Very much keeping themselves to themselves, the Maine power trio makes little fuss and seems to have even less impact on their wider environment than their deft club-wielding talents deserve. Such is life. Nonetheless, curious as I was to hear the ins and outs of their last record, I lit a large fire on a nearby hill and lured them out of hiding for a rare collective conversation…
You’re welcome, welcome and thrice welcome! How’s life in the Maine Cave? Are you OGREs still keeping society at arm’s length?
ROSS: Still staying locked down, listening to tunes, playing guitar, and reading lots of sci-fi novels. Really, nothing has changed in my life.
WILL: Same here. Lucky to be an essential worker!
ED: Still working. Apparently landscaping is essential.
What impact has lockdown had on the band? Has the time and space alone provided a fresh perspective on how you want to move forward?
ROSS: Well, we have long used the metaphor of “going back into the cave” whenever we have taken a hiatus from the band, so I guess you could say that, this time, we were forced back into the cave. The marauding villagers (maskless, of course) were too much for the beast, so apparently it was time to hibernate. Don’t worry, though – you can’t keep a good Neanderthal down, so I’m sure you’ll hear from us again.
WILL: It would have been great to have played some shows to promote the new album, but obviously that wasn’t a possibility. Hopefully there is still a future for live music! The uncertainty of everything is crazy.
ED: Ya, we had a couple of cool shows planned….but, of course, all cancelled!
It’s hard to believe that the populace had to wait for a whopping five years for your fifth album. How did the preparation differ to “The Last Neanderthal” preceding it?
ROSS: In a lot of ways, the process was similar – after a bit of a break, we started jamming again in Will’s basement and, once the ideas started to flow, we realized that we were soon approaching an album’s worth of material. The ultimate catalyst for what came to be “Thrice as Strong” occurred when we were invited to Arkhangelsk, Russia to play a festival there. One night, we got in a long conversation with one of our translators about Putin, Trump, and their autocratic ways, and before we knew it, the concept of the “Cyber-Czar” was born. When we got back home, we started writing that song and realized that it would be a key track on what would eventually be “Thrice as Strong.”
“Thrice As Strong” has an honest, stripped back and laid bare vibe. How much of that comes down to regular gigging versus old friends comfortable in their own skin?
ROSS: I would say the latter, for sure. While our gigs certainly are where we shine as a band, I think our albums definitely reflect that “friends jamming in the basement” vibe that we all love. “Thrice As Strong”, in particular, is less “produced” than our last couple of albums (not that anyone would ever describe any of our albums as being particularly glossy!). I think that stripped down vibe fits the material, which is definitely more varied this time around while still embracing that “comfortable” OGRE sound.
That said, those wooden stakes look anything but! Would you perhaps care to elaborate on how or why your hard rock crimes against humanity made you wanted men? Dead or alive…
ROSS: Well, that’s what happens when you let the beast out of the cave! This time around, the last Neanderthal turned on his masters, who apparently were not so strong after all…
How much of an undertaking, Will, was the painting? If I understand correctly, the heads were brushed to scale.
WILL: Ross came up with the concept being a fan of the horror novels from the ‘70s with the die cut covers. Unfortunately we weren’t able to get the circles cut out on the final version so the concept kinda got lost, but the spirit is there. Once he had the idea, I ran with it. I knew I wanted to do a real painting for this one. To me, a painting is the true test of an artist. Just you, the colors and a brush. No digital effect to hide behind. Anyway, it was a big project for me over the winter of 2018/2019. Blood of Winter, indeed! The panel I painted on is pretty big, so the heads are a little smaller than life sized as you mentioned. I don’t feel like I 100% nailed Ross’ likeness but the time was winding down and needed to wrap it up, although I think it looks more like him when you can see the full piece with his hair. I’m mostly happy with the results, although there were a couple printing errors on the vinyl that will forever drive me crazy, but that is the case for every cover I’ve done. Nothing will ever be perfect!
ED: Will had this gigantic painting of us in his house. It was pretty weird going up the stairs and being confronted by your head on a stake… weird, but cool!
And the reactions? The sleeve seems to have split readers into two camps. Have to say, I love the execution.
WILL: Thanks! I have read some reviews online that were pretty critical of it. As I said before, if we were able to pull off the die cut effect I think people would have understood the creative decisions I made a little better.
ROSS: Though I certainly wish we could have done the die-cut cover, as I originally envisioned, I think Will’s artwork on this album – right down to details like font style –is masterful. As to the criticisms, I think some metal fans are so caught up in the idea of what a metal album cover “should” look like that they would rather embrace clichés than originality.
Too true, Ross! Now “The Future” was a striking way to open the album. Very catchy, like the pandemic, the latest unknown to sweep across the planet. Do you think that this shared threat to life has brought communities and countries together? Will there be any lasting positives from the experience or are we destined to forget the common good as soon as it passes?
ED: Hmmm, I’m gonna have to go with the “forget and not learn anything” option. I feel more and more that humans can’t really handle the modern world… too complicated. We need to be ruled by algorithms.
ROSS: While the three of us tend to lean towards a more cynical, pessimistic, even misanthropic world-view, I’ll admit that this pandemic has brought out some of the best in many humans. Unfortunately, it also has highlighted the very worst in the powers-that-be, so I fear that, in the end, this very well could be a zero-sum game. I sure hope not, but we’ll see what happens in the coming months.
When I think hive mind, I think of the mighty collective consciousness of the Borg in Star Trek. But your song takes a different angle. In our current isolation, technology has been a blessing for the vulnerable. But have we gone too far and forgotten the simple art of conversation with those around us?
ROSS: Since you mentioned Star Trek, I will hand this one over to Will and/or
WILL: I can’t speak to Ed’s influence in writing the lyrics, but we are both big Star Trek fans. We even were working on a song for the album that we didn’t finish that was about a specific episode of the original series. Hopefully we can get back that one again one day. Anyway, the real issues involved in the song can certainly bring to mind the Borg. If you go against the collective consciousness of the social media mob, your life could be ruined. Resistance really is futile!
ED: Exactly. Social media is literally driving us all crazy.
Was “Big Man” inspired by anybody in particular?
ROSS: I’ll let Ed speak to this one, but whenever I hear this song, I have in mind one particular politician, who fancies himself a “big man” but is anything but. (Hint: His name rhymes with “dump”).
WILL: I always think about Andre the Giant’s match with Hogan at Wrestlemania III when playing it.
ED: Andre was awesome!
“Cyber Czar” is classic OGRE through a Judas Priest prism. But is the tyrant that different to your deluded and menacing president?
WILL: Going back to the conversation that we had in Russia, the initial idea was about Putin downloading his consciousness into a satellite so he could keep everyone and everything under surveillance. But a dictator is a dictator. You can really plug any power tripping bully into that role and have it work. I don’t really consider our music political, but you can get away with it, as Star Trek did, through the prism of science fiction. Our album “Plague of the Planet” was kinda influenced by living in a post 9/11 America, and “Cyber Czar” addresses issues that have cropped up since.
Keeping it local, talk to me about your love of Maine man Stephen King. Have you ever met him? Do you think he differs to his pen persona?
ROSS: I have met King a couple times in slightly more formal settings. The first time was at a book signing – I was wearing a Herschell Gordon Lewis t-shirt, which he commented on. I met him a few years later at a writing awards ceremony and got to talk to him a little more. He definitely seemed like a down-to-earth guy, at least in those two encounters. We are still trying to get him a copy of the album so that he can hear “King of the Wood” – and maybe play it on his radio station!
Class! Which is your favourite story that he has written? Which film adaptation do you think missed the point? If there is one of his creations that you feel has been overlooked, which one would you recommend?
ROSS: My favorite King novel, hands down, is “The Shining”, which scared the crap out of me when I was a kid and still freaks me out when I re-read (which seems to happen every few years). In terms of short stories, I’ve always loved the “Night Shift” collection – “The Boogeyman,” “The Mangler,” “Jerusalem’s Lot,” “Gray Matter,” “Sometimes They Come Back,” and the list goes on. One overlooked story from that collection is “Strawberry Spring,” which is one of the creepiest stories about a serial killer that I have ever read. I don’t think too many of his novels could be considered “overlooked”, but I do think “Gerald’s Game” is a good one that might fit that bill. I also love “Hearts in Atlantis” and its interesting take on the Vietnam war. In terms of films, there have been so many awful ones – as well as some real gems – but I will go on record saying that I did not like the new “IT” films! The kids were great, but Pennywise and all those lame jump scares – ugh. “Misery” and Kubrick’s “Shining” are two of my favorite King film adaptations.
WILL: I like all his classics: “The Stand,” “Salem’s Lot” and “Misery.” I think most of his film adaptations miss the mark. His novels are so dense with details and backstory that I can see why they are difficult to adapt. In terms of lesser known works I enjoyed, I really enjoyed “Cell,” the one where cell phones turn everyone into zombies. It was a short and to the point and was a fun genre piece. He can kinda meander in his longer works but this was right to the point. I love time travel stories and am interested in the theories around the assassination of JFK, so I also liked “11/22/63.” Although I was disappointed that it did not go against the official narrative, it was still well written and very suspenseful. I just read it thinking the main character not only travelled through time, but also through an alternate universe in which all the bullets came from the book depository.
ED: Agree with most of the above, but there is one short story that has always stuck with me. It was in his second collection, “Skeleton Crew.” It’s about a doctor who is marooned on an island with a suitcase full of heroin and his operating tools. He ends up slowly eating himself.
ROSS: “Survivor Type”! That is one of his sickest stories of all time. “Skeleton Crew” has some fantastic stories in it.
At the heart of the album, “Judgement Day” feels like the odd tune out. Was it intended to be a homage to Metallica or did it happen unexpectedly?
ROSS: The main riff has been floating around the OGRE jam room for a few years, and to be honest, I wasn’t initially that fond of it, for the reason you mentioned – too Metallica-inspired. Now, I love classic Metallica, but I never really imagined them to be an influence on the OGRE sound, so it just didn’t feel right for the band. However, with some arranging and a few doomy riffs to balance out the chug of the main riff, I think it all came together well. In fact, it turned into one of my favorites on the album!
ED: Pretty sure the riff came off of a week where I relistened to “Ride the Lightning.”
Have to say, I love the idea of the human race as a computerised science project from the future! Do you have a strong sense of purpose in this life? Where are you going?
ED: Well, I think in the future, conscious life could very well migrate to a different form. Biological intelligence may have reached its peak and be displaced by something else in the next evolutionary step.
ROSS: It’s clear that Ed reads a lot of sci-fi novels.
We all know 2020 is a write off for international travel. But what about 2021? Have you had any serious discussion with Enrico / Cruz Del Sur Music about making that long overdue European live debut?
ROSS: Nothing yet, but that’s a conversation that we’d love to have whenever we can extricate ourselves from this COVID nightmare.
If you had a free hand, where would you like to play? Hint: Ireland is the correct answer!
ROSS: Umm, Ireland? Actually, we would love to play your home country and hang out in person with the one and only Danny Angus!
WILL: A European tour, including Ireland for sure, is the last unfulfilled dream for me so I really hope we can do it one day.
ED: I wouldn’t mind playing in Germany or the Scandinavian countries.
Looking back, please share some memories from your Japanese and Russian tours. How did the appetite of the local audiences compare to back home? Did you have much of an opportunity to soak up their respective cultures?
ROSS: Oh man, we could write volumes about our experiences in Japan and Russia. To address your final question first, I would say that “soaking in culture” was far more meaningful for me than the music we played (which I still loved, of course). In Japan, we had the most amazing host and tour guides, Toreno Kabayashi and his girlfriend Mai, so we really felt like we got an insider view of life in Tokyo and beyond. Hanging out before and after gigs with the guys and gals in Church of Misery, Eternal Elysium and Blood Farmers were some of the greatest moments in my life. And playing on stage in front of crowds that actually came to listen to your music was just amazing. I also loved the fact that, in Japan, gigs were generally over by 10pm, rather than 1am like they are here in the States. I think they’ve got a perfect system for live music over there. Russia was a different experience for sure, but just as amazing. In Arkhangelsk, we met some of the kindest, most open-hearted people we have ever met – people who remain friends to this day. Despite all of the mess created by the leaders of our two countries, the people we met in Arkhangelsk were no different from the people who go to our shows here in Portland, Maine. And the response to our music was fantastic!
WILL: Cultures like Japan and Russia are so vastly different from my white bread small town upbringing. It was really like entering into alternate realities. Those are the experiences I will always treasure and remember. We might not have been able to get rich from our music, but I feel rich from the life experiences we had. Japan was just complete sensory overload at all times and some of the coolest music stores ever. I felt like in Japan, everything kinda got to us and we didn’t really play all that great aside from maybe one night. But we redeemed ourselves years later in Russia, where we kicked ass. Going from the plane to the hotel in Russia, seeing all the buildings still blown out from WWII and the general state of the city, my initial feelings were like “what the F are we doing here?” But then meeting our hosts and translators and handlers, as well as the folks at the shows, like Ross mentioned, these people couldn’t have been more warm, friendly and welcoming. They treated us like the Rolling Stones! The dude who ran the festival was named Aleksandr Mezentsev and he was a total sweetheart and one of the biggest characters I’ve ever met. Dude can put down some vodka, let me tell you. I loved the warm sake in Japan, but that Russian vodka is the smoothest stuff you’ll ever have. And there was never any shortage of it. I only blacked out one night.
If you had a time machine, where would OGRE go and why?
ROSS: Ancient Rome in the time of Augustus Caesar. Either that or Leeds University, February 14, 1970 to watch The Who perform the greatest live album in history. Maybe we could open up for them.
WILL: I would go back to the ‘60s and buy every comic book I could for my collection. And then maybe go check out what was going on on that grassy knoll…
ED: Prussia of the 1700s if I could be Frederick the Great. He put the Absolute in Absolute Despot.
With twenty years behind you, is there anything else the band needs to say or do before it’s too late?
ROSS: I’ve got big ideas for another album concept, but I need to convince the guys that it’ll be worth our while…
WILL: It’s been a long time. We’ve seen so many trends come and go in music. Some may even think we have worn out our welcome. It seems unlikely that we will ever level up to Witchcraft or The Sword status, but I don’t care. I love playing music with these dudes and I think we will always have something to say!
ED: I think another concept album might be a possibility. Sure is a lot to comment on…
It’s time for this hermit to take my leave. Any parting pearls of wisdom?
ROSS: Get back in the cave. And wear a mask!
WILL: Have a good time… all of the time!
Danny Angus (June / July 2020)