House Of Lud's arcane, instinctual metal
Hear a song from the Madison trio's forthcoming album, "Olden Void."
House Of Lud began as one of Madison musician Troy Peterson's varied basement-studio experiments, releasing a self-titled album of lumbering, psych-tinged doom metal in 2015. Peterson, whose other projects include the all-over-the-place electronic tinkering of Kleptix, turned House Of Lud into a live band in late 2016, with himself on guitar and vocals, Chris Norris on drums, and Justin Taylor (formerly of Madison bands Awesome Car Funmaker and Butt Funnel) on bass and vocals.
The forthcoming album Olden Void, which the band will release on September 28 and celebrate with a September 29 show at The Wisco, finds House Of Lud broadening both its sonics and its conceptual ambition through an increasingly collaborative process. The trio still focuses on pile-driving sludge, but tries to invest it with a mix of the contemporary and the arcane that Peterson says is inspired by the Industrial Revolution. Both Peterson and Taylor contribute guttural, rasping vocals, with Taylor's slightly higher voice complementing Peterson's tendency toward a low growl. "So Tolls The Regulator," which you can stream first right here, Peterson's itchy rhythm riffs and Norris' tense but patient drum performance place the listener into a landscape of shadowy dread.
Ahead of the album's release, Peterson, Norris, and Taylor spoke with me via email about becoming a fully realized band and why they prefer to record things quickly.
Tone Madison: Troy, you told me recently that the songs on Olden Void concern themselves with the 19th and early 20th centuries and "the fear of the unknown, fear of God, and general bleakness that we assume was present in these times." Where does "So Tolls The Regulator" fit in with those themes?
Troy Peterson: The point of view of where I'm writing from, the "olden times" thing, from the Industrial Revolution to the Dust Bowl era, pretty much the 1800s to the early 1900s, is just a place to start from, a frame, or perhaps a window of time and place to look through when writing. "So Tolls the Regulator" started as a song that I wanted to create in which the tempo was the same as the second hand on a clock, where if you were tapping your foot to the beat, you'd be tapping at 60 bpm. The Regulator is a brand of clock, most popular in the mid-1800s, a pendulum clock. The tempo idea is the only thing that directly relates to a clock. The theme, I guess, is one of two or three recurring notions that I tend to go back to over and over—that nothing is as it seems, and many times, things are the exact opposite of what they seem.
Tone Madison: Since this is House Of Lud's first recording as a trio, how has the band's songwriting and recording process changed?
Troy Peterson: I have a way that I write songs that is a bit backwards, I suppose. I keep everything in the studio, our rehearsal space, mic'ed up and ready to record. I sit down at the drums and play the drum part of a song that doesn't yet exist, just basic rock-song structure, in 4/4 time. Sometimes I have a riff in mind, but usually the focus is that I want to make a song at a certain tempo, and that is the starting place, the tempo. I play a verse part and a chorus part, back and forth in multiples of four, and usually wrap it up around the four-minute mark. Then I try to lay a song over the drums that I just blindly recorded. The whole idea is that I try to do everything quickly, instinctually, using very little of the part of my brain that is rational or critical. I'm trying to let my unconscious mind write all of the House Of Lud songs. That first House Of Lud album, if you listen to those songs, the drums you are hearing on the finished songs are first take recordings done this way.
Now I stockpile these recordings, and later go back and make a playlist of the best of them, and pass them on to Chris and Justin. We get together and refine the songs in rehearsal, and I eventually have to find something lyrically that I can add to them. I keep a list on my phone of song titles that come to me at all times, and I usually take a good song title from that list and assign it to a song, then try to write lyrics that somehow relate to that title. The lyrics usually come when there is some sort of pressure of a deadline, like an upcoming show, or, in this case, a recording deadline. The lyrics to this whole album were written in one evening. I sat down with the music as if it were a homework assignment. I had to do it right now and that was that. I don't think I would have done any better if I had done it any other way.
We recorded in my home studio. I spend a lot of time there, I am very comfortable there, and I have a process, but I know that recording can be really stressful, so I wanted to be really casual about it when we recorded. Almost like, "Hey guys, I'm gonna record us today, but don't worry about it, don't mind me, just play the songs and I'm gonna hit the record button before we start." I wanted them to know I was recording, but to do their best to forget we were recording. We recorded live in the room together, and had the basic tracks for whole album done in about four hours. I added some more guitars, my vocals, and then mixed and mastered it over the next few weeks. Ninety percent of what is on the album is first takes. It was totally painless from start to finish. One funny thing I could mention is that I work at night, so I am a bit of a night owl. All of the work I did on this was done in the wee morning hours when my wife and two daughters were asleep right above me. My wife and I worked out just exactly what the maximum volume I was allowed to play guitar at these hours, which essentially ended up being at the sound level of a typical spoken conversation. I just think it's funny that we take great pride in being a band that is known for piling up mountains of amps, and playing unnecessarily loud when we play live, but the majority of this album was tracked through a Peavey Bandit in my laundry room turned up to "1."
When it comes to how much rehearsal should go into songs before recording, I think that the best that our songs will ever be is when they are still very young, and we are just playing it through for the third or fourth time. It feels crucial, urgent, and animal-minded. We had rehearsed these songs a bit, but they were all still pretty fresh, so we hadn't gotten tired of playing them yet.
One thing that is different now is that at first, Chris and Justin were more like hired musicians, and they played the parts as I played them on my demo recordings. As we got more comfortable with each other, they began to have more input on songwriting and arrangements, and the direction of the band as a whole. If it were just me making all of the decisions, everything about the band would be much more alienating and difficult for the listener. Now, though, when I'm trying to get them to play some obnoxious thing, repeated over and over to infinity at a glacial tempo, they remind me to rein it in a bit so that a small crowd of our peers might actually enjoy the experience.
Chris Norris: The first album, House Of Lud, was already released when Justin and I started playing as essentially the live band. For the songs between that album and this one (some of which we performed and already retired), the process starts with Troy. He's such a prolific music creator and recording person—he'll usually come to us with a recording of either a completed song or some snippets. Justin and I will listen to them and we'll work together on arrangements when we practice. Some of them are pretty similar to the initial ideas, some transform a bit over time.
For the recording, I will say that our lead engineer, Troy, has improved his recording skills quite steadily over the years. He records a lot and I've seen his recording techniques expand and become more refined. It would be quite fascinating just to listen to a track of the transformation of the Troy Peterson drum sound.
Tone Madison: When you began playing live as a trio, one of the elements that jumped out at me was the vocal interplay between Troy and Justin. Is that something that's still in effect on this record?
Troy Peterson: When we play live, I try to scream and growl somewhere around the key of the song, and it seems to be good enough. Justin complements whatever I'm doing at the time, and it just works. Recording, though, really puts everything under a microscope. We had the songs done and it was time for me to do my vocal parts, and it was just not working out. I'm alone in my basement, trying out all kinds of different barking and howling and it just sounds bad. I had a bit of a breakdown at one point. I really just wanted to call the guys and tell them, "We've got to be an instrumental trio now, my vocals are ruining these songs." Eventually I stumbled on a different technique, as well as a chain of compression and chorus effects and things started to fall into place. Justin has vocal parts on three of the songs, I think.
I am a big fan of the band Neurosis, and I've always liked how the two main singers of the band have such similar voices that you really have a hard time knowing who is singing what parts. Justin has a slightly higher range than I do, so all of the really gnarly high pitched witchy stuff is him. If I could do whatever I wanted vocally in this band, it would sound much different, but I have to contend with the body and voice that I have, and make the best of it. I'd really like to just sing in a clean voice, truth be told, but I can't seem to make that work, so I do the best I can. I'm happy with how it sounds, though.
Justin Taylor: The interplay is more apparent in the live setting, but on the record I do a high-range scream harmony over Troy's gravel vocals. When the band first started, Troy was anti-screams, but it's just too much fun.
Tone Madison: What all is next for you, either in House Of Lud or in your other projects?
Troy Peterson: When we started playing together in House Of Lud, the main thing we agreed upon is to make decisions that will keep us all excited about this band. To always want to keep it going because we love doing it, and love working with each other. Any time that any sort of tedium sets in, or if the band starts to overshadow our adult lives a bit too much, we give the band a rest for a month or so. So as far as the future of House Of Lud goes, I feel like it's just always trying to find a way to keep that balance, where the band is active, but not a burden to us in any way. I personally think it would be really cool to just keep chipping away at this until I am an old man and beyond. I just like to keep refining what we do, just do it a little better each time around. I don't have lofty aspirations. Just being a known, mainstay local act that is respected for following our path is good enough for me. As far as other projects, I am always making music at home that is the polar opposite of House Of Lud, weird electronic music, that I can fall back on when I get a bit tired of guitar music. I don't take it out of the basement much anymore. I'm content to write and record and release an album on Bandcamp here and there. House Of Lud is the focus.
Chris Norris: I'm really on board with the pace at which we do things as a band. We've picked a level of engagement that I find sustainable and one that can be flexible. Beyond House Of Lud I make occasional electronic music. My main artistic output is photography. I had a busy time last year with exhibitions and I've been concentrating this year on making new work. I plan to put out another book on the transformation of my neighborhood sometime in late 2019, hopefully with some local exhibitions.
Justin Taylor: House Of Lud is the ideal setup for me, playing in a loud band with people whose company I enjoy. That aside, I'm constantly obsessed with cataloging the metal released in the calendar year, growing my Bandcamp collection, and telling my friends (and strangers) how it's affecting my loins. They need to know.