As one of the top albums of the year, Junius' "Reports From The Threshold Of Death" saw some serious time in our rotation. So, we can't even begin to describe what an honor it is to have guitarist Michael Repasch-Nieves and guitarist/vocalist Joseph E. Martinez sit down to answer questions about the album, their sound, and touring plans.
First and foremost, we want to thank you for taking time out of an increasingly busy schedule to answer some questions for us. Passing the album around the office, the one word we all used to describe it was "honest." No gimmicks, no tricks, no fancy effects or production. Listening to the finished product, how does it feel to make a true heavy rock record without all the bells, whistles, and over polished music?
Joseph: I thought this album was really polished? Well, I'm glad you guys liked the production. I think the vocals are pushed out a lot more on this album, which definitely make me feel a bit naked.
Michael: I think I know what you might mean about the production. Believe me, we did a lot of work on getting it to sound the way it does, but we also wanted it to feel and sound more like we do live than our previous albums, which I think/hope we accomplished.
The album title and artwork seem to go hand in hand. Can you give us a little insight into the album artwork, and what the different elements represent? Also, what was the idea behind the art on the physical disc itself?
Joseph: When I started writing Reports, I had some rough visual ideas for the artwork. I sent Ira some photos of the sistine chapel and a clip of Marco Brambilla's "Civilization" and some various other pictures. Ira took off from there. I think Mike was with him for some of the designing, so he can explain the specifics better.
Michael: Yeah, I worked alongside Ira and sort of "art directed…" We spent a lot of time at the NY Public Library picture archives which is kind of like the original "google image search." It's a room filled with shelves upon shelves of folders of photos and illustrations, organized by subject. Ira spent days there poring through the catalogue and scanning in images ranging in topic from "Heaven and Hell" to "The Tibetan Book of The Dead." We also watched Terence Malick's The Tree of Life, which along with Darren Aronofsky's The Fountain, were visual influences. The art on the front cover represents the darker side of the soul's journey—the trials and judgements—while the back represents the peace that comes ultimately. The inside gatefold represents the sort of "shoreline" described in the lyrics and which is also depicted in The Tree of Life.
Industry "insiders" now predict that labels will abandon the physical CD format by the end of next year. How do you feel about this assertion? Do you think a "digital only" approach will affect the way you make music and conceive your artwork?
Joseph: CDs will eventually go away and everything will be digital, but I think the gap the CDs leave will be picked up by vinyl records. There will always be people who want to escape into a record and artwork helps facilitate that need. That's kind of our duration template for writing albums now. If the world lost all its electricity tomorrow you could still find a way to listen to a vinyl record.
Michael: Yeah, the purity of vinyl is something that won't be going anywhere for a while. We're now writing albums for vinyl as opposed to CDs in the sense that we make sure the album can fit on one LP (or two, depending on the speed), and keeping in mind the track/side breaks, which is a fun limitation to have and keeps us from going out of control in a sense.
The lyrics, thankfully, stray for the rock/metal cliches that dominate so many albums. That is to say, they contain an emotional edge. The subject matter, drawn from Velikovsky and picking up where your previous full length left off, is bleak, but rich. What is the process like when writing a Junius song, lyrically?
Joseph: Depends on the album, but lyrics come generally after the music is finalized. With "Reports" the vocals and lyrics were more present in the early writing stages. The concept was actually the first step. Then lots of reading of said concept. Once I feel familiar enough with the concept, I'll break the album into 10 or so parts/songs and then fill the parts with the appropriate music and vocals. The more research and immersion I give myself the more my subconscious will take over when I write the lyrics.
Now that the album has been released, and it is officially out of your hands, how do you feel about the finished product? Do you think this collection of ten songs best represents you as band, as musicians and as people?
Joseph: The album came out better than expected. I'm really happy with how everything sounds, which is a "first" for me to say. I wouldn't say any album "best" represents us, but it represents a part of us. I don't think it sounds like our last album and I hope it won't sound like our next. Our goal at this point is to fully realize a concept and create a world anyone can lose themselves in.
Michael: Sonically, it's definitely the first one we've done where I feel like it actually came out how we hoped and intended. Musically, we wrote and recorded this album in a much shorter time than the previous one and had a pretty strict deadline, so I do think we could have spent more time with it. Though, the album wouldn't have been able to come out in 2011 and the things we would have added may not necessarily have made it a better album or one worth waiting longer for, maybe just one with more of the bells and whistles you mentioned earlier.
The press for the new album has been overwhelmingly positive. We have yet to see a negative, or even neutral, review. How does it feel to have an album that is not only well received by your most die hard fans, but praised by music critics the world over?
Joseph: It feels great... Martyrdom was the same way, but none of it matters unless we can play our music for the masses. If only we could get paid with good reviews....
Michael: Yeah, unfortunately, it's not possible to stuff some good reviews into an envelope and pay your bills with them… But of course it feels great, and among other things, keeps us going.
One thing that seems to crop up in some forums and discussions with fans is the perceived similarities with the Deftones. Is that a comparison you have heard before, and how do you feel about that thought?
Joseph: "From The Isle of the blessed" off our 1st EP got that comparison too. We love the deftones, so it's a compliment. I definitely knew it was coming after finishing the vocals for "Dance on Blood" and "Betray the Grave." Other than those 2 songs, I really don't hear too much deftones though. Maybe guitar tone-wise?
Your Facebook page seems to be alive with activity since the release of "Reports From The Threshold Of Death." From press wanting to share their views and reviews, to fans showering you with praise and admiration. What does it mean to you to be able see all of these messages, and to connect with these people so easily?
Joseph: It keeps us wanting to write and play more... That's what motivates us to get on the road.
We were fortunate enough to see you perform in New York City, on your recent stint in support of Alcest and Enslaved. What was that tour experience like for you, as a band? What was it like touring with such a diverse set of bands?
Joseph: You couldn't have asked for a better group of humans. No egos. Just a bunch of dudes playing loud music.
Michael: The audiences were really open-minded and enthusiastic across the board, too. We were curious how the lineup of our three bands was going to go over with some of the metal crowds, but it was totally awesome. Such a great tour.
On that same theme, there is something very powerful about your live show. The crowd in New York seemed to be very into your set, whether they had heard you before or not. What goes in to planning a set list for a tour of this nature?
Joseph: For this tour I could only bring 1 guitar, so we played all the songs that were in our drop A# tuning. We even played "In The Hearts of Titans" a whole step down. It worked out perfectly though. The new album is mainly in drop A# as well as our song from the Rosetta split, so we got to play a bunch of new stuff.
Michael: In general, we try to find a balance of songs that are powerful and fun to play live, and also flow together well as a set. We're starting to phase out some of the oldest stuff, since it doesn't feel like it belongs in a set with our newer material. Of course we'll bring back some of the old songs from time to time, but the feeling and atmosphere we create with our music now to us seems many steps beyond where we were in 2003.
What are your touring plans looking like for the duration of 2011, and the beginning of 2012? Who can we expect to see you sharing a stage with in the coming months?
Michael: We're not doing much for the winter, but we'll be hitting the road again early next year, first doing the US in February and March, then back to Europe in April. Since the tours haven't been announced officially yet, I can't say who we're touring with, but I will say we're excited for both of the tours currently on the Junius calendar.
Over the course of your career, your music has continued to grow and evolve into the atmospheric wall of sound that it is today. A move to a larger label seemed imminent, from a business standpoint. How has your recent partnership with Prosthetic Records impacted your growth as a band?
Joseph: Too early to tell. I haven't noticed a big jump in new fans yet. 2012 should be an interesting year for us though.
When you find yourself with some spare time, whether it be on the road or at home, what albums have consumed you recently? Who are some of YOUR favorite bands?
Joseph: I've been rocking out to the 1st crow soundtrack a lot since Halloween. That shit's so good. Some of my favorite bands are too many to list, but here's a handful... Bedhead, Failure, Hum, Philip Glass (not a band, I know), M83, Mew, SDRE, Tears for Fears, The Smiths, Clint Mansell...
Michael: Lately I haven't been able to stop listening to the new M83. Just saw them play in NYC the other night and it was one of the best shows I've ever seen. Some of my favorite albums of the past year include the new City of Ships, Grails, Hooray for Earth, Circle Takes The Square, Mastodon, Tombs, Washed out, Tycho, and Wolves Like Us. All-time favorites are pretty much everything Joseph mentioned and more…
We know the new album was just released, but has there been any thought put into the story and concept for the next chapter? Where can we expect things to go from here?
Joseph: Good question. Been trying to figure that out. I feel like it wants to be more of an abstract concept, which I loathe... I'll just have await further instructions.
Thank you again. Not only for giving us the opportunity to conduct this interview, but for making an album that fans of heavy music can appreciate. Your talents are much appreciated.
Joseph: Thank you.
Michael: Thank YOU very much!