Search the corners of Britain's heavy scene, from experimental hardcore to those who like their metal doused in flavors of all sorts, and Ithaca could be frontrunners for the owners of the greatest potential in all of her Majesty's kingdom.
Comprised of Sam Chetan-Welsh, Djamila Boden Azzouz, Will Sweet, Dom Moss, and James Lewis, Ithaca's 2019 debut album The Language Of Injury received critical praise, with performances alongside Big Thief, Employed To Serve, Venom Prison, Jamie Lenman, Anaal Nathrakh, and Bleeding Through signalling the emergence of a true contender for a group to watch in the decade.
Teasing a new album with Hassle Records with the messaging "They Fear Us" through a tripped-out video in late December, Ithaca's Chetan-Welsh sat down with Metal Injection for a deep dive into new material, pushing through emotional and physical pain, renouncing limits and labels and his admiration for Rivers Of Nihil and Every Time I Die.
It’s exciting times in the Ithaca camp, and it must feel like a long time coming. But in a lot of ways, The Language Of Injury must not feel that long ago. Is it kind of a thing where you’re ready to get this out, but at the same time does it feel like it's coming on fast?
Yeah, good question. I don't know, in a sense it feels like another lifetime, obviously, because we have the pandemic in between. And in a sense it feels like we pressed the giant pause button, you know? Because we were sort of in the touring cycle for Language Of Injury, when the pandemic hit. We were on tour… about to travel up into Scandinavia to play the biggest venues we've ever played.
I think what I find interesting is that we've been sat on this album with a new look, and a kind of a whole new thing. And so we feel there. But obviously people still remember us as the band we were two and a bit years ago. So in some ways it feels like we're a lot further ahead than our fans, which is a weird thing. Just that loss of linear time, you know?
I know you guys jumped in terms of having a lot more studio time for this record, which obviously must have been a gift. Do you find something like the pandemic has really afforded you more time than you ever would have imagined, where you have been able to mix things up, experiment, try new things. With a lot of artists that's really been the case where we're losing these dates, losing the touring and the bread and butter live stuff. So we really do have that time to dedicate to playing around and maybe taking time to experiment.
Yeah, that's a really interesting one. Because I think, on the one hand, that's definitely true. Because I think when people listen to this album, it's a lot more experimental. And there's some choices that I think might make people even raise their eyebrows, like are you sure you guys want to do that kind of thing? And we're just like, yes, sorry, we do. Because that's where we felt like we jumped creatively. We took a lot more risks over the pandemic. And a lot of that, to be honest, actually came from me as the main sort of riff writer.
I was the one who was working on like program drum loops, synth parts, and being like what do we think guys? And the guys were really up for it. I was sort of stuck in my loft, as you say, being able to toy around with things that in my normal life I never would have. On the other hand, I think our creative flow is strongest when we're all together. So I bring near complete songs or riffs to the guys and then when they've been through the process of us all working on them together they become very, very different things because I think we bounce off each other really, really nicely. So it's not that me and Djamila go away like some bands, I produce everything and I go away and then the guys learn. It's not that straightforward. So we did miss out on a lot of that creative flow.
But yeah, as you said, we've also taken a lot more risks because I had the time and also the isolation just provoked a lot… I think it sent me a bit crazy, certainly. And I think that I was listening to a lot more music after the pandemic. I dug into a lot of albums and styles and genres that I hadn't before. I listen to a lot more jazz, I got a lot deeper into the 70s prog stuff. So yeah, I think the range of influences was wider as well.
I always appreciate that, particularly with bands on the heavier spectrum, when they can adapt to different styles. I think of Between The Buried And Me with those jazzy influences, or Rivers Of Nihil that made some incredibly interesting instrumental choices and interesting soundscapes. It's far from cookie-cutter. And I love that you guys took risks on this one, especially coming off an album where there was a lot of acclaim and you could have just rested on your laurels.
Thanks, man. Yeah I mean, I really love that. And I love that you referenced those two bands because it's funny, although we come from the hardcore scene relatively, the heavy band who I think we've been most inspired by in the last five years has been Rivers Of Nihil, for sure. Like obviously they're fucking incredible. They're amazing musicians, extremely, extraordinarily good. There's something about the bravery of some of the choices that I think we found very inspiring and I think we felt the same way with other more sort of hardcore end of the spectrum. Bands who genuinely are trying to push the edges aesthetically as well as musically, are the bands that we really look to… It's the bands who just refuse to be limited by their genre conventions who we are most inspired by.
And before I get more into the album, you mentioned hardcore and I saw you guys posted kind of lamenting the demise and really sad turn of events surrounding Every Time I Die. Would that have been a band you guys emulated or looked up to personally or professionally?
Hugely, hugely. I mean, they were formative for all of us. There's only a small group of bands that all of us like. Actually, we all have quite different music tastes. And Every Time I Die is one of the few where actually all of us not only like them, but we're hugely inspired by them. They've just never had a bad record. I'm preaching to the choir here. But like they've just never done a bad record. Every record has been incredible. I don't understand. It never made any sense to me that Every Time I Die were playing for 1,000, 1,500 people. It never made any sense. I was like, what? What are we missing here? Like we just took them for granted.
It was shared that a very personal trip for you to India following the passing of your mother influenced the formation of a lot of ideas in this record. Would you dive a bit into that incredibly personal trip that influenced the overarching themes for songs from that personally and spiritually fulfilling journey?
Yeah, man. And I really appreciate that question. I'm very, very happy to talk about it because it's one of the things I'm proudest of in terms of how the record has turned out and that the themes and the ideas. Again, part of that is a big part for me as of why this record is such a step up, because I think the band sounds more unapologetic in terms of who we are. If there is an overarching concept to the album, which we feel there is… it's about being unapologetic, standing in our identity, standing in our ancestry.
Being in a band for nearly a decade, and watching how the hardcore scene has confronted, for example, and had to confront anti-racism and has to confront lack of diversity in those spaces, complacency about the kind of voices that were being uplifted, this album is about standing unapologetically in those identities. Also the less political, or I guess, more emotional side of it is I lost my mom just before the recording of the last album. In some ways that album was being recorded in the immediate aftermath of that. And this album has a lot more to do with healing. How does healing happen and healing not being a linear thing.
I'm sure she won't mind me telling you that our vocalist's mum is also unwell. And there's a track later on the album called "Fluorescent" which is very raw and vulnerable about that experience, which resonated with me so deeply because I've been through the same experience. I think, basically, we're allowing our listeners and allowing our fans, if such fans exist, more into who we are. We're more self-expressed, we're more honest. And also we're more confrontational. We're saying look, this is who we are, we're not going to compromise anymore, we're not going to be followers, we're just going to do exactly what we want to do. And I think that comes through in the aesthetic and the music, the choices, all that kind of stuff.
And you kind of answered this, but exploring it a little deeper. Personally is that fulfilling being able to incorporate some of those sounds and ideas on a record, owning your Indian heritage or for Djamila being a proud woman in a hardcore scene and talking about it and illustrating those themes. You guys really are owning all this and not shying away from it in a scene where maybe 20 years ago was not quite as inclusive.
Totally. I mean, you put that very well. I would even build on what you said. We first started playing shows in 2013, I remember really vividly being like, oh I'm the only Indian bloke and she's one of the only women and she's also got Middle Eastern ancestry. And it's a bit interesting. And having some conversations with people where I was like, oh don't you think it's interesting, we just don't have a very diverse scene and people reacting really defensively. 'It's not about that, we're not racist!" and all this sort of stuff. And people were just so not ready to even have a surface level conversation about representation back then. And one of the reasons why we are who we are now, as I said, we're just not gonna apologize for it anymore.
This is the album we always wanted to create, in many ways. This is the presentation and everything about it, kind of the influence from queer art, and from queer fashion and all sorts of other things that are gonna come when you see the videos, and all that stuff combined with ancestry is about us being like, yeah, you know what? Back when we first started we really did limit ourselves because we thought that we were gonna get judged. We tried to cram ourselves into a very narrow lane, because that's what everyone was doing. If you wore the wrong type of jeans, or makeup or whatever people were like, what's that? Now we're just like no, no, fuck it. Luckily the doors are being kicked open to allow us to do that. But also we feel like there are bigger doors to be kicked down that we can help in our own small way to push.
It really seems like you guys put body and soul into this process. You shared the fact that you became ill and had shingles doing this, that there were car incidents. It seems like when you guys go all in on a record, you really go all in. There's no in between.
No, there isn't (laughs). One of the reasons why I got sick is because this project meant so much. We all put so much of ourselves into it. There's always people throwing up and people crying and these things are just part of our recording process, I think (laughs). Certainly for both album one and two. But the extra added element of having to go to the Southampton University Hospital walk-in clinic because I had shingles and I didn't really know what was happening to me.
A part of it was that I was really tired from work. But the the main reason was because as you say, all of us just believed in this so much and we cared so much and we really fucked around with minute details and the right synth sound tones, the complexity of a lot of the parts that we're all recording and the layers and the textures. The ambition was just so so much bigger than on the last record. That did mean that I got sick, and I cared so much about making it work and making the best possible record. We gave a lot of ourselves to make this record for sure.