Monday 24 February 2014

Interview with David Majury of Slomatics

So we are nearly a quarter of the way into a new year and the quality of records dropping into our grimy mitts, is as ever, jaw dropping.  For me two records have stood out head and shoulder above the rest , Estron by Slomatic is one.   The other? Well, you probably know what it is by now, if you follow us on social networks. Fill in the blank …… Eagle.    
To say, I am fan of Slomatics is probably an understatement, indeed I have attempted to spread their music to the masses, by doing whatever means necessary, usually in the form of spam – sorry about that.  It is for good reason however, given that they deal in high levels of fuzz awesomeness, and whilst one band’s popularity is not based upon the actions of the few, I personally lauded over their last record, A Hocht back in 2012 and I was fortunate enough to have David talk to us, at the time. 
Now 18 months later, Slomatics are back with their 8th release to date.  So does releasing one of your strongest records add a certain amount of pressure when you approach writing the next one, well, I hooked up with David from Slomatics on the eve of the release of Estron, to get the lowdown.  (N.B. Interview conducted Beginning of Jan 2014, prior to record release)
That is not all, The Sludgelord have been fortunate to offer a fantastic give away from the band themselves.  So make sure you take notes at the end of the interview, if you want to be in with a chance of winning a fantastic prize.
(SL) David, it was September 2012, since your last appearance at Sludgelord HQ, a real pleasure to talk to you again.
(David Majury) Cheers, always a pleasure to be here!
(SL) Congratulations, your new record is Epic.  You must reflect upon it with a sense of a pride?  It’s funny, the last time we talked; you hinted that you begin to lose perspective about the record, because you lived with it so long.  Seriously though, it’s your best record to date, right? 
(DM) Thanks, I'm glad you think so. We're definitely really happy with it, I'd say more so than anything we've done in the past. I think every band feels - or at least should feel - that their most recent is their best, and certainly this one feels like it represents where we're at right now. We're our own harshest critics, and nothing got through the writing unless we were all really into it. In terms of losing perspective I think what I mean is that by the time we've left the studio we've listened to every second of the recording so many times, and in such isolation, that it almost doesn't sound like music anymore! I guess with this release we were so clear about how everything was to sound that we were pretty focused and a bit wrecked after it all. But now that we've a bit of distance from the studio I can honestly say yeah, it's everything we wanted it to be. Mind you, I've read a lot of interviews with bands saying "yeah, it's our best record ever" and it turns out to be total shit, so really it's up to you to decide!! 
(SL) What can we fans look forward to from Slomatics in 2014? How is your schedule shaping up?
(DM) We're firming things up right now. Ideally we'd gig away from home a bit more, and we've had loads of offers from around the UK so we're trying to sort out the logistics of it all. Not easy when we all have jobs and young families, but it'll work out. Right now we've sorting out Scottish and Irish dates with Headless Kross, and organising Conan's Irish trip. I think we'll be in London for the first time too. We'd really love to get across to mainland Europe again too. We'll record again later in the year, hopefully for a split release with another band, so fingers crossed we'll have two releases this year. 

(SL) What springs to mind when you think about the completion of your new/current record?  Either you or Chris, hinted at an underlying concept running through the record.  Tell me more? 
(DM) Oh yeah, there's a concept alright! The idea since Marty joined the band is to develop a narrative through the records - we're all old enough to have been pretty well into 70's prog, so I guess it's been lurking away in the background for years. Marty really loves all that stuff and he would come down to the practice room with reams of paper with all sorts of crazy ramblings on there. To be honest though, I've always preferred it when the concept is somewhat ambiguous -I don't want to be spoon-fed a story and I think good music should create a mood or feeling but be open to interpretation.  Estron was the first album where we had the sequencing in mind almost before the songs, it's definitely meant to be listened to as one piece, and hopefully there's a narrative thread that the listener will get into. The last album was about destruction, so I'll go as far as to say that this one follows on and is about rebirth, albeit it a somewhat nihilistic and misanthropic way. If you want to know what the full story is, come to a gig and buy Marty some beer, I'm sure he'll spill the beans! Chris put it well in another interview – he said the album is about “despair, hope, space travel, and more despair”. That sums it up nicely.  
(SL) Who handled song writing duties and were you perhaps more confident going into the record, given that this is Marty’s second record? 
(DM) Song writing duties are fairly evenly spread. I'd say that this record was way more collaborative than anything we've done in the past, and the majority of the songs were written together in the jam room with all of us steering them in different ways. On the last record we definitely did collaborate, though it was more of a matter of bringing semi-formed ideas to practice and then developing them from there, so to write in the same room from scratch this time felt pretty good. I think it's just been a natural progression, before Marty joined I wrote pretty much everything bar lyrics, which really wasn't a great set up to be in. Marty had a strong input into A Hocht, but he really came in to his own on this one, particularly with the vocals. He's got a real musical background and vocabulary, and was able to bring all sorts of stuff like three part harmonies, kettle drums and piano into the song writing, which is definitely not something that could have happened before. A Hocht was written within three months of Marty joining the band, whereas with this one he's been in the band almost two years, so yeah, I suppose we were that bit more focused. Marty definitely wasn't approaching the record with any baggage of previous releases influencing what he played or wrote.
(SL) How long was the gestation of your new/current opus from conception to delivery?  
(DM) We booked the studio time around six months in advance, and had a couple of songs in the bag pretty quickly, but then with gigs/ summer holidays and all that we didn't seem to write anything else until maybe two months before recording. The thing is though, that we jam all the time, just improvising these half hour long Hawkwind rip offs, so writing and coming up with ideas isn't difficult. We definitely spent a lot more time discussing the flow of the record this time though, and we had it all mapped out conceptually well before the studio.
(SL) The artwork is really great, was it designed with a particular physical format in mind? Tony Roberts is a genius right? 
(DM) Oh yes, he certainly is. We chatted to him as we wrote the record and sent him lyrics and a couple of demos, so he was involved all along, although he's a man of few words and just seems to work it out himself. Marty filled him in on the details of the concept, and he was into it. As mush as I love the other stuff he's done for us, this one really floors me the most. He absolutely captured what we wanted and I think it matches the music really well. When I was young I spent hours gazing at album covers and absorbing every detail, and I think this cover is in keeping with that whole thing. 
In terms of format, obviously vinyl is the best format for artwork, there's no contest - but I think it'll look great on CD too, and we've had Tony come up with a version for the cassette release which is on Tartarus.    
(SL) As music fans and given that music seems to be so disposal at times, how important is it to offer a great package to your fans, and yet not alienate them in the process by producing something which is not affordable. What are your thoughts on the finished physical product? What format is/will be available?  More importantly, how does it sound on wax ?
(DM) Really important. Firstly, we all come from the distant past long before downloading, so the physical format is something we really value. Growing up we all poured over sleeves - the more detailed and elaborate the better. I remember spending hours reading Iron Maiden sleeves, looking for the hidden symbols and all that, and it definitely added to my enjoyment of the whole thing. Being realistic, folk who buy our stuff are probably of a similar age, or at least a similar mindset - so it makes sense to offer something worthwhile. It's a balancing act between price and package for sure - but I think that there's even more of a collector/nerdy thing about vinyl now than when I was growing up, and I think people (myself included) appreciate that for bands such as our vinyl is a limited thing, and therefore pretty desirable. The last Pombagira record is a good case in point; it was housed in the thickest card imaginable, felt like a book and was really beautifully presented. I think that makes it worth a few quid more. It's a double edged blade though, as to ship vinyl internationally is seriously expensive. I've seen stuff from bands similar to ours going for $50, which is a lot of money to part with.
I'm in the minority here, but I really like CD too, and I think the packaging can be super cool. CDs are cheaper, and I know that I listen to CD more than vinyl as my daily commute gives me the time to do so. I'm stoked that it's coming out on cassette too, I've bought cassettes myself and really like that format.
The wax does sound really good though - James Plotkin even remarked that the non-mastered mixes were really well suited to vinyl, which was a good sign!
(SL) You’re releasing this record via Head of Crom / Burning Worlds records, what particularly resonated with you in terms of working with that label again?
(DM) Just the same reasons as the last couple of releases really. Both are totally in keeping with how we feel music should be released and "promoted", for want of a better word. Head of Crom is run by one person, and his aim is just to document the great music that's around the UK/Ireland right now. It's not about "making it" or any such rubbish, so the DIY ethic sits nicely with how we see things. Adam (HOC head honcho) also really appreciates the idea of the record as a complete package, and is as enthusiastic, or nerdy, about the art/ vinyl colour and all that as we are. It's a real honour to have Head of Crom release our stuff too, as Adam has pretty similar musical tastes to us, so to think he sees our racket as fit for release is a real compliment. We share a fixation with weirdo synth music from Germany, so it's good company to be in.
With Burning World, that's the sort of thing we never expected. Jurgen is a really nice, super enthusiastic guy, but really having the "official Roadburn" label means he could probably pick and choose what he deems suitable to release, so again we're really privileged to be part of Burning World. We've actually met and drank beers with both Adam and Jurgen too, and it definitely feels good to know that these guys are as excited about and into music as we are.
We're also releasing Estron on cassette too, through Tartarus records, which are run by one of the lads from Ortega. I'm really into this idea, having grown up in the 80s and having been into the whole tape trading thing I see cassettes as a totally valid format. We've had Tony create a version of the artwork for the cassette too, so it'll look really great. Again, the thought that anyone is interested in releasing our stuff is still a bit mind-blowing, and exceeds our expectations completely.  
(SL) Don’t think I asked you this last time, best and worst things about being in a band?
(DM) The best thing, without doubt, is the three of us in the practice room playing music together. We've been friends for a long time, and to still be playing music together and enjoying it so much is a really good thing to have in our lives. There's no doubt that after we've been forgotten about and the record/gig offers have dried up, we'll still hook up every week and play. Of course, getting flown into places to play shows and drink beer is pretty good too! The worst thing? I'm really not sure there is one - I suppose there are things like having a budget to record with, and having to turn down gigs we'd love to play due to work. We were offered Temples Festival this year, which would have been so incredible, but due to work/costs it didn't happen, so stuff like that is a bummer alright. But the pros far far outweigh the cons, no question. 
(SL) Influences and heroes, what are turn offs and turn on’s?
(DM) Influences are hard to define. I always think people confuse bands they like with influences - like, I really like Sonic Youth, but in no way does their sound come through in ours. Also, I've always been more influenced by bands I've seen and played with. There was a band here in Belfast about 12 years ago called Kabinboy who really influenced me - they were a really rockin' Gore/early Melvins sort of thing, an instrumental three piece. From them I learned about using good equipment, and also about the importance of doing what you want to do and not caring about how it's received. Their DIY ethic still resonates now. Like a Kind of Matador from Leeds were a huge game changer for us all too, I'd seen them play with Boris when I was in a previous band, and they just blew my mind. We got to play with them a few times, and apart from being lovely people, they had the most huge sound imaginable. Their whole thing really affected the way I think about writing, and definitely guitar tuning/gear/playing.
In terms of the big names, then Ron Ashton from the Stooges remains my number one, Chris really likes guitar players like Mark Linkous (Sparklehorse), and like all heavy rock drummer I guess, Marty takes a leaf from John Bonham's book. I like musicians who don't feel the need to show off all their prowess all the time, people who play for the song. Steve Brooks from Torche is a good example, he can really shred, but just focuses on the riffs.
Turn offs are way too many to list - but really any band who just try and mimic another one tend to bore me senseless, regardless of genre. I've sat through quite a few where it's clear they've only heard one album, and just recreate it. Not good! 
SL) Any record from the past or present that springs to mind?
(DM) The first Stooges album, definitely. So simple, but so good. We're all suckers for early Hawkwind too, it probably doesn't come through too strongly in our stuff, but the sense of spaciousness from the first three or four records is something we aim for in our stuff. And probably fail miserably!! Of more recent stuff, Floor's self titled was the first record I'd heard that combined real seismic heaviness with ultra-melodic vocals, and I still can't believe more people don't rave about that record.  
(SL) The last album that kicked your arse?
(DM) I only recently picked up the True Widow record "Circumambulation", and I think it's really great. They're quite new to me so I'll investigate their stuff further. Not heavy in any way, but the last Bjork album is so crazy it's a really great listen too. The next records that are going to really kick everyones arse are the new Conan and Headless Kross records - a big plus of being in a band is sneaky previews of mate's stuff, and those two are absolute stone cold killers.
(SL) What was your first instrument or musical experience and what do you use today? 
(DM) It was guitar, and I was a definite late starter. I'd bought a cheap guitar as a teenager, but gave up almost immediately as I couldn't play Voivod songs straight away. So it wasn't too positive - I was insanely jealous of people who were able to just pick it up, seemingly without any real effort. It was only when I was in my late 20's that I really got started, my wife was living in France for a year with University, and so I had to occupy myself somehow. I hooked up with Marty, and through sheer force of will (on my part, Marty could play really well from the age of 14) we wrote two or three really crude two riff songs. Out of the blue we were offered a gig at the DIY punk collective where we practiced, and now here we are years later. I'm glad it happened though, I can't imagine not playing. Today our gear hasn't changed much for years, and we're all serious gear nerds. I play the same SG guitar I've owned since I bought it off Chris 12 years ago; it's all modified and has pretty much all the original parts replaced. My amp is an Orange/Matamp 120, and I run an orange 4x12 cab. I'd like to run two amps, but it's so much hassle dragging all that gear to shows, plus we've never had anyone complain we're too quiet! I've a pile of fuzz boxes, mostly custom stuff, some delays, stuff like that. Nothing too crazy to be honest. Chris is more clever with effects than me so he tends to use more weird modulations/loopers and stuff. Marty is slowly developing his own mini-empire behind the kit, he's adding synths and weird orchestral drums and all sorts bit by bit. It's quite a set up! 
(SL) One item, gear or otherwise that characterises your band and one item from your set up you cannot live without?
(DM) Honestly I don't think there is just one, we're all such nerds that every aspect of our equipment is really tweaked to suit exactly what we want to sound like. I suppose reviewers and that tend to mention to guitar tones quite a bit, which is down to a combination of gear, it's not like we'd get this sound by simply plugging any guitar into a Big Muff or whatever. Chris and I spend an inordinate amount of our time researching guitar gear, and from the type of strings to the valves in the amps it's all carefully chosen, which to be honest is half the fun. We've been extremely fortunate to have a few really great companies built pedals specifically for us, just last year Nicholas at Dunwich Amps sent us over some really cool Cthulu fuzzes which we used a lot, and both Eldritch Electronics and OXfuzz have built us really top notch stuff. The gear that's been on most of our stuff over the years is D*A*M fuzzboxes, they're just so well made and sound fantastic. We've a great relationship with the head honcho there, Dave Main, and both Chris and I have used his stuff since Slomatics started. Given the global acclaim his stuff gets, it's mad to think he would choose to support some tiny band like ours.
(SL) You decided to work with James Plotkin again in terms of the mastering; he and Brad Boatright for example, seem to be the go to guys.  You worked with him on A Hocht, what does he bring to the table and in terms of recording what are your thoughts on Pro-tools versus old school methods?
(DM) James is an easy choice every time. He just works magic, and is really easy to deal with, as well as being super efficient and quick. He's improved the sound of everything we've sent him. We'd never look beyond him to be honest. 
In an ideal world, where studio time was unlimited, we'd like to record to tape. Really though, we took 4 days to record and mix Estron which for us is a long time, so Pro-Tools makes sense. I'm a luddite, but not a technophobe at all - I don't have a clue how pro-tools (or literally ANY recording gear to be honest) works, but it's worked well for us. I think the studio and the approach of the engineer is way more important anyway. We record live, all of us a room with the amps up full blast, and then we overdub extra guitars and vocals. There is genuinely very, very little "fixing" goes on, and there are loads of unexpected things, nice feedback or whatever, that stay in the mix. The studio we use (StartTogether here in Belfast) is great, and the main engineer Rocky O'Reilly has a very relaxed approach where he just tries to capture our real sound, without cleaning anything up. He's always into loads of experimentation which suits us down to the ground.
SL) Nearly 10 years as a band, is playing live still as important today given the influences of the web and social media?
(DM) It is to us, and I think for most bands playing stuff in a similar vein. I listen to quite a bit of electronic music and can see why that stuff may not translate as well to the live setting, but for bands like ours where volume is important then the live show is always going to be what it’s all about. I’ll definitely never get tired of seeing loud, heavy bands in small venues, so I guess we’ll not tire of playing them either. Without trying to be too capitalist about it, we get paid for gigs, and not for Facebook posts, so gigs always help keep the band going too. Plus, gigs are fun – there have been very, very few over the years where we’ve thought it wasn’t worth the long drive or whatever.
(SL) What are your survival tips for the road?
(DM) Ha! “The road” for us is seldom more than a couple of days, so survival is pretty easy! I really don’t know how serious road dogs do it – I chatted to the guitarist from Mastodon years back and he said they’d been at home less than 30 days in the previous year, living in a van the rest of the time. So we’re not really in a position to offer any advice – get a cheap hostel so you sleep well, and don’t form a band with anyone who is a dick, that’s maybe the extent of our survival tips I’m afraid!! 
(SL) Who are some your favourite bands you have toured with and what have been your band highlight (s) thus far
(DM) Bands we’ve played with – definitely Conan and Headless Kross in recent times, and before that Like a Kind of Matador. Both the Conan/Kross guys are just so much fun, super laid back and really good company. We’ve known Jon from Conan for years, so it’s always fun hooking up with those lads, he’s a really entertaining and dead nice guy. The Headless Kross boys share a lot of ground with us and are all in fairly similar situations as us in terms of real life stuff, so the craic with those guys is deadly. The last time we played with them in Edinburgh ended up in one of the most bizarre impromptu recording sessions, which might actually make it onto vinyl this year. Too much fun. But really, we’ve never played with any bands large or small who have been real idiots or anything, and quite often the more well known bands are the most welcoming and least uptight. Only one person, who will remain nameless, was a pain. The Baroness, Torche, Khanate and Mogwai guys all stand out as being super cool.
(SL) Vinyl Junkie or Ipod flunky? Discuss   
(DM) Vinyl Junkies all the way. I get the convenience of an iPod and all that, but there’s absolutely no comparison at all. None of us are downloaders, we all value the physical format every time.
(SL) Finally, I am yet to see you guys live, therefore and not wishing to put you on the spot, If I was create an inaugural Sludgelord Fest (I actually mean play at 37 birthday, haha), would you play and do you have any final comments/word of wisdom you’d like to bestow upon us?
(DM) BOOK US AND WE WILL COME!! Most definitely Aaron, we’d be happy to ruin your birthday with our din, but would only for payment of birthday cake. I’d LOVE to see a Sludgelord Fest, that’d be such a cool thing to happen. Count us in!
Words of wisdom? THANK YOU to everyone who has bought a record, CD, shirt, come to a show, put us on or downloaded our music – the support has been amazing and hugely appreciated! We’ll hopefully see some of you this year, and if anyone wants us to play their town just ask, we’re cheap! Oh yeh, and if you don’t own at least one – go buy a fuzz pedal. Now!
Prize Giveaway

Thanks to David for such a great interview.  Now!! For your chance to win a fantastic test press of their latest record, Estron.  Simply share this interview including #SludgelordVsSlomatics #SlomaticsTestPressGiveAway. Do this and a winner will be picked at random over the next 7 days,  with a winner annouced via our Facebook a week today. 
If you needed any reminders about how amazing their latest record is, read it here

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