One of the most anticipated albums of late is "Mouths Of Madness", the second full-length by San Francisco's ORCHID, whose Theo Mindell and Mark Thomas Baker turn out to be amicable artists with no airs and graces at all. Don't believe the hype, and don't believe naysayers either, who are crying sell-out and haven't understood anything. As for the appetizer-EP "Wizard Of War" and the album itself: well, the music does the talking...
What can you tell me about the overall concept of your new album and the circumstances under which it came to being?
T: I don't know if there's an overall concept. I think this album came together in the same way they always have for us: a collection of stories or feelings … I feel like there’s an overall point of view that I hold about life, and that probably always comes out as a theme in the writing.
M: Well, I don't really think it was planned out in the way of a concept either. You kind of just search for an album title among all the songs, and „Mouths Of Madness“ was the one that kind of jumped out at us. A lot of the songs may seem to fit in with the concept that we are living within the mouth of madness – or that the world is just a crazy place at this time.
Let's start right off with your lyrics: Does 'See You On The Other Side' express a desire to leave this world behind, a kind of escapism? What disturbs you most about current reality?
T: That song is really personal. It started out as one thing, and some things happened in my life during the end of the recording of this album that kind of made the title take on a new meaning, just wanting to be anywhere but "here" in this moment … because you've fucked everything up so bad and don’t see a solution.
M: I don't think it expresses any desire to leave this world or anything like that. I know it's a very personal, real-life situation type of song, as there are a few of those on this album. I think the most disturbing thing about current reality is the divide between the level of human suffering and human gluttony that you can see in the world today. The gulf between those who have and those who don't is very large. I'm not trying to make any kind of political statement, it just exists in that way.
Who is the 'Wizard Of War'? From the lyrics, I was guessing he must be supernatural because he once was "just a man" as you sing.
T: Ha! That was one of those songs that came together in the band room in about half an hour … 'Wizard Of War' was a title for a piece of art I did a while back, kind of a tip of the hat to the Marvel Comics villains of my childhood from the likes of „Silver Surfer“, nothing more – just a character
I made up in my head that sounded cool, so I wrote a story about him.
M: Yes, definitely, the song is sort of a sci-fi tale about him. It's not a real person song. The cover art for the single is a literal representation.
Where does your obsession with war on the new album come about? Is it to be taken literally or a metaphor for something else?
T: It's always a big topic for me in our lyrics. Honestly, I was going to change one of the titles that had the word war in it so as not to be repetitive, but I just couldn't seem to get away from either title. Nothing came to mind or seemed as strong, so we ended up with two war songs. 'Marching Dogs Of War' is really the only one that's about war, and it's more about the horror of a pack of men who are trained to be totally detached from any compassion or empathy for human life, just kind of mindlessly doing what they're told to. How do people turn into these monsters? What's the point?
M: It just kind of happened that there are two songs with the word 'war' in the title. It was discussed quite a bit between Theo and me whether we should do that or not, but it was just better to leave the lyrics as they were. 'Marching Dogs Of War' is a pretty old song for us. The opening riff goes back nearly to the very start of the band. 'Wizard Of War' is a very new song.
What is 'Demon's Eyes' about? I picked up on the verse "your sister dead and gone".
T: 'Demon's Eyes' is about a girlfriend I had years ago who was a Meth addict and whose twin sister overdosed and died. We got together a few months after it happened. It was not a … happy and successful relationship. No one's fault, just one of life's chapters.
M: It's a horror tale. It was written for a specific compilation with a specific theme. I think the person in the song murdered two sisters and one of them comes back to haunt him.
How did your participation on this "Unseen Forces" picture disc sampler come about?
M: We got an e-mail one day from Dennis Dread, asking about our possible involvement in a compilation he wanted to do. I knew who he was from the Darkthrone album covers that he had done, so I talked to him about it a bit and soon realized he was a super great guy and that I wanted to do it for him. The song had to be about a certain theme, that time of year around October 31st when the veil between the world of the living and the world of the dead are the thinnest. Theo wrote the song very quickly, seemingly at the last minute, and we got it done for him. It was a bit of a challenge for sure due to the theme, and the fact it had to be around four minutes. That's a very short song for us and not always easy to pull off.
Who is the mother you address in 'Mouths Of Madness'?
T: Ha! She's a girl we all know. That song is kind of about a person that exists on the internet: on social media sites. She has all these "friendships" with people but can’t seem to deal with real life or real human contact at all. There seem to be more and more of them.
M: I don't think it address anyone in particular. Sometimes there's a just a word that fits and sounds right. The song is about a specific person, but she's not anyones mother.
Plumply asked: Is the 'Silent One' the devil, respectively "Satan's son", as you sing?
T: No, only in metaphor; that's an H.P. Lovecraft kind of song about the rise of the Old Ones. Not a new concept, just one I love from my childhood.
M: This song is based on the Cthulhu-mythos, so it's basically about the Ancient One and his cult summoning him.
The protagonist in 'Mountains Of Steel' seems to be alienated from his surroundings and searching for a truth he once knew; could you elaborate on that a bit?
T: Well, in a way maybe … That song is about a time I took a bunch of psychedelics and tried to drive one of my old huge 60s cars down to the store. We have a saying about those cars here in the US: Old Detroit Steel, hence "flying on mountains of steel". A drive to the store can be a transforming experience if you're on enough psychedelics.
M: This is one of the really cosmic themed songs on the album, a bit of a drug trip. I'm not sure if it is about a certain person. It always makes me think of the „Silver Surfer“ for some reason. Theo once described the feel he was going after to me, but I don't want to ruin anything by giving my version here. The songs are always open to the listener's interpretation.
Who is it who deserves your thanks in 'Leaving It Behind'?
T: Too many people to list.
M: This is another one of the very personal songs on the album. I've never really asked directly, but I know that Theo wrote this for his mother as a way to thank her for raising him and always helping him out in life. I don't want to get too deep into it. It actually makes me pretty emotional when I listen to it. I think it's a really beautiful thing to put that kind of raw emotion out there as an artist. I consider it really brave, to be honest.
T: Yeah, kind of just burning it at both ends and being worn out but never able to relax or stop when you finally have the time. Just being restless at heart I guess.
M: Yeah, it's definitely about going on the road, one of my favorites on the album. I love the feeling it has.
How do you view the rekindled interest in things occult these days - or does it, after all, only scratch the surface as a media craze?
T: I don’t think about it much. I’ve always been interested in it since I was a kid. My mom used to buy me books about it because I loved the art. I’d always buy tarot decks for that same reason. There was a little occult shop on Page Street around the corner from where I grew up in the Haight Ashbury district in San Francisco. I used to spend so much time in there. I was just fascinated by and drawn to that whole thing. As far as it being a movement in music, I think it's just part of the whole early 70s bohemian trip that seems to be a little popular right this second, so maybe the media has latched on to it because enough bands and people have shown interest lately. Other people started calling us Occult Rock or Witch Rock. We never made that up. I always just thought we were a dark, heavy rock band.
M: I don't think anything is any different than it's ever been to be honest. This has existed in metal since the very start. Nothing is different these days in my opinion.
Writing songs, how do you decide which ideas are too obvious references to your peers. What tells good inspiration from mere copying?
T: Ha, everyone's always copying, no matter what they think they're doing. I have no idea.
M: That's hard to answer. We just write what we write. If someone thinks some part is too close to something else, then we'll try to make changes so that everyone is comfortable with it.
M: I think the new album breaks down a lot of barriers for us and leaves the future wide open. I really don't know what we'll sound like in a few years, but I know it will be high quality with great, catchy songs. So yeah, to me that's what we do best and we'll keep doing it.
Interview by Andreas Schiffmann
WITCHCRAFT and ORCHID will embark on a tour together in April and May. Dates include:
26 - Lichtenfels, Germany - Paunchy Cats
27 - Berlin, Germany - Desertfest
28 - Warschau, Poland - tbc
29 - Krakau, Poland - Lizard King
30 - Wien, Austria - Szene
01 - Darmstadt, Germany - Steinbruch Theater
02 - München, Germany - Backstage Halle
03 - Siegen, Germany - Vortex
04 - Paris, France - Trabendo
06 - Tilburg, Netherlands - O13
07 - Aarau, Switzerland - Kiff
09 - Barcelona, Spain - Razzmatazz 3
10 - Madrid Spain - El Sol
11 - San Sebastian Spain - C.C. Intxaurrondo
12 - Toulouse, France - Le Saint des Sains
13 - Milano, Italy - Lo Fi Club
14 - Rome, Italy - Traffic Live Club
15 - Bologna, Italy - Freak Out Club
16 - Dornbirn, Austria - Schlachthaus
17 - Stuttgart, Germany - Universum
18 - Hamburg, Germany - Markthalle
19 - Gelsenkirchen, Germany - Rock Hard Festival (ORCHID only)