(Comrade Aleks returns to us in the new year with this interview of Amy Tung Barrysmith and Johannes Barrysmith, the members of Year of the Cobra.)
This Seattle-based duo started their practice in a vein of psychedelic doom metal / rock not so long ago. The Black Sun EP was released just about one year ago, but an active attitude toward this sort of music led Year of the Cobra to record a split-album with the famous Mos Generator, released on June 16, 2016. So it was just a question of time to finish their debut full-length killer-album and get the contract with STB Records.
Did you see the artwork? Nice one, isn’t it? I still believe that each album starts with the artwork, and that was the first reason why I took note of Year of the Cobra. But there are also a lot of groovy tunes besides this cool picture, so it was my sacred duty to spread the word further, and both Amy Tung Barrysmith (bass, vocals) and Johanes Barrysmith (drums) are here to help me with that.
Hello Amy and Jon! Thanks for the time you found to answer my questions, and as the band is a new one on doom scene let me ask you – how was Year of the Cobra started?
Hi Aleksey!! After meeting in 2007, while playing in different bands, we started floating around the idea of playing in a band together. We knew what style of music we wanted to play, but we were always too busy. After moving to Seattle, and not knowing anyone, we thought it was the perfect time to get a project going. We started writing some songs and had our first show in January 2015.
What are the other main facts our readers should know about the band?
When we started the band, we didn’t intend it to be a duo. We talked to a couple of guitar players we had worked with in the past to see if they would be interested in working with us, but they all lived elsewhere and it didn’t seem feasible. Once we started writing and practicing as a duo, we were quickly convinced it needed to stay a duo. It has been fun and challenging in exploring the ways to make our music sound big and massive. We’re still messing around with different amp and pedal configurations and have tons of ideas of how to expand on what we currently have.
First of all you started with the EP The Black Sun which was released in June 2015. How do you value this record now? Did it set the direction you follow now?
We’re really pleased with how The Black Sun turned out. We knew we needed to record immediately after starting the band so we could have material to send to promoters in order to book shows. Somehow, after we put the rough demos online, Billy Goate of Doomed and Stoned found it and wrote a killer review. From there, we were contacted by DHU Records (Netherlands), HVMP Records (Slovak Republic), and Devils Child Records (Bremerton, WA), who eventually co-released the EP on 10″ vinyl. It has all been a very natural progression.
Also about a year ago you took part in a split album with Mos Generator themselves. How was this release organized?
We had played a few shows with Mos Generator and have always admired the band. We started talking to them about doing a summer 2016 US tour together, and for promo, Tony Reed (Mos Generator) came up with the idea of doing a split 7″, and that he wanted to record both bands on a Tascam 4 track cassette. We thought it was a killer idea and loved how we were going back to our roots with recording on this medium again.
At the time, we were renting this tiny 10’ x 12’ rehearsal studio which we were sharing with another band. Tony came by one night with a handful of mics and his 4 track and set up shop. Luckily for us, the other band happened to be out of town, so we had the room to ourselves and were able to spread out a little bit. H42 Records (Germany) and Ripple Music (US) hopped on board to release a limited edition 7” worldwide and that was it. It all came together quite quickly and easily.
Year of the Cobra – The Black Sun
STB Records released Year of the Cobra’s debut full-length …In the Shadows Below on October 21st. How long was your way to this album?
As soon as The Black Sun EP came out, we knew we needed to record a full-length. We started working on it immediately, writing songs and really thinking about how we wanted the album to feel. Our goal was to write as many songs as possible, and then pick the best ones that we thought would make a cohesive album. STB Records really took a chance when they signed us (with us being a brand new band), so we really wanted to make sure we brought everything we had.
We only had one person on our list to record the full-length, and that was Billy Anderson. Fortunately, he happened to like the band and agreed to produce, engineer, and mix our debut full-length. From there, it was just setting dates and making sure we covered all of our bases. We had an idea of when we wanted the album to be released, so it was just staying focused. It was a lot of work, but we’re good at delegating tasks to each other and staying on track.
This material is really well-produced — the band has a balanced heavy sound, and the vocals are always on their place too. How did you spend your time in the studio recording these songs?
We did a lot of preproduction work before we started tracking with Billy. We sent those early recordings to him so he could wrap his brain around it and contribute ideas. We recorded all of the music live at Hallowed Halls (Portland, OR), recording into the early hours of the mornings. Most nights, we all slept in the basement (including Billy) so we could wake up and start immediately recording the next day. Some of the best vocal tracks were recorded after all-night sessions at 5 AM. There was something about being so completely exhausted that brought out the yearning, ethereal quality of the vocals.
Most of the mixes were done remotely after all the tracking was done. Billy would do a mix and then email it to us. We would listen to it together on our home stereo, and then again in the car or through headphones, just so we could hear it in as many different ways as possible. Then we would sit down and write our notes and email them back to Billy.
For the final mix, we traveled back to Portland to Billy’s home studio, Everything Hz, to make all the last little edits. Once that was done, it was sent off to get mastered and we left for a full U.S. tour the next day! We had to listen to the final masters on the road, which was kind of difficult, but we couldn’t be happier with it all.
…In the Shadows Below has pretty remarkable artwork. Is it connected with some of your songs? What’s the story behind that?
The album cover was designed by Esther Heckman, a local Seattle artist. We gave her the song “Electric Warrior”, as inspiration and gave her no other direction. She came back to us a few days later with the outline of the album and we were sold. It was beautiful, even in its infancy.
What’s especially remarkable is that we didn’t give her much time to finish either. We needed all of the artwork and layouts done before we could send it to the vinyl presses and we were on a deadline, but she pulled through. We’re still in awe of the design.
The band is tagged sometimes as an occult doom band. What do you think about such a classification?
We don’t purposely write music to fit into any specific classification. Ultimately, regardless of how we’re tagged, our hope is that people can relate to what we’re doing, in whatever way possible.
There are songs named “Persephone” and “Temple of Apollo” on the album, what attracts you to ancient Greek mythology?
A lot of our lyrics are inspired by true or mythological historic events. Most times, the song determines the lyrical content so we just go wherever the song takes us, and ancient Greek mythology and literature is full of these epic sag’s and journey’s, it’s an easy pool to draw from.
Also, “Temple of Apollo” is a cool straightforward rocking song — what are your musical influences besides doom metal?
Thanks! Our musical tastes are both similar and quite different. We both have a solid punk rock background. Jon played and toured in several punk rock/hardcore bands before YOTC. Amy has always been influenced by strong female rockers, Joan Jett, Blondie, Chrissie Hynde, to name a few. We pull from all styles and try to make sure we have some variety on the album, without straying too much from who we are.
What are the “Temple of Apollo” lyrics about? You know this topic rather associates with ancient Greek culture than with a driving, rocking sound.
It’s funny that you ask about this song. It was actually nameless for a really long time. We just couldn’t come up with a name we liked. When we wrote “Temple of Apollo”, we wanted to come up with an up-tempo song because the majority of the songs we had been writing were so slow and sludgy. The song itself was written in an hour or so.
When it came down to the actual lyrics, these images just came into my head of impending doom, something you can see in the distance, more specifically, a volcanic eruption and frantically running away from it. The haze, the confusion, the feeling of frantic fear. The chorus part, to me, felt like a woman telling a man to choose a path, one leading to destruction, one leading to salvation, but not letting him know which leads to what. That way, it would be his decision, not hers, if he chose the path to destruction and ultimately, death.
I came up with the name “Temple of Apollo” at the very last second when we were mixing in Billy’s studio. I spent a lot of time thinking about the song and what it meant to me, and it seemed like the woman could be the Delphic Oracle. I’m not sure who the man running would be. I also thought it was cool that the site itself was claimed to originally be named “Python”, because of the python Apollo killed (although the Python could be a dragon, rather than a serpent). Regardless, it seemed to fit.
Didn’t you get in contact with Year of the Goat from Sweden? You could do a tour with them one day!
Actually, I don’t believe we have been in contact with Year of the Goat, but it would be great to tour with them one day!!
Year of the Cobra – The Siege
Speaking about gigs — how active are you nowadays? How far does Year of the Cobra’s influence spread?
We try to be as active as we can. We’ve done a lot of U.S. touring in 2016 and have two upcoming European tours as well as another US tour in 2017. With the internet, music can be very far-reaching. We’ve had a few inquiries from Russia and South America. That would be a fun goal for 2018!!
How do your usually gigs go? And do you have a tight enough schedule of gigs to pay your bills?
Our gigs have been great! When we played our first gig in January 2015, our goal was to play as much as possible, to get on the map. Now we’ve gotten to the point where we’re seeing a lot of familiar faces and meeting many new ones too. It’s truly awesome. The release of our full length …In the Shadows Below, has been a big boost as well, especially on tour. While we’re not making enough to pay our bills, it is keeping the band afloat and we’re really thankful for that. Hopefully one day we will be lucky enough to live completely off our music.
As Year of the Cobra consists only of two members, is it easier to tour or not? I guess there in the States you need to cover pretty big distances sometimes to reach another city.
It’s a blessing and a curse. It’s really easy getting around. While we’re touring, we’re completely self-contained, meaning, everything we need is in that van. We can park it anywhere and sleep. We both have our own beds and installed removable curtains so we can completely close everything up. Most times, we prefer sleeping in the van. It’s just peaceful and quiet, and sometimes on tour, it’s hard to find that.
Driving-wise, there are some long distances to cover in the US, but so far it hasn’t affected us negatively. While it would be nice to have a third person there to help drive, we’re pretty in tune with each other and make sure one of us is always capable of getting us to the next city.
The curse part of it is the gear. We have a LOT of heavy gear and only the two of us to move it. While we always show up on time, if not early, we are usually the last ones done loading in and out because it takes so long. But, we have a system now and have become much more efficient.
What is your most inspiring experience of being in tour?
It’s difficult to narrow it down to one experience. There are so many things that are inspirational. The people that we have met on tour are really inspiring. Just seeing people working so hard to keep music and art alive and thriving in their cities inspires us to work harder and harder. Meeting the STB Family was a huge highlight as well, but what was also cool, were the STB bands that came out to our shows all across the US to support. STB Family is for real!
Okay, thank you for your time and patience. That was the last question for today, and as I believe that we’ll hear about Year of the Cobra soon, probably I’d like to clarify one tiny detail – why did you name the band this way?
Naming a band is actually really difficult. We spent days and days writing list after list before we came up with Year of the Cobra. Many of the names we came up with we just laughed off, many were already taken, and many just didn’t fit the type of music we were writing. When we came up with Year of the Cobra, we both knew it was right.