew that we had a tendency to disappear for too long between albums, so we made the decision to release a few of the ideas and works in progress. That’s what you hear on Choke Hold, V01D, and the Teeth EP. They are potential ideas for directions and in some ways are precursors to and the genesis of the sounds that you hear on Flesh is Heir.


You guys posted up a description of what Teeth was about when you put the music video up for it, and it seems like much of that specific theme carries on throughout the disc. Is there an overall theme to Flesh Is Heir? It seems like a couple of the tracks are inter-related.

There is definitely a theme throughout the album, as there is for all of our major releases. I am the primary lyricist and, as with the music, unless I have an idea of the themes I want to explore, I find it very hard to get motivated to continue. I usually experiment with ideas and themes until one grabs me. and that usually suggests directions for songs as well as imagery and metaphors that will eventually work their way into every song.

The theme for Flesh is Heir is that, within every single person, there is a constant war between the two primary impulses of the human psyche. Everyone has these two impulses, and the tension between them is essentially the energy that powers life. The first of the impulses is one that we have called The Obliterate.

The Obliterate is the part of the human that desires to be completely subsumed in something greater than itself in order to annihilate the self and the worries and troubles associated with consciousness. Some people explore this impulse through drugs or booze. Others will find the relief in sex or violence or religion.

The second impulse is one that we have termed The Realist. This is the impulse that desires to continue to carve out a niche for the “I”. It is constantly trying to define the self in comparison to the herd. It’s embracing troubles and attempting to overcome them in order to further the existence of the consciousness of the individual.

We all have these two impulses and they are a continuum. Where people exist on this continuum determines what kind of personality they have. Some people lean much harder towards The Obliterate. These are the shamen, the junkies, and the football hooligan. Others lean towards the Realist. These are the philosophers, the depressives, and the egotistical.

The lyrics examine this struggle through various different guises. The album is structured as an argument between the two sides. It is essentially a document of my own struggle to determine which is the nobler course. I lean more towards The Obliterate these days. But it changes.


It seems like you guys are able to re-invent yourselves somewhat with each release (and it may just be the vocalist rotations), and Flesh Is Heir is suitably dark and upfront about it in comparison to earlier discs where the artwork was very focused on your logos (this one having the guy being tortured by chains and a very simple font). How did you guys decide on this shift in direction?

We believe in, if not constant re-invention, then constant re-evaluation. Like all artists we (and brace yourself, this is about to get very pompous) are in a constant pursuit for truth. The truth is a slippery sucker. Just when you think you have it, it changes. This affects everything, from musical direction, lyrical direction to art direction.

One thing that has thus far stayed constant is our desire for simple and striking imagery. I fucking hate most metal art. I see the covers that everyone raves about and they look like a dungeons and dragons players’ first home-made tattoo. It makes me sad that this is how extreme music is represented. That kind of imagery is why people think metal is a joke. We may as well drive around in panel vans with airbrushed eagles on the side, mullets streaming in the wind.

That kind of shit does not represent me. We wanted imagery that is direct, upfront, and above all tasteful. In the past this has meant that we have gravitated more towards just the simple logo on a matte background. It is simple, beautiful, and eye-catching. Flesh is Heir, though, took a thematic step towards the personal and therefore human and it felt right to experiment with the idea of a photo on the cover.

The photo was taken by a great friend and frequent collaborator (she also directed and edited the “Teeth” and “Vermin” film clips as well as taking photos of “Choke Hold”), Jess Mathews. We gave Jess a summation of the themes of the album and asked her to interpret. She took Cain [Cressall, vocals] and basically tortured him one freezing evening. She had a huge pile of photos. This one seemed to represent the internal struggle and anguish well. It’s definitely a more complex cover than others that we have had but I think the albums’ themes, and the fact that it is more organic and personal than our previous releases, required something different.


It’s been a part of the groups’ sound for a while, but where did the idea come from to have the overbearing keyboard/computer samples that seem to sit on top of everything? When did you guys find that having this layer of static on top of everything worked as well as it did?

Like most aesthetic decisions in our music, the samples and keyboard sounds came out of experimentation. As I mentioned above, in my opening rant, I am not a fan of traditional keyboards. I find the idea of bolting on some trite melodic fluff to be vulgar. When I first began playing keys for this band there was a constant struggle to mangle and distort the sounds that we used to try to make it uglier and more vicious.

I used to have a Metal Zone guitar pedal (for those in the know, this is the best distortion pedal available to create horrible sounding static) that I ran my keys through and would punch it occasionally to fuck up the sound. That was fun but it didn’t go far enough. As we got a bit more experience with technology we began to create our own sounds and samples. We’ve always been drawn to the ugly sounds. They are the ones that make us grin. It just seems to work well with the direction that we were pursing with the guitars and vocals. We like ugly music. We are ugly people with ugly ideas so we need to use ugly sounds to adequately express that.

With Flesh is Heir there was another big change in direction. In the past, and especially on our second album n0n, there has been a lot of very intricate sound design and programming. On n0n I literally spent months on songs. It took me 18 months to record my parts for that album. Needless to say, I had no interest in doing that again. I am old. Fuck that.

Coming into this album I had a lot of writer’s block, both for lyrics and for music. I couldn’t think of a direction I wanted to pursue and I was very uninspired. The trick was recording the Choke Hold EP. That track was an experiment in immediacy and capturing the moment. We wrote and recorded that song in six hours which, for us, is ridiculously quick. I played bass on the track and it re-opened my eyes to a more organic way of creating.

I searched around to find a way to do a similar thing with my noise and samples. The way I ended up working was to take very small samples of different things. I stuck a microphone in front of bits of metal, cutlery, baby toys, car engines, cardboard box percussion, and a host of different “percussion” sources. I also raided some of the more avant-garde modern composers in my collection and grabbed tiny parts of choirs and orchestras.

These samples I then made into patches in my live rig and mapped all the controllers’ faders and knobs to effects such as distortion, delay, ring modulator, and time stretch. Then I played the sounds directly into our recording computer, manipulating and distorting the sounds in real time as they went in. So the noise that you hear in Flesh is Heir is very live and human. There are a lot of happy accidents. I also made a cool discovery that if you take a melodic phrase and pitch it out of its normal range you get very interesting harmonic changes.

Basically the noise and samples aspect of our music is like all other aspects. We experiment. We try to find a unique voice. We hope that ten percent of it translates.


Not a question, but alongside “Teeth”, “Disintegrate”, “Ego Ergo Sum”, and “Tabula Rasa” have to be shoe-ins as new live staples right? People need to hear that beginning section of “Tabula Rasa”.

We’ve just started working on some of these songs to perform them live. There is a lot of re-arranging and compromises in order to play these arrangements with a five piece band. So far we do have “Teeth” down. We have also got the track “Flesh is Heir” up and running and “Ego Ergo Sum” is definitely in our live set. We haven’t tried “Disintegrate” or “Tabula Rasa” yet but we’ll definitely give them a go. If they can be performed and are up to scratch we’ll definitely give them a run.


This one dates back to Vo1D – since a couple of the songs are remixes on that disc – whose work are we enjoying on those?

That’s my work. Those are some of my first remixes. I really enjoyed the process. It was a very new way of looking at the songs and I love the idea of taking chunks of a song, tearing them out of context, and creating something new with them. I wanted to avoid typical “remix” sounds like 808 drum machines and bass drops. I am very happy with them and I learnt a lot during the process.

I’ve since remixed some of our other songs and I’ve also remixed work for MELEK-THA (who is a killer ritual noise act from France who also provided some audio that I manipulated for “Flesh is Heir” during the track “A Palimpsest”) and RUINS (a phenomenal black metal band from Tasmania).


While we’re on this brief remix tangent, since you guys have a heavy samples and electronic element present – and it may be too soon to be asking this – which song from Flesh Is Heir do you think would be the most fun to go in and play with/remix?

I’ve been thinking about that. I’d like to do a full remix album a la Love and Hate in Dub of Flesh is Heir” (“Flesh is Dub”?, “Dub is Heir”?) and I’ve been kind of  “head remixing” where I mentally pull chunks out and imagine what I would do to them. I think the first one I would tackle at the moment would be “Ego Ergo Sum”. Its tempo means that you could really get something massive out of it and you could grab discrete chunks of guitar that would make excellent building blocks. Maybe also “Obliterate’s Prayer”, mainly because I love the verse riff and I could really make some creepy shit out of its ugly crawl and inharmonic bends.


You guys just posted up some recent tour dates on your home turf; I understand you will have to be vague because I know that things shift constantly – will there be any upcoming opportunities/plans for folks to catch you guys outside of Australia?

We are always in discussions about tours. There is always some opportunity being debated. We are just about to head to Indonesia to play the massive Hammersonic Festival which should be amazing. Apparently last year they got 25,000 people and they’ve moved it to a bigger venue this year so it should be pretty amazing. We are looking at doing a headline tour of Australia in June/July but after that I think it will be all about International touring.

We’ll definitely get back over to Europe again as there seems to be a lot going on there. It’s just a matter of finding the right tour with the right timing. We’d love to get back to North America. We had a blast last time we were there and it would be excellent to catch up with some friends and eat some more of your lovely fried food. North American tours seem to come up less frequently for an Australian band but we are open to any idea. We just want to get into people’s faces and shove extreme music down their throats. So if there are any promoters out there who are interested in touring a bunch of violent, drunk professionals please get in touch.


You’ve had two music videos now that have involved Cain being covered in some pretty awful stuff – rats for “Vermin” and muck/chains for “Teeth” – any ideas on what you’re going to do to him for the next one?

We can’t kill that guy! We try to give him rabies, we try to give him tetanus. Still kicking. Actually Cain was very instrumental in those ideas. He works very closely with Jess [Mathews, director, editor, visionary] so he is partially responsible for the torture that he gets put through.

We have just begun discussing another film clip. It’s too soon to talk about anything concrete but it looks like these clips will be full band affairs rather than the Cain-centric ones that we have created in the past. We are talking about another aspect which I wish I could mention but, once again, it is way too early. Suffice to say that it is a very unusual idea and it will either be fucking incredible or not so much.

But, as always, our MO is experimentation and with that comes inevitable failures for every success. I am ok with that because failure is human and therefore interesting. Of course, if it fails too badly you will never see it. We may be human but we aren’t fools.


What other bands and albums have you been enjoying so far this year? Anything from around where you guys are that you think folks should be keeping an eye out for?

I don’t think I’ve heard any 2013 albums that have really stood out for me so far. I am always behind the 8 ball with that shit. I tend to go off on my own little tangents to try to find music that really excites me. I am always looking for music that is new and surprising. I think that the only real music worth a damn is music where the artist is expressing themselves in some new and unique way.

We all need to find our own language in order to conduct a dissection of our own unique psyches. It’s not possible to express yourself with other people’s words, and a repetition of someone else’s language is redundant. Because of this search, a lot of the music I listen to is older or more obscure. I try to find things that amaze me, often they have been around for a while but they are new to me. There is such a backlog of interesting shit to get through that often it takes me a while to get around to hearing new music. Unless it is so good that it is forced upon me, which can definitely happen.

One album that has been consistently blowing me away (and was, in fact, a large inspiration for The Obliterate aspect of Flesh is Heir) is SWANS last album, The Seer. It’s a truly awe-inspiring statement and I recommend it to anyone who is interested in being decimated by music.

Another band I have been really digging lately is an Australian band called HEIRS. They play a very minimal version of what could loosely be called “post-rock” or “post-metal” but they do it in a very different way. It doesn’t sound like Mogwai or Neurosis. It’s quite tense but very beautiful at the same time. They also have the best use of Theremin I can think of.


Who amongst you do you think has the coolest last name? Going off the roster on your Facebook and given that I’m a simpleton, I’m finding that it’s a tossup between Stone and Pope due to the single syllabic nature of them .

Well it would have to be Pope. It’s served me well and gets me into all the coolest Catholic parties. Children, however, are safe around me.


Let’s get real gear nerdy for a quick second – what sort of setup are you playing with at the moment?

I don’t get to talk about this stuff very often as I have yet to come across a keyboard nerd. There are always flocks of impressionable kids waiting to lick the sweat from between our drummers toes, our guitarists get to talk about their gear, and Cain always has many well-wishers and swell kissers hanging from him after gigs. I can generally get from stage to bar without being accosted and can drink my beer alone. So this is a dream come true.

My live gear is a couple of controller keyboards. I find that M-Audio Axiom’s work for me. They are relatively sturdy and are cheap enough to replace when I inevitably break one. I tend to be a bit rough with gear live. Unlike guitarists who name their instruments as if they were dogs, I have no respect or love for my gear. I have a laptop which runs Ableton Live, which is a killer program that acts as a sample host and sonic manipulator, and I run a few soft synths through Ableton.

In the studio I used a whole bunch of different shit. The live set up played a big part but I also used an electric violin (fed through Ableton and fucked with), a circuit bent delay pedal (fed through Ableton), an SM-57 microphone in a feedback loop, acoustic guitar, homemade spring guitar, cutlery, sleigh bells, circuit bent radio, homemade oscillator, bowed electric guitar, percussion piano, and probably a whole host of other shit. Obviously I can’t tour with that stuff so I tend to sample the sounds and play them from Ableton.


There’s three instrumentals on Flesh Is Heir, those being “Womb Tone”, “Cell”, and “Palimpsest”. “Palimpsest” seems to tie thematically into “Tabula Rasa” – how did “A Womb Tone” and “Cell” come about?

It’s cool to hear that you see a thematic link between “A Palimpsest” and Tabula Rasa”! That wasn’t conscious but we always concentrate on making sure that the track listing has an ebb and flow that services the songs, so maybe there was something that we picked up on subliminally that you are hearing.

“Cell” is probably the most interesting back story. We always get extremely burnt out after reach album and the idea of writing another is enough to drive us to drink. After our first album, Occasus, which was written and recorded over 5 very intense years, Erik [Miehs, guitars] and I were talking about doing another band. It was never explicitly discussed but the implication was that we were fucking done with The Amenta. We felt we had no more ideas for that sort of thing and we were sick of trying to force shit up-hill with some of the people we were working with.

We talked about creating an electronic band which had the darkness of extreme metal but with the ambience and palette of something like 100th Window by Massive Attack. We wrote a few songs, but the experiments with these ideas recharged us and led directly to the music that would go on to make our second album n0n. When we began writing Flesh is Heir we were driving around listening to old demos to see if there were any sparks that were worth reigniting. We came across what was essentially a fully formed song. A few changes and embellishments and a set of lyrics and we ended up with “Cell”. Interesting factoid for trainspotters: the distorted drum break after the first big heavy riff was lifted directly from the original demo.

“A Womb Tone” is a different story. That came out of one very quick session that I had late one night. Sometimes it feels like you are channelling something that comes out no matter what you are aiming to do. It was shocking how quickly that song came together. I recorded a very simple piano line with the rule that I could only use one chord. I then muted the piano and played a bunch of samples and manipulated them in real-time. I was working with tempo but tried to ignore harmony.

Subsequently I ended up with this quite creepy tapestry of samples. I added some percussion that I deliberately recorded very rough and ready. It was made up of placing a microphone on my desk and smashing my knuckles against the edge. It was a real savant moment. I flailed around with very little design and it just seems to be the track everyone fucking loves.

I have slaved over my instrumental tracks on other albums and they get dismissed by Heavy Metal Retards as a collage of noise. You unleash your inner Rain Man and everyone loves it! It sums up the methods of Flesh is Heir I think. With this album we tried to experiment with capturing a moment and avoiding over analysis. We tried to utilize techniques alien to our usual methods.

“A Palimpsest” was based around a sample that was provided by our good friend MELEK-THA. I took this eerie choral loop and tried to create an evil version of MY BLOODY VALENTINE. It involves multiple tracks of re-sampled and detuned guitars. The drum beat was recorded at a ridiculous tempo then slowed down. You end up with this very harmonically odd piece.


Having just recently written a review for Flesh Is Heir, I had a hell of a time trying to characterize the elements that made up the band’s sound in layman’s terms – which was a fun challenge. What’s the best attempt at genre-specification you’ve seen regarding your music?

We get some pretty ridiculous ones. They tend to be either multi-hyphened hydras or meat-headedly single-minded. We’ve been called Industrial-Cyber-Death (WHY DO PEOPLE THINK WE COME FROM THE FUCKING FUTURE!?), we consistently get called Grindcore, which confuses the fuck out of me. We have been Blackend Industrial Death Metal. We have been called Doom Metal (don’t ask me) and Terminator Death Metal.

My feeling on genre definition is that it has its place. But its place is not in our mouths. Genres and categorizations exist to allow reviewers and fans to describe the music quickly to others. It gives a quick, broad understanding of what you are dealing with. You can then spend the rest of the review getting a bit more in-depth. As an artist, you have to avoid categories. It is essentially imposing limits or rules within which you work. I think this is self-defeating. Much better to just vomit out the music and let others sort out what the fuck is going on. The only thing that matters is personal honesty. We are representing ourselves, not a movement or genre. 


I feel that Vo1D, Chokehold, and Flesh represent an excellent collection of music with which to introduce people to the current incarnation of The Amenta. If anyone wanted to dig further than that, what are some of your favorite songs to recommend from earlier releases like non and Occasus?

I would hope that all of our releases stand up to scrutiny and that anyone who was intrigued by Flesh is Heir, V01D, or Choke Hold would find something interesting in our earlier releases. A few of the tracks from V01D are obviously re-recordings of songs from Occasus and n0n, so I’ll avoid those. I think two killer tracks from Occasus that represent a signpost for our journey would be “Zero” and “Sangre”.

“Zero” was the second last track we wrote for Occasus and it heralds a lot of our future experimentations with synth noise. The verses of the song were built around this horrible high-pitched whine that a keyboard we had made when it was distorted and the filters where set in a certain way. That keyboard was stolen from a gig but its quirks definitely gave us inspiration to push further.

“Sangre” is one of my favourite lyrics from the album, as well as possibly our most adventurous music at the time. The first half of the song has no guitars at all. It is panning distorted blasts and we were experimenting with the hypnotic qualities of a consistent blast beat. It then ends on a huge melodic note. We weren’t sure how the song would turn out but I think it was one of our early successes.

From n0n I would suggest “Skin”, which is the precursor (at least thematically and lyrically) to “Cell” from Flesh is Heir. Its beat was created using a broken guitar lead and it’s got excellent guest vocals from the enigmatic SIR ALICE. Another highlight would be “Slave”. It has a really queasy verse and a subtly majestic chorus.

n0n has always been pegged as an impenetrable album, which I think is a bit unfair. It certainly isn’t for the casual listener, but there is a huge amount of melody and hooks buried under the broken electronics. We even imagined it as a pop album at one point as we thought it was very immediate and direct. It turns out that what makes sense to us does not make sense to the general metal head. C’est la vie.


Finally, where can we find and keep track of you guys? Got a specific site outside of Facebook? Active youtube channel? Livejournal?

Still the best point of contact for us is the Facebook page, but we are attempting to move away from Facebook as primary contact. It’s limiting, it’s not transparent in how it access your fans, and it’s fucking distasteful to be a part of (though it did make this interview possible, it ain’t all bad).

We have just relaunched our website, www.theamenta.com. People sneer at websites. Fuck them. It doesn’t make my skin crawl at the lack of control and sometimes less visibility of who is watching is better. We will be trying to promote more down other channels such as Twitter, Tumblr, Google + etc. Social Networking does not come natural to us. Given our druthers we would prefer to sit in dark rooms recording black metal on our four tracks, but we are nothing if not realists. We know we need to whore ourselves to push our music. We’d just prefer to whore ourselves with more than just one client. But unfortunately, until we sort all that out, Facebook is the best way to contact us. Christ I feel sick.


  1. Excellent yarn! Solid band! another NCS highlight for me..

  2. Nice job 🙂

  3. The most consistent and interesting Metal ITW I have read in ages ! Good job !!!

  4. A long read indeed, but well worth it!

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