Thursday, November 5, 2015

Label Interview: DOOMED AND STONED RECORDS

Interview with Billy Goate of DOOMED AND STONED RECORDS

Doomed and Stoned was put together to exclusively support doom metal and stoner rock, and has reached an almost infinite number of doom and stoner bands the world over. What made you want to start the label in the beginning?
In the beginning, I just wanted to see if there were other people out there who liked the same kind of music as me. I kept sharing bands here and there with my metal friends and they either wouldn’t listen to them or didn’t understand the sound. I knew there had to be other like-minded people out there, so I started reaching out. In the process, I uncovered a strong undercurrent of heavy activity in scenes all over the world. It was incredible. I had no idea how much was happening in the underground and how little of it was making its way to the average heavy music listener. So I started Doomed & Stoned with the mission of shedding light, scene by scene, on bands playing in the spirit of Black Sabbath. I’m at the point where there is literally too much new music being produced each month for me to keep up with, so it’s a bit of a catch 22. For now, the ongoing compilation series seems to be the best way to get the music of hard-gigging, well-deserving bands out there – bands with something to say, playing with passion and precision, heart and soul. That’s the kind of music that gets me excited and I believe will also resonate with the listeners who are tuned into what we’re doing.

How long have you been listening to stoner rock and doom metal? Were you mostly into doom and stoner bands from the 80s or were there some bands from the 90s you also listened to (for me I started getting into it around the late 90s).
In a way, I’ve been listening to stoner-doom my whole life. I was born in the mid-70’s and through my parents were not into heavy music, it was impossible not to be exposed to Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin (the two bands most emblematic of the doom metal and stoner rock musical styles of the 70’s, which is how I arrived at the title “Doomed & Stoned”). From there, I got into a lot of the popular metal of the 80’s and then the Seattle music scene of the 90’s, and it wasn’t really until the turn of the century that I came back to my doom-stoner roots, when Saint Vitus reunited. Hearing them live impacted me in a way that is hard to put into words. The deep, resonating, low-tuned chords and the jaded, cynical lyrics of Wino singing the blues just captured me. I devolved a deep emotional affinity for doom metal and started rediscovering the music of my youth and discovering the many who have followed. I call doom metal my “soul food.”

Have you heard any of the occult rock bands of the late 60s and early 70s (like Coven for instance), being that many of them existed when Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin started? If so, would you consider them forerunners of doom metal?
Oh yes, I have heard many and respect them highly. We’re talking Lucifer’s Friend, Sir Lord Baltimore, Blue Cheer, Dust, Josefus Coven, a whole world just waiting to be discovered by many contemporary listeners of heavy music. My goal is to eventually have a regular article series highlighting these bands in Doomed & Stoned. We cannot let these pioneers, these heroes be forgotten by this generation of musicians and listeners, simply because Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin won the radio play wars.

How much different would the music industry be today if those occult rock bands had received more recognition?
I think they have received a lot of recognition – from musicians, especially, who seek out these buried treasures and eat them up, absorbing ideas and inspiration from them. Ask any well-known band who their biggest influences are and you’ll get a dozen names you’ve never heard of. In many ways, the best art is never intended for mass consumption, which (let’s face it) pop music is all about a quick fix, a good song for the dance floor, and it’s forgotten a moment later. Real music – classical music – withstands the test of time because it has the power to move the soul and inspire future generations.

How do you describe the aspects of Saint Vitus that most resonate with you, in addition to Wino’s vocals? What are the differences between hearing them live and hearing them on record?
For me, Wino’s vocals accented Dave Chandler’s guitar playing. There, my friend was the real soul-stirring metal that touched me so deeply. The lyrics merely added words to the unspeakable sounds I was hearing. Together, they spoke to me in a way that I will never forget. The live experience was in many ways more touching than the records, but the records now take on additional power because of that first encounter. It is interesting to note that I had invited a friend to join me for this show, in which Down headlined. He had remembered Phil Anselmo from his Pantera days and was curious to see him again in this new role, but had no real interest in the other bands. When I remarked to my friend how Saint Vitus was my “sweet spot,” he said, “Yeah, but I just can’t see music like this withstanding the test of time.” It was then that I had the great pleasure of informing him that Saint Vitus had, in fact, outlasted every band in his playlist – that they had been playing loud and unapologetically since the late 70’s!

Are you familiar with Trouble who were also active in the mid 80s? I saw them once or twice around then and they struck me as a good live band.
Trouble are legends. They are now two bands: Trouble with a new lead singer, same instrumentalists, and The Skull, with their original vocalist Eric Wagner and essentially members of the original line-up. They were and still are a very important band in the history, development, and popularizing of doom metal in America.

What do you look for when you want to listen to a new doom or stoner band? Between epic-length songs, lots of atmosphere, inventive guitar progressions, what aspects of the genres do you most appreciate?
Mainly, I look for a song with something interesting to say. We all know that doom-stoner, like punk, grunge, hardcore, and other styles, has its generic moments – the stylistic distinctive that set it apart as a distinct sub-genre. The bands that really grab my attention are those who can take really “own” the music, using it as a vehicle for some deeper level vision. Albums with a concept always fascinate me – Zirakzigil’s ‘Worldbuilder’ (2015), Slomatics’ ‘Estron’ (2014), Trippy Wicked’s ‘Underground’ (2013), Sleep’s ‘Dopesmoker,’ etc. I’m impressed by thoughtful songcraft, in which each musician brings her or his expertise to the table and thoughtfully collaborates with others in the band to create something that reflects the band’s true identity.

Is there additional information you can offer about the bands you mentioned above? Did you come into contact with them promoting your label?
Each of those bands were discovered through my own exploration of music. Music is a quest for me, so discovering these bands were like, for some people, finding the finest vintage wine, the most elegant restaurant, the cleverest of authors, or the most poignant of films. Zirakzigil is still relatively unknown.  They come from my hometown of Portland, Oregon and are among the deepest musicians of our day. Their album ‘Worldbuilder’ is a modern masterpiece and advances my belief that metal is becoming the new “classical music” of our time (and of all time). 100 years from now (perhaps sooner) they will put names like Sleep, Elder, Zirakzigil, Clouds Taste Satanic, Earth, and others who push the boundaries of what metal and rock mean (breaking the mold of shorter compositions and turning them into long-form compositions with ingenious development and evolution), next to Mozart, Beethoven, and Bach.  Mark my words.  

In which other countries besides the U.S. did you discover active doom metal scenes when you began looking? How much activity in the States did you see happening around that time?
I was beyond surprised to find a small, but vibrant doom metal scene in Mexico and set about to document the history of the doom-stoner scene in Mexico in a compilation spanning four decades of creative activity. Latin and South America, in general, is extremely active in doom-stoner music right now. According to Google, searches for “Doom Metal” peaked around 2004 or so, yet I’ve never seen more activity and more creativity in the scene. It’s gone underground, but that doesn’t mean it’s any less active or relevant. Quite to the contrary. There is so much output that it’s impossible for a professional reviewer to keep up with it all.

How much information did you uncover about the Mexican doom metal scene? Which bands from that country are of particular interest to you? Who are the most active bands from Latin and South America? Do they have musical styles unique to their scenes?
I uncovered no less than five generations of bands from the 70’s on, many of whose members had long since died. On a less somber note, the new generation of Mexican metal belongs to the likes of Vinnum Sabbathi, Witchsnake, 4 Cienegas, Annimal Machine, Terror Cosmico, and others who pour sweat and soul into their work. From South America, we cannot fail to mention Saturndust from Sao Paulo, who made quite a stir this year – from a no-name band to worldwide recognition, simply through the word-of-mouth power of underground blogs like Doomed & Stoned, The Sludgelord, Outlaws Of The Sun, and others. They even got a vinyl release through Helmet Lady Records, something the band never dreamed possible. Others that have caught my ear from Brazil (where I have spent some amount of time) are space rock jammers Space Guerrilla, grunge revivalists Red Mess and doomers Old Stove. I recently started Doomed And Stoned En Espanol with the intention of finding writers in each of the Latin countries and having them write about their own scenes in their own tongue, from concert and festival reports, to band interviews and album reviews. That goes right to the heart of Doomed & Stoned: to tell the stories of the heavy underground through word and sound, reported by the underground for the underground. Fuck mainstream media. I have little more than contempt for it, though every so often it does us a favor by recognizing the genius that exists outside of the corporate mainstream. Some of these bands sing in English, but most sing in their native tongue (Spanish, Portuguese) and even in their unique regional dialects, which adds to the charm, I think. Some (such as Terror Cosmico) incorporate Latin and native rhythms and dances, too, into the music, which makes for an exceptional listening experience.

When and how long were you in Brazil? What bands do you plan to see the next time you visit that country?
I was actually in Brazil for love, not for music. This time for love, next time for music, I say. That said, it was during the Christmas holidays and nothing, I mean NOTHING happens during that period of time. The country virtually shuts down. Since then, I have made many band friends and am considering returning at a more opportune time (spring, summer) to get in on some shows, many of which are in impromptu, underground venues that are kind of scary looking at first blush, but totally cool. Definitely want to check out Saturndust, Blackwitch, Stoned Wolf, Witching Altar, Dirty Grave, Old Stove, Red Mess, and, of course, Space Guerilla. I’m sure there are a lot of others I’m not thinking of at the moment and plenty left to discover. It’s a big country! There are a couple compilations put together by a Facebook friend down there called ‘Doomed & Stoned Brazilians,’ put out by Stoned Union Doomed.

Is Brazil home to many fan-run labels that support doom and stoner bands? How about independent zines and venues where bands can play?
They kind of come and go. There was the Doomed Online Zine that faced certain doom for unknown reasons after years of blogging, publishing, and at least one compilation. Arrastado e Desacelerado (which translates as “Stoned And Doomed,” or as they have chosen to call it on Facebook: Stoned Union Doomed) is an active label right now, releasing several compilations and EPs, organizing shows and festivals (primarily in the Sao Paulo area which is a huge network of cities), and actively blogging. I’m discovering small indie labels and zines all the time and I know I’ve barely touched even the tip of the iceberg when it comes to what’s going on in Brazil. I found the people there to be very passionate about life, love, and music.  

I remember Sepultura was the first band to incorporate native percussion in their music in the early 90s. Do doom bands do so in a similar fashion?
Good question! Most follow the stylistic legacy of Black Sabbath, which is what resonates most with listeners – it’s more traditional fare. A few bands here and there get gusty, and I like that. Om, in particular, has been very successful at weaving in meditative mantras. Not a lot experiment with polyrhythms in the realm of doom metal, because doom is slow, plodding, and about as adventurous as it gets is blues, punk, and psychedelic musical intermingling. Extreme metal is where you’re more likely to find bolder hybrids of musical styles.

From where are The Sludgelord, Outlaws Of The Sun, based? How actively do they support doom and stoner metal?
They’re from the UK. Steve Howe founded the Sludgelord and recently handed it off to Aaron Pickford so he could start fresh with a new blog. Outlaws Of The Sun focused on underground, lesser known acts, as well as a few of the better knowns. It is my understanding that The Sludgelord is seeking a higher profile and is thus entertaining more mainstream acts, whereas Outlaws Of The Sun desires to stay true the original roots of exploring the unknown bands with strong potential for growth.

Is there information you can relate about the doom/stoner scene in the United Kingdom? Where else do they have active scenes?
The scene is robust in the UK, with The Desertfest organization holding fests in London/Camden every year. Temples Festival in Bristol and Damnation Festival in Leeds are also big draws. A few doom acts always make it into the mega fests like Download Festival and Bloodstock Festival every year. The Brits, in particular, have a long metal tradition that stretches all the way back to Black Sabbath, who arguably started it “all” (doom metal, in particular) and they have proudly maintained that tradition with various movements over the years, most famously the New Wave of British Heavy Metal. Then there was the huge underground influence of Electric Wizard, which is going 20+ years strong and whose influence has touched a whole new generation of bands around the word. Today, I’m noticing the trend is towards painting your sonic pictures on huge landscapes – in other words 29-30 minute compositions are the norm. The bands I’m drawn to have huge bite to them, most notably Sea Bastard, Moss, Conan, Undersmile, and the recent Lee Dorian (Cathedral) project With The Dead. I think they are most fond of the term “filth” to describe the style that has taken hold of the metal in the UK, and in England, in particular.   

Between mass recognition and sticking to your guns, what do you consider more important? There are many bands that make it on their own terms, without having to compromise to appeal to wider audiences.
I think my stance is quite clear: a band should simple express themselves as authentically as they know how in the moment. This leaves room for the inevitable evolution of style and growth in technical proficiency and tonal nuance. I’m a firm believer that if a band is passionate, performs often, and take responsibility for their promotion, they are going to find their audience. There’s really no need to “compromise.” Of course, fans can (and frequently do) misread “evolution” as “compromise” and a rise in popularity as “selling out.”

What releases by Om would you recommend most highly? Are there other new bands you’ve been checking out of late?
I’ve always enjoyed ‘Variations on a Theme’ (2005), ‘Conference of the Birds’ (2006), and ‘Advaitic Songs’ (2012), but I listen to all of Om’s albums in rotation, quite honestly. At the moment, I’m transfixed by a Mississippi band called Emerald Heavy (who have a song called “Doombuggy”) and a Tennessee band called Whiskey Fyre. There’s an incredibly heavy handful of bands from Portland that have yet to be discovered, even within the city! They’ve got huge potential: Ape Cave, Diaspora, Perfect Monster, and Gidrah. Oh, and everyone should check out the Portland doomers Disemballerina. I have a lot of friends in a lot of bands in Portland and I don’t want any of them to think I’m any less enthusiastic about them. These are just a few of the bands I’m into recently. Between our two Portland compilations, there are over a hundred active doom-stoner acts in the City of Roses.

How are all these new bands recording material and getting their name around? To your knowledge, do a lot of these bands record independently at their own studios as opposed to renting studio time?
Usually, bands will record their own demos, but get their first record done through a professional studio. Yob has done every single album through a small outfit called Dogwood Studios in their hometown of Eugene, Oregon with producer Jeff Olsen, whose main expertise lies in recording classical music.

When you began compiling your first compilation CD, how many bands contacted you expressing interest? Which bands have been most responsible when it came to keeping in touch with you?
Truthfully, my first compilation was a struggle. I didn’t get much response at all, so I decided to start researching all of the bands in the Portland metro area and contacting them each, one-by-one. This took months to accomplish. Finally, I had reached my goal of 20 bands and then word-of-mouth must have kicked in because I started getting more and more bands responding to earlier emails they had initially ignored or just contacting me out of the blue. In fact, the very day I released the compilation, I had an additional 25 bands ask if it was too late to be a part. It was as though this invisible community was awakened. Now, 15 months later, I will be releasing a sequel to that initial collection, titled: ‘Doomed & Stoned in Portland II: The New Blood’ (2015), which will drop October 31 as a free digital download, featuring (right now) 40+ unsigned bands in the heavy underground who I believe have something exciting to share with the world.

Name the bands appearing on the first Doomed And Stoned In Portland and which of them received the most compliments from online reviewers.
Of course, everyone already knew of Portland’s proudest exports: Red Fang and Witch Mountain, so we felt compelled to include them just to properly represent the doom-stoner scene (they had by that time received big label support and I had to jump through quite a few hoops to have them represented).  Perhaps the bands that people responded to the most fondly were Disenchanter - the hardest gigging doom band you’ll find in The City of Roses. Disemballerina was another favorite, if for no other reason than it was so odd.  Others, like A Volcano, Ape Machine, Axxicorn, Pinkzilla, Die Like Gentlemen, Hot Victory, Mothers Whiskey, Psyrup, Zirakzigil and especially Holy Grove, just had a verve about them that made listening infectious. People wanted more and within months (and in the case of Psyrup a full year) of the release of Doomed & Stoned, each band had released a new record of its own (well, we’re still waiting on Holy Grove – it’s been recorded and produced by none other than “the ear” Billy Anderson, the producer of so many good records, including Sleep’s iconic ‘Dopesmoker.’ Holy Grove have finished the recording and mastering, but they’re shopping it to different labels right now.  Out of all that I introduced on that early compilation, Holy Grove have the chance to break out and be as big as Red Fang or Witch Mountain, thanks in no small part to their incredible lead singer, Andrea Vidal, who channels Grace Slick and Janis Joplin.

How well known have Red Fang and Witch Mountain become in the underground scene in Portland?
They’re huge. So much so that you can hardly call them underground bands anymore. Red Fang does world festivals. Witch Mountain is currently on tour with Danzig. Doesn’t get much bigger than that!

Do you own any recordings by Red Fang and Witch Mountain? How many do these bands have out altogether?
Red Fang and Witch Mountain have seven or eight releases between the two of them. I have them all digitally. I like physical mediums, too, but I’m not a very “materialistic” sort of guy. I value the transportability of the digital medium, so I think I’ll always prefer it. That said, I get about as excited as anyone to see beautiful album art and the look, feel, and smell of wax. If I didn’t have a mortgage to pay, I’d probably spend quite a bit on my vinyl collection each month!  The roof over my head takes priority.

Discuss the new compilations you have recently released that are streaming on Bandcamp. You told me one of them is a compilation of female fronted bands?
It’s called ‘The Enchanter’s Ball’ and features over thirty bands from around the world that are currently unsigned, but incredible female-fronted bands. One of our contributors, “Papa” Paul Rote helped me put the project together and, believe me, we’ve barely scratched the surface. I’d say we touched only about a third (if that) of active doom-stoner acts that are led by females. Despite this, I still hear a lot of disrespectful talk listeners who call female-fronted heavy music a “gimmick” or a “fad.” Over the summer, we also released a massive compilation of 75 bands called ‘Doomed & Stoned in Canada,’ organized by contributor Randy Beach who lives up in the cold, cold north and has a place called “Beach’s Basement” where he host metal shows.

How long have you been in contact with Paul Rote and Randy Beach? How actively are you promoting each other’s work?
I met both online a little over a year ago and am editor for both when they contribute articles to Doomed & Stoned. We’re pretty supportive of our individual projects, as well as the ones we share in common. I think there is a level of friendly competition among all of us underground bloggers and labels, but at the same time we value each other’s contributions to the scene. There’s simply too much work to be done and plenty of opportunity to go around. This gives us a chance to focus on slightly different niches and put out an interesting and distinct product.   

Who are the bands that contributed their material to Doomed And Stoned In Canada? How well has this compilation been received since it came out?
Well, there are 75 of them.  We had great participation in that project.  It’s very hard to single out specific bands to praise, because I think they all have their own merits, but there are some real stand-outs in the mix; my favorites coming from bands like Sea Witch (who have a particularly haunting approach to doom that I think fans of the sub-genre will enjoy) and Chron Goblin (who are particularly adept at making you want to get up and “boggie” – stoner rockers around the world have taken notice of them already). 

Would you consider the possibility of publishing a zine to support the bands you’re corresponding with?
I just need some starting funds and a few dedicated contributors and I’d be down for something like that. I’ve had it suggested to me and I’ve talked about it with my current team of volunteer contributors already. The question is always how much can I take on, since this is a hobby, not my full-time job (I have a very busy work life and Doomed & Stoned currently consumes a lot of my spare time).  

With all the bands you are corresponding with, are you considering hosting any doom metal fests for Doomed & Stoned?
Actually, we are. I think we would have done it this year, but just got a little overwhelmed with all the other projects we had going on.  In 2016, for sure, I’ll be partnering with Mad God (that’s the booking and PR organization of Joey DeMartini from Disenchanter) to put on either a series of shows done quarterly or a 1-2 day festival in Portland. We definitely have all the right relationships to do a kick-ass event, it’s just a matter of Joey and I doing enough advanced planning to book a reasonably well-known headliner that would draw metal fans so they could discover the wealth of lesser-known supporting acts that I think have the potential to headline fests on their own.

What projects are you planning to release next under the Doomed And Stoned banner? How would you want to be remembered for your contributions to doom metal and stoner rock?
In the year ahead, we are contemplating issuing a boxed set of our compilations on CD. For now, we’ll continue to keep with digital releases, as they are quite easy for me to coordinate and reasonable in costs (Bandcamp does charge us a substantial amount to buy free downloads for people, but we will continue to provide all of our compilations on a “name your price” basis because we want the music to get to the people without any financial barriers. In addition, we’ll be doing some other merch projects (shirts, patches, stickers) to get the name out there and let fans show their love, while also raising money for future projects (we want a much better website than our present one, which is more of blog format that we like for it ultra-high res, but not so much for its overall design). In terms of how I would like to be remembered, I suppose it’s just that I want them to know that I was someone who cared passionately about the scene and particularly the value of the DIY ethic when applied to things like journalism, where our dedication has been to find lay journalists covering local scenes in local languages. Coverage of the heavy underground by the underground, for the underground.” It hasn’t worked personally and it’s been quite a challenge assembling and managing a team of such volunteers, but the fans and the bands themselves have responded extraordinarily well. Perhaps I will inspire others to do similar “ground up” journalism and give lesser known bands the kind of ear and exposure they deserve. Thank you to everyone for your enthusiastic support!


-Dave Wolff

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