The UK sludge quintet left their comfort zone and tackled a fear of choruses on their blood-curdling sixth LP.
Words by Jon Garcia
Paul Waller knew that OHHMS needed a change in direction.
The British vocalist vividly remembers the day he broached the subject with his bandmates.
“It was a really weird day,” Waller said. “I went into band practice and I just said, ‘I can’t… I just don’t want to do this anymore.’ Like, we’ve done every single thing that we’ve set out to do, I don’t want to do it anymore.’”
For well over a decade, OHHMS has buried their listeners in longform sludge, with multiple tracks nearing or eclipsing the 20-minute mark. Waller has sung about such cheery topics as global warming, politics, animal abuse and animal rights, as well an entire album focused on the tarot deck.
He’s immensely proud of what they’ve done, but he was tired of treading the same path. In fact, he felt an impulse to go in almost the exact opposite direction.
“I was just like, this practice can we just quickly knock out like three or four punk bangers? Let’s just go in here and just do it. Two minutes. Let’s just write riffs. They can be as shit as you like, doesn’t matter. Let’s just do it and let’s wash this out of our system.
“They looked at me like I was insane,” he said, but they humored him.
The results did not.
“The initial experiments were awful that day,” Waller said with a laugh. “It went down really bad … But even though that particular session was horrible and I’m really glad we didn’t record any of it, it really opened up the floodgates the following practice. Everyone was bringing their ideas and little things, it ignited a little spark in the band which I think we’d lost.”
Thus began the journey to their sixth full-length album, Rot: a lively romp through underground horror flicks that sees the band more energized than they’ve been in years.
Rot, however, almost didn’t come to be.
OHHMS had actually thrown in the towel during the pandemic.
“Just the fact that we exist after the pandemic is mad,” Waller said. “Because we were all ready… let’s all form separate bands, let’s go our separate ways.”
There were the normal challenges any band faced at that time, but nothing rocked them more than when their record label, Holy Roar Records, went under after multiple allegations of sexual assault and rape made against the owner. Many of its bands severed ties and all of the label’s employees quit.
But out of the ashes rose Church Road Records, spearheaded by Justine Jones and Sammy Urwin of Employed to Serve who’d for years had been OHHMS’ primary points of contact.
“They were like, you guys want to keep going? We’re still going. Different label now, you can come on board here, and we did! So it sort of saved the band, it saved our focus.”
Waller is effusive in his praise of the duo, crediting them as the reason why OHHMS still has riffs in their veins.
“To have them on our side, we’re the luckiest. They saved so many bands from splitting, just being there for them. Just picking up the phone for us. It was amazing. If it wasn’t for Church Road Records, we wouldn’t be a band.”
The support from Church Road Records – along with the decision to lean into music style they could have a bit more “fun” with – gave OHHMS a new lease on life.
Waller previously described their 2020 album Close as a “transitional” album. They did focus more on shorter songs on that album as well, but all of them were pulled out of more expansive pieces.
The songs on Rot were intentionally written to be short, sweet and memorable.
“We just started to pull out these ideas, and instead of this repetitious Melvins thing … let’s just do this twice, and then let’s stick this little chorus in and see what happens,” Waller said. “[We were] very reluctant at first, but as I say, for me I’d hit that cinder block. I didn’t want to go any further, I’d felt like we’d done it. It’s the same for anything in life. If you think you’ve achieved something and you’re an artist, why repeat it? You want to move on. It’s just the way it is.”
Despite getting out of their comfort zone, the writing process was the same as it’s always been, which Waller exclaims is the best part of being in OHHMS.
“Every album, they will all get together and they will write, but they bring their whole song – complete usually – into a practice room. I only join them when they’ve got pretty much a full song developed. I don’t even sing… I just sing melodies in the practice room and it’s not until the studio that that is when I’m just having one.”
Waller puts all of his lyrics, backing vocals and harmonies together at home, so his bandmates have no idea how the songs will turn out until he’s in the booth. He said it always drives their producer mad, but the songs always work out in the end.
“I love working that way. It’s such a surprise then, they have no idea what I’m going to do. It’s the best part of being in this band, is putting this together. I’m always the final piece of the jigsaw, and they always come with something good.”
But the music wasn’t the only thing to get a change of direction this time. Waller is a horror movie obsessive who started a podcast during the pandemic called A Year in Horror. At one point he was averaging three films a day.
To lean into having more fun with OHHMS, Waller convinced his bandmates to let him make every song on the new record be about a different horror movie.
While they hadn’t heard of practically any movie he offered – except for Swamp Thing – they gave him free reign to choose the titles. He had to leave many on the cutting room floor, but ended up narrowing the criteria down to two questions:
First, what were films he really wanted people to discover if, like his mates, they weren’t familiar with the titles? Second, what films meant something to him on a personal level, enough to sing about it every night and actually project himself into.
So Waller went with more underground flicks, leaving the heavy hitters until next time. He said if there’s ever a Rot Pt. II, Hellraiser, Midsommer and more will get their chance to shine.
Of course, there was still a real fear that what they were doing would fall flat on its face. Would the shorter songs play well with their audience? Would they care or even be interested about the horror angle?
“We have done [that] before,” Waller said, “where we’ve done an experiment and we did alienate some of our fanbase and we didn’t get them back. So it’s just one of those things where you’ve got to do it because that’s your artistic expression.
“But it is nerve wracking to know is this going to lose us more audience or is it going to gain us that new batch again like Close did. Yeah, you never know. You just go for it and we’ll see what happens!
“Either way, we’re not doing anything that’s fake so as long as that feels right with us, we’ll keep doing.”
Waller couldn’t be happier with how the record turned out. He said all the worries that come with the business side of being in a band – Will this sell? Will people care? Will they show up for the shows? – have melted away and he’s just happy to be playing these songs and feeling inspired again.
“What we’ve never been able to say before with Rot, is this album is actually full of bangers,” he said.
He recalled how one of their songs got airplay on Radio 1 when their first EP came out… all 16 minutes of it.
“What must people have thought to be hearing that? They’d just played Slipknot, and then you’ve got this 16-minute sludge thing from us. I can just see people going *dink* and turning it off,” he said with a grin.
“Now, I don’t think there is that. I think that these songs stand up against your most gnarliest, anthemic, shout along at a festival… and also if you want to get a bit more introspective, there’s loads of stuff on there. I hope people get that feeling that I do. For instance, I still listen to it myself. I never do that with my own records!”
OHHMS is playing a number of festivals this summer, including Bristol’s ArcTanGent in August. Then, after their gig at Damnation Festival in November, they’re doing something they’ve never done before: booking a week away together to see what they can produce when they’re all in the same room together.
“Is it going to work? I have no idea!” Waller said, giddy. “This is completely fresh. We just want to keep things new and exciting and alive. So yeah, it’s in the woods, so it’s on theme. We’ll see how it all goes! That’s what I’m so excited about.”
After all, OHHMS are just happy to have that spark back in the band.
“I just want to get in a room with my friends and see what we can create.”
Rot by OHHMS is available now via Church Road Records. Get the album – HERE