INTERVIEW: Forming, Debut Album ‘Last Days of a Dying World’ & More With Burial Clouds
Prior to the release of their debut album Last Days of a Dying World, we sat down with Burial Clouds‘ Michael Malarkey and Aaron Matthews to discuss the forming of the band, the joining of Malarkey and Matthews and of course the story surrounding the anticipated album. Today, the album has dropped. Get the story of the album right here and stream Last Days of a Dying World right after!
Strife: First and foremost how are you guys doing today?
Michael: Pretty good. Spring break so got the kids at home. We just finished playing our first shows which felt great in Portland and Seattle with Hell and Glass Goat and they were great. We had been itching to get this engine moving and the record’s coming out May 12th on Church Road. So it’s all picking off.
Strife: How were those shows?
Aaron: They were good. I think that you’re always nervous when you’re performing for the first time in front of a crowd. We’ve played smaller shows as an instrumental band in the past to shake our nerves out. But then when we had these most recent shows with Mike it was okay this is the real deal now”. It was cool, I felt the initial rush of anxiety subsided and then we continued to perform, I think it went really well.
Michael: Yeah, two sold-out crowds as well which is nice. Bunch of people, most of which probably had never heard of us before. It’s nice to play to an audience of attentive people. And as Aaron said before I cut him off, we set off the smoke alarm in the Seattle show. It was beeping throughout our last song. We had a little too much mood going on.
Aaron: I had bought a cheap fog machine off the internet and I thought there was no way that this thing was gonna create a significant amount of smoke. And we ended up not only smoking out the venue that we were performing in but the empty venue next door and setting off the fire alarm but interestingly its beeping went with the rhythm of my delay pedal. So it just didn’t make sense but people thought it was part of the show. But I just unplugged it and luckily it was at the end of the show. Hopefully, they’ll remember us as Burial Clouds because we buried them in a cloud of smoke.
Strife: You mentioned that the first song that you guys released, Cloudsplitter, that the idea came right around the George Floyd protests but that’s been a while. How long has this been in the works?
Michael: Burial Clouds was an instrumental band before I joined the band. And so Matt, who’s the main songwriter and guitarist, wrote this album as essentially an instrumental piece. And when we got on board we rerecorded it, I recorded vocals on top of it.
So these songs had been kicking up for several years, just not in the new incarnation of them, with vocals on them. What was cool about writing for this project, he had these song titles already and he said that I could change them if I wanted to. I said I’d keep them and I’d work from them as a brief and I’ve never really worked like that before. I always just write from my own intuition and whatever comes up naturally when I’m doing my solo stuff. But with this, it was having an artistic brief saying here’s the general backdrop. And then I coloured in whatever happy little trees came to mind. It’s Bob Ross right there, legend. It was a fun process and we all gelled really well. Aaron and I have actually known each other since we were kids. So I joined, I was doing demos with Matt and around that time he was looking to audition a second guitar player for live stuff as we were working on this record.
And Aaron and I had been in a band just straight outta high school. We both grew up in Yellow Springs Ohio and it was kind of a punk metal-inspired screamo-type band. And over Covid, Aaron and I were connecting and we wanted to do some heavy music again. I definitely wanted to scream again, Covid made me wanna scream. We’d sent some stuff back and forth. So I put Aaron’s name forward and it clicked. So it’s pretty crazy that the two of us are in a band together after not being in a band for 20-some years and that was the first band we were in.
Aaron: We’ve been texting back and forth about heavy music for years and during lockdown I joked about wanting to get the band back together as we were tossing ideas back and forth for a while and then just one day, I get this email from him telling me about this band called Burial Clouds which I had already known about through a Craigslist ad. And I just thought people were gonna jump on this band to play the guitar for them so I’m not even gonna bother. But then when Mike sent me this thing I was like “well shit, okay, let’s give it a try.” and so I auditioned and landed that and we’ve been a band since then. This project was made in isolation with Matt, who’s not here right now. He wrote it during lockdown of 2020 and it kind of became this fishing lure that he’d send out to people. But as soon as Mike got on there and started demoing and then I got on there and started learning the songs, we quickly within a couple of months recorded the vocals proper, then mixed the album and did the artwork and all that stuff. Then started sending it out to different record labels and shopping it around. So it’s been a process of a lot of different parts working independently of each other and then when we get the opportunities, we’ll just coalesce into a Voltron and then just kind of move forward and try and get this show on the road.
Strife: So when did you guys join? What year was it?
Michael: A year and a half ago is when I started demoing the songs. Cause it was about a year ago to this day that I went and recorded them in a cabin in Portland with the guys.
Aaron: February of 2022. Matt had spent two years trying to assemble band members and then February of 2022 is when I got in the band which means that probably January of 2022 Mike was laying down the demo tracks.
Michael: Which we hope to release one day cause they were fun. I did them over top of the original instrumental record, so there’s a slightly different chaotic sound to them. So I hope they do get to see the light of day one day just for fun. Even if it’s a band camp special edition or something like that.
Aaron: There’s something very special about that raw version of the songs that I’m quite fond of. And down the line you can look back at them and be see where this thing started. Because some of them are just Mike not even articulating words. He’s just making sounds. And then later on version four or whatever it actually turns into words which is pretty cool.
Strife: You have some themes going on in the songs and try to shed a light on the human side of political and social problems. What other themes can we expect throughout the album?
Michael: The cover image is inspired by the Catacomb Saints. Aaron can tell you more about that. But I think this as a metaphor, which he’ll explain in a minute, kind of sums up at least part of the thematic side of the content lyrically: the decay of empire and greed.
Aaron: Matt has this art book at his apartment. And in this book, it’s a coffee table book of all of these corpses that are blinged out. It’s very grotesque in which all this death and decay is surrounded by opulent crazy wealth. So the story is that it was propaganda for the church and that they wanted to parade these saints around but they didn’t have the bodies to do it.
So instead they just took the bodies of the poor, just dug them out of their graves and then bejewelled them and covered them in lace and filigree and flowers and then sent them out to different churches and each one of these nameless corpses became a different saint.
So that’s where some of that original imagery came from of wanting to incorporate that because we were looking at the way that the album represents this big division between wealth and class and life and death and decay and musically, we go into things feeling a certain way and thinking about things a certain way. And then Michael also ran with those ideas and thematically all got tied up into this theme of the last days of a dying world and we wanted our album to be reflected of that. I think one of the things that I connect a lot with the band is that we play heavy music, philosophically we’re a doom band right? But we indulge in a lot of our different influences and one of the things that is inherent in heavy music is being angry. And as I got older, I’m 40 now, I’ve realized that I’m not as angry as I thought I was. I was actually a lot more emotionally hurt than I really thought I was. And we wanted to be able to have this music as kind of a vehicle for expressing that emotional hurt instead of just being “fuck fuck fuck fuck kill”. Those are my words. But it just seemed to be more constructive to wear our hearts on our sleeves in regards to that stuff.
Michael: And I wanted to have it be a kinda collective thing because a lot of my solo stuff is first-person narrative, it’s me and my crazy dreams or whatever. But this, I don’t even think I used the word “I”. And I feel the music was inspirational in that too because it’s so epic and cinematic that I felt that it garnered having a cinematic universal poetic thing over top of it. I likt that there’s varying styles within it, that’s fun to me. It’s not just straight down the barrel and I initially thought I’d just probably scream over top of all of it but incorporating the singing too, I think makes it quite a unique record in the genre.
Aaron: Beirut Shores definitely reflects the more cinematic aspect of our sound.
Michael: It was written after the Beirut blast, obviously, a few years back but I took that and filtered it through my own interpretation of what that means to me as well. I was actually born in Beirut. And when I was initially scoping this band out the fact that they had a song called Beirut Shores was actually part of the reason why I hit them up.
It’s quite an eclectic piece, the whole record, each song takes you on a different type of journey.
Aaron: That’s what I enjoy most about it, the album has an arc in its trajectory but each song is independent of it. It’s a cohesive vision but we jump around genres not in a crazy way but you’ll just have to listen to it.
Strife: You said it’s a whole cinematic piece and there are a lot of influences and obviously the first song is a very lengthy song, approaching the 10-minute mark. Since the album has “only” five songs, are all the songs about that length?
Michael: Track number 3, Seawall, is more of a barn burner and that’s a shorter song, about four minutes long. That’s our shortest song. The longest is 12 minutes probably.
Aaron: We’re definitely in the 8 to 12-minute range song. But we also don’t entirely follow a linear song structure. We come back to ideas but we definitely don’t do verse/chorus/verse. It’s such a trajectory. In fact, when we used to play our initial shows, we would have elements where the music would reach a point where it’s chill. People thought it would be the end of the song. But then we got six minutes left. And then after four minutes they would clap again and it would still not be over.
Michael: But some of the newer stuff we’re writing is shorter too. We’re not stuck on a particular formula. So it’s whatever’s interesting in the writing process. We’re kind of running with it at the moment. So I mean there’s one of the newer songs called Ash and Altar that we’re working on which I think is a killer track, it’s just a beast. It’s fun to be able to just have no rules and see what happens. It’s freeing.
Strife: Are there any bands that kind of inspired that “no rules having”?
Aaron: I think that growing up in the nineties you have all these influences.
Michael: You don’t even know what they are, sometimes they’re just so ingrained.
Aaron: There’s a lot of grunge influence but for me personally I’m basically inspired by music. We’re trying to be inspired rather than emulate other stuff because when you just try and emulate it’s gonna be derivative. But when we take our inspirations from all over the place which has roots in grunge music, Tool and Alice In Chains, but then also progressive music like Godspeed You! Black Emperor for that cinematic vibe and then things like ISIS and Neurosis, then it’s just that we like stuff that sounds like this and we like playing in ways that sound like this.
Michael: It’s all stuff we grew up on so it’s just in the bones I suppose.
Aaron: I’d love to see a Venn diagram of all the bands we actually listen to.
Strife: Has everything about the record been done in-house?
Michael: No, we did it ourselves. We thought we’d do the first one ourselves and we’ll see if we end up working with somebody for record number two.
But that was part of the process, getting to know each other as well because obviously I live in Atlanta and they all live in Portland and I think that was a part of the process of bringing us together, mixing it together and shooting notes back and forth.
And it was a very democratic set-up, the writing, recording and the way we kind of seem to operate. We feel like we’ve all got equal footing in the band and everyone’s opinion matters. And that’s really important to me and I think to everyone else in the band to a degree as well.
Aaron: We have this thing where we’re gonna bust balls for a minute but we know we love each other. And then we start talking about some weird shit about our songwriting, it’s funny.
Strife: Can we expect some visuals surrounding the new songs as well?
Michael: We finished recording the video for Beirut Shores which is absolutely incredible, what I’ve seen so far. We’ve shot that and we’re editing it in the house as well. And we’ve got this dancer, Marina, who’s an incredible artist in her own way who has been happy to share her talents with us and is the star of the video essentially and I just think it’s a beautiful piece and it accompanies the song in a brilliant way.
So you’ll be able to have at least a visual aspect that may be already out by the time this comes out. (indeed, it can be found here).
Aaron: We’ve shot music videos for Cloud Splitter which some of the visuals that have been shown but we haven’t released it proper. But as fans of music and film and different art, we want those things to be different extensions of the band. So definitely being able to incorporate a visual element as well either through our artsy little music videos or stage projection, that’s where we would like to take it.
Michael: The first shows we just want to get things going but eventually we do wanna have a little bit more of an artistic live thing. Where it’s not necessarily about the band but it’s about the experience you’re having.
Aaron: The other thing about the music videos is, we’re in a band that has long songs and the attention span of a lot of people is short and as someone who tries to make music that we would listen to, we also make music videos that we would also watch. We decided we don’t want to have a 10-minute video of just us assholes sitting around playing our instruments. That would be boring as hell. So if we’re gonna make a video for an eight-plus minute song, we might as well make it worth sitting down and actually watching it and most people probably won’t get through the entire thing but for those who are into it and will recognize the work that’s put into it in the symbolism that is also put into it, I think that it’ll be appreciated.
Strife: Do you guys have anything in the works for Europe?
Michael: We’re playing Arc Tangent Festival in Bristol in the UK in August. That’s our first European festival and we’re kind of trying to focus that as our first expedition across the pond and do some warmup shows. We’ll just see how it goes from there. And also the record will be out for a few months by then and we’ll be able to gauge what people’s interest is and the response to it. Not that we care really but it’ll make a difference as to what we’re booked on or not. But at the moment we’re trying to do some last-minute planning for our album release shows in May.
Aaron: So probably just a small West coast jaunt, as many days as we can make it happen.
Michael: But yeah we all have different schedules and things so it’ll be about when we can actually get together and do stuff, but since it’s early days we’re just gonna get the record out, do these initial shows, put our focus on the UK stuff and see how the year plays out.
Strife: Michael, how hard is it to just keep all of these balls in the air?
Michael: It’s definitely gotten harder but just because I have kids, it would be pretty easy if I didn’t but I love them, I’m not gonna get rid of them. But yeah it’s one of these things where I just go where the interest is. And if something’s really exciting me at the time I’ll roll with that for a bit. And since I’m independent as far as my solo stuff goes I don’t have to be on anyone’s schedule but my own. And I’m working on my next solo record right now and that should be done by the summer. But just kind of trying to do stuff when I can and for these shows in June I’m just opening for Lera Lynn who’s a fantastic songwriter out of Nashville. And we did a Halloween show recently and got on really well. I’m gonna try to build a few more dates into the time I’m in the UK. I’ll be there for a little bit in June.
Strife: If you had to pick one moment from the whole process of creating this record, what would you pick as the most positive experience?
Aaron: I would say that there’s been a couple different things but there was a time when we rented out this Airbnb to do the vocals and I think that Matt was clicking away on his computer, Mike‘s in a corner yelling at a blanket. We’ve been listening to this music for so long and we’re sitting there and we just look at each other, Flynn and I are looking at each other and the hair is raised on our arms because we were like this is where it’s at. And so that’s for me one of those moments that we know we’re really on to something special. That means a lot to us.
Michael: Yeah, definitely the recording and getting it done because it was a long process in the end, being able to make that happen. But I think for me,the first song that I demoed for Matt was Ether Fields which is still probably my favorite track on the record but I remember recording that and finished recording that and the end of that song is just heavy and super intense. And I remember listening back to my first demo of that and having chills myself knowing he’s gonna love this unless I’m completely insane but I’m only half insane I think.
But just pressing send and having that feeling of having done something that you’re proud of and think means something is always a cool moment. And being able to share this stuff live and finding out what it feels like to present this live because it’s a different experience right? When you have to actually physically share something in a space with people. yeah. The performance of it is part of that, of why we are doing this.
Aaron: And to see the heads bobbing and people vibing in the crowd for the first time was a moment like “wow okay, we’re not in the practice space anymore. We’re actually making it happen and people are feeling it.” And that was really validating.
Last Days of a Dying World is out now. Stream the brand new album right here.