They've never played a show live -- hell, they've never all been in the same room -- but somehow, the members of doom metal outfit Culted have been able to sustain a creative partnership despite having an ocean between them.
Three-quarters of the band -- Michael Klassen (guitar/bass/percussion/noise), Matthew Friesen (guitar/bass/percussion/noise) and Kevin Stevenson (drums) -- call Winnipeg home, while fourth member Daniel Jansson (vocals/ambience) hails from Gothenburg, Sweden. They record digital files and send them back and forth across the Atlantic, adding ideas as they go along.
Eventually, an album emerges, the sum of all their singular visions. Culted's latest creation, Oblique to All Paths, will be released next Tuesday via respected underground label Relapse Records.
"It's a slow process," Klassen says of his band's unconventional setup. Yet, it's one he wouldn't trade for the world. Klassen's been in other bands; he's done the record-by-committee thing.
"Writing this way, it's quite convenient," he says. "You can write on your own time. When you're working with other people, you have to bounce ideas off them. When you're on your own, you can stay true to your vision of that sound. There's no filter through others."
You can also pick up and put down a project like Culted. In the years immediately following the release of band's debut, 2009's Below the Thunders of the Upper Deep and 2010's Of Death and Ritual EP, Klassen went through a period of stasis. For him, inspiration has to happen organically.
"I really hadn't touched a guitar for a year or two; Matt and I were working on a project that was frustrating. I usually don't think about writing for Culted; I get these sounds I hear in my head. It's this bizarre conversation you have with yourself in your head," he says.
In late 2011, Klassen and Friesen drove to Minneapolis to see Swans, the influential New York experimental post-punk act that reformed in 2010 after more than a decade of inactivity.
"It was a really immersive experience," Klassen says.
It was an experience that stayed with him, and ultimately gave him the creative nudge he needed.
"A few days later, I was at home when my son who was sick. He had this long, 2 1/2-hour nap. I was like, 'I'm going to write a record.' And I ended up writing most of the riffs that appear on (Oblique to All Paths)," he says.
Culted's Winnipeg contingent has been playing music together since they were kids growing up in Morris. They bonded over their shared love of Metallica and early '80s thrash bands. They even started up a Metallica cover band.
"Kevin is the first drummer I ever played with, and some of us have been friends since we were five years old. We're lifers," Klassen says.
Culted was formed in 2007. Klassen originally contacted Jansson through Myspace about another project, but the pair found they had a ton of musical influences in common and Jansson suggested they put a new band together.
Now, the foursome has the backing of a heavyweight label. They even had a track premiere on Pitchfork.
"It was a lifelong dream to be on Relapse when we were slogging away in bars in the '90s," Klassen says.
Still, Culted's geographical situation comes with challenges. Touring is out of the question.
"That's frustrating," Klassen admits. "If you want to make money in music now, touring and merch is the way to go. That differentiates Culted from other bands. It is what it is. "Fortunately, we have a label that can push that angle. We get that we have a story that will draw people in. Hopefully they'll stay for the sound."