Planning for Burial Explores the Darkness ‘Below the House’
Isolation, discomfort and change are all hallmarks of a poignant record. Wilkes-Barre, Pa., musician Thom Wasluck, aka Planning for Burial, knows these things more than most. On his newest album, Below the House, he captures a timeline of events: moving back to his parents' house, getting sober, his relationship with himself, the pain of being isolated from past comforts. These feelings and ideas melt into his signature gloom sound, taking hints of shoegaze, heavy metal and drone, and condensing them all into a harsh and beautiful new form.
Today, Wasluck is premiering Below the House, a collection of nine tracks that actualize what he's been working toward since the project's inception. His trademark expansion of sound ventures into new territories on this record, allowing for a song like "Warmth of You" to soften the guitars into a dreamy space. "Threadbare" builds up a heavy bass-laden opening before its back end explodes into full-on doomed-blues power. These generally shorter songs all build to a climax on "Dull Knife Pt. 2," a long sigh of a heavy, painful upward ascent, guitars and drums slamming with each step. It's a record with a wide swath of emotions, bittersweet optimism giving way to hopelessness, then returning to pure, heavy bliss.
Hear Below the House below, and pre-order it before it's out Friday on the Flenser.
How long have you been working on Below the House?
I think I started writing it pretty much [in] August 2014. I toured all of June through July 2014, did another small vacation in July, and then took my tests to get into my [labor union] apprenticeship, and literally the next day got called and was asked, “Hey, do you want work?” So, I moved back [to Wilkes-Barre] first week of August, because I was playing guitar and had nothing else to do, so I started work on it then. I didn’t actually start recording until March 2015.
When you do your recordings, how many iterations will a song or idea go through?
I think by the time I’m getting to recording them, they’re already in a final version. But then there’s different mixes [or] a year later I’ve added these keyboard parts, so it’s different; but it’s the same backbone and structure that makes it sound different. There were a lot of songs on this record that I demoed out on a four-track real quick, and that was like “the version.” And when I finally went to record it, it became a different version.
One thing I was curious about: Since everything is recorded at home, are there certain rooms that work better for certain aspects of recording?
When I lived in New Jersey, I recorded either in one spot in my basement or my living room. Those were the rooms. Now that I’m living in my parents’ house again, I did a lot in the bedroom, vocals in the kitchen and the bathroom, a lot of guitar in the living room, drums in the garage or in the other living room with a cathedral ceiling. So, it was basically putting mics up in a room and seeing how things sound.
What was the first thing you ever recorded in the house?
I think when I moved here, I just turned 13. I was doing stuff with two boom boxes — I’d record into one boom box, like a rhythm guitar part, play that really loud, and then I’d play like a lead part or something and record it onto another boom box, and just go back and forth.
Did you have to save up for a four-track recorder?
I begged and begged and begged when I was 15, and my parents bought it for me for Christmas. I didn’t think I was ever going to get one, and to this day they were like, “Oh, we didn’t think we’d get it for you because we didn’t think you’d ever use it, and they’re kind of expensive.” But sure enough, they had to take it away from me a couple of times because I stopped caring about everything. As soon as I got home from school, I was recording; soon as I got home from work, I was recording. I wouldn’t sleep — I was recording. That was when you could buy a four-track at, like, Musician’s Friend — they were the new hot thing.
What was it like moving back to Pennsylvania?
Pretty awful. [Laughs] I still don’t talk to many people here, and I don’t really know what’s happening music-wise. I’ve been starting to get into that lately; it seems like there’s something cool going on. I’m getting older. I don’t know exactly who to talk to or where the cool things are happening, so it’s a lot of time spent in my room.
Do you generally like isolation? I think in my head I think I like being alone more than I actually do.
It’s a little bit that, but not completely. I think, for me, if I get bored, I go to a record store and look around. The record store here, though, is totally stuck in the '90s.
What kind of music do you run into in your area? All I hear about is Wilkes-Barre's hardcore.
Yeah, it’s funny. I’ll be on Tumblr and I’ll see someone post a picture of whatever hardcore band played Wilkes-Barre, and it’ll be dated the night before. And I’m like, where is that venue, and how did I not know there was a show? And then you look up the venue and you can’t find anything. But there’s a cool weirdo psychedelic thing going on.
Was there a specific scene you were into as a teen, or did you try to spread yourself out?
In Wilkes-Barre, you didn’t really have to spread yourself, because most of the shows were intertwined. You’d be seeing, like, a grind band with a hardcore band and then a weirdo folk band. It was a very eclectic area, and I think it helped me grow up, in a way — liking different things. It wasn’t like I was just going to hardcore shows or metal shows.
Did you have a bad time playing in bands?
No, I didn’t. I really like playing in bands. The thing is, now, I don’t think I could ever play guitar or sing in a band, because I would want to focus that stuff on Planning for Burial. It was just, even when I was in bands in high school and through my early 20s, I was at home recording on my four-track doing my own thing, so I’ve always done my own thing. It was just ... writing songs. I didn’t stop.
When recording the album, were there any specific bands or artists you would listen to a lot?
I don’t think the record even sounds like it, but I was going for a whole PJ Harvey To Bring You My Love type of thing, where it’s just dark blues. It's kind of heavy, kind of brooding. And then, the work of Phil Elverum.
I don’t think I’m going to be able to listen to his new record. It’s going to crush me too much.
That first day when the first song came out, I probably listened to it six times, and I cried heavier each time I listened to it. Even when the news came about it last year, I cried about it. I wouldn’t expect anything less from him — the whole thing is brutal, and I don’t know how I’m going to take the record either.
Were there any sounds or things you wanted to go for this time around that you didn’t get to previously?
I don’t know if it’s that I couldn’t get to them before, but I wanted to go for "songs." Some of my stuff is just layer after layer after layer. And the last record was done that way because I was figuring out how to play live. I figured I needed all these songs I was playing live and should finally have a record for them. And then this one, I wanted more things I could just play.
What kind of themes did you want to hit on the record? I read that sobriety was a major key to things.
Yeah. I think I wasn’t able to actually finish the record until I got clean and stopped drinking. In a way, it’s a push-and-pull thing. When I got here, I worked for a few months, and then got a long winter off. I just drank every day, like bad. I wasn’t realizing it. It took me like a whole year; in 2016, I realized I had to stop. So, there was that, and I guess kind of a reflection, I think, in terms that could be seen as a relationship between people, but also yourself and a substance or the bottle — that kind of back-and-forth.
I’m curious: Do you regret breaking edge? I’m glad I’m sober now, but I don’t think I regret anything. I know you were 26 when you did it.
No, I don’t. I only made it eight months and I felt like that was pretty good for me. I worked out of town for two months and got really bored there and started drinking heavy, but I calmed it down and I’m not even drinking right now. But I don’t regret breaking edge; my whole thing was, it’s a very human experience and we’re all going to die eventually, so I might as well try it to know.