ORYX: Denver's Married Metal Duo

Two-piece doom/sludge-metal band ORYX.
Two-piece doom/sludge-metal band ORYX. Photo by Sean Beeman.
ORYX is a Denver-based doom/sludge-metal duo from Las Cruces, New Mexico. Ahead of the outfit's March 1 album-release show at the Marquis Theater, drummer Abbey Apple and singer/guitarist Tommy Davis sat down with Westword to discuss their latest album, the unusual dynamics of being a married couple in the Denver metal scene, trying to survive summer months in the Florida heat, and growing up playing in shitty high school bands.

Westword: Why did you leave New Mexico?

Apple: We came here for my schooling. I went to CU to get my master's. We had planned it for a while. We had talked about moving to Colorado years before that. We have friends here, and it’s been an essential place for us to visit. We came with all the influx of other people coming here.

Davis: We’ve always been drawn to the scene here. The DIY scene has been really strong here for a while. We were through here on tour before maybe like four or five years ago and just loved it. Felt like a warm reception from people. They seemed to be personally invested, and you can’t really ask that of people — they just do that on their own.

We come from a very roots DIY scene in New Mexico, and seeing that somewhere else was like, wow. That’s what we were really attracted to.

You’ve been a band for a little over five years now. How have you evolved over that time?

Apple: I think we’ve developed over time. We used to just play louder, we were not as refined, and then we realized, no, let’s refine our music, not worry as much about building as many amps, having a big drum set —that’s the big difference.

Davis: We were originally playing a lot cleaner, too, and it kind of grew into something that was a bit more expressive, dirtier, even angrier.

Abbey, did you play in another band before this?

Apple: I played in a shitty band in high school [laughs]. I wouldn’t consider that a real band, though. I pretty much learned to play the drums in this band. It’s been a long process. Some bands have strong musicians all at once and hit the ground running, but we’re a little different than that, and I think being in a relationship meant he had more patience with me, as opposed to other bands that wouldn’t work that way.

Davis: We were helping run this DIY venue in Las Cruces, and we would go there and start practicing at like midnight and practice until three in the morning, playing loud as fuck. It was near the train tracks, and we’d just keep trying, trying and trying, getting rhythms down.

We could put in the time where it wasn’t like renting a space where you’re by the hour. That would be a really hard way to learn at that point. I think that was a luxury for us, to be able to take advantage of at that time.

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Drummer Abbey Apple.
Photo by Sean Beeman.
What was learning on the fly like?

Apple: It's definitely just putting yourself out there, playing and touring, even when your foundation is shaky. I had been going to shows for years and years, so I’ve been familiar with being at shows, but I always wanted to be on the other side, participating. I was going to shows and seeing that there weren’t enough female musicians, so I wanted to represent.

That motivated me. I knew I sucked, and even though I wasn’t that confident, it gave me confidence to go out there and learn that way and keep getting better. Then the push after we came here — the standard is so much higher for musicians and the scene is a different feel. It pushed me more to dive in.

What do you two think of the metal scene here?

Davis: It’s great. There are a lot of ambitious bands. Like Abbey was saying, the bar is definitely raised. I think that we fell into a family here. People are very receptive, and that was what we were really drawn to. This town has an abundance of talent. It’s a great place to be.

Denver has a lot of creatives who are constantly hustling and getting their hands dirty in all sorts of projects.

Apple: People are always on the move, and I love being around that. They’re always about to leave for touring, and I think that’s amazing, especially when considering where we’re from.

New Mexico is often referred to as the Land of Mañana: You can always do something tomorrow, you can always get around to that. I think something that sort of pulled us down a little bit back home was that there’s a lot of stagnation you’re surrounded by, a lot of complacency. It becomes acceptable to be like, "Yeah, maybe we’ll tour." There’s not a push, really.

Let's talk about the new album, Stolen Absolution.

Apple: We recorded it with Dave Otero of Flatline Audio, and it’s been the greatest achievement of the band so far. We pushed ourselves in the writing and recording, the gear, everything. We took it to a new level. You could hear the difference compared to anything else we’ve put out. It’s been fun. We have two labels, we’re doing a CD and a tape release. Midnite Collective is doing the CD, and then a local label called Graven Earth Records is doing the tapes.

It’s exciting, because we’re really proud of it, and we’re already working on new stuff that we plan to release as soon as possible. We’re not going to stay in this same album for another two years; we’re going to try to keep it going.

I also have to say that working with Dave Otero is so awesome. He pushed us to where we’ve never been before.

Davis: That guy’s ears are magic, man.

Apple: He'll just say, "Do better," and then it comes out that way, and it’s like, "Yes!"

Davis: Obviously, he worked as the recording engineer, but also, he worked so much as a producer as well, and it really helped to have a third party there to say, you know, 'Trim the fat on this.' It didn’t occur to us, because we’re in the middle of this mindset about a song, and it’s hard to structure things a certain way and then perfectly execute.

It was nice having a producer to work with that could actually help us refine the sound and smooth out rough edges. He works very efficiently and knows what he’s doing.

It makes a huge difference when you can bring in a trusted voice that isn’t in the middle of actually making the album.

Davis: I feel like he helped us achieve our live sound on the record. He knows what he’s doing, and he’s able to help us make a very aggressive record that’s not too polished yet still very clean.

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The unusual metal duo/married couple combo.
Photo by Alvino Salcedo
What’s touring like for you?

Davis: Our last tour was like two months straight and really grueling. With just two of us, there’s no one else to drive or load equipment. We stack up amps, her drums are oversized, and it’s just an everyday thing.

Apple: If you ever want to test if you can marry someone, try living in a van with them for two months [laughs].  That was when I knew for sure.

You can’t get away from either your spouse or your bandmate!

Apple: Yeah! We learned a lot about each other.

Davis: Especially in July and August in Florida, it was like…God, like dying.

Apple: He tried to build an A/C unit out of a fan.

Davis: I thought I could engineer a fan into an ice chest, but it didn’t work very well.

Apple: We got home and were laughing at pictures of us. Oh, my God, we were so desperate!

Davis: The desperation in that van was so high.

Which came first: dating or the band?

Apple: Dating was before the band. We’ve been together for almost seven years.

Davis: I was writing a lot of music, and my buddies were basically no-shows to practice all the time, and it was like, "Dude, you know what?"

Apple: He got ditched several times, and I was like, "Well, I played in high school, I’ll just jam with you," and that’s how it got started.

Davis: Buddies: Maybe they’re not as serious about playing music as you are.

Apple: It worked out.

Davis: It was the best thing for her to be like, “Hey, maybe I want to get into drums again,” and then years later, I’m so happy that that happened.

What did you play in high school?

Apple: I played drums. I’m not going to name-drop the band, because you aren’t going to find anything good.

If you want to name-drop, you’re definitely welcome to.

Apple: I don’t think there’s anything to find!

Davis: Did you guys record anything?

Apple: Yeah. It was…I don’t know [laughs]. It was really fun because it was a female feminist punk band, but the band was horrible! But the funny thing is Tommy and I never met while we were basically playing the same shows. We were doing that for years in that DIY scene, and we never met until later on. Timing’s everything.

Davis: The DIY scene is a big part of our foundation, musically. Part of that is because we grew up in a really eclectic DIY scene where we would have a metal band like Ashes Rise tour with a punk band like the Observers in our town, and it’s ridiculous to have both those bands on one bill. Everybody was ape-shit for both bands.

...I also think that having a woman in a metal band has been a very interesting experience. There have been a number of things where I’m happy I’ve been alongside Abbey to be a part of the experience, because I feel like otherwise I would have had a very vanilla experience as just a dude in the metal scene. While on tour, it’s been [incredibly eye-opening] to see how weird it is to just have a woman there. She’s often the only lady in the room.

Apple: I’d say like 90 percent of the shows we’ve played in Denver, I’m the only female musician, which is crazy, because there are a ton of female musicians here in metal. But sometimes in the big shows, you don’t see any female musicians or anyone that identifies as female. It’s pretty crazy. ... Sometimes I just don’t understand why. I don’t know. It’s not that weird. It’s not that different.

You two hit a small target of being a married metal duo. What’s the dynamic like of making music, recording, and playing shows with each other?

Apple: It’s been a blessing. There’s been a positive side. At [other times], it’s been difficult, because I think in bands where there’s like four or five friends, they hold each other to a different standard. But with Tommy and I, sometimes our band is on hold when our lives — like when we got married, when we moved here — the band gets pushed to the back burner a little bit. That doesn’t really happen with bands where everyone has their own lives. This is a pretty different setup.

It also kind of helps because we create really well together, and people will say, "Wow, I see you guys are so in tune with each other on stage," which is not something we try to do, but it’s how we play and how we practice.
I think it’s special. I don’t think you can find many couples that have that. But either way, whether us being married or not, we found a groove together, and it just worked out.

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Oryx at the Handy Diner, February 2017.
Tom Murphy
Does it feel like an escape when you’re playing together?

Apple: Oh, yeah, it’s just like us yelling while playing, yelling over the music [laughs].

Davis: Our home life as opposed to our band life is kind of very different. At practice, the gloves come off a little bit. Like, "You fucked up that part!"

Apple: So mean [laughs].

Davis: It goes both ways [laughs]. She and I are both brutally honest, and that helps. It really cracks me up when I see married couples being all cutesy with each other, and I guess we have those moments, too. But we’re also extremely brutally honest because of the band. It’s our ugly baby that we love.

Apple: It can be sort of a weird dynamic.

Davis: You can’t hide from it. If you’re doing something that’s not working, it’s going to come up. I think it’s been interesting. But also while on the road, [because of marriage] you have that ultimate comfortability.

Apple: It’s awesome. Watching, Netflix, being totally domesticated in the tour van. It’s funny, because for a lot of people, touring is drinking and partying, and we do that, too, but for us, it’s still only two people. We didn’t have a merch person for a long time, so we’re just out there hustling, working hard, and then we just go back to the van to sleep.

Davis: Part of it is the dynamic of having two people means you’re doing all the driving, loading and unloading all the equipment, and with two people, it’s nearly impossible to go from, "Okay, we just finished our set," to "Now I’m going to sell you a shirt." It’s constantly this juggling act where we just drove fifteen hours, now we’re playing a set, then loading up. ... That amount of work for two people for this length of time has made us really seasoned. It’s definitely been weird with the marriage intersecting with the band. We’re still navigating it.

ORYX, with EYEHATEGOD, Thursday, March 1, Marquis Theater, 2009 Larimer Street, 303-292-0805.
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Ben Wiese is a writer in Denver. He covers music for Westword.
Contact: Ben Wiese