Tell your average schmoe on the street that you’re doing an interview with Matt Harvey and they’ll probably think the topics of conversation are set to include pitch selection, what it’s like having Andrew Bonazelli as a stalker and season ending surgery. What automatically comes to mind when you mention the name Matt Harvey to the denizens of Decibel are getting wasted and being hungover because you got too wasted. Or not hungover enough because you didn’t get wasted enough. Oh yeah, there might be something about Harv’s long time pet project, Exhumed and a little about the new album they released recently entitled Necrocracy, but mostly your first thoughts would turn to getting shit-faced and nerding out about death metal and grindcore into the early hours. We caught up with Harv via email and keystroked him mostly about stuff he probably he didn’t want to talk about.
How does a band that spent the majority of two years on the road, that went through a significant membership change at about the halfway point of all that and have members living in different towns across the country manage to write and record a new album amongst all the chaos?
Well, the record was written in fits and starts, between tours and whatnot. I had a bit of a leg up though, as songs like “The Shape Of Deaths To Come” and “Ravening” I had already started working on during the All Guts… sessions, so that helped. Also, having played “As Hammer to Anvil” a couple hundred times by the time we started writing in earnest, it was a good incentive to write some new shit and break up the monotony. All the live shows really convinced me that what the last album really lacked was any kind of slower, heavier groove stuff, so I knew early on that I wanted to incorporate more of that kind of shit into Necrocracy. I mostly put together skeletons of songs myself, and then showed the guys really rough demos, some of them were just MIDI demos because my little pod that I use for home recording broke at the beginning of the writing process. And as far as Bud coming back into the fold, if anything it made it smoother, just because he and I are really on the same page, having known each other for years, and played guitar together in Scarecrow as well. I’m always writing, and once the first couple of songs, in this case the title track and “Shape…”, were hammered out, the momentum gathered pretty quickly. Having to write around our tour schedule is something that I think helps the songs really stand out from one another this time around – since they weren’t all written in one continuous go like on the last one. The core of the band has always been rhythm guitar and drums, and Mike [Hamilton, drums] and I live really close by, so could rehearse and bounce ideas off of each other. Regardless of the line-up, we’ve always kind of used the “Metallica” process, rhythm guitar and drums first and then bring in the other guys and build around that. AGNG was kind of the exception in the catalog. The process worked well for that record, but the dynamic is different this time around, and it worked also, in fact I think it worked better. Rob [Babcock, bass/vocals] came up right before the recording started and we had a cram session going for 10 days or so, hammering shit out and adding all the little clever bits and such. We ended up writing “The Rotting” during that time, as well as the bonus track “Chewed Up, Spit Out.”
What was the writing process like this time around? Was it anything like you’ve experienced or embarked upon in the past? Is doing things differently something you try to do in order to keep things fresh or are you simply playing with the hand you’ve been dealt?
It’s more just playing the hand we’ve been dealt. Things tend to come together pretty organically at this point. Mike and Rob did almost the entire All Guts… tour cycle with the band, so we have a really good chemistry, personally and musically, and that helped the rhythm section come out quite a bit more on this one, which I thought was important. The bass on most of our albums has ended up being more of an afterthought, which I really wanted to remedy. [Guitar/vocals] Bud [Burke] ended up coming into the studio and hearing some of the material for the first time, and we worked out a lot of stuff on the fly, which was cool. Because we were so under-rehearsed – even for us – a lot of the ideas on the record, fills, transitions, that kind of stuff, were really spontaneous and fresh. It was a cool contrast to so much death metal that you hear that sounds so calculated and contrived. The songs being a little slower also allowed a little more breathing room for stuff to happen. We also worked out a lot of harmonies and stuff in the recording studio, simply because we hadn’t played the songs with two guitars yet in the rehearsal room, so that was fun and ended up bringing some unexpected challenges and pleasant surprises. The best thing was that we had a bit more studio time, which allowed us to try more ideas, be a little more thorough with the vocals, and even put together the outro bonus track “E Pluribus Mortem” and the bonus track “Go For The Throat” while we were recording. That was new, we’ve never written a song in the recording studio before – we’ve never had time!
What did the new members bring to the recording process that you expected of them? Did they surprise you by bringing anything you didn’t expect them to?
I think the main thing was just having more of a proper “band” dynamic. Having spent a lot of time on the road together and playing tons of shows, even though we didn’t spend months in the jam room working on the material, we’re all so used to playing with each other and working together on the fly that things were able to move really fast once we finally started working on the material. Mike is more of a “feet” drummer than [ex-drummer] Danny [Walker], who’s more of a “hand” guy, so we worked in a few more double kick sections where the kick drums get to helicopter speed, and just having a dedicated bass player made me really want to hear the fucking bass for once on one of our records. One thing that was unexpected was getting to hear the rhythm section lock in a bit on some of the slower bits, the bass guitar matching the bass drum, standard rock band stuff, but unusual for us, which was nice. Bud ended up stepping in and doing some vocal sections on the fly which was a definite serendipity and added a nice layer or gurgle to a bunch of stuff.
How would you say Necrocracy differs from the rest of the Exhumed discography? More specifically, All Guts, No Glory seeing as these are the two records to come out after you got the band back together?
I think it’s kind of the South of Heaven to AGNG’s Reign In Blood – it’s definitely our slowest overall record so far, with a bit more melody than some of our stuff, but there’s still plenty of aggression and blasting as well. I think the songs stick out from one another more than ever, which was really important to us. I think it’s kind of a reaction to the last album, which was all about being unrelenting and just being a total “fuck you” kind of record – this one is a bit more churning and heavier, also a little darker and rawer. The last one was kind of a wall of sound, like Fleming Rasmussen mix, and this one is more of a Rick Rubin-type mix with a bit more separation between the instruments and stuff. I’m really happy with both of them and I think they’re both distinctly different from each other.
Over the last couple albums, you’ve started to implement deeper meanings to your lyrics while still having them appear to be gore-based on the surface. Necrocracy seems to take that a step further. Is there a broader theme to the album? What’s the meaning/significance of the album’s title and how is the artwork related to the entire she-bang?
Yeah, this one definitely has a lot of political underpinnings. The Presidential election was in full swing the whole time I was writing, and that really kind of inspired the whole direction of the lyrics. Everything is still filtered through the gore metaphor and stuff, so it’s not like a Dropdead album or anything, but there is a political theme running through most of the songs. It’s very anti-corporate, anti-consumerism, that kind of stuff. The system in America is just entering a very corrupt phase, a lot like the robber baron-era in the late 1800s and early 1900s – it’s freedom for the strong to extort the weak, and the weak are bought off incredibly cheaply, happy to dig their own graves on a steady diet of infotainment, fast food and reality TV. Hopefully we’ll have a reawakening like the early 20th century labor movement again and restore some kind of balance between the ultra-rich and the ultra-poor. So basically I touch on a lot of that kind of stuff, but by singing about blood and guts, haha!
Musically, there seems to be a greater incorporation of traditional metal and thrashier themes. Yes? No? Maybe so? I also quite enjoyed the rampant use of dissonant fourth or fifth or whatever-the-fuck-they-are chords in some of the choruses – it’s like Megadeth meeting something that doesn’t suck. Was there anything that you went into this album deliberately wanting to do, do differently or experiment? Any mistakes you wanted to avoid?
I just wanted to incorporate more groove. Usually the better our production, or the slower our songs, the more people recognize the trad-metal influences, simply because they’re not blowing by at a million miles an hour under a heaving layer of grime. When it comes to metal, I’m much more likely to be listening to Armored Saint or Tank than Regurgitate or Pungent Stench, although I love all those bands. Especially constantly touring with death metal and grind bands, it’s hard to really want to hear too much of that. I personally love songs with good melodies, catchy choruses and good arrangements, whether they’re by Metallica or Magrudergrind or Chicago. I listen to all sorts of stuff, so even when we’re being as “brutal” as possible, there’s still a sense of song in there – hopefully. I just wanted to avoid repeating the last album, avoid playing it too safe and just blasting our way through stuff – having some trust and belief in the material to let things repeat and stretch out arrangement wise and just trust in the riff.
How quickly/smoothly did the recording process go? Or was it a protracted mess filled with computer crashes and triple-digit takes? What happened to the short grind songs you mentioned you wrote on the spot? Are they being saved for future EPs or whatever?
The process was pretty smooth – we used the same studios that we recorded All Guts at, so it was very familiar. We did the drums in four days, which allowed us to work out an outro that is on the vinyl version, as well as a short grinder called “Go For The Throat” and an intro that we ended up scrapping. But just having the time to do that is a huge change in the right direction for us. John at Trench and Ryan at Arcane are friends of ours, and they know what we want. About 2/3 of the way through the work in Arizona (where we tracked guitars, bass, and vocals) we took off to Japan for three shows with Cannibal Corpse which was amazing. Totally worth going to rehearse for two hours after tracking for nine during the day. We just stayed in an extended-stay America hotel for the time in Arizona, bought groceries and cooked at the studio. Again, I got to watch Giants post-season baseball, we were on the road with Municipal Waste and Napalm Death in Connecticut when they won the world series (yes!!!) and read tons of Ryan’s comics, so that always makes any down time enjoyable. The two short grind tracks, “Go For The Throat” and “Chewed Up, Spit Out” will be bonus tracks, along with “Not Yet Dead Enough” which just didn’t fit on the album time-wise and the aforementioned outro. So the die-hard necromaniacs will have some cool extra goodies if they want to go for the fancy schmancy versions of the record.
Given that Exhumed has gone through many years and many incarnations, how would you characterise present-day Exhumed versus the various versions of the band in the past?
This is definitely the best line-up we’ve ever had, not just in terms of playing but in terms of work ethic, attitude, and just being on the same page. I can’t imagine any other line-up going out and playing 200 shows a year the way we do at this stage in the game. There would have been a lot of punch-ups and weird shit going on- but now, the worst thing that happens on tour are the hangovers!
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