Residing in the Pacific Northwest, doom is hardly an outlier in the emotional terrain of music. Seattle, Washington’s UN has drawn from their landscape, the gray skies and their own profound experiences with life’s terminal limitations for their sophomore effort, Sentiment, but they also reach across the ocean where one of their chief influences resides: Germany’s Ahab. Bereft of overwhelming effects pedals and gimmicks, UN play a raw brand of funeral doom laden with all the trimmings of an emotionally suffocating album.
In advance of the release of their sophomore album, Last Rites sat down to chat with Montgomery Forrest Mccleary II, better known as Monte Mccleery, about the personal doom that influenced the fifty-three minutes of soul shattering delivered through Sentiment.
Did you grow up in the Pacific Northwest?
I grew up all over the place. I’m originally from Aberdeen, Washington. Not sure if you’re familiar, but it’s Kurt Cobain’s hometown. There’s definitely a correlation between the heavily depressing music we tend to play and the area.
What is it about the Pacific Northwest that leads to all that gloom?
Definitely the fact that we have three hundred or more days of overcast weather every year. Plus, people here tend to do a lot of hiking, and that puts you in touch with nature in a more introspective mode. The surroundings definitely influence that, but even more so, small artistic communities tend to share ideas and melodic, emotive concepts from the ground floor up. It’s the same reason that Gothenburg has a bunch of bands that have a similar core.
Do you personally hike a bunch?
No, actually. I don’t get out nearly as much as I would like to. I’m heavily allergic to anything that grows from the ground. I do really enjoy it, but it can be absolute agony if the pollen hits me in the right way.
So, you’re like Proust composing from your bed and taking from your surroundings without actually experiencing it.
Yeah. I actually take stomach ulcer medication for my allergies because none of the allergy-specific medication works for me. Stomach ulcer medication apparently works as an antihistamine in a stronger way than actual allergy pills. My poor housemates—I can’t have any houseplants or Christmas trees in the house.
That’s a decent angle for some PR. You might want to consider playing that angle pretty hard on social media.
Actually, I am a cancer survivor. That’s probably the one I would lead with. The Tomb of all Things was totally influenced by that experience. We rushed to release it, honestly—pushing the recording and masterings in about three days because I really wasn’t sure that I would have the opportunity to see its release any other way.
That’s a horrific experience. What were you diagnosed with, if you don’t mind my asking?
Well, the long diagnosis is Diffuse Large B-Cell Lymphoma. Not sure if you’re a Curb Your Enthusiasm fan at all, but…
So, it’s no the good one?
No. Ha. It’s absolutely not the good one. Every time I bring up that reference people don’t get it and it’s a bit awkward. Fortunately, I caught it early enough to do something about it. A reason that this version is definitely not the good one is that the symptoms begin to manifest in your gut. Most people won’t actually notice anything until it’s too late. You might have discomfort or a digestive issue but you won’t see any actual symptoms or tumors until it’s too late. For me, I was really lucky because we caught it in Stage II. Most people find it around Stage IV-B, where the only thing the hospital can do is make you comfortable.
How was the support from your bandmates and friends?
Great. I think that’s a big reason why we’re in our infancy stages still. We had to put everything on hold because we couldn’t be quite sure that I would make it. It was a bit weird because I really couldn’t handle all of the overt emotions that people around me were feeling. I focused on being outwardly positive to help other people not feel guilty. I always felt badly in the treatment center where someone is waiting for the final moments of a loved one and I’m just sitting a few beds down playing Magic The Gathering with my friends. I was definitely grateful for those little things.
So, you ever think about whether you’d rather be the patient or the person in the waiting room waiting for their loved one to go through treatment?
Wow. There are definitely some days where I thought this would be an easy way out for me. It really depends what kind of headspace I’m in. I haven’t lost anyone particularly close to me, and I’ve been really lucky in that way. I have lost grandparents and extended family, but as far as someone in my day to day—I haven’t experienced it myself, so it’s a really tough question.
Did you write the lyrics for this album?
Tomb was all me, with the exception of one track written by our drummer at the time. I had some lyrics for that, but he came up with something off the cuff and I just liked it much better. Originally, Tomb of all Things was supposed to be a Sci-Fi album, but the cancer diagnosis really changed that for us. I’m a huge fan of philosophy and poetry, so I did bastardize some Nietzsche quotes—some in particular that characterized the emotional tone of the album. Some of it was influenced by Poe and some by Herman Hesse, or some other poets that I’ve read in the past.
Lyrics were never a strong point for me, and on Sentiment I wanted to make sure that the emotional tone was something of a collage from things that I’d been influenced by.
How did that all change on Sentiment if you’re piecing together a collage of influences?
Lyrically, you know, I didn’t really think that much about critical analysis until after we got feedback for Tomb. Metal lyrics, when taken on their own, tend to look not as good as when they are in context. When the lyrics are put into context, I wanted the words to enhance the album and not simply “be there.” I had more of a focus for this album and more of a goal or vision than I had previously. I felt a lot more pressure to make Sentiment count. I was rewriting lyrics the night before we recorded things. I would say I ended up being about 85% happy of what I was able to come up with. I’m sure everyone experiences that.
It’s interesting that you mention poetry. Does a background in poetry kind of give you more confidence when you’re on stage spilling your emotions? I mean, that’s hard for pretty much anyone to do with confidence.
Language is weird, you know? Language, and the method and manner of communication evolves so quickly that it’s difficult to keep a grasp on it all the time. To go back to Edgar Allan Poe or Clark Ashton Smith, that stuff really paints a mental image in the brain. So, when I’m able to do that I’m a bit happier with the world that’s created by the album as an entire experience.
Our thanks to Mr. Mccleery for taking the time out to answer our questions. And here’s to future days with great health! If you haven’t already done so, please check out UN’s latest record, Sentiment, and if you like what you hear, throw some bucks the band’s way for a digital or physical copy through the good folks at Translation Loss Records.