By Dave Pehling

SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) — Ever since first coming together in 2004, Miami-based band Torche has been pushing the envelope of heavy rock with its bone-crushing, tuneful sounds. Put together by former members of doom outfit Floor — guitarist/singer Steve Brooks and guitarist Juan Montoya (also ex-Cavity) — along with drummer Rick Smith and bassist Jonathan Nuñez, the quartet refined the droning, downtuned stoner rock of that band. Emphasizing Brooks’ melodic vocals and knack for hooky riffs, the new quartet’s 2005 self-titled debut for Robotic Empire established the group as a force to be reckoned with.

The band would issue a follow-up EP In Return two years later prior to making their breakthrough sophomore album Meanderthal for new label Hydra Head. Recorded with Converge guitarist and noted producer Kurt Ballou at his GodCity Studio, the effort earned Torche its most widespread acclaim yet thanks to pulverizing earworms like “Grenades” and the propulsive, radio-ready track “Across the Shields” that landed the recording on numerous year-ending best of lists.

The group would further build on their growing audience with tours alongside like-minded bands like Harvey Milk, Isis, Boris and Pelican while establishing themselves as a festival favorite. Despite the departure of Montoya over creative differences, the band would continue its streak of success with the Songs For Singles EP (recorded as a trio) and the 2012 album Harmonicraft, the first to feature new guitarist Andrew Elstner.

Pushing the quartet’s trademark collision of catchy choruses and hammering riffs to new heights, the album earned Torche another round of glowing reviews. The band would go on a hiatus that allowed Brooks to reunite Floor for a second time (the group had toured in 2010 and released a box set featuring multiple discs of previously unissued recordings), releasing the new collection Oblation for Seasons of Mists in 2014 before Brooks and Torche reconvened to craft the band’s next sludgy masterwork Restarter for new label Relapse the following year.

Torche took another break after the album’s touring cycle with Elstner making a sudden departure. Instead of bringing on a new guitarist, when the band gathered to work on the music that would become their latest Relapse Records release Admission, Nuñez would switch to guitar with Wrong bass player Eric Hernandez (who had previously toured with the band filling in for drummer Smith) joining the fold. Steve Brooks recently spoke with CBS SF about the band’s acclaimed new effort ahead of two upcoming Northern California dates at the Starline Social Club in Oakland and Harlow’s in Sacramento.

Torche

Torche

CBS SF: Admission is the first effort since the departure of Andrew Elstner and Jonathan Nunez switching to guitar from bass. How did that change impact the writing for the new album?

Steve Brooks: Well we had a couple guitar players who didn’t work out, and John had originally started as a guitar player. He took up bass in the band when we started and played bass until recently. But he’s always been a guitar player. Him switching over happened pretty smoothly.

CBS SF: So he wasn’t learning a new instrument. It was just a matter of integrating his playing a new instrument into the band’s sound?

Steve Brooks: Exactly.

CBS SF: Do you write collectively? Or are you the principle songwriter for Torche?

Steve Brooks: We each wrote some of the music on the record. We collaborated on some songs and other songs were completely realized on their own. Some of the songs were written probably three or four years ago. Like “Time’s Missing” and “Submission.” Those were old songs. Once Eric joined, he had a bunch of material and we all collaborated and worked it out from there.

CBS SF: Did you audition or consider other guitarists before Jonathan made the switch? Or was that the first idea you went with? When you said you had a couple guitarists who didn’t work out, I wasn’t sure if you were referring to the other guitarists who played and recorded in the band, or that you’d actually tried out a couple new guitarists when Andrew left who didn’t work out…

Steve Brooks: Yeah, it didn’t work out with Juan or Andrew. For the most part, it’s been me, Rick and John collaborating on the same page. And then Eric used to fill in on drums for Rick starting back in 2006. So Eric joining the band, it was kind of a no brainer. He’s been an asset. It’s been great. He kind of grew up with those guys. We’ve known him for a long time, so him being part of the band was kind of natural.

CBS SF: Are you currently on a break between legs of the tour to promote Admission? I know you had a bunch of dates on the East Coast and recently did the Live in the K! Pit for Kerrang in Brooklyn and the Late Night with Seth Meyers. Are you just home until the next leg starts up?

Steve Brooks: Yeah, the next leg of the tour starts, I think, Wednesday in Nashville. Right now I’m home chilling. I was supposed to fly into Miami tomorrow night, but there’s a hurricane happening. So I’ve got a couple more days at home and then I fly to Nashville and we start the tour from there.

CBS SF: This was a fairly healthy break between Restarter and Admission. It sounds like you had some of the songs together well before the recording process started for this album. What did you do during the time off after touring for Restarter?

Steve Brooks: We all just needed a break. We’d all been going hard with the band for a long time, so basically, I moved out to LA and John ended up moving back to Miami, where he started an amp company. We’re all playing his amps. Rick started a screen printing business, so he’s printing up all our merch.

I was working as a security guard and bartending and bar backing here in LA. Just kind of taking a break from the music. And then we started working on it again last year and now the record’s out. We needed a break. We had been touring like crazy for a long time, so we took a few years off. We did a tour here and there, but it was a nice little break to recharge ourselves.

CBS SF: A lot has been made of the shoe-gaze aspect of a couple of the songs on Admission. Is there any band or album that was a touchstone for you as far as bringing that element into the band’s sound?

Steve Brooks: That element has kind of been in the band since the beginning.

CBS SF: I can see that. It just seems a little more pronounced on the title track in particular on this album…

Steve Brooks: We just write songs, and sometimes they come out a little more swirly than others [laughs]. It just happened that way basically.

CBS SF: Another thing I noticed on the title tune from Admission is the use of ringing guitar tones that reminded me of U2’s guitarist the Edge – especially Unforgettable Fire era– and Big Country. I was wondering if that type of sound was something you were trying to capture?

Steve Brooks: Big Country, old U2 and Catherine Wheel. A lot of those bands had an influence on us. It’s funny that you mention Big Country. I used to do the “SHOCK!” in songs and that was my little Big Country tribute [laughs]. The guitar playing is a definite influence. And band’s like Jane’s Addiction. There’s all kinds of stuff that has influenced us. We’re a band from the early 2000s that is basically inspired by everything in the 40 years before that. So we’re kind of all over the place. Everything from noise to the most melodic stuff. We have our identity to kind of do what we want with it.

CBS SF: You’ve always been clear in your admiration of the Melvins. I think one quote I came across was that you said Bullhead “ruined metal” for you…

Steve Brooks: It was just heavier than anything I’d ever heard, other than Swans or Godflesh, you know? It was heavy and punk. It was rock; rock and roll in the best possible way. How do you describe that? It wasn’t limited. They were able to go anywhere and that was a huge influence on me. I wanted to do something powerful and heavy, but also something that allowed me to play different types of songs.

CBS SF: I can hear some of their inspiration in Torche’s guitar sound, the riffs and the concision of your songwriting, but you’ve never gone in for the kind of epic extended drone workout heard on “Boris” or “Charmicarmicat.” Is that just a direction your songwriting doesn’t gravitates toward?

Steve Brooks: No, like I said, we have out identity. We’re not trying to sound like any other band. The Melvins were an influence on me as a musician. Also they were inspiring as a DIY band. We’re basically a DIY band. We record ourselves, now we’re doing our own videos, we have our own amps, we print our own shirts. We kind of do everything ourselves. As far as the droning stuff, my other band Floor did a lot of that. We did the 20-minute songs and stuff like that. I guess after a while is gets a little boring [laughs]. I like short songs. It’s probably more of a Ramones or Guided By Voices approach. Get to the point, basically. In and out. Some of the songs are less than a minute long [laughs]…

CBS SF: Since you mentioned Floor, I did want to ask about that band too. You’ve gotten back together a couple of times in the last decade, most recently for the release of Oblation in 2013. I’m sure you’re going to be busy with Torche for a while after the release of Admission, but any plans for that group in the future?

Steve Brooks: I don’t think that’s going to happen any time soon. Our drummer is having health issues, so we’re not going to do anything until he’s back on his feet. We haven’t really discussed it. It’s really up to him. But I’m not really thinking about that. I’m just focusing on Torche.

CBS SF: You made your first appearance on national television when you played Late Night with Seth Meyers a couple of weeks ago. How was that experience for the band?

Steve Brooks: It was new [laughs]! It was a new experience. We’re playing in front of a bunch of tv cameras. It was kind of nerve-wracking in a way, because you’ve just got to get up there an do it. But it was a great experience. The treated us great and everybody was super nice. Seth Meyers was really nice. And we were on tv {laughs]!

CBS SF: I heard that you set a decibel record as far as being the loudest band to appear on the show. Is that true?

Steve Brooks: Yeah, Seth Meyers posted it. We weren’t even turned up that loud. We weren’t even trying. We were just trying to sound as good as we could and we broke a record [laughs]. We’re a loud band.

CBS SF: Having seen you a few times, I can confirm that you are a loud band. One show you played in SF that I really regret missing was the night you were at the SF Eagle about five years ago. I was working that night and it was super sold out anyway, but I was wondering how you ended up playing there?

Steve Brooks: My roommate when I lived in San Francisco was one of the owners of the Eagle. The owners are really good friends of mine. Part of San Francisco family is there at the Eagle; they either work there or they own it. When they reopened it, one of the first things they wanted to do was move the bar and build up the stage so they could have more shows. I was like, “Yeah, I want to play there!” So both my bands played.

CBS SF: Oh, so Floor played there too? I remember the show you did at the Elbo Room, but I don’t remember the Eagle date…

Steve Brooks: Yeah, we played there too.

CBS SF: So how long did you live in San Francisco?

Steve Brooks: For a couple of years. I was just up there actually. I just came back last night. I was up for the week. It’s one of my homes. I have a good family there. A lot of close friends.

CBS SF: I was a little disappointed to see a lack of Meanderthal tunes on this tour.  That was my introduction to the band and I kind of have a soft spot for it. Is that just to maximize the new material? It looks like you’re playing most of the album…

Steve Brooks: We’ve been playing the stuff from Meanderthal for so long. We’re just kind of focusing on the more recent material. We’ll definitely go back to that in the future, but for right now we’re concentrating on promoting the new record.

Torche plays the Starline Social Club in Oakland on Wednesday, Sept. 11, and Harlow’s in Sacramento on Thursday, Sept. 12. Pinkish Black and SRSQ also perform.

 

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