Hard Rock Corner: The Well | Under the Radar - Music Magazine
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Hard Rock Corner: The Well

Death and Consolation Ups the Ante on Heavy

Apr 29, 2019 By Frank Valish Photography by Cecilia Alejandra Blair
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With its third album, Death and Consolation, Austin, TX doom/psych rock trio The Well has set a new bar for heaviness. After spending 2018 conquering some demons, guitarist/vocalist Ian Graham decided to down-tune his guitars and crank out some of the darkest, most cathartic rock and roll of the band's career, betrayed in songs such as the aptly titled "Death Song," the riff-heavy "Eyes of a God," and the six plus minute epic closer "Endless Night." And to add to the mix, "Act II" begins with a clip from the 1979 horror film Salem's Lot, and "This is How" features audio of Rod Serling.

With a blistering consistency of sound and purpose, Graham and his band, which includes bassist/vocalist Lisa Alley and drummer Jason Sullivan, have created a hard rock masterwork that overwhelms and overtakes. Graham took some time out of his schedule to chat with Under the Radar about The Well's new album, the occult, the band's own Death and Consolation beer, and how, of all things, a local church played a part in the band's beginning.


Under the Radar: What kind of music was around in your home when you were growing up? Did your parents listen to a lot of music?

Ian Graham: My parents were very young.  My mom was like 17 when I was born, so of course in the beginning it was Bowie, a lot of Alice Cooper-that was my mom's favorite. It's funny because I didn't know that wasn't really a normal thing back then, Alice Cooper. No one even knew who the hell that was in the early '80s. But yeah, Alice Cooper, David Bowie, Pink Floyd. My dad was a drummer, and he played hard rock and metal. So there was a lot of music. My grandpa was a honky-tonk player. He played all the old country stuff.

Did you start playing music early?

No. I was obsessed with music all the time. But my first interest, besides music, which was a constant, was skateboarding, which I started when I was 9 or 10. That was a big focus that took up all my time for years. I didn't start playing music until I was about 16.

The press material said that you were working through some kinda heavy stuff in the last year. I wondered whether you could talk a bit about what precipitated some of that personal nature of your songwriting.

I'm not going to say specifics of what it was. But there's a lot of different ways to hit rock bottom. Certain habits, whether they be social or chemical, whatever it is. I hit a few of those and was thrown into a situation where I had to change. There's loss, there's longing, and then there's just being on the other side of it.

Does music help you with that? Did writing this album serve as a catharsis?

In general. It's so habitual. I've always written, whether it be poems or little prose pieces, since I was a kid, for no good reason. It's just functionality. So sure, it does, but it wasn't forced or anything. That's just a habit I have. I tend to write stuff. That's just how I deal with reality anyway. So yeah, over and over again.

But when stuff happens, music is what you turn to.

Yeah, usually. I write so many little blurb-y poems. That's the main thing. The music is more fun. I think the words are the personal, cathartic thing. I guess it's all cathartic. But I always write shit down. And I rarely use a lot of that stuff. It's just a weird little habit.

Well, it helps to process.

Yeah, it does help to process. It always has. Anything that's therapeutic, I'm down with. It's something I've always done and it's always helped me.

You've talked about there being less jamming on this album. Is that also a function of how it was written? Do you typically jam out songs in crafting them, and was that not the case this time around?

Yeah, actually, it wasn't a lot of jamming as far as making it. There was less time in the practice space and more time me sitting in front of an amplifier alone at home. And of course they add to it. Lisa and Jason add and help with the arrangement of it, but a lot of this stuff was like, Okay, this is pretty much done. Maybe it was because of an urgency, an urgency for the catharsis possibly. But I don't know. It's all subconscious.

Did you come out of Pagan Science [The Well's sophomore, 2016 release] knowing that you wanted to do some specific things differently this time or was that more of an outgrowth of the circumstances that led up to this record?

I wanted to down tune a little bit, but that's really it. I never plan. I think if you do too much of that, you can hear it.

Another quote stuck out at me from the press materials: "This album might be a little less produced, because I didn't want to push technical stuff as much. I'm so scared of getting too complicated when getting better at guitar. This is still kind of punk rock." Can you talk to me a bit about that? Do you find yourself leaning toward more complex guitar work or production as you get better but find yourself having to hold yourself back? Like saying, I can do this but this is not The Well.

The thing is, it just seems a little wanky to me. I like to listen to it, but I never wanted to be involved with something like that. The Well is like its own monster and I know what it wants. I'd rather listen to Leadbelly before I make something, because it's more rudimentary; it keeps you close to the ground, to the soil, and I think that's where The Well has always kind of been. When things get froggy and shit, there's people who can do that stuff and that's great, but I don't think that that's what I'm trying to go for, the weird space rock shit. And I do hold back a little bit. Like The Cramps. The Cramps really kept it basic. And The Ramones. These great bands, they kept it pretty freaking basic. And I'd love to aspire to something like that, but it's hard. Because you're gonna progress. If you stick with your instrument, you're gonna progress, but it's like, How far do you really want to go, and who's gonna give a shit. There's self-indulgence in that.

When you research The Well, words like "occult" and "horror" come up just as often as doom and metal and the like. Are those things, like occult and horror as much of a driving force for you artistically as the musical elements.

To be frank, occult is part of my daily life. And it's not like deep, societal shit, like joining one of these fraternal organizations and shit like that, ritual magic, per se. But in my life, I do have certain practices that are, I think once again, therapeutic. And I think that's what Western occult is, an interpretation of old esoteric things for bringing you up the rungs of consciousness. Which is what psychotherapy is. I think occult is probably just old psychotherapy techniques. But yes, it's always a part. It's part of everything. But it's just ritual, it's simple ritual. It has nothing to do with believing in monsters and shit that are outside of you. It's just kinda digging around in the subconscious a little bit and trying to just move up.

I wanted to also ask about the quotes, Salem's Lot and the Twilight Zone, yes? Rod Serling?

It's Rod Serling but it's from these films that are kind of like UFO documentaries that he did. Chariots of the Gods and The Outer Space Connection. I love those two things. When I was a kid, I loved stuff like that. Leonard Nimoy, that show with the end of it all, I can't remember the name of it. But I like the old, kind of half-cocked pseudoscience documentary stuff. I love that shit. I just put it on for entertainment.

Is that easier or more difficult to make work in terms of what quotes you were going to use and how or where you were going to use them? Because they definitely work, but I can't imagine it's always easy to integrate.

It's weird, because I'll know something needs to be there. You get this weird compulsion, whatever art is, it's this weird compulsion. I'll be like, Let's put that there. I'll just be feeling it. I work at a video store when I'm home. One of the last ones I guess. But it's one of the largest in the world, it's a collection of 70,000 films, so I'm always watching crap at work like that, and I find just random stuff. And usually I'll just be at work and I'll be like I want that on the album and then I'll find a place for it. So I have a little bit of a different situation than somebody else in a band would, because I'm just submerged in this shit all the time.

I have a couple random ones to end with. What does the Death and Consolation beer taste like?

It's a drinkable stout (laughs). They're making like a summer stout. So I guess it has to be slightly dark, for god's sakes. And it's like 5.5% alcohol or something like that.

How did that come about?

We played a show for Independence Brewing's Summer Fest here, it's at the local brewery. And they were like Let's do a Well beer. And we were like, The album is going to come out so let's center it around that.

Can you tell me a bit about Big Scenic Nowhere and what your involvement was with that project? [Ed., Big Scenic Nowhere is the heavy psych project of Fu Manchu's Bob Balch and Yawning Man's Gary Arce, with various special guests. An album will be released mid-summer via Blues Funeral Recordings' PostWax subscription series, with talk of a full release at a later date.]

That's one of the coolest things that I've gotten to do. It goes all the way back to when we'd just got signed to RidingEasy, and we opened for Fu Manchu; this is like 5 years ago or something like that. And we met Bob and they really liked us and they really complimented us on what we did, and it was fucking amazing. Because we hadn't seen shit yet, really, and they were really cool to us. Bob also has this thing called Play This Riff [www.playthisriff.com], which is guitar teaching, where he has people he meets play parts of his songs and put it on his website and you can learn how to play it, like a little instructional thing. Well, he had me do one when I was out in San Diego, and then he contacted me later. We'd always had a little bit of dialogue, and he wanted me and Lisa's vocals on this project he was doing. He said that I could write the lyrics to it and the melody, so I just banged those out and he liked what I did. We did it here in the studio. There are three tracks. They're just killer too. Working with those dudes, songs are just there. It barely didn't take any time to write the lyrics. Those guys are just fucking awesome. I can't say enough good shit about them.

Finally, and you probably answered this question a thousand times already, but it was new to me, so in doing my research, I saw that there was a Well church in Austin. Is there any connection?

You wanna know...Oh my god. I don't even know if we should put this in an interview. I don't know if I'll get in trouble for this. What was happening was we couldn't find a name for the band. And I was in my car and I was obsessed with it, so I had this huge list. And I'm sitting in my car adding to the list. I was at work, doing what I do on break at work in my car. And I look down on my phone and one of my Internet server things popped up, and it said The Well. And it was like a bolt of lightning. I was like, That's it. That's the story. That's how it came. I looked down, and there was all these different Wi-Fis, and one just said The Well, and I know it was connected to the church.

It was the church's Wi-Fi. That's fantastic!

Yup, that's the actual story about how the fucking name came to be.

If you don't want, I won't put it in there. I was just so curious....

Just put it in there. People need to know I guess. I don't think anyone knows that. But that's what happened. I was smoking pot in my car and I was writing down ideas. I looked down and I'm like, The Well. That's it. It was like a bolt of lightning.



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