Tuesday, 17 March 2015

Interview: Thom Huhtala of Bad River

Photo: Laura-Lynn Petrick

Info: Thom Huhtala is a Toronto drone-rock musician with a pretty voracious musical output spanning the last few years including solo work and bands such as recently formed Sweaty Fish and Bad River. Last month Bad River released their latest album, Mouth (above), which sees Huthala and co. 'explore the limits of alternative rock, creating a heady, intense experience for listeners in search of spaced out jams to float about within. The album is bold, creative and exhilarating capturing a very unique take on modern alternative rock meets dark psychedelia.'

Mouth is certainly a trippy album, floating nicely between the distortion of opening track 'SAVED' and the care-free vibes to be found on the excellent 'Imagine Nation', the guitars reminding me a bit of some of the instrumental funkiness found on The Beastie Boys' 'Ricky's Theme' from Ill Communication. 'Water Movements' meandering and gentle bluesy sounds are also another really laid-back experience that ooze cool. The strut comes back on fifth track 'The Street', echoed vocals running alongside grungy guitars and rhythmic cymbals, all portraying a subtly rebellious attitude. Towards the end of Mouth comes the track, 'Wake' which personifies the whole album in a sense, and by the end of which your ears and brain have melted within it's disorientating pull. Like Bad River's previous albums, Mouth takes you on a surreal and enjoyable journey into the underworld, which is surprisingly sunny, despite how that may sound.

I had a thoroughly enjoyable electronic mail exchange with the man behind this sorcery, Mr. Huhtala himself, first though, here's a great video for 'Plasticine' from Bad River's 2014 album, Button Battery Syndrome;

Bad River, 'Plasticine'

You seem to have worked on a variety of musical projects in the past, such as your solo work and recently formed band Sweaty Fish, do you enjoy dipping your toes into different waters? 

I think that playing with different people and drawing from different influences is a great tool in shaping the art or music you call your own. I have realized that it’s, firstly, a lot more fun to share and nurture an idea with people you respect the opinions of. Secondly, I have never thought of myself as having any sort of supreme taste or clout – having people around to keep you in check 
is very important. This is the reason I moved away from playing under my own name, and starting new bands allows me to wear different hats. I’m gaining more knowledge as to what it is I want to make. Sweaty Fish, our new band doesn’t have any recordings yet, but the guys I’ve been playing with are challenging me in new ways and it’s exciting again.

Your music could be described as drone / prog-rock and when descriptions like that are used they usually conjure up bands like Sonic Youth or My Bloody Valentine, aside from that I could strangely hear similarities to The Dandy Warhols' first album, particularly on tracks such as 'Slowly Grow' and 'The Street', is that a disgracefully insulting comparison? 

Haha I wouldn’t say it was disgracefully insulting, no. That being said, I was never too big on The Dandy’s growing up. I can understand the comparisons though, for me it revolves around an almost monotonous repetition, which I admittedly am a sucker for.

You've recently signed up to Irish independent label Little L Records who primarily operate online, that whole side of things has completely reshaped how music is presented to the public and can be quite empowering for artists, but do you see any downside to this advancement? 

Sure, I mean a few years ago I had this very shocking realization that the life I had always kind of dreamed about or whatever was essentially a thing of the past. Labels, and tours operate in different ways and have different methods of staying alive. You have to adapt in order to survive and music itself is really at a crossroad. For me, the traditional route wasn’t really an option, but, having said that, I definitely was able to jockey myself enough to start getting some gigs, etc. – something that may not have happened without the internet / social media. LLR is such a great thing, and has introduced me to tons of music from all over the globe. There is such a great community going on there and I personally love the fact that it mainly exists online. It is very of our times. The web itself is totally the wild west, too. Anything is possible and almost encouraged. Overall, I see it as a positive because I am an optimistic person (today) and frankly there’s no looking back so we should all just get on with it. 

In previous interviews you've discussed how you sometimes like to make music to listen to with drugs, have you ever been blown away by an album under the influence, only to hear it again in the cold light of day and realise it was actually pretty shit? 

HA! Well ya there are often comparisons to my music making people feel strung out or whatever which is kind of cool I guess? If drugs are cool? Which they certainly are not. I was once in Mexico having a blast and getting blasted while listening to Jimmy Buffett songs with my pal, Ian. We ended up getting really hammered etc, as one does listening to songs with such titles as 'Boat Drinks' and 'Cheeseburger in Paradise.' The day and the drinking progressed and somehow we had convinced Ian to sing 'Copa Cobana' by Barry Manilow with 
this small mariachi band playing near the disco. It was agreed how awesome of a song it truly was and that the mariachi / brass band could "really kill it". Ian gets up there and tore it apart, everyone was dancing and really enjoying themselves. He began stomping around the stage waving his shirt in the air and we all thought it was hilarious. I can honestly say that I’ve never liked that song though and it’s a memory I have burned into my brain forever now. I don’t know if that answers your question even remotely. Maybe also any dance music I have probably stumbled around to at The Dome in Halifax, Nova Scotia. 

Despite the fact we have the music of the world at our fingertips as a result of the aforementioned advancements, could you direct Irish music fans toward any good acts currently making music in Toronto? 

Oh YAH Bud! No Worries Eh! Toronto is great right now. I have in recent years almost exclusively listened to Canadian music, as it is seemingly endless. Blogs like Weird Canada not only helped me at times to expose my own music to certain people but I find myself continuously visiting to hear the new shit. Tons of really awesome DIY projects are featured there. Give a man a fish…..

As for bands from Toronto who fucking rock: New Fries, Weaves, The Soupcans, Several Futures, Shrines. I’ve also always been a sucker for Fucked Up, BSS, Do Make Say Think and the rest of the heavies. 

Looking at some of your past music videos such as Bad River's 'Plasticine' and 'I'm Gone, Goodbye' they start out like unremarkable home videos before turning into a trip down the rabbit hole, can we expect a similarly pyschedelic visual treat for any of the tracks on the new album Mouth

I can say that something is in the works, yeah. However that’s kind of all I can say. The visual side to my work is something that is important to me, so I’m always hoping to step the game up a notch. 

Mouth is your third album with the Bad River setup, and follows 2014's Button Battery Syndromewhich felt a little more bluesier and mellow than the grunge and distortion on Mouth, do you see each album as a single progression that grows from the last or do you write each one in isolation? 

Each project is different for sure but there is probably still some lineage if for no other reason than the fact that it’s me who is making it, and I am growing older and my tastes are changing. I would also hate to be pigeon holed in a certain genre or whatever. Mouth was a project where I was hoping to make things a little heavier and maybe start introducing some new themes. The tracks like "Boer’s Falls" for example are kind of like things I have done on previous albums, but want to keep evolving and recycling. 

Given your high output over the last few years, can we assume that you're not taking a short break and have already started working on new material? 

Sweaty Fish is my new touring project so we’re really just hoping to book a bunch of shows and fuck some shit up for a while. As for my own work I haven’t had time really to start thinking about it again, but it’s all good, frankly. I’m writing some songs for this new group and Bad River, sadly, will be sitting on the back burner for the immediate future while we figure some stuff out, but, if you want to see me play live, it is still very possible. I also have begun producing some smaller musical endeavours at my home studio. 

Maybe you can hear me on some of those. Like in the background cooking eggs in my underwear.

Look / Like & Listen: 

Website: http://www.badrivermusic.com/

Bookface: https://www.facebook.com/thomhuhtalabadriver

Bandcamp: http://thomhuhtala.bandcamp.com/

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