SA: How did Obsidian Will first start playing music together?
OW: OW started in 2013 in the office of the Carleton University archives and rare book room, where Liam used to work and Lloyd still does. We were both in other bands, Liam’s was ending as his band mates moved out of town, and Lloyd’s was still going but winding down. We discovered a mutual appreciation for classic heavy metal and various metal sub-genres: black metal, folk metal, witch house, etc. and both came across funeral doom while poking around bandcamp and itunes. It was also around this time that Lloyd started experimenting with making soundscapes on garageband and integrating lyrics. Liam also went to see Merdaratha, which incorporated pre-recorded ambient loop tracks that could be played over by a live band. Liam thought it would be cool to layer some guitar over the soundscapes Lloyd was making, and Lloyd could provide the rhythm. That’s sort of, but not quite, what we ended up doing.
We decided to jam together and booked some time at the rehearsal space under Irene’s called Noise Annoys. The room was great but the shortest amount of time you could book was four hours. Four. Hours. It ended up being a lot of time but allowed us to work for long periods and figure out what our version of funeral doom would be. Originally, all of our songs were between 12 and 20 minutes long. The tightened-up versions of the songs we wrote at this time – like Ghost Acres and Marked Hands – are still part of our sets and are notably slower tempo and sparse-sounding. Eventually, we would move away from trying to fit into the funeral doom genre.
We got lucky somehow and booked a few gigs as a duo, including opening for Topon Das, Greylights, Black Oak Decline and Empty Vessels. We also did our first out-of-town gig at a nudist colony in Vankleek Hill. After we had played our original set list a few times, we decided our sound was a bit too sparse and thought twice about always having a pre-recorded backing track to break-up the silence. Luckily, Lloyd met Justin in an esoteric/occult reading group he started. Their conversation quickly turned to music and Lloyd invited Justin to join with the band to play violin and be the “live loop track” that would replace the pre-recorded one. A few weeks after Justin came on board, we had our first gig with him. We didn’t really have time to prepare, so we just told him to improvise as we played through our set list. Justin eventually purchased an electric violin and now an electric cello, and is integrated more fully into the songs and overall sound of Obsidian Will.
SA: What bands or musicians would you cite as the biggest influences on your sound?
OW: At the beginning it was certainly Doom bands like Skepticism and Nortt, as well as folk metal bands like Wardruna. Merdaratha was a huge initial local influence as well, as was Gates from Toronto. We are individually and collectively influenced by many different bands and styles of music and sound art, and as we have continued to work together more of our influences outside of the metal genre have crept in like The Mars Volta, Laibach, Lustmord, and many of the artists on the Cryo Chamber label.
SA: Thus far in your career, what has been the band’s biggest success?
OW: It’s all a success. Every time we get to play a show is an extreme privilege and it’s wild to us that we get to share the stage with some of the most exciting bands we know. It’s still a total novelty that we can contact bands that we like, or, even crazier, get contacted by rad bands out of nowhere, and have them agree to/want to play a show with us.
Picking out a few specific examples though, doing an Ottawa-Montreal show swap with Le Pélican Noir is a definite highlight. We are super glad to have met Sylvain and Maxime and are excited to collaborate with them in the future. Being asked to play the Ottawa Experimental Music 5 year anniversary show is also huge for us, and it’s kind of unbelievable that we got to be on the same bill as amazing local bands we admire like Novusolis, Clavius, Deathsticks, RAAS, and Forgotten in the Woods Again. Also, having an album and EP recorded by Topon Das at Apartment 2 Studios is like a dream come true, and, thanks to his production skills, having them turn out wayyy better than we thought possible was an added bonus.
SA: Conversely, what is the biggest challenge you have faced, and how have you dealt with it?
OW: Obsidian Will doesn’t really fit into any one genre, or at least one of the genres you can pick from a scroll-down list on bandcamp/soundcloud/spotify etc. Our sets can range from quiet drone/ambient to a crushing doom-infused wall of noise. A blend of those two extremes isn’t always an easy sell. This might make us a bit more challenging to put on a bill, because we’re not really a fun high-energy band that would get booked for your usual bar or festival gigs – we have a tendency to bring the mood down. That said, we’ve managed to find a core group of local bands and artists we are similar to and that we work well with. We are still working to build our audience and find other artists to collaborate with. Having the ability to disseminate our music online helps when your project is more niche, like ours.
SA: How do you guys approach the song-writing process?
OW: We’re still working on figuring this one out. Our older approach, when we were a two-piece of drums and guitar was to kind of work independently and rely on visual cues from on-another, mostly nods and looks. Essentially, it was the law of the jungle, but we made it work.
Once Justin joined the band, and now that Lloyd is incorporating synth, we realized we would need to work on coordinating. Right now, we’re working on a new song that will require a lot more structure and coordination between the three of us. We’re currently building a structure based on a few variations on the central theme.
Usually one of us has a concept or an idea we want to explore with the band. We sit and talk about it and then see if we can translate that narrative into sound. Occasionally we will also bring a riff or soundscape forward and work with that.
Also, we usually write lyrics first and try to build a song structure around them, or, for less structured and more ambient songs, pre-record the lyrics and play them over what we’re playing. For these less-structured songs, we end up doing our own thing to a great extent, recording it off the floor, and listening back to it to make sure everything we’re doing fits together. The tricky part is remembering what you were playing!
SA: What are your thoughts on the Ottawa music scene?
OW: There are positives and negatives. We recognize that we are a niche project and our music/performances don’t appeal to everyone; that’s totally fine. As a result of this, though, we had a hard time finding shows at first and are still working on building a local audience. Maybe this is commonplace and not exclusively an Ottawa thing, but it seems like crowds tends to follow specific promoters, and promoters tend to focus on specific genres, which totally makes sense. This can just make it a bit difficult to do something different and still play locally. That’s probably more on us than on “the scene” though.
That said, we’ve been super lucky to get support from other bands and locals. One of our earliest supporters was Topon Das. Not only did he record, mix, and master our self-titled album and the Night Sky EP at Apartment 2 Studios, he headlined our first show and also got us on early bills with bands we were amazed to play with like Black Oak Decline and Empty Vessels. We are super appreciative of all the help he’s given us and feel privileged that he’s been involved in the band’s development.
Another huge help to us is Adriana Ciccone (AKA Baba Ganoush). Finding the Ottawa Experimental Music facebook page was extremely helpful for promotion and finding shows. Adriana has been very supportive of OW, plus she’s a super talented musician herself that is contributing a lot to the Ottawa music scene as a performer, community radio host, writer, organizer, and show promoter. We consider her a very positive force in the Ottawa music scene and are extremely grateful to have met her and to have shared a stage with her. Check out all her stuff if you haven’t already! Forgotten in the Woods Again, Constellation 425, Ottawa Experimental Music, Hexon Bogon on CKCU. She does so much that is no doubt an incomplete list.
Ottawa Drone Day has also been a big help as well (full disclosure: Liam has helped organize Drone Day for the past 3 years). It’s always encouraging to see that there are so many local performers doing very different styles of music than you would normally see at shows, and it is great to be a part of that. Overall, though our niche is specific we are very encouraged that we’ve been able to find local bands to play on the same bill with and that like our music, and likewise, we like theirs.
SA: From Tamtu in November 2016, all the way to Night Sky, in November 2018, what kind of progression has there been in your music? Or, has it rather stayed constant over time, in terms of theme and expression?
OW: Over time, we have played with the idea of structuring our shows and recordings as ritual spaces. As the ones creating the experience, we are guides bringing the listener on a sonic journey. We have structured our sets and albums to do this, trying to be conscious of what’s being communicated overall and being sure to open and close the ritual space of the performance before and after. This idea developed early on and has been a through-line throughout our performances and recordings… most of the time.
Similarly, we consider our songs, with and without lyrics, as meditations. We are often trying to explore things that inspire awe through their ineffability or by the contradictions they embody. Sometimes we borrow from classical mythology to do this, like in The Mother of Eleven and Marked Hands, and sometimes we look to the present like in Teratogenesis or Salvage. We are often writing songs about forces beyond our control and the feeling of powerlessness.
As far as recordings go, we’ve alternated between more structured songs and more improvised, noisy, and experimental “songs” (calling them songs would be kind of a stretch). Tamtu, Hollow Witch, and Night Sky are all less structured experimental pieces we recorded for Noisevember. For these, we try to tell a story through sound and sometimes incorporate pre-recorded lyrics. For Hollow Witch, we stayed at a friend’s house deep in Lanark County and recorded the songs in various parts of the house as well as one outside. We ritualized the session overall as well as each recording, and in the end, the album ended up being an ode to the house itself. Our self-titled album and Melammu are recordings of some of our more structured songs and is a bit less consciously organized overall. The elements are still there, but the songs are more able to stand alone.
Also, in the time we’ve been playing together we’ve all grown as musicians. We’ve also grown in terms of gear. We started with drums and electric guitar and now we have drums, baritone guitar, electric violin, electric cello, 3 or 4 synthesizers, and collectively we probably have 20 pedals. This allows each of us to shape our sound to better reflect the stories that we set out to tell with our music. As we grow as musicians our sonic vocabulary grows along with the amount of gear we have to load-in.
SA: Thus far in the band’s repertoire, what is your favourite track, and why?
Liam: My favourite tracks are some of our earliest: Marked Hands and The Gestation of Homunculi. They are very simple but I never get sick of playing them when we are going through the set list. They are probably the most emotive songs in our repertoire.
Lloyd: My favorite track to play is Teratogenesis basically because it’s fun to smash through the song. My favorite song to listen to is The Mother of Eleven. For me the song is an invocation of the dark reaches of mystery. Each time we play it I treat it as a personal ritual.
Justin: The Gestation of Homunculi is awesome! This was the first song I wanted to learn and play when I joined and I still love playing it.
SA: If you had to choose, what three records would you cite as most impactful on your sound in this group?
Lloyd: Black Sabbath – Black Sabbath
Liam: Skepticism – Stormcrowfleet
Justin: Type-O-Negative – October Rust
SA: What comes next for you guys in 2019? Good luck this coming year!
OW: We are working on a couple new songs and will most likely be playing Drone Day on May 25th. After that, we are playing June 20th with L’Ordre de l’Infiniment NADA and Transmit vs. Intangerines at Bar Robo – this show is so new there isn’t even an event to link to yet! We’ll probably also do another crazy noise recording for Noisevember and other stuff, stay tuned!