(Here’s Andy Synn’s interview with the members of Turbid North, a band originally from Alaska and now based in Texas, whose albums were the subject of a SYNN REPORT in January [here] and whose 2015 full-length Eyes Alive received special praise.)
Hello gentlemen, for the benefit of those unfamiliar with the band, would you care to introduce yourselves to our audience at home?
Nick Forkel – Guitar, Vocals
Chris O’ Toole – Bass, Vocals
Jono Garrett – Drums
How are things currently in the turbid north… of Texas?
(NF) Winter time is just about over here in Texas and by “winter” I mean it’s a cool 75 degrees out right now, so doing well! Dusting off the van for some touring this summer.
Obviously you’ll have been asked this type of question multiple times before (and I promise to try and keep the rest of the interview more interesting), but for those unfamiliar with you… how would you describe the sound of Turbid North, in as many, or as few, words as you want?
(NF) Like having a cocktail of all your favorite liquor with an acid-laced cherry on top.
Quickly, before we jump into the main thrust of the interview (dealing with last year’s phenomenal Eyes Alive album), I wanted to touch on the band’s history, if you don’t mind? Specifically this one’s for Nick… what prompted the original decision to abandon the icy North in favour of your current location much closer to the surface of the sun?
(NF) Once we started to get more serious with the band in Alaska we knew we would have to eventually relocate to the “mainland”. As with most Alaskan bands that make the big move, we were originally considering Portland or Seattle. But after an opening gig for Drowning Pool, Texas was thrown into the mix as well. They basically told us there’s a great scene in Dallas and we’d do very well there. Being young and naive, we went for it.
Funny enough, I think the deciding factor was that Mayhem Fest that year was gonna be in Dallas right at the same time we’d make it down there. So it was a done deal. I also remember all of us in pure agony after that experience. Sunburnt Alaskan’s.
(NF) No sunblock! Not too many regrets honestly, I mean initially it was hard being so far away from friends and family. That was probably the toughest part and why we lost some members there in the very beginning. All in all though, Texas has been a great home base for us and I couldn’t see myself doing anything but writing/recording and touring.
The band’s line-up has shifted considerably over the years, before arriving at the current core trio… but I think the most important question to ask about that is — did you have to pay any customs fees when you imported Chris (O’Toole) to play bass?
(NF) Imported straight outta England! And yes, we’re still paying those fees to this day…
All joking aside, your latest album, Eyes Alive, definitely reflects the hammering heat of your current surroundings, but it’s also a concept album, if I’m not wrong?
(NF) You could definitely say that. There’s a story that follows all throughout that takes place in a future earth setting. The sun is turning into a red giant and it’s become harder for people to live on Earth’s surface. You have these crazy people living above ground and underground.
Aside from all the sci-fi mumbo jumbo I just described, there’s some real human elements to it. I like to think of the album in 3 acts. Anger and aggression in the beginning. Thought and “seeking the truth” in the middle. Then there’s wisdom and acceptance at the end. The music and lyrics go along with all that, or at least try to anyways.
Care to elaborate a little on that topic, specifically:
- Why the title “Eyes Alive”?
(NF) That song is about someone who’s been forced to live a certain way from childhood and on. Told what’s wrong, what’s right. Basically kinda brainwashed into a certain way of life. Well, he finds out he’s been lied to the entire time and that there’s more to what he’s been told exists in this world. So “Eyes Alive” is him seeing things the way they really are and for the first time. Sort of an awakening type thing. That’s where the whole story/ concept starts, so we thought it was appropriate for the album title.
- What were your influences, lyrically-speaking, this time around?
(NF) As you may be able to tell, I was really on a science fiction binge around that time. Watching a lot of obscure sci-fi movies and reading a ton of books and short stories. Very early on I knew I wanted the album to have a sci-fi, kinda “fantasy” based theme to it. That’s where I was at when writing the riffs and music. I’d throw 2001 on and write guitar parts to it. So for the lyrics, it was just a matter of fitting them into that same vibe. Some of it is based on stories already out there that I twisted around and added things to make it a bit different.
Also, I couldn’t find this info anywhere around the web (though that could just be me being dense), but who did the artwork for the album? It really is quite striking.
(NF) That would be Samantha Muljat. She’s based in Los Angeles and has done some amazing photography/album covers for several bands. If you look up her work, you can probably tell why I wanted her for the cover. A lot of the imagery she uses totally fit our concept for Eyes Alive.
How has the response to the album been so far?
(JG) Very positive, encouraging, warm and fuzzy,
And, just as (if not more) importantly – how do the three of you feel about it in hindsight, now that it’s “out in the world” as it were?
(NF) Complete relief!! There we’re several times where I nearly abandoned the whole project and wasn’t sure it would ever see the light of day. I’m very happy and proud that it did though.
(JG) Couldn’t be happier that we made it to the finish line with this record, like Nick mentioned, there were times I thought the whole thing was dissolving.
When you were going into the early phases of the writing process – transitioning from Orogeny as well as dealing with any remaining fallout from all the line-up changes – did you have any specific goal or sound in mind as to what you wanted the new record to be? Or was it really just a case of seeing where the cards would fall?
(NF) A little bit of both. I know we wanted a thicker, heavier sound overall and we wanted to push the boundaries a little more as to where we could go musically. There’s more doomy, rock-type moments on this one. But also we had never written music with Jono before this album, and so quite a few of the songs were just us freestyle jamming with him in the practice space. Some of the more aggressive stuff was written that way. We literally went up there for a month and would hit record, jam whatever we felt at the time, and I’d take the stuff home and try to make some sense out of it.
What was the reasoning behind your decision to remain as a three-piece?
(JG) Less gear to haul, and RUSH.
And what exactly do you feed John to make him such a goddamn whirlwind behind the kit (and would you be willing to license the recipe for a modest fee)?
(JG) It’s a personal proprietary blend I’ve brewed up, make me an offer.
Was it a conscious decision to release this new album independently, even though its predecessor was released on Ironclad Recordings?
(NF) Yes, but not initially. We shopped the album around for a while and waited patiently but realized that so much time had passed since the last album, and although the reaction to the material was positive, it was gonna be hard to get a label to invest in us. We lost most of the momentum we had been building by taking the 2 years off.
I also think at this point we had the know-how to at least make the release just as good if not better than the last one. We basically had the same team helping us again with the publicity and promotion, only this time it was on our tab. Ultimately, the goal was to just get things moving again for us and establish our new sound and new line-up.
photo by Danny Motta
Similarly, you also kept the recording very much “in house”, as Eyes Alive was engineered, mixed, and mastered by Nick himself, correct?
(JG) Very “in house”, literally at his house. The drums were tracked in a house that Chris owns that the three of us were renovating at the time. The rest of it was done at Nick’s home studio and the band’s rehearsal room.
How does it work having your own in-house (as it were) engineer to work with? And does it ever lead to any friction in the ranks when Nick keeps telling you to “do it better”?
(JG) It works as a huge advantage having Nick behind the board. Because of that, we were able to get the results we were aiming for. He dedicated a lot of time into tracking/mixing/ mastering the album, more time than we could afford to pay someone else!
Are you already thinking about next steps – future touring, new material, label interest, etc?
(NF) Starting to collect riffs again and build that up for the next one. We have a couple of songs sketched out, but it’s still early in that whole process.
(JG) Everyone is excited to spend some time on the road behind the record, that’s something we’re currently working on.
When you play live these days, are there any older songs you still keep in the set, or have you moved fully onto bringing out the very best of Eyes Alive alone?
(NF) Right now we are playing all of Eyes Alive from start to finish and then we throw in a couple off Orogeny at the end of the set. There’s still a couple older songs that we wanna tackle and haven’t got around to it just yet, but I like the fact that people have to experience ALL of the new album first before we get to the Orogeny material.
The penultimate question is really more of an open one for you to do with what you will – do you have anything you’d like to say to our audience, anything you want to tell them, any last requests, etc?
(NF) Just a huge thanks to everyone for not giving up on us and still showing support, even though it’s taken a while to get up and running again. We’re anxious to get back on the road.
And finally the most important question (particularly in light of some of your merch designs) — have any of you ever punched a bear in the face?
(NF) Wrestled a bear once, but it was strict NCAA rules. I tapped out immediately. We shook hands afterwards.