(Comrade Aleks returns to our pages with an interview of Olly Pearson, vocalist of the UK band Moss, plus music.)
Moss (Southampton, UK) started their way through the deepest doom sewers by practicing in the disciplines of sludge and drone in 2001. Their efforts brought certain success as the band secured a contract with Rise Above Records and somehow found the keys to the hearts of doomheads outside the UK and Europe.
One of the most significant steps for Moss was the recording of the Horrible Night album in 2013, which showed a new direction that the band had started to follow. It was still ruinous and tortured, darkest doom metal, but it was played in a more traditional way, with more clean vocals and a bit less distorted tunes.
Moss sounds unfriendly and sometimes harsh, but we’re spoiled enough to like it. So I’m happy to introduce you to Olly Pearson, the band’s vocalist.
Hi Olly! I check Moss’ profile on FB from time to time and see that you’re mostly busy with gigs here and there. How did it happen that you have spent this year generally this way?
I think we kind of figured out that we actually like playing live! After all these years… Going on the road is something we seem to enjoy now. It’s not all smooth sailing obviously… but for several years we’d resist playing too many shows, but in the last four or so years we’ve done more shows than we ever did in our first ten years of existence.
What’s the most distant point on the map that you reached on tour?
Maybe it was Austria a few years ago.. We were due to go to Russia a couple years back, but that trip didn’t work out as there’s too many hoops to jump through to get over there. We’ll play anywhere as long as all our travel expenses are covered.
Yes, I remember that I was waiting for your gig in Moscow. It’s sad that it didn’t happen. What about USA? I read an interview with one excellent band from the UK — well, it’s one of the oldest and most honorable bands of that kind; they said that it’s a big problem to gather people on gigs there.
We get asked a lot when we’re coming to the US.. I’d say that it’s becoming more possible than it was some years back. Now we have a good booking team working with us (Swamp Booking and You’re Not Human), and we’ll see what happens. I think we’d have to do something like the Maryland Deathfest, then work a few other shows around that. From what I know, doing a full coast-to-coast US tour is very tough and very expensive.
From which places do you usually get feedback in general?
Mostly the UK and USA, and I always seem to be sending merchandise to Italy all the time.
I see that your last vinyl EP Carmilla (Marcilla) / Spectral Visions is sold out. Well, it was only 500 copies, but it’s a good result for a doom band. What do you think after working with Rise Above Records? Is it possible to make a doom band a popular one due to proper promotions and active touring? It’s kind of a paradox that Ozzy is still so famous, as many of his followers can’t even dream about a share of such global success.
Depends what you mean by “popular”. Since we left RA we feel a lot more free and in control, but of course there are certain doors that only being on a label with distribution and promotional funds can open… but it is really not that difficult at all these days to be self-sufficient and do well within the genre without any of that stuff.
We’ve done two tours now without a label and released that 10” ourselves, and I don’t think we could be happier with our current situation. We’re not in it for fame and fortune, where there is only so far you can go before that starts to become something else, signing to a big label and getting stuck in a contract that requires you to compromise your vision… that’s the kind of world that I want nothing to do with. Doom needs to stay in the sewers and the depths of the metal scene… there’ll always be odd break-out exceptions here and there, but generally you don’t choose to play this music to make it big.
It’s strange to hear that some doors are closed for you now, because Moss is a band with a reputation. Is it so difficult to push the band by your own hands when you have the internet?
It’s just different. Reputation doesn’t mean much to some people if there isn’t money pushing it, and we don’t have any money to be spending on publicity. Some magazines that had featured us many times when we were signed didn’t want to take any notice now that our stuff isn’t being sent to them by a publicist.
We still have some good contacts we’d built over the years, so we’ve gotten reviews and features thanks to those, but it was kind of weird to see that some quarters are now completely closed off to a band who’s not on a label.
There’s only so far you can promote your band on the internet for free, especially now that you have to pay a fee to reach anyone on Facebook. So, we go the old school DIY route and mail things out and contact magazines and writers ourselves, like when we started out. There can be a feeling of hitting a wall when another promo sent out goes unanswered. Promoting your band hasn’t gotten any easier. I was even going back to contacts that I had from the demo days, so it was interesting to see who was still around.
Moss – Carmilla (Marcilla)
The lyrics of “Carmilla…” are obviously based on a gothic novel under the same name written in 1871 by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu. As this book established certain laws for this literary genre, what do you think — is there some space now to develop it through movies, books, or music?
Maybe. I don’t pay much attention to what’s happening now, modern cinema doesn’t really interest me. First thing that comes to mind when thinking of gothic horror in regards to film are the great Hammer productions of the ’60s and ’70s… if there’s been any developments since then I’m not really aware of them. I’m pretty much stuck in the past when it comes to movies, books, and music.
I do think our “Carmilla” track does have a more gothic flavour to it, which I really felt when listening to the instrumental tracks and trying to come up with an idea to fit it. It felt vampiric, undead, ancient.. Like the book, there was this creepy romantic feeling to it that went beyond schlock horror. It suggested an understanding of something far older and more emotionally chilling than that.
Doom topics are limited to a quite small number of themes and clichés. Someone prefers to sing about horror stories, someone else tends to write about drug influences, and a lot of bands have at least one song about witches. Do you feel any conceptual limitations this genre has?
The only real limitations are your imagination. Sure, I can sing about a witch. But that could also be my ex-wife… using metaphors and dressing things up in other worlds to make it more interesting for me and the listener is a pretty common lyrical trick. I don’t want to write directly about getting bills in the mail or having a bad back, but who’s to say that I haven’t used those things as a jump-off point for something else?
Horror is a deep, deep well that you can draw from anything and make into anything that you want. Yeah, there are some very defined conceptual limitations in this genre. You’ll find many bands singing about graveyards and skeletons and tripping or whatever, and I can see how those not too familiar with doom look at it and think it’s all the same… some bands are just happy to pay homage to what came before, like with any kind of art.
There are some iconic lyrical and visual themes that run deep in doom metal, and I think every band is guilty of using at least one of these at some point. Can it feel stale? Sure, but sometimes the simplest, most derivative thing can just be so right. It just depends on what you do with it! That said, I’d probably take an average Black Sabbath copycat band over pretty much most things these days anyway, but probably turn it off after a couple of songs and listen to the real Black Sabbath.
But Black Sabbath have songs not only about horrors, drugs, and miserable love. One of their most popular songs is “War Pigs”. I wonder why this topic isn’t as interesting for the vast number of doom bands…
True, there’s been a few war-themed songs in doom metal — “The War Starter” by Saint Vitus is one of my favorites — but it doesn’t seem to have been taken on as one of the defining tropes. Maybe the horrors of war are too real, where doom usually deals with the fantastical and the supernatural.
Olly, two years have passed since Rise Above released Horrible Nights, and the Carmilla… EP was published a year ago. What are your plans for the next record?
I think there are some rough ideas here and there, and we may start working on something soon… nothing to reveal just yet.
You’ve set new direction for Moss with the Horrible Nights LP and continue to hold this course with Carmilla… Can you say that you have your balance now working as a trio with Chris and Dominic and writing more traditional doom stuff with prevailing clean vocals?
It feels more like a band now. We’re playing now, rather than “performing”, if that makes sense. Our earlier songs were so slow and heavy that you don’t really “play” them, you know? We didn’t really write songs in the earlier days, just jammed everything. It was around our first album Cthonic Rites when we started to lock things in a lot more, so it’s been a steady progression.
It’s just a lot more of a satisfying experience for all of us now in this band when I think back to our first gigs and recordings. But despite what has changed, all of the core stuff that always made us who we are is still there though.
The “Horrible Nights” song itself is a bloody expressive masterpiece of nightmares, when the mind fights to keep sanity and desperately loses this fight. What’s the story of this song? How did you come to the state when it was possible to write such a song?
I wrote this after a nightmare — the title pretty much says it all. It’s kind of abstract. I had a few lines written down when I woke up. I tried to make some sense of it later, by trying to re-enter that state, which the lyrics make further reference to, so in a weird way the song references back on itself.
This was the first song we wrote for the record and pretty much set the tone of the direction we were going in, and it just flowed out so easily. I think we had this written and arranged within an hour. We were performing it live since 2009, and it had barely changed at all by the time we got to record it a few years later. I think Dom had just brought the riff to rehearsal, so we jammed it out, and the feeling of it just felt right enough to sing over, rather than scream the words. Felt like the right time to try to express more than one level of emotion, thanks to this song.
Moss – Horrible Nights
There’s mention of the Book of Eibon in this song. What was your favorite book in school?
Vault of the Vampire by Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone.
It seems that Moss willingly did split-albums with other bands in past years. Do you want to do another split in a future?
Yeah, this is something we’d like to do again. There’s a band called Pilgrim that we’re talking about doing a split with, we’ll see if this becomes real. Would be cool to do!
Pilgrim are on Metal Blade Records — could that be an obstacle on the way to this split? It seems that being on different labels now can get in the way of friendship between bands…
I think they’re free to do things like this. Metal Blade seems ok with it as far as I know!
For most people England is a damned old land of fog, moors, castles, great literary legacy, etc. How much of England is in Moss?
All of it… As cliche as it sounds, we are very much a product of our environment. If we came from anywhere else we’d sound very different. England is so hugely influential to us — cold, wet, and miserable!
We’re originally from an old docking port on the coast of England, so we grew up around a lot of industrial machinery and urban decay. There was a car factory just over the road from my house and I can remember the sounds that used to come out of there, big slow bangs, just massive noises… and just outside of that is an ancient forest with a very deep and mysterious history. We all lived in and out of these places. It definitely ingrained itself in us.
The band was founded in 2001, so you have explored the realms of dark and twisted doom for about 15 years. Was it worth all of the efforts?
Yes and no… I wouldn’t change any of it though.
Thanks for the answers Olly, that was a final one. Wish you all the best on your way with Moss!
Thanks! We’ve got some stuff coming up. In september Fuck Yoga Records is putting out the first volume in a vinyl compilation of our tracks from our out of print CDR and demo releases from the early days, and then in October we head back out into Europe for a couple of weeks. Come join us!