On the heels of their fourth full-length release, heavy pop act Torche are making their way to Birmingham. It’s familiar ground for the Miami-based band, who’ve played so many shows here that neither lead vocalist/guitarist Steve Brooks nor myself even bother trying to remember. The fact is that Birmingham – and especially the Bottletree, where many of Torche’s shows have taken place over the last several years – has had the unique opportunity to watch the band grow from “the new band with the dude from Floor” into one of heavy music’s most well-respected and critically lauded acts.
The band’s latest offering is Restarter – a 10-track low end offering of doom, noise and pop that’s as infectious as it is heavy. The variance of sounds for Torche is a point of contention for Brooks, at least, as he sees the band through much more simplistic terms: it’s just rock ‘n roll. I talked to Steve about that simplicity and about the band’s history and upcoming show here in Birmingham at the Bottletree.
Weld: You’ve always made it a point to come to Birmingham, whether it’s with Torche or Floor. What’s your history with the city as far as touring goes?
Steve Brooks: My history? Well, I played Birmingham for the first time in maybe 2001 or so with Floor. Maybe it was in the ‘90s. It might have been in the ‘90s sometime. It was a while ago [Laughs], but we’ve been playing there for a while. I have a lot of friends there, and Bottletree is my favorite venue. I just recently heard they’re selling it or they sold it, which really bums me out, but hopefully the new owners keep the place the way it is. I love the art, and it’s just a great place to hang out. I always feel relaxed there.
Weld: Let’s talk about Restarter for a second. It definitely has characteristics of Torche’s older sound, but it’s also a fairly new direction for you guys. What was the mindset of the band after Harmonicraft once you all came together to start writing this one?
SB: We were just writing. We just try to write different types of songs – different tempos and stuff. We haven’t really returned to anything. We just keep going forward. I’ve heard a lot of that, too. I’ve been doing a lot of interviews lately, and everyone kind of assumes because the title is Restarter that we’re restarting or it’s a rebirth or something like that, and it’s not. We’re 10 years old now, and we keep moving forward. We try different things. If you go listen to some of our EPs, we have very similar songs and very similar types of songs on this record that we’ve had before like “King Beef”. There’s some variety for ourselves, but we like to keep our sound and our identity. We move along. The whole new thing for us is actually working with Relapse [Records] and getting as much press as we’re getting lately. It’s pretty unreal. [Laughs] It’s something I need to get used to, I guess.
Weld: That growth in popularity for the band is something that’s pretty indicative of independent heavy music in general. I’ve always thought of Torche as a kind of bridge band between extreme music and a more accessible sound that doesn’t betray the original integrity, if that makes sense.
SB: Yeah, that’s what I wanna hear. That’s why we play it. I don’t identify with all the things that we get categorized with. We just all know what we like. It’s all over the board, and that comes through with what we end up playing. Everything from metal to traditional music to who knows – it’s just all over the place. That’s why whenever anybody labels us a metal band, I’m barely listening.
I listen to old metal a lot. That was what got me into playing music in the first place – all the old hard rock and stuff. It’s all just rock ‘n roll. It’s just hard rock but without the poseur [expletive]. [Laughs] We can do whatever we want because we know our identity, and we try to keep it that way. Kind of like the Ramones or AC/DC, we’re a simple band. We don’t think too hard about it like a lot of bands do, where everything has to have such deep meaning. It doesn’t. It means things to us, but we also just wanna create something that we would enjoy and things that we can express and not really limit ourselves.
Weld: You’ve been doing this a while, Steve, or at least long enough to have been able to sort of gauge how you’ve evolved as an artist. I think a lot of what trips up bands who are able to maintain some kind of longevity is they end up becoming derivative of their own work. Is that something you find yourself at least consciously aware of as you’ve gotten older and as Torche has developed as a group?
SB: Yeah. Every person in this band has a really strong opinion and strong personality. If it sucks to us, we automatically know it, and we’ll say something. If I come up with a riff and Rick [Smith] isn’t feeling it, he’ll just come up with some drumbeat to ruin it. [Laughs] He’ll go like, “Oh! That sounds like 311 or something,” and I’ll just be like “[Expletive] you. I’m thinking something else, and you just ruined it for me.” [Laughs] It’s pretty much the same thing for everybody, really. We just crack on each other until we get something that works.
Weld: It’s funny, because that looseness is something you guys bring to the live experience as well. Like you said earlier, you’re not trying to overthink anything and a lot of that is what, in my mind at least, gives Torche a mark of distinction in a genre that really likes to take itself seriously.
SB: That’s how we were when we first started, and now we’re established enough, and we know ourselves well enough. When we first started, we were recording, and I’d known the guys for like three months as far as the rhythm, Rick and Jon [Nunez]. I’d known Juan [Montoya, who left the band in 2008] for like 20 years at that point, but when we first started playing with Rick and Jon I didn’t know them. Rick wasn’t even 19, so he wasn’t old enough to get into some of the places we were playing.
So the first record was kind of an experiment. I honestly consider it a demo, because we tried different things on it. I kind of cringe at it now, but we did that 10-year anniversary tour and were playing songs we hadn’t played since that record, and it was a lot of fun. It was just a different time, and each year we change. We’ve been through the worst, and everything’s just gotten so much better. This is our career, and this is what we wanna do. So yeah, the looseness comes from the fact that we’re all grounded. We don’t think we’re something that we’re not.
Weld: Is that perspective something you’ve always had, or is it something you’ve gradually had to wrap your mind around as you’ve grown personally and artistically?
SB: We’re always discovering things as we go along. The idea behind when we first started was that I wanted to do something where I was free, where I could do a sort of power pop Cheap Trick type of song that didn’t sound like Cheap Trick but had that sort of vibe to it. And then I also wanted to do something crushing. I think when I was playing in local bands throughout all the ‘90s. When I was in Floor I played in different bands. I played in this Spanish rock band. [Laughs] I played in a couple of garage bands and sort of indie bands, just locally.
It was nice to be able to do that with those different bands, but none of those bands took off. Floor took off, and I couldn’t really do that with Floor because there were limitations with the players I was playing with and the tuning and the sound that we had. When Torche started I wanted to open that up so I could be able to explore all these different styles that I’d been playing with other bands and other people and make it our own where we don’t get pigeonholed or write the same song over and over. I know a lot of our songs are similar, but we still try to keep pushing forward and keep growing with it.