(Comrade Aleks has brought us this in-depth interview with drummer Clayton Gore from the U.S. doom/death band Pulchra Morte, whose latest album, the tremendously good Ex Rosa Ceremonia, was released last year via Transcending Records.)
Five men may be too many for a doom death band, but twin guitars always give a strong hint on melodic components and Pulchra Morte prove it with two albums – Divina Autem et Aniles (2019) and Ex Rosa Ceremonia (2020). All of them for years played all kinds of extreme metal – death metal, black metal, death/black metal, sludge… I believe you’ve heard names like Skeletonwitch and Wolvhammer. And Jarrett Pritchard (guitars) alongside Clayton Gore (drums) started in the Tampa-based death metal band Eulogy nearly 30 years ago! Big guys who know how to play crushing stuff, yes.
True to tell, it’s my fault for doing this so late because Ex Rosa Ceremonia was released one year ago and Pulchra Morte was in my “need-to-interview” list for awhile, but it’s better late than never. Especially as Clayton provides us a great interview, an in-depth look at band’s own life as well as a good glimpse on the difficulties of the modern underground scene.
Hail Clayton! How are you? What’s new on Pulchra Morte’s side?
Greetings! Doing well over here. Always working and moving forward, albeit slowly. The entity known as Pulchra Morte moves at its own pace, whether we like it or not.
Are you meaning that songwriting for you is a rather unconscious process? How important is logic and sanity when it’s time to write some new extreme metal stuff?
I mean that while you can decide to practice, you can’t force yourself to write. Writing happens organically, sometimes not as frequently as we’d like. That’s the spark of our songs. Then the back-and-forth necessitated by our geographic dispersion kicks in to shape and mold the initial draft into something, which also takes time. So yes, while we may wish to release a new album every year, sometimes it just doesn’t happen that way. As to the last part of your question, in my experience “logic” and “sanity” are enemies of creating music. Save those things for mixing and producing.
I see that all of you have different musical backgrounds. What made you gather and focus on this morbid doom death stuff?
Over the last few decades, there has been a movement to hyper-classify music, particularly metal, into smaller and smaller sub-genre boxes. I don’t really understand that and don’t find it incredibly useful or transparent. For us, while we all play and have played in different bands that have varying approaches to music, the feeling that drives creation all comes from the same place. Darker, aggressive, meaningful music is the fire that drives us and the lure we can’t escape.
The band was formed four years ago and you already have two full-length albums; the second one Ex Rosa Ceremonia was released in November 2020. It’s a good result; seems like you knew from the start what you wanted. So what are the core characteristics you aimed to achieve sound-wise?
I don’t see the point in simply regurgitating what other bands are doing. Never have. I have no interest in jumping on the latest trend. The band started by us noticing that the window of that more mid-paced “death doom” style seemed to open and close far too quickly. We felt that there was more to be said there, and for us, it was the music we wanted to hear. So we set out to fill that void in our libraries. It was also something we hadn’t done before, individually or collectively, so it was a personal challenge. That original intent has broadened widely over the years, and as we move forward, we find inspiration in deeper and deeper places, bringing that to what we do.
With all your experience and background you chose to release your first album Divina Autem et Aniles literally DIY, on Brutality’s own label Ceremonial Records. Were you satisfied with this decision after all? I see the album has a decent feedback, but I can’t get rid of the feeling you could have reached more by being on a bigger label.
That was a necessity. It wasn’t for lack of offers. It’s just that it seems like the current model of labels we spoke with is to take large chunks of something they had no part of creating. We couldn’t find anyone willing to enter into a true partnership and build our castle together. We weren’t asking for a lot, or inappropriate things, only for what is ours. But most labels we spoke with wanted not only what should be theirs, but also most of what should be ours. We don’t need that, and aren’t interested in that type of “partnership”.
Labels used to sign bands they believed in and used their power and broad reach to help build the band into what they envision it could be together. As a band, yes, there is a price you pay for that, but it was a collaboration model that was agreeable. Today, labels seem to only want a revenue stream and could care less about building something together. If one band doesn’t immediately achieve commercial success (which is really the responsibility of the label), they will bury the release, drop the band, and move onto the next one. There are a million bands out there, and labels today seem to only work from one template in a “take it or leave it” model, taking advantage of bands in need and who believe the label will care about them and truly help them. But the price they are asking is your soul, and I’m not interested.
Of course, the downside of that is exactly what you describe – I too feel like the band could and should be more well-known than it is. A good label who does what they say they will do could solve this problem. But as it is, we truly rely on anyone who likes the music to tell their friends about it, and then they tell their friends, and so on. We are trying to make this work at a grass-roots level, like the old days of tape trading. But the short attention span of the typical metal fan is making this increasingly difficult. Seems like most people are more interested in being “first” to like the next daily favorite trend band and less likely to feel any personal connection to a band, sharing it with all their friends. It’s a difficult place to be. So yes, we are DIY by necessity, not creed. But we will not be victims of absolute theft – we’d simply rather not do anything than do that. So we will continue to self-fund and be DIY, until it just doesn’t make any sense or becomes unsustainable. That is entirely up to the fans.
Further, the mainstream metal press isn’t helping. Some of them have exclusive relationships with some labels in a “gatekeeping” model. The labels tell the press what the next big band should be, and incentivize them to make it so. If you don’t buy ads in some publications, you will not get coverage, or you will get less-than-favorable coverage as punishment, at best. It’s modern-day payola, pay-to-play, and we choose not to participate. We get that it’s a business, but this commercialization of metal has really stifled smaller voices. From the outside, it seems like the industry is as strong as ever and a positive place for everyone. From the inside, it’s worse than it’s ever been, frankly. Yes, anyone can put out music on streaming platforms, which seems like a great thing. But unless you play ball, the gatekeepers actively suppress your voice until you do or simply go away.
Regarding the (mainstream) metal press… Probably I would agree with that part. I’m far from it but even from my point of view the scene is just overcrowded and people usually see bands which are intensively promoted by real PR agencies. And almost ANY band will turn out to be BIG if big labels put money into it. Well, dash it… So don’t you feel yourself comfortable enough in the company of bands with same level of “popularity” like Pulchra Morte and Wolvhammer?
It’s not about being comfortable with other bands, it’s about our goals and what we are trying to do with this band. No one has delusions of having gold records here, but we want to do things like bring our live presentation to Europe and other parts of the globe, expose the most people possible to what we do by playing larger fests around the world, etc. None of that happens unless you play the game, or enough people take it upon themselves to simply demand that it happens. We do use “real” PR agencies. In fact, we had two working on ERC simultaneously, Earsplit (focused on the US and global reach) and The Noise Cartel, focused on the UK. Both did their jobs very well.
While PR helps get the word out about the band, it very infrequently results in direct sales, so when you are mostly self-financed, how you choose to spend money promoting your band is necessarily very strategic. Spreading the word about the band seemed to be the best approach for us, as we’re confident enough in the album to believe that if someone actually clicks “play” and listens to it, we will have a new fan. What we can’t make happen is any of that translating into them telling their friends, or asking to include us on their favorite fests, etc. All of that has to happen organically, and we rely on our relationships with the press that we DO get – such as yourself – to help give us a platform and spread the word in your own way, which is very much appreciated.
Listen, people are still talking about Eulogy thirty years later, and we never really toured or had any press outside of the old ‘zine scene, so we know it can happen. It just takes time. Unless you are determined to be the “in” band by major metal publications, which is a shortcut to our goals that could shave years off of the process. But again, we’re not willing to sell our souls to do so.
Jarrett isn’t only Pulchra Morte’s guitarist but also a skilled producer and sound engineer. Does it make recording of your own stuff an easier and more relaxed thing?
We are certainly very fortunate to have Jarrett involved, on several levels. From a production standpoint, it does enable us to be flexible and certainly gain cost savings. But as you pointed out, he’s very busy, so we also have to work around his professional life sometimes. So, like I said, this band moves as its own pace, which is sometimes frustrating but is usually for the best in the end. We have to be very deliberate about what we’re doing, and be very prepared when we start doing it. Being a band that’s geographically dispersed is really walking the razor’s edge. It’s not always easy and takes determination and bottomless motivation to keep it together and all pulling in the same direction.
Your second album Ex Rosa Ceremonia was released right in the middle of the quarantine’s first phase (or something like that). Did you think about the risk that it could be just skipped by people worried by other things, or was it just Transcending Records’ schedule?
While it was released a few months later than we would have liked, it was entirely dictated by our schedule. It seemed like being able to share the work we did while locked down was a good idea, while everyone was looking for new entertainment. But we also hoped that things would be opening up and allow us to bring a live presentation to the fans around the world. That part obviously didn’t happen – tours we had scheduled were canceled, etc. That part has been very frustrating. We haven’t been able to bring what we do to new fans in person, and I’m sure that has contributed to the level of attention the album has received. These things were unforeseen and unavoidable. We are simply doing the best we can at the moment and very much looking forward to seeing people on the road.
There are bands who hate tours, there are bands who tolerate tours, and there are those who find the energy to enjoy it. Have you found your golden mean regarding this?
I’d say we’re all of those things alternately, depending on the day haha. There are more logistical concerns with us than some other bands, again given the geographic dispersion, but we have yet to receive a tour offer that made sense that we haven’t done. We very much enjoyed the shows we played with Cloak, Uada, and 1349 on that last US tour, and were very much looking forward to supporting 1349 on the following tour, but that was canceled, as were most tours last year. Believe me when I tell you that we want to come play your town, and if it makes sense, we’re happy to play someone’s back yard. We just want to play.
Divina Autem et Aniles is a really, really good album, but Ex Rosa Ceremonia just beats it! Some hooks are simply divine. Let’s take ‘Knife of the Will’ as an example — it’s flawless in its balance of coffin-crushing-heaviness and heart-breaking-melody. So how do you value the band’s inner development on this album? How conscious was this growth?
Thank you for the kind words, truly appreciate it and your support! Glad the albums have been able to reach you. While we did have an initial idea about what the band should be, as I said, we didn’t really have that at all on the second record. We just kept doing what we were doing, which is to say that we believe in “write what you feel”, always. Forget about expectations or guardrails, simply write what you are feeling. It’s the only way to truly create personal, meaningful compositions.
The biggest change for ERC was that Jarrett was involved in the writing process from the beginning. For DAEA, the album had been mostly written and arranged before we brought it to Jarrett. That change really helped push us, and make a lot of the songs what they are today. The unrelenting, uncompromising push to simultaneously have great individual songs as well as a complete album experience is what really helped these songs achieve their final form. That approach continues today as we work on our next material, which seems like it will be very different. We are simply incapable of creating the same thing again and again. So with us, expect the unexpected.
It’s said that during recording, the band put out the invitation to anyone and everyone who wanted to be a part of the gang vocals to submit tracks, resulting in the assembly of ‘The Serpent’s Choir’, featuring over 50 members with over 100 different voices on the song of that name. Who came up with such an idea? And how did you record it?
This was really Jarrett’s brainchild. While everyone was trapped at home, unable to attend shows and experience that group energy, why not try to bring that same energy to their homes? Once Jarrett brought it up, we all agreed it seemed like a great idea, and something we hadn’t seen before. We put out the call on social media, on our YouTube channel, and during my guest spot on Gimme Radio – anyone who wanted to contribute was welcome to do so by any means at their disposal, from professional studio or microphones to simply yelling into your phone. We also personally reached out to some old friends and contacts in the scene, people we really wanted to work with and that meant something to us. Our only concern was that from a practical standpoint, it sounded like a nightmare, haha. But Jarrett certainly made it work! We’re very pleased with the final result.
I was surprised when I found cello parts performed by Naarah Strokosch on Divina Autem et Aniles and I was even more surprised when you kept it for Ex Rosa Ceremonia. You have no prejudice towards the role of cello in doom metal obviously — which bands inspired you to add this instrument to your arsenal?
I’ve always loved the cello and violin as long as I can remember. I’m very into film scores and some classical music. In my younger days, I played with orchestras and experienced that level of creation in person. I know what those types of instruments can bring to a composition. The trick has always been to find the right context and not just shove an element in because you can. As we were creating the records, we would hear where there was something missing, and are fortunate enough to have a good relationship with an accomplished cellist in Naarah who loves what we do. So it all came together very organically.
You played with orchestras? Really? Can you tell more about this part of your career?
Ha, I wouldn’t call it part of my “career”, but yes I did. Throughout high school, I played on the marching drumline during the school season as well as an offseason drumline that you had to audition to get into. That band would also do things like play in the local theater circuit when the production called for a band. Like, we played in “The Music Man” production when it came through, for example. I was essentially playing marching snare all year round for a good four years or so. My chops were insane then. Also in school, I played with the school orchestra and pep bands. Our band leader was a member of the local St. Louis Symphony Orchestra. There was a time when he was ill and asked me to cover for him. That was a very different experience from the high school orchestra. It was being thrown into the fire of true professionals who did this for a living, and sometimes had done so for decades, sight-reading what was put in front of you. It was quite intense. Ever see the movie “Whiplash”? A lot like that, ha.
Divina Autem et Aniles lyrics are strong and poetic; it seems like you really care for it, and this approach is something I appreciate in any band. How important is it for you to have decent texts for Pulchra Morte?
This is again an area that is very organic for us. What I mean by that is, you get together a talented group of people who are like-minded and on the same page with what you are trying to achieve, then let them go and trust them to do what they do best. While we all contribute to discussion of elements of general concept and direction, with very few exceptions the lyrics are the direct creation of the vocalist for us. In order for the messenger to believe the message, it should come from their heart, a place of deep meaning for them individually. That’s how we work.
May you comment on the song lyrics for Ex Rosa Ceremonia? I didn’t find it online, and though the songs’ titles give an impression that you keep your brand, it’s always good to know what the lyrics’ author put in into it rather than build your own speculations.
No. People should be free to have their own interpretation of what Adam is singing and what we’re about. The moment I tell you what our lyrics mean to me, it removes all other meanings from your mind. We have provided some lightposts in the vinyl presentation, and Adam is very intelligible.
Ex Rosa Ceremonia saw the light of day one year ago. Are you motivated enough to return to the studio and carve in sound Pulchra Morte’s third manifest of doom and death?
Yes, it’s hard to believe so much time has passed already. We are still working on bringing the live presentation of the record to audiences. That being said, there are a few things in the works. First of all, there are a couple tracks that we recorded during the ERC sessions that didn’t make the record, simply due to time constraints. We are working on releasing these tracks as well as a couple cover songs as an EP. Secondly, we have several drafts of new ideas already for the next record and are actively working on fleshing them out. It’s a slow process for us, as we are very particular about quality, but as I said at the beginning, we are always moving forward and creating. Sometimes just not as quickly as we’d all like.
Glad to hear it! Thank you for a great interview Clayton. Let’s hope it’ll help to spread the word and open people’s hearts for Pulchra Morte’s message. A few more words for our readers in the end?
Thank you for the great questions, Aleks. We all lived through the underground days, when finding a publication that would cover any kind of extreme metal took a lot of work. You had to really want to read about a certain band, or discover new bands. Today, it’s all too easy. We have taken a DIY approach because all that effort, that dedication of the underground, really created a feeling of being “in the know” and mutual respect for other metalheads. We feel like being deeply involved and working a more grass-roots approach to what we do – from press, to printing our own shirts, to the deluxe vinyl package we put together for ERC which includes a silkscreened poster wrap and custom hand-stamped wax seal – infuses everything we do with the purity of our intent and engenders a deeper connection to people who like what we do, similar to the old days. So know, all you good people, that it is truly appreciated. You mean the world to us, and we hope to see you soon!