Tad Piecka - who records under the name Petrychor - made this writer's favorite album of last year with Effigies and Epitaphs, an album that almost seems preternaturally disposed to creating what I want to hear (or didn't know that I wanted to hear) with regard to unorthodox black metal.
But Petrychor is only part of Piecka's musical identity. He records acoustic music under the name The Lowercase West; he does electronic work self-described as "[a]rt for robots, music for ghosts," as Tremolite; he plays in the instrumental rock project Beware of Safety; he makes downtempo, ambient music (some of which directly relates to his work in Petrychor) as Carbonscape. In this conversation done over email, Piecka talks about the music in his head and explains his thoughts on punk, purity, and digital music.
Before we talk about Petrychor, let's talk about how you came into music. Were you always interested in metal, or what were some of your other formative influences? Was your training mostly classical in nature, given that you were self-taught?
I was into music from an early age, but it wasn't until I began playing jazz percussion at the age of eleven that my tastes started to branch out. Some people might be surprised to learn that I've been playing drums longer than anything else, given that the trap set percussion in Petrychor is largely sequenced. Originally this was a stylistic decision, but live drums are going to be a part of Petrychor from now on.
Other than my background in drumming, I wouldn't define my musical training in any particular way. It has always been informed by my ear, ability to suss out parts on my own, and love for percussion.
As for what I was listening to, it wasn't largely metal. I did listen to thrash and practiced my guitar to some of the prog virtuosos, but the improvisation in jazz and the D.I.Y. nature of punk informed my music at the time. The Residents, The Locust, Béla Fleck, Leo Kottke, and Jaco Pastorius are some touchstone artists that changed how I played and wrote.
In addition to your work with Petrychor, your tastes and music ranges from electronic ambient, to 'rock,' to folksy acoustic guitar pieces. Where do all of these pieces come from, and what's the overlap there?
There are so many exciting sounds out there, so many musics that I adore. I don't see any reason to separate them provided I find a continuity to latch onto, though admittedly it may seem oblique from the outside.
Similarly, do you try and express one thing with all of these projects, or are they all different parts of your musical personality?
I feel that the projects are appropriately nuanced, but there is a sense of sadness that ties all of them together. It's becoming quite difficult to write anything that isn't informed by an intense dissatisfaction with modern life and the mistreatment of humans by humans, from micro to macro levels.
Let's discuss "purity." In an interview with your label, you say: "I cannot imagine wanting to limit myself to only a few avenues of expression, despite the fact that some fanatics within each art form I work in would claim that my methods lessen the 'purity' of what I do." Why do you think artists have this conception that music can only be made in one way, and what do you tell people when they find out you dabble in multiple genres?
When an art movement begins, it is typically a diverse body of work unified by a common thread rather a common structure for realization. As time wears on, inevitably a few artists become more visible than the rest. Their process becomes identified with the movement in the minds of the general public; emulation begins. It's easier to sell a "sound" or a "look" than a set of ideas. It's simpler to think of punk as a bunch of bros with tall hair, tall socks, and Dickies shorts jumping up and down and singing sophomoric lyrics than to consider the metaphors and angular dissonance of Richard Hell. It's simpler to think of jazz as voice lead blues progressions accompanied by chord scales than to consider the political and social statements behind European free jazz. It's simpler to think of black metal as Satan worship and brutality than to consider the multitude of possibilities afforded musicians working in such dark realms.
Speaking of which, Effigies and Epitaphs has these incredible female vocals and almost flamenco(?) guitar parts that make up the album. How did you decide to combine these sounds with a more black metal setting?
It wasn't a conscious decision to go and do something different, just an expression of what I naturally hear in my head. I hear music constantly, almost to a detriment; it makes sleeping difficult sometimes.
When working on a piece, I allow my mind to wander and improvise, then I catch it when I think it's in the proper place and put the music down as quickly as possible. Sometimes everything flows out in a perfect stream of consciousness, other times I have to meditate on a particular phrase for an hour before the proper accompaniment manifests itself. In this way, my compositional process is somewhat improvisatory. Parts are often given a general direction and then finalized during performance and recording.
Like a lot of black metal, Petrychor sits in the indistinct margins between noise and beauty and chaos. Do you see yourself recording this way for future releases? Do you do all of the recording, mastering and production yourself?
I do everything myself and will continue to do everything myself as it is an integral component of the message of the project: take charge of your creativity, your humanity, your beauty, your depression, your anything, and channel it into something that has never existed before, something uniquely you, something that binds you to others, something that degrades you, something that damns an ideology, something that celebrates a greatness, whatever suits your needs so long as it allows your continued evolution. It is not the end result that is important, it is not success or commodification, it is the creative process that leads to self-discovery.
As for specific sounds, I think I've said what I had to say using the "tonal wind" I conjured on Effigies and Epitaphs. Petrychor's thickness will not be gone on this year's releases, but it will manifest itself in different ways.
You're on an inventive label but also have everything up for download with a name-your-price model at work. What's the reasoning behind doing both?
This is a difficult question to answer succinctly. From a business standpoint, a standpoint I only take when absolutely necessary, people are going to pirate the work if they want it for free. By offering the digital release for free, I get to keep tabs on a larger portion of that activity. It is a gesture of good faith. People do decide to pay for the album who might not if asked to shell out 10 dollars from the get go. I understand it may not always be possible to offer this depending on who I collaborate with, but for now it is how I want to work.
From an artistic standpoint, I find it difficult to charge money for a digital abstract. I don't want to pay for digital abstracts, I want to pay for an object that I can appreciate on many levels; the money that I've shelled out building up my Boredoms, Coil, Current 93, and Death in June collections can attest to this.
Given that you've spent a lot of time with Petrychor this year, what other projects are you most excited about for the immediate future? Do you plan on playing live?
I've been doing a lot of Carbonscape work lately, already releasing an EP and album in January. I have more material completed and I'm trying to find a label home for it; I think it's my strongest yet in the ambient realm.
Additionally, I'm writing a lot of purely acoustic music at the moment and will be playing that live later this year. It's time I got back into the habit of regular acoustic performance as my guitar style is what defined me musically for quite a while. The communication between one person, one instrument, and an audience is very important to me; it is perhaps the greatest form of rebellion in a supersaturated and processed art market.
I play live often with my band Beware of Safety. We'll be playing Dunk Festival in Belgium this April, then touring through Germany afterwards.