Exclusive Interview – Mariana Fiel of High Priestess

Mariana Fiel by Jusu Lahti

Mariana Fiel (photo: Jusu Lahti)

Mariana Fiel is the founding member of Los Angeles doom band High Priestess. She provides the band’s pulsing bass groove and shares lead vocal duties with guitarist Katie Gilchrest, while Megan “Whiplash” Mullins rounds out the trio with her thundering drums. Together they weave the hypnotic fuzz doom magic of one of LA’s great up and coming heavy bands. I was lucky enough to get Mariana to answer some questions for me ahead of the release of their sophomore album Casting the Circle, due out on Ripple Music in April 2020.


Mojo: Hi Mariana! Thanks for taking the time. Tell us a little about how you put the band together and what your hopes were for your project.

MF: The original concept for the band was to be a bass and drum duo. An ad was placed with some of the influences of the sound I was interested in developing and what I was looking for in a drummer. I believe there’s a tendency to think that playing drums in a doom band is super easy, but there’s so much to be said about filling in those slow tempos, keeping the time and making them interesting, that I find that it might be actually harder. Luckily, Megan saw the ad (by chance!) and filled up all those check marks and then some!

Meanwhile — even before I got the email from Megan — Katie was visiting Los Angeles and wondering what the music scene was about, so she was also searching band ads and saw mine. She responded with something along the lines of “I know you’re not looking for a guitar player but this sounds like my dream project” and sent along a couple of links to Arcane Lore (the band she was in back on the east coast) showing her guitar skills that everyone is now not only aware of, but that has grown to know and love, and I just couldn’t pass on that sort of powerhouse.

I feel extremely lucky that the Universe brought these two exceptional human beings into my life to make music with, because they strongly elevate and add so much more to the sound I was originally trying to achieve.

High Priestess Purple by C Jones

High Priestess (credit: C Jones)

I totally agree! Your debut album received a lot of well-deserved praise. What may be surprising to some is that you got noticed and signed on the basis of your self-produced demo, how did that come about?

Well, our songs were somewhat ready, so we decided to just go ahead and record the instrumental portion of the tracks at our practice space with Katie’s mobile recording studio. We originally intended it to be just a lo-fi recording, and were planning on professionally record the songs again in the future.

Katie has a masters in music technology, so she used her expertise to capture our sound, and just recording in our practice space turned out much better than we had anticipated.
The song Mother Forgive Me got a complete change on the vocal arrangements on the day we were recording vocals. I was singing the original arrangement and it just didn’t feel completely right, so i turned to Katie and asked “do you mind if i try something different really quick? Just to see if it fits?” and thankfully it fit and finally felt complete and finished.

Nice. It sounds like you recorded the new album Casting the Circle in record time, tell us a little about that.

We wrote a majority of the new songs before going on the European tour with Cities of Mars. While on tour, we incorporated those news songs in some of our shows, so we wanted to record them as soon as we got back, to have that “fresh off the tour” energy. Upon our return back to the US, we started fleshing out the Side B tracks, and before you knew it, we were ready! The basic guitar, bass, and drums instrumental was recorded in two back to back takes of each song and my vocals were split in two separate sessions (Side A – one session; Side B – second session). We also had a separate session for percussion textures overdubs, and from there, Katie locked herself in a dungeon for a month and a half working on guitar and keyboard overdubs, her vocals, mixing and mastering.

That sounds intense! How would you say the sound of High Priestess has evolved since your self-titled 2018 debut?

Hmmm… that’s a great question. It feels darker than the debut album. I feel like maybe on the first album there was a sense of impending doom creeping around the corner that could come in at any moment, while this one just has that constant veil of darkness draped all over the songs.

I can’t wait to hear it. Has being on the Ripple Music label helped your journey as a band?

Absolutely! They’re extremely supportive of our band and are constantly looking out for us. I had originally posted our demo on a Facebook group and Christine from Tridroid Records gave it a listen and tipped us off to Ripple!

We have some favorite bands in common, from Judas Priest and Sleep to the lesser known Messa, who are amazing. Who are some of your other favorites and influences?

OM… Al Cisneros just makes such beautiful trance inducing music with no frills. Every single note and every single tempo is just perfect. King Crimson (Late 60’s / early 70’s era). The Talking Drum will forever be on my top 10 of songs that I could listen to over and over again and never get tired of it. The constant crescendo on that track is just mind blowing.
Sepultura (Max Cavalera era) and it’s funny because I was telling Megan how much I love them, specially for Igor Cavalera’s balance between thrash and complex tribal grooves to it, and I really think Megan kind of channeled that vibe on this album but in her own way.
I’ve been listening to a lot of Emma Ruth Rundle, Tom Waits, Siouxsie and the Banshees, Harvey Milk, KARP, Ravi Shankar, PJ Harvey, Alice In Chains, Unsane, Soundgarden and Earth lately. Oh and of course, Kate Bush. I love her and some people don’t seem to understand that. The woman is absolutely brilliant.

That is an impressive list! Now, you mentioned that last year you did a European tour with Cities of Mars, I know you also played Desertfest in London, were there any highlights from that tour?

Desertfest London was absolutely a highlight! I got to see so many friends I haven’t seen since I moved to the US! I was extremely confused when I stepped up on stage and realized the room was completely packed for us. I had noticed a line outside but I honestly thought it was to the bathroom. That whole experience was absolutely the highlight of the tour. Another highlight was sitting at a green room in Chemnitz (Karl-Marx-Stadt), Germany, eating pasta and listening to Enya with Cities of Mars.

That sounds perfect! Speaking of tours, I love that you do slightly unusual and unique merch to sell at your booth — I have a High Priestess prayer candle for instance — and you offered your last album on cassette. Are you doing anything like that with your new album?

We’ll definitely have some more elaborate candles that I’ll be adding some magick to for the new album. We’ll also have cassettes again, done by the awesome Tridroid Records. We’ll have some more mugs, because contrary to what Marie Kondo might say, you can’t have too many.

Speaking of not having too many, you guys even came out with your own High Priestess Fuzz Pedal in conjunction with Gremlin Machines, any chance we’ll see more pedals in the future or was this a one-time thing?

Paul at Gremlin Noise Machines is amazing. We’ve had the pedal for a while and I’m still blown away by it. We’re not currently planning on collaborating on another pedal, but who knows what the future might bring?

High Priestess Graveyard by Jusu Lahti

High Priestess (photo: Jusu Lahti)

I feel like you are part of a Golden Age, both of heavy music and women in heavy music. How do you feel about the state of heavy music right now?

It’s pretty spectacular, isn’t it? It’s refreshing to see all these women / woman identifying heavy bands nowadays. It was so scarce before. You had Acid King, Subarachnoid Space and Bottom from the Bay Area, Grey from Seattle and a couple more bands around, but that was about it. Nowadays you have a stunning abundance of powerful, talented and creative women in the spotlight and as headliners of the stoner / psych / doom scene and it’s beautiful! Now we just need to drop the “female fronted” thing, because women musicians are not a musical gender.

Hear hear! Okay, last question – favorite LA restaurant?

This is probably the hardest question! There are so many great places in LA. It’s like asking what my favorite bar is… it depends on what you’re in the mood for!

I’ll say this though: my favorite place to eat is at home. I live with this fantastic woman (and her ok husband) that comes home from work every night and cooks a whole elaborate meal for us. I don’t know how she does it, because when I get home from work all I want to do is lay down for a second and center myself and leave the stress from the job behind, but she just slips into some comfy clothes and cooks us these amazing and delicious meals that are infused with love, and absolutely no restaurant beats that.

That’s awesome! Thank you Mariana for taking the time and I can’t wait to see you all on tour!

Casting the Circle releases on Ripple Music on April 10, 2020


Find High Priestess on the web:

https://www.highpriestessmusic.com/
https://www.facebook.com/highpriestessmusic
https://www.instagram.com/highpriestessmusic/

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Mojo’s Pick of the Week – Rabbits by Brume

Brume Rabbits CoverBrume is one of the San Francisco Bay Area’s semi-secret treasures, an eclectic heavy rock trio that’s become a cornerstone of the local metal scene since their inception in 2014. Their last doomy full length, Rooster, was released in 2017 to some acclaim. In the interim they’ve released a 2 song split and contributed a Black Sabbath cover to an upcoming compilation. Their latest album, Rabbits, released in November 2019 on Magnetic Eye Records, is nothing less than a bold leap beyond their previous work.

Led by enigmatic singer and bassist Susie McMullan and backed by guitarist Jaime McCathie and drummer Jordan Perkins-Lewis, Brume seems poised to break out and receive the recognition they deserve as one of the best heavy bands to come out of the Bay Area.

The emotional and sonic rollercoaster of Rabbits goes from wistful solitary guitar lines to hair raising crashes of thunder; from heart-wrenching cello passages to soaring vocals that are at turns angry and ethereal. To call this doom metal is limiting. To call it psych rock doesn’t do it justice. This is simply a fully realized emotional and sonic landscape that you experience as much as listen to.

I highly encourage you to put this album on, lie back, and let it wash over you.

Brume on the web

https://www.brumeband.com/
https://brumesf.bandcamp.com/
https://www.facebook.com/brumeband/

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Exclusive Interview – Susie McMullan of Brume

October 2019

Susie McMullan

Susie McMullan of Brume (credit: Peter Prato)

Susie McMullan fronts San Francisco doom band Brume, one of the new staples of the Bay Area’s thriving underground heavy music scene, and one of the vanguards in the rise of what is nothing short of a golden age of female-fronted heavy bands. The low, hypnotically dirge-y fuzz of Brume is a solid bed for Susie’s soaring, emotional vocals. Guitarist Jamie McCathie and drummer Jordan Perkins-Lewis round out this darkly melodic power trio, which I’ve heard described as ‘if Portishead was a doom band’.

Effervescent and gregarious in person, Susie was kind enough to answer some questions for me in this exclusive interview ahead of the release of their third full length album, Rabbits.


Mojo: Easy first question, tell me a little bit about Brume – how would you describe the music and what does the name mean?

Susie: Brume means mist or fog and it describes how we wanted our music to sound. Slow, thick, enveloping music to listen to with a cup of tea and a joint.

I had thought it was a Led Zeppelin style spelling of ‘broom’, as in witch. Good to know! I was listening to your debut album “Donkey” earlier, it sounds like you guys came right out of the gate fully formed and with an established sound, which is pretty amazing. How did you three come together so quickly to come up with that sound?

Wow, thank you. I suppose we matured our sound early because Jamie was an incredible song writer and riff master before Brume, Jordan composes beats based on vibe and not technical astuteness, even though he has mastered his art; and I like to weave melodies and lyrics in and out to tell a story. The most important thing we all have is respect for one another so it makes writing a song together really easy but most of all fun.

I love that. Speaking of donkeys and roosters, is there a story behind the animal album names?

I suppose this is a question for Jordan, he names all of our albums. I can tell you a bit about Jordan though, he is sarcastic, intelligent, dependable, cranky and loves animals. He often has stories about his chickens at band practice and he glows like he’s talking about his child. Not to mention he often brings a dozen fresh eggs to practice so that is a double bonus.

Brume Rabbits Cover

“Rabbits” cover (credit: Steve Hoskins)

The last time I saw you was at the Elbo Room in Oakland, and you had Jackie Perez Gratz of Grayceon playing electric cello, which was amazing! How did that collaboration come about?

I wrote a song on piano, Blue Jay, that is coming out on Rabbits. While practicing it I often mentioned to Jamie and Jordan, “wouldn’t it be rad if Jackie of Grayceon played on this song”; but I didn’t reach out to her at that time, it was more of a daydream. One day Jackie called me and asked if Brume wanted to do a short tour with Grayceon. This gave me the courage to finally ask her to join me on a song. One thing I never told her is that I added cello synth sounds to the song demo and removed it at the last minute before I sent it to her. I’m so glad I did, she composed the most beautiful piece that is beyond my capabilities (especially on a MIDI device). What is special about her is that she has not only mastered the playing the cello, but also she is a beautiful songwriter. Jackie composed her own part on Blue Jay and recorded it on Brume’s album, Rabbits. It’s heavy. I can’t wait until it is released.

Earlier this year you signed with Magnetic Eye Records, how has that been? Has it affected how you approached recording your latest album?

MER makes a commitment and they follow through. For example, our records they funded are here on time. They do not have any say in our song writing or recording process. Ultimate creative freedom is important to us.

It’s my understanding that you only just went into the studio to begin recording your new album “Rabbits” in April or May, was it a struggle to get it finished for a November release?

That album was an emotional struggle to create. 9AM till 2AM everyday for 7 consecutive days is exhausting, period. However, if you add the emotional baggage of writing and singing personal songs, it takes its toll on you. When it was over, I had to be alone for 2-3 days straight to feel normal again. Imagine writing a lyric that says, “I’m a depressed loser” and singing it hoping to get it over as soon as possible and then you hear Billy [Anderson, producer] say, “Ok, let’s try that again”. I wanted to crawl in a hole and die at least 20 times a day.

I can imagine! What was it like working with Billy Anderson again?

Billy teaches you how to be a professional, only settles for perfection and gives as much of a shit as you do to make a great album. I’m not a “that’s good enough” kind of person, Jamie refuses to settle for anything but greatness, and Jordan is so good he pretty much has one take and is done for the next 6 days. Here is a fun fact — Jordan is done in day one because we don’t play to a click track, we track it all live, but he still stays for the next 6 days to support the band with beer and camaraderie. Pretty sweet, right?

Very! Can you tell me a little bit about the new album and how it fits in with the ongoing story of Brume? Is it an evolution from Rooster and if so how?

Rabbits is less hard and more heavy than Rooster. I think we all are less hardcore and more heavy hearted, so this album reflects our true nature better.

I hear you did some vocals on the upcoming Lowcaster album. How did that come about?

Marc with Lowcaster, whom I didn’t know at the time, sent an Instagram message, “will you sing harmonies with me?”. He sent me a demo, the song was beautiful, I said, “yes”. Their album is great, they should be very proud.

I’m really digging the photography for the new album, who did you work with on the photography and design?

Two major photographers that are big time. Peter Prato is one of the Bay Area’s best portrait photographers. His instagram feed is insane, check it out. He did our portraits you’ll see inside the album. The lovely rabbit you see on the cover of our album was taken by a photographer that specializes in animal portraits, Steve Hoskins. If you like animals, you’ll love his work. The layout and design of our album was all done by Jamie. He likes to dabble in design as a hobby. I’m kidding, he is a design director for one of the biggest design firms in San Francisco. He’s a busy dude.

Brume Band Portrait (crop)

Brume (credit: Peter Prato)

I can’t wait to see you guys at Parkside on the 9th! What’s next for Brume after your album release show?

Excellent, we’ll see you there! We have a Black Sabbath cover coming out in 2020 on MER’s Black Sabbath compilation. I think folks will enjoy listening to modern metal bands interpret old favorites. Except for Brume, we definitely didn’t pick an old favorite (unless you love bummer music as much as us). We chose Solitude and we are going to fuck that song up in a good way!

Thank you so much for your time! Congratulations on the new record!


Brume is playing with Grayceon and Lowcaster at Thee Parkside in San Francisco on November 9 for a double album release show (Brume AND Lowcaster!). Brume’s new album Rabbits is out on Magnetic Eye Records on November 22, 2019.

Find Brume on the web:
https://www.brumeband.com/
https://www.facebook.com/brumeband/
https://brumesf.bandcamp.com/

Other links:
Lowcaster
Grayceon
Magnetic Eye Records
Billy Anderson
Peter Prato / Photography
Steve Hoskins / Photography

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