Album of the Month

Obsidian Sea: ‘Dreams, Illusions, Obsessions’

Rant 'n’ Review by BillyGoat (Editor-in-Chief)

No doubt, the internet has brought the world closer together. We now have more awareness of music in more places than ever before, not to mention how technology has made it easier for bands to get noticed. At the same time, the field has become quite crowded and even professional reviewers have a hard time keeping up with everything that’s coming out in a single sub-genre of metal (doom, sludge, stoner, etc.). That’s saying some, for a style of heavy music that is barely noticeable to the mainstream public, let alone mainstream metal fans!

That long preface to tell you this: we’ve made a conscientious effort to focus our posts on music we’ve actually listened to, enjoyed, and think is worth recommending to you. We’re not going to slap something on here just to get easy likes. Not about that for us. It’s about quality of content, and that means thoughtful selection.

Here’s a case in point: OBSIDIAN SEA. Last month, Frank and I introduced you to this most excellent trio from София (Sofia), the capital of Bulgaria in our bi-weekly podcast. They are a band that deserves your ear, especially if you love doom metal. Start with the featured track (“Child in the Tower”) on Dreams, Illusions, Obsessions (2015)–the band’s second release–and you will be hooked, wanting little more than to listen to this album from start to finish.

Obsidian Sea are hardly new kids on the block. Anton (guitars, vocals), Bozhidar (drums), Ivaylo (bass) have been active since 2009, with their first record, 'Between Two Deserts’ debuting in 2012. Their latest full-length is beyond words good, with thoughtfully crafted songs, dramatic riffs, and excellent vocals.

The Goate is well-pleased with this one!

D&S Interviews

Tad Doyle of Brothers of the Sonic Cloth

By BillyGoat (Editor-in-Chief)

Phone rings

I’m suddenly conscious of my heart beating. I’m about to talk to the man, the legend, the fearsome singer of the band TAD, chainsaw in hand, garbed in plaid jacket, dark beard, and a scowl, as though to say, “You’re NEXT!” That, of course, was 90’s hype, but it was the hype I came of age with being a teenager in the Northwest during the Grunge era. Seattle was the Kingdom and Tad was its Wood Goblin, protector of The Heavy!

“Hello?” a friendly voice answers on the other end.

“Is this Tad?” I ask, conscious that the question was entirely unnecessary, as the voice on the other end was immediately recognizable.

“Hey, buddy,” Tad answers, warmly. I told several beforehand that was going to interview Tad Doyle. Universally, the answer was “Oh, you’ll love him. Tad’s a great guy. Salt of the earth.” As it turned out, I found Tad very approachable, quite relatable, and a great conversationalist. I was his first interview of the day and he ended up giving me well beyond the 20 minutes allotted. Incidentally, I noticed that I’d written “Dad” in the place of Tad in my notes the day of the call. Freudian slip?

After exchanging a few pleasantries, I give a short introduction, and jump excitedly into the interview.

Today we’re vising with Tad Doyle, the legendary singer and guitarist of 90’s band Tad and most recently Brothers of the Sonic Cloth. The Seattle band is rounded out by Peggy Doyle on bass and Dave French on drums. The trio released their eponymous debut on Neurot Recordings in February 17th and will be holding the official record release party on April 18th at the Columbia City Theater in Seattle.

Did you record the album in Witch Ape Studios?

This is where I do this majority of my work, which is great because it’s built into our home. No commuting anymore and battling traffic! Parts of it were recorded here. We did drums over at Robert Lang Studio in Seattle. We wanted the big sound with the huge stone room he has there. It just sounds amazing.

For the mixing you worked with Billy Anderson. I’m guessing you’ve done your fair share of mixing through your work with other bands at Witch Ape Studio, so what was it like to release your baby into the hands of another sound engineer?

Well, I’ve always wanted to work with Billy, especially after I heard what he did recently with SUMA. I really like that band a lot. We did the majority of the guitars, some of the bass, and all of the vocals here at Witch Ape. Dave French, our drummer, is also an engineer, himself. So he was tracking me, and vice versa. Working with Billy Anderson was probably one of the best decision I’ve made. The guy is hyper-intelligent. He has a really great ear for making things sound even bigger than they were to start with. So we went down to his place in Portland and mixed it with him. It was a blast, the guy is really funny. It was a good experience.

                                           Album art by Sean Schock 

So I was reading about your past up and downs with big record labels in the past. What has your experience been working with a record label again, this time Neurot Recordings, which has been a great catalyst for releasing so many amazing artists in the underground? How is working with a record label different now than in the past?

It’s really a privilege and we’re excited to be a part of it. The band Tad used to play shows with Neurosis way back when and I’ve always been a big fan of the band. I’m really excited to be a part of [Scott Kelly’s] label. They put out some really, really great stuff and have been really coming into their own as a really fierce, great sounding label in the indie world. I think I’m done working with major labels and would rather be working with someone who understands us, like Neurot. I’ve just had bad experiences with major labels as a whole. They’re just kind of like whores, essentially. They put out a lot of fluff just to see if will stick and then put muscle behind it if it does. They weren’t really into any artist development, as far as I could tell when I was working with them. Being back home in the indie world, which is always where I’ve felt I’ve belonged anyway, is only compounded with the experience I’ve had with Neurot as a whole. They’re great. I love working with them.

Maybe you can talk to us about the content of the album. Tell us a little bit about the first single you released, ‘Lava.’ Is that kind of setting the tone for the rest of the album, establishing a theme that is expounded upon later?

The song is called ‘Lava’ and it is about a volcano. It’s kind of a continuation of the split we did with Mico de Noche, with the song ‘Fires Burn Dim in the Shadows of the Mountain,’ which was a precursor to ‘Lava.’ We actually play them together live. It is about the Cascade Mountain Range and Mount Saint Helens and Mount Rainier. It is an active volcanic region, and Mt. Reiner is long overdue for an eruption. The song is basically through the eyes of the life that would witness such an immense event, much like the scale of what happened with St. Helens. I was alive when it erupted, living in Boise at the time, and even there we were getting ash in that region from the eruption. That will give you an indication of how old I am!

One of my earliest memories from first grade is having to wear the masks whenever we went out and seeing ash everywhere, in the streets, parking lots, trees, shopping centers

We were wearing bandanas around our nose and face, as well, for at least a couple two or three weeks.

So is that kind of establishing a theme for the album or should we be thinking of each track as independent from one another?

Both views are applicable. It’s not really a themed record, as much as it may seem obvious. To me, it’s about the impermanence of life and being aware of it. I’m an older dude and completely acquainted with my days being numbered. It’s just about a lot of realizations about self and who I am as an individual. I used to really have an idea that, well, “My identity is a guitar player, I play in a rock band. I’m a singer.” That has been completely crushed and set aside for me to be open to the true nature of myself, which is as a being who is connected to all beings.

The song ‘Empires of Dust’ is really about the impermanence of life and realizing in the last moments what it might be like to see the end.

‘Unnamed’ is about putting labels on yourself versus being open to who you are and being open to that. Many of us never know what that really is, you know, throughout life. That’s one the hardest questions a person can ask themselves truthfully is, ‘Who am I?’ You know? And it kind of hearkens back to our origin: What are we? What is our purpose?

‘La mano poderosa’ is self-explanatory in the lyrics, but I want to leave the interpretation of them up to the listener, too. Some of the best songs I liked as a kid, I completely thought the lyrics were different than they were saying and it really meant something different to me, inspired me in ways, you know?

The last two, ‘I Am’ and ‘The Immutable Path,’ are these entering more of a religious or spiritual territory?

I try to stay away from religion as a whole. You start to call yourself a certain thing and it just becomes ridiculous and dogmatic. I definitely try to live my life spiritually, and I’m a flawed individual trying to get through life just like everyone else. I mean, certainly there are spiritual overtones to it, but certainly not of any one religion or any dogmatic practice or writings. I think the human condition by its very nature, on its own, is a very spiritual path that we all experience, both through suffering and goodness—the goodness that we give to each other and that we witness from one another.

Is that you playing piano on the closing track?

No, actually that’s Peggy. She will be the first person to say that she’s not a pianist, but I think she’s an amazing writer and has a lot of soul and heart. That was, interesting enough, one of the things I remember Billy Anderson saying to me, when we were mixing that particular song (“Outro”) he turns to me and says, “Your wife is very dark!” And he meant that in a really good way. I took that as a compliment, and I think she does, too. She’s really talented.

I’d love to talk to her about piano sometime. I was raised in a classical music tradition and still play piano quite a bit. I’m curious about her influences, because it does have that dark quality that hearken back to the composers I adore.

Yeah, she’s here, I’d be happy to put you on if I can find her.

                                   Photograph courtesy of Invisible Hour

Towards the end of the interview, Tad let me speak to his wife, Peggy about her role in the new album, the eponymously titled Brothers of the Sonic Cloth (receiving its formal album release party in Seattle this Saturday). Peggy had contributed a lovely and haunting piece to the album, which got my attention because of my own interest in the piano. I was curious about her influences and how she became so intimately acquainted with the instrument. Peggy, like Tad, was very amiable and down-to-earth. A real joy to talk to, like getting acquainted with a family member I never knew I had.

Hey, Peggy, this is Billy from Doomed & Stoned. I was just talking to Tad about that final track and really curious about what influences your piano playing?

Wow, what influences it is if I’m in a house where a piano is. And that’s it, because I’ve never been trained in music at all, but I grew up with a piano in the house and nobody ever played it, so I just kinda sat around and tinkered with it. There was 11 of us kids and nobody really took an interest in it, so I tinkered with it and never really learned anybody else’s music, I would just make up my own songs.

My parents would never really go for music lessons, so we just kind of winged it. We moved into this beautiful old house in Seattle and there was a piano, the piano was probably one-hundred-and-some years old, and I just sat down there and just started making shit up, basically.

How long did it take you to put together the final track? Tell me the evolution of it, I’m curious how you see it fitting with the album as a whole.

Well, we wanted something that was the complete opposite of the heavy. I love that, when you go from something heavy to something really, really dark. I love when that happens in film scores, too. I love soundtracks for film, actually more than I like the films themselves, usually. I just sit down there and start playing, I don’t even write anything down. I just play something and add to that and add to that, and then I practice it so I don’t forget it, since I don’t write musical notation. Tad will come out with his recorder, sometimes I don't’ even know he’s there. He sneaks in the recorder on me. He’s good with me like that.

That’s funny, because the moment I know anyone is listening to me or a recorder is on, my entire dynamic changes. I get stiff, I get awkward, I get nervous.

So when we went into Robert Lang Studio, there’s a big grand piano there and I just kind of sat down at the end of the day and just started playing some things, and that’s what came out.

Oh lucky. There’s nothing like playing on a grand. That in itself will inspire compositions.

As a bass player, you have to be really, really right on with tempo. As piano, don’t you find that you have the freedom to speed up and slow down as you want? I love that.

Yes, yes. In the 19th century they have a word for that: rubato. The music of Chopin was famous for that. It’s part of the aesthetic of that instrument.

Oh that’s cool. Rubato? I thought you were going to say it was called ‘Insanity’! (laughs)

After Peggy and I say our goodbyes, I have one final question to ask Tad, about the future of the band moving forward.

I guess the last question is you have the album release show happening on April 18th. You’re going to bring another guitarist into the live line-up, which is to be announced. Will you have the flexibility as a band to tour in support of the album?

Yes, we will be doing some touring. Coming up in May, we’ll be adding some West Coast dates. We also have plans to be going to Europe to do some big summer festivals, in June and July, then a few sporadic shows here and there. Other than that, Peggy’s got a career, Dave does bass tech for Soundgarden, so he’s out on the road with his career, and I do recording here at Witch Ape most of the time, so it’s not like the old days when I didn’t have much going on and could spend nine months on the road. We’re going to be a little bit more selective about what we do and where we go, but we do want to do some touring and make it to as many places as we can.

Right on, well thank you so much for taking the time.

Alright, thanks, Billy. We really appreciate it.