SERPENTINE PATH – Long And Winding Road
New York / New Jersey-based doom / death metal outfit Serpentine Path formed in 2011, its line-up initially consisting of then Unearthly Trance members Ryan Lipynsky (vocals), Jay Newman (bass), and Darren Verni (drums), the assortment rounded out by erstwhile Electric Wizard member Tim Bagshaw on guitars. A founding member of Electric Wizard as well as a founding member of Ramesses, Tim was previously based in Dorset, England.
“He was contemplating coming over here to live, so he visited New Jersey – we’re all from New York,” notes Ryan Lipynsky, vocalist of Serpentine Path. “He was thinking about coming over for a woman that he met. They wound up getting married, and he moved over here. When he first came to visit, we thought that it would be great to have a jam with him. The reason why we know Tim is because our previous band and his previous band toured together. We’ve known Tim since 2002, from when Unearthly Trance toured with Electric Wizard. We did three European tours with Ramesses as well, so we got to know Tim very well over the years.
“When we heard that he was coming to our area, we thought that it would be a great idea to get together and just jam for fun. Unearthly Trance was still around, so we were like ‘Let’s do a little project.’ That turned into putting out a seven-inch EP on Parasitic Records (self-titled, February 2012), and once that came out we decided to make it more of a real band. We approached Relapse to see if they were interested, because Unearthly Trance was on Relapse. They were really into the idea, and so once we had that, we started taking the band more seriously. Tim was here full-time; he lived about 45 minutes away from New York City, so it was very easy for us to all get together and start doing a new band.”
Unearthly Trance split in 2012, its demise caused by a variety of factors. “There were a bunch of things,” the frontman reckons. “For me, it was 12 years of being a band, but at the end of it, I think we were very burnt out on touring and a lot of things. We weren’t as productive as we once were, so I think rather than dragging things out for a long time, we came to a point where we felt like it was probably time to call it quits. I don’t think we were all satisfied with things just falling apart, so we decided that it was probably the right thing to stop playing, so that we didn’t all wind up not being friends any more. We wanted to preserve our friendship first before letting the band tear us apart, but it’s not that there were any great problems.
“I just think we all sensed that it was kind of like the end of the line. It’s a very strange thing, because I still take the band very personally. It was a very important part of my life, but I’m glad that we stopped when we did. It wasn’t an easy decision, but I think it was the right one.”
Doom metal is one such musical description applied to Serpentine Path. “I think to say that we’re just a doom band isn’t really accurate,” Ryan counters. “I think there’s a lot of death metal influence and a black metal kind of influence, but for me, I think the influences come from bands we grew up listening to, especially Winter. Winter is a band that had a huge influence on Unearthly Trance; we listened to Winter, and loved Winter. Growing up, Winter was from the same area that we were, so they obviously had a huge impact on us – despite even never knowing Stephen (Flam, second guitar). Bands like Autopsy and Morbid Angel – those kinds of 90s death metal bands – as well as bands like Grief and just really heavy, harsh, doom / sludge bands from America, and also bands like Black Sabbath, things that we’ve listened to our entire lives. I think all that’s kind of thrown together to create our sound.
“We’re not exclusively a doom band or a death metal band, or stoner rock, or whatever you wanna call it. I think there are a bit of elements from all of it, but I think overall, we’re a doom metal band with death metal influences as far as I’m concerned. Tim is obviously the main riff writer, and you can hear the sound of his guitar riffs connecting to Electric Wizard and things like that. He’s always played these kinds of riffs, but this is just kind of in a different direction – less rock, and more dark and morose.”
Serpentine Path’s moniker was inspired by a road situated in New Jersey. “Strangely enough, we were walking around where Tim lives,” the singer elaborates. “There was a road that was called maybe Serpentine Road or something, and I mistook it. I said ‘Ah. That would be a cool band name, Serpentine Path.’ We all just instantly said ‘Yeah, that sounds cool,’ but I think for me, what it represents is very simply the long and winding road of life – the path you take, and the obstacles that are presented in front of you. Things twist and turn, and so it’s about how you deal with them, and fight off things, and persevere. It’s very much kind of a theme about life and death, I would say.”
Serpentine Path’s self-titled full-length debut arrived in September 2012 through Relapse Records. “We recorded the drums in this huge, massive room at this place in New York City where Jay and Darren work called SIR (Studio Instrument Rental), which is a famous music instrument rental company,” Ryan remembers. “They have huge rehearsal rooms for big bands, but we were able to get a room through their work – it was massive. It was really cool, because we had the drums set up in this massive room that just made it sound huge for natural reverb. I think a lot of the memories have to do with where we were at the time; I think we were all a bit different, and more into smoking and things like that. It was more of a hazier process and a little bit more indulgent, and I think we had a good time. It was very much based off of making things kind of extreme as we can. It felt like an experiment that went right, that we were just trying to push the envelope as far as heavy – I think we succeeded.”
That same month, the addition of Winter axeman Stephen Flam as second guitarist was revealed. “He expressed interest, and we kind of gradually worked him in,” the lyricist divulges. “He came down to rehearsal, and he instantly clicked. He had a couple of songs already learned, and even Tim instantly had a similar guitar sound and stuff. Once he joined, we played a show (on October 27th, 2012 at Saint Vitus Bar, New York) – the only show we’ve ever played. He joined the band, and he’s been in the band since right after the first album got released. He wasn’t involved at all until after that album came out.”
Writing sessions for May 2014’s Emanations began shortly following the completion of Serpentine Path’s eponymous 2012 foray proper. “Basically, we started out writing stuff when Stephen joined the band,” Ryan shares. “When he joined the band, he just learnt the old songs. We did a show, and then after that we started thinking about writing new songs. Tim brought a lot of songs to the table, and so we just started working them out in the rehearsal space. Stephen had some ideas – one of his songs wound up being on the album. We rehearsed those for quite a few months, and then after that, there were some more songs that Tim wrote that we wound up kind of working out right before we went into the studio. There was a mix of some songs that we were rehearsing for a while, and some songs that were quite fresh until we hit the studio. Overall, it was a group effort, but Tim is the main songwriter in Serpentine Path. It wasn’t too much different compared to the first album, but I think the extra input of Stephen and being more of a group this time around made things a bit more… Just different than the way we did the first album; just more involved.”
Emanations marks Stephen Flam’s recording debut as Serpentine Path’s second guitarist. “For me, I think what he brought to the table was his experience,” the vocalist feels. “He just had another point of view, and his input was something that we all valued. We knew that he was very experienced as far as being in a band years ago, and also, just playing this style of music, I think he’s very interested in the intricacies – just working out certain parts and certain guitar lines, and things like that. I would say that his experience was what he brought to the table; just a different point of view, as opposed to just being me, Jay and Darren plus Tim.
“When he came, it was like someone who had a different viewpoint but at the same time a very similar viewpoint. He kind of strengthened our process as far as putting songs together, and just helping the sound of the band overall. I think he improved the sound overall, and I think that he had a lot of knowledge that he brought to the table. We knew what we were doing before that, but he kind of just made it that much stronger.”
Utilizing two guitarists as opposed to one arguably affects a group’s musical dynamic. “I think especially rehearsing and playing live, it clearly makes it more dynamic and heavier, and allows for there to be some differences in guitar parts,” Ryan considers. “On the first album, Tim recorded some second guitar parts and things like that, so he was able to make all of those things come to life rather than them just being very one-dimensional. To me, it sounds more like a recording with the guitar on each side and that kind of feeling. I think overall, it just increased the heaviness. I think we were heavy to begin with, but once he joined, it kind of made it even more intense, and it got a lot more louder too (laughs). The band’s pretty loud.”
The frontman reckons “the lyrics are probably a bit more intense this time around. I think the first album had more of a horror, occult vibe, whereas this touches on more subjects. Two of the songs deal with organised religion, while one of the songs has more of a science fiction, kind of (H.P.) Lovecraft feeling. A song called ‘Claws’ is a song about humanity being reduced and exterminated, whereas ‘Systematic Extinction’ is a song about this person being tormented. Each song I try to give its own topic, rather than it just being a broad lyrical approach. I think it took a little more time to personalise each song, and make it its own topic. It’s all in the same realm of darkness, and kind of like… I don’t want to say evil, but just dark words and dark topics.
“The lyrics are better on this album than the first album, for me. I felt like I involved myself more in the songwriting process. With the first album, I just kind of wrote lyrics after all of the music was done, more or less. With this album, I think I put more of my own personal touch on it. With the first album, the guys came up with a bunch of song titles before I even wrote any lyrics. There were some topics already predetermined on the first album, whereas with this album it was all me. I was very much focused on making the lyrics entirely my realm, rather than being more of a theme. I think the first album was based more off of the serpentine path kind of theme, like the snake kind of – there were a few songs connected to the title of the band. This is much more developed and just going down different avenues.”
As was the case with Serpentine Path’s debut proper, Emanations’ recording was overseen by Jay Newman. “This time, he moved into a new house,” Ryan reveals. “He set up a studio at his house, so we were able to do all of the recording at his place. We did it over a few months here and there – we didn’t do it all in one shot. We had some time to kind of think about things in-between sessions. I think it went very smoothly this time, rather than the first album, which was a little bit chaotic because we didn’t have one set place to record. This time around, we had one place. All the stuff was there and set up; we could leave it alone, and come back to it when we felt like we needed to. This was rather than feeling rushed, or just having to work to other people’s time schedules, or in other places to their time schedules. It was much easier and more relaxed this time around, but at the same time, there was definitely an urgency not to take forever to do it.
“We wanted to make sure that we worked to kind of a swift process rather than just sitting around, because it would be very easy to just work on something forever when you’re doing it on your own. I think overall, the process was very easy. Me and Jay work very well together. I think that after all of the basic tracks were done, me and him worked a lot on some of the smaller details – overdubs and things – just to kind of make the album even more interesting, and just to be a little more creative, and to take some time to do those extra touches. We then got the album mastered by Audiosiege. I think it came out really good.”
Jay’s role during the recording process – beyond cutting bass parts – was arguably that of an engineer. “I would consider him an engineer, and that we all kind of produced it,” the singer seconds. “I don’t think he was strong-handed in any sort of way – I think we all had our own take on it. I think the band produced the album; we had a lot of discussion along the way about what approach we should take, about what amp we should use, what microphone. It was very well into the process. I think Jay has had experience doing this over the years; he’s gotten really confident, and acquired more equipment. Just the ability to record on his own was something that he’s always wanted to do, and so he’s worked his way to the situation now where he has his own set-up and has the ability to do it. He’s a good engineer for us.”
Jay will likely record as well as engineer future Serpentine Path outings. “I think that’s where we’re at now,” Ryan muses. “Me personally, I’m always up for switching things around or trying something different. I enjoy recording on our own as well as going to studios, because it’s a different experience. I’ve had experience from both sides, from both points of view. With Unearthly Trance – our previous band – we went to lots of cool studios. It’s always nice to just show up, and have other people take care of it. You can just worry about playing, so in that respect I think it would be interesting, but it’s not something we’ve discussed yet. There’s always the possibility of trying something different though, just for the sake of switching it up.”
The wordsmith’s vocal approach differed between each of Serpentine Path’s two full-length platters. “I think on the first album, I was very focused on doing really deep, harsh vocals, which was purposely done to contrast from other bands I was doing,” he critiques. “At the time, I wanted to create a different sound than what I had done before just for the sake of personal diversity, rather than sounding the same in every band that I did, and also just to challenge myself. This time around, I was more comfortable being the vocalist and just being myself more, so I think a lot of the vocals are in my more natural, harsh vocal range. This band has always been about me pushing my vocals to the harshest way I could do it, but at the same time making the songs somewhat catchy, and trying to figure out a way to make the songs feel like real songs rather than just crushing riffs.
“I tried to throw some hooks in here and there to just really compliment the music in a way that even though it’s super-heavy, it’s still listenable, and it’s still something that people can catch onto. I approached this always as a musician first. Despite how heavy it is or anything, I always wanna make sure what I’m bringing to the table is appropriate, and at the same time improving what I did on the first album. To some people, me saying it sounds diverse compared to the first album is funny, but I use a little bit more of a range on this album.”
Emanations “sounds a little bit more crisper” than the 2012 debut, Ryan argues. “There’s not as much reverb. It’s a little bit more in your face. I think the production’s better, and the guitar sounds are different. They compliment each other, rather than just one guitar sound. I think the drum sounds are better. We added some additional guitar stuff that we didn’t on the first album, so I think it’s a little bit more developed than the first album. The first album, we didn’t quite think about it as much as we did on this one; on this one, we put in some extra touches that maybe we wouldn’t have thought about the first time around. I think overall, it’s just more developed and a bit crisper sounding.”
Resident Relapse artist Orion Landau designed Emanations’ cover artwork, as was the case with the album’s predecessor. “Basically we just gave him the rough recordings and sent him the lyrics, and he came back with this stuff like right away,” the vocalist discloses. “We were really into it, and thought that it was cool. I think the one thing about both of these albums is that the artwork was very much out of our hands, but we allowed someone else to interpret the artwork from the record label. We’ve been happy both times. There wasn’t really any specific direction, but I think he really understood the feel of the band. We wound up with something interesting, something kind of dating back to some old school death metal albums and things like that. I think he did a really cool job, and we’re happy with it.”
Emanations was released on May 23rd, 2014 in Germany, Benelux, and Finland, and subsequently in the rest of the world on the 27th, all via Relapse Records.
Interview published in May 2014.
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