Progress Report: Steve Brooks talks about the band’s new album Harmonicraft.
Sludge-pop metalheads Torche are having a busy 2012. Not only did the band make waves by having a bat pee in their guitarist’s eye a few weeks ago, they also released an excellent new single called “Kicking” and are currently in the middle of a tour across the US. This week the band unleashes Harmonicraft, their third album and first recording to feature new guitarist Andrew Elstner. The new album continues in the heavy tradition of 2008’s Meanderthal but ups the ante by marrying the group’s trademark sludge-dipped power riffs with hooks that veer into the rarefied territory of power pop, making the band one of the most interesting anomalies in the world of metal. This summer the band will do a string of tour dates with Corrosion of Conformity before destroying Atlantic City at the Metallica-curated Orion Festival at the end of June. I spoke with frontman Steve Brooks about the making of Harmonicraft and just how Torche fits in with the increasingly codified world of heavy metal.
STEREOGUM: How and where was Harmonicraft made?
BROOKS: Some of it was written early last year. When we started playing with Andrew we started writing new songs at the very first practice. We started recording in October and now we’re just waiting for it to come out.
STEREOGUM: Meanderthal came out in 2008, which creates a pretty big gap between records. Did you guys just tour that album forever?
BROOKS: Pretty much, in between we did Songs for Singles — an EP that was actually supposed to be a full length. I think as a three-piece, we kinda overanalyzed everything and then one of the members wasn’t there but he’d pop in and say, “No, no, no, that’s not working. Do it again.” Stuff like that. Some things were working and some thing weren’t. No one could agree. We were basically the Strokes. Then we toured a lot but also put out the EP. You can’t rush a full length or else you’re going to have a lot of filler. Once we got Andrew it was nice writing together again with Jon and also to have another creative guy in the band. The change really inspired me to write. This album was really a collaborative effort.
STEREOGUM: How did Andrew come to join the band?
BROOKS: I knew him because I really liked his old band Riddle of Steel and when Juan was no loner in the band Andrew was the first guy I thought of since I loved his voice. I also loved his songs and he’s a super cool dude. At the time his previous had just broken up so I asked him and the timing just wasn’t right since he had other priorities at the time, but eventually things changed and he was really to play again, so he moved out to Atlanta and everything has been great. It’s nice to have someone else in the band that can sing and help to pull off those harmonies live.
STEREOGUM: Now that the record is done and you’ve had a chance to go out and start playing these songs live, how does Harmonicraft feel in relation to the previous records?
BROOKS: I think it’s a more mature record for us I think we’ve grown and grown. It still sounds like us, though. I think it’s our best record. I know most people will say that about their new record, but I really think it’s our best yet. We’re all really excited about it.
STEREOGUM: Where did the title of the record come from?
BROOKS: Our sound guy and Joe from Part Chimp were talking with Andrew and that word came up and he was going to use it as one of the songs titles and it somehow ended up being the title of the album. When the artwork for the record came back to us, that word just seemed like a good fit. Harmonicraft seemed to describe all these different elements that had somehow all be fused together.
STEREOGUM: At first listen, the vibe of this record is way more upbeat — dare I say, even way more poppy — than the previous stuff.
BROOKS: I don’t know. I don’t really want to compare it to our other records. We were all really inspired when we wrote it and it never felt forced or too labored, which I think shows.
STEREOGUM: Where was it recorded?
BROOKS: It was recorded at Jon’s — our bass player — studio. We’ve recorded all of our records with him except for Meanderthal.
STEREOGUM: How long was the whole process?
BROOKS: It took a couple weeks to demo and get everything set and then we went back home to listen to it to make sure we were happy with everything. Then we went back and recorded for another two weeks.
STEREOGUM: Torche is something of an anomaly in the metal world. People always seem to be at loose ends trying to figure out how to classify what you do — which always strikes me as something even more intense in the world of metal; that need to really classify exactly what sub-genre of metal you are working in. It must get tiresome trying to explain that.
BROOKS: I think what we do confuses people nowadays, but if you look at bands from the ’70s they were just rock bands without all of these crazy labels. Take a band like Cheap Trick — you can hear some Beatles and some punk influences mixed into what they did and I think that’s what comes out in our sound as well. We’re influenced by a lot of different things. Of course we all grew up on metal. I love ’80s metal, which obviously comes out in what we do. I consider us a hard rock band. When people consider us a metal band they’re usually going to be disappointed because we’re not always all that metallic. It’s loud and aggressive but not very gloomy. It’s what we do. We try and play with lots of different types of bands, but if often confuses people. Audiences aren’t always sure what to make of us.
STEREOGUM: Have you noticed your audience changing over the years?
BROOKS: No, I have no clue. I don’t know who to please other than ourselves. We’re all pretty diverse. As for our audience … I mean, there are always a fair amount of metal guys in the audience. I love the audience when you start talking about bands like Cheap Trick or Guided By Voices or Van Halen. I think that’s more of our audience, people who are open-minded in regards to what constitutes “rock.” Like if you listen to the Melvins — they’re not a metal band, but they’re heavier than everybody else and they always have a pretty diverse audience.
STEREOGUM: As a fellow gay person who happens to write about rock music, I appreciate the fact that you are so open about that. It seems as if there are only a handful of people in the metal world who are comfortable being openly gay. I think it’s nice that you don’t shy away from talking about it.
BROOKS: Yeah. You know, I can’t not talk about it when I get asked.
STEREOGUM: Me and some friends throw a monthly gay metal party in NYC called Rainbow in the Dark. I was surprised by the turnout, which seems to be equal part guy guys who are into metal and straight metal dudes who just come out because it’s a metal night and don’t really care about it being a gay party with, say, a leather-clad go go dancer on the bar. The reaction to it was really refreshing.
BROOKS: I think a lot of things have changed for all of us. When I came out in the early nineties my friends were in punk bands were like, “Yeah — so what?” It wasn’t even an issue. I was lucky in that those were the kinds of people I was always around. I’ve never not been outspoken about it. I am who I am. It’s not even an issue but as far as metal fans are concerned, I always get that question asked. There are people like me all over world who don’t fall into the stereotype of what a gay man should be listening to and doing. I’ve always been into what I’m into. Sexuality hasn’t had anything to do with it. I’ve had people come up to me and say you know what’s great you’re speaking out about it. I guess if it helps other people, then I don’t mind talking about it. When I was younger there was no internet and I didn’t have any gay friends so I guess it’s nice to know you’re not alone — especially when you’re a musician playing more aggressive music. Its great knowing there’s other people out there that share the same interests. You won’t ever catch me alive listening to Lady Gaga. I’m always the one at the gay bar that boos whenever pop music comes on. I remember going to the Eagle in San Francisco years ago and the DJ was wearing a Thrones shirt and playing Cheap Trick and I was like –- “Are you in my mind? You’re playing everything I want to hear!” There are places to go that cater to every taste, you just gotta know where to go.
STEREOGUM: So what does the rest of the year look like for you?
BROOKS: We’re going to be touring a lot. Just trying to get this record heard and probably in-between tours we’ll start writing again. I don’t want there to be such a big gap between records next time. It just takes so long to actually put out a record.
STEREOGUM: How did your upcoming show at Metallica’s Orion Festival come about?
BROOKS: It’s wild. I met the bass player at the Troubadour in LA after our show and he was naming off some songs of ours asking why didn’t we play them during our set and I was totally blown away. He mentioned that he and James Hetfield wanted to do some shows with us. You know, I hear that from a lot of bands — which is awesome — but it just never usually happens. So we got the offer from them and we’re just kind of shocked and amazed by it. It’s rad.