Emil Amos is dedicated to his craft. He’s been recording as Holy Sons since the early ’90s, committing thousands of songs to tape. He’s a percussionist and multi-instrumentalist for long-standing Portland experimental rockers Grails, and recently he’s signed on as a drummer for primo doomsters, Om. “From the beginning of my relationship with music it began to take over my entire life,” Amos says. “So I’ve ended up lodging most of my thoughts into songs.”
Emil Amos is dedicated to his craft.
He’s been recording as Holy Sons since the early ’90s, committing thousands of songs to tape. He’s a percussionist and multi-instrumentalist for long-standing Portland experimental rockers Grails, and recently he’s signed on as a drummer for primo doomsters, Om.
“From the beginning of my relationship with music it began to take over my entire life,” Amos says. “So I’ve ended up lodging most of my thoughts into songs.”
And it shows. Just in the last two weeks, Amos has released two full-length albums, Doomsdayer’s Holiday with Grails, and another under the name Holy Sons.
The Decline of the West, his ninth solo LP, was originally released on an Italian label in 2006, but saw it’s expanded reissue come through New York label Partisan Records. The record is a revelation of low-key folk steeped in Middle Eastern chord phrasings, found radio collages and diverse vocal melodies.
Because Grails is planning a rare Portland performance as part of the Fall of Darkness Festival at Berbati’s Pan this weekend–their only Portland show of 2008–the Vanguard got Amos to respond to questions via e-mail about his prolific songwriting, playing in Grails and his relationship with heavy music.
Ed Johnson: How did you start playing music?Emil Amos: Around ’89 my father gave me a four-track that I started using to record my first hardcore band in Chapel Hill, NC. Not everybody had them back then, so other bands in the area started asking me to help them record their cassette releases. Our band needed songs, so when everyone left their instruments at my house I started learning how to use them just to piece melodic structures together. By the time our band broke up around ’92, I had learned how to imitate the sound of a band to record my own songs. I didn’t see the point in going through the trouble of having a band anymore after I got addicted to doing the production and recording by myself.
EJ: Why the moniker Holy Sons?EA: That name reflected my addiction back then to researching various secret societies (this has since moved to an obsession of researching the history of the CIA).
EJ: Do you consider yourself mainly a drummer or something else?EA: Mostly, even when I’m drumming, I’m hearing the song as it’s being produced. My brain is infected with relentless melodic viruses–they never stop. I can apply these melodies to whatever instrument, but as a kid I was really just drawn to singing. Singing is where all my phrasing originates from.
EJ: What’s the story behind the recent reissue of Decline of the West?EA: The original version was released in Italy in 2006. The difference is that it had a cover of an old Eric Gaffney song, which is not on the new version, and I also added four new versions of older/unreleased songs. Partisan Records wanted to make it available in the U.S. before we moved on to the next records I’ve been getting ready.
EJ: How did you choose the samples you used on Decline…? EA: I just scan and tape AM radio while I’m at work. It’s a compulsive habit. I have a couple hundred tapes I revolve and refine of static, schizophrenic slow-jams and absurd evangelists.
EJ: What’s your role in Grails? How does the band go about writing its songs? What do you see as the distinction between your work in Grails and your work in Holy Sons?EA: The lines between Grails and Holy Sons have started blurring lately for the first time. In general, Grails holds down a very meditative zone and that can’t really be interrupted, whereas Holy Sons always had its sense of humor upfront and didn’t have to obey the rules of a mood quite as much.
But there are different benefits to either method, so I think both bands have been contradicting their previous well-traveled areas to create some new results. In Grails we pay a lot of tribute to music history… my role is usually more about mixing and arranging, whereas in Holy Sons it’s more of a message-based music that’s less abstract and about a direct emotional reality I’m dealing with. I’m happy with their relationship because one form of expression without the other would be oppressive in itself.
EJ: Both Grails and Holy Sons seem to exhibit elements of traditional Eastern music, what sounds or influences inform your songwriting?EA: I can’t really remember when I started getting obsessed with Eastern culture, but it really took off when I was super-depressed in the mid-’90s as I started to discover the parallels between Eastern philosophy and existentialism and how they could help me re-calibrate my mind/worldview.
Then I went and lived in India for a summer and felt really at home. In terms of guitar I’ve always tended to bend notes in a sitar-sounding way, mostly because, when learning guitar early on, I couldn’t apprehend the traditional country-western bending style; it was too hard.
So I had to find my own lyrical method that ended up falling somewhere in between a sort of Celtic-Richard Thompson hammer-on thing and a micro-tonal drone approach that was being explored by others like the great Chapel Hill band Polvo. But, as always, The Beatles were there first on records like Revolver.
For an extended interview, head over to the Vanguard blog at blogs.dailyvanguard.com.
Fall of Darkness FestivalGrails is playing a heavy-music fest this week. Berbati’s (where else?) will play host to a slew of loud and angry gents well worth the relatively cheap price of admission.
Berbati’s Pan (213 S.W. Ankeny St.)Full-weekend pass: $35
Tonight, 8:30 p.m.Thrones, Ancient Age, Purple Rhinestone CowboyFREE, 21-plus
Friday, Oct. 10, 7:30 p.m.Wolves in the Throneroom, Nachtmystium, Ludicra and Silentist$16, all-ages, bar with ID
Saturday, Oct. 11, 7:30 p.m.Amorphis, Leaves Eyes, Samael and Virgin Black$16, all-ages, bar with ID
Sunday, Oct. 12, 7:30 p.m.Sunn0))), Grails, SubArachnoid Space and Trees$16, all-ages, bar with ID