DOC IV Bands Talk About Their Creative LIves

In our final installment of Descendants of Crom IV coverage, we focus on the creative lives of DOC IV bands. We interviewed Descendants of Crom IV bands and learned about their highs, lows, and what gets them through when things are hard. We got insight into their creative process for composing music, performing live, and incorporating visual elements. And finally, we gathered some advice for other musicians and upcoming bands about balance and making it in the heavy scene. Read on to learn more! See you at Crom!

About Descendants of Crom IV

DOC IV poster.

The fourth annual Descendants of Crom, A Gathering of the Heavy Underground, will be held again this year June 3 & 4 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania on both floors of Cattivo Nightclub. Featuring over 15 heavy bands, including legendary fan-favorites, the events begin early Friday evening and are followed by an all-dayer Saturday. Descendants of Crom began in 2017 and has been a strong contender among other established underground music festivals.

Learn more about DOC IV and get tickets here.


Howling Giant

Howling Giant.

Howling Giant is a cosmic stoner rock band from Nashville, Tennessee. Howling Giant is Zach Wheeler (drums, vocals), Tom Polzine (guitar, vocals), and Sebastian Baltes (bass). I talked with Zach Wheeler about the band’s creative life.

What is Howling Giant’s biggest accomplishment?

Zach: Playing Psycho Las Vegas was a pretty big deal for us. Touring the dive bars of the US in a white hearse that was slowly falling apart only to arrive at the Hard Rock Hotel was a wild experience.

What has been Howling Giant’s biggest challenge?

Z: Probably a lot of people mentioning the pandemic, but that was a huge shift for us. We are all bartenders, so we were out of work for a while and had to change mindsets to keep ourselves busy. We started streaming on Twitch a few times a week to keep a solid schedule and that helped keep us afloat until the inevitable return of live music.

What inspires you musically and keeps your band going despite challenges?

Z: Other bands keeping on the grind. When we see someone else overcome challenges as a band, that is super inspiring and we aspire to do the same.

What is Howling Giant’s process for writing and composing?

Z: We usually start with a riff and build the song around that. Tom starts to sing melodies over the arrangement in rehearsal and we end up writing the lyrics last.

How does your live show play a role in the writing and composing process?

Z: We always want to be able to play the material live so we don’t really employ a lot of studio magic. We barely use click tracks as we want our music to breathe and flex a little bit as well.

Are visual elements important to your band and music? Tell me about that.

Z: We are always trying to find the appropriate visual accompaniment to pair with our records, whether that’s the album art or a shirt design. We work closely with Tom’s mom on most of our records and we also have a good friend, Brad Hill, who is an incredible tattoo artist working on a lot of our shirts.

What tips do you have for balancing music with other aspects of your life?

Z: Leave room to breathe. It can be easy to want to go hard at all times, especially as things are slowly opening back up and everyone is excited to perform again. But you need to make sure you and your band mates are in a good mental space to create the best possible material and provide the best possible show for your fans.

What advice do you have for upcoming heavy bands?

Z: Play live, it’s the best way to find your own sound and experiment with new material.

Horehound

Horehound. Photo by Trevor Richards.

Horehound is a doom / sludge metal band from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Horehound is Shy Kennedy (vocals, synths), Brendan Parrish (guitar), Dan Moore (drums), Russ Johnson (bass). I talked with Brendan Parrish about the band’s creative life.

What is Horehound’s biggest accomplishment?

Brendan: Releasing our music and getting to see it enjoyed globally.

What has been Horehound’s biggest challenge?

B: Finding the right mix of band members and writing the best music we can.

What inspires you musically and keeps your band going despite challenges?

B: The ability to play live and write music that our fans appreciate.

What is Horehound’s process for writing and composing?

B: It’s usually a riff idea either on bass or guitar first, then developed from there with drums before it goes to Shy for lyrics and vocals.

How does your live show play a role in the writing and composing process?

B: We make sure any song we record can be played live for the same experience.

Are visual elements important to your band and music? Tell me about that.

B: It’s important for us to be clean and minimalist in our visual approach. Our focus is our music and not appearances so clean design in our stage (black clothes, white lights) and for art in merch and for albums, it’s important to match the feel of the music. Over time our art has become darker and it’s a reflection of our sound. We’ve approached how we seek art and design differently, every time.

What tips do you have for balancing music with other aspects of your life?

B: Make as much time for the music as you can, and it will make the rest of your responsibilities more enjoyable because you have the music to be excited about.

What advice do you have for upcoming heavy bands?

B: Stop focusing on what genre or classification your music is. Don’t worry about having the “right brand” of gear. Write what you do best and what you like.

Quiet Man

Quiet Man.

Quiet Man is a sludge / drone / noise band from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Quiet Man is Ross Bradley (bass, vocals), Joe Hughes (guitar, vocals), Jack Galleo (guitar, vocals, electronics), Keith Riecke (guitar), and Jason Jenigen (drums). I talked to Ross Bradley about the band’s creative life.

What is Quiet Man’s biggest accomplishment?

Ross: I’m extremely proud of our upcoming record but we’ve also gotten to play with so many of our favorite bands like Primitive Man, Bell Witch, Eyehategod, Buzzoven, Bongzilla, Weedeater, Conan, etc. Every time we get to play with our heroes it feels very exciting and vindicating.

What inspires you musically and keeps your band going despite challenges?

R: We work really well off of each other and have had really limited interpersonal drama. It’s just exciting to see what everyone brings to the table and working with a bunch of the kindest and most creative fellas I know is such a pleasure and honor.

What is Quiet Man’s process for writing and composing?

R: We bring stuff to practice, a sound or idea or feeling we want to evince and we jam around for as long as we can. Pretty much the songs are always evolving, even after we’ve recorded them.

How does your live show play a role in the writing and composing process?

R: That jamming definitely extends to the live shows. We’ve tried to add in elements that are entirely new into each live show every time we play, whether that’s a new musical movement or visual or what have you, we try to make every performance special and feel designed for the space and show rather than just presenting a couple tunes straight up as they are on the record.

Are visual elements important to your band and music? Tell me about that.

R: We have a number of really talented visual artists in the band, and I trust our members’ tastes implicitly. We’ve been able to do most of it ourselves and it comes from lots of conversations and pitches and tweaks.

What tips do you have for balancing music with other aspects of your life?

R: I’m awful at it, but it’s doable if you want it.

What advice do you have for upcoming heavy bands?

R: Play the music you want to hear! At the end of the day you have to care about it the most. The people who hop on trends for what is cool, even when their bands take off, they are left unfulfilled so often. Make sure you’re feeding your own soul with your art.

The Long Hunt

The Long Hunt. Photo by Trevor Richards.

The Long Hunt is an instrumental doom / drone / heavy psych band from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The Long Hunt is Trevor Richards (guitar), Allison Kacmar Richards (bass), and Mark Lyons (drums). I talked with my bandmates Trevor Richards and Mark Lyons about the band’s creative life.

What has been The Long Hunt’s biggest accomplishment?

Trevor: As a specific milestone to point to, I’d say our biggest accomplishment has been the completion and release of our most recent album and accompanying animated music video/short film, Threshold Wanderer. The album release was on hold for over two years, mainly as a direct result of the pandemic, and it took over 1000 hours and 8 months to animate and edit the music video in Blender. Simply releasing the thing after so much time and work would be an accomplishment in and of itself but given the fact it has received positive reviews from both fans and critics alike puts this work high on the list of band achievements.

Mark: I consider my biggest accomplishment playing with such great people and doing what I love.

What has been The Long Hunt’s biggest challenge?

T: At the risk of sounding cliché, I’d say getting through the last 2+ years as an intact band unit (and coming out the other side somewhat re-invigorated towards creating new music) was no easy task. A lot of bands weren’t so lucky.

M: I have a lot of challenges: staying positive, resisting depression and trying to keep busy.

What inspires you musically and keeps your band going despite challenges?

T: This can be answered in a lot of different ways. Within the best circumstance, playing music can stop time, or more specifically, eliminate it completely. Everything melts away, and you are in the present moment, singularly merged with the notes themselves. It’s hard to explain, hard to achieve, and worth all the effort to experience, even if it’s an extremely rare thing to behold. This is usually something that comes from playing live, but not always. I guess for me, a lot of “doing the music thing” is to experience that state. Outside of that, it’s probably largely force of will combined with habit.

What is The Long Hunt’s process for writing and composing?

T: I’ll usually come up with some riffs or melodies and bring it to the band at practice. We’ll hammer some things into place, and I’ll bring that more refined idea back to the solo sessions. By the next practice, we’ll be a little further along towards a more finished song. The process keeps repeating until the song is either recorded for an album or abandoned and never played again [laughs].

How does your live show play a role in the writing and composing process?

T: We’ll usually test new song ideas out in front of a live audience a few times before committing them to some final form. Most of our music has improvisational sections that only fully develop in this kind of environment. Once a song is finished and released on a recording, it usually continues to evolve for our live performances, especially during these improv sections. In that way, the songs all have a continued life of their own and are never really finished. The album version of a song is oftentimes only the beginning.

Are visual elements important to your band and music? Tell me about that.

T: There is a strong visual element with the music. We’re very particular with the artwork we use for the album cover and other related media. We often (but not always) play with projected images on stage. We have an album length animated music video to accompany the songs off our most recent album. Everything is done within the band, so as of now, no outsourcing to third parties. Specific images and themes are usually rooted in archetypes and other deeply rooted concepts. We like to leave a little ambiguity to the meaning, as to allow the audience to apply their own meaning, while usually staying within specific thematic parameters of nature, life, death, rebirth, growth, exploration, and other related themes.

What tips do you have for balancing music with other aspects of your life?

T: Everything I do usually feeds back into the music in some way or another, but it doesn’t seem all that overwhelming or out of balance. For me, the only aspect of playing music in the modern technological era that seems overbearing is the marketing and social media aspects. In that regard, I’d say there is nothing wrong with taking a break for a bit to recharge. The likes and reacts and all that other crap will be waiting for you when you get back. People are so bombarded with content from all sides, there’s a good chance they might not even notice you’ve been gone for a day or two [laughs].

What advice do you have for upcoming heavy bands?

T: Practice often and immerse yourself in your craft. Go to other bands’ shows and try to be part of a community. A band can’t exist in a vacuum, especially at the local level, and a social media presence is nothing without interfacing with the “real world” in some way. Success shouldn’t be measured by likes, follows, and views alone. I feel you have to connect with people on a more human level.

M: Practice your craft, be humble. It can be tough to be in this business and stay positive with all the insanity going on.

Horseburner

Horseburner.

Horseburner is a progressive stoner metal band from all over West Virginia. Horseburner is Jack Thomas (guitar, vocals), Adam Nohe (drums, vocals), Matt Strobel (guitar), and Ryan Aliff (bass). I talked with Adam Nohe about the band’s creative life.

What is Horseburner’s biggest accomplishment?

Adam: The biggest achievement for us is probably still being a band and hitting the road like we do. I think a lot of folks would have packed it in a long time ago with how many members we’ve gone through.

What has been Horseburner’s biggest challenge?

A: Pretty much the same. Keeping the train rolling. But you make sacrifices and do what you need to keep pushing.

What inspires you musically and keeps your band going despite challenges?

A: The time on stage every night is worth every other challenge. We love getting out there and meeting people face to face. Literally, there is nothing else in the world that can give you the same feeling.

Besides, what else are we going to do with our time?

What is Horseburner’s process for writing and composing?

A: We’re the world’s slowest song writers. It gets even more difficult when we do have a revolving door of friends helping us stay on the road. We tend to spend so much time making sure our live set is well prepared that we often don’t get to focus as much as we’d like to on the writing process. But it’s usually very diplomatic. I can think of maybe two songs in our entire career that have come from one person nearly completed. It’s a lot of throwing out riffs, jamming, a very natural process. But we are incredibly discerning with our own material, so it takes us quite a while to finish new songs.

How does your live show play a role in the writing and composing process?

A: I feel like we used to focus quite heavily on trying to get our recordings to carry our live energy. I’m honestly not sure that’s possible, not really. We decided live is kind of its own beast, so now we’re focused on making the record the best it can be on its own. It’s what’s going to be left long after we’ve stopped performing, so we want to make the record as good as we possibly can. We’ll use the studio as an instrument, and when we play those songs live, we’ll rely on the energy in the room to make up for any missing layers.

Are visual elements important to your band and music? Tell me about that?

A: Absolutely! When someone puts one of our records on the turntable and holds the jacket in their hands, we want them to have a piece of art that conjures the same feelings as the music. We seek out artists who create the same kind of drama with their visual medium as we do with our music.

What tips do you have for balancing music with other aspects of your life?

A: That is the challenge, isn’t it? Keeping a band going when everyone has a full time (or more) job. The best advice I can think of is to just make sure you give yourself time to keep playing, practicing, creating. If you have that artistic part of you, you have to nurture it. Life will do everything it can to grind you down. Sometimes you come home from work and you’re too tired to be creative. Make yourself do it anyway.

What advice do you have for upcoming heavy bands?

A: Keep your ears and eyes open. Watch and learn from other bands that have been at it for a while. It needs to be fun, but take it seriously. If you’re going to make it real and get out in front of people, have some quality control. If you just want to get drunk and jam with friends, keep it in the garage. On a similar note, your first shows will probably suck. Don’t quit, just keep getting better. Once you begin this journey, you’re not likely to find the same fulfillment anywhere else on earth.

Witching

Witching.

Witching is a blackened sludge, death, melodic metal band from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Witching is Jacqui Powell (vocals), Nate Zagrimanis (guitar, vocals), Lev Ziskind (guitar), Miles Ziskind (drums), and Tatiana Buonassisi (bass). I talked with Jacqui Powell about the band’s creative life.

What’s Witching’s biggest accomplishment?

Jacqui: We have done a couple successful DIY tours (latest with IMMORTAL BIRD) + we were recently asked to headline the Decibel Metal and Beer Fest AFTER PARTY with Year of the Cobra in Philly. We are just glad we are able to release our own music as an independent band.

What has been Witching’s biggest challenge?

J: We took our ancient van on its first tour in December. It started snowing, our windshield wipers stopped working and we had to get up a snowy hill somewhere outside of Columbus OH. The van was swerving, and I started to freak out. Thankfully an 18-wheeler drove up and paved safe passage for us. Nate and I have already been in a car together on an icy mountain, so our PTSD definitely kicked in on that [laughs]. Our lovely driver Dave got us out safe and sound.

What inspires you musically and keeps your band going despite challenges?

J: The urge to keep creating music that is substantial and beautiful.

What is Witching’s process for writing and composing?

J: Our guitarists Nate and Lev write most of the music and bring it to the band. We workshop from there and I start to write lyrics once everyone is happy with the composition.

Are visual elements important to your band and music? Tell me about that.

J: I’ve heard a couple people mention that the artwork we use looks like “Witching.” Vince Bellino of Decibel Magazine has mentioned that to me before. I did the artwork for our Demo and our EP. I have also done a couple flyers and posters for us with acrylic/watercolor/mixed media.

We chose Alex Eckman-Lawn for our record VERNAL (2020). He did an amazing job and truly grasped the essence of the record through imagery and the color palette he chose. I highly recommend Alex’s work. I also highly recommend Brian Mercer’s work, he designed our flower t-shirt and it’s simply magnificent.

What tips do you have for balancing music with other aspects of your life?

J: Having a routine is key and being communicative. Treat being in a band like you are on a sports team, show up for practice, stay hydrated. Be responsible for your own performance, while working together.

What advice do you have for upcoming heavy bands?

J: Practice and love each other.

Makeshift Urn

Makeshift Urn.

Makeshift Urn is a sludge / post-metal band from the Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania area. Makeshift Urn is Joe Hrehocik (drums), John Hrehocik (guitars), Derek Adams (bass, vocals), and Chris Gerber (synths, vocals). I talked with Joe Hrehocik about the band’s creative life (and recently about the meaning behind their song “The Great Attractor.”)

What is Makeshift Urn’s biggest accomplishment?

Joe: Personally, when other musicians or concertgoers approach me after a set and compliment our performance or just genuinely want to chat, those are my greatest accomplishments. I just love playing, so those little intimate interactions with people add to the whole experience for me.

As a band, I’d say being invited to play DOC is our collective greatest achievement. No joke. We put in a lot of hard work to get here, and this is the type of festival you always dream of being asked to play, but, when it happens, it still seems kind of out of reach in a way. Like, when we started out, Chris and I were in our early thirties and John was in his late twenties. Albeit playing together for years prior to this, a real metal scene was unchartered territory to us. It took a lot of navigating, but I feel like we’ve found a home in some sense. That in itself is an accomplishment, but just a mere five years have passed and now we’re playing one of Pittsburgh’s premier underground festivals. It’s nothing short of magical for us.

What’s Makeshift Urn’s biggest challenge?

J: Juggling normal life and being a musician can be tricky. The long-distance relationship we all share, and having my own family, only allows us to rehearse once a month. We make it work because we stay focused and have strong belief in the band. Honestly, though, if that’s our hardest endeavor, we are pretty fortunate. There isn’t one ultimate hardship. It’s a cumulative effect and we’re no different than most of the other underground musicians around the world. We have day jobs and live out our dreams by night!

What inspires you musically and keeps your band going despite challenges?

J: When I catch lightning in a bottle, write the skeleton of a song, and we start hashing it out; to hear it come to life from a notion I had in my head is a really satisfying feeling and makes me want more. When you’re in the room together and things are clicking, you’re feeling it, it’s absolutely inspiring. It awards me a creative outlet and I get to play with my friends. What more can I ask for? I feel like our lineup is the strongest it’s been and the chemistry we have right now is unmatched.

What is Makeshift Urn’s process for writing and composing?

J: It all starts with the almighty riff. Some come from noodling around on my bass and some are crudely hummed into my phone when the idea strikes me. I have a bank of riffs in my head that I ultimately want to twist into Makeshift songs and, over time, they start piecing themselves together. I’ve composed songs over years and I’ve also written songs in a day. It’s not a predictable process! I’ve written and rewritten songs, written parts the night before recording and scrapped some entirely. It’s all a part of the creative process. Ultimately, I like to create songs that shift the listeners emotions several times throughout.

Are visual elements important to your band and music? Tell me about that.

J: I think visuals are a huge part of music. The album art is the first thing you see sometimes before even listening to an artist, so it has to catch your eye. I’m on the tail end of the “if it looks cool, check it out” age group. I have fond memories of searching through Camelot, FYE and eventually a local record shop in my hometown, and sometimes I bought music solely based on the visual aesthetic. For our band, we’ve gone in this cosmic direction with it. Space themes. Shy actually did our T-shirt design which is loosely based off of 2001: A Space Odyssey. I loved when they found a monolith on the moon in that movie and became very intrigued by that imagery. It gave me a very unsettling feeling and I wanted to incorporate that into the band. Like, I want Makeshift songs to make people feel how I felt watching that movie and witnessing that scene for the first time. It’s chilling. We are also working on a full-length album that my cousin, Cecilia, painted the cover art for, also based off of 2001.

What tips do you have for balancing music with other aspects of your life?

J: If you want to make it work, you can. Make time for it. Make it a part of your life if it’s that important to you. It’s not very glamorous at times and instruments and gear are not cheap. But it all funnels into the moments you end up cherishing: playing onstage with your friends. Nothing can ever take that away from you. Short story- a few years ago my wife and I drove up to Erie to see one of my favorite bands and overall hero: Today is the Day and Steve Austin, respectively. It was a Monday if memory serves and we both had to work the next day. Yes, it totally sucked driving three hours and getting home after 2 AM. Yes, we were totally miserable the following day dragging ourselves to work. But we saw Today is the Day rip through a monstrous set and that’s set in stone! I don’t regret a thing. It’s nothing but a very fond memory I share with my wife now. Take the memories while you can get them.

What advice do you have for upcoming heavy bands?

J: Just be honest with yourself and write music that satisfies you. You will filter into a niche when the time is right. First establish your sound, and mean it. If Makeshift Urn can find a home, anyone can!

Foehammer

Foehammer. Photo by Ingrid Cardinell.

Foehammer is a sludge / doom / drone band from the Washington, DC metro region. Foehammer is Jay Cardinell (guitars, vocals) and Ben Price (drums, percussion). I talked with Jay Cardinell about the band’s creative life.

What is Foehammer’s biggest accomplishment?

Jay: Personally I can say our upcoming album Monumentum is my personal favorite musical accomplishment.

What has been Foehammer’s biggest challenge?

J: Surviving Covid, both the time away from music and the illness and personal tragedies associated.

What inspires you musically and keeps your band going despite challenges?

J: A stubborn and likely ignorant will to keep going no matter what, and an awesome network of friends making amazing music alongside us.

What is Foehammer’s process for writing and composing?

J: Usually I or Ben will bring, either a riff or a completed song to practice. Then the other person adds their flavor or flair to the riffs and it gets built from there. Half of our new material was written at home in a more calculated way, and the other half was written on the fly by bouncing riffs off each other in a more collaborative manner.

How does your live show play a role in the writing and composing process?

J: Only in as much as we don’t typically record material that cannot be reproduced by our two-piece lineup in a live setting, which is less limiting than one might think.

Are visual elements important to your band and music? Tell me about that.

J: Our album art has always been a collaborative process with our artists. For our most recent album we worked with Rebecca Magar (Cultic, The Owls ANWTS) to evoke a scene of vast landscapes and creeping dread. We’ve always found our artists naturally, either through just being friends already or by recommendation.

What tips do you have for balancing music with other aspects of your life?

J: Play as much music as you can, while you can. Life is too short.

What advice do you have for upcoming heavy bands?

J: Dig deep or don’t bother.

BRidesmaid

Bridesmaid. Photo by Trevor Richards.

Bridesmaid is an instrumental band from Columbus, Ohio. Bridesmaid is Bob Brinkman (bass), Boehm (drums), Scott Hyatt (bass), and Cory Barnt (drums). I talked with Bob Brinkman about the band’s creative life (and recently about the connections between music, depression, and PTSD).

What’s Bridesmaid’s biggest accomplishment?

Bob: Being featured in Bass Play and writing for them.

What has been Bridesmaid’s biggest challenge?

B: Keeping the way we relate to each other fun, and free of strife.

What inspires you musically and keeps Bridesmaid going despite challenges?

B: Seeing how far we can push things, and the results.

What is Bridesmaid’s process for writing and composing?

B: We mostly bring in finished songs then add tweaks to them together.

How does your live show play a role in the writing and composing process?

B: We have to consider how things will sound at full volume and with various effects/amps.

Are visual elements important to Bridesmaid? Tell me about that.

B: Kinda, we are two drummers and two bass players and part of the presentation is setting the drummers up facing each other.

What tips do you have for balancing music with other aspects of your life?

B: Do your best to keep it to 40 hours of work a week and leave the rest for you.

What advice do you have for upcoming heavy bands?

B: Be nice, be consistent, do what you can to show venues and other bands you have your shit together. If you don’t have it together work on that.

Tel

Tel. Photo by Gage Shanahan.

Tel is a sludge / doom / post-metal band from Richmond, Virginia. Tel is Dante DuVall (vocals, keyboards), Michael Potts (guitars), Ed Fierro (bass), and Jonah Butler. I talked with Dante DuVall about the band’s creative life.

What is Tel’s greatest accomplishment?

Dante: Releasing our first album Lowlife.

What has been Tel’s biggest challenge?

D: Trying to stay inspired during COVID-19 and two major lineup changes.

What inspires you musically and keeps your band going despite challenges?

D: Life’s hardships are the biggest inspiration for the band’s songs and using the music as a means of catharsis from those challenges.

What is Tel’s process for writing and composing?

D: All songwriting is collaborative. All four members contribute to writing the riffs and song structures. Lyrics are all written by [me].

How does your live show play a role in the writing and composing process?

D: Some songs are much more melodic whilst others much heavier and extreme, and deciding which songs will be incorporated into a setlist is how the live shows play a role in the writing and composing process.

Are visual elements important to your band and music? Tell me about that.

D: We like dim blue or red lighting during our performances to create an unsettling and anxious ambiance.

What tips do you have for balancing music with other aspects of your life?

D: Routine is key; set one or two times a week to dedicate solely to the craft without distraction.

What advice do you have for upcoming heavy bands?

D: Stay at it, day job or not. Create and collaborate with other artists you like, and step outside of your comfort zone in terms of composing.


Thanks for reading about the creative lives of some of the Descendants of Crom IV bands! Many thanks to the bands that participated and Shy Kennedy for her support of the heavy underground scene! Be well!

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