Cass George & Shep Sheppard – ÆTHERIAL ‘Horrors Based On Personal Experiences’

Melbourne Death Metallers Aetherial have been gaining a lot of hype lately, dropping a single/video for ‘It’s Only Blood from their sophomore album Nameless Horrors, out tomorrow (our review here). This album is dark, heavy, aggressive and yet tinged with hope, the perfect record to help us all get through what has been a shocker of a year.

We sat down with Casandra George and Shep Sheppard, the creative forces behind the band to chat all things Nameless Horrors, making records as an independent act and what the future of Melbourne’s live scene could look like coming out of lockdown…

Hi Cass and Shep, first off, your sound is monstrously huge and could rival that of bands with more than 5 members! What was the recording/writing process like to get that sound behind you?

Cas Thanks for having us! Haha cheers! Well I guess we are a songwriting duo but we still consider ourselves a band as we play live with a full band. Attention to detail is very important, a lot of time and effort goes into our recordings – which we do at our “studio” at home. It’s a bit of a paradox but keeping it simple and stripping it all back because in this case, less, is more – the allowance of space and clarity is important with the perception of sound in this record, especially compared with The Still Waters of Oblivion that featured a lot of guitar layering and sound building. We tend to take a minimalist approach and don’t like to clutter it up which can sometimes reduce the impact of the music.

What’s the dynamic like when creating these songs? Are you both in tune with each other or do you bring your own ideas together and work on them from there?

Cas: We work really well together and focus on our songwriting strengths that we have as individuals when creating our music. Our songwriting process has quite defined roles – Shep writes the music, I write the lyrics and the vocals. Yes, we are definitely in parallel with our songwriting and creative vision. Creating can take so many forms, it’s hard and doesn’t work all the time – sometimes you just can’t do it, you can’t force it. Having time to work on things to reflect, evaluate and assess if something actually fits with the project is really important too. Especially when working towards what you have envisioned.

Would you say it’s easier to agree on creative differences since there’s only two of you, or like other bands, do you have those struggles with what gets cut and what makes the album in the end?

Cas: Yes for sure. If something doesn’t sound right or doesn’t work – you just say it and it gets cut or modified. Something can sound amazing but just may not work in that song or even on a particular record and that’s ok. Even a 2 day bender shut up in the studio working on something that gets cut straight away is never a wasted exercise!

We also learnt a long time ago not to be precious with ideas, concepts or music. Ego is so restrictive and limiting when you are trying to create. There’s no place for it. It was a bit of a difficult decision which tracks we would include on the album. There were so many other great songs that we had demoed and worked on, but ultimately the tracks chosen were the most suited to what we wanted for Nameless Horrors

Speaking of the album, Nameless Horrors is out tomorrow and it’s a bit of a step away from the sound of your first album, The Still Waters of Oblivion, somewhat darker, did you go into the writing process with the idea to change things up or was that an organic result?

Shep: For sure, I guess it was partly organic, we went into the writing for this record to create a heavy body of work which still encompassed melody and structure. Compared with The Still Waters of Oblivion, this time round we wanted to conceal that upfront melodic side a little. Perhaps leaning more towards keeping things slightly more simple.

Nameless Horrors is super heavy and explores some pretty dark themes, can you explain some of the ideas and influences behind it?

Shep: Other than the fact that we’re into the darker side of the arts; the larger part of the music/lyrical direction for the album was solely driven by actualities and existence and then turning those stories into something that leads and works well with the music.

Cas: Nameless Horrors is based on our own experiences, observations and thoughts. Death, loss, betrayal and despair can take you to some grim places and after living them you see the world differently. The search for answers and how you personally deal with your issues can also take you to some unusual places. We wanted to write about this for the album.

Did you find it cathartic at times to get those issues and thoughts out on paper and turned into music we can headbang to?

Cas: 100%. Turning negative thoughts and experiences into a brutal piece of music is the best form of therapy. It forces you to examine how these experiences, observations, feelings, thoughts etc have affected you and makes you deal with it. It can be emotional for sure when reliving that time and then writing about it, but I think the best stories are one you have actually lived yourself and allows you to produce the most authentic music.

Not dealing with your problems wreaks absolute havoc on your mental and physical health so any outlet you can find to positively deal with your issues is a good thing.

The album was also conceived before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, so in a way, it could be an unofficial soundtrack for death metal fans to turn to, to help them get through these rough times. On that subject, what bands have you been thrashing lately to help you get by?

Cas: We hope so, I think it will provide plenty of solid aggressive listening to get out your frustrations too. There are also stories of hope and resilience on the record too which are important aspects to hold close to your heart especially in these times.

We have been going on some very random musical journeys of late dude, anything from Phillip Glass or the classical masters to non-stop Creedence Clearwater Revival for a week, Stoner Doom from Monolord, Ambient Celtic Folk with bird noises to some black death from Nightcrowned. Never a dull moment.

You are fiercely independent, you do all your writing, recording, PR, video production, pretty much everything to do with getting Aetherial out into the world. Do you find the self-managed lifestyle exhausting or are you powered by that creative drive you’ve got behind you?

Cas: Good question: It has taken a long time and a lot of learning hours to be able to get to the stage where we are now able to do these things for ourselves. It’s not a matter of simply saying I’m going to record my album at home and just go for it. There’s a lot involved and it takes a long time to learn all the processes and work out the best way to do things and we are still learning. It takes a great deal of work and we work every. single. day. On some aspect or another to do with music. We think it’s important to develop these skills both personally and for your career. By investing time and money into yourself it allows for a well rounded approach and appreciation on all aspects of the music industry as well as a greater freedom and control of how you actually present yourself to the world.

Time wise being DIY is better for us too, we like the freedom of being able to work on things when we want to do it. For example laying down tracks or working on artwork at 2am. You are not restrained to ordinary business operating hours. And for creatures of the night like ourselves! – it suits our lifestyle.

It is certainly challenging and frustrating at times, but its worth it – we have chosen this path and dedicate so much of our time to music we really couldn’t imagine doing it any other way. You are the best ambassador for your own music! It’s also a great way to meet the crew at magazines and blogs and radio presenters as well as other industry folk too.

You recorded this album at home, what’s your set up like for those in similar DIY situations who might need some advice for how to go about it during these times?

Shep: Our setup for recording was really basic! Instrument to Audio Interface then to the Computer and just monitoring everything via headphones. A main objective for me, was to streamline and enhance the workflow, it’s such an important aspect of the recording process. For someone else thinking of recording at home, I’d recommend starting out with some simple ideas, making sure your instruments are all in tune and to just have a go. Making mistakes simply means that you are learning faster.

And how do the neighbours feel about the death metal duo next door? haha

Shep: I’m pretty sure the neighbours wouldn’t even know we play heavy music. We kinda dress normal and do the majority of writing/recording/practising with headphones on etc… so overall, we fly under the radar.

Oh, wait! I forgot, maybe the goat skull we have near the front door gives it away….We literally do have one.

The live music scene, in general, has been put on pause and will probably have to be turned off and back on again at the wall. The way things are looking, it looks like it’ll be (in Australia at least) a focus on smaller gigs and local acts for the time being, do you see this as positive or negative for Aetherial and the metal scene in general?

Cas: Yes, I think a resurgence of underground warehouse/salon gigs would do wonders for the scene. It would allow a greater number of independent artists to actually get in front of people who want to see live bands, not just the same ones that were constantly on the bills or international supports. It’s an opportunity for bands to reach new people and rekindle a passion amongst the public to support the local scene and nurture and grow local talent, not just hold out until all the big touring bands roll into town. This would 100% work for us, we love meeting and talking to people at shows, smaller shows feel more personal and allow the artist to connect with the audience.

What’s next for the band after the release of Nameless Horrors?

Shep: We’re super keen to tour the record for sure!!! We’ve got some interesting ideas we’re working on at the moment, so I guess we’ll have to see which way the wind blows and then continue on our journey and we hope to see ya’ll there!

You’ll definitely see us there! And we can’t wait to see what else you’ve been working on.

Interview by Sean Fabre-Simmonds. Insta: @gravy_havock

Nameless Horrors is out tomorrow.
Grab a copy here (and don’t forget to pick up some killer merch too) or give it a listen on your prefered streaming platform!

Stalk ÆTHERIAL on Facebook and Instagram

ÆTHERIAL – Nameless Horrors tracklisting

1. Indifference To Suffering
2. It’s Only Blood
3. The Grave Empties Itself
4. The Evil Age
5. Second Death
6. Insatanity
7. Kill The Master (Resurrection)
8. Spitting Out Teeth

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