As promised, I’ll be bringing you interviews from artists, musicians, and writers from the Witch City- Salem, MA all month. Let’s start things off with Robb from 1476!
Let’s start off by hearing a little bit about 1476 and the history of the band.
The name 1476, to me, seems like a reference to Vlad the Impaler. Is that a fair assumption, or is there more to it?
It is a very fair assumption but there is more to it haha. In a previous project, I wrote a song called 1476 which was in itself a reference to Vlad the Impaler—and that was a reference to something else I wished to remain ambiguous. When I wrote that song, it signaled a new freedom and new direction in my writing. The song became symbolic of a new beginning for me creatively and it became a reference point for further writing. So, when it came time to begin this project, that is ultimately why we chose the name. Actually, that’s not true haha. I had a dream where I had named a project 1476 for the reasons I just mentioned and I awoke with the ideas fresh in my mind along with the themes that would shape this project. But what’s important to note is that we like the ambiguity of the name. Due to this, it’s taken on different meanings for us in a symbolic way over the past few years. What it represents to me is a feeling I’m always trying to attain in our works. It is a year from the past, predating the founding of America. For me, that implies a European flavor which is important to us. The past is important to us too because it is completely subjective. It allows the imagination to truly dream. All we have are fragments of words and images from the past collected and recorded by people subjectively. There’s something very compelling about this for me—to reach into these fragmented images from the past and to reconstruct them subjectively. There is something dreamlike and “lost in time” about it which is something I always want to capture musically.
As far as a short history of 1476, we are a two piece studio project comprised of myself and Neil DeRosa. Every work we create is an exploration of a theme or concept we are interested in and feel deeply. Working in this way forces us to question who we are, how we are, how we feel about the world around us, etc. as we move through a concept. It really forces us to grow and sometimes I feel it is the only way we know how—to attack something head on and explore it over the course of an album. The nature of the music itself is usually dictated by the concept to a large degree. As a result, we can move through folk, metal, punk, ambient, and electronic—even some neoclassical on our last release. But ultimately, all of our work aims at being dark, atmospheric, and melodic.
It seems like your music has a wide array of influences. Listening to it I hear elements of old European folk, punk rock, black metal, and plain old rock and roll. At points the composition seems influenced by as unlikely sources as Weezer and U2. Was there a conscious effort to blend all these elements, or was this the natural progression of your song writing over the years?
The progression was very much natural. Sometimes, we are surprised to hear our influences in retrospect after we’ve created something. During the process, it’s very difficult to view what we do objectively though we try to stay as objective as possible. I usually don’t listen to anything we do very much once it is complete but if I wait a long period of time, I definitely hear it much differently than when I was writing it. It’s interesting and intimidating sometimes too. I find it best to keep moving forward and not think too much about it haha.
Your lyrics have a lot of references to occult ideas, and I know that has been a life long interest of yours. Do you come at the spiritual and occult from a literal point of view, or philosophical?
I would have to say both. Any lyrical references are usually based on personal practices though they may be used metaphorically or philosophically within the songs. An example of this could be found in a basic banishing ritual that utilizes four archangels to represent the elements. In a literal sense, when performing this type of ritual, one would call on these angels. Whether they literally exist in the room at that moment, I have no idea—but it’s not really the point. The point would be getting the proper result of the ritual. So, in a sense, I try not to debate with myself about whether these things are literal or philosophical/metaphorical because, if it works, then it doesn’t really matter one way or the other to me. But it’s hard not to wonder about these things still. I can say this: maybe calling on elemental angels in a banishing ritual doesn’t bring actual angels into one’s presence. However, what they represent are forces of energy that are inside of us all and permeate throughout the universe. In this situation, Raphael would represent air, Gabriel water, Michael fire, and Uriel earth. What these elements represent in relation to us are our intellect (air), our emotional state (water), our spark for life or driving force (fire), and our physical body (earth). In a work of this nature, we turn our attention to these different aspects of ourselves, we connect with them, feel them, and attempt to balance them out. I lean more towards unbalanced emotional states that can lead to anxiety. A ritual of this sort done regularly and effectively has worked wonders to keep me focused and happy…and when I stop doing it for extended periods, I feel myself slip back into negative, unbalanced states. The angelic imagery can be powerful and compelling to the emotions and the subconscious. They may not be there but we allow our minds to color these energies with their images—and if that helps to heighten the feelings and emotions of a ritual then I’d say they have served a real purpose if not technically real in themselves. Applying these images and ideas to my lyrics is important to me because it’s a part of my daily life. I never want the focus of the music to seem like an “occult gimmick” so there are usually not songs specifically about ritual works or the philosophies behind them. I like to use them to color the concepts of lyrics that may just be personal or not relevant to occultism or spirituality at all. I guess a better way to say it would be that it’s a fluent part of my life—it’s not something separate. It finds it’s way into almost everything I do. So, it occurs naturally in most things I write about as well.
There is a new 1476 album on the way, right? Let’s hear about it!
Yes! We finished recording and mixing it this past July and are in the process of figuring out how to release it. We have some things in the works that I cannot speak of yet but they look very promising. As far as the album itself, it is to be titled Our Season Draws Near. It is much heavier, richer, and more spacious sounding than our last rock-based album Wildwood. It’s very naked and intimate sounding in places which is important to us because the lyrics are very exposing in a personal way. Where Wildwood was more of a reflection on human nature and its inconsistencies, Our Season Draws Near puts the magnifying glass over my own nature, setbacks, and inconsistencies. It’s always important to me to make albums that are brutally honest and I feel, in the past, I’ve unintentionally written things that could be seen as more fashionably somber or dark but it was really just a mask to hide the real problems underneath. Or I just used past experiences as opportunities to write about things that may make for good subject matter—but I didn’t have a strong connection with. I needed to save face for myself by sharing these things in the new album in a very unflattering way haha. There’s no room for pity or romanticism here. There’s more ferocity here than anything we’ve done so far. The lyrics are told through the filter of Norse Mythology, runic mysticism, and winter themes. It largely focuses on solitude, alienation, isolation, and resignation.
As a kid you came up in the Boston Punk scene that gave birth to the Dropkick Murphy’s, The Ducky Boys, and several other high profile bands. How did that influence your musical and personal development?
For better or worse, it’s had a heavy impact on me and I find that much of my lifestyle and world views are routed in that experience. For example, to always question everything and question myself in all that I do. Also, I’ve always had a very strong DIY sense of working. This is not out of a stubbornness to not work with others or an idealistic thing—I’m quite open to working with others—but it’s more about being resourceful. I do most things myself because it is second nature for me. I usually don’t consider other options unintentionally. Another thing I took from punk is how realistic it is to live a free life on your own terms. It takes hard work but it is attainable. We don’t have to live in the manner that is dictated to us by society as being “proper” and many in punk and subculture scenes have proven this by example. The greatest example is probably Crass who lived on a farm with an open door policy for visitors. They grew their own food and were self-sufficient. They lived a free life in accordance with their ideals of having peace and autonomy. To this day, some of the ex members still live there and carry on that lifestyle. That is not for me personally but it shows that with some thought and perseverance, one can pretty much live happily outside of the status quo.
You also have a project called Monastery. How does it differ from 1476?
Monastery is a project I do alone. It is primarily electronic, ambient, and almost entirely instrumental. With each release, I want to showcase a different artist that I love and have it so the music, text, and imagery are all codependent in a way. There are elements of soundscape, drone, and world music in there and most of the songs are linear—they do not bounce back and forth between verses and choruses. It’s important to me to keep it dreamy and otherworldly. My first live performance as Monastery will be on December 14th at Opus in Salem.
You’ve lived in New England your whole life, and that has obviously impacted your music. What do you find so inspiring about this area?
The New England region has a haunting quality about it that cannot be put into words for me. So many people associate Massachusetts in particular with Boston and sports but once you leave the city the atmosphere changes dramatically. I guess dramatic is the best word for the region. We have the extremities of all four seasons, mountains, forests, rocky dark oceans, beaches, cities, hillsides, farmlands, quaint historical towns and seaports—pretty much anything one could ask for outside of a desert. But there is feeling here that cannot be put into words. It is just dark and haunting… The specific feelings it gives me definitely influences everything I do—particularly the ocean, the autumn, and winter. I don’t think that is uncommon with people who live here either. It’s firmly routed in my soul. As much I want to leave here, it will always define who I am in many ways no matter where I end up. I can’t find words but I think a good way to sum it up is this: The three most influential horror authors of all time were from New England—Edgar Allan Poe, HP Lovecraft, and Stephen King. I think that carries a lot of weight.
1476 is based out of Salem. The history of the town is a big draw for tourists in October. Do you get into any of the Halloween festivities here or do you leave that to the tourists?
I basically leave it to the tourists haha. The last few years, we have had tents at the Salem Open Markets throughout October selling art and music. That was very enjoyable and rewarding at times but also very stressful. This year, I leave it to the tourists!
You guys did a soundtrack for an exhibit about Edgar Allan Poe. Was that significantly different from what 1476 does on its own albums?
Yes. The music was almost entirely instrumental and was driven by piano, strings, and electronics. These elements usually take a minimal roll in our work. We thought it best to showcase them here as the music was to be played in an art gallery featuring works inspired by Poe’s writings. We decided to focus on his personal life instead of his stories. We also wanted it to sound older and more representative of the era he lived in. Chopin was definitely a reference point for us in this regard. But we also tried to tap into electronic and ambient influences in order to give it more of a haunting atmosphere.
You make artwork as well as music. Is that more of a hobby to you, or do you take it as seriously as you do music?
I took it seriously briefly but it was too hard to balance out with music time-wise. I can really only focus on one project at a time so something always suffers. I was actually growing unhappy doing illustrations with intent to print and sell them so I decided to just focus on practice and studies for enjoyment. Ironically, once I made this decision, I was given an opportunity to illustrate for a large Tarot book project but it’s too soon to tell what will come of that. I like to focus on Celtic Knotwork studies and dense pen-and-ink pointillism with heathen and mythological concepts.
Let’s talk books for a minute. I know you are well versed in the classics. What are some of the most important books from antiquity for you?
I honestly think the most important work to me is The Poetic Edda and all of the mythological works surrounding it, exploring it, and interpreting it. I’ve read many things over the years but that has always been a mainstay for me. I gain new perspectives and lessons from it as I get older and my life and outlooks change. I think aside from this, as I get older, I enjoy more books about antiquity instead of from it. I genuinely enjoy anything runic and mythological from a cultural, historical, metaphysical, psychological, or philosophical perspective. I’ve begun to seriously collect and invest in these works as I really enjoy them. I’ve been fortunate enough to find some works by smaller publications in my travels too.
How about contemporary stuff? Do you read much new literature?
I have been reading a lot of contemporary works—or at least works from the last few centuries. Is that contemporary…? I spent much of my life reading non-fiction and historical works but for the last few years I’ve been reading fiction and mythology almost exclusively. I find that I’ve been getting enormous satisfaction and great spiritual and philosophical insights from fiction than most non-fiction that addresses these topics more directly. I enjoy fantasy mostly. I’d say my three favorite writers are JRR Tolkien, HP Lovecraft, and Oscar Wilde. The three of them are so powerful, beautiful, and dramatically different in how they are able to wield the English language.
Some of my favorite contemporary books are the original Dragonlance Trilogies—actually all the trilogies and stand-alone books that the original authors wrote (Margaret Weis & Tracy Hickman). I’m a fanatic of the Dune books but only the ones written by the original author Frank Herbert. Those are some of the most quotable and influential books I’ve ever read. They’re full of powerful and profound ideas. Another amazing trilogy is His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman. I couldn’t recommend that enough to anyone that just wants to read a dreamy and powerful story. Recently, I highly enjoyed Le Morte D’Arthur by Sir Thomas Mallory though that is not contemporary… I’ve been digging into a lot of supernatural horror from the 18th and 19th centuries. Authors like Arthur Machen, MR James, and Count Stenbock. I love these writings because they are ominous and surreal in nature. There is usually no ‘monster’ per se but what is unsettling are the concepts themselves or the things that are left to the imagination. One of my favorite works ever is The King In Yellow by Robert W Chambers. This a small book of about ten or eleven short stories. Some take place in the USA and the rest take place in France. They are all irrelevant to each other but what connects them is a banned script for a play called The King In Yellow. The script for the play is haunted and whoever comes into contact with it experiences some pretty surreal and horrific things…and the passages from the play are just haunting. What makes this book so wonderful though is that the play is barely referenced throughout the stories. It’s not mentioned at all in six of them and it is not the focal point of any of the other stories. It’s just a small reference that has nothing to do with the plot usually. It can be overlooked in some of them. This technique was brilliant because it created so much mystique around the banned script and allows the mind total freedom to imagine it. This was said to be a huge inspiration for HP Lovecraft and his Necronomicon is possibly a nod to Chambers. What’s funny about Chambers is that he never wrote another work of supernatural fiction again. If I remember correctly, he turned out romance novels for the rest of his life though The King In Yellow remains his most popular (yet still relatively underground) work.
The last thing I’d like to mention are the short stories of Aleister Crowley. They are absolutely brilliant, insightful, and entertaining. I really think he could’ve been a renowned author of fiction if he didn’t have such a bad reputation preceding him everywhere. I particularly enjoy his “Simon Iff” detective stories. They are like Sherlock Holmes but honestly far better in my opinion…at least for my tastes. Simon Iff is an eccentric, wealthy gentleman that is deeply involved in magic, occultism, and spiritualism. His odd world views dictate how he solves and handles cases. For example, he will find the culprit of a murder and allow him to escape because he doesn’t care about justice—he only wanted to prove to himself that he could analyze the crime and find the killer using only his strong understanding of psychology and human nature. So, it’s all about self-gratification haha. The quality of the writing and the plots are on par with Sherlock Holmes, if not better actually.
Thanks for taking the time to do this interview. Anything you’d like to promote or say in closing?
Thank you for this opportunity! I guess if you’re interested, check out 1476 at http://www.1476cult.com and http://store.1476cult.com where all of our music and merch can be streamed and purchased. For Monastery music and merch, go here: http://monasteryhymns.bandcamp.com And to see some illustration work as Monastery, my Instagram page can found under user name monastery_art. Thank you again!