Hate Eternal’s Erik Rutan Interview
by Matt Wylde
This interview was conducted prior to Hate Eternal’s Camden Underworld show on 3/5/11
I’m here at one of my favourite venues, The Camden Underworld, with one of my favourite bands, Florida’s Hate Eternal. I’m talking to the man, Erik Rutan. How’s the tour going so far?
Erik Rutan: It’s going great. We started off in Germany, then we ended up in Holland doing the Neurotic Deathfest, that was pretty killer. Then it was, y’know, back to the UK. I love playing the UK, I love playing London, because London… I mean, I’m from New Jersey, I went to school in New York City, so y’know, London, it’s different than New York, but it’s similar in a way, so it always feels kinda homey to me.
You came across in the nice weather…
ER: I’m in shock! What is this, a sunny day?! Last time I was here actually, it snowed. It was biggest blizzard in ages I think. It was around the holi- when was it? [Thinks to self]
Last time it snowed I missed a Mayhem gig. Couldn’t go to it, couldn’t get back.
ER: Really? Yeah last time people were freaking out, throwing snowballs… It was like, "Holy shit", we haven’t seen this in a long time. It was pretty funny really. It was awesome.
Well I gotta tell you, I’ve really been digging the new tunes.
ER: Thanks, man.
Has your style changed due to producing more and more? Has it effected your writing?
ER: Y’know… My vision has always been the same, but my experience, and my knowledge obviously has increased… So that’s different in the production. Like, the new Hate Eternal is exactly what I’ve really been trying to do my whole goddamn career. Not only is this by far the best production on any Hate Eternal record, but it’s also my best as a producer, which obviously puts a grin on my face, cuz it’s my own damn record and I’ve been working on it so hard, to get better and better. Every band has a different vision of what they want, and that’s why all my records sound a bit different because I really try to individualize every band and try make each band sound how they wanna sound, rather than just have a sound and apply it to every band.
You had a bit of success recently with a band called "The Mountain Goats". Cracked the billboard with that one. Nice stuff.
ER: The Mountain Goats! Yeah, they were on David Letterman’s show, which was crazy, I was sitting there watching David Letterman, a show I’ve been watching my whole life, and they’re on there playing a song I produced… It was in Rolling Stone, it’s been in all these magazines I never thought I’d be in… Also, I’ve just worked on Agnostic Front and Madball, which are like hardcore legends. They’re like the Cannibal Corpse and Morbid Angel of hardcore.
Do you ever find it tough to get your head on when you’re producing a different kind of music, when it’s not death metal?
ER: Nah, never. I grew up listening to all kinds of music, um, I’m a very diversified kinda guy. I mean, being a guy like me, obviously I love Death Metal, it’s been my life for so long, but I grew up in a classical kind of world. A lot of my family played classical instruments… and then listening to rock, and my mom listening to r’n'b, rhythm and blues, so I was kinda subjected to a lot of different music. So when I get a new band, a new type of music, I look at it like a challenge.
You’re own music is pretty challenging as well. You’ve got the 270 blast beats going on, everything going fucking all over the place, how do you find the space in the music? Do you take a step back, or do you think and plan beforehand…
ER: No, I never deliberately, like with the writing, plan or anything. I mean, with the new record I knew I wanted to expand, but when I’m writing, I just let it go.
ER: But it is really hard to find the space. The faster it is, the heavier it is, the harder it is. Hate Eternal, I mean, I’ll say it again, I say it all the time, Hate Eternal is some of the most goddamn difficult music I’ve ever recorded… It’s a pain in my [adopts appalling British accent], it’s a pain in my arse! But at the same time, my whole career has been challenging. I’ve never done anything that wasn’t. I love to be challenged and I get bored very easily. Hate Eternal definitely keeps me challenged! [Laughs]
Talk us through a quick A-Z for your songwriting process.
ER: It usually starts with me at my house, just jamming every day…
Are you more of a pre-production kind of writer?
ER: We do tonnes of pre-production! Owning a studio, it means we can do tonnes of different stuff. So I’ll start at home, with my ProTools at home, when I write a riff I’ll put it to a click track, and I’ll send it to Jade [Simonetto, drums] and JJ [Hrubovcak, bass] and then go from there.
Quite a collaborative effort would you say?
ER: Yeah, I mean, I write all the lyrics. I take care of that since I sing… But JJ will come up with some basslines, Jade will make some drumbeats… JJ wrote some riffs as well. Then we’ll get together… Every time we tour, we’ll practice the set and then we’ll practice new songs. So for like a year and a half we did demos and things, and then we took like two months to do straight pre-production in the studio, and then start recording.
And that’s why it sounds so tight all the time. Why it sounds so good.
ER: Yeah, man. We practice a lot!
What do you prefer, studio or touring? More to the point, what are your highlights of each?
ER: Well, there are things I prefer about both… The studio is a mile from the beach, I live near the beach, my lady’s at home, y’know… I got a lot of perks there! I’ll sleep on my own lovely bed with the lady… Obviously there’s a certain comfort there, especially seeing as when you’re on tour you’re sleeping on whatever the hell it is… Hoping you’re gonna get a shower that night, that sort of thing… Laundry, what am I gonna eat today… That kind of shit gets old after I’ve been touring for… Jesus, twenty years… But I love travelling. I love seeing the sites and meeting different people. Different cultures, different food…
At this exact moment, Erik’s tour manager brings him his dinner… This is followed by one of the staff asking Erik in broken English if he needs his rubbish throwing away. It takes a while, but we get there in the end and Erik is very happy with the service.
Is there any place you prefer to tour? Europe or the States?
ER: It’s kind of the same as the studio and touring… When I produce, when I finish a band’s record, or my own record, it’s forever. Y’know? There’s that satisfaction. Then when you tour, that feeling you get on stage, it’s a different kind of satisfaction… There is nothing else that makes you feel like that. Touring the States and Europe… There are certain things I love about the States that are different to Europe, but then there are different things about Europe that are different to the States… I can’t really say I like one or the other better… I love ‘em both.
Six and two threes.
ER: Yeah, and it’s like some people will say to me, "Man, make up your mind, are you a musician or are you a producer?" and I’m like, "Well, who says I got to." I want my cake and I’ll eat it, too, y’know what I mean?
Best of both worlds. Any rituals you got when you’re on tour? Do you like to wind down after a gig with some Necrophagist…?
ER: [Laughs] Nah. I mean, I stretch a lot. I stretch my body a lot…
You don’t want your neck seizing up…
ER: Yeah, that too. I stretch my whole body… I like to have a good meal. Some people don’t give a shit what they eat, but I do. And I’m getting older so I try to take care of my body more… So nothing too special as far as that’s concerned.
Now, I’ve been asking some bullshit questions you’ve probably been asked before, but let me put this to you. If you were to go out and play a set of covers tonight, what would you open and close with?
ER: Covers, huh? Well I guess I’d probably pick… I dunno. I don’t know many covers to be honest with you. I’ve always focused on writing original stuff, so I haven’t been very big on the covers… It would have to be Slayer or Metallica or something like that. Maybe something off "Ride The Lightening" or "Master of Puppets"… Something off "Reign In Blood" or "Hell Awaits", I guess.
What do you guys think about an entire album set?
ER: I thought about that… Maybe for like… Well, we’re so damn happy with the new record we were like "Man, we should play that!" But half the people don’t know it cuz it ain’t out yet… [at time of interview, this was obviously the case] So that wouldn’t really fly well. We thought about "King of All Kings". It’s its 10 year anniversary next year, so we thought maybe we could do "King of All Kings" from beginning to end, that would be kinda cool. I mean, I’d love to see Slayer play "Reign In Blood" from beginning to end. It’s a pretty cool idea, really. I think it’s awesome.
I think it’s great. What new bands are you listening to?
ER: It’s funny. A lot of people ask me, "Hey man, what have you been listening to lately?" and I say "Well, what have I been working on?" Because I produce so much, I guess that’s the one pitfall of producing…
Not enough time to listen for pleasure?
ER: That’s right. I don’t get to enjoy as much music as I once did. I mean, you work 10-12 hours a day in the studio, and the last thing I wanna do is go home and listen to anything… Except me playing guitar maybe… Some TV to wind down… And that’s about it. I think the last, newest record that I listened to and didn’t produce… [lots of brain-racking] would probably be Nevermore, "This Godless Endeavour"… And that was like 6 years ago.
What praise do you not get enough of, and what praise are you sick of hearing?
ER: Umm… I dunno, man. Sometimes I feel like I get way more praise than I deserve, then sometimes I feel like… Jeez, like I deserve… Well, not deserve, no-one deserves anything in life. You earn it. To be honest with you, lately I’ve been doing so much stuff that I’ve been getting a lot of praise for. I can’t really complain!
Part of it is… Being in Morbid Angel, and once I left Morbid Angel and started and worked on Hate Eternal, and started producing… Now people look at me, and I got my history with Morbid Angel, my history with Hate Eternal and now I’ve got my history with producing. So all of a sudden that combination has cultivated into people saying things about me that I never heard before in the last twenty-four years, which… I’m not gonna sit here and say I agree or disagree, but when somebody calls you a legend or something like that… It’s like, "Holy shit, dude!"… Or little things, like Terrorizer, when they did that Top 8 Bands of the Decade and Hate Eternal is one of them… That meant a lot to me, man.
That went a far way to me. Or when Decibel did Top 20 Guitar Players of All Time… And Joel McIver did a book, "100 Top Guitar Players of Metal", and I was in there… Holy shit. I just found out about that last week, outta nowhere, and I thought, "Wow, that’s some cool shit, man." Then sometimes I get a lot of praise and I think, "Ah I dunno, man. I dunno if I deserve that… But I’ll take it!" Then sometimes I think people can be pretty brutal, they can be harsh on you about some things, but everybody has their right to have their opinion. I just got a tough shell man, I can handle anything at this point.
That’s the way to go.
ER: Hey, you got to. There’s gonna be people that hate what you do, there’s gonna be people that love what you do… But as long as you keep doing what you do, regardless. And I have my whole career. I’ve done what I’ve believed in, and to me, that’s never wrong. If you keep true to yourself, other people are gonna follow that, because they’re gonna see it. It’s when people or bands start trying to do things that are not true to themselves is when people see right through that shit.
You can’t fuck with the fans.
ER: You can’t fuck with the fans!
Tell me a little about the artwork for this new record. What kind of say in the art do you guys have?
ER: You know what, I give Paul [Romano] the concepts for the songs and the album, and I let him do his thing. I don’t try to… He’s an artist, and I know as an artist I don’t want people telling me what to do, so I just let him do his thing, although I give him pre-production, I give him lyrics, I talk to him about the concept of the record and he goes from there. And every time he’s hit the nail on the head. People say the art is so abstract, I say, "Listen to Hate Eternal, we’re fucking abstract!" We’re not by the numbers type of death metal. We’re way out there in our field. So that’s why I felt like having Paul. His stuff is pretty out-there! So it always, to me, fit with what we did. I’ve always been happy with what he’s done.
Great stuff. Not a whole lot more to say, truth be told. Looking forward to the set tonight.
ER: Thanks, man.
Tell us, what new stuff are you gonna bring out?
ER: We’re gonna bring out a bunch of new ones, but we’re also gonna do some of the oldies… All the ones you expect will always be there… Behold Judas and I, Monarch, King of All Kings… Those are songs we’ll always play.
Any particular favourite?
ER: Well honestly for me now there’s so much great new stuff… I’m really digging the new songs, but I’m still getting into the flow of playing them live.
Is it different now it’s one guitar?
ER: Actually it was odder as two. I’ve been three-piece my whole career with the band, except for one year. So when it was a four-piece it was really odd for me. It didn’t feel right. And not because of Shaun, either. He’s a great player, great friend of mind. But it was very different. But now we’re back to three-piece, it’s back to what it was before… When Shaun got involved, most of the record was done anyway, so it was much easier to go back to a three-piece than it was to translate to a four. I know we’ll always be a three-piece, we’ll never be a four-piece. It just feels natural. More natural playing…
Yeah, but you don’t really take it easy on yourself do you?
ER: No I don’t!
How fast did you get on this latest record?
ER: There’s some 270s on there… One of the songs is 300 on there… But it’s like bursts, y’know, like [mimics Jade's kicks... or a machine gun]. Hard shit, y’know. We really tried to cover all the tempos. That’s something I really worked on, trying to branch out and expand into some slower tempos, some faster tempos, and we’re pretty much covering them…
It’s the nicest way of beating people over the head.
It was soon time to go see the guys play live!