Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Interview with Mike Hill of Tombs

Ithaca Underground's Bubba Crumrine catches up with Tombs founder Mike Hill before their show in Boston to discuss plans for 2010 - including recording a new LP, some amazing tours and their appearance at the second Big Day In on May 1st in Ithaca - in addition to some current literature driving his lyrics, what pushes him to keep adding more projects and endeavors, and more.

IU: What are you up to today?

Mike: Today is the first day of four or five dates with Ludicra from San Francisco and Krallice.

IU: You were all part of the Mayhem tour initially, correct?

Mike: Yes, Tombs and Ludicra were originally part of the ill-fated Mayhem tour, tonight we would have been in Boston for that tour.  Ludicra set up their own US tour in lieu of those dates, which brings them out here to the east coast and we’re jumping on a few dates with them.

IU: Is this your first string of dates in a while or have you been on the road a lot in 2010?

Mike: We’ve been working on new material so for the first part of the year we’ve just been writing, recording demos, and preproduction.  The rough plan is to enter the studio in October of this year to record another record.  Preparing for that has taken up most of our time.  The only touring we really did was around SXSW.  We did a quick run down south with Graves of Balor, who are on Relapse with us.  For me the high point for me was when we played SXSW with Voivod! That was pretty intense.  That band is one of the biggest influences on me and it was great to play with them.

IU: Wow, that must have been really fucking cool.  That band is amazing.  How many shows did you end up playing at SXSW?

Mike: We just did the one.  The way the tour was scheduled we only had time for one day and we had to roll out the next morning. Last year we played around four shows in three days.  We were there for such a limited amount of time that I didn’t really get a feel for what it was like this year.  The whole stay was centered around our show, getting ready, playing and back on the road at 8AM.

IU: Are you playing any of the new material on the road?

Mike: Pretty much the whole set right now is all new material.  We started writing last year, a couple songs here and there and they ended up migrating into the set over the course of a year.  There might be one or two songs from “Winter Hours” remaining but the rest is entirely new.  In another month or so it will be 100% new material.

IU: Great! Any tracks really standing out at this point?

Mike: Right now it’s all so new to me that everything is just as good as bad (laughs).  We’re still working through, trying to iron out the ideas. We did a demo about a month ago.  You listen to it, determine the things you want to change, the things you want to improve on.  It’s hard for me to really be objective about it at this point.  I could tell you the song that has the least amount of stuff that needs to be fixed rather than which one I like the most at this point (laughs).

IU: That’s fair. Sounds like everything is still very much in the infant stage.

Mike: Yeah, especially the lyrics and vocal patterns, those all need to be worked on and finalized.

IU: Are you still the main compositional force behind the material?

Mike: For better or worse, I still write the material – vocals, lyrics, and the music.  Andrew Hernandez our drummer is integral in the arrangements of all the songs.  He’s got a really good ear for that.  I rely on him to do that.  I come up with the material as all these different parts with a rough idea where they should go and Andrew puts a quality control element together, determining where things should be cut or played one more or one less repetition.  That’s pretty much the process.

IU: Cool, we’ve got some friends of his up here from prior projects of his.  It will be cool to get you all back up this way.

Mike: Definitely, I saw a few of his old bands play. My former band use to play Ithaca and I’ve known Andrew for a while, prior to his involvement in Tombs and ASRA, whose LP I put out a few years ago.  To see his improvement as a musician over the last five years is amazing to me, really.  He’s a workhorse and one of the most disciplined people I know when it comes to practicing and putting the right effort forth.

IU: How do you feel the band as a whole is progressing coming up on your second LP?

Mike: The songwriting is improving the most.  Every band’s first couple records are a bunch of songs that are comprised of a couple parts put together.  I feel like the attention to how the final product is going to sound is more developed these days. We take in more of the bigger picture – how all the songs are going to work together to create an experience as opposed to just having a cool song, a fast song, a slow song… Now we’re thinking more in terms of the new record as one body of work that should be listened to in one shot.  That’s new for us.

IU: Any literature or themes that you’re pulling inspiration from for the lyrics on the new album?

Mike: I’ve been reading a lot of Aleister Crowley’s works, rediscovering “Book of the Law”. There’s also a book called “Murder City” written by Ciudad Juarez down in Juarez, Mexico.  It’s about how the drug culture in Mexico basically feeds their whole economy and how basically their entire economy is to serve the needs of people in the US – their needs for drugs and stimulants that is.  It’s inspiring to me, not to go out and do drugs obviously, but in the concept of consequence of action.  I don’t do drugs but I’m not judgmental of those who do, just that people need to take responsibility if they’re going to go out and do cocaine or heroin.  Let’s take cocaine for example, a big export from Mexico.  You’re going to go and have a night out on the town and party down, somewhere down the line someone died, was gun down, or their family was murdered so you could have that good time.  That’s the crux that I’m taking out of that book.  People don’t really look any further than what’s in front of them.  They don’t realize the consequences of what they do.

In the songs, it doesn’t come out as literal but inspires me for concept.

IU: Wow, that’s an amazing piece of material to take from. I’m going to have to give that a read. Can’t wait to hear that concept put to music.

Outside of Tombs, are you still active with your label Black Box and your studio?

Mike: Yes, Black Box is definitely active. I just put out a split with The Dead in the Woods and Diet Pills, both of which are UK based bands.  That just surfaced a couple weeks ago.  Later in the spring there will be another release with a project I’m involved with called Vasilek.  That’s going to be an ongoing recording project which leans on the ambient side of things.  Each release is going to differ from the next as different people will be involved with each one.  I’d like it to be a long standing project where every few months a release will come out under that moniker. It incorporates a visual component in addition to the audio.  Tomas Hooper, the artist behind “Winter Hours” cover art, and I are tight friends and he’s going to be involved in some of the visual components as well as the vocal components.  

IU: Who else are you looking to get involved with Vasilek?

Mike: The first release is just going to be me and Thos Niles who was my old band, Anodyne’s original drummer.  Since then he’s played in Windmills By The Ocean (Robotic Empire) and Black Tail.  The first record will just be bass and drums.  The subsequent release will possibly involve Aaron Harris from ISIS, Tom Hooper, Dave Witte is going to play drums on some of the tracks.  Right now it’s a sketch as far as the direction and who we want involved.

IU: Sounds like a nice projected to compliment Tombs, something more open ended and able to be whatever it needs to be at that moment.

Mike: Yeah, I’d like to be involved in something where I’m a component involved.  Maybe all I do is play guitar, where I’m not so in control of every aspect of it.  That would be a good exercise for me.

IU: How do you find a balance between Tombs, the label, your other projects, and everything else you’re involved with?

Mike: Well, you have to prioritize things in your life.  For me, I’m so terrified of living a mediocre life. That’s the thing that motivates me is to have something meaningful going on instead of punching the clock and doing the same thing every day.  Recently I had a friend pass away, and that motivates me even more because he was only 31 years old. He died yesterday.  He had a lot more left to do.  His band The Communion was going to play Maryland Death Fest. I remember how excited he was to do that, how he always wanted to do it, and now he’s not here to do it.  That kind of thing, that I could die today, I could get struck by a car keeps me motivated.  At the end of the day you’re not going to be excited about things “I had perfect attendance at my job!” or “I sure made a lot of money in my life…” – those aren’t the things that are important when you’re in the final moments of your life. I’m terrified of not having enough of the important things in my life.  That’s why I push myself to do all these things.

IU: I completely agree.  See someone, like you, is really inspiring to those of us who are trying to find similar fulfillment.

What else do you guys have planned for this year?

Mike: We’re going out on tour with ISIS again this summer in June on the west coast.  Immediately after that we’re doing dates with Eyehategod and Nachtmystium – that’s going to be fun.  After that we’re doing a short tour with our friends in Planks who we did a split 12” with, they’re coming over from Germany for a few weeks.  At the end of the year we’ll be going on tour with Enslaved and that should be our big US tour for the year.  Somewhere along those lines in the fall we’re going to get into the studio and record our next recording for Relapse.

IU: Do you know where you’ll be recording and who with?

Mike: Not yet.  Relapse has recommendations of studios and people they’ve worked with and I have a list of people I’d like to work with.  There haven’t been any decisions in that matter though.  We’re still demoing, figuring out how many songs will be on the record then we’ll need to figure out how many days we want to take recording and a budget… there are a lot of factors still in the works.

IU: We’ll look forward to all of that!

Mike: Great, we’re looking forward to coming up to Ithaca for Big Day In on May 1st!  This will be our first time up there as Tombs.

IU:  Any other bands your excited to see at Big Day In?

Mike: Magrudergrind definitely, those guys are amazing.  Also, Dan Howard’s band Iwo Jima Medkit.

IU: Anything else?

Mike: That’s about it! We’ve got a lot coming up and going on.  We’ll see you all in a few weeks.