Thrones Rides Alone


Nearly a decade ago, I asked Joe Preston, the staunchly one-man minimalist-metal wrecking machine known as Thrones, to describe his aesthetic. His reply: “Your mom.”

Hey, it’s no dumber than “doom metal,” and he’s sticking to it: “It’s hilarious to attach ‘avant’ or ‘experimental’ to anything useful,” Preston says now, chatting by phone on a break from repairing his motorcycle at home in Portland, Oregon. He’s got a long, varied career of experi-metal shredding to pithily summarize, from his cameos with repetitious slo-mo droners Earth and stints with tireless metallic boogiers the Melvins in the early ’90s to his subsequent adoption of the “Thrones” moniker, an apocalyptically heavier-than-thou behemoth the multitasking Preston anchors with sludge-dripping bass, Satanic-tongued and ambient-synthesizer-propelled mindfuckery, and a bone-crushing drum machine that makes the Melvins’ present-day double-drummer tandem sound wussy by comparison.

“I’ve played with drummers, but I don’t like telling someone, ‘Do it like this,’ so I got a drum machine,” he says. “I like doing Thrones alone, and it will probably always be like that.”

Still, the burly beardo’s antisocial-miscreant rep (“I’ll pick up friends in my van along the way, but I generally ride solo”) hasn’t quelled his rising metal clout, which has earned him stints with gloom ‘n’ doom heavyweights Harvey Milk and Sunn O))) along with sonic riff powerhouse High on Fire over the last several years. But those forays were short-lived. “Playing with High on Fire was totally different” from his usual methods, Preston explains. “Their world of touring is more business-ish.”

Another cross-country jaunt, sans the pretense of touring-band proficiency, brings Thrones here for the No Fun Fest, the yearly Herculean, dissonant, long-weekend spectacular. Commemorating the occasion, Preston will indulge in epic noisemongering culled from his Sperm Whale and White Rabbit EPs, along with cuts from the Day Late, Dollar Short comp and perhaps new jammage from his upcoming split-LP with grindcore vets Agoraphobic Nosebleed. He’s taken aback by his fans’ clamor for new damage, though. He fears overexposure: “Significant people have noticed, and it’s an honor, but shameful,” Preston says of all the attention. “I want to up the quality and lower the quantity.”

Furthermore, he has detected a contingent not fired up about his partaking in the No Fun festival: “It was nice of them to ask me, but I was surprised,” he admits. “I would think I was too ‘mainstream’ for them. I’ve gotten comments from noise purists and been sneered at. Thrones has slipped though the cracks and is not embraced by any scene, including ‘doom metal’ people. I don’t worry about it.”

Fest organizer Carlos Giffoni adamantly takes exception to such backlash, largely emanating from pretentious Portland scenesters. “Those people thinking that way are boring, closed-minded individuals—this fest is not for them,” he offers via e-mail. “I really enjoy Joe’s music and think he has a very original approach, creating his own unique flavor of sound organization: metal, musique concrete, and even pop and psychedelic thrown into it. Very unique and demented stuff. This is what No Fun is all about: diversity and uniqueness in sound creation. As an overall umbrella for people making interesting stuff, the question is not ‘Is Thrones too mainstream?’ but ‘Why have Thrones not played before?’ This fest has never been about pigeonholing a genre of music—it’s about pushing forward.”

Preston, thankfully, continues to do so. He concedes that sound has indeed morphed in the last decade: “It sounds more like my mom now.”

Thrones play as part of the No Fun Fest, happening May 15 through 17 at the Music Hall of Williamsburg