Sea of Tranquility Staff writer Carl Sederholm recently caught up with Dana Schechter of Insect Ark. The band's second album, Marrow Hymns, was released in February 2018. Read on for the complete interview!
SoT: To begin, give us a short introduction to Insect Ark.
Dana Schechter: Insect Ark is an instrumental duo - Dana Schechter (that's me) and Ashley Spungin; we're based in NYC and Portland, OR. Loosely filed under "psychedelic doom metal" we mostly use bass guitar, lap steel guitar, synthesizers, drums, and percussion. I started the band in late 2011, toured a lot, (mostly in the Europe) and self-recorded and released 3 records on various labels. In 2015 Ashley Spungin joined on drums/synths. Our newest LP, recorded as a duo, is called Marrow Hymns and comes out this week on Profound Lore Records.
SoT: Insect Ark plays music that is hard for anyone to describe accurately. I hear elements of doom metal here and there, but I sometimes call it "Haunted Floyd" because I think I hear some 60s-era Pink Floyd somewhere in the mix. What are some ways you'd describe Insect Ark's sound?
Dana Schechter: We're using elements of noise, texture, drone, atmosphere, and of course metal/doom etc. Our influences are all over the place. Ash is really into 60s/70s experimental synth music as well as metal and noise. I grew up on metal, and later got into classical composition, soundtracks, 90's touch and go/chicago bands like jesus lizard, scratch acid, crooners like nice cave, etc. Truth be told, only after starting Insect Ark did I discover the scene for experimental drone, doom, etc. that we fit into.
SoT: One of the band's stated influences is 1960s horror soundtracks. What soundtracks or films do you have in mind specifically? Are we talking Hammer films mostly or something else? Do you ever draw inspiration from horror soundtracks from the 1970s or 80s?
Dana Schechter: Film scores are not as much influences as they are fairly apt comparisons…structurally, sonically, and mood-wise. And definitely not only 60s - some classic film score favorites include Morricone's The Thing (1982), John Carpenter's Halloween (1978), of course groups like Goblin (pick any), and newer stuff like Kristian Eidnes/Lars Von Trier's Antichrist (2009) or Sinoia Caves' Beyond The Black Rainbow (2014)…. There are so many great works out there. If any readers have a tip-off, please send.
SoT: Speaking of horror, do you have a favorite style of horror? What are some of the scariest or the best horror movies you've seen?
Dana Schechter: I'm not much a fan of slasher / gore films, but I do like films that have a sci-fi/psychological bent, or those that are really just mind-bending in a disturbing way.
SoT: Tell us a little about how you compose your songs.
Dana Schechter: Sometimes they begin with a concept or idea of how to shape space, or are built off a simple melody line, chord progression, a bit of noise, or a drumbeat. They can also come from experimentation with sounds that are hard to wrangle like analog electronics, or from building layers on top of a lap steel drone. Songs rarely come from pre-conceived notions such as "I want to write a heavy song" and have never come from an idea that "we need a song that sounds like xxx". The writing for Insect Ark is heavily rooted in ideas of exploration and experimentation, with the only goal being to develop immersive sonic landscapes.
SoT: When did you start playing the lap steel guitar and how has it changed your sense of what Insect Ark is doing?
Dana Schechter: I started playing lap steel right as Insect Ark was taking shape, which was late 2011. I was looking for something other than guitar to use, ran across one in my local guitar shop and decided to give it a try. It's a very challenging instrument to play, but extremely dynamic, and full of surprises. It has its own inherent natural sound when played traditionally, but can also sound utterly horrible or strikingly beautiful - like a subtle synthesizer or a strangled animal, both of which I adore. I love the idea of responding to sounds as they develop and not really knowing what the result will be. This reduces the chance of falling back on patterns we naturally develop over years of playing.
SoT: Insect Ark started out as a personal project, but you started playing with Ashley Spungin a couple of years ago. How has her playing impacted Insect Ark's music?
Dana Schechter: Having a musical partner in the band has been excellent. Ash's contributions have been important in every way. On the new album Marrow Hymns, we finally had time to really sit together and write new songs from scratch (versus us swapping riffs back and forth); some of the best material on the album is the result of that creative writing collaboration. Generally speaking we're very well matched, but we also challenge and compliment each others' specific strengths. I'd say our biggest obstacle is that we haven't ever lived in the same city, so things can move a little slowly that we'd like. We tend to work in isolated, large chunks of time so we can focus on whatever we're doing, be it writing, recording, or rehearsing.
SoT: What are your plans for taking the band on the road?
Dana Schechter: Our NYC Record Release show is April 15 at Elsewhere in Brooklyn, with Martin Rev (Suicide), Wolf Eyes, and Mystic Ruler + Bentley Anderson. We leave the next day for a Europe tour starting with Roadburn Festival in Holland April 19, then two recording residencies in Sweden (EMS Stockholm and Djura Missionhaus, the studio of our friends in the band Arabrot). After that, we're touring with the UK band Gnod and then doing a handful of shows of our own. We'll be doing regional US East/West coast tours in summer and fall this year.
SoT: Where can we find more information about the band or purchase music / merchandise online?
Dana Schechter: Our site is a good place to get general info: insectark.com; for hearing the music I'd suggest insectark.bandcamp.com or the label Profound Lore's page at profoundlorerecords.com.
SoT: Is there anything else you'd like to tell us about Insect Ark and your music?
Dana Schechter: Thanks very much guys!
(Click here to read our reviews of Marrow Hymns)