Derek Boyer of Suffocation
Coming from the vault that is my computer or brain (which is it? these days it seems as if they’re connected in some deadly game of wits) is an in-person interview, with Mike Smith, drummer of the mighty NYC death metal kings Suffocation back when they made a tour stop in Salt Lake City late this summer, along with some pictures I snapped of Suffocation—none of which contain a good glimpse at the mighty drummer. Somehow, this interview got lost in the fray of my metal scrawlings but now it’s here and just as relevant as they day I did the interview. Also included is the usual rundown of upcoming shows and some blog exclusive CD reviews of new albums from Blaspherian, Kvelertak, and Rotten Sound.
If you need a metal fix to get your St. Patty’s day going tonight, head to Club Vegas to see Truce headlining a night of local metal with Blessed of Sin, Vengeance, Wanna!Gotta!Gimme! and Holeshot Band. $7 gets you in, tunes underway around 8 p.m.
On Saturday, March 19 SLC’s Killbot is playing a free show at Willie’s Lounge, 1716 S. Main Street. Tunes get underway at 9 p.m.
For the ultimate hair or butt-rocker in you, Bon Jovi (who at one time was considered metal though I’d call him hard rock now) plays Energy Solutions Arena on Tuesday, March 22 with opener Ryan Starr. According to Smith’s Tix you can go the cheap route with tickets as low as $16.50 not including the service fees, or there’s VIP packages that go up to the realm of $500. I’ll be saving my pennies either way.
Interview with Mike Smith, drummer of Suffocation
SLUG: Suffocation have basically been road warriors since Blood Oath came out last year. What if anything does the band try to do to not get burned out on the road?
Mike Smith: One is to do quality tours. If you’re just doing so-so, mediocre tours just for the sake of it, cause you have to get out there and make some money, that burns you out quick. You have to do more of them in order to get to that point. We try to put tours together where we might play big festivals or come up with a sick lineup like we have now where every band is good and deserves to be sludging it, and when you do the month-long tours like we do now, you get to do less of them. You’re burned out, take your time home to live and raise your family and children, and come out again with a full head of steam in a couple months. Though we do tour a lot throughout the year, now is the time at the end of the year where we start to slow it down and get through 2010 and just regroup and figure out what we’re going to do for 2011.
SLUG: Right now, what’s the best part about being in Suffocation?
Smith: Knowing that we have a history behind us, that we didn’t just come out yesterday. Being here for 20 years, natural things come with that. Some call you legends, or say you have legacies, respect comes, endorsers understand and appreciate you, the magazines appreciate you, and if you’re a positive straightforward thinker, you can always make that be fruitful. Being in Suffocation for 20 years and having two or three generations of kids looking up to me and following me, that’s a satisfying part of it. I can touch people and do it in a positive way that can help the metal and help people in general. It’s important to have that type of power, it doesn’t come easy—or I shouldn’t say power—it’s a gift that I was given and it just turned into a state where now I’m known, people know me, what I say sticks, and if you say something relevant, you can do something. That to me is a fun part of it for sure.
SLUG: How did you actually join up with Suffocation and along the same lines, get into death metal?
Smith: I knew all of them from different places. They didn’t know each other, but I was the center point that knew all of them and brought it together. As for getting into death metal, I didn’t get into death metal— =I got into metal and just playing all the instruments involved. I wasn’t into the rap way of walking around back and forth on stage, and having no actual physical contact with the instruments. Being from a musical family, every instrument was available to me and I took to every instrument and played everything and was always interested whether it was jazz, classical, country, whatever, there’s good to be in all of that. Coming up through the metal age, arena rock with the Maiden and Zeppelin and Sabbath, that naturally led me to the more underground type of music: Attack, which led to Slayer, Metallica, Anthrax, and that whole thrash thing. It was natural progression, but I’ve big into music, and all aspects of it, since I could think or breathe.
SLUG: Have you written anything besides drums for Suffocation?
Smith: Yes, I write a lot of guitars for Suffocation, full songs and lyrics—a lot of people don’t know. My guitarists are fabulous so I’m not out there trying to one-up on them, but I do write full complete songs, lyrics, vocals, bass, all of it. For instance, the title track “Blood Oath” is mine, I wrote that from beginning to end, and a few others on this album, and the last album, and the last album before that.
SLUG: Do you find yourself listening to much death metal outside of Suffocation since you’re playing it a lot?
Smith: I don’t listen to too much music at all, but if I’m listening to music now in the iPod age, it‘s all the music’s I’ve ever loved from the ‘70s till now. I just let it run. I don’t specifically sit and be like, okay, let me listen to this new band of kids and see what they’re doing and, oh shit let’s listen to this. I’m not a collector like that anymore, I’m too invested in the business of death metal to be worrying about that. I find for me it’s easier to write and stay original to Suffocation by not listening to what supposedly the new trend is out there, so I just listen to it all as a whole. And there’s weeks and months that I don’t listen to any music.
SLUG: How has Blood Oath been doing?
Smith: So far I can’t complain. It was a solid attempt on our part to put something out where the music was satisfactory to me. I always think we can do better, but Blood Oath is a concept that has been with us for 20 years. We got into it because we bled metal. With that said, it’s doing great cause we’re touring a lot for it. When I’m asked about Blood Oath, that leads off into a whole other avenue because it’s really something like a gang mentality. There’s not many people that really care about the death metal genre or what the hell we may be growling about, but at the same time, they don’t really understand and that’s why it’s easy for them not to care. We as musicians and participants, we have to be a gang on this, we have to stay a force, and keep building, keep building, until we can just move people out of the way and say we’re taking this over now, this is going to be the death metal fest, this is the Blood Fest . And we could do that because everybody in metal is serious about it and that’s what the whole concept of Blood Oath is, and so in that sense, it’s doing really well.
SLUG: There’s an emerging style of death metal called “slam,” have you heard about that at all?
Smith: No, not the actual term “slam” but I can imagine what it is… and the breakdown, 808, drop… these kids are so stupid. It’s a catchy thing, it’s a one-note, two-note rhythm.
SLUG: The bad thing with it is some people are saying that Suffocation is one of the bands that influenced the start of that.
Smith: Yeah, cause a “slam” is 1/16th of any one song we have. We didn’t take the slam and say, this is all we’re going to do, we’re going to ride these three notes and let everybody just jump up and down and drop and 808, boom on it, then the crowd then suddenly feels something amazing happened, we dazzled you with speed first blast grind, and then we brought you back to focus with the slam. Now if we influence in that way, I accept that. To say that we spawned this genre that’s out now, that’s watering down the music, that’s making it less technical and with less thought put into it, then I know we don’t have any part in that, cause that’s just not our style of music.
SLUG: That’s just internet bullshit. You have some other projects you’re associated with, are any of those still active?
Smith: Anything I’m associated with is always active. It may not be where I’m putting out a song or album tomorrow, but I’m always thinking: “Okay, how can I do Suffocation, and when I get home, how much attention do I put to, let’s say the side rock-rap album”—which is my moniker of Grim Real—how do I put the proper time to that? Then I’m doing the side projects where I just drum for bands that need a drummer, such as a band from Texas, Iniqutus. I did a couple tracks with a solo Serbian musician called Cynicis Absorption, with Steve DeGorgio. It’s really top-notch for what I’d love to be involved in on a side project. On my personal website site, you can see all the projects I’ve done. I’m always into something, Suffocation can’t just be it. I don’t think the world has understood us enough during this time that we’ve spoken our heart and bled into it, I don’t think the world has caught on. For instance, they can go back to “Effigy of the Forgotten” and it’d still be as relevant today as it was then. They’re still burning from that. So they haven’t caught up yet, so I have to try and go off and branch of into other ways now where people understand music is universal and it goes all different ways.
SLUG: Where do you think Suffocation fits in the current climate of extreme death metal as compared to where you fit in the early ‘90s?
Smith: Well in the current climate, I think our name is household now. You definitely know that if we come, we’re not coming to shock you by disappointing you by any means. We’ve always been consistent and make sure we only get better as we go, especially with our live show, our live show has always been our proof that we are really who we are. We can put anything on record, we can compute and fix and chop anything on an album, but if you can go onstage and play it better than it comes across on the album, then we win. In that sense, Suffocation is at the top of its game. We never worry about what size show we’re on, whether it’s a festival with Maiden and Slayer, we don’t care who’s headlining as long as we get our slot, we’re positive that whoever is watching will know we are not fly-by-night. When we started, we were relevant then too just because nothing existed like that. So we did what we did, took the trading, word of mouth was big back then, lot of shows going on, we were the buzz then. So we were still at the same level of excitement then as we are now. Now it’s just really a do-or-die thing, cause in order to do it at this level, you have to leave your home, and leave any regular job and make this your only job, and to earn it is really tough, it’s not easy. It’s not easy at all. So in that sense, I feel like our name and rep has always been on a steady keel across the board, which I’m satisfied with.
SLUG: How much do you think internet piracy affects your band, or the industry in general?
Smith: Well it affects everything in a good and bad way. It affects in a good way because you can easily be pulled up or promoted and talked about overnight. On the bad side, it’s definitely made the record industry irrelevant. Record companies really aren’t needed any more for their, you know, “if you sign with us, this many people will hear you” thing, that’s irrelevant. You can do that from your bedroom. If the internet was regulated—and I hate to say regulated because that implies someone has an ulterior motive—but if the internet was running correctly, all musicians who really do this and are good at it would be living a lot better. We would rightfully be receiving something for our stuff being out there. Happy musicians make for a lifetime of music. Sad, angry musicians die off, they do drugs, kill themselves in other ways. There’s a lot of good and bad to it, and I think at this point it’s so far out of control that we’re just waiting for that one invention that can use the internet as a prostitute, guess you would say. So anybody who touches or spreads or shares your music, copies it, as long as you can make that funnel back into the artist, then that could be the greatest thing that ever happened to man. Right now, it’s one of the worst things to happen. [laughs] it’s definitely cramped everyone’s style from the “pimps”, which are the labels and the “johns” who used to pay the prostitutes, which are us, they don’t have to pay us anymore, they can get it for free. But we still have to put out quality music and put our heart into it.
SLUG: They pay to come see you
Smith: Yeah, but it’s not the same, shows aren’t the same now as they were in the days. In the days, the only way you were gonna see or know about a band was to track them down and catch a show. The kids now are into something different. Say they’re just starting off with the “slam” genre, they’re happy with that, they’re getting through their teens with it. They have no need to go back to Venom, or Exodus, Testament, Sodom, Destruction, Atheist, they have no need to go back and say “where did this come from?” cause they’re happy with their 2 or 3 rhythm song. You can’t force-feed it on them. You have to hope the bands who took the supposed “slam” vibe, that they know where they got it from. It’s their job if they want the whole scene to stay alive to teach their fans and send them back to the books and then it will all work out for everybody.
Blog exclusive CD reviews:
Infernal Warriors of Death
Blaspherian = Bolt Thrower + Immolation + Suffocation
Texas-born Blaspherian reek of old school death metal glories—the kind that still strikes fear and pain in even the most seasoned of death metal connoisseurs. The bottom end on this beast is just plain nasty upon nasty, reminiscent of the crushing guitar tones used on classics like Bolt Thrower’s Realm of Chaos and Warmaster albums and deviously slow-churned, down-tempo madness reminiscent of the glories of early Immolation and Suffocation. I could’ve been told this was some lost treasure from the death metal scene in 1993 and I’d believe it. Forget the shit coming out with fancy pants production and drums triggered so much the bands might as well have used a drum machine—the kick drumming on this album is muffled but in the best of ways like the sound of an old P.O.S. car’s muffler grating against shattered CDs of countless failed deathcore bands. There are quite a few bands trying to do the old school thing these days, but most of them just pull off shadows of glimpses of the devastating power of old. Blaspherian aren’t even close to a shadow they’re beasts from hell ready to chew your face and spit it back out right in your eyes. –Bryer Wharton
The End Records
Kvelertak = Turbonegro + Darkthrone + Motorhead + Hellhammer
The only thing that really puts Norway’s Kvelertak into the black metal realm is their scowling vocals and very loose comparisons to Hellhammer and Darkthrone (punk & black n’ roll eras). I’m definitely glad The End Records decided to pick this album up and release it to the unsuspecting music fans in the states. You don’t have to be into extreme metal of any sort to blast the hell out of Kvelertak’s debut album, originally released in Europe last summer. Turbonegro fan? Check. Motorhead fan? Check. This record is more on the grizzled, bar brawl, hog riding, beer guzzling, fun, rocking side than anything that lies in any realm of extremity. Really all it feels like is some black metal dudes sick of being angry and disenchanted with everything in life decided just to rock the hell out. There are some insanely catchy songs on this album (see “Offernatt”) sure to dominate the playlist of nights to come embellished in beer and whiskey. Don’t call this black metal—just call it badass heavy rock n’ roll with rhythms that’ll steal your socks worse than any clothes dryer. With some added bonus goodies on this US release, including some BBC sessions as well as a couple demos, as well as the really out of place but beautiful artwork and you have absolutely no reason not to check this out. –Bryer Wharton
Rotten Sound = Nasum + Defeatist + Carcass (early) + Pig Destroyer
The last Rotten Sound album I blasted was 2005’s Exit, which I still hold in high regard as a grindcore masterpiece. I missed the boat on the albums in between, but with the backing of the highly grindcore oriented label Relapse Records, I was more than stoked to give Cursed some well deserved blasts. Blast away Curse indeed does—there aren’t many grind albums where you go away saying “hey, that minute long song severely kicked my ass.” Cursed batters and bruises in a little under 30 minutes and when it’s done, you’re really not going to remember any particular tracks but you will remember the monstrously fuzzed and fried up grizzled fat of it all taking to your ear canals like a table saw. I really wish I could say that Cursed was as good as Exit, but the guitar tone is a bit overly fuzzed than I’d prefer. I’m sure a bit of changes in production value and I could be picking out some beastly riffs and hearty grooves, and if you listen hard enough you’ll hear them. Then again, if you like your grind in realms of more noise than discernable sounds Cursed will be a welcome noisy violent blast that doesn’t take too much time to get it’s audio-killing on. –Bryer Wharton