Ancestors Index is the soaring, ethereal solo project of Nathan Pyles. Transcend, their debut album, was released last month. With a sound that is hard to pin down, 36vultures talked to Nathan about the project, its influences, and its goals to shed some more light on what went into the album.
Was Ancestors Index always intended to be a solo project? How did it come about?
Not initially, no. I’ve tried putting a few bands together to play this type of music, but it always seemed to fall through. I eventually grew tired of trying to do that and decided I was going to write and record everything myself. In a lot of ways it’s nice doing everything by yourself, it allows me to have complete control of everything, down to the last detail. But I do eventually plan to add members and make this a full band like I planned from the beginning, it’s hard to play this type of music live without a full band.
Transcend definitely feels like a cohesive piece of work that’s meant to be experienced as a whole. What are your thoughts on albums vs singles, both in relation to Transcend and in general?
I’ve always preferred album oriented music, rather than a bunch of somewhat random songs. I’m a big fan of concept albums as well, I like the idea of a running theme or concept throughout an album. I wouldn’t consider Transcend a concept album per se, but it definitely has a theme running through it.
I put out a couple singles for this album because I know it’s necessary to do so if you want to promote the album, but in general I don’t care too much for them. I sometimes notice on albums when a band made a song simply to have a single and it usually sticks out in a bad way. I never started writing a song thinking this is going to be a single. I’ve noticed a new trend some bands are doing now, which is only doing singles. I find this a bit disappointing, it feels like only being able to read a chapter from a book every so often and having to wait for the next one, or something like that.
What were some of your major influences while putting this album together, musical or otherwise?
I enjoy watching movies and one of my favorite parts of them is the scores that are created. I liked the idea of making this album feel very cinematic, like it was almost meant for a film, I’m not sure if I achieved that or not, but that was part of the thought process on the music and lyrics. A lot of the string arrangements on Transcend were inspired from different movie scores. I enjoy a lot of progressive rock music and I think some of that comes through on this album with some of the longer pieces. An album that I seemed to go back to a lot was Lightbulb Sun by the band Porcupine Tree. It was similar in that it had themes running through it but it wasn’t a concept album. It helped me figure out how these songs could work together.
As the title track, what is it about “Transcend” that led you to name the album after it? Is there something about it that you feel embodies the album as a whole or the message you’re hoping to get across?
The album title and track has a special meaning to me that kind of sums up the whole album, but I don’t really want to give that away. I’d rather listeners come away with their own meaning of the album title and song. I think it’s more interesting when it’s ambiguous for the listener.
Many of these songs are very layered, with lots of moving parts. What was the writing process like? Was it similar across most of the tracks and how did you go about fleshing the ideas out?
After I decided that I was going to write this album myself, I had to learn how to properly arrange each song for the new instruments I started playing, which was somewhat challenging at first. When I was playing in a band I usually came up with a few parts and the rest of the guys would start building on that. But on this album it was all me, so I had to take a step back and see the grand scheme of everything, essentially I became a producer because of this. I started listening to albums closer for their production qualities and that helped me learn to add different instruments in, how a mix should sound, etc. This is when songs started to become more complex with the layering of different instruments and sounds. The more I wrote in the mindset of a full band, the more I knew where a song was going and how it would fit on the album.
Lyrically some of these songs are more minimalist. What do you hope people get out of your music, both from the words and messages that are present and from the more contemplative instrumental periods?
Foremost, I hope they get enjoyment out of it! I’d like for each person to get something different out of it. The messages throughout the album are relatable to the average person and hopefully connects with them in some way or another. The album is very melancholic and I think it’s this sort of melancholia that bonds us together, saying we aren’t alone when we hear this type of music and in a kind of strange way it’s uplifting.
How has the reception been now that we’re a couple weeks out from Transcend’s release?
It’s been very positive so far. I was very nervous leading up to the release date of this album, I assumed most would hate it and consider it trash! But it’s been very good to my surprise. I had a few people tell me that it brought them to tears while listening to it, that was something I wasn’t expecting to hear.
What’s next for Ancestors Index?
The next thing for Ancestors Index is to finish writing the next album and head into a studio to record it. I plan to add members to the band around that time so I can bring this music to a live setting.