Finding a spot where you can hear yourself think so as to do an interview at the Underworld in Camden is a real challenge, but when the interviewee is as accommodating as Moss’ frontman Olly Pearson, then everything is possible.
Only an hour or so prior to the band’s headlining show I found enough time to discuss with Olly all things relevant to the band’s latest studio album “Horrible Nights”, their upcoming live shows in the north of the continent and the sorry state of most London venues.
By Yiannis (John) Stefanis.
- Nice to meet you in person, Olly, & thank you for your time. The press release provided by Rise Above describes moss as a ‘reluctant’ live band so having you playing tonight here at the Camden Underworld is a very good thing indeed. Why is it that you don’t play live shows very often?
Olly: Cannot really say. Basically the new material is such that it is easier to play live. With the old material, we also liked playing live but we didn’t really do that many gigs. The kind of music that we did previously was such that we didn’t want to go on a ten day tour and perform it live, but this new stuff is a lot easier to focus on live and a lot more fun playing it also. It just feels right to present these songs in a live situation.
- There are many interesting and unique things about Moss as a band but the main would be the fact that you do not feature a bass player in your line up. Whether you choose to call your style of music Doom, Stoner or what-have-you, the bass guitar is usually one of the most important instruments for the kind of style and sound that you guys opt for. Still, and this is quite baffling to me, things seem to work just even without the involvement of this four string instrument. What made you decide to go bass-less in the first place?
Olly: Well, when we first formed we used to have a bass player in the band, which was for about the first six months, but then he showed up for rehearsal one day and he had forgotten to bring his bass (laughs). So we fired him from the band after that and ever since then not having a bass player seems to have worked for us. Dom (Finbow; guitar) and Chris (Chantler: drums) have this very good, almost telepathic, kind of thing going on between them when it comes to playing so it really seems to work for us.
I guess compared to other bands that are bass-led, it kind of give us a unique feel, an edge. I do, however, agree with you: bass is a very important instrument in Doom Metal but I think that we cover that with our guitar tone and our volume anyway. We don’t really miss the presence of a bass player too, but yeah – I am a big fan of bass guitar too (laughs).
- Reading reviews from your last album “Horrible Nights” by fellow journalists on the web I came to the conclusion that people seem to split evenly into two different camps. On the one side, you have those people who understand your need for progression and change, things that have characterised the band’s music since day one, and on the other side of the fence you have those people who seem to be quite attached to the style and sound of albums like “Sub Templum” (2008) and who are not that happy for your decision to go, and I quote, “more straight forward”. When you started working on the material for “Terrible Nights” did you have any such considerations in mind?
Olly: Yeah, it’s kind of 50/50 in a way. I mean, this progression that we’ve had going on since we started has always felt natural and it has been five years since our last record. We also had the feeling that, if we were to continue with this band, if we were to keep things going on for a long time then things would need to change.
We had to progress: we just couldn’t keep on doing the same old things over and over again. We could not have made another “Sub Templum” or another “Cthonic Rites” (2005). We had to progress, that was it basically.
I can understand some old fans not being into the new sound but…it was something that we had to do in order to carry on playing. If we were to attempt doing another “Sub Templum” I cannot see us having gotten anywhere with it. We would not have been expanding in any kind of way so this change was something that had to be done, really.
- In a sense it is the band’s very existence which proves that even a genre as restrained and strictly-defined as Doom Metal still leaves a lot of space for any band willing to evolve to do so.
Well, Moss is your band and any decision taken with regards the style and sound should be made based on instinct and not calculation – the rest of us will simply have to choose between abandoning the band and continuing to offer our support. It is as simple as that.
You yourself mentioned that it took you guys five years to record your latest album “Terrible Nights”; yet there were quite a few Singles and E.Ps released in-between to keep the ground ‘fertile’. Still, the question needs to be asked: why wait for five whole years before releasing another studio album? Were you at that juncture where you were trying to decide on what your next step would be?
Olly: Well, generally it takes us a lot of time to do anything, really. Our guitarist Dominic lives in Canada for most of the year; he moved to Canada a few years back, so we all gather and work together every time he returns.
That just seems to work fine for us. I mean, yes, it has been five years since our last album but as you also said we always release something in-between, such as the “Tombs of the Blind Drugged”E.P (2009) or the “Never Say Live” album (2010). Yes, I really think that we had to take our time with “Horrible Nights”.
We started writing “Horrible Nights” back in 2010 and we did not start any recordings before the summer of 2012 so it took us two years of solid writing, trying to figure out how these songs should sound.
When the time came for the recording process, that ended up taking a lot of time as well. On previous records we would have everything done and dusted within a week; everything being mixed and mastered within seven days, but this times it took us around six months to get things all wrapped up and I am happy that we took are time with “Horrible Nights” as it is a better record than the previous ones. We could not have done things any other way.
- It seems to me, when listening to the album as a whole, that there is a certain theme which is not quite repeated but which connects all the compositions on offer into one musical unit, of sorts. I remember frequently thinking to myself that a theme in the closing composition was quite similar in feel to that of the opening track. It was as if your music was operating in a self-fulfilling circle. Does what I say make any sense to you at all?
Olly: Yes, it does make sense. There is a sort of loose concept which surrounds the album. It is the theme of nightmares that runs through it and you have three songs on one side of the album and three on the other and that makes it quite a symmetrical album indeed. Also, there are certain themes which are repeated throughout and so the album could kind of be looked at as one piece of music even though it features six individual songs.
- What would you say is the target audience for an album like “Horrible Nights”? If you were working at Rise Above and you had to sell this album to me which would you say were its strengths?
Olly: This album is for fans of slow, heavy music. Anyone who is into anything like…if you’re into Swans I think you will find stuff in it that you will enjoy. If you are into bands like Saint Vitus then there is also stuff for you to relate to. Generally it is a really slow heavy album and it is people who listen to this kind of music that will end up liking it – fans of really slow and heavy Doom Metal. That’s it, basically.
- So simply describing you guys as a Doom Metal band is not really giving the full picture of what you’re about, right?
Olly: I don’t know: I guess if someone was to ask me to describe the band I would just say that we are a straight up Doom Metal band, you know? We are not trying to be anything else; that’s it – straight up-the-line Doom Metal.
- On a more personal level, the way your vocals are employed in “Terrible Nights” is much different from what we are used to. You seem to prefer a much cleaner approach to singing and quite a few people have drawn comparisons with Ozzy Osbourne in that respect. What is the biggest change that you can detect to the way you use your vocals these days? Are you using different techniques when singing than the ones you employed thirteen years ago when the band was first formed?
Olly: Hmm…well yeah. When we started working on the new album it was like delving deep into the unknown. I’ve always been able to sing properly but we’ve never really written songs in a way that would demand me singing the way I do now.
But when we began working on “Horrible Nights”, and especially the opening same-titled composition, I remember thinking to myself “yeah, I can really sing to this – finally I can do it”. So yeah, the song “Horrible Nights” was some sort of milestone for the band really – not just vocally but also musically. It actually feels like we are a new band again, really, like as it was when we first started. After thirteen years we seem to have found a way to rejuvenate ourselves, so yeah, it feels good at the moment.
- If my info is correct, you have Metal Blade promoting the album in the US while Rise Above is doing similar honours in Europe. We all know Rise Above to be a specialist label, a label that knows how to promote your kind of music, and Metal Blade is a much experienced well respected label. So you could say that you find yourselves in a pretty privileged position, having two such labels believing in and promoting your music. Are you happy with the way “Horrible Nights” has been thus far promoted?
Olly: Yeah, definitely. Metal Blade has done a pretty great job in America and Canada from what I’ve seen and same applies to Rise Above with regards the European market, so we are happy. If you search for reviews of “Horrible Nights” online you will have millions of pages coming up so it seems to be really getting out there which is very good.
- As you seem to actively check people’s reactions towards the new album you will undoubtedly have read something about it that sounded strange. What’s the weirdest review you have read and what was it about?
Olly: There was a review that I read recently where somebody pretty much said that the song “Horrible Nights” was a straight-up cover of the song “Jerusalem” by Sleep (laughs). I remember thinking to myself “yeah, this guys has definitely not listened to the album properly” (laughs). That’s the weirdest thing I have read so far. Some people do go way off the mark sometimes but that is understandable.
- It is a fact that some journalists write reviews without giving albums the time and attention that they need, as normally they have quite a few releases to review at any given time. It must be very frustrating for any artist who has spent a considerable amount of time in the studio to have to deal with something like this. How do you personally cope with that when it happens? Do you reckon you have acquired a thick skin over the years?
Olly: Yeah. Well, I’ve kind of come across things where people have basically re-printed the press release provided to them by our record label and yes, that is a little bit irritating. You can tell that these people have not put either the time or the effort to listen to the music on offer.
I can understand if they don’t have the time but I also think that, with reviews, people should be honest and should be putting across their personal opinion rather than reprinting the press release or writing the stuff that label people told them to write. That’s what I like to see – honesty, really.
- In that respect do you prefer a bad but honest review rather than a good but calculating one?
Olly: Yeah. I feel sometimes that the bad reviews are the best reviews that you can get. If it is a well written bad review it will offer constructive criticism and that is always good. It’s always good to know what people think of you really rather than just kissing your ass all the time (laughs). It helps keep you in place and also makes you realise that perhaps you could do things differently next time round. So yes, bad reviews can be taken positively – that’s how I see it, anyway.
- As far as live performances are concerned, The Underworld has offered you its hospitality on various different occasions, right?
Olly: Yes. We last played here ten years ago.
- So tonight’s show must feel like a homecoming gig. Do you find that a place like this or the venue which hosts Roadburn Festival offer the ideal environment for Moss to recreate their low frequency sonic assault?
Olly: Yeah. I mean, Roadburn especially. We recently played there again at it is always the best show to do for us (laughs). We also recently played a festival in Denmark called Heavy Days In Doomtown and that was just perfect: perfect venue, perfect crowd – everything was spot on. It felt like playing in an anarchist squat and we like playing venues like that and the Underworld which is an underground venue that has a long history to it. I really like it.
- If someone was to offer you unlimited funds in order to present people with the ultimate Moss live show how would you go about planning it?
Olly: Errmm…fu*k (laughs). We would probably do our show inside a cave or something like that…yes, maybe we would use our budget to rent out a cave inside a mountain and do our show just like that (laughs). That would be the perfect setting for a Moss gig I think.
- After tonight’s show what else do you have in line for further promoting “Horrible Nights”?
Olly: We hopefully have another tour lined up for November. We’ve got a couple of shows to play in Finland and we are also looking to play in Norway and Sweden and probably also Denmark again, hopefully. That is what we are going to spend the winter doing. We will also be making an appearance at the Damnation festival in Leeds and after that we are probably going to start writing our next records, I would believe.
- It seems to me that, at the moment, Scandinavia is the place to be for a 70s sounding band, as the local scene is phenomenal. The Swedes especially seem to really know how to host such shows. Is the knowledge of that fact that made you choose that part of the world for an early winter tour?
Olly: I’m not too sure really – we’ll see. I mean, I am really looking forward to playing in Sweden if that finally works out. I’ve never been there personally and we’ve never played there before as a band so that is a cool show to do; so it seems to an outsider such as myself. Heavy music is very popular there and when it comes to shows they really know what they are doing as far as organisation is concerned. So yeah, we are really looking forward to that.
- Scandinavia also has some pretty good venues – something that London cannot really lay claim to – a situation that baffles me to this day. I’ve been living here for eleven years now and I still cannot get used to the state of some venues in the country that gave birth to Rock music.
Olly: You are right.
- Well, Olly, I believe that our time is up. Thank you for your hospitality in this crowded backstage area. Best of luck with everything you guys are planning and I hope that I get the chance to see you guys again in the near future.
Olly: Thank you. I really enjoyed us talking together, thank you very much.
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