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In Extremis

Practising Heaviness: Brothers Of The Sonic Cloth Interviewed
Harry Sword , February 3rd, 2015 12:45

Tad Doyle, veteran of the 90s Seattle scene with his former band TAD, releases his first album with his powerfully-monikered new doom trio later this month. Before that, he tells Harry Sword about exploring the sludgier end of the spectrum and drawing a line under the past

Photograph courtesy of Invisible Hour

Brothers Of The Sonic Cloth… Brothers Of The Sonic Cloth… BROTHERS OF THE SONIC CLOTH! Say it loud. Say it thrice. Chant the incantation to ye quivering gods. A cavernous and brutally heavy proposition that deal a swinging low end rumble that evokes shock and awe deep in the medulla, while morose lyrical reflection troubles the aching frontal lobes, Brothers Of The Sonic Cloth are a (proper) power trio fronted by the legendary Tad Doyle.

Their self-titled debut LP represents not only his first recorded work in well over a decade, but also finds Doyle - alongside wife Peggy on bass and Dave French on drums - working up the heaviest, smokiest and most doom-laden material of a long career that has accomplished much in the name of seething smokestack groove.

For those unfamiliar, Doyle fronted his namesake band TAD from 1988 until their eventual dissolution in 1999. Along with Melvins they were by far the weightiest and sludgiest of the Seattle bands that were - somewhat cumbersomely, given the often vast differences in style - grouped under the globe-busting 'grunge' tag in the early 90s.

Put simply, TAD played heaving rock & roll that utilised unflinching black humour while tirelessly exploring the sinister underbelly of low lit Americana in hideously microscopic detail on albums such as God's Balls and Inhaler. Brutally heavy and trading on a sticky-backed wall of noise with melody scant on the ground, TAD were too abrasive for mainstream tastes and - despite a high profile, relentless tour schedule and major label deals - they eventually imploded under a dark cloud of label hassle and road fatigue in 1999, leaving Doyle to form the short-lived but gloriously bleak Hog Molly, a band who shared a similar devotion to queasy bludgeon.

But while both TAD and Hog Molly were united by an irreverent world view at once grotesque and hallucinatory, Brothers Of The Sonic Cloth are an entirely different audio proposition. Ploughing an introspective and hypnotic furrow, the record is cut very much from classicist doom cloth and boasts a speaker-rupturing mix from the legendary Billy Anderson (Sleep, Melvins, High On Fire, Eyehategod, etc). The Quietus caught up with Tad Doyle to talk Sabbath on the day of the lord, life behind the desk and facing oneself.

I think this record is the heaviest I've heard from you - and you've made some pretty heavy records. Can you tell us how the idea for Brothers Of The Sonic Cloth gestated?

TD: Well, I've always been a big fan of heavy [laughs]. It started in the last half of 2006. I started writing some of these songs when I moved back from San Diego to Seattle with my wife Peggy - who was my girlfriend at the time. I got some Pro Tools recording software and started demoing stuff by myself, where I was playing everything. At some point after that I said, 'Man, I really want to play this out' and Peggy said, 'Well, I can play bass whenever you're ready'. So we started to audition drummers but nothing really fitted what we wanted to do. It started as a solo thing and then worked into being a full project again. I had a clear idea of everything before we started recording though. I demoed a lot of stuff. It was definitely a premeditated thing.

I remember reading an interview with you talking about the gruelling tour schedule with TAD - nine months out of twelve on the road, for years on end. Is Brothers going to be more of a studio project?

TD: No, we have a booking agent who is working on summer dates for festivals actually, and we've done a small West Coast tour. All of us in the band have careers so we're not going to be touring like we used to do, but we're going to be popping over for sure. But it won't be as lengthy as it used to be [laughs]. I mean, we've all got full time jobs now.

One thing that struck me was how doomy the record is; working a simple groove until the point of hypnosis. Do you listen to much music from that side of the musical spectrum?

TD: Well, I absolutely love YOB and I listen to a lot of symphonic music too, the old masters. A lot of that is really inspirational to me. But it always comes back to Sabbath too! You know, my brother gave me the first Black Sabbath record for Christmas when I was a kid and that freaked my parents out. They said, 'How could you do this! On the Lord's day! "Black Sabbath"'! And they've been a constant inspiration ever since then.

I want to talk about working with Billy Anderson. Obviously he is a hugely important producer/engineer in the doom/stoner world. What was it like working with him? Did he have a clear idea at the mixing stage of how he wanted the record to sound?

TD: He is really talented and I picked him because I knew that he had made a lot of the records that I really love. I really appreciated the Suma records that he did. I just love the huge sounds that he is able to pull out of music and the way he looks at things, so I was really pleased to be able to work with him.

He's really fast, he's highly educated, he's really funny, quick-witted, really snappy. He has a vision for what he does and he also asks the questions, 'What are you looking for? What do you want to get out of this?'

And what did you tell him when he asked that question?

TD: Well, I wanted the sound as big as possible and to have serious depth and weight to it. I wanted it to be wide and for everything to have a place for itself and blend like a unit, like we're playing it live. One of the great things about it was that he really managed to capture what we sound like when we play live, which was incredible. And one thing I'm hoping is that he'll be able to come out when we play live and do the live sound for us too, which would be incredible to have him behind the desk.

It must be satisfying to be able to set your own pace these days. What was it like being surrounded by the whole grunge storm with TAD in the early 90s? I always felt TAD to be a really nasty rock & roll band - that word 'grunge' doesn't mean much.

TD: It is human nature to want to quantify things and understand them and want to call them things. But you can't always throw a name on everything and that genre name has been used on a lot of bands I would not have thought it applied to, and still to this day I have no idea what it means except dirty, gritty music.

And did you see it change people around you?

TD: Oh yeah, it was a strange experience to see my friends on TV, but I don't spend much time thinking about the past. It doesn't even exist anymore.

Was the Busted Circuits And Ringing Ears documentary that came out in 2008 your way of drawing a line underneath that band?

TD: We wanted to put a line under the band and the history. Some closure to what the band did and the history of that whole period. A lot of it felt unfinished when we got dropped from the last label. We just wanted to tell people the true story as to what actually happened. The guy who did the editing did a really great job with the video footage compiling everything and it was really great to see the footage that I'd filmed over the years turn into something. I was the only guy carrying a camera around at that time and I'm glad I did.

You've run Witch Ape Studio in Seattle for the past few years and produced a large number of bands. How have you found that experience?

TD: I've always been intrigued by the whole process. I've spent most of my life on the other side of the glass, which is a very different experience from the mixing board side of things - working out what mic to use, what pre amp, what the space sounds like, moving things around. It's fun and interesting to me and the possibilities also seem endless, so I'm really excited about it. I got into it relatively late in the game compared to a lot of people but when I was younger I'd always taken two cassette decks and a mixing board and recorded stuff, bounced it back and forth - much like the Beatles did - but with the advent of digital, it all became affordable to the layman.

The Brothers record is layered and dense. How have you seen the songs change as you adapt for playing live - have you reached 'musical telepathy' stage yet?

TD: That's a good question. I'd recorded many layers of guitars that are doing different things and I was thinking about that - like, 'How am I going to do this live now that I've created this monster?!' Also, we're going to be adding another guitar player - we haven't announced his name yet - just for live shows, which should be great. I realised that after we got mixing it, with Billy's treatment, I just thought, 'I'm one guitar player - how am I going to do this, holy god?!' Because although I have a stereo set-up, with three amps and four cabinets, it's still one performance. We'll definitely need to be working some samples as well. Dave will be picking up some vocal duties as well.

I really enjoyed the little outro and interlude, it added a soundtrack vibe…

TD: The outro thing that Peggy played the piano on, I thought that was awesome. It was almost an afterthought, there is a whole piece to that. And the other track you're talking about - 'The Immutable Path'- that was something that was created right at the last minute. Everything else was mapped out. The new stuff, we're writing as a unit. I feel Peggy totally understands where I'm coming from, musically, and I respect her as a player and as a human being enough to have her do what she wants to do.

Brothers Of The Sonic Cloth is also a much more introspective record than anything you've put out before. That black humour is gone and replaced with something much more personal. Is that a fair assessment?

TD: I think that's a fair assessment. Maybe it's because I'm older and I've had some time to assess my own life and figure out who I am. And that is one of the hardest things that any of us will ever have to do. To face yourself with that question, 'Who am I?' and really honestly ask that question and be willing to look into the answer whether it be dark or not. Because most of us go through life where we attach what we do to who we are, like 'I play guitar therefore I'm a guitar player'. I am this. I am not necessarily a guitar player or a big guy that weighs more than the average human being or this guy that rides a motorcycle. I'm just this thing; this unnamed thing [laughs]. And that is what that song 'Unnamed' is about.

Brothers Of The Sonic Cloth is out on February 16 via Neurot Recordings