Six Dumb Questions with Doomsower

As with their 1974 self-released full-length debut, Oregonian trio Doomsower are completely straightforward (if parenthetical) in their interview answers. Justin Kaye, guitarist/vocalist of the doom-rocking three-piece, informs as to their origins and the process that led to the assembling of Doomsower‘s current lineup — Kaye alongside bassist/vocalist Levi Campbell and drummer Matt Amott — as well as their songwriting, analog recording and more, with as clear a sense of focus as he brings to the four extended tracks of the record. If you want to put a hyphenated buzzword to it, try “bullshit-free.”

Kaye, in detailing how the band got together, gives an account of his own discovery of doom, particularly with the encounter of Reverend Bizarre‘s first album, In the Rectory of the Bizarre Reverend. Some of that Finnish outfit’s seminal penchant for traditionalism can be found in the work of Doomsower, who adhere to the guitar-heavy tenets of the year for which their debut is named. As an album, 1974 (review here) is raw and organic, but with a strong focus on tone, the band give a glimpse of their potential going forward, as well as hint at some of the metallic extremity in which their sound has taken root.

And there’s a love for classic rock inherent in what they do as well — as one would have to figure with a record called 1974 — that comes across in their analog methods and in the vintage riffing of “Stone,” which closes the album. While the blend is formative and the band is by no means finished growing after this full-length, there’s a cohesive vision at work right down to the photos that comprise the cover art, culled from the Environmental Protection Agency’s Documerica project, all the pictures from which were taken in the year — you guessed it — 1974.

Looking forward to more from these guys, but in the meantime, please enjoy the following Six Dumb Questions:

1. Give me the background on how Doomsower got together. When the band first get started, and how has the sound developed over the course of the last four years? How did you land on “pure heavy metal doom no compromise” as your motto?

Doomsower began in the summer of 2008. I recently befriended a kid by the name of Kalvin and we began jamming constantly that summer – around June or so. He played drums and I played guitar/”sang.” Our direction then was more of the black/death route and the whole idea of “doom” wasn’t in our foresight. One day at the local record shop I stumbled upon Reverend Bizarre’s first album, In the Rectory of the Bizarre Reverend. I had read about it in some magazines, read some good things and decided to buy it. Got home, put it on and was blown away at the heaviness of it. The “newness” of it to me was astounding. We were writing songs during the summer of course, but like I said, they fell more within the black/death realm of metal and not so much doom. But with this discovery of heavier, slower, more powerful music, we knew we had to do something like it. Not to imitate, mind you, but to channel our thoughts, ideas, and feelings, through this new sonic music. Also, that in Portland to us at least, there weren’t many bands doing the slow and low kind of music (obviously things have changed!). So by August of 2008 we had a vision. I shouldn’t have to explain where the name Doomsower comes from, but needless to say we wanted to stand out from other bands. In October of 2008 we self-released a demo titled Ov Doom. It was brash, VERY rough (one mic recording!) and needless to say, amateur. Looking (and hearing) back on it, it’s full of energy, naivety, and fun. They were fun songs to play, simple mind you, but still fun. It was received well enough that we made some connections with bands in Portland and began some relationships (that eventually would fall apart of course…) and started gigging. Our first show was with The Gates of Slumber. Great guys and a great band. We got lucky from the booker for that one for sure.

So yes, off to a great start! We got a bassist around January of 2009 – that didn’t last. All the while still gigging in Portland with non-doom bands (mostly thrash and black/death metal bands). The end of 2010 brought in another new face and we gigged with him for awhile and then recorded another demo, Vintage Era. This, like the first demo, was home recorded, messy, brash, somewhat catchy, and overall “OK.” Of course at the time, we thought it was marvelous (what else are you supposed to think?). The song development was still the same of me having a riff and the others adding to it. Not much collaboration. I started to feel like a Captain on a sinking ship…

2011, though, would lead to the biggest change in Doomsower. Got a new bassist, kicked the drummer out, got Matt on drums, and then released Earth in September. Quite the shift. Musically speaking from 2008 to 2011 Doomsower’s sound was a bit unfocused. Riff-driven yes, but timing and sloppiness were all over (not going to point fingers on that one). As I delved more and more into music — everything from Yes to Bathory to Thin Lizzy to Uriah Heep to Grand Funk Railroad to more and more “heavy rock bands” like Goatsnake, Reverend Bizarre or Truckfighters — those influences started to seep into my writing.

Again, a bass player quit, and in comes Levi. 2012 marked a brand new beginning for the band. A very stable one with an actual goal. Between Levi, Matt, and myself, we are three different individuals with the same passion and drive for our music. We’re all weirdos and don’t take no for an answer when it comes to songwriting (we have keyboards from time to time for Lord’s sake). So again, from 2008 to 2011 it was me coming with an idea and going from there. But now, with three powerful minds, we work as a group. Levi will have a riff (for example “Mistress of Frost”) and I put my spin on it. Or Matt will say, “play du du dah du dah” and we transpose that to songs. We all write lyrics as well (even though I would consider Matt the Neil Peart of the band). So now it is a very much a band and a group effort.

As far as “Pure Heavy Metal Doom No Compromise,” that stems from the fact that we won’t compromise to fit a certain crowd. We do what we want and what feels right to us. We just wrote a 20-minute song that has more to do with Deep Purple and Rush than say Evoken or Goatsnake (not to discredit those bands, love em both!) Also sonically speaking, we made an actual album this year as well!

2. The production on 1974 is raw, but still really full-sounding. How did the band decide tape was the way to go? What was it like working with Rick Duncan recording analog, and how much of the album was done live?

Sami Hynninen of Reverend Bizarre once told me that he liked the old Doomsower stuff because it was, “raw and real.” I’ve never let that leave my mind. I hate over-polished music and doing things digitally makes me want to barf. We decided on working with Rick because he decided on working with us. His band, Towers, became great friends with us this year and once we heard he had an analog studio it was a no brainer. We listened to some songs he had recorded for other bands, were impressed, and started to figure on when we could record.

April worked out best so we spent two days in the studio. Yes two. Nothing was rushed though, simply because we had the songs down and as Rick put it, “you guys really practice your shit.” We spent day one recording all the parts and day two we spent mixing. Rick did another day or so away from us mixing then sent us the mix and we all loved it. Through Justin [Brown] of Lamprey, I came to befriend Brad Boatright of Audiosiege and he mastered our record. It was very easy saying yes to the guy who just mastered Sleep’s Dopesmoker album…

Working with analog was fun and not too difficult. Rick knows what he is doing – it was no amateur operation by any means. All instruments were recorded live. There are no guitar overdubs anywhere. The solos are all live. There is only one guitar track and one bass track. The drums were recorded Bonham-style too to give it that full feeling. The only overdubs were of vocals and the Hammond you hear in “Mistress of Frost.” Other than that, the studio Rick has was comfy and relaxing (so much so that I fell asleep when the others were working!).

3. Does Doomsower have a set songwriting process? The four tracks on 1974 are pretty varied, but still seem to be led by the riff. Are parts and changes just born out of jamming, or are they pieced together beforehand and then everyone adds their own ideas in the rehearsal space?

Like I was saying earlier, the songwriting process is a group effort. I wrote most of the riffs but Levi brings in his fair share as well to the table. We discuss parts, lengths, where this word should go and so forth. Mostly it is very straightforward, we don’t think like Yes and most songs do come from jamming. It’s a giant mixture of ideas, randomness, errors, and fun. I think some bands forget to have fun in their music.

The thing, to me, is that there are too many bands that fit into a mold. So many bands try to be Neurosis sleeping fests, or death-doom’s bastard offspring. Doomsower is everything that a ‘70s rock band was (or at least we try to be). We can have a fast number, a slow number, a song with keyboards, and song with soft guitars, etc., etc. Think about Sabbath… you have a song like “Supernaut,” then you have a song like “Megalomania.” Hearing it live (my experience from the Past Lives album), and it all gels very well. Or Judas Priest where you have, “Beyond the Realms of Death” and then they bust out “Pain Killer.” I’d rather hear a band that yes, has a style, but also isn’t opposed to branching out. Doomsower is a representation of us.

4. What’s the story behind the lyrics of “El Camino Real,” and what was it about that narrative that fit so well with the music?

I’ll leave this to the man that wrote the words, Matt Amott:

In the early days of California, the Spanish set up the Mission system. These churches and villas were about 100 miles apart and ran along the coast from San Diego to San Francisco. The idea was to colonize and “civilize” the natives with Catholicism but instead most native tribes became slaves to the mission priests and almost all of their culture was destroyed. I grew up in Agoura, California, and the major tribe that occupied the coast from Malibu up to San Luis Obispo was the Chumash, expert fishermen who were known as a very peaceful people. In 1824, the Chumash revolted against some of the missions that had already killed thousands of their people. The title comes from “monument bells” that today line the 101 freeway in Southern California. The inscription on the bell reads “El Camino Real” which translates to “The Kings Road (Highway),” that is what the 101 used to be called when it was a horse/wagon road that linked all the missions. I actually wrote the lyrics a few years before I joined Doomsower with the idea that there would be a chorus between the verses. But we had the music pretty close to the final version before I brought the guys the lyrics. We adjusted it a bit, like having just a floor tom during the solo to kind of reflect the Native American storyline and ditching any chorus to have one long verse in the beginning with three stanzas so the narrative continued to flow. Other than that, it just came together.

5. Tell me about the artwork for the CD, how you discovered the Documerica photo project and came to choose that for the cover.

Well I am finishing up my Bachelors Degree in graphic design at Portland State University and came across the Documerica project last year from a peer. I generally take hold of all design within Doomsower and was working on a few different ideas for a cover. The title 1974 comes from Matt (I think…) who stated in the studio, “this shit sounds straight out of 1974!” Our friend Noelle Barce offered to do a logo (she’s awesome, unfortunately she doesn’t have a site up…) so I had that to work with too. A few ideas were done up, tossed out, and then a random spark of thought brought me back to the Documerica project. Not to give the whole, “mystique” away, but all the pictures are from the year, 1974. Turns out the guy whose photos they are ended up being a famous wine photographer in the ‘80s, ‘90s, and now (thanks Charles O’Rear!). The train thing though you’ll have to figure out on your own.

6. Portland and the surrounding area has had such an explosion of heavy bands over the last few years. Is there anyone in particular with whom you especially enjoy playing, or anyone whose name hasn’t gotten out yet that you’d like to recommend?

Yes it has indeed! When we started I didn’t know or couldn’t think of any other “heavy” bands. Now all my of my best friends are in great, “heavy” bands. Lamprey, Towers, and Fellwoods (formerly The Moss) have been mentioned here on The Obelisk, and for good reason, before. To give credit to some maybe more “unknowns” – DEFINITELY Witchasaurus Hex. They’re from Eugene but out rule all of Portland [their 2011 demo was reviewed here – ed.]. Goatsnake and Orange Goblin blended with sweet ‘70s sounds is what they’re all about, at least to me. They really need to get an album recorded, that’s for sure.

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One Response to “Six Dumb Questions with Doomsower”

  1. Spencer says:

    Doomsower: “Bringing fun to the brutal.” You can absolutely tell that these guys really love what they’re doing. Three of the nicest guys in doom. And they don’t fuck around! Go see them if you have a chance. You won’t be disappointed.

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