Interview by Dan Swinhoe.
For a long time, I thought Wales was devoid of good music, Skindred and Tom Jones aside, the only metal bands from the valleys you heard about were the likes of Bullet for My Valentine, Funeral for a Friend and Lostprophets. A playlist that brings the same kind of pleasure as listening to nextdoor’s cat’s angrily doing it. But then I found Taint.
Formed in the mid-nineties, Taint were a Welsh power trio that played a unique brand of sludge. The UK’s answer to Baroness, their two albums, “The Ruin Of Nova Roma” and “Secrets & Lies” were brilliant; aggressive, mesmerisingly rhythmic and catchy all at the same time. By the summer of 2009 they were touring in support of their newest EP, “All Beas To The Sea”. Sadly, the band called time a few months later, playing their last show in their hometown of Swansea just before Christmas that year. No real explanation was given, and nothing more was heard anyone in the Taint camp.
Fast forward to today and frontman Jimbob Isaac is back with Hark. Featuring former Whyteleaf rhythm section Nikolai Ribnikov and Simon Bonwick, the look to be picking up where Taint left off and pushing it even further. So far Hark have only released a 7″ single, entitled “Mythopoeia”. Two tracks of angular hardcore sludge, the single manages to straddle Stoner, Punk and Sludge in the way only Taint could.
What happened with Taint? From the outside things looked good- positive reviews for your new EP, a summer tour, and interviews around the time said you had plans to record an album after that- for it all to suddenly end.
Jimbob Isaac (JB): It wasn’t so sudden, I made the decision that I’d been considering for some time. Chris and Alex’s family plans reduced their desire to tour dramatically, so that was the clincher for me. I was also in need of a fresh creative environment, so knew that I needed to seek out new people to write with. The drive to tour more, reach new territories and work with new musicians has simply been about me answering a few important questions in my life. No matter what happens with Hark, I’ll be able to rest well with no ‘what-ifs’ hanging over my head.
Why have you come back with a new band now? Have you always had more music brewing since Taint ended or is this a very recent thing?
JB: Because I feel as though I have no choice. I’ve been playing music for almost twenty years now, and still have a few more boxes to tick. Taint’s creative process slowed down so much, that I really needed a new project to kickstart me into writing again. Hark began jamming slowly in summer 2010, a few months before the final Taint show.
How hard was it to end Taint, and now start a new band?
JB: It was a hard thing to do, but I was unhappy with Taint’s inherent restrictions for a long time. Hark has been a pretty painful thing to give birth to, but Simon, Niko and I have been working our asses off to connect with each other on all the required levels to make this work. Personally, yes I do feel that I have unfinished business. Hark for me is the continuation of my on going legacy, and I feel eternally driven (cursed?) to take it to more people than Taint was able to reach.
Does it feel like unfinished business?
JB: Taint had a lot of praise and recognition from musical peers and press around the world, yet we weren’t able to take a lot of opportunities that were offered to us. Nothing’s for certain, but Hark has every intention of fulfilling that potential.
How did you get together with Nikolai and Simon?
JB: The guys played in a local, South Wales band called Whyteleaf. They opened for Taint a few times, and it was apparent how much of a shared mindset they had with Taint. They seemed to take influence from us, amongst other bands, and push their sound even further, in directions that really excited me. So, I felt as though they were some of the only people I’d consider asking to do this band. The guys have excellent chops, and bag fills of ideas when it comes to song craft and riffs. So, it’s been challenging and fun to try and make this work with them.
Have you been in touch with [former Taint Bassist and Drummer] Chris West or Alex Harries at all? What do they think of Hark?
JB: Alex and I live in the same city, so we see each other fairly regularly. Chris is a bit further away, but we all have a lot of time for each other, when we’re not too busy. The guys are happy that I’m giving this a go, and gave me their blessings. They know how important it is for me to try and answer some of those questions, just as I know how important their family and work life is to them.
What was the thought process behind the name?
JB: We spent hours after rehearsals, researching on our mobile web devices, looking at relevant sources of interest to ourselves. Niko was looking through his stacked tomes of poetry, and suggested Hark. I like that after repetition, it ceases to sound like a word, and is more akin to an animal call. We feel that it’s unpretentious, honest and economic. Just like our music and overall aesthetic.
How will you approach things differently this time to you can avoid the problems that caused Taint to split?
JB: Remaining in the present is the best outlook, but so far the plan is to stay flexible for touring opportunities, and keep writing the best music we can. Avoiding previous limitations is key, so I hope we can continue to do just that.
Taint had quite a cult following- do you reckon they will follow you to Hark?
JB: I’m hoping that any Taint followers will see something equally valuable in Hark. We’ve had a lot of great feedback so far, which is been nice to hear of course.
Is Hark’s music all-new or is any of it leftover from Taint? Will you be playing any old songs on tour?
JB: It’s all new. No leftovers, no scraps. Hark is Hark.
Your music style is pretty recognisable, when recording Hark’s music were you worried about sounding too similar to your older albums?
JB: I think Hark has enough of its own identity, and that will reveal itself even more so in the album. I’m not worried about that at all.
Can you give us any details on Hark’s debut?
JB: We’re hoping to record in spring ’13, and that’s all we can say at this point.
Can you talk us through the lyrical concept of the two songs?
JB: Lyrically, I’m still weaving in and out of metaphors, word play and purely expressive, stream of consciousness passages. They way I write is so un-defined, with many different approaches, that I can’t begin to tell you about any concepts per se. Other than the fact that ‘Mythopoeia’ means the creation of myths, and ‘Sins On Sleeves’ is a paraphrase of something that Doug Stanhope said. Those titles, like most, were written for the sake of their mechanical purpose alone. I like to continuously blur the lines between something that sounds like it could be a message, and something that means nothing at all. It would take me all day to break down each word and line, and once I did that, it would still probably only give you half an explanation as to what it all means. The fun part is for you to take what you want from it.
I remember reading Secrets & Lies was your reaction to living in London- Do you still feel the same way?
JB: S&L was a product of seeing how the infrastructure of a large scene and commercial and cultural centre works. I’m over it now, I’ve moved on. At the time though, I was deeply conflicted with striking a balance between believing in genuine friendships I made there, and loathing the socialite mentality that a lot of people have there. It can be a spiritual black hole, and I saw a lot of casualties there. I do tend to hone in on the negative aspect of things though. I do find social situations a bit tricky sometimes. I also had a suspicious hand shake at the Masonic gift shop in Holborn once. That was freaky. I couldn’t comply with his codified gesture. I was glad to opt out.
What about Swansea or where you live now?
JB: I don’t feel as though I’m writing anything that has any overt reaction to Swansea or my current dwelling in Bristol. Other than the ongoing self-reflection that I balance with random observation, jokes to myself, and other things you’ll never know about.
Plans and Ambitions for the future?
JB: To stay alive. Seriously. To keep drawing my ass off, to tour Europe in November with Hark and to finish writing the album by March/April.