Torche are something of an anomaly in the rock and metal circuit. Often classified as sludge, these American songsmiths have an appeal that carries them beyond “flavor of the month” genre classifications and entrenches them in the land of awesome hooks and aggressive riffs—a place where so many bands wish to be. The group’s raucous 2012 effort, Harmonicraft, draws from a mélange of influences ranging from punk blitzes, metallic dirges and even psychedelic rock. This release further demonstrates why Torche have the staying power that they do.
In the interview below, founding member/drummer Rick Smith shared some of his insights on the band’s creative process and where he sits within the maelstrom of energy and emotion that is Torche.
There has been a progression between 2008’s Meanderthal and last year’s Harmonicraft. Meanderthal was heavier, but Harmonicraft has a polished and melodic approach. Can you touch on that?
Yeah, it just came out naturally; we didn’t try, necessarily. The progression was a super natural thing. We didn’t think about it too much and I don’t think we ever do; it just sort of happens that way. We just have the record done and it is what it is.
How do you guys go about self-producing? Harmonicraft is very clean and many bands can’t pull that level of production off. You’ve also had Converge’s Kurt Ballou on the production credits for two albums. Has that influenced your music?
We kind of self-produced Meanderthal as well, but we also had Kurt from Converge as an outside ear. On Meanderthal, there were a couple of things that he said, “Hey, I think this could be a little better,” and we did try some of those things. Sometimes that worked and other times it didn’t, but, in general, when we’re writing records, we never have any outside influences. It is pretty much all us in there.
Your drumming has a very diverse and organic feel, as it touches on many different styles. Is there any special approach you take to drumming?
I feel like, as far as the drums go, all of the work is done for me, usually. When it comes to the guitar riffs, I write all the accents for the riffs. Steve [Brooks, guitars/vocals] has a unique style of writing on the guitar, so I feel like all I do is what naturally comes to me. Most of the work is done through the guitar work. When I go in, it’s almost written for me already. I go in there and I do something and that is how it is. I rarely have to switch drum stuff around. They never tell me, “Hey man, that isn’t working.” It’s funny how it works out.
Does each member bring different influences to the music, or are you all into the same stuff?
We all have common ground, like a lot of stuff that we listen to, but each one of us has very individual taste. Jonathan [Nuñez, bass] is super into grunge rock. I’m into pure noise—total destruction noise. Steve listens to a lot of classic rock and Andrew [Elstner, guitars/vocals] is a big classic rock and thrash metal guy. We’re all over the board, but we all have our own individual tastes for sure.
Is there any reason you guys get called sludge? You have your heavy tracks, but you don’t appear to be completely sludge.
I think that’s because of Steve’s old band, Floor. They’re kind of a sludge band from the early days. Their last album was definitely more in the direction of what we started to do with Torche. Floor was known as a sludge band, so when we started playing we were like, the new Floor band, and everyone assumed sludge automatically, you know? Our first record was heavy and had a few slower songs that were definitely more in that vein, but I mean, over time, with each record, we moved away from that.
I noticed that the band usually starts off with shorter, punky songs on your albums, but love to drop long tracks at the end. Is there any particular reason for this or is it how it works?
Really, that’s the way that it works. We think that the long tracks—or, at least, I feel this way—if you throw them in the middle of the album, it takes away from the momentum. I feel like we like to keep the momentum up so that it feels like one cohesive thing when you listen to it all the way through. We always put in these long songs; we always have one or two on each record, towards the end of the record. At that point, once someone has listened to your entire record, you have to switch it up. A lot of our songs are two minutes, so that is a lot to take in in 20 minutes. That is a ton of riffs and a ton of vocal hooks going on, so we like to put the long songs at the end so people can zone out at the end of the record.
The band takes a very patient approach to releasing albums. Some acts inundate their fanbase with music, but Torche kind of take their time. Why is this?
I think it’s just because we’re a live band, you know? We spend most of our time touring constantly; we tour half of the year and sometimes more than that. Because we’re on tour all the time and we live in different cities, we don’t get together to write a lot, but when we do get together it is a very super-focused thing. We write the material all together at once. We try to figure out what sounds good and we do demos of it so we can remember, but, I mean, we all wish we could be more prolific.
Ideally, we would love to have a new record out every year, but because of how much we tour and because we’re a live band, it can’t happen as much. That’s why we usually do a full-length every four years, but between each full-length there are usually one or two EPs. We keep the ball rolling, but we don’t like to pressure ourselves to put out full-lengths constantly; if we only have four or five songs, we will only put out four or five songs between records. If we have two songs, we’ll put out two songs, you know? We have no problem doing EPs.
I know you’ll be in Brooklyn in March, but will you be visiting the West Coast? Also, are there any venues you’re looking forward to playing?
Oh yeah, we’ll be in the West Coast in May and June. I don’t know about exact dates and who we’ll be touring with—it’s still in the early process—but we’ll definitely be out in the early summer. We’ll definitely be on the West Coast.
There are always spots… I feel like most places have one or two really awesome spots. It’s hard to narrow it down to one or two spots, but in Birmingham, they’ve got a place called the Bottletree; they take good care of bands, they feed bands. That place is great. Pyramid Scheme in Grand Rapids, Michigan, is another awesome venue. I mean, there are so many places we’d like to hit. I feel like there are a lot of cool spots and I always keep my fingers crossed and hope we get good spots.
Torche will play at the Saint Vitus Bar in Brooklyn on March 2. Their latest album, Harmonicraft, is available now. For more information, go to torchemusic.com.