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INTERVIEW: Sludge metal group Alaskan bids farewell

Alaskan is an Ottawa sludge group I have been following since the inception of my own review site.  It saddened me greatly to recieve the email of their latest EP’s release, as ‘End’ literally signals the end of the band.  Having released several fine albums that I constantly found myself comparing other groups against, it is with a heavy heart that I accept this closure.  But hey, if you want to leave your legacy untainted, it’s best to move on.  I am thankful that in the wake of this parting of ways, Gary and Cory were willing to answer my final questions about the group, the final EP, and the future.

FlightOfIcarus (TO): So obviously with breakups there are personal and political issues at play, some of which for various reasons cannot or should not be shared with the public. What can you tell us about the split? Was it sudden?

Gary: The split was definitely very sudden. I’m sure it seems very mysterious but as you said there is certain aspects that we aren’t really at liberty to discuss publicly. All I can say is that something happened that took us all by surprise and the only logical decision was to end the band so that our work wouldn’t be tainted by what happened. Morally we couldn’t continue. Unfortunately events that unfolded afterwords really effected our personal lives in a negative way. That being said the year leading up to the final release and shows was spent figuring out how to navigate the situation and how to get closure from such a drastic change in our lives.

Cory: it was defiantly sudden. At least for me it was something I was not yet ready to part with so it sucked for awhile, but now it’s time to look forward to new beginnings.

TO: Were there plans for future directions for Alaskan prior to all of this happening? Or more importantly, if you could sum up your greatest regret about this decision in a single word or sentence, how would you put it?

Gary: We were definitely in the middle of some heavy planning. We had a number of shows lined up at the time that we had to cancel last minute. We had about 70% of some new material recorded. The 3 tracks on ‘END’ were actually meant to be released separately as a series of splits. They were also all supposed to be collaborations with other musicians. It was all really exciting stuff we were working on and then we just had to shut it all down. We sat on the recordings for at least 6 months before we decided to just finish them the way they were. The only person who we kept on board as part of the collaboration idea was Topon Das. As far as regrets I’m not sure I really have any. This whole situation was a real test to my morals and how I hold my friends to those morals, so because of that I feel I dealt with the situation to the best of my ability and I don’t regret the outcome. Unfortunately that also means I don’t really regret the end of the band which was such a huge part of my life for such a long time. I think letting that go was the hardest part at first but now I’m really excited to move forward.

Cory: I have no regret for our decision to break up because it was the right thing to do with the situation we were in.

TO: So these last 3 songs that make up ‘End,’ when were they recorded? I have this picture in my head of the band laying down tracks for a new LP only to have all of this screech to a halt.

Gary: Close! Haha as I stated before it was a series of splits. The releases were going to be staggered, really stretching things out. There would have also been huge differences to the recorded material and what we would play live. The majority of things were recorded in March 2015. Basically all of our instrumental tracks. We were waiting on others to finish writing what they wanted to add to the tracks when all of this happened. Cory and I decided we wanted to finish the tracks and get them out there for our fans. So we booked some studio time and laid down the vocal tracks and had Topon add some awesome drone and noise tracks to tie everything together.  There are actually 2 other tracks that we couldn’t really throw together as easily but there has been some talk between Topon and I to do something with those tracks. But we will see.

Cory: we were working on some splits at the time of the break up that ended up becoming our last ep. They all had little collaborations with other bands and artists so it sucked to have to cancel that plan.

TO: Would you say that they are influenced by the breakup, lyrically or otherwise? What are they about?

Gary: No not at all actually. The music was written before the breakup took place and I had most of the lyrics written already or at least the subjects I wanted to write about by then. ‘Witch Hunter’ is about literal witch hunters that still exist in some African nations. Some people use the superstitions related to these witch hunters for personal gain. Sometimes going as far as turning their own family members over to them under the pretense that they are witches or possessed. ‘The Fields’ is about the killing fields of Cambodia and how they got their name.  ‘Assimilate’ hits closer to home and deals with Canada’s treatment of the Indigenous population, mostly covering the residential schools and some of the horrors that took place in them.

TO: Of the new songs, The Fields is, my personal favorite. Great melody and sense of gravity. Which is yours and why?

Gary: Awesome, thanks for the compliment! I like all three of those songs for different reasons but I think I have to agree with you and say The Fields is my favorite. I feel I challenged myself in interesting ways with the guitar parts in that one and we really came together in writing the end of that song. Kind of the last thing we did together as a creative unit I guess.

Cory: Assimilate I think would have to be my favorite. It was a lot of fun to play and is just an all around great jam! All three songs I think were awesome. We were definitely heading in a great direction I feel with the song writing.

TO: I’m a glass is half full kind of person. Is there a silver lining here? What benefits do you see coming your way?

Gary: I guess you could say this really frees us up to take a new project or projects in new directions without feeling confined by what Alaskan had become. I thing we also all started to develop different degrees of priority when it came to the band so this gives us a chance to re-prioritize things a little.

Cory: New projects and new beginnings. As sad as it was to have Alaskan end, it’s rewarding to have the memories and exciting to start something new

TO: Are there any concrete projects on the horizon we can look forward to? Tell us what comes next for you musically?

Gary: Before the breakup took place I was already in the process of starting a new project under the name They Grieve which I have been working on lately. Cory and I will also be starting a new project very soon. We are just figuring out the direction we want to go in right now. Besides that I’m sure their will be other projects. I’m still involved with a grindcore band called The Vanishing Act which does as much as possible around everyone’s busy lives. Also may be starting a post rock project but it’s too early to tell where that will go.

Cory: I will be starting a new project with Gary which we are figuring out now. Hopefully work on our record label (Dwyer records) a bit more as well. Possibly some other music projects in the future but as of right now these are the only things I see in the near future.

TO: Looking back in a more positive light, what was your favorite moment as Alaskan? Let’s hear the highlights.

Gary: I always loved performing as Alaskan. I’m still dumbfounded by how much we accomplished with this band. We honestly started out jamming in a spare room not much bigger than a closet and ended up touring Europe within a few years. It wasn’t a goal we were really trying to achieve but we couldn’t let the opportunity pass us when it came up. I think that was always the way we did things. We would discuss it and just wing it and hope for the best. And because of that I’ve made some amazing friends from all over the world and have some of the best memories to carry with me.

Cory: I am so proud of what we accomplished with that band. It went beyond anything I think any of us expected. Going to Europe was definitely something that blew my mind. I could never have imagined doing that.

TO: Who was your favorite band to play live with over the years? Favorite venue?

Gary: It’s pretty hard to pick a favorite. We definitely made some amazing friends with some amazing bands over the years. Some highlights for me would have to be Galvano (Sweden), I Not Dance (Austria) and Co-Pilot (USA). But there are a ton more that come to mind as I’m writing this. Favorite venue might have to be SoyBomb in Toronto, maybe it’s just because I love Jason who runs the place, I dunno. That place just always felt like a hometown show, even more so than our actual hometown shows most of the time.

Cory: favorite band over the years is hard to pick. That’s a lot of bands over 8 years. We toured with Galvano (Sweden) our first trip to Europe and Co-pilot (USA) when we toured in the USA. Both those bands left us with friendships that went beyond those tours and that was very rewarding. I Not Dance (Austria), Black Table (USA), Dezafra Ridge (Germany), etc… There are to many to mention. Venue would defiantly have to be SoyBomb in Toronto. Always had a great time there and close second would be Zoro in Leipzig.

TO: Tell us about those final shows. What was it like playing the songs for the last time?

Gary: Not to sound too cheesy but it was a little surreal. Just the thought of this really being the end of something. Not to mention the amount of support we got at those shows, it was really heartwarming and heartbreaking at the same time.

Cory: the shows were great. The turn outs were great, the bands we played with were great. Playing those songs for the last time was weird and kinda sad but also a lot of fun. The amount of support we had in the room for every show was very rewarding.

TO: Was there a particular song or moment that tugged at your heartstrings the most?

Gary: I always considered our performances to be unified so the emotions didn’t really hit me until we were playing our last song. We played Eternal and once we were close to the end of the song it got a little emotional haha.

Cory: I would have to say the end. We ended with Eternal for each show and just the way that songs ends…. It’s a bummer haha

TO: You spoke kindly of the “Ottawa scene” in a farewell post. Who do you see carrying on the legacy?

Gary: Ottawa is a strange city for music sometimes. If you’re asking who will carry on the heavy music legacy that we seem to be lumped into, going back from Buried Inside all the way to Uranus, I’m not really sure. There are tons of new bands starting up all the time so eventually one will pop up that is really doing something big. As far as other genres are concerned, Ottawa has plenty of awesome bands doing a ton of great stuff.

Cory: In our kind of “genre” so to speak there isn’t much going on in this city. I’d like to see more but it just doesn’t seem to be happening in Ottawa right now and it definitely bums me out. So hopefully sometime soon something pops up. But there are definitely some wicked band in Ottawa right now. Swarm of Spheres is one of the best bands this city has right now.!

TO: What other underground groups would you like to shout out to our readers looking for either further sludge or any other genre of metal.

Gary: I don’t want to get too crazy here so I’ll keep it short: Firebreather (ex-Galvano), Shahman (Toronto), Black Table (NYC), Greber, Goetia, Animal Faces, CHRCH, ZAUM, Ominous Black, True Widow….

Cory: Swarm of Spheres, Biipiigwan, Greber, Black Table, Firebreather, Shahman, Drones of North America, Dark Plains. I’m sure I will think of more after I send this…

TO: I know that I, and others I’ve known, have really appreciated your music over the years, and it means a lot that you are taking the time to do this. Any final words for your fans?

Gary Thanks for reaching out and asking us to do this. All I can say is that life is full of crossroads where you’ll be forced into making a seemingly impossible decision. Making sure you do right by others and keeping your morals and sense of accountability are extremely important even if it means leaving something you thought was important behind.  I love playing music so I highly doubt this will be the last you hear from me.

Cory: Thank you for asking us to do this, we really appreciate the support from you and anyone who has ever enjoyed what we have done. This decision to end was not an easy one to make but it was something we felt we had to do. We were faced with some obstacles and we did what we had to do to keep the morals that we have from being broken no matter how hard it was to end. This is something I don’t think anyone should be afraid of doing. No matter how hard a decision may be you need to keep your morals strong and don’t let anything sway you away from making those tough choices in order to keep them.

Find more of the band’s fantastic music on their BANDCAMP PAGE.  Everything is Name Your Own Price.  Enjoy one of these streams below.

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