Eaters of the Soil, interviewed!

Doom metal, noise, jazz and plenty of improvisation. A creation formed in the Netherland’s pandemic lockdowns. I just had to listen, a what a wonderfully heavy, confronting and truly experimental trip it was! I’m talking about Eaters of the Soil’s January 2022 release, “EP II“. We reached out to Niels to learn more about the music, and both the technical and creative processes behind this sludgey, intense yet laid-back sonic assault.

Hi Niels! Thanks for agreeing to an interview about Eaters of the Soil’s music and what goes on behind the scenes in producing it! I’d like to start off by trying to put things into a geological context, and having never visited the Netherlands, I’m curious about your homeland. I feel that the Netherlands must be some kind of hot-spot for dark and extreme music. Would you say that this is true? What is life like in this part of the world, and how does this impact on you creatively? I’d also like to ask about your fellow band members, Stef on guitar and the wild work of trombonist Rutger. How did you meet these guys, and what are your musical backgrounds?

Thank you for your genuine interest and time! We really appreciate that.

The Netherlands is small country, yet we seem to have a pretty good track record for extreme music. Nowadays there’s quite a new wave of black metal bands that are getting intentional recognition and even more avant-garde styles getting booked too. The Roadburn Festival in particular has been great for putting dark and extreme music on the map, with some great “slip stream” events by other organizers like Soulcrusher and Into the Void. They always book some local talent which creates opportunities for smaller acts.

Life’s good here (without going into detail about the political landscape and social/environmental challenges like in many countries). It’s a tiny country and cities are pretty well connected by public transport and obviously by car. We have a pretty good infrastructure for bands (though it was even better a decade or two/three ago). We’re from the fourth largest city in the country (Utrecht. approx 353.000 people) and there are some great venues from the capacity of 200 to 2000 people that work together on occasion to host multi-venue festivals. Having some smaller venues means local bands can perform on a decent stage pretty quick, and being such a small country doing gigs outside of your city or region, is a step many take quickly too. In general it is hard to reflect on how it impacts me creatively, but speaking specifically for Eaters of the Soil, it’s that we came into existence during the lockdowns of the corona pandemic, because we missed the things I mentioned before very much . The frustration of not being able to rehearse, perform and physically work together on music – and lack of social life in general, which added up with the lingering desire to make darker and heavier music again.

Our band members met through a band we were in before EotS, called Makaak, making music in the vein of Mr Bungle. Like EotS it started as a studio project (a singer, guitarist and me) and while looking for a drummer to make it into a live band I posted an ad, noting that other instrumentalists were welcome to react too. Rutger reached out and after a great first meet up, we decided to incorporate his trombone playing into the band. He brought in Stef as a second guitar player after a while. Ritger and Stef were already active with their improv noise duo act Lärmschutz. Makaak’s music was this really tight, genre hopping, meticulus, everything has to be right kind of music which contradicts what they do with Lärmschutz, which is always improv, one take and done. After a while I joined them for a few sessions and loved this approach to making music, as an addition to writing stuff in advance with our other band. Even before the pandemic started Makaak’s flame died down, yet the three of us kept doing sessions when restrictions allowed, because we noticed that besides having some favorite artists in common, we like to stay productive and explore new sounds and ways to use our instruments. At some point Rutger asked me to do a remix for a trombone-only release, and I was just thinking about wanting to do a doom project, so I distorted one of his parts, added drums, synths and bass and we both thought it would be cool to do more stuff like that, which became Eaters of the Soil.

Rutger learned to play the trombone early on through playing “band music” (we call it harmony),  and picked up bass guitar when he got into punk and rolled into the grunge era. He did his fair share of ska bands too before being the noise and loop master he is now (lol!). Stef, as with many guitar players, started out playing metal and grunge and got into jazz and drifted off from playing songs, into improv and noise. Myself, I grew up a metalhead and through my bass teacher learned about jazz rock/fusion (Jaco Pastorius!) and was instantly fan of Primus, Mr Bungle and Naked City. I’ve always been a fan of contrast in music.

For your first and second EP releases, what was your recording process? I’m curious if you guys tend to jam things out, in person, or have had to share files digitally due to the pandemic and lockdowns that you mentioned? How do the various band members share up the writing and recording tasks?

The process we’ve used was a result of the idea we had for our sound. I wrote the outlines of the tracks with (programmed) drums, doom bass, synths and samples, and for each track we’d do two takes of improvisation over them with trombone (and effects), guitar and fretless bass – without any major preparation, just an indication of how mild or wild we want a song to become. We’d pick the best takes from those. So we have the best of both worlds; a steady foundation and a grip on song writing, and the unexpected from the improv. After recording I did some minor edits, added some synths and would move some samples around.

Like I said we were fed up with rehearsal spaces being locked down and having no place to socialize, but we were fortunate enough to have decent enough gear to record without needing to be in a studio (and we didn’t need to record drums), so we ended up in the attic of our trombone player to record the improv parts. It felt like a field trip!

The main difference between the two EP’s is that for the second EP we had a human drummer on-board, though he left the band before the last recording session, so we fell back on using programmed drums for the last song. We asked sax player Otto Kokke from Dead Neanderthals to add his ideas to two songs.

I am the only song writer in the band. Over the years we’ve been doing several projects and bands together and it works best if someone takes the lead and guards the boundaries of a specific sound we want to create. Recording duties are shared and I take care of mixing and mastering.

I’d also like to ask about your visual aesthetic. Who does your artwork? I like the blending of minimalism (black and white), with a really corroded and almost semi-grunge/industrial feel.

Cool that you ask about that! The artwork of the first EP was a “nice find” image that set the tone for the next. Thijs Brouwers, a long-time friend and talented digital artist and photographer, created the artwork of the second EP and managed to visualize the harsh and raw feel of our music, in my opinion. He also created the visuals we use as a projection during our gigs, that amplify the feel of our music.

What are you working on as a follow up to the second EP? Is there a third in the works, or an album in the oven at the moment?

The third one is in the works indeed. Again four songs that are in the vein of the previous EPs, with some new twists. Besides that we have a release coming up this summer which is a side step of what we’ve done so far. In preparation of our first live performance we did a technical run down with our front of house guy at the venue we rehearse next to, so being all plugged in we took the opportunity to record two 15 minute improvs after we had checked our current set. This for us is pretty much working the other way around, since it meant I had to work with what our drummer (a new one), guitar player and trombone player came up with from scratch, instead of being the one that gives the input. We decided to not do the doom bass and keys (my part) live, to be able to add to the recordings afterwards and maintain the EotS sound that way. It turned out to be a great way to create music too and brings out the experimental side of our group even more. For now it feels like we have two flavors that we both want to explore.

How do you describe your music to people who haven’t heard it before, or aren’t familiar with so much genre blending?

We’re a doom band that adds noise and jazz improvisation to the slow paced, heavy foundation that defines the doom metal genre. This enables us to create unexpected layers and moods – being not the typical nostalgia of sad doom vibes, yet more uncomfortable and eerie.

Some key elements to our sound are the use of trombone with quite some effects and looping. And, an important factor to me, since the doom bass provides the heavy riffs, our use of regular guitar isn’t riff-focused and is purely improv-based to contrast the ultra low end.

How did the live performance go that you mentioned? It sounds great that you all used it as an opportunity to freely jam and improvise some new material! Is this in-person jamming process with no boundaries going to become a regular thing for you now?

It went great! We did have some last minute Corona-related problems though, which meant our guitar player wasn’t able to perform, which is pretty ironic, being a band that started during and partly because of the pandemic, haha. But we really wanted to play and adjusted our playing to the gap the guitar left. Response from the audience was great and we can’t wait to present ourselves in full force next time!

The improv recording session I mentioned wasn’t the gig itself, but an on stage rehearsal two weeks before (kind of a long sound check to get our sound engineer familiar with our live situation). During the actual gig we performed 4 songs from the two EPs, with the drums and doom bass pretty much like they are on the recordings, and the rest was improvised.

On BandCamp our music is Name Your Price and were also on Spotify, so people can check it out for free. And those who would like to know more about our influences, go check our Instagram. We’re posting some artists and tracks that in some way had an influence on creating our sound. From early Cathedral and Winter to Zu and Louis Lopes Lisbon Berlin Trio.