Q&A with Roundtable’s guitarist Jonathan Gilmour!

Doom metal has quite the reputation, I feel like we can all agree with that. And sometimes greatness can be found in the most unlikely of places. The phrase rings the most true with Australia’s very own Roundtable. They’ve but one album, “Dread Marches Under Bloodied Regalia”, and it was easily one of my favorites records last year because of how monumentally awesome the record is. I had the recent pleasure to send some questions of mine to Roundtable’s Jonathan Gilmour who mans the electric and acoustic guitars. Please, go below and read what I had to ask the man and what he had to say in response, I’m sure that you’ll find the answers interesting enough to check out this band on your own accord.

1. Many people, including me, recognize and love the fact that “Dread Marches Under Bloodied Regalia” is a concept album. When you guys were in the process of writing the record were you always in the mindset of “we’re creating a concept album” or did it somehow turn into that at some point in the writing process?

Personally I think that sort of thing always appealed to me but I don’t think it was a conscious decision for us at the beginning. We just jammed on ideas and developed them into songs and came up with names that sounded cool and suitable, and from there a greater narrative and world started to suggest itself to us.  From then on that side of things started to influence the writing but we also kept the narrative fairly open ended in some ways so that we could change it to suit the direction of the music if need be (instead of feeling bound to bend the music to fit the story). This was mostly in regard to track order and lyrics.

12661796_782549795222198_5029104184949480812_n2. Many people were really impressed by the description of the record that’s given on the Bandcamp page for it. How did you guys come up with such a rich and detailed description that sounds like a page out of a Tolkien novel in some places?

Imagination, I guess… and a familiarity/love for those kind of stories. We’re all fans of Tolkien and various other fantasy/sci fi writers, as well as video games that embody the same things, and liked the idea of creating such a world and atmosphere in our own work. In terms of the writing itself, I’ve never had too much trouble filling a page. I haven’t really written stories since doing a creative writing unit at university but it was fun to exercise that part of my brain again.

I’m glad it comes across that way. I didn’t want something ridiculously long and prescriptive but at the same time wanted to give enough information and detail that we’re not just giving people a generic shell of a narrative.

3. The final track of the song has the story leave off with Kraal searching for Uther after Kraal hunted the man all the way to his castle and beyond to only find that Uther had bribed peasants with gold to keep silent of his whereabouts. Do you guys plan to revisit, and possibly wrap up, this epic story with your next album or would you prefer to move onto another story? If you should choose to do another concept record, of course.

We’ll definitely be doing another concept record. There’s no other kind for us to do as far as I’m concerned! I think it would come off very vanilla and uninspired if we didn’t, like we’d run out of big ideas and were just phoning it in. Which isn’t to say I feel that way about anybody who’s not making concept records, more that it would be weird to define yourself that way in the outset and then stop doing it.

As for revisiting this story, we may do so in the future, but I kind of like the way it stays open ended. We’ll be doing a completely different story for the next one… variety being the spice of life and all that. The idea is to keep it in the same fictional world though. The map we created for Dread Marches features a range of places – whole continents – which don’t really feature in the story. So they offer scope for other stories, at other points in the fictional history. But it’s kind of cool retaining a vague thread of relevance in that they take place in the same world.

4. Where did the inspiration come to do such riff heavy doom metal and then mix it with such an interesting theme to create a real unique experience?

I guess it comes from being enthusiastic about many things, musical and otherwise, and wanting to utilise those influences in one complex project. And from seeing some bands out there do the same thing, expanding our ideas of what’s possible. Hopefully we in turn inspire one or two people to take their own practice beyond what is obvious and easy.

Also personally speaking I’m pretty ruthless and temperamental about creating something that I think is really good and inspirational. I’m not someone who gets a real kick out of jamming the 12 bar blues or whatever. I don’t necessarily enjoy just playing for its own sake, which is perhaps sad in a way, but it forces me to chase some idea of perfection to attain that feeling of satisfaction out of what I’m doing.

5. As a live band in your wonderful country of Australia, what’s it like to tour around there with a metal scene that’s pretty evident but not very large?

We actually haven’t done much in the way of what could be called touring. We plan to visit the capital cities on the east coast, as well as Adelaide perhaps, later in the year. We have done a couple of shows in country towns in our state of Victoria, which have been pretty good, but it is hard to get much of a crowd. And the distances between make it pretty expensive, and time consuming. If we didn’t enjoy the prospect of a drive out to the country we probably wouldn’t be so into it.

I’m hoping we can tell great stories of a successful tour later this year but other bands’  tales have taught us not to expect too much. We’re a country with a relatively small population, with huge distances between major cities. Unless you’re a big band (say on the level of King Parrot, if you’ve heard of them, or bigger) playing on weeknights or in smaller towns probably won’t be worth it – people probably won’t come. You can’t get away with charging much for entry either, so financially it doesn’t make much sense. I think we’ll be happy if we break even. It’s more for the experience and to raise our profile nationally.

As for the metal scene in particular, that’s a weird one to get a handle on. I don’t know if there is one in particular. More like multiple Venn diagrams of subgenres which have some cross-appeal in some cases. I see ourselves more in a separate scene of the whole doom/stoner/sludge thing which seems to be quite separate to most of the other stuff which has more mainstream recognition (but is generally more tasteless in my opinion!). The deathcore/metalcore/blah blah sort of thing is very big in this country but I don’t see it having much crossover with what we do. Perhaps some of our fans like that kind of music as well, but I’d say they mostly don’t.

I’m liking the potential that our general scene has for appealing to people who might not traditionally be into metal, though. It seems like the critical successes of groups like Sunn O))) is changing people’s attitudes toward heaviness, like it’s not necessarily this low-brow thing. I’m happy for the boundaries to be blurred between scenes, and for anybody who likes the music to feel welcome. I want to see non-metal people opening their minds to heaviness, but also metal fans learning to appreciate more than brutality 100% of the time. I think with more bands incorporating folk/orchestral/ambient elements into their sound, this is happening, but still it’s common at live shows to just be bludgeoned with riffs for the entire night. Part of this is managing expectations though, people have to slowly come around to the idea. I remember in the early days we’d play songs like “Consummation…” live and get a real mixed response compared to the heavier stuff. And then at one point a year later we did it and got this rave response from the crowd. I’m glad we persisted with it because now it’s something that differentiates us from the rest.

6. Of all the six songs off “Dread Marches”, what is your favorite song to play live? In my head it would be “Siege of Uther’s Keep” because of its slow build up and monstrous finish.

That’s a hard one… I couldn’t really say. I feel like if we played one too much maybe I’d enjoy it less and start to enjoy another more. Also the way a crowd reacts to each song on a given night might change the way it feels at the time. But yes Siege is a pretty fun song to play, for the reasons you gave! It’s hard work though, quite the relentless riff marathon.

7. I remember seeing many good things about “Dread Marches” even months after its initial release which impressive for a band’s debut album in every aspect. How has the reception of the record gone in you and the other band members’ eyes?

Hmm… to be honest I can’t help but feel disappointed sometimes. But maybe that’s because we allowed ourselves to get our hopes up in the initial burst of interest. If I consider how I felt before the release – completely unsure of whether it would just plop in the ocean of music and fade away – then I realise how rapt I should be with how it has gone.

I think the mainly disappointing thing is how little attention you’re given when you make the effort to contact someone about what you’re doing. It’s almost as if the power dynamic doesn’t lend itself to being valued – like we can’t be any good if you haven’t already heard of us. The best and most enthusiastic reception has been from people who found it on their own. We’ve written emails and sent copies to countless publications in the hope of getting a review but maybe 5% of those have received any kind of response.

The more time passes since the release the harder it gets too, as reviewers are more interested in new releases than things they’ve missed. It’s a harsh realisation how much time goes into creating an  album and then how brief the limelight is. But on the other hand, there’s such a glut of music about these days, maybe that’s fair. Lots of other people are going through the same motions and deserve their moment too.

I suppose all we can do is look to the future and hope we’re not starting from the bottom again when we release the next album!

8. Of all the things that you managed to accomplish with this record as a band as a whole, what are some things that you’d definitely take away from writing your first album and improve upon, or not, when going to write a follow up should you do one.

The most obvious one I can think of is not trying to constrain the length. As you’re probably aware “Dread Marches…” is spread over 1 and a half LPs in vinyl record form. Which is a bit weird. We initially hoped to fit it on a single LP so we could keep costs down and make things nice and simple. So we had to be a bit ruthless in finding ways to keep the length down. In the end, though, it was possible to fit it on one LP but there was a serious question of the length jeopardising the fidelity of the reproduction. So we bit the bullet and split it in thirds! Next time we’ll just accept the fact that we’re incapable of writing a single LP album and do a true 2LP from the outset, embracing the length and letting things breathe more.

9. Would you ever consider doing a one track album? By that I don’t mean a single for Record Store Day or something like that. I mean a, for example, 30 to 40 minute long track that has plenty of dynamics and flows like water. I personally think you could pull it off quite nicely with all the riffs and interesting sound you guys have.

I reckon that could be possible, sure. Although I’d probably want to put a break in the middle so you could put it on a vinyl record. Which would then beg the question, is it actually 2 tracks? But yes, something we’d be capable of I think. I quite like the idea of recurring themes within an album (say reinterpreting a melody throughout) so one track which develops through various movements could be a cool way to do that, kind of like a major classical piece.

a2492315740_10Many thanks to Jonathan for taking the time, and once again I cannot help but implore any of you doom fans to check out “Dread Marches Under Bloodied Regalia” for it is an immensely entertaining record that I enjoy every single day, literally. It’s fantastic in so many ways and I’m very excited to see what Roundtable can pull off in the future, and you should be too!

 

 

 

LISTEN to “Dread Marches Under Bloodied Regalia” on Bandcamp here.

LISTEN to the track “Siege of Lord Uther’s Keep” via YouTube below.

LIKE Roundtable on Facebook here.

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