Orchid Guitarist Mark Thomas Baker Talks About New Releases & Writing Process

By Andrew Bansal

San Francisco-based doom rock quartet Orchid started out in 2006 and have slowly worked their way towards gaining a fan-following, more so in Europe than in America by their own admission. They signed to Nuclear Blast last year and released the ‘Wizard Of War’ EP on 10-inch vinyl a couple of weeks back as a teaser for their upcoming second full-length album ‘The Mouths Of Madness’. coming out on April 26th in Europe and on May 14th in America. Although this is a style of music which has been done before and is still being done by lots of other bands, there’s just that sense of honesty about Orchid, and the sheer quality of their songwriting, which makes the listener take notice. Recently, I spoke to guitarist Mark Thomas Baker to discuss these two releases, the writing process and more. Check it out below along with the new single, and visit Orchid online.

First of all, I wanted to talk to you about the ‘Wizard Of War’ EP, which is a 3-track release. What’s its purpose? Is it just like an appetizer for the full-length album coming up?

Yeah, it’s the first single for the album. We did the 10-inch vinyl format with the Heretic EP and Nuclear Blast really likes Theo’s artwork so they didn’t want to do just a 7-inch single, they wanted to do a 10-inch so that they could have a bigger format for the artwork. And then, that lent itself to finding a few other songs to put on there. So it’s really it’s just the first single with a bonus track and an old track in a gatefold cover.

So, is it only on vinyl? I don’t think you’ve really put out any CDs for this, right?

Yeah, no CD on that. It was very limited. I believe only 750 total between the three colors, and I see that they released the ‘Wizard Of War’ track digitally as well. But the bonus track was not released digitally.

Right, and talking of the full-length album ‘The Mouths Of Madness’, it’s coming out in late April in Europe and in May in the US. I believe it’s going to be a completely different list of songs, except for the single? It’s like two different releases for people interested in collecting both.

Yeah, definitely. Nuclear Blast really like doing that, to make some collectors’ edition or some special things available. I see that they do it with a lot of their bands regularly. They really do that well, with special packaging and stuff.

Listening to your past music and the new EP, I feel there’s a very jam-room type of vibe. Is that how you compose your music?

Well, it happens in a lot of different ways. There are times when whole songs are written and brought in, and that’s usually by Theo. He writes a lot of songs that are kind of like journeys with a lot of different parts in them. And then the ones that are simpler usually come from jam situations or having a riff at practice and someone else coming up with a part that they can add to it, interpreting it into a song. But a lot of our songs that have jams in them are usually things that we work out over time. We’ll have something we’re jamming on and after months and months of doing it, we kind of have certain things that we work out and keep intact, and may be there are other areas where we leave room to do a little more free-form, with 8 or 16 bars or something like that.

Another striking feature of the music is Theo’s vocals. It has a very resonating feel to it, kind of like early Sabbath or Pentagram. Does that make it more enjoyable for you to play your guitar parts, because these vocals are almost like an instrument on its own?

I absolutely love Theo’s singing. It’s really a pleasure to work with somebody who’s a great singer and really has a personality in his voice that stands on its own. It’s definitely a special thing and I’m really glad to be a part of it, honestly.

Would you say that your music on the record sounds close enough to how you sound live? I’ve never had a chance to see you on stage, so I was just curious about that.

I don’t know, people usually when they see us live for the first time after listening to recorded stuff, a lot of times they say, ‘Wow, you guys are way heavier live!’ I think there’s not as much subtlety live. When we record, there are a lot of different parts layered, like a couple of different guitar amps stacked together to kind of make a unique tone. And live is just kind of a ‘go for it’ situation. So I think we’re probably a lot more direct and heavier live, and we play with a lot of energy live. It’s like everybody is full-bore head-banging, and just a ton of energy. You try to make that come through in your recording but it’s just a completely different situation.

That’s very true. So, here’s one question I like to ask because every band seems to have a different answer. How did you actually get signed to Nuclear Blast?

Well, we had the first EP ‘Capricorn’ put out on a smaller independent label in Germany called Church Within, and at some point bigger labels started contacting us and asking what we were doing and what our contract commitment was, and this and that. Our contract with Church Within was just album to album, so we were free to do whatever negotiations we wanted for any upcoming albums. It got to the point where I think there were four bigger labels we were talking to, and Nuclear Blast was one of them. It just came down to us choosing them because we felt really confident in the people we met from the label. We felt like they had a plan for us, and that they were really honest about their intentions. We got a great deal. We were in no hurry to sign anything. We talked to these bigger labels for almost a year before we ended up signing. And I think that showed them that we weren’t in hurry or trying to rush to do anything. We’re just making music that we want to make, and we’ve found the right partner to help us get it out there to the world.

It’s great that you mentioned the fact that you waited around and did not rush anything. Even for the releases on Church Within, you guys started out in 2006 and the releases came about in 2011. So do you think that’s an important aspect, waiting to get things done on a professional level rather than rushing into it just because you’ve had the songs written for a while?

Yeah, it’s definitely important for us to get everything right. Theo is really kind of a control freak, but not in a bad way. He won’t say anything is finished until it’s exactly like he wants it. He’s really involved in the production and the mixing, and he does all the artwork. The whole thing is his baby. Capricorn took almost two years to make. We worked on the recordings of that and we ended up re-recording some of the songs a lot of different times over the course of a year because we just grew so much as a band and got so much better at playing them that the original recordings just didn’t stand up. So we ended up going back in, cutting new basics and doing our parts over again. This new album came a lot easier because we’ve been playing together for so much longer, but it still had some very, very challenging things in it that really caused a lot of growth, specially in my guitar playing. There were times where the part that needed to be recorded wasn’t something that was in my vocabulary. And there was one time when I even had to take a guitar lesson to really try to understand a jazzier feel and a different approach in my timings to get the part that needed to be on there.

Interesting! So, you mentioned that Church Within is a German label, and that’s where you first got noticed. Would you say that played a very important role in your development?

Yeah, I think that the style of music we’re playing, the fans in Europe in general are much more in tune with it. America just has a completely different attitude as a country and as music listeners. I’m sure there are plenty of people here that like what we’re doing as well, but Europe is kind of just more open and sort of non-judgmental. They are just interested in the sound, whereas in America it seems like they want to unmask you and see if you’re a poser or not, or something like that. It’s just a very disposable feel that we have over here, and I think being on German labels and touring a lot in Europe has really developed the attitude in our sound, for sure. I think the style of music we’re playing is more of a European style, honestly.

I agree, that’s true. Well, you’re supposed to be touring again in Europe with Witchcraft around the time of your new album’s release, but do you have any plans for the US later this year?

Not yet, but I’d like to see something develop, for sure. Right now this tour is on the books and I know there’s some talking about another European thing in the fall that covers some of the countries we haven’t been to yet and that aren’t going to happen on this tour, like Scandinavia and some more nights in Spain and Austria instead of just one night here and there. But, I think they [Nuclear Blast] really want to just want to wait and see how the album does in America. I’m sure a tour will develop at some point, but there’s really not any talk about that yet. I’d like to possibly work something out to do some shows here and there, may be go to the East Coast and do a week up and down there, and five or six days up and down the West Coast as well, at least try to get some of the bigger cities.