An Interview With The Living Fields Guitarist/Bassist Jason Muxlow

It’s really difficult to begin to describe The Living Fields for the uninitiated. They seem like a standard doom metal band at first, but then the violins/violas come in, along with the multiple vocal styles. All of a sudden, this unassuming doom metal band has traversed through genres ranging from progressive rock to death metal. It’s a sound that is equally confusing and mesmerizing. Their second album, “Running Out Of Daylight,” makes you work for its attention. After the first dozen listens, it starts to pay off.

What’s most amazing about “Running Out Of Daylight” is that the album was done by long-distance communication. The band members are scattered throughout all parts of the world, and it took guitarist/bassist Jason Muxlow years to get everything together. Muxlow is the main composer of the band, and oversaw the whole creation of the album. I had an opportunity to speak to Muxlow in early August about “Running Out Of Daylight” and how long-distance songwriting works.

Heavytothebone2: Trying to put The Living Fields into a certain musical genre is pretty much impossible. When you started the band, what made you want to defy any traditional sound?

Jason Muxlow: I don’t think there was any intentional defiance. Honestly, the first thing I said to Jon (Higgs, vocalist) was, ‘I want to write some My Dying Bride kind of stuff and you do some death growls.’ That was it. It just kind of grew from there. I have very eclectic taste musically, and I was running from 2000-2008. Everyday, I was being inidated with every kind of metal scene imaginable, so it sort of seeped in. Once you started playing with ideas, and you realize, ‘Oh, this kind of works, this is kind of cool,’ you don’t have to be pigeon-holed into this or that.

Heavytothebone2: In your mind, how long did it take you to find the perfect balance between the traditional doom stuff and orchestral/string stuff?

I think we’re still getting there. This record is a big improvement over the last one. It’s much more cohesive. It doesn’t feel as fractured. Some of the reviews we get are either, ‘Oh, this is great. This is so weird,’ and others are, ‘Oh, this is crap. It’s too crazy. This doesn’t make any sense.’ We’re still really finding that. I think the balance is trying to write a song that’s not just trying to cram a bunch of different parts in. Some people don’t hear a song; I certainly do. I know when I listen to “Bitterness,” there’s not too much in there that I could take out. We struggled with that; can we do the songs shorter? They’re too god damn long. At the end of the day, that’s as short as we can make them without tearing something out that was integral.

Heavytothebone2: But you have a song on there “When The Walls Go Up,” which is only three minutes. Was that song longer at first or was it always intended to be a short blurb?

That was always going to be short and acoustic. I remember writing it and it was probably the nicest thing I ever written on acoustic. I came up with a little fragment of a vocal melody and realized, ‘This is cool.’ Got it to Jon and he did what he did with it, which is great.

Heavytothebone2: What’s interesting about the album is you have a song like “When The Walls Go Up” and then the song after that is “Bitterness,” and they are two completely different songs. When you are writing these songs, are you in certain mindsets to write a song like the former that’s different than writing for the latter?

It’s tough to talk about some of this, because a lot of stuff was written a long time ago, and I honestly don’t remember where I was and what I was doing when some of this stuff was written. “Bitterness” was a really tough song to pull together. It took a long time. “When The Walls Go Up” feel together in three to four hours. “Glacial Movements” went together really easily. I don’t think there’s any conscious like, ‘I’m going to write a really upbeat, anthemic song,’ and then “Glacial Movements” comes out of that thought. I’m constantly writing. That’s one thing I can do. I’m not much of a guitar player, but I can write. You get two or three hours of material and you pare it down to, ‘All right, what are we going to put on this album? What can we actually finish?’ Certain things come up, like ‘Okay, ‘Glacial Movements’ is going to be our anthemic kind of single. ‘Remnant’ will be kind of short, and then we got the long epic.’

Heavytothebone2: With all that material made up, was it hard for the band to cut it down into the hour that showed up on “Running Out Of Daylight”?

Yeah, it took a while. I’d say that we had a good three hours of material that was demoed out. I’m not saying it was all great. I had three hours of stuff that was either leftover from the last record, written since it, or stuff that Samu (Rahn, guitarist) and I have been tweaking and thinking about. From that, we narrowed it down to what was the closest to being finished. I think we had 10 songs at one point, and then there were a couple of obvious cuts. The one song that didn’t make it was called “Apathy” and that’ll show up on the next one. That one got cut because it was seven-and-a-half minutes long, it was thrashy, and it didn’t fit with what was going on with the rest of this record. We probably spent the most time working on that tune and at the end of the day, it didn’t even make the record. That one hurt; the others didn’t at all.

Heavytothebone2: In your mind, what are the major steps forward the band made between this album and the self-titled release?

Bringing Samu on was a big deal. He’s a really good writer and more important for me, he helps me stay on track. Honestly, I don’t know if this record would have been finished if he hadn’t come in. At no point did I say or think about not finishing it, but it languished for a good year-and-a-half, where I couldn’t look at it. Every time I opened it, something would go wrong technically, and you would beat your head against the wall for six months or a year and it never gets better. It’s really tough to keep it going. Him coming on was a big part of it. He turned out to be a great writing partner. I don’t know that he contributed a lot of music to it. He certainly contributed parts. A really good thing that he did was I could bounce song ideas off of him. He was a big help like that.

There were two more steps forward. The guy who mixed it, Jay (Walsh), he was just a godsend. With the last record, we finished tracking it and I spent almost a year screwing around with it to no point. It was not that much better when I was done than nine months earlier. When Jay agreed to do this, all I wanted to do was finish tracking and I could sent the stuff and not worry about the mix. I didn’t have to worry about EQ’s or things crashing or this and that. He took care of all of that for us and he helped us make some good decisions.

The third one would be the string players. Those guys elevated it in an enormous way. Chuck (Bontrager), the violinist/violist, is a great guy. Petar (Kecenovici), the cellist, came in last minute. We thought we were done and I was just going to live with a cello sampler. I got him through a recommendation, called him up, he came over, and did his parts in a session. He came over for a couple of hours and blew through it.

Heavytothebone2: The band members are scattered across all parts of the world. How long did it take for the band to find an effective system for writing material?

It was up to this record. Last record, we sort of had it right. This one, we finally understood how to do it. The trick is you demo it out with a click, and with some fake drums, and get a tight guitar performance. You don’t need a bass, but you have to get at least one or two guitar going; all the rhythms done. It doesn’t have to sound good, but it has to be super tight to that click. You send that to your drummer. He listens to it, listens to the click, gets rid of the fake drums, plays along to it as tight as he can. He sends that back, and inevitably, there’s going to be some differences. You end up tracking all that stuff over again. We basically recorded the guitar tracks twice. Once that’s done, then you can do the bass, and then you can send it off to the singer. We’re still learning how to handle vocals. Jay had a lot of advice for us on how we should do the next record. All that stuff comes back to me, I rough it in, and send it to Jay or whoever is mixing it. Then they take over from there.

Heavytothebone2: Do you see yourself using that strategy on future records?

Only if we have to. It’s horribly tedious, but the odds of getting Chad and Jon over here to track their parts is pretty slim. So yeah, that’s how we’ll do the next one.

Heavytothebone2: What are some of the advantages and disadvantages to long-distance communication in terms of songwriting?

I think it depends on your attitudes to songwriting. I really like a democratic approach. My other band, Earthen Grave, you come in with riffs and then you jam on them and everybody kicks them around and you end up with an Earthen Grave song, rather than the song you brought to the group. I really enjoy that. With The Living Fields, it’s entirely on me to write stuff and make sure it’s good. I’ve tried to ask Jon, ‘What do you think?’ and the most I get out of him is, ‘Yep, that’s good,’ or ‘No, that’s not good.’ There’s really no going back and forth. You lose sitting in a room and kicking ideas around and that sucks if you like a democratic stuff.

If you like to rule with an iron fist, and just dictate people, long-distance works great because you’re not going to listen to them bitch and you’re not going to see them get mad. It eliminates all the personal stuff.

Heavytothebone2: As a guitarist, what fuels your creativity when you sit down and write a song like “Perseverance” or the title track?

There’s a number of things. Sometimes, just listening to a band and getting excited. I’m 37 and when I pick up a guitar and I hear a really good record, I still get the same feeling I got when I was 14. That has never gone away. Sometimes, it’ll be film. I really like film. That’s a big inspiration, especially soundtracks/scores.

Heavytothebone2: One of the most ambitious pieces is the 16 minute title track. The band has done a few songs with double digit length, but what brought on the idea for “Running Out Of Daylight”?

I had a ton of riffs with the same sort of key, the same kind of vibe. The more I put them together, the more I realized that they all really did belonged together. It’s a long song. It’s a lot to ask anyone to sit through. I don’t know if I would sit through a 16-minute song. All those riffs came out around the same time. There was a couple in there I had been saving for a few years, for something really good and really big. Once I saw where this was going, I was like, ‘Okay, this is my chance to really pull all of this stuff together.’ Some people hate it because it’s too long. I personally love it.

Heavytothebone2: Other than the song’s length, why do you think people are not gravitating towards that song?

I hope it’s not because it sucks (laughs). 16 minutes is a long time. Our stuff is not background music. If you put it on in the background, it comes off as chaotic and all over the place. I think if you sit down and listen to it, it does make sense and it does flow and those pieces do move from one to another nicely. That’s a lot to ask someone.

Heavytothebone2: If you met somebody, and you were introducing them to the band and this album, would there be a song you would tell people to listen to in order to ease them into The Living Fields’ sound?

Probably “Glacial Movements.” It’s the catchiest thing on there and it seems to be the easiest thing to get your head around. That one’s not a complicated song. It’s quite simple.

Heavytothebone2: Not only are all the lyrics up on the band’s web site, but detailed descriptions are given for each song. What facilitated the need for the band to do this?

I think Jon writes great lyrics. When we first started, I had only heard his Monsterworks stuff and Monsterworks is loose and thrashy and really fun, but I never heard him go as deep as we do. He writes beautifully. He’s smart and he doesn’t write cliches too much. He just writes really good stuff. When you have a lyricist like that, you should showcase it. With the explanations, I just like that stuff. When I get a CD and I open the booklet and it’s got a little explanation of what the song was about, that is the coolest thing ever.

Heavytothebone2: Is there one song in particular you enjoy from a lyrical standpoint?

“Running Out Of Daylight.” I didn’t know what to expect from that. I gave Jon some ideas on what I thought it could be about. He went off and less than two years later, he comes back and sings it. He’s got all the parts. To pull that together, something as goofy as writing a huge song about Galileo, that’s not very metal. He made a great story and great lyrics.

Heavytothebone2: What was the one valuable piece of knowledge that you took away from recording this album?

Learning when to let go would be a big one. Don’t just worry things to death. Don’t keep going over it again and again. In your head, not being afraid to say, ‘Okay, it’s done, it’s finished, and let somebody else mix it.’ That’s was a big one for me.

Heavytothebone2: Do you think you still struggle with that mindset a bit?

Yeah. We’re starting to look at the next record. We got an hour and a half of material to sift through. I don’t even know where to begin. Samu and I have to sit down and start talking about it, like ‘Which songs are we going to do? Which ones are we going to let go?’ Once I write something, I hate the idea of, ‘Okay, that’s going to go on the track and we’re going to throw it away.’ That’s really tough to do.

Heavytothebone2: When it comes to looking at the hour and a half of material, are you going to look at that first before writing new songs or are you always writing songs?

I haven’t been writing much Living Fields lately. So this next record will probably be pulling a lot from that. I don’t know. I would like to get a least one or two new bits from Samu and I, rather than just pulling from the vault.

Heavytothebone2: When you say you haven’t been writing much Living Fields, I would assume that means you’re writing stuff for Earthen Grave?

Yeah, that’s a whole different style of writing than I’ve ever really tried. I’m learning that and going back over that source material, those kind of more old-school, traditional bands. That’s really been occupying my time. Quite simply, The Living Fields is played on a 7-string and I’ve barely touched my 7-string in a year-and-a-half. So if I’m not playing it, then I’m not writing that stuff. If I’m not playing in E flat, then I’m probably not writing The Living Fields material.

Heavytothebone2: What’s the status of Earthen Grave? You guys working on a new album?

Album is going to mastering this weekend. Then we’re fishing out to try to find a new label. We start playing shows in September.

Heavytothebone2: If you could tour with one band, past or present, who would it be and why?

Off the top of my head, Paradise Lost circa “Icon,” Anathema circa “Serenades,” and My Dying Bride around “Turn Loose The Swans.” We would want to open for that. That’s a great tour.