Formed in Miami, Florida, Torche has rocked fans, critics and stereos since their forming in 2004. Variously characterized as “stoner pop,” “thunder rock” and “sludge metal,” their self-titled album was declared as the Number Seven album of 2005 on Decibel magazine’s annual Top 40 list. Three years later, Decibel magazine ranked the band’s second album, Meanderthal, as Number One. Torche's latest album, Harmonicraft, was released in April 2012. The band has toured with Mogwai, Isis, Baroness and the Sword, among others, and in 2010, they opened for Coheed and Cambria. Here the Rock Hall catches up with Torche guitarist Andrew Elstner, as the band readies for a free live concert at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum in Cleveland, Ohio, on July 25, 2012, part of the Summer in the City concert series.
Rock Hall: What was the first record/CD you ever bought and do you still listen to it?
Andrew Elstner: With my own money? Aerosmith Rocks and damn straight I still listen to it. Although now it's on my iPod, not a cassette tape.
RH: What artists did you listen to when you were growing up and what about them appealed to you? Any Hall of Fame inductees?
AE: I listened to all kinds of stuff, mostly metal and classic rock growing up. I can still remember the first time I heard "Black Dog" [by Led Zeppelin], "Manic Depression" [by Jimi Hendrix], "Children of the Grave" [by Black Sabbath], "Master of Puppets" [by Metallica] – the usual white kid from the suburbs faves. The immediacy of those songs comes specifically from the electric guitar. When you're 12, the guitar is like a mysterious laser gun that eats lightning and shits fire. I was instantly and irreparably hooked.
RH: What do you remember about playing your first gig – how old were you, where was it, when was it, how’d it go, the crowd?
AE: I played a double header at a talent show when I was 12. I played the Jimmy Reed classic "Baby What You Want Me To Do" with my Dad singing and playing piano. Later played "Stairway [to Heaven]" with my sister and some friends. We were young, it was "cute," so yeah everyone loved it, or maybe they were laughing? Either way, yeah, total showoff.
RH: What current bands/artists do you admire and/or are listening to these days? What about those particular artists has captured your interest?
AE: Like most working musicians, I'm super picky about current stuff I like. That's the nice way of saying, "I think most new stuff is a barf sandwich."
Being a child of the 80s, I'm digging all the retro-futurist stuff coming out of France at the moment. No guilty pleasures here, only pleasures! Love the new High On Fire album, easily my favorite of theirs. The riffs are devastating and the drumming is staggering, huge and rad. What's not to like? Is it wrong that I'm also listening to my St. Louis band, Tilts' latest? I'm nothing if not proud. And who can forget the latest from Van Halen? So, so good. It needed to happen.
RH: Which album of yours would you say is your favorite and why?
AE: Ugh.. The toughest! I can't pick one. For loud times, Zeppelin Physical Graffiti. For mellow times, Bert Jansch's first record. For weird times, High On Love by St. Louis' the Balloons.
RH: How would you describe your music to somebody who has never heard it before?
AE: Well the fast, easy answer is heavy pop. But really I'd answer their query with one of my own, "You've never heard my band, dude? You can hear us three states away."
RH: What’s it like being on the road?
AE: No joke: it's the closest we'll get to living like pirates. Your lifestyle changes, your language changes. It's a blast; it's more tiring than you can possibly explain. Moments of disaster and nuggets of triumph sprinkled amongst a web of highways. It's simultaneously displacing, because all of a sudden everywhere feels like home and also nowhere feels like home anymore, but it's completely addictive. You try to quit, but you can't, or at least I can't.
RH: Do you have a favorite city where you like to perform? If so, why?
AE: My favorite of the last 10 years or so was probably Glasgow with my old band. I felt strangely at home. Rick [Smith; drums], Jon [Nuñez; bass] and Steve [Brooks; guitar/vocals] have their faves as well. Playing my home town of St. Louis is always a blast too.
RH: Do you have a favorite concert? One by someone else? And one by you?
AE: I don't get out as much as I used to to see bands. The first and second time I saw Brant Bjork and the Bro's was transcendent – heavy like nothing else, but heavy in a more subtle way. David Bowie at the Fox in St. Louis was unforgettable as well. [He] opened with "Rebel Rebel" and closed with "All The Young Dudes," if I remember correctly. A true, true legend.
RH: What can your fans expect when they come to your show?
AE: Ear plugs, a treasure map, a hip flask, and an all-star, super-secret celebrity guest list. Really, our fans know what's up. I think our shows are a blast. No frowny faces.
WATCH: Torche – "Kicking" (from Harmonicraft)