Tuesday 13 November 2012

20 Questions w/ Undersmile

Hey Sludgeheads, another dose of 20 Questions for you.  This week, I am stoked to bring you my interview with Undersmile.  We're massive fans of the band here at the Sludgelord and you guys should be too.  Enjoy the interview and be sure to check them out.  Cheers Aaron

Hey guys How are you?  Where are you at the moment and what are you doing in terms of the band?  You have some UK dates coming up through Heretic Promotions is that correct?

A) At the moment we are busy practicing and recording for a very exciting project. We're doing a "self-split" with our acoustic incarnation Coma Wall.  It's coming out next year via Shaman Recordings on a 12", which will be our first foray into vinyl. One side will be the heavy Undersmile stuff, the other side will be Americana-influenced drone/folk.  We've recently played in Birmingham with some great bands and have a gig coming up with our friends Cultura Tres, Slabdragger and Grimpen Mire at the Asylum in Birmingham on November 17.

Q). I have to admit, I have been a fan since your debut EP, Sea of Dead Snakes which was originally released on Blindsight records. For those readers who may not have heard of you, could you tell us a little about the history of the band and some of the bands you've played with? Where you’re from? When Undersmile first formed? Current band members?  

A) Taz and Hel have been jamming together since 2006 and they formed the band in 2009, with Olly on bass. Tom joined on drums in 2010 as we were recording the first EP. We're based in Oxford, which has a well-established music scene and is home to some great bands - Komrad, Caravan of Whores, Agness Pike and Desert Storm. We've gigged pretty extensively outside Oxford and played with some awesome bands - Wizard's Beard, Conan, Wiht, Grimpen Mire, Cultura Tres, Ishmael - to name a few. Highlights include playing with Weedeater, Zoroaster and Ides of Gemini. We were honoured to play with the legendary Dylan Carlson from seminal drone band Earth.

Debut EP

Q). Is Undersmile a full time project/work?

A) Definitely yes! It takes up most of our time. Since doing acoustic sets at DesertFest and with Dylan Carlson, we've been playing more acoustically too, in preparation for the vinyl release.

Q) What made you start the band?  Did you all know each other before you formed the band? (Obviously Taz and Olly are married, I Think?!!)

A) Taz and Hel met in 2006 and started playing together almost immediately. Around that time, Taz and Olly met (they married in 2009). Hel met her fiancé Tom in 2009 and he joined the band soon after. It's a bit like ABBA but without the crystal meth-induced psychosis.

Q) Since your inception I haven’t read a bad review of you guys, which I am sure you weren’t expecting? Bearing than in mind, What were your aspirations for the band?

A) We wanted to play in a slow and heavy band and make music that was uncomfortable to listen to. We've been genuinely surprised and humbled by the reaction we've had. If you read the Youtube comments on our video for 'Milk' though, you'll find a different story! If you make extreme music then a lot of people will hate it, that's to be expected. It's so much better than being bland. When people seem to dislike it, they really hate it, and likewise a lot of people seem to really like it.

Q) Given that it is seemingly harder and harder to make a living as a band, in addition to constant touring, promotion and the fact members have children, what motivates you as musicians?

A) Our main priority is making music. Unless you love what you do, it's hard to motivate yourself. It can be difficult, driving to the other end of the country to play in front of 3 people and not make enough money for petrol. Our motivation is the sheer fun of being in a band.

Q) Is it difficult to juggle work, child and then make time for the band?  It must seem impossible at times?  I have a family myself and work, then the blog to content with, so it can be difficult to juggle everything.  Why do you do it?

A) It is difficult to juggle things at times and it can seem overwhelming, but ultimately we really enjoy what we do, so we always try to make time for it. Playing loud music is also a great way to relieve tension.

Q) If someone was unfamiliar with your band, how would you describe your sound and do you feel it has evolved, since the release of your debut EP?

A) We would probably describe ourselves to the uninitiated as having slow/heavy, distorted and down-tuned riffs, layered with seasickness-inspired guitar leads. Drawling, vaguely choral, dual-vocals, off-kilter harmonies and a tendency to induce nausea and/or panic attacks in the casual listener....!

Q) Are you big fans of rock/metal, if so what are you listening too at the moment?

A) Although it's horribly cliched to say this, as a band and as individuals, we genuinely listen to anything and everything. In fact we listen to less heavy music than you might imagine. We all listen to and draw inspiration from a lot of folk, blues, classical and slo-core. We do have some favourite heavy bands though, such as Grief, Harvey Milk, Pissed Jeans, EHG, Earth and Melvins to name a few. We all share a love of grunge and 1990s alt-rock, so we often listen to things like Nirvana, Babes In Toyland, Alice In Chains, Sonic Youth, Mark Lanegan, Smashing Pumpkins, as well as bands like Codeine, 40 Watt Sun and Slint.

Q)  Who would you say are your influences/heroes both musically and artistically in terms of the band’s sound?

A) Lyrically, Taz and Hel are influenced heavily by dreams and nightmares. We draw musical inspiration from music, films, books and computer games. Bands we love include Harvey Milk, Melvins, Swans, Kyuss, Boris as well as Nick Cave, Neutral Milk Hotel, 16 Horsepower, Leonard Cohen and Low. The nightmarish banality and bizarre humour of David Lynch and the venereal terror of David Cronenberg inspire us too, as do Kafka, Ballard and the post-humanist satire of Michel Houellebecq and Bret Easton Ellis. Computer games such as survival horrors Silent Hill and Resident Evil, the post-apocalyptic Fallout, various Zelda games and the immersive Skyrim also provide creative fuel.
Coma Wall (Undersmile Acoustic Incarnation)

Q)  Why the name Undersmile?  Are you unhappy people hahaha?

A) Haha! Well... It could be an euphemism or it could mean a frown - whatever frame of mind you're in!

Q) I’m assuming all musician like to talk about gear, so with that in mind what gear do you use in terms of guitars, amps and why? Also what tuning do you use?

A) We play in D-standard, drop-C tuning.  Taz plays a Gibson SG and is currently using a Peavey Windsor amp head - on loan from the lovely Pete from awesome psych-doomers Caravan of Whores (thanks Pete!).  Olly uses a Peavey bass through a Peavey Firebass amp, with a Big Muff Bass Pi pedal. Hel also uses a Gibson SG through a Marshall JCM 2000 DSL 800 and Tom has the shittest drumkit known to humanity. It's a... Session Pro.


Undersmile @ The Wheatsheaf
Q) What is the scene like in your hometown?  What are your thoughts?  Where do you think Undersmile fit within that?  Any bands we should be keeping an eye out for?

A) There isn't a huge scene in Oxford for bands like us but there are loads of great artists and bands there. We'd highly recommend: Komrad, Von Braun, Agness Pike, Caravan of Whores, the Rock of Travolta, the Cellar Family, Seabuckthorn, and D. Gwalia. A lot of people already know Desert Storm who've been making some big waves in the last few years, and Caravan of Whores and Mother Corona have been getting a lot of recognition recently.

Q) There is an outstanding underground metal scene coming out of the UK at moment.   Where you think you think Undersmile fits within that?  Any bands we should be keeping an eye out for?


A) We're proud to be part of the vibrant underground metal scene and to contribute our own brand of doom to it. To some we fit in well and to others we don't (as we don't follow the formulaic stereotypes of generic metal). There are loads of bands to keep an eye out for, there is so much raw talent out there at the moment; Ishmael, Conan, Grimpen Mire, Slabdragger, Serpent Venom, Gurt, Dead Existence, Bastard of the Skies, Bismuth, Wizards Beard, Tree of Sores, Moghul, Volition, Burden of the Noose, Alunah, Black Magician and loads more.

Q)  I think I first read about you in RockSound magazine (I think you were in that mag) which is great for your band.  With that in mind, what are your views of blogs such as the Sludgelord reviewing your records, as opposed to mainstream music magazines?  Has your music reached the mainstream mags, at home or around the world?

A) RockSound was one of the first major magazines we were featured in – they ran a good review of A Sea of Dead Snakes which was pretty cool for us at the time. We've since been featured in a variety of magazines – Terrorizer's Doom Special Edition, Metal Hammer, Big Cheese and Rock-a-Rolla to name a few – and to be honest it's harder to gauge the impact of being featured in a magazine as opposed to online blogs. When we share something that, say the Sludgelord writes about us, we often get an immediate reaction and people can interact with us about it and share it around. Magazines are so expensive these days and I think they need to cover such a wide spectrum of heavy music (with a particular focus on more mainstream or gimicky acts) that it tends to kind of dilute the audience a bit. We have a lot of respect for some music magazines and not a lot for others.

Q) How you feel your band has generally been received and does it surprise you when people buy your music and merch?

A) We are always chuffed when orders come in, whether it's someone buying one of everything or someone downloading something from bandcamp for a few quid. We only spend money made from merch to either get more merch or to pay for recording so every little bit makes a huge difference to the progress of the band. We love it when we hear about people wearing our t-shirts at gigs – for example, some of our friends mentioned that they saw a lot of Undersmile t-shirts at Roadburn and All Tomorrow's Parties. That always puts a smile on our faces.

Q) Do you have any interesting stories from your tours, favourite’s places you’ve toured and bands you’ve toured with?

A) We really enjoyed touring with Conan, Serpent Venom and Grimpen Mire this year because it was a pleasure to watch those bands play every night and get to hang out with them. The following weekend Tom and Hel put together a last minute acoustic set for their Holland tour as Taz and Olly were suddenly unable to make it so that was a new experience! Luckily, the venues in Holland are fantastic to the bands and it was the first time we'd seen such generous riders; fridges full of beers, hot, delicious meals and snacks a-plenty! We toured with Cultura Tres, Pendejo and Banda de la Muerta. Pendejo were an interesting band – their singer Pastuso is a great frontman and he would come out on stage with a bottle of Drambuie, his trumpet and two Catholic incense burners. We'd better not say what he put in the incense burners but everyone was having a really good time... But in general one of our favourite places to play is the Black Heart in Camden. We've played there several times since they opened (big thanks to Josh Retallick for putting us on). We also loved the Underworld when we played with Weedeater and Zoroaster. Dixie Dave was a total character – he was telling us all about his apple bong and needless to say the backstage area was pretty smoggy... 

Q) The excellent Future Noise Label released Narwhal, who have also supported some great bands, including the recent release by BOTS.  Can you tell us a little about them and what it means to be signed to label who have championed great UK bands?

A) It's been great having the support of a label who have worked with so many amazing bands (he's put on bands like Grief, Iron Monkey and Electric Wizard and worked with Paul Catten, Black Sun, Lazarus Blackstar etc.); Dave has been involved with alternative music for years so it's validating when someone like that shows an interest in backing the band. We're the first band he'd ever worked with without actually meeting in person so that was definitely a gamble on his part but we've met a few times now and we speak on the phone every now and then to keep each other posted of developments.

Q) Narwhal is a brilliant record, which Steve reviewed brilliantly and it seems to have garnered universal acclaim. In some ways it is very different from, A Sea of Dead Snakes, yet it retains your core sound.  (I feel it is heavier and more progressive in terms of the ebb and flow of the record) (Just my opinion of course)?  What are your thoughts about it, now that it has been unleashed on the unsuspecting public?


A)Thanks Aaron. We think that it's definitely the heaviest and darkest thing we've recorded so far and it has the slowest tempos, something that we've always been striving for. It also has some experimental musical ideas going on which was partly down to working with Jimmy in post-production.

Q) What was your agenda when you began writing the new record? Is your best work to date?

A) We are always writing songs and coming up with riffs so the album came together when we had enough songs that we felt would work well together on an album. Taz and Hel wrote all the main  songs on the album and then we decided to each write a shorter track as well to create a more 'cohesive', flowing album. These shorter tracks also served to bring moments of ambiance and light relief in between longer, darker and more unrelenting tracks to help create a perpetual atmosphere.

We're certainly all very proud of Narwhal and it is the most collaborative record we've made - it's 80 minutes of music and a lot of blood, sweat and tears went into making it. But it's not really up to us to decide if it's our best release. It certainly won't be our last.

Q)You worked with Jimmy Hetherington and Billy Anderson, in terms of production, mix and mastering of the record.  How was that experience and what did they bring to the table? It’s also worth mentioning the stellar artwork by Tony Roberts?

A) We've worked with Jimmy a few times before and he was always our first choice for producer on the record because he just 'gets' our sound and makes the guitars sound so gnarly. We mixed it with him and worked on some post-production touches for a few months and overall we're proud of the album, although it's only natural to hear the flaws in hindsight. Jimmy did a great job. We asked Billy Anderson to master it because he really is a living legend and one of the true masters when it comes to heavy music. He was incredibly helpful, friendly, patient and supportive throughout the process and he was the one who managed to skim the album down so it would actually fit on a single CD. At just under 80 minutes it was a bit touch and go for a moment there!

We decided to ask Tony Roberts to do the artwork after seeing his work for Electric Wizard and Conan's first album. We just loved his style, particularly his line-work and although we gave him some pointers for the artwork, he mostly just listened to the album and created the bleak sea-scape you see on the cover. We are all really pleased with it – he's a truly fantastic artist and a lovely guy.

Q). In terms of the band, do you feel that 2012 has been a good year for the band and what are your plans for the rest of the year and 2013.  Some of our readers are keen vinyl Junkies, any chance your releasing your music on Wax?

A) 2012 has been the best year for the band yet - many people expected us to do less this year on account of Taz and Olly having a newborn baby but we've managed to play some of our most prestigious gigs (two sets at Desertfest, supporting Dylan Carlson, an awesome mini tour with Conan, Grimpen Mire and Serpent Venom to name a few) and we've released our debut album so it's been fantastic. Later this year Dutch label Tartarus Records is going to do a small run of Narwhal cassettes (they'll come with a screen-printed patch as well) which will be fun. As we mentioned earlier, next year we will be releasing our first 12” which will be an interesting one because it's not an album, it's not an EP, it's kind of a “self-split” with us and our acoustic band Coma Wall. There are also other releases in the pipeline for later in 2013 so they may well be on vinyl too. 

Q) Thanks for answering my questions, but one final question, you got anything you like to say to your fans?

A) Yes, are scones with a cream tea to be taken with sultanas, or without? (Answers on a postcard please). We'd just like to thank everyone who has ever supported us, stuck up for us, helped promote us, made an effort to come see us play or bought some merchandise.

Just like to say a massive thank you to the guys and gals from Undersmile.  Awesome band and I appreciate them taking the time to answer my questions.  Do yourselves favour and support this great band.  You can read our review here and buy their merch here