Although I have been aware of the name OHHMS for sometime, for whatever reason I never had the opportunity to actually check the band out. That, clearly, has been my loss because, upon finding out that I’d have the opportunity to interview the band, I immediately tracked down a copy of the ‘Cold’ EP and became hooked. A dark, heady trip, despite being labelled an EP, the two tracks that comprise ‘Cold’ are, as the band point out, longer than ‘Reign in blood’. With the EP on repeat, it became immediately apparent that OHHMS are one of those rare bands for whom the art is everything and it was hard not to be drawn in by the vast soundscapes of ‘the anchor’, not to mention the beautiful cover that adorned the release.
With OHHMS playing the main stage at Hard Rock Hell’s inaugural Doom Vs Stoner, I had the opportunity to hook up with two members of the band – vocalist Paul and guitarist Dan for a free ranging chat that took in the band’s growth, signing and development. Despite a clear passion and respect for their art, what doesn’t come across quite so well in print, perhaps, is how much fun the interview was. Both interesting and enthusiastic, the pair guided me through the band’s history and, oddly given the theme also emerged elsewhere at HRH, I found myself once again discussing eighties pop. How much of this is was my fault and how much of it involved some weird pollution of the beer supply is unclear, so, for the sake of fairness, we’ll blame the beer…
As I understand it you came together as a band two years ago and you’ve produced two EPs since then and, in this last year, you’ve played a huge number of festivals – Desertfest, Doom vs Stoner – are you surprised at the pace at which things have taken off?
Paul: To be honest, this year has been a step off the gas as compared to last year. The first year, I don’t know how it happened, maybe it was through me emailing and perseverance, but we had this list of festivals that it would be great to play and we were just ticking them off and, this year, because we’ve already done a lot and tend not to do two on the trot, it’s just been like finishing off all these tick boxes. Before, I remember thinking that the only thing we hadn’t done that year was Damnation, but then, a few weeks before it happened, we got an email asking if we wanted to do it, and that was the last announcement or whatever, and it was like “so that’s it then! Done the lot.”
Paul: So, this year’s juts been a step back and we’ve done a lot of writing.
Dan: Yeah, we’ve been in the studio once or twice a week writing or recording since March, right to the point where we’ve got three quarters of the album recorded and 90% of it written, so we’ve just got a few practices to tweak the last few bits and get the last few riffs in the right place in the song and it should be out February next year? March? April?
Paul: It should be March, April at the latest.
With the music that you do, obviously on the last EP the songs that form it are incredibly long, so I wanted to ask… obviously it’s very difficult to make long pieces of music that hold the attention, but your work flows through a number of moods and styles – how do you approach the songwriting?
Dan: We never really intended for it to last so long. But then we wrote the first song and it just sort of happened and flowed naturally, it’s a song called ‘bad seeds’, and it’s just the way it turned out really. It had a long, flowing end bit and we just wanted to keep on doing it and evolve the riffs and we just followed in that blueprint. Saying that, on the new album, we’ve got a lot of songs which are… there’s one that’s just over five minutes long which is a lot different from what’s on the previous Eps, but still in the OHMMS mould.
Paul: I’d say, adding to that, as Dan said, it’s like a natural… it all came naturally until we came to the first track for the new album we’re doing, which is called ‘the hierophant’ and it was the longest yet, it was like 22 minutes and, after you’ve done that, and you think you nailed it; personally we think we’ve nailed that long piece now, there’s no point in doing it again unless you can think of something different…
Dan: It’s not done for the sake of it, it’s just the way they turned out.
Paul: It’s like personally thinking, let’s try to make it a bit shorter, well that’s what I was thinking anyway, and luckily, the guys, when they presented the songs they have naturally become shorter, so I haven’t had to say “Well, I think we should try and make it shorter,” but we’re really proud of those long ones on the first Eps, so it’s weird how it all came together.
Do you work on songs individually, create demos and present them to the band?
Dan: Usually one person comes up with the main idea for the song and, personally, it frustrates me, even though it’s the best way of doing it, because I always think “right, I’ve got this song together, I’ve got all the bits of it, this is the way it goes” and then I come into the practice room and everyone goes “yeah, that’s alright but, if you do this…” and then they’ll tear it apart and build it back again. But if you’ve spent days in your bedroom it can be a bit frustrating, but I think we’ve come to accept that that’s just the way the band works – you come in with your idea, it gets torn to shreds and then made better really!
It’s a difficult process of acceptance though, isn’t it, because it’s your baby and then someone says “yeah I can do this bit better” and you’re thinking “bastard!”
Dan: Exactly, you’ll think that you’ve written a riff that goes perfectly and someone else’ll say “no, that’s not supposed to go there! I’ve got a better riff!” But you have to let go of your ego quite a lot. I think if we all dug our heels in, it just wouldn’t work and we’d fall out and end up fighting.
Paul: I think; Dan bought this up on the way here; we did have a song where it was a person’s idea and they didn’t want to change it. And because there were little bits that we thought… individuals preferred to do it a different way or slightly different to that, the song ended up being scrapped and that was another fifteen minute song, so a quarter of the album there that we had to scrap because one person was…
Dan: Yeah, that was like a month’s work just thrown away because we couldn’t agree, and that was it.
You’re with Holy Roar records, so is there an A&R process where you present demos to them and they also have an input, which can add an extra layer of that?
Paul: They get what they’re given!
Dan: Yeah, and if they don’t like it… we’ll change it and do whatever they want!
Paul: There was a… it was a bit scary because the first one, they loved and they signed us on it. The second one, there was a…. he wasn’t as keen on the song that we all loved to death, ‘The dawn of the swarm’, the label guy, the main guy’s called Alex, and he loved the first song so much and he was talking about bits of the song, so I knew he’d really studied it. The second song he just said “Yeah, that’s alright!” So I knew, deep down, that it wasn’t his bag, but I said “have you got any issues with it?” and he said he didn’t want us to change a single thing. But you know when someone doesn’t like it and I was gutted because it was my favourite thing, it was a true epic, it was perfect for what we wanted there, and it’s just one of those things.
Paul: But at the same time, he’s never said that something wasn’t a good idea. He’d just say that he doesn’t want to release it and I think he’s done that in the past with other bands. He’ll release whatever a band wants to do to a certain extent, until it crosses a line of being…
Paul: …shit, pretentious, macho sort of stuff.
Dan: Oh, our whole album is shit pretentious, macho riffing
You’re going down the Limp Bizkit route?
Dan: Yeah, we’ve got a DJ in the band now, and Paul’s been rapping and got a backwards hat…
I like a lot of band’s that have that juxtaposition of very soft, delicate prog and I love the way that ‘dawn of the swarm’ builds up, but I can also see why some people might be put off by it because it seems quite a shift in tone.
Paul: Yeah, I totally get where he was coming from and it… what we do isn’t for everyone and I said to him that I was amazed that our pressing sold out so quick, and I said that to him and he said “yeah, I was as well!” and I thought, “OK, thanks for that! Why’s that?” and he said that it’s a hard sell. To do an Ep with two songs on it, that’s over the length of ‘Reign in blood’ is a hard sell for people.
Dan: I have to disagree with that because I give people a bit more credit than that because obviously you’re [referring to me] wearing a Dimmu Borgir shirt, but you don’t just listen to that and obviously you like Dimmu, but you probably listen to some lighter stuff than that and maybe some heavier stuff than that. I like to think, to give people credit, just because we’re all over the place with our musical style, they can still latch on to the OHHMS sound. Just because it’s not all one sound, people aren’t going to dislike it because everyone’s capable of liking a lot of different genres and sounds.
I can’t remember who now, but I interviewed a band a while back and we were talking about influences, and they felt that if you only listen to one style of music, inevitably you’re also going to be influenced by it and you’ll find it hard to create something new, whereas if you listen to a range of genres it will feed into your own art… but on the flip side I can see where a label might be concerned by lengthy songs because so many people flick through tracks online and if they don’t grab them, that’s it, gone.
Dan: That’s one of the things that worries me about the new album, because one of the songs has an eight-minute drone at the beginning. Personally, as a band, we think that’s a great way to start the album, but in reality, if someone who’s never heard Sun 0))) or something like that and isn’t in to drone, they’ll think “fuck this!” and move on to the next Spotify track.
Paul: …and the thing with that drone is that it was like a month of our lives, so the thing with this drone is that we didn’t just want to make it so every time we listen to it, it’s interesting to us. So yeah, when I listen to a band and, obviously we hang out with a lot of bands, and they’re like “we’re not really keen on that track…” I just think “well what did you put it on the album for?!!” You know, why did you do that? Everything that’s on there… if you don’t love it yourself, how can you possibly be expected to sell it to other people. And I’m still shocked that that drone is something that I’m so proud of, and I had nothing to do with it, but every time… recording it, the only thing I did was sing about eight words under the drone, and they’re buried… but while the guys were recording it, they were asking if I thought it was done, and I always wanted them to add more. It’s worked a treat and I’m happy with it, finally.
With an album, one of the big things, particularly with more progressive music, is to make sure it flows from one track to the next – how much of a challenge has it been, not so much to write the songs, but to sequence it so that people go on that journey with you?
Dan: I think we’re just going to have to sit down and listen to it in every possible combination, over a couple of weeks, argue it and see what we like the best and what works.
Paul: We’ve sent the artist a proposed track list so he can put it on the back of the artwork. It seems to flow right in my head but, like I say, there’s a song with this long drone and it really can’t go anywhere but the beginning, but it’s also not the best song for the beginning of the album and it’s going to be a real piece of work to sit down and sort it out. But as you rightly say, if it doesn’t flow right, then it’s going to be crap, and we’re doing a double album.
Paul: it’s not going to be some Iron Maiden, ninety-minute thing – I’m not going to do that to any poor soul, I think it’s just under hour. I think you can only fit forty minutes on vinyl…
I think it’s…. up to twenty-five minutes a side….
Paul: so, it’ll be slightly more than two… ah don’t say that! The artwork’s built around a double album… But yeah, so it goes just over that period, so if we don’t get it right and something as simple as that can fuck the whole thing up.
Dan: When you’re in a band writing the songs, you think that’s it, but it’s not at all!
The last EP came out on vinyl and you’re on the second pressing now, I think. The first one was like bluey green and now it’s some evil gold colour…
Dan: It’s Organic Ale
Organic Ale? Is that what it is?
Paul: That’s what we call it!
I love the names – there’s only so many colours of vinyl and then you get labels like Earache and they put out a green record, only it’s suppurating ulcer colour or whatever!
Paul: They gave us a choice! They said what do you want. Because one of the songs is about eating organically, so we figured we’d go for the organic ale and that was it. Done.
You mentioned artwork, and another thing that I love in a lot of the bands I follow is the dedication to artwork, because it’s so important in a physical release. How involved are you as a band?
Dan: Paul and I love the artwork and we constantly look at it. We work with two people: Dominic Sohor, who does a lot of doom artwork in the UK, and an Italian company called Black Sails Design and we’re constantly talking to them and telling them what we want and need and they sometimes come up to us and they’ve come up with something for us and even though we didn’t ask for it, we’ll quite often put it on a T shirt anyway! We’ve got more t shirt designs than songs! And that’s because we’re so into the artwork and we love it. Actually, today’s the first day we’ve got a new t shirt up for sale which is like a Ram’s head design done by Oli from Sea Bastard and I really love it and we got it through the day, just in time. I’m really into the art.
It makes it more special I think – the attention paid on liner notes and artwork and so on….
Dan: The whole reason I got into heavy metal all those years ago was because of Eddie on the album covers. I fell in love with them before I even listened to them, it was the ‘can I play with madness’ 7” and you opened the top up and it was Eddie’s brain on the disc. Absolutely amazing and musically it was great and that was it – it was like “I’m a heavy metal guy now!”
That was what got me, well my first record was Duran Duran, but for metal it was Eddie and a blood red 7” of ‘Run to the hills’.
Paul: Which Duran Duran?
‘Seven and the ragged Tiger’ I bought it in Boots, back when they used to stock vinyl….
Paul: I got mine in Woolworth’s.
Dan: I bought the ‘Holy smoke’ 7” and the Guns ‘n’ Roses ‘you could be mine’ 7” – they were like my first pocket money purchases when I was eight years old.
Paul: I was so heavily into pop music. I’ve been writing a book about pop music, purely eighties, and that’s where I think I get all these melodies from – just nicking them from various pop bands: Duran Duran as you mentioned there, I’ve nicked stuff of theirs – there was a song off ‘Rio’ called ‘the Chauffeur’
I love that song!
Dan: Only because the Deftones covered it
Paul: there’s a lesser known song called ‘I’m looking for cracks in the pavement’ and there’s a melody in there, like a sweep he does… He’s really fucking good that guy! And so I rip him off loads, because I think to myself “no one’s going to notice!” and I’m clearly wrong. Yeah, I’m going to get busted now…
Well you have kinda announced it in an interview now…
Dan: I’m there, minding my own business, playing X Box and Paul messages me with “you fucking ripped off Harvey Milk!” and I’ve never fucking listened to them! I mean I know they exist, but I’ve not heard them, and then I listen to the song and I’m like “aww, that is quite similar but… I fucking wrote it!”
Paul: I remember that… it was a good day! People message us all the time and tell us that some song sounds like something at this minute… like geeks and I’m like, “yeah…. But I’ve never heard it before, the guys have never heard it before, it’s just this weird thing that happens.”
Dan: There’s so much music out there and so many bands, and there’s only so much you can do… it’s all been done before.
There’s only so much you can do, but as long as you put your own spin on it, that’s what makes it interesting.
Dan: So you’re saying we can nick stuff?
I’m not saying that, I am not in charge of Copyright! Do not take my word for it!!
Dan: We need someone to validate our theft!
I deny everything! I’m not having my face out there as the forefront of plagiarism!
The only final question is about how the album is coming out because it’s not always easy to find your physical releases.
Paul: With Bandcamp, Holy Roar’s sort of over taken it with their bands, so what you put up and pay for, you keep, but then the stuff you’re signed for with them, they keep. I don’t know how Bandcamp works it, but it’s done really well. The great thing is, when their stuff sells out, it pings us, so we know when one of our records has sold out… so if he tries to scam us in any way, we’ll know what’s going on…
He’s going to love this interview isn’t he…
Paul: Oh yeah, I’ve done nothing but rip him… but yeah, it’s coming out vinyl, it’s coming out CD and…. Maybe cassette as well…
That seems to be getting bigger now…
Paul: No one’s mentioned cassette, put it out there that anyone’s interested in a cassette from us, get in touch with Holy roar because they’ll be well up for it I’m sure.