Rick Rubin on Doom Pioneers Trouble: “Great Parts, But Your Songs Don’t Make Sense”


Attached to Trouble’s name, barnacle-like, is a variant of this descriptor: “American Doom Metal pioneers.” Guitarist Rick Wartell, who co-founded the band in 1979, laughs when queried about his agreement with the delineation. “Welllllll… no. We modeled Trouble after Black Sabbath and Judas Priest. We wanted to be as heavy as Sabbath, and have the dual guitars of Judas Priest,” he explains, in a flat accent that affirms his Chicago-area roots. “There were bands doing it long before us. Are we appreciative of the recognition? Of course, but the reality is Sabbath got it from somewhere… it’s just something that manifests. It’s not like we started anything, we just put our stamp on it.”

That stamp has been reasonably consistent through several incarnations and nine albums since 1984, coming somewhat full circle with 2013’s The Distortion Field. With singer Kyle Thomas (ex-Exhorder) fronting the band for the last two years, the most notable missing member is vocalist Eric Wagner, who sang with Trouble from 1979 to 1997, and again from 2000 to 2008, and now heads up his own band, the Skull, with two other ex-Trouble members.)

Wartell, has, along with guitarist Bruce Franklin has been in Trouble since day one, and they’re thrilled with how easily Thomas slipped in. When it came to lyrics for The Distortion Field, the band founders were “prepared to make sure he was doing what we wanted, but 99.9 percent, he nailed it. He gets us. And it shows. He was a fan for years, a friend for years, and understood us, so it was an easy transition.”

In the early ’90s, Trouble put out two albums for Def American, produced by Rick Rubin, and in some ways, The Distortion Field harkens back to those albums (1990’s Trouble and 1992’s Manic Frustration). “If this was the only Trouble record you ever heard, you’d be able to tell a lot about the band; where we’ve been and where we’re going in one stop,” Wartell explains of The Distortion Field, adding;. “There’s some really heavy doomy stuff, some modern stuff, very powerful, emotional.”

Rubin, who Trouble used to tease about mixing rap and rock together (“What are you doing, man?!”), helped the young Trouble hone their sound, noting; “You’re a band that writes great parts, but your songs don’t make sense.’ We’re like, well we do kinda stray now and then,” Wartell remembers. “He directed us into writing more substantial songs. If you’re a fan listening to a band, you don’t want to be interrupted in the middle of a cool groove. A lot of people dug that we were all over the place, but as musician, I thought, ‘Yeah, maybe he has something.'”

Counting everyone from Dave Grohl to Philip Anselmo (Down, ex-Pantera) as fans, Trouble (who also featured ex-Warrior Soul singer Kory Clarke on vocals from 2008 to 2012) have come a long way from their lauded, seminal records for Metal Blade–1984’s Psalm 9 and 1985’s The Skull–while embracing those roots. In fact, the in-your-face, full, layered sound of The Distortion Field comes courtesy producer Bill Metoyer , who also helmed Psalm 9 and The Skull. Despite a more than decade-long blip between albums (1995 to 2007’s not-too-lauded Simple Mind Condition), Trouble circa 2014 finds the band back in its intense psych-doom metal groove, a welcome return to form. As Wartell concludes: “Kyle’s become a huge part of Trouble. We’re definitely hitting on all cylinders right now.”

Trouble play Saint Vitus Bar on June 16; doors open 8 pm.

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