With two stellar records released back-to-back, Hundred Year Old Man are making the most out of their 2018. From the shoegaze-drenched Rei EP, to the oppressive weight of Breaching, up seems to be the only place to go from here for this Leeds-based post-metal sextet. With their focus on creating atmospheres and walls of sound, dynamics, and crushing doom and gloom, Hundred Year Old Man brings a cinematic quality to post-metal that the genre has been lacking in recent years.
In this new interview we sat down with guitarist Tom Wright to discuss the creation of both records, post-metal and more.
Could you please introduce yourself and your role in Hundred Year Old Man?
I am Tom, I am one of two guitarists.
How did Hundred Year Old Man come to be?
A few years ago, Owen had planned to make a collaborative album with input from all the friends/bandmates he had met over our years of playing and touring in previous bands, but at the same time, I was wanting to start a slow, heavy band. I then part stole his idea and part forced us to make it a live band initially by getting some of those people together.
The two of us had previously got together with Dan and spent the day in my basement just playing together and having a laugh. We finished the day by just playing an extended song together for about half an hour and recording it all, as I’d already had the space set up to record the band I was in at the time.
These two situations then merged in to one – we agreed I couldn’t/shouldn’t play drums, Dan joined on keyboards and we found Steve, Aaron and Paul, all while starting to write songs and building the beginnings of Breaching. Owen also spent some time reworking that initial recording, which then became the self-titled HYOM release.
We’ve always kept the underpinnings of a collective/collaboration, so the live band is constantly evolving, and we have a lot of additional input from others for recorded material. I think we’re up to 22 people so far – will have to do a family tree at some point.
The band have been described as “post-metal”, or “ambient post-sludge metal” as you have put it. What was your first exposure to this style of music and what do you feel this extreme music subgenre accomplishes that others do not?
My first exposure was probably around 2001/2002 I think. I ended up with a copy of Cult of Luna’s self-titled album probably after hearing a track on a magazine cover CD, as that’s where I found most of my music at the time. I listened to that pretty solidly for a while, once going for a 6-mile walk along the railway at night just listening to it on repeat. I then ended up getting majorly into bands like ISIS, Pelican, Knut and Jesu a few years later.
For me it’s the dynamics that make the genre stand out, the bleakness and softer sections exaggerate the impact of louder sections and allow the music and experience to feel far more intense.
How do you personally feel Hundred Year Old Man approaches the genre differently than others?
We have tried to add drone influences as this is something Owen has done a lot of in the past – he plays quite a few parts with a cello bow. There are a few purely drone tracks on Breaching, however, we wanted to make sure these parts appeared as actual tracks and not just ‘interludes’, hence the way they are included.
To be honest thought we didn’t pay a great deal of attention to deliberately doing things a certain way, we just let everything happen naturally as much as possible. I’ve found in the past that forcing a particular sound or direction tends to make the music less interesting overall, as everyone is struggling to tailor parts to a perceived idea and it’s just not as natural.
How do you feel writing and performing with Hundred Year Old Man has pushed you as a musician?
I think it has made us all think much more about the music as a whole rather than what we each play individually. In previous bands, I and others have always been more focused on the individual which can sometimes lead to great parts that just don’t work with each other.
Owen and I were in a band together previously (I joined to replace their original guitarist, which is actually how we met) so we’ve been playing together for over ten years now and have become quite used to writing together. We’ve always been heavily into effects and creating different sounds with a guitar or keyboard, and we’ve continued to refine that in HYOM.
Due to the nature of the band, a lot of us have come from already being in bands with each other over the years, so there is always a bit of familiarity in how we all work together. We recently had three new members and it was amazing quite how quickly everything fell into place.
Back in January you released the Rei EP. What can you tell us about the creation of that record?
The tracks on Rei were originally intended for a Split-EP with another band which for various reasons didn’t end up happening. We were then sat on them for a while, as various things meant we couldn’t tour at that point and we didn’t want to release them without being able to tour at the same time.
The tracks themselves were recorded at the end of the session we had to record Breaching – Sun and Moon had been partially written for a few years beforehand but the others were written and recorded there and then. This meant that we could experiment a bit more as there were no pressures or expectations for what it would/might sound like. Most of the track Rei was actually recorded in one take with a lot of gesturing between us.
The three-song EP showcases a heavy emphasis on creating walls of sound and atmosphere. What inspired you all to dabble with these kinds of sounds and what do you feel they add to your sound?
We love atmosphere and definitely love walls of sound. I don’t think there was any conscious effort to include either more on Rei than on anything else, it is just the way the tracks took shape. At that point we also weren’t thinking about how any of the EP would be played live, so at some points there is a lot more instrumentation than we would normally have as we were adding lots of extra layers. We normally tend to only write and record we what can play live, partly because of the way we write music, but also because we want the recordings and live performance to be as close as possible.
Just a few months after Rei’s release, Hundred Year Old Man released the Breaching LP. What went into creating the album?
We knew well beforehand that we would be recording Breaching ourselves so had been planning how it would happen for a while. We booked New Craven Hall in Leeds for the week as I had recorded a few bands in there before and loved the reverb sound in the room. We wanted to try and use as little artificial reverb as possible because of that, so we had mics everywhere just to capture the sound properly. The sheer size of the room also meant we had plenty of room to spread everything out and crank all the amps properly – although we had to record the drone parts at night because we kept getting noise complaints from the studios next door. We took that as a compliment though.
Doing it all ourselves made the whole thing much more relaxed than it could have been, but it also made it difficult to stop tweaking things afterwards as there was no one else telling us ‘it’s done, leave it alone’. I’m not sure whether we will do it the same way next time, but we’re definitely pleased with how everything came out.
The album features a pretty seamless blend of the atmospheric/ambient qualities found on Rei and the band’s heavier post-metal/sludge/doom characteristics. Was this intentional or did the record’s sound evolve organically with the writing process?
The tracks on Breaching have all been written in different ways since the beginnings of the band. Initially Owen and I were writing parts and recording them ourselves then arranging everything on a computer, as we didn’t have an actual drummer to begin with. After we had a basic outline (and a full band) we started playing the songs together and they developed more. Others were started as a band, then demoed on computer and reworked as we went.
Overall, we tend to write by playing the songs together and playing them live, so everything was always changing a little bit over time – parts would slowly be refined or changed slightly.
There were a lot of different ideas going around initially, I think we have two or three songs that were left just in initial demo form as they weren’t really fitting with everything else, but we’ll probably go back to them at some point. When we first started pulling things together to make the band Owen and I had pretty different ideas of what style the band was going to be, but we all seem to have met well in the middle and created something better than any of us would have done on our own. That’s why we make sure everyone has full input on the music though – no one person has overriding control of the sound/direction.
The album features a re-recording of 2017 single “Black Fire”. What is it about that track that drew you back to it and prompted you to include it on the record?
The intention was always to have it on Breaching, but we also wanted to have some music recorded and available for people to listen to early on. In essence, the versions of Black Fire and Disconnect on that release were both demos as both have changed to their versions on Breaching.
What are some of the themes explored on the record?
The album deals with loss, depression and domestic violence among other things.
What was the inspiration of the album’s title and how does it relate to the record’s themes? Where could the staircase on the front cover be leading to?
A few members of the band have experienced or dealt with depression in various forms over the years, so the artwork and title relate to that in many ways; quite how they tie in is really up to the listener and how it all relates to them though.
Overall I’ve always preferred to leave things as open to interpretation as possible as people will draw their own meaning from titles, lyrics and the music, so I wouldn’t want to destroy that. The various vocalists obviously have their own meanings for the lyrics they have written, and I know the rest of us have interpreted both those and the songs themselves in our own ways. Even within the band different songs and the album as a whole mean different things to each of us.
What is next for Hundred Year Old Man in the near future?
We are opening Bloodstock Festival this year, plus loads of other dates throughout. We’re then hoping to get back out to Europe early next year before Brexit makes it too difficult (hopefully it won’t but we’re not optimistic on that one). In the midst of all that we are already working on new material for the next release, whatever form that might take…
June 1 – Ivory Black’s in Glasgow
June 2 – Club Rock in Carlisle
June 3 – Opium in Edinburgh