Rwake Vocalist CT on Long-Form Music, Arkansas, and Cough Syrup

Rwake. The “R” is silent, the band is not. Like the howl of the starving Wendigo in the wooded darkness, the music of this Little Rock, Arkansas, band has haunted the minds of those metal fans looking for something more than the showy prog riffage of Mastodon or Kylesa, something ugly and sludgy and beyond the starched realms of sobriety. And with Rest, their fifth full-length and first album in four years, Rwake have brought a strange, airy sense of down-home tranquility to their otherwise soul-shaking sound.

When this writer connects with vocalist CT, he is watching a movie, sent to him by the desired director of Rwake’s new music video, of a pig being tortured. “Not tortured to death,” he chuckles, “but it’s footage from a hog farm. It’s almost worse. I’m like, ‘Jesus, kill the poor thing already!’”

REVOLVER Rest seems like a very Rwake album, but it sounds very different from you guys’ previous stuff.
CT Thanks, man. We’re always trying to grow. That’s really what we’re doing here, is trying to grow.

Is that a concerted effort, or does it just happen in the jam sessions?
We probably made a conscious effort—we probably talked about it, but even when you talk about it, it’s more of a subconscious thing. When we were writing these songs, we didn’t want to stop writing them. There were times when we’d finish the song at seven minutes and be like, ‘Nah, this one’s gotta be 140minutes!’ We were having so much fun, and we were so wrapped up in the writing, that we really didn’t think any of these songs were that long because they felt so right. We didn’t consciously say we wanted the songs to be bigger.

The songs are pretty long overall.
Me and Jeff [Morgan, drums] talk about our songs a lot, especially about the slower, chiller parts, and it’s what we like a lot in the band. I would say that it was more like the band as an entity. We didn’t want to make them like Rwake, they just really flowed that way. And honestly, they were gonna be longer. We trimmed every song on the album by at least two or three minutes. Jeff will write a lot of it, and it was a lot of him coming back and being like, ‘Nah, guys, that doom part is too long.’ That’s most of what it was—the editing of the doom part. I’m the kind of guy who always thinks, The longer, the better.

This album, similar to If You Walk Before You CrawlYou Crawl Before You Die, but different from Voices Of Omens, seems to a collection of songs working with each other, creating one sprawling, flowing piece.
I would agree with that. It’s hard for me, because they’re all our albums, but I definitely felt that connection. It’s a lot like that. It’s just like… I just finished this film Slow Southern Steel [a documentary about Southern underground metal], and when I finished it, it was nothing like what I started with. All of these pieces and questions and answers became a film that stood on its own. And that’s exactly like what this album has been, how Walk is, too. It’s almost like the band, together and individually, decided to make it this flowing piece. That’s just where we’re at. Voices is completely different, more of a collection of songs, you know. I felt that from the very beginning. It sounds like feeling, you know? The way it goes together. It’s like a concept, but not a concept, a musical one. It flows together.

It’s very satisfying—a band like Rwake does well with that grand, long-form style.
Definitely. I mean, we’re all very country, very redneck, but this has a classical feel to it. This album is more like a classical piece, you know. There are only four really big songs, but the rest are more like movements. When I listen to, like, [“The Czar”] off of [Mastodon’s Crack The Skye]—those songs are movements. Or musicians like Wolves in the Throne Room. It’s very different from a song. You don’t really want to put ‘em on in the car and drive around. It’s hard to drive around jamming to Neurosis. We know that if wrote shorter songs, they’d be more digestible, and a lot more doors would be opened for us, but we’re just not into that. I don’t know if we’ll ever write a short song again, honestly. It’s looking kind of grim. The bigger it is, the more we put into it. We’re not really ever going to do that…we’re all family men, you know, so we have no plans to try and be rock stars on that level. It’s like, if you write a four minute song, people might like it, but if the intro to your song is four minutes, that’s when you can really get into it! We have to write these big songs to satisfy us. The longer we write them, the bigger movements we make, the longer we have to find ourselves in the song. And that’s all we get out of it, you know, at this point.

That’s funny, because it feels like most musicians take the opposite attitude—”The music industry’s dead. The only way to make money is to tour our asses off.”
That’s a hard one to comment on, because I have friends out there who are making a lot of money now when [before] they weren’t making any money whatsoever, and their songs have gotten shorter. Not worse, not better, but definitely shorter. And I wonder sometimes, Man, Rwake could be making a lot more money with shorter songs, touring all the time. But…for some of these guys, touring all the time is their only source of income. And you gotta wonder when it turns into a bad thing. You wonder which of these guys are still making music for the right purpose, or if it’s just to keep the bills paid. It’s hard. I hate to even talk about this kind of stuff. But when I hear a band who I know is so incredible, who I know can write some of this shit with their instruments, and they’re not doing it, it’s sad for me. I like to be that force pushing my peers, you know? Like, it’s the hope that they can see you doing something huge, and incredible, and wonder if they can do that too. To us, this is art. That’s what we do. It’s like painting a picture. That’s maybe why we don’t tour like that anymore, though even when we did tour, we were never concerned with the money.

The name Rest and the cover of the album are very different from the usual Rwake fare. What picture is this album trying to paint?
It’s definitely an album with a feeling behind it. A lot of our friends see the cover and the album title and say things like, “…Is Rwake breaking up?” Which is awesome! It’s amazing how you can get people so riled up with such a simple photo. We were struggling with it a little bit at first, with the art and the title. With the songs being so big, we were looking for something bigger, a bigger title. It was around the time when it was taking so long for the album to get out. We get all these these eyebrows raised, people asking, “What’s going on?” We like it—make it very simple, get ideas across, put it in your head without us really saying anything. It’s a real less-is-more feeling. The title came up around the same time as the artwork—it was a perfect thing that came about at the same time.

Through all of the sludgy, progressive metal that’s come out of the American South in the past few years, Rwake has always remained scary. Why? Is it something about Arkansas as opposed to, say, Atlanta?
It’s much more small town here. Where I live right now is kind of a small little suburb, but right down the road you’re surrounded by woods. The mentality is so small here. It’s what you think of—racism, bigotry… I mean, I don’t want to live anywhere else. It’s the most beautiful place in the world. But it is fucked up as Hell at the same time. It’s like going back in time here. We have a member who lives about an hour out on the side of a fucking mountain. All of this kind of stuff really has to do with our music. A lot of the stuff comes out when you’re alone out on the side of the mountain. When your wife and kids are gone, it’s just you alone out in the woods in the darkness. I think it’s atmospheric—you’re surrounded by woods, by darkness. Whether you know it or not, it effects your psyche. A lot of these bands from here, from places in Louisiana and Mississippi, have that. If you’re sludgy and doomy, you’re going to be even more so if you’re from a shit town in the middle of nowhere down here.

The ‘R’ at the beginning of your name obviously has to do with your Robitussin use, and many folks I know who have seen you guys live have commented on your cough syrup use onstage. Is that inherently part of the band?
Totally. I mean, we don’t only drink cough syrup, and we don’t do it as much as we used to, but we’re really down with the totally awesome way it feels. It’s crazy how some fans take it to heart—we have kids in the front row of our shows where I’m like, “Dude, you’re a fucking zombie.” It’s just our thing. Especially in small town spaces—a lot of kids around here will chug cough syrup, or huff shit, whatever’s over the counter. That’s where we come from, that’s who we are.

 

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