Napalm Flesh: Keith Merrow Interview

Posted November 23, 2011 in
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Happy New World Invasion Day to you, darkhearts! (Or if you insist on being traditional, Happy Thanksgiving.) Are we all looking forward to food and family, or the mind-altering substances we’ll be taking to get through the holiday? Terrific! Let’s begin the thankfulness: Napalm Flesh is thankful to be bringing you a glorious interview with studio musician Keith Merrow, and thankful that the merciless hordes at YouTube have propelled this incredible songwriter to the status of metal god that he deserves. Also included this week are exclusive reviews of We’re also hella thankful for live fucking music, so here’s our calendar. Get out there and mosh that pumpkin pie right out of your guts.

Tonight, go see The Devil Wears Prada, Whitechapel, Enter Shikari, and For Today, but be advised there has been a change of venue for this show. It is now going to be at In The Venue instead of the Great Saltair, but all original tickets will be honored. Tix are $23 at the door, and the show begins at 6 for this all-ages event. (Also be advised that the Testament show originally slated for The Complex tonight has been cancelled.)

Black Friday brings us a visit from VNV Nation at In The Venue. Show starts at 6:30, is all ages and tickets are only $16.

On Saturday, Utah Metal presents the First Annual SLC Extreme Metal Fest with Sacrificial Slaughter, Gutsaw, Dethblo, Gravetown, Winterlore, Dukestorm Thunderclap, Hooga, and Darkblood. Music starts at 6:00, and $15 gets you in.

Sunday at Kilby Court, come see The Chariot, Vanna, Former Thieves, Listener and The Crimson Armada. Show begins at 6pm, tickets are $12 in advance/$14 the day of, and this is an all-ages show.

And don’t forget, next Tuesday, the legendary Mayhem with special guests Abigail Williams, Hate and Keep of Kalessin as well as locals IX Zealot at The Complex. Doors are at 7:30, tickets are $22 in advance/$25 day of.

Before we jump into our interview with Keith Merrow, here's something else to be thankful for: new streaming music.
Neige et Noirceun - "Hymne II - Neige Noire" (from the album Hymnes de la Montagne Noire)
Vildhjarta - måsstaden (full album stream)

Love or hate it, the Internet has revolutionized the distribution of music, and not only in the pirate-infested waters of the torrents. YouTube has become a platform for many self-made artists to showcase their work for free, garner a fan base and even make a shitload of cash selling their work before any agent or record label has even heard of them. Such is the tale of multi-talented studio musician Keith Merrow, who began posting his live metal compositions in 2009 with metal fans immediately lining up, wanting more of his work. Napalm Flesh got a hold of Merrow to find out more about his unique career and what inspires his self-driven musical vision.
Keith Merrow's Official Website
Demisery on Facebook

SLUG: Tell us how you got started and interested in the technical metal you’re now playing.
Merrow: Well, the music I play isn’t all that technically complicated, but I suppose it does have some technical and progressive elements. I think that I just kind of went down that road as I was exploring my own playing. I like writing songs that are fun, and often challenging to play on guitar. Sometimes writing songs and riffs feels like putting together a puzzle, and that makes things more interesting.

SLUG: Did you have any schooling, or are you a self-taught kind of guy?
Merrow: I’m self-taught. I just recently started picking up some instructional books and videos to find new things to try. That also helps me identify the things I already know, but couldn’t put a name to. You never stop learning, so the more you educate yourself, the better you’ll get.

SLUG: What inspired you to first start putting your music on YouTube? Did the response of viewers help charge you to want to write a full album? 
Merrow: Well, I was cleaning out my closet one day and found my old video camera (that I never really used). I sat down and recorded some riffs so I wouldn’t forget them. Some time later, I was showing them to a good friend of mine, and he said “Dude, you should share this stuff on YouTube.” My initial thought was “I don’t want to be that guy that posts guitar wank videos on YouTube and gets hundreds of hate comments to smash my morale.” YouTube can be a rough audience, but it’s been the single most beneficial move I could have made as a guitar player. After those first few videos I put on there, people started asking if they could download my songs. I threw together a short EP, and made it available to download. The response from that motivated me to actually try a little harder, so I wrote The Arrival album. Looking back on both of those releases, I really wish I would have taken them more seriously and tried harder, overall—The production is pretty horrendous on those first two releases. But, I didn’t have the proper tools to do what I wanted when I recorded those. I actually plan on redoing some of those songs, making them what I originally wanted them to be, and re-releasing one collective album (for free, of course). Long story short, yes, the video viewers and fans of my music definitely motivated me to do this music thing, without a doubt. The support I’ve received is just incredible, and I feel very fortunate for that.

SLUG: “The Arrival” was the first album you wrote start to finish, and it’s just an immensely impressive piece of work, both technically and creatively. Can you tell us how the writing and recording process was for a project like this?
Merrow: Well, first off, thanks! I’m glad you liked it. As I mentioned above, it actually didn’t quite turn out how I envisioned it. I really wanted to go for an ethereal sort of vibe and get some more ambience in there, but I just didn’t put the full effort into it that I should have. I didn’t expect it to get the recognition that it did, and after the response to it, I wish I had invested more into it. But it’s all good! It was a great experience! The writing process happened during one of the most stressful times in my life. I was working a job that I was just really miserable doing, and would come home pissed off and on the verge of a nervous breakdown, every single night. I just spent a lot of time daydreaming and writing songs in my head. In the evenings, I’d take what little time I had left in the day and flushed out some of those ideas. It was really therapeutic for me at the time.

: Your music has a distinct story-like setup to it, almost like a musical narrative. Is this something you purposely try to infuse in your work? Are you influenced by narratives in literature or movies when you’re writing your music?
Merrow: Totally. I love movies and literature, and I definitely draw inspiration from the things I watch and read. Aside from that, I find the strangest things inspiring. Sometimes I’ll literally go outside at night and stare at the moon for 10 minutes, just thinking “What the fuck is it all about?!” Then I’ll write a song based on how I feel (all spaced out and insignificant).

SLUG: You brought in Jeff Loomis (guitarist of Nevermore, among others) on the album “Awaken the Stone King”, which was so glorious for metal fans. Any plans to bring in more collaborators on future projects?
Merrow: Glorious, indeed! Jeff is incredible. I’m not sure what will happen with the next solo album. I actually haven’t even started on it, and it’s been several months. I’ve been collaborating with other people on their projects, so I’ve just been pretty busy with that. 

SLUG: If you were handed all necessary funding for your dream project, what would you do and who would you include?
Merrow: Oh wow. That’s a complicated question! Actually, I’d probably throw it all into this side project I’m doing with Chris Adler (Lamb of God drummer) and Paul Waggoner (Between the Buried and Me guitarist) and make it as awesome as possible.

SLUG: You’ve described yourself as “extremely introverted and anti-social”. In what ways, if any, do you see this contributing to your particularly unique musical vision? And what advice can you give to other introverted creative-types about getting their shit out there to be seen?
Merrow: I’m not sure how being a hermit crab contributes to songwriting. I’ve just always been that way, I guess. I’m still very social, I just like to spend a lot of time with my own thoughts (by myself). I don’t hate people or anything, but I just haven’t tried to make any close friends in a really long time. Advice from one introvert to another? An online presence still allows you to be introverted. Put your shit on the Internet for people to hear!

SLUG: What do you do when you’re not writing music? Do you have a day job?
Merrow: My job right now is essentially guitar lessons and album sales. I finally got out of that miserable job I mentioned earlier. I’m in college full time right now going for a degree in Multimedia (audio/video/graphical). Aside from that, I’m a husband and father. I stay busy, for sure! I couldn’t be happier!

SLUG: Can fans look forward to a possible Keith Merrow tour in the not so distant future?
Merrow: Unfortunately, I don’t think so. I’d have to drop everything to make that happen, and it’s not a good idea to do that right now. I’m very determined to finish college, and I don’t want to break away from it. I’d love to get out there and play, though.

SLUG: If you were chosen to join a colony on a new planet, to make sure the history and technique of metal was preserved on Earth the Sequel, what ten albums would be uncompromising requirements in your lesson plan?
Merrow: Haha, that’s like the best question ever. Well, there’s my personal favorites, and then there’s albums that are important milestones in metal. I’ll try for a mixture of both, in no particular order. In all honestly, I’d need way more than 10 albums!
Black Sabbath- Master of Reality
Venom- Black Metal
Sepultura- Arise
Cannibal Corpse- The Bleeding
Pantera- Vulgar Display of Power
Death- Human
Metallica- Master of Puppets
Kreator- Endless Pain
Morbid Angel- Altars of Madness
Megadeth- Rust in Peace

SLUG: Tell us about your new project Demisery with Gord Olson.
Merrow: It’s pretty much straightforward death metal, and it’s probably the most fun I’ve had playing and writing in a really, really long time. Working with my buddy Gord has just been an absolute blast. He’s such an amazing player and songwriter. We have a common love for old-school death metal, so we’ve been really nerding out and dragging our influences into the project. I can’t wait to get it out there. It’s definitely not for everyone, but we think death metal fans will dig it. All we have left to record are Gord’s vocals, so we’re getting closer.

SLUG: Is that you breathing all heavy midway through “Abducted”? Just curious, it’s terrifyingly awesome.
Merrow: Haha, yeah… it’s me. I guess it’s not fully instrumental huh? I added vocals! Aw shit son!

SLUG: Last question, for posterity’s sake: if we were attacked by aliens whose only weakness was metal, would you use your powers to destroy them? Or would you use the threat of your metal godliness to bargain for peace?
Merrow: I wouldn’t destroy the aliens or bargain for peace. I would riff them into slavery. C’mon, you know you want an alien slave.

Blog Exclusive CD Reviews

Rise Above
Street: 11.22.11
Cathedral = St. Vitus + Trouble + Candlemass
Sure, it’s small consolation to grieving Cathedral fans, doom pioneers who recently announced they’d be hanging up their collective sludge-flecked boots in favor of other musical pastimes, but Anniversary is a pretty good way to go out. Celebrating a twenty year existence, the Coventry quartet treated a lucky audience to a performance of their monumental debut Forest of Equilibrium in its entirety and deliver the goods with tight precision and a lead fist. Where most bands speed up in the live setting, Cathedral decide to peg it back a notch, pulling on the rains and really letting the sound and nuance wash over. Great stuff. Lee Dorian is in top form, and Gaz Jennings guitar work reigns superb, not a riff missed and solos played pitch perfect. The second disc picks things up a bit, sampling from the rest of Cathedral’s career with a bit more pep, with “Carnival Bizarre” and an encore presentation of “Hopkins” stealing the show. Bummer to see ‘em go, but glad it’s on such a good note. Fans, don’t miss out! –Dylan Chadwick

Give Them Rope (Reissue)
No Sleep/Relapse
Street: 11.22
Coalesce = Botch + Converge + Breather Resist
Without Coalesce, the world of extreme music, especially in America, would probably be much, much shittier. The band cultivated a swirling, chaotic style that toed the line between hardcore and metal, and vocalist Sean Ingram’s guttural barks and howls stand apart from the legions of burpers and gurglers in today’s metal landscape. Thirteen years after its original release (and after a remaster and reissue in 2004), the definitive version of Coalesce’s debut album is being released on vinyl by No Sleep records and on CD by Relapse. Included is a yet another remastered version of the album as well as the 2004 mix. The differences between the two mixes aren’t super drastic (the 2004 mix actually sounds crisper and meatier to my ears…), but the songs stand the test of time. The band’s formula of intense vocals and sharp guitars over a deceptively groovy rhythm section is as solid here as it is on their 2009 comeback album OX. If you’ve never checked out Coalesce, this is the best place to start. If you’re already a fan, Give Them Rope deserves revisiting. –Ricky Vigil