The Rough Touch screams into the void on menacing debut

The psych-rock four-piece, which released its full-length debut in August, is set to perform at Cafe Bourbon St. on Friday, Nov. 17.
The Rough Touch
The Rough TouchHillary Jones

The Rough Touch recorded its debut album, Between Your Mind, long before the pandemic hit in early 2020. But the increased sense of societal erosion that has taken root in the months and years since has only served to strengthen the themes explored on the record, with the band writing in a Facebook message that its lyrics “confront the tension in our uncertain reality and the underlying sense of dread that permeates everything,” both of which are ideas that certainly track in this era.

Album opener “Fever Dream” sets the bleak tone, built on repetitive, urgent riffs and singer Nick Terry’s malleable yelps, which often recede in the mix, serving as yet one more instrument in a crashing, crushing wall of sound. 

“It’s not the most comforting material,” said guitarist Tony Shumski, who joined drummer Adam Scoppa for an early November interview at Upper Cup. (Bass guitarist Patrick Koch rounds out the band’s current lineup, which will be on display in concert at Cafe Bourbon St. on Friday, Nov. 17, where the Rough Touch is set to perform alongside Bobb Hatt, Rose Haze and Forever Strange.) “That was probably a worry somewhere, like, ‘Oh, is it still going to feel [relevant]?’ … But I don’t think it loses anything with the amount of time [that has passed].”

It helps, of course, that the music itself exists completely detached from the modern age, harking back to the likes of the Velvet Underground, the Stooges and the assorted garage rock weirdos who populated the Nuggets box set – primal, scuzzy sounds that Scoppa described as ingrained within his DNA. “I like drone music and psych music where you can get lost, and it’s like, was that two minutes or was it 10 minutes?” Scoppa said.

Sessions for the album, which the band released in August, took place alongside engineer Keith Hanlon at Musicol Recording in late 2018, though some of the songs date back as far as 2014. Shumski said these earlier iterations of the band were more experimental, incorporating keyboards and a pair of female vocalists. As the lineup streamlined, so did Rough Touch’s sound, the crew leaning into more sinewy, menacing output, its four members frequently curling together like fingers into a fist.

On record, the band spins between 1960s psych-rock freakouts and grungy motorik grooves, the songs frequently building around Terry’s swaggering, shape-shifting vocals. “He’s a chameleon,” Scoppa said. “He can croon, or he can scream into the void.” 

It’s a skill that makes an impression even in those moments when the frontman is impossible to decode, his howls forced below raging squalls of guitar or disguised with layers of fuzz that cling to his words like kudzu. “There are a lot of effects on [the vocals] but they’re not all the way obscured,” Shumski said. “But there are times where how he’s delivering [the words] can be more important than the meaning.”

The lyrics, like the band’s sound, have no direct connection to current events, Shumski said, often emerging as esoteric, stream-of-conscious exorcisms loosely shaped by whatever Terry is working through in that moment. “The way Nick writes they can be open to interpretation,” Shumski said. “He has a degree with an emphasis on creative writing, so he has this sort of poetic approach. … I think they’re super dense, and there’s a lot there to pull from.”

This density bleeds into the soundscape, which the band described in a Facebook message as “an exploration … of the urgency and futility in attempting to move forward while surrounded by collapse.” It’s a fitting description, too, the music continually driven by the incessant, hypnotic thrust of Scoppa’s drums, which push the action forward even in those moments the guitars tumble, brawl and crash in a destructive, trip-inducing display.

“Psychedelic music can just take you somewhere else,” Scoppa said. “It takes me out of the present, in a weird way. … And it’s something I got right away, where it felt like this was something I was meant to contribute to.”

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