This one has been a long time coming, any by that, I mean months. I’m bad enough with email interviews as it is, since general wordiness and the thought that someone might read something the wrong way and embark on a 300-word answer that basically rounds out to “You’re a putz” keeps me more or less paralyzed in terms of actually phrasing the questions (whereas with phoners, I usually just work from notes and enjoy that flexibility), but part of it too has to be attributed to New Zealand gloom rockers The House of Capricorn‘s genre blend.
Across their two records, 2010′s Sign of the Cloven Hoof (review here) and last year’s In the Devil’s Days (review here), the Auckland four-piece take elements from doom, heavy rock and ’90s-style gothic imagery and occultism and turn it into something grand, smiling shiny teeth through its own darkness. And you know, I think part of the holdup too was just the fact that I knew I was hearing Type O Negative in their sound but wasn’t sure if it was just my own East Coast American ears putting it onto those albums, both released through Swamps of One Tree Hill.
Turns out that, no, it wasn’t just me. Founder and vocalist Marko Pavlovic not only acknowledges the influence, but seems to delight in it, leaving credit for the stoner/doom elements at work in The House of Capricorn‘s sound to guitarist Scott Blomfield, bassist Ami Holifield and drummer Mickey Rothwell. Fair enough, since if you’re going to have a genuine blend, it needs to come from different sides within a cohesive whole, but as Pavlovic recounts doing the majority of the writing for In the Devil’s Days and Sign of the Cloven Hoof, it’s worth noting his stylistic breadth isn’t limited to just one sound or another.
Except perhaps his own, since although The House of Capricorn are comparable to this or that act in terms of citing influences, there doesn’t seem to be any single source from which they wholly derive their modus. As they continue to progress and move past In the Devil’s Days and on to the next work, whatever that might be, that can only serve them well — all the more if they can hone a production sound that serves to highlight both the unique aspects and cohesiveness of their sound. In the Q&A that follows, Pavlovic discusses (in part through a great number of parenthetical asides) what shape that next outing may take, as well as how The House of Capricorn got together, some of their favorite countrymen acts, and much more.
Thanks to Pavlovic in being so patient waiting for these to come through, and thanks to you for reading. Please enjoy the following Six Dumb Questions:
1. It’s been almost six years since the first EP came out, but background info on the band is pretty sparse. How did The House of Capricorn first get together, and how would you characterize the music you play?
Christ, we sound almost as mysterious as Miss Scarlett (it was always that saucy vixen, in the library, with the candlestick).
The House of Capricorn first came together with its still-current lineup at the end of 2005 (we’d all first met each other around the end of ‘03), after I coerced Mickey into playing drums on a couple of songs I’d had written for years (which results in The Rivers & the Rain/Old Redhook demo) — I first met him in the quad at Auckland University, after I commented on his Alice in Chains shirt. He was drumming for a band called Grenade Kills 3 and playing guitar for Graymalkin at the time, both bands which I really like(d). After the demo was recorded I had it duplicated to exactly 66 hand numbered CDRs (with artwork sporting a grubby old tomb under a tree — right on), and started chucking it out to some people who I thought might be interested (bear in mind, this is handing it out to people involved in extreme metal in Auckland — no one was really overtly into the whole hard/stoner rock thing in our town, in that scene), and selling it for $6NZD a piece (hey, I had to find the other ‘6’ from somewhere). Mickey then decided the tunes were reasonably tolerable, and offered to join fulltime.
Ami I knew from gigs and parties — she was also playing bass for a Black Sabbath covers outfit (or as some would say, “tribute” band). She hit me up at an Ulcerate show at the Kings Arms one night and offered to play bass. I quickly agreed.
At the time I was playing in Creeping with Scotty B., who I’d met through a mutual acquaintance at his place of work. It was a completely natural move to ask him three times in a row to join, each time with growing desperation (Scott: Man… Are you sure you shouldn’t just change the name of the band to The House of Creeping?). From then on, EP in ‘06, couple of EP/single-length samplers on CDR and a video across ‘07-’09, SotCH ‘10, ItDD in ‘11.
I still personally consider the band to have started in 2001 when I first wrote “The Rivers & the Rain” (March 19, 2001, to be exact). I used to have a band with a few guys I was in high school which was essentially the first incarnation, but it was never anything more than a bit of fun.
So there you are, for anyone who gives a shit. History to date = complete. We try extremely hard to mimic Hasjarl’s and Mikko’s levels of ultimate clandestine infamy. I’ve just ruined all that.
In terms of how I would characterize our music… “apocalyptic devil rock” is what I’ve been going with. I really can’t think of anything better than that. It’s a little outrageous, really.
2. How much influence do you take from gothic rock? Listening to In the Devil’s Days, it seems like there’s a side of the band working from those elements, thinking of bands like Type O Negative and maybe Paradise Lost.
We are all Type O Negative nutcases, so its really only natural for us to plagiarise the greatest band of all time.
Aside from Type O Negative, I’m probably the most aligned to the whole gothic rock thing out of all of us — the others are a lot more into the stoner rock/doom buzz than I am. Babylon Whores are one of my top three bands of all time, and I love The Sisters of Mercy (just saw them on Feb. 22 in Auckland — it was fucking awesome, but Jesus, walking into that show it felt like someone had exhumed half the graveyard).
I’ve heard the Paradise Lost reference a couple of times for this new album of ours. Truth be told I don’t think any of us are really big on them. I mean, I’ve got One Second, which I do like (“Blood of Another” is killer), but that’s about it. Not to say they’re not a sweet band, I just don’t think we were really exposed to them in the way people seem to think. Maybe I need to give them more of a spin.
Overall though, the influence from the stuff we do listen to is extremely prevalent. The elements we overtly absorb/reflect from gothic rock are much the same as the ones we absorb/reflect from good black metal: spooky melodies and gloomy sonic atmospherics to match my obsession with wanting to live in the Addams Family house.
I’m not big on party-goth stuff though. It’s all cemeteries and haunted mansions for The House of Capricorn.
3. What’s The House of Capricorn’s songwriting process like? Were there any specific goals you had in mind for In the Devil’s Days and now that the record has been out for a while, do you have a sense of what you’d like to do next?
To date I’ve written most of the material, but the other guys (and gal) were a lot more in the mix on the last album.
On one hand, I’ll come to the others with a full song written and say, “Hey, learn this shit, this is the new one.” On the other, one of us will swoop in with a riff or two or an idea, we’ll sit down, work out some accompanying riffs, usually in one of our lounges while drinking Milo, and close it up like that. I’d say we work pretty similarly to most bands when it comes to writing… even though I’d love to tell you that we snatch the inspiration from our individual ritualistic trance-state journeys into the void.
With regards to specific goals, it was all outlined from the start (apart from in the case of one of the riffs from “Horns”). Once SotCH was finished and out, we all sat down at a practice and discussed the direction for the next one. It was decided upon that we would do a concept album, outlining a descent into Hell to meet the Devil, and that the music would match the tale. I’ve read a lot of criticism about the album’s disjointed nature, switching from mid-paced to funeral crawl (see that little reference there? some people will get it), but to me it makes perfect sense being in line with the overall storyline. Maybe only because I wrote the fucking thing. We really should think about the end-user next time.
Regarding the next album, it’s currently being worked on (along with a couple of tracks for some splits which will hopefully materialize). It probably won’t be as much of a formed, conceptual masterpiece as ItDD… probably more just a bunch of leftover odd ends we decide to throw together. Expect ReLoad ‘13.
4. Tell me about writing “Horns” – the song in three parts. How did it all come together, and what’s the band’s connection to arcane themes? Where does that influence come from?
“Horns” was the first song started and the last one finished. The main riff from the third section was actually the first one written for the whole album, before we’d even started thinking about doing our first record properly. Rothwell had asked me to play bass for a Graymalkin reformation as they were supporting Napalm Death on a couple of shows here in about ’07, I think. We were sitting in his bedroom just jamming away (probably around June ‘07), and I can’t remember which one of us started playing it, but we both looked at each other and went, “Yeah! That sounds like some real-deal Halloween shit!.” The rest of the song was written throughout 2010, right up until about one month out from tracking. My favourite riff in that song is the first of the second section — that was a Scotty B. special that me and Mickey added a bit to. The reason it’s in three parts however was a decision made by yours truly to completely and utterly rip on Bloody Kisses-era Type O.
When it comes to the arcane, thematic element of the band, I am completely and utterly possessed by the atmosphere generated by symbolism tied hand in hand with (as mentioned above) campy, Dracced up aesthetics like low-lying mist, and old buildings with creaky doors and creepy shadows.
Couple all that with a genuine interest in the Devil — and I mean the Devil (horns, wings, hellfire and brimstone, the Morning Star, etc.), not a metaphysical concept or any kind of representative idol, and you get our final product.
I really don’t know where that influence comes from though. I’ve always been interested in Devil worship and other assorted occultism. I can’t remember where it started. I wish I could say it was when I developed a crush on Fairuza Balk after watching The Craft for the first time, but it was definitely before that. Maybe I was fiending on Maleficent when she turned into the dragon. I still vividly remember that line that finished with “…and all the powers of HELL!!” I mean, she did have that kinda sexy Scandinavian look going on… high cheekbones and a haughty walk. Know what I’m saying?
5. I know of a few bands from New Zealand playing doom or heavy rock – Arc of Ascent, Beastwars, etc. – but is there anyone you’d recommend checking out? Anyone you especially enjoy doing shows with? What’s the scene like in New Zealand?
[Please note: This section contains many links which may not at first be obvious. -- ed.] Our top partners in crime are/were Second Gear Grind, Soulseller and Arc of Ascent.
Second Gear Grind from Christchurch are probably as close to pure stoner rock as you’re going to find in NZ. Total blues driven “yeah yeah yeah” stuff that is 100 percent ticket and heavy as fuck. You gotta check ‘em out, man. I’ll send you some if you like.
Soulseller, who have recently, disappointingly disbanded, were a rowdy, heavy rock ‘n’ roll crew from Dunedin. They’ve got a self-titled EP that came out a few years ago, and also a couple of tracks on a couple of compilations. One of (along with Second Gear Grind) the best bands I’ve ever seen, ever.
And Arc of Ascent from Hamilton you’re already familiar with. No doubt Craig [Williamson]’s space-spirit popped a CD into your mailbox during one of his transcendental soul-flights through the celestial heavens.
These three bands along with us I think really began the foundation of what became the “scene” (that’s said without conceit — and if you can even call it a scene). Before we all got together for the tour (we did a four-date StonerDoom tour [http://stonerdoom.co.nz is a forum originally started by a guy called Rich who has since moved back to the UK -- whatup Rich!] in 2008 in each of our hometowns — may not seem like many shows, but shit, NZ isn’t a big place!), and Ami’s annual December stoner fests Eyes of the South in Christchurch and Northern Lights in Auckland, which started up in ‘07, there really was nothing. We were all playing shows in our respective cities with bands from other scenes (extreme metal bands in The House of Capricorn’s case, maybe due to previous alignments), to people who didn’t give a shit (not saying anyone really gives a shit now, but it’s gotten a bit better). Craig was playing in Datura in the ‘90s, and when I asked him he said it was pretty much the same deal.
Nowadays, in terms of doom and hard rock, other bands that definitely need checking out are Shallow Grave (Rothwell from HOC playing guitar again) who are a heavy psychedelic doom outfit — their debut should be out sometime this year, Stone Angels (Steve, Geoff and Mike from Second Gear Grind, and Kris from Sinistrous Diabolus) who are a real downbeat doom/crusty Iron Monkey-kinda crew, Sinistrous Diabolus (who have been around since the early ‘90s) who play total funeral doom probably more aligning with the metal side of things, and Triceratops who are a new doom band, and have just released their VS Music EP.
There are also bands like Interconnector who take more of a, I guess, party rock ‘n’ roll Fu Manchu-kinda approach (cars and girls and stuff), Osmium, who are on a real good Alice in Chains vibe, Left or Right who do a wicked cross of big stoner riffs and reggae, Cobra Khan, who have more of a punky flavour, and Somme who are on a drone buzz, all of whom rule.
6. Any other plans or closing words you want to mention?
Hopefully we’ll get something sorted out in way of a tour (either the US or EU) at some point in 2013 after the next one’s out. If there are any promoters or good bands interested, we’re definitely keen to hear from you! We’re keen to come to the table to make it work.
If not, well, fuck ya, we’ll try do it ourselves.