Interview with vocalist Scott Lewis
By Peter Atkinson
Photos from https://www.facebook.com/CarnifexMetal
San Diego deathcore brutes Carnifex found themselves at a crossroads in late 2012. After seven years of toil, but not much to hang their hats on save for a solid underground following, the time had come to figure out whether it would make more sense to take a break, or simply break up. They opted for a hiatus. It turned out to be a fortuitous move – and a surprisingly short one to boot.
Less than a year later, Carnifex were back in action, freshly signed to a better deal with Nuclear Blast after three releases with Victory, and with a renewed energy and purpose that manifested itself in their fifth and latest album, Die Without Hope, which will be issued March 4. The album brings a decidedly more extreme metal approach, with splashes of black metal in its keyboard forays and overall grandiosity and a crushing, uncompromising heaviness throughout capped by frontman Scott Lewis’ grim, nihilistic lyrics and imposing vocals.
In an e-mail interview a couple weeks before Carnifex launched a headline tour of the states to promote Die, Lewis offered the following about the band’s much-needed break, their quick return and what he hopes is a bright future ahead – even if his personal view of things past, present and future is far less optimistic.
The “hiatus” didn’t seem to last that long, as far has hiatuses usually go. What prompted it in the ﬁrst place?
Scott Lewis: As we said when it was announced, it was many different complicated reasons. A mix of business and personal. We had been on the road for nearly seven years straight at that point so there was some burnout. Combine that with the difficulties we were experiencing within the industry it was something that had to happen if we had any chance of lasting longer.
Was the time apart enough time? Did it allow you all take care of whatever issues you might have had/give you time to reﬂect/get your heads together, etc?
Scott: It did. To be clear, when we chose to take the hiatus we really had no idea if we would ever be returning. There were so many uncertainties that the chances of things working out the way they did were slim. Thankfully, things did work out in our favor and we had the opportunity to sign with Nuclear Blast and do another record.
Kind of ironic/amusing that you returned for the “Never Say Die” tour – that was quite a coincidence?
Scott: That was pure coincidence. We hadn’t planned on touring that early but when the offer was given to us it was a great chance to get back on the road on a great tour.
Ryan [Gudmunds] was the only member who did not return. What prompted his departure?
Scott: Ryan leaving the band was something that was in motion before we took the break. Ryan is still great friends with all of us and we are all on good terms. His situation required him to be at home to focus on his personal life. Carnifex is a full-time band that consumes every moment of your life. We tour 300 days a year and when we aren’t touring we’re writing. It really is something that takes every bit of your attention. He had to tend to more important things than the band.
How is Jordan [Lockery, new guitarist] working out so far?
Scott: Jordan has been a long-time friend of the band. He has known Shawn [Cameron, drums] and Fred [Calderon, bass] for over 10 years and has toured with us in the past [guitarist Cory Alford rounds out the lineup]. When Ryan left the band we didn’t try anyone else out or have any auditions whatsoever. We asked Jordan to join and he accepted. It was as simple as that. There was never anyone else to take the position.
Did the break have anything to do with your label situation, trying to split with Victory or anything like that – since other bands have had some pretty major and well-publicized issues with them – or were you already “free agents” anyway?
Scott: It certainly was part of it. We had put ourselves into a situation where we were cut off from a vast portion of the revenue the band was generating. To the point where it was seriously damaging to the business of the band. Combine that with the a myriad of other industry issues that come with being on that roster and it made it extremely difficult for a underground band like us that barely makes enough to survive as it is.
Regardless, congrats on hooking up with Nuclear Blast, that would seem like a move that can only help the band?
Scott: Absolutely, the amount of doors that have opened for us just in the short amount of time we have been with them is amazing. Being with a company as respected as Nuclear Blast has been a great experience so far and it can only get better.
Do you think moving from a hardcore-oriented label like Victory to a label built on metal like Nuclear will open Carnifex up to a new audience? Was that part of the plan all along? Or these days does it really matter what sort of label you’re on?
Scott: I’m sure that couldn’t hurt. I think it’s really so much more than that. It’s the way a band is marketed and the amount of eﬀort put into creating opportunities. There deﬁnitely was never a plan. Never really has been. We take the band one day at a time.
Moving on to the album, given this is your ﬁfth album – and you did have something of a break – did you approach this one any differently? Was there anything you were looking to do differently to keep it fresh?
Scott: Our approach to this album was very diﬀerent than any of our previous albums. For the ﬁrst time we were able to take the time we needed to focus wholly on writing. One choice we made early on was to incorporate more of a black metal inﬂuence. We wanted to bring those elements which we had only touched on in the past to the forefront of our music. The goal was to combine those new elements with the sound were known for. I think we were able to do that.
There deﬁnitely seems to be more a “metal” and less of a “core” feel to Die Without Hope – more guitar solos, more of an epic/technical feel, your singing is less guttural more “screamier,” etc. – was the goal from the outset?
Scott: No, I don’t think it was. We never wrote a song with the idea of it ﬁtting into one genre more than another. We wrote what we wanted to hear as fans of metal. With each album we have always written to the best of our ability. The more you work at something the better you get. I think this album is clear evidence of that. We’ve gotten better at writing music and how that ﬁts more or less into a certain genre is just chance. It was never out intention to have this album ﬁt into one speciﬁc genre.
The black metally hue to it is pretty cool – it has an almost opulent sound at times because of the keyboards and the sleeker production – overall there just seems to be more going on here, and more depth.
Scott: I agree. We put a lot of work into ﬁnding the right layers and atmosphere to create the tone we wanted.
Despite the band’s new life, you seem to have a remarkably grim view of life in general on Die – which I guess carries over from before. But a line like “Everything you love fucking dies” Ouch! I guess the album’s title pretty much sums it all up the overall philosophy/message here?
Scott: I always have written from a personal perspective. My personal life for the last few years really fell apart. Some of that was due to the nature on being in a full-time touring band and the amount of strain it puts on your life back home. Part of that was due to keeping some really damaging people in my life a lot longer than I should have. Those mixed emotions that I struggled with, depression, heartbreak, anger, hopelessness are all exposed on this record. It’s a real representation of some low points in my life.
You deﬁnitely made the right call working at Audiohammer, they seem to be able to give the brutality they capture some nice clean lines that lets everything come through.
Scott: Mark Lewis and Jason Suecof are two of the best producers in the industry. We worked with Jason [as a mixer] at Audiohammer on [the band's previous album] Until I Feel Nothing and he did an great job. A number of friends had done records with Mark and they had nothing but great things to say about him. Combine that with how great his albums have been sounding and it was an easy choice.
Last time, you worked with Tim Lambesis [As I Lay Dying frontman] as producer. Given all the crazy shit that transpired with him well afterward [being arrested for allegedly trying to hire a hitman to kill his estranged wife last year], how was your experience on Feel Nothing?
Scott: Despite everything that has transpired since then our experience was great. At the time it was one of the best studio experiences we have had. Daniel Castleman did a lot of work on that record and is a great engineer. Certainly nothing negative to say about it.
Now that the band is back in action, and you have a new record/new label/new life, do you expect to operate pretty much the same as before, touring on the same sort of schedule and keeping as busy as you used to, or will you be scaling things back at all to guard against burnout?
Scott: A large part of the reason we toured as heavily as we did was that was our only way to make money. Thankfully that is not the case anymore. I think now you will be seeing us focus more on taking the right tours rather than just every tour like we had to in the past.
To borrow from one of the songs on Die, any “last words” on your part?
Scott: We’re counting on all the fans to support us and buy the album March 4th. Buying the record goes a long way in supporting the band and on a personal level we spent 2 years writing it so it would be nice to see it get the support it deserves.
Thanks again for your time and good luck in the months ahead. Safe travels.
Scott: Thank you.