“The idea of the Church Of The Black Wash was this make-believe cult to talk about when a predator preys on someone vulnerable.”
Behind the equally fierce and danceable blackened rock of Pagan’s debut album, ‘Black Wash‘, are the life experiences, painful memories, and inner-most thoughts taken straight from frontwoman, Nikki Brumen. To say that it’s a personal creation for her is a gross understatement. While ‘cathartic’ is a highly over-used word these days, for the Pagan vocalist, the Melbourne four-pieces debut album was cathartic for herself right down to the goddamned T.
“It’s just really symbolic of being in trapped in a bad relationship that you can’t get out of,” she tells me.
“The idea of the Church Of The Black Wash was this make-believe cult to talk about when a predator preys on someone vulnerable. And that vulnerable person feels like they can’t get out of whatever they’re trapped in. That’s where it all came from. The words “Black Wash” was just something that came up, like creating something dark and smeared; painted black or dirty. Just all of the things that come with that idea.”
This relationship angle of the album’s theme tie deeply into the lyrical content of songs like ‘Death Before Disco’, ‘Silver‘, ‘Blood Moon‘, ‘The Greatest Love Songs‘. Take your pick, really, as there’s plenty of emotionally caustic and fiery tracks to choose from. And Nikki continues on this path of conversation of the pain and the self-growth that came afterwards.
“The entire album is essentially a break-up album, so to speak. Without slandering the person, I was in romantic relationship for four years. I’m not with that person now nor in contact with them. It was a really big part of my life. When I ended the relationship, that was when we started the album, so it was really therapeutic for me to be able to write the lyrics while I was grieving it. It also made me learn a lot of myself over the past four years and became a great healing process. I think if you listen back to the record you can hear that raw emotion in my vocals, which is what I really wanted to get in there.”
“Death Before Disco is a good starting one, looking at a relationship that went pear-shaped in which I found someone to be gaslighting me; making it feel it was my fault and that I was the problem. Which I don’t think was the case at all. Though the record doesn’t look at it in a linear order, more looking at the entire journey of that relationship, the intro and outro songs [‘Il Malocchio Si Apre’ and ‘Il Malocchio Si Chiude’] are real bookends for the journey inside the record.”
Songs like ‘Blood Moon‘ and ‘Imitate Me‘ also discuss this relationship further, talking about how it’s fallout impacted other aspects and people in the singer’s life as well. Especially the latter song – a Pagan staple if there ever was one!
“Basically, going through a really hard time personally and seeing that the people who I thought should’ve been there for me just weren’t’. They were almost apart of the problem as well, and me realizing to sever all ties with such people. As that toxicity isn’t good in my life. In that regard, it’s very much about that journey which is perfect as we always wanted that song [Imitate Me] to be on Black Wash.”
As for that predatory nature the vocalist spoke of before? Well, that can be found within the hallowed bones of a track like ‘Holy Water‘; a song reflecting the ugliness and creepiness of the Catholic Church and the exorcism of the exorcism of Anneliese Michel. Now, originally, I thought I was maybe reading too much into the band’s promo for their Holy Communion headline Melbourne show earlier this year; in their posting of old childhood photos of drummer Matt Marasco and Nikki. Turns out, I was onto a really big part of why Pagan’s gothic aesthetic is what it is, and why they play up the occultish/religious element of the quartet’s image.
“We all have been individually baptized when we were babies into the Catholic Church”, states Nikki.
“Therefore we all went to Catholic schooling and one thing they all do this thing called the ‘holy communion’, where you break the bread and someone drinks some wine or some shit. It’s a good thing that I’ve gone through in my life as it’s given me the knowledge and reasoning as to why I’m not a religious person now. I think you need to be able to back up your argument with info on the subject. Going to a Catholic school has made me aware of why I don’t like the Catholic Church. Now, we can use it in a Pagan, tongue and cheek way with how creepy it is all.”
As someone who went to a Christian high school – for the decent IB educational purposes, not the religious side of it – I feel this on a spiritual level. Pun fuckin’ intended!
If you’ve been following the budding Melbourne blackened rock band for a while, you may note that the band’s Bandcamp released singles all come with roman numeral attached. In a 2017 interview between the Pagan leader and myself that never got published because I was in one hell of a dark period in my life last year and many things fell through the cracks, I remember Nikki saying that it was actually apart of something larger. So what was the initial deal with and did they fit into the album’s same theme? After all, some of their recent singles, like ‘Good Grief‘ for instance, do not appear on this LP. But as she states, there actually was no plan for an album.
“They do, somewhat. They do lyrically talk about part of the record. But the number side of things was that we as a band originally never wanted to release an album. We’d just release 13 singles over time. But then we started recording the album after speaking with EVP Recordings and had a conversation that as we’ve been given this opportunity to make an album, let’s just do it. So we are no longer doing those 13 singles. But some of the songs that we were going towards the 13 were worked on with Mike Deslandes and they were perfect for the album as well. [‘Imitate Me’ and ‘Wine and Lace’]. As just when I was going through all of my shit was when we found our sound as a band,” she mentions.
Speaking of Mike’s production, it’s really bloody good! The High Tension guitarist has a real knack for bringing out the best in bands for whatever is required of them to create their artistic vision. This was true of his work with The Nation Blue for the tracking process of their last two albums, ‘Black‘ and ‘Blue‘ – recorded in my own hometown of Kyneton of all places – and was true of his recent on the new Outright 7”, ‘Holler‘. In terms of his work with Pagan, however, Nikki could not say enough good things about Mike’s in-studio role and how he brought the best out of her and her three band mates.
“We love Mike and he’s apart of our family now. Because we know him so well on a personal and artistic level, he just really knows how to get the best out of us as a band. For me, we had two days booked in the studio for all of my vocals. But there were a few… family emergencies that occurred and we had to change scheduling, as a result we had a full day in the studio and I was really nervous. As the most time I’ve tracked vocals in the studio before was four, so it was really hard and strenuous due to the way I use my voice in Pagan. Working with Mike, I just got into this weird emotional zone and giving everything I could to record. Some five hours later, I’d tracked ten songs, and I was stoked with it. Honestly, I never would’ve thought I’d have that in me. It’s just cause he knows how to get it out of you and push me in the right way. He’s just amazing to work with!”
Header PC: Andrew Basso.
‘Black Wash’ is out right fucking now via EVP Recordings. Read my review of it right fucking now.
Check out the band’s upcoming travelling sermons below:
Saturday 11 August – Crown & Anchor, Adelaide
Saturday 18 August – Crowbar, Brisbane
Friday 24 August – The Tote, Melbourne
Saturday 25 August – Brisbane Hotel, Hobart
Friday 31 August – The Lansdowne, Sydney