Abe Souza from Revered and Reviled Above All Others: An Interview

Abe Souza is a musician from Modesto, California.

With Revered and Reviled Above All Others (otherwise known as RRAAO), Abe and bandmate DB have had a busy quarantine, putting out two albums and a couple splits and covers over just the last year. For my money, their album Toppling the Rotten Pillar was one of the top releases of 2020.

Weirding: I always like to ask multi-instrumentalists whether they see themselves primarily as a player of one instrument versus another.

Abe: I guess I’m “a guitarist” since I’ve been playing since I was five or six, but that sort of makes it sound like I work at it and am actively improving. Which I am not. I’ve always wanted to play the drums, but it just wasn’t ever possible until a couple years ago. I’m a total caveman on drums and that plays an outsized part in what RRAAO sounds like. No high speeds or fancy fill work in my stuff! I’m loving it, though. After two decades of programming midi drums, I’m so happy to be able to record the real thing. I’ve always had a bass as a necessity, but it wasn’t until I started RRAAO that I really came to enjoy playing it.

Weirding: So do you get in arguments with yourself the same way that bandmates bicker?

Abe: You can bet that I’m always muttering curses under my breath because the damned drummer can’t count to four or has no idea what “in time” sounds like! My Twitter header image right now is actually a composite image I made of me flipping myself off and feel like that’s a pretty good representation of the dynamic. At least it’s just drums and bass.

Weirding: This idea that RRAAO has been developing around short songs played slowly or slow songs that are over quickly is really a wonderful musical idea that I'm kind of amazed hasn't been explored widely before. But then you stop to think about it and the entire idea is actually very conceptually difficult to pull off. I need to understand more about the musical journey that got you to this point. How did you originally come to start playing and what did that road look like?

Abe: First of all, thank you, the response to our version of “doomviolence” has been overwhelmingly positive and it’s lovely to see people get what we’re going for. You’re right, though – it’s much harder than it seems like it ought to be to color within the lines that we’ve drawn for ourselves. The original idea popped into my head as something silly: “What if powerviolence... but at doom speed?”

Weirding: Everything worth doing starts with the kind of question that you just can’t believe there’s not already some good answer.

Abe: The more I thought about it, the more it sounded like a fun challenge, and The Atrophy of Empathy was finished just a couple of days later. Then the “asswipe doom” review landed and spurred me to do more and the rest is history.

[Editor: For more about said “asswipe doom”, check out Abe’s comments over on Sleeping Village.]

Weirding: So the approach is more than just a musical genre. It’s a way of doing things.

Abe: Doomviolence fits well into my life because I simply do not have the time to spend hours and hours each week holed up in my garage making music, much as I’d love to. That’s the “short songs” part of the equation – the “short attention span” part is autobiographical. My muse has the mind of a gnat, so it’s always flitting about and if I want to chase any of the ideas it gives me, I have to be nimble. The other bonus is that when the songs are so concise, it’s easy to start and finish one or two in an afternoon, which is how it typically goes. It’s obvious that the format doesn’t allow for much in the way of composition. So if I feel like I can strike a nerve with a vibe or riff, I try to capture that as immediately as possible. We’re definitely a bloody, sweaty, 15-minute live set kind of band rather than a “listen to the carefully crafted melodies” band.

Weirding: So, talk to me about lyrics and voices. I can’t quite tell whether your first album constitutes more of an almanac of the year 2020 or whether it’s more like scattered newspapers that litter the gutter after the plague and robot invasion and comets have done their job to civilization. But I’m interested in what importance you place on words within the context of RRAAO.

Abe: Lyrics play a huge role in RRAAO, but I freely admit that the words on AoE are not terribly artful. Those songs are blunt instruments decrying the American Right and I didn’t bother to veil any of the messages. “We expected nothing. YOU STILL FAILED.” Like picking up a spent artillery shell and finding what’s left of a message scrawled on it.

Weirding: That’s a very apt description.

Abe: When DB came on, he took over lyrical duty and I’m glad for it because his composition talents are far beyond mine. He has a way of really packing actual meaning into the songs on Toppling. Like: “The fading crown / at last the mask of divinity is broken / all scars on display.” I mean... COME ON.

Weirding: So you said you were like five or six years old when you started playing guitar. That’s really early.

Abe: My dad started taking guitar lessons and got me a little ¾ scale nylon-string acoustic so I could go and hang out with him. He didn’t really stick with it, but I was instantly in love.

Weirding: Isn’t it funny how that is? Unintended consequences.

Abe: I never spent hours upon hours practicing, but I’d knock around and learn like Gordon Lightfoot stuff by ear and just make noise. Then when I was about 13, I saved up and got my first electric. Dad made me swear that I wouldn’t play “any of that heavy metal Megadeth crap”. But the joke is on him because that was literally the first time I’d ever heard of Megadeth.

Weirding: Again… unintended consequences. What is the first thing you remember listening to that either scared you or made you feel like there was a lot more to the world than people were letting on?

Abe: As it was ’91 or ’92, I played a lot of grunge stuff until a buddy of mine brought Carcass’ Necroticism: Descanting the Insalubrious to art class and let me borrow it. That was the catalyst. Prior to that, the heaviest music I’d heard was Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, STP, and whatnot. So Carcass was quite a revelation.

Weirding: The abyss one must cross to move from Eddie Vedder to ‘Carbonized Eyesockets’ is deep, indeed.

Abe: We lived in a little desert town and my family was pretty conservative, so I just hadn’t run into anything like that yet. I immediately sent off for the Earache, Nuclear Blast, and Century Media mail order catalogs and dove in.

Weirding: I always felt like there was such mystery involved in mail order. And it really was the way underground culture spread. How long was it before you started playing in bands and things like that?

Abe: That same friend introduced me to a local drummer and we started jamming. We hit it off and started a band. We kicked our mutual friend out, though, because he didn’t fit. That band lasted until 2003 or so. And I spent the next 15 years creating unfinished demo songs on my computer.

Weirding: You get some amazing and face-ripping tones on your recordings, so I have to ask the gearhead questions. What gear are you using and how are you recording?

Abe: Thank you! I wish I had a super cool gear list that I could rattle off here, but both Atrophy of Empathy and Toppling the Rotten Pillar are my Ibanez bass recorded direct through my vintage — cough OLD cough — Behringer V-Amp Pro on a preset that I made to sound vaguely like an HM-2 through a Marshall. Drums are my Craigslist SPL kit through a frankensteined set of drum mics.

Weirding: So, for the record, that all counts as super cool gear. What about recording and mixing?

Abe: AoE went into Sonar 6 and Toppling was done in Logic Pro before DB started his part. I’m not certain what his DAW environment is, honestly. The new stuff is my Jackson 5-string into an HM-2 clone, then through my Peavey VSS20 head and into a Tascam USB interface. Drums are the same, but I have a better set of mics now. A lot — like a lot — of our sound is what DB does with the tracks after I record them. He really has the magic touch when it comes to putting an edge on the raw sounds and creating the soundscape that is what we do.

Weirding: Tangentially, I’m completely fascinated by your logo. In addition to fitting a handful of words into it, it also looks like it’s just sliding off. But there right in the middle, you notice the letters A-N-D. And all seems right in the world. How did this logo come about?

Abe: I had no idea what I was going to do about a logo at first, so the original AoE artwork doesn’t have one on it at all – what’s on Bandcamp now has it added. There’s an extra layer of challenge because the name is so goddamned long, too.

Weirding: It is longer than most alphabets.

Abe: So, I thought about doing some kind of sigil or symbol. I follow a bunch of logo artists on various social media, so I had some options. But when I saw what Misha Mono did for Tommy’s Spectral Child project, the decision was easy. I think I gave Misha some super helpful direction like: “just make it heavy and gross”. And the result was even more perfect than I could have imagined. The mix of bold and more clearly-defined blackletter on the one hand and abstract freeform text on the other expresses what we do, I think. It oozes. And yeah, I love that the word “and” is just chilling in there… like a little brother surrounded by his larger siblings getting ready to thrash somebody who gave him a hard time for being small.

Weirding: By the time you’ve taken into consideration everything that logo has to offer, you feel like you’ve ready a short story.

Abe: My wife remains skeptical that it actually says “REVERED AND REVILED ABOVE ALL OTHERS”. But she lets me put our stickers on her car, so I’ll take it.


Abe is one of the hot weirdos in Revered and Reviled Above All Others
IG: @doomviolence Twitter: @abeigor or @rraao_violence

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