Wednesday, July 25, 2012

INTERVIEW with Josh Hart's killer prog' Doom project : CHOWDER

A bit more than 3 weeks without any interview in T.O.P. (last one was with The Disease Concept), this is the 1st time this happens since its creation in April 2011 !!! For a little while, I have several bands in mind that I'd like to do like Elder and Sigiriya but I must admit that I didn't feel motivated and/or inspired lately, until I got two weeks ago the fantastic debut album of CHOWDER "passion rift"... a true sudden impulse like you've only 2 or 3 per year !!!
Lasting about 50 minutes and revealing hidden treasures at each listening, this instrumental affair is filled with everything a TRUE Doom addict would expect, could it be in terms of heaviness, melodies, tempo-changes, tightness, creepy moods... all envelopped in a progressive and propulsive manner that is pretty unique for the genre and  believe me (if -like me- Instrumental stuff is usually not particularly awakening your enthusiasm) there's really not a single second where the lack of vocals is felt.
If not done yet through my previous post on the band which was announcing this release, I recommend you to read the overview by Revelation's John Brenner (here) which is far more consistent, fair and precise than mine. Let me just add that this album will be assuredly in my top ten of 2012; of course judge by yourselves but I honestly think that CHOWDER deserves your immediate attention.
Now let's go with the long experimented Joshua Adam Hart, founder and compositor of the band (actually in Earthride too, but also ex-member of Maryland pioneers Revelation and Unorthodox) a very interesting and sincere guy who made this one, one of my fave interviews ever published here for the blog... thanx man for your good words and attitude \m/

- It’s a bit surprising to read that you’ve been writing material for CHOWDER for about 20 years, does it correspond with the time when you left REVELATION ? you recorded demos in the 90’s but what did decide you to push things further after so many years with an ep in 2007 and then the album (while you were still active with Earthride) ?
I started writing material for myself before I joined Revelation and it constantly evolved over the years. I remember John and I messing around with some of the riffs that ended up on the demos Chowder released later on. I've always written my own material even if it didn't correspond with whatever project I've been in at the time. If I was to write music with Revelation or Earthride or whoever I'd certainly keep their sound in mind when doing so. In Chowder I write for myself. When John and I started to discuss what became the Doom Or Be Doomed festival in Baltimore in 2007 he suggested that Chowder play even though we hadn't jammed together for almost 6 years. I contacted Chad about giving it another run and he was interested. I also contacted Doug who I was playing in a hardcore band with called Stout. I knew he had really eclectic tastes like we did and is a monster of a bass player. When he agreed we started rehearsing old songs and it just snowballed from there.

 - This is a question that you certainly have to answer often, but why did it take almost 4 years to “passion rift” to come out ? I see a few similarities with War Injun’s history about that, a 1st album which took a very long time to come out and finally released by an obscure European label, yours being Italian, theirs being Portuguese… how did you find the deal with I-Voidhanger rds ?
 I'll be candid here. There are a lot of reasons it took so long to release. First, I was extremely OCD about a lot of things in the recording process. The rhythm guitars, drums, bass and some keyboards were done in only 2 days. But a lot of the extra recording and mixing took forever to get right. Also, Chad moved to Oregon in late 2008 and that kind of took the wind out of my sails about the whole project to be honest. Things were steamrolling along and that just kind of halted my ambition. To make matters worse I was in the process of moving back to my hometown of Frederick from Baltimore and got entrenched in a nasty custody battle for my son which consumed almost all my time and energy until late 2010. Around that time John Brenner and I began remixing the album and finally got it to the point that we were both happy with the result (John deserves a medal for dealing with me on this project). Then I started sending mixes to some labels to see if anyone was interested. Black Widow from Italy were the only one who responded and I thought we were almost there but it turned out they weren't interested in a completely instrumental album. Fair enough. Coincidentally, War Injun and Chowder both owe a great debt to Chris Barnes and his Hellride Music forum. In late 2011 John Brenner made a thread on there discussing his frustration that Chowder, Cyrus and Blizaro weren't receiving the attention he thought the three of our bands deserved and soon after I received an email from a poster there named Len from the Netherlands who contacted Luciano of I, Voidhanger Records and suggested us to him. Luciano was interested right away and made it very easy to get the ball rolling. I believe War Injun's story is very similar to ours in that someone posted on Hellride asking about what happened to them and next thing you know...results! Long live!

 - The booklet mentions that the album was recorded in summer 2008 by Mike Potter but also that there’s been some additional recording, mixing and production done by you and John Brenner (from Revelation)… was it for some complementary arrangements, how did that exactly happen ?
 John produced Passion Rift with me from the beginning and was invaluable in his assistance and guidance through the entire recording process. After we recorded the basic tracks with Mike Potter we reconvened at John's home studio in Baltimore and did many overdubs including lead guitars, acoustic guitars, Moog Prodigy, digital synthesizers, theremin and percussion. I had expressed interest in using a real Mellotron to record those parts on the album so when the other overdubs were complete Mike Potter put me in touch with a local musician named Jim Rezek from the long running progressive band Iluvatar. Jim has the largest collection of vintage synthesizers, Mellotrons and organs I've ever seen and he was very friendly and open to the idea of us coming to his house to record some additional overdubs. That might have been one of the coolest experiences I've had musically, it was like a museum in there. Anything and everything was at our fingertips and it was very hard to not go overboard and clutter the album up with synths. I stuck to using an original Mellotron M400 and a 70s Model D Minimoog. I completed a few other things on my own at home on my computer like the introduction and closing sample mashups of "Custody". That was all done in Audacity. The song "Mazuku" was recorded by me at home as well with the exception of the acoustic guitar, Moog and bells done at John's. So all in all it was a very convoluted recording process but I couldn't be happier with the results and am in a great debt to everyone who took time out of their lives to help this record get made.

- The cover has been done by Scott Simpson from UK, one could consider it as representative and harmonious with your music : aesthetic, tentacular, tortured, beautiful, mystic… what was the idea behind it, was it related to a precise theme ? This is pretty rare but it has the particularity to not mention the band’s name and album’s title (ok it would have been pretty hard to place them !), was it a precise recommendation made to Scott S. ?
Scott rules. He's a very good friend and one of the few people who knew exactly where my head was at when I wrote some of these songs so that made it very easy for us to work together on the concept art. If there is a theme to the art or the album it's of innocence that descends into darkness. I think my only idea was the fetus to be the central idea and for it to be surrounded by chaos and Scott ran with the rest and did a bang up job. The logo would have distracted from the symmetry of the artwork. That was Luciano's call and he was right to release it that way. I think it adds a kind of mystery to the entire package.

- I know you’re yourself a tattoer, did you ask him to take care of the cover cause you loved particularly one or some of his works as a tattoer/drawer ?
I've been a fan of Scott's art for years and he was my first choice when Voidhanger and I started to discuss the booklet design. Luciano was also very into what Scott does and we both agreed his art would be the perfect visual style to fit the music. I'm very pleased to see Scott getting the recognition he well deserves as an artist and also now as a tattooer. Tattooing is such a strange art form where everyone is constantly running around trying to copy what each other is doing based on public demand instead of trying to develop their own strengths. Scott's very lucky that his art is immediately recognizable and that so many people are open to letting him do what he does best on them. It's hard for me to imagine just how intense his tattooing is going to be in ten years.

 - I’ve seen on your FB page that you recently tattoed a woman’ ass, is that a pretty delicate and unusual demand ? does it make some important difference to you to tattoe for exemple the hairy arm of a guy or some more sensual parts of women bodies ?
Haha, well yeah it's not something you do everyday. I assume you're referring to the Japanese bodysuit I'm working on. In the tattoo business you're pretty much stuck working with the canvas you're given. I mean I'm able to refuse anything I'm not comfortable with but that's almost always a case of it being on a part of the body that the pigment won't hold during the healing process or when someone very young wants a ridiculous tattoo on their neck or hands or something. My job is to put on the best tattoo I can and it matters very little if it's on some hairy biker's chest or on an attractive female client. I have to maintain my professionalism at all times but I will say that some days are better than others!

- The overview from John Brenner about the album is totally faultless (precise, sincere, authentic) but there’s one point that I feel debatable when he says some songs are a mix part HC, part Lovecraft and part autobiography … I know you guys also have an HC background but I would not totally agree about that HC reference, except maybe the roughness of the drums/bass section at times, how do you feel that it’s materialized in Chowder’s music ? Another thing that also surprised me is the reference to Godlfesh on your FB page !?
I think the kind of hardcore John is referring to is more of the heavy metal influenced style that Chad, Doug and I have a background in. Not so much Discharge or Minor Threat as maybe Sheer Terror or Breakdown from New York although I love all kinds of punk and hardcore. Negative Approach, Poison Idea and Bad Brains to Dag Nasty, The Damned and Agnostic Front. I love it all! While I'm not sure how much of that kind of stuff makes it's way into Chowder's music a song like "Head Full Of Rats" is certainly heavily influenced by the Santa Cruz, California band Bl'ast! and I guess in turn, Black Flag. Mike Neider and Greg Ginn's guitar playing is as much an influence on mine as anyone else's and similarly the NY band Crawlpappy was an obsession of mine for years. What Guy and Ian were doing on the later Fugazi albums too and of course Quicksand. Doug and I both spent 10 years in a Baltimore hardcore band called Stout. Doug still plays in Stout in fact. A lot of what we wrote in that band has a lot in common with metal bands like Celtic Frost and Obituary. Godflesh is one of my absolute favorite bands and have also influenced just about everything I've done. Justin Broaderick is to heavy metal what HP Lovecraft was to literature. I think you can probably make parallels to them in a song like "Custody" or "The Innsmouth Look" or so I've been told. The lines get blurred a lot when you're influenced by so many different kinds of sounds over the years.

- Back to the “autobiography” part, logically this would be felt in the 2 longest songs “passion rift” and “custody” which are the most deep, epic and introduce lots of different moods from peace and melancholy to tense and fright… how could you explain that specifical part which is moreover only perceptible through the music and not through any lyrics ? Do you think that in some way your music reflects your feelings towards “life with passion” expressed on the first pages of the booklet ?
Well again, like Scott, John knew what kind of place I was in emotionally when I wrote those songs and what was going on in my life and my desire to attempt to capture that in the music. I'm not sure if it was successful or not because it's just music and it's going to feel different to anyone who hears it. The song "Passion Rift" is most likely what he's referring to. Without going into too much depth on the subject and boring potential readers to death, I was going through a really hard time with being separated and an impending divorce which I knew would lead to hardships for my son. The quotes in the CD booklet reflect that loosely. Utlimatley, when you strip away all the pretense from the title track it's just another cliche, broken hearted love song. Hopefully the only one I'll ever write. "Custody" on the other hand had nothing to do with the custody case I went through as the song and title were made over a year before that happened. The thought of it was certainly always present though and if you're one of "those" people I suppose you could read into it as some sort of portent or warning. It did turn out to be 11 minutes exactly and according to Chris Barnes 11 is a Thelemic number for "Magick" but I'm not really into all that hocus pocus unless it's by Focus. I wrote the song and the title after Scott Simpson and I visited the National Holocaust Museum in Washington, DC in late 2007. He was over for a holiday and wanted to see some sights in DC. I suggested that museum as I'd never been. It was a life changing experience for me. All the years of learning about it in school and seeing the films didn't prepare me for the reality there. I became borderline obsessed with The Holocaust and read and watched everything I could find the time to for almost a year. I think the song was my way of getting that shit out of my system somehow. The title came from the idea of being owned and not only that but being the despised property of such a malevolent entity like the Third Reich was. Writing about oppression in culture is hardly anything new but I guess "Custody" is just my spin on it. It's hard to imagine not having the freedoms that I probably take for granted more often than I should. Man, I bet you're sorry you asked this question now.

 - While being pretty different from the “usual” local sound, your music still reveals some nice Maryland DOOM caracters, is it something that you feel irremediably rooted in your heart and soul ?
I don't know, I definitely know what you mean by "local sound" but I think to put all the bands from Maryland in one box is doing them a disservice. I think there's a great diversity between bands like Asylum, Internal Void, Revelation, The Obsessed and Pentagram and I don't think there's much in common between bands like Earthride and Admiral Browning and Wretched. They're all heavy and write with melody but I think that's a common thread that goes back to being influenced by music from the 60s and 70s as well as each other. I mean two of my very favorite bands Penance and Blood Farmers share these same things but are from Pittsburgh and New York. I can hear what you're describing in bands like Torche and Elder too. I think it's just the juxtaposition of melody with dark riffs. I think it's a romantic notion to accredit a certain sound to one place but realistically it's just another way to classify and contain. Either way that kind of sound has had a profound influence on what Chowder does. My playing in Revelation and Unorthodox taught me whatever chops I have, that's for sure. Spending time in any band, you're going to take something away from it and being a huge fan of both of those before I joined just strengthens that.

 - About the progressive aspects of your sound, John makes a comparison with Rush in his overview which I can’t deny but my knowledge in progressive stuff is very limited, is there any other significant references that count for you ? Are long titles necessarily more conducive to the introduction of progressive elements ?
Yeah the Rush influence is heavy throughout I suppose. I think it was more apparent on our EP though. Rush and Jethro Tull were the gateway drugs to progressive rock for me. When I was writing the material for Passion Rift I was really into the Italian scene of the 1970s, especially bands like Museo Rosenbach, Il Balletto Di Bronzo and Semiramis. Those guys were on their own plane of existence over there. It's a shame some of them aren't given the respect the UK bands have gotten. I'm sure it's easy to hear King Crimson and Genesis on the record too. My love for them is no secret either. I'm a total fanboy. Camel and Gentle Giant! Oh and Radim Hladik's guitar playing. He was in a Czech band called Modry Efekt who released 3 Yes meets fusion albums that just cook. I wish I could play guitar like him. So fluid and unrelenting. Like Al Dimeola with a soul. The early Anekdoten, Anglagard and Landberk records. Trettioariga Kriget, also from Sweden! Frank Zappa is my all time favorite musician though and even though it's impossible to be audibly influenced by someone so prolific and inimitable it's in there somewhere. I could go on and on and on about prog but I hope to have sex with a live woman at some point in the future so I'll quit while there's still time. I'm not sure titles have anything to do with music but I guess it can help to paint a picture for people in the way that genres do.

What do you think about people who pretext the absence of vocals to justify the fact that they don’t get much into your style ?
I'm absolutely ok with any reaction to our music. I make a lot of jokes about negative reviews and stuff but really it's fine. If you had more bandwidth I could go on and on about all the bands I dislike for whatever psychotic reasons I have, so I get it. If there are people who prefer music with vocals then that's fair play. They'll listen to something else. I get it all the time and it's held us back in some ways I suppose but that's life. I made the decision to do it this way and I'm sticking to it. I like the freedom to experiment with song structure and to write anyway I want without having to think about room for vocal lines even though some of it would probably sound cool with the right singer. Bottom line is some people will like it and some won't. I prefer to spend my energy thinking about the ones who do and why instead of the opposite.

- This would of course imply some technical adaptations but is there any possibilities to see CHOWDER on stage in the future ? Sure you’re playing live with Earthride, but aren’t you sometimes tempted to share a bill with some other local bands friends (which I presume are pretty numerous!) and would be delighted at the idea to play with Chowder ?
It's always possible. It's been tough since Chad moved to think about continuing on with a new drummer as he was the only person I ever played these songs with over all the years. We had such a strong connection and it's going to be tough to rebuild that again with someone else. I have been jamming a little with Ronnie Kalimon from Asylum/Unorthodox/Internal Void and he's a fan of the album and wants to work on Chowder with me. I think that between us and hopefully Doug if the stars are right, we can produce some interesting music together and maybe get it out there live. It's going to take some hard work but we're not in any hurry. I'm currently more focused on writing new material to be honest and I think if we do manage to perform then a large portion of our sets will be new material with a couple of older pieces mixed in. That's my vision anyway. We'll see where it goes from here. The "Passion Rift" lineup actually played out quite a bit between 2007-2008 and we did the entire EP, plus the songs "Passion Rift" and "Custody" in their entirety complete with keys and samples. "Salt Creep" and "The Innsmouth Look" were almost always in the set as well. Playing live with Chowder is pretty hard work for me though with all the changes and synths and samples that need to be triggered. It's not a walk in the park and that takes some of the fun out of it. When we have a good set it's very rewarding but if there are a lot of mistakes on my part (and there usually are) I get very frustrated and depressed about it. Maybe we'll do Ramones covers next time.

 - Do you feel excited with this release of “passion rift” and consider this is a kind of new beginning for the band and more personally for yourself ? or is it a kind of conclusion of all those years composing for yourself aside your other bands ?
It could go either way at this point Steph. I'm absolutely excited to see this album come out after all the hard work and periods of doubt and despondency. I think it's a really good album and probably the best I can do. If this was my swan song I could live with that happily. But again maybe there's more to come that will shadow what we've done here. I just don't know what to expect and have no expectations. I know I'm stoked to have this out to help exorcise some of the demons from the past. It really became like an albatross at times too so now I can just relax and move on to whatever happens next.

 - Thanx a million Josh, add something you feel important that I may have forgotten and please give your last words to “la jolie France” !!!
Thank you very much for the opportunity to speak about these things Steph, very kind of you. People, do your homework, dig in and find something obscure. Everything you could ever want musically is out there. Don't settle for what the big labels are jamming into your ears. Stop copycatting other bands. Don't believe everything you read in Terrorizer Magazine. Blood Farmers, Penance, Revelation...listen to them. Doom culture. Do the right thing. Bernie Wrightson. Frank Frazetta. Richard Corben. Lovecraft and Howard. Robert Moog. Sherman Hemsley. Merci la France pour me donner le Magma!

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