Here we are, the very first interview on Doomed Nation! I’m really excited that I had a chance to talk with amazing Amy Tung Barrysmith about her band Year Of The Cobra, their new album, touring, private life and some other things that musicians are dealing with.
Formed in 2015, Year Of The Cobra became a rapidly ascending, radiant star in the horizon of the doom/stoner scene for a reason: This powerhouse duo, consisting of Amy Tung Barrysmith (bass, vocals) and Jon Barrysmith (drums), use their limitation in instrumentation to their advantage. Leaving space for every instrument to breathe and to shine, they create a vast, larger than life sound aesthetic. Their songs drift relentlessly from classic epic doom laments into oppressive heavy riff architecture; from catchy, almost upbeat rock moments into transfiguring psychedelia.
What would be your influences when you first started a band, beside Black Sabbath of course?
Amy: I am inspired by so many types of music. I studied classical, which will always be my favorite style of music to play on the piano, and then I discovered hardcore, which I was fell head first into for a long time. It wasn’t until a bit later that I was finally turned on to stoner rock. I really like Kyuss, Queens Of The Stone Age, Monolord, The Sword, Yob…the obvious ones, of course! My favorite band, though, is probably The Cure. I think their music has definitely influenced me a lot.
As two-piece you can be much more loud & powerful at the stage than the whole orchestra. But is that form of expresion enough for you?
Amy: Being a two-piece is really difficult because you have to fill a lot of space with a small amount of instruments. Finding a way to make the bass cover the high end and the low end was (and is still) something I have to work really hard to do. I would love to be able to introduce more instruments. My problem with it all is that I don’t have enough arms to play everything I want, so I have to keep it all a bit minimal. We’ll see. We’ve started adding in some keyboards to our live show (we’ve always added it into the recordings, but never tried adding it to the live show) and I have been playing and recording a lot on the guitar.
It’s really shame that we can’t hear your beautiful backing vocals on live shows but only on the records. Is that maybe bothering you?
Amy: Oh yes. That does bother me. I LOVE vocal harmonies and everything that goes along with it. I think it adds so much dimension to the songs and I hate not being able to reproduce that live. I mean, I could fly in tracks, but we have been staunchly against that. I have tried adding harmonies with my vocal processor, but it always sounds so fake. Plus, I already have so many pedals to deal with, turning on and off vocal harmonies in the middle of a song is just not feasible.
You are just about to start recording your new album. Can you tell me some details about that?
Amy: Well, we have been recording a bunch of music, but we haven’t totally written the new album yet. It’s still in the concept phase, honestly. We want to find a way to grow as a band and find new sounds and ways to expand what we already do, but also be able to play the songs live. We’ve been quarantined for a while now so we haven’t had too many band practices so these songs are developing in a completely different way than any of our previous songs. It is a new territory, kinda of. I am nervous about what will come of it, but also really excited. If we don’t grow then there’s no point in doing any of this.
I’ve seen that you will be working with legendary producer Jack Endino (Nirvana, Soundgarden, Bruce Dickinson) again. How came to your colaboration with him?
Amy: Yes, we do plan to work with Jack Endino again. He is truly amazing and so easy to work with. Plus, he’s just such a wonderful human being. It’s always an honor to be able to spend time with him and watch him work.
Would be that kinda sequel to your previous album »Ash And Dust« or is this a new chapter?
Amy: We’re hoping it will be a new chapter. »Ash And Dust« seemed like a pretty normal progression from »In The Shadows Below« and »Burn Your Dead«. The ideas we’re willing to try are definitely more risky and different. We’re trying to add in more instrumentation and different types of sounds and tones. We’ll see. I’m really excited about it!
How do you write your songs?
Amy: They come about in many ways. Usually I will write a riff and record it, and then we go into the studio and jam it out until we find a good arrangement. That works pretty well, but the only problem with that is that we can’t really hear the Intricacies of what the other person is doing. Sometimes Jon can’t hear the subtle riff changes I do, or I can’t hear his kick drum patterns, so we miss things. With this album, since we’re stuck at home already, we’ve both been writing separately on our computers, recording everything, creating a more structured song before we show it to each other. It’s been a nice change.
I suppose it would be released for a German label Prophecy Productions? How got you actually signed to them?
Amy: It’s a pretty cool story, actually. Martin, the owner of the label, saw us play Psycho Las Vegas and contacted us shortly after. We were in negotiations for a bit, but we eventually signed and are really happy with them.
What’s the main difference between the shows in Europe and the US?
Amy: Oh wow. Well, the first main difference is the way the venues treat you. Europe is alway so open and welcoming. They actually seem genuinely grateful that you’re there. I think the culture in Europe is just more accepting and appreciative of the arts. Like, they realize how important it is to your well being to embrace music. Here in the US, it’s a systemic issue. The government is always defunding the arts and music and not giving musicians or venues any sort of support, and that trickles down to the people, sadly. Aside from that, the drives in Europe are amazing and so beautiful, and the food, oh my god. So good!
With which bands you like to tour the most? Or that you could consider them as a family?
Amy: Well, we’ve had such amazing tours with a lot of awesome bands. We like to think that we’re pretty easy and fun to tour with. I can say that after each tour, we have always returned with new friends. Our first US tour with Mos Generator was awesome, as was the one with Ape Machine. I think our favorite co-headlining tour was with Toke in Europe. We had only met them briefly at Psycho so we weren’t really sure what we were getting into. We usualy prefer using our own van as opposed to sharing in case things get weird, but in Europe, that’s not an option. I met them at the airport in Dusseldorf (Jon had to leave to pick up the gear and merch and stuff). We took a train to get to our airbnb for that night and on the train, Tim busted out a fifth of whiskey which we finished on that train ride. It was at that moment that knew that we would be life long friends.
Do you have any special rituals before you go on stage?
Amy: Not really. I just try to stay focused. There are a lot of things I have to do immediately before, during, and after I play and I’m constantly trying to make sure I don’t miss anything. If I connect a cable wrong or any of my pedals are not set properly, then it’s really difficult to get it right in the middle of a song. I am always trying to make sure that I stay in the moment while I play, as well, and not let my mind drift off to someplace else.
What was your biggest tour til now?
Amy: Oh man, the biggest tours we had were the ones we never played! The High On Fire tour that we had scheduled in early 2019 was definitely going to be our biggest one, but that got canceled. We were also set to do a Euro tour with YOB in 2020 that got canceled as well! Hopefully something actually pans out. Lol.
Do you have any favorite places here in Europe?
Amy: There are so many places I love in Europe. I have to say, almost every place we play becomes my favorite. I love Germany, all of it. The first time we came to Europe, I was so surprised at how much I loved it. We discuss moving to Germany constantly! I really love playing Slovanice (Czech Republic). It’s such an amazing mix of remarkable history and punk rock DIY style venues and it’s always a massice party after the show. It’s so fun!! I was really surprised at how much I loved Poland and how beautiful it was. Slovenia was extraordinarily gorgeous, as was Italy. We only played one show there, but we stopped in Trieste, which was amazing, and Udine, which was really fun. France is always remarkable and Scotland blew us away as well. I love Austria as well. It’s just too many wonderful places in Europe. Seriously.
We met after your show in Koper, Slovenia at the merch. Have you seen a lot of our country driving there? How did you like it?
Amy: Well, we actually had a rare day off before our show in Koper. We purposely arrived two nights before our show (we got in around 10 pm) so we could spend the next day exploring. We arrived so late that everything was closed, but we eventually found a bar that was open. We got a couple of beers and wandered around the city for hours. We couldn’t believe how beautiful it was and how lucky we were to be there. The next day, we drove up to Izola for lunch and then up to Piran for dinner. Jon even took a dip in the Adriatic Sea. Slovenia is definitely on the top 5 places for us to visit if we ever to get to go to Euorpe on an actual vacation!!
Did you have many bands before Year Of The Cobra? I know only HDR. Were you also part of Phantom Blue reincarnation in 2001 or was that another Amy Tung on the bass?
Amy: Ha! I was a part of the Phantom Blue reincarnation. I never actually played any shows with them, though. I auditioned because I was fairly new to the bass and their songs were pretty complex. I just wanted to see if I could do it or not. I was bummed to not play a show with them. Their drummer was amazing. It was the first time I played with a female drummer that really blew me away. I did some other smaller stuff, but HDR was my main band before YOTC.
Why were you and Jon moving from California to Seattle? What do you like the most living there?
Amy: We moved to Seattle because we had our daughter and we didn’t want to raise her in LA. It’s such a fun place to live, but I think it’s more fun as a single adult or a couple without kids. We wanted to find a nice spot to raise a family, but also a place that has a thriving music scene. We had both toured in Seattle before and loved it. It was an easy decision.
What do I love most about living here? Everything. It’s incredibly beautiful. Just yesterday, we drove about 45 mins to the mountains and were surrounded by lush trees and gorgeous landscapes. We’re both avid snowboarders, and the mountains are really close. We live a mile from the beach and walk there most days during the summer months. There’s a lot of camping and hiking and biking trails. The air is clean and the people are really nice. It’s a pretty wonderful place. The biggest downfall, though, is that it’s so far away from any other major city (other than Portland OR). When we leave for tour, it takes around 12 hours to get to another major city to play. Oof!!
Is it still possible to feel that Seattle is the »cradle of grunge«? Do you like any artists from tha era?
Amy: I definitely feel like it’s still the »cradle of grunge«. Seattlelites are really proud of their musical history, as they should be. I have to admit, it took me a while to get into grunge. I was really deep into my hardcore phase then, but I have really grown to appreciate it, especially living here. If I had to choose a favorite artist from that era, it would defiitely be Nirvana.
What your regular day looks like, when you’re not on tour?
Amy: Oh man, my regular days are so mundane. My days are a bit different right now because of Covid19. I wake up at 7:30 am to make breakfast and get the kids ready for home schooling. I home school them from 9 – 2 pm and then I teach music from 2 – 7:30 pm. Once the kids go to bed, then I get to do the fun stuff and work on music. I’m really boring, honestly and exhausted most of the time!
You are also a music teacher if I’m correct? Can you live only from teaching and touring?
Amy: I am a music teacher. I actually own my own music school. I am lucky that when we are on tour, I have my teachers (I have a few guitar and drum teachers that work for me) take over my students so I am still able to earn some money while I am away. The band is able to make a profit as well, so with both, I am lucky to say that I am able to live off music!!
What are your kids saying that their mom and dad are playing in the band? Are they proud of you?
Amy: That’s a funny question. It took them a little while to really understand what we did. When our daughter started kindergarten, she begged me to grow my hair out and look more like the other moms. Poor thing. It’s different now, though. They’re older and they definitely appreciate it. It helps when their classmates think that we’re cool. Ha!! Our daughter’s fourth grade teacher actually played one of our videos in class.
We’re lucky in the fact that our love of music hasn’t turned our kids off of loving music. You know how that goes. They choose to do the opposite of what you do because they’re trying to rebel. Our daughter now has her own band and our son, while he’s still quite young, is enjoying the drums and piano.
You’ve also participated on Women Of Doom compilation with your solo song Broken, which sounds not so familiar as we’re used from Year Of The Cobra. Do you have more material like that? How do you like the whole WOD project?
Amy: Yeah, the WOD song was totally a break from what YOTC usually sounds like. I really wanted to use that avenue to explore something different and see what kind of reception it would get. I really enjoyed writing that and have talked about doing a solo album, or maybe taking YOTC in that direction. Jon is really supportive of either, so it will be fun to see what we end up doing with the other songs I’ve written in that vein. I really enjoyed the WOD project. I really respect Brad (Desert Records) and Jadd (Blues Funeral Recordings) and loved working with those two. They were so grateful the entire time. It was very special.
Is there also a certain connection between female artists in that kind of music?
Amy: I haven’t met a female artist in this genre that I didn’t like. They’re all just really cool and passionate and as grateful as I am to see another women out there raging!!
How big is stoner/doom scene in the US actually? Are there many people into it?
Amy: The stoner/doom scene in the US is definitely gaining ground. I don’t think it’s as big as it is in Europe, but we’re trying!! We have always seen new faces and more people with each successive tour, which is great. Even in the small towns, you see people coming out. The big festivals that are starting to crop up in the US are really helpful as well. Psycho is enormous, Monolith on the Mesa’s first ever fest was a total success, all of the Stoned and Doomed fests are doing well. We’re getting there!
What about recent riots in Minneapolis and other cities? Were there any bigger clashes with the police in Seattle?
Amy: We did have our share of riots. It’s still going on but not to the extent it did during the first weekend. We live in West Seattle, which is a peaceful neighborhood so we haven’t had to deal with the chaos directly, but it isn’t far from where we live. It’s such a difficult situation and people are so frustrated. They need these avenues to get their voices heard. I don’t necessarily condone the violent acts, but I do believe action must be taken to make any real change. It’s just sad that we are still fighting this same fight.
Have you ever been a victim of police brutality by yourselves?
Amy: I have never been brutalized by the police to the extent in which other minorities have, but I have had some bad interactions with them in the past that certainly weren’t warranted.
How did COVID-19 lockdown affect your personal life and band activities?
Amy: My personal life hasn’t taken much of a hit. I’m a pretty private, introverted person, actually, so staying home with my family is pretty awesome. I have had some socially distanced happy hours with good friends and some really fun zoom parties with family which has helped keep me in touch with the people I love. For the band, though, it’s a completely different story. We had a Canadian tour in March, a European tour with YOB in May and a headlining tour in Europe in September that we have had to cancel which has been really rough, not to mention any of the killer shows we had lined up here in the states. Our latest album, »Ash And Dust« was just released in November so these tours were important to help publicize the album. We haven’t been rehearsing as much because we need a babysitter and with the whole lockdown, we didn’t want to risk bringing one in, but we have been writing a lot of music at home which has been so refreshing and fun. It might not all be a loss. Only time can tell.
Thank you so much for this interview! Any last words?
Amy: Thank you for taking the time to do this and supporting our music. We really appreciate it and wouldn’t be where we are today without the support of everyone involved. Hopefully we’ll be able to see you again in Koper! Stay safe.