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Interview: BOOK OF WYRMS – Step Into The ‘Occult New Age’

Posted by Morgan Y Evans - Walking Bombs on Tuesday, April 20, 2021 at 9:13 AM (PST)

photo by Joey Wharton

“We were always clear on wanting this record to sound live and feel like it could have been recorded in an earlier time, and to steer clear of the sort of slick, modern rock sound that some people prefer.” – Jay Lindsey

Richmond, VA doomy psych philosophers BOOK OF WYRMS are a band who completely rocked my socks off the most unexpectedly this year thus far. This is not to say I underestimated them but rather that I had never heard their hearty blend of intensely immersive and vibey riffs, haunting vocals and ‘feels like you there’ production before. Suffice to say it was an incredible and welcome discovery.

It makes sense such a trippy but earthy band comes from such a beautiful and complicated state.

I knew I has to corral members onto these here blog ‘pages’ and get an interview. Their new full length Occult New Age is an essential tool for uplifting yourself through heavy and yet empathic creative roads. I work nights and so often have kind of crazy dreams in the day and just woke from one where there was a sort of mentally blocked character who became destructive or was almost choosing to be a killer, I’m trying to remember. He was kind of bullied in a small town for being sensitive to otherworldly forces by his own estimate and so was sort of frantic to prove or discover them around him to show he was telling the truth. But people pushed him down instead of nourishing his gifts so he was also almost resentful of the unknown. It was sad, actually. Waking from that and knowing I was going to publish this piece today, I couldn’t help but wonder what this dream entity/character’s life would have been like in their ‘story’ if they had a record as steeped in channeling and understanding these concerns as Book Of Wyrms have managed to write.

Occult New Age really feels like both a refuge and a tool as much as a place for your mystical, doom loving ears to call home.

Read more below.

First off, congrats on ‘Occult New Age’. I have to say I am a huge fan of the production. It reminded me a bit of some stuff I absolutely love like Spirit Caravan or early Christian Mistress where everything was clear but also sort of live and retro sounding to really pull you into the immediacy of everything. How did you end up as a four piece on this release? How has it changed things?

Jay Lindsey (bass): Wow, thanks we really appreciate that! I think Jamie at Absolute Future did a great job capturing what we asked for, and that sound is definitely an intentional statement. We were always clear on wanting this record to sound live and feel like it could have been recorded in an earlier time, and to steer clear of the sort of slick, modern rock sound that some people prefer. We made it sound the way we wanted to hear it, so it’s really cool when people dig the vibe. We became a four-piece when one of our guitarists left the band. He didn’t like touring and we do. We immediately noticed that we had a lot more sonic space, and that there were so many ways to fill it, or not fill it, and so we chose to stay at one guitar. It made a huge difference in how this record was written and recorded – the song structures had to make more sense and couldn’t just rely on long double solos, the bass had to fill more frequency and pick up some lead functions, which led to me changing my tone and taking lessons for the first time in a decade; the synth has a more prominent role which required more thought about voicings and layers; and then Kyle really stepped up as a single guitarist. But the results were that everything was there for a reason – we would ask ourselves if there was a good reason to fill the space, or if maybe the space was a good thing.

Sarah Moore Lindsey (vocals, effects): Thank you for saying and noticing that! I am not an American Idol type of singer or diva. I like to be another one of the instruments, and I like to stand out when it’s my time to shine. But I am not trying to always be front and center. So it’s important for my vocals to not overpower the heavy riffs going on, but maybe fill in the open spaces and sometimes sit overtop. I really delved into the effects, both live before the pandemic and on this record, since we were down one guitarist. Jay and I have been working together to get my sound just right for each song.

How has the pandemic affected the band? It is hard not to ask that question. But also important to see how people have adapted.

Jay: We had to drop off a festival and cancel a tour, and we aren’t out on the road promoting the new record, so that was a bummer, but compared to what a lot of people have gone through it doesn’t seem fair to complain much. Plus, we really did make the most of it. We’d been splitting our time between touring and practicing the live set, and slowly writing and practicing the songs that would become Occult New Age. When we realized we wouldn’t be playing live again any time soon, we just dropped the live set and put all our time and energy into the new songs. We kept meeting and practicing in masks and just did our best to keep moving. It was a huge help during the pandemic to have this one thing to obsess about and look forward to – nobody had a great 2020 but we at least could think about this record we were working on. We were nervous about recording these songs without ever playing them live first, but it ended up being cool – I think it gave the songs an extra zap of energy that we’d been cooped up and hadn’t been able to gig in so long. There’s a little extra electricity on the record because we were all just chomping at the bit.

Sarah: Individually, we were lucky because we were able to keep our housing and employment despite the pandemic. So many artists and musicians haven’t been as lucky, and I try to stay grateful. We did practice a lot before we recorded in December. We did practice with masks, which is no picnic if you’re doing any vocalizing. But it was worth it because it stretched and pushed us as musicians. I realized that if I can sing and project okay in a mask, I can sing in all sorts of unexpected conditions that might arise down the road.

Let’s talk about the title ‘Occult New Age’. Some new age stuff has been really gentrified and thrown into this sort of capitalistic Instagram influencer mode. While I do think, for example, that everyone should probably be doing meditation and yoga (haha) in this modern fucked up world…even more so we need to get in tune with the power of the psyche, the importance of respecting nature and some of the ancient mysteries. It wasn’t all superstition. You can do a lot of personal work through the use of symbols, for example. What inspired this album title for you?

Jay: The title is a play on the section of the bookstore with occult and new age books, but occult also means mysterious, or visually obscured, so we’re also referencing the idea that we can’t fully perceive the reality we’re in. We like our titles to multi-task.

Meditation, yoga, reverence for nature, those aren’t superstitious or even really that esoteric to me. You don’t need to believe anything to enjoy the benefits of those.
These days it’s really hard to stand out, and so people like to use anything vaguely new age as a substitute for a real personality, and it’s especially gross when a culture’s traditions just get swept up into this intentionally quirky dabbling you see on social media. If it enriches your life to fuck with crystals or do tarot, go for it. Just don’t exoticize someone else’s culture because you’re bored, you know?

It’s cool that you mentioned symbols – I’m a big believer in the power of symbols, and that’s one of the things I love about Surrealism, is that they understood that symbolism can be its own source of power. Or I guess more accurately, it’s our recognition of symbols that gives them power.

Sarah: We originally wanted to make the cover art a bunch of orcs to reflect what we thought the Occult New Age meant for us. Those are some symbols which are also hilarious. But also I think of mindfulness when I think of the occult new age. Being in a trance in nature, focusing on all the senses and what they are telling you about one specific object can transport you to very psychedelic places. To quote our good friend and blogger Revolt of the Apes, we’re all one, dude.

We are all orcs. “Keinehora” is maybe my favorite. One of the doomier songs but the atmospheric build up and the vocal over that space give me chills! It really works and conjures haunting images. Love the drum footwork on it too in a few parts. Did you have a specific direction in mind for this album?

J: We were really happy with “Keinehora”, it is probably the heaviest riff the band has, which was a fun accomplishment for me. It’s cool it gave you chills, that’s definitely the vibe we wanted for that song, since it’s about living in fear of malevolent forces. Dark superstitions were real to people at one point, and had real power over people’s lives.

There’s definitely a lot of space on that song, again we just put such a high priority on dynamics and atmosphere this time, and it pays off when a song comes out so creepy.

We definitely had a direction in mind. I don’t know if it’s something you can describe in words, but I wanted to give off the same feeling I got from certain records – stuff like Master of Reality, Kill Em All, and Space Ritual. They’re maybe not the most hi-fi rock recordings ever, but they just feel so ominous, like you’re on a windy hill with the band and a giant bonfire. Raw rock with a sinister, psychedelic feeling. Hope we nailed it!

Sarah: Thanks for saying that about the vocals. We’ve been thinking about this song, in a way, for probably ten years, when Jay first introduced the concept to me. We would see patterns of it in real life and remark about it. I think Jay’s had the main chorus riff in his head for almost as long. He had a few things in mind and then I took those suggestions and worked them into something natural for me. I really enjoy the research part of writing lyrics because of the nerd in me. I will never stop learning.

photo by Joey Wharton

Ecstatic Vision, Oranssi Pazuzu, Cardinal Wyrm or Jess and the Ancient Ones come to mind as a few other bands who are active and combining psych elements with heavier weirdo rock again, hahaha. It is cool to hear that or your work and feel like bands don’t have to feel like it is just dated to the sixties as if you can only put a stylistic date on exploring the limitless subconscious! How does your writing process work or is it more based on feel and then applying lyrics later?

J: I love Ecstatic Vision and Oranssi Pazuzu! That’s crazy to get compared to them, I consider both bands to be at the top of the genre. Jess and the Ancient Ones are also really cool, they have something new out I’ve been meaning to listen to (and now I guess I’ll check out Cardinal Wyrm too).
I don’t know how bands do it, where they’re like “no we sound like this” and nothing else gets into their sound. I’ve known dudes like that, where they only eat steak and potatoes, and they are happy and don’t feel like they’re missing anything. I can’t do that. This band hits a sweet spot for me, where it’s loud and heavy but we can try out different shit and we don’t have to worry that a song is a little too melodic, or that it sounds a little 80’s-ish. Who cares? It’s still going to sound like us and if an idea doesn’t work we trash it. We’re just going to try different weird shit and if it’s pleasant to our ears, we have to trust ourselves. That’s the only way I know how to make anything worthwhile.

Writing this time was basically two parallel processes. I was writing my riffs and Kyle was writing his, and we’d just work on organizing everything into real structured songs, and figuring out where there were missing pieces or whatever, and then focusing in on transitions (I think that’s the real key, by the way, you gotta focus on those transitions). Meanwhile, Sarah is just listening to us jamming these parts, and working out wordless melodies while she researches the subject material and fleshes that out into lyrics. Sometimes we have song titles and songs and have to figure out which song sounds like which title.

Sarah: There are a lot of potential song titles that never see any further exploration, and that’s okay. Maybe one day we will compile them into a list of “Book of Wyrms songs that never were.” Sometimes I build the lyrics around a song title; sometimes I write lyrics and come up with the song title afterwards. Whatever sparks creative energy, you know?

How have you felt about the response to the material so far? Or is that not your biggest concern? I mean, every band wants their work to be noticed to a degree but it doesn’t seem like the driving force behind your creativity.

J: For the most part we’ve been really floored by the reception we’re getting. I said earlier that this record was a conscious risk – we had a very specific sound in mind and we knew it wasn’t what everyone prefers. But I’d rather just double down on what we care about and hope it finds some people who think like we do, rather than try and polish it to sound like what we think someone else wants. When you make a record the way you really want it, and someone says they get it and they dig it, it feels like you gambled and won for once. So you’re right that praise and recognition aren’t the forces that drive us, but I’d be lying if I said it doesn’t feel great that it resonates with people.

“Dracula Practice” intro is cool. Kind of reminds me of self titled Clutch classic album a little bit with big groove and spacey leads. A lot of your songs are so vibey that it seems like live it must be hard to choose a set list order? Do you argue about this? Hahah.

J: Thanks, yeah I have always loved drum and bass intros, it’s just a really easy way to sneak some atmosphere and dynamics into your songs. We’re lucky Kyle is chill about laying out when the time is right – there’s a few times on the record where he’s completely out, and not every guitarist is cool with that.

Some bands change their set up a lot on tour but we don’t really do that. I hate when I go to a show and there’s a lot of shit between songs – I want them to just play! So we like to have a pretty well established order so nobody gets lost or has to chat about what’s next.

Our songs are pretty long so we don’t have to pick very many to fill a set. We have a pretty standard two-song starting point, which is “Leatherwing Bat” from the first record into “Blacklight Warpriest” from the second record. They both have fast parts and they transition nicely, so it’s a great way to kick off any jitters and basically black out for 11 minutes. So then we’re all warmed up and the audience is into it, and then we can play whatever, with a goal of ending the set with something that seems to get everyone going. A lot of times we have a designated “spare” song, where it’s ready and we can jump into it if there’s extra time but we know it might not get played. There’s never much arguing, I think everyone has a pretty good idea of what works best live.

What are your plans for the rest of the year? Obvs in these times God laughs at our plans more than ever, but anything to share or at least hope to manifest?

J: I just don’t think it’s time to book yet, but I have nothing but respect and good wishes for the brave bands trying to set shit up already. So nothing planned on that front, but we are starting the crazy process of planning for the next record. We’d really like to put something out in 2022, and the way we work that means starting now.

Sarah: God has a sick sense of humor, and not in the “that’s heady, brah” kind of way. I think we are waiting for some sort of all clear or at least a point where the majority have been vaccinated. Chris is expecting his first son in June, and Kyle is always down for whatever. I know that Jay has planned little weekender templates for when the time is right. Our main goal is to get out west at least to Albuquerque, NM to play a show with our label head, Brad Frye, frontman of Red Mesa. Thank you so much for these super insightful questions, Morgan! Cheers.

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