From The Horse's Mouth: Mark Herman and Keith Testerman (The Estranged) on The Estranged
The Estranged formed in Portland, Oregeon back in the summer of ’06 by Mark Herman (vocals, guitar), Derek Willman (bass) and Keith Testerman (drums). All three were in legendary Portland band Remains Of The Day, and various members are/were in notable Portland bands such as From Ashes Rise, Hellshock, Lebenden Toten, and more.
Continuing in The Estranged’s tradition of mutating and evolving with each subsequent release, the new album is an epic, sprawling masterpiece of tense, ominous angst-ridden post punk. They’ve heavily toned down both the Wipers influence of the 1st album and the blatant death-rock vibe of the second. Instead, this one finds the band establishing a streamlined, punchier sound that both rocks a little harder than the last album, while retaining some of the textured soundscape feel which fans of that record have come to expect.
The influences on their newest album range from the Cure to Echo & the Bunnymen to The Troggs. Lyrically, they have more of an ambiguous angst ridden approach, musically showing the bands continued maturity in their song writing and recording process.
Ghettoblaster recently caught up with Herman and Testerman to discuss their self-titled record, which arrived via Dirtnap in March. This is what they told us.
When did you begin writing the material for the self-titled album?
Mark: We began writing the songs sometime around the summer of 2011. We demoed about half of the songs with Stan at Buzz Or Howl studios in the summer of 2011 but never got around to demoing the rest. “The Ride” ended up being used for an LP comp called Terminal Decay.
Keith: The Terminal Decay comp. was something done by Welly from Artcore zine out of the UK. I actually think we may have had one or two of the songs written before our first European tour in 2011, but seeing as there were a few gaps with touring and other things it took us a few years to get the songs to a point we were happy with.
What was the most difficult song to take from the initial writing stage through recording and mixing? Why was it so troublesome?
Mark: “Hide”, “Languid Sky”, and “Mark Of Sin” were probably some of the most difficult only because I changed a lot of the vocal melodies in the studio that I had originally planned. There were revisions done to other songs but these were the most dramatic. It was really nice to have the time to do some trial and error with the juxtaposition of different vocal/instrumental melodies. Some of these songs seemed to go through a demoing process whether we knew it or not.
Keith: I’d say the most difficult songs from this last session were the ones that didn’t make it on the album. we’re still working on those…
From the songs on the album, for the most part the initial ideas of the songs come together pretty quickly. Usually we write songs in batches of two or three and then start weeding out the parts that don’t really feel right or start adding layers. each of us have slightly different ideas on direction and figuring out where they all meet is how we find each song. Sometimes it’s a long process sometimes it happens pretty quickly. We’re pretty good at not rushing the process though. it all happens fairly
organically. the recording process was probably the only thing that might be considered difficult for this last session with Mark taking a good amount of trial and error to find the best vocal melodies for each song. There was a good amount that changed from the beginning of tracking to the end. But, we took our time so it all worked out in the end.
Which of the songs on the record is most different from your original concept for the song?
Mark: This questions seems to go in tandem with the previous one so I apologize if this sounds redundant. “Anyway”, on “Hide” we changed the vocal melody completely on all of the verses. “Languid Sky” was one of those songs that was being stubborn for a while but on one of the last days of tracking, Evan and I had a fortuitous night of bouncing back ideas resulting in something I really like. These are the kind of things that set Evan apart from other engineers. He’s not afraid to go down a hole and experiment with the bands he records hence, being a good producer. Also, “The Ride” was another song that I added a lot of improv guitar feedback that I never intended to do originally but honestly, I like it when songs decide to take a path of their own and surprise you with different outcomes than you had previously rehearsed. I think that is the real magic of being in the studio. I guess for me the vantage point of a song isn’t always right in front of me. Sometimes I have to step farther back to see than I think.
Did you have any guest musicians play or sing on the record?
Mark: Yes, we had our friend Damaris Peterson play all of the keys and sing the backing vocals. We’re really happy with everything she did on the LP and we plan to work with her again in the future.
Who engineered, mixed, mastered and/or produced the record? What input did those people have that changed the face of the record?
Keith: Daniel Husayn from the North London Bomb Factory did the mastering while Jason Powers and Evan Mersky were the engineers and Evan helped with more with the producing side of things while Jason kept to more of the engineer side of things and he was also the one who did most of the mixing. We spent a good deal of time tracking vocals, guitars and other instruments with Evan at Red Lantern this time around. The idea being that we wanted to spend a bit more time exploring different vocal and guitar melodies and doing this at Red Lantern was quite a bit less stressful for us.
Mark: Evan had some really great ideas that I never could have thought up and we also combined many ideas into a sort of hybrid experimentations.
Is there an overarching concept behind the record that ties it all together?
Mark: A concept? No. I actually think that concept records are pretty played out and run the risk of sounding removed and insincere. My concept is, if I have one just an equivocal testament to everything that happens to me or situations I make up in my head but ironically the ones I invent end up sounding more earnest to me for some strange reason…
Keith: I think the idea for us was just to write an album we were all happy with.
Have you begun playing these songs live and which songs have elicited the strongest reaction from your fans?
Mark: Yes, we played about half of our record while we were on tour in Europe but I’m not the best person to ask since it seems that everyone has different songs they like but I’d say that “Fatalist Flaw” and “Languid Sky” are some songs people seem to tolerate.
Keith: Seems like the best feedback I’ve gotten is from “Hide” and “forever been erased”. For the most part they all seem to be pretty well received.
(Check out a song by The Estranged here: Listen “Another Stab”.)