Turbid North is a band not unknown around this here Toilet. Last year’s Eyes Alive, received full marks with 5 out of 5 Flaming Toilets ov Hell and since then, their name has circulated here on a regular basis. With the prospects of a new album and on the coattails of a large tour announcement, I chatted with singer/guitarist Nick Forkel to get the lowdown on everything that is Turbid North. Click play on Eyes Alive and take this journey with us!
To start things off, would you care to introduce yourself a bit? The Toilet is familiar with the band, but what background can you give us on the mastermind behind Turbid North?
I grew up in the Alaskan wilderness, was raised by wolves, ya know the normal sort of childhood. I caught a Kiss concert when I was pretty young and pretty much knew from then on I wanted to play guitar in a band and nothing else. I joined Turbid North when I was 17 and music has been my main gig ever since. I also hold down a day job of course, but along with that, I have a studio that I run and record/produce bands around DFW when I have the time.
Turbid North has had a very interesting history that has literally spanned the country and has taken on many forms before it rested at its current power trio lineup. As the band’s only current original member, can you fill us in on the history of the band?
You want the short version or long version? I’ll give you the extended directors cut version…
The band got its start in Alaska back in 2000 I believe. They started to make a name for themselves locally and I even saw these guys open for Godsmack, which to my young eyes was “them making it”. So I ended up joining in ’03 and once the whole party had graduated high school, we decided to relocate to Texas in ’07. We were short a bass player at that time and that’s when we met Chris (fresh from the UK) who joined a few months later. About a year after that our original singer left and we replaced him with Brian McCoy, who sang on our first album Orogeny. Around that time we signed a record deal with Ironclad Recordings and did a bunch of DIY touring. I think we were all hoping to get to that next tier in the metal band world and unfortunately that didn’t quite happen, so our original drummer decided to step down. That’s when we started jamming with Jono and it sorta rejuvenated the whole vibe for the band. But, as sometimes happens, not everyone was feeling that vibe and our other guitarist and singer decided to throw the towel in. The 3 of us we’re kinda left in limbo for a bit, but we kept on jamming and writing material for what became Eyes Alive. I think we were all really digging the power trio vibe and so we just decided to stick with it.
When you had to replace not one, but two singers, what decision-making went into you becoming the band’s vocalist? Was it something you struggled with initially?
Not really. I had been doing some lead vocals with Brian for a few years and backups for several years, so I wasn’t completely new to screaming into a mic on stage. The biggest thing was I didn’t wanna have to go through that whole process of finding another singer again. That takes a lotta time and you can easily make a desperate move and get the wrong guy if you’re not careful. So I decided pretty quick once Brian stepped down that I was just gonna take this into my own hands and keep the train rolling. The one thing I did struggle with at first was taking on the lyrics. Up to that point, I had written a few songs lyrically on Orogeny, but now I had to do ALL of the lyrics. It was a bit overwhelming at first but turned out to be a lot of fun for me.
Touching back on the geographical locations, Orogeny’s album art has a definite link to Alaska and the music feels like an exploration of the Arctic, while Eyes Alive‘s art has a distinct Texan atmosphere and seems like a desert voyage. Has environment helped change the way you write music and visually represent yourself? Do you have any plans to write music about other harsh habitats?
That definitely was the case for Orogeny, but not so much for Eyes Alive. I just really dig me a nice desert landscape and the vibe you get from it. The cover art depicts the song “The Great Dying” off the album, so you got the whole desert/sun scene happening there. I think we might cover the tropics on the next one.
As a follow-up, does each member still have strong ties with their geographical background, you with Alaska, Chris with England and Jono with Texas?
I’d say so. I think Alaska will always be considered home for this band because we started there and its also kind of cool that we come from 3 different corners of the world almost. Makes for an interesting tag line at least!
Eyes Alive made some serious waves in the metalsphere last year. Many here on the Toilet hold it in very high regard, some going so far as to say it is scratching the itch old Baroness and Mastodon used to but haven’t done so recently. How do you feel being compared to these major bands?
Well, I really appreciate you guys at the Toilet for saying that and it’s definitely a huge honor being compared to those bands. I’ve been a long time fan of both for years now, especially some of their older records. So if we can help scratch an itch or two we’re happy to do it.
I have a few special questions from the Toilet’s Old Man Doom, he reviewed your album last year and has some very intricate questions regarding your recording process:
Eyes Alive is one of the coolest sounding records of late. I know you did most of the engineering and mixing on Orogeny, but how did the process differ this time around? Did you enlist anyone to help with the record or was it done in-house? In addition to that, the guitars and bass on the album feature some of the gnarliest tones I’ve ever heard recorded to tape. Can you do a brief rundown of the gear you guys used in the studio?
I did the whole thing again but this time I had a lot more experience under my belt and had a clearer vision on how to approach the recording. I wanted a big lively drum sound, but we didn’t have a ton of cash for renting a nice studio. So we used all we had to upgrade my recording gear, which I was all for of course, and got lucky in that at the time the 3 of us took a job renovating a big old empty house. I took a look around and saw hardwood floors, a huge sized living room and found our “studio”. That’s when I knew this was gonna work out because if you have a shitty drum sound, you have a shitty record no matter what, and I knew we could get a killer sound in there. We’d work in the day and track drums at night. For the Guitars I tried 3 separate amps but ended up coming back to my trusty 5150. I found some mod on the internet years ago and had some tech dude mod it out and I swear it has more bite and balls than your average 5150. Paired with a Maxon OD9 in the front, it did the job. I also ran the bass through that rig for the distortion as well as Chris’s Ampeg SVT classic for the low-end. I’m a full blown bass distortion guy, get that clean shit outta here. Fuzz city is where my bass lives.
Eyes Alive was released on The Pyramid Recordings, which is a label created by the band, for the band. Why release the album this way? Any offers or plans to connect up with a bigger label at some point in the future?
Done strictly outta necessity. We talked to several labels and there was some interest but no one wanted to take the financial risk with us. We had some momentum going after Orogeny, but just took to long to get a 2nd record together and we kinda lost all the wind in our sails. So I thought rather than play the waiting game, I’m gonna invest all my money into this album just like a label would and push this thing out there. It’s hard when it’s all DIY, but that was the only option we had. Even shot our music video for “The Pyramid Drones” on one tripod, no camera guy! That’s how goddamn DIY this thing was, but it worked out. It got our name back out there and back in the mix again. I would be happy to work with a bigger label of course, but if it doesn’t happen that’s not gonna stop me from releasing music. It’s so easy these days with all the resources out there, you just gotta be willing to put some cash into it.
Back to my questions:
Speaking of writing and recording you are already working on a follow-up. What can we expect from Turbid North IV(not the official title)?
Yeah, we’re about 80% finished I’d say. I have it all in demo form right now and I’m super excited, much more so than I was for Eyes Alive. For that record, we didn’t really know where we were going musically. We knew we wanted to go in a slightly different direction, but still keep a few elements from the Orogeny era. But even then, we were in the dark as to what that was gonna be and if it’d even work. This new stuff is more focused. It’ll be a continuation of Eyes Alive just taken a bit further. More aggressive parts, a lot more doomy parts. We’ve never been afraid to experiment and there is a bit of exploring with the new songs as well. We’ll start recording after this tour in January and I cannot wait.
Do you do most of the writing yourself? With your band members on tour currently with other bands, will this hinder any of the processes?
I do the majority of the writing, but that’s not to say that everyone doesn’t play a part in a songs creation. What happens is I’ll start writing at home and eventually record actual full song demos (e-drums, bass, guitar and sometimes vocals) and show it to the guys. They give feedback and we take it to the jam room and try them out, change stuff around and I’ll go back home and revise the songs. And that method is what we have found over the years to work for us. We’ve done the 3 of us sitting in the room for hours writing, which is cool, but in our case, we usually don’t have that luxury due to all our different schedules. So to be as productive as we can, I do most of the writing at home and then we all add our own stamp to it.
There has been a recent announcement of a tour with both Entombed AD and Full of Hell. I can only assume that the band is looking forward to this. How did this match-up come together? And I am obligated to ask, why are there no Texas dates?
Absolutely looking forward to it! We started looking into getting a booking agent and I contacted Jake at Tone Deaf Touring. Turned out he was a fan of the band and offered to help us out and hit us up if there were any opening slots of some tours. This one came up for January and was a no brainer to jump on. Unfortunately, we had no control over the cities booked but you can be sure we’ll be hitting any cities we miss later in the year.
When I saw you play live I was blown away. Without a doubt one of the best live shows I have seen. The band has an amazing energy and tightness that will surely impress metalheads around the globe. What are your goals for the tour?
Thanks, man. We’re just happy to get in front of some people who probably haven’t heard of us and convert ’em. We’re going into this with the mindset of “destroy” every single night. We don’t tour as much as we’d like to, so hopefully we can get more tours outta this one ya know? I can speak for everyone when I say we’re extremely excited for it and hope to meet some new people and over indulge in some killer times.
And finally, what is your favorite Manowar album?
I had to hit up Chris for this since he’s the exclusive Manowar historian of the band:
“Sign of the Hammer for its raw youthful brutal ignorant attitude or Fighting The World for its refined focus and controlled song writing poise.” – Chris O’Toole
Thanks again to Nick for an absolutely killer interview! I don’t know about you, but I am seriously looking forward to new Turbid North music and the prospect of bigger and better tours for the band.