The Heavy Co. interview with Ian Gerber
You like heavy rock? Blues? And maybe a hint of stoner? OK, then
stop right here, because the following band is just want you need. They
released three albums, their last Uno Dose came out on cassette and it’s a true gem of heavy blues rock, that will blow your socks off. Check them out at:
stop right here, because the following band is just want you need. They
released three albums, their last Uno Dose came out on cassette and it’s a true gem of heavy blues rock, that will blow your socks off. Check them out at:
What can you tell us about the beginning of The Heavy Co.?
I started the band in Indianapolis after moving there in 2008. I was in another band at the time and wanted to do something more roots rock based, groove orientated, and psychedelic than just pummeling stoner sludge. I put an ad out on the local music site. Right away, about 5 different drummers asked about it, but they thought I was going pay them to play my music. I guess they didn’t understand the idea of joining an original rock band. I guess these guys consider themselves “professionals”. More power to them. However, Jeff messaged me about a month after I posted the ad. He said he wasn’t much of a drummer but he was interested and had a studio. I knew the band he had played guitar in previously and the fact that we could record ourselves was pretty much exactly what I was after, not to mention that he listened to Nebula and Fu Manchu. Shit, we’re still waiting to get paid.
Where are you coming from?
That’s a pretty broad question. I think I like the explanation that we are stars observing ourselves the best. Enough funny business though… We are based out of Indianapolis, IN, USA. Indy is a pretty kicking town and the music scene really isn’t bad. Everybody bitches about their scene, unless they are from Nashville or NYC or somewhere similar, but I think Indianapolis does pretty well for itself. It’s not big enough to have too many fuckers with big egos. Everyone ends up with a place to play and people like to come out to shows. The metal scene is really where it’s at. It’s a good place for THC to play out. Everyone has seen all of the other bands here at least once. We don’t play in Indy a ton. We don’t get to play out a whole bunch, so when we do play a hometown show, people show up. We try to go somewhere or play bigger profile shows whenever possible. That has worked out for us, luckily, pretty well. People enjoy seeing us because it’s probably been a hot minute since the last time and we aren’t the typical ‘heavy’ band. Your mom and girlfriend will probably enjoy our set as much as the metal heads.
What was your local music scene like where you grew up? Were you involved?
I grew up in a town about an hour north of Indianapolis by the name of Lafayette. I got to go to the shows in Indy, but luckily, Lafayette is attached to Purdue University and has it’s own really unique scene. It’s not quite as hopping as other college towns with music scenes; Bloomington, IN or Madison, WI come to mind, but the people in town are dedicated and the last decade has been pretty good for a town of 100,000 (counting students). I started playing shows in high school with THC’s original bass player, Ryan Strawsma. We were fucking terrible. However, we got to meet a lot of people who helped us get it together and we also go to watch a lot of music. It helped keep us out of jail and off of nasty drugs and the like….fact. While every musician has dreams of the big time, I have always been focused on my local music scene. I believe that you should invest in your community if you want them to invest in you. If you go to a place like, say, Nashville, and fail, what do you do have to come back to? I have been more concerned with playing at The Lafayette Brewing Co. than Madison Square Garden. These days I want to get THC to Europe for the festivals there, and I personally have a goal of playing The Ryman in Nashville, but you have to respect your roots…no matter how far away you get from them.
Are any of you in any other bands right now or do you have any active side projects going on?
We recently recorded an album of heavy psychedelic jams with a different drummer so Jeff could play guitar. It was supposed to be a Fu Manchu tribute show for this past Halloween, but the show got cancelled. Since we had set aside the rehearsal time to play with Nick, the other drummer, we decided to jam for a month and record it. We got some real gnarly stuff. We have named the project Fuck Earth. The record is going to be a real awesome head-fuck of a time. I consider it to be ‘Nihilistic Psychedelia”. It should be out digitally this summer on our DPR Records label. We also started a side project with a friend of mine who basically came back from the dead, more or less. She has a crystal clear, angelic voice and does coffeehouse/alternative folk material, but she is also a fan of heavy music. She doesn’t have a lot of exposure to the stoner/doom scene…so naturally I thought it was a great idea to have her sing in front of stoner/doom band. We have just gotten started on it. It’s the most straight up ‘stoner/doom’ stuff we have written. It’s a lot heavier than typical THC. We tuned down the guitars and cranked the amps. I think people will flip their gourds if we get through the project. It’s going to be a 3 song EP based around the experience of drinking absinthe. Hopefully we will get to release it digitally this year as well.
Have any of your released any music with anyone else in the past? If so, can you tell us a little bit about that here?
I was in a stoner/sludge band called The Moundbuilders for a hot minute, along with Ryan -the original bass player-. Jeff was in Necropharmacon with our current bass player, Michael Naish, before THC started. They were groovy and sludgy. Naish was also in a really heavy doom band called Sleepbringer. THC is pretty much my full time project. Ryan and Jeff started a stoner/punk/doom hybrid band called The Hedons that released two records. I think you can find all of that on Bandcamp. I have been working on some Americana/Country/Rock material that doesn’t quite fit THC’s sound and I hope to take that to Nashville to shop around to publishing companies and labels. However, everyone is still real focused on what THC is doing and we haven’t strayed much. I think it’s good. I like being in a band where everyone is invested and committed to the goals at hand.
When did you decide to start writing and performing your own music?
I have always been focused on writing my own music. I rarely learn cover songs. I picked up the guitar to express myself. I have always considered myself a songwriter. I think that shows in THC’s sound where most other bands in the genre are more centered on the riff. It’s what sets us apart. Not everyone gets it in the scene…but I think the ones who do, really support that aspect. You might have a great riff…but it’s just a riff if you can’t write a song around it. People like choruses and hooks. Sabbath and Zeppelin could riff and jam all day…but at the end of the day, they wrote KILLER songs. That’s why we still listen to them, not because of the solos.
Do you have a certain creed in the band?
We do what we want to do. That’s the idea. We show up to have fun and jam. As much as we’d like for a label to put out our albums on vinyl, we revel in the fact that we are DIY…and that lets us be as creative as we want. No deadlines….no expectations. If we want to release something…we do it. We are fans of the genre first and foremost and we are happy to be able to get to play shows with bands that we dig as fans…like The Heavy Eyes, Mos Generator, and Elder, to name a few. Because we can play whatever music we want, it has opened up a lot more options for playing shows with jam bands or country bands or whoever we feel like playing or collaborating with. If anything, THC was meant to be a core group of guys who could collaborate and jam with anyone.
What are some major influences on your sound?
Everything. We are all big ‘stoner rock’ rock fans. We all agree on Fu Manchu, Nebula, Clutch, Monster Magnet and Kyuss. We all like Black Sabbath and Pink Floyd. Rock music in general. If I was to hand out stereotypes for the band; Naish seems to go for the REAL heavy stuff before the rest of us, I’m the classic rock/soul/R&B/country fan, and Jeff likes a lot the bands like Samsara Blues Experiment, Radar Men From The Moon….space rock. I don’t think we hide our influences at all. I mean, we have a song called NEIL YOUNG! We listen to everything and take notes. All of us are students of rock and roll, but we bring in influences from all over. That’s the name of the game, you know? Otherwise it gets real stale real fast. I have wrote for blogs like The Soda Shop and The Ripple Effect in the past, so I have a pretty good flow of the newest stuff going on in the scene. It helps us keep relevant, but we refuse to be derivative or follow a trend if we can help it. THC was lucky that the heavy, psychedelic, blues sound was real popular in the scene when we started. That wasn’t on purpose. We were just making the music we liked hearing and I wrote the songs because that was what I heard in my head and what I could get to come out through my fingers. We aren’t going to change our sound just because some band got real popular on a sound that we can reproduce. That wouldn’t be fair to anyone.
What’s the songwriting process like for your band?
Well, lately it’s been super collaborative and very jam influenced. It’s super exciting actually. We are playing telepathically and experimenting more than ever. We are getting real comfortable doing that. When they aren’t long instrumental pieces, I usually have a lot of the songs mostly written ahead of time. The first two albums were written by myself and then I’d present them to the band. I like doing that and hate doing that at the same time. I think it’s good for the band to sound like the band…not just one person’s vision. That’s taken a lot of learning on my behalf to get used to, but it’s for the better. I think a lot about songwriting though. I think that every song I write is just a gift from the universe. More often than not, it just pours out in a couple of minutes. Rarely do I have to work on it. I don’t know where it comes from or when it’s coming…it just happens. I hope that never stops. You can get ‘good’ at writing songs, but I doubt I’ll ever be the songwriter who could just sit down and do it on queue. My universe just gets in tune with itself and *poof* THC has another song to rehearse. Naish is a riff machine, to his credit. He’s been really pushing Jeff and I’s playing since he joined the band. When we were without a bass player (when we recorded the studio tracks for Uno Dose) Jeff would sit down at the drum kit and I’d kick on the fuzz pedal and away we went. Still, it just happened…almost telepathically. Jeff could tell when I was on to something and he’d hurry to get the recorder going and get behind the set. It’s one of the most amazing things in my life and I cherish greatly. It’s not to be taken lightly or for granted if you have that gift, no matter what level you get to take it to.
How do you like to record? Do you all enjoy studio work?
We LOVE recording. We haven’t gotten to do a lot with Mike, but Jeff and I would just stay in the studio all of the time if we could. We’ll probably end up with a real deal studio in the near future and run it as a production team (THE DOUGH BROS. ! 🙂 ). For real. The thing about recording is that you do it the way it works best for you, the best tool for the job is the one you already have, and it has to serve the song…not your personal desires. I could write a whole thesis about recording. I like playing live, but I would be perfectly happy if I just push record and handle faders for the rest of my life. To be specific to your question, we record at Jeff’s Crunchtone Studios. All of our stuff has been recorded there except the live tracks on Uno Dose. We did that in our friend’s, The McGregors, big barn in the middle of a corn field, somewhere in the Indiana country side. They like there privacy, so that’s all you get on that. Anyway, we record digitally. I have a tape machine, but it broke right in time for us to start on Midwest Electric….so it all got done on a computer. We’d love to record to tape in a professional recording studio, and we might end up doing that for the next record, but we have more technology to record than anyone of us thought we would when we started, so we are grateful. We don’t have as much as some people, but more than most musicians who do what we do. It’s a blessing.
Your very first album came out a few years ago. The Heavy (Please Tune In…) was digital release. What can you tell us about it?
Well, I wrote those songs right after I moved back to Lafayette from Indianapolis. I was real depressed. The bottom had just fallen out from under me. I lost my girl, my job, and a lot of self-esteem. It really marks an era of immense personal growth for me. Most of those songs are just about depression though…you know, THE HEAVY. But there was a sound that kept coming to me. We had a good idea about how the songs went, but after I moved back, I knew what I was supposed to sing about. “There’s a town south of here…” is about Indianapolis, but it’s also a metaphor for depression. I’m in a better spot these days…less angry for sure…so I hope to never visit that place in my head again. That record went over REAL well. This is where I have to thank The Evil Engineer (formerly The Soda Shop’s) Bill Goodman. He did THC a super solid. A LOT of other people got behind us…Todd at The Ripple Effect and JJ at The Obelisk for sure, and more recently Pat Harrington who plays us on his Electric Beard of Doom podcast. Pat even played slide on State Flag Blues from Uno Dose. Anyway,that is just the TIP of the iceberg, so to speak.
So, back to the topic, I’m still shocked anyone listened to it. When I realized that it had been listened to a couple thousands of times by people all over the world, that was the moment that I knew I wasn’t going to stop playing music…ever. People in my hometown didn’t even know about it…and it is a musical place where people pay attention to bands that are on a roll. It was so crazy that I could fly it under the radar here and people from Sweden, Itally, Ireland, Scotland, etc. kept tuning into it.
Only recently have people here realized what we have been up to. I have to say, that even though we have an international audience who really does support the music…and we REALLY appreciate that…when my hometown caught on, that made me real proud. It feels like I get to give back to something that has given me so much.
Your next release was Midwest Electric, which came out on CD. What do you think is the difference between your debut and your second album?
Well, some things fell apart. That’s what that record is about. I’m not a real big fan of it, personally. The important this is that it eventually got done and that the band kept going. There was a LOT of interpersonal struggle in the band. Also, I learned a lot of hard lessons in rock and roll. My ego was unchecked and it got taken down a notch or a hundred after that. I learned that I had a lot to learn about recording a record and that I have to be more open minded to other people’s input. It went over OK with the scene, but I know it’s not the record I wanted it to be. Hey, even Neil Young has though records though. I’d say that is my Neil Young record more than anything. It got done my way…whether it was a good thing or not…..but it got done…MY WAY. I was reading about Neil a lot and I thought I had a leg to stand on. Wrong. I learned to appreciate what I have and not worry about what I don’t. Like I said, hard lessons in rock and roll. I want to remix that record and put out a shorter, more concise, version of it in the future. I think the songs deserve that. Regardless, it showed that the scene was still behind us and I am grateful that people stuck with us.
We first heard your latest album, Uno Dose. It was released on cassette and is truly a nice heavy blues (stoner?) gem. What’s the story behind making it?
Jeff and I were left without a bass player for a while. We stopped playing together because we were trying to figure out some of the logistics of keeping THC going. Jeff had just started his massage business, I was in college and also dealing with some stupid personal stuff…relationship drama and what not. Sidenote….if you ever think you might want to be in a band…having a girlfriend might not be the best idea. Anyway, it gave me the time to accumulate some material and Jeff and I really enjoyed playing and recording it by ourselves. It helped focus our energy and gave the band direction again. It was really the start of the album we are working on now, but when Naish joined us, we decided we wanted to start the writing process fresh with him. There was a lot of sonic experimentation and we were working on the groove too. I really like the studio songs on the tape. When Mike joined up, we had to get him ready to play shows, so like I said earlier, we went out into the country and set up shop for a day. We were going to release the live takes with accompanying videos, but when you do it all yourself (writing, recording, mixing, and editing video and audio) it can be overwhelming and we didn’t get all of the video done. The video from “What’s Eating Harry Lee” came from that day though…so it wasn’t a total wash on the video side. Somewhere in there, we decided to put it out on tape. More than anything, we didn’t want to do another CD and putting out a tape was financially reasonable. It was well received and I think it’s a pretty decent release. Josh Gurley really did us a solid on the graphics and layout too. That dude is the 4th member of our band and he deserves way more credit than he gets. I certainly appreciate it and I know the other guys do too. Anyway, since we had two EP releases, I brought back an old idea of release them both at the same time. The cassette format was real conducive to the idea…so side one is Uno and side two is Dose. It’s pretty catchy… in my humble opinion. 🙂
What gear are you
Man, we use a lot of different gear. My main rig is what is on the Uno side of our tape. It’s a Gibson SG into a Matchless Clubman 35 and a clone of the the Triangle BIg Muff. That’s the main sound. We could go on and on about our gear but it’s easy to say that we use pedals built by Tom Dean and amps that Tom and Jeff built as Hot Bottle Amps. I’ll say this…if it sounds good…use it. Don’t try to copy someone else’s sound. It won’t work. FInd what works for you and then play it….A LOT. Eddie Van Halen sounds like EVH on whatever guitar he picks up. Better yet, I just heard this the other day: Chet Atkins was playing a guitar in a shop in Nashville when a lady said to him, “that’s a really nice sounding guitar”. He put in on the stand and said, “how does it sound now”? So, yeah, that.
Lately there is a comeback of vinyl records. What’s your opinion about vinyl comeback? Can we expect something by your band released on vinyl?
I love it. I know this is cliché, but I had a stack of records way before the comeback. True story. I was always buying busted record players to try and fix them because there weren’t any new ones to buy so I could listen to my collection. It‘s been said before, so I won’t beat a dead horse, but putting a CD on just doesn’t compare to the experience (not just the fidelity argument) of playing vinyl. That is how rock music is supposed to be heard, again, in my humble opinion. If we are going to have a vinyl release, someone needs to release it for us. We aren’t really well off enough financially to do it ourselves at the moment and we have to pay our bills before we can even think about putting out a vinyl record. That’s just being honest. I’d really flip my lid if Kozmik Artifactz/ Bilocation, Small Stone, Ripple, or STB would take us on. I really like those labels….HINT HINT.
What would be perfect format for you?
I think it would be cool to JUST release a vinyl record. You can’t download vinyl. Someone would inevitably rip it digitally and put it online, most definitely, but I think it would be the best motivation for someone to actually buy the record instead of pirating. I’d rather someone steal the record than not listen to it all…but I think you get what I’m saying. I have wanted to release a real vinyl record since before I found out that you still could. It’s kind of on the bucket list.
Are you collector?
Yeah, but I don’t have a huge collection. I’m more of a listener than a collector. I try to buy the vinyl off of the bands that really blow my mind…but it’s easier to play them on Spotify in the long run. Plus, they get a LITTLE something extra when I do that along with the album sale. Lately, Sturgill Simpson, The Heavy Eyes, Geezer, Brant Bjork and The Low Desert Punks, and All Them Witches have gotten my lunch money.
What about gigs? Do you do a lot of touring?
Not a ton. I think once we get this new record done, we will more ambitiously pursue doing a real tour. Live, we are a new band with Naish in it. We have a lot of chemistry. I’m sure this interview will post after we play the gig, but we are about to compete for a spot on a festival called Summer Camp. Normally, I wouldn’t get excited about a ‘battle of the bands’, but this one is special. I realized that I had to get a band together after going to Summer Camp with a band called The PMG a few years ago. It’s safe to say it was a big catalyst of THC. Long story short, if we win the spot, I think it will bump up our band’s stock up, regionally speaking. It’s sort of a big deal to get to play that festival, at least around here, and with the local community showing support like it has been lately, I think it’s possible. We went to Milwaukee last summer and got to play a pre-show slot at Days of The Doomed. I can not express how COOL those fans are. I have never been to a show that has shown that much support for the scene…the bands AND fans. I wish Mike Smith was doing another one this year, but I understand why he isn’t. Everyone in THC will remember that gig. We were excited to get to play out of the state…but to be so well received, fuck man, I’m trying to keep my eyes from watering about it as I type. I want to tour just so I can go visit with that community again. Such rad people. Also, we got to play at a venue called The Vogue, in Indy, and open for Brown Sabbath. First, if you are from Indy, you HAVE to play The Vogue if you are going to do anything, so to speak, in that town. It doesn’t mean you will, but it’s a necessary step if you are going to. Also, Brown Sabbath is Black Sabbath songs played with a HORN SECTION. So powerful. It couldn’t be a better representation of where my musical tastes cross up. So, I think we have played some great shows lately and I am excited to see what else we get to do with the band. I know we are down for it. We have worked too hard to give up on it now.
Can you share some less known bands, that you would like us to hear?
You HAVE to listen to All Them Witches. SOOOO GOOOD. Jeff and I saw them last week and we drove back to the studio with our jaws dropped while we tried to put back the pieces of our musical ambition. It was a near religious experience. Also, Jeremy Irons and The Ratgang Malibus….unreal. It’s like Jeff Buckley if he would have pursued his Zeppelin influence over his NYC coffeehouse/art scene ambitions….or maybe just got to make more records. They have to be tired of hearing that by now, but it’s the only band I have heard that has a singer that even comes close to having a voice like that. I don’t know how big he is in Europe, but Sturgill Simpson made the best record I have heard in at least ten years. It’s country. It’s psychedelic. It’s amazing. He got on the Billboard Country Charts (last I heard, he had made it to #11) with a record he put out himself. He most recently got the #1 position on the Nashville Writers Poll. He was nominated for a Grammy. Just a three or so years prior, he had all but quit playing music. It’s a really great story. He just signed to Atlantic Records. I like the guy’s music so much that I even have a tattoo with some of his lyrics in it. I can’t sing Metamodern Sounds In Country Music’s praise enough. I saw him live two nights in a row and he is just KILLER live. His whole band is airtight, but most notably, his guitar play, Laurs Joamets, had never even played country music before joining the band. He was playing rock music in Estonia when the drummer from Rival Sons (Sturgill and Rival Sons have the same producer, Dave Cobb) referred him to Dave. It just blows my mind. Records like that don’t come along very often. I just can’t stop listening or talking about it. To know me these days is to know that you should listen to Sturglll Simpson. The Golden Grass (interview here) is really rad and pretty unique. They have those good time hippy vibes but still carry a heavier rock boogie sound. I got the opportunity to record some songs for their guitar player’s last project and I’m sold on just about any rock project he undertakes. He and Adam are crackerjack musicians. They are fancy dressers too. I’m just jealous…I can’t pull that off. I just saw The Well open for All Them Witches too. The gal on bass fucking brings it. They groove hard. I dig the whole band and the sound they make. I even had to give them a spot on my patch jacket because they brought it so hard.
Finally, Geezer. I’m not usually one for rough vocals, but Pat Harrington is the fucking man at it. It’s such a good combo with the heavy blues sound that they make. I just love it. He’s such a great supporter of the scene too. I wish I was half as cool as that dude.
Thank you very much. Last word is yours.
I just want to say thank you to anyone who has listened to our records, shared a link with us in it, bought our record, came to a gig, wrote a review or done an interview. I mentioned how low (heavy) I have gotten in the past and if it wasn’t for you guys, I’m not sure I would have made it. I know that Naish, Jeff and I show up to the studio every week and our so thankful that we get a chance to just blast our amplifiers and drums knowing that somewhere out in the world, someone is going to really dig it. It’s a privilege that we don’t take lightly. For real. It means the world to us to do so. So, thank you guys and gals, most sincerely, for tuning in. We’ll keep playing if you keep listening….and even if you don’t. Thank you.
Interview made by Klemen Breznikar/2015
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