Orchid - Interview
Orchid is unmistakably one of the biggest sensations if it comes to vintage or as some call it doom rock, and their new album "The Mouths Of Madness" proves it in full. About their newest album we talked with Orchid guitarist Mark Thomas Baker. Read on!
First of all, congratulations on successful "The Mouths Of Madness". Are you satisfied with it?
Yeah, I guess I’m fairly happy with it. I guess I’m most satisfied with the fact that it is done and out. I don’t really listen to our stuff much past that point, unless we’re adding a new song to the set or something like that and I need to learn a part.
Frankly, I wasn't impressed by "Capricorn" too much, but "The Mouths Of Madness" is a totally different story. This album is way better than a debut, it’s a huge step forward. Would you agree?
Oh I don’t know really. They’re both our children. I don’t like to choose one over the other. I don’t think the songs are that much different, we’re just a little better and more confident in what we do. I hope it’s a step forward, but I guess the listeners are really the judges of that. I’m sure a bunch of people will prefer Capricorn. I think Capricorn is a bit of a darker feeling album.
In my opinion "Capricorn" was mainly focused on reproducing Black Sabbath style. And when I listen to "The Mouths Of Madness" I still hear the same inspirations of course, but this time it sounds much more mature, plus there's more of your individual style. What's your point of view?
I would probably agree with that. The songwriting progresses, the players progress. We’re all a few years older and wiser.
Some people say that Orchid is the best band ever who plays music in style of Black Sabbath, they call you a heir of BS heritage. Do you care about such comparisons? Agree or disagree?
I don’t really care. I get pretty sick of talking about Black Sabbath really. I don’t spend a lot of time thinking about it. Every interview that I get asks me a lot of questions about them. I like them, but Theo is really the Sabbath worshiper in the band. I’m not fixated on them really, although certainly, they’re one of the greats.
Why did you divide recording session into 2 parts, which were done in two different studios? Could you please tell us few words more on "The Mouths Of Madness" recordings?
There’s never really a big plan to do things any certain way. We had a group of songs that we’d written and learned and we wanted to go in and get some basics down before we were bored with playing them. Three of the tracks from the first session ended up on The Mouths of Madness, the rest ended up on the Heretic EP. The second session was done after we signed with Nuclear Blast and had a little budget to work with. They were all done in the usual way, play the songs live in a room and then overdub whatever you need to add or fix.
How do you assess your composing skills today? Are you better musicians than two or three years ago? On "The Mouths Of Madness" we can find interesting instrumental parts, like harmonica in "Marching Dogs Of War" and piano parts (or piano-sounding keyboards) in "Mountains of Steel".
I don’t know if I can really play any better at this point in my life than I did 20 years ago. I think I just have a better idea of what I want to do. Sometimes it’s easy, sometimes it’s a huge struggle. With Theo being the main songwriter in the band, I often find myself in the position of trying to interpret what he wants it to sound like. A lot of times it’s not even what he wants it to sound like, but what he wants it to 'feel' like. My brain works in a very logic based way, while his is more about ambiguous color and feel and texture. It can be a pain finding the balance between the two worlds at times.
Sound of "The Mouths Of Madness" is much better than of "Capricorn". Last album is much cleaner, still retro but without exaggeration, and at the same time it sounds very warm. Correct me if I'm wrong but in my opinion this is one of the most important advantages of it, alongside more interesting songs.
I like the sound of, the tones of the instruments and all that. I don’t really worry about the production that much to be honest with you. I’m happy if I can hear everything. The producers have a different agenda to carry out than I do.
You play Gibson SG, the guitar very associated with Tony Iommi. What is reason behind this choice? Did you decide to play it because of its specific sound or of something else?
In my opinion, it’s just as associated with Muddy Waters, Duane Allman, Carlos Santana, Pete Townsend. It’s a bit short sighted to see it as just an Iommi thing. The reason I play this one is very simple, when I joined the band I hadn’t played guitar in a few years and I didn’t own any equipment. Theo had bought this ’61 reissue for himself and that’s the one I started using. I think they’re great instruments, very light and balanced but still with a nice, warm tone. It’s no wonder they have been so popular over the years. They’re very versatile.
What gear do you use (amps, effects) and what premises made you choose that particular stuff?
Studio work and live shows are two very different worlds for me as far as equipment goes. Live, I’ve been using an Orange Rockerverb 100 most of the time. It’s very reliable for shows and gets enough of what I’m looking for. I’m not much of a gear nerd by any stretch, but it is really nice to have a bunch of amps that sound great. Most of the new album was tracked with an early 70’s Laney 60 watt Supergroup and an early 70’s Sound City Mark 3 Custom 100 watt. Usually layered on each other. They are the real deal for tracking, but I don’t trust them live. I have a ton of different pedals, but I try to use as few as possible. My pedalboard has a Maxon analog delay, a Crybaby Wah, an old MXR Phase 90 and a Boss tuner. We mess around with a bunch of different stuff in the studio, like a vintage Fuzz Face and a Parapedal Wah, but live I like to keep it really simple and not be dancing around on the pedalboard too much.
How your guitar adventure started?
My family was semi musical and all of us kids had to take lessons of some sort when we were young. I did piano for a year or two when I was around 10 or so, but I didn’t get bitten by the electric guitar bug until I was 14 and I heard the intro for Crazy Train come on the radio for the first time. That epic pick slide into that killer opening riff blew me away and made me want to know more about electric guitars. I worked a summer job and bought my first guitar and amp that year and starting getting into metal. My preferences were always the European players from the very start. I didn’t care that much about the flashiness of guys like Van Halen. Besides Randy Rhoads, who always sounded a bit European to me on the records, I really loved Michael Schenker and Ritchie Blackmore as well as Dave and Adrian from Maiden and Eddie Clarke from Motorhead. I think it was about a year or two after I’d been playing when Thrash Metal hit and I got really into thrash. The East Bay scene of Ruthie’s Inn and the River Theater in Guerneville were my introduction to playing live gigs. The band I played in wasn’t that popular or anything, but we played on bills with Possessed, Death Angel, Legacy, Violence, Attitude Adjustment, all the local bands that were coming up at the time. After that band ended, I went to college for a few years and fell deep under the spell of Jimmy Page. So I guess for more than 25 years now or so, I’ve been trying to be Jimmy Page. [Laughs] Along with metal or harder rock type stuff, I also have been really into early goth and modern rock stuff like the early Cure type stuff as well as Joy Division/New Order, Love & Rockets, Sisters of Mercy, etc...There’s a side of my brain that enjoys working with synths and programming drums just as much as playing guitar. That’s what I was doing for the few years leading up to Orchid. I lost interest in guitar and was deep into electronic stuff.
Do you have any guitarist paragon? If I’d have to guess I would say: Iommi and/or Jimmy Page. Yes or not?
Yeah, Jimmy Page for sure. He was always the coolest. Elegantly sloppy, I can relate to that style pretty intimately. It’s always weird for me to get compared to Iommi so heavily. I wasn’t much ever into him. I did like the Mob Rules album and Turn Up the Night was probably why I got my first wah pedal. I also really liked Born Again when I 16 or 17.
Are you self-taught or did you take any guitar lessons?
I did take some lessons from a local guy in my town who saw me playing at the music store and told me, "hey, you’d be pretty good if you actually knew what you were playing". I was just trying to play fast and letting my fingers land wherever they landed. Kerry King style! Hahaha...So he taught me scales and a little theory and got me into a lot of stuff beyond metal. I guess he expanded my horizons a bit. He was a fingerstyle folk type player, Like John Fahey. It used to just blow me away to watch him play. I still love that style of guitar work.
Pompously announced brand new Black Sabbath album, recorded in almost original line-up was released in June. Do you think "13" may bring a valuable music? What's your opinion on all this confusion associated with works on this album, I mean absence of Bill Ward, discussions about contract terms, etc.
It’s sad that everything is in the public forum these days. There’s no such thing as closed door discussions any more, is there? As far as the album, I don’t really care that much either way. I listened to the first released track and it didn’t do much for me. There might be a few good songs on it. I’ll see at some point I suppose.
You toured together with Witchcraft and Free Fall. What were your expectations in regard with it?
Well, just hoping for the best. It’s very hard for us to leave our jobs and homes for a month. I’m pretty certain that most of us will make much less on tour than we would at work, so it’s really depressing and a bit nerve wracking to wonder how it will work out. You just have to hope for the best really. I’m sure the time on stage will be great. We’ve been sounding great as a band in rehearsal leading up to all of this.
Nuclear Blast invests in vintage bands lately, which is confirmed by such contracted names like Graveyard, Witchcraft, Kadavar or Orchid. How did they find you?
I got someone’s email address from a friend at a big metal magazine and wrote them saying that we had a few other big labels talking to us and asked them if they’d be interested in checking the Capricorn album out before we made a decision on signing with anyone.
What's your plans for the nearest future, apart from forthcoming tour?
Nothing really, probably just work on writing some new material while we see how the new album goes over with the public.
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