Tombs | Interview with Michael Hill


Lavishly acclaimed by fans and media, “Winter Hours” the debut full-length record from Brooklyn-based trio Tombs is unquestionably one of the most gratifying listens you’ll experience during this extremely productive year of 2009.
Displaying a compelling amalgamation of a wide variety of sounds and textures, which makes it excessively hard to pigeonhole into a category, “Winter Hours” sees band founder and underground veteran Mike Hill reaching the zenith of his song writing abilities.
It seems like after all these years spent laboring in bands like Anodyne and Versoma, the guitarist and vocalist is finally getting the recognition he deserves. Are you surprised with all the amazing reactions garnered by “Winter Hours”?

“Yes, I’m extremely surprised that people are so receptive to the record. You never know if anyone is going to be into what you do so, we’ll all overjoyed by the amount of positive feedback we’ve gotten so far.”

As stated above, Tombs haven’t been thrown into a spotlight position overnight and anyone thinking that is either a fool or completely ignorant of Mike Hill’s background in noise-hardcore act Anodyne and hardcore-shoegazing project Versome. Throughout nearly two decades, Hill has played in those two underground bands, the criminally underrated Anodyne formed in Boston in the early 90’s and the short-lived project with members of Lickgoldensky, Versoma.
Although it’s perceptible to hear some influences from his earlier projects throughout “Winter Hours”, Tombs is supposed to be completely different proposition. What were your first intentions and what paths did you wanted to explore musically when you first started this new band?

“There was a kind of overlap between Tombs and Versoma. When Jamie told me he didn’t want to continue doing the band, I was working on material for Tombs less than a week later. Some of the early Tombs material has a similar feel to Versoma because a lot of the riffs were ideas that I had been working on for Versoma.
As the years go by, my involvement with music has become increasingly single-minded. I don’t really collaborate well with people so my goal with Tombs was to follow my own instincts and create something that is true to who I am.”

“Winter Hours” was met with tremendous enthusiasm from a vast number of old and recently converted followers, and to a certain extent their record label is partly responsible for pushing Tombs forward, it’s a fact that any release branded with the Relapse Records stamp is bound to turn quite a few of curious heads towards its direction. How did Tombs ended up signing with one of the most respectable and independent record labels of today and have you noticed a surge in interest in the band since that?

“I’ve know Gordon Conrad for almost a decade. The early Anodyne records were released on his label Escape Artist Records back in the late 90’s. We’ve maintained our relationship and I’ve more or less kept him in the loop with what I’ve been working on for the past several years. Tombs was preparing for a short tour after the release of the first EP; we had demoed some new material so I sent a copy down to the guys at Relapse who seemed interested in seeing us live. On tour, we played in Doylestown, PA which is nearby to the Relapse headquarters. Gordon came to the show and within a few months we were signing a contract.
Having Relapse on board has definitely helped raise the profile of the band. Being a music fan myself, I pay attention to labels and what new releases are coming out etc. So being a “New Relapse Band” probably put us on the radar of some folks.”

I’ve read somewhere that you’ve started writing this new album from scratch, without rehashing old ideas or sketches that might have been laying around. Did this type of “tabula rasa” method kind of give you the opportunity to explore new sounds and new possibilities for this new record?

“Definitely; at this point, I feel like Tombs has a distinctive identity and focus. On the first record I was wrestling with the ideas of being “melodic” or being “brutal.” The solution is to be both at the same time.”

It’s hard not to notice that you’ve incorporated a more black-metal riffing into the new songs and that your vocalizations are more diverse and dynamic than before. What made you go even further in this direction than in previous works?

“I’ve always been a huge black metal fan so some of the elements have crept into the songwriting. I’m really into bands like Leviathan, Lurker of Chalice and the more atmospheric artists. In a lot of ways, those bands have more similarities to My Bloody Valentine, Death in June than the typical corpse-paint bands. That’s not to say that I don’t love bands like Watain, Horna etc. The main element that I respond to in black metal is the emotional feel to the music and the central theme for Tombs is emotional expression therefore it makes sense that I steel from black metal.
As far as vocals go, I just want to continue to grow as a singer and push myself as much as possible. I just want to be versatile.”

With “Winter Hours” Tombs have obtained an excitingly dynamic and unique sonority, clearly drawing influences from a wide variety of genres and artists, that’s extremely hard to determine the best and most suitable description.
What is the most laughable and erratic description you ever saw used to define Tombs’ sound?

“I find it funny that people compare us to Mastodon. We’re not blues-based at all nor do we have any Thin Lizzy guitars riffing going on.
One clever writer for the Village Voice once described us as “Sky-Gazing-Life-Metal”; I guess that’s what you get when you pay somebody by the word.”

The lyrics on “Winter Hours” are no less important than the music and in fact I’ve read that the words for the songs come first and the music later, is that right? What ideas or messages are you conveying through the songs?

“The lyrics come first because they are derived from journal entries and notes that pre-date the composition of the songs. The lyrics for ‘Winter Hours’ dealt mainly with dear and anxiety mostly inspired by the last 8 years of living in a country being ground into the dirt by an idiot.”

Hill always was very active within the music scene and currently besides fronting his main band also maintains two side-projects going, namely King Generator and Vasilek, and a record label called Black Box Recordings. What’s happening right with these two projects and the label? Are there any bands out there that you want to record?

“King Generator is kind of on hold until me, Dave and Jamie can clear our schedules to record some material and play some shows. It’s hard because we all live in different cities and Jamie lives in the UK. When Tombs were touring in Europe, Jamie told me that he had some new riffs so I’m ready to roll when those guys are. Vasilek is still developing. I have about four songs in various stages of completion. My goal is to have something out this summer, maybe a cassette or some kind of limited release. I don’t imagine that there will be a huge demand for the Vasilek material.
The latest release on Black Box Recordings is the TOMBS / PLANKS split 12-in repress. The next release is the DEAD IN THE WOODS / DIET PILLS split 12-in. I’m working with this loose concept of doing a series of split 12-in with mp3 drop cards. My long term plan is to get away from cd’s all together.”

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