Re-visiting Mouth of the Architect’s The Ties That Blind

Next month, June 15th to be exact, will see the vinyl re-issue of Mouth of the Architect’s The Ties that Blind. Originally released in 2006, the Dayon, OH’s post-metal band’s second album came at a curious time when their sprawling, textured and layered sound was still somewhat of a rarity. The idea of complementing tectonic guitars with a doomy mid-pace, atmospheric strata and an impending sense that distorted amplification was set to ignite the apocalypse was a path already embarked upon by the likes of Neurosis and Isis, but not nearly to the suffocating degree as it would become and, arguably, still exists at. In fact, if memory serves, the tag “post-metal” wasn’t even in widespread use at the time, with the cognoscenti referring to the style as “metalgaze” or simply “the Neur-Isis sound.”

The Ties That Blind may have been overshadowed by ‘Neur-Isis’ and a climate that was still drooling over the latest bunch of star-tattoo-on-elbows suburbanites rewriting Slaughter of the Soul to care, but that doesn’t negate the album’s subdued coffee shop brutality, swirling artistry and washing soundscapes and all-around awesomeness. When we caught wind of its re-issue, we decided to pay our respects in comprehensive, Decibel style and track down drummer Dave Mann and former guitarist/vocalist Gregory Lahm and ask them to crack open the memory banks on an era that, as it turns out, was fraught with hardship and roadblocks.

After the first album, Time & Withering, and the split with Kenoma, where was the band at and hoping to achieve with The Ties That Blind?
Dave: The split we did with Kenoma was kind of the idea of Derek [Sommer], our original bass player, but after we did that he took off for rehab and we didn’t have a bass player. We had been sitting on the The Ties That Blind songs for like a year-and-a-half and we were just playing them in our basement without a bass player. It was getting annoying; the band was basically on pause waiting for a bass player so we could do something with these songs. So, we brought up the conversation of getting a bass player so we could be a band again and that exploded into a big argument which ended up in [guitarist/vocalist] Alex [Vernon] leaving. At that point, it was just [keyboardist/vocalist] Jason [Watkins], [guitarist/vocalist] Greg [Lahm] and me asking “do we or don’t we.” We decided to at least get the songs recorded so they wouldn’t get wasted. Greg would do both guitar parts and we’d figure something out about the bass; just do it and figure out the details later. So, we paid [producer] Chris [Common] a deposit for the studio time, bought non-refundable plane tickets and just jumped into it. We had jam tapes, but since Alex left we really didn’t exactly know what he was doing for those other guitar parts. So, Greg kind of had to pour through the old tapes of when we were writing the stuff and figure out what Alex was doing.

Greg: It was tough because the band had goals and aspirations from day one, but there was turmoil in our camp from day one. I’m not going to name names, but we had issues with addiction and things that where inhibiting the band and were out of our control. Those first several years were pretty rough as a result and that’s why the lineup that was on the first record was only on the first record. One of our members left to try and clean up, then we did “Sleepwalk Powder” for the split with Kenoma and our buddy and engineer Chris ended up playing bass on that record. The band had been writing what would become The Ties That Blind for a minute, but it was a hard process to be a part of because our other guitarist was pretty checked out. So, a lot ended up falling into the laps of the other three of us. I sort of took the reins because I cared about the project a lot and making that record. Dave and I started doing rough demos in our basement – me, Jason and Dave all lived together at the time – real crappy home recording style and I would overdub guitar tracks and we ended up doing that because we found out that Brian Cook [Russian Circles, ex-Botch] was interested in helping us out and playing bass on the record. We basically did those demos of everything a month or so before we were set to fly out to Seattle to record so that Brian would have something to listen to ahead of time and would have some ideas to bring to the table when we were in the studio.

What’s the story surrounding Dave’s injuring himself just before the recording?
Dave: At the time I was doing Kung Fu and after all the money was paid, I got hurt in class and had a shoulder ACL separation. They grade them one through five, three and above needs surgery, and I had a five. The orthopedic surgeon told me it was one of the textbook worst shoulder separations he had ever seen. He actually invited in some of the interns and students to come see how terrifyingly separated it was. I came home from class and I remember Greg sitting there with his guitar in front of the computer hashing out guitar parts and I walked in with one arm just dangling, still in uniform and it was like, “Hey guys, I think we might have an issue.” The thing is, is that I eventually got motion back in my arm, but when it initially happened it was a totally dead arm. I wasn’t sure what we were going to do at that point. We weren’t able to get the money back for the plane tickets and we weren’t able to get the money back from the studio, which was thousands of dollars and it was about two weeks before we left. Over the next week or so, I was getting some motion back and I was able to grab stuff and pick up things that weren’t a lot of weight, like a glass of water or something. So, that’s how it went, one guitar player, a keyboard player and a crippled drummer, but we flew to Seattle and made it work. It wasn’t fun, it hurt a lot, but we had the assistance of ProTools to help when I had to do stuff like move from playing on the hi-hat to a crash. Moving from left to right hurt a lot, and ProTools helped clean up the delays and hiccups in the drumming.

Greg: I remember it was a Saturday afternoon, Jason and I were sitting at home, hanging out, having coffee and probably smoking some weed, just chilling out and Dave comes home and his shoulder is hanging four inches lower than his other one. He’s like, “I don’t know if I’m going to be able to do it.” It seemed like every time the chips were down, things would keep getting worse. But he got to a place where he didn’t want to not be on the record and not have everything we were working towards not come to fruition. He pushed through and I don’t know how the fuck he did it – a combination of pain pills and whatnot – but he tracked the drums for the record with a broken collarbone and a separated shoulder. All the drums on that record were recorded with Dave’s arm just kind of dangling there. That’s kind of amazing in and of itself.

How did Brian Cook get involved? Did you know him very well before recording?
Dave: He showed up and recorded when he could. I think the only way we prepped him is that we sent him those old jam tapes Greg was using to learn the other guitar parts. He had a notebook with his notes and reminders which he showed up with and it was just us sitting around. He wasn’t even in the isolation room; he’d just be chilling in the control room with us and we just played through the album riff by riff on the spot. The experience was amazing because he was coming up with stuff way better than what we were thinking. We were just giddy because he’d show up and we’d be like, ‘he’s going to make this song awesome!’ I play bass too and there’s no fucking way I’d be able to step into a band I’ve barely heard and stand there with three strangers in a room while I try and figure out their record piece by piece.

Greg: Chris Common is a very close friend of all of ours. He’s from Dayton and all of us who had been in bands for years had recorded with him in Ohio. Literally, the first time I met Chris I was 13 and in a grind-y sort of powerviolence band and we recorded a 7” and Chris ended up mixing it for us in his home studio. Everything that Mouth did revolved around his schedule and what his studio situation was. The first record was actually just supposed to be a demo. He had a studio in Nashville for a while, so we booked three days with him to go down and demo the songs that ended up being the first full-length album [Time & Withering]. We shopped it around as a demo, but [Translation Loss Records’] Drew [Jurgens] wanted to put it out on the spot and that was that. After that, he ended up selling his studio in Nashville and was moving to Seattle to open a studio there with Matt Bayles. On his way from Nashville to Seattle, he stopped in Dayton because that’s where he’s from and he needed to get some work done on his van. He literally had his whole studio in his van. So, he came back to Dayton with his studio packed up, and he set up everything in our living room and that’s where we recorded “Sleepwalk Powder.” It was an on-the-fly idea where we wrote and recorded something because he was going to be in town. Long story short, when Chris moved to Seattle, he ended up joining These Arms are Snakes and that’s where the connection is with Brian Cook. He was playing drums in These Arms are Snakes, Brian was on bass and Chris was talking about our situation because we were coming out to record. I was originally going to be recording the bass, but we found out Brian was interested in contributing to the record and that was a no-brainer because we were fans of all the work he’d done as a musician. It was more of a coincidental thing. We didn’t know him until we met him the first day he came into the studio with us.

So, you didn’t rehearse with Brian at all beforehand?
Greg: No. There were a few songs that he came in with some riffs and parts ready where you could tell he sat down with the shitty demos we made and wrote bass parts. There was other stuff where he and I literally sat on the couch in the control room with our instruments and go over riffs together. We would work something out and lay it down. It was really on the fly.

How long were you in Seattle?
Greg: We were out there for two, two-and-a-half weeks. We recorded and mixed everything in that time and during the last two days we were there, we mastered the record at a well-known mastering studio there called RFI where they’d mastered Pearl Jam and Soundgarden records. Chris worked with the guy who owned it and highly recommended him. We booked a couple days at the end for mastering time since we were in Seattle anyway and we got to sit in the mastering studio when that happened, which was really cool.

Was there a point where it felt like the recording was starting to really come together?
Dave: To be perfectly honest, after three days of searing pain tracking the drums, I was a little drugged up for the following week so I only remember bits and pieces, but I think it was more or less when the guitars were getting laid down that it started feeling like a real record. There’s so much interplay with the two guitars that when it’s just one, it sounds different. Neither one of them sounds like the song independently, but together it sounds like what the songs are supposed to sound like. I think once Greg started tracking the second parts is when it started coming together. Brian was coming in whenever he could and I think we did the keyboards and texture stuff last. At no point was anything really finished until right at the end.

How was the recording itself?
Greg: It was super-smooth and laid back. I’d say the most difficult part of the recording was the drums and that was only because Dave was severely injured and was giving everything he had to get it done and was just in pain and struggling. He got his shit done, it was solid as fuck and after that it was smooth sailing. Brian is just such a proficient musician that it was easy to bounce stuff off him and if it stuck, we’d lay it down right away. It was pretty quick.

Brent Hinds of Mastodon has a guest vocal spot on “At Arms Length.” How did that come about?
Dave: I was in a band called Rune before Mouth of the Architect and our booking agent at the time was the same guy as Mastodon’s, Rich [Hoak] from Brutal Truth. We did some touring together and I was friends with them. Right when Mouth of the Architect started, Rich booked for us a little bit and we ended up on a tour with those guys. They were super good guys and great guys to party with. It just so happened they were recording a block away from us at Chris’ business partner’s studio. We’d talked about guest spots, but didn’t think it was going to happen. I think [Mastodon bassist/vocalist] Troy [Sanders] was supposed to do a part too, but when Brent ended up doing it, we actually didn’t have any vocals tracked at the time. We just knew if it was going to happen, it had to be then or not. He came in hammered and burst through the doors of the control room. We knew the part, Greg went in and basically did scratch vocals so we’d have something to overdub onto and we just coached him through what the part was going to be. He did his take, said to Chris, “Don’t make me sound shitty,” looks at us and says, “Thanks for letting me be part of your art project,” stumbled out the door, into the night and staggered back to their studio.

Greg: Mastodon was in Seattle to record Blood Mountain at Studio Litho and we were recording at the first Red Room. At the end of our nights, we were all mutual friends so we’d go out partying. So, we were hanging out with those guys a lot of the time we were there. One of the nights we were out drinking and hanging out with Brent and we were like, “You should come do some guest vocals on our new record.” We were already friends of theirs; on the very first Mouth of the Architect tour we did we did three or four shows with them on off-dates when they were on the Unholy Alliance tour with Slayer. Before that even, Dave had a rapport with those guys when he was in Rune. We just brought it up and he was like, “Fuck yeah.” he came into the studio one day. I showed him the lyrics, we went over cadences, where shit comes in and stuff and it was a lot of fun.

Twelve years ago, post-metal or what have you was a newer, totally different and a lot less saturated world. When the album was released, do you remember what kind of scene or climate were you walking into and how it was reacted to?
Dave: Greg probably has a lot better interpretation of that than me. I’ve always dodged that stuff and a lot of what I would get would be feedback from the label which who knows [laughter]. Looking back, that really seemed to be the record that people responded to.

Greg: We were typically getting lumped into playing hardcore shows, but we would have rather been playing metal shows because I feel like metal audiences are more open-minded and accepting of different shit and there wasn’t a ton of other bands doing what we were doing at the time. There was obviously Neurosis and Isis who paved the way, but when we started doing it, I don’t remember much else. When we were trying to book tours, our first booking agent was Rich from Brutal Truth who worked at Relapse at the time and it was a lot of hardcore shows and people didn’t know how to react because we didn’t have mosh parts. It was weird; either people loved us, hated us or didn’t understand it. We were going into it with that mentality, but we were going to do whatever we wanted and play the type of music that excited us and made us feel a certain way, despite being out of our element a lot of the time. Not that we wanted to play with five other bands that sounded like us, but maybe playing in a more open-minded artistic setting instead of beatdown hardcore fests. Often times it felt like we stuck out like a sore thumb.

And, if I remember correctly, you did a lot of touring on that album.
Dave: At the time, we were hitting it hard. We were almost always on tour, always supporting another band we liked musically and personally, so we were enthusiastically taking every tour we were offered. We were young, hungry and had nothing else going on. That was the record we went out and promoted the most.

Greg: We were really trying to make it happen. The three core members really believed in the project and pursued it in order to make it as full time as it could be. Dave and I worked at the same screen printing job together, Jason worked at a tobacco warehouse and our jobs were cool with us coming and going as we needed to, so we literally set up our lives around doing the band and trying to travel with it and do as much as we possibly could. The year that record came out and the year following, 2006 and 2007, I think we probably toured five to six months a year. We did some pretty significant tours. I think the longest ones were six weeks with These Arms are Snakes and six weeks with Unsane.

Anything about all that road work stand out for you?
Greg: Yeah, it was a constant pain in my fucking ass! I loved and cared about the band deeply, but we didn’t have a permanent second guitar player or bass player. So, we’d get somebody for a tour and think they were going to be potential permanent member but it ended up not being the life for them or whatever the case may be. It was almost as if every tour we went on, we had to find a new guy and I had to teach new people the songs. It got to a point for me where it felt very stagnant because for the years we toured that record, which had been written almost a year prior to it being recorded, it was just old and it wasn’t exciting. I didn’t feel like I was able to push forward and write new material because we kept taking to five steps backward before each tour we did. I got burnt out by it and that’s why I eventually left. The rotating lineup, having a limited number of options and letting people into the band you’ve poured everything into just because you need somebody. It felt like I was losing control of something that was once something very personal and I hated that. It was heartbreaking and infuriating and I was ready to move on.

Dave: That’s been the story of the band since then but it was probably the worst on that record because we didn’t have a huge pool of people to draw from. Not a lot of people in this town had been in bands that had been on tour like that. We’d get a guy who we knew and was a good player and we’d go on the road for 30 days, sleeping on floors, dude’s houses, rest stops or whatever and they’d get home and be like, “Fuck this, I quit.” That just happened over and over and we had something like 15 different bass players and guitarists playing the songs from that record.

What do you know about the sort of overall or broader impact the album has had?
Dave: One thing is that it was out of print on vinyl almost immediately. When it first came out, the guy Translation Loss subbed it out did one pressing and didn’t believe in re-pressing records, so it sold quick and was completely unavailable. I think it’s good that it’s available now, vinyl is as valid as it’s ever been. For me, I really like the material. Over the years, a lot of songs have gotten swept under the rug or whatever. It’s been years since I’ve heard some of these songs in a fresh context and haven’t played them in forever, so it was nice for me to listen to it again and be able to talk about it.

Greg: It’s fucking weird to me, man. I was told by Drew that it has been the highest selling title they’ve ever released. A lot of people say it’s their favourite MotA record and things like that. To me, it’s a place in time and doesn’t have the same impact because we created it. I don’t think of it as anything other than a special time and place in my life because I was spending time with two close friends making art and dodging every piece of bullshit that was coming our way to still make it happen and that was very rewarding and fulfilling. Other than that, it was just a recorded document of a place in time. The fact that it means anything at all to other people is amazing and humbling.

Whose idea was doing the reissue?
Dave: Translation Loss kind of just hit me up out of the blue. We had talked about it and last year we did a reissue of Time & Withering. Initially that conversation came up because we were going to do the tenth anniversary of that release and that was like four years ago [laughs]. I think it did well for them and they started making money selling vinyl. It wasn’t timed like it was supposed to, but those records are older and seemed like a good idea. Chris really enjoyed the re-mastering process because he’s a studio nerd and has a lot of new gear he was excited to try out. It sounds better; the keyboards were a little buried in the original release, there are more dynamics to the drums and it overall sounds bigger. The artwork has been redone, but it looks similar and I think it was the same guy.

All said and done, is there anything you’d do differently?
Greg: Yeah, but I’m kind of hesitant about saying anything…ahh, fuck it. I don’t give a shit. We did a strange tour; we got asked to go out with Rob Crow from Pinback and toured with him for a couple weeks. We stuck out like a sore thumb, again, but he really liked our band and wanted us to go out with him. So, we did that and again we needed a guitar player and Dave and I worked with this dude, Steve [Brooks; not Steve Brooks from Torche –ed. note] who later sort of became the band leader guy. We had all known each other for years, but I had never played in a band with him. Dave had been in Twelve Tribes with him, we were all friendly and he worked at the screen printing shop. It came down to crunch time, we needed a guitar player and Steve was suggested. He’s a fantastic musician, learned everything super-quickly and did his job well, but he’s kind of an alpha male and stepped into a situation that had been paved out long before he had been a part of it. He started trying to take the reins after Jason, Dave and I poured blood, sweat and tears into the project. He comes along and just thinks the ship is going to sail the way he wants it to sail. That’s how I felt anyway; maybe the other guys didn’t. So, it basically got to the point where I didn’t want to be around this guy. We would get along in certain contexts, but when he would drink and party, he would turn into an asshole and be all aggro and arrogant and I got fed up with that. My band wasn’t my band anymore; I wasn’t getting the same joy out of it and it felt like someone else was trying to take over. It was all that shit and eventually I threw my hands up and was like, “If you want it, you can have it.” I was done fighting for it at that point because it wasn’t worth it anymore. I left and he actually tried to fight me when I quit, if that’s any indication of what I’m trying to get across. I don’t want to come off sounding super-negative about the whole thing because it wasn’t. There was a lot of negativity thrown in our direction and I feel that we rose above it in spite of it all and kept things going and I don’t know how Dave and Jason still keep things going to this day. Kudos to them.

[Note: As of the end of last March, Steve Brooks has parted ways with Mouth of the Architect and the band has welcomed Alex Vernon back into the fold.]

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