Latest release: City of Ships/Rosetta Split EP (Bird’s Robe)
Philadelphia natives Rosetta are about to tour Australia for the second time. Loudcaught up with the astronaut metallers’ guitarist J. Matthew Weed to discuss their release schedule, thoughts on downloading and the industry, and what the deal is with this post-metal thing.
First off, thank you for your time. What’s been happening in the Rosetta camp at the moment? It has been two years since your last album A Determinism of Moralitycame out. How was the touring cycle for the album and do you have plans for a follow up? What could we expect from the next Rosetta album?
We did a full-US tour and European and Russian tours behind the album in 2010 and 2011. We actually played more shows in more places in support of ADOM than we did after Wake/Lift came out, although it didn’t feel like that because we had so many logistical difficulties during that time period. Kinda feels like we’ve been in a holding pattern for most of the last year — our dying (and now dead) van consumed a ridiculous amount of money, energy, and time, though we did manage to release a split with Junius thanks to a lot of very generous and supportive fans.
How does the creative process for Rosetta usually work? Is it an individual effort or is it more of a band collaborative effort?
It’s absolutely collaborative. Really, everything except the lyric-writing happens in the group setting at practice. We don’t really write parts separately from each other — we’ve always felt we needed to write whole songs, in the sense of an ensemble arrangement that makes sense as a whole, rather than just a bunch of riffs or hooks that string together. Lyrics come after the music is written, and draw inspiration from the sounds.
You guys have collaborated with various artists on split EPs over the years. Is there anyone in particular that you would like to work with that you haven’t yet?
Well we have a split release coming out with City of Ships on Bird’s Robe this summer in Australia — but that release is a re-release of older out-of-print material from both bands. What I really want to do is collaborate with City of Ships on a co-writing kind of level, where we’re actually just putting our heads together to see how crazy the end product can be. Those guys have a sense of melody and mood that’s not as harsh and forbidding as ours, so I’ve always wanted to see what it would be like to have that kind of “humanizing” influence on our writing process. Conversely, it would be cool to see what kind of influence our hardcore/sludge approach would have on them. I think there’s enough mutual trust between the two bands that whatever we came up with would be crazy and the process would be really enjoyable.
Where does the name Rosetta come from? Does it have any particular meaning or reference to something? How could you describe Rosetta to someone who might not have heard you before?
It doesn’t really come from anywhere. We just picked the name back in 2003 — it sounded good and evoked a range of different things, so it seemed like a good one to go with. It didn’t feel like it pigeonholed us in a certain sound. We haven’t regretted that. Better than naming your band Switchblade Knife or Verbing the Noun or something.
It’s hard to describe the music to people who haven’t heard it. I think most of our roots lie in 90s hardcore, sludge metal, and weird ambient music. There’s certainly a spacey, cinematic quality to it that draws on psych rock, but I wouldn’t say that’s really at the core of our sound — I think the confrontation and dynamic intensity of hardcore is much more integral, though that might only be apparent in a live setting.
This is your second visit to Australia. What are your memories of the last tour, do you have any cool or funny stories to share and what can we expect this time around from Rosetta on the forthcoming tour? Are you going to focus on the last album or are we going to hear a mix of a bit of everything from your back catalogue?
Last time we were in Australia was 2008, and it was our first overseas tour. In retrospect, it was a pretty amazing first overseas experience. It was solidly booked and really quite successful for a band that was as unknown as we were at the time. One thing that I didn’t appreciate then (but really do now) is how our hosts took the time to show us around and make sure that we really enjoyed Australia as a place, not just as a music scene or potential fan base. It’s a beautiful country, despite some close calls with gigantic, man-eating spiders.
This tour we’ll have a mix of stuff from Wake/Lift, A Determinism of Morality, and our various split releases, plus maybe one or two surprises.
What are your thoughts on today’s music scene/business and as an independent act, how does it benefit a band like Rosetta? How do you balance the band with your day jobs/everyday life? Where do you see yourselves five years down the road?
The music business has very little to do with our work. We’re on a small label, and we work with independent booking agents outside of the USA. We have a producer that we like to work with. Beyond that, there’s no management or support staff, and we do most everything ourselves. I personally have a lot of distaste for the way things are done in the music industry, particularly as you move up to larger scale activities. The internet has obviously helped us enormously.
There’s no downside to it for us, because we don’t really make any money from anything anyway — we hope to break even, and that’s it. If somebody at a big company comes along promising the moon to us, they’re almost certainly lying. We’ve been around for 9 years because we kept it as DIY as possible along the way, even when that meant not getting certain opportunities we might otherwise have had. At the same time, keeping it low-key also gives the freedom to have normal lives and normal human relationships outside the band. We only do big tours during the summer. Over the next couple of years, I’d like to see us get even more independent from industry structures, maybe moving to a free-music or self-release business model, so that we can connect more directly with fans and have more control over the process of releasing music. But there’s still a long way to go before something like that is realized.
What is your stance on downloading, how does it affect Rosetta?
It doesn’t affect us. Whether someone downloads our music or buys it, we get paid the same amount of money — zero. That’s the reality. So I don’t care whether someone downloads our music or not, although I’m sure someone somewhere does, and would get mad about me saying this.
Where we do see a return is when someone buys something directly from us at a show, whether that’s a t-shirt, cd, record, or something else at our table. Paying to see us play and spending money at the show is the only way that we see revenue. The only way downloading might actually hurt us is if someone decides that what they can get on the Internet is a suitable substitute for what they could experience at a live show — which I think is totally wrong.
What are your thoughts on the “post” rock/metal genre? Do you agree with the label or do you see your music defined in another way?
I think it’s an oversimplification and in some ways a poor choice of terms. Probably a better term would be some hybrid of other terms (just as these genres are hybrids) like space rock, space metal, metalgaze, or something less silly than those. Besides, I don’t really understand the need to divide everything into these tiny little subcategories. This isn’t zoology, it’s rock ‘n’ roll. I’m also not sure how strongly we connected with that genre — I get that our music appeals to people who like that stuff, but again, I think we’re a hardcore band with spacey parts that rips off early Stars of the Lid.
What have you been listening to recently? Do you have any recommendations for our readers to check out? Also, what would be your 3 essential post-metal/rock albums and why?
Recently we’ve been listening to lots of Am-Rep style noise rock (Unsane, for example, and our buddies Fight Amp), as well as some hyper-minimal ambient and electronic music. Lots of 90s stuff, ranging from big names like Soundgarden, NIN, Smashing Pumpkins, and RATM to lesser-known stuff like Swervedriver and Failure. We all love Meshuggah (new one included), but hate their imitators.
As far as three essential post-rock records — since I don’t feel super-attached to that genre, and don’t listen to a ton of it, really — I’ll go a little further afield. Any aspiring member of the post-rock literati needs to check out Thomas Koner, and a good place to start is with his record Nuuk. The Tired Sounds of Stars of the Lid is a massive influence on me, so that’s in there too. As far as a more traditional “post rock” piece, I’d have to give the nod to Godspeed You Black Emperor’s Lift Your Skinny Fists.
If you could put one release from Rosetta in a time capsule for future generations to listen to, which one would you choose and why?
The next one. That’s the one I’m always excited about, and feel is defining — the next one.
Apart from the forthcoming Australian tour, what are the future plans for Rosetta?
We’ll be recording a four-song EP at the end of the year, to release in 2013. It will be fairly experimental for us, pulling from a lot of the different sounds we’ve dabbled in over the years. After that, it’s time to write a new full-length.
Any last words?
More stage dives.
Rosetta will be playing in Australia with City of Ships and Nuclear Summer on the following dates:
25/7: The Rosemount, Perth WA
26/7: Fat Shan Records, Perth WA
27/7: Sun Distortion Studios, Brisbane QLD
28/7: Sandringham Hotel, Sydney NSW
29/7: Yours & Owls, Wollongong NSW
30/7: Black Wire Records, Sydney NSW
1/8: Bar 32, Canberra ACT
2/8: Curtin Bandroom, Melbourne VIC
3/8: National Hotel, Geelong VIC
4/8: Black Goat Warehouse, Melbourne VIC
5/8: Enigma Bar, Adelaide SA
7/8: Bendigo Hotel, Melbourne VIC
8/8: The Great Northern, Newcastle NSW
9/8: The Zoo, Brisbane QLD