July 9, 2020 Interview – Michael Zech of Secrets of the Moon
An honest artist is an artist who is always in flux. Germany’s veteran sonic adventurers Secrets of the Moon may have begun amid the dark and occult world of Black Metal, but the journey they have undertaken has led them down corridors even they themselves did not expect.
Black House, their latest album, and a daring, fearless masterpiece at that, solidifies the direction they have been hinting at of late, pushing them into spheres previously unoccupied. Recently Guitarist Michael Zech sat down to provide a glimpse into the world of the black house and those who can be found within its shadowy depths.
Cryptic Rock – You originally became a member in Secrets of the Moon in 2009. How did you come to join the band, and what has the journey been like from then until now?
Michael Zech – Secrets Of The Moon’s original drummer at that time, Thelemnar, and I were friends. We’d been planning on creating a couple of musical projects together. During a recording session of SOTM’s fourth full-length, Privilegivm (2009), the band and their guitarist parted ways. With a tour pending directly to follow after the recording, Thelemnar reached out asking if I’d be interested in lending a hand. Promptly learning the material, I showed up. I’ll never forget that first and only rehearsal where everything clicked instantly, as if it were meant to be all along.
We went on to tour excessively after that rehearsal, and then it came time to focus on writing the next album. Phil asked if I’d be interested in joining the songwriting process with him. There, we found great chemistry in creating music together. Because of our different strengths in areas of expertise, we are able to challenge one another. This has propelled our works together throughout the years.
CrypticRock – Certainly a match that has led to some fantastic art. Black House recently came out in May and it is quite a stunning and deeply involved creation. What was the writing process like for this new album?
Michael Zech – Phil and I reside in different parts of our country, making it unrealistic to stick to a usual rehearsal routine. We over-pass this by first working on music separately, then sending each other sketches and demos back and forth. The demos we initially create are on purpose not elaborate, as to keep room for potential experimentation once inside the studio.
On Black House we became obsessed, working on its final arrangements for over one year after the first recording session. We wanted to give the record a sort of streamlined, straight-forward vibe that bears a lot of mystical depth at the same time. There’s a lot going on to giving each song that subtle deepness.
Recently, when I opened up some of the recording files, I became inspired to having fun, further experimenting with them. I realized that if I change the priority of a track here and there, how a song could turn out forming a completely different vibe and sound.
I’ve built up a musical profession from being an engineer/producer, to owning and operating a studio that we’re able to work inside of. This enables us to not having to answer to anyone. We have control, time, and privacy to complete the tremendous work it takes to write, record, edit, mix, and so on without losing imagination or creativity due to constraints or limitations.
Cryptic Rock – That seems to be quite a productive and unfettered creative process. Black House is a bit of a sonic departure from the traditional sound of Secrets of the Moon, yet hints of the stylistic shift could be seen coming on 2015’s Sun album, and even earlier. Did the band intend to adopt this sound as opposed to the rougher, more Death-tinged earlier material?
Michael Zech – These changes are not drastic to us. They arrive from a development that feels natural. I see music as fluid. Something that is in constant change. A record is merely a photograph, representing the momentary state of affairs of its songs.
The turn we took on our former album, Sun, was in fact hinted on its predecessor, Seven Bells (2012). What we experienced with Sun, was headed onto Black House.
A crucial innovation on Black House was to not use the usual huge rhythm guitar tones that we were accustomed to. Instead, we created more room in the music; a less dense, more pristine sound-world. Suddenly, we realized how much more the canvas offered through that available space.
Cryptic Rock – Not a lot of bands are capable of stripping away that ‘wall of sound’ and exposing themselves to such a sonic palette. Well done. A number of guest appearances help make Black House an even more engaging listen. What was it like to work with these great musicians, as well as with the talented Jarboe?
Michael Zech – Believe it or not, not even one of those guest performances had been planned. Yet, each and every appearance added an additional color, serving the record perfectly.
These special artists had been or are colleagues in one way or another. During the periods in which I was revisiting edits for Black House, most of these guests were passing through or nearby, curious or interested in its dynamic of progress. Spontaneous experiments on passages evolved songs into what they grew to be.
One exception from some of these in-house coincidences was Jarboe. As touring colleagues from 10 years ago, we always had it in the back of our minds to jointly cooperate someday. She recorded her contributions at her place in the US, and sent them over. We feel truly blessed to offer her voice on our album as well as deeply grateful to every guest that participated. It was a fantastic experience.
Cryptic Rock – That sounds truly amazing. The visual and sonic concepts going on in Black House are strongly tied together. What does the title mean to you and where did the inspiration for such an evocative concept come from?
Michael Zech – The entire in-depth concept and mythology around Black House mostly evolved after the record was finished. We envisioned the record having a strong visual side and so the concept naturally grew and grew.
If you consider Sun as being the intrusion into a new world under a new sun (what was to symbolize the re-invention of the band on many levels), we felt Black House cultivated this world, building a house; a monument. A feeling of home, but a strange place. It’s not attractive, but it’s ours. It’s an asylum, a sanctum. A prison, and a gateway at the same time. Every song “happens” in a different room, with a special item or piece of furnishing, representing a materialized memory. French Filmmakers Metastazis and Dehn Sora took on our ideas to their completion.
Cryptic Rock – This sort of depth of field within a Metal album is one thousand percent what needs to be valued as we drift into the ever more digital future. As both a composer and producer of your band’s music, what unique challenges or advantages does wearing both hats present to you while making an album?
Michael Zech – It can get a little schizophrenic. Our experimental approach would most likely drive an outside producer completely nuts. Being that it’s a crucial skill of any producer to immediately absorb an artist’s ideas, I’m alert to doing that with every “outside” band I’m working with. Maybe comparing it to a phenomenon like if a doctor is treated by another doctor. The more you know about the matter, the harder it is to trust an outside opinion.
In order to not lose objectivity, I weigh out the final mix together with my closest ally and colleague, V. Santura. We’ve worked together numerous times, nurturing a deep understanding of one another’s ideas. As an objective in the final stage, I’ve found that he spots obstacles that I might have taken for granted due to my own wild insanities.
Cryptic Rock – Your hard work has not gone unnoticed. The last question pertains to films. If you are a fan, what are some of your favorite Horror movies?
Michael Zech – Antichrist (2009) is an all-time favorite of mine. Incredibly beautiful, yet so painful to watch – That’s my kind of Horror. More currently, a movie that blew me away was Midsommar (2019). As I watched it in a large theater, it felt like a drug trip. A movie that can feel mind-altering is something quite powerful. Additionally, I was intrigued recently by the movies Mandy (2018) and The Platform (2019). Other recommendations that go without saying are bleak movies by the exceptional Filmmakers David Lynch and Lars Von Trier.