Friday 23 October 2015

Interview with Paul Waller from OHHMS

OHHMS have became one of my fave UK Sludge/Doom/Stoner Bands from the UK Scene over the last 18 month or so. They've released two acclaimed EP's over the last 12 months with BLOOM and COLD.

OHHMS adventurous style of Sludge, Doom, Noise, Stoner, Post-Rock and anything else they throw into the ring make them an exciting band to check out. 2015 has been a fantastic year for them. Countless gigs and stunning reviews for their music given the band a much broader fan-base.

If you haven't discovered OHHMS yet now here's your chance as I recently caught up with Lead Singer – Paul – to see how things have been in the OHHMS camp and what the future holds for them. So lets get started....

It’s been an exciting time for OHHMS since we last spoke, a New EP, countless tours and gigs. How would you describe the last 18 months or so for you as a band?

I think we last spoke just before our first EP, ‘Bloom’ came out, then 8 months later, this June I think it was we put out our second EP, ‘Cold’. Both records have now pretty much sold out of their initial pressings, I know we have a few left and the label has been recalling back the final copies back from the distributors so they can sell some themselves.  

But that’s just statistics, on a personal note when we began all I wanted was to document one more recording with my friends before I packed in playing music and become a journalist properly. I had no idea how good those demo recordings would be and how incredible it would feel to be on stage as some of those riffs and solos flowed over me from those guitar and bass rigs. It’s been life changing. 

I’ve seen a handful of bands before where I get chills when they hit certain notes or passages and it’s always so intense a feeling I can’t quantify it. I get that all the time with OHHMS, in the practice room, on stage, listening back to our recordings and demos. It’s truly exciting for me day in day out. 

Plus, every week for the past few months now there has been a ton of admin to deal with for the band that has meant I can no longer write for the magazines and websites like I was. When we are not in the practice room, I spend my spare time managing OHHMS, liaising with the label, promoters, festivals, artists and other bands, all those things I used to dream of doing as a kid. 

It’s not like we are selling hundreds of copies of records a week or selling out venue after venue, word is spreading sure but it’s at a level in which we can deal with most of the stuff ourselves. Over the past year I’ve been doing the band accounts as well and we have just started to turn a profit, so we hired a decent PR for our future European endeavours and we bought a van too. We still don’t see any cash; we put it all back into the band. 

Saying that, our financial projections for next year’s European Tours see us running at a massive loss but we work shitty jobs just like everyone else to make these things happen.

What has been the highlight of the last 18 months for you so far?

My personal highlight if I had to choose just one would be ArcTanGent Festival, which we recently played in Bristol. I had an absolutely incredible time. 

A few weeks before we played we were informed that we had been bumped up the bill to the main stage from the 4th stage, I mean, no pressure or nothin’, it were mad. 

I wanted to play our first EP in full for the set and I remember our drummer wanting to change it at the last minute but I was having none of it. So we played ‘Bloom’ and when I was half way through the first verse of ‘Rise of the Herbivore’ I opened my eyes and looked up and the place was packed, so many people it was crazy. What’s more there were a group of them singing back the words in the front couple of rows and I was just so utterly impressed by this you wouldn’t believe it. 

The best part though was a few hours later we went to the office to collect our food tokens and I see the organizer James make a beeline for us. He’s holding something close to his chest with a massive smile on his face. As he approached I could see it was both our records in his arms. He asked us there and then to come back and play again. We just stood there like plums you know… “Er yeah, okay”

Sometimes I have to pinch myself Steve. Those moments are the ones that stick for life I reckon. What a guy eh? 

Now let’s talk about COLD. WOW. What an EP that is. One I rate more highly than your debut EP – Bloom. How has the record been received by fans and critics alike as COLD has a different sound to Bloom?

The EP has gone down well all over the UK and Europe with critics; I was pretty gutted when I got sent a review in an Australian magazine that was pretty negative and couldn’t tell us from Clutch and Orange Goblin, which was weird. I was gutted because I was born in Australia and was well impressed that the album had reached as far as my homeland.

There was another bad one in Power Play magazine that said we were derivative of the doom/stoner scene as a whole and I liked that one much better. I don’t agree at all and one could argue back of course that Power Play magazine itself is derivative of all rock/metal magazines as a whole but at least they had the balls to give something a slagging.

Magazines are so afraid to be honest in reviews these days; no one wants to rock the boat that might mean they receive a diminished advertising load from labels they have upset. I remember when Conan’s ‘Blood Eagle’ came out and Zero Tolerance gave the thing 0/10 and ripped them apart in 120 brutal words. Now for me that was the album of 2014. My very favourite, I didn’t care that the reviewer thought the band sucked. At least he was being honest in his thoughts plus it made me chuckle. Job done mate…

Does it bother you what people say in reviews then?

Yeah of course, I want everyone that likes heavy music to love OHHMS, but I know that can’t happen. We have released 65 minutes of music so far and with only 4 songs. We are not an easy sell and that’s our own fault but we just play what comes naturally in our practice space.  

We had an email recently from our PR that showed us tons and tons of reviews that ‘Cold’ has had from massive magazines to tiny blogs and only a couple received average scores. The negative ones are usually what you remember but it’s not enough to make me lose sleep that’s for sure.

COLD is more progressive, experimental and contemporary to Bloom. Was that the plan to release something different?

I guess you could say that although we had written ‘Dawn of The Swarm’ before the songs that were on ‘Bloom’. I just wasn’t fully happy with the vocal melodies at the time so we put ‘Bad Seeds’ on ‘Bloom’ instead. We went a bit too crazy in the studio with it I think too. To the point where we still haven’t played ‘Dawn…’ live yet as vocally the harmonies are really tricky when we can barely hear the vocals most of the time when we play live. 

But yes, OHHMS is a band determined to experiment with different sounds and textures and structures from the norm. Sometimes it works and sometimes it sucks. When an idea stinks we bin it and when one feels right we bed it in for what seems like months before we put it in a song. 

I’ll give you an example; listen to Max’s drumming on any song. Its nuts, what’s wrong with him? It shouldn’t work, what he’s doing… it’s jazzy, it’s not rigid yet it’s fluid and remarkably heavy. Every now and again it’s only a guitar or a vocal line that keeps an actual rhythm going. I don’t understand it myself and I don’t want to for fear it might ruin the joy I get from hearing it.

Seriously though I’m on holiday right now writing this and I’m genuinely excited about what the guys are going to come up with whilst I am away. It could be anything.

Did you guys do anything differently when recording COLD compared to BLOOM?

Nothing at all, when we completed 2 songs we took them to the studio to record them.

Your vocals are very different as well. I think you were influenced by artists from 70s Hard Rock especially on Dawn of the Swarm. What did you do different with your vocals when recording COLD?

Yeah, it’s fair to say that the vocals sound clearer and more powerful on this record than they did on ‘Bloom’. But all I did was watch couple of YouTube clips and learned how to control my voice a little better and how to warm it up properly. Also, for the first record I was still not quite ready to leave the hardcore, gruff style that I was used to completely, but it’s not like they are guttural Cattle Decapitation style or anything, the diction was still clear.

What I was most proud of was those harmonies on ‘Dawn of the Swarm’ though. We tried out a couple during the ‘Bloom’ sessions as well of course but nothing as intricate as we laid down on ‘Cold’. It was so much fun but holy shit I hope those out-takes got deleted. 

It took a lot of practice… let’s put it that way.

You’ve been involved with a few tours and gigs in 2015. And you’ve been winning a lot of praise for your live performances. What have been your fave gigs so far this year? Obviously touring with Slabdragger must have been great fun?

The tour with Slabdragger was killer. Of course it was, I knew it would be, so much so that we are doing another 3 dates with them at the end of February 2016 to be able to go to the towns we missed the first time round. The highlight for me would have to be the final date, a sold out London show at the Black Heart. I don’t know if you know the venue but it gets really hot when the room gets half full. For a sold out show it’s just nuts. The first few rows of the crowd that I could see just looked crazed, delirious in the heat. We played for what, maybe 25 minutes and I probably lost half a stone. I could barely move at the end of it. Plus I broke my toe. I have no idea how that happened but I know I’d do it all again.

Over the past 18 months we have made a point of playing every town up and down the UK that we can. If there is a venue and someone wanted to promote us then we would play it. Sometimes we got paid and sometimes we didn’t but you know I think that it’s essential that if you are starting out you do what we did. 

Since we started we have played to rooms which contained 9 paying customers in them and rooms with over 1500 punters in them as well. Our first show was in in April 2014 and now 78 shows later it’s nuts to see that come the 5th of December we will have almost 2 months free from playing live gigs. We finally will have a break.

I’m busting to get some new songs written.

I’ve heard you’re recording your debut full length record soon and that it will have a different sound. When can we expect to hear that and is it going to be a different sound for OHHMS?

We begin recording at Christmas and will be continuing to record throughout 2016. We should be able to do it in 4 different sessions of 4 or 5 days each. It's going to be a massive project and we can’t wait to get started.

Holy Roar have let us know we can do exactly what we need to do artwork wise and also I can let you know it'll be a double LP which some might think will be a risk for a debut album with people having limited attention spans these days for such vast records but we have all this music in us and it's all good. No filler, I'm not kiddin'. I would say that though wouldn’t I?

It’s a concept album of sorts but musically it shouldn’t be too much of a departure. Some of the songs will be under 10 minutes and there will be some instrumentation we haven’t used before but we are still going to be sticking to the musical pallet of those first 6 Black Sabbath albums. For me that's the safety net. Stick within those boundaries of instrumentation and you won’t go too far wrong. 

There’s also talk of you guys touring Europe more extensively over the next 12 months or so. You guys looking forward into travelling further afield? Any festival appearances you like to confirm?

Yeah, we noticed on our FB page that roughly 30-40% of our likes are from people that live in mainland Europe so we are doing a little 4 dayer over there at the end of October this year and then thanks to those amazing people at Dead Pig bookings we are going to be dedicating 2016 to Europe, playing just a handful of UK shows.

We have played so many English shows over the past 18 months in support of our 2 EPs that there are very few new towns for us to hit. Although, we have yet to step foot in Wales which is very disappointing. Sorry Wales.

As for festival appearances in 2016 I can tell you we have 4 booked so far and a few more on the cards. I remember when we were starting out and I would email these festival promoters and just get no reply... It was always disheartening and let’s face it to be expected when you are just starting out. These days the promoters are contacting us and all we do is turn up and play, eat and drink beer and leave. We're living the dream mate.

All we can confirm at the moment though is that we are playing Sound Bay Festival in Lisbon, Portugal in April. We get to play with Elder as well - a band that I love so I am really looking forward to it…

People have been saying that the UK Doom/Sludge/Stoner Scene has reached its peak and the only way from there is down. Do you agree with statement? If you do, how can the UK Doom/Sludge/Stoner scene improve?

It was on its way out before we formed. A year and a half later the UK is utterly saturated with sound-a-like bands and watered down bullshit. We get put on bills with so many shitty bands it’s unreal. But every now and again a shining light appears and they transcend the ‘scene’.

On personal note I tend to check out every single band I hear about, I am still obsessed with a good fat riff, I still want to bang my head and I still want to have heavy music wash over me on a daily basis. I am in no way jaded but there is so much crappy music out there it’s hard to pick out those gems when they come about. 

Saying all that I cannot think of one band in the UK underground scene has broken through, Uncle Acid and The Deadbeats are the closest to do so, Orange Goblin and Electric Wizard sell more records than even they but you wouldn’t count them as having broken big…

Until someone breaks through in a massive way I don’t think that the scene will die off, the doom and stoner scene has tended to flourish and then back off in waves since I got into Candlemass in the late 80s as a kid. I think about it a lot but I don’t have an answer. OHHMS have one foot in this scene for sure but I hope that people find a lot more in us than just the generic stoner sound. That would be horrible.

We have to talk about the gear that you use when performing live. What gear do you use when performing live? Is it an advanced setup or just a basic rig?

Um… as a singer all I can say that it’s loud and is constantly growing to the point where we can no longer fit on smaller stages. So many cabs and FX pedals and god knows what. It’s bloody stupid and bloody deafening. 

What tips can you give the budding musicians out there to get that distinctive sound?

All I would say is that if your music can’t hold your own interest then don’t inflict it onto the public. A sound, a look, a feel, whatever, if it burns like a fire inside you then just do it.

With 2015 drawing to a close. What have been your favourite albums you’ve listened to this year?

Wow, I haven’t thought in too much detail yet but I have loved records by Rolo Tomassi, Old Man Lizard, Death Grips, Gruesome, Tame Impala, Black Rainbows, Chelsea Wolfe, The Moth, Disasterpiece, Marriages and Rose Windows. There is probably a ton more….

Well, thanks for doing this interview. Before you go do you have any infinite words of wisdom for your fans out there?

Words of wisdom? OHHMS? You must be joking.

Words by Steve Howe and Paul Waller

Thanks to Paul for taking the time out to talking to me. I can't wait to hear the debut album when it's released in 2016.