INTERVIEW WITH KISHEL, RACHEL, AND JIMMY CLAYPOOL BY KEVIN STEWART-PANKO
PHOTOGRAPHS BY SAMUEL CLAEYS
Times they are a-changin’ for Minneapolis’ False. Quickly after their 2010 formation, they were heralded as shining stars on the American black metal scene following an EP and a split with Barghest. The sextet’s insistence on anonymity and refusing interviews created both mystique and controversy. Fans of the band’s progressive and melodic black metal style clamored for information, while their desire for inconspicuousness was interpreted by some as standoffish, elitist arrogance.
When debut full-length Untitled hit the racks in 2015, False softened its stance on press silence, relenting to give interviews with three handpicked outlets. Now that the band has met with some amount of renown and have experiences and stories they want to share in hopes of connecting with their fan base, the press embargo has gone out the window. Plus, they have a fantastic new album called Portent—set for a July 12th release on Gilead Media—to promote, and they’re talking to anyone who’ll listen. We corralled keyboardist Kishel, vocalist Rachel, and guitarist Jimmy Claypool for a conference call to break the silence, unravel mysteries, and discover that, when it comes to both sound and philosophy, False isn’t your everyday average black metal band.
Since you seem to be unwrapping what you’ve kept under wraps over the years, care to let us in on the history of the band?
Jimmy: The proper incarnation started in the summer of 2010. That was our first show with Rachel, but we originally formed as an instrumental group. Skorpian [Vanderbrook, guitar] had a long song written, and it was going to be a one performance type deal, but after that first show we discovered we enjoyed playing together, so we kept doing it. Rachel had been in a band with Travis [drums] before, and it kind of snowballed from there.
Rachel: I got an email when I was out in Northern California asking if I wanted to join the band. They sent me the demo tracks, and at that time I was very interested in being in a black metal band, so it worked out.
Was the band’s name supposed to be indicative of your intention to do something different within the confines of black metal, or was it an assumption you were going to take stick from the black metal community for being different?
Jimmy: We’ve gotten asked that question before, and it wasn’t an intentional, hipster, neurotic thing, but understandably I can see how that would get read into it, especially seeing as we’d never really done interviews before. For me, at least, it was kind of talking about what I perceived from Rachel’s lyrical themes. It’s this lack of integrity and realness in the capitalist structures that we’ve conditioned ourselves to live in. So, there’s a lot fakeness going on and a detachment from not just art but also value within relationships. We all felt it was a cool name and we expected people would read it like that, but there’s definitely a more substantial meaning behind the name.
“IT’S ABOUT ASSUMING YOUR POWER AND ASSUMING YOUR TRUTH AND TAKING THAT TO THE FURTHEST EXTREME THAT YOU CAN.”
Rachel: The way I relate it to the album that’s coming out, Portent, is that if you were to read the lyrics, it definitely diverts from traditional black metal tropes, completely. It’s a very vulnerable and honest piece, and I have no qualms with that because I don’t think that black metal is about fitting into traditional 1990s, whiny, elitist, white boy black metal. It’s about assuming your power and assuming your truth and taking that to the furthest extreme that you can. In our case, if you want to call that learning how to self-actualize in the most powerful and healthy way that you can, then that’s fucking black metal to me. The idea is that you don’t have to fit into a trope. By not assuming a certain identity you can be whatever you want to be.
Is that a theme that has followed you through other bands to False, or something that came about with False and has to be presented differently because you’re doing black metal?
Rachel: My lyrical style has generally been the same through most of my bands. It’s just changed with the style of having long form songs in False and getting older and having different viewpoints than when I was 16 and playing in a riot grrrl punk band (laughs). I’ve always felt really alienated by the general idea of civilization and trying to figure out how to be human within it, and with that comes a lot of baggage.
Kishel: Another part of it is that all of us agree that institutions fail us, including the institution of black metal, including the institution of elitism to the extent that there ever was a tongue-in-cheek aspect to the name. And I think that’s at the core of what Rachel was just talking about. The institution of black metal is flawed just like all other human institutions.
Rachel: You have to create your own reality because you’re living in another man’s universe. That’s the idea.
The funny thing about that is that if there ever was a group of people who considered their institution airtight and flawless, it was the early Norwegian black metal scene.
Rachel: It’s ironic because they were just as headstrong as their so-called opponents. They were not being any less.
Jimmy: And to go beyond that, the one tenet of black metal that’s always been important to me is individuality and respecting everybody as an individual. It might become inevitable when things become trendy that people fall into these narrow, binary things like true-false, strong-weak, but people who were emulating those bands technically aren’t being very individualistic, even though they say they are. It’s ironic that it’s supposed to be a very individualistic ethos, but everyone starts talking the same and not really saying anything different or interesting.
So, how did we get here? What are your musical backgrounds?
Kishel: Jimmy and I have backgrounds in classical music, and I believe Travis does as well. Skorpian has always been a huge music theory nerd, but most of us have punk or metal backgrounds.
Rachel: I grew up going to Minneapolis DIY punk shows when I was 15, and before that I lived in northern Minnesota and was exposed to a bunch of really awesome records from some friends in a small town, which is really odd.
Jimmy: I was a classically trained violinist. I started playing violin at age 5 through to age 17. I got introduced to black metal from an orchestra section-mate who was Muslim. He went by Oji since no one could pronounce his name, but his full first name was Nuruljihad, which translates to “Light of the Holy War.” He introduced me to Emperor, and I thought it was really cool. Every day we were rehearsing and playing these thematic, orchestral pieces, and he came along and Emperor was an extension of those themes, just with blastbeats and distorted guitars. So, that was really dope that a Muslim kid whose name translated to “Light of the Holy War” introduced me to black metal, especially in the context of Islamophobia and shit today. I always make it a point to tell people that I wouldn’t be into or playing black metal today if it wasn’t for one of my best friends.
Rachel: Likewise, I was into punk music. One day, I was trying to download the band Nausea on Limewire and accidently got the song “Nausea” by At the Gates. I heard it, and it was like, “I gotta go buy this album.” (laughs) So, I did and I also bought Emperor’s In the Nightside Eclipse on the same day. I will say it did take me a couple of weeks on the school bus listening to it over and over again and not really understanding it until I finally got into it. But after I got into it, I no longer found any enjoyment in hardcore.
The whole not doing interviews thing, was that for a particular reason?
Rachel: No, we just didn’t want to (laughs).
“IT WAS EASIER TO FORGO ALL THAT AND LET PEOPLE INTERPRET THE MUSIC AS IT WAS, WHICH HAS ALWAYS BEEN THE POINT OF THE BAND—TO LET PEOPLE TAKE WHAT THEY WILL FROM THE MUSIC”
Jimmy: When we started the band, it was a very fulfilling experience, but I didn’t expect it to become what it’s become. That’s not to sound egotistic or anything, but part of the reason we never gave interviews in the beginning is because it was easier to avoid uninspired interviews. It was easier to forgo all that and let people interpret the music as it was, which has always been the point of the band—to let people take what they will from the music, which is what I enjoy about music. Like, what Slaughter of the Soul means to me personally is probably way different than what it means to Kishel and Rachel and everyone else in the band.
Rachel: I think we felt so strong as a collective that it was like why would we speak individually?
Kishel: The music was going to be what it was as its own thing.
With that in mind, have you ever experienced frustration or confusion with interpretations of your music or lyrics?
Rachel: Well, we haven’t had any fascists decide we were speaking for them, so we’re doing something right (laughs).
Jimmy: I personally never got bummed out by what someone thought about this and that. It’s mostly been pretty positive. People will take away a sense of empowerment, and that’s cool.
Rachel: There have been a couple of interesting things. There was this one creepy dude from our community who tried to spread a rumor that he was the singer in False (laughs), but besides that, it’s made it simpler to be able to focus on being a band, making music, and having a good time.
Kishel: I would add that most people who have interpreted our music through reviews or conversationally were able to pick up what we tried to project, which was a vastness of scope and a multiplicity of emotions that are deep. That is really satisfying.
What caused the turnaround towards doing interviews and not only that, but doing them as a group?
Jimmy: We all love and care for each other deeply and we enjoy being around each other a lot, so it’s easier to do interviews that way because the conversations are more robust and interesting. It might be annoying for you as a transcriber and writer, so sorry if it makes your life more difficult, but we talked about how this record is way more personal about grief and loss, and hopefully our experiences can help somebody get through their own shit. I think it’s a net positive to share our personal viewpoints and what we’ve been through and not feel alone.
Rachel: We’re six voices, so we’d all have a different answer to that question, but for me, it’s that I preferred for many years for people to take the music and do what they wanted to do with it. After giving that a run, it feels more comfortable to put a personality to it, because now instead of the music and art being conflated, they can be separate things because people have had a long time to know the music without knowing who the artists are.
“WE HAD A CHANCE TO TALK ABOUT THAT COMMUNITY AND JUST HOW PERSONAL MOST OF US TAKE THE MUSIC AND HOW WE’VE BEEN ABLE TO HAVE THESE REALLY MEANINGFUL AND PERSONAL RELATIONSHIPS THROUGH PLAYING MUSIC TOGETHER.”
Kishel: A friend of ours is making a documentary about Gilead Media, and we recently did an interview with him and we had a chance to talk about that community and just how personal most of us take the music and how we’ve been able to have these really meaningful and personal relationships through playing music together. Of course, within the band, it’s a family at this point, but also with the other bands we’ve played with, something is happening and this album is our manifestation of that. The more we can connect through music, we don’t have to disconnect in the digital age. There can be festivals where there can be discussions and healing, and these connections can go across the country.
Rachel: And through that there’s so much power.
Kishel: We’ve been experiencing this build in community across bands and also growing together as a band, and for some reason it makes sense to talk more about it because of how positive it’s been.
You can answer this with as much or as little detail as you’d like, but what’s happened in your personal lives that’s had you wanting to connect more with other people and explain your story?
Rachel: There was no conversation [within the band] that happened where it became a definitive thing. I think it just slowly started happening, and essentially we’ve had a lot happen in our personal lives in the past couple of years, for better or for worse.
Jimmy: And we’ve all been there for each other throughout it, and that’s been an important part of the new record. I’m not going to talk about specifics, but half of us lost our dads throughout this record being written and I personally lost my father and my grandmother during the writing process, and one of the constants I had while going through all of that was my bandmates. Everybody deals with depression, but I was falling into deep darkness with suicidal ideation, and the only people I had to pull me out were the other members of this band. We’ve all been constants in each other’s lives. This band has outlasted any job I’ve ever had and any relationship I’ve been in.
Rachel: I was reflecting on that today, too. One thing I realized that’s different about this album compared to the rest of the band’s history is that I was always suicidally depressed in a dangerous way, in a way where I’m glad that I’m still here to have this perspective and privilege to have an honest reflection on my life and my band. Basically, after overcoming that period of my life, it’s way easier to bring yourself to the table and be there.
Turning to Portent, is there anything you did differently in the creation of the album?
Kishel: I want to say that the actual composition process is the same as before where people bring ideas and riffs and chunks and clusters of riffs to the table and we figure out how they fit together in movements or if it’s going to be a progressive, through-composed song. But with the recording, there’s definitely more precision, the guitar articulation is much more precise than it’s ever been, and the synth pad is way different. I got a new synth and I use all the choirs, but we also used Travis’ analog synth for the first time.
Jimmy: I feel that with this record we went for a cleaner production because of the way the songs ended up. They breathe more and call for a more robust production style instead of going the raw route. The last record was a little more at a breakneck speed and there’s a sense of looseness. Obviously, the new record is still fast, but its context calls for a different production.
Rachel: Untitled is a bit more punk, I guess. We did the same thing where the songs were put together over the course of weeks and months. One of the things I did differently was record my vocals in our basement, which made a massive difference in my level of comfort and being more honest about it.
How did playing live and touring Untitled influence the new record?
Jimmy: I had more people coming up to me who were more interested in where we were coming from personally. They were sharing their own stories about what the music meant for them, and I think that gave me a renewed appreciation for what music means. It definitely had me putting a little more heart into what I contributed to the record.
“THEY CAME TO ME AFTER WE PLAYED A SET AND SHARED HOW THE MUSIC AFFECTED THEM, AND WE’D COME TO FIND OUT WE HAVE ALL THESE AWESOME THINGS IN COMMON.”
Rachel: I had a lot of really awesome, transformative experiences meeting different women around the country that I’ve now become friends with in various ways. They came to me after we played a set and shared how the music affected them, and we’d come to find out we have all these awesome things in common. Like, one friend I made in the Pacific Northwest, it was like, “Oh, you’re a public health nurse? I’m in school to be a public health nurse!” Basically, being able to become really fast and intimate friends with people because there’s this one thing that you really know and this community connects you and they feel safe connecting through this music because it’s such an honest thing.
When you have these heartfelt connections with people and fans, do you ever experience trepidation when you think about the band expanding its reach or getting bigger?
Rachel: We will always be a part of the DIY community to some extent. I don’t think that will ever change for us, therefore we’ll always have those relationships even if we delve into larger things. Some of us have things outside of the band that we’re very interested in pursuing, so it’s a balancing act.
Jimmy: I think that’s always going to inform our approach to everything. Even if we end up becoming more professional or whatever, we’ll still play small cafe shows. One of our only shows locally last year was at a community cafe that holds maybe 80 people, but balancing that with larger venues when we go on tour. We’re always going to have that ethos, and it’ll keep us grounded and not give us that rock star overblown sense of self-worth.
Rachel: Playing and connecting with each other is a wonderful and life affirming thing, but we also want to connect with the audience, too. That’s what feeds. There should be a relationship between the audience and the performance, and that’s what creates a lot of the energy and positivity between both parties.
How would you say the goals and intent have changed from when you first formed to now?
Kishel: It seems that shortly after we formed the band we made this decision we were not going to replace any members. If someone had to leave or whatever, the band would just end instead of trying to replace people. I think that was when we started getting closer and started to view each other more like family and people that we could lean on, and that has definitely evolved over time.
Rachel: We honestly just like hanging out and want to make some sick fucking music, have a good time, and keep supporting each other to be our best selves. It’s that simple.
Is being that fully investing in the band and each other impacting your relationships outside the band?
Jimmy: I work for a booking agency and get to see things from the business side of things, and those experiences make me a little more wary of working with people we don’t know, especially in the music world where people will hop on trends and will gravitate towards whatever is selling. Agents and labels have their own vested interest in what will make them the most money. I’m not saying everyone is like that. [Gilead Media’s] Adam [Bartlett] is a good example of someone who does a label because it’s important to him, but I value personal relationships too much and we don’t want to be taken advantage of.
Kishel: We have an amazing relationship with Adam, and that just makes things so much easier all around. He understands how weird we are and loves it. That is the grease on a lot of our wheels.
Jimmy: And I’d rather work with someone who respects and understands us instead of someone who’s trying to wheel and deal and maybe has some ulterior motive. We value our interpersonal relationships outside of the band.
I noticed that you have a bit of a social media presence now as well. Was there hesitancy about that?
Jimmy: Oh yeah, definitely. I don’t think any of us ever had the goal of this getting to where it is now, but at some point you have to do promo stuff, take press pictures, and play the game. We’re not completely ignorant to that, but we’re still going to do it on our own terms. It made sense to do stuff to help push the record. It would suck to spend four years working on a record and not have it get out there because we didn’t want to take a band picture.
Kishel: We also had a huge backlog of old merch that we would have no way of selling if we didn’t have an online merch store (laughter).
With all the changes you’re making in light of Portent, are there going to be procedural differences as well? Like the way or amount of touring you’ll be doing?
Jimmy: We haven’t really talked about it. It’s difficult with six people’s schedule and some of us have demanding work schedules that aren’t as flexible as mine. I’m a personal trainer, so I can take off whenever I want. If At the Gates asked us to tour, I’d be like, “Fuck, yeah!” I’m not going to say no to that.
Kishel: It’s interesting because as we get older, there are so many different directions that everybody is going in. I don’t think that’s going to prevent us from touring and I don’t think anybody wants that, but we’re probably not going to be going on eight week tours or anything like that. Unless it’s At the Gates.
Jimmy: Yeah, shout out to At the Gates! Holla back at your boys! (laughter)