Saturday 6 October 2012

Interview with Jimbob Isaac of H A R K & TAINT

Today on Sludgelord I am interviewing one of my fave Sludge/Stoner Rock singer/guitarists, from one my favourite UK Underground Rock/Metal Bands. 

James 'Jimbob' Isaac, from much missed sludge/hardcore/stoner metallers Taint. Taint were a brilliant rock band who in 16 years released a whole truckload of releases. Including two critically acclaimed albums. 'The Ruin of Nová Roma' and 'Secrets And Lies', which I rank as two of the finest UK metal albums released in the last decade or so.

They were, in my opinion the finest Sludge Metal band the UK had produced in the last decade or so. They toured their way throughout the Uk and Europe across their 16 year existence, and notably, supported Clutch and Neurosis on numerous occasions, requested by the bands themselves.

Jimbob is also a fucking great visual artist, in his own right. Illustrating covers, prints and t-shirts for legendary bands such as Orange Goblin, Clutch, Melvins and Neurosis.

He is now fronting a brilliant new Sludge Rock Band – H A R K who I think will be one of the big hitters of 2013 when they start recording their much anticipated début album end of 2012.

Q1 – Hi JimBob – First of all thanks for this. It's great to see you back with H A R K. How did that band come about. How did you meet the other members – Nikolai and Simon. What is your plan?

As Taint and Whyteleaf began winding down in 2010, I approached Niko and Simon to see what we could create together. It felt like the only option, in terms of drive to create music and art. The plan is to wrap up writing the full length by winter '12, and to record in spring '13. The intention is to tour the album as much as possible. It's been a lot of work to discover what moves us collectively and how we work together.

We have a broad range of influences between us, and the guys are from a newer generation of the South Wales scene. Although we're equally driven by the hard hitting, unit approach that a three piece provides. This band is as much about self discovery, as it is about ambition to write music and tour together. Though, we have to remain in the present and take it step by step. It has involved a lot of toil and sweat, and continues to do so. Nothing worthwhile is ever easy though, and once we pull through it, we'll deliver an album that will take people's heads off.

Q.2 - Hark have arrived with a strong aesthetic. Can you tell us what thought went behind the name, logo and sleeve art for 'Mythopoeia'?

Firstly, Hark was chosen as a word that was free of musical trend and genre limitations. We didn't choose it for it's literal meaning. We sat with it for a while and began to notice that after repetition, it ceases to sound like a word, but more like an animal call or primal exclamation. That sense of purity and disconnection with conscious thought is something that ties in with some of the deeper lyrical aspects. Visually, I took primary influence from the minimal and bold aesthetic that some of my favourite music and artwork from the early '90s used. Like Helmet, Tool, Godflesh and Swans. 

I think that robust approach suits the feeling that our music conjures. Merging those hard edges, with an organic and spacey feel is an extension of both the lyrical imagery, and the density and movement of the songs themselves. I also feel as though it was our job to present an alternative to the art nouveau renaissance that has grown in certain areas of metal over the past few years. I've been an Alphonse Mucha devotee since my college days in '94/'95, and used to take a strong influence from his art, for early Taint flyers and demo tapes. To continue that in Hark though, wouldn't have represented us correctly. 

Q.3 – Can you tell us about the song writing process in H A R K? As you were the main song writer in Taint, are you still working this way? 

Well, I wrote the bulk of riffs and a lot full songs throughout the Taint years, but Chris certainly wrote his fair share of riffs on 'Secrets And Lies' especially, and certainly put his stamp heavily on all of our material. The same goes for Alex in Taint of course, with his style of playing and contributions to arrangement. The same goes for Niko and Simon's contribution in Hark. There is no way either band would sound the way they do, without investment from each member. Ultimately, every person in a band should like each song, and not play anything that doesn't move them. I'm extremely lucky to have worked with my Taint brethren, and now to be working with Simon and Niko. 

It's a fresh challenge to work the Hark guys. They're excellent players, and have an awesome arsenal of ideas, methods and ways of crafting songs into shapes I would never have thought of. Niko has brought in some killer riffs too, which will reveal themselves even more so in the album. We're working hard to write the best body of songs that we can, with everyone contributing and the drive to make something unique to ourselves. I guess that I do have a vision as to how I need music to feel when I'm playing it. Although, it's not an inflexible vision, nor is it something that I need to control or dictate as a solo writer. I'm well aware that I couldn't fully realise that vision without other people's gifts, talent and creativity.

Q.4 – I am a massive fan of your work, and was sad when TAINT broke up. Was that a hard decision to make?

Sure, after sixteen years together, it was a bitter-sweet realization that I had to move on. I still have a few questions to answer, in terms of ability to tour for longer periods and thusly more territories to reach. Taint's creative flow had slowed down a lot too, due to Chris and Alex's family plans and work commitments. As well as their desire to tour falling back significantly. So, we dug deep to find what was necessary, to allow each other to break away. The guys are really happy with their new families, which is great, and we no longer have any unwanted pressures from each other, hanging over our heads. Ending Taint, did do a lot for our friendships, and probably actually saved them.

Q.5 – TAINT were a band who I followed for some time but only got to see you guys once. Was being in TAINT a struggle at times as I thought you deserved a lot more credit you should have got in the UK.

Taint only became a struggle, when it became more and more apparent that balancing touring, and even gigging/rehearsing with the guys' family plans, was less and less achievable. I feel that we got enough credit from people at the core of good art and music, all over the world. What Taint gained credit for, are all the things a great band should be credited for. We got credit for writing real music and playing from our hearts, by people that we love. That's all we ever did it for. 

On a practical level, we were limited to the guys' teaching timetables, which meant our windows were extremely rigid. We missed out on a lot of potential tour opportunities over the years, so weren't able to build things in the way a lot of other bands do. I booked everything we did, and we're grateful that friends in bigger bands were kind enough to reach out to us when possible. There's no regrets or bitterness with Taint. We achieved above and beyond what our teenage selves could have dreamed of.

Q.6 – I know some critics called you the British “Mastodon” which I felt was an unnecessary tag. As you were two different bands doing your own thing. Did tags like that bog you down or were you pleased with that sort of comment. 

Being compared to Mastodon is a huge compliment. I love that band, and am grateful to them for opening things up for bands from similar backgrounds. Taint certainly took our time to find our sound, and coming from a small scene in mid-90's South Wales definitely contributed to our measured evolution. 

We grew up playing in a DIY doom/punk/hardcore scene, with little to no ambition or plan. Our 'Die Die Truthspeaker' mini-album (released in 2000) was definitely the logical predecessor to '..Nova Roma' (2004) so I think our modest legacy speaks for itself in terms of influences and background. I'll be putting 'Die Die..' online soon, as well as the split with Black Eye Riot. It's about time more people heard those songs, as they had very limited distribution at the time.

Q.7 - I felt Taint got more recognition from overseas crowds, like with your brilliant 2008 Roadburn Set. I wasn't there but I have heard the performance on the bonus 'All Bees To The Sea' tracks. Amazing, I loved every minute of it.

Europe is always way more fun than touring here, ask any band that. Roadburn was really special for us, and probably one of the best sets we ever played. The room was packed, with lots of friends and an immense vibe. Seeing some of the guys from Down getting into it at side-stage was pretty surreal, and massively inspirational too. That whole weekend was like a dream, in many ways.

Q.8 How did you get involved with your illustration work and the legendary bands you have worked with. That is a brilliant portfolio you have there. 

I've been drawing full-time for only the past three years or so. I took my previous journey in digital/vector art as far as it could go. Since picking up the pen again, I'm lucky that some great bands have wanted to collaborate so early on in my illustration career. I hadn't drawn properly, since around '94 when I started college. I should have chosen illustration or fine art, but was distracted and seduced by graphic design. I did a graphics degree, before working corporate based design jobs. 

Needless to say, I wised up as to how un-creative those jobs are, and how unfulfilling it was to slog for corporate briefs and deadlines, despite comfortable pay checks. I'm not particularly money driven and was being smoked out of that arena anyway, thanks to my dwindling enthusiasm and increasingly stiff competition. So I made the big, and actually, pretty fucking scary step of starting to draw again.

I've worked hard to re-kindle the light of my youth. I grew up with comic books, and as I mentioned, Alphonse Mucha. So marrying those influences, and working with my hands is the best thing I could have done. I'm really only at the tip of the iceberg right now though. I've got lots of catching up to do, and know that my best work is certainly yet to come. I want my work to keep developing, in terms of varied media and pure expression. I have a fair way before my true voice is found, but am doing my best to find it, while having fun along the way.

Q.9 - Which artists inspire you the most when doing your artwork. 

I'm paying a lot of attention to my pen marks, and masters like Mucha, Arthur Rackham, Harry Clarke, George Bridgman and Moebius. As well as trying to cultivate clearer ways of seeing and visualizing. Finding your own solutions to drawing is the best way, and I try to balance my influences with my own methods. I'm a big fan of current artists like Aaron Horkey, John Baizely, Arik Roper, Godmachine, Richey Beckett, Simon Fowler, Glyn Smith, Drew Millward, Santos and Randy Ortiz. Being friends with some of those guys is also something I'm grateful for, and they've given me great feedback to help me along with my early stages in drawing. 

Q.10 - What is your favourite/least ever piece artwork you have done.

Right now, I'm working on a pen and ink piece for a U.S show called 'Life & Death In Black And White'. Human Furnace from Ringworm is curating it, and I was humbled that he invited me to take part. It's been rewarding to render this piece, using a purely analogue process. Sketching in pencil and using a light-box to render the final ink draft. Until now I've stuck to the Wacom digital pen/tablet, which is a fantastic tool. Although I'm already starting to feel that I'd like to continue in a more analogous direction, or at least use both mediums in tandem, when appropriate. I don't have a least favourite piece, but It's humbling to look at early work, or even realise just after finishing a project, what you could have done better. That's learning, and that's what we should all be prepared to do. In our work, and in our selves. Life is a work in progress.

Q.11 – How do you come up with the artworks for the band in question your designing for. Do you listen to the band's music. Look at previous artwork the band already has done. Or some other weird and wonderful artistic way.

Listening to the music and reading their lyrics is all I usually need. That, and a close conversation with them, about any overarching themes they might have.

Q.12 – Is your family supportive of your chosen career. Either in music or artwork. 

Yes, and for that I'm blessed. 

Q.13 – I have noticed since TAINT split up, people are starting to take a lot more interest in TAINT's music. People are starting to realise what a great band you guys really were. Have you noticed things like that or have you moved on from that era of your life.

It's hard to tell from my point of view. I guess I'm too close to this. It does seem to be the way though, that people take things for granted, and when those things are taken away, they miss them. People are weird.

Q.14 – What can we expect from H A R K's début album due out in 2013 sometime. I have already bought the 7inch single record. Wow what a fucking record. 

We have about two thirds of the album written. We're looking at recording in spring time, if all keeps going to plan. 

Mythopoeia cover art

Q.15 – Will you be doing any more gigs before the début album is recorded/released. As I would definitely travel to see you guys in action.

We're heading to Europe for a few shows with Red Fang, and possibly Ken Mode in November/December. Also waiting on word for another tour in January '13. These trips will set us in good stead for the album recording. We're looking forward to getting out and playing our arses off.

Well Thanks for talking to us Jimbob. Good luck with H A R K -  Ourselves at Sludgelord are massive fans already and we can't wait for the album to come out in 2013.

Check out H A R K 'Mythopoeia' Trailer - to see what you are all missing!!!