Los Angeles-based trio Ides Of Gemini plays a satisfyingly homeless sort of music, wandering like it knows which way it’s going only as far as the next brazen footfall. The band’s eerily beautiful debut full-length Constantinople was released earlier this year on Neurot Recordings, and has resonated rather deeply with those who privilege emotional weight above extremity. Dan Obstkrieg managed to get a few words in with Ides Of Gemini’s guitarist and principal songwriter J. Bennett before the band headed out on an overseas tour to bum out the entire European continent.
MetalReview: Can you give us some insight into the writing and recording of Constantinople? Four of the songs were obviously carried over from the Disruption Writ demo; were the new tracks written in a big fit of consecutive productivity, or did they all come together a bit more piecemeal?
J. Bennett: It wasn’t so much a fit of productivity as an extended period of being stuck in bed. The music for “Old Believer” was written at the same time as the material on The Disruption Writ EP, but the others came together between May and October of last year, when I was more or less bedridden with a severe nerve condition that ultimately resulted in spinal surgery. As far as the recording, we recorded and mixed Constantinople with Chris Rakestraw at Sunset Lodge in January of 2012. He is a top-notch professional who works fast and takes care of business.
MR: How did you guys get hooked up with Neurot? It seems like one of those great niche labels where, even if none of the bands really sound all that alike, there’s at least some kind of shared ethos that unifies the roster.
JB: Scott Kelly and Steve Von Till from Neurosis / Neurot emailed us and asked us if we’d be interested in working with them. We were as surprised as we were (and are) honored. They are supreme artists and true gentlemen. And I agree with your assessment of the label in that there seems to be just two things that tie the artists together: The fact that none of us sound alike and the fact that all of us operate in musical realms that exist outside any specific genre or subgenre.
MR: How does the music for Ides of Gemini typically get composed? I know you have said elsewhere that the purpose of the group is to highlight Sera Timms’s vocals, but does that mean that you typically start with a vocal melody, or does the group first come up with guitar riffs and song structures that form an eventual foundation for vocal invention?
JB: Despite the fact that the songs are all written to spotlight Sera’s voice, we’ve never started writing one based on a vocal melody. Which might seem a little strange on the surface, but I actually write all the music and compose the basic arrangements before she works her magic. I know what she likes and what she’s capable of, so it’s usually a pretty smooth process. Occasionally I’ll come up with a part that she’s not sure of, but I’m usually able to talk her into it.
MR: How, if at all, has the songwriting process changed with the addition of Kelly Johnston on drums? If nothing else, having that human presence on the drums has given the band a much fuller, less wispy sound; they seem to lead the guitar just as much as they buttress it.
JB: Having an actual human being on drums is fantastic. Plus, Kelly sings a lot of Sera’s vocal harmonies, and it’s pretty much impossible to get a drum machine to do that. We’re very lucky to have her in the band. The songwriting process hasn’t really changed all that much, though. Kelly wrote her own drum parts for two or three of the songs, but most of them were written by Sera before Kelly joined the band.
MR: Ides of Gemini recently opened the Los Angeles date of the Decibel Magazine Tour with Behemoth, Watain, The Devil’s Blood, and In Solitude. How did that go? Did it feel at all like playing to a totally foreign (and possibly hostile) audience, or have you been completely inured to odd line-ups by now?
JB: It was a completely nerve-wracking but exciting experience. Albert Mudrian from Decibel magazine hooked us up with opportunity, and we were completely thrilled and honored to be sharing a stage with such fantastic bands. I knew there was a possibility that a lot of the black metal kids might not be into us, but we got nothing but positive feedback after that show. There was literally a line of teenage girls waiting to get their pictures taken with Sera after we played.
MR: Do you have upcoming tour plans to promote Constantinople?
JB: We’re embarking upon a Southern California World Tour with Old Man Gloom on Sept 3, which consists of a show in Los Angeles followed by a show in San Diego. Then on Sept. 6, we head to Europe for a month’s worth of shows.
MR: Especially given that Ides of Gemini doesn’t have too many obvious stylistic peers, if you could assemble a touring line-up of your dreams, what might that look like (bearing in mind that Johnny Cash fronting Sisters of Mercy is completely on the table)?
JB: I would pay money to see footage of Johnny Cash even thinking about listening to Sisters Of Mercy. But if we could go back to 1982 and tour with Killing Joke, Juju-era Siouxsie and the Banshees and Flock Of Seagulls, we’d do it in a heartbeat.
MR: Given that there’s such an emphasis on atmosphere with Ides of Gemini, are there any particular non-musical art forms – whether books, films, visual art, or whatever – that have strongly influenced your work? I know that you have done your own visual design work for Ides of Gemini, so I’m also wondering whether whatever influences you recognize have influenced both the music and the design side of Ides, or whether those feel like separable entities.
JB: We like to think of the sounds and visuals as a cohesive whole, but the music comes before the artwork, and the former definitely influences the latter. For instance, the image we chose for our European tour poster is directly related to the song “One To Oneness.”
As far as non-musical influences, the song title “Martyrium Of the Hippolyt” was directly lifted from a 15th century painting by the Flemish painter Dieric Bouts. It’s an image of St. Hippolytus being drawn and quartered. And I nicked the title “Starless Midnight” from a line in a speech that Martin Luther King gave when he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo in 1964. But the song itself has nothing to do with Martin Luther King. I don’t think I even told Sera where the title came from until after we’d recorded the album.
MR: There’s a reasonably large difference in sound between the four songs that appear on both the Disruption Writ demo and the Constantinople album. Do the versions on Constantinople more closely resemble your initial vision for the songs, or was it a simple matter of technical/recording limitations and/or not yet having recruited a live drummer?
JB: It was primarily that we wanted to re-record the songs with Kelly and in a professional studio.
MR: For this particular listener, the most arresting section of Constantinople is the back-to-back mid-album placement of “Resurrectionists” and “One to Oneness.” “Resurrectionists” is such an anxious, inward-focused song, and then “One to Oneness” is brashly exuberant, nearly triumphant in its declaration: “I am the truth!” Was the sequencing of those two songs done to deliberately play up that contrast?
JB: All of the songs were carefully sequenced to highlight their contrasts. But it’s funny you mention those two because we approached that particular section of the sequencing from a vinyl standpoint, with the understanding that the listener would have to flip the record at some point. We wanted a dramatic opening to the second side, so our initial idea was that “One To Oneness” would kick off side two. But because you can only fit so much music on a side of vinyl before the sound quality starts to fall off, we ended up having to make “One To Oneness” the last song on side one and “Reaping Golden” the opener for side two. I think “Reaping” is a totally effective opener, though, because it’s the only song we have that begins with a bass riff.
MR: What do you see in the future for Ides of Gemini’s music? If you’ve yet thought about (or started writing) any new material, do you think it would be a refinement and elaboration of the current approach, or are there any plans to open up the sound?
JB: The music for the next album is about 95% finished. My initial goal was to get it completely written before Constantinople even came out, but I missed that deadline by a song or two. I can safely say the next record will be very, very different than Constantinople, though. Europe will be getting the first taste because we’ll actually be debuting one of the new songs over there next month.
Thanks to J. Bennett for taking the time to answer our questions. You can check out Ides Of Gemini’s European tour itinerary here; MetalReview’s Midwestern branch has yet to see these three mopes in action, so please get out to a show and tell us how they were.