Art is another word for Ana Kefr (along with metal)

With just a few months to go before the release of their second album, progressive death metal heads Ana Kefr has been hard at work preparing for their first tour and getting things ready with the label. But, Rhiis (vocals, keyboard), enjoys keeping busy when not figuring out new ways to continue evolving the band. He is completely against rip offs of other art, be it music or movies, so revamping is always a constant process. When not working in the band and having a good time, he enjoys a good book, or being kind enough to answer exhaustive questions for different webzines (like this one here on BRUTALISM :P)

Hello, Rhiis, how are things going up in Riverside?
All is well! A little rainy and cold lately, but I can’t complain.

So everyone must be excited for second part of your ‘haphazard trilogy.’ What can fans expect on it to top off album 1? Did you guys try anything new specifically?
Well, for me personally, the drums are the first aspect that immediately tops off ‘Volume 1.’ Shane replaced our former drummer, who was a weak in regards to timing. Shane’s experience and ideas have brought a new level of professionalism to our sound by making the band tighter, more precise, a bit heavier. I’m a big fan of percussion and metal drumming in general, so having a better drummer makes a world of a difference. Secondly, we have a bassist now (there was no bass on our first album), and Fonzie’s writing style really compliments the way we write, so the sound is rounded out and, again, heavier. We’ve got a new lead guitarist, Brendan, who shreds equally on guitar and saxophone, so almost the entire band has been changed. I’d also say the writing skills of Kyle and I have stepped up significantly, partly due to having musicians who can do more with their instruments this time around. The Burial Tree is a lot heavier, wilder, unpredictable and dramatic than Volume 1, the sound and concepts are much more refined. As far as trying anything new, we always aim to avoid repeating a sound or idea, we don’t want all the songs to sound like each other. Experimenting with the saxophone was rewarding, and I use a fair amount of synth sounds on this album. I’m a bit of a naturalist, I prefer classical instruments over synthetic sounds, but with this album I brought a bit of synth into it to bring new textures and moods. I’d say every song is an experiment, in a way.

Would you consider it more brutal or more technical than previous efforts? Is there a specific concept to the album or do you like to take everything on from all sides?
The Burial Tree’ is definitely more brutal than our previous work, but I’m sure one could debate whether it is really technical or not. We have incorporated moments of odd-time signatures, the songs do have irregular structures and utilize strange chords and dissonant harmonies, so in a loose way you could describe it as having a technical aspect. We’re obviously not Nile or Meshuggah, we use technical aspects in a different way. Regarding the concepts of the album, there is an underlying theme that is kind of outlined in Emago – “For if from ignorance hails bliss, then with enlightenment comes the abyss and hopelessness.” There is this idea that the path to wisdom and truth is assumed to be a light and beautiful thing yet, in reality, truth isn’t always pleasant and the path to enlightenment can be full of thorns and bitterness (however, it is obviously still worth it). The album is kind of exploring the idea of a path to enlightenment, the asking of questions and finding some answers we might not necessarily want to hear. Truth is truth, regardless of whether it feels good or not.

For those of us who don’t know you well, care to share how you guys got started back in 2008? What has been your previous experience in music, if any?
I’d been living in Egypt for 3 years, working as a casting director there, and came back to the States to visit friends and family. I ended up meeting Kyle, who was playing with a different band then. Things just fell in place, we began writing together and obviously I decided to stay and commit myself to Ana Kefr. I had jammed with people over the years before this band, everything from industrial music to psychedelic rock, but this is the first full band I’ve been in, and the first time I decided to really invest my energy into it as a full-time project. Everyone else in the band has been in multiple bands before, all of them of various genres. I feel like the line-up now is the right mix, there’s enough harmony and struggle between us to push out music we all enjoy writing and hearing.

Any particular influences that have really set the sound for Ana Kefr, or do you just keep finding new stuff every day and keep throwing wood on the fire?
There aren’t specific bands that set an influence, but there are genres. Death and black metal are obviously big influences, so are psychedelic rock and progressive rock, jazz, some electronic music. Classical music is a huge factor for us. I’d say these are the basic ones we start out from, and then we sometimes purposefully look for something new to throw in the mix just to experiment and do something different. It’s a lot more interesting, to us, to always experiment with different things, it would get really boring if we wrote song after song after song that have the basic same ideas and structures.

What does Ana Kefr translate as anyway?
Ana Kefr is Arabic meaning “I am infidel”, obviously inspired by my time spent living in the Middle East.

So why choose progressive death metal? There are about fifty other options to choose from and you guys decided ‘this one has to be it!’ What pushed you in that direction?
We didn’t choose it, it honestly happened by accident. This is why you can listen to a song like The Blackening and you’ll find it less of a death metal song but more like a rock song with death elements thrown in. All of our more melodic, singing and “pretty” material is kind of proof that we haven’t chosen a genre, whatever is written is just what we want and we don’t pay attention to whether we fit into a category. I’d say we use genres for their emotional effects. Death metal is a genre best for putting out a feeling of violence and anger, black metal is best for the atmosphere of terror, intensity and darkness; rock can be used either for its driven aspect or its more emotionally-appealing moments (like a ballad), classical music paints a picture, etc. We like to write music that almost feels like a soundtrack, it is important to use whatever ideas and sounds necessary to make a song into a sort of emotional rollercoaster.

Are there any bands out there that you really want to meet/ tour with/ drink with/ and really get inside their head to learn the secrets about what makes them ‘so metal?’
I’d love to meet Tom Waits and/or Opeth. Especially Tom Waits, though. To me, no one and nothing in the world comes close to that level of talent. He’s so far outside of the box that he basically shits gold.

What’s your philosophy on metal anyway, and also how it helps shape the band material?
For me, metal is the best genre of all genres and the most complex. Metal, as far as I know, has more subgenres than any other kind of music. It drags in aspects of rock, jazz, classical – everything. I don’t know of another genre that does what metal can do. I hear a lot of people talk negatively about metal, as if playing metal requires hitting drums as hard and fast as possible and making as much noise on the guitar or microphone as one can. Obviously, people with that opinion are idiots. The greatest pop or country drummer, guitarist, vocalist, etc. couldn’t even come remotely close to the level of skill that is required of their instrument in metal. It’s not about playing fast, it’s about writing music that is more complex than verse-chorus-bridge-verse. So I would say metal is the new classical music movement. Not all metal bands, obviously, but when metal is done right I think it is a new expression of classical music. Can you imagine if Bach or Mussorgsky had written their symphonies using electric guitars, bass and drums? Anyway, it’s probably obvious we are big fans of diversity. I’m pretty sure we all feel generally the same about the matter, and that outlook helps push us to experiment, develop different ideas and always try something new.

Do you metal has become more extreme since it was first introduced in basically the early 80s/ late 70s, or has the sudden shock value of something that sounds so ‘aggressive’ kind of died out as more and more people get used to it? Metal has never really been a mainstream thing so the underground factor always seems to  bring up a surprise every once in a while… such as Ana Kefr itself.
I actually don’t think metal is much more extreme than it was in its origins. Sure, things get louder, faster, etc. but the general idea is the same, people just use it differently. I think the shock value of metal is pretty much dead, the only people who still find it a surprise are those who haven’t been exposed to it. Look at Bathory or even Rush. The gain has been turned up on the guitars these days and the drums get faster, but we’re really talking about one idea being used in a million different ways.

How do you preserve your vocals for the extreme parts of songs? Studio magic is one thing but performing live you really usually have to put an effort into getting that growl in! Do you think it’s possible to do it for a long time without any surgeries or anything like that?
I don’t do anything to preserve my vocals, sometimes a good cup of coffee seems to relax my throat. I’ve tried a few things but, in the end, I’m grinding my vocal chords together and I doubt any tea or health ritual short of never screaming again will really do much. With ‘Volume 1,’ I triple-layered almost every line on the album because I was new to the practice of screaming and knew a single scream of mine would probably sound like total garbage. It has been a couple years now that I’ve been doing these vocals, so my vocal chords have gotten used to the abuse. On ‘The Burial Tree,’ almost every line is just one voice, no layers unless I wanted emphasis on a line, and there are no effects on MY voice aside from reverb once in a while. When we perform live, I can feel the wear and tear in my throat by the end of the show. By the end, I’ll have to push a little harder to make sure it all comes out sounding right. I’m not sure if one can do this for an extended amount of time without having surgeries. I would like to avoid that route as long as possible.

So what’s next on the agenda for Ana Kefr? The album still isn’t due out for few months? Tours planned?
Well, next comes a show in Hollywood with our friends My Ruin, and then our album listening party on April 15, and then our album release show on May 7. After that, lots of shows. We’re going to put together a couple of tours, one based in the Western quarter of the USA and then another heading as far east as possible. I wish we could get outside the country on a tour but I’m not sure how realistic that is right now. The general plan is to play as many shows as humanly possible, tour, meanwhile writing the next album.

Do you find touring stressful or more of a release after being pent up in the studio for so long after recording an album?
We’ve never toured! Apart from playing in Las Vegas once, we’ve been playing in Southern California from the beginning. This will be the first time we really get out there and play a lot, which we obviously need to do. I imagine it will be a mix of both stress and release, and by the end of it all we will probably be a lot tighter as a band, and as friends.

Any favorite places you like to go/ want to go while on the road?
I will know the answer to this after we’ve toured.

Tour with any three bands: which ones and why?
Opeth, Cephalic Carnage, and Bloodbath! Opeth because I think we’d probably go well together on the same show, plus their music is just amazing. Cephalic Carnage would be great because they’re insanely brutal and progressive, and seem like a hilarious group of people so it could be fun. Bloodbath because, let’s face it, they’ll never play the USA and it would be an honor to be a part of a show like that.

Craziest thing a fan has done for you or the band that has really inspired you to keep going?
It’s too hard to pick one thing; I’d feel like I’m neglecting someone. I’ve been sent drawings, handmade necklaces, a painting of an ear, mixed music CDs, pictures, e-mails, we’ve had someone fly in from far away to see us live… I appreciate it even when someone just reaches out to say hello, it is nice to know when someone enjoys what we put so much time and thought into. Our fans kick ass, actually, I feel like they’re our extended family.

OK last thing (and any last words of course): favorite thing to do to stay grounded and just take a break when the world spins far too fast and you need a break from the band, life, etc?
I’m a movie fanatic, and I love to read. I’m very picky with movies. I’ve decided to not go to the cinema ever again because the US film industry is a Shit Factory, squatting out one pile of shit film after the next. If I go to the cinema, I will be giving them my money and then it will encourage them to continue making garbage instead of art. So, I’m on an artistic boycott. Everything is a remake and a rip-off of some other idea. I can’t remember the last genuinely good film Hollywood put out. So I like the weirder stuff, especially foreign films. When it comes to books, it’s usually philosophy, psychology, religion and science. I’m usually too picky to remain interested in a fiction book unless it is written incredibly well. But I’m a workaholic and it’s rare that I will stop working on something long enough to relax. Relaxing stresses me out – not enough getting done.

Thanks for the great questions, I appreciate it!
Interviewer: devilmetal747
Mar 16, 2011

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