Fire-Toolz' Angel Marcloid on Screamo, Meditation, and Our Relationship With the Internet

Fire-Toolz' Angel Marcloid on Screamo, Meditation, and Our Relationship With the Internet
Angel Marcloid by Lyndon French
Angel Marcloid by Lyndon French

Angel Marcloid has been making really fascinating music forever now—I was just listening to her latest album as Nonlocal Forecast the other day—but she's gained a lot of attention in recent years because of her Fire-Toolz project, which mashes together a lot of seemingly sonically disparate elements into something brutally sublime. Her new album as Fire-Toolz, Eternal Home, comes out next month on the always-fascinating Hausu Mountain, and in August we hopped on Zoom to talk about her music as well as life in general.

How has life been for you the last 18 months?

On one hand, it's been really great, because I am a person who loves solitude. I don't like being in the city or around a lot of people, and I'm very content being home with my cats, working on music and relaxing. I don't need a lot of social activity to feel like a person. But obviously the world's on fire, so that's been hard. I have plenty of my own emotional and mental things that come with me everywhere I go, no matter what's going on outside, so I'm always working with those.

It's been really rough, actually—not pandemic-related—but right now specifically things are much better than they were over, I don't know, the last 20 or 30 years? [Laughs] Where's the line where something starts and ends, where you're feeling good and feeling bad? It seems so blurry.

I recently quit drinking, and that's been rearranging my own life prioritization.

That will do so much to you. You can't help but have your life change dramatically just by doing that.

There is that feeling of where it ends and begins, though. I have a friend in recovery who was like, "The pandemic really did something crazy to all of us," and I said to him, "I feel like I might've always been this way, actually."

We all were. It's not the pandemic. What's happening is that when you throw the pandemic into the mix, you get a result. You put two chemicals together that get an explosion, but just because the second chemical causes a result doesn't mean you didn't have the first chemical the entire time.

There's a propensity for all this to happen. The pandemic is just bringing out of everybody what they were already dealing with—unless you literally got sick, and before you got it you weren't dealing with it. But how you handle that is still indicative of where you were before it hit.

I've found that trying to embrace the things that make me happy have helped, instead of just trying to mute all the bad stuff in my brain.

I think it's the other way around. The happiness is what gets muted by the shit in your brain. Happiness is in there, we just fuck it up and put all this other stuff on top of it. But when you clear out the bullshit, what you find at the bottom was already peace and contentment. It's not something you have to find. It's something you have to dig up.

Photo courtesy of Angel Marcloid
Photo courtesy of Angel Marcloid

What helps you unearth your happiness and get through the days?

A lot. Despite my seemingly easy life—and it has been so easy in a lot of ways—my emotional life has been so intense. I feel like I do a whole lot of work just to be able to be normal, and to somebody who has their shit more together, it might seem like overkill. But for me, literally every single stressful situation is an opportunity to grow, retrain my brain, and practice not spiraling and staying grounded. If I can do some thinking, then I try to remember what I know to be true about whatever is going on. A lot of times, that helps me separate those things to be true from fear, self-doubt, and catastrophizing.

I meditate—mostly mantra-type meditation at the moment, influenced by a combination of ancient Hindu practices and contemporary Christian practices that you'd see at monasteries. I go for walks most mornings when everyone's at work or school, because I can walk through the neighborhoods without encountering people—although I do like encountering people sometimes, it's always delightful when things are pleasant.

I also spent a lot of time digesting philosophy and psychology content. A lot of it is self help-y stuff, some of it is just wisdom—listening to audiobooks, presentations, interviews with practitioners of different methods of therapy in whatever spiritual tradition they're a part of, or a therapist that's really into Sufism. Every moment of my life is vulnerable in a way where there's a potential to lose it, so I do a lot and every day is hard work.

Every time I feel like shit, I'm like, "I should go for a walk," and then I feel way better.

It's so true. Some therapists prescribe nature therapy. One of my doctors, when I first started seeing him, the first thing he did before any medication was ever discussed was say, "You need to meditate and exercise regularly." Some studies show that it works ten times more than medication for a lot of people. Walks are great, especially if you're able to be in a more natural area—although some people are really moved by walking through a busy city and seeing everything that's going on.

But it's simultaneously important to try to take a look inside and trace that feeling you have down until you can find the roots of it, or at least deeper layers. That kind of thing doesn't just come from nowhere. Maybe there are some weird situations where you have an imbalance of chemicals that have nothing to do with your upbringing or trauma, and then it isn't true. But if you're feeling like shit and you go for a walk and then you feel better, you have to wonder what was there that caused it. Sometimes the roots to all the way to early childhood, and depending on your spiritual leanings you might entertain that it came before that, but that's because I'm super down with reincarnation. [Laughs]

In several senses, the work is never over, too.

Yup, and when the work is over, we don't come back and continue to incarnate on Earth. It's never over, but then it is.

Tell me about the meaning of the new album's title.

One way that I didn't mean it was in regards to the physical home—your house—because it's not eternal at all. Although the name of Side D is "Home For Now," which is obviously not eternal. But that refers to the physical home. It's kind of a long story, but that is something that a spiritual guidance counselor told me when I was struggling with impermanence and feeling very unsettled.

She told me that where I am is home for now, and that really made an impact on me. It's such a beautiful acceptance of impermanence and uncertainty about the future, which can never be guaranteed. When we think of the word "home," we do think of a permanence of sorts, because it's our home base that we return to no matter where we were. But "for now" is an open acceptance of that impermanence. It encouraged me to relax, because I am home. I can sink into it because I am home for now.

But Eternal Home is more of a statement about our existence in general. The center of existence is love—you could say peace too maybe, they're very related. That's our home, and any time we aren't home there, it's because we're deluded to believe that we're not. Not being home could be represented as feeling terrible and struggling with hatred or judgment, or any kind of mental darkness. That's what sin originally meant in the Christian tradition—it's an archery term, so it means "To miss the mark." It's about recognizing that wherever we are, no matter what we're doing, we're always home.

Your music sounds as digitally native to me as it does explicitly human. What were your earliest experiences using the internet?

My Fire-Toolz material doesn't dive too deep into too much internet-y [stuff]—I tend to stick to abstract subjects, but there's metaphors in the imagery, videos, and even song titles. I would say they play a huge part in the music and overall feel in general, even though I don't write lyrics about the early internet. But it's very influential. Do you know where Fire-Toolz came from [as a name]?

Explain it to me.

It's the name of some shitty software that somebody made in the mid-'90s that was supposed to be an AOL pranking program—mail bombs, flooding chat rooms, pinging people to death in attempts to kick them offline. Edgy teenager mild terrorism type of stuff. It's technically illegal software, but all the cool internet kids would download things like Fire-Toolz and badly put-together applications. I picked it out as a shout-out to early internet and fake hacking.

You've seen memes of little kids with spiked blonde hair, sitting at the computer. They look over to you and give you a thumbs-up, and they're typing really fast—it's intense and exciting. I really relate to that. I spent so much time online growing up. I've always been a bit antisocial and afraid, so the internet was cozy and safe back then. I felt like I could hide and be anonymous, but also have total freedom at the same time. Now, it's almost like the opposite. You're never anonymous and you're not free at all. But back then you could go where you wanted and nothing would follow you beyond your own internet history. There weren't comment threads on every single page, no matter what the hell you were looking at. Growing up with that brought me a lot of peace and comfort.

I feel like I'm chasing that feeling these days when I get on the internet. It just doesn't feel like cruising the information superhighway anymore. It's just all of these default locations that just get opened up by habit, and then we play around with them—Twitter and whatever else. There's no more sitting down at a search engine and asking, "Where should I go now? What am I gonna do?" I just miss that. It was my third parent, the internet.

I was going to ask you as a follow-up about how your engagement with the internet has changed since.

We all have a responsibility to figure out what's hurting and helping us, and to find the best balance that we can. I used to think the internet and social media is a tool—you can choose how to use it. I realized that, wait, we don't have as much of a choice as we think. We can't go anywhere without ads or notifications, or clever ways of reeling us into something. Now I feel like—I don't use this term lightly because of the connotations—it's a form of slavery, and we've all been slowly manipulated into that.

There are people who hardly use the internet at all or do any social networking apart from email, and those people are fucking annoying because they can't catch up and deal with how everyone else does stuff. They're hard to get a hold of and are always wondering why we haven't written back, and their emails are so short. They call us on the phone in response to an email. That sucks, because we all need time away from this stuff to stay sane, and I really feel the effects of it.

Sometimes when I'm not looking at my phone and just relaxing, and I get the urge, it's disorienting to resist it and live in that moment where you want to use it and decide not to. Your brain's like, "What do I do now? How do I keep watching this thing I'm watching on TV, which is a distraction in itself? How do I watch this episode of The Office and just stay in it when I'm supposed to be on my phone as well?" That pisses me off. I didn't ask for that. I was just trying to use the internet as a tool, and as a fun thing—a place to escape and enjoy my life and do cool stuff. I didn't ask for this brainwashing, this slow, subtle, extreme manipulation. I would say it's still technically something that's a tool where you can control how you use it, but you have to be very conscious about what's going on, and you have to practice forming some form of independence.

Aside from social media, I'm just addicted to checking my work email because I need money. I want to work, and I need jobs. Take away Twitter and Instagram and I'm still a Gmail junkie. We just need to make sure that we intentionally take chunks of time to fully dedicate to doing things that don't involve social networking. There are a lot of people who don't do that, and it's bad. Our attention spans are fucked.

One of the best things we can do, instead of focusing so much energy on resisting, is replacing. Instead of not going on social media, spend more time doing stuff that doesn't involve it to treat the problem. The more that you focus your attention on other things, the more you train your brain to be able to switch to that seamlessly, and the more your brain gets used to not having to reach for your phone all the time. Reach for your phone when you want to and are allowing yourself to, but go outside, or watch movies with your phone in the other room. You gotta give yourself something to replace it. It's very hard to resist social media and just sit there.

Do you play video games?

I don't, pretty much at all, but I love them. I have a Super Mario tattoo and a Metroid tattoo. I love video game music and I love watching people play video games, but I won't pick up a controller.

I have a friend who tried to get into video games to limit his time on social media, but the cutscenes were so long that he ended up checking social media anyway.

I understand that. As much flack as gamers get for "throwing their life away," I would say it's much better to do that than spend so much time to social media. You're doing stuff to your brain that is positive, and when you have a community that's always good. You're being social, but it's with your peers, in a chat room on Twitch or something. That's a little bit safer.

You can curate your social circle on social media, but there are so many open doors to other communities—and that's a good thing, but it's a lot easier to avoid seeing things from people that you violently disagree with when you're playing games with your peers than it is on Twitter, because you're just gonna be more exposed to stuff that'll make you rage. The only people you're conversing with are in your group at that moment.

I'm very intrigued by the black metal textures you use in your work as Fire-Toolz. It's even more prominent on the new album. What led you to employ those in your work?

I love prog and death metal a lot more than I love black metal. But what I really love about black metal, and the reason I started tapping into it at all, is that I was really into noise for a handful of years. There's certain noise projects that would blend what they were doing with black metal—harsh textures and drones with reverb-y shrieking. There's also a lot of old, nasty black metal bands whose recording gear sucks and they're going through a really lo-fi thing.

I heard this neo-folk [project] called Worm's Blood, which are really shriek-y, and I thought, "Why don't I make stuff like that on the computer? Why aren't more people putting those type of vocals over industrial or dance-y music?" There's Skinny Puppy and all, but I wanted to do something actually black metal, but not necessarily with the instrumentation—with the vocal delivery. So I just started doing that, and it worked out. I've been a vocalist in a lot of bands, and I've been in bands that were more about belting out than the shrinking I do here. My vocal style isn't very loud—if I were to raise my voice a little bit [right now], it'd be similar to how my voice is on the Fire-Toolz albums. So I just got really comfortable with it.

I was also fascinated by blending it with music and textures that most people feel would never provide a space for those vocals. I remember being really young and so moved by certain kinds of music from the '80s, especially what people were doing with keyboards. And then I got older and discovered emo and screamo, and I was hearing these really melodic, dissonant and beautiful guitars happening with people screaming at the top of their lungs over it. The music wasn't even heavy at times! The way that sounded to me shocked my system, it was the most amazing thing.

With Fire-Toolz, I really want to normalize the sound of beautiful, melodic keyboards and jazz fusion influences with those tortured shrieks over them. It's something beautiful to me. Mentally and emotionally—moreso emotionally now than mentally, because my mind is a lot healthier than my nervous system, it seems—it's very cathartic. I discovered that vibe in old screamo and did my own version.

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Jamie Larson