Is Torche a metal band? Depends on whom you ask. Despite their pop leanings and lead singer/guitarist Steve Brooks' repeated claims that Torche is not a metal band, their fan base consists largely of stoner rock and post-metal fans. Why? Well, first, Torche is signed to Hydra Head Records, the mostly metal label founded in 1993 by Isis frontman Aaron Turner. Second, Brooks' former band, Floor, had a much sludgier, metallic bent. As a result, Brooks and his Torche bandmates find themselves in the odd position of playing two-minute pop songs for fans more accustomed to 10-minute post-rock epics.
Yet somehow, it works. Really well, actually. It's not just metal fans eating up Torche's sugary pop anthems, either. Both indie tastemakers (Pitchfork) and the mainstream rock media (Spin) gave high marks to the band's 2008 effort, Meanderthal. Torche's just-released EP, Songs for Singles, is very much in the same vein. The band recorded the EP itself, but working without a professional producer is not as easy at it might seem, Brooks says.
"We've recorded everything ourselves, except Meanderthal," Brooks says. "We did the first record and all the EPs ourselves, and just decided to do this one as well, but I think it's the last time we're gonna do that. It's easier to work with other people sometimes, and we were driving ourselves a little crazy on this one . . . I think we're gonna do [the next album] with someone else, just to eliminate over-analyzing things and nitpicking little things, and having an outside ear help guide us."
With the EP coming on the heels of a massive, eight-disc box set of Floor reissues, comparisons between Brooks' oldest and newest material seems inevitable. Perhaps the biggest distinction between the two bands is Brooks' singing style, which has evolved from shouts and growls on Floor's early work to the melodic vocals he employs today.
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"I've never had real training or anything," Brooks says. "I never thought I'd end up being a singer in a band. It's just, everything I've done in the past was just growing into it. I started off yelling and screaming and stuff because, not only did I not have the confidence to try to sing, but I just didn't think I could do it — and at the time, I couldn't do it. Over the years and touring a lot, you just end up growing into it, and things just get better and better."
The contrasts between Torche and Floor and the pop-band-with-metal-fans quandary are not the only paradoxes Brooks faces. There's also the fact that he's gay. Though that wouldn't raise many eyebrows if Torche was, say, a Euro-dance-pop act, it remains somewhat of an anomaly in the world of American hard rock. Yet Brooks says that fans have been mostly accepting of his orientation and he hasn't felt any pressure from the gay community to become more of a spokesperson for gay rights.
"It's never happened to me," Brooks says. "I'll be honest with you, I've got some gay friends that are into this type of music, but I'm not representing the gay community through it. All I'm saying is 'Yeah, so I'm gay. Big deal.' I've known people that have known me, where they've known that I am gay, but it still doesn't sink in, because I don't have those characteristics that are that obvious, but whatever. I don't know. I think that we're trying to introduce more people to our music, regardless if they're gay or straight. I don't sing about gay stuff. I just happen to be a gay dude in a band."
Torche is scheduled to perform on Sunday, September 26, at Martini Ranch in Scottsdale..