Olde Growth don't get hung up on labels

Every now and then a band comes along that takes you by the balls and that is what happen with me and these mutha's from Boston called Olde Growth. I managed to catch up with Stephen and Ryan, the two who make up this crushing two-piece Sludge/Stoner/Doom machine. I hope you read this interview carefully as this band will create a stir in the underground very shortly, read on and discover why.....

Hello, thanks for this interview. This is a boring generic question but in the case of Olde Growth, an interesting one..... Influences. Olde Growth seem to have an very varied mix of them which in turn makes the band come out with some very unique music within the genre. Of course we have all know Electric Wizard, Goatsnake, Sleep etc but does the band take any inspiration from bands outside of this genre?
Stephen: Oh yeah. We both have pretty wide appreciation for music, and we even play other stuff that’s completely different from what we do in Olde Growth. Probably some of the biggest outside influences are hardcore and thrash. We’re also inspired by more psychedelic-oriented stuff. We play metal but our overall outlook is more in line with what you would expect from a punk band.

Ryan: Yeah, our approach is probably more influenced by bands like Black Flag and The Minutemen than any metal band. Stylistically, I think the element of triumph is missing from a lot of bands in our genre, so our love of bands like Iron Maiden, Mercyful Fate and Megadeth is pretty crucial to how we approach playing this stuff.

The album is up on the Bandcamp site but I know that Bandcamp has a very mixed reputation, basically some people like it and some hate it. What has been your experience and do you think its a better way of getting your music heard as compared with MySpace?
Stephen: Aside from a few quirks in their user interface, I’ve got nothing but good things to say about Bandcamp. It’s hands down the best way for independent artists to sell (or give away) their music on the Internet. We have complete control over how we want to offer our music, it looks great, the quality of the audio stream is great, and the share they take from your sales is pretty reasonable. Honestly, we wouldn’t even be on Myspace anymore if we didn’t use it to communicate with other bands. Personally I prefer email anyway.

Ryan: I don’t know who these people who hate Bandcamp are, but they’re dumb. As far as I’m concerned, Myspace is for people to learn what a band is about without having to find or buy the record first, and Bandcamp lets you make that happen with almost no limitations. It’s basically just free file hosting so if you hate the Internet I guess it sucks, but I love the Internet!

I also read the album was really several years in the making, why so long?
Stephen: This is the first band either of us have been in that has played a lot of shows outside of our hometown, and I’d never sang in a band before. In fact, when we started out it was all instrumental. So what you hear now is the culmination of our sound evolving for five years or so, with material that spans our entire existence as a band. It was almost a year from the time we recorded basic tracks to the final mastering of the album, as the sessions were pretty spread out. But I’m glad it happened that way because it gave us a chance to step back and evaluate what we were doing, and end up with the best record we could at the time. I wouldn’t want to work that way again, but I have no regrets.

The number of two piece bands in the sludge/stoner/doom scene has grown out of control the last couple of years and I can see how just two people working together can be a easier option for a band than four or five people with different personalities. Will Olde Growth continue as being just a two piece combo?
Stephen: Yes. We were a two piece from the beginning, and recorded our first demo that way, but we eventually had our friend Ben Forleo join the band on guitar. He’s actually the one who came up with the main riff to “The Grand Illusion”. We had some really nice interplay between our two instruments, but he had to leave the band after playing with us for about a year. We thought about looking for another guitar player, but we didn’t want to stop playing shows, so we found ways to make it work as a two-piece. Eventually it got to the point where we liked it better that way.

Ryan: I think the most significant part about trying to play this sort of music with two people is what the challenges have produced. We wrote a lot of songs when we were playing with Ben that we thought we’d have to scrap when he bowed out, but between experimenting with gear and Steve basically reevaluating his approach to the bass in light of what the songs had become, I think we are now a much more capable band than we were three years ago. We couldn’t have written half our songs as a two piece until after we had to learn to play them that way.

Do you feel the band is limited in regard to being just bass and drums?
Stephen: There are times when we wish we could have sweet guitar solos, but I think the limitation forces us to be more creative in our approach. We have a few techniques for getting a huge sound, playing through two amps with different EQ settings and using octave pedals. I’ve also become much more comfortable with simplicity and minimalism when I’m writing. It’s fun when people come up to us and tell us how surprised they were that we don’t have a guitar.

Ryan: We’ve tried using looping pedals to allow for solos, but it usually gets too muddy to really make that work. Having a whole other human in our band would make that sort of thing easier, but then we’d have a whole other human to deal with, so I think it’s an alright trade off.

The band has played with some killer bands including one of my favorites, Black Pyramid. Is Boston a happening place for bands like yourselves?
Stephen: Yeah, totally. Sometimes it even feels like there’s too much going on. There’s Doomriders, who just opened for Sleep in Brooklyn, Phantom Glue, Riff Cannon, Finisher, Bloodhorse, Black Pyramid of course in Western Massachussets, Elder...the list goes on. We also have some killer thrash bands like Ramming Speed and Razormaze. We both also really like Ocean up in Portland Maine. So there’s a lot of great heavy music in New England, but just like anything else it all comes down to who you know when it comes to getting shows.

Ryan: Boston has a bunch of rad metal bands but not so many rad places to play. I think the most exciting shows we’ve played have been in places like Connecticut where the scene isn’t big enough to be so segregated and therefore a band like us isn’t confined to bars just because we’re playing doom stuff; we get to play with all sorts of cool bands whose Boston counterparts we’d be less likely to have shows with. The same goes for punk and hardcore, shit stays really homogeneous here, but that’s because there are just so many fucking bands. Fortunately, tons of them rule.

I have heard you have some exciting news about a record deal?
Stephen: We just singed with Meteorcity to put out our Self-Titled record. We’re very excited, as we have a ton of respect for those guys, and I think that being on Meteorcity will expose us to a ton of new listeners.

Ryan: Steve is sick of doing this shit by hand. We signed with Meteorcity ‘cause he’s a big baby.

People who I have shown the CD to are intrigued by the packaging, can you tell us how that came about?
Stephen: Sure. The first time I saw an Arigato pack was a few years ago when I bought Earth, Spirit and Sky by Lamp of the Universe, a really great psychedelic musician from New Zealand. It came in this really unique folded package. When we were discussing the album art and packaging we decided we wanted to have a monochrome image silk screened on a brown cardboard case. We also decided to go DIY, so I went looking for packaging on the Internet and came across the Arigato pack from Stumpdown Printers. They seem to be catching on, as I’ve seen a few other bands using them. The CD itself is a Lightscribe CD, which after burning the disc you flip it over and it burns an image into this special coating on the surface. We thought the gold color would go nicely with the brown cardboard case. At the end of the day, we feel that if someone is going to buy our CD as opposed to just downloading it the package itself should be a compelling work of art.

What has been the reaction to the album so far?
Stephen: Reaction to the album has been great. It took us forever to finish the artwork and packaging, and the record was done but we were just sitting on it. So we put the album on Bandcamp as a free download and sent the link to friends. That was sometime back in March. Sometime between then and when you posted the review Bandcamp blew up. A lot of people have been sharing it on blogs and forums, and we’ve got a bunch of listeners on last.fm. It’s been fun to watch it spread organically.

Ryan: I honestly didn’t know anyone had really even heard it until a couple months ago when I googled us and found the Doommantia review and folks talking on messageboards, which are both apparently thanks to the Bandcamp thing. So far I haven’t read anything like “more Sleep worship” or whatever, which wouldn’t be a horrible thing, but it seems like people who have heard the album like it, and that’s pretty nice.

Can you tell the readers about how the songs came together ? Do you sit down and write or just jam things out?
Stephen: We usually start by just jamming things out. Once we come up with some good material we start to get a bit more analytical about the arrangement, but most of this still happens in the practice room. Even though I write all the riffs and most of the lyrics, it’s basically 50/50 when it comes to arranging the songs and the over-all direction of the music. I have a lot of respect for Ryan’s opinion when it comes to music, and he comes up with ideas for parts that influence what I play, like “lets have a part here that sounds more like Megadeth”. The “eons pass” part of Sequoia and the faster parts in Awake are a good examples of Ryan’s contributions. One of the nice things about being a two-piece is that it allows us to be completely democratic about everything. The more heads you get into the room the more difficult that becomes.

There has been a lot of debate recently around message boards over the abuse of tags given to bands. Stoner Rock doesn't seem to mean anything anymore and Doom Metal is an very abused musical tag. What is your opinion and do you think these tags are relevant to Olde Growth?
Stephen: I think both of those tags are totally relevant to us, and that most people searching for those things are going to like what they hear. Bands that abuse tags are only doing damage to themselves. No one is going to be happy if they’re searching for “doom metal” and end up listening to a band that sounds like Godsmack. We try to be completely honest with the tags we use. Like “two-piece” for instance. We don’t sound anything like the White Stripes, but being a two-piece is something that sets us apart from other stoner/doom bands.

Ryan: The stonery stuff seems to be the hot new thing right now and tons of mediocre bands are blowing up, so the bastardization of labels like doom and sludge are bound to happen. It’s the same as the ten thousand hipster-bedroom-blackmetal pages on myspace and all the teenaged throw-away thrash metal bands, but I don’t think it’s worth it to get hung up on labels.

Does the band have any long-term ambitions ? How far can Olde Growth go in today's screwed up music world?
Stephen: Our goal is to keep doing Olde Growth as long as we get enjoyment out of it. Personally, I would like to become important enough that we could disappear for ten years and then come out with a new record and have people care about it.

Ryan: I think we’re sort of already doing it - more people caring could be cool though. Getting to the point where we have enough recognition or maybe just enough friends to be exclusively playing shows we’re psyched on, which for me means shows that people are psyched to be at, is about the loftiest goal I have as a musician. As a metal band of relatively unknown status, I think it would be difficult for us to tour right now playing shows that aren’t predominately at bars. If we could pull that off I’d be pretty fucking satisfied.

I am just curious about something, when doing research on the band I discovered a couple of other bands call Olde Growth, will this be a issue in the future because the other bands that share the name are pretty horrible.
Stephen: This is something we thought long and hard about when we decided to become Olde Growth. We were called Space Train for a while, which was a cool name, but as our sound grew darker and heavier we thought about changing it to better reflect the mood and feel of the music. Huge, centuries-old trees covered in moss seemed like the perfect imagery. We did some research on the name and found Old Growth from Portland, OR, who had a few records out and had done some touring. So we scrapped that idea and started again from scratch. We came up with some great names, but they were all taken (some of the bands hadn’t been around too long either).  Still, we found that we kept coming back to Old Growth. We thought about calling ourselves “Old Growth Forest”, but eventually decided that spelling it like “Olde English” made it just different enough. Turns out a jam band from Seattle had the same idea as us, but honestly I’m not too worried about them.

Ryan: I think we’ve talked about changing the name almost as long as we’ve been playing shows, but once we were actually recording something legitimate that we wanted people to really give a shit about it seemed like we had to do it or be Space Train forever, and that didn’t feel right anymore. As far as other bands that don’t even sound like us being called Old Growth, I’m not worried.

Since my research wasn't much of a success, can you tell the readers a bit about how the band was formed?
Stephen: We got together over the summer of 2005, just the two of us jamming in Ryan’s basement, about an hour north of Boston in New Hampshire. We lived in the same town and went to the same high school. Ryan was a few grades under me, but he played in a band with my brother that I had recorded. What really brought us together was that we both wanted to play something a bit heavier than what we’d already done. It was kind of on and off for a while, since we both went to school in different parts of the country.

Ryan: Steve was the only person I knew who liked metal and that’s what I wanted to play, but I was a shitty drummer so we played slow.

The band's lyrics are also very good and very visual. Where do these lyrical concepts come from?
Stephen: Thanks. I get inspiration for the lyrics from a lot of sources...books, film, nature...anything that fits with the scale and sound of the music. Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five, Robert Heinlein’s Orphans of the Sky and of course Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings all served as inspiration for tracks on this record. With Sequoia the imagery came straight from the music. We have a new song about a volcano in Nicaragua that the Spaniards thought was possessed and called “the mouth of hell”. They even placed a huge wooden cross at the top to try to exorcise the mountain. The coolest part is that the riff came to me as I was staring down into the crater.

What do you dude's do outside of the band and what other talents do you possessed apart from the heavy riffage?
Stephen: Well, we both play in a few different projects outside of Olde Growth at any one time. We play together in a thrashy hardcore band called Bear Hug (Ryan plays guitar). I’m playing in a folk/americana type band with my brother called The Brementown Musicians, and I do some folky solo stuff as well. I do a lot of design (mostly for Olde Growth), and I work in video post-production and film live music.

Ryan: My only talents are heavy riffage, unfortunately. Most of my musical efforts of the past year have gone into Bear Hug and now I’m doing drums in a sludgeviolence type thing called Curmudgeon.

OK, that is it for now, any final words for the readers of BRUTALISM.com?
Stephen: Yeah. Anyone who wants a copy of our CD with the fancy packaging described above can pick one up from our Bandcamp page, or at one of our shows. Thanks for reading everyone!
Interviewer: Ed
Oct 6, 2010
Next interview: Interview with Paul Gillis

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