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Axis: Sova interview with Brett Sova

© Jeremiah Chiu

Every time I listen to an Axis: Sova record I end up on the edge of my seat trying to figure it out.  The countless influences intertwine, undulating and bubbling under a surface of fuzzed our guitars and hazy drum-machine percussion.  Gnarled six-string solos swirl up from the dense cloud of sound every once in a while, snatching the listener from their chair and launching them into a cosmic ether of noise and fuzz.  There’s something here for everyone with smashing rollicks like, “Past The Edge” and toe-tapping pop melodies like “Raising Hell”, you name it and Axis: Sova probably does a little.  This isn’t to imply that Sova is a Renaissance man more talented at doing many things than being particularly good at one which is just about as far from the case as you could get.  I simply mean to imply that nearly any listener capable of keeping an open mind for more than ten minutes can probably find something that they will love.  It’s not every day you hear a band as brashly confrontational as Axis: Sova and it’s even less often when you find one that is as equally rooted in traditional psychedelic music.  Truly a one-man army the mastermind behind Axis: Sova, Brett Sova, sat down and waxed intellectual about just where’s he’s been, how he got there and where’s he’d headed from this point.  As always check out the link below for some killer tunes while you read the article, so without further ado I give you; Axis: Sova…
Listen while you read:

What’s the band’s lineup?  Is this your original lineup or have you gone through some changes since Axis: Sova started?

Sova is one person; Brett Sova.  No lineup changes, as of yet.

© Christen Carter

Are you in any other bands at this point?  Have you released anything with anyone else?  If so can you tell us about it?

I've just started a band called Teachers Pet with Jeremiah Chiu, a former member of Icy Demons and current member of Chandeliers, who also performs solo as Deep Sleep.  Teachers Pet is Chiu on drums and sequencer with me on guitar.  Additionally, I used to lead a band called Mass Shivers a few years back, which has been aptly described as psychedelic classic rock and released several things.  I also recently spent a couple years playing bass and guitar with Chicago electronic junkies, Chandeliers and contributed to their latest record, Founding Fathers.

Where are you originally from?

Columbus, Ohio.

Where your households musical growing up?  Where your parents or any of your relatives musicians or heavily interested in music?

Sure, lots of music in the house growing up.  My mom played piano in the house and there was plenty of Stones and Beach Boys, with a lot of Mozart, Beethoven, Bach and Barber thrown in. 

How did you first become introduced to music?  When did you decide that you wanted to start writing/making your own music?

Saw my first Beach Boys concert when I was eleven months old.  They played at the Columbus Zoo.  But it was around the time of seeing Guns N Roses and Metallica as an eleven-year-old when it was like, "do it".  Those years, hearing all that classic rock for the first time, it's really so amazing the first time you hear it.  Sabbath, Zeppelin.  As a young person all you want to do is figure out how to harness that same power and energy.  Got my first guitar in sixth-grade, sang in school choir, standard.  Grunge and whatnot lead to discovering punk; Black Flag, Dead Boys, Misfits, The Birthday Party, Fugazi, The Make Up and countless others a couple years later.  All that stuff conceptually made the guitar easier to understand.  Any guitar players starting out can learn all the basics by listening to the Misfits.  Everything becomes simplified, not to mention darker, heavier.  Plus, several of my friends started playing and it helped learning that way.  I started playing in bands when I was fifteen, as a singer though, not a guitar player.  We used to play punk clubs in Columbus, like Bernie's and Little Brother's.  The SST catalog was so huge for us, The Decline of Western Civilization movie, the first one, and then of course The Stooges.  Ron Ashton, primarily, for vibe, but James Williamson had some massively killer riffs; undeniable.

What exactly led to the formation of Axis: Sova and when was that?

In the summer of 2009, as Mass Shivers was coming to an end, a 90’s era Chicago band, and participant in first-wave Drag City Records, called Mantis was setting up their reunion show and asked if I'd do a solo guitar set to open.  Seemed like a rad idea, and with my band dissolving I'd been working on some solo freak outs anyway.  So timing-wise, it was perfect but then a name became essential.  It was my summer of returning to Axis: Bold As Love again and again, I was actually already in the mindset of working on music alone without anyone else's input and I wanted it to be kind of out there as a concept.  You get the picture, and hence the name.  The show itself was brief but intense.  I played one long massive solo, the impetus for the title track from Weight Of A Color.  It went over well, better than I thought it would, and when the other members of Mass Shivers were unable to do a show later that fall opening for Blues Control, Axis: Sova stepped in and had its second gig.  From there, it was all Axis, all the time.  The progression was natural and liberating.

Where is the band currently located?

Chicago, Illinois.

How would you describe the local music scene there?

The scene here is extremely deep, extremely talented, and thick with ideas, collaborations and competition.

Are you very involved with the local music scene?


Has it played a large role, in the history, sound or evolution of Axis: Sova?

It's impossible to dismiss the influence of Chicago.  Friends and their bands, people I've played with over the years, the people coming in and out of Shape Shoppe, a warehouse collective of people making music and art in Chicago's south loop, where I share space, in particular.  At the same time, sonically I feel kinda linked with the scene happening in Philadelphia right now.  With Birds of Maya, Purling Hiss who I met them a couple years ago, having set up a Chicago show for Birds of Maya, Spacin' and ex-phillies Blues Control having a big influence as well.  Richie Records is based there and they're the best.  That said, I tend to look outside of things, beyond what's directly in front of me and have never really felt it wise for anyone to hitch their wagon to one place or time.

Let’s talk about Axis: Sova’s songwriting process.  Do you come in with a near complete idea and work on composition or is there a lot of collaborative exchange and jamming?

Most songs do come out of jamming, eventually getting more and more composed over a riff or chord progression that gets stuck in the fingers, and stuck in the mind.

© Carlos Torres

What about the recording process?  Do you do a lot of preparatory work before you head into the studio to record or do you play it more off the cuff?

It's a mixture of both.  I tend to have a fairly solid idea of how a song should sound and plan for how to achieve that, loosely, before recording.  But accidents or unexpected sounds when recording tend to be the things that provide the liveliest and often most memorable aspect of a song.  Yeah, things that come off the cuff.  It's particularly like this when your whole idea of recording is based around overdubbing infinitely bent guitar solos 'til you foolishly feel you've outdone yourself.

Tell me a little bit about your first single, I Feel Like Laying Low b/w Dopamine Boomerang.  How did that release come about?  Were you happy with the way the recordings turned out and everything?  Do you have any memories about recording it you’d like to share with our readers?

I just wanted to get something out there, get a recording together.  Nothing really exists until it's been recorded.  The A-side is a jam I'd been hacking at for a while, the verse being kind of a raga riff without the hang-ups, and the B-side was a loop I'd manipulated live while recording to 4-track, then added a guitar lead and some djembe for color.  Coincidentally, “Dopamine Boomerang” is the only Axis: Sova song to date that has percussion but no drum machine.  Everything else drum-wise is done using a Roland TR-66 Rhythm Arranger, a primitive drum machine from the early 80’s with only twenty-six presets that I run through some junk.  It's very unsophisticated, but totally effective.  

Where were I Feel Like Laying Low and Dopamine Boomerang recorded?  When were they recorded?  Who recorded them?  What kind of equipment was used?

“I Feel Like Laying Low” was the first song I recorded to my, at the time, recently purchased Tascam 488 8-track cassette machine.  I've recorded every song that way ever since, and always do it in the live room at Shape Shoppe.  It's a killer little studio.

Was I Feel Like Laying Low a limited release?  Who put it out?  When was that released?

It was a small run of a few hundred, and I put it out myself under the label name Licking River I used to release a few of the Mass Shivers items in 2011.

You followed that up with your Weight Of A Color LP on Kill Shaman Records which is when I initially heard you as Kill Shaman is one of the best independent record labels out there, I love Bipolar Bear and the recently reissued Reverse Shark Attack album by Ty Segall and Mikal Cronin.  How’d you originally get hooked up with Kill Shaman?

Julian from Kill Shaman e-mailed me saying he was stoked on the single, which he'd probably heard on the now defunct web-site Altered Zones.  They featured “Laying Low”, I think.  I was already working on Weight Of A Color, so when it was finished I sent it to them.  Luckily for me, it was apparently just good enough for them to release!  Those guys have "high" standards…

What are your memories of recording that Weight Of A Color album?  Did you approach writing or recording it very differently than your previous single?

Naw, it's pretty much been the same.  The two most memorable aspects of recording the album include a) extreme pain.  Mixing the song “Raising Hell” was a real fucking terror and still doesn't sound like it does in my head.  And b) extreme joy, which occurred when I nailed the title track “Weight of A Color” in one take.

Where was Weight Of A Color recorded?  Who recorded it?  When was it recorded?  What kind of equipment was used?

Same as before, but recorded during 2011.  One thing I tried to do on that record was get a tone on the acoustic guitars that was as rough and warbley as Keith Richards' on Beggar's Banquet so it was mic'd pretty crudely and then amplified through this '67 Super Reverb I have that gets incredibly distorted at high volumes, which was mic'd and then sent to the tape machine.

Following Weight Of A Color you’ve released a new single this year Past The Edge b/w Grading With A Curve.  Was the recording of this single much different than your previous single or the full-length?

Naw, pretty similar, except that “Past The Edge” was actually supposed to be on Weight of A Color but didn't make the cut at the time, due to the state it was in.  The way I'd done it originally just felt weak and not quite up to snuff.  I wasn't sure when I'd ever figure out how to fix it and kind of just put it on the shelf.  Then like a year later, in the middle of a solo road trip through Indiana on the way back to Chi-town, wherein I spent the entire drive listening to nothing but Hawkwind, some kind of synaptic surge ran through my head and everything about what “Past The Edge” was supposed to be became totally clear.  When I hit Chicago, I went straight into the studio, stripped the flesh off that fucker and reconstructed it into the beast you hear on the record.  Apparently listening to five straight hours of Doremi Faso Latido and In Search of Space back to back puts you in a certain zone…  The B-side, “Grading On A Curve” is all about traversing the difficult landscapes provided by Mercury going into retrograde.  Finding a floating, stable raft amidst the terror…  But that song, much differently than “Past The Edge”, was recorded in just one session and made the cut on sight. 

Who put that out?

Richie Records/TestosterTunes, who currently make waves, and cash hand over fist, as the finest label in America's seedy rock underbelly today.

There was mention of a possible cassingle release on the Wordpress page a few months back, is there any news no that?  I know you’ve also been working on a follow-up full-length.  How’s that going?  Are there any plans for any upcoming releases?

There are numerous recordings in various half-completed stages that I hope to finish in the coming month or two, a full-length for sure, possibly a separate cassette of jams if I can do it right.  If any of them are any good, which they will be, then they'll see the light of day as soon as they're fat and ready.

Has Axis: Sova released any music we haven’t talk about yet?


Where’s the best place for our readers to get copies of your album and singles here in the U.S.?

Well, don't try going to the supermarket or digging in your backyard.  Start with purchasing them direct from the labels, from their websites or whatever.  Or possibly even better, go in a real live, brick and mortar record store and get them there.  These labels are legit, they have fancy distribution, you should be able to find all Axis: Sova products with ease.  And while live human interaction seems to be a relic of the past for many, who knows what other freaky shit you'll be hipped to by letting go of your fear and conversing with a record-store clerk.

With the insane international postage rate increases where’s the best place for our international and overseas readers to purchase copies?

Hrm, probably the same types of places U.S. based folks would too, either record stores or direct from the labels.  Someone should write a letter to the USPS about all this, it's sure to do a lot of good, ha.…

What do you have planned as far as touring goes for the rest of the year?

Most immediately doing a gig opening for Ty Segall (excellent local flavors Running are also on the bill) in Chicago at the end of the month.  Then touring back to the east coast in November or maybe just staying in the Midwest.  Actually, thanks for the reminder, I need to figure that shit out!

© Chinn Wang

Where’s the best place for people to keep up on the latest news like upcoming album releases and shows at?

The web site you mentioned,  Ground zero for Axis: Sova stuff.

What are Axis: Sova’s goals for 2013?  Is there anything that you would like to, or have, achieved or accomplished?

For the rest of the year, it's all about finishing another LP.  Plus maybe surfing again.  So far, the tour with Purling Hiss was epic and the 7" with Richie feels fucking alright.  Recently, I played as part of a huge ensemble of Chicago heads that performed Terry Riley's epic piece, In C.  That ruled.

I’ve got a serious addiction to physical music, it’s inescapable for me.  Having something to hold in my hands, artwork to look at and liner notes to read, it all makes for a more complete listening experience; at least for me.  Do you have any such connection with physical releases?

Totally.  That's how I connect, too.  I have very little affinity for consuming music digitally.  Nothing seems real until I can hold it in my hand, recorded music especially.

There are plenty of ways of looking at the digital era of music, blessing or curse.  As an artist during the reign of the digital age what’s your opinion on digital music and distribution?

I guess the right answer here is that it's essential for everyone to have their music available digitally in some way.  Not necessarily for purchase, but at least to hear, like streaming or whatever, since humans use the internet as their number one resource for discovering everything.  That said, Richie and Kill Shaman are essentially vinyl only, and I think they're appealing to a market that is interested in vinyl more than anything, so it tends to work out.  I say just buy the format you want and live with it.  I go for physical product, but for those that look for digital, all I can hope is that they consider that the music took time and money to create and that they consider its value before hocking it to their pimply friends.  And for the record, Spotify is nobody's friend when it comes to compensating musicians.  If Spotify were an ice cream flavor, it'd be pralines and dick.

Do you have a music collection at all?  If so can you tell us a little bit about it?

Couple thousand LPs, yeah…  Recently been listening to a lot of Sandy Bull, Link Wray, those Hardcore Devo LPs that just came out…  Always have some Alice Coltrane nearby, and some Groundhogs and some 70s era Miles…  Chrome and Eno…  Recently discovered a band called Jade Warrior from the 70’s on the Vertigo label that are like weird, minimalist prog…  I typically like a lot of music made in the 70’s, lots of LPs from then and the 60’s and 80’s as well.

Do you have a preferred medium of music for release?  With all the various mediums available to artists these days I’m always curious why artists choose the particular ones that they do?  What about when you are buying music?

Vinyl, all the way.

I told you before I was addicted to music and I am not joking.  I spend way too much time every week scouring the internet and flipping through bins at the local shop so when I talk to a musician I always make sure and ask for some recommendations.  Who should I be listening to from your local scene or area that I might not have heard of?

Check out The Hecks, CAVE, Bichin Bajas, Running, Deep Sleep, Cairo Gang, Golden Birthday and Angel Olsen.

(2011)  Axis: Sova – I Feel Like Laying Low b/w Dopamine Boomerang – 7” – Licking River
(2012)  Axis: Sova - Weight Of A Color – 12” – Kill Shaman Records
(2013)  Axis: Sova - Past The Edge b/w Grading With A Curve – 7” – Richie Records/TestosterTunes

Interview made by Roman Rathert/2013
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