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The band Flourishing makes the kind of metal that I'm most drawn to — relentless, genre-less, willfully complex music without the knowing nod. Oh, and it's heavy... nauseatingly heavy. The trio's debut full-length, The Sum of All Fossils, resides in the same seamless patchwork as bands like Ulcerate and their fellow New Yorkers in Tombs. But where Tombs takes its extremes from the band Swans and black metal, Flourishing looks to Sonic Youth and industrial metal innovators like Godflesh for its own brand of melodic yet punishing death-grind.
We'll have a full stream of The Sum of All Fossils starting on July 25 as part of our First Listen series, but here's my personal favorite track from the album, "Fossil Record." It's a knotty six minutes with machine-gun blast beats, a sickening bass riff right out of Godflesh's Streetcleaner and a sweetly pensive guitar figure rising above the impending catastrophe.
In an email interview, guitarist and vocalist Garett Bussanick (who also plays in the hard-to-pin-down metal band Wetnurse) sent back some extremely thoughtful responses about creativity, longevity in the New York metal scene and human complacency, which, oddly enough, prompted a question from me about space exploration. Maybe you should just read the interview.
Flourishing began as a death metal/grindcore hybrid, and I could hear those lines sharply drawn on last year's A Momentary Sense of the Immediate World EP. The new album takes a beat-up camera and blurs the harsh elements with a stronger sense of melody. Where did this transition occur?
I can't say there was a conscious transition into a more melodic sound. In fact, some of the songs on this new album were written during the same time period as the songs that appear on the EP.
However, we did look at each recording in terms of presentation and wanted to group like songs together for the EP — which, for the most part, happened to be more concise, mainly dissonant pieces in the death-grind vein. This new album's wider scope was necessary to make an album that we felt would be engaging from start to finish. So we took the more progressive songs we had lying around and started molding them, and newer songs, with a full-length in mind. There is still plenty of dissonant death-grind, but it's been joined by equal doses of melody and ambiance.
I find the creative process of molding already-written music very satisfying, and time away from something can put it in a new perspective. Bringing out an element or embellishing certain nuances can really alter how something is perceived. At the risk of sounding cheesy, maybe it could be said that I like to treat a song like an actor refining his role, and then treat an album like a director directing the actors.
I hear a strain of chaos in both of your bands — Wetnurse and Flourishing. With Wetnurse, the chaos is spastic and flamboyant, but Flourishing is tidal in its chaos, an even-keeled surge instead of a frenzied attack. How do you view these bands? Do they fulfill different sides of your creativity?
There is a set of loose parameters set up in each band, based on the chemistry shared between members and the general vibes each band wants to get across.
As for Wetnurse, it could be said that each person involved has their own vision that is not shared by the other members, and the outcome is the unification of those circumstances. There are many different musical backgrounds in that band, and there are hardly any overlapping inspirations between us. We see Wetnurse as a type of musical free-for-all, where almost anything goes.
To think humans have a special role in the universe and were meant to exist seems insane to me.
Flourishing's intent is more reined in, considering there are less members and perhaps we're more on the same page with our intents. I have been playing with the Flourishing drummer, almost straight through, for over 16 years now. We've always played in death metal or grind bands that have attempted to do things differently, so that's naturally what we do when writing together.
I don't compartmentalize each band much, because my choice in doing both is to simply have more avenues with which to create. They both provide different types of platforms to work off of, and my interest in playing music isn't really genre-specific. It lies more in the challenges of writing meaningful songs and albums. But I will try things in one that I wouldn't in the other. Also, having two bands, I will inevitably wind up getting out more ideas that I'm happy with.
I view musical creativity as one thing, so I don't see having both bands as separate things that fulfill two different creative urges. If I were also into making paintings or movies, then I would see that as a different side of creativity, since the medium is significantly different. I've always thought that if you have success in one creative arena, you likely will do well in others. Creativity is really just ideas and choices. It's the uncreative process of learning how to physically play an instrument or how to edit film that, once competent, allows the creativity to get channeled. Along the same lines, take a violin virtuoso who is reared on giving performances of old classical music. This person is undoubtedly an amazing player, but doesn't necessarily have any creativity, since the focus is put on mastering the playing of other people's compositions. Is this musician truly a musician? Or an athlete?
I don't live in NYC, but every time I visit to go see a show, I feel like there's an increasingly uneven musician-to-fan ratio in the audience. There's a lot of excellent metal coming out of New York right now (Krallice, Tombs, now Negative Plane, to name a few), but does the New York metal scene ever feel diluted or overcrowded? Is there camaraderie or competition? How does one stand out?
Like the metal scene as a whole, the NYC scene is bursting at the seams. This is not inherently a bad thing, but it makes traditional ways of getting your band noticed, if that's what you're into, more difficult. In general, there is such an endless stream of bands, releases and labels nowadays that one can hardly keep up to date with it all.
I believe that New Yorkers are often spoiled and jaded, since they have so much vying for their attention at all times. So unless your band is quite popular, it's hard to get anyone to care about what you're doing. If we're talking about standing out in the live setting, there are often multiple metal shows happening in one night that makes that challenging. The open-minded music fan could literally go see multiple shows every night. If you're in a popular band, the NYC scene sometimes has people jumping out of the woodwork for your show. But if you're playing here and you're in a lesser-known band, you have little chance of getting anyone interested whatsoever, considering everyone is so preoccupied with other things. I wonder how many lesser-known bands have been excited to play NYC for the first time, only to have no one come out. To gain an interest, I think longevity and many releases under your belt are helpful. Flourishing is not a band that is trying to make a name for itself by playing live. Although we do play shows from time to time and have some fun, I don't worry too much about how many people we're going to play for. Sure, I'd rather play for 50 people than five, but that's not why I'm doing this band. I'm more interested in making a statement with recordings.
At smaller metal shows, the audiences can sometimes mainly be musicians, which is totally cool. Maybe these people are the most dedicated and hungry fans. I mean, you can't get much more involved when playing your own music and checking out shows.
Personally, I steer myself away from thoughts of competitiveness with other bands. It doesn't often enter my mind, since I'm not trying to do much beyond creating/recording music I'm happy with and having it heard. And I figure there's a bit of camaraderie: I am chummy with various NYC metal musicians. Maybe playing underground metal stems from a certain personality type.
From what I gather, The Sum of All Fossils largely meditates on human existence. "Fossil Record" puts that in the context of the universe: "Do you really think we're special? / When was the last time the sun orbited the earth?" Does this viewpoint come from somewhere in particular? An author? Philosopher?
I think there's an unhealthy and damaging lack of questioning by a large portion of people in the world. You know how they talk about going through life with blinders on? People get wrapped up in what I'll call pop culture and societal norms, and as a result aren't looking for anything past their own nose. I'm referring to everything from religious "clingery" and television that caters to the lowest common denominator, to falling prey to our own emotions and self-serving tendencies by acting regrettably from their influence.
But, in a way, who can blame people for this behavior? Many people are born into this way of thinking and interpreting. In most cases I imagine, they need to consciously break away from it. And to make a noticeable shift in humanity's collective thinking obviously takes much time. There must be a formula out there that can pretty accurately predict how many generations of people must come to pass to fully eliminate an outdated way of thinking.
That particular lyrical section of "Fossil Record" is an attack on the geocentric viewpoint, which I think is prominent in society and ultimately portrays cockiness (as well as cluelessness!). To think humans have a special role in the universe and were meant to exist seems insane to me. The song addresses the reliance and norms implemented by these ways of thinking, and how society is kind of set up around them. People fear death, so they create religion. People want modern comforts and conveniences at all costs, but ignore environmental impact. These things have consequences that most people ignore or do not bother looking into. Society is asleep at the wheel, and I think we're just starting to make out the brick wall on the horizon.
And there's this infallibility in our collective mind about our species. I think this also keeps people from realizing things can't continue indefinitely, and responsibly, in the direction they're headed. I once read something that likened humanity and the earth to a group of enclosed amoebas with a source of food. The amoebas reproduce as much as possible, eventually exhaust their food supply and then die in their own waste. I think everyone should be concerned.
An author I'm particularly fond of is Carl Sagan. As evidenced by my feelings on things, I enjoy his writings and can't think of anything I've read of his on a philosophical level that I find "wrong." In fact, I quietly spoke the final chapter title of his book Cosmos in the song "Fossil Record."
I can't help but think of the recent Atlantis launch here. It's the end of the shuttle era, but we'll continue to explore the spaceways. In the scope of questioning mankind's place in the universe, what worth is human pursuit (space or otherwise)? Do you view pursuit as meaningless, or does that frustration provide inspiration?
I feel that the human pursuit of space should and will continue. First, of course, humanity will have to tidy up things around here to ensure its continued existence for the long haul. Given that that happens and humanity is around, we'll eventually make space a part of our home. The human drive to "one-up" the latest breakthrough and the fact that technology is increasing at an exponential rate will both ensure this.
For a moment, take a leap and say that humanity survives indefinitely and that we've successfully overcome many near-death experiences as a species over the millennia (I'm being pretty optimistic!). Four or five billion years into the future, our sun will become a red giant. The closest four planets to it will slowly be enveloped by the expanding star. Again, I'm taking a huge leap here and saying humanity is around, and we're confronted with the end of the earth. It's fascinating to think about how that would play out. We'd probably be alien to our humble, fully organic beginnings and would need to be able to exist non-terrestrially. A good guess is that, by that time, we'd be made of whatever organic material was deemed needed, and machine. Would we next be able to survive the death of the sun?
I think human pursuit could never be considered meaningless. I certainly acknowledge the dark side of existence and realize that the majority of things accomplished, created and achieved will be forgotten given enough time. But I see little frustration in this reality, because it motivates me to enjoy myself while here. I'm into the idea of discovering exactly what I want to get out of life. So far, it's very much a work in progress.
The Sum of All Fossils comes out Aug. 2 on The Path Less Traveled Records.