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

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Exclusive Interview – Andrea Vidal of Holy Grove

January 2020

Off the top of my head, I can think of just a handful of singers whose raw skill and tangible passion can make my hair stand on end. Names you may know, like Chris Cornell, Layne Staley, Manyard James Keenan, and a name you may not, Holy Grove’s Andrea Vidal.

Holy Grove

Holy Grove (photo: James Rexroad)

Hailing from Portland, Oregon, Holy Grove is a fuzzy, trippy, heavy duty rock and roll band in the doom/psych/stoner vein pioneered by Black Sabbath. Their amazing self-titled 2016 debut was re-released on Ripple Music in 2018, and their followup, Holy Grove II, made many “best of” lists for the same year.

Backed by riffmaster Trent Jacobs, powerhouse drummer Eben Travis and the amazing Gregg Emley on bass, Holy Grove’s thundering songs cover topics of witchcraft, fantasy and myth with a writer’s realism, taking you on a journey that leaves you feeling transformed when you return.

I was lucky enough to catch Holy Grove in Oakland on their recent west coast tour and got to see the sweaty intensity of this band’s rock and roll majesty firsthand. Singer Andrea Vidal was kind enough to answer some of my questions about her singing style, the band’s songwriting process, and what’s next for Holy Grove.

M: You’ve just wrapped up a west coast tour, how did that go? What were some highlights from the tour?

AV: Touring in general is always something we look forward to. For us, it doesn’t get much better than playing shows every night. We love meeting new people and playing with bands from other cities. Highlights include seeing old friends and family along the way, playing several new cities, including Oakland, which was easily our most favorite show of the tour.

Who drives the van when you guys are on the road? Do you write on the road?

We all swap out driving, but I really enjoy driving the van and usually jump at the chance. Growing up in Massachusetts, I love being able to see other parts of the country and drive through them. We don’t write on the road per se, but we do find plenty of inspiration for the new record as we travel and experience life.

Your lyrics are so powerful. They’re more like poetry than song lyrics. What are your sources for inspiration?

I like to take inspiration from all over. Sometimes it’s personal experiences, other times I might want to pay tribute to something that inspired me throughout the course of my life. Take Valley of the Mystics for example. I was inspired by Jim Henson‘s The Dark Crystal growing up, and felt that the tone of the film fit with the tone of the song. So I was able to write passionately on a topic that I was very close to.

Tell us a little bit about how you guys go about writing a song, what’s your collective songwriting process?

It’s a collaborative process for sure. It usually starts with a riff that Gregg and Trent build on. Once there are a few parts established, we focus on how to bring those parts together into one cohesive piece. Vocals are added once the song has been demoed and I’ve had the opportunity to spend time with it and it’s get to know the parts and get a feel for what I want to bring to it vocally/melodically.

How do you bring such passion to your performance?

We do our best to connect with the audience as much as possible — we’re there to entertain, but we’re also there to share the experience of music with the audience. Each of us have a deep connection to the music and hope to convey that from the stage. Plus it’s just more enjoyable and rewarding for us to leave it all on stage, as it were.

Tell me about how you got started singing.

I’ve been singing my whole life, but never professionally or with a band. Finally in 2012, I decided to reach out to the music community in Portland and see if anyone was interested in creating new music. I had never written a song, played in a band or performed on stage like I do now. It was the best decision I ever made.

I find it crazy that you guys found each other on Craigslist, considering the chemistry you obviously have. I guess stranger things have happened. How did you all come up with the name Holy Grove?

It was one of many names that we came up with but the only one that we all agreed on. It had a classic feel to it and seemed to conjure a specific feeling.

What is that wild feedback at the end of Nix? I was fascinated to see you on the floor manipulating some pedal to get that.

It’s Trent’s guitar through an MXR Delay pedal. I tried a few other pedals, but MXR makes the best sounding one. Trent uses it at different points in different songs, so it has more than just the one purpose.

How has being on Ripple Music helped move you guys forward?

They’ve been very supportive of our music and did a hell of a job on the release of our second album. We were able to get song and album premieres with national coverage which certainly helped to get the word out. They’re also great people! We’re grateful to have the opportunity to work with them and certainly appreciate all they’ve done for us!

What’s next for Holy Grove?

We’re currently in the middle of writing a new album, which is one of our favorite parts of being in band. Seeing what direction the songs will take, and watching it start to take shape. We’re currently planning some touring for later in the year. We’re also playing The Psycho Smokeout in L.A. in April, along with a bunch of great bands, including Weedeater, The Obsessed, Acid King and Cough (among many others).

Last question – favorite place to eat in Portland?

Wedgehead because not only do they have a killer menu and strong drinks, but they have the best pinball machines in PDX. Good luck, don’t suck!

Thanks so much for your time, it was great meeting you on tour and I can’t wait to hear your new stuff!

Find Holy Grove on the web:

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Mojo’s Favorite Albums of 2019

Vinyl RecordWhatever else happened this year, 2019 was another great year for heavy music. Maybe because of everything else that happened. At any rate, more good music came out than I had time to listen to, but the music that I did was often excellent. Some bands made quantum leaps with their music and simply leveled up everything, which was amazing to see and hear, in some cases live in person, and for that I am very thankful.

I’ll start with my usual disclaimer that the idea of “best” is subjective and in my mind ridiculous, no one with a “best of” list could have listened to everything available even if the person were the critical yardstick by which all music is measured. What I present here is a list of my favorite albums that came out in 2019, the ones that got under my skin and got the most repeat listens and deserve to be celebrated and shared.

Without further ado, in almost no particular order, here are my favorite albums of 2019. Some you may know, some you are about to discover!

Rabbits by Brume

I’m not going to hesitate to call this a masterpiece. I don’t know the last time I heard an album that made me feel as much as this one does. Brume 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. And their latest release, Rabbits, is nothing less than a bold leap beyond their previous work. 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.

Fear Inoculum by Tool
Tool - Fear Inoculum
I was too busy digesting this album when it came out to even post about it. Tool has been my favorite band since someone handed me their worn out copy of Undertow in the early 90s. To wait 13 years since 10,000 Days seems cruel and bound to subvert expectations, but the wait was worth it. What we got was not the fire of young Tool but the studied, evolved musicianship of mature Tool and a worthy entry into the canon of progressive rock. So masterfully produced it’s like melted butter for your ears. Fear Inoculum sounds like the natural progression from 10,000 Days with a little Lateralus thrown in.
Standout tracks: Pneuma, Fear Inoculum

Coven of the Snake by Arrowhead

Australia’s Arrowhead have released a banger that has all the confidence and swagger of a band that have shared the stage with Monster Magnet, Earthless, Acid King, and Sasquatch, to name a few. Fans of Black Sabbath, Corrosion of Conformity, Alice and Chains will dig this fuzzed out heavy record full of catchy grooves and riffs. One of my top listens for the year.
Standout tracks: Coven of the Snake, Root of Evil, March of the Reptiles

The Road by Acid Alice

Excellent fuzzy bluesy guitar rock from Mexico City! Sounding like a hybrid between Big Brother & the Holding Company, Black Sabbath, and the Doors, the very talented Acid Alice has knocked it out of the park with their debut album The Road. Put it on, put the top down and go for a ride!
Standout tracks: Destroy Me, Wolf, Broken Man

Flames Arise by Lowcaster

San Francisco’s Lowcaster have arisen from their own ashes to produce a complex and emotionally mature sophomore effort, Flames Arise. A quantum leap above their rollicking 2016 debut, Flames Arise is born from “two years of tragedy and loss”, according to the band. A guest visit from Susie McMullan of Brume helps send this one over the top.
Standout Tracks: Flames Bemoan the Tide, Shore up the Ashes

Forever, Never or Whenever by Devil to Pay

You can never have enough head-banging fuzzy guitar rock, and this groovy album is a gym favorite for me lately. Fans of Corrosion of Conformity and Mos Generator will dig the gritty grooves of Indianapolis’ Devil to Pay. Really digging this one.
Standout tracks: Heave Ho, The Devil’s Barking Up Your Tree, 37 Trillion

Supercluster by Salem’s Bend

This quirky eclectic electric trio from Los Angeles is out with a new full length, Supercluster. Give it time and let it grow on you, and you too will be infected with their brand of offbeat bluesy rock. There’s something special about Salem’s Bend that I can’t quite put my finger on, but nods to Frank Zappa and other odd influences are hinted at in their groovy sound. See them live if you can, they’re not to be missed.
Standout tracks: Spaceduster, Heavenly Manna, Show Me the Witch

Age of Aquarius by Villagers of Ioannina City

Self-described as ‘post-rock with a dose of Greek folk traditional music’, Villagers of Ioannina City have delivered a masterful opus of sweeping rock soundscapes that subtly incorporates elements of traditional Greek folk music into its heavy tales of gods and the grandeur of nature and history. If you like epic, majestic rock, give this a spin. Also, I love how the singer gives the word “aquarius” five syllables.
Standout tracks: Welcome, Age of Aquarius, Father Sun

Awakened From the Tomb by Witchers Creed

Was sad to see that this was a one-and-done by the darkly fun Witcher’s Creed, calling it quits in mid-2019 after releasing this solid full length on the heels of a few demos and a single. Awakened from the Tomb is an album steeped in the proto-metal tradition of 1970s Black Sabbath and Deep Purple, and it quickly grew on me to become one of my most played albums of the year.
Standout tracks: Witcher’s Creed, Depths of the Black Void, Larissa

Volume by Zed

Another band that leveled up this year is San Francisco Bay Area heavy hitters Zed, local favorites who are gaining international attention with their appearances at festivals like the Maryland Doom Fest and London’s Desertfest. Volume is their best work to date, oozing with the maturity of a hard working band running on all cylinders. All killer, no filler!
Standout tracks: The Other Kind, Chingus, Time and Space

Honorable Mention

Albums that came out this year that I thought were amazing but didn’t make it into my ‘can’t stop playing this’ criteria included Lana Del Rey‘s beautiful Norman Fucking Rockwell; When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go? by Billie Eilish; and the surprisingly good The Answer is None by The Answer is None, 3 guys who met over the internet and made a melodic hard rock album that sounds like Alice in Chains met Van Halen:

The Answer is None Cover

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