Monday, April 24, 2017

The freedom being alone brings | An Interview with Planning for Burial

© Matt Havvk

Your latest release ‘Below the House’ is an emotional soundscape made up of complex particles resembling a blood letting of melancholia and has a distinct feeling of both isolation and detachment. From the first listen it became apparent this was going to be an album that resonated strongly with me and similarly my own battles. Whilst this theme might not be new to those fans of Planning for Burial, it is presented on the new album in what feels like a much more precocious way, each song built with layer upon layer upon layer. How long was the process of getting to this point with ‘Below the House’ and what changed or evolved comparatively for you both personally and musically from the first LPS?

I started writing it almost immediately once I was done touring off of “Desideratum” because shortly after that is when I moved back to Pennsylvania, but I didn’t actually start recording it until March 2015. Over the course of a year and a half I would work on it sporadically whenever no one was home and I felt some kind of creative need to work on it. I believe “Below The House” has more in common with my 1st record “Leaving” as I looked at it like a purely writing/recording project, where as “Desideratum” was a record made to represent the songs I was playing live over the course of a few years. I got burnt out on those songs and playing live because I was playing them for 3 years or so before I even began recording it, so when I set out to make “Below The House” I was turning down shows left and right because I just wanted to focus on actual recording/writing again. 


There is a sense of higher orchestration on this album when you hear the music and lyrics come together. It feels almost like the music alone is speaking even more so than the words themselves in some tracks. How do you decide what works best vocally or musically or is it an accumulation of experimentations vs. written word on paper? 

Yeah it’s definitely a back and forward between things I have written down and at times just saying words out loud while working on things and seeing where they go. A few of the songs would have different lyrics over the course of a few shows, or I’d have a musical section that I would completely abandon and try to use the words somewhere else. I never felt like I’m the best at articulating my feelings with words whether in lyrics or something like this giving an interview, I’m still feeling like I’m not even saying the right things about the record, so I tend to let the actual music do the talking for me as much as possible. Years ago when working on “Leaving” I would show early mixes to a close personal friend and my description was “I’m trying to make music that sounds how I actually feel inside” 

Your music is often spoken about in terms of shoegaze, drone, post-rock, post-metal or gloom. Terms and categories aside, how would you describe Planning for Burial to the unbeknownst listener? 

Most of the time I’m asked by family members or people I work with so I just tend to say “noise” to hopefully make everyone stop asking or wanting to look more into it. But honestly this one is hard, I guess I just tend to say “Blackened Slowcore” or “Gloom” which is the previous to me. 


One song that I really fell for instantly was “Warmth of You”. One that you jokingly admitted was deliberately not chosen as the single. I suppose this is because it does carry over some of your earlier heavier sound but I think it was the emotive undertone of the lyrics and vulnerability riding in on the guitar and the beautiful ending that commanded my attention. Why did you choose to focus on other tracks more so than others during promotion and of course when choosing the lead single and what is the picture behind Warmth of You?

I think this is a track that a lot of people feel doesn’t really belong but I feel like it fits the lyrical theme of the record the most, but I also understand that musically it is set apart from the others. I was worried that if I put the “pop” song out first people would be expecting more of that and I didn’t want to disappoint them when there wasn’t a whole lot of that on the record, though I’m trying now to go further into that direction for some future releases. As I was saying earlier I had become burnout out playing the old songs live so as much as I was looking to record and write songs I was happy with I also wanted to write some stuff that would be more exciting for me to play live as well. 

© Isaac Arms

What strikes me most about this new album is how multi-faceted and delicate it is. How has this progression changed the way you perform live and the way you write tracks? 

With “Leaving” and a lot of the EPs before “Desideratum” it was 100% a recording project that I never thought about having to play live. Now I’m starting to work on versions of some of these songs that I can play live but “Desideratum” is an album made to represent the live show I was playing for years leading up to it’s release then I toured it for awhile. So with “Below The House” as I was writing and recording it I was also trying to figure out how I could play it live as well, I played some songs live for awhile before it was released that I have since stopped playing because I need to figure out still how to pull of some of the elements of the recorded version of the song live now. 


 I’ve read that Planning for Burial couldn’t or wouldn’t work as a “band” per se because its really the cathartic experience of “you” that’s most important and I have to say I agree. If other people were brought in it would have to be something else entirely. There’s no denying there’s an element of self-absorption to PFB but it’s not entirely egocentric but rather important to the entire story. Would you agree to a point and how important is it for you to exact that story and exorcise yourself musically?

Planning For Burial is 100% me there’s no way around it, I just think it would not be the same if I started adding people. I have had some friends do some vocals here and there overtime and that’s fine and maybe in the future I’ll open it up for more collaboration. I’m a bit of a control freak when it comes to PFB and I also like the freedom of being alone brings, it’s easy for me to fly out to west coast and borrow a few amps or plan a tour or random one off shows because it’s only me that I have to worry about. 

 What are you most proud of with ‘Below the House’ and what track or tracks are most poignant for you? 

Honestly I’m not sure it’s very hard for me to look at a record objectively when I still feel like I’m living it, in a few months or years maybe I’ll be able to answer this better. “Threadbare” & “Warmth of You” are the songs I probably look at the most because they are structured more like traditional “songs”.


As I mentioned earlier the new album certainly seems much more elaborate and accomplished in hindsight to your previous 3 LPS. Whilst some may note the slight return of a “metal” sound I think you succinctly manage to loop in a harsher sound with more intricate detail. Is there a slight apprehensiveness about being lumped into the metal genre or the shoegaze/slowgaze genre for that matter?

 I think they both come with their own limitations. 
I always thought I was a huge metal head growing up but I find over time meeting a lot of people just who wrong I was about that, but it’s definitely a force within PFB, but I know I’m not “metal” I just make metal tinged music so I worried a lot about the legit “metal” press getting a hold of this record and tearing it apart because it’s definitely not a metal record, and it’s not a shoegaze record either, at times I feel like a lot of the current “shoegaze” scene is made of pop punk/indie bands who love pedals a lot and are just drenching their records with reverb and delay and the press is calling it shoegaze which is fine I like a lot of these records myself but I don’t feel like I fit in with that world either. I tend to want to operate with the outsiders doing experimental music whether it’s drone or noise, outsider metal or darker indie stuff.


 In terms of your lyrics style, what comes first – the words or the music? Or is it more organically connected? 

I mentioned earlier that sometimes it’s the words first, or sometimes I have music and I’m singing random words based on “primal scream” theory or whatever just letting whatever is inside me out then I need to work on those to form a few a phrases into a full song, and sometimes I do one or both of these over a piece of music I end up not even liking but I still have a strong connection for the words so I’ll try to piece them to other things.


More often than not some of our biggest fans or influences are our peers. You’ve surrounded yourself with a decent slew of decent musicians and artists. What and who are you personally listening to at the moment? 

The record was definitely influenced by my love of the work of Phil Elverum and PJ Harvey, which I am still very much listening too, as far as friends who are making music that I am currently listening to a lot: I’ve been listening to the new King Woman record which I feel like I love more and more with each listen, and I’m also into a new record by some friends that I can’t mention yet because it’s not even announced yet though it’s been done for some time, I play on a song so all will be revealed soon enough. I’m also really really into the record “Everybody Works” by the artist Jay Som right now, she’s a solo artist and it just super connected with me. 

Finally, I know you will be heading on tour soon, is there a chance your Europe and UK fans will get to see you live anytime in the near future? 

I would like to say yes but my job is too unpredictable so it makes it very hard to make any solid plans for touring. So all I can say right now is I really don’t know.