Napalm Flesh: Jeff Loomis Interview

Posted April 26, 2012 in
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Welcome to Napalm Flesh! This week we have an interview with legendary guitarist Jeff Loomis, who we caught up when he played Salt Lake with Periphery and Protest the Hero on April 6. We talked to him about his days in Nevermore, his new solo album, and the metal scene at large. We also have our usual weekly calendar rundown as well as blog-exclusive reviews of Accept. Cathter, Pelican and the Nails/Skin Like Iron split.

Event listings
Compiled by Bryer Wharton

Tonight deathcore stalwarts All Shall Perish headline In The Venue with Carnifex, Fleshgod Apocalypse, Conducting from the Grave and The Contortionist. Tickets are $17 for the all ages show, doors at 6 p.m.
On Saturday, April 28, East Coast thrashers Overkill headline the Complex with God Forbid, Diamond Plate and Suidakra. Tickets, $22 in advance or $25 the day of the show, are available for the all ages show. Doors open at 6 p.m.
Also Saturday, locals Downfall, Truce, Deny Your Faith and Poonhammer play the South Shore Bar & Grill (21+). $5 gets you in the door, music underway around 8 p.m.
Monday, April 30 Kittie headlines the Complex with Blackgaurd and The Agonist with locals Darkblood and Hooga opening up the show. $20 tickets are available for the 21+ show in the Vertigo portion of The Complex, doors at 6 p.m.
Tuesday, May 1, Psychostick returns to Salt Lake, playing Kilby Court with support from Downtown Brown, Dead Revelator, Project Blackthorn and Perish Lane. $12 tickets are available for the all ages show, doors at 6 p.m.

Interview with Jeff Loomis

Guitarist Jeff Loomis has had an unprecedented career. As a teenager, he tried out for an open spot in Megadeth, but was turned down due to his young age—a mistake Dave Mustaine would try to remedy in 2008, only to have Loomis turn him down in favor of solo projects. After this early rejection, he spent a few months in short-lived Sanctuary, which opened the doors of fate when he and his bandmates regrouped to form the legendary Nevermore. Loomis’ technique, use of 7-string guitars, and songwriting style came to define the progressive death metal band and inspired legions of future guitarists. Nevermore shocked fans when they called it quits in 2001, after 18 years of playing together. Unfazed, Loomis began work on his critically-acclaimed solo album Zero Order Phase, and he hasn’t looked back. Napalm Flesh was lucky enough to sit down with this legendary shredder as he toured cross-country with some of the young progressive bands his music has inspired over the last few decades, and find out about the release of his second solo project, Plains of Oblivion.

SLUG: How has the tour been so far? How are you liking this next generation of progressive metal bands?
Loomis: It’s all been absolutely awesome. It’s a trip, it’s weird, because obviously I’m used to playing with Nevermore, and used to a more traditional heavy metal. But I think this stuff is really cool and I’m a fan of it. I really dig the music these guys make. I’m a huge Periphery fan so I’ve been able to sit down with Misha [Mansoor, guitar] and play some stuff. It’s been really fun! The tour is so relaxing, everybody really gets along and it’s a chilled environment. No one is out there to show anyone up, it’s all about the music.

SLUG: So close to your album release! [Editor's Note: Loomis' album Plains of Oblivion was released April 10, four days after this interview was conducted.] You’ve put some songs and snippets out there—how are they being received both by the public at large and live at your shows?
Loomis: Really well! People writing back to me on my Facebook page are really digging it, it’s a really diverse record there’s a lot going on. There’s a lot of guest guitar players: Marty Friedman, Tony MacAlpine, Chris Poland, Atilla Voros who used to be in Nevermore. Ihsahn from Emporer sang a track called Surrender, and a good friend Christine Rhoades is doing vocals on a track for me—she also did some work with Nevermore back in ’99. Her voice is so amazing, so I thought it’d be cool to have her be a part of this record. Live, it’s been trickier because of the whole instrumental vibe—this is an instrumental band, and people are like, “Where’s the singer?” But then they get it, realizing I’m a guitar instrumentalist too.

SLUG: What’s the process like for finding vocalists for your tracks? Do you write songs with certain people in mind or does that come later?
Loomis: That happened for Christine—I had the songs already written for her. We did four songs together, and two of them will be on the Japanese bonus CD. For Ihsahn, that was actually going to be another instrumental, but my producer Aaron and I decided we should do another vocal bit since the album already had plenty of instrumental tracks. Aaron came up with the idea to have him sing, so I sent him a polite email to see if he would be interested and he loved the track. A week later he sent us this symphony of vocal tracks, it was great!

SLUG: Tell me about your writing process. Outside of music, where do you find your inspiration?
Loomis: I kind of lock myself away when I’m writing—I don’t listen to too much other sounds just to make sure what I’m writing is as original as possible, and then I’ll write riff after riff and put it together like a big puzzle. When I do listen, I obviously love the heavy stuff, bands like Meshuggah; I love classical and 70s music. I think it’s very important that young kids don’t listen to one style of music. I’ve had a lot of guitar students in the past that say, “I just like death metal”, but you can expand your mind and your horizons if you listen to different styles. It’s a really positive thing.

SLUG: How has your writing and creative process changed, if at all, since leaving Nevermore? Do you find your creativity is flowing more, or coming out in different ways?
Loomis: I think with Nevermore it was obviously a camaraderie thing, where you’re dealing with other people and other opinions. Now that I’m doing my own thing, I can point fingers and be more of the conductor, if you will. It’s cool to me. I do miss having other musicians to write with. It is cool, because you get more of an exciting record that way. But I am enjoying my life right now. Nevermore was a wonderful thing that I don’t take for granted at all, I had many, many good years with those guys, but one door closes and another door opens.

SLUG: You’ve been in the business a long goddamn time, and had some unique experiences. What, if anything, has changed about your view of the music industry since those first days with Sanctuary?
Loomis: Tons of stuff, for sure: illegal downloading, albums leaking…honestly, I miss the days of buying vinyl, where you just have this complete package of something new the artist puts out. I think a lot of times, these kids are so young, and they don’t realize the amount of work that it takes to make a record. It takes a lot of time, energy and money, and to keep that artist going if they do like the artist, they have to purchase the album—it’s important. But that’s changed a lot, and it’s sad to say that’s the way it is. Once a kid gets a hold of it, it spreads like cancer, and everybody has it, and the artist loses in the long run. It’s almost like I have to work harder. The only reason I keep doing it is because I love doing it.

You worked with one of my favorite musicians and the nicest guy ever, Keith Merrow, on his music. How was that for you? Was it easy for you to fit your music in with Keith’s vision? Will you guys be doing more in the future?
Loomis: He’s an incredible guy! He’s doing all this stuff on his own too, releasing his own records from his own studio. He’s writing some amazing music! I just wish he could get into a band, because I want to see him on stage. We’re talking about it, he lives in Portland and I’m in Seattle and he’ll come up to my house sometimes when we write. But I think a lot of good things are going to come his way. It was easy to write with him. He sat there and rolled the tape and I just played along… his music works well with me as a guitar player.

SLUG: How do you feel about the current state of metal? Anything in particular you’re jamming right now?
Loomis: I am really into Opeth, I love their new record Heritage. I love how they put the older styles of music into their progressive songs. Mikael’s a good friend of mine and he’s doing something different. Lots of people try to follow trends, but he does something completely on his own and that’s something to be respected. I think metal is doing just fine as a genre. It’s getting heavier, more polyrhythmic, more interesting to hear, and that has a lot to do with the technology coming out and being able to do quick edits and what not.

SLUG: What does the future hold for your music?
Loomis: I’m trying to form a real new band with a vocalist and put out a new record. This is just kind of me taking baby steps to get my face back up in front of the crowd. 18 years is a long time to be in Nevermore and so I didn’t want to just jump into another band immediately, I want to make my decisions for the future very wisely.

Exclusive Reviews

Nuclear Blast
Street: 04.10
Accept = Judas Priest + Saxon + Motorhead + Dio
It doesn't get much more heavy metal than Germany's Accept. Turning heads with new vocalist Mark Tornilo of TT Quick on 2010's Blood of Nations album, Accept have been hacking away at the comeback tree. Stalingrad feels a great deal like part two to Blood of Nations with an identical production sound (probably because Andy Sneap turned the production knobs once again) and similar songwriting. Ripping album opener “Hung Drawn and Quartered” is a blazing example, containing the same finesse and power of the 2010 record that caused heads to turn towards Accept once again. The fist pumping metal continues throughout the album—see “Hellfire,” Revolution” and “Against the World”—until the power ballad “Twist of Fate” turns the tempo down but the album goes out with a bang on the epic closer “The Galley.” Initially, the record didn't hit me as hard as Blood of Nations, but repeated listening (otherwise known as patience) pays off. Guitarist Wolf Hoffman is in nice shredding form—generally you can skip straight to the great guitar solos on any given song. The end of “Flash Bang Time” howls like hell. If you liked what Accept did on Blood of Nations, you'll have no problem enjoying Stalingrad. –Bryer Wharton

Southwest Doom Violence
Street: 05.01
Catheter = Phobia + Repulsion + Dismember + Terrorizer (old)
Knowing full well the extreme displeasure of having a tube rammed up my dick (not all catheters are used for that purpose), a catheter is an unpleasant thing. Like the name suggests, this Denver, Colo. grind three-piece is all about the not-so-pleasant things in sonic form. Southwest Doom Violence is the bands third full-length record which in the world of grind—which typically consists of a lot of splits, EPs and other fun releases doesn't mean this trio is green at all. What Southwest Doom Violence does offer is a new, nasty guitar tone in the realm of old school death metal of the Swedish, crusty persuasion. If you've actually heard what the band has done before this new records production mainly in that guitar tone might initially throw you off. The nasty guitar tone almost washed the entire record out for me with initial listens, but as my ears adjusted to the nastiness of it (reminiscent of how the last Rotten Sound album played out) you notice the bass ugliness, especially if you have a good subwoofer. The drumming is some of Catheter's most intense yet in terms of its speed and how hard the drummer is pounding on his kit. As the title suggests, Doom Violence slows the chaos in momentary lapses to create something really interesting and grind-deviatingly great. –Bryer Wharton

Nails / Skin Like Iron
Split 7”
Street: 01.21
Nails = Black Breath + Dead in the Dirt
Skin Like Iron = Masakari + Oathbreaker
I’ll be honest: my interest in this 7” only existed initially because of Nails’ involvement. However, Skin Like Iron’s fast, hard and surprisingly melodic style of hardcore complements Nails’ sound really well, and this split serves as a great introduction to the band. Both Skin Like Iron and Nails both ride the resurgent wave of crusty, dark hardcore (I guess you could call it “Holy Terror,” but that reminds me of the shitty Frank Miller comic). Skin Like Iron have a driving energy and the vocals have a really cool raspy quality, melding the crusty style with some good old fashioned punk rock structure. Also, it’s worth noting that the Skin Like Iron songs are on the A-side, probably so neurotic record dorks like me listen to them before the tracks from Nails on the B-side. Nails’ first song, “Annihilation,” clocks in at nearly three minutes, which is positively epic for them. It has the super-fast parts that’ll give you whiplash a slow, weighty part in the middle, and holy fuck, it even has gang vocals—it’s worth the price of admission all by itself. The 25 seconds of “Cry Wolf” ends the split with a blast of intensity, but honestly I would rather just listen to “Annihilation” over and over. I never get tired of stuff like this, and Nails never disappoints—just remember to listen to the A-Side too. –Ricky Vigil

Southern Lord
Street: 04.17
Pelican = Red Sparowes + Caspian + Russian Circles
The latest release from this long-running post-rock/post-metal/post-instrumental/post-whatever quartet is a creative offering in a genre that often seems stagnant. Clocking in at just 17 minutes, Pelican makes the most of their time rather than lingering on the building and breaking that so many instrumental bands tend to focus on. “Ataraxia” opens the EP with a sound reminiscent of an airplane engine, humming over sinister, plodding bass notes and delicate synth lines, acoustic guitar. The pair of tracks that follows, “Lathe Biosas” and “Parsite Colony,” display the driving, intense style of instrumental rock that Pelican have become known for. The band is not focused on atmosphere so much as they are on energy, and the two tracks in the middle of this EP are among the best they’ve ever recorded. “Taraxis” closes things out with a sparser sound as the acoustic guitar featured on “Ataraxia” returns over minimal drums until some wailing guitars join the proceedings near the song’s end. The real highlights of this EP are the pair of title tracks—it’s always good to see an established band trying new things—and the songs in the middle anchor it all together for a satisfying package. –Ricky Vigil