(If you’re not fascinated by this interview and eager to give this band’s music a chance, there’s something wrong with you. There, we said it, and mean it. We thank Comrade Aleks and Kris Clayton for the time they devoted to this discussion.)
Kris Clayton, who did some strange things with his experimental doom project Camel of Doom, wasn’t satisfied with the level of its authenticity. Those things weren’t strange enough for him. But believe me or not, his latest Camel of Doom long-play Terrestrial is worthy of listening. However, in order to raise the level of his doom experiments to new heights Kris invited doom death psycho magician Greg Chandler (Esoteric) into his new band Self Hypnosis and a year ago their first album Contagion of Despair saw the light of day.
This album presents a beast of another kind, grotesque sometimes, built of abstract forms and ideas and yet alive, breathing and amusing. Kris and Greg combine in one vessel not only emanations of their own bands, they add more and more, holding the right balance which keeps Contagion of Despair coherent to some degree and exciting.
We do invite you to take a part in a Self Hypnosis séance together with Kris.
Hi Kris! How are you doing? The Self Hypnosis debut Contagion of Despair was released one year ago — how did you spend this period?
Well, even before the album was released, I’d already written music for the second Self Hypnosis album. The main focus in the last year has been to prepare the band to play live, which we will be ready to do from the start of 2022. We’ve now got a complete lineup with Tom Vallely who played drums on the album, and Mark Broomhead from Detritus and Seventh Angel on bass, and have just been working hard on rehearsing the material for gigs. We’ll then be taking my demos and developing them further as a band for the second album.
Contagion of Despair is a standout piece, and I believe people had certain expectations, as there’s Greg “Metamorphogenetic” Chandler himself in the lineup. What was the feedback? Did you meet your expectations? Did people see it as “Greg’s new band”?
I think generally the feedback has been along the lines that you can hear elements of Camel of Doom and Esoteric in the sound, but that it stands alone as its own band. I don’t know whether people see it as primarily Greg’s band or not – but the fact I am doing all the interviews myself will probably dispel that. I think there are definitely a lot of Esoteric fans who are not that interested in it, and a lot of people who were never into Esoteric that really like it too – the same with Camel of Doom. At the end of the day, as long as there are people out there who really enjoy it then I am happy.
From which point did Greg join you in this quest? How much of him is in Self Hypnosis?
I had rough demos of all the songs, but he came on board pretty early. He helped create the core drum machine sounds and we worked on all the vocal arrangements together before we started recording the record properly. His vocals obviously are a massive feature on the album, and he played quite a bit of lead guitar too. He will be more involved in the development of the second record, as will the other two guys, now that we are working together as a full band.
And you perform vocals too. How do your share your parts?
We pretty much recorded demo vocals where we both sang everything and then I just decided what worked best for each part. Some things sounded better with Greg, some things with me, and then quite a lot sounded really nice with both of us at once. Our new bass player is a singer too, so maybe from now on we can have a triple attack – I like that idea, it adds to the intensity even more.
Kris, it’s said you used a variety of innovative techniques in order to create the required sound at the studio. Can you tell more about all this tech-craft you’ve done at Priory Studio?
The main area that had the most interesting ideas was the drums. The main drum sound throughout the album is a heavy drum machine sound, which was important to me to get the really crushing sound I was after, but we then had live drums enhancing certain parts – this is why Tom is credited as “Lead Drums” on the album, with the machine playing “Rhythm Drums” I guess. The idea was inspired by the way loops of old records are used in big-beat music, especially from The Prodigy, which is a band Greg and I both really enjoy, both for their sound and for their anarchist anti-authority stances.
We wanted to record drum parts that sounded right for the style of each song. “Divided”, for example was inspired by Yes, so we actually used an authentic 1970s kit, recorded with a very dry sound like you would find on a Yes record, and then compressed the hell out of it, in the same way The Prodigy would sample old jazz and funk records to make their beats. For the post-rock style section in “Omission” we wanted a bigger, roomier sound, so we recorded a big kit in a stairwell, much like Led Zeppelin did on ‘When The Levee Breaks’. All the other songs have their own examples – we basically had a completely different drum setup for each song.
The other area that is quite interesting is in some of the more extreme vocal FX, especially at the end of the album. These were inspired by some work I had done in my unpublicized experimental side project. The vocals would be run through about 8 different chains, each pitch-shifting and time-stretching the vocals in a different manner to create an effect of many chaotic voices screaming at you all at once.
Actually I was thinking that vocals were inspired by Esoteric albums, as Greg’s well-known as a man who manages to use the most extreme vocals in doom with all these effects and layers. Why do you put so much attention into vocals? Didn’t it work just as a tandem between clean voices and regular growls?
I’ve always wanted to have Greg sing on music I’ve written. Even before I first met him back in 2005 I was a fan of Esoteric and loved just how extreme the vocals were – especially on their first two albums. I’d never heard that before or since and it still blows my mind. I can’t speak for Greg, but for me personally it’s just another way to add psychedelic trippiness to the music – I don’t think it is a secret that we are always interested in druggy music 🙂 and I try to make everything as trippy and (self) hypnotic as possible.
Contagion of Despair is an ambitious work. You took a handful of different elements from everywhere and managed to collect a complete puzzle. How did you see this album when you started to collect the first ideas to shape it?
To be honest, the reason it seems like different elements from everywhere is because most of the material was not written with anything particular in mind. Tracks like “Empowered” and “Omission” were written for the next Camel of Doom album, and “Divided” was actually originally as a pure prog rock Yes-style song that I added the extreme elements to when I decided to incorporate it into the album. The first sections of “Succumbed” were ideas I had originally when I was first in Esoteric back in around 2008, which is why it is the most ‘funeral doom’ sounding track on the album. All the rest were just made up from ideas I had had lying around for years, going back over 10 years in some cases.
At some point I decided that the songs would work together if enough elements were kept the same – especially the core elements, the drum machine, bass and rhythm guitars, were the same throughout the whole album, whilst giving each song their own feel in terms of the lead instruments, and as alluded to earlier, in the drum styles.
How many sessions did you spend at Priory recording the album?
Probably something like 10 weekends over the course of a year. I would go down and we’d basically re-record something off the demo versions properly, then I would go home and incorporate it, so I was mixing the songs all the time. Stuff like the bass and rhythm guitars were recorded and edited at home and then re-amped at the studio. Tom did all his parts for the album in a weekend, which was impressive, given we had to set up a whole new drum setup for every single song, which is the really time-consuming part of the process.
I would do my lead guitars and vocals across multiple sessions, just getting everything ticked off. Because I wasn’t singing live regularly, I could only do vocals for a few hours before I blew my voice out, so that was definitely done across multiple sessions. Greg did all his in one go because he sings all the time. Then, when it was all done, we had a final 5 days where we did final adjustments and mastering of the stems to get the final product.
What was the most difficult stage in the creation of Contagion of Despair?
Usually just the recording and editing of the bass and rhythm guitars. All the guitars are quadruple-tracked and it tends to take me about 20 hours per song to do them all, so that was time consuming. But other than that, with Greg and I’s combined knowledge and experience and with a good drummer in Tom, it all went extremely smoothly really.
How do you see the nature of Self Hypnosis? Do you control this flow or do you just channel that? Do you know when to stop before it’s turned into a cacophonous choir of “ecstasy and freedom”?
The general idea is to be both sonically and emotionally heavy. It’s music that comes from my worst emotions, and allows me to channel a whole lot of anger in a healthy way. If people’s faces start melting in front of my eyes when we play live then I will know I have gone far enough, and ’til then we keep on pushing.
Speaking about the songs’ lyrics, can you sum up its main theme? What kind of topics do you find suitable for Self Hypnosis?
The album revolves around my unnamed enemy who seeks to spread a Contagion of Despair for their own nefarious, and unknown ends. It was all written, and indeed recorded, before the real-life contagion spread through the world but that makes it feel more poignant for me.
Primarily it addresses the current downward trend for the media seeking to sow more division amongst the population, and succeeding extremely well! It doesn’t feel like the world has ever been more divided in fact, and it is only getting worse. I speculate on the reasons behind these actions also, although my primary belief is that a divided population are no threat to those in charge. I’m not into particularly speculating on who is behind it all, I don’t buy illuminati or pseudo-racist lizard people bullshit – if anything, the pandemic has proved that nobody is competent enough to be in control, pulling the strings behind it all.
Honestly, I think the main purpose is to generate more money for the media and advertisers by creating causes for people to get angry about, and spend more time arguing online about, all whilst sideloaded advertising generates cash. The specific songs cover topics such as cancel culture (mostly with regard to people being punished for single mistakes or things they might have done 15 years ago before they educated themselves, and the fact that an allegation is immediately a sentence online now, which isn’t how the legal system of free countries works in the slightest), social media influencers, hypocrisy, the excessive splitting behaviors of both the far left and far right (I’m a big believer of horseshoe theory), etc. Basically, all the shit in the world that makes me depressed and angry. I often feel helpless and writing this stuff down and shouting it really loud is therapeutic.
You start the song ‘Leeches’ with lines “My enemy sold its soul many years ago / Setting their leeches upon those that have what they do not / The ability to create beauty and meaning in this world / Instead they just make more sadness and emptiness for them to fill”. Do you see beauty as the main goal of human searches? Do you see Self Hypnosis as a projector of some kind of beauty?
That song is in particular about marketeers and advertisers who leech onto creative types and try to suck them dry. I believe that true art creates beauty and meaning, and to try and turn it into a “product” to appeal to “consumers” and “demographics” strips all the beauty and meaning from it. Sadly, there are far too many bands within what used to be an underground scene who care more about their Facebook and Instagram likes than actually creating anything worthwhile, and I despise it. That shit should stay in pop music, not in extreme metal. But it is unlikely to change for the better now, as those bands who are masters of social media tend to do much better than those with more uncompromising artistic visions.
Some bands choose Priory because of Greg’s enormous experience, some head to Mags at Academy – I remember Funeral recorded their famous demo their because of all the MDB stuff born there – and some pick up Chris Fielding and Foel Studios. Would you say there are different sound-forging schools in the UK? Do you feel you could reach a similar result with Self Hypnosis in another place?
I just always work with Greg because I have known him for over 15 years and I’ve worked with him on every project I’ve done in that time. I know the way he works and we communicate stuff very well together, so stuff can be done very quickly and efficiently, and so I’ve never really considered going anywhere else. I really couldn’t comment on those other studios as I am unfamiliar with them, outside of hearing My Dying Bride records from Academy. I do have a very clear idea of the sound I want before going into the studio, and I did a lot of the work in my home studio as well, so probably it would have turned out pretty similar.
Will you return to Camel of Doom? Self Hypnosis seems to be such an exciting project that I wonder if you’re able to focus on something else now.
Camel of Doom no longer exists as an ongoing concern, as Self Hypnosis was created as the natural evolution from the direction we were going. I’ll be doing something special next year for the 20th Anniversary of the band though, something that will be a great final definitive end to the band.
Kris, you’ve said that you are already writing music for the next Self Hypnosis album. What may we expect from it? Will you hold the Contagion of Despair line further? Or will it be another crazy experiment?
It’s a little more cohesive due to all being written with one thing in mind. The progressive elements have been increased quite a bit, and there is a lot of King Crimson influence seeping in. We’ll also work much closer on really integrating the live and programmed drums to do some really interesting effects. Lyrically, I am angrier than ever because everything that I was reacting to on the last album has just gotten worse in the intervening years.
Thank you for the interview, it was nice to talk! Did we skip something? What would you like to add to this?
Thank you for the support, Aleks, always a pleasure. I’d just like to say we look forward to playing live very soon and melting faces all around the world! Onwards and upwards from here!