Kulk’s Thom Longdin (vocals/guitar) and Jade Ashleigh Squires (drums), are purveyors of the most wicked of rackets, whipping up glorious vistas of sound.
Noise-rock and doom heads at heart, the pair arrived in 2020 with their debut album, Here Lies Kulk. With the momentum from their debut release, Kulk released follow-up We Spare Nothing last October via the London label, Hominid Sounds.
To these ears We Spare Nothing was the doom record of 2021. Firmly entrenched in Sun 13’s Top 50 Albums of 2021, Kulk produced a roaring hell-fire of a record, exploding with searing sheets of black noise, creating an atmosphere of primal catharsis.
There’s Sabbath worship, no doubt, but Kulk operate in the outer church, unleashing a hypnotic power that reaches the uninhabited frontiers of noise-rock and doom.
It all starts with Shuck, a diesel-powered drone-rock delight and, from here, Kulk don’t let up. From the sludge-y sub-tones of Forgetting Is Your Blessing to the rush and roar of Day Old Kebab and Lives for One, We Spare Nothing is hypnotic heaviness and tonal intoxication produced by a new voice. And where the UK is concerned, it’s never sounded better.
While Kulk admittedly see fellow doom rock dispensers, Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs, Gnod and Bonnacons of Doom as influences, make no mistake; Kulk are in the mix, producing something as vital as anything their heroes have committed to tape so far.
On a Friday night in early January, rather than slipping into the local for a night on the ale, the world of Zoom beckoned, as we spoke to Thom and Jade from their Norwich residence.
S13: Can you tell us the history behind Kulk?
Thom Longdin: “We started playing together just because we were already together. Me and Jade have been together coming on eight years now. She played drums and I played guitar, so it was almost weird that we hadn’t started a band!”
Jade Ashleigh Squires: (Laughs)“One day, he just came to me with cassette tapes of just loads of riffs and was like, ‘I want you to put drums to this’. And I’d like never played in front of anybody, not really in front of [Thom] that much. [We’d] done a few covers together. I found it pretty daunting. So much so that, when we got around to actually writing something, I almost ditched you (looking at Thom) on the first gig. I so nervous.”
S13 :So I guess you both had similar tastes in music, influences and so forth?
JAS: “Yeah. I think we just kind of ended up doing that classic thing that we’re like, ‘Oh, you need to listen to this CD’. I think our biggest thing in common was the music that we were involved with. And then art as well. We both went and did a degree and Masters in Art. So that’s a big part of our band; it’s more like an art project, like… with the music and the visuals. And the whole aesthetic is pretty important, I think, to both of us.”
S13: How did the connection with Hominid Sounds come about?
TL: “They are one of our favourite labels. We’ve loved every release they’ve done. So from that we were like, ‘We should record with Wayne [Adams – Big Lad/ Death Pedals], at Bear Bites Horse, because he recorded all of our favourite records’.”
JAS: “We wanted that sound!”
TL: “We didn’t go into Bear Bites Horse being like, ‘If we record with Wayne he will hear us and he will release our music’. So afterwards, he finished mixing it and he said, ‘Oh, actually, I like the album and I’d like to put it out’. We were like, ‘Really?'”
JAS: “We were obviously honoured that he thought it was really great.”
S13: There seems to be a lineage with the artwork of Here Lies Kulk then We Spare Nothing. You do the artwork, too, right?
TL: “Yeah, I do a lot of design and photography. I do a lot of the execution, and then Jade does a lot of the concept stuff and I’ll make it happen.”
JAS: “Yeah, I find it really difficult actually come up with concrete ideas. I think we both have a really strong idea on visuals and what we want it to look like. We kind of have this thing with Gypsophila. That flower that is featured in a lot of our artworks and stuff. It’s in everything we do.”
TL: “Doing it ourselves, you can be a lot more ambitious, I guess, because it’s not going to cost us shitloads, so we can spend quite a lot of time on it.”
S13: I guess working with a label such as Hominid Sounds, they pretty much support you and give you free rein on things like that…
TL: “I imagine if we did some really terrible art work they would be like, ‘No’.
JAS: “Yeah, obviously they’re putting it out and you’re featured in their discography. It’s like, you want it to look a certain way.”
TL: “Maybe we can test that and make like a joke cover, then put it out?”
S13: Both of the art works are so striking. Sometimes, when you look at a cover, you know that you’re going to like the music, and that’s what I thought with both of your releases.
JAS: “It’s definitely a big thing. Especially if you’re buying records, you don’t want them to look horrible. You want to be proud if you like the band to put it on.”
TL: “I’ve bought a lot just for the record cover, and then it turned out to be good and stuff like that.”
JAS: “Or not good (laughs). We kind of play a lot with contrast in sound and visuals, but to have that with the record and the music.”
S13: So both albums were released in pretty quick succession. Did you write them at the same time, or did the writing process change from one release to the other?
TL: “Yeah, the first one, all the stuff on there was really tested and gigged extensively. By the time the record was out, we didn’t want to play them anymore, because of how much they’ve been done.”
JAS: “It kind of fell well with lockdown, because we didn’t have to and we couldn’t tour it. But that was sad.”
TL: “Yeah. But then the second record was like… some of those, the second track (Forgetting Is Your Blessing), it was all just written post the first album. And then it all just sort of went together. We really didn’t have any idea if it was good, because it was all through lockdown. None of it had been tested. We hadn’t even sent it to anyone…”
JAS: “And a couple of the tracks were improvised in the studio. So we did one on the first album that was improvised in the studio, but this time we did two. I really liked that process. It was different to write.”
TL: “Yeah. Because usually I’d write and we’d gig it and work out whether it works, and then do it like that.”
JAS: “Because each time we play it live, it’s always different. It’s not based on timings, but once we record it, it’s like, ‘Okay, that’s set in stone now’.”
S13: The first single, Shuck, seemed like an easy choice to open with. Can you tell us about that song?
JAS: “It was my favourite to begin with. I think that’s what we wanted to open with. Plus, it has a big… it has a lot behind it that we could express.”
TL: “Recording it, we realised that we’re morons.”
TL: “If I was a proud person, I would say it’s embarrassing. We were trying to play it, and then Wayne said, ‘You do realise you’re playing in different time signatures? That’s why it sounds crap’.”
JAS: “We’re very self-taught. We just play how it sounds.”
TL: “We were sitting on the couch after recording one of the first parts, and we were like, ‘There’s something uncanny. Something weird about it, that we can’t grip’. He was like, ‘You’re playing in 3/4, and you’re playing in 4/4’.” (laughs)
S13: It’s interesting because a couple of the slower tracks have that sort of Earth vibe to it. That must be so hard to do, as opposed to like, a normal conventional drummer with quicker beats, potential mistakes are easier to hide, maybe?
JAS: (Laughs) “I do keep drumming quite simple, and I suppose we do with guitar as well. I think it’s just the way we try and keep it as heavy as possible for just two people.”
TL: “Some of our favourite bands have like… I mean, we wouldn’t call it simple, but deceptively simple drums, like Dale Crover and Todd Trainer. It seems simple, but obviously it’s not. All the drums are very intentional, every single hit is really thought out.”
S13: Lives For One feels like the album’s centrepiece. I’m not sure whether you would agree with that?
TL: “That’s one I did on the guitar. When I’m stuck on writing things, I’ll just do a wild tuning and then see what comes out. So all the strings are tuned to B on that one, which is why it has a weird, kind of low band octave-y thing going on. I thought, ‘That’s heavy, I like that’. It was really fun to record.”
JAS: “Before we named it, it was called ‘The Doom-y One'”.
TL: “Yeah. The studio had this really early 2000s looking octave pedal, so I sat and just played B the whole time and it just droned out through the whole thing, adding some weight to it.”
JAS: “Yeah, I think especially with synths and stuff, we mostly just use synths for droning. Especially on that one. It creates a big doom-y thing, you know?”
S13: You do explore the more experimental sides of doom. For instance, Goblin Dreams and Day Old Kebab. Is it important for you to mix that aesthetic between more conventionally sounding songs and more sounds that have a transcendental feel?
JAS: “I think so.”
TL: “Yeah. I like it those kind of records. Mainly, we’re just trying to make records that we’d like to listen to ourselves. I like records that have some off-the-wall shit.”
JAS: “Otherwise you think, ‘It’s just another doom record’. Which I love, don’t get me wrong. But I think because we are into lots of different types of music, all in the same kind of genre, it’s nice to try out different things. I think we want to do something different each record and each track.”
TL: “For this record, we decided we’d have a song that would have something not in it. Like a song has to have no guitar and one song has to have no drums. Stuff like that, to work within some restrictions.”
JAS: “Just to try stuff out, really. Day Old Kebab was like the gnarliest track on the record. We wanted to end that side with it.”
TL: “I think Wayne gets a lot of credit for that.”
JAS: “He does an amazing job. With noise, he really gets it.”
S13: Forgetting is Your Blessing and Lone Individual are the two longest songs on the album. They certainly match the heaviness of Lives For One. Was there a lot of improvising done in the studio for these songs?
JAS: “I am very into long tracks. I don’t know why. Especially on a record, when they’re so long, sometimes they don’t fit, there’s something hilarious about it. Just being able to sit through a really long song…”
TL: “Yeah. It’s kind of like the synth track, Lone Individual. That kind of thing reminds me of stuff like Gnod where you really get into the synth riff of it. But then, I mean, because we don’t really have timings for songs, like bars and things like that. If we’re playing live, and we get into them, like Forgetting Is Your Blessing could be 15 minutes long. So just because I think we’re in the studio and into it, they just ended up long.”
JAS: “Yeah, it’s a bit of both. It was kind of intentional when we wrote it. But also live, we would just gauge off the people watching. Like, ‘Are they enjoying this, or not?'”
TL: “Yeah. because there’s different parts and, depending on how the crowd is, if it’s pretty lively, then you can just milk the fast section for longer. Or if everyone’s pretty chilled, you can just do the end and the start a bit more.”
S13: Speaking of live shows, you supported Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs recently.
JAS: “Yeah. Norwich, Nottingham, Camden and then we were supposed to do Newcastle but obviously it’s just been moved.”
S13: That would have been a watershed moment for the band, because I’d imagine there’s a lot of crossover. Their fans would really dig what you guys do.
(Thom reveals his Pigs X 7 T-shirt)
JAS: “They’re great guys. I think you’re right about the crossover. That’s what I aspire to.”
TL: “They were a big thing for us. When they came to Norwich, they played our mid-sized venue and we got to support them. After seeing them we were like, ‘Fuck, that was so good’. And then our stuff sort of took a turn being more…”
JAS: “This sounds like a cliché, but I feel like that’s where our music fits in. Locally, we didn’t properly gel with the scene. So being able to find a niche in that scene in other places is, ‘Ahh, we found it!'”
TL: “That’s our kind of vibe.”
S13: What is the scene like in Norwich?
TL: “It’s good. It’s a very arty city.”
JAS: “Yeah. Big connections to London and stuff. There is a heavy scene. There’s also quite a big…. (turning to Thom) would you say indie hip-hop scene?”
TL: “Yeah, there’s quite a lot of indie music. Some good post-punk bands. There’s a good blend. You can’t do bills every week of, you know, handfuls of proper heavy bands. But I love playing in Norwich and I love everyone in Norwich.”
JAS: “I think you’ve hit the nail on the head. I think post-punk is a big thing in Norwich at the moment.”
TL: “Yeah, it’s everywhere.”
S13: It’s funny, because I was reading about Electric Wizard the other day and how they were the only doom band or band of their kind in Dorset. It made me think of Kulk being in Norwich and whether you make it your own thing. How much do you think East Anglia influences your music?
JAS: “First of all, I’d say not a lot. I think living here and what we write about… I mean, Shuck is about East Anglia and folklore. So, you know, in that way a lot, and I am very grateful for where we live, and I love finding local gems in bands as well. It’s nice to be like, ‘Yeah, we’re the doom band in middle of nowhere’.
“But I do miss that kind of vibing off other bands that are similar to you. And I think that’s why we really make good friendships with the people that we have similar music with. We got on great with Pigs and then we used to have another friend’s band, who’ve moved to Manchester. So bouncing off people that are very similar to you in close proximity is, you know… we do miss that.”
TL: “Yeah, I think it influences us in ways we’re probably not sure that it’s doing that. There’s a difference of being one of many or one of few. Because we’re not surrounded by loads of bands that are like us, maybe we have less of an idea of what we should be doing, so maybe we can do weirder stuff, because we’re not tied to a convention. Where if there was a really popular local doom scene, and we’re trying to push some of the edges, then maybe we would feel a bit ostracised by that.”
S13: There’s a lot of dark humour to your song titles. Is it a case of first thought best thought before actually naming a song? Obviously, not Shuck, but something like Day Old Kebab, for instance?
TL: “That’s just because…”
JAS: (Looking at Thom) “That is you. You’re not the day old kebab. I am, sadly. But I think that is your humour, you’re the writer of the lyrics. And yeah, you get the final say on things.”
TL: (Laughs) “Yeah, I guess. I like things that can be serious and funny. Like with the first record, like the name of it. I thought, it’s funny that it’s kind of like we’re dead. But also, you could just look at it, with the art and the name, [and think] it’s sort of pseudo serious.”
JAS: “With Day Old Kebab, it was just you taking the piss out of me, really.”
TL: (Laughs). “You bought a day old kebab into the studio and then nuked it in the microwave.”
JAS: “We had we a kebab the night before, and I couldn’t finish it. It was so much.”
TL: “Have you ever had a 50% deal in a kebab shop? That’s odd, isn’t it?”
S13: I usually give the person an extra 50% over the asking price, because I associate kebabs with being drunk…
JAS: “So that was our situation. And I was too full, and thought, ‘I’m gonna save it’. So I took it to the studio the next day, and killed Wayne with the smell of reheated kebab in the microwave. And it was great!”
S13: Speaking of dark titles, Kill Your Local Rapist sounds like you’ve bludgeoned the template of the Velvet Underground. Some really nice Kale-esque drones underneath…
TL: “I was thinking twee. But the way I described it to Wayne when I was trying to figure out the sound, I was like, ‘It’s like twee on the porch playing guitar, but there’s also someone playing a synth’. Electronic twee. I thought it would be a lovely closer, just to have a noise-like breakdown of almost the whole record. The ultimate breakdown of it being coherent.”
S13: Are there any plans to release new music this year?
TL: “I’m always writing stuff.”
JAS: “We kind of wanted a bigger gap after this album. Because we could have done, we could have been straight on it.”
TL: “The second album came out in October. It didn’t really take long to write until we were like, ‘Oh, we’re happy with this already’. Maybe we’ll spend longer on this one, maybe we won’t. Who knows?”
JAS: “I do find that once we’ve written maybe one or two, they start coming out like, ‘Yeah, this is what we want the album to sound like’. You get the ball rolling.”
We Spare Nothing is out now via Hominid Sounds. Purchase from Bandcamp.