Going the Distance

The triumphant, uneasy reunion of Floor.

When news first broke that the members of Floor were reuniting (again), putting out a new record, and going on tour, there was a collective sense of excitement among heavy music fans. This is a band that had never really gotten its due. Founded in 1992, Floor — singer/guitarist Steve Brooks, guitarist Anthony Vialon, and, most recently, drummer Henry Wilson — play a straightforward style of detuned heaviness, more dynamic than droney, but also singular in its mission to obliterate tall buildings. Yet its career was marked by starts and stops, personnel changes, and a certain lack of focus. As a result, the band never rose above cult status.

But after Floor broke up, things changed, largely due to the success of Brooks’ subsequent band, Torche. Torche, which took some of the detuned heaviness of Floor and gave it a healthy shot of adrenaline, helped renew interest in Floor. Then in 2010, with the release of a massive eight-CD boxset, Floor embarked on a reunion tour. The audiences for those shows were bigger than the members of Floor had ever experienced. Whereas they used to play to a room of twenty or thirty, now they were playing to hundreds. It became clear the band still had legs.

But if there’s been one consistency in Floor’s career, it’s that nothing has ever been easy. In interviews, Vialon spoke of the tension that existed after the band’s initial breakup due to the fact that he was fired — abruptly so, according to him. In a 2010 interview with the heavy music blog The Obelisk, Vialon likened the band’s disintegration to a “horrendous breakup.” “I was bitter for a very long time,” Vialon said in another interview with the same blog in April.

Floor’s excellent new record, Oblation, seemed to indicate that the band had put any strife behind it. The record is a cohesive work of drop-tuned guitars, crashing cymbals, soaring vocals, and catchy melodies — a fuzzed-out monstrosity. Reception of the record has been largely positive (I gushed about it in these pages a few weeks ago).

And yet, as a recent interview backstage at San Francisco’s Elbo Room indicated, tension within the band hasn’t entirely dissipated, and it didn’t take long for those feelings to bubble to the surface. The band engaged in some heated discussions about fame, lyrics, and the past, leading to some eye-rolling and even raised voices. Perhaps you could’ve chalked it up to the fact that the dudes had just been cooped up in a van together for hours.

But also, as Vialon indicated, musical partnerships are very much like romantic ones. There are emotions, egos, and personalities involved, and negotiating those differences can be as fraught as it is in any marriage. There’s also the issue of geographical distance to contend with. Both Vialon and Wilson live in Florida, while Brooks now lives in San Francisco, having moved from Atlanta (his Instagram handle is “longdistanceman”). So there’s not only figurative distance between them, but physical distance, too.

Not surprisingly then, the decision about whether to make a new record wasn’t an easy one. In light of the band’s successful 2010 reunion, Wilson decided they shouldn’t keep playing old material — they needed to put out something new. Vialon said Brooks was wary at first. “I wanted it to sound as close to the self-titled [album] but moving forward,” Brooks explained. “So what I was worried about was not sounding as good as the last record.”

Brooks said he didn’t want any of Torche’s sound to influence the project, so he told Vialon and Wilson to come up with material. Luckily, that wasn’t difficult. “I put together roughly twenty songs, or material for about twenty songs — some that were complete, others, when I got together with Henry, [we] torqued them,” said Vialon. “I sent those to Steve and he said, ‘Oh yeah, we’re doing this.'” Brooks ended up contributing his own ideas to the project, including three songs (“Homegoings and Transitions,” “The Quill,” and “New Man”).

While the music seemed to come together fairly easily, lyrics were another matter. Instead of composing separately, as they had for the instrumentals, all three got in a room together to work out the words. Many of Oblation‘s songs discuss relationships and matters of the heart, as well as spiritual and personal betterment (“oblation” refers to an offering to God). And it’s clear the three weren’t always in alignment on the subjects.

“For Steve, melodic satisfaction tends to come first,” said Wilson. “And he’s always waiting for it very randomly. We definitely didn’t all agree with certain lines that would come up and it’d be like, mm, okay. You definitely have an opportunity. It’s not trying to preach to anybody, but if you could write a story, write something that has something to it, some flair, it would be a waste of an opportunity, I think, if it didn’t access something deeper. That’s really where people tend to connect with people, if you go deep and reveal more.”

“Well, Floor prints their lyrics and Torche doesn’t,” Brooks countered. “I tried making sense out of things and with melodies and everything, for me, not being a storyteller, it sounds stupid to me. And then also, I don’t want to have to sing something that is really personal every single night on tour, and I don’t want to explain stories to people either. It’s good for people who have a vision and don’t mind that, but I don’t want to keep going back. I want to move forward.” (Consider lyrics such as be the light or nothing/first and last and always/see the light in knowing/by your will I keep going, from “Rocinante,” and all that slows us down/lift your head up/use this day somehow, from “Find Away.”)

When I mention that it seems as if Vialon and Wilson have a moralistic mission for Floor, Vialon responded, “Thematically, if there is something [to the lyrics, it’s] spiritual evolution, through relationships with people or the higher power, that’s where I’m coming from.”

Admittedly, it’s an interesting juxtaposition with the music, which is stupidly heavy at times. Vialon and Brooks detune their guitars to a low register, occasionally employing what they call the “bomb string” — a string that’s as detuned as possible while still keeping (semi) in tune. “With the bomb string and everything, there’s a sense of humor about it,” said Vialon.

“Oh, it’s Butthole Surfers all the way. It’s so ridiculous,” added Brooks.

Of course, a sense of humor is necessary for any relationship to survive. And now that Brooks lives in San Francisco and there’s a new Torche record and tour on the horizon (Brooks also expressed interest in starting a locally based project, and Wilson also has his own band, House of Lightning), it doesn’t look as if being in Floor will get easier anytime soon. Nonetheless, Wilson seems hopeful that the reunion this time around will last.

“To have the ability and not actually see that through, that’s ridiculous,” he said. “People spend their whole lives trying to get where we’re at and get a fraction of that. It’s a gift.”

Brooks’ response? “Keep writing, guys.”


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