If there’s one genre out there that often prefers to remain far removed from political debate, it’s the intoxicated world of stoner rock. As a genre reliant on leisurely grooves and fuzzy tones, it’s not exactly tailored for such discussions, but in the fractured world we currently inhabit – one where the rise of the far-right is a very real threat – being apolitical isn’t exactly viable as we enter 2020. London-based quintet Green Lung may favour the sort of lackadaisical riffage that makes you want to drop out of life with bong in hand, but operating in a scene that Neo-Nazis are attempting to infiltrate has taught them that it’s important to not to sit on the fence.
Purveyors of a folksy strain of stoner rock, one that isn’t afraid to draw from psychedelia as well as classic rock and doom, the band have made it clear where they stand, even releasing a “Nazi occultists fuck off” patch. Back in March 2019, they released their acclaimed debut full-length Woodland Rites, but the preceding EP Free The Witch is just as impressive, so it’s no surprise that the band saw fit to return to it for a physical re-release, complete with new bonus track ‘When The Axe Comes Down’.
To find out more about the band’s unique sound and aesthetic, we had a chat with vocalist Tom Templar.
What made you decide to re-release Free The Witch?
When we recorded Free The Witch the band was less than a year old, and we had no label or money to give the EP a physical release. We’ve had fans asking for a physical version since it came out in early 2018, and after the success of our album Woodland Rites it felt like an obvious time to give it the lavish LP treatment it deserved with the help of Kozmik Artifactz. We also added a bonus track, ‘When the Axe Comes Down’, which was recorded in the same sessions, and Richard Wells, who illustrated the cover of Woodland Rites did an incredible job of re-conceiving the art. It’s basically the presentation we would have wanted, but didn’t have the resources to create at the time.
The doom scene has enjoyed several solid years at this point. What do you think is to blame for this resurgence and its continued consistency, in terms of both quality and popularity?
When I was 18 I was in an extremely obscure doom band called Tomb King based in north Norfolk, and I remember coming to London for shows and there was no real scene to speak of – we’d play on mixed bills with crust punk and post-metal bands. Now you can find a solid stoner/doom bill pretty much every weekend in the capital, and that does a huge amount for your creative confidence, and ability to road-test songs as a local band. I think Desertfest is a big part of it, they’ve managed to bring together various small scenes and cross-pollinate fanbases, and the mainstream success of bands like Ghost and Uncle Acid And The Deadbeats gives more people a context for the music. I think the dire state of the indie and rock scenes in this country is also something to do with it. You find a lot of those guitar music fans coming in search of the heavier stuff, because that genre has become so stale and commodified.
Has revisiting the EP changed your perspective on it all? How do you think you have progressed as a band since?
I think we’ve come a long way in a short time, but we’re all still really proud of the EP and regularly play these songs live. It’s interesting to listen back having done Woodland Rites – to my ear, we were holding ourselves back from some of the more classic rock elements, which we really embraced on the album. There’s less harmony and it’s a bit murkier and more stripped down. But when we recorded it, I think we really established our signature sound, which we’ve been building on since. All the foundations are there!
The term “green lung” refers to parkland within cities, which is meant to oxygenate the air. As a band from London who have some folky themes, is there some significance to choosing this as the band’s name or is it more of a coincidence?
To be honest we didn’t overthink the band name. Even at the beginning, the lyrics and themes were already celebrating witchcraft, nature and wildness, so it seemed a good fit. We’re all guys who grew up in the country and now live in the city, so there’s a resonance there. For me, it’s in the tradition of band names like Blue Cheer – it just sounds heavy and fuzzy. Obviously there’s the stoner association, which doesn’t hurt.
You recently released a “Nazi occultists fuck off” patch, which is great considering that some of the occultist themes you utilise are often co-opted by the far-right. In the modern political climate, how important do you think it is for bands to take a stand against the far-right, even if their music may not be inherently political?
That patch was actually inspired by a specific incident, where someone was repeatedly coming into some of the venues we play in London and leaving Neo-Nazi propaganda at black metal shows. Underground music scenes that explore European folklore and tradition are really vulnerable to this kind of thing – just look at how the Swedish far-right targeted the folk scene there in a very concerted, sinister way. Unfortunately I don’t think bands can afford to be “apolitical” in a climate when their lyrical and aesthetic themes are being infiltrated in this way. You have to show your true colours, otherwise your art can be co-opted. And people are so naive – we depicted the Nazi black sun symbol being smashed to pieces, and you still have people sharing blogs saying that the symbol existed in antiquity, and is actually part of a benign pagan tradition. It was specifically designed for Heinrich Himmler!
Would you say your sociopolitical views influence your music at all? For example, would you say there is an intended feminist angle to Free The Witch?
I wouldn’t say we’re an expressly political or ideological band – we welcome fans from across the political spectrum and we’re never going to preach. All I’ll say is that we consciously intended to use the hoary old trope of witchcraft in heavy metal in a way that felt radical, and to connect with the collectivist, anarchic spirit of the Old Religion. We love bands like Witchfinder General, but we’d rather be on the side of the witches.
What have you got in store for the future?
We already have a bunch of demos for a new album, and we’re really excited about them. But next year is probably going to be more of a live year – we have a new booking agent, and we’re making some big plans, with some festivals (including Desertfest) already booked, so there should be a lot more opportunities to catch us on the road. Oh, and Woodland Rites will be back in print – more news on that soon…
Green Lung’s Free The Witch reissue is out now. Order here.
Words: George Parr
Photo: Ester Segarra