Didi was there, strapless and heeled, rapidly approaching strung out. After another hit of something. Todd knew it even in that moment: this was the catalyst, that need in her eyes sucking him in, sucking him off, in desperation until the walls came apart, until the dripping silhouette came out of what was behind them. He knew he was tripping balls, but it spoke to him, gesticulating with long, shimmering appendages, opening him to the greasy world alive in its guts, the guts of the building. It took him by the hand, tore him away from himself, and he watched it leave with his sanity into that tar-black space, zipping the walls back up behind them like big white body bags.
And then he made promises to Didi. They left, and she let him do things.
Sweet Didi. His favorite vegetable.
Despumation: Can you explain a little about how “Cradlesong” was born from Meshuggah’s “Bleed?” Like, a bit about that process?
Michael J. Riser: Bit too early on a Sunday morning to think. Man. If I had to narrow the scope enough to give a concise answer, I’d start by saying my reasons for choosing “Bleed” were twofold. Firstly, I’m a glutton for punishment, and it seemed like a really difficult song to try to cram into the interesting framework Despumation is after. Secondly, “Bleed” has been something of a personal anthem for me in the wake of a lot of turmoil, and I think I wanted to walk outside of that, create something that wasn’t personal. The song’s speed and brutality naturally suggested a certain type of psyche to me when coming up with a main character, and that was more or less where I started. I wanted something off-kilter and a bit crazy. Lucid enough to tell a story, but that reflected the speed of someone thinking with no filter. I think the red string was inspired by the music video, and the story’s “villains” by the album art to some degree, but I honestly don’t know where the rest of it came from.
Desp: Talk a little about your process overall—your writing process. Any little rituals that get you started? Night, morning, middle of the afternoon? Do you plot ahead, or let it ride?
MJR: I’m a relentless non-plotter. The spontaneity of writing is a big part of why I do it, so boxing it in and trying to make it overly formal has a tendency to ruin my motivation and kill momentum. I’m not too ritualistic about the practice, but I always like to devote a decent amount of time to it. I hate sitting down just for a few minutes, so I want to make sure I have a big chunk of time to devote. I want to lose myself in it.
Desp: What was your first metal experience that you remember—the moment that got you into it?
MJR: That’s a tough call. I’ve had a lot of metal “firsts”, I think because metal itself is so wide and has grown so much from what it once was. My folks were involved and concerned parents, and weren’t too comfortable with me listening to rap and metal, so a lot of what I could get away with as a young man was religious. I know this will make people cringe, but I listened to a lot of Christian bands from the Florida hardcore scene, some better than others. I think Cleveland’s Six Feet Deep was far and away the most pivotal band for me, though, and really showed me what metal music was capable of. That was when it clicked for me, when metal turned into something more than just another musical interest. “The Road Less Traveled” is a perfect picture of a young person struggling with the world’s darkness and the darkness in himself, while simultaneously grappling with his belief system, people’s opposition to it, and his own moments of doubt. It was the first metal album that ever made me weep openly. I still think it’s a deeply emotional classic, even though I’ve distanced myself from religion.
Desp: Give us your favorite metal band, and your favorite writer.
MJR: My favorite metal band remains Meshuggah. After years of thrash and death metal, Meshuggah was something new. I classified other bands as being in a similar category at the time, yet Meshuggah didn’t really sound like them. There was something so base and primal about the listening experience. I remember being introduced to them by a guy I knew as Damascus who hung out with me at PlanetQuake (he played bass for Drive, a band that used to play with God Forbid before anyone knew who God Forbid were). They sat around in my playlist for a while before one day I heard Gods of Rapture, and that atmospheric solo at the end, and just suddenly realized how important what I was listening to really was. Meshuggah has been a heartfelt obsession ever since. Their music has come with me through pretty much all the major events of my life. It’s cathartic, wonderful, and thought-provoking, and I think I’ll always love both it and the guys who make it.
That said, Isis is amazing and comes in so close behind Meshuggah that they have to be mentioned. Panopticon remains the most heartbreakingly beautiful thing I’ve ever heard. To the point where I honestly almost can’t listen to it anymore. In fact, Isis would probably be my favorite band if their music didn’t so perfectly crush me every time.
My favorite writer is Lewis Carroll (Charles Dodgson). I was an active member of the LCSNA for years, and have a somewhat embarrassingly large collection of related books. I also own first edition copies of the original Sylvie and Bruno books, which are over 120 years old now. Neil Gaiman is probably my favorite still-living writer. Listening to him read is one of the best experiences I think you can have.
Desp: Name a song you’d like to see covered by a writer for Despumation and explain why.
MJR: This is a rough question. I want to answer it, yet I don’t, because part of me wants to write every single song I come up with. I’d love to see something done on “An Autopsy” by The Faceless, because it seems like it has so much unwritten potential. Neurosis’s “A Sun That Never Sets” would be fascinating. Anything ISIS would be a win too, but that’s almost too easy with such ridiculously rich material. “Not in Rivers but in Drops”, “Holy Tears”, “Hand of the Host” … the list could go on forever.
Desp: What are you working on now? Books/stories/academic works coming out?
MJR: To be honest, I’m not working almost at all. School has taken up the vast majority of my time this semester, and my Japanese studies are eating up the bulk of the rest of it. I still have plans to finish Plague Thieves, the novel-in-progress of the last 3 or 4 years, and I’m still looking for a publisher for Peristalsis, my novella. I had hoped some folks who’ve published me in the past were going to put it out, but they’re a small press, still just getting started in publishing larger works, and they were just too busy to give me a probable timeframe. Since I’ve been too busy to get off my ass and peddle the thing, it’s still waiting. Which is a shame. I dearly love that story.