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Sludge has never been feel-good music. Eyehategod and Buzzov*en are known for their dark takes on despair and addiction. Sourvein vocalist and lyricist T-Roy Medlin certainly dealt with many tough emotions during the recording of Black Fangs, the band's first proper album in almost a decade. His mother died, his apartment was put up for sale while he toured, and he worked difficult day labor jobs. But he never lost his passion for music. Medlin told us about how one of the most challenging times in his life left him with hope and inspired what might be his band's best album.
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The first track, "Fangs", starts with a huge wall of feedback. Would you say that feedback is an extra instrument in your band?
For sure. It's one of the most important things in our songs. We don't use it in all of our songs, but it's something we've always done and will always do. Feedback came up with us when we playing punk rock. It's been around in our sound since day one. It probably comes from Black Flag. Sometimes a song just calls for it.
Feedback is also a defining characteristic of the groups you've been grouped with, like Buzzov*en and Eyehategod.
Once again, it's the punk rock influence. Those bands were influenced by pretty much the same stuff. Every band uses it differently. The Melvins use it as well, to a degree. I often write something and stop playing and come right back in and start. The feedback will be there, and it will sound cool. Feedback can also sound like screaming out, some frustrated screaming in the night. In "Fangs", it's supposed to start out like that, a scream. Sometimes it's almost like a vocal.
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This is the band's first full album in nine years. You've done a lot splits, but what else was going on in the interim?
We did a trilogy of EPs that wasn't promoted well. It sucks, really. We didn't get much press. That was well over an album's worth of material on those EPs. We did a 7" with Church of Misery from Japan and others. We were looking for the right label. The trilogy of EPs and the splits were something I really wanted to do. We were also doing about 200-plus days a year. We were constantly on tour, even for EPs and 7"s. We promoted all of our stuff.
Right after the recording process for this record started, my mother passed away. That took me away in the end of 2009 and the beginning of 2010. I needed to take some time for myself, and the recording had to be put on hold. There were also some bad storms in between, and the studio was only available on weekends.
It was really hard times. I ended up moving out of an apartment that my mother owned down by the beach. It got sold. I moved into a boardinghouse on the beach. I wrote all of my lyrics in that place. It gave me a bunch of insight into where I'd come from.
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Were you close with your mother?
Super close, man. That was a hard one and still is. I needed time to myself to grieve. I came back in July of 2010 and pretty much finished up the vocals. We did some stuff in the fall, and that was it. Going through that and taking some time off was definitely the right path.
Did what you were going through work its way into Black Fangs?
I wrote about things I've been through, but more in an abstract way. But the anger and pain is there, and there are songs about change and hope. I lived this record before I recorded it. It was pretty hard times. When I finally got a chance to do the vocals, it was a good release. There was a lot of that on there, those feelings coming out. It was a good thing.
Is "Holy Transfusion" one of those songs?
It's about facing some fears and accepting some changes. It's pretty abstract and poetic, but it touches stuff like that.
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You live right in the heart of hurricane country (coastal North Carolina). Is the weather an element of your music?
There's a sense of urgency where I'm from. You have to get things done and have things in place because you don't know when a storm is going to come. The way I write also has a sense of urgency.
What was it like living in a boardinghouse?
There were a lot of older musicians who got into some bad situations. There was a really good guitar player and a keyboard player from Ohio and a local guy who was in a band and got into drugs real bad. That' where he ended up. I showed up with a van and was between tours. Times were rough, but I did have something to go on. These guys hadn't even had a gig in years. It was very humbling.
It also showed me how far I had come. I was back on the streets where I grew up and saw guys who would love to be in my situation but didn't or couldn't take it that far. There were also the day-to-day struggles of just trying to make enough money. I work day labor. I also quit drinking at the time. I used the time to my advantage. The isolated time can make you weary but I used it to write Black Fangs.
Did you end up there because of finances?
One month I was on tour. I came home, and the family had put my apartment up for sale. I had to be out at a certain date. I just had to get out. I moved my stuff overnight into a storage place and just had my van.
These places (boardinghouses) are about 100 bucks or so a week. I have friends here, but a lot of people were gone. I ended up there because I didn't have the money for a new apartment. It gave me the time and space to get back on my feet. Reality was slapping me in the face, and I was getting super bummed out. So I went back to my roots and worked on getting out of there.
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How much time did you spend with other musicians there?
It got out that I was in a band and had traveled, so they wanted to know what it was like playing in California or London. We talked a lot, but I did try to keep to myself. We finally started playing together. They had a porch where everyone would go to play. Eventually I joined in, and we ended up doing a few four-track demos for the hell of it. If anything, they inspired me. A few of them are now are playing in a local bluesy jam band.
What were those porch jams like?
It was just fun. I grew up around this place. It's like the Coney Island of the South with the Ferris wheel. There was a band in every nook and cranny of the boardwalk. You could here so many different sounds, even if there were cover songs. I remember hearing a guy covering "Sweet Leaf" on the boardwalk. There were also a lot of these blues jams, these free-for-alls. They were all over the town. That was what this was. We tried to get something everyone could play along with, maybe some blues. I tried to sing along. We had a harmonica player with different harps in different keys. It was like the scene in The Jerk when the whole family is out on the porch. Everyone had fun (laughs). These guys helped me getting day labor, and I helped them get some gear together or hooked them up with people to jam.
What kind of work were you doing?
One day you'd be cleaning out all the gnarly old produce and shit out of an old supermarket - just scooping up rotten vegetables and shit to make 65 bucks, then you cash your check at the fucking pawnshop or liquor store. It's a day hustle. On another day, because I had a van, we ended up moving stuff for a yacht company. It was better than moving rotten avocadoes and tomatoes. It's definitely bottom-of-the-barrel, but it was money.
But what started as a negative experience turned into a time of personal growth?
In a big way. Those guys couldn't just go on tour, but I could set one up. I saw the hunger in their eyes that they hadn't ever been able to tour around the country or record. I was kind of lost after my mother's passing, and it put things back in focus. It was pretty much an awakening, trying to make it the best I could be.
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Do you keep in touch with Liz Buckingham (former guitarist, now with Electric Wizard)?
Not really. I know what she's up to. I'll hear from her via email, but other than that not at all. Live and let live.
Since you grew up and still live in a small town, what is it like to come back after touring 200 days a year?
I'm from an island, a beach town. It's not a real big place. Wilmington is the biggest place near here. It's still small compared to a New York City. I've also lived in New Orleans and LA and New York . Being off the road and coming back to the island is relaxing.
One constant in your band has been changes in lineup. Tell me about the lineup that produced Black Fangs.
King James Haun (guitarist) is also a tattoo artist from DC, and he's been in the band since last summer. He's been a key member. The first time we ever jammed, he came up with a bunch of stuff. He brought in "Night Eyes" and "Nocturnal/Negative Phaze". I just added lyrics, but otherwise it's all him. He brings stuff to the table and challenges me. Same thing with (drummer) Jeffrie (Moen). He came in right before Halloween.
It's pretty seamless when you listen to Black Fangs and earlier material.
I've always done my thing to keep it sounding like Sourvein. King James brought songs that fit right in. If it's good, we go right with it, and it takes on the band's vibe. We're already writing for the next record. What we have going on is a good thing.
What do you make of the resurgence of bands like yours and Buzzov*en and Eyehategod? Is there finally a real market for the music?
Some of those bands broke up, but [some] like Weedeater have just been on the road building an audience. We've been on the road for 18 years solid. Buzzov*en took, like, a 13-year break. Sleep is also coming back and other bands that are sort of like us. But we've been burning up the road and have been constant. That's built a fanbase.
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