Can you expand on the idea you’ve spoken of before, that your influences are more cinematic or narrative than strictly musical?
George: “Especially with Ismaya and I, it’s about theatre. This sound, this music that we’re making, has much more in common with a large theatrical production than, like a Merzbow show or anything more underground. I think that while we definitely draw from those worlds, this is supposed to be more large-scale and mystifying. Those qualities are really what bring us together. We’re inspired by directors like Robert Wilson and over-the-top but very great productions like Phantom Of The Opera. We sort of picture everything for a stage or a visual. We talked more about fables and storybook characters and archetypes than we did any actual musical influence. Again, that’s what makes this whole think kinda freeing. It’s not being bogged down by any genre boxes.”
Isamaya: “It’s about creating worlds or narratives for every piece of music that we make.”
Is there a specific narrative in mind for this EP?
George: “I think there are through-lines and little tethers, but it’s intended to be more abstract. It’s supposed to be emotionally focused, and whatever you can draw from the words that you can hear here and there only imbues the feeling that you already have. But, yeah, there’s a lot of pulling from fables and things like the [surreal art of] Leonora Carrington or the surreal writing of André Breton. People like that have always influenced this side of my writing. It also draws from a lot of storybooks in its villainous feeling, which is almost Disney-like.”
Isamaya: “George and I have very different and distinctive voices and styles, and while I’m obviously very inspired by the way that George writes, and his lyrics, that can be very potent. What feels more natural to me is to take on a folkier style of singing, which in itself references stories and old-world themes and archetypes. So you have these two very distinctive styles and sounds, and [the striking contrast between them] amplifies that difference, which is really nice. It is quite Disney to have these two characters: the villain – this almost intellectual, overthinking, dark character that comes out in George’s vocals – and the more innocent, pure counterpart.”
George, you would have been working on this music at the same time as Deafheaven’s fifth album Infinite Granite. Was it challenging to be pulled in two quite different directions?
George: “I loved it. It was fun for me because I had a secret. That in itself was exciting. Getting to work with these new people was exciting, too. And it was all happening while Deafheaven was doing something that was very new and exciting in itself. I was very entertained over that period of time. But everyone had stuff going on. One of the funniest things about how and when we were going to release the Alto Arc music was working around everyone’s ongoing release schedules for all of our projects. For all of us to take a break from those things, come together, and do something that’s totally unique, though, is a real pleasure.”
The description of pulling through ‘black granite’ in the lyrics to opening track The Modern Gospel feels reminiscent of your explanation of Deafheaven’s Infinite Granite concept from when we spoke last year. That can hardly be coincidental?
George: “No, there’s a ton of crossover. If you read the lyrics to Nocebo, there’re In Blur lyrics in there, too. Those are things that I was hoping people would find once they were familiar with the record, sort of like [Easter] eggs. They were being worked on at the exact same time.”