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Interviews

Mouth of the Architect - "Fever Dream" (premiere) + Interview

Photo: Alek Sensky

Hear "Fever Dream" from the upcoming Mouth of the Architect LP, Path of Eight, releasing October 7, as the band takes us through the album in this exclusive interview.

Dayton, Ohio’s Mouth of the Architect releases Path of Eight on October 7 via Translation Loss Records. You can hear the track “Fever Dream” from the album now.

Though losing none of the formidable gravitas of past Mouth albums, Path of Eight and “Fever Dream” in particular bear witness to a band that has always been restless and inventive. The piece brings in the deep, spacious sounds of classic progressive and space rock, then tempers them with the fearless and far-reaching sounds of post-rock or, if you prefer, post-metal. The brilliant guitar atmospheres created by Steve Brooks and John Lakes not only helps buoy the track from one place to another, it also helps redefine heaviness. The song never overstates its case or veers toward heavy rock clichés but instead channels its energies into create a full-on listening experience that leaves the listener impressed and eager to hear what will come next.

Joining Brooks and Lakes are bassist Evan Danielson, drummer Dave Mann and keyboardist/sample master Jason Watkins. Each occupies a unique space within the material, reminding us that Mouth of the Architect has always, above all else, stood apart from the masses, delivering music that was distinctly its own.

We recently spoke with Brooks about the creation of “Fever Dream” and the many delights and surprises Path of Eight has in store for fans.

Path of Eight, out October 7 via Translation Loss can be preordered now.

* * *

Of the things I love about “Fever Dream” is the chiming/harmonics thing at the very start, then how the tune moves into the wailing lead guitar part. Was that there from the beginning or did it come at a later point in the writing process?

Honestly, I don’t even remember what happened first on this track. We approached writing for this record very differently that we have for the last few records. In the past, individuals have brought riff ideas to the table and then we structured them into songs together. I was really pushing for us to expand our instrumentation and songwriting for this new record… and it worked out. We started off with some new instruments and effects, including a lot of auxiliary percussion, slide guitar, etc… and then we just jammed. We were really going for a different feel. Trying to get more spacy and proggy and less doomy.

We pretty much did nothing but jam together for a couple of months and then went back to the practice recordings and picked out parts that we liked the most and loosely structured songs out of them. Then we moved on to vocals and that really finalized the structure and feel of the songs. Vocals played a way bigger role in this song, the song writing process, and really the feel of the whole record. It’s been a while since we’ve had a real solid lineup and felt like a band, but we did for this record. We all meshed and contributed in our own ways and I think Fever Dream is a good example of that.

I really love the role the guitar plays as we move through the song. Its sounds incredibly heavy but isn’t unnecessarily overdriven.

Yeah, that is actually a big part of this different direction as well. In the past, we had always used a ton of amps and cabs to make a crushing wall of sound and we were happy just to make the audience’s ears bleed. But this time, I sold all of my amps and cabs and bought a couple of Fender 2x12 combo amps. So right off the bat, we sounded like a different band. We also had a new guitar player, John [Lakes], and he had to put a new rig together. We talked a lot about it and basically set him up the way I prefer… loud and clean. Then we built the rest of our tones with our pedal boards.

I personally use an old Rat pedal for my distortion tone and the distortion knob stays around 15-20 percent. Just enough to break it up and add some thickness but not enough to make it too fuzzy or lose clarity. I was listening to a lot of Hendrix when I was working out my tone this time and I love how he was extremely loud but still clean and clear. I’m using the Fenders the same way I think. I push the volume on the amp to get great feedback and shit but still have the clarity to hear every note. I love the way the new Fender rig sounds but if I hit a bad note or something it’s not very forgiving. We also used Strats on half the songs on this record so that changed the tone up quite a bit from the Les Paul sound that we’ve had for a while.

The tune also builds to this really heavy, heavy part right around the four-minute mark, then moves into this almost classic prog thing that’s very loose sounding but loses none of the overall impact.

That was a part that our bass player, Evan [Danielson], brought to the table. We had the first two sections together and were jamming around and trying to get into a different movement and he just started playing it out of nowhere. I think he had worked on it before and waited for the right time to bust it out. We were all like, “Yes! Let’s do that!” So we jammed it for a while, recorded it and moved on. It is definitely still one of my favorite riffs on the record. It has this jazzy, chill feel that’s super fun to play live. I think it throws people a little when they hear it for the first time live because it just doesn’t sound like a Mouth of the Architect song, but Evan does come from a jazz background so I think we’ll start using that avenue a bit more in the future.

The writing and performances on this record are incredibly strong. Everyone wants to go in and make the record they can but what made this different from past Mouth records?

The last record we went to an actual studio with a real engineer was Quietly [2008]. We have been recording all of our own stuff since The Violence Beneath [2010] and I think you can hear the differences on every record. We’ve been learning and acquiring new gear and mics over the years and just overall getting better at the recording process. This time, we recorded the whole thing in our practice space in one weekend.

We also recorded everything live instead of tracking everything separately. I think that really helped the performances mesh this time. We had more confidence in our playing because we felt like a full band and had been playing together a lot leading up to recording. Our drummer, Dave [Mann], had been having some health issues for the last few years and it was really affecting his playing and ability to remember song structures and that was affecting our confidence playing together. I hope he doesn’t get mad at me for sharing this but he finally made it to the doctor and found out that he has epilepsy of some sort. He was having seizures and couldn’t remember anything. It was bad news and we’re all very relieved and grateful that he’s OK and has medication to get it under control. So we were able to get back to feeling and playing like a good, confident band and I feel like that is reflected on Path of Eight.

I also have to say that the production is brilliant. Each of the instruments occupies a distinct space and the album sounds amazing on headphones. This kind of cinematic approach has been a hallmark of the band for some time. It seems like the band knows that good production and an excellent mix can really enhance a song. Do you spend a lot of time talking about that element of the record-making process?

Actually no, we really don’t talk about it much. I kind of have a template for how I place/pan each instrument in the rough editing/mixing phase and then we just turned it over to [engineer/mixer] Chris Common to work his magic. We just tried to get the cleanest, most accurate sounds we could into Pro Tools before we sent it over for mixing and mastering. Chris is a great engineer and we’re really happy with the way everything sounds on this one. It sounds different from any of the previous records and I think that has to do with everything from the actual songs to the new gear we’re using, the level of experience we have in recording and the great gear and experience that Chris brings to it. I have to say it’s the cleanest sounding record I’ve ever been involved in making and that’s fucking excellent.

We’re supposed to talk about “Fever Dream” but, having heard the whole record, I have to say that “Stretching Out” is another early favorite of mine. It fits nicely with everything else here. Do you have a track on the record, aside from “Fever Dream” that you think stands out as an example of what this record is about?

I feel like the song “Fallen Star” really encompasses what we were going for on this record. It has a lot of singing and spaciness, but at the same time gets really proggy and heavy on parts. It even has some sections that are a bit noise-rocky. We all really enjoy playing that one, even though the last part is the most difficult for me to play and sing. I’m sure we’ll get a lot of other opinions from people when we get out there playing this stuff live but that’s the one that sticks out to me as representational of the new record.

It seems that the songs on this album will sound great live. Is that something that you keep in mind during the writing process?

I don’t think we dwell on how they will sound live when we’re writing, but we do try to make sure that we can pull them off without having a lot of extra overdubbing and sampling. Sometimes we get a little crazy with a section or a song and then we have to pare it down a bit to be able actually perform it live. We’ve played these new songs live five or six times this year and have been getting great reactions so I think (and hope) that we are pulling it off well. We’ll be out doing a short Midwest/East Coast tour in October so everyone should come and see if we are for yourselves.

TRACK LIST

01. Ritual Bell

02. Fever Dream

03. The Priestess

04. Sever the Soul

05. Drown the Old

06. Stretching Out

07. Fallen Star

08. Path of Eight

Culture

Spawning Ground

David Antrobus

In this ancient place of giant ferns and cedars, it seems the dead outnumber the living; the living fall away too quietly, too easily, taken away by stealth. There is tremendous natural beauty here, but its hold is tenuous, like moss clinging to rotting bark that will ultimately break and sink into the forest floor.

If I were to choose a visual symbol of my adopted home of Mission, an average-size town in the impossibly green western Canadian province of British Columbia, I would probably come up with a rotting carcass in a verdant pasture, a vision of death amid life. If this sounds harsh, hear me out and I'll tell my own truth about this place.

Clinging to the swift-scoured, salmon-haunted northern bank of the mighty Fraser River like an ailing lamprey to the deadly smooth flank of a Great White, this town, situated about 70 kilometers east of Vancouver, owes its entire existence to the water of its rivers and lakes, and to the wood harvested from the dense, surrounding forest. Settled in the mid-19th century, Mission has managed to survive despite two serious floods, a bridge collapse, the ominous early signs of malaise in the natural resource sector (did we really think the salmon and the great conifers were infinitely, magically renewable?), and a general reputation for unfocussed, redneck belligerence.

It all comes down to the Fraser River. The river has brought both food and trade; it provides a thoroughfare upon which the people of Mission (among others) float the great log booms that are the defeated renderings we humans fashion from the vast tracts of coastal rainforest (cedar, spruce, fir, hemlock) in our seemingly inexhaustible compulsion to exploit her resources and bring Mother Nature to her matronly knees — in part because (we believe) we can.

But the details about life in this town — the jeweler murdered in a robbery, the pretty high school graduate killed by a drunk driver, the 14-year-old suicide — in fact, all the jostling narratives crowding like paparazzi, each insisting on exclusive front page drama, bubble and coalesce and ultimately conspire to reveal the hidden Mission. There is a dark vortex lurking beneath the seemingly placid surface; the ominous shadow of something ancient beneath sun-dappled waters. Even the countless apparent banalities playing out on the town's rural borders disguise something deeper, more clandestine: the hobby farmer up in MacConnell Creek bemoaning his exhausted well; the entrepreneur hungry for an investment opportunity, eager to transform the hillsides of quiet, bucolic Silverdale into sudden, lockstep suburbia; the hiker mauled by a black bear in the mountains north of Steelhead. And always, the numerous lives derailed by marijuana grow-op busts. For all the gradual liberalisation of laws at the consumer end of this local economic rival to wood and water, those who supply the celebrated crop usually feel the full force of Canadian justice, anyway. There are times when nothing in Mission seems devoid of some kind of meaning.

A monastery sits above this town, a Benedictine haven of alternating silence and the evocative clatter of Sunday Matins bells. Its tower is phallic and disproportionately defiant, rising above the landscape like a giant darning needle, casting its intrusive shadow over the patchwork quilt of human settlement as if to stitch a final tableaux, symbolically and definitively, of the history of the original inhabitants and their mistreatment at the hands of the white settlers. Said inhabitants were (and are) the Stó:lo people (their language, Halq'eméylem, was an exclusively oral tradition, so the words are spelled phonetically nowadays). Stó:lo territory stretched along the river valley from present-day Vancouver to Yale in the Fraser Canyon, a 170 kilometer swath of virgin, fecund land, teeming with such totemic creatures as salmon, ancient sturgeon, deer, black bear, cougar, coyote, beaver, and wolf.

The Stó:lo, a Native American (or First Nations) people belonging to the larger group of Central Coast Salish, settled this area around 10,000 years ago. Europeans, attracted by rumours of gold, arrived in the 1850s. The resulting clash of cultures did not work out well for the indigenous people, and today they are still recovering from the trickle-down effects of at least one generation having been torn from its extended family. Residential schools, for which the monastery in Mission is a present-day symbol, were sites of a particularly virulent form of cultural genocide. First Nations children across Canada were taken from their homes, often exposed to physical and sexual abuse and occasionally murder, their mouths scoured with soap if they even dared to utter their own languages. St. Mary's in Mission, founded in 1861 and relinquished in 1984, was the last residential school in Canada to close.

There are 82 Indian Reserves in the Fraser Valley. There are eight correctional institutions, two in Mission alone (Aboriginal people represent around four percent of the Canadian population, yet account for 18 percent of the federally incarcerated population). Somebody — something? — really likes to control and segregate people, around here.

This fragmentation is reflected in the odd demographics of the town in general. Leaving their multicultural mark have been, at various times, Italians in Silverdale, Swedes in Silverhill, the French in Durieu, the Japanese in the early years of the fruit industry (as in the US, the Japanese were rewarded for their labours by being sent to internment camps in 1942), and immigrants from India in the early days of the shake and shingle mills. (The Western Red Cedar, with its straight grain, durability, and imperviousness to the incessant rain, while inspiring Native culture with the quixotic grandeur of totem poles, grabbed more prosaic European imaginations in the form of the shake and shingle industry, which provides reliable roofing and siding components for homes.)

In some ways, Mission is a vibrantly conflicted example of Canada's multicultural mosaic. With just over 30,000 residents (of which 3,000 are First Nations) mostly crammed into a relatively small area, bordered by the river to the south and the mountains to the north, mill workers and biker gangs, artists and Mennonites, muscle car boys and summer folkies, soccer moms and Sikh Temple-goers, merchants and pagans, Freemasons and caffeine addicts, street people and Renaissance Faire anachronisms all rub shoulders with varying degrees of friction, occasionally achieving harmony in spite of themselves. Perhaps the relative accord is due to the overall youth of the population (73 percent are under 35-years-old).

Earlier, I mentioned the presence of death. Why? Because it is everywhere here, its proximity eerily palpable. It inhabits the sly rustle of the towering conifers. It taints the air with the swampy pungency of skunk cabbage in springtime. It hums incessantly in the sub-woofer buzz of the hydroelectric dams. It shuffles along in the downcast, scuff-shoed limp of a lone child returning to a chilly home. From a distance, even the monks in their dark cassocks, knit-browed and bound by their vows of silence, seem eerily close to the Reaper caricature. For actual evidence of its pervasiveness, though, one need not go far back in time.

The bodies of three women were dumped between here and neighbouring Agassiz back in '95. Suicides and the furtive aftermath of murder, barely registering in the town at all, have spattered Burma Road, a potholed strip of rocks and dirt skirting the shore of Stave Lake. In 1997, Doug Holtam of Silverdale (a small community west of Mission) bludgeoned his pregnant wife and six-year-old daughter to death with a hammer. Against all odds, his young son Cody survived the attack. In 1995, a drunk driver, leaving in his wake not only the proverbial outpouring of community grief but also a devastated twin sister, killed 18-year-old Cindy Verhulst during the week she and her peers were busy celebrating their high school graduation. There was the little boy who slipped away from his day care centre and drowned in the swollen Fraser River. The 12-year-old boy found hanging from a school washroom towel dispenser. The elderly pilot whose body was discovered in dense forest a full two years after he had gone missing. And there was Dawn-Marie Wesley, a 14-year-old Native girl who took her own life in the basement of her home after enduring relentless bullying at school; barely noticed in life, Oprah material in death.

As disturbing and tragic as these stories are, however, there was little precedent for the breaking news in the summer of 2003. This one will need a little background.

Since the mid-'80s, women have been disappearing from Vancouver's Downtown Eastside, Canada's poorest postal code. Partly due to the initial incompetence of the Vancouver Police Department and jurisdictional issues with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), partly due to the amorphous (read: investigative nightmare) nature of the disappearances, and partly because so few people cared about missing hookers and addicts, more and more women went missing, with nary a ripple in the public consciousness (or conscience). In fact, as of this writing, a horrifying total of 65 individuals are currently on the Missing Women list. For years, law enforcement didn't even refer to their disappearance as crimes, and it wasn't until 1998 that an official task force was even assigned to investigate.

Finally, in February 2002, Robert William Pickton, a pig farmer from the Vancouver suburb of Port Coquitlam (approximately half way between Vancouver and Mission), was charged with two counts of first-degree murder of two of the missing women. More charges followed in the months ahead. Pickton currently faces 15 counts of first-degree murder with seven more expected. DNA samples of 31 women have been linked to his 10-acre farm. In short, potentially the largest serial murder case in Canadian history is now underway just 35 kilometers from Mission.

Given the frequent intrusion of death into the area, I suppose it should have surprised no one when, on 20 July 2003, the missing women's joint task force announced they would be searching an area of wetlands near Mission. Just south of Highway 7 (aka the Lougheed Highway) and the man-made body of water known as Silvermere (itself the subject of a delightfully creepy urban legend or two), the area is basically marshland bisected by a meandering slough. Immediately following the announcement of the search, the site was fenced off with temporary chain link, and the highway's wide shoulders — traditionally home to roadside fruit and flower vendors hawking their locally grown products — were suddenly and unequivocally off-limits.

Driving this formerly innocuous stretch of blacktop, especially under the after-dusk arc lights, with their swirling bug armadas and liquid island oases in the dark, now touched off an indescribably eerie feeling. It was a relief when, on 8 August, the entire ensemble of law enforcement personnel (numerous forensic investigators plus 52 anthropologists) took up their tools again and vanished. They gave no word of what they had uncovered or even whether anything had been found at all, leaving our community to its familiar, fitful dreams once more. Mission's part in this unfolding story, as it relates to the wider world, remains amorphous and indistinct, with its usual chilly glints of barely suppressed horror flickering amid the overall grey.

Here, it seems, empirical proof takes a back seat to rumour and anecdote every time.

Sometimes, while hiking alone in the tree-bejeweled mountains west of Steelhead, east of the dams, I have suddenly felt the fetid breath of graves, a harsh raven-shadow lurking behind the abundant emerald and olive greens of this sodden paradise. Inexplicable noises in the deep tangled brush; distant rending, gnashing. Something skulking and hungry. With all the assured rationality of the white male immigrant, I've been known to smirk at the idea of ghosts, and yet stumbling along a jade-tunnel trail bristling with old man's beard and devil's club, I've occasionally recoiled from something, the skin of my arms prickling with gooseflesh. There are spirits here, all right, something not too far removed from the capricious tricksters who inhabit indigenous myth. Spectres of a kind, nursing some nameless, hollow ache of unrequited need rendered manifest, paradoxically, by a landscape dripping with life.

The closest we Europeans get to perceiving this (however inadvertently) can be heard in the low extended rumble of the nighttime freight trains as they call out in the dark, hunching parallel to Railway Avenue long after most residents are asleep, lonely as a buffalo herd that's somehow seen and almost comprehended its own approaching ruin.

Of course, my telling is by no means the complete, illustrated history of Mission, a town that can barely hold onto its own name (since 1884, take your pick: St. Mary's Mission, Mission Junction, Mission City, Village of Mission, Town of Mission, and currently the District of Mission). Not by a long shot; this lurid splash portrays but a small corner of the canvas. How can any one person paint the full picture of a community, after all? No, despite my perverse zeal to stir the viscous mud below the bright surface, great deeds and happy memories adorn the history of this place, too, adding the sparkle and lustre of life above and hopefully beyond the stillness and silence. And yet, no matter how much joie de vivre this community may exhibit on its special days, like a red-carpet celebrity when the cameras start rolling — whether it be the laughing children with their maple leaf flags and pancake stacks celebrating Canada Day up at Heritage Park, or the benevolently stoned crowd at the annual Folk Festival, or even the choked air and sharp adrenaline at the Raceway — surely one thing cannot go unremarked: nearly half of those missing-presumed-dead women were of Aboriginal descent. This adds one more layer of indifference to a jaded populace apparently caught somewhere between the small town rural cruelties of its past and the uneasy suburban shrugs of its gathering future.

I know this. I worked with the street kid population here for years, witnessed their hardscrabble resilience. Few people ever gave a genuine damn about the plight of these children, even though some of the throwaways had not yet reached puberty. Two-thirds of street-involved youth in Mission are Aboriginal. Many are sexually exploited by family members, neighbors, pimps and selected citizens, but few speak of it. Some of these kids head west to Vancouver for a date with misery, stretching already tenuous community ties to the breaking point. My job as a street worker was to speak for these lost children, to ensure some semblance of the child welfare system would kick in through advocacy with social workers or teachers or families or counselors or probation officers. In a world in which the so-called "bottom line" — money and the politics of money — has become drawn too garishly, these already marginalized youth were, and continue to be, largely abandoned by a system designed to protect them. Sometimes I stand beside the town's failing heart, its run down main drag (1st Avenue), taking in the pawnshops and thrift outlets and dollar stores, and I'm convinced I truly hate this place... but only because I've loved it so deeply. In life: death. In death: life. The great inscrutable cycle.

In this way, the perennially troubled summer Pow Wow, always skirting the edge of ruin (corrupt, inept politics and sporadic funding, take a bow), yet often prevailing regardless, seems to me a far more accurate symbol of the clutching, ragged breaths that secretly haunt the sleep of this community. The fleeting vibrant colours of traditional dancers whirling in bright regalia — poignant as the plumage of endangered birds, flying amongst the high wailing melismas of the Northern-style singing and the vital, aorta-punching drums of the circles — somehow speaks more of an unavenged wound in time and place, set amid the cruelty that underlies so much beauty, than anything else this conflicted human settlement seems capable of offering.

An absurd contrast, really — this vibrant gathering and the judgmental silence of all those surrounding stories of the dead — the whole place holding its breath waiting for these mortal sorrows to purge themselves before the pristine lawns and asphalt and vinyl sidings are allowed to spread and eventually suffocate every fucking thing that ever felt like something here.

For here, tenacious as the town itself alongside relentless churning waters, the living will no doubt cling to hope and the perpetual dream of life until the muscled river — unnoticed, stealthy, taken for granted — wrestles away everything (horror, joy, splintered wood and the final word) at long last, sending it all tumbling toward the planet's dark and pitiless seas for good.

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