EP review: Torus – Sail
Milton Keynes upstarts Torus chart a course for ’90s-revivalist nirvana with billowing debut Sail.
In the post-lockdown era, it seems like more and more alternative acts are stepping from COVID-enforced gestation already fully-formed. Where so many are the offbeat product of zany bedroom experimentation, however, Milton Keynes’ Torus deal in a brand of zero-bullshit hard rock that’s refreshing in its adherence to wringing the rawest-possible emotion from guitar, bass and drums.
In frontman Alfie Glass – who founded the project back in 2019 – they have a mastermind who’s studied the legends of the genre his whole life, and whose considerable vocal talents are a mic-thrusting match for titans like Josh Homme and Dave Grohl. Still, it’s taken the full integration of bassist and co-songwriter Harry Quinn in early-2020, and the arrival of drummer Jack Orr in early 2022, to solidify the structure and light the spark that might just take them to world-domination.
With excellent debut EP Sail having exposed their sound to the world, and a first-ever headline UK tour in the calendar for late-July/early-August, there’ll be absolutely no slacking now that they’ve gotten their shot at the big time. And, as they us from Alfie’s attic bedroom this balmy afternoon, it’s clear that wherever their journey may take them, every step will be taken on their terms…
Right from the moment you first hit play, it’s clear that Torus’ sound is steeped in hard rock history. From legends like Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath, to more recently-minted heroes like Kyuss, Smashing Pumpkins and Queens Of The Stone Age, they know exactly who to look up to.
“Music has been there for me from the moment I was born, basically,” begins Alfie. “My dad got me into classic rock, from the blues at the beginning to the greats like Led Zeppelin and AC/DC. That’s where our ‘straightforward rock’ sound comes from. We want to be like one of those [iconic] bands. My mum did something completely different: traditional folk fiddle. That side of my influence helps with my understanding of melody and my ability to look at things differently.”
And what of the ’90s alt. influences that are undeniably writ large on Torus’ sound?
“We all listen to a lot of bands who were making music in the ’90s, but I don’t think that we ever really intentionally pay homage to them,” shrugs Harry. “I think people make those comparisons because we love big riffs, and loud, distorted guitars, but we effectively want to write catchy pop-songs – as did a lot of those bands. Also, I’ve grown up with electronic music, looking at song structure and dynamics, and I [factor] that into our music: how to incorporate build-ups, gaps and space, so that when that big riff or chorus hits, it really hits you in the face.”
“Someone said, recently, that it’s the space in our music that makes us special,” nods Alfie. “We don’t overcomplicate things. We don’t put things in there that aren’t needed. And we’re not trying to be anyone but ourselves!”
When Alfie first incepted Torus in 2019, he could never have imagined his project’s progression over the tumultuous next three years. Despite the challenges of being unable to perform live and drummers coming and going on an almost revolving-door basis, rather than splintering them, those troubled times galvanised the creative partnership that we see today.
“Before lockdown, Torus was very much Alfie’s project,” explains Harry. “When lockdown happened, I became so much more involved: writing, contributing ideas and lyrics, doing so much graphic-design. We became a team. When I think back to the early demos that Alfie would send me before lockdown, there are a lot of similarities with the finished articles. The main difference is that where Alfie would tend to come up with 20-minute jams, I wanted to make sure that we were writing songs, with catchy hooks and structures, pared down to about three minutes each!”
“Harry has actually come up with most of the lyrical ideas, too,” Alfie adds.
“The four tracks of the EP really reflect what I was going through during those lockdown days: deja-vu, being stuck in your own head, wanting to do something but doubting yourself,” explains the bassist with a sigh. “It’s all about that depressing, confusing state of numbness.”
Alfie grins, wryly: “With Harry writing, and me singing, it’s like we live inside each other’s heads!”
“One of the most important things to us is creative control,” stresses Alfie. “From the beginning, we’ve always tried to be DIY, right down to small details like gig posters and how [we’re presented]. We chose not to go into a big, fancy studio to record this EP because we hate the thought of coming out with a recording that we don’t like, or which loses the character of our band.”
That DIY ethos was reinforced by Harry’s status with his bandmates at the ‘Bedroom King’ who would routinely lock in and challenge himself to produce albums of different genres (from techno to garage rock) on an almost daily basis since his early teens. Ultimately, it felt right that he would lean into that skillset to retain the intimacy and ownership that makes Torus’ sound special.
“Recording this EP in the room that Alfie was stuck in during lockdown just felt right,” Harry gestures. “We recorded demo after demo in this room in pretty much the exact same way that we recorded and mixed the EP. It was just a bit more polished. Having been doing [production] since I was like 13, it feels right to carry it on. Beyond the music, too we create control visuals and graphic design. With our music videos [such as that for Clone, shot by Nirvana, Bjork, Nick Cave veteran Steve Gullick], even where we’re not actually making them, we’re coming up with the concepts.”
Although the band flourished during a period where live performance was all but impossible, Torus have always maintained the importance of their live show. Their return performance at Milton Keynes’ Craufurd Arms on August 13, 2021 proved that to a local fanbase who’d been waiting with baited breath for their return, and the lads insist that their upcoming first UK headline tour – as well as October’s run in support of Cold Years – will be see them set out their stall nationally.
“It was like we disappeared a little bit for like two years, just working really hard on music, then we appeared again and there were like 200 people there,” Alfie remembers their return to the stage. “Ever since, [it feels like more and more] people have been coming to our shows. We’ve already started playing further afield, in places like Brighton, but our first-ever UK tour will be amazing. What were saying about our dynamics – those build-ups and drops – really translate into our live show. We save certain pedals and things for when you really need them. As Harry was saying earlier, when we come in with that big riff, it really blows your face off.”
“I like to think that we, as a three-piece, sound a lot bigger than a lot of five or six-piece bands,” the bassist grins, boldly. “We’ve got a lot of energy. If you come to a Torus show, you’ll be in a trance for however long the set is, then you’ll leave with a song or two stuck in your head.”
As capable behind the drum-kit as Alfie is, it was always going to take someone to fill that stool permanently for Torus to transition properly from bedroom project to proper band. In their search for someone around their age who could properly commit, the lads had actually tried out Jack around a year ago, but hadn’t felt any spark. With the sticksman doubling-down on his practice in the interim, though, and with promoter/local legend Paul Rivers continually insisting that they give him another chance, they tried again and properly clicked in January of this year.
“I think it was about me catching up with them,” Jack explains, humbly. “After the original try-outs didn’t work out, I took to playing drums [constantly], trying to learn a new song basically every day. I wasn’t sure that I’d ever get in a band, which is why I went off to uni in Liverpool. But then a couple of months into my time there, Alfie messaged me again.”
“In the same way that me really getting my foot in the door at the beginning of lockdown felt like a new beginning, Jack joining felt like we were ready, with energy and ideas constantly flowing,” Harry smiles, delighted things worked out. “Plus, we’re great mates. We just strive to keep progressing and getting better, writing catchier and catchier songs that people can relate to.”
“Another thing that makes us different is that we actually have a vision to be big,” concludes Alfie. “We’re not scared of that. My mates used to take the piss out of me for ‘wanting to be a rock star’, but it’s true. We all have that vision of playing stadiums one day. We know where we want to get to. We’ve been playing and writing music from a young age, and it feels like it would be madness to do anything else. We don’t have a fear of failing, because we couldn’t do anything else anyway. We’ve only been a band for about three years and we’ve already been through about six drummers. But now it feels like we’re complete. We’re ready to take over the universe. This is just the beginning…”
Sail is out now via MNRK. Torus’ UK headline tour runs from July 29 to August 13. They will support Cold Years from 8 – 13 October