I’m not gonna lie, it’s been a while since the last time I did a Six Dumb Questions interview. Right around the time Virginia’s Akris released their 2013 self-titled debut (review here), actually, and in fact these questions were sent out back then. Akris at the time were the duo of bassist/vocalist Helena Goldberg and drummer Sam Lohman, but that was soon enough to change.
Last weekend, Akris made a return as the three-piece of Goldberg (who’s also ex-Lord and Aquila and performs solo), guitarist/vocalist Paul Cogle (also Nagato and Black Blizzard) and drummer Tim Otis (also Admiral Browning), bringing together known entities from the MD/VA underground in an unknown form. Their performance at Sludgement Day this past weekend marked a new beginning for the band, and they’ll follow it up with other regional shows before heading out to the West Coast for a run of shows alongside the much-loved Snail in July and August.
With new material in the works, plans to record with Chris Kozlowski at Polar Bear Lair this summer and a later release through Domestic Genocide Records — who seem to have opted for the more acronym-styled DGR — who also put out the first album, Goldberg takes on the following Six Dumb Questions:
Six Dumb Questions: Akris
1. Tell me about writing the self-titled. I know some of those songs were around for a while, but how did everything come together for the album?
One of the most important things about this album is the dedication to Mark Williams and all my friends in Hickory, NC. Mark ran shows out of his house, The Killing Floor, and I have been playing shows there and at other venues in Hickory since my first tour in 2007. Unfortunately, Mark and several other friends of mine that I made over the years in hickory passed away. Because of the unending support, hospitality, and kindness I have experienced in this town, I care very deeply about my friends there and will always be drawn to come back.
The album was recorded between the Fall and Spring of 2012-‘13… We actually decided on having the songs be in chronological order, with the oldest songs being first (“Fighter Pilot,” the first track, was actually written back in 2007) and the most current songs at that point towards the end. “Suffocate” was written specifically for Mark, who passed away in the Spring of 2012. At the time of recording, the last track, “Part of Me,” was the most recently written track, having just been completed in the Fall of 2012. Actually, the current set is comprised in a very similar way to the album. There are a couple older songs written back in 2007/2008, a couple songs from the album, and a few brand new songs.
2. How was it for you recording with Chris Kozlowski? How long were you in the studio and how did the recording process work?
We absolutely loved recording with Chris! We had an amazing time at the polar bear lair; I think the entire process was over the span of a few months. Chris and I hit it off from the first time he did sound for Akris at a Krug’s show years ago in Frederick (I think it might have been a SHoD), and I’m happy to call him a very good friend. When I think of the recording process of this album I remember lots of laughs and various hijinks.
3. You’ve obviously put time into creating your bass tone, and it’s such a huge part of the songs. What gear did you use on the album, and was/is there something in particular you were trying to get out of it sound-wise?
I am a big supporter of Sunn equipment. My rig for the past few years is pretty much all Sunn and Earth, with bass and guitar rigs running simultaneously. We wanted to emulate the live sound as closely as possible, so we used two Sunn Model T’s, one through a 2×15, the other through an 8×10. One was more of a clear booming bass tone, the other was more distorted at a mid to treble range. When combined, the sound was very close to my live show rig.
4. How did bringing Ron “Fez” McGinnis from Admiral Browning in on vocals for “Vomit Within” come about? Tell me about writing that song musically and lyrically.
I usually don’t think about my lyrics too much; I almost feel like I just hear the sounds of the words first and just let them come out. It’s always interesting to actually go back and think about what I wrote! A lot of my lyrics involve death and spirituality, and the beginning of that song definitely references that (“There’s a shadow next to me/Sits beside me while I bleed,” etc.). Later in the song I think I was letting out a lot of anger and frustration in particular with dealing with death (“My brother, you fuck, I loved you too much,” for example). As far as Fez‘s vocal contribution, I trusted his musicianship enough to just let him do whatever he was inspired to do. He had the idea for the spoken word part at the beginning of the song and wrote the part while listening to the track in the studio. I am very excited to have him be a part of it!
5. What happened with Sam and how did you bring Tim and Paul into the band? How has working with them changed Akris? Will it affect your ability to tour?
I absolutely loved playing with Sam between the Spring of 2011 to about the Spring of 2014. Unfortunately, circumstances in his personal life made it impossible for him to continue. Tim Otis is one of my best friends, and I have been a big fan of his drumming since I moved down to the Northern Virginia area in 2008. When it became evident that Sam would not be able to continue playing drums for Akris this past January, Tim officially joined the band. Soon after, the decision was made to have Paul Cogle join on guitar. This was obviously a huge decision because I have been playing in a two-piece band for almost 10 years. However, I have been a fan of Paul‘s music and guitar playing for years, ever since I first heard Nagato. Paul is also a very good mutual friend of Tim’s and mine, and it has been an absolutely amazing, positive experience preparing our new set over these past few months. I am truly honored to call both Paul and Tim bandmates and friends. The three of us have worked out tour plans for the rest of the year, which include three shows in May local to the D.C./VA/MD area, a New Jersey Meatlocker show June 12, a West Coast tour in August with my longtime friends Snail (on Small Stone Records), and a Southern tour in September.
6. Any plans or closing words you want to mention?
We will be recording new material at the Polar Bear Lair again in July to be released on DG Records next year. I cannot express with words the love and gratitude I have for our label. There have been many ups and downs over the past couple years and they have truly stuck with me through thick and thin. To have the support of people who believe so strongly in me is an incredible blessing that I am thankful for every day. My current bandmates and label have helped me to find courage in my darkest times through love and strength, and to continue to push the envelope and the limits of our sound.
Delaware-based four-piece Wasted Theory will release their second EP, GodSpeed, this coming Saturday at a show in their native state with Weed is Weed, War Injun, Foghound and Screaming Rattler at the Mojo 13 in Wilmington. The new release continues a quick start for Wasted Theory, who formed summer 2012 with riffs in hand and quickly set to work on putting them to use for their debut, the Cinco Dechado De Cancion EP, released last fall.
GodSpeedfollows a similar course to the first outing in its overall style, but is more developed, a song like “Mountain King” dripping Southern rock swagger à la Halfway to Gone‘s “Great American Scumbag” while relying on a foundation of riffs strong enough to hold up all that attitude. The dual guitars of Jackson (also vocals) and M. Kramer foster metallic tones, while Jay‘s bass — most prevalent in its intro to “Fuck You and the Horse You Rode in On” before being relegated to a backseat to the guitars in the mix — thickens in heavy rock tradition and BrendanBurns‘ drums punctuate the formidable stomp.
Burns doubles as the honcho of SnakeCharmer Booking, responsible for some righteous shows in the Delaware/Maryland area including the Eye of the Stoned Goat fests — the second of which took place last month (review here) and the third of which is Obelisk-sponsored and coming up July 27 at The Acheron in Brooklyn. So with the release of GodSpeedthis week, the upcoming gig, the drummer’s involvement in making the Mid-Atlantic that much heavier, and Wasted Theory‘s slot on Stoner Hands of Doom XIII later this year in Virginia, it seemed like a good opportunity to bug them with Six Dumb Questions, which fortunately they were kind enough to take time out to answer.
You’ll find the results below. Please enjoy:
1. Give me the background on how Wasted Theory got together.
With Delaware being so small, we all knew the same drug dealers, (just kidding)… WastedTheory was the result of many shitty auditions and failed project attempts. In the summer of 2012 we finally found a good combination of players, and it just clicked. We all came from semi-professional music backgrounds, so for us the main objective was to find musicians with the same goals but with different influences to create a style that spanned several styles within the rock genre.
2. It seems like you guys got Cinco Dechado De Canción out rather quickly after forming. How did the writing process for the material work? How does that compare to the process for GodSpeed? Is there anything in particular you were looking to change going into the new release?
It was definitely a speedy process, because most of what Cinco was made up of was riffs and lyrics that everyone already had and were combined and rewritten to fit the new framework of the band. For Godspeed, we wrote new riffs and gradually took everyone’s input and created the music from the ground up. In many ways Godspeed could be considered our first true collaboration in the respect that it was written from fresh ideas rather than existing ones. As far as changes, we wanted to experiment and start using different guitar tones, time signatures, as well as playing with some different effects. We also used some audio samples to help create a more themed and cohesive album. Also, I believe Mark may have also started purchasing a different grade of marijuana… that helped too.
3. Tell me about recording GodSpeed. Was there anything you wanted to do differently coming off the first EP? Will you guys do a physical pressing for GodSpeed, or is it digital-only at this time?
We definitely were looking to go a little more heavy, but also a little more “C.O.C.-ish” on some tracks. We wanted to add some more ambience, add some different “bluesy” highlights as well, but at the same time show our versatility and basically our ability to play different forms of the same genre. Oh Yes, there are physical copies of Godspeed that can be purchased at our shows or overseas through Ozium, and it will also be available digitally through iTunes, Amazon, Bandcamp, all those cool places.
4. Brendan put together the Eye of the Stoned Goat fests and you guys and Wizard Eye will be the only bands to have played all three installments so far when the next one takes place in July. Can you talk a bit about the process in putting together this festival and what it is about Wizard Eye that has made them such a regular fixture? Aside from their kicking ass, that is.
In all honesty, I really dug what Rob [Levey] was doing with Stoner Hands of Doom and I really wanted to do something similar for my area. After the ESG2 festival, I was contacted by several venues and promoters about doing the same type of festival in their towns, and I really loved the idea of doing one in New York. So, I teamed up with Pat Harrington from Geezer/the Electric Beard of Doom podcast and landed a spot at The Acheron in Brooklyn for ESG3. He and I worked on locking this show down, and landed some amazing bands for it. One of those bands naturally was WizardEye. Not only are they a great band, but great dudes too. Erik [Caplan] has been one of my biggest supporters since the first event, and they just fit each bill so perfectly.
5. You’ll play Stoner Hands of Doom later this year as well. How did that come about? Any chance of an ESG/SHOD collaboration in the future?
We would fucking love to collaborate with Rob and do an ESG/SHoD show, that would be killer. It could definitely happen in the future, who knows! We actually just happened to land a spot on this year’s show by dumb luck. We sent Rob a track from the first EP and he really dug it and asked us to join SHoD XIII. Obviously we told him fuck yeah!
6. Any other plans or closing words you want to mention?
We’ll be heading out to do tons of shows with tons of great bands this year, so please check out our site for all the dates and bands we’ll be teaming up with. Oh, and please buy the record! We are all late on our child support payments… Thank you.
If the questions asked in this Magic Circle interview seem kind of straightforward, that’s only because the doomly Boston-based five-piece have done so well at keeping themselves obscure. The band, whose self-titled debut (review here) is out now on CD/LP through Armageddon Shop, have virtually no online presence, be it social networking or otherwise, and in terms of recording info, pictures, etc., there just isn’t much out there at this point.
Difficult as that might make it to determine who’s who and how Magic Circle, the album, got made, it’s an admirable ethic. Some bands can’t go five minutes before updating their fans on which member’s farts stink the worst, or without posting a picture of one of the members sitting on plastic lawn furniture in somebody’s yard, with or without a beer, like the lamest moment of Bon Scott‘s life. And even those who protest the pervasiveness of digital engagement — i.e. me — still take part. If you’re actually against something, don’t do it.
Now, for a band playing the kind of doom that Magic Circle play — weighted and morose atmospherically, traditional in its follow-the-riff ethic, murky and dark in the sort of new New England sphere acts like Pilgrim are also helping to cast — it’s easy to take something like that as a play at cult appeal, but I think actually it’s much more cut and dry than that, and put in the context of the members of Magic Circle‘s combined decades of experience playing in hardcore bands like The Rival Mob and Mind Eraser — among many others in a variety of styles; drummer Q is also in Doomriders, for example — their opting out makes even more sense. They’re anti-bullshit. Like guitarist Chris “CC” Corry says below, “It feels gratuitous.”
Corry, who is joined in Magic Circle by Q, vocalist Brendan Radigan, guitarist Dan Ducas and bassist Justin DeTore, gives some background on how the band came together and put Magic Circle‘s Magic Circleto tape, their experience playing Chaos in Tejas last year in Austin (they’re doing it again this year), and more in the exchange that follows. Please enjoy the following Six Dumb Questions:
1. How did Magic Circle first get together? With members also contributing to different bands, were/are there any difficulties in scheduling?
Everyone in the band has known each other for a long time. We all spent our teens and 20s in a whole bunch of hardcore and punk bands that played together on shows. Everyone in the band has always been into old rock and metal records, and myself (CC), Justin, and Brendan had talked about starting a band with a traditional late ‘70s/early ‘80s feel for a long time. Sabbath, Rainbow, WitchfinderGeneral, PaganAltar, Trouble, MercyfulFate were kinda the vibe I wanted, maybe not the way the riffs sound but just the feel and atmosphere. I’m not a virtuoso by any means, the guitarists in those bands… I wouldn’t be fit to lick their boots, but I finally just sat down and started writing. I had the skeletons for maybe four tunes we ended up using in spring of 2010.
Justin, Brendan and I have done a lot of bands together over the years, and I’ve helped the record other projects I’m not in, so that was kind of a no-brainer. I played them some rough riffs and they were in. Brendan is really the only guy I know who could do vocals this demanding. I got in touch with Q just knowing he was a real good old style drummer, and Dan had just moved back to Boston after being out in L.A. for a while, he wasn’t doing any music and he’s a good guitar player.
We recorded rehearsals of a few songs, just the basic music, and then Brendan recorded vocals over them and that was it. We had ourselves a band.
Scheduling for us is kind of tough, everyone in the band except Dan has been in several bands at all times for years (and is currently), everyone has a regular job during the week, and other commitments, wives and stuff… so it can be a chore. Sometimes there’s a month where no one can do anything but we’re not in a hurry.
2. Were you surprised at the initial response “Scream Evil” and “Magic Circle” got when you posted them on YouTube? You guys have been assiduous in keeping info about the band sparse, no website, Facebook, etc. Tell me what went into making that choice?
We weren’t sure how they would go over but at that point the record had been done for six months and we just wanted someone to hear it. Word did get around really fast which was surprising but we liked the songs and so we figured other people would too.
I don’t see the point in shoving ourselves down anyone’s throat. Facebook is a fine way to keep in touch with friends living in other states and countries, but other than that it feels gratuitous. If you like the music you can find it. I don’t see the need to force it on everyone. That’s pretty much always been the way I’ve done music.
3. How does the songwriting process usually work? How do the songs come together and when are the vocals added? Well for me I always kind of rough out the songs at home, just get some basic riffs into a structured whole, and then try and break it down into segments for the other dudes with instruments, it’s basic stuff and they’re pros so we can usually piece together a song in a couple practice sessions, and they help flesh out the arrangements, and adjust stuff. I record little clips of myself playing guitar and bring it to practice to help me remember. After that we can make a demo and let Brendan marinate on it for a couple weeks. Then he adds some vocals to the demo, and then we can kind of figure out if stuff needs to change, add a couple solos, things like that. Brendan‘s a strong vocalist so the song always changes after he adds to it.
4. Tell me about recording the self-titled. The album is so atmospheric and bleak sounding, what was the mood like at the studio? How long were you recording?
We recorded the album in Justin‘s parent’s basement in spring 2011 and we mostly had to work on weekends or after work so we could keep stuff set up there without moving anything around. Spring in New England is a little bleak to begin with. Everything’s damp, and still kind of dead. A lot of grey. I definitely wanted to have that creaky dark vibe you get on the first PaganAltar, the first Sabbath, some of the ‘70s Pentagram stuff… I tried to give the songs room to breathe. It’s a lot different than when I record hardcore and punk bands. A lot of recordings now, especially with regard to “doom,” sound too “clear” to me with the kick drum razor sharp and the guitars sounding like a Guitar Center demo, and the vocals are super in-your-face. That’s not what we want. I like when stuff sounds organic and real like you’re there hearing the band in that room.
As for the mood I’d love to tell you something crazy but we were just working hard to get things done. A lot of nights I would come over straight from work and we could record just for a couple hours in the late afternoon. Once we started on vocals, Brendan lives like an hour south of Boston so he would come up and we would try and do a whole song before we had to stop, because like I said, we were operating under the good will of the DeTore family. If anything maybe the tiredness from starting mostly at the end of the day kind of carried into the recording. It took three or four months to get everything tracked, but keep in mind it would be like work for a day or two, then nothing for a week or more. Very start/stop. Not the best way to do something but I didn’t want to rush. Everyone wanted to get it right. I mixed it a couple times over the next several months, it seemed like it was never going to really be done and come out for a while but it did eventually.
5. It’s pretty easy to read the tracklisting as being structured for vinyl sides. How on purpose was it to end each half of the record with two-part songs? Are there any plans for an LP release once the run of CDs is gone?
Well the album is out now on vinyl on the Armageddon Shop label (same as CD), and for that I’m very happy because I like records. I have an iPod for work, and the car, but most of my money goes to records. It was certainly structured to be an LP. There’s another song from the session “Lighting Her Fire,” that we self-released on a single that there just wasn’t room for on the album.
You can’t really cut an LP over 40 minutes, and even that is pushing it a bit. The two-part song thing I didn’t really think about until someone pointed it out. I added those titles really just as a nod to Sabbath using separate names on some of their instrumental sections, but it just seemed like that’s where those songs fit once we were done and needed a sequence. All the classic records I love – rock and roll, heavy metal, punk – they’re all sequenced in two sides for vinyl, you know? CD is a bit of an afterthought for me, honestly.
6. You guys did Chaos in Tejas in 2012. How was that experience for you? Will you do any other touring in 2013? Any other plans or closing words you want to mention?
A bunch of bands we’ve played in have done shows at Chaos over the years. Timmy who puts the whole thing on is a very good friend and has been really supportive of all the stuff that I’ve done for a long time. It was an honor to be one of the openers on a show with Saint Vitus, Church of Misery and Gates of Slumber. I never would have thought in a million years that would be a possibility. We’re playing again this year on the show BoltThrower is headlining which again is totally crazy and a complete honor. We don’t have any tours in the works. We are scheduled for the Wings of Metal show in Montreal though with Satan (w/ BrianRoss singing!), ManillaRoad, Midnight, Voor, BloodCeremony, Megiddo, Cauchemar…. August 30-31… Other than that – a show with Pilgrim in New Bedford March 16, and a show with Nightbitch in Connecticut March 22.
Proffering rich, organic tonality with an unpostured flair for the soulful and classically rocking, Brooklyn’s Traveling Circle made enough of an initial impression to be picked up by Germany’s Nasoni Records for the release of their first album. That’s high praise for psychedelia — especially American psychedelia — and the record, 2010’s Handmade House(review here) left little to question of the three-piece’s having earned it, a patient but still motion-minded flow playing out over the course of tight grooves and well-placed flourishes of synth. The follow-up, Escape from Black Cloud(review here), was also issued on LP by Nasoni late last year.
Its pulse is no harder to read in terms of overall accessibility, but Escape from Black Cloudis nonetheless a more developed full-length, two-sided all the way in its blend of classic psych and modern tonality, a steady beat throbbing under unrepentantly shoegazing opener “Higher,” while the high-pitched vocals space out above the sway. Elsewhere, as on side B’s shuffling “Fountain of Time,” they touch the ground, but there’s little interest presented in remaining there, as the sleepy “Newborn Shadow” demonstrates and the more playful “Rock this Feeling” confirms. At rest or in motion, Traveling Circle draw forth an engaging atmosphere akin to but not necessarily biting off anyone else’s work in psych or space rock. The more you let yourself be carried off by Escape from Black Cloud, the more satisfaction the album is like to provide.
Traveling Circle is comprised of guitarist/vocalist Dylan Maiden, bassist/backing vocalist/electric pianist Charlie Freeman and drummer Josh Schultz. All three were kind enough to participate in the following Six Dumb Questions. Please enjoy:
1. Escape from Black Cloud seems to have a more laid back feel than Handmade House in general. Were there things you knew you wanted to do differently coming off of the last record, or is that just how the songs came out of the jams?
Josh: I do think our attitude was a little different for the new record. We kept in a more sort of spacey pulse area for this album. For me, I really tried to keep the drums more pulsing. I tried to be creative in the approach but also keep it simple. I saw a documentary on Krautrock a while ago and Jaki Liebezeit describes a spaced-out audience member approaching him to suggest he should “play more monotonous.” I definitely tried to “play more monotonous.”
Charlie: Simplicity was the general approach all around. I tried not to overthink things but we had a certain sound in mind.
Dylan: Yeah, the goal was to compose a more linear structure throughout and fill it with melodic accents that give you the feeling of moving up and down.
2. How does the Traveling Circle writing process usually work? Am I way off in hearing a soul/funk influence? If I’m not, where does it come from?
Dylan: There may be some influence from those territories. But, to be honest, I draw inspiration in my writing from just about every place conceivable. The subliminal and subconscious are important drivers behind our writing process. There are many elements at work. We usually enter the practice studio and start arranging these elements into the sonic positions we feel are most appropriate for each song’s narrative.
Charlie: I can see what you mean with the soul/funk influence. “Rock this Feeling” has that vibe running throughout. In general, Dylan has a very soulful vocal delivery and Josh and I have an intertwined approach to drums and bass. This album definitely has more groove injected in it.
Josh: Over the two albums we have used a number of different methods in terms of writing. I think this record has some really great songs that Dylan brought in more or less done from a guitar/vocals perspective. Higher is a good example of this, the way I remember it. Some songs started as jams. “Closer” was sort of an unwritten jam at first. We first played that song as a jam at a bar in Brooklyn called Legend and just improvised it. The room was empty at the beginning of the song and began to fill up by the end. It looked like a good idea to polish it up after that. People seemed to relate to it. “Candle Light Sways” was an odd one in that I worked out the entire drum part at home and then brought it in to see if Charlie and Dylan would be up for making something out of it. The structure changed a bit with the group though. Maybe this is too mechanical an answer…
3. Tell me about writing and recording “Newborn Shadow.”
Dylan: This is one of my favorite songs on the album. I wanted to create a nostalgic atmosphere with the guitar sound, which involved very simple strums. Serendipitously, the guitar ended up sounding like a harp. Then I overlaid vocals that sound like they’re coming from a gothic cathedral. I really love Charlie’s bass on this track. It holds everything together and makes me feel like I’m on a teetering boat with a lantern in my hand, trying to make my way through the darkness ahead.
Charlie: This one came together pretty quickly right before we went into the studio. Dylan had a very clear idea of the overall sound he was going for. It has a really nice build to it. It’s a very haunting song.
Josh: The drums were more involved on that song at one point and it was worse for it! In trying out ideas we got around to the current treatment, which is much stronger for the simple drums.
4. The album sounds so natural. How much of Escape from Black Cloud was recorded live? What was your time in the studio like? Has there been any consideration to bringing in a synth player as a full-time member of the band?
Dylan: We’ve been praised for our live performances. Many people have said they prefer hearing us live to our albums. The aim of Escape from Black Cloud was to capture the energy and emotion of our live performance and bring it to the forefront. We brought in friends to help with arrangements such as synthesizer and Theremin, but this by no means compromised the integrity of our sound. Having our brethren by our side helped accentuate the most important bits and crystallize the vision. Nostalgia and dustiness aside, considering how many tracks we recorded live, Escape from Black Cloud came out sounding quite polished as a studio piece, both in its execution and production.
Josh: We did the bass, drums and guitar tracks all at once in a live fashion and then went from there. We recorded at Seaside Lounge with MitchRackin. Mitch is the best! His record with Heavy Hands is great. I listen to it pretty regularly. The album is called Smoke Signals. Seaside is a great place to record. They record to tape and have a lot of sweet vintage gear and are great guys! I wish I was at Seaside Lounge right now! As for the mixing, Dylan was in contact with Gordon Raphael and we decided to approach him about trying out some mixes, we really liked what he came up with and so we asked him to mix the album. He was working between Berlin and Texas so we handled the mixes through the mail. It was an unusual way to work for us but I like what we ended up with.
We have talked at times about adding a member but haven’t really done much about it. Charlie handles the keys on “Willow Tree Fair.” He comes up with great parts. Other additional parts include Theremin played by Matt Dallow and some studio magic from Gordon.
Charlie: We keep some pretty odd rehearsal times too. A lot of people don’t want to get up that early on a Sunday morning.
5. Can you give some insight into Erin Klauk’s work on the cover art? Was there some discussion of direction beforehand? How did you wind up working together in the first place?
Josh: Erin has done a lot of posters for us over the years and also the cover to the last LP. She did the posters for Brooklyn Psych Fest as well. I don’t recall much direction. I guess she just riffed on the title. Pretty far-out stuff, right? Alexandra Zorbas-Maiden took the sweet photos, including one on the back and another on the poster insert.
Charlie: Erin had some couch pillows made with the cover art and gave them to us as gifts. That was the first time I saw the art and I was blown away. We’re really lucky to have people as talented as Erin and Alex working with us.
Dylan: I was at an art opening in Chelsea that featured some really cool Himalayan artwork. They were dark depictions of mountains and clouds. Very simple line drawings that almost resembled wood engravings. I was very inspired and thought the tone somehow related to the songs we selected for our second album. Knowing Erin was going to illustrate the cover,
I texted her pictures from this Himalayan artist as inspiration for what would later become Escape from Black Cloud.
The photo on the back cover of Escape from Black Cloud was taken in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, by my wife Alex. The poster insert photo was also taken by her in the Muir Woods.
6. Will there be a CD release? Any shows, plans or other closing words you want to mention?
Josh: Currently there are no plans for a CD but we have been receiving requests. The best way to pick up Escape from Black Cloud is on vinyl at www.nasoni-records.com. They also have both an LP and CD of our first album, Handmade House. If you don’t listen to records, Escape from Black Cloud is on iTunes and Spotify. We are currently planning to hold record listenings in three cities as well, New York, San Francisco, and Sydney. If anyone is interested, keep an eye on our Facebook page, https://www.facebook.com/TravelingCircle for more details.
I don’t know what Pittsburgh’s Low Man are going to do next, but whatever it is, chances are the four-piece will sound markedly different than on their 2012 self-titled EP. That release (review here) captured a nascent but discernible love of a variety of heavy styles, from thickened up punk to classic proto-doom, and perhaps most impressively, Low Man made the sounds bend to their will rather than the other way around. There remained work to be done in their songwriting and production, but the potential was there and it was palpable.
They’ve had a little road time since, tightening their approach, and as Low Man‘s Low Man was recorded as the trio of guitarist/vocalist Luke Rifugiato, bassist/vocalist Jeremy Zerbe and drummer/vocalist Derek Krystek before guitarist Alex Byers joined, there are bound to be some changes in approach to account for new influences in the writing and construction of the songs. As such, as they continue to grow and develop over the course of gigs and jamming out in the rehearsal space, this seemed like a prime moment to discuss the beginnings of the band and how they’ve arrived at this stage in their development.
The Low ManEP — a follow-up to their debut single, Snake Farmer/Jackhammerhead— was recorded in Pittsburgh at +/- Studio by Jason Jouver and Justin Novak and features a host of guest players on vocals and guitar. Zerbe took time out to talk about getting the band together, putting the EP to tape and bringing in Byers on guitar with Rifugiato. Along the way, insight is given as to Low Man‘s songwriting process, influences and penchant for gang vocals. Hope you dig it.
Please enjoy the following Six Dumb Questions.
1. Give me the background on how Low Man got together. When did the band form and how does the songwriting process usually work? When were the songs for the self-titled EP written? Are there multiple songwriters, or was it a span of time as the material came together?
Low Man started when I moved back to Pittsburgh and began playing music with Luke Rifugiato, the band’s other vocalist and guitarist, in the fall of 2010. He introduced me to AlexByers and EvanFlaherty, the lead guitarist and drummer he had been jamming with and we sort of just fell into playing together. Besides both being into punk music, Luke was really into Queens of the Stone Age and Fu Manchu and I was a huge fan of Black Mountain and The Black Angels, so the music sort of just started from there.
We both had had other bands before and brought some songs we’d been working on for those bands with us, which is why our EP sounds a little all-over-the-place. That EP and the single we released before it are just a collection of our earliest songs, before we really had a set idea of what we were trying to achieve. We knew we wanted it to be loud and fuzzy, but we didn’t really sit down and say, “We should be a stoner rock band.” We still really haven’t, though the music comes together a lot more organically these days. We write pretty much everything as a group now and our sound has really benefited from that, I think.
2. Tell me about recording the EP. How long were you in the studio and how did you wind up bringing in gang vocals and extra guitar, etc.?
We recorded the EP in February of 2012 and were at a transitional period in the band. Alex had gone on hiatus a few months before to finish his degree, and we’d also found a new drummer in DerekKrystek. We were in the process of finding a replacement for Alex, playing shows with our friends JustinGross and MikeMyzak when we decided to just go into the studio and take care of the recording as a trio. We laid down the basic tracks in one day, then went back a second day to overdub solos and vocals. Mixing took a hell of a lot longer, and honestly we still didn’t spend enough time with it, but we were poor and the studio time was by the hour.
I laid down a couple of rhythm parts, and Luke took the reins on all of the solos except half of the dueling one in “American Literature from 1860.” When Alex was in the band, the two of them traded it off, but without him, we asked the producer, Jason Jouver, and his engineer, Justin Novak, to lay down a couple of quick licks between Luke’s. Gang vocals were something I’d wanted in a couple of songs since I first wrote them, so at the end of our second day, we had some of our friends come to the studio with a case of beer. The two main harmony voices you hear (especially on “Roll the River Down”) are members of Derek’s other band, Sleepy V.
3. How much does the EP represent the live version of the band? What was the timing on bringing Alex in on guitar? Has that changed the dynamic on stage, and if so, in what ways?
Now that Alex is back in the band, the live version of LowMan is infinitely more interesting than the recording. He’s by far the most talented guitarist of us, and he plays these harmony lines throughout songs like “Migraine” that make them a million times better. I have promised him that if we get a chance to remix the album, I’d like him to lay down his parts and throw them in where they rightfully belong. I also think it’s always hard to really translate a loud, intense band on tape. As good as the EP turned out, I wish it were more raw and energetic. But that’s just sort of how it goes I guess. Unless you’re working with Steve Albini (call me!) that is.
4. In what direction(s) do you see Low Man growing from here? The EP and the Snake Farmer/Jackhammerhead single sound completely different from each other. Have you started writing for a follow-up yet, and if so, is there something different you’re specifically trying to bring out sound-wise? There’s a pretty wide berth of influences already.
The songs from the single and the EP were all written at about the same time, early in the life of the band. We’ve been around for just over two years now and have gone through a fair number of changes, so whenever we get the time and money to hit a studio, we’re always trying to play catch up and record the oldest stuff first to get it out of the way for new things. It’s not the best system in the world, I’ll be the first to admit. Right now we’re trying to get back into the studio again for a follow-up, but we’ve got enough songs to record two in a row, so it is this race to get it all to tape.
As we’re moving forward though, what you’ll hear is a more focused, more aggressive sound, like that of “Machine,” “American Literature From 1860” or even “Snake Farmer” I think. The newer songs we’ve been writing do a lot of playing around with time signature — one of them alternates between 5/8 and 6/8 in the verse and then moves into 13 for the chorus before this weird layered, math-intensive bridge happens. And I mean that about the math: I actually had to sit down and work it out to make sure we’d all end on the same note.
But even with that kind of stuff, we’re finally able to say, “This is a Low Man song, this isn’t,” unlike early in our existence. You’ll never hear another song quite as poppy as “Pay the Bills” is, and we’ve scuttled some of our older songs for that exact reason. On stage we’re a relatively aggro, somewhat serious band, and we don’t have room for our ‘60s Wayne Cochran-esque pop ballad anymore. Inspiration still isn’t coming from just one place, so we’ll never exactly be a traditional “stoner rock” band, but we’re too much of suckers for poppy hooks for that anyway.
5. Are you conscious in writing of playing to one side of the band’s personality or another, or is it just whatever comes out of jamming or somebody’s song idea?
There is definitely still a bit of personality that finds its way into Luke’s songs or mine, though the lines have been blurred as we’ve played together more. I used to show up with nearly complete songs written and try to teach everyone everything, whereas Luke preferred to just come up with riffs and piece them together as a band. My need for exactness and completion is partially due to suffering from obsessive-compulsive disorder, but also was just born out of necessity in my old bands: I was the only songwriter, the band manager, the driver and the tuning fork. Usually, I was the only guy sober enough to play the songs too.
Over the past two years though, I’ve changed a lot and become a lot more like Luke in writing. I realized what an absolute treasure Alex is, because I’d be struggling at home trying to figure out chords to a melody when he could just listen to me hum and it say, “Oh, that’s Am C G7 and then F# with an A as the root,” or whatever. Now I’ll bring my melody lines and lyrics and let the band jam out transitions and riffs in between. We just wrote two brand-new songs this past weekend exactly like that. It’s way better to work that way, getting everyone involved. It really makes them Low Man songs instead of Luke songs or Jeremy songs.
6. Any shows, other plans or closing words you want to mention?
We went on a weekend tour in early December and we hope to be doing that again soon, but after we got home from the couple days out, Derek texted me to call it quits for some personal reasons. It sucked because, not only was he like a brother to us, but we’d been writing a lot of our newer music (like the wacky time signature one I mentioned earlier) around his style of proggy, jazzy drumming. Now we’re in the process of auditioning drummers and getting the engine started again. As soon as we’ve got someone up to speed, we’ll be back out on the road, and then heading into the studio for our second EP — hopefully by spring. If all goes according to plan, I’d love to have the first EP remixed and then press both records to vinyl by winter. It’s a long way away and we hope to get ahead of schedule, but the one thing we’ve learned over the last two years is that the only thing you can count on is not being able to count on anything at all.
Now a trio with bassist Mark Cook on board, Arlington-based heavy fuzz rockers Stone Machine Electric nonetheless recorded their self-titled, self-released debut as the core duo of Mark Kitchens and William “Dub” Irvin. The album (review here) was recorded by Kent Stump of Dallas heavyweights Wo Fat, and shares some of that band’s tonal thickness as a result, but Dub and Kitchens take tracks like “Carve” and “Mushroom Cloud” in a direction more their own, jamming out organic fuzz with psychedelic flourish, sounding raw live and studio lush all at once.
Stone Machine Electric, who are aligned to the fertile Dallas scene that also includes OrthodoxFuzz, Kin of Ettinsand the rip-rocking Mothership as well as the aforementioned Wo Fat, made their debut in 2010 with the live demo Awash in Feedback(review here), on which the audio was rough but still gave some idea of where they were coming from. Emphasis on “some” only because the self-titled feels so much more fleshed out and shows them as having a clear idea of what they want Stone Machine Electric to be as a band and where they want to go with their music. It’s a big jump from one to the other, and as they’ve since undergone the pivotal change of bringing Cook in on bass, there’s potential for another such leap next time around.
Given that, it seemed time to hit up Dub and Kitchens for Six Dumb Questions about the self-titled, recording with Stump, having Darryl Bell from Dub’s prior band play bass on the track “Hypocrite Christ,” their striking album art, and so on. They were much quicker in obliging than I actually was in sending out the questions, and you’ll find the results below. Please enjoy:
1. Tell me about the time between the live demo and recording the full-length. Was there anything specific you learned from the demo that you tried to being to the studio?
Dub: The demo was just a live recording that we were ok with releasing. Something for people to hear until we could get in the studio. We did try to bring that “liveness” of the demo to the studio by playing together as much as possible.
2. How long were you in the studio with Kent from Wo Fat? What was the atmosphere like and how did the recording process go? Did Dub record bass parts first or after the guitar?
Kitchens: We were in the studio with Kent for about two and a half days. The first day and a half was spent recording, and the rest was just getting the mixes done. We’re friends with Kent, so that made it feel like we were just hanging out, but recording at the same time. We recorded the drum and guitar tracks together (other than the additional guitar tracks) to get a more live and rawer sound. “Hypocrite Christ” was the only exception. Daryl played the bass with us on that track.
Dub: Yeah, since Kent is a brother it was real laid back. He already knew what we sounded like, so it was all gravy. Like Kitchens said, all the basic guitar and drum tracks (and bass on “Hypocrite Christ”) were recorded with us in the same room together. After that I laid down the remaining bass tracks. Followed by vocals, then guitar overdubs last.
3. How did you wind up including “Hypocrite Christ” from Dub’s Dead Rustic Dog days, and how was it having Daryl Bell in the studio on bass for that?
Dub: Man, having Daryl in there was great. We don’t get to hang out or jam together much at all anymore, so I’m really glad he was able to do it. Not to mention that no one can play that tune quite like him.
That tune just seems to fit into what we do. It’s almost like it was written for SME before there was SME. Actually, Kitchens was also in the band at the time this song was written, so it seemed almost natural to bring it into SME. We played this tune early on and then dropped it for a while. We’ve been wanting to resurrect it again, and what better way than to put it on the album.
4. How has bringing in Mark Cook on bass changed the band’s sound? Have you started to write new material yet? If so, how much of a role does he play?
Kitchens: Mark is helping fill out our sound. We’ve had people tell us we sound great as a two- piece live, and that we pull it off well. You just can’t beat having that low end though. We are working on new material now, so I’m looking forward to what he’ll bring.
Dub: Cook not only helps fill out our sound but also opens it up. He brings in a whole other dimension. We are just now beginning work on new material, and hearing what Cook has brought to the existing tunes I’m excited to see how the new stuff will turn out.
5. Where did the idea for the collage cover art come from? Is there a message being conveyed there, and if so, what is it?
Kitchens:Terry Horn, who was our bassist for a while, did the artwork. I had given him some ideas that I had, but he came back with the collage. I’d never thought of that, and I loved it. We ended up not have any logo or text on the cover because it didn’t look right, and I like that idea as well. Terry is an exceptional artist.
Dub: Yeah, I dig Terry‘s work.
Terry Horn: It was spontaneous. I just put the CD on and listened to it and started flipping through magazines and sketchbooks. Ultimately, I wanted to do something for the cover that was different than most artwork you see on stoner rock/doom stuff today.
Not to sound too cliché, but sometimes art is just art.
6. Any other plans, gigs or closing words you want to mention?
Kitchens: It would be great if we could do a few weekend tours this year hitting some places around Texas or the adjoining states. I’d love to play one of the festivals that happen here in the states. Hoping in a year or so we are back in the studio with Kent. I’ll end with a big thanks to our friends and fans for digging our stuff!
Dub: I think he just summed it up right there. Don’t just keep your finger on the pulse, become part of the pulse!
With a stylistic blend almost unto itself of classic heavy rock, prog and metal’s dual-guitar theatrics, Corsair‘s Corsairis not a record up for trifling. The band, native to Charlottesville, Virginia, self-released their first full-length earlier this year (review here) in what has become their standard format of a screenprinted folded box called an arigato pak (nice to finally have a name for it) with original art by guitarist/vocalist Marie Landragin, also seen on their prior 2011 Ghosts of Proxima CentauriEP (review here) and 2010’s Alpha Centauridebut (review here).
Could have been any number of the sides of their sound that did the job — from the rife Thin Lizzy-style guitarmonies of Landragin and Paul Sebring to Jordan Brunk‘s smooth basslines and the bounce in Aaron Lipscombe‘s drumming — but the album caught the attention of Shadow Kingdom Records, who have overseen a reissue of Corsair‘s self-titled on CD, with reworked art (still Landragin‘s design) in a full jewel case. If we were betting on motives, however, I might place my coin on it being the underlying human-ness of the album’s eight tracks, such that as proggy as Corsair might get, they never sound cold or staid, so that as Brunk and Sebring and Landragin trade off vocals or come together for effective layering and veer musically into more metallic thrust on a track like “Gryphon Wing,” the feeling is natural and nothing seems out of place.
Shadow Kingdom has gotten behind the band in a big way, and it’s understandable why. Over the four-plus years since they got together and with a minimum of lineup changes, Corsair have emerged as an act with marked potential, not necessarily for commercial interests (though the songs are accessible), but for creating something unique in their resonant progressive rock. With the label’s version of the record en route and having followed their evolution over the last couple years, it seemed the perfect opportunity to hit up the band for an interview. Brunk, writing from France, recently took some time out to reflect on Corsair‘s origins and where they’re headed in his answers to the Six Dumb Questions that follow below.
1. The self-titled is the first Corsair album to reach the public with a label backing it. How do you feel about the album being the first impression many people will have of the band? How did Shadow Kingdom get involved in the release?
Our self-titled album, as a whole, best represents to date the artistic vision of the band, so we are proud to have it be the first impression of a larger audience. Opening with “Agathyrsi,” an instrumental track, makes clear what we are all about; that the music, with guitar riffs as the focal point, comes first. Following suit, the rest of the album is indicative of the shared writing process with its rotating lead vocals, honed guitar harmonies, and trading solos. Listening to the album nearly a year after starting the process, there are details that could be improved, whether sonically in the mix or minor changes we’ve made in a live setting as afterthoughts. I feel most musicians will find minor flaws in their own material, being indicative of the desire to grow and improve.
Tim McGrogan (aka Shadow Kingdom) contacted us and told us that he’d been really digging our music and wanted to know if we were interested in signing to a record label. Initially, he bought five copies of each of our self-releases to sell on his website, but soon thereafter, his interest peaked and he scheduled a conference call with us to establish the grounds for a mechanical distribution contract.
2. For anyone who may have picked up the album previously, how does the Shadow Kingdom version differ? Is it a jewel case release? Was the mix or master changed at all for the new edition? Will you do a vinyl run?
The Shadow Kingdom release will be in a jewel case with an insert including lyrics and pictures of the band. The artwork and layout were reworked by Marie and tweaked by Tim from ShadowKingdom. The mix and master remain the same from the original release. It’s too soon to say for certain whether or not we will do a vinyl run, but if it makes sense later on, we would love to press to vinyl, not only for the sonic quality, but to give the artwork room to shine.
3. How would you chart the band’s growth along the releases so far? How has Corsair’s sound developed between Alpha Centauri, Ghosts of Proxima Centauri and the self-titled? How was your time recording for the self-titled, and were there experiences you drew on from the prior two that went into the making of this album?
Alpha Centauri was initially meant by the band to be a demo of songs we had ready to record in a weekend session with producer Lance Brenner. We were collectively inexperienced in the studio and were hesitant to believe that what we had was worthy of more. We loved playing together, but had no goals other than having something to give to people. Lance took the material to another level and gave us a finished product beyond what we expected, thus encouraging us to release it as an EP rather than a demo.
From the beginning, the guitar work was our ace-in-the-hole and showed promise to grow as our songwriting matured. There are some killer solos in there by Paul and Marie, and the rhythm section was tight and simple. In the studio Paul‘s ability to write guitar harmonies (listen to the riff post-chorus in “Last Night on Earth”) and Marie‘s affinity for delay and guitar effects (listen to the intro of “Space is a Lonely Place”), blossomed and gave the songs greater depth and layers of sound. Leigh Ann Leary played solid beats at Corsair‘s beginning and I (Jordan) either locked in with her, sometimes joined in with the guitars to beef up the riffs, or sometimes played somewhere in between the two.
I was keen to learn all I could on the engineering and production side and so paid attention to things like microphone placement and mixing techniques. We worked together with Lance on the production and ended up with a sound that was part ‘70s, dialing back the overall high frequencies (particularly the cymbals), and part ‘80s, evident on “Beware the Black Fleet” with its crowd vocals. Alpha Centauri plays like a collection of short stories, combining the subjects of space travel and mythology with an affinity for adventure.
We walked away with a nice little EP, which was then sent by mail to reviewers. Marie‘s craftiness may well be what initially gained the band any attention outside of Charlottesville because not only did she put much time, effort and care into the design and artwork, but she had the idea of screen printing onto arigato packs from Stumptown printers, then folding them up into little boxes to house the CDs. The icing on the cake was the colorful collaged kraft paper, wrapping the package like a present, that caught Ray Dorsey‘s eye at Ray’s Realm, and from his review, others in the online metal community (like The Obelisk, Metal Review and Hellride Music) took notice.
As we approached the process of recording Ghosts of Proxima Centauri,Corsair saw a shift with Aaron Lipscombe on drums. He brought greater versatility to our songwriting, adapting to ideas quickly and owning them from that point forward. This made possible more ambitious transitions and dynamic changes as the new material took form. I think the transitions and rhythmic changes in “Centurion” were especially challenging and reflected our eagerness to push the boundaries.
On Ghosts, we began sharing the vocal duties, and I say “duties” because they are always the last thing we write, often in the studio while working on the album. The guitar work comes relatively easy when compared to getting a vocal track that is up to par. Of the six songs, Paul sang lead on two (“Warrior Women” and “Eyes of the Gods”), Marie sang lead on one (“Orca”) and backup on two (“Centurion” and “Eyes…”), and I sang lead on two (“Burnish the Blades” and “Centurion”) and backup on two (“Warrior Woman” and “Eyes of the Gods”). A hodge-podge, yes, but it assembled something that reflects the shared nature of our songwriting.
We also chose to invest in studio gear rather than studio time to gain the luxury of recording at our leisure. When you want to make a record well, you can either take the fast and expensive route by paying an experienced producer, or the slow cheaper route in which the producer is relatively new to the game. However, we knew that getting a good drum sound was important and sought help at the beginning. We teamed up with Lance again, got the drums and rhythm guitars finished in a weekend, and left to record the solos, additional guitars, and vocals at our house.
We had time on this record to do multiple takes of solos and wait for the right one to sink in, and if we didn’t get it the first time, then we tried again without having to go to a studio. We could just meet up at the practice house and record. Some of the orchestrated parts with multiple harmonies may not have happened given our low budget if we were paying by the hour. There is more of ourselves on this album, all the way through the production. We had freedom to work, while performing best under our own pressure and artists control. It felt more like our own record in the end despite whatever shortcomings there might have been sonically. I know what I think is that it could be improved, but it’s an insider’s perspective that is highly critical. Parts of the session were messy because we were learning along the way, but we did our best to tidy up and make it feel cohesive.
A high point in the process was bringing in Gabe Cooper to play violin on “Eyes of the Gods.” We plugged his preamp into a Marshall stack and it gave the effect of music coming from a gramophone, like in an old recording. One of my favorite sounds on the record comes during the quiet build in the middle of “Eyes…” I added a Big Muff and an Akai Head Rush into the signal chain and when he gave the bow a stroke, it sounded like a UFO was landing. So we took the next logical step and doubled it! You can hear it dancing around when the song hangs just before the rollercoaster arpeggios kick in.
Ghosts was an incredible learning experience for the band and we gained much more confidence going forward with a new batch of songs that had people taking notice when we played them live. We learned by being hands-on throughout the process and were ready to do it all over again.
In the beginning of 2012, we decided to record once more but this time, really push ourselves to produce enough material to do an album instead of an EP. Start to finish, it was a whirlwind effort beginning in February and finishing with the product in hand for a release show on April 21. The deadline was self-imposed and we worked hard to be efficient within a strict budget. I am very proud of the quality we achieved in the tightness of our playing, the careful engineering, and the clarity of the mix. This time, we recorded drums with our friend and peer, Nate Bolling, in three separate sessions spread out over a couple of weeks. Again, the guitars, bass, solos, vocals, and overdubs came afterwards in our home recording studio, and with a better working knowledge from the onset, we finished with a fine record. In other words, we didn’t mess around.
This time, we found the beefy guitar tone we were searching for on the last album by correcting a slight phasing issue caused by using two microphones on the cabinet. The songwriting was a bit more concise and hard-hitting. Overall, it felt less complicated, like the mystery of the studio was gone and in its place was a cozy little home. To get deep into the studio knowledge and tweaks that made this effort better would be to open a whole other bag of worms, delving into gear-nerd-land.
As a side note (to escape the aforementioned g-n-l), for Halloween in 2011, we played a show as Thin Lizzy for a 45-minute set, mainly from their Live and Dangerous album. For a month and a half before showtime, we learned their material, which we all love, and it helped us once again to learn and grow. “Chaemera” is definitely a nod to Thin Lizzy as a strong influence. It could be a reason why the major scale started to emerge in our songwriting, so if the metal heads out there find some of our songs to be too happy, I suggest going back and giving Thin Lizzy a listen.
All three of our releases begin with an instrumental track, so I find the best way to chart our progress is to Listen to (in order), “Skykrakken,” “Wolfrider” and “Agathyrsi.” By just looking at the titles, you can infer that Corsair emerged from darkness with its tentacles full of guitars (“Skykrakken”), we seized the reins and tried to control the beast (“Wolfrider”), and after studying its ways, we gained access to ancient knowledge (“Agathyrsi”). (You might have to Google “agathyrsi” to get the last one… It’s a stretch, I know.)
4. How do you see yourselves developing going forward? The span between the three outings so far was pretty short. Have you started writing for another album or EP yet? Any plans for when you might next record?
Currently, Marie and I are living in Marseille, France, and are using the time to write new material until we return to Charlottesville in January. We brought recording equipment and all the while, we’ll send ideas back to the States for Paul and Aaron to contribute. Likewise, Paul will send any new ideas and we’ll be working together through the internet and our friend Nate Bolling‘s home studio. Once we return to Charlottesville, VA, in January, the next step is then to do our best to lay down the tracks and make another record.
5. Do you have any interest in hitting the road as a touring act? How does the Corsair experience live compare to listening on the album?
Corsair live is much sweatier. It took time to rehearse the material and get it tight, but then it took a little while longer until we got comfortable enough with the material to open up and actually perform. When we started, we were guilty of shoegazing because it took great concentration to play the parts well. Except for Paul… He’s always been an animated and skillful guitar player with his flying V and killer stage moves. Now, we’ve all opened up and try to put on a show to amp up the experience of hearing the songs live.
I think a turning point for the band was about two years ago when we did another Halloween show as Spinal Tap. To pull it off, not only did we have to play the songs well, but get into character and put on a performance. Having a good laugh at ourselves was a great lesson to learn and made us a better band on stage; more comfortable. I mean, once you’ve put on a wig and some shiny tights in front of a 300-plus crowd and owned it, you can pretty much pull off your own material in your own clothes anytime.
Now, I don’t mean to say that we ham it up, but we try to bring a high level of energy to get the crowd going, so that when the pockets of space open up in our songs, the effect is strong. Aaron does a great job controlling the dynamics of the band, and we all can feed off each other easily after playing together for a while.
Vocals have always been the most challenging part of our performance and until recently, it was consistently hard to hear ourselves singing atop the guitar stacks. In the last year, we upgraded our PA, which can finally compete with guitars, and have been working on the three part harmonies that are on some of the studio recordings to surprising success. Many musicians spend a lot of their time and money searching for the right guitar and amp, but to pull off a consistently good live performance, you need to invest into a decent PA as well.
As for touring, we never have been much of a touring band, playing about six shows a year in Charlottesville with a handful of jaunts up the Northeast to NYC, Philadelphia, and D.C., Richmond, and Harrisonburg, VA. I think our interest in touring is dependent on the potential for growing interest outside of our hometown. If we have good reason to travel, besides taking a mini-vacation and having fun, then we’re happy to do so. We’ve put in the time in our hometown amongst high-caliber musicians to hone our skills and stand out amongst the rest, so despite not having toured much, we’re ready for whatever is to come.
6. Any other plans or closing words you want to mention?
I think the underlying tide that keeps this band moving is the sense of adventure that we feel in our music. Somewhere along the line, we called our material “adventure rock” and it stuck because whenever we play the songs, despite whatever else is going on in our lives, there’s always a moment when we look up at each other and smile. There’s an escape from reality into our own world, which we shape with all the courage we can muster.
As with their 1974self-released full-length debut, Oregonian trio Doomsower are completely straightforward (if parenthetical) in their interview answers. Justin Kaye, guitarist/vocalist of the doom-rocking three-piece, informs as to their origins and the process that led to the assembling of Doomsower‘s current lineup — Kaye alongside bassist/vocalist Levi Campbell and drummer Matt Amott — as well as their songwriting, analog recording and more, with as clear a sense of focus as he brings to the four extended tracks of the record. If you want to put a hyphenated buzzword to it, try “bullshit-free.”
Kaye, in detailing how the band got together, gives an account of his own discovery of doom, particularly with the encounter of Reverend Bizarre‘s first album, In the Rectory of the Bizarre Reverend. Some of that Finnish outfit’s seminal penchant for traditionalism can be found in the work of Doomsower, who adhere to the guitar-heavy tenets of the year for which their debut is named. As an album, 1974(review here) is raw and organic, but with a strong focus on tone, the band give a glimpse of their potential going forward, as well as hint at some of the metallic extremity in which their sound has taken root.
And there’s a love for classic rock inherent in what they do as well — as one would have to figure with a record called 1974 — that comes across in their analog methods and in the vintage riffing of “Stone,” which closes the album. While the blend is formative and the band is by no means finished growing after this full-length, there’s a cohesive vision at work right down to the photos that comprise the cover art, culled from the Environmental Protection Agency’s Documerica project, all the pictures from which were taken in the year — you guessed it — 1974.
Looking forward to more from these guys, but in the meantime, please enjoy the following Six Dumb Questions:
1. Give me the background on how Doomsower got together. When the band first get started, and how has the sound developed over the course of the last four years? How did you land on “pure heavy metal doom no compromise” as your motto?
Doomsower began in the summer of 2008. I recently befriended a kid by the name of Kalvin and we began jamming constantly that summer – around June or so. He played drums and I played guitar/”sang.” Our direction then was more of the black/death route and the whole idea of “doom” wasn’t in our foresight. One day at the local record shop I stumbled upon Reverend Bizarre’s first album, In the Rectory of the Bizarre Reverend. I had read about it in some magazines, read some good things and decided to buy it. Got home, put it on and was blown away at the heaviness of it. The “newness” of it to me was astounding. We were writing songs during the summer of course, but like I said, they fell more within the black/death realm of metal and not so much doom. But with this discovery of heavier, slower, more powerful music, we knew we had to do something like it. Not to imitate, mind you, but to channel our thoughts, ideas, and feelings, through this new sonic music. Also, that in Portland to us at least, there weren’t many bands doing the slow and low kind of music (obviously things have changed!). So by August of 2008 we had a vision. I shouldn’t have to explain where the name Doomsower comes from, but needless to say we wanted to stand out from other bands. In October of 2008 we self-released a demo titled Ov Doom. It was brash, VERY rough (one mic recording!) and needless to say, amateur. Looking (and hearing) back on it, it’s full of energy, naivety, and fun. They were fun songs to play, simple mind you, but still fun. It was received well enough that we made some connections with bands in Portland and began some relationships (that eventually would fall apart of course…) and started gigging. Our first show was with The Gates of Slumber. Great guys and a great band. We got lucky from the booker for that one for sure.
So yes, off to a great start! We got a bassist around January of 2009 – that didn’t last. All the while still gigging in Portland with non-doom bands (mostly thrash and black/death metal bands). The end of 2010 brought in another new face and we gigged with him for awhile and then recorded another demo, Vintage Era. This, like the first demo, was home recorded, messy, brash, somewhat catchy, and overall “OK.” Of course at the time, we thought it was marvelous (what else are you supposed to think?). The song development was still the same of me having a riff and the others adding to it. Not much collaboration. I started to feel like a Captain on a sinking ship…
2011, though, would lead to the biggest change in Doomsower. Got a new bassist, kicked the drummer out, got Matt on drums, and then released Earth in September. Quite the shift. Musically speaking from 2008 to 2011 Doomsower’s sound was a bit unfocused. Riff-driven yes, but timing and sloppiness were all over (not going to point fingers on that one). As I delved more and more into music — everything from Yes to Bathory to ThinLizzy to UriahHeep to Grand Funk Railroad to more and more “heavy rock bands” like Goatsnake, ReverendBizarre or Truckfighters — those influences started to seep into my writing.
Again, a bass player quit, and in comes Levi. 2012 marked a brand new beginning for the band. A very stable one with an actual goal. Between Levi, Matt, and myself, we are three different individuals with the same passion and drive for our music. We’re all weirdos and don’t take no for an answer when it comes to songwriting (we have keyboards from time to time for Lord’s sake). So again, from 2008 to 2011 it was me coming with an idea and going from there. But now, with three powerful minds, we work as a group. Levi will have a riff (for example “Mistress of Frost”) and I put my spin on it. Or Matt will say, “play du du dah du dah” and we transpose that to songs. We all write lyrics as well (even though I would consider Matt the NeilPeart of the band). So now it is a very much a band and a group effort.
As far as “Pure Heavy Metal Doom No Compromise,” that stems from the fact that we won’t compromise to fit a certain crowd. We do what we want and what feels right to us. We just wrote a 20-minute song that has more to do with Deep Purple and Rush than say Evoken or Goatsnake (not to discredit those bands, love em both!) Also sonically speaking, we made an actual album this year as well!
2. The production on 1974 is raw, but still really full-sounding. How did the band decide tape was the way to go? What was it like working with Rick Duncan recording analog, and how much of the album was done live?
Sami Hynninen of ReverendBizarre once told me that he liked the old Doomsower stuff because it was, “raw and real.” I’ve never let that leave my mind. I hate over-polished music and doing things digitally makes me want to barf. We decided on working with Rick because he decided on working with us. His band, Towers, became great friends with us this year and once we heard he had an analog studio it was a no brainer. We listened to some songs he had recorded for other bands, were impressed, and started to figure on when we could record.
April worked out best so we spent two days in the studio. Yes two. Nothing was rushed though, simply because we had the songs down and as Rick put it, “you guys really practice your shit.” We spent day one recording all the parts and day two we spent mixing. Rick did another day or so away from us mixing then sent us the mix and we all loved it. Through Justin [Brown] of Lamprey, I came to befriend BradBoatright of Audiosiege and he mastered our record. It was very easy saying yes to the guy who just mastered Sleep’s Dopesmoker album…
Working with analog was fun and not too difficult. Rick knows what he is doing – it was no amateur operation by any means. All instruments were recorded live. There are no guitar overdubs anywhere. The solos are all live. There is only one guitar track and one bass track. The drums were recorded Bonham-style too to give it that full feeling. The only overdubs were of vocals and the Hammond you hear in “Mistress of Frost.” Other than that, the studio Rick has was comfy and relaxing (so much so that I fell asleep when the others were working!).
3. Does Doomsower have a set songwriting process? The four tracks on 1974 are pretty varied, but still seem to be led by the riff. Are parts and changes just born out of jamming, or are they pieced together beforehand and then everyone adds their own ideas in the rehearsal space?
Like I was saying earlier, the songwriting process is a group effort. I wrote most of the riffs but Levi brings in his fair share as well to the table. We discuss parts, lengths, where this word should go and so forth. Mostly it is very straightforward, we don’t think like Yes and most songs do come from jamming. It’s a giant mixture of ideas, randomness, errors, and fun. I think some bands forget to have fun in their music.
The thing, to me, is that there are too many bands that fit into a mold. So many bands try to be Neurosis sleeping fests, or death-doom’s bastard offspring. Doomsower is everything that a ‘70s rock band was (or at least we try to be). We can have a fast number, a slow number, a song with keyboards, and song with soft guitars, etc., etc. Think about Sabbath… you have a song like “Supernaut,” then you have a song like “Megalomania.” Hearing it live (my experience from the Past Lives album), and it all gels very well. Or Judas Priest where you have, “Beyond the Realms of Death” and then they bust out “Pain Killer.” I’d rather hear a band that yes, has a style, but also isn’t opposed to branching out. Doomsower is a representation of us.
4. What’s the story behind the lyrics of “El Camino Real,” and what was it about that narrative that fit so well with the music?
I’ll leave this to the man that wrote the words, MattAmott:
In the early days of California, the Spanish set up the Mission system. These churches and villas were about 100 miles apart and ran along the coast from San Diego to San Francisco. The idea was to colonize and “civilize” the natives with Catholicism but instead most native tribes became slaves to the mission priests and almost all of their culture was destroyed. I grew up in Agoura, California, and the major tribe that occupied the coast from Malibu up to San Luis Obispo was the Chumash, expert fishermen who were known as a very peaceful people. In 1824, the Chumash revolted against some of the missions that had already killed thousands of their people. The title comes from “monument bells” that today line the 101 freeway in Southern California. The inscription on the bell reads “El Camino Real” which translates to “The Kings Road (Highway),” that is what the 101 used to be called when it was a horse/wagon road that linked all the missions. I actually wrote the lyrics a few years before I joined Doomsower with the idea that there would be a chorus between the verses. But we had the music pretty close to the final version before I brought the guys the lyrics. We adjusted it a bit, like having just a floor tom during the solo to kind of reflect the Native American storyline and ditching any chorus to have one long verse in the beginning with three stanzas so the narrative continued to flow. Other than that, it just came together.
5. Tell me about the artwork for the CD, how you discovered the Documerica photo project and came to choose that for the cover.
Well I am finishing up my Bachelors Degree in graphic design at Portland State University and came across the Documerica project last year from a peer. I generally take hold of all design within Doomsower and was working on a few different ideas for a cover. The title 1974 comes from Matt (I think…) who stated in the studio, “this shit sounds straight out of 1974!” Our friend NoelleBarce offered to do a logo (she’s awesome, unfortunately she doesn’t have a site up…) so I had that to work with too. A few ideas were done up, tossed out, and then a random spark of thought brought me back to the Documerica project. Not to give the whole, “mystique” away, but all the pictures are from the year, 1974. Turns out the guy whose photos they are ended up being a famous wine photographer in the ‘80s, ‘90s, and now (thanks Charles O’Rear!). The train thing though you’ll have to figure out on your own.
6. Portland and the surrounding area has had such an explosion of heavy bands over the last few years. Is there anyone in particular with whom you especially enjoy playing, or anyone whose name hasn’t gotten out yet that you’d like to recommend?
Yes it has indeed! When we started I didn’t know or couldn’t think of any other “heavy” bands. Now all my of my best friends are in great, “heavy” bands. Lamprey, Towers, and Fellwoods (formerly The Moss) have been mentioned here on The Obelisk, and for good reason, before. To give credit to some maybe more “unknowns” – DEFINITELY Witchasaurus Hex. They’re from Eugene but out rule all of Portland [their 2011 demo was reviewed here – ed.]. Goatsnake and OrangeGoblin blended with sweet ‘70s sounds is what they’re all about, at least to me. They really need to get an album recorded, that’s for sure.