Five years ago this month Salt Lake City based musician, Skyler Hitchcox AKA Silver Antlers (now operating under Artistic Violence), dropped his first proper record. 2009 was a heady time in Salt Lake City amongst a tight-knit group of experimental musicians. In Salt Lake City, as I am sure in any city with an oppressive monoculture, there is a strong counter-culture that is built up in opposition and defiance to the dominant culture. Fighting against something builds camaraderie as any gains are generally hard-won. I'm no SLC historian, in fact only a transplant for about five years for college, but this sentiment seemed to embolden SLC punk/metal pioneers in the 80's-90's. Growing up in Denver I heard crazy stories of the outright violence of Provo's straight-edge scene and had heard Iceburn's blistering jazz-based hardcore on Revelation Records. By the time I got to SLC in 2006 it was a pretty dead scene. A lot of alt-country, a lot of screamo and a whoooole lot of misanthropic metal acts by 80's/90's punk holdovers.
SLC's prominent experimental musicians (I don't think it ever grew to anything resembling a "scene") came from unlikely spaces, mainly SLC's suburban north. Northern SLC is an interesting place. Hard-scrabble, economically depressed mining towns butt up next to upper middle class tract home suburban sprawl. There were literally wrong sides of the track. I never got the sense that these kids from up north embraced the violent reactive rebellion of SLC's punk forefathers. Rather, they were self-actualized enough to create art completely separate from either prevailing culture. They simply did it. What grew out of that small band of young musicians were several musical statements, that looking back, seem incredibly prescient and musically astute beyond the relatively young years of these musicians.
I met Skyler outside of a cancelled Owen show outside of the Avalon. We saw each other around, mostly at Kilby Court (I don't think he was 21 at that point) and I saw him perform under his moniker as "Mothers of Sons" a time or two either at Kilby or house shows. A few years later, when Black Blood of the Earth dropped I don't think I quite grasped how good this is. I wrote a glowing record review in my typical hyperbolic style. But listening to this record five years later, I am only now understanding its weight: not just for a young 20-something, but as a musical statement of intense focus and personal expression. This thing is way heavier and noisier than I remember. Listening to it now, out of context from the rest of the music that was coming out of SLC at that time, it takes on a new dimension. Maybe I am in a darker place than when it first came out in 2009. 2009 was a great year for me. I had just gotten married a few months before, I was about to graduate college and the elements of what has blown into a pretty major faith crisis were only starting to materialize.
Silver Antlers always seemed a darker foil to a lot of the lighter drone/beat based ambient music that characterized seemed to characterize SLC at that time. Black Blood of the Earth is full of some really intense moments. These come in the slightly-off tribal drums, distorted guitar loops and oscillators that turn the crescendo of "VI" into an Argento film soundtrack on a Bardo Pond bad-trip. Amanda Mae Hancock's violin reaches pinnacles of Warren Ellis-like ability to set desolation mood pieces. There's a choral outro!?
The album is a beast. A dark side of the prism of SLC's nu-new age. A clear-eyed statemenet of purpose that was criminally overlooked at it's time. I interviewed Skyler to see where he was at five years after his debut and where he is at now.
Tome to the Weather Machine: Black Blood of the Earth was released five years ago. 2009. Can you tell me a little bit about where your head space was at when you released it? Where were you at personally. What was going on in your life that may have played a role in its overall sound/direction.
Skyler Hitchcox: I had actually been very recently broken up with after a nearly 2 year relationship. If I recall correctly, I pressed record on the first movement of the album only a few days after the whole thing had dissolved. I was sad, confused, and needed
something to pull my brain out of that world. The album was a good escape to let me enter a strange world that I'd dreamt about a few times. This was the soundtrack to my newly alone and confusing world.
TTTWM: I remember 2008-2009 as a specifically prolific time for SLC artists.
What was in the air around that time that may have contributed to BBOTE. Did other SLC artists influence the album's sound?
SH: It was a great time for people working at the time. This was RIGHT after A. Star records had decided to throw in the towel and Moondial was starting to get real.
Me and a few friends (Aye Aye people, Stag Hare, Tenants of Balthazar's Castle) all got together, had a few drinks and screen printed all of the sleeves in my parents' garage in Nowhere, Utah. It was really fun. Simple. There seemed to be this feeling
among a lot of us (maybe just me) that things were about to change. Stag Hare's Black Medicine Music was really exciting me. Tenants' had The Moon. I had that split with Seven Feathers Rainwater. Everything was right on track. Good friends were putting out really inspiring pieces of art.
Andrew (Aye Aye), Garrick (Stag Hare), Michael (Tenants), Casey (Cult Leader) and my pal Amanda actually all contributed.
TTTWM: Going back and listening/remastering with fresh ears, what stands out to you? Anything that makes you pat yourself on the back or cringe?
SH: I feel like, and always have, that the last 15 minutes of the album are some of the strongest moments I've had (and will?) as an artist. Sometimes when I listen back to this album there are moments where I don't feel like I wrote it at all. Almost like amnesia.
By that, I mean I remember writing it and recording it, but it doesn't entirely feel like me. At the risk of sounding really corny... I feel like someone or something had spoken through me for those few brief moments.
TTTWM: What was the response locally/blogospherically when it came out?
SH: I honestly don't think very many people cared. It wasn't something people talked about or wrote much about. I was just glad to be done with it. It felt nice to finally have a sigh of relief and mentally say to myself, "We can move on now..."
TTTWM: What has changed since the release of BBOTE? Have any of the circumstances that led to the album's inception changed and in what way?
SH: At this point I'm less interested in my own life. My struggles are much less important on a worldwide level. I'm now more interested in other people's lives. These are the kind of things that I want to write about. Hundreds of children going missing, gay-bashing,
true sadness, etc. Real world problems rather than me being bummed that it took 20 minutes to get pizza. If I have a voice, I feel I need to use it. The world is a wreck and we're all sinking together. Let's at least acknowledge that and sink together if we have to.
TTTWM: Future plans for releases now that Silver Antlers is dead?
SH: Well, like you said, Silver Antlers is dead. I'm now making music as Artistic Violence. I'm hoping to have my first album, My Love For You Is Slowly Drowning, out early next year. Hopefully sooner, but hope in one hand (as they say). Thanks for your time!
Listen to/purchase Black Blood of the Earth here: