Words by Kristofer Poland
Miami’s Torche have been blasting out bone-rattling riffs for 15 years, and they show no signs of slowing down. If anything, they’re building momentum. The group’s lineup has remained fairly consistent over the years with founding members Steve Brooks, Jonathan Nuñez, and Rick Smith welcoming longtime friend Eric Hernandez as a full-time member in 2017.
Torche’s fifth full-length studio album Admission was released earlier this summer to heavy praise. Off Shelf caught up with drummer Rick Smith during their Midwestern tour to discuss influences, songwriting, and natural disasters.
Off Shelf: You guys are in the midst of a pretty lengthy tour of the Midwest right now. Can I ask where you feel most at home musically? Do you like being in the studio? Do you like being on stage?
Rick Smith: I would say I like being on stage more than in the studio any day. I’ve always been more comfortable on stage than just about anywhere as far as making the music. I’d also say it’s always a lot more fun to play in front of people versus playing in the studio and being in my head about it.
I think in the studio it’s a different kind of pressure. I like the pressure of having to perform for people versus the pressure of trying to recreate a song or sound and get that perfect take. I feel it’s a totally different kind of pressure. If I personally had to choose one or the other, then playing live is always so much more fun.
OS: Does that go for you regardless of the size of the audience watching?
RS: Yeah, for sure. Definitely. The size of audience usually doesn’t matter. As long as someone is watching and enjoying it, it’s a lot go fun.
OS: I will straight up admit I am totally a fan. The first Torche recording I heard was Meanderthal back in 2008, and it fucking blew my mind. You guys have a sound that has evolved but is still unmistakably yours. I can hear any Torche song and know it’s Torche right away. I can’t say for any other band. Does that make sense to you?
RS: I definitely think so. I feel like some people may think our sound’s almost like a gimmick because of the tuning of our guitars and stuff like that, but we try to prove that completely wrong with actual song writing. We try to write actual songs with hooks and memorable riffs and basically a repeat listing quality to it. We want people to want to listen to it more that just once, you know? Hopefully through the years continue to listen to us.
We definitely take the songwriting pretty serious and try to write quality stuff. It’s easy for bands to have some kind of sonic sound or sonic gimmick that sets them apart. It may be impressive to hear, but the songs may not be something that’s worth revisiting other than just like a listen just to be blown away by a sound. We definitely try to make the songs kind of timeless.
Also, we can do a lot with our sound, which is kinda cool. We can do a lot of different sounds within our sound, so we never really get bored. We can always sort of incorporate what we’re listening to at the time a little bit without straying too far from ourselves. We’re kinda blessed in that way.
OS: Obviously you guys have been together for quite a while, and there’s been a handful of line up changes. What else has changed for you guys in the past 15 years or so? What’s new? What’s exciting to you?
RS: Everybody finds new things that impress them or inspire them. So there’s always gonna be something new brought to table by somebody or some kind of idea that could be introduced. It doesn’t always work, but we always like to give it a try. Sometimes this makes for interesting results.
With Jonathan switching to guitar, we had the lineup change recently over the last couple of years. Now Jon’s on guitar, and we have our friend Eric on bass. He’s sort of been an auxiliary member of our band for many years now. He’s no stranger to Torche, but with him in the band with the lineup we have now, it changes stuff. Jon’s style on guitar and the kind of music Jon wants to write on the guitar is different than what our previous guitar player Andrew would want to play. So it adds a whole new dynamic to how we work as a band and put our songs together.
Everybody in the band is actually an independent writer, so everyone brings a lot of stuff to the table. The combination of influences is always gonna change. We’re always gonna evolve. I feel like each record has really bold ideas that stick out that are completely different from other ones. There’s many different sides to Torche’s sound, and a lot of that just comes from influences changing through the years. Also revisiting influences – things that are sort of staples of our sound. I don’t see us hitting a brick wall as far as song writing ideas and keeping it fresh goes. There’s always gonna be something that we still haven’t explored and how to incorporate that and sort of translate that into our sound. It’s kind of exciting.
I feel like in the last record we really expanded on a few things that were always part of our sound to some degree. The end result was something that we were all pretty proud of and happy with. It’s exciting for us now to think of getting back together again and writing. Jon has ideas of things he wants to take further in certain directions. I have ideas that I wanna bring to the table as far as certain things we’ve just never done before, especially rhythmically. Eric’s already got a whole bunch of different stuff. Steve gets inspired whenever everyone else gets inspired. I’d say on this last record it was most even distribution of song writing between members and ideas coming from each member. It’s definitely the biggest collaborative effort we’ve ever had. It’s just really exciting because I think the direction we’re going is a lot more even and spaced out. Everyone has a voice now more than ever.
OS: That’s so cool. I know you play with a number of bands in addition to Torche. Is that something that’s unique to this group of guys that everybody brings something unique to songwriting and everybody has these different influences? Is there just an energy there? What is it about this band and this group of guys that keeps you energetic and inspired?
RS: It’s just a positive attitude towards wanting to create something that’s different and also wanting to create something that’s classic. We somehow found this weird little world we exist in. When we get together we all know work in our sound. I may bring an idea to the table that is reminiscent of something like Killing Joke or The Buzzcocks or it could be like The Melvins. Just all these different ideas. We could bring all these things to the table and introduce them. We kinda know how to play it in our own way to make it sound like us. We never wanna be a band that ever directly rips anyone off or pays direct homage to our influences and super obvious ways.
Me, Jon, and Steve, we’ve been in the band since the beginning together so we definitely get it. We’ve built the sound and evolved with the sound. I think we’ve actually just grown with the sound as well. Eric’s been around us. He’s with us, and he just gets it. He’s one of the few guys that could just jump in and get it right off the bat. Eric just nails it. There’s definitely something exciting and invigorating about playing with these guys. The sort of no rules vibe to our songwriting approach. We could try to do anything we want. It won’t always work, but when it does it’s magic.
OS: Jon has said that he thinks that growing up in Miami gave you guys this very unique perspective on music. Do you think that that’s part of that multi-layered influences and that willingness to experiment?
RS: We all had a pretty unique experience growing up in a place like that. You have small hard rock and metal and punk scenes there, but they’re nothing like in other big cities. We are a little geographically cut off. It’s sunny and hot all year. There’s nice beaches and lots of beautiful people. It’s a weird kind of place, but it does show through in our sound for sure. There is a south Florida sound that starts with Floor and continues on with a lot of other bands, us included. That sound has this low bass frequency reminiscent of Miami-based music. Just this wall. This heavy, full thing. It’s not always harsh. It’s more sub. More low end. It’s more about feeling and I think that’s part of what’s become what I consider to be the South Florida sort of sound. Current bands like Holly Hunt who is actually Betty, the original Floor drummer, her band has that sound. Black Cobra, when they first started, they kinda had the sound.
OS: That’s cool. It’s important for people to know where they come from, and know their influences and place some significance to that.
RS: Dub. Reggae. All the kind of stuff that we grew up with. Hip-hop and rap. There was always this heavy bass, especially from Miami, and heavy low-end melody behind it. That sort of stuff comes through in ways. Mix it with some Zeppelin, Sabbath, whatever. Some classic rock. Heavy noise rock bands. It just come from everywhere. That little tinge of Miami is in there somehow, and it does definitely add a little bit of color to what we’re doing.
OS: It’s interesting to hear you talk about how that low frequency influenced you. You mentioned the feeling that you get from that music. Torche runs the gamut of emotions, but there’s just something overwhelmingly positive about Torche. Do you agree with that?
RS: Totally! That’s exactly what I wanna hear too. I love that people get that from our music. We don’t want to be negative for the sake of being extreme or pushing some kind of boundary. A lot of people think you have to have this intimidating or dark imagery to be this force of nature heavy band. I always compare our band to a force of nature. I’m obsessed with storms and hurricanes and tornadoes and blizzards. Just natural phenomena. It’s something that it could be devastating. It’s super powerful. It’s awe inspiring, but it’s not something that’s negative or evil. It’s not man-made. It’s just nature. I feel like our song writing is just super natural. We do it without trying too hard. We just sort of know if that feels right or not. Sometimes when these ideas come together they’re seismic. They’re huge. We get stoked on it. It’s something to behold. It has the same beauty to me as a perfect storm. It’s this massive thing that feels big and overwhelming. It is beautiful to look at, but it’ll fuck you up.
OS: There’s no malice to it. This is just what the world does, and we have to react to it. It’s fascinating to hear you talk about trying to encapsulate that in a musical form.
RS: I’ve survived through a handful of hurricanes. Growing up in South Florida it’s a big part of our culture to be storm ready. In summertime the tropical storms can roll in and be so brutal. You just get smashed by them, and it’s actually one of my favorite things ever. I love the feeling of the pressure changing in the air. I love the sounds of the storm and the thunder and the lightning and just how powerful it feels. You feel it through the walls. It’s just a spectacle to behold.
I love to think of our band as this thing that just comes into a room and opens up with that first note and we’re just crushing. I had that feeling when I first saw Floor play. It’s a bomb going off in the club. It’s that same alarming, devastating sound but put to music somehow. But it’s in a positive, uplifting way that was so unique and so different. I just knew it was something important.
It’s been 15 years for me in this band, and I’m still excited that this is what I’m doing. My life’s work is creating this music. This unique sound that just exist on its own. There’s a couple other bands you can compare to us in some ways, but there’s just nothing really like what we do. We’re all aware of that. We’re all very happy that the four of us are able exist in the sonic space together. It’s beautiful for me. We do it for people who enjoy it and get it. I think that’s a super important thing. We don’t have any plans to stop.