“Sorry, I’m shit at this” guitarist, vocalist, hulusi charmer, and general dissonance sorceress Charlie Romijn self-effacingly ‘fesses midway through our tête-à-tête on a blustery mid-November night, prior to what later proves a gloriously rambunctious grizzly upstairs and more pertinently inside the gimmicky whiskey lounge outside which we freeze. Razor blade winds prowl and snarl the length of Penton street, offset only by the equally snappy revving of dilapidated motors. “These never get easier. Awful.”
Whilst Wiltshire trio Thought Forms may not be all that well versed when it comes to the knack of the interview, what they lack in gab they overcompensate for in an unremittingly excellent post-rock barrage. They’ve fled the west in support of Geoff Barrow’s Beak>, the honcho of the label that is to release their sophomore full-length, Ghost Mountain, early next year. “It’s always really good fun going on tour with the Invada lot”, Romijn acclaims reticently. “Everyone’s obviously known each other for years, and everyone’s mates already. So yeah, it’s always a good laugh.”
Though upon trawling the Invada discography, few risible moments are thrown up. It’s more bemusing than in many ways amusing that they this year repressed the electro-hefty soundtrack to Nicolas Winding Refn’s Drive, for elsewhere the back catalogue is dark and gristly as black pudding. Luminescent neon pink ain’t exactly the colour.
Though it boasts few acts as veritably uproarious as Thought Forms – a forthcoming split release between Boris and disaffected Bristol folksmith Joe Volk sees even the Japanese drone stoners mellow most unprecedentedly. Though now growing in confidence, Romijn snappily retorts to the notion of the band being label outliers: “It’s so diverse, and there are so many different things in there that Invada is more about a particular mindset than it is about an actual sound.” The mindset is of community; the output of utmost integrity, with its most part plucked from the increasingly fertile picking grounds of the West Country.
Bristol and the surrounding lands are experiencing something of a vivifying renaissance contemporarily, so to speak, with both Invada and Howling Owl – the DIY job to have coincidentally released a Fairhorns track, Sparrows Rush To Fuck You Up, as part of their Record Store Day compilation – spearheading its ominous propulsion down the M4 and beyond, whilst simultaneously perpetuating its musics’ infiltration of the internet. And this resurgence has been duly noted: “I’d say after Denim and Leather [progressive/ experimental event promotions brigade to have put on shows with the likes of Emeralds, Volk and, now of Beak> and aka Fairhorns, Matt Loveridge under his now-defunct Team Brick nom de plume] stopped putting on gigs back around 2009 there was a bit of a lull. But now, things definitely seem to be kicking off again. There are more shows from new bands, and new labels are beginning to crop up about the place which, you know, means more things are happening. And we would consider ourselves to be a Bristol band – definitely.”
Industrial roaring again ransacks the transcript, before the conversation soon screams back to Invada.
“It’s definitely beneficial [being so closely stitched in with the Invada lot] because, you know, the other musicians on the label – Geoff especially – have been able to afford us some amazing experiences. And we feel as though we’ve furthered ourselves through the people we’ve met along the way.” In some instances this careerist piggybacking may be sneered at, though in this instance it is testament to Barrow & co. that they’ve so diligently supported their own kind; their kinsmen and women of sorts. Repetition may be the platform for free-thinking, though the saying would surely boil down to irrelevance were it not for a repeatedly encouraging backing entourage and once more, all Roads lead back to the Glory Box beyond the Magic Doors opened up to the trio, for Ghost Mountain was recorded and co-produced by Get The Blessing bassist Jim Barr – a staunch lynchpin of Portishead’s live setup for 20-odd years. “We’ve added a fair bit more varied instrumentation, and obviously we worked with a producer this time, which really helped with all the arrangements and so on. If there was something we had been struggling with then he’d come in, and all of a sudden it would work out. So as opposed to thinking you know best the whole time, sometimes it’s beneficial to hear someone else’s opinion on it.”
With time has come enhanced understanding (“We sort of all grew up together. The more we’ve played together, the more we understand each other. The more we improvise together, the better grasp we have of our sound”, Romijn confirms) though the calibration of wavelengths undulating at differing paces was almost immediate once they’d set about allowing this other in. “He understands what we’re about, and lets us be who we are so it’s just a case of helping us to get the potential out of the songs. He’s helped us to simplify certain elements of certain ones, too. It’s been massively helpful to have him on board.”
The recording process is – evidently unlike that of self-promotion – one they’ve learnt to love as they continue to clamber a steep learning curve: “We definitely enjoyed it a lot more this time. With our first record [an inexplicably underappreciated eponymous release back in ’09], we were really focussed on trying to capture what we were doing live, but this time round we sort of realised we should’ve been trying to make a record. We took a lot more time over it, and tried to incorporate a better structure into it.”
Though as far as the other, more interactive side to the same shiny, shiny coin may be concerned this particular tour hasn’t been a universally positive experience, with a clutch of merchandise swiped quite saddeningly at a show in Liverpool a few nights previous. It’s not been all fine, dandy, and musically dirgeful therefore: “I don’t think people really do understand [the costs, strain, and further travails of touring]. They think: ‘Oh, well, bands on tour… It’s just a laugh and everything’, but I don’t think they fully realise how much work goes into it, and how much money is pumped in as well. You’ve got to find that money somewhere, and we’re touring out of our own pockets.”
However, with the backing of Invada and the abetment of some thoroughly necessary subsidiary funding from the Performing Right Society, they’ve been able to cobble together this Ghost Mountain – a record they’re all unanimously enamoured with though one that they now “just want to be out there. But I think the fact that it’s taken such a long time, well, it’s all the better for it. If we’d done it a couple years back it would’ve most likely been a rework of the first.”
No bad thing, I’d determinedly contend. I struggle with change, though enough about me, eh?
Despite playing an array of instruments later on in the evening, Romijn may not be the most proficient when it comes to the blowing of Thought Forms’ proverbial brass. Though when the music speaks for itself so insistently and with such an invigorating sense of urgency – as well as at such an intense volume – then that is really of nugatory significance. So spare a thought or two next year for these monolithic post-rock forms…
Ghost Mountain is anticipated February 18th via Invada.