Thomas Andrew Doyle—or Tad to people who used to wear Sub Pop LOSER T-shirts—is taking out the recycling at his South Seattle home. That done, he feeds a treat to one of his two cats, the mischievous one who's hauled four moles into the Doyle household. This cuddly domestic scene isn't what you'd expect from the former frontman for TAD, the ornery Sub Pop–affiliated hard-rock group he led in the 1980s and '90s. But our erstwhile hellion is all grown up now. And he has the stern, orchestral soundtrack-ish album to prove it.
Doyle's new release on Yuggoth Records, Incineration Ceremony, may shock longtime fans used to TAD's punishing metallic knockout punches and the solemn roar of Brothers of the Sonic Cloth, a doom trio that includes his wife Peggy on bass. But if you examine Doyle's pre–Sub Pop history, this new development begins to make sense.
As a teenager, Doyle wanted to play drums like his older brother, but his parents told him to pick up the tuba they had in the attic for a year to prove his commitment to music. He did. "I was this fat kid hauling an E-flat tuba (which I still have) to school with no case. The jokes were flying everywhere."
Doyle grew up in Boise, Idaho, a place he depicts as being very white and racist during his childhood. He was a loner during high school in the late 1970s, and he was considered a "freak and a nerd." His discomfort around people was compounded by being big. "That made me even more introverted and weird. It probably shaped my creativity," Doyle says.
Despite this unpromising environment, Doyle got into jazz and classical music in junior high and high school thanks to progressive teachers who turned him on to Edgard Varèse and other composers. Varèse's use of electronic instruments in conjunction with symphonic orchestras became a primary influence on Incineration Ceremony. "It seems like he's from a different planet or something, as far as what he writes," Doyle enthuses. "Nothing's predictable. It's very startling sometimes."
Fast-forwarding to his Sub Pop tenure, Doyle became one of the most notorious figures in the media-fueled grunge phenomenon. He racked up his share of episodes of debauchery and brutal comedowns during those heady, heavy days, many of which are documented in the moving 2008 film Busted Circuits and Ringing Ears. TAD enjoyed plenty of hyperbolic press from British magazines like Melody Maker and NME, and they toured the world with some excellent peers, but they were also plagued by legal troubles relating to their album art and less-than-robust record sales. This year, Sub Pop graciously reissued three TAD albums so a new generation can revel in the gnarled intensity in better fidelity.
The nine-track Incineration Ceremony radically shifts gears in Doyle's discography. On the album, he conjures both the gravitas of a European art-house film score and the grandeur of Hollywood blockbuster soundtracks. Synth-based and buffeted by strings of most morose hues, the music here elicits profound existential angst. In a realm overflowing with rote gestures, Doyle finds a compelling way to wring deep emotions from a judicious palette of instrumentation and timbres.
"Asleep in Arrhythmia" combines muffled heartbeat pulsations with the sort of subliminally chthonic tones reminiscent of Lustmord's blood-freezing imaginary-horror scores, while "Bio-Illogical Functions" stokes anticipatory dread via icy piano motifs, spare percussion clatter, and shocking kick-drum booms, evoking in places Henry Mancini's soundtrack to Touch of Evil. (Both of those tracks feature percussionist and Yuggoth Records boss Peter Scartabello.)
The album ends with "Prognati Ignis Ignis," featuring Carl Sagan's famous "Pale Blue Dot" soliloquy. "I wanted it to be a thoughtful thing," Doyle says of the climactic track. "I wanted people to think I'm past the visceral part of music, that now I'm getting into the heady, spiritual, metaphysical, what's going on with everything type of thoughts. I think that speech was completely on the money for that."
Doyle says his main tool for Incineration Ceremony was an upright piano in his Witch Ape Studio live wood room (the resilient channel studio is housed in a converted two-car garage). That's where he starts most of his sketches. "I will have a couple of condenser microphones set up and just start playing what comes out of me," Doyle says. "Usually a moody thing that I will play around with, and then when I think that I have something, I will track it."
Doyle uses analog synths like a Korg Polysix and a Trident MkII (on which he spent $3,000 in 1977, a decision he doesn't regret) to create "texture and more of a sublevel type of noise. I am a big fan of noises, and always have been. The software-based synths and samplers are where a lot of the up-front textures and the bulk of the compositions are derived from." He also deploys a MiniLab, which he loves for its ability to generate minor chords and dissonance.
Incineration Ceremony—the CD run has already has sold out, though it's available on Bandcamp, and Doyle is seeking a label to issue it on vinyl—is a gripping score that's just begging for an adventurous filmmaker to plunder. And it counteracts many misguided assumptions you may have made about this musician based on sensationalist early-career media coverage and the hog-slaughterin' hard rock of those TAD records. He may be sporting a tiny ponytail and wearing camo shorts these days, but Doyle is poised to ascend to the level of serious soundtrack and neoclassical composer.
Doyle used his full name on Incineration Ceremony to give the project "its own light and not have it be bogged down by the past. I hope it shocks some people. It's not art unless it's fresh and different." Doyle says working on this record has been the most fun he's ever had in the studio—an odd adjective for such overwhelmingly bleak music. He admits: "I do tend to write darker stuff, but I didn't sit down and go, 'I'm going to write some really dark, depressing soundtracks for horror films.' However, I would love to get into that. I like minor chords, I like dissonance—big, scary sounds, quiet, creepy sounds."
Doyle has already completed a second album of solo works and has made substantial headway on a third. He played me "Lost in the Stellar Abyss" from the former, and it sounds even more ambitious than Incineration. The piece's beautiful, grave demeanor is ruptured by brutal heart-attack drums before violins usher in tremulous resignation.
The as-yet-untitled second album, Doyle says, will lean heavily on cosmic themes and also include vocals—his own. "I want the vocals to be in places where you wouldn't expect them, because it's going to be weird. It's not going to be screamy. It'll be sung, but with some guttural emotion behind it. I'll be doing some visualizations while I do it. It'll be a new frontier."
Doyle's ultimate goal is to have the Seattle Symphony perform his music. "That means I have to write it down. That'll take a while." It will surely be worth the weight.