Learn intimate details of Samothrace from their interview posted on Pitchfork last Friday:
The best way to introduce you to Lawrence, Kansas, doom crusts Samothrace is to let you listen to "Awkward Hearts", the second (and shortest) song from their excellent four-song, 47-minute debut, Life's Trade. Think Thou, Sanctum, Asunder, and Zoroaster minus the latter's recent psychedelic noodling. There are a number of delicate passages, more fist pumping/lighter territories than you can count. Much like their sound, the quartet's lyrical content-- the human condition, the powerless becoming powerful-- is bleakly triumphant, no matter how heavy it gets. I caught up with guitarist/vocalist Bryan L. Spinks while the band was on the road-- where they always seem to be.
Pitchfork: How long have you been playing together? Bryan L. Spinks: We have been playing together for three years this fall. We had to form the band via phone and internet due to living situations, mainly one of us in Kansas and two of us in New Mexico.
Pitchfork: How did Samothrace come about? BLS: We conceptualized Samothrace out of the respect we had for one another from our various crust and stoner bands of the past, and the level of musicianship involved. We wanted to play heavy, heavy tunes for the times.
Pitchfork: How does a crusty doom band from Lawrence, Kansas end up with a name referencing an island town in Greece? Looking at the album art for Life's Trade, I'm thinking maybe you're named after the sculpture The Winged Victory Of Samothrace. BLS: We had a few reasons for choosing the name Samothrace, none of which having to do with heritage or lineage. It is said that Homer wrote the story of Poseidon, God of the Sea, from atop the highest peak on the island whilst watching the Trojan war unfold in the sea. We thought that was a good start. As for the statue of Nike; it was discovered at the "Sanctuary of the Great Gods." Thing is, scholars are uncertain as to exactly who/what the "Gods" were. We were thinking that a god(s) fallen to antiquity would be an even better basis. The statue was discovered with no head or arms, defeated. The Goddes of Victory, defeated. Yeah, buddies!
Pitchfork: While we're on the topic, can you discuss the concept behind the cover art? Is it something you collaborated on with the artist? How does it relate to the concepts contained within the record? BLS: After our first bit of artwork from artist Tom Denney, we decided to stick with the imagery of the Winged Goddes of Victory. Tom drew our first shirt design depicting the statue as alive and struggling to break out of this desolate marsh, if you will. We ended up really liking the art/concept, so when we were moving forward on the art for Life's Trade, we thought we'd suggest a continuance of this imagery. All that was said to Life's Trade artist David V. D'Andrea was, "Maybe you'd like to do your own variation on the statue of Nike, the Winged Goddess of Victory, found at Samothrace island?" He did all the rest, and we are extremely stoked with it. We've had lots of positive comments on the artwork. Folks dig. As for relating to the album concepts, not sure how tied in it may actually be. May be a question better suited for Mr. D'Andrea, but I can say that even defeated, broken, and restrained, anything can have a bit of awe left. A bit of life. Perhaps even in death.
Pitchfork: On the topic of lyrics... In "Awkward Hearts" the lyrics refer back to the album title. BLS: "Awkward Hearts" is about the plight of the oppressor and the oppressed, and the dichotomy between them. The basic statement of "Awkward Hearts" is that we are merely a vessel in existence, to be traded freely as those who seek to do so see fit. Basically, we are nothing to those in power, to be traded freely as human commodity. Forcing a meaningless and/or thoughtless existence. The lyric explains to the oppressor that they're pigs in shit for what they've done. To the oppressed, that they're chosen destiny is forced upon them and that all they are is a trade in life's game. The song then goes on to explain, albeit poetically, that life's trade are souls sold, the crushing of ideals and culture, and the merging and destroying of gods and religion. Man, we've heard so many staright forward, cookie cutter lyrics over the years. I wasn't setting out to confuse or beat around the bush, I just wanted to leave it up to the listener. Stretch the brain.
Pitchfork: When I think of Lawrence, I think of Burroughs. Has he had any influence on you guys/your worldview? How about Lawrence, Kansas in general... the landscape or the people or whatever. BLS: Burroughs, nah. Lawrence, maybe? Lawrence is just where we ended up. It's an awesome little town. Good scene for all types of music, good folks, etc... Couple of great bars, too. The metal community there is strong and growing. It's a great stop on those long-ass tours where the midwest is failing you. We call Lawrence "the Dirty South of the Midwest."
Pitchfork: Your take on doom is pretty complex. There's a lot going on... it's ideal headphone music in a lot of ways-- a bunch of layers. There are moments of drone, but a ton of intricate passages with dual guitar interplay, extending soloing, big builds and crashes, extremely delicate passages. Who were some early influences? How did you develop your current sound? Did Sanford add anything in the studio? BLS: As for influences, we are all so varied. It'd take days to explain. We have all been involved in the underground and DIY metal/punk/hardcore community for years. We all started booking shows, playing gigs, and touring when we were teenagers. We were very much involved in these communities in Oklahoma and Kansas. That totally shaped our way of life. As for current sound, we just set out to play detuned doom with our own spin. At least that's what we hope we've done. We knew we wanted a prominent dual guitar sound with intricate bass lines and varied drumming. We started playing together and over the course of a year or so we developed our formula/approach to writing and playing Samothrace's music. Kinda fell into a groove, so to speak. We love traditional doom/stoner metal, but we knew we had to play it differently for ourselves and for y'all.
Pitchfork: Dave (from 20 Buck Spin) "discovered" you guys at a live show, right? BLS: Here is how it went down... Dave was at SXSW in Austin in 2007. He was at a party at our brother Theron's house. Theron had the non-mastered copy of our demo CD I had given him a week or two before in Lawrence. The demo was playing on the stereo and Dave heard it and inquired as to who it was. Immediately upon his return to California he wrote us and asked if we'd be interested in putting out a record on 20 Buck Spin. Needless to say he really dug it and we were equally stoked since the demo hadn't even officially been completed. After some time, here we are.
Pitchfork: Speaking of touring, when I wrote Dave for your info, he mentioned you were stranded in NOLA. What happened? BLSs: Our faithful 1987 Chevy 20, Van Waylon aka Vantoine Lavoisier, finally had to be put to rest, or at least at bay. So, we had to search for another van. We finally got one, but had to cancel two shows due to timing issues. Sorry Pensacola and Tampa! Alas, we are back on the road with a sweet ass new van. Haven't fully decided the name, but we really like Vangela Vansbury or Vantonio Vanderas. We'll figure it out.
Pitchfork: Finally, what's with the photo of the muscle woman at your MySpace? BLS: The muscle woman is [guitarist] Renata's proflie picture. She used to get lots of muscle heads hitting her up. Good shit! Life's Trade is out via 20 Buck Spin. Keep up with tourdates and muscle women at their MySpace.