Atomic Age: A conversation with Zachary Ezrin of Imperial Triumphant
Imperial Triumphant are currently living a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Having previously grazed through the skylines of New York and the world, as well as the minds of the unwary with an apopletic demonstration of what lurks beneath our putrid and decadent society – such was the overall reaction to the band’s previous opus, Vile Luxury -, Imperial Triumphant returned two years later with yet another grandiose offering, which not only surpassed the highest of expectations, but also elevated the band to a status of complete admiration and adoration. Not often do you see a record receive such high praise across the media board and Alphaville deserved every single 10 out of 10 it got. It is a masterful work that perfectly encapsulates Imperial Triumphant’s debauched, glorious and utopic vision of the new roaring 20s.
But that all happened last month, when we brought you our own exquisite review of Alphaville. Since then, we had the chance to converse with Zachary Ezrin – the band’s founder, vocalist and guitarist -, about the creative process behind the creation of Alphaville, its many influences and the decision behind the inclusion of two very singular and distinct cover tracks, among other topics. Read on and discover more about Alphaville and its creators, Imperial Triumphant.
Congratulations on the release of Alphaville! It is an incredibly amazing record and one of our favourites so far. How has the reception been so far? Have you had a chance to check any reviews?
Yeah, you guys gave us a great review! I’ve been checking out every review we get and they’ve all been extremely positive, except for a few people that just don’t like certain parts but that’s always an opinion, so I don’t take it too seriously.
How was the creative process for Alphaville like? What you wanted to achieve with the record in comparison to your previous releases?
I mean, we just kind of naturally progressed to what we wanted, just kind of exploring our own goals and our own inspirations. With Vile Luxury, I think we really tapped into something special but I think it was still kind of surface level, so we were just kind of digging deeper.
When listening to this record, I kept getting these visions in my head, a sort of fusion between the film Metropolis and The Twilight Zone. Has cinema inspired you in the creation and further development of the band’s sound over the years?
I’d say so. I mean, it’s been something we’re inspired by for a long time, even in the very beginning. It’s just taken a clearer role, I guess. Cinema is obviously a huge source of inspiration; it’s just another form of art and we try to take inspiration from a lot of mediums besides music.
Does literature also play a major role when composing music and writing lyrics for a new album? Do you view it in the same way as cinema?
Of course, absolutely. It’s all art, at the end of the day, you know? It’s all created by someone and we don’t only look at just what the context of a film or a book may be. The way that the writer or director or actor may deliver the art is also something that we think, okay, maybe we can play with that in the way we deliver our art, you know what I mean?
“With Vile Luxury, I think we really tapped into something special
but I think it was still kind of surface level,
so we were just kind of digging deeper.”
As with your previous records, Alphaville was recorded, engineered and mastered by Colin Marston. How was it working with him again? What do you feel he brings to the table in terms of recording?
We have a relationship that goes back ten years now, so he understands what we’re trying to do and what kind of sound we want. We save a lot of time in the studio because he knows exactly what we do and, you know, he’s in that world. He plays for Krallice, Gorguts, all these insane bands, so he is actually able to make suggestions during the production process, which may add to the quality of the sound. And so, being able to work with him on record after record has been a real pleasure and he is also a great guy who I’m proud to call a friend.
In that regard, would you consider him a fourth member of the band?
The album was also produced by Trey Spruance. How was it being involved with such a renowned composer during the recording of the album?
He is incredible. We’ve never had a producer before so having him there was a great pleasure and I would say that even we consider him now another fourth member of the band. We got really close, it was such a great vibe, especially in the mixing process. Working on the album day after day, everyone’s suggestions were always just towards making the album better and it’s a true pleasure to work with people that share your vision and understand exactly what you’re trying to do because they only serve to drive the work even higher.
Tomas Haake of Meshuggah plays taiko drums as a very special guest on the songs “City Swine” and “Atomic Age”. Was it a challenge to have him on the record? How did the whole process go?
The only challenge was really synching our schedules. He is a friend of Kenny (Grohowski) and he likes the band, he has seen us play a few times in Brooklyn, so it was not that hard. He wanted to do it, it was just a matter of synching up our schedules and sending him an Uber to get to the studio. It was pretty easy and tracking was a pleasure as well.
Where did the idea of having him and the band play taiko drums during that section of the song come from and why taiko drums specifically?
Taiko drums was an idea Steve Blanco came up with while we were mixing Vile Luxury, actually. He was like, “the next album has gotta have taiko drums in it”, and yeah, we were really just hyped about putting this exotic instrument on the album. Then we thought, okay, who can we get to play them, you know? Let’s put an ensemble of Kenny and Steve, who also has a background in playing drums, and then Tomas. It was a really great collaboration, it came out really well. We have like, two hours of taiko drum recording, just jamming out and stuff so, it will probably make its way to the next record too.
Alphaville includes two bonus tracks which are covers of songs by Voivod and The Residents. In what ways have these two bands influenced Imperial Triumphant?
Well, I’ll speak for myself only; I picked the Residents’ cover. I’m a huge fan of The Residents and Snakefinger, the guitar player of the band, at least on the record that we covered, and I just love the style. I love that they are just so out there and they really don’t give a fuck. They have about a hundred albums out and I haven’t even heard all of them, but the style of guitar playing on The Tunes of Two Cities is really wild and, I don’t know, just really disgusting. Sloppy but it’s sloppy on purpose and I feel like that’s something that nobody really does. Everyone just thrives to play perfectly and sometimes that’s good, you need to play tight when it’s important, but playing sloppy, I think it’s also a sound, you know what I mean? Maybe that’s all a song needs; a filthy guitar solo or disgusting, weak kind of sounds and I think, in that sense, The Residents had a really huge influence on me. Steve grew up listening to Voivod, so he was really adamant about putting together a Voivod cover and once we started jamming that song, it became pretty apparent that it was gonna take on a life of its own and we were gonna have this very Imperialized version of “Experiment”, which I’m very happy with, it came out fantastic.
It’s interesting you mention that as both covers do feel like Imperial Triumphant songs and they sort of feel like an epilogue to Alphaville. Was that your idea from the start?
Well, the idea was that our contract required us to have two bonus tracks and I didn’t wanna do bonus tracks because I didn’t like the idea of songs that we wrote that are maybe not good enough to make it on the actual album. So I asked them, can we just do covers instead, and they said, “no problem”. So that’s kind of where that idea came from.
What other bands and musical genres have influenced Imperial Triumphant and yourself over the years?
Besides the really obvious ones, I would say post-bop era jazz and cool jazz as well. Miles Davis, Charles Mingus, John Coltrane, Ornette Coleman, that kind of stuff. A lot of what I really love and I thrive to bring into the heavy metal world is the influence of modern classical, you know, like Stravinsky, Schönberg, Penderecki, Schnittke, stuff like that. I just think it’s really wild and if more metalheads got into this kind of music, the output would be insane. And I think people always associate us with bringing jazz into metal but we are also, all of us, very familiar with modern classical and bringing a lot of influence from that world into the heavy metal domain.
The artwork of Alphaville is a fantastically brutal piece by Zbigniew M. Bielak. When creating the record, did you already have an idea of what you wanted for the album cover before approaching Bielak?
Working with him was great because I basically gave him just a rough outline of what I wanted. I just said, okay, I want a cover that is incredibly detailed, something that people are gonna want to buy, so they can look at all the minute details of the piece and, at the same time, I want it to be bold because a lot of people are just gonna see this cover on a one-inch thumbnail on a computer screen, so it needs to stand out from afar as well. It can’t be all detail, you know? And I think he nailed it; it’s something that is iconic and recognizable. I strongly recommend anyone reading this interview to go out and pick up the vinyl because it’s gorgeous and provides such an incredible amount of detail and there’s lots of hidden little messages and symbols that I really love. And even if you don’t have a record player, just get it and stream it on Spotify. I’m telling you, the quality of this record is so nice. It’s printed on a super glossy gatefold, so it’s really shiny, everything is really high quality and comes with a lot of stuff, like posters, booklets and stuff like that.
It was one of the main selling points for me too and I think it’s a really important aspect of your music specifically because both it and the artwork really complement each other.
Artwork to us is just another form of expressing our vision, so we take it seriously. Whether it’s album artwork, poster artwork or music videos, it’s all applicable.
Apart from the record, you had some touring plans for this year, which obviously had to be cancelled due to the pandemic. How has life as a band been during the pandemic? What have been the difficulties and challenges the band has faced?
We are all professional musicians by trade so we kind of lost most of our work for the year. When we are not on tour, we are playing gigs in the city or playing with other bands, so right now we are just doing lessons online and some other bits and pieces here and there. But that’s been really tough for us and obviously not touring has been a huge letdown. But we’re working really hard right now to figure out other places we can go, other mediums, you know? We want to branch out into film, television and videogames, stuff like that. Like, scoring these sorts of mediums and creating music for other types of experiences.
Do you think bands and artists will be able to perform and tour live as early as next year?
I have no idea, I don’t know. No one knows, you know? Tomorrow they could say there is a vaccine, then within a month everyone will have it and things will maybe slowly start to get better, who knows? We try to stay optimistic because there is a lot of whiny babies out there.
“We want to branch out into film, television and videogames,
stuff like that. Like, scoring these sorts of mediums
and creating music for other types of experiences.”
Interview by Filipe Silva
Photo by Alex Krauss, courtesy of Imperial Triumphant