Cloakroom, Earth's Most Futuristic Band, Explains How ‘Technology Is Chill’ Until It Isn’t
I talked to guitarist/vocalist Doyle Martin about tech anxiety, “Tetris,” and the esoteric themes behind the band’s new record, “Time Well.”
(L to R) Busch, Martin, Markos. Image: Colin May
An early bio for Cloakroom once said its three members "aren't reinventing the wheel, they're building an interstellar vessel."
And build, they have. It's this sort of moonshot essence that has, in just a few short years, positioned the Northwest Indiana three-piece as low-key one of the most "futuristic" bands going today.
Somehow, Cloakroom manages to weave cryptic, apocalyptic lyrics that dabble in arcane themes and parapsychological phenomena, with doom-y riffs, mid-tempo grooves, and pop hooks, all seasoned with slow-fried country twang and dialed in, production-wise, for the true audiophile experience. They have variously been described as "stoner emo" and "shroomgaze," to give you an idea. Imagine Hum, Codeine, Soundgarden, and the Magnolia Electric Co. listening to Terence McKenna lectures on cassette while hot-boxing a van somewhere along the liminal southern tip of Lake Michigan, where Michigan, Indiana, and Illinois converge, an understatedly harsh and beautiful place where industrial factories run up against pristine National Park Service lands.
If Cloakroom's previous two genre-bending releases, Infinity (2013) and Further Out (2015), are like well-worn amphibious vehicles built of Midwestern oak and Great Lakes maw, then Time Well, the band's colossal new record, is something like a steel-framed airship forged, slowly, in a cold, dark bunker. Something capable of dipping into the void of space. Something slicker, burlier, more tectonic and expansive, but also, somehow, quieter. Something "equally concerned with the astral plane and our modern world."
Something closer to that mythic interstellar vessel.
It all came together at the band's practice space in a converted sheet metal building in an out-of-the-way, sparsely-populated swath of Northwest Indiana known simply as The Region.
Doyle Martin, who handles guitar and vocal duties in Cloakroom, explains how he and bandmates Bobby Markos (bass) and Brian Busch (drums) leveled-up the space, which they share with a couple of area death metal bands ("awesome dudes"), into their own studio. They vaulted the ceiling, expanding their "live" room. They also built and kitted-out their own control room with recording and engineering equipment, notably a sound board Busch drove to Philadelphia and back to acquire.
They emerged on the other side with 10 songs of gloomy, celestial Americana. Time Well plumbs the monotony, wonder, and existential dread of the human condition, from dreams to rituals, evolution, cosmic doubt, disembodiment, and flickers of light in the darkness. As Martin croons in lead single, "Seedless Star," "'You'll be living off candlelight' / Said the main circuit / And the labored pangs of the acid rain / Kept me stirring." There's even an ode to what's been called the "world's loneliest whale" on the album's poignant penultimate track, the appropriately titled "52Hz Whale," which reads like a post-mortem of the connected age we find ourselves living in:
"Alone yet not alone / braving currents / serving serpents / raised in their realm / worked in their world / diminishing return / wearing raincoats / casting shadows over strangers' headstones / you take photos on the way / tired chapels / precious metals / silent altars / reliquary bones / fingers and toes / two-way mirrors."
I recently caught up with the 28-year-old Martin, a former factory worker who now works at a brewery to supplement being and touring in Cloakroom. We talked more about what the process of upgrading their bunker was like and the esoteric themes that fed into the writing and recording of Time Well. Our conversation has been lightly edited for length and clarity.
Motherboard: What is a conspiracy theory you actually believe in?
Doyle Martin: Oh, wow. Okay, I got this. I'm really into this Bosnian pyramid conspiracy. Are you familiar? There's this Turkish Indiana Jones and he has all these YouTube videos and somehow I find myself in this black hole of Bosnian pyramids with my girlfriend. And it's totally a pyramid! It is… I guess. He's got some wilder claims, but [the main one] is that this old ass pyramid is there.
We're talking about going. He has all these volunteers. It's kinda, ya know, cult-y? Maybe? Cult of the Bosnian pyramid? I mean, sign me up. I'll dig out a 30,000-year-old tunnel all day.
Mine would probably be Sasquatch, Bigfoot, whatever you want to call it.
I think there is still enough remote, undisturbed temperate rainforest in the Pacific northwest that it's not inconceivable to think there is some sort of bipedal, secretive ape-like creature that we just don't know about. Maybe its population has dwindled down to the point we don't ever see these things. I think that's not the craziest thing to believe.
Brian, not so far-fetched. I love the Sasquatch thing. And to sweeten the deal, I heard this thing where they say perhaps Bigfoot is an intelligent being and they bury their dead. I was like, Oh, shit.
"That's a ghost, a theoretical time well, stuck in there."
Speaking of conspiracy theories, tell me about the time well. From what I understand it's a fringe theory having something to do with quantum mechanical tunneling.
Sure, well it's not a scientific phenomenon that you can observe. The whole time well thing started, for me, with that urban legend about how they found a spaceship, those Marines, or whoever. God rest their souls, they're stuck in a time well! [laughs]
In Afghanistan, supposedly?
How did you first learn about this conspiracy theory?
I looked it up in an article first and then I found the time well video on the Coast to Coast [AM Radio] YouTube page. If you Wikipedia it, maybe some theoretical physicists have thrown around the phrase "time well" before.
Do you think of your rehearsal-studio space as a kind of time well?
I always think of the studio as a wild, sacred space. When I go to some old studio I think about all of the people who have recorded there before, who've jotted down lyrics at 3 in the morning or something.
There are. You know, it's an invested space. When we were making our studio, on the two months of driving and staying in there and coming up with these ideas, we threw it all in that room and it got struck there. That's a ghost, a theoretical time well, stuck in there.
Was there a single element or piece of gear that really pulled the whole space together, or opened things up?
Oh, I don't know. I'm trying to think if there's a specific trick that we did. We used a bunch of our buddy Zac's reel-to-reel machine. We record on there. It's warbly and you get these weird pops and warbles on it. We probably could've done it a lot more, but maybe it's good we didn't. But we recorded tracks into the computer through the reel-to-reel.
Walk me through the rig you were using.
I use an Earth G1000. It's a bass head and I had this dude take a couple capacitors out of it. He's like this crazy old amp guy, and he said that that was like the first amp he'd ever got. When I brought it to his door, he was really weird about people coming to his house. Like, he doesn't want people to know he has this amp dungeon.
The amp dungeon. Wow. There's a whole other conspiracy theory for you.
Dude, they're out there. He said if I had the matching cab[inet speaker] for it, he'd buy it from me. I was like, "dude, I'm here to get it fixed!" [laughs]
But yeah, I use an Earth primarily. Also a studio amp made by Gosch, and a little Silvertone. I'd plug all the amps into an injector and then I would track a rough, clean, and distortion track. And then through the computer, through the marvels of technology, you can say, like, "Oh my God, that Silvertone sounds so good right there. Just me, playing one guitar out of it. We'll keep it in that part, and then when the verse comes in we'll take out the little guy."
How big of a role does technology play in the Cloakroom universe?
I mean, to compare to our last record, Time Well is just a whole other ball game. A whole other planet. Recording in Pro Tools, recording at your own pace, thinking about layering things. It can certainly go wrong, too. I've heard records that obviously are layered too much. But, ya know, go to town! Technology allows you to do that.
I remember we had a sit-down mastering session for our last record. I was like, what is this mastering thing? Why are we sitting down? And he [master/engineer Carl Saff] was like, "Well, it's not just me making the record louder. If you have a request, ask for the moon. We'll do what we can do with the knobs and technology we have at hand." And I think that's crazy. For a while you can polish it as much as you can, to an extent, and just say that it's done.
It sounds like, generally speaking, technology good, not bad.
As far as the recording process is concerned, yes. I guess that bio blurb floating around the internet is a whole other conversation.
Personally, how do you feel about technology? Does it stress you out.
Totally. Big stressor. Our collective consciousness, our attention span, the hivemind of tech, if you will, is strange. Like, 200 people on Twitter telling you what is good and what is bad, and then that feeds from there. I don't know. Technology is chill. It's a means to an end.
"Hopefully that door opens. If that door doesn't open, you're fucked."
We have an old saying at Motherboard, the future is wonderful, the future is terrifying.
The singularity is near, Brian!
I mean, with technology, we just make it. Like, fuck it, put it out there just because we can. Before we make something, we don't think about whether it's good or bad. That's not good.
What about games? I saw you told our friends at Noisey about drinking an entire pot of coffee and playing retro RPG game, Arcanum.
I mean, the lore of that game is tight. It looks like early steampunk is where it came from? It's like, the dwarves made technology, humans bought it off of 'em, shit got out of hand, and now the elves and the dwarves are trying to subvert technology with magick. And magick users are being killed. It's great. [laughs]
It's full of bugs. You save and hopefully you start off where you left off. Hopefully that door opens. If that door doesn't open, you're fucked.
Do you play a lot of video games?
I'll give a few a chance, if I can get wrapped up in them. Obviously, the Skyrim/Elder Scrolls trilogy is pretty amazing. Dark Planet was this sweet little civilization sorta game from the early 2000s. You know, you pick your race, what sorta resources you're gonna exploit, or whatever. It's pretty cool. I used to play it at the screen-printing shop all the time.
I'll have to mention these to Emanuel, a fellow Motherboard editor. He's into games. I'll get his gut reaction.
That's tight. [laughs]
I've never been able to play video games as much as I wanted because I get motion sick pretty easily. I remember when GoldenEye 007 came out, I was in middle school and all of my snotty little neighborhood friends would be like, "Yeah! Let's get together and play some ' Bond!"
Oh, yeah. Like, eight kids sitting in front of GoldenEye.
...and getting jacked on Mountain Dew. Anyway, I could only ever play for literally just a few minutes before I felt like I had to go puke.
I just can't do games that are even remotely realistic. Everything starts spinning.
That's awful. Honestly it's probably for the better though.
To this day, my gaming experience basically stops at Tetris. How do you feel about Tetris?
Dude, Tetris is good. I think it's good for your brain.
It is! It's a little brain-teaser. Keeps you sharp.
There are studies now, you know. What's that app that's supposed to make you smarter if you do the little menial games?
I think there's a whole cottage industry of those sorts of games.
Yeah. I'd rather put my faith in Tetris.
Time Well is out today on Relapse Records.
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