D//E Interviews: Executioner's Mask

A fresh post punk band composed of members formerly active with underground acts such as Crowhurst, Intestinal Disgorge, LACE and Cop Warmth have emerged with a couple of great singles which introduced their album, Despair Anthems, a powerful record whose entirety comes out July 10th, 2020 through Profound Lore.

Jay Gambit, vocalist and synth player of Executioner's Mask, also of Crowhurst, talks about the new band, the coming album and more in the interview which follows.

How did Executioner's Mask come to be?

Like all good stories, it started with a facebook post. Ryan has a bunch of side projects, and we’re buddies so when he posted that he was looking to start up something new I thought it would be a wonderful chance to have a fun project that centered around his riff style.

I was also dating someone who was a huge fan of not so much post punk, but a series of bands that fit a certain criteria. While it’s sort of a romantic notion both figuratively and literally, my idea was to start a project specifically tuned to that criteria. I love a ton of bands that fit her set of rules for what she liked, and Ryan’s aggressive but compositionally aware guitar and production style were a perfect fit.

The missing pieces of the puzzle were Craig, who adds a sense of conscious dissonance to the otherwise intensely structured songs. He just knows, without needing any direction or anything, where to put sound. I am constantly in awe of his sense of sonic awareness and application with guitar, so it just made sense.

How different or similar is the new project compared to your other bands?

Oh, it’s totally different for all of us. Ryan’s project Intestinal Disgorge has a legendary album called Drowned In Rectal Sludge, came out in 2000, and he helped kind of take the gurgling noisecore elements of bands like the Meat Shits and applied them to death metal in a way that was so influential that Trevor Dunn of Mr Bungle personally asked them to play as one of the support for their reunion shows.

I’ve been doing experimental music for over ten years, and have been involved in the punk scene in one way or another as long as I can remember - but nothing has come close to being this poppy. Last year my project Crowhurst worked with Kurt Ballou on an album that blended more goth and industrial elements in with black metal, which is as close as it’s gotten.

Craig was in the project LACE and is notorious in Houston for spearheading the punk project Cop Warmth, both of which have post punk influences - but even then, those aren’t really anything like what we all do with the Mask. We all have in common that we spent our whole lives committed to these weird projects and threw the kind of love into this that we applied to the albums that have helped connect us to members of our community (both as listeners and musicians) who are just as passionate about music as we are.

Despair Anthems draws from a few different dark styles, yet, it sounds very cohesive as a unit. How would you describe the band's sound?

The description of our sound would probably vary differently if you had us each elaborate on it, but I think the one factor that we can all agree on is that it’s guitar pop. None of us really wanted to make a new wave revivalist record. Our intention collectively was more to make something that still had the kind of rawness that we all share in our individual projects.

Even in projects as steeped in underground music as we’re all in, there exists an underlying knowledge and application of basic pop music structures. It makes total sense that if you distill the elements of what we love about pop music, you’ll find our own interpretations in each of these songs. They’re raw, emotionally charged, hook driven and unilaterally dark.

How is the songwriting approach? Are you methodical or more impulsive when writing?

The dynamics of songwriting remotely are pretty interesting in the sense that there’s a lot more clarity, at least for me, in terms of process. I believe that there are people who are masters at what they do, and I have been fortunate enough to work with an overwhelmingly humbling amount. The best thing I can do is express my creative intent, discuss an end goal and trust their process.

Ryan is one of those geniuses when it comes to composition, so it really comes down to writing a treatment that lists some loose interests and song ideas and maybe sending a Spotify playlist. What’s more amazing is that he’s not super into post punk, so his potency comes from a place of pure passion for the art of songwriting. I then send the tracks to Craig and say “do that thing you do, where you make things sound rad” and he puts down incredible guitar work.

All the while I try to adapt stuff from my journal to the songs. It’s really just a notepad I write in when I feel emotionally overwhelmed (and often drunk) and try and articulate how I’m feeling and processing the world around me - but it’s a journal to me.

How would you characterize the band's live dynamic?

We haven’t played live yet, but our goal is to assemble our friends and have a good time. Ryan doesn't really tour much because of his personal schedule, but we have a whole well of fun musicians who love to play this stuff and totally vibe on what we're trying to do. I know we'll be working with Josh Borsage who was in LACE with Craig, and he's just the sweetest and most creative force - together there's really no limit to the kind of energy that we call can harness on stage.

The album's artwork is really imposing as well. Who's responsible for it, and how do you think it represents the music?

The photography on the front and back was done by an incredible artist named Agustin Hernandez. Their work is both feminine and surreal, and feels often like the visual representation of a dream. So much of what this album is about is escapism, that need to expel this unwieldy burden that comes with having mental illnesses like depression or anxiety.

The mask represents the world we create for ourselves, the person we are when the lights go off and everyone goes home - and there’s only nature and the mirror. It can hide us from our wounds. It’s seductive and enchanting to wear a mask - but underneath there’s still organic matter and the figurative flowers from which the beauty radiates.

How did you end up working with producer Jeff Zeigler, and what do you think he brings to the band's sound?

Jeff is an incredible producer, musician, and just an all around great human being who I admire immensely on so many levels. One of the true legends of independent music, he’s been on the front lines working with everyone from The Swirlies to working with Kurt Vile from the very beginning. Philadelphia without Jeff would be like if you got rid of skating or cheesesteaks.

It’s only natural that Jeff would also be behind the productions of some of the albums that have helped me get through dark times and have touched me as a musician. One of my direct influences with this project are the projects of John Sharkey, all of which have been helmed by Jeff - so even from the very start it was a part of the vision for the group to have Jeff’s talents applied. I’m just as honored to be part of his legacy as a fan as I am stoked on his impact on the record we made together.

How different are the new album versions compared to last year's True Blue EP?

The True Blue EP was really made with the expectation that 12 people would maybe hear it. I recorded it with a podcast mic, hastily, while waiting for a friend to arrive from the airport. The songs sound like demos in comparison to the gigantic, fleshed out compositions that we built in the studio.

While it’s definitely going to be fun to look back on the EP as a novelty, it’s much more of a demo. At some point we’ll release the second EP that really is a continuation of True Blue in every way - but those songs were the other songs on Despair Anthems so they’re more interesting as something to compare with the final compositions than as standalone tracks.

The band and Profound Lore donated the proceeds of the latest single, Bury Me A Grave, to Black Lives Matter, and you came forth with a strong statement about racial inequality. Do you think that the protests and discussions which came after the recent events will actually bring change for the better?

Throughout my life there’s been a strong understanding of systematic injustice. My mom sued the school district she worked in for the right to take the honorific “Ms”, and after my father committed suicide I was raised in a predominantly queer household which helped inform me of the history of governmental injustice towards groups it sees as inferior.

That combined with being a person with brown skin and ethnic features, living in places like Point Breeze in Philadelphia and the Rampart area of Los Angeles has shown me firsthand — the power of community will always be stronger than the militaristic forces or even the institutionalized forces that maintain the status quo. You have seen the radical change start to happen, because just like with Rodney King or Vietnam the world can witness these injustices play out on video.

But even after Vietnam ended and MLK was assassinated, the civil rights movement progressed and the 1970’s brought forth true revolution even if it was steeped in the turmoil that comes with people having to share their space and wealth with others that aren’t like them. If anything, this has once again made visible that the divide is not nearly as great as the powers that be would have us believe. Because it’s really the powers they be that want the divide.

What's in store for Executioner's Mask after the album's release?

Our only constant goal is to keep making music and having fun. In these uncertain times, there’s no use in trying to pretend like we can plan for a tour. We would love to do it, and heaven knows we would happily sign on to do a tour next year in a heartbeat but it all feels so conflicting. There’s a pandemic killing people that is being actively fought, and venues and patrons alike are unsure about both the health and economic repercussions that will come from this.

So I can’t tell you that we will be out there doing all the things that we love, because we don’t know if anyone will be able to return to that degree of normality after this. One thing that’s certain is that we all have been doing some sort of creative work for as long as we could, because that’s what we do as people. That’s more than a lifestyle, it’s our whole lives. For that reason, we can only assure you that we’re going to keep making music and having fun - because that’s what we do.

Band photo courtesy of Indie Publicity


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