The Quietus - A new rock music and pop culture website

In Extremis

Funereal Pyre: An Interview With Ghold
Jack Boyce , May 10th, 2016 09:12

With the former "weight and grunt power duo" now expanded to a three-piece, they tell Jack Boyce about honing their brand of heavyweight, psychedelically-tinged sludge on their third album, PYR

Photograph courtesy of Naomi Bergau

Ghold, initially a studio project of Alex Wilson and Paul Antony and now a trio thanks to the inclusion of multi-instrumentalist Oliver Martin, are well versed in producing exquisite, heavy sludge. PYR, their latest album, is a little different. Despite their origins as a two-piece, the band are used to producing material intended for four. While still not at that capacity, PYR showcases the ever-expanding musical thought process from the band, especially on fourth track 'Despert Thrang', a harrowing 21-minute journey supplemented by a hauntingly guest vocal from Rose Dagul, aka Rhosyn.

A stay at the now demolished Pyrford House in Brixton underpins this sombre, sometimes meek, album that pitches a future where the rich continue to get richer and the poor stay poor. The artwork consists of multiple images overlaid on top of each other again and again, intertwining with a palette of ghoulish colours that feel a visual match for the sounds found throughout the four-track album.

The band in person, though, are of a less dark hue. We meet outside Cardiff's Ten Feet Tall cocktail bar, which is home to Undertone, a basement club more akin to a box, with Wilson wearing yellow glow-stick bunny ears on top of his all-black attire, and conversation meanders through gentrification, dystopia and various dogs we've either met or owned.

What's the story behind Pyrford House?

Alex Wilson: Paul and me have lived together for years and decided to start a band when we were living in a flat in Brixton. And then we moved to Pyrford House when everything started to change and everything was going awry. Obviously with all this stuff going on it might have had an effect, but not really, that's where we were and that's where we wrote everything and we called it by the most honest thing we could think of. So, PYR. It's not a political kind of statement but it's very situational.

What was the situation in Pyrford House? Were you guys squatting or...?

PA: No, we just lived there through a company that lets out buildings that are about to be knocked down. It was just a cheap place for us to live and it was the final stages of that building's life.

AW: That company pushes forward that gentrification step.

PA: Yeah, like moving into a husk of a space.

AW: We had been a part of the community for years so we didn't feel guilty moving in there. We knew what was going on. We just needed somewhere with cheap rent.

The lyrics in PYR are quite abstract, but they depict a dystopian future state. That's why I thought you might have brought in more political themes surrounding those ideas.

AW: The lyrics vary, and again they're situational. There's never a certainty in the lyrics, and I suppose that's where the dystopic future comes from. When you start writing words that are non-sectarian or based on something else, the way we write is: we speak about things, we put words together and we look at it and see what it's like as a package. We're fans of songs as they go and we're fans of disparate, abstract works. It's not that the lyrics are based on a dystopic future necessarily; they're more overlooking so many things. As I said, it's not political and it's not apolitical, it's more on the fence. I think it's definitely a part of our culture to be cynical.

Oliver, did you know much about the writing process before you came into the band?

Oliver Martin: Well, I was a big fan. I was in a previous band that came to this point where we were thinking of doing this mass collaboration between the two bands that kind of petered out. I played one show where Ghold supported Yob in Manchester and then we went down to Plymouth and did some mass improv for our friend Charlie Woolley's exhibition. So that just gave us some ideas on how we could progress. I did some stuff with the album around April last year, and these guys just said to come on board. When I was coming on board, it wasn't to make a three-piece doomy band. I've come on board and brought a sense of atmosphere, done some guitar playing, a lot of reverb and then backing up the vocals.

So do the lyrics come first or do you get the instrumentation and blow it up from there?

PW: Both really. It really depends. It can come from any one particular starting point, whether that be a riff, or a bit on the drums, or one line or a title. We then write off the back of that one thing.

AW: It's often very rhythm-based when we start off. We'll then work out how to move away from that. Where the conclusion is is where we can't move away any further. The fourth track, 'Despert Thrang', was all based on the idea of, "Where can we go from here?" and we left it at a really good part. We'll eventually get more and more instrumentation involved and think about the song in a different way. You push it so far that in a way whatever happens next is really exciting.

Is that where Rose Dagul came into the mix? Her vocals add a sort of creepy, Renaissance aesthetic to the track. Did you have the instrumentation before you brought her in?

PW: Yeah, she sang and played cello on 'Despert Thrang'.

AW: She also played cello on Galactic Hiss, our EP from 2013.

PW: We've been mates with her for a long time, and we wanted to do something with her. What we did with Rose was a bit of a crazy process. We basically got her to improv over a few minutes of the track. She did that multiple times and then we chopped through it and remoulded it.

AW: We basically did a part where we took her vocals – I did one section and then Paul did another section – and moulded it into what we thought was fitting. We were just playing on harmonies, which is what we try and do anyway but we're not the most beautifully voiced. If you have a beautiful voice at your disposal, you've got to use it. And that's what we had with Rose.

PW: At the same time, we tried to make it disgusting. Pretty much the whole latter half of 'Despert Thrang' was made from her voice. All those horrible sounds are her. Obviously they were manipulated in a horrific way.

How does that play out live? Or just the album as a whole?

AW: We don't have the sample. We decided that there are steps that we can take and everything has to evolve naturally. We have to work that out as it comes. We're just moving, constantly. We try not to drop anything too early. If we've lost anything, that could detract from our whole sound. It's just step-by-step. Everything is always step-by-step.

OM: The bass is still the lead instrument. Front and centre. But yeah, there's a gentle osmosis of these different sounds.

PW: We have a few dribs and drabs of ideas, and we just try and make it work. That's always the thing, practically, of bringing someone in temporarily to do something. You need time to make sure it's good. We approach that after the fact of creating, whether that be a record or a song, and look at it objectively. Should we do this live? Should we do this here? Figure out how we can share the responsibilities that the track has given us in a practical sense. Just honing it, really.

AW: It's like the modern idea of contemporary rock. We're very disparate, we're very separated as people, but when there are ideas that are given freedom to form we jump on that. Obviously, there are egos. That's kind of the nature of being in a band. People like Sly & The Family Drone are fucking amazing at involving people in a performance, for instance. We're doing that but more in a shy way, I suppose. We want to involve the people around us. Understandably, it's not for everyone – it was never meant to be for everyone – we've done very well as far as it's gone. Certainly the contemporary take on shared ideas is the way we've gone and we've done well so far. Whether that will continue remains to be seen.

I can certainly see that from the album. There seems to be a lot of different ideas floating around in PYR. While it's touted as a doom, sludge album, I feel it's quite psychedelic.

AW: This record in particular, for sure. Going back to the situational ideas, it felt really normal to have these ideas. But what feels normal today doesn't necessarily feel normal tomorrow. So we'll just roll with the punches.

PW: We like playing slow. It's always been a feeling we share, which has come from the way we've learned our instruments and wanting to approach it from a perspective of weight or density. You kind of get that with a lot of slow bands. We touch on that and the psychedelic aspect.

What was the thinking behind having the fifth track, 'Something Of Her Old Fire', only available on the CD?

AW: It was never really intended to be like that. It was just a part of the sessions. Within that space we wrote this track and had it on as a 'retro-ised' secret track. When you listen to the CD, there's a gap, then it will come in. It's not listed, there's a little notation. It's supposed to be a secret, but we had to say it's there regardless. That track was just a part of what we were doing.

Did you think about sticking it on, for example, a 7" packaged with the vinyl?

AW: It's part of the sessions, as I said. When we wrote that was when we were living in that space. It's part of it, but it wasn't. We felt, in a curatorial sense, it was very reminiscent of tracks we had done previously but had equal weight in its involvement of what we were doing at the time. The album is truly what the vinyl is. The CD, on the other hand, has the track there for everyone's consumption if they wish to have it. They can fall asleep to it and they wake up to the crashing of the instruments like, "Gah, fuck!"

PYR is out now on Ritual Productions. Ghold are on tour with Palehorse, playing The Washington in Sheffield tonight; for full details and tickets, head here