All kinds of uncommon moons will rise into the heavens in 2020. Flip through an almanac, and you'll see dates set for a bevy of supermoons and blue moons. Nothing's in there for a black moon, though, making the new EP by local post-rock/metal heroes Holy Fawn a pleasant surprise.
Clocking in at a fierce but svelte three songs, The Black Moon is a ferocious slab of twilight guitar crunch. It's full of the atmospheric shoegaze touches and dreamy interludes that characterized Death Spells, their most recent full-length record. But the tracks also illuminate the band's harsher side. They puncture their more melodic, pastoral moments with throat-shredding dirty vocals, grimy electronics, and fierce riffs. The quartet of Ryan Osterman, Evan Phelps, Austin Reinholz, and Alexander Rieth had an extra pair of eyes and ears in the studio to help them: producer Matt Bayles, a veteran sound-board wizard who's produced, mixed, and engineered projects by Soundgarden, Mastodon, Isis, Pearl Jam, and Russian Circles.
Holy Fawn are gearing up to hit the road with Drug Church and mewithoutYou as part of Thrice's Vheissu 15th anniversary tour. It's a high-profile opening spot for the Arizona band. We got a chance to talk to Osterman about the making of The Black Moon, what's happened in the two years since the release of their stunning album Death Spells, and what inspired the band to drop their latest project without any warning.
Phoenix New Times: How did you all get connected with Matt Bayles, and why did you want him to produce this EP?
Ryan Osterman: When we signed with Triple Crown, we had several meetings with the owner, Fred, to discuss the idea of working with an outside engineer/producer. While going through several options, Bayles came up in the conversation. A lot of us were familiar with his career in Minus the Bear and the crazy long resume he had working with bands that we practically worship. It was kind of a no-brainer for us as soon as we heard that Bayles had some interest in joining us in the process.
You all wrote and produced and recorded Death Spells as an in-house thing. Was working with an outside producer on these recordings something that got you out of your comfort zones, or did it feel like a pretty easy transition to go from being entirely self-produced to working with another point of view in the studio?
It was definitely a bit intimidating at first, because we've always been pretty dead-set on doing this whole thing on our own. Austin, Evan, and I have spent most of our lives self-recording our projects so initially, we were slightly hesitant. But it all ended up flowing really smoothly. I demo a lot of songs at home, and I did most of the electronic percussion/synth layers before we sat down and actually started tracking. It still left a lot of control on our end.
For someone like me that's admittedly a bit of a control freak, it felt a little more comforting that way. Matt did a great job working with anything that we had and offered a lot of objective insight on how to make it better or ways we could add to it to let the songs be their own entity. That was super-helpful. By the time we started recording, we've likely all listened to the demos and practiced them enough to be like heavily biased, and it was nice to have someone there to help dig around and offer some outside critique.
Did you write the songs on The Black Moon around the same time as you were developing Death Spells, or did these come afterward?
The songs on The Black Moon were written a bit after Death Spells was released as we spent like two to three years working on that record with recording, mixing, and production.
The lyrics on “Blood Pact” and “Candy” have a deeply paganistic quality. Those lyrics, combined with the record’s title and that evocative cover of a backpacker going through dark woods, sets a real nocturnal, lost-in-the-woods-at-night vibe. Is that a theme or mood you were trying to evoke with this record?
I don't know if it's necessarily intentional. I definitely don't go into writing lyrics to any song thinking, "Okay, it sounds this way, so I need words that say this." It's just what I write because it's what I personally see, dream, and feel, to be honest. I think those lyrics and emotions bleed through in the writing because that's who or whatever I am.
I know we're not like post-rock, but I always enjoyed listening to instrumental music because you can make your own story and meaning in your head. I want others to be able to do that with our music. These songs mean the world to me and to us, and I hope anyone that listens to them can feel as strongly about them as we do too, in their own way.
The songs on here also feel like a shift from Death Spells. They’re more ominous and aggressive at times. Are they indicative of the direction you're heading toward for your next record, or was The Black Moon a one-off opportunity to explore these changes in dynamics and tone?
I feel like it's a little different, but it's still who we are. These songs are almost closer to our first release Realms. I've always wanted to blend more synth, electronic, and tape texture elements into the music, so these songs were fun to be able to explore more in that aspect. We're always writing, and there's a lot of new music on the way that will incorporate that along with the heavier and gloomy sounds that naturally flow with that. It’s an ever-evolving process.
Why did you decide to do this as a surprise release? Was it hard keeping a lid on it before it dropped?
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I'm not really sure. To be honest, in the past we have done like this whole hype "campaign" for Death Spells, and maybe some singles or whatever. I know a lot of bands do that and it works for obvious reasons, but I think we wanted to do something cool for the people that are like in on it, you know?
Holy Fawn has always relied super heavily on word of mouth. I've always wanted to make this band more of a community: for all of us, for all of us in the band, for the people that feel depressed or confused or alone or lacking some sort of group identity. This is your group if you want it. We're in this together, and we're incredibly aware that the only reason we're even here is because we've had such a solid community around us supporting whatever it is we're doing. That's why you'll always be able to find us (be it online or at a show or whatever) and be able to chat about real stuff or gear stuff or just dumb stuff.
We just want to have honest human connections, you know? I feel like that stuff gets so lost these days, and I want to make sure we can at least do our part to be present. The only reason this can exist the way it does is because of that community, so we're just really thankful that y'all are a part of this with us.
Holy Fawn's The Black Moon is available now via Bandcamp.