What happens when you’re in a band that have built a reputation on quality albums, incendiary live shows to support and spread the message across the globe, then when you are about to release your strongest set of tunes to date, and are starting to gear up for the promotion cycle, only to have global events pull the plug on travel, shows and even the ability to conduct normal daily life?
For the Cole Brothers Elliot and Ryan, drummer and guitarist for, hard as nails, British stoner metal band Desert Storm (and The Grand Mal) this is exactly the situation they found themselves in at the start of 2020. With their band’s latest (and possibly greatest) album Omens in the bank when the creeping COVID-19 outbreak exploded across the world, it denied them the chance to get out in front of audiences and clipped the wings of the music industry for well over a year.
It turns out that not even a pandemic could slow them down and while holed up in the UK, they created Wall, an instrumental, ass kicking two piece that wears its love for their influences on its sleeves. After their eponymous debut EP was released in January, they’re back with another five tracks of Iommi influenced sludge doom. Now poised to follow this up with their second release of the year, Vol. 2, I reached out to Elliot and Ryan to chat about Desert Storm, APF Records, the pandemic, the passing of friend and Karma To Burn main man Will Mecum and of course the new music from Wall.
Good day boys, nice to get the chance to speak to you again about something we’re all passionate about, music. Over the last few years, you’ve been pretty busy; firstly with your main band, the mighty Desert Storm, the ass kicking side project The Grand Mal which was beginning to take on a life of its own and now Wall. Would it be correct to accuse you both of being extremely motivated in your pursuit of making music and how has that evolved for the two of you growing up?
Elliot: Yes definitely! We both just love playing and writing music and have done ever since we were about 12 years old. We’ve pretty much been in bands constantly since we were about that age. I guess we keep ourselves motivated by setting ourselves lots of goals and keeping to a busy schedule. Being in three bands can mean we’re incredibly busy at times. We’d love to be able to do it full time but as we all know, it is extremely difficult to make a living in the music industry.
Ryan: Yes, we really enjoy writing, and hearing the albums/EP’s come together in the studio, it’s very satisfying and rewarding hearing the end result, even if it is financially draining at times.
It’s been incredibly frustrating not being able to tour it, all we have managed is two sold out socially distanced gigs at London’s Black Heart and one live stream gig…
Like everything to do with the last year and a bit, many events of 2020 seem like another lifetime ago. Last year I was asked to review the fifth album by Desert Storm, the fantastic Omens which is, in my opinion, a high-water mark in terms of what the band has done and a record I have gone back to time and again. How frustrating is it to have released such a banger of an album that deserves to be inciting pits around the world only to have to sit at home, denied access to your fans and how have you guys coped as a band?
Ryan: Thanks Mark, we really enjoyed reading your in-depth review of Omens, it’s great to hear you still very much enjoy it and re-visit it. It’s been incredibly frustrating not being able to tour it, all we have managed is two sold out socially distanced gigs at London’s Black Heart and one live stream gig, which was great to see people tuning in all around the world, but still not the same as a proper gig! In terms of coping as a band, we have basically spent a lot of time writing more material for the next album, which is coming along nicely…so I guess that’s one good thing to come out of it. According to the label Omens has almost broken even already, which is also great to see considering we haven’t had a chance to sell it at shows at all.
Which leads nicely to Wall. For those not in the UK we have had this confusing ‘Bubble’ system where family has been able to see each other under the guise of being a connected household. Obviously being brothers, is this how you have managed to keep in contact (other than digitally)?
Ryan: Yes, that’s right, I was living with Elliot and his wife during the start of lock down and it was helpful for us to jam and come up with ideas for Wall, Desert Storm & The Grand Mal. Halfway through lockdown Elliot’s wife got pregnant, so it was time for me to move out! We still managed to write the new EP, but it’s not as easy to do it now Elliot’s a dad and we no longer live together, but I still send riff ideas over to him on WhatsApp so we can still remain productive.
Given the prolific nature of your relationship with music, when you started, was it just to jam to try and keep yourselves busy and sane with no knowledge of when this restrictions might end, or did you set out to create Wall?
Elliot: Yeah, that’s right. In fact it was more of a studio project idea than anything I guess, but we decided we want to do more with it really after how the EP’s turned out. We still haven’t had a rehearsal though. All the jams we did were in our house with Ryan‘s guitar and me drumming along on my lap….so hopefully it sounds good when we come to practice.
it was more of a studio project idea than anything I guess, but we decided we want to do more with it really after how the EP’s turned out…
Can you tell us more about the song writing process?
Ryan: Basically, it’s pretty simple for Wall, I come up with guitar riffs and Elliot plays beats to it, and we both discuss the structure and see how many times sections should be repeated. We try to keep the songs a little shorter in Wall as it’s instrumental, and we don’t want the listeners getting bored because it’s dragging on too much.
Wall seems very much a love letter to heavy music, and the first EP in particular draws heavily on Iommi’s doomy metal sound, to the point where you even covered Electric Funeral and called upon Dave-O (The Grand Mal vocalist) to give voice to it. Was this a conscious decision to channel this sound or was it influenced by the situation?
Well, me and Elliot have been huge Black Sabbath fans since we were 8 years old. The Paranoid album was the first record we heard, and we both liked the idea of covering a track with this project and felt it would be nice to showcase our other bands vocalists… so for this we chose Electric Funeral as it’s simple, dark and fits well with the other four tracks we wrote. We both thought Dave-O‘s voice would work well and helped give the EP something else, so that’s kind of how that came about!
For Vol 2 we thought another cover would be nice, but this time keeping the whole thing instrumental, so who better to cover then the instrumental riff masters Karma To Burn. Unfortunately, Will Mecum passed away not long after the EP was finished so we never got to show him. We’d like to do one more cover in the future, a song in which we feature Matt from Desert Storm. He’s quite particular about this stuff though and isn’t hugely into covers, so we’ll see! Haha.
The first EP was recorded in one of the (many) false starts we have experienced in the UK. How difficult or different was it to record in these circumstances?
Ryan: Actually, for the Wall EP it was pretty simple. Jimmy was allowed to open at the time we decided to track for people within the same household/group of 6 bubble. It was quite straight forward because even in the Desert Storm and The Grand Mal recordings I’m usually the one recording the guide guitar tracks for Elliot to play and track his drum takes, so it was exactly the same for Wall. Only difference was I also tracked bass separately…which was a bit challenging in places as I had to change a few parts which didn’t work well just playing the same as the guitar parts.
So Wall’s debut was released in January via your long-time supporter Andrew Field on his APF Records label, home of Desert Storm. Did you talk to Andrew on the run up to recording or was it a surprise for him?
Elliot: I think he was a bit surprised at first when we told him we were doing a two-piece instrumental project, I seem to remember sending him a few videos of our bedroom jams via FB messenger.
Did you or Andrew suggest releasing it?
Elliot: I think Andrew suggested it, he wants to release all our projects and joked the other day saying, ‘when am I gunna release a fourth band from you?’. He is great. We have nothing but the highest respect for that man!
Were you surprised at the reception from people?
Ryan: Yeah, I don’t think we actually read a bad review which was cool! people seemed to really dig it so it was kind of one of the reasons why we decided we should do more with this project, rather than just keeping it as a lockdown thing. Hopefully people will like the second EP too.
Andrew suggested it, he wants to release all our projects and joked the other day saying, ‘when am I gunna release a fourth band from you?’…
I’m a big fan of many artists on APF. How did you get involved with them at the beginning?
Ryan: Fieldy showed interest in releasing our Sentinels album when we he set up APF Records. We basically felt that why not give him a chance to do it? He is a genuine fan and wanted to do right by the band, was willing to pay for the PR & and manufacture & get it distributed etc, so sounded good to us. He’s always been very transparent with sales and money etc, so we both have nothing but good things to say about the label. Like you, we are fans of many bands on the roster too, it’s a strong label that continues to grow and thrive.
It seems from the outside very much like a family with Andrew taking a great deal of interest in each artist and being incredibly passionate about the music they put out. That must be a great thing as an artist to have that freedom and support?
Ryan: Absolutely! Freedom & support is essential, and we get that from Andrew!
And so to Vol. 2 (another Sabbath nod there!)…It seems that not even the pandemic can slow you down!
Elliot: Yeah, gotta have a nod to Sabbath! Yeah, we are determined to keep busy and not let the pandemic shit over all of our plans. Having to cancel tours and gigs was bad enough so we thought we may as well write and record if we can’t play live!
Obviously as this has gone on way longer than anyone hoped, coupled with the reception to the first EP and here we are six months later with a follow up. Was this material conceived at the same time as the first or have you built on the momentum, or both?
Elliot: A couple of the songs were conceived at the same time but some of the ideas came about after the recording of the first EP. I suppose in a way we did build on the momentum of the first release like you say. We weren’t sure how it would be received at first and I think after the positive feedback we got given, it drove us to come up with more ideas.
There is definitely a slight shift in the influences this time with you guys straying from the Sabbath sound to more of a classic rock vibe, again which marks Wall out as a project born from the celebration of the music you guys love. Was that evolution a way of keeping things fresh for the two of you creating in a vacuum?
Elliot: It is a slightly different sound, I agree. Maybe slightly less sludgy than the first EP, but we think it still has that Wall sound going on. It is good to keep it fresh and change things up sometimes though, otherwise it ends up being a regurgitation of a previous release.
The passing of Will Mecum hit us pretty hard, as it did many people…
A second EP and a second cover, this time Karma To Burn’s Nineteen. Having spoken to you both recently, this was chosen, recorded and in place before the tragic passing of Will Mecum in May. Karma to Burn were big champions of Desert Storm, it was where I first really got to see you in a live setting (which I would definitely recommend when that chance comes again!). How did you get to tour with K2B and how did that influence the band?
Ryan: The passing of Will Mecum hit us pretty hard, as it did many people. The first time we saw them was 2009 or 2010 in Leamington Spa supporting Monster Magnet. It was there we spoke to Ritchie Mullins (Bass) and sent him some Desert Storm tunes. We first played a few shows with Karma To Burn (Will, Rich & Rob) in 2011, and spoke about the possibility of touring with them. From there we liaised with their EU agent, and they were happy for Desert Storm to support in the UK if we could help book them some shows here. It was a great experience for us booking for them and helped us get more contacts for future Desert Storm shows.
The first UK run we did was in 2012, and they were happy with the job so we ended up as their booking agents until about 2016 where we then passed them onto Ben Ward (Orange Goblin) at UTA. Desert Storm toured the UK with them a number of times over the years and a handful of shows in The Netherlands and Switzerland. The last tour Karma To Burn ever did in 2018, we were fortunate enough to have been the support, and sadly the last time we ever saw Will was the final UK date in our hometown of Oxford at The Cellar.
In terms of influencing us, they definitely have in all our bands, but particularly Wall. It’s Karma To Burn that made us decide to give this instrumental thing a go, which works well as Elliot and I can’t sing for shit!
From everyone I have spoken to Will seems to have been a great guy, who had a great deal of love and energy to help people in the scene. Alongside his musical legacy, would you say that is accurate and how has it impacted on your approach to the scene?
Elliot: Yeah, He was a really nice guy. Always had time to talk to his fans, which I always admired. Karma To Burn were always about the touring life, which I always respected. Those guys toured harder than most other bands I know which I always thought was cool. I guess their ‘hard touring’ approach has had an impact on us since we like to get out and tour hard too.
Coming back to Wall, not only will Vol.2 be released this week but you will be appearing on the Sophie Lancaster Festival being held (hopefully!) in Manchester during November (27th & 28th November). Can we expect to see more of Wall on stage in the future then? Last time we spoke about touring it was trying to get The Grand Mal dates in and around Desert Storm and here you have added a third project!
Elliot: That’s right, we are looking forward to Sophie Fest. It is a great line up as usual and it’s for a good cause. We have played it in the past with Desert Storm too, and it was good fun. Haha, yeah even though we are very busy now being in three bands, you can definitely expect to see more of Wall live.
We really enjoy doing this two-piece thing and will probably set out to write our debut album next…
What does the future hold for Wall? Can we expect more or is this a unique project that will be confined to ‘the COVID era’?
Elliot: You can definitely expect more! We really enjoy doing this two-piece thing and will probably set out to write our debut album next, as well as play as often as we can live. Obviously it is still a side project though so before we start work on a debut album, we will be writing the next Desert Storm album first (which is already underway).
Thanks to both of you for taking the time out to answer my questions, having had the EP for a few weeks, I’ve been able to really listen to this one ahead of time and so I wish you much success with it, as it (rightly) feels like a very special and personal project that it has been a pleasant surprise to have happened in the midst of the last year.
Elliot: Thanks a lot Mark, we really appreciate you taking the time to interview us, all the best!
Ryan: Cheers Mark!
Interviewed by: Mark Hunt-Bryden