Mother Anxiety and SHRIEKING: An Interview

Mother Anxiety and SHRIEKING have just released a new split.

Splits are one of the more magical artifacts of underground music. In my mind, they represent an ideal of shared experience, camaraderie, and this idea that there is similarity in what is dissimilar and dissimilarity in what is similar. I had a blast getting to talk to Ben and Jacob about what went into the making of their recent split.

Weirding: How did this all get started?

Ben (Mother Anxiety): Over the past year or so, I've been working on and off on a full length Mother Anxiety work. I had gotten the songwriting bug again, but what I was making didn't really fit in with what I had planned for the record. I’d first come across Jacob when I saw they liked my review of Dir En Grey's latest album for Toilet Ov Hell. From there I checked out SHRIEKING and I really dug it.

Weirding: I'm always interested in how musicians come together to start making music. That's usually in the form of a band. But splits are interesting in that they also represent a coming together of artists in a different way.

Jacob (SHRIEKING): For this split specifically, I think I was under the impression that my music as SHRIEKING was too straight forward for Ben to even want to do it. But when he approached me about it, I was really excited.

Ben: I came to the decision to make a separate work exploring the themes of isolation, loneliness, and frustration that had become the tissue of life for so many of us during the time of the pandemic. I also thought it would be good to make this a split effort, as isolation and loneliness spawn different paths and different demons for different people.

Jacob: We have been following each other on the internet for a while mutually. I remember my first exposure to Ben I think was his writing which I was immensely stoked about — some awesome short fiction and reviews, interviews, and all that. His tone of mixed wonder and bleakness and hope really got me going. 

Ben: We started interacting more with each other by way of mutuals like Adzes and Espi Kvlt and Stormland. And over time it was obvious that their interests and sense of humor and ethics really jived with mine. Whomever I would propose a split to would have to have similar ethics and values to me, but also have a musical style that could gel with mine. SHRIEKING was a perfect fit. 

Jacob: I think almost simultaneously I heard his music as Mother Anxiety — which at the time that use of ‘noise while not being noise’ was something I had never really conceived of, if that makes sense. Of course, I had just arrived from out of a deep hole of drone samples and yamaha practice piano riffs sent through at least four reverbs. So, I had something brewing that gelled with Mother Anxiety — and he didn't even know.

Weirding: So, Ben, you reached out about doing the split?

Ben: Nervous as hell, I sent them a message saying I'd been working on some songs. Asked if they'd be down to possibly do a split. I showed them what I had at that point and we started working off each other.

Jacob: I had already respected Ben as an artist, but to be viewed positively enough to work with was really flattering. 

Weirding: Splits have such a deep history in underground music.

Jacob: I adore splits. They are such a facet of the underground. Especially in metal and punk — both of which I grew up in and still make. My current favorite split is A Plague Upon Four Houses — the four artists are Rage of Devils, Karnstein, Everson Poe, and Wyeth. This one is special because not only is it four separate artists working on a split together, but they somehow all make it sound cohesive. I was fascinated by it. It's almost a mini-compilation, but it feels like an album. It has a very tumultuous, emotional build. Mostly black metal and post metal, but it ends on a fascinating gothic tone.

Ben: One that I think is great is Voices of Days Past featuring world's end girlfriend and Vampillia. Both groups are more on the experimental end of things — but each in their own very distinct way. And though both are very different groups from the other, as they approach these textures and moods of melancholy, nostalgia, and somberness, the cohesive threads remain. It’s like looking at the same object from two different angles.

LIFE FUCKS US ALL with extremeOBSN and Laxenanchaos is also great. It features two artists I feel are both at the cutting edge of electronic music — especially IDM. Both combine ambient melody lines with glitch and breakbeat percussion and sampling. They find that emotional core within the juxtaposition.

Jacob: Another I adore is the split between Pessimista and Order of the Wolf — another pair of wonderful, viciously anti-fascist and blistering black metal artists. Just wonderfully emotive and raw. And then Panopticon and Waldgefluster — another pair of black metal artists. These splits succeed for a similar reason — the unified moods but different expressions.

As a listener, I love splits because they are an excellent way to find similar artists you may not have heard before. Sometimes one is bigger, one smaller. Or one smaller and the other bigger. Or all underground. In this age of digital music, that is maybe getting even more important. 

Weirding: One of the challenges faced when putting together any sort of compilation — even a compilation of songs by a single band — is the difficulty in mastering the final version so that the songs have a listenable flow between them. How did you all approach recording, mixing, and mastering this new work knowing from the outset that it would be a split?

Jacob: Oh god, this was an endless obsession for me. I can't speak for Ben, but every time he would upload a track or a remixed version I would listen to it next to what I had done, and tweak this or tweak that. Volume, mixing vibe… I even added an extra synth in once.

Ben: Whenever I work on a piece, whether it's music or fiction, everything follows an organic approach for me. On my end, I dug into this flow we had of showing one another our projects as we worked. We bounced off of each other and traded influences. Though we're fairly different as artists, I knew the emotional core would hold everything together if we stayed true to the process.

Weirding: And that holds true to the actual sound of the split.

Jacob: I really value texture and atmosphere the most when I make music. So that was so important to me. I had one of the songs already recorded before deciding to do the split, so that one took the most tweaking to make it feasible — even though I obviously wanted it in there. 

I am self-produced and — to either my detriment or glory — I am unsure. So I spent many, many, many nights just staring at various dials and moving one notch at a time.

Weirding: Creating cover art for a split can be tricky. I think it might even be trickier than for a compilation.

Jacob: For the cover art, I know I specifically wanted something more powerful — more powerful than my usual at least. Usually I make my own and there are both good and bad sides to that. But Mother Anxiety and myself wanted it to be special. We wanted to really lean into despondency. Into beauty in pain. Into isolation and just the general vibe of the past year and more. 

So, Ben recommended OSHred. Red is an amazing artist — she takes a painterly approach to art, with a distinct style.

Ben: I'm very fortunate to have connections with a lot of extremely talented visual artists, which is how I was able to suggest a couple to possibly commission for album art. Eventually, we both settled on Red. 

Red is also the artist who did the cover for my single "Dragged Screaming From Your Mansions".

When it comes to cover art or illustration I'm very much a fan of letting the artist go more or less buckwild on their own instead of playing a game of interpretive telephone. We gave Red a few prompts like wanting a more abstract piece. 

Jacob: Red is excellent at cold tones, and so it was only natural to work with her. If I remember right, all the directions we gave her were to check out the files of all the songs and our logos and "we want something lonely and bleak."

Ben: We wanted it to be reflective of the central conceit of loneliness and isolation. Everything else was Red letting the music and our barebones prompt guide her. In my opinion, this led to some incredible cover art. 

Jacob: I have to say, over the course of the back and forth on the commission, I had no notes for her — she just really hit it out of the park. I feel very secure that this art perfectly showcases the sound and tone of the songs, which is honestly one of the hardest things to match up. I cannot recommend her enough.

I take cover art pretty seriously in what I consume. i'm a visual person. I draw a lot. I read comics. I daydream. So finding a cool artist was really important to me — especially on a split. 

It feels more important.

Weirding: Big fan of logos here. Both of you have great logos. Tell me a bit about where they came from.

Ben: Logos to me are another tool for a sort of illustrative storytelling. 

When Mother Anxiety started out and I had the four tracks ready for the debut, I contacted my dear friend Anton Oxenuk. Anton normally doesn't do graphic design, but we brainstormed some design ideas. We ultimately landed on something that shouldn't be too ornate and baroque, but tended toward more sleek and modern — yet still imposing. Hence the long sharp piercing elements. Anton also ended up painting the cover art for that debut.

Jacob: Logos are the lifeblood of my favorite genres — raw and ambient metal, death metal, black metal. Especially when you're scanning a Bandcamp page or a bill for a show. The hidden language of tonal direction is almost preternatural to many.

Weirding: And sometimes that tonal direction goes all the way to illegibility, which I guess is its own form of recognizability — which is ultimately what you want a logo to be. You want it to be recognizable and memorable. Recognizable doesn’t have to mean readable. And readable doesn’t always mean that the intent is clear. I remember when we choose our logo, which is just a typeface logo, the intent was to find something that would help make three separate words look like one single word when the spaces were removed between them. It was like using a font to create a new word.

Ben: Prince's love symbol is a great logo to me both in terms of recognizability and storytelling — the implied gender ambiguity built into it. Iconic. 

Parliament is another great logo. Just looking at it is like getting zapped by the bop gun.

And while I understand the history and reasoning behind them I've never been a huge fan of completely illegible ink splatter death and black metal logos — though there are some I think strike a good balance between intimidating but still recognizable. I really like Enslaved's logo, as well as the one Hail Spirit Noir has on Oi Magoi. 

Alice Cooper always had an incredible logo — the way the two O's subtly emulate his makeup. 

Author & Punisher, Brainfeeder Records, Falls of Rauros, Panopticon, Isenordal. Gorillaz, Studio Killers. 

A lot more I really dig, too.

Jacob: Some logos tell you exactly what you're going to hear, or at least something close. I think that is really cool. Because metalheads especially can tell vaguely what they're getting into right away. So, because of that, I wanted my project to have a really slick logo. Something that fit my blend of drone, ambient, black metal, crust, grind, and death. So I scoured the internet for a while. Eventually through a recommendation on Twitter, I found VISUAL DEFECT on instagram. 

I don't like telling artists what to do in any specificity — I figure I am paying them to use their skill, and whatever info and direction they want, I give. It lends itself to some wonderful art, in my opinion. I gave him a selection of four logos I liked (some of his, some elsewhere) and told him what the project was inspired by. That is how I got my logo for SHRIEKING. 

It is spidery. It is veiny. It is striking.


About

Mother Anxiety

@bensernagrey

https://motheranxiety.bandcamp.com

https://curiousfictions.com/authors/574-ben-serna-grey 

https://www.patreon.com/bensernagrey 

https://toiletovhell.com/author/ben-serna-grey/ 


SHRIEKING

@direngay

https://shriekingband.bandcamp.com



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