Tuesday, May 7, 2013

The Metal Advisor Interviews Daniel Taylor and Brandon Squyres of Cold Blue Mountain

As an avid follower of Gogmagogical Records, I jumped on a chance to interview the latest addition to the label's roster, Cold Blue Mountain, and familiarize myself with the band's story. Despite being a relatively new act, they have enjoyed immense success with their recent vinyl release and already have a second full-length in the works behind closed doors. Let's take a look into the Cold Blue Mountain camp. 


To kick things off, give me the nitty gritty on Cold Blue Mountain. What’s your story as a band?

Daniel: Back in late 2008 or so, our guitar player Will and his roommate at the time, our original bass player Zach, started writing some riffs and fucking around with an idea for sort of a heavy instrumental band. I had played in a band with Zach before so he called me, and we jammed, and the first day already had a couple of songs pretty much in the bag. We wrote a couple more, then went into a studio with our friend Chris Keene (who mixed our full-length and is recording and mixing our next record right now) and made a little demo CD, which is still floating around out there in the world; weirdly enough, it seems like it's really popular on Russian/Eastern European torrent sites. Anyway, that CD was entirely instrumental, but when we started playing live, people kept saying they could hear vocals totally ripping on it. I even had a buddy who recorded some vocals over it on his computer for kicks. 

By that time we had added Sesar on second guitar. And we all sort of agreed that it would be awesome to add a singer, and Brandon was a dude who we all knew who was in bands in town, and he was pretty much an obvious fit. He joined up and we played a few shows and went in the studio to record the self-titled full-length. Right after that, Zach moved out of town, and we signed up Adrian, who had played bass in Brandon's former band, The Makai. Since then, we've just been playing around Chico and up and down the West Coast when we can and writing more songs, since some of the songs on the full length are 4+ years old now. There's even one or two riffs on there that we literally jammed on that very first practice, so we're pretty amped to get some new stuff going.  
Who or what inspired you? Books, music, and poetry. Anything is fair game!
Daniel: I've always been a big reader. Books-wise, I'm sort of a morose, existential-angst kind of guy: Melville, Bukowski, Emerson, Thoreau and that lot. Likewise, musically, I've kind of always been a fan of mopey shit: from sappy mall-emo (most of which I'm too embarrassed to actually mention) to jazz and classical stuff, Rachmaninoff and Romantic/Classical-era composers (try making a Schubert or Mendelssohn station on Pandora sometime if you want to make life feel a little more cinematic) to, what I kind of use as a reference for this band, post-rock/atmospheric stuff like Pelican, Mogwai, Explosions in the Sky--stuff like that. 

Metal-wise, I was always more of a '90s ripper kind of guy: Pantera, Sepultura, old Metallica. The closest reference I really had when I was younger to what we're playing now was maybe Down or old Soundgarden. But in recent years I've gotten way more into the doom sludge type heavy stuff, mainly through playing with bands and being in bands with dudes who turned me onto stuff: bands like Yob and Lightbearer. I try to rip them off as liberally as I can manage. Haha.

Gogmagogical Records recently released your self-titled debut on vinyl as well. How did that work out? Were there any snags along the way, or was it smooth sailing?
Brandon: Mark at Gogmagogical was extremely easy to work with. He was so generous and agreeable. I was really taken back by it. Never having met the guy before and working almost completely through email you couldn’t have asked for a better person to release a record for you. We are really appreciative of all of his work.
Any specific reason you wanted vinyl to complement the existing cassette release of your debut?
Brandon: Vinyl is what I think most bands want. There’s something so special about it. It’s something that you can’t reproduce at home like cd’s or even tapes to some degree. Having the bigger artwork and really the whole feeling of a record just is so much better than any other format. Not to mention how pretty our color ones turned out, I was really excited when we saw the final product. 
Personally, I think the cassette can be a pain-in-the-ass. Would you agree?
Brandon: No, I actually don’t. It really easy to work with, and I think a lot of our fans still appreciate the cassette, as they seem to still have cassette players in their vehicles. It's also something from a lot of their childhoods that some people miss. If nothing else it’s a nice case for the download card.
What makes vinyl special for you (or any physical release for that matter)? 
Daniel: For me, I've been in a ton of bands over the years, some more successful than others, but this is the first release I've ever had come out on vinyl. It feels like a validation of sorts. Even though anyone who really wanted to can put anything they want on vinyl--with enough money to blow on it--for me, the fact that Mark at Gogmagogical believed in what we were doing enough to spend his money on pressing it on vinyl was the sort of pat on the back you don't realize you need until you get it. Also, to reiterate what Brandon said, there's just something about vinyl that just sets it apart, as being both a medium for music to be played, but also just a mood-setter on its own: the artwork, the color of the vinyl, the ritual of having to set the needle; it sort of feels like it adds a certain sentimental elegance that you don't get by right clicking a file and "saving as." 
Looking around the Internet gives the impression that your music is different to each and every listener, with tags like stoner, doom, sludge, and post-metal being thrown around. How would you describe Cold Blue Mountain to someone who has never heard your music before? 
Brandon: Heavy! Not too fast; not too slow; not too technical. Just heavy!
Daniel: Someone once told me we sounded like AC/DC slowed way down. I thought that was pretty badass. 
What is the lyrical scope of Cold Blue Mountain’s music? In other words, what do you tend to focus on, and what excites you most?
Brandon: For this release, they seemed to be more war and government related. This stemmed from the band originally being an instrumental band. As they would write, they would kind of name the songs indiscriminately. When I joined the band, these songs had all been written and named for a while, so I wrote my lyrics based around what my interpretation of those titles meant. The new album that we’re currently writing is more of a concept/story that permeates the entire album.
CBM is all about righteous artwork.
If you could keep one track from Cold Blue Mountain’s record, what would be your pick? Why? 
Brandon: The song I would choose would be "White North." I think it exemplifies our sound the most. It’s short, heavy, and confident. I could pick a couple, though all for different reasons, I love "MK Ultra." Musically, is my favorite, and "Lone Pine," lyrically. 

"MK Ultra" and "White North" are the two songs that made me want to be in CBM. The sound when I saw them played live just drew me in and made me know I needed to be a part of this band. "Lone Pine," lyrically, I am most proud of because it was such a hard obstacle for me to climb. It was more poppy, swingy, and happy-sounding than anything I had ever sang on before. I had a really hard time just figuring out where to sing on it. When I finally conquered that song I felt I had really accomplished something. 
Daniel: I would second Brandon's opinion on "White North" or "MK Ultra." But another song I think might be the sort of standard bearer for what we're all about is "PTSD." It's disgustingly heavy at the start, but then it breaks into this very melodically-sensible passage and sort of goes back and forth between the two extremes, without ever sounding forced. There's a riff coming out of the bridge of that song that, if you played it in a string quartet, it would sound like movie soundtrack music. On the record we layered some Hammond organ sounds on there that I thought really helped kind of set it apart. Overall, I think that song stands out to me, at least on the record, as being pretty badass. 
Did the music you grew up on have any affect on what Cold Blue Mountain sound like?
Daniel: Maybe. Like I said earlier, I was pretty into the sort of '90s thrash stuff, which I guess is what opened the door to heavy music for me in general. But I was also into classical music, jazz, emo, rap--pretty much whatever. So, to that extent, I think not being a die-hard fan of any one particular kind of music allows me to draw from some pretty diverse influences when it comes time to write for Cold Blue Mountain, and it maybe makes me do shit that drummers who are super-duper metalheads to the core might not do. For example, we were tracking a song yesterday, and there was sort of a mellow interlude that I busted out the brushes for, which probably revokes all my metal cred, but I think it's gonna sound rad. 
Imagine Cold Blue Mountain five, even 10 years from now. Where do you think you will be as a band? 

Brandon: With longer beards? I’m not sure. That’s a long time to plan for. At this stage in our lives people get careers, move, start families etc. So I’m not sure, but I hope I am fortunate enough to be able to still playing music with at least some of the members of this band. They are all great friends, and I really respect their talent as musicians. 
Daniel: I don't even know where I'll be as a person, let alone as a band. I'd like to think we'll still at least be making music, but that's what kind of nice about putting out records: no matter where we end up as a band, the music will be around for posterity, online and off, as long as people might want to listen to it (and probably long after). 

And speaking of future releases—do you think you will stick with your current style, or are you open to experimentation? Do you think you might expand to a different genre entirely?  
Brandon: Our next release is definitely expanded upon what we did originally, I think the songs are more thought out and cohesive as a whole. As for expanding to a different genre? I don’t think so, although I don’t know exactly what genre we fit in as of now. I do know that we are all very interested in the recording process and adding layers with strings and other instruments, which may take us to cross the lines of multiple genres again. I’m definitely open to anything.
Daniel: We're definitely open to experimentation; Like Brandon said, I think the first record is open-ended enough stylistically where people don't really know what to expect from us, anyway. And we're definitely not sticking to a specific path for the new songs we are writing and recording. We all sort of bring our own influences to the table, with the different kinds of bands we've been in, the different sorts of music we've played, and even musical instruments we play. I don't think we would hesitate to record something off the beaten path if that's what we ended up writing, but it seems like things get pulled to a sort of center, and all ended sounding like "us" no matter who writes the part, or comes up with the idea. 
We are four months into 2013: What have you been listening to most? Any new releases you would recommend?
Brandon: I have been listening to Silver Tongue by Light Bearer, Mass V by Amenra, and Sky Burial by Inter Arma. These are all amazing. Oh, and on the softer side, Daniel's other band Surrogate with their album Post-Heroic.
Daniel: Whenever we're in the van, Brandon's the driver and the stereo master, so I pretty much listen to whatever he listens to. I tend to get enough of music playing shows and band practices with this band, and the other bands I play with, so really on my own time I'm usually listening to Giants games on the radio or NPR or Coast to Coast AM, if it's after dark. 
Do you have an opinion on the upcoming Black Sabbath record, 13? What about the song “God is Dead?”
Brandon: Nope, haven’t heard it and don’t really have any desire to. I’ll stick with the classics. Just not that into new Sabbath. I will listen to the song "God is Dead?," though, at your suggestion. 
Daniel: Even as a self-avowed mainstream metal aficionado, I never really got into Sabbath. I realize that they were the sort of forerunners to all the stuff that bands like us do these days, but I never really got into it, mainly I guess because I'm not really a fan of Ozzy's vocals (although I'd be lying if I said I didn't wear out my copy of "No More Tears" in high school). I always did appreciate Bill Ward's drum sounds, though. I honestly haven't heard any of the new stuff at all, but Brad Wilk is definitely an alright drummer in his own right, and Rick Rubin definitely knows a thing or two about making heavy records, so it's probably decent enough. But the fact that I took the time to look up who was on the record, but didn't actually bother to listen to the song probably tells you how much I like Black Sabbath… 
Any last words or shout-outs? 
Brandon: I really want to thank Mark at Gogmagogical for releasing the vinyl and being such a great guy to work with, Matt Loomis for creating such beautiful artwork for us and you for being interested in what we have to say. 
Daniel: Thank YOU for doing this interview, and for helping us spread the word about this record, and thanks to everyone else out there who has posted on Twitter, or shared it on Facebook or wrote about it on their blog, big or small: we read and appreciate ALL that kind of shit. Even if you just took the time to listen to a stream, or you just downloaded it off a torrent somewhere; it's still a good feeling when anyone takes the time to check out what you do, especially these days when you can listen to any of a million bands, for free, at any time. Also: shout-out to anyone who read all the way to end of this interview!


Find Daniel, Brandon, and Cold Blue Mountain here:

Bandcamp - http://coldbluemountain.bandcamp.com/

Facebook - http://www.facebook.com/coldbluemountain
Twitter - http://twitter.com/Cold_Blue_Mtn
Myspace - http://www.myspace.com/coldbluemountain


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