Vocalist/Founder Alex Erian
Interview By Lord of The Wasteland
To say I was knocked for a loop by THE HEALING PROCESS, the new CD from Quebec, Canada? s Despised Icon, is an understatement. The band?s sound is described as ?deathcore? in the promo materials and that certainly wouldn?t be far off. THE HEALING PROCESS combines technical death, grind and a few breakdowns to concoct an album so brutally heavy, so musically complex and so perfectly played that it is sure to top my list of 2005?s best releases.
I managed to catch the band live here in Vancouver (read review here) during their three-week Canadian tour that lead up to the release date of the new CD and despite only playing for a half hour, the band smoked. After the band returned home again in late April, I spoke with Despised Icon vocalist/founder Alex Erian about the new CD, the burgeoning talent of the Quebec metal scene and many other things.
THE HEALING PROCESS came out on April 5th. How has the response been so far?
I?d say people?s response so far to the album and to our live set has surpassed our expectations. Lots of kids have been writing us and encouraging us to keep on brutalizing. We never expected to get this far so we are fucking stoked right now.
This is the band?s first album on Century Media Records. Can you explain the reason you moved from the Canadian indie label, Galy Records, after only one release?
Eric Galy has become a good friend of mine. I even help him out with his label so the move was on good terms and he understands our decision. Apparently, the EP we released after our debut album on Galy Records is what got other labels interested. At one point, we were talking with Earache, Century, Relapse and Listenable! (Laughs) We got lucky.
Despised Icon has had four releases in 4 years?all on different labels. Why has there been so much shifting around?
To get what?s best for our band, I guess. But I do feel very fortunate to have had stuff released on Relapse and Galy Records. I?m a fan of both labels.
The band?s first album, 2002?s CONSUMED BY YOUR POISON, was straight-up grind. Why the introduction of metalcore on THE HEALING PROCESS?
We mainly wanted to display more of our influence and keep our shit fun to play by introducing new elements. After listening to CONSUMED BY YOUR POISON when it first came out, we felt as though something was not quite as we intended it to be. It showcased a lot of our metal influences and there was that comparison with Dying Fetus and a few other bands that was flattering at first and became a little annoying after a while. That?s why we really wanted to focus on coming up with a more personal sound. I think that we kept the essence displayed on our first album and I?m pretty sure that most of the people who have been following us since the very beginning can acknowledge that. But there have been some changes, too, and that has a lot to do with the line-up change and our will to come up with some of the best mosh beats and breakdowns imaginable. That?s where the whole hardcore influence kicks in. Instead of constantly switching from fast blast beat action to slow mosh type riffs over and over again, like on our first album, we came up with sections for each. The overall speed of our blast beats now is so much faster than before!
Who is doing the hardcore vocals and who is doing the death/grind stuff?
Steve [Marois] takes care of the low death metal stuff and high screeching grind screams. I do a little bit of those from time to time but mainly handle the hardcore stuff.
Why have two vocalists in the band?
We wanted the vocals to be as diverse as the styles that we cover in our music and figured we could come up with some pretty extreme stuff by using two vocalists. I?d say that our live set is very aggressive because of it.
How do you and Steve split up the vocal parts?
Steve and I listen to the music and come up with vocal patterns for one another. Then, we simply decide who sings where depending on that type of riff and whose voice would fit better over it. Sometimes, he?ll lead in a certain part and I?ll simply do back up vocals to underline a certain part and sometimes it?s the opposite.
What happened to Helene-Marie Landry, who did the vocals on CONSUMED BY YOUR POISON? A female singing death/grind is VERY rare!!
She quit the band to pursue other things and I left my drumming position in the band?I played drums on the first album?to replace her on vocals.
The new songs have unorthodox song structures. ?Immaculate??s slower mid-section slams into blast beat-filled chaos and ?Warm Blooded? shifts seamlessly between metalcore and grind. Do you go in planning to write something that will screw with people?s heads a bit (laughs)?
Maybe a little bit but we mostly try to come up with different song structures so that the album sounds less linear. That?s a difficult task for bands like us, I guess, but if you do listen to our new stuff a lot you might notice that certain songs like ?Bulletproof Scales? and ?The Sunset Will Never Charm Us? have simpler and more catchy song structures while the songs you mentioned are more chaotic.
Regarding the technical riffing on ?Bulletproof Scales? & ?Harvesting The Deceased.? Are these as hard to compose as they sound?
No, we hardly ever force things. It comes naturally, I guess. We don?t try to invent riffs that we can?t master. We play what we know we can pull off correctly live and on CD.
Are the versions of ?Warm Blooded? and ?Bulletproof Scales? different on THE HEALING PROCESS than the ones found on the SYNDICATED MURDERERS E.P.?
No, they are the same but I sort of like the ?Warm Blooded? version on the EP better and ?Bulletproof Scales? is way better on THE HEALING PROCESS.
Your guitarist, Yannick St-Amand, did a fantastic job with production on THE HEALING PROCESS. Will he continue to handle the band?s sound or will you go for an external producer in the future?
Well, Yannick produced the album, J-F Dagenais (Kataklysm, Misery Index) mixed it with Yannick?s help and Alan Douches (Unearth, Shadows Fall) mastered it. The result was pretty cool. We plan on investing more on the next recording and right now the plan is that Yannick will produce it once more and we?ll get a big shot to mix it.
With his studio work outside of the band (Horifixion, Augury, Ghoulunatics), is Yannick a producer first and a guitarist second or vice-versa?
Is he a producer first and a guitarist second? I?d say equally both.
Very cool cover art for THE HEALING PROCESS. Who did it?
Gab[riel McCaughry, vocals] from Ion Dissonance took care of that. He did our shirt designs as well.
How did the Relapse Records split release with Bodies In The Gears of The Apparatus come about?
Actually, we had just finished recording THE HEALING PROCESS when Relapse approached us to do this split CD. It was Drew [Juergens]?s idea. It was his last project at Relapse before leaving the label to manage Lifeforce Records in North America. He basically asked us if we wanted to do this split CD with Bodies In The Gears of The Machine, a band that I already knew and liked. We had no more songs because we had just finished recording all of our new material for the album so we wrote and recorded 3 new songs in a month! I?m glad we got to do this because I love most of the bands on Relapse. It?s an honor.
The songs from the split CD were all written by yourself & Eric Jarrin. Is this the case on THE HEALING PROCESS, too?
Yeah, Eric and I wrote about 85% of the music.
Do you write all your own lyrics?
Steve and I write the lyrics. The ones on the new album are mostly mine but he and I are on the same page as far as what we write.
In the liner notes of the split CD, why is the ?c? omitted from Jean-Francois Dagenais? name?
(Laughs) Because the cover was done in the US and the graphic designer?s computer could not read this: ?. We hadn?t noticed at the time. Jean-Francois is actually supposed to be spelled Jean-Fran?ois.
Despised Icon just wrapped up an extensive Canadian tour with Ion Dissonance. How did the tour go? Any highlights or lowlights?
The tour was cool. Some good shows and some that were a little sketchy but it was all in good fun. We basically started out around the same time and have been hanging out and helping each other for a while. Gab from Ion Dissonance did our album cover and shirt designs while Yannick recorded their first album. Our drummer Alex Pelletier and Antoine from Ion Dissonance are cousins and learned how to play together in high school. Just about everyone in both bands has shared other bands in the past. Anyway, you see the point. It was cool to tour with good friends. Lowlights would be some of the badly booked shows we played like the one you checked out. It was apparently promoted only five days before the show or something like that?? Highlights would be Ion and us spanking girls in a dance club somewhere in St. Catherines. Apparently, it?s socially accepted there (laughs).
Will there be a U.S. or European trek in the near future?
Our next tour starts tomorrow with a few Canadian dates with The Red Chord and If Hope Dies and then a few U.S. dates with Ion Dissonance and Buried Inside. After that, we play on the Maryland Deathfest and embark on our first U.S. tour the same day with Deicide, Immolation, Skinless and With Passion. Some Canadian dates are scheduled on that tour, as well. And finally, we play a few shows with Skinless on our way back home. The tour will last 5 weeks. Only one day off.
Congrats on the MIMI (Montreal Independent Music Initiative) Award for ?2005 Rising Star?! Vancouver has no notice of metal bands with our local scene. How did a band like DI even get noticed?
I don?t know (laughs). We just got nominated for that award but never won it. It was actually a little weird because we were the only metal/hardcore band nominated. It?s usually an award ceremony for alternative and rock bands. We never had a chance to win but did get lots of votes, though.
Why is the Quebec metal scene so strong with older bands like Kataklysm, Cryptopsy, Neuraxis, Gorguts, and newer bands like Augury, Horifixion, Magister Dixit, UnexpecT, etc.?
There are literally hundreds of metal and hardcore bands in Montreal and Quebec in general and lots of kids come to shows here so the scene is very strong. Keep an eye out for Beneath The Massacre.
Neuraxis? Steven Henry & Ian Campbell do guest vocals on ?Oval-Shaped Incisions? from the split CD. Are you still friends with those guys and why did you leave the band?
Steven, Ian and Rob are actually my next door neighbors and everyone in Neuraxis has remained good friends of mine. I actually just did background vocals on their new CD this week. I left the band because of arm injuries that made the whole drumming experience suck. I still miss it but I feel fortunate that I learned how to scream quickly and was able to recycle myself as a vocalist (laughs). I?m happy with the switch. No more drums to carry around!
How is the dynamic of DI different from that of Neuraxis?
It?s different. Every band has a certain way to write music, manage and organize it?s time and activities. I have a lot more control over what goes on in DI because I sort of manage the band.
Have you always been a songwriter since no songs appeared on Neuraxis? A PASSAGE INTO FORLORN written by you?
I actually contributed a lot in the songwriting of Neuraxis? TRUTH BEYOND? and A PASSAGE INTO FORLORN but for some reason they never acknowledged that in the credits. That did disappoint and the boys have realized since then how much I contributed to their music once they started writing stuff without me.
How does a DI song come together?
We don?t write music like most bands do. On about 75% of this album, I?d basically write an entire song on drums and program the beats one after the other on computer. Eric [Jarrin], our guitarist, and I would then study those drum patterns, write the music over them and re-work certain arrangements with the rest of the band. We put a lot of emphasis on coming up with a tight rhythm section and build everything around that afterwards.
CONSUMED BY YOUR POISON had four out of ten written songs in French. THE HEALING PROCESS does have some French as well but just a few lyrics here and there. Will you continue to write in French?
Marie wrote the French lyrics and she?s gone now. Steve and I write more freely in English, so we?ll stick to it. I did insert two sentences in French somewhere in the album because it sounded better that way.
Lyrically, this isn?t happy stuff. Where do you get your inspiration from?
Our lyrics are mainly a way of coping with all the negativity that surrounds us. THE HEALING PROCESS demonstrates that something positive can surface once you confront all of those regrets, fears and uncertainties that are depicted in our lyrics.
As a former drummer, how much input do you give on the drum patterns for Despised Icon?s music?
I did come up with a lot of beats on the album but our new drummer can do whatever he wants with them. He will often keep the overall idea of the beat and add his own style to it. He is so much better then I was behind the kit and practices all the time. I really feel fortunate to have him in our band.
When CONSUMED BY YOUR POISON was released, you were all in a few bands. Now that Despised Icon has got a deal with Century Media, has it become your main focus musically?
Aside from Eric, we all quit our other bands and that had nothing to do with our signing to Century Media. We had all left our previous bands before even started talking to the label. Playing in a few bands is fun but it gets pretty hard to stay focused and plan stuff. We wanted DI to become our priority.
Death metal & hardcore?what made you think that this combination would work?
We are fans of both scenes and wanted to do something that reflected that state of mind.
?Deathcore??who came up with that description? Are you worried about being pigeonholed by giving DI?s music a label?
That title existed before we were around. I?m not sure where it came from. I guess deathcore or death metalcore is an accurate description of what we do. I don?t think that we are being pigeonholed in that sense.
What is that voice/sound looped on your website?
I think it?s a part of ?The Shining? played backwards.
**Many thanks to Alex Erian for taking the time to answer these questions given the band?s very busy schedule.
Read my review of THE HEALING PROCESS and all reviews of Despised Icon releases at Metal Rules here.
Read my review of the April 11, 2005 Despised Icon show in Vancouver here
Visit Despised Icon?s Official Site