On his new record Worship False Gods, Oakland’s Jordan Sobolew (who performs under the moniker of Reptoid) sounds intense, to put it lightly. It’s a one-man project — and Sobolew even handles all of the elements when he gets the chance to perform live — but the record feels so intricate that the one-man status might be startling.
The music veers wildly through erratic drum rhythms, earth-rattling basslines, ominously abrasive electronics, and other elements, like Sobolew’s fittingly agitated and sometimes confrontational singing. The music sounds like the sonic encapsulation of some kind of barely comprehensible beast that’s been assembled via a startling array of somehow more familiar components, as if it’s a personification of fears that the human race has spent centuries throwing aside that have now come to life. Within the world of the consistently intense record, an alternate dimension feels like it’s cracking open and the beings on the other side are streaming through with the clear-minded intention of taking the earth for themselves.
It’s a crazy listening experience. Throughout all of the industrialized noise rock chaos of Worship False Gods, one consistently stable thread is the energy — the pulses of frenzy help tie the errata together and give it a face. This metaphorical face reflects some of the more ghoulish sides to the modern world’s wasteland-inducing corporations; anxiety over rampant greed-sparked destruction appears throughout Sobolew’s lyrics. The experience of the music itself feels invitingly familiar yet startlingly caustic — “You Have Already Been Compromised,” for instance, intermingles triumphantly propulsive basslines with flailing drum rhythms, and the whole track leads into the unsettllingly atmospheric conclusion in which Sobolew’s repeats the refrain: “You’ve always been one of them.”
Other memorable musical moments on the record include the simmering tension throughout “This is Progress,” the menacing stagger of “Shifted, Probed, Implanted,” and the rabidly frantic drum rhythms that close “I Drank the Punch,” the about eight-minute long track that closes the album.
Below, Sobolew discusses Worship False Gods, including what relationship his music has to the end of the world, where the “Reptoid” comes from, where humanity might be (or not be) in thousands of years, and how he considers music venues as his “church.”
“The End of the World, But in a Good Way”
Captured Howls: Thanks for your time today! The lyrics definitely seem to reflect a particular headspace that underlines the record, but on a broad level, sounds included — how would you characterize the vibe you were going for? What sorts of things, whether emotional states, technical flourishes, or whatever else, would you say that you were trying to capture in the record?
An ally of mine once described my music as “the end of the world, but in a good way.” While that particular interpretation was not my original intent, I believe the description holds. It’s music for examining the sickness of humanity and rising above it. It’s music for exploring the darker parts of your psyche that you might otherwise hide from and owning it instead of running from it. It’s music that embraces the absurd. If it doesn’t continually shock, surprise and challenge you, I haven’t done my job.
Crafting Worship False Gods
Captured Howls: There’s definitely a lot going on in the tracks, so, in general — how did they tend to come together? Did you shape the sounds around the lyrical moods? Did you just see where the songwriting led? Some of both?
The beginning of my song writing process is not that different than most traditional multi-member bands in that I make a lot of noise and pick the best parts of it to create a structure around. I’ll mostly experiment with a certain rhythm and try to capture a set of noises to accompany it or I will create a short sample and try to make it work rhythmically. I spend the majority of my songwriting with a big pile of pedals, noise devices, a guitar, a bass, and a synth, just making a variety of sounds and trying to capture them with a sampler. From there I can assign the samples to individual drums or pads and try to make them work within a drum part and process them further with my pedalboard while playing.
It’s an overly tedious and time consuming process. I’ll do this over and over again, late night after late night. Record what I’ve come up with, listen to it at home, think, obsess, go back and do it all over again until I’m pleased- and I’m a tough critic. Vocals are almost always added after the main portions of the song are structured and then I have to learn how to play it all over again to make each syllable work in tandem with my drumming and triggering. The tone of what comes out of this process is not predetermined. Usually the lyrics are a stream of consciousness that gets tweaked, amended and edited until I realize that the song is actually about something that was buried deep within me.
Captured Howls: There’s a helluva lot of intricacy in the songs, and, on a related note, I’ve seen online that you do audio production work in addition to crafting Reptoid. So, are there particular new technical frontiers that you were excited to dive into for this record? For instance, are there sonic elements here that you may not have tried out in the past?
Absolutely. With every song I make and with every recording I produce, I try something new. It’s a learning process and after doing it hundreds of times you incrementally develop small techniques that each make the end product a fraction of a percent better.
I recorded and mixed the entire record myself. Apart from some setup help and feedback from my friend and fellow engineer, Joe Finocchio, it was written and recorded alone, entirely in a vacuum. On the production side, I got to try some new recording techniques. For instance, all the cymbals were overdubbed, so I had to learn how to play each song without hitting cymbals. This really lets the tone and sustain from the drums come through without getting washed out with cymbals. I also played an additional overdub over the main instrument track by drumming along to the main track so I could create a simulated stereo spread in the same way you might track two guitars and pan them opposite.
On the songwriting side of it, half of these songs are material I’ve been playing live for years but the other half were written within a few months, specifically for the record. I have never done that before. Most songs go through a process of getting played live over and over. I see what I am capable of doing physically in the song and what does or doesn’t work then make changes accordingly. In the end I get a song I can play night after night without being overly draining or technically prone to error. Working outside of this process let me develop some material that could be considered a little more risky with my setup — something that could be played live but wasn’t particularly for the purpose of a live performance. This let me extend my sonic palette a little while still being true to my ethics of being able to perform everything live.
Captured Howls: There are a lot of different genres that Reptoid might brush up against, from sociopolitical-oriented hardcore via the lyrical themes and overall ferocity to zany noise rock via the overall unpredictability of the songs. Are there broad strokes of inspiration that you feel weigh on the project? Where would you say that the core guiding spirit of Reptoid comes from?
I say Reptoid is industrial tinged noise-rock because it’s the best descriptor I can find but I have been able to play well with a wide variety of different genres. I have played with bands that are metal, punk, doom, experimental, noise, industrial, garage, psych, etc. etc. As long as people want to listen to something loud, punishing and somewhat absurd, we can get along.
Honestly, I don’t have a core guiding spirit. What comes out as Reptoid is something inside me that I don’t have full conscious control over. Instead of fully aware artistic intent, I let the Reptoid take over and what comes out is pure. I am inspired by a wide variety of music but I never sit down and think I want to write a song like x or y. I guess if I were to define it by a set of rules, I want to create the most disgusting, loud, heavy, absurd and mind-bending sounds that I am capable of but I also want to structure them in a way that makes them pleasing somehow, without being a straight up wash of noise.
Captured Howls: Are there particular events out there in the current sociopolitical climate that weighed on the lyrical themes of Worship False Gods? Or are the lyrics more the result of a longer sort of discontent with the way things are?
Well there is certainly no shortage of material to incite anger and frustration in the current climate. These songs were written anywhere from 1.5 to 4 years ago so today’s specific events are not really part of this record, but I think the encompassing theme holds up to today. I can’t get away from this misanthropic view of humanity. I can’t get away from the disgust I feel watching human greed and cruelty continue to run this world. We revolve our lives around the accumulation of monetary wealth, the quest for power, the quest to stand above our fellow human, and it has a detrimental effect on the whole. Unfortunately, this is a universal and timeless part of the human experience. I think the themes in this record are as relevant today as they were thousands of years ago and they will still be relevant thousands of years from now (assuming humans still exist which I’m not really confident in).
Captured Howls: I’ve seen footage of a Reptoid show, and it’s definitely impressive to handle all of the performance yourself. Although unfortunately live shows don’t seem able to be counted on as part of the equation for the near future, is there a particular way that you’d like the new album to be received by folks? Is there a particular sort of experience that you’d like for it to provide?
This is a tough one for me because I’ve centered my whole “career” as a musician around the live performance. Every band I’ve been in and every song I’ve written has been for the purpose of being able to play shows and tour. Even if the record sells well or gets great reviews, it doesn’t match the thrill and the out-of-body experience of playing as hard as I can, until I am fully drained in front of a crowd of people. Giving all of my creative and physical energy to others and hopefully getting some back in return- this is why I make music. The music venue is my church and the audience is my congregation but now, it is lost.
The record really only exists so I can perpetuate the act of being able to share my music with people live. I don’t think my music works as background music. I don’t think you can put it on at a social gathering. It must demand your attention at all times. I don’t know how to tell people to enjoy it from their own homes. I hope they listen loudly, close their eyes and let the noise wash over them.
Featured image via Christopher Sturm
Listen to Worship False Gods in full below!