Written by: Paul Gleason
Tomorrow – February 24, 2015 – Torche is set to release Restarter, their fifth album and first for Relapse Records. Melodic and heavy, Restarter showcases Torche’s commitment to pure power. The record has all the energy and excitement of a live recording committed to tape.
Guitarist and vocalist Steve Brooks compares Torche’s approach to that of Ramones and AC/DC, extolling the virtues of spontaneity, jamming, and even dreaming in creating memorable and meaningful music.
In its rawness and dynamism, Restarter is the first great heavy record of 2015 (stay tuned for the SEM review tomorrow), and SEM is thankful that Brooks took the time out of his busy schedule to do a sprawling and insightful interview about the creation of the record.
SEM: Why did you guys decide to sign with Relapse Records?
SB: I was actually in touch with them since before we were a band. They were interested in Floor before we broke up in 2003. It didn’t work out. With Torche we just started working with different labels, and the last two went under. We talking about self-releasing this new record, but that’s a lot of work (laughs). And we’re all over the place. So I contacted Relapse and we worked out a contract. We made it happen right before we started recording.
SEM: What’s the relationship been like with them?
SB: Oh, great – amazing – amazing! So far it’s just a different experience from our experience every day. We’re doing all kinds of crazy press – more interviews than I’ve ever done (laughs).
But I mean, we’re getting sick of hearing about our band (laughs).
SEM: Relapse is great to work with – we put out that charity book for Athon from Black Tusk’s girlfriend, and they’ve been nothing but supportive.
SB: They’re a great label, man. They put out a lot of good stuff. So far they’ve been great to work with.
SEM: What was it like working with Kurt from Converge?
SB: We had Kurt mix the record. We did Meanderthal with Kurt back in 2007, and then when we recorded Harmonicraft, we did that ourselves – we tracked everything and had Kurt mix it. We did the same thing with this as well.
SEM: What does Kurt bring to the table as someone who mixes the record?
SB: He just tries to make it sound as good as possible. He may add a few ideas here and there that are really awesome, but mostly everything is already done. He will take a good week to mix it.
SEM: When you get it back from him, do you ever notice any common denominators between Torche and Converge?
SB: He has a style. When you hear Kurt Ballou production, you know it’s him – really.
SEM: What is it that gives it that distinct taste?
SB: He just does a good job making bands as powerful as possible on the recording. When you’re in a studio, everything is isolated. I would love to be able to just mic the room and just record everything live. But you have to isolate everything, and that takes away from the live sound. What I like about Kurt is that he mixes it where everything is punishing (laughs).
SEM: Do you think that led to a new sound on Restarter than what you had on Harmonicraft?
SB: No…I think we just took a more basic approach to it. We just stripped it down a lot. We go back and forth – different types of songs for us. It’s kind of the same approach we’ve had in the past. We get in a room and just start jamming, coming up with ideas. And sometimes someone will have a riff, and we’ll start working with that. But we do play in a different tempo in this one.
SEM: Why did you call the album Restarter?
SB: That was a song title (laughs). A lot of our subjects – looking back – were about annihilation (laughs). Or in whatever we create…nature takes its course around the damage we’ve done or the other way around. The image that I got is basically in the artwork, too. I kind of saw Restarter as a fantasy world with no more humans. All life as we know it is different. But it’s nothing personal to the band or anything like that. Some people have said, “Oh, they’re trying to restart the band, go back to Day One,” or stuff like that. That’s not how we see it at all.
SEM: That’s really cool to know. So it’s more of a Sci-Fi thing, which is kind of cool.
SB: Yeah, it’s total Sci-Fi (laughs). Even just from the title track, I think of Dr. Who.
SEM: Let’s talk about that title track. I was wondering how you wrote that song. And could you tell me about Rick’s drum part?
SB: I mean, it’s just jamming, really (laughs). “Restarter” is just a really simple song, you know. It’s almost taking on a Krautrock approach to the jam. It kind of reminds me – certain parts – of Delia Derbyshire’s original Dr. Who theme song – things like that (laughs). That was my sort of interpretation of that piece.
The drums are like Neu!. Totally repetitious and hypnotic in its own way.
SEM: Is “Restarter” the longest song you’ve ever recorded?
SB: I think so. It’s usually that the longer song goes at the end because you want to keep the momentum until the end, and then the end is like this epic thing, you know?
SEM: Why did you begin the record with “Annihilation Affair”?
SB: Why not? (Laughs). When you have ten songs, and you’ve got to put them in an order that would keep us wanting to keep listening to it in its entirety…That was just the song that we were like, “Fuck it – let’s just come out balls deep with this first song.” It just flowed with the other songs’ diversity really well.
SEM: It has some pretty cool noise guitars.
SB: I think there’s a violin in there, too (laughs). There’s all kinds of crazy shit in there – I don’t know (laughs).
SEM: It sounds almost experimental.
SB: I think everything “experimental” has already been done. So you just kind of do what needs to be done to make yourself happy with a song.
SEM: How do you guys record noise sections?
SB: Um…you just get really close to your amps…(laughs).
SEM: I know how to make noise; I just don’t know how to record it (laughs). And make it sound good.
SB: You just record the noise. You get a bunch of pedals and make some fucking noise. And press record. And then…that’s it. (Laughs).
SEM: I talk to Phil Cope about recording, and he always talks about how complex it is. It seems like you’re not really into that.
SB: No…no. I play guitar. It doesn’t need to be complex. We’re just a simple rock band, basically. I try to keep it simple. My pedal board – I’ve got four pedals, and that’s it. That’s all I use on stage. That’s a lot, because I used to just plug straight into the amp. John, our bass player, is the one who wants to play a dozen pedals, and I’m like, “Dude?!”
There was one guy at one of shows who stage dove and knocked something loose, and John was trying to find the cord. I was like, “Come on, man” (laughs).
SEM: You have four? (Laughs). How many pedals does Laura from Kylesa have?
SB: I don’t know. The last time I saw Kylesa, they had so much shit on stage. I was like, “Jesus, man, what is going on here? How do you carry all this shit?”
SEM: The two extremes.
SB: And then they’ve got two drummers. But, you know, they have their thing, so…
SEM: So your thing is to play cool, four-piece rock and roll, right?
SB: Yeah – it’s like Ramones or AC/DC. You don’t think too much about it. There are things that are personal – sad songs, happy songs – but we keep it simple. There are a lot of bands that think way too much about what they do. We’re very fortunate that we’re all on the same page and like the simplicity of just powerful rock.
SEM: Is it odd that you get grouped in with some of the prog metal bands or the Kylesas and Mastodons of the world?
SB: It’s a regional thing. I don’t think we sound anything like any of those bands. We’re all friends with them, played shows with them for a long time. It’s like that thing that happened in Seattle – bands were labeled a certain way because they had a certain type of guitar sound. But they were very different bands. I think we’re kind of lumped in together because we’re from the South.
I personally liked playing in this style before there was ever Kylesa or Mastodon or Baroness or any of those bands.
SEM: When did you get your start?
SB: I started Floor back in 1992. I was 18. I was a kid. When we broke up in 2004, I had a lot of material I’d written with Floor. Just ideas and riffs that were supposed to be on the Floor record, and I just reworked them for the first Torche record. I’d heard of Mastodon, but I didn’t have any of their records. Kylesa – my first experience with them was actually touring with them.
I was kind of out of touch with what was going on around me, too.
SEM: What were you listening to at that point?
SB: Psychedelic, 60s’, 70s’, 80s’ – a lot of old stuff. I was really into Lightning Bolt and Melt Banana – sort of noisier but just very free, powerful rock. I thought like those bands were from the future or something like that.
SEM: Torche’s vocals are very melodic. How do you write a good vocal melody? I’m thinking in particular about “Minions,” which is very catchy.
SB: I think it’s just the feel. We write the music or the riffs first. And then I’ll kind of sit on it, listen to it, hum a few things – see what works. With “Minions,” I was thinking more of Gary Numan (laughs). Taking that sort of approach – it doesn’t sound like him, but trying to get that vibe. That what was going on in my head when I was writing it.
The melodies – they’ve got to be hum-along melodies, you know? – keep it interesting for yourself.
SEM: Another one I notice that has a strong melody is “Blasted.”
SB: For “Blasted,” the verses were pretty easy, and the chorus was completely…that song made me crazy. We demoed it with a different chorus. I somehow hit a note that I couldn’t hear in my head. We were listening to it, and we were like, “It’s flat. No, it’s sharp. No, it’s flat.” And I just couldn’t hear it in my head. We’d work on it just me in the studio just trying to hit that note. It sounded like garbage to me, but they’d say, “It’s a really good chorus, man.” I thought, “No, man, it’s not.”
We spent four days… Finally I said, “Fuck this, I’m starting from scratch. Just play the thing; I’ll come up with something different.” And within three minutes I came up with something different that was much better.
SEM: How did you come up with something so fast? Why was it so easy that time?
SB: I think it was just meant to be there. I don’t think the original chorus was as good as the guys thought it was. So I just blanked out and tried to forget it and come up with something better.
SEM: The whole record is really good. Hypothetically, could you ever do an acoustic record?
SB: Acoustic? No.
I mean, it would be easier to travel and all (laughs). We’d definitely have a much simpler approach, and it would be easier touring, too.
What we like playing is just LOUD rock. Acoustic is just not us at this period. We’re a loud band. We like it loud; we like it powerful.
Maybe I’ll do something acoustic when I’m solo. I don’t even have an acoustic guitar right now.
SEM: Is there something your fans wouldn’t know about your songwriting?
SB: Sometimes when I’m half asleep or something or I’ll say something in a dream, I’ll wake up and I’ll write it down. It gets weird (laughs).
SEM: Have you ever dreamed a song like Paul McCartney dreamed “Yesterday” and Keith Richards dreamed “Satisfaction”?
SB: I dream…the greatest music I have ever heard (laughs). But then I wake up and I forget it, but I remember that I dreamed it so I’m like, “Goddammit!” I wish I could have a tape recorder in my fucking brain (laughs).
SEM: The guitar solos on “Believe It” are really standout. Who plays them?
SB: Oh, that was me. I mean, it’s just kind of fun – it’s not super simple, you know. Yet, I did that. I did that (laughs). It’s not really solo – there’s that whole slide thing. It’s just adding a little bit of icing…you gotta do that to change it up.
SEM: I have to ask you about “No Servants” and how it begins with the feedback at the beginning of the song and builds.
SB: That’s one of my favorite songs, actually, I like it because it sounds like a flat line, so when we were recording it, we were like, “This is going to drive people crazy” (laughs).
SEM: Was that a conscious decision to start with the feedback?
SB: When John wrote the riff, it was one of those things that when we were writing it, I was like, “We need to change this, man.” We were jamming, and it just kind of happened. I was like, “We gotta keep that.” I like that – when there’s only two instruments going, and then all of a sudden it’s just [explosion noise], and everything else kicks in. It’s powerful.
That song started off sounding different. When you’re writing then, you’re like, “Let’s try something different with this.” I like the flat line feedback. I think it’s perfect.
Transcription by Katie Elizabeth
Photos by Janette Valentine