Twisted Tower Dire

Twisted Tower Dire are back with a new album after 8 years. Drummer and founding member Marc Stauffer talked to Grande Rock about the new album, the years in-between, the band’s future plans and his personal music tastes, among other interesting things…read more below…
Twisted Tower Dire band pic
Hi Marc and welcome to Grande Rock. As you already know “Wars in the Unknown” has been added to our “Gems” category, which means that the album is among the best releases of 2019! How does it feel to return TTD to active duty?
 
M: It feels great. We put a lot of work into the album and it really feels good to finally have it out there for others to enjoy!
 
 
Why did it take you almost 8 years to come up with a new album? What happened in the meantime? Was the birth of Walpyrgus one of the factors that seemed to contribute to the widening of that gap?
 
M: All of TTD is now pretty spread out geographically. I still live in Northern VA (outside Washington DC where the band started), Dave lives in Richmond VA, and the rest of the band lives in the Raleigh NC area. Basically, we’re all 2-4 hours away from each other so it’s not easy to do anything anymore. Scott, Jonny and Jim did the Walpyrgus album with our friend Charlie. Dave did an album (or was it 2) with Volture. I did an album with my other band Division that should be coming out in the next year or so. We were all working with our “local bands”. Once Dave started coming up here and writing with me things really went pretty quick. From the time we demoed the 1st song to the completion of the album was probably about 2-3 years. For us that’s pretty fast. We are already working on the next album, so it shouldn’t be 8 years this time.
 
 
What does the album title “Wars in the Unknown” declare?
 
M: We started writing the album as a concept album about World War 2. Scott wrote lyrics for 3 or 4 songs in that vein before we decided we didn’t want to go 100% in that direction. We then wrote a bunch of songs with supernatural themes. Songs with more of a horror or Sci-Fi theme, so it seemed logical to name the album “Wars in the Unknown” as that title covered the lyrical themes. The title also has kind of a Blue Oyster Cult feel that we all were really into.
 
 
What are the differences and the similarities among the new album and the previous ones?
 
M: I think it sits solidly with most of our back catalog. Lots of stacked guitar and vocal parts with Jim and I thumping along underneath. The riffs for this album were mostly written by Dave who is more into thrash & speed metal than power metal/traditional metal. I think that makes this album a little more aggressive than our last few. Personally, I like the production of this album best out of anything we have ever done. It just sounds great. We recorded everything ourselves and had Kevin 131 (from assembly line studios) mix it. Kevin also recorded and mixed “Isle of Hydra” for us. I hope we always use him in the future. His stuff just sounds amazing.
 
 
What has changed in your songwriting formula or the way you approached the songs this time?
 
M: The formula was pretty much the same, just with a different guitarist. Generally, TTD starts with some “riff tapes” that one of the guitarists give to me. I then get together with that guitarist and put together demos with drums. Everyone else in the band then fleshes out and assists with arranging things. We get all the music worked out and then add vocals. The major difference this time was that all the songs came from Dave where as in the past things came primarily from Scott.
 
 
Some “true metal” people took issue with Jonny as a singer (for being too melodic). How do you think Tony Taylor and Jonny Aune compare?
 
M: I guess you could say that Tony wrote his lines horizontally while Jonny writes his vertically. Tony wrote his lines and harmonies and other backing vocals came afterwards. Usually the backing vocals were thought up by the rest of TTD or the producer of that album. Jonny plays guitar, so he has a little more of an instrumentalist’s approach to writing his vocal lines. When Jonny writes his lines, he’s thinking of harmonies and other vocal parts to go over his initial line while he’s writing them. We also have Johnny Wooten (from the band Widow), who records all the vocals with Jonny. Johnny (Wooten) is also a singer and a killer recording engineer, so that really helps us get vocals stacked in a way we never really did with Tony.
 
 
How would you characterize “Wars in the Unknown” and what are your expectations from the new album?
 
M: Personally, it’s my favorite album. It sounds the way I always wanted the band to sound. Its aggressive but has a lot of depth. It’s melodic but can be nasty when it wants to be. So far it seems to have been very well received. There have been a lot of great albums put out this year (like the new one from our brothers in Slough Feg). I just hope it doesn’t get lost in the wash. 
 
 
How did the cooperation with you new label No Remorse come about?
 
M: Pretty simple. We demoed 2 songs and sent them around to see who was interested. No Remorse came back as the most interested party. They were confirmed to be good guys to work with by everyone we talked to, so we moved forward with them.
 
 
Do you think Walpyrgus and TTD are now sort of sister bands? (ie you share the singer and 2 more members), so the sound no matter how you want to differentiate it, tends to have some similarities.
 
M: Walpyrgus is sort of a continuation of the “Make It Dark” era TTD. We wrote “MID” (“Make It Dark”) as our spin of a rock album. Our minds were in Thin Lizzy land for “MID”. We wanted TTD to go back in a heavier direction. Scott had a bunch of songs in that vein that he had written &/or was still writing, so they did the Walpyrgus album. Scott is now a professional runner so that is taking up most of his time now. I suppose what will be a Walpyrgus song and what will be a TTD song will depend on Scott. I would gladly have put any of the Walpyrgus songs on a TTD album.
 
 
In your 25 years as a band – you’ve not released too many albums, was it something conscious or something circumstantial?
 
M: Since everyone moved to different locations it became difficult to write and produce music. That happened around 2006. Our contract with Remedy almost ended the band. We found a loop hole that got us out of the Remedy contract. That loop hole required us to wait to release “MID”. These days the cost of production, combined with how spread out the band is, just makes things difficult. Cruz Del Sur and No Remorse helped as much as they could with the last two releases, but it still ends up costing the band thousands of dollars to put out an album.
 
 
Are you happy with the level of success TTD has? You might have the slots at “true” metal fests but overall, bigger metal fests, seem to largely shun on underground bands and vice versa, underground people seem to shut out anything that’s not “trad” at least as they define it. Do you think that makes sense?
 
M: I am happy with the success we’ve had as a band. We had some opportunities to do this full time after “Crest” came out. We turned them down as we would have had to quit our day jobs and become “professional homeless people”. It would be great if a little more money came around so we could go overseas again. It would be nice to be able to put out an album without being horribly in debt when it’s released.
 
I don’t really have much of an opinion of “true” metal vs. what is commercially successful. There are plenty of good bands and bad bands that play both. Folks that support underground music tend to be very opinionated and that’s fine. If enough people like our material, we’ll keep doing it. I don’t see any reason to stop. You just must understand that we are doing it ourselves, so it takes time. I think taking a little time also helps all our albums sound different. I don’t see the point in putting out an album every year if they all sound the same. We do get to play some festivals with some great bands and that’s awesome.
 
 
You’ve always been in the underground. Do you see the band being able to rise above in terms of popularity? Where do you see yourselves in a few years from now?
 
M: I don’t know. I suppose something could happen, but it seems unlikely. We all have full time jobs and families and such that would make it hard to do music full time. Honestly, I don’t know if I’d want to. Doing music full time would make music my job, and that could ruin it. Based on the response from this album so far – all the hard work is worth it.
 
 
Do you have any regrets concerning things that you didn’t try in the past or not?
 
M: Not really. You sometimes wonder what would have happened if we took that tour… yeah we probably would have broken up after it and never put out anything after “Crest”, so I suppose it was for the best.
 
 
What do you think about all the “NWOTHM” (New Wave of Traditional Heavy Metal) movement that has grown bigger and stronger over the last years?
 
M: It’s great. A lot of great bands are playing shows again. A lot of younger people really appreciate & are continuing to carry on playing this style of music. It is sometimes weird to hear one of the bands we play with say “you were my favorite band in high school”.
 
 
Time for our “weird questions”!!! How did you come up with the name Twisted Tower Dire initially?
 
M: Not very exciting. One of our original guitarists (Nick Mertaugh) had a black metal band called Thokk. The line “From a Twisted Tower Dire” was a line in a Thokk song. We all liked it. Thought it captured the imagery we wanted for the band. We were also pretty sure no one had used it yet.
 
 
Which music kind can’t you bear to listen to at all?
 
M: Modern country. The type that sounds more like rap than country.
 
 
Which are the best 3 heavy metal albums according to you?
 
M: Mmmmm that’s a tough one because you must decide what is a “Heavy Metal” vs. a sub-category. Is Slayer or Metallica heavy metal or does that fall into thrash?! OK I’ll try to stay in “Heavy Metal”, but in doing that my answers will probably be a little boring. “Live After Death” by Iron Maiden – it has all the best songs from my favorite era of Iron Maiden. I know a live album is cheating. Replace with “Number of the Beast”, “Piece of Mind” or “Powerslave” if you won’t accept the live album. “Orgasmatron” by Motorhead. Once again you can probably replace this with several albums surrounding it in in the discography, but “Orgasmatron” is my favorite (probably…). I’m going to cheat again for #3 – “Priest in the East”. Same reason as “Live After Death” – all my favorite Priest songs played to perfection.
 
 
Fill in the phrase… “Heavy metal wouldn’t have evolved the way it did, if it hadn’t been for…”
 
M: Metallica. “Ride the Lightning” and “Master of Puppets” brought the underground to the mainstream. Nobody in my generation of metal musicians plays the way they do without Metallica.
 
 
Name the 3 more influential drummers in metal music…
 
M: To me undoubtedly the most influential drummer is Gene Hoglan. Gene is :The Master”. He’s also innovative. The variations he puts on a simple thing like blast beats is insane. He must play 10 different types of blasts on “City” by Strapping Young Lad. Gene is just the best.
 
Sean Reinhart is just amazing. His playing on all the Cynic stuff is just… I can’t even explain. He sat down and talked drums with me for like an hour after their set on the Focus tour. He was a really nice guy and gave me some great suggestions to help me with my playing.
 
Lastly, I’d have to list Away form Voivod. “Notingface” is the 1st album I could play all the way through. Its also probably the only album I still play to on a regular basis. Voivod is also my favorite band of all time!!! Away is just the best!
 
 
Which do you consider to be the best male & female vocalist in metal history?
 
M: Male: Mike Patton. Mr. Bungle and Faith No More are two of my favorite bands of all time. If that’s not “metal” to you… Warrel Dane, he’s definitely a metal singer! Female:  Janet Ruben,  one of the singers for TTD before Tony. I suppose that’s cheating. I really love Dawn Crosby’s vocals on “Beyond the Veil” by Fear Of God. She really made that album.
 
 
Which is the record you wish you had written and why?
 
M: “Focus” by Cynic. Just because I wish I could play that style so perfectly!
 
 
Were you obliged to give just one album to extraterrestrials that would represent the whole human music, which album would it be and from which band/artist?
 
M: “Mr. Bungle” by Mr. Bungle. The aliens would think we were insane and leave us the hell alone!
 
 
If you had the chance to travel in time… where would you choose to go? To the past or the future and why?
 
M: Probably the future, because I have no idea what will happen. I know a little what happened in the past. Seeing what will happen in the future seem to me to be much more exciting.
 
 
Finally, we’ve come to the end Marc. Thx for talking to Grande Rock. Say anything you feel like saying before we close. Take care dude!
 
M: Thanks for the interview! We’re doing our best to get things rolling again so expect to see more from us in the near future.


PS: Special thx to Rockavlon!