Interview: SHADOW OF THE TORTURER – No yoga or poetry, just brooding evil

After a couple of seemingly quiet years the American sludge beast Shadow of the Torturer is on the loose again. Their upcoming European tour and two new releases gave Miasma a good reason to ask the band’s front man Mikey Brown some questions about the present state of group. Mikey wished that I’d contact the Blind Date Records label manager Marcel Wieghaus too, because he has done so much for the band. I naturally obeyed Mikey’s orders, so there are a couple of answers by the German gentleman too.

 SOTTPromo

Shadow of the Torturer may be unknown to many of our readers. Can you tell us some basic information about the band? What were the reasons to start SOTT?

Mikey: – Well that is a good question… Around about 2003–2005 I was occasionally experimenting with riffs outside of my then full time band Aldebaran. We would record a few songs onto my 4-track to get the bugs out and then record in a real studio. I would occasionally record a track or two for shits and gigs on my own. Well by the end of 2005 Aldebaran had toured the US and I was living 100 miles away from my Aldebaran buddies and I began to go through my tracks and write stuff. I dabbled in metronome timings and came up with a handful of great songs. Then Aldebaran  did a tour of the southwest and Texas and I went back home. Because of distance and touring I believed my tracks did fall upon uninterested ears. Aldebaran had politics in our Portland world and we were busy with life too, so I focused on music not the scene.

– The idea to get some musicians together and record these songs as a solo project was born, and I did. I went to guitar center where Gabe [Morley] works and I asked him to join my project which was aptly named Aylesbury Pike, and he laid the concept of Shadow of the Torturer on me. I agreed and subsequently read all three books [by Gene Wolfe]. I know my lyrics didn’t really match up well with SOTT but it seemed to make sense to write beyond just H.P Lovecraft mythos and what not… Isamu Sato was always working with me on something or another so naturally he was asked then. He really made the initial recording process even possible, and I owe him a lot for that. SOTT was born out of the love of doom and the need to try and experiment outside the band element.

You’ve had a lot of line-up changes during your career. How have you tackled those obstacles? Has there ever been a chance that you will quit?

Mikey: – I have had the luxury of having only the finest musicians play on my albums, but with that luxury comes dynamic independent musicians who very much have their own agendas musically, so I can’t expect them to only want to play my music their whole career can I? I really just keep recording and playing and asking peeps to help me and occasionally I get lucky like with Marching into Chaos in 2010, and I seize the moment and record before it becomes a job. But seriously, as soon as I know someone is bored with SOTT I cut them loose so as not to waste time.

– I have  maybe one more idea  for an album. But no, quitting is for pussies, if Europe wants us back we will come. Timmy [Call] from Aldebaran and Mournful Congregation has been backing us on the drums and was a major force in the reality of Dronestown [upcoming LP]. Next year we may come out with yet another drummer, who knows? B has been the most solid bassist yet and her oppressive bass sound and technique allows extreme heaviness with only a three piece band. There is a little talk of Stuart [Prickett] from Mournful Congregation playing guitar with us on this mini tour. I would love that but I wouldn’t want to pressure the guy.

The members have also had other bands like Yob and Aldebaran. Has any of those, or some others bands, been a major influence in your sound? Or have you on the contrary tried to create something completely new and never heard of?

Mikey: – I would say that we all have a sound that has been developing over the years around here in the northwest. Me,  I am just going from song to song writing and matching ideas like any other writer. I certainly hope it’s not a contrived sound. SOTT is simple music, extremely slow and strangely catchy. It has no real lyrical attachment to Gene Wolf or Severian. I cannot paint that picture.  I can tell you of my response to that vibe, that’s all. Moreover after hearing Burning Witch, the Melvins and Black Sabbath we just want to play doom with good guitar tone and droney beats. SOTT does not want to teach you yoga, or make you spiritually aware or enlighten you. Or impress you with our fashion sense, dazzle you with poetry, SOTT wants to help you destroy yourself so you can be free of this world. I know that’s what the doom music listener wants. Bleak and brooding evil. We love our northwest bands and seriously we sound good out here! Check out Bell Witch , Anhedonist or Aldebaran Great Doom. If you want to compete with these guys you better bring it…

Have new members had anything to say about your musical style? Or do you act more or less like a dictator in those issues? You are anyway the only original member in the band.

Mikey: – Sorry! Yep I am the dictator. Its my project. With splendid musicians comes great ideas that always is the case! So usually the music is written for the musicians to use as their canvas. As well as SOTT’s general idea is heavy + simple = evil!

SOTTpromo 2

Your career started already in 2006, but so far you have released only one record. The unusual thing is that you have made two versions of it. Blind Date Records released Marching into Chaos LP in 2009 and the CD version by Memento Mori came out 2011. Although the later record has some same songs as the first one, it is anyway a completely different product. When the LP came out I liked it right away, and even today it is hard for me to hear its faults… So what were the reasons to record it again?

Mikey: – Oh man, if you could have been through the shit storm of trying to get that b-side of that first record completed… Isamu plays the drums on that! Our drummer, Gabe had disappeared for nine months… It was a nightmare.. But it had certain great moments! I still like it but I wanted to add a few more songs get into the studio with Jesse at Autopsy Room Studios whom had really done a great job on Aldebarans Dwellers in Twilight -LP. Format wise, when Memento Mori offered to do a CD I thought that was great, and I like the bands of Memento Mori. It seemed a smart choice.

Marcel, do you know what were the reasons for recording Marching into Chaos again? Did you agree with the band? How did you feel about it?

Marcel: – I don’t know the exact reasons, but Mikey was somehow unsatiesfied with their first recording. I love the first recording as it is raw and heavy and therefore perfectly fits to the overall feeling this kind of music should have. Well maybe I am a bit special in respect to music and sound, but at the end the band should be satiesfied with the result. I am happy that the sound of the new records is similar to the first recording of Marching into Chaos… But two or three ounces heavier!

What did you do differently on the second time? Are you happy with the final version?

Mikey: – I added more guitars, we used an entire room with amazing microphones and analog rack effects to process vocals and drums. We also spent months rehearsing and playing shows perfecting the tunes. We had stereo technical difficulties with the first version’s drum mics. I thought the Sabbath cover Who Are You was devastating and included it. Karl’s [Fowler] Yaks of Sodom was a  brilliant addition also, so its a much fuller album now, that’s all.

This spring (2013) you will release two new records, an LP called Dronestown and a split LP with Ghost of Wem. Why did you decide to have those out at the same time? Did you have a lot of material to choose from? 

Mikey: – These records will be bought up eventually, we are not gonna release another record for another few years probably. I wrote these songs over a period of five years so yes, they have gone through some change, and have seemed like lots of material but eventually it gets whiddled down to just two songs.

Marcel: – Actually there was no decision. I am releasing the records when all material is ready to go to press, there is no business concept. So in this case it’s a mere coincidence that I have – with the Fistula LP – even three releases at once! There will be 500 copies of the full length, which is a co-release with Tim of Parasitic records, and 300 copies of the split with Ghost of Wem. Each version has 100 colored copies, as always. By the way, these are my last releases for quite a few months.

Don’t you thing there will be too much SOTT on the market at the same time? Will there be enough demand for both releases? I mean you are quite a small band and today world is full of sludge metal stuff.

Mikey: – Actually Marcel at Blindate records mentioned he had sold all our Marching into Chaos records and considered a repress for the tour, and I pitched the Dronestown idea instead. With Parasitic records help it came to be instead of repressing Marching into Chaos which I will not get repressed. I will, however, in the future put the 2010 version on vinyl. We will not write the same album a bunch of times either. I have yet to make even one dollar from doom and so my business model is not at all at risk. We want you to be doomed when we get there this spring and have good records for anyone who would like them. We are playing doom because we love the art form. We will not “get big” with doom. All my heroes keep their day jobs and so do I.

Marcel: – Nowadays its quite a hassle to distribute 300 or 500 copies. It was easier 10 years ago. But I am sure that I will be able to distribute those as well. Shadow of the Torturer is one of my top five doom bands around and I am so glad with the new records. Almost everybody whom I recommended the debut record was stoked, but you’ll need to like slow music otherwise you will hate it! To me Shadow of the Torturer is unique, I have never heard a similar doom band, but my dad still insists that its noise.

What about these latest recordings, how did you succeed in studio this time? How did you make sure that you would be pleased with the end result? And are you?

Mikey: – I record in a home studio and demo every song myself. Because I work with awesome musicians we go the studio and destroy that shit. I am very pleased.  Plus I love rehearsal… It’s fun.

For whom do you recommend SOTT and your new records? How about old fans like me, do you think that we will be satisfied with those too?

Mikey: – I think Dronestown will please the most wicked doom fan. It is not a typical record at all and it feels like a very listenable piece of music. I recommend listeners from Pink Floyd to Eyehategod to listen, or not, I don’t really care, I just want to play my shit… Its really up to you.

Marcel: – Especially for such old fans like you this is the perfect music as you don’t have to mosh in the pit just bang your head which is easier for the old man. Actually I can recommend everybody who is into (very) slow music to check the band.  I was able to convince a lot of fast-music-friends to listen to doom music as well, as there is no fast music needed to transfer heavyness, power and dissatisfaction. I have my difficulties to decribe music but if you like Loss, Corrupted or Aldebaran you must buy this record.

As mentioned earlier, your trusted partner in Europe is a German sludge label Blind Date Records. Can you tell us something about your co-operation? How did you make the connection with him in the first place?

Mikey: – Marcel has been an encouragement since he put out Aldebaran’s Dwellers in Twilight LP. I sent him a few tracks of SOTT and he wanted more thus we began a partnership.

The pressing of the first LP was only 333 copies and upcoming records have small pressings too. In addition, the media coverage of SOTT has not been especially wide. Are you happy with being an underground band? Have you had any changes to “sell out” to a larger label?

Mikey: – I honestly don’t think we have anything to offer a bigger label. We do fine with smaller labels, no worries. We have not had any big label offers, haha! I am not a scene friendly dude and I crave not the affection of popular people around the world. I am actually a recluse, but most around here know if I’m involved it will be heavy. That’s enough for me. If someone offered to help I would consider it.

Do you think that you have had the success and attention you “deserve”? There are hundreds of great bands today, and it may be hard to rise above the mass of mediocre bands. Can you state some special qualities that make you unique and, so to speak, justify your existence?

Mikey: – Ha! Only thing I can say is that we are SOTT and we will doom you. We have only our art so take it or leave it. The weak must be weeded out so come and knock us off the food chain if you can!

In your opinion, which are the things that make SOTT unique and worth listening?

Marcel: – Can’t tell you, but maybe its the perfect symbiosis of monotonous music and entertainment. There is great riffage or melody throughout the songs and such intense vocals. When I listenened to Shadow of the Torturer for the very first time I instantly knew this is different and must be kept on vinyl. It sounded like dozens of tanks passing the street.  After sending cash and drugs to Portland Mikey finally agreed.

Now you are preparing for a European tour. How many dates will you have? What are your feelings before the trip? What do you expect? Any former experiences about Europe?

Mikey: – Cannot wait to go to Europe as a metal fan and as a band! I need a vacation! I like the fact that Europeans are interested in SOTT. I also really like European’s love of all things metal. Tim and I have toured a lot together and we know it involves a lot of work, so I think we are prepared to rock hard. We have about six dates so far. Several mates have had good times at  Heavy Days in Doom Town [Copenhagen]. I wanna check it out.

Have you had any changes to tour USA? What are the best parts of American doom and sludge scene? 

Mikey: – Gas prices have slowed things down but generally the San Francisco bay is home to doom, like Portland, Oregon as well. Yes, we’ve had many tours and shows in USA. Otherwise it’s tough out here for doom. People in Europe tune in better to metal. Here there are many great bands and only a handful of places to play.

What dreams do you have as a band? Next plans after conquering Europe?

Mikey: – I think we are fulfilling metal dreams by making records and meeting interesting people like you. I think we would love to just keep returning to Europe every year, but I can safely say I will spend the next few years writing an album as good as Dronestown. This may be my swansong for now so give it a listen if you get the chance. You can’t rush doom.

http://shadowofthetorturer1.bandcamp.com/

Text: Tuukka Termonen

Pictures: Shadow of the Torturer