Meet My Heart an Inverted Flame. The juggernaut duo of Andee Connors (Common Eider, King Eider) and Marc Kate (Never Knows) hails from San Francisco and recently released a massive double LP of psychedelic drenched doom appropriately titled "Plague Notes." Andee and Marc have been on my radar for many years, as both have been producing distinctive music with a variety of bands for well over two decades now. Following the release of their 'You Will Never Hear from Me Again' music video I found myself curious about how the band got started and how they approached recording Plague Notes. I convinced Andee to allow me a short interview.
Published on 06/26/21 by Nathan Berlinguette
Can you tell me how you and Marc met and what led to the formation of MHAIF?
Andee Connors- Marc and I have known each other for YEARS. Way back in the day, Marc worked at aQuarius, which is also where he got connected to I Am Spoonbender, a band he would play in for years. After Marc left aQ, we sort of drifted apart. We’d see each other in the neighborhood, but eventually years passed with very little to zero contact.
Then a few years ago, Marc was looking to make music, something HEAVY, and someone (maybe jokingly) suggested he get in touch with me. Which he did, and it sounded really fun. When we first started, I was still playing with John Benson, who was my bandmate in A Minor Forest, and the three of us were a pretty good fit. We then eventually added Geoff from Asunder, and we played as a four piece for a while. But for whatever reason, it wasn’t clicking, and it wasn’t exactly what Marc and I had envisioned. It was definitely groovier and stonier, I feel like if that was something we wanted to do, we could have turned it into a pretty wicked stoner/doom thing, but eventually we stripped it down to just the two of us, and BOOM, it was exactly what we had been trying to make happen.
Weirdly, even with the sound stripped down, it ended up sounding fuller and more massive. We definitely moved away from standard rock tropes, and started thinking more organically, and the sound started transforming into something more abstract and atmospheric. still heavy and doomy, but with TONS of space, and mood and timbre and vibe became as important as anything else.
Interestingly, the drums ended up being way more minimal, some songs have just single monstrous hits, but we sort of let the music dictate what was needed, and what sounded ‘right’ in that context. We literally spent 2 years working on the sound, and the songs that would be the first record, and in the process, stumbled on a formula that works for us.
A method of spontaneous composition, of improvisation, of dissected songwriting, that results in these really intense, tectonic pieces that ebb and flow, glacially in most cases, but recently, we’ve been working with blastbeats, and creating much more aggressive pieces, that somehow still fit into the strange sound we’ve come to call our own.
I'm definitely going to get back to blast beats. I'm curious about how that came into play, but for now let's talk about the record. Can you tell me a little bit more about the conception of Plague Notes? The record has some pretty massive tone but doesn't sound overworked by studio tricks. How did the band approach the recording?
AC- I wish we had a more romantic, or even fully baked story to go with the conception/creation/completion of Plague Notes, but really, it ended up being the result of the process we came up with for the band. Instead of rehearsing, or really even writing, we would spend a chunk of each rehearsal improvising and recording those improvs. Obviously we both had ideas and parts and different bits, but they generally ended up being transformed and extended and mutated and turned into something else entirely. After recording, these pieces would be assembled into proper songs, and then we sort of reverse engineer them and re-learn them in order to play them live. But even then, we’re not ‘learning’ the songs as much as getting familiar with the parts, and the musical themes, so that even when we do finally perform live, the songs will retain that improvised quality, but be anchored by certain phrases and melodies and specific parts. It’s all still a bit of an experiment to be honest, since we’ve yet to actually play live.
The record itself though was pieced together with what we considered the songs that best captured what it was we were trying to do as a band. The funny thing is that the drums became way less of a focus, which for me as the drummer, was challenging, and having previously been in mostly drum-driven bands, a WAY different experience. But it suited the songs, and I love that when the drums DO hit, they hit hard, and often surprisingly out of nowhere. I got a lot of grief from folks for how little drumming there was and how ‘not mathy’ it was (being known for ‘mathy’ apparently), but again, the creation of the record came so easily, and the songs just oozed and sprawled and the drums were not there to drive, but to anchor, and accent, and express. The first song to me is still the perfect encapsulation of our band and what we were trying to achieve. Epic and massive, churning and violent, but at the same time blurred and smeared into what sounds like an endless intro, the drums locked into a super minimal pound, a single beat every 10-15 seconds, a sort of sonic death march, the vibe VERY cinematic and very tense, and eventually, when the drums come crashing in, it’s a short burst of chaos and then a return to that more minimal pulsing sprawl.
The newer stuff we’ve been making is a bit more drum heavy, but that’s driven by Marc I think, who wanted to push us to try different approaches, and maybe not just replicate the sounds from the first record. The new songs are noisier, mathier, some have blast beats, but some are nearly ambient. I love the freedom of being able to create whatever we want, and to explore however we want. A big part of what we both wanted out of this band I think, at least once we found our collective ‘voice’.
It’s funny you say that about the studio tricks, because there IS actually a fair bit of post production. We record the drums live, and the synths too, cranked at top volume through a full Orange stack, part of what gives the synths that unique, saturated, blown out, buzzing texture… but since we assemble everything after the fact, we also spend a lot of time dialing in the sounds. Marc of course adds more synths, sometimes many multiple layers, creating a massive, dense sonic world, and the drums get run through the sonic wringer too in order to drive such a massive, lumbering sound. We have been working hard on dialing in the dry studio sound, experimenting with tuning, and mic placement, and whatever we can think of, but we do also spend a fair amount of time after the fact, molding and shaping and transforming the sounds into shapes that more closely resemble our vision.
Okay, let's cut to blastbeats and the future of MHAIF. I know you're a huge black metal fan, but the introduction of blast beats is quite a shift from the primitive pounding of Plague Notes. Can you speak more about that? Will there be a thematic shift as well? What can we expect from the band in 2021 and beyond?
AC- Well, a big part of doing this band was having no restrictions on what we do, how we do it, and ultimately what it ends up sounding like. We have a vision for sure, and spend much of our time in pursuit of that vision. But we also wanted that vision to grow and expand and change… Years ago, with my old band, we had the good fortune of getting total access to a full recording studio, in this big warehouse, where we could leave our stuff set up, and we could record any time we wanted. There were also weird instruments, a big beautiful organ, some random TVs, lots of weird spaces with unique sounds. We ended up recording tons of super strange stuff, really different than our usual sound, often based on a weird organ part, or the echoes in a specific room, or capturing static from the TV - point it, it was maybe the most fun and freedom I had ever felt playing music. And kind of wanted to explore that sort of feeling again. So even though we’re making mostly heavy, experimental, soundscapey doom, we also have been recording tons of ambient stuff, lots of experimenting, lots of weird conceptual recordings, sometimes just gongs, other times recording sounds at my house and repurposing them.. It’s been really fun.
In that spirit, I think Marc just came up with some really cool synth part, that to my ears sounded like black metal, it was fast and blurry and in some ways imitated that kind of furious fast picking epicry that I so love about black metal. So we thought, we should lean into it and record some blast beats. Which to be honest, was a real challenge for me. But over the course of a few months, we kept at it, and ended up with a handful of songs, that sort of resemble black metal, albeit our synthy, doomy, experimental version… Some tracks we did try to sort of honor the sound of black metal, but for the most part, we just did what we do with slightly different, more blackened tools and parts. They turned out amazing, really hypnotic and buzzy, but because it’s not guitars, it sounds more alien and otherworldly, but true enough that we’ve thought about reaching out to some of our favorite black metal vocalists to contribute, and potentially try to release it on a proper black metal label.
I think my favorite part of the whole process was Marc insisting on me playing very specific, and often hard to play and weird sounding blast beats, unorthodox versions of the classic 4/4 blast, So a blast in 3/4 which sounded awesome. And then he wanted a blast in 5/4, which I didn’t think existed or would even work, but it did and it was incredible, and ridiculous, and I’m sure somebody already did it, but I imagined at least for a minute, that I invented it, so we started calling it the AWK-blast, cuz it sounded SO awkward, but for us, it makes perfect sense, and works really well in the context of the stuff we were trying to create.
That also works with our concept of this ever shifting vision. From the very beginning, we have been excited to collaborate. Since we don’t have any guitars, we’ve been working on a set of songs where we work with some of our favorite guitar players, and see what happens when other people add guitar to our stuff. We had been wanting to do the same with vocalists, and our list of dream vocalists is ridiculous and ambitious and if even only a fraction works out, it’ll be mind blowing!
I don’t know about a thematic shift though… We still have a vision, albeit an ever shifting one, the lyrics, the idea behind the band, what we want to accomplish, and what we want to invoke and inspire with our music has not changed, and that vision also includes a pretty strong, consistent visual component, created by our friend Andrew Macleod, an amazing artist in New Zealand. Which we’re eternally grateful for, and somehow perfectly captures visually what we’ve been trying to express sonically.
All of this recording has resulted in a ton of music, so one thing for 2021 and beyond is our just launched series of monthly, digital only (for now) EPs called A Collection of Essays, Attempting to Describe in Intricate, Exhaustive Detail, Everything That Was Ever Wrong with the World, Volumes 1-12. So every month for the next year, we’re releasing a new exclusive EP on the second Friday of every month, via Bandcamp, quite varied sonically, but all very much in keeping with our droned out, atmospheric synth doom sound, but who knows some blast beats might surface there as well…
The first 2 EP's are available now with a 3rd on the way: https://myheartaninvertedflame.bandcamp.com/
We also have a forthcoming record called My Death Is More Beautiful Than Your Life, which is a LOT more drum heavy and aggressive than the first album. And we have a couple other records almost done as well. And like all the other bands in the world, we’re pretty excited by the prospect of playing shows and touring again, and getting to finally play some of this stuff for real in front of other people!
You can read a proper review of Plague Notes by Grimisham by clicking HERE.