Interview with Jason Netherton of Misery Index
Interview by Petri da Costa
After many years of having a frequent schedule of recording and touring, Misery Index had a “break” after promoting “Heirs to Thievery”. They finally came back this year with a very strong new record, “The Killing Gods”, which has been gathering high praises from critics and fans. I called founding member Jason Netherton to talk about the the band hiatus, their new album, touring and Jason’s book about the history of death metal, “Extremity Retained”.
Let’s start talking about the new album. There’s a 4 year gap between “Heirs to Thievery” and “The Killing Gods”, the longest for Misery Index between albums. I understand that you guys were on the road for a long time, maybe two years [promoting “Heirs to Thievery”], so did you feel that you needed a long “break” before recording the new album in order to get some inspiration?
Jason Netherton: I guess in the end of 2011 we got some changes in our personal lives, some of us started families and stuff. Other things changed in our lives so we decided to take a little break and see where we were. We still wanted to do it, so we decided to put aside the song writing for a while. After we had the new album ready to go we decided that we’d keep doing it less intensively, be more selectively on tours. This point we don’t tour as much because people more or less know who we are. We just decided to make it a little more fun and not do as fullsteam.
So how was it to go back to the studio and record? Did you feel that it was easier since you had this break or was it harder because you hadn’t played that much?
Jason: It was definitely a lot less pressure, coz on the last three albums we were on that cycle of record, tour for one year and half, do another album and we were like for I don’t know…six years. So taking off some time, writing and not worrying when we’d have to be in the studio definitely lead to a more careful approach to song writing. Less pressure to get it done, less pressure to mix it and get it to the label for a release date, which in the past we have made the mistake of rushing and in the end we weren’t happy with the result. I think this album is the first one where we are 100% happy how it came out. You always have some regrets, but in general we had less problems with this one than with the other ones.
You mentioned before about the touring aspect, did you ever feel like you were going to burn out because you had a constant run of albums and splits coming out and touring a lot? Did you ever feel that could have happened?
Jason: No, it was just the time to do it, you know? We started [touring constantly] when we were sort of on our second full length, and we were on that [cycle] for a good five or six years. We used that as a way to see the world too, tour as much you could and travel, we really embraced that. Certainly now, after having done that, I guess we don’t feel the need to do it for the sake of it anymore. We wanna do it in order just to bring the music to certain places that want us, rather than just going everywhere and seeing how it all unfolds. Now we are a bit more selective about things and we have to weigh in other issues too, like finances and stuff. Before we didn’t have a problem of going to places and just doing it for airplane tickets or something, now we have to come home with some kind of money because some of us have family to support. We have jobs and stuff, so we have to leave and we are loosing money, adult problem shit [laughs].
Yeah I understand, things are different now for you guys than 10 years ago.
Jason: Right, everybody was single, everybody just wanted to see the world and spread the music. Now I guess we are more about the song writing and the recording rather than excessive touring.
Do you feel that you are going to keep that plan? Do you think that’s the best plan for the band, just to keep it fun and be more selective on some stuff?
Jason: I think that’s the way it’s going to be now, it’s the way we have to do it. Not only because of financial reality but also because of our sanity [laughs]. It’s a lot more fun to be selective and really emphasize on giving better perfomances and being more professional about things. So when we do play out it’s a better experience for the fans and stuff like that.
Not so long ago you had the European tour, so how did that go? Did you guys just play for a month, something like that right?
Jason: Yeah, it was about 24 shows or maybe 23. It was perfect, we did a lot of festivals, we did some good club shows too. In the end it was just what we wanted, we hadn’t played or toured for a long time so this was the longest tour we did in couple of years.
And are you going to extend this tour? Maybe South America, Asia, maybe other places or what’s the plan?
Jason: Right now we are looking into next year, see what’s doable. We haven’t toured the States in almost 4 years now, so we might try to do a North American tour next summer maybe. There are also plans to go to South America and Asia again.
So let’s get back to the new album. I noticed that are a lot more melodies going on, so was that a direct influence from Darin Morris? This was the first time he recorded a full length with you, so how was it to have him full time, not just helping with the production?
Jason: When he joined in 2010 it was definitely a boost to our song writing and performance. I guess he’s pretty well musically trained and he has a very traditional guitar playing style rooted in the classics of heavy metal sort of performance and song writing, especially with the solos. If anything, he helped us streamline our sounds. But yeah, he definitely made us a better band all around. He contributed song writing on 3 songs and helped make our album more diverse as well, as far as the types of riffs you hear, a little more of a thrash in some songs. He’s a big King Diamond fan, so his lead style is very much rooted in Michael Denner, Mercyful Fate and all that stuff. I think he kinda brings a nice…I don’t think it’s totally melodic, but we definitely have a different vibe on the songs now. It helped us forward without totally abandoning what we have done before. It’s kinda like a good baby steeps of progress I guess [laughs].
Yeah, I was pleasantly surprised because even though there was this, let’s say, typical Misery Index song, there was still this new element, especially on the solos and the melodies. It sounded fresh but at the same time I knew what to expect, so I really liked it.
Jason: Cool, thanks. That’s what we are hoping for, I guess.
[laughs] Unlike the previous record, you just had one guest, John [Gallagher] from Dying Fetus, in the new record. Was there any specific reason not to have more guests?
Jason: I don’t know, I guess we overdid the guests in the last album. Just came down to when we started recording the new one last fall, we were really focused on the songs and how we wanted them to sound. We didn’t really think about guests, it didn’t really enter our mind until we were half way done with it and I was “Hey, you know John is home from tour, lemme call him up…”. I had this one section in Colony Collapse that had an extended middle section that I wanted a solo over, like a good 30 second solo at least. Darin was already sort of burnt at the time with all the other solos that he had to write. So it was partially to relief the burden from Darin from having to do even more work in less time, so I asked John to come in and help us out the solo section, which is really set up for a dynamic solo that I knew he could pull off. He actually tracked that at Darin’s house on his home computer. He sat there one night for six hours playing it over and over , just piecing together the best parts, so he really went above and beyond in order to make it work for us.
When I saw the name of the album [The Killing Gods] and read some of the lyrics, I started thinking that one could say that there’s this religious theme going on. Is it fair to say that “The Killing Gods” could be called a concept album or was all this just a coincidence?
Jason: If anything we wanted to take a more introspective direction with the lyrics. Go more…slightly personal with them, get more existential and philosophical about things, rather than being so literal all the time. There are a few songs which are pretty literal, like Sentinels which is about drones, Colony Collapse is about a dark outcome of a prospect of singularity artificial intelligence. But yeah, songs like Heretics which deal with the negative side of religions who sort of stand in contradistinction with modernity, and how even in most modern times these sort of vestiges of medial thinking still reign in a lot of parts of the world. That sort of relates to The Killign Gods only a little bit, because The Killing Gods is really a self contained parable about modernity as viewed through the Faust tragedy, sort like a modernization of that. If you take this tragic character, Faust, who wants to remake it upon the world by tearing it apart in progress, sort of like a parable for capitalism today. So that kind still fits in the broad Misery Index lyrical scheme, I think. Even though is generally more like a philosophical album, is still very critical, it’s just going more introspectively.
Let’s talk about the book you wrote, “Extremity Retained – Notes from the Death Metal Underground”. How long did you work on this book researching and writing? And when was it that you decided to do it?
Jason: It happened spontaneously towards the end of 2010 on tour. I was looking for something of a project to fill up my time on tour to make it a bit more useful and I guess interesting. That’s when I had the idea, I’m crossing paths with a lot of people of my scene, I have this proximity with other musicians and notables who have done a lot for the history of the music. While on tour I just bought an MP3 recorder and started having conversations with them about their thoughts on different things. I wasn’t sure what I was going to do it when I started, but once I had 10 or 15 interviews I was “This has a potential for an oral history of the death metal underground”. Something that hasn’t really been undertaken before in the tradition of punk and hardcore, which have these sort of oral history books. So I was like “Ok, this has a potential to be a good contribution in the history of the scene”. After about 105 interviews or so, I started taking them all and piecing them together in different categories, trying to get a structure which resulted on how the book came out. So took about 3 years and I did about 105 interviews. I felt it was a good representation of how things were, it’s not meant to be definitive, it’s just suppose to give to the readers a certain feeling on how things were at the creation of the scene and how it has unfolded to what we have today.
Was there anybody that you wanted to talk to but you couldn’t get a hold off or did you get…
Jason: Yeah, there’s a handful of people for sure. You know, I messaged Peter [Piotr “Peter” Wiwczarek -vocalist/guitarist] from Vader, I didn’t hear back from him. I tried to talk to Bolt Thrower one time in Maryland Death Fest but they didn’t want to talk to me. I tried to talk to David Vincent [vocalis/bassist – Morbid Angel] and he didn’t want to talk to me. You know, you reach people and maybe it’s a bad day for them or they don’t know who I am. But yeah there are some people that I messaged that I thought would be really critical, but I tried and for whatever reason it just didn’t work out. It wasn’t always about getting the “A-listers” too, it was about trying to talk to the people who were just in bands and were making demos too, that was a big part of the scene too, it wasn’t just whoever was signed to Roadrunner Records at the time.
I thought it was really interesting that there aren’t just interviews with the “obvious” people from Florida, Sweden and even England. You have people from Brazil, Finland and many other countries. So how important was for you to interview people that the readers might not even know about their bands?
Jason: It was really important because I wanted to give it a global perspective. There aren’t a lot of books out there [about death metal], only a couple of books and they are only centered in specific scenes and parts of the world that were noted for their major contribution. But it really was a global underground, fanzines everywhere…There was a huge metal scene in Chile in the 80’s and early 90’s, so many fanzines were coming out of Chile, it’s unbelivable for the size of the country. Even in Japan, parts of Eastern Europe, I just wanted to capture that international context, it wasn’t just about Florida and Sweden.
There has been a lot of good reviews about this book, a lot of people commenting how good it is, do you see a follow up to this book or is it too early to tell?
Jason: I feel like I made a contribution, so I’m gonna move on at this point to other projects coz I’m really happy with the way it came out, and like I said it wasn’t necessarily about getting all those stories. A lot of them, even from those I didn’t talk to…The reason why some of the major voices aren’t there is because they’ve been told and retold to death in other places like magazines or or in the “Choosing Death” book. It’s very well documented Carcass’ history and Morbid Angel’s, the two I don’t have. But I don’t feel like I missed out at all, that’s one of the reasons why I wanted to talk to Mitch Harris [guitarist] in Napalm Death, to have that perspective from someone who wasn’t like the “main voice” in doing all the interviews all these years. So it was intentional to talk to him rather than Barney [Mark “Barney” Greenway – vocalist] or Shane [Embury – bassist], no disrespect to them but I wanted an alternative of their history rather than what has been told through the years in interviews.
Alright, thanks for the interview!
Jason: No problem, thanks.