Fun fact: Late in the summer of 2009, I drove to a residential neighborhood in South Arlington to audition for a doom metal band. They already had a cool name — Stone Machine Electric — as well as an arsenal of riffs, courtesy of the guitar player, a soft-spoken guy named William “Dub” Irvin, whose blonde, wizard-y sideburns looked as if they had suddenly veered off his face before they could become a beard. I met up at their practice space, which was really just their drummer’s garage. The drummer was a stocky guy with a beard and glasses named Mark Kitchens, and his garage was hotter than hell.
In the time since, Stone Machine Electric has churned out sludgy, atmospheric riffage across four albums and dozens of shows in and out of Fort Worth. Though they eventually found a competent bassist (Kitchens’ bandmate in Hentai Improvising Orchestra, Terry Horn, and then Mark Cook, who played a 7-string Warr guitar), they eliminated the position after a few shows. It turned out that the improvisational drift of their music was easier to do without the input of a third player.
Lining the incline of the roof of the band’s rehearsal space – a soundproofed, air-conditioned shed in the backyard of Kitchens’ home in Hurst – are eight years’ worth of show posters, most of which are bills the band was on. The collection covers nearly half of the shed’s ceiling.
During a recent Sunday afternoon interview, Irvin gestured behind where he was seated at a pair of half-stacks pressed against the wall.
“Well, we have enough stuff for a four-piece,” he said.
Along with the pair of high-gain amplifiers, Irvin’s guitar sound also depends on a massive pedal array carried in a case that looks big enough to be part of a magician’s saw-the-assistant-in-half trick, plus multiple guitars. It’s a lot of artillery to lug around already, but Kitchens also utilizes a lot of gear. Besides his drums, he employs a battery of effects pedals himself, as well as a Theremin and other noise-making electronics. Between the two, Stone Machine Electric’s live sound can be both ear-achingly loud and brain-tinglingly psychedelic. It’s also often made up on the spot.
“We write separately and bring the ideas to practice to work out,” Irvin said. “But at the same time, at our live shows, about half of everything is improvised on stage.”
On Vivere, the band’s live album released on CD by Dutch stoner metal label Off the Record, two tracks, “Mindless Meanderings” and “Invented Passages,” capture flights of improvisational soloing and ambient effects exploration in between cuts from the duo’s last studio album, 2016’s Sollictus Es Veritatem.
Vivere begins with a cloud of atmospheric noise, over which Irvin declares, “We don’t talk.” And thus begins a sonic odyssey across livin’-in-the-instant inspiration and massive, Iommi-an shredding, Irvin looping riffs through his pedals for Kitchens to bang away on, then blasting lead lines into the cosmos.
By day, Kitchens is an architect and Irvin a cabinet maker. The two played together years ago in a bunch of forgotten bands when they were growing up in Burleson, but Stone Machine Electric has provided them with a cohesive creative outlet, especially when their live shows allow them to get a little “lost.”
But even though each live show often meanders into uncharted sonic territory, Stone Machine Electric still writes songs, if for no other reason than to provide a frame on which to hang their improv –– really, their arrangements are more like vehicles for carrying them into that improvisational headspace.
“Once we got rid of a bass player, we had to kind of change the song structures to fill out the sound,” Kitchens said.
SME is a fixture on local bills in Fort Worth and Dallas (often with well-known heavy bands like the Wo Fat and Mothership), and they manage to hit the road often enough. Ultimately, they’d like to get to Europe. Irvin accompanied Wo Fat as the band’s merch guy on the Dallas trio’s most recent tour of Europe, and he thinks his band would go over well there.
Stone Machine Electric will continue to power along like they always have, pulling heaviness out of the ether. No bass players needed.