[THERAPY FOLK] You can be forgiven for never having heard of Emil Amos. If you haven't, it's his own fault, frankly. Although he's been recording under the alias Holy Sons since the mid-'90s, his name is associated more with his drumming for groups like the Bay Area doom-metal outfit Om and Portland post-rockers Grails. As a solo artist, Amos' complete aversion to the trappings of the music industry—namely publicity, signing to a label and live performance—has kept his exploratory, genre-mangled albums from reaching all but the smallest of cult audiences.
Lately, though, Amos has begun to open up more to the idea of promoting himself. He is giving interviews. He's touring. And he put out his latest record, 2010's Survivalist Tales!, on Partisan, home to such buzzed-about acts as Middle Brother and Deer Tick. But don't interpret this change of practice for a change of heart.
"It's solely an experimental state of mind," Amos says via telephone while en route to the grandest of music biz soirées, South By Southwest. "I think once you have created enough songs in your basement or whatever, you can feel secure, in that you've developed and refined some autonomy from the world of music as it's sold."
Amos was born in Miami, right at the crux of the city's shift from slow-paced retirement village to the blood-splattered cocaine capital of the United States. He didn't start making his home tapes until relocating to North Carolina as a young adult, but those songs—compiled on 2001's The Lost Decade—were greatly informed by his coming of age just in time to witness the last remnants of '60s idealism flame out in a hail of drugs and bullets. "I don't want to paint the same old picture of harmony in the universe," he says.
And he hasn't. Over the course of the six albums he's released since moving to Portland in 1999, the music has flowed from lo-fi indie rock to weary and haunted folk, but the connective thread is Amos' desire to root around in the most damaged parts of his psyche.
"In therapy...you're supposed to expose the worst sides of yourself," he says. "If you do that in song, it's purely helping you process these chemicals that come out of your brain that are poisons, and just doing it helps you.â
Of course, sharing the worst sides of yourself with the rest of the world is a frightening proposition. But as Amos has gradually emerged from his self-imposed basement exile, he's found that his "vile, spitting therapy process" helps other people deal with their own existential search. That's part of the reason he's now experimenting with the concept of operating like a typical musician. Just don't expect it to last forever.
"I want to flirt with the industry as long as I can stand it," he says, "and I hope I can go back and regain whatever innocence I can maintain about the beauty of making a record.â MATTHEW SINGER.
SEE IT: Holy Sons plays Saturday, March 26, at Mississippi Studios with Castanets and Dolorean. 9 pm. $10. 21+.