People who regularly spend time at this site know that although the music we cover is usually heavy as hell and often very dark, most days the tone of the posts is pretty light-hearted. This isn’t one of those posts.
What you’re about to read is an interview with Aaron Edge, a very talented, very articulate, very experienced musician with a lot of credibility in the underground. I first learned about him through his work on the early albums of Himsa, and you’ll see the names of other bands mentioned in the interview. In addition to his musical endeavors, he’s also a graduate of The Art Institute of Philadelphia and has designed hundreds of CD/record covers, posters, and t-shirts for musical groups all over the world.
Later this fall, Southern Lord will be releasing the first album, and possibly the last, by a band named Lumbar that he formed along with Mike Scheidt (of YOB and VHÖL, among others) and Tad Doyle (of TAD and Brothers of the Sonic Cloth), both of whom contributed vocals to the instrumental music that Aaron recorded.
Aaron was also diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis in March of this year. The diagnosis followed months of unexplained pain and increasing numbness in his hands and feet that nearly prevented him from completing recording of the songs that would eventually become the music of Lumbar. There is no known cure, and the treatments themselves can be severely debilitating. These experiences, and the shadows that now cloud Aaron’s future, have made Lumbar’s debut into a concept album unlike any other you’re likely to come across this year.
Last week Aaron agreed to “talk” with me through an exchange of messages on Facebook. He was very open in discussing what has happened to him, as well as the experience of writing and recording Lumbar’s album. I’ll warn you in advance that things get very heavy. As you’ll see, there are reasons to expect Lumbar’s album, First and Last Days, is going to be very fucking heavy, too.
Aaron, first off, thank you for making time to talk with me. As I understand it, the LUMBAR project was your brainchild and you wrote most of the music. Is that right?
Indeed it is. I finished tracking guitars and bass in November of 2012, at Myelin studio in Portland, Oregon (the drums done earlier in Seattle at Rainstorm Studio). I started having my first symptoms of pain at that time, though I did not know that it was the beginning of my battle with Multiple Sclerosis (diagnosed later, March of 2013). The pain made it difficult to play the instruments, a pain that confused and frustrated me. Never before had I experienced it. I finished the music just about the time that I could no longer make the music. I sat on it for a few months after its completion, as I was in bed for forty days straight.
You’ve been involved in many other bands in recent years, including ROARETH, IAMTHETHORN, THEY SHALL TAKE UP SERPENTS, and ROTE HEXE. Why did you decide to form a new band for this music instead of recording the songs with one of the other groups?
I suppose I could have, but this was a solo adventure. With the above-mentioned bands, I was a main writer, but not the only musician. With Lumbar (at least in the beginning), there was no one else. I wasn’t sure where it would go, or even if I would finish it at all. Once done, and months after all my time in bed and hospitals, I revisited the songs and passed them on to Mike. Mike agreed to sing on the material and we both knew there was only one man on earth we’d like to work with in the studio… Tad. We were even more excited that when we asked him to sing, he accepted.
I assume you knew Mike Scheidt and Tad Doyle from other contexts already, especially since everyone is in the Pacific Northwest.
I met Mike in the early 2000s in Eugene, my bands Hauler and Grievous opened for Yob a few times over. I’ve also designed Yob’s “The Unreal Never Lived”, “The Great Cessation”, “Atma”, as well as shirts and posters through the years. Tad and I met some time back in the mid 2000s in Seattle and I later played drums with/for him in Brothers of the Sonic Cloth. The guys and I have been pretty tight, and even still, it blows my mind that they would donate their talents to this new musical endeavor.
I read an interview you gave back in March, really soon after you were diagnosed with MS. At that time you hadn’t met your MS-specialist doc yet and weren’t sure about what the treatments would be. What have the treatments involved, and how have they affected your ability to live with the pain and the impact of the disease on your body? (I have to say, it’s tough for me to ask you these questions, but you’ve been pretty open about the subject.)
It’s been brutal, way brutal. Coming to terms with my pain hasn’t been easy. I take pain meds every four hours for my hands. If I don’t take them, I haven’t the strength to open doors, button pants, write with a pen, etc. I also take pills twice daily to prevent future MS-related episodes, episodes that could cause totally new pain that could be short-lived or stack up on top of my hand pain. And then there’s the meds for my stress. I have eye damage from the first attack (optic nerve issue), causing bad balance in low light now. In the dark, I can’t even walk in a straight line. There are shooting “electrocution”-type jolts of pain when I bring my chin to my chest, or look down. It’s caused by stretching the screwed up nerves in/around my spine. I always, 24 hours a day, feel as if my hands are asleep. They pin and needle constantly. And, if I look down towards my feet or get worked up too much physically (like on a hard run or bicycle ride), my body gets the jolts of electrical shock sensations.
It sounds like these horrors started back when you were writing and recording the songs that eventually turned into the new LUMBAR album, back when you didn’t know what was causing them or what was happening to you. Must have been a frustrating and frightening time for you. Did what you were feeling become part of the songs you wrote? Or was it more a question of working through the pain and the disability on musical ideas you had before the symptoms began?
Yeah, all the serious pain was starting just as I was finishing up the music for this collection of songs as well as two other records. I guess I should be stoked that all three recordings were done before I couldn’t complete them. The other two collections of tunes are done the same way and are being finished up by other vocalists: “Process Black” will feature Tim Singer (Kiss it Goodbye, Dead Guy, No Escape) and “Hand be Damned” will feature Thomas Wilson (Blackcloud). I’m excited that all three endeavors will be completed, otherwise, all my hard work and riffs would still be rolling ’round my head, and never roll out for others to experience. I have other musical ideas, for newer material. I always will be thinking of the next project. But, I’m unsure how to present them, without actually playing them on amplified, stringed instruments.
Will those other two collections be under the LUMBAR name?
No, they will be totally separate releases with separate vocalists, under the band names “Process Black” and “Hand be Damned”.
Ah, okay. I thought those might have been the album titles. Speaking of band names, I have a guess about what the name LUMBAR signifies, but it’s probably better not to guess. Why did you pick that name?
The name was chosen because it was the best and strongest reference to my MS detection/diagnosis: the lumbar puncture, or as it is commonly known, the spinal tap. I had three, and they are terrible… especially the time spent afterwords in recovery. Dark days for sure.
That was my guess, based on your description of the procedure in that March interview. It sounds godawful. But at the same time, there’s power and heaviness in the name, or at least that’s what I thought when I first heard it.
True, there is resolution in the name. I mean, it was, after all, the lumbar puncture that determined what was causing all my pain and the painful test did diagnose me with Multiple Sclerosis. It gave me some comfort, and relief of some stress, just to know what I would be dealing with the rest of my life. The word “lumbar” is a sturdy word, not unlike my friendship with both Mike and Tad. We are a strong trio, built on passion and strength. I think Lumbar will be received and remembered well.
Just a few more questions, if I haven’t exhausted your patience yet. Where along the timeline of your illness, diagnosis, and treatment were you when you wrote the lyrics to the songs? I’ve seen the lyrics to one of them on the Lumbar FB page, and they seem immediately connected to MS. Would you go so far as to call this a kind of “concept album”?
This is, indeed and without doubt, a concept album. The lyrics were written by me after the music was delivered to Mike and Tad, sometime in early May. It was after my 40 days spent bed-ridden. It was all put to pen after starting to take meds and make my first steps in these new shoes, trudging through thick mud… the disease has slowed me down. The music and message are both slow-moving, the record is a sludgy metaphor.
And that takes me to the next question I was going to ask, though you’ve already started to answer it: You’ve been involved with a lot of bands over the years that have spanned a diverse range of music, and I wondered what you could tell us about the sound of LUMBAR. Words are no substitute for listening, but what can fans expect from what you, Mike, and Tad have done together?
A song/sample should be up sometime soon, but if it isn’t by the time this interview goes live… I’d say it sounds like:
Imagine three people, a small band or tribe. A storm is coming and it forces the small party into the ground, into caves. The spaces are small, cramped and dark. As the three huddle together, they hear/feel the approaching roll of nature’s foul breath, as it tears trees up from their roots, pushing huge boulders from their resting spots and dumping rain across the land. The tribe, without light and much hope, shudder. Feet stomp in panic. Teeth chatter. The wind howls, the rain becomes rivers and starts to fill up every hole in the earth. Air is thin. Breathing becomes harder, labored and louder. All these sounds and rhythms, the shared feelings of both paranoia and claustrophobia, the fear smelled in the sweat of these three… that’s what Lumbar sounds like.
Man, that’s an evocative image, and one I think I’d prefer not to disturb with another question. Thank you so much for doing this, and for being so open about some very painful subjects. I think everyone who reads this will be thinking about you and what you are going through when they hear the music, and like me, wishing you the best under very difficult circumstances.
Thank you so much, for your interest, time and patience with me. This is a heavy situation for sure. It’s an amazing outlet as well.
If you need anything else, please let me know. I can’t quite share the tunes yet, or Greg will have my head… my hands, he can have.