Load up Eric Dierks (L) and Brian Barr prep for tour. — photo by Zak Neumann
Aseethe, the Iowa City band made up of Brian Barr and Eric Dierks, has been kicking around the Midwest heavy music scene for a few years now, with an evolving sound based around Barr’s exploration of the raw sound of guitar, synth and samples. Having caught the ear of Thrill Jockey owner Bettina Richards, they went from selling her a T-shirt, to Thrill Jockey distributing their 2015 EP Nothing Left Nothing Gained, to releasing their current record, Hopes of Failure, on the label.
As a grab bag of loud music genres, metal has a stereotypical fan: the long-haired, tattooed boys headbanging down front at the show. The bands can seem cartoonish as well, ranging from the white pancake makeup and black leather of black metal bands, to the obsession with decay and dismemberment of death metal lyrics, to the spandex and teased hair of ’80s hair metal. But Iowa City has a long tradition of metal bands that hew closer to a regular no-style, the sort of person who might change your oil or check out your books at the library. Aseethe has been part of that Iowa City scene for well over a decade, putting their energy into the music instead of an image.
Aseethe has been generating buzz lately, both with Hopes of Failure and with trance-inducing live shows around the Midwest. The music itself seems to be monochrome, using similar guitar tones throughout to explore different musical ideas through massive riffs and dynamic drumming. Like a well-made black and white movie or photograph, the fascination comes to the listener in fine gradations of tone and dynamics.
I spoke with Brian Barr by phone last week, from his home in Lisbon, Iowa.
How did you arrive at the sound of Aseethe, and how does playing this kind of music change your relationship to sound and music?
I’ve always been really into slower music; it’s always been what I’m drawn to or gravitated towards. Even starting back as far as when I was in high school and I first heard Soundgarden — those type of riffs, being really heavy and a little bit more mid-tempo to slower, always drew me a lot more than faster music, even though I’m still a fan of faster music.
From there I got into Neurosis and Isis and stuff like that. Especially starting with Godflesh as well, which is kind of more doom and industrial. But then I’ve always had an appreciation for synths and noise artists that create lots of textures … From the get go, it was wanting to try to put something together that was a mix of doom and noise and ambient drone.
Aseethe on the most recent EP sticks pretty close to the same sound palette on all of the songs.
Kind of. Yes and no … Probably a lot of it is that we just bang it out together and demo a lot of it. Then we cut it up and make songs from there. So a lot of it tends to be on the heavier spectrum. We also definitely stick to minimalism, even though we use subtle textures. Some of the earlier stuff had a lot more layers on it. Especially with this new record we ended up with a lot more in the demo process and then we kind of stripped it away.
I think that’s where the sound palette came from is us just stripping away the layers to it’s basic form. It’s also what we enjoy playing live, more, what just happens live. We don’t like to be too busy. We like to just enjoy playing, so I think that’s why it came out like that. Sometimes it’s kind of stream of consciousness?
So you might change up and do more for the next record, add back more synth textures?
Yes, especially now that we’re a two piece [again]. I’ve been thinking of things to add those textures back so it doesn’t seem too two dimensional. Eric [Dierks] uses a sampler, so I’ve been thinking maybe doing guitar loops and syncing it to that sampler. Not all over the place but just to make things different.
Plus, I want to try to not make the same record over and over. It’s rooted in doom, really heavy music, but I always like to bring in elements with each record that make it different. It could be a drastic change, I don’t know. We’ll see how it goes. We haven’t gotten into the writing of the next record yet because our touring schedule has been so busy, we haven’t had time to work on anything new yet.
You recorded the record with your brother [Danny Barr] as a third member?
He decided to leave the band right after this last tour with Bereft. He didn’t really want to do the tour that was coming up. We started practicing as a two piece while we … had a few weeks off. But we’re touring as a two piece and I think that’s probably how we’ll stay moving forward. And on the next record, we’ll see how the writing turns out.
What music are you listening to besides metal, if you wanted to make a few recommendations?
A few that I’ve been listening to, some are a little heavier like Chelsea Wolf. I’ve been listening to a lot of her stuff. Really excited about her new album. King Dude, been listening to a lot of him. Glenn Jones. Those are three that I’ve been listening to, that come to mind.
When you listen to music what are you listening for?
I listen for the sonic textures, really, the tones of everything. I really don’t pay attention much to the lyrics. Even when … the vocalist is really good I don’t usually tune into what they’re actually saying so much. I’m mainly listening to how the sounds come at me.
Kent Williams toils in the infrastructure. This article was originally published in Little Village issue 224.