Lo! are a brutal sludge metal band from Australia for fans of Converge, Mastodon, Neurosis, Old Man Gloom, Breach, Cult of Luna, Cursed, Black Breath etc... and we had the chance to interview Carl Whitbread, guitar player of the band and also freelance creative with over 15 years experience specialised in design and motion graphics. Lo!'s last album "Vestigial" goes further refines their brand of sludge-infused progressive death as a relentless torrent of ruin which dances between oppressive barrages of technical fury, obliterating sludge and adroit use of melody. Within its churning gyre of desolation is a deeply nuanced record that represents a band bolstered by ironclad confidence in their artistic vision. A world where politics resemble black comedies, where guns have become an aspect of culture and where addiction to technology is the norm is at the lyrical heart of the album. Unfortunately in Europe, aswell as our last band interviewed, they are not yet known, so... to those who have not heard them, we advise you to do it right now!
OBNUBIL: Lo! is made up of four “old hands” of the Sydney music scene. Adrian Shapiro on bass, Adrian Griffin on drums, Sam Dillon delivering the militant vocal assault that has heads talking and you, Carl Whitbread, adding those amazing guitar riffs. For many of our readers, who maybe are unfamiliar with Lo! could you give us a quick glimpse into the band’s past and explain how it all started?
CARL: The band was started by me (Carl) all the way back in 2007. After my previous band (Omerata) split up, I took a year or two off music. After a while I got the itch to make music again so I started writing at home and learning how to record demos on my laptop. I had about 6 songs finished at the time (which are all on Look and Behold) so I started finding people I knew through the Sydney music scene to play with. After multiple jams and a few member changes we had our first line up which consisted of everyone in the band today except Sam. We had another friend Jamie on vocals at the time who appears on our first 2 albums. We played our very first live show in 2010.
OBNUBIL: Where did the name, "Lo!" originally come from? It's not the most common name used in metal and it is also a little tricky to search you on Google.
CARL: Lo! Is short for Lo and Behold which used to draw attention to something. I saw it used in a few old Edgar Allan Poe poems and really liked the simplicity of it. I think in hindsight it probably wasn’t the best choice as far as searching goes. I guess back then it wasn’t really on our minds.
CARL: Definitely. They’re two bands that had influence on us - Old Man Gloom specially. They seem to blend a lot of styles quite well - including nice interludes. That was definitely an important factor for us. We enjoy a wide variety of music so we try to incorporate different elements in our songs, while still remaining heavy and keeping a distinct sound. It’s a fine balance between being too over-the-top or being too boring. Sludge metal is a term I didn’t even know existed until we started getting labeled, but it makes sense.
OBNUBIL: In October 2017 you released your third album called "Vestigial" through Pelagic Records. This record is a dark, grotesque showing of metallic hardcore, post-metal and sludge; morphing and twisting into a grey area of heavy sounds in the vile process. The songs are well-crafted and have a larger scope, the sound is heavy yet organic, there is a great harmonic density behind the stupefyingly heavy riffs and the band sounds tighter than ever before. Can you tell us your personal vision about the album?
CARL: Thanks for the kind words! We are really happy with the outcome of Vestigial. Our vision was really nothing more than trying to make a solid album that we’d be happy with. When writing, we try and let the songs evolve naturally and not force things into a specific direction, but also not straying too far from our sound - it’s about finding that balance. It’s important for the songs to feel complete so you have more of a connection to it - you’re not just listening to a bunch of cool riffs chucked together without thought. Overtime we’ve also become more comfortable working together as a unit and I think it really shows on this album. Our drummer Adrian actually lived overseas for most of our previous albums but now lives back in Australia so I think that made a massive difference also.
As for our sound, we try to keep it as natural sounding as possible - yet still retain that weight and heaviness. We don’t like to over-produce things for two main reasons; 1. I think rawer sounding music always has more of an emotional impact, 2. We want to keep the gap between our live sound and recorded sound as small as possible. Nothing worse than a band who are amazing on record but sound completely shitty live.
OBNUBIL: Why the name "Vestigial"? “Vestigiality” is the retention during the process of evolution of genetically determined structures or attributes that have lost some or all of their ancestral function in a given species. We notice some criticism with the current world in the name, are we right?
CARL: Well done on the names relevance to the albums core themes. Corrupt leaders of the worlds hyper powers and clinging to gun culture are Vestigial in my eyes. The unwanted and unneeded organs in a body.
OBNUBIL: The lyrical heart of your new album “Vestigial” is based on a world where politics resemble black comedies, where guns have become an aspect of culture and where addiction to technology is the norm. Are these themes you reflected also into the lyrics of past albums or are these themes you are specially interested in nowadays because of everything that is happening in this incomprehensible world right now?
CARL: The lyrical content of the previous release - The Tongueless - focused on the relationship between man and his environment or rather the exploitation of it. From circuses to extinction and the rapid decline of the natural world via human greed. Vestigials lyrics focus heavily on the political monsters of our own choosing. We are interested of course but in a disgusted way at the shaping of this new world. It truly appears that the devolution of humans has begun. For all the accessibility and ease of technology what have gained? Access to infinite information but no smarter for it.
OBNUBIL: As far as we know, in the past your albums were totally homegrown. You engineered and mixed the albums yourself, all done by you in Australia. Was this also the case with your latest album "Vestigial" or did you send it off to get mixed and mastered elsewhere?
CARL: Yeah previously I had done most of recording and mixing (except for Monstorum which was mixed by Dylan Adams). At first I did it to learn as much as I could about the process, then once I got the hang of it, it was just easier for me to keep doing it for financial and creative reasons. For this album I still took on the majority of the recording (along with our friend Aaron Worboys), but decided I didn’t want to mix it this time. Firstly because it becomes very time consuming - especially after taking on all the song writing and recording - and secondly I really wanted to hand it off to someone else who hadn’t been close to the process, to get a fresh perspective on everything. We decided to go with Magnus Lindberg from Cult of Luna - we love the sonic space of the COL albums and we had toured with them previously, so we knew he’d understand our sound and direction. We sent everything to his studio in Sweden, and he worked on it remotely, emailing us the mixes. He pretty much nailed it first go, so there wasn’t much back and forth. It was a very smooth and easy process and really took our sound up to the next level.
OBNUBIL: Who's been the main creative drive or influence behind your debut albums, both from a musical and conceptual standpoint? We read that in the last album you wrote pretty much every song, designed the artwork, and generally set the tone for what Lo! is. You have been defined as a sweet man with a musically dark soul! You spent a lot of time getting everything exactly right be it the CD artwork, poster design, t-shirt design and not to mention writing the music too. Could you please tell us about your creative process?
CARL: That would be me. Lo!’s always been my main outlet, and i’ve done most of the creative work from songwriting to artwork to video.
Generally I’ll start with a bunch of random riff ideas. I have a pretty good home studio setup so anytime I get ideas I can very quickly and easily record them. Our drummer Adrian also has a home studio setup with an electronic kit so I can bounce ideas back and forth with him. He can also play guitar it’s easy for him to articulate ideas. He’ll sometimes even just send me a bunch of drum beats on their own, which i’ll then write riffs over. Once I have a decent collection of stuff, I’ll start to look for patterns and see what can go together cohesively, and start putting songs together. I’ll then record a demo of it, including bass and programmed drums. Once the band are 90% happy with it, i’ll send it to Adrian for him to record his own drums over - which always makes the song sound a million times better as my programmed drums are generally very basic. Finally we’ll all get together in a room and mould it into the final song. Sam will then add his vocals once the music is finished.
For artwork, sometimes it will come first from ideas I’ve collected overtime and other times it’s an afterthought. For Vestigial I had a pretty solid idea from the start of how I wanted to album to look, and this also had an influence on the music. I always had something visual in my head while writing.
It does take a lot of time but it’s totally worth it. When Lo! first started I would agonise over every little detail and try and control everything, but as the band went on I realised it’s kinda pointless and actually becomes too stressful. You can keep changing something forever but at some point you just need to say it’s done and move onto the next thing. I’ve also learnt to delegate more, and bring other creative people in for certain things like merch designs. The overall process for Vestigial was actually really relaxed compared to previous albums and I think that’s another reason it exceeded our expectations.
We’re also quite lucky as everyone in the band brings their own skills to the table. Sam is also an amazing illustrator and has done some merch designs for us. Adrian Griffin is a web developer so he takes care of that side of things including our social media. Adrian Shapiro is a producer, so he’ll organise shows and tours and generally be the first point of call for the band. He’s also responsible for organising our music videos and directing Locust Christ. It’s nice having a bunch of talented people around to share the workload with.
OBNUBIL: The Artwork for "Monstrorum Historia" and "The Tongueless" was made by Aborted Prosthetics. We have tried to find more information about Aborted Prosthetics, is it some local design studio? Or a name under which you previously designed?
CARL: Yep that was me under a different name. I came up with that a long time ago as a title for the ‘cool’ band related work I did, I guess I thought it was edgy haha. After I while I realised it was quite a restrictive name and I was doing much more than just band artwork, so I decided to just start using my own name for everything.
OBNUBIL: We have been digging a little into your graphic work and found out that you have over 14 years industry experience including 2 years teaching experience. You are currently freelancing and have worked at a number of agencies and companies including; The Monkeys, Webling Interactive, Imagination, With Collective, MI9, Innocean Worldwide, GHO, and SBS Television. In what creative field do you find yourself more comfortable? Is there something your specially love to create or to work with as designer?
CARL: Yeah I’ve always been a bit of an all rounder - I always joke about being the jack of all trades and master of none. Which I guess i kinda true. I started out as a digital designer back in 2002, designing and programming interactive CD ROM’s. I learnt a lot of skill very quickly, designing, coding, animation, photography and some basic audio. From there I started learning about print design and did that for a few years, then came back to doing modern digital design, including animated banners. I got quite sick of digital work and decided to recently transition into motion graphics and video. It’s perfect for me as it takes the 2 things I’m passionate about - design and audio - and merges them into one discipline. At the end of the day I love doing a variety of work - I get bored too quickly just sticking with the same thing.
One thing I’ve also learnt is to separate paid work from personal work. Paid work is generally not very creative and most of the stuff I’ve done to make a living I wouldn’t even put in my portfolio. But that’s ok because it pays the bills and allows me to have free time to focus on my personal work.
OBNUBIL: We couldn't miss that you are also into another musical project called "Olive", a lattice of electronica, sweeping melodies and experimental soundscapes influenced by bands like The Knife, Fever Ray, Bjork, Broadcast, Bat for Lashes, Massive Attack. This is a genre far away from "Lo!", so we guess you must be a very open minded musician. Do you consider that for a musician it is important to keep your mind open to other fields and most musicians are missing something because of their obsession with one unique music style?
CARL: Olive is actually my wife’s project. She loves quirky electronic music and has actually introduced me to a whole other world of music I never really knew about. She write and records everything herself as well as being the vocalist. I help her out a little with the production side and I also play live with her (along with another friend). She was even very lucky to go to Sweden a couple of years back to study music with Karin from The Knife / Fever Ray.
In saying that, I already have a pretty broad taste in music, and I find it’s expanding even more as I get older. Most of the time I listen to classical movie soundtracks and other stuff that is quite far from metal. I think it’s pretty crucial to have an expanded taste, or else you just fall into the same repetitive trap and don’t actually progress the genre any further.
OBNUBIL: How would you describe yourself? Are there any other hobbies in your life?
CARL: Besides art and music which are my two main passions, I also love snowboarding. It’s hard to do all the time living in Australia of course but any chance I get I’ll head to the snow whether it’s here or overseas. I also do a lot of skateboarding and indoor rock climbing. I think it’s really important to stay fit and active. It keeps the body and mind focused and fuels more creativity.
OBNUBIL: Talking about creative pieces, we can't miss to mention your video "Orca". The video was produced by bass player Adrian Shapiro himself. The clip showed vocalist Sam Dillon as a vicious creature emerging from a vat of shiny pink goo, in front of an otherwise completely black background. The video is great and no surprise that it ended up featured on Noisey, Metal Hammer and Decibel Magazine. But, wait a minute... Pink in metal? There has been a love-it-or-hate-it discussion... but even the haters had to admit that the video is outstanding with an innovative approach to visual arts in heavy music. How did you guys came up with the whole idea?
CARL: We knew from the start we wanted something a bit different, something that would stand out against the typical metal film clips out there. Our friend Matt Devine who is a director and had seen us play live a few times and had approached us about doing a film clip. He had a few different ideas, most of which would have taken too much work and money to make, then he finally came up with the idea of Sam coming out of a pool of pink goo while we all played around him, as if the music was making him rise up. We liked the simplicity of it, yet we knew it would be visually striking and get attention. Adrian organised the shoot which only took a day, and a lot of amazing people and crew dedicated their time for cheap or even for free, so we didn’t have to break the bank to get it made. Love it or hate it, I think it’s always a better approach to try something a little different, rather than just play it safe and aim to please everyone.
OBNUBIL: A lot of bands these days seem to be thinking outside the box in terms of merchandise and artwork in general. Any unique limited editions you guys have up for sale, or perhaps in the near future?
CARL: I love it when bands come up with something unique or limited to sell. We currently have a limited edition 2 colour brass and red screen printed poster which we did for our last European tour. We just did a short run of 50 and they’re all hand numbered (you can buy them on our bandcamp page). Other than that not much at the moment. I think the boldest thing we’ve done merch wise so far is The Tongueless double 7”. I had that idea in mind for a while and everyone told us not to bother as it would be way to expensive. I really wanted to make it though, and thankfully Robin and Pelagic records agreed to do it and we couldn’t be happier with how it turned out. Not sure what we’ll do in the future yet but we’re always willing to try something new and Pelagic are generally very supportive of new ideas.
OBNUBIL: Having all been involved in local music for many years now, what are your thoughts on the current music scene?
CARL: The Australian metal scene is quite small compared to other countries but it’s pretty solid. Being so small, most people know each other quite well and everyone shows lots of support. It’s a really great community. Australia being a big continent though does make touring hard - we only have 3 or 4 main cities to play they’re all at least 10 hours apart so it becomes quite expensive. It’s not like Europe or the States where you can just jump in a van and play different cities every night for 2 weeks straight.
OBNUBIL: What can people expect from a Lo! live show? If there is anything you could change about live scenes in your genre, what would it be?
CARL: Loud, chaotic, lots of energy and most importantly, a good time. I think the main problem with Sydney in particular is lack of venues. We’ve had a lot of venues shut down over the last few years including a few really iconic ones. We’re also a bit of a nanny state so there’s big restrictions in terms of serving alcohol and noise limits and a lot of places really struggle surviving under those laws. There’s even been a few cases of people moving in next door to a venue then complaining about the noise and getting the venue shut down. It’s very backwards and makes it hard for the creative music community to thrive. Melbourne seem to be doing it a little better than us and have more relaxed laws when it comes to that stuff.
OBNUBIL: What is your current gear?
CARL: I’ve always run a dual amp setup in Lo! - being the only guitarist I want our live sound to be as big as possible. My main amp is a Carvin x100b which I run super clean, and I use a Blackstone pedal which gives me 2 levels of distortion. My second amp is a mesa boogie dual rectifier which I run the drive channel along with a Hotcake distortion pedal. Generally have both amps running the whole time but occasionally will switch to the Carvin only for quiet or clean parts. I used a Tonebone Switch bone to run the 2 amps. For effects I use a Line 6 Echo park for delay, and a Strymon Flint for Tremolo and Reverb. I also use a nano pog to thicken up certain parts. My guitar is a left handed Gibson Les paul.
OBNUBIL: Lo! supported Cult of Luna and The Ocean in April / May 2013, played Roadburn Festival back in 2013 and have shared the stage with Baroness, High on Fire, Red Fang, Russian Circles, Doomriders, Eye Hate God, Torche, Ringworm, Weedeater, Conan, Trivium, In Flames, and many more. You presented your new album "Vestigial" in Europe and the UK during the months of September and October in 2017, but missed lots of countries/cities on your way, including Spain where we are. What's next for Lo! now? A bigger tour including Spain and a global domination?
CARL: Yeah unfortunately it was hard for us to visit everywhere, we were on a limited timeframe and a limit budget. It’s very expensive for us to come over to Europe so we have to pick and choose what we’re able to afford. Spain is definitely on the list for next time - I’ve holidayed there before and also played there with another band called We Lost the Sea. Would be awesome to get on Primavera festival one day. There might be a chance that Lo! will make it back to Europe later this year but not 100% sure yet. We’re also heading to Japan in May for a 5 show tour which will be awesome.
OBNUBIL: It has been a pleasure getting all this information! Thank you so much for taking your time answering our questions! Is there anything that you would like to say to the readers of The Covenant and to your fans?
CARL: Thanks so much for the awesome interview! Hopefully we can make it to spain very soon! Cheers.
Photo taken by Carl Whitbread.
Which of our t-shirts is he wearing in the picture? Do you like it? It is... THIS ONE