August 17, 2015

The Story Behind “Allomaternal” with RJ Reynolds

On Thursday November 20th we got on the phone with RJ Reynolds (Bass, Stolas) to discuss his band’s recent album Allomaternal, and his role as bassist and concept writer.

SM: You guys just released your sophomore album, Allomaternal– how’s the response been so far?

RR: It’s been great. I think with this album we improved upon two of the main criticisms of the last one; the first being that the vocals were kind of harsh. We polished them up a lot and added a lot more balance between Carlo and Jason on this record. Second, structurally Allomaternal is a lot more direct. The tracks on Living Creatures were like our first 10 songs and the music was very dramatic and volatile. With ‘Allomaternal’ we focused more on making sure every part in the song was necessary.

SM: I see. You mentioned Allomaternal was a concept album. Can you speak to that at all?

RR: Musically I had ideas for what each part should be like. We had 4 songs written so I looked at what we had and tried to place each one into different points of a story. Throughout the album you hear callbacks to previous songs or a little foreshadowing of what’s going to happen later, but mostly lyrically. There are some musical motifs that happen throughout the album as well. Allomaternal” is a good example; it acts as sort of an overture where different musical ideas happen that sort of get rephrased and expanded upon. The outro of “Allomaternal” is just a section of “Fair Chase” where is slows down and get a little more lighthearted, just phrased differently. Moving forward, we still had 6 tracks to write so we had a little leeway with where songs could fit. When we wrote the fifth song, which became “Clawpoint,” we thought it had that sort of chase element to it- a lot of fear, and abrupt parts. That part of the album is about this girl being chased by a jaguar and it seemed to fit nicely.

SM: Since we’re getting into some story elements here; a big album for me is The Mars Volta’s De-Loused in the Comatorium, because beyond the impressive instrumentals, is an excellent story. When I was first getting into that album I read a synopsis that provided a great picture of each track- Listening to that record after the fact was such a cool thing because it really made me feel connected to it. Perhaps you can give a similar take on Allomaternal for fans to sink their teeth into?

RR: Yeah. So I came up with concept on the road and when I came back I sat down and wrote out everything. Once I had the main points I worked it over ten tracks, which are chapters of it. If you bought the CD there’s a little prologue that explains how the story opens.

RR:

(Prologue)

So the setting is a rainforest island- it’s not a specific place because all the details are intentionally left vague so that it’s not too linked to a specific place, but it’s about these 4 girls, all of them live in a tribe on this island. The tribe collects feathers from these hundreds of different species of birds that live on the island and through them gain economic and social status. It’s sort of how they designate what role members will play in the society. So if they want to be a hunter they have to seek out very specific types of birds, if they want to be a farmer or a healer or something else, they have to seek out different things. So these 4 girls are orphans, two of them are sisters- one older and one younger. The girls are counseled by this character called The Allomother, who is someone that looks over the unattended young of the village; She tells them to leave the village during the monsoon season and go seek out their own feathers that way they can gain some recognition and build a life for themselves instead of waiting until they become the proper age. So they leave, and the album follows what happens to them as they’re trekking across the island to get towards this mountain where supposedly the most rare birds live. So that’s the prologue for the most part.

1.) Allomaternal

The opening track just talks about the oldest of the two sisters talking to The Allomother about trying to have a better life and how it’s not as accessible to her, at which point she tells her that before the monsoon ends she should leave and try to collect some feathers- The Allomother believes the girls can cover enough distance in a few days before the tribe comes to get them, giving them time to collect the proper feathers. The Allomother then gives the older sister a knife.

2.) Proving Grounds

“Proving Grounds” tracks the girls leaving through the monsoon and talking about the different things they want to do when they get their feathers. Halfway through the song the monsoon ends and you see these girls hunting for the first time- it talks about the type of people they are through how they hunt.

3.) Clawpoint

The third track, “Clawpoint,” is about a jaguar attacking the girls. They run from it, and one of them tries to distract it to give the other ones a chance. In doing so, she dies. All the girls watch her get killed and it changes them in different ways.

4.) Solunar

“Solunar” is about the 3 of them going off to hunt again and how the older sister, who was initially the catalyst in this plan, is starting to have some doubts. She wonders if she’s going to be able to protect her little sister, and if she’s to blame for the other girl’s death. As they go on, the sisters get into a conflict with the other girl and that leads into 5th track, “Fair Chase.”

5.) Fair Chase

In “Fair Chase,” the two sisters get into a fight with the other girl. The dagger comes out, and they have to beat up and subdue her. They are trying to convince her not to kill them, and also not to be so destructive of the environment because she’s just started to kill a lot of birds to gather as many feathers as she can without really having a regard for how it will effect the ecosystem. She’s been killing things just for the goods, even though they don’t really have any value at that point. They end up having to kill her because she breaks free and attempts to kill the younger sister. After that they continue their journey toward the mountain.

6.) Counterpoise

“Counterpoise” follows the sisters going further into the rainforest and getting into the higher levels, since they’re getting closer to the mountain and want to approach it from a raised elevation so they can get further up before the tribe catches them in the foothills. As they get in there they get up to a wall, and are climbing it when the older sister falls. The younger sister watches her sister fall from the top. At this point the story splits off into two separate narratives. There’s a little interlude at the end of “Counterpoise” that’s sort of eerie sounding and that’s meant to signify that transition.

7.) Somatic

“Somatic,” is about the older sister, who, in a dream state, is confronted by the two dead girls and her own personal demons, along with doubts about whether the trip was a good idea and if her sister is going to be safe. She thinks about returning to the village empty-handed and feeling shameful, and then ultimately she wakes up.

8.) Hiraeth

“Hiraeth,” is about the older sister waking up in the village and dealing with the guilt of what happened, wondering what has happened to her sister. It also talks about how she grows up and what she ends up doing in the village.

9.) Losing Wings

“Losing Wings,” jumps ahead a little- but it’s still following the older sister. By now she’s grown into adulthood and has made peace with what happened (leaving the village, falling and hurting herself, coming back with nothing), and how she built her own purpose from all of it. It ends with her thinking back to what might have happened to her sister, who she never saw again. And then that other interlude comes in to sort of punctuate going back to the younger sister.

10.) Allokinetic

The last track follows the younger sister up the mountain and it talks about the experiences she has and reflects on a lot of her perspectives on the events of the story which haven’t really been talked about. At the end of it she gets to the top of the mountain and looks out over the ocean. When she looks toward one of the horizons she sees land in the distance that she doesn’t really know about and she makes up her mind to go down the side of the mountain and seek out that landmass. The story doesn’t really follow her after she decides to leave.

SM: Awesome- I’m really excited to listen to ‘Allomaternal’ again having heard all of that!

RR: Thanks! People have been asking about it, so I’m looking forward to having the information out there.

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