Tad Doyle, former leader of Tad (the best band to come out of the late ’80s/early ’90s Seattle music scene, period), has been making new music with the band Brothers of the Sonic Cloth since 2006. Their self-titled debut album is out this week on Neurot Recordings. (Buy it from Amazon.)
The band features Doyle on guitar and vocals, his wife Peggy on bass, and drummer Dave French. The music is a radical departure from what he did with Tad. While that group’s songs were ferociously heavy, they were also fast and somewhat melodic, in a face-punching, bellowed-chorus sort of way. Brothers of the Sonic Cloth, by contrast, is a crawling, skull-crushing doom record in the vein of Yob or early Orthodox. The songs are frequently quite long, and almost agonizingly slow, notes ringing out as the drums thunder endlessly on. Doyle’s vocals are more guttural and demonic than ever, and buried beneath the music like he’s trying to wrench himself loose from a mudslide. It’s not all raw volume and density, though; the last two tracks feature piano and choral vocals, and are quite beautiful, providing unexpected, yet totally fitting and welcome, relief after all the thunder that’s come before.
Stream two tracks from Brothers of the Sonic Cloth:
Doyle was interviewed by phone from his home in the Pacific Northwest.
The music on this new album is much slower and heavier than your previous work. What’s drawn you in this direction?
Well, I think as time’s gone on, with getting older and loving heaviness as I always have, it seemed like a natural progression for me. I love space in music, I love holes, silence between the notes, that’s always been my thing. So that’s why I’ve gone in that direction. I think one of the most musical things you can do is leave space for something—another instrument, or…I just love big, and it seems like it sounds bigger when it’s not blasting away. That slower, plodding sound, that’s a reflection of what the masters did, you know?
Your vocals are very obscured on this album, buried in the mix a lot of the time. Why did you choose to mix your voice so far down?
Because I think that’s kind of representative of what we do live. I’ve always wanted the vocals to sound like I was screaming over the top of the amplifiers, which are pretty loud. I just liked that production value this time. Nothing’s worse to me than somebody screaming and it’s really loud in the mix, you know? It’s obnoxious, it’s unnecessary, and largely, that’s why we included a lyric sheet as well, because I think those are probably the best lyrics I’ve ever written.
I don’t have a copy—I only have a download of the album—so what are the lyrics about?
Well, a lot of elemental things—the earth, the forest, the sky, big things like glaciers, mountains, volcanoes, and also a lot of introspection.
You’ve been playing live under this name for a few years now; how long have you been working on this material?
We’ve been playing live since 2008, and been shaping material since 2006. The songs have just been more fleshed out and realized; the basic riffs were there, and as you play them you realize what you like about it, what you don’t like about it. So a lot of heart and soul went into this record—it wasn’t just like a crash and burn, quick and dirty recording. I spent a lot of time thinking about how I wanted things to move and breathe.
How many more songs do you have? Is there a plan for a second record?
We were going to do a double LP debut, but it made more sense to cut it down and develop what were the strongest pieces. We have three songs that didn’t make the record, and we’ve already got two more written, and we’ll be recording those this summer, or fall of this year.
You started out as a drummer; do you still think in terms of rhythm, even as a guitar player?
Oh, for sure. First and foremost, I’m a drummer, and I think that way, when I’m recording. I think if you can get good drum sounds, the rest kind of falls into place, and because of my experience with drums, I can’t have just anybody playing—they’ve gotta be at least able to exceed my abilities and expectations, or I won’t be truly happy with a drummer. And we feel that way about Dave. He’s pretty awesome.
You’ve been doing production and recording other bands the last few years, through your own Witch Ape Studio—how did you get involved in that?
Well, I’d always been fascinated with recording. In the late ’70s and early ’80s, I’d bounce tracks between cassette decks, and then eventually I got a mixer and was able to do that, the same thing, just bouncing tracks Beatles-style, and then with all the world-class guys I’ve worked with like Jack Endino, Steve Albini, Butch Vig, Billy Anderson, I’d watch their process and how they were able to realize their vision. A lot of it was listening to what they’d do, and there’s things I’ve drawn from all of them, as well as things I prefer to do other ways than what they’re doing. Endino gets amazing drum sounds; that’s one of his strong suits, I think, is his drum sounds. Albini is great with getting really crazy guitar sounds and doing acoustically different things, and Billy’s just great. [Note: At this point, the phone connection dropped out—Doyle said more about Billy Anderson, but it was inaudible.]
Do you have a regular job in addition to working on music?
No, that’s it. That’s where my passion lies, and through working with my wife on this, I’ve been able to afford this luxury of going from making next to nothing, to now where it’s starting to pick up and more people are getting in touch with me.
You started out independent, signed to two major labels, now you’re fully independent again—what are your actual expectations for a record like this, and how does that impact songwriting? If you know it’s gonna be a cult thing no matter what you do, are you less inclined to write catchier songs?
Well, no. I don’t think about how it’s gonna sell or who’s gonna buy it. That doesn’t matter to me. The fact is that I make this music cause I love it and Neurot has seen that vision, and with them and their fierce integrity with independent music, they’re into it, I’m into it and it doesn’t matter where it goes. I could give a shit if five people buy it or five million, it doesn’t matter to me either way. I do this because I love it, and I do it purely for an outlet of creativity, and that’s it. There’s no expectations at all. I’ve purely approached this from the angle of, this is what it is, you like it or you don’t, and either way I don’t care.
The first couple of Tad albums on Sub Pop had really great cover art, but when you were on a major the covers got more basic and almost stock photo-ish, which I personally thought said less about the music. Can you talk about the visual side—what you were going for back then, and what the new album’s artwork says about the music?
Well, you know, we just did what was right at the time. And to be honest, Tad is a completely different band and can’t even be compared to what I’m doing now. It’s a completely different kind of animal, mindset, I’m older and wiser and a lot of things, so…there’s really no, we just wanted the artwork to be what it is. I’d worked with Sean Schock before, doing T-shirts, and I like his style and have a good rapport with him, so he knew what I was looking for. And this goes back to the visualization I had for the record, being huge and elemental and uncompromising, and I think that’s—it isn’t the usual kind of thing you’d see for the kind of music I’m doing. A lot of the records from bands that do what we’re doing have black covers with really intricate artwork. We made it really basic and used bright colors.
That also carries over to the band photos, where you’re standing outside in sunlight instead of lurking in the woods.
Yeah, which is a rarity here. Sunlight’s rare here.