The city streets are littered with the filth and desperation of abuse. Buildings, long condemned, house misfortune and disease-ridden piles of obscurity. Poverty is a reality in any metropolitan city, but Vancouver’s infamous Downtown Eastside has been swallowed in crime, disease and substance abuse for decades. This is where the Vancouver sludge quartet Haggatha coagulated.
“I’m an outreach nurse, I’ve worked Downtown Eastside for 10 years,” explains Trevor Logan, founding member and guitarist. “This music, these amps are like my therapist or my psychiatrist. I can get off work having seen crazy shit, dealt with crazy shit and I get down in the room and I hang out with the dudes and just deal with it. It’s like sitting down and unpacking some of that darkness that I took on during the day.”
Working as an outreach nurse helped foster Haggatha beyond the influence on their sound. Logan would go on to form a friendship and eventually a creative partnership with Phil Misquitta (bass, vocals).
“Phil worked at Insite, the supervised injection site. We met there and, actually, didn’t even talk about music, we started a football team. So, we started playing soccer and, through soccer, I mentioned to him I wanted to do this. He has a long history of listening to doom and sludge bands and he is originally from England, so he was exposed to way more shit than I was,” says Logan.
Rounding out the band is drummer Matt Wood, formerly of Goatsblood and Bison, as well as Braden Decorby (guitars, vocals) who was previously involved with the excellent Vancouver grind band, Osk. On their four releases, including Haggatha I (2009), II (2010), III (2011), and IV (2012), the quartet has melded elements of Sabbathian doom tinged with the murky hammering rhythms of grunge-tinged sludge. Forlorn and destitute, these riffs are as weighty as the rotting buildings that spawned them. The arrangements themselves reflect a bipolar chaos of unpredictability and intensity. A slow meandering monolith of a riff can quickly give way to a mid-tempo punk boogie assault and the transition is seamless. There is honesty to the creativity found here, a willingness to take risks. This freedom is essential, a root that burrows into Haggatha’s core. Logan recalled his first encounter with the now defunct Vancouver sludge/grind band Goatsblood, an ancestor to Haggatha’s sound and ethos.
“The emotions that they could evoke from their audience… the feeling of tension, of suffocation, of pure malice… there was no pretension. They went for it. They loved what they did, but they also hated what they did. It built this swirling tension that I’ve never really seen in any other live band. Those are the kinds of bands I get into,” he explains. “I don’t care what style of music it is: if you’re doing it and you love it and it’s honest and it’s reflecting that way, then fuck man! That’s good shit.”
This love/hate relationship has bled into the band conduct, although hardly to their detriment. Despite minimal efforts to advertise outside of releasing albums and playing live shows, Haggatha has garnered a sizeable cult following. The reputation has spread on word of mouth. Their music speaks for itself.
“We are a band that likes to do what we do, hopefully people are into it. We don’t pander, we don’t take pictures and we don’t pose. It’s just not the nature of the band,” says Logan. Their records, the first two of which were released by Kill Bomb Records and the latter two by Choking Hazard records, follow this minimalistic theme with primitive, yet effective artwork, and no depiction of members in the sleeve. Correspondingly, it took nearly three weeks for the band to provide a photo for this article due to the group’s dislike for such endeavours.
“It may have hurt the band over the past seven or eight years as far as recognition, but it’s just one of those things where it’s like, ‘Fuck it, we don’t care.’ It’s the meat and the potatoes, the music and the live shows that count. Who cares what you’re doing, who you’re talking to or what you look like. Play fucking music.”
See Haggatha with Bridge Burner, The Weir and Chieftain on Tuesday, May 27th at the Palomino.
By Tanner Wolff
Photo: Tiina Liimu