A Storm of Light | Interview with Josh Graham

Armageddon, or the end of the world, is a theme that has been explored countless times in literature, films and in music. Various civilizations have predicted the end of the world or as some call it the final judgment. It might not be provoked by any apocalyptic event like an asteroid striking the earth as Hollywood so often recreates in movies, but one thing is certain it’s coming and scientists strongly belief that the way things are going, life as we know it on Earth will inevitably cease to exist. A Storm of Light’s upcoming new album ‘Nations to Flames’ is centered around the possible collapse of mankind and the irreversible damage we’re provoking on the planet. Scratch the Surface had the opportunity to ask guitarist and vocalist Josh Graham a few questions about this stunning and intriguing new effort.

'Nations to Flames' comprise some of the most aggressive and fastest music the band has ever made. What inspired that change?

"Over the course of the bands lifetime, we've slowly been pushing into this direction. We all love slow and pummeling music, but we just needed to change things up and expand our sound. Each record has been a bit faster than the one before. That said, when we played with Slayer at ATP last year that kind of refreshed my personal interest in faster music. We watched most of the soundcheck (until we were booted out of the room) and we were all energized. For a long time I felt that slower music had more punishing power but I'm not sure that is always the case. This record is definitely much darker and heavier than anything we've done."

It’s also a very diverse album, not easily pigeonholed. Is it important to you to create a sound that is new or different from what you have done in the past?

"We like that every record has its own identity, and that the group is continually evolving. After we finish a record and let it sink in, I start to think of where we can go next, and how we can improve. For me, that is the first step to creating something new the next time around. Diversity on an album is also very important, especially to me as a listener. Having those peaks and valleys make the listening more of an experience, and make the record more of a journey, rather than 50 minutes of blast beats."

Was the working process for this new record the same as on 'As The Valley Of Death Becomes Us, Our Silver Memories Fade', which showed a more song-oriented and broad direction?

"I'd say the overall process was similar but this time around we had a lot more back and forth among us. The songs were edited and re-edited until we had a good outline for the record. The pummeling songs were done, which gave us some more freedom to write songs that would round the album out. Writing in that order helped us make the concept of this record hold together without relying on track order. Our first two records suffered a bit because we wanted to the songs to tell a linear story from one track to the next, in sequence."

"People realized too late, that the importance of their government, their nationalism, and their religions meant nothing in relation to the damage we are inflicting on our planet."

In the press material, there’s a quote from the band that says “…on this record, we have finally found ourselves". Do you feel like you have finally found the sound you have always idealized for the band?

"To clarify that statement more… I feel like we've found our strengths as individuals and also as a band. We've finally figured out how to focus on those strengths and write better and more affective music. We'll definitely continue to evolve but with this newfound clarity it will hopefully just continue to get better from here."

How did the recording process differ with Nations To Flames? The album was recorded by Travis Kammeyer (OCOAI, Generation Of Vipers) and mixed by Matt Bayles (Isis, Soundgarden, Pearl Jam, Botch, Mastodon) right?

"The biggest difference on this record was that we wrote it from the start with Billy. Nations marks the 2nd record with the same lineup, a first for the band. The previous releases all had different drummers, and most of the music was written without drums. The drummer would basically come in add drums to the songs. This record was completely different in that regard, and that was a crucial part of our evolution. We also went into the studio with complete demos of every single song, which helped enormously. We weren't writing in the studio, as we had done in the past."

Something that stuck out for me with 'Nations to Flames' was the influence of Killing Joke, especially in the way your voice is captured which recalls the more visceral side of Jaz Coleman vocals. What provoked that?

"We played Fall and Disintegrate live on our last tour with Converge and I found myself singing more aggressively on those songs than anything previous with Storm. In the past (old bands), I used to sing much more throaty but wanted to do something more clean for this band, until that tour. I realized that what we needed was more aggression and somewhat more atonal vocals (part of "finding ourselves"). For me the actual vocal sound feels more akin to Motorhead than Killing Joke, but hey…both of those bands are amazing."

As ever, there’s a number of guest performances on the album, Nerissa Campbell and Will Lindsay are almost regulars and Kim Thayil from Soundgarden appeared on 'As The Valley Of Death Becomes Us, Our Silver Memories Fade'. I take it the chemistry between the band and Thayl was so good that you had to work with him again right?

"Actually Nerissa is not on this record, but is still part of our revolving touring lineup. Will is definitely a regular and Kim is looking like he'll be a regular too, which is awesome. They both add a "color" to the record which I can't do on my own. I can layer guitars almost infinitely but it all has my imprint. It was definitely important to me to get some guitar work on the record that is obviously not my particular aesthetic."

What's the meaning behind the album title and the song titles? Is there a theme or a concept behind the record?

"The album tells one possible future of human failure, the collapse of society due to over population and pollution. The idea of revolution or change began too late into the cycle of damage. People realized too late, that the importance of their government, their nationalism, and their religions meant nothing in relation to the damage we are inflicting on our planet. We all live here together."

"This planet is not terra firma. It is a delicate flower and it must be cared for. It's lonely. It's small. It's isolated, and there is no resupply. And we are mistreating it. Clearly, the highest loyalty we should have is not to our own country or our own religion or our hometown or even to ourselves. It should be to, number two, the family of man, and number one, the planet at large. This is our home, and this is all we've got."
— Scott Carpenter, Mercury 7 astronaut, speech at Millersville University, Pennsylvania. 15 October 1992

The cover image is rather striking and you can almost tell there’s an intriguing story behind it? Does it relate with the whole concept behind the album?

"Thanks. The images are an extension beyond the lyrical content, happening after the society's demise, after the records end. A small surviving group of revolutionaries are biding time until their own demise. The body and the flag represent humanity, and are being ironically sacrificed to the earth…more fire, more smoke, more pollution. They know now that their revolution/realization happened too late, and that the earth will soon be on its own."

'Nations To Flames' will be released via Southern Lord Recordings on September 17, 2013. 
More info at: http://astormoflight.com