Interview by James Damion
With its fusioin of grunge, doom metal, psychedelia, and
stoner rock, Thinning The Herd has been melting faces and
damaging eardrums since 2007. The band was compared to the
MC5, Iggy & The Stooges, and the Velvet Underground
by Guitar Player magazine, with influences that span Black
Sabbath, Mudhoney, Motorhead, and AC/DC. The current lineup
consists of singer/guitarist Gavin Spielman, bassist Wed
Edmonds, and drummer Garth Macaleavey, who replaced the
late Rick Cimato. Jersey Beat's James Damion caught up with
Gavin Spielman to talk about life, metal, and the band's
unexpected return after a seven year hiatus.
Q: Hearing that TTH were playing shows and writing
new songs was both a surprise and something to be excited
about. We all have these moments of clarity when a switch
comes on that shines a light that tells us “it’s
time.” Was the decision to jumpstart TTH sudden or
Gavin: Gradual. It took about five years for me to find
any interest in music after the death of Rick (in 2012).
Wes and I still talked about moving forward, but my mind
was locked into moving to the sticks, starting a farm, getting
out of the city and concentrating on being centered and
whole. Music became a bane, something I didn’t look
forward to doing, didn’t feel like entertaining people.
I also developed arthritis, tinnitus and tendinitis from
playing guitar. Freaked me the fuck out, my wrists started
locking up during rehearsals and especially live. The decision
for me to take time off was necessary to heal, and that
Q: You mentioned starting a farm. Is there something
about reaching a certain age and wanting to leave the rat
race to start a farm? I ask because the wife and I have
been talking about it for years. Was there anything in particular
that drew you to that dream? As someone who spent most of
his life in and around New York City, I’m really curious.
Gavin: Well it’s more of a funny farm, haha! We do
farm for food - I have several plots now, we grow everything
from kale to tomatoes and corn, peppers and sunflowers.
We don’t have it working, but have the option to.
Both my wife and I work from home anyway, and the country
gives me more solace and space to be - the city is very
cramped. We still have a small place in Chinatown, but spend
most of the time in the mountains. I’m a landscape
oil painter, and do graphics for all kinds of companies,
so we work where we want. Recently I moved my Brooklyn sound
studio here, and have been recording every day.
My wife and I met in college at New Paltz, and we always
loved the area. I had the fortune of getting into a reggae
band that toured all around the state, so I fell in love
with the idea of continuing making music in the country.
I was raised in Manhattan, so it’s a blessing to not
be around so many people.
Q: I’m familiar with New Paltz and their
art program. Did you major in art? Where did your journey
into the art world start, and were you always interested
Gavin: That’s a big question. I was brought up by
a mother who painted, and my grandmother (who will be 100
this year) is also a fine painter, who still has an art
restoration company in Brooklyn.
It wasn’t a question if I would get into painting
and drawing. I naturally found myself going within, to get
away from the fear of getting a job, and not have the time
I knew I needed to dedicate to an artful life.
I went to New Paltz to start band. I didn’t want
to be an art major, in fact my major was Music and Philosophy.
At 18 I had the notion I might be a songwriter, and was
trying to pursue this, and nothing else.
I found my philosophy was good for songwriting, but not
friend making. I couldn’t find a musical counterpart,
so I started taking art classes for fun. It was anything
but fun, as my expectation and intention to succeed was
ingrained in me, and I soon noticed I was excelling rapidly.
I’ve always been able to make a living selling my
art. Selling music, well that’s another beast. I as
a kid, I had always been involved in drawing band and music
related things, like album covers and whatnot. This was
something easy for me, and I made my money in high school
painting Grateful Dead and Metallica covers. The best one
I copied was a cover of the band DEATH.
The urge to draw never left me, and to this day I draw
all the time, but now it’s mostly for my company GREEN
PINE TREE STUDIO. I’m also doing a comic for THINNING
As far as the art program at New Paltz, all I know is -
it got me to pursue getting into Parsons School of Design
- where I’ve been a professor for 20 years now.
Q: As far as I know, TTH was always a trio. What
went into the decision to expand to four members?
Gavin: We are two members now. I expanded to four after
the Freedom from the Known record, just to plow
onward, but everyone’s schedules didn’t comply
to touring let alone rehearsal, or just recording - so I
found myself writing and sending tracks to Wes or anyone
who would listen.
Q: The death of a bandmate can easily compare to
that of a family member. How did you react and process the
unexpected and senseless death of Rick?
Gavin: I still haven’t gotten past it totally. I’m
trying to make a go because I love music, and we have a
small following that seems to want us to keep going. Recently
we got all our stuff on Instagram and all the digital platforms,
and noticed people downloading shit - so I guess it’s
still a viable art form. We move forward for Rick and his
family, the memory of his essence.
Q: Was there anything or anyone you turned to in
order to help you heal?
Gavin: My wife, nature, my dog. I got a dog, Harley. Love
that dude. Yeah I’d say Harley helped most of all.
Q: I’ve long held the belief that pets are
family and how extraordinary that they sense things like
depression and will do anything to help us get through it.
I’d really love to hear more about Harley. What breed
is he and how/when he became part of the family?
Gavin: He’s a bulldog! Man’s best friend for
sure. Without that little bro, I wouldn’t be writing
the new record. I’d say he listens to thinning the
herd each day, and is our biggest fan. He is definitely
a muse and a major part of the band.
Seriously though, having a dog is very therapeutic and
helped greatly in getting over the darkness that fell when
Rick passed. I can honestly say I’ll never go without
having a dog again.
I really got him for my kid, mainly to teach her responsibility
and compassion, since she was having some trouble in school
with friends. We thought it best to get her a dog.
He quickly became my dog. I wanted to name him Frank, but
Harley is cool.
Q: What was it that made you fall in love with
music and Heavy Metal in general?
Gavin: Bands and artists such as AC/DC, Van Halen, Hendrix,
Deep Purple. Slayer and Metallica came out with Show
No Mercy and Kill 'Em All when I was 12. Priest,
Anthrax, Bad Brains, Cro-Mags. So many bands. I don’t
know. I just love Dungeons & Dragons and didn’t
really want to just play the Blues. I love Sabbath, Dio,
Motörhead - all since I’m like, 11.
Q: In many ways TTH were responsible for awakening
my interest in Metal. It can also be said that the band
ignited my passion for sludge metal and stoner rock. Can
you tell me what influenced your decision to go down that
path with the bands’ sound?
Gavin: Nothing really specific. It’s the way I play
and write guitar. I love roots reggae too and my music is
something of a metal roots thing. I also love Celtic Frost,
Hellhammer and Death Metal and NY Hardcore punk like the
Bad Brains. The breakdowns. So maybe that’s in there.
I didn’t know there was a genre for what I was writing.
Q: There’s also elements of Doom and the Blues
within the bands’ sound. What are some of you experiences
and influences for that genre?
Deep Purple, Rainbow, Dio, Iron Maiden, Judas Priest,
Celtic Frost, and, I really dig High on Fire and what they
are doing. People said we were like the band Sleep but I
hadn’t heard of them. I come from classic rock and
grunge, early thrash like Kreator and Diamondhead, Motörhead,
that’s my shit. I also love Kiss, so man I don’t
know - I just love loud guitars and riffs!
Q: Where can people go to listen to stream and
listen to some of the bands’ music?
Gavin: I’ve got a Soundcloud
page up and running.
Q: What’s next for Thinning the Herd?
Gavin: I’ve been recording music the past several
months, yeah. The new record should be out by the end of