Tag Archives: doom

Contrast and space: an interview with Bismuth

Bismuth are a two-piece playing doom metal that’s both considered and crushing. Their debut album, ‘Unavailing’ came out in 2015, and since then they’ve released splits with such horrors as Gnaw Their Tongues and Legion Of Andromeda. Their most recent LP is entitled ‘The Slow Dying Of The Great Barrier Reef’, and is out via Dry Cough, Medusa Crush, Rope Or Guillotine and Tartarus. You can listen to it here.

These questions were kindly answered via email by Tanya Byrne (vocals, bass, synth) Joe Rawlings (drums) /

Okay, get us up to speed with Bismuth: how did the band get together – what was the original impetus, and what were you initially setting out to do?

Joe: my previous band Spore (musically relatively similar) dissolved and a mutual friend put me in touch with Tanya, who was looking to start a project stylistically compatible with my own ideas – I was very lucky with the timing.

Tanya: I’d been wanting to play in a two piece for a while, so I put an ad up in Stuck On A Name Studios in Nottingham just before Christmas in 2011. I listed a few bands (ASVA and Burning Witch, I believe), and (most importantly) that the drummer would want to play REALLY slowly and hit REALLY hard. Joe responded to the ad and, when we first met up, we were wearing the exact same OM t-shirt, so that was a good sign!

Having played bass in many bands over the years, I wanted to experiment with what could be achieved with just bass, drums and vocals. It took me six months after starting the band to do vocals in front of Joe at practice – luckily it worked out. We really wanted to experiment with what kind of layering and atmosphere could be achieved with such a stripped-down setup. Space, timing and layers have always been the most important parts of this band.

It’s been a couple of years since ‘Unavailing’ came out. What’s happened in the interim, and how has this changed or challenged the band?

Joe: I’m loathe to use a cop-out, catch-all phrase such as ‘evolving’, but that, in essence, is what we’ve been doing. Tanya moved away from Notts which I suppose came with a small adjustment period, but I wouldn’t say it’s really been an issue. We’ve ramped down slightly in terms of general practicing, but conversely each session is approached with a heightened focus – quality over quantity, if you will.

Tanya: In the interim between the two albums, we put out a couple of splits; one with Gnaw Their Tongues and another with Legion Of Andromeda. The time has allowed us to refine our sound. As Joe said, we may practice a little less these days, but we are very focused when we do get together. That is the main change in the band – focus is more refined as we know how the other ticks as a musician. I moved away from Nottingham to study in Lancaster, so we always have a specific aim when we do meet up. In addition, some personal issues got in the way of writing an album, but I have repurposed these in a positive way; I am definitely angrier when we play live these days…

What can you tell us about ‘The Slow Dying Of The Great Barrier Reef’? Did your approach to writing/recording change, and was their anything you wanted to expand upon or develop with the newie?

Tanya: We really took time over this album, especially at the compositional stage. I had started using a slightly different backline and pedal configuration early in 2017. We really wanted to explore dynamics and ways of being heavy without relying on standard crushing riffs all the time. Contrast is always more interesting than just punishing the listener with volume; constant loudness diminishes in its impact over time. We wanted to expand on cleaner sections, to see if we could still make them sound ‘heavy’, without relying on the usual doom tactics (lots of volume and fuzz).

I really like the fact that the title track really makes you engage and listen: the quiet intro and the subtle changes mean you really have to concentrate, and there’s a definite sense that you’ve pieced this together with care rather than set out just to crush and crush alone. What was the thinking behind the track, and what was the process when it came to piecing it together?

Joe: The great thing about being a two piece band is there is one other person you have to gel with. Because of this, and if nothing else the length of time we’ve been doing this now, bouncing ideas around is an extremely efficient process – We’ll try something out (usually a riff) and see how it goes. As mentioned, we collectively know the nuances, styles etc. of each others’ playing inside and out by now, so it’ll either work or it won’t – rinse and repeat. I think it’s safe to say we are also both musically very like-minded, which helps.

Tanya: As Joe mentioned, we’ve played together so long together now that writing is very efficient, and we are generally trying to reach the same space within a song. We always record our practice and we discuss parts we think are working (or not). Communication is very important when writing together… and for us it is truly a collaborative process. If one of us isn’t happy with a section, it gets binned. Crushing for crushing’s sake can be fun, but that is not the point for us. Each section has a purpose, and if a part doesn’t need to be full of volume, it won’t be. Contrast and space are the most important aspects for us. Heavy riffs are enjoyable, but they are not needed all the time.

What would you say the knack is when it comes to writing a long, slow, heavy song that doesn’t bore the arse off the listener or render them wearily complacent?

Joe: this is a very difficult question to answer as this kind of listening (and playing) is my norm, and as such it’s next to impossible to bore me. I’d say the music needs to be purposeful, and to flow and conclude in a natural way – if you’re only going to hit four notes in a minute you need to be sure I as the listener am going to understand why.

Tanya, you’re a volcanologist. This is (a) perhaps the most metal job in the world and (b) really, really cool. What does it involve on a day-to-day basis, and what inspired you to follow this as a career?

Tanya: I’m still studying, but on a day-to-day process it involves a lot of programming and reading. There is always more to learn. I have always had an interest in volcanoes; they are the most perfect representation of the Earth’s power and beauty.  When I visited Mount St. Helens for the first time I knew I wanted to learn as much about volcanoes as I could.

Tell us something cool/mind-blowing about being a volcanologist…

Tanya: The landscape surrounding an erupted volcano is what I imagine a Martian landscape looks like. There is beauty in the sparseness, and it gets more amazing each time I see it. It is a great privilege.

Concern for the environment and what people are doing to the planet are themes that run through the record. Other than weighing their heads in, is there anything you’d like listeners to take away from blasting the hell out of ‘The Slow Dying Of The Great Barrier Reef’?

Tanya: My main hope is that listeners contemplate the effects our species is having on the planet. Inaction is the main driver of a lot of the problems related to climate change; governments are stuck in the blame game, but it doesn’t matter who is at fault. Our whole species must work together to negate these issues.

It seems like we’re at this weird point right now: many, many people understand that the world is messed up, but there’s a strange sense of inaction in terms of actually doing anything about it. While most normal folk are at a considerable remove from what politicians are(n’t) doing, witnessing the lack of personal change can by just as demoralising: I’ve just left one job where people liked to cluck loudly about how sad that episode of Blue Planet was and insist on having cardboard straws, but at the same time routinely chucked their recycling in the wrong bin. What can people do on a micro level to make a change, and how do you prevent yourselves from being utterly disheartened by how punishingly stupid and lazy people are?

Tanya: Most people are not stupid,  but I do think that many people in developed nations are only prepared to change when something directly affects them. It can be discouraging, as to reduce some of the worst effects, people will need to give up many of the little pleasures they are used to. One of the main ways to make a change at a micro level is to eat less meat. Cattle production makes up to 65% of all greenhouse gas emissions due to agriculture. I am not advocating that all our species goes vegan, but eating less meat would really help. A balance in how use we resources is needed… humans always seem to push resource-use to extremes.

I am disheartened by the state of everything, but all we can do is try to educate others. Ignorance and finger pointing will not prevent environmental decline.

You’re about to embark on a tour with Canuck sluggers Vile Creature. What are your top tour survival tips, and what are the best, worst and most challenging things about hitting the road as a two-piece?

Tanya: The worst part of touring is moving our backline, haha! Hmmmm tour survival tips, buy food at the supermarket rather than a service station! It’s much cheaper. Also, get enough rest. Sleep in the van, find a dark corner during sound check, ask if you can get an hour on your own in the van – being grumpy on tour is not good, and if you need alone time to recharge, like me, this tip is the most important!

The best part of touring is meeting new people and late-night discussions. Touring with other bands is always the best, you really get to know them!

Joe: Don’t shower so people leave you alone.

What’s next for Bismuth? How do you see things growing and developing?

Tanya: We are due to record our third album in August 2019. We have a few tours and festivals in the works. I suspect that we will explore more noise based music… and I may record more clean vocals!

More extremes in all directions: an interview with Brainoil

Brainoil are a long-running band from Oakland who bring together sludge, crust and filth-slicked metal like few others. ‘Singularity To Extinction’ is their third full-length in something like 20 years, and it’s also their mightiest release to date.

This interview was conducted by email with Greg Wilkinson (bass/vocals), Nate Harris (guitar) and Ira Smith (drums) as they readied themselves for a nine-date Japanese tour.

Listen to the new record while you read the words.

Okay, so let’s start off with a history lesson: how, when and why did Brainoil get together? What was the original impetus, and what did you hope to achieve with the band?

Greg: I started the band under the moniker ‘Mrbrainoil’ with the intention of creating a noisy sludge style band wrung through a punk filter. A few shows and some rare comp tracks occurred in this phase. This was over the period of ‘98/‘99. The intention of expanding the project into a full band was always the point once I was able to find likeminded people. Nate, who I was in a very short lived crust band with, first joined up later in ‘99. Shortly after, word got out that Grimple was throwing in the towel and Ira was looking for a new project. We snagged him fast. We were up and running in ‘00 with a demo tape as “Brainoil” and playing shows / recording our first two split releases in ‘01 as a three-piece.

Nate: I met Greg in 1997 through Ty, the drummer of a short-lived Oakland Swedish-style D-beat band called Squalor. That project dissolved after a couple years, and meanwhile Greg had started solo jamming on new ideas that blended heavy music with more rock and roll. I had always played and written guitar parts for punk and crust bands but never anything with a bit more rock ‘n’ roll influence and I was into the idea. We combined forces, writing songs with a drum machine at first and then became a full band with Ira on drums by late 2000. We continued on that thread to this day, making heavy music with no preconceived genre constraints, just concentrating on writing songs with interesting riffs and less-than-typical time signatures and song arrangements.

Ira: I joined the band after a mutual friend told me that Greg and Nate were looking for a drummer for a project. I was considering selling my drums at the time, but after listening to their drum machine demo and playing through the songs I realized that Brainoil was exactly what I was looking for.

What can you tell us about ‘Singularity To Extinction’? What went into the record and made it the way it is?

Greg: It’s difficult to say honestly considering we spent a seven-year course writing it. We trashed a few songs early on once we discovered the sound we wanted. We made a concerted effort to blend the first two LPs while adding more extremes in all directions, including tempo, genre, production, and vocal styles.

Nate: Singularity to Extinction is wider in scope and more polarized. The fastest and the slowest Brainoil material is on this record. There is a little bit more old school 1989 death metal and crust influence, but it is not a death metal or crust record. Singularity to Extinction as a recording is also a showcase for some of the best studio engineering work we’ve had to date, thanks in large part to the evolution of Greg’s recording skills at Earhammer. I dumped a lot of resources into getting exactly what I want out of guitar tone over the history of the band and this is the first release where we really nailed the guitar tone.

Ira: Lots of practice, arranging, rearranging, re-rearranging…

Did you face any particular challenges or issues when it came to writing or recording the new album?

Greg: Not really. Everyone in the band has a very specific style and contribution to our sound. Brainoil sounds like Brainoil because of the combination of musicians and songwriters. There is a specific swagger our songs tend to have no matter how far we try to push the limits. If you ask me, it’s quite favourable when considering a discography. It allowed us to expand our sound and production quite a bit without sounding like a different band.

Nate: The opposite of challenges and issues, for the first time we were able to take our time and record it exactly how we wanted to. For example, on tracking day we had more time to record multiple takes of a few of the tracks to get the tempo just how we wanted it to be, or rearrange microphones, drum heads or switch out pieces of the kit as we started tracking to get the best drum tones possible out of everything we had to work with. The same for guitar tone, bass tone and so on. Leading up to the official recording we also did scratch recordings every rehearsal for three months on my 18-year-old 16-bit digital 8 track – the same device we did our original demo with. Having those reference recordings really helped in completing vocals, fills and fine-tuning song arrangements. In short, we took more time beforehand to go into the session well-rehearsed and more time in the studio to document it exactly how we wanted to.

How have the seven years between ‘Death Of This Dry Season’ and the new LP affected or altered the band?

Greg: I don’t think it has considering the gap between the s/t and ‘Death Of This Dry Season’ was also seven years. The only thing I can think of is it gave us time to expand our songs with more craft while juggling a lot of responsibilities in our personal lives.

Nate: Seven years is the average span between all of our LPs, so the total perceived difference between the s/t and ‘Death of This Dry Season’ is probably equal to the difference between that album and ‘Singularity To Extinction’. There is change in each case, but the core Brainoil sound is still there. I think the next LP will be a similar rate of change but maybe not seven years from now until we get there. So by deduction, does that mean the next record will sound closer to this last LP? We’ll see.

Ira: Over the last seven years, I have been listening to more death metal, thrash and lots of punk. I think those influences come through on the new album.

To me the crust influences have been brought even more to the fore with this album. Was this a conscious move, or just how the songs evolved?

Greg: Both. Brainoil is its own living organism. It does what it wants. We are just along for the ride.

Nate: Not a conscious move, it happened naturally while writing songs for ‘Singularity To Extinction’. If you think of crust as punks playing slightly-sloppy, less-technical death metal, that is not a thought we will reject! We had a few different threads going in writing stuff for this release and some worked better than others across multiple songs to make a cohesive LP. Some of those other ideas were completed songs that we worked on over weeks or months, but ultimately shelved for now. I played crust and death metal influenced stuff with Destroy back in 1992 and then again with Stormcrow in the mid-2000s, to have a little bit of that style again with Brainoil is a welcome return. For me personally it is things coming full circle, and an opportunity to expand on and enjoy again playing a little bit more of a style that was the beginning of playing live music for me.

Ira: For me it kind of just naturally happened that way.

What do you think it is that makes crust and doom such comfortable bedfellows? The tone? The riffs? The general sense of dirt and desperation?

Greg: Not sure. We all listen to many forms of music and many sub factions of that. If you break riffs, production, gear, vocal styles and song treatment down to an unplugged guitar, you will notice these are no more than an outfit for the song. For example, I feel like you could have Bolt Thrower and Asunder play an identical riff and it would still in the end sound just like the respective band performing it cause of how each band treats the riff, tones, tempo etc. That being said, both genres do have a gnarly vibe and underground cult energy that do sleep well together.

Nate: There’s a natural tension/release between both crust and doom and when the two styles are mixed on the same LP it accentuates that tension further. I really enjoyed blending different guitar and bass tones to highlight the differences in some cases and meld them together in others. And that range of tones is something you will hear us recreate live with multiple guitar and bass amps. To your last point, yeah I will say there’s probably more than an ounce of dirt and desperation and frustration as part of the equation too.

Ira: Crust and Doom are complementary styles. Adding the right tones and riffs makes it complete.

In the time you’ve been together, both doom and crust have gone from being total outlier genres to (slightly!) more above-ground ones. Has it been weird seeing the terrain change like this, and has it had an impact on what you do with Brainoil?

Greg: Not really on either realm. The underground scene in regards to whether you discuss music, art, beer, film, literature, etc. will always become popular once it’s discovered and used by major label bands. The internet just makes all this become easier and work at a faster pace than before. As far as impact with Brainoil, I would say none. Stick around for 20 years and you get a lot of time to process things.

Nate: It is enjoyable in some sense to watch the styles change and for more people to get into it but I don’t personally read too much into it and I don’t think the band does either. I don’t think they will ever be fully above-ground genres and that’s fine.

It seems like Brainoil always makes us wait a good ol’ while between releases. Why the lag, and what is it that tends to bring you folks back together to make music?

Greg: In reality we practiced almost every week in between these two albums. It’s just we want a discography that is balanced. Not more of the same, but still keeping a consistent statement “this is Brainoil.”

Nate: Even when you don’t see a new release from us we have not been silent. We continue to play local shows, work on new material or just experiment with ideas. We won’t force something just to get a release out.

Ira: We continually practice and play local shows. We also set aside time for writing where we don’t play out as much. I can’t really explain the lag other than “time flies”!

You all have various other projects on the go, so what sort of itch does Brainoil scratch that your other bands/outlets might not?

Greg: The combo. I write very similar riffs across the board. Although, not super fast stuff for the most part in Brainoil. But every band will translate them so different. If you reference Deathgrave, for example, we don’t sound like Brainoil cause it’s a different filter. I alluded to this earlier how music gear and delivery is just an outfit. This is a strong example of that. No other band would sound like Brainoil without these members.

Nate: Brainoil is it for me at the moment and I am OK with dumping my guitar playing energy into this band. Brainoil has its parameters but they are not fixed, for me there’s a lot of room to try new guitar riffs and parts without specific constraints. Someday maybe I will decide again that I need a different outlet but maybe if I did it would be something very different like playing drums again. For now I’m happy not to be juggling two or more different band schedules.

Ira: Brainoil is my only outlet nowadays, so it scratches all the itches.

Greg, the work you do outside the band at Earhammer must bring you into contact with stacks of hungry, gnarly young bands. Do you think your work as an engineer filters into what you do with Brainoil, either in a proactive (e.g. “we should do this…”) or preventative (“we definitely shouldn’t do this…”) way?

Greg: In a way to both. But not in a marketing “the kids are into this so let’s incorporate that” sense. I write and record my own music to help me understand and work through obstacles I encounter while working other bands sessions. It’s usually inspiration that brings me to this. Some of these ideas wind up in bands. Song writing is a conversation. So if I wonder how can I get this fast riff to cut through some bands production? I may try recording myself playing fast stuff. With that, I am able to think “Brainoil needs a fast part and this one would fit them” so I will bring it to practice and bounce it off them. Oakland has a lot of inspiring musicians, bands and people in the scene which really keeps me writing frequently (obviously not only for Brainoil since we do take our time between albums).

Both crust and doom tend towards a negative, nihilistic world view, and it has to be said that records like ‘Singularity To Extinction’ serve as an effective soundtrack for what is a screwed-up and terrifying moment in human history. Do you think there’s any scope for hope right now, and what are the things that get you through the day as a band?

Greg: Although there are many great humans out there, the human race as a whole always resorts to greed and power. Right now it looks bleak as racism, sexism, homophobia, classism, nationalism, etc. are becoming more acceptable in this country (and world). But I really can’t predict. Escape through the underground community, culture, arts, and beloved friends deliver a temporary reprieve from the harsh reality. My practice spaces, studio and wife are my sanctuary.

Nate: The insanity will inevitably continue in one form or another, a comment not to be confused with hope or fatalism. And a troubling majority of people will continue to be complicit with the status quo, no matter what type of lies, discrimination and abuse becomes normalized. Any frustration and anger in the music for me is not coming from a place where it is a binary question of one person on the outside looking in and pointing the finger at others with simple answers. We are all in the middle of it and all complicit on one level or another. That anger or frustration becomes its own creative outlet, for me that’s playing and listening to heavy music and brewing and drinking beer and I’m lucky enough to be privileged enough to indulge my creative energy in those, at least for now. So if Brainoil connects with people as some noisy product of that greater dysfunction, awesome. I have no illusions about that though either.

What are your immediate plans for Brainoil, and is there anything you’d ultimately like to achieve with the band?

Greg: On a plane to tour Japan at the moment. That’s the most immediate. It’s hard to predict what will come after that. Guessing would only put the cart before the horse. At minimum, it would be great to play some west coast dates next year.

Nate: There is no specific push for lame growth metrics or some achievement goal schedule. Brainoil will continue on a path where there is room for us to do even more with the foundation we have, but on our terms. That might mean a tour here and there in places we’ve never been before, or it may mean working on a new release sooner than later. First and foremost, Brainoil has to be true to itself without being fixated on a specific strategy. This is not a business for us. Unfortunately, surrounding us obsessive, competitive strategy has become a way of life for many everyday people in the SF Bay Area, that complicates things for us to do as much Brainoil as we want to do. Thanks for this interview as it helps people know we are still alive and kicking.

Ira: We are on our way to Japan for a nine-show tour with Black Ganion. This has been a life goal for me and I’m glad I can share that experience with two of the best bandmates one could have.

Pushing the punishment: an interview with WarHorse

WarHorse was a crushing, psych-addled doom band who released a handful of singles and, in 2001, an album entitled ‘As Heaven Turns To Ash…’. Southern Lord reissued it earlier this year, and bassist Jerry Orne, drummer Mike Hubbard and guitarist Todd Laskowski were decent enough to answer some of my questions.

Ok. Can you start off with the simple stuff for us: how, when, where and why did WarHorse get started?

Jerry: WarHorse started in 1996. Desolate (the death metal band I was in) had broken up and I was looking to start something new. I knew Krista VanGuilder and Mike Hubbard from their old bands.

Mike: The band was already being formed by the time Jerry called me up. I was between bands at the time. My old band Infestation has recently ended, so the timing was good for me. We didn’t really discuss a direction or anything, he just asked if I was interested in coming down to jam and I said yes.

What was the initial idea behind the band? Did you know how you wanted things to sound when you started out?

Jerry: We were all looking to do something heavy and crusty, but still pretty melodic.

Mike: Like I said, the band was already being formed by the time I showed up, so I can’t speak to the origins. But I know we wanted to do something heavy, something different, so we just sort of followed that path.

I think (?) some of you played in death metal bands in the early 90s. I’ve always been drawn to bands with that deathly sound to them, but it seemed for quite a while that people didn’t make the connection between doom and death metal. How did you see the two genres intersecting and cross-pollinating? Was playing slower stuff a ‘reaction’ to the speed of death metal, or was it some sort of logical extension?

Mike: Yeah, the early 90s was a good time for death metal. There were a few of us bands doing different takes on different styles at the time. I was drawn to bands like Entombed, Grave, Incantation, Autopsy which all had some elements of doom and slower parts. But I also liked fast stuff like Carcass, Napalm Death, Brutal Truth. But when I discovered bands like Cathedral, Eyehategod, the Melvins, I was hooked. For me, I felt like the slow to mid-pace vibe allowed for more punishment. You could hit a lot harder, and each beat felt massive.

Jerry: I think we just put our influences together: Sabbath, Sleep, Crowbar, Melvins, Autopsy, Buzzoven, Cathedral, etc.

Todd: Well, the guys in WarHorse were always into bands like Winter, Autopsy and Cathedral, so mixing in a little Sleep and EyeHateGod in just sort of came naturally. I mean it’s all extreme music and that’s what we all like. It was just an easy progression if you will.

Who did you view as your peers / comrades / competitors? Was there any sense that there was a ‘scene’, or were there just isolated pockets of slow-motion heaviness?

Jerry: We never really tried to figure out what we were. We played with metal bands, rock bands, punk and hardcore. Reactions were generally negative, really. Fine with me.

Mike: This was very early in the “stoner rock” thing, but I remember getting some of the first stuff from Electric Wizard and being completely blown away. Grief was another local band putting out slow, brutal stuff, but we never crossed paths. I think we would have been a good fit.

Todd: Ha ha, I’d say “isolated pockets” is a good way to put it. It all just kind of came to the surface. The influences just boiled up. It wasn’t a competition thing, but the bands I mentioned were definitely peers in our eyes.

Many of the US bands from that era I’d associate with more punk/hardcore-related labels and scenes (e.g. Noothgrush, Floor, Cavity and Grief being on labels like Bovine and Slap-A-Ham and/or playing fests like Fiesta Grande…) but I kinda think that WarHorse were very much a METAL band. Is this interpretation correct, and was there any crossover?

Mike: We were all into punk, hardcore, etc but metal was definitely the main thing we were going for. But we also had a lot of love for the early heavy stuff, 70s rock and heavy metal, 60s psychedelia. All of that started finding spots in our songs.

Todd – Yes, we love bands like Grief, Disrupt, Converge and Neurosis. We also all listened to a lot of D.R.I, Madball and Sick Of It All, but WarHorse is definitely mostly influenced by METAL!

What kind of bands did you play with? They were a bit earlier than you guys, obviously, but I remember talking to Stephen from Winter and him saying they were hated almost universally, whether they played with punk bands (with whom they shared certain ideologies) or bigger metal bands like Sepultura…

Mike: We played with a lot of that mid-90s alternative rock/metal that was all around us, and we were usually hated when we played with them. We’ve had the power shut off on us more than once. We opened for Godsmack when they were on the rise and people were visibly angry. Once we got into Boston, we had a little bit of a better reception. Fans there were much more tolerant.

Todd – We played with everyone from Bongzilla to Goatsnake to the heaviest death metal bands. We had a death metal background, so we pretty much fit in with everyone we played with but it was mostly doom-oriented bands that we did shows with (Evoken, Unearthly Trance etc.) or death metal bands that already knew us personally (Cryptopsy and the likes of them). We also played the first ‘Stoner Hands of Doom’ fest, which reunited Pentagram and Trouble.

Am I right in thinking you had a female vocalist when you first started out? Can you tell us about those early days, and what led to the change?

Jerry: Yes, Krista VanGuilder was first on vocals and guitar. Great player and singer. We did our first cassette, then CD with her. I’m not really sure exactly why she quit. She was in college. We still all get along great now.

Mike: Yeah, Krista was the original guitarist/vocalist when I joined the band. Those days were fun. We had some good songs I think, and at the time, heavy bands fronted by women weren’t that common. It made us stand out. Unfortunately she decided to leave the band to pursue college, which is fine. There was no animosity, and things worked out for everyone.

How would you say WarHorse grew and developed over the course of its existence? How would you characterise the changes – be they physical, sonic or personal – that the band underwent from release to release?

Jerry: We just kept pushing the punishment, getting heavier every step of the way.

Mike: With each incarnation of the band, we got heavier and more psychedelic, more nasty. After Krista, we played with Matt Smith for a while, did the ‘Lysergic’ 7″ and the ‘Priestess’ EP with him. He brought a lot of the experimental/noise elements into the mix. But that didn’t work out and it was just Jerry and I. At that point, Jerry decided he would take over vocals so that if we kept changing out guitar players at least the vocals would be consistent. I supported this decision. Never hurts to have a Lemmy worshipper as your frontman.

Todd: Well I lost 50 pounds between the USA tour and the European tour. But, other than that we definitely grew as a band. We became sonically tight. And, grew to know each others’ moves. I didn’t know how to play lead guitar when I joined. I was a rhythm guitarist. I learned to play lead really fast – just in time to record.

How would you describe a typical WarHorse gig, practise or recording session?

Jerry: Loud and loose.

Mike: Early gigs were pretty random. It took us a while to break into playing clubs, and like I said, we usually went over pretty badly. We were loud, tuned down, slow, with long songs. Everything people tend to hate in a live band. But we kept at it. Practices were usually pretty productive. We never had a proper rehearsal space, we always played in basements. We started out in Krista’s mom’s basement, then moved to Jerry’s. It was cramped and loud. Full stacks and no ear plugs. We played as often as we could, usually twice or three times a week. Didn’t have too many recording sessions. Basement tapes, a couple sessions with Bill T. Miller, and then the ‘Heaven Turns To Ash’ and ‘I Am Dying’ sessions at New Alliance. Everything we did was quick, usually in a day. Not a lot of takes, all live, then threw on overdubbed guitars and vocals. The AHTTA session was the most pro session we did, and we did that over three or four days.

Todd – Lots of weed and drinks. Just energy and lots of volume. In the beginning it was just serious power and fury! At the end it was a lot of tension at rehearsal, but the shows were always killer!

I think I read somewhere that Grief’s Terry Savastano was somehow involved in the band. Is this right?

Jerry: Yeah, after the last time we split up, Terry and I started writing songs for a new band. I called Mike and asked him to play drums. After a couple of practices, we decided to continue WarHorse. We did a few shows, but broke up after a few months.

Mike: Yes, this is true. It was months after we had called it quits after our European tour with Electric Wizard. Jerry and Terry started jamming on some new ideas for a new band, went looking for a drummer and Jerry called me again. The new ideas were heavy, and close to the WarHorse stuff, so we talked it over and decided we could reform the band with Terry, play some of the old songs and start working on new songs. Made sense to start with an established name. But, sadly, that didn’t work out either and we finally called it quits for good.

Todd: Terry was in a version of the band after we had broken up the last time, after I didn’t come back. It didn’t last long.

Beyond the sheer heaviness of the records, I always liked the more frazzled, psychedelic elements at play – they added another layer, and one that added to the unsettling vibe running through things. Where did this come from?

Jerry: Mostly from the bands we like, Hendrix, Allman Brothers, Skynard, Mountain, plus the psychedelic shit from the 60s and 70s.

Mike: This came from our love of 60s bands like Hendrix, Pink Floyd, etc. It seemed to create a lot of tension, but also some serene moments that helped set up the crushing parts.

Todd: Well I didn’t know how to play leads well, so I added a lot of effects (flanger, delay and fuzz). I would experiment with solos and it became natural to sound trippy. Eventually, it became ‘the sound’. But we were also into Hendrix and lots of 60s stuff and we also started out to intentionally have a psychedelic sound. I mean, we have a song called ‘Lysergic Communion’. It’s our roots – I grew up on my mom and dad’s Doors and MC5 records.

What would you say influenced WarHorse beyond music?

Jerry: Anger, Frustration, Stubborness, Hate…

Mike: Music was the main thing. We just wanted to make the heaviest stuff we could manage.

Todd: DRUGS! And Drugs! But, also just wanting to sound cool and trippy, you know?

How did you hook up with Ellington for the ‘Priestess’ 12”? To me, at the time, they seemed very much into the whole crazy, technical hardcore thing, what with releases by Barritt, Converge and Shadow’s Fall. I guess Ire were a bit slower and sludgier, but WarHorse kinda stuck out like a sore thumb…

Jerry: Yeah, that didn’t work out like we wanted.

Todd: Well, that was before my time. But, I know the guys were friends with the Ellington guys, and they dug WarHorse. I love the Priestess 12” but hate playing the song. I dunno why.

Mike: Mike Mannix was a local guy that we knew from the early death metal days. So he knew what we were all about individually, and was following the band. When he approached us to do the record, we didn’t think at all about what else he was putting out. We were just stoked that someone wanted to put our stuff out. That record came out great, and I still have people tell me how much they like it.

What was the motivation behind the Wargasm cover? I picked that album up in a charity shop many moons ago, and there always seemed to be something a bit weird about it…

Jerry: We recorded songs for a split, but no one would do one with us. Then we wanted to do a 10” but the songs were too long. The Wargasm cover was for a thrash comp, but it never came out. Ellington did the best they could; the red vinyl rules and the cover kicks ass but it’s just kind of a shit show. The Wargasm cover was done out of respect, and Mike is a big fan. I heard Wargasm hated it.

Mike: There was some talk of a possible thrash tribute compilation, and Wargasm was the biggest band around here for thrash. They were huge. For me, they were as big as Metallica or Slayer. We had the idea to do a slow version of that tune because we felt it fit with our vibe and the vibe of the original song. It was our attempt at a tribute to the band.

Todd: That was before my time as well. I played on ‘As Heaven Turns to Ash…’  and the ‘I Am Dying’ 7”. I ran into the drummer from Wargasm, Barry Spillburg, and he told me he hated the cover. I let him know I didn’t give a shit. He was a dick to me, straight up. And I loved Wargasm when I was a kid. I used to go see them play every week in Providence RI when I was like 16. It was my first realization that your idols can be shit. It’s ironic that Mike (drums) now plays in a band now that Barry was in.

What’s the story behind your relationship with Southern Lord? Who discovered/reached out to who?

Mike: I was following the label, and I liked their aesthetic and those first few releases like Thors Hammer, Goatsnake, etc were so heavy and good. I had sent Greg some demos and he was kinda lukewarm, but said he wanted to hear more. So we did some more demos, and he was a little more interested. As luck would have it, he was coming out to the East Coast to a show in NJ that we were playing, so he got to see us live. I won’t say we got “signed on the spot” at the show, but it wasn’t too long after that Greg asked us to maybe do a record for him.

What can you tell us about the writing and recording of ‘As Heaven Turns To Ash…’? What kind of themes/ideas were running through the record, and what kind of headspace were you in while you were putting it together?

Mike: By the time we went to record, we had been playing those songs for a while, so there wasn’t much to work out. We knew we wanted to create some cool intros and outros, some quiet parts to break up all the heavy stuff. Todd was the one to come up with the idea that it should be a ‘concept’ album, with the theme running through it. All the quiet stuff, like ‘Amber Vial’, was put together pretty quickly, in the studio, based on some ideas we had floating around. It all seemed to work out.

Todd: Well the record was complete when we went into the studio. We just worked out a couple of the instrumentals. But it was a great headspace. Andre Schneider was great to work with. He gave us a lot of space and he liked the music, so it went smoothly. It was a great time – the best recording experience of my life, and I’ve recorded at least six or seven releases.

Did you set out to do anything differently with the full-length, given that you’re previously only put our shorter releases?

Todd: We just ripped out the songs that we could tell were working when we played them live and we just had a good time doing it. It all just fell into place.

Mike: I think we just wanted to document all the material we had, and make a cohesive, heavy record.

Jerry: Well by then Todd was in the band, and we were all on the same page as far as pushing things as far as possible.

How do you view ‘As Heaven Turns To Ash…’ now, looking back on it? Do you think of it as any kind of landmark? 

Jerry: It’s definitely the best thing we did. And recording at New Alliance with Andrew Schneider was great. It really raised our profile enough that we got to tour the US, Europe and the UK. We got to meet and play with many bands we respected. It was pretty cool.

Mike: I’m very proud of that record. At the time, we just wanted to do something heavy. I never expected it be included in the same breaths as records by Sleep, Cathedral, etc, that it was later on. The fact that it’s still talked about enough to warrant the reissue it pretty crazy to me.

Todd: I love the record. It sounds great, and our contemporaries have really praised our shit, so… As far as a landmark? I mean it has its place in time and, it went over well. It’s not my place to say.

The album came out at a time when doom was just starting to peep above the parapet: it had been a minority concern for years, but with the internet and bands like Sunn O))) etc. raising its profile. Were you aware of this at all at the time? Did you notice things shifting around you?

Todd: Yeah, it came out at a time when doom was beginning to blossom so it was probably perfectly timed. I mean Anderson and O’Malley are no fools. I think they saw a bright light and went for it.

Mike: I just noticed that our shows were getting bigger and better, and we were playing with bands we were into. It was pretty great.

To this day, some my friends and I are seriously pissed that we didn’t get to see you when you played over here with Electric Wizard and didn’t even know it was happening. How was the experience for you, and how did you find the UK?

Todd – The UK was the time of my life. I turned 30 in London. I can’t say enough about the hospitality we received in the UK and all of Europe. I’m sorry you missed it. I would have loved to have seen those shows myself. I really wanna record and tour something again that can come close to the Electric Wizard/WarHorse tours. DOOM/STONER heaven man!!!

Jerry: Yeah, the tour was a trip for sure! I’ve always been into British motorcycles, Monty Python, The Young Ones, plus all the great bands, so the UK was a high point for me. Great people, great shows. The warm beer took some getting used to though…

Mike: Both tours with Wizard were pretty intense. The US tour was the first major tour we had done. Until then, it was nothing but one-offs and long weekend things. We learned a lot on those tours. I wouldn’t trade them for anything.

What led to WarHorse’s dissolution? Where do you think the band would have gone if you’d not broken up?

Jerry: We were getting along less and less, by the end we were just fighting all the time. It really started to suck, so that was it.

Mike: I think we just ran out of steam and it seemed like the right thing to do. I think we all needed a break. It was a tumultuous run.

Todd: It was just personality issues. I know that’s cheesy, but it’s true. We’ve all played together since. Nothing important. But, we jam well. It would have been big if we could have kept it together. But, it wasn’t in the cards at that time. Now? Who knows? It would’ve definitely been something great if we stayed together. I know. I have the material written, still.

What did you all go on to do after the band?

Jerry: I didn’t do much for years, but then Desolate reformed, and I’m also in a new band called Conclave.

Todd: Started a band called Sin Of Angels. Wrote one album with them. Never recorded. But, they put out an album with another guitarist called ‘Eucharist’ that I wrote. I’m definitely proud of that music but it wasn’t my cup of tea. They still play today. So…. It’s a business. This music world. And, if you can’t make your mark, you may as well keep on moving.

Mike: I took a break from playing for a couple of years, then starting kicking around in some small bands with friends. Nothing too serious. I did a rock band for a couple years called Cheap Leather, and after that I ended up getting the Gozu gig, which has been awesome.

What did your time in WarHorse teach or inspire in you? What have you ultimately taken away from the experience?

Todd: WarHorse was the shit, man. I took a lot away. It taught me a bit about the biz. Like I said. I love the recordings we did and I’m proud of them.

Jerry: It was great because of the things we got to do, the people we met. I still hear from people, sharing what WarHorse meant to them.