Bridging the Acheron: an interview with Phantom Glue
TBR: Tell the people a bit about the history of Phantom Glue.
Matt: This band sort of evolved into its current state over the last 4 or 5 years. The first incarnation was just me and my buddy Will Ball listening to Karp and Slayer writing riffs for fun. Nick was nice enough to fill in for a show we had booked after Will left and thankfully he became a permanent member. Mike contacted us sort of out of the blue. We were all familiar with his band Hydronaut and his addition filled out our sound significantly. Kyle came into the fold about 6 months ago and proceeded to kill it on last summer’s tour and our upcoming record. I’m pretty psyched to be able to play with these dudes. I want to say thanks also to Will, Pietro Stefani and Terri Christopher. Former members who all made creative contributions to Phantom Glue.
Matt: Mike and I are the crusty veterans. We both played in bands in the Merrimac Valley scene. The thing that I thought was the coolest about it was how easy it seemed to just start up a band and play shows right away. Overall Boston is really receptive to different music scenes which is sort of ironic considering how puritanical and uptight it can be in other ways.
Mike: Yeah, Matt and I have both been playing in bands for over 20 years at this point. Nick and Kyle have both been going to shows and playing in bands since their early teens as well. I think of a lot of the guys in bands around here all started the same way, getting into metal as kids, then getting into punk rock and hardcore in our early teens because it made playing in bands possible, then when our musical chops develped we sort of fell back in line with playing more metal type stuff again. But we all grew up with and went to see a pretty wide variety of bands, from Wargasm, Only Living Witness and Sam Black Church to bands like Converge and Cave In.
Kyle: My musical upbringing had little to do with Boston. I grew up on outer Cape Cod where there wasn’t much of a scene at all. I took piano lessons growing up and played orchestral music and musical theater gigs, so I developed some musical chops early on, but I was always into punk rock and thrash metal at the same time. There were a handful of amateur punk rock and metal bands out there, but none of the bands I played in were at all serious until I moved off the Cape in 2002 and discovered the “scene” and a lot of really great music that I’d never heard of. I’d never heard of sludge or doom or stoner metal until then. I think it’s kept my mind open to just making good music, without being concerned about how it’ll fit in so to speak.
Matt: Thanks man! The scene is always good. We sometimes take it for granted. You can see an awesome local band almost any night of the week.
Mike: Yup, The Proselyte (Nick’s other band), Whitey (Kyle’s other band), Ramming Speed, Motherboar, Razormaze, Disappearer, Morne, Now Denial, Lunglust, Finisher…Doomrider’s, Converge, Cave In obviously….there’s a shit load of really good heavy bands around Boston these days.
TBR: Honestly, one of the first things that drew me in was the cover art. Matt, tell us a bit about your background in visual arts. Were you an actual art student at some point or did you just kind of work things out on your own?
Matt: I was and still am an art student. I’ve been painting for most of my life. I’m getting psyched to create some weird shit for the new record!
Matt: I like some strange stuff right now. Not necessarily painting. There are some pretty interesting conceptual artists out there. I work at a museum where the upcoming show is going to include an artist who will live in the museum for 10 days, suspended from the ceiling building a self sustaining tunnel environment. I’m looking forward to that.
TBR: We did a review of the album here, but for those who haven’t heard the record yet, how would you describe it in your own words?
Matt: It’s dark, but there’s a little bit of irony hidden in there as well to keep us from taking ourselves too seriously. Sometimes you write an awesome riff but that doesn’t necessarily translate into a good song. We were more concerned about putting songs together in a way that was interesting to us than anything else. Ultimately we just set out to write a solid metal record. Not necessarily thinking “we are a sludge band or a doom band”. The fact that we all continue to listen to the record and still enjoy it a lot tells me that we did something right.
TBR: Tell us a bit about the actual songwriting process. Was it something were the majority it was brought to the table or is there any collaboration and “jamming” that led into things?
Matt: Usually someone will bring an idea in the form of a riff or two and we’ll use that as a jumping off point for other ideas that always seem to spring up. Unless one of us is adamantly opposed to a certain idea we will work on it until it turns into something resembling a song. A lot of times combining two different sets of ideas creates the most interesting stuff. Other songs come in fully written and only need some minor fine tuning. Fortunately everyone in this band can recognize the point when riffs turn into songs. If it works we go with it.
Kyle: When I joined this band I was impressed with how quickly these guys can pick up new material. Someone’s always coming to practice with a new riff, and the ideas just start flying. There’s no shortage of quality riffs from any member of this band, and everyone’s very open to ideas as long as they work. Most of the songs from the upcoming record were before I joined, but everyone was receptive to my drum ideas and suggestions for arrangements, and we pretty quickly tied up any loose ends before going in to record with Kurt. It’s a pretty well oiled machine.
TBR: In terms of the songs themselves, they’re quite interesting, structurally speaking. Were they pretty well finished and well-rehearsed going in or did you guys work any of it out on the floor of the recording studio?
Matt: We tried to have everything pretty worked out beforehand. There were a couple of things that we changed on the spot. We decided to change a part of Scabman pretty significantly and we weren’t sure until the record was done if we made the right decision. Listening to it now I can’t imagine it any other way.
Matt: We did a couple of demos beforehand but when we decided we were ready to make a record we called Kurt.
TBR: What was it like for you guys working in the studio with him? Obviously, he’s a very prolific producer with an absolutely colossal body of work, but I’m not sure that people understand what makes him great. After doing the record with him, what would you say are his strengths as a producer?
Matt: Believe it or not I’ve known Kurt for about 18 years and this is probably the fifth time recording with him (the upcoming record is the second for Phantom Glue). The first was a band Kurt and I were in together called The Huguenots. The studio was his parents basement! His setup was obviously not as elaborate as it is now but even back then he made stuff sound gnarly. He’s just overall a really talented guy. It’s great to work with someone like that.
Mike: It’s always fun recording with him and it probably has a lot to do with the fact that we’re just comfortable with him as we all went to the same shows growing up. It’s just easy dealing with someone you’ve known for a long time. Both sessions PG have done with him have been pretty quick, the first record we literally recorded all the tracks live in roughly six hours, then just went back in the next day to do vocals and solos and mixed the rd day. The new one we just did we took slightly more time with and tracked the instruments separately, but both times it’s pretty much a situation where we just go in, plug in and record our parts. He certainly tells you if he thinks something doesn’t work though. He does a great job of making things sound pretty natural and true to what we sound like live.
TBR: Obviously, Kurt gets a great sound very consistently, but are you guys gearheads in your own right? Tell us a bit about your guitar rigs/pedal boards/drum kits if you like. We definitely like and pretty sure our readers do too!
Mike: I wouldn’t say we’re “gear heads” per se but we all give a shit about how we sound and each of us has a pretty good idea of what we want out of our sound these days. Matt primarily plays an SG with a Model T and a couple different distortion/fuzz boxes. His tone is super grizzly and is sort of the polar opposite of mine which I think is one of the reasons our sound works well. I switch between a Gibson Les Paul and Explorer and always use Ampeg V4s and two Emperor cabs w/ different speakers loaded into each cab. The V4s are great because they’re just really simple amps with a lot of headroom so they stay relatively clean, even when they’re cranked but take pedals really well. I like a fair bit of midrange in my sound as it cuts over the top of everything really well. Too many metal bands cut out the mids and lose that rad chainsaw type of tone that you hear on Kill Em’ All. I use a custom octave pedal that does both high and low octaves as well as keeping your original signal mixed in, primarly just for solos though, as well as a phaser and a couple delay pedals.
Kyle: I play a vintage Pearl MLX kit from the early 80s with a 24″x16″ kick, 12″, 14″ & 16″ toms. They’re all 8-ply maple drums, which is cool and kind of rare since most kits nowadays are made with 5 or 6 plys unless it’s a snare drum. They’re definitely loud as hell and sound like cannons. I refinished them with a Brazilian Rosewood stain last summer and they came out looking pretty decent. My snare drum is also a Pearl 8-ply maple, 12″x7″ soprano. I think they work well with this band.
Nick: I play a left handed Fender P-Bass. For amps I use a sunn coliseum thru an 8×10 Ampeg cabinet. I have found I don’t need to use any pedals as I run it so hard it distorts just fine for our needs.
TBR: You guys also worked with Nick Zampiello who did the mastering. Did you guys show up while he was working on it or take any kind of active hand in the process or was it just easy to leave it with him, knowing that he’d nail it anyways?
Matt: We were there for the whole process. He had lots of questions as far as how we wanted things to sound overall and then we let him do his thing.
TBR: Going back to the songs, who was the primary lyricist and what the fuck was going on in their mind, generally speaking, through the course of writing the album?
Matt: I wrote and arranged the lyrics. They’re pretty abstract and wierd at times and that was kind of the idea. Sometimes it was (half tongue in cheek) classic heavy metal medieval imagery but I wanted to also create some dream/nightmare atmospheres too.
TBR: More specifically, the lead track is entitled, “Ross The Boss”. I won’t lie, I was a fan of those first few Manowar albums in ’85 or whatever, but I couldn’t place the “refer to me as Metal Horse” reference. What’s up with that?
Matt: Well, that’s what the machine that turns against humanity would like to be called. The song is about what would be the catalyst for machines to turn against mankind. In this case the event is Ross the Boss leaving Manowar. Clearly Manowar is better with him. The logic doesn’t add up. The machine goes insane.
TBR: Don’t leave me hangin’ out on a limb – were you guys Manowar fans or what? Give me a favourite song or album or anything that springs to mind about the band. I’m twisting in the wind over here. Who are some of your other favourite bands at the moment?
Matt: I personally love Manowar. Best record: Into Glory Ride. Best song: Gates of Vahalla. Been listening to some Graham Nash, Jethro Tull, Blues Control, Lucifer’s Friend.
Mike: 90% of my music listening time is probably divided between Hendrix, Zeppelin, Neil Young, Sabbath, Priest, Maiden, Van Halen, Jesus Lizard, Neurosis and the classic thrash and deathmetal bands. As far as more modern bands there’s not a ton but I dig YOB, Dark Castle and Defeatist out of NY who’re probably the best grind band in America right now.
Kyle: The three bands that influenced me the most are probably Faith No More, early Soundgarden, and early GWAR believe it or not. Those three bands blew my mind at different times of my life and really changed my playing and songwriting. I tend to pick a few favorites from across genres, rather than dive into a particular genre of music entirely. There’s too much mediocrity out there to devote that much attention to one certain style in my opinion. I’m into anything heavy and slightly quirky, or any band that is immediately recognizable. I’m also a fan of 70s progressive like Yes and King Crimson, Mahavishnu Orchestra. Oh, Manowar rules too.
TBR: Break it down on “Gog and Magog” for the people. Are you guys into, like, Babylonians or moreso the Mesopotamians? Are any of you guys Scythians or Hutterites? Termites? Hermaphrodites? Seriously though… is there an ancient history/mythology buff among you or is this just a general reference to “end times” in the context of Heavy Metal?
Matt: Epic poems, Mtythology, there are tons of references and characters to draw from. So many cultures have these weird sometimes ridiculous stories. The song is about a wizard invoking some badass giants namely, Gog and Magog.
TBR: I’ve heard that you guys have played at least a few shows around the Boston area. Do you guys have more fun in the writing/studio phase or playing live? Have you guys played any shows or toured outside of MA?
Matt: We definitely play a lot here in Boston/Cambridge.This summer we spent about 3 weeks touring down the east coast and through the south & midwest. It was awesome. The list of great people we have met keeps getting longer. As far as playing live vs. writing/recording, They are such different experiences. Playing a good live show is immediately satisfying. Writing a good song anddocumenting it is more just creatively rewarding. The two aspects inform each other. It’s fun to play a new song out for the first time and have people say “that’s my new favorite song!”.
TBR: I understand that some of you guys are active in more than one band at the moment. Is Phantom Glue an active band with intentions to take things further or a one-off project? What’s next?
Matt: Nick and Kyle have The Proselyte and Whitey respectively and Mike has Hydronaut semi part time. This is my only musical project which makes me sort of an anomaly in the Boston scene. We’re finishing up the mixing of our second record now, writing stuff for number three, and the creative well is far from running dry. We don’t have plans to stop doing this any time soon.
Mike Gowell – Guitar
Matt Oates – Vocals/Guitar
Kyle Rassmussen – Drums
Nick Wolf – Bass/Vocals
…and THANKS to Hillarie Jason for the kickass photos!