Interview with Tim Pope of The Amenta

by Anna Denejkina

In-Depth Interview with TIMOTHY POPE of THE AMENTA

Written for Voltage Media

Originally published on March 15, 2011

Arguably one of Australia’s leading metal bands, The Amenta is on a current whirlwind – releasing their latest offering – the massive, multimedia gathering that is ‘VO1D’ – earlier this month, before starting their national tour in support of the immense EP in less than two weeks.

Voltage Media caught up with song writer Timothy Pope for an in-depth interview to discuss the aforementioned release; the follow-up to their second, full length album, n0n, as well as a conversation to find out what The Amenta is, and what drives this manic collective in its creation.

The result of this one-on-one evidently digs deeper into the core of The Amenta; highlighting the musicianship and vast intellect of this unit, as explained by Timothy Pope.

Did you expect to receive such an immense reaction to your latest release ‘VO1D’?

Timothy Pope: It’s been a pretty amazing reaction so far, obviously the release hasn’t been out for too long so it’s hard to gauge its appeal accurately in the long term, but I think the fact that the server crashed on the first day we offered it for free download due to the huge amount of traffic is a damn good sign. Feedback has been really positive which has been great. There haven’t been too many reviews as such (thoughVoltage Media can take the honour of being the first reviewer to post) but what there has been has been very positive.

I think people are pretty amazed that we would offer such a huge release for free and I hope that it will get people thinking about copyright, marketing and the music industry in general.

Why an EP and not a new album?

Timothy Pope: There will be a new album definitely, hopefully by the end of the year but the aim of V01D was to experiment with different methods. We knew that writing and recording a new album could take some time and every time we go into hibernation to write or record people think we’ve disappeared. When we write we don’t really play live. So our aim was to give people a little something in the meantime to show everyone that we were still functioning.

It originally started life as an idea to release a single for the song “V01D”. We’d had that track for many years, having been written for the first album “Occasus” but never been used. We imagined it being V01D, a live recording and maybe an instrumental. As we thought about it we started adding things to it until it became the huge release it is now.

We don’t think of it as an E.P. It’s too huge and amorphous. It’s a multimedia release and the fact that it is a free download based on a login process means we can add new items to the download so people can keep adding to what V01D is.

Your lyrics are seemingly very politically charged, what overall message[s] are you trying to render?

Timothy Pope: Rather than being fundamentally political I think my lyrics are social. The lyrics on n0n took on a political bent because of the times in which they were written. At the time of writing those lyrics we had committed to a way in the Middle East, there had been terrorist attacks from both sides, there were huge elections both here and overseas and through out all of this I was watching the way people reacted and behaved and it was terrifying.

For an extreme metal band to say that people are sheep is an enormous cliché but when you see the tears and jingoism on televised political rallies you begin to realise just how much people desire to be blasted free of “self”. Many of these people had latched on to one aspect of their chosen leader (most obviously: race in the US) without any understanding of the political agenda of the party which they were waving their flag for. Considering the impact of these issues on media and mind it was impossible to ignore lyrically.

The message that I would like to get across is that allowing yourselves to be swept up in other people’s propaganda (political or social) without first evaluating it for truth and relevance is just fucking lazy. It has always been the focus of religion to pass the psychic buck and now politics is taking that model and injecting it full of money. This is how autocracies start.

During ‘Spine’, you appear to take a stab at Democracy, what is your political leaning and what is your case behind it?

Timothy Pope: I want to start this rant with two caveats: The first is that I do not want to run the country, I couldn’t think of anything worse, I understand that politics is a series of compromises and I don’t necessarily think I could do a better job balancing the interests of business and the populace. The second is that the stab was against “Democracy” as it stands in Australia and other “democratic” countries, not democracy as an idea which I believe is a noble way of running a country.

My problem with “Democracy” as it operates in this country is that it is so perverted. How the fuck did we end up with a two party system? There is nothing in the constitution that stipulates a two part system. Answer: money. Why is it unusual for politicians to “cross the floor” and vote against party lines? How can there be a party voting plan?

The way democracy is supposed to work is that a constituency votes in a representative who will take up the voice of that constituency in parliament. The way it works is that a constituency votes in a party representative based on electoral promises, propaganda and subterfuge and then that representative represents a POLITICAL PARTY in parliament. How the fuck does that make sense? Every vote should be based on what would best serve their constituency, not one that best serves the party interests.

From this stems all the other issues with our political system. We have career politicians who will do anything to stay in parliament because that is their job. Would you lie to your boss to keep your job and feed you family? Of course you would and that’s what happens in Australian politics.

So as for my political leaning I am viciously apolitical. I believe they are all the same and all as bad as each other. I do not vote because I don’t see any difference between Labour or Liberal in power. Any differences are cosmetic. I truly believe that, unless you have all the facts, you shouldn’t vote. I do not have any interest in politics as it runs in this country so I don’t know all the facts. I then should not cast my vote because it is completely uninformed.

You have quoted Marx in the track ‘Nihil’ – “The opiate of the masses”. Is this to show your disagreement with dogma and religious structure? What are you personal; may they be even spiritual, beliefs?

Timothy Pope: I am not a spiritual person in any way. I don’t feel any need for spirituality. I am a complete person with or without a god or belief system. My problem with a lot of religion, particularly Western religion is it is based around the Master/Slave relationship. Even if there was a god, why should I worship? Should a slave kowtow to the slave owner?

In “Nihil” I referenced Marx to illustrate not only Marx’s point that religion exists to keep the proletariat heavy lidded and malleable, but also to show how it becomes corrupted over time until it barely resembles its origins.

The full line from “Nihil” is “The opiate of the masses/Diluted and polluted.” I’ve never really understood how people can accept the constant revisionism of religion. Take the Christian bible: assembled in Rome from disparate writings some hundreds of years after the death of Christ. Writings were dismissed if they conflicted with Roman politics at the time. Yet this is the Christian “word of god!”

An amusing side note: I have a copy of the bible as an iphone application. Of all the applications on my phone it is by far the most commonly updated. What are they updating?

Have you had personal experiences with the duplicity of organised religion that you’ve witnessed first hand?

Timothy Pope: Only as an observer. I don’t come from a religious background, despite the name. My father was a history teacher who fostered in me a love of exploration of ideas. I recall him once saying to me (possibly quoting someone else): “If you don’t consider yourself a communist in your twenties then you don’t have a soul. If you consider yourself a communist after this, then you don’t have a brain”. He had a lot of books about ideas when I was growing up and I took a lot of my current world view from my research at the time.

Looking back over histories you can trace the paths of organized religions and clearly see that they are a political, rather than spiritual, force. The papacy, for one, has been overrun by self serving, political manipulators making the Catholic Church the rich, land owning oppressor it currently is world wide.

Here is something I don’t understand: Christianity comes from Judaism. I understand that after the Christians accepted Jesus as the son of god there was a schism. That’s fine and makes perfect sense, but ask your self why their rituals diverged so suddenly. If Christians were Jews who believed in Jesus as the son of god why would they worship god any differently unless explicitly told to by Jesus? No good reason other than that religion, in order to spread virally over the world, had to change and mutate to be locally acceptable.

An obvious example of this is the Christmas celebrations taking place during the festival of Saturnalia so that Romans would adopt Christianity. Christians at the time knew that Romans would never take up a new religion if they had to give up a party. Simple solution: re-badge the fucker. And from these changes and compromises the “word of god” becomes perverted until it merely becomes a cloak you put over the bony limbs of business.

There have been bands who want their fans not only to come to their shows for the music, but also for the “message” that stands behind the band. Is this an opinion that you hold personally with The Amenta?

Timothy Pope: I would love people to appreciate the message of The Amenta but I am also aware that this very, very rarely happens. I long ago came to terms with the fact that most people who consider themselves fans don’t even know what the lyrics are, let alone understand them. But that’s fine. This is art and it is not the artist’s role to tell the public how to appreciate and interpret the art. If people love my band because the drummer [Robin Stone] is fast, then that’s great. If they love the band because we wear make up, that’s weird, but fine. Obviously I would prefer that everyone understood every aspect of The Amenta, but I am happy that people get some form of enjoyment from my artwork.

It’s important to realize that, though people may not understand 100% of what we do, that is no excuse for a compromise. We have to continue making the music we believe in whether people like it for simple reasons or complex reasons.

The only reason for someone liking my band that would piss me off is irony. I fucking hate how Black Metal has become embraced by ironic fans. Irony is for terrified people who are too scared to stand up for what they believe in. Anything else is fine by me.

Your live shows are stimulated with anger; do you find that performing live is your release, a chance to push out what you hold in during your day-to-day life?

Timothy Pope: I tend to think of our live show is a crystallization of my anger. Generally, in day to day life, I would consider myself reasonably laid back and even quiet. I wouldn’t say I hold anything in but I express my anger and frustration verbally rather than physically.

When we play live I can express it physically without being arrested. I can also say what ever the hell I want as it’s too damn loud to hear. I do definitely feel drained after a live show, so maybe it is even more of a release than I realise.

The other side of it is that it is a performance and, as a punter, if I saw a band, whose lyrics were about frustration and anger, disengaged on stage I would discount their lyrical content, assuming them to be posturing verbally. I want people to know that when they see us that I mean every fucking word I write.

That said it is not a premeditated approach. I don’t go into a gig thinking I will jump into the crowd at this point in that song and scream at everyone here. It’s something that feels natural at the time. It is an expression in the same way that a vocalist may use a vocal nuance to express feeling.

You are soon to leave on a national tour, before hitting Europe; will you be taking your live show to “the next level”?

Timothy Pope: We’ll definitely be adding some exciting things to the live performance.Shane “Swanee” Thomson, who has been doing our light show for years (and was also responsible for directing, filming and editing the live videos available as part of V01D) came down for a first production rehearsal the other day and there is a lot of exciting things happening.

I think V01D gave people a good indication of our new line-up and, for those who have yet to see Cain [Cressal, vocals] live it will be an experience. He is a creepy guy and the best front man I have ever seen, let alone had in the band, so it will definitely be a night to remember.

Have you ever been threatened after a live show?

Timothy Pope: This is the best question I have ever had! Am I that confronting on stage? No one has ever threatened me after a show, yet. Who knows what will happen this time around. I did think I was going to get threatened once in the US. We played a gig in a place called Virginia Beach and it was amazing. The venue had been changed last minute and the new venue was in the middle of a shopping complex. It was like walking into Blockbuster to play a gig. We go through this door into a pub full of “the regulars”, old guys who came with the furniture. The PA was blowing up all over the place. We got on stage and played an amazing set. We couldn’t hear anything except blown speaker distortion but we had a crazy crowd crammed into this place going nuts.

At some point I must have knocked a microphone stand into the crowd because after the show a guys came up to me with blood streaming down his face and told me I had hit him in the face with the stand. I was just in the middle of apologizing to the guy when he stopped me and told me it was the best thing he has ever seen and he wanted to by an album.

I have been told that you have a myriad of interesting stories behind the lyrical content of your music, can you share any?

Timothy Pope: The lyrics aren’t so much based on stories as taking elements from my interaction with the world as lyrical detail. For example you mentioned the song “Spine” whose recurring metaphor for democracy is a car crash. That came from a car crash I had after we shot the “Erebus” film clip.

We had been up all day shooting and it was a very exhausting performance as we were in full PVC regalia so we were sweating like crazy. I was driving home from the shoot at about 11am the next morning after having no sleep at all and being physically and mentally exhausted when I fell asleep at the wheel. I smashed into another car but thankfully no-one was hurt.

But it was such a strange experience. I remember being about 50 metres down the road, changing a CD at some traffic lights and then the next thing I know I hear a smash and open my eyes. That loss of control and terrifying blindness became a recurring image in my writing for a time, and references to it are strewn through out n0n, but when it came to describing how people will blindly allow politicians to control their actions and thoughts I saw this as the perfect metaphor. “Asleep at the wheel/coasting in neutral/Psyche mirrored in a crash victim’s fender”.

The track “Skin“, also from n0n was the first narrative driven piece of writing I had used for The Amenta. It was based around a prostitute I saw in King’s Cross as I was drinking in a pub. I watched her react as a drunk guy walked passed and spat at her feet. From there I imagined a back story to a similar encounter.

There are others, some of which are private, some are boring and some I can’t remember but I would hope that the lyrics are intricate enough that they would allow others to project their experience onto them.

Your forthcoming full-length has been said to hold “some of the organic grandeur of Occasus”, how is the process going so far and are you able to reveal any details of what we can expect from the release both musically and lyrically?

Timothy Pope: It’s really too early to say how it will turn out both musically and lyrically at the moment. We’ve written some stuff but they are just skeletons of songs at the moment. Once thing that is a return, is a stronger focus on guitar riffs instead of using the guitar to generate rhythmic noise.

We fell out of love with the guitar after Occasus and had no interest in using it as a primary writing tool. Having played live over 100 times in the last year, we began to get re-inspired by the guitar. So there are some very hooky riffs in the skeletons. I also want to explore more natural sounds in terms of electronics and effects. A lot of the electronic tracks on V01D show my explorations in this approach. I wanted to bash bits of metal rather than program a drum beat. I played a whole bunch of stuff for V01D on the violin, which is an instrument I can not, technically play. That’s the kind of thing I am interested in. Finding new ways of expressing our frustration and anger.

Lyrically I am not sure. It will depend on where my head is at when I start to write. If I were to write lyrics now I think they would be more about a personal struggle with the world. And I guess in some ways that would fit the trajectory. Occasus dealt with spiritual matters, n0n with political and this new one with personal matters. But anything can happen in the meantime. Wars could erupt and I would get into Reuters-mode.

Erik Miehs [guitar] and yourself write the totality of the material for The Amenta, will the new album feature more input from other members of the band?

Timothy Pope: Maybe. It’s not something we would ever chase down. The reason Erikand I write everything is that we are The AmentaThe Amenta’s aesthetic is due to our decisions and what we believe is the definitive definition of extreme metal. This is also our only band.

Every good idea we have is for The Amenta, we don’t share our creativity with any other project. Every time we have tried to write with other parties it is a frustration affair for both sides. We have our own musical language and way of working and having to spend half an hour trying to explain to someone why we are not going to put a traditional guitar solo EVER in one of our songs is time consuming and unnecessary.

Of course, we are definitely open to the idea of people writing and adding but only if they come to us. If a member brought in an idea that was excellent then we would definitely use it. If Cain wrote a set of lyrics that I believe fit my concept of The Amentathen I would happily use it. It would save me having to do it!

I don’t want people to think that we are complete dictators however. We show ideas to the guys and get feedback and they can suggest changes and often they are great ideas and there is often a process of reevaluation based on other members’ feedback. It’s just that initial process which is the problem. I hope, for the next release, that I will look back on this answer and shake my head at how wrong I was. I hope the other guys force their way into our writing sessions brandishing fists full of ideas. But generally I have found that true democracy in a band is a sure fire path to true mediocrity. When people’s egos and feelings come into play then you start compromising which hurts the finished product.

When composing a new song, what have you found to be the most challenging of the process?

Timothy Pope: I think the biggest challenge is structuring a song. Song structure is one of the unacknowledged pillars of song writing and the piece of music creation that separates true musicians from hacks who can just string riffs together and play them fast.

Songs need to have an ebb and flow. There must be hooks at the right moment and you can’t over play them. We spend a long time ripping our songs apart and putting them back together to find the best way of structuring them. And sometimes you have to “murder your darlings”, a term I stole from Stephen King, which means you have to sometimes get rid of your favourite part because it just doesn’t work within the song. The song is better without it.

Extreme Music is strange when it comes to structure. In pop music there is a quite rigid pop structure which makes the “perfect pop song”. Extreme Music, possible because of the generally unmelodic vocals, has a different “perfect structure”. We have no idea what it is. We spend a lot of time trying to find it. One thing we have found is that, where pop music will make a song from verse, chorus and middle 8, extreme music seems to need a second middle 8. It’s like it needs to breathe before repeating a verse or chorus.

We find writing exciting parts relatively easy. It’s putting them together in a way that makes the most exciting whole that is the struggle.

Apart from the aforementioned, what are your influences in creating music [authors, literature, film, history etc]?

Timothy Pope: I don’t really think in terms of influence but rather inspiration. I would like to say we are influenced by no one but inspired by many. My inspirations change all the time depending on what I am reading, listening to or researching.

When it came to make the electronic music for V01D I had a complete writers block. I knew I didn’t want to repeat the electronic ideas from n0n, which tended towards a more “industrial” vein, or the ideas from Occasus, which were more modern composition/avant. I couldn’t get anything happening.

The inspiration to try other things this time was Jim Thirlwell, who records music under a variety of names, the most popular being Foetus. He claims not to be able to play an instrument but makes these amazingly detailed pieces of all sorts of different music. That was the inspiration for me to pick up the violin, which I can’t play, to try and just get some sound out of it that I could structure into music. And that’s where the track “Nil” from V01D began.

Other inspirations lately have been Thomas PynchonVladimir Nabokov and Salman Rushdie. Their approach to the English language is amazing. Nabokov, as a Russian who’s English is probably his 400th language, knows more words than most suburbs of Australia put together. All three fill pages with so many layers of humour that you can read and re-read many times and still find things you’ve missed the first time.

Musicwise, I’ve been listening to a lot of the Australian Metal that I grew up with:Abramelin, Armoured AngelCruciformLord Kaos. That was the stuff that got me into playing extreme music in the first place and it’s inspiring to go back and listen to how well they stand up.

Thank you for the interview, and please feel free to add anything.

Timothy Pope: Thank you very much for the interview! Everyone is encouraged to go to download our huge, FREE new release V01D. We are attempting new models getting our music out. If it’s a success you can expect more free content so get it out to everyone you know.