BREWTAL TRUTH: Drink This Now!

By: adem Posted in: featured, liver failure On: Friday, April 11th, 2014

DDC_RigorMortis

Why does Canada’s Frenchiest province, Quebec, love Belgian-style beers so much? Is it the shared language? Is it something in the Quebec palate? Or is it just disdain for anything English in origin? We have no idea, but if we want a killer Belgian brew without going to Belgium, there are plenty of options from Quebec. Unibroue is the best-known example available throughout North America. But there are others. Thanks to an export/distribution deal with Shelton Brothers in the U.S. more amazing Quebec beers from breweries like Le Trou du Diable and Dieu du Ciel! are finding their way into bottle shops around the country. And, yep, they rely heavily on Belgian brewing tradition, but they also frequently put their own New World/Quebecois twist on it. This beer, whose name we could not freakin’ say no to, is definitely very trad.

RIGOR MORTIS ABT
Quadrupel
Brasserie Dieu du Ciel!
St. Jerome, Quebec, Canada
10.5% ABV

First of all, who names a beer Rigor Mortis? French Canadians, that’s who. You might recall that Unibroue also has cheery beer names like La Fin du Monde (End of the World) and Maudite (Accursed), so clearly the irreverent, fun-loving tone of many U.S. craft breweries is lacking up here. And who is the stiff on the label of this beer supposed to be? Jesus? Whatever. We saw the name and the beatific label art and immediately thought of “Re-Animator” by Texas’s finest death thrashers, Rigor Mortis. Pondering what it all meant didn’t occur until we were half way through this beast.

You’ll see above that this is a “quadrupel.” That’s a style—like the commonly known dubbel and tripel—developed by Trappist monks who brewed beers in their monasteries. This would be the biggest beer a Trappist brewery would make and it would easily reach double-digit ABV. It’s typically dark in color, lacking much in the way of hops and is big on the malt, like a barley wine.

Poured form the bottle, Rigor Mortis looks not unlike a barley wine. The deep chestnut color is a little on the dark side for the style, but it’s within the range. However, it smells nothing like one. This is largely due to the use of a Belgian yeast strain, as well as the addition of candi sugar which gives the yeast plenty to chow down on to get the ABV up so high. The main difference, though? This offers more fruit aromas—like plum, raisins and dark berries—mingling with the strong scent of booze. It smells something like a rum-soaked fruit bowl. A barley wine would have some fruit notes, but it’s more about the malt.

Taste-wise this isn’t too far off from Gulden Draak. There is a strong sweet component up front, along with a big wallop of boozy fruit that gives way to a bitter chocolate finish. It’s like a dark chocolate version of Cadbury’s Fruit and Nut candy bar (which is actually made with milk chocolate). You’ll definitely feel the heat from its strength long after taken a pull or two. It’s big.

After extensive, uh, testing, we can report that this brew did not cause any stiffening of our limbs. Or death, for that matter. It did, however, cause inebriation. Rather quickly, in fact.

Adem Tepedelen’s new craft beer book, Decibel Presents the Brewtal Truth Guide to Extreme Beers: An All-Excess Pass to Brewing’s Outer Limits, is now available in the Decibel online store.

Stream New French Black Metal From Paramnesia

By: Dan Lake Posted in: featured, listen On: Friday, April 11th, 2014

paramnesia featured

The French black metal oddity Paramnesia is slowly, casually crawling out of obscurity, now that Les Acteurs de l’Ombre Productions are set to release the band’s self-titled full-length on April 16th.  Having apparently existed since 2005 (thanks metal-archives!), the project has only recently released recordings in the form of an EP and a split with German outfit Unru.  We say “oddity” because, while there’s lots of great French black metal to be had, not much of it cites proggy American or “Cascadian” black metal as a primary influence.  When Europeans who worship at the altar of blast beats and repetitive hyperspeed chords mention Weakling and Ash Borer as having similar leanings, you know the world has tipped drunkenly on a melting axis.

The new album consists of two 20-minute tracks (titled “IV” and “V”, in keeping with the naming convention begun on their earlier recordings), a segment of which you can hear below.  After whetting your appetite, go check out the older material on their Bandcamp site.  Miserable Friday, everyone!

 

 

Studio Report: ACxDC

By: justin.m.norton Posted in: diary, featured On: Friday, April 11th, 2014

ACxDC_web

Satanic powerviolence. Say what? Yes indeed, this is a thing, or at least a band. Decibel was so intrigued with the workings of the Southern California band Antichrist Demoncore that we teamed up with main man Sergio Amalfitano to offer an exclusive studio report on the makings of their Melotov Records debut, due June 24. Check it out below.

In February 2014, the members of Antichrist Demoncore (ACxDC, for short) met up in Van Nuys at an inconspicuous house to record our debut LP after eleven years. Not exactly the type of location one would expect a “Satanic powerviolence” band to be laying down their magnum opus. It’s definitely been overdue and we couldn’t be more excited. Taylor Young of Nails fame was the obvious choice to record this project. We didn’t really consider anyone else. He likes pretty much every style of music that we like and can give us the sound we’re searching for. Dark and heavy. The 16 tracks recorded for the debut are a mix of power violence, D-beat, crust, punk, hardcore, and death metal, creating a violent and bleak overall sound. A reflection of over a decade’s worth of hiatuses and lineup changes and a maturing sound. Mastered at Audiosiege Media by Brad Boatright (From Ashes Rise, Warcry, etc.)

Day One: We all met up at Taylor’s studio after lunch. Setting up the drum set so Jorge (Herrera) could record today along with Aldo (Felix) and Jeff (Aldape) providing scratch guitar tracks. The kit consisted of a God City Instruments snare drum and a used DW performance kit (the same kit Nails uses live). Jorge was a beast. He layed down 16 tracks in seven hours, almost non stop. Taylor set up stereo KSM32 microphones throughout the room to get a good room sound.

Day Two: Aldo was using his guitar with LACE “Drop and Gain” pickups on day two of the recordings. Brian (Amalfitano, my twin and the newest member of the band) used a Gibson 61 SG reissue with a ProCo Sound Rat. Two amps were set up for this. A Maxon TBO pedal into a Sunn Beta Lead with a Marshall cab. Amp two was set up with an original RAT pedal into an Ampeg VT-40 with a Mesa Cab. The amps were blended together for each guitar and an active ABY pedal was used to send each signal to the amps. All 16 tracks were recorded as well as second guitars.

My wife and twin daughters came to visit the studio to show support. Or maybe start a band of their own. The girls started messing around on Aldo’s guitar and asking him to play them songs. I showed up just in time for the guys’ lunch break so we walked outside and the girls spotted a cat. The next ten minutes were spent running after them as they pursued said cat or in general just tried hiding behind shrubbery. Once we finally caught them and strapped them in the car they yelled “Bye, Daddy!” and we went off to eat at Wingstop. The next half hour was spent arguing whether Buffalo Wild Wings was better than Wingstop. Being the only vegan I pretty much just took Taylor’s side (pro Wingstop) to irk Aldo (staunchly BWW).

Day Three: Not sure how this was managed but astoundingly we layed down all the bass tracks. I say this because Jeff somehow decided to not sleep the day before. I’m not clear on the details actually. It was either an all nighter playing video games or drinking. Quite possibly both. But he showed up disheveled, wearing the same clothes as the day before. He’s a trooper though and did his job like a champ. Blazed through the 16 bass tracks in half a day. He recorded using a Fender bass with LACE Aluma P-bass pickups. The tones were blended together after the signal was split direct in as well as through a RAT pedal into an Ampeg SVT classic.

Day Four: On the last day of recording, I belted out 16 songs in one day. Including all backup vocals by layering up on sing alongs and parts designed to be sung live by the other members of the band. 23 total minutes of music. I sung into a Neumann M-147 to a tube pre-amp.

For some reason I thought it would help my vocals if I had a cold drink on me at all times. Apparently not. At the suggestion of my brother and engineer I switched to hot tea. This helped me so much more than I had expected. The first quarter of the session I was able to go through tracks quickly. I started having some cracking issues five songs in. Despite our songs having a range of 1-2 minutes max, having to do double takes and backups and switch between low growls, high pitched yelling and more straightforward hardcore vocals took its toll. We had to switch to doing shorter takes almost line by line before tea saved the day!

ACxDC_LP_Cover


1) Destroy Create
2) Misled
3) Paid In Full
4) Vegangelical
5) Holmes
6) Overstimulated
7) Cheap Punks
8) Hipler Youth
9) Savior Complexxx
10) Endless Failure
11) Blood
12) Dead Cops
13) Keep Sweet
14) Lifeless
15) Filicide
16) Give Up

Interview with Thou’s Andy Gibbs and Bryan Funck

By: kevin.stewart-panko Posted in: featured, interviews, tours On: Thursday, April 10th, 2014

deciblog - thou logo

Baton Rouge doom/sludge prolific over-achievers, Thou has returned from an almost unheard of (for them, anyway) two years of silence as far as releases are concerned with their latest and greatest full-length, Heathen. We recently sent guitarist Andy Gibbs and vocalist Bryan Funck a bunch of questions to respond to via email. It would appear they approach interviews with the same prolific depth as they do everything else. So, I’ll shut the hell up so you can read all about everything that’s going on with Thou in the here-and-now.

First off, what do we need to know about the history of Thou that hasn’t been driven into the ground in other interviews? As time has passed, have you come to any realisations about how your early days as a band has impacted how you go about existing as a band in the present?
Andy: I don’t think we have a particularly interesting back story, honestly. We’re just another group of 20-and-30-something year-old dudes who practice in a dirty, cramped practice space. I do think that our semi-rigorous practice schedule in the early days did us a lot of good in terms of figuring out what we wanted to sound like. We started out with a more post-rock-y sound and very quickly got heavier and heavier. And certainly I think that [bassist] Mitch [Wells], [guitarist] Matthew [Thudium] and I playing music together for so long has streamlined the creative process in a positive way.
Bryan: Aside from Barghest, Thou is really the only band any of us have been in that has gotten a bit of notoriety and became fairly serious. So, there are a lot of areas of learning and growth we’ve blundered through along the way – a lot of aesthetic and identity experimentation. Sometimes I wish I had a clearer idea of how far this band would go, so I could’ve kept things more coherent. I love when bands have such a strict aesthetic that you can immediately identify their record or show flyer. “Oh, this is Iron Lung. This is Crass. This is Celeste. This is Pity Sex.” On the other hand, I’m glad we didn’t pigeon-hole ourselves to any particular approach, be it music, artwork, content or whatever. We still have some willingness to approach things in new ways and that flexibility is really important to us these days, especially, with Andy living in Oakland and Mitch about to move to San Diego. I think if we had been married to only doing things one way, those moves would have killed us. As far as artwork goes, originally, I was trying to fit that “bat logo” onto everything we did. I had this idea that it would be something like our Darkthrone logo. The first few releases also had some typical, boring band tropes: track list on the back, who played in the band, our website, etc. I’m glad it didn’t take me too long to figure out that stuff like that is just filler taking up valuable real estate and contributes to a general band ego that I find useless and self destructive. I think a lot of people think of our art as “woodcuts,” but we seem a little all over the place from my perspective. And there have definitely been a few art and layout choices I’ve regretted. Mostly minor stuff that no one cares about, but things I obsess about when I look at records or can’t sleep at night. I guess we can always do endless represses till I get it right. Sometimes I think we shouldn’t have done so many splits, spreading the material out so much. I feel like we could have been choosier with some of the bands and labels we worked with. It probably would’ve made sense to bite off a chunk of the Rendon songs for a full length or bigger EP between Peasant and Summit. I think a bunch of those songs could have fit together and made a coherent album. We’re a little pickier now when we do splits, but we’re still way into doing them. These days, I think we aim a little higher with the experimentation, letting the split dictate the style or direction we want to take the songs. I think we’ve gained a good bit of focus over the last few years, as far as the writing goes. Then again, sometimes you have to go where the song takes you instead of trying to fit it into the box you want. That’s usually how we end up shaving things down these days. That’s certainly why we have a whole EP worth of songs from the Heathen session that we all really liked but just weren’t fitting within the scope of that record.

How has having a couple members spread around the country affected life in and for Thou?
Andy: As of now, I’m the only one living outside of Louisiana (Mitch is scheduled to move later this year), but we’ve been dealing with it pretty effectively, I’d say. The rest of the band practices regularly without me and when I come to town we get things done pretty quickly. Aside from writing and practicing, the financial burden of figuring out how to cover my plane ticket expenses is a pain that I don’t see going away too soon.
Bryan: We still have some Heathen burnout at the moment, so it’s a little hard to tell, but it’s seemed to have slowed down the writing tremendously. We’re trying to figure out how to approach writing with one of the main authors one the other side of the country. It’s definitely made touring a lot harder. The financial constraints we were already dealing with have sky rocketed. We have to do lots of extra planning and take more time off work than we’d like, even for shorter trips that would’ve been really easy for us to do in the past. Other than that, it’s fine. Me and the three guys in Baton Rouge have been keeping busy with regular practices, re-learning a ton of older songs and playing around with various covers. So, there’s a lot of maintenance and regrouping happening. We had a few months of stagnation after we recorded Heathen, but I think we’re on the right track now.

deciblog - thou live

I noticed that as part of the PR for Heathen that, in addition to the usual metal-centric suspects, that NPR streamed the new album. What are your thoughts on these non-traditional outlets showing interest in a style of music as impenetrable to the mainstream as yours? And how did a band as noisy and miserable sounding as Thou even come to their attention and consideration in the first place?
Andy: People who are into “extreme” music are getting older and finding jobs in the “grown-up” world, so it’s pretty normal that someone who works at NPR is into our type of music. Still, I don’t think they’ll be having us on All Things Considered or Fresh Air any time soon. I’m still waiting for Democracy Now! to get in touch, though.
Bryan: We hooked up with NPR after we saw that first Body thing they did for All the Waters of the Earth Turn to Blood. Adam Barlett from Gilead Media reached out to Lars, who’s a bit younger and comes from the DC punk scene, to see if they would want to do anything with Summit. And they did the “First Listen.” I don’t think music that’s as long-winded as ours, or any music with screaming is going to go very far in the mainstream, but we’re not particularly concerned with that. I love that NPR and outlets like that have taken an interest in some harsher music. I’d love to see more folks around who practice critical thinking and aren’t embroiled in any scene politics.

Was the sound you’ve carved out for yourselves over the years something you pointedly went towards playing, or was the sludge/doom/whatever something you fell into serendipitously? How difficult is it to summon those demons so as to write such punishing odes?
Andy: Not that difficult, to me at least. At this point, when I’m coming up with riffs it’s not a very emotional process. I’m more just fucking around until something sounds good. The emotion comes later when we’re playing live or recording and I’m reflecting more on what I wrote and how it fits in the larger context of our band. But as far as the sound is concerned, we’ve definitely been on a straight-ahead course towards heavier and heavier songs from the inception of the band to the present, though we’ve never really seemed to fit too easily into the whole doom/sludge world of H.P. Lovecraft and pentagrams. While I think our inclination towards “doom” is deliberate, I think that our sound has changed pretty organically, and we’re really just playing what we think sounds interesting instead of what sounds brutal enough or whatever.
Bryan: Before I joined the band, they were doing more of a Pelican/Isis post-rock thing. I think after they wrote that first batch of songs, they started fooling around with lower tunings and wrote “Fucking Chained to the Bottom of the Ocean.” All the Tyrant songs sprung from that first one. I joined Thou after all the music for Tyrant had already been recorded and Matthew’s vocal tracks somehow got erased. So when I stepped in, it was already headed in a heavier direction. We’ve always talked about how we don’t want to be one of those bands that eventually loses all of their heaviness and only writes really mellow songs. That being said, we’re really taken with the idea of exploring different styles while still retaining the sound or feeling we identify as ‘Thou,’ which I think relies more on a sense of melancholia than it does, “br00tal,” heavy riffs. We have plans for doing a lot more acoustic and pretty/quiet songs. But I doubt we’ll ever totally drop the harshness associated with our music. And, unless the world and everyone in it changes drastically, I don’t think we’ll ever have a rough time writing sad/angry/exxxtreme songs.

How did you managed to maintain such a prolific period of releases from 2008-2012 without burning yourselves, and the various labels you worked with, out? Or is that heavy release schedule what contributed to the comparatively lengthy gap leading up to Heathen? Do you think you’re going to be heading back into the direction of releasing shit-tons of material or is life and all that life stuff making you take a second look at Thou’s amounts of activity?
Andy: We really only look so prolific on paper. In reality, we wrote a big chunk of songs after Peasant and recorded them in a marathon recording session. The songs were then dispersed among a bunch of different splits. And from then on, each of our recording sessions have been dual-purposed. With Summit, for instance, we recorded a handful of other songs that were used for different EPs and some other odds and ends. Ditto with basically every other one of our records to date. We actually just did a catch-all recording session in November. The gap leading up to Heathen had a few catalysts: we had a long period of inactivity after our European tour in 2012 because I traveled for a bit and then moved across the country; also some of the material recorded during the Heathen sessions got pushed back in terms of release dates; and then Heathen itself got pushed back a few times, so we could get the mixes and the layout squared away. And even now we’ve had to push back the US vinyl release because the test presses weren’t sounding right! So it’s been a comedy of errors. I think our release schedule will slow down, but I’m sure we’ll manage to release at least a couple records every year. We are doing a bit more touring than we’d originally planned, but with Mitch moving later this year I’m not sure if that’ll continue. We’re really just taking people up on their offers at the moment, whether its bands we like touring with or fests we want to play.
Bryan: These guys had spent a year writing and recording Tyrant before I joined the band and slapped my ramshackle vocals and mealy-mouthed lyrics over their hard work. So that one shouldn’t even count. Half the Oakland Singles songs were also written before I came on board. We kind of sped through writing and recording Peasant, for better or worse. The Rendon Singles stuff was a pretty good chunk. We just hit a good spurt of writing, started going in some new directions musically, and came up with a few long songs. Summit and the stuff we did with that had a lot of starts and stops, a few different spurts. Songs got scrapped or totally re-worked. We wrote the last couple of songs for that record the week before we went into the studio. It was pretty stressful. And then [drummer] Josh [Nee] joined right after that record, and brought in this renewed energy that led to the To the Chaos Wizard Youth stuff. It never really seems that drastic from our point of view because we’ll have a few songs for a while that we play, then we write a few more and on and on. There were definitely times when we’d ramp up the pressure to get a release done in time for a tour or whatever. But then again, there were also plenty of deadlines we missed because we just couldn’t produce the material, or something didn’t come out quite right, there was some technical issue or someone else flaked on us. I’m not really sure how things will pan out over the next few years as far as output goes. We’ve been a little burnt out from the Heathen, Sacrifice, and Released from Love stuff. If we weren’t having practices to get ready for all these tours, we’d maybe be working on some new stuff. Right now, we’re focusing on Heathen and old songs for the March and April tours. When we get home, we’ll have about two months to pull together some very basic ideas for the second collaboration with The Body. The July tour will mostly be collaboration sets, and we’ll be recording the second record with them about halfway in, once we get up to Providence. After the July tour, we’ll probably take a couple of weeks to recoup then start digging into the various new ideas we have. If inspiration strikes us, we might get a spurt of material, but there’s no telling. After we recorded To the Chaos Wizard Youth, we spent a couple of months working on a Fiona Apple tribute. That got put on hold, and we started writing for the Cower split. I think we spent a good month or two banging our heads against the wall on that one till we finally hit our stride and banged out a handful of songs we were happy with. We’re always really ambitious in the brainstorming stage, but we’re also fine with shelving or abandoning a song or idea if it’s not working or doesn’t meet our standards. We definitely won’t be touring too much over the next few years. We’re not living on the streets or squatting, but none of us are really well-off financially. It’s pretty hard for some of us to even miss out on work, let alone save up the money we need now to make tours happen. The April and July tours we’re doing are going to be pretty rough. As of right now, we’re not looking to do anything else till April or July of next year, and that will probably be out to Europe for no more than a few weeks. Life stuff is definitely a huge factor for us, juggling all our other responsibilities, significant others, family, bands, shows, volunteer projects, work. We’re all in our late 20s and early 30s, so those things have definitely started to pile up.

Ok, Heathen. Did you have any specific goals about what you wanted to achieve going into the writing and recording of the album? Mistakes you wanted to avoid, stuff you wanted to deliberately experiment with, anything in particular you wanted to do differently or the same as past recordings, etc.? How did the actual recording of the album differ from other studio experiences?
Andy: I would say this is our most calculated album to date, for sure. Ever since we recorded Summit I feel like we’ve got more and more anal about the way the records sound, especially the full-lengths. I went into the recording sessions expecting to have a very intense few days of meticulous nit-picking and marathon overdub sessions, but it actually went very smoothly, mostly due to our recording-wizard James Whitten. The process was very similar to everything we’ve recorded Summit-and-beyond, since we’ve used the same studio every time and James knows exactly what we’re going for. We usually have a little chat beforehand about what kind of tone we want to get and all that, so we’re all on the same page. We were definitely looking to experiment more with clean parts and less ‘metal’ stuff, most of which found its way onto the album via interludes. I think in the future we’ll work more on incorporating that stuff into the songs themselves. At this point, I’m not worried about us sounding heavy enough, so my attention is on other things. I guess in the earlier days of the band I felt like we had to constantly throw in the heaviest riffs we could muster, and now I just want to come up with interesting melodies and mess with walls of feedback. Overall, my goal was to come out with the most cohesive-sounding album we could, and in that I feel pretty good about the job we did.
Bryan: I think like most musicians, we wanted this record to be better than the last one. I’m really proud of Summit, but it just wasn’t as expansive as I had hoped it would be. If we hadn’t had other records on our plate at the time, we probably could’ve included “Voices in the Wilderness” and “Bonnet Carré” on that record. Then again, if we had included those songs (which we had written earlier on), we wouldn’t have had the pressure on us to write “Grissecon” or “Another World is Inevitable.” Regardless, to me, all of those songs, even though they fit together, still sound like they could’ve used a little more refining – either in the studio or the practice space. The only other goal we were really married to was getting across the lyrical themes of nature and physicality. After Matthew and I had a long talk about his ideas for “Free Will,” I expanded those ideas to include the need for prescient experience and active participation. Sound-wise, Matthew had written “Free Will” pretty early on to set the tone for things. So we had a pretty clear idea of where we wanted to go. At some point, when things were looking a little bleaker with the amount of songs that were coming together, we talked about doing some black metal stuff on here and having one side of the record be Heathen and the other side as Magus. But I think towards the end of writing we dropped that thought because we knew we had almost too much stuff for a singularly-themed record, plus all the black metal ideas had been mangled into other things. We also talked about having all the interludes early on. We wanted to have little bits tying all the songs together into one, big piece, but also write these little parts that could almost stand alone as their own songs. We talked about having some electronic pieces, drone and noise stuff, just whatever we could think of. It ended up being just a few guitar things and the long ambient piece we tied into “Immorality Dictates,” but I’m really happy with all those songs, and I’m definitely hoping we can do more of that in the future. I think the biggest thing we wanted to avoid with this record was having the same level of stress we did just before we recorded Summit. We didn’t quite succeed on that end, but we definitely made some small steps towards improvement. Really, we had a big chunk of the material pretty close to being done before the last week of rehearsals. It was more a matter or fleshing some songs out and tightening things up to our standards. “Ode to Physical Pain” was the biggest writing project we had in that last push, and I was probably more than a little annoying about us finishing that one. I just loved that first riff. It’s probably my favorite thing Matthew has ever written. The actual recording was pretty typical for us. We spent a day or two tracking with The Body for the collaboration, then two days of tracking Heathen and the EP tracks, maybe a day of just overdubs, all of that at the Living Room in Algiers. We did some of the guitar overdubs and most of the vocals at James Whitten’s space. The recording got a little hairy with people’s work schedules. I think we’ll probably all try to free up more time on the next one, so there’s less down time and we can do more with the studio. The only real difference with this recording is that we were all a lot more locked in with James on this one, as far as getting the sounds we wanted, ideas for overdubs, stuff like that. James Whitten is essentially the sixth member of Thou at this point. I’m not sure we would sound anywhere near as good as we do on the records without him.

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Were you able to consciously say at any point in the creation process that, “Yes, this particular current event/album we were listening to/this relationship I’m in/kick ass amp I bought/financial hardship I suffered/etc. has contributed to the direction of Heathen”?
Andy: Yes and no. Obviously, no one creates in a vacuum, but like I mentioned earlier, the emotional content is something I usually reflect on after the writing is done. It’s weird because my feelings about a song are sometimes totally different from the lyrical content. “Feral Faun” for instance: we played that song live for the first time the day before I moved out of New Orleans, and I was going through a lot complex emotions about leaving all my friends behind and all that, so to me that song is forever tied to that feeling regardless of what the song is actually about.
Bryan: I’m of the mind that all of your life experiences add up to who you are at any given point. But lyrically with Heathen, I definitely wasn’t focused on a singular issue; with each song I was just trying to dig into the minutiae of the broader themes of the record, but those were all still pretty general ideas—accessing the wildness within our beings that is restrained by society; opening ourselves to nature and the physical world; our insignificance within the larger context of the universe; the usefulness of pleasure and pain. I tried to tackle all of these things from the culmination of my life, thoughts, and hopes—rather than restricting the lens to a singular experience. I feel like that limitation would have been the antithesis of Heathen: all experience has some value and can be useful.

How would you characterise Heathen against previous full-lengths or those EP/split releases you’ve found Thou fans gravitating towards as most popular or definitive?
Andy: I think this is definitely some of our more accessible material, despite the lengthy song times. We’ve taken to saving our more abrasive stuff for EPs/splits and focusing on melody for the full-lengths. I think anyone who thinks Summit is our best album is going to love Heathen. And anyone who thinks Summit is the worst should just wait a little while until the next batch of stuff comes out!
Bryan: To be honest, I’m still amazed that people like our band at all, so I can’t really speak to what’s popular. I’m really proud of Summit, but I’ve always felt like it got an inordinate amount of attention and acclaim compared to our other releases. I definitely think that Heathen is by far the best thing we’ve written so far. Is it the definitive Thou release? I think we used a lot of our usual tricks, as far as riffs and melody and song structures. So in that sense, it’s very prototypical for us. But I also feel like we still have a lot more to offer in some other, more drastic directions. Regardless of how the record ends up being received, we’re all really happy with it, and I feel like it’s raised the bar for us on the next record.

There’s a quote on the Gilead press page that goes a little like so: “RIYL: Nature, the sensual world, sexual decadence, pain and ecstasy, actively experiencing the present…” Discuss.
Bryan: I wrote that out of frustrated boredom with those stupid one-sheet recommendation listings I see all the time. Admittedly, I understand the usefulness of the shorthand, but most of those things are hilarious if not completely wack-a-doo. I just wanted something that clearly stated the thematic elements of our record without falling into the hyperbole of a poorly written record review or the laziness of musical cross comparisons.

Judging by your website’s exhaustive listing of all your songs/lyrics, I’m going to take a wild stab in the dark and assume lyrics aren’t something created as an afterthought. In that case, how would you say Heathen differs thematically and/or lyrically from other works? Did you find that being as prolific as you were for a few years made it increasingly difficult to come up with unique twists on those topics which interest you, or even fresh topics to focus on? Were you ever guilty of repeating yourself, subconsciously or not?
Bryan: Writing lyrics is my only real job in the band, so I definitely take some time. I’m not sure how this one compares lyrically to the other stuff. I’m happy with everything. I’m sure there’s my usual enormous helping of hyperbole and melodrama. There are definitely metaphors and images I find myself constantly coming back to. It would be funny to do a word count of the lyrics and see how many times I use variations of fire, ocean, night, death, etc. Hopefully, I’m putting some unique spin on the more typical metal tropes. I’m not really overly concerned with revisiting a topic. I feel like if I’m writing about something again it’s usually because I have more to say or a different way to say it. I think the world we live in is a bottomless well of topics for me to write sad or angry songs about. So I’m not too worried about running out of source material any time soon. I have an overactive imagination and a big mouth in general, so I could probably talk endlessly about most things. I’m a Pisces. Heathen, and the next big record Magus, are meant to be deeper explorations of the hopeful vision of Summit. Each record is meant to tackle one extreme of the dual-natured individual it might take to actualize that concept. Magus is going to be about the ethereal – theory, history, philosophy, magick – while Heathen is about the physical world, the senses and active experience,

deciblog - thou cover

What’s the who/what/where/when/why and how behind the cover image? I’m tempted to say that the image doesn’t fit in with the path of highly-detailed, ornate, almost woodcut/early industrial age-looking images you’ve used with many of your covers, but then again, it’s not like every cover has looked like To Carry a Stone and Dwell in the Darkness… Anyway, what gives?
Bryan: The woman on the cover of the CD is Julia Prinsep Jackson as “La Santa Julia” by Julia Margaret Cameron from 1867. I feel like those Cameron images are actually a lot closer to the woodcut stuff we use; it all has the same medieval, magickal, old world feel to me. I was just looking for something that had the same sort of hopeful-yet-despondent feel as the images from the Summit CD, but also looked markedly different.

Thou’s website is at noladiy.org/thou/. You can easily spend hours reading lyrics, reading updates and downloading their discography free of charge!

Thou on Bandcamp.

Regardless of who’s living where, they aren’t going to be home much in the next couple of months. Here’s where they will be:
*West Coast with CLOUD RAT*
04.11.14 – Champaign at Error Records (702 S. Neil Street) at seven pm with Weekend Nachos, Enabler, Northless, Angry Gods, and Doomsayer // Skeletal Lightning Fest
04.12.14 – Iowa City (matinee) at Public Space One with Darsombra and Aseethe
04.12.14 – Omaha at The Westwing at ten pm (301 S 38th Avenue)
04.13.14 – Denver at Mutiny Information Cafe (2 S. Broadway) at nine pm with Primitive Man and Swells
04.14.14 – Billings at Black Sparrow Tattoo Club (1940 Grand Ave) at seven pm with Show for Nobody
04.15.14 – Seattle with Ô Paon and Samothrace at Blacklodge at nine pm
04.16.14 – Olympia (matinee) at Ralph House (407 Fairview Street SE) at one pm with Reivers and Hysterics
04.16.14 – Portland at Slabtown (1033 NW 16th Ave.) at eight pm with Ô Paon and Druden
04.17.14 – Portland (matinee) at 10128 NE Pacific Street at one pm with Reivers and Contempt
04.17.14 – Salem at Wisp House (805 Church Street) at seven pm with Hell and OSS
04.18.14 – Sacramento (matinee) at Oak Park Boiz House (3644 1st Avenue) at twelve pm with Tom Hanx
04.18.14 – Berkeley at 924 Gilman Street at seven pm with Negative Standards, Sutekh Hexen, Ragana, and Ritual Control
04.19.14 – Santa Cruz (matinee) at Streetlight Records (939 Pacific Avenue) at three pm
04.19.14 – San Francisco at The Lab (2948 16th Street) at seven pm with Kowloon Walled City
04.20.14 – Oakland (matinee) at Toys in Babeland at three pm with Reivers
04.20.14 – San Jose at San Jose Rock Shop (30 N. 3rd Street) at seven pm with Folivore
04.21.14 – San Luis Obispo (matinee) at Frankie Teardrops (759 Francis Avenue) at two pm with Agowilt
04.21.14 – Goleta at Hard to Find (7190 Hollister Ave) at seven pm with Dangers
04.22.14 – Pomona (matinee) at Aladdin Jr. II (296 W. 2nd Street) with Trapped Within Burning Machinery
04.22.14 – San Diego at Che Cafe at seven pm with Dangers
04.23.14 – Riverside (matinee) at Blood Orange at twelve pm with Moxiebeat
04.23.14 – Los Angeles at the Echo (1820 Sunset Blvd.) at eight pm with Dangers
04.24.14 – Phoenix (matinee) at Wallstreet at three pm with Dross and Funerary
04.24.14 – Flagstaff at The Hive at nine pm with Swamp Wolf and Seas Will Rise
04.25.14 – Albuquerque at Gasworks (2429 Quincy Street NE) at seven pm with Bathhouse and Predatory Light
04.26.14 – Dallas at Taqueria Perditos (4910 Capitol Ave) at nine pm with Orgullo Primitivo, Terminator 2, and Pissed Grave
04.27.14 – New Orleans at Mudlark Theatre at seven pm with Bitchface

*East Coast and Midwest collaboration tour with THE BODY*
06.27.14 – write/practice
06.28.14 – write/practice
06.29.14 – write/practice
06.30.14 – Baton Rouge
07.01.14 – Birmingham at The Forge (5505 1st Avenue) at seven pm with Lume
07.02.14 – Greensboro at Legitimate Business
07.03.14 – Richmond (matinee) at Empire the Bar at two pm
07.03.14 – DC
07.04.14 – Baltimore (matinee) at Sidebar (218 E. Lexington Street) at noon with Curse
07.04.14 – Philadelphia with Hirs, Pissgrave, and Backslider
07.05.14 – Jersey City (matinee) at WFMU (43 Montgomery Street)
07.05.14 – New York (matinee) at ABC No Rio
07.05.14 – New York
07.06.14 – New London (matinee) at The Orphanage (300 State Street) at one pm with Empty Vessels and Snow Orphan
07.06.14 – Amherst with Rozamov
07.07.14 – Boston with Curmudgeon
07.08.14 – Providence at Machines with Magnets
07.09.14 – write/record in Providence
07.10.14 – write/record in Providence
07.11.14 – write/record in Providence
07.12.14 – Syracuse with Bleak and Blood Sun Circle
07.13.14 – Pittsburgh at The Shop
07.14.14 – Detroit at Trumbullplex (4230 Common Wealth) at seven pm
07.15.14 – Grand Rapids
07.16.14 – Michigan City at Carbon Room (9833 W 300 N) at eight pm with Angry Gods
07.17.14 – Chicago at Club Rectum with Ash Borer and Hell
07.18.14 – Oshkosh (collaboration sets) at Masonic Center (204 Washington) at five pm with Ash Borer, Hell, Inter Arma, Protestant, and Oozing Wound // Gilead Fest
07.19.14 – Oshkosh (Body solo) at Masonic Center (204 Washington) two pm with Bastard Sapling, Mutilation Rites, Kowloon Walled City, Geryon, False, Sea of Bones, Owlfood, Hexer // Gilead Fest
07.20.14 – Oshkosh (Thou solo) Masonic Center (204 Washington) at one pm with Barghest, Loss, Uzala, Lychgate, Seidr, Generation of Vipers, Alraune, and Northless // Gilead Fest
07.21.14 – drive home

KILLING IS MY BUSINESS: Scion’s Jeri Yoshizu on the Future of Corporate Branding

By: Etan Rosenbloom Posted in: featured, killing is my business On: Thursday, April 10th, 2014

KillingismyBiz

If you’re anything like me, you’ve welcomed the last five years of Scion’s patronage of metal with a mix of gratitude and suspicion. No doubt, they’ve made it possible for fans to hear new tunes and see lives shows from some of the best bands in extreme music, usually at zero cost to all parties involved. Still, I’ve got lingering doubts that any corporate brand could truly believe that supporting a niche genre like underground metal will be a huge boon to its bottom line.

But as I explored with Pig Destroyer’s Scott Hull for the Killing Is My Business column in Decibel issue 115, getting money from a big brand is one of the few revenue streams for artists that seems to be growing, not shrinking. And as long as you don’t have to change your art, maybe there’s no difference between slapping a Red Bull logo on your album and slapping a record label’s logo on your album.

I talked to Scion’s Manager of Marketing Strategy, Jeri Yoshizu, about the past and future of their relationship with the metal community.

 

Jeri Yoshizu

Jeri Yoshizu

Why did Scion first start working with the metal community? 

The first time we worked with a metal roster was at SXSW. It was Motörhead, Napalm Death and a few others. The reason that we did that roster is because we were working with rap – Wu-Tang, Rakim, everybody in that “heritage” category – and other car companies started to come in to the rap area. We needed to become a multi-faceted lifestyle brand, vs. just the rap brand. Strategically, metal was the area that virtually no brands were in, unless you were Metallica or a big Grammy-winning act like that. We identified there was an opportunity for an un-served audience.

Were there branding techniques you saw other companies using that Scion wanted to move away from?

The festival-level sponsorship was not working. So SXSW, at that time, was really critical because, year after year, we were putting a lot of effort into putting on these big shows. We weren’t getting any press, and this was before social media was really the standard. I decided to put on our own festival, which was Rock Fest in Atlanta [in 2009].

Was that the one that Mastodon headlined?

Neurosis and Mastodon. If you look back at Scion, we were at a lot of conventions and conferences. That stuff doesn’t work for branding if you’re not the massive owner of the conference. We got a lot of foot traffic, and we were getting a lot of RSVPs and e-mails, but at the end of the day, it would come and go. There were so many other things going on that people would be like “Then I went to the Vice party. Then I went to the Fader party. Then I went to this, and that.” You just become a brand du jour at the conferences. So we got out.

Have you discovered a metal band while working with Scion that you’ve really fallen for?

I’m a mood person – I’m not a fanboy. If I’m in a mood and a song comes on, and that song makes my mood better, I’m like “Wow, what is this?” “It’s Franki Valli, Jeri.” But we did a project with Magrudergrind and I’d never heard grindcore before in my life. It was in Columbus, OH at the Rock Fest, in the grindcore room. I was so excited about the energy in the room. It was so exciting that we did a record with them!

You know who was really amazing? Terror, in Tampa’s Rock Fest, was badass. Oh, and Hot Lunch at last year’s. I like more rockin’ music. Church of Misery was really good. The guy that was singing fell off the stage, and he wouldn’t stop singing! Remember, I don’t go out that much. But if I’m working, I try to see everything for like two songs.

 

Your traditional branding deal involves a billboard, with Beyoncé holding a Pepsi can on it. It’s a very direct connection that implies endorsement. Can you explain a bit about why Scion wants to do things differently?

The area that I work in is lifestyle and social media. I am not in the traditional advertising space, and that’s what you’re referencing with Beyoncé. Scion, from an advertising perspective, focuses on the product. We wanted the target audience to discover the brand – that was the original premise – and say “That’s a cool brand, because they’re doing things different.”

With the lifestyle initiatives, traditionally – like if we’re talking about Toyota – they would sponsor a massive action sports tour, give away keychains and bags, stuff like that. Scion took that money and said “Let’s produce music.” And then the initiatives grew from there. That’s a very fundamental level. It’s really “What can we make, what can we brand on it, and what’s most likely going to grab people and be different?” That is music. Not stadium sponsorships and Beyoncé with the can.

We had to be very creative with what we had to plan out, get the impressions, all that stuff. Because we are a smaller brand than Toyota, we had to be really deliberate with our branding and messaging. It looks to a lot of people like we don’t care. But we craft and strategize every single dime we spend to make sure we’re getting something out of it.

What does Scion get out of it?

Top-of-mind [awareness]. Brand consideration. When you talk to an academic advertising person, they throw [around] all of those elements, because that’s the path to purchase. When you look at a traditional model like Toyota, there’s probably some stadium in your town that’s got Toyota plastered all over it. You go there enough, and you’re like “There’s that red logo on the white background. Toyota’s got great cars.” You drive around your town, you see the dealerships, and then when you’re ready to go and buy, guess what? You think top-of-mind, and you pare it down from there.

Scion’s the same way, it’s just that we’re going after a smaller target market that’s different from Toyota’s, who need to be influenced by creative communities and creative initiatives, vs. a repeating of the logo over and over again. It’s a different person.

For example, we go to Columbus, Ohio. We have Rock Fest. Scion takes over the town. We get social media out of it. We get the reputation with the bands, the labels and the management teams. We get press. And from there, it’s a slower path to get to car sales, but that, builds loyalty and that top-of-mind. We’ve looked on a lot of blogs. We’re constantly looking at what people are talking about Scion whenever we do a release or an event. And the feedback you always see is kids saying “They’re supporting the community,” “It’s a free show,” etc.

We’re not going to work with a Taylor Swift, because she is a much different type of artist in that she has a machine behind her. A lot of kids out there think that “If you’re working with Taylor Swift, you get to talk to her.” The management team – they’re in all the meetings. When we’re working with High on Fire, Matt Pike is the guy. I’ve run into him a couple times – I’m sure he doesn’t know me by name – but he says positive things to me, like “Thank you for treating me with respect.” That means a lot to me as a marketing person, because it’s sincere and it’s authentic, not “Go and shake their hands so you can get more money.” That carries a lot of weight for his community.

 

Is there anything you weren’t expecting about the metal community that you’ve learned over the past few years of working with them?

Yeah. They’ll stick up for Scion in a conversation. That was very surprising to me. That was worthy for me to print out and show to my upper management. They defend a brand, and they can distinguish between “selling out” and “artists need to pay bills.” We didn’t see any of that with the garage rock kids. We’re out of garage, because those people really did not stick whatsoever. It’s the same with dance kids. But the rock and the rap categories, you have loyal people. They talk about you. The artists are extremely grateful, so they always say positive things about Scion. And we hear this. The Melvins get interviewed, they always talk about Scion and what a good experience it’s been.

The metal audience, they get it. The guy that they work with is in a band. So they’re very in tune with their opinions. It’s always grounded – it’s never “Duuuude! You gotta keep it real!” You know, it’s whatever it takes to keep playing music and doing what you love.

Do you have benchmarks for success? If you sold X number of cars at the end of a certain time frame, would you pat yourself on the back, say “Job well done, let’s move on to something new?”

No. You have to juxtapose this conversation with what advertising does on TV commercials. You can never say that one area in the marketing plan sold cars. They could have released a finance package that month. Ad agencies would like to take the credit, but if Toyota’s putting out a massive incentive package for a Tundra, and there’s also a TV campaign, you can’t say “The TV campaign killed it.” Everything has to work.

In my area, we measure what everyone else measures. You want to know how many people read your article, right? We look at impressions, clickthroughs, we look at anecdotal conversations people are having online, we measure brand awareness, we measure consideration, we measure brand sentiment.

We’ve been tracking a bunch of measurements for three years. We can see there’s a lift. It’s not immediate, but the wave comes. Even by the most miniscule points of increase, we’ll see that, and we discuss it. For my job in particular, it’s really about what people are saying in the digital environment. It’s never about attendance. It’s all about what are people saying afterwards, what are people saying before, are people like you guys writing stories because we’re intriguing, are you guys writing about our artists.

The other great thing is when an artist starts doing really well. That’s really exciting for us.

At the end of the day, you’re trying to sell cars. At what point do you have to prove that the metal community is buying cars? When do you introduce cars to the metal community, as opposed to just your name, your sponsorship?

Scion’s a car company. We have little things, like you have to RSVP for an event and when you RSVP, it’s on the Scion website. So yeah, the name is always there. We have band cars; we let bands take the cars on tour. We hope that everyone is watching TV and reading magazines and they see the name associated with the car. We’re doing more content with cars in them, with the talent, with the music. We had cars at Rock Fest. We’re integrating more, but you’ll not see a car on stage. So it’s subtle, but not to the point that it’s invisible.

A lot of people are like “I don’t really associate Scion with cars.” I have to take that as a compliment, because lifestyle marketing does not drive a campaign. If it’s Home Depot, everyone has to put the brand there, right? But your TV advertising, your website have to reinforce that. You’re just being targeted.

All these things have to collude to make a potential buyer think a certain way about a brand before they’re gonna put their money there.

There are a couple articles out now that talk about what gets a person to buy a product. Number one is always that it’s a good product. But as technology starts becoming the same for everybody, brands are gonna start coming up again as important. Why would you buy this app vs. another app? Why would you buy this phone vs. another phone? Is it price?

There are all these things that come into play, and one of the things that’s starting to be talked about is what does that brand stand for. The articles are discussing what it takes to get a person to buy if everything’s the same. Brands have to do more lifestyle, more experiential marketing to get people to see if there’s something [other] than just a device that does everything every other device does.

You might say that Scion has introduced the idea of patronage into metal. Patronage has existed for centuries in some form or another – you would have a king, or the church, paying your bills so you could concentrate on making music. Does Scion think of itself in that way right now?

There are so many things going on that we don’t sit around [saying] we’re patrons of the arts. We support the creative community, whether it’s in music, art, fashion, food…we keep it moving. We want to be a part of somebody’s career, but at the same time we understand that they’re hard working, and if something great happens, we can’t be looked at as the sole reason it happened.

Giving a band a shot is a big deal for an artist. We all know how neurotic artists are about everything they do. The way they look, the way they sound, what their words are, everything. We’re very sensitive to that, so we try to make it as painless as possible. I think that’s our biggest contribution, is being there for a lot of these artists, managers, everybody they need some guidance. They appreciate us giving them hotel rooms when we’re doing a show. Everything we do, we make sure that they understand they’re being taken as seriously as we would take a major artist.

How do you find the bands you feature for a Rock Show, or fund for recording?

Beyond Marketing handles all the A&R. The guys at Nuclear Blast, Relapse Records, everybody is part of the mix. We’ve had interesting discussions with Rennie [Jaffe, VP of Relapse Records] and Gerardo [Martinez, Label Manager at Nuclear Blast] and Gordon [Conrad, Label Manager at Season of Mist] from a business perspective about their target markets. I’ve met a lot of great record labels, and a lot of great record label managers, who are targeting the same people we’re targeting. So it’s great to get these people in a room, and discuss with them what they’re going through. That’s been a great part of my job, talking to people that are in that area. They really understand what kids are into, what bands are coming up, what bands are a headache, and which ones are great to work with.

Everybody talks, and Beyond does a great job of filtering through. I have my objectives, and I let them know “I need bands that are touring.” They go ahead and find those bands, and we work with them.

 

Let’s talk about the money behind that. When you approach a band about recording an album, or sponsoring a tour, do you give them a budget?

There’s a deal conversation that is in the beginning of that [process]. We break it into three tiers, dependent on how big the band can draw, or how many records they can sell. We’re not gonna give High on Fire the same rates that we would give someone who’s putting out their first record. It’s very black and white, and people can take it or leave it. Mostly people take it. It’s very fair, and it’s a licensing deal. We don’t own anything. We handle all the marketing and PR and distribution.

So you’re not asking for any publishing or back end.

No. We sell cars. We don’t sell music.

You could sell the records you put out, distribute them in stores, rather than just hand them out at Scion shows. Is there any thought to monetizing the recordings in the future?

There is no plan. If we had to sell music, then we wouldn’t be doing music initiatives, since everyone would get it for free somewhere. Then I’d have to report back [that we earned] $150, and they’d say “Why are you doing this?”

Do you pitch these songs to film and TV?

We have an exclusive period. They cannot work for an automotive company, obviously, but they’ll say “Hey, this video game wants to use it…” and we’ll say “Great. Can you make sure it says Scion in the credits?”

In those initial talks, what do you tell the artist that they’ve gotta do for you in return?

We let them know all of our restrictions. We try to avoid artists that are negative, that show anti-whatever, as much as we can. Then we start doing the artwork, and they say “We just want to put this pentagram in there.” We’re like “You can’t really do that.” We put that all up front.

We did a deal with one of the labels and they had an image of them burning money, which is an illegal act. We went back and forth a couple times, and I said “You know what, I don’t want this to turn sour. We’ll just do a kill fee. You guys can do whatever you want with the record, and I’m totally fine.” We walk away. If there is a band that does something obviously negative, like putting swastikas in their artwork, we’re not going to support that. We have a list of “Here’s what we stay away from.” And if they don’t want to do it, that’s totally fine. They don’t have to work with Scion, we don’t have to work with them.

Scion is not here to change your art. I do not want to be responsible for anybody changing for whatever contract we write. So don’t change because you’re not going to get money from us. You decide what you want to change, not Scion. And there’re no hard feelings.

We had an issue with Integrity. Dwid [Hellion] is the most awesome dude ever, and in the end, he’s still around, they’ll play at a show. If the Scion logo is on their product and there’s Charles Manson on the cover, I can’t do that. But I respect him, and he respects Scion. There’s no controversy. That’s how it goes.

Scion’s model of corporate patronage is being talked about a lot as the wave of the future. Do you think finding a brand to sponsor your album might become a viable model for artists?

Yeah, I think there’s a lot of opportunity there. I do feel that crowdfunding, raising money, finding investors is all in the same camp…it’s getting creative with raising money so that art can continue. What I would advise is to be very clear about what you’re signing up for, in both directions. We signed up to work in metal, but we’re not gonna make everybody happy. Labels, if you sign up with a corporation, there’re rules.

In the old days, everyone was really young doing art. And now nobody wants to age! So they gotta pay the bills, right? How do I do this for the rest of my life? The talented people that are savvy are gonna keep it moving. And they’re going to be able to write music when they’re 60 years old. Then there will be people that did it for a certain part of their life because they had kids, they had jobs.

I just saw Black Sabbath in the fall. And how old is Ozzy Osbourne? And everyone in the audience was 50! I was really impressed, because they sounded great. It’s not like seeing our parents’ acts, playing at horse tracks. They were playing at a massive venue, and it was awesome. That was the best show I saw last year. What is it gonna take for you to be an artist for the rest of your life? You have to raise money, or it’s a hobby.

Right – who’s gonna support songwriters through thick or thin? And how are they gonna help themselves get through all these industry changes?

We did a garage rock movie with Vice, and that year Jay Reatard died, Lux Interior [of The Cramps] died and Alex Chilton [of Big Star] died. No one heard about Alex Chilton for years, and then he died. You hear about Ozzy Osbourne every three months! I don’t think any young artist is like “I’m gonna do this until I’m 28, and then I’m going to disappear into obscurity.” It’s a brutal industry, but there’re people who have made it their life to dedicate to it in some way or fashion, and they haven’t given up. But [surviving] is about making money to support yourself.

I tried to do an initiative where we addressed the aging rap artist area. These guys are not going to the doctor, they’re getting sick, they have bad health, they don’t have health insurance. They’ve spent all their money. What do you do about that?

Is it okay to sell your record away when you’re 20 years old for $25,000 and then it’s a hit for the next 100 years? Young people do not think about that, and that’s the age-old problem. They don’t think about the future. But if they want to be artists for the rest of their lives, maybe they should start thinking about it.

Have you ever approached a band that declined to participate in a Scion project?

Yes. ::laughs:: I’m not going to tell you who it is, but [after they initially declined our offer], we booked Motörhead, and they were like “Can we open for Motörhead?” And I said “I thought you don’t work for corporations! So no.” It happened one time.

 

Why do you think they would have said no to a corporation like Scion, but record labels are still fair game?

I think they were an exception. Labels, you know what, it helps them out. We hear from Gerardo at Nuclear Blast all the time: “You guys are really helping us to get this done and that done. It’s great.” It’s good for their business, marketing-wise. They can put out more records when Scion is helping them pay for one of the records they’re putting out.

What about for consumers? Do you think what Scion is doing is great for a music consumer too, in the long run?

To be honest with you, I don’t think a lot of consumers really understand why it’s beneficial for everybody. They’re in the moment, they like the music. I think the awareness for how hard it is to have a band, to sustain a band, needs to go up for more people to understand that the reason artists take money from a corporation is very common sense and rational. The awareness will go up, the audience, the consumers will have more respect for the relationship. I think at some times, it’s about immediate gratification: “I got a free show!” They don’t think that far about how it helps the bands to keep it going [when] they get sponsorship for a tour.

The concern that I have is that consumers are getting so used to getting stuff for free, whether it’s a CD handed out at a Scion show, or going to Spotify, that they assume it’s free to make, and there’s no need to support an artist in any kind of direct way.

I feel that a lot of things have happened over the last 15-20 years with digital coming in, really changing a lot of things. That’s not Scion’s project, right? But we have an opportunity to align ourselves with music, and the art community, and we’re doing the best that we can to be authentic and true to the Scion brand. That’s why we are in metal, rock and rap. Because it aligns with the brand.

That kid who’s been standing in line, watching when we do metal shows in Pomona, and hearing that kids were standing in line from 4 o’ clock? That’s amazing to me. Tell me that’s not supporting the artist community. And buying their t-shirts – we let all of our artists have merch booths. Putting vinyl out, and CDs, and patches, all that stuff. Kids still want to spend money. Labels have to get savvy about what they can profit off of.

 

Do you hope that other companies follow your lead?

Yeah. I really hope that other corporations do the same thing. I’ve been saying that for a while. It’s a lot of work, but I feel like everybody in the industry I’m in, we have jobs, and we have to be excited about going to work every day. If I’m in lifestyle marketing, I want to do the right thing for the brand. But if I can do the right thing for the brand that hires me AND I can make people want to do artists, or want to be excited to play a show or put out a record, it’s very fulfilling. And I would hope that other corporations would follow suit and not do the “burn ‘n turn” model, which is “Okay, let me get Lars to be in a TV commercial doing a voiceover,” and that’s it.

At the end of the day, good art is subjective, and it means a lot to somebody to get a break. I think all corporations should be looking at the future of art in general, and what’s gonna happen when nobody’s making music anymore to put in TV commercials, because it’s dried up because the industry shrank. But thank god there’re a lot of entrepreneurs out there that are getting on Bandcamp and social media and putting up [their music on] Spotify. It’s always gonna be out there, but if a corporation can be positive and be a benefactor, or make it so that they’re benefiting the scene, it’s better than keeping it into the tiny ad agency world and re-circulating art on a commercial level. I think it’s important that everyone consider it. They need to take those risks.

On this side of the fence, it’s very difficult to have that conversation if you have doubt. That’s why Chrysler works with Eminem. He’s sold millions of records. People know him. So they work with an act like that. And when you look at that, they gotta sell a product, they want people to identify with that product.

At the end of the day, is it riskier to work with High on Fire? Yes! 100%. Corporations still have to make their bottom line, but if they want to be innovative and take some risks, hopefully they can get into that area. If they don’t, the world keeps turning. Innovation does have to be [limited to] electronics. It can be how you’re positioning your brand once in a while.

INTERVIEW: Mehdi Safa (shelsmusic)

By: zach.smith Posted in: featured, interviews On: Thursday, April 10th, 2014

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Back in 2012, Mehdi Safa, the man behind shelsmusic, was kind enough to talk to us in detail about his label (you can read that here and here). Six months later, we interviewed Astrohenge, one of my favorite discoveries of 2012. So when we heard this week that shelsmusic had signed the London quartet, we thought we’d ask Safa to tell us more about the latest addition to his roster.

We briefly talked last time about how you found new acts to sign–how did this one come about?
We’ve been following them for a while. Their drummer is an old friend who used to play for a band called Eden Maine and we played shows together when we were in a band called Mahumodo. Last year we booked a tour for them, Erlen Meyer and Manatees, and started talking more. They mentioned that they were working on a new album and asked if we’d be interested in releasing it, and of course we totally jumped on it as we were already big fans!

Where is the band in terms of working on its new album, and what are your impressions of what you’ve heard so far?
They’re in the middle of writing and demoing it now and are aiming to head into the studio later this year to record. [They're] currently deciding on studios/producers. I’ve only heard four tracks and I love it–they’re unlike anyone else and with this new record I’m excited to see how far they push themselves forward.

When did you first cross paths with Astrohenge and, at the time, did you think they’d be somebody you’d want to work with in the future?
First I ever heard of them was at a Down I Go show in London back in 2008 I think. I was standing outside the venue and this interesting fella came up and introduced himself and we started talking. He mentioned that he was starting a band with Kieran [Iles] (Eden Maine drummer) and the way he described it sounded frikkin awesome…with the crazy keyboards, and knowing how good of a drummer Kieran was, I was already very interested. We exchanged emails and he sent me some links to demos that week. I loved what I heard and have been following them ever since. They released their debut on another good friend of mine’s label (Eyesofsound) and when I heard it, I loved it and was an instant fan.

How big of an impact did touring with these guys have on your desire to sign them and, for those of us who haven’t seen them live, how would you compare their live show to their recorded output?
They are incredible live and it played a big part. They blew everyone away including myself when we played with them at The Peel in London in 2012. I think they’re great on record, but there are a few bands that are just meant to be experienced live and they are one of those bands.

The record will be the band’s third full-length–how involved will you be in the process (recording, art, formats, etc)?
We’re all on a very similar frequency when it comes to art/production etc. I already love and am 100% on board with the bands’ vision for the production. The producers they have mentioned are ones I love and have wanted to work with myself for *shels. Latitudes have record with some as well. And I love the artwork they usually bring to the table with their past releases. We usually tend to work with bands we already gel with creatively, and Astrohenge/Shelsmusic is the perfect marriage. I don’t expect we’ll be doing much other than making sure they don’t put photos of Kieran’s bare ass on the cover!

What do the next few months have in store for shelsmusic?
We’re relocating our office to Thailand for the next few months. Might just stay there, haha! Will be focusing on training Muay Thai, eating plenty of thai food and working on finishing the new *shels album. Meanwhile, we have the new Manatees album coming out on vinyl this year and are very excited to be releasing Eden Maine’s debut EP The Treachery Pact on vinyl. That was produced by Converge’s Kurt Ballou over 10 years ago and was recorded on tape, which is going to be perfect for vinyl! Can’t wait!

Check out shelsmusic here.

How To Build A Successful Metal Band Without Wrecking Your Life

By: justin.m.norton Posted in: featured, gnarly one-offs On: Wednesday, April 9th, 2014

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Many of our readers are aspiring musicians or already recording and touring. But the music business is a dicey proposition in today’s world: record royalties are a rarity, and touring is necessary if you want to make a living. How can you be a metal musician and not wreck your adult life in the process?

In the past, musicians had to learn the hard way or just went back to the hardware store when they turned 25. Thanks to technology you can actually study up. One of the options is CreativeLive, which is hosting a class today and tomorrow called “The Working Musician’s Playbook.” Instructor and working musician Matt Halpen gave Decibel readers some tips on how to do it right.

If you are asking yourself, “who the fuck is Matt Halpern and why should I care?” I don’t blame you (I ask myself the same question every day). I play drums in Periphery, aka Pure Riffery, teach drum clinics all over the world, and I’m the founder of Bandhappy.com. I am fortunate enough to pay my bills by making music, so for anyone who would like to do the same, here’s my suggestions.

Understand what you’re getting yourself into — AND FULLY COMMIT

This business is hard, and you need to be prepared to invest a lot of time and energy. Realistically, it’s going to take years of hard work for your band to make it, so exercise patience and just focus on being productive every day.

Find the right partners in crime

It all starts with having the right bandmates. Some bands consists of a bunch of best friends, others consist of the right players. For others, it’s a business relationship. If you don’t surround yourself with people who you get along with, can communicate with, and who are dedicated, then you’re screwed from the beginning. Find people who can play, have the same artistic vision, and who are willing to put in the work. Dont be afraid to change your lineup early on if someone isn’t working out — it’s better for the group to weed out the weak links.

Have a direction, and be yourself

With more bands than ever putting their music out, it’s easy for your music to get lost in the shuffle. Your music should stand out from the crowd, and the way to do that is by having a point of view — being original. Don’t try to recreate what another band is doing. Write and play the music YOU love, the music YOU want to hear, and put yourself into the music. If you do this, and it’s honest, people will listen (especially if you have something to say).

Get on the radar of the right people aka “networking”

I hesitate to say “network” because it’s not about being a social climber who wants to “know the right people,” it’s about making genuine connections with people in the industry, and helping them even when it doesn’t seem like there’s something in it for you. Build real friendships and relationships with other bands, FANS, managers, promoters, venue staff, labels, etc… It will benefit your band in the long run.

Tour a lot, and give your music away for free!

There are exceptions to this, but for the most part, the coolest and tightest bands are the ones who tour the most and share their music with their fans for free! Give the music away, build an audience online, and then GO TOUR! Giving the music away allows you to reach fans without boundaries. If they like your music, the fans are going to support you when you come to town, AND they’re going to want to meet you – go meet your fans, build relationships with them and they’ll continue to support you.

Build the right team

Management, label, agents, etc — there is no formula for what “right” means. It’s different for every band, so you need to
figure that out for yourself — it’s about relationships and chemistry. Communicate what you need to the people you want to work with. If they’re the right team, they’ll be receptive and help you come up with actionable things you can do to reach your goals.

Put out a great first album (and be yourselves!)

With all the business talk, its easy to lose sight of what’s most important: your MUSIC. Push yourself and your band to make a great first impression by putting out music that truly represents and communicates who YOU are! BE YOURSELF and write what YOU want to HEAR!

Keep touring your ass off (on the RIGHT tours)

All tours are not created equal. Make sure you are getting on the right ones at the right time. For example, when Periphery was fortunate enough to tour with the Deftones, that really helped us out: we were introduced to a new fan base and it allowed us to be in front of large, receptive crowd each night. Again, that tour came to be because of a friendship and relationship between band members — be excellent to each other, and good things will happen.

Keep putting out great music

The sophomore slump is a real thing. A lot of bands get caught up in the mess of the industry and lose sight of MUSIC being most important, especially when you factor in your now-hectic touring schedule. Lots of bands start strong then fizzle. How many times have we heard “I only like the demo/first album”?” Don’t let that be your band. Focus on your music, your message, and again, BE YOURSELF!

Stay humble, hungry and motivated

Once you’ve “made it,” the work has just begun. Stay hungry.

Stoneburner Returns

By: Shawn Macomber Posted in: featured, listen On: Wednesday, April 9th, 2014

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Well, Portland, Oregon sludge stalwarts Stoneburner certainly didn’t rest on any laurels following the release of excellent 2012 offering Sickness Will Pass: the band’s follow-up, Life Drawing — debuted in its entirety below — raises the bar in every possible way…and throws a few sonic curveballs in as well.

So dive on into the sludge, flail around a bit, then head on to Neurot for your very own copy.

Sucker For Punishment: Well, Don’t Die Just Yet

By: Adrien Begrand Posted in: featured On: Wednesday, April 9th, 2014

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Late last year I finally came around to Portland (by way of Rhode Island) duo The Body, whose album Christs, Redeemers won me over. Yes, it followed the same direction as the lauded All the Waters of the Earth Turn to Blood, but it felt more refined, more powerful. However, the prolific duo of Chip King and Lee Buford had something completely different up their sleeves all the while, something that would instantly render everything they’ve done in the past plain in comparison.

I Shall Die Here (Rvng) sees the pair collaborating with London producer Bobby Krlic, whose work as The Haxan Cloak (especially last year’s album Excavation) explores the darker, murkier side of electronic music, and it is simply a revelation. The Body’s gargantuan doom has been stripped down considerably, adorned with subtle electronic tweaks and glitches, but at the same time feels even more primal, a melding of organic and mechanical sounds that feed off each other, enhancing either side. Deep down it’s a familiar formula – creating a sense of horror via atmosphere and brutality – but as tracks like “Hail to Thee, Everlasting Pain” and “Darkness Surrounds Us” show, it’s done here with such theatricality and artistry, the avant-garde and the gutter not only meeting, but fitting. The only way metal will break new ground in this day and age is by reaching outside the genre’s constraints and employ more nontraditional sounds, and the real challenge in that is to remain true to metal’s tenets while broadening that scope. Deafheaven tried valiantly and ultimately failed in its attempt last year, but The Body has succeeded, finding a perfect bedfellow in Krlic and creating a distillation of metal and electronic music that few have ever been able to pull off. Preview and purchase via Bandcamp.

As it it would happen, another The Body release has been sprung upon us in the last week, this time a new collaboration with fellow sludgemeisters Thou. Contrary to I Shall Die Here, you know exactly how Released From Love (Vinyl Rites) is going to sound: a dense, punishing exploration of the two bands’ common interests. However, while three tracks tread predictable territory – neither bad nor amazing – a fantastic little curveball is thrown in the form of a harrowing, spectacular cover of Vic Chesnutt’s 2009 song “Coward”. That track alone is a must-hear. Purchase it here.

Also out this week:

Anette Olzon, Shine (Armoury): A year and a half after her ugly split with Nightwish, Anette Olzon has released her solo debut, and if you’re aware of her personal pop proclivities, then you’ll know exactly what to expect with this record. If you’re expecting something resembling symphonic metal, however, you’ll be disappointed. This is mildly pleasant, yet overly safe adult contemporary music that references mid-90’s alternative rock – it’s amazing how many people still think trip hop is “modern” – with the odd good hook but nowhere near enough contrast to ground Olzon’s overly wispy emoting.

Black Label Society, Catacombs of the Black Vatican (eOne): Much to my own surprise, I actually liked enough of Black Label Society’s 2010 album Order of the Black to give it a mild recommendation. After years and years of underachieving, Zakk Wylde finally pulled himself up by the bootstraps and sharpened his songwriting. Four years later, he’s sunk back into the lazy rut he was in before, churning out tepid, grungy songs laced with pinch squeals and hookless, marble-mouthed singing. Only two songs on this album work: the spirited “Damn the Flood” and the shockingly strong Skynyrd-esque ballad “Angel of Mercy”. The rest is a cynical, lazy effort, complacent in the knowledge that it’ll be lapped up by Wylde’s devoted fanbase, no matter how awful it is.

Cormorant, Earth Diver (self-released): The California band went through a bit of an overhaul when it parted ways with bassist/vocalist/lyricist Arthur von Nagel, which was lousy timing considering the universal acclaim the second album Dwellings received. Not that anyone should have doubted it, but the guys have returned with a new bassist and vocalist in Marcus Luscombe and a bracing new album that once again serves up a hybrid of black metal, death, doom, pagan, prog, and the more traditional side of heavy metal. At times the music tends to lean in a decidedly Agalloch-derived direction, which is all well and good, but this record is at its best when Cormorant is forging its own path. Thankfully those moments are in abundance on a magnificent album full of power, variety, and color, best exemplified by the raging “Daughter of Void” and the vibrant “The Pythia”. Listen and purchase via Bandcamp.

Delain, The Human Contradiction (Napalm): The Dutch band doesn’t bring anything new to the prom dress metal table, but what sets them apart is how gracefully it pulls off a sound often so awash in bombast and melodrama. With Delain, song craft is of utmost importance, and over the course of the last five years the quintet has grown into a formidable act by keeping its approach simple, following the lead of Within Temptation yet brave enough to let its own personality come out. This fourth album faithfully continues in that direction, delivering pleasantly catchy songs while showing subtle growth throughout, namely in the growing confidence of Charlotte Wessels as a singer and lyricist. She came into her own on 2012’s We Are the Others, and to no one’s surprise she carries the entire album, her likeable persona and tasteful singing a huge reason why tracks like “Stardust”, “Your Body is a Battleground”, and “Tell Me, Mechanist” are so appealing. With the success of this record, and in the wake of Within Temptation’s befuddling, underachieving Hydra, Delain has staked a serious claim to the title of the best such band working today.

Graviators, Motherload (Napalm): Pleasant, Sabbath-derived doom in the vein of California revivalists Orchid, but while it’s a decent homage overall, the songs simply don’t leap out at the listener like they should. You’ve got to step up your game if you want people to spend their hard-earned money on your music. This just doesn’t cut it.

Skogen, I Döden (Nordvis): For all this Norwegian band’s attempts to sound evil, the melodies it brings forth on this new album are so luminous it’s damn near pleasant. So much so, in fact, that every time these epic tracks veer into harsher territory it feels boring in comparison. Stay in the sunshine, guys! You have a good thing going here.

Trollfest, Kaptein Kaos (NoiseArt): Back in 2007 I gave Korpiklaani’s Tervaskanto a 9 out of 10 in an issue of Decibel, and it’s haunted me ever since. At the time the music still felt fresh and downright soulful, with melancholy underscoring the celebratory vibe, but seven years later, I just want humppa metal to die thanks to cartoonish joke bands like Trollfest.

Follow me on Twitter at @basementgalaxy

TRACK PREMIERE: Tusmörke’s “All Is Lost”

By: Jeff Treppel Posted in: exclusive, featured, listen On: Tuesday, April 8th, 2014

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Tusmörke came out of nowhere (well, Norway) two years ago with a supernaturally good debut album, one that paid homage to Krautrock groups like Amon Düül II and English psych folk like Jethro Tull while investing their retroactivity with an infectious verve. Not metal in the least, obviously, but where else can you find listeners adventurous enough for the prog psych flute action happening here? I loved Underjordisk Tusmorke when it came out (just check out my Pazz and Jop ballot). Now, finally, they’ve put out their second full-length.

Riset Bak Speilet has a darker cover and darker music to match. See the title of the track this post is about. Still, where there’s darkness there is light, and whatever the words are saying (half of it in Norwegian), the tunes themselves brim with life. These hymns to pagan gods are amongst the best music you’ll hear in this year or any other, and I for one am incredibly psyched (see what I did there?) to present our premiere of “All Is Lost” (along with the previously released video for “Offerpresten” down at the bottom, because you can never have too much Tusmörke).

 

 

*** Riset Bak Speilet comes out May 16 on Svart. Follow them on Facebook here. Preorder the album on CD here or LP here.