Torche Breaks the Metal Mold
by Adam Perry for Westword 7/21/2015
If you grew up watching Headbanger’s Ball every weekend, it’s impossible not to associate the term “pop metal” with unequivocal shills like Slaughter, Trixter and Firehouse. It says a lot about how crotchety the international metal scene is now — and how heavy the music has become — that a band like Miami sludgester Torche, which plays the Larimer Lounge this Friday, has routinely been dubbed “pop metal” by Stereogum, Consequence of Sound, and even its hometown newspapers.
Adam Perry: Are you just considered pop metal because you don’t sing in the Cookie Monster voice?
Andrew Elstner: I think you sort of hit the nail on the head. It’s wild, I agree. We’re heavy and it’s metal-ish, but we sing; we don’t scream. It’s just the way we do things, a little more tuneful. I’m 39, so when I think of metal I think of older stuff. There are barely new metal bands that I even give a shit about. High on Fire…I can’t think of anything else off the top of my head. Yeah, I think you’re probably on to something.
I went to see Red Fang in Denver last year and posted a photo on social media. A friend in a metal band insisted it was just “hard rock.”
I would consider Red Fang a metal band. A lot of times if you don’t have super long hair; if you don’t have a costume; if you’re not wearing the required outfit, you’re not [considered] a metal band. Heavy metal is so conservative, man. It’s ridiculous. I that’s why, for us, we’re not really into it as a label. Metal fans can be super loyal and they can also be super ridiculous. Growing up as a metalhead I realized there was a lot more to music than just a scene or wearing a costume. I think a lot of it is the aesthetic. You can file us under bands that appeal to non-metalheads, bands that have more sort of crossover potential. We play metal shows—we had a blast playing Tolmin MetalDays in Slovenia; I felt like we were around our people. And we’ll play indie festivals [as] the sort of token heavy band. There are always a lot of curious people; the crowds are always good.
One of the things that makes many people stray from modern heavy music is that it often seems to either be extremely slow, sludge metal—which is enjoyable when it’s every song—or the Cookie Monster voice over indistinguishable laser-fast noise. The tempos and subject matter on Restarter [Relapse, 2015] are so diverse—as a heavy band, how you decide what qualifies?
I think it’s whatever we want it to be, man. There are parameters within which we work, but as far as the lyrics, a lot of it’s more sort of abstract on purpose and tied together loosely with the album title or song title, but there’s a thread. I think a good example is Dio—a killer melody and a memorable hook, even if the lyrics don’t make perfect sense. It’s more about the cool sounding turn of phrase, using your voice as an instrument instead of trying to be Bob Dylan, which I consider to be the total opposite. Rhythmically, too, we’re all into different stuff; I mean, I could listen to “Mississippi Queen” by Mountain all day long. I don’t think we get too complicated. We’re not too into the mathematical side of things. It’s just whatever we feel like doing at the time.
“Blasted,” in particular, is novel in that it’s a metal song that has so much music coming through that clearly isn’t metal. How do you draw from influences far outside heavy music and put them into what you do?
It’s a little like trial and error. I think we’ve all been at it long enough that you sort of know what works. You know where you can get into melody where it still feels heavy but it doesn’t seem to totally clash. We’re all pretty stringent with our criticisms; we all handle it well and we’re pretty tough-skinned, at least when we’re writing in the studio. There’s nobody in the band with some weird angle, who’ll crush somebody’s idea just to crush it. So there are a lot of ideas that get tossed out just because they do sound too one way or another and just don’t feel comfortable, too dark or too crazy or something. We all listen to so much stuff that it’s about pleasing ourselves first, you know?
What do you say to people who only associate heavy music from Florida with Limp Bizkit and nü-metal?
That’s too bad. That would be unfortunate because there’s so much killer stuff coming out of Florida, and the South in general. There’s a lot of sludgy bands; there’s a lot of death metal. But yeah, I guess the meathead quotient it pretty high.
What have your experiences been like playing Colorado over the years?
The shows have always been killer. I’ve had family living in Denver my whole life, so I’ve been in and out of Denver since I was a young kid. Everybody tries to pump up their audiences just to be nice, but we’ve genuinely had awesome shows in Denver.