For their second full-length project, Labyrinth of Ashmedai, California trio Atala have put together an ambitious concept album that incorporates various elements of sludge metal, doom metal, and punk to make for an aggressive yet complex listen. In this interview, guitarist/vocalist Kyle Stratton and drummer Jeff Tedtaotao took the time to answer some questions regarding their upcoming release, diving into the album’s themes, their recording process, and how the desert environment of Twentynine Palms influences their music.
ME: Your upcoming album Labyrinth of Ashmedai set to release on January 26th. What can Atala fans expect from this project?
JEFF: Fans can expect a driving notion compared to our last release. We still retain the heavy roots of our music, but we tend to drive more on this record. It’s a very subtle addition to our playing style. Yes, we all love and appreciate everything about being “heavy.” The coolest thing is that we incorporated a little bit of other genres that define us individually. So we are heavy, but we keep it punk as fuck.
ME: Labyrinth of Ashmedai will be a concept album about the demon Ashmedai who has been mentioned in various ancient texts. What was the inspiration behind forming an album around this character?
KYLE: Well, I find all religious text to be piles of shit formed to comprise falsehoods. Religion itself is just a form of control, a very effective one at that. They create these gods, devils, and demons, to evoke a fear of punishment in the afterlife. A fear meant to control men and women, it is especially geared towards the subservience of women to men, which is something I find disgusting. But, not only is it geared towards women, it is also geared towards men like me, the ones who are unafraid of any punishment of man. You see, if you are not afraid to break the laws of men and be punished in this life, they want you to fear punishment of the afterlife by their gods and demons. Definitely all works of fiction presented as non-fiction. Bestselling, poorly written works of fiction ever in my opinion. I found some text about this demon Ashmedai. I felt it would be interesting to write the album as if I was him tempting souls to eternal damnation, forming an army of the Hell I created then killing the world of believers. For me, it’s just a story I created based on the ridiculous nature of religion.
ME: For this latest album, you had the privilege of working with producer Billy Anderson who has worked with the likes of High on Fire, Melvins, Neurosis, Pallbearer, and Sleep, among many other genre heavyweights. What was it like working with such an experienced producer?
JEFF: The only way to really get the experience is to sit down and actually do the work. There are very loose time schedules (which translates to no time schedules). The time you start is the time you start and the time you finish is the time you finish. He definitely can get the best creative takes out of anyone he’s working with and also be able to add a little bit of his own flair at the same time. From the basic setup of mics, all the way to endless possible additions that can complement the song, Billy never ceases to surprise anyone he works with. He’s a fucking musical genius.
ME: Your sound can best be described as a gritty, aggressive dose of sludge metal. Who are some of your artistic influences?
JEFF: Although that may be a definite aspect of our music, it doesn’t define our sound completely. To be honest, I was schooled on what “sludge” and “doom” is for the first couple years of being in the band. I listened to a lot of other music: ranging from pop-punk and alternative rock to various genres of metal. It wasn’t until I started jamming with Kyle that I had formally been introduced to “heavy” music. I’m deeply influenced by a lot of things. From the heaviest types of genres to the cheesiest pop ever.
KYLE: The first time we ever jammed, I loved Jeff’s style. I thought, “Wow, we are really good together.” He wasn’t a poser like so many other people in the music scene, which in my opinion makes him way cooler. We definitely have a sludge style, but each track we write goes in different directions. I personally don’t want to be generalized as a sludge band. We are sludgy, because that’s how I play guitar – not because we are trying to fit in. I think if you skip tracks you will definitely find more than just sludge. I like a lot of doom, hardcore punk, grunge, metal, and heavy psychedelia. I also like catchier stuff too. I didn’t get the memo on what I was supposed to fit into. That is what Jeff and I have in common. It’s like all these scenes try so hard to be different they just end up all the same. You get me?
ME: Who are some of your favorite current metal artists?
KYLE: I really like bands like Yob, Monolord, and Pilgrim (RIP John Rossi). I also dig into High on Fire, EYEHATEGOD, and Neurosis. All of these bands are heavy in their own way.
JEFF: I’ve gotten into quite a few bands. Mainly Conan, Pallbearer, Yob, and I dig this band called Young and in the Way.
ME: You’ve probably heard this before, but I believe that your frontman Kyle Stratton might have one of the best beards in metal, possibly even in the entire music scene. How long has Kyle had this magnificent work of facial hair?
JEFF: I feel like Kyle has had facial hair longer than he and I have been friends. I feel like now his beard is even bigger than what it was then. There is always a bigger and badder theory. One of the guys from this band we played with called Sparrowmilk (who also happened to be a tattoo artist) had a pretty massive beard. His beard was braided and tucked underneath his [shirt] to shorten length. Also, did I mention that I have a beard too?
KYLE: It is rather glorious, isn’t it? Well, I was spit out of my mother’s womb with facial hair… No, I grew it some time back to hide my ugly face. I know there is someone out there right now saying,” No, he is so dreamy.” To that guy, I say, “Dude, stop checking me out!”
ME: On top of making music, Kyle also owns two tattoo studios. How did he get involved in the tattoo business? Does he still manage the studios on top of his music career?
JEFF: Man, the guy has been involved in tattooing for about the time I have been alive. He’s always been on top of his game, even before I started working for him. We always get everything ready before we leave. On top of that, he has such a dependable crew. I would go as far to say that we rarely worry of how things go on back home when we are away. I am truly grateful to be working under Kyle. I literally have learned a lot from this guy, both in my personal life and being involved in the tattoo industry.
KYLE: I have been tattooing my whole life. I grew up on the wrong side of the tracks. My parents were working class people. I grew up on the streets mostly. I was very attracted to the gang culture of my neighborhood. I never joined a gang luckily, but the tattoos they had interested me. I got my first tattoo at 14 in a biker’s club house and started tattooing shortly after. I was lucky to find tattooing at that exact moment. I was on a bad path. Tattooing made me realize I could be part of this underground world without being completely indulged in it. I tattooed on the streets in my teens then started working at shops in a professional setting in my early 20’s. It was a very cool life being in bands and tattooing. I have learned to juggle the two careers very well. As far as running the shops, I do oversee them. I am very grateful for my crew. My studios are built of a collective of many great male and female artists. Together, we are a great team and family. We have all worked with one another for years. I owe each of them as much as they owe me.
ME: You guys live/record in the Southern California town Twentynine Palms. You’ve previously discussed how the desert climates/surroundings have influenced your musical themes. How do you feel living in this environment directly plays into your songwriting?
JEFF: Well, we truly have some serious bipolar weather. This winter, it will be a relatively nice 70 all day, then drops to like 30 when the sun goes down. The summer was just brutal, being over 115 like more than half of summertime. The environment tends to be pretty brutal. When we get together, we go off of what Kyle brings to the table. You just have to do it under all the weather conditions. Summer practices would be atrocious if there wasn’t an air conditioner in the band room. Also, we recorded in the neighboring town of Joshua Tree at Las Gatos trail. Luckily, that was during the winter when recorded. I don’t know how I would have felt if we did it during the summer. That would have sucked balls.
ME: When you guys aren’t touring or in the studio, what else are you doing with your time? Do you have any hobbies?
JEFF: I’m lucky enough to be apprenticing under Kyle to become a tattoo artist. All of my time is invested in that and of course hanging with my girlfriend, family, and friends.
KYLE: In my downtime, I am chasing kids around and doing honey-do’s for my wife.
ME: Once the album is released, what are your plans for the future?
JEFF: We have been confirmed to play at this year’s SXSW Stoner Fest in Austin, TX. There are tours in the works. I can’t give the details. All I know is that through my career choices, I am 100% ready to go at any given time. Dave and Kyle are both on board with that as well.