Hailing from the rarely-fuzzed outskirts of New Haven, Connecticut, boldly tone-centric trio Curse the Son tap into the primal appeal of heavy rock at its best: classic riffs, unpretentious presentation, weighted groove and obscure lyrics. Their second full-length is called Psychache (review here), and it’s a beast of thickened riffing, spaced-out vocals, feedback-drenched stonerisms and easter-egg rhythmic intricacies. Led by guitarist/vocalist Ron Vanacore – whose fuzz is consuming and whose vocals blend late-Sabbath Ozzy with the far-back ethereal style of YOB‘s Mike Scheidt — Curse the Son have quickly developed into a standout not only in the Connecticut scene — there isn’t one to speak of — but among genre traditionalists as a whole.
More to the point, Psychachedisplays a resounding development in terms of style and execution from its predecessor, early 2011′s Klonopain (review here). No doubt part of that is the inclusion of drummer Mike Petrucci (also King of Salem, Vestal Claret and the Blue Man Group), whose professionalism in the rhythm section alongside bassist Cheech has brought Curse the Son to a new level entirely, but even in terms of Vanacore‘s own performance, the songs of Psychache offer a more confident, solidified listen, whether it’s the long-held notes of “Spider Stole the Weed” or the melodies creeping into opener “Goodbye Henry Anslinger.” The growth may (and hopefully will) prove ongoing, but with Psychache, the Hamden three-piece have sent a clear signal that it’s underway.
In the interview that follows, Vanacore discusses writing and recording the album, bringing in Petrucci on drums, the health problems he experienced in his throat during the time of recording — science has proven time and again that granulomas are some nasty shit — his ongoing musical partnership with Cheech, with whom he played in Sufferghost as well, opening for Kyuss Lives at their Connecticut show, and much more. This is the second time I’ve interviewed Vanacore (first here), and it’s not a coincidence that after hearing Psychache, I hit him up with more questions about the band’s processes and goings on.
Can’t imagine it’ll be the last, either. After seeing them live last year at the Fuzzfest they organized and again at this year’s Stoner Hands of Doom, they’ve made a convincing case for their blend of doomed lurch and engrossing stoner heft. Vanacore’s tone in particular shines through as a defining element, but Cheech‘s running basslines and Petrucci‘s crisp timekeeping are no less essential to the overall impression, the three coming together in classic power trio style with a chemistry still formative but threatening in its potential all the same. In short, I think they’re a good band, and I wanted to give Psychache more attention. So here we are.
You’ll find the complete Q&A with Vanacore after the jump. Please enjoy.
Getting Mike into the band has had a profound impact on us, not just musically but professionally as well. I have known Mike since the late ‘90s and always wanted to be in a band with him. We’ve had some close calls over the years where we almost joined forces, but it never seemed to be “in the cards” for us.
Our old drummer Rich was having some personal problems that were getting in the way of his commitment to the band and a change was necessary. I gave Mike a call and explained the situation to him. I never thought he would say yes, but he did! Mike jammed with us once, just two days before the Fuzzfest 2011 show and we just went for it. We were definitely flying by the seat of our pants that night, but we could just FEEL the difference and the audience felt the same way.
Mike is a schooled musician who can play all instruments as well as a being a master of percussion. He is a graduate from the Berklee College of Music in Boston. He brings an air of musical knowledge to the group that had never been there before. I really respect him as a musician and love having his feedback and input in regards to our songwriting. He made it clear from the beginning that he didn’t want the drums to just follow along; he wanted them to be an active part of the songs as well. This was fine with me, as it was something I had been searching for in a drummer my entire career!
The songs on Psychache were not written until after the Fuzzfest gig. The three of us agreed that we dug what was happening and decided to get down to writing some tunes. That record was written between June and December 2011. Some of the riffs were things that I had waiting in the wings, but the majority of what is on the album was a result of us jamming and hashing things out. This was a drastically different approach than on Klonopain, where I wrote 80 percent of that record on my own before there was even an actual band!
Do you consider Psychache to be an EP or a full-length, and why?
I consider Psychache to be the third release from Curse the Son. I think the lines have certainly been blurred in today’s musical climate. It is befuddling to me that singles are back to being the dominant musical platform. It is like we have gone full circle back to the 1950s and the days of 45s.
I know that in the stoner/doom community the full-length experience is still the desired medium as it is with me as well. I can still remember sitting in my room, dropping the needle onto the vinyl and just staring at the cover and memorizing every word of every song. Psychache might not be considered a full-length to some as it is just under 32 minutes, but it IS a complete journey, and in the end that is all that really matters.
Has working with Cheech changed at all since the Sufferghost days? He and Mike seemed to really work well together at Fuzzfest and Stoner Hands of Doom, especially the latter, but in terms of your working with him, how has the dynamic between the two of your grown over time?
Cheech and myself have a long and storied history. We have been playing together for the better part of 20-25 years! Cheech was the original bass player in my thrash band Black Wytche way back in 1985. After some years apart, he returned and has played bass in every band I’ve had since 1994. The two of us have shared many good times and some real shitty ones too. It’s stuff like that, that builds character and helps to fuel our persistence in creating the best music possible. We are truly brothers.
Tell me about writing “The Negative Ion.”
Hmmm, interesting that you ask about this song in specific. “The Negative Ion” is the complete definition of stream of consciousness. When we entered the studio to record Psychache we had a bunch of completed songs ready to record. After we cut all the takes we realized that some of the material wasn’t quite up to snuff.
Enter Cheech with a couple of cool riffs, I threw a few in there and viola! The version of “The Negative Ion” that you hear on Psychache was literally the very first time we played that song together. First take, the only take we did of it! We just played it man; we fed off each other and built it on the fly as we were recording it. It was magical.
When it came time for the lyrics and melody I followed the exact same approach and went with the stream of consciousness style and was thrilled with the results. The lyrics are a bit abstract on that one, but I kinda dig that, because it is very real and very in the moment. The completed version of that song was a very pleasant surprise to say the least. I really dig the atmospheric vibe of it, and it felt good to stretch out into some territory we had not yet covered.
Coming off of Klonopain, was there anything you wanted to do differently in the studio for Psychache? It seems like you’ve really developed your vocal style since the last album. Was that something specific you wanted to work on, and if so, what else?
As an engineer and producer I was salivating at the chance to get these songs into the studio and bring them to life. With the addition of Mike I knew I was definitely going to bring the drums up a bit in the mix. The dude played so much good shit on the record that there was no way I was going to bury the drums. I wanted Cheech’s playing to be a bit more prominent as well, so we made sure that the bass was doing its own thing and not just following the guitar as we had done on most of Klonopain. Sonically, it was important to me that we maintained the Curse the Son sound that was had already been established, but also be willing to let Psychache be its own entity as well.
I appreciate the compliments on the vocals, and to be honest I’m not quite sure what happened. Since September of 2011, I had been suffering from some type of acid reflux and it was burning my throat and vocal cords. I had a sore throat every day, and most days would lose my ability to speak for more than five or 10 minutes at a time without serious pain developing. I got diagnosed with a granuloma on my left vocal cord around February 2012 and was devastated.
I waited as long as possible before I even attempted to sing again. The music was already mixed and all that was holding us up was the vocal tracks. Honestly, I was in quite a bit of pain while singing the songs on Psychache. My throat felt like it was cut to shreds inside and the burning pain was quite unbearable… it was really brutal.
In terms of developing my style, just like with the music I felt it was time to stretch out a bit more. The singing style on Psychache is very much a composite of all the different styles I have used over my career. I think that when I did Globus Hystericus and Klonopain I really wanted ALL of the emphasis placed on the riffs and the guitar tone. Vocals were secondary to the HEAVY. On this record I felt it was time to sing a bit more and use my range accordingly.
What amps did you use in the studio, and without giving away any state secrets, how did you manage to get that tone out of the guitar?
My rig consisted of my Gibson SG Standard w/stock pups, through some fuzz right into my Matamp GT120 and the original Dunwich Weed Wizard. I had those fuckers crankin’ man! We set up a lot of mics on the cabs and went back later to see which mics were blending well with the others. The secret is really in the mic placement. You can have the best sounding rig, but if you just throw a mic up on it… odds are it’s not going to sound the way you had hoped. Of course I’m not divulging all of my tone secrets… half the fun in creating a good tone is buying a whole bunch of different shit and try all sorts of combinations. I don’t think I’ve used the same setup for more than six or eight months at a time. I’m always looking for ways to make my tone heavier, fatter and meaner. It is an ongoing quest for sure.
You guys got to open for Kyuss Lives last year. Tell me about that show. How did it come about, how was the gig, the crowd, and did you get to meet or talk with those guys at all?
We don’t ever get shows like that coming through Connecticut, especially New Haven. All the touring bands will play in NYC and then onto Boston usually. We get skipped over a lot when it comes to great stoner gigs.
When I saw they were coming to town I immediately contacted Toad’s, told them a bit about us and sent them some music. They told me that there was no local band slot but that they would pass our info along to Kyuss Lives’ people. A couple of weeks later I get an email congratulating me, telling me that they listened to our stuff and wanted us to open up the show! I was so completely stoked.
The show for me was a personal highlight. It was easily one of the top three shows that I’ve ever played in my life. The crowd was awesome, most of them thought we were part of the bill and were surprised that a band like Curse the Son existed in Connecticut. I was equally surprised at how many people were in attendance; I didn’t think that there were that many folks into the stoner/doom thing around here. We only had a half-hour so that’s four songs for us, and we just came out and fucking killed it. It felt so good up on stage that night, we were totally at ease, comfortable and really vibing with the crowd. We sold tons of discs that night and made a lot of new friends. It really was an awesome experience and one that I won’t soon forget. There is some decent footage of that gig up on YouTube, just search for “Curse the Son 12/8/11.”
I did not get a chance to talk with anyone in Kyuss Lives. Nick [Oliveri, then bass] walked by me downstairs and we gave each other “the nod.” I don’t like to bother other bands, especially before shows. We did manage to get scolded by the drummer in The Sword for having the gall to get stoned in their backstage room… whatever.
How was your SHoD experience? The response for Curse the Son seemed to be really good from where I was standing, but what did you think of the show and your set in particular? You were playing through a Dunwich amp there, right? What happened to the Green?
My SHoD experience got all screwed up. From the time that Rob [Levey, fest organizer] posted that he might bring SHoD to Connecticut I was really excited to not only play that gig, but to just go and be a part of it. As luck would have it, I came down with a really bad cold the week before the gig and by the time the gig rolled around it was a full-blown sinus infection. Because I felt like total crap, my big plans for being there all four days disappeared into playing my set and having to leave shortly thereafter. It was a real bummer, but I had H.P. to keep me updated as every band left the stage (and don’t think I’m kidding, I checked every hour on the hour to see how the bands’ sets went down).
I was not very happy at all with MY performance at SHoD and it still bothers me. I am a total perfectionist and my own worst critic, and I know that I was a bit off that day. Cheech and Mike kicked ass and were spot on, I cheesed on a few notes here and there.
The response from the crowd was great; everybody was up in the front and really digging on what we were laying down. Some of the people in the front were members of some of the other bands like Eerie and Beelzefuzz… great guys. I met some very cool bands at SHoD. One thing I can say about the stoner/doom scene is that it is totally about good vibes and respect. There was no misplaced testosterone, no tough guy crap. It was just a bunch of cool folks being high and getting their ears destroyed.
I was playing my new Dunwich DA-120 at SHoD. I have had some hard luck with my Matamps over the years and I have decided to stop using their amps completely and just go with Dunwich Amplification exclusively. Nicholas [Williams] is a fucking genius and I trust him completely. We have known each other for a while now and he knew exactly what I wanted in an amp. Well made, loud and RELIABLE! Nick’s wiring and soldering skills are second to none. Matamps are beautiful-looking amps and the sound is amazing but I have owned four of them and they have all been problem children and a little to frail for my liking.
What are the band’s plans going forward? When can we expect a physical release for Psychache, and what are your plans there? Would you press vinyl, or is it too expensive? There’s always cassette…
The first order of business is to shop Psychache around to some labels. We fully believe that this album is worthy of the exposure and distribution that labels like Small Stone, Rise Above, etc. can provide. Will that happen? Who knows? One way or the other the album will be available in CD form and digital download at some point soon. Vinyl would be great as well if we could find someone who wants to print it. For now, anyone interested can grab a download of “Goodbye Henry Anslinger” at http://cursetheson.bandcamp.com. Any other information that might be needed can be found at http://facebook.com/cursetheson.
Any other plans or closing words you want to mention?
I am very excited about what is happening with the band. We are getting lots of emails and Facebook messages, some even comparing us to the greats like Sabbath and Sleep! I mean what is better than that? I have been doing this a long time and I can assure you that I am enjoying every moment of this. I never thought I would be in this position ever again, and I am so grateful to everyone who has reached out to the band, dug the tunes and let us know that we mean something to them. To them I say thank you.
Tags: Connecticut, Curse the Son, Curse the Son Psychache, Hamden