A photographic account of heavy music in Portland, Maine
“We are all very old friends, so why not do this shit right? … On a boat.” —Zachary Howard on Awaas’ decision to break up this Sunday on Casablanca Cruises
Throughout Post Mortem’s brief, ongoing history, Awaas has posed somewhat of a problem.
Here at Post Mortem HQ — an exceedingly small, zero-profit organization — it’s imperative for us to draw distinct, somewhat arbitrary borders around the music we cover. Bands are so numerous in Portland we’d easily lose our minds if we threw our doors wide open to its many styles. As much as we admire Sunset Hearts, Contrapposto and Mr. NEET, it’s best to remain focused on metal — the genre that speaks most sweetly to our blackened hearts.
With that in mind, Awaas should have been cast aside in an instant. At first blush, there’s little about the three-year-old quartet that could be misconstrued as metal. Its heavy reliance on keyboards and vaguely British affectations evoke images of The Cure more readily than, say, Kyuss.
But the Portland-based band isn’t so easily defined. For starters, Awaas has a bona fide metal pedigree — born from the ashes of Conifer, Ocean and Corpse Pose.
More important is Awaas’ presence. Whenever the band plugs in, they create waves of sound so immersive, so enveloping, they hedge on the visible spectrum. Moreover, the music is delivered with haunting, otherworldly conviction.
It’s all for naught, though. Awaas is breaking up this weekend. On a boat.
From 1:30 to 5 p.m. Sunday, Casablanca Cruises will ply the waters of Casco Bay along with Mouth Washington, Dream Reaper, Mount Sharp and Awaas for show billed as “Big Fun on a Boat” (18 Custom House Wharf; 12 bucks). When the ship returns to shore, Awaas will be all done.
The farewell show also doubles as an LP release party for Awaas’ knowingly titled debut, “It’s Great Dying.” The album was was recorded by Noah Defilippis — Awaas’ keyboardist — and released by Nagual Haus Records — a DIY label created by Awaas’ singer/guitarist Zachary Howard. (To fully appreciate Defilippis’ stellar synth work, the album should be heard in a dark room through large speakers verging on clip, in our opinion.) The band will sell a limited quantity of CDs and cassettes on the boat along with gig posters past and present. “Dying” is also available for immediate download here.
Before the band sails for oblivion, however, we chatted with Howard about the end of an era, plans for the future, and the tricky guidance of dreams.
Post Mortem: At the risk of sounding like a fanboy or deteriorating into a Chris Farley-style interview, I gotta say: When I first saw you guys at Mathews’ Roof Party, I was completely blown away. The sound you create in a live setting is heavy in a truly physical sense, like you’ve wrapped the audience in thick fabric. Why on earth would you guys call it quits?
Zachary Howard: That is not an easy question to answer. First off, thank you for being there. Second, I cannot speak for any of the other guys. All I will say is some of us have desires to play different music, with different people. As with any band, there are frustrations and creative differences. I guess we honestly looked each other in the face and said, ‘Let’s end this at our most potent chapter and call it quits rather than replace people and force something along.’ We decided to finish and release the long-awaited album and keep it sacred. Who feels it, knows it; who caught us, caught us. Ya know?
Plus, for me, I had a dream that my next band was called The Big Holy. So, that’s what I will be doing post-Awaas, with a diverse group of people, a collective of sorts. Eric [Brackett, Awaas’s drummer] is starting a sludge band, and Sean [Hadley, Awaas’ basist] is playing in newly formed local band Cushing. Noah will be plotting a murder or starting a religion. JK.
PM: It always seemed like Awaas walked a fine line between the city’s indie and heavy scenes. Like, if an Outsiders-style rumble ever broke out between the two camps, Awaas could jump in and break it up. Did you ever feel like you were torn between audiences or, I dunno, men without a country?
ZH: Haha. Wow. Um, yes, very much so, on so many different levels than just music. I always feel like an outsider in almost everything I participate in. To me, Awaas was definitely never part of any kind of clique or sub-genre scene in this tiny little town of ours, but we were definitely connected to circles and groups of folks that ideologically aligned with us, who helped throw basement shows, or warehouse shows, or in galleries. I mean, everything in Awaas has incredible amounts of intention behind its actions — from painting the posters, to giving away merch swag — at times obsessively so. But as far as indie-versus-metal shit? Man, I played in a psychedelic doom/krautrock band all throughout my twenties and I love Built To Spill, so I dunno. I dont think about genres. I nerd out on aesthetics and atmosphere and ritual and lyrics. Awaas is a punk band that is loud, repetitive, psychedelic, and electronic. That’s the easiest description I have when people ask.
PM: Is there any significance behind ending it all on a boat? Is it a Viking funeral of sorts?
ZH: It feels right, that’s all. It’s not a party. It is a bit of a “buried at sea” thing for me, for sure. And when it’s done, whatever songs that I will be doing from that day on will be under a different flag. I’m going to continue this trajectory of sound and songs that I’ve been on for a number of years. And I expect nothing but really awesome sounds to come from the other guys. We are all very old friends, so why not do this shit right? … On a boat. But, yeah, no symbolism; no metaphor. I don’t believe in that stuff.
PM: How far along is The Big Holy? Do you have a roster or are you still assembling the parts?
ZH: The Big Holy has yet to happen. I’ve been non-stop with wrapping up the Awaas record and gearing up for the show. I have talked to some folks and there is a witch’s brew brewing. I’ve started another project already called Bunny with my friend Jeremy [Remy Brecht of Scrotal Tear]. It’s an electronic band — gothic love songs over techno/industrial beats, with a lot of crooning. My friend Bridgette [Isabella Semler], who is on a number of songs on the Awaas album, will be singing with me in Bunny.
PM: What do you remember from the “Big Holy” dream?
ZH: All I remember was leaving a building — possibly a practice space — and hanging outside the front door with various people I do not know and they asked what band I played in. I said — like a true believer — “The Big Holy,” and woke up.
PM: Have you ever acted on a dream before?
ZH: Yes, very much so in the past three years. Some very interesting things have happened from a few profound ones that I’ve acted upon, sometimes taking a year to unfold and show themselves. Crazy shit, actually. Unfortunately, sometimes dreams are not easy symbols to interpret and I’ve made my fair share of bad decisions. I guess that’s the price to pay for trying to navigate heavily on intuition all the time, like a billowing veil.