July 31st, 2008 | Interviews

Dan Monick

Ancestors tangled with a deer in the dead of night and won on the way to SXSW. Tee Pee is re-releasing their clinically epic Neptune With Fire. They speak now on the way to rehearsal.

What interesting people did you meet when you had to hitchhike to Austin after you hit a deer and totaled your van on the way to SXSW?
Brandon Pierce (drums): Leatherface’s cousin came with one tooth and one arm. We went with this pop-punk band from Orange County with a GPS system, but Leatherface’s cousin offered to take us to a town where it was actually just Leatherface’s house. But we went with the pop-punk band.
How do you turn down a ride from Leatherface’s cousin?
B: We used the Englishman. It was less awkward.
Chico Foley (vocals/electronics): I think he muttered under his breath—‘You guys’ll taste like haggis.’
Where’s the van now?
Justin Maranga (guitar/vocals): Still there.
C: It was three days old. We got it three days before the crash.
B: It had TVs and shit.
J: We were watching Live At Pompeii when we hit the deer. I was sitting far in the back like ‘What the fuck?! What the fuck?!’ And then I was thinking, ‘Chico, open the fucking door—the van is filling with white crap!’ The airbags. I thought maybe I was gonna die? I didn’t know what was going on. And Chico couldn’t open the door because doors in Europe are different.
Because of the metric system?
J: Apparently they open counter-clockwise. But we got out and sat in the freezing cold.
C: Until the policeman shows up and steps out of the car and says, ‘Which one of you all is the deerslayer?’
B: His car was really warm—I napped in there.
J: While we all sat outside and froze our asses. We kept warm with the heat of Tweak Bird.
Did you rub them together?
C: Yes, that’s a lot of friction.
B: I was going through my records to put them in my closet and I found our hitchhike sign—SXSW OR BUST—and the enormous wolf dreamcatcher we had hanging from the rear-view mirror obstructing the view, which could have contributed to hitting the deer.
Did you write Neptune With Fire in two suites because you knew it would one day be on a vinyl record?
J: I’ve always wanted to have something on vinyl. Like a million other guys, I’m a record nerd. The plan was if we found a label, we were basically gonna demand vinyl—especially because of the length of the songs. How could you not? We’re all drawn to writing long songs because you can cram as much as you want in it. You don’t have to stop writing as long as you can link it together. You don’t wanna put the kibosh on ideas because the song is getting too long. When stuff is flowing, fuck it—keep going.
What was the early three-piece Ancestors like?
J: Basically a vehicle for me to jerk off on guitar for 45 minutes.
B: To play as long as possible the same riff over and over again. It was very carefree. Masturbatory doom-sludge-stoner shit. And with the addition of members, we started to hone something.
But you won’t ever forget your masturbatory roots?
B: Fuck no—we still masturbate on stage.
C: As long as you’re not drinking tap water, or you’ll get too much estrogen and have trouble wanking. Men are slowly developing breast tissues and losing the ability to make wanking solos.
What’s working with Arik Roper like?
C: He’s an amazing guy who’s heavily into the things you’d think we was into.
J: He and Chico went into an intense philosophical discussion while drinking a lot of booze.
C: A joined appreciation for Thelema and maybe other things I shouldn’t mention.
Neptune gets a lot of comments for its cinematic feel—are you soundtracking as you write?
J: I’m always soundtracking 8 1⁄2 in my head.
That’s like two questions ahead.
J: But it would be a lot of fun to do that. We’ll sometimes come up with a theme and soundtrack it.
Like what—love, fate, murder?
J: No—how cheesy is that? Sometimes if we come up with an idea of what we want the song to be about, the song will try and reflect what that story is. In Neptune, it’d be a lie to say we came up with the theme ahead of time like we are doing now. But I don’t wanna say anything about the new shit. If we had come up with the idea for Neptune before—War, Revelation, Celebration—we would have written the music accordingly.
C: We take an approach that’s fitting as much as possible to the sound. With the new record, it’s a stringent premise, or a premise that has been going into the songs. It’s definitely a step forward.
J: The Michelangelo approach.
I was just going to say that.
C: You are the voice in my head, are you not?
Hacking away slabs of rock.
J: And rock it is.
So what is the new stuff?
J: We’re going for four songs this time. A tiny bit shorter. Twelve to fifteen minutes and probably some interludes in between—acoustic and piano and what have you. Thematically shifting directions. More coming up with an overall theme and a story and going with that—definitely coming up with stories.
How do you come up with stories?
C: You have to take some drugs and stuff.
J: It also helps to have a crazy British guy. We have to make it abstract enough that it can be told with minimal lyrics, and the music can tell part of the story, otherwise we’d have to explain it to everbody. People get what Neptune is about, which is cool—there’s not much there lyrically, and it’s not like we’ve been telling everybody, but all we had to do is put four words in the layout and they got it.
What is the best concept album that does not have any distorted guitar on it?
C: Nektar—Journey to the Center of the Eye?
B: I’m cool with that—that was a big fucking thing in making the band.
J: How about Sketches of Spain? A very loose theme, but an approach—the first song is one of my favorite of all time. Without distorted guitar, but very good thematics.
B: Folkwise—Townes Van Zandt’s self-titled I think is really great. Very personal songs—they could be telling his story.
Are you pursuing the brown note when you play live?
J: We definitely make people nauseous—I’ve been told that a lot. Especially in smaller rooms.
B: After you’ve all watched Live At Pompeii 50,000 times together—that’s an intimate experience—you see all the gear and you’re like, ‘Fuck, I need that shit!’
What does the death-metal band who practices across from you think of your music?
J: The nu-metal band or the band that was legit death metal? The legit death-metal band was Reciprocal—who were fucking awesome, by the way. They were way into us. And we were way into them, so it worked. The new guy across the hall is always coming over like, ‘Wanna go to a titty bar?’
B: They’re terrible—his band sounds like Powerman 5000.
How did a band of atheists get booked to play a fest organized by a Jewish magazine?
C: We all love satirical publications.
Is Judaism is the most satirical religion?
C: Being all atheists, I’ve heard Heeb is for intellectual young Jews, but being self-proclaimed idiots, we haven’t read it much! They contacted Tony at Tee Pee and he forwarded it to us. The magazine is cool—it looks like a good thing. It’s gonna be like a Western Religion education class at school. Different opinions, but we can all hold hands and rejoice!
What’s the next religion you’d like to work with?
J: I hope it’s Scientology. Big parties.
C: And a bunch of idiots who might like our sound.

—Chris Ziegler