Merchant of Doom: An Interview with Wretch’s Karl Simon

(L to R) Karl Simon, Chris Gordon and Bryce Clarke || Photo by Mike Colver
(L to R) Karl Simon, Chris Gordon and Bryce Clarke || Photo by Mike Colver

It’s only been three years since The Gates of Slumber took their final bow, but it seems like Karl Simon has lived an entire lifetime since then. Upon the dissolution of his former band in 2013, the guitarist/vocalist quickly got to work on a new project called Wretch, with the intention of eschewing a fantasy-based aesthetic in favor of a stripped-down, classic approach to doom. The songs were coming together, but in the middle of the writing process, everything changed: Jason McCash, Karl’s close friend and former TGoS bandmate, tragically passed away from a heroin overdose. Karl’s grief was immense, but when it eventually turned to acceptance, he returned to music to help with the healing process. Two years later, Wretch breathes.

We caught up with Karl to talk about how Wretch’s debut LP came to be, the effect McCash’s death had on his songwriting process and his plans for this brand-new chapter in his life.

How soon after The Gates of Slumber’s breakup did you start working on this Wretch record?
Chris (Gordon, drums) and I have been working together since I broke up The Gates of Slumber in September 2013. Two of the songs on Wretch were actually meant to be Gates songs that I’d written with Clyde* in mind to follow up our LP, The Wretch…and then everything went to hell.

Chris and I actually started getting back to work as soon as we could after Jason’s funeral. In that time, we wrote one song that may appear at some point (the working title was “A Song for the Dead”), but I shelved it after thinking about it for a while. Maybe one day I’ll dust it off again. But it just didn’t feel right after a second thought, and it still doesn’t. The ending jam is one of the best things I’ve ever done, but it’s all about how things feel, you know?

How much of the album is directly about Jason?
The songs on the record that deal with the way I felt after Jason’s death are “Running out of Days” and “Rest in Peace.” “Running out of Days” is actually a title Jason had for a song he was working on that dealt with his feelings about his drug use. I discarded the music and lyrics and appropriated the title. The song is about as simple as anything I’ve ever written on both fronts. There isn’t any way to dress it up. “Rest in Peace” is about me and the way I felt [after his death]: trapped, alone and desperate.

Going forward, do you see Jason’s spirit continuing to inform Wretch’s music?
I don’t want this to be some kind of tribute. Look, Jason was my best friend in the world. For fuck’s sake, I watched his kids grow up. I’m goddamn Uncle Karl! And it was the most painful and disgusting thing in the world burying him. But, I don’t want to carry him with me forever. Life must go on. Those memories and times will forever be in my mind and heart. I don’t have a rule as to what will happen lyrically. Maybe I’ll write another song about him, maybe I’ll leave it buried with “A Song for the Dead” and move on to something else. I don’t know.

Wretch also features bassist Bryce Clarke and former The Gates of Slumber drummer Chris Gordon. How did Bryce and Chris get involved with the project?
After Clyde’s implosion at the end of The Gates of Slumber’s tour with Church of Misery, I had pushed Jason to get Chris back in the band as I’ve always liked the guy. I think he’s a great drummer, but he had left TGoS high and dry a couple of times before and Jason wouldn’t hear of it again, so we got Bob [Fouts] back. And to be fair to Bob, the last run with him was the best time we had playing-wise. We were finally all on the same page, to some degree. However, when Jason blew off the first rehearsal that we had planned (for the fall 2013 run with CoM) and then quit the band via Facebook, it was all done. I texted Chris and we started working straight away. We’ve always had good chemistry when it comes to writing stuff.

I played bass on the first and only Wretch demo, and at the time I intended to play bass on any album [that we made], as it was my hope that Jason would get his shit together at some point. I figured he would probably hit the ground hard and need something to do, and his old friends would be there with a bass and amp in hand to give him direction…something new to do. TGoS had started to feel like a dirty old whore by that point; so many different drummers had been in and out and so much stupid bullshit had been attached to the name that I was more than happy to let it rest. I figured wrong. Jason didn’t make it to the other side.

Bryce was on my radar from a few years earlier. He’d been playing in a stoner doom band here in Indianapolis called Teenage Strange and he was a phenomenal bassist. My goal with Wretch was to fully return to the roots of my influences—Black Sabbath, ’70s Motorhead and Saint Vitus—and Bryce fit that mold playing-wise. One day, his lady was in the bar where I worked and Chris was blowing up my phone about who was going to play bass, so I had her call Bryce. We set a time for him to come “try out,” but I knew he’d work out from the word go.

Musically, what do Bryce and Chris bring to the table?
They bring as much as I do! To my mind, music isn’t just someone writing notes on a staff or whatever—it’s the creative process. Sure, I might come up with a song like “Running out of Days,” but what is that without a drum beat or bass line? Is the bass going to pedal, walk or play counterpoint to what I’m playing? What are the drums doing? It’s the height of stupidity to think it’s just guitar and vocals that make a band. A band makes a band. So, in the legal sense, maybe I wrote these songs, but in the real world, the creative world, it’s the three of us and I desperately want it to be an equal thing.

I’m sure lots of people connect with this album because they loved The Gates of Slumber and the music is similar. Will Wretch perform any TGoS material live or are you approaching this as a totally new beginning?
We’ve played several old Gates songs live already and I’m sure there will always be one or two in our set. I mean, I spent so many years doing that. But, there will come a time when it’s just down to one here or there. I don’t want to look backward. It’s a death all its own to do that.

*This interview was conducted before J. Clyde Paradis’ untimely passing in August. When I followed up with Karl, he gave me this statement: “Clyde was a super talented guy who had a lot of demons. He had been getting the better of them according to people who were in contact with him. I’m just sorry he didn’t get another chance to show the world how goddamn good he was as a drummer.”

Photo by Mike Colver
Photo by Mike Colver

Wretch is out now on Bad Omen Records. You can order a CD or LP version here.