The first time I heard the name Thousand Foot Whale Claw I thought it was the title of a new High on Fire record. When I found out that wasn’t the case I may have been mildly disappointed. When I found out that Thousand Foot Whale Claw were in fact a drone loving, synth-heavy Krautrock four-piece that sound like a cross between everything that made Berlin School, THE Berlin School, I was overjoyed.
Thousand Foot Whale Claw is Justin Goers, Adam Jones, Zac Roesch and Neil Lord, and they are an Austin-based quartet who call Holodeck Records home. The band is made up of members of other bands such as S U R V I V E, Troller, Windows1995, Future Museums and Single Lash. TFWC are part of the Austin collective of electronic musicians pretty much putting heady electronic music back on the map. I don’t think Austin says they have a collective, but I’m officially saying it’s a collective here(that is unless someone else already has.)
I’ve jumped into the deep end of the Thousand Foot Whale Claw pool and it’s an amazing depth of sound and vibes. Their newest, the excellent Black Hole Party, is a very honed-in listening experience. They’ve left the drone excursions at the studio door in lieu of more concentrated sonic affairs. The results are six tracks that vary from air tight grooves that could easily make a club of sweaty zoners move a limb or two; to epic, spatial tracks that dissipate into the ether. Thousand Foot Whale Claw never lose the hypnotic and hallucinogenic vibes of their previous albums, they’ve just given us a concentrated version.
I threw ten questions out into the ether hoping to hear from Thousand Foot Whale Claw. Here are the responses. Enjoy.
J. Hubner: How long has TFWC been together? How did you guys get together? What other bands are you all in?
Thousand Foot Whale Claw: We have been releasing music since 2012 but our roots go way back to when 3/4 of us meet in college around 2003 or 2004 in a small town called San Marcos. For a long time it was just loud and thrashing bass and drums plus whoever wanted to play. Everything was mostly for fun, and it was only years later after everyone moved to Austin that we decided it was time to start up again.
Adam plays in S U R V I V E and Troller, Justin plays in Troller and Windows1995, and Neil plays in Future Museums and Single Lash.
J. Hubner: Where does the name Thousand Foot Whale Claw come from? I did actually Google to see if whales have claws.
TFWC: Justin made illustrations and studied printmaking in college, and he loves art in the style of Frank Frazetta. He made a print one day of this gnarly looking prehistoric whale with a giant claw and just ran with it for a band name. A lot of us had ridiculous band names back then, and for whatever reason this one stuck.
J. Hubner: What or who are the inspirations and influences behind the band’s sound? There’s definitely some Berlin School vibes, but especially with the new album there’s more modern touches as well as some great guitar work.
TFWC: Yeah we are big fans of all the classic Krautrock bands, especially Neu!, Manuel Gottsching and Tangerine Dream. We also love Om, Dawn of Midi, Pye Corner Audio, Kilchhofer, Sunn O))) and tons of others. We have always seen this band as platform for us to explore whatever we feel like. We all agree what Whale Claw is without a lot of talk about it, and that is essentially why we are a band.
J. Hubner: How do you guys feel your approach to the music has changed or evolved from the beginning? From something like Time Brothers where two songs cover nearly 45 minutes in Phaedra-like fashion, to Cosmic Winds with tracks winding down closer to the 5 to 7 minute range, to new record Black Hole Party with even more concise time frames, it feels like TFWC are honing in with each release.
TFWC: The theme of the first two cassettes Lost in Those Dunes and Time Brothers was huge and continuous walls of sound with a lot of layers and improv. That was fun for a while, but we eventually moved on. There are many directions we hope to take the band in the studio, and our sound has indeed evolved to be much more concise and composed. We love beats, riffs, sequences, chord changes, drops and all of the other things that make song writing interesting beyond tone exploration. We will probably continue to get more and more complex as we keep going, but will continue to put out a drone album from time to time.
J. Hubner: Let’s talk about the new record, Black Hole Party. How long was the writing/recording process for the album?
TFWC: It took a really long time to write and record these songs! It was hard, and at times we struggled a lot. Dylan Cameron produced this album and made it sound great, but he also creatively talked us back from the ledge in a lot of ways. Dylan played a huge role in getting this album made, and it would have been something completely different if it weren’t for him. We learned a lot in the process of recording Black Hole Party, and it’s going to make the next one even better.
J. Hubner: The album seems to cover many facets of electronic music, from the concise groove-inflected “Deridium Rail” and “Black Hole Party” to the more loose and free-floating “Naiad” and “Genesis Effect”, to even some acid freakout moments in album closer “Double Abyss”. Going into creating the record were there some definite ideas and vibes you wanted to hit? Or did you all just get in a room and see where it would go?
TFWC: We’ve always thought of us as a band for people like ourselves. If you like sci-fi movies and experimental music, then you can probably dig our band. Black Hole Party is unintentionally all over the place just because we had a lot of different song ideas. We did worry that this album may only make sense to us, but ultimately we make music to our own standards, and we feel good about the record.
J. Hubner: When Thousand Foot Whale Claw plays live, how does the band approach album material in a live setting? Do you typically stay true to the recorded versions, or does improvisation play a big role in the live experience?
TFWC: We usually use live sets to develop material for the next album. Mostly what we play now is post Black Hole Party, but when we do play an album track, it’s definitely a loose interpretation of the studio version. Whether or not we decide to perform a set with live drums or a drum machine dictates a lot. We like to play experimental drone sets, electronic sets with beats & sequences and loud full band sets with lots of shredding. We would like to incorporate all of them into one ambitious live set, but have not yet mastered an undertaking like that.
J. Hubner: There’s a video I often go back to and watch where Tangerine Dream performs in this old church. For me it’s just this overwhelming scene where these spaced-out German hippies are creating space and alternate universes within some ancient house of God.
What is one of coolest places Thousand Foot Whale Claw have performed?
TFWC: The coolest place that we played is on the campgrounds at LEVITATION fest a couple of years ago. Our set was at 2 in the morning after an evacuation notice with a thunderstorm approaching. The audience was insanely drunk and tripping on psychedelics, and they gave zero fucks about the storm. We had a great performance, and Kyle Dixon sat in with us processing the guitars and synths through his modular rig. It was fun!
We haven’t played at any churches, temples, graveyards, ruins or dunes yet, but we want to.
J. Hubner: I feel like in my lifetime, Austin has become a musical ground zero. A place where creativity and artistic individualism has grown by leaps and bounds. I think Holodeck has had so much to do with that, creating a space for these artists to flourish. What do you think it is about that area? I’ve always assumed it was Texas’ wide open spaces that overwhelm and open artists of every sort to think big when creating. I could be wrong, though.
TFWC: Austin is a great place for music, and musicians from all over Texas and the surrounding states gravitate here because of it. Everyone is in Austin to be somebody, and that energy makes a huge difference creatively. You can get noticed and “make it” here, which is pretty special and only exists in a few cities. We love Austin.
J. Hubner: What does the rest of 2018 have in store for Thousand Foot Whale Claw?
TFWC: We are writing and recording the next album right now. We will hopefully play some live shows and possibly even tour if scheduling works out. We have been happy with the response to Black Hole Party (the LP’s sold out on release day), and we are feeling pretty optimistic about the future right now.
Grab a copy of Black Hole Party here.