If you were a scientist and tried to go into your laboratory to create Orange Goblin, you would probably need equal parts whiskey, doom metal, classic rock, beer, stoner rock, and the Incredible Hulk to begin to replicate their enormous sound. Since 1995, they have been bringing their Sabbathesque brand of heavy metal to the masses, through albums and a relentless, yet mostly European touring schedule.
Orange Goblin has finally returned to America, hitting the road with the road warriors of rock, Maryland’s Clutch (our review of the Baltimore, MD show is here), in support of their 2012 breakout album A Eulogy for the Damned. We sat down with singer Ben Ward and drummer Christopher Turner, and chatted about everything from tour riders to Adam and the Ants.
Welcome back to America!
Christopher Turner: Thanks!
Ben Ward: Thank you!
How are you finding touring in America different from touring in Europe?
BW: Well, obviously the drives are a lot bigger. There’s greater spaces between each city or town. That can be kind of draining each day but, you know, it’s part and parcel of it. I think hospitality riders in Europe are generally more generous than you get in America. Not to say that we’ve been not done by, but I think any American band that’s been to Europe will testify to that.
CT: This is the sixth time we’ve been here, so we’re a bit used to it.
BW: You know, we’re not strangers, we know what to expect. It’s just something we’ve learned to deal with.
What was the process for Eulogy for the Damned different from any of your previous albums?
BW: I think circumstances were different, really.
BW: We didn’t specifically set out to write an album at any given time. We just accumulated ideas over the course of five years. We were still busy going out and touring, playing festivals in Europe, and doing what we could. Then, eventually when we knew that we were close to having enough, we kind of knuckled down and started putting stuff together. The record label was very, very patient with us because we signed in 2008.
CT: They basically gave us five years to muck around. They put some faith in us to let us do what we needed to do. After five years, they were, you know, “Are you gonna record anything?”
So you spent years with Rise Above Records, then you switched to Sanctuary Records, then to Candlelight Records. What’s it been like shuffling between labels?
CT: The switch from Sanctuary was because they closed down. Universal bought them and closed it, because they wanted the back roster, then the little bands got dropped. So, we didn’t move from Sanctuary, Sanctuary just stopped existing. Then, basically, Candlelight stepped up and said, you know, “We’re happy to take you on.”
How’s it been with Candlelight so far?
BW: It’s been great! No complaints at all. They’ve been very helpful.
CT: Well, to be honest, they gave us five years to fuck around before actually asking us to produce. They gave us a lot of time, they gave us a lot of space, then when we have done stuff, they’ve been very supportive.
Did you get itchy in those five years, like “We need to get an album recorded,” or did you enjoy taking your time with it?
BW: No. Our circumstances changed. Chris moved away from London, which meant we didn’t rehearse quite as often. People think we disappeared for five years, but we didn’t. We were touring quite a bit in Europe. We were using a lot of holiday time from our day jobs to go out and do Orange Goblin. We came to America in 2009 to do the Planet Caravan Festival, was were back over here in 2011 to a short two-and-a-half week tour with Gates of Slumber, and like I say, there was never any sort of really prolonged period that we didn’t do anything. It was our seventh album, and we didn’t want to rush it.
CT: The other weird thing as well is that, I think for all of us, really, up to a point, we’d been going for sixteen years, or whatever at the time, and we had kind of reached this plateau where we were just doing what we were doing without any kind of pressure to record. The band had slipped into being something to do on the weekends. So, we hadn’t gotten the label pushing us to do anything.
With Rise Above, they were great, but you had to record every two to three years, and do the whole sort of process and stuff, which is fair enough. But then we had time on our hands, and it just became like a hobby, really. In a way, if the band would have wound up at that time and kind of called it a day, it wouldn’t have been a great surprise. We just literally just kept doing it, really. It was only when we actually produced a record for Candlelight that kind of revitalized us all a little bit, really.
Do you think having that sort of open timetable led to Eulogy being, what a lot of people consider, such a big step up for Orange Goblin?
BW: It probably did, in a way, because it was the first album where there wasn’t an element of pressure at all. It was just, you know, …do what we like.
CT: It had been so long since we’d done anything, that nobody was expecting us to do anything. So we could literally just go in and do it however we liked. Rather than go in a sit in a studio for two, three weeks from beginning to finish, we just recorded it on weekends over the course of a long period of time, and that gave–
BW: We’d have two days in the studio recording stuff, then we’d have five days to a week to really go away, listen to what we’d done, you know, give you a chance to sort of evaluate, you know “maybe I could do that,” or “maybe I could improve on that part.”
CT: The other thing as well is that we’d use a little studio in London that has done some stuff, but nothing really anything like us. We just used the in-house engineer. It was this young guy Jamie [Dodd], he was into Mastodon and Metallica but had never done anything like us before, and it was a big thing for him to do that. He worked his fuckin’ ass off.
It seems like, compared to your older albums, the production level of Eulogy was so far and above what you had previously done.
What was different about working with Jamie Dodd, aside from the album timetable, was there anything different about working with him versus your previous producers?
CT: The good thing for him is that to was a big chance for him, in a way. Again, we had nothing to prove, we were just gonna go in and do it. So, it was a real big deal for him, and he got it, really. He wasn’t afraid to kind of tell us to do it again, or come up with ideas and suggestions, and would listen to us, so it was a really good working relationship as well.
BW: Us personally, we were probably a lot more professional about it than we’d ever been previously in the studio. In the past we used to see it as a two-week holiday. Go away to the studio, drink as much as we can, and maybe knock out an album while we’re there. [laughs] This time we wanted to do the best job we possibly could, and everybody approached it with that attitude. It was a lot more professional.
When you look back at your past albums, like The Big Black and Coup de Grace, do you see how Orange Goblin has progressed from the early days up to where you are now?
BW: I think there’s a quite obvious natural progression that you can see in the band. Frequencies from Planet Ten does sound like a young band having been given free rein in the studio for the first time, which is why there’s all the weird keyboards and complete nonsense lyrics and song titles like “Song of the Purple Mushroom Fish” and stuff like that. Each album as we’ve gone on has just been an indication of what we were into around that time. I think Time Travelling Blues was the first album that Chris had a massive input on, because when he joined the band, the Frequencies from Planet Ten material was already written. I think Time Travelling Blues–
CT: When I started writing stuff–
BW: –the first sound of us as a band. Then The Big Black was, what I still consider to be, probably our best album. That was when we starting to take it a bit more seriously. We were getting a lot more press coverage in the UK, and that sort of thing, so it was time to start sort of knuckling down. Then Coup de Grace, we tried to do, kind of a…what’s the word–
CT: It was just of a step away from the pigeonhole that we had been put in.
BW: Yeah, we wanted to get ourselves away from that whole “stoner rock” tag which, looking back now, I couldn’t care less about. At the time it was “Oh, we don’t want to be labeled ‘stoner rock’ and get pigeonholed.”
That tag seems to encompass so many different styles nowadays.
BW: Exactly, yeah.
CT: I mean, you could say the Beatles were a stoner rock band at the end of the day. In a way, it’s lazy journalism. If you think about it, name any bands that weren’t stoners at one stage or another. On a personal level as well, each album represents a different chunk of your life, in a way. It was what you were doing and what you were into, and how things were affecting you at that time.
BW: Obviously, after Coup de Grace there was a big change because we lost Pete [O'Malley], one of the guitar players, and carried on as a four-piece, which changed the dynamic in the band. Martyn [Millard, bassist] had a lot more input of what he could do with the bass, it freed him up, and it gave Joe [Hoare, guitarist] a lot more room as well to do what he wanted to do. I think that’s quite evident on Thieving From the House of God, and subsequently, Healing Through Fire and Eulogy. So there’s definitely a natural progression through all our records.
In a lot of your music, but especially on Eulogy, there seems to be a very big southern rock influence.
Are you all big southern rock fans?
BW: Yeah, I mean, we all listen to the Allman Brothers, Skynyrd, ZZ Top, the Marshall Tucker Band, and stuff like that. We may not have the American accents and that sort of thing, but that kind of music is a big part of what we’re into.
CT: I think even going back to Time Travelling Blues, on every album, you’ll see there’s that influence on every single record, along those lines.
It’s easy to say that bands like Black Sabbath really influenced Orange Goblin. Who’s an influence of yours that people might be surprised by, that might make people say “Really? You were influenced by them?”
BW: I think Joe would be a good person to ask that sort of thing, because he picked up guitar because he was into people like Jimmy Page, but he’s also into the old bluesmen and people like that. He always has weird tastes in things like Steely Dan and Mr. Mister, things like that, so there’s a kind of big pop element in what Joe does. I don’t know! I think all of our influences range from early Elton John albums right through to Mayhem and that kind of extreme Norwegian black metal. Slade for me, Noddy Holder is one of my local heroes and one of my favorite bands ever. I don’t think a lot of people have us down really as Slade fans, but you know…so be it.
Orange Goblin traditionally releases albums on vinyl. What are your thoughts on the format and where its place is today in music?
BW: I think it’s a shame that it’s considered such an old sort of treasure these days, it should just be the norm. If a record comes out, it’s available on vinyl.
CT: The thing that gets me now is that, it’s a different format. It sounds different. It’s warmer, and it’s kind of got that open feel to it. It’s got all the background noise and everything else that comes with it.
Then you get people like CD purists, who say that’s actually what it’s supposed to sound like, without the guff that goes on with it. It’s one of those things, you know, I like both of them. I like vinyl—vinyl’s nice to have simply for the artwork, at the end of the day, The whole thing about having a record when you’re a kid was that you spent hours and hours kind of analyzing every single little bit of everything, all the inserts, the sleeve, everything, which you don’t get with a CD.
I mean, CDs sound great, and for a sound engineer, and for anybody that’s mastering and stuff like that, you pretty much know that if you put something down to CD, you’re going to get your sound out of it. The thing that annoys me most about vinyl now is that it’s become really fucking elitist. You know, it’s a great music format, it sounds really good, the packaging is nice, but everybody gets so up their asses about it. You can’t just release vinyl now, you’ve got to release eighteen different colors of vinyl, each one’s only limited to thirty, and then we can start arguing about it. It’s like, just put a record out, and listen to it!
I think Sleep has rereleased Dopesmoker about ten times now on different color vinyl.
CT: Yeah, and I mean that’s fair enough, and that’s strange for a continuous track to have it on two sides. It makes no sense, but you know. It’s cool. In a way you’re much better off listening to something on CD, a modern record. If you go back to analog recording or something else from the 70s, that was made for vinyl, that’s how it’s done. But with digital production and that kind of stuff, unless you go to a proper analog studio and record it on two-inch tape and the whole other kind of stuff and did it properly…if you go and ProTools something up and then release it on vinyl, it’s just stupid, in one sense, because it doesn’t translate.
For me really, vinyl is more about the ownership of the thing, whereas modern media has gone to MP3s and digital downloads, the complete opposite of that. It’s like “I’ve got this big, lumpy thing in front of me, it takes up a lot of space, but isn’t it beautiful?” [laughs] And that’s what it is, you know?
BW: I think every musical format that comes out has its benefits, you know? Obviously, like Chris says, CDs are easier to store, and they sound great. MP3s are pretty easy, you can put your whole record collection on one of them! [points to smartphone, laughs]
CT: MP3s are download only, you know?
They are great on moving day!
CT: The purists are like, “Oh, it sounds muddy and blahdeblah,” but unless you’ve got a $20,000 Linn fucking speaker or whatever, and you’re not deaf like I am [laughs], then it doesn’t matter, you know?
Think back to your childhood. What’s one record that sticks out in your mind? That one, when you were a kid, just knocked your socks off.
BW: Probably Sgt. Pepper by the Beatles for me. My dad played that to me, and I remember actually being quite scared by it. Sitting in the back of the car and hearing “A Day in the Life,” and it was weird. It was freaky music, I was like, “What is this?” It sort of changed how I thought about music, because in the past, my mom would just play me crap like Barry Manilow, Lionel Richie, and things like that.
CT: I’ve got an older brother who’s eight years older than me, and so when I was a kid growing up he’d be buying Sabbath and Zeppelin, Meatloaf, and UFO, Whitesnake, all that kind of shit. The record that stood out was the “Whole Lotta Rosie” 7″ by AC/DC. That’s the one, I put it on and I’m like “That’s fuckin’ brilliant man!” That was the first one that ever made an impact on me.
BW: The one made me want to go out and buy records was Ant Music by Adam and the Ants.
CT: I remember the second 7″ I ever bought was Dog Eat Dog by Adam and the Ants.
BW: Prince Charming was the first album I actually ever bought with my own money.
CT: Kings of the Wild Frontier.
BW: And the first single I ever bought with my own money was “Another Brick in the Wall, Part 2″ by Pink Floyd. Cause I had just started school, and I love the “HEY! TEACHER!” bit. [laughs]
CT: The first 7″ I ever bought was Squeeze, “Cool for Cats.”
CT: On pink vinyl! [laughs]
So you’ve got four or five dates coming up after this tour. What’s next for Orange Goblin?
BW: We have tonight, and then three headline shows in Philly, New York, and Boston—then we go home, and have pretty much the whole of May off, then we go out for three months in June, July, and August. Not all consecutively, you know, we get a couple of weeks at home here and there. We’re doing Europe, then we should be back over here in the fall.
Are you doing the European festival circuit?
BW: There’s a lot of festivals, sort of a mixture. There’s festivals basically every weekend in Europe, so we’ll go out, do a couple of festivals, then throughout the week do club shows, linking them up, that sort of thing, just staying on the road!