Recently, when browsing through my emails, I opened the newsletter from German label Pelagic Records. Imagine my surprise when I saw that they’d signed Wellington act Spook The Horses! Win for local music!
Now to be honest, I’m never been a big Spook The Horses fan. I cam appreciate what they do, but the heavy roaring often put me off. But their set tonight has completely made me reconsider. They are incredible!
They had some screens free-standing on stage, with a projector shining images onto the screens. The new music sounded mellow and sparse, with pleasant singing in place of roaring. In my head I started to compare their new sound to the likes of Blueneck and softer Opeth.
The band slowly started in increase the intensity, finishing the set with some of their older material. It was an interesting evolution, from ephemeral music with nice singing, to heavy post-metal with roaring. And because the transition seemed so gradual, I not only warmed to the roaring, but really got into it. Tell you what, I was thoroughly impressed! The drums sounded especially thunderous, so props to the sound guy.
Rosetta have recently come off a month-long US tour. I recently came back from touring across a America with a band as well, so I can understand the immense scale of where they went. Philadelphia is on the east coast, a few hours drive south from New York City. Their tour was mostly in the west coast region. That’s a long way from home.
And now they’re in New Zealand, which is almost as far as they can get from home. Speaking to Mike (vocals) before the show, he told me how the response in Asia and Australia on this current tour has been unbelievable. By the sounds of things, it feels more rewarding playing in foreign countries because people make the effort to see bands that don’t have the opportunity to play those places as often.
Clearly all that touring has helped them mesh as a band, because they are one helluva unit! Seriously tight, and delivering blow after blow of intensity. Rosetta’s latest album, Utopioid, is a dynamic exploration of musical textures and timbre. Tonight they brought those textures to life, pummeling us with searing riffs and busy beats.
Mike was a brilliant front man. Funnily enough, most of the bands I’ve seen in recent months haven’t had singers, and the ones that do usually have the singers playing guitar. It felt special to see a vocalist freed up to move around without an instrument to restrict him.
One of the most vital aspects of putting on a show is energy. It’s the difference between listening to an album and home, or seeing the band play it live. Seeing guitarists throw themselves around and flick their hair about, seeing drummers beat their kit into submission, seeing singers draw us in to sing along – that’s what it’s all about. And you can see from my photos, Rosetta brought their music to life. You could feel the energy.
Admittedly, I’d been apprehensive about a Tuesday night show. I’ve been worn-out recently, and I knew a late night wouldn’t do my body any favours.
As it turns out, the opposite is true. Not only did I have a fantastic time watching two brilliant bands, but I feel revitalised. There is something to be said for exposing yourself to things that inspire you. I just want to sit down at my drum set and smash something out, to create something new and exciting.
Rosetta made a point of touring extensively after writing their most recent album. This is their first time in New Zealand. And I’m grateful that they came this far, because it has been rewarding for everyone involved.
Philadelphia post-metallers Rosetta have recently released their sixth album entitled Utopioid [Will Not Fade review here] – a portmanteau of Utopia and Opioid. Utopioid is a concept album composed of four distinct sections that explore the extremes of texture and dynamic. It is also the band’s third independent release, offered for pay-what-you-want on Bandcamp. This is an interesting move in the current age of streaming, but the band not only recouped recording costs, but also achieved top-selling status on Bandcamp.
Believing Utopioid to be an album worth hearing live, Rosetta just underwent an extensive tour across North America. After a short break, they will embark on another tour throughout Asia and Oceania in a month.
Will Not Fade’s Joseph James chatted with guitarist Eric Jernigan about the album, the band’s philosophy, and touring.
Will Not Fade: Obviously you have reason to be proud of your latest record. What sets Utopioid apart from the other albums for you?
Eric Jernigan: Thank you! This is the first time everyone opened his contributions to direct criticism from another. As always the primary focus was to create something that spoke to us as individuals. But we also learned that each one of us does better work in collaboration, challenging as that process may have been at times.
With the four parts of the album, did you write each separate section in sequence, or did you write everything and then arrange them by mood? Because this album is cyclical, so I was wondering about the order it was written in.
We dedicated certain blocks of time to each movement, but if the creative fire went dark for a certain section we allowed ourselves to explore new ideas or tweak existing songs based on what we were in the mood for. Can’t waste time after all.
Does coming up with a concept make writing music easier or harder?
I think musically speaking many concept albums are born haphazardly and later sequenced to fit the story at the artist’s convenience. We avoided that by drawing the map for the concept shortly after we finished the first song structure, and we stuck to it religiously. It made certain aspects of writing feel more cumbersome, but we know it produced our strongest work to date.
Tone, texture and timbre are clearly important to you. What are some ways you try to achieve these things?
I’ve found lately that purposefully limiting the number of tools at my disposal can force some extra creativity to the surface.
To continue that discussion of collaboration, who’s idea was it to create the remixes of your songs included on A Dead-Ender’s Reunion? How does it feel hearing someone else’s take on music you wrote?
We’ve been friends with Will Benoit (Living Phantoms) for many years and deeply admire his work as both a producer and a songwriter. It’s a real treat to hear your music filtered through the mind of a respected peer.
With the recent record, you stressed that this was worth hearing live, and have tried to tour it more widely. Is it hard living on the road so much?
As long as we remain cognizant of the privilege inherent in sharing our music with audiences around the world it’s not hard. No one likes operating on minimal sleep for 30 days straight or sitting upright in a van for hours on end, but the reward is worth the effort.
How was the American tour you just finished?
It helped remind us we live in an unbelievably beautiful country. We found a few hours to visit Yellowstone National Park on a cold day in late October and saw a bunch of geysers, a herd of bison, and a pack of wolves. And then of course we ruminated on the crushing power of the supervolcano lurking beneath us.
What are you expecting from the upcoming Asia/Australia/NZ tour? You’ve chosen a good time of year as we are coming into summer.
It’s been 5 years since we were in Australia and all the rest of the territory is brand new for us. Couldn’t be more excited. Hoping as always to find extra time to meet interesting people and check out whatever sights we can manage.
sleepmakewaves are opening for you in Australia, and Spook The Horses in NZ. They are strong bands, and I actually thought sleepmakeswaves showed up This Will Destroy you when I saw them play together once [Review]. What is your process for choosing support acts?
Actually we’re the support for sleepmakeswaves in Australia, so we built the rest of the tour around that. Spook the Horses have been on our radar thanks to Robin from The Ocean and Pelagic Records, so we were stoked when our NZ agent suggested them. In general we aim to travel with bands who push music somewhere new and hope to make friends along the way.
I recently attended dunk!festival in Vermont, where Pelican and Junius were among the top billing acts. One thing I noticed is that they appear to have more cross appeal than many other bands who played the festival because they cross from post-metal through to doom/sludge territory. But then there was also Russian Circle, who don’t have vocals, and still have managed to achieve similar success. I realise that when Rosetta formed, the idea of post-rock/post-metal wasn’t so prevalent, but do you think that including vocals affects how accessible you are as a band?
To be honest accessibility has never been among our goals so we don’t spend much time thinking about it. Many of our friends in prominent instrumental bands receive unsolicited offers from random singers no one’s ever heard of: “Hey, obviously you left out vocals because you just haven’t found the right front person yet.” Likewise I’m sure there’s a contingency of people who’d prefer we didn’t incorporate screamed and/or sung vocals. Truth is none of that has any bearing on what we create.
After parting with Translation Loss Records, all your albums have been released independently. Talk me through that decision. How does staying independent compare to the option of re-signing to a label?
Translation Loss is a great label that helped us out immensely over the years. Independence simply gives us a more direct line to our listeners and vice versa. We value that connection.
If you were to give advice to a band starting out, would you still recommend the DIY route?
There’s no other way for a young band as far as I know!
When you first decided to offer your music at a pay-what-you-want price, did you expect to earn enough to cover recording costs? Has this helped you gain more exposure?
No, there was a lot of trepidation within the band on the eve of the release of The Anaesthete. We’re lucky to have a wide-ranging group of supporters who understand that music and art are valuable. I doubt it’s helped us gain more exposure, but who’s to say?
How does it feel to have gained best-selling status on Bandcamp?
We are immensely proud of that achievement. Again, we owe that honor to our fan base for their contributions.
Bandcamp offers different formats like FLAC and WAV, and I noted that you recently re-uploaded Utopioid at a higher res.. Do you care about how people access your music (iTunes, Spotify, Google Play etc…)?
For me the idea of caring about how people access our music is tantamount to exploring how people devote their attention to the consumption of music in general. If caring means I wish people would actively listen to our records rather than stream them from Youtube while reading pointless articles online, then yes. But I also recognize music serves different purposes for everyone.
Do many people still buy the physical albums when they are made available? Is there still a demand of supposedly outdated media like cassette tapes?
Yeah, with each album we expect more digital and less physical but demand for CDs and vinyl is actually increasing. We manufactured a small run of cassettes for Utopioid and have been psyched to see them selling through our Bandcamp page and at shows.
I see that you have offered bonus tracks on a few albums for the Japanese editions. Now that the internet opens up access to a global audience, do you feel that you still have separate markets based on location?
That’s a good question. For the most part I think the internet has effectively leveled things in that respect. Nonetheless, it’s tradition in Japan to have some bonus material on a CD. So far we’ve always had the extra tracks around so it’s fun to release them with a great label like Tokyo Jupiter.
Rosetta has been around for 14 years now. How does being in a band now compare to back when you started?
As you might expect the responsibilities of life outside the band weigh a little heavier these days. Luckily the balance is manageable for the most part.
Rosetta Asia/Oceania Tour dates
29/11 Kaohsiung TW – Paramount Bar
30/11 Taichung TW – Sound Live House
01/12 Taipei TW – Revolver
02/12 Singapore SG – Analog Factory
03/12 Kuala Lumpur MY – Rumah Api
05/12 Perth WA – Badlands
06/12 Adelaide SA – UniBar
07/12 Melbourne VIC – Howler
08/12 Brisbane QLD – The Zoo
09/12 Sydney NSW – Oxford Art Factory
12/12 Wellington NZ – Valhalla
13/12 Auckland NZ – Ding Dong Lounge
15/12 Launceston TAS – Greenwood Bar
16/12 Hobart TAS – Brisbane Hotel
Perennial post-metal journeymen Rosetta began their sojourn into the dark recesses of cerebral rock in Philadelphia in 2003. In that time they’ve released some truly memorable records and became the godfathers of an underappreciated scene. They’ve now released their 6th album fully independently and continue their 14 year trend of challenging listeners with truly erudite songwriting.
Rosetta is a band perpetually at a crossroads. Never satisfied with representing one sound they venture to combine all the horror of a war torn landscape with that of the serenity of a deathbed. This is a band that has been dubbed as writing “metal for astronauts”. They are a thinking man’s band. Rosetta melds perfectly the 90’s hardcore sound of a band like Earth Crisis with the melodic undulations of If These Trees Could Talk. Layered on top of all these ingredients is a violent sense of urgency that keeps you listening.
The Philly boy’s 6th album Utopioid unabashedly continues the trend of never really letting you rest easy while listening. The first track “Amnion” is a perfect example. An instrumental piece, “Amnion” lures you in with it’s melodic stoicism giving you a false sense of security. When the final notes ring their end you go right into “Intrapartum” that begins with an almost choir like canticle. It isn’t long before you’ve realized your mistake. You’ve been too trusting. The snake has already deceived you with its poisonous tongue and there may be no way to go back. Songs like “King Ivory Tower” and “Neophyte Visionary” forego all pretense and immediately go for the throat. Interspersed throughout all the gloom is Rosetta’s unique touch of placing beautifully melodic passages in just the right places. These passages act like arteries that pulse new hope within all the savage din and cacophony, but just as you start to relax you’re thrust back into the melee fighting for air. It’s undeniably brilliant.
If you look at the song names and how they are ordered you definitely see a concept forming. Couple the lyrics with the song names and you recognize a story starting to unfurl. It seems to be a story about birth/rebirth. Of the rise to power and manipulating man’s desires. Of being taken advantage of and feeling culpable. Of wanting to believe but ultimately losing faith. Utopioid is about the futility of human effort. It borrows heavily from The Ecclesiastes, a book of the Tanakh that purports that all of man’s vanities and desires matter not one iota as death is the ultimate leveler.
You can recognize a lot of that futility in the song structures. From what lyrics I was able to discern there was a lot of gravity set on ushering in and building with light. Light in this case being a metaphor for knowledge or illumination of the mind. The Ecclesiastes hones in on this idea quite a bit. Gaining knowledge and wisdom is fine, but it’s all for naught. On Utopioid Rosetta does a wonderful job of conveying the duality of man through their ability to perfectly mix chaos with harmony. Clean and guttural vocals constantly do battle as the two opposing forces of dogma and living true come together to achieve the same goal.
Utopioid marks Rosetta’s third album while completely independent. The band and label Translation Loss Records dissolved their partnership in 2013. Since then Rosetta has continually been able to grow. They were able to fully recoup within 24 hours their self-funded album The Anaesthete in 2013 and were the top-selling release on Bandcamp for nearly a month. They’ve since decided to stay independent with the release of 2015’s Quintessential Ephemera and now Utopioid, giving credit to the old American adage “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”.
You can certainly hear Rosetta’s approach on their newest album. It was a collaborative effort from the first track through to the last. They’ve poured themselves put into every chord, syncopated beat and lyric. Rosetta may be a band 14 years in the making, but with Utopioid you can almost hear the band transcending to new heights in the empyrean firmament.