Ana Kefr

Ana Kefr is a metal band that is not for everybody. Their music is dense, a real journey of the ears and the mind and you have to be prepared to dig deep to get the real rewards out of it. Although the band was more lyrically confrontational on the debut record Volume 1, they are still mining areas that other bands are uncomfortable to walk in. Musically, they are a swirling cauldron of mayhem with an eye on keeping you off balance with rapid twists and turns. I spoke to vocalist and lyricist Rhiis D. Lopez recently to talk about their sophomore record The Burial Tree.

antiMusic: A burial tree has been used historically in primitive cultures as a way of supporting coffins/corpses, presumably to keep unsecured bodies from being disturbed. Does this figure into your literal presentation of the record or is there a different meaning altogether --- does this represent a thematic skeleton for the record?

Rhiis D. Lopez: I discovered the dictionary definition of a burial tree shortly after I settled on the album title, so the meaning is coincidental. I do think the idea of a main body supporting numerous others could be applied conceptually to this album, but it wasn't what I had in mind when I coined the term. I guess the semantic difference between the two is that you've described A burial tree, whereas ours is THE burial tree. THE Burial Tree is a reference to the myth in which there were two trees in the garden of paradise - the tree of life and the tree of knowledge. I found, and still find, a striking statement in that one receives eternal life and bliss from eating from the tree of life, but one receives death and sorrow from the tree of knowledge. The myth is suggesting that to live blindly following moral codes, and to live in ignorance, is the pathway to ecstasy while the pursuit of knowledge and self-empowerment ends in pain and decay. So the tree of knowledge - the pursuit of wisdom and understanding - is the promise of death and melancholy is The Burial Tree.

antiMusic: It's been oft written that a band has their whole life to write/work on their debut record and only a year for their second one, and often the sophomore jinx comes into play. It was a little longer than that for you but there was a good reason. Looking back, was the future of this band realized for you in the period between records?

Rhiis D. Lopez: One thing we were a bit nervous about was that sophomore jinx you've mentioned. No one wants to put out a sh*t album, and from the day after we finished recording our first album we knew that everything from then on had to top what we'd done before. It wasn't until we lost one member and kicked out another that we found stable footing. It was at that surreal point, where we weren't even sure if we'd find the right musicians to carry Ana Kefr forward, that instead of seeing what some would call a loss, we saw enormous potential in where we could take this band. It's hard to say if a clear vision was grasped between the two albums, but I do think that we saw what the future COULD be if we wanted it badly enough, and worked hard enough, and that was enough to carry us through the hard moments back into the light.

antiMusic: Your views on religion were pretty well documented with Volume 1>. Were there any particular issues that you wanted to address on this record?

Rhiis D. Lopez: The Burial Tree is an expression of nihilism, so much meaning has been invented for us to bathe in daily. We've been given a sense that even the daily mundane exists as part of a grand scheme we are all taking a part in. This lie has been fabricated to hide how meaningless and silly human life tends to be, to make ourselves feel better and to have us follow those who want control over others, and The Burial Tree is a dissection of our ideas and lives. It can be pretty stark, but there is light within it because it is within our power to change ourselves and to realize ourselves. The album uses a lot of religious imagery, but I wanted to use it in a way that is somewhat different than it is traditionally utilized. Common figures or symbols are being inverted, good becomes evil, evil becomes good, and then all morality becomes meaningless. It's a kind of juggling of ideas, walking the tightrope between complete meaningfulness and meaninglessness. The album especially turns a microscope onto human lives, it is an examination of all the strange things we've clouded our judgments with, and the backwards excuses we've used to justify not truly living life to its fullest. The album is kind of a clusterf**k of ideas.

antiMusic: Since your last record was released, the band has gone through a fairly hefty re-tooling. Can you tell us how these changes have contributed to The Burial Tree?

Rhiis D. Lopez: Well the writing core remains the same. Kyle and I have been the main musicians behind the Ana Kefr sound from the beginning, and when other members contribute we tend to act as filters and co-arrangers; we have a specific vision or sound in mind, so we want to make sure what comes out is in line with that. The majority of The Burial Tree was written when the band was stripped down to just Kyle and I. However, we brought in Brendan (guitar, sax, vocals), Fonzie (bass) and Shane (percussion) and these guys are really talented musicians, a couple of them classically trained. With Volume 1, the other members tended to follow what Kyle or I did, so there wasn't a lot of evolution, musically speaking, when songs were being written. With the material you hear on The Burial Tree, the songs began with Kyle and I but we wanted the guys to build upon it, to make their own instrument's presence known. Shane is a lot more solid as a drummer, anyone who listens to Volume 1 can hear that the drumming is pretty weak in spots. Everyone in the band now is experienced with writing and performing music and, by having a team of skilled musicians working together, the output is obviously more advanced than it was before. We are able to express certain ideas now, musically, that were out of reach before, whether because of ability or personal taste.

antiMusic: From full-on blitzkrieg to more tranquil passages, sax intros and female backup vocals, the record is a dense piece of work that wouldn't be too far from a YES meets Cradle of Filth mating. How did the songs develop and did you make an effort to create more adventurous workspaces or did they naturally evolve that way?

Rhiis D. Lopez: We've heard the YES comparison a couple of times now, funny you should mention that. Kyle plays rhythm guitar for the most part (sometimes he will do a lead), and I play the keys, so almost all the songs began as rhythm-oriented, key-soaked demos. One by one, we brought the guys into the songs and we would sometimes throw away a part, re-write something or insert a new idea. There wasn't an effort to make the music any more adventurous or weird, it really just happened on its own. The songs were formed through natural selection, really. The original structure is born, it then undergoes changes and re-births as some parts are taken away and replaced with stronger parts, etc. The final result is the product of 5 completely different creative minds dissecting music and working together.

antiMusic: How are songs constructed within the band? Is the music put together around your lyrics or are they both stand-alone elements that are happily united?

Rhiis D. Lopez: The music comes first, and I think it will always be this way. When we were writing The Burial Tree, we wanted to make an album that could stand on its own even if vocals were never added. In fact, we considered releasing an instrumental version, and that idea is still a possibility for some time down the line. But the music itself is very important to us, every note, riff and arrangement needs to feel complete. If a song can't stand strong on its own without the addition of vocals, then musically we feel it is weak. The vocals are just another instrument, and while a vocal passage can enhance a certain riff, the music should never be dependent on a voice for its completion or expression. So the entire album was musically completed and in order before the lyrics were written. The lyrics came last, when we'd put everything in its place and I could feel the twists and turns of the album as it would be on the final recording.

antiMusic: The Burial Tree doesn't represent a radical shift from Volume 1, in terms of the musical direction. What has changed, however, is that the sound has been honed into a more potent weapon. Was there anything in particular that you wanted to do differently this time out?

Rhiis D. Lopez: There has been a general desire to intensify the elements we use in our music. We've always wanted the hard to get harder, the epic to be more epic, the dramatic to be more dramatic, etc. We do what we do, and there happens to be a lot of variety in there so it gives us a lot of space to try new things. The same applies for future material, at least this is the way we feel right now. Intensification is important to us. We don't want to do the same idea we've done before, we want to keep stepping forward. We'll always try new things and bring new elements in, but these new ideas and elements must exist harmoniously with the sound we've created in order for us to take it seriously.

antiMusic: Let's talk about a couple of the songs. "Ash-Shahid" opens the record and despite all this talk about thought-provoking lyrics, the song reminds fans that the band is also a pretty brutal force musically speaking. What is this song about and how did it come together?

Rhiis D. Lopez: We like to give silly names to songs when we've just written them, and this one was known as "Brutal Bitches" for months and months. The first two songs on the album serve as a sort of introduction to the album's main material, which begins at "Monody". "Ash-Shahid" here is derived from "Shahada" (all Arabic here), which is the declaration of belief in Islam. The Islamic shahada is what Muslims say 5 times a day, "There is no God but God and Mohammed is his prophet," etc. Well, "Ash-Shahid" itself is one of the 99 names of Allah, and means "The Witness," and this word itself came from the original song name for "Thaumatrope," which was "Shahida." And "Shahida" has a double meaning, which I love - in its active voice, the word means to witness, as in to witness the truth to someone. In its passive voice, the word means martyr. I think the double meaning plays strongly into the concept of The Burial Tree itself, and the song "Ash-Shahid" serves as the Kefr version of the shahada. The two "verses" (if you want to call them that, there isn't much regular structure on the album) both begin with "There is no..." and the song introduces the voice and nature of the main speaker throughout the album. Like Volume 1's opening of "Chapter 1", the lyrics in Arabic a kind of statement of self, "Ash-Shahid" serves as this album's self-affirmation before entering into the bulk of the philosophy. As you can see with "Ash-Shahid" stemming from "Shahada" and "Shahida" and tons of double meanings, the album itself is loaded with multiple layers.

antiMusic: One of my favorite songs on the record, "Monody", goes on a real journey, beginning with some sax and then cutting a wide swath for seven minutes. Tell us about this song and how it's seemingly important for you to challenge listeners with a Mr. Bungle approach to making friends.

Rhiis D. Lopez: "Monody" is, in my opinion, one of the most epic songs we've written to date. It's one of the more melodic and feely tracks from The Burial Tree, and is the beginning of the expression of nihilism in the album, the start of the lyrics digging into the philosophy of The Burial Tree concept. When it comes to the music, we enjoy an album that has the feeling of a soundtrack. There are bands out there who have a specific style and idea and stick with it rigidly, and there are others - like Mr. Bungle - who don't really care for conventionality and want to express whatever oddball impulse they have. For us, we tend to respect the Mr. Bungles more because they are taking more of a risk than a genre-defining band who puts the same basic album out again and again. It's easy to write 10 songs in one style. It's effing HARD to write an album where each song sounds totally different yet still works together, and we like a challenge. To me, music, and art in general, isn't meant to be formatted or controlled, art is meant for open expression. So I'd like to think that people who enjoy our music probably have more open minds than your average music listener because to enjoy our music you have to be willing to accept a little bit of just about everything - and I like that.

antiMusic: Most of the songs are in excess of four minutes with a couple closing in on ten. The middle of the record, however, features a lineup of songs that are more succinct, running only a couple of minutes long. Short pieces can be used to sometimes bridge longer pieces but in this case, they are grouped together. What is their purpose considering you seem to favor longer material? Are they there to merely act as slightly more congestible fodder between the epic material or have you simply cut away any fat from the bone?

Rhiis D. Lopez: Actually, from "Bathos and the Iconoclast" to "Jeremiad," the songs are a kind of semi-suite, and all of them share a variation of one musical progression. In each song, the progression is used pretty differently, but the songs do connect to one another. We didn't set out to have a detour in the middle of the album, it really just happened that way, but we liked how things go strange for a bit. We all love variation, and variation includes writing songs that AREN'T 10 minutes long. We feel that a well-balanced album, at least for us, includes the brutal, the epic, the dramatic, the bizarre, long and short, from soundtrack-like to almost mundane. To us, there is a charm in an eclectic mix, it gives us an excuse to write to our hearts' content and also keeps the listener on their toes. I don't want Ana Kefr to be predictable.

antiMusic: Two of the more ambitious pieces close the record. What can you tell us about "The Blackening" and "The Collector"?

Rhiis D. Lopez: "The Blackening" was always known as "The Blackening", from the moment we'd finished writing the music for it. I consider "The Blackening" to be The Burial Tree's version of "The Orchid", a more melodic and singing-oriented song, melancholic and dramatic. "The Collector" we used to call "Doomdrone" because of the use of one dissonant, doomy riff over and over while the music around it changes. "The Collector", to me, is the ultimate ending. It is brutal. It is epic. There are solos and leads and keys and bass leads galore, female vocals, every emotion is captured there. About 5 minutes away from where I live, there is a cemetery. I was driving past it a while back and I imagined what it would look like from high above, and it just struck me how similar a graveyard and a taxonomical collection looks. I felt like it was the ultimate image in expressing our futile attempts to hold onto life forever, the perfect picture to convey how small we are, how strange our ideas and lives have become.

antiMusic: You use a wide array of vocal deliveries in your songs, from the death metal growl to clean vocals, spoken word and Dani Filth-style screeches and Job For A Cowboy pig wails. How do you decide what style to use for each section?

Rhiis D. Lopez: It's all about what fits. There was some debate over what should happen where, mostly because we all want to make sure that the final product is perfect, but in the end it comes down to what sounds right for the part and the song. I'm not a big fan of vocals being constantly delivered over every riff, the music needs to breathe for the listener to really enjoy it and grasp it, and the feel of a part determines how the vocals should be delivered if the vocals belong there at all. I'd say The Burial Tree is a lot more diverse, vocally, than Volume 1 was. And the next album will be? Who knows?

antiMusic: You've had a few shows since the release of the record. How does this material translate to the stage and considering the complexity of your material, is it hard to map out a set list that has some flow to it or are you just concerned with stand-and-deliver aural battery?

Rhiis D. Lopez: The Burial Tree was written to be played live, we wanted to make an album that actually sounds better through performance than it does on recording, and thankfully we've heard that over and over - that it sounds far better live. Our live performances are put together with a lot of thought. We do not stop the music until the set is complete. I can't speak for the other guys, but I find it annoying when bands talk between each song at shows. I don't go to the shows to hear jokes or small talk, I want the music, so we deliver a big chunk of music at each performance we do, and we put the same amount of thought into it to make sure there are the quiet moments, the epic and brutal moments, the good mix that best represents what our music is generally about. An Ana Kefr show isn't about us as individuals, in fact the band itself isn't about the individuals but it's about the music and the ideas behind the lyrics, and we do our best to bring it 200%.

antiMusic: You've just embarked on a national tour. How hard has it been to set up such a beast considering you're an indie band doing it all yourselves?

Rhiis D. Lopez: It was a lot of work. Fonzie and I spent about 2 to 3 months every day, for hours, making phone calls, sending out e-mails, working our asses off to make it happen - and we did it! We've just returned from the tour and it feels amazing to have accomplished this on our own. I think it feels better than it may have felt had we hired someone else to help us make it happen. We are a DIY band, and making something like a month-long national tour happen on our own I think shows we have some balls and are serious about what we do. Yes, it took a lot of money and planning and time, but every cent and second and stress was worth it. The tour was overall a great success, and opened many doors that otherwise wouldn't have been opened. It also strengthened the bonds between everyone in the band, gave us a lot of inspiration (New Orleans' music is amazing!) and kind of gave everyone a chance to prove how serious they were about doing this. Thankfully, we returned with virtually no negative experiences and a month of amazing memories.

antiMusic: Any future plans for the band that you can share at this time?

Rhiis D. Lopez: As of right now, we're going to continue playing shows, mostly outside of our area, as well as hopefully jumping on some festivals and big shows. I think everyone wants to start writing again. We'll see what happens!

antiMusic: Anything else about the record that you would like to mention that I didn't ask you?

Rhiis D. Lopez: Thank you for the excellent questions! :)

Morley and antiMusic thank Rhiis for taking the time to do this interview.


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