After releasing an incredible album in ORMR (reviewed here) and an equally good live set at The Waiting Room in Colchester (reviewed here), I had the chance to talk to Chris Saunders, the guitarist of Earthmass. In this lengthy chat we talked about the local scene, sub genres, recording and horror films.
Jack: Earthmass is made up of members of Chestburster and The 5 String Dropout Band, bands that are different to Earthmass. What made you decide to join forces to create Earthmass?
Chris Saunders (Guitar): Me, Rob Saunders (Bass), Jack Burley (Drums/Vocals) and Chris Houghton (guitar/vocals) have been playing and making music together since 2005 in various line ups and projects. Earthmass came about because we wanted to make heavier more atmospheric stuff than we already were, it was about having a clean slate to start doing the kind of music I think we were all hearing in our heads! Chestburster started in 2011 and The 5 String Drop Out Band is an entity all of its own that started in 2011, I think, I have been drumming with those guys since 1997, so a long long time!
Jack: Your music is very hard to pin down to a certain sub-genre. You’ve been described as Progressive, Sludge, Stoner and Space-Doom before. Which tag do you prefer?
Chris: I’m not a massive fan of sub-genre names and tags like that, it’s just music isn’t it, but I do understand how labelling music with terms like that makes it easier to digest and understand. With music it helps to have a point of reference, especially when you’re talking about it to other people like, “Yeah check this band out, they kind of sound like Pink Floyd or whatever gives you a starting point”, but I always call us Space-Doom (Laughs) I like that.
Jack: What bands are influences?
Chris: All kinds of music are an influence, even shite music as it can inspire you to not ever sound like that! But the biggest influence for us I think is all the amazing underground bands doing the rounds at the moment, bands like Meadows, Old Man Lizard, Slabdragger, Three Thrones, Telepathy, Thumpermonkey, Jøtnarr and the like (there are so many right now), all have a massive impact on what we do as we get to see those guys live and hear their records all the time, it all has a massive impact. It’s amazing to be even a small part of that whole underground thing right now, it’s great to be so closely involved with such amazing musicians and bands and even call a lot of them friends. But the bands and musicians that influence me who are, shall we say, more established are bands like The Melvins, Sleep, Cardiacs, SubRosa, Floor, Nirvana, Radiohead, Warning, Pallbearer, Black Sabbath, Pink Floyd, King Crimson, there are too many to be honest! We are all influenced by different things, that’s what makes it interesting right?
Jack: You’ve been compared to Mastodon before, are you fans of the band?
Chris: Yeah man, a lot of people don’t really dig them any more but I think they are awesome, Crack The Skye and Remission are classics!
Jack: Your music has the ability to be relaxing and ambient at parts, yet heavy and manic at other times. Is the balance something that comes natural or did you set out to write your music like this?
Chris: I don’t know really, it’s just the music that comes out, the way we write stuff is very organic and off the cuff. One of us will come in with a riff and we will just jam it and see what happens, it’s always just about what feels natural to play. A lot of our stuff has improvised sections in it and it’s all very intuitive, some songs take an hour or so to write some take months until we are happy with them.
Jack: In March you released ORMR, what was the recording process like?
Chris: That was cool, we had wanted to record with Sam Thredder for ages as we are all pretty big into Slabdragger so when we had finished writing we got on his case straight away and got in there. The Cro’s Nest Studio is in the loft in Sams house and it is tiny and hot as a fucking oven. We recorded it all live save for vocals and a few guitar overdubs and all of us in that little room playing was like an endurance test, sweat was literally pouring down my face! (Laughs) My fingers were sliding all over the neck of the guitar and we were all soaked, it was awesome! Whenever I hear those recordings it just makes me think of extreme heat, and not just the heat from Chris Houghton’s loins!!
Jack: I see ORMR as one long song with four parts, was this planned or is it just my interpretation?
Chris: That’s kind of the idea yeah, it’s about making a journey of sorts, I mean it can be hard not to be pretentious when it comes to making progressive spaced out doom songs so we just embrace the self indulgence, being a musician is self indulgent no matter what anyone says, even if you’re in the greasiest nastiest punk band you’re still going on stage and screaming for attention in one way or another so really just accept the fact and be pretentious! With Earthmass our live shows have no gaps between songs we just play so it makes sense to have our records like that too. First time I heard a band do that on an album was Sonic Youth’s Bad Moon Rising and it blew me away and I always wanted to do that in a band.
Jack: Aside from ORMR you also released a split with Old Man Lizard, how did this come into fruition?
Chris: It had been a plan since both us and Old Man Lizard started and it just took a while to happen. Issa who runs Big Riff Records started the label to put it out as far as I know, I’m not really sure. I think Old Man Lizard had more to do with sorting it out than us to be honest, I do know that for me being on a split with a band like that is beyond an honour, they are just such an amazing band.
Jack: The split was released on vinyl; do you prefer Vinyl to CD and Download?
Chris: We are pretty old school, personally I love vinyl and CD, having an actual product in your hand with artwork and everything is so much cooler than downloads and mp3s. Artwork is so important to a record, the cover and design of an album shapes the way you hear it and I think artwork on vinyl is cooler! There is just something super cool about a vinyl record.
Jack: You’re also going to be recording again in September as you’ve been writing for the last six months, is it important to be constantly writing and recording?
Chris: It is important I think, the last thing you want is to get bored of what you’re playing, so it’s pretty essential to keep it fresh and interesting. We have been working on a bunch of stuff for months now and can’t actually wait to record it, it’s sounding really good! Plus this is the first record we have made which is crowd funded as we got the funding through a Kickstarter campaign, Big Riff records are going to help us put it out so it’s all very exciting stuff! I just hope people dig it, because of how it’s come about the pressure for people to like it is a little more intense!
Jack: Assuming you have jobs outside the band, is it hard fitting the band around the jobs?
Chris: It can be for sure, it can be a tough thing to balance sometimes but if you want to do something enough you just make it work the best you can.
Jack: What’s the most important of the recording process?
Chris: I don’t know really, it’s all pretty vital isn’t it? From the writing to the engineering to the mixing and everything in between! I guess the most impotent part is writing, or else you have nothing to record!
Jack: Vocals don’t play a big part in the releases, do you write songs with vocals in mind or do they just happen in the recording process?
Chris: Vocals fit into the songs if the songs call for them. All our stuff is conceptual and tells stories so lyrics and vocals are important but vocals are just another instrument like guitar or bass or whatever, it’s definitely not the main focus when it comes to what we do.
Jack: You’re recording again with producer Sam Thredder, are you looking forward to working with him again?
Chris: Fuck yeah, the dude’s a genius!
Jack: Sam Thredder is also a member of Slabdragger who you supported with Grey Widow and Goat Monsoon in Colchester. Did you enjoy the night?
Chris: Yeah for sure, all the bands were amazing that night, I’ve never seen Grey Widow before so that was a surprise, they were the loudest band I’ve ever seen, well apart from Mogwai! Chris Moore who put the gig on always puts on amazing shows in Colchester and gets amazing bands, it’s always a pleasure to be asked onto one of his nights.
Jack: Are you fans of the other bands you played with that night? Did any of them stand out?
Chris: All the bands were super good.
Jack: You headlined the last metal gig at The Hole In The Wall at the release show for your split with Old Man Lizard and the Meadows/Sky:Lark! split. Was the venue’s loss a big blow for the local scene?
Chris: I didn’t realise it was the last metal gig they put on! (review here) It sucks that The Hole isn’t there any more as a venue, really heartbreaking actually. But the guys running it needed to move on and that’s fair enough, they were always lovely and treated all the bands with proper respect. It’s the thing right now, a lot of venues are closing and struggling, it’s a shame, but there will always be somewhere to play as long as there are people that give a shit about live music and putting bands on. Venues come and go all the time, I’ve been playing in bands since 1996 and it’s always been the same, but live music is important and people do realise that so it’s never going to die. But I do miss the Hole In The Wall, it was always amazing fun to play there.
Jack: What’s your fondest memory of the Hole In The Wall?
Chris: Playing with Conan was beyond amazing (reviewed here), supporting Monarch as well! Just the vibes in there and all the great bands that played and just how willing the guys running the place were to take a chance on gigs and comedy nights, let people put on anything they wanted to put on. Every musical collective should have a Hole In The Wall (laughs).
Jack: ‘Myrkva’ was recently released as part of the Stonerobixxx August compilation, how did that come across?
Chris: I actually don’t know! I just got sent a link to the compilation and we were on it! I dunno if they had asked or anything, but that’s awesome, it means loads when stuff like that happens, it means someone out there is listening!
Jack: And finally, since there are members of the horror inspired grindcore band Chestburster in this band (Rob and Chris Saunders), can you recommend any obscure horrors?
Chris: Ah man, I could talk about that shit all day! My favourite film ever made is Evil Dead 2, not obscure exactly I know but everyone should see that film at least once in their lives! I just watched a british horror film called Borderlands, it was good, check it out!
Photo of Chris taken by Sammy Carlton Photography.