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)

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Review & Full Album Premiere: Hotel Wrecking City Traders, Passage to Agartha

Posted in audiObelisk, Reviews on September 14th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

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

[Click play above to stream Hotel Wrecking City Traders’ Passage to Agartha in its entirety. Album is out Sept. 25 through Cardinal Fuzz, Evil Hoodoo and Bro Fidelity Records.]

It might not always seem like it, but there’s a delicate balance at play at any given moment for Hotel Wrecking City Traders. Yes, the Melbourne duo proffer just under 90 minutes of new material on the six tracks of their fourth album Passage to Agartha — released through Bro Fidelity, Cardinal Fuzz and Evil Hoodoo — but on an aesthetic level, the two-piece of brothers Ben and Toby Matthews (drums and guitar, respectively) tread a line between crunch-tone noise derived from a punk influence and an expansive take on space rock and heavy psychedelia that they’ve developed over the course of their decade together in the band. Each of their releases has been a step forward in a process of refining and individualizing this approach, and Passage to Agartha follows suit in expanding the mindset of early-2016’s Phantamonium (review here) and adding for the first time overdubs of synth and bass to the live-recorded, mostly-improvised root tracks of guitar and drums.

Thus, on opener “Quasar” (11:04) and the subsequent “Kanged Cortex” (11:55), Hotel Wrecking City Traders not only immediately cast their listener into this ocean of intensity and flow, but they do so with their core energy intact and with new elements put to use in making them fuller in their arrangements — they recently added Josh Beagley (also of Melbourne’s Spider Goat Canyon) to the lineup to handle bass parts live — even as the beginning stretches of “Chasing the Tendrils” (17:00) course through proggy nuance that offerings like Phantamonium, 2014’s Ikiryo (review here), their 2012 splits with Sons of Alpha Centauri and WaterWays (review here) and Spider Goat Canyon, 2011’s collaboration with Gary Arce of Yawning Man (review here), the 2010 single, Somer/Wantok (review here), and their 2008 debut, Black Yolk, have been building toward in one way or another.

That doesn’t necessarily mean it’s taken Hotel Wrecking City Traders 10 years to “arrive” as they shift into cymbal wash and amp noise passing the midpoint of “Chasing the Tendrils” and come off the harder-thrusting reaches of “Kanged Cortex” with a fluid motion building on some of the more post-rock airiness of the earlier going, just that Passage to Agartha finds them at the to-date pinnacle of their stylistic development. And while it’s easy to be consumed by the length of the thing — I started off talking about balance for a release that’s nearly an hour and a half long; worth noting that the closer “Oroshi” (22:57) is listed as a CD/digital-only bonus track — it’s the progressive will that becomes so palpable throughout these extended cuts that is even more striking. One can still hear the underlying turns of Black Yolk in their sound, in the angularity of some of Toby‘s guitar parts or the shifts in Ben‘s rhythm, the forward push of his playing, but with a number of experimentalist releases behind them at this point, Hotel Wrecking City Traders have never sounded freer than they do in these explorations.

hotel wrecking city traders

The way they move through the crashing, keyboard-laden ending of “Chasing the Tendrils” and into the more serene launch of “Passage to Agartha” (14:43) — arguably the record’s most purely psychedelic cut and a telling moment as the title-track with its siren-esque background synth and hypno-repetitive guitar lines — is their own, and it’s the result of an organic growth captured on Hotel Wrecking City Traders releases long or short. As they make this particular “Passage,” amassing volume and patience of roll as they go en route to midsection churn and an eventual wash that seems to swallow the song entirely before cutting out circa the 12:30 mark to let Toby‘s guitar and synth drift to the finish, it only seems right to think of Passage to Agartha as another landmark in their ongoing creative journey, part of a timeline and a larger process rather than a stopping point in itself.

At least that’s the hope, because while Hotel Wrecking City Traders remain considerably undervalued even in the crowded sphere of the underground in their hometown, their work has proven vital time and again, as it does here. “Ohms of the Cavern Current” (11:40) closes the album proper with a focus on more rumbling low end and a somewhat more plodding march than that of the title-track before it, rounding out by settling into a crash-propelled last push that cuts out to fade on a repeating guitar line. When it comes to it, “Oroshi” is an album unto itself, or an EP perhaps, but either way a definite standalone focal point correctly positioned here as a bonus track. It shares its overarching hypnosis with the preceding material, but centers around a single background drone for its 22-plus minutes and so clearly has its own experimentalist intentions as well, drifting as it does over a fullness of wash that comes to life and shifts toward one last run of intense prog noodling before cymbal washes take hold at about 19 minutes in to signal the end stage of what’s ostensibly a captured-live piece created as it happened.

Toby and Ben, as brothers and as bandmates, have so clearly developed a musical language between them that Passage to Agartha almost seems to communicate in patterns beyond the construction of its riffs and various (and varied) parts, but it doesn’t at all fail to engage its audience either through the subtlety of its reach or the balance of influences it sets in motion across such a formidable span. Even for a group so much on their own wavelength, the sense of achievement Hotel Wrecking City Traders bring to their craft is easy to perceive, and as Passage to Agartha finds them at a new stage of maturity, the patience they demonstrate when they choose to in “Quasar,” or the title-track, or “Oroshi,” is yet another tool to be put to use alongside the fervency that can be so propulsive elsewhere. One never likes to speculate what the future might bring especially for a band so prone to outside collaborations and one-offs, etc., but as they move forward in a three-piece incarnation with Beagley on bass, it seems all the more like Hotel Wrecking City Traders are still just beginning to discover where their passage is taking them. All the better.

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The Cosmic Dead and Mugstar Split 12″ Coming Next Week

Posted in Whathaveyou on December 5th, 2014 by JJ Koczan

the cosmic dead

With a cover that pays unabashed homage to Sonic Youth‘s Goo, psychedelic outfits The Cosmic Dead and Mugstar have teamed up to release a new split 12″ through Evil Hoodoo Records. Presumably, within a week of it coming out nobody’s parents will be harmed, but I’d expect effects-laden jams to ensue anyway on “Breathing Mirror” and “Fukahyoocastulah,” and if it’s going to be one or the other, I’ll take that. The Cosmic Dead, ever busy, ever prolific, will head out on a quick five-date tour mostly in the UK but also with a stop in Paris to support the release, and Mugstar will accompany on the first two shows.

The band sent an update down the PR wire with details:

the cosmic dead and mugstar split lp

Cosmic Dead – 12″ Split LP w/ Mugstar + December tour.

Evil Hoodoo are putting out a split 12″ record featuring our Liverpudlian pals Mugstar, on Side A, and ourselves on Side B. It’s out next week (December 8th), and we’ll be going off on a small tour on December 11th to promote its release, two dates of which Mugstar shall be joining us for.

Details –

SIDE A –
Mugstar – ‘Breathing Mirror’ (18.41)
Recorded by Brett St. Clair, Berlin.
Mixed by Neil Murphy, October 2013.

SIDE B –
The Cosmic Dead – ‘Fukahyoocastulah’ (25.51)
Recorded by Luigi Pasquini, Lochalsh, Sept 2013.
Mixed by Omar & The Cosmic Dead, October 2013.

Released by Evil Hoodoo Records, December 2014

So, to support the release of our new split “12 LP with our pals MUGSTAR, we’re heading out on a small jaunt in December. Unfortunately, Mugstar can only join us for 2 of the dates, but we’ve got lots of other exciting stuff lined up, like a show in Paris with Clinic and much more in the UK, ave a look see –

THE COSMIC DEAD December mini tour –
11.12 – (UK) Manchester – Soup Kitchen – w/ Mugstar
12.12 – (UK) London – Total Refreshment Centre – w/ Mugstar
13.12 – (FR) Paris – La Maroquinerie – w/ Clinic
14.12 – (UK) Brighton – The Joker – w/ TBC
15.12 – (UK) Bristol – Cube Cinema – w/ Anta & MXLX
16.12 – (UK) Preston – The Mad Ferret – w/ Super Fire Pony & Girl Sweat
27.12 – (UK) Glasgow – Bar Bloc – w/ Apostille

www.facebook.com/evilhoodoo.sheffield
www.mugstar.com
www.thecosmicdead.com

The Cosmic Dead, “Jazz is Rubbish” live at Supernormal Festival 2014

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