Saturday, January 7, 2017

Interview With Witch Mountain's Nathan Carson

Nathan Carson is as close to a modern day renaissance man as one could come. He hasn't discovered any new planets, developed important new theories in physics, or sculpted masterpieces of stone or marble (...yet) but the combination of Drummer, Writer, Artist, Promoter, and all-around nice guy should be enough for anyone to support the honorific. Having witnessed the power and impressive performance that has been a constant throughout Witch Mountain's history, and read Nathan's most recent weird-fiction novella, Starr Creek, there were forces beyond my understanding compelling me to get in contact with Nathan and draw some attention to his artistry.

Contaminated Tones: Hey Nathan, I really want to get into your awesome book, Starr Creek, but since this is ultimately a Metal site, let's get some short questions about Witch Mountain out of the way first. You did a US tour with The Skull and Saint Vitus in the fall. How do you feel the tour went? Was this the first large scale tour with new vocalist Kayla Dixon?

Nathan Carson: Kayla and our bassist Justin Brown both joined in early 2015. We almost immediately went on tour with YOB that Spring. It was quite the trial but the new members handled themselves really well. Then in October 2015 we were hand-selected by Glenn Danzig to support on his Blackest of the Black tour. So this 2016 trip with Saint Vitus and the Skull was the third large-scale tour we’ve done in the last 18 months. This lineup has done more shows than any other in the band’s 19-year history. I’d be very happy if we never have another member in the group, unless we add an organ player or something.

CT: It seems the band took a little break since the tour. What is planned for 2017?

NC: Well we got home from a rigorous 28 shows in 30 days just before Halloween. We all needed a break after that. But we just played a very festive New Year’s Eve show here in Portland—ushering in 2017 on a note of profound doom--and will immediately get back into writing mode. It’s time to make the best WM album yet, the first full-length with Kayla and Justin involved, and to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the band.

Witch Mountain Live at Saint Vitus Bar during North American tour with Saint Vitus and The Skull
 CT: Describe the typical Witch Mountain creative process in forming
and crafting your songs.

NC: Well, as the drummer, I have a lot more to do with dynamics and arrangement. I have written songs for WM in the distant past, but generally our guitarist Rob Wrong writes the music, and the singer writers the lyrics. Then we bat GarageBand demos back and forth before finally jamming on the tunes in our rehearsal space. That’s when I tend to speak up if there’s something I believe can be improved. There have been exceptions along the way, but this process seems to work very well for us.

I trust my band mates entirely to generate great music, and I have so much say as manager and booker that I don’t have any ego issues with how the band operates. However, it’s obvious that the drums are not a melodic or lead instrument. That’s why it’s important for me to have other creative outlets. The many years I have spent making collaborative art with groups of people has really inspired me to take my fiction writing to the forefront so that I can share my voice with the world in a way that is unfiltered.

CT: What bands have been major influences for Witch Mountain?

NC: Rob and I have always cited the classics: The Beatles, Black Sabbath, Beach Boys, Pink Floyd, Jimi Hendrix, ZZ Top. You can’t really make the best music if you’re only listening to the radio hits of today. Of course we also have added in dashes of early Judas Priest, Uli Roth-era Scorpions, and liberal doses of Candlemass. But each of us has our own specific influences as well.

To my ear, John Bonham and Keith Moon didn’t live long enough to be as good as Dale Crover. I love a spectrum of drummers from Ringo Starr’s brilliant minimlism to Simon Philip’s session work on Judas Priests Sin After Sin.

CT: Leading into your writing and Starr Creek, is there any direct crossover between Witch Mountain and your writing? Do any specific songs from Witch Mountain connect to the book or other writing?

NC: Not really. The main crossover is that I have been selling a ton of books from the merch table on tour, for which I’m exceedingly grateful to our fans and my band mates. Reading my work at bookstores is nice, but aside from my release party at Powell’s, I’ve tended to sell a lot more books at concerts than I have at readings.

I’m not the lyricist for Witch Mountain and, aside from naming the South of Salem and Cauldron of the Wild albums, I tend to be more of an executive producer and art director rather than a songwriter. I would say that the WM song that most closely resembles Starr Creek would be “Aurelia.” And perhaps that’s because the lyrics were written by Uta Plotkin, who grew up in the same small Oregon town that I did.

CT: What inspired you to start writing?

NC: I’ve been writing since I was six years old. When I was nine or ten, I wrote a bizarro western story about an anthropomorphic loaf named Billy the Bread. In high school I wrote a ton of Lovecraft/Barker pastiches that were godawful. When I was 19, I read a Damon Knight book called Creating Short Fiction in which he implores young would-be authors to go out into the world and gather some wisdom and life experience before attempting to write. I took his advice to heart, and didn’t really get serious about my fiction until shortly after my fortieth birthday. By then, I had an opinion on everything, haha. And I’d traveled a great deal and met and interacted with thousands of people. Of course, I’ve also been a professional music journalist for about 15 years. That hasn’t hurt. I always excelled in English over, say, math and science. So it was natural that I would eventually try my hand at short stories and longer works. The key is to not be a hobbyist.

CT: Starr Creek is such an enjoyable read for fans of weird fiction. The characters all had awesome personalities and the relationships between everyone in the book were well thought out and propelled me through the pages more than the plot, which was also teeming with vivid details and intrigue. For those that haven't read Starr Creek, can you give a quick summary of what the reader could expect to experience?

NC: Here’s the blurb from the back of the book: "Starr Creek is the debut novella by Portland writer and musician Nathan Carson. Set in 1986 rural Oregon, Starr Creek features Heavy Metal teens, Christian biker gangs, and hopped up kids on 3-wheeled ATVs. They all collide when strange occurrences unveil an alien world inhabiting the Oregon woods."

CT: You have a knack for description. At times it's subtle nuanced implications and other times you go all out with the descriptive. One of my favorite chapters was Ethan and Charles riding around on the ATVs thinking they were badasses but in reality they were these two kids in plastic costume helmets and shit. When deciding on how to describe different parts of the book, where does the inspiration come from? What is your favorite description in Starr Creek and why?

NC: The first two chapters of Starr Creek were written (in rough form)
many months before I decided to expand it into a novella. Because of that, the language is a bit more florid in the very beginning. Once the story starts to unfurl, I consciously ran it as clean and fast as possible.

So to answer your question, I really enjoy some of the first descriptions of Puppy’s life. Readers can enjoy an excerpt here on Vice’s science fiction site Terraform.

CT: The dog food eating contest opens the book essentially. Where did that come from? Did you have Puppy's name decided on before or after that scene?

NC: When I was in third, fourth, and fifth grade, I lived in Monroe, Oregon. The Long Branch tavern (it’s still there) had a marquee that advertised these dog food-eating contests. Of course, as a youth, I could only imagine what they were like. I wondered, “Is this what adults do?”

Anyway, I’ve still never witnessed a real contest like this, so I just imagined what it might be like. As for Puppy’s name, that was sort of a lucky coincidence. I knew I wanted to do animal names, and I knew I wanted to have a dog food-eating contest. When I got to that point in the story, it just felt like one more favor my subconscious mind had done for me.

CT: Other than being a fun overall read, was there any deeper themes you wanted to get across to the reader?

NC: Well I’d hope everyone would get something different out of it. It’s a work of fiction. But I certainly wanted to create characters that would act in believable ways, even during unusual or
fantastic situations. I was very inspired by characters like the kid in Phantasm who tapes a bullet to a hammer in order to escape his locked bedroom, and the Frog Brothers from Lost Boys who fill their Uzi squirt guns with holy water.

As for themes, I guess one of the main points of the book is that entropy is unavoidable. My AP English teacher once told me that if you’re ever writing an essay and you need to pull a theme out of your ass, “Man’s Inhumanity to Man” will work 99% of the time. So I’ll pass this tip along to you and your readers.

CT: There are a host of paranormal and controversial weird science topics mixed into the book but I think one of the most surprising twists was the inclusion of UFOs and Cult Imagery that appeared later on. Heaven's Gate is hinted at with Rex's cult. Where does your interest in these subjects come from? What are your opinions on UFOs and Extraterrestrial life?

NC: I grew up near Starr Creek. I’ve seen some weird and unexplainable shit. Having said that, I do not subscribe to the idea that we are descendants of lizard people or that Area 51 is full of alien corpses. I do know that the universe is unimaginably huge. Of course there is extraterrestrial life out there, though I assume it’s weird and abstract, and nothing remotely like anything we have yet considered. The reason I put a cult on Starr Creek road is because there WERE cults on Starr Creek road. I just decided to invent my own, based loosely on concepts from The Golden Bough.

CT: What authors do you look to for inspiration? Who has influenced your writing style?

NC: My favorite author is Gene Wolfe. Reading 30 of his novels has probably done more for me than any writing class or workshop. I would stay Starr Creek was also specifically influenced by Richard Brautigan, particularly his short gothic western novel, The Hawkline Monster. My editor also asked me to read some Raymond Carver before doing my final edit.

CT: What other material have you written? Do you have any future books or novels planned?

Photo: Jon T Cruz at 1369 Photos
NC: I have short stories in the anthologies Cthulhu Fhtagn! (Word Horde), Swords v Cthulhu (Stone Skin), Eternal Frankenstein (Word Horde), and The Madness of Dr Caligari (Fedogan & Bremer). There’s also a story in an issue of Strange Aeons magazine but it’s out of print. In all of these anthologies, I’m in the company of some of the best writers currently working in underground horror. Each has been an honor to take part in.

I’m currently working on my first comic script. That’s due to be available in time for Halloween of 2017. I have ideas for several short stories that are ready to write. And of course I plan to follow Starr Creek with a proper novel set in the same universe, only 76 years later.

CT: Where can people buy your book, Starr Creek?

NC: I prefer to direct people to their local independent bookseller. But you will honestly get the most immediate results from

CT: Nathan, Thanks for taking the time to do this interview! Hopefully we'll see Witch Mountain here in NYC again real soon!

NC: Thanks for taking the time, and especially for reading and
supporting Starr Creek!

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