Interview with Robert Cowlin (Singer of Terminal Gods) by Marc Vanderberg
Robert Cowlin, born in 1990, is the lead singer of London based band `Terminal Gods`. Singing in baritone (always), hiring Dr. Avalanches’ grandson on drums (always), and wearing shades (sometimes) might remind some people of another British band. But if you listen to `Terminal Gods´ carefully, they are really no clone of `The Sisters of Mercy`. They caught a bit of the `Sisters` spirit and mixed it up with a couple of other influences. What comes out is a couple of singles, an EP and on May 6, 2016 their debut album. Reason enough for me to talk to Robert. Here we go.
- Vanderberg: Hello Robert, first of all, thank you very much for taking the time for this interview. Let us start with a quote of Classic Rock Magazine `Imagine a world in which Andrew Eldritch kept his hair and his leather jacket, and instead of doing crossword puzzles for the last decade, he spent his time cracking skulls in biker bars. Shazam! Terminal Gods`. People see parallels between the `Sisters` and `Terminal Gods`. Which parallels do you see?
- Cowlin: When the guitarist and I started the band, we had some fixed influences that we wanted to emulate because we felt the time was right for a reappraisal of 80’s drum machine rock bands such as The Jesus and Mary Chain, Big Black, and the Sisters. As it happened, this coincided with some local exhibitions and BBC television documentaries, so I think we were spot on with the timing in that regard. That quote from the wonderful Ken McIntyre is four years old however, and we’ve discovered a lot more music and ways of expressing ourselves in the intervening years. We still use a drum machine because we like the way it sounds, we still wear leather because we’re in a gang, and we have recently started doing crossword puzzles so maybe there are more parallels then I’d like to admit. Personally, even though I’ve always acknowledged the Sisters as one of our influences, I don’t think any of our recordings sound like theirs. I’m reluctant to call it lazy journalism because, as I said above, we turned up at the same time that these sorts of bands were getting another look in so it makes sense that people would see a connection. We’ve never set out to write a song in the style of any one particular band, however. It’s more interesting to mix one’s influences that it is to copy them outright.
- Vanderberg: Tell us, how you guys met. Is it true, that you met in front of a `Sisters` concert. That is so ironc, isn´t it?
- Cowlin: It’s not true. The two guitarists knew each other for years and we poached the bassist from the second best band in London.
- Vanderberg: For how long do you sing? Did you take lessons? Did you perform live with other bands?
- Cowlin: I’ve been singing in bands for ten years. I did take some vocal exercise lessons to prepare for our recent tour, it’s good fun singing songs you wouldn’t normally sing.
- Vanderberg: How do you write a song. Can I imagine you sitting down with an acoustic guitar trying out new riffs / chords?
- Cowlin: It tends to be that the guitarist writes an instrumental draft that the rest of the band works with. I write lyrics separately and then pick the set that best suits the music. I recently bought a set of the Korg Volca mini synthesisers which I used to write Heyday and an as yet unreleased track.
- Vanderberg: What would you say is your most important influence regarding songwriting.
- Cowlin: I like to plunder lines from American cult films and see how many I can get away with slotting into songs. I also find the Oblique Strategies invaluable. At the moment I’m primarily listening to Miles Davis’ electric period and Talking Heads. I’ve convinced the band that we should record a thirty minute jam, under Miles’ influence, for the next EP and then chop it up Macero style. I’m looking forward to getting intimate with my Volca for that one.
- Vanderberg: After releasing a couple of Singles and an EP, you release an album on May 6, 2016. What can we expect from the album? What is it all about?
- Cowlin: The new album closes the book on a lot of ideas that we’ve been airing since our inception. It also, I hope, reveals elements that we plan to focus on going forward particularly with regards to instrumental expansion and studio experimentation. We’ve reprised a few old favourites to tempt the party faithful, but the majority of the material is brand new and I’m particularly pleased with the tracks that play with dynamics and length (such a Movement and Shockwave respectively), as well as the synth explorations – of which more soon.
- Vanderberg: During the last two decades, the internet changed nearly everything in the music industry. Everyone can produce an album with an iPad and push it through the World Wide Web. This is an opportunity for non-signed artists. In which way do you think has this development an impact on your releases? Any pro and cons on that topic?
- Cowlin: I can’t see any downsides with regards to Terminal Gods. Thanks to the Internet we can reach music fans that we’d never get to play for and they can hear our music and buy our t-shirts. All of our records have been pressed through online storefronts and it’s where the majority of our promotion is conducted. Competition is greater than ever before, which means we need to keep up with what’s on trend and make sure we’re one step ahead of our contemporaries. This only results in greater creativity on our part.
- Vanderberg: Let´s talk a bit about the `Sisters`. Which is your favourite album and why? I really love the `Vision Thing` era. Maybe because I am a rock guitarist. And I think, that they released three completely different albums. While `First and last and always` was the so called Gothic-era, `Floodland` is much more commercial. And `Vision Thing`, the rerecording of `Temple of Love` and `Under the Gun` is more or less rock oriented, don´t you think? Also Andrews voice sounds from `Vision Thing` on cooler than ever. What´s your opinion about it.
- Cowlin: I’m a Sisters nerd so I like all their albums. I’ve been going to their shows since 2006 and I think their recent tours have been as good as any of their classic ones. I like the fact that they’re always changing, always looking forward and never back. Miles was also keen on that. When the crowd wanted his band to play So What, they’d tease the crowd with the theme before rapidly switching out into complex new solos. A lot of bands recognise the importance of evolution, it’s vital to not get stuck in the same old rut. We haven’t released often enough over our five year history to really show a scope of development in that sense, but we’ve started to put some plans together for the next release that – we hope – will be quite a departure from our previous material. I’m particularly excited to experiment in the studio and see what comes out where previously we’d labour for months over one song. I’m convinced that when a creative unit is enhanced by energy and a sense of rapid necessity the unit can produce great fruits.
- Vanderberg: Thank you very much for the interview.