Print Edition: February 29, 2012
The Darkest of the Hillside Thickets is a Lovecraft-inspired band consisting of Toren Atkinson, guitarist Warren Banks, guitarist/bassist Mario Nieva, drummer Jordan Pratt and bassist/backup vocalist Merrick Atkinson. Co-founders Toren Atkinson and Warren Banks met in class at FVC (the original UFV) and have been spreading the word of geekery and Cthulu since 1992. The Cascade recently sat down with Toren Atkinson to discuss the downside of downloading, the inspirations of Lovecraft and living on the West Coast.
When you got started as a band, obviously the world of music was a lot different. You went from handing out hand-copied cassettes to friends and family to streaming music online to anyone – do you prefer one system to another? What are your thoughts on how music has changed?
What I miss most about the way music is shared these days is the lack of album art. I still buy physical media occasionally, sometimes out of sheer convenience. But also it’s nice to have a container for an complete album that portrays the “spirit” of the band. Although a lot of my favourite bands have crappy art on their CD sleeves, other musicians, such as Radiohead or Tenacious D, carry their art through the entire spectrum from audio to visual and present the consumer with something creative that a fan can appreciate by flipping through or keeping on their shelf. That’s always been something that The Darkest of the Hillside Thickets has tried to do from our very first album, with relevant artwork, lyrics and even a glossary in our last album The Shadow Out of Tim. On our album Spaceship Zero: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack we went through the trouble of kitting up our friends in outer space gear and photographing “movie stills” from the various scenes described in the back story.
I agree that the cover art is perhaps the saddest casualty of the move to downloading. Have you ever bought an album based on cover art alone? What was the last CD you bought, if you still buy CDs?
Hmmm. The 4th season DVD box set of Home Movies came with a CD which I’ve had in my car for months and months. Does that count as a CD purchase? Other than that it was the last album by The Sword (which also has great cover art). When I bought the last Invasives album I didn’t go through iTunes or buy a physical copy – I actually PayPalled one of the band members directly and had him email me the mp3s. The musicians got 100 per cent of the money.
Your band name and a lot of your material draw on the work of H. P. Lovecraft. What drew you to Lovecraft in the first place?
Apart from the hideous monsters my favourite part of Lovecraft’s work is his philosophy that mankind is an insignificant speck in the universe and should one person’s mind unlock the truth about the cosmos it will drive him or her insane. As an atheist (mighty Cthulhu aside, of course), Lovecraft’s philosophy that humans have no special place in the grand scheme of things—that when you die you are no more than worm food—appeals not only to my rational side but also my morbid side.
What’s your favourite part of his work or favourite story?
As for favourite story, although Rats in the Walls has a special place as it was the first HPL tale I read, I love the grandeur of At the Mountains of Madness and The Shadow Out of Time.
It looks like this mythos theme has led you to some pretty cool opportunities—the Wizards of the Coast role-playing game, downloadable content for Rock Band, the whole Penny Arcade thing—what has been your favourite experience through the band?
Using rock music to enthuse people about Lovecraft and other nerdy things that I find interesting. I try to use our music to promote literacy and that includes scientific literacy, but I don’t let that goal get in the way of our number one mandate: goofiness.
How would you say living in the Fraser Valley has affected your work, if at all? (I mean, the pastoral, idealistic farmland seems kind of at odds with the idea of singing “hymns from the house of horror.”)
Considering I’ve based a lot of my music and art on the works of someone whose tombstone read “I Am Providence,” I would say very little! Although I suppose the West Coast has its share of spooky woods and people who look like man-fish hybrids. Am I right, folks?
What’s your favourite part of living on the west coast?
Don’t make me choose between a lack of snow and a community of gaming and cartoon industry nerds.
Would you ever consider moving somewhere else?
I’d live in a Romanian castle if I could have a space heater and a vampire fumigator. It would have a bitchin’ gaming room in the dungeon.
Finally – your bio mentions that the band met at what was then Fraser Valley College and is now the University of the Fraser Valley, but doesn’t go into details. How did you guys meet?
I met the Thickets co-founder Warren “Comfortable” Banks in one of my art classes at FVC and we spent a lot of time playing Bubble Bobble and quoting Looney Toons. Then we started playing Chaosium’s “Call of Cthulhu” role-playing game and as the gamesmaster I probably killed his character or at least piled on the Insanity Points and gruesome injuries. Thus the foundation for a weird monstrous rock and roll career was formed.
What’s would you say was the craziest, oddest thing that’s ever happened to you as a group?
Lucasfilm sent a “cease and desist” letter to a gaming magazine that ran an ad with the cover of our album “Cthulhu Strikes Back” in it. We should get it bronzed.
And what five words would you say best describe you as a band?
Nerdy. Unspeakable. Batrachian. Rockapunkacthulhuriffic. Hippopotomonstrosesquippedaliophobic.