The Ember, The Ash: An Interview

The Ember, The Ash is a musical project out of Ottawa, Ontario.

(photography credit: Robin Parsons)

In this conversation, we had the opportunity to really dig into the heart of the songwriting at the core of what makes The Ember, The Ash such a powerful project. 

Be sure to check out their new release on Prosthetic Records, it’s called Fixation.

Weirding: The first song on the album is full of overtones that seem to wander on their own apart from the riffs and rhythms. It got me thinking about a certain type of moment that occasionally happens when two completely self-contained and separate musical events pass by one another and for a moment coincide and exist as one sound. Like two cars blaring different radio stations sitting next to one another in a traffic jam for a brief moment. I get a similar feeling at the end of the second song on the album where the bubbling over beat seems to linger almost as if oblivious as to what else is or was happening. Can you talk about how you think about the clashing sounds and what at least at a superficial level seems disjointed in your music? Are they clashing or disjointed at all? Or just cars for a moment stuck next to one another?

: It’s always far more interesting for me as a writer to include parts that heavily juxtapose each other, so those abrupt changes and disjointed sections are always intentional. I think due to all the noisy, discordant music I listen to, a lot of sounds that may seem overly cacophonous to most listeners tend to be more satisfying to my ears. For the type of music The Ember, The Ash makes, I find what I love the most as a consumer is not being able to anticipate what kind of part is coming up next — and occasionally being caught completely off-guard with tempo changes, key changes, et cetera.

Weirding: So, there's a lot happening on 'Becoming the Eidolon' and I think it’s a good representation of what you are talking about. Could you sketch out the instrumentation and walk me through the compositional process?

: I remember for this song specifically, the instrumental structure and lyrical content were entirely mapped out in my head before I began writing it. I knew in between the first two ‘hooks’ I wanted an aggressive verse section introducing the ‘lost soul’ character as a tormented being walking an unknown plane, and then a dreamy atmospheric bridge section where they are reminiscing on a post-death blissful state. I also knew I wanted to wrap up the track with a final hook that completely kills off the atmosphere, as we discover the lost soul’s blissful memory was but a reverie — and they are left to continue roaming the earth. Songs like these tend to come together quite quickly when I can already hear what each section is going to sound like in my head, so I believe this one was both started and finished in only a few days.

Weirding: So, it sounds like there’s a narrative, or at least the impressionistic version of a narrative, going on in your mind as you are composing. What you are describing almost sounds like you are conjuring a movie in your head. Is that more or less on base?

: Yes and no. I actually like to write records where the tracks can either be interpreted chronologically, or as individual stories of their own. I always prefer to put the creativity in the hands of the listener when it comes to song meanings and concepts. 

Weirding: Are there recurring characters in your mind… well, ‘characters’ might be too strong a term, but what I'm getting at is whether there are images or ideas of people and places that are in your mind when writing? Or do you treat individual songs as essentially individual pieces each with their own characters, purposes, and whatnot? I think this is a long-winded way of asking: Do you tend to find that there is a common thread between songs and sounds, or does each song have its own unique musical fingerprint?

: I intentionally write out the lyrical content with ambiguity so the stories appear to be loosely tied together, but it isn’t quite clear how. I’ve given the public a bit of info hinting at recurring characters and things of that nature in the Fixation press releases for each single, but that’s the extent of what I’d like to give away.

Weirding: Do you tend to listen back to your own music either critically or for new ideas? Or do you tend to move on without looking back?

: My attention span isn’t great for aggressive music, so I need to be engaged all throughout a song or an album. Listening back to Fixation, I already find it can be boring at times. The next record that I’ve begun writing will be much heavier and all over the place.

It usually takes me a while before I fully sign off on a track, I do spend a lot of time listening back both critically and for new ideas. I will often meditate on songs for months, periodically going back and changing or adding things. Even then, songs sometimes don’t feel quite finished to me. More frequently, I’ll abandon projects rather than finish them. There are certainly pros and cons to being overly critical, but I do wish I was slightly less critical of myself so I’d be able to release content more frequently.

Weirding: So then how would you categorize your relationship between yourself and music you've written and put out?

: My relationship with my own music is overall extremely positive. Writing is my absolute favorite thing to do, and I genuinely don’t know what I would do with myself if I didn’t have it as an outlet. That relationship can however become toxic if I start fixating on numbers — like how well the music is performing online. Or when I become discouraged from writing due to my own self-criticism.

Weirding: I follow what you mean. So I want to go deeper on what that early writing process is like for you. Are you sketching out ideas on paper? Recording bits of things? Laying in a hammock dreaming the whole thing up?

: My writing process is all over the place, and it kind of needs to be that way to keep my ideas fresh and inspired. Sometimes I dream up a storyline before I start writing — like on 'Becoming the Eidolon' — but the easiest way for me to write is just by sitting in front of my computer with a guitar. Typically songs are made that way, where the song is built around the riffs and the lyrics come afterwards.

Weirding: One of the things I really like about your work is that it resists the idea that a musician or a musical project is a 'brand'. Nothing in your work is easily compartmentalized and JF and I have great empathy for that approach. It's actually something that's kind of odd about music is that there are often these expectations of genre that seem exclusionary of narrative, philosophy, and all of the ways that a piece of art comes together. Like, no one would bat an eye at a film director producing a wide body of work largely ignoring categories of genre — I'm thinking of Kubrick as an obvious example. Why do you think genre seems to persist in music — and it's not just in heavy music... jazz, country, hip-hop all bear these expectations of what fits within the lines.

: I’m not sure why we expect musicians to be so one-dimensional with their songwriting when most music consumers listen to a vast array of styles. I think the cultures that have developed from musical genres are just very different, and people are too comfortable in their own little bubble to explore other things that they might enjoy. Thankfully, I think we are starting to see the death of genre a little bit though. Not so much within metal, but within hip hop artists are really starting to shatter genre boundaries. If we use someone like Ghostemane as an example — and he’s not my favorite, but I’ll use him as an example because he’s massive — his music can fit within hip hop, emo, metal, post-hardcore, industrial, and everywhere in-between. He also has hordes of fans in all of those scenes. 

As someone that’s never been interested in being confined to a genre, that’s extremely exciting to me.



New Album: Fixation

Band info at Prosthetic Records

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