Not long ago, Tad Doyle became obsessed with NASA’s Jet Propulsion Web site (www.jpl.nasa.gov). The site includes a collection of photographs of the cosmos, things we can’t see with our naked eye down here on Earth. “It was really inspiring,” he says. “I was like, ‘Wow, I’m really small.’ It felt good, y’know. I thought, it’s time to make some big music again.”
For years Doyle was a local rock icon—still is, in many ways. But when he was singing and playing guitar in the band TAD, he was a larger-than-life character. Doyle is a big man, and the music he made with TAD was steamroller-heavy. With crushing riffs and caveman growls, TAD was a bit too raw to race up the charts as some of their grunge peers did (though it could be argued they were ahead of their time, given the success of later bands like Korn). In all their marketing genius, TAD’s label, Sub Pop, turned them into a caricature of sorts, making unsuspecting suburbanites think psychotic Northwest lumberjacks had formed a band after listening to Black Sabbath in the woods. Doyle played along, but the reality was the opposite.
Despite the mammoth sounds he’s made, Doyle is a gentle, quiet, thoughtful man. With his new band, Brothers of the Sonic Cloth, he has found a way to channel his pensive side while still creating a massive sound. A few months ago, I watched as the Brothers unveiled their songs to a crowd at Jules Maes Saloon. Doyle himself stood very still through the show, baseball cap pulled low, eyes shut, as if he were feeling his way through this new sound. The songs were thunderous, with big-fisted guitar riffs and drumming that rattled your chest. But there was a new element: Doyle and his band also took time to explore space-rock interludes that were echoey, sprawling, and trippy. I heard traces of Kyuss’ druggy, nod-off moments, and the throbbing explorations of early Pink Floyd (think “Heart Beat, Pig Meat” and “Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun”). Though Doyle was playing softer than he probably ever has on stage, I thought these spacey parts were in many ways the biggest sounds he’s made—like that pulsing silence outside the spaceship in Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey.
Brothers of the Sonic Cloth arose after Doyle had taken a nearly five-year break from music. After TAD’s late-’90s collapse, Doyle moved to San Diego and was “just not inspired” to play in a band.
“Then one day I was driving down 805,” he says. “And I heard ‘War Pigs’ by Black Sabbath on the radio. And I just started crying. It was like I remembered why I got into this business to begin with, y’know—I love rock ‘n’ roll!”
He started listening to new bands like Middian, Yob, the Christpunchers, and especially Neurosis (“I’m a big Neurosis fan”), realizing that there was still great music in the world. He even dug into the past and listened to Pink Floyd (an obvious inspiration for the spacey element in his new work).
In the beginning, Brothers of the Sonic Cloth was just a recording project for Doyle and his longtime girlfriend Peg Tully. But when the two relocated to Seattle from southern California (Doyle obtained his accounting degree at South Seattle Community College and now works as a bookkeeper), they were reminded of the Emerald City’s openness to hearing bands try out new material. They started auditioning some drummers. Eric Akre (Supersuckers, Juno, Heather Duby, Built to Spill) fit the mold they were searching for—the kind of drummer who could hit hard but still ease up for moments of cosmic bliss. They played their first show late last year, opening for Middian at El Corazon, and they recently played Sub Pop’s SP20 festival opening for the Gutter Twins at the Showbox. Says Doyle: “Jonathan [Poneman of Sub Pop] had asked me about getting the TAD band together for a reunion. I told them that’s just not where my heart is, y’know. I got this new band.”
While Doyle is not ashamed of his old work, he’s eager to continue moving forward. “I had some drinking and drugging in my past,” he says. “I haven’t done any of that in seven years. For me this is the first time I’ve been sober onstage. It’s very different. For one thing, I remember what I’m doing. This music we’re doing requires a great amount of concentration. It’s very cerebral, and it’s also a spiritual thing for me.”