Great Chemistry: An Interview with Torrid (A Love Affair)

Torrid (A Love Affair) has been gaining a loyal following among those in the know since the release of their debut album, Poems from Mars, on Bandcamp in February. Indie singer-songwriter duo the Kintners, for example, described as a “pretty effin’ inspiring group of rockers.” And with good reason: Soaring over a solid foundation of grunge-inspired noise, their crystal-clear vocals offer a message of hope and strength in uncertain times. With their album making the leap to all major streaming services on June 10, I dropped them a line to see what makes them tick.

Who’s in the band, and what does everyone do—both musically and beyond? Who’s your biggest cheerleader? Who takes care of business? Who handles social media?

Sarah: I’m Sarah, I’m the singer and main songwriter – we all contribute but they generally start with me. I think I champion the band by driving us forward, but my lovely bandmates definitely cheer me along when I’m having doubts about something – usually my latest song!.

Will: I’m Will, the drummer and producer of Poems from Mars! Honestly, I think Ads is the biggest cheerleader, but everyone encourages and inspires each other all the time. That could be just in a rehearsal room with a new riff or comment on a new drum fill, or by sending a message to the band about a song they’ve listened to and were inspired by! Sarah takes a lot of the weight of socials and business but I’m trying to take a more active part in some of those business roles.

Syd: I’m the bass player, Sydney. Sarah is definitely our cheerleader and we wouldn’t exist without her.

Ads: I’m Adam. I guitarinate and sing high bits. And what the others said.

I don’t often see bands with parentheticals in their names. Can you say a little bit about that? And why “a love affair”?

Sarah: Well that’s my fault! Back in the early days of Syd, Ads and I putting songs together we were discussing band names. I said I wanted something poetic like the word torrid. At some point during the session Ads mentioned something about a love affair and I said that’s it! But to be different (a recurring problem of mine) I said let’s not just be Torrid Love Affair, let’s switch it up!

Can your friends just call you “Torrid,” or do you prefer the full name?

Sarah: You can call us anything you like! But Torrid is fine.

How would you describe the chemistry within the band?

Syd: I love our chemistry. We have always worked well together in a musical and social way. I think it’s fair to say we all pretty much clicked from the start

Will: I think we have a great chemistry, when we’re writing new music I think (and hope) everyone feels comfortable experimenting and throwing their ideas into the hat, knowing that we’ll all listen and give our honest opinions. Outside of music we all get on well, we have a lot in common, enjoy the same things and are all pretty easy going, though it’s not often we all get to hang out all four of us together unless it’s just after a gig!

Ads: I’m enormously attracted to all of them. On a spiritual, physical and musical level. Plus Sarah brings crisps.

Sarah: We get on really well! I’m lucky as I get to spend the most time with each of them individually, writing, producing or just down the pub! I can be honest in front of them, which is challenging for me writing such frank songs. I remember actually shaking the first time I showed All The Bad Men to Ads, I didn’t think I could get through it! But thank god I did cos look what it’s become! That is the kind of chemistry you need from your bandmates.

And how is that chemistry reflected in the music?

Will: I see the union of our various parts played on the songs as a reflection of our chemistry, we all know when to work together and play in unison, and also when to spend some time on our owns and take the lead or fall back. Sarah does an amazing job of bringing a great concept to the studio every time, then we build on that together while also thinking about our own parts. We often have quickfire discussions about our favourite artists or songs recently and that helps us work together musically. Our writing group process is very laid back and very naturally flowing and I think that shows in the end product!

Sarah: For me it’s seeing the journey of the song, from 1 acoustic guitar to the final track. But it’s also what you see on stage. I think you can tell we like each other, we enjoy what we do and we believe in it.

Ads: I think our personalities can be heard in each instrument and although individual, they all fit together to form an unstoppable mega-personality. Called Torrid.

Syd: Agree with all of the answers here. Our individuality is reflected at the same time as how we all come together to create our sound.

Your songs have an underlying theme of strength and resilience. What makes Torrid (A Love Affair) especially qualified to deliver that message?

Will: Though I think Sarah is most qualified to answer this as they’re her songs, I think that absolutely anyone is qualified to deliver a message that is personal to them, we’re no more qualified than anyone else, but we’re choosing to convey those themes and emotional states through music.

Ads: Age.

Sarah: Er, I don’t think we or I are any more qualified than anyone else! I just write what I know, what I feel, and I do it because I have to do it. If Torrid didn’t exist I’d do it anyway. So I guess it’s more about the receptiveness of the listener than what we have to say!

I understand that the art that the album art was produced by local artists. How did that come about? And how does their contribution enhance the overall presentation of the music?

Sarah: Well, when we realised the album was going to be an actual tangible object (thanks to Lights&Lines), I was reflecting on what I loved most about getting a new CD or tape. Yes, listening obviously, but for me as a budding vocalist even then, it was opening the insert and praying all the lyrics would be there, seeing photos and the personalities of the artist! So I starting thinking how we could incite that same excitement. I can’t draw stick men, but I have some very talented friends, so I asked around and it went from there! The support from people was incredible and it was great to help and be helped in such a creative and reciprocal way! So it was a real pleasure to be able to put unknown or local artists work in print. I think it looks stunning and I honestly couldn’t be prouder, it’s a such a wonderful layer to the album.

In addition to the art, how is the band part of a larger community, however you might define it—on a local scale or within a more global context? How do you use your voice, and what do you use it for?

Ads: Lyrically, I love that although from a female perspective, the themes are so universal and realistic that everyone can dig it. I can feel the connection with the audience on a much fuller level than when I was singing about goblins and apocalypse…es.

Sarah: Really, I just want to be relatable as a writer. I tell stories, usually real stories, of real emotions and experiences. I was always inspired by Alanis Morissette and George Michael for the way they didn’t ‘write a song’, they told a story. That’s all I want to do, and I believe if you tell the truth then people will hear that and respond. And even if you don’t understand the lyrics, hopefully our riffs and hooks will be enough to engage with. And that’s really what music is all about; connection.

You’re billed as a combination of grunge and stoner rock, but I’m also hearing a strong echo of what might be termed classic rock in your sound. Your harmonies in particular call to mind Heart. Do you have any… I don’t know what to call them… “Hidden” or “secret” influences?

Sarah: Firstly – thank you! Well despite being mainly into the rock and grunge genres now, I grew up on a mix of Andrew Lloyd-Webber, The Beatles and Barbershop! So harmonies were everywhere in my house! Singing a 5th along with the microwave was not uncommon! Later, seminal albums like Jagged Little Pill, the greatest hits of Roxette, Bon Jovi and Aerosmith never left my stereo. So yes, lots of influences and you’ll hear moments throughout our album – the title is a courteous nod to David Bowie.

Will: I believe that 90% of people you talk to, especially musicians or people with musical interests, won’t primarily listen to the music they play. I absolutely enjoy stoner rock and grunge and desert rock, but I often listen to RnB, Soul, Jazz, Soul, Opera, Classical/Orchestral pieces. Absolutely I enjoy thrashing to some power metal and chilling to some stoner doom, but musical influences come from all over the place and I truly believe that that is really well reflected in the songs. If you look at the whole album, there are rock and grunge riffs, jazz beats, funk basslines. We’re channeling our influences into these songs but those influences aren’t always as obvious, immediate and recognisable as a lot of people think!

Ads: I love ethereal shoegaze guitars and I really connected with that in the 90’s. Being a very 90’s influenced band, I like to try and fit in some of that mournful psychedelic stuff where I can.

Syd: I am a huge rock fan, but I also love Country music and the uplifting sound of Spanish music. I love the harmonies in country music which maybe helps inspire me with the backing vocals? Within our genre I think there are lots of sub-genres infused, or just right out in the open! You can hear Queens of The Stone Age, something Sarah calls her Beatles harmony, even Portishead and Tool. Part of what makes us musically interesting is our unique blend of so many styles – we think so anyway!

What are your plans for the future?

Ads: To play loud to people that exist.

Will: We were in the studio a short while back working on some new tracks, we’ve got some shows lined up, maybe there’s a new album secretly brewing in Sarah’s head. If there is, I’ll be ready to tackle it head on!

Syd: To keep doing what we’re doing and see where it takes us. I think the future is exciting!

Sarah: Gigs! Always playing live, ideally some festivals – maybe abroad!?! I’d like to write 15 songs (I’ve got 7 or 8 so far) and make 10 of them good enough for a second album. And lately I’ve been toying with the concept of a remix EP of our favourite songs in different styles? A swing version, maybe a dance remix….it could be fun! We are open to suggestions…

Loose and Free: An Interview with Brian Lambert

When I spoke to Brian Lambert back in December, he was well into his 52-week song challenge. Designed to showcase his skills as a songwriter, the challenge has also given Lambert a showcase for his ever-increasing skill as a music producer. Songs like “We Are OK” and the more recent “Heroes at the Dawn of Time,” “In Your Face,” “Kids,” “Hang Out with You,” and Lambert’s cover of the Replacements’ “Unsatisfied” reflect a wide range of influences while allowing his craftsmanship to shine. As he nears the finish line, I thought I’d drop him a line to see what the year-long experience has meant to him.

Fifty-two songs in fifty-two weeks! How does it feel?

Thank you, Marc, for this opportunity to talk about what was a pretty epic adventure in music making.   As you can imagine there is quite the range of emotions: relief, excitement, a bit of sadness.  Overall, I‘m very proud of climbing this mountain I set out to climb.  In some sense, though, I’m really still so close to it that it’s hard to really put into words what the whole experience means.  I don’t know if I can until it’s a bit further in the rear view mirror.

Yeah, I guess it’s hard to have perspective when you’re still so close… Were you ever tempted to give up? What kept you going?

I don’t know if I was ever tempted to give up per se.  There were some outside pressures with money that made me question whether finishing this was the right thing to do, but by that point I was almost at the end and people were cheering me on.  It didn’t make sense to stop then.  More than that was the question of whether I could get the music done in time to keep on the song-a-week schedule.  I took a fall and injured myself which caused me to get behind.  The music takes the amount of time it takes to make and it created some anxiety around being able to complete it in the time I had set out for myself. It  was important to finish though, and working on music is the one thing I can do regardless of my mood or disposition.

I’m curious as to whether the parameters or even the purpose of the challenge changed for you over the course of the year. Did you go in expecting one thing and getting another?

I was intentional at the beginning about being loose with the parameters. It was such a huge undertaking I wanted to give myself as much grace as possible.  The purpose was to realize my potential in terms of songwriting, performance on a recording, and my production/mixing mastering skills.  I knew I wanted to write new songs in new ways, I knew I wanted to do some cover tunes and write a couple of instrumentals, but besides that it was really get a song a week out to the world every week for 52 weeks straight.   I view things a bit differently now, but do feel confident about my ability to express myself in the studio.

What did you learn about yourself as a result of this challenge? 

One, I love music.  There were times where I had to sit down and play when I wasn’t feeling it but afterwards I was almost always glad I did.  I’m not tired of music and am ready to start working on new music. I suppose the biggest thing is that I don’t have to be perfect, that I’m perfectly alright just the way I am.  Not sure how I came about that realization in the process, but I do feel that way now.   The other part is becoming less cerebral about the whole process.  Thinking doesn’t make good music, it’s more of a feel thing.  I honestly don’t remember how I did much of the last part of the challenge. There was a lot of just hitting record and letting it rip.  I think that’s how you get the right feel, loose and free.

What about your evolution as a songwriter?

I’m definitely more of a melody/music first songwriter now than I was before.  There were lots of times during the process later on when I would have all the music but no vocals or lyrics and then come up with them listening to the track.  Before this I would need a fully composed song on the guitar before starting.  This has been freeing in a lot of ways and allows me to kind of compose lyrics to the overall vibe of the track as opposed to feeling like I have to be able to sit down with a guitar and play the whole thing out.

Listening to your most recent tracks, I’m struck by your exponential growth as a music producer. What are some ways you’ve evolved in that regard? Any tricks or tips you can share with readers? 

 I think that is a result of listening with the mindset of an objective listener. After doing so many tracks, it gets easier to notice when you start to get bored with the song.  Like a more passive than active listening where if I start to lose interest, I think about what I can do to keep my attention. So much is about what you take out at certain parts than what you put in.  Creating subtle dynamics with volume or eq is one way to do that, but I’ve found arrangement is probably the most effective way to keep listeners interested over the course of a song.

I’m also thinking about the sheer number of songs you’ve released. Do you think of them all as being of a single piece—like one massive album—or do different songs fit into different categories and represent different sides of who you are as an artist? 

I think of the project of going through some distinct phases.  Phase one was just getting a sense of things and experimenting, I’d say up to about up to “On Your Side,” which was song 16.  I really just kind of played around with different approaches and ways of doing things.  Phase two was definitely an indie pop/rock stage which is most encapsulated in the We Are Ok album that I released only on Bandcamp.  By that time I felt like I had a specific method and was going for more or less a unified sound with an album in mind.  Next I decided to explore one-mic recordings and getting a great performance without hiding behind production.  It seemed to me that was the element that was still lacking for me.  I had always been told I was way better live than on recordings and I wanted to finally get over that hump. So I basically just sang take after take until I got it right.  The last phase was the last 12 songs which to me make up an album and was really me taking everything I had learned and putting it all together.  There is a bit of a grungy aspect to some of the songs because I was just feeling that. The last 12 saw me do a collaboration, wink, a co-write, and three of the songs were inspired by Twitter friends.  I was really happy with how all of them came out and really feel like the best work was right there at the end.

What do you think about this body of work that didn’t exist a year ago?

I feel great about it and, ironically enough, about the work I released prior to it as well.  This process was about growth and learning to accept myself, and I accomplished that.   It’s still really a ton to process.  I wish I had some really great insight that I could share about the whole experience, but I think whenever you do something this big, the scale of what you’ve done won’t make sense until a little further down the road.  I guess in a rambling way I’m saying I’m still too close to it to have perspective.  I know that for the first time I listen to my own work and really enjoy it and for me that’s a huge win.

Definitely a huge win! What’s the plan now that you’ve met the challenge? 

Gosh, I need to figure out the whole how do I make a living thing.   I’m looking at ways to do it from art but the reality that I need to add some dollars to the bottom line is ever present, so figuring that out is a priority.   Artistically, I have a remix that I did for Scoopski coming out soon and then another collaboration with Marc Schuster* that I am super excited about.  I need to release some of the songs in album form.  I’d like to do more collaborations and just contribute to other projects and help people realize a bit more of their own visions, but nothing concrete as of the moment.

Do you think you’ll do it again?

No, not intentionally in any case.  I’ve proven what I need to myself in terms of my ability to write and produce quality work.  I wouldn’t be surprised if at some point in time working with other people that I surpassed that output but as for creating challenges that have to do with a volume of work in a set amount of time that challenge has been met.

Thanks for taking the time to chat with me, Brian! 

It was my pleasure Marc, thank you for the opportunity to reflect on the huge journey that I just completed.

*Hey! That’s me!

Always Something New: An Interview with Dan Johnson of Age of Infernal

Dan Johnson is a musician based in Edinburgh, Scotland. Performing as Age of Infernal, he has released an album of incredibly tight prog-influenced tracks titled Just for the Hell of It. As the project’s name may suggest, the album strikes an interesting balance between darkness and light. I recently had a chance to talk with Dan about this curious balance as well as the journey that took him away from — and eventually led back to — music.

Your lyrics are ostensibly about magic and madness, but I also get a sense that there’s some social commentary going on, especially with respect to technology and possibly social media. Am I on the right track?

Absolutely, you’re along the right track with regards to the lyrics. I had the intention not to make anything too explicit, or obvious, in regards to the meaning behind the words generally (although I’m sure most people would get the gist of what I’m talking about if they were to have a read through the lyrics!). I’ve always quite liked things to be as open to interpretation as possible. The first track on the album ‘Conjurers of Magick’ is possibly the most explicit in what the lyrics are getting at, and of course technology, and all of its unintended or unaccounted for side effects, is part of what that song is talking about, and also something that’s playing a big part in the world right now. Social media also comes into it! I suppose even more generally, that song is about oppression. 

There are many interesting and exciting things going on in the world, but in amongst it all, one can’t help but wonder sometimes if the incessant driving towards convenience isn’t actually making things worse, in many ways, for the planet and all of the species that live on it. 

Most of the other tracks are coming from more of an introspective place. So there’s all this stuff going on in the world, and it’s easy to look outwardly and blame all of your problems on other people, but what happens when we look at ourselves, and how we are acting, interacting, reacting to what’s happening in the outside (of our own heads) world?

Am I a model citizen, or father, or partner, or neighbour (etc)? Am I even a ‘good’ person? The answer to most of these things for me is NO, so that tells me that there’s a lot of work to be done on a personal level first and foremost!

That said, I feel like your songs fall comfortably in a tradition of what might be considered socially-conscious prog rock. I’m thinking about bands like Pink Floyd, Rush, Genesis, and maybe even King Crimson—bands that are interested in what’s going on behind the curtain, as it were. Do you feel an affinity with bands like these? What attracts you to them, both in terms of lyrics and music?

Yes! I love Pink Floyd, and King Crimson. Genesis too, although mostly there earlier stuff has been of interest to me. Rush I am not overly familiar with somehow, I’m not quite sure how that happened (or didn’t happen!). I think lyrically, in my view, Roger Waters is just so good! Whether or not you agree with him politically or not, there’s no denying the heartfelt and pure, honest truth (in regards to his own experience, that is) that he manages to put across through his words. Musically, Dave Gilmour was probably my first ‘favourite’ guitar player! I spent many an hour back in the day trying to imitate old Dave, haha! King Crimson I’d say is more of a musical inspiration too, Bob Fripp is such a unique guitarist and composer, its no wonder he’s played on records for just about everyone! And then the 80’s line up with Fripp, Adrian Belew, Tony Levin and Bill Bruford, is like another band altogether. I love tracks like ‘frame by frame’ from this period/lineup. 

There’s obviously something dark about your songs — the project is called Age of Infernal, after all! But there’s also some humor. How do you balance the two, and why do you think it’s important to do so?

I think one has to maintain some amount of humour in the face of life, and all it can throw at you! When humour, or the ability to laugh at oneself, or the hardships of life etc. is gone, you’re possibly getting into hellish territory! Of course it’s necessary to look at things in a serious context sometimes, and some things really aren’t funny, so there has to be some amount of balance between the two perspectives.   

What was the recording process like forJust for the Hell of It

The recording process was pretty tricky actually. Everything apart from bass and vocals was recorded on my little laptop, using Logic Pro. 

The guitars were tracked at home with an amp (Blackstar HT-5), and mic. It was a case of trying to be ready, so as when a window of opportunity appeared at home, I’d quickly get the stuff set up and record as many parts as I could in the time I had free. It was also a case of hoping that the neighbours wouldn’t come banging my door down and tell me to shut up, haha! 

With the bass, I’d recorded some tracks with my guitar and octave pedal, and then sent those to my friend John, and he’d interpret my parts and record them with a real bass.

The vocals were recorded with Guillaume, who done the mixing and mastering too. He had me down to his home studio and the vocals were all recorded over three days. That was a great experience for a couple of reasons; it was good for me to get out of my own comfort zone, and actually feel like I was almost a ‘professional’ for a few days, and; the gear that I was singing through I believe was about 8-10 grands worth! So that was possibly a one off, as I’m not sure if I’ll ever be singing through that standard of equipment again!

All in all, it was a process of learning. I’m over the moon that I was able to get it together, and come out of it with something I can be relatively happy with.

I was actually surprised to see in your Bandcamp notes that the drums on the album are programmed. How did you get them to sound so live? 

The drums… I had some help from my old drummer and friend Tam, and also the drummer function in Logic Pro! Anyone using logic will know what I’m talking about there. Basically I would use the drummer function to get things started off, and then when Tam was involved he’d get into the parts and make them more fitting to the riffs or whatever of each song/parts of songs. We ran out of time for Tam to finish off, so I done a bit of that myself too. But I think it’s really the logic drummer that enabled this whole thing to happen, without that I may have been struggling to get most of the songs together! I did actually play some real bongos and tambourine on the track ‘Disillusionment’ myself, those were also recorded in Guillaume’s home studio. 

I understand that you took a break from music for a while and then returned to it. Why did you take a break, and what led you to come back? How does it feel to be making music again?

It feels really amazing to be creative again, if a little frustrating with the time constraints! There are many reasons why I took a break from music, and it wasn’t necessarily by choice that I spent as long as I did (probably the best part of eight years or so!) without playing the guitar or writing. My band had basically fallen apart, and during the course of that my partner fell pregnant with our second son, so it became clear that I’d have to step up to the plate and get a real job again, so as to provide for my family. The band break led to some (musical) depression, and generally my involvement with, and enthusiasm for music eventually whittled down to nothing. I didn’t actually listen to much music during most of that time either, or not intentionally anyway. Of course I heard things on the radio, or if I was somewhere that music was playing etc, but I went from listening to music every day to barely listening to anything! 

I’m not exactly sure how or why the urge to play and write came back. I’d began to dabble in learning about writing fugues for piano (after rereading a book which had sparked some interest), and after a while I had developed a bit of a creative buzz within myself again. That led me to pick up my guitar and see if I could come up with anything that felt fresh and good to me, and basically that was the start of the process of writing what became the album. 

You liven Edinburgh. What’s the music scene like there? Any bands I should look for if I’m ever in town?

I have to be honest and say that I don’t get out much to see live music at this point, so I can’t really answer this question! I’m not sure there’s an Edinburgh music ’scene’, so to speak, but there may well be, and I just don’t know about it, haha! I’m currently looking for a drummer with the view to getting a band together and playing live again, so maybe I’ll be more enlightened in that respect soon enough (if I manage to get a band together, that is!)

I know it can be tough being an indie musician. What keeps you going?  

I guess what keeps any musician, or indeed creative people generally going, is the potential that there’s always something new to be created.

There’s something really cool about how many amazingly good bands/artists/creative people you can find nowadays (perhaps that’s one of the the upsides to social media!). In the past, a lot of guys will have had practically no means to get there creations ‘out there’, whereas now one only needs a laptop with an audio interface, and boom, you have a basic studio at your fingertips! On the other end of it, it can be a bit difficult to self promote, certainly I’ve felt that myself recently while trying to do a bit of online promo! You don’t want to annoy people, but also you don’t want your album/ep/single (which you’ve likely spent a lot of time and energy, and perhaps even money, on) to disappear into relative nothingness! It can feel like a precarious rope to tread. I’ve been trying to maintain the point of view of; if ANYBODY is listening, or has listened, than that’s a win! Any feedback received from fellow musicians and creative people is also helpful, and I’ve found a really good group of folks on twitter who are all in the same or similar boats, so that’s been good finding like-minded people that are happy to engage and give each other little bits of feedback etc…

To put it another way, why does indie music matter? 

It matters because; anything that someone has poured their heart and soul, time and effort into, is worthwhile. Just because you’re perhaps not going to hit number one in the charts, doesn’t mean that what you’re creating is worthless. In fact I’d go as far as to say that it’s worth MORE, haha! It’s the creative endeavour, and process, that for me is the important part of it. I think that’s something I’ll always try to keep in mind.

What’s on the horizon for you?

Currently I’m working on a collaboration for a track with an artist I met on twitter, We Have Divine Fire. I’m looking forward to getting that done. Then I will be working on some new material for the next Age of Infernal project (which right now I have no idea what it’ll be!). Also there’s another couple of collabs in the pipeline for later in the year. I have some acoustic songs, old and new, which I’d like to get together as an album or an ep at some point too, although that may not be done/released under the Age of Infernal name… 

Plenty to be getting cracked on with when time and brain allows it! 

Interview by Marc Schuster