When I was a young upstart in the New Jersey music scene during the alternative rock boom of the late eighties/mid-nineties, four bands rattled my spine a bit more than most others: Monster Magnet, Nudeswirl, Big Nurse, and Godspeed.
Monster Magnet went on to stardom, especially in Europe. Nudeswirl put out an amazing album on Megaforce Records to which fans still are waiting for a follow-up. Big Nurse broke up before they could realize their potential and industry interest. And Godspeed dropped a great album produced by Skid Row’s Rachel Bolan on Atlantic Records, and then evolved into Solace, a stoner rock-friendly doom metal band greatly influenced by Iron Maiden, Motorhead, and Black Sabbath, much like Godspeed, as well as the other three bands I mentioned.
Together since 1996, Solace have been on a long recording hiatus, but finally have followed the acclaimed 2010 outing A.D. with The Brink, a mighty, meaty collection of 11 songs weighing in at 67 minutes. A limited-edition double colored vinyl LP nearly sold out, but single CD and digital copies are available via Blues Funeral Recordings, which is run by Jadd Shickler, the co-founder of the stoner rock/doom metal labe,l MeteorCity Records (which put out much of Solace’s initial output starting in 1999.)
As great as A.D. is – iTunes named it the best metal album of 2010 –The Brink tops it largely because of the furiously intense guitar interplay between co-founder Tommy Southard (who also founded Godspeed, as well as the legendary hardcore band Social Decay) and Justin Daniels, who’s been with Solace more than half their run. Holding their own alongside the swelteringly scorching rhythms and menacingly blistering dual leads are two of Tommy’s childhood friends from Toms River: Godspeed drummer Timmy Schoenleber and bassist Mike Sica of Lethal Aggression and the guitarist in Oblivion. Timmy not only contributes monstrous fills but also funky breaks that showcase his veteran talent, while Mike plays in a melodic style that perfectly complements the fury the guitar tandem unleashes throughout.
The powerful lineup is complete with new vocalist Justin Goins, whose lyrics on The Brink tell an amazing tale that compares the sinking of a ship to the collapse of one’s personal world in the midst of the world’s political collapse. Check it out when Solace play much of The Brink live on Feb. 7 at 1984 Bar in Wilmington, Del., with Philadelphia’s Kingsnake, Delaware’s Ringdust, and Richmond’s Omen Stones. In the meantime, enjoy this chat with Tommy.
I have been writing about you since 1988 in the Toms River hardcore band Social Decay. Then Godspeed, Freak Theatre and Solace. Are there any other bands you were in that I haven’t written about?
Only 88? Social Decay started in ’84! I was also in Prunella Scales with Rachel Bolan from Skid Row, Robot Dicks with Timmy from Godspeed, the Disease Concept, a scum-metal project I’ve been a part of for years, and NJHC legends Mental Abuse. In between Godspeed and Solace, I moved to L.A. and joined a band called Sugartooth. Godspeed toured with them, and they were looking for a guitarist. After Godspeed broke up, I moved out there for almost a year. I came back and started playing in Slaprocket with Shane from Nudeswirl, Chris from Godspeed and Atomic Bitchwax, and Keith Ackerman on drums, also of the first run of Bitchwax.
How, why, and when did Solace evolve out of Godspeed?
I was playing in Slaprocket while Chris and Keith were in Atomic Bitchwax, and Bitchwax started to do something which left them both little time for Slaprocket, so I started Solace for something else to do.
Besides you, are there any other original members of Solace in the current lineup?
No, I’m the only one stupid enough to not quit!
Who else currently is in the band, when and how did they join, what other bands have they been in, and are they in any other bands now?
Timmy, my drummer, was the drummer in Godspeed, and I have known him since we played a battle of the bands gig when he was 12 years old and I was 14! I’ve also know our new bass player Mike Sica just as long. We were friends from before either of us played in bands. Mike has been in a bunch of NJ bands, my favorite being his ’80s thrash band, Oblivion! The other guitarist, Justin, has been in the band now like 15 years so he has the longest tenure besides me, who’s been here since ’96. Our new singer, Justin Goins, was in a cool garage/surf band called The Brimstones! They even played my wedding long before we ever thought about him joining Solace!
As you mentioned, Mike and Timmy are childhood friends from Toms River. Comment on how in the volatile world of rock ‘n’ roll, you’ve been able to maintain relationships with them for so long.
Ha! Well, in fact, there have been years where we never even talked. Be it because of old band drama or girlfriend/wife drama or whatever, but over time, all that shit fades to the background, and when you meet up again and start talking about jamming, all that crap goes away. And you realize, there’s a reason I was friends with this guy back then. It clicks and just feels right. I love these guys, always have, and to be jamming with both of them after all these years is really great and sort of magical. When Mike and I were 13 or so sitting up in my attic bedroom listening to Black Sabbath or Judas Priest, we dreamed of being in a band together. Well, it only took 40 years!
Another old friend is Social Decay/Godspeed bassist Rob Hultz, who Mike replaced in Solace. In 2013, while Solace were on hiatus, Rob joined Trouble, a pioneering doom metal band from Illinois. Is he still in Trouble, and is that why he no longer is in Solace?
Yes, Rob is still in Trouble. They are working on new material and a 2020 tour as far as I know. That’s not the only reason or even the real reason he isn’t in Solace anymore. We tried to keep it going with him while living in Chicago, and we did do some stuff, playing some festivals and whatnot, but we just couldn’t get out and play as a real band or even rehearse. It became such a pain in the ass to try and get everyone on the same page. We got Mike in because he’s local and could jam and play local gigs. We even tried to get Rob to play on the new record, but he declined.
I’m happy as fuck for him being in Trouble. They are literally one of my all-time fave bands. I miss having him around Jersey. He’s doing his thing out there now, but he’s always a brother, no matter what.
Prior to the great new The Brink, Solace’s last album was the acclaimed A.D., which won several awards and honors, including iTunes’ Best Metal Album. At that point, Solace had been together 14 years, which is a long time in band years. Yet you seemed to be at the height of your success when Solace took a long break, releasing only one single and sporadically playing shows over the next nine years. Why did you take such a long break, how and why did the band get back together, and how did that evolve into the very cohesive, almost conceptual The Brink?
Well some of that was Rob living so far away, but there were other internal problems that I won’t get too far into, but let’s just say I moved on from all internal strife. As for as the cohesiveness of The Brink, I think a lot has to do with how well I know all the guys in the band now. Like I said before, I started playing with Timmy and Mike when we were really kids, 12, 13, 14 years old. So we have history. I know how they play. Justin Daniels has been playing guitar alongside of me now for 15 or so years. I know when I write a riff that he is gonna add the perfect flavor. I almost never even have to say, ‘Dude, that isn’t working.’ He just knows. And I worked with Goins for years and years before we ever played in a band together. I was a fan of his band. Plus, we have a lot of things in common. We both like horror movies, old books and collecting records, so we have been friends for a long time. The other thing that helped us was the fact that we did this record on our dime, time frame and pace. We had no one breathing down our neck to ‘get the record finished!’ We took almost year to complete it, and we didn’t really let a lot of people even know about it until we were close to finishing it up. So we were able to sit back, pick it apart and would go figure out what, if anything, needed fixing.
What do you like most about The Brink and why?
Impossible to say. There is so much going on in ‘The Brink’ that every time I listen to it, I hear something different and new. It really was a labor of love. We didn’t even know if anyone would help us put it out when we finished it. We were really doing it for ourselves. If no one has gonna help us, we were gonna just self-release it. That’s how much we believed in it. So maybe in the end what I like most about it is that it exists and that it is something I’m immensely proud of.
I described The Brink as a concept album about the comparison of a sinking ship to the personal collapse of an individual and the political collapse of the world. Is that accurate or just my interpretation?
As I didn’t write the lyrics, I cannot say 100 percent definitively, but I would say that you are not far from the mark on that at all! I think part of it is also a personal journey for our singer Goins, and it is definitely also about the world, the band and people who have been or are in our lives.
Comment on what Justin Goins brings to the band and The Brink, and how and why he replaced Jason.
Justin brings a commitment and work ethic that had been lacking previously. It was clear to me that if I wanted to continue Solace that I had to have people who actually wanted to play, write and record.
Comment on your longtime relationship with Jadd Shickler of MeteorCity Records and now Blues Funeral Recordings and his influence on and passion for Solace.
Jadd and Solace go way back. He’s been a good friend of the band. Hell, he even sang for us one tour when our then singer was MIA. So when he found out about us recording and was interested in working with us again, it was a no-brainer.
You and Justin Daniels are one of my all-time favorite guitar tandems, along with Duane Allman and Dickey Betts of The Allman Brothers Band, who were greatly influenced by the collaborations between Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie, as well as Miles Davis and John Coltrane. You and Justin seem influenced by Iron Maiden’s Dave Murray and Adrian Smith, but are there any unlikely musical tandems that also influence you, like the jazz cats influenced the Allmans?
Honestly, I am a rocker through and through. Don’t get me wrong, I like listening to other music, and I collect all kinds of records, but when it comes down to it, as corny as it sounds, I want to rock. I l just love deep, greasy, evil-sounding heavily fuzzed-out riffs, and having another guy who ‘gets it’ in Daniels is a dream. We’re not trying to be or sound like anyone else, but there is certainly some Maiden and Thin Lizzy influences going on, but we don’t sound like either band. We sound like Solace.
Mike’s first instrument is guitar. Comment on what that brings to his bass playing and his interplay with you and Justin?
To fill a need. I tell everyone we have three guitarists in this band, and the best one happens to be our bass player! I would have never thought to ask Mike to play bass because I know him as a guitar player, but he was already playing bass in another band. Another one of my old friends and ex-band member, Dave Gutierrez who was in Social Decay in the ’80s and who I was playing in Mental Abuse with, started a new band called Despairadisio, and they needed a bass player. Dave and Mike used to play together back in Oblivion. Dave asked Mike to play bass, and he said yes, so when I found out he was already playing bass in a band, I asked him if he would do the same for Solace. Thankfully, he agreed!
Your video for ‘Breaker of the Way’ was produced by Shane M. Green of Nudeswirl, who were a one-two grunge punch with Godspeed in the Jersey music scene of the early to mid-1990s. How did that longtime relationship influence the video and how you worked with Shane?
Well, I’m a big fan of Shane. When we started Slaprocket, I was psyched to be playing with him because I loved Nudeswirl. I’ve honestly been trying to get Shane to pick up a guitar and sing and be in a band with me for a decade or more. He always shot me down. As for doing the video, he heard our new stuff and wanted to work with us since he is basically doing video production now. So again, that familiarity of knowing someone and having worked with them in the past, it just makes thing easier. It was like renewing an old friendship. And the video came out great!
Will Solace make another video and tour in support of The Brink?
That’s the plan for 2020. Hoping to get back overseas.
What shows and other activity do you have coming up?
Playing a show in Delaware on Feb 7 at the 1984 Club. with Kingskake, Ringrust and Omen Stones. Only one we have for 2020 so far.
How and why has the Brighton Bar been home to you?
How? Because I’ve been playing there since 1986 or so!
Is there anything I didn’t ask on which you would like to comment?