Monday 15 July 2013

20 Questions w/ Mark Thomas Baker from Orchid



Since their inception in 2007, Orchid appear to have been riding the crest of a wave, building a formidable reputation for themselves,on the back of 5 official releases in the last four years, culminating with the release of The Mouths of Madness on heavy metal heavyweight label, Nuclear Blast.  Not bad at all, considering the genre of doom is largely an underground force, however given the recent success of one Black Sabbath, who’s to say Orchid or other bands of this type, can’t go on to emulate the god fathers of doom.

Orchid have been thrust into the spotlight and been hailed in some quarters as the ‘next’ Black Sabbath.  So with that in mind, I thought a Sludgelord interview would be in order to discuss all things Orchid and to get their views on being hailed as the ‘most important doom band of the last five years’.  This  is what happened when I talked to Mark Thomas Baker, guitarist with Orchid a few week back.  Enjoy!

Mark, welcome to the Sludgelord, thanks for doing this

SL) How are things in the Orchid? You recently finished up a European tour, how was that and what are your plans for the remainder of 2013?

Mark) Things are going ok, thanks for asking. The tour went pretty good. It was by far our longest time out and we were all pretty happy to get home when it was over. There were a lot of nerves going into it as we had prepared for months to support Witchcraft only to be told the day before we left that they had cancelled and we would be the headliner. When we got there we heard that Spain and France had cancelled entirely and that other cities would be booked along the way to take their place. It was a bit of a clusterfuck for the first week until the agency was able to sort everything out and let the tour manager know what was going on. Even with all that shit happening and some ups and downs, it was mostly successful in the end. Right now we’re getting ready to play a local San Francisco show and then get serious about writing another album. There’s another shorter European tour in November that sounds like it’s going to be very cool. That’s about it really.

SL) Congratulations on the successful of The Mouth of Madness, you must be stoked at the response to the record.  No.18 in the German chart is awesome. Can you tell us about the record and the process of putting it together?  Is it fair to say you wear your influences on your sleeve, so to speak? 

Mark) Charting that high in Germany, which is a huge media market, was pretty surprising and unexpected for us. Everyone at Nuclear Blast worked really hard on our album and we were all really happy for them to get that for us. It seems like it’s not really that common for a newer band like us to be able to do that and it just shows how dedicated everyone at the label is. Mouths of Madness was written and recorded over nearly a two year period that basically started right after we finished the Capricorn album. The basics were tracked in two different sessions, one in the spring of 2011, and then we finished up in the summer of 2012. It was stretched out so long because of all the record label business that was going on all through that time. I think basically we knew we were going to sign with a bigger label so we didn’t want to pay studio costs out of pocket. Negotiations kept going on longer and longer and before we knew it we’d been talking to labels for close to a year. When we finally signed with NB, they wanted to release something right away so we were able to put together the Heretic EP with songs from that first session that we tracked a year earlier. After that we finished up writing some more songs and went in and got them all done. Black Sabbath is basically Theo’s whole trip and certainly he makes it obvious. I don’t think any of the other three of us really care that much about sounding like Sabbath, I know it’s certainly not important to me personally,  but since Theo is the main songwriter, it comes out that way no matter what. At this point, I don’t even think there’s a way to escape it. Even songs that I don’t think sound anything like Sabbath get called ‘plagiarism’ and such, so I guess we all just roll with it.

SL)  So you talked a little about how the album came together, but readers might be thinking, who the hell are Orchid?  Give us the lowdown on the gestation of Orchid, how you came together?

Mark) Theo and I have known each other since the late 80s when we both played around the San Francisco scene in different bands. At some point in the mid-90s, he opened up a tattoo shop in San Rafael, where I happened to live. I’d always drop in and hang out and talk to him and we realized at some point we should play some music together since we seemed to have some similar opinions about things. We ended up doing a band together that lasted from 1996-1999. It was a really good, professional sounding band. I have a whole album of it and still listen to it occasionally. Really great song writing, but it ended pretty badly and I think both of us probably thought that would be our last band. We remained close friends throughout the next few years and when I got deep into home recording and working with computer recording software, we ended up beginning to write music together again. I think that is where the idea of actually being in a band again started. We jammed with people for a year or two until this line-up finally came together in late 2007. We had no big ambitions to do this on the level that is happening now. We were just trying to have fun and hang out a few times a week.

SL) To me, it may be a given that Black Sabbath turned you into what you are today and SF is the home of Metallica,  but which band or artist turned you guys onto Heavy Metal/Rock and wanting to form a band?  What was it like growing up in your hometown and being fans of metal for example?

Mark) It was fantastic being a 14-15 year old kid with the thrash metal scene exploding around me! Probably seeing Metallica early on, and not just them, but also Exodus, Megadeth, Death Angel, those are the bands that made me know that I could do it too.

SL) How did your influences from music and different art mould Orchid into what we have today?

Mark) I probably can’t answer that as Orchid is pretty much Theo’s trip artistically and sound wise and the other three of us are sort of like actors in his movie. That might sound weird and be overstating it a bit, but it’s sort of like that.

SL) 2007, Orchid came into existence,   when did you go from say a garage band that jammed, to writing and releasing your own music, did your sound come organically? 

Mark) It’s been like this from the start. A lot of the songs on Capricorn are some of the first things we ever wrote. Even on the new album, Marching Dogs of War is a really old riff from the first year of jamming. Some of it is organic; some of it is very calculated.

SL) In your experience, how easy/difficult was it for Orchid to get coverage in the early days? 

Mark) I guess it seems like it was pretty easy. We never tried to do anything, things just kind of happened as soon as we had some demos done.

SL) What would you say to bands that were willing to sacrifice originality in favour of success? Do you have any words of wisdom for any up-and-coming bands that are out there?

Mark) Man, I just don’t know what anyone could do to be original these days. I really don’t know what the fuck is left in rock music that hasn’t been covered already. Don’t quit your day job. Even if you are on a bigger label, there is no fucking money in this, so you better love what you’re playing or it will get old pretty quick.

SL) you’re 6 or so years down the line with Orchid, are your aspirations the same as they were when you formed?  What is your M.O. if you will?

Mark) There were no aspirations when we started doing this, so the further along we go, the more we wonder how far it can go. I’m pretty sure we’ll do one more album, but I wouldn’t guess on anything beyond that. I’m not sure any of us see ourselves spending a bunch of time on tour. We’re all pretty resistant to being away from home for long periods at a time.

SL) What were your aims for The Mouths of Madness and has it exceeded your expectations?  It has been remarked that it is the record Black Sabbath should have made, thoughts? 

Mark) I think every day that we are still doing this exceeds my expectations. Haha. I get kind of bugged when I hear that stuff that we’re the new Sabbath or this is the album they should have made. I don’t think we really reach those kinds of heights at all. It’s insulting to Sabbath for people to say stuff like that. We’re more paying homage to a certain era of theirs, not trying to be a competitor.

SL) Would you say that this record stretched you both as performers and creatively?

Mark) I think so. You have to try to stretch a little and add something to your bag of tricks every time. There were certain songs on this album that forced my playing to be different in a way that I hadn’t done before. It was a bit difficult getting there at times. The leads in Mountains of Steel and the acoustic leads in See You on the Other Side were definitely different for me.

SL) The record certainly feels like it could have been conceived in the 70’s and has that vintage old school sound, was that the specific aim, did you record to analogue for example as opposed to pro-tools? 

Mark) It’s supposed to sound that way. I don’t think we nailed it at all. Lately I’ve been hearing Wizard of War on the radio here in the states and it just sounds like shit, totally muddy and lo-fi to the point that I just can’t stand hearing it. The masters for the cd and vinyl are fine for me, but something about the radio compression just fucking ruined that one. The album was not recorded to tape. We are talking about how we’d really like to try to be good enough to do that on the next one though. I think we’d like to get a little more fidelity without sounding too modern.

SL) I’m assuming all musicians like to talk about the gear they use, so with the previous question in mind what do you use in terms of guitars, amps and why? Also what tuning do you use?

Mark) I’m not sure that I get that excited about it, but I’ll try to indulge everyone! Haha. For this album I used my main live guitar, which is a 2005 ’61 SG reissue. Most of Mouths was tracked through two different amps, a 60w Laney Supergroup, and a 100w Sound City MKIII. Both are from the early 70’s. Most of the tracks have those layered together. When we play live, I usually use an Orange though because I trust it so much more and it sounds ok. For the most part, I tune everything down 1 whole step. A few songs have the low string dropped an additional whole step. I’m not much of a gearhead. Theo buys a ton of different shit all the time and asks me to try it out. I don’t really care that much what I play through. Once I get used to something, I don’t like to change though.

SL) Taking a more general view of the changes in the music industry how important is the role of social media, such as facebook, twitter, blogs  and has this source of media been particular important to Orchid as a band? 

Mark) I’m sure we would be unknown and just doing this for fun if not for social media. I don’t think anyone would have ever heard us if not for posting some demo tracks on a MySpace page way back in 2008. It’s important for sure, as well as being a bit of a pain in the ass trying to keep up with it all.

SL) It has been announced today, 3/7/2013, that The Mouths of Madness will be released on cassette through our bros at Easy Rider records whom I recently interviewed... What do think about the renewed interest in this format and what’s your preference?  Cassette, CD, Digital Download or Vinyl? And why?

Mark) This is the first I’ve heard of this cassette release, so naturally I wrote everyone at NB and asked “what the fuck is this guy talking about?”. Funny thing was, I had read the interview that you did with him a few days earlier and I thought, “that guy seems cool and has a cool trip going on”...and then I hear that we’re going to do a cassette release with him. It should be pretty cool! I like listening to vinyl when I can. It really just depends on the situation or where you are. I do dig records though.

SL) As music fans yourselves and given that music seems to be so disposal at times, how important for you to present a great package for the release of your record?

Mark) It’s a huge part of the Orchid trip and I know that people do appreciate it because they tell us that all the time and I see people writing about online.

SL)  Do you have some favourite cuts from the new record? Anything that you particularly like to play live, or that has been well received by audiences?

Mark) I’d like to play more of the new stuff than we do, but we’re just not there yet. Hopefully for the November tour we will be playing more of the new album. Wizard of War is always a blast to play live and it seems like people kind of go off when it kicks in. My favorite tracks to listen to from the new album are probably Nomad and Leaving it All Behind. Not sure why, I guess I just like the emotion in them.

SL) Do you have any interesting stories from your tours, favourite places you’ve toured and bands you’ve toured with or bands you’d like to share the stage with?

Mark) In general, it’s a good experience in the larger German cities for us. The venues are nice and all the amenities are pretty modern. We don’t usually get to spend a lot of time anywhere, so there are only a few places where I’ve actually had a day off to go do anything. Last tour that day was in Salzburg, Austria. It was very pretty and there was so much cool shit to check out. We’ve got on pretty well with just about every band we’ve toured with. We’re still good mates with Serpent Venom, who we did our first tour ever with. This last tour with the Swedes Troubled Horse and Free Fall was great as well. I always enjoy striking up friendships with the other musicians and talking about life and what it’s like where they live. It would still be cool to play sometime with Graveyard and Witchcraft. Maybe someday somebody will make that happen.

SL) Reflecting upon your time together as a band, what have been some of the high and low point in your careers? 

Mark) Nothing really that bad has ever happened to us. All of this was totally unexpected, so it’s all kind of a high. For me, the low points are all the business dealings that go along with it. I hate thinking about all of that kind of shit and going to meetings and listening to people talk about different deals and future plans and all the deadlines that come with that kind of stuff. I really only like the private part of being in the band. By that I mean the time that we are in our room jamming together and creating music. I don’t care that much about all the public stuff. I often wonder if it’s worth the trouble. This is just me personally speaking though, not speaking for the band.

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

Mark) Thank you all for the support! Hopefully our best is still in front of us.

A massive thank you Holly Arup and Lottie Hunt @ Nuclear Blast Records for setting up the interview.  It goes without saying, I must express my gratitude to Mark from Orchid for being cool and answering my questions.  So thanks to you Mark, and the other guys from Orchid.
As ever, show your support to the band by checking them out at the various links.