Soul. Blues. Gospel. Electronica. Black Metal. One of the truly sui generis now-working artists to emerge from the underground is visiting Greece on the 5th of May at ILION plus, in Athens. Zeal & Ardor, now complete with a full live band backing his vision, will soon be with us to once again compel with his very own unique blend of sonic elements, which we recently analyzed in the review of ‘Devil Is Fine’. Without a doubt a very special individual on a personal level as well, we managed to get in touch with him and shed some light on specific questions. The answers are below:
-Is there an interesting backstory concerning the choice of this arguably peculiar name you’d like to share with us?
It’s two archaic words roughly meaning “Passion” and “Dedication”. The thing is that they are normally only used in the Bible and in sermons, so the idea was that people reading the Bible would google the meaning of them and stumble upon my shitty music. A prank of sorts.
-Would you say the transition from Birdmask to Zeal & Ardor was smooth musically as well as aesthetically in general?
There’s no real transition. The two live off each other. If I’m bored with Birdmask I do a Z&A song and vice versa. Variation is really important to me.
-On a lyrical basis, discuss the influence religion may have had on you.
Lyrically I try to have them mean multiple things at once. “Burn the young boy” could be ritualistic call to action, or it could refer to the words of John the Baptist:
Matthew 3:11 “I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance: but he that cometh after me is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear: he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost, and with fire”
Religious text can be read in different ways, so I try to have my lyrics be that way too. Also it’s a great excuse for lyrical grandeur.
-You are of Swiss-American heritage. Could you comment on the cultural similarities/differences between these two countries and the amount of influence each one has on your own personal/artistic identity?
Both of them are very rich countries, although Switzerland has more of a reserved stance toward new things and generally avoids aggression. It’s hard to say what influenced me and where I have certain things from because I have no distance. Some things are probably obvious and I don’t even notice them. I’m into both good cheese and cheeseburgers.
-Some shows have already sold out. Given the singularity/diversity of your sound as well as the fact that ‘Devil Is Fine’ is your first ‘major’ release, what is the amount of excitement/how much did you really expect it, as far as the impressive appeal of your work is concerned?
This is also hard to gage, since I never expected this to have any sort of success. I’m stunned that people even care so I see it as my obligation to make the shows worth their while. We’ve had people travel really long distances just to see our show and that to me is as amazing as it is a reason to actually deliver something that doesn’t make them regret their travel. As for appeal, I think it is certainly something temporary and fleeting. I’m happy it is the way it is now and I’m very aware of the fact that it won’t be like this again.
-What does the (recording) future of Zeal & Ardor look like?
There’s already a bunch of new material and it’s time to figure out what might work on the next record. Nothing set in stone yet, but certainly on my mind.
-What was the true scope of 4chan’s contribution to your current (musical) status when, still being known as ‘Birdmask’, you asked users for an opinion on the music, as well as the mix of two seemingly incompatible genres?
In a way it’s the catalyst of all this. Had they not named these genres that day nothing of this would have happened. In a way it still is aleatoric music, just realized to an absurd extent. Highly amusing if you ask me.
-You’ve never had a live band accompanying your vision during concerts, instead handling everything yourself with a guitar, a microphone and a portable PC. Until now. Describe your experience as a true one-man-band and the freedom and comfort the presence of a live band offers.
There’s really no comparison. Performing alone can be very personal and charming, but will never provide the amount of energy a full band can deliver. Six people on stage will always have something the audience can engage with, while me alone checking my laptop now and again is not exactly super entertaining.
-Listening to your music, one realizes that black metal is more of a complementary element rather than a major part of your sound. What was the true amount of influence this particular genre had on your music?
I been listening to black metal since I was 14 so I think what stuck most was the atmosphere it gives me. That solitude and darkness is something I associate more with black metal than, say tremolo guitars. It’s music made for one’s self first and conveying a certain kind of sadness. I think that’s what I carried away from it the most.
-Favorite black metal bands?
I like Burzum, Darkthrone, Illnath, Oathbreaker and Ghost Bath. A lot of others too, but that’s the ones I’m listening to now mostly.
-Favorite artists in general? (not limited to music, we would appreciate a musical top 5 though)
I like people who can transport me to another place instantly like Tom Waits, Björk, Stravinsky, Brian Eno and Death Grips.
-What are you listening to in general at this point?
Right now still a lot of Death Grips, Vulfpeck, John Cage and Avishai Cohen (the bass player, not the trumpet player). And that ‘Thank Your Lucky Stars’ album by Beach House.
-Are you looking forward to your Greek gig? Do you have an image in your mind of the Greek fans?
We all are super excited to play Greece. I have a lot of Greek friends here in Switzerland from both Athens and Thessaloniki and if they’re any indication of how people there are we are in for an absolute treat!
Click here to view the Greek version.