When I set out to complete this review, I had intended for it to be just that–a review. But after learning more about the efforts behind the subject matter, a compilation entitled Tiny Gods Who Walk Beside Us, I had a few questions for the man behind the scenes. Well, actually, it’s a feline behind the scenes. Allow me to explain.
Ken, the front man of The Amaranth, is known to and loved by many musicians in the dark wave/electro/gothic/whatever-you-want-to-call-it scene. And when he and his lovely wife Rachel found out that their cat Freyja had an aggressive form of cancer, their world went into an emotional tailspin. But as love has proven in times of need, friends offered what they could to help. And that is how this incredible collection of music was born. Tiny Gods Who Walk Beside Us is a compilation fueled by compassion featuring several name-drop-worthy artists. In the interview below, I’ll let Ken explain the technical details on how the compilation came to be. But first, I’d like to highlight a few of the tracks. All of them are good. I’m being sincere about that statement. I am greatly impressed and wish I could go into great lengths about each of them, but you can also learn more details here on the Sounds and Shadows webzine page.
Tracks that stood out to me:
Dahlia by A Covenant of Thorns (The Joy Thieves remix) is a really well done, catchy song. It’s soothing in an old-school new wave sort of way. I enjoy getting into the feel of a song immediately. This one did that.
Deform (ESA remix) by Corlyx I seriously enjoyed. It’s dreamy, then intense. I imagined it being played at a spicy 1990s rave that had been crashed by latex-wearing goths. I mean, not that I did that in the 90s, but … ahem. Let’s just move on.
People Theater by Antipole with it’s soft, floating vocals gives this album a nice touch. This track contains intensive beats and a strong drive. It’s repeat-worthy, strong. Let’s just say, I’m now a fan.
Both of Me by Adoration Destroyed (Authentic Impulse remix) is cleanly produced, with a tight song structure and good flow. What more would you expect from Adoration? Erik and the people he works with know what they’re doing and they do it well.
Dark Crystal by Twin Tribes has an echoey, ultra 80s feeling to it. A nice take-me-back listen with that dark edge we have come to endear from the duo.
You Lied by Ritchual is well-crafted. It’s a very enjoyable track, slithering with nice, rich beats. It stuck with me for a while after listening.
DNA by 11grams took me to that industrial place I still love to go to. It’s lush, artistically detailed in every artifact, every beat. This is the type of track your brain will effortlessly slip into. This piece is one of my favorites on the compilation. But, hey, if you know me, you know what I like.
The mastering job on this album is seriously very exceptional, and was completed by Pete Burns of Kill Shelter.
The Amaranth track is very emotional. I’ll let you remain curious. Listening was difficult, because I knew it was from the heart. It’s as real af. And for some, that might take a minute to ingest. I’ll say it must have been difficult to take on this project, deal with unexpected medical bills, and somehow put together a compilation and record your own track for it. I’ll let Ken explain more in the interview I conducted.
1. I’m sure over that years you’ve built strong bonds with several artists, be it through sharing the stage with them, or by writing about them on your Sounds and Shadows online zine. Tell me how those connections helped create the Tiny Gods Who Walk Beside Us compilation.
Ken: The connections I’ve made in music are really my primary drive for it. I have no desire or illusions about getting rich and famous from music. I love to play and to write. The real reason it drives me is the friends I have made. When I started Sounds and Shadows it was just me drunk at 2 am writing love letters to some of the new bands I was finding. Twin Tribes album Shadows was my first. As I went on I found writing about and sharing other bands was a real catharsis for me. I started having a personal connection to the people making the music as much as the music itself. I think that is the real glorious thing about the internet age that wasn’t always true in the past. I had a lot of bands reach out after reviews or interviews and tell me how much it meant to them. Because people making art question themselves too. They have moments of why do I still do this. I encourage everyone to reach out and tell an artist why what they do matters. Better yet, buy some of their music and show them. When my youngest cat Freyja was diagnosed with a very aggressive cancer it was a terrifying time. I really didn’t know what to do or even if anything I did would make a difference. Some of these artists I met reached out and said “Ken, how can I help?” I really don’t have words to explain how much that meant to me. Many of them I had played with once, met once, or even only spoken to online. They came to me and offered me a song. As a song writer myself I really knew the value of what they were sacrificing for me. To complete a song is a lot of work. These people all stepped up for me and my family when I was lowest. I hate to sound cheesy but it really made me believe in how powerful kindness can be. It made me feel like doing this page really mattered. That these connections I had made were not superficial.
2. Set up the timeline for us … it had to be emotionally difficult. How were you able to focus on helping put together such a huge project while also dealing with your beloved ailing cat Freyja at home?
Ken: At the end of November Rachel noticed a lump on her inner back leg. Not a tiny one. The size of a golf ball, and firm. We went into panic mode, this was our baby (Only three years old). A lot of thoughts started going through our head. We went to a few vets and a cat oncologist who told us that it was cancer, and aggressive. They wanted to amputate the leg which they thought might save her. We had to move fast though. The operation was over $6000 but more than that was the very real possibility that we would put her through this life altering operation and it wouldn’t save her. Or that she wouldn’t be her sweet wonderful ball of joy self. We struggled with what to do but eventually opted for the surgery. In the end it was the best decision we could have made because our little goddess made a full recovery and the doctors feel confident all the cancer cells were gone. At this point my friends reached out and offered their help. At first I expected this to be much smaller, with just close friends. The outpouring of love from the community left me staggered. It kept growing. Bands who didn’t know each other but met through the project started discussing collaborations. Pete Burns (Kill Shelter) offered to master the compilation. That is a lot of work, and he took it on. Kate McFarland offered to do the cover art. I feel like she captured the concept of offering homage to these tiny proud gods that stand beside us in this life. Bands kept pouring in with songs. Collin my rock and fellow Amaranth member helped me organize and put everything together. Then Slade Templton of (Crying Vessel) offered to release the compilation on his label. William Zimmerman offered to help with PR. In short, how did I do this while dealing with the emotions? It was my friends who stepped up and took the weight on themselves to help me.
3. With the project completed (which I’m sure was quite an experience), what has life been like for you, artistically, since the quarantine began?
Ken: It’s been a struggle. I miss my band, I feel cut off. It’s time to reflect and write songs. However our process is so collaborative and that has been complicated. At the same time these bands all around the world are reaching out to each other to exchange ideas and songs at an unprecedented state. We have had to cancel shows, cancel festivals we were set to attend. That’s tough, but music is not my primary source of income. I worry more for the artists who are all in. I have been really impressed with how creative they have gotten with streaming live shows. Live Dj streams, we are planning one for Sounds and Shadows with Carla King. If I have three streams going at once chatting on a Friday and a drink in my hand, it almost feels like I am my social butterfly self.
4. Tell us about your musical project, Amaranth, moving forward. How might your approach be altered as musicians are now limited in their live performance efforts?
Ken: Amaranth has a lot of exciting things coming up. The song we did for this compilation is one of my favorites we have done as a band. I had a lot of buried emotion around Freyja and my fears of what would happen. I uncorked those in the lyrics and vocals. I sang so hard my voice broke a few times, but we didn’t redo it. It felt right. We also have a new album of songs, a cover of Peter Murphy, and several remixes from the last album which are pretty much in the can ready to release. We decided to wait until after Tiny Gods Who Walk Beside Us which just kept growing. Now that it is finally happening and set to be released we can start thinking of releasing our next record. We will also get the Sounds and Shadows podcast going again soon, I felt like it was an important way to highlight new music and we need that more than ever. It’s a difficult time, but people are strong, and art will find a way.
I think he said all of that well. Follow The Amaranth page and/or Sounds and Shadows to keep up with this compilation release set for April, 24, 2020. Additional proceeds will be donated to an animal shelter.
You can purchase here: https://theamaranth.bandcamp.com/album/tiny-gods-who-walk-beside-us
Sounds and Shadows webzine: https://soundsandshadows.com/
This review and interview was conducted by Veronica Campbell, also of Death Loves Veronica