I spoke with Balan from Palace of Worms and we covered near death experiences, Catholicism, isolationist angry loners, synthetic humans and much more – read on
* Your latest album “The Ladder” came out on Broken Limbs records this year? How did that deal come about?
Getting hooked up with Broken Limbs happened quite easily and naturally. I just emailed Peter and asked him if he wanted to release my record and after hearing it he said yes. I was actually pretty surprised it happened that fast since finding labels is usually quite an ordeal. I’ve been lucky.
* You were with the Flenser Records for a long time, how do you find working with Broken Limbs vs The Flenser
I was with The Flenser from the beginning and “The Forgotten” was the flagship release for the label so working with Jonathan was definitely a process from the ground up. Even in its embryonic phase though Jonathan did a good job with his releases. Peter’s label was already pretty established by the time I came into contact with him so he already had an audience and a solid identity for his label. Peter is the fucking man. His attention to detail and work ethic regarding his releases is phenomenal. He promotes well and the record looked and sounded great. I was looking for a diverse label after parting with The Flenser, but also a label that still released heavy music. Glad I ran across BLR .
* Jonathan the Flenser founder is well known in the Bay Area – how did you meet him? and any stories about him you can share?
I met Jonathan at a show at a now defunct venue called Anne’s Social Club around 2008. I was strange; one of my long time friends had a college class with Jon and had gotten to talking to him about music. Jon told him he was starting a label and my friend passed the first Palace demo (The Decaying Despot) off to him. I guess he liked it enough (I have no idea why) to want to release my next album which I had already started working on and wanted to meet me. The pieces kind of just fell together and we ended up meeting at this show. A pretty boring story but shortly after The Flenser released my album “The Forgotten”, its first. Jonathan worked as a bartender as his day (night?) job and I’m sure he grew tired of watching me get drunk and talk shit to the patrons of his club. I’m afraid most of the stories about us revolve around me embarrassing him by being a mess.
* There is a great legacy of one man BM bands from Mortiis, Burzum to Xasthur and Leviathan why do you think we see so many good solo artists in the Black metal scene? (say as opposed to the death metal scene)
I guess there is just more of a “tradition” of solo Black Metal artists opposed to other types of metal. The idea had already been represented by many artists by the turn of the century and it in some ways has become an unfavorable stereotype in the genre. Aside from the fact that the technology to create a professional sounding record in your bedroom is available readily to anyone with a couple hundred bucks I think that maybe the isolationist, angry loner aesthetic of Black Metal appeals to the aspiring solo musician. As far as myself goes, I tried for a long time to find other people who wanted to create this type of music but in the end I just said fuck it, I’ll just do it myself. Even to this day I think “well maybe if I get other band members the performances would be better, the drums would be better, etc” but Palace Of Worms at this point is so deeply tied into my psyche and its creation process so reliant on my own work ethic quirks I don’t think bringing anyone else into it would really result in something that I’d be happy with. I have guest contributions here and there but the central vision I cannot compromise.
* What is the recording process like for you? Do you start with a guitar riff and build from there?
Yeah usually I start with the guitar. Sometimes I’ll lay down some improvisational drums and build the song around that framework. Other times I’ll sit down at the keyboard and play out the melodies. It all depends on the moment and what I have readily available when that moment comes.
* Lyrically you cover a lot of stuff (at least it seems to me) on death, judgment, the rottenness of humankind etc – what draws you to the subjects and are you like this in “real life too? Or are you a happy go lucky type of guy outside of the band?
Death and judgment are definitely big themes that I like to work with and interest me. I grew up in a pretty strict Roman Catholic family, and while I myself don’t believe in a all seeing, knowing God the imagery of Catholicism definitely stuck with me. How could it not when it basically beaten into me? Deliverance and damnation in my mind are much more personal. Not so much about this generalized pentanence than about wrapping up the loose ends in your life. As far the humankind goes, there is absolutely nothing kind about it. I’ve come to accept this in my adulthood instead of writing in a perpetual existential spasm of horror. People suck and I spend way too much time thinking about it in my daily life so I try to avoid the standard “angry at the world” lyrics these days. Usually the rotten person who I end up writing about is myself. Most of my lyrics are about my collapsing temple and my burning altar. I know that my time is short and my days are numbered. I’m trying my best to overcome my demons because I don’t want the unknown night that we all have to face to descend while I’m still holding on to the meaningless things. The demons will just tear your life away if you hold on.
* Have you had any near death experiences in your live?
Hmmm, nothing like the traditional near death type stuff like a tunnel of light, etc but about 12 years ago I had this infection which went to my brain and my roommate found me blacked out on the floor and rushed me to the hospital where I ended up waiting like 3 hours with a 106 degree fever. I was hallucinating all kinds of crazy things like scenes from that George Clooney movie “Syriana” playing out before me in the hospital waiting room but it was all hellish and twisted. Finally they noticed me slumped over and muttering to myself and finally gave me some care. That was horrible and I’m sure if anymore time had passed I would’ve died. I was literally cooking in my own body.
* Do you feel our consciousness lives on after these bodies die?
Yes I think in one form or another. Energy never really dies it just transforms. I probably would’ve balked at the idea in my more nihilistic days but I’d like to think consciousness continues in a different form.
* What are your thoughts on blending the human mind/consciousness with synthetic bodies to extend the life span of humans?
I think it would be an abomination. Life is not meant to be eternal. We are already living way too long as a species and shit is getting fucked up as a result of it. One of these days soon a virus or bacteria resistant to anti bodies is going to wipe us all out and maybe for the better. We have forsaken the natural world for one of artificiality. We worship this artificiality instead of the world that created us. We want our bodies to be anything except what was given to us and we will twist ourselves into unnatural shapes through surgery and science in order to fit whatever bullshit standard our peers currently consider beauty and value. When we die our bodies belong in the dust and our minds will be set free.
* How does your work as Palace of worms differ from the other bands you are involved in?
The neurotic freak outs are private affairs and I don’t have to deal with garbage shows and unreliable band mates. I can control every aspect of the production, artwork, layout, etc. This would never be possible in a democratic band situation.
* The Ladder made a lot of “best of 2016” lists this year – were you pleased with all of these results?
I’m surprised that people liked it that much. I am not a good judge of my own work. I can’t even listen to it once its done. It just makes me cringe. But yeah, I’m glad someone got something out of it.
* Do you see yourself touring (in the traditional sense) at any time in the future? Or would you prefer to just do special events? I saw Mortiis in 1999 on the Stargate tour and it was him behind chicken wire (blues brothers style) and he basically performed the entire album to DAT tape with full nose, ears and bat wings to me sometimes “events” can be more special that traditional drums/bass /guitar/singer tours.
Well I’m actually in the process of teaching the live band a set of songs right now. The goal at this point would be to do a few small shows locally and then do a small west coast tour in the late summer with my friend’s band Ehecatl. Touring the states really sucks but touring Europe would be rad if I somehow would be able to set that up. I am jealous of you seeing Mortiis on that tour. The Stargate is his best record!
* The Bay Area has had such a strong music scene for so long now – is there something in the water there? How do so many artists make it work when the cost of living there is one of the highest in the entire country?
Its getting harder and harder to make music and art here. The Bay Area has a long history of producing great art and music but it has not been very friendly to artists since at least 1997 during the first dot com boom. Now its even worse and you can’t even find a place in Oakland for a decent price. Warehouses are a big part of the East Bay music scene and since the Ghost Ship fire the city has been coming down really hard on DIY venues and kicking people out. Then after the artists have been booted out the real estate companies swoop in and turn the warehouses into overpriced condos. Noise ordinances have also been hurting venues because of Techie yuppie fucks who have permanently sandy assholes don’t like people enjoying music that isn’t The Black Keys in “their neighborhoods”.
* What can we expect from Palace of Worms in 2017?
A split with the amazing one man Black Metal band from Indiana Ecferus which should be out at the end of the winter and another split with 3 other great Bay Area metal bands that will come out as a super limited 12″ self release available only through the bands. All this in addition to the debut of the live band should make 2017 a very busy year for POW.
* Any final words to friends, fans and family?
Instead of slashing my wrists, I just write a bunch of really crummy songs. So long, and thanks for all the fish.