Friday 13 October 2017

INTERVIEW: TarLung - "phlegmatic heaviness from Austria"

By: Stephen Murray

Within six months of forming back in 2013, TarLung had recorded their debut release, seven tracks of fuzzy self-confessed Eyehategod and Church of Misery worship. Yet it took until late last year before the next instalment of tectonic shamanism and their “Void” EP, emerged. Now, after the release of their full-length “Beyond the Black Pyramid”, with a sound so fat it is in danger of not being able to squeeze through your speakers, I threw some questions at Marian, Rotten and Five about what they had been up to in the interim.

Marian [drums]: [The debut] was received very positively, so we just continued with writing stuff, playing shows, and testing the new material in the live setting. It happened quite organically that the tunes got longer, darker and more refined, while of course maintaining the love for the gritty, fuzzy and noisy approach.  So we found ourselves with an extensive bunch of material a year or so after the first release and thought “an in between EP might be in order, but a new full length album is basically there as well…” So in the end we decided to go for one recording session for both EP and new album. And we knew there was a bunch of material, but indeed it was more than 90 minutes in total, which came as a surprise in the end… but we had kept adding parts and going slower, so that just sort of happened!  But yeah, the separation into “Void” tracks being closer to the desert biker blues of the debut and “Beyond the Black Pyramid” consisting of the lengthier, bleaker and more monumental tunes was settled before going into recording.

Rotten [guitars]: In fact we ended up with 20 minutes more than we anticipated before entering the studio.

The sound on Void” and Beyond...” feel unified, and distinct from the debut. How did that sound come about? Was it organic? Do you feel Lukas Haidinger captured your sound well? Did the recording process go smoothly?

Rotten: Well, we recorded both releases in a three-day session, so that might give the more unified feel. The decision to hit the Deep Deep Pressure studio again was an easy one for us as Lukas is a good friend and he recorded our debut as well. He understands what sound we are going after, as he is active in numerous bands including the Austrian sludge outfit Underground Groove Front (check them out, they are awesome!).  
Thanks to Lukas' great work, he was able to record all our songs live and in three or less takes per song. Recording with him is smooth and doesn't feel like hard work at all. There was always a relaxed atmosphere in the studio, despite the burning hot weather, and we are very happy how he captured our sound. This time we also used different amps than the first time, mainly an Orange Rockerverb MK I and an old Laney AOR – these got the job done alongside cool fuzz and effect pedals to spice things up.

Marian: Yeah, it was a great recording experience, but a full day of live tracking drums in the midsummer heat in a rooftop studio was indeed quite demanding… I was holding up somehow during playing, but after each take I got quite close to passing out, drenched in sweat. Mmmh, I must have smelled really good!

Five [bass]: Working with Lukas is definitely a pleasure. It's like recording in your own living room, but a lot hotter and louder. Lukas is also hugely technically adept in what he is doing; he knows his recording stuff. We pretty much just said how we would like to sound and that it should capture our on-stage performances – that was enough for him to create a blueprint for our sound on the album.

“Beyond...” really feels like a full-length. There seems to be a trend now of albums being shorter. I wonder if that is to accommodate vinyl's time limitations now that more bands have gone back to offering that format. What are your thoughts on that? Do you feel bands should be offering more from their releases? What do you hope to offer your audience when you set out to craft, record and release?

Marian: Yeah, actually we would have loved to put out “Beyond the Black Pyramid” on vinyl! Of course there is some sort of hipster hype about that format, but I personally love to spin some wax; it’s just a more intimate way to pay respect to your favourite artists. Alas, with 66 minutes running time, “Beyond the Black Pyramid” would have had to be a double LP, so in the end the cost factor was too off-putting for us. So it came to be good old CD format and bandcamp, and Black Bow Records did the digital release on other platforms like iTunes and Amazon for us – courtesy of Jon Davis of the mighty Conan. Thanks, man!

But maybe, if there is the demand, we still could get this record onto wax. Still would very much like to do it!

But about the running time: as mentioned before, it wasn’t really a conscious decision, it just happened… and we had to roll with it! There are great albums around the half hour mark which feel complete as they are, but others just need the long running time… Sleep’sJerusalem”, NeurosisTimes of Grace”, Electric Wizard’sDopethrone”… so while not wanting to compare us with those giants of heavy music, we hope that “Beyond the Black Pyramid” feels like a long, exhausting march through the searing desert, full of hallucinatory demons and visions of doom, which is just as long as it needs to be!

Rotten: If there is a big enough demand for a “Beyond...” vinyl we might give you one in the future, maybe with a preorder of some sort. Also the whole artwork Alex Eckman-Lawn did for us is intended to be used for a vinyl release.

Five: As Marian said, there are shorter and there are longer records, really depends on the music and the artist. While writing, for example, ‘The Prime of Your Existence’, I was well aware that this is now a >10 minute song. If I would get bored playing that song again and again, for example in band rehearsals, then there is something wrong with it. Cut it, make a riff shorter, whatever. But so far I did not have this feeling yet on any of the longer songs of the album. I can still get into a delirium-like state while playing the longer riffs, and that's really important to keep up your excitement. I hope it stays that way.

From the debut there were always elements of a kind of melodic doom, but how much do you think Beyond...” now leans towards minor melodies rather than bluesy licks to communicate its bleak bitterness?

Marian: I like to believe it was an organic transition, TarLung still sound like TarLung, but we have definitely shifted a bit from the NOLA style ‘slow man’s blues-punk’ towards a somewhat darker approach. I also think this matches the stories the songs tell, but apart from a few more ‘fun’ tracks like ‘Space Caravan’ the darkness has already been there on our debut: It was not so much ‘Drinking and smoking are fun!’, but more ‘Drinking and smoking might be fun, but you will fucking die.’ The same goes for the themes of apathy, misery and depression – but they emerged more clearly in the image of the Black Pyramid, which is of course a Lovecraftian motif, but at least for me also a strong symbol for personal struggle… but it is about going “Beyond the Black Pyramid”, not about wallowing in constant self pity, but about trying to overcome the misery, while maintaining that life will always contain its fair share of gloom.

Rotten: The whole lyrics of the song “Beyond The Black Pyramid” are also loosely based on different Lovecraft stories. For me the change was something that came naturally and wasn't intentional at all. I guess we just got more pissed off, or got a more disillusioned look on life as we got older.

Five: The debut album was, in general, a lot simpler. The rhythms are faster, there are much more accessible melodies, and the songs are much shorter. The tracks on the debut album were mostly pretty old ideas, from even before TarLung really existed.  Between the birth of TarLung and the creation of “Beyond the Black Pyramid” we had a lot of time to grow as musicians. Speaking for myself, I have gained a lot of experience playing the guitar and using my vocals.  
Meaning that as you get better as a musician, you can use your tools in different ways than you would have ever expected. The message of our music pretty much stays the same, but the language on how we communicate that message changed a bit. Maybe we'll speak a completely different musical-language on our next record. Who knows.

What have your adventures outside Austria been like? Do you find playing shows further afield easy for you or a challenge? Have you noticed a difference in how you are received in different places?

Rotten: So far we only had the chance to play in Germany.  I think our music is received quite well in most places and the audience always treated us well.  We had to take trains for most gigs outside of Vienna as none of us owns a car right now. It might not be the easiest way to do shows but our love for playing loud music for a crowd is bigger than the challenge of public transportation. But I'm sure we will be able to hit the road with a van sometime in the future to play more shows and hopefully visit more countries and meet many more people.

Marian: Würzburg was great both times, never seen an audience so drunk and wild! Cheers and thanks to Tommy Hellfighter, our good friend and supporter. And yeah, shout out to promoters all over Europe and the world: We want to play your miserable hellhole, get in touch, we want to make it happen!

Do you think stoner rock and sludge can exist without the influence of drugs? How much of TarLung's aesthetic is drugs based? Do drugs make for more creative work, or do they limit thinking and musical expression?

Rotten: For me drugs (including legal ones like alcohol or tobacco) aren't an important part of my life, and I think you don't need a mind altering substance to enjoy or write good music. I don't even get drunk before hitting the stage, maybe one or two beers but that's it for me. After the show I more than once got pretty shitfaced and we all had our fair share of partying so far.

Marian: Drugs are definitely a big and important part in underground music, a symbol for not wanting to be confined by the rules of the mainstream society, for separating yourself. But it really depends then – drug culture can become sort of conservative and restricting in its own way. So as much as I love Electric Wizard, Sleep and the likes: You are not automatically making great music just because you are stoned, and you don’t necessarily need to be stoned to enjoy “Jerusalem” or “Dopethrone”. TarLung is about a reality that is there, people doing what they do, partying and suffering. Not condemning it, but not glorifying it, either. In the end, what remains from all the highs is a bunch of tar in your lungs. That is the way of the world. A strange place to be, a strange life to live… but definitely better if you got some really heavy tunes to accompany your existence!

Five: I don't think that drugs are needed in any situation, especially for something creative like music, to really enjoy it. If I can only deeply listen to a particular record under the influence, then the record is probably not that good. Drugs may alter the experience of art, but I personally enjoy, for example, Doom Metal or a good book just as much without any mind altering substances.  I never understood bands who openly celebrate or promote drug use on stage. I don't actually mind it, as it's really none of my business what they do on stage, but this kind of music can be much more than just a drug induced fever dream. Having a few beers before stage time to get into a relaxed mood, and maybe one more beer on the stage to keep the throat moistened, is enough for me. After we've done our set, there's usually enough time left to really start partying.

I personally have never gotten intentionally "high" to write songs. In fact, I think I've never written any song under the influence of drugs. I like to focus on what I'm currently doing – if I'm sitting down to write a song or some riffs, I'm doing exactly that. Our band rehearsals are also usually very straight-forward: a few hours of focused music playing and song inventing. This seems to work quite well for us.  This doesn't mean that drugs are generally bad for doing creative stuff. Of course not. But for me personally it doesn't really go together. Better keep the fun stuff for after the work is done. All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy, as we all know.

The End

Band info: bandcamp || facebook