Photo by Invisible Hour
Two decades on after his untimely demise, the legend of Kurt Cobain still whisks 90s nostalgia seekers into a fanatical frenzy (see Montage of Heck and those photos that recently surfaced from Nirvana’s very first gig). But as the masses bow at the altar of a tortured junkie genius, there’s the unlikely feel-good saga of one Tad Doyle, leader of grunge overlords TAD, Hog Molly, and now Brothers of the Sonic Cloth. Along with Nirvana and Mudhoney, Doyle’s band of goons helped fulfill Sub Pop Records’ “global domination” shits ‘n’ giggles declaration, thus placing Seattle on the map with their Sub Pop output of God’s Balls, Salt Lick and 8-Way Santa. Eventually, TAD was eaten up and spit out by the major label splurge triggered by Nevermind, but not before they could offer up 1993’s still-rock solid Inhaler.
Fast-forward just about a lifetime. With TAD and Hog Molly in his rear view mirror, Doyle’s comeback story is one to behold. The hulking and grizzled gentle giant cleaned himself up, started up his own Seattle-based recording studio (Witch Ape), met his life partner and band-mate Peggy and, after forming Brothers Of The Sonic Cloth back in 2006, its full-length debut finally arrived earlier this year via Neurot Recordings. Older and wiser but no less brutal, Brothers of the Sonic Cloth proves Doyle’s natural progression from the thickest of grungy-assed riffage to lords of monolithic doom metal heaviosity, naturally conjuring crushing, nightmarish visions of TAD melded with the minimalist slow grind of Sunn O))).
We caught up with Doyle at home in Seattle as he prepared for what will be a face-ripping tour with Neurosis, The Body, and Sumac.
Noisey: We’re talking about BROTHERS OF THE SONIC CLOTH here.
Tad: Yeah, man.
I’m really digging this record.
And Brothers have been around since 2006, right?
Yeah, basically, I started it as a solo thing, just demoing stuff and deciding I wanted to put stuff online back when MySpace was a thing. I put some songs up and had five band members who were fictitious names. I wanted to see if anybody was digging it.
Did you think of some good names for those fictitious band members?
God, I can’t even remember but there was “Witch Ape,” which wound up being (the name of) my studio. He was “the bass player.” Anyway, that’s how it started and I decided I wanted to start playing the stuff out live. Peggy—who’s now my wife, she wasn’t then—was always saying “If you’re ready to do this, I’m your bass player” and that’s how it wound up. Convenience…and she’s good, too.
When did you and Peggy actually meet?
Oh, man, like 2004, yeah. We had a mutual friend who’s a filmmaker in L.A.—his name is Michael Dean and he’s made a lot of DIY books like “$30 Dollar Film School” and things like that. He was visiting Peggy in San Diego and she just had a long run of not having good experiences with dudes and he said to her “You should meet this guy”, she said “What’s his name?” and he goes “Well, his name is Tad.” She pulled out a record—a TAD record—and said “This guy, you mean?” And he said “Yeah, that’s the guy” and she said “Sure, I’ll meet him!”
Which TAD record did Michael pull out?
Oh, I don’t know. It was probably Inhaler.
Not God’s Balls or 8-Way Santa?
She wound up having all those anyway but I think Inhaler was the record she pulled out.
Was Peggy already playing bass at that time?
Yeah, she’s been playing for a lot of years. Peggy has been at it for as long as I have. She was playing guitar in a band at that time. Most of the time, she’s playing bass. I met her, too, and really dug her and here we are.
Nice. What took so long to make the Brothers’ debut record that came out earlier this year?
Well, a number of things. First and foremost, probably, I’m obsessive about how I want things to sound so I take my time and really think about how it’s goin’ and how the music is goin’ down. There is the initial “from the heart” thing where the playing comes then you start demoing stuff and you start listening to it from a different perspective—at least, I do. That was one of the things. Then secondly, it’s always been challenging to find a drummer that can keep up with my playing. I’m first and foremost a drummer and they gotta be able to smoke me on drums or I’m not gonna be happy—ever. And just finding the right guy. It took many years. Dave (French) came into the fold and it’s been green lights ever since. A lot of the previous guys weren’t as committed or whatever, and it just didn’t work out. It’s a lot of hard work. We still like to have fun but we like to take our craft seriously. Sloppy playing and not hard hitting for what we do is just not acceptable, as far as drumming.
Was that an ethos you had in TAD also or that manifested itself as you became older?
I think it’s something I’ve gotten into in the later years. The term “musician” is used really loosely and I take a lot of pride in really living up to what I understand as the definition of musician. I think there’s a lot of players out there that when it comes down to being a musician, I’m in a band with three musicians and we hired a second guitar player (Pamela Sternim) and she’s a musician, too, to fill in the monster we created when we did the record. She comes from the hardcore scene so she’s no stranger to loud, immense music. I’m the primary writer for the music and I do a lot of my writing in solitude. I’ll bring ideas to the band show them and Peggy and Dave have leeway, of course, to add and change the way they see fit because I do trust them as players and musicians. I have a very focused vision of the band and it’s not really as much an organic thing for the rest of the band but they can grow with it with their own bent.
Brothers are about to embark a tour with Neurosis. Has it been a while since you went on one of those cross-country treks?
Well, we just finished up two, two-and-a-half weeks in May and June and that was in support of our record. Then the Neurosis thing fell into our lap and how could anyone say no to that? We’ve all been fans (of Neurosis) for a long time, not to mention they don’t get out that often, ya know? They have lives outside of music, too. Besides from their immensely amazing music, it’s an event because they don’t get out that often.
How did Brothers hook up with Neurot, Neurosis’ label?
I’ve known the guys—especially Steve (Von Till) and Scott (Kelly)—for a long time. Back in the day, TAD used to play shows here and there with them. We played shows with them back when they were playing through green amps and stuff. I heard that one of the reasons why they started working with Steve (Albini) because they liked what we did together on Salt Lick by TAD. I didn’t know that and I was really honored that they thought of it that way. They liked the feedback aspect and what we were gettin’ with Steve Albini on the drum sounds. So, we have that common thing of trying to trudge the road of music and play stuff that is out of the ordinary and they (Neurosis) certainly made a great pathway for a lot of people in that respect. And another thing is, like, man, to be together for as long as they have, that’s pretty amazing. I’ve been in many bands and it’s a testament to their strength and brotherly love for each other to stick together through that for as long as they have.
What do you remember about the shows TAD and Neurosis played together way back when?
Well, they’ve always been intense and it’s been an over the top intensity and tension—a good tension—and just the sound was always amazing and the visuals were just candy for me. I love music on its own but the visuals were always pretty amazing, as well. It was definitely a “show” but without being a shtick.
Have you revisited their music?
I took some time off from music before I started Brothers. For a couple of years, I wasn’t even playing music, or really even listening to anything, other than what was force fed through going into a store and hearing it over the PA or someone turning on a radio. But when I started gettin’ back into music, I went back and revisited what they did from the beginning. I’ve always admired what they’ve done. One of the great things about taking a hiatus is that the reset button was achieved, it was clear and everything was new again. So I had all this time to catch up all this new, amazing music I didn’t even know about—mostly through Peggy who’s kept up with everything all along. She’s a huge music fan and her library of music is much greater than mine. I get stuck into a thing I really like and won’t let go of it. But Peggy has always kept up with new stuff and that’s rubbed off to an extent on me.
You’ve been direct in talking about your battles with drinking and drugging but you’ve cleaned up. That’s awesome, man.
I was a guy who spent a lot of time escaping the present moment doing what I did with drugs and alcohol and then I got clean and sober so that was a completely new experience. When you’re blotted all the time, it’s kind of, (chuckles), the worlds different when you come out of that fog. I have no regrets in doing anything I did in the past. However, life is a bit more clear now, you know? Not as many bad decisions are being made [laughing].
When you went on that hiatus before you formed Brothers, did you have to detach yourself from the scene in order to find yourself?
Probably a little bit more than usual. I’ve always been reclusive and I’m not really a “go out and be sociable” kind of guy—never was. I wasn’t the guy who’d go to shows to hang out with people. If I was going to a show it was because I was interested in the music. I was removed from it just because my head wasn’t in it anymore. I had to take off some time from it. Being in the band TAD and touring for six to nine months out of the year for a lot of years, you come to appreciate the dull life of just having a bed.
Did you miss that other existence at all?
No, not at all. I do love it and everything. But I take it just like everything else—it’s good in small doses.
When did the idea to start Witch Ape, your own recording studio, come to life?
I’ve always been interested in recording and I wish that I’d spent a lot more time paying attention when I was working with a lot of the people that I was worked with. But I did absorb enough to be dangerous, as my dad would say.
So when TAD was in the studio with Albini or Jack Endino, you weren’t able to take anything away from those sessions that you use today at Witch Ape?
I learned a lot from those guys. But in retrospect, I wished I asked a lot more questions like “What are you using here? Why are you using this mike?” What kind of compression techniques are you using? Why are we settin’ up here? Why do you prefer to use this amp?” Endino always had this amp he wanted everybody to play through—a Fender Twin that he pretty much modeled himself. He is a world-class engineer in a lot of ways. I don’t know if I could ever catch up with that guy as far as all that knowledge. Those guys are always available to me since I have worked with’em before, with the exception of probably Albini and Butch Vig. Those guys are just off doin’ their thing 24-7. I’d love to talk Albini and Butch again.
What about those old TAD records? Would you had done anything differently had you recorded them?
I probably would but those records but I think they’re perfect as they are. They are a snapshot in time. All those records were done to tape, for first thing. We had to have our shit together and there wasn’t any fix it in the mix, sitting and editing and moving stuff, cookie cutter playing. There’s a certain amount of smugness going on this statement and pride but we weren’t…fuck offs. We played our parts right.
Would you be where you are today—running a recording studio and doing Brothers—if you hadn’t met Peggy? It seems like she’s played a crucial role in helping jumpstarting what you’re up to now.
I always say it’s been a joint venture and I probably wouldn’t be where I am if I hadn’t met her or a lot of other people. We all affect each other, for sure. She tells me I’d wind up doing this stuff anyway but I don’t know if it would have been fun or easy to get to. When you have somebody who really is at your wing with you, you’re really doin’ it together. She’s a marvelous human being. A lot of people, they’re married to somebody or in a relationship with’em and they like to have this separate life from them they can hold on to and that’s fine. But Peggy is in it with me and a total equal partner in life now and it’s pretty amazing to have that. When I’m down—I have issues that I battle depression with—she’s there to help me get out of that and vice versa. I never had that kind of thing before.
A support system.
Yeah. I had no idea I was going to be doing audio work like this. I always had fun with it and had earliest recordings were ghettoblaster-to-ghettoblaster—just keep bouncin’ em back and forth in the vein of the Beatles first record, ya know? I had no idea. I just decided to get a Pro Tools rig in 2006 and I just loved it so much that I never looked back. I’d educate myself and try to learn as much as I can from everybody.
Are you as meticulous recording-wise with bands that you record at Witch Ape as you are with Brothers?
Yes and no. Yes I am, I care about what these people I’m working with are gonna put to tape, for lack of a better word, because there’s really no tape. I try to help them get the best performance and I’ll give some ideas here and there. The fun thing is when they ask me “Hey, can you do this?” and I’m like “Naaaaaah….let’s try it.” There’s a lot of creative things I can be a part of without playing the music myself. But a lot of the people I’ve been dealing with are really on short time and their budgets are small so you can’t get as involved as much as you’d like to sometimes. You gotta call it shake ‘n’ bake sessions: you gotta put it in the bag, shake it up, cook it and it’s done.
Are there records you’ve recorded at Witch Ape that you are particularly proud of?
Yeah, there’s quite a few. I did the Mike Scheidt solo record, the first acoustic. Recently, there was band called Heiress from Seattle who are really amazing players—post-punk, hardcore—and they’re all five star players and it was really fun to work on that record. There’s some other things but it’s too numerous to even mention.
How was it for you several years ago when you revisited TAD in the documentary, “Busted Circuits and Ringing Ears?”
It’s weird to have your musical life laid out in front of you on digital video. It’s kind of bizarre. But we did no holds barred, we laid it on the line and there was no hiding anything. It’s pretty honest and true and because of that, it’s somewhat embarrassing at times [laughing], the stuff that we did. We’re kids and we’re having fun. It was good. Like I say, I wouldn’t have changed anything I’ve done in the past. I just wished I had paid a lot more attention. It’s kinda true that if you knew what to look for in the future to go back to the past, we’d all be a lot of wiser and go in the direction that we would.
At Sub Pop’s 25th anniversary bacchanal a couple of years ago, there was a semi-reunion of TAD. Did that take a lot of convincing for you to do that? You give off the vibe that you’ve moved on from that period of your life.
That’s true. It’s green lights, totally moving forward and the past is the past. But it was fun getting Gary (Thortensen) to play because he was a big part of that sound of that band. I learned a lot of my guitar stuff from him. He’s light years ahead of me in guitar. I was pretty much a rhythm player. It was fun to play with him again and paly those songs. We just played a few. It was mostly an excuse for us to get the Brothers stuff in front of people. That was my motivation, at least [laughing]. It was nice that Sub Pop asked. They’ve always been asking “Are you guys gonna have a reunion?” and I’m like “Ya know, my heart’s not in that anymore. It’s in a different thing.” It’s the same reason I wouldn’t do a Hog Molly reunion. A lot of bands overstay their welcome and I just wanted to get out before we turned into a parody of ourselves like some bands do.
Brothers is hitting the road this weekend. How is touring different now than with TAD?
It’s not much different as far as gettin’ in the van and tryin’ to get comfortable. But it’s different in a way that I’m older and a little wiser to how to do it. I stay 200% more healthy than I used to. I stay hydrated, I don’t eat a bunch of junk, I feel better, I feel okay in the morning when I wake up. It’s not like poppin’ four aspirin just to feel halfway decent and human again by 10AM. The playing is fun and since I got a taste of this music thing for so long, it’s definitely fun, or even funner, than it used to be.
Brothers’ aesthetic seems like it’s a natural progression from where you came from with TAD. TAD was heavy but Brothers is a different kind of heavy and that’s a good thing.
I would say I’ve always liked the heavier side of music. I do listen to a wide variety, and oddly enough, I think some of the heaviest music in the world has been symphonic and that’s where I draw a lot of my inspiration from. I think it’s a natural progression like you said and certainly if you hear a good band that are gonna make a mark on ya—and there’s been endless good bands out there doin’ heavy stuff for a long time—I just gotta stay genuine to myself and just keep my head buried in what I do.
Do you feel like you are, for lack of a better term, an elder statesman to bands like The Body, who you’ll be touring with on this jaunt?
[Laughing] Well, only by proxy that I’ve probably been breathing and been on the planet stomping around for maybe a little bit longer. Certainly there’s experience that goes with that and everybody has their own way. I’m really looking forward to playing with The Body and Sumac, as well. It’s gonna be just fun as hell to see all these great bands playing and together in one place. And to be a part of it, I feel pretty goddamn lucky.
Brothers of the Sonic Cloth is available now via Neurot and catch them on tour here:
7/31/2015 Liberty Hall – Lawrence, KS w/ Neurosis, The Body
8/01/2015 Mill City – Minneapolis, MN w/ Neurosis, The Body
8/02/2015 The Majestic – Madison, WI w/ Neurosis, The Body
8/03/2015 Thalia Hall – Chicago, IL w/ Neurosis, The Body
8/04/2015 Expo Five – Louisville, KY w/ Neurosis, The Body
8/05/2015 St. Andrews – Detroit, MI w/ Neurosis, The Body
8/06/2015 Opera House – Toronto, ON w/ Neurosis, The Body
8/07/2015 Bug Jar – Rochester, NY * BOTSC headlining show
8/08/2015 Paradise – Boston, MA w/ Neurosis, Sumac, The Body
8/09/2015 Warsaw – Brooklyn, NY w/ Neurosis, Sumac
8/11/2015 Union Transfer – Philadelphia, PA w/ Neurosis, Sumac
8/12/2015 Broadberry – Richmond, VA w/ Neurosis, Sumac
8/13/2015 Cat’s Cradle – Carrboro, NC w/ Neurosis, Sumac
8/14/2015 Masquerade – Atlanta, GA w/ Neurosis, Sumac
8/15/2015 House Of Blues – New Orleans, LA w/ Neurosis, Iron Tongue
8/16/2015 Warehouse Live – Houston, TX w/ Neurosis, Pinkish Black
Oct 15-18 - Tuscon, AZ - Southwest Terror Fest