Interview Marek Steven
Photography Sanna Charles
Moss are easily one of the most respected cult bands in the UK. After forming in Southampton in 2001, the band have unleashed some of the heaviest and lowest doom metal of all time. Guitarist Dominic Finbow dredges up unimaginably evil slow-motion riffs over which Olly Pearson delivers pained screams and mad mutterings. Somehow creating a wall of low end without a bass guitar, the band’s grim rhythms are locked down by drummer Chris Chantler (who perversely also works as a TV comedy writer).
It’s not hard to create an average doom record, but it is extremely rare to hear anything that truly understands the form or adds anything new to the scene. Moss, like the best bands of any style, have incredible taste and feel that separates them from lesser imitators and part-timers. Their primitive, ultra-extreme music perhaps sits somewhere between the atmosphere of Sunn O))) and the heaviest riffing of late ’90s Electric Wizard. And like these legendary peers, Moss have a strong following – their material tends to sell out quickly and become collectable.
The early years of Moss spawned rare live performances scattered with limited runs of mainly self-released cassettes and split demos with bands like Wolfmangler, Unearthly Trance and Grief. The band, unsurprisingly, didn’t rush releasing their monolithic debut album, Cthonic Rites. Released on Christmas Day 2005 by Aurora Borealis Records, it was a landmark release for doom metal. Both this debut album and their recent epic follow up, Sub Templum (Rise Above Records), were produced by Jus Oborn, the singer and guitarist of Electric Wizard. Oborn helped the band create an immense sound, which they have continued to develop themselves for their upcoming EP releases Tombs of the Blind Drugged and Eternal Return.
Moss’ own press material neatly summaries the music as ‘heralding the coming of ancient elder Gods through massive slabs of bleakly magnificent, mind-controlling death sludge.’ We spoke to their thoughtful singer Olly at home in the beach-less south coast town of Southampton in Hampshire. He mainly stays in getting stoned with the curtains drawn, but Olly took some time out to talk about horror, the ’70s and the sorry state of heavy metal in the UK.
How did the three of you come together originally?
Me and Dom have been friends for about 13 years now. We always shared the same music interests and stuff like that. And we knew Chris ’cause he worked in HMV. We used to go and buy doom records, Burning Witch, stuff like that. Chris would always comment. We knew he was a drummer so we just asked if he wanted to jam one day. Dom and me were making tapes of just vocals and guitar, noisy, slow stuff. So that was how we got together.
You’re all Hampshire guys.
Yeah, we’re all from the same town. There are not a lot of people in Southampton into the same stuff.
What was the first doom band you got into? Did having Electric Wizard in the bordering county of Dorset have an influence?
The first doom I probably got into was Saint Vitus. I remember hearing one of their songs on the Sunday rock show on BBC One. It was probably about 1994 or something like that. And yeah I got into that and then I found other bands. Electric Wizard were quite local so I saw them a few times in the mid-’90s and late-’90s. Saint Vitus. Electric Wizard. They were the first doom bands I knew.
And Saint Vitus just reformed to play some European dates, which is amazing.
I’ll be going over, yeah. I mean I’m going over to Roadburn Festival [in Holland] and then seeing Saint Vitus on their own again on the Monday after. I’m getting a nice chunk of Saint Vitus. I’m really fucking looking forward to it.
Do you still listen to much doom generally?
To be honest I don’t really listen to really extreme stuff nowadays. A lot of extreme doom really bores me. To work for me it’s got to be really heavy on atmosphere. That’s the main thing for me these days. That’s what grabs you and what draws you in. A few years ago I used to love stuff like Burning Witch and Corrupted. But these days I don’t listen to much extreme doom. I think that’s showing in our new direction. The EP we’ve just done (Tombs of the Blind Drugged) is more song-orientated than the massive 20-minute epics.
You do have a pronounced atmosphere in your music. Are there any conscious ways you try and achieve that?
I guess it comes down to the riffs. The sound and the tone you get from the production. Production is really important to us.
The EP sounds great. Who produced it?
We produced the EP ourselves. The last two albums were produced by Jus Oborn from Electric Wizard. This is our first proper self-production except for the demos, which we mixed and did ourselves.
How did you find doing the EP yourselves?
It was a lot easier than we thought, really. We all sort of picked up tricks from our last two times in the studio. I think we’ve found our way around it now. Yeah, we’re more than happy to take charge of our own sound. It’s what we should be doing, really, and I think it works really well.
I did notice some progression from the recent album (Sub Templum).
Yeah, yeah, there are verses and choruses in there, you know (laughs). It’s still really extreme. It’s still really heavy. I guess we got a little bit bored of doing these massive half-hour songs. There’s only so far you can go with that, really. I think we’ve done it all (laughs).
Do you spend a long time working out the songs generally?
The funny thing is, for this upcoming EP we pretty much wrote the songs in one night. Dom flew back from Canada and that night we went straight over to the studio. We didn’t have a plan or anything. We just wrote them and recorded them the next day. So yeah it was totally spontaneous but it worked. I think it’s probably the best stuff we’ve done. It sounds really planned and rehearsed but it isn’t really.
It’s heavy! Some of the longer songs you’ve done in the past must have taken more preparation?
Yeah, the stuff on Sub Templum we spent a good four months banging out again and again. Honing it. Perfecting it. And this time it was a lot more off the cuff. I think it works out really well. We’re more than happy with it.
Did you pick much up about creating a mammoth sound in the studio from Jus Oborn’s producing?
Oh yeah, definitely. I mean Jus isn’t really a producer himself. Everything he knows he picked up from all his experience being in the studio. He’s sort of passing on sacred knowledge (laughs). He’s a good mate and those two albums wouldn’t have sounded the way they did without him. He did help us out a lot, getting the atmospheres and vibes we really wanted.
And the other doom legend you now work with is Lee Dorrian (Napalm Death, Cathedral and founder of the cult doom and prog label Rise Above Records).
We’ve been in contact with Lee now since probably our first couple of demos. I remember giving him a demo at a Cathedral show ages ago. And we get an E-mail a couple of weeks later saying he’d been listening to it with a mate. They were getting stoned to it (laughs). And we were really flattered. We did our first album and he liked it and said ‘If you want to do your second album on Rise Above then you’re welcome.’ I’ve always respected that label and I’ve always liked the records that they’ve done. It’s stayed with the doom genre despite not everything being strictly doom. It’s a good heavy label to be on. And I’d rather be on an English label than something else.
Do you have any interest in the general metal scene in the UK at all?
I don’t really pay attention to it. Metal in this day and age is the furthest thing from my mind. It really is. I’m just not interested in it all. These days I listen to a lot of prog rock. I listen to a lot of ’60s mod bands and a lot of soul. I don’t think I’ve bought a metal album this year yet. I haven’t totally abandoned it, but modern metal? Not at all. Not interested!
Do you guys smoke a lot when writing and recording?
We don’t stop. We smoke all the fucking time. I suppose you could say we’re cursed! But really, we do smoke all the time. I can’t think of a day for the last few years where I haven’t smoked something.
Although it’s not that obvious, your sound and general vibe is quite ’70s inspired, isn’t it?
Yeah, ’70s horror and ’70s production techniques. Recently we brought an organ into the band. It’s a big old vintage ’70s organ with old amplifiers. It’s like something from Deep Purple. It’s great. And yeah, I pay more attention to ’70s stuff than pretty much anything else.
I love that decade, too. Why was the ’70s so cool do you think?
It’s weird. The occult was really big back then. And everything just sounded purer. When the ’80s came ‘round all the prog bands became shit. Production went crap. Everyone suddenly got a tinny sound and all these horrible digital synths came in. It just all went to shit really. The ’60s and ’70s are just really pure decades with innovation and new sounds. And they didn’t lose track. I can’t think of anything today that recreates that properly. It’s just a really big influence on us.
Are there any movies from then you would particularly recommend?
I can definitely recommend a film called Ich, Ein Groupie. There are loads of early ’70s prog and heavy metal bands in it. It’s about a girl that goes through the bands and does lots of drugs (laughs). They’re all one-off bands that never did anything else really. Let’s see, Les Frisson Des Vampires by Jean Rollin. That’s a fucking awesome film. Have you seen Suspiria?
Yeah, early Argento is incredible.
It’s not like that but it has similar lighting. Loads of reds everywhere and it’s really psychedelic. That’s an awesome film. It’s about a girl who goes to stay with her cousins but they turn out to be vampires. It’s kind of like a horror comedy but it’s really good. If you go on Electric Wizard’s Myspace page there are loads of awesome films on there. There are so many good films from that era. So many.
You famously don’t play live much. What kind of venue or gig would entice you?
Definitely playing in a cave. Or a cathedral or something like that. Just something out of the norm would suit us down to a tee. So yeah, caves and cathedrals – anything cavernous, grimy and dank. Or gothic. We’re so sick of playing pubs and clubs. The sound you get is shit.
The whole world seems to be pretty doomy right now.
Yeah, I guess we’re all fucked. Everything is really going to shit. The economy is going to shit. The environment is going to shit. Celebrate it, I guess. It’s a good time to be doomed really.