“And the beauty of music is whatever we see in our head is ours”: An Interview with Lotus Thief

It’s an odd paradox that metal fans are often portrayed as resistant to experimentation or variation. Sure, there are people around who think that black metal shouldn’t have deviated from the path laid out by ’95, but given the fiercely rebellious stance against musical stagnation that the genre’s originators professed, there’s a hint of hypocrisy in branding all subsequent evolution to be without merit. Yet, for every bedroom keyboard-warrior taking to commentboards to declare a band’s sound as ‘hipster’, there are dozens of listeners that connect with the authenticity and feeling that artists imbue into their music, no matter how much they blur the lines of what we’ve come to expect from a genre.

Lotus Thief are such a band, blending elements of post-rock, doom and atmospheric black metal into a swirling, hypnotic concoction that captures the artistic eclecticism and intellectual passions of its creators. Through combining an interest in ancient Roman philosophy, a far-reaching musical palette, and a brazen approach to experimentation the San Franciscan duo have produced one of the most interesting debuts of the last year with their recent release ‘Revrm‘. We got in touch with Bezaelith to find out her thoughts on the limitations of genres, how bonding over books and plants can spawn a band, and how a modern fusion metal’s left-field elements can unexpectedly relate to 60’s dance tunes.    

The reception for ‘Revrm’ so far has been pretty impressive! How are you feeling about the current status of the band, and the feedback on the debut?

Bezaelith: I am honored by both supporters and detractors.  I was also floored by the writers who reached out personally to tell me what they thought about the album.  That was the best thing: knowing that something you created affected others in the manner intended, that the message was received.  ‘Rervm’ was meant to take listeners to that place reserved for when we hear a song or read a book.  As a band, we are off to a strong start and I feel good about that.

Musically ‘Revrm’ is one of the more eclectic records to have been received so well by the metal community and press recently. Can you describe how you came to combine the different musical elements we hear on the record, and why do you think that the final result has had such a positive response?

Bezaelith: In writing ‘Rervm’, my intention was to capture that space in our minds where we go to dream.  There was no intention of creating a specifically black metal album, or spacerock album, or postrock album.  The combination of different musical elements was just my feeling of where the song needed to go, the natural direction it took in my mind.  All my life, I’ve been surrounded by people who are into really specific musical genres, and I’ve always been simultaneously jealous and annoyed with them.  Jealous because people who are obsessed with a genre often have vast bodies of knowledge about that specific subgroup – they can talk for hours about it while I sit mute on the sidelines fascinated and wishing I had that particular body of knowledge.  Annoyed because they often can’t see past the ends of their noses when it comes to beautiful forms of music in other genres, and they’re barred inside the limitations of what they believe is the only style of music that can describe them.  And I don’t buy that for a second.  I think as humans we have the capacity to embody all forms of music, that it is a universal language like math.  Sure, we have leanings towards and away from some genres, but they are all valuable potential  access points to dreams and human spirit.  I’m guessing that’s what made ‘Rervm’ different, what made people cock their ears at its weirdness.   Because I won’t hesitate to put something strange and un-metal or hypermetal in the song if it means the thought of the song is complete.

Although Lotus Thief are inevitably linked to Botanist due to your presence in both projects, the line up and sound differences suggest that the two are very different entities. What if any are the major artistic distinctions for you between each band, and what events led you to start producing music under this new banner?

Bezaelith: Lotus Thief and Botanist are poles apart in both style and scope.  Otrebor runs Botanist.  I run Lotus Thief.  The only real similarity for Otrebor and I with the groups is that they are important to us because they are what we created.  Lotus Thief began when Otrebor called up some musical friends for the third Botanist album and asked us about doing some tracks on the “Allies” disk, which was us composing music on top of his drums.  The challenge to me was writing a song about a plant, as it was for a Botanist album.  And while I do love the concept, plants are not among my bigger general interests.  But being an English teacher, books are.  That when I thought about the Lotus Eaters, or Lotophagi from Homer’s Odyssey.  The story fascinated me.  So I ended up writing a song that bridged both of our interests.  On that first track of drums, I wrote “Nymphaea Carulea” and that’s how Lotus Thief was launched.  After release we liked the song and received a bunch of support and reviews of the song, and Otrebor suggested we write a full length.

Following on from this, can you describe the creative dynamic that encourages such experimentation and merging of styles and influences in Lotus Thief? It seems like your sound is reliant on the sum of your personalities and musical approaches, and that there isn’t too much not on the table when you’re writing music together? 

Bezaelith: Otrebor and I have contrastive writing styles, and that in general serves us well because we see things in different ways.  To me, that’s valuable.  You can’t be surrounded by people who ‘yes’ you to death, especially in music.  You need musicians who are present and listening and unafraid to say what they think even if the idea is different to yours.  His drums bestow the order and math to the piece.  My instruments temper that order with layer upon layer of mood.  I think the common ground that makes Lotus Thief work is that we work with focus on what we want to get done and expect each other to be both honest and thorough so that the big picture is what we both want to hear.

You have mentioned previously that many Lotus Thief songs begin with drum tracks. This seems like a very unconventional approach, but is unsurprising given the rhythmic, meditative nature of ‘Revrm’. How do you think this approach affected the final sound and feel of the record, and was it a different approach to writing music than you have used previously? 

Bezaelith: Indeed, ‘Rervm’ was written over six drum tracks given to me by Otrebor.  To some degree it helps avoid the ‘too many cooks’ situation where you’re arguing over whose vision is best and this or that and the record never gets done.  In my other bands, I have always written in a sort of democratic process where each player contributes their parts and piece by piece we edit the thing until it feels right to everyone. Not so with Lotus Thief up until now.  For the upcoming album we experimented with other techniques of recording, and I am very stoked for the result of that experimentation.

The choice of the Roman text ‘De Rerum Natura’ as subject matter for the record is a unique one – what led you to select this work in particular, and how did you approach communicating its content both musically and lyrically? How do you feel this ancient text resonates with the contemporary world?

Bezaelith: My friend and fellow songwriter Greg Dale always brings fun records and books over to my house.  This one particular time, he brought over “The Swerve” by Stephen Greenblatt.  From there, I found myself reading Lucretius, which was hilarious because my first time reading it, I actually read it on the tiny screen on my phone, but I remember I was lying in bed and my eyes were just glued to the screen going from book one to book six in one shot.  It was incredible.  Not just beautiful in form but also in its ideas.  A lot of the text challenges religion, marriage, and irrational human fear.  It faces off against ignorance in general.   Sure, some of its explanations are half-baked because the science isn’t there to back it up, but many of the roots of the ideas are valuable and still important if not controversial in our era.

The use of such a text, as well as Lotus Thief’s intriguing artwork, suggests that the project inhabits a broader creative niche than just musical, with other cultural and artistic mediums playing a significant part in the overall output. Would you say this is an accurate observation, and is there a sense of trying to explore and express particular themes in the most complete way possible through this approach if so?

Bezaelith: It’s accurate because music appeals to all senses.  I remember as a child, my mother used to listen to certain dance songs from the 60’s on repeat, and when I asked her why she played those songs over and over again her response was, “Because every time I hear this song it takes me back to this high school dance and I was so excited for the future.”  So the song brought back the sense of dancing for her, of youthful infatuation with possibility: her mental state.  She probably remembered exactly what she wore.  What the dance hall looked like.  Who her date was.  Music touches on the subconscious as well, I think.  It can show us our fears, our wishes, the things we want to see.  Inner and outer spaces.  And reading does that for us too, hence the connection between our music and texts.  I wanted ‘Rervm’ to be a little contained world, a soundtrack to a movie we choose to play to ourselves.  And the beauty of music is that whatever it is we see in our heads is ours.

Exploring dissatisfaction with certain elements of modern life is something inspiring a growing number of bands from across musical genres and with your focus on ancient subject matter, Lotus Thief also seems to one such project. Is this something that contributes to your choice of subject matter, and overall creative drive? If so, how do you explore and communicate these themes in your music, and what are your thoughts on the idea of music as an essential vehicle in this process in a broader sense?

Bezaelith: I wouldn’t say that I’m specifically dissatisfied with modern life.  I’m grateful for stuff like modern medicine and the speed of technology and the particular place where I live in the world where as a female I can say stuff like “I don’t believe in this or that deity” and not be assaulted or killed for it.  What I am dissatisfied with are the nebulous answers I get about the human condition, existential as that sounds.  I don’t understand how we as a race haven’t figured out how to end hunger and I hate to say to myself it’s because we don’t actually care.  I don’t understand how we haven’t figured out how to stop blowing ourselves up.  I don’t think we’re much more kind or malevolent than we were a thousand years back. But we do have a better toolbelt of ideas to work with, and we know more about our bodies and the universe than we ever have before so that’s something.  We got those tools from our past.  It’s what the past gives us: the chance to not make the same mistakes again, to learn from the ideas of others. If anything, that’s where Lotus Thief comes from, and why in the case of the first album, De Rerum Natura was an awesome stepping stone.  All music with lyrics (and probably all without) tells some kind of story.  It’s either the story the lyrics explicitly tell, and/or the meaning that we give it.  Lotus Thief just doesn’t have a hidden curriculum.  We’re telling a story that’s from the past with our spin.  You’ll hear it and put your spin on it.  And so on.

How do you foresee future Lotus Thief material taking shape? Can we expect more experimentation and deviation from the sound of ‘Revrm’? 

Bezaelith: You can most certainly expect more experimentation and deviation.  I would get bored otherwise.

Lotus Thief has stated intentions to become a live band in the near future. With the particular intellectual and artistic focus of the band, how do you intend to bring new musicians into the project? Will they remain purely live members or do you envision bringing in new individuals to the project fulltime as a possibility? 

Bezaelith: I intend to bring musicians into all aspects of the project.  Playing music is definitely on some level about establishing trust, so whatever developments happen will happen at their own pace and when the time is right.  If we get a new player(s) on the album, I’m all for it.

Thanks for your time and answering our questions! Do you have any concluding comments?

Bezaelith: Thank you very much for your thoughtful questions about our work.  We look forward to the next stories we have to tell.

Find Lotus Thief on Facebook here, and listen to/purchase ‘Revrm’ here.

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