Cryptopsy – Flo Mounier
Interview by Peter Atkinson
It hasn’t been an easy 20-plus years for Montreal technical death metallers Cryptopsy. Indeed, the fact that the band have lasted this long is darn near miraculous given their myriad line-up changes – often involving key members – continued relative obscurity, and the ebbs and flows of an already limited and fickle market for the kind of brutality they deal in.
Yet they’ve soldiered on through thick and thin, overcoming a revolving door of vocalists – Lord Worm twice, Martin Lacroix and Mike DiSalvo before latching on to current frontman Matt McGachy – a football team’s worth of guitarists and bassists, and various and sundry other members. Indeed, no one from the original lineup remains, with drummer Flo Mounier being the longest-serving member and driving force behind Cryptopsy since 1992.
The band have been hailed for their groundbreaking, ultra-complex death metal – scoring a Decibel magazine Hall of Fame honor for 1996’s landmark None So Vile – and were, somewhat unfairly, pilloried for 2008’s The Unspoken King with its more pronounced grooves and – horror of horrors – intermittent clean singing. More recently, Cryptopsy not only helped restore their reputation among purists with the dynamic, full-on tumult of their self-titled and self-released new album – issued in September, sans clean vocals – they opened the vaults to their long, turbulent career with The Best of Us Bleed, an all-encompassing, 32-track, two-CD compilation released by their old label, Century Media.
In a phone interview from his home in Montreal, Mounier spoke about the two-decade rollercoaster ride of one death metal’s most innovative, yet under-appreciated bands and what the future may hold as they go it on their own.
Ordinarily, I guess having your old label put out a “best of” album about the same time you’re putting out a new album wouldn’t be a good thing. But in your case, it would seem like it is. You get to double up on the publicity and push the new album at the same time?
Yeah, yeah. And this compilation I guess was ready a little bit before our new album and they waited until the new album was out, or tried to time it around that. Actually, they were a little bit concerned at first, but I said, “Well, it’s 20 years of Cryptopsy, so maybe it’s right that a bunch of stuff comes out this year, you know.”
Oh yeah. This was definitely on our own. We had different people helping out out, distributors, promotion agencies and all that kind of stuff, but, yes, it was basically ours.
Was that by choice, are you over labels now?
Yeah, I’m over the label thing for sure, dude. There’s no reason anymore to put in all of this sweat and hard work to give 90 percent of that product to middlemen. If you can do it yourself, it’s just like any other business. So that’s why we did it on our own.
Since you’ve been in the underground for so long, I’d imagine you were pretty self-reliant as it was?
Yeah, it was new for us, releasing the album on our own, but we pretty much knew where to go. And let’s face it, it’s extreme metal, dude, it’s not going to get much bigger than it is, so there is no reason why we can’t do it on our own. Yeah, there’s a little bit of an investment at first, but then you’re working for yourself. It’s us and the fans directly. And like any personal business, if you’ve got a market, then all you’ve gotta do is put out a product, you know?
Since you’ve been the one constant in the band for 20 years, most of the responsibility must fall on you. You must have felt that you could handle it?
Yeah, I thought I could handle it, so that’s why we tried it. It’s doing really well, I can’t complain. It’s a little more work, but like I said, I’m working for the band, so it’s good.
How has the response been to the new album?
It’s been great. I’d say 95 percent positive. Fan-wise and the reviews, it’s been excellent. As an example, Burrn! magazine in Japan gave us a “95 percent,” which they very rarely give out, so that’s cool. That’s great support and people seem to be pleased, so we’re quite happy.
Have you been able to gauge sales yet? Are you selling enough to make you feel like you’ve done the right thing?
I think we’re going to sell just as much as we would have with a record company. And even if we don’t sell as much as a record company would, the profits will be six times more (laughs). People out there have to understand, and I’m surprised that a lot of people don’t, which is why a lot of people download and do that fucking stupid stuff, if bands want to continue making music then they need to make money off their music.
That’s why there’s so many people who come and go and so many lineup changes and what-have-you, because there’s not a lot of money to be made. So if you’re taking away the little bit of money that we make then you might as well fucking shoot us in the head (laughs).
But so far, we’re pretty happy. I’m waiting for money to return from distributors in Europe and the states, but that’s the thing, you invest the money in the beginning and it’s consignment, when they sell they ship you the money. But going through the web page it’s been going well, and there we have merch and stuff, so it’s been going good. Every little it helps.
When you’re doing this on your own, are there any measures you can do to better protect against illegal downloaders, or are you even more at their mercy?
There are actually companies now that you can hire to go through the Internet on a daily basis to shut down these free download sites, so that helps. I’m sure they can’t get them all, but certainly they get a bunch every day. Inevitably, it’s gonna be downloaded, but the good thing about metal is that fans are pretty good about buying the stuff, they’re pretty diehard about getting the hard copy and that helps.
But people have got to understand that it’s theft when you just pull it off the web for free. The thing is, people don’t necessarily know this, especially kids nowadays, they grew up with this capability. So if nobody tells them, if nobody let them know this is not right, then they’re never gonna know. But what can you do?
You mentioned lineup changes back a bit. What is the lineup situation at the moment. Is it still you, Matt, Christian [Donaldson, guitar] and Olivier [Pinard, bass]? Anybody new, anybody out?
We got Youri Raymond to come back and fill in because we have some shows that are coming up, so he’s second guitar player. Other than that it’s still Ollie, Matt, Chris and myself, we’re working hard, getting Youri back into Cryptopsy shape, so to speak, we have a few shows around Canada at the end of the month [November] and a few shows next month before we kind of hibernate a little bit.
Have you made any plans for after the new year?
We’re planning to tour in 2013 more widely in the states and in Europe. There’s a company called the Flaming Arts in Europe that is working on getting us over there for shows and festivals next year, the Agency Group is working on stateside stuff for us as well. We’re in pretty good hands. They’re trying to find stuff in Asia, too. We just came back from the Loud Park festival in Japan.
We’re trying to keep busy, we want to play for sure. Things have changed a lot, especially in the states, in terms of just how much they tax us for playing a show so we’ll see. It’s gotta make sense, we can’t go out on tour and come back in debt.
Plus the border situation is a lot more strict than it used to be, on both sides.
Yeah, you have to have the right working papers, no criminal records and, sometimes, you just have to hope you find somebody cool [at the Border Patrol station] when you’re coming over. Because they can stop you or hassle you whenever they feel like it. It’s kind of stressful situation and it shouldn’t be, there shouldn’t be such a problem between the two borders. It’s a hard situation, especially for a band like us. We definitely want to play, we definitely want to tour, but it has to be under the right conditions.
Going back to something we touched on a bit earlier, you’ve been the lone constant in a band that’s had a lot of ups and downs over the last 20 years, what keeps you from just saying “fuck it, it’s not worth it anymore?”
I just like playing drums (laughs). That’s pretty much it. I like playing drums and writing new stuff and the challenge of that and coming up with cool ideas. And if I can try to make a living doing that, doing Cryptopsy and other projects [side bands like Digital Doomzday and the death metal supergroup Nader Sadek, doing drum clinics, etc.] then I’m happy. It’s really just a love for music and drums in general.
Given all the grief you guys got for The Unspoken King, and daring to try something different, is the new album a get-you-back-on-track sort of album, or do you just see it as another album in the progression of the band?
For me, it’s another step, another album. For sure, a lot of people are like, “well, it sounds like the old stuff.” Well, yeah, that’s because Jon [Levasseur, long-standing lead guitarist] and I wrote it, and we wrote most of the old stuff, except for The Unspoken King, so it makes perfect sense.
For next one, I have no idea, dude. I know for a fact Matt doesn’t want to do any clean vocals, and he’s a trooper, dude. He had people shitting on him nonstop and yet he persisted and he came out with what he did on the new album. He’s just a great singer and a great person, and now people are starting to realize that.
It sounds like old Cryptopsy because it was written by a couple of guys who had been doing this for a long time. With The Unspoken King, that was written mostly with Alex [Auburn, guitarist from 1999-2009] and it was Alex’s first time composing the full thing so sometimes I guess ideas were not similar to the old style, which is understandable. So it it was it is, for better or for worse.
What is Jon’s status with the band, he was in, then he was out, then he was back and now he’s out again?
Who know what the future holds. We had a lot of fun writing this and recording it, so maybe in a year or two he’s gonna want to show interest and come back to write. I have no idea. I’m not sure what the situation is, I just know that he doesn’t like to be away from home and tour and stuff like that. So he’s not part of the touring of the new album and the compilation.
How much input did you have in the compilation? We’re you actively involved or was it put together largely behind your backs?
Leif [Jensen] from Century Media really contacted me a lot to make sure everything was cool, and see if we had old footage and see if it was cool to use live stuff and the bonus stuff that’s on there. It was very, very well communicated. We kind of did this to finish our contract with them, at the same time it turned into something more fun and it is great for any people who aren’t familiar with Cryptopsy stuff, it’s a good little present to introduce them to what we are and what we’ve been.
Yeah, it definitely covers a lot of ground. Demos, live stuff, rarities like that cover of Strapping Young Lad’s “Oh My Fucking God.”
Yeah, I think they did a great job putting it together. We’ve done a lot of albums and there have been a lot of members, so stuff like compiling dates, and not only making sure all of the members were including but getting all the members’ names spelled correctly, that kind of stuff, it was a lot of work.
Was if fun revisiting all the old material and going through the archives, or did it make you look back and think if maybe you’d done something differently or caught a break here or there the band might have had more success?
No, we never really had commercial success in mind for anything we’ve written. We always wrote what we felt like writing at the moment it was written. It’s cool. We’re pretty happy with the stuff that we’ve done in the past, it’s remained extreme music. Whether a lot of people were going to like it or not, that was never a concern. And for a band that is this extreme, quite a few people did, really.
And looking back at the old material was cool. It’s got us thinking about how we’re going to incorporate some of it into our live show. We’re doing a Blasphemy Made Flesh medley that’s like eight minutes long, just so we can get some of it in there and leave room for everything else.
Now it’s becoming really hard to put a set together because there’s a lot of material. And it could have been a lot more (laughs) we’re kind of slow at that, coming up with a full album, because we don’t really wanna do any filler songs, we want to have songs that mean something and have a place on the album.
With the retrospective coming out and giving you a chance to look back at the career of Cryptopsy, are there any particular high points that stick out?
That’s a tough question because it’s been so long. Geez, just the different places we’ve played, different places in the states, different places in Europe, playing in Japan is always amazing, a high point for us. We were one of the first Canadian metal bands to ever play in Japan. That was pretty cool. The Decibel Hall of Fame for None So Vile, that was pretty classic.
And just throughout the years, having people tell us that we’ve influenced them is as high a compliment as you can get in what we want to do because anything that comes out of this, as far as I’m concerned, that is positive, that you’re effecting people lives, is pretty cool. It’s a bonus. So hopefully we can continue to do this.
And even though you’ve remained pretty underground all these years, Cryptopsy definitely carved their own niche.
Yeah, we’re pretty happy with that for sure. It’s different. Coming from the states and Europe, people seem to have more exposure, coming from Canada that seems to be a little bit tougher for some reason. But we still roll with the punches, you know.
Nowadays, there are super-technical bands all over the place, you can hear your kind of sound in a lot of other bands, so in a way maybe you were ahead of your time?
(Laughs), Yeah, we kinda feel like old pioneers. When we hit Whisper [Supremacy in 1998] and the kind of craziness there, that was pushing ourselves to be really technical at these paces that were insanely fast, so hopefully we kind of pulled it off. And it seems so, because a lot of people take bits and pieces. Just like I do with my drumming, I don’t follow one person, I just take bits and pieces from different drummers, different styles and try to incorporate that into my playing. But it’s cool, it’s flattering, you know, to know that you have made an impact.
It’s funny that people were slamming The Unspoken King for sounding like deathcore when a lot of deathcore sounds like what you were doing in the old days?
Yeah. It’s that breakdown rule. All of a sudden grooves become breakdowns and I don’t understand that part of it. But it seems like people need labels and need to classify things, so you just let ’em be. To each their own.
You talked about some of the high points of Cryptopsy a moment ago, any lowest lows you’d care to reflect on?
There have been a lot of high points in new members coming into the band, it brings fresh air, new ideas and what-have-you, but the low points for Cryptopsy have been people who just aren’t motivated, who you have to drag on and it starts dragging the band down. And sometimes it takes years until it’s like, “hey dude, listen, if you don’t change your attitude, you’re out. I’m your friend and all, but this is a business.”
That’s the low point, having to tell somebody “fuck, dude, wake up or get out.” Nobody likes to do that, but eventually you have to. The band has to continue. And it’s one thing to drag yourself down, but to drag four other people with you is not cool.
And it’s not always like that. Like Miguel [Roy, rhythm guitarist] had some really stupid criminal record that was for something that was practically nothing, but he had trouble getting into the states or into Japan, so it’s like, “dude, I love your playing and I love you like a brother, but this just can’t happen every time we go on tour.” Different things happen, like Martin Lacroix, I thought he was a good singer and a great guy, but when it came down to writing new material, his writing skills were poor and he was way too slow, and we have to go fast. Things like that most of the time are completely out of your control. But shit happens.
You’ve actually the got 25th anniversary of the band coming up, have you started to formulate any plans for celebrating that?
I have old VHS stuff and DVDs with early, early stuff, so maybe a historical DVD, biographical DVD would be something we’d look into. Definitely we have the footage for it, it just comes down to having the time to edit. Other than that, no shows at Madison Square Garden or anything like that (laughs). I wish.
What are some of the biggest places you have played?
The summer festivals in Europe can be pretty huge, like Wacken and Dynamo and the last festival we played in Japan – Loud Park – was 14,000 people in this huge like auditorium. The most I think we’ve played just for us probably would be about 2,500, which is pretty good for what it is.
Well, maybe you can aspire to play at whatever the new Montreal Forum is called.
It’s the Bell Centre now.
That’s right, and now that there’s no hockey going on, here’s your big chance.
Yeah, really (laughs).
What are you going to do up there all winter without hockey to take your minds off of the cold?
I don’t mind that all mind. I could care less, they can do whatever they want. Hopefully music will keep be keeping me busy.