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InterviewsAn Interview with Burn Your World Bassist Ross Hagen

Posted on Saturday, December 03 2016 @ 09:11:04 CST by Pete Pardo
Heavy Metal Staff writer Carl Sederholm recently caught up with Ross Hagen, bassist for the Salt Lake City band Burn Your World. As you'll soon discover, Ross is involved with several projects and is also a professor of music in Utah who has taught heavy metal in the classroom and has also published on various aspects of the music. Check out Carl's review of Burn Your World's new EP in the reviews section of this site. Enjoy!

SoT: You've been involved in multiple musical projects over the years. What projects are currently active? What are some recordings that are recently out or are forthcoming?

RH: Right now the only ones that are active or semi-active are Schrei aus Stein, Burn Your World, and Curseworship. Schrei aus Stein's last album Wanderwege came out in Spring 2016, Burn Your World has a new EP coming out on cassette on October 26th, and Curseworship is about halfway through a new recording...although it's yet to be determined when and if that will be finished.

SoT: Which projects, if any, are on hold but still garner attention from listeners? Is there a project that listeners would associate with you more than another? I know, for example, that Spawn of the Matriarch garners attention from time to time.

RH: Oh Spawn of the Matriarch, hard to believe that was a decade ago! The longest-running musical project I've been involved in is encomiast, an ambient and electronic music project I started with in 1999. Encomiast did about a dozen releases over the years, most recently a digital-only EP called gravity is very compelling (2012). Beyond that Schrei aus Stein is probably the most widely known.

SoT: How would you describe the metal scene in Salt Lake City? What are some of the bands more of our readers should be aware of in these parts (some of us who write for this site really enjoy Visigoth)? 

RH: Besides Visigoth, the best-known bands from around here are probably SubRosa and Cult Leader. Of course, neither of those bands sound anything like Visigoth! Other bands in the area I enjoy are Deathblow and Villain. 

I'm a relative newcomer to SLC, but in the six years I've been here I've found the scene to be pretty fun. There are of course various factions and people who don't get along for one reason or another, but that's to be expected I think, especially in a smaller scene like this where people have long histories with each other. There's sometimes a "big fish, small pond" kind of attitude, and sometimes a good bit of posturing and chest-thumping, but there's also a sense that everyone in the Utah metal scene is sort of "inside the wire" compared to the broader culture of the area, which does fuel a certain camaraderie.

I find that the main challenges around here tend to be revolve around Utah's liquor licensing, which sometimes makes it pretty difficult to mount all-ages shows for mid-level or underground bands. I once saw a band (Steel Bearing Hand from TX!) where their guitarist had to play from the parking lot using a really long cord because he was only 20 years old and therefore couldn't even set foot in the venue. He killed it though.

SoT: You play in a band called Burn Your World, a group that may best be described as grindcore. How are things going with that band? What can listeners expect from you guys in the coming months?

RH: Burn Your World actually recently wrapped up recording for a 4-song EP called Full Dark which is honestly probably more stylistically indebted to black metal and crust than grindcore. It really pushed us to the edges in terms of our abilities and I'm really happy with how it turned out. We're releasing it as a cassette on October 26th (along with a release show at the SLC venue Urban Lounge) and it's currently available for streaming.

SoT: Speaking of grindcore, what are your thoughts about genre within heavy metal in general? Do our notions of genre limit listener experience or do they help?

RH: Genre in metal is kind of hard I think, because it can be limiting or helpful depending on the context. Genre is not really just about musical style but is instead a collection of interwoven expectations involving the music, visual aesthetics, fashion, etc. It does sort of put musical styles and people into kind of odd boxes at times, and the various metal genres sometimes get hilariously narrow. A lot of times it also seems to just be a marketing tactic designed to portray something fairly pedestrian as somehow new and's not black metal it's blackened crusty forest-core! It also might make promotional things a little bit more difficult because it feels like you're having to focus in on an ever narrower audience, or a collection of narrow audiences, rather than just broadcasting it out to anyone who's remotely interested in metal.

But at the same time listeners understand musical style by comparing it to that which they have already heard…we understand every new work in relation to existing work.  Probably the best example of that I've experienced is that in Burn Your World we often identify particular riffs according to what band they remind us of, so when we're writing songs we say things like "play the Obituary riff 4 times and then let's see how the Dissection part sounds coming out of that" and so forth. Since we all have the same musical backgrounds in common, it just becomes a sort of shorthand.

SoT: Another project of yours, Schrei aus Stein, has some new music out. How are things going with that project?

RH: It's going well I think. The last record Wanderwege was received pretty well and I was rather proud of it. I have a tendency in that band to really indulge in strange effects (like using distorted keyboards instead of guitars) and extended electronic parts, but in the last record I really tried to envision the music as something I could see an actual band playing. I've got a few new ideas for further music but my recording computer died so now I'm kind of back to the drawing board. I've been kicking around a thought experiment for trying to write metal without using riffs, so the music just constantly evolves and progresses. That's going to take awhile though...

SoT: You are both an academic and a musician and you've brought your interest in heavy metal into your classes and your writing. I know you've been especially interested in the concept of ritual in metal studies. Where are your studies on that topic taking you? How does the idea of ritual play out in heavy metal? Why do bands describe what they do in terms of ritual? 

RH: In some cases, the use of the term "ritual" is little more than an attempt to imbue a concert or a recording with greater importance…to sacralize it and set it apart from the mundane world of show business. But then of course some bands (Watain, Saturnalia Temple, and others) do create their music as a part of an occult magickal practice. It's hard to tell the difference, and maybe not all that important ultimately. At the very least I wouldn't feel particularly qualified to pass judgment on whether a particular band is "sincere" or authentic about their ritual component.  I'm a little stalled on the ritual and metal writing at the moment, but I'm beginning to figure my way out of the tangles. One of the things I've come to realize is that rituals and magic are usually really invested in imagination and the creation of alternative realities (in which, say, wine becomes blood), and I've been thinking about how that interfaces with the way that black metal bands in particular use ritual as a way to authenticate themselves. It seems kind of contradictory to use something inherently flexible like ritual and magic as a way to assert an essential identity ("I'm a die-hard, you're just a poser," etc.). 

SoT: You wrote an article ("Kvlt-er Than Thou") that deals with core issues concerning fan experience / fan culture. What do you make of heavy metal fan culture?

RH: I love it, even though it is rife with status games and posturings. I guess that's part of the fun…although I do sometimes wish people would remember that it can be fun. I've been reading the new memoir by Necrobutcher from Mayhem and a lot of the pictures are casual or outtakes from photo shoots where they're all just cracking up and mugging for the camera. There's a tendency to assign a lot of weight and importance to those foundational black metal bands, which they clearly deserve, but on some level they were also just kids goofing off in the woods. I also guess that status games are par for the course in just about any participatory culture, whether we're talking about black metallers or golfers or black metal golfers. People are always concerned with sorting each other out and of course we always save the most vitriol for those closest to us (Freud's "narcissism of small differences").  It's basically about carving out a sense of in-group identity from a wider fan culture, and that just can't happen without a little elitism.  I do find it heartening though that metal fan culture is beginning to open itself up to the fact that it's never been as white and male and hetero as people have assumed.

SoT: You listen to a broad number of bands, including many that are either underground or that a general listener may never encounter. What are some lesser known bands you'd recommend to our readers? (We're not trying to set you up as a hipster, just as a connoisseur of bands!)


RH: This is a tall order…. The last really cool thing I saw was a one-man doom/noise band named Crawl. It was one guy playing drums with a homemade two-string bass stick across the top of his kit that he would fret with one of his drumsticks. Of course it ran through a wall of amps. He did vocals through a sort of Mad Max mask strapped to his face. It was really refreshing to see something so innovative and daring...and it was also just crushing in terms of the sound. I've also recently been really digging into the less well-known Bergen bands from back in the day like Helheim, Gehenna, Hades, and Aeternus. 

SoT:  Where can listeners check out some of your work? 

SoT: You've been involved in some projects (musically and academically) that concern noise music. For our readers who need an introduction to noise, what are some ways of finding an entree into that style? What bands would you suggest to beginning listeners?

RH: Noise is a hard thing to try to proselytize about. The recorded corpus is impossibly vast and diverse…the 50-CD collected works boxed set of the Japanese noise musician Merzbow kind of sums that up in spectacular fashion.  Honestly, what I would do is just find one noise record (Merzbow, Incapacitants, Schloss Tegal, Wolf Eyes, Oscillating Innards, Prurient, Emil Beaulieu, Page 27, Novasak, plenty of others…) and really get to know that one record intimately. You have to warp your ears a bit at first and I'm not sure it matters really how you get there. Besides, noise is supposed to be anarchic and anti- so I don't want to contribute to creating a noise canon (although one totally exists already). I would also say that finding live noise performances is key. So much of the practice of noise is improvisational and in the moment, and the massive sound of a maxed PA is also part of the appeal. You have to feel it bodily and experience it in the moment, and listening to a recording on headphones can't replicate that.

SoT: Finally, you've written some incidental for plays and your wife is heavily involved in theater. What are some of your thoughts on theatricality and heavy metal broadly?   

RH: Theatricality has always been a part of metal I think, whether the massive spectacles of Judas Priest and Iron Maiden or just death metal musicians windmilling their hair. I mean, Corpsegrinder's neck is basically a piece of stage equipment at this point. But one of the things I've come to appreciate from having worked on theatrical productions is how much the environment and layout sets up and guides the audience's expectations. A proscenium theater with a stage invites a totally different kind of experience than something in the round or where an audience is seated amidst the performers. With Burn Your World, for example, we've come to really appreciate venues with either smaller stages or no stages. We're considering trying to play on the floor in front of the stage at some venues too (assuming the sound guy won't mind). It also brings to mind the few instances where I've seen guys try to do really aggressive and confrontational G.G. Allin-type performances on a stage, and it just doesn't work. If you want to really physically get in your audience's face and have them respond in kind, you need to actually be toe-to-toe.   

Carl Sederholm

(Click here to read our review of Full Dark, No Stars)

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