When the sonically-crushing beast known as Engineer began winding down after their third LP, “Crooked Voices”- a decidedly less hammering outing filled with different ideas and some new tricks- it appeared as if the three brothers within the band- Ryan, Brad, and Bob Gorham- were intent on running their business. Gorham Brothers Music began serving the needs of locals in a way that put the instruments of music in their hands instead of playing it for them. To be plain, they run a shop that sells music gear. It’s a great store and even has a performance spot where they would occasionally host shows. However, little did most people know that after closing hours the guys would continue to mess around with song ideas and slowly began rehearsing with drummer Aaron O’Hara, a friend from near their hometown of Parrish.
Slowly those ideas began to coalesce into something more concrete and they emerged from the shadows with a demo under the name Blood Sun Circle. It was still ungodly loud, and the amplifier worship was in full effect. However, instead of barbaric, full throttle drumming simpler, repetitive patterns were introduced, as well as longer passages of meditation, followed by huge swells of the sort of heaviness long time fans could identify with. Most noticeably different in this group was vocalist Bob Gorham not only picking up a guitar (making them a two-guitar unit), but also using his voice in a far different way than the gut-rupturing scream evident throughout Engineer’s catalog. The vocals in Blood Sun Circle ranged from a cooed whisper to a wavering, lunatic howl and rarely ventured into the more hardcore bark fans were accustomed to. It was exceptionally heavy in a significantly different way.
I was well aware of the band’s status as a limited venture. They weren’t even sure if they would continue under this moniker at first. But they continued to write songs, played some shows, and honed their craft in this new outing with familiar musical partners and I thought it was quite wonderful. Blood Sun Circle is pretty much a Syracuse-only group as the members have a business to run, families to attend to, and other adult obligations like skateboarding in their free time to focus intently on the band. So don’t expect a reply if you ask them to play your basement in Gary, Indiana. It probably won’t happen. However, if you are lucky enough to see the group play you would be convinced that they spend every waking moment perfecting the band because everything always comes across with such clarity and intensity. But I guess that might be sort of expected when three of the four members have been playing music together for most of their lives.
Either way, releasing “Bloodiest/Sunniest” was a labor of love. I knew Blood Sun Circle would not tour on this LP. I just wanted it out there. And after some goading and time they got down to business and recorded the damn thing. And just like each step in the member’s collective experience within music they aimed to get better at figuring out each aspect of it on their own- from their vast knowledge of gear, to building their own guitar cabinets, to learning how to record their own music, creating the artwork for their releases, and eventually figuring out how to put out their own record. “Bloodiest/Sunniest” was the first official outing for the band. Since then they have self-released their second LP, “Distorted Forms” (which is somehow even better) on their own label Drops Of Us. But for the purposes of this interview we’re going to talk about that first LP and my re-connection to working with the Gorham Brothers on releasing music. I caught up with Bob Gorham on how it all came together.
So talk a bit about the transition from Engineer into Blood Sun Circle. There was a lull for a couple years before BSC took off, at least publicly.
Yeah. So Ryan (Gorham) had that house that was right near our store, literally a stone’s throw, and we had all our shit in his basement. His basement used to be his wood shop. So it was big and we had all our gear down there. So we were just writing, and practicing, all the time. We were fucking around and writing songs pretty much that whole time. And that’s when the store pretty much just started. That was around 2011-2012. And all that time we were playing in that basement space with our gear down there in storage for the most part. And we kind of just started messing around with Aaron (O’Hara) on drums because he had just moved to Syracuse. I don’t know if you know, but Aaron O’Hara, who is our drummer, has been my best friend since I was about seven years old. We went to school together, and I was the best man at his wedding, and we grew up together. We’ve known each other since we were little kids. I used to drive way the fuck out to Altmar to hang out with him in his house. He ended up moving to Syracuse right when we opened the store and that’s kind of how Blood Sun Circe started spinning. We would just start jamming and hanging out because he was around.
I knew he was a guy from back where you were from, but I don’t think I’d ever heard of Altmar. Is that even smaller than Parrish?
Yeah! It’s on the outskirts. It’s A-P-W: Altmar, Parrish, Williamstown. It’s like three small-ass rural towns all combined into one school system. He lived out there.
So anyways, we just jammed in that basement the whole time. That’s when we ended up recording that little EP, and we recorded it at the store. Brad (Gorham) recorded that at the store right after we opened. We were just kind of fucking around. By that point we had thrown out tons of shit that we just wrote for a year or two. I think it was two years before we recorded that EP, where things were kind of cohesive. But we wrote a shitload of stuff and threw it all out because it was kind of just finding our sound. We were kind of just figuring out what to do. I was messing around with my voice a lot because I wasn’t screaming. I thought, ‘what do I do if I’m not screaming my ass off the whole time.’ I experimented a lot.
So we recorded that EP and that’s when shit kind of came together. We found one or two songs out of five where we really liked the vibe. We wrote a song off of that EP that wasn’t on there, but it was around the time we recorded it, where we felt like, ‘this is Blood Sun Circle. This is what we’re going to be. This is the right vibe.’
It actually was a song that ended up on the record. It took us a really long time to figure out what to do. It’s the song “The Grips” on the “Bloodiest/Sunniest” record.
As soon as we wrote that song we literally just wrote the rest of the full length. It came together wicked fast.
And that’s also why I was sort of nervous about doing this interview because I can barely remember anything else about the writing process for the LP because it went fast.
I sort of thought the LP would have taken you all awhile to write. I don’t think of you all as people who write music quickly. You all see to take your time a lot, and revise, and consider every part.
We definitely do, but that record happened extremely effortlessly for us. It was one of the more fluid and cohesive things that we have done collectively… like, ya know, the brothers and I.
Once we found the right vibe for that record it just happened. We did take some time, but we didn’t struggle to write it. We wrote those songs really quickly and had already booked time to record with Jocko (Moresound Studios). I took some time to do vocals and find how I wanted to present things I guess. It took me awhile to practice vocals and hear myself. That was probably also right around the time I finally had a really nice PA to use. That was a first for us. That was extremely instrumental to actually hear myself and still play loud.
In Engineer we always had the worst PAs ever. It helped me scream harder because we would always have the shittiest, smallest speakers and it was always terrible.
Yeah! That was a big difference because a lot of people didn’t know at first that it was you doing vocals because they had always been used to you just screaming 100% of the time. There’s a lot of different range on that record with your voice. I think, also a lot of people didn’t know you played guitar, which you also play in the band.
That all being said, did you take on more of writing role with Blood Sun Circle than you did in Engineer? Or has it always been shared equally across the bands?
Well, the way those two bands existed couldn’t be more different. Engineer was all of us sitting in a room working on a math problem. That’s the closest thing you could equate it to.
We always practiced wicked late at night because Brad and Auclair drove from Fulton (about 30 miles north of Syracuse) and they had to work late. So we would practice from like 10 at night until 2 or 3 in the morning. And we used to practice Engineer about 6 nights a week. It was ridiculous. Trying to write records like that? It was insane. But it was a lot of working on weird timings… like working on a math problem. Every ones’ head was in it so we were working on weird counts, or where to put a pause, or a cymbal catch, or some shit like that. It was very detail-oriented I guess. We were grinding out creative, weird rhythms, and trying the mechanics of the song happen. I was always there, but I never really did vocals at Engineer practice. I’d just work on the timings with everyone and we would do it together.
In Blood Sun we purposefully got away from that and tried to do something at the other end of the spectrum. In Blood Sun we started for fun, and it wasn’t meant to be a serious project at first. So everybody just did their own thing and we barely discussed anything. We didn’t really talk to each other about parts, or whose playing what. It was more about finding a beat that we liked with Aaron and everybody just played what they played, and I don’t even know what Ryan plays, he doesn’t know what I played. We didn’t argue. If it sounded cool we kept it, and if it didn’t we just threw it away and that was it. We kept the whole record like that.
And how did you find your voice in doing that?
I just experimented because I’ve done a lot of singing with other projects, like quiet singing, but it changes a lot when a band is loud and you have to project your voice without screaming. So I had to find that balance. I still have to project and be loud, but I don’t want to scream anymore. I did that for so long that I wanted to try some other shit. So the challenge for me was that we still played really fucking loud so I would have to take parts of the songs and see what I could do that others were going to hear, that I’m still going to be happy with, that isn’t screaming. I enjoyed it. It was like working on a puzzle. That’s where we would work a lot of dynamics out. Like, if the music got really quiet I could get weird and be quiet and you’ll hear it. But when everything is full bore I’m going to have to step it up and do something else, so maybe get creative with using some effects. Finding the range in my voice at that volume was the real challenge.
A lot of bands kind of treat vocals like an afterthought. It’s a fucking instrument! Put the time and effort into them the same way you would playing guitar, or anything else. Make it creative.
Aaron is a significantly different style of drummer than Mike Auclair. What’s the experience been writing music around a drummer with a style that’s a lot different than what you had done with Engineer?
It was just another thing to make the band different. It was something that everybody welcomed because Engineer was a band for a long time. We wrote a lot of music. We pushed ourselves to do different shit. But within that genre there’s a ceiling to all that before you go, ‘OK, that doesn’t sound like Engineer anymore. It’s just a different band.’ And with Aaron being a different drummer it was helpful to get your head out of that box, and those comfort zones. It’s so easy to play stuff that sounds kind of like Engineer, because we had been doing it for so long, like a riff, or a part. But with Aaron drumming it was kind of impossible to write those kinds of parts.
He’s so far from Mike that it would never happen, not in a million years. And his musical tastes are really different and broad. He listens to a lot if underground, indie, shoegaze types of bands. He was a wide palette. He draws from a lot of different places than Auclair does.
But Auclair is like a machine. You can tell him to play anything and he can do it on his first try. It’s ridiculous. He hits super fucking hard and he plays extremely mechanically. And Aaron likes to sit in the pocket and make some shit that you want to bang your head to, but like, slower stuff. He’s good at finding the groove in a rhythm. He makes it sit really nice in a half-time, or a 6/8 time.
It was helpful to get us out of the box.
So, somewhat unrelated, but between when the band started, and the store opened, you also took kind of a different turn in terms of your career. You were fighting semi-professionally? And then doing video and design work before coming into the store.
Yeah. I worked for the MMA school and I was a part of their team. So I had been with them for a really long time and I was fighting totally professionally. And then I did that for basically as long as I could. And then I ended up working with those schools- they had me doing all their design work because they knew I could do design and video editing. I slid right into that and did that for awhile.
I was basically just trying to fight, but I got injured twice that set me back financially a considerable amount of money because I didn’t have insurance at the time. I broke my hand and my eye socket in the same year. Both time were while I was training for actual fights. So that was super inconvenient and set me back about $12,000, or whatever it cost to fix both of those things. So that sucked. It’s a tough lifestyle. It’s a roll of the dice.
It’s not really much of a life time career either.
It’s a very short-lived career for most people. I’m very glad that it worked out the way that it did. I knew I was going to transition into helping with the store as soon as it opened. I just took about a year to make that transition. I didn’t want to just leave them hanging, so I took about a year and transitioned myself out. And I went into the store full time with Brad and Ryan after that.
The place that keeps them employed and puts guitars in people's hands- Borham Brothers Music
Sure. And now Brad is out of the store to do other stuff?
Yeah. He’s been out for almost two years so he could become a teacher.
He’s got kids to feed.
Yeah, he’s got two kids to feed so he opted out to become a teacher. It’s what he wanted to do. He had been very close to getting his degrees when the store opened. But all of our lifestyles sort of put a cork in that for a long time.
But that’s why Blood Sun Circle has never been a touring sort of band. Everyone has obligations.
We have done some weekends out of state a few times, but it’s really hard because this is actually the first year that we have ever had an employee. So, up until then it was just us. For the first 6 years it was just us. We’re in our 8th year now. For the first 6 years we worked 7 days a week. We were open every day.
So if we played a show out of state we would have to drive back so we could open the store at 10AM. And we did it a bunch of times and it was awful. It was so, so awful.
I remember one time we did Connecticut and then Rochester in a weekend. We did the show in Connecticut, drove back overnight, opened the store at 10AM, with no sleep, and then closed the shop and drove up to Rochester for a second show. It was the worst. It was a terrible idea.
But for Blood Sun Circle that is kind of what we decided to do. We didn’t really want to travel that much. We would pop up to Rochester once in awhile, or anywhere close enough where it wouldn’t be painful to have to drive back. But if was like a 5 to 7 hour drive, we would like ‘nah.’ It’s just too hard with running a business on top of it. It just didn’t make sense.
At this point, though, even if there weren’t kids, or a business to run, would you want to be in a band that toured a lot anymore?
I guess my personal perspective is that I would. I don’t have any kids and I’ve set myself up purposefully in this situation that I have going on. I do music every single day. I leave here and play music. If I wasn’t talking to you on the phone I would be home working on a mix, or working on music for something. It’s literally all I do. I do artwork still a little bit too.
But, yeah, why the fuck not? I’m in this spot where I feel very fortunate to have the freedom that I have, even though the store is a business and takes up a lot of my time. I would still tour and play shows. It doesn’t really bother me if the shows are shitty. I’m jaded and old and don’t give a fuck, but I love playing music. I would probably tour, but I’d do it a bit more comfortably now, I think. Because I’m an adult. I’d sleep in a hotel and buy myself dinner, and have a great time, ya know?
The last bunch of time Blood Sun played out of town it was awesome. The experience was amazing because we would just go out to dinner and party and play a show. It was like going on a one, or two-day vacation. We treated it like a vacation from our normal lives, so it was super fun. It wasn’t grinding it out.
I don’t know if I’d want to do that, and sleep on floors, and play for a month straight. I wouldn’t do that. My taste in music has never been something that generates money, and I don’t think it ever will.
The artwork for the LP is based on a painting you did, but then there was also the alternate cover, which was screenprinted and created as a limited add-on to the rest of the record. Did you have trouble choosing one over the other, or was it just a fun project to do?
It was definitely, ‘let’s do something else too.’ If we were going to press a record the thought was ‘let’s do something cool artistically.’ Records are really the coolest way to do something large format, and there’s tons of variation and options.
I wanted to do something even crazier than we did. I researched tons of weird options for that record. I just couldn’t pull any of them off. So we stuck with the limited screen print, which was fun. But I was trying to take that design and do some embossed foil shit that I had never dabbled with before, but it wasn’t possible.
The fancy alternate (and personally illustrated) alternate record covers
What’s been the best part of doing Blood Sun Circle, and what has been the worst? Bestiest/worstiest?
That’s a good question. The best part is probably during the era of “Bloodiest/Sunniest” was the way the timeline lined up with everyone’s lives, and where we were at when the record came together. That was a great time. That was all good shit. The writing experience was really good. Everything was very concise and everybody’s brain was in the same spot.
Equally can be said for the worst part, which was the record we did after that. It was more challenging. Writing “Distorted Forms” was tough because stuff started to happen. Brad had more kids, Ryan had more kids, running the store was super fucking busy. All of the things that culminated after putting out “Bloodiest/Sunniest” started to get really hard, like getting together and be creative, and have that ‘not give a shit’ attitude. “Distorted Forms” came out over two years after “Bloodiest/Sunniest” and we were trying to write that whole time. We threw out a lot of stuff. There’s got to be 30 songs on Ryan’s computer at the store that are just unused. It took our whole writing process and just stretched it out because everyone was so busy into an insanely long time frame. And it makes it tough to stay on task, and stay on focus, and put it on the same record. It makes writing take so much longer that it becomes a chore and that sucks because it’s the wrong vibe for that band.
It must be tough working with an ex-member of the band.
Oh, you mean my brother?
Yeah, I’m just fucking with you.
Oh yeah. We stopped doing the band, but we have an entire third record that we’re working on. We recorded it, we’re just getting it mixed. So it’s done. It’s not out.
But when the writing process takes forever it sucks and it kind of ruins the vibe. And that band is all about the vibe, and harnessing the right vibe for a record is where that band existed and lived in that pocket of everyone being on the same page, and milking whatever vibe we found for the record. But the long writing process made it almost impossible to re-create.
And with that all being said I think I have a total of about 3 copies of this LP left and then it's gone forever. So do me a favor and buy one of them (no limited covers left though) and you can have it for $5 total. That's it. Or you can get the digital for only $4 this week only. Slide on over to the bandcamp page and get your mitts on this crusher of a record.