Six Dumb Questions with Great Electric Quest

Posted in Six Dumb Questions on November 15th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

great electric quest

With their 2016 debut full-length, Chapter I, San Diego-based four-piece Great Electric Quest set out to immediately distinguish themselves from their surroundings. While much of San Diego’s heavy underground shares an affinity for classic heavy rock, instead of boogie and swirl, songs like “1901” and “Beers in Hell” found a driving combination of classic metal, frontman Tyler “T-Sweat” Dingvell leading a charge with a throaty interpretation of what James Hetfield might’ve sounded like had Metallica released their first record circa ’73. Buddy Donner‘s guitar, Jared Bliss‘ bass and Daniel “Mucho” Velasco‘s drumming honed a sonic niche that could be either brash, as on the initial shred of “Madam Elbib” or “Egypt,” or patient and tinged with doomly atmospherics, like the rolling blues of eight-minute centerpiece “Cry of the Wolf,” or the dramatic side B highlight “7 Years.”

Especially for a first salvo, Chapter I‘s self-assured songcraft came across as genuine, and Great Electric Quest hit the road fervently to support. Already veterans of Psycho Las Vegas in 2016, this past Spring, they took off on their first coast-to-coast US tour, and in June, they made a stop in Denver to play the Electric Funeral fest alongside Acid King, Corky Laing’s Mountain and a slew of others. They’re currently wrapping another run, dubbed the ‘Beer Vikings Tour’ that has seen them partying their way across the West Coast in the company of Lords of Beacon House, with whom they’ve also newly issued a split single (review here) via Glory or Death Records.

All of this, of course, is prelude to the next album, and indeed, Chapter II is on its way, drum solo in “Of Earth I” and all. On that song and short, tight pieces like “Wicked Hands,” the scorching “Anubis” and the righteously post-Thin Lizzy groove-minded “The Madness,” Great Electric Quest work to draw together the different sides they displayed throughout Chapter I into a cohesive, singular approach of their own, as likely to shred out on “Of Earth II” as to underscore that same shred with acousti-Sabbath flourish and Dingvell‘s throaty echoes. As the range between opener “Seekers of the Flame” and closer “Heart of the Son” makes plain, Great Electric Quest are becoming an even more dynamic outfit than they were when they started, and they leave little doubt across Chapter II‘s span about their capacity to turn heads before they make them bang, roll, or nod. They are, simply, a band who demand attention.

Moving out from the first record into the next, I wanted to get a sense of Great Electric Quest‘s processes, their time on the road and their time in the studio. You’ll find the last two Beer Vikings tour dates below, and then under that, the cover art for Chapter II by Adam Burke and a conversation with the whole band about their origins and more.

Beer Vikings Tour Remaining Dates:
11/16/17 ABQ, NM Burt’s Tiki Lounge W/ Undying Evil & Prey for Kali
11/17/17 Tempe, AZ Yucca Tap Room W Red Wizard, Greenbeard, Stone Witch, Old Fashioned Assassin, Dead Canyon, HVY

Please enjoy the following Six Dumb Questions:

Great Electric Quest Chapter II

Six Dumb Questions with Great Electric Quest

What’s the status of Chapter II? When can we expect it to show up? Was there anything you guys were looking to do differently or to specifically build off of coming from the first album?

Buddy Donner: Your asses is grasses, and Quest is the lawnmower!

Tyler Dingvell: Haha, the “status” is like an ice cold 12er that’s been on chill for about 20 min… It’s ready to be guzzled and enjoyed, we just gotta pop the top, or in this case finalize the label and release date…

BD: Yeah, we’ve got the final tracks! It took a ton of work and time from not only the band, but a whole Krew of our “Quest Family.” We are very lucky to have the friends we do with their talents in their respectful areas. The tracks are finally 100 percent the way we want them to sound, we couldn’t be happier. At this point we wanted to take some time to “shop for labels” and mastermind the release, but the tracks are done and ready to send to production once we’ve made our decisions on the business side of things. I wouldn’t expect the album to be released any later than Spring 2018. We’re fortunate to have such a dedicated Road Krew; we’ve been able to get a ton of work done since the release of Chapter I and we are only ramping up to push for bigger things to follow Chapter II.

TD: For me, Chapter II really feels like a first album. “It feels like the first time, like it’s never felt before” [singing]. Maybe it’s just nostalgic, but the way we have crafted these tunes and jammed them live before the release really feels like a first album… Chapter I was years and years of material finally recorded and this one was written all together in Glory or Death Studios with the same doods, around the same time, over many beers, bowls, and pulled pork sangwitches… haha. You can expect much more cohesion, production value, and of course, our legendary friend, Guns ‘n’ Roses alumni Teddy “Zig Zag” throwing down some keyboard tracks on choice tunes like “Of Earth” and “Heart of the Son.”

We’ve reached out to labels with whose artists we have become close friends, like Ripple, Heavy Psych Sounds, RidingEasy, Tee Pee, Rise Above, HeviSike, and Metal Blade, just to name a few. We just gotta figure out who is going to align with us the best for our vision going forward. We want to become a featured artist of the label and not just another blade of grass in a field of releases. We have a great thing going with our own label, Glory or Death Records, but we want to team up and take some things to the next level in 2018 and through this support system that has developed we should be seeing the shores of Europe with our next release. We are going to put a hell of a lot of effort towards performing, writing, touring, representing ourselves and label and we want to receive the same.

Tell me about your time in the studio for Chapter II. What was the vibe like while you were recording? How long were you there? What was the process like and how did it compare to working on Chapter I or the split with Lords of Beacon House?

TD: Well, simply put, recording Chapter I was like pulling teeth from the shark in Jaws and recording Chapter II was like the Cool Runnings record breaking bobsled run at the Olympics; minus the horrific crash, haha. The candle was burning at both ends for Chapter I and we would drive up to L.A., record until 4AM and then drive back to San Diego just to get caught in the horrific traffic caused by road repair through Camp Pendleton; it was a CF, as Ted, our 72-year-old Lyft driver in Austin two days ago would refer to it. He didn’t want to say “fuck,” haha. This album was great to write and record. It was fluid, we took our time, all the moving pieces worked together from tracking with Dan Frick, production and mixing with Jeff Henson and mastering with Tony Reed. It was fucking awesome to see the progress in overall sound as the tunes went through each process. Dan is one of my favorite people on the planet to work with and Jeff brought so much warmth and color to the tracks and Tony just set everything into place perfectly. Honestly, I’m fucking psyched on it and I am happy to say that it came out as something we feel proud of… Through my experience, that’s all you can really ask for as an artist. Being satisfied with the finished product.

BD: We recorded Chapter II with Dan Frick in Vista, CA, only minutes from home, which was a real pleasure compared to the two-hour commute for each session on Chapter I, which was tracked in Tujunga, CA. Working with Dan Frick is a fucking piece of cake. There isn’t a more laid-back dude out there and he is incredibly knowledgeable about all the instruments and the way things need to be done, how they are supposed to sound and what we need to change to correct things that didn’t quite sound right.

Following Dan, we sent the finalized tracks to Jeff Henson of Duel to do the mixing, which instantly brought the tracks to life. After making sure everything was played the way it needed to be, Jeff put his mojo on it and right away we were shocked with the vibe the tracks had on the first mixdown. We actually tracked the Lords of Beacon House [split] songs right after the Chapter II tracks with Dan as well. Why mess with a good thing?

Daniel Velasco: This is the first full-length album that I will be on, so I was very excited when I first set up my kit at the studio. I’ve played a ton of live shows with different bands over 10 plus years, but to finally have my drums recorded as part of this album really pumped me up. Especially after I knew they had already put out one full-length and I knew the level of commitment these guys had. The engineer Dan, was great and really set a calm vibe during the drum recordings. I recorded the drum tracks in about a day and a half with only Buddy playing scratch guitar and a metronome on most of the songs. Couldn’t say how it compared to Chapter I since I was not with the Quest on that album.

TD: I’m glad we could spare you the gauntlet, Mucho! Haha.

You’ve spent some pretty significant time on the road since Chapter I came out. What do you feel like you’ve learned about yourselves as a band through touring, and do you think all that road time has affected the sound on the new album at all?

BD: Playing on the road is fucking incredible. You finally dive into your life’s passion 100 percent. Every, single, thing, is about what you want to do with your life and every single night you’re meeting new people and making new friends and fans and ever-pressing towards your ultimate goal. We also drink a ton of beer, which of course is fun as hell.

Jerry Bliss: I love being on the road. It’s a lot work but we have the time of our lives doing it. The great thing about being on the road is us growing together as musicians but most importantly our friendships. The music is affected by our relationships with each other and friends and influences we meet out on the road. We show each other new music along every bus ride to the next destination.

DV: During live shows, I can hear all the members try new things during our set. Different bends on chords or the vocal melodies changing, new basslines during the solos etc. Once we all lock into it and we play it show after show, it feels like the songs will never be 100 percent complete, which I think is great! It keeps us on our toes and things fresh, while also providing something new for the crowd. Some of my favorite songs are live performances. Like on “Dazed and Confused” when they play it live, the rhythm section just takes off and it’s just having little differences from the studio albums that can create that unique experience. Once Chapter II is out and you compare it to Chapter I, you will hear the difference of the sound and groove I bring compared to the first album and if you compare that to the live performance you can be sure there is a couple tasty differences while still holding onto its core.

TD: The time on the road with this crew has shown us that we are strong enough and close enough to deal with any adversity. Blown air conditioning fans during the dead of Summer heat and blown out butt holes from too many gas station burritos. You learn to accept one another in a way that can only be family. Jerry’s butthole stinks the most though… it’s that familiar smell in the bus that only could have come from one sphincter.

To be serious for a second, the road has inspired us far more than anything else… The overwhelming support from all around the country really solidifies the idea that we can do this thing!! We can be a traveling rock band that can tour the FUCKING WORLD!!… It’s a really fucking humbling experience to get those people after every show that go out of their way to tell you how rad they thought the performance was and how much they enjoyed it. They buy the wax and t-shirts and are just so down to support us it blows our minds. We get put up in towns all across the country and these great people offer up their homes and lives to help us on our rock and roll journey. I’m sitting in Mike Calhoun’s kitchen right now outside of Dallas, Texas. One of the most real and coolest doods whom we have had the pleasure to meet. Our times here at Mike’s will always be cherished and held close as great memories. We even recently got hooked up with XYZ Clothing which is a dream come true for a little skate rat from Oceanside. The support that we receive in each town is truly unbelievable and it really makes you think that this dream of playing music all across the planet earth is going to come true…

I honestly love the growth though. This is present in Chapter II especially, in the songwriting and overall combination of different styles we all bring to the table. I’m really psyched on the direction and journey Chapter II takes us on and I think our listeners will be too.

Take me through Great Electric Quest’s songwriting process. Are there multiple contributors or does one person handle everything? What have you found works best for you guys, and do you have a song or songs that you feel really represents who you want to be as a band? How do you see yourselves growing as you continue to move forward?

BD: We have an incredible amount of styles between the four of us, which is perfect for what we want out of The Quest. It is a very even collaboration for our writing process. As one killer idea runs into another it pushes us to find ways to match each other’s ideas and raise the bar. We all have that undying urge for everything to be the best for the song at hand. It’s awesome, the motivation that comes when you are the last dude to write a part to a song that already kicks total ass… You’re sitting there thinking, “like, well shit… Whatever I do, it’s gotta fucking rip!”

Grabbing the listeners by the throat and pulling them through a tornado of sounds is what the Quest is all about. We never want to be stuck in a rut of one style, because we all enjoy playing all kinds of stuff. We write the songs different every time. I don’t think there is a single song on Chapter II that doesn’t have influences from all us, but there are definitely some strong sections that are written when we jam from one person and then we’ll grow off of them together from there. Sometimes we will camp out at Glory or Death Studios for days, cook up a crock pot meal or BBQ between jams and we will just all jam out some ideas together. (With lots of weed and beer of course.)

We drive to grab the viewer’s attention instantly and keep them thoroughly entertained throughout the entire set, and if any piece is lacking whatsoever we find a way to make it more interesting. Every tour we prep for, we strive to find ways to take things to the next level of entertainment for the audience (and our own amusement). From backdrops, to lights/fog, to flags and Anubis masks, we’re really delving into our original intent for the Quest that is for it to be a full-on show, not just a band standing there playing the notes the best they can. Climb shit, hang upside-down, shotgun beers, whatever the fuck we have to do to make someone have a good night and tell their buds about it.

JB: As far as songwriting goes, and what I love most about this band, is that everyone has a loud voice in how a song is going to go. Yes, someone can come up with a first riff, and once everyone is diggin’ that riff, we jam it, and almost immediately someone else is saying, “Oh man I have a lick that will go perfect for the chorus or bridge” and so forth. I remember one song in particular, “The Madness,” our drummer Mucho said to me, “Hey let’s try walking that riff back up on the chorus.” We tried it and it became one of my favorite parts of the song. So, you can see everyone is helping each other out and everyone’s ideas are being heard. Sometimes we try something and if it doesn’t work, no one’s feelings get hurt. We just try something else. It’s a great environment to work in and I think everyone’s songwriting has grown tremendously on Chapter II.

DV: We all contribute to each song on the album. We have these “Campouts” at our studio where we sleep, cook, and rehearse for days at a time. If someone comes out with a riff or melody, we can all hear different directions that the song can go to. Some directions are good and some not as much, haha, but as a team we always end up finding the right path that complements our music taste… Rock ‘n’ roll and heavy metal!!

TD: Yeah, basically what these guys said. We have so much songwriting collaboration in this band, it really is ideal. Anyone one of us could have our own band, or already have, where that one person was the main songwriter or leader. At this point, we have four people who have what it takes to have successful bands on their own and the combination of all of us together does kind of feel like a modern-day supergroup.

To someone on the other side of the country from it, what’s happening right now with all the bands coming out of San Diego looks absolutely unreal. How much of a “scene” is there really, in your experience? How tight are bands? What are the shows like and how much of a sense of community is there? What have been some of your best hometown experiences?

BD: From the start it’s been a big family that only continues to grow, man. There is some seriously unreal talent in San Diego and I have no doubt that many of these bands will go far. The bar is set very high in our area and there is some relentless dedication from many different musicians to keep people searching for their brain matter from endless mind-blowing shows. From the bone crushing power of the five barbarian headbanging longhairs of Red Wizard to the Kings of Heavy Metal CAGE to the groovy-as-fuck riffs of Loom, Roast and Desert Suns to the endless intergalactic caravan party of Space Wax to fucking Nihilist, Monolith, Warchief, Ritual Potion, Nebula Drag, Bedlams Edge, Monarch and at the opposite end of the Spectrum, hilarious acoustic gigs from Fellow Travelers of the Illusion Machine… What were the rest..? I’ve lost my share of brain matter as well…

To choose a single experience is like asking what your favorite Pink Floyd song is… (errr, Zeppelin for Mucho). Any local gig on any given night is always kickass, man. There is just so much support and love out there for music, art and just the pure love of good times (beer) in general.

JB: We have a great music community is San Diego. We have all been a part of it for over a decade playing in numerous bands all over San Diego. We know and have played with almost every rock ‘n’ roll band based out of San Diego. If a band plays rock ‘n’ roll in San Diego, we are most likely good friends with them and we’ve played with ‘em.

TD: The San Diego music scene is fucking great! We have so many incredible musicians and artists. If the radio played rock and roll, we would all own houses… haha. There is a great sense of community among the bands all the way from psych rock like Earthless, Radio Moscow, Loom, and Joy to the heavy music of Red Wizard and Quest. We all party together at shows and celebrate the music and love our community has! It’s a great place to live and as we all travel more and more we all become more familiar with how special of a place it is… and we celebrate it regularly with adult beverages, spliffs, and tunes!

Any other plans or closing words you want to mention?

DV: Fuck yeah, get some!

JB: Tyler has the smallest shmeckle of them all but a really big heart!

TD: Hahahaha. Open invitation for anyone reading this: let’s shotgun some beers and party across the Earth! We need to get some international shotguns going!! Drop us a line if you are interested in helping us book our European tours and Festivals or if you’re in a band and let’s get some shows going. We are heading across the pond in 2018!

BD: Thank you to everyone that has supported us over the years to make all of this possible!!! We are having the time of our lives and the future for the Quest is looking bright… Can’t wait for the next Chapter!!

Lords of Beacon House & Great Electric Quest, Wicked Ladies split (2017)

Great Electric Quest, Chapter I (2016)

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Great Electric Quest on Bandcamp

Glory or Death Records on Bandcamp

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Six Dumb Questions with Hotel Wrecking City Traders

Posted in Six Dumb Questions on October 19th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

hotel wrecking city traders

Since their inception over a decade ago, Melbourne’s Hotel Wrecking City Traders have consistently — which is not to say relentlessly — pushed themselves to grow as artists. They have also been consistently — which is not to say relentlessly — undervalued for the fruits of this effort. Since the first cacophonies of their 2008 full-length debut, Black Yolk, and through 2010’s Somer/Wantok (review here) single, their 2011 collaborative work with Yawning Man guitarist/desert rock figurehead Gary Arce (review here), 2012 splits with Sons of Alpha Centauri and WaterWays (review here) and Spider Goat Canyon and their more recent long-players, 2014’s Ikiryo (review here), 2016’s Phantamonium (review here) and the newly-issued Passage to Agartha (review here), brothers Ben and Toby Matthews have been on an outward sonic journey that has remained unafraid to take on psychedelic tenets even as it maintains the semi-mathy crunch of its roots.

To listen to Passage to Agartha in particular, it is striking just how far Ben (drums) and Toby (guitar) have come. Their sound on the Cardinal Fuzz/Evil Hoodoo and Bro Fidelity 90-minute offering is more expansive than it’s ever been — so much so, in fact, that they recently recruited Spider Goat Canyon‘s Josh Beagley to play bass, making them a trio for the first time — and whether that’s manifest in the 20-minute, drone-backed bonus exploration “Oroshi” or in the crunch-meets-post-rock of “Quasar” and the massive rolling low end of “Kanged Cortex” at the outset, the instrumentalists continue to revel in their adventure in a way that few bands can make sound so genuine. Passage to Agartha, no less huge in concept than runtime, was recorded in mere days and largely improvised, only further emphasizing the musical language the brothers have built between them over time and how fluid their execution has become across their years.

As advice goes, it seems counterintuitive, but if you’re unfamiliar with Hotel Wrecking City Traders, start with Passage to Agartha and work your way back. I know an hour-and-a-half-long record is a lot to dig into at an inexperienced outset, but I think by the time the siren wails backing the flow of the title-track roll around, Passage to Agartha tells a lot of the story of how Hotel Wrecking City Traders have become the band they are — or the band they were when they tracked this material, anyway; again, they’re a trio now and one looks forward to how their dynamic might shift as a result — and with the surrounding push in “Chasing the Tendrils” and the dream-coated-in-noise wash of “Ohms of the Cavern Current,” the richness that Toby and Ben are able to convey has never come through with such exciting and entrancing resonance.

Ben was kind enough recently to take on discussing his relationship with his brother, the processes by which Passage to Agartha came about, bringing in Beagley and more.

Please enjoy the following Six Dumb Questions:

Hotel-Wrecking-City-Traders-Passage-to-Agartha

Six Dumb Questions with Hotel Wrecking City Traders

Tell me about putting together Passage to Agartha. How did these massive tracks take shape, and was there anything specific you were trying to bring to the material coming off of Phantamonium? How much of your writing is born of improvisation and jamming?

We had no pre-written ideas prior to day one. It was all improvised over the two days we were in the studio, with two days of overdubs for the bass and synth parts. A fairly typical approach for us, really, though this time the added instrumentation took a little longer. We didn’t really have Phantamonium in mind when we did this one we kind of left the way Toby approached the main guitar parts open for additional parts. We always record live together and rarely do overdubs but this time we felt we wanted to try to broaden the scope of sounds and tried to create a more full and layered tapestry of sounds. Playing synth was a first for us on a record and I just did one pass over each track and what you hear is what you get.

What was your time in the studio like? Was it enough? How much were the songs fleshed out in the studio? Was there something particular you wanted out of the sound of the album this time around?

We had a lot of fun this time around. The engineer who also owns the studio, Max [Ducker] and his two dogs were there for the recording. The size of the room we recorded in was smaller than places we have gone in the past but Max really knows his gear and we trusted that he would be able to capture what we were after. He has mixed the band as a live engineer many times and is a good friend of the band so in terms of a working relationship it was super-relaxed and he brought some nice gear for us to use and has a golden working knowledge of his studio and its capabilities so we felt very relaxed the whole time.

The songs were 100 percent improvised over the two days so we just rolled with it and allowed the songs to dictate how we would approach the next one. For example, amp settings, pedals, tempo and those sorts of things but we have always been a very cerebral pair, Tobz and I, and we just got into a certain headspace and let the songs evolve completely naturally and of their own will.

We try to make each record we do different and I think this one kind of has elements of old approaches and also newer ideas as well as a real mixture of melody and sheer volume and velocity. It’s a double album, which was not our intention going in but once we were done and we had the labels in place to release it we knew it had to be a double as the songs were so long that we could really only fit one per side of vinyl.

Where does the space theme come from and how does it tie into the material for you? Is there a narrative taking place in the tracks? If so, what’s the story being told?

It’s certainly an expansive record in its length and also the sonic elements from one track to the next so it was the final version of the record that lent itself to a space themed sort of idea. The passage to Agartha being the mythical city in the centre of the Earth’s core. We’re nerds and love sci-fi and horror and it seemed like the right fit. Whilst there is no specific story, the songs definitely go from a faster, more melodic place and end up in a slower and more molten space by the end of the record.

“Oroshi” cuts off suddenly past the 22-minute mark. Was that actually the end of the piece? You’ve done longform jamming before, of course. Does a song like that just happen, or do you go into it with the intention of doing something more extended?

Yeah that was a single live take over a loop that Tobz made and we just went for it. I used mallets to play that track but we did not EQ the drum mics any differently. It has a sort of Steve Shelley/Sonic Youth vibe to the drums and we were limited only by the 22 minutes of guitar loop! Haha! So yeah, we had a timer counting down as we were against the clock. Lots of nods for that one. We deliberately made that one far looser and more soundscape based than the others and I believe it was recorded midway through the recording late on day one.

You’re past a decade now working as Hotel Wrecking City Traders. How do you feel about how the band has grown in that time, and how has your relationship changed as brothers and as bandmates? How much of the communication between you at this point is unspoken on a musical level, and how clear a picture do you have in your head of what each other wants to do with the band?

Tobz and I are super good friends and playing together for this long has cemented that. We’re probably more tolerant of each other from doing tours in Japan, Europe and New Zealand together on a budget.  Continuing to want to create together and do this has always been important to us. Most of our communication is unspoken to be honest. Musically we say very little to each other verbally and communicate via the music as it seems to be more pure that way and less preconceived. It seems to work quite well.

We recently added a bass player to the band and played our first show as a trio last month. His name is Josh [Beagley] and is from the band Spider Goat Canyon. We’ve been friends for a decade and played tons of shows together. We realized we wanted to play these songs off Passage to Agartha and knew we needed that extra component. We’ve been getting together every week and jamming and reworking this set of new songs so our sets can be half those and half improvised and expansive.

We were very happy to have this new album come out as a co-release between Cardinal Fuzz and Evil Hoodoo (who we worked with previously on Phantamonium). We sell way more records in Europe than we do in our own country and it made sense to do it that way. In terms of a clear picture of what we wish to continue doing – more records, more Aussie shows and definitely getting back to Europe next year is high on our list. We are also looking at NZ shows and Japan shows as well as it’s been four years since we were last there and we’d absolutely love to go back and hit up some new cities and towns.

Any other plans or closing words you want to mention?

Just a thanks to your good self for covering this release and all the support you have shown us over the years. We truly appreciate it. Other than that, please check out the record and shoot us a message if you would like to help us organize anything in Europe or anywhere for that matter. We always enjoy being able to travel as a result of the music we create and see new places.

Hotel Wrecking City Traders, Passage to Agartha (2017)

Hotel Wrecking City Traders on Thee Facebooks

Hotel Wrecking City Traders on Instagram

Hotel Wrecking City Traders on Bandcamp

Cardinal Fuzz BigCartel store

Cardinal Fuzz on Thee Facebooks

Cardinal Fuzz on Bandcamp

Evil Hoodoo BigCartel store

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Evil Hoodoo on Bandcamp

Bro Fidelity Records BigCartel store

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Bro Fidelity Records on Soundcloud

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Six Dumb Questions with Holy Grove

Posted in Six Dumb Questions on September 13th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

holy-grove-photo-by-Foto-Phortress

This coming weekend, Sept. 16, Portland, Oregon’s Holy Grove are set to appear at Epicenter Music Fest in San Francisco, California. In that endeavor, the soulful riff rollers join the considerable ranks of High on Fire, Big Business, Mos Generator and others (full lineup here), and after appearances at Psycho Las Vegas in 2016, making their debut run through Europe alongside Boston’s Gozu, and offering one of last year’s finest debuts in their Heavy Psych Sounds-released and Billy Anderson-helmed self-titled (review here), it would seem to be the finishing stamp on the cycle for their first outing as they get ready to move on toward the writing and recording of the second.

Anyone who’s heard cuts like “Nix” and “Holy Grove” doesn’t need me to say that’s good news. Topped off as it was by some of the most striking cover art Adam Burke has ever produced (which is saying something), Holy Grove‘s Holy Grove offered modern tones and classic groove in kind, vocalist Andrea Vidal establishing a commanding presence amid the righteous lead work of guitarist Trent Jacobs and the full low end push from bassist Gregg Emley. They’ve worked with a succession of drummers already since founder Craig Bradford recorded with them, and they just recently welcomed Eben Travis to the fold as at least the fourth in that line, hopefully settling the issue once and for all.

As we move into Fall and begin to look ahead toward some of 2018’s most anticipated releases, it’s only fair to include an impending sophomore outing from Holy Grove on that list. The level of bluesy stylistic cohesion and songwriting they brought to the driving, swinging “Huntress” and to the nodding, semi-metallic expanses of “Hanged Man” would demand no less. Just how will the four-piece, now including Travis as a (fingers crossed) permanent member, begin to move forward and expand their sound in the New Year? And will they hit the road again with the same fury they did behind the self-titled? Sounds to me like it’s time to check in with Vidal for a full update.

Please enjoy the following Six Dumb Questions:

epicenter-music-festival

Six Dumb Questions with Andrea Vidal of Holy Grove

We’re about 18 months out from the self-titled release at this point. Looking back on your first album, how do you feel about how the songs came out? What is your favorite thing about it and what is your favorite memory of the recording process?

I think overall, we’re pretty satisfied with how the songs are represented on the record. We knew going into the recording process that we wanted to create studio versions of the songs, and have the live versions be their own thing. To that end, I think we were successful. It served the purpose of introducing people outside of Portland to the songs. My favorite memory of the recording process was the day we finished mixing at Everything Hz (Billy‘s studio). We literally finished up mixing the last song, and then listened to the whole thing from beginning to end. It was definitely one of “those moments.”

What’s the status of new material? Do you have a recording plan yet and a ballpark release date? How have the new songs started to come together?

New material is progressing nicely. Even while we were down a drummer, the three of us continued to show up to practice to work on new material with the intent to have songs basically finished and ready to start working on as soon as we found a drummer. We played two new ones at our first show back which felt great. We have a few more nearing completion and a large backlog of riffs and ideas that we’ll start pouring over in the next few months to get a new record written and recorded by early next year.

Is there anything in particular you want the new songs to build on from the self-titled? Anything you want to change in the band’s sound or a new way to challenge yourself or the band as a whole? Something new you just want to try out in the studio, maybe?

I think the idea for the new batch of songs is to push ourselves to take the tunes to the next logical level. I wouldn’t say there is anything we want to change or reinvent particularly, but we do want to amplify everything that we did on the first record. More swing, more groove, more power, more riffs!

Tell me about bringing Eben Travis into the band. What was it about him that let you know he was right to take on the drummer position? What were you looking for in someone new?

We basically knew as soon as Eben started playing that he was “the one.” We really wanted someone who understood the feel of the tunes without us having to explain it, someone who hit the drums fucking hard, and was someone who we could welcome in to the band on a personal friendship type level… someone we could also be pals with, basically. Thankfully Eben was that guy. Dude is the total package.

You toured in the US and in Europe for the self-titled. How do you feel about the way the band has been received on the whole, in terms of the record and live? Can you sense a difference at shows between now and before the album came out?

We’re all pretty flattered and humbled by the response to the band and record. I think after we played Psycho Las Vegas in 2016 and got a positive response that we realized we had a chance to make a mark outside of Portland. Having the record out means that when we play people are familiar with the tunes a bit more, and Psycho was the first time I looked out and saw people in the crowd singing along, which was really a special moment for me personally.

You’ve got Epicenter fest Sept. 16. Any other plans or closing words you want to mention?

First and foremost, we can’t thank everybody enough for the support. It truly means the world to us. After we get back from Epicenter, we have a few local shows with The Obsessed, then the plan is to finish up writing the new record, get it recorded and hit the road. We’re in the early planning stages of getting a European tour planned for 2018, which is something we are all really looking forward to. More shows, more music!

Holy Grove, Holy Grove (2016)

Holy Grove on Thee Facebooks

Holy Grove on Bandcamp

Holy Grove at Heavy Psych Sounds

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Epicenter Music Festival 2017 event page

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Six Dumb Questions with Earthride

Posted in Six Dumb Questions on September 11th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

earthride

This week marks the arrival of the first new Earthride release in more than half a decade. The new single, Witch Gun, arrives via Salt of the Earth Records as the follow-up to their third full-length, 2010’s Something Wicked (review here), which brought an expanded melodic palette from what the Frederick, Maryland, doom scene kingpins brought to their earlier work on 2005’s Vampire Circus, 2002’s Taming of the Demons and their initial 2000 self-titled EP, songs like “Destruction Song,” “Watch the Children Play” and the opening title-track itself showing considerable growth on the part of the band, who remain in no small part defined by the unmistakable character and presence of their frontman, Dave Sherman.

Earthride returns in 2017 following a stint on Sherman‘s part first in the reformed trio Spirit Caravan and bozzoven earthride tourthen in The Obsessed that ended following the recording of that band’s 2017 comeback LP, Sacred (review here), but in addition to fronting Weed is Weed, working on the new project Siren of Sorrows, and a history in and impact on Chesapeake doom that rivals the likes of Pentagram‘s own Bobby LieblingSherman is no less defined by his work in Earthride than Earthride is defined by him. The thick grooves he rides so fluidly on vocals on cuts like “Earthride” from the self-titled or “Fighting the Devils Inside of You.” The track “Witch Gun” is no less a part of this pantheon of Earthride landmarks, and perhaps all the more so for the future productivity it might be kicking off.

With the prospect of making a new album for release in 2018 ahead of them, Earthride will hit the road in October alongside unhinged sludge purveyors Buzzov*en. It’s more than a solid match. Both acts are legends in their field and have grit to spare and a reputation for chaos. As Earthride take to stages for the first time with the lineup of Sherman, founding drummer Eric Little (who also was in the lineup for Church of Misery‘s latest LP), guitarist Greg Ball and bassist Edmund Allen Brown, they’ll no doubt be exposing a new generation of listeners to their hugely lumbering grooves and riffs that for the last 17-plus years have more than lived up to their stated ethic of “Pure Maryland Doom for the Brotherhood of Music.” All the better to give their audience a glimpse of what next year might hold in a new release, further touring, and a more fully reborn Earthride.

Sherman was kind enough to discuss all this and more. Please enjoy the following Six Dumb Questions:

earthride-witch-gun

Six Dumb Questions with Dave Sherman of Earthride

Tell me about stepping back into Earthride after being with Spirit Caravan and The Obsessed. How much does Earthride feel like coming home for you? You’ve been doing Weed is Weed all along, but how different is it for you fronting Earthride?

It feels very refreshing especially after I was treated unfairly in The Obsessed. I’ve known Eric Little since we were in high school together. We were in one of our first bands as well — Judgement Hammer — 1986-ish, which was Eric Little drums, Dave Sherman bass, Kelly Carmichael guitar and Billy Rines voice. We played two Pentagram songs the song “Black Sabbath” and three or four originals that later mutated into Internal Void riffs. I love Weed is Weed, which we came out with an EP available digitally [through our] Facebook. Check that out, but fronting the mighty Earthride, getting back at the helm feels real good again.

How did the new lineup for Earthride come together? Who’s in the band now and how have the shows and rehearsals been? Of course you’re working with Kyle Van Steinburg and Eric Little again, but how much has Earthride changed over time for you? How do you feel about how the band has grown?

I was drinking local pub Guido’s in Frederick, Maryland, and I ran into an old friend Edmund Allen Brown. We started talking music and he’s one of the best bass players I’ve ever met and a real go-getter, so I thought what a perfect bass player for Earthride. Greg Ball was in a band Hovel and was willing to try out as the second guitar player and Kyle is gonna be on the 45 new single Witch Gun, out on Salt of the Earth USA and Totem Cat out of France and distribution for Europe, but the new band sounds killer and it feels good to hear the songs again.

You played Maryland Doom Fest in June. How was that experience? Maryland Doom has grown so much since Earthride got going, and of course your history goes back much further than that. How do you feel about where the scene is now and where do you think it’s heading? Does “pure Maryland doom” still mean the same thing for you?

Maryland Doom Fest was so good. Everybody was so into it and so happy to see Earthride again, smiling, cheering, headbanging. It was a pleasant surprise I think because the band’s old and has had a bit of longevity in the scene and we just never got out there as much as we should have. Now that we have the new band and lineup we are fired up about getting out a new album and tour. We are going out with Buzzov*en in October for 10 shows, East Coast, Midwest. Just from the MD Doom Fest standpoint, I think the scene is growing around the world and has grown beyond belief from what it was back in the day, and I want to Thank JB Matson and Mark Cruikshank for having this amazing festival. Cheers.

It’s been seven years since Something Wicked came out and 15 since Taming of the Demons. What can fans expect from the next Earthride album? Where are you in the process of putting it together? Do you know yet who’s doing the recording/producing or has that started? Will the songs from the new single also be on the record?

I have a ton of ideas and so does the rest of the band. We recorded the Witch Gun single at Omega Studio in Rockville, Maryland, so that is probably where we will record the new record at. Out next year. Hopefully working on the material now.

You’re doing the Descendants of Crom fest in Pittsburgh in September, but will Earthride tour for the new album? Any chance you could be headed to the West Coast or Europe in 2018, or is it a wait-and-see kind of deal for when the album comes out?

Yeah, we’re excited about everything we’re about to do and about what we’re trying to conquer which is people’s ears and trying to destroy their subconscious with heavy music. We’re doing the tour with Buzzov*en like I said on the East Coast and Midwest, which is gonna be a blast since they’re old friends of mine, but in 2018 we plan to do some more touring, try to get this new record out there. I would like to get back to Europe with the band and possibly do Roadburn or tour some festivals.

Any other plans or closing words you want to mention?

I appreciate the interview and I would like everybody to be looking for us: Earthride, Weed is Weed and a very new project called Siren of Sorrows which has Starr Piazza on voice from the band Serpent Witch. Thanks and peace.

Earthride, Live at Maryland Doom Fest 2017

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Salt of the Earth Records website

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Six Dumb Questions with Hair of the Dog

Posted in Six Dumb Questions on September 6th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

hair of the dog

Across a skillfully constructed six-track course, Edinburgh trio Hair of the Dog smoothly brought together influences modern and classic on their third album, This World Turns. Released through Kozmik Artifactz this past July, it’s an unpretentious 41-minute rocker that comes out swinging with the semi-garage riff of its nine-minute opening, longest and title-track (immediate points), opening to a rolling groove that’s just the first of many by the time the record is done — its emphasis on sonic clarity as much as organic chemistry, songwriting as much as execution.

And if the world is turning — spoiler alert: it is — so too is the craftsmanship of Hair of the Dog, who fluidly transition between the parts and pieces of the follow-up to 2016’s The Siren’s Song and play between classic guitar-led impulses, the near-metallic shuffle of cuts like “Ctrl-Alt-Delete” — where Scorpions and Iron Maiden come together at last — and the key-laced-but-still-post-Thin Lizzy low-end groove of “In Death’s Hands,” unfolding a deceptive breadth of approach that ties together easily via clean production value courtesy of an ongoing collaboration with engineer and obviously benefits from the band’s work since making their self-titled debut in 2014. An ongoing collaboration with producer/engineer Graeme Young of Chamber Studios is only bolstered by the mixing work of James Atkinson of Gentlemans Pistols, and as they make their way toward the classy, smoothly realized crescendo of closer “4AM,” the three-piece of guitarist/vocalist Adam Holt, bassist Iain Thomson and drummer Jon Holt continue to easily draw a line between rocker soul and heavier push, resulting in a style that’s timeless in its refusal to belong to any single era or another.

With a performance slated for next month at the potentially-lethal-sounding-or-at-very-least-liver-taxing Riffs and Rum 5 in Manchester, England, a live album upcoming, and work already started on a fourth long-player to answer the growth on display throughout This World Turns, Adam took some time out to discus Hair of the Dog‘s mission on the record, the progression across their three outings to-date and the writing and recording processes from which This World Turns‘s righteous, heavy-rock-for-heavy-rockers moments in songs like “Keeping Watch over the Night” and “The Colours in Her Skin” resulted.

Please enjoy the following Six Dumb Questions:

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Six Dumb Questions with Hair of the Dog

You’ve said that these songs are more personal for you than The Siren’s Song or the self-titled. What kind of experiences are you expressing on This World Turns, and now that the album has been released and you have a little distance from it, how do you feel about that expression? What is This World Turns ultimately saying about Hair of the Dog as a band and as people?

I wouldn’t say they are more or less personal than our other songs. All of our songs stem from our life experiences, from a real place — but with This World Turns, the subject matter is definitely more mature in nature. This is just a reflection of where we are in our lives as three men. Jon is married and has two young children. Iain is now married and has a cottage out in the countryside. And I am soon to be married this October. These things — especially bringing new life into the world — force you stop and view your life in a new light, as well as the world around you, which I’m sure we can all agree, is a fucked up mess right now!

Before I had the lyrics and title for This World Turns, I had the idea for the cover. The reaper staring out over the sea towards earth. I liked that image, to me there is as sort of comfort in that image which reflected the ideas I had floating about for the lyrics. I’m the reaper looking at the world, you the listener are the reaper looking at the world – is this how you want your life to be? Is this how you want your world to be like? You never know when that scythe will swing, so would you be happy with what you have if it did, right now? And I think that’s ultimately what This World Turns is about. It’s a record about reflection.

This World Turns — tomorrow is a new day, don’t take your life for granted, life can change – but the world will always continue to turn regardless.

Tell me about opening with the title-track. When did you know that was the one you wanted to leadoff the record, and was that before or after you had named the album? How did that song come together?

“This World Turns” was the first song we wrote for this album. I think we started jamming the various riffs for it very soon after The Siren’s Song was sent off to Kozmik. We even premiered it and “Ctrl-Alt-Delete” at Roadburn Festival in April 2016, so that gives you an idea as to how far along we were with the record even by then!

Like most bands, we have our own “pet names” for our songs so we can identify them – “This World Turns” was naturally called, “The Big One” and remained that way right up until the week before we recorded it, when I wrote the lyrics. I am pretty shit when it comes to writing my lyrics, often leaving them to the very last moment – I like to worry the other two, keep them on their toes! But sometimes it just takes longer for me to hear and feel what the lyrics should say.

The music itself was very natural, I think we wrote it over the space of a few jams – each riff just seemed to naturally lead to the next. It is such a fun song to play from a musician’s point of view. It definitely set the bar for how we wanted the rest of the record to sound, which is why I felt it should be the song to kick the whole album off, set the tone sort of thing – it just had that feel to it, and we always go with what feels right to us.

Talk about your experience in the studio making This World Turns. How long were you recording? What was it like working with Graeme Young again to get the songs down and then bringing in James Atkinson from Gentlemans Pistols to handle mixing? Was that the result of something specific you wanted to do differently coming off of The Siren’s Song?

We recorded the music for This World Turns in four days, then I took a two-week break to write the lyrics – an approach I haven’t used before. This was partly because I didn’t have any solid lyrics by the time we started recording, but also because I wanted to really take time to let the songs settle with me and see if that brought something new to my writing – which it did.

I always write my lyrics in my local pub. I sit with my headphones in, with the songs on repeat and basically wait until one or two words, perhaps even a phrase, comes to me. Once I get that starting point, I just go with them and the rest of the song follows. For example, with the song “This World Turns,” I kept hearing this phrase “keeps you safe inside its lies,” I’d sing it over and over all day. It’s hard to describe, there’s a definite click moment with my lyrics, when everything just comes together and flows.

Working with Graeme is awesome. I’ve known G as a friend for many years and worked with him on various bands. We call G the secret fourth member of HOTD because, as well as working with us on all of our records, he is the man that plays any keys or synth on the records. He is an extremely skilled recording engineer and as a musician himself, has a great ear for music. He pushes us really hard and always gets the best performance from us. Not to mention he also puts up with a lot of shit from us — mostly me — during the recordings too. We like to drink in the studio and this can often lead to the recordings taking back seat to our antics.

As for James, that was really just to bring something fresh into the fold, try something new. I had got chatting to James after we both played Roadburn 2016, and I asked him if he’d like to mix the album. I’m a big Gentlemans Pistols fan, and really love his work on their albums, so I knew he’d bring some magic to our record – and he didn’t disappoint.

One of the aspects I find most striking about This World Turns is the classic feel of the riffs and the construction of the songs still has a deeply modern sound. Three albums in, do you feel like you know what you want to get out of a recording experience with Hair of the Dog? What were your goals for the sound of This World Turns?

That’ the HOTD sound… We take pride in that, so when people pick up on that it’s rewarding. We love those bands, Zeppelin, Sabbath, Cream, Deep Purple, Hendrix. Our parents and teachers introduced us to these bands — one of the first songs I ever learned on a guitar was “Hey Joe.” But we also grew up on a diet of Pantera, Rage Against the Machine, C.O.C., Down, Metallica. The list goes on.

When we started, over 15 years ago, we just jammed songs by all of these great bands we liked – extending riffs, adding in parts, making songs heavier — and from these jams, we eventually started to write our own songs. We never sat down and decided we’d sound like this or that… we just developed this sound over many years jamming together. We just wish the audience was there for us when we started, because back in 2001 nobody wanted to hear our music!

In terms of recording, we love it, it’s like a holiday for us – time to hang, have some beers, do what we love and annoy Graeme as much as we can. We didn’t have any goals as such for This World Turns, as I have mentioned, we record live for the most part and we always enter the studio with the songs polished – so it’s just about having a good time, enjoying it, letting the creativity flow and make something we are proud of.

We like the spontaneity and experimentation that only manifests in the studio. Sometimes the best parts of our records come from stupid jokes and conversations we have after a few beers: “This song needs an orchestra; The Beatles had an orchestra, why can’t we?” Next thing you know, we’re dialing up some string sounds and adding them in. The studio is a musician’s toy box. Once you have those songs recorded, you start to hear all the melodies and counter-melodies hidden within the song that you couldn’t hear in the practice room – it’s a magical time.

How do you feel about what you’ve accomplished across your three records to-date, and is there anything in particular you’ll look to change next time?

We are incredibly proud of the three records we have put out so far, and we are extremely humbled by the positive response each record has received around the globe. With each album we grow as a band, as does our fan base. We love to play our music and doing so with that support and encouragement from our fans is a dream come true.

Next time? Well here’s an exclusive for you, we already have around three songs for our fourth album. We are going a bit heavier on this one. It will still have that HOTD sound to it, but we are experimenting with darker, heavier riffs.

You’re playing Riffs and Rum 5 in Manchester in Oct. with Pist, 1968 and others. Any other plans or closing words you want to mention?

Yeah we are looking forward to that show, we haven’t played England that much, which is shameful considering it’s right on our doorstep. But we will certainly put on a killer show, that’s for sure – free rum all night and three Scotsmen?! What could go wrong!

Plans, plans, plans… we have quite a lot coming up actually…

Our track “My Only Home” which had to be dropped from the vinyl version of The Siren’s Song is being featured on an up-and-coming double-vinyl project between several prominent independent labels – think that’s all I can say about that at the moment.

We are putting out live album in between This World Turns and our next studio album. I’ve had the pleasure of hearing it and it rocks, definitely one for the HOTD super fans! More on that to come soon.

And finally, the wheels are in motion to get the Dog back over to Europe in 2018. We hope to play a few of the summer festivals and dot a few headline shows around those.

Hair of the Dog, This World Turns (2017)

Hair of the Dog on Bandcamp

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Hair of the Dog on Instagram

Kozmik Artifactz website

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Six Dumb Questions with Destroyer of Light

Posted in Six Dumb Questions on August 30th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

destroyer of light

Name your band Destroyer of Light and you’re setting up some pretty serious expectations on the part of your audience. The Austin-based outfit — veterans of Psycho CaliforniaFreak TulsaElectric Funeral in Denver and others — have never tackled those expectations as head-on as they do with the newly-released Chamber of Horrors, their third album. Songs like “Into the Smoke” and “Luxcrusher” bring a refocused approach on grim, rolling doom even from what the band presented on 2014’s Bizarre Tales Vol. 2, and the chugging, driving, lumbering pummel suits them remarkably well, coming as it does complemented by a persistently bleak atmosphere summarized in the title. More than they ever have before, Destroyer of Light are putting their listeners in a specific place. And it’s pretty damn horrific in there.

Brought to the blinding light of day by guitarist/vocalist Steve Colca, guitarist Keegan Kjeldsen, drummer Penny Turner and bassist Jeff Klein (who seems to since be out of the band), Chamber of Horrors may be playing more toward the heft Destroyer of Light are known for in their live performances, but that doesn’t mean it’s all raw or wanting for a sense of purpose in its vibe as a studio album. Rather, the murk conjured by songs like “Prisoner of Smoke” and “The Virgin” and the ambient threat that lingers from the moment the chamber door opens at the start of intro “Whispers in the Threshold” till the moment it closes at the end of 10-minute finale “Buried Alive” resound with doomed directionality, the finisher especially punishing in its tempo and uncompromising in its trades between creeping, The Gates of Slumber-esque verses and Electric Wizardly swirl in its marching hook.

The whole record carries the stink of death, and Destroyer of Light have never sounded so alive as they do reveling in it.

As Destroyer of Light set themselves to the task of a 2018 that will be spent largely supporting Chamber of Horrors as well as a follow-up two-song EP that’s set to arrive in the coming months via the band-affiliated Heavy Friends Records — see also: Heavy Friends Booking, which handles their touring end — as well as perhaps finding a new bassist if they haven’t yet, I wanted to talk to them about how their experience on the road already has affected their sound this time in the studio, how they developed the ideas that became Chamber of Horrors and how they see themselves continuing to grow as they move forward from here. Fortunately, both Kjeldsen and Colca were willing to discuss these subjects and more, and you’ll find the results below.

Please enjoy the following Six Dumb Questions:

destroyer-of-light-chamber-of-horrors

Six Dumb Questions with Keegan Kjeldsen and Steve Colca of Destroyer of Light

Talk about writing Chamber of Horrors. The album is a pretty significant change for the band in terms of sound. How did that come about? Was there something you wanted to consciously shift in your approach, or did it just happen in the writing process?

Keegan Kjeldsen: We knew before we started writing it that we wanted to make a very heavy record, which may sound like a cliché. But the previous material was sludgier and usually more up-tempo, and we experimented a lot. For the self-titled release, we’d had some pretensions of getting a ‘vintage, lo-fi’ sound. That kind of sound wasn’t really right for us, though, and our goal shifted to creating a record with the kind of powerful, crushing experience that audiences were getting live. We heard a lot over the years, “The album is cool and all, but you guys are so much heavier live!” We took it as a compliment, but it taught us that the shows were selling the recordings, the recordings weren’t really selling the shows. So we wanted to push it to the limit in terms of both quality and volume. Thankfully, our engineer Matt Meli outdid himself this time. We also included elements of our live shows: lengthy feedback, melodic interludes, sample clips from old horror movies. But from the start, our core has always been doom metal, so the natural thing for our goal of making a heavier record was to focus on that.

Steve Colca: Like Keegan said, we did go in wanting this record to be more heavy sonically and closer to what we sound like live. However, when we wrote the music for this album, we didn’t have the intention of how the songs would take shape. Obviously, it still sounds like us at the core, but our songwriting keeps improving and our palettes progress over time to add different touches to our sound that maybe we didn’t show previously. As you grow as musicians and songwriters, it definitely helps with your confidence and allows the ability to try new, different things.

You’ve done significant touring the last several years. Do you feel like that was a factor in how this record took shape? If so, how?

KK: Touring will whip you into shape. You’re effectively practicing the same set every single night for a month. After playing some of our material live so frequently and consistently, we’d find that a year after we recorded something, it was sounding very different on stage. Sometimes it was just little nuances or flourishes that one of us didn’t come up with until months of playing the song live. But sometimes the whole tempo would change, or parts would be extended or added. We were determined to let the songs for Chamber of Horrors breathe. After we recorded them for a pre-production demo, we played the whole album from start to finish on a six-day tour through Texas. By the time we were recording the album proper, we felt like the songs had developed enough that we could call them finished.

SC: Yeah, I believe doing a six-day run just playing the album front-to-back live really gave these songs the energy and final touches that they needed. We always found previously that after playing the songs live that we would change things here and there. To add, extensive touring also improved our playing as musicians and we become more confident in our abilities as songwriters. For me, vocally, all the touring and learning to deal with my vocals helped a lot on this record.

Is there a concept at work behind the album? What’s the story being told in these songs?

KK: It’s a loose concept album. Most of the storytelling and symbolism can work on multiple levels, so it’s up to the audience as to what you want to take from it. The album begins with the opening of a large, heavy door, and ends with it slamming shut. There are also whispering voices in both the first and last song. We were playing with the idea of the line between dream and reality being blurred. I was thinking a lot about Carl Jung at the time, and how there really isn’t much difference in what we mean by the word ‘hell,’ and a psychological hell that a person creates for himself. People make themselves suffer because of the things they pursue, and sometimes the private torment they undergo is more real than anything else in their lives.

So, the song “Into the Smoke” – on one level it’s about a protagonist who goes down into a cave, searching for something valuable, but is possessed by a monster made of psychedelic smoke that permeates him and enslaves him, sending him on a bad trip that lasts forever. On another level, it could be a song about drug addiction. But more archetypally, it’s a song about the feeling of being powerless, driven by forces beyond your control into a mental underworld. It’s opening the door to the unconscious part of the psyche and getting consumed by the shadow. The Twilight Zone was also a huge influence on both Steve and myself in writing these horror stories, or alternatively, private hells within the chamber of horrors, since a lot of Rod Serling’s stories deal with a character trait, usually a flaw, that becomes a real, physical phenomenon in the character’s life.

SC: I was also thinking along the lines of In the Mouth of Madness. As every song has its own individual theme and story, they all tie into the question, is it a dream or reality? There is a lot of ugliness in the world, and sometimes you don’t want to believe it and want to stay naive to the whole possibility. However, you read the news and papers, and some of these stories really happen.

You seem to be trying a lot of new things vocally in particular here. Tell me about changing your voice to fit a certain part in a given song. What makes you feel like “Luxcrusher” needs a different approach than “The Virgin?”

KK: In the case of “Luxcrusher,” I wrote that song, and really wanted to sing a significant part of the lyrics because of how personal they were. I’ve usually had one or two vocal parts on each recording, but I think that’s something I’m going to move away from. I feel like I’m at the point where I’m getting worse, whereas Steve gets better on every record. The lyrics are actually about being in a doom band and touring – when I’m talking about “midnight worship at the shrine” and my body being throttled every night, being ravaged by sound. But the lyrics also take a nihilistic turn because that’s how I was feeling at the time.

The placement of that song on the album was something that unconsciously worked really well with the concept, because the lyrics ended up recounting the subject matter of the first half of the record – talking about human sacrifice, or about being pulled into a haze. It was unintentional, but I think of it now as if “Luxcrusher” is the voice of the devil that was summoned in “The Virgin.” As far as the different approaches in general, I think the narrative structure of the songs sometimes lends itself to different voices in a variety of styles, as if they’re different characters or personas. Suzy does this on “The Virgin.” It was a Fleetwood Mac kind of attitude – we had three vocalists on this record, lending different styles where it was appropriate.

SC: Back to extensive touring throughout the years, I have become more comfortable and confident in my vocal ability. Which has allowed me to try and do different things. Vocal melodies have always been very important to us. Also, from the start of this band, we wanted to incorporate screaming and growling as I used to be in a death metal band and a heavier sludge band before this. Whatever vocal style the song requires, we want to be able to do it. No need to be tied down to one particular sound or style. That’s the beauty of writing music, no limitations… unless it is completely out of your capability.

I know it’s early, but where do you see Destroyer of Light going from here sound-wise?

KK: More melody, and even heavier. It’s not as early to talk about it as you might think. We have an EP that we plan on releasing soon, I can’t say anything about when exactly, but it’s already recorded. It’s two songs that are tuned even lower, with a more pounding, guttural tone. We did one of the slowest songs we’ve ever done. All the space you get when you play a really slow, plodding song allows you to fill the void with harmony, melody. I’ve been listening to a lot of drone music, maybe you could even call it post-doom, stuff like later-era Earth, OM, Grails. Steve’s love for Alice in Chains came out, also. I think the next full-length will head even further in that direction. Me and Steve have also been jamming some of our favorite stuff from the ‘80s recently, like The Cure, Tears for Fears.

SC: We’ve already started writing of a few songs for the follow-up. It is a continuation of where the last album left off. Like Keegan said, the music will be heavy, but probably more of a focus on melody. Like I said, no limitations. We do plan on incorporating some different approaches because of some of our other influences coming out in the songwriting. I’ve been listening to a lot of Alice in Chains, The Cure, Depeche Mode, and Helmet. A lot of bands that I grew up listening to when I first started learning guitar. So, we shall see where some of this will take us. However, the two-song EP that we release down the line will give you a taste of our direction.

How much will you tour for Chamber of Horrors? Any other plans or closing words you want to mention?

KK: We’re going to tour for the foreseeable future. We have some short jaunts planned, but next year we’ll be hitting the road a lot harder. This year has been relatively slow for us. It’s great to finally put this album out, and take a breather before we dive headfirst into it again. I guess, on that note, the only closing words I have is a thank you to all the fans and friends who have let us stay with them, made us food, or even just bought a shirt or bought us a shot of whiskey. You guys are the reason why we’re able to go on the road, and we love y’all.

SC: We have a few short runs lined up to finish the year. I think more of the extensive touring for Chamber of Horrors will begin in 2018. This year, where it may have been the slowest year for the band; albeit, a couple tours, recording of a two-song EP, and an album release. Our personal lives have been very busy. So, it’s been nice to have a somewhat, casual year, but it’ll be nice to get back out there and do what we do. Thanks to everyone that has bought and said some very nice things about Chamber of Horrors. Very proud of this record and glad to see a lot of you agree with us on it. See you again soon on the road, I can’t wait to see you! Much love!

Destroyer of Light, Chamber of Horrors (2017)

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Six Dumb Questions with Pagan Altar

Posted in Six Dumb Questions on August 23rd, 2017 by JJ Koczan

pagan altar

The winding tale of UK outfit Pagan Altar would seem to hit its concluding chapter this week with the release of The Room of Shadows (review here) on Temple of Mystery Records. What’s been purported as the NWOBHM doomers’ last full-length, it arrives posthumous to the May 2015 passing of frontman Terry Jones and features his last studio performance. Originally intended for issue as Never Quite Dead, the seven-song collection was completely reworked by guitarist Alan Jones — son of Terry and a co-founder of the band in 1978 — with redone bass tracks from Diccon Harper and drums from Andy Green, given its new name, and in its final form, it follows 11 years behind Mythical and Magical and quickly proves itself worthy of the enduring underground legacy of the band and of serving as the capstone on their career as well as their homage to the elder Jones.

Whether that’s through the chorus of “The Portrait of Dorian Gray,” the eerily folkish atmosphere conjured in the title-track or the metallic breadth explored in “The Ripper,” Pagan Altar can only be said to be rising to the occasion across The Room of Shadows. Their recorded-in-1982/released-in-1998 debut, Volume 1 — subsequently revisited on 2005’s Judgement of the Dead — is a major source of their legend, but it’s hard to imagine The Room of Shadows doing anything other than adding to that, even if the die of their influence is so long since cast. In going back into the studio and assembling the redux of “Danse Macabre” and “Dance of the Vampires” behind Terry‘s vocals, Alan has ensured that Pagan Altar‘s departing statement is a definitive moment, pushing beyond the 2004 sophomore long-player, Lords of Hypocrisy (discussed here), and the EP of earlier recordings, The Time Lord (review here), released that same year on I Hate Records and subsequently reissued along with Mythical and Magical and the rest of their catalog to that point by Shadow Kingdom.

In the interview that follows, Alan Jones talks about what motivated him to revamp Never Quite Dead and turn it into The Room of Shadows, how he feels about putting Pagan Altar to rest, and the possibility that Time Lord, in which he, HarperGreenBrendan Radigan of Magic Circle and Cauchemar guitarist Andres Arango will pay tribute to Terry at the Wings of Metal festival in Montreal on Sept. 9, will continue on as a new project. Spoiler alert: he doesn’t quite say no.

Please enjoy the following Six Dumb Questions:

pagan-altar-the-room-of-shadows

Six Dumb Questions with Alan Jones of Pagan Altar

What was behind the decision to re-record the instruments on The Room of Shadows? What was it about the initial tracks that wasn’t working, and did you know what would make the difference in having them redone? Was there something specific that was missing?

I had a great chemistry with Andy Green and Diccon Harper, with whom we started to write Never Quite Dead, the original name of the album. Unfortunately Andy had to move to Wiltshire – which is about 200 miles away from London (it was too hard to come to practices every week), and Diccon eventually left the band. I really enjoyed playing with these guys, and I felt that they were the best musicians for the job. The album we had finished recording in 2014 just wasn’t good enough, and I didn’t want to go out with an album that I wasn’t happy with. But now, the album reflects much more what we wanted to do – we are very much satisfied with it!

In light of Terry’s passing, how much has The Room of Shadows become a tribute to him, and was that a factor in how the album ultimately came together? How do you feel when you listen to these songs now as a finished product, or do you listen to them at all? What do you think of when you hear his performance on the album?

We originally wrote the album in 2004 when we were recording Mythical and Magical, just to give our minds a rest from the other album. When we were recording Lords of Hypocrisy we were writing Mythical and Magical… But yeah, the album is not a tribute as such as it would have came out anyway if Terry was still there. Terry and I always used to think as one – we always agreed musically and we never argued about music. I just carried on and I knew what we both wanted, so I got the musicians that I thought could do the job. I suppose that’s how it became a tribute to him. I listen to The Room of Shadows quite often, and all the way through, which I never do normally with records. I believe it’s our best album, especially lyrically. You listen to the words on the album and it’s really good! And finally, to answer your question about his performance – I knew he was struggling especially towards the end, but I don’t think that you could actually hear that he was struggling at all… His voice is not as strong but it’s a little bit cleaner. You could really hear what he’s singing!

The last two tracks on The Room of Shadows share their titles with songs by Judas Priest and Black Sabbath. Is that coincidence or a nod to classic heavy metal and maybe Pagan Altar’s place in it? How do you feel about everything Pagan Altar has been able to accomplish since releasing The Time Lord in 2004 and what do you see as the band’s legacy?

Oh, no — it was a complete coincidence! Terry always wanted to do a song about Jack the Ripper. We didn’t even think about that. I feel really honored that Pagan Altar’s music is being listened to all across the world, and within several generations. I think that’s the legacy, really. Hopefully there’s another generation coming through.

Tell me about writing and playing on “The Ripper.” What’s the difference in how a song like that comes together as opposed to, say, “The Portrait of Dorian Gray?”

Well, “Dorian Gray” came about when I bought a new guitar. I was just fiddling about with it and came up with the main riff. With “The Ripper,” Terry and I were in the studio, just the two of us, and it sort of wrote itself! We just started playing around, did a bit and everything followed. It was really strange, never happened to us before… It only took us 10-15 minutes to pretty much finish it. Terry’s first lyric bit was “And the momentary glimpse of a flashing blade is the last thing they will see,” and then wrote the whole song around that.

You, Brendan Radigan from Magic Circle, Diccon, Andy, and Andres Arango will do a set as Time Lord at Wings of Metal in Montreal next month. How did that come together? How did you make the choice to go with Brendan on vocals? If all goes well, could Time Lord be an ongoing project?

A longstanding friend of the band, Annick [Giroux] and her husband François, came over to my sister’s house in London last year and I asked her if she wanted to release our record on her new label. I also dropped in that we would play live if the opportunity came up – and she kind of took it from there. Wings of Metal is her festival, and she pretty much arranged everything for Time Lord. There was a guy (Brendan) that she said was really good and we all listened to him and thought he had a good range and he’d be perfect for the job. And also, Andres plays in Annick’s band and she said he was excellent and that he already knew the songs. By the way, Annick had previously booked Pagan Altar in 2010, and it was the only occasion we ever played “The Crowman” live – and we also did the whole Vol. 1 album! But to answer your last question, I don’t know about what’s going on with Time Lord after the show. After this gig we’ll have a discussion about it.

Any other plans or closing words you want to mention?

I really want to thank Rohan, Ani and Bart because if it wasn’t for them, the album would have never come out. Also, of course, everyone who has bought our albums (or streamed them!) and showed us support. We are really grateful. And I hope you enjoy[ed] the premiere of the song entitled “The Room of Shadows”… This piece is actually inspired by a friend of ours, Albert Bell from Malta. He once told us that there was a room when he was a child that he would never go into… so it is based on a true story:

“The Room of Shadows”
The child’s laughter ceased as he tiptoed by, that dreaded open door
With a cursory glance into its depths, as if to reassure
He never really understood, what first made him hate that room
But childish intuition knew, something lurked within its gloom
He knew the room held many things that came from long ago
But why they were kept within that room, a child of eight wouldn’t know
He sensed a dark force that dwelt within, that watched his every move
Hidden deep within the shadowy bowels, of that accursed room
It took every bit of courage, to retrieve that bouncing ball
That always rolled into that room, when he was playing in the hall
Sheer terror would grip the child’s heart, if he found himself alone
And a glimpse of a fleeting figure, would turn his legs to stone
He would lay a salt trail all around the room, for why he never knew
But a voice from deep within him, told him exactly what to do
Adults seem quite unaware, of the demon that waits inside
And laugh at his reluctance, to cross that threshold line

The adults lost their perception of, the truth only a child can see
The price we pay for material gain, the price for material greed

The years have passed and the memories dim
The child is now full grown
Still living in the family house
With young children of his own
His sights are now firmly set upon
The furthering of his life
Aided and abetted, by a materialistic wife
But his eldest son, has a morbid fear
Of the antiques room off the hall
And he keeps leaving a trail of salt along
The room’s perimeter wall

Pagan Altar, “The Room of Shadows”

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Six Dumb Questions with Cortez

Posted in Six Dumb Questions on August 16th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

cortez

Let’s face it: a new Cortez outing doesn’t come along every day. The Boston heavy rockers offered up their first release in 2007’s Thunder in a Forgotten Town EP through Buzzville Records. It would be five years before they’d answer with their 2012 Bilocation Records self-titled debut full-length (review here), and five more beyond that for the recently-landed second album, The Depths Below (review here), to make its mark this year as their first domestically-backed collection, issued via the Connecticut-based imprint Salt of the Earth Records. They had a 2014 split with Borracho (review here) and a 2016 digital single covering Deep Purple‘s “Stormbringer” (posted here), but still, they’re not exactly what you’d call prolific.

But, when a new Cortez outing does arrive, it’s all the more of an occasion worth marking. The last half-decade has brought some significant changes in the band, as seen in the departure of longtime drummer Jeremy Hemond (who still plays on The Depths Below) and his replacement with Alexei Rodriguez and the addition of second guitarist Alasdair Swan alongside founding six-stringer Scott O’Dowd, bassist/backing vocalist Jay Furlo and frontman Matt Harrington, but one thing that has remained central to the band is their songwriting. The Depths Below, from the opening aggro thrust of “All Gone Wrong” through the three-part storytelling of “Walk Through Fire,” “The Citadel” and “Blood of Heirs,” and the Life of Agony-esque “Dead Channel” late in the tracklisting, is a shining example of how Cortez are and seem to have always been underrated for the quality of their craft and the purpose of their execution. A well-kept secret known to denizens of smaller Boston-area venues and European labels, it would seem, but primed nonetheless for a wider reach.

As they have been all along. Maybe on that level the lessons of The Depths Below are a refresher course in the kind of straightforward righteousness Cortez have honed since they got their start more than a decade ago, but if check-ins from them are to be so periodic in their nature, then attention and appreciation for the band’s work on its own terms are no less duly earned than they might be if they busted out a new record every eight months. In the interview that follows, O’Dowd and Harrington talk about making The Depths Below and the shifts in lineup Cortez have undergone since the self-titled, as well as the work that’s already begun on their next outing, which is set to arrive whenever the hell they decide it’s good and ready to arrive.

Please enjoy the following Six Dumb Questions:

cortez the depths below

Six Dumb Questions with Cortez

A lot has changed for Cortez since the self-titled. How do you feel about everything that’s gone down with the band in the last five years? Tell me about bringing in Alasdair on guitar and Alexei on drums. How do you feel about where the band is at now?

Scott O’Dowd: In the five years since the release of our self-titled album, quite a lot has happened. Not the least of which was adding Alasdair on second guitar. We’ve always envisioned ourselves as a two-guitar band, but after Tony (our original second guitarist) left the band in 2008, we continued on as a four-piece. This was only because we didn’t have anyone else in mind to fill the position. We’re big believers in chemistry, both musically and personally, so rather than adding someone that we didn’t know, we decided to continue with the four remaining members until we found the right fifth member. Alasdair (who happens to be married to my wife’s cousin) had recently moved to the US from Scotland and we really hit it off on a musical and personal level. I told the rest of the guys about him and he came down to rehearsal. He was a perfect fit and has been with us ever since (2012).

We parted ways with our long time drummer Jeremy [Hemond] in November of 2016 when he moved back to Vermont. As might be expected, devoting time to the band had become an issue because of the distance. We decided to move on and look for another drummer. In a complete stroke of luck, Alexei came across an ad we placed and came down to audition. After trying out a handful of drummers who weren’t right for us, we knew Alexei was our guy from the first song. He fit right in and we all feel a renewed sense of purpose.

We’re really happy, looking forward to working on new material, and playing shows.

How did the writing process work out for The Depths Below? When did you start thinking about a follow-up for the self-titled and how did the material come together? Was there anything in particular you wanted to do coming off the first album?

SO: The writing process worked pretty much the same way it always does, except for Alasdair contributing to the songs, and Matt having even more input this time around. We very rarely stop and say, “OK, it’s time to write for the new album.” Instead, we are always working on ideas whenever we have a chance or are feeling inspired. It’s a perpetual thing for us. Sometimes songs will come together rather quickly, such as “Johnny” from the self-titled. Other times we may have a couple of parts and not be able to finish the song. When that happens we tend to put that particular idea on the back burner and come back to it at a later date. Sometimes even years later. We work on a particular idea until we feel it’s finished, however long that takes. It’s not enough for us to throw a few riffs together and call it done. It’s important that a song has a flow and makes sense. We work democratically and listen to each other’s input and tweak parts until we are satisfied. We’re our own toughest critics.

Some of the material written shortly after the self-titled was in the process of being recorded. Some of the other ideas were fleshed out later on. As I mentioned above, it’s an ongoing thing.

When did you know that “Walk Through Fire,” “The Citadel” and “Blood of Heirs” would tie together? How did that come about, and what is the narrative uniting the songs?

SO: I’m going to defer to Matt on this one.

Matt Harrington: If I’m remembering correctly, “The Citadel” was the first song we completed of the three. “Walk Through Fire” is in a different tuning, but I must have heard it right before “The Citadel” on a practice recording because I remember really liking the way they led into one another. I also knew I wanted to tell a little more of the story when I finished “The Citadel,” which also plays into the lyrical why of “Blood of Heirs.”

“In the Shadows of Ancients” is a loose adaptation of a story I wrote. “Walk Through Fire” is the radicalization of the disenfranchised, “The Citadel” is the execution of the oath by the faithful with a little familial revenge thrown in, and “Blood of Heirs” is a homecoming of sorts with the backdrop of a battle.

How about the recording? Was the album done in one shot or over multiple sessions? It seems like there’s a more aggressive sound this time around. Was that something you were looking to bring out purposefully, or just how it worked out in the writing and production?

SO: We recorded the whole album with Benny Grotto. I give him major credit for understanding exactly what we wanted and helping us capture it in the recording. The album was recorded in a few different sessions. The basic tracks (drums, bass, and some guitars) were recorded at Q Division in Somerville, MA, in December of 2014. We recorded most of the rest of the rhythm guitar tracks at Mad Oak in Allston, MA. We finished up leads and vocals at Moontower (R.I.P.) in Somerville. The actual recording was finished in June of 2015. From there we mixed with Benny and sent it off for mastering to Jeff Lipton and Maria Rice at Peerless Mastering.

As for the more aggressive sound, I think partly it just had to do with some of the songs themselves. We’ve always listened to all sorts of music, and I know I tried to bring some more of my metallic influences to the forefront on a few songs. “Walk Through Fire” for example, was a song that had a bit of a NWOBHM feel to me when I came up with the main riff. “Blood of Heirs” has more of an oldschool thrash-metal-meets-Bathory sort of feel to the main riff. I know we made a conscious effort to have a lot of variation in tempo and feel. I’m sure that directly contributed to the genesis of those two songs. Aside from wanting a good amount of variety, there were no strict “rules.” We like to write riffs and songs we enjoy and try not to worry too much about something being a stylistic outlier or odd man out sort of thing. If we like it, we go with it.

What’s the story behind “Dead Channel?”

MH: I’ve always loved dystopias. I never expected to live in one, but that’s a whole other thing.

The name is a nod to the first line of William Gibson’s seminal cyberpunk book, Neuromancer: “The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel.”

That line drew a young me in instantly, and the visual is a favorite of mine. Pretty soon, someone who picks up that book for the first time won’t know what that is without checking Google, if they even bother to. Isn’t it sort of weird, uncomfortable, and exciting all at once that culture and technology change so completely and frequently now?

Lyrically, this song is a companion of sorts to “Poor and Devoid,” in that they both touch on the idea that we are both consumer and product everywhere we go physically and virtually, and what is presented to us (and sometimes what we present) isn’t always genuine or real.

I watched online communities go from USENET and dialing into BBSs to message boards/forums to where we stand now in both the more mainstream and less accessible parts of a vast internet. These communities have become global cultures and I think this sort of connection without boundaries or borders has power, both positive and negative. The optimist in me likes to think that interconnectivity, community, and freedom are ultimately a good thing.

Do we want to live in a dying world or die knowing we built something that lives on? Maybe we find a better us together, and find better ways to communicate and collaborate without the noise, ideologies, or agendas. Maybe we take a look at the old and say… you know what, it’s okay that isn’t a thing anymore. Maybe we decide to tear every last vestige of those old things down completely. Sometimes it takes weird, uncomfortable, and/or exciting to make something new. Nostalgia and fear shouldn’t prevent people from building things. My hope is that the new things we create are real and genuine and not born from the distractions that are all around us now.

You did the release show earlier this month for The Depths Below, so what’s next for you guys? Any other plans or closing words you want to mention?

SO: To be honest, there was a great sense of relief in releasing The Depths Below and playing the actual release show. The record had been a long time in the “gestation” period (which seems to be our pattern at this point), and it was our first Boston show with Alexei on drums. We wanted to pick up right where we left off and, at the same time, state our intent to continue progressing as a band. It was a packed house at our favorite club, with some of our favorite folks. We couldn’t have been happier.

As for what’s next, we’re working on new material, getting Alexei up to speed on some choice older tunes, and looking forward to the demo process for the new stuff. We’re already pretty booked up for the Fall with a bunch of regional shows. We also have a split 12″ in the works; that will hopefully be released late this year/early next year. We’re just looking to keep it rolling, wherever it takes us.

Our album is available from our Bandcamp page, or at shows.

Cortez, The Depths Below (2017)

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