Tag Archives: feature

Wretch Turn Tragedy Into Triumph

Wretch

Karl Simon is a survivor—both literally and figuratively. As the former mastermind of The Gates Of Slumber, the revered Indianapolis doom trio he founded in the late ’90s, Simon slogged heroically through heavy metal’s dark period of the early-to-mid 2000s, when the genre floundered, and more traditional bands like his were often considered dinosaurs from a bygone era. But doom enjoyed a revival in the late aughts, when Gates cranked out a string of critically acclaimed albums—Suffer No Guilt (2006), Conqueror (2008), and Hymns Of Blood and Thunder (2009).

In 2011, Simon and his then bandmates—bassist Jason McCash and drummer Jerry Clyde Paradis, who have both since passed away—released what would be their fifth and final album, The Wretch. Musically, Gates were at the height of their considerable powers, channeling the spirits of Black Sabbath and Saint Vitus while bringing classic metal into the new American century. But behind the scenes was a different story: both McCash and Paradis were struggling with drug addiction. Paradis’s eventual replacement, Bob Fouts, had the same problem.

After years of frustration, missed practices, and a catastrophic appearance at Milwaukee’s Days Of The Doomed festival, Simon pulled the plug on The Gates Of Slumber in September 2013. “It was just a horrible, horrible performance on our part,” Simon says of the band’s final show. “We were headlining the fest, and we crashed and burned. I went to Bob and Jason at that point and said, ‘We can’t keep doing this. You guys need to get your shit straight. I’m done.’”

Today, Simon is the only member from The Wretch lineup still making music. McCash succumbed to a heroin overdose in 2014. He was 37 years old. Paradis died two years later, an apparent victim of heat stroke at age 46. (Fouts is alive, but Simon says he hasn’t spoken with the drummer in a while: “I don’t know what’s going on with Bob, but I hope he’s doing well.”) Saddened but undeterred, Simon bounced back in a big way with Wretch, the new power trio he named after the last album he recorded with his fallen comrades.

Rounded out by drummer Chris Gordon—who had previously played on an early Gates demo—and bassist Bryce Clarke, Wretch’s self-titled debut was released last year on England’s Bad Omen Records to almost unanimous raves from the underground metal press. “This is a completely different band,” Simon enthuses. “The Gates Of Slumber was a very by-the-numbers metal band, whereas Wretch comes from metal, but has a lot more rock ‘n’ roll aspects to it than I was expecting.”

Wretch

As it turns out, Simon started Wretch before McCash and Paradis passed away. As such, the band name has taken on an unintended hue—part tribute, part tragedy—that Simon was ill-prepared for. “When I originally started doing Wretch stuff with Chris, there was no bass player, because I thought that Jason would eventually get his shit together and we could start fresh,” he explains. “But he didn’t make it through to the other side. So I’d be lying if I said there wasn’t this addiction and death element hanging over my head with Wretch because of the way things fell down with Gates Of Slumber.”

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Ramesh’s Painstaking Pop Craft

Ramesh

Last fall, Ramesh Srivastava released “The Fool,” his first new recording since 2014’s The King. It’s a wrenching, heartbroken ballad with verses that recall ’70s folk confessionals like Keith Carradine’s “I’m Easy,” and a swirling, dreamlike production that builds to a sweetly mournful guitar solo. Srivastava’s vocal performance is uninhibited and arresting, his voice breaking on the chorus.

“The Fool” represents a new chapter for the former frontman of beloved music blog heroes Voxtrot, one that’ll be more fully fleshed out by the album he’s been working on in his hometown of Austin—although the origins of “The Fool” are about 1,400 miles west.

“I recorded a demo of ‘The Fool,’ and then I went to Los Angeles for a year,” Srivastava recalls. “I started to write songs with other people and put my music in other places—just to try a new thing in the industry. It didn’t really work the way I thought it would, but it really inspired me for my own album.

“I was living with a few other musicians, one of whom plays in the bluegrass band The HillBenders—they did a bluegrass cover of [The Who’s rock opera] Tommy. I’d written a song but I couldn’t figure out how to [get the guitar sound I wanted], so I sent it to him and asked if he could help me deconstruct it into that ticking pattern. He was really into it, and we did it in the course of one afternoon. That’s most of what’s on the recording. It was super magical.”

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Waxahatchee: The Journeywoman Becomes The Master

Waxahatchee

Photo by Jesse Riggins.

Before we arrive at the West Philadelphia home of Katie Crutchfield, aka Waxahatchee, her twin sister and musician Allison Crutchfield (who is driving me), takes a detour down a tree-lined street three minutes from Katie’s rowhouse. She points to a modest, time-worn Victorian—the twins’ one-time residence which doubled as a recording space for Waxahatchee, Swearin’ (Allison’s former band), and other music projects. “All of those albums were made right there,” she says proudly, letting the memories hover.

Once we settle in, Katie and I sit across from each other on a couch in the front room: a small, cozy space flanked by bookshelves and guitars (including the acoustic she strummed as a kid). No matter which direction you look, you’ll spot something eye-catching: a gallery’s worth of paintings and cross-stitches on the walls, nearly all of which depict dogs; Beatles posters on all the doors (John Lennon watches over the main entrance, while George Harrison guards the artist’s room); a keyboard over in the corner, just in case an idea pops up.

Just like Waxahatchee’s music, Katie’s décor tells a story: a nebulous, intense, and unabashedly intimate narrative, which taps into her personal past as a means of expressing the present, or even the future. Her heart-wrenching breakup songs represent moments suspended in time, close to the heart, but kept at arm’s length. Given the tortured, quaking voice through which she conjures her old pain onstage, it’s no surprise that some fans and critics remain oblivious to this conceit. Importantly, it establishes distance between the woman named Katie Crutchfield and the artist known as Waxahatchee.

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For Boris, “Heavy” is a State of Being

Boris

When they began back in 1992, Japanese metal band Boris never expected that they’d still be around 25 years later. Few bands last that long, and even fewer manage to do so while maintaining the same lineup. Yet since their inception, the Tokyo heavy rock/metal trio have constructed an intricate web of studio albums, plus collaborative releases with the likes of Sunn O))) and Merzbow, that have made their catalogue not just bountiful, but complex—even mysterious. As they headed toward the release of this year’s Dear, they were confronted with the complicated responsibilities of personal lives outside the band; they began to question whether Boris had a future beyond the quarter-century mark.

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Sheer Mag Place Their Faith in Love and Dissent

Sheer Mag

Photo by Marie Lin.

It’s been just over 48 years since the Stonewall riots, an event identified as a turning point in the gay rights movement in America. There were subsequent raids and protests during the late ’70s and early ’80s in Canada as well, with Operation Soap and gay rights activists who resisted against their provincial government. As a result, Quebec enacted legislation that protected from discrimination over sexual orientation. Not all movements net tangible results, and neither are those results a fix-all, but what they do demonstrate is that resistance and dissent can bring about change.

Organized, impassioned rebellion against oppression is an act of optimism—a belief that, in time, things can get better. That same spirit of hopeful resistance courses throughout Sheer Mag’s gritty rock ‘n’ roll.

From the first notes of the glam-rock strut “Meet Me In The Street,” which opens their new record Need To Feel Your Love (which, fittingly, contains a song inspired by the Stonewall riots), the Philadelphia band invites unity, dissent, and disorder. “When we walk together, it feels all right! Meet me in the street!” frontwoman Tina Halladay thunders, adding, “Come on down and get in the mix.”

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