Kelly Shaefer of ATHEIST
Interviewed in Feb. 2000 by EvilG
Thanks to Nathan Robinson for helping out with the questions!
Atheist are one of the more influential yet under-rated technical death metal bands of the early 90’s. Unfortunately, the band dissolved in 1994 and now ten years after the band’s first release people are just starting to get it now. In the coming months Atheist’s three CD’s – Piece of Time (1989), Unquestionable Presence (1991) and Elements (1993) will be re-released. The vocalist for Atheist, Kelly Shaefer, recently spoke with with us at length concerning Atheist and to a lesser degree about his new band Neurotica which was formed in 1994 as a (then) side-project.
I hope you don’t mind focusing on Atheist for a while!!
No, I totally understand.
I don’t like to start on a sour note, but maybe we can start with the end of Atheist and why the band broke up.
Well, obviously since Roger (original bassist) died we had tried our best to keep it going and the closest we came was when we had the “Unquestionable Presence” line-up with Tony Choy. When Tony went off and did Pestilence it put us in an ever harder position. We had to try and find another bass player that was going to play stuff that was that difficult to play with the speed and everything. So we got McFallane and we did the tour with Cannibal Corpse tour and it was just really really hard. I decided at that point, even before “Elements” came out, that I was going to put Neurotica together. I was still going to try and do both, and Neurotica was going to be a side-project. In a few months, when the record company called and said they needed a new record, I was already up in Gainesville recording an album with Neurotica. I was like…fuck – what to do. So, at the time Steve Flynn (drums) had already left Atheist and he was going to collage full-time and Rand Burkey and I (Atheist guitarist) were not speaking at that time and it was really bad. I didn’t know what I was going to do so I thought screw it I’ll put together another line-up and see how it goes. So I found the guys and we had exactly 40 days to write and record. We had absolutely no songs whatsoever. We spent 2 and a half weeks writing the songs for “Elements” – which was a miracle because if you listen to the album, it’s amazing how that came out. So it was 40 days from the first riff to the final mix and I really love that album. At the time I was really frustrated with it because it happened so fast and it was very unlike the way we normally wrote Atheist songs. I appreciate it now more than I did then. At the end of it though, we went to Europe and toured with Benediction and when we came home it just wasn’t a band anymore. It was just five guys. The drummer was getting paid, we didn’t really know who he was. Frank Emmi was the guitar player, who was cool, but he was just a good guitar player, he wasn’t really a member of Atheist and I had Rand who had come back in after about two weeks of us writing songs for Elements. He had come in and heard it and really wanted back in, so we worked our differences out. But out on the road, myself and Rand just don’t get along. He’s a really hard guy to get along with. So all those things just made me decide well screw it, I’m gonna leave it be. We have three great albums and I’m really happy with that and I’m going to pursue some other things. So that’s how it ended up.
I read an interview that you had done just after the release of “Elements.” You were asked about Neurotica and if this would ever adversely affect Atheist. You said about Atheist: “I would never walk away from it. It’s a part of me and I can’t get rid of it and I’ll always keep making Atheist albums as long as people will let me.”
And I probably would of…It definitely sounds like I was speaking from a totally different head from where we ended up. To be perfectly honest with you, if Steve Flynn lived here in Florida and I was able to do another atheist record, because I love music so much, I would. I would totally do it. I didn’t think up until this year that our record company would be interested in it. Once we started putting out feelers about the reissues I realized that there are still really a lot of people out there who enjoyed it. We had always felt like an outcast. There was the Morbid Angel’s and the Cannibal Corpse’s and when we were playing our music everybody was just like “what the hell are they doing and what is that?!?!?!” People would yell out “you suck.” We were like – what the fuck? We were working so hard to try to make these amazing songs and nobody gets it. And now they get it. Today, ten years later, they get it. Now you have Gorguts doing a very technical record, you have Meshuggah and al these bands plying their instruments correctly and actually pushing them. Whereas back in the day, everyone was just blast beating their brains out and that was it. So in this day and age, I would definitely feel strongly about doing another record but Neurotica is my priority right now and I’m really happy doing what I am doing. I’m really three different kinds of people. I feel like I can make great dance music, I feel like I can make great death metal, I feel like I can make great rock ‘n roll. If I had enough time I would man, I’d make all kinds of music, it’s the way I am.
Atheist obviously incorporated more than typically bands incorporated into their music like even jazz elements – Steve’s drumming, like you said, wasn’t the typical blast beats, it was quite intricate. What type of artists influenced Atheist, were they jazz or what?
The bands that we were influenced by were of a wide range. We had our early metal days – Mercyful Fate was a huge influence on me, obviously Metallica early on, I used to listen to the demos of early Metallica, but more importantly Rush, King Crimson, Frank Zappa. Stuff like that always amazed us for technical prowess. What really led us in that direction was Steve Flynn. He started taking jazz lessons at a community college and he started turning us on to some really strange beats. So we started looking for strange things after that. I ended up hearing WatchTower and we were like WOOOO holy shit!!! It was just so nuts. Between that and Mercyful Fate…me personally as a songwriter, I was coming from that. I wanted to have like ten different parts in a song. I didn’t want the songs to sound the same for very long. So I would throw in a whole bunch of riffs and piece them together as best I could.
It seems like a lot of this technical type of metal, unfortunately, went over some peoples heads. How well do you think Atheist has been received by metal fans?
Well in hindsight now, it appears that there is some respect there which is really cool man. I think that back then though, the only people that really appreciated it were the writers and a handful of kids across the world. When Atheist sold maybe 40,000 records, we were never as big as Obituary or the other Florida bands album sales-wise. We didn’t really have a fair shot at it because of our record company at that time was really horrible. We should of, in hindsight, signed with roadrunner – we had the opportunity be we thought we wouldn’t be priority there because they had Sepultura and everything. But we should of gone with that label
“I think there will be a lot of kids now that will hear it for the first time and it’s going to make sense to them. It’s going to be sort of right in line with where death metal is”
and we would of probably been more successful. I think the music is probably received now better. That’s what I’m finding out now in the last 18months. I went to see a Gorguts show in Cincinnati, when I was on tour with Neurotica, I ran into Luke and the boys and it was at that moment that I realized that – Holy shit, they are playing what we were doing 10 years ago which is great and it’s amazing that it’s evolved into that but now would be a good time to put out the Atheist records. So that’s when I started working on it and getting all the legalities worked out and putting it back together and re-mastering them. I think there will be a lot of kids now that will hear it for the first time and it’s going to make sense to them. It’s going to be sort of right in line with where death metal is – for lack of a few production techniques and stuff. Obviously the studios now are capturing death metal sounds a lot better. I think the new Cannibal Corpse record sounds amazing, the sound of it, for as fast as they play. So I think it will be pretty cool, I hope.
Obviously, in the day, Atheist was featured in a lot of metal magazines but did you get much coverage in guitar magazines or modern drummer?
Never. We were never ever featured in any of those magazines. As a matter of fact, the only time we were ever mentioned in Guitar Player magazine they made fun of us.
Is that the quote about being saved. (ed. note: It was something like – “These guys better find a religion soon because they need something to save them.”)
What a fucking joke…
It’s like awww…that’s the kind of shit we went through bro, everywhere man. I’d be on stage, I can remember being in San Antonio and people were just shouting “you suck…Cannibal Corpse!!!!” we would just look at each other like – holy fuck! What are ya gonna do man? We would just keep playing, keep toughing it out and could never understand why people wouldn’t give it a shot. As the years have went on, and towards the late 90’s I started hearing it, people started getting it. Morbid Angel started getting experimental and technical….so look at that. All the bands made fun of us too man, well not all of them but a lot of the real hardcore death metal bands were like “what the fuck?!” The shit would just fly right over their head. As for live, we would practice for 6 nights a week and we made sure we did the very best we could but looking back on it now I realize that it was so chaotic. There are a lot of times where it would sound just like a big blur. Without the benefit of having straight beats and stuff like that, live it probably confused a lot of people. I think it’s a lot different now and at least album-wise people will be able to appreciate it a bit more and understand where we were coming from. We were just trying to keep it interesting, to keep it really fun. We didn’t really know what we were doing. None of us can write music or none of us can read music or anything like that. A big part of this was Roger. Roger used to write riffs that were so hard to learn. For instance if you’re familiar with Atheist’s music – “I Deny” starts with this bass bass line (ed. note Kelly imitates the intro bass line.) and we couldn’t play it on guitar so we just went like (ed. note: Kelly imitates the intro guitar harmony of the tune) (laughter). We would write these little single note harmonies over the top of it and it would end up sounding orchestrated. We realized it was like an orchestra one guy is playing one thing the other guys playing something else…we all played something different. That’s what we started doing. We sort of pre-conceived it with you play this, your play that….then ready – go! And we’d play it and it would sound like this machine and sounded crazy. We always did that, it was the formula for all of our songs, to make it a sick as possible. So every time you listen to it you will hear something different. You’ll go like “I didn’t know that guitar was playing that?!.” On the first record it wasn’t quite like that. The second record was the one. “Unquestionable Presence” to me is our best album that we could of made as that kind of band. I just love it so much, I think it’s so experimental and so crazy. If you are a musician you can really appreciate the sick time changes and shit that is going on in there and realize how hard it is to play that shit.
Some pressings of the Active Records release of “Piece of Time” had another band on the CD even though the labeling and packaging was all Atheist and I belive that band was Candlemass. I don’t know how many copies of that got out there – I guess you were aware of the defective pressing?
Actually no. I mean, I think you wrote me a letter and told me about it right?
The other guy that does reviews for Metal Rules, Nathan, he actually has a copy of it with Candlemass on it, yet all the artwork and everything is Atheist.
That happened with Neurotica as well on the first album. They pressed a bluegrass jazz band on it instead of Neurotica. It went out to radio and everything and a lot of people, when our radio people were calling them back about Neurotica saying what did you think of the record and they were like…hmm…it’s not our cup of tea. We didn’t find out until months later that that’s what was happening. We were like – no wonder it’s not your cup of tea, it’s fucking bluegrass!! So, I never knew that until I got that letter and I’m sure it had something to do with MetalBlade, obviously we were both on MetalBlade. They must of made the mistake at the pressing plant. But..,that stinks.
You were talking about how wild Roger Patterson’s bass work was. He obviously was an amazing bassist and I think now people are realizing how many people have been influenced in thrash and death metal by him. I was just wondering about his technique. Did he strictly play with his fingers or was he using a pick?
No, he never used a pick. He was so anti-pick it was ridiculous. Anybody that played bass with a pick, to him, was not playing bass, they were playing guitar. His fingers….man, not just because he was our bass player, but I’ve still yet to see anybody who…man his fingers were like a spider. I told him he should tattoo spider legs on his fingers because he had so much control and so much attack. Usually you see bass players who can play with two fingers really well, some play with three really well, but to play with all four and your thumb as a mute and attack them all with the same sort of ferocity. It was amazing man and he had no idea man, no idea that he was a good bass player. He was just this sort of carefree soul who would bum cigarettes and just hang out and we went to school together and he was just always Rog man….just a dude with no responsibilities and just sat around and played his bass all the time and had no ego at all. He was the friendliest person, just the coolest guy…and it SUCKED when that happened. It was just so horrible. You always hear people talk about their friends after they die and they say “oh, he was such a nice guy” but Roge you know he WAS just the nicest fucking person man. It’s just so tragic that that happened. His talent was so…if he were around now he’d be just shredding because he was always practicing. His technique was purely on accident. He was a big Gene Simmons fan. Gene’s not a great bass player ya know but he was also into Geddy Lee but it was all self-taught. He has a twin brother who plays drums and together they would just practice in their room. When I put Atheist together it was RAVAGE at the time and when I ran into him I hadn’t seen him in a couple of years and it was like – you play bass!! So he came in and none of us really knew that we was really all that good until “Unquestionable Presence” when he was gone and we needed a bass player.
It has been rumored that Tony Choy, the guy who took over bass after Roger, is now playing on a Caribbean cruise ship. Is this just a rumor, and are you are still in touch with him?
I saw Tony about a year ago and he’s not on a Caribbean cruise ship anymore. That’s just a gig he had right after he left Atheist, he went out and played some jazz on a cruise ship. but now, much to everyone’s surprise I’m sure, he’s in a Latin singing group, sort of like the Backstreet Boys (ed. note: CRAPPPPP!!!!!). He’s sort of buffed up now, he put on about 30 pounds of muscle and he’s got his hair all Rico Swavied out and he’s a fucking fool….I love Tony, I think he’s great. I say this totally ribbing him because if he reads it he’ll laugh. But he’s just as handsome as he wants to be. He’s got a great voice and a really incredible knack for putting together a rhythm section. He’s always had a lot of Latin influence obviously because he’s Cuban. So he lives in that sort of community where Latin and samba music exists. I didn’t think he’d be in a singing group, maybe a Latin sort of band but that’s what he’s doing now. Last i checked the band was called “Code 305.” He had some pretty high hope. He was working with people down in Miami and were involved with ‘N Synch and some of those kinda bands. I haven’t heard the band’s name around so…I don’t know what he’s got going on with it but I wish him the best of luck. He’s still playing bass I think a little bit but he’s mostly been focusing on his singing.
And how about Steve Flynn – why did he leave Atheist originally, was it because he wanted to goto school full-time?
Yeah, he’s a really, really, really smart guy. He was offered a scholarship at a school to goto college. His whole family is very college orientated. He needed to pursue that. He wanted to goto college and it didn’t jive with our plans because he had to go full-time since it was on scholarship. It was purely really about schooling. He figured he could always play music but he figured he could never always go to college. But with me I said you could always go to college but we only had this one opportunity – that’s the way I saw it back then. I respect his decision now. Being a little older, I can look back and see he had a really great opportunity to go to school for free. He did really well, he graduated with honors. I just saw him two weeks ago when we played a show in Atlanta and he came out. He still plays, he just doesn’t play in a band. He like a corporate executive at a computer firm. His hair is all short and he’s a suit and tie guy now. It’s pretty wild man. I’m still just a delinquent, playing music. I’m the only one that’s still kicking it. Actually Rand is still playing. He just put together a project with the old singer from Crimson Glory, Midnight…just in the last two weeks.
This is some hot off the press news that nobody knows. I just heard a song and it sounds pretty interesting.
Is it in the vein of Crimson Glory?
It will be a little weirder because Rand is playing guitar you know. But obviously Midnight’s voice is very ummm….
But nobody else is really doing anything man.
Back to Steve Flynn…even though you guys have been called “death metal” I believe the only Atheist song with a blast beat was “On They Slay.” Seeing that the band is bordering on death metal, at least vocally, was it a conscious decision to steer away from blast beats?
Absolutely. The blast beats to us were cheating. We used to have big
“The blast beats to
discussions about it with the guys in Death. We never got along all that well with the guys in Death in the early days because they had a guy named Bill Andrews playing drums and the big thing with us back then was like – Dave Lombardo is like the shit. He would double time on his high-hats for every snare hit and that’s the way you really play fast drums. That is the way that guys who were really good, will double hit on the high-hats for hit on the snare. Well the other guys who were going fast were going “butta-butta-butta-butta” which my mom can do. We used to hate that. People would say “ohhh their sooo fast” but yeah – they’re fucking cheating. To play a blast beat – the only guy who ever did it good was Pete Sandoval. There are guys who are doing it good now, the guy on the Gorguts CD is unfuckingbelievable! Back then, it was so cheesy. That was something we always steered away from, we always made a conscious to do that. We wanted to keep it real, that’s the way we felt at the time anyway.
One thing I always found interesting about Rand Burkey is that he was left handed but played a right handed guitar and left the strings as they were thereby playing the thing upside down. Has he ever attempted playing or learning with the usual string setup?
His mom owned a music store when he was a kid, and he just learned that way. When you play left-handed, in a right handed world, there’s not a lot of left hand guitars around so he had to learn that way. He can play both ways actually, but not as well the other way. It’s just the way he learned, now he’s so used to it. It’s so weird though to watch him. That’s a big part of why his style is so distinctive as well – just his soloing, to be able to pull down on those high strings instead of bending up.
So you haven’t been in contact with him much lately?
I still see him, he’s still here in town. He’s such a mad scientist. It’s really hard for him to find people that he wants to work with. He has a vision of what he wants to do and the kind of people he can do it with. I’m always busting his balls telling him to get a band instead of wasting all that talent. But we can’t play in a band together. I was looking for a guitar player for Neurotica before this album came out, and he was like “how come you didn’t give me a call?” – I told him it wasn’t his style, just not his thing. He just comes from another planet. His soloing is just so weird and so out there that it would be strange to hear him in another band. When I hear him playing with Midnight from Crimson Glory it just sounds like Rand with someone else singing. You can tell it’s him playing. But hopefully he’ll get something cooking.
Did Josh Greebaum play all the drums on “Elements” or was it just on the track “Samba Brisia”?
He played all the drums on it. Actually he was River Phoenix’s drummer, before River died. They had a band out of Gainesville. We happened to run into him in the studio and he’s a great drummer.
So how does Josh and drummer Marcel Dissantos fit into the Atheist picture?
Marcel Dissantos was playing with John Sicotta (sp?) in Miami. He’s a jazz player (a friend of Tony Choy’s) and somebody we felt who could pull off all this shit. That was our biggest thing all the time, finding somebody who could play this kind of thing. Not just this kind of music, but Atheist music which is even weirder. It was hard to get Tony Choy worked in for “Unquestionable Presence.” All we had were the Roger demos which will be included on the “Unquestionable…” re-release, it’s going to be really great! We did the best we could to pick out what Roger was playing. We actually took all the guitar parts away and just had a bass and drum tape for Tony and he did the best he could to pull some of that shit off. Some of it was just so inhuman – like what in the hell did he play?? (laughing). We would sit there and listen to it and go “HOLY SHIT.” We didn’t read music so we though of having someone who could read music write it out so we could figure out what he was doing but he was just throwing notes in where they shouldn’t be and he was very unorthodox. It was very hard. So when Marcel came in we had two weeks then we were going to Europe. We had a week to rehearse and a week to do photos and shit and that was it. Our first show in Holland was out first show with Marcel. It was pretty scary man. He did the best job he could but I’m sure a lot of the people who saw those shows in Europe wanted to see Steve Flynn play. That was my only regret in Atheist, we didn’t get to do a full-blown European tour with Steve Flynn. I think a lot of the kids would of appreciated that.
How did Frank Emmi come into the picture on elements? Where did he come from and do you have any idea on what he’s doing now?
Frank Emmi is a tattoo artist now. I saw him playing in a club in a band called Gentleman Death. Every time I see someone who is really good I always make a note of it and stick it in the back of my head. So about three months later when I needed a guitar player for Atheist because Rand (at that time) wasn’t going to do the album I tracked him down and asked him to join Atheist. He said start writing, I’ll be there in two weeks. That’s how that came about, I didn’t even really know him but we got to know each other later on while we were in Europe. He was just a brilliant guitar player, young and full of energy. I knew he would be able to play really well, so I snagged him up.
You are only credited with rhythm guitar, not lead, on “Elements.” What was your reason for not doing any leads on that album?
Well it would be sort of like a pitcher batting clean-up in a baseball line-up when you got Mark Maguire on the team ya know? It’s like, there is no point in me playing solos when Frank Emmi and Rand Burkey are shredding it out. My soloing has never been my forte. I only soloed sort of in the beginning because I didn’t want all the solos to sound the same. I’ve never been a great solo player, I’ve always been primarily a rhythm player. I felt it would be just an arrogant thing for me to stick solos on their just for the sake of them when I’ve two amazing guitar players here who are much better at it than myself. I have a lot of problems with my hands now with carpel tunnel syndrome, which is why I stopped playing guitar live.
Yeah I remember reading somewhere that you had to warm up for a couple of hours before playing or your would be in major pain.
Now I can’t even do that. All the climbing around all over the guitar playing weird acrobatic shit that we had to play back then caused my carpel tunnel syndrome. I never relaxed myself at the time because I was singing at the same time. Singing and playing that shit was twice as hard. I strained my hands so bad that now as soon as I start to play for any long period of time, with any kind of adrenaline flowing, automatically my hand goes numb and comes right off the guitar, I lose total use of it. There is an operation I can get to fix it up but I’m pretty happy just singing. I’m real comfortable with it now.
Do you still play guitar for your own enjoyment?
Yeah I play a lot. the only time I don’t play guitar is on stage. I still write like 75% of the music on guitar and I just turn it over to the two guitar players that we have now in Neurotica. I write shit, and they just play it. Then I can grab the mike and just do my thing. That’s what we did in Europe with Atheist. Frank and Rand played guitar, I didn’t play live on the “Elements” tour.
There has been a surprising demand for Atheist CD’s and this whole re-issue campaign has come to life…so can you give me the background on this and on how it started and who’s idea it was?
It was definitely my idea. On the Internet I’ve been checking it out and seeing where the scene stands. Like I said, it was when I went to that Gorguts show and I thought hmmm….I had better start checking into this because I had been out of touch with the death metal scene and was focusing on the hard rock scene. And I found out that everyone is (playing) all over the place. I started checking into our record company, who back then just screwed us left and right. we checked into getting the master back and re-mastering them with my current label that I’m on with Neurotica. I talked to them about it and they were very into it, so we started putting it together. When I put up an Atheist website I got a lot of response from people who just said these amazing things, people are so sweet and so cool man. I was like wow, this is really great and it’s a shame that people can’t get them (the CD’s). Then I went to e-bay and realized that people were getting $40.00 for a CD and that’s just wrong, so I though we should put them out.
So who is Superfragile / NMG Entertainment? Is that your label or they signed you?
Superfragile music is our publishing company and NMG Entertainment is my current record label with Neurotica.
And they are the guys re-releasing the atheist CD’s?
Right. K-tel records will be distributing it.
What do you hope to accomplish by re-releasing the Atheist CD’s?
I would love for a whole new group of people to hear and appreciate it. And for the people that were back there when we were making that music, I would like them to have a nice clean copy of it on CD instead of some beat up old cassette that like their friend gave them a couple of years ago. It’s always been so hard to find Atheist records. So my hope is that the 40,00 or so that were into it initially will be able to buy the re-masters and appreciate the fact that they sound 100% better with the technology we have today. They will also appreciate the demos, the unreleased tracks that will be on there. I hope there is a whole new group of people that equals that who will appreciate it for where it’s place is now. I’m in the band so it’s hard for me to see what it means to people, but I think Atheist music has definitely had an effect on the death metal of today. I think that Cynic’s music has also had a big effect on it (ed. note: check out the Cynic picture to the left). And I think that it should be heard and be available. That’s all I really wanted to do, just get all three records back out there so people can check it out. there are a whole lot of people who don’t even realize that Atheist even existed that are listening to progressive and technical metal and I think that they should check it out.
How will the CD’s be distribute in North America or Europe or beyond?
It will be distributed in all the stores through K-tel. They are a really great distributor and they do a really good job with Neurotica and I’m sure they will do a fantastic job with this. It should be readily available at all cool record shops – and CDnow, through the website and from the label directly. So far the response has been really great from zines such as yourself and that really helps a lot.
The three CD’s will see a staggered release, one every two months. Why the two month gap between each release, why not put them all out at once?
That was really our record company’s decision. To be able to promote them properly, each one of them individually, so one doesn’t get shuffled under the rug, this is probably the best way to do it. It’s also a pinpoint focus for writers – for them to be able to listen to one album at a time. It’s certainly hard enough to listen to one Atheist record at a time, if you put all three of them on, we’re afraid everyone might go fucking bonkers – like this band is just fucking crazy. It might be better for them to swallow one pill at a time and put 6-8 weeks in between each one. We also don’t want to hit people up with them all at once. People can’t really afford to go and buy three CD’s at once and I would hate for any one of them to go un-noticed.
How do the other members of atheist feel about the re-release?
They feel the same as myself. They would love for people to be able to hear it. We’re very proud of that time. It’s definitely not a money thing. So
“This is our ten year anniversary. Roger, the anniversary of his death, was just days ago. So this is just really cool, it’s something to bring him back.”
many people just never got a chance to hear it or have lost their CD’s and have never been able to find it. Plus, we’re sort of reminiscing. This is our ten year anniversary. Roger, the anniversary of his death, was just days ago. So this is just really cool, it’s something to bring him back. Ten years is always a good time to reminisce on things. We still feel that the music is really current. When I listen to it I think if it came out today it could certainly hold it’s own, it doesn’t sound dated at all. If anything, lyrically on the first album there might be a few songs on there that are cheesy – “On They Slay” and still like that but I was only 17-18 years old when I wrote those lyrics. My lyrics were pretty cheese ball man, but I came around (laughing). hopefully people will be able to appreciate it just like if it was a brand new album.
I think there are a lot of Atheist fans, myself included actually, who had no idea that Neurotica was still on the go. I had read about it in later Atheist interviews as your side-project but until recently, like I said in my e-mail to you – “Where Are They Now?”
Yeah I was like “oh god! Where are they now? Don’t do that to me!” holy fuck (laughs).
Actually, Neurotica has never been stronger. We actually got our record deal because the guy from AC/DC, Brian Johnson, happened to some into a club when we were playing here in Florida. He got us hooked up with these people and he produced our first record. We were just so shiting ourselves that Brian Johnson, from AC/DC, who had produced no one…AC/DC is not notorious for really helping anyone, and I don’t mean that in a bad way, they just don’t involve themselves with the outside world. It’s the AC/DC world and that’s it. They never play on television shows, they never do Letterman, Saturday Night Live, nothing…they are very to themselves. So it’s amazing to have little us to be getting this attention from him to produce our record. So we did the first album, went out did some touring and we had a song on the radio here in the States on like 85 stations called “Easy Speak.” Now we got our new album “Living In Dog Years” which is really starting to pick up steam, we’ve got a lot of good things going on. It’s just like with anything, when you put a band together it usually takes 6 or 7 years before somebody notices you and then it takes another couple of years before you actually get something done. so, it’s never been stronger. We’re getting ready to leave tomorrow for a 35 city tour. We’re really excited, have you heard the album?
The new one? No – I’ve only checked out the “Deadly Sin” track in MP3.
Brian wrote that song.
He sings back-up on that one right?
Yeah he’s doing back ups but he also wrote the music. That’s what got us the deal actually, he had given us his version of the song which sounded very much like an AC/DC song. we took it and tuned it down and made it a little heavier and we recorded it with him. We’ve got a new version of that song with myself and him sort of doing a duet. It’s going to be in a movie called “A Private War” that’s coming out in the fall or before Christmas 2000. So yeah man, Neurotica kicks ass. It’s a lot of fun, it’s good fucking solid hard rock.
You’re vocal style has definitely changed. I noticed when I listened to a few of the tracks on the Neurotica website that you have actually got a bit of a bluesy sound to your voice now.
It’s changed a lot yeah. It’s definitely night and day from Atheist. It’s something that when I originally, some of the stuff on “Elements” was sort of hinting around (a more melodic style). Once I got the opportunity to get in a regular rock band, where I can write regular rock songs, and not have to go a million miles an hour I found it really fun to be singing. I really sucked in the beginning. I wasn’t projecting correctly, but I feel really good about where I am at now. I still look forward to getting better and constantly learning. Singing is the hardest fucking thing I’ve ever done. some people go “how did you scream that Atheist shit?” and that was nothing compared to singing. I could scream bloody murder like that for hours an never go hoarse, but if I sing three songs I can feel it if I don’t sing it right. It’s definitely one of the biggest challenges I’ve ever faced and I really enjoy it. You’ve got to hear the new album though, it’s definitely way above the first record as far as just the maturity in the songs. There’s a song on there called “Frightening” which will remind people of Atheist, I do a lot of screaming in that one.
Do you still promote the Atheist viewpoint in Neurotica?
Not lyrically no, not really. If I do it’s very abstract. Lyrically I’ve changed quite a lot. I’m able to write about some different things but I touch upon it every now and then in my feelings. There’s a song called “If” on the first Neurotica album that’s based on believing in yourself. I’ve always been a big believer in worshipping the god inside each one of us, and not necessarily the god that is interpreted in the bible. My beliefs are still exactly the same, only stronger but I don’t write about it as much as I was able to in Atheist. It was sort of lyrically then. I could be really blunt and to the point – “Now where’s your god” and “There’s no truth”
“I am my own self ruler”
“I am am my own self ruler. I need not any ministry” yeah (laughs). You know those kind of things in Neurotica I don’t think would be embraced as much as they would in Atheist.
How has the response been from Neurotica from metal fans or Atheist fans?
Surprisingly, amazingly, well! I was frightened to death what people from the Atheist would were gonna think about what I was doing. I could just hear them yelling “sell-out.” I was so hard for me to just sing in front of people and not scream and bang my head and jump up and freak out and just song a mellow song. That’s the hardest fucking thing, other then singing itself, for me to overcome. A lot of the mail that I get now is people that love it both. A lot of those people grew up just like I grew up. They’re in their late 20’s and early 30’s and are sort of feeling the same way about music I think as I am. I grew with them and their musical tastes grew sort of where I am. They love the Atheist for what it was back then but they love Neurotica for what it is now. I’ve been fortunate enough to of been one of the few people in death metal to get away and have another shot at being a mainstream artist – a mainstream HARD ROCK artist. It would be very strange to hear John Tardy (Obituary) start a brand new band like what I’m doing now.
That would be too funny.
Wouldn’t that be funny? So I feel very fortunate and lucky, and I thank everyone for allowing me to do that because sometimes, David Vincent, the whole bunch of us, Max (Cavelera?)..I can’t imagine any of them doing what I’m doing and being able to get away with it. I think for some reason, maybe because of the lack of popularity that Atheist had and the fact that those early death metal bands – obviously we all came out at the same time and we’re all from Florida – but they achieved success before Atheist did. We followed right in behind them but we didn’t get the same kind of success as Obituary, Sepultura and Morbid Angel. So I think that because of that, I was sort of able to re-invent myself without anybody really giving a shit. And only now is Atheist more popular now then we were then I think. So it worked out kind of nice man. I’m able to have a double existence and nobody really gives me any shit.
So has there been any kind of talk about Atheist doing some kind of a reunion or a project or something??
Yeah, people talk about it like “put together another album” but man, it would take us a really long time to do that and to do it right. But on the other hand you know, me and Steve were talking about it a couple of weeks ago. We were saying, even if we did an EP – an EP with Flynn on drums, myself and Rand playing guitar and me on vocals and the bass player situation – it would be nice to get Tony Choy back in there but the bass player I have playing in Neurotica actually would be really great. He’s extremely energetic and a really good player, he would be capable of doing it. It wouldn’t be the same, but it would be interesting and very technical and wild. It may happen. If this ends up being a successful re-issue and there seems to be a demand for more Atheist music then by all means, we’ll go in the studio and bust out some shit. I don’t see it likely that we’ll do any touring just because of our schedules. It would be fun to do another record and I definitely don’t doubt that it will happen, it just wont happen this year, maybe next year.
If I was to take a look at your CD player what kind of stuff would I find?
You’d find a wide variety. You’d find Chris Cornell’s new CD, Cannibal Corpse’s new CD, Mr. Bungle, Kyuss, Atomic Bitchwax, Dr. Drey (ed. note: who wha??), M&M (ed. note: the candies?), Cypress Hill, Chic Corea, you’d find all kinds of different shit. Depending on what mood I’m in – anywhere from jazz to hip hop to fucking brutal death metal to just beautiful songs. It could be anything. Albums like “Lord Heroin” I love that album. But I still love my heavy music man, I still love it heavy. I love C.O.C., the stuff they’re doing now is really great. A wide variety, as long as it’s well played and it’s being felt, I dig it.
So what about the whole black metal thing with popular bands like Cradle of Filth, Emperor and Dimmu Borgir? Have you heard any of that and what do you think of the more extreme forms of metal?
Yeah, I can’t pronounce them but I’ve listened to them before. It sounds very European. I know the guys in Iced Earth, they used to live here in Tampa, I knew Mathew or Matt or whatever he’s calling himself now, he lived here in Sarasota and it’s interesting to see what they’ve done over in Europe and how unacceptable it is here in the States. It blows me away that Europe is now…that America has changed (musically) so much. In a way I understand because of our lack of attention spans and a lack of really being into the music to begin with. I don’t mean to come down on Americans but when you go to Europe, you realize that the kids that love music there love music for a different reason than the kids in America. To them (in Europe) it’s everything. If you live in a third world country, and your favorite band is atheist or Morbid Angel or Slayer or whatever it may be, it means everything to those kids and they’ll do anything they can to get to a show. They’ll drive 250miles, they’ll save their money for months just to be able to come to the show and they are so thankful for it. Kids in America are spoiled. They’re into something one week then the next it’s something else. It’s unfortunate that it is that way but it is. The death metal of today sounds very European to me which I’m sure that scene has been fueled by European kids. I think some of the American death metal bands are starting to sound European now which is really strange because it used to be that the European band were trying so hard to sound like Florida death metal. I think that the sounds are better, the quality of the studios that the bands are recording in now are so much better. It’s pretty cool. Do you know what pisses me off man!!? And I’m glad I’m getting this opportunity to say it now – I think that bands like Korn, Limp Bizkit and all these mother fuckers, all need to give a little props to death metal. They’re all out there pretending that they pulled it out of thin air (imitates some silly Korn song). You and I both know that the death metal scene spawned that. I find it amazing that they never mention any death metal bands. All this heavy Static X all that shit, this is stuff that came from death metal. It didn’t come from Black Sabbath. Metal itself came from Black Sabbath, I love Black Sabbath, they are one of my all time favorite bands. The music of today that is popular, at least a good portion of it, maybe 40%, came from death metal. I truly believe that and I think some props need to be given to that whole scene because death metal sort of got swept under the rug, except for in Europe. It got dismissed as sort of being this moronic form of muscular fucking satanic movement that was in and out the door. Nobody ever paid really close attention to it. You’ll never see death metal bands, rarely will you see them featured in Rolling Stone. Nobody gets any props for being around for ten years or 15 years. Slayer’s been around for 15 fucking years man! They don’t get the same kind of props as rock and roll bands do and that sucks….but I just rambled off and forgot what we were talking about. Bands like that should recognize and appreciate where it came from. So I hope they read this and one day fucking say you’re right. All that screaming and yelling and the deep vocals in that song “Sugar” for instance (ed. note: I think this is a Korn song…) with the “OUUUU” (imitates a death metal growl). You know where that came from – that’s Cannibal Corpse! The “OUUUUUHH” – that’s Morbid Angel man…it’s amazing that they don’t get props. Remember when metal and punk crossed over and they had that sort of hybrid that was happening – well the metal hip-hop thing that is happening now – back then then punk bands would pay homage to metal bands or metal band would pay homage to punk bands for that aggressive approach with really fast drums, really aggressive vocals. We paid tribute to that and I just wish some of the mainstream, popular, I don’t know what they call themselves now – this hybrid scene going on with hip-hop and metal, but the metal side of that shit definitely came from death metal, the aggressiveness anyway.
So what do you think of the hip-hop metal scene with the Korn’s, the Korn Chamber, and Korn Bizkit….
I purchased it man. Everybody is quick to jump on a trend and jump right the fuck off and point fingers. I’m not that way. I jumped on the train and I rode it for a while and I enjoyed it. I think those guys should be given props for making it a popular form of music and for allowing music to be a little heavier now. We should all be thankful that they were able to bust through that scene. I’d much rather turn on the radio and hear fucking Korn than Brian Adams (ed. note: I’d much rather never turn on the radio and listen to my CD’s). I’m glad that I can at least be in a really hard rock band and still get on the radio, that’s really cool. So for that we have Korn to thank and Limp Bizkit to thank. But would I ever do it? Fuck no man! I would never play hip-hop.
So you’re not going to be hip-hopping or rapping…
No sir, I will not fucking Tommy Lee myself out. I just won’t do it. I have purchased it and I do enjoy it on occasion. I’m not shooting it down. What I really like about it are the rhythms. It’s so African. I love African percussion. Obviously we’ve always loved intricate rhythm sections, we’ve tried to put together that in Atheist. That’s what I love about it – the drum beats, I love the hip hop drum beats, there’re so fucking cool. I actually thought about it in 1994, somebody should mix it up because to me I used to listen t hip hop and old Ice Cube and shit like that. I was thinking if this shit had some thick ass guitars it would be the bomb…and no shit – it did. But it was just never me, I just don’t have any hip hop in me to actually perform it. I love to listen to it but maybe I’m just a little too white. (laughter) But I’m one of those crazy white boys you know, I’m not one of the alternative white boys. I do have a lot of respect for people like Butsa rhymes who are percussive with their rapping. The whole hybrid thing is definitely on its way out the fucking door man, and good riddance. It needs to grow into something else. It’s a little sickening at this point. What’s sad about it you can go buy a Sega CD now and pop it in your fucking CD player and mix up your own beats and throw some guitars on top of it and before you know it you have a song. It sounds actually pretty good, but it’s not real music. Have you seen that thing – the Sega music generator?
You’ll see it all over TV here in the coming weeks. They’ve basically sampled every sound possible – big heavy guitars, drum loops, cymbals, everything. Now with your fucking Saga and your controller you can put together your own mixes and you can make some shit that sounds great but there is no soul in it. It’s an empty shell of a song. You can throw heavy guitars over it and before you know it you got a Limp Bizket song. To me I’m a firm believer in…
Playing it yourself…
Yeah, you got to plug it in, bend it around and manipulate it. I like pushing the sound waves around a bit. I don’t like that digital side of it. It would be very easy to make that kind of music but I’m just not into it and I don’t see myself going that way. I could contradict myself like I did in that “Elements” interview there in a couple of years and be using some samples but I don’t think it’s likely. I don’t mind dropping in some drop bass now and then, but I’ll never use a drum machine over a real drummer.
Well man that’s all the stuff I had lined up to ask you about.
Ok man, I really enjoyed it. I appreciate it contact me any time. Let me know what you think of the new Neurotica – if you hate it or love it, let me know.
Well when I first heard that clip, it’s not that I hated it or loved it. I was more like “THIS is the guy from Atheist??”
I know, once people get over that…it would be nice if you could hear it and not know it was me and to say well this sucks or this is pretty good. I think that you’ll hear that the new record is definitely a better record. Let me know what you think though man!
Yeah I will…cool. Thanks for your time.
Talk to ya soon man, keep in touch. Cheers.