“I wanted to look at the full spectrum of the depravity and the loneliness and the total despair and devastation and the rage and the psychotic anger and all of the things that accompany abuse of power,” says Californian multi-instrumentalist Kristin Hayter, better known as Lingua Ignota.
Lingua Ignota has always taken a radical, resolute approach to themes of violence and vengeance, and CALIGULA, out via Profound Lore Records on July 19, builds on the evolution of the survivor at the core of this narrative. “A big part of this project is about transformation and about how survivors move through their experiences, how we move through our experiences,” Hayter explains. “I was looking at someone like [the Roman emperor] Caligula, who matches the depraved narcissism of certain political figures that we have today but who is also very similar to the behavior that we see in a lot of abusive people in intimate relationships and also might be reflected in how the survivor then behaves.”
Following her self-released 2017 album All Bitches Die—rereleased via Profound Lore the following year—CALIGULA sees Hayter design her most ambitious work to date. “I feel this one is much, much larger to begin with,” Hayter says. “The scope of it is much bigger, and I kind of got to do what I needed to do, because this time around, I had a budget and I had a recording studio instead of just being at home in my shed in the woods, which is where I recorded All Bitches Die. So, I got to use live string arrangements and other instruments that I didn’t have access to before. I also just had a lot more time to work through everything and make sure all of the music made sense and did exactly what it needed to do. So, there’s a lot of different musical devices that I utilized here, like different kinds of recording techniques. It’s much a larger endeavor than All Bitches Die was.”
Hayter also removed a lot of electronic elements to move her sound toward something darker and weirder. “I wanted to pull from all these different sources that I was thinking of instead of adhering to, like, ‘People think All Bitches Die is a noise record. I don’t know if I agree with that, but that’s what they call it, so I need to make another noise record,’” Hayter confesses. “I didn’t want to do that again, and I wanted to make sure that it sounded authentic to what I was feeling at the time. At that point, I really wanted to bring out acoustic elements and orchestral elements and make it a little more raw and a little less hidden behind noise and distortion.”
Writing the album was certainly not easy for Hayter, who took months before completing CALIGULA. “I spent maybe a year and half writing this, and I think there are certain things on the record that are recurring that I composed different songs around,” she explains. “Actually, all of the songs started out as voice and piano demos, and then later on in the process, I worked in how to arrange things differently based on where they fell in the record to make it this complete circle.”
“I have an upright piano in my house. Mostly, I just write or fuck around in my room—in my closet, actually—with an app with keyboards, sitting down,” she continues. “I have a couple of tracks open, one for voice and one for the keyboard, and I just put the chords together. Then, when I have something that I think works as a song, I’ll press record, and then that’ll end up being a demo.”
“With the lyrics, it’s different,” Hayter notes. “There were some lyrics that I had beforehand that I knew I wanted to use, and there were some that came during the writing process and some where there was music and it didn’t have anything yet, so I kind of added it in. But the text is all fairly—I didn’t want to have any moments that are kind of, like, unnecessary or don’t need to be there. So, there were some times where things had different texts or there was no text or there was too much. There was a lot of editing that went into the lyrics and the music, making sure that everything was in the right place.”
Working closely with engineer Seth Manchester at Machines With Magnets in Pawtucket, Rhode Island, helped Hayter to achieve the sound she wanted for this new incarnation of Lingua Ignota. “I don’t think I could ever work with anyone aside from Seth in the future,” she admits. “He is really, really amazing.”
“I got to know him because he produces and records all of The Body’s music. So, when I was in the studio recording for The Body’s  record, I Have Fought Against It, But I Can’t Any Longer, that’s when we kind of got to know each other,” she continues. “He really helped me adhere to my original vision for the record and adhere to what I actually wanted to do, because there were certain points where I felt like I was taking too many risks and I was going too far outside of the zone of All Bitches Die and the industrial stuff. I was like, ‘Oh, I need to write another song that sounds just like “Woe to All (On the Day of My Wrath),” because that’s the song that people like,’ and he was like, ‘No, that’s not the vision of this record. You need to do what’s true to you.’”
“For instance, a thing that he did was help me change the space in the way I think about my voice on this record,” Hayter says. “I felt like there were a lot of parts on CALIGULA where the voice sounds very ugly, and there are moments where it’s pitchy and it’s not beautiful and it sounds kind of gross. I was like, ‘We have to edit that out. We have to change that, because it’s not beautiful,’ and Seth would tell me, ‘No, that was your emotion at the time and the pitchy-ness augments how ugly you were feeling.’ So, it was really important to have him there. He’s also just a super skilled producer and a person I really, really trust with my music. So, it was awesome.”
With Manchester producing, Hayter approached the album with the same corporeal intensity and intimacy of her notorious live performances. “I wanted to create that visceral, upsetting, intense feeling that people say they get from the live shows,” she says. “One of the ways we did that is I tried to play with space a lot and the voice kind of moves around a lot. It comes very, very close to the listener and then retreats, and one of the ways in which I did that—and Seth helped me here—was reverb. With the last records, and mostly with the live stuff, I used the same reverb throughout the record, but with CALIGULA, there’s all different kinds of reverb and all different kinds of distortion that really give a sense of how close and how far away the voice is. Then, there are also jump scares on the record and moments where things switch, or something happens and you’re not expecting it, and it’s legitimately frightening. I was really trying to think of different techniques I could use to recreate the live experience.”
“I also recorded myself, like, thrashing around in my garage with the lights [off] for the whole duration of the record, and then, we went and edited it,” she adds.
CALIGULA sees the participation of many collaborators, including harsh-noise master Sam McKinlay of THE RITA and Cackle Car, visceral drummer Lee Buford of The Body, and frenetic percussionist Ted Byrnes of Cackle Car and Wood And Metal. The album also features guest vocals from Full Of Hell’s Dylan Walker, Uniform’s Michael Berdan, and visibilities’ Noraa Kaplan. “I chose people who are mostly, like, very significant to me personally to be on this record and people who I really cared about and trusted and I thought were extremely talented or who I thought had exactly the right kind of sound to be in particular moments of the record,” Hayter shares. “It was cool to have a bunch of hands on deck, and also very different for me, because I’m a very reclusive person and I work so much alone. I have historically just done everything alone. So, it was a nice change to have different sounds other than mine on the record.”
CALIGULA is a gigantic work, a multifaceted, epic album on which Lingua Ignota gives voice and space to that which has been silenced and cut out. “The record is about taking tools used against you to make yourself powerful,” Hayter asserts. “All Bitches Die came from a very helpless place. I think CALIGULA also came from a hopeless place; it was written about my experience of speaking out about abuse in Providence when I lived there. So, I wrote about that experience, but I think that I was much more insecure about my ability to make music when I made [All Bitches Die]. I knew that I could do something special with this one.”