Mark Van Erp
Interviewed by David Leslie
Mark Van Erp was the bassist in the early days of some notable death metal bands such as Monstrosity, Cynic, and Malevolent Creation. We recently caught up with him to talk about his death metal days.
Hello Mark! I have to tell you, I was on hunt after you for a while to get somehow your e-mail address, because it was my dream to do with you an interview. Have you ever done interviews for Hungarian fanzines? Do you often get requests?
No, although flattered, I am amazed that someone or anyone would care to know more about me.
When and how did you get in touch with metal music in general? Which bands, musicians have had an effect on you? Did you collect vinyls and tapes?
My brother my first exposure to that genre. Took hold of me from there. Rush. Learned all Geddy Lees shit back then. Steve Harris from Iron Maiden and John Enthenswhistle from the Who. Not anymore, in this day and age you can get it all online. Rush was the first band that got me into bass guitar.
How did you discover death metal? Did this music captivate you? Did you take part at that time in the underground tapetrading circulation?
Paul Masvidal from Cynic, we went to boarding school together in 83-84 in New Lebannon NY, an amazing musician. Of course I was captivated, you’d be foolish not to be. I didn’t take part really in the tape trading circulation.
When did you decide to be musician? Why did you chose bass? Did you learn from yourself –I mean self-taught- or did you also take some basslessons? Who are/were your favourite bassplayers?
When I was 13 and saw a live band at a firehouse. Saw a coverband, playing Aerosmith and other stuff. I chose bass cause my hands were too big to play a 6 string, guitar. I couldn’t finger guitar with 4 strings, thought it would be easier. Favorites, Geddy Lee, Rush, Steve Harris, Iron Maiden, Chris Squire, Yes, Cliff Burton, Metallica.
Did you take bassplaying seriously? How often did you practice? Did you play in several school bands?
When first started, that’s all I did and absolutely. I practiced every day 3-4 hours everyday. I played in the school Jazz Band from 9th-11th grade.
Your first band was Cynic, which was founded by you and drummer Sean Reinert. How did you meet each other? Whose idea was to establish Cynic? Were you musically on common currency?
Not true. First band was Cynic, founded by Paul Masvidal and Sean not me. They had idea for band, I was in school with Paul, but Paul and Sean already had plan and songs together, and went to Florida and started playing with them. I went to Florida and was cool with what they had together but it was all still new to me. Wasn’t familiar with the music, easy enough, but unique. Wasn’t my first band, but first band we realeased a demo with.
When did the line up of Cynic become complete? Was it hard to find the suitable members for the band? Did you know them earlier?
When myself and Jack Kelly came to Miami in the fall of 1987, they told me to come and jack was with me and fell into the singers spot cause he was with me and it just worked out that way. At that point the four of us all came together. Yes, see above from boarding school with Paul to my friendship with Jack through another buddy of mine that introduced us and we hit it off.
How was at that time the death metal scene in Florida? Which bands respectively fanzines were there at that time? Did you often go in several clubs to see bands live? Can you speak us detailed about this period?
Tampa florida was the death metal capital of the county at that point, probably still is. We were into bands like Death, Nasty Savage, Distruction, Sodem and Venom and definitley Slayer.
Did death metal start with the formation of Mantas (they changed their name later Death), Massacre and Morbid Angel? They were the very first death metal bands, weren’t they?
I’d have to say no. I would think Venom and Destruction and Sodom for me were the first bands.
The most famous and the biggest metal band for me are Nasty Savage, I love all of their records? Do you like them as well? Were they the precursor of the formation of the metal scene in Florida? Without them wouldn’t have been metal scene in Florida, haven’t it?
That’s true, played a show with Nasty Savage in 1988. I loved them then, not so much now.
How were your rehearsals? How often did you rehearse? Did you write own tunes or did you play some covers as well? Which were your favourite songs, which were you liked playing?
We rehearsed everyday. We wrote our own music but we also played covers like Agnostic Front, The Ramones and Metallica, unfortunatley. My favorites were, back then I was into Destruction and Slayer but we didn’t play that stuff other than Black Magic. Loved playing anything and everything with the bass.
Would you say that Cynic were the pioneers of complex, progressive, jazz influenced death metal – or Atheist (earlier R. A. V. A. G. E.) who have popped up earlier with this kind of music than Cynic?
They didn’t pioneer it, I don’t think, but they took it to an extreme. Paul, Sean and I were really into DBC dead brain cells from Canada.
You played on two Cynic demos („Demo ’88” and „Reflections of a dying world” – 1989). How do you remember about these tapes? What kind of reactions did you get on them? Did the demos spread your name worldwide? Could you speak detailed about these demos?
Demo ’88 we did Miami dade community college. It was my first studio experience. Production was weak, but it was our first demo. "Reflections of a dying world" we did at a studio. The engineer was a coke-head who was falling asleep all the time and he juiced us for a whole bunch of money but we sent it out everywhere we could. We were okay with what it sounded like at the time. We got reviews good from fan scenes not from record labels. The demos spread our name worldwide from fanzines that revieweed them and the ones that ordered via mail. We had a good local following in Miami.
Why and when did you leave Cynic? Did you regret departing them?
At the time I did regret it. I was basically kicked out I guess because Tony Choy had become friends with Paul and Sean and was a good bass player. For one reason or another it was a better move for them and basically for me too I guess. Those guys are the best musicans I ever played with.
After Cynic you became a member of Monstrosity. By whom was the band in 1988 established? Was the line up complete when you joined the band?
Wrong! After cynic I was in jail for 6mths and joined Malevolent Creation I was with them from 10/89-9/90. Did form monstrosity until 9/90. Monstrosity was formed by me and Lee and George. For the first few months it was me and Lee then we got john John.
At that time there was another band called Monstrosity, but they were from Finland. Did you know them? Didn’t this confuse the fans the American Monstrosity with the Finnish one?
Never heard of them. Check your facts?
Monstrosity recorded at that time two demos („Horror infinity” – 1991 and „Darkest dream” – 1992). What can you say about these demos? What do you recall of the recording sessions?
We recorded ‘Horror Infinity’ as a demo then got signed and released our album, ‘Imperial Doom’. We had discrepancies with the label and decided to record another demo and that was ‘Slaves and Masters’ not ‘Darkest Dream’. ‘Darkest Dream’ was a single that the label nuclear blast records released. I recall from then George’s vocals, which were outstanding.
Were they a perfect representation of the band and did they sound close to what you wanted to achieve with Monstrosity?
Horror Infinity we were happy with, we thought it was solid as a first demo. Darkest Dream was a single, not a demo. I had a big part of myself in Darkest Dream and thought it was awesome.
Did the demos help to develop the band’s popularity in the underground?
Absolutely, we sent it to every fanzine we had an address for at that time, and as stated if not for their interest it wouldn’t of made it into the hands of the label.
What type of friendship did you build up with the other Florida acts at this point?
Well, we did shows with morbid angel, obituary, massacre, deicide, manvelolent creation, nocturnous, and of course canibal corpse. As far as friendship goes we’d see each other in public all the time and would hang out when we did shows together. Music was always a common ground with the fellows and always respected each others talent. There were a select few that outside of shows saw each other socially on occasion.
With the infamous „Horror Infinity” demo, the band was signed to Nuclear Blast Records, is that correct? Were there other labels interest in the band as well?
Yes. Not as agressively as Nuclear Blast. At one point we were going to add James Murphy as a second guitarist and based on that, Road Runner Records was considering signing us, but then James sorta backed out and Road Runner did as well. James was a respected guitar player and was with several respected bands and assumed that would be what would sell more records.
It means, that this was the demo that you got picked up by the label or did they have an eye on you for a longer time?
No not really. The demo was what brought the attention to us. They got the demo through other underground fanzines that we sent to, to be reviewed, we didn’t send out to labels, they contacted us based on the buzz created by the underground.
The songs of the demos have landed on your debut album „Imperial doom”. Why didn’t you write newer tunes? Did you simply re-record the demo songs or…?
We wanted the demo songs on the album and from the time we released the demo to the time we signed with Nuclear Blast it was only a few months, and they wanted us in the studio as soon as possible. The demo was four songs and we had nine songs on the album. It was a matter of timing.
What about the recording sessions of the „Imperial doom” record?
Everything went smoothly to my recollection. Although we remixed the original mix, which I don’t think anyone heard, because their were changes we felt as a band, that had to be made.
Would you say, that you were prepared to cut the material?
Absolutely. We always practiced six to seven nights a week in preparation of recording, I will say, I did most of my bass tracks in one take. It wasn’t my first time in a studio so I was familiar with the process, as were we all, we were all on top of our game, my opinion of course.
Did you have a decent budget to record the stuff?
We went over budget a little with the remix, I think it was just over $13,000, with everything. The original budget if I recall was 9,000. The label didn’t nickle and dime us, but Jim Morris was a little upset with having to remix it. Although thinking back I wasn’t happy with the remix. All in all it was a good debut album.
As far as the song composing, who was responsible for the music and for the lyrics? How did Lee Harrison end up becoming the songwriter?
Me, John and Lee wrote and collaberated on all the music and Lee wrote all the lyrics. There were a few songs that Lee and myself wrote ourselves.
„Imperial Doom” is now considered a death metal classic and is just 35 minutes of excellent old school death metal how do you see it?
35 mins huh?…I didn’t know…to me it was a great experience with guys who were as tight with each other as friends as we were with the music we played.which, in my opinion is the best any band could hope for, classic or not. It was something I’ll always feel fortunate for having the opportunity to do.
The album starts out with a blood curdling shriek from George „Corpsegrinder” Fisher on the song „Imperial Doom” which sets a good standard of how the rest of this album will sound, do you agree with it?
Absolutely, George was put on this earth to be a death metal vocalist.
The guitars have an nice tone and the guitarists, Jon Rubin and Jason Goble, also provide some nice solos for the album, the riffs are all nice, memorable, and catchy too, you also do a good and excellent job on the album and Lee Harrison is also very good on the drumming duties, he uses a good amount of blast beats, but they are used tastefully, and don’t get annoying, what’s your opinion about it?
I agree…I think we all did a good job…
The album has only highlights and hasn’t low points…
Glad you think so…we weren’t looking to make low points.
Would you say, that melodies here are reductively simplified, in the style of rock harmonies, but overall they follow a vocal complement that is not entirely monotone?
Well …to me…eventhough its death metal…I think its important to have a sense of melody…wouldn’t go as far to say we were concerned about a “hook” ..but to have catchy chorus like parts is imperative in any song writing.
Traces of vestigial influence can be heard in this music, with an influence of heavy metal almost in the lines of Blood Feast or Death, but a large degree of classic death metal lexicon from Slayer to Master to Morbid Angel and beyond, what do you think about it?
Well …congratulations your english vocabulary has surpassed mine…I can say we were all influenced by these bands…as well as many others…we did what we did without being concerned what others were doing.
This bunch of 9 deadly songs in that lovely, technical and cpomplex Florida death metal style is pure heaven (or hell, whichever one prefer), is that correct?
I guess it’s a matter of opinion…but I like to think so….
Do you think, that on the record are technically spiced tunes, such as „Imperial doom”, „Immense malignancy”, „Vicious mental thirst”, „Horror infinity” and "Final cremation”?
Well..it was always important to me to make songs or parts that were difficult to play …which kept it interesting.
„Imperial doom” is a true gem in death metal history, do you agree with it?
That’s a great compliment …so many years later…to me …the fact the lee and the fellas are still keeping it going is the most impressive ..as opposed to a great band that has been totally forgotten or inactive.
The nine crushing songs were produced by Jim Morris. Was it unambiguous for you to work at the Morrisound Studios? Were you happy with his work?
Wait…let me look up that big word….?ok…morrisound is a great studio and is/was in our home town..and recording death metal isn’t like recording other types of music…. So being in a studio that knew what we were looking for was important to us.
Do you think that Morrisound became a popular studio for the death metal bands and they made a name for Scott Burns (and vica versa)? Did they garantuee the best quality?
Don’t remember any garantees……if you start with shit that’s what you’ll end up with…I think it was the best decision we could make at the time.
The artwork was made by Dan Seagrave, by the famous death metal painter, how did he end up becoming the designer of the artwork? Was the cover of „Imperial doom” one of his earliest works?
I don’t think so….he was sought after at the time so we went with it. It was kinda his own vision…which was cool …to many bright colors for me …but at the time we were happy to get it done and out….
„Imperial doom” was released by the German label Nuclear Blast. Do you still remember, how did you get in touch with them? Did they do a great promotion for you? Which bands were at that time by them?
They got in touch with us because they got our tapes which were sent by underground. They didn’t do as great as a promotion as we would of liked. Pungent stench, dismember, master were around at that time.
Nuclear Blast was a very good underground label at the late ’80-s/early ’90-s, they focused on the death metal bands. Nowadays it seems like they sign almost every band. What do you think about it?
The almighty dollar!!!
The album went on to sell 50,000 worldwide and received excellent ratings in the world press, does it mean, that it was a successful release?
50,000 huh?…maybe I should be interviewing you….I was told it was only 29,000…then again that was nuclear blast….better yet lets get Markus on the phone…. Sure sounds like a sucsess for them.
Upon the release of „Imperial Doom” in the States, the album rose to #25 on the US CMJ college radio charts and to #21 in Sales, is that correct?
That sounds kinda generous…I have no idea.
A triumphant tour of Europe was accomplished by traveling to Austria, Switzerland, Holland and Germany, how did the tour go as a whole and what kind of memories do you have? Was it your first experience in Europe?
We played with pestalence, kreator, torture. The tour was awesome. The audience was awesome absoulutley satisfied. Experiences??? Hash bars and warm beer!!! Getting loaded and having to schlepp pestilences gear at the end of the night….wasn’t my first experince in europe…I have family in Holland.
How were you received by the fans?
Great…I thought….can’t remember a bad show.
Why didn’t you play on the occasion of the tour in Hungary? In my opinion you were very popular in Hungary back then.
We didn’t have mgmt our label was concerned about promoting us in europe. We couldn’t go down there on our own without our label fessing up tour money, what were we to do?
During the tour you have shot a clip for „Final cremation”, which later was released on the compilation „Death is just beginning”. Was it a live footage?
Yes it was in Hamburg, Germany.
While in Germany the group shot a video clip for the song „Final Cremation” and was later released on a video compilation „Death is the Beginning” by Nuclear Blast Records, Germany, what do you recall form this?
Well ….it was filmed in Hamburg and was done during a sound check and a live performance….and George slayed some hag in a stairwell.
Was it a live clip that had the purpose to promote the record?
Like I said ….half and half.
Do you consider important to take part on compilation albums? Was „Death is just beginning” a cool compilation? Do you perhaps remember about „At that’s door” compilation which was released in 1993 by Roadrunner?
Yes and yes. Yes important and yes, a cool compoliation. Deaths door compilation put out my manevolent creation that I played on . Sure….it was cool to do a video shoot….
Do you perhaps remember about „At that’s door” or „Raging death” compilations?
No …I don’t.
After the tour happened a lot of member changes in the band, guitarists Jon Rubin and Jason Gobel respectively you have left the band, why did you decide to leave? Did you take part ways on a friendly term at the end? Were there any conflicts within the band?
Yeah…we had gotten Jason Morgan on guitar ….me and him didn’t get along so well….eventhough he is a incredible guitarist. Hmm…what happened with that. Jason wasn’t in the band just brought him in the band to do the album cynic was his thing, and huh…John Ruben just kinda like….faded out there for a while and we got Jason Morgan. Conflicts…isnt there always conflicts???
Because you have taken part in the death metal underground, I ask you, in your opinion, to what could be thanked death metal its popularity? Why was death metal so popular at the late ’80-s/early ’90-s? Why did become Florida the center of the American death metal scene?
Testosterone and good weather????
Most of the bands came from Tampa, but you were from Fort Lauderdale. How far were you from Tampa? Didn’t you think about moving to Tampa, to be closer to the scene?
Lee the drummer was born and raised just south of Tampa and when I left manevolent actually Lee came to Lauderdale and that’s when we got the band together and then we moved to Tampa.
Which bands were still from Fort Lauderdale? Hellwitch, Malevolent Creation? Did you often travel to Tampa to play gigs? Were many festivals and gigs organized at that time in Tampa?
Festivals, no. Gigs all the time. We traveled all over the place to play gigs……name the state, we were there, we went everywhere!!!
In the middle of the ’90-s was another trend in fashion: grunge and pop/punk music, which almost killed real metal. How do you remember that period?
Grunge didn’t apply to us, we werent grunge and we werent glam. Which was what was the mainstream at that time. Basically we weren’t gonna do what what was happenin at that time we didn’t conform with mainstream we were us. All purpose metal regardless what everyone else was doing.
Would you have thought that Cannibal Corpse would release their 10th album this year? Did you already listen to their new album „Kill”? Do you often listen to at home death metal records?
I don’t listen to death metal anymore. I still respect the talent it takes to do it, and I’ve just changed as a musician in a different directon.
Do you follow the career of Monstrosity? Do you like their other records?
I follow whats going on with the band but I’m not familiar with their last few albums.
In your opinion, why do they always fight with permanent line up changes? Didn’t you think about to join Monstrosity again? The only former member is nowadays Lee Harrison.
Basically because its not easy to find people to deovte the time to do an album in a strange city and most of they guys were from a different city and had to move and relocate their lives.
Why couldn’t Monstrosity reach that popularity what Morbid Angel or Cannibal Corpse could? In my opinion, Monstrosity have never got that acknowledgement, what they would have deserved.
In my opinion because of a 4 year gap between albums and the second album didn’t get the same wide spread release like the first album. It was a 4 year gap.
We haven’t heard about you after you have left Monstrosity. Could you sum up your career after you departed from Monstrosity?
I do whats important to me as a musican but that’s whats its always been about. I may not be putting out albums but I’m true to myself and enjoying my music and furthering my musical talents…currently teaching myself piano. I’m always looking to expand my talents.
Are you permamnent memeber in Holy Mother? Didn’t you think about to form an own band?
No I’m not. I’ve played in several bands that nobody has heard of but just enjoy playing with musicians who love the craft like myself.
What do you think about the present death metal scene compared to the late ’80-s/early ’90-s? How much did change the scene? Are there still talented death metal bands at the surrounding of Fort Lauderdale?
I cant give an accurate judgement on that, I just hope its booming for all my buddies, I’m sorta outta the loop, that’s why its taken a year and a half to get this interview back from me.
What do you say about the reformation of Obituary, Suffocation and Hellwitch? What would you say about „Frozen in time” (Obituary) and „Souls to deny” (Suffocation)? As I as know, Hellwitch are working on a new album, aren’t they?
I couldn’t tell you man, I’m not familiar with any of that stuff, but I’m sure its awesome.
A recent pic of Mark
Which bands would you vote in the death metal Hall Of Fame? Why?
Death because chuck deserves it. Destruction because I like them. Venom, because they were one of the first that I can remember.
My last question: please tell us the first ten death metal classics of all time, in your opinion! Could you say some words about these records? Did/do they play an important role in the death metal scene?
For me personally but I’m not a death metal critic, for me though….i can give you ten records….
Destruction – infernal overkill
Destruction – eternal devestation
Slayer – show no mercy
Dbc – dead brain cells
Slayer – hell awaits
Morbid angel – alters of madness
Athiest – piece of time
Death – lepracy
Possessed – 7 churches
Pestalence – consuming impulse
Carnvivore – retaliation
Off the top of my head to name a few.
Mark, thank you very much for your answers, I hope you enjoyed this interview. I wish you all the best and good luck. Imperial doom rules!!!
Thanks to my girlfriend Diane for typing all this bullshit cause you wouldn’t have gotten all these answers. Extra special thanks to captain morgan for getting her loaded and myself, and being able to convince me that it mattered that I answered these questions cause some people just may care.