Tuesday 4 December 2012

20 Questions with Samothrace

Samothrace (C) Amelia Powell

Hey guys, this week I am excited to be able to bring you my interview with the mighty Samothrace.  Having released one of the doom records of the year, which we reviewed a number of months ago, I had been keen to get the band to talk to us.

I hasn't been an easy year for the band and the release of this record is perhaps bitter sweet given the thing they have had to deal with this year.  It is for that reason I am so amazingly thankful for the bands and particularly Renata and Spinks for talking to us.  So, without further ado, Enjoy my 20 questions with Samothrace. 

Q) Hey guys, How are you? I appreciate you taking the time to talk to talk to us, here at the Sludgelord.  
A) Spinks: Doing just fine. We appreciate the opportunity.
Q) Where are you at the moment and what are you doing, in terms of the band? You preparing to tour your new record, Reverence to Stone?  
A) Spinks: We moved from our home base of Lawrence, KS to Seattle, WA in 2009. We are preparing to tour the new album as much as jobs and time will allow in 2013.
Renata: We had to cancel our share of the Pallbearer / Royal Thunder tour earlier this fall due to me finding out that my father had advanced, metastasized cancer. He passed away in mid-October.
Q) For those people who are unfamiliar with your music, can you tell me little bit about the history of the band and some of the bands you've played with? Where you’re from, when Samothrace first formed? Current band members?
A) Spinks: We started back in 2006 in Lawrence, KS with the intent of playing our own take on heavy music with and of influence from the heavier bands we were all into and from the music we’d grown up listening to. Basically, make music we would want to listen to. We’ve played with so many great bands it’s tough to name them all, but some include Black Cobra, Asunder, Corrupted, Witchcraft, Eyehategod, Mournful Congregation, YOB and many more great bands with amazing friends. Our current line-up is Bryan Spinks (guitar & vocals), Renata Castagna (guitar), Dylan Desmond (bass) and Joe Axler (drums).
Renata: Spinks and I really started coming up with the feel and sound of this band at least a year before moving to Lawrence. It took a while to get everything together into a malleable musical form.
Q) Is Samothrace a full time project, or do you have other bands?
A) Spinks: It’s full-time for Renata and myself, but Dylan plays in Bell Witch and Joe plays in Skarp and Theories. All based outta Seattle.
Q) Probably a stupid question, but are you or would you like to be full time musicians? Presumably you work jobs too, right? 
A) Spinks: I think we’ve always been full-time musicians. We’ve just got to make all ends meet with part-time and full-time work, for the most part outside of the music industry. You know the game. It’s definitely nothing new.
Renata: Of course we've got to work, wish we didn't. Back when we started we were a lot less concerned with breaking even or making anything on tour / via the band. Now we're getting a little better at making a couple bucks here and there. But nothing that could support us. I wish!
Q) Are you big fans of rock/metal, if so what are you listening to at the moment?
A) Spinks: Absolutely!!! I listen to a lot of classic and southern rock, some Country and Blues. I tend to go to my favourites when I need to listen to some good heavy tunes; Buried at Sea, Deadbird, His Hero Is Gone...it’s an endless list, really.
Renata: We all listen to heavy music regularly of course. I'm currently taken by Evoken, Pallbearer and Ufomammut to name a few, but listen to old '60s and '70s heavy rock probably more than any new bands.
Q) When you started Samothrace, what were your hopes for the band?
A) Spinks: We really just wanted our friends to like it...and from there the musicians out there we were playing with, ya know? No hopes, just be a band, hit the road and make some records. That’s it.
Renata: We just wanted to play the music that we had stewing inside of us, stuff that was actually challenging to play and write. The things you hear in your head and want to hear indescribably loud in real life. I didn't care and really didn't have expectations that people would love it... It's nice that some people do.
Q) If someone was unfamiliar with your band, how would you describe your sound? Has it evolved?
A) Spinks: I often finding myself saying it’s really heavy blues or something like that. It’s fairly rare I call ourselves doom metal, though I know we are and set out to be. Ha. I think I have a hard time explaining it, to be honest. If unfamiliar with the genre altogether, I find it even harder to do so.
Renata: I say it's heavy, yet harmonious. It has evolved into something that we understand more now after struggling at the beginning to find a sound.
Q) Why the name, Samothrace? It is a Greek Island in the Aegean Sea, right, with history associated to the Greek Gods?
A) Spinks: Yes, it is. There were a few reasons involving the myths and imagery of the island that intrigued us. Gods fallen to antiquity. The statue of Nike, the Goddess of Victory, found headless and standing in defeat. We also were playing that ever-so-tiresome game of trying to name the band. Samothrace is what we ended up with.
Q) What is the scene like in your hometown?
A) Spinks: Strong. Seattle is a great spot for heavy doom and stoner bands to come through, and they do.
Everybody seems to get along great and the turnout for most shows is strong.
Renata: There's quite a lot going on in here, from DIY, all-ages shows to bar and stadium shows. Almost every night of the week you can find a good show going on. Bands are really friendly with each other. There are some great bands here and most lack big-ego syndrome. Since moving here we've had the honor to play with some insane bands.
Q) What made you start the band? Did you all know each other before you formed?
A) Spinks: We did. It was thru mutual respect of musicianship and solid friendships made thru playing in the diy punk/hardcore/metal community for many years prior to forming that brought us together. Friends starting a project together to play the doom we wanted to hear thru the influence of our own ears and to push ourselves to make a sound that belonged to us. Just a small piece of it as a whole, you know. I hope that makes sense, as I mean it in the most respectful way to the genre itself. We just wanted to do our own thing in our own interpretation.
Renata: Spinks and I were close and Dylan was a friend. Joe Axler was someone lots of people know from years of playing music. It's cool that later we could invite him into the band.
Q) What's it like being in an underground band in your hometown of Seattle? Is it a struggle and is their camaraderie within the scene?
A) Spinks: I don’t think it’s a huge struggle, no. The underground and diy communities in Seattle are very strong. The camaraderie is immense amongst musicians and fans... friends and friends...
Q) What would you say are your direct influences musically and artistically? Do any of those influences contribute directly or indirectly to the type of music you write?
A) Spinks: Instead of listing off a huge list of people and bands that shaped my life and my direction, I would like to say this. I remember the face of everyone that put me and us here. All the music and every hardship I have endured in my life has led me directly to here. There are countless influences and countless experiences that made me who I am and that definitely influences the music I write immeasurably.
Renata: I think we influence each other every time we walk into the rehearsal space. We all pull upon whatever weird backgrounds we have to make the music work... I'd have to say that I had a classical music background as a child. That definitely has something to do with how and what I come up with for the band musically. Everybody had a different experience and that's what makes any band unique. It's fun to play together when everyone has a different idea and can somehow work it into the big picture of a song.
Q) 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) Spinks: We’ve been in some of the major Heavy Metal magazine publications around the world, at least that we know of, and many a smaller one, too. I think anybody that is capable of forming an educated opinion on the band or musical genre at hand should have the option or outlet to do so. A majority of our reviews are from folks such as yourselves at Sludgelord and for that we are truly appreciative!
Renata: We love blogs and online reviews. It's cool to see the gamut of music press out there in the world.
Q) Reverence to Stone seems to have embraced with widespread praise and is an amazing disc. How does this material compare to your previous record, Life’s Trade? Does the praise have any direct impact upon the band and how you feel about such praise?
A) Spinks: I think we have begun to mature or progress in our writing style. “Reverence” may be a little more refined than “Life’s Trade,” but I think the two albums fit right together as far as it sounding like Samothrace. It’s really nice to have had the new album received so well. I’ll be honest, I had some anxiety as to how long it’d been between albums and whether or not folks would still be interested. The praise is just a positive affirmation that we, as musicians, are doing something right. It definitely helps to validate the years and years of practice and work, pre-Samothrace to the present.
Q) During the four year period between your debut album and Reverence to Stone, do you think Samothrace have needed to rebuild or reconnect with their fans, as there has been some many bands coming on the scene during this time? Where do you fit in terms of the current trend of doom metal bands?
A) Spinks: Yeah, I think we really lucked out in that many fans that we made over the past 4-7 years have stuck with us, waiting for more touring and another release. That makes us feel so amazing as a band. These are friends and fans that were very understanding of our situation and welcoming as can be when we came back out of the shadow. Thank you to every last one of them and any new fans we hope to make along the way. Truly.
Q) 2 albums later since the bands inception, what are some of your highlights so far? What are your aspirations for the future?
A) Spinks: From what I understand, “Reverence” has made it onto the Top 40 of 2012 in Decibel Magazine. “Life’s Trade” achieved the same stature, if you will, in 2008. Those are two great highlights for us. We have had the privilege of sharing the stage with so many amazing bands I cannot believe it sometimes and we have made some amazing friends and strong bonds with other bands thru our time as Samothrace. All these are highlights for me. As for the future, touring, writing and recording...as time and space will allow us.
Renata: Just getting the ball back rolling after the hiatus we had is a highlight. Playing shows, touring and seeing friends again are all major highlights. Aspirations are to keep it going strong and tour outside of the U.S.
Q) You’re signed to the awesome 20 Buck Spin label, home to one of my favourite recently releases (Brainoil) how did that come about? Did you ever consider a DIY approach of releasing your music yourselves?
A) Spinks: We absolutely did. We released our demo and screened the covers ourselves. All the tours we’ve completed to date have been booked from within the band. We started as a DIY band and still do most of it ourselves. Dave that owns/runs 20 Buck Spin heard our demo at a friend's house down in Austin, TX in’06 or ‘07 and was apparently impressed, as he wrote us not a week later and asked to release an album for us. I was already a fan and owner of many 20 Buck Spin releases, so it was an amazing time for us. Since then he has become part of our family. We have a huge amount of respect for Dave and the way he runs and handles his business.
Renata: Dave is just an all-around badass.
Q) Do you have any interesting stories from your tours, favourite places you’ve toured and bands you’ve toured with?
A) Spinks: There are so many great times it’s almost jumbled into one long party... We’ve got great friends and great times in many places, but Portland, OR, Oakland, CA, Denver, CO and Austin, TX are some of our favourites.
Renata: There are a number of hilarious happenings on any tour. I almost fell off a stage in Dallas once...we won't go any further into that event.
Spinks: Ha. That was some amazingly funny shit! And no almost, she totally fell off the stage and the crowd caught her and threw her back up. It was like a trick or something. Ha!!! 
Q) Did you have any set goals in terms of how you approached writing your music for Reverence to Stone, given that you had line up changes? Does everyone contribute song ideas or arrangements?
A) Spinks: Nah, not really. We’d been working on the material for some time and in fact had been waiting to re-record “When We Emerged” since the demo in ’06. “Reverence to Stone” is just the next batch of material we had ready for release. We’d been playing “Emerged” and “A Horse of Our Own”as our live set for some time, as well. We had the songs really tightened up. We all contribute to the arrangements. I tend to put a sort of skeleton together and as we come together and work out the individual parts the song begins to fill out and take on its arrangement.
Renata: We take a long time to write, but it's worth it in the end. 

Q) How do you feel about the digital era of music and people downloading music for free? Would you or have you ever considered releasing your music for free or ‘pay what you like’ to raise the profile of the band?
A) Spinks: I’m not necessarily opposed to free downloads, but I personally don’t do that myself. As for Samothrace, I think we’d find it easier to consider if we were 100% DIY, meaning it’d be our gain or our loss if it were to work in a positive or negative manner. However, we have an obligation to 20 Buck Spin to tour and sell the album because they are a mostly DIY and fully independent label. Basically, our friend Dave at 20 Buck Spin believes in us enough to pay a lot out of his own pocket to make another Samothrace album see the light of day. We would like to see him recoup on that. It’s the only way 20 Buck Spin can survive and we have the utmost respect for that.
Renata: It's amazing how expensive making an album is and how much time and energy goes into it. That's something to think about when you like a band....buy their shit if you can.
Q) What are your plans for the rest of the year and any chance you're coming over to the UK?
A) Spinks: We’re currently planning a tour of the East Coast of the U.S. for late February thru early March of 2013, but in the meantime will be working to make ends meet. We’re hoping to make some more frequent tours happen for 2013. As for The UK and Europe, we would very much like to come over at some point in the near future.
Q) Thanks for answering my questions, but one final question, do you have anything you like to say to your fans?
A) Spinks: Thank y’all for the major support and all the cheers over these past 7 years. We are very thankful for these things. They’re a large part of what’s kept us together.
Renata: Thanks so much, you make tearing our hearts open and playing our music more meaningful.
End of interview

I'd just like to say a massive thank you to Renata and Spinks again for being so cool and taking part in the interview.  Their record is killer, 20 Buck Spin is a killer label, so show your support and check them out.  You can buy their record here and read our review here Thanks for reading.  Cheers Aaron

Samothrace - Reverence to Stone (LP, 2012)