Hailing from the US, the début album from this melodic black metal band has really struck a chord with me. The combination of blackened darkness and colourful melodies that Uhtcearu specialise in is downright infectious, and I heartily recommend them to all. Good music deserves to be championed, so I caught up with Zach Ostrowski who gave me plenty of inside information on this very enjoyable new band…
Introduce us to Uhtcearu – how did the band form?
Uhtcearu consists of Zach Ostrowski on vocals and bass, Noel Chandek on drums, and Dustin Studelska on guitar. While all three of us are from the Milwaukee area, Dustin currently lives in St. Paul, Minnesota, so it is an interesting challenge to begin a band, write music, and prepare for performances in a long-distance situation. So far we have made it work just fine. The band formed after a 2015 tour, in which myself and Noel (drums) were playing in the band Arbor together and Dustin (guitar) had filled in as our touring guitarist. Shortly thereafter we felt it was time to lay Arbor to rest. However, the three of us felt the dynamic worked so well on stage that we decided it was worth starting a new project. Thus, Uhtcearu was born in the fall of 2015.
Where did the band’s name come from, and how is it pronounced?
Uhtcearu is pronounced oot-key-are-oo. It is an Anglo-Saxon word that translates to pre-dawn anxiety, contemplative sleeplessness, and nighttime sorrow. When we were searching for band names, which was actually pretty difficult, we decided to use this word, which Noel had heard before, because it expressed something we were all familiar with: laying in bed at night, kept awake by vague contemplation of worries and fears, some very personal, some more general about the world around us. It is those themes which seem to have seeped into the music quite well and allowed us to express something that fits well with our style of dark but melodic music.
Tell us about some of the themes and stories behind the album
The themes I mentioned above, worries about the world around us and about ourselves, are expressed in many ways throughout the album. They revolve around philosophy, introverted thought, despair, death, and fantasy. “Epoch breaker” for example is written from the perspective the historical figure Francis Bacon who sought to create a better world for humanity, but which ended with dubious results. “A Shelter for Forgotten Souls” is presented as a narrative about putting trust in faith to save you, and then what happens when the gods, despite their existence, respond in callous and unexpected ways. “Beyond My Dreams” is different yet in that it is about a more existential hallucination of an old man confronting the end of his own presence on Earth. It tells a story about a (old) man who finds himself dying on the shore of the sea. His mind is confused and he does not know the past from present. Slowly death and the earth take him throughout the night. “Searching for the Dawn” is perhaps the most political in that it is truly a call to reinstate the importance of understanding and virtue in turbulent social and political times.
What was the writing and recording process like for you?
It was significantly different than how the three of us were used to writing in the past. The writing process was disjointed at times, because of the long distance between band members, but was extremely productive. Since Dustin lives in St. Paul, MN and Noel and myself live near Milwaukee, WI we had to figure out a way to make the writing process work smoothly. Basically we would send each other demos, and do a lot of writing individually. And when we could be in the same room together we tried to jam the material as organically as possible so that no one song was completely predetermined. There are songs on this record that were written solely from jams, written around a few distinct riffs, and also ones that we changed very little from their demoed versions. Lyrically we each had specific themes in our heads that seemed to match some of the songs and we consciously tried to have a mix of lyrical styles present in the final product. Recording was done at Howl Street Studios with Shane Hochstetler. We can’t recommend Shane’s services highly enough. While we only had four days to set up, record, and mix the album, Shane’s even keel and sage wisdom saved us time, boosted our performances, and gave us the aesthetic we were looking for with the mix.
As part of the vocal contribution, what parts are you responsible for on the songs?
Well actually I recorded all of the vocals in the studio for this album, except for the gang vocals in “Rite of Passage” and “Epoch Breaker”. We originally had Dustin doing clean vocals on a few songs, but in the end decided to proceed without them on this record. Dustin has an absolutely fantastic and unique clean vocal ability that I’m sure will be woven into our material in the coming record(s). As far as playing live, I do all of the vocals while Dustin pairs his harsh vocals and growls where they are appropriate and appear on the album.
What are your future aspirations for Uhtcearu’s songs?
I think that our music will still remain and hold a melodic element, but I do think it will evolve into a ‘darker’ sound. It would be great to have Uhtcearu’s music enjoyed by a diversity of metal heads and not be pigeon-holed into one corner of the labyrinth of metal’s musical genres. I think our music has the ability to transcend some boundaries and possibly bring some bleakness to those usually looking for melody and bring some melody to those usually looking for bleakness. Depending on the experiences that we have as musicians and as people, will absolutely mold how our music will sound. Limiting ourselves to try to sound or fit into a specific genre is something that we feel is very important to stay away from. That will only cause problems and seems to make the music feel fake and far from genuine or organic.
Tell us about the album artwork
When we played Columbus, Ohio under Arbor, we shared the stage with the band Vit. Shortly after we found out that their front man Nate Burns is an incredible artist whose original work we absolutely loved. After speaking with Nate about our new project, he agreed to do the artwork for us. We had a few themes and ideas revolving around a candle, which seemed very appropriate given the band name and the nature of our music. We sent Nate these and he was able to craft what is now the front and back album artwork for ‘The Plight of Wanderers’.
Do you think that cover artwork is important in drawing in listeners to check out a band they might not know?
Good cover art seems essential today. I try not to be biased, but I know personally I am more likely to check out an album by a band I don’t know, whether online or at the record store, if the artwork comes across as professional and intriguing to me. Artwork that stands away from the many generic and typical ’metal’ album covers today is something that I think lots of people, particularly in the underground scene look for and seek out. So artwork is important for that visual first impression of an album, but it also helps to bring the aesthetic of the music into the visual realm. This is really important, because listening to complete albums or even songs and reading lyrics in the booklet is more than beginning bands can expect a lot of the time from casual listeners encountering the music for the first time, usually online. The album art can do a lot of work I think to amplify and clarify what the songs communicate to the listener. Album art is a great way to make connections between songs and make the general themes of the entire album more visible and apparent.
What are your experiences with promoting The Plight of Wanderers so far in today’s digital environment and the changing nature of the music industry?
Well social media can definitely be both a very useful and useless tool, as Facebook has proven recently concerning all of the changes they have implemented. There are of course a multitude of resources available to new bands operating on a budget to get their music online and in front of a diverse group of people, however the competition for listening time is very high because so many bands are able to put out music and promote it. I view this generally as a good thing, despite the fact that it takes a bit longer to cut through the noise. However, I think the underground scene is very strong and people have overwhelming support for all of the new music that is being produced. We have been successful in communicating with blogs and review sites, like yours, who really are at the forefront of helping bands like ours gain traction. Aside from putting on a killer live show, word of mouth and third party recommendation seems to be the best way to encourage a potentially interested listener to take the time to check out a band. So it is really important to us that reviews, blogs, and podcasts continue to generously take time to write and talk about us due to general interest in our music, not just false promotion. No advertisement is greater than a genuine recommendation in my eyes. In this way, sites like yours really are part of the cultural machinery that drive progress for bands like mine, and the listeners who find bands they never would have encountered otherwise. So Uhtcearu offers our sincerest thanks to you for taking the time to feature us.
What’s the Uhtcearu live show like?
Our live show is based on energy and emotion. The goal is for the audience to feel what we feel when we play the music which means so much to us. As a three-piece band, it is really important that each band member deliver an impressive performance musically, but also that each band member exude enough energy to compensate for the lack of a vocalist untethered to an instrument who could engage with the audience more directly. Being able to sound true to the music on the recording and being able to perform on that level of how we sound on the record is a must. Hearing a band’s album, thinking they sound great and then hearing them live, sounding nowhere near as good as the album has always been a complete turn off for me and I think most people. I think we do that quite well and we look forward to playing in front of new crowds soon and learning from their responses.
Any final words?
Thank you very much for your interest in Uhtcearu! As a band we never take attention for granted in such a competitive musical time, and as people we are always humbled by those who devote their time and energy to something we are so passionate about. Thank you again for all your support and we hope to see you on the road very soon!