Mike Hill is probably one of the most hardcore people on the planet. A fierce work ethic that has seen him serve time in the excellent techy hardcore band Anodyne through to myriad other projects has eventually led to what appears to be the most cohesive unit in terms of playing and sound. Tombs sound like no-one else at the moment; a transcendent wall of sound mired in doom and gloom. Mike was kind enough to write me back with some answers to some questions. Enjoy!
Can you give a rundown / timeline as to your activities post the dissolution of Anodyne and the formation of Tombs?
After Anodyne broke up, I did a band with Jamie Getz (Lickgoldensky, Gods and Queens). This actually overlapped with the final months of Anodyne’s existence; we rehearsed in the same room and it was great, I was playing pretty much six or seven days a week between both bands. When Anodyne disbanded, I focused on the Getz collaboration as a more full-time gig. We actually toyed with the idea of calling the band Gods and Queens but eventually settled on Versoma; our first choice for a name “Matamoros” had some alleged white power overtones. I always thought Matamoros was a bordertown in Mexico.
Versoma released an ep on Robotic Empire, did a tour with Red Sparowes, played some dates with Isis and fizzled out due to lack of interest. Jamie and I wanted to do different things so it didn’t really make sense to continue. I also managed to alienate our rhythm section during our CMJ showcase so the band was more of less broken up anyway.
I moved directly into working on material for the band that would ultimately become Tombs. At that point, it was me and the original drummer, Justin Ennis kicking around ideas and experimenting. Some of the material was culled from ideas that I was working on for Versoma so much of the first EP has a kind of “shoegazey” vibe.
There have been some lineup changes over the last couple of years. Justin was ejected from the band and Domenic Seitia, our original bassist formed A Storm of Light with Josh Graham. The current lineup of Tombs is solid. We all have similar work ethics and everyone is civilized.
When comparing the sound of Defeatist with Tombs, one could construe that you wanted to do something more epic and song-based whereas the other two just wanted to strip things down and grind it out. Would this be about right? Were there other factors not to do with musical differences that contributed to the eventual split of Anodyne?
It’s solely a musical thing. I love both of those guys and we remain close friends. Defeatist and Tombs have shared many bills and I think that they’re one of the more interesting bands working in the grindcore medium thiese days. I wish they would play more.
I think the primary departure was that those guys wanted to do something more extreme and stripped down. At this stage of the game, I want to create bigger productions using more layers and more diverse instruments.
Was it a conscious effort on your part to try something different? How would you personally describe the sound to someone who had never heard you? How would you “sell” it to a potential listener?
I just follow my instincts. I wouldn’t say that it was a conscious effort. I didn’t wake up one day and decide to rip off My Bloody Valentine and buy a ton of effects pedals. It was a gradual kind of thing where I would test the waters. I think that some of the material on “Lifetime of Gray Skies” gives a hint of some of the concepts that would be used on the Tombs records.
I don’t know how I would describe the band. Ultimately I end up saying that I want to be like Richie Blackmore during the Deep Purple Machine Head era, but for you, Kunal, I’ll give it a try.
Tombs = gloomy blackened doom-core with a shoegaze sensibility.
How is the dynamic different in this band compared to your previous ones? Is it a democracy or a dictatorship? What is the songwriting process like for Tombs?
Honestly, and the other guys will back me on this, the writing is more of a dictatorship. I write 99 percent of the material on my own and bring it to rehearsal. We arrange the songs as a band. I’m open to what the other guys say because we all share similar tastes in music. Usually, if Andrew suggests something it’s on point so “being open” isn’t really an issue. Nobody’s suggestions are coming from left field.
How did the Relapse hookup occur? How has their treatment of you been (or can you not say)?
It was a pretty low stress scene with the Relapse thing. Greg Drudy, who works at Relapse as well as doing Level Plane / Enucleation records, gave a copy of a demo we recorded to the point men at Relapse. They dug it. We were on tour, played a show in Philly and the offer followed. So far things have been pretty right on.
Your touring schedule is rigorous. Do you have regular jobs and how does “real life” fit around the band?
Somehow it all works out. It’s a tight rope walk and at times things get pretty shakey but we all make it happen with respect to our “day-jobs”. My “personal life” is currently in a shambles but that kind of stuff happens from time to time and I just have to deal with it.
How has the response been to the live show? When supporting bigger bands, is it the usual indifference to support bands, or is there a marked difference according to who is headlining? Have you had much chance to headline gigs yourself?
The response has been really good on the last few tours. The opportunity to support Isis, Pelican and Wolves in the Throne Room were amazing. It was the perfect situation for us to get out there with those bands. It’s easy for me to take the cynical path and say that I don’t care if anyone likes us or not, but after years of touring I have to say that it definitiely helps.
Is being a band in New York tough? Are practise rooms expensive to hire, or spaces tricky to find, and venues difficult to park at and so on? Is there a scene as such in the densely populated metropolis?
It’s hard to be a band in NY. Rehearsal space is overpriced, parking is tough and in general there isn’t much of a scene.
I don’t want to be part of any scene; I don’ feel comfortable with being a New York Band or a Brooklyn Band because we do’t have anything in common with a lot of the bands in this city. I just want to be on the road.
Have you had interest in Tombs from quarters that previously would have given, say, Anodyne short shrift? Would you attribute this to your sound or the involvement of a large independent label?
Anodyne had a very specific audience so yeah, a lot of people that wouldn’t have been into Anodyne seem to be into Tombs. To me, I don’t see the difference, but I guess Tombs has more melody and it’s easier for people to relate the the music. I don’t know. Being on Relapse has definitely been a big help and they have allowed us to get in front of a lot of people.
“Winter Hours” seems to have picked up a number of very good notices. How important is the critical reaction from the press at the end of the day? Have you had much audience response in this respect, at gigs or via fanmail and so on?
The media, though, I admit is important and necesary, doesn’t play as big a part in the success of your band. I take it all with a grain of salt. Anodyne got really positive reviews but we were always a super obscure band to most people.
I have to admit, that I do get a fairly steady stream of email from people regarding the band. It’s important to me that I answer everything, my point is that everyone is busy these days and if you take time out of your schedule to put together some kind of correspondence, the least I can do is write back.
Your label Black Box has put out a handful of great, well presented releases. Do you plan on continuing with it or does Tombs occupy too much time? What were your reasons behind starting it and what are your aims with it?
Tombs has definitely moved up on my action item list. I’m still doing BBR but all of the touring has made it difficult to manage everything. My next release is a split 12-in with Dead in the Woods and Diet Pills. It should have came out in the spring, but the touring set it back. I’m going to be home all summer so the revised release date is fall 2009.
I started the label because I wanted to put out quality music that I thought was important. I feel like a band like the Wayward should have their own section at the local record store. I would like to do whatever I can to facilitate that.
Judging by the (often personal) commentary in your blog, it seems like touring is more gruelling than rewarding. Is it something you enjoy or something you feel you have to do as part of the band lifecycle?
At this point, it’s part of who I am. It’s important in the business end but I also need to travel aspect of it. Every night is an achievement and I love to achieve.
You’ve been doing this for a long time. What keeps you hungry for it? What do you hope to achieve with Tombs? A similar longevity to Anodyne (which I would consider to be lengthy within the hardcore genre)? Absolute world domination?
Absolute world domination. I want to have my own country and I want “Seven Stars, the Angel of Death” to be it’s National Anthem.