(Comrade Aleks has brought us the following interview with the members of the New York band Sertraline, who are at work on a debut album and whose three EPs to date were released last month in a compilation package by Hypnotic Dirge Records.)
I’ve got Sertraline’s new release The Streetlight Was All We Needed from Canadian label Hypnotic Dirge, among a few other releases. This post-black metal band from Buffalo has been active since 2015, and there are three EPs in their discography. The Streetlight Was All We Needed is a sum of those three small recordings – Shade (2017), From Both Our Hands (2019), and These Mills Are Oceans (2019).
Shelly Muehlbauer (guitars), Tom Muehlbauer (vocals), Jason Roman (bass), Jay Zgoda (guitars), Ken Culton (drums), and David Lopian (guitars) are together for all these years, and this interview is a unique situation, as all the band’s members answered together.
Hello Sertaline! How are you? How do you spend your quarantine in Buffalo?
(Shelly)- Hello, we are doing pretty well, thank you! In the middle of a long cold winter here, so I suppose quarantining isn’t such a bad thing. We’ve been continuing the process of writing the new record.
Sertaline was formed soon after the disbanding of the doomy band Where She Wept (1999 – 2014), and there are five former members of this original outfit in Sertaline. How did it happen that you started to perform another sort of music with almost the same lineup?
(Tom)- Where She Wept was a band that was continuing to evolve with each record. But I think there were some limitations, creatively, that were just naturally constructed within a band after a period of time. And obviously, most of us were ready and desired the change.
By the way, what didn’t work with Where She Wept?
(Tom)- It wasn’t a case of something not working with Where She Wept. Most bands don’t have such longevity. We are very proud of those 15 years. It was just the quintessential case of the fact that it had run its course.
You have had three guitars in the band from the very first EP Shade (2017). What kind of sound did you search from the start? Did you search for extra density or did you want to have enough room for melody?
(Jason)- A bit of both actually. We definitely set out to have that ‘wall of sound’. So with three guitars you can of course achieve that while also having strong melodies. Our previous experience in Where She Wept, in which we had two guitars and very prominent keyboards, taught us how to approach those multiple layers and complex melody, so it was natural for us. The three guitars now allowed us to open the door to experiment with counterpoint.
How do you share duties among guitarists when you compose or record songs?
(Jay)- Well, as stated previously, we’ve been playing and writing songs together for many years, so we all know each other’s playing styles and are comfortable as a creative unit. Sometimes we work with recorded demo material that we take and build from, but a big part of our process is just improv jamming together. Each member of the band has their own unique voice and we strive to accentuate each of our strong points while writing. We don’t consider a song complete until everyone is happy with the end result.
Post-black metal is a relatively fresh genre. Do you feel Sertaline is rooted strictly in its own soil or do you prefer to see it as a spawn of the black metal scene in general?
(Ken)- The early years of black metal were a very strict formula. But, as with any sub-genre, time allows for chains to be broken, and black metal has certainly evolved wonderfully. There are so many new and refreshing elements. That said, while black metal obviously is a big part of our music, we’d probably use the term ‘post-metal’, as our wide array of influences transcend just black metal per se.
How do you see the main features of post-black metal? Which qualities draw your attention to the genre?
(Dave)- A main trait within post-black metal that we all love and have brazenly embraced would definitely be the elements of creating atmosphere and vibe. That is huge for us. Each one of us contributes to that creative goal in our own unique way.
Shade was recorded at Rotten Metal Recordings, and you have returned twice to the same studio after this release. Why did you choose this place? How is it comfortable for you to work with Joe Leising?
(Jason)- Joe has been a long-time figure and musician within this particular local scene, so there was a comfortable familiarity there. He is great at contributing but also allowing the proper freedom, which is all you can ask for with a producer. He certainly ‘gets us’. Working with him is relaxed and fun. He is certainly game for whatever it takes, including us using 16 different amp rig setups for guitars on our last recording!
The EPs From Both Our Hands and These Mills Are Oceans saw the light of day in 2019 and logically continued the line of Shade. Were you so satisfied with Shade’s material that you decided to carry on?
(Shelly)- Going from Shade to the next two EP’s was a natural progression. Especially considering a couple of the tracks on From Both Our Hands were actually written during the period when Shade was recorded. So there was continuity there creatively.
As all these three EPs sound quite solid, do you see The Streetlight Was All We Needed as a full-length album or does any of your EPs have its own spirit?
(Dave)- I don’t think we really look at it as a full-length album. It is from a length of music perspective, but we’d say it’s a proper representation of this era of the band. It’s nice to have all those songs together and we feel it’s a cohesive collection for the listener. Nic at Hypnotic Dirge Records did such a fantastic job with the presentation of the physical release, we are grateful for all his help and support!
Why did you focus on EPs? A full-length seems to be like a milestone for bands. What motivated you to move further through EPs rather than to use your time for bigger work?
(Jay)- Well, the last two EP’s were originally intended to be together as a full-length album. But due in part to unexpected delays, the more we thought about it we decided to split the songs into two separate EP’s that we felt complimented each other thematically, rather then as a whole.
(Tom)- Our focus right now is entirely on writing this new material which, again, will certainly be a full-length record. We are well past the half-way mark and are incredibly happy with each song. For us at least, this will unquestionably be our best material. Material that contains the spirit of our previous work but also an evolution to something, hopefully bigger and better.
How soon do you plan to return at the studio and record new songs?
(Ken)- We will hit the studio as soon as we are finished writing what will be a true full-length record. This past year has certainly been a trying one for bands. Oftentimes writing new material is all about momentum and that has unfortunately been interrupted on several occasions. But we press on and we are incredibly thrilled with what we have completed so far, and are eager to get to the point of recording it and sharing it with you all!