INTERVIEW: Moss’ Olly Pearson on having fun on a Horrible Night

It’s funny, the press releases that accompany doom records are unlike any of your typical puff-sheets, the purpose of which, of course, is to sell you on the record. No, the doom press release always comes with the caveats abound, stressing the oppressive track lengths, moribund subject matter, and advising helpfully that “it’s not for everyone”.
British doom trio Moss‘s third LP Horrible Night is hardly disco beats and mellow psych grooves, but anyone who has followed their crestfallen career trajectory over the years will feel the change. There are more riffs, more access points, and if this is Moss’ Horrible Night, maybe they’re getting some sort of masochistic enjoyment out of it. Frontman Olly Pearson calls it fun, which, as you know when it comes to doom metal, is not for everyone.

Was it a conscious decision to write more accessible songs? Not that Horrible Night is accessible per se, but there are more grooves.
Olly Pearson: I wouldn’t say it was a conscious decision; it’s just something that came naturally. I mean, we’ve been doing this for 13 years now, and after 13 years you can’t really do the same thing over and over again. So yeah, I think it came from a natural need to progress. Chris has sort of upped the tempo on this one, haha! I guess we’re not miserable teenagers anymore.

How has your mind-set changed since you started Moss?
Olly Pearson:
Well I guess since we started the band, we were very much into the more extreme side of doom. I mean, that’s what we were listening to at the time and when we started we were like, “Yeah, let’s make music like the stuff we’ve been listening to.” But slowly over the years, that’s really not that interesting to us anymore. I am more into the traditional side of doom, stuff like Saint Vitus and Pentagram, and I like a lot of ‘60s and ‘70s rock as well. I guess our mind-set has changed from trying to be the slowest, heaviest band ever to just doing music that we like and that we want to listen to ourselves.

The track “Horrible Nights” has been kicking about for a while?
Olly Pearson: Yeah we wrote that back in 2010. We had a tour coming up with Electric Wizard and we were like, “Okay, write a new song and get the ball rolling for the future, we can play it live and see how it goes down.” This album took a really fucking long time to write. It was a good two and a half years to get everything set. I think it’s all the better for it; for the last couple of records, we had everything written, recorded and mixed within three weeks. With the length of time we’ve had to do this, I’ve found it a lot easier.

Is it harder writing with Dom now living in Canada?
Olly Pearson:
Well Dom makes it over to England when he can. But he has always got riffs and ideas ready. I’ve always got ideas. Chris has got ideas. When we get together it’s just all pulling together these individual plans that we have to make our music. I mean Dom moving to Canada never really had too much effect because we never really rehearsed much or played together much anyway. It doesn’t make much difference; I haven’t felt any difference since he moved away, we just get together and do it when we can.

Is doom metal the sort of music that you can over-rehearse? Is it the sort of thing you can only really play if you’re in the mood to access that set of emotions?
Olly Pearson:
I’d say so, yes. I mean, this kind of music is not really the kind of music that I’d want to have to play every single night for the next months. If someone booked a five-month tour for us I’d be like, “Nah, fuck off! I’m not doing that!” I mean, when we get together and we do it, it feels good. But we don’t do it very often, and I can imagine that if we had to do it every single day, and had to rehearse this every day . . . Yeah, I agree, there is such a thing as over-rehearsing, and with this kind of music you can do that.

There is something special about taking doom to its extremes. Saint Vitus and so on can be everyday music, but the more extreme stuff is always better in small doses.
Olly Pearson:
Special occasions! Yeah, this kind of music isn’t for everyday listening but with the new record, though, I have been listening to it a lot, more than our past records. Our previous records, we’d go in, record them and get them done and when they came out I wouldn’t listen to them. Horrible Night, I’ve found myself listening to it a hell of a lot, probably because it is more in line with my own personal tastes anyway. We’re not really your stereotypical miserable doom metal band. I like to have a good time, I like to rock. Yeah, that’s it, basically: we’re not really kill yourself kinda people. I don’t know if the music is negative—it doesn’t have a positive outlook—but we’re just getting out any frustrations and negative emotions that we might have. As far as who we are as people, we’re not sitting around wanting to kill ourselves 24 hours a day.

You recorded it at Earth Terminal with Jamie Elton—are you quite autonomous in the studio or did he have much of an input?
Olly Pearson:
Yeah, Jamie put his 50p in when he had to, here and there, because he had done our sound live a couple of times before and we thought, “Perfect, why not get the guy who can nail our sound live to record us in the studio?” And he had some good ideas about how the songs should go but they were pretty much completely written and set how they were going to be by the time we went to the studio. We always leave a little bit open to allow any influences from the surroundings and the space that we are in, just to let that into the songs, but everything was pretty much as it was demoed. But yeah, Jamie did contribute and put a lot into this record.

What was the vibe like, recording at Earth Terminal—you last recorded in rural Wales, was there much difference this time out?
Olly Pearson:
I’d say they’re both very similar. They are both in the middle of nowhere. You’ve got Foel [Studios] in the Welsh countryside and Earth Terminal in the English countryside. It’s really hard to get to. You wouldn’t know where it was if you didn’t have a map or a sat-nav or anything, so it’s completely secluded, cut off from everything, there are no shops for miles around. It’s a really similar vibe. It’s a perfect place to go, get your head down and bash it out and do what you’re supposed to do without any other distractions. I live in London, and I did the vocals in London, which took a lot longer than it did to do the music purely because it was in London. I am in south London and was having to travel up to north London whenever we could fit it in. That was up at Earthworks.

Who did your cover art?
Olly Pearson:
That was by a young guy called Reuben Sawyer, who I have been aware of for quite a while now, a couple of years. I saw his work on the internet; I thought it was perfect, would suit us to a T, like Aubrey Beardsley but taken to some really nightmarish conclusions. I was really pleased with what he came up with. I just sent him the album, I told him what the songs were about and just told him “Draw what you hear,” and that’s what he came up with. He nailed it.

Is there a theme to the tracks?
Olly Pearson:
There is a slight theme. The songs are all their separate pieces and they all work on their own but there’s a slight theme running through it to do with nightmares, hence the title Horrible Night. Like the way I see the album is like a whole night of Moss, a diary, like a day in the life of Moss . . . This is how it is. All the songs work on their on and there isn’t any sort of grand concept or theme this time round like we did with the other two records.

“Dreams from the Depths” is a nice psychedelic acoustic instrumental; is that like your “Laguna Sunrise”?
Olly Pearson:
Yeah, I guess it is in a way—or maybe our “Planet Caravan”. I think we needed a breather on the album; it is a heavy, relentless record, and I think we needed something in the middle just to break it up a bit and give you a bit of a breather, a bit of weirdness as well to trip you out a bit. We’re really into [the BBC] Radiophonic Workshop, and that’s what “Dreams from the Depths” is influenced by, the old Doctor Who soundtracks from the ‘60s and ‘70s.

Yeah, it gives it that sort of weird Day of the Triffids atmosphere.
Olly Pearson
: Oh yeah, great! I’m pleased to hear that.

But this record has a certainly a different feel to it, without being too weird it’s more orgy than funeral; where before it sounded like you were channelling the ancient rites of Masons or what have you, this sounds more carnal and decadent.
Olly Pearson:
I guess, in a way. Lyrically, this album has been more inspired by my real life as opposed to the horror stories that I’m into, which is what we have done previously. But yeah, this time round drugs and women had quite a big influence on what I was writing for this record so I can see what you’re saying there, yeah.

This is Moss’ party record.
Olly Pearson:
Yeah, it’s funny that, there was an advert Rise Above had put out saying “Oh it’s not party time, it’s Moss’ Horrible Night”, but yeah if you wanna see this as Moss’ party record, I guess compared to the previous two records it is. This is our rocker, in a way, even though it doesn’t really rock that much.

I can imagine your parties, three glasses of Harvey’s Bristol Cream and a Mandy Morton record.
Olly Pearson:
Haha, yeah, that sounds about right!

What would you say doom’s ethic is? With black metal you have the nihilistic ethic, the antichristian ethic, but with doom, is it maybe more a case of drilling back into the past, articulating a sense of the ancient?
Olly Pearson:
Doom is known as the genre that kind of celebrates itself, all these bands who are kind of ripping each other off in a way, but it’s always been the done thing. It’s cool. If you want to sound like Black Sabbath, that’s fine, sound like Black Sabbath. Doom? I dunno, I’m going to have to mull over this question for a while . . .

In fairness, that was a shapeless question, but with Moss’ output, you’ve always taken a definitive interpretation of doom. Where some bands take on influences from drone or whatever, you’ve always kept it 100 per cent doom.
Olly Pearson:
When you see Moss mentioned as a drone-doom band, that pisses me off; I don’t consider us a drone-doom band at all, haha! We’ve got far too much going on to be considered drone. Like . . . When I read that sort of thing it just annoys me a little bit. If you know anything about drone music, we’ve got nothing in common with that at all, nothing. We’ve got rhythms, drums, movement, pace; drone doesn’t have that, it’s ambient music. We are not an ambient band; we’re a fucking metal band when it comes down to it.

That’s people mis-reading doom and not dealing with a slow tempo . . .
Olly Pearson:
Yeah, when it comes down to it we are a heavy metal band . . . Just a very, very, very slow heavy metal band. I reckon that’s a lineage from Black Sabbath that’s been carrying on; I mean, Black Sabbath weren’t a particularly fast band—metal didn’t start getting fast until the very late ‘70s, when we had the N.W.O.B.H.M. stuff coming out, mixed in with punk. Metal was inherently always been slow . . . I dunno where I’m going with this, I’ve trailed off a bit with this.

Like these questions . . . Does it surprise you to see doom bands like Cathedral and Electric Wizard to headline venues as big as the Forum?
Olly Pearson:
10 or 15 years ago I wouldn’t have thought that possible at all. No. But you’ve got Electric Wizard doing really fucking well—Electric Wizard are probably the biggest doom band in the world right now. They’re doing really fucking well for themselves and 15 years ago something like that, people wouldn’t have given it a chance. I guess, in a way people are getting more and more desensitized to darker stuff, to heavier stuff, and opening their minds to it a bit more. But I think it’s like anything, like anything in history: if it’s around long enough it’ll slowly seep into people’s consciousness and they’ll slowly accept it after a while.

Do you think Roadburn’s continued success has had an influence on the success of doom at the moment?
Olly Pearson:
I’d say that it’s probably opened some people’s minds to doom metal, to slower, heavier metal. I notice that these things are getting more and more popular, more people are interested in it, more people are wanting to get to know about it. I have noticed with this album; with Sub Templum, no one gave a shit, no one wanted to talk to us about it. But with Horrible Night, we’re doing a lot of interviews and a lot of people are wanting to chat to us about it. It’s telling me that people are becoming more accepting and more open to slower and heavier metal, which is a good thing. I don’t think any sort of music should stay underground, to stay guarded and elitist and away from people. Music is there to be listened to and whoever wants to listen to the music, if more people want to listen to it, that’s great. It’s all good.

But you do realize that doing all these interviews and interest, people will want you to play live. Are you going to tour the record?
Olly Pearson:
We’ve got a whole tour booked for April, around Roadburn. I just went ahead and booked this European tour, it’s about seven dates. This album has opened us up a lot to wanting to play live. With the previous albums, we’d play live but we wouldn’t really want to play them too much. It’s hard work playing two 25-minute songs on stage, and trying to keep us interested and the audience interested. With this, the songs are a lot more direct, a lot more fun to play live. We wanna get out there and have a go at this. When we started writing Horrible Night in 2010, we were having fun. It felt weird. This was the band that we could never have fun with; this band was never about fun.

Olly Peason, vocals
Dominic Finbow, guitars
Chris Chantler, drums

**Moss play Roadburn 2013 on April 19th.
**Poke MOSS on Facebook
**Moss’ Horrible Night is out on March 28th, through Metal Blade US. Order it here

Pic: Ester Segarra