It's a warm March day in Carrboro, perfect for this kind of practice break. The dudes in Caltrop lounge just outside the dorm-room-size space where their super-loud band rehearses, drinking cheap beer and enjoying the late-afternoon sun. Fittingly, the band practices just a few steps from where The Reservoir once stood; the bar and venue thrived on Caltrop's kind of nontraditional heaviness.
With its incredibly loud, incredibly intense blues-prog, Caltrop is often labeled "metal" for lack of a better descriptor. Yet that belies a remarkable stylistic range—even within individual songs, the band blurs grunge, angular math and early '70s Southern rock. With a second LP, Ten Million Years and Eight Minutes, coming out Saturday at the Cat's Cradle, Caltrop sat down with us to listen to some songs together—some at the root of this band, some by its modern cousins—and potentially glean some insight into how these four friends approach music.
Harvey Milk, "After All I've Done for You, This Is How You Repay Me?"
[from Life ... the Best Game in Town, 2008]
[Harvey Milk also straddles the boundary between rock and metal. One never knows where the band will take a song: This one starts with a scorching, boogie-descended riff, yet ends on a bass-heavy, speaker-destroying doom crunch.]
Sam Taylor (guitar/ vocals): This is one of my favorite bands. I mean, of the obscure successful artists, they've done it. The noises that they make, the guitar's sound, the lock between the guitar player and the drummer—it's badass.
John Crouch (drums): There's something about the way they sound, like Sam was saying, that huge guitar tone. Even the drummer, I think.
Murat Dirlik (bass/ vocals): It's totally riff-worthy, awesome stuff, but they also demand this sense of "OK, we're going to take this somewhere completely unexpected." It demands patience in a good way, I think.
Sam: And minimal vocals again. They have vocals, but it's not vocal-oriented. It's all about the musicianship and what they're doing structurally with the song. Nothing against vocal-oriented stuff; vocals really, really work when they work. And other than that, I focus on the music. This is heavy. This is the essence of heavy music to me.
Independent Weekly: It's that low tone right there, it's so low.
Sam: Some mixes on some of the songs are that way too. I forget which, uh, Courtesy and Goodwill Toward Men, that record—I think that's the name of it. It's got a song that's on the Kelly Sessions CD, I don't remember which song it is off which record, but it's the song that gets real quiet and then real loud and then real quiet. They kind of mastered it on the later release to where you could hear everything at a decent volume and the other one, the Courtesy and Goodwill Toward Men, you'd turn it up so loud trying to hear it and then it blows your freaking speakers flat out when it comes in. You've gotta turn it down or scare the cat.
[from Maker, 2009]
[Three brothers from the Virginia hills, making smoky, crunchy, riff-driven hard rock with haunting close harmonies. This is one prolific band, too.]
John: It's an incredible thing to be in a band alone, but being in a band with two of your brothers, I could never imagine that.
Adam Nolton (guitar): One of my favorite things—there was a drum set set up, the drummer's drum set, and the guitar player sat down in front of it and they were playing off of each other. You could tell they had been doing this in a basement, probably since they were kids, and that energy translated. It was awesome.
Murat: I love Pontiak. To me, they're the kind of band you just go and do this [grooves, nods head] the whole show. They're not trying to, like, freak you out; they're more like something you can sink your teeth into—kind of like Black Skies to me in that. They establish a groove and they just ride it, sometimes for the whole show.
[from Mach II, 2010]
[Speaking of brothers, Sam Taylor's older brother Joe plays guitar and sings in this Chapel Hill rock duo. Joe's old band, Capsize 7, was a late-'90s local favorite.]
Sam: My brother is so much more proficient of a guitar player than I am. Always has been. His fucking hands! He can reach like fucking six frets with his fingers. And he's totally on top of what he does, [he's] very detail-oriented with what he's doing and not fucking it up. It's the truth. I've always felt like my big brother is a fantastic guitar player and I just try and—not like I'm trying to be as good as he is or whatever, but I'm amazed at how fucking good he is.
Murat: It's an awesome thing watching Sam and Joe progress separately but still chronologically. The little brother love is definitely there. But I would say Joe is a big influence on Sam's playing for that reason.
Earth, "An Inquest Concerning Teeth"
[from Hex: Or Printing in the Infernal Method, 2005]
[Earth's first record as a snail's-pace instro-country band was based directly on Cormac McCarthy's philosophical Western Blood Meridian—a favorite book within Caltrop.]
Adam: [Murat] gave me the book, but [Murat and Sam] both turned me on to that.
Sam: I give it to as many people as I can. I don't even have a copy. I get a copy and I give it away.
Murat: There's a good book called Perspectives on Cormac McCarthy that is all about whatever people's theorizing on the basic themes, Gnosticism and all that kind of stuff, and it's pretty amazing, it really is. It made me think about the book a lot more after I read that book, and then I read Blood Meridian again.
John: I actually didn't know it was based on that Cormac McCarthy book, and it actually makes perfect sense with the way this album sounded. It reminded me a lot of Neil Young's soundtrack to Dead Man, with the solo guitar. It's really effective.
Murat: Yeah. It's immediately recognizable, that Dead Man shit.
Adam: [Quoting the film] "Stupid fucking white man."
Soundgarden, "Jesus Christ Pose"
[from Badmotorfinger, 1991]
[From Matt Cameron's counterintuitive drum lines to Kim Thayil's equally unexpected riff-craft, these grunge dudes also had a habit of making the blues go very strange, very intense places.]
Sam: [Walks around corner and recognizes song] Hell yeah!
Adam: You know, the '90s are considered cheesy. You know, grunge and all that, but if you listen to the first two Smashing Pumpkins albums and early Soundgarden, it was heavy as hell but it was also really melodic, and they had these parts that they would descend into beauty and then rise back up into heaviness.
Sam: I was definitely influenced by listening to this sort of stuff at that point in time.
Neurosis, "An Offering"
[from Sovereign EP, 2000]
[This slow-burner builds over eight minutes from doomy introspection and nihilistic growls to close on a super-dense heavy metal crush with chopped vocals.]
Murat: Neurosis to me sounds like blood and guts. Something about the power and the multiple vocals coming in screaming at you and the amazing heavy drumming and shit—it's really visceral. It takes you to another place, and to me it almost feels like I'm on some operating table being torn apart by aliens. It's in a good way if I want to feel like that, but it is sort of cathartic kind of crazy shit.
Sam: I can remember exactly where I was last time I listened to Times of Grace [a 1999 Neurosis album], which sounds just like this. I've never heard this record, but it sounds just like this in terms of heavy, long things like they're doing right there. It was the mood I was in and I wanted everybody in the neighborhood to hear that. I just cranked it.
John: I gotcha. The first and unfortunately only time I've seen Neurosis, I was 14 maybe and I was going to Winston-Salem to see Hatebreed ...
Indy: At Ziggy's?
John: Ziggy's! Exactly, yes. And they were opening up for Neurosis and I had never ... I had heard Souls at Zero before and I was like "OK, they're a punk band or whatever." And it was one of those occasions where I was just like "Oh my God, I had no idea this existed. I've been looking for this, but I had no idea it was out there!"
Murat: I saw Neurosis when I was 13, probably 10 years before you saw Neurosis, in Fayetteville. The show was amazing. I was this little kid and they were already like, you know, crusty old men and it was awesome. It definitely was the same thing: "Holy shit, music can do this? That's fucking amazing."
Sam: The mix of this record sounds like it's being played through a badass PA.
Murat: It doesn't sound human, you know what I mean? Like in fucking Back to the Future when Michael J. Fox puts Eddie Van Halen on the guy's head. If you put this on someone's head back in 1950? They'd be like "I'm in hell," you know?
John: Iron Maiden used to scare me, you know? [Laughs]
Correction (March 22, 2012): This article initially identified Capsize 7 as Sam Taylor's old band; it was his brother Joe's old band.
Page 2 is the extended interview.