Belfast doom titans Slomatics have been eschewing their own unique take on the genre since 2004, and even though they are often listed as an influence by the latest wave of crushingly heavy exponents, they are far more diverse and intricate than the majority of their compatriots. Adding Hawkwind-esque swirling psychedelia to the full-on assault has always made the trio stand out, and now, having finished the colossal task of a trinity of albums, the band have teamed up with Mammoth Weed Wizard Bastard (who also spoke to us about the split) to produce a split-cum-collaboration album, Totems, that looks set to feature on many Album of the Year lists already.
We spoke to guitarist David Majury about the release, out now via Black Bow Records, as well as the band’s history and the prestige of playing marquee shows.
Future Echo Returns was the final part of a three-album concept stretching back to 2012’s A Hocht. Is there a sense of relief in finally being able to close the door on that chapter to move forward with new themes?
In a word, yes! We really enjoyed the challenge of a trilogy and, in a way, it provided real focus with writing, but at the same time it imposed limitations as we were trying to create a narrative too. I think that’s why we interspersed each album with another release, so that we could just write individual songs and keep it feeling fresh for ourselves. You’re absolutely right about closing a chapter though, and it’s been really liberating to write new songs that are pretty much all geared towards being played live. I don’t think that we are going to completely rewrite our sound at this stage but not having a ‘story’ to stick to has freed us up nicely, and we’re really enjoying writing the new album. I’m not saying we won’t do a conceptual piece again, but it’ll not be the next thing we do.
Mammoth Weed Wizard Bastard and yourself seem to be a perfect fit, both adding ethereal and spacey elements to crushing doom, how did Totems come about?
I’d got chatting to their guitarist Dave online, maybe through Instagram. All three of us absolutely loved their last album which is quite a rare thing, all of us agreeing on one record. It really did stand out as something different. Anyway, we started talking, mainly about gear and recording, but it became apparent pretty quickly that we share a lot of views and thoughts, not just musically but with politics and life in general. We are both playing in heavy bands but don’t listen to a huge amount of doomy stuff, and we got talking about how records should sound. We’ve a shared love of soundtracks and also early German electronic/psych, and we chatted about how much fun it would be to collaborate.
Obviously, we live in different countries, but by working on a collaborative record we could get close enough to actually play together. The whole thing is mapped out as a full album, just played by two different bands. They hooked up with us in the studio too, and Marty, our drummer, recorded some parts for their side, with Jessica [Ball, MWWB vocals] joining us on ours. We’ve done splits before but this was definitely a new approach for us, and we loved doing it.
The final track of the album is ‘Masters Descent’, which sees you collaborating with MWWB’s Jessica, was that planned or something that came up as you were recording?
As I mentioned, we wrote the record to be presented as one piece, so it was planned from the very start. When I wrote that song I was thinking mainly about how to end it and I really wanted to hear Jess’ voice on our music. I’d written the melody using an eBow and a synth pedal so it had an ‘airiness’ that I hoped would fit with her voice, and when she started singing the lines in the studio it was an amazing moment, as she added so much to it. I think folk don’t realise what an accomplished musician Jess is, she really is very talented. It came out way better than we hoped so we were all really delighted. I’d love to get her on the next record too, you never know.
You guys seem to prefer one-off shows or weekenders to long tours, what’s the reasoning for that?
Real life. We all have jobs that are quite restrictive in terms of time off, so straight away weeks on the road can’t happen. To be honest, even if that wasn’t the case we also all have young families, I have two wee boys so it’s important that I’m there. I know that sounds a bit lame to some people, but I’ve seen the kind of stress that being on the road a lot can bring to families, and I just don’t think I’d be happy to do that. We did tour years ago, although that was mainly UK/Ireland. The fly-in shows allow us to play new places and get around Europe without making life more difficult – basically, if we can fly somewhere and not lose loads of money we’ll do it. For us, it makes every gig really special, and the promoters who have put us on have been amazing, and really understanding about how we work.
Your set at 2017’s Roadburn Festival has been released by the label, was there an added pressure playing knowing that you would be getting such a prestigious release?
Yeah, just a bit! We knew they would record the show before we played, but to be honest we approached it more from wanting to have a fun show than worrying about it being technically perfect. We thought it was better to play a good gig and enjoy the day than to play a sterile one that would be ‘better’ on record. The worst thing that could have happened is that the label thought the show didn’t sound great, and it wouldn’t be released, so really we had nothing to lose.
This might sound daft but given the ethos and atmosphere of the festival, it would have been out of step for us to have focused more on the recording than the show itself. There really is a sense of communion at that festival, from Walter [Hoeijmakers] running it right along to the punter there for a beer and some craic, so hopefully the album captures even just a sense of that. The record is a huge bonus, of course – to have played the festival is such a big deal, so to have it deemed worthy of release really is just mind-blowing for us. People use the word ‘honoured’ a lot but that is really how we felt.
You played at Psycho Las Vegas in 2017 too. How was it playing such a huge event?
It was brilliant. The whole thing was a bit surreal, to be honest, it’s on such a huge scale and it’s in Vegas, which is a bizarre enough place already! We genuinely thought it was a wind-up when the initial email came through, the thought that anyone would fly us halfway across the world for one show. That’s a really great thing about Psycho though, they definitely focus on smaller, more underground names alongside the likes of Neurosis and Mastodon.
A combination of jet-lag, cocktails and the fact that the venue is a casino made it quite a strange experience, but it’s a festival unlike any other and an amazing setup. The actual show went really well. Weirdly it started to rain just before we played, we clearly brought some Irish weather with us! Aside from a moments panic that it would be a deluge and we’d play to an empty space, it was amazing – a really great crowd, excellent sound and a cool crew. It was certainly an unusual thing to look out and see folk diving into the pool in time to the music! We got to hang around with good people, the Conan lads, along with the Domkraft and Elephant Tree boys, as well as watching the likes of the Melvins, Sons of Otis, Conan, Neurosis and Cough, so it was definitely a good time.
You’ve maintained a consistent line-up with only one member change in fifteen years, what do you put this down to?
Chris and I have never lost our enthusiasm for music, and we’ve never changed our approach. We started out in the Belfast DIY collective scene, and the values we had back then still apply now. We don’t want to do this full-time, our ‘goals’ were met as soon as we wrote a song we liked, and we only make music to please ourselves, so we’re never going to come up against anything to make us stop. We’ll still play music together every week long after the gig offers eventually dry up. Our circumstances help a lot too though, we have very similar stuff going on in our lives, like family and jobs, so it’s not like we pull in different directions or have different expectations.
I think a lot of bands fall apart for reasons other than music, like someone moves away or changes job, so we’ve been lucky to avoid that. Our original drummer was there for seven years and, with hindsight, probably the last three or four were pretty stagnant. He eventually quit as he just wasn’t into playing music, it was no drama, but we felt quite relieved at the time – especially as we’d already had Marty in mind for some time. We really felt like things fell into place immediately when he joined, and it gave us a huge boost at a time when the band had sort of dragged to a halt really.
In the five years this line-up has been together we’ve put out four albums, a seven inch, a collaboration album, an EP and a soundtrack song, which pretty much sums up the changes that Marty brought. We like to be busy and will always look to the next project, so there’s a fair degree of forward motion with us. It’s funny though, when I first asked him to join it was provisionally just to help us out on drums for a while. Within about six months he was our drummer, singer, lyricist, merch manager, gig manager, keyboardist and accountant, so he certainly fitted in well! We work well together too, I think we all fulfil a certain role when we write and travel. Without wanting to be all emo about it, we’ve been friends for years – I went to school with Marty and have played in bands consistently with Chris for nearly 20 years, so we all get on really well and enjoy time together. That helps!
There seems to be a growing scene in Ireland at the moment, what would you put this down to, and who would you say are the up and coming bands to look out for?
The thing about the Irish music scene is that it’s always been really strong. All through the decades of conflict music was still there and really vibrant. It could be something about being a small island maybe, but I think there’s a strong element of DIY here, from musician collectives and co-operatives through to studios and venues. Right now I think the outside world just sees more of what goes on here, due to the internet and cheaper travel. Most folk I know in bands play UK/European shows, and it’s no longer unusual to have people fly in to see our Belfast shows. The Irish scene has always been about helping each other out, there’s only ever a small minority of careerist or competitive bands about, and they never last anyway.
Right now, I’d recommend Documenta from Belfast, an amazing cinematic textural soundscape-within-a-song sort of thing. Hornets, who are flat out raging hardcore, absolutely brutal. Wild Rocket from Dublin are big favourites of ours, they’re sort of kraut-psych, really great. Maw from Belfast are the Melvins playing the Pixies. Horse from Cork are high-grade noise rock, like all those forgotten Am-Rep killers. Junk Drawer are really dirty, fuzzy Sonic Youth-esque melodic noise, I love them. Honestly, I could go on all day here, but that’s always been the case. There loads of variety too, I think that whatever your taste there’d be a band here you’d be glad you heard.
What’s next for Slomatics?
Our next record is the collaboration with MWWB, it’s out in a couple of weeks [at the time of interviewing]. Shortly after that we’re off to play in Copenhagen, and we’ve a few other fly-in shows confirmed but not announced just yet. European shows, some new places. We’re about halfway through writing the next album so it’ll be out in the first half of 2019, and I think our soundtrack song for the Planet Of Doom movie will be out this year too. Busy times!
Check out our interview with MWWB here.
Totems is out now on Black Bow Records. Purchase here.
Words: David Brand