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Solace | Further | interview | Tommy Southard | stoner | rock | Lollipop
An Interview with guitarist Tommy Southard
by Brain Varney
Listening to rock bands is seldom the passive, mindless experience some would have you believe -- not if you want to write wanky articles about 'em, anyway. In our increasingly post-modern age (pause a beat while you groan or roll your eyes), it's pretty tough to simply accept a band, any band, at face value. This goes for critics and mere listeners alike. In most cases, before one even begins to consider actually listening to a band, one must first sift through the band's influences, sorting them according to era, genre, etc.
And toward what end? Classification, of course. It's the nature of humans to classify. It's this generation of rock fans' compulsion towards classification which creates silly and useless genres like grunge, stoner rock, and the increasingly ridiculous subgenres of heavy metal (is the advent of dismemberment metal too far in the future? Decapitation metal?)
But please, dear reader, do not mistake my poking fun at such activities for a covert attempt to absolve myself of them, for I, perhaps more than most of you, am guilty of this very same foolishness. As I've said, a certain amount of comparing and contrasting is reasonable. After all, how else are we to tell someone about a band, book or movie we like? However, it can and frequently does reach the point where we cannot listen to a band without heavily footnoting the process. It becomes a name-dropping competition, a game to see who can drop the most obscure references in the shortest period of time. This is where critics cease to be of any use to anyone except themselves.
And then there are bands like Solace, who make such comparisons arcane and pointless. Solace is one of those bands whose sound seems not a synthesis, but a live birth. Although the band members claim a number of influences covering a large spectrum of genres and eras, the sound is wholly and inarguably their own. It's as if the band fell from the sky, intact, as a single unit. Their sound is smoothly and seamlessly whole, like a large chunk of wood that's been filed and filed and sanded and sanded until all that remains is a perfectly round, perfectly smooth sphere.
Before I get too lost in metaphor, let us not forget what is perhaps the most important thing about Solace: They rock. Solace plays loud rock music, and they do it extremely well. But there is something else, something which I've tried to touch upon above, and that is the effortless grace with which they play. Their rock is both brutal and elegant, with one loud, crashing chord gliding effortlessly into the next, the whole thing moving so smoothly that you're not sure whether they're touching the ground or floating in air. Solace exist free of genre or sub-genre; they simply are. Their music, like all great music, defies description. The album is called Further, and it'd be awfully bright of you to get it. What follows is a chat with Tommy Southard, guitarist and primary songwriter for Solace.
Is Further the first full-length Solace release? I have the split with Solarized, but otherwise I know of nothing else
Yes, it's the first full-length. Other than the split, we have a 7" on Warpburner Records in Germany and a bunch of unreleased tracks on various comps.
How long has Solace been a band? Did you know each other before the band?
The band has been together since late '96. I've known Rob (Hultz), the bass player, for many, many years. We were in bands together as far back as '87. We were both in Godspeed, a band that toured with Sabbath in '94. I knew both Jason (vocals) and Bill (Belford, drums) from other bands from around our area for a while before we actually jammed as a band. Jason was in a band called Glueneck and Bill was in a band called Tow.
That you've been a band for a few years explains why the record doesn't sound like that of a young band. Why did you wait so long to put out an album?
Rob and I've been playing together for over 10 years now. We know each other's style really well. That, I'm sure, helps our sound come together a bit. As for the delay, we were in a weird spot. We were going through drummer problems. We were like Spinal Tap. We've had seven different drummers! But the main reason for the delay was the studio situation -- the studio we use was booked solid for six months in advance. So we had to go in the studio at odd hours and steal any time we could. We'd go in at midnight and work 'til 10 a.m.. And we had to do this over a period of several months.
I didn't get to fully express my awe when you said it: You toured with Sabbath? Any good road stories? Did you get to hang out with them? Was touring with Sabbath bad-ass?
It was mind blowing. Having grown up a total Sab-head, to get to see Tony Iommi and Geezer Butler night after night was unreal. What else can I say? It was BLACK SABBATH! One day I'll write a book to tell all the shit that happened on that tour. The road crew called it the WWF tour since so much shit got smashed!
Fuckin' sweet. How did you get on MeteorCity? Did you choose them or did they choose you?
We're trying to infiltrate the metal edge into the "stoner" scene!!! MeteorCity was one of the labels we sent a demo. We had other interest, but we went with MeteorCity because of their grass roots integrity. They're true fans of the heavy rock movement.
That they are, and they've put forth some very fine testimonials of their fandom (the Spirit Caravan Dreamwheel EP, the Unida/Dozer split EP, and the Nebula/Lowrider split EP). I've gotta ask the by-now requisite stoner rock question: Since "stoner rock" is becoming something of an underground media sensation, bands are going out of their way to distance themselves from it. You're on one of the labels at the forefront of the genre, do you consider Solace to be a stoner band?
We're not a stoner band, we're a rock'n'roll band -- a heavy rock band, a metal band. "Stoner" is as goofy to me as grunge, but I understand the need to have a term to help describe a style of music. But it's just so stupid not to like something because it's not "stoner" or because of labels. It's all just music -- call it what you will, but call it heavy.
Label or genre purism is a sign of dementia, I think. Back to the rock... I'd guess Solace's main influence is Soundgarden: Agree or disagree?
They're certainly an influence, but I wouldn't say the main influence. Our singer Jason is a big Chris Cornell fan, so I can see why you might say that -- and all the guys in the band like Soundgarden, but we're not using them as a blue print for Solace.
I didn't mean they were your blueprint, I just hear a lot of them in your sound. Are there less obvious influences, bands you guys like that might surprise listeners?
Our tastes are varied: NWOBHM (that's New Wave of British Heavy Metal, kids), punk rock, doom, '70s rock, old country and blues... Some of it might not show through in a significant way, but it's all in there somewhere. Joy Division, Killing Joke, Hawkwind, Budgie, Captain Beyond, MC5, The Stooges, ZZ Top, Holocaust, Barkmarket, The Obsessed, Robert Johnson, Hank Williams, Poison Idea, Misfits, Pink Floyd, Slayer, Entombed, Celtic Frost -- they're all part of the Solace soup. And so many more... I think everything musical that we've ever heard and liked is somewhat of an influence. It all gets put somewhere in the back of your mind and you draw from that memory bank, even if it's subconscious.
You cover a lotta ground... I assume you're an Iron Maiden fan, so which era do you prefer: Paul or Bruce?
While Number of the Beast is a killer, killer record -- maybe the best Maiden record -- I do really love the first two Maiden records. I guess it's because I'm an old fucker and bought those records when they first came out. They really had an impact on me. I got to see the Killers tour. After Piece of Mind came out, I started to get into punk rock more...
The first two are my definite favorites, especially the first. There's just a lot more rock'n'roll in the first record than in the later, Bruce-era records. I also think it's very cool you mentioned ZZ Top... Their early records are definitely respected, but they don't get mentioned with the reverence of other bands from that era, the reverence I feel they deserve. I play the first five ZZ Top LPs at least once a week. Any favorite albums or tracks?
I fully believe that because of the mid-'80s bullshit ZZ Top went through, they don't get the respect they deserve. Fuck, I mean KISS did the same candy-ass bullshit in the '80s and they're still beloved. Those early ZZ records are just plain awesome. Billy Gibbons has got more feeling in his pinky than most guitar players have in their whole bodies! And I agree with you on the first five ZZ records -- they just flat out rule! Some fave songs: "Brown Sugar" off the first album, "Just Got Paid" off Rio Grande Mud, and all of Tres Hombres!!! "Beer Drinkers and Hell Raisers" rules! Motörhead did a great cover of that song...
I'm a big fan of the studio side of Fandango, myself. I think they should make school kids memorize "Balinese." You also mentioned Pink Floyd: Do you like the early Syd Barrett stuff or the later Roger Waters/David Gilmour stuff, or both?
Both, for sure. While the Syd stuff is great, the Gilmour era is certainly great as well. In my opinion, they're just one of the best bands ever. Their records are like masterpieces, so it's hard to pick a fave. I really like Obscured by Clouds... or Ummagumma. The Piper at the Gates of Dawn is great, too. Damn, it's like trying to pick yer fave Sabbath record! They're all great!
You also mentioned being a fan of punk rock, which frankly surprises me. I've always liked the idea of punk rock a lot better than I liked any of the bands. Any particular bands you're fond of?
Black Flag. They got me through high school. And I love Discharge, G.B.H., Circle Jerks, Accused, the Germs, Poison Idea, Misfits. We did a Misfits cover for a Misfits tribute on Freebird Records called Graven Images. It has lotsa cool "stoner" type bands, including Fatso Jetson, Warhorse, Fireball Ministry, Dozer, Bongwater666, Nice Cat, and a bunch more. Anyway, to me, punk is just as relevant as metal. Heavy & aggressive; it's pure energy. It's like Ted Nugent on speed... pure adrenaline. Solace tries to bring some of that energy to our music.
I know this is a dumb question, but if you were going away and could only take five records with you, what would they be?
Make it six and it would be the first six Sabbath records. Throw in Electric Ladyland from Hendrix too...
If Solace could go on tour with any three bands from any era, what would they be? In other words, you can pick a particular era from a band, like "Sabbath in '72" or something...
Sabbath '72 sounds great, but maybe I'd like to go back '68 or '69 when they were Earth and check out the very beginning. Hendrix in '69/'70 with Band of Gypsies would be awesome. After that, I don't know, there are too many. MC5 or Grand Funk in '70 or so. The Stooges at the same time. How about The Who around the Live at Leeds period? Slayer on the South of Heaven tour. Or Venom on Black Metal. Witchfinder General on Death Penalty. There are just way toooooo many. Early ZZ Top... OK, I'll stop!
Quick, what's your favorite Trouble record? I hear them mentioned repeatedly alongside the greats like Sabbath and Zeppelin. It's kinda strange, since most of their records are out of print and you usually find them in the bargain bins...
The first Trouble record is a classic! The Skull rules too, but as with the Maiden records, I bought the first record when it first came out, and it just holds a big impact on me. And while I wouldn't put them right alongside Sabbath, they were the first band in the '80s to really pick up where Sabbath left off, so real doomheads hold them dear to their hearts.
Do you like any of the Swedish bands these days -- bands like the Hellacopters, Backyard Babies, Gluecifer, Turpentines, etc.?
The best Swedish band there is is Entombed! But I like that dirty rock'n'roll of Hellacopters and Backyard Babies... I saw the Babies play here in Jersey a few years ago... No one was at the club, no one! There were like four people, they still rocked out with their cocks out...
Ever dig on the Rose Tattoo albums?
Why, hell yes!!! That's some dirty rock'n'roll!!! Rock'n'Roll Outlaws... "The Butcher and Fast Eddy." The guitar player was in another great Aussie band called Buffalo. Great heavy '70s rock -- that's one to search out if you've never heard it.
Where do you guys live? Are there other good heavy rock bands in town? Is there any sort of support for what you're doing?
We live in New Jersey, and hell yeah, there's a great little "scene" here. There are plenty of great bands playing heavy guitar rock -- like the Atomic Bitchwax, Core, Lord Sterling, Half Way to Gone (ex-Solarized guys), The Lemmings... You can go out almost any night of the week and catch some great local talent. Not to mention that the clubs are having a lot of the cool new heavy bands come through town. We've played with some great bands like High on Fire, Spirit Caravan, Bottom, Sixty Watt Shaman, just to name a few. Also, bands like Alabama Thunder Pussy are always coming through town. Even before our record came out, there's always been great support of local music here... People in Jersey dig rock'n'roll!
Any contemporary bands that really kicked your ass the first time you heard them?
There are so many cool new bands out there that kick ass. You know, it's a great time for heavy music right now.
Yes, it is. It's certainly nice to be able to enjoy new records again.
Yeah, it seems to be really picking up. For a long time, you couldn't find really good heavy rock, just this lame ass rap/metal MTV shit. But if you look, now it's pretty easy to find great new bands. Some of the newer bands I'm jamming right now are Goatsnake, Spirit Caravan, Las Cruces, Half Man, Fireball Ministry, Sixty Watt Shaman, Church of Misery, Boulder -- the new Entombed kicks ass too! Shit, I could go on and on. There's not enough time in the day to listen to all the cool bands out there.
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