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September's Album of the Month was Narrow House's sophomore, and very different, 'Thanathonaut'. We had a long chat with sole remaining original band member Yegor Bewitched about the way the band and album evolved.

Interview with Narrow House.

(1) Welcome, and many thanks for agreeing to be interviewed for Doom-Metal.com. Could we start with the usual - an introduction to our readers?

We are a band from the place that has been news most of the time lately – Ukraine, Kyiv. We started out as a funeral doom project back in 2009 and got our debut album published by Solitude Productions in 2012. We are mostly a studio band from that point. This year we have brought to the public our new work that took a considerable step from what we were doing previously, making people wonder what the hell happened.

(2) Of course, regular forum users shouldn't need an introduction: you've been keeping us regularly posted on the Narrow House story for some time. Do we get special treatment, or do you participate on many other forums and sites?

I surely love local forum as people here still care to answer when someone tries to showcase music. I stopped being active in some other places over the Internet with time but Doom-Metal.com continues to do the best job with bringing all doom related to people no matter what and I appreciate that.

(3) The reason I ask is that Narrow House are one of the bands who really seem to 'get' the internet, and its possibilities for interaction: not just a passive web presence, but making use of all the social networking channels, distributing video diaries, generally participating in online discussion. Do you get good returns from all of that, personally - and, maybe, commercially?

It all started with me promoting our first album. To do all that I was doing for a funeral doom release may sound like a strange idea but I was really eager to make people know about it. Well I might have used Internet possibilities too much at that point and probably got a few people really annoyed.

Some of them actually blamed me for being too vocal about the band, saying that good stuff needs no introduction and will be discovered by itself. This is partly true but I want to be still alive when this happens. Again due to the openness of the Internet literally everyone can put music online and most musicians will never be noticed as there is just too much of everything out there.

Sure, Solitude Productions who published “A Key to Panngrieb” were promoting it as well just like they do with all their releases. However, I believe that my personal involvement in the process was a good addition on top of that. This activity certainly brought some more fans to us.

I was a bit more careful with PR for “Thanathonaut” and I should say that this already paid off in a certain way. I was able to produce limited edition of the album and promoted it with the proper video teaser. I was surprised that even the Ukrainian public was interested to purchase it. In other words things are going much better with the second release. That might be a result of my previous PR activity, it might be not but I’m satisfied either way.

(4) You've travelled quite a long road since the band was born in 2009, from the previous incarnation called Funestum. How many of the original members are still with you now? Do you keep in touch with the others?

None of them actually are in the band anymore. I had some significant help from our original drummer Petro Rogutskyi during the recording of the latest album, plus our keyboard player Ekaterina has been also involved in studio diaries. I still speak with all of the original members from time to time but I realize that most of them are not interested to continue with the band. This is a sad fact but this is life and all I can do is at least keep my own fire burning.

(5) The first Narrow House album - 2012's 'A Key To Panngrieb' - was basically Funeral Doom, with some adventurous touches, such as the cello: one which set a solid groundwork for the band. How do you feel about it, in hindsight? Would you consider it a successful release?

Yes I think that it was a success in terms of making a name for a band and building a certain basis for our future. The funny thing about this album is that it was out long after we had decided to change our style. Thus we had no interest to play it live, tour to promote it etc. We had our website running with all that new “apocalyptic doom metal” stuff all over the place getting reviewers confused and whatnot.

At the beginning of 2012 we participated in a few local live shows preforming new songs from “Thanathonaut”, which was already 40% complete at that time but meant to be out only 2 years later. In other words the debut album was published much later than it should have been. Things could be much more logical if it was already there at least in 2011.

Anyway with the help from Solitude Productions the album was published, becoming our first major “hello world”. Even though it was late this was still the first album for us so it was very exciting. I had no idea how our material will be received taking into consideration it was already 2-3 years old but at the end we had average of 7/10 which I think was good enough.

I feel that we could have done a better job with it but were too tired to do so as it already took way too much time. However, there are people who like it for what it is, and that is something already. In the future I might want to release the re-mastered version of it with some additional stuff that never got the chance to get in there. Have no idea, will there be any demand for that in 3-5 years or will I be still interested in doing anything like that especially with the current course of the band in mind? Time will tell!

(6) That was followed by a massive change of direction towards this year's 'Thanathonaut'. How did that come about - what started you off with the idea for the album, and motivated the change of sound?

I remained the only person in the band who had an opportunity and wish to continue the band, and it was a simple decision: either Narrow House will do something else as a project, either it ceases to exist. Sure I could take a new name but after all the work making NH visible online that would be quite a wasteful decision. It was me who came up with this name in the first place so I felt like I deserved keeping it.

The starting point for the new album was watching a really disturbing nuclear war documentary. At that point I had no idea making it all conceptual and circling around an atomic weaponry theme – this idea came along during the finalization of the material. I’ve recycled some of my old compositions that I felt were still good enough to be recorded, and topped it all with completely new stuff. At least three songs for “Thanathonaut” were created just a few months before the recording took place.

Originally I wasn’t really much into funeral doom at all and when I joined Funestum (which basically became Narrow House after some time) I was already more into traditional and stoner doom. I believe that by that time the only bands considered to be funeral doom I actually listened to were 1000 Funerals and Esoteric. For example, I only got acquainted with Shape of Despair when we decided to cover one of their songs. However, I honestly enjoyed what we were doing as a band but wasn’t able to continue it the way it was after our original guitarist left. So I did what I like, which turned out to be not that traditional in terms of doom at all :).

Thanathonaut on Bandcamp

(7) Was it a big difference moving from the collaborative songwriting of '...Panngrieb' to being the main composer? Is being 'in charge' better - or just more stressful?

I have been composing music since 2004, and some of the material used for Thanathonaut was already created back then. So after I joined Funestum four years later and continued as Narrow House in 2009 (which basically went on hiatus in 2010), I just picked up where I left. Being the only constant part of the band certainly gives you freedom to make everything just the way you want it. It’s hard financially when it comes to producing but fortunately I had enough money for that. Sure, I almost went broke because of it but that’s another story haha.

The most important thing I’ve learned is that no matter what – you need a team of talented people to make a great album. You get the best sound producer, best artwork and session musicians you can get, and then it works.

(8) Your sound engineer, Max Morton, came across really well on the video diaries, and he obviously had a lot of input into the album. How big a contribution was it, and what's it like working with him?

We first met with Max while we were recording our first album. All the material for it was scored during just one winter night (a really cold one) but later it turned out that the sound quality of guitars and vocals tracks wasn’t good enough and we decided to use a professional studio for this purpose. I remember that the first time I met him he was pissed with us coming earlier then we should haha. This man surely knows the price of his time and doesn’t want anyone to waste it. I respect that.

Anyway, it all went good and we were pretty satisfied with the results. We personally spent just 100$ to produce “A Key to Panngrieb”, which was nothing taking in consideration the quantity of band members of that time.

When I started to think about recording the follow up I decided to come back to Max as he primarily works with metal bands and knows the subject. The other thing about him was that Narrow House was probably the only band close to doom metal that he worked on, so he had no restrictions on what doom metal should sound like in the first place. That was very important for “Thanathonaut” as this album was intended as a pure experiment with me doing wherever I want no matter what other people think.

To make it all work I wrote a 10-page conceptual document with all the necessary info on the album overall, and each track individually, with all the sound references etc. That proved to be quite helpful. We got everything planned very carefully and were able to record both album and video diaries in just 10 days. That was pretty quick taking in consideration the number of people involved.

Other than being a professional sound producer who helped us to shape the sound we wanted, Max also participated as guest bass player on a few tracks. He also lent his voice to create a live chorus, for all songs that feature them, with my own and other female guest vocalist voices added to the mix. It was him who gave the idea of using not just cello but a double bass as well. Among other things – he also improved some of the original drum lines and keyboard parts. In other words he made “Thanathonaut” better in all aspects.

Working with him was a pure pleasure as he is a very talented and disciplined person that knows his work and always tries to upgrade his skills. Really looking forward to repeat this experience in the future.

(9) So, the end result was 'Thanathonaut': a big surprise, even for people like ourselves, who'd been following its progress. Were you partly hoping it would come as a shock, when everyone finally heard it?

Sure, I just hoped it won’t be shocking in a bad way. Don’t get me wrong, I love the first album but the second one means much more to me as I was the main person responsible for it. “Thanathonaut” is my child with everything that comes with it. I raised it, invested in it and hoped it will be a good, talented person that will inspire others to create.

(10) What about after the initial reaction, once people got over whatever their expectations might have been, and started considering the album for what it actually was. Were you pleased with the feedback and reviews? Surprised, even?

I’m not sure that most people actually got over their expectations. They either accepted and liked it or were pissed it wasn’t about funeral doom anymore. Even though I kept telling that it’s going to be different from the very beginning. Some people who upload the album online (well, illegally) for free downloading are still mindlessly labelling us as funeral doom and keep confusing others.

As more reviews emerge with each day I understand that some people were upset with the length of the album and the duration of the songs. I should say that most tracks are short indeed but that was intentional. I honestly tried to expand at least some of them but this didn’t work out. I see each track on the album as a little sparkling diamond. I shaped most of those songs for years and made sure they are all perfect in their own right. Adding something else would just spoil it all. That might sound arrogant but this is honestly the way I feel about this album. It wasn’t rushed.

(11) We described it as a radically self-redefining album. Would you consider that was a fair assessment? What elements would you say you consciously brought forward from '...Panngrieb' - and what did you decide to leave behind?

I think it’s a very accurate description. As a band we always tried to have something at least semi-unique about us. Being Funestum – we had a violin, as Narrow House we replaced it with cello and added a saxophone later. So basically the cello was one of the things that made our debut release interesting in the first place. That’s why I thought that it would serve as a bridge between the first album and the second one. I also tried to keep the overall depressing atmosphere that was initially introduced with “A Key to Panngrieb”, bringing in some more dramatic elements powered by pianos etc.

The overall sound has obviously changed and I finally got the inner strength to try clean singing, so I left most of my extreme vocals behind.

(12) You usually go under the tag 'Apocalyptic Doom'. What do you see as the essential qualities of Doom?

I’m not sure I will continue to use this tag in the future and probably will stick to “experimental doom” instead. I’m generally not very good at defining genres, and while I think I play doom metal, other people see gothic, death, black and many other things haha. The things I like in doom metal music most are heavy palm mute riffs, relatively slow tempo, melancholy, alcohol, drugs, insanity… and catchy guitar solos!

(13) What other music or bands do you listen to? Would you call any of them, past or present, influential on your own musical direction?

The main influences I had while working on “Thanathonaut” are Virgin Black, Candlemass, Saint Vitus, Electric Wizard and Apocalyptica. I’m not sure all these names make sense when you listen to “Thanathonaut” but they are exactly the ones that were inspiring me.

Currently I continue to explore stoner rock and doom and this will probably have its own impact on future Narrow House music. Surprisingly just recently I discovered a band that already was there for the past 10 years - Bongripper. Killer stuff with no vocals, just the way I love it.

(14) The next thing we'll see is the video release of 'Midwife To Sorrows' (which should be generally available by the time this is published). Tell us a bit about that - did you have a good time making it?

The preproduction of this video took a few months and was a really challenging task for me personally, as I just got married, which required months of preparing as well. So I jumped from one major thing right to another and was constantly under pressure. However the process itself was pure fun. Although initially we planned to shoot the video in two days, we ended up doing everything just in one due to some schedule difficulties. At the end of the day all the crew were really tired but determined enough to complete the task.

I wrote about three scenarios before the final idea shaped itself. Many changes were made while the shooting took place. For example it wasn’t the initial intention to have a fire show taped and we started to search for somebody who could do that just two or three days prior to the final date. In other words – IT WAS CRAZY haha.

Our new video is much different from that one I did for the first song from “A Key to Panngrieb”, just like “Thanathonaut” differs from what we did before. More than that it will probably be different from what most people expect from a music video and doom metal music video, as there are no grim looking people playing their Gibson guitars with something else going on in the background. It’s more like a post-apocalyptic short movie with some plot, philosophy and a specific message. Hope people will like it.

Video on YouTube

(15) And after that, what? Do you see the band continuing in the current vein, or maybe changing direction again?

There will be changes but the gap won’t be so dramatic this time. Think of the mix of “Crushing the Old Empire” and “Sad Scream of Silver” to have a general idea. Though saxophone had a major role in “Thanathonaut”, I don’t see it coming back that big on the next release, if it will come back at all.

The next thing I will try to achieve is featuring fewer instruments while using them more effectively. It doesn’t mean there will be no room for experiments and other exotic stuff going on, quite the opposite. Expect weird genre mixes with heavy, beautiful and melancholic music as the final result.

(16) Does it depend, in part, on what you're inspired to write? What influences that: where do you get inspiration from, and how do you turn it into a finished piece of music?

I don’t have a 100% recipe to get inspired and this can happen both with good and bad things happening in my life. Anyway even with positive sources of inspiration I don’t compose jolly music haha. I leave the door open for everything to drive inspiration from: books, movies, sounds of industrial machines or public transportation system, any kind of music etc.

Each song is started with some basic idea I come up with on guitar. Most of these ideas are born spontaneously when I have lazy time with the instrument. By lazy I mean I don’t even plug it into amplifier, just use it like acoustic one. While doing this, magic happens sometimes and I’m getting the feeling how the melody should develop itself. After I have that basic idea – I save the tablatures on my PC and continue to build the track with tabs of drums, basses and any other required instruments.

The best way to improve tracks is to rehearse them, as other people involved can give some feedback, make things better and suggest something new. The final touches can be brought by sound producer so it’s very important to find a good one especially when you feel that you can always make a track sound better, even if it’s last minute changes.

(17) What about live shows? You've obviously had issues with changing personnel, and there are a lot of instruments involved in 'Thanathonaut': is it feasible to put a tour together? Any plans to do so?

One of the reasons “Thanathonaut” is here is that I got really disappointed in trying to maintain the line-up. After the original one split up I couldn’t find people who would be interested as much as I am, no matter what. I believed that one of the reasons for that was that people got the idea that we play funeral doom metal and couldn’t understand we do something else now. Actually I believe that the whole understanding of what doom metal music is all about is kinda messed up in the minds of local musicians. They see it as something slow, outdated and boring.

While I was working on the new material, which obviously wasn’t funeral doom anymore, I tried to recruit some new people but the only person who remained was our current drummer who participated in the last live shows and helped with the recording of the latest album as well. This was a bit of a depressing experience as well and I hope that I will be able to get people more interested now “Thanathonaut” is finally out. Can’t jump to conclusions right now, but I believe that we will work something out if it is meant to be so. Fatalism can be very comfortable at times!

(18) Outside of Narrow House, what else keeps you busy?

I have a full-time job that drives me crazy sometimes (ok, most of the time). My weekends are filled with either visiting my countryside house to further improve its condition, fixing my new apartments in Kyiv or playing some postapocalyptic computer games like Wasteland 2.

I always watch some TV shows at evenings with my wife. While I’m travelling to the office I have time to read books as well, so I do that sometimes too. Listening and discovering new music happens throughout the working day mostly.

Oh, and I run a few websites dedicated to postapocalyptic games like Fallout. Been doing this for the past 10 years.

(19) To close, I hope this has been a chance to properly cover the band and your work, but if there is anything you'd like to add, the last words are yours.

I feel like I’ve taken enough of your time already and told much more than you actually asked! Hope that was entertaining enough.

(20) It only remains, then, for me to thank you again for your time and the opportunity to talk with you. Hope to hear more from you soon!

It was a pleasure to participate, thanks for the opportunity!

Click HERE to discuss this interview on the doom-metal forum.

Visit the Narrow House bandpage.

Interviewed on 2014-10-25 by Mike Liassides.
Vanha - Black Lion
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