Last year when I conducted an Hour of 13 interview, it was with then-vocalist and Obelisk contributor Ben Hogg about having landed the singer spot as a replacement for Connecticut-based Phil Swanson. What changes a year can bring. This time, speaking with North Carolinian multi-instrumentalist and songwriter Chad Davis, it was about the band splitting with Hogg following a tour with Kylesa last summer and eventually having Swanson come back on board for the recording of the band’s appropriately named third album, 333.
Also Hour of 13‘s Earache Records debut, 333 marks the third time Swanson has joined the band — once for their 2007 self-titled debut and again for 2010’s The Ritualist before now — but Davis seems to take the tumult in stride. He’s uncomfortable talking about the situation with Hogg, I think the interview transcript shows that, but gives some sense of what led to the dissolution of Hour of 13 as a touring act. The live lineup also featured bassist John Mode and guitarist Brandon Munday, who’ll do a smattering of shows this October with the Swanson-fronted incarnation rounded out by a new drummer, but as to larger touring, Davis makes his position clear when he says, “To me, it’s not really a necessity.”
Nonetheless, the band has joined the growing roster of acts playing Roadburn 2013, and their cult-minded traditional doom continues to resonate with audiences around the world, who’ve responded with suitable clamor to 333, which Davis reveals was written both before going into Epiphonic Studios to record and after he got there, songs like “Who’s to Blame?” and the righteous closer “Lucky Bones” — also released on a limited Svart Records vinyl with Hour of 13’s earlier Razorrock Tapes recordings — given a sense of spontaneity for how freshly composed they were. The first two albums, Davis notes, took three days each. 333 took two weeks.
And maybe that’s the last of the three threes in the title. One for it being the band’s third album, one for it being Swanson‘s third return, and one for the three days it used to take Hour of 13 to make a record. Whatever the case, Davis‘ commitment to Hour of 13‘s bleak musical and conceptual aesthetic remains firm, and in the interview that follows, he discusses not only lineup shifts and live gigs, but what drives the project and the processes at work in Hour of 13 as opposed to his black metal outfits Anu and Set or the psychedelically jamming Tasha-Yar, who’ll reportedly add the recently-streamed “Casting Lots” to a series of other improv recordings for a new CD in the next month or so.
Including what got him into Epiphonic earlier than he intended and working long-distance with Swanson, Davis illuminates on a range of topics. You’ll find the complete Q&A after the jump.
I don’t know, man. The way Hour of 13 works is kind of like, if I didn’t know any better, Hour of 13 has some kind of entity that just makes things happen within itself. Ben’s a great guy and he’s got a great voice. I don’t know. Maybe it was just a difference in ethics. Maybe. The Kylesa tour that we did was awesome and everything, but it was super-stressful, and it wasn’t a good tour for us to do. I think in the long run, it got all of us a little bit too close, and there was the ideal differences between Ben and what Hour of 13 needed from a vocalist. I really like the guy a lot. He’s fun to be around, but it just didn’t work out. There’s no one thing that really happened that… that there was a decision made to let him go. It just happened. I hadn’t really even planned on taking Hour of 13 back out on the road after that. To me, it’s not really a necessity. After Ben left, one email from Phil led to another, and he was just kind of back in the mode again. It’s just strange how things work. I don’t really have an explanation for ‘em sometimes.
The shows with Kylesa, that was the tour?
Yeah. It was last June.
I don’t want to push, it seems like kind of a… You know. I missed the news that Ben was out and Phil was back, so when I saw the album info, it was a surprise to see Phil Swanson back on vocals.
It was just weird, man. I guess being on the road. Like I said, the ethics thing. To me, Hour of 13 has a certain idea, and I don’t know, man. Maybe Ben just wasn’t cut out for it.
What do you mean certain idea?
Ben comes from more of the stoner sludge, the Southern rough-boy backbone, and that’s not the Hour of 13 style, and it kind of felt like maybe that bridge would try to be gapped, and Hour of 13 is its own thing. Maybe it was a comfort zone, but I didn’t feel comfortable, and no matter how much strife had happened between Phil and I – and strife between Phil and I is still there; that’s never gonna change until Hour of 13’s dead – I think Phil’s voice really added a certain element to Hour of 13. One thing that I’m trying to get away from is saying that Phil’s voice is very alchemical to the sound of Hour of 13. I don’t know what’s gonna happen if Phil ever leaves again. I think if he does again, I’ll continue doing everything just myself, which is pretty much what I feel most comfortable doing anyway. As far as Ben goes, it was a difference of opinion, a difference of style. I have a certain idea for this music and I don’t like coming off sounding like a dick, but if it just doesn’t work, it doesn’t work.
At what point in the songwriting did all that happen? How far along were you in putting the record together?
The record didn’t start coming into shape until after we were off tour. I already had some riff ideas and stuff like that, but after the tour was over, I was like, “Man, I’m so done with this for a while.” Whenever we got back, we didn’t rehearse. We didn’t even try to get together for probably a month after that, and that was kind of crazy, because we all lived in the same city, same area. It was just kind of, nobody tried to get ahold of each other and it was pretty much like a done thing I think after we dropped Ben off at the Slow Southern Steel premiere. The album wasn’t written with the idea of having any one person be a part of it. The album just sort of happened at a point in time when I really didn’t want it to happen (laughs). I wasn’t even ready when we went into the studio for the recording of 333. I only had five tunes. I think “Who’s to Blame?” and “Lucky Bones” were actually written in the studio, and that’s something I’d never done before. I usually go in completely ready to knock everything out, and that wasn’t the case this time – which actually made for a pretty good record. Maybe I should try that more often.
What was it that made you pick back up? You got off tour, you said everyone went their own way. What got you going again?
Actually, it was the guy that owns the studio that I recorded at. The studio Epiphonic Studios. The guy that owns it, his name’s Nate Pritchard. I was going through a really rough time around September time, and he took me out one night, we had some drinks, whatever. We both got pretty lit, and he was like, “Alright, what you need is to get into the studio,” and I’m like, “Dude, I’m not even ready.” He’s like, “Doesn’t matter.” Basically, I lived there. Epiphonic’s built in an old Catholic church that was built in ’39. It’s a really super-nice facility, and I basically lived there for two weeks, just working on this record. The first album took three days, the second album took three days. This album took two weeks. But it was Nate. It wasn’t me. I was definitely not ready to do it, not in the mindframe to do it. But I did it anyway (laughs). Yeah.
Obviously 666, but is there some other personal significance to 333?
Some people think it’s like a secret number, a secret code or something like that. To me, it was just tongue-in-cheek for being our third record. Third time Phil’s been back, basically. He was on the first album, then he left. He was on The Ritualist, then he left. He came back for the third album, so yeah (laughs).
Has the recording process changed at all, working long distance? He’s still in Connecticut?
Yeah. Not really. The only time that we actually got together as a unit to record was the first album. The Ritualist and the new record were done pretty much through emails. And the mixes. He sent me a vocal track back. I did the music at the studio and did the finished record at my house, putting the vocals under the music and doing all the mastering myself this time. It’s a process that works. He’s a busy guy and he doesn’t like to travel, so it kind of works out.
“Who’s to Blame?” particularly has a lot of classic metal in the sound. Are you conscious at all of playing up different elements as you’re writing, or is it pretty much whatever comes out?
It’s pretty much all whatever comes out. The whole Razorrock Tapes that we put out on the Lucky Bones 12”, that was all stuff that was recorded just for fun in between the first and second records – the Hour of 13 influence is greater than metal. We both grew up on a lot of death rock stuff like goth rock and stuff like that. The whole “Spiral Vacuum” track that was on the new record… I don’t really ever want to pigeonhole Hour of 13 into one sound or one style, because then that’s just something that can become monotonous. I think we’ve done pretty well at retaining a certain sound, but maybe a different atmosphere within each record. I totally forgot where my point was going, I apologize (laughs).
(Laughs) That’s alright.
As far as a focal point for the sound, I know where it is. To me, if the atmosphere is strong, then the record’s gonna be strong. A lot of the riffs that I write – I go through tons and tons of riffs, but if they don’t make me feel a certain way, or if they don’t make me see something in my mind’s eye, then they’re not used. That’s about the only way that I can really explain the Hour of 13 sound. Or the concept, anyway.
Not really. If I let my guard down a little bit, it may make things easier for Hour of 13. It would probably take less time for records to come out. There’s been the average of two years between each record. To me, I kind of felt like going into the studio for the new record was a bit soon. Like I said before, I like to be prepared whenever I go in. Having a studio at my house, the way I did The Ritualist, I was able to do a lot of demos before I really got to sit down and really go ahead and start recording the record and stay focused on it for a number of days. The new record, I had five songs that were barely finished. It was just enough, and then I wrote the rest in the studio. But yeah. I don’t really have a preference. If I can work with somebody, that’s cool. If not, I know I have the ability to do it myself, so that’s cool too. That goes for any band that I have. Anu, Set, Hour of 13. If somebody comes up with a riff that’s really good, and it’s a very substantial part that can become a big element of the tune, then yeah man, I’m all for it. If not, I can do it myself. I guess that’s why I never really focused on a full-band, traditional full-band idea. If it’s gonna happen, it’ll happen. If not, that’s fine too.
And at the same time, you have a pretty specific idea of what you want the band to be, what you want that atmosphere and that mood to be.
If not tour — hit the road for four weeks at a time, whatever — will you still do periodic Hour of 13 shows?
Yeah, I think that would work. We’ve got these three shows coming up in October, and right now for the lineup for that, Brandon from the Kylesa lineup, and John, the bass player from the Kylesa lineup, they’re gonna join in on this. I think there’s a drummer that lives in Greensborough, where Brandon is. I think Jeff was a part of some bigger Epitaph band back in the day. I don’t really remember who it was, what band he played with, but the guy seems like he’s fairly competent, so there’s always the chance of shows popping up. The only thing that would be a hindrance is Phil being all the way in Connecticut. If we get a wild hair up our ass, “Alright, cool, let’s go do an impromptu show somewhere,” I’m sure Phil won’t be there, but everything is written for Hour of 13, it’s not written for one person each. Me being able to do the vocals live isn’t a problem. I wouldn’t really pull anybody else in, not for a vocal sound. My range and Phil’s range are pretty much the same. His timbre is a lot different than mine. He’s a big burly guy and I’m a little scrawny dude, so of course our vocals are gonna sound different, but our ranges are the same. We’re kind of like the Psychic TV of heavy metal. We never really had a set thing (laughs).
Where are you playing in October?
We’re playing three shows with Master’s Eye, which is Paul from Cold Northern Vengeance, a new band that he has. We’re doing Oct. 25 in New Hampshire, the 26th at Saint Vitus bar, and the 27th in Baltimore. There’s a two-day doom fest going on there called Autumn Screams. We’re headlining that Saturday.
And you’re doing Roadburn next year? Have you ever been over there before?
No. I was supposed to play one with U.S. Christmas, but my job at the time didn’t allow me to go over there. Being able to take a fun vacation to go do a show at a huge fest, there was no way I can compensate that for an $800 paycheck. But I’ve never been over there. I actually met Walter here where I live. He was on the road with some solo ambient guitar player dude, and he played a friend of mine’s house, and Walter was there and I met him then. He was like, “Oh yeah, I know your band,” and I’m like, “Wow, that’s crazy. Why would anybody come over here to hang out at a house when you can just hang out in Holland? It doesn’t make any sense.” But I’m really psyched to do it, man. It’s an awesome fest. Other than the excitement of Hour of 13 playing, seeing Godflesh play Pure in its entirety, that’s pretty monumental. Godflesh is one of those bands. That’s like a soul band for me. That’s what I feel like every day (laughs).
I think they make pills for that now.
Oh yeah. That’s mind control (laughs).
Are you still doing stuff with Tasha-Yar?
Oh yeah. That “Casting Lots” tune that you streamed for us – we’re putting out a self-financed CD of five improvs. We actually just got the art finished for it and everything. I would say probably within the month, we’ll have the physical CDs. It’s a collection of five improvs that are pretty awesome. “Casting Lots” is 20-some minutes long. The rest of the tunes are fairly lengthy too. Some of them are a little shorter, maybe five, six minutes, but they’re really super-quality improvs that we forgot we did, and we went back and listened to them, and we were like, “Wow, we need to do something with these. They’re awesome.” Not every tune has the same lineup. Some of them, Joe [Sample], he’s not there, and Tom [Devlin III]’s not on it, our synth guy. It’s kind of weird, man. It’s crazy how Tasha-Yar can acclimate to the members on hand, and what we can crank out and have it still just be as far out as everything that we do as a full unit.333, Chad Davis, Chad Davis Hour of 13, classic metal, doom metal, Earache, Earache Records, Hour of 13, Hour of 13 333, Hour of 13 band, Hour of 13 Chad Davis, Hour of 13 doom, Hour of 13 Earache, Hour of 13 North Carolina, North Carolina