(Wil Cifer provides this interview with the members of Brooklyn-based Sannhet.)
I got the chance to sit down with the guys from Sannhet and we talked about various aspects of the varied sub-genres to which they are often attached, along with other musings. Right off the bat, I hit it off with their drummer Chris who was wearing a Youth Code shirt while I was wearing a Swans shirt, so we had one of those mutual admiration band shirt moments, and from there we were just friends catching up
Wil – So what is it about the scene in New York that enables it to pump out so much great metal?
Chris -Diversity, the space and room to be yourself. After living there for over a decade all the touristy elements fade, but it’s a melting pot.
Wil – What is it that makes New York the place where most US black metal is being pumped out?
Chris – It can be depressing.
AJ – It’s the chicken stock of the soup, you can taste it in there but there are a lot of other pieces thrown in.
John – There are not many bands that I would say are a hundred percent traditional.
Wil – The closest to that would be Mutilation Rites.
John – We are friends with those guys and they don’t even consider themselves black metal. There is genre-bending, taking the influence. How can you be black metal in New York when you are not in Norway? Not out in Nature with epic landscapes? There is not much else in common except we do get a lot of snow. I think Liturgy still self-identifies as black metal.
Wil – I heard Bone Thugs-N-Harmony was an influence on their new album.
John – It’s Hunter’s take on rap metal and I would rather listen to his take on it than Limp Bizkit. To some extent saying you’re black metal raises suspicion because then you are trying to ape your heroes. It’s like the hardest question is what do you sound like, and most bands in New York just try to name a bunch of bands that they hope you have never heard before.
Wil – To bring up another genre, you guys often get called post-rock, but while many post-rock bands have long, sprawling songs, you guys are much more concise and seem to place more of an emphasis on songwriting. So what is your song-writing process like?
John – It’s changed a lot since the first album. On the first album we were a two-piece. AJ joined the band and that allowed us to build structures, where I used to do a lot of looping and did more of the typical post-rock thing where we would take one idea and build off of it. Now there is more freedom.
AJ – Some times I would just have a whole dropbox of Chris just beat-boxing. So now I might take an idea and have Chris work around it. Then we will put something else on top, then go back and edit the revised version.
John – I am more of a rock ‘n’ roll, post-rock guy and AJ will alternate from writing bass lines that are hooky like post-punk, with more of a pop element, rather than my droning dirges.
AJ – So the songs take on this internal dialogue. There are these different elements fighting to be heard. On the next record we might take a different approach.
Wil –You mentioned post-punk. Would you say that bands like The Cure and Joy Division are an influence?
John -Yes we love JWoy Division. e did a track coming out on Cvlt Nation’s Joy Divsion tribute comp. We got one of the lesser-known songs which, surprising for us, is one of their more droning songs, so ironically it sprawls out more than their normal songs. The more well-known Joy Division songs are up-beat.
Chris – The thing that we have in common with post-punk is there is some some beauty to it and some urgency.
Wil – In black metal, aside from Darkthrone’s more rock moments and say Emperor, the vocals tend to become a static layer of white noise, so the fact you are instrumental, do you find that to more freeing?
John – Yeah, like you said, the vocals can be atonal. it frees up space and is less distracting without vocals. There are those types who just can’t listen to anything without vocals, then there are others who get turned off to it if the screaming comes in. I think we try to fill up that space so you don’t notice.
AJ – We recorded guitars for three months, so if we had vocals then would have had to commit to that story. We have trouble with commitment.
John– With screaming you are pigeon-holed as metal. Then there’s Deafheaven where there are people who don’t normally listen to metal who listen to them.
Wil – Do you feel your role in the band is to bring the aggression while John paints the background with more texture?
AJ – I feel like I do a lot of more poppier parts. It’s the sweet to the sour.
John – They are the architects. I paint more in broad strokes, they are the scaffolding.
(Chris pulls up a Youtube video of Bob Ross painting happy trees.)
Wil – There’s the happy trees.
AJ – Our trees tend to be more depressing.
Wil – So how do you get your bass tone?
AJ – That is one of my favorite questions ever. Fender, I need to take everything apart and fuck with it. I got these custom pedals made by this guy Tony Balls who makes these pedals that combine the old rat pedal sound. The full and throaty sound comes from Mesa zone, so there is that vintage bass sound with a modern EQ, without which I would sound like Emmure.
John– Not sure we could ever sound like Emmure.
Wil – You would need more breakdowns.
John – And I don’t know if could palm mute like that.
Wil – You also need to get basketball jerseys.
AJ – Sannhet basketball jerseys coming soon, they would be black on black. Most bass players who want to sound better should just play with a better drummer. It’s all me sticking tight to Chris.
Wil – So to bring us to another genre you are often attached to… shoe gaze. How has that been an influence?
John – I was into guitar rock then shoegaze showed me what you can do. Rock is about the riffs. Shoegaze is about the texture. In shoegaze there is that contrast of light and dark.
Chris – That’s also in post-punk but with more energy.
John – Also with a band like My Bloody Valentine they can be very visceral in terms of volume.
Wil – I think of all the 90s trends, shoegaze deserves the comeback much more than grunge. How do you feel about what bands like Nothing and Whirr are doing?
AJ – I love what Nothing does.
John – Deafheaven does it too, but from a more avant-garde angle. Some of these bands you can’t tell if they are from ’91 or ’92. I like that people can hear that in us and can appreciate those references.
Wil – For me, instrumental music has a cinematic feel. Are movies and visual arts an influence on you?
John – It is for me. I like movies that are moody and atmospheric. AJ brings the literal visual element to our shows. I connect to David Lynch, be it the scores he does or something like the music from Twin Peaks.
Wil – On “Empty Harbor” there was a jazz-like element that reminded me of Twin Peaks.
John – There is that Angelo Badalamenti tone. Also into things like Holy Mountain. Did you see There Will Be Blood” The soundtrack is like snippets of sirens and that movie is really just a character study. You just learn more about Daniel Day Lewis’ character and nothing really happens.
AJ – Under the Skin is another one like that. That is how we see the songs, as more of a character study.
John – There is a theater in New York that has a night where they play a silent movie and have a noise band play to it, and they asked us to do one. But it would depend on if we can write something of that length to play for just one night, because we do not improv, that is just not what we do, no jamming, we have to tell a story.
Wil – What are your tour plans ?
John – We are going to do some festivals, hit out west, some short runs that make sense geographically.
AJ – We are playing NXNE, Hopscotch, the Empyrean. Glad Andy Stott asked us to play.
Wil– One thing about your label The Flenser is it takes you back to the day when you could buy any album by Metal Blade and you knew it would be good. I’m really into that new King Woman.
Chris– Yeah that one is good. There is another one that flew under the radar last year, Boduf Songs’ Stench of Exist. Its dark singer-songwriter.
Wil – Like King Dude?
AJ – Less Johnny Cash, more in a register normal people can sing in.
John – Yeah they are really having a great year this year.
Chris – I love Wreck & Reference.
John – But yeah it’s like back in the day with Hydra Head.
Wil– They put out those early Converge albums that made me feel guilty and put down the bong when some one told me they were straight-edge. It’s like that band Mineral, I stopped listening to them when someone said they were Christian.
AJ – On some message board there was a rumor that we were Christian because our name means the truth.
John – We don’t have anything against religion.
AJ – I do. I am against all organized religion.
John – I suppose if they were Christians then they assumed that. Since Jesus this their truth, it must be ours. But Jesus is not our truth.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Sannhet has a Facebook page at this location and a Bandcamp page you can reach via this link. The band’s latest album, which is available on Bandcamp, is Revisionist, released in March of this year. I’ve added a stream of that album below.
Also, Sannhet will be embarking on a West Coast tour next month with King Woman and Planning For Burial. Here’s the schedule:
“What is it that makes New York the place where most US black metal is being pumped out? ”
You misspelled Chicago.
Great interview. Kinda bummed I missed their Chicago date, but I had already been to the Decibel tour and Electric Wizard two days in a row earlier in the week, so I was still pretty beat.
great interview and such gorgeous music 🙂