Interview: Suffering Hour & The Denver Sound
Guitarist YhA from Suffering Hour gives us A Synopsis Of Gothic Country. We also talk about their upcoming album, touring/fests, recording/gear, and guitars.
YhA: Ah y’know, same shit as everybody else. Working, chugging along on tunes, rewatching TV shows, shitposting (well that’s just me I think), watching the planet go to shit, you know how it be. The three of us are honestly pretty fuckin’ boring, so I wish I had more to tell you. I’ve been getting into disc golf, I guess that’s something. My drive’s still kinda bleh but I can putt like a mother fucker. Hope stuff’s been chugging along smoothly for you too, Pat.
Watching movies and shartposting @work flat-out while oblivion beckons here, much the same really. So, your next album The Cyclic Reckoning is due out any week now, and while it definitely seems like a logical progression for the band’s sound, I felt it is a little more spacious than previous efforts. Was there anything different (either consciously or not) you guys tried with this one?
I wanted this new one to be more in line with our emotions we were putting into it I guess. When I wrote In Passing I was really angry and anxious, but with this one I was going through some shit that had me feeling a lot more defeated and depressed. When I was first writing it I was kinda pushing it to have some more chaos and shit, but after messing around with ideas I just pulled off on forcing it and let how I felt at the time take the songwriting wheel. Having Dyl and Jay go ape with their parts added a lot too, they stepped it up crazy hard writing for their instruments compared to past releases. Jay has such a fantastic way of filling spacier parts with crazy creative drum work, and Dyl plays so close to Jay’s drumming and has an awesome sense of when to do what. They made it their own and it turned out perfect. So proud of my boys. There’s also one riff I wrote while blitzed drunk that ended up somehow being good enough for the record, I think that counts as trying something different.
I absolutely love the variety of wild tones on this one (and the previous releases for that matter), do you find yourself coming up with riffs then mucking around with pedals to get the most of them or are they more a spontaneous affair once you’ve found a wonky sound?
I do a fair share of both for sure. Sometimes I’ll know I want to use a certain pedal during a certain part and write the riff to that, or other times I’ll write something I like but feel like it could use a little something extra. Being a one guitar band too forces me to go down a lot of different mediums to get the sounds I hear in my head, because making carpal tunnel arthritis chords doesn’t always cut it. There are a lot of times too where the guitar gear I’m using just asks for certain means of execution as far as picking and chord shapes. That was a big driver for when I was writing our split with Malthusian (by the way we’re dropping a split with Malthusian probably later this year, very excited they are wonderful lads and genius songwriters and I miss upping the ra with the boys). But yeah, I just absolutely love playing guitar and I love figuring out how to make it sound like things it maybe shouldn’t sound like. Life’s too short to write boring music and play your instrument like everybody else.
Gear nerds will probably get shitty at me if I don’t ask what equipment you primarily used on this recording..
Big mistake, I have entered ramble mode. Alright so there are 6 guitar tracks on this record, which includes three guitars (Fender Strat, Gretsch Electromatic solid double cut, and an Ibanez RG) and three amps (Soldano SLO-100, Jet City JCA50, and a first gen Peavey 5150). Used a Wampler Tumnus Deluxe as my drive/boost, a Danelectro Fab Overdrive as a lo-fi pedal (gain and tone cranked to 10 with the volume dialed just so it starts to crack through), and used an EHX Oceans 11 and Canyon as my main reverb and delay. I also ran a splitter into an EHX B9 Organ Pedal with an octave-up before it (Digitech Ricochet) with some extra reverb and delay (EHX Holy Grail and Memory Toy) and fuzz (EHX Big Muff Wicker Mod) for the parts where you hear an octave up in the guitar parts. I also swapped out modulation pedals on each pair of tracks as always-ons (Digtech Luxe, EHX Neo Clone, and I already forget the third because I have no memory and lots of pedals). I think all in all there were like 25ish pedals on my board, it was fucking absurd. Otherwise I mic’d up a V30 and Greenback in a well built no-name 2×12 cab with Sennheiser e609’s, which is something I’ve done for everything. Usually I just use my Soldano and one guitar, but I wanted this one to sound fucked up, so I did all this unnecessary bullshit like an idiot. Won’t be doing it again that much I can promise, payoff was great but fuck it sucked.
Is there a story behind making a part II for ‘The Abrasive Black Dust’ on this new album?
As far as Black Dust II goes it was literally Dyl just writing me saying “Hey we should do an Abrasive II,” and I said “Okay,” and that was that. Not really much to tell there. I’m gonna make it into a trilogy though because I like threes, so there’s one more on the horizon.
Was Dwell developed to be one track or did it just kinda make more sense to keep the flow going rather than chop it up into a 3 track EP or something?
Dwell was consciously a long track from the get go. I wanted to develop some more ideas from In Passing before we moved on to new things, but I didn’t wanna just drop a few random songs either. I knew it had to be something that could stand on its own as a release, so making it one song was a solution to that. It was also a challenge I set upon myself, because I can’t stand most bands writing long songs. They usually drag or have some gimmick that keeps the song long. I wanted to see if I had what it took to write a longass song that was actually engaging front to back. Part of why there’s a long song on Cyclic too was because I wanted to go back and try to improve on the things I think I could have done better on Dwell.
I know you’ve been pretty burned out on most metal coming out these days, something I sympathise with a fuckload. Aside from hitting your classic records, has there been any new stuff piquing your interest (metal or otherwise)?
New Ulcerate was fantastic. I went into it kinda reluctantly, not because I don’t like Ulcerate but just because y’know, it’s a metal album. It’s a beautiful record. The guitarist’s consciousness as to how notes affect one another in a dissonant setting or not is just astounding. Been keeping somewhat of an ear on the black metal scene too, between Reveal, Jordablod, Funereal Presence, Volahn, there’s still a decent amount of cool shit going on in that world. Otherwise I’ve been revisiting the most recent Svartidauði and Sinmara a lot, just because they’re fantastic fucking records and have literal endless relisten value. All the Sinmara guys are fantastic musicians and some of the most wholesome dudes in the scene too, I miss em to death. Otherwise you know how I be, endless Bruce Springsteen, Jason Molina, Townes Van Zandt, Leonard Cohen, that kind of stuff. Oh, and all the bands I wrote about in this article. Them too. Angry cowboy music eternal.
Interesting you mentioned recent tour-mates Sinmara, as someone who has been a huge fan of both bands (and the Icelandic scene in general) over the years I’ve noticed that y’all have honed your sound from an eruptive chaos towards a more enigmatic approach, which seems to let the mood be conducive for a unified atmosphere to develop rather than specific spots to rotate on the fore. Do you think touring with likeminded bands can be more beneficial than a lot of people give credit? I know there’s a pervasive paradigm among bands these days to say they prefer a diverse festival-type line-up but I’m interested to hear what your take on that is?
That whole chaos-towards-engimatic thing is something that was subconscious on both ends too it seems like. I think part of it is when a band drops a first record, anything goes as far as figuring out what your sound is. Then as you write more and more you figure out what you like and what you don’t, so it just ends up feeling more focused-in from that. That’s part of why it cracks me up when people complain about bands doing that, because if anything these bands are finding their identity and putting their energy into growth. They’re literally bitching about songwriters finding who they are as musical individuals.
But yeah, both those tour options have pros and cons. Touring with a different type of band can be great for draw, because now you’re bringing in two different crowds to one show. Could also dissuade people from coming though because it could bring up the mindset of, “So what, I’m gonna go to this show just to see the band I like when I don’t gel with the others? Yeah no thanks,” (I’m guilty as fuck of this I won’t lie, but I don’t love going to shows anyways). With two bands on a similar wavelength you’re losing that dual-crowd dynamic, but people will see multiple bands they probably like and will want to go the show more since the bill’s tighter to their tastes. As far as fests go it depends. One of the best fests I ever went to was called Invoking Black Death in Chicago. Literally all war metal bands. We just got aural sticky shit shotgun blasted in our mouths for two days straight. So fucking good, I fucking love some good war metal. However, if I were putting a metal fest together I’d honestly do like a 1-to-4 or 1-to-5 ratio of non-metal or unconventional bands to metal bands. In a fest situation it’s so much easier to pack a lineup with similar enough sounding bands to establish a theme and then give it a solid speckling of different sounds. Metal culture is becoming more and more closed-minded it seems like, so do people a favor and put more weird bands on your fests. Put Wovenhand on your fest. Maybe I’d go to your dumb fest if Wovenhand was playing.
Who is the most stylistically different band you’ve shared a stage with?
Oh man, I don’t know. My memory sucks. I guess TECHNICALLY you could say we played MDF the same night and stage as Godflesh, but I don’t count that. It’s a big stretch, I hate it when people brag about sharing the stage with a band and it was them opening a fest date or some pay-to-play bullshit. When we were on tour with Sinmara a band broke up right before a show, so a dude from the band got on stage and dicked with a looper for ten minutes. That was weird. Another decent one was we played with this post metal band called Pyrithe, and man they were really fuckin good. It was probably a combination of being hungover, hungry, underslept, and them just being really good, but I actually cried during their set. Really emotionally heavy stuff sonically. Turned out the drummer was label mates with Dyl’s old band Pestifere, which if you haven’t heard Pestifere listen to them now. Best metal band to ever come from Minnesota bar fucking none, you heard it here first.
We recently premiered the first cut from your bandmate’s new project Aberration. You’ve got a lil’ something happening on the side too right? Can you tell us about that?
Aberration is dope dude, when Dyl sent me that demo after he produced it I was stoked. Evil as fuck. And yeah I have some stuff cookin’. I tracked guitar parts for this band Merihem like four years ago, and I think it’s finally dropping soon. My buddy Gabe/Azlum wrote the record and I just kinda embellished it with leads and things like that. It’s us two, this awesome drummer from Minnesota named Pat, Davide from Frostmoon Eclipse on bass/production, and I’ll be completely honest I forget who’s on vocals. We’ve switched vocalists like four times, so I’ve lost track. I have another project with Gabe in the works where I’m doing fretless bass (VERY stoked) and the lineup of that band’s absurd, but I’m not sure if I can say what it is yet. I also wrote guitar parts for a one-off spastic something-or-other project called The Krinkles. Me on guitar, Jay from Crowhurst on vocals and drum programming, Blake from Pig Destroyer on keyboard and noise stuff, Zak from Outer Heaven on bass. The Decibel-Mag-core crowd will probably peepee and poopoo their pants. I finally have my first solo project laid out too, years and fuckin years in the making so I’m excited. Stuff in the vein of Songs: Ohia, Wovenhand, Emma Ruth Rundle, 40 Watt Sun, Codeine, I guess you’d call it slowcore type stuff. I’m really excited to get it recorded and out, I’ve been trying to write a non-metal album for so fucking long. You’ll probably see me spamming it like crazy once I start recording it proper.
The Krinkles, you say? When can we expect a Primus cover? …and which track would it be?
It would obviously be the song located in the name of this new band: Bob. Nahh no cover but I fuckin love Primus though, such a good band. Such an evil band for how bouncy they are, although that bounciness almost makes it feel more evil to me honestly. It’s almost like, “Ahaha hey guys Bob hung himself but who gives a shit let’s bop!”. Come to think of it though I don’t even know if our name is a Primus reference. I’d have to ask Jay.
What band were your intro into metal?
Okay so I got into metal really weird. When I was a little kid it was my dream to be a luthier (guitar builder), and so I was on all these guitar company sites all the time seeing new body shapes and design innovations and things. One day when I was like 10 or 11 I was on the BC Rich website, and a new little button popped up that was in the shape of a Stealth guitar. The link took me to the Chuck Schuldiner signature Stealth and it had the music video of ‘The Philosopher’ on it. That was my intro to metal. I was a little kid listening to The Beatles, Springsteen, The Doors, 60’s Bee Gees, and then I had four metal albums that I got on Limewire; Individual Thought Patterns by Death, Traced in Air by Cynic, Domination by Morbid Angel, and Morbid Tales/Emperor’s Return by Celtic Frost. It wasn’t until I was in high school when I started getting into the Big 4 and Maiden and Priest and all that, so even today I’ll be talking metal with people and they’ll be astounded by how little I know about the basic shit. I just went straight for death metal out the flood gates and listened to those 4 albums for years with no other metal in the loop. Probably part of why I’m so fuckin jaded to the death metal scene these days.
Man it’s funny you mention wanting to be a luthier before playing. That speaks to your ambition, when I was saving up for a guitar as a kid I got my old cricket bat and drew a bridge with labelled strings in thick black texta and “practiced” playing powerchord shapes along to ‘For Whom The Bell Tolls’ on the handle. Guess that’s the difference between making music and being a hack hahah..
Dude I have notebooks hiding somewhere of measured-out guitar layouts and shit, I was so obsessed with being a guitar builder I’d just sit through classes drawing guitars nonstop. It would be cool to do it someday but I’m a lazy fuck who doesn’t own a CNC mill. I was playing at that point too though but there genuinely was a point where I practically stopped playing because I wanted to focus on building.
You ever play on one of those fanned fret Ormsby type rigs?
Nahh I haven’t, they look so uncomfortable because I do so many bar chords where I hold down a bunch of strings with one finger so having to do them at an angle must suck.
Ahh yea that’d be fucked.
..so I just play cowboy guitars and give myself early onset arthritis.
Guess open tunings prob aren’t the answer for that stuff either. What tuning is Suffering predominantly in?
We’re in drop C so early 00’s metalcore tuning. Drop tunings are great though because power chords are one finger so then I have my other three fingers to do whatever I want, four if I go ape shit and get my thumb involved.
Yea drop C# is my go-to. Now, TovH writer and fellow Minnesota (nice) boy, Pumpkinbaby wants to ask “Do you prefer the juicy lucy from 5-8 Club or Matt’s?”. I have no idea what this means.
Fuck yeah buddy that’s a solid insider question of the cold North. For those not in the know, the Juicy Lucy is a Minneapolis, Minnesota invention and specialty where cheese is stuffed inside of the burger patty, so when you bite into the fucker molten cheese comes blasting out. Unfortunately I’m DEATHLY allergic to cheese and thus haven’t had a proper Juicy Lucy, so it is with great shame I say I don’t have an answer for you. I’ve been to Matt’s though more than once and they’re a dope joint, still gotta try 5-8. Down as fuck with MyBurger too. Sorry to let you down SquashChild, but if you ever wanna talk MN beer though you know the bud to hit up. Our brew scene’s dope. Hammerheart’s fuckin wild.
Speaking of MN, you’ve recently made a cross-country move to CO. Has it been difficult to adjust to being in a different state to the rest of your band, or does the ability to instantaneously send sound files back & forth fit in relatively easily with Suffering Hour’s modus operadi?
Yeah we’ve been able to manage fine. I pretty much moved to Colorado right as we were done as a thrash band back in 2013, so our whole discography we wrote and recorded remotely. I just wish we could have regular rehearsals, because we play shows decently but we could be a lot better. Usually it’s just me flying out to Minnesota a few days early and us pushing as much rehearsal time as possible into that time, followed by us flying or driving to the first show in whatever string we’re doing. Honestly aside from rehearsals though I think if we lived in the same place we’d work pretty similarly. Maybe we’d jam around and have ideas come from that, but I’d still wanna write everything out with programmed drums and stuff and make templates from home and then have the guys redo their parts.
Do you think your penchant for angry cowboy jams has filtered much into Suffering Hour? In what ways has that manifested into your songwriting and/or guitar playing?
I think so. It’s a little less subtle on the new record, but our Malthusian split has a lot more direct influence from that world. In a general sense though I think it shows itself just in how I construct melodies and how notes flow between each other. Earlier on it was a lot more sporadic and chaotic back when I was listening to primarily metal, but since I’m mellowed out with my music taste it’s shown in how the riffs come together I think. Since a lot of country and folk stuff is usually one person with a guitar or banjo or something, it leads to them having to put a lot of different parts into one instrument. That’s something I’ve done by default, but until I got into cowboy music that influence came almost solely from being into orchestral music and wanting to make my guitar sound like the London Philharmonic. I’m a classical music fan for sure, especially a good cello concerto. Jazz guitarists like Charlie Parker do that too, so that was another place I looked for ideas like that. Hearing it being done in a more subtle, gentle way though with guys like Townes Van Zandt, Leonard Cohen, guy’s a rapey fuckhead but Mark Kozelek from Sun Kil Moon is GENIUS at it, it’s almost like you don’t really notice at first how much they’re doing at once. Then you go back and relisten and focus in on their hands and it’s astounding how much ground they’re covering. That means of carrying multiple parts in such a mellow way I think seeped into my playing a lot with this newer material. I’ve also always been a fan of hitting a big chord and giving it a little drop or wobble which is pretty common in country, but I accredit that to more surf rock as far as where I got the concept from originally. Raise hell, praise (Dick) Dale.
After getting heavily into Wovenhand courtesy of your recommendation a few years ago I’m itching to dig into some of these other country-related bands you’ve got up your sleeve so let’s get into your topic for today’s lesson…
The Denver Sound: A Synopsis Of Gothic Country
YhA: I have great news for you all. During the duration of this article, you can all take a break. You can stop pretending that 98% of metal isn’t bad. There’s nothing in this article that will get you kvlt-cred points for having on your scrobble or having in some rare vinyl color variant. Today you’re gonna take a few deep breaths, turn off Saggyweenersabogg, and swap out your bottle of gamer juice for a glass of water, and learn about a new world of music to dive into unadulterated and for no other reason than for the joy of it. Today I’m going to tell you the story of the birth and perfection of gothic country through what has been coined The Denver Sound.
CHAPTER ONE: ORIGINS
It all started with a band called The Denver Gentlemen. Fitting enough. Despite having a small discography for their twenty-some-odd year career (as rocky and on-and-off as it may have been), this band was very important to what would become gothic country. While I wouldn’t consider what they did country necessarily, their music had a very specific kind of darkness and nervous energy that would become an essential part to the Denver Sound. It has that Tom Waits/Marc & the Mambas type of dark cabaret vibe but with a Nick Cave/Gun Club type of punk-blues attitude. Dare I say it’s got some major polka vibes as well with how sporadic it feels. The link below is from their one and only full length when they simmered down a little to be a more straight-forward jazzy dark cabaret, but it should give you some idea. There’s a cover of ‘Holiday’ by The Bee Gees on that album as well that’s fantastic, if you’re a 60’s Bee Gees fan like my goofy ass. I do however implore you try to find some audio from their live album Introducing… which features their more spastic music, as the connection between that album and what gothic country become is a lot more identifiable there. Otherwise they only released two EP’s in the 90’s but most if not all of those songs are on said live album, so if you find that you’ll be good to go.
As you’re hopefully hearing here, despite not being country it was a very unique sound that introduced a new kind of evil possible with traditional acoustic instrumentation. There is, however, another reason this band was extremely important. While a lot of the members of this band went on to do more things, we’re going to follow two former members of the Denver Gentlemen in particular. One man’s name is David Edwards, and the other’s name is Slim Cessna. Let’s start with David.
CHAPTER TWO: DAVID EUGENE EDWARDS AND 16 HORSEPOWER
Music for David Euegene Edwards started in the church. Despite being introduced to heavier, darker, and more esoteric forms of music as he grew up, he always kept himself rooted in the music of the Gospel. So when he left The Denver Gentlemen as their accordion and banjo player after they fell apart in the early 90’s to start his own band, he swiped up a couple Frenchman he met in California and started a new band. This band would become not only the creators of the gothic country genre, but also become one of the most important bands to contemporary Christian music to date. This band was 16 Horsepower.
The music of 16 Horsepower is pure Americana rooted darkness. As ironic as it is being Christian music, it straight up sounds like the Devil digging his way out of the ground to torment farmers with soul contracts. Compared to The Denver Gentlemen, the instrumentation is also a lot more straight-forward. Being accompanied by bass, drums, and eventually a guitarist, David would zig-zag between slide guitar, banjo, and accordion, while making all of which sound like the most diabolical thing you’ll ever hear in your life.
The music was rooted in that of Bob Dylan, Hank Williams Sr, Johnny Cash, and white gospel, but had a ferocious, nefarious way of approaching the style that was completely new to the genre. The lyrics all come from his relationship with God, whether they be draped in metaphor or not. David said in a documentary about him and the band circa-2000 called The Preacher (watch it, it’s on YouTube) that God will often give him a word, and with that word he’ll write his lyrics around said word. I don’t know about you, but I thought that was pretty dope. Their second album also contained many revamped Denver Gentlemen songs, as the main man of The Denver Gentlemen joined 16 Horsepower when they were working on said album.
He’s an extremely powerful performer as well, the dude can be sitting down with an accordion and put 99% of frontmen to shame.
16 Horsepower put out their two first records with much acclaim and success. Come their next two albums, however, David saw his songwriting style maturing. He had a family whom he held very close, and wanted his music to become more inclusive of his life outside of his faith. His daughter Asher would even play violin on their third record, Secret South. These last albums would lead to the 16 Horsepower sound becoming a little more heartfelt as well as allowing more traditional folk influences to leak in.
Another big development in David’s style during this era was the shift in his voice. On the first couple 16 Horsepower records he sang in a very traditional higher-pitched country style. Come these next records, however, his voice began to mature and sound more worn-in and powerful. He would also start using two microphones on stage, one a normal mic and one a lo fi dirtier one that he would zigzag between. This would become a very recognizable part of his style throughout the rest of his career.
Personally these two albums are my favorite of theirs, just because hearing David write this emotionally in touch is a beautiful thing in my opinion. He’s my favorite songwriter of all time though, so maybe I’m biased. Regardless, this more folky and intimate approach would later show itself in full-force with the solo project he started right before the release of the last 16 Horserpower record, but we’ll get into my favorite contemporary band of all time later. For now, we have to go back to Slim Cessna.
CHAPTER THREE: SLIM CESSNA AND THE AUTO CLUB
Slim Cessna played drums in The Denver Gentlemen and moved on after they fell apart the same time they did when David was part of the band. He also wanted to start on his own musical path, so he started a band called Slim Cessna’s Auto Club. He put out a debut album of super solid traditional alt country. Come his second record, however, and the gothic influence began to leak into his sound as well.
A big thing that differentiates Slim Cessna’s Auto Club from 16 Horsepower, especially later into their career, is the energy level. The band themselves describe themselves as a gothic country mix between Hank Williams and The Misfits, and it shows. They bring the darkness of gothic country but mix with such an insane amount of energy it’s ridiculous. Especially live it’s hard not to want to start crowdkilling and wrecking shit. Just watch this and tell me you wouldn’t be destroying the place if you were there.
Another big contribution The Auto Club had on gothic country was with lyrical content. As lyricists they’re story-tellers, so they’re willing to tell a story that matches the music they’re making regardless of what it may be. It lent itself to some pretty vile storytelling, for example the song above is about someone killing his girlfriend with a shovel for having crossed eyes and then asking her parents to sing at her funeral. Evil shit. The devotion of these musicians to describing the fictional evils of rural America is borderline unparalleled next to any genre. The song below is about Jesus coming back from the dead to wipe out humanity if that’s not enough for you.
There’s not a bad Auto Club release, period. My favorite’s personally Cypher, but it’s honestly most likely because it’s the first album of theirs I discovered. They’re all great, and no matter where you start you’re in for a good time. Their most recent album is a really cool concept album called The Commandments According to SCAC which is about, you guessed it, the Ten Commandments.
If you want nothing but high energy stuff, grab their compilation album An Introduction for Young and Old Europe. They even rerecorded some of their songs to be faster and more aggressive.
Some of you might be wondering though, “Who was that other guy singing in the live video? And that wasn’t Slim singing leads in a couple of those songs, so who the hell was singing then?” Well as it turns out, around the time Slim started to get more gothic stylistically it also coincided with him finding a writing buddy. A man who moved to Colorado from the depths of French Canadia to not only take part in the gothic country scene, but also write the music that I personally believe is gothic country perfected. Enter Jay fuckin’ Munly.
CHAPTER FOUR: JAY MUNLY AND HIS SOLO ENDEAVOURS
Jay Munly is the blues devil incarnate. His music is evil, his lyrics are evil, and he himself is one of the most charmingly evil looking human beings on Earth. If I was making a movie and had to cast someone to play the devil getting out of a Model T Ford in the middle of the American South wearing a three-piece suit, I’d cast Jay Munly before anybody on the planet without a shadow of a doubt. I’m even going to add another picture of this diabolically handsome man so you can understand how he has somehow managed to physically embody the gothic country genre while simultaneously being the one who perfected it. Just incredible stuff.
Much like Slim, he started off doing solo work within the realm of alt country in the 90’s. Then, as the genre began to materialize, his music began shifting towards the gothic side of country as well. By album three, it was evident this guy was going to be a force to be reckoned with within this realm of music. Then he dropped his fourth record entitled Jimmy Carter Syndrome, and it began his reign as the man who told the world what gothic country should be and set the bar that only he has passed since. In my opinion, at least.
It’s everything gothic country should be. It has the hillbilly rhythm and stuttery instrumentation of classic country arranged into vile melodies and hooks. Banjos, guitars, cello, drums, and sometimes surprisingly distorted bass weave themselves together into a demonic soundscape perfect for telling fucked up stories over. Said stories deal with heartwarming subjects like a man’s girlfriend drowning in a lake on Thanksgiving so he drags her onto shore by jamming a fishing hook in her neck, another man having a baby that kills his wife during birth so a preacher tells him to shove the baby in a boot and send it floating into the Pacific Ocean, another man whose children put his parylized body in a bed and ritualistically spin circles around the bed like a bunch of psychopaths, you get the shtick. It becomes pretty evident how much influence Munly had on the lyrics of Slim Cessna through his solo work somehow being even more messed up. He’s a man with stories to tell and isn’t afraid of what moral lines he has to cross to do so.
So now that gothic country has been mastered, what is there to do now? Oh that’s easy, start an ensemble called Munly and the Lee Lewis Harlots and write gothic country with a string section that doubles as a small women’s choir.
This is my favorite true to type gothic country album, period. People have disgraced me for not saying it’s a 16 Horsepower album, but this album is just incredible. The songwriting power on this album blows 90% of recorded music out of the water. Paired with his twisted style of storytelling, it just makes the music feel even more powerful. The strings allowed him to nail some more somber vibes while pairing these morally corrupt lyrics with them that makes you have no idea what you’re supposed to be feeling. It’s a fantastic and unique experience.
CHAPTER FIVE: MUNLY AND SLIM’S OTHER ENDEAVORS
Alright, so with the exception of The Auto Club who are still active this has brought us to the early thousands. I’m going to backtrack here and give a little rundown of what these musicians I’ve been babbling on about are doing as of now. We’ll start with Munly and Slim, as everything they’re both up to is projects they do together with Auto Club members Rebecca Vera and Lord Dwight Pentacost. It’s very wholesome. All aboard the Wholesome Express.
First things first, Munly’s current solo project is a band called Munly and the Lupercalians. They look terrifying, as you can see.
The Lupercalians build on what Munly’s been up to in the past, but focusing the lyrics into a fictional land called Lupercalia along with a spooky aesthetic and unique instrumentation. Munly’s on banjo and vocals, while his ghoulie friends play various percussion and keyboards dressed like what I can only assume are Catholic murderers. It’s a really interesting take on the Denver sound, allowing for a lot of fresh ideas. It plays really well into the fairytale-esque lyrics as well, playing to the various people and animals the lyrics of the album are from the perspective of. It’s not quite as dark as his earlier music, but it’s still one hell of an album. Pretty sure they have a new one on the horizon, so I’m stoked on that for sure. This is a great album to turn if you’re like me and binged too much gothic country but don’t want to turn on another genre because other genres are crap, so you just turn on the gothic country band that’s weird.
Here’s them with Elijah Wood, because why not.
The other band this group of pals have been up to is called Denver Broncos UK. Stripping down the more chaotic instrumentation of The Auto Club and The Lupercalians, DBUK are a more folk-oriented take on the gothic country sound. Acoustic guitars, autoharp, minimalist percussion, and gentle bowed strings lend themselves to a significantly more mellow and heart-filled sound compared to their other active projects. Think if Leonard Cohen or Townes Van Zandt took a jab at the gothic sound. Don’t you worry though, the lyrics are still insanely dark. There’s a song about a guy brutally murdering a woman in a chicken coop, so yeah everything’s fine. The song I linked here is really interesting because it takes the intro of ‘That Birdcage Song’ from The Lee Lewis Harlots I posted earlier and expands it into its own story. I love it when musicians stretch themes out throughout their careers, so this tickles me in a nice way. This is from one of two albums from DBUK, please get them both. This is one of my favorite active bands right now, just fantastic stuff.
Alright, that wraps up what Slim and Munly have been up to recently. Now we have to take it back to David Edwards. You know what this means? Know what this means you guys? We get to talk about his solo project he started that I talked about earlier! You know what else? That project is my favorite contemporary band in the world! I get to talk about my favorite band now! You thought I was babbling before? Just wait, fucker! It’s time to talk about WOVENHAND!!!
CHAPTER SIX: WOVENHAND
There came a year while 16 Horsepower was still a band that all the members were pretty preoccupied with their own lives. During this time David still wanted to be writing music, so despite not having his bandmates to write along with he started writing music just for himself. He wrote on and played all the instruments for the songs he wrote and recorded them as much. He named this new project inspired by Native American rug weaving, thus the name Wovenhand.
The country elements of the music have been subdued a little as mentioned earlier, leaving behind a very world music and folk rock influenced take on the darker sound David had forged in the past. The more somber side of white gospel music began rearing its head a little more as well. The themes of his relationship with God still held tight, despite him finding ways to use more complex metaphor and references to the deeper, less explored parts of the Bible. This first self-titled debut album, along with the second album consisting primarily of remixes of the first album for a movie score, would set the groundwork for what would become a beautifully varied and powerful discography of music.
At this point, 16 Horsepower was now disbanded, and thus Wovenhand became David’s main prospect. The following two albums, Consider the Birds (which might be my favorite Wovenhand album, it’s an incredibly tough call to make) and Mosaic built on these ideas even further. The world music and traditional music started to become less of a subtle influence and more of a forward element, with more songs being driven by pounding ritualistic percussion provided by absolute monster of a drummer Ordy Garrison (also of Slim Cessna’s Auto Club at this time) with David singing over meditative drones and more ethnic instruments taking leads. Particularly the Native American influence on Wovenhand’s music is an extremely important part of their sound and ideology. David himself is a massive advocate of the American Indian Movement and has paid tribute to Native American peoples and culture throughout his entire career.
Despite these more obscure influences taking a hold of the Wovenhand sound, David would still keep the sound of the band heavily rooted in from whence he came. Most of his work was still driven by classic folk rock instruments, with songs being pushed onward with acoustic guitar and banjo being interlaced with slide guitar work and piano.
Another thing that made Wovenhand such an insane force in music was their live shows. David doesn’t play shows with all of his acoustic and world instruments like he did with the very first shows he did with the band. Throughout the years Wovenhand had various lineups, but the most common one has been a four piece standard rock group. The amount of power they were able to pump into their songs for a live setting was and still is ridiculous. The video linked below of them playing Tin Finger in Oslo specifically I could argue is the most intense performance I’ve ever seen and heard in my entire life. That’s also Pascal Humbert on bass, who was one of the Frenchman David stole from Cali to start 16 Horsepower. I’ll talk about him a little more later.
Just listen to David’s guitar tone. Fuckin’ a. If I ever somehow got to interview him it would just be us talking gear for three hours. I’d ask him why he likes posting that same picture of the cowboy from the original Westworld movie on Facebook and then I’d ask him to send me pictures of his pedalboard. But anyways, I digress. Just a little bit.
Then he did another remix album for a movie by the same guy he did a soundtrack for earlier in his career, and I just have to link this rerecording he did of the 16 Horsepower song ‘Low Estate’ he did for the movie with just him and an accordion. It’s one of the most beautiful pieces of music on Earth and it’s two fuckin’ chords.
Okay so NOW, we cut to an important album to the Wovenhand story. Ten Stones. This album primarily consists of David writing songs with the instrumentation he used in his live setting. Most of the songs are electric guitar driven with traditional rock instrumentation, and what we’re left with are much more straightforward folk rock songs, done in the David Edwards style though of course.
Another important part of this record is that it’s the first recorded appearance on an album of an instrument that’s very much associated with him in the present; an 1880’s banjola. Essentially an A style mandolin with a banjo neck, he strung it up with nylon strings to simulate the gut strings traditionally used on the instrument. This would become a large staple of his sound from here on out.
The next album would be the album to end an era of Wovenhand’s recorded music. We are also now entering the intense power-mustache and strength-hat era of David Eugene Edwards.
The Threshingfloor is David taking the world music and traditional music knob on his influencerator and cranking them to eleven. Many of the songs on this album feature zero standard rock instruments of any sort, being replaced by ouds, old world percussion, and Native American wind instruments. This is definitely Wovenhand’s most esoteric release to date, and also marks the end of an era of Wovenhand being a primarily acoustically driven band on their albums. This was the first Wovenhand album I ever heard, but I’d definitely suggest coming back to this one after getting into some earlier stuff.
Finally, the last three albums Wovenhand has since put out have returned to the vein of Ten Stones, attempting to replicate their live show setup in the way the songs themselves are put together. This is where shit gets rowdy. Here’s what might be the best guitar riff ever written. Angry cowboy mode engage.
Compared to Ten Stones, these recent albums not only match them live instrumentally but also match the intensity of their live shows. There’s a Fields of the Nephilim-esque goth rock streak to these songs that keeps them driving forward hard as fuck. Some of their newer songs have a borderline metal grade of heaviness that has since gotten them on multiple extreme metal festivals throughout the years. To some degree as well, this shift in style brought back a lot of the country influence more so associated with 16 Horsepower. Since there’s so much electric guitar use now too and having a keyboard player on deck for the records, he’s been able to incorporate a lot of psychedelic ideas into their sound too. David also stands up now, so that’s a development.
There are a lot of Wovenhand purists who will tell you this era isn’t worth listening to, or that it doesn’t compare to his earlier material. Do not listen to them. Do not. Laughing Stalk and Star Treatment in particular are absolute gems, and Refractory Obdurate has a couple of Wovenhand’s most powerful songs as well [Lizard Note: backed!]. I’ll end my endless gabbing about Wovenhand with what might be my favorite Wovenhand song ever.
So yeah, that’s that. They have a new album called Silver Sash that should be coming out sometime this year I hope, most likely in the same vein of their current material. David’s also since done a collaboration album called Risha with Alexander Hacke from German harsh industrial pioneers Einstürzende Neubauten. I think I spelled that right. It’s a nice marriage between Wovenhand’s esoterism and EN’s current electronically fueled art pop. Anyways, let’s wrap this guest article up that I’m assuming the people who work here thought would be a few paragraphs instead of a twenty fucking page essay.
CHAPTER SEVEN: OTHER DARK AMERICANA BANDS TO CHECK OUT
There are still some great darker country bands that don’t particularly fit into the history of the genre’s development that I’d still like to share with you because they’re good. Let’s get started.
Tarantella are Denver based and feature members that have been part of all the big hitters, including Ordy from Wovenhand and The Auto Club on drums. This band has an extremely cool Argentenian influence in their music, with violin leads and accordion work throughout the record. The vocalist of this band Kal Cahoone also has one of the sexiest singing voices I have ever heard on a human being. She’s done a solo record as well that’s a little slower and more heartfelt that’s absolutely worth checking out. If you’re digging gothic country so far but with it made you want to dance more, then this band is exactly what you’re looking for.
Remember that Pascal Humbert guy I mentioned earlier from 16 Horsepower and Wovenhand? He’s had this band Lilium since the mid eighties. It’s not entirely gothic country per se, but there is a somber feeling to these songs that one can hear applies directly to 16 Horsepower’s music, especially the later material. Their first record is entirely instrumental, consisting of traditional gothic country instrumentation creating beautiful melancholy soundscapes that are perfect for camping out in the mountains to. The second album includes all guest vocalists, including David Edwards and Kal from Tarantella to name a couple, and the band has had vocalists in some form since. All his albums are wonderful interpretations of traditional country placed into a sad, comforting setting.
Slim Cessna used his weiner to make some babies. This baby here has his own country career of his own, both under his name George Cessna and with his band Snakes. Compared to Slim’s music, George takes the style both forwards and backwards in time. There are a lot more callbacks to traditional country in the way the songs are put together, but he’s also not afraid to bring in ideas from outside the genre to make his songs his own. He’s also one of those guys where everything he does just has perfect tones on every front, and the way he layers guitars is so on point it’s ridiculous. Maybe not gothic country entirely, but the parallels to the Denver Sound as a whole are riddled throughout his discography.
Del Judas has zero connection to Denver, in fact it’s a project from a guy who used to play drums in the black metal band Tombs from New York. I don’t really know how to go in depth about this record. It’s just fucking incredible. Vibe city out the ass. The post punk and goth rock influence added to the gothic country foundation adds atmosphere in all the right ways, and like George Cessna he just nails the tones and layering of everything to a T. If you’re feeling like Richard Ramirez and want to take a ten strip of acid and hunt lizards in the desert in the dark, turn this album on. Perfect sand drug music.
Not gothic country again necessarily, but a massive player right now to the ability people have discovered to take the country/Americana platform and create some dark atmospheres with it. Suss are also from New York, and one of the genre tags they describe themselves as is boot-gazing, which tickled me so much that I took it upon myself to tell you guys. I was going to link a song from an album, but this performance is so incredible you guys have to watch it. The way these dudes take all these traditional country tones and instruments and combine them into something this soul devouring is unreal. They’re all seasoned musicians as well (I thought I heard a member was involved with the B-52’s at one point?? Won’t say it’s fact but I could swear I read that somewhere), and it shows in how passionately they wave these dark Americana soundscapes together. Great stuff.
Hopefully some of you recognize this band. Credited for the invention of drone metal and their more recent psychedelic rock albums have been making big waves in the scene, as they should be. What some people don’t know though is that they dabbled in some very dark Americana inspired drone on their album Hex; or Printing in the Infernal Method. This monstrous comeback album is dragged forward by effects ridden guitars and patient, punishing drum work. If Del Judas is for tripping in the desert, this album is for dying of dehydration in the desert caked in purple flaking sunburn. Some of the most punishing and dreary instrumental Americana ever made.
This band’s called Kiss the Anus of a Black Cat. Like when you see a cat that’s black and you kiss its butt. Pretty dope. One interesting thing to come from the rise of gothic country is that it almost became a bigger phenomenon in Europe than it did in the States, with many of the bands listed having much bigger fan bases there. This led to there being somewhat of a gothic country scene in Europe. This album is one of my favorite gothic country albums to come from Europe. Pretty straight forward as far as the genre goes, drives forward at a good pace and it sticks to your brain pretty tight with all the catchy licks.
Alright well there you have it. That’s The Denver sound and the birth of gothic country. Hope you learned something, hope you maybe found a new sound you can dive into and enjoy. The Denver Sound can be traced throughout popular music, with members of the original movement working with bands like DeVotchKa, The Fray, The Lumineers, Rasputina (whom Wovenhand have covered live), Flaming Lips, and many more. Before you discount this as a niche style of music, know its influence on the world is way more massive than you’d think. Most of the bands and albums described here in this article have their music available on Bandcamp as well, so if you decide to grab some albums get them straight from the artists if possible and give some fellow musicians struggling with not being able to play shows some love. Oh, and if any of you happen to know David Edwards or anything like that, tell him some guy named Josh has been rooting for him out loud from behind his computer while he was telling off all-lives-matter fake Christians on his page who got mad at him for his outspoken support of the Black Lives Matter movement. Don’t let them get you down, you’re doing God’s work more than they ever will. Drink it up, trolls.