Thy Sinister Bloom | Interview
ROBIN BAILEY / THY SINISTER BLOOM
WORDS: KEVIN JACOB
“I think we take some strange pride and enjoyment in the enigma”
Thy Sinister Bloom is a band that has unique position in Irish metal lore.
Playing a variant of metal that is on the very periphery of the genre, yet they are amongst the most cherished and exalted acts this country has produced.
Very far from prolific, and even further away from the spotlight coveted by others, TSB have nonetheless held many of us in their thrall for years, allowing us only fleeting moments and brief encounters before melting away from whence they came.
Kevin Jacob caught up with guitarist Rob Bailey in attempt to reveal some of what has been hidden away since the bands inception, way back in 1993.
Kev – It’s an obvious question to begin with Rob, but for such an almost shadowy band, how did TSB V1.0 come into being?
Robin – “To be perfectly honest & probably purposefully awkward, the initial formation of nearly 20 years ago is not relevant to where & who we are today. Apart from the main factor that keeps us in (slow) forward motion today, which is a bunch of friends with a common musical interest & a desire to create new sounds together. We weren’t as shadowy back in the day as we are now, but we do enjoy the light of the shade.”
Apart from a pair of very hard to come by demos from the mid nineties, the 2008 release of the cherished Serein Falls EP, itself something from the depths of TSB history, is the only record to have emerged from the shadows.
Do you feel that this lack of recorded material is because of the aforementioned enjoyment of the shade, or were there other factors at work?
“There are always other factors both at work & not so. At the time in ’96, Serein Falls was to be our breakthrough work leading us hopefully to a deal for a full length & more… Alas, it never happened (mainly due to financial constraints & good old fashioned Irish apathy!) & the band subsequently drifted away leaving an unfinished legacy.
Since we reformed in late 2007, no recordings have surfaced yet, in the main due to a little bit of creative perfectionism & not being able to put shape to a wholly complete representation of where we feel our sound is & should be.
We have lots of uncompleted work, but nothing concrete enough for release. I think that comes with us working in the realm of long songs and the fact that we have drifted towards more drone-like passages which give the music a more personal cathartic function.
That’s why we started leaking out rehearsals online to document our continued (albeit shadowy!) existence and the fact that we may be working towards something more monumental.”
That drift towards a more drone orientated sound could be viewed as natural considering the meandering, lengthy tracks we’ve come to expect from the band, but it’s also something of a departure from the dream-like, hazy guitar textures and the doomy, emotive vocals of the earlier TSB work.
Could you tell us who influenced you both then and now, and whether or not your own influences reflect this change in dynamic?
“It’s no secret that the initial influences for us were Death/Doom & traditional Doom metal, but we always strived for our own sound (scapes) emphasising the melancholic & atmospheric above the heavy & metal elements. Serein Falls was more informed by our furthering interest in psychedelic rock & electronic ambient music coupled with our parallel distancing from all things heavy and therefore became our trademark dreamy, hazy & emotive sound.
I still think we carry forward these elements into our current incarnation, but our overall approach is definitely much more informed by mutual interests in a wider range of music ranging from Jazz, Classical, Ethnic, Electronic, Drone etc.
Also, the decision to proceed without vocals has driven us into more experimental directions & definitely pushes us to change the dynamic of guitar/bass/drums.
So, more percussive elements come to the fore, more effects on the guitar & bass, more possibilities of additional instruments & guests, maybe even some type of vocals by us… It’s all open for exploration.
My personal taste in music obviously adds to the mix in the pot and is very much derived from many musical styles & individual instruments, not just guitar. Yes, over the past few years my ears have been drawn more to electronic & drone and this comes out in me exploring a very textural & layered style of playing.
I think this has added to the band dynamic rather than changing our style. It’s still all about emotions & sounds. Perhaps more driven than hazy, but that may be the result of getting older & more cynical.”
TSB live performances are almost as rare as recorded material. The DOD 2008 show was one of the highlights of the weekend for many. With such a lithe, ethereal and sinuously powerful live show, why don’t we see you guys more often on the gigging circuit?
“I think we take some strange pride and enjoyment in the enigma of few and far between live performances. Often less of something makes it more precious, no?
Another aspect which can’t go unmentioned is our position (or perhaps not even a position at all) upon the periphery of the metal scene here in Ireland.
Whilst DOD in 2008 was indeed a positive show for us we honestly didn’t want us paving that path down a “to-a-certain extent” prescribed & expected metal route.
Playing that festival and subsequent shows that year made us more aware of what directions we didn’t want to take our music.
The truth is we’re not very metal folk, we have no desire to play metal based music, but we do recognise that we have our roots & history in that scene and have maintained a small but loyal following within it.
That said, the music which we play now should appeal across the board and not polarize us into any one genre.”
While acknowledging the bands provenance in the metal scene, TSB’s music is perhaps on the periphery of what is considered to fall into the parameters of metal.
Many bands have emerged, particularly from doom metal to become a diluted or ‘doom lite’ incarnation of their original selves.
TSB have changed fundamentally and little of that original metallic sound remains. Why do you think that those fans within the scene have remained so loyal?
“Well, it’s not that hard to keep 4 or 5 fan boys happy really, is it? I don’t think that we diluted the sound as such; rather we expanded on the elements that we felt most expressive and most enjoyable to play.
By ‘Serein Falls’ we were already moving away from the metallic sound, so it was a natural maturity for us years later to continue this exploration.
We still maintain a similar atmosphere & I guess a certain heaviness or intensity in the overall sound, just without relying on any certain type of riff (over)driven song structure or such like.
We like to lose ourselves in the music so therefore rely on the fact that some listeners enjoy that type of journey also.”
It´s interesting that you mention losing yourselves in the music, as I have always found a sense of immersion, almost escapism from Serein Falls in particular. Does this reflect the song writing approach? Could you take us through the process of crafting a TSB track?
“Well, therein lies the reason we take so long to complete things. ‘Serein Falls’ was very much a team effort in the rehearsal studio. Jeff was actually a very good “conductor” or perhaps task master (!) in that he was able to suggest a structure to the ideas myself & Cory jam out.
Nowadays, it is very much a band jam situation, consisting mostly of improvising around prepared ideas. It is hard work & mostly results in swollen, sprawling & unrepeatable passages.
We are currently revising this process somewhat before we creep into 40, 50 or 60 minute tune territory!
As the music has developed into more of a meditative tone, it tends to be driven by the bass and drums, leaving me the freedom to float the guitar in & around the momentum, hence the drone tendencies rather than straight ahead riffs.
In essence though, we like to feel the bass & drums are the conduit for the musical journey and the guitar paints the undulating landscape! In other words, it’s just 3 blokes with instruments playing some random notes, sometimes in succession, sometimes not!
Do you feel there is a possibility of fulfilling those early ambitions of becoming a signed, touring band, or does the band have a different future?
“Ha! No, not at all! Seeing that we’ve managed a grand total of 5 gigs in 18 years, I dare say that the touring circuit is not for us! We’re purely musos who just want to make music whenever it’s convenient and feels right. Maybe we’ll do more someday, maybe not. No grand design shaping it all.”
You can get all the band’s demos at their bandcamp.
I guess it all adds to the mystique! Was the almost universal acclaim that greeted the belated release of Serein Falls a temptation to change course? Collectively, it must have been humbling to absorb what were, without descending into hyperbole, extremely favourable reviews.
“I think it was more a case of internal pride with that release. We knew in 1996 that it was good & we are still proud of the tunes today. That drove the motivation to properly release it on CD in 2008, coupled with a number of requests for it as quite a few CD-r versions were doing the rounds!
Still wouldn’t mind it on vinyl someday though… I suppose the acclaim did carry the expectation that we would just pick up where we left off, but we quickly found out that it was evident that we needed to expand upon that sound to fit into current climes and our own current musical preferences.
Funnily enough, the gigs we did in 2008, as previously mentioned, tempted us down a more unexpected “metal” route more so than the EP reviews, but we knocked that on the head quick enough! As most bands know it is tempting to take too much credence from reviews both good and bad, but universally more satisfying to stick to ones guns and play for yourself. And that will always be the way forward for us.”
Thanks a lot for allowing us an insight into the BLOOM. Any last thoughts you’d like to leave us with?
“I think I’ve divulged enough for now! Just thanks to you Kev for the interest & to the handful of other folk who have remained mildly piqued by us over the ever-stretching years! And congrats on the forthcoming Bloomer you have in the oven!”
- Interview by Kevin Jacob ::: 24/04/12