Thursday 19 November 2015

Interview with Ole Christian Helstad from TOMBSTONES

Norwegian Sludge/Doom Riffsters – Tombstones – have had a busy few years releasing acclaimed albums and non-stop touring. It's to the bands credit that they've released their best album to date with Vargariis. An album that sees the band create some of the heaviest and bleakest riffs of their career.

It's already being acclaimed within the Doom/Sludge/Stoner Metal community. We rate this album very highly. Our team member – Nick – said this about the album:

This album is an infused masterpiece of a home brew like quality. There is a great deal going on here and there is much to enjoy over repeated listens. In fact, you can’t listen to this just once. You need to listen to this piece of work several times to really enjoy what has been accomplished for your auditory pleasure. This band is no stranger to stoner rock as evidenced from past releases, but make no mistake, this band is doom.

This band is made up of dirty hippies that own the dark. This musical fungi grows only where Tombstones mark the land. I will not wash my mushrooms before I eat them because I want all the nutrients, but more importantly, because I like the taste of this world. This is an extraordinary endeavour, in span and rendition.”

I was given the chance to speak to Ole Christian Helstad (Bass/Vocals) from the band recently and this is what went down...

Hi Ole. Thanks for doing this interview. How are things with you today.

Hi! Thank you for showing interest in Tombstones! Things are good at the moment. We have pulled the brakes a bit this fall, after a very intensive year.

For people not in the know, can you give a brief explanation on how the band started and where it is today.

Yeah. Tombstones started out almost 10 years ago, with only Bjørn from today’s lineup, and the deceased Jonas, but under a different name. Me (Ole) and our former drummer joined in some year later, after the band had been on hiatus for a while. A demo was recorded soon, and we started playing some live-shows in Norway. In 2009 Jonas died, and Tombstones was left as a three-piece. We recorded “Volume II” late 2009 with Billy Anderson in Oslo, keeping all the songs the way they’d been with the band as a four-piece.

After that record was done, I feel the band had some kind of new birth. Our sound developed into something much much doomier, and we started to feel comfortable being just the three of us. We scored a record deal with Soulseller Records, and released “Year of the Burial” on 420, 2012. Year of the Burial” put us on the European map, and was given quite some praise, and this eventually led to a gig at Desertfest in London, and our first European tour. 

We didn’t wait long before we recorded “Red Skies and Dead Eyes”, which was released October 2013. This album has brought us to where we are today. We’ve toured Europe 4 times on this record, alongside bands as Eyehategod, Egypt, Witch Mountain, Widows and Church of Misery, and played festivals as Roadburn, Freak Valley, Doom Over Leipzig, Muskelrock++. The last two years have been very busy, but also extremely rewarding and fun.

Our current drummer, Markus, joined in as a stand-in the summer of 2014 at first, but as opportunities kept hitting our inbox, we soon found out he needed to be our regular drummer. The first half of 2015 was spend in our rehearsal space, working super hard to have our new album done before we left for tour in April. We actually played “Vargariis” in its entirety at Roadburn in April, and wanted to play the songs as much as possible live, before recording them. After the April tour we spent our time rehearsing again, before we left on another tour with Egypt in May, still playing all the new songs live.

Then we entered Studio Underjord in the middle of the woods in Sweden, and had everything done within 3,5 days. And here we are today.

Congrats on your new album. Vargariis. Perhaps your best album yet. What can people expect from the album.

Thanks a lot. We are very happy with the outcome. It’s much darker than our previous albums, more in-your-face, raw and direct. More aggressive even. Stripped down production. It’s a heavy piece of music.

Why did you call the album Vargariis.

There’s no deeper meaning to it. I think it’s a title we thought of on the road with Egypt this summer. We like the word a lot, and it mirrors our Norse heritage. There’s also a two-headed wolf on the back cover of the album, which is given a name and meaning with the title.

It’s a different album to your previous albums. As it features some of your heaviest and darkest riffs to date. Was that the intention to release something different for your new album.

Both yes, and no. We had an idea after the release of “Red Skies” that we would take the band into darker and more in-your-face territory, since our taste in music is always evolving. The change of drummer also invited us to think different. He had a strong creative impact of the songs, and a different approach to the riffs than Bjørn and me were used to. So it turned out to be a sweet and organic change.

Was it a hard or easy album to write and record for.

No, I wouldn’t say that. As soon as we got going, it happened very fast. We worked well and effective at rehearsals, as well as recording every idea. That was a bit of a revolution for us, since we never did that earlier.

It’s getting some fantastic praise already. Has that surprised you the responses it’s received so far.

We’ve had some really good reviews so far, yes. It’s been overwhelming.. But there’s some bad ones lurking around the web, as there always will be. We are surprised of the depth of some of the reviews, we really are. Also of how on point, in terms of our own perception of the album, some are. But we are proud over “Vargariis”, and we think it’s our best album to date, easily.

Your last album – Red Skies And Dead Eyes – won some serious praise as well. It got you noticed a lot more within the Doom/Stoner/Sludge Metal community. Did you notice that yourselves.

Yes, for sure. We have been touring Europe four times, in addition to a UK-tour and a Scandinavian tour after that album. It also brought us to the festivals we’ve been dreaming of playing for years. Very happy about the current situation, and hopefully “Vargariis” will bring us even further.

You toured extensively for that album. Will you be a touring a lot for Vargariis.

I think so, yes. There’s some killer plans on the table for next summer that I Can’t speak of at this moment. We love being on tour. That’s by far the best part of being in a band. It’s pretty hard to say right now what this album will do for us, since those things tend to happen along the way, but we sure hope to tour as much as we’re used to. The states would have been cool eventually. We’ll start with some gigs around Norway, which we haven’t been doing for years.

You’ve played a lot of gigs and festivals over the last few years. Which audiences have been your favourite and why. Or are you treated the same wherever you perform.

That’s a really hard question. Both club shows and festivals are equally awesome, and both tours we did in 2015 have been very well attended almost everywhere we went. If I have to choose, I must say the best crowds were at Roadburn and Freak Valley. Insane experiences both of them, Freak Valley even if it was before noon in the morning. But we also LOVE playing everywhere in Austria. Such great treatment and crowds. Same goes for Germany and Switzerland, and Paris, and Copenhagen, and Gothenburg.. The list goes on.

Tombstones are a quite a prolific band. As you’ve released 5 records over the last 6 years. Do you guys ever rest or are you the type of band who just want to start recording the next record after the new one has been released.

We have released 3 albums to this point. “Vargariis” will be our fourth. We don’t know why so many always think we have released another one. “Volume I” was just a demo, and was never released. Yes, we find time to rest. It’s needed. After the recording of “Vargariis” in July , we have only played a couple of live shows. The last couple of years have been quite heavy, so we needed to re-charge, and find motivation again. At least I did. And during those times new riffs and ideas have a tendency to appear.

Is Tombstones your full time job. Or do you have other full time jobs to contend with. If you do, how hard is to participate with Tombstones at times.

I wish. I don’t even think it’s realistic to think about a band like ours as a possible full time job. I don’t know, maybe in our genre Sleep, Melvins, Sunn and bands of that size can live off of it, but I don’t know. We sure as hell can’t. It can be hard to make it work with girlfriends, day-jobs, and on top of that to have some time off in general, but we are blessed with awesome employers, who make sure we can do almost everything we want. Almost. If it weren’t for them, we’d be screwed.

What’s the song-writing dynamic with the band. Is it down to individuals or do you all work on the songs together.

It’s a nice combination of those two. We have worked much more as a collective on “Vargariis” than on the previous albums, but we still bring riffs to rehearsals that we’ve worked on by ourselves.

What inspired you to become a musician. Any particular band, musician or albums that made you think – Yeah, That’s what I want to do.

For me, it started as a teenager growing up skateboarding and listening to skate-punk. I went to as much gigs as I could manage, living in the countryside, and I think I’ve had that dream ever since. In the early days Swedish bands such as Millencoliln, Mindjive, Raised Fist etc were huge inspirations, alongside US-bands like NOFX, Lagwagon, Strung Out++. These days I would say my two favorite bands are Melvins and Amenra. Both on record, and from the stage. Both bands will make your jaw drop. Intense.

With 2015 drawing to a close, what have been your fave records you’ve listened to this year.

Hm, difficult question. I’m not a champ when comes to checking out all new music, but the ones I’ve listened to the most this year is First Aid Kit’s Stay gold, but that’s from 2014.. and also Weezer’s new album, but that’s also 2014.. From this year I’d have to say Elder-Lore, and the new Uncle Acid. As for 2016, I have huge expectations for the new Egypt album. Those guys kill it.

Do you have any words of wisdom for your fans out there.

Check out our new album, and keep coming to our gigs when we hit your area, and keep going to gigs in general. Music is freedom!

Well guys, thanks for doing this interview. All the best with Vargariis as it’s a stunning record
Thank you so much for your support! - Lots of love from Oslo!

Words by Steve Howe and Ole Christian Helstad

Thanks to Jan at Sure Shot Worx for arranging this interview. Thanks to Ole for taking the time out to talking to us.

Vargariis will be available to buy from Soulseller Records on CD/DD from December 4th 2015. The Double Gatefold Vinyl will be available to buy from January 2016.