A fresh sound influenced by more contemporary movements and with a very wide musical background that it is noticeable within the compositions. I’m talking about BA’AL, a band formed by a bunch of music lovers from Sheffield. And after reviewing their amazing full-length Ellipsism, I couldn´t let the opportunity of interviewing them go. They sure have a lot of interesting stuff to share. Keep on reading…
Subterráneo Webzine: Welcome to Subterráneo lines! Who is answering these questions and what are you listening to while doing so?
Nick: Hello! I’m Nick (guitar) and I’m currently listening to Nothing Left to Love by COUNTERPARTS, which is one of the best melodic hardcore albums I’ve heard recently. Earlier this morning I also listened to the soundtrack to the Studio Ghibli film, Arrietty, which was composed by Cécile Corbel. I watched the film recently and fell in love with the celtic folk score. So yeah, two rather different styles to start the day!
Richard: Hi! I’m Richard (bass and occasional viola) and I’m currently listening to Persian Pillars of the Gasoline Era, last year’s album by VATICAN SHADOW, aka Prurient, aka Rainforest Spiritual Enslavement, aka Dominick Fernow, aka about ten other things. Dystopian industrial and ambient beats this afternoon, following a morning of expansive post metal from BIG BRAVE.
Subterráneo Webzine: I guess I should start by asking how you guys are doing during COVID times. I bet this must have interfered on every plan you had for BA’AL.
Richard: We were very fortunate to wrap up the recording of our album, Ellipsism, literally the week before the UK’s first national lockdown. We had been in the studio seeing all the gig cancellations happening online and wondering how bad things would be. In some ways, the extra time at home made it easier for us all to find the time to finalise the album mixes and artwork etc. But at the same time, we did lose a few cool gigs and haven’t been able to practice in over a year, which has been rubbish. However, for the most part we’re just grateful for our health and the roofs over our heads – not everyone has those luxuries.
Nick: I think it’s also given us a nice period to reflect on things and assess our priorities in life. Of course, I think we would have all preferred life to have continued as normal without a pandemic, but the time away has also reinvigorated our desire to get back together, write some new tracks and play gigs again. Add to that the fact that we’re all sitting on ideas that we want to put into action, so it’s now a case of simply waiting for everything to return to normal so we can get on with it. It’s an agonising waiting game.
Subterráneo Webzine: Even so, I found out about Ellipsism not long after it was released in November and I had to wait for a new batch of CDs because it was sold out. I ignore the number of copies you made, but the demand surely came higher than you must have initially expected. There’s also been digital, of course, and cassettes. Which format has raised more interest?
Nick: We’ve been pleasantly surprised by the demand for sure, without going into figures and statistics, it’s been our best-selling release to date, and things like number of streams and views have been far above what we expected – which was very nice. Surprisingly, for me anyway, cassettes sold out outrageously quickly, not that I’m complaining, and we’ve had a very steady and continuous demand for CDs and digital copies as well. There aren’t many feelings I like more than the feeling I get when my phone buzzes and I see a notification that says “cha-ching”, even though that means I need to go to the post office!
Richard: Yeah, it’s been really overwhelming how many people have wanted to spend their
hard-earned money on our album. We knew that some people had been following us for a while and waiting for us to finally do an album, and we were quietly confident that those people would like it, but we did not expect the surge of interest and demand that we ultimately got. There was more than one frantic email conversation with the label trying to work out how quickly we could restock the physical copies!
Subterráneo Webzine: There is a huge hype with vinyl right now and many collectors are reluctant to buy anything that’s not on wax. So, many eyes only focus on this format. Is this trend discriminating or beneficial for the bands?
Richard: I’m a vinyl fan with a modest-ish collection of my own, so I count myself amongst those who favour it as a format! It can certainly be tricky for bands and small labels, though, just because of the costs involved in production. That’s especially true for bands like us who write such long songs; our album would have had to have been split over two discs, which obviously pushes the price up even further. However, we’d love for something of ours to end up on wax eventually, and we’ve already talked about the possibility, albeit in vague terms!
Nick: Similarly I buy vinyls, albeit not all too often, and it’s on my bucket list to have a record we’ve made put onto vinyl, but that’s purely for the novelty of it rather than any monetary gain. I am a bit sacrilegious in that I consume the majority of my music via streaming services and given how well the album has done, I think there are still enough people that aren’t bothered about vinyl that will still consume our music. I suppose, relatively speaking, vinyl is a greater expense and thus a greater money maker, but I’ve never been interested in making money in this band. I do it because I love it and I fully expect to spend a lot of my own money on it, just as I would any other hobby.
Subterráneo Webzine: Based on what I hear in your music, the playlists you share, some Instagram stories with soundtracks… you like quite a broad palette of genres. Easy question: what do you search for in music? And as for the band, do you plan on keeping that varied route within post-metal?
Nick: Absolutely! We’ve always valued our varied backgrounds in music and we like our music to represent our individual personalities, rather than follow some preconceived guideline of how we are ‘supposed’ to sound. I can’t speak for all of us but I like to look outwards and think about what we could do that we haven’t done before, so it’s likely that our next release will incorporate ideas we’ve not tried before, which goes hand in hand with our extremely varied tastes in music. As for what I search for as a listener, I don’t really know how to condense that into one sentence. I guess I just like to experience as much as I can and take enjoyment from things I haven’t encountered before – there’s something to be found in everything I listen to whether that be joy, relaxation, intellectual stimulation. etc.
Richard: Yeah, it’s very freeing and also exciting to be in a band that intentionally has no real parameters for what we can and cannot do, and be bandmates with people who are open to all styles and genres. If nothing else, it makes the car journeys to gigs a fun time with the stereo.
As for what I want to listen to, a general rule of thumb for me is that I want to feel the real emotion behind whatever I’m listening to. Whether that emotion is nihilistic rage, absolute zen, or literally anything in between comes down to the genre and the artist’s intention, and that wide spectrum of options is what I love about being a pretty much untethered music fan.
Subterráneo Webzine: Those playlists I mentioned above are part of a series of post you make on your own BA’AL blog (check it, people!) I think it is a sweet for followers and music nerds, but how did you come up with this idea? Is it an attempt to avoid the common questions like this one on your interviews? (Laughs) Or is it just a way of showing the audience the full story of the band?
Richard: Thanks, glad you like it! The idea for the blog was just to create some more variety in content for our fans, especially at times when we were busy writing and not playing live – just to give some more insight into us as people. The playlists were just one strand of the ideas that we had for the blog, but once the pandemic hit, a lot of our other ideas for blogs became more difficult, and so the monthly playlists became the main focus for the blog. There are some other things on there buried amongst the playlists, where we’ve talked about our musical inspirations and some of our gear, and there will be more different things on there in future too, alongside more playlists.
Nick: As much as anything, it’s a nice outlet for us to just talk about the things we like as well. Being in lockdown means we don’t really have the same opportunities to get into meaningful conversation about whatever music we’re currently enjoying, but having our blog means we can still do that to an extent.
Subterráneo Webzine: English is not my mother tongue, but I would swear ellipsism is not a common word. The Internet says it is “the term given to a sense of sadness that you’ll never be able to know how history will turn out“. Where does that word come from and how does it relate to the story behind Ellipsism’s lyrics?
Nick: So the lyrical themes all come from Joe, and on this album they deal with subjects relating to grief. Without going into detail, this album relates to the experiences of grief that Joe has gone through throughout his life, so naturally it’s a very personal record. We were drawn to the word Ellipsism because death and grief are somewhat intrinsic to its meaning, but it’s also a word with a certain degree of intrigue. It’s not a word we had ever come across before, and we hoped that it might influence its listeners to search for its meaning and, in doing so, get invested in the theme a little more.
Richard: When Joe pitched it to us as a title, it didn’t take long for us to agree that it was a winner. It’s an intriguing-sounding, single-word title that sounds cool, but it also has a lot of meaning when you look deeper into it, which is still general enough to fit with anyone’s interpretation of it. It also appealed to me as an English graduate, as an ellipsis is also the name for the mysterious ‘dot dot dot’, aka ‘…’
Subterráneo Webzine: Forming a band seems to be a bit of an ordeal until everything fits. And so many things can change… I believe the most recent change for you has been the departure of Tom Arnold (guitars). It actually happened in the same year the album came out. Was he also part of the composition process? Are you looking into auditioning new people?
Richard: Yes, Tom was integral to the album writing; all the riffs on Ellipsism were written in collaboration between Nick, Tom and myself (with Luke and Joe adding their own drum and vocal parts respectively). He was a great asset to the band and we’re eternally grateful for everything he did for us, both in terms of our sound and just on a practical and personal level. We are indeed in the process of auditioning for a replacement, and we’re confident we’ll be back to firing on all cylinders very soon!
Nick: I echo Richard’s sentiment there, and I think that the band is generally a reflection of its members, so whatever the future holds for our overall sound will be a reflection of the new addition to our lineup.
Subterráneo Webzine: Ellipsism came out through Clobber Records, but you had already been involved with APF records for your first release, In gallows by mass. An EP, which makes it even more impressive. Were there different label offers for Ellipsism?
Nick: Again, given the rather unique timing of the album’s completion, we had a significant period in which we could pause and assess all our options regarding the release. We did have several conversations with other labels and reached varying levels of development with them, but ultimately we felt that what Clobber offered was the most suitable for us and where we were at the time. I don’t mean for that to sound like we were inundated with record deals or anything though because we absolutely weren’t, haha!
Richard: Yeah we assessed a few options which largely sprang from labels we either knew through personal connection, or who had done good work with bands we like and/or are friends with. There’s a great bunch of small labels on the UK underground circuit these days, and though of course it’s not like we could just pick whichever one we wanted, it did give us some confidence we could find a good home for the album. Clobber were great all the way through the process, very thorough in their plans and, crucially, seemed to really like the album a lot; it was a genuine connection over the music, rather than purely business.
Subterráneo Webzine: I really need to mention how good the production of Ellipsism is. After all the effort involved in composing an album, is it hard to leave the final touch to an engineer? Are you active parties at that end too?
Richard: Again, thank you! We’re very happy with how it came out. We picked Joe Clayton at No studio because we are all huge fans of lots of the albums that he’s recorded in the past, so it wasn’t really too hard to leave the final touches to him as we absolutely trusted that he understood what we were going for. We were involved though, yes! We had notes and suggestions all through the recording process, and there were four or five rounds of feedback on the mixes before we signed off on them, with us all suggesting small tweaks.
Nick: I think it’s important to trust your engineer/producer if they know what they’re doing. I am the sort of person that likes to tweak everything down to minute details but when it comes to something like production, my expertise is severely lacking, so being able to hand that side over to someone that has that expertise is a massive weight off!
Subterráneo Webzine: You must have already been through a couple of studios before, so… Which is the key to achieving the sound you are aiming for? Is it finding the right place and professionals, transmitting your idea properly…?
Nick: I think it’s a mixture of all of the above really. In Clayton we found someone who had produced plenty of records which sounded fantastic, and this was across genres that we draw from heavily in our music, so we felt confident that he understood what we wanted to create and that he could do it effectively. Being able to name a band or some relatively obscure sound and him knowing exactly what we were talking about was really important as well. He’s also quite a liberal thinker when it comes to production as well. So he was always supportive of our ideas, even if they were a little unorthodox, and he would find ways to make something work rather than simply tell us “it won’t work”, and I think that’s an important trait to have as well.
Richard: Over the course of our preceding few releases, we’d really run the gamut of studios, from small DIY spaces with no heating or toilet roll, to recording a single with world-renowned Russ Russell at Parlour Studios, where every item of gear is probably worth more than my house.
We learned what we did and didn’t like about each of those experiences, but I think the main thing we learned was that working with the right people is the most important thing, and especially that they can understand the kind of things you’re aiming for when you’re deep in the weeds of the specifics of tones, sounds, effects and things like that whilst recording. We’ve yet to have a negative studio experience, thankfully, and we are grateful for all of them, but I think we really did nail it this time by picking a place and a person that captures our sound perfectly.
Subterráneo Webzine: Are you already working on something new? Do you guys have some kind of releasing schedule to keep new material coming?
Richard: We’ve never really had a strict schedule, as our songwriting can take place over a pretty long period depending on what else we have going on – and because the songs are so long! We are a band that goes back and changes things a lot before we are happy to call something finished.
But yes, we are working on new things! Nick and myself have got backlogs of riffs recorded on our phones that we’ve been recording at home on our computers and sending to Luke, our drummer, for his input. Some are coming together nicely as the beginnings of songs that we can flesh out in the practice room as soon as we’ve got a new guitarist set.
Nick: Yeah I think our writing process is quite organic, we have loose plans for what we want to do in the future but we never go as far as to put time restraints on ourselves. We just start writing and when it’s done, it’s done, we’ll think about the ins and outs of releasing it afterwards. But yeah we have got a lot of song ideas, riffs and structures which should come together fairly quickly once we are back together, and we’re excited to see how our new member will take to the material and put their own ideas into the mix!
Subterráneo Webzine: As for Ellipsism, is there anything left to do regarding its promotion? I believe you only have a lyric video, maybe a new one?
Nick: Since live gigs have been off-limits for the past year, the main thing that we missed out on was shows, specifically a release show. Of course, one year later it’s a bit late to do one now but certainly we will be using the next year or so to play these tracks at gigs and promote the album that way. Regarding music videos and the like, I think it’s more likely that we’ll focus our efforts on new music and performing, and we might see more in the ways of music videos when we release something new.
Richard: Yeah it has been very odd to not be able to support the album at any gigs whatsoever – that’s a fact that makes it even more mind-blowing to me that we’ve sold as many albums as we have. We’re definitely excited to play these songs to people, and that’s the main thing that’s left for Ellipsism I think. More than half of the album has never been performed to an audience and there’s some big moments that were designed to get a crowd amped whilst we headbang ourselves silly. I need to start retraining my neck, really.
Subterráneo Webzine: You were included in Rage against the dying of the hungry compilation as part of a charity involved in tackling UK food poverty. This was among bands from the UK, but I see these kinds of alliances happening a lot among different scenes, fighting different fronts. Do you think art, or specifically music, should try to unite in more ways?
Richard: Yes, absolutely. We’re firm believers in these kinds of grassroots movements to make any kind of positive societal change, and if it happens in our musical sphere and with bands we love – as happened with that compilation – then we’re all for it, either supporting or getting involved if we can. The world is full of bullshit, so if we can find more ways to come together and fight that however we can, then we absolutely should. We’re proud to play whatever small part we can.
Nick: There’s definitely a community in music that transcends geographical borders. It’s a strange but ultimately wonderful feeling to have affinity and mutual understanding with bands and artists from any and every corner of the globe. I think we need that kind of solidarity as the world’s systems perpetuate injustice as they do. Acting locally and fighting fronts that are closest to home are probably the most effective purely on a basis of practicality but I think it’s important that we use this community as a force for good, even if it’s simply to spread a message, or raise awareness of something.
Subterráneo Webzine: Art is meant to be a way of expressing ourselves, a tool to raise our voices. But is every voice valid? Do you think art/music should be politically positioned?
Nick: That’s a question I ask myself more often than any other, and I’m no closer to an answer now than I’ve ever been. Of course, when it pertains to emotional expression I think that it is vital that every voice is valid, as long as it’s not causing harm to anyone else. As for politically-inclined art, again I think it’s a brilliant tool to promote your ideas of how you think the world should be, and that shouldn’t necessarily be discouraged. The difficulty comes when people use it as an opportunity to spread hatred and prejudice. Whether people admit it or not, racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, and pretty much every other form of prejudice you can think of are rife within the metal world, and it’s a problem that we need to tackle somehow. Whether the answer is censoring hatred from the top down, or if it can only be defeated by fighting it on the ground as a community, I don’t really know. But we have to fight it somehow.
Richard: I completely agree. Expression is important and we need to be doing more to ensure that everyone’s creative voices can be heard, again provided that those voices are not discouraging the voices (or worse, existences) of others. In BA’AL we’ve obviously never taken an obvious political stance within our songs themselves, as they tend to be of more personal, emotional and metaphorical content. However, with our general presence online and where we choose to show or not show ourselves – whether that be with live appearances, compilations like the one mentioned above, financial contributions, or anything else – we try to support an anti-prejudice and pro-equality stance however we can.
Subterráneo Webzine: An easier question to take the load off… I know you like to recommend music, so, could each of you give us the name of one 2021 album that has stricken you the most so far?
Richard: There are a lot, and I have a huge list of ones I still need to check out… But to pick one right now, it would have to be For the First Time by BLACK COUNTRY, NEW ROAD. They’re an experimental British band who are post-rock in the purest sense – they are far beyond what a ‘rock band’ usually is. Think SLINT, OXBOW, BLACK MIDI and SWANS. It’s angular, progressive, arguably pretentious, and with weird spoken vocals… But I love it. They’re all about 20 years old, too, which is mad.
Nick: Similarly this is a very difficult one! In a pinch I would probably pick Collapsed in Sunbeams by ARLO PARKS which is an extremely wholesome bedroom pop/R&B album, in fact I’d say it’s one of the best debuts I’ve heard in recent years. It deals with a lot of difficult emotions and issues which are naturally upsetting to experience, even vicariously, but it tackles them in a very comforting and positive way.
Subterráneo Webzine: This is it for now. Please, keep on making music and feel free to add anything you like on these last lines. Thank you very much for your time!
Nick: Thank you for having us! It’s consistently baffling whenever we sell an album or a piece of merch to someone in a different country so to be featured in foreign magazines is an honour and a privilege!
Richard: Agreed! Thank you very much for showing interest in our band and supporting us so kindly with both the review of the album and this interview. It’s a pleasure to be given the opportunity to talk about our music and everything behind it, and it’s much appreciated!
Thanks again and all the best in these trying times.