Interview with Andrew Laurenson
Conducted by Robert Williams
How are you doing today Andrew?
Your band Common Dead has just released your self titled debut effort through your own AP Laurenson records. This is a pretty ambitious feat considering that you have written all of the lyrics and music, performed all of the instrumentation and vocal duties and mixed the album by yourself. What was it that prompted you to approach this enormous effort as a lone wolf?
Quite honestly, it’s just my personality. I do most things alone. I have no problem working with others, but since I could make this record alone, I went ahead and did it. I had been working in film and sound post-work since high school, and after a couple years on the ax, I figured I would finally take my artistic side seriously. So it wasn’t so much a conscious “only me” type thing, it just came naturally. I also didn’t know any other musicians at the time and really didn’t feel like searching.
You are originally from Chicago and now you are currently residing in Southern, California where you formed Common Dead in 2009. Let’s talk about the geographical musical climate shift you have recently encountered. In your opinion; if you would have remained in Chicago would you have been able to find the right musicians to work with on Common Dead’s music?
It’s hard to say. It’s sort of a “grass is always greener” type thing to think that. I’m not sure how the Chicago music scene is faring right now, but California is pretty superficial and a lot of those guys strike me as dudes I wouldn’t want to work with. Maybe I’m just too skeptical, but that’s my view of it. It’s quite isolating for a guy like me, I’m not a shy person but I’m a speak-when-spoken-to type, you know? So that plays a role.
The debut album contains nine songs; which is a huge accomplishment to produce that much material on your first recording by yourself. From beginning to end; how long did it take you to write, record and complete your vision?
Just coming up with riffs is almost a daily thing to me, but I would say, for just the lead and rhythm on the album, it took a good three months to come up with those nine songs, start to finish. I had a lot of other riffs during that time that got scrapped or weren’t ready. Then the recording and mixing part took a good six weeks, adding whatever backup chords and mechanized drums I needed. My lyrics and vocals came last to fit in with what I had (I read once that’s how Faith No More went about finishing The Real Thing, so I approached it from that angle). I didn’t want to overproduce the record, either. It was important to me, even though it was a one-man studio effort, that what you hear on that record is how I could perform it live with my own voice and guitar in hand (granted I would need backup musicians for the rest. I’m not fucking Goro or something).
How are you currently adapting to life in Southern, California and do you have a substantial metal scene in the area where you live?
Not really. SoCal sucks for metal right now. So few bands are doing anything of substance. It really lost its reputation, which is a shame since this is the coast where so many of the biggest thrash acts were born. Very few bands are playing music, and not just an image. Big difference. Music needs a little image, but when those things start to overshadow the music itself, you have a problem.
Will you be able to find musicians locally to perform your music live with?
Still looking, on and off. I’ve made some very light contacts since the album was released, so we’ll see where things go.
Musically; the material from Common Dead touches ground on a number of different musical genres. What genres and artists would you say make up your primary influences as a composer and musician?
Individually, there is no doubt that Chuck Schuldiner had some serious influence on my riffs. Some of the Scandinavian bands (where my family roots lay, actually) had some pull there, from At The Gates to Amon Amarth. Several American thrash acts from the late 80s and early 90s affected various aspects on the album. Vocally, I am still growing, but for the debut I credit mostly Rob Flynn on The Blackening and Burton Bell for their influence, even a bit of Max Cavalera.
Let’s touch base on some of your lyrical themes on the self titled debut; there is some pretty powerful and personal lyrical platforms throughout the disc. What served as your inspiration lyrically on the debut record?
I don’t like to divulge too much personal bullshit, for sake of not sounding full of myself or like a martyr. But let’s just say a broken skull, alcoholic father, antisocial personalty, stints in mental rehab, all help give you an idea of where some of this stuff is coming from. I use to mask my issues with comedy, but as I got older, I needed to be more honest with myself, and with my art. My dad’s suicide before any resolve played a role in that. Enter Common Dead. I’ve definitely been through more than the average joe. But you know, tough shit. I take that shit and use it like a weapon. Like, buck up, soldier. [laugh] And if you read Common Dead closely, there’s that mentality, where it’s kind of like I’m admitting my flaws, but then saying “And so what? Fuck you. I’ll still take you down.”
Delving into your personal background a bit; you are trained in post production sound and film techniques and have even interned for Sony Pictures. Having said that; can we expect some slick music videos from Common Dead in the future? Do you have ambitions to film and edit music videos for other artists perhaps?
Well the first video, for “Abrupt Legacy”, we shot in the Los Angeles area at this small theater. It turned out really well, I think Kelly [Newman, the director] did a great job getting those shots. I mean, that thing was like so low budget and in near total darkness and we pulled it off. It was inspiring. If I make another one for this album, we’re going to step it up a notch. Yeah, I’ve shot and edited a few videos for other artists, it’s fun, and I have roots going back into film, so directing and editing could re-emerge with me in the future. Anyone that knows me could see that sort of Rob Zombie route happening, but different genres.
It’s pretty apparent after a glance at your website that going into the writing process for Common Dead you were purposely avoiding cliches such as “breakdowns” or “image over substance” that has become so prevalent in many of today’s up and coming bands. However, Common Dead loosely adheres to the NWOAHM (New Wave of American Heavy Metal) tagline. Are you looking to re-define the way people perceive NWOAHM?
NWOAHM is a tricky thing to define as it is. True, on one side of the spectrum you have the “core” bands like Hatebreed, but then you also have the melodic and post-thrash bands like Machine Head. I consider myself more in the shadow of the latter. I like to keep that European riffing intact, so it’s not just chord slamming. I hate “breakdowns”. You would only ever slam one fret for a third of your song if you’re out of ideas. It’s not “brutal”, it’s just effortless. In developing Common Dead’s sound, that demand for intelligible fretwork got paired up with that American-born vocal style, you know, that sounds like a psychotic drill instructor [laugh]. I like that a lot, more than death growls. So especially if you consider the NWOAHM tagline a direct reference to the New Wave of British Heavy Metal, I think that term has all the components you need to describe Common Dead.
I apologize in advance if I am way off of the mark with this next question; but assuming that at the time of this interview you are still operating as a sole proprietor in regards to Common Dead I would suppose that you have no present plans to tour for this disc. Does that free up time to work on a follow up?
Well, Common Dead is not exclusively a solo project. Part of the plan was actually using the debut as kind of a flag in the ground, to show people what I could do just by myself, then remain open to new members from there. I at least wanted that foundation out there on my own, then bring in a session drummer for the next disc, another couple musicians, and possibly tour. But no, not touring yet. I’ll try to build it up as time allows it. I’m always working on something for a follow up.
Where would you like to take Common Dead musically and lyrically on your next effort? By that time do you hope to be functioning as a complete lineup or any thoughts about working with session musicians?
I got some feedback on the vocals, which I am working on honing, and lyrically, I’m definitely getting more cerebral and creative. The lyrics on the debut are kind of simple, I’m looking to improve there. The riffs I’m building up are just leaps and bounds better. You’re always growing as a musician. I want the next album’s songs to have more variation. When I get around to recording, we’ll see if I can get some bigger studio time, really up Common Dead’s quality and like I was saying, maybe have a professional drummer and so forth to up the ante.
Because you are being interviewed for metal-rules.com; it would only be fitting that you answer how you originally became obsessed with heavy metal music; the all powerful lifeforce of headbangers worldwide…
My original draw to metal was philosophical. Black metal drew me in with its anti-establishment philosophies, which spoke to me heavily in my late teens, but as I grew up, it became more about prowess and technicality. Post-thrash and melodic death metal became my favorites. I have a true appreciation for metal’s ability to characterize anything and everything and do it epically and passionately. It’s simply the most multifaceted genre of music out there and if you hear just screaming, you’re not only def, but blind.
I’d like to thank you for taking the time to talk metal Andrew. Before we wrap this up do you have any last words for your fans reading at home?
Fuck yeah! The fans have been unbelievable in their support, so much thanks to all of them, even the ones who don’t realize it’s a one-man feat [laugh]. Songs I have in store for next time are levels above what I’ve put out, so stay tuned. Definitely pick up the debut album. Thanks Metal Rules and Robert for the coverage and support.