Though Sumac could easily be one of those supergroups that brings great minds together for the sheer fun of having a new outlet to burn inspiration, the metal trio generally treats each of their records with the same care and thought that would go into any of their other projects. What Aaron Turner (Isis, Old Man Gloom, Mamiffer), Nick Yacyshyn (Baptists), and Brian Cook (Russian Circles, These Arms Are Snakes) bring to the table as Sumac not only adds a serious contribution to the world of sludge metal and atmospheric explorations, but it also gives the three space to explore deeper and darker corners of their subconscious.
Just look at Love In Shadow, the band’s newest album. Recorded by Kurt Ballou of Converge, the live energy buzzing through their instrumental parts merges with otherwise tough lyrical themes, like the types of perversion and jealousy that brew in corrupted love. And just think, this year has seen a double dose of Sumac flexing their musical muscles in an extreme way. In a few weeks, they will drop Love In Shadow, yes, but earlier this year came their collaborative album with Keiji Haino, American Dollar Bill – Keep Facing Sideways, You’re Too Hideous To Look At Face On, which taught the band the importance of freeform alterations, especially given each member lives in a different state, if not country.
“Our locations only adds a level of urgency to our progress. We have to do things in very limited amounts of time. In some way, though that’s an obstacle, I think it lends something interesting to the music and the process,” says Turner. “This record in a lot of ways, regarding the subject matter tackled in the lyrics and the structures and compositions of songs, was often anxiety-inducing for me. Those required a lot of faith on my part and on the parts of my band members in their willingness to embrace what is a lot of difficult material. If anything, I feel proud of us in our willingness to approach something and get deeply immersed in something which, from the outside and even now inherently, there was a lot of uncertainty in it. Basically, the fact that we actually made it is satisfying for us collectively because we were all fearful of doing this.”
To look beyond Sumac’s shadowy image, we interviewed Aaron Turner for a round of Wheel of Tunes, a series where we ask musicians questions inspired by their song titles. With both 2018 records as the prompt, his answers are surprisingly reflective—something you will probably find yourself doing when the metal trio headlines Great Scott this Thursday.
1) “The Task”
DIGBOSTON: Can you name two tasks on your mental to-do list, ideally one that’s of high importance and one that’s trivial but you need to be reminded to do?
TURNER: Okay, so I’ll start with the trivial. The trivial one for today is that I have a lot of anxiety when it comes to getting to a show and getting everything done. My task before me most immediately is getting all of our merch set up, changing my strings, and getting through soundcheck in a reasonable amount of time.
On a more involved level, I would say staying present in my circumstances. When I become emotionally overwhelmed, I have a tendency to shut down and detach from what’s going on around me, which makes it hard to stay present. When I get disconnect, I find it harder to enjoy what I’m doing, harder to stay connected to people, and to feel connected to our music. The circumstances of going on tour presents a couple different challenges. One is just leaving my house. I’m an introvert, so going out and being around a lot of people is… [laughs] well, I won’t say difficult, but it’s challenging and draining. There’s an impulse to shut down because of that. Our music is emotionally very vulnerable for me, too. To expose myself in that way and then immediately get thrust into another social circumstance is where I could easily want to close up. Instead, I want to stay connected to people after that. I want to be able to talk to my bandmates or talk to people who come to the shows. I want to feel like I’m actually there instead of giving automatic responses.
The last thing I want to add to this is that I leave my partner and child when I go on tour, which is very difficult for me because I’m obviously very emotionally tied to them. Another defacto way of dealing with that is shutting down. It prevents me from being connected to my experience of being on tour. We live a little over an hour outside of Seattle, so we’re far away right now. I’m on the other side of the continent currently. Those are all important reasons for me to try to do the difficult work of not letting my defense mechanisms take over.
2) “Attis’ Blade”
DIGBOSTON: If you got to choose how people would be punished for infidelity, what would that punishment look like?
TURNER: [Laughs] Wow, what a good question. I would say they would have to live with the consequences of what that means, but in a very real and present way. I think a lot of people when they make mistakes in life, myself included, they tend to divert their attention away from what they’ve done and the people they’ve hurt. They find ways to shut that out, whether that’s through drinking, through being involved in whatever their affair is, or through TV — whatever allows people to shut down and check out. I think if people could really and truly empathize with the people they hurt, that’s probably not the best punishment, but it’s the best possible way to correct the harm that they’ve done. If you hurt other people and you’re aware of their feelings, then you have to feel that pain as well. If they’re willing to do that, then they’re less likely to repeat those mistakes.
3) “Arcing Silver”
DIGBOSTON: Apart from the US dollar, what’s your favorite currency?
TURNER: I’m going to answer this in a different way. I typically have avoiding thinking about money in my life. In some way it’s been a good thing, and in some ways it’s been a bad thing. It’s benefitted me because I’ve relieved myself of the stress of what it means to focus on money. In another way, I’ve made a lot of poor decisions about how money has been spent in certain circumstances. Some of those resulted in some pretty serious financial ramifications. So, if I had to pick my favorite currency, I would say money which has been spent wisely, like buying food for yourself, your family, or other people who don’t have money at the time in which they need to eat.
4) “Ecstasy of Unbecoming”
DIGBOSTON: Are there any parts of your personality that you’ve consciously decide to shed or abandon over the years?
TURNER: Yeah. I went through a very deeply self-righteous phase when I was an early teen, which is probably inherent in teendom. For me, it manifested in becoming a straightedge vegan and thinking I was better than everyone else who wasn’t a straightedge vegan. I embraced a lot of other social issues, which was inherent in my punk rock learning at that time. What I didn’t really recognize until many years later, at which I think is also of particular importance at the moment, is white privilege and white male privilege. That’s something that needs a lot of discussion and close examination in the world right now. Even for people like myself, as I consider myself to be socially conscious, it’s still a big issue. It’s part of who I am, part of how I was raised, and part of our culture. I want to stay conscious of that and actively work to change.
5) “American Dollar Bill – Keep Facing Sideways, You’re Too Hideous To Look At Face On”
DIGBOSTON: In your opinion, what’s the most grotesque physical feature someone could have?
TURNER: Ohhhh. Whoa. [Laughs] Man, that’s a hard one. Relating to my last response, as it’s not so much a feature as it is an attitude projected, but when I see men out in public with this very macho posturing who are trying to bully people around with how they move through space and how they occupy space? I find that pretty horrendous. Also, relating to the last topic on working on things to change, I’d like to be less judgmental on people’s appearances. If I have to be judgmental in anyway, which is part of my social conditioning and maybe partly human nature, I would like to judge people more by what they do and less by what they look like.
6) “What Have I Done? (I Was Reeling In Something White and I Became Able to do Anything I Made a Hole Imprisoned Time Within it Created Friction Stopped Listening to Warnings Ceased Fixing my Errors Made the Impossible Possible? Turned Sadness Into Joy) Pt. 1”
DIGBOSTON: How would you instruct a friend to turn their sadness into joy?
TURNER: Channel it into anything creative, whether that’s knitting, chopping wood, or writing music. Directly putting your energy into something physical that involves your body, your mind, and your emotions is the best way to make use of that. I find that making something and having something you can see or touch or feel or taste or hear that’s tangible after you’ve gone through this process of making something is actually very rewarding.
I referenced chopping wood because that’s something I do when I can’t go onstage and yell and smash a guitar around. Chopping wood is a way to channel anger that I have while doing something that heats my home in the winter and I can look at this big pile of wood afterwards and feel great satisfaction from it. I believe in productivity and I believe in the healing power of creativity as well, which can manifest in a lot of different ways.
7) “I’m Over 137% A Love Junkie And Still It’s Not Enough Pt. 1”
DIGBOSTON: Which cliched love trope or item do you find yourself loving despite it being gaudy?
TURNER: I definitely consider myself a sappy romantic. Love songs definitely still get me in a lot of ways. Some of the ones that are particularly forlorn get me the most. I loved Jawbreaker when I was a teenager. Blake’s songs about yearning for the unattainable other or being heartbroken spoke to me a lot. Another super cliche one is Pink Floyd’s “Wish You Were Here.” As many times as I’ve heard that song and as much as it has become a cliche, that song still gets me. There’s an innate and very palpable center of emotion in it that always gets me. For me, I get so deeply immersed in this world of ours that’s small and insular, so it’s good to get connected to something larger than you that’s a collective experience in some way.
8) “I’m Over 137% A Love Junkie And Still It’s Not Enough Pt. 2”
DIGBOSTON: Who do you want to show more appreciation for before this year is over?
TURNER: My partner, definitely. I feel like I try to do a lot to let her know that I love her and appreciate her, but I still take her for granted at times. When I’m triggered or upset, I choose to perceive her as a target for whatever it is that I’m feeling. I think that’s inherent in the human condition. Talk about the cliche of “We hurt the ones we love.” The people we’re around all the time are inherently going to be the people who see the worst in us and bear the brunt of our ugly sides. My wife, Faith, is a very intelligent, very creative, and very, very patient person. I want to work more on being appreciative of her and treating her in a way that reflects that.
9) “What Have I Done? (I Was Reeling In Something White and I Became Able to do Anything I Made a Hole Imprisoned Time Within it Created Friction Stopped Listening to Warnings Ceased Fixing my Errors Made the Impossible Possible? Turned Sadness Into Joy) Pt. 2”
DIGBOSTON: Can you name one commonly occurring warning that you think people would be better off ignoring?
TURNER: Hmm. Yeah, failing. I think failing is looked at as a largely negative thing. However, I’ve found that every single rewarding experience or illuminating experience and especially every creative thing that has felt successful has involved a willingness to fail. People are so often focused on succeeding and having some certainty about their success that it prevents people from ever really doing much and experiencing life on a deeper level. Just embracing the possibility of failure and failure itself is something people should definitely do more. I remember Buzz from The Melvins in an interview saying, “People are too worried about making bad records. If you make a bad record, so what? Go on and make a better one afterwards.” I thought that was a really good way of looking at it, because trying too hard to make a record that’s successful means you will eventually make a record that’s bland. His response wasn’t nonchalant, but it felt like a more holistic approach to being an artist. Like saying everything you do won’t be great, and there’s going to be times where you suck. His attitude about that was very refreshing and freeing for me to hear.
SUMAC, DALEK, INFERNAL COIL. THU 9.6. GREAT SCOTT, 1222 COMM AVE., ALLSTON. 8:30PM/18+/$12. GREATSCOTTBOSTON.COM