Interview with Vincent “Jake” Jones from AETHER REALM – Insight of “Redneck Vikings from Hell”

First of all, I want to say congrats to you about the signing with Napalm Records! Did that drastically change your life as a musician?

Jake: Thank you Kumi! If we hadn’t had you in our corner we’d be way worse off.
Not really at all! At least, not yet. The main change has been the fact that we didn’t have to figure out how to pay to make this one - Napalm took that weight off our backs (and ya’lls back, if I’m never again in charge of shipping hundreds of packages across the world it’ll still be too soon, ha). But I still work my regular job to pay the rent (I’m a pharmacy technician). And the Napalm team is getting our music into many more ears than we would have been able to achieve on our own, that’s an exciting change. They do a whole lot of promotional stuff that - taken in isolation - might seem insignificant, but they do so much of it that it all adds together in a major way.

I was glad to know that your new album will be out within three years from the previous full-length “Tarot”. You had been struggling so much to finalize the second album and it took about five years after the first full-length “One Chosen by The Gods” then. Did your recording process and mix/mastering go smooth this time? Arrangements and the sound production through the album are killer anyway though.

Jake: I have yet to experience an album where it all goes “smooth” haha. Something about the way my brain is wired, Kile and I always seem to wind up with one huge final all night grind mixing session to bring it all together. I don’t think we put stuff off, it’s more like you can always do more work to a song, so you have to set a deadline to finish, and the closer the deadline the more frantic and unhinged the work becomes.

I’m already in love with the new album “Redneck Vikings from Hell” and feel it’s the strongest candidate for Album of The Year in 2020 so far. I think “Redneck Vikings from Hell” is not only the best album ever but also the most down-to-earth album among ÆTHER REALM’s releases. And the great fact is you’ve been showing us a lot of different colors album by album without losing anything. This time, there are a couple of songs that doesn’t sound like your typical melodeath / folk metal style. Is that your natural evolution or some sort of strategic approach for attracting more metal fans?

Jake: We’ve always just written the songs we want to write - and this time we wanted to try writing a bangers album. Shorter, denser songs that don’t attempt to maintain any overarching story or theme (Kalmah’s The Black Waltz and Children of Bodom’s Are You Dead Yet? are two of my favorite albums that seem to do this). I’m not blind to it when we write something like Goodbye or Guardian that is gonna be perceived by the metal community as sort of “oh no the label’s making them write pop metal to sell out”, but if that’s how the song comes out it’s like, do people expect us to re-write the song to try to make it less accessible? That seems bonkers!

Thankfully, we haven’t really gotten a ton of negative response toward trying new stuff - seems like most people that like our old stuff are on board. And it’s cool to get bigger but if I had to play or write songs that I didn’t believe in and enjoy to do that, I’d pass. We’re just writing what we want to write.

The title track “Redneck Vikings from Hell” sounds kinda your party-piece style but it’s disclosing your identity through the total unique lyrics, for example ‘We spell Valhalla the redneck way, C-A-R-O-L-I-N-A’ (that’s my fave line). It feels like I go back and forth between a legend and the reality all the time. I love it. I feel your strength and pride for you are who you are. How did you come up with the idea of the song?

Jake: Before we released tarot actually. It was first intended to be a secret track at the end of Tarot (it was an entirely different song then, but the title and core idea were there). It didn’t work back then, since that album was so long (72 minutes!). If we put any more up there the cd printer would have to do it as a double album, and we couldn’t afford that at the time.

But we thought a bit more about that joke, and how it’s actually the most like...honest idea for a song we’ve ever had. Like there’s something a little silly about 4 guys from Greenville, North Carolina singing songs about odin and questing for glorious battle, right? NC is right in the southern United States - a place not often associated with battle within the raging snows of the north. It’s associated with...well...bein redneck.

So it made us think a bit more  - stereotypically redneck culture is associated with several negative traits, chiefly racism and ignorance. And if we can’t stop someone from perceiving us as rednecks, why don’t we just decide what that means? For us that means lyrically embracing all the elements of redneck culture we like as a tall tale about the band’s own backstory. We party so hard that the towns we visit are left as a pile of smouldering ash. But simultaneously we get to declare that “it doesn’t matter where you were born or how you were raised, being a redneck viking is about one thing. Whether you know how to fuckin party”. It seems a bit silly to say out loud, but I’m serious about the sentiment - I want to continue building this fan community where anyone with any kind of background feels welcome and supported.

We tried to explore that dichotomy in the music too, mashing up sort of turisas “varangian guard” sounding big brass (Orchestrations done by Gloryhammer’s Ben Turk, by the way, he knocked it out of the park!) with elements of american folk music (banjo and slide guitar provided by Wayne Ingram from Wilderun, thanks Wayne!) I’m not quite sure who exactly is the target audience for this, but it sounds like you enjoyed it, so maybe we did something right! Ha!

Honestly, I was half worried and half curious about an outcome of your new album when I listened to the first single “Goodbye” for the first time via the music video. Of course, I felt good with the song, but it was the only source from the album at that time, you know what I mean. Anyway, I found the song is standing out in the album and I sensed a strong determination for what you do with your music. You can do anything you want to do with your band cos it’s your music. (I’m always thankful for your amazing music!) The guitar solos are emotional and fantastic. Could you tell us what’s on your mind about the song?

Jake: Ha! You aren’t alone. I think a lot of people may have had an expectation of Tarot 2, and were confused by this like...arena metal song. All I know to say is we wrote the album we wanted to make, and I reckon we sound our best at our most genuine, so I’m glad we didn’t phone it in or repeat ourselves.

I had just gone through a hard breakup that saw me move back to my hometown. I was sorta broke and Donny was nice enough to let me move in with him while I got my shit back together. While I was living with him, we started having nightly writing sessions - just sitting down and experimenting. That wound up turning into Goodbye. I was listening to a lot of Carpenter Brut and Perturbator, which led to some of the synth elements, and I was also really enjoying The Bee by Amorphis. My natural vocal range is pretty low, sorta like the dude from that band, so I thought maybe we could try to play into that by doing something that didn’t require any crazy power metal vocals.

And the quality of the music video looks awesome! Just look like a big rock band. How did you come up with the nostalgic atmosphere?

Jake: I had an incredible amount of help from the Banana The Lemon crew. Jaraad Nageer directed and produced, Ana Maria Hecho was the director of photography (so she was in charge of everything camera related). I told Jaraad I wanted it to feel sorta synthwave - a genre that borrows a lot of it’s aesthetic from sort of a romanticized 80s dystopia. He took that and assembled an unbelievable team (worth way more than we could afford - huge thanks to all of them for the favor). They took a vague idea from us and made it into an aesthetic reality.

Jaraad Nageer
Ana Maria Manso
Ben Bowen
Lorillee Paras
Marcial Gonzalez
Reece Miller
Reese Elowe
Byron Rodriguez
Patrick Ottinger
On The Mark Media
Diamonds and Coal Jewelry

“Lean into the Wind” starts with solid orchestrations. It’s fast and aggressive total death metal tune and especially the drumming is killer! This is the only track themed ‘death’ in the album, right? Is it based on a personal feeling?

Jake: The phrase “lean into the wind” came into my head during one of the many times I’ve caught myself outside in the cold without any sleeves. I find that once I get over the initial shock, there’s something primal about taking the full force of a cold wind straight to the skin. It feels like a battle against nature. And I realized it’s a fair metaphor for the obstacles we all face in our journeys. For me, when I’m feeling sort of beaten, I can turn to a song like Guardian that makes me feel safe, or I can turn to Lean Into The Wind, a song that makes me feel defiant.

After listening through the album for a couple of times, the ear-catching chorus part of “Hunger” started swimming around my head over again. I love it! And some melodies from the track reminded me “The Magician” somehow. The vengeful words behind the metaphorical lyrics make it brutal anyway. Have you been feeling like exploited or so these past years?

Jake: I wouldn’t say I’ve felt exploited really - Hunger was written in 2016, while we were on our first big support slot for a tour, opening for Alestorm and Nekrogoblikon across the US. Before that tour I was exhausted - it was before Tarot had been released, and we worked for so long on that album without having anything to release or show for it that that project was feeling rather hopeless. I think if Chris and the gang hadn’t invited us to join them, we might have thrown in the towel before we were finished. While we were out with them we got a bit of a taste of what it feels like to be, well, a real band. That taste renewed a lot of the desire that had grown cool after a few seemingly stagnant years. The song was about feeling hungry for success again, whatever that means to you.

With your lower clean vocals and the lyrics, “Guardian” sounds sentimental and personal. Beautiful track. How do you feel for using clean vocals entirely through a song?

Jake: Thank you Kumi! I was terrified to be honest. I’ve been practicing a lot at home to try to be ready to nail the vocals when we finally do it live. We just barely manage to sneak one little scream in there just before the first big chorus - gotta stay a LITTLE bit metal. It seems like it’s gone over pretty well though, thanks to everyone that is down to experiment with us!

No doubt, “One Hollow Word” is one of my fave tracks in the album. The arrangement is huge. Did you dedicate the song to a specific person?

Jake: Yeah, Justin Shearer. Justin one of the most welcoming people when I first moved to Asheville, NC. He and his fiance Erin helped introduce me to all the good food and beer in Asheville, and also introduced me to a ton of metal I’d never listened to before (Shade Empire - Ruins, awesome song).

Justin died before he should have, in a motorcycle accident. I figured he would want his own song, so we made one for him. It’s about how the people we love, when they’re not longer with us, still accompany us in our memories.

You had Greg Burgess from Allegaeon as a guest guitar player for the song, right? What a gorgeous collaboration! How did it happen?

Jake: Greg was also a friend of Justin’s. It felt right. We asked him if he would contribute, and he wrote and recorded the acoustic outro of the song.

Actually, I was almost jumping up from my chair (of course with THE phrase!) when I started listening to “She’s Back” for the first time. I feel the song would be a gift for your long-time fans! Did you get conscious about it when you started writing the song?

Jake: Yeah, I think even in its earliest iterations, we knew this song was gonna be Swampwitch part 2. We even managed to get Eric W Brown to come back and do another round of guest vocals! I’ve always enjoyed a little bit of fanservice in my art - when other bands reference their own older material in their work it feels complete to me, and I was itching to work on a fast song.

I say it again, you guys are absolutely unique. I don’t think there is anyone who gets an idea of a song with lyrics like “Slave to The Riff” except you! Does it reflect your struggles for a song-writing process?

Jake: Thanks Kumi! We’re certainly not the first band to write about the struggles of striving to create good music (one of my favorite tracks that describes this is Blood by the band Anima!), but I think we did alright in our portrayal. You give up a lot of comfort to pursue meaningful art - it truly feels like you have no choice but to throw yourself again and again, as if guided by a will that is not your own, and the impossible task of perfecting a piece of music.

“Cycles” has bittersweet images on the beautiful melodies. As I mentioned above, I feel the album is the most down-to-earth one among your albums. It’s built on your struggles for a gap between your daily life and life as a musician, isn’t it?

Jake: Yeah, this one is sort of an attempt to recognize my own patterns in my mental health. When I get to the bottom of my cycle, it can be hard to remember what it feels like to be hopeful. Every time for me though, I’ve been able to weather it, and it can be nice to have a reminder that these ups and downs are normal. You can’t always control when you’re up or down, but you can always choose to try to help yourself. When that fails, you can still always try to bring happiness to others. Sometimes helping someone else is a good way to gain some perspective on your own problems.

“TMHC” has the thick blood from “The Chariot” plus some Bodom-Kalmah-like phrases. It would be the highlight of the album for your big fans! Is it a song about a bond between the band and your loyal street-team?

Jake: Absolutely! I feel like our fanbase is uniquely dedicated (we have people like you after all!) They definitely deserve their own song, and I have a not so secret hope to hear the audience yell “TMHC” and “TELL EM WHERE THE CREW’S AT” every night on tour.

Basically, each of the tracks in the album is shorter than your past releases. “Craft and the Creator” is the only long track in the album and it’s a great instrumental tune. Who did bring the idea to write the long instrumental track and place into the album as the closer?

Jake: Well, there’s a long tradition in folk metal of the like, “long epic song” at the end of the album - Equilibrium, Ensiferum, our last album...and on top of that, I love bringing back melodies from other songs for one final spin, and that only works if you’ve already heard the rest of the album, so it naturally goes last. The idea of the song was to try and write an instrumental interpretation of the different emotional states that you feel while you’re creating - the initial inspiration, feeling “stuck” and depressed, getting angry at the piece itself, having triumphant breakthroughs - I don’t know whether we captured that or not, but I think we did alright in making it slap.

Well, as everybody knows, the upcoming tour with “Redneck Vikings from Hell” has been postponed because of COVID-19. So, I’d prefer to ask you about your first experience for 70000 tons of metal as the band. How did you have fun on/off stage there?

Jake: Oh man it was sick - I racked up a pretty big bar tab by then end of it, so that was one big ol source of fun. I crowdsurfed during wintersun’s first set (I did it in sandals, and cut my toe up on the barrier! Bled all in my boots when we played our show a bit later). Found a little time to relax - spent the whole day the ship was in Mexico just sitting and reading a book on the deck.

Onstage, my favorite bit was we dressed up in bathing suits and towels and sunglasses and then went and played the star lounge (it’s the smallest and lowest stage) and acted confused the whole time that it wasn’t the pool deck.

So, are you excited to get feedbacks from a lot of people about the new album?

Jake: Oh yeah - we’ve been done for so long now, it’s odd to think the release is right around the corner. I hope it goes off!

Again, “Redneck Vikings from Hell” is the best album in 2020 for me so far. Hope everything goes well soon, and you can hit the road with the great new album! My fingers crossed for you guys!

Jake: Thank you Kumi. We love you! /m|


Vincent "Jake" Jones – bass, vocals
Heinrich Arnold – guitar, vocals
Tyler Gresham – drums
Donny Burbage — guitar

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