Q&A: Torche On Sci-Fi Sounds And Feel-Good Metal + “Restarter” (Stereogum Premiere)
For the past decade, Torche have confounded listeners while delighting them at the same time. Are they metal? Pop? Punk? Pop metal? Does it even matter? While several members of Torche have said publicly that they don’t consider themselves a metal band, their roster of former touring partners indicates that some very reputable musicians consider them heavy. The fact that their new album, Restarter, (we are premiering the title track today) might be the heaviest of their four albums only muddies the waters even more.
One thing you can say definitively about Torche: They are masters of melody and songwriting, dating back to their debut and the critical favorite Meanderthal, which was named a top 10 record in multiple locations in 2008. As they’ve hopped from labels, they have sharpened their songwriting chops even more, offering listeners their heavily distorted and fuzzy take on pop and rock and metal and probably a few other things. While Restarter, released on the reliably extreme label Relapse, might be their heaviest album, it doesn’t abandon the things we’ve grown to love about the band. We talked to bassist Jonathan Nuñez about their new record, why a lot of heavy music doesn’t make listeners feel good and how their hometown of Miami has influenced their sound. And while you’re reading, listen to “Restarter” — it’s an incredible song.
STEREOGUM: Could you tell me a little bit about the track we’re premiering today, “Restarter”?
NUÑEZ: The track started with a riff that Andrew [Elstner, guitarist] worked on. It kind of captures the vibe of the artwork by coincidence. Steve [Brooks, guitars and vocals] and I had the idea for the artwork that [touched on] the fall of mankind, post-apocalyptic, machinery taking over –- what lies ahead for all of us. It was sort of James Cameron. And I think the song kind of has a futuristic, almost Blade Runner-type vibe whereas some of the songs are more rocking. This song is kind of eerie, slightly haunting. The song, honestly, was going to be named something else. “Restarter” was thrown around for a few song titles and I thought it fit here. It came to match the song and it also matched the whole record. And I’m all for short titles when it comes to songs and records.
STEREOGUM: So some of the ideas on this record are a lot darker?
NUÑEZ: It’s not close to a concept record. But I think the tones and sounds we’ve been getting live have influenced what we played and the feel and the vibe. We gravitate to a heavy tone and certain notes that cater to certain feelings. There was no agenda like it has to be heavy because it’s on Relapse. There is the sunny track or two but the overall tone is darker, heavier and moodier. It’s definitely a bit slower than Harmonicraft and the songs breathe more.
STEREOGUM: You mentioned Blade Runner. Were you or the band reading or watching any other dystopian stuff?
NUÑEZ: Not really. We just try to maximize our time together writing. Steve is in San Francisco, Andrew is in Atlanta and Rick [Smith, drums] and me are in Florida. When we get together we put in some really long days. We were all fans of sci-fi, whether it was comic books, TV show — anything from The Outer Limits crossing into horror. We also liked Creepshow and Star Wars. It’s what the average kid growing up in the ’70s and ’80s liked. Somehow, it sort of fascinates all of us; there’s a sci-fi type of sound and vibe to Restarter.
STEREOGUM: That’s funny because the way you talked about the title track almost made it sound like it had a Fear Factory feel to it.
NUÑEZ: [laughs] Well, “Annihilation Affair” [the opening track] does have a rhythmic, pummeling repetition to it. It has a hypnotic vibe and is pleasurable but punishing.
STEREOGUM: Because of technology a lot of bands can live in disparate places and write music almost piecemeal. It sounds like what makes Torche work is getting to the same place.
NUÑEZ: Absolutely. And I agree –- nowadays as a recording engineer I work on projects where people just go home and when something feels good I send them an upload. The Internet has a lot of pros and cons. You can record with four people around the world. We do Torche demos via email and file sharing but we have to get together. For Restarter, I think I wrote two complete songs with a drum machine, and that’s the first time we’ve ever done something like that because we are so used to playing off of each other. We like to be able to add in and play with songs and build things around riffs. We are pretty intense when it comes to critiquing each other. We all work hard to get the best end result.
STEREOGUM: Can you hear when other bands do something remotely because it doesn’t sound spontaneous?
NUÑEZ: You can hear when a band plays together. It tends to sound more lively and energetic and less stiff. I like stuff with the rough edges, stuff that jumps out. If it’s too locked into a grid, it almost feels like programmed music. You can feel when people are just raging in a room. Music has to have character. Nowadays, people are so quick to sequence something. But I like a record to take you places, and if it’s too on the grid and perfect it’s not real. All the classic rock bands –- it’s more about the grand scheme and the big picture. It’s not about every track being triggered. That stuff turns me off and I won’t listen to it. I like people who push sounds and equipment. It’s a plus if you can capture the feeling of a band live. You want to have a reaction like, “This is what I heard live and I like this feeling.”
STEREOGUM: What has always stuck with me about Torche both listening your albums and seeing you live is a certain warmth.
NUÑEZ: I hope that’s the case. We’re from Florida and we use a lot of valve amplifiers and a lot of analog gear. You can pass a guitar around the room and it will sound different from one person to the next. And when a group of people is in the mix there’s a whole element. It’s like a meal; a bunch of ingredients doing something different.
STEREOGUM: There’s so much heavier music —- particularly metal –- where the focus is on making you feel bad. Do you think metal has lost the ability to make people feel good? Just look at what AC/DC did over the years.
NUÑEZ: That’s a pretty good point. One of the bands that first grabbed my attention was Steve’s old band Floor. It was so catchy and the melody was great but it was so heavy. I don’t think there is anything more powerful than melody, whether acoustic or something crushing. A lot of metal bands use dark and dissonant sounds as opposed to things that are brighter and dare I say uplifting. AC/DC is powerful and rocking and make you want to party. I am also a fan of melodic stuff that has morbid lyrics. I remember when I first heard the Misfits; they have this fuzzy, brown gritty tone. And they had fast songs but also these morbid punk ballads. It’s rare to have a heavy and happy band. Your average band is pissed off and dark. Growing up I listened to a lot of Youth Of Today and Gorilla Biscuits and then [Metallica’s] Kill ‘Em All and [Slayer’s] Reign In Blood. But when I heard the Misfits, it was like, holy shit. The sounds weren’t metallic. It was like fuzzed-out classic rock or punk. You could hear the aesthetic in their music.
STEREOGUM: You’ve now released four records on four different labels. Is that the reality of the recording business these days?
NUÑEZ: We worked with Robotic Empire for the debut, but they felt it was time for us to move and grow. We were excited to work with Hydra Head, but they stopped putting out new music. So we went on and Volcom seemed the most interested. I don’t know if the label decided to close or just work to promote bands. Relapse was interested years ago and Steve wrote them. And they had been fans since the beginning. We met them in person when we were on the road and everything has lined up incredibly well. They are a very solid label and genuinely into what we’re doing.
STEREOGUM: Do you think Miami has influenced your sound?
NUÑEZ: People tend to work harder here. It takes a lot to get out of the state and get noticed. We’re at the bottom of the southeast. Bands from here have to push it because we’re cut off. I do feel there’s been a huge resurgence here lately for people starting bands. There’s a certain energy with the weather and lifestyle. But there can be distractions because you can always go to the beach. [laughs] Being cut off, you work extra hard and try to put a signature on your sound. And when you do that, it radiates. You can hear that in our bass and the guitars, which are like beams of sunlight. You can hear that we’re not from LA or Chicago. We’re not from anywhere but here. Florida is crazy as hell but there’s an energy here and some musicians are able to hone in on that.
STEREOGUM: Does Andrew still hear about that pissing bat? [Elstner needed to have a series of rabies shots in 2012 when a bat urinated in his eye.]
NUÑEZ: Sometimes we’ve gone overseas and there will be bats and he will walk fast. It was a freak accident and freak story. He had to deal with it on the road with getting rabies shots and he won’t forget about it. But it always comes up. It’s a funny story — now that everything is OK.
Restarter is out 2/24 via Relapse.