Aaron Turner Of Isis Talks With The Indie Spiritualist.

November 6, 2010 by Chris Grosso

Aaron B. Turner (near) Seattle, Wa – Artist/Musician. Involved with/founder of/sometime participant: hydra head records, isis, house of low culture, mamiffer, greymachine, jodis, old man gloom, lotus eaters, drawing voices, vacation vinyl, twilight, etc. (Taken from http://aaronbturner.blogspot.com/).

Now that we’ve got that out of the way, let’s talk a little about Aaron Turner the man. While I’ve met Aaron on various occasions, I can’t say that I know him well at all. He was a pleasure to interview. He’s a very smart, friendly & articulate person, beyond that, I can’t say much more from experience. So I’ve enlisted the help of prior Indie Spiritualist contributor, and member of the band Cable (Hydra Head Records) Bernie Romanowski to shed some light on the man behind the man…  – Chris Grosso (*NOTE- This interview was conducted on 10/30/10)

You know this, but Aaron Turner is a multi-dimensional man.  I first met Aaron when I would pay visits to Jeff (Cable’s former bass player and Isis’ bass player) when Jeff moved to Boston in the mid-1990’s.  Jeff moved into Aaron’s apartment and unfortunately for Aaron, Jeff came with some baggage. Jeff’s baggage included 4-5 friends from CT with varied degrees of drinking and violence problems.  Over the next 2 years, I was present while Aaron’s apartment paid witness to a stolen mannequin being lit on fire in his living room, a cinderblock and wood coffee table being smashed against a wall, graffiti being written on his laundry room walls (including the ominous line “It’s not over” from the song “Ochre”), and seeing blatant urination take place on Aaron’s living room floor at the strike of midnight on New Year’s Eve.  Happy new year.

Bernie Romanowski

While this madness was going on, Aaron was usually (and wisely) not present.  While the rest of us were testing the limits of the Boston legal codes, Aaron was gone.  I’m not sure where he went, and I’m sure some of the time was spent in his bedroom deep in thought or engrossed in a Masonna record.  Aaron had a padlock on his door and whenever he was home and I walked by, his room was usually barely lit.  This next sentence is going to sound a little strange, but humor me:  I finally got into Aaron’s bedroom after he allowed me to sleep in there while he was out of town.  After all those months of wondering what was behind the padlocked door, I finally got my answer: a very clean and very normal room.  Rather anti-climatic, really.  Lots and lots of records, a few piles of drawing paper, 1.5 million black band t-shirts, and a clean bed.  Clean beds were hard to come by in that apartment.  I was too overwhelmed by his music collection to choose anything new to listen to while I went to sleep, so I listened to Massive Attack’s “Mezzanine.”

The walls of Aaron’s apartment were painted blood-red with various figurines pained on the walls and ceilings.  It was like living in a rough-draft of Aaron’s Bloodlet “Entheogen” album cover.  Hydra Head was starting to take shape and his living room eventually became full of Cave-In and Botch records.  The boxes started to fill the living room, so the hallway started to fill up, then the shelves came, then a dedicated bedroom was filled with record label stuff.  Maybe Aaron would really make something out of this record thing… 

I got the sense that Aaron’s brain didn’t work like most people’s brains.  When Cable and Isis toured in the late-1990’s, Aaron didn’t find much humor in our shenanigans.  He was usually polite and he DOES have a sense of humor, but he has boundaries that we didn’t have at that time.  They are the same boundaries that I’ve developed in recent years, about 12 years later.  There was a lot of common ground between our two bands and plenty of musical enthusiasm, but it was clear that Aaron and Isis envisioned their band as a butane lighter compared to Cable’s riot-fire.  A controlled burn that would intentionally ebb and flow.  Over the last decade, Isis has crafted an aesthetic that is true to who they are as people — it’s not an act or a pretension.  I have a lot of respect for what Isis has accomplished over the years and I hope you do too. – Bernie Romanowski

The Aaron Turner Interview

TIS: So here we are, just over the four month mark of your final performance with Isis. Has the split sunk in, and what has your experience been since your final show in Montreal?

AT: It’s sunk in to some extent, but I think I won’t start feeling a more noticeable impact for some time. There have been periods during the active existence of Isis where we would take three or four months off at a time, so a break like this isn’t all that unusual. It was such a constant part of my life for so many years that I feel like it may be a year or two or three before I really start to feel what life without Isis is actually like, so in that sense I don’t think it has sunk in fully yet. On the other hand, I knew it was coming for quite some time before it actually happened so I was able to somewhat prepare for it before we actually played our official last performance. I think some parts of my self are very aware, while others, will probably take some time.

As far as how life has been since the last show, I would say it’s gone quite well. I’m happy to be at home and not having to go on tour. I feel very excited to be able to spend time working on other musical projects, and that’s pretty much where things are at now.

TIS: So you mentioned being home and I was talking to a friend who told me you’re living on an island or commune now. Can you tell me a little about that?

AT: Haha, it’s not a commune exactly, though I wouldn’t be surprised if there were some around where I’m at now. I live on an island on the Puget Sound, which is between Seattle and the Olympic Peninsula. There’s a whole network of islands that run up and down the sound and further north of here. We’re on the southern most island. It’s about a fifteen minute ferry ride from West Seattle, but because there’s no land bridge from there to here, it really feels very separate and rural. It’s quite a different atmosphere.

TIS: That sounds really cool. What’s the population?

AT: The whole island is 10,000 people, which is a fair amount of people, but it’s spread out across a very sizable area so it doesn’t feel densely populated by any means. There’s a couple of very small towns, and a  “main drag” which is only about a block and a half long. There’s no stop lights on the entire island so it’s definitely a change of pace from living in Seattle, and LA before that.

TIS: Yeah, I can imagine. How long have you resided there?

AT: Only since March, and a couple of those months I was on the road with Isis, so this is the longest stretch of time I’ve actually lived here since we moved.

TIS: And your wife Faith (Coloccia of Mamiffer) has held down the fort since the move?

AT: Yeah. I moved up to Seattle where she was living two years ago and we moved out here together in March.

TIS: Cool. So I read in an on-line forum from a fan who was at your last show in Montreal, that after your encore of The Beginning And The End you threw the plush cat that has been to every show with you from basically the beginning of Isis, into the crowd. That may not seem like such a huge deal at first, but after you scratch the surface, it sounds like an almost profound, concrete act of farewell.

AT: Yeah, it’s actually a bear, not a cat, but yes, that did happen. I think there are various depths of meaning in acts like that. I felt like it was physically good to let go of certain things and at the same time, bidding an emotional and intellectual farewell to what we were doing. That bear had basically been on my amp for every show we played since roughly two years into our existence, so in a way it was like the silent observer of everything we did together. To let go of that felt like a necessary and important thing to do.

TIS: Yeah, that’s pretty heavy. Is there a story behind the bear itself?

AT: Not really. It was given to us by a friend who also happened to be Cliff’s (our keyboard/guitarist) roommate. It was one of those things where someone gives you something and you don’t really think much of it the moment it happens. For some reason though, it became kind of a totem for me, and maybe to a lesser extent, us. And I like the fact that the object itself was a silly looking thing. I mean our whole presentation in public was very serious, so it was kind of nice to have this weird little juxtaposition that a lot of people never noticed. Certain people were definitely aware of it, and asked about from time to time though. It was like one of those funny little idiosyncrasies.  

TIS: While I know every person’s experience with Isis’s music is different, I often feel/hear spiritual undertones while listening to it. I know that may sound crazy, but that’s my experience. Are you a spiritual person, and if so, do you think that finds its way into your writing process?

AT: That’s a pretty tough question to answer. My feelings on that have changed quite a bit over the years. It’s also  something I’ve been hesitant to really associate with what happened in Isis because we all have very different ideas about spirituality. I can only speak for myself when talking about this, but I would say I definitely think about the idea of the interior world and am comfortable in defining that idea, for myself, as the soul. I would also say that I definitely think about things that could fall under the sort of generic heading of “spirituality”. I don’t however prescribe to any particular religious ideology.

I guess the closest thing I could say about my idea of spirituality and how that plays into Isis is that Isis is an outlet of expression for me. It’s a way to explore things inside myself and make sense of those things as they relate to the world around me. It was also a way for me to tap into an energy, and state of consciousness, which was not accessible to me in most other areas of my life.  It allowed me, at times anyway, to reach a sort of level of transcendence, and I feel that’s a very spiritual thing. Without going very far into that territory, and my own explorations and ideas about that whole part of my own existence, I would say that that is how it applied to Isis.

I’ve talked to the other guys about it at times but oddly never had any in-depth conversations, except with maybe Jeff (Caxide), and he and I are at completely opposite ends of the spectrum as far as our ideas of spirituality. That was actually kind of interesting too, thinking about the fact that Isis is a collective effort. Like we were doing the same thing, we were involved in the same cooperative effort, and we were both definitely getting something out of it. Our ideas of what we were getting out of it however, were very, very different. Also the experience I think a lot of people had in listening to it, or watching it, was very different as well and I like that objective aspect of it.

I feel lucky that I was able to utilize it as a portal into another part of myself, and relating to other people through this work and myself, that is spiritual work. Jeff would probably tell you he doesn’t see it that way all, so…
 

TIS: Well that certainly helps me to understand my experience with it better. I’ve actually met a lot of people who are into eastern philosophy/spirituality or meditation etc, who really dig Isis and that always interested me.

AT: Well I think there are certain aspects of our music that are very meditative. Some of what I found interesting about doing Isis was the sort of meditative and ritualistic aspects of it. I think there is something about this type of music that maybe lends itself to personal and spiritual experiences. The songs are long and very often have some  underlying droney element, which allows the listener’s consciousness to stretch out rather than just being completely bombarded throughout the song or album, especially with the earlier material, which was really repetitive.

There was an element that I thought, rather than being monotonous, was sort of hypnotic. These are things which share some common ground with certain religious practices, like the idea of a repetitive cyclic mantra and certain religious music which is sort of based in a drone oriented approach. Also, through the repetition of certain actions, or in this case musical actions, it’s like you’re summoning something, or creating an openness that allows your mind to let go of your very conscious, rational forebrain and peek into something deeper and wider. Hopefully this will, in some way or another, connect you with the world around you, and perhaps other people who are sharing in that experience.

TIS: Yeah, that actually describes quite a bit of my experience with Isis. So moving on, which of your other projects are now active, and have you started anything new since Isis’s farewell?

AT: I haven’t started anything new. I’ve really just been continuing with things I was already involved with. The main things I’m working on at the moment are 2 different albums and an E.P. with the band Mamiffer, which is the band my wife started a few years ago and I subsequently joined. We finished one album around August and we’ve been working with some other stuff along side of, as well as after that album was completed.

I’m also working on an other record for Jodis, which is a project that consists of myself, James Plotkin and Tim Wyskida. We did one album that was released in I believe 2008 and then began work on the follow up.

I’ve also been working on a new album for my long running semi-solo project House of Low Culture. That project has been the sole proprietor which I’ve often collaborated with different people and most recently, my wife Faith began participating in as well. We’ve completed a song for a split L.P. with Mamifer.

 I’ve also been working on a full length album which will accompany a graphic novel by a friend of mine by the name Tom Neeley. And that is pretty much it for the moment, although I think in the coming months there may be some other things popping up as well, the next of which will probably be beginning the basics for a Grey Machine record.

So yeah, I’m pretty much making music now four to seven days a week which is great. That’s one of the advantages of not having to be on tour all the time. It lets me stay more musically active, at least creating music wise since Isis started winding down. That was one of the things that was important to me in terms of not feeling like it was…how can I put this diplomatically… When it was decided that we were no longer going to continue one of the things that was important to me, that it was going to free up my time to continue working on other things that I found really compelling, and that I wanted to explore.

TIS: That certainly sounds liberating in a way. So besides you vast musical endeavors, you still have a hand in Hydra Head Records but are no longer running it, correct?

AT: Yeah, that’s correct. I’m basically the person who does the A&R (if you want to put it that way), though these days, there’s not really much signing going on because we have so many active artists we’re already working with. I also do a lot of the art direction, sort of guiding the overall vision side of the label as well as being directly involved in a lot of the layouts for our releases.

I’ve actually also started another small label called Sige, which is a partnership with my wife. It’s basically going to act as an outlet for the projects that we are directly involved in and will be a very small scale operation. Mostly vinyl releases and focusing on the artistic aspect of producing records, not so much on the business/administrative side.

TIS: So will you be releasing your other projects like Old Man Gloom or Grey Machine etc on this label as well?

AT: Faith and I both want to continue working with other labels but one of Sige’s primary focuses will be Vinyl format releases, as well as for labels that are only doing a CD version. We both also have projects from the past that has unreleased material and still feel like it’s worthwhile, so we eventually want to release some of that & feel that we’re the best equipped people to do so.

TIS: I’ll be keeping me eyes out for that! In closing, can you tell me about one of your absolute best memories from Isis and one of your absolute worse?

AT: Hmm, let’s see. Well these may not be totally defining moments but I think one of the best memories for me was playing our final show in Montreal. We ended it in a positive way and were completely honoring everything we’d accomplished together. At the end of it all, we still cared about the music we were making. I feel like in talking with the other guys that they felt really good about the show, and that it went really well. I myself felt very grateful to have had such a good final show, both from the perspective of how I felt while we were playing, and also in the way it seemed that people were perceiving it. So I would have to say that was a definite highlight. I think it’s a hard thing to do, being in a band for so long and ending it gracefully. Of course, there are sore spots that exist for certain members of the band, but all in all I would say we ended it the best way we possibly could.

As far as worst memories, I’d say the last show on what was our very first tour. I don’t remember exactly where we were, somewhere in the south though, and things had just been going terribly. Nobody was getting along and after the show a couple of people talked about taking a bus home and saying they were all done with being in Isis. Pretty much in the heat of the moment, they decided that that was it. I remember feeling so frustrated, almost to the point of despair, and feeling like it had the potential to be something really good, which we’d invested a lot into it already.  It felt like this thing was just beginning to flourish and there it was already, seemingly in the moment, in its final throws. Fortunately, as it turned out, that was not our last show. We were able to pick up the pieces, reconfigure the band, and move on from there.

TIS: And thank goodness for that! Thanks so much for your time Aaron. I really look forward to your upcoming releases!

AT: Cool man, thanks for taking the time to do this. I appreciate it.

TIS: My pleasure. Take care.

Visit Aaron’s Blog Here

Visit Aaron’s Musical Endeavors Here:

Isis

Mamiffer

Jodis

Old Man Gloom

Grey Machine

Drawing Voices

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Chris Grosso is a public speaker, writer, recovering addict, spiritual director, and author of Indie Spiritualist: A No Bullshit Exploration of Spirituality (Beyond Words/Simon & Schuster) and Everything Mind: What I've Learned About Hard Knocks, Spiritual Awakening and the Mind-Blowing Truth of it All (Sounds True). He writes for ORIGIN Magazine, Huffington Post, and Mantra Yoga + Health Magazine, and has spoken and performed at Wanderlust Festival, Yoga Journal Conference, Sedona World Wisdom Days, Kripalu, Celebrate Your Life and more. Chris is passionate about his work with people who are in the process of healing or struggling with addictions of all kinds. He speaks and leads groups in detoxes, yoga studios, rehabs, youth centers, 12-step meetings, hospitals, conferences, and festivals worldwide. He is a member of the advisory board for Drugs over Dinner.
  1. […] The Indie Spiritualist Interviews Aaron Turner of Isis […]

  2. LD says:

    This was SO awesome. I’m so glad to learn so much more about Aaron, ISIS and the members’ future outlooks. I’m so comforted knowing there is more to look forward to. Aaron is so intelligent and perceptive and it really shows when he opens up about things. What an absolute artist.
    Jeez.. thanks so much for this interview!!!!!!!!!!!!

  3. […] Aaron Turner (Musician- Isis, Grey Machine, House of Low Culture) […]

  4. […] THE INDIE SPIRITUALIST INTERVIEWS AARON TURNER OF ISIS […]

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