(During the uncertain and unnerving depths of the pandemic lockdown three experienced musicians from different sides of the Atlantic joined forces to create MMXX, and during the last 18 months Candlelight Records has released their debut album and a follow-on EP. These prompted Comrade Aleks to reach out for the following extensive interview, which included all three of the band’s members.)
One of the key US melodic death-doom bands, Daylight Dies, has been silent for nearly ten years. And to my surprise I’ve found the band’s rhythm section, Egan O’Rourke (bass) and Jesse Haff (drums), in the company of Andrea Chiodetti, the former guitarist of the Italian gothic doom band The Foreshadowing. Actually, it was the interview with Mick Moss of Antimatter where I learned about MMXX, as Mick recorded vocals for two songs on MMXX’s album as the guest vocalist.
Andrea, Egan, and Jesse formed this studio project during the Covid quarantine and it resulted in the full-length album Sacred Cargo released in November 2022, where guys were accompanied by ten guest musicians, including violin and cello players. The other eight guests are vocalists, and among them you’ll find not only Mick but also such names as Aaron Stainthorpe (My Dying Bride), Mikko Kotamäki (Swallow the Sun), and more. Together they recorded the inspiring album Sacred Cargo and the following EP The Next Wave came out on the 14th of April.
Andrea, Egan, and Jesse tell the MMXX story tonight.
Hello gentlemen! I see that MMXX has a new release at hand! My congratulations! First of all, how did it all happen? One single, another one… and bang! Candlelight Records released Sacred Cargo in the matter of just one year! Did you use there some ideas you cherished for The Foreshadowing and Daylight Dies? Was it Andrea or was it both sides who initiated the start of this project?
Andrea: The project was born during the pandemic and developed during the lockdown of Rome and New York. At that time I was working on some tracks; “Faint Flickering Light” was the first track I composed and that made me want to continue composing. Evidently I was inspired by what was happening in the world. As soon as I finished the first four, five tracks, I thought of contacting Jesse, who is a great friend of mine and a great musician, to see if he would be interested in making an EP or something similar together and, fortunately, he agreed right away with great enthusiasm.
Regarding the first question, as far as I am concerned, in a few episodes, I used some riffs and ideas that I had composed during my militancy in The Foreshadowing, as for the title track, and developed within this context.
Andrea, why didn’t you use these ideas in The Foreshadowing?
Andrea: My role as composer in The Foreshadowing gradually diminished over the years — on the one hand because I was very busy at work and on the other hand because the other two main composers in the band already had very clear ideas of what the next records were to be.
For example I composed a lot in the first album. Five out of ten tracks were composed by me, like “The Wandering”, “Departure” etc…, but in the second album only three out of ten tracks were composed by me and in the third album only one. The reason why I left the band is not because of that but because I had to go through a lot of logistical changes in the last few years and out of respect for them it didn’t make sense to keep a guitarist who can’t go to rehearsals or concerts.
So here we have three experienced musicians with similar doomy backgrounds. How do you share your songwriting duties in MMXX all together?
Andrea: Regarding songwriting, I composed the music on which Jesse would add his drum parts and later Egan would add his bass lines. Once the demo was completed, the lead singer would add his own lyrics and vocals.
Your songs are multi-layered and stretch out through genre boundaries, yet the album is tagged as “melodic death-doom”. What other references would you mention regarding Sacred Cargo’s content?
Andrea: Certainly some tracks have some prog elements and atmospheres, such as “The New Forgotten Ones” or “Perdition Mirror” or “The Tower”. Maybe a song even structurally can have prog elements even though generally the songs are within five or six minutes in length. Another reference is from the dark rock, gothic metal world that is very prevalent.
Is prog something that maybe connected with your origin? Italian prog is a sort of trademark!
Andrea: Absolutely, bands from the seventies, like Area, Banco del Mutuo Soccorso, PFM, but also Goblin. The latter I got to know thanks to Dario Argento‘s films, when I was less than ten years old. They are definitely part of my DNA.
Coming out of Italian territory, King Crimnson are by far one of my favorite prog bands. I also grew up with early Pink Floyd records, with songs like “Echoes” or “Atom Heart Mother”. There is a very famous live album Live at Pompeii filmed precisely in an ancient amphitheater in the archaeological excavations of Pompeii, near Naples, which, in my teens, brought me closer to more psychedelic and progressive sounds.
One of the album’s features is the great number of great guest vocalists. Did you try to find the one who could contribute to MMXX on a constant basis?
Andrea: Initially we had thought of Mikko Kotamãki but after the tracks went from four and five to ten and more, we thought of relieving Mikko, who was very busy at that time, and Jesse had the great idea to think of more singers for the album.
Jesse: The theme of our lives during the writing process was the fear, anxiety, unknown, and disruption caused by the pandemic. It severely disrupted the life of my partner and I—we left where we were living and so on. Once we agreed to use these unprecedented times as the theme of the album, I thought it would be interesting to see if we could get vocalists we loved from around the world to contribute to it. Everyone was having their own experience, and Sacred Cargo could be a way of expressing the diversity of those experiences together.
Did you tell your vocalists how to sing? Did you set some tasks before them?
Andrea: No, in general we gave the singers carte blanche but it happened, as in the case of Carmelo or Aaron, that they were the ones who asked us what style they should sing in. In their specific case, it was nice that they used all their vocal styles, clean and growled vocals, and in Aaron‘s case also spoken parts.
Could MMXX have started if the pandemic had not intervened in your lives?
Andrea: If it wasn’t for the pandemic, I don’t think this project would have been born. The name MMXX stands for 2020 in Roman numerals, the year of the pandemic. The pandemic is the main theme of Sacred Cargo and the EP The Next Wave.
As for me, in 2019 I was moving to Florida with my wife; we had already been there but we were temporarily back in Italy to do some paperwork that we needed bureaucratically. It took us longer than expected to do this and we found ourselves stuck in Italy for the entire course of the pandemic due to the lockdown. After a frenetic period, I suddenly found myself with a lot of time on my hands and in that surreal situation, which we were all experiencing, music was cathartic to try to metabolise what was happening.
Was it your original intention to have one vocalist for one song? Only Mick Moss sings on two tracks, “Perdition Mirror” and “The Tower”, and the others have just one song a piece for them.
Andrea: We didn’t necessarily want one singer for one track, as you rightly noted that Mick Moss sang on multiple tracks. We had a special chemistry with him for sure and as far as I’m concerned, I enjoyed writing those songs with him so much that we formed a new project that we will announce soon! I’m so excited to continue working with such a great artist and human.
How easy was it to recruit all the guests? Was there someone who refused to take part in the recording?
Andrea: Fortunately, the singers who were eventually involved joined the project from the start in a very spontaneous way; it was as if something happened naturally because it was meant to be. As for other singers who declined, there was Jonas Renske who had already participated as a special guest for many bands at that time and wanted to concentrate more on his own projects, and Cammie Gilbert who had initially joined the project with great enthusiasm but then had to drop out due to the imminent recording of their new album.
Egan, you sing clean vocals on two tracks as well. Why did you stop just with “This Breath Is Not My Breath” and “Faint Flickering Light”?
Egan: The concept was definitely to represent multiple perspectives, styles, and people. Singing on “Faint Flickering Light” was my original commitment to the project but then I ended up writing some other lyrics and ultimately playing bass on the whole thing. With “This Breath…” I’d written the lyrics and put together an insanely rough demo for Mikko and it just sort of naturally came around that I helped out with the clean parts. In general though, I viewed my role as being one of the team who set the stage for these vocalists and their personal interpretations of the instrumental demos.
Who wrote the songs’ lyrics? And how did you keep the album’s entire atmosphere solid regarding the texts’ main message? How would you sum it up?
Jesse: For the most part each vocalist wrote their own lyrics. As mentioned earlier, we wanted the diversity of experiences during the pandemic to be represented on the album. In a couple of cases Egan ended up writing the lyrics (such as on “Shadow Haven” and “This Breath is Not My Breath”). Because there were so many different lyricists, the style does vary quite a lot throughout the album. But because there was a single guitar/keyboard composer in Andrea, and Egan and I were the singular rhythmic composers, the underlying music and atmosphere remains more or less consistent.
Andrea: Yes, both Aaron and Mick, they wrote their own lyrics. As for Aaron, I sent him a message that he didn’t see right away and when I got his reply it was a very pleasant surprise for me, you know. MDB was a fundamental band for me, thanks to which I got into this music genre.
As for Mick, we had been touring together in Europe with our respective bands in 2013. To be honest, after Jesse proposed the idea of having more singers on the project, the first person who came to my mind was him because I always loved him as a singer; even with The Foreshadowing, back in 2005, we had thought of him as a singer before we met Marco. Mick liked the idea of this project and after listening to the first song we had in mind for him, he accepted immediately.
Didn’t you fear that the involvement of so many guests could break the album’s integrity? I believe that you kept in mind the features of each vocalist in composing the songs, and usually harsh and clean vocals sound in harmony, but there’s always a risk to get just too much.
Andrea: It’s true, that could have been the risk of involving so many different singers. I think the music is what brings it all together, and of course Dan Swanö‘s amazing production was also fundamental.
You added cello (by Ilaria Calabrò) and violin (by Alicia Nurho) to your arsenal. Was that a part of your initial plan too?
Andrea: Sometimes when composing songs, I add a software instrument, and in those cases I had used virtual strings. Jesse told me that the use of actual violins can make a big difference, as they had experienced this with Daylight Dies.
By chance, at the time I was reading the CD credits of Paradise Lost‘s album Obsidian and saw the name of Alicia Nurho, who composed the violins for some of the tracks on that great album. I visited her website as well as finding her contact details. I also listened to some tracks written by her where she also sings. We were so impressed by her talent that we also proposed her to sing on the track “Echoes”.
You didn’t reap the full harvest of Sacred Cargo reviews yet and Candlelight Records announced your new EP The Next Wave already. Did you record so many songs that there were three left after the album’s release, or are they quite fresh ones?
Egan: That’s exactly what happened. Jesse and Andrea put together too many songs for a single album, but then they were really solid. Splitting out the EP offered the opportunity to release all of the material, but then also to thoughtfully sequence the album and not have too much of any one singer. Candlelight liked the idea so it really worked out technically and artistically.
Is that all? Do you have a few more tracks from these sessions?
Egan: That’s all from the batch we recorded unfortunately.
How do you see MMXX’s prospects? Do you see an opportunity to repeat the scale of Sacred Cargo and record one more full-length with so many complex tracks and guests?
Jesse: MMXX, as the name suggests, was the result of the pandemic. This shared global experience created a truly unique opportunity to collaborate across cultures and countries. It was an absolute pleasure collaborating with Andrea and Egan, and I’d be open to doing something again in the future… but it might be something new. MMXX might be a one-time thing. Time will tell, I guess.
Are you satisfied with the project’s on-line status?
Egan: We’re certainly grateful for all of the folks we’re reached, and the overall response has been phenomenal. Of course we’d love more exposure and a greater overall presence in the media because so many of our friends came together to make something we think is truly special.
Does it also mean that now you’ll return to some other projects? May we see something new from Daylight Dies or Grimness?
Egan: In terms of DD, I think there is still some interest and spark there but coordinating our lives is quite challenging. I certainly hope fates intersect and we get the chance to produce more music together though.
Andrea: As for Grimness, logistically speaking we are a long way apart and unlike a project such as MMXX, that is a group that needs to see each other in the rehearsal room; at least that was the way we were used to.
Thank you for the interview gentlemen, I wish you all the best with The Next Wave promotion, and I hope that the album will get the recognition it deserves.
Andrea: Thank you very much for this interview and for the good wishes.