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For over twenty years, Carolina Beach, North Carolina's Sourvein front man and riffsculptor T-Roy has managed to keep the roving pirate ship that is his band afloat through sheer will alone. Pushing through poverty, the deaths of friends and family, bouts of severe depression, periods of alcohol abuse, and an absence of the stability provided by a consistent record label, T-Roy has over the course of two decades managed to build the band into a highly respected force in the metal, doom, sludge, and crust underground. On the strength of reputation alone, Sourvein has toured the States countless times and made several jaunts to Europe, the majority of the time without the benefit of a booking agent or any sort of concrete monetary guarantee. Because of T-Roy's junk yard dog tenacity (and the respect he has earned amongst his peers in the extreme heavy music scene), over the years the band has hit the road with the likes of Saint Vitus, High On Fire, Bongzilla, The Candy Snatchers, Ehg, Glazed Baby, Coffins, Ramesses, Church of Misery, and Voivod to name just a few; winning fans of Sourvein's rumbling wall of riffs and anguished vocals all along the way. Over twenty long dues-paying years later, Sourvein has at long last found a proper home for their doom-laden Southern noise with legendary Metal Blade Records, and T-Roy couldn't be happier. "Aquatic Occult", the band's first offering on the label, promises to be heavier than a two-ton anchor dropped into an antique porcelain bathtub-- it's going to break things. But getting here hasn't been easy.
"Finallyman, finally, my years of hard work have paid off," he says, shaking his head in disbelief as he reflects on the lengthy, grueling trek that brought his band to Metal Blade's roster.
What makes an impoverished musician from a tiny Southern coastal town continue to fight the good fight for two decades, despite a lack of steady distribution for his efforts, much less the ability to pay the rent or buy groceries the majority of the time? Much like the backroad ramblings of legendary walking bluesmen Robert Johnson (who also remained destitute for most of his career), T-Roy's origins and earliest forays from home might hold a clue to the answer. Not long after starting his band in 92, and with no money or transportation of his own, one hot summer afternoon a young T-Roy stuck out his thumb and caught a ride off his island home of Carolina Beach to see the aforementioned legendary California doom innovators Saint Vitus in nearby Wilmington. Seeing Vitus play on the cod tour to a total of ten people (and sleeping on the streets of downtown Wilmington NC afterwards) set the tone for what was to follow. Hitchhiking eventually evolved into a series of barely running second-hand vans that ferried Sourvein around the country on a decade's long hard-luck slow burn mission to spread their distinctly Southern brand of sonic punishment.
"I basically hitchhiked my way onto the dirt circuit" he says.
In 1992, T-Roy put together the first line up of Sourvein under the name Bent, changing it in '93 to Sour Vain after discovering there was already a punk band working under the same name in Virginia. A chance misprinting on an early show flyer lead to the band name's current spelling. Upon noticing it, T-Roy realized he preferred aesthetic flow of the mistake better, and the rest is history. The band's accidental arterial moniker did bring him grief though, from time to time. This is a prospect T-Roy is quick to dismiss: "The name comes from Sour Vanity, meaning ugly. Dirty. Not pleasant. It has nothing to do with dope or whatever the hell-- that kind of talk has always bummed me out, because I've never been about that stuff," he says. But from the beginning ugly and dirty has certainly been an appropriate way to describe Sourvein's agro low-end lumbering flow. Growing up surfing and skateboarding throughout the Cape Fear region, T-Roy was raised on the requisite aggressive diet of punk and hardcore and 70s hard rock that was the musical accompaniment of those activities in the 80's, citing bands such as Black Flag, GBH, Motorhead, Flipper, Amebix, and the almighty Bad Brains as early favorites. "But I was listening to stuff like Black Sabbath and Blue Cheer as well, and that seeped into the music for sure. And of course, you were always hearing someone playing ZZ Top or some Skynyrd on the boardwalk, ha-ha" he laughs. In addition to the constant background of Southern Rock, the rather chaotic environment of his hometown shaped the band's sound and lyrical content in more ways than one.
The Cape Fear region has a long history of violence and lawlessness, dating back to an era when the most famous pirate in all of history, Blackbeard, often hid his ship in various tributaries of the Cape Fear River that separates the region's barrier islands from the mainland. "In the 70's and '80's you'd hear all these old stories about how Blackbeard used to hang out down at the south end of the island, and how he supposedly hidhis treasure there. People used to come down to Carolina Beach and hunt for it all the time," T-Roy says. And while the bloody outlaw legacy of Blackbeard and several other famous sea rogues who made the area their haunt has been reduced to skull-n-bones souvenir t shirts in tourist shops at the majority of Cape Fear beaches, in Carolina Beach it seemed to remain much stronger and…darker.
When most people imagine a childhood spent growing up by the ocean, they conjure up images of fun in the sun; happy, healthy, tanned privileged kids living out a Beach Boys-esque fantasy existence. Carolina Beach (or "CB", as the locals call it), to put it mildly, ain't like that. "When I was growing up, CB was the roughest beach on the East Coast, hands down," T-Roy says, "Bikers, drug dealers, surfers, skateboarders, rednecks, businessmen, construction workers-- all these people lived on the island in this weird disconnected harmony. There were a ton of broken homes-- single Moms, single Dads. You'd see kids leaving their house in tears all time, running out to go skating or just trying to get away from their parents-- you know, it was happening all around. As kids we'd witness these huge biker brawls where they would just beat the shit out of the cops. And it wasn't nothing to see dudes brawling in the street outside of the bars every night. Then you had all these rednecks who wanted to kick your ass because you rode a skateboard and had blue hair or whatever. All that kind of stuff put the edge on the kids there, in both good and bad ways, and it put the edge on me. I grew up in the middle of it, and all that constant chaos, violence, and depression came out in my music. It was a heavy beach-- you had to watch your back."
Carolina Beach wasn't exactly a hotbed of music industry activity either, and T-Roy swiftly realized that if he was ever going to achieve anything with the band, he would have to leave the island. After getting his first touring experience during a stint as a roadie in late 92' for Charlotte, North Carolina's infamous Buzzov-en and later running samples live and on their 'at a loss album and tour, then in 1998 T-Roy moved Sourvein's base of operations; first, to lower east side of New York City for a brief seven months ("It's too damn expensive to be a band in New York," he says, citing a complaint all too common amongst would-be musicians in the Big Apple). He then headed south towards more familiar environs, landing in New Orleans for five years. In between Sourvein tours, T-Roy paid his bills in NOLA by working at the now infamous Dixie Tavern, bartending and booking shows; giving bands like High On Fire, Dystopia, Dillenger Escape Plan and Mastodon their first gigs in The Big Easy (sadly, the venue closed after flooding from Hurricane Katrina). It was during this time that Sourvein put out their self-titled debut album. Cobbled together from two separate demo sessions and released on the now-defunct Game Two Records, the band was off to a start. A few years later in 2002, a more focused sophomore album, "Will To Mangle", came out on Southern Lord (seven years later ranking #8 on Terrorizer magazine's "Top Ten Heaviest Albums of All Time" list, taking its place amongst heavyweights like Sleep, Saint Vitus, and The Melvins). After gaining a loyal following and strong reputation amongst the burgeoning New Orleans scene (at that time the band was often listed as being from NOLA in the press), Sourvein wandered west to California for two years, first to Hollywood, and later Venice beach. But the pull of the Cape Fear was too strong in T-Roy's blood to stay away indefinitely, and in 2005 after 11 years of constant touring and living mostly hand to mouth in various parts of the country from one coast to the other, Sourvein returned to where it had begun, Carolina Beach, NC.
Over the next four years Sourvein released a series of EP's. "It was really supposed to be an album in three parts, based on 'The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly', not necessarily in that order." T-Roy says. 2005 and 2007 saw "Emerald Vulture" and "Ghetto Angel" released on This Dark Reign Records. After that label went belly up, Sourvein released the final part of the trilogy, "Imperial Bastard", on Candlelight Records. Now a few years back home amongst friends and family, T-Roy had grown weary of living up to his hard-drinking wild man rock-n-roller reputation (five years working in a New Orleans punk rock bar will do that to most anyone), had put the booze down, and was ready to take Sourvein down a different, more positive, lyrical road. "I got my life together, stopped raising hell, and set off on a more positive path," he remembers. But hard times arose again, and he soon returned to the bottle. "My Mom died, and I fell into a dark place and was just lost. I wound up broke living on the beach, then inmy van then a series of low-rent boarding houses and cheap motels at 100 bucks a week in CB. It started with a place called the sand dunes, and then I moved to The Drifter's Reef, then The Dry Dock. I finally ended up in a motel called The Shipwreck. How appropriate," he muses with grim humor.
It was during this period that the just emerging embryonic ideas that would eventually become "Aquatic Occult" were put aside for the time being, and T-Roy started crafting some riffs and lyrics for a much more negative record, 2011's "Black Fangs" (Candlelight). During this time he also contributed vocals (alongside Tom Waits and hank 3) to the title track 'ghost to a ghost''on Hank III's "Ghost to Ghost" album. Eventually he got back on his feet emotionally, quit drinking again, and after being approached by Seventh Rule Records, agreed to do a split record with Portland-based Graves At Sea. Sourvein had a long history of putting out split 7"s, over the years sharing releases with Japan's Coffins and Church of Misery, North Carolina's Buzzov-en, Israel's Rabies Caste, and England's Blood Island Raiders. In another parallel with the original Southern bluesmen (who often scratched by on the small flat fee for each song recorded), sometimes T-Roy stayed afloat by using the tiny amount of money budgeted from working day labor to pay his bills. Before the split idea came about, he had been approached by local rock hero, of North Carolina legends Corrosion of Conformity's Mike Dean, about recording and producing Sourvein's music. T-Roy decided to take Dean up on his offer, recording with the C.O.C. bassist in Raleigh, NC. Mike Dean also played a lead on guitar as a guest on one of the songs. The sessions went well and the two planned on working together again in the near future, and things were looking up again.
Then he lost his cousin and a touring member of the band all around the same month, it was super hard time on him. Despite falling into a deep emotional tailspin over the loss of his cousin and longtime friend, T-Roy managed to not return to the bottle. He did however become unhealthily reclusive and just wanting to be alone. Although Sourvein had been offered to return to play Holland's prestigious and internationally renowned Roadburn Festival, T-Roy honestly didn't know if he even wanted to take the stage so soon after. Friends convinced him he should give it a shot, and he finally agreed, but not without serious misgivings. "I had real mixed emotions about getting onstage. I didn't really know if I could be that front manperson at the time," he says, "You know, the guy rallying a bunch of people when I couldn't even rally myself."
But rally both the audience and himself he did, playing a blistering set at Roadburn and then setting off on a series of European dates alongside Graves At Sea to support the bands' split release. The tour's last date was Copenhagen and it was there that one of Metal Blade's A&R people approached T-Roy about being on the label having seeing two previsions shows and the label hearing a new demo a few months earlier and digging it all. He agreed and the process was put in motion, the deal was sealed a few short months later, and now Sourvein are hard at work writing "Aquatic Occult" for a 2016 release on the venerable label. Back with Mike Dean at the producer helm and 2" tape machine in place, T.Roy called on some friends to guest and join in the fun, Stig Miller, Reed Mullin. Dean Berry, myself and Dave Capps to name a few. This release see's the band at their most musical and focused of any recording to date.
"It's the record I wanted to make when I was in those boarding houses, but the time wasn't right," T-Roy says, "There was too much pain, so I got lost for bit, falling back into the party life and trying to numb myself with alcohol, but you need to feel the pain, causeits real… There is more to life than numbing yourself and escaping." Is that what "Aquatic Occult" will be about, bringing the pain? "I'm going to bring the truth. The lyrics are reality to me; I don't write about cars or chicks or horror movies, I write about the sacrifice and struggle, all the stuff I saw growing up and what I see now. But I want it to be positive, to let people know that there is a way out of bad times and tough situations." he says. When Sourvein hits the road in summer of 2016 to support "Aquatic Occult", is that what he'll be talking from the stage, positivity?
"Man, it's not all peace and love but yeah it's positive; it's just not coming from a negative place anymore. And when I'm on stage, I'm not up there to talk to you anyways. I'll let the amplifiers do the talking. I want you to feel it. You've got to feel alive, and life sometimes includes pain. Masking it doesn't do any good, because it's still there. It's better to live and feel it. All of it, the good, the bad, and the ugly."
Bio written by D. Randall Blythe