Prison of Mirrors Interview
Last week I was lucky enough to sit down with Nick Brandt, lone mastermind behind Prison of Mirrors. A solo project, Prison of Mirrors has a unique take on black metal that draws heavy inspiration from post-rock. Here’s what Nick had to say about his music:
What’s the history of the Prison of Mirrors project? How did it get started?
I’ve been playing in bands for a while, but not really writing my own stuff. I was in an indie rock band playing bass, then I was in a post-rock project called Swimming With Ghosts that was pretty straight no-vocals stuff. And then I just got into black metal.
What got you into black metal?
Well, I work at Silver Platters [local record store] and six or seven years ago there was this guy there that was into black metal and I was into Isis/Neurosis type of stuff. He introduced me to Drudkh and that was a band that was kind of a gateway band for the whole black metal thing. Kind of got into that and enjoyed doing stuff by myself… it would be really hard to do what I’m doing with like five other people and trying to find them. So I started writing stuff for this project and threw it on Bandcamp. It was just something I was doing for myself and distributing to my friends and they were telling me I should make CDs so I just put it on Bandcamp to see if it would get a response.
And how has response been?
Pretty good. A lot of overseas blogs have been reviewing it.
What’s your recording set-up like? Kind of the whole home-studio ProTools stuff?
It’s not even ProTools. Just a 24-track digital unit and a bunch of pedals. I went to school for recording so I have a background in it and know how to do it. My goal is to make it sound more of a live-style recording. I don’t like using a drum machine but it’s kind of a necessity living in an apartment so I run that through a bunch of effects pedals to make it sound a little less processed. It’s kind of trial and error. I’m working on some new stuff and I’m trying to make each record sound different; that’s my goal.
How would you describe your take on black metal? The whole “post black metal” movement is getting big right now. For you it sounds like it was natural coming from a post rock/indie background or are there any bands in particular that have influenced your sound?
A little bit of both. I probably wouldn’t have had the idea to do this without hearing Altar of Plagues and bands that are already doing it. Even Wolves in the Throne Room are kind of an influence. But I definitely had a post-rock upbringing so I wanted to keep some of that in there.
There’s a lot of experimental black metal based here in the Northwest, with Agalloch being one of the first folk-inspired black metal bands.
Yeah, there’s definitely a sound up here. Like that band Alda from Tacoma; when I was working on my first album I first heard them and was blown away. They’re one of those bands I just came across on some blog and checked them out.
Other than those bands who are your influences?
Honestly, Isis has always been one of my favorite bands, live or on record. A lot of the quieter stuff they do I try and emulate a little bit, but then add in the whole blast-beat stuff.
Anything in particular you wish your music to express, in terms of themes or moods?
In terms of the music itself, I try and get a good flow to the album, like having the quiet and loud passages from song to song work together. Lyrically I don’t try and go for any one thing. Just creating imagery more than anything; it’s kind of hard. I don’t try and subscribe to the whole satanic thing and I’m not a super depressed guy so I don’t try and write about that either. It can be a little tough trying to stick within the genre while trying to write something a bit different.
Does your band name come Xasthur?
Yeah, it does. It’s kind of a tribute since he was one of the first one-man groups I got into. I’ve gotten some flack for it but I think it’s a kind of cool image.
Do your songs reference George RR Martin’s “A Song of Ice and Fire” at All?
[laughs] Yeah in “Horn of Winter” definitely. I saw it mentioned briefly, but it was before I had read the third book where it’s featured prominently.
What’s your reasoning for giving out your music for free? Are you trying to get noticed or get picked by a label, or is it more just a project for you?
Yeah, it started out just as a project for me and friends who would be interested. It’s hard to say if any labels would be interested in an artist who doesn’t tour or play live. I would love to do a physical release at some point but that would be a little expensive to do all by myself.
Say everything fell into place and you found musicians that you work well with, would you ever play live?
A lot would have to fall into place but I would definitely be into that. I’ve been in bands before and it’s just really tough to get everyone on the same page and schedule everything. You have to be really thick skinned, especially if you’re writing songs and putting your stuff out there. I’ve been trying to write stuff in a certain way so in case that ever happens it wouldn’t be too impossible.
So you’ve done about an album a year so far, are you planning on sticking to that schedule?
Yeah, that’s the plan. I really enjoy doing it and it’s pretty easy to go home with my little studio set-up and just spend a few hours doing it. I just started working on a few new songs. I’m trying to progress a little with each album, especially in terms of production. Maybe try some new guitar sounds.
Seeing as how you agreed to meet me I’m guessing you don’t subscribe to the whole anonymous identity/using an alias thing do you?
I don’t think so [laughs]. I was talking to my roommate before coming down here and I was telling him I’m going to do an interview and he was like, “Are you going to give him an alias??” I don’t have any problem with people knowing my name.
All of Prison of Mirror’s music is available at the Bandcamp page.