Houston’s Doomstress was officially christened as such in 2016, but the musical partnership at the center of it has existed since at least 2005 when bassist/vocalist “Doomstress” Alexis Hollada joined guitarist Brandon Johnson in Well of Souls. That lineup released an EP in 2005 and splintered but Alexis, Brandon and drummer Raymond Matthews resurfaced a few years later as Project Armageddon. Their 2010 debut, “Departure” is a great example of the Candlemass-inspired doom that’s something of a local delicacy in Texas. Around 2011, Alexis transitioned and adopted her “Doomstress” nickname and the band released two more albums in 2012 and 2015 before calling it a day.
Alexis and Brandon bounced back as Doomstress in 2016 with new drummer Tomasz Scull (Sparrowmilk) and things happened quickly. They recorded 3 originals and a Uriah Heep cover at Tomasz’ studio in March and self-released that material in June as the Supernatural Kvlt Sounds EP. DHU Records (Netherlands) got wind and released a 7” that October featuring a song from the EP and a freshly-recorded cover of Coven’s “Wicked Woman.” In 2018, DHU packaged the EP on a vinyl split with Tomasz’ band Sparrowmilk and NoSlip Records (US) packaged the EP plus the “Wicked Woman” cover for a CD release titled Supernatural Kvlt Sounds (The Second Rite).
The takeaway is that the band turned 5 songs that they recorded and released themselves into 2 record deals producing 3 products on 2 continents, and perhaps most importantly, stuck their foot firmly in the door of continental Europe.
All of this paved the way for the band’s first full-length, Sleep Among the Dead released on Ripple Music in 2019. The album carries the musical DNA of Alexis & Brandon’s former bands but stands on its own feet with a smokey heavy rock haze hovering over the doomy crunch. It’s easily the musical high point of their collaboration to date and has been very well received. The band has been gigging and touring consistently since its release.
Doomstress takes its name from your nickname. Is it a solo effort?
Well, it is my band and my namesake. I didn’t initially design it as a “solo project/band” but I guess in essence it is. Like Dio or Doro or Ozzy, which I guess technically may be solo bands due to the previous bands they were in but do people really consider those solo bands anymore or just the band and its namesake/ringleader?
When Project Armageddon ended, did you and Brandon know that you were going to continue working together or was there some time apart?
When I was initially writing and developing works for Doomstress, Project Armageddon was still going and Brandon wasn’t certain if he was into it just hearing some initial riffs and ideas I had, but I had planned on asking him to be part. Once I started laying out more of the songwriting for him and he could hear where I was going with it, he wanted in. We actually recorded the demo and self-released EP while Project Armageddon was still active, so it was a seamless transition for both of us.
The band is based in Houston but your drummer Tomasz lives in Ohio. How does music get written in Doomstress?
For the EP, single and full-length, it was basically me writing riffs and pieces with a loose arrangement and then Brandon and I would start developing harmonies and lead ideas. After that, we just got together with Tomasz in the studio and flushed the songs out and started tracking. During all of it, I’d also be working out vocal melodies and lyrics, even while in the studio.
How do you manage playing shows?
Since we mostly concentrate on touring I figure out the dates we’ll be doing and put together a touring lineup. Matt has toured with us on 2nd guitar since our 2nd tour and after a year or so he became a full member. I’ve been extremely fortunate to have some really kick ass drummers who dig what we do and are available to tour here and there. So I see who’s available for a certain run of dates and we maybe squeeze in a rehearsal or two if we’re doing new songs right before we hit the road.
Alexis & co. work with four drummers in various capacities: Original drummer and official band member, Tomasz Scull (Sparrowmilk, Venomin James), plus touring drummers, Spike the Percussionist (Fiddle Witch and the Demons of Doom, Unified Space), Alex Erhardt (The Scourge, Ruiners) and Andy Kaos Vehnekamp (Ritchie Ramone, The Guillotines).
The liner notes in SKS(TSR) state that the material was recorded at Tomasz’s studio in Cleveland in March and August of 2016. Reading between the lines, you guys either made four very long drives (20hrs each way, give or take) to record the EP and “Wicked Woman” or you flew, both of which are difficult in different ways. How did you wrangle that?
Haha yah that was somewhat challenging. Brandon and I drove straight to Ohio to work on the initial demo/self-released Supernatural Kult Sounds in March 2016 then drove back up in August to rehearse for the 1st tour which had Tomasz on drums and Joe Fortunate on guitar, both of Cleveland’s Sparrowmilk. While there we recorded “Bitter Plea” and after the tour we stayed and mixed SKS (TSR) for the split. It was quite the whirlwind as has been most of this band’s existence. We did the same thing for the record.
How did you hook up with DHU Records for the 7” and split with Sparrowmilk?
I had seen DHU Records popping up a lot and really liked some of the bands but it was really Disenchanter that caught my ear and after connecting to Joey and Sabine online and becoming friends I inquired about DHU with them and their feedback. Then I simply approached Robert about working with Doomstress initially for the 7″ and then the split EP. He saw how we were approaching things and he dug the music and was happy to work with us.
Were the DHU releases only available in Europe?
We had our copies for direct sales but DHU didn’t have any direct US distro. Unfortunately for many of our US fan base, we couldn’t sell the vinyl online cause we needed all we had for touring but we referred fans to the Sparrowmilk site to get vinyl online here.
How did you hook up with No Slip Records to re-release SKS?
NoSlip Records was another cool label putting out some cool underground bands and at the time he was also offering CDs which DHU wasn’t. He had also released a Disenchanter CD and we may have connected that way. At any rate, Robert Pilson knew our stuff and both him and Robert Black of DHU were down to work with us on separate vinyl and CD releases for the EP.
Was there any issue with them using the track that was on DHU’s 7”?
None at all. Since the 7″ was so limited and mostly sold in Europe, it was my suggestion that we add it as a bonus track for the CD as well as sharing David Paul Seymour’s killer art from the 7″ on the inside sleeve.
While all this was going on with the EP, were you working up new material for the album?
I was developing numerous riffs and ideas in between tours, etc so some was but usually I was waiting to get off the road and back home for a bit. Although “Your God is Blind” was initially written for the road with Andy Kaos Vehnekamp on drums and later recorded with Tomasz who really wanted to follow what Andy had developed. We also worked out a part of “Dreaming Spider” with Andy previous to studio tracking with Tomasz because of the weird timing nature of the song.
For Sleep Among the Dead, Tomasz recorded drums at his place and everything else was recorded, mixed and mastered in Dallas with Kent Stump (Wo Fat) at Crystal Clear Studio. Were there any challenges with that?
We actually recorded drums, bass and rhythm guitars in Ohio with Tomasz, then tracked guitar lead harmonies, solos and vocals with Kent Stump in Dallas. This honestly wasn’t too bad other than having a few tours in between studios. We initially went back to Ohio to try to mix with Tomasz but that didn’t work out due to some scheduling. We did get a better idea of the songs in their entirety though so we were able to give Kent some basic ideas but mostly wanted to get his own ear and ideas on it.
How did you hook up with Kent?
We’ve known Kent for a number of years having played with Wo Fat at a few Dallas festivals in Project Armageddon. He always expressed his liking for Project Armageddon’s material and being familiar with his sound and abilities we felt he was the right person to work with. In fact his studio had mastered the Doomstress EPs, 7″ and even 1 or 2 Project Armageddon records. Oh, and Kent also did the 2nd solo on “Burning Lotus” from the record!
Was this record done in a single shot or did you piece it together over several sessions?
The initial rhythm tracks were written and tracked over a couple days of short sessions in Ohio with Tomasz. The leads & vocals were done in a day with Kent in Dallas. Then we redid a couple vocal lines and 1 or 2 leads at Sugar Hill Studios in Houston with Stephen Finley.
At what point did you connect with Ripple Music? Doomstress is a perfect fit for that label and Todd’s gotta love how much you guys play.
I’ve chatted with Todd and Pope at Ripple several times over the years and 1st met Todd at a fest in Dallas a few years ago that Project Armageddon played and they’ve always been great dudes. Todd had contacted me a couple times saying how he really dug our sound and how the band was really getting out there on the road and getting such good response. Once things for the full length started rolling I had contacted both DHU & Ripple about a split label release and they were both down.
Have they done a worldwide release?
The CD version I believe has had a worldwide release as well as on the digital/streaming platforms through Ripple as well. DHU released the vinyl through Europe and also now in Japan through Faerie Music.
Let’s talk Texas. It’s a huge state and a band can do a small tour without ever leaving its borders. For someone who’s never played here, what cities would you recommend looking into?
For years we joked about doing a greater Houston tour which could probably last almost 2 weeks but yah the whole state is just huge to tour. Houston, Austin, San Antonio, Dallas, Arlington, Denton are all good areas and probably the main focal hub for Texas.
Any venues standout in particular for DIY bands?
Dan Electros , Rudyard’s, Limelight, Division Brewing, The Lost Well, Barracuda
How about local promoters or booking agents?
Loy Smoak in San Antonio is the dude to talk to. Michael Sims is a great guy who books a couple venues in Houston.
Is there anything about playing / touring / driving in Texas to consider that may not be obvious if you’re not from here?
Don’t tour Texas in the f’n summer! Haha also, long drives getting in and out of the state.
Speaking of touring, you have to be eyeing Europe. Nothing makes more sense.
We’d of course love to get over to Europe and we have a lot of fans asking us to come. It just comes down to money and timing really.
What’s on your agenda for the next 3 months?
Currently we’re working on a new EP with Spike the Percussionist on drums, doing a song for a punk tribute record which will have Andy Kaos on drums, and I will have a song coming out in spring on the Desert Records “Women of Doom” compilation. We were also just announced for the Shadow Frost Music & Arts Festival in Frederick, MD on February 21st and working on tours for that and a March tour as well.
You and Brandon have been working together longer than most marriages and certainly longer than most bands. Can you describe your working relationship and how you keep it together?
He screams and I kick! Hahaha just kidding. This is our 3rd band together now over the past 15+ years. We work really well together. Writing wise, I’m very unschooled and tend to be very freestyle while Brandon has more rooting in technicality. It works out for a very good balance in our styles. He tries to reign me in on some of my chaotic weird stylings and I challenge him to push himself beyond the box.
Personally we’re very much like siblings. We get along really well but we also have our small spats which are typically just insignificant annoyances. We have a lot of love and respect for each other and do our best to support each other.
- Ripple Music
- DHU Records
- NoSlip Records
- Desert Records
- Crystal Clear Sound (Dallas recording studio)
- Sugar Hill Studios (Houston recording studio)
- David Paul Seymour (artist)
- Venomin James
- Fiddle Witch and the Demons of Doom
- Unified Space
- The Scourge
- The Guillotines
- Wo Fat