Interview: Tower Hill

Most of you probably know that we are very fond of the Canadian metal scene on our blog. Therefore, it was high time to dedicate ourselves to Tower Hill from Edmonton on this platform. We spoke with band founder R.F. Traynor – the result is an extremely interesting interview that increases the anticipation for Tower Hill‘s upcoming debut album.

André: Thank you very much for taking the time for us. How are you?

R.F.: Hi André! Thank you for having me! We’re pretty good. All of us are very busy working at finishing up the last bit of recording for our debut album. I think we have a couple extra solos here & there to round it off before we send it off for mixing and mastering. We’re very excited to finally have this one ‘in the can’ so to speak!

André: What was the last album you listened to before this interview?

R.F.: The last full album I listened to was Kingdom of Exiles by The Privateer. It was pretty sweet, a unique take on folk/power metal with some blast beats and melodic death/black influence that caught me off guard. I’m also trying to catch up on a few releases I missed last year, so I’ve got the new Fer de Lance, Arrayan Path, and Validor albums on deck.

André: Are you a vinyl freak? Or do you not really care about the format?

R.F.: I think I can speak for the rest of the guys when I say we all appreciate vinyl. I’ve got a collection going and there’s nothing more satisfying than hearing one of your favourite albums on vinyl for the first time. I treated myself to an old copy of Scanner’s Hypertrace off Discogs last year and it was wild how much more comes through dynamically compared to listening on headphones, especially with the bass and kick drum. That said, I’m probably bigger on cassettes than vinyl. Shipping on records has gotten so expensive the last few years especially to Canada, and cassettes are more portable and cheaper to produce while still having the vintage warmth that you kind of lose on digital.

André: There are probably a few readers who don’t know Tower Hill yet. Please tell us something about your band history so far.

R.F.: I founded Tower Hill as a solo project back in early 2020. During the first COVID lockdown here in Canada, I spent the time listening to a ton of old school heavy metal, mainly a lot of Riot and Stormwitch and Running Wild and I got inspired to start writing. I spruced up a few riffs and ideas that I had kicking around and that evolved into the three songs that made it onto our demo tape. I was pleasantly surprised at the hype and traction the demo received and decided to turn Tower Hill into a full band. I reached out to Cristian, who I had jammed with in the past and always wanted to start a project with, and recruited Cam, Jeremy, and Mitch from my other band (Valyria) and we started to jam together. We played our first show here in Edmonton with Riot City in late 2021. It was really cool taking Tower Hill from a lockdown idea all the way to a live band about to release our debut album!

André: February 2021 saw the release of Fighting Spirits, which is classified as a demo on Metallum. How did the feedback turn out?

R.F.: Frankly, the feedback totally blew me away. It was way, way, way bigger than I had expected and I am still so thankful for all the friends and fans who listened to the tunes or bought the tape. We did a run of 100 tapes which sold out in about six months, and ended up doing a second run which I think is down to about five or six copies left now? I really need to thank the NWOTHM Full Albums YouTube account for sharing it when they did, as we got a ton of views off of that which turned into plays and sales on our Bandcamp. I can’t say enough how useful Bandcamp is as a platform – Tower Hill would not be where we are today without it.

André: Tower Hill are a classic underground band that lives on mouth-to-mouth propaganda. How difficult is it to get noticed these days, given the flood of releases?

R.F.: That’s a difficult question. I think we really lucked out with our demo, with releasing it when we did and especially with the support we’ve had from friends and fans sharing the music and posting about us. Blogs and review sites like yourselves also do heavy lifting in giving bands a platform to be heard outside of the ‘algorithm’ or whatever that pushes music content down on social media. Of course the internet is important, like posting and making it clear you’ve got music in the works, but the real world is even more important in my opinion – getting involved in playing and supporting shows and bands locally as well as regionally. Connecting with people who ALSO make music but who don’t live in your town or city is a really great way to promote your band. We’re playing old school music, and old school methods like just giving someone your tape or buying them a beer go a long way and are underrated these days. For example, I went to Hell’s Heroes in Houston last year and caught up with old friends and made many new ones and hustled a few tapes, and there’s that many more people now for whom Tower Hill is like, on the radar when it wasn’t before even if we’re not playing these big fests and stuff yet. It’s difficult though, we’re all working or in school and it’s a constant struggle to have the time and the money to promote your band while supporting others, online or offline.

André: I’m glad to hear you’re working on new Tower Hill songs….

R.F.: We’re actually just wrapping up our debut album and it will be released on vinyl and CD by one of my absolute favourite record labels. It should be out this fall/winter if all goes to plan. I would love to talk about it more, but I don’t want to ‘scoop’ myself before we officially announce everything. I can tell you that the album has a bunch of brand-new songs, as well as updated versions of the demo tracks with new guitar solos, some new vocal parts, and an updated mix/master. We also got to work with one of the best artists in heavy metal history to paint the cover, which hits squarely in that mid-80s sword-and-sorcery movie vibe. It’s fast, heavy, and melodic and if you enjoyed the demo you will like the album even more. We’ve got about another ten or twelve songs in the works right now for future releases, besides the ones that will be coming out on our first album.

André: How important are the lyrics to you? And how do they usually come about? Is there always the music first – and then the lyrics? Or can it also be the other way round?

R.F.: Lyrics are very important. They set the ‘vibe’ of the song and are your chance to tell a story. You’ve got a captive audience listening to you, so tell them something that will stick with them! We’ve got songs about drama and fantasy or sci-fi stories, as well as more party-oriented songs like ‘The Claw is the Law’, but I feel like our lyrics are always fun. It’s tough to say what comes first. We don’t really have a hard and fast approach. For my songs, I’ll usually think of a ‘hook’ or some sort of melody that forms the basis of the song. It could be on guitar and become the main riff or it could be sung as a chorus, and then the rest of the song gets built around that hook. With ‘Antigone’ for example I thought of the words and melody for the chorus first. But for ‘Claw’ and a couple songs on the new album, it was the guitar lead or main riff that developed first and took centre stage.

André: Which albums released in 2022 did you enjoy the most?

R.F.: My number one album from last year was Luzifer’s Iron Shackles. It’s so fun and infectious and epic and dorky in the best way and I totally adore it. I probably listened to it at least thirty or forty times alone last year. I do metal nights at a local bar and ‘Attila’ or their ‘Der Goldene Reiter’ cover is always on the playlist. I also really enjoyed the debut from my good friends in Power Paladin, just absolutely classic, well-executed power metal that takes itself just seriously enough while still having a fun time. It was a really good year for old school metal too, with big releases from Night Cobra, Riot City, Spell, Sumerlands, Merciless Law, Midas, etc… Also not a full-length album but I definitely have to plug Kontact’s First Contact EP. We played a couple gigs with them last year and I was totally blown away, great songwriting and a really unique sound.

André: The Canadian scene has been producing very talented young bands for years. Do you perceive this in the same way?

R.F.: Absolutely! The thing about the Canadian scene is that it’s very spread out. For example, I feel more in the loop with music and bands that are coming out of Vancouver or even Seattle than I do Toronto or Montreal. It’s difficult too in Edmonton, because we are basically the northernmost and most isolated major city. But there’s a TON of fantastic bands out here in the West. You’ve got giants like Unleash the Archers & Striker, and lots of incredibly talented bands that I think are cruising for greatness, like Riot City and Traveler out of Calgary, or Spell and Gatekeeper from BC. Western Canada itself feels pretty tight knit. Our goal is to take Tower Hill to that same sort of level and eventually break out of the Edmonton/Calgary bubble, and every band we’ve had the chance to get to know or perform with has been super supportive, helpful, and welcoming in that regard. I am very proud of and grateful for the growing old school or traditional heavy metal scene here in Western Canada and I’m always stoked to see those bands get on solid fests and tours!

André: Do you have an insider tip from your home country that our readers and we should definitely check out?

R.F.: I have three tips! First, track down a copy of the Trapped Under Ice compilation from Temple of Mystery Records or check it out on Bandcamp. It’s a really great primer on modern Canadian heavy/traditional metal and a great listen all the way through. Next, mark your calendar for Hyperspace Metal Festival in Vancouver this April. It’s the best chance to see a ton of epic, power, and melodic heavy metal bands from Canada and even the US all in one place, and it’s a super well organized and growing festival that will only get bigger in the years to come. A few of our friends are playing this year, and we’re shooting to land a spot sometime in the future! Finally, check out Edmonton’s Arcane Tyrant! They play really solid epic/heavy/traditional heavy metal and they just put out a great album last year called Heavy Metal Force with rad artwork from Duncan Storr. Don’t miss it.

André: On our blog, we mainly deal with music that can be said to have epic elements. How would you define the term epic?

R.F.: Oh man, that’s a tough question. I think there’s a couple ways to define it. You’ve got like ‘epic metal’ as a genre, like stuff like DoomSword, Manilla Road, Atlantean Kodex, Isen Torr, etc. where it doesn’t really fit squarely into doom, power, or heavy metal, but kinda rocks around all three while having that big, broad ‘epic’ sound. But I think that sort of ethos or ‘epicness’ isn’t confined to having big and long songs and the chunky monolithic riffs. I think for me it has to deal with the scope or the vibe – if something is grandiose and has big storytelling and an antique flavour that comes through in the music then it’s epic. I wouldn’t go as far as saying Tower Hill is an epic metal band, but we have epic songs. ‘Antigone’ fits the bill for sure, and there’s a couple songs on the upcoming debut including the title track plus some future ones we’ve got in the works which strike a similar tone.

André: Last question: What is your opinion on streaming? It’s often a very controversial topic here.

R.F.: I think that Spotify and stuff like that has definitely screwed bands over by not providing compensation proportional to the work put in, but on the other hand, it’s a very useful tool for discovering and sharing music. Plus, no one goes into heavy metal with the goal or expectation that they’ll be rich off of it, and I feel like the very rare few bands that become wholly self-sufficient off of their musical success would have done so anyways with or without Spotify. That said, if you like something, go buy it! I am a huge supporter of Bandcamp and Tower Hill quite frankly would not exist without it. Bandcamp’s ability to allow artists to connect with fans and sell merchandise and music directly to them is revolutionary, and unlike Spotify the company prioritizes ensuring that artists get paid for their work and products. So find music on Spotify or YouTube or whatever, and then buy it on Bandcamp or directly from the label or your local record store. Besides the financial stuff, my concern with streaming is how it has impacted the way albums are released and promoted, and forces labels to play into the same game even if they don’t really want to. For example, Blind Guardian put out four singles for a nine-song album last year and by the time it was released, all the mystique and hype for the album release was gone for me. That sort of over-promotion is necessary to keep up with the single and playlist-based listening experience most people use Spotify for at least in a mainstream sense, but has the effect of compromising the vitality of the album as a unified, stand-alone work. So please of course listen to our single when we release it, but then sit down and listen to the full album in one go, too! 

André: Thank you for this very interesting interview. I wish you and your band all the best for 2023, we are already looking forward to new music from you!

R.F.: Thanks for the opportunity to chat. Stay tuned for more updates very soon!

Tower Hill on Bandcamp.

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