Interview conducted by Morticia Batz/Graves and Assistant Writer Hexable.
Hey guys! Thanks for taking the time to do an interview, we really appreciate it. How have you been holding up over the pandemic? I know Oakland has gone in and out of being in isolation, what have you been doing to keep your spirits up?
Jake: We shot some live videos that streamed on live events on the internet. That was really fun and a good way to stay active in the pandemic. We have access to The First Church of The Buzzard, a warehouse space in Oakland, so we can practice and do videos at a reasonable distance from each other so it’s pretty COVID safe. -That has been a huge blessing! Aleph: I spent the 6 months immediately after recording the EP up in Portland, which was great. It was interesting to be in the middle of the dissent during the protests that took place during that time. It was just like being a punk during the Reagan era again!
Skot: Spirits is the key word there ;). I've been keeping busy with my recording studio, Kempton House, doing mixing and mastering for the underground scene here. Bat Cave Label released my solo project, Decanter, at the early stages of the pandemic. I edited the Halloween and New Year Altar live video streams, which are up on youtube. Also, helping with doing multitrack recording for live streaming events being shot at Eli's Mile High Club here in Oakland.
You guys recently played “Save the Batcave” Festival and helped fundraise money for them. How was that?
Jake: It was great! The community raised over the set goal and saved the Batcave! It was so great to hear music and "see" people and know we were all watching from all over the world at the same time. It was a unique way of experiencing our global community and kind of a silver lining moment in this lonely time. Aleph: Tomasz, the owner of Bat-Cave Productions label in Poland has been extremely supportive of the Bay Area Deathrock scene and has put out a number of albums by local and West Coast bands, so we were very happy to have the chance to give something back to him for all of his work.
Skot: I guess you could put "played" in quotesas well. Ha! It was great to be a part of the fest! Tomasz has put so much energy and time into his label and supported us, my other bands (Esses, Decanter), and many bands from the west coast and America. Both Altar De Fey and Esses have played the Return To The Bat-Cave Fest in Poland. We were more than happy to help and be a part of that event!
What is the meaning behind the band’s name, if there is one? How did you decide? When did you guys start the band like before you named it?
Kent: I moved to San Francisco in 1983 with Rick Tanner and Craig Muzio. We had been playing in Punk rock bands and were looking to start something new. We got the Name Altar De Fey from listening to a Vincent Price record about Witchcraft and Demonology. In Inquisition times there was the public Penance of Heretics called the Auto-da-fé, where they would be tortured and burned at the stake.
"And Love May Conquer All” has a lot of Christian imagery mixed with being tainted by brutal capitalism and sexuality. What was the inspiration behind this EP? And especially the song of the same name?
Jake: All the Songs on this EP deal with duality in one way or another. The song "And May Love Conquer All" is a death hex on the social movements of hatred and intolerance at work in this world right now. It's a zero tolerance for intolerance song. I see the duality of that stance and have absolutely no issue with the contradiction that emerges. I hate their hatred with a passion and do not in any way apologize for or take issue with this multiplicity of feeling. (It was written with a certain recently disgraced ex-president in mind, who's name I refuse to utter because it in itself is a hate word. You know who I mean.) "Mercy's Kiss" is about Catholicism with double entendre to addiction or any form of moral escapism. "I Want It" is about the ever-precarious arrangements of love, lust, honesty and honor we pretty much all navigate with much difficulty if we're being honest, and "Division" is a kind of psychopath's meditation on morality. So, they all have this theme running through. The contradiction, compromise, grey areas and slippery slopes we traverse in our lives as sentient moral beings.
The First Church of the Buzzard has a big impact on the art and music scene in Oakland, and it continues to give back by being a place where you and other bands can make quality live-distanced performances. Tell us about your passion of community and music, as you have made this a place for the community. Kent: The space started as a place were we could create art, music, and performance art. There was a main group of us that worked together. One of our favorites is doing a Halloween party, we would transform the place with mazes and stages to play music. As a performance space its taken on a life of its own. It's become a favorite of local and touring bands. Click for First Church Of The Buzzard
Since playing live has not been an option for bands in the last year, and you guys have contributed to the virtual events with your music. Do you feel that you guys may be reaching more people online that you might not reach in a normal live event?
Jake: Yes, I think so. These events have been fun. I was talking the other day with some friends that hopefully some of this kind of thing continues even as touring resumes. Why not tune in and watch a festival live across the world with other people you share interest with and virtually interact. It's nothing like the real thing of course, but we can't make it to every gig we'd like to the world over. Aleph: Absolutely yes! The scene that’s been coming together especially via the Twitch DJ’s around the world has been a fantastic example of networking, and what I feel that “social media” really should be. We’re now being played in countries that we had no idea that we even had fans in. It’s been that game of “telephone” where we’d get played in Portland, and folks in Canada, Mexico, Europe, Australia, and South America would hear us, head over to Bandcampto purchase the tracks, and then we end up getting played in their countries too. It’s been great to tune in to a live stream from England, or Germany and seeing that the DJ has an Altar De Fey sticker on his laptop!
Skot: We are definably reaching a different crowd with the live streams, since anyone from anywhere can tune in and check it out. So, I think that had been a great advantage for all bands to get more worldwide exposure. But, yeah, it's nothing like a live experience. We miss our audience! Kent: The virtual events have been great. With the rise of the Twitch platform, being able to watch performances and talk to fans and friends from all over the world in real time.
To backpack on the previous question, what does it mean for a musician and a band during COVID? What kind of changes have happened? What has it been like for you all as a band trying to keep the music going? When you cannot travel and share your music live - it does something to the psyche. For such a long period of time! Like last year we wrote an article with over 36 bands who said words to fans and people who might feel alone with or without this pandemic. Bands like Alien Sex Fiend, to Boy Harsher, to Powerman 5000 all wrote letters. I think some people forget that bands and musicians feel alone, that this pandemic and not being able to play live affects their mental health. Something many don’t want to talk about. Can you tell us how this has affected you all?
Jake: It’s been hard. You lose a major part of your identity. Months ago someone asked if I was in a band and I said "Yeah I was" I was surprised to hear myself say it like that. We've stayed somewhat active all things considered but for me personally, without that exchange of energy of playing a live show it's like the central piece is missing. Not to mention touring.
Aleph: It has been difficult especially when you’re used to doing something as physical as drumming at least once or twice a week, and then doing nothing but sitting on the couch, or going on the occasional nature walk for 6 months. I’ve ended up working on a few more noise/sound based projects that I have going on, since the neighbors don’t dig it so much when you want to set up your kit, and drum in the apartment late at night. As it turns out though, it usually only takes a couple of rehearsals to knock the rust back off. I think that we only had 4 or 5 rehearsals before we recorded the live sets that were posted. That deathrock resides in the muscle memory!
Skot: I've been pretty active with my bands during this past year, just not necessarily playing live music. It's been more about videos and getting albums ready to release. So, things have become more of a project than a "live" band. It has been a big bummer not being able to play shows or even practice but hopefully we are seeing a light at the end of this dark tunnel...glad I didn't hold my breath. Kent: We were just finishing up recording when the COVID shutdown hit. So we had that to focus on that for a bit, but after that not being able to play music or really even see each other really took a toll on my mind.
Tell us about your musical journeys if you will! Crimson Sin and Veil of Death feel like they have been tweaked and refined from the original recordings to the most recent ones.
Jake: Yes. I rewrote some of the lyrics. It was an interesting challenge collaborating with someone who is no longer living. Hopefully Butch is looking down in approval from somewhere. Some of these songs took 28 years and a night to write. It’s been a rather unique project in that way. Aleph: Musically those two songs haven’t really changed much, but as Jake says, the lyrics have probably had the most work put into them.
Skot: Crimson Sin and Veil of Death are from the original ‘80s line-up of the band. When we were re-learning them (10 years ago?!) we went through a bunch of practice tapes and the old demo to reanimate the songs. Crimson has pretty much stayed the same but there were quite a few different versions of Veil, with different bass players on multiple versions, so, I had to find what worked best. Death To My Enemies didn't even have a change in the song, so we came up with some new parts for that song and some of the old songs.
Altar De Fey has an interesting history, forming in the 80’s and breaking up then getting back together again around 2011. What does it feel like creating music together and moving into this new iteration of the scene? Or has nothing changed for you all? Aleph: Quite a bit has changed! At the time of the original formation there were really only a handful of Deathrock bands in the Bay Area, so it was a much smaller scene back then. It was difficult to even find like-minded bands to share a bill with. It’s very different now insofar as there are a lot more bands, much more interest in “darker” music in general, and a lot more folks around to help support each other. The 2 albums that we’ve put out so far, “Echoes in the Corridor”, and “The Insatiable Desire… for More” have been roughly 50 percent older material that Kent and I wrote in the original incarnation of the band, and 50 percent newer songs that we’ve all written together with the current line-up. I feel like they flow together fairly seamlessly. Haha! I dare anyone to try and guess which songs are older, and which aren’t! Kent: It’s Changed a lot. There was a large gap from when I wrote these songs and revisited them some 20 years later. I guess they have stood the test of time. I’ve played with Aleph for some 35 years and with Jake and Skot for 10years. Feels pretty lucky that we all have this passion to create music, and chart our own course through this music scene.
Politics has been at the tips of everyone’s tongue. What do you say to the folks who think that politics doesn’t belong in deathrock, goth, or punk?
Jake: Politics has always been a part of our subculture since day one. famous stories like The Clash refusing to play with Siouxsie cause Sid (the Banshee's drummer at the time) had a swastika drawn on his t-shirt. By the time I was around in the late 80s fighting Nazis was a major part of what being a punk was. It was a constant, it would make the news, they would talk about it on Geraldo, haha! And yeah, it hits close to home and touches on uncomfortable territory sometimes like if it's ok to listen to Death In June or for Rozz to say the N-word. These things have been hotly debated from the beginning. The whole very uncomfortable ethical miasma of art, politics and life. Caravaggio was the greatest Italian Baroque painter of all time, that doesn't make sleeping with young boys and murdering people over a tennis match acceptable behaviors in our scene. It's a really slippery terrain of well... dualities, I don't think we'll be getting all the way to the bottom of it in this generation either. But if we want a diverse and inclusive subculture we'll need to stand up for that. We'll need to actively help foster that. Over and over. And it probably will get personal, and we will have to face contradictions within ourselves and it won’t always be a cut and dry easy answer. But if you want to come around promoting right wing conspiracy's or celebrating the confederacy... if you come around advocating hate?... May love conquer you.
Aleph: We used to play that old Vincent Price spoken word piece as an intro to our live sets. It says: “Under the auspices of the Spanish Inquisition as many as a hundred victims were burned alive as witches in a single day, almost all of them women. The Auto-da-fé as this mass burning was called became a macabre kind of Carnival with Priests, and Princes of the Church, Dames and Duchesses in magnificent robes, peasants in rags, jugglers, booths where people could buy all manners of souvenirs, relics, rosaries, Holy images, and food amid the screams and flames and stench of burning flesh. Imagine the horror of it…. The bonfires, the pall of thick, black, smoke, from all of those burning bodies writhing in unspeakable agony. The gallons of hissing, spitting human fat melting away to a horrendous sticky, sickening liquid, pouring, boiling down the gutters as they broiled alive. The good people were drawn by the thousands spellbound the unspeakable charm of the Fete, the overpowering, somber spectacle and the unusual effect of music, yes music!”. In changing the name to Altar De Fey, we’re reclaiming that terrible practice and have transformed those horrific, and destructive fires into an Altar of Light.
Links to Altar De Fey