Tuesday, July 7, 2009

From the Vaults: Unpublished SAMOTHRACE Interview

"Heavy tunes for heavy times" - that about says it all, dunnit? That's how Samothrace vocalist Spinks described his band's sound in a 2008 interview I conducted with him, bassist Dylan, and drummer Joe. For one reason or another, the piece never got published, and when I stumbled across the interview earlier tonight, I decided it needed to see sunlight. Some parts may end up on Noisecreep.com later on, but don't quote me on that just yet.
Not only did Samothrace release one of the most heartbreakingly beautiful, unnervingly cathartic albums of the past ten years with 2008's Life's Trade, they are a powerful live force that, if you're lucky enough to catch it, will change your life. You owe them your time, your money and your full attention. Get to it.



I caught you guys at a bar show in Philadelphia the other night, and was blown away by the hugeness of your sound; not only were you playing loud enough to wake the devil himself, but you managed to absolutely fill the room with a palpable sense of emotion. Your quiet-to-crushing-to-quiet-again dynamic makes itself even more known in a live setting; when you went high, you shone, and when you came back down, you destroyed. What sort of effects/pedals/black magic do you use to achieve your desired effect live?

Dylan: Thanks a lot! That show was so much fun! To be honest, I'm a little worried to answer this question. For one, I could really geek out in my answer. For two, because I dont want to be a geek. But anyways...We all rely on distortion/overdrive pedals...some of us more than one. Probably more important in that is the levels and quality of amplification I like to think we incorporate. A distortion pedal is nothing without the right amp receiving it, which is also nothing without the right tone it is instructed to put out. I keep the volume on my amp just under the point where it wants to naturally distort and rely on a Big Muff for all distorting on the low end and a Rat for the more mid and high range overdrive. I use a volume pedal to lay off or bring up my own sound at certain times along with some other effects such as delays, reverbs, chorus, wah etc. Also, I use a six string bass, which adds an extra element to some parts, because there's an extra high and low string that I get to incorporate. On that note, the pickups in our instruments play a fairly important part. For example, the pickups in my bass distort the low end a lot more the harder I hit the notes. I'll finish here, adding fifteen more geeks points to my score card.
Spinks: Thanks for the kind words. Here we go. TONE. It is the most important thing in a rig, or as I like to call it a shrine. You can be tuned down as all hell and have 500 amps, but if your tone is shit you're nothing but dead weight. I use Sovtek, ElectricAmp, Matamp and Orange for amplification purposes in varying degrees. Headroom in amps is also very important for us. It can make or break(up) your tone. My trusty '92 Les Paul, Sweet Pea, is my guitar of choice. I love her. As far as effects, I use a couple of delays from time to time as well as reverb and phase pedals. I have a Keeley modded distortion unit and a killer boutique fuzz called the ? Lady by Skreddy Effects. Pretty simple set up. But it makes for the tone I've been searching for all my days. I am always into new distortions, overdrives, and fuzz pedals. The warm ones. Keep that crunchy shit away from me.
Joe: Since we are all hopping on the gear train... I play a 100% Maple C&C Custom kit and it is the best investment I've ever made. Acoustically, they sound impeccable and they cut right through the wall of sound. Large, non-cracked, Sabian cymbals also sound great, prefferably the HHX series. Each persons' individual sound is very important to them and what you hear as Samothrace is just the culmination of those sounds. We have all been through plenty of shitty gear and realized that it does matter exactly what you sound like. You can have all the nicest gear in the world but unless you know what you are doing with it, it doesn't mean shit.

You’re currently on the road, (hitting pretty much the whole damn country) and have mentioned that this will be your last tour for awhile. What’s the reason for that?

Joe: We are in pretty much right in the middle of a 9 week tour going all over the US. We just got a new van about a week into this tour so we will be touring as much as we can. Expect to see us sooner than later. Immediate plans include a few dates through the midwest in mid December and were are going to hit the road in early 09 for a while, most likely the southern half of the country.
Dylan: We're going to be touring a lot more often now that we have the new van. Definately expect to see us sooner than later.
Spinks: Not sure where you heard that, perhaps Whiskey or Vodka told you? We really cannot stress how much we love to tour. It is life. We obvioulsy need some down time and adeqaute writing sessions, but next to personal relationships touring is the top priority. We had to get a new van a few weeks into the current tour, so we'll definitely be hitting the road hard in order to get it paid off in full. Also, we are not very sedentary folks. We prefer the nomadic life.

Can you give me some background info on the band, for those who haven’t yet heard about you guys? When/where did you form, current lineup, how you all came together, trials & tribulations, etc?

Dylan: Spinks and Renata were visiting Kansas from New Mexico. Late one night at a party, Spinks and I discussed the two of them moving to Kansas. Next thing I know, we're emailing each other back and forth and they're sending me rough sketch cd's of some stuff they were working on. They finally moved up to Kansas and we immediately got to jamming, playing shows and then writing songs as a unit. It all came together fairly fast, to be honest. We were on the road within a year and a half of our first practice. Even before then Dave at 20 Buck Spin contacted us, discussing the possibility of putting out a record on his label. We eventually met him in person at the Emissions from the Monolith festival in Austin, Texas. Since then, Joe took over the drum duties before our West Coast tour of 2007 and recorded Life's Trade with us in April. More recently, Daniel took over second guitar duties for the US tour we're on right now, promoting the album.
A good trial and tribulation story? I got one. Regarding the rough sketch demo cd Spinks and Renata sent me...they had been jamming with a buddy of ours in Oklahoma City and made a rough four track recording of three songs at a practice. So meanwhile in Lawrence KS, I receive the package in the mail. On my way to eat dinner with my mother and father, who is a professional, working musician, I put the cd into his vans cd player. The recording had three songs. I'm sorry, four songs. The letter accompanying the cd instructed me to listen to song number four, because I would like it the most. I obeyed, saying "put it on track four, Dad." He did. For the next three and a half minutes, slightly confused, we unknowingly listened to the one and only Hulk Hogan solo project do "When the Hulkster Goes to Heaven." Half way through, my musician father asked me, "what the hell kind of a band are you joining, again?" I had a tough time answering him. To this day, I believe, some members of Samothrace still think this was a funny joke. I'm not one of them.
Spinks: I absolutely cannot top that answer. That was some good stuff.

For a fairly young band, you’ve managed to hone in on your sound and come up with something wholly unique and deeply evocative. How did you come across the inimitable sonic mixture that is Samothrace? What was the one moment when you realized – THIS is it, THIS is what we want to sound like?

Spinks: We just set out to play heavy music the way we truly wanted to hear it. We truly love doom/stoner metal, but did not want to take a traditional approach to it. We knew we would be loud and de-tuned and we knew the lyrical structure would be sparce, as far as the mixture, we really wanted to utilize both guitars and the bass as separate entities. With three different options for distinct riffs, we focused hard on creating a layered, and sometimes revolvoing sound. It felt natural once we delved into the riff writing process. I'm not sure when we realized the formula was on, but it has been with us since. We rally did just want to play some heavy tunes for heavy times.
Joe: I would say it is simply the combination of everyone's style, their strengths and weaknesses, equipment, and everyone's passion to play music. Nothing was ever really decided on purpose, well except playing slow. I think we all knew what we wanted to sound like personally and the combination of those sounds is Samothrace.
Dylan: Spinks and Renata were the original conspirators of the sound, or maybe I should say idea. I had something of a time getting used to experimenting with the drone/long drawn out notes that we started experimenting with right off the bat. As things progressed, the tempo continued to slow itself down and somewhere in that more room for expression seemed to creep up. It was wierd! With more open space between attacks, the raw tones coming out of the amps started to speak in a different way than anything I'd experienced. From that simpleness, we like to expand into a somewhat more complex set of layers. I think the more we experiment with this sort of method the more we're honing in on our own unique sound. On that note, there is always a point when we're writing a song that two or more of us will look up and sort of gesture "that's it, right there."

Who would you cite as inspirations or influences, as far as your music and your aesthetic goes?

Dylan: I grew up in a Muddy Waters, Stevie Ray Vaughn and Jimi Hendrix sort of household. I personally always lean towards thick, heavy and bluesy. SRV's "Lenny" might be my biggest influence when I'm getting into writing mode.
Spinks: We have all been listening to underground/DIY punk/metal/hardcore for years. This definitley has shaped our sound. There are so many enumerous influences and in most cases the absolutely least obvious. I grew up around classical music, Barry Manilow, and Neal Diamond. That's what my folks rocked. So, needless to say I was left at a very early age to find my own musical tastes. It has always lied with the heavy and distorted. As far back as I can remember (Thriller) I was fucking floored by guitar solo's. Likewise, the warm, heavy tone of an overdirven amp has always been my thing. Tone.
Joe: As far as drumming goes I really attached myself to drummer's that knew how to drive hard when needed and knew when to back of and let go. Drumming needs to be just as dynamic as any other instrument and understanding how to accompany those other instruments is the mark of a good drummer.

How did you originally get into this style of music? Was it your uncle’s KISS records or your big brother’s Eyehategod LPs, as it always seems to be?

Spinks: I've always been into rock, that including all the good genres, including Punk and Metal and its sub-genres. There were many opportunities for my exposure to it being the path I chose growing up was that of a stoner/punk. I got into doom/stoner a la the crust punk movement/community. Bands like Corrupted, Asunder, Leechmilk... I have always worshipped the riff, but at some point back down the line it needed to slow down. I remember seeing His Hero Is Gone in Tulsa, OK sometime in the mid/late 90's and being absolutely in awe of the live show. They had those killer blast and d-beat parts, but the heavier tunes were what changed it for me, those break-downs. Also, the tone. Yeah, man.
Dylan: I think it was my older neighbor dudes Black Sabbath and Metallica tapes that got me into metal. When I first heard bands like Eyehategod and His Hero is Gone, I wondered where the hell they'd been all my life.

Where do you think Samothrace fits into the greater musical scheme of things? Not to pigeonhole you, but what sort of "scene" do you most often find yourserlves associating with?

Dylan: Over the years, we've all been consistantly involved in the DIY music scene. I find us most often associating with stoner metal, doom and crust bands within it. A lot of times, these are the best shows because the audience is somewhat versed in the style. It always sucks to play to a big crowd that came to see whoever other band that clears halfway through our first song. But on that note, I really love the situation where I expect a crowd is going to hate us...and they end up diggin it more than the metal heads the night before who knew what they were getting into. I think the music offers something to everybody, regardless of what styles of music they normally listen to. It just takes an open mind and ears.
Spinks: We're definitley a doom/riff band, but we get all types at this point. I think alot of folks really dig the emotive aspect of our music. It can carry you, I suppose, if you let it. I really don't like trying to define or classify Samothrace. We really assoiciate with the underdround/DIY metal and punk communities. We always have. That's where our hearts and souls thrive.

Tell me about Life’s Trade. How did you come up with the concepts behind the songs, and how do you go about writing the songs themselves? What sort of topics do you address in your lyrics?

Dylan: Musically, the songs all start from an initial set of riffs or a skeleton and we work the meat onto the bones. There is ussually a good deal of time put into each riff, slowing it down, articulating it and bumming it out. From there, we'll start adding guitar/bass layers and textures based on what is going on before it and after it. Ussually, a common riff is reffered to throughout the whole song. (By reffered, I sometimes mean reefered. Do my geek points go up 15 more?)
Spinks: The songs were not written in particular to be grouped on one album, they just happen to be the four songs we have been playing live for sometime. I suppose through that they have taken on a linked similarity. Certainly, they all sound like Samothrace. As far as lyrical content is concerned, all the songs address some sort of oppression or strife with the overall message being to take back your life and make it what YOU will. Not what THEY will it to be. "Cacophony" is about the refusal to be "sent" to an idealogical "hell" for not believing in a book written by human. "La Llorona" is about not throwing away what is truly important for petty reasoning, only to spend the rest of your days searching for what you've lost. The message of "Awkward Hearts" is that the oppressor must be shown the err of their ways and for the oppressed to unite and take back what was stolen from them as a commodity of life. Realizing the unforgivable wake of religious strife is the concept behind "Cruel Awake." So much culture, tradition, and life has been destroyed in the wake of religious perseverence.

Who did the recording where, and why did you chose to work with that particular engineer?

Joe: It was recorded and produced by Sanford Parker at Semaphore Studio in Chicago. It was recorded it at the conclusion of a tour we did through the midwest in March/April. We basically couldn't have asked for a better environment to record it in. Sanford is a great guy to work with, it was very relaxed which allowed all of us to get what we needed done.
Dylan: He also had great ideas regarding synthesizers, delay/reverb and noise. He helped incorporate a lot of that stuff into the record which added a whole other element to some of the songs. There were parts where I was doing synthesizer/envelope passes. He totally helped me expand on the ideas and bring out more of their potential.
Spinks: Sanford has been in some amazing bands (Buried at Sea, Minsk) and has recorded some great albums. He truly understands the heavy. He was a buddy of mine prior to recording and after the process has become a dear friend of us all. He has much experience recording huge tones and loud amps. Seemed very fitting for us to record with him. We are really pleased with the outcome.

The artwork on Life’s Trade is absolutely gorgeous, who took care of that for you? Did he design your merch as well?

Spinks: The artwork was done by David D'andrea. He is an amazing artist. We were very honored when we found out he'd be doing the album art. His work has a killer organic aesthetic to it. Flows really well. From his designs we pieced together some new shirt, patch, and sticker designs. They look great. As far as our first shirt design, we were fortunate to work with artist Tom Denney. Like David, Tom has worked with dozens of great bands, many of whom are our friends. It also seemed a natural fit. Both those guys are truly passionate about their artwork. It shows.

Are you planning to release the record on vinyl? If so, when will it be out and where can we pick one up?

Joe: Yes, 20 Buck Spin is also doing a gatefold 2xLP release as well. As of 10/12/08 both formats are available through www.20buckspin.com. The first 150 copies were pressed on gold vinyl and will include a poster, sticker, and embriodered patch. We also have had the CD's for sale on most of the tour so far and will be getting the vinyl in a few days.
Spinks: Like Joe said, Dave and 20 Buck Spin pressed both CD and 2xLP versions of "Life's Trade." We haven't physically received the vinyl as of yet, but the photograph we've seen of it layed out looks amazing! We absolutely cannot wait to see 'em in person. So stoked!

[ed. note - The vinyl is available now, and it's BEAUTIFUL. I got mine after their set at Kuma's Doom fest in 12/08; BUY IT]

What’s next for Samothrace after this tour winds up?

Spinks: We'll definitely be taking some time to write new material. That being said, it will have to balance out with a rigorous touring schedule for 2009. I imagine we'll take some personal time thru the end of 2008 and reconviene after the new year. It'll definitely be go time then!!!
Dylan: In addition to more touring, I'm looking foreward to writing more songs. Should be working on a new album by spring of this year. All the ideas we had on the table when we left for this tour are going crazy inside of me!
Joe: We are going to be playing a couple shows in December through the midwest and plan to tour early in '09. We just bought a new van so expect to see us soon.

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