Misery Index – Jason Netherton (Interview Pt. I)

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INTERVIEW WITH JASON NETHERTON OF MISERY INDEX

Misery Index is getting ready to unleash their 6th studio album, “Rituals of Power”, which is getting its worldwide release on March 8th via Season of the Mist. So far, the tracks that have been released from this new upcoming album, “I Disavow”, “New Salem”, “Rituals of Power” and “The Choir Invisible” display that death grind aggression and socio-political commentary that the band is known for. However, in an almost 20-year career, which includes 5 studios albums so far, one live record, one compilation and many 7”s, Misery Index hasn’t stayed the same, whether we are talking about the band’s line up or their sound. All of that has gone through a natural progression.

In order to understand better where the band is now, especially with a new album on the horizon, I decided to talk to bassist/vocalist, and Misery Index founding member, Jason Netherton about the band’s progression through the years. The idea was to look back and reflect on certain things that one can see better after being through those different phases and with enough time behind, and possibly talk about topics that were perhaps overlooked when these albums came out or that have a different view looking back now. The only stipulation was to concentrate on the studio albums and the period of time around them, so releases like the live album or the compilation or the 7”s were left out.

The idea was to divide the interviews into three parts, starting off this reflective look back with the band’s early days and the albums “Retaliate” and “Discordia”, released respectively in 2003 and 2006.

     Interview by Petri da Costa


THE BEGINNING

So, let’s put things into context: this is 2001 and you are starting Misery Index. What do you remember about the first years of the band? Before writing and recoding songs that would be in “Retaliate”.

I guess it was just a few months after I left Dying Fetus, I was already starting to get antsy and missing being part of a band, having that outlet of expression. My taste was changing too, in the last couple of years I was getting more into grind and hardcore punk. Things like that…they were kinda opening my eyes to different ways of expressing angry music, a more meaningful kinda approach. A lot of brutal death metal seemed to be angry, but it was built on fiction and fantasy, it was always about being extreme and pushing the body. I thought there was more meaning and more substance to for example when I first heard Nasum’s “Inhale/Exhale”. It just sounded so pissed off and vicious, the anger was directed to actual real world things. I was kinda leaning towards that anyways with Dying Fetus’ lyrics on the last record I was on [“Destroy the Opposition”]. That was a transitional record where it became more about every day kinda themes rather than fantasy and gore…Actually, this kinda started even before that, in “Purification Through Violence” and “Killing on Adrenaline” there were songs about that [every day things]. Anyways, I wasn’t feeling it anymore…Maybe if Fetus wasn’t touring so much then, if there wasn’t so much pressure to stay on tour…coz everything started rolling with “Destroy the Opposition” and signing with Relapse, and I was in graduate school doing my master’s. I felt a lot of pressure to finish that and at the same time I was getting pulled to another direction with Fetus.

So, I left Fetus but I kinda felt like an empty space and I wanted to pursue some creative thing. At that point, the Fetus line-up of “Destroy the Opposition” had kinda imploded: Kevin Talley and Sparky weren’t in the band anymore. I was talking to my friend Mike Harrison, who had been my friend for years and had helped out Fetus in a lot of ways with backing guest vocals and album cover layouts…he was a great song writer and guitar player in his own right, so we just started talking about doing a studio project and we were basing it on early 90’s death grind stuff, which we were both into, but a little more on the death metal side I guess. We talked to Kevin [Talley] and we got him on board to do the drums, and then it was just a studio project, kinda like ‘let’s do these songs’. I had one song, which I had written in Fetus that it supposed to be a Fetus song, “Manufacturing Greed”, then he had some songs and we did a Terrorizer cover.

So, we did that, got it pressed and put the word out. The media picked it up and the label interest started right away. We gained offers from Relapse, Century Media and Nuclear Blast…so once I finished my graduate work and I got my master’s, I was free to pursue it. So, I jumped back in it and started doing it full time. Mike couldn’t do full time, so got Sparky on board,so at that point it was me, Sparky and Kevin again. We got another guitarist, Bruce Greig from Next Step Up, he was in Fetus for a little bit too…We did a lot of shows, started touring like crazy, every little DIY show we could. As far as the label, we eventually decided on Nuclear Blast and at that point Bruce had left again, and then we also got another drummer, Matt Byers who replaced Kevin, and he fit really well.

One of the things I was wondering when you started Misery Index, that very beginning of the band, did you feel some pressure starting the band? Because people had an awareness of you since you were in Dying Fetus for almost 10 years, so people knew you already as a musician and a band member. So, did you feel any pressure in the sense that it had to live up to certain expectations or did you just feel free to do whatever you wanted to do?

I guess there were some expectations, but I wasn’t really conscious of it, I was just following what felt right. I don’t know…it was just a spontaneous thing, it kinda just erupted, there wasn’t any planning, we just started writing songs. For “Retaliate”, Sparky wrote half of it, I wrote half of it…I never really thought about it. We were so different from Fetus that we’d never get compared to, but I guess there were comparisons. I felt that we were definitely more on the grind side, especially with “Retaliate”, it’s a little more raw…it has a different kinda vibe. It certainly helped us, “ex-members of” always get you more attention, more clout, more interest from labels and probably one of the main reasons we got signed is because we had already put in 10 years of work in Fetus. So, when you have “ex-members” it’s a lot easier for labels to market you.

Did this experience that you previously had, having been through different situations, dealing with different things with label and on the touring side helped you? How all of this affected you when you were starting over again?

 Yeah, we had experience…We started touring in Fetus like in ’96, that was the first US tour we did. We had already been in Europe a couple of times, we kinda knew how things worked. I was still a little bit ignorant of a lot of the economics and the business as far as contracts and those kinds of things. Sparky was always a little bit more aware, so he took care of a lot of that stuff and did negotiations with the labels and stuff. I’m a lot more aware of it now and caught up with it, but I was more interested in making the music and get it out there, touring and travelling. That’s what I really wanted to do at that time, just travel [laughs]…It was a vehicle to see the world.

RETALIATE

Now that you set up that beginning, let’s talk about “Retaliate”. We talked a bit before the interview about that period when “Retaliate” came out: Iraq invasion, protests going around the globe…US had gone through 9/11 a few years before, and there’s still this ‘boiling’ anger going on in different parts of the world. The name of the album and the cover sum up pretty well that period. Was that the idea from the start for the album’s name?

In the late 90’s I started to get involved in anti-globalisation movements, there was a lot of momentum for it in US…protests in Seattle and there was in Quebec in 2000. There was this growing awareness about the dark side of globalisation and the corporatisation and commodification of everything. There was this actual kind of movement, like a really good coalescence of different groups…there was a visible target, there was a lot of meaning and force. I started going to those meetings a little bit, groups in Washington, there was a lot of solidarity, there was a good feeling that there’s a chance to inject more social perspective in what’s happening with things at that time. That was also a part of the last Fetus album, trying to get those messages in there and I guess it carried over to Misery Index. It’s a lot more on the surface with Misery Index, it’s a lot more bold and in your face…

You can’t really separate from what was happening in the world at that time, with the 9/11 attack…that kind of derailed the whole anti-globalisation movement and everything turned towards terrorism, you know…things like governmental overreach, those kinds of things. So, there was a new narrative being created there as far as what the left was trying to deal with. I guess that’s a little bit in there too, songs like “Angst Isst Die Seele Auf”, that’s a statement against racism and fearing the other, and how it can be its own corrupting force, taking your soul in a way. There are other themes…I’ve always focused more on the class politics than identity politics, things like that coz they were always ancillary to class politics. Now I see that they are a lot more interconnected than I thought they were then.

But in terms of the name and even the cover for the album, was it always like that? To be in a way ‘explicit’? Because if you see the album cover and see the name of the album, you can understand what’s going in terms of that period of 2003.

One thing we decided is to use ‘one-word’ album titles, I remember that because the Fetus’ tittles were always like a three word thing, so I just wanted for the first couple of Misery Index records to go like that: “Retaliate”, and then “Discordia”, “Traitors”…The cover was just…we were messing around in the computer with Mike and he had some art files, and we just put something together. It’s kinda vulgar and simple, I remember the label didn’t like it coz there wasn’t anything to it, that they could market I guess. Especially Nuclear Blast, who I think would have wanted more or rather have skulls and things like that, which would look good on t-shirts. I don’t think they ever made a t-shirt from it…I liked it a lot for some reason, I looked at it and I thought it was kinda cool, but in retrospect there’s not really much going on [laughs]. It makes a statement.

One interesting aspect from “Retaliate” is that it’s the only album in the band’s discography that you are pretty much the main vocalist in the whole album. People were used to listening you sharing vocals with John in Dying Fetus before. Were you confident as being the main vocalist, at least in this album, or were you a little bit hesitant?

 I don’t remember, but I don’t think I even thought about it. I’ve always liked the dual vocal attack thing, I think it was just because we didn’t have another guitarist that could help with that. Sparky could never sing or scream, so it was just outta necessity, coz as soon as we got Mark [Kloeppel] in, he started to do Mike’s parts. I think we must have actively looked for another guitarist that could do vocals…but yeah, I never really thought about that was the only one [as a main vocalist]. On the “Dissent” EP that’s just me as well.

 I remember hearing the song “Demand the Impossible”, which you sing with Maurizio [Iacano] from Kataklysm, and towards the end, at some point, it sounds like you are screaming your guts out, almost losing your voice. Do you remember working on some of these songs, for ex. how many takes you had to do it? Again, the main vocal responsibilities relied on you, so how was it recording the vocals?

 We went up to Canada, in this studio in the mountains in Quebec in the middle of nowhere, this guy had to come with a four wheeler to take our equipment along the trail to the studio. So, we were isolated there for weeks and when it came time to do the vocals, we were getting towards the end, and I had a few days to do it, so I had to do it then. So, maybe yeah depending on the order of the songs by that point I was starting to lose it…but I also wanted to push it, I was consciously going for a different kind of tone, in Misery Index I wanted to be more ‘open’ and raspy. I was listening to a lot of Tragedy then…the first Tragedy album had come out, I just remember listening to that, and hearing how that scream was so pissed off. I really wanted to get that and communicate that kinda pissed off feeling in the vocals, and not having to be so rigid and perfect, you know? I guess I was going for more pathos, to really push the body to communicate that.

Yeah, I think “Retaliate” sounds completely different in every single aspect, especially in terms of vocals, than the other albums. When I said it’s almost like you are losing your voice, I didn’t mean in a bad way, because it suits so well the aggression of the music, and I just remember going “Wow, he’s just about to…”

Yeah, I listened back to it now and I’m not…I wish I’d have done a little bit better. Some stuff like that and in the “Dissent” EP, and even after that, I think I’d have done better. I’m not really a fan of my vocals on a lot of those albums anymore [laughs].

Wow, okay. Well, as a listener, I wouldn’t like to listen anything different than what it’s there. But I understand your point of view.

Yeah, it is what it is. I think my favourite vocal performance are on the Asphalt Grave album I did a couple of years ago [“The New Primitive”]. That really captured I think.

Another thing that came to my mind when I heard “Retaliate”, and I don’t know if you thought this through or was it just a coincidence, was how you structured the order of the songs. The first song, “Retaliate”, almost sounds like an instrumental intro but then it hits you and the aggression of the album is just building throughout. It’s almost like a live set. So, was there a conscious decision to pick this and that song as the first, second, third and so on?

Probably after the song [“Retaliate”] was written it had a good feeling to it, so we decided that it’d make a great opening track. Sparky wrote that with Matt, the drummer of that time…It’s one of the few songs that got demoed. We only demoed like 4 songs from the record and the rest we just recorded there for the first time. So, we had an idea how that song would work out, it had a good introductory build up vibe.

But what about the other songs? Did you think the order should go like this as how it is in the album? Or was it just coincidence?

I put a lot of time and thought into track listing. You want to kinda tell a story and go through a vibe and a narrative as it goes across the album. You don’t want the ones that start the same…actually we didn’t really think about it then, but “History is Rotten” and “Birth of Ignorance” start off the same way. But we only did “Birth of Ignorance” as a bonus track for Japan, but then Nuclear Blast got it and they were like “This album isn’t long enough, so we are just gonna put this on the album”, coz it was barely 30 minutes…So we have two songs that start off in a same way, but yeah we think about how the vibe is gonna go. Maybe after a few fast ones you wanna have a mid-pace one, kinda going into something else.

You guys did a video for “The Great Depression”, do you remember that gig from the video? I mean this video is you guys playing live interchanging with archival footage, but do you remember that particular gig?

Yeah, we paid for it ourselves, I think…You know, it was kinda in those transitional early days of desktop publishing or desktop kinda video editing. Video cameras were getting smaller and smaller, there was this guy that we knew and he had some cameras, so he came out to a local club, the Ottobar, in Baltimore which was kinda like our home spot, we played there all the time. We played through during the day, before the club opened, and then we played through again later in the night, and he videotaped both of them. Then he went through something like ‘internet archive.org’ or something else, and there was all that archive footage and free to use, so I guess he just found some stuff that kinda fit the theme. It was exciting to have a video…it didn’t get played on Headbanger’s Ball, we thought it would but it got played like in VIVA in Germany and in some other places. It was pretty low budget, and it’s pretty hokey now if you look at it compared to what they are doing today. But it was cool to have a video.

In terms of the music scene in general, looking back at that point when “Retaliate” was released, 2003, it’s possible to see a certain decline of sale of physical copies, not that big as it would later would start to take place, but what do you remember about that time in terms of the ‘music industry’?

In 2003, I don’t think the full impact of the Napster effect had really reverberated through the extreme metal scene too much. Most fans, still to this day, extreme or metal fans do seek out and get some kind of media related to the music they like, they support in some way. So, I think we do a little bit better than other music scenes, like alternative rock or electronic music, where the merchandise isn’t as a big of deal in those scenes as is in metal. Metal fans usually wanna live and really support, get access to, and represent the music they like. But I don’t know…there was never really any great expectations for record sales [laughs]. We kind knew it’d only do a few thousands or something.

Do you remember any talks with someone from the label saying ‘The situation nowadays is like that, so you are not gonna sell a lot, so we are only going to press an x amount of cds etc, so we are not gonna push this record…’?

Well, we got a little bit of a push from them [Nuclear Blast]. They got us on those x-mas festivals in Europe, first tour right out of the gate, I guess they kinda bought us on that or something, I don’t know. We were first on the bill, a lot of the times we were playing to like 20% of the crowd…but they put the video around. We felt that we could never get a good tour in US though. At that time Nuclear Blast was run out from the Century Media office as a sub-office or something, we were just really disappointed and we thought they could have done more. “Retaliate” came out in the same day as Dimmu Borgir “Death Cult Armageddon”, that was a huge record at that time, it got a lot of attention. You know, that kinda was what led us leaving the label, coz we were so disillusioned after that.

Sparky really wanted to go back to Relapse, where we had a great experience with Fetus and they were two hours away in Philadelphia, and we had a lot of access to them. We felt like Nuclear Blast at the time were getting bigger and they were moving more towards like power metal and all this other stuff, and death grind didn’t seem like a priority or interest there. But it was okay…Sparky sent some kind of letter to them and asked to be let out from the contract, and worked it out with Relapse. There was some kind of deal where Relapse compensated them at our expense in order to make that happen, so we switched to Relapse and signed a deal with them for 3 albums. That was I guess early 2005…it was a transitional time, but Nuclear Blast did okay. For whatever reason, we just hit a wall with them.

To close about “Retaliate”, it’s been little over 15 years since it was released. The ‘flavour of the day’ is bands celebrating and touring on an old record, so has this idea ever come up or some interest from promoters? 

 No, it’s not that landmark of a record honestly. It’s our first record, it’s okay, but it’s not like an…I don’t know, a “Slaughter of the Soul”…

[laughs] I think you are selling yourself a little bit short.

 I don’t know, I think our best stuff started around “Traitors”. I think that’s when we became a dynamic and interesting band with a lot more to offer.

Well, promoters are always looking for something along the lines of getting something special…

But I don’t think there are enough people who remember that. But it’s funny because I go on Instagram and search Misery Index hashtags and I see that quite a lot, that people post “Retaliate”. So, I guess that album still resonates with a lot of people, even though I don’t listen to it anymore [laughs].

When was it the last time you listened to “Retaliate”?

 I’ve listened to songs here and there. We were getting “History is Rotten” back on the set, so I was playing along to that, but then we decided not and go with “Bottom Feeders” instead, so I’ve been listening to that a lot lately. But the album itself, as a whole, I haven’t sat down and listened to it in years.

 DISCORDIA

You had mentioned about the different line ups Misery Index had in the beginning, “Retaliate” was recorded as a three-piece, so when the time came for “Discordia” Adam [Jarvis – drums] and Mark [Kloeppel – guitar] joined the band and it would mark the beginning of a more stable, let’s say, phase for the band. How important was to get Mark and Adam in the band?

 Adam answered an ad that was even picked up by Blabbermouth around mid 2004. After Matt left, Kevin [Talley] filled in for a little while, for a few months, he never fully committed joining the band, but he toured with us and recorded the “Dissent” EP. So, we were actively looking for a drummer, and we got maybe 5 or 6 solid video tapes, Adam was one of them and he was really good. He came out and auditioned…Actually we were on a point that we were booked to play Wacken and Party Sun in Europe, and we didn’t have a drummer, so he came out based on the video and rehearsed with Sparky just for those shows and did great. At that point Mike Harrison came back for a bit to help out. So, we went over to Wacken, and that was Adam’s first show with us and it was great. He’s a great drummer and a positive guy to be in a band with.

Then came time when Mike left again and we were looking for a full time guitarist who could sing, and he knew Mark from his St. Louis’ days, they are both from the St. Louis area. He suggested to Mark to try out, so he sent a video out and came out, and then joined the band too. All through 2005 we toured together and we started writing “Discordia” stuff, like half way through 2005 and their contributions were apparent right away. Mark can write songs, sing and play guitar, so it was all for the good.

It’s interesting that “Discordia” is just a few minutes longer than “Retaliate”, which is an album for me that is pure aggression, but “Discordia” starts to show more ‘shades’ of the band. Was the idea from the start to do something different than before or was that an influence from Mark and Adam coming in the band?

 Yeah, it’s definitely a direction seeking record. All of us look at it as our most unrefined and…not our worst, but definitely the one that we look at it as ‘That could have been a lot better’. We didn’t demo anything on that, we were just trying to feel each other out as songwriters and players I think. Yeah…it’s just an unrefined or unfinished record, we all look at it as ‘we could have done it better’. As far as the song writing goes, we probably could have had a few more months to flesh out the songs better. I think everybody is trying to do too much on the record, Adam overplays a lot on it and plays to demonstrate his proficiency, you know it was his first album with the band. But it also reflects 3 songwriters at that point…I wrote songs, Mark wrote songs, Sparky wrote songs…You can see that we are all kinda writing from our own position and there’s not a lot of fluidity.

Lastly, we went to Atlanta to record, where we recorded the “Dissent” EP, which came out good, so we wanted to go back there and it was like…As an engineer, Eyal [Levi], we think he wasn’t totally in it with us, he was really distracted by a lot of things going on in his own life then and his own band, and we rushed it to reach, and this is our fault, to meet a release date, so we could have an album out while we were on a big tour in Europe. We got offered to do this Fear Factory tour in Europe, it was a huge opportunity, 7 weeks with Fear Factory. So, I remember it came down to these couple of days for the deadline and we were up all night. We were back home and Eyal, the mixer/engineer, is sending us these mixes in the middle of the night and we are all listening to them from different cities, and it’s just getting weirder…So, we just kinda agreed on one mix, we sent it to Relapse and Gordon Conrand, he’s now on Season of the Mist, and he was “Yeah, it’s good, so…”. We kinda wished that he’d say ‘This isn’t good enough, you can do better’. It has its moments and oddly enough some people really like that record and they love the mix, they love the songs. So, all of this might be just in our heads. We wish we could go back and remix or redo it, but Eyal lost all the files of the hard drive or something, so they are all gone anyways.

Oh, so it’s not possible anymore…

Yeah, but that’s our interpretation of it. Like I said, some people really like it. I remember that Topon [Das] from Fuck the Facts said that it’s his favourite one. I think it has a lot of potential on it, but it’s just a lot of potential…We didn’t get more refined until we did “Traitors”, I guess we had learn from our mistakes. But even “Traitors” had its own kind of drama about it, which I guess we’ll get to it later [laughs].

Unlike in “Retaliate”, you had Mark singing with you in “Discordia”. How was that collaborative approach to having dual vocals? Were you guys listening to how each was doing their vocal parts, I mean how were you working?

It was kinda easy, I don’t think he expected to be doing a lot of singing. I felt that he thought that this is my band and I was the vocalist and frontman, but I wanted right away to start doing that and I encouraged him. I think I went through the lyrics and said “Won’t you do that part and this part…?” And he wrote the last song, “Pandemican”, by himself and did all the vocals on that one, I think.

For “Discordia” you guys did a video for the song “Conquistadores”. You were talking before about the low budget aspect for “The Great Depression, so how was it to make this other video?

That was a professional undertaking. Relapse put out the money for that, they got a guy they knew, we went to Newark one day to a studio in Brooklyn, there was a whole crew there, it was just like a professional film production. We did it there and the editor just put together the other stuff afterwards.

Did you guys have any input or was the director, let’s say, ‘calling the shots’?

We had some discussion about it. I think it was my idea to emphasize the certain words in block letters. That’s about it, I don’t think there’s any other footage in there, I mean it’s just the war footage.

Yeah, it’s just you guys playing and some war footage.

 Yeah, I haven’t watched that in a long time [laughs].

I was just wondering how you guys usually work with the directors on the videos, if the ideas were coming

 I think we came up with that idea right on the spot. I don’t remember, but I think the director might have the idea for the tvs. I remember that we came up with the idea to smash the tv, coz Mark had a guitar which he didn’t care about so he just smashed it. I think we had an endorsement with BC Rich or something at that time, so he had a bunch of them getting for free anyways, so he smashed one of them.

What was the idea behind the name and the cover artwork  for “Discordia”? Because unlike with the debut album, where the name of the album and the cover gave a clearer idea, this one took a different approach.

 I think we wanted something darker, a darker theme. I remember that I came up with the idea, looking at it now it looks kinda silly. But the theme was like the next step from “Dissent” EP because it’s the same guy and the same people, but this time they are all a big pile of bodies behind him. He has kinda made his move to, I don’t know…get out from there and that situation. I remember working with the artist, who’s a local guy, Graig Houston, from Baltimore who has done a lot of illustrations and we really liked what he did on “Dissent”, but when we got this it had actually gone through a lot of different phases and we didn’t really like it 100%. We kinda got to this one and Relapse didn’t like it and it’s funny because he did the art for the Bathtub Shitter split, he did all of our t-shirts then, good stuff but for this one…I don’t think it ages as well as the other ones. It’s funny because the original artwork for this one got lost. They took it up to Relapse or something for them to scan it and nobody knows what happened to it after that. I don’t have the original artwork unfortunately [laughs].

It’s interesting that you mentioned that character and that whole story because I was just wondering if that was the natural progression of the story that you guys wanted to tell that started with the “Dissent” EP and continued in the split with Bathtub Shitter. So, that was the story that you wanted to tell?

Yeah, we thought that he was gonna be like our ‘Eddie’ or ‘Vic Rattlehead’, where he’d be in all of our covers in different scenarios. But after this one, I don’t know we just decided to move on…I think he [Graig Houston] did the “Hang ‘em High” 7” cover for us, which was 2007, so that was the last time we worked with him.

To cap off this first part of this ‘retrospective’ look into Misery Index’s discography, and since “Retaliate” and “Discordia” belong to those 5 first years of the band, are there any songs from each album that you could pick to describe or that give a good notion about Misery Index from that time? Songs that you could suggest for those who haven’t heard Misery Index or some of your personal favourites.

 Probably “Bottom Feeders”, that has aged well, it has a good solid groove, it’s heavy and we want to get that back on the set. The song “Retaliate” maybe…”The Lies that Bind” is pretty cool. On “Discordia”…actually the song “Discordia” still holds up coz the mix favours that really slow open, it has an interesting mood to it. I think “Conquistadores” is still a solid tune. Some of the other ones weren’t developed like Sparky’s “Sensory Deprivation” and “The Medusa Stare”, that’s like one long song and I think they were the last two recorded. “Dystopian Nightmares”, I’ve always liked that one, I thought that it had a cool melody and drive to it.

Okay, thanks again for this and we’ll continue later on with the other albums.

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