There is an old adage about music, “The band can only be as good as the drummer.” What then are we to say about Aesop Dekker, a drummer who has been involved with some of the best metal acts in recent memory? His résumé includes now defunct Bay Area legends Ludicra, Pacific Northwest “grey-metal” pioneers Agalloch, doom-folk band Worm Ouroboros, and most recently VHOL, a band which includes members of Hammers of Misfortune (John Cobbett/Sigrid Sheie) and Yob (Mike Scheidt). Nearing the release of VHOL’s debut album (4/16 on Profound Lore) and a spring tour with Agalloch in Europe, Aesop was gracious enough to answer some questions for SSG about VHOL, Agalloch, and his personal aesthetics when it comes to drumming.
SSG: A lot of people looking at VHOL and its members are tempted to call the band a “super-group” given the pedigree of all the members. Do you think that description is accurate?
Aesop Dekker: No, I kind of hate that term. I think of VHOL as a band separate from our other bands. We can’t be as active as other bands due to our other projects and busy personal lives, but the focus with VHOL is to primarily make albums.
SSG: Would you ascribe the idea to form VHOL to any one individual or group, or did all 4 of you mutually decide to form the group around the same time? More generally, how did the ball get rolling on VHOL?
AD: Sometime after Ludicra broke up, John and I decided we wanted to make at least one more record together. We both decided that since we had no plans to tour or play live often, that we could ask anyone to be in this new band. Both of us had Mike in mind, he is one of our favorite voices and a great friend. He immediately agreed. Sigrid is probably the best musician any of us know, so that just made sense.
SSG: After getting to preview some tracks from VHOL’s debut, it seems like people are having a hard time describing it accurately. Do you think this indicates that VHOL is exploring new ground or that music critics lack the adequate vocabulary? How would you describe the music?
AD: I think we subconsciously look over our shoulders but didn’t want to make something wholly retro. All of us definitely tapped into our love of 80s thrash and hardcore and just plain old classic metal, but the focus was to make something strange. I think comparisons to Ludicra are natural because of the way John and I tend to play together but we also saw VHOL as an opportunity to explore some territory that Ludicra either didn’t get around to or just wasn’t interested in. It’s always a challenge when people ask you what sort of music your band plays; I think it should be. I know that because of our other bands, people had a lot of strange expectations. I am enjoying the surprise.
SSG: All of the members of VHOL are in other projects. Should fans get their hopes up about seeing VHOL play live any time in the near future?
AD: It isn’t a priority and requires a bit more planning and money than most bands- due to Mike living about 300 miles away- but we have played twice now and it went well, so we are open to it.
SSG: Are you leaving open the possibility of VHOL being a continuing project, or was this a one time meeting of minds?
AD: Initially we only set out to make this album, but it was such a great experience we have already started working on new material.
SSG: It’s been a couple years since Ludrica ended and you joined Agalloch. Does anything about being in the band feel different as the time has passed, or has it been a pretty consistent tenure?
AD: There was a time when I was in both– I sort of want to dispel any notion that I left one band for another. I definitely feel more comfortable in my role in Agalloch. The others in the band have always been incredibly welcoming and supportive of my role in the band, but honestly, I see Agalloch as being the work of those three for the most part. I try to interject my opinions here and there but I also am cautious to upset the process. They have a history of doing fantastic work that predates my arrival. If anything, I wanted to strengthen Agalloch as a live band, and I think that has happened.
SSG: Agalloch is about to tour Europe, so here it comes, the stock comparison question. Do you perceive any kind of difference between fans and shows in Europe verses those stateside?
AD: Well in Europe there is a genuine appreciation for the artist– you get treated very well. Promoters’ interests are in creating a good experience rather than selling drinks. Not that there aren’t exceptions stateside. We definitely draw bigger audiences. Europeans are more open– they will come up to you after a gig and say things such as “You were great tonight, but your last album was shit.” That is somewhat refreshing and off-putting at the same time.
SSG: Are there any songs that you either love or hate to see on the setlist? How involved are you in that decision making process? Is Agalloch a democracy?
AD: We all have songs that we don’t enjoy playing or feel have never been that good in a live setting, but sometimes we play them anyways because they are often fan favorites. We have had many debates on how we should decide what to play. Agalloch is very democratic, which I think works mainly because we tend to feel the same way about things.
SSG: Marrow of the Spirit had “Black Lake Nidstang”, which was pretty hefty, and then last year saw “Fautian Echoes,” the longest song so far. Is the appearance of longer compositions coincidental to your presence, or would you say they reflect your influence?
AD: No, they have nothing to do with me. I think these are just John finding new ways to compose and arrange. I like the weight of “Nidstang” and how it sits in the center of the album. Agalloch albums always have an interesting trajectory to me, sequencing is more important than people often imagine.
SSG: At the risk of alienating some folks, are there any places in Europe that you especially look forward to playing when you travel over there?
AD: I always look forward to playing the cities we have never been to. Really excited about seeing more of Finland– it is a country that has always been fascinating to me.
SSG: On the spectrum of drumming, if 1 means just showing up and learning songs and 10 means sitting down and writing instrumental parts for the other musicians, where would you say you prefer to be as a drummer? And in terms of your different bands, do you move around on that spectrum or does your role remain consistent?
AD: Interesting, maybe I am a 7. I play to the song, but sometimes my playing will influence the song. Little flourishes or phrases may be picked out by the guitar player or bassist and incorporated into the riff. I am a firm believer that good songs will tell you what they want, but you sometimes have to disregard their advice.
SSG: Would you ever consider playing a show (in my mind labeled “Dekker Fest”) with Worm, VHOL, and Agalloch all on the bill? Or is that hokey?
AD: Yeah, too much me, and too much work. I did do a tour with Worm and Agalloch, which was great.
SSG: Reviving your Cosmic Hearse days, do you want to give a shout out or recommend any bands that you’ve been into recently?
AD: I can’t stop listening to Holy Terror‘s 1988 album Mind Wars.
SSG: Nice. Ok, final and least original question: Any words of wisdom for aspiring drummers out there?
AD: Practice often and play with musicians who are better than yourself.