The Decibel Magazine Tour has been in full swing for three weeks now, with a handful of shows left in the Midwest and East Coast. For Ohio death/thrash veterans Skeletonwitch, the tour hasn’t just been a chance to share the stage with three of the genre’s heaviest hitters (Abbath, High on Fire and Tribulation)—it has also served as a perfect vehicle to introduce their new frontman, Adam Clemans (Wolvhammer, Shaidar Logoth), who recently replaced original vocalist Chance Garnette. We caught up with Clemans and guitarist Scott Hedrick after a scorching 40-minute set at San Francisco’s Regency Ballroom to talk tour stories, their forthcoming EP, and the glorious atonement of Facebook trolls.
This is Skeletonwitch’s first tour with Adam as the new vocalist. How have the audience reactions been so far?
Scott Hedrick: Great! On one level, you just get up there and do what you do every night, and the reaction isn’t really up to you, but fortunately it’s been really positive. Almost every night I have some little wiener be like, “Oh man, I wrote so many fucked up things on your Facebook and Adam was awesome, I wish I could take it back!” And I’m like, “Cool, that’s great!” That gives you an idea of how it is—people are retracting Facebook statements in person!
Adam Clemans: Compared to what was going on with social media, I’ve been kind of surprised by the positivity from people who come up to us.
SH: People fear change, and people hated our new singer before we had one.
I guess the best thing you can do is just get on stage and rip it up every night. Speaking of which, you put on a great performance tonight. What do you think of your placement in the lineup on this tour? You’re not opening, you’re not headlining…do you approach your set in a different way when you play in the middle?
SH: Mostly we’re just doing our thing, because we’ve never been ones to loiter onstage. We rip through pretty quickly. So, we were just like, “How much time do we have? That’s how much we’ll fit our explosion into.”
Was it important for you to get those two new songs [“Well of Despair” and “Black Waters”] in there to showcase where the band is at right now?
AC: Absolutely. Some of the people in the band didn’t want to do more than one, but I was insistent about doing a second one just because we had released “Well of Despair” already, and I wanted to give [the audience] an extra taste.
SH: Initially, we were like, “Let’s just play the whole EP!” I flip-flopped like a maniac! “Let’s do the whole EP! Let’s only do the single!” But I’m glad because the other two tracks on the EP aren’t out yet, so there’s more to check out.
When you guys were first approached to do this tour, was there any apprehension that it would conflict with the timing of recording the new EP?
SH: No, it fit into the mold. The plan was, “Let’s go record and get these songs done because we know we’re doing the Decibel tour.” We try to look pretty far down the road with what we’re doing, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t moments where we’re like, “Oh shit, we gotta hurry up!”
AC: The tour lit a fire under our asses for sure, though.
How did the recording go? Did you approach the songwriting or recording process differently with Adam in the band?
SH: To an extent, yes. Two things that were different this time is that historically, Nate [Garnette, guitars] has always been the main songwriter in the band, but on this EP, I ended up writing a lot of it. I also collaborated more with Adam than I ever did with Chance. With Chance, we’d just write shit, send it to him and be like, “Put vocals over this, it’s done.” There wasn’t a lot of collaboration. With Adam, I was like, “Hey, maybe do vocals over this part. This kind of seems like a chorus-y part.” And he was like, “Hey, can you move this solo and change this?” We went back and forth, and it was nice to have that. And Adam wrote vocal parts for Nate to do backup and for all of us to do gang vocals on one song.
AC: I was just trying to bring a different element into the equation by adding backup vocals. I didn’t want to write completely different than Chance’s style because I didn’t want to make the change super awkward for the established fan base, but it was important for me to interject what I thought and what I always wanted to hear out of Skeletonwitch.
Was the plan always to do an EP instead of a full-length?
SH: Once we got the Decibel tour offer and realized everything was going to work out awesome with Adam, we made a decision and said, “Hey, instead of doing a full-length and taking a lot longer to introduce Adam and get back on the road, let’s just write a handful of songs, throw them out there and put it in people’s faces: here’s how we sound, here’s how we look.” The EP was a good vehicle for introducing Skeletonwitch Mach 2, if you will.
Adam, how has the experience of touring with Skeletonwitch been so far?
SH: You’re allowed to say idiotic!
AC: It’s been awesome, honestly. They carry themselves with an extreme level of professionalism. It’s not like I’m not used to that with my other projects, but these guys are so established and they’ve been doing this for so long that being involved with it is giving me a different perspective of what it’s like to be tour. My other band, Wolvhammer, we’re just more punk rock—sleeping in the van, getting drunk and passing out on someone’s floor. These guys make sure everyone is taken care of, which is really refreshing.
As far as performing, do you feel any extra pressure to go out there and kick people in the dick because you’re the new guy?
AC: Not really. When I’m on stage, I kind of zone out. I feed off the energy that’s going on and I can tell when people are enjoying it, but for me I’m up there playing because I love to do it. So, I’m just in the zone and playing music with people who I like to play music with. It’s just a matter of getting in the head space.
How do you guys feel about touring with Abbath? Were you big Immortal fans before you got the tour?
SH: Oh, totally. I’m also a huge Tribulation and High on Fire fan, so it was like, “Holy shit!” I love watching everyone play every night.
AC: This package is insane. I freaked out when I heard that new Tribulation record, so I’ve watched them every single night.
SH: A lot of times we share a dressing room with Tribulation, and it’s awesome. It’s so much fun. We’ve become the closest with them just because we’re crammed into tiny rooms with them and having a blast.
Why do you think a tour like this works so well, with so many different genres of metal represented?
SH: I just think it’s really boring and uninteresting to have, like, eight death metal bands on a bill. Diversity is a good thing.
AC: Yeah, I think that’s why the Decibel tour is as successful as it has been. Every year, you have all these bands that usually wouldn’t be on a bill together, but it works.
SH: I mean, when you think about your listening habits, it’s usually one thing to the next. So, it’s rad to have one band play a 30-minute set and then have something drastically different, so the energy and vibe and sound change. It’s so different aurally and visually with each band, it’s like having a crazy playlist.
What’s next for Skeletonwitch in 2016?
SH: We’re gonna do a U.S. headlining tour, a Canadian headlining tour and then focus on writing the next full-length. So, on the two tours, we’ll probably play the EP in its entirety, as well as some old songs.
Have you started writing songs for the next album yet?
SH: Yeah, I have a bunch of shit that I haven’t even show you guys.
AC: Good to know!