Friday, June 28, 2013

Interview with Rorik Brooks (Cloud Rat)


I first met Rorik in the spring of 2009 when Great Rev was starting. He jammed with us one day but decided distance and schedules would be too hectic to make it work. At any rate, I was immediately impressed by his energy and enthusiasm for music, as well as the fact that he just seemed stoked on life. Since then we’ve gotten to know each other more through shows, bonded over being dads, etc. He’s definitely become one of my favorite people.

As for Cloud Rat, I first saw them at a benefit show in a Detroit basement and was absolutely floored by the raw, emotional blasting they exuded. They’ve obviously come a long way since then, distinguishing themselves as probably Michigan’s hardest working d.i.y. band. I could be mistaken, but I don’t know of anybody else who has put out 2 LP’s, 2 split LP’s, a couple split 7”’s, some comp tracks, oh yeah and toured Europe, Canada, and the U.S. God damn!

It goes without saying it was an honor and a privilege to do this interview. Read on and be inspired!

You started out playing in bar cover bands when you were really young. Walk me through how you started playing music in general, and then how you got into punk, hardcore, metal, grind, etc. specifically.

Well, I started playing drums first when I was 12. My (then) brother-in-law was learning guitar, so we would play together all the time. Eventually I picked up the guitar, and taught myself how to play. Chris (brother-in-law) switched to drums, and we got a bass player and started a band called Haven. We wrote a bunch of radio-friendly tunes and did covers, playing at bars when I was only 14-15 years old and making bank! Haha. It was a pretty bad environment though in retrospect. I was doing drugs and drinking the whole time, and had a rough family life.

Backing up a bit, my first introduction to heavy music came early on. My mom got me a bunch of Christian metal tapes when I was eight or nine, bands like Deliverance, Mortification, Tourniquet, and Vengeance Rising. When I was 11, I was at record/CD store called Wherehouse Records, and I noticed a CD with a weird name: "FUGAZI - 13 SONGS". That shit was so different from everything else I was listening to at the time, I loved it. But I still had a ways to go obviously, and I didn't start getting heavily into punk/metal until I heard Hatebreed and Walls of Jericho. Steady progression from there. I started going to punk shows in 2001 from time to time, even though I was still playing bar band shit. Slowly I got more involved in the Mount Pleasant punk/radical community, going to potlucks and radical events as well as shows. Jimmy Stellwagen (Under Anchor/Old Soul) and I started a bad metalcore band and started playing a lot, mostly at Jamestown Hall in Saginaw, various places in Bay City, and the Wesley Foundation in Mt Pleasant. I did some short-lived death and grind bands after that, then we started Under Anchor. Everything changed after that and I pretty much have dedicated my life to punk since then.

In previous interviews you have referenced a lot of brokenness and misery that the three of you have experienced growing up. I remember a conversation we had a while ago in which you shared some of the tension you had with your father and how you felt like you were coming to a better place together. I’m wondering if you would talk a little bit about what that process has looked like as well as what lessons you draw from the way your parents raised you with respect to raising Lydia.

Whew... that's a doozy. Kinda hard to sum up, but I can try. I grew up in a pretty weird home. Both parents were/are very Christian, but pops used to be an alcoholic. My mother is so kind and compassionate, one of the best people I know. She put up with too much from my Dad. Physical violence was regular; the cops came to my house on multiple occasions. I moved out of and back into my parents’ house three times between the ages of 12 - 16. So the dynamic was basically like, Mom is so nice and too lenient, probably trying to make up for the harshness from Dad. I started smoking cigarettes when I was 10, weed at 11, drinking at 12, was arrested at 14, started doing drugs shortly after that. After my child was born and I dropped out of school, my dad gave me a job working for him (a job I still work at to this day). We've had a lot of extreme ups and downs since then, and it's been hard (to say the least) to move past shit and find a common ground. Just last year we didn't speak for months, even though I was still working for him... We are grown ass people, but it's still hard. I do think that a lot of progress has been made though, and right now we seem to be at a pretty good place. Honestly, it'll probably be a struggle we will always have. I love him, but it's a pretty complicated thing.

Now, on to raising my child. She has had a much, much different life than mine. Her mother and I split up when Lydia was still a baby, but we get along really well so she's had a stable upbringing with a lot of love coming in from all directions. She meets a lot of people from different walks of life due to my involvement with radical punk/vegan/queer community, my parents’ Christian background, her mother's more traditional life in a small town, etc. So I think she gets a good perspective on culture. I'd say that growing up how I did; I learned everything is about balance when you are raising a child. Being too severe doesn't work. Being too lenient doesn't work. Coddling and spoiling doesn't work. Everything in moderation. She hears cuss words, etc. I don't censor things too much, but I also try to expose life things at the right time. Encouragement, love, compassion, honesty, and stability are all keys to being a good parent I think.

Another parenting-ish question…I’ve read you are interested in certain elements of Eastern spirituality, it seems like (at least from seeing a couple random FB comments) your mother is a fairly committed Christian, I’m not sure where Lydia’s mom is on these questions, but how do you approach (or plan to approach) these kinds of complicated issues with her?

I'm interested in many religions, but mostly from a cultural/historical standpoint. I'm pretty firmly agnostic. I would say atheist, as I don't believe in a creator / god being, but that term just doesn't sit well with me personally. I've experienced a lot of crazy things and I firmly believe in spiritual energy and the like.

I talk with Lydia about this stuff often, and I encourage her to make up her own mind on it. She knows I generally despise organized religion, and I don't censor any feelings or facts about it. But I don't force her to believe or not believe any of this stuff. She's smart and will figure out her own way. There are a few things that I more strongly advise her, such as to not listen to dogmatic hateful crap like homophobic bigotry and the ever-present anti-woman sentiment in a lot of major religions, and I encourage the idea that heaven and hell are baloney. I remember being terrified of doing anything wrong or else I would go to hell. I don't want that stuff in her head.

She reads Harry Potter and other fantasy stuff, and I think she might believe in that more than any religion. Haha.

So you guys just got back a little while ago from a month or so run that took you up through Canada, all the way out West to Cali, and back. How did it go, how beautiful was western Canada in the middle of winter, and what were some of the unexpected things that happened; either good or bad?

That tour, for the most part, was really excellent. We took thedowngoing (Australian noisegrind) with us, and they are great guys. Almost every show was well attended, with a majority of them being packed. The Canadian Rockies are just fucking breathtaking. It feels like you are in the presence of huge ancient deities. Treacherous driving though. Whew!

Good things: We met some really wonderful people in nearly every city. We got to meet up with a number of great friends that we already knew too, so that was cool. We did some Canada dates with a band called Detroit who are really rad, and really young. 17-18 was the average age I think? But they rip. Did some dates with Black Hole of Calcutta in the Pacific Northwest, which was great. Partied in Reno til 8 AM. Vegas sucks. Oakland and LA rule.

Bad things: I got fairly depressed at some points. It's strange to feel alone when in giant groups of people, but that tends to happen a lot it seems. I had a pretty bad drunken night in Chicago, ended up breaking the door down at the Albion House at 5 AM cause we were locked out and it was fucking freezing. Oops! I offered to paypal them, but they said it was fine. Haha. Still feel bad about that one. I woke up in Olympia at 6 AM to Madison sobbing really hard, she had just gotten the news that her step-mother passed away. That was a really hard day. I blew up one of my amps and traded it in for a different one. Hmm. Lots happened but it's hard to remember it all right now.

Europe is on tap next. How much did you rely on the European bands you are touring with to book stuff vs. how much did you do on your own?

Lich, Resurrectionists, and Republic of Dreams have all handled most of the booking. I had a few contacts over there from trading and zines/interviews etc., but yeah, they handled most of that. It has been SO MUCH WORK doing this DIY though. From logistics (flights, buses, etc.) to getting merch printed over there, shipping records over, shipping our gear over (which was fucking expensive), so many emails and blah blah blah. Yikes! Nevin / IFB Records, Lars / React With Protest, and everyone in Lich have all been so helpful though, we couldn't have done any of this without them. Support them!!!

In the Decibel interview you did, you mentioned that you and Adrian wrote all the material not just for “Moksha”, but for the Republic of Dreams split, and a bunch of other random odds and ends as well in sort of a monster session. I’m curious how you go about writing that much music….do you just write stacks of riffs at home over a certain period of time and then bring them to Adrian, do you write on the spot at practice?

It's a pretty big mix of things. Generally I'll write a bunch of riffs on my acoustic guitar and then bring them to practice with Drin and we sort them out. A lot of times I'll have a whole song or a good idea of a song in mind, and then we take it from there. Sometimes we come up with stuff while jamming, and this time around we wrote like 4 - 5 songs in the studio. That was a first for us, but those songs turned out really neat.

In terms of recording with Kevin, I know a lot of bands will talk about the person they record with as an extra member of the band, and I would imagine some of that dynamic exists with you guys as well seeing as you’ve recorded probably upwards of 50 songs with him in the last 3 years, so I’m wondering how involved he is in the songs themselves. Does he ever pull you aside and say like “Dude that riff sucks, change it” or “Adrian’s drum parts are weird”, or does he pretty much stay out of the way and just capture what you guys are doing sonically?

53 songs I think. Plus 6 Under Anchor songs! Kevin is a fucking dream to record with. I've never recorded with anyone before who makes the process so comfortable and who knows what we want. Generally he stays out of it, but he has a good ear and has definitely made some suggestions from time to time. When it comes to mixing, he is a champion. He has probably been a big influence on our sound, more than I know.

To me, it seems like the lyrics to "Moksha" are much more straight-forward than your previous material. Was this a conscious approach for this record or just perhaps a reflection of where you and Madison (and Drin if he contributed to lyrics) were at this time around?

Madison writes all of the lyrics, and I think it was just what she's been producing really. Plus I think she has grown as a writer since the first record.

I did write most of the lyrics (first time for Cloud Rat) to the song "Infinity Chasm", and you can tell because they are very straightforward. It's a thought that I've had for a while, and as soon as we wrote the music for that song, I knew what I wanted the vocals and lyrics to be.

Was there something specific you wanted to accomplish with "Moksha" that you felt you hadn't done with the previous releases, whether that be sonically, lyrically, etc.?

 Only that we didn't want to repeat ourselves, and we just wanted to make the best album that we could.

You are by far one of the most dedicated people I know when it comes to music. From booking shows, taking a stab at running your own record shop to now playing in one of the hardest working d.i.y. bands on the face of the earth all while raising a child and working other jobs; what keeps you involved, excited and passionate about doing music?

Haha thank you! Hmmm. Pretty good question. On one hand, it keeps me sane. It is pretty much my biggest motivator in life besides my daughter. Honestly, at this point, I don't even know what I would do or how I would function without being involved. This world seems like it is so fucked, and the music/punk/metal/whatever community is something that kind of keeps me grounded and gives me a sense of purpose and direction. It's awesome to meet so many different people from all over the world. Help them out, they hopefully help you out, everyone wins.

On the other hand, there have definitely been some times where I've gotten so discouraged and jaded because of all the crap that comes along with it. Exclusive elitist attitudes and cliques, holier-than-thou PC punks versus ignorant meathead morons, you know the drill. And there have been many times (record store being a good example) where the effort put in just leaves me feeling empty and frustrated, and also broke. Haha. But you just have to get through those times. No matter what someone chooses to do in life, there will always be dummies and there will always be hard times. Keep going.


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