True Widow: A More Crushing Version of The xx, Sabbath Produced by Phil Spector
Whether it's sparking up a joint and waiting for the high to kick in or getting together with his two True Widow bandmates to make loud, ruminative, gorgeously glowering music in practice spaces or on stages, drummer Timothy "Slim" Starks says the idea, always, is to relinquish control.
"That's when it all happens. A song will create itself if you let it," the ultra-friendly, heavily bearded, well-baked Starks explains in his casual drawl on a recent afternoon in Austin, Texas, a few hours before showtime on their latest U.S. tour. "There's so little that you can control in life, and when it comes to music, people feel like they're the creator as opposed to being a brush in a larger picture. They end up with more self-conflict than they really need. But when you realize your actual place in the creation process, you realize you don't need to control it."
"It's like a wild animal--why do you wanna go and tame that?" he continues, positioning himself somewhere between de facto spokesperson for the Dallas trio and ace stoner-philosopher life coach. "Just because you can doesn't make it cool. Or make it work. It's all about fear. And living in fear is a motherfucker."
If letting go and waiting to channel whatever the creative ether coughs out--like a three-pronged lightning rod catching heavenly bolts of inspiration and conducting them to two-inch tape--is how True Widow comes up with devastatingly phenomenal albums like the recently issued Circumambulation (the band's third LP), then clearly the threesome knows what the fuck it's doing.
Theirs is a heavy kind of minimalist slowcore, or perhaps dream-pop invaded by lucid nightmares, with songs that seize on one potent, simple idea or melody and linger on them to hypnotic, atmospheric ends, refusing to clutter things up--sort of like a more crushing version of The xx. Singer-guitarist Dan Phillips' riffs are half-Iommi, half-Morricone, and his voice leans toward the floor-gazing sad-bastard variety. Gossamer-voiced counterpart Nicole Estill, the trio's singer-bassist, sings in a way that lets a little more light in--her reverby lead vocals on Circumambulation standout "Fourth Teeth" transforms the track into something resembling Sabbath as produced by Phil Spector (when Phillips joins in halfway through to harmonize, the effect is mesmerizing). And while Phillips' riffs rightfully command attention, Estill's gritty bass lines and Starks', well, stark drumming create viscous doom-grooves that not only provide a robust spine but are often the thing that sucks you in and makes you want to stay.
Circumambulation, released on the venerable Relapse Records, isn't much of a departure from the band's previous LP, 2011's breakthrough As High As the Highest Heavens and From the Center to the Circumference of the Earth (Kemado), though it is a little more stripped-down (clue: the significantly shorter title).
"Yeah, there's not a lot of frills to it," says Starks. "If you're overworking something, then that part doesn't need to be there. You strip all the bullshit away, that's the way we like to do things. We're not a noodly band that's gonna, like, go into some solo. We're not a band that rehearses regularly either, so the songs, as long as you don't beat them to death by rehearsing the fucking life out of them, will allow themselves to be known and be what they are."
That's an aesthetic and vision the band's held onto since the start, when longtime friends Starks and Phillips first began jamming with Estill -- who'd been a big fan of Phillips' previous band, Slowride -- in November of 2007, Starks explains. Previously a guitarist and self-described "pedal nerd," Starks never played drums before True Widow, but, he says, "From hanging out with Dan and coming up with these tones and the riffs after we'd tuned the guitars a certain way for this crazy low-end vibe, all of a sudden in my mind, even though not being a drummer I knew what I would like in a drummer. And we knew it was gonna be a three-piece, all our favorite bands are three-pieces, and Dan really wanted to hear a female voice in the mix doing leads and harmonies."
The band "hid away in our little hole for quite a while before we ever peeked our heads out," honing their sound and getting to know one another better both as musicians and as people, Starks recalls.
"(Nicole) picked everything up like a pro right from the beginning --she knows what she's doing -- but she thought a certain way, she had been playing other types of music and she never tried to do something with her voice that would be True Widow-ish, if you will," says Starks.