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Tech-Death Tuesday

GIGAN's Quasi-Hallucinogenic Sonic Landscapes Turns 10!

Next week we'll finish out 2021 here with the usual year in review feature listing a top 15 albums list along with other content. But before we get to that point, there's another item I wanted to get to earlier this summer but at least I got it done before the year ends.

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This year saw several high-profile releases hit notable anniversary dates, like the ones featured here for the 20th anniversary of Cryptopsy – And Then You'll Beg and the 10th anniversary of Fallujah – The Harvest Wombs. In line with those features, one of the best and brightest stars in the dissonant technical death metal sphere, Gigan, had their 2nd album, Quasi-Hallucinogenic Sonic Landscapes turn 10 earlier this summer. I have a short intro about the band and the release to share before we get into an interview with the band's mastermind; guitarist, and multi-instrumentalist, Eric Hersemann.

For those new to the band. Gigan was one of the first to follow in Gorguts footsteps, along with also being one of the first to carve out their own sound from that band's shadow in a multi-faceted way that was not merely dark and dissonant, it was also brutal and fast in a similar vein to Hate Eternal, often math-y in a DEP/mathcore sense without being mathcore per se, psychedelic and atmospheric at times, and also progressive tinged in the true sense of that term when it comes to music.

Gigan has been charting a multifaceted and unique extreme metal path all their own since 2007 when their (still impressive) initial three-song demo, Footsteps of Gigan was released. I first stumbled upon the band in 2008 and feel no shame in admitting how much fun I had doing drugs and putting their debut album, The Order of the False Eye, on almost every day in 2008. Fortunately, listening to any Gigan release feels like a drug trip even sober, it's a heavy, chaotic, trippy, and out-there experience that shakes even the most cynical listeners out of their slumber and into a trance of the band's own design. Just a few years later and the band would sign with Willowtip Records, whom they remain with into the present, and released their incredible sophomore album, Quasi-Hallucinogenic Sonic Landscapes that we're discussing today. If you're hearing about the band or release for the first time, you can check out the full release below before the interview part of this feature with Eric Hersemann begins.

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I’d like to start off with two questions (Before we delve into the
Quasi-Hallucinogenic… questions at the heart of this feature) that will help anyone new to the band learn a bit more about your history and what Gigan is all about.

1. Can you explain to our readers out there what your experience was like working PR for the now-classic Gorguts album, Obscura? Did that inspire the creation of Gigan later on in any way?

Eric: "Honestly what I remember the most about that release; publicity-wise, is that almost no one appreciated it among that era's metal media and magazines/fanzines. It’s super trendy to love that album now but we (Olympic Recordings) were able to sign Gorguts because no one wanted that material at the time. We had seen them perform it live though; due to them playing Chicago fairly frequently in that era, and knew the strength and creativity of that line-up and the music they created.

I was already writing weird and dissonant riffs for my bands back then but it was definitely inspiring to see Luc and Steeve stick to their guns despite their music being so ahead of its time and misunderstood. It was an honor to work with them and all the other Olympic bands, most of which I remain friends with to this day."

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2. For those who do not know, would you care to explain the band's interesting origins? Which in part consists of you and Randy Piro, both of whom played in Hate Eternal in different capacities before Gigan was born.

Eric: "I formed GIGAN after Diabolic (the band I moved to Tampa, Florida from Chicago for) was broken up by its founding member and after my time in Hate Eternal, which was shortly after Diabolic’s demise. I had already started writing what would become the first GIGAN songs in Chicago before I moved to Florida. Randy and I were in Hate Eternal at the same time and shortly after I quit Hate Eternal, Randy decided he wanted to leave Hate Eternal to be my rhythm guitarist/vocalist in GIGAN.

Obviously, there are plenty of extra details to this whole scenario but that’s the long and short of it. Randy was great to have in the band with me as he and I had a very strong bond of friendship and mutual musical and creative interests. I was sad to see him go but it allowed me the opportunity to truly express myself without creative or musically technical limitations. Once Randy was gone, I decided to avoid that same problem again by basically doing most everything creative by myself. And here we are; 16 years later, stronger and more killer than ever."

Is "Quasi-Hallucinogenic Sonic Landscapes" still largely about Kaiju-type monsters and alien worlds or are any songs not focused on those central themes Gigan has always been about? I’m specifically thinking of songs like the album closer “The Fathomless Echoes of Eternity's Imagination”. Which seems to hint at being about something more personal or introspective? If I’m wrong, do correct me?

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Eric: "Yes, those are the most common themes of my GIGAN lyrics. Imagination, monsters, and magick. “The Raven and the Crow” is an outlier, as it is about the ongoing development of personal individuality. “Fathomless…” is essentially about the endless passage of time and how humanity is just dust being blown about by the winds of more significant forces (another recurring theme in my lyrics)."

 Over the years, Gigan’s main constant has been you, Eric Hersemann. Would you care to explain how the vocalist (John Collett) and drummer (Kesava "Kaish" Doane) on Quasi-Hallucinogenic… came to join the fold for this release?

Eric: "The drummer Kaish was playing for Vital Remains at the time and we met while GIGAN toured with them. It was a similar situation as it was with Randy; whereby Kaish wasn’t happy in his situation and saw GIGAN as a band closer to his own personal interests. We also got along great, he was an amazing drummer and we had much in common, so it was an easy choice to make. John (vocals) was living in Tampa and singing for another band that broke up (very similar to my situation in Diabolic). They had opened for us and I thought he was awesome on stage, so I reached out to him and everything fell into place. Both of them did a great job for sure!"

The cover art clearly denotes some mix of sci-fi, psychedelia, and otherworldliness, which perfectly fits the music. Is there something hyper-specific that the cover art is supposed to convey?

Eric: "No, not really. I was really into the “hooded figure” thing and had used that concept for the first albums’ cover and wanted to keep that theme going. I gave Maxxx (artist) the overall concept I had in mind (mysterious hooded figure opening a portal into vast dimensions) and he ran with it. We went back and forth with different versions until I settled on what you know as the cover. He has been my main artist for GIGAN ever since."

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What was the writing process like for the album? I know you’re the main composer, so beyond how it came to be on your end, I’m also asking if the vocalist and drummer had any input or made contributions to the release on any songs? I’d assume maybe the drummer made more contributions you hadn’t written out than the vocalist since you write the lyrics and all?

Eric: "I am very specific with what I want and this album was no exception. One of the reasons past members have been unhappy at times is because of that specific, unwavering vision. I am a control freak, no doubt about it. All the lyrics were written by me as well as the vocal patterns. I instructed every line as John read/sang the lyrics off of a sheet of paper in the studio.

I gave Kaish very specific ideas of what I wanted and was very involved in everything he ended up doing. Think of it this way: I would play the riff, tell him what I wanted (type of blast or type of beat, when I wanted double bass or not, tempos, etc.) He could then “color it up” by choosing what cymbals or certain fills. He would bounce it off me and we would decide what we liked best, with me always having “executive veto” powers. He also contributed by adding his own flair to what I wanted, as well as the ability to use samples while we played live and cool stuff like that."

 While I have been a fan since 2008 when you dropped your first album, I didn’t see you all live until 2013 for the first time. Did the band do any tours in support of Quasi-Hallucinogenic… in 2012? If so, fill us in on the details and any memories or experiences you’d like to share about that?

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Eric: "We did a ton of touring for that record, as we always do but even more so back then. We toured with Belphegor, Neuraxis, Grave, Immolation, and quite a few others. It wasn’t until the third record that we were able to headline our own tours and choose who would open up for us. Tons of amazing fun was had but what goes on the road stays on the road!"

Given the benefit of hindsight, is there anything about Quasi Hallucinogenic you’d change now? Or would you keep it exactly as it is even if you were able to change it?

Eric: "Nope, it’s killer as it is. Each GIGAN record is its own beast with its own set of peaks and valleys. I love that record and everything about it."

 In many ways, Quasi-Hallucinogenic… felt like a massive evolution and expansion of the already well-developed sound the band showcased on album #1. Were you seeking to top that release consciously or was the 2nd album's explosive nature and growth more of a natural thing that happened on its own?

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Eric: "I feel the same way! I absolutely wanted to blow the first record away, in terms of creativity and pushing the envelope of extremity and unlimited expression. I used only my most intense and colorful ideas and concepts. Completely unrelenting for the most part.
The biggest change was that I no longer had to write riffs or lyrics with a guitarist/vocalist in mind. With a dedicated vocalist, I was able to write whatever music I wanted without having to worry about someone being able to sing and play them at the same time. I could be completely selfish and do whatever I wanted. It rules."

There’s still an ongoing debate in extreme metal when it comes to production, and specifically, drum production more than anything else. For those who don’t know, please share with our readers the band's philosophy regarding a love for more natural production and un-triggered drums in a band that is often incredibly fast? *Along with any other facet of this production approach you all take that longtime band ally Sandford Parker played a role in on this album/and throughout Gigan’s career?

Eric: "Yes, I see that somehow this has become a debate. I hate the sound of triggered drums and/or overproduced music of any style. It’s just not my thing. I grew up on analog recordings and that’s the sound I like. GIGAN’s production style is about natural sounds performed in a near-impossible way. I strive to make every release sound as natural as possible, while still retaining clarity. We have recorded to tape and what you hear is what you get! We don’t use triggers or a click live or in the studio. It’s just hard work, practice, and talent. Music is written and performed by humans and humans aren’t perfect. Deal with it, people! I have been very blessed with musicians that can handle this concept. Sanford and I have been friends since the mid-nineties and the first full-length album he ever recorded was one of my bands. We have a very similar philosophy when it comes to recording and an innate sense of what we both want. GIGAN will only ever record with Sanford. He is one of my closest friends and a brilliant engineer."

 Seeing as this was also the band's first release through Willowtip Records, how did that come to be? Were you all satisfied with Willowtip’s support of the release prior to it coming out and after?

Eric: "I wasn’t happy with Napalm Records (*Released Gigan album #1 in 2008) because they obviously had no idea what to do with us. We were too weird for them. I asked to be released and they happily obliged. I had several offers but I had been on major metal labels before and hated the culture at the time. Willowtip came through with a great budget and let me do whatever I wanted, with no exceptions. Things can always be better but Willowtip has been a great home for GIGAN and made us the priority we deserve to be. They have even gone so far as to use some of GIGAN’s aesthetics in some of their own ads and promo imagery. It’s an honor as Willowtip only has the best bands of each style and stays true to quality over marketability. Not to mention I was already a fan of the label."

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This might be a bit controversial but in my opinion, you all were clearly one of the first groups to follow in Gorguts footsteps. Along with also being one of the first to do so while clearly differentiating yourselves from them in a big way. Given how much the dissonant technical death metal scene has grown over time, do you feel you all don’t get your just dues at times? Or, is that something you don’t really care about?

Eric: "I agree, 100%. Controversial or not. We are clearly one of the first, along with a few others. We do not get the kudos we have earned but that’s my own fault, I think. I’m not interested in constantly filming myself playing guitar and posting to social media or having a significant social media presence. GIGAN doesn’t even have our own Bandcamp, Willowtip just did their own for us without my permission, haha. I’d rather have people “find” us, rather than constantly shove my music down people's throats. I turn down podcasts and interviews a lot. I did this one because it’s you, Austin. We create killer music, do amazing tours and I have made a decent amount of dough throughout my career, so what’s there to complain about?"

What are some of your musical influences? List as much as you want and go into as much detail as you’d like?

Eric: "Jimi Hendrix, Sadus, Autopsy, Iron Maiden, Mingus, Primus, Morbid Angel, Mr. Bungle, Coroner, Monster Magnet, Goblin, Hawkwind, Captain Beyond, early Slayer, early Megadeth, early Metallica, Van Halen, Immolation, Buckethead and so much more!"

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 When did you first start playing music? Was guitar your first instrument? When did you begin to pick up other instruments as well given the several other instruments you play on each Gigan release?

Eric: "I was nine when I first started guitar, it was my second instrument after the saxophone. I always liked weird stuff, so theremins and crazy sounds were always exciting to me. Guitar and bass are my true love of course."

Gigan has always had very interesting and unique titles for their releases. With Quasi-Hallucinogenic, can you specify what that means and what aspect of it is quasi-hallucinogenic or not? Is that about the monsters and aliens that fill Gigan's lore and them appearing real and unreal all at once? Or something else entirely?

Eric: "It’s quite a literal title actually. The songs are almost trance-inducing at times and almost always hallucinogenic in a way. Sonic landscapes are what GIGAN has always created. It’s the GIGAN Universe, please come and visit if you haven’t already?"

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What does the future for Gigan hold?

Eric: "We are chomping at the bit to record the next record and are just waiting to feel safe enough to tour again before we record it! Once that occurs we will be back with the attack, with the same lineup as the last record! My pals Nate (drums) and Jerry (vocals) are ready again to go ahead and lend their amazing talents as soon as the time arrives! We have a few festival dates on deck for 2022 but the details are still being worked out. My favorite thing is playing music live, so I can’t wait to get back to what we do best! In the meantime, we have some neat new merch and some surprises as well! Hopefully, we will see you all out there soon!"

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