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January 2010 - ORCHID

It is nothing new that we live in times where musical innovation is difficult to find, and for me that's no problem. Let's be honest: how many rock/metal bands have really created something new? There are not many of them. It is however always a pleasure to discover a band which has the ability to write remarkable songs and it all depends on riffs, arrangements and the vocals. With regard to these qualities, San Francisco's ORCHID are way ahead of the competition.

At first sight, their debut 'Through the Devils Doorway' seems like a rehashing of the old Black Sabbath formula, but after listening to the MCD for a few times I must say that ORCHID have significantly more to offer than only this. Charm and esprit - catchy melodic tunes and passionate virtuosity are connected with the spirit of the early 1970's heavy blues rock period. This and more are the reasons why ORCHID are among the best newcomers in the world of doom-laden heavy rock of the last year 2009. Cosmic Lava got in touch with guitarist Mark Thomas Baker and vocalist Theo Mindel to find out more about the band's own philosophy. The results are highly original and refreshing answers from two musicians, who doesn't let themselves be restricted by the demands of the doom mainstream.



First of all, would you mind to resume the band's history? What have you done before you founded ORCHID?

Theo: Ha Ha! Nothing anyone would have heard of gratefully!! I was in a bunch of rock bands growing up. Anything from super heavy Celtic Frost kind of stuff when I was in high school to later on in my early twenties, a band that sounded like Humble Pie. Steve Marriott is still one of my heroes...then later in a band called LOADED that kind of sounded like 60's psych and the Stooges mixed together... Mark and I were in a kind of 70's rock band called BOMBER together, more kind of psychedelic-melodic stuff.

Mark: Theo and I started doing music together in 1996, although we had known each other since maybe 1989 or so. He had just opened a tattoo shop in San Rafael and I stopped in one night to say hello and talk to him. We got talking about music and realized we liked a lot of similar stuff so we decided to jam together. That turned into a band called BOMBER. We did that band from 1996 until 1999. It was earlier 70's rock sounding stuff, Bowie, T-Rex, good British rock and roll in general. That band ran its course and we didn't work together again until 2005. We were still good friends, both of us were very much not into the concept of being in a band and dealing with other people's bullshit though. After about a 3 year phase for me where I was purely into Black Metal, I started to gravitate towards programming synths and drum machines. I played him some electronic stuff I'd done and he wanted to sing on it, so we did a recording project of that stuff for about a year maybe. It was fucking awesome, like Sisters of Mercy or early New Order, dark sounding stuff.

I think that project is what made him want to be in a band again. He told me he wanted to do a heavy band, like the stuff we grew up listening to. I was still completely uninterested in playing in a band. I considered myself past the age where I wanted to put up with all the stuff that goes along with working with 3 or 4 other people on music. I remember at one point telling him I wasn't even interested in playing guitar any longer, just synths. I think it took me about 6-8 months for me to come around to the point where I thought, "Yeah, I want to do this metal band with you". He had everything planned out already, the way we would sound and look. The kind of imagery he wanted to use. I was cool with just playing guitar and not worrying about all of that. It took a year of going through people to find other members that were the right fit and the right mentality to do this. ORCHID is no place for a musician who has a big ego about his playing. I think we started around the end of 2006 and a year later Carter and Nickel were committed to the ORCHID cause. We've grown nicely since then.

'Through The Devils Doorway' is a fantastic debut and even the artwork is superb. The only thing that disturbs me is the fact that's it's only an EP. What was the reason for that decision?

Mark: I knew the full length was going to take a bit longer and I really wanted to get something out there for people to generate some interest. I also liked the way Mercyful Fate did it with an EP followed by a full length. I was glad that both Oli and the rest of the band liked my plan and went along with it.

When do you think we can expect the band's first full-length album to come out?

Mark: I think April/May is pretty realistic. There is still work to do. It's completely self-financed and this shit costs a lot you know. It just gets done a little at a time. I think we're all really happy with what's done so far though. I can't wait to get it out there and show all of our different moods and feels.

The complete artwork has been done by vocalist Theo Mindell. Obviously, you're not only a strong singer but also a very talented drawer. When did you discover your skills and what do you like more: playing music or drawing artworks?

Theo: I've been drawing since I can remember. I feel like I was born with a pencil in my hand. The music thing came later for me... probably around 12 years old I knew I wanted to sing in a band. I'm not sure why singing and not something else. It just seemed like the most natural thing for me to do. As for liking art or music more... I don't think I could pick one or the other. They both seem like they're a total part of who I am at this point. Art is definitely a more singular pursuit in the way that I can visualize and control it from start to finish. Where as music is something that you share with the other people you play with... that often makes it more exciting to me.

The things I draw tend to stop interesting me fairly quickly. The music we make as a band keeps showing it self to me again and again in different ways. I think that's because it has more than just one voice. No matter how you think a song is going to sound when you first sit and get a basic arrangement written, it always finds its own life. I've grown to love that about music where it used to frustrate me... the finished reality of any song I write tends to always be so much cooler and more interesting once the other guys in the band add their personality and inflection to it. I really trust them as a great band who make any idea I have stronger. Art will never have that kind of filter... it's me in my purest form for better or for worse.

How did you managed to capture the spirit of early Black Sabbath so precise? I mean, you're not the first band who did this, but it's a long time ago since I've heard a band that internalized this spirit with so much commitment. What is your secret?

Theo: Ha ha!!... man, that's a potentially loaded question, but one I'd be a fool to shy away from... I'm not sure how the other guys feel but I guess for me if I had to try to figure out where that magic (if we nail it) might be coming from is this... most of the bands you hear try to do that dark heavy Sabbath thing only draw from one side of what that music ever was. And I guess that's the 'Lord of This World' thing. The English rock bands of the 60's and 70's where so interesting and diverse. A lot of those guys had jazz and big band backgrounds from playing music in school. The drummers couldn't help but swing. That was just hammered into there playing as early students of music. Drums shape everything about a band so no matter how heavy that stuff was, it always had that undercurrent of "swing" going on. Bill Ward was a 'groove master'... then you had that original set of great British rock guitar players... they got into American blues which is basically slave music. Now that's fucking "doomy".

They experimented with drugs in a way that really seemed to affect their art instead of sabotage it... at least in the early days of their career. And really the thing I know we have in common with all those bands is the focus on our rhythm section as being the heart and core of our songs. All those bands had bass players and drummers who played a song within the song. Mark and I are the meat and potatoes of ORCHID. We tend to be the straight and solid guys in our song structure... Nickel and Carter are the spell casters. So were Bill Ward and Geezer. They took sounds from Latin music, 60's soul and jazz. They were interesting people trying to make interesting music. They weren't rigid slaves to a genre with musical rules about what was doomy or heavy versus what was commercial and melodic. Ozzy was a total and utter Beatles freak!! He fuckin' worshiped Paul McCartney and John Lennon. Ozzy has always been a melody master. He could weave a great melody over the most brutal riff as if it should have always been there.... there's so much emotion and love in Sabbath.

I think their message has often times been misinterpreted and shaped by their record company's will to make money on them by hyping how "evil" they were. They were a bunch of working class guys trying to be hippies who liked horror movies, smoking weed, and drinking beer. Most of all, they were a great fucking rock 'n roll band. Mark and I were in a band that sounded a little like the Beatles at one point.... that's a side of who I am. I love great music. I happen to love Black Sabbath. That's the first music I chose for myself as a kid. The first two albums I bought were 'Yellow Submarine' and 'Sabbath Bloody Sabbath'. So, there you go. I think that sound is so deep in me. I would be hard for me to be in a band that didn't sound a little like both things. I love Sabbath's ability to take musical risks, not just there ability to be heavy. If we even hold 10% of that magic I'll die a happy man.

Mark: "Capture the spirit" is a very good way of putting what we are trying to do. To me, we are playing arena rock from 1974 or something like that.

Would you like to tell me more about your lyrics? What is ORCHID dealing with?

Theo: I tend to write about things that move me emotionally. I'm not really into writing about horror movies or babes or crystal balls or anything... there is definitely a lot of mysticism and occult metaphor in our music. But it usually is used as an interesting way of talking about other things. I think I write mostly about my frustration with the world... people I know or have known in my life... my own experiences. Moments in history that I think have shaped the way things are... the evil that men do... the tyrants... THE FUCKING LIZARDS, ha ha!!

Have you played a lot of shows in your hometown San Francisco? Any good gig stories?

Mark: Maybe 10-12 in the last 18 months or so. Some have been great, others not so much. It was really cool getting to play with Pentagram twice last year. I was really happy to get Astra to come up and play with us even though it wasn't very well attended. I don't think we're very well known yet in our hometown.

What are some of the bands that you guys listen to, classic and new?

Theo: Man... well new stuff... ugh. I'm not trying to be some music elitist asshole but not too much.... I really like the Lord Vicar record. It's got a great kind of "desperate" vibe... I like the last Electric Wizard record. My friends Sonny and Sean have a band called CHILDREN OF TIME that I like... I think Astra are pretty amazing. I just don't seem to find too much modern stuff that has enough depth to hold my attention. I tend to feel like writing a great song has become a lost art. It feels like a lot people are almost a little embarrassed to have anything that resembles a complete song anymore... like you're pass' or just a sell out if you do that. That's pretty tough being a singer that wants to "sing". I just know I'm never going to fit into that world. Mark knows a lot more about current music than I do. I tend to get frustrated and overwhelmed and hide in my 1969 to 1977 time tunnel. As for classic stuff, Pentagram is a huge influence on me. Sabbath of course, Jerusalem, Buffalo, The Abstract Truth, The Stooges, Blue Cheer, Pink Floyd, Motorhead, Thin Lizzy, Mercyful Fate, Venom, early Metallica, early Slayer, Maiden, Italian Horror Movie Soundtracks... stuff like Goblin... the list could go on forever.

Mark: For me, much more classic than new. I enjoy early Rush, Zeppelin, Sabbath, Judas Priest, Motorhead (especially Jimmy Miller produced albums), Rolling Stones, most of Neil Young's 70's output, the first few Mercyful Fate albums, Iron Maiden, much more as well. As far as new stuff, Om is great, some Dead Meadow maybe, Astra gets played a bit, Lord Vicar, the new Seamount sounds great, Yob does some stuff that interests me. I'm probably one of those old, bitter guys who think everything old is better than anything being made today.

Do you guys have any upcoming tours planned? Are there any bands that you would like to support or go on tour with?

Mark: I doubt that ORCHID will ever be able to be a touring band. Maybe a week here or there at times and hopefully festivals. I'm sure Oli will bring us over to Europe in the future, so we'll probably do shows with some of the other Church Within bands. I don't know man, gotta see what kind of things present themselves in the future.

That's all. Thanks for your time and interest. Any last words?

Thanks for your interest, check our music out if you can!