It doesn’t take long for my conversation with Cloakroom frontman Doyle Martin to turn apocalyptic — this was about a week ago, back in the days of old when “threatening World War III with North Korea” seemed like a mortal lock for this month’s most nightmarish nadir of American societal decline. “I think it’s always been real, it’s always been right around the corner to me,” Martin says, and judging by Cloakroom song titles, he’s got a point. Here’s an incomplete list of them: “Moon Funeral”; “Sickle Moon Blues”; “Starchild Skull”; “Deep Sea Station”; “The Sun Won’t Let Us Go”; “Concrete Gallery”; “Seedless Star”; “Time Well.” The Earth was already a cold, dead place two years ago on Further Out, and judging from Cloakroom’s massive sophomore album, Time Well, it’s only gotten lonelier: If the nuclear demise of our civilization is becoming increasingly plausible, Time Well is an imposing, impregnable juggernaut that sounds like it could be the last thing standing.
Martin indeed refers to Cloakroom’s studio as a bunker, though he jokes, “not a Some Kind Of Monster Metallica thing.” Built from scratch by the three members of the band, it’s a weaponized version of their old practice space, which already felt like it was on the edge of civilization — a converted sheet metal building in a “Bermuda Triangle” town on the border of Lake Michigan, which Martin speculates is empty save for “18-20 homes” and a short-lived, comically futile “Furnessville Forever” sign. “The few friends I’ve invited out there, they can’t find it with their GPS on their phone,” Martin notes. Its Wikipedia page contains nothing except its geographical coordinates and the history of its post office.
Pronounced “Furnace-ville,” it’s an appropriate enough for the slow-burning grind of Time Well, as well as Cloakroom’s industrial roots — when the band emerged from cultishly loved punk acts Grown Ups and Native, their bio was simply, “Cloakroom consists of three factory workers from the Region.” Martin, bassist Bobby Markos, and drummer Brian Busch — who is actually part metal now after spinal surgery — grew up in “little towns an hour outside of Chicago,” and have no plans to leave Chesterton, a city of approximately 14,000 people that’s close to both their studio and their new day gigs; both Martin and Busch work at breweries, while Markos is a delivery driver who moonlights as sprint car journalist and documentarian with his father. “I’ll say this: It’s not considered a musical mecca, but there’s a shitload of musicians around here,” Martin says. “Maybe I think there’s a lot, because I know them and have sought them out. But there’s this little pocket outside of Chicago of people that want to play riffs.”
As the title suggests, Time Well goes even deeper and darker than Further Out, though “Concrete Gallery” could’ve been just as appropriate of a name: Whereas Further Out provided short, mesmeric interludes and pulverizing, melodic alt-gaze the mode of Hum (whose Matt Talbott served as the record’s producer), the 10 dense slabs of sound here max out both the heaviness and the prettiness at the same time, occupying vast, desolate, and intimidating landscapes where borders between slowcore, shoegaze, doom metal and alt-rock disappear — portions of the seven-minute behemoths “Gone But Not Entirely” and “Sickle Moon Blues” could pass for early My Morning Jacket dosed with Quaaludes, “Hymnal” is 19th-century spiritual stretched to a hypnotic slow-dissolve and their November single “Big World” is also included, a midpoint between the heavier emo found on their old label Run For Cover and Relapse, the evolving metal juggernaut which they now call home.
“Concrete Gallery” might be their most metal song yet — not just in its blunt force riff, but also its source of inspiration. Sadly, “Concrete Gallery” can only aspire to be the second-best video of 2017 to be inspired by The Revenant, but Martin found Hugh Glass’ writings to be a good match for the song’s grim march — “It’s the one guy against an opposing, wild world that he has to carve his way through or somehow get back to what he used to know.”
This isn’t too far from the general mood of Time Well, which obliquely deals in the endgame for humanity, mental illness, and “the degradation of our bodily shell.” That threat is also real to Martin and even closer than right around the corner. In fact, it’s often right outside his door. Martin says he missed an earlier interview that day while discussing how to properly mix weed killer in a Super Soaker with his septuagenarian landlord Dennis, a cancer survivor who still takes any opportunity to relive his days as one of the original NIPSCO telephone pole servicemen. “That’s my boy,” Martin boasts. When he first rented the house six years ago, Martin was astounded at the guy’s willingness to defy entropy. “He’s like 72 at this point, let’s say, and I was like, ‘I’ll get up there and clean the gutters if you want to knock off $40-50 off rent,'” Martin recalls. “And he said, ‘Oh no, I’ll get up there.’ And he was up there with a windblower, garbage and rotting leaves all over the place.” In a way, Martin sees him as a kind of mascot for Time Well, of soldiering on through inhospitable conditions global, mental, and physical — “I was worried he was gonna fall down and die up there. He’s still sound in mind. But that’s just a sad truth of our fragile shells that we’re carrying around, I guess.”
We’re streaming Time Well right here, right now, prior to its official release tomorrow. Listen and read our full Q&A with Martin below.
STEREOGUM: What were the most immediate advantages of building your own studio? Some bands tend to like the pressure of having to be on a schedule.
DOYLE MARTIN: The healthiest part of having that is that we could go about our daily grind. I could pop my headphones in while driving to work and listen to what we recorded at 2 in the morning last night and be like, “Oh my God, that was an incredible idea.” We just had more time to mull things over, which is great. I mean, [otherwise] the label flies you over to Philadelphia or something to record for three weeks and then you leave and that’s it.
STEREOGUM: Is it strictly business at the studio, or did you turn it into a something that could double as a place to crash if things went on too late?
MARTIN: No, we haven’t made it comfortable. I mean it doesn’t have a couple of beanbag chairs and a N64 like some studios do. We played Magic: The Gathering until 3 in the morning twice, but that’s it.
STEREOGUM: Did there ever come a point where you felt you’d need to move to Chicago to make things happen?
MARTIN: We’ve already got our weird little roots spread out over this area, I think it’s ours to claim. We love Chicago, but we have to pay for a practice space, we have to take buses and trains and I can’t do that! I take pride in [being from Indiana], I think it’s cool that I didn’t do Chicago like a lot of my friends did. Not to talk bad about them, but I think they moved to Chicago initially to play in bands. They all have real-ass jobs now and they’re not playing music anymore.
STEREOGUM: Given the increased attention to Indiana and the midwest in general after the 2016 election, do you feel the need to defend your turf?
MARTIN: When people find out we’re from Indiana…[I’ll be] just glancing at Facebook and somebody will tag a friend who posts, [excited teenage voice] “and they’re from Indiana!” Exclamation mark. I saw someone post, “BEST BAND FROM INDIANA,” I’m like, “Oookay, yeah.” Maybe contemporarily? It’s funny that it’s an exceptional thing, like, “Wow, these guys can do this and they’re in Indiana!” I’ve heard it called the Middle East of the United States…NPR actually said that. I was driving to work and listening to NPR, like, “Oh my fucking God.” I think it was referring to Pence down in Indianapolis, basically, with women’s rights and gay rights.
STEREOGUM: Given that you now work at a brewery and live in close proximity to Chicago, I gotta ask if you’ve seen Drinking Buddies.
MARTIN: I don’t think so?
STEREOGUM: It’s an indie comedy where Jake Johnson works at a craft brewery in Chicago and the plot is basically him deciding whether he wants to date Anna Kendrick or Olivia Wilde. It’s completely insufferable.
MARTIN: Did Nothing have a sticker in it? That’s right, they did…a craft brewery movie!
STEREOGUM: Maybe you guys need to work that angle.
MARTIN: Get our sticker in a craft brewery movie! [Laughs.]
STEREOGUM: Cloakroom also has its foot in auto racing journalism, correct?
MARTIN: That’s Bobby. My stepdad is really into sprint car racing and has gone to races with him. But Bobby’s dad is a guru of sprint car racing. Bobby’s actually going to this tomorrow, at the National Dirt Late Model Hall Of Fame [in Florence, Kentucky] — his dad gives a speech every year and and makes these old, tough-ass men cry.
STEREOGUM: Is there a chance of Cloakroom trying to make inroads with the sprint car world?
MARTIN: Who knows. I just saw Dale Earnhardt Jr. post about the Wonder Years, maybe there is likeminded shit in there, maybe we can break it.
STEREOGUM: A lot of the songs on Time Well are extremely slow and some are seven-to-nine minutes long. I don’t think of Cloakroom’s music sharing many similarities to sprint car racing.
MARTIN: Well, those guys are outlaws, they can die out there at any moment.
STEREOGUM: Speaking of which, how has Brian been recovering from his spinal injury?
MARTIN: They rebuilt him. He wasn’t supposed to drive in a car — you know, potholes and everything — he was supposed to wear this crazy thing for months and he’s stronger than before. He’d kick my ass twice now. He could kick my ass before his terrible spine injury but now that he’s rebuilt, he could do it twice. I think it stemmed from years of skateboarding and playing sports and being a wild man! He wasn’t nice to his spine and it eventually happens. You live a wild life and then all the gelatinous fluid in your discs is dispersed throughout your body and then it’s bone on bone.
STEREOGUM: Was there a time where you thought his injury might end Cloakroom?
MARTIN: He was talking about the procedure, like, “They open you up and put metal in you and you’re not gonna be able to move like you used to.” But fortunately, he was playing drums a couple of weeks after he was done getting his surgery.
STEREOGUM: I’m sure there’s some overlap between people who obsessively follow Run For Cover and people who obsessively follow Relapse, but have you noticed a shift in the discussion surrounding Cloakroom?
MARTIN: Oh yeah, it’s there. The presence of them is definitely there. I try not to pay attention to that kind of thing, but these people are commenting on it, they’re at least not saying nothing about it. They’re like, “Yo, where’s the new diSEMBOWELMENT LP?” I’ve had a lot of people interviewing me and stuff, average Joes like, “Did you make this album heavier now that it’s on Relapse?” I really don’t think that there was any conscious thought to make it heavier or any notion about making it more metal. There wasn’t any talk about it, conscious or unconscious.
STEREOGUM: When I talked with Deafheaven, they said opening for Russian Circles was a formative experience that taught them how to be an actual, professional band. What did Cloakroom learn from touring with them?
MARTIN: They’re amazing people. I’ve learned a lot touring with them, because they’re just this streamlined, weird unit. I don’t think they’ll ever be in a bus, they’ll always be in a van with a trailer and just these calculated moves that Russian Circles make, even though they’re basket-case people. I don’t know they pull off their music so professionally.
STEREOGUM: You also did some shows with Brand New. Bringing another band into this, I remember Joe from Cymbals Eat Guitars saying that opening for Brand New exposed him to a real underserved fanbase for rock music that you don’t see in the indie world.
MARTIN: I think they had two semis and their Nightliner [tour bus]. Manchester Orchestra was there too. They set up these crazy, weird LED screens behind them that a guy also played live — the “fifth member” of the band. I ate really good on those four shows. We’re [playing] in front of 1200 people in Cleveland and I almost got into a fight with their guitar tech. We probably shouldn’t get into it if you’re gonna include it [laughs]. This is a perfect example of touring with a band and learning from it, like…we need a sound guy. We were playing these kind of venues that even Brand New was skeptical about playing with their sound and everything. We were playing outside and you just get a crew of these cutoff sleeve, paper bag-can old men, saying, [roadie voice] “OK, what’s your band sound like. Allllright, alright, we got it.” And they wouldn’t get it.
STEREOGUM: Given that you were playing in front of huge audiences that may not have heard of Cloakroom and might not be down with these slow, six-minute songs, what was your takeaway from that run?
MARTIN: Even the dudes from Manchester Orchestra, they would say, “Damn, that third song you played was awesome!” They were listening to us. I think we’re a healthy amalgam of those things. Brand New brought us on tour because I think Jesse [Lacey] and his wife listened to our record a couple of times. I think of when I was younger and how I would look up what my favorite bands were listening to — if they had some means to find music that I couldn’t apparently or wear some black T-shirts that I’ve never seen before. I was always really curious as to what these huge bands were into during brief stints of their history and so, I considered ourselves one of those bands. I mean, Jimmy Eat World is huge, but I didn’t hear of Jimmy Eat World until I was 15 and saw Mark Hoppus in a Jimmy Eat World shirt or some shit like that, y’know?
STEREOGUM: So if you’re gonna pay it forward, who are bands you want Cloakroom fans to find out about?
MARTIN: Bands that we’re listening to? Shirts that we’re wearing? I love those dudes in Tenement, they’re recording all this stuff by themselves and they have this incestuous scene that has everyone recording in their house. That DUSK band is insane and Technicolor Teeth is really good. The Magnolia Electric Co., I mean, we love that band, that’s why we covered “Steve Albini’s Blues,” so maybe people could find out about them.
STEREOGUM: Specifically with bands of late from Indiana — yourselves, Thunder Dreamer, Tim from Strand Of Oaks — there’s an enormous affinity for Jason Molina. What do you think makes his work resonate with people in this state?
MARTIN: He played a lot in Indianapolis and Bloomington. And a lot his songs have to do with the steel mill. That “Steve Albini’s Blues” song, geographically he’s singing about this bridge in Chicago that we always have to take. But a couple of songs are singing about this weird, almost Mordor sort of apocalyptic steel mill industry, which is super intriguing to me, and he writes about it in a very loose way. I got into Jason Molina too because of his Townes Van Zandt covers, like, “Wow, this guy is speaking to me right now.”
STEREOGUM: Given the nature of his death, do you feel that serves as a warning about putting too much stake in his viewpoint or does it give it an added heft?
MARTIN: I think it does give it a little bit of heft, but you gotta put it into perspective too. Like, damn…he really got off the rails and blew a lot of cool opportunities. Maybe he could’ve had a song on Good Will Hunting II.
STEREOGUM: Cloakroom’s songs have always had an apocalyptic bent, but does that sort of viewpoint have more urgency in the current day?
MARTIN: We’re absolutely not a political band, I think we’re the most amorphous, oblong, dumb shape that you can think of, that’s what I want Cloakroom to be. The times that we’re living in, they’re a changing and maybe these malevolent opposing forces are out there and these last couple of months have made them a little more visible.
STEREOGUM: Given how much Cloakroom is tied into the idea of Indiana having these brutal, harsh winters, does it feel strange for Time Well to be released in the summer?
MARTIN: Well, just like recreational drug use or a certain type of craft beer, setting always plays a part. I think it’s cool that our album is coming out in August. It’s gonna get a little prettier and a little cooler, but what’s the weather like in Germany right now? What’s the weather like in Montreal at this juncture? Who knows.
STEREOGUM: So between the brewery and Cloakroom’s reputation as “stoner rock,” are you guys more of a beer or weed band?
MARTIN: We’re just a bunch of thirsty boys, our rider isn’t that crazy. I don’t know how I feel about “stoner rock” being thrown all over the place. Tell my mother what “stoner rock is,” well, we don’t really sound like Black Sabbath or anything, but she says, “Yeah, but Black Sabbath, they had guitars and drums and they played slow.” I’m like…yeah, I guess so, that’s exactly it. When we first made these grinders for our band, my stepfather has a Facebook and he’s like, “Hey, what is that thing?” I said it’s a telescope lens. He’s like, “Wow! That’s pretty wild!” But I mean, he got it — that it’s a weed paraphernalia piece. Let’s say people who listen to us drink beer and smoke weed, I’m pretty positive about that. I really liked “shroomgaze” thrown around, that’s my favorite. I might’ve been throwing that tag around. I saw “bloodgaze” thrown around for a while. Not for our band, but I thought, “Man, ‘bloodgaze’ is pretty funny…what the hell is that all about?”
STEREOGUM: That’s pretty good branding right there.
MARTIN: All about branding, man!
Time Well is out 8/18 via Relapse. Cloakroom are touring, too — here are the dates:
09/01 Chicago, IL @ Schuba’s [Record Release]
09/29 Kalamazoo, MI @ Bell’s Brewery
09/30 Toronto, ON @ The Garrison
10/01 Montreal, QC @ La Vitrola
10/03 Boston, MA @ Middle East
10/04 Brooklyn, NY @ St. Vitus
10/06 Philadelphia, PA @ Philamoca
10/07 Washington, DC @ Comet Ping Pong
10/08 Cleveland,OH @ Mahall’s