In 2007 Josh Eustis, of acclaimed IDM duo Telefon Tel Aviv, learned that his father had been diagnosed with cancer. To deal with a flood of emotions that came with the devastating news, he channeled his feelings into Sons of Magdalene, a musical side project whose genesis dates back to 2005 while he was at Loyola University. He found solace by channeling his emotions into deeply personal songs that reflect what was happening in his world that was turned upside down.
On January 21, 2009, there was more bad news for Eustis. His musical partner in TTA and friend, Charles Cooper, III, went missing. Cooper was found dead the following day, with the cause of death deemed an accidental mix of sleeping pills and alcohol. In order to mourn the loss of his musical brother, Eustis put TTA on hold. Between 2009-2013 he worked on and off on Sons of Magdalene, producing ’80s-charged synth-based tracks in which he wore his heart on his sleeve in Chicago, Los Angeles, and Sayulita, Mexico, only to shelve the songsbecause his emotional wound was still raw.
After two stints serving as a touring member of Nine Inch Nails, Eustis decided in December 2013 that the time was finally right to release the album that is now known as Move to Pain. A gorgeous, somber and highly reflective work, Eustis says Cooper heard the early versions of the songs prior to his passing and wanted them to be the basis of the next Telefon Tel Aviv album.
“I’ll admit though,” Eustis says of the album that was nearly eight years in the making, “a lot of it was my friends leaning on me to put it out and stop moping.”
Move To Pain is a deeply personal album. You’ve kept these songs under wraps for years in lieu of Charlie’s passing. What led you to finally release these songs?
Joshua Eustis: I think it was mostly that I knew it was just sitting there on the hard drive and it made me feel weird to keep those kinds of demons hanging around. As trite as it sounds, those kinds of things have to be purged for the sake of mental and emotional stability, and getting rid of it feels good. I’ll admit though, a lot of it was my friends leaning on me to put it out and stop moping.
How did you come to use the alias Sons of Magdalene?
I’ve always been very moved by religious imagery and themes, but mostly the ones that aren’t canonical. I was raised in a very Catholic household, and while I think the value system is still in place, most of my family has since essentially abandoned the idea of going to church and listening to someone shout about absurd things, especially when so much of the message of the church is misguided. I mean how can an atheist sit through that anyway?
The name is a direct reference to Nikos Kazantzakis and The Last Temptation of Christ, which I think really hits the nail on the head about the human being known as Jesus of Nazareth. I think Christians in general forget history, or flat out ignore it, and cling too much to archaic teachings and biblical fairy tales. The “Sons of Magdalene” are the hypothetical children that Jesus would have had with the love of his life, Mary Magdalene – a former prostitute, and believed by many to be Jesus’s lover. Satan approaches Jesus when he’s up there hanging and bleeding, and says “look, man, this is absurd. I come in peace: I can give you what you want – a long, and happy life with the woman you love by your side, and you can propagate your race. Just come down.” He decided to stay there and prove a point; a pretty important one if you are actually paying attention to the amount of social justice in what he was saying. This has been lost in absurd dogma over the centuries, and this is why I abandoned religion entirely as a teenager.
“I think it was mostly that I knew it was just sitting there on the hard drive and it made me feel weird to keep those kinds of demons hanging around. As trite as it sounds, those kinds of things have to be purged for the sake of mental and emotional stability, and getting rid of it feels good.”
The album is released this month and you’ve already shared “Can’t Won’t Don’t Want To” on SoundCloud. How does it feel to finally let the cat out of the proverbial bag?
It feels like a blanket and a bowl of hot ramen after I’ve been standing out in the snow naked for too long.
Much of the album explores electronic pop. What was it about this genre that allowed you to best express yourself?
I don’t know, to be quite honest. I think I just tend to write songs more than “compositions” these days and it just came out that way. It might not stay like that — I can’t tell yet. There is just something so succinct and elegant about the song format that appeals to me more as I get older.
The instrumental “Unfortunate Phone Call” is such a beautiful song. Those cascading synth lines are gorgeous, almost cinematic. Yet the slight ‘glitch’ in the groove signals that something is wrong. Even though you don’t sing a word, a message comes through. How do you reflect on this song?
I’m glad that you picked up on that. That’s the tape machine going weird, when you hear things like that. I think it’s just a reflection of how I was feeling at the time – things seemed normal and maybe even nice but there was this sinister and tremendously sad undercurrent following me through all of it.
The album cover is really bold and visually interesting. Is there any significance to the photo of the house?
The house is a house in the Irish Channel of New Orleans, and I took that photo when I was out walking around with my friend Mike Jones. I won’t go into specifics of why that house but suffice it to say that I’ve seen it there all my life and it always left me with a feeling of being weighed down by history coupled with a brooding malice whenever I saw it. I need to give credit where credit is due, however — because David Nakamoto of Audraglint created that entire design based around only this photograph that I gave him, and he captured the essence of all of the design eras and elements that I’ve always been the most inspired by. And he did this without a single hint or word from me — just the photograph.
Will you tour to support Move To Pain, or will it remain a studio project?
I’d love to tour, but time will tell if people are interested enough in seeing it done live. If they aren’t, then I’ll stay home and write some more. If they want to see it, and I can afford to do the show the way I want — something pretty drastic and theatrical — then yes, absolutely I’ll take it on the road.
Speaking of touring, last year you toured with Nine Inch Nails. How would you describe the experience? What did you learn most from it?
I learned a lot of both what to do and what not to do. Trent has a very, very keen ear for playing, and (at least with me) was gentle in his constructive criticism so as to inspire me to try to play better, instead of scaring me into doing so. Robin Finck mentored me on a lot of the aspects of being on a stage of that magnitude that I’d never thought about, and guitar playing tricks to make things easier, etc. I think I became a better musician, which honestly isn’t saying very much since I’ve never really been a great physical player. But I also learned about bloat and excess and that sometimes it’s better to cut things out that aren’t truly necessary, and also to not “rabbit hole” on a specific idea at the cost of several other equally important things. On a stage/technical level, I think I learned something new every single day I was involved, and that was really a blessing.
I saw on your website that you’re going to focus on Telefon Tel Aviv going forward. Did touring with NIN influence that decision?
No. Not touring with NIN influenced the decision. I should clarify, though, that focusing on TTA is almost impossible – I’ll focus on writing, and if it sounds like TTA then I’m focusing on TTA. If it sounds like Sons, then it’s Sons. In the meantime I’ll write music to the best of my abilities and hopefully my Mom will still like it.
What’s your relationship like with music these days? Are you always writing, or do you carve out time to create?
Well, writing and creating are one and the same. I’m basically slowly writing music right now in between working on a couple of other records with other groups right now that I adore, my sort of “pet” projects. I’m really lazy though, and I love to hang out with my friends and play video games so who knows when I’ll have new material. There are things planned for later this year that will get released but I’m not going to say anything about that just yet.
What are your plans this summer?
Sons of Magdalene’s Move To Pain is out now on Audraglint.
Images by Ashley Klich