Epic Psychedelic Doom. That’s how Blake Carrera describes Aiwass, the solo project he started in his hometown of Flagstaff, AZ.
It’s a bold, intriguing description for the one-man band, but it’s also a solid starting point for a project that is unwaveringly heavy and infectiously groove-laden. All of this while vacillating between Doom and Stoner sensibilities.
“Man As God,” for example, is a bone-rattling anthem to becoming your most powerful self, while “The Year of the Probate” is an exhilarating rocker that places Carrera’s guitar skills front and center. Then there’s “The Sun Devil,” a Stoner Rock tune that powers forward like a true Desert Rock classic.
Man As God (Spotify)
The Year of the Probate
The Sun Devil (Spotify)
You’ll find additional songs in the Aiwass catalog (and more are on the way), but these three should give you a small taste of Carrera’s impressive range—and Aiwass’s impressive sound.
We caught up with Carrera to learn more about Aiwass and the challenges of managing a solo project.
A Conversation With Blake Carrera of Aiwass
Here’s our interview:
On Finding A Community As A One-Man Band
Monster Riff: Give us a rundown of the Stoner/Doom/Underground scene in Flagstaff, AZ. Anything happening out there?
Blake Carrera: There isn’t really much going on in Flagstaff, unfortunately. Ultimately, it’s much more of a Bluegrass and Blues town. There used to be a really great Metal venue in town, but that’s closed during COVID. In terms of the underground scene, you get some Metal, but a lot of it comes from out of town. To a certain extent, I definitely feel like I’m flying solo in a lot of ways. The “scene” for me is much more online-based out of necessity and lack of options.
Monster Riff: Recommendations for best places to connect online?
Blake Carrera: Social media, for once, is fucking awesome for connecting. I’ve made genuine friendships over Instagram and Facebook with other bands and content creators just by reaching out.
Follow bands, follow other music lovers. DM them. Comment on their posts if you really like something—don’t just “like” it. Get in groups on Facebook that are centered around your type of music and actually interact with other people. Music is ultimately a very social form of art and the more that you’re interacting with other people, the better it’s going to be for your success and growth.
On Getting Into Music
Monster Riff: How did you get started in music?
Blake Carrera: Music has always been a part of my life. My earliest memories involve music. When I was about four years old, my mom had me start piano lessons. I was damn good at it, but I hated practicing. It wasn’t until I hit puberty when I was 12 that I picked up guitar. Since then, it’s been an obsession. I think I’ve gone through more phases of musical love than is healthy—at one point I really wanted to play Outlaw Country—but Doom Metal and Stoner Rock are really intrinsic to who I am not just as a musician but also, I think, as a person.
Getting into Sabbath and Zeppelin was probably the turning point though. That was when I really started to take music seriously both as a listener and as an instrumentalist. From there, I found Punk and Metal. Hearing Sleep for the first time in high school was big and, obviously, so was Kyuss. Even though there have been times in my life that I haven’t played music as much as I would have liked, it’s always been there for me. Now it’s become such a part of me that I consider it a big part of maintaining my mental health.
Monster Riff: Have you been in other bands before Aiwass?
Blake Carrera: I’ve been in several other bands, but there was always something that came up. It seems like there’s always issues with personalities and personnel that tend to get in the way of growth in both the long term and the short term. The last band that I was in was about to play South by Southwest but we broke up because of, well, simply not getting along well enough and some substance abuse issues.
On Starting Aiwass
Monster Riff: When did you start Aiwass?
Blake Carrera: That’s a tough question to answer. When did I go live with Instagram and Bandcamp, etc.? This February. But Aiwass is well over a decade in the making. I’ve been playing this music since I was 15 and snagged my first Kyuss CD. Something about Stoner and Doom has always been in my playing and it’s why I almost switched to bass as a teenager—I love that deep end. But over the winter I started finally sitting down and putting together a lot of the concepts I’ve been working on. It came so organically that for a while I was churning out a song a day. A lot of those are in a folder somewhere and I probably won’t come back to them, but “The Sun Devil” happened one day and I guess you could say that was really the birth of Aiwass. From there I chose a name—I love Aleister Crowley and the occult—and started a Bandcamp and an Instagram and it’s really taken off since.
On Flying Solo
Monster Riff: You sing, you play guitar, you play bass, but you haven’t yet mastered the drums. How did you go about getting drums in your songs?
Blake Carrera: Through more trial and error than I should probably admit. Anything with strings comes pretty easily, but drums are a battle. Since there isn’t much of a scene where I live, drummers are in general hard to come by, and with the difficulties of COVID, I ultimately reached the decision that if I was going to do this and take it seriously, I had to find a way to get around my own limitations. It’s relatively basic programming in Logic, ultimately. I started in Garageband like a lot of people and that’s where I picked up the fundamentals, but moving to Logic has really allowed me to do some different and more interesting things with drums. A lot of my songs in fact come from me starting with the drums, and I think they center the emotion of the song.
Monster Riff: What has the learning curve been like as you’ve programmed your own drums?
Blake Carrera: Tremendous. For me, it was like learning a second language. Really the hardest part is getting your basics down of BPM, the general sound, having reverb on there so the drums sound big enough that they fit my songs. From there you have to tweak the volume of each individual part of the drum kit so that, for example, you don’t just end up with the sound of a kick drum and cymbals. Learning how to have touches of drums is also a challenge. For me, that involves creating several different drum tracks and sometimes just spotlighting the toms or the kick to give atmosphere during a section where I really want to spotlight vocals or guitar. One thing that I can say is I know I’m getting better. It just takes a lot of practice and patience. Some of the drums on my earliest songs really make me cringe looking back though.
Monster Riff: What do you think you miss from having other band members around?
Blake Carrera: I miss a lot about it, to be honest. Don’t get me wrong, there are a ton of advantages to working solo, but it’s a very lonely process. You don’t get the familial aspect—for better or worse, depending on the day—of being in a band and you don’t get the joy of creating something together. Believe me, I would much rather create a song with a few other bandmates any day than just be left to my own devices. One of these days I’ll get a full band together because I really do miss it.
Beyond just the comradery, there’s a huge aspect to the songwriting that’s hard to overcome without other band members. You don’t have the feedback that you really crave and need as a musician, so you can happen into stagnation or fall into the same traps. Because of that, you have to be a lot more critical with yourself to get the most out of a song. Additionally, I’m at my most comfortable with a guitar. I sing and I play bass, but I would never say that I enjoy those even close to the amount that I enjoy playing guitar. Finally, the closest thing you get to just having drinks and jamming is buying yourself a six-pack and playing over a loop. It has its advantages, sure, but I’d much rather be in a room playing loud ass music with some people I like and respect.
Monster Riff: Any pros/benefits of flying solo?
Blake Carrera: Despite how much I miss being in bands and working with other people, there are a ton of benefits to flying solo. For one, you don’t have the issues of people leaving the band or being unhappy with the direction of a project. It’s entirely up to you and you have all the creative freedom in the world to go where you want to go and make the music you want to make. While there is a certain loneliness in that (for lack of a better word), the band can continue on no matter what, as long as you continue to believe in yourself.
Second, you learn a fuck ton about yourself and your music. You have to push yourself to keep going so constantly that you learn about how strong your willpower really is. You start to realize that there’s a lot more inside of you that can go into your music when you’re playing everything. For example, I didn’t really have much faith in myself as a singer or a bass player, but I’m becoming more confident every day.
Third, if you’re a little bit of a control freak like I am, you get to relax a little bit more because the music you’re making is exactly the music that you want to make. While I’d certainly prefer to have a band with me, that part of me is a little more at ease because the only voices gnawing at me to change something are my own.
Monster Riff: Working alone, you’re really left to your own devices when it comes to writing and recording. Any resources/knowledge hubs you’d recommend to other musicians working by themselves (websites, etc.)?
Blake Carrera: For me, a lot of it came down to Google and YouTube. If I didn’t know how to do something, I’d just look it up. But more important than being able to look something up is the discovery that you can figure out a lot for yourself. A massive amount of what people like about my music is stuff that I just taught myself through trial and error. You have to let yourself make mistakes so you can learn from them, and sometimes those “mistakes” turn out to be beautiful discoveries. For example, I put a lot of reverb into my songs. At first, that was just me trying to add reverb to the drums, but I was doing it wrong and adding reverb to the whole song. I looked up how to do it correctly, but when I had the reverb only on the drums, it took away a lot of the haunting, kind of creepy element to my music. Long story short, while I do recommend pursuing as many resources as you can when you’re making music and learning how to make music, let yourself make mistakes and go through some trial and error because you honestly are going to learn some really cool shit that way.
On Connecting With Fans And Labels
Monster Riff: Let’s talk about marketing. You’ve been making a big push, especially on social media, to get your name and music out there. What have you learned so far?
Blake Carrera: Man, I’ve learned so much. I never knew just how little I actually knew about marketing until I really got this going. Looking back at my earliest efforts, I just shake my fucking head at how ignorant I was of how to get going. I’m not saying I’m an expert by any means, but I know so much more than I used to. Part of that was trial and error. When you’re first getting going, you have to essentially throw shit at a wall and see what sticks. For me, that revolved around engaging more with followers, showing who you are as a person, and using the best content you can. By engaging more with followers and other bands, you really get deep into the community. You see what other people are doing, what’s working for them, and how to essentially use those techniques to your advantage. That kind of ties into showing who you are as a person.
It’s like when we were first talking and you mentioned how we all dream at shows of having a beer with the band. Well, have a metaphorical beer with your fans. Let them into your life. Show them what you’re listening to. Show off your gear. Be a real person. As for content, try everything. Try pictures of yourself, ideally done by someone who knows what they’re doing. There are a ton of amazing artists in the Metal scene and their art is generally pretty affordable. I also am very lucky to have a girlfriend that’s an amazing artist, so utilizing my logo and her art has been really great for me. But ultimately, make sure that you’re portraying yourself as you want to be seen.
Monster Riff: Any advice for fellow solo artists?
Blake Carrera: Don’t be too hard on yourself and try as many things as possible. Use Instagram. Use Facebook. Get on forums. Comment on posts and put yourself out there. DM people and start a conversation. Thank your fans when they buy your stuff on Bandcamp. Be a real, genuine person, and don’t pull some bullshit rock star ego trip move. Don’t get down if, for example, a post doesn’t perform as well as you hoped. Be willing to spend time and invest in yourself and your art. And no matter what, keep trying new, fresh ideas. Even if you’re finding success, I bet there’s something you’re not doing that might work even better.
Monster Riff: You’ve also had a few conversations with different labels. How did those conversations come about?
Blake Carrera: A lesson my mom taught me at a young age, and one that luckily I took to heart, was that you’re never going to get anything you don’t ask for—and that you don’t work hard for. In the context of this question, the asking is huge. If you don’t reach out to these record labels, you’re never going to start having the really important conversations you need to have. In my case, I just started emailing them and DMing them on Instagram. I’m sure to a certain extent that sounds really ridiculous, but it’s as simple as that. I wish some of my earlier messages to some of these labels had been a little more nuanced and smarter, but I learned from each conversation I had. There’s a lot of rejection and you have to be fine with that because it’s just a part of it. Shit, a lot of times you never even hear anything back—I’ve found that to be especially the case if I’m just cold emailing them. But if you can get a conversation going with them—especially on Instagram—cool shit can start to happen. I almost got really burned by a scam record label that I won’t name, but that taught me to really get to know these people. And that’s the other thing—don’t just immediately say, “Hey, sign me” or whatever. Get to know them. Talk to them. Go through their Instagrams. Chat about music. Get them on the phone or Zoom or Facetime. The more you actually show that you’re a person and acknowledge that they’re people too, the better these conversations will go.
Monster Riff: Any advice for artists hoping to have similar conversations?
Blake Carrera: First, you’ve got nothing to lose, so just ask if they’re accepting submissions or if they’d be down to listen to your music.
Second, expect rejection because you’re going to get a lot of that unless you’re the luckiest person and/or band in the world.
Third, see above about treating them as people. Talk to them not only about your music but also about the bands on their label and even their own particular taste in music.
Fourth, be fucking careful. There are a lot of great people in this scene, but there are unfortunately some really shitty people who will try to take advantage of you.
Fifth, if they aren’t accepting submissions, see if they’ll just listen to your music and ask them for feedback. At the very least, you’ll get some streams on whatever platform you’re hosting your music on. At best, they change their mind and actually want to work with you.
Sixth, get to know them. You have absolutely got to know who you’re going to be working with.
Finally, and this is really the biggest part, be professional and remember again that you have nothing to lose. Think really hard about what you’re messaging them and put yourself forward exactly how you want to be seen. You want them to respect you and take you seriously so you have to put your best foot forward.
Learn More About Aiwass
Carrera is currently looking for new members for Aiwass! Members should be in the Flagstaff, AZ area. To connect and discuss, contact Carrera on Instagram.