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Monday 4 September 2017

The Spotlight: Interview With Suffocation (By Paul)

Suffocation Interview

Before their headline show at the Bierkeller in Bristol on 27 August, We were lucky enough to meet the Suffocation and spend some time chatting with them. In their dressing room, with a background soundtrack of opening band Democratus warming up, Matt and I sat down with the main men Terrance Hobbs, Derek Boyer and Charlie Errigo. Drummer Eric Morotti was also present but was engrossed in his X-Box gaming

I began by asking the band about their time in Europe. The band had been in Europe for the best part of a month on the festival circuit but Terrance and Derek were quick to correct me that it wasn’t just festivals. “We’ve done festivals but in between we’ve had local shows as well, so it hasn’t just been straight festivals.” Derek added “It’s been festivals on Friday, Saturday, Sunday, weekend festivals and then week day club shows”. So, I asked how it had gone. Terrance: “pretty damn good man. You take the good with the bad, when you’ve got to play on a Monday night in the middle of Nowheresville, you don’t expect a miracle; but it’s really been a bi-polar type of experience ‘cause you go from these really small clubs that have 100 people in them, and it’s packed and hot as fuck, and then you go outside and play in front of 15,000 people, and you are like, what the hell happened! You get that kinda postpartum depression thing, “we played in front of all these fucking people man, and now we’re playing in front of 60 in a basement”…but it’s all good fun”.

I moved on to ask the band about life on the road, and managed to generate howls of laughter when I referred to the image of the road being ‘glamourous’. Derek dispelled that myth straight away. “It’s a lot of work”. So how do the band keep focused, swapping from 15,000 to 60 fans in 24 hours? Terrance explained: “For us particularly, other than this dead time, we have set up time and take down time. Other than that, we play video games, sit around, talk and talk to others, watch movies but for the most part there isn’t that much time for us to do anything, you know, you’re lucky if you can get to walk around the town and see the sights; maybe go to a cool restaurant and get something to eat (or have a beer added Charlie!). I wondered if the guys managed to remember which country they were in each night? Derek was in immediately, “that’s the singer’s job!” cue much laughter. “Early in the day you hear some dialect and you go, ah, German, we’re in Germany”. Terrance added “the problem is if you are in Bavaria and you can’t find weed!” The band have been in and out of Germany three or four times on this tour “yeah, the hardest part is getting weed!”

I asked about any disasters with the kit given the amount of travel? It turns out, perhaps unsurprisingly given his performance later that evening that drummer Eric causes the most damage. Terrance explained “this guy here, he just eats drums up for breakfast. He blows snares, kills the skins y’know”. “Cymbals don’t stand a chance” added Derek, “but everything is pretty intact. We all have our little problems but that’s to be expected, but for the most part everything is working right”. “We left the sound engineer’s bag in a club, had to get it shipped” added Terrance, “almost lost my wallet, driver found it on the ground” and we also established the driver found a decent amount of cash as well which can’t be bad! Derek also regaled us with the tale of being left behind at a gas station. When we checked it was for a whole ten minutes which by my reckoning isn’t too bad at all. It’s when they don’t notice for three hours you get to worry! What you immediately sensed was the bond between the band at this stage. They’ve been away from home for weeks, living in each other’s pockets and they engaged in the most enjoyable banter.

I saw a quote that referred to Suffocation as’ American Death Metal’s most consistent and punishing standard bearers’. I wanted to know, as one of the iconic bands in death metal, does that influence how the band at all? “It’s nice to hear” says Terrance, “I guess I’m not looking at my head growing to the size of a giant balloon y’ know, but I think it’s cool that people pay attention to the band. It’s been almost 30 years for me in the band. Anybody that’s paying attention out there and says, dude, I like what you’ve done, like what you are doing, it’s always to the heart. At least I’m doing something right”. Derek continues “we always aim to punish the people when we play live, everybody’s got to know what they are doing, take pride in what you are doing and come out and deliver the Suffocation”. “send it in” adds Charlie in a rare moment of animation!
I admitted it had been seven years since I’d seen Suffocation and I was looking forward to it. Terrance: “It’s a bit different, a bit speedier now, I think we are a bit more precise in our play at this point and I think that helps a lot. We are musically tight and it’s important that it doesn’t turn into a big wash of sound”. “Even if you don’t know the songs and you’re in the audience you should still hear the clarity in the music” says Derek, “the diehard fans knows when the change comes but the person who’s never heard us, with the proper engineer, the proper musicians and the proper gear, it should be listenable music. Real aggressive, we want to keep the intensity but you should be able to tell, to hear it” and boy did we later in the evening when the band pulverised all in their wake with some of the most impressive technical death metal Bristol has ever witnessed.

Derek continued “Melodically and rhythmically we are all syncopating”. I wondered whether it was an issue for the band that death metal is often classed as just a wall of noise? The band agreed. “It gets technical and it gets lost, you can tell which bands are actually doing their job, y’know, nowadays with the recording revolution, you can cheat your ass off. You get a musician like this guy (gestures at Eric) playing beats like he does and then you get a guitarist who is doing this, y’know, stepping all over the intervals, it’s like, maybe the band can use a little more help. They need to sit down, work on their intervals”. Charlie adds “we’re together, it’s not just the drummer y’know”.

Given that there seems to be so many death metal bands around today, what bands capture Suffocation’s attention? Both Terrance and Derek were quick to list a few. “Decrepit Birth, Virvum from Switzerland, Aeon and Despised Icon. Old school Possessed has come back around you know”. Having seen Possessed at BOA only two weeks previously I could clearly relate to that. Terrance continued, “There are old school bands and new school bands, y’know, Charlie loves all different genres of music than say I do or Derek does, it’s definitely heavy”. Charlie “Hardcore stuff, you gotta listen to it all, you can’t just listen to one type”. Terrance “These guys swear by Code Orange … but if you’re working for your success you can’t take it away from them”.

Of The Dark Light was released in June 2017, a mighty fine album and I asked the band about it. “Feels like a year old already” said Derek and I noted that much of it was written way before the release. “A lot was done over the course of time” explained Terrance, “after Pinnacle Of Bedlam came out it was just writing a riff here and there”. “We get so busy touring” adds Derek, “people say why does it take so long to do a record; well if we were home for a minute maybe we could do something but they (the label) put us out, send us out, go out, go out, go out so you chip away at it and then all of a sudden you go, hey, wait a minute, we’ve got a lot of material here, let’s get everyone in the same room and try to get everyone at the same place”. “It’s kinda like a plan or statistic” says Terrance, “once you manage to get a record out, the best thing to do is to tour as much as you can, because over the course of time the demand will get less and less, and you’ve got to cover all the territories. So while the iron is hot you gotta strike!”

So, what was the reception to the album like? Terrance “I think it’s been a mixed bag personally, some people meet us and go, ah man, you’re playing some new style stuff, fuck you, but then we get the diehard fans who love what we do and they come out and see us live and they get it better. I think every record that we have leaves room for improvement but also leaves the live aspect in it”. We noted that it’s in the live arena where you get to appreciate the complexity and quality of the music and Derek agrees “that’s the problem nowadays because in the recording studio you can do so much magic and then you see the band live and they fucking suck. Great record y’know, great job and then you see them live and they can’t do it. They fake their way through the studio. We always consider ourselves a live band, come see it, that’s the real deal”.

Exploring the process of putting the record together, I mentioned that the band had referred to it as an organic maturity. Terrance: “As I said it was written piece by piece by me and Derek, mainly over the course of time, Derek did most of the vocal and lyric patterns and writing the lyrics and I did most of the music although these other guys did have their input into the final recording of it”. “Absolutely” agrees Derek. Terrance continued “every time we got together to rehearse we would try and find two new areas of all this pre-production material that me and Derek had written and from there we did some touring and came home and went directly into the rehearsal room and rehearsed, so it was organic in the aspect that all of us were able to play the record, go and do our parts in the studio, as it should do, of course there is some added digital in there because that’s just the way it is these days but we tried to stay as far away from that as possible in the whole aspect of it because we wanted the band to sound like the band”. “You don’t want it to sound like you’re listening to a computer” adds Derek. 

Terrance continues “going back to that earlier question that’s something that a lot of fans have a gripe about, they hear everything so perfectly now, that if they hear something that is human …” “they are like, it’s sloppy what’s up?” interjects Derek. “We want to leave it feeling natural. It’s funny how black and white it is though because as soon as you cross into that new style of recording if you leave anything in that’s old fashioned it sounds questionable, so all the new bands that are doing everything the new way, everything sounds fucking perfect and you see them live, they suck. For us, it was kinda we were right on the fence, you know, trying new technology, all this stuff and the next thing you know, we were just going to leave it as natural and people were like, they suck here. Yeah, that’s human”. It’s clear from listening to the album and seeing the band deliver the new songs live that Suffocation feel passionately about delivering albums with that live feel. The new tracks were built for the live arena.

Suffocation used Full Force Studios to record the album and Terrance explains “that’s our buddy Joe (Joe Cincotta – who owns Full Force Studios), we pretty much grabbed him right out of college a billion years ago and that’s where the rehearsal rooms are and the studio and everything else is, so it was a natural thing for us to go write a record there around the corner and it’s also a lot better because now everybody’s a little more distant so Derek lives a little further away than me and so on so to get everybody together in one spot outside of long island, outside of New York is a lot harder, everyone having to fly in but at least it (Full Force) is centrally located so it made it a little bit easier to get into the room”.

The band have recorded Epitaph Of The Credulous which was originally on Breeding The Spawn (1993’s sophomore release) and I asked the guys about that. Derek explained “so far, every album we’ve redone one track from the album (Breeding The Spawn) so we are two tracks away from the entire record again”. Terrance adds “obviously Breeding The Spawn sounded like shit, everybody from the former line-ups to this line-up was like, great songs, just sounds shit, what happened and that’s what happens when you have turmoil and you are a bunch of young kids and you don’t know what’s going on; you think you know but you don’t. A fun product came out being a crappy selling record. As Derek said, the material was great, it just didn’t sound like anything so for all of us, it’s like why don’t we give it its time and place and we recorded one song and you diehard fans out there eventually you’ll have the whole collection and you can piece that album together again and it will sound better than the original version. We are going to rebreed the spawn, if you know what I mean!”

The current line-up of Suffocation has been together for a couple of years, with Terrance and Derek joined by Charlie and Eric alongside live singer Kevin Muller covering for Frank Mullen. “Frank is an old salty dog and he just doesn’t like to do all the travelling, he’s got his job, his home life, everything like that” explains Terrance. I observed that many bands are losing established members. “Yeah, if you’ve an expensive lifestyle then this might not be for you, you need a home, a car, you have children” Derek adds. “You’re not home for six months at a time” adds Terrance, “it puts a strain on everything, on your girl, on your kids, on financial aspects”.

So, is it easier to stay in touch these days because of technology and the internet? “Absolutely, but it also opens another can of worms, because you can’t escape anybody getting in touch with you, Instagram, instant messenger, Facebook, this, that and the other one and the next thing you know you have way too many”, Derek nods his agreement. Terrance adds “I remember the days when we didn’t have cell phones and little computers in our pockets and it was a lot more difficult to keep in touch with everybody then”.

Is touring easier or harder these days? “I think it’s about the same. In the beginning, it was a lot harder for us, because as I said we didn’t have the computers so everybody had to have a street team, you had to flyer, you had to do mail order, mailing lists, you had to really be on that, to get you outside, for us, New York, we had to do a lot of homework, a lot of talking, your phone bill was fucking $600 by the end of the month. You really had to try and make your name stand out and keep people interested. Nowadays we can advertise easily, with Facebook, Twitter and this and that, but now a lot more companies have come to fruition; back at home we have this one called BandWagon; 

They have sixty or seventy of these buses, half a truck half a bus that’ll fit a band, and they have their main staples like Warped Tour, Monsters of Rock, shit like that, which in turn has made it easier for bands to get around, just go and rent something like that, instead of a van with a trailer which you drive yourself, so things have kinda progressed in that area. It’s not easy in general though, there’s no easy way around it, as we’ve gotten older it’s got a little bit easier, a bit more organised, it was ten times harder when you had to it all by yourself”. Terrance adds a warning “I would tell any band out there, make sure you get yourselves a music lawyer, because there is so much involved that the average person cannot deal with”.

One thing that always intrigues me is what bands listen to. What about Suffocation?

Derek starts: “Chaka Khan!” Charlie adds “Earth Wind And Fire” at which point you already wonder about how much your leg is being pulled. Derek provides some clarification. “You do listen to different things, When you are younger you listen to all the aggressive, death, speed metal, which is what drove you to play the way you play, but the older you get, I’m finding I don’t listen to much. I’m happy when someone goes, you gotta listen to this new death metal record, it’s so good but so much stuff over the years has kinda melted together that I don’t sit down and put death metal on like I used to. So, when a song from the 80s comes on the radio its more exciting for me than, ‘Anal Bead Bungee Jump’ (hahaha!) but at the end of the day we will always listen to our old shit, our early 90s death thrash, you know, Slayer, Morbid Angel, Death, you know, all those sick bands and you know, Napalm Deaths and Carcass, you know that shit was great back then but we don’t wake up and listen to it as ferociously as we did back then … but I love to hear new death metal, new good death metal so it’s exciting when someone says to me ‘oh, you’ve got hear the new Decrepit Birth record, it’s fun to get references but lately it’s like, we listen to ourselves a lot”.

Maybe unsurprisingly Terrance listens to a lot of guitar virtuosos and of course “I listen to DEVO Bro! I listen to a lot of different stuff. I still listen to Van Halen, Judas Priest, I still listen to Iron Maiden and of course, Slayer!” “Yeah, Slayer” chimes Derek and Charlie.

Suffocation’s visit to the UK consisted five dates and each night had local bands opening. For the Bristol gig, this included South Walians Democratus and South West death metal bands Seprevation and Embodiment. “It makes sense to the promoters” says Derek, “if Suffocation comes through with a package then you don’t need locals but if Suffocation is out doing a festival run like this and we come to town then yeah, you can’t fault people coming for Suffocation but if you have three or four local bands on then all their local following show up too and they might not even know Suffocation. It’s kinda smart of the promoter to mix it up with local bands, it makes sense; but it’s not like every day we go ‘we want these guys to come along with us … it always works out”.

As is usual with our interviews, we concluded by asking the guys to pick their favourite sheep. Unsurprisingly, given his death metal appearance, the Manx Loghtan was a firm favourite with a vote each for the Boreray and the Wiltshire Horn.

Later in the evening Suffocation demonstrated just why they are so revered in the death metal world with a performance which absolutely killed it. My huge thanks to Terrance Hobbs, Derek Boyer and Charlie Errigo for allowing us nearly half an hour of their time. It was real fun chatting with these guys who were superb and so accommodating. If you get the opportunity to catch these guys live make sure you do and in the meantime, give Of The Dark Light a play. It’s stunning.

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