At a time when sludge fans are being sold their favourite tipple heavily cut and in short measure, Demonsmoke are the real deal and “Morphine Moonshine”, their first full-length, is an accomplished debut.
It draws directly and joyously from an esteemed musical heritage that takes in early Sourvein and the first two Eyehategod LPs, and draws alongside the sounds of Weedeater and Dopethrone. And like those heavyweights, Demonsmoke are steeped in hard living.
“We're from the slums of the [San Joaquin-Sacramento River] Delta,” explains drummer Mitch Groseclose, alluding to another Delta notorious for paradoxically serious partying and swollen grooves. “We just try to recreate the attitude of where we live.”
Demonsmoke grew up together in
mostly meeting in the local high school apart from bass player Boug Groseclose
who is Mitch’s
uncle. Eight years after high school, Mitch met guitarist Vinny Messina again at a party and
soon after they began jamming together. Nothing was to come of that, but after
the abrupt end of the band Mitch and vocalist Cam Salas were both part of, the way
was paved for the three to come together, Mitch then bringing in Boug to complete the rhythm section. Antioch, California
“We love heavy shit and having a good time,” says Mitch. “We decided to start a band that sounds like the music we all love to listen to.”
Woozy, iron heavy guitarwork punching through feedback, lo-fi film samples lifted from Mitch's large VHS collection (notably Gummo, The Wild Angels, Apocalypse Now and GG Allin), and overlaid with reverb-sodden bong-gurgle vocals. There is no ambiguity as to the kinds of record collections that inspired the creation of “Morphine Moonshine”. The sound is unashamedly classic sludge, and the band are keen to point out the help they had in creating it from Greg Wilkinson at Earhammer Studios,
“Recording the album was an amazing experience” says Mitch. “[He] really knows his shit! We showed him the demo, recorded by Nick Masson at Blue Rock Studios two years earlier, and he was down to record the full length. We were super excited and all ears when we showed up in the studio. Greg made sure all of our gear sounded tits before we even put a microphone to them. Our vision of the album came out better than we could have hoped. Crispy, crunchy, fuzzy as hell, but you could still hear everything clearly. Greg is a super nice, down-to-earth guy and knows his shit about more than just recording. He dropped tons of wisdom on us and the whole experience was enjoyable as hell.”
Beyond the music, the record also adheres closely to sludge traditions thematically. The band name, album’s title and artwork, as well as individual song titles like 'Set in Stoned’ and album highlight 'Junkie’, signal the group's subcultural position unabashed.
“Wouldn't be stoner rock without some stoners in the group!” says
Now that Proposition 64 has passed making the sale of recreational marijuana legal in
surely life has never been so good for stoners. California
“We're not political in our music, but personally I think legalization is a double edged situation,”
muses. “On one hand I’m glad to see more
acceptance of weed, but on the other hand big business is going to try and get
involved and I don't want it to get all commercialized.”
Mitch is also unsure about what the new legislation means. “Weed has always been my drug of choice. I grew up with ADHD and all those fucking speed pills, so smoking pot seemed like the natural medicine to me. I've had my medical card for nine years now and really enjoy the system. Prop 64 wasn't necessary, I think, because things were already set up if you wanted them to be.
“I've tried almost all drugs,” Mitch continues. “I had a big psychedelic phase. Mushrooms, LSD, DMT, 2C-I. I loved opening up my mind. Now I mostly just stick to weed and hash. I'm a big-time dabber!” he laughs.
While not all the band indulges, Mitch isn't the only member to have broader tastes in this regard.
“Well I used to pretty much do whatever I could get my hands on,” Vinny admits. “Went from smoking weed, droppin’ acid and eating shrooms to doin’ coke and oxy. Got into a lot of trouble with crank there for a little while, but now all I really do is drink. Got me a class A and I'm drivin’ big rigs now so I can't fuck up and come up dirty, ya know?”
Listening to “Morphine Moonshine” it's hard to imagine any of the band not coming up dirty. This record would impart a hazy high to even the most hard-bitten prohibitionist who ventured to listen to it and is a tonic for any hangover. It's as if the thing was crafted with an alternative harm reduction motto in mind: Crush. Dab. Weight.
“Morphine Moonshine” is available here