Tombs frontman Mike Hill is something of a Renaissance man. Or at least, he would be, if folks during the Renaissance had been into artisan coffee, podcasting, Brazilian jiu-jitsu, punk ethics and hardcore-encrusted post-black metal that is as experimental and intellectual as it is aggressive and determined. When Hill isn’t making oppressively dense and meditatively dense records like Savage Gold (2014) and Path Of Totality (2011) with Tombs, the Brooklyn-based outfit he’s fronted since 2008, the vocalist/guitarist indulges in numerous pursuits that are physical, mental and always highly, highly caffeinated.
AltPress.com caught up with the workaholic Everything Went Black Media maven to talk about coffee in general, and specifically about Savage Gold Prime, the deliciously aromatic debut offering from Hill’s personally curated line of polybagged, fair-trade beans, Savage Gold Coffee.
How much coffee do you consume in a given day? How, when and where?
MIKE HILL: I brew it in the morning blended with MCT oil and grass-fed butter and drink two cups before I start my day. Depending on the workload I have that day, I may hit another cup or two of black coffee in the afternoon.
What are your earliest associations with coffee?
My grandmother was from Italy, so coffee figured big into the culinary profile of my early years. I used to drink it with milk when I was a kid, but when I got my first construction job, I was introduced to the splendor of black coffee. Also, Black Flag had a song called “Black Coffee,” which I thought was pretty cool. I’ve never been much of a party guy, so I got into drinking coffee.
What are some common misconceptions about coffee, when it comes to its health effects?
A lot of people don’t understand that coffee is actually good for you. It’s full of antioxidants, magnesium and chromium, and other nutrients. It also jacks up your metabolism and helps burn fatty acids. A lot of the purported health benefits of coffee drinking are fairly anecdotal but one of the more solid claims is that it helps prevent Type 2 diabetes.
What’s the deal with dark roast vs. light roast, in that regard?
Many people think a dark roast contains more caffeine, but the opposite is actually true. Over the last few years, I’ve really grown partial to the light roast; you can actually taste the character of the beans and flavor profile. Oftentimes, dark roasts are simply overheated or burned coffee.
Tell me about the influence of Robb Wolf on Savage Gold Coffee.
Robb Wolf is a guru in the Paleo world, and being someone who subscribes to that lifestyle, I am directly influenced by him.
As I mentioned, I start most of my days with coffee blended with grass-fed butter and MCT oil; this is a process that Wolf developed for energy.
In the beginning I used the Bulletproof Coffee brand in my coffee formula. It was great, but I wasn’t satisfied with the way it tasted when I drank it black. That was pretty much the beginnings of the idea for starting a coffee company.
Let’s talk about your roaster buddy in Syracuse.
The roaster is Jesse Daino, the owner of Recess Coffee in Syracuse. We’ve been friends for more than a decade. I like to turn to the wide variety of wonderful people that I have in my life when I need help. Jesse is an honest guy and a master at roasting coffee, so it made sense to work with him.
Walk me through everything that is involved from concept to finished product. Where is Savage Gold Coffee grown? What does altitude have to do with it? Why is “fair trade” important and how do you make sure that’s really the case?
We source the beans from a co-op in Ethiopia that has all of the required qualifications. The beans are picked between 6,000 and 6,500 feet above sea level. Altitude contributes to the flavor. If the beans are grown just below the frost line, it takes longer for the coffee beans to mature and a more complex flavor develops. Also, higher elevations tend to provide better drainage. If there is less water in the coffee fruits, there is a higher concentration of flavor.
The coffee beans are shipped to the U.S. and roasted in Syracuse.
Zakk Wylde and Megadeth’s Dave Mustaine both have coffee brands. Other rock and metal guys, like Maynard Keenan, are into winemaking. What's the difference between really curating something and just slapping a name on it?
I’m not a big follower of Zakk Wylde or Dave Mustaine. It would be kind of cynical to assume that they aren’t passionate about what they’re doing. I don’t have the power that they have when it comes to name recognition, so I don’t think that it really makes that much of a difference if I have my name on it or not. I’m doing this whole trip on my own. I don’t have a staff working on this. I suppose that is the main difference. I’m the SST Records of coffee, where the others are probably more securely funded. Like everything else that I’ve done, I do it because I believe in it.
The Savage Gold idea existed as a concept way before Tombs titled the latest record Savage Gold. My mission in life is to constantly improve and move toward a higher level of consciousness. I’ve always been interested in alchemy, the idea of transforming a lower material into something that exists at a higher level. That’s where the idea of Savage Gold originates. I’m not trying to sell anyone anything that they don’t need. It’s almost not even about coffee; it’s about pushing forward and trying to experience life in a more intense way.
What's your favorite way to consume coffee? Cold brew? French press? And what's most important—water quality, grind, temperature, coffee/water ratio?
I personally dig French press, but the AeroPress is pretty radical, I must say. My issue with the AeroPress is volume. I like the fact that you get a really concentrated, strong brew and you can cut it with some water to your taste. The single, most important thing to me is quality beans.
Of all the artisan coffee out there, why should I order Savage Gold Prime?
It’s not my goal to “sell” anyone on Savage Gold Coffee. It’s out there, existing. There are a ton of great coffees available to you and everyone has their own specific tastes. I believe that Savage Gold Prime, my flagship roast, is high quality and reasonably priced. I’m also offering a membership, the Savage Gold Coffee Alliance, where you can sign up for whatever quantity you drink every month and I ship it to you directly, as fresh as possible; pretty much roasted to order. How do you like that for service? ALT