Formicarius | The Lockdown Interview:
Answers: Morath – keyboard, Nazarkardeh – guitar, Lord Saunders – guitar/vocals, Hægtesse – bass & Valdr – drums
So, how is ‘lockdown’ treating you? Are you still working? What’s your daily routine look like at the moment?
Morath: Lockdown’s treating me about the same as anybody else – after an initial surge in playing video games and catching up on other hobbies that had fallen by the wayside, I now find myself longing for normality as I hop between different activities, my attention span much impaired. Our anxious situation is massively distracting and all-encompassing. As a video games designer, I am able to work completely remotely, but we’re in a fairly stressful, busy period at the moment. I’m struggling to come to terms with that – although I speak to my team of 30+ people daily, the camaraderie is there but the lack of real human contact makes it harder to cope with. I find myself working longer hours to keep things ticking along, and despite having established a daily routine that incorporates exercise, eating well and keeping in contact with others, it’s just not the same.
Are you able to keep up with individual practicing? What is your practice routine? Any tips for fellow isolated musicians?
Nazarkardeh: I have a massive ‘to do’ list of musical projects to get done in lockdown, and this really helps with putting together a good practice routine. I don’t really have *one* routine. I’m averaging at 3-5 hours a day right now – give or take on either side depending on what it is I’m actually working on. I’ll give a couple of generally universal pointers though.
1: Warm up! I have a short series of stretches that I’ve done before every rehearsal, gig, recording and practice session for nearly a decade and I stand by it. Watch the first 10 minutes or so of John Petrucci’s Rock Discipline – don’t worry you only need that first bit. Do those stretches, then play something simple you can play in your sleep before you start the serious stuff.
2: If, like me, a big chunk of your practice is building speed to a metronome, then don’t underestimate ‘passive’ practice. Once you are 100% locked in with your technique and the musicality of whatever concept you’re working on, then stick on Netflix or Youtube or whatever else you’re killing time with. Just don’t do what I once did and marathon all 6 Leprechaun movies while practicing. Not worth it.
3: Take breaks! Repetitive Strain Injury is not pleasant. Go and take your one governmentally mandated walk of the day. Have yet another cup of tea. Get in another argument on social media. Let’s face it, you’re not going anywhere anytime soon, you can take 10/20 minutes out.
4: Please, for the love of whatever you hold sacred, clean your strings. If you don’t already then I guarantee that they’re filthier than your search history.
Has the band been forced to make any cancellations or changes to release schedules?
Lord Saunders: It’s certainly changed our focus. We had planned to be touring in support of last year’s album release ‘Rending the Veil of Flesh’. We had just broken through live internationally last December with our show in Malta and played a killer show at Winter Warhorns, so the momentum was strong going into February. That’s been stopped in its tracks, which is frustrating as it feels like a disservice to the record we’ve made and invested so much in. Honestly though? We fully acknowledge that this isn’t about us. People are literally dying fighting this disease. The band isn’t the first thing even on our minds right now, we’re all trying to stay safe and protect our families and communities. We were fortunate not to have any plans set in stone before all of this came to a head, and we’re equipped and able to adapt with creative things to do in this situation. Time will tell if this is merely a postponement of our live plans or if we’ll be in the next album cycle by the time the situation has resolved. Realistically that’s as bad as it gets for Formicarius. We’ll be fine and bounce back, we all have to put our best effort into surviving right now!
With gigs becoming a distant memory at the moment, what’s the best you can ever remember playing – and witnessing?
Hægtesse: I’ll answer the second part first, as it’s very difficult to choose our top show (and my answer will probably differ from the others’ answers!) Hands down the best performance I’ve seen was Emperor at Bloodstock 2014. They played In The Nightside Eclipse from start to finish (even encoring to A Fine Day To Die by Bathory) in the pouring rain under a glorious and very fitting full moon. What a way to experience one of the finest albums and a huge influence on Formicarius?
Personally, I’d have to say our best show was when we played the Black Tor Gathering a few years ago with Old Corpse Road, A Forest of Stars and a number of other great UKBM bands. I don’t really remember much about our set itself, but the setting was absolutely incredible. Atop the highest pub in the UK, the Tan Hill Inn, at the tail end of winter, with snow covering the Yorkshire Dales as far as the eye could see, the view sure beat the odious backstreets we’re used to frequenting for our post-show debriefs! Promoters who go the extra mile and put together an incredible experience are fucking gold dust, so it’s nice that there are some about. Shows in dingy nightclubs are necessary, but there’s something incredibly unique and special about playing a black metal gig at the top of the Yorkshire Dales!
What’s the latest news from the band? Anything that people should be checking out at the moment?
Lord Saunders: As lockdown descended we were able to get a facebook live stream together in the first week, in which I performed ‘Rending…’ in its entirety on guitar. We went to extra effort to make it a special experience for our community and it was well appreciated. The copyright algorithm tried to take us down for performing our own music! But we persevered and were able to finish the show. I’m going through the footage for that now and thinking about what to do with it for YouTube, etc. It’s something we’d like to do again and improve upon as we become more experienced with it. Nazarkardeh is setting up a teaching stream this Thursday 16th April. I’m pivoting over to streaming on twitch.tv, which may well involve Formicarius demoing and writing.
The big things coming are two music videos though. One we shot in Birmingham last December and have been procrastinating on finishing, so that’ll be great to finish and release whilst we’re stuck indoors. The other Morath and I shot last weekend as we got a little too cabin feverish and needed to burn off some creative steam. We had to be extremely creative with recording equipment, lighting, camera angles, etc given we’re basically stuck at home in our flat, but we’re really happy with how the footage turned out and glad to have been able to scratch the creative itch. I’m excited to see what people think of that when it comes out!
It seems pretty likely that we’ll be finishing a first skeleton draft of a third album before this is all over too. I’m unsure of how much of that we’ll be able to show you (maybe on stream?), but the longer this goes on the more we’ll be forced to work on a new record instead of supporting the current one.
So, lots on the horizon! Subscribe to our pages and channels to see it as it happens:
YouTube | Facebook | Twitch
Have you been able to use this time to work on new material?
Morath: Somewhat! We were already working on some new material before the shutdown, and at the very beginning, there was a continuation of that. It’s slowed to a lull at the moment though. It feels like the whole world has paused to take a breath, and perhaps it’s well-needed for us all to take stock of what’s important and be inspired for what’s next to come. We haven’t been resting on our laurels, though – we’ve been shooting some video footage, and streaming a playthrough of our latest album online. Continuing to be creative and working on the band in a different way, whilst we’re all scattered (aside from myself and Lord Saunders).
What have you been reading and watching to keep yourselves sane?
Nazarkardeh: I’m deep into the History Of Rome Podcast by Mike Duncan. It’s an incredibly detailed and always entertaining telling of Rome’s fascinating rise and it’s deep, deep decline. If you think names like Boris, Donald, Nigel and Piers detail the slimiest that our species has to offer, then wait till you hear about Caligula, Domitian, Commodus and Diocletian.
Reading wise I’m currently on Albert Speer’s ‘Inside The Third Reich’. It’s one of the most personal accounts we have inside the minds of some of the most evil people on earth, and while I’m not sure I buy Speer’s continuous “Oh that was awful of me but hey now I wasn’t as bad as THOSE guys” routine, the way he was seduced by such a terrifying regime serves as a reminder of the banality of evil, and that the most ‘normal’ people are capable of the darkest of deeds. Worth remembering…
It’s hardly all that highbrow though, as well as watching Beverly Hills Cop whilst typing this, my lockdown has also consisted of The Witcher 3, wrestling documentaries, and, like the rest of your news feed, Tiger King.
What are you listening to at the moment? Your Top isolation albums?
1. Dragonforce – Inhuman Rampage. (An old favourite I think we all share a love for and it’s been at the tippity-top of my most played during the lockdown. Anthemic Power Metal at its finest!)
2. Dua Lipa – Future Nostalgia. (My most recent new discovery and already a contender for my ‘Album of the Year’. Definitely the kind of record to get us hyped for Summer and being allowed back outside.)
3. Ghost – Infestissumam. (One of my most loved records of all time and a great album to chill out to, as we now have all the time in the world to chill and relax.)
4. Mare Cognitum/Spectral Lore – Wanderers: Astrology of The Nine. (Another more recent discovery was Mare Cognitum, and this split with Spectral Lore is an incredible piece of Atmospheric Black Metal with a really cool concept.)
5. Numenorean – Adore. (One from last year that I am still obsessed with now, so it continues to have a solid place on my current rotation. The drums in particular sound incredible on this album and the songwriting is second to none. Would definitely recommend this as a must listen for everyone.)
And what are your Top 10 albums of all time? The greats that have shaped you and never get old…
Hægtesse:1. Metallica – Master Of Puppets. My first “proper” metal album and to this day, Orion is my favourite song, some 15 years or so after first hearing it.
2. Burzum – Burzum/Aske. This and In the Nightside…. really got me into black metal (along with Cradle of Filth’s Midian, but I want to retain some credibility!)
3. Emperor – In The Nightside Eclipse
4. SikTh – Death Of A Dead Day. Showed me that extremely technical music doesn’t have to be a boring wankfest.
5. The Beatles – Abbey Road. This was a difficult one, a toss-up between this and Rubber Soul, but I just love the last three tracks on this one.
6. Michael Jackson – Off The Wall. Got me into more funk and showed that metal doesn’t have a monopoly on technical skill.
7. ZZ Top – Tres Hombres. This is just a great album, I don’t know what else to say about it. Things like the segue in Shiek into that strange, dreamy, psychedelic section elevates these guys above a lot of other blues rock bands out there.
8. Isis – Oceanic. My introduction to post-metal and all the fun and excitement (drudgy, ten-minute, two-riff songs) that entails!
9. Mastodon – Blood Mountain. This is probably the first progressive music I listened to and liked. Admittedly, my tastes got weirder from here, but this is where it all started.
10. Self-inflicted Violence – A Perception Of Matter And Energy. Bit of a left-field choice, but this was the first atmospheric/blackgaze sort of album I listened to. Today I can’t get enough of the stuff, but this was the first time I’d been exposed to that weird mix of pretty, haunting, floaty guitars and some guy absolutely howling his knackers offWhat’s the first thing you’ll be doing when lockdown ends?
Morath: Meeting up with friends and family I’ve missed dearly! Moving to our new office a stone’s throw from the Queen (not Freddie). Figuring out what the rest of the year looks like for Formicarius. It’s hard to make definitive plans when you don’t know how long the knock-on effects of this will last for. Will gigs still happen in the same way? Will it be a gradual ramp-down process to remove restrictions? We’d hoped to go on tour this year. After performing in Malta last year, we were itching to get back on the continent and do a string of shows across it but that couldn’t have been further from the reality of 2020, thanks to the pandemic. I am profoundly looking forward to our first rehearsal back, our first show back. Really miss just being in a room and playing our material, on stage or off. I miss that energy.
What plans do you have for the band when you’re free to get working again?
Nazarkardeh: Well, we need to get back on the road! Once this catastrophic mess that is Covid-19 is brought under control, we also have the catastrophic mess that is Brexit that is still poised to make touring beyond the UK no easier than it is to do right this second. But that we have no control over. We are working on album 3 and it’s already shaping up to be the most honest thing we have ever made! That might seem a bit vague at the minute, but it will make sense in time.
A message for your fans, followers and friends at this difficult time…
Nazarkardeh: Stay safe, stay at home, look after you and yours, but please be skeptical about going back to ‘Normal’ after this! This pandemic has exposed a lot of cruelty that has long been festering below the surface of what we call ‘Normality’. Remember the people who are prioritising money and power over the safety of you and those you love right now. They’re as deadly as any virus!