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WIFE Returns with 'Standard Nature' EP Inspired by Environmental Research in the Rainforest

The Tri Angle affiliate has finally followed up his 2014 LP 'What's Between.'
Photo by Camille Blake

It's been a few years since Irish musician WIFE—aka James Kelly, former vocalist and guitarist for black metal band Altar of Plagues—released his 2014 debut LP What's Between on Tri Angle. Now he's back with a new EP called Standard Nature on the traditionally metal-focused imprint Profound Lore that you get to hear in full today. On the production side of things Standard Nature delivers smudged, mildewy sound design that underscores its solemn emotional feel. Kelly has described his previous solo work in terms of human vulnerability, laying bare the imperfections in his sound; here, he uses software to lend his voice the quality of warped choral music.


The record suggests an odd kind of storytelling, where narrative is left ambiguous. Eager to fill in the blanks, THUMP interviewed Kelly over email—we talked about his experience as an environmental researcher, how he's spent his time since What's Between, and the relationship between nature and machines.

THUMP: It's been a couple years since we last heard new material from you. What have you been up to in the time since What's Between? Have you been writing music this whole time?
WIFE: I've been making music constantly in the time since my last record, but this was mostly for other musical projects like composing for advertisements, film, and TV. My now defunct band Altar of Plague also did a bit of touring in the time since.

Shortly after What's Between came out, I left London where I had been living for almost six years, spent some time in LA, and finally wound up in Berlin. This record was conceived quite quickly in Berlin and I made a conscious effort to work more quickly than I had before. The previous album was quite the opposite—it took a painfully long time, and became an endurance test by the end of it. In hindsight, although I don't want to diminish What's Between, I feel that I rushed into making it a little too soon after finishing the final Altar of Plagues record. I was actually quite spent creatively and should have taken a breather.

In THUMP's initial email conversations about this EP, we learned that your work as an environmental researcher in the Costa Rican rainforest inspired the record. What specific work were you doing? How did that time end up influencing the EP?
I found a work opportunity in Costa Rica after I had finished my undergrad, and saw it as a good way of getting some work experience and preparing myself for the adult world of real jobs. I was a part of a team of researchers located in a remote camp in the Osa Peninsula without electricity or running water. The forest we were located in was a former logging site which had been bought by a US charity in the late seventies, and was being regenerated. Effectively we were collecting data for comparative analysis so it could be determined if the land was improving over time. The specific research ranged from monitoring the movement of populations of monkeys to monitoring water quality.


I choose to study environmental science almost ten years ago. I grew up in rural Ireland and have always been close to nature, and chose to study the subject at a time when the climate debate was really coming to the fore, but in a sort of hopeful and encouraging way. There was still a scientific grounding that the damage caused to the Earth was reversible, whereas now it is agreed almost unanimously that we have failed to meet all key environmental targets, and have gone far beyond the apex in terms of reversible damage.

I'm not sure why exactly but I began thinking of my time in Costa Rica during the past year. I specifically kept thinking of this image, which I saw from a bus passing a logging site, of a chainsaw meeting a tree—the collision of the natural and the man made. It seemed to tie in naturally with the music I was writing and I then began inserting recordings I had from my time in Costa Rica into the mix and it all just formed quite naturally.

Can you tell us about the title, Standard Nature? It seems to suggest a kind of impossible idea, because what we think of as "nature" is very rapidly changing in the anthropocene [the current geological epoch defined by humanity's effects on the earth].
Exactly—it's an impossible idea, as is the idea that we can preserve, halt, or control nature in any way. But the controlling of nature is an enormous part of our existence today, it is what sustains us.

We do have this 'standard' idyllic, postcard version of nature and that is how so many of us see nature. Its perceived harmony offers some contrast to our constructed world.

It sounds like there's a decent amount of Autotune on this record. What drew you to that tool for this project?
There is actually very little on the record, it's more a a case of me chopping and sampling my own voice quite a bit. I've always liked to manipulate my voice and consider it more as a vocal instrument than an upfront lead vocal.

Manipulating and twisting my voice so much on this EP ties in with the idea on the record cover, seeing nature reflected in machines, something organic passing though machines. I wanted the voice to sound like its being torn down by its surroundings but still pushing through. Like a flower growing through a crack in the concrete.

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