Interview – The Living Fields

Categories: Interviews
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Published on: August 2, 2011

Alternative Matter got the chance to talk with Samu Rahn, guitar, Jason Muxlow, guitar, and Jon Higgs, vocals from Living Fields about their recent release and more.

Congrats on releasing such a strong musical tour-de-force that is Running Out Of Daylight. Are you satisfied on how the album came out and the feedback it received so far?

SAMU: Thank you. And yes, I think we’ve all been rather satisfied with the response. We’re still waiting on some of the biggest outlets to publish their reviews, but the grassroots feedback (which tends the most relevant and earnest) has been encouraging. Some folks have gotten a little hung up on how to categorize the band, but this is something that will probably settle over time.

JASON: So far, so good. The Europeans seem to be a bit more open to it than Americans, but that’s to be expected..

Can you give a short introduction to the band and its origins?

SAMU: Jason Muxlow created the band in 2002, driven to doom by the grim national tenor that resulted from 9/11. At the time, he was running a website called Deadtide, where he received (among thousands of others) records featuring Chad Walls and Jon Higgs. I’m not precisely sure how he decided to invite them to his band, but their talents clearly recommended them. Despite a lack of prior experience, Jason’s idea for a string-quartet supported doom project was sufficiently intriguing—or he was enough of a smooth talker—to convince them to join. Their first demo ‘The Miseries Never Cease’ came out in ’04, which was my introduction to them as a relatively impressionable youngster. The eponymous full length came in ’07 as a self-release, and rather quickly attracted the attention of a couple labels, leading to the Candlelight deal in ’08, I believe. I had started writing for Deadtide a couple years before, and through that relationship Jason and I had begun several other side projects, both musical and journalistic. In short order we realized that The Living Fields was the most productive use of our time, so I officially came on board sometime in ‘09. Having another body in the studio helped Jason get ‘Running…’ back on its feet. I’m not sure that’s a short introduction, but it’s the only one I know.

From what I’ve read it took you guys three years to construct Running Out Of Daylight. Apparently it must have been quite a daunting task. What happened?

SAMU: For the most part, Jason has worked on The Living Fields from his home studio. This affords us the luxury of time when we need to concentrate or be spontaneously creative, but it also can backfire when one’s DAW gets uppity and a professional isn’t around to troubleshoot while the band takes a break outdoors. Various recording sessions became corrupted, and I believe at one point Jason had to start virtually from scratch. These distractions and others abounded, so for a while it was simply easier just to ignore the entire thing than to sort through the rubble and rebuild. After ’08, Jason shut Deadtide down, he and I put aside our idea for another magazine, and along with Jon and Chad we all put our heads together to get the record back on track. One of the less obvious drawbacks about having members spread across continents is that, after a setback, it’s harder to rally the troops once more unto the breach. Encouraging emails don’t firm one’s resolve quite like a band night out at the pub.

The band’s musical base is doom metal, but you include scores of influences from other genres and exotic instrumentation as well. How did come about?

JASON: I was exposed to pretty much every conceivable brand of metal you can imagine when I ran Deadtide and always dug bands that pulled in non-metal influences. This is very common these days, but 10, 15 years ago…not so much. “Master has a FLUTE on this song?!? What the FUCK, dude?!?” That sort of thing. My Dying Bride was – I think – the first band I heard that made excellent use of the violin (“Turn Loose the Swans”) and by the time I started The Living Fields, there were a number of bands doing similar things. So it was just a natural development. I’m also a big fan of “ethnic” or “world” music (not sure what you’re supposed to call it these days) and film scores, both of which have an impact on how I write for The Living Fields. If there’s one thing I hope we do better than some, it’s integrating all these disparate instruments and sounds into the band and into the songs, rather than just sticking them on top or writing an intro that has nothing to do with the band or something.

What can you tell about the themes touched on Running Out Of Daylight?

JON: The album was inspired by a number of sources, the main one being the title track about Galileo and the last days of his life where he was turning blind, while under house arrest for heresy. The concept for that song was established very early on and it set the mood for the album.

Other themes include: Richard Matheson’s “I Am Legend” which forms the basis of “Remnant” about the general concept of being the last human on Earth; “Perseverance” honours Hillary’s conquest of Mount Everest; “From Misery to Blood-Drenched Fields” is the sequel to a song from our first EP where the character ends up in the US Civil War after having left famine ridden Ireland.
So it is a pretty broad range of subjects…but always somehow dealing with the human condition.

You guys are clearly not afraid to push the musical boundaries of doom metal. Would you consider The Living Fields a progressive band of sorts?

SAMU: It wasn’t something that came much to mind during the recording of the record, but at this point I think we’re obliged to accept the distinction. We are, of course, comfortable with working outside of the traditional boundaries of doom, so in that respect we have always been prepared to be considered ‘progressive’. But other, more tangible qualifiers tend to come first, at least in my mind. By striving simply to be progressive, it seems that one can win the prize but lose its spirit, if you follow.

How important is it for you as a musician to keep an open mind to outside musical influences?

SAMU: Of paramount importance. The Living Fields wouldn’t exist if we spent our time locked in a basement club exclusively for bands that play at tempos adagio and downwards. The Living Fields, though rooted in doom, has always reflected its members’ sometimes disparate influence sets. Naturally, we aren’t inclined to have a polka number on the next record, but most everything else could at least merit consideration. We follow where the narrative takes us, whether it originates from a melody or turn of phrase. We all also have our own projects outside of The Living Fields to satisfy other musical inclinations, and that variety helps feed back into the central mixing pot. One of those bands might be where the polka numbers go, I suppose. Ultimately, I think what has allowed metal to endure for so long is its ability to absorb reinterpretation and its audience’s eagerness to be challenged.

In what way does the music of The Living Field represent you as a person and the things you hold dear?

JON: The music itself is a mix of many metal styles so I feel it is well representative of my fondness for all metal. Lyrically, of course I write about subjects that I think are important; often based on themes that Jason has set just by giving the song a title.

In general I try to put a positive spin on things which is something important to me. This is a crazy and dangerous world but it is full of mostly good people that the various news services can tend to forget by focusing on the negative.

As an outsider it seemed to me the UK metal scene was pretty stagnant the last couple of years, but nowadays there’s a steady flow of new and very talented bands making their mark. What’s your take on this? Of those bands which do you like the most and why?

JON: Possibly the UK scene has been a bit quiet recently but certainly worldwide there was plenty of cool metal around. As to current UK bands I like there is Sylosis from Reading which is pretty widdly-diddly melodic metal. I can’t name many “obscure” bands in London where I live other than my own, Monsterworks. Ha.

There is a kiwi-born band called El Schlong that was very active in London but now moving to Berlin. They have a unique sound (like a death metal lounge act) which is worth checking out. The live shows are entertaining and the album music is quite diverse and very listenable.

Do you guys got any touring plans coming up? If so, where are you going to perform?

SAMU: Touring is a tricky situation, given how we are spread across several countries. Too, the nature of the compositions would make live arrangements rather difficult. We’ve always been comfortable as a studio project, but that also could be because there wasn’t as much interest in live performance. With ‘Running…’ coming out, we’re being asked about touring a lot more and it’s set some gears turning. We’re all interested, but wouldn’t want to go on the road without representing the material respectably (i.e. without string accompanists), and that adds a whole new level of complexity. If the right situation presents itself, we’re prepared to receive it. I think the European festival scene would be most suited to our style.

Time for the final question. Who’s your favorite character in the famous Blackadder sitcom?

JON: I am the only one qualified to answer that question (the other guys never heard of it!!)…..surely everyone answers Rik Mayall’s portrayal of Lord Flashheart? “Am I pleased to see you, or did I just put a canoe in my pocket?”

Any final thoughts or remarks?

JASON: Anyone reading this should go buy the CD so we can make another one!

JON: Thanks very much for the interview and also for the review. I can’t recall the exact timeline but I remember our very first review for this album was quite negative (we will not name names!) and it was a bit of a downer. However, the Alternative Matter review came soon after and gave a great boost to the band. We realized that we didn’t fuck it up after all!

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