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Interviews   

Rick Smith Sheds Some Light On Torche


Torche is a peculiar band. It’s hard to believe that not all has been said about music and yet contemporary artists always seem to be going around in circles. Perhaps that this is the sense that we get because the mass invasion of new bands, strongly aided by the simplicities of communication, recording, distribution, etc that is available to them today. Talent is merely a detail. When an artist opens up a creative door, others follow immediately. The orginal idea is drowned by the great mass of copies and its previous impact loses value.

Torche are part of the orginals. Luckily, at this moment they are the only ones like them. Should we expect the trend to spread? It’s hard to say. Who would want more heavy sludge mixed with pop melodies? We can’t say that this is a current fashion. Then again trends pick up very quickly…

Either way, we at Radio metal like Torche. And it just so happens that we received a box of invitations to listen to their new album, Songs For Singles, and have a chat with Rick Smith.

Interview.

« We want to play poppy songs, with catchy parts that make people feel good.« 

Radio Metal: Hi Rick! How are you?

Rick Smith (drums): I’m doing good, thank you. I’m actually at a gas station right now, filling up the car. I had to get inside the car so I could hear you!

Ok, so I you ready to answer to my questions?

Yes!

In 2008, Juan Montoya left the band, a move that was credited to musical differences. Can you tell us what happened in detail?

Basically, more or less everyone in the band was having differences on the road with him. Playing music with somebody is one thing, but when you have to live with them all year round in a van, it’s a different story. We all had personal issues with him, Steve more than anyone. Steve also had a lot of creative differences with him. For a long time Steve and Juan were the sole contributors to the writing of the music, and it became sort of a power struggle. If we all liked something, Juan would usually be the one guy to vote against it. It was mainly stuff like that, nothing too crazy or dramatic. It was mostly Juan and Steve having problems with each other.

Since this year, you’ve had a touring guitarist, called Max Johnston. Why did you feel the need to get a touring guitarist rather than continue as a three-piece band in a live setting?

Actually, we’re back as a three-piece band. The new EP that we’re going to release was recorded as a three-piece band. We did two tours with Max Johnston as a fourth member, but he won’t be doing the next one. We have an upcoming tour with High On Fire here in the United States, and then we’re going back to Europe in November. We’ll be playing as a three-piece again. When we’re back, we have plans to try out a new fourth member. His name is Andrew, he’s from Saint-Louis. Hopefully, if things work out with him, it’ll be awesome. We’ve all been wanting to work with him for a long time now.

Along with a split single with Boris, Songs For Singles is the band’s first release as a trio. You have stated that Torche writes and records faster now that Juan is no longer in the band. How can you explain that?

We pretty much write songs the same way now as we did when Juan was playing with us. When Juan was still with us back then, most of the time, me and one of the two guitar players would get together and try to write music. Then we would present it to everybody. It’s more or less the same thing now. The song from the Boris split, “King Beef”, is kind of a strange track for us. It’s not exactly a typical Torche song. I wouldn’t say it’s a good example of how we write as a three-piece. The new record that’s about to come out, Songs For Singles, is pretty much a perfect example of what me and Steve and John can do. It’s still Torche, but it doesn’t have Juan’s influence. With this record, I think a lot of people will see that Juan’s influence was not super impactful on the writing. The new record is just as varied as our other records and has a lot of the same elements. Some of the guitar solos might be missing, but still, there are guitar leads. But I don’t think the writing has changed very much.

Originally, an album was planned, for which you wrote about twelve songs. Why did you decide to release an EP instead?

We decided to do an EP because there were four songs that we omitted from the record. The four we chose not to include on the record were the ones we were unsure about. We were having trouble placing them amongst the other tracks, we were unsure about how they fit in the record. But otherwise, the songs were completed and good, and Steven liked his vocals. For some of the songs, the vocals were written and recorded in the studio, and I just don’t think that any of us was very happy about the way they were coming out at the time. So we just decided to scrap those. But we might still try to release those four songs as a second EP at the beginning of the new year. Hopefully it will come out when we’re trying to write the next full-length.

Jonathan Nuñez, your bass player, was quoted saying that the songs you had composed were too full, and you had to strip down the songs in order to fit the vocal tracks and make simpler arrangements. Can you confirm that?

I wasn’t around much for the recording of the vocal tracks. I pretty much did all the drums and came back in when the guitars were done. I missed a lot of the vocal stuff. But I do know that Jonathan had a lot of input as far as the vocals and arrangements are concerned. He does definitely help in the studio, he’s sort of the producer ear when we get in the studio.

Do you think that the songs on this EP are more complex than what you did in the past?

The new songs are a little more difficult to play, I guess. There’s more stuff going on, the guitar riffs are busier, the drumming is busier… The vocals lines are a little off-key with the guitar playing sometimes. It makes it a little more difficult for Steve to play the songs. Nevertheless, we should be able to play the entire record from start to finish before the beginning of the next tour. The new songs are definitely a bit more musical, a bit more complex than our previous songs. I think it’s a good progression. In this band there’s a sort of aimless progression: we go whichever way we want. The next record could be super simple! I’m not really sure what we’re gonna end up doing next. We like to switch it up a lot.

« I want our merchandise and our art and everything on our T-shirts and records to look completely different from all the other bands that play heavy music. I don’t think we completely fit into any genre, so I want our record artworks to be different.« 

An early version of the opening track, “U.F.O”, has been released by Hydra Head Records. It contains David Lee Roth’s vocals from Van Halen’s “Running With The Devil”. Apparently, it was done without the band’s knowledge. What was this all about?

I think that was actually a joke. A friend of ours, Tony, kind of laid down the vocal tracks for that song for us. It was like a guest vocal appearance on that track. What he was coming up with was cool, but Steve didn’t want to use it. He ended up sending us a track, asking us to check out his vocal lines. And he had actually put the David Lee Roth vocal stuff all over it. We thought it was funny, and I guess Steven kept it and sent it to Hydra Head. They must have thought it funny as well, and as a joke they released it on a sampler CD.

What does the title “Songs For Singles” mean? Is it here to emphasize the catchiness of the songs and to suggest that all the songs could have been released as singles?

Originally, when we decided to not do a full-length anymore, we thought maybe we could release all the songs as singles. We considered putting one song out every month for four or five months. That way, if we didn’t have certain tracks finished, we could still release the others. Hydra Head thought about doing a limited edition, four different editions with all the songs on them, like old school 45 singles. I hope that happens, but there’s no telling.

Could we say that Torche is the union of two distinct musical styles: the heaviness of sludge metal and the catchiness of pop music? I actually read a few things were people called your music “stoner pop” or “Beach Boys like doom”!

Definitely. I think that’s kind of what we aim to do. We want to play poppy songs, with catchy parts that make people feel good. We want to make music to make people feel good, but all of us grew up listening to metal and heavy music. It’s a good balance: something can be heavy and sound aggressive, and yet it doesn’t take itself too seriously. We just try to make people have a good time. I would totally say that ours is sort of a hybrid sound between the heaviness of sludge metal or stoner rock, and pop or classic rock. We try to mix it to make good music.

The artwork for the EP looks like some sort of wedding card! Is this to officialize the marriage of the two genres you mix in your music?

As far as the artwork goes, we wanted something different from our other records. All of them had very busy artworks. We figured that, since the music on that record is a bit more complex, we should make the artwork more simple. I guess you can say it looks like a wedding card. It was supposed to be something along the lines of a Valentine’s Day card. The artwork was just there to mark a difference from other bands. I’m not speaking for anyone in the band, but as far as I’m concerned, I want our merchandise and our art and everything on our T-shirts and records to look completely different from all the other bands that play heavy music. I don’t think we completely fit into any genre, so I want our record artworks to be different. We’ve toured with a lot of heavy bands who had very metal merchandising. I want our stuff to be a little less serious.

So you’re saying you’re actually trying to sound different from all the other bands?

The biggest problem is that we get lumped in with metal a lot, but we appeal to more than just people who are into metal. I’m not saying we appeal to a commercial, radio pop rock crowd, but people who listen to something else than metal and rock can get into our music. The new EP is the first thing that’s going to set us apart from metal and rock bands. It’s still heavy, but the songwriting is just different than on the previous records. There’s a lot less metal influence, and a lot more rock influence on it. We try to keep it sounding like Torche. Steve has definitely developed his own sound and writing style over the years.

With the hybrid music you play, isn’t it hard for you to find an audience? I mean, it’s not sludge enough for sludge fans, it’s too heavy for alternative rock fans…

There’s definitely a fine line we walk on. When play with certain bands, and their fans just hate us, and when we play with other bands, they love us! The best tour we did was with Harvey Milk and Coheed And Cambria, we did great on that tour. Harvey Milk is a pretty diverse band; as heavy as they are, they have a lot of classic rock’n’roll elements. It makes them an altogether different band. We also toured with Boris in the United States, and it was really great to play with them. I feel that the crowds that welcome us best are the ones that come for eclectic bands. They’re more open-minded. They obviously like heavy stuff, and we’re definitely heavy enough in a live setting. The records are one thing, but when we play live, we’re a lot heavier and a lot louder. I think it’s a lot more representative of what we actually sound like. It’s hard to capture that in the studio sometimes. But there’s definitely a cross-over of the crowds: some people might think we’re indie rock, others might think we’re too metal to get into our songs. There’s also those who think we’re not heavy enough. It happens, there’s gonna be ups and downs. Not everybody’s gonna like you, but it is what it is. We definitely found our own audience over time, and there has been a good reception from people all around the world. Everywhere we’ve toured, we’ve been received pretty well. We’re thankful that people take the time to pay attention to us at all.

« I think vinyl is the only format that people buy, at least here in the United States. […] People are used to having MP3s now, so they get MP3s, and those who really want the record end up buying the vinyl. […] if we only had CD versions of our records, we wouldn’t have sold nearly as much merchandise on tour.« 

As you said earlier, the song “King Beef” is kind of experimental for Torche. It actually contains harsher vocals than usual. Where did the idea for this song come from?

Basically, when Boris told us we were going to do a split together, they had a vague idea that they were going to write a heavy song. So we decided to do a heavy song as well, but we didn’t know what direction to take. If you listen to the songs from “Songs For Singles”, that’s more the kind of stuff that we were writing at the time, when we were approached for the split. We figured we would just write a different song for the split all together and make it a heavy song. For the drums, I was very influenced at the time by industrial music, and I wanted the drums to be powerful and industrial-sounding. Steve also had some great ideas for a heavy song. The song was sort of put together very loosely, and there are different versions of it with alternative endings. There’s actually a version of it that I like way more than the one we released. But yeah, that’s a super strange song for us, but it just kind of came together almost effortlessly. It was almost like getting together and jamming. Some people really like it. I personally don’t like the song very much, though!

Are you going to release this alternative version you talked about?

I hope we’ll release it eventually. I was actually trying to convince the guys to make the second half of the song a song on its own, ‘cause it’s completely different from the original. I really want to use it, but I don’t know if that’ll happen. It’s sort of hard to convince these guys; once they’re set that something is not being used, it’s usually trash forever, unfortunately. The same thing happened to a lot of material.

Are you interested in going further down that experimental road for future songs?

I’m always interested in experimenting things with our sound. I usually encourage it, actually, I always say that we should be more experimental. We have a lot of fun with experimental ideas. We’re not really looking for one specific idea; as far as song-writing goes, it’s usually a loose process when we’re doing experimental stuff. I’m definitely interested in doing it if the other guys are into it too. I encourage it all the time, and we always talk about it. The most recent thing we’ve been talking about is the band Being, from Miami, Florida. We’ve just released an album for them, they’re a super awesome band. Some of the members have already jammed with us in previous bands and in Torche. We were talking about possibly doing a collaboration record with them. That would be kind of an experimental thing, with two drummers, two guitar players and bass players… It’s something we’ve talked about and that might possibly happen. We’ll see.

You guys toured with Kylesa, and we actually saw one of their drummers play with you at the Hellfest in 2009. It looks like the two bands became pretty good friend. Have you already thought about a collaboration on one project?

We never talked about it with them. Kylesa are a pretty dedicated band, they tour and they record albums non-stop. They’re pretty much on the road all the time. I don’t know if anything like that would ever be able to happen with bands who are kind of scattered all over the place and living far away from each other. We’ve talked about doing collaborations with other bands before, but nothing has ever come out of it. And we’ve never thought about doing something like that with Kylesa. Their drummer filled in for me on the first European tour that Torche did, because I couldn’t make the tour. He’s also a very good old friend of ours, we’ve known him for years. I think he started playing in Kylesa in the first place because of us. They knew about him through him filling in for me in Torche when I couldn’t go on tour.

You have released some really beautiful vinyl editions of your albums, with different covers. How important is the vinyl format to you?

I think vinyl is the only format that people buy, at least here in the United States. People pretty much exclusively buy vinyl here. We hardly ever sell CDs anymore, vinyl is the only format that sells. People are used to having MP3s now, so they get MP3s, and those who really want the record end up buying the vinyl. So the vinyl format really is important to us: if we only had CD versions of our records, we wouldn’t have sold nearly as much merchandise on tour.

But what pushes you to release such beautiful vinyl editions of your albums?

We always wanted to make something that’s aesthetically pleasing. We always wanted our records to be colorful and stick out. When people go to a record store, they go through thousands of records, or whatever, and the record that has a great packaging and a colorful art is the one that pops off the shelf. That’s what people pay attention to. The idea mainly came from our label, Robotic Empire, who did our vinyl stuff. They were all about doing the most over-the-top vinyl packaging for all of our releases. And Hydra Head does great stuff, too. We’ve just been lucky to have labels that are willing and interested in putting the extra effort to make our vinyl releases look and sound as awesome as they do. Without the labels, we couldn’t do it, but we’ve had our own ideas for it. And we’ve also had great people collaborating with us: like John Baizley from Baroness contributed to the In Return EP. Aaron Turner from Isis came up with the concept for the design and packaging of the Meanderthal record, both CD and vinyl. We’ve definitely had a bunch of people helping us out. The art and the packaging have always been important to us.

Your playing style is quite tribal. Where does this come from?

I would say it’s Melvins-inspired, and yes, I guess it’s sort of tribal. As far as playing in Torche goes, some of it is influenced by early Killing Joke, Black Sabbath, Melvins, Zeppelin, Hendrix… There are lots of drummers I’m influenced by. But I think my style with Torche basically comes from by Steve telling me to play as solid, as fluid and as continuous as possible. He usually likes me to play the beats to the songs as pounding as possible. Usually, it ends up being this solid four-four beat that almost sound kinda tribal, with a lot of tom work. I know Steve is highly influenced by bands like Crash Worship, a lot of stuff that’s very drum-driven. I think a lot of my style comes from playing with Steve, who wanted me to play like those bands. He wanted a really heavy, tribal-sounding rhythm session. Not everything is like that, but a lot of our stuff definitely has a tribal style. I just try to play really hard.

Interview conducted in August 2010 by phone.

Myspace Torche : http://www.myspace.com/torche



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