So Near The Sky – Hel Sterne and Tom McKibbin of Undersmile

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So, you tell a band that the only thing you haven’t heard of theirs is their debut EP… and they tell you that they’re about to re-release it. A Sea of Dead Snakes (Blindsight) was very Grunge influenced” states Tom McKibbin, drummer with Oxfordshire Drone quartet Undersmile, “and we’ve gone down a much more dirge-infested road since then! We’ve just had another re-pressing done, and given it a purple tint. It’s our ‘Ribena’ edition! It’ll be going out in November, as that’ll be five years since it first came out.”

The band, comprising two couples, has had a number of experiences in their relatively short existence: “We were so disliked in the beginning; we’ve cleared many gigs before now, particularly playing in Oxford!” Tom muses. “Initially you tend to get thrown onto weird, eclectic bills where you don’t belong. One was a Gay Pride gig where they cut the electricity!”

“They came to us and said ‘Stop! You’re making everyone leave!” continues rhythm guitarist / vocalist and Tom’s partner, Hel Sterne, “We couldn’t believe it. Then on came Sassy Ribbons, a drag act…”

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The band’s second album, Anhedonia (Black Bow Records), has been out some months and has met with serious acclaim. Tom is enthusiastic about the reaction: “It’s been really great. The weirdest thing is that it was album of the month in Terrorizer, which you normally feel is reserved for Metallica or Slayer!”

The inclusion of cello on certain tracks has been considered a vital ingredient by many of the album’s admirers: “Taz [Corona-Brown, guitarist / vocalist] and I have always been obsessed with cello”, states Hel.

“We both have similar feelings about melodies, so it was basically something that had to happen. Our cellist Jo Quail is very talented: we told her to just do what she felt, and she did. She just went into that sombre zone which is where we like to lurk!”

There’s a wonderful blend of light and the disturbingly dark in Anhedonia, something that the band are aware of: “It was necessary in order to translate the amount of heartbreak that was intended in some of the songs”, Hel thoughtfully explains. “Some of those things, however, refer to other, nicer times. It’s so important to have contrast.”

“As long as I’ve known Hel and Taz, they’ve naturally gravitated to this close-harmony, slightly discordant edge” Tom feels. “As they’re the main songwriters, that’s what comes out in the music, and Olly [Corona-Brown, bassist] and I just try to bring it along. The Drone influence of Undersmile actually came from loads of different areas: Classical, Indian, Shoegaze, through The Melvins and Earth; but this time we wanted a more dynamic range. It’s nice to get these really clean chords – it has the same effect but with a cleaner, crisper sound. It can still be as mournful as it is with the distortion.”

“I think it can be more mournful” rejoins Hel. “Some people listen to music like that because they find it medicinal, purifying, even though it’s filthy, and I completely understand that. I listen to brainwave entrainment a lot, and I find a similar ‘cocooning’ thing in there too.”

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The band is now with Black Bow Records after releasing stuff on a whole host of labels. “We recorded at Skyhammer, Jon Davis’ (Black Bow founder and Conan leader) studio,” Tom acknowledges. “Jon offered to put Anhedonia out in time for Roadburn, which was really important for us. He’s well-connected of course, people are really interested in what he’s doing, and so that was it. We did our parts over four days; then it was all mixed in sixteen hours’ straight with Chris (Fielding, producer and Conan bassist) who managed to get such a wonderful, natural guitar sound. Obviously we’d be interested in working with Jon again, but it’s just whoever is interested in working with us really. In the past it’s been as a result of friends asking us if they can put stuff out, or friends we’ve made by putting stuff out. They’re all good people.”

Undersmile played two big sets at Roadburn this year – one as themselves, the other as their more acoustic, ‘Grunge Unplugged’ alter-ego Coma Wall – and has two more big sets to come in November. Tom explains further: “We’re playing the memorial gig for Grimpen Mire’s Paul van Linden, who sadly passed away in June. We knew he’d been unwell but his death was still a massive shock. We did a mini-tour with them, Conan and Serpent Venom a couple of years ago and we all got on so well: Paul was always such a lovely guy each time we met. So we’re really honoured to be a part of that. Damnation Festival just came up quite recently. It’s something we’ve wanted to play for a while so it was a ‘no-brainer’, but once we saw the line-up it was incredible! We’re on quite early in the day, so we’ve got the rest of the day to enjoy the music and get drunk!”

So, do the couples ever take a break from each other?! “We have this year, post-Roadburn!” confirms Hel. “We’re all just so busy: there are Taz and Olly’s family commitments; we’ve just moved house; I run an acupuncture clinic and Tom is very career-focused at present; we’ve a lot of material for Coma Wall…with all that, we’re really having to ‘cherry-pick’ gigs. We did realise that we were spending so much time just working – Taz and I are best friends – and we thought ‘when do we actually make time to just go out and do ‘friend’ things?”

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Finishing with another exclusive for Ghost Cult, Hel explains the band’s latest foray into the visual world: “We’ve just finished shooting a video for the Anhedonia track ‘Sky Burial’. So that’ll be two music videos this year!” she laughs.

Stardom? Probably not, but there’s certainly no doubt that the star of this incredibly hard-working, creative and crushing unit is well and truly on the rise.

 

 

WORDS BY PAUL QUINN

Burnt Books Streaming Where There’s Smoke There’s Fire In Entirety

Photo Credit: Sean Rayford]

Photo Credit: Sean Rayford]

Columbia, SC’s Burnt Books are streaming their entire second albumWhere There’s Smoke There’s Fire, out now via Retro Futurist Records below.

The band has these upcoming shows:

BURNT BOOKS Tour Dates:
Apr 02: Milestone – Charlotte, NC (w/ Crazy Bag Lady, Sea Of Storms, Pig Mountain)
Apr 03: Odditorium – Asheville, NC (w/ Crazy Bag Lady, Sea Of Storms, Uninhabitable, Spliff)
Apr 04: 25 Watt – Richmond, VA (w/ Crazy Bag Lady, Sea Of Storms, Slowing)
Apr 05: The Ottobar Upstairs – Baltimore, MD (w/ Crazy Bag Lady)
Apr 06: Legion Of Doom – Columbus, OH (w/ Crazy Bag Lady, Checkmate)
Apr 07: Fifth Quarter Lounge – Indianapolis, IN (w/ Crazy Bag Lady, Torturess, Voidweaver)
Apr 08: The Bishop – Bloomington, IN (w/ Crazy Bag Lady, Torturess, Wounded Knees)
Apr 09: The Stone Fox – Nashville, TN (w/ Crazy Bag Lady. Sky Burial, Thetan, Subject/Rulers)
Apr 10: Poison Lawn – Knoxville, TN (w/ Crazy Bag Lady)
Apr 11: Caledonia – Athens, GA (w/ Crazy Bag Lady, Cinemechanica, Harsh Words, Savagist)
Apr 12: New Brookland Tavern – Columbia, SC (w/ Crazy Bag Lady, Cinemechanica)
May 02: Caledonia – Athens, GA
May 19: TBA – Atlanta, GA

Retro Futurist Records on Bandcamp

Burnt Books Releasing Where There’s Smoke There’s Fire on March 20th

Burnt Books. Photo Credit: Sean Rayford

Burnt Books. Photo Credit: Sean Rayford

Columbia, SC ultra avant/eclectic punksters Burnt Books will be releasing their second full length album Where There’s Smoke There’s Fire on March 20, 2015 via Retro Futurist Records. They once again enlisted Phillip Cope (Kylesa, Baroness, Lazer/Wulf) to produce their follow-up LP, Where There’s Smoke There’s Fire, at The Jam Room Recording Studio in the band’s hometown. Having envisioned a musical scope of intense emotions and vitality within their songwriting and delivery, the group takes the listener on a musical roller coaster with Where There’s Smoke There’s Fire, blending their own mix of noisy hardcore, post-punk, mesmerizing and angular riffing and Lollis’ skin-crawling growls, wails, and mocking tones.

Stream “Stupid Game” here.

Where There’s Smoke There’s Fire Track Listing:
1. Escape
2. Shadow I Cast
3. Useless Emotions
4. Those Arms
5. Bridges
6. Stupid Game
7. The Harm We’ve Done
8. Burn Virgin
9. La Rosa

They booked a string of upcoming shows coming up.

BURNT BOOKS Tour Dates:
Mar 20: New Brookland Tavern – Columbia, SC (Record Release Show w/ Glittoris, UnInhabitable, more)
Apr 02: Milestone – Charlotte, NC (w/ Crazy Bag Lady, Sea Of Storms, Pig Mountain)
Apr 03: Odditorium – Asheville, NC (w/ Crazy Bag Lady, Sea Of Storms, Uninhabitable, Spliff)
Apr 04: 25 Watt – Richmond, VA (w/ Crazy Bag Lady, Sea Of Storms, Slowing)
Apr 05: The Ottobar Upstairs – Baltimore, MD (w/ Crazy Bag Lady)
Apr 06: Legion Of Doom – Columbus, OH (w/ Crazy Bag Lady, Checkmate)
Apr 07: Fifth Quarter Lounge – Indianapolis, IN (w/ Crazy Bag Lady, Torturess, Voidweaver)
Apr 08: The Bishop – Bloomington, IN (w/ Crazy Bag Lady, Torturess, Wounded Knees)
Apr 09: The Stone Fox – Nashville, TN (w/ Crazy Bag Lady. Sky Burial, Thetan, Subject/Rulers)
Apr 10: Poison Lawn – Knoxville, TN (w/ Crazy Bag Lady)
Apr 11: Caledonia – Athens, GA (w/ Crazy Bag Lady, Cinemechanica, Harsh Words, Savagist)
Apr 12: New Brookland Tavern – Columbia, SC (w/ Crazy Bag Lady, Cinemechanica)
May 02: Caledonia – Athens, GA
May 19: TBA – Atlanta, GA

Retro Futurist on Bandcamp

Enim Silent Leges – An Interview With Inter Arma

Inter Arma 1US doom/sludge metal outfit Inter Arma is well on its way to become the next Mastodon, Baroness or Kylesa. Their latest album, entitled Sky Burial, is a mandatory listen when you like your sludge metal challenging and innovative. Guitarist Trey Dalton was more than happy to share his views on the new album, its recording process, evolving as a band and many other subjects. Continue reading