RJ Reynolds: Stolas, And The Concept Behind ‘Allomaternal’November 27th, 2014 by ScottMurray
Photo Credit: Spencer Haley
On Thursday November 20th AltRockLive member Scott Murray got on the phone with RJ Reynolds, bassist of Las Vegas band Stolas, to discuss their recent album Allomaternal, and his role as concept-writer.
SM: Scott Murray (AltRockLive)
RR: RJ Reynolds (Bassist – Stolas)
SM: How have you been, how did The Blue Swan Tour go?
RR: It went great, man! It was a lot of fun; we got to meet a lot of new fans, play a lot of excellent shows, and hang out with Venetia Fair and Adventurer for a few days. It’s also a lot of fun touring with Hail The Sun, we’re old buddies with them.
SM: What have you been up to since tour wrapped up?
RR: We usually take up to a week off after a tour. Sergio (Guitar) did some international touring after, filling in for Chiodos. Yesterday we all met up for the first time to practice and ran through everything on Allomaternal just to see how it felt to play it now that we’ve heard it. Next time we meet up we’re gonna work through some songs and then the rest of the time try to work on something else.
SM: Wow getting right back to it?
RR: Yeah. I know Sergio and I have already started working on things of our own that we wanna try out, so we’ll see. We’re always trying to keep busy and not get too stagnant.
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 (Drums, Vocals) and Jason (Vocals, Guitar) on this record as opposed to Living Creatures. Second, structurally Allomaternal is a lot more direct. There’s sort of a recurring theme in the music, whereas before we wrote songs that were sort of a bunch of parts all together. “Medusa” (from Living Creatures) is a great example; there’s not any themes that recur in that song, so I think because of those changes people were able to get into this record a lot more. That and the songwriting feels a lot tighter. 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: Sounds like you spent a lot of time dragging a comb through your songwriting.
RR: Yeah, we tried to rebuild things and see if we can get something better. “Allomaternal” and “Allokinetic,” the first and last songs on the record, respectively, were kind of like that. We wrote them once and they just kinda felt flat. When we wrote them again we felt much more confident.
SM: I see. Let’s get into the story elements a bit: I believe you guys have mentioned that your previous record, Living Creatures, was a concept album, and that Allomaternal is as well. Can you speak to that at all?
RR: Actually, the last record wasn’t really a concept album. I listened to it several times after we recorded it and wrote a concept to the music after the fact. It’s a concept that was wrapped around the album rather than written into it. I’ve really wanted to do something with that- I’ve been kicking it around for a while and haven’t yet found a medium to express it.
SM: So the other way around- that’s interesting. And what about Allomaternal?
RR: With Allomaternal the concept came about during a tour with Dance Gavin Dance last October. Sergio and I were talking about the new album and we had written about 4 songs for it already. We decided we didn’t want to put out another album that was just re-hashing Living Creatures so we thought of doing something that had a bigger driving force in it, like a concept, and then he said he was reading a lot about rainforests and thought it would be cool to write an album that was set there. On that tour it was just the four of us and our merch guy, so all of the driving got split up between us. There were a lot of really long drives on that tour, like from Flagstaff, AZ to Nebraska, where we had like two days off just to drive. I would do a lot of the night driving so while I was driving I would just think about this whole rainforest thing and I started making up a story and eventually came up with a narrative concept to take place over 10 tracks. By the end of the tour I’d fleshed out most of the story and then I presented it to the guys who all liked it and wanted to try and tackle an album based around it, so we kind of just went from there.
SM: Compared to the other way around, was it at all difficult to wrap the music around the existing idea?
RR: Musically I had ideas for what each part should be like, and as I said we had four songs at that point so I looked at what we had and tried to place each one into different points of the story. At that point we still had six tracks to write so we had a little leeway with where songs could fit. The next song we wrote became “Claw Point” because 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 changed the appreciation that I had for that album and helped me feel very connected with it. I was hoping you would be willing to share something similar for Allomaternal for fans to sink their teeth into.
RR: Yeah, I’d be up to give a synopsis of what’s happening throughout the story. So I came up with it on the road and when I came back I sat down and wrote out everything. I just fleshed out the main points, and then one day I worked it over ten tracks, which are the chapters of it. If you bought the CD there’s a little prologue that explains how the story opens.
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 four girls that 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 four 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.
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 [The Allomother] 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 to collect the proper feathers. The Allomother then gives the older sister a knife.
“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.
The third track, “Claw Point,” 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.
“Solunar” is about the three 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 fifth track, “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 affect 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.
“Counterpoise,” follows the sisters going further into the rainforest and getting into the higher levels. 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.
“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.
“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.
“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.
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.