In this edition of Spotlight Q & A our resident giant chats with guitarist Chris Plumb from Ann Arbor’s finest stoner metal quartet Idol and the Whip. Guitarist Chris Plumb fills us in on the meaning of the band’s name, the gear in their righteous rigs and stranger-than-fiction frat house venues. Fans of Southern metal lords Baroness will immediately hear their influence shine through on Idol and the Whip‘s “Broken Crown” streaming below.
Andy BTS: Idol and the Whip is a unique name. There are a lot of different meanings that you could derive from it – idolatry, politics, hound hunting – the possibilities seem endless. Fill us in on the nomenclature behind the moniker.
Chris Plumb: We’ve gotten a lot of cool observations and interesting reactions from people regarding our name over the past few years – someone even asked us once if we were into S&M because they thought it was a bondage reference. I hate to admit it, but we aren’t that clever (or kinky) – we’re all big movie nerds, and it’s a Raiders of the Lost Ark reference. I wish I could say something really intelligent-sounding, like that it represents the struggle in trying to shed society’s greedy, superficial ways (the idol) in favor of things that are utilitarian and what is simply needed to survive (the whip), but no – we’re just nerds.
Andy BTS: Who are the key players in the band and how did you gents get together?
Chris Plumb: Adam (drums) and I (vocals, guitar) have been the two lasting members in the band since our formation in Ann Arbor back in 2005. We had a different bassist and lead guitarist band then, and we all came together as friends to play music for fun after our old, separate bands broke up. After a few years of playing local shows and not really knowing what kind of band we wanted to be, our bassist Dave Kloc and Guitarist Andy Zasuwa both moved to opposite sides of the country, pursuing other interests. Adam and I decided to focus on what we thought our strengths were as a band – writing heavy, catchy and to-the-point songs.
Everybody really pulls their weight and has a lot to bring to this band, but I would have to say that Adam is the most crucial element, as he has recorded and engineered all of our material over the years – he’s also very important to the songwriting process since he always pushes us to make the most of each song. In the last two years, Nik Tyckowski (bass) and Matt Gauntlett (lead guitar), hopped on board with us – they’re both great musicians and very close friends, who contribute quite a lot as well.
Andy BTS: You’re from Michigan, but your sound is very Southern. Is Ann Arbor the new Savannah? Tell us about your local scene.
Chris Plumb: We’re definitely fans of a lot of bands that have come out of Savannah. Louisville too. We’re also big fans of Crowbar and COC, so that might be where a lot of the Southern influence comes from as well.
Ann Arbor is a very cool town, but it isn’t really known for heavy music. We’d all love for it to be though, and have been sticking with it over the years (Matt used to be in an instrumental thrash band called Incisor, and three of us also used to be in a doomy band called Supercontinent). Our friends in Ganon are one of the few other heavy bands that are from this area… mostly, you find a lot of folk and indie rock around these parts. The main venues in town do have heavy shows, but not as often as they used to, and some of the better venues in neighboring towns have unfortunately closed down in the last few years. Thankfully, we have solid DIY venues like the Metal Frat, which is a real fraternity that puts on really good punk/metal /hardcore/whatever shows. People always think it sounds fucking weird to have a punk show at a frat, and I admit I was skeptical when I first heard of it, but they do a lot to support many Michigan and touring bands. Shows there are wild.
(Editor’s note: Chris isn’t kidding. Google the phrase “metal frat ann arbor” and within the top twenty search results you’ll find a picture of Shai Hulud playing there.)
Chris Plumb: A lot of the album was written before Nik and Matt joined the band – Adam and I would stay up late at his old studio and would just play as many riffs as we could come up with until we would hit a wall, and we’d record everything. We’d take frequent Super Nintendo breaks and beer runs as well. Once Nik and Matt joined, we went through everything we’d come up with to that point with them and they helped us revise and refine the songs we had. We basically tried to cut out anything that was boring to play. Matt and I wrote “Broken Crown,” “Artery” and “Calling Down the Dark” with the help of a bottle of cheap whiskey, and those songs were the finishing touches on the album.
We started recording at Adam’s at night so as not to interfere with his client schedule – halfway through, we had to put recording on hold while he looked for a new studio space because his landlord was involved in some questionable business practices to put things lightly, and he had to get out of there. Months later, without any luck finding an affordable studio space and with a half-finished record, Adam’s family let us set up shop in their basement so we could finish it up, which was super cool of them. We decided to self-release and keep it free/cheap since we are not well known – we’d rather have people hear us than pass because of a price tag.
Andy BTS: The guitars on the album have some serious tone. Tell us about your gear. Vintage or modern? American or British?
Chris Plumb: Thanks! We are all really into gear-alchemy, especially Matt, who is great at finding awesome tone. Over the last two years, we’ve gone through a lot of gear change. Right now we have a blend of vintage and modern, as well as British and American. I’m running an Orange Rockverb 100 with high gain kt77’s into a custom-built Atlas Cabinets 4×12/2×15 stack. I play a Gibson Firebird into that rig, and my tone is more on the stoner side of things. Matt compliments the stoner sound with a crisper, sharper metal sound, playing a Les Paul-styled Agile into a 5150, with a Mesa 4×12 and Marshall 4×12 stack. Both Matt and I use octave pedals and various delays for a lot of our riffs as well. Nik plays an Epiphone Thunderbird, and he has a GK head / Ampeg 8×10 setup. Adam has this gnarly purple DW kit with a big-ass Ludwig kick drum.
Andy BTS: What kinds of thematic devices can we expect to find in the lyrics? Are they tied to the album’s artwork that you created from archived images?
Chris Plumb: In general, a lot of our lyrics revolve around post-apocalyptic, end of the world themes – I’d say it definitely ties in with the artwork. Like our name implies, we are movie nerds, so we also have a few songs that are inspired by various sci-fi and horror movies as well. We like paying tribute to things that inspire us, and we try to bring some ambiguity to the lyrics too so they take on a separate meaning of their own. When that ambiguity gets added in, it’s no longer “that song we wrote about Blade Runner,” but rather “the song about how it sucks to feel disconnected from others and know that nothing matters because your life could end at any moment,” hahaha. Many of the songs come across as pretty angry, but we’re all really friendly people in our everyday lives, probably because our music is the output for all the negative emotions we sometimes feel about how shitty the world can be. We don’t want to be political or preachy, although we do sometimes vent those kinds of frustrations lyrically. But usually it’s just a lot more fun to write songs about sword making, or tears in the fabric of space-time that release horrible creatures into our dimension.
Andy BTS: What are your upcoming plans? Touring the Great Lakes or storming the globe?
Chris Plumb: Some of us have work and family commitments, so touring is a little tricky to plan and execute. Right now we’re focusing on playing good shows outside of our normal area, and saving our nickels and dimes for a vinyl release. Once we have a physical copy of our album to promote at shows, we’ll be playing out-of-state more and planning shorter bursts of touring so we can continue to get our name out there. Storming the globe will have to wait, but we’re fine with that – we’d rather just have fun doing what we do than push ourselves into financial debt or turn what we love into a “job.” We’ll continue to write, record, and release as much as we can, and will hit the road when the moment is right and the opportunity presents itself.
Check out more music and be sure to toss them a few bucks for the album at http://www.idolandthewhip.com/.