Sunday 1 January 2023

An Interview With Taylor D. Waring and Andrew Backes From MERLOCK

Sludge/Stoner Metallers Merlock are releasing their incredible debut album Onward Strides Colossus in February 2023. The album offers a Psychedelic and Progressive Sludge/Stoner Grooves with a STADIUM ROCK drive in places. You can read my review here.

The band have steadily been gaining much notice within the Sludge/Stoner Metal Underground scene and this album will endear them even further to the fans of the Heavy Rock Underground.

I caught up with Taylor (Guitar/Vocals) and Andrew (Bass) recently to discuss the evolution of the band and making the new album.

Here's what went down...

Hi guys. Thanks for doing the interview. How are things with you today.

[Taylor D. Waring] Yo! Things are going great! It's a kind-of gray, hazy day here in Spokane, but I’m tucked away in my basement doing some work for my creative marketing business and enjoying some dark, doomy jazz. Bohren & der Club of Gore always fits so well this time of year.

[Andrew Backes] It's going good! It's an icy day in Spokane, but the snow and ice have a special beauty to them. Me and the dogs are loving it!

For folks not in the know, can you give a brief history of how the band came together and where it is today.

[Taylor D. Waring] Merlock in 2017 when I moved to Spokane to pursue my MFA in Creative Writing. I’d played in another stoner doom band, Baba Yaga, back in Wisconsin and wasn’t quite ready to lay down the mantle. I met our drummer, Luke, first on Craigslist. He’d just moved here from Montana and was in a pretty similar situation. We clicked right away musically and actually wrote “Spiral Nemesis” from our first demo that day.

Around that time I also met Hailey on Craigslist and we jammed a few times; she was a really good guitarist and had some black metal vocals that you can hear on That Which Speaks… Lastly, I met Andrew, our bass player, on a local doom / sludge Facebook group. We all got in a room and it worked out. Hailey cordially left the band right before we recorded You Cannot Be Saved. Currently, we’ve been thriving as a three-piece for the last few years and it works really well. It leaves us plenty of room for our big amps when we go on tour.

How would you describe your own sound? As it’s quite hard to describe and I admire how you guys show the more adventurous and progressive side of MERLOCK for your upcoming new album.

[Taylor D. Waring] I really try not to. Oscar Wilde has that quote about, if you want to become a grocer or whatever, you will. He describes that as a punishment. But if you don’t ever decide on being one thing, your possibilities are endless. Our sound is always evolving and I admire my bandmates willingness to explore different sonic territories. Obviously we’re a stoner metal band at our core, so crushing riffs come with the territory, but I’m an inherently melodic writer and get bored easily. I guess if taxonomy is that important, something annoying like post-stoner doom.

I’m glad to hear the new direction is sounding more adventurous and progressive – it was certainly something we were pushing for. We wrote most of that during the lockdown and we were also getting our toes wet touring wise. “Where No One Goes” was the first track off of the album and it definitely set the tone sonically and thematically.

You first grabbed my attention with your excellent 2020 EP “that which speaks…” which received a great response by the Sludge/Stoner Metal underground scene. . Were you surprised by the responses the EP received

[Taylor D. Waring]
It was definitely a pleasant surprise. I think we all regularly feel like we get more attention than we expect but less than we want. It’s kind of complicated territory for an introvert.

[Andrew Backes] We were surprised and invigorated. While we were proud of the record, we were surprised it reached out beyond our area as much as it did. It made us excited to continue on and keep pressing forth.

Looking back, would you change anything about your earlier releases or your experiences recording them.

[Taylor D. Waring] Definitely. We learned something every step of the way and each album has shaped how we approach the next. That Which Speaks was all done to a click track, but we found pitfalls in that process. You Cannot Be Saved was recorded live at Black Magick Studios in Kalispell and wasn’t even supposed to be a record. With each record, you only get one shot, so you’ve got to learn as much as you can each time.

[Andrew Backes] As we played and continue to play those songs, I find myself wanting to play some of the parts differently and expand on some of those first riffs. I think this is natural as we are constantly growing and evolving as musicians, but I look at each record as a snapshot of where we were at the time of recording.

We’re here to talk about your debut album Onward Strives Colossus. Superb title. What can people expect from this album.

[Taylor D. Waring] Onward Strides Colossus is our biggest sounding, most comprehensive sonic experience yet. At times, it’s bleak and melodic and at times it’s massive and crushing. It feels almost classical in its approach, in that it has distinct movements, melodies that mirror one another, and the fact that, as a whole, it brings listeners on a journey. Other than that, you can expect a lot of riffs.

[Andrew Backes] Contained insanity. There's definitely some straightforward riffs in there, but there are moments where we cut loose and let it all go. We explode and then come back to crushing riffs.

This is quite a different sounding record compared to your other releases. I felt like I was listening to another band especially with the inclusion of some epic STADIUM ROCK size riffs merged with the heavier Psychedelic Sludge/Stoner Grooves. Was that your original plan to release something different to your earlier releases?

[Taylor D. Waring] We’ve grown tremendously as songwriters and as a band over the last few years, so in a lot of ways this is a fully-realized Merlock. It wasn’t a plan so much as it was a natural progression. We all really love the first songs we made, but we feel these tracks are more in-line with our overall creative vision.

Why did you call the album Onward Strides Colossus.

[Taylor D. Waring]
We’ve been doing this for 5, almost 6 years now. We’ve built something that we’re really proud of, but nothing in this business is really guaranteed. We’ve seen bands we love fade away and sky-rocket seemingly out of nowhere. So, to us, it’s a statement on perseverance.

[Andrew Backes] It also has to do with things continuously moving forward. These songs were written under lockdown, and they gave us a feeling of striding forward in a time when a lot of things were standing still. I feel that is an important aspect in life and music.

Was the recording of the album an easy or hard process for the band.

[Taylor D. Waring] Onward Strides Colossus was really tough, because we booked a week at The Unknown in Anacortes, WA. We lived in the studio, which didn’t have much by way of amenities. There weren’t beds or showers. There was a TV we didn’t find out about until the very last night. We could only work 8 hours a day, so we often had to quit right when we felt like we were getting warmed up. It was kind of brutal.

[Andrew Backes] We were pretty well prepared for the recording, but since we had less than a week booked, it was kind of a one shot thing. It was definitely stressful making sure that we got it done right the first time.

What formats is the album being released upon and I’m seeing you’re releasing this album yourselves. Did you have any label interest for the album or do you want to keep everything DIY with Merlock.

[Taylor D. Waring] We’ll be releasing the album digitally, on Tape, and on CD. We really wanted to work with a label to get a vinyl release and spent the better part of year trying to gather support, but it just wasn’t in the cards. It’s hard for a DIY band to get in front of labels — we heard back from like 3 labels out of tons of submissions. We’re hoping this one might turn some heads and gather some attention; if not, I think we can handle it.

The artwork is freaking awesome. Who designed the artwork and how much input did you have into the overall design of this.

[Taylor D. Waring] The artist’s name is Leoncio Hrmr, who did our friends Ealdor Bealu’s most recent record, Psychic Forms. Unfortunately, we didn’t quite have the budget to commission art, so we licensed this piece “Le Paliques.” We spent a good amount of time looking for something that would fit, but we knew this was the piece when we found it.

What is the creative process or setup within the band? Do you all write the music together or do certain people within the band do that?

[Taylor D. Waring] It’s relatively fluid and becomes increasingly more collaborative. Early on it was kind of just riff-salad (which is a really good salad, in my opinion) between Hailey and I, but things have gotten a lot more intentional. I’ve generally acquainted myself with music theory over the past few years, so I feel more equipped. A lot of times I’ll write the main riffs / core of a song and Andrew and Luke will help build out the connective tissue. Andrew is really good at helping me finish songs and breaking down riffs into something with a good groove to it.

Who influenced you all musically for the new album?

[Taylor D. Waring] I had a wide-range of influences when I was crafting the riffs for this album: I think Matt Pike is an obvious influence, but there’s moments that remind me of Deafheaven, Neurosis, Pink Floyd, and Mastodon. I really wanted to make a cohesive record, a single sonic experience and all of those artists are masters at that. As a singer, I wanted to do this more traditional heavy metal thing than just screaming my head off, so obviously Rob Halford and Dio are the standard bearers. But there’s also tinges of Mark Shelton, Robert Smith, and Tim Showalter.

[Andrew Backes] I've always enjoyed the Slomatics and Conan albums, where each song moves and churns through the album, almost like waves crashing and subsiding. This was a major idea that was in my mind when we were arranging the album.

How did you get involved with music? Was it a particular album, group or artist that made you want to write and play your own music?

[Taylor D. Waring]
I don’t really know. I’ve kind of always just self-identified as a musician. I was “in a band” as far back as I remember, before we even had instruments. The first bands I really identified with were Korn and Linkin Park. Both Jon and Chester spoke to a generation of kids, especially young boys, who were questioning traditional masculinity. Both of those artists challenged what it meant to be a strong man by being vulnerable. As a weird, lonely, artsy kid, who hated his hypermasculine step-dad, that spoke to me. It made me feel like that was my space.

[Andrew Backes] I grew up listening to grunge, and as I turned into an adult, I was always searching for a heavier grunge sound. When I found bands like Sleep, Weedeater, Electric Wizard, Dopethrone, etc, I felt I had finally found what I was looking for. But when I first heard Toner Low, I was infatuated with their tone and riffs. Their ST album really gave me a drive to create my own riffs and play live with huge amps behind me.

What is the current state of the Spokane, Washington Rock/Metal scene? Do you perform gigs on a regular basis and do you have a local scene that you're actively involved with?

[Taylor D. Waring] Spokane has lots of cool stuff going on. There’s a good handful of rad stoner-doom adjacent bands and a great metal scene in general. We primarily play with touring bands rolling through and love to help set things up. I see a lot of tours taking an off day between Boise and Seattle, and it's always a bummer.

Will you be touring this album heavily in the future? If so, any plans you can share with us at this moment in time?

[Taylor D. Waring] Yes, but no.

Do you have any other musical projects outside of Merlock that folks can check out.

[Taylor D. Waring] I have a couple of other musical projects. I play bass and sing in the death rock band Cruel Velvet. I also have an ambient / death dream project I’m going to release at some point this year and have a lot of a black-adjacent record written.

Before you go, do you have any words of wisdom for your fans (such as myself) out there.

[Taylor D. Waring] Rob already said it: Rock hard, ride free.

[Andrew Backes] Shit happens when you party naked.

Words by Steve Howe and Merlock

Thanks to C Squared Music for arranging this interview and to Merlock for doing the interivew. 

Onward Strides Colossus will be available to buy on CD/DD from February 24th 2023.


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