Susperia – Bassist Memnock
Interviewed by Alan Gilkeson
Just three months ago Susperia were riding high, preparing to release their new album ATTITUDE, and anticipating UK tour dates. Then the unthinkable happened. Their singer Athera (Pål Mathisen) fell victim to a massive heart attack and had to undergo a triple bypass surgery. In Def Leppardesque fashion, Susperia have waited on their mate and are set to tour Europe and play festivals, hoping beyond hope to hit North American shores.
ATTITUDE is a killer Thrash Metal attack with a few guest appearances, including the legendary Chuck Billy from Testament. Further cementing themselves among the elite in the Thrash Metal game, armed with a new label and a new outlook on life, Susperia are in position to win over a mass of new fans. Bassist Memnock recently took a few moments to speak to us via the phone from his Norwegian home.
The new album (ATTITUDE) has been out for about a month now. How’s the response been so far?
So far it’s been great man. It seems like people think that this is what Susperia is all about, right in your face Thrash Metal. They also think that this is the best album since UNLIMITED, which is great since most people think that is our best album. The reviews tend to be 5 out of 5, 10 out of 10, so we’re really happy.
How do you describe the album?
It’s harder than CUT FROM STONE. It’s more catchy right in your face Metal. When we wrote the album we wanted to do something that everybody could understand. This album is softer in some ways because of the vocal, yet it’s harder because of the riffing which is catchy and fast, and of course the double bass drum. I would say it’s the most aggressive album so far.
So how is your singer doing (Althera)?
He’s great actually. He’s doing his first show tomorrow. He was really nervous because he had to really work himself back in shape, because his lungs collapsed and everything. Now the doctor has given him the clearance and says that’s he’s better than he’s been ever. When he’s singing his voice sounds so much clearer and powerful. In my book, because he stopped smoking, but who knows. He’s really in a good mood and looking forward to getting back on stage. We’re very psyched about it because he’s better than he used to be. He was born with it (the heart problem) which made it much harder on the heart than a regular heart, but now after the operation he is well and feels so much better singing, and doing everything.
I know you had to use a replacement singer for some shows, was that a tough decision?
Not making the decision, but watching our singer’s eyes when we told him. You could really tell it got to him, that was tough. But he understood that we needed to do these shows to promote the album, and we just made it very clear to him that there’s no way we’re going to change singers. He knows that, just because we haven’t done that so far, and won’t do it. When we first started with the replacement singer he was fantastic, but then again he didn’t have all of the routines that the band has after ten years together. After so long you get certain routines together live. Sometimes we had a hard time because all of a sudden he was in the way on stage, small things. He was a cool guy, but then again, he has his own band and we want Althera back.
In today’s world most bands can’t manage to keep a line-up together from album to album, let alone ten years, how have you guys done it?
Well, we still all have a very childish sense of humor… this sounds like a marriage doesn’t it, we can make each other laugh. We still laugh after ten years. I think it’s basically communication. We talk to each other. The minute we have a problem or some one pisses you of, you tell them. If you let things go they continue to build up and then people explode, and what the hell is that all about. Nobody knows where it came from. We talk a lot. We’re on the phone everyday just making small conversation. We do things together like go to vacation, stuff like that. We’re still the best of friends after ten years.
I remember that around the time of the last album there were some problems within the band, some arguing.
That is true… somebody didn’t want to put as much effort into the album as they were supposed to because they might have had some girlish problems (laughing), you know how it is. You’re the first one I’m going to tell this too, but we actually went to a shrink with the band, bear in mind this is before the Metallica film SOME KIND OF MONSTER, sat down and had a really heavy chat. Either we deal with this or we go separate ways. That’s how important the band is to us. We’re willing to do that. It really solved the problems because he (the shrink) just looked at us and said, ‘Guys, you’re not talking.’ We started to listen to each other, talk more, and basically that solved it.
When Althera had the heart attack did it change the band’s outlook on life as far as living healthier, quitting smoking and getting in shape?
To be honest I really didn’t have that problem. I work out everyday and am into the Martial Arts, I’ve been doing it for years. I just look at him and say, ‘I told you.’ And he responds, ‘I know.’ (laughing) The other guys in the band are definitely thinking that they need to take care of themselves, realizing it could happen to them too. The guys have quit smoking, which is a good point, and they try to get in shape, which is hard. So yeah, I think everybody has changed their view of life. Althera! Man he’s changed. He’s like, ‘ you gotta live man, you can’t sit around playing World of Warcraft all day.’ We’re all like, ‘Is this coming from you?’
The Switch to Candlelight records must be a big deal for you guys. It’s a label that should give you the impetus you need to be super successful.
Candlelight so far has been fantastic. I know bands always say that about their new label, but we’ve gone from zero to a million. We’re not supposed to say anything about previous record labels, and I won’t, but we could see that they didn’t even put effort into it. They didn’t even try. Candlelight like Susperia, they support Susperia, they promote Susperia. I talk to the American side of Candlelight quite a bit, which is Paula Hogan. She really does a good job for us and tries whatever possible thing that she can. So yeah, Candlelight is fantastic. It’s killer.
I’ve known Paula for a few years, she’ll definitely represent you well.
I wouldn’t want to be without her because she did such a great job on UNLIMITED also. She’s really nice to talk to and there’s always something new. It’s fantastic.
Do you think Candlelight will finally get you guys to the US?
I do hope so! It’s been so many times that we tried and it’s always financial things that stop us. It’s so disappointing, because everybody says you have to tour in the United States in order to sell records. But what can you do. Then you have a financial crisis, then you have this, then you have that, it’s always something isn’t it?
What are your Euro touring plans like for the summer?
We just did a UK tour which was very cool. We’re doing a festival tomorrow, then a bunch of shows in Norway, then a full European tour.
Speaking of finances, isn’t Norway a pretty tough place to even pay for recording music and tours as well?
Oh man, you wouldn’t believe how expensive this country is! A pint of beer would cost you five or six pounds…
Wow, that’s like ten dollars!
And that is the cheap brand. We’re supposed to drink a lot right, but how could we afford it (laughing).
It must be amazing having a legend like Chuck Billy participate on the new album?
Yes. I wish we could say that we were in the studio together watching him do it. It’s all technology nowadays you know. We sent him the song, he recorded the vocal and sent it back. The thing is, when we were touring with him a couple of years ago we just asked him if he would do some vocals for us and he was just like, ‘sure.’ The Testament guys, they are so down to earth. They are the coolest band I have ever toured with. When he said yes we just sent the song with some lyrics and he did his thing, and It turned out pretty good I think.
You guys get compared to Testament all the time. Do you think it’s the similar vocal or the actual music?
I think it’s both actually. There’s not a lot of bands that play the type of Thrash Metal that we do nowadays. I think that’s why, and Testament have kept that really cool Thrash Metal sound. Metallica just went some other way. I don’t know what they’re playing nowadays. Susperia, we just play that old styled bay area Metal. I think that’s why we get compared to Testament. It’s the easiest thing for people to recognize, just because it’s Thrash Metal. Personally, I don’t think we sound like Testament at all.
Althera went for a much cleaner vocal this time around. Was that a band decision or something he did on his own?
I wish we had something to say about it! That was purely his decision actually. It’s not like we sit down and have a meeting to discuss things. He wanted to try something new and feels like he needs to evolve as a singer. I think it turned out pretty well.
Cyrus and Althera get credited with writing most of the songs but how do you approach your bass parts? Do you work closely with the drums or do you wait for the song to be done before laying down the bass?
Every album has been different. It’s true that Cyrus writes most of the songs but we work together and everyone puts in ideas. We do a pre-production and I write some bass lines I think will work, then we head to the studio for recording and then I basically re-made most of the bass lines because I wanted something different from the pre-production. Usually I just kind of followed the guitar but this time it feels more like bass from my point of view.
Do you have any other musical outlets or side gigs?
No, not right now. I was playing in a band called Black Comedy to try different musical interests as they say, but I’m not playing with them anymore. I played with Vanaheim and Old Man’s Child… Old Man’s Child is not really a band. I was a hired gun and you get used and then you get thrown away. Vanaheim was just an old kid band compared to Susperia.
What’s the toughest thing about being in the music biz?
When we started out the downloading thing hadn’t really taken hold yet. Now we finally feel like we have a killer product and as soon as the record’s released you discover that it’s been downloaded over a hundred thousand times. Still I am poor, still I am not a rich musician, still I can’t even try to buy myself a new house. I can’t afford it because everybody’s downloading the album. I’m thirty five now man. I need something to happen. It’s frustrating. I just heard a kid say something like, ‘Why do you have to make money, you should just be happy making music.’ Well then why don’t you go to work the rest of your life and don’t get paid.
Official website: www.susperia.net