Vestal Claret are a two-piece doom act much in the vein of classic acts like Black Sabbath, but with a little bit of punk rock and blues thrown into the mix. Their latest album, ‘The Cult Of Vestal Claret’ offers up several odes to darkness and horror within its vinyl LP and CD formats, each offering a special bonus song that is exclusive to the format. So you may want to get them both! Anyway, I spoke with Simon Tuozzoli as he discussed the project’s birth and the album, as well as some of his influences and hobbies.
First of all, tell me a little about the band and how you came to be. What acts were you playing in prior and what was it that you wanted to achieve with the threatening doom of Vestal Claret?
I run a small recording studio and Phil Swanson came into record Sadly Never Fore, the second Upwards of Endtime release. We talked about music and he learned that I played guitar as well as bass and had been writing music for years. During the time of this project he approached me with a concept that he had for an occult metal project that he was trying to get off the ground. I immediately said yes to helping him with it and we were under way. He came over to the studio, hummed a few riffs and I transposed them to the guitar and arranged and filled out the two songs that appeared on “Two Stones”. Prior to Vestal Claret I was involved in a lot of underground projects of many different genres. They are very obscure and if anyone is interested, I would say check out Cryptomeria or King of Salem. Phil has been in many bands himself, but they are not as far underground as my projects and you could find them all if you do an internet search on him. When I set out to make the music for Vestal Claret, all I wanted to do was make that metal record I always dreamed about doing as a kid.
Who could you say are your main inspirations for the act? What would you say that your top five doom metal releases of all time are?
My main inspirations for the music that I write for Vestal Claret come from the metal that was impressed upon me in the early days. When you are young, you bond with music that never leaves you. I also believe that we all have a predisposition for what sort of melodies and harmonies attract us. I’ve always been drawn to dark sounding music. Before I found metal, one of my favorite records was Ghost in The Machine by The Police. That’s a really dark record. I didn’t think of it that way when I played it over and over, I just couldn’t get enough. Anything that is gritty or dark, even folk music, has inspired my writing. I haven’t been a big listener of music since I’ve turned to composing. It’s not because I don’t like what I could find out there, I just like to keep a clear head when I work. I also am loose with labels, because for me there is more than one way to emulate doom. So I am going a bit unorthodox on this list.
1. Black Sabbath – Master of Reality
2. Slayer – South of Heaven
3. Candlemass – Nightfall
4. Berlioz – Symponie Fantastique
5. Danzig – Danzig
When did you first decide that you wanted to play music?
This will sound corny to a lot of people, even to me, but the first time I heard “Battery” it immediately made me want to buy some drums. But I couldn’t afford, so I bought a guitar instead. I immediately learned “The Ides of March” by Iron Maiden, and then used those chords to write a Meatmen style punk song. I couldn’t find a band to play with I decided to switch to bass. I got into my first gigging band as a bassist and we played 98% originals. I never went through the process of learning covers. It set me back as a player, but it also set me apart as a composer. I’ve never given up on my desire or dream to make music. I’ve done it for years when no one would even listen.
Tell me a little about the recording process for The Cult Of Vestal Claret. Where did you record it? How long did it take to write and record? What was the atmosphere like?
We recorded the record at UP Recording Studio, which I own and operate. I’m not sure how long it took to put together as I was doing everything myself save playing the drums and singing. We recorded the drums in one day. Then I set to recording rhythm guitars and then bass. Phil then came in to do his vocals and then I tracked my overdubs and leads. Mixing and mastering are always a pain by this point. Perhaps next time, I’ll be able to hire someone else to do it. In the studio I’ve got awesome posters and artwork hanging in the studio. It isn’t much, but it’s very close to home and I don’t have to pay an hourly rate to myself, although I should.
Why did you feel the need to re-record “Black Priest” again for this album, as it had already been recorded for a split with Albatross last year? What did you feel was wrong with the recording?
First of all, the first recording was signed over to the label that released The Kissing Flies / Black Priest split for a period of time, so it would be in breach of contract to use that version. Secondly, our regular drummer was on tour at the time we tracked it for India, and since we needed a new recording of it; using a different drummer would set the two versions apart. I also added in the organ and I felt it adds a nice touch to the track. I enjoy both versions myself.
There are two bonus tracks, one on the album and one on the vinyl. For those who have the vinyl, what could they expect from “Great Goat God?” But for those who have the CD version of the disc, what could they expect with “So Mote It Be?”
We didn’t expect that “Great Goat God” would be such a hit with critics, but it seems that the majority of reviewers have been listing it as their favorite track. It’s pretty straight forward blues metal. I feel out of all the tracks that we recorded, “Great Goat God” is the closest to being a tribute to Black Sabbath. “So Mote It Be” is not too far behind in Sabbath like color. It is a majestic stomp and has a much greater dynamic than “Great Goat God” with a classic metal ending.
A lot of the lyrics and terminology seem to deal with the occult, murder and other horrid topics, but do any of these lyrics actually pertain in part to you? Is there anything here that might be symbolic of your own feelings or ideas? There’s a rather rough track called “Piece Of Meat” which makes me think that it might be dedicated to a past relationship or something of that nature.
No, Phil has been quoted before that the lyrics are not to be taken seriously. Consider him an author of a horror movie script. Did I touch on that already? Well, repetition has been known to work.
Will you guys play any of this live? And if so, where can we check out this great big bucket of blood and candles?
We are in the process of putting a live line up together in order to attract promoters to make offers. Keep your ears open for a press release announcing who will join us on stage. Hopefully we will get to do some shows.
Tell me about the cover for Black Sabbath’s “Who Are You?” What made you decide to cover this track and will you be covering anything else in the future?
I have always wanted to cover “Who Are You?” Every time I cover a song, I like to pick one that isn’t the hit single. Phil didn’t know this, but he called and said that he wanted to cover it and that all it took. I bought a used bass synth pedal from Dana Ortt and got to work on orchestrating it using just strings. We usually don’t plan on covering songs, but are not opposed to it.
What do you do when you’re not playing music? What hobbies do you enjoy?
I like to play chess, watch movies and play an occasional video game. I also am a student of Tang Soo Do martial arts.
When it comes to lyrical inspiration, where do you get your ideas?
Well Phil writes the lyrics, but he likes to use current events and his vast knowledge of dark material.
Finally, what is The Cult Of Vestal Claret and where did you get the idea for the band’s moniker?
Vestal Claret translates to Virgin Blood. The Cult of Vestal Claret is a fictitious cult that does obscene things in the name of the dark lord. It would also be a good name for a fan club too if we ever get so large that we can help the reversion of the music world back the glory days of the 1970s.
Thanks for answering my questions and for a great doom album. – Eric
Thanks for asking them and for listening.
Purchase The Cult of Vestal Claret here: