Interview: Alex and Sakda of Fleshvessel

Written by Kep

I recently had the pleasure of picking the brains of Alexander Torres (guitar, drum programming, several other things) and Sakda Srikoetkhruen (fretless bass, guitar, phin), one half of uber-progressive experimental death metal outfit Fleshvessel. Their debut full-length album Yearning: Promethean Fates Sealed is out this Friday, July 28, on I, Voidhanger Records. Check back here at Noob Heavy later this week for the full review!

Kep: Hi Alex and Sakda! Congratulations on being so close to the release of your debut full-length. I’d love to hear a bit about how the band came to be musical partners. How did you all meet? Did you feel the collaborative creative spark right off the bat or did it take some time to develop?

Sakda: Thank you, it has been a long road and I’m excited to finally have this LP out into the world. Me and Alex met in college, we were in the same dorm during our first year at a college in Chicago. I still remember the first time he showed up lugging a giant case filled with records, a player, and huge ass speakers! We bonded quickly over our appreciation for prog, metal, and many different types of music. It was a great year just hanging out. We jammed a few times and talked about doing stuff together but it didn’t come to fruition until we both graduated from college and went our separate ways (haha). Somehow we were brought back together. The universe works in mysterious ways…

Alex: Thanks a ton for having us for this interview! All members of Fleshvessel attended Columbia College Chicago, which is where we met (although Sakda transferred out after freshman year). Sakda was an audio student and one of my roommates, where Troll, Gwyn, and I were music composition students. Like Sakda mentioned, we got along right away over our shared love of metal and prog and it was the same for Troll and Gwyn as well. We all had a lot of common musical interests so writing clicked pretty easily. Especially because Troll and I played together in his prog/ folk project Silent Temple, so we already were familiar with writing music together. 

K: Your conceptual theme is about humanity’s war against itself, mankind seeking a more accepting and livable world even as it tears itself apart from the inside. There’s much darkness and violence in the music, but there’s also a lot of beauty and light. How do you approach balancing opposing elements like that? Is there an effort to make sure the listener is left feeling that one side “won” in the end?

A: When writing the music we really want it to portray what it’s like to live the human experience. Like you mentioned it’s not all just about grim, dark things but beautiful things as well, just as is life in general. The goal is to get the music to convey that idea. Which sounds like a lot! But that’s what makes really great music truly awesome. It’s not just communicating a single or even a couple ideas to you. It’s making you feel everything at once.

S: I think we approached every song like a story. So we have movements, rising tension, climax, release kind of thing y’ know? A lot of the stuff we wrote usually is very on the spot, so I suppose it was up to how we felt at the time.

K: Your sort of uber-progressive, avant-garde, shunning-the-lines approach leads to these huge, multi-section songs with shifts that can drastically alter the soundscape from minute to minute. How does your songwriting process work with compositions that large? Do you have a plan for the full scope of a track from the start, are you just beginning with a riff or motif idea and going from there, or something else?

A: So a lot of the tracks are initiated either by myself or Sakda. It starts with some sort of intro idea and just sort of snowballs. I’ll send Sakda a riff and then he’ll write a bass line for it. Then send it back and I’ll put guitar over that and then I’ll send it to Troll and he’ll write key parts over that. It just sort of goes like a long game of musical exquisite corpse. Although the majority of Gwyn’s parts are notated for them, except for the solos or improvisational parts. So really there’s never much of a plan in the beginning and then as things unfold we can make more informed decisions on where to take the music. 

S: Like I mentioned earlier, a lot of it was how we felt at the time. There’s not a lot of planning when it comes to writing Fleshvessel. Usually Alex will send me some ideas, and I’ll come up with something and send it back. A lot of it is pretty improvisational I’d say. Which makes it a pain because we’d then have to go back and relearn that stuff (haha).

L to R: Gwyn Hoetzer, Alexander Torres, Sakda Srikoetkhruen, Troll Hart

K: The vignette interludes are fascinating little pieces, smart breaks between the big tracks and refreshingly simple in comparison. They feel akin to contemporary classical compositions in some ways. Did you notate them or any of the rest of the music in written form? Are there any improvisatory elements or is everything set hard and fast?

A: Yes, the vignettes are notated aside from the first one which is a pure improvisation by Troll, I just gave him a prompt essentially. There are also improvisational elements in the last one. They were written as sort of palate cleansers, but also to weave a compositional thread through the record. They each feature prominent motifs or ideas found through each track on the album. There are even a couple Easter eggs from Bile [of Man Reborn, Fleshvessel’s 2020 EP] hidden on the album somewhere. 😉

K: The album features notable spoken word sections, very poignant stuff, especially in context. Tell me a little about them: what are they from, and why did you choose them?

A: The first clip is from a short documentary called Jokro: Death of an Infant Chimpanzee. It essentially follows a group of chimps who experience the death of an infant within their group. It documents their behavior over the following weeks in regards to the death. The narrator in this section is describing how the mother chimp is caring for and grooming her dead daughter. Within the context of the song, “A Stain” is about class conflict and it’s not particularly optimistic. The clip just reminded me of trying to care for this decaying, dead thing and the futility of trying to bring life back to it. So that’s why I included it. The other spoken word parts are on “The Void Chamber” and “Eyes Yet to Open” and they’re original lyrics.

K: The cover artwork embodies the feel of the music particularly well, I think. When you’re collaborating with an awesome visual artist like Asty [Carlos Agraz], do you have a good idea what you want on the cover from the start or is there a good amount of back-and-forth? Did Asty get to hear any of the music during the process?

A: I had a solid idea of what I wanted for the art going into it. It’s actually based off of a project I did in graphic art class in high school, but like a psychedelic body horror version. Asty and I communicated quite a lot over the course of the arts creation and he did get to hear the album well in advance of its completion. 

Cover art by Carlos Agraz – The Art of Asty

K: There are so many textures and layers on Yearning, in large part due to all of the non-“standard” instruments you use. Trumpet, piano, ocarina, clarinet, viola, phin, glockenspiel: it’s a huge list and you brought in guests to play some of them. How did you decide on those specific instruments? Alex, since you mixed the record, was it challenging to balance everything with so many unusual timbres?

S: I don’t think there’s a strong rhyme or reason as to how we chose the instruments. It’s more like “hey dude, I just got this wacky instrument” “Great, let’s put it on the album” (haha)! A lot of it is like what we think would be cool at the time. The fun of Fleshvessel is just experimenting, we just do whatever we think would be fun! The whole Fleshvessel band came from wanting to just experiment and trying new things, so we always keep with that concept. Even our tuning is non-standard (haha), that’s where it all started.

A: As Sakda said, the instruments are really chosen because they were available to us ha! Obviously the sections we put them in were picked deliberately, but we essentially just had a pool of options and picked the best parts for them. Mixing the album was a challenge. Looking back there are definitely things I’d do differently and by no means consider myself to be a good engineer. Most of the choices to mix and record myself and use drums programs are just budgetary restraints. I’m actually glad Sakda mentioned the tuning too because it’s sort of like a little Easter egg in itself with the album. We actually tune our guitars to the Mystic Chord or Prometheus Chord which is a synthetic chord that [Russian pianist and composer Alexander] Scriabin used most notably as a basis for his piece Prometheus: The Poem of Fire. In the future I definitely want to use more obscure instrumentation. I am currently learning to play the saw.

K: And finally, just for fun: if you could assemble a Fleshvessel live band and share a bill with one other act, who would it be?

A: I would really love to play with Sleepytime Gorilla Museum. They are one of my all time favorite groups. I would like to see a live band assembled at some point. If we did, I would want to do everything completely live with full instrumentation. So it would definitely involve hiring a few people (ha). 

S: Who would it be, I can’t say for sure. We did talk about this a few times, but I’d most likely be doing second guitar duties and we will find a bassist to fill in, and a live drummer as well.