Sumac: Art-metal duo

by RODNEY LOTTER

From an outsider’s perspective Aaron Turner seems like a busy man. A quick glimpse at his Wikipedia page lists at least a dozen musical projects he has been involved in, not to mention he was the founder of the legendary record label Hydra Head Records, which went under in 2012 after churning out some of the best heavy music in the country for nearly two decades. Yet, Turner is perhaps best known as the former guitarist for the post-metal outfit Isis, and as the current guitarist for the sludge doom band Old Man Gloom. While both of these bands are heavy in their own right, Turner’s newest project Sumac, may be the heaviest and most intense of them all.

Turner had been kicking around the idea of starting a new band towards the end of his time with Isis. He said he wanted to explore new techniques with his songwriting and create a band that was more personally involved. Once Turner had a good idea of the direction he wanted to take with Sumac, he sought out a rhythm section.

“It was real important for me to find someone that was not only technically capable of playing my music, but that also lived in the general area I did,” Turner said, who resides on Vashon, Washington. “Many of the previous bands I’ve been in, the members were all spread out and it made it difficult to write new material, tour and record.”

Turner started asking around to find his band, which is when Kurt Ballou (of Converge fame) turned Turner onto Nick Yacyshyn, the drummer for Vancouver, B.C.-based hardcore band Baptists. Yacyshyn’s enthusiastic playing style (lots of facial expressions and generally insanity on the it) and interesting playing choices not only caught the eye of Ballou, but also of Dave Grohl who has repeatedly name dropped Yacyshyn as his favorite new drummer in numerous interviews over the last year or two.

After Yacyshyn and Turner practiced together, it became obvious that is was a good fit, Turner said. To fill out the lineup Turner went to his friend Brian Cook, who is a Seattle-based bassist and has played for Botch, These Arms are Snakes, and most recently Russian Circles.

While a band comprised of members from Baptists, Old Man Gloom and Russian Circles (of which they are all still members of) may seem like a recipe for a one-off supergroup or something like that, Turner emphasized that this is a real band and not just a side project.

“It’s important for me to have a focus and to record and play live constantly,” Turner said. “While side projects can be fun, there is something to be said for the traditional band dynamic and the chemistry that comes from three guys playing and practicing together with a singular goal in mind.”

The result of that singular goal is The Deal, Sumac’s debut release out last month on Profound Lore Records. The album was recorded by Mell Dettmer in Seattle, who is also known for working with Wolves In The Throne Room,  Sunn O))) and Earth, among others, and mastered by Ballou at his famed Godcity Studios in Massachusetts.

“I’ve always been into writing intense, heavy music,” Turner said. “But, with Sumac I wanted to create something a little more accessible, while also leaving room for improvisation and reinterpretation. Especially in Isis, we relied on that whole ‘loud/ quiet/ loud’ songwriting structure, which now seems so contrived and it got boring. I wanted to create something with more emotional content in it, rather than a musical project based more on the intellectual pursuit of the music.”

LIVE SHOW: Sumac stops at the Shakedown on March 14. The show will be Sumac’s first visit to Bellingham, and Turner’s first time ever playing a show here. For more information, check out facebook.com/SUMACBAND.