One of Thrones

Joe Preston has been in a mind-blowing amount of bands, most of them scattered throughout the greater Northwest.

Joe Preston has been in a mind-blowing amount of bands, most of them scattered throughout the greater Northwest. His past roster reads literally like a Who’s Who of Northwest heavies, including seminal drone band Earth, long-standing rockers The Melvins and current metal champions High on Fire, among many others. He’s been raining down sonic thunder in influential bands for nearly two decades, all of which stands next to his own work in a project called Thrones. The “band” is just one person, Preston, and his music can best be described as one long sonic freak-out (even if there are many songs). Crushing, distorted bass pummels along drum-machine rhythms, with synth and other sounds layered over the top. It’s a bizarre medley of sounds–unquestionably creative and dynamic–but not easy to understand or digest. The Vanguard sat down with Preston to talk about his recent move back to Portland, his upcoming shows and the music he makes under the moniker Thrones.

Are you working on any records or new music right now?I’ve been doing some recording recently. I just got back from Europe two weeks ago and was supposed to do a 7-inch with the Conspiracy label, the people who booked the tour as well, and I got as far as all the music done, but I completely choked when it came to doing the vocals. It’s been a long time and I just blew it, for the tour at least. But, I’ve been doing the songs, so I should finish that up soon. Also, I have a lot of new songs that I’ve been working on, that I just need to program [drums] and figure out all the way.

When you do release a new record will it be on Southern Lord?I haven’t figured that out yet. There’s definitely the offer there, but I’m kind of thinking about just going solo, self-releasing. I just honestly don’t think I sell that many records in general, at least not through labels. I do tend to sell a lot of stuff when I’m on tour. Southern Lord I’ve just had a really great relationship with, but I feel like maybe it’s time to just not do records with my friends anymore, so I can still be friends with them later.

Was your European tour successful?Yeah! It was really great, super fun.

What is the history of Thrones, how did it start?I’ve been doing it for 13 years and I started here in Portland. I had offers from people from time to time to play with me, doing drums. I think it comes off better as a solo thing. It’s just easier than dealing with other people.

So the goal wasn’t creative autonomy, to be solo?Conceptually it was more like “I just want to make some music and I don’t want to get shat on for doing it.” I don’t want to feel judged. So, that’s why it remained a solo project.

You recently moved back to Portland. What was the reason behind that? What’s different about Portland now, compared to when you lived here before?I don’t know if I’m really into being here, honestly. After I lived in Portland, I moved to Olympia for 10 years and then to Los Angeles, but that didn’t work out so I moved back to the Northwest. But a lot of the stuff I didn’t like about L.A. is here now. I mean, it’s really overcrowded compared to what it used to be. And I think a big problem I’m having is that I’m holding on to what Portland used to be like 11 or 12 years ago. Which is stupid.

So you’ve been in a million different bands over the years. Do you make a career out of doing music alone?Yeah, I make a pretty frugal career out of doing my thing. There’s some OK ups and some really low lows here and there. Generally, yeah, that’s what I do.

You were touring with High on Fire and recorded that one album with them [Blessed Black Wings]. What happened with that?Well, they were touring all the time. In the tour years I was in the band and I never had more than three weeks off uninterrupted the whole time. I never got to really relax and rest. I was just always going on tour again and always thinking about going on the next tour. It really took its toll on everything in my life. I don’t know, my body was wrecked.

I really liked The Whip when they were around. Are there any plans to release any leftover material?I really don’t know. Right before Scott died we recorded a tour CD at my house and that’s the only stuff left over. We were going to work on it, but I don’t even have a copy anymore and I just have no idea what’s going on with it. It was going to be released by either Wantage or Hydrahead at one point. Jared [Warren, of Big Business] and I haven’t talked about it in a really long time. He’s just busy.

For Thrones, are there any general themes that you like to explore with music or lyrical ideas?I don’t have any lyrical ideas, it seems like. Song to song, it strikes me as “this should be like this” or “this book I read makes me want to write a song” or whatever. You know, this trip to the coast inspires me.

I once read an interview with you where you said that all of the songs on Sperm Whale are about bears.I pretty much just named all of the songs after bears and eventually they just became about bears.

There are worse things to write a song about.I agree.

Is there a way that you usually write music as Thrones? Is there a usual process at all?Sometimes there is, but when I get stuck in usual process I get stagnant. Fast. I don’t really like most of the stuff that I write after it’s done. A lot of stuff I write doesn’t even make it outside the house. So, I kind of try and mix it up, because it’s better to just let things flow. If it’s happening, let it happen. That’s the biggest problem I have, just nipping stuff in the bud too early. So now I just let things happen and try not to throw things away. Let them sit and maybe I like it later.

Most musicians hate this, but I think it can lead to a valuable discussion. Is there any one genre you see yourself being a part of? I know that you are often grouped with the “avant-metal” movement, with Sunn O))) or whatnot.I don’t really like being involved, I just think it’s dumb, the idea of genre. People just pigeonhole stuff so much now. I just get sick of it. This guy asked me in an interview in Europe, “Don’t you think you’re unfocused,” and I said I’m not trying to do…I just don’t have patience for bands that plumb the same tired territory. I don’t really care if I don’t fit into any one genre, be it “drone,” “doom” or otherwise.