Scott Endres has an anxiety problem, and he self-medicates."It follows me every moment of my life," says Endres, the 34-year-old guitarist of Chapel Hill post-metal trio MAKE. "I exist now and I'll be dead forever."
Endres says he's been plagued by this existential angst since he was a child. It's led to substance abuse problems, and he volunteers that he probably drinks more than he should. But today, he sits in his living room late on a sunny afternoon, smiling and laughing. His little house stands in a wooded neighborhood just north of Franklin Street, and he makes easy, relaxed conversation. Perhaps that's because he's talking about music, the only consistently effective treatment he's ever found. Things are good now.
But last November, when Reservoir co-owner Wes Lowder died in a single-vehicle crash, Endres' anxiety peaked. They weren't close friends, but MAKE had recently played the Reservoir's Ragnarok anniversary weekend, a yearly sort of thank-you from the bar to its favorite heavy bands. Endres liked and respected Lowder. His death was a reminder of how vulnerable humans really are, an invitation to sink back into nihilism. "We're just sacks of meat that can be poked," says Endres, "and then it's done."
This time, Endres retreated to music as self-therapy, hunkering down with the rest of MAKE to write Trephine, a post-apocalyptic concept album that wobbles down the line between redemption and resignation. It is dedicated to the remembrance of Lowder.
"I started putting a vague idea of a story together. This band is already really cathartic to me, but I needed to focus that on something," he says. Endres leaves many of the record's details to interpretation, but he does admit Trephine's central character is traumatized and may be experiencing psychogenic fugue—a sort of waking fantasy state marked by amnesia. He wanders through a destroyed landscape, trying to piece together what went wrong. The record has two settings: a dystopic wasteland and the inside of a mental hospital. Endres deliberately never clarifies which one is imaginary, but in writing Trephine, he and bassist, vocalist and lyricist Spencer Lee both keyed on Cormac McCarthy's novel The Road.
"Spencer and I got together and we storyboarded," explains Endres, who wrote short paragraphs that detailed the protagonist's journey to his ruined birthplace and other devastated places. Lee subsequently shaped them into lyrics.
"I really like the idea of a band being a manifestation of a collective consciousness," says Lee. "Even though the formal storyboard was written towards the end of the writing process, we were all on the same page as far as the general themes of the record from the beginning. "
The name Trephine derives from trephination, a brutal, archaic, lobotomy-like procedure. The intriguing if disturbing cover image features a trephinated skull, with a huge, diamond-shaped hole knocked into one side. It's an appropriate representation of this album's painful origins and its monstrous, raging sound. From Lee's rusted howls to Endres' disorienting soundscape passages, Trephine is a melancholic sprawl. It is, after all, very personal.
"I feel like I would be cheating if I were playing music that didn't involve at least my own emotional engagement," says Lee. Heavy music has long been a haven to him, a perfect release for confidential demons.
Lee, Endres and drummer Matt Stevenson all see metal as a similar outlet, but they all arrived at the form differently. Stevenson is the most recent convert. He and a friend moved from Henderson, N.C., to Chapel Hill expressly to play music. His friend, Andrew Marlin, split off and did his own thing, eventually forming the folk duo Mandolin Orange. Stevenson worked at UNC's Wilson Library annex, where he met Endres and Jenks Miller, not only of the manicured country-rock band Mount Moriah but also of metal form-bender Horseback. Through them, he found and fell in love with experimental metal.
Lee was into punk and hardcore as a teen: "It was a perfect blend of ferocious anger, raw expression and embrace of social rejection." He avoided metal until he was a little older because of stereotypes and what seemed to be the strictures of the genre: "I had very little exposure to it other than Metallica still being on the cover of every guitar magazine in history." When he did start exploring it, though, he immediately gravitated toward the riskier ends.
Endres is a lifer, having been in the heavy trenches some two decades now, since he was 14 with a paper route in Appleton, Wis. "Faith No More's The Real Thing was the only tape [I listened to]," he recalls. "I never took it out." He found a ton of metal bands through RIP magazine, particularly through the defunct publication's sampler tape. That's how he discovered doom metal pioneers Cathedral—one of his very favorite bands and MAKE's most obvious touchstone.
MAKE hopes that this is just the beginning of their work at the fringes of metal. Endres is currently fascinated with Mamiffer, an avant doom-folk act whose latest record spins this afternoon, exhaling a ghosted ambience into the room. He says he'd like to potentially take MAKE in a similar direction. His bandmates sound ready for it. "Throughout the whole realm of heavy music in general, especially lately, it seems like that's where a lot of the experimentation and a lot of the deeper concepts are found," Stevenson opines.
But Endres never wants to make music without that feeling of relief, even if Camus, Sartre and McCarthy come up just as often in conversation as Mamiffer, Cathedral and Locrian. Metal has a power, and that must be felt. "If I'm going to go see a band like Weedeater, I care how loud they are and how their music is making me feel or how my body is vibrating to it rather than what 'Dixie' [Dave Collins] is saying," he says. Still, there is room for deep contemplation within the form: "'Metal' just doesn't seem like the right word to use anymore."
Or, as Lee puts it, "What is animosity without reason?" Lee describes MAKE's music in philosophical terms. For him, it's "a visceral response to a feeling of psycho-social dissonance," an extension of how heavy styles like metal or hardcore allow for honest, raw expressions of emotion and thought. "That sense of almost unencumbered expression is what has always been at the heart of why I've appreciated art, literature and especially music. It's just not in me to do it any other way at this point in time."
Even as they approach such desolate concepts, these guys are cheerful; they smile, joke and laugh often. As deep as it runs, even Endres grins and makes light of his neurosis: "I relate to Woody Allen in his later films. He can't deal with it. He goes and sees a Marx Brothers movie because you have to remind yourself that life can be beautiful."
And Endres doesn't just rely on music to help control his anxiety. He has friends. They're other metal musicians and decent people around town; he specifically mentions Michelle Temple and Kevin Clark of Black Skies. "They seem to organize a lot of the better shows that come through here," Stevenson says, including numerous bills MAKE has played. More than that, though, is friendship, Endres says.
"If there's something that happened to me and that's not why Michelle called at all, she will stay on the phone with me and go through that," he admits.
Ultimately, the Trephine process—writing this record, recording it, playing shows, moving on—has been a process of doing something worthwhile with friends. Maybe that's why Endres feels so much better now.