A photographic account of heavy music in Portland, Maine
During the dawn of the autumnal equinox, in the 99th year of the 20th century, three musicians banded together to form Ogre — a brotherhood determined to bring epic power doom to the land of many ports. Their sound rang most clear in the ears of the misfits, the disciples of proto-metal. They brought forth many legendary offerings of melody and verse. And they were good.
Ogre’s sound is a perfect amalgamation of ’70s power metal, doom, and prog rock; the lovechild of Black Sabbath, AC/DC, Rush, and Manowar. They’re also one of my favorite local bands. I recently interviewed Ogre’s drummer/illustrator Will Broadbent about the forthcoming deluxe reissues of Dawn of the Proto-Man and Seven Hells, avoiding weird foods while touring Japan, and the quasi-religious experience of discovering vintage comic books.
Post Mortem: How did Ogre come together?
Will Broadbent: I went to the Maine College of Art from 1995 to 1999. During that time, I really wanted to play music, but didn’t really know anybody. My buddy Chris Baker told me that he had recently jammed with a bunch of guys who were looking for a drummer, and that I should give them a call. I did. It was a group called Hello Monster, and they were doing weirdo experimental stuff with samples. Musically, it was way outside of my comfort zone. I had no real options at the time, so I kept at it. We had been playing for a couple weeks, and I had no real connection with any of them. I can be pretty shy around new people, especially at that stage in my life.
One day we were practicing, and the whole group went outside for a smoke break. That left me alone in a room with the only other non-smoker in the band, guitarist Ross Markonish. He said he noticed that I had a KISS bumper sticker on my car, and proceeded to launch into “Deuce.” Well, we played the whole song straight through. The ice was broken and a lifelong bond was formed over our mutual love of heavy rock, Black Sabbath in particular. I started looking forward to the cigarette breaks more so than the actual rehearsals. We tried out a different song every week, “War Pigs,” “Snowblind,” “Iron Man” — the stuff I’d always wanted to play but couldn’t find anyone interested in doing it.
Then he started getting me into stuff like Budgie, Sir Lord Baltimore, Cactus, Dust, Toad, Buffalo, and a host of others. That was a major revelation for me. It was like finding lost albums from your favorite bands that you never knew existed. I remember him and I sitting in my car outside of a Hello Monster gig at the Basement on Exchange St., listening to a tape he made of Budgie’s first album and Sir Lord Baltimore’s Kingdom Come record, and dreading having to stop the tape and play the show.
I quit the band in early ’99, but Ross and I stayed in touch. One night we were hanging out at one of our favorite places, Norm’s BBQ, and decided to start a new band that was heavily influenced by all the music we loved. We put an ad in the Casco Bay Weekly for a bass player, and received one reply. Ed Cunningham was a veteran of many local cover bands, and had a great voice. He could go from Bon Scott to Ozzy to Lemmy, and could do Ian Gillan-type screams. We now had the band I had always wished for.
PM: When were you called to the drums?
WB: I grew up when MTV was becoming a major force in American culture. Sit in front of the TV for an hour and you’d be exposed to Twisted Sister, Michael Jackson, Billy Joel, Motley Crue, Hall & Oates, Quiet Riot, Duran Duran, Weird Al, Huey Lewis, KISS, Men at Work, and so on. There was no separation of genres then. I think they just played whatever the record companies sent them.
One group that really grabbed my ears was Van Halen, as their 1984 album was really blowing up at the time. Alex’s amazing drum intro on “Hot For Teacher” caught my attention. Being the first song on side two, I could easily rewind the cassette over and over and just listen to that one part.
So MTV and classic rock radio were staples for me, and I was always drawn to the heavier sounds. There were a couple of kids in the neighborhood that my sisters and I would play with named Jordan and Justin, who were brothers. Justin got a drum set for his birthday around that time, and I distinctly remember him letting me sit behind the kit and I loved it. I felt like the coolest kid in the world all of a sudden. Then, I accidentally kicked over his hi-hat stand, and he never let me play it again. I eventually tried to do the school band thing, but doing quarter note patterns on a snare drum was super boring and I lost interest.
All that changed a couple of years later when I saw Tommy Lee do his 360-degree drumming in Motley Crue’s “Wild Side” video. That was amazing, and music once again became a priority. At the age of 12, I was diagnosed with diabetes. As a result, my next couple birthdays were pretty awesome because I think my folks felt bad. They’re the best, and have always supported me. Anyway, they got me a starter drum set, and I started taking lessons from one of the greatest drummers in the world: Al Silva in New Hampshire. I was off to the races.
PM: How would you describe your drumming style?
WB: It don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got that swing.
If you want a drummer who has perfect, metronome time, I’m not your guy. Keeping time for drummers is obviously very, very important but I never want to be a slave to it. I rehearse along to records and to a click from time to time but to me there’s nothing cooler than just instinctively reacting to something the guitar is doing in the moment. If that means hitting the gas a little bit from one measure to the next, so be it. I’m very happy with my tempos on our latest disc, The Last Neanderthal. I think it’s the best representative of my style thus far. In terms of favorite drummers, I love Ian Paice, Carmine Appice, Phil Rudd, Alex Van Halen, Bill Ward, Tommy Alderidge, and players like that.
PM: Your albums have been released by Japanese label Leafound Records, Italian label Minotauro Records and Irish label Pariah Child Records. Is the international scene more receptive to Ogre’s sound?
WB: Absolutely. When we started, we played to many empty rooms. I guess we were a little ahead of our time, because the local music scene was pretty much all nu-metal and punk rock. It was tough building an audience in that “marketplace.” But when we started circulating our music on the Internet, people around the world took notice.
Ross was really savvy about promoting our stuff on the Internet and that’s what we owe a great deal of our success to, I think. It was a new frontier that a lot of groups at the time weren’t taking advantage of. In the year 2000, there used to be a site for music called mp3.com on which we posted tracks from our demo tape.
We got a huge reaction from that. People were digging the retro/low-fi vibe on those songs. Soon after that, we got an offer to be on a compilation of up-and-coming bands from a French record label called Water Dragon Records. Grand Magus, who are pretty big now, were also on that comp. We self-released Dawn of the Proto-Man in 2003, which Ross was able to get into tons of distro sites. The reviews on that one were amazing. Japan’s Leafhound Records was a label on the rise and looking for new stuff to release and Ogre fit the mold. Leafhound put out our Seven Hells album and eventually Plague of the Planet. All the while, we were slowly but surely growing our local fan base from zero to maybe 10 people. The Swamp Witch Revival guys started coming around, which was great because they were awesome. Aside from some shows with them, which gave us a lift, no one else wanted to book us.
Thank God for Geno’s.
Geno and Barb saw something in us I guess, and always gave us a stage to hone our live chops. I’m glad they got to see us when people finally started coming around. We owed a lot to them. We got more love early on internationally, but we were always happy and grateful for any attention we were able to get.
PM: In 2008 you toured the U.S. as well as Japan. How do the rock scenes differ?
WB: Japan is a totally different world. There’s no comparison. Before every show you meet with the sound man to fill out paperwork about your set. You need to let then know which songs are fast, mid-tempo, or slow so they can try and coordinate the lights along with the music. They treat you as true professionals which is one thing that’s lacking over here. We went to Japan with all expenses paid, and even made decent money on top of that. We were doing shows with the Blood Farmers, Eternal Elysium, and Church of Misery. It was a dream come true.
Another cool thing is that the shows started at like 7 p.m. and were over by 10:30, which gave you time to go hang out with the other bands and maybe sample the local cuisine afterwards. Luckily, most places we went had some kind of chicken-oriented dish, like wings or something, so I was OK. I’m a pretty picky eater. Ed and Ross were more daring. They ate some really gnarly stuff.
The first show in Tokyo was the best. We played Plague of the Planet in its entirety and Hideki from Church of Misery came out and played keyboards with us. I was on cloud nine.
We came home to a huge reality check when we played our first show back at Pub 33 in Lewiston. We drove up there, dragged all our crap through the snow banks, got yelled at and harassed by the douchebag doorman for our hard-earned fifty bucks. I can’t think of a better example of how the rock scenes differ. No one seems to put any value on anything creative in ‘Murica unless it‘s backed by millions of dollars.
PM: It’s really unfortunate when you have to travel halfway around the globe to find a culture that fully supports your musical endeavors. Music is made popular by younger generations and our current one lives in an age of digital pop and mild-mannered musicianship. Commercial rock no longer plays at “11” which forces heavy rock groups to retreat back to the underground scene. What will it take to put metal back on the charts?
WB: Given that we now live in a world where everything is “free” on the internet, I’m not sure if charts matter anymore. The Billboard Chart to me seems like just a way for rich people to congratulate other rich people nowadays. The oppressive atmosphere of junk culture only sends more people to the underground. I actually think heavy metal is in better shape than it has been in years. I read an article a couple of years ago, and I think it still applies, that said while every genre of music has been on decline metal has maintained its sales and audience.
It makes sense. We’re like part of a cult. I think metal fans appreciate an actual physical object, cover art you can look at while listening, liner notes, and everything else you can’t get from an mp3. Music used to be a multi-media experience. Vinyl still does very well for this reason. On the flip side, there have been a lot of retro-type heavy bands sprouting up to the point where it’s almost trendy now. We got some flack in a couple reviews for The Last Neanderthal by people who were unaware that we’ve been around since 1999, saying “Oh great, here’s another ‘retro’ metal band,” which was kind of a bummer.
PM: “The Jaded Beast,” from Dawn of the Proto-Man, is one of my favorite tracks. It’s sludgy and hypnotizing and instantly transports me to the dark depths of Geno’s on Brown Street, beer in hand, conjuring Conan-esque imagery. What are your favorite Ogre tunes?
WB: Thanks. That one was always a favorite, for sure. Whenever he hit that one or “Age of Ice,“ people were really into it.
I’m very proud of our songs. I especially like “Colossus,” “Soldier of Misfortune,” and, of course, my magnum opus “Sperm Whale.” I also like the story behind “Flesh Feast”: Spanish missionaries lost at sea who have to resort to cannibalism. It’s great and Ed’s voice sounds especially crazed on the recording.
Off the new record, “Warpath,” and “Bad Trip” were really fun to do. I love the heavy, Saint Vitus-type stuff, and the tempo changes really made those songs. I think good doom metal has gotta have peaks and valleys, meaning that if you vary the tempos a little bit from time to time, it makes the slow parts even heavier. Of course, I also have to mention our “Plague of the Planet” song/album. It was a huge concept and undertaking, and was really happy with how we pulled it off.
Janel: Ogre is re-releasing Dawn of the Proto-Man and Seven Hells next month. What will be different about these albums?
WB: Our current label, Minotauro Records, is putting these out. They’ve been out of print for years, and we’re excited they are going to be available again in deluxe versions. Dawn of the Proto-Man is going to include some never-before-heard demo tracks we recorded with Marc Bartholomew back when he was doing sound at the Skinny. I also completed a couple of new art pieces that will be included in the packaging. Seven Hells is going to come with a DVD, which has two live shows from around the time it was released. Also, Ross wrote some new liner notes for both discs to give people some context as to where we were at when we made them. Minotauro really goes out of their way to make their releases top notch for music collectors, making physical objects that people would want to own in this digital age. Like I said, we’re psyched.
PM: You’re not just a great drummer you’re also a professional illustrator. Your art, like Ogre’s lyrics, draws from ancient lore, sci-fi, cult horror, and retro comics and imagery. How did you become interested in these themes?
WB: Well, thanks. As the son of antique dealers, I was taught at an early age to really appreciate the beauty of older stuff. This applies to everything: music, movies, literature, and especially comic books. When I was little, my folks brought home a lot of comics that they had got at an auction. I was a huge fan of Christopher Reeve’s Superman movies, religiously watched re-runs of the Batman TV show and the Spider-Man cartoon from the ’60s, but when I saw in that pile the cover to Justice League of America #55, which featured the grown-up Robin from Earth II punching somebody out, I felt like someone had opened the Ark of the Covenant in front of me. My OCD clicked in instantly, and I had to know everything I could about what I was looking at. My Dad encouraged my comic book obsession as he was still bitter that my grandmother had given away his complete set of EC Tales From The Crypt comics the second he left for college in the ’50s.
The art of the comics is was got to me. Soon, I recognized the different artists I really liked, and sought more of their stuff specifically. The work of Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko, and Gil Kane was a tad garish, a little scary, and incredibly beautiful all at the same time. From there I tried to draw my own pictures, copying my favorite panels. I’m sure some would say I still do that, but just like with the music of Ogre, I try to meld my influences into something that is familiar and fresh at the same time.
Of course, sci-fi and fantasy goes hand in hand with that stuff, so I loved it all. Ed’s a big sci-fi fan as well and has turned me on to tons of books that I have enjoyed thorough the years. Ross is the horror guy. His cousin, Dave Depraved from the Blood Farmers, wrote for Fangoria magazine, as well as a book about the making Last House on the Left, so they grew up watching the grossest, most obscure stuff you could imagine. This mix of interests made for a strong aesthetic for a rock band.
PM: Any sage advice for musicians trying to make it locally or get their name out internationally as Ogre has?
WB: In this day and age, there’s no excuse for any music not to have an audience. If you’re passionate, and have some talent, then people a going to notice. Everything is on the internet, from YouTube, Facebook, Bandcamp, et cetera, it’s never been easier to find new music. You need to stay strong and deal well with rejection should it come. And if you work smart and keep your overhead low, you might even be able to make a couple bucks.
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For Ogre’s newest re-releases of Dawn of the Proto-Man and Seven Hells (available for pre-order now and will ship to U.S. customers on Dec. 22), visit minotaurorecords.com. To get The Last Neanderthal on vinyl with bonus material, visit pariahchild.co. To see Will’s art or to contact him about drawing your band’s next album cover, visit facebook.com/WilliamBroadbentIllustration.