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Sean Townsend and Somnambulist Red
By Ben Larson
Fort Wayne Reader
The story of Sean Townsend and his band, Somnambulist Red is closely associated with the entire Fort Wayne metal scene of the last 10 years or so. With ties to Fog, Typhus, Graves of the Endless Fall, The Lurking Corpses, ad infinitum, Townsend seems to have played with every metal musician worth his salt. “It’s really been an incestuous kind of thing,” he joked when recalling all the people with whom he has collaborated over the years.
That being said, these days Somnambulist Red is more of a progressive rock band than a metal outfit, though they retain the same sort of eerie, nightmarish qualities that are reminiscent of metal music.
The band just released their fourth official album, Suspended Between Shores, and the story of how that album came to be is really the story of the group itself.
“The band has been around now for ten years as of February. It started off as a two-man project with a guy named Alex. It was much more ambient, with no real cohesion between the songs. It wasn’t until ’06 when I started incorporating other elements outside of the ambient.”
Since then, Somnambulist Red developed a style that lately is more reminiscent of groups like Goblin (the Italian prog-rock band responsible for scoring many of Dario Argento’s films), or even Vangelis at times, and Townsend himself describes the overall aesthetic as “cinematic soundscapes.” There is a reason for that, as all of S.R.’s official albums, except Suspended Between Shores, have also doubled as soundtracks to Townsend’s short films. “The first time I had a live band at all for Somnambulist Red was when we played a show at Cinema Center Tech [in 2007]. I had made a short film called ‘Dream with a Window’, and had recorded everything for the soundtrack myself, but I was able to put together a pretty interesting team for that show.” Citing logistical issues, that lineup didn’t last, but Townsend has since been able to put together musicians who have allowed Somnambulist Red to further broaden their scope and sound.
“Darran [Dearing] is the bass player. He was in Fog back in the day, as well as The Lurking Corpses. He’s in like six bands right now, I think. He’s so good. We’re also in another band, called Maligned Starfist, where he’s writing all the songs and playing guitar, and I’m playing bass. We’ve been in projects together, and friends, since ’97, but once he expressed interest in playing with Somnambulist Red [beginning with 2009’s And Floating Viscera], I think it really changed what I could do with the band.
“I’ve also been playing with another metal drummer now, which is Jeff [Mhaghnius], who also plays drums in Typhus and Maligned Starfist. He’s on the newest album, and I think he did a great job. A lot of the stuff he did really surprised me, being that he’s from such a metal background, and he’s such a metal guy, but he was expressing parts that I don’t think he ever had a chance to get out playing black metal. He was talking about his Stewart Copeland influences, to which I was like ‘yes, do that as much as possible,’ and I can hear it in certain songs and passages. And all three of us love Voivod, so it was like ‘yes, make it as sci-fi as possible.’
“That’s how we got to that stage in this particular project. Then I just started writing songs in March and April of 2010, and immediately when Jeff picked up the gist of the first song, it led to how I wrote all of the other songs, and they’re more upbeat, and have more rock stylings that perhaps I’ve had before.”
As much as Townsend is clearly the lead songwriter of the group, he’s also quick to give credit where credit is due. “I write the songs, but we all arrange them, and the arranging is such a huge part of it. So I’m writing it, but I can’t take credit for how good they sound or what they’re contributing to it in any way.”
One thing Townsend can take 100% credit for, however, is the artwork for the album, which is where his background as a visual artist becomes apparent. Suspended Between Shores comes in an over-sized package, with full LP-quality artwork. Every copy of the album is also hand-numbered and signed by Townsend (mine is #34/500), which gives each one a feeling of being special and unique. “It’s like I’m saying, hopefully unpretentiously, that this is a finished piece of art. This is something that I can present to other people, and not be embarrassed about. Also, I despise jewel cases, and I feel like it’s something that could be displayed as a piece of art, or would go along vinyl in people’s homes, but hopefully it’s more memorable because it is a framed piece of art. That’s certainly what I’m going for.”
Somnambulist Red can be found on Facebook or at myspace.com/somnambulistred