TOMBS "The Path Less Taken"

Interview by Dr. Abner Mality

Tombs is one of the most exciting new bands in the American metal scene. Coming from the tough streets of Brooklyn and arising from the ashes of Anodyne, these guys are not exactly a fluffy feel-good band, as you might guess from their name, but they have the knack of merging several genres of dark music in a way that does justice to all of them. Listening to Tombs, you may hear the raging sludge of Celtic Frost, the moody fuzz of My Bloody Valentine, the post-metallic weight of Neurosis and even bits of Joy Division and Depeche Mode.

All of these gloomy influences coalesce smoothly on Tombs' new album, "The Path of Totality". Listening to this record is like being in a strange black and white film noir universe of grey skies, black rain and white hot rage. It's a sonic experience that band leader Mike Hill is very meticulous about. He leaves no stone unturned in making sure his band is a one-of-a-kind musical monolith.

Mike helped me through the cemetery gates and into the somber depths of Tombs...

WORMWOOD CHRONICLES:  I'm curious about the title of your new album, "The Path of Totality". What does that title mean to you?

MIKE HILL: Well, literally, the "path of totality" is a corridor of darkness...a shadow cast by the moon during a lunar eclipse. A while back, I read a short story by an author named Annie Dillard. It was about people experiencing an eclipse. That kind of inspired me to ruminate on the concept of primal fear of darkness. And that's what inspired the title of the record.

WC: So it's all about fear, then?

MH: Fear, fear of the unknown, fear of what's after this life, fear of the dark.

WC: With your name "Tombs", that suggests death and I wonder if that's a primary theme of what you're writing about.

MH: Way back when we started the band and we were trying to come up with a name, a lot of ideas were kicked around.  I played in several different bands and musical projects. A band will last for a few years and you do your best at it. The body of work a band produces is kind of like a time capsule of your life at that time. Essentially, a tomb is like a time capsulte of your life as well. Those ideas kind of ran parallel when we were trying to come up a name for the band. That was one of the names we threw out there and it just stuck. It sounds heavy and it felt right when we were trying to decide on a name.

WC: When I listen to Tombs, I get a sad kind of a feeling. Is that intentional? What kind of mental state are you in when you create these songs?

MH: Any kind of creative venture is a reflection of the person or group of people who create it. That's not to say everybody in the band leads a sad life but I think we use the band to express some of the sadness we feel with our lives and the world and the situation that humanity finds itself in. So yeah, there's a somber vibe to the music. A sort of desolation, I guess.

WC: Is any there any room for hope within the music of Tombs or is it just unrelentingly bleak?

MH: I believe that humanity, despite all the hurdles that are in front of it, always has the hope to overcome things. That's the vibe that we're trying to put forth. Despite all the relentless obstacles that are in front of people,there's definitely hope. As long as you're alive, there's always hope to rise above whatever your obstacles are. Until you're dead and put in the ground, there's always the possibility to change things. That's one sort of positive outlook that we might have.

WC: It's always darkest before the dawn.

MH: Sure, there's definitely a reason for that cliche to exist.

WC: Are the lyrics based more on personal feelings or is it more directed at the wider world? Or is it a combination of both?

MH: At this point, I'm trying to direct the lyrics to a more general place as opposed to a personal place. I've spent a lot of times in other bands and other projects looking inwards and making lyrics really personal, but in this case, I was trying to reflect outward instead of inward. Maybe filtering some of my observations through my internal viewpoint, but ultimately still reflecting outward onto the world. Looking at certain conditions in humanity and trends you see on the news, I filtered that through my own personal viewpoint but keeping in mind that I didn't want it to read like a diary entry for every song.

WC: Sometimes you can get perilously close to sounding like a a preacher,too.

MH: Yeah, exactly. I want to avoid that, I want to avoid preaching and reflecting my own personal viewpoint on to something else. I want to leave things more open, and let people interpret things according to their own personal experiences.

WC: What are some of the more important influences that you have outside the metal genre?

MH:  Joy Division, the Swans, Bauhaus, Fields of the Nephilim. Fields have definitely been a big influence on us. Death In June. All those types of bands have played a major part in what we're doing musically.

WC: All the cheerful ones. (laughter) Now another term I often hear in connection with Tombs' music is "shoegaze". Is that something that bothers you or are you OK with that?

MH: I like a lot of that early 90's/late 80's type of music. Bands like My Bloody Valentine. But it's definitely more of the original shoegaze bands that influence us, as opposed to the later bands that are dipping into the shoegaze pool. We use a lot of effects, a lot of reverb...there's a washy element to what we do. But yeah, I'll go along with the shoegaze tag.

WC: In the future, could you see yourself experimenting with some different elements like keyboards, strings, different kinds of vocals?

MH: I think the path that we're on is leading us to widening our musical palette. I definitely have been dabbling with keyboards and different kinds of vocal styles. Some of the newer ideas that we've been working on have incorporated elements like those and acoustic guitar. So yeah, I absolutely want to continue to expand on what we're doing.

WC: Your songs tend to be pretty concise. There are no long epic or bid drone-a-thons. Would you consider material like that?

MH: I've always been into economy of resources. I'd rather always do just what is necessary to make an impression. I don't really want to be self-indulgent. On the last record, we had a couple of tracks that clock in at 7 minutes or so. I don't see us going much further than that. As long as it makes sense with the songwriting.

WC: This might just be my own take, but there are some parts of Tombs' music that seem almost meditative. Would you agree with that?

MH: I would say I agree with that. But I don't think it's due to some design of ours. On a personal level, I delve into a lot of meditation, yoga and things like that. Maybe that influence has kind of crept into the music. Something that puts you in a state where you can reflect. That's something I've been pursuing just on a personal level and maybe by osmosis, that's wound up in the music.

WC: Are there any artists or bands you'd like to collaborate with in the future?

MH: Yeah, one of the bands that I would have loved to collaborate with just disbanded last year. That would be Isis. Clifford Meyer appears on "Path of Totality" and contributes keyboards to three of the songs on there. I would like to continue doing things like that with members of Isis, they've always been really good friends of ours. They're the only people that come to mind because we have a strong personal relationship with them. Any sort of meaningful collaboration has to come out of a personal relationship with people, otherwise it's just vanity, you know what I mean?

WC: Are you involved with any musical projects outside of Tombs?

MH: Yeah, there's two more or less active side things I do. They're pretty much just me tinkering around by myself in the studio. One's called Vasilex and the other's called Kradia. They're both essentially drum machines, keyboards and rhythm tracks...experimentation. I wanted to try something out in a strictly electronic format...not performing live, but just experimenting on my own. I have it all on a Sound Cloud, which people have been checking out. I don't have any real solid goals for what I'm going to do with that music yet, it's just something I'm working on for personal enjoyment.

WC: So there's no plans to release this material?

MH: Certainly not in the versions they exist in now. Eventually, as I continue to refine these things, I wouldn't rule out having a release of that material. But right now I just wouldn't be comfortable releasing it.

WC: What sort of touring plans have you got lined up?

MH: Next week we leave on a tour on the US. Part of it will be with A Storm of Light and then in July, we'll leave for a European tour with a band called The Secret, who are on Southern Lord. We're starting to put together plans for a package tour in the fall, but nothing's real solid just yet.

WC:  If you had the chance to ask any 3 people from history to a dinner party, who would you ask?

MH:  Friedrich Nietzsche, for one.  Phillip K. Dick...that would be a lot of fun!(laughter). Let's see...Benjamin Franklin! That's definitely someone who would have quite a few interesting things to say. I heard he was quite a party-goer!

WC: That's one of the most interesting line-ups I've heard yet. What was the last CD or album you picked up just because you wanted to check out the band?

MH: Just because I wanted to check out the band....let me think back. The last one I picked up just straight up on my own was King Crimson's "Discipline". I bought that on vinyl recently.

WC: That's a band that has a certain relation to what Tombs does.

MH: Yeah! Glad you see it that way, too, because they have a lot of different eras of the band and they are very much into technique,too. That's not as apparent with us, but we spend a lot of time rehearsing.

WC: Along those same lines, what was the last band you saw live just because you wanted to check them out?

MH: That's easy, that was last night. I went to go see Negative Plane last night. They don't play that often. They played with Hooded Menace, which is another band I really wanted to see.

WC: In the history of Tombs, is there any Spinal Tap moment that you care to share with us?

MH: Spinal Tap moment...I've got to really search for that, because we're not particularly crazy guys. (chuckles) Wait, I got a good one! On our first European tour, there was a crazy impedence issue with the power supply I had. For nine days we spent in the UK, I got shocked every night. I would have sworn I saw this white flashing light every time I stepped up to the microphone. I was the only person who saw it because I was the only one getting electrocuted. The first time it happened, I said, did you guys see that? They were all "no, no, I don't know what you're talking about". Every night on the tour that happened...,that's kind of Spinal Tap-esque, I guess.

WC: Was it a pretty strong jolt?

MH: In the UK, it was 220 volts, so yeah, it was pretty strong. By the third day, I kind of figured out how to avoid the worst of it.

WC: Any last words for the fans?

MH: We're going to be on the road all year, so keep an eye out for us.We hope to see some of you at the shows!