Jimbob Isaac of HARK: The Heavy Blog Is Heavy Interview

hark

Welsh rockers HARK went on a co-headlining tour with KEN mode late last year and I met up with them at the Glasgow date. Fresh from releasing one of last year’s sleeper hits, Crystalline, the band smashed through an almighty set. I got the chance to share some drinks and stories with the band after and set up an interview with frontman and bearded wizard Jimbob Isaac. We chatted about HARK, Jimbob’s work outside of the band and how Crystalline came together from a sonic perspective. And eggs.

Firstly, we met in Glasgow when HARK were playing with KEN mode. It was a pleasure to share some stories and beverages with you and you all made me very welcome in your posse! Touring Europe as extensively as you did, where was your favourite spot?

Sure, it’s always nice to meet good people on tour. Those IPAs went down really well that night. We had some great shows between some brutal drives, some highlights were Amsterdam, Copenhagen, Brussels, Montpellier, Nantes, Innsbruck, Liege, London and Swansea.

More currently, you’ve just had a lineup shift with Niko departing. I understand his replacement is a friend of the bands so is it a safe bet to guess that the transitional period has been relatively stress free? Does Joe bring anything new to the table in terms of tastes or style?

Joe is a mega-talent, and has made the transition unbelievably stress free. He and I click really well on a personal level, which goes a long way. We’ve just played two warm up shows for the Prong tour, and we’d had only had six rehearsals with him before that. Which speaks volumes about Joes musical skills and commitment.

We’ve just started working on our first song together, and it bodes really well for continuing to write together. I can see this chapter of Hark being far less stressful than the first one.

Before I forget, what did you make of the fans and medias reaction to Crystalline? The album went over swimmingly at Heavy Blog and I know that some of the guys are still jamming it regularly. Only a few months away from its first anniversary do you have any plans to celebrate it?!

We were all fairly surprised at how well the record has been received, yet simultaneously we were quietly confident that we’d put out a quality album, and something that was pretty different to a lot of bands that we tend to get associated with. Niko, Simon and I toiled and toiled for the best part of 4 years writing it, and went through a lot of growing pains in realising it.

Some of the best accolades was not only having Neil Fallon being really excited about his vocal contribution to ‘Clear Light Of…’ but also Kurt Ballou including us in his end of year list for Brooklyn Vegan.

Still on Crystalline, it is a huge sounding album for a three piece. How much time was spent finding the perfect tones and sounds required for creating such a beast?

Forming Hark took my previous template of tuning and amp choices for Taint into a new phase, along with the expansion of my pedal array, and Niko working hard to establish his tonal voice. While Simon’s approach to the drums expanded in many directions. We all grew together in that sense, during that whole 4 year formative and creative period. We all started to explore new territory, and took each other’s ideas on board along the way.

I had already sent Kurt our ‘Mythopoeia’ 7” and he was already really into our sound. When we signed with Season of Mist I contacted him again with rehearsal demos, and he was super enthusiastic about working with us. Our album engineer and co-producer Gethin Pearson was fun to work with, and helped us a lot with the killer Monnow Valley studios drum sound, as well as his input on the vocal treatment. Kurt interpreted the guitar sounds at his end in Boston, while he and I spent a few days on some detailed and intensive dialogue during his final mix stages. That’s where the tones started coming together. Kurt is a mastermind, but was really open to how I articulated my vision to him. This album seemed to be quite refreshing and different for him, and he loved the songs to cap it all off.

You’ve just put out the video for ‘Palendromeda’ and it is another excellent piece of work. You pretty much pulled a Woody Allen with this one with you co-directing, starring and being responsible for the art direction. How did you set about making this one stand out from your peers and their work?

The shoot was a fairly last minute thing, had a super tight budget and was wrapped in two days. We needed an environment to capture the performance footage in, and to tie it in with an external narrative. To continue the visual motifs from the album and the ’Scarlet Extremities’ video, I thought it’d be fun to get DIY and paint the indoor location myself. Nothing too expensive or high brow, just some gnarly crystal motifs sprayed on the walls. I grew up playing in punk rock basement venues, and still do, so it was nice to get grimy again to contrast the clean look of the ‘Scarlet…’ video.

I guess we were going for punk rock basement, meets Star Wars/Lord of The Rings. I love Sci-Fi and fantasy movies, and feel that genre aligns itself pretty well with the astral feel of our album artwork, as well as some of the transcendental lyrical themes that I touch on. Our friend and artist Hollie Pryce-Jones who modelled for the album artwork starred as our sorceress character, while we played the villain roles. The narrative is somewhat open ended, so with the limited time and budget, we just wanted to drop the viewer immediately in to some kind of fantasy world, where the heroes were being stalked while they attempted to meet and join their crystals in a ritualistic communion. Rhodri Thomas was great to work with, and was really creative with his direction on set, framing and the final edit.

This one is really for yourself. You sell your art online and I know that some of this authors favourite bands have commissioned some of your work! Do you hold down a regular joe job to keep the books balanced as well? It’s a ridiculous misconception that many have that as soon as a band are signed they re instantly rolling in the bucks.

I’m not going to sugar coat this for anyone, it’s hard to make a consistent living from my art, and I often go through periods of instability. When times are tough, I’ll balance my illustration work with anything from digital web design to laboring work on building sites, crewing work at venues, support acting for TV and Film productions or anything else I can get my hands on. I recently did a ten day battle scene on the show ‘Da Vincis Demons‘. I got to play a Venetian Guard, and wore some super cool, golden armour. Their costume designer is the lady who worked on Star Wars, and we had some sword training from Nick Gillard who is also the stunt coordinator and sword master for the Star Wars and Indiana Jones movies.

My flagship work for Temples Festival gives me some degree of stability however, and it’s a great, ongoing project to be a part of. As for bands rolling in money from a record deal? Well this isn’t the ’90s or early 2000s anymore. The industry model has shifted dramatically, and we aren’t all revelling in the post-Nirvana boom that saw so many of my influences, Clutch, Quicksand, Melvins, Tool etc. getting signed to majors and whatnot. We also don’t play a very popular style of music, so you really have to be smart with your touring and work decisions, and generally be as hands-on as possible with every aspect of the band.

HARK are going to be touring with Prong shortly. They are definitely not the first band I would associate with you guys but I guess that’s part of the magic of a modern touring lineup. Could you share with us some of your favorite tales from the road and while you’re at it, who would be supporting you guys on a Heavy Blog Is Heavy sponsored world tour?

To me, touring with Prong makes perfect sense. My early days in Taint during the mid-‘90s were spent playing punk basements as a weird, sludge/hardcore/stoner band, along side weirdo punk rock, death and doom metal bands at the same time. I think it’s challenging for the artist and the audience, to see different styles mixing on the same lineup. I remember reading about the Sepultura/Fear Factory/Clutch/Fudge Tunnel tour that happened in the States around ’93, and it blew my mind. As did the Prong/Life of Agony/The Obsessed tour that came over here. Bands like Melvins, Tool and even Pantera always toured with interesting packages, and perhaps it’s an approach that has spawned from the mid-90s. At least, that’s to me when tours had a more diverse attitude in comparison to the more homogenised package tours that seem to go around today. I’ve never wanted to play it safe, with the music I write, with the way I play on stage, or with the types of tours I do.

Touring with Prong will be a great learning experience for Hark, and I have a lot of respect for Tommy Victor and his legacy. I’m hoping we’ll hear some cool stories and get to play some great shows.

As for tour stories, I’m not really one for remembering or even taking part in crazy backstage antics. I’m usually far too tired for that kind of thing. As for supports on a Hark world tour? Well, there’s a great new band from Swansea called Estuary Blacks who opened for us recently. They’d be great to take out, and I’m sure your readers would dig the hell out of them.

Where is next for HARK? Are there pastures that you are intending on seeding with your hickory smoked grooves any time soon?

I’m not sure about hickory smoked. I know we’re from the South, but it is Wales after all. I’d suggest the salty spray of the Gower coastline, or the bleak smog of Port Talbot steel works. The plan is to get the Prong tour done, and to continue writing for album number two. We have Summer Breeze festival in Germany this August, where we’ll play along side Mastodon, Sick of it All, Sepultura and loads more. As well as a few club shows surrounding it. I’ll also be present at Temples Festival in May, with my art exhibition. I’ll have prints, shirts and more for sale and will also have some original artwork up.

Lastly, a Heavy Blog staple; How do you like your eggs?

Scrambled or poached. A friend once tried to get all exotic and put mixed herbs and Indian spices in his scrambled eggs. It was a travesty. I’m not generally very conservative, but c’mon… Keep the eggs real!

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– MM

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