Interview with Alex Rydlinski of Turbid North

Photo: Kasi Daine

Originally from Alaska, self-proclaimed mountain metal outfit Turbid North now reside cozily in Texas. In June, with the help of Ironclad Recordings, the band re-released their 2010 album ‘Orogeny.’ The record not only showcases the quintet’s narrative songwriting and intrepid playing, but touts the progressive DIY approach that they live by. With a few tour dates lined up in July and August, Turbid North are continuing to bust out of their local scene and make themselves known throughout the metal community.

Right around the re-release of their latest album, guitarist Alex Rydlinski had a phone chat with Rock Edition about ‘Orogeny,’ signing with Ironclad Recordings, and his artwork. Head below to check it all out.

You guys independently released ‘Orogeny’ in 2010, and now it’s getting a second chance to shine. Was there any particular reason you decided to originally release the record on your own? Did you guys try shopping it around to labels at all?

Yeah, we sent out a few press packs of the album, and I think we sent out a few earlier demos before the album was even done. We got mixed response. The response we got back was like, “Keep us updated with your next project,” and stuff like that. We were like, “Well, we’re pretty fond of this project.” [laughs]

[laughs] Right.

The re-release is essentially the same artwork and the same mix of the music. The only thing different is that it’s a digipack now, so it’s going to look fancier, and the distribution is going to be great because it’s on the label. It’s very exciting, man.

You actually painted the artwork for the album, right?

Yes. I’m fortunate enough to do all the artwork in the band in-house.

Did you paint it just for the record or was this a piece you did prior?

It was done as the songs were coming together. All the artwork reflects all the lyrics from the album. We knew we wanted to make it very visual, especially since getting people to buy a physical copy of the CD is getting harder. We wanted to add a little extra. Also, we’re just big fans of Pink Floyd and bands that use visuals with their music. It’s nice to have stuff to look at while you’re listening to it.

Every song in the booklet has its own illustration that depicts what the lyrics are and gives you a little bit of a better idea about what’s going on. Nobody likes vague lyrics. It’s kind of cool to put yourself in it.

It’s definitely nice to be able to latch onto certain lyrics. If I can repeat the lyrics and maybe even understand what the artist is saying, I usually find myself being affected by that song so much more.

Yeah, exactly. Death metal has a problem — I love all kinds of death metal — and you don’t have to understand the lyrics, but if you can’t understand the lyrics then why do you write them and why are they important? But they are important, and Brian [McCoy] does a pretty good job of being heard, as well as Nick [Forkel] on the vocals that he does. We try to let you hear what we’re saying, and if not, it’s printed in there. We definitely think that lyrics are pretty important in music.

Absolutely. Well, unless we’re talking about instrumental music. Were you ever into the big guitar shredders: John Petrucci, Joe Satriani, Steve Vai, etc.?

Sure! Also, my brother and I were raised into the world of classical music, which is of course instrumental unless it’s an opera or something.

I’ve been to a few operas in my day. I think you can definitely draw parallels between opera and metal.

Opera’s the only kind of music that I can think of that’s like metal — it’s always high stakes and about life or death. They aren’t singing about hanging around a couch and pining over a girl. [laughs]

Exactly. It’s more about adventure and really risking it all.

Yeah, it’s good stuff, man.

Have you been drawing and painting longer than you’ve been doing music?

Well, all kids draw. I was just one of the ones who kept going for it. It’s the oldest thing I do that I can think of. Music was also always important. I got into playing music in elementary school. I originally played trumpet. But Adam, my brother, played drums and I always wanted to be able to play with him, so I picked up guitar.

I’ve always done our album covers. I never really took it too seriously, it was more of a hobby. I guess in the back of my mind I assumed if the band picked up that we’d probably have to hire somebody better than me, but I’ve continued to develop the artwork. I’ll always draw and paint.

What else do you work on besides album covers?

I do paintings on my own, but ever since we’ve been in Texas I’ve really just been working for our band or other bands doing t-shirts and album covers. I did a novel cover for Russell Connor. He’s a local horror novelist around here. That was pretty cool because I’ve always wanted to do a book cover.

Speaking of Texas, you guys moved there a while back from Alaska. Did the band make the move because you achieved all you could in Alaska?

Yeah. We were getting the opening spots for bands that were coming through. We opened up for Godsmack twice and Drowning Pool, and bands like that.

Which is cool.

Oh, yeah, those guys are all great. I would never talk bad about them, but they’re really not our style of music.

Yeah, that’s true.

So we wanted to play more with bands that we could convert more fans with. We had to get out of the area to do stuff like that.

Drowning Pool encouraged the band to move to Texas, right?

Yeah, they said it was a good spot, and we were interested because we thought — kind of foolishly — that touring would be a lot easier. We thought we could just get up and hit the different coasts easily. Once we got here, we realized that we did have to hold down jobs and the touring got set back. But we still got to play locally with lots of bands like Goatwhore and Weedeater. We started making friends and — you know, we met up with our English bass player and Texas singer. Our original Alaskan singer had to move back. After trying it out for some time, the lifestyle wasn’t for him. That’s okay. It’s not an easy thing to be dedicated to this all the time.

Totally. I think the idea of making connections from scratch can be quite intimidating.

It’s not easy, but we just tried to get on any show by any band that we thought was cool. We just try to steal all their fans all the time.

[laughs] Sounds like a good plan. Let’s talk about ‘Orogeny’ again for a bit. The record was pretty much done in the band’s home. Who is the engineer among you?

That would be our guitar player, Nick. Just like with me and the artwork, Nick did our first album and necessity kind of drove him to get really badass at what he was doing. When we started doing the ‘Orogeny’ demos, we were like, “Hell yeah, we don’t have to rent a studio!” Somehow everything has turned out pretty cheap for us. Not only cheap, but good too.

Do you feel like everything’s picking up?

Yeah, everything is picking up. And Ironclad’s cool because when you move down here you have folks that are signing to Warner Bros. or something stupid, but Trevor [Phipps] knows that we want to do what we want to do and not get so caught up in what’s going on in the scene or cranking out things that aren’t ready just to fit deadlines. He’s going to let us put out what we want to put out. He’s been there, and he knows the business and what it’s like to love what you’re doing and wanting to put out your best work. It’s a cool place for us right now. I feel pretty happy.

Turbid North – “The Hunter”

Did you guys have any fears before signing the deal with Ironclad?

We didn’t sign right away. I was determined to understand all that legalese the best I could. I really broke it down and made some notes. I couldn’t find anything that was too evil. [laughs] There was nothing in there that was set up to destroy us in a couple of years. Also, Trevor was really straightforward. If we had questions, we asked him and he would tell us the answer. It was all pretty standard. The other benefit we had was that our friends in The Destro, who are also from here and signed to Ironclad, had already been through the signing and released two albums through the label. We were able to ask them questions, too. We were comfortable with their advice, since they’ve been around the block a bit. It just seemed like the right decision. It was right around Thanksgiving that I think we got the first draft.

Awesome. Are you guys working on any new material?

We have a couple of riffs. I know my brother Adam, our drummer, has been dying to write some stuff. Mostly we’ve been trying to practice. We really want to make sure that we’re nailing everything. And there’s nothing better for your playing and the whole band experience than being on tour. Getting that tightness again, and knowing each others’ playing very well after playing every night together live will help sort out the direction of any new stuff. No rush, but we do have some ideas.

One step at a time.

Yeah. We’re excited, I will say that. We hope the next one will be as big a leap as ‘Orogeny’ was from our last one.

Pick up Turbid North’s latest album, Orogeny.

For the band’s upcoming tour dates, check out their Facebook page.