Drain the Sky Interview
We recently caught up with Drain The Sky for an exclusive, in-depth interview after catching the band on their recent tour with River City No Comply, as the two acts passed through Philly (scope the full-feature photo gallery here). With a history entrenched in some of the most important underground music since the early 90s, we are beyond stoked to get the inside scoop and history on Drain The Sky from bassist Carl Auge (His Hero Is Gone, Man With Gun Lives Here, Reptile Brain Virus) and drummer Jamie Sanitate (Annihilation Time, Hooray for Everything). Strap in and get ready to go in-depth with one of the most interesting underground bands in the US, whose post-punk, ambient-to-HC movements, and self-described “Cosmic Wave of Nihilism,” is about to smack you in all the right places.
Joshua BTS: Greetings! Thank you for taking a few minutes with Blow The Scene readers around the world. Let’s get this puppy rolling by having you introduce yourself and your musical weapon of choice with post-punk powerhouse, Drain The Sky.
George Wunderlich – Guitar/Vocals, Carl Auge -Bass/Vocals, Jamie Sanitate – Drums. We currently exist in NYC, Oakland, and Memphis.
Joshua BTS: There is a definite void of information surrounding Drain The Sky. Many comparisons and references are often made of Auge’s involvement with influential crust band His Hero Is Gone, but Drain The Sky is very much its own beast. Can you fill in some of the gaps for us? Who are the key players and how and when did your formation take place?
Carl Auge: George and I began playing together in a practice space in Oakland CA, basically just writing music we resonated with as of 2006! We began with our good friends Mauz (Guitar) and Moses (Drums). Mauz was just starting Monolith Press, was inundated with family, work, and other band responsibilities. Drain the Sky developed and evolved as a three piece afterwards. It was a natural progression of song writing, building upon the lineage of our older bands, a need to create new musical challenges. We wanted to explore new territory while simultaneously carry a high intensity. I had known George from Memphis, and knew him and his unique (Surf/HC/Bluegrass?) guitar playing very well. His band, The Uninvited, was a work of genius. He had moved to Oakland with the hopes of restarting that band, which didn’t work out. Mauz was interested in working with The Uninvited on some level, I had finished my MFA, my band at the time had broken up, it all made sense to combine efforts. Drain the Sky is the result.
Jamie Sanitate: I was asked to join around 2 years ago by George to fill in for their previous drummer for the Japan tour. George and I apparently crossed paths years ago when my old band, Annihilation Time, played with George’s old band in Memphis (The Uninvited). To be honest, I don’t remember the show at all. But I had the good fortune of having an 18 year old kid I know give George my number when he was asking around for drummers.
Joshua BTS: We recently caught up with Drain the Sky on your recent tour with River City No Comply as you passed through Philly to snag some photos and enjoy a fantastic live set.. I couldn’t help but notice RCNC is from Memphis.. Do your friendships with RCNC extend back to the 90s when you and your inner circle of peers and friends were starting to define American d-beat in Memphis- which eventually led to the formation of From Ashes Rise and Tragedy? Or just coincidence?
Carl Auge: It was no coincidence, my friendships with several of these guys extends back to my time in Memphis (the 90’s). Touring together created the feel of a family reunion! As mentioned before, there is a lineage of music that Drain the Sky is firmly rooted in. HHIG [His Hero Is Gone], born from Memphis, is just one small part of this. We never had an intention of playing d-beat music (I don’t know if the term existed when HHIG began). Memphis a very strange city, an entity where life experience is raw, rough, and oddly enough, mystical. I instantly connect to playing music with George, our sound and outlook is undoubtedly influenced by the shared experience of living in that city (though I am not originally from there, and haven’t lived there in thirteen years).
Joshua BTS: One aspect of your live set that I really enjoyed was the constant use of crescendos. Where many current “post” metal and punk bands are offering up lengthy ambient movements that never seem to resolve, Drain The Sky, while also incorporating these very lengthy ambient movements, you tend to build towards a zenith of sonic output that leads up to very heavy, often d-beat-infused-zenith of rock n’ roll. Is this formula intentional? Or just the natural output of the band?
Carl Auge: It really is a balance of opposites, we want to express a full range of feeling and mood, creating a meditative state, while also staying on point. Lengthy atmospheric moments are developed to add more power to solid song structures, making efforts to not devolve into a space jam! The music isn’t formulaic; it’s a natural occurrence as we arrive at those moments during long processes of writing and editing. George once called our sound ‘A Cosmic Wave of Nihilism,’ I liked this description very much. We have another band, Reptile Brain Virus, with an additional guitar player (Jon Sumral) and our previous drummer (Sean Tyler), that does much of the same musically, but with a more 80’s HC feel, yet entirely instrumental.
Jamie Sanitate: I will say that when I joined the band, it took some getting used to as I have been a long time veteran of straight-forward punk bands. I love playing these songs and have really come to appreciate the songwriting.
Carl Auge: Every day was a valuable, memorable moment with them. We have talked about doing another tour someday. This tour coincided with visits from old, close friends, again, a wonderful family reunion.
Jamie Sanitate: Being the only guy that wasn’t originally from Memphis, I had a blast the whole time hanging with this group of old acquaintances. We were talking about doing a west coast tour someday.
Joshua BTS: You currently offer a rad split L.P. with Japanese doom metalers Birushanah. How did you guys come to link up with them? Please bring us up to speed on the split. When and where did you record and what did the writing process look like leading up to the recording sessions?
Carl Auge: Shibata (Birushanah, S.M.D. Records) contacted us about doing a West Coast tour, which we did together several years back. It was such a memorable experience, we resonated together musically and personally, the collaboration made sense. They are a phenomenal band of awesome guys, we had a blast together! We recorded and mixed our side of the split LP in one week with Salvador Raya at Ear Hammer Studio in Oakland. Sal also recorded and mixed our EP, recorded the LP (which was mixed by John McBain). Our records have all been mastered by different people, this time around Shibata himself mastered everything; thus the difference in overall sound. We feel its’ our strongest record so far. We worked under a tight deadline for the recording, it was challenging but made us focus. Greg (Level Plane) wanted to release it by a specific date, but disbanded unfortunately, right after we had finished meeting the deadline. Nico (Destructure Records, France) had planned on releasing it in Europe, but eventually took over the entire thing, eventually co-releasing the vinyl with S.M.D. (Shibata’s label, Japan). S.M.D. also released a separate CD version in Japan.
Joshua BTS: What are some of the prevailing themes on the album in terms or lyrics and music performance?
Carl Auge: Originally, we intended to write an album titled “The Pendelum Swings Back,” to represent the notion of history occurring in an arc, swinging into the direction of our present moment. Thus, the lyrics to “Introduction to the Pendelum Swings Back” developed. We had conversations of what this could mean personally to us, the words became woven together. Musically, we just wanted to push all the elements we had been working with (atmosphere, mood, crushing HC, singer/songwriter-ish, ballad) into the strongest and most cohesive 24 minutes we could possibly arrive at. The lyrics are intended to fit within critical theory and political narratives, yet they also veil stories from personal life experience. Many levels of meaning are occurring, for example the line “an architecture built upon the need of an earthquake” is inspired by the “Horizon House” structure mentioned by Lebbeus Woods in “Radical Architecture.” This structure exists in San Francisco, it represents a built-in need to be shaken to the core, aligning itself into place only through an act of great destruction. It could represent a collapsing and reordering of your personal and spiritual life, or systems in place that are legacies of colonization and empire expansion (comprising the swing of the aforementioned arc). This structure simultaneously fixates upon one plane (like tunnel vision). “Perspectives Collide, Depth Collapses, Spaces and Shapes elide…” refers to the practice of painting representational imagery, veiling clarity to maintain a safe distance from what has been painfully suppressed in personal or social memory. It also relates to identity politics. We draw upon our backgrounds and interests: Painting/Drawing, World History and current events, Native American Plains Tribe histories and perception, Japanese and American Literature, Yoga, Buddhism, Roland Barthes and tons of Critical Theorists. These are only two lines of one lyric, so I hope it begins to explain the story.
Jamie Sanitate: I wish we could do all three of those things but currently I live in Oakland, George lives in Memphis and Carl in Manhattan. Two days after our Japan tour, Carl moved to NYC. We managed to get it together to play last summer when Carl was in town and then George moved to Memphis a bit after that. We had the idea of doing an east coast tour late last year when the split with Birushanah was finally released.
Carl Auge: We are trying a long distance writing process. We have several unfinished songs, lots of parts written…
Joshua BTS: Any bands out there, whether here in the US or abroad, that are really exciting you right now? It seems apparent that your musical tastes run a wide gambit, so please take us through a few different genres and bands that have your ear at the moment.
Carl Auge: In Japan there is Birushanah, Realized, Up-Tight, Kill My Bleeding Smile, Green Apple Quick Step, Dead Pudding. We got to play with most of these bands at Shibata’s Hokage Outdoor Festival, deep in the forest at Tamagawa. It was phenomenal! In the bay area is Kicker, I’m listening to some early stuff currently – Rocksteady and Cumbia Colombiana.
Jamie Sanitate: On the west coast, there are a ton of great bands right now. To name drop a few- Face the Rail, Char-Man, La Corde, Classics of Love… I could go on forever. I’m excited about seeing Youth of Today in a month. The Rush ‘Time Machine’ tour was amazing!
Joshua BTS: Your live sound is very dense but also meticulous. Any special pieces of equipment that you find pivotal to your overall sound? I.E anything you couldn’t live without?
Carl Auge: George’s MIDI pedal and effects rack are critical to our sound, an Ampeg Bass tube preamp, power amp and 8 12” Cabinet is essential.
Jamie Sanitate: I would say all of George’s effect loops and pedals add a lot to our overall sound.
Joshua BTS: With news just breaking on the slaying of Osama Bin Laden.. What’s your take on this? Is it something you pay any thought to?
Jamie Sanitate : I think it’s all a bunch of horse shit. The US will shortly find another scapegoat in a country with resources we can plunder and go after. For all I know, Bin Laden is a hired actor and Al Qaeda doesn’t exist. I think the powers that be in the US and world, or all the money holders I should say, will do and say anything to fulfill their greed at the expense of human and planetary life, in their conquest for one world government.
Joshua BTS: With such a rich history of political focuses in many projects, I am curious to know if politics (or lack thereof) still plays a part in your daily lives? And are there any grassroots organizations that you support that you feel more people should be paying attention to?
Jamie Sanitate: I think most politics are bullshit. Having a two party system (democrats and republicans) continuously arguing about issues that are fodder ie abortion, gay marriage etc. are a perfect distraction so the powers that be can further their global agenda while politicians squabble amongst themselves. I think any non-corporate, listener-supported radio or any organization that creates awareness about what’s really going on in this country and the world is worth supporting.
Carl Auge: I have loose affiliations with many groups. The Tibetan Independence Movement is good to support.
Joshua BTS: I’d like to switch gears into some lighter Q & A for a few moments. With so many interesting musical works under your belt, I am interested to know what other arts you follow. Any great books or art exhibits make their way into your mind’s eye recently?
Carl Auge: As a visual artist living in NYC, I get to see a lot, and some current exhibits are phenomenal –
Kara Walker at Sikkema Jenkins & Co (her best work yet, I think)
Li Songsong at Pace
Laurel Nakadate ‘Only the Lonely’ at PS1
David Salle at Mary Boone.
This winter there was a duel solo exhibit with all time faves Raymond Pettibon and Luc Tuymans at the same gallery (Davis Zwirner). I always like going to White Columns, it has a cool grassroots vibe and great exhibits. The work I like to see is mostly painting and drawing, the subjects are often equivalents to the music we play (not so light at times).
I just saw the movie “Stormy Weather,” for the first time, amazing.
Jamie Sanitate: I’m really all about music.
Joshua BTS: What other creative outputs do you engage in that we may not suspect?
Carl Auge: George plays an astounding variety of musical instruments (you may suspect that already), he plays piano, and violin, banjo, mandolin, and can basically learn to play any instrument he touches! He speaks Korean and Japanese and is an amazingly talented writer. I practice painting and drawing, am a devoted yoga practitioner, and work as a designer and artist.
Jamie Sanitate: I play drums in a much more active band called Hooray For Everything. We have a split 7″ coming out with Angries from OR and are about to go play some northwest shows which I’m excited about.
Joshua BTS: Guilty pleasure time. Guiltiest food pleasure? And favorite spot to eat on tour?
Carl Auge: Indian food and espresso are two of my favorite things, though not in combination. They are both difficult to find while on tour though, so, no favorite tour spots!
Jamie Sanitate: I love carne asada tacos, and all the different pizza joints in NY were superb.
Joshua BTS: Who amongst you has the oddest touring habits? We’ve heard it all…from ice-t bottle collections or urine in the tour van to guerilla-tactic swimming missions in in random hotels…how does Drain The Sky rank up?
Jamie Sanitate: George and I like to party pretty hard. George is a wild man and will stay out all night doing who knows what. Otherwise we’re pretty tame. If you asked me that 10 years ago, I would have had much more exciting things to report.
Joshua BTS: When you guys are just kicking-it, what do your daily lives look like? Do you work music around a 9 to 5?
Carl Auge: I’m a full time artist and 9-5 designer in NYC, I work and go to yoga, after the commute there’s not much time for anything else!
Jamie Sanitate: Yup. I work at a record store Mon-Fri so I can go to and play shows in my spare time. Looking forward to the weather heating up for swimming and BBQ-ing!
Joshua BTS: We really appreciate you taking this time with Blow The Scene and our readers around the world! Any final thoughts or shout-outs?
Carl Auge: Thank you Nico (Destructure), Shibata (S.M.D. Records), Mauz (lifeisabuse), Greg (Level Plane), Zach (soulischeap), River City No Comply, Birushanah, Hokage Osaka, Sean Tyler, Jon Sumral, Jason Willer, everyone who has been a part of this.
Jamie Sanitate Thanks for interviewing us! It was awesome touring with RCNC and thanks to Brent for putting it all together. Thanks to all the folks who housed us and hooked up shows along the way.
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For more information go the Official Drain The Sky Myspace