Here’s an interview with Steve from online magazine, A Dead Spot of Light, issue 18.
Why don’t you introduce yourself a bit. What role do you play in the band?
I’m Steve, and on record I’m the vocalist in Sabazius. Nev deals with all the other aspects of recording, such as programming, guitars, bass, mixing, mastering, etc. Nev’s the primary riff writer in the band, and I generally deal with the lyrics and themes.
Could you elaborate a bit on the background of the band Sabazius? Where did you take the name from and is there something you intended to express through it?
The band as it is now is kind of an incarnation of earlier ones Nev and I were involved in with our friend Pier Makanda, who incidentally is now doing our artwork. Pier moved back to South Africa, so Nev and I decided to start a new band together, which carried on some of the ideas we’d worked with in the past, but was also a fresh project.
The name Sabazius comes from an ancient Phrygian god that became incorporated into the mythology of Dionysus. The name, as far as I’m aware, literally means ‘torn apart’, referring to some of the myths about the two gods. Dionysus being the god of music, madness, performance, and ecstatic intoxication, amongst other things, meant he seemed a suitable theme for the band. There’s more to it than that, but that’s one of the reasons why we chose the name.
Why did you start the band anyway? Was there some kind of band you wanted to pay homage to? Looking back, then how do you see your origins from today’s perspective?
We started the band as we wanted to make music that we personally really like. It wasn’t so much of an homage to anyone else, more a case of carrying on what we’d been doing on and off for the previous few years. I’d wanted to be the vocalist in a band for years, and Nev wanted to go back to guitar, rather than being the drummer, so we started writing with that in mind.
We originally intended to be a live act, and once we’d written a few songs, get a drummer involved, but once we’d written Terror Is Thy Name we changed our minds. We basically decided there was little point playing a song like that to a half empty pub in Brighton, so we stayed as a two piece studio band.
Looking back, I’d say we’re both really proud of what we’ve done. People have heard of us via word of mouth, rather than from any publicity, and it’s great to get emails from people in various countries saying they like what we’re doing. We essentially write to please ourselves, and so it’s great that people are kind of coming along on this trip with us.
We never really looked ahead or had a plan of what we were going to do, and we certainly didn’t plan to do an album as ambitious as Devotional Songs. What we’ve done has just been a natural evolution from the early ideas to where we are now. I’m not sure either of us thought we’d be in our early 30s and still doing this. Bands generally last a few years, but Sabazius has been going for six years now.
As the band has been founded in 2006 (Source: Metal Archives) and had their first release spread in the same year, it seems that you must have had something definite at hand back then, or? How long did it take you to get your first output done?
The demo came together very quickly. I’m having to think about this, as it was quite a while ago! Pier moved away in June ’06, and I think we started writing as Sabazius in the July. We had loads of tapes of jams that we’d done as a three piece, and that’s where the long songs and riffs idea came from. We liked that hypnotic nature of a riff being relentless, plus we’d got used to listening to 30 minute stretches of music.
As I said, Terror Is Thy Name was the first song we wrote, so that’s why that one ended up as the demo. Nev had written the first half before we even met up, I already had the lyrics and the riff that went under them, so we had 20 odd minutes straight away. We wrote the last riff together, added the last of the words over that section, and Sabazius had begun! I think we wrote and recorded the demo in one, maybe two sessions. It was pretty quick.
Your debut album, released two years after the first output, has some interesting elements. Especially the opener with the various kind of samples is intriguing. Could you elaborate a bit on the topics that you have dealt with there and why you have picked them? Who is Swami Vivekananda and why did you pick the work ‘Kali the Mother’?
Glad you thought it was interesting! Looking back, it’s pretty raw sounding, especially the drums!
The topics we started with stem from the older incarnations of the band really. The lyrics for Terror Is Thy Name were going to be used on an old song Pier had written, but as that was never going to get finished, I thought it would be a suitable starting point for Sabazius. Specifically, Vivekananda was a disciple of a man named Sri Ramakrishna, who was a very famous Hindu mystic from the 19th Century. Kali is intrinsically linked with this band, so starting with a hymn to Her was why we did that song.
Lovecraft, and in particular the Cthulu mythos, had always featured in songs we’d played before, and once we’d started writing Death’s Eternal Sleep it just sounded like that kind of a vibe to me. It sounded like an invocation, with the quiet start, building up to the crescendo in the middle, then the weirder sounding riffs towards the end. Both that song and Terror are hymns essentially. Well, to me they are anyway!
Occult came from that sample you mention. I was training to be a Religious Studies teacher at the time, and I was working in a very Christian school when I found an old tape with that on in their office. It was too good to not use!
XXIII is a bit of a one off. We recorded that live, and neither of us could hear each other at all whilst we were playing it. One of our friends had died not too long before we played that, and he had a thing about the number 23, so we named it that after him. There’re lots of other ideas about the number 23, which it is also a reference to, but specifically that one’s a tribute to Joolz.
The version of ‘Terror Is Thy Name’, would it be the same version as on your first demo, or did you work on it for this new release?
No, they are different versions. The guitars for the demo were copy and pasted to the right length, whereas on all our other recordings Nev plays them as you hear them. Nev recorded the whole album in one go to get a consistent sound right the way through. Same with the bass, and I can’t remember if he redid the drums or not. The vocals are the same on both though.
2008 and 2009 had been rather active years for you, because in each you were able to spread four releases. Are you still satisfied with the outcome of each of them, or do you feel you rushed it a bit? Considering 2010 only saw one and 2011 none.
Thing is, the rate at which we release things doesn’t reflect the rate that we write them. We finished the first album in early 2007, but then waited a year before releasing it as we were wondering about putting it out on a label. By that time we’d also written DCLXVI, Torah and The Goat.
We ended up deciding just to give the album away as a download, which then led to a few small labels saying they wanted to release EPs on CD. Unfortunately, the labels we were going to work with had various problems, and we waited over a year for some of them too. Dead Pilot put out Goat while we waited for people to sort out DCLXVI and Torah. By then we’d also written Song of Los and covered Sympathy for the Devil, so we just put them out for free too. We eventually just gave up on labels and put the other two out as downloads as well.
We certainly don’t rush things. It was more a case of having a backlog of material to get out! We also took a two year break between early 2009 and 2011 as we were both distracted by doing Funeral Hag, and Nev was also finishing his degree, so that’s why there hasn’t been anything new in a while. We started writing again early last year, and those songs will be coming out this year.
Not many doom bands stretch their music to such lengths as you do. What is the reason for this rather extreme approach? How do you keep the tension up and when it comes to the song-writing, what is the starting point for everything …and what are the next steps?
The long songs were kind of natural for us. As I said, we’d been playing and recording long hypnotic jam sessions in our previous band, so Sabazius starting with a 30 minute song was just what we did by that point. Death’s Eternal Sleep allowed us to work on that slow build up over 20 minutes, and we just took things from there really.
The hour long tracks on Devotional may seem long, but when we’d already written Death’s and XXIII, which are both about 45 mins long, that extra 15 minutes isn’t that much! Writing songs of that length gives us complete freedom with the dynamics and matches the themes of what we are doing. For example, the outro to Her Crimson Lotus Feet is about twenty minutes of one riff that builds, with a mantra recited over the top, and that’s only effective if done properly. If it were only a minute long then it wouldn’t have the same impact. I did the mantra in one take too, rather than stopping and dropping back in when I made mistakes.
When we write we just go by the feel of the song or a particular riff. If we think a section needs to be quite repetitive or relentless, we’ll have a guess at how many times it should be played, and then listen back to it to see if it’s too long or short. Quite often we’ll end up lengthening sections, but we have been known to realise when something’s just too long!
Song writing usually comes from Nev having a few riffs, and we’ll pick one to start with, or Nev will have put a rough structure of a few ideas together already. We work on structures together from that initial point, and often work out chunks of songs as we go, either something there and then, or maybe adapting an idea I may have or one Nev has saved away somewhere. It entirely depends on the song. Some are completely Nev’s composition, most are both of us, and a couple are mostly my ideas. The majority though stem from an opening riff or two that Nev has written, and we go from there.
Are you very critical in terms of these approaches and do you move away from ideas at times? Do you need a special atmosphere or mood to compose such music?
I’m not sure critical is quite the term I’d use, as Nev and I just simply seem to agree on what we’re doing. We generally work with the idea that if either of us don’t like an idea, it just gets changed or scrapped, but on the whole we both work along the same lines. It’s more when we go away and listen to the songs in our own time that the ideas get set in stone, as we can then objectively listen to what the sounds are doing, rather than concentrating on individual parts; we can take the whole song in, rather than just the last five minutes. There’s no specific mood when we write, but we do check we’re achieving what we want to when we finalise and mix the tracks.
Do you plan the use of samples or can these be a starting point as well? Can the same be said about poetry?
We always start with the music when we’re writing a new song, but in addition I always have ideas of lyrics, whether they be text or poetry, that I am thinking of using at some point, so the two aspects tend to coincide immediately.
The thing is, thematically, Sabazius works on a few levels, which people can take from however they want. It wouldn’t take much research to find the origin of the lyrics which I haven’t myself written, and so people can make their own minds up as to why they were chosen, or what it means to them.
Sabazius for me is both autobiographical as well as my conveying ideas which I wish to express. The whole band is conceptual, and there is a chronology of things being said, but at the same time each song is a piece in itself. From this perspective, the name and lyrics are the driving force of the band, and are the starting point and end product of what we do. From Nev’s perspective, I guess, it’s his desire to compose expressing itself, and the whole recording and production is his art in its own way.
We quite often are referred to as being religious themed, but whilst that is an aspect, it’s not the be all and end all of what we are doing. There are kind of layers, which all come together. The idea for the name of the new album was around before we’d even finished Devotional Songs, and that was in my mind when we started writing the songs for it last year. However, we still started principally with the music, as the tracks need to work instrumentally as well as with vocals over the top.
Sabazius’ music tends to have some kind of gentle flow in it. Could noise and sharper contrast play a role on future releases?
Possibly. We shall have to see. Nev has a keen ear for sections of songs going from one to the other in a way that sounds good to him, possibly because he has more of an idea on composition that I do. His degree is in Music Composition, and he’s studied music a lot more than I have; I’d happily jump from one key to the other between riffs, whereas he tends to keep things more in line than that. It depends entirely on the song, and whether we feel it would need such a sharp contrast to achieve what we are trying for.
‘Sympathy for the Devil’ has been your one and only cover version so far. What had been the reasons for picking it? Did you have had a definite idea of how you wanted to interpret it or came this through some kind of process – after several attempts for instance? Do you have plans on some additional ones?
At the time, in late 2008, we had quite a few of our own songs that we were waiting to release, so we thought we’d cover a song for our own entertainment, and if it was any good, we would release it. We decided against a metal or doom song, and wanted to do something a bit more interesting that would be in keeping with what we were doing, but also not exactly like the original.
One of the contributing factors at the time was that I had just got into Kenneth Anger’s films, and felt something with that vibe would be good. Nev and I both like 60s and 70s music, but Sabbath would have been too obvious, so we had a think about Led Zeppelin due to the Page / Anger link. We tried Stairway to Heaven, but it just wasn’t flowing at all, so I suggested Sympathy, as it’s always been my favourite Stones song, plus it ties in with the whole end of the 60s thing.
It came out in the way that it did in the same way that all our songs do really, apart from we already had a chord sequence and song structure to follow. It’s just very slow, and if you sped it up and removed the distortion it’d sound a lot more like the original than you might realise.
We did start another cover few years ago, but didn’t get around to finishing the draft. I’m sure we’ll finish that at some point, and we have been toying with the idea of doing some metal songs that we liked when we were younger – Slayer or something. We’re working on lots of new ideas at the moment, so we’ll do a cover if we have a lull again this year. Maybe at the end of the year.
How do you see the tension between an interpretation and a ‘close to the original’ cover version? Is there one approach that you prefer? Is the former more interesting, because the band is actually able to add a different kind of atmosphere and identity to a composition?
It depends really on the band in question, and what song they are covering. Some songs need to be done as they were originally recorded, note for note. For example, the Sabbath Tribute albums have some interesting versions on them. The version of Wizard on the first one sounds fantastic as a straight ahead cover, whereas the 1,000 Homo DJs version of Supernaut works brilliantly as an interpretation. Monster Magnet’s Into the Void is great too, and they really take ownership of the song.
I do think a band should put their mark on a cover, otherwise you might as well listen to the original, but whether you restructure it, etc, is subjective.
What is ‘Devotional Songs’ all about? Two extremely long compositions, ‘wrapped’ by two shorter ones. This contrast is something you have hardly dealt with. Can you elaborate therefore the concept a bit?
I’d rather leave what songs and albums are about to people’s imagination and own interpretation, but there are a few obvious layers to Devotional. It’s partly two devotional songs to Kali, but it’s also an album about Sri Ramakrishna. For me, it’s also an album about my beliefs and my experiences at that time. You can also treat it as one ritual, which is why Asana begins and finishes the album.
The lengths of the track might give the impression of some kind of ritualistic inspired music, which through the distinct monotony in the arrangements creates in the mind of the listener some kind of trance. Yet, your music never heads for this direction, due to the amount of variation in the arrangements. Did you ever plan to venture into this direction? How would you respond to this aspect generally?
The music is definitely ritualistically inspired, both from our interests in religious music, to our usage of repetition to make certain sections of songs relentless and hypnotic. Whether you believe in religious practices or magick, or whatever, meditation and mantras have a physiological and psychological effect, which is one of the areas we’re interested in.
However, we do also want to keep things interesting to listen to, so we do vary our arrangements and try to keep things varied to hold attention. As much as we are labelled it, we aren’t a drone band, we’re a slow doom band. There are ritual elements, and that may be something we explore further in the future, but all our songs develop from one to the other, so we’ll just see where we end up in a couple of years’ time.
Today the life is rather hectic and people do not have much time they can spend on music, so how would you ‘sell’ your music? Why should someone give Sabazius a try?
I’d argue that they should make time for music. Why not? Take a day off from your job, do something you enjoy, and stick Devotional Songs on in the background.
It’s very easy to fall into the trap that very unimportant things are important. You can leave any job at any time if you hate it. You are only going to live for so long, so why have regrets? Take the day off from your busy schedule, paint a picture or read a book with some doom in the background, or sit in a darkened room with headphones on and listen intently to where the music takes you.
People won’t have much choice if they want to listen to the new album all the way though as it’s four and a half hours long. Imagine how much of a more productive day you’d have if you sat and listened to it and learnt something, or produced something that will outlive you, rather than making money for someone else. Walk around a museum or art gallery for half a day with us on your mp3 player, let Sabazius accompany you, rather than sitting in your office bored, daydreaming about being on holiday somewhere nice. Haha
Why have most of your release been made available for download? You do not have many physical outputs, so to speak. Is this a way to reach out to the audience?
It’s not most, it’s all of our releases are free downloads. Why? There are a few reasons. The physical records are nice collectors’ pieces for people who want them, so we keep them limited so they are special objects for people to own. However, we’d rather that everyone can have access to what we’re doing, so we keep it all free. The songs and albums will fit on cds if people want to make them themselves, but as we don’t really use record labels, free downloads and word of mouth allows us to have total control over what we do, and we avoid all the commercial aspects of being in a band.
This way, we aren’t bothered about the issues related to sales and advertising. We make the music as we love it, and people can join us too if they want. It goes both ways – people work for us for free, we have people reviewing us for free, interviewing us and advertising us, spreading what we do as they like it too. There are various clips people have made on Youtube, and we really appreciate that. Not everything should come down to money.
Do you think of Sabazius as a band that could hit the stage at some point? Or does the general concept prevent such a thing from happening?
It’s not a definitely impossible idea, but it’s not something we’re thinking about right now. If we did it live, it would have to be a special event or something a little different than the usual gig. There are also practical considerations, such as finding a drummer, whether we’d have to restructure songs to do them, and whether I can actually play the bass and do the vocals at the same time, or just do the vocals. It’d be something we’d want to get just right and make it memorable for the people there.
Could you write a bit about the other projects you are/were involved in? Funeral Hag, Sea Bastard, Killing Mode. What is their status and will they release some new music soon?
Killing Mode was the first band Nev was in, and they went for quite a long time, even after Nev left. His main band was Landmine Spring, who were on Loudspeaker Records. They did a couple of albums, but were fucked over by the label and so called it a day. Nev filled in on bass for a while with Killing Mode after that.
Funeral Hag was a band that both of us were involved in. It started as Nev’s mate Jon’s project, and when he decided to make it a live band, he got me and Nev involved. Our friends George and Monty joined too, as drummer and vocalist, and we were gigging for a couple of years. Nev left after a year to concentrate on other things, but he played on and produced the Funeral Hag demo. We continued as a four piece for another year, but Jon decided to move on then, so we called it a day. I doubt anything more will come of that band. We did record most of an album, which Jon wanted to produce, but he lost interest so it remains unfinished.
Sea Bastard is me, George and Monty from FH with the guitarist, Oli, from Jovian, who had also recently split up. We intended just to jam and see how things went, but Oli fitted perfectly. We recorded a demo, Great Barrier Riff, pretty quickly, and we’re now gigging and writing material for an album which we’ll record at some point. I imagine the album will have a tongue in cheek pun for a title too…
Are new releases in sight? Your band has not been particularly active lately.
There should be lots of new releases soon. We were writing for most of last year, and have a few things out very soon. After we released Devotional we wrote a couple of ‘mini’ albums, which we have only just completed three years later. They should be out this Easter as free downloads. They aren’t really where we’re at now, but they were too good to just drop. One is called The Watchers, and has three songs on, the other is Parousia, and that has two tracks. Song-wise, they’re a bit more like the early EPs than the later stuff we’ve done; kind of the bridge between Song of Los and Eighty Days and Four.
We also have a split EP coming out with Hesper Payne, via Loathsome Recordings, which will be a limited edition cd as well as a free download. That should be out May 1st, and is a pretty cool release. It’s almost the two bands working together to do one song in three parts, and is pretty massive. We’re really pleased with how it sounds, and are looking forward to that coming out.
We’ve also written the music for the third album, and are currently working on the lyrics and vocals. Hopefully we’ll get that out this summer, providing we can finish and record it soon. You can have the exclusive on that one; it’s going to be called The Origin Of Species, and as I said, is four and a half hours long. It’s got three songs on it, provisionally called Ex Nihilo, Sol Invictus, and Finis Temparis. It also has four interludes, so as to break up the onslaught!
We weren’t quite sure we’d manage to follow Devotional Songs, but Origin is a pretty big piece of music. We’re really happy with it so far, and we hope people will like it.
On top of that we have two new songs for an EP half written, plus a load of ideas in the waiting, so I imagine we shall have a few more things out by the end of the year.
In case someone is interested in your music, how and where can this person buy your stuff?
If you’re quick you can get a copy of the Hesper/Sabazius split, or we might have another physical collector piece out later in the year, but other than that you’d have to see if someone is selling one of the ones we’ve already done. We might put out something else later in the year too, something unusual, but not sure yet. I have a Sabazius painting which is nearly finished, and which I’m going to give away, probably in a competition, so if people dig that, we might do some packages or something. Loathsome is thinking about doing artwork prints from the split too, which has the cover by Brooke from Hesper, but I did the paintings on the inner sleeve, so who knows what we’ll do with all that.
We’d rather keep things special if people are actually going to pay their money for them.
How can people get in touch with you?
Now that we’re active again, we’re trying to be more online. We have a blog/website which has all the info on us that you could possibly want, including contact routes for our other projects and endeavours. The easiest way, that I check the most, is the Facebook page, as that’s linked to my personal one, and we also have an email. The links are:
We’ll get around to a bandcamp and all that other stuff soon too.
Some closing comments if you like
Just a thanks really to everyone who listens to us. We really appreciate the feedback from people, so please drop us emails or talk to us on Facebook, and we’re glad people enjoy what we do, as we certainly enjoy making the music.
Some people get what we do, some people just like the music, and either is cool with us, so thank you for the support, and we hope to become quite prolific again for a time and see where we end up next year, providing the world doesn’t end!