Washington DC is the town where you find gothic rock duo, Amulet. They released their debut album, The House Of Black And White in 2021 and it has a whopping sixteen tracks on it. Talk about getting more bang for your buck. Stephanie Stryker and MJ Phoenix have created an album full of quintessential inky gloom and a southern gothic feel that will warm the cockles of many a darkling’s black little heart. They remind me a lot of the wonderful Concrete Blonde with that heavy bass and ringing guitar, along with the laconic and unhurried drawl of the vocals, giving it the feel of a night out with Anne Rice’s vampires, in New Orleans, with the heady aroma of wisteria in the air. They have started to also collaborate with other acts and as a result we also have the amazing electronic remix of “Falling Down” by unitcode:machine which should be on high rotation on dance floors and sound systems. So we decided to open up a vein and ask Amulet a few questions which they kindly did between gigs.

Welcome Amulet to the darkside of Onyx.

Amulet is a fairly new project. How did it all come together?

MJ Phoenix: In October 2019, we wrapped a rehearsal with our old band that played a repertoire cover songs. I said I wanted to write a concept album of original music. So three of us from that group began to write songs. As we went through the writing and producing process, Stephanie and I felt it would be better to form our own group, independent of our third member, due to diverging musical styles. He agreed and Amulet was formed!

Stephanie Stryker: Most people say things and don’t do it, but a few months later during lockdown, tracks started appearing in my email from MJ. We spent over a year writing while he lived in Washington, DC and I lived Dallas, TX. Now I’ve returned to the DC area and we have formed a live band!

Are you both from a goth rock background with other previous bands?

SS: Nope, our previous band was a classic rock cover band, and MJ’s bands before that were a diverse mix between funk and rock jam bands. I am a goth/industrial head though, so it makes me very happy to make music that I like to listen to also!

Your debut album House of Black + White has a Southern blues style to it at times, that musically reminds me a lot of Concrete Blonde while at other times there is a post-punk vibe with the bass and percussion. What was the process in creating the album?

MJ: Almost all the tracks started with bass parts. When I write, I let the instrument feel its way to where it wants to go for that song. I also almost always start with bass lines written in minor keys. Once the bass line reveals itself, I play around with guitar parts to compliment. From there, I pass to Steph for vocals, sometimes with melodies and sometimes not. While I wrote most of the guitar parts on the album, many of the final guitar recordings were played by Stephanie’s brother John Taylor, a professional guitarist from Nashville, TN. Keys were added later by both John and I to round out the sound.

SS: This is the first recorded music I’ve done so the learning curve was steep! As MJ mentioned, he would mostly send me close-to-finished drafts and I would record demos for vocals in Logic. I would often write or contribute to the vocal melodies. Two of the songs on the album are written by me, Last Ditch and Witchfinder. With Last Ditch, I sang the whole thing a cappella and handed to MJ for music. With Witchfinder, I produced a musical skeleton along with lyrics and vocals which we both developed the final track from there. After our drafts were done, we hit the studio for many hours of vocal recording, mixing, and mastering!

Did it feel a little ambitious releasing a 16 track album as your debut?

MJ: We actually had trouble stopping. We have many more tracks that could have been made but we had to stop somewhere. Clear Blue Sky was the last track. I wrote it quickly and it made itself very clear it needed to live on this album.

SS: As someone who was a teen in the 1990s, I fully expect albums to have at least 12 tracks (usually closer to 15) in order for me to consider it a full album. My favorite album of all time is Nine Inch Nails’ The Fragile, which is a double album. So, I really wanted to give people their money’s worth. These days, an album on Bandcamp is only $7 USD, so for 16 tracks, that’s a damn good deal I’d say! We actually have more tracks that could have made it on there, but we just needed to put a cap on it at some point.

Your music seems to touch some very personal subjects, so are you writing from experience or as an observer?

SS: MJ’s been dumped a lot of times, ha! I wrote my songs on this album from an observer’s perspective. This was my first foray into writing, so I didn’t dive as deep into my personal issues. Writing more and working with MJ has taught me a lot about using music to express that side of my life, as well. Expect more sad, emotional tracks from me in the future!

MJ: While there is plenty of my own life in the album topics, it is also an expression of general dissatisfaction and a comment on those experiences that most people go through. Though mainly about relationships, there are also a few tracks about dissatisfaction with the modern political climate, which again, I think most people can relate to.

You had other musicians play on the album with you and Amulet has been playing live shows, so do you play with backing tapes or do you have a live band to play with you?

SS: We have a six-person live band now! They are not the same folks who played session work on our album, but local musicians from the Washington, DC area. We have MJ on bass, myself on lead vocal, Damian Himeros on lead guitar, Bob Carr on rhythm guitar and backing vocals, Alison Freyja on keyboard and backing vocals, and Thomas Grothe on drums.

How did you find trying to release an album during the pandemic and how has it changed the way you do business?

MJ: Not much to compare it to since this is our first album. Since so many people were stuck at home, there is probably more competition than there was. We’ve also had to take a little more time to go live due to the pandemic, but we’ve used that time to build the live band. The real challenge is breaking through the mass of music and other information on the internet and just getting the album into people’s ears.

Our formative music choices often colour our tastes, so in that vein, what acts did you listen to when you were younger?

MJ: I grew up in Liverpool, UK in the 1970s and 80s so I was greatly influenced of the counterculture music of the time. Sex Pistols, Bowie, Pink Floyd, Blondie, Led Zepplin, Gary Numan, punk, new wave, reggae, and funk (even played in a funk band).

SS: I was a suburban 90s mall goth, so I loved the dark alternative giants of the time: Nine Inch Nails, Manson, Skinny Puppy, Stabbing Westward, etc. Graduating high school, I fell in love with David Bowie, Sisters of Mercy, and The Cure, as well as EBM and industrial dance acts like VNV Nation, Apop, Icon of Coil, Covenant, etc.

Whom do you listen to now?

MJ: Amulet! I’m usually writing in my head.

SS: I still do have my old favorites on rotation. When I’m not listening to our music, it’s usually some harsh EBM or aggrotech acts like Alien Vampires, Suicide Commando, Nachtmar, etc. I am really obsessed with Faderhead’s new release Years of the Serpent right now.

What is in the future for Amulet?

MJ: A lot in store! We are building out our live show and beginning to gig regionally in our area. We are also working on two new album concepts: A sequencer and synth-based electronic direction for one (this may turn into a side project) and a more Amulet-style rock album. And who knows, we might write another dark lounge track (yes we did that! Secrets + Lies on Bandcamp). We are also currently working on a remix album for House of Black + White with other collaborators (so far, we are working with unitcode:machine, Red This Ever, and Grendel).

SS: All that, but we are also visual artists! We have several music videos coming up and we will be filming more soon. We also have a catalog of art photography that we’d like to showcase and make available to our fans. I am a graphic designer by day and have a degree in fashion design, so there are a lot of ways I can see expanding Amulet into a wide-reaching artistic endeavor beyond just music.

Check us out on Instagram and Facebook (@amulettheband), we are constantly posting our photography and often I will write poetry as well. Our website is amuletheband.com, we’d love to have you join our mailing list and follow us for updates! Thanks so much for reaching out to us.

Thank you for the music and we hope to hear more music from you soon!

https://amulettheband.bandcamp.com/

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