(For this week’s edition of his series on lyrics in metal Andy Synn reached out to Keith D., the main man behind the Wisconsin band Arctic Sleep, whose latest album Kindred Spirits was released in July.)
The new Arctic Sleep album, Kindred Spirits, is easily one of the most rewarding records of the year.
This isn’t just an opinion, it’s empirical fact, supported by research done by some of the world’s top scienticians. Cough…
Ok, so maybe it is just my opinion, but it’s still a fantastic album, full of rich textures and lush melodies and positively brimming with heartfelt emotion (and you can read more about it here).
Even better, you’ve now got the chance to learn even more about the band’s music courtesy of the following interview with main-man Keith D.
It took me a very long time before I was any good at writing serious, honest lyrics.
In the past, a lot of my music was more weird, goofy, thrashy stuff, and all the lyrics I wrote were really stupid. It wasn’t until later in life when I experienced some real personal tragedies that I was able to finally reach into that deeper part of my mind and express it in words.
That was on the very first Arctic Sleep album, Mare Vaporum, back in 2005, and was the first time I ever wrote anything that was really straight from the heart, and from a sincere emotional point of view.
It took some courage because it’s not always comfortable to let your mind go to those places.
I always write the music first. After that has come together, I’ll get ideas for vocal melodies before any words are written.
I actually come up with song titles first, and then I go from there. I think song titles are very important. The song title kind of gives me a starting point.
Now this is where things start to get weird… when I sit down to write, I open my mind’s eye and I will often see a place. A forest, a stream, the deepest dark depths of the ocean… a high mountain range, a vast tundra, a strange old structure I’ve never seen before… something like that. I allow doors to open in my imagination and memory that I normally prefer to keep closed.
It’s actually kind of an uncomfortable process for me. I have to deliberately sit down to do this without distractions. It’s almost like a meditation.
Some people probably crank out song lyrics like it’s no big deal, but I struggle with mine, agonize over them, and work on refining them for many months.
I also travel a lot which is a good source of inspiration.
I think some of my personal favorite lyrics are from the song “Never Lonely Alone” by Space Needle. I consider that to be my theme song.
The words, just like the music, are very sparse and minimal, and this works to great effect giving the song a solemn, lonesome, yet comforting vibe.
Aside from that, I also love the writing of Robert Pollard from Guided By Voices, and always got a kick out of Carcass‘ lyrics, especially their early stuff. I always thought they were really creative and had just a little wicked humor. It was totally different from all the other bands in the extreme metal genre, and really set them apart from the pack.
I used to sit with a Carcass lyrics booklet in one hand and a dictionary in the other. I learned a lot of cool vocabulary that way.
My process has largely remained the same for me over the years. It’s not easy for me, but this way I am always happy with my final result.
If anything, I keep it a little bit more simple nowadays than I used to since, no matter what, I think lyrics are best when they are coming from an honest place and don’t sound contrived or cliche.
I also think it’s okay to have them be a little bit weird and ambiguous. When I’m writing I worry less about the meaning and more about the way they “sound” and fit the song, in both rhythmic meter and phonology. Who cares if it makes sense, or if it’s about anything in particular at all?
I never sit down and say “okay, I’m going to write about so-and-so subject.” I usually just churn out nonsense only to realize its meaning to me personally later on.
Some of my own lyrics, I still don’t even know what they mean.
I had a few in mind, but they were just too depressing for me to talk about. Some other songs, like I said earlier, I’m not even sure what they are about. But I will attempt to wax lyrical about the song “One Day We Will All Be Dust.”
Oceanic portals opening
a bed of blue-green seaweed
descending rays of sun….
Halls of purple ivy
ascending to the gardens
a realm of understanding….
illuminate our sight-path
that we may see the truth
and leave this all behind….
And in your shining moment
take comfort in the thought
that one day we’ll be dust
Looking back on these words, I think they might be about transcendence. A place that is beyond our reality.
Maybe in some ways here I am trying to comfort myself and cope with my anxieties about mortality.
The rest of the imagery in the song is just whatever weird things I’m seeing in my imagination. You know, halls of purple ivy and shit like that. Who knows where that came from?
Let’s have a look at the lyrics from the song “As Palms Give Way To Pines” from the new album Kindred Spirits:
Sink into the forest floor, and leave no trace
Comburent revenants, beholden to the grave.
Some are close, still others languish far away
I’ve seen this place, and the light it shines
Yet abandoned it now stands before me.
Into the deep end…
It’s locked within, the life I left here years ago
And dust has cleared, upon the oceans I let go.
Set a course, to where the skyline meets the sea
We could escape, and set a blaze
To the shipyards that lie somewhere in between
Into the deep end…
Blackness covers, it rips our lives away
And I wonder, if the pines, they feel no pain?
Yet it burns, so I hide it away
Can’t let it go… it’s always there.
I think the song is just about dealing with pain and loss. And that last line, “Can’t let it go… it’s always there” (which closes the album) means that sometimes when you experience loss, the emptiness you feel never actually goes away.
And it probably never will. You just learn to live with it, it becomes a part of your life, and a part of who you are… you can’t forget it, and you’ll never be able to go back to how things were… all you can do is cope.
Seems like after all these years, I’m still hung up on the same old shit as far as my lyrical subjects go. But in these newer lyrics, and that line in particular, simplicity is the key. It’s just simple and straight to the point.
I don’t use as many fancy words as I used to, but it’s still bittersweet and maybe a little depressing.
Honestly, my lyrics bum me out. I should just switch it up completely someday and write a song about food or something.
The future sucks. I recommend a huge burger and a few ice cold beers to help you get through it.