A spellbinding combination of stoner, grunge and classic rock, French band Soundcrawler discuss finding magic in mixing styles together for a "familiar, but not predictable" sound.
“How many bands can be described in one word nowadays?” questions Soundcrawler guitarist Clément Reviriego, whose band’s début offering, The Dead-End Host was an early highlight of 2015. The French quintet have produced a Frankensteinian monster with the combinations of sounds on this record. This is grunge and stoner melding magnificently alongside classic rock sensibilities, with progressive soundscapes occasionally bursting to the fore. Yet, as he says himself, this is “nothing new, but at least not predictable.”
Their name; almost a namesake to Soundgarden; one of their strongest influences sees the two sitting snugly alongside one another in your record collection, or at least they should do. Soundcrawler may not be a household name and with regards to the general populous this will almost certainly remain so. However in the circles of rock and metal, this is an act poised to go very far on the strength of their music, on its recognisability-cum-freshness.
The band have been on the ascent since their very first live show and 2015 is the year it gets interesting, where their synopsis ignites and the chapters of their tale unfurl.
“Damn, it was huge, loud, and a lot of fun. I like to say that, if I'm sweating like a marathoner after playing, it's a good sign and we were all sweating like pigs!” Sweaty claustrophobia in a packed out French club, iced with triumphant smiles, marked the official birth of a symphonic embryo that had begun as a mere recording project, two years prior. “It felt so good to finally play the songs with real drums, distortion, power...a full band.
“There was only two of us at first,” tells Reviriego, born and raised in the small South Western French town of Périgueux. Besides French actress Simone Mareuil’s (of French surrealist film Un Chien Andalou) self-immolation in 1954, committed by dousing herself on gasoline and burning herself to death in the public square, not much of note has happened here. It is however, the setting where our story begins, with Clément and long-time friend and vocalist Rémy Pocquet embarking on what was intended to be a recording only project at first, only for it to morph into the bear toothed beast it is today, purring at the moon, ready to unleash itself properly upon the world.
“Rémy had some riffs in his head, a lot of texts and vocal ideas, and I had the equipment and knowledge needed to record music, it was only meant to be a few recordings. We started writing some of Rémy's ideas, and I worked on the tones he liked and looked for: things like Kyuss or Karma to Burn. While looking for the nastiest tones, I found inspiration in a music style I nearly had no idea existed: grunge. I wrote two or three songs, and we then decided to form a band, to do more than just record Rémy's ideas. The two of us recorded the guitars, I played the bass, and I programmed drum parts with a virtual drum set.”
Soundcrawler, whose name is based on the truck belonging to Star Wars’ Jawa, The Sandcrawler, played several acoustic shows as a two piece and a three piece after second guitarist Paul joined the fold. It wasn’t until two weeks before that debut show that they were a full line up. The drummer Robin completing the jigsaw puzzle several months after bassist Firouze for maximum music lethality.
It’s Reviriego’s newly found love of grunge that dominates so much of the record, but those inspirations are never alone, always blended ingeniously with other stylistic counterparts.
The Dead-End Host is a stunning offering of bleak, shadowy grunge rock aesthetics intertwining seamlessly with the sand-flecked and hazy bong waters from which stoner rock first emerged. The angst of Alice In Chains and Soundgarden unites powerfully with the romping stonerisms of Kyuss and Karma To Burn – with sightings of Mastodon from afar – to create a truly multi-dimensional and extremely polished debut.
With both of grunge and stoner rock happening simultaneously in the 90s, they offer an arena that Clément can and does draw many parallels between: “I think stoner and grunge can both be heavy, full of power chords and with that dirty distorted bass tone. They both can be slow, melodic and the vocals can be all the way from screams to ballad-ish in both styles. The fact that they both emerged at the same time is probably part of the reason why they have these similarities.”
"90s music is coming back strong, I feel like we're living an important moment in stoner history."
“Rémy is the one who helped me discover bands like Nirvana, Alice in Chains, Soundgarden, Kyuss and Karma to Burn. Firouze, Paul and Robin were clearly influenced by these styles of music, as they are a bit older than I am, and Rémy's mother listens to a lot of grunge so he was born in it. We’re completely in love with these styles.
“It's also really cool to be in this period of time, I feel like we're living an important moment in stoner history, 90s music is coming back strong, a lot of bands like us are so young, and yet so inspired by this 90s sound. It feel like every day new bands are forming, doing stoner, grunge, or blending other styles with these two. And it's great in my opinion. It brings these styles to younger audiences – just like it did with me – people in their 20s are getting inspired by them. It's hard nowadays to bring something new to the table with guitars, bass, drums, and vocals, this classic blues rock formation is 'old' now. Some add instruments to this to be innovative, like Pendejo do with trumpet which makes it fresh. But another cool way to try to bring fresh air is to blend other styles, and that's what we - and a lot of bands - try to do. Most of the new music styles now are born amongst modern electro, like the recent rise of dubstep, or in some extreme metal like djent and deathcore.”
Indeed, there will always be bands that are more content to keep the wheel spinning with the same momentum than they are with taking to the blueprints with a hatchet and different mind-set and approach, but there will always be, like there has been in the past, innovators whose intentions are direct inversions. Soundcrawler are one such band, blending together two originally unique ideas that sent quakes through the rock world at the time of their creation to accomplish yet more originality.
Bands like Kvelertak too are amalgamating an intriguing set of ideas plucked cannily from opposing schools of thought to break the mould. Their blend of black metal battery and blues-laden classic rock is, in principle, identical in its concept and equally as potent in its ingenuity as Soundcrawler are doing here with stoner and grunge.
“A lot of successful bands these days are mixing styles together, as you just said, Kvelertak is a great example,” Clément affirms. “I feel like Mastodon is a good example too, damn they can be metal as hell, stoner, clearly sludge and progressive all at once. How many bands can be described in one word nowadays? Maybe it's just me, but I think there's more and more room every day for bands that blend genres, because it's fresh, and it feels good to hear something not new, but at least not too predictable. Or at least, that's what I love.
“It was not even a question to me [to merge these two styles], I just wrote down ideas and it came out like that. Most of the time, a track is heavily inspired by a specific band, that's my starting point and then I bring the elements I like to it, mainly coming from other bands I like and in the end it's a blend of really different influences. Rémy then comes and brings something else, the band then learns the song and once more, influences are added. Robin finds different rhythms from the demos I did, Firouze adds his touch and fills, and Paul does just the same. I mainly come from a prog-metal background, hence the influences you can hear here and there, and some odd time signatures/beats, but it blends naturally, it's not intentional at all.
“I want our music to be surprising. I like to start with a riff heavily inspired by a specific band and then work around it. Or start with something really specific also works for me, like working around a bass line or a rhythm etc. But from there I really love to go the opposite way I would naturally choose. If I naturally tend to go on a heavy riff after what I just wrote, I'll tend to go the other way around, and do something really different, so it's surprising. Then again, when something is obvious I also love to go all the way in it if I feel like a build-up comes to its climax I won't ruin it on purpose just for the surprise.
“Raiders [for example] was a funny test I did. I had some fun thinking about everyone in the band, and writing some cool parts for all of us. Robin loves fast drumming so I wrote some fast parts, I let the bass breathe and be in front some parts, and I love wah so much... so let's put some wah in there too!” As a song, specifically with it drawing first blood across this battlefield of an album, it sees each of their strengths and influences binding together in a flurry of crossfire.
"A lot of successful bands these days are mixing styles together. How many bands can be described in one word nowadays?"
“It was also was probably the hardest track to write vocal parts to. We recorded a first version, then took the time to re-record all the vocals for the track, and re-write a few parts because we were not really happy with it until we finally re-worked it one last time with Guillaume Bernard (Klone's guitarist and composer), to record it once again before the album release. We're happy now, but it wasn't easy!
“A lot of our songs changed while recording them. We all learned and re-worked our parts from the demos I did previously, and Rémy improvised most of the parts on the fly, we just had to choose from different improvisations he did. It was a fun experience, I really loved the way the songs changed after we finished recording each instruments, one by one. It was one of the highlights of the recording session for me.”
And so, when The Dead-End Host hit the shelves on February 20th, they closed the last chapter detailing their beginnings, turning the page to creating a legacy and using the record, a valiant, bold and damnably convincing one at that to springboard them to dates across Europe and into the bustling world of heavy metal.
Words: Phil Weller www.soundcrawler-band.com