Dying of the light: Interview

DOTL BANDDying of the light: Interview

Earlier this year, Auckland, New Zealand duo Dying of the Light released their latest EP, Monolithium. Band members Chris Rigby (vocals and bass) and Rangi Powick (guitar, programming, and production) took inspiration from science/speculative fiction, dystopian/post-apocalyptic films, and the crises of today and told tales of rampant social, political, and technological dangers – all channelled via a mix of bio-mechanical metal.

Mastered by James Plotkin, and with cover art provided by Khomatech, Monolithium was a self-funded, DIY onslaught, with Dying of the Light’s video for the EP’s title track finding itself posted on plenty of overseas sites. I’ve written about Monolithium elsewhere this year, for both Metal Bandcamp and Last Rites, and interviewed the band for Radio New Zealand. Problem is, of course, reviews and interviews get edited to fit the space available, and it’s often the case that a lot of detail sadly gets left behind. Thankfully, Dying of the Light’s Chris Rigby was amenable to continuing the conversation, so here it is: a few more words from the wise.

Thanks for taking the time to answer this lengthy list of questions, Chris. I know you’re a busy man.

Thanks Craig. I appreciate the time you’ve taken to put these questions together. I’m looking forward to providing detailed and hopefully interesting answers.

Dying of the Light recently released a video for the title track from Monolithium. It’s a fantastic video, with an apocalyptic narrative, and superb visuals. What was the inspiration behind it all?

We’ve been fans of post-apocalyptic themed movies for a long time.  The Road left a big impact on us, as well as some of the more fantastical films of the like, such as Mad Max, Quiet Earth and Book of Eli.   Cold War era nuclear holocaust scenario movies like The Day After, The War Game, Threads, and Testament also hold a special place in our hearts.  There’s just something about the sense of hopelessness and lack of closure in those movies that we feel the need to capture in our music and of course, in the video.  Our fascination with the continuing erosion of the world around us and the impending demise of the human race was a major influence as well.

I’m not sure exactly when the idea came up to make a video based on this concept, but it all seemed to fall into place naturally.  A friend of ours, Andy, who works at a costume hire place call First Scene Direct, helped us dress the part. We used the costumes for a photo shoot for the photos you see inside and on the back of the Monolithium EP cover. We then had our lighting guy, Steve Hogg, film us on the following two weekends.  One session was local and the other one down in the Desert Road. The later came with a stroke of luck via another friend of ours, Rich Lange, who was able to get us access inside the Rangipo underground power station. You can see those shots toward the end of the video.  Coincidentally, my uncle had worked on the construction of the power station, and I had been down there before as a kid in the ’80s on an open day, so it was cool returning to this amazing place. It’s like a huge bomb shelter 200m beneath the ground.  It was a lot dustier than it was 30 years ago, and of all things we found down there, a random “Slayer” logo on a wall was the most unique. Monolithium is up on Bandcamp right now for purchase, but I’m presuming there’ll be physical copies available soon, for those keen for something more tangible?

Yes, we’ve self-financed a run of CDs. The idea behind the Monolithium EP is for us to have something for people to buy, but also for us to promote ourselves out into wider pastures with; we’d love for someone to pick it up and offer to release it on vinyl for example. If anyone is interested in buying a CD, go to: www.dyingofthelightnz.com

Rangi and yourself formed Dying of the Light in the mid ’00s, but you guys have a musical history and friendship that goes back at lot further, correct?

Correct!  Rangi and I first met in high school when we were both living in Picton (pop. 2000 – 3000), in 1986.  We didn’t get on at first; in fact at one point we had a huge fucking fight where he punched me in the head after I threw a lump of cheese at him at a Sea Scout’s camp. Sometime later, we discovered our common love of heavy metal, 2000 AD comics and horror movies. At that point we started hanging out and became good friends. Around 89/90, we came up with the idea of forming a band.   This was an issue, as it was hard enough to find anyone else in Picton that listened to metal, let alone someone that played drums.

When we left school, we both found ourselves living in Christchurch.  We kept jamming and writing songs together but still couldn’t find a drummer until my first band Convulsion split up and we asked Mike from that band to join us early in 1994.  That band became Chapel of Gristle, the band we’d been trying to form all along. COG last a few years until Rangi moved to Dunedin and became program director at Radio One (the local student station).

Fast-forward to 2006 and we both found ourselves living in Auckland, so we decided to start the band again. This time we decided to opt for a different name, i.e. Dying of the Light, due to the fact that the new music was much more focused and mature compared to what we had been doing in Chapel of Gristle; more about this in my other answers later though. This whole thing, of course, has been a giant conspiracy for me to get my revenge on Rangi for that fight we had in 86.  At an opportune moment, I intend to kick him square in the nuts while we are on stage; only then will I be even.

How do you and Rangi work together as a duo? Do you guys jam and hope for the best, or are you a little more structured and rely on each other’s strengths?

There is a small amount of jamming involved, but for the most part we work in a rather unique way: we come up with a riff or idea that we record on Protools, Rangi sets a basic beat beat to it and we start constructing the song from there, usually with a loose structure mapped out.  After we’ve fully written the song, we the figure out how to play it live, which often allows it to breath more in a gig environment. Rangi’s main strength is definitely his audio engineering skills and experience, and mine would be my ability to organise and network. We both contribute creatively, but I’d say that most of the music comes from Rangi, with me providing input and direction. The reverse happens with the lyrics and vocals, i.e. Rangi has the same sort of input with that as I do with the music.

Dying of the Light sounds like a raft of downtuned metal and industrial artists have influenced the band, but were there key bands that inspired you at the beginning? 

I have an aversion to answering this question in great detail as my experiences of it in other bands has led to people developing lazy views of what we might sound like. For example, my first band Convulsion from the early 90s, stated in our band bio that we were influenced by Pungent Stench and Obituary, and as a result we were forever reading reviews of our demo in zines that said we sounded just like those two bands.

The fact was we didn’t sound anything like them if you listened to us properly. However, there was one key event that had an impact on the music that Rangi and I make to this day: when we lived in Picton, we didn’t have a good record shop there, so we would often go on day trips to bigger towns to check out the stores there. There was one day, around the beginning of 1991, where we visited Everyman Records in Nelson (an awesome independent record shop that is still there to this day), and also visited some friends that lived in the town. On that day we were exposed to some key albums that would shape us forever; they were Nirvana’s Bleach and Godflesh’s Streetcleaner. In our view those two albums were and still are groundbreaking in both originality and heaviness!

But, just to confuse readers with things that sound nothing at all like us, the inspiration for my lyrics and vocals come from the likes of Alice Cooper, Nick Cave, Johnny Cash, Leonard Cohen and J.G Thirwell. Additionally, Scraping Foetus Off the Wheel, Laibach, Skeptics, Shayne Carter, HDU, Balter Space and epic film soundtracks have all inspired parts of our music.

DOTL 4You describe the band as, “Monolithic slabs of heavy as f#*k ass-kickery”. In one sense, that sums the band up perfectly, but do you see yourselves relating to any one particular genre or another, or is that even important for you guys?

Thanks for asking this.  It’s a question that we’ve been pondering on a lot over the past couple of years. The actual answer is we don’t really care about fitting into any genre pigeonhole, and just want to make our own music the best we can without being restricted by any predetermined parameters. Obviously, there is a broad metal aspect to our sound, but we’re not really interested in fitting into any labels like Death/Grind/Depressive/Doom/Black/War, Stoner/Industrial/Southern/Space, or Blackend/Groove/Power/Folk/Pop/Core/Math etc.

The down side of following our own path is that we’re often not accepted by certain scenes because we just don’t fit in. The optimistic up side is that our own path will, with perseverance, bear its own much sweater fruit… hopefully.

There’s a strong set of political ideals that influence the band, and it’s fairly obvious that there’s a strong socially conscious slant to some those ideals in your lyrics. Are those ideals crucial to the band’s lyrical direction?

Those themes do appear in our lyrics a lot, but I wouldn’t say they are crucial to the band’s direction, rather that they naturally appear in our music as a part of our creative process.  Back when we were in Chapel of Gristle, a lot of the lyrics were about fucked up relationship situations I (and I assume most people) found myself in in my late teens/early 20s.  These days with all that teenage angst out of the way, we’ve looked a bit further afield to the things in the world around us.  I guess my job as a Union organiser exposes me directly to some of the nastier traits of human nature and those themes, as does Rangi’s job working in a TV news department.

Since Dying of the Light’s drummer left, you’ve chosen to stick with programmed drums; is there a steadfast reason for that? 

In early 2012, JP, our old live drummer left us 10 days before a gig. Rather than cancel the show, we thought we’d give it a crack with programed drums.  As mentioned earlier, we write all our songs digitally, so the drum tracks were all ready to go.  Rangi quickly edited a set together with a few intros and interludes between songs.  We had about 3 jams before the show and went for it.  It was a bit uncomfortable at first and we had a few issues making sure we could hear the drums properly through the fold back, but after a few shows that way we had it sorted.

Initially, we talked about getting a replacement drummer, but as things moved on we started enjoying playing as a two-piece. We realised that it gave us a point of difference compared to every other ‘drums, guitar, bass & vocals’ band.  It also occurred to us that we have the advantage of being able to do things with programed drums that a human drummer, with a standard drum kit, could never do.

We’ve been experimenting with huge barrages of orchestral and Japanese Taiko drums for example.  Expect that to start coming out in new DOTL music. That’s not to say we may not re-introduce live drums again in the future.  JP did add a different and positive aspect to our sound that we never got the opportunity to capture in the studio.  If it seems right, you never know what might happen.  It is more likely though that when we record our album, we will get someone to record a layer of live drums to add an extra organic feel to the sound.

The band obviously embraces technology, and the Internet has made it far easier for New Zealand bands to reach well beyond our shores. But, I’m sensing there’s also recognition of the darker side to technology in the band, the post-apocalyptic narrative of the new video being one example. Am I way off base there? 

I wouldn’t say technology in itself, but more the intent behind said technology. In various parts of our music, you’ll find indirect references to autonomous weapons/robots, planned obsolescence, and the unhealthy human reliance on technology, to the point where we may not be able to function properly if it were taken away from us.

DOTL CHRISAside from your role in Dying of the Light, you’re a long-time supporter and well-known figure in the NZ metal scene. What was it about metal that attracted you in the first place? 

Well, if we go right back, seeing Twisted Sister’s video for “We’re Not Gonna Take It” on  ‘Shazam!’  in 1984 (and obviously later hearing and loving their Stay Hungry album) would be the key starting point for me.  In fact, thinking about it now, it was probably where the seeds for my current career as a Union organiser were planted as well. I didn’t really get properly into music and metal until 1988, when I first heard Iron Maiden Seventh Son of a Seventh Son.

It was full speed ahead from there on in with me looking deeper and deeper into metal and other noisy genres from the past and present, trying to discover as much cool music as I could. Seeing Shihad play “It” on the ‘Metal Primer’ segment of a late night music show in 1989 was the first time a New Zealand band that spoke to me.  Later, seeing them open for and blow away Anthrax on their Persistence of Time tour in 1990 cemented my support for them. Obviously, they aren’t the same band these days but Tom Larkin was nice enough to grant us permission to cover their song “Factory” for Monolithium.

You’ve got a long history of fostering and supporting NZ’s metal scene with your early print edition of Subcide Zine, which continues in its current incarnation online. Can you share a little history about that? 

Subcide Zine was started late 1992, with the first issue coming out December ’93 and the third and final issue coming out in August of ’96.  I couldn’t tell you exactly why I started it, except for my passion for heavy, loud, noisy music, and a drive to make things happen. The contacts the zine allowed me to build and the advent of the Internet resulted in me being able to start bringing tours to New Zealand, the first being the ’98 Brutal Truth tour.

The amount of time and energy this took up meant that the zine would have to go on hold until late 2010 when becoming a first time father and being at home a lot more made resurrecting Subcide as a webzine/blog something relevant for me again.   Your readers can check that out here. For some time I’ve actually been working toward putting out a Subcide Zine #4.  I’m in the process of investigating crowd-funding options that will allow that to happen. I want it to be a professional, pro-printed product that people will want to own. Keep checking the blog for updates on that!

When Subcide originally finished up, you took to music promotion and managed to get some great bands to tour down here. NZ metal fans are indebted to you for bringing Impaled Nazarene, Brutal Truth, Incantation, and Pungent Stench here, but who else did you manage to attract to these far-flung shores?

That’s pretty much it for bigger international acts, with the exception of Dismember, who I came out of retirement for in 2008, and did two shows with the help of Daryl from Malevolence. I also did two tours each with Misery from Brisbane and Atomizer from Melbourne. One of my favorite tours was actually the 1999 Sticky Filth South Island tour.  It was a fun tour with good turnouts and a legendary NZ band.  Actually, recently I ran into the Sticky Filth guys at ‘the Killing Room’ (the band rehearsal studio where Dying of the Light practice) and they were still talking about their fond memories of that tour.

dylingofthelightIt must have been challenging in terms of practicalities, commercial viability, and just dealing with bands, club owners and fans’ demands in the early years of New Zealand’s extreme metal scene. How do you see it all now? 

I definitely have no regrets about tour promoting, but it was very challenging at times. It taught me a lot about making things work under stress and adverse situations, as well as developing the strong networking and organisational skills that I now use every day in my job. When I think about the idea of tour promoting now I start to shake and feel ill. I think I truly burned myself out doing that, but at the same time I like to think I cut a path for underground metal acts to tour New Zealand after me.

Bar the odd exception (Brian Wafer toured Pungent Stench in 93, and there were a few bigger bands that played Auckland only shows), bands like that didn’t come to New Zealand regularly before I started doing it.  After I stopped, Gareth Craze took it to another level with his RW Entertainment, bringing the likes of Deicide, Suffocation, Napalm Death, Mayhem and many more over. Since he’s started to diversify away from underground metal, the likes of Chaos NZ, Internecion, and Headless Horseman have begun to step into the fold and have most recently been involved in NZ shows for Absu, Inquisition, Impiety, Goatwhore, Midnight and Marduk. Stop Press:  Yours Truly couldn’t help himself, and is now assisting in the Auckland date of the up coming Primate shows in January 2014.

Given you’re an advocate for underground New Zealand bands, what strengths do you draw from the DIY ethos that is so strong in New Zealand metal?

I’m glad you asked about the strengths.  I’m sure I could have given a long depressing answer if you had asked about the negative aspects. But here goes… Thanks mainly to the Internet, there is a lot of support for local underground bands from within its own circles. While there aren’t huge crowds, they are passionate and big enough to support and encourage cool bands to develop and grow.

Additionally, the international networking opportunities that have come from the net have meant bands can push themselves further.  I’ve really enjoyed seeing bands like Diocletion, Witchrist, Dawn Of Azazel, Vassafor, Ulcerate, Arc Of Ascent and others, develop an international following.  When I got involved in all of this in the early 90s, that sort of thing seemed like only a dream.  Back then you had the postal system, and a network of hand flyers being sent back and forth with letters to get your name out.

As someone who writes about, and is intrinsically involved in, the NZ metal scene, what’s your impression of the scene these days? And for those who might be just tuning in, who are your recommendations? 

The scene is healthy!  I’ve mentioned some bands in the above question; check those out. You should also Google these names: Sinistrous Diabolus, Exordium Mors, Heresiarch, House Of Capricorn, Shallow Grave, Malevolence, Anno Domini Mortus, BulletBelt, Red Dawn, Stormforge, Forsaken Age, Numb Skull, BloodFvkk, and Graves.

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