Still Havin’ a Good Time. An Interview with Soothsayer.

The news that rabid, unhinged, original wave thrashers, Soothsayer have returned may not mean much to anyone under the age of 35 who lived outside of southern Ontario or the band’s home province of Quebec, but they’re back and I for one am rather pleased at the news. Initially reconvening to play an old-school Quebec metal fest a few years back, the fire was re-lit under their old-school asses, new material was written, a new path embarked upon and a new album, Troops of Hate, was recently unleashed upon the unsuspecting world. And unlike a good number of reforming bands, Soothsayer has managed to balance modernity with the sound of their crazier youth as the album drips with as much reckless, violent smiling psychosis as the band’s To Be a Real Terrorist demo (which was re-released in 2007) and Have a Nice Day album did. Let vocalist Stephan Whitton tell you about things in greater detail.
After you got back together in 2007 for the re-release of To Be a Real Terrorist was there a plan to write new material?
No, there was no initial plan to write new material. The initial plan was to reform to do that gig in Montreal at the “25 ans du metal Quebecois,” a three night event of Quebec bands from the 80’s and 90’s produced by Maurice Richard (ex-Voïvod manager). The night we played, Piggy (R.I.P.) was introduced to the “Pantheon of Metal Quebecois.” During that period, Eric (of Galy Records) came with the idea of re-releasing the To Be a Real Terrorist demo, the timing was perfect for the event. As for new materials, back when we started rehearsing for the show, we had a lot of fun playing together again after a hiatus of 17 years. The morning after the show, we got back home and that’s when we decided to keep going and write down new stuff. I think [guitarist] Martin Cyr had this idea in his head for a while ‘cos he was the first one to talk about doing a new album.

How long had some of the songs that ended up on Troops of Hate been sitting around?
Except for the two revisited songs on the album (“Anatomy Is Dead Sickness” and “Narrow Minded”) that have been sitting around for about 25 years, all the other songs were written between 2008 and 2011. When I say 2011, I mean it ‘cos I can remember the last one “Enough,” myself getting to the studio with no lyrics and no ideasof what will be this song was going to sound like. This was a new experience for Soothsayer ‘cos we used to enter the studio with everything ready and sharp. I still remember the recording of TBART live in studio; doing my vocals in three hours, recording with music in my ears and screaming like a man caught in a trap. And all I can remember is these three kids Martin, [drummer] Daniel [Clavet] and [bassist] Simon [Genest] looking at me like it’s the first time they finally can figure out my lyrics in this noise and laughing at me so loud that I could hardly concentrate!

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What was the process like in writing and recording this album in light of everyone being grown-ups with grown-up lives to juggle?
For the writing, it’s been a long and hard process ‘cos we can’t put all the time and energy like we used to do 25 years ago. Back in those days, we used to rehearsal three to five times a week. It was our life. There were many friends attending our rehearsal space every fuckin’ night, sometimes we got 40 people out for a rehearsal. I think this gave us a lot of fuel; I can’t imagine what we would have done without Soothsayer. Now, we have to deal with jobs, families, children and the lack of time. It’s a miracle if we can get together once a week for rehearsal. Sometimes we have compromise with families, but they understand. For the recording, it’s been a long process too. We first got in the studio in August 2009 to record six songs. Then, the second session came in September 2011 where we recorded four songs and we did the final mix, mastering and publishing. After all this, then it was the terrible time of waiting for the release of the album.

How was the music, material and studio time approached differently than it would have been 20+ years ago?
Not so different, we’re still exciting about recording, playing live and writing new material. We still build songs the way we used to do it. First, Martin comes with the guitar riffs. The only difference is that we don’t have to wait for a four-track tape that’s gonna sound crappy anyway. With the magic of MP3 and internet, we get it at home with nice effect and compressed sound. Second, we get together to build the songs with drums and bass arrangements and sometimes a little groaning from myself because you can’t even tell the difference between verse and chorus! Third, it’s a very long process of writing lyrics and I find it very hard. Before I used to read the papers to get the news and I’d come up with an idea. Now I try to find something special, maybe too special, and that’s why it take so long. For the studio, it’s been a brand new experience with digital technology and music software. We tried to record as much live as we can ‘cos it’s always been our goal to deliver the songs as true as it is live. But with this new technology, there is no limit but we didn’t want to have that perfect product that is so clean! We tried to use it as much as we can without getting to excess ‘cos Soothsayer has to sound like Soothsayer.

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The title of the album references older material and there are re-recorded versions of “Narrow Minded” and “Anatomy is Dead Sickness.” How much of a foot would you say Soothsayer has stuck in the past?
The title Troops of Hate refers to a song on the TBART demo, but it’s also the motto on the back of our first t-shirt. It’s kind of our trademark and we feel like we have to give it a second life. As for myself, I think it really represents Soothsayer and what I feel when I scream like hell. “Narrow Minded” and “Anatomy Is Dead Sickness” were never officially recorded except on the live part of the TBART demo re-release, so these two songs are for our older fans. Soothsayer are trying to see further, trying to look at the future and that’s what we try to reproduced with this album. We’re aware that our sound isn’t like what you heard today from new bands coming around…but that’s our signature.

Is the goal to appeal mostly to older fans of the band who remember the name and those songs and your style?
Not necessarily, but we are aware that this may help to reach them. The goal is to create the new stuff while we can because we’re not getting younger! We hope to get the new generation to listen to our music, but I think the die is cast and they will find out soon. I sometimes try to figure out what got Soothsayer popular 25 years ago, but I’m still left with no answer. For sure we try to stay as close to our style as possible but we don’t want to get trapped in it, so we do what we feel right and good for Soothsayer and I hope the fans will feel it too.

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How has the reaction been to the new album? How have you found reaction from newer generations of thrash/hardcore fans when compared to older fans?
Reactions to the new album have been very positive. For the newer generations we have to give them time because I think their ears have to acclimate to it. After all, I think they would appreciate our sound, vibe and energy. Our music’s got abrupt changes inside the same song; we sometimes laugh at it saying we could have done four different songs with this one, but that’s the way we do it and feel it. The older fans are kind of crazy; I have even got bitten by one of them – I hope he was vaccinated against rabies – at a show in Jonquiere where there were only a few of them; one fan was knocking his head on the stage and suddenly bites my Converse shoes. That’s when I found out why Martin was wearing construction shoes.

Is there a plan that you guys have as far as gigs and touring goes?
For sure, there’s a plan for gigs that we are working on. Right now, the scene in Quebec seems to run slowly and we are waiting for the right gig at the right time. In the past we would have said yes to any gig and things were also easier because there weren’t as many bands as now. I think we’re gonna have to reinvent ourselves, do something different, more surprising! We’ve been throwing a lot of ideas around that, but we’re still sleeping on them. For a touring plan it’s a little more complicated ‘cos of the jobs and families but we are open to any opportunities, again.

If you knew now what you know about this crazy business, would you go back and change anything about the way you did things in the 80s? Any regrets?
No regrets, except that we split up in 1992, one step from our goal. I don’t think that we could have lived off our music, so the split was probably the best thing to do to keep our future bright. To Be a Real Terrorist was probably the greatest impact we had on the metal scene so far. The album, Have a Good Time came out too late; two years of waiting after the master tapes were send to the record company. Sure, some critics give it a 10/10, but the fans were not there anymore, grunge was all over the place. Metal wasn’t the “flavor of the month” and we were going in different directions and exploring new sound. I think that’s what killed us. Add to this that we got no support from the record company and no promo copies at all. Years later, I bought mine at a discount pharmacy in Toronto; it’s still intact and so my ego is. The joke is that we got our promotional copies of the album 20 years later when New Renaissance Records re-released the album as a limited edition in 2008. So, here we are just for the fans and the love of doing it, like it was in the old days. I hope that future will give us a second chance.

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