Been listening to these guys since their album Black Hole Gods (2014) and figured it was time to do an interview with them. Here we go
Where does the band name come from?
PRANJAL TIWARI: It’s derived from the Wyrm Mythos works of the occultist, hallucinogenicist, obliteratus, and former British colonial functionary Godwinson Asquith Stanley. Who was once my next-door neighbor.
NATHAN A. VERRILL: Some people say Stanley was a curious fellow of many, many words. Some say old G.A. can be seen sometimes, only at dusk, walking hooded and silent in the darkness.
What bands influenced you guys growing up?
PRANJAL: We’re all born in the 60s and 70s so maybe that will give you an idea. Up to a certain point it was whatever was on the radio or whatever you could get your hands on at the local store. In my teenage years I got into metal and punk but I’m pretty sure the first LP I owned was the Muppets doing Saturday Night Fever. I definitely think you can hear the influence of ‘Rubber Duckie’ and ‘C is for Cookie’ on our new record.
LEILA ABDUL-RAUF: I started playing guitar at age 13 and played in my first band when I was 15 but I had already at that point been playing trumpet for several years in the jazz, marching and concert bands in my school, so I had a strong classical foundation. I was exposed to all kinds of music as a small child – not just western pop and classical music, or underground western music, but also music my family played in the house from the Arab and Asian world. I had a religious upbringing (or at least my family tried!) and was surrounded by sounds of Quran recitals and calls to prayer, which definitely informed my musicality. Because of the diverse background I had from birth, I can’t really sum up my influences in a handful of artists!
NATHAN: I sang in choir and played cello as a child. I picked up guitar at a similar age to Leila. I am influenced by so many people who’ve written or played western classical music, jazz, free improvisation, metal, gospel, punk, ambient and experimental electronic music, country, hip hop. I’m sure Pranjal would agree that Animal of Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem were crucial influences on not only future drummers but anyone who wanted to bring unbound exuberance to music. And we all knew the direct line that could be drawn from Cookie Monster to Napalm Death and other death metal bands to follow. And we saw that it was good.
Was it always your plan to sing and play drums or were you just going to sing until you guys “found the right person” to front the band?
PRANJAL: In the original Cardinal Wyrm lineup, I was playing bass and signing. Drums have always been my main instrument in terms of experience, though. When we parted ways with LK who was playing drums in the original lineup, I decided to take over and play drums and sing. I figured if Phil Collins and Don Henley could do it, so could I!
NATHAN: Pranjal was playing drums with me on guitar/bass in our pre/proto-Cardinal Wyrm two-piece lineup. The shift of instruments after LK’s departure felt like a welcome return home. When Pranjal then added singing to playing, it was like the clouds parted and the hand of Kelly Keagy reached down through the blinding light above to place his hand on our foreheads and give us His holy blessings.
You guys sing about depression and the occult a fair bit – Are you singing from personal experience?
PRANJAL: We try to evoke what is inside us through our songs, and the lyrics are a big part of that. Though the specific focus of the lyrics can vary from story-telling (as in “After the Dry Years” or “Grave Passage”) to straight descriptions of incidents such as in (“Dreams of Teeth” or “Ruin”), at the core of it the subject matter has dealt with the sense of wandering, being between worlds, being lost and not belonging anywhere. I think we all have personal experience with this in our lives. The occult stuff when it appears in our music is reflective of the desperate search for meaning, of grasping at straws, trying to find something to cling on to, a thread that will show you the way, a resonance that will orient you on a path. This has mixed results, both for the characters in the stories we tell in our songs, and for us personally.
NATHAN: We’ve known some dark times whose tentacles still sneak through our music. Do we sing from personal experience about the occult? I can only say, “JQ’GP’VH USEB N’DRACRO FL’WYM STI!”
Leila is in about 50 other bay area bands – how did you convince her to sing and play bass for you guys?
LEILA: It’s really just five bands – if you include my solo project too – and CW is a great band so it didn’t take much to convince me! I can’t think of any other band out there right now that sounds like us.
PRANJAL: Leila used to play with us doing live backing vocals on a few songs before she joined on bass, and she even joined us on our Southwest tour in that capacity. We’ve all known each other and played music together for a while and so when we needed a bass player we made her an offer she couldn’t refuse. Well, didn’t refuse. Thankfully.
NATHAN: Pranjal and I have known them Vastums for several years, both bands having done time in different rehearsal rooms in the same building in the Tenderloin District in Downtown San Francisco. We’ve since all departed for Oakland, CA. Over the last couple of years, I’ve played music and provided visuals for Leila’s solo project. I’m very happy that she’s been able to join us in this band and share her unique and considerable talents with us. This is dope.
The entire Bay Area is one of the most expensive places to live in the entire USA right now. that said why do you think there are so many good bands coming out of the bay Area right now? Usually you find a strong scene where the cost of living isn’t so harsh, Seattle in the 90s, Richmond VA anytime, NYC in the 70s etc.
LEILA: The bay area has had a solid underground music scene for decades. Certain underground scenes grew and shrunk and then grew again over time, but I think the solid foundation made over the many decades has had long lasting effects, even in the face of the worst gentrification we’ve ever seen. Unlike most areas of the U.S., the bay area also has rent control, which is the only reason why artists who have been living here for a long time are still able to afford to live here, myself included.
PRANJAL: I mean the cost of living in SF and Oakland used to be much lower too, and the hyper-gentrification we’ve seen lately has really only been in the last few years. In general I think you’ll find the underground music scene in the Bay Area is made up of people who have been here a while and have the networks to be able to survive in such an expensive area – friend or family connections for example, knowing who to contact for a room in a house or for work, or maybe they’ve lived in their apartment for a while and have rent control and / or know their landlords. It’d be a very difficult place to move to right now without those connections. That said, there’s still a lot of great bands from out here and a healthy music scene in 2016 – thanks to a lot of people who work very hard to keep it that way.
NATHAN: The recent fire and tragic deaths of over 36 people, friends and family in our extended community, at the Ghost Ship Warehouse in Oakland, CA was horrific. It also illustrates in many ways where we are at now. This was a hazardous space similar to those most of us in the metal, punk, goth, electronic and experimental scenes have had to play at various times all of our working lives. If you are a musician or an artist, a writer, etc., a content creator and not a large shareholder in one of the top transnational media corporations, odds are you are struggling and planning your next inevitable move as your current niche habitat gets (once again) gentrified and you are priced out. In general, all of us who get our money to live from our actual work and not from dividends have the same problems. We struggle to be fed, clothed and housed. We struggle to have and maintain “public” places that we can meet, commune, celebrate, and feel safe and support each other, especially if we are a person of color and/or a member of the LGTBQ community. Meanwhile, the CEOs of crony capitalism continue to try to drain the last drops of blood from us to sell for a dollar. We are nothing without the support of those we love, of our friends and of our communities.
Black Hole gods was one of my favorite records of 2014 – how would you say the band’s sound progressed over the next 2 releases?
PRANJAL: Thanks! There’s only been one record since “Black Hole Gods,” which is called “Cast Away Souls” and came out in October 2016 through Svart Records. I think the new record takes some more risks and branches out in some different directions to Black Hole Gods. To use the respective imagery of the albums, Cast Away Souls is less cosmic, and more like drifting on a river through dream islands encountering various tales and beasts along the way. There are plans for a split 7″ with our Finnish buddies Mansion either in December or in early 2017 which I think branches out even further than the new record does. A sign of things to come, perhaps.
NATHAN: We’ve had a steady path of growth and development between our albums as well. After we released our first album “Another Holy Trinity,” we released a single, “The Persecuted Crone,” which remains one of my favorite songs to date. Prior to the release of our second album we released a cover of Rudimentary Peni song “The Enlightened Dreamer” that for the first time revealed some of our maybe hidden post-punk influences. We had the opportunity prior, to the release of our latest album, to contribute a Bathory cover, “Enter the Eternal Fire,” to a local compilation. We were able to refine what we learned on “Black Hole Gods” on this single release. We’re currently writing towards our next release and we hope to deliver an even more focused yet diverse, intense, and likely, very weird experience.
How did your record deal with Svart Records come about?
PRANJAL: We released Black Hole Gods digitally in 2014, in order to have something to show labels who might be interested in releasing a physical copy of the album. After many months of reaching out and trying to elicit a response from anyone (it’s tough these days to even hear back from labels) Svart eventually contacted us saying they wanted to work with us. Being big fans of their work and their releases, we were very excited to get to work with them.
NATHAN: We had an enthusiastic response to and many kind words spoken about Black Hole Gods that brought us to Svart’s attention. We were glad for the opportunity to release BHG as a double gatefold LP.
How much touring have you guys done to date? (I know you did a South west tour a few years back and I THINK you might have done the north west too)
PRANJAL: Not as much as we’d like is the short answer. I’d love to tour more, within the US and beyond, but it’s been a challenge to organize anything more than a short tour with all our differing responsibilities and schedules. We hope to go on at least a Pacific Northwest tour with ‘Cast Away Souls’ and I’d love to do the East Coast if we’re able.
Any good tour stories you can share?
PRANJAL: Jesus, there was that one-man power-electronics guy whose show involved him screaming “REQUIEM!” and masturbating furiously to remixed speeches from the Albanian communist dictator Enver Hoxha. What name did that guy go by again? Bread And Cervix or something like that? Anyway, this all happened while some sort of stuffed animal wolf / chicken puppet thing suspended from a wire flew about him on stage chasing a fucking dreamcatcher. I mean is that even a story or just a mental image, and one you didn’t need? Makes you think.
NATHAN: It DOES.
What’s been the best gig to date?
LEILA: For me it’s a toss-up between my first CW show as bassist (I played several CW shows before that as just a guest vocalist) at Katakombes in Montreal for Grimposium 2015 and at the Oakland Metro with Wrekmeister Harmonies and Bell Witch.
PRANJAL: That first Montreal gig was amazing for sure. I think I’ll always remember playing with the legendary Hobbs Angel of Death and seeing Peter Hobbs himself banging his head in the front and later coming up to me saying he really liked our set. Surreal.
NATHAN: I love playing live and look forward to ever improving and feeling like the next gig will be our best gig to date.
As an Indian guy playing metal – have you any ambitions to take the band to India? From my limited knowledge, provinces like Bangalore are metal mad with potential audiences of over 90 million people.
PRANJAL: Well I should clarify that though I’m about as ethnically Indian as you can get, I have never lived in India, I was born and raised elsewhere. It would be an amazing thing to take the band there, though. There’s obviously a ‘going back to your roots’ sort of appeal to me, but beyond that the underground music scene over there seems to be pretty healthy these days like you say. I’d love to go there and check it out and to bring Cardinal Wyrm there would be a dream come true.
LEILA: That would be amazing if we went to India or anywhere in Asia for that matter.
Are there Any touring goals you guys want to aim for? Examples: Wacken Germany? Hole in the Sky Norway etc.
LEILA: A Europe tour around Roadburn would be great for us.
PRANJAL: Yes! A European tour around Roadburn would be awesome. There are also a bunch of other excellent festivals out that way – Doom Over Leipzig, Doom Over London, Mangualde in Portugal, Eistnaflug in Iceland just to name a few. I’d also love to go to Mexico as well as South America. Those parts of the world in particular because we’ve had a lot of support from Mexico and many countries in Europe and South America – much more so than in the US I’d say – and I’d love to be able to play for people live there.
NATHAN: Europe has been good to the band and I’d love the opportunity to play all of those places and events. In addition to those more earth-bound goals, I wouldn’t mind a gig on the International Space Station. Or Mars. Or to place ourselves onstage in a dingy bar of some other more habitable and friendly planet with fewer racist, authoritarian, homophobic pricks ruling over the real estate. This planet is a bit shit these days, innit? ONWARD.
Thanks for the great interview guys and hope to see you on the East Coast sometime soon!
check out Castaway Souls here: