Interview with The Sleer’s Robby Marshall, Jeff Goetz, and Jeff Holter | By Kelley O’Death
Portland-based blackened doom slingers, The Sleer, started kicking out their menacing, sludgy jams several years ago, first releasing a self-titled EP in August of 2014. After a brief hiatus, the band reformed with a new lineup—featuring vocalist and guitarist Robby Marshall, bassist Jeff Holter, and drummer Jeff Goetz—and refocused their efforts.
In April, The Sleer’s seminal visions culminated in a debut full-length, Midnight Sister, featuring updated versions of the EP’s four tracks, plus five brand new excursions into darkness. The record is a slow-burn: hypnotic and vicious in equal measure. The oppressive atmosphere and dissonant foreboding created in the band’s lengthy compositions cast long shadows in which Marshall’s depths-of-Hell vocals lurk patiently, waiting for the right moment to strike the listener’s throat. The album will be available on cassette in July.
But first, Marshall, Holter, and Goetz offer a peek into the method behind their madness.
When and how did The Sleer form?
RM: We formed in 2014 in Denver with a different group of guys, but after a year of playing with them, families became more important. So, we split. I never really got into a groove in Denver—in general—so I decided to move back to Portland where my family is. I still had a bunch of material I had been writing in Denver, so I found Jeff Holter on the “Portland Doom, Sludge, and Stoner” group on Facebook. Jeff Goetz came way later when I started working at [the Portland screen printing shop] Ink Brigade, and he just happened to be there.
So, Jeff-1 and Jeff-2. They need better nicknames.
JG: The Sleer formed long ago, but I’ve been drumming for them since late last year. Robby and I met at work, started jamming for fun, and decided to keep it going. I believe this is the second or third incarnation of the band.
How would you describe your sound? Why did you gravitate toward this kind of music?
RM: Blackened doom, I guess. Some people say doom, and some say sludge. I’ll leave that for everyone else to decide.
I’ve always been into black metal and death metal, but I’ve also always liked the more song-y stuff as opposed to just playing as heavy as you can. Amorphis’ Tales [from the Thousand Lakes] album is probably my favorite metal album of all time.
I’d just play black metal, but I’m not that fast of a guitar player. I also can’t sing for shit, so you get black metal vocals and slow, chuggy guitars. Jeff-2 spices up the drums quite a bit now, which is good, because it covers up the fact that I’m not really doing all that much.
JG: Slow and crushing rhythms, lots of riffs, and commanding vocals. It’s very metal, and I’ve always loved metal.
Neil Gaiman has influenced some of your lyrics, right? What is it about his work that resonates with you? What else inspires your lyrical content?
RM: Neil Gaiman is fucking wacky. I’m a total closet goth and think Dream and Death [from the “Sandman” series] are the coolest.
A friend let me borrow a bunch of stuff, so I read “Stardust,” “Neverwhere,” and some “Sandman.” I was hooked. Our name comes from “The Graveyard Book.” The song “We Are The Sleer” was actually a song before we were called The Sleer. I’ve never enjoyed anything more than “American Gods,” though. I’ve been shoving that book down people’s throats for years.
Anything that isn’t Gaiman-themed is usually about religion or living in the wilderness. Crap like that.
When and how was Midnight Sister written and recorded?
RM: I’ve just got a basic home studio setup, and I’d recorded demos for it when I was in Denver over 2015 and 2016. Some while I was still playing with the old lineup and some after the split. We—the new lineup—were just going to release those demos, but it didn’t make sense to not do it as a group effort. I liked the little things everyone added when we practiced, so we ended up replacing everything part for part.
I wanted to put out a concept album that was just about “American Gods,” and I actually recorded the whole thing in 2011, but scrapped it and started using the material for other bands. Then, when I started The Sleer, I was going to try again, but didn’t think I could fit the whole story into just a few songs. So, the album Midnight Sister has two: “Midnight Sister” and “His Horse Is the Gallows.” I’m sure the next album will have at least two more that will continue the story.
JG: Robby had already fully written the whole album before I joined, so for me, it was mostly just a matter of learning the songs. I was able to throw in some of my own stuff on drums, which was really cool. We tracked all the drums in what felt like a broom closet. It was such a small space to record drums in, but we definitely made it work! Guitars, bass, vocals, and mixing were all done at Robby’s house.
If you had to choose, which song(s) on the record are you most stoked on, and why?
RM: “Midnight Sister.” Partially because it’s a bit prettier than the rest of our stuff, which makes it different and new. Mostly because the music for that song has been scrapped and rewritten over and over again for more than a decade now and has gone through so many changes. There’s always been something I didn’t like about previous versions until now. It’s finally seamless. To me, anyway. I’m sure there’s someone that doesn’t like it, but for me, it finally sounds the way I’ve always wanted it to sound.
JG: Man, that’s a hard one! I really love “His Horse Is the Gallows,” “The Water,” “Out of the Earth,” and “We Are The Sleer.” Mostly because they are a lot of fun to play!
JH: I’m most stoked on “We Are The Sleer,” because it’s really heavy and it trudges along nicely. Actually, Jeff-2’s drumming gets me stoked on anything he plays.
What do you hope listeners will take away from the album?
RM: I just want to doom out without playing the same slow, boring riff over and over again, so really, I guess I just want people to not be bored with it. I wanted something people who like doom would like, but also something people who don’t like doom would like.
JG: I can only hope that people find the music satisfying and feel compelled to play it loud!
JH: I hope listeners turn it up loud.
Do you have any plans for upcoming shows or tours? What can folks expect from your live show?
RM: We’re playing some shows in the next couple months, [including] a tape release for Die Like Gentlemen on July 8 at Turn! Turn! Turn! Working on some out of town shows to keep things interesting and would love to tour, but it would have to be after the summer just because of everyone’s work schedules.
JG: We currently have a few shows booked in Portland and look forward to playing more in the near future. We really love playing live, so folks can expect to have a great time with us!
What are your short term and long term goals with The Sleer?
RM: Just to keep going. We just like playing, and it’s a good way for all of us to loosen up. We want to write and record more stuff for sure. We’ve actually started talking about recording a couple more songs in the next few months.
JG: My main goal with The Sleer is to have fun doing it. Whatever else that comes along with that is an added bonus.
JH: My goals are to keep having fun, play well, and meet good people.
Do you have any other bands or projects that you’d like to mention?
RM: Just want to mention some friends we think people should also check out: Battle Hag, Crimson Eye, (Waning), Chrch, Furnace, Ice Kream Social, Khemmis, Cult Of The Lost Cause, The Munsens, Hands Of Thieves, In The Company Of Serpents, Disenchanter, Skulldozer, Dreadnought, and Bog Oak.
Lastly, anything you’d like to add?
RM: Kitties are so nice. Kitties are so nice. Sit them down, spin them round. Tickle their bellies twice. Kitties. Kitties. Kitties are so nice.
Oh, yeah, also: Midnight Sister will be available on cassette in July.
Pick up a copy of ‘Midnight Sister’ on cassette and follow The Sleer on Facebook for more info about their upcoming live shows. If you ask nicely, Marshall may even show you pictures of his magnificent cats!