Thursday, 8 November 2012

Torche

Torche, of Miami, Florida, recently steamrolled their way across Europe to celebrate the launch of their third album, 'Harmonicraft'. They make this rad, super-heavy stoner/sludge pop music, and are now being adored by the hipster indie press as much as they are by the metal community. Suitably, everybody agrees that they're amazing. The new album is out on Volcom, so I thought I should say hello.

 Photograph by Gary Copeland

OK, introduce yourselves.
S: Steve Brooks. I sing and play guitar.
R: Rick Smith. I play drums.
A: Andrew Elstner. I play guitar and sing back ups. Jon is out eating.

You've been signed to Mogwai's Rock Action label in Europe. How did that compare to a US label? How did you get hooked up with them?

R: In 2005 - or 2006 - we toured with Mogwai in the States, and on that tour we became friends with them. I don't even remember how it came about, but we somehow got an offer from them to do the European version of our first full-length record. And we said "Hell Yeah." It was awesome. I've been a Mogwai fan for a long while now, so when they asked us if they could do the record we were excited about it. As far as the experience goes, working with the label goes, we just let them run with it and do their own thing with it.

Did you record it with them, at their studio?
R: No, we did it in the States and a different record label, Robotic Empire, actually released it in the States first. Then Mogwai released it in Europe after. So it was already a recorded record. Both records they did for us we already had recorded for another label already, they were just doing the European licensed version.

Are you going to do more with them?

R: Umm, at the moment the labels we work with have European distribution pretty heavily, so there's almost no need to, I guess, in some ways. But it was a cool experience. They're awesome dudes, and the label is very cool too. 


Is there a discernible difference between working with a conventional label, run by musicians, and working with a label like Volcom, which has kind of come to be through their dealings in skateboarding and whatnot? Obviously they've been putting out some killer stuff recently...
R: Oh yeah.
S: Yep.
A: I think it's fuckin' awesome, the Volcom thing. Obviously I have no experience - as the new dude in the band - as to how Rock Action was as an experience, apart from total respect. With Volcom - to be blunt - the reach is a little more broad and the pockets are a little more deep. And it's a label that's part of a 'lifestyle' company, you know? They've been selling clothing to skateboarders, snowboarders and surfers since like, the eighties?
S: The nineties I think.

Yeah, the early nineties.
A: Yeah, so they've been fuckin' amazing. There's been no hassle. There's been nothing but positive support from those guys.
S: Especially now, when it's hard to get the support that a lot of bands used to get from labels. They're able to market us in different ways, because of the different aspects of their company.

You're being interviewed for a skateboard magazine right now.
S: Yeah.
A: But they have money coming in from different things other than just records, so there's a little less pressure... In a positive way! It's not like it makes us lazy.
S: They gave us a good deal. And it's the same with all the other labels we've been on, we really know the people we're working with. We're friends with them and we trust them. They're pretty much of the same mentality that everyone else has been.

I know the Melvins got a load of socks and suits from Volcom when they did their record. Did you get anything cool? Did you go for a trolley dash around the warehouse?
A: That's exactly what we did!
S: They cut me off! They cut me off because I took too much stuff.
A: When we first signed on with them it was like "OK, cool, we better do some business-y stuff", but then - they have a factory store in Costa Mesa - they just went "OK, take what you want, go crazy".
S: We had to ship stuff home. We were on tour at the time, and there was just so much stuff.
A: We grabbed fuck-ton of stuff. Jeans, socks, shirts, bags, luggage, hats, headphones, underwear, belts, sunglasses, towels...
S: We were broke, and most of the clothes I was wearing were so old, that I just got me this huge bag, like this tall. Like $300 worth. The bag itself, I mean. The bag was about $300, and I filled it. It was like a shopping spree. You put a bunch of broke motherfuckers in there and tell them to go crazy?
A: By the time we were done they were like "Uh, OK. I think we should go now". We had these three huge boxes.
S: We had a pile, about the size of this room.

Photograph by Gary Copeland
 
What do you think of the UK?
R: I love it. People seem really excited that we make the trip to come out, so as long as people are excited, we're more than psyched to be here. It's been two years since the last time we were out here, so I feel that with these shows, the reaction from the crowd has been awesome. everybody's super cool. I like the vibe. Especially after touring the States so many times in the last couple of years - it's refreshing.
A: During the day is cool too, you get to walk around and see some shit you'd never normally see. Like Nottingham Castle.

It's been four years since your last album. What have you been doing?
S: Every year we've put out something. We did the Songs For Singles EP, we did the Boris split, we did the Part Chimp split last year. Basically we spent last year writing this record. And recording it. And then it took six months or something to get it out. And we tour a lot. In order for us to make a living we have to stay on the road. This time we took a lot of time off in order to write the record, and between recording the record and having the record released we were just sitting at home, and working regular jobs.

Is the band your day jobs now?
A: I want it to be. I'm not good at working in retail. I mean I can do it, I just don't care. I care about this, I don't care about that.

I see you've got some XXXL shirts. Where do you sell those?

A: (Immediately) In the US.
R: It's an American thing because there's a lot of fat-ass people in America. Occasionally you'll get a ghetto-fabulous dude who wants to rock a XXXL t-shirt, you know? Out to the nightclub or whatever. So you gotta have that too.
S: Or some little tiny girl what wants it as a nightshirt. Any time we don't have them, there's always a bunch of people like "You don't have XXXL? What the hell?!"
A: Only when you don't have them, there'll be some massive dude who's 6'8" and 350lbs, going "Aw, dude..."
R: They're fat here too though...

But people are ugly here! And drunk. I'd rather have fat people than ugly, drunk people everywhere.
R: Hahaha! Oh, man...


You make a point of declaring that you're not a metal band. Can you explain this? In what way are you not a metal band?
S: We're a band that's influenced by metal as well as punk, and rock and Middle-Eastern music. We don't think like metalheads.
A: We're just a hard rock band.
R: A very open-minded hard rock band. I think bands like Bauhaus and Swans are some of the heaviest shit ever, and they're not metal bands.
S: I love stuff that's influenced by Hüsker Dü, but I love eighties metal and thrash - stuff I grew up on. I grew up listening to Sabbath and Priest and Maiden and all that, then in the mid-eighties I got into thrash. A lot of the San Fransisco Bay Area thrash bands, then the whole rise of the underground and Florida death metal. Then in about '88 I started venturing off and listening to different things. After Clandestine by Entombed I was like "Everything great has been done". In metal. For me. There are bands now, like High On Fire, and that's the kind of metal I like. Really raw, powerful metal.
A: The new High On Fire record is, to me, a fuckin' masterpiece. Dude it's so good, it's just so right. It's super powerful, and it's kind of meathead-ish without being stupid.
S: The drums sound unbelievable. They sound like a fucking locomotive. Or if you're riding a wooden rollercoaster. It's like DOOF DOOF DOOF DOOF.
R: It's cool when you hear a recording of them, and they're playing metal, but it doesn't sound like they went to the same studio that every other metal band went to, and had the same drum preset triggered in on their drum kit, and the same guitar tone... It's unique. It sounds like them. It has room to breathe, it's not prog-y for the sake of being technical, you know?
S: That's what killed metal for me.
R: It's a pissing contest. It's "Look how complicated we can be" but that shit's just not brutal anymore. You don't want to hear this brutal song then all of a sudden this guitar solo comes in and it's this beautiful thing, with all these sweeps, and all that shit.

Who else is doing metal right just now?
You did that split with Boris, do you consider them to be a metal band?
R: No way. I think they're a total rock band. They're an interesting band too, they're kinda like the Melvins, they're a band that can do anything they want to do. It's never the same thing. You can tell someone to check out Boris and they'll pick up one of the drone records, and they'll be "What the hell is this?!"
A: I think we're all of a similar mentality. We're all influenced by the Melvins. I saw the Melvins in like '91, and they had the power of a punk band, and they were just heavier than any band I'd ever heard - part from Swans of Godflesh or something like that - as far as a rock band, they were so fuckin' heavy. They changed everything for me. You can be heavy without having this strict black and white. There's this huge grey area in what they do. And with what we do. A lot of our newer stuff is kind of Krautrock-y
S: Very driving, very repetitive, very psychedelic. It's all over the board, but still sounds like us.


Is this change a reflection of the things you've been listening to more recently?
S: Just trying different things, and just progressing as a band.
A: It's about keeping yourself excited as well. There are certain bands who can do formulaic stuff really well, like AC/DC are still just crushing faces all around the world. It's the obvious example, but when you're writing songs and playing live you do it to please yourself.
R: We haven't changed that much as a band. The production's changed, and maybe the songwriting slightly, but we haven't changed as much as people make out. People are like "Oh, you guys have turned into a total pop band now" but we were kind of a total pop band before.
A: When people say that, I'm like "You didn't hear that from the beginning?!' It's always been there.
S: You're damned if you do and damned if you don't. People want you to write the same record over and over again, but then when you do, they're like "Aw, it's the same thing!" But we've been pretty lucky to have such a dedicated fan base. Everyone has a different favourite record, which is cool. We don't want to be one of these bands that writes the same record over and over.

Like Mogwai...

A: It's a similar vibe. I don't know what their MO is, but maybe they're still trying to perfect a certain ideal, and they want to try it again, and try it again. Some of the reviews for our new record were all "It's cool, but it's just the same" and some were "It's cool, but shit's totally changed".
S: Vice magazine said we'd changed too much, then Pitchfork said we hadn't changed enough.

What's the best band you've played live with?
S: Harvey Milk is one.
A: Big Business.
R: Part Chimp. Boris. We've been lucky, we've toured with a load of great bands.
A: We toured with Jesu.

Volcom had a 'Name a Metal Band' competition on the Sidewalk forum. What do you think of some of these? (I show the band the list)
R: 'Necropaedophilia'? Is that fucking dead children? Jesus, God...
A: 'Haha! 'Endoscope Periscope'!
S: I like 'Rectal Suffocation'... 'Dangerwankk Mumfukk'! 'Pout at the Devil'! Hahahaha! Oh, God... 'Frozen Mammoth', 'Stillborn Grandma', 'Chainmail Sexbeast'? Haha... 'inFANTASYde', that's clever. 'Cradle of Milf'! Haha!
A: 'Prison Jism Power Shower'! Dude... That can be Steve's side project. Those are fucking amazing. This is so good.
(A member of venue staff comes in, and immediately leaves)
A: He was offended.


What did you listen to in the van today?
R: The Chameleons today. Trans Am.
S: Rectal Suffocation...
A: Amps For Christ, Psychic TV...
R: Godflesh. It's all over the place. Japanese noise punk - Attack SS
S: Cock Sparrer, Black Flag, Deicide...

Do any of you skate?

R: Absolutely. I don't skate so much now, what with all the touring and stuff... I'm just scared of hurting myself now actually. I kinda had to stop when I broke my finger. I broke my finger and I realised I couldn't play. There were a couple of dudes down in Florida when I was growing up that used to skate for Element, so they'd always have product in the trunk. That was how I used to get a lot of my stuff. It's hard for me to not get on a skateboard and mess around when somebody has one, but I just can't right now. If I hurt myself I'm out of work.

What two musicians would you like to see fight each other?
R: I want to see Dale Bozzio kick the shit out of Lady Gaga.

They're both men, anyway...
S: Haha!
A: Aw, dude! Dale's awesome. Lady Gaga sucks.
S: I think just Madonna and Lady Gaga would be satisfactory. I just want to see Lady Gaga get the shit beat out of her. I feel I want to see a lot of musicians get the shit kicked out of them, by anyone. I want to see a bunch a metalcore bands fight each other and kill each other off. I hate those flat-ironed haircuts.

What's the best non-musical thing you've bought on eBay?

S: I don't think I've ever bought anything on eBay that wasn't music related.
R: 'The Orkly Kid', with Crispin Glover in it, on VHS.
A: I collect - when I have money - old tobacco pipes. It's the most Spinal Tap shit ever. You can buy them all crusty and beat up, and I'm pretty good at fixing them up, and making them look new-ish. Then you sell them and make money. I had fifty or so before I moved from Atlanta to St. Louis. Made a bit of loot...

Torche are recording a new album for Volcom this Winter, for a late 2013 release, and are touring Europe again in June.

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