REVOCATION – Ascending With Genre Melding Heaviness
In an era where bands often tour longer and thus take longer to get back into the studio to spit out new material for their fans, Massachusetts quartet Revocation is a rare band indeed. "Revocation", their latest full length, is their fourth in the past 6 years- hot on the heels of last year’s "Teratogenesis" EP release. And the band consistently traverses the planet hitting stages and festivals where they can- playing their hearts out and winning converts left and right.
Vocalist/ guitarist David Davidson is very happy to chat away with all of my questions- in the throes of their Summer Slaughter tour (they were in Texas at the time of our phone interview). If you haven’t checked out this semi-thrash/ semi-death, all out aggressive assault with technical chops of a group, you need to seek out any of their recorded efforts and also get the chance to see them live. The future of the metal world will be just fine thanks to Revocation.
How much did you practice in your younger years to get your chops up to the degree that they are now within Revocation? Who were some of the initial players that you used to emulate or helped shape your technique?
"Sure, when I was a kid first taking the guitar seriously I would play the instrument anywhere from 4 to 6 hours a day. As soon as I came home from school I would go down to my basement and just play. What I would usually do is get my favorite albums from like Guns N Roses and learn the solos and improvising over the whole song to get my chops up. Slash was one of my favorite guitar players that I tried to emulate as a kid, and I still do a little bit by trying to be lyrical within my playing, not just technicality for the sake of being technical. Dimebag Darrell is a big one, Marty Friedman is a big one, I kept growing as a musician and trying different types of stuff, jazz and what not. Those would be the big 3 for me."
Did you have any formal training growing up or was it a play by ear learning thing for you?
"I went to an art/ tech school, so I learned about theory and playing jazz from there. I ended up going to Berklee College of Music and getting my bachelor’s degree there. I have formal music training, and I also had a guitar teacher in the beginning. For my formative years I was formally trained all the way up through Berklee."
You lost bassist Anthony Duda in April 2012 due to his love of pop music- how quickly did you find your current bassist Brett Bamberger of East of the Wall? At this point, what major differences do you see in his style and/or personality?
"We got him right away, he was the first guy we called after Anthony left the band. We had a bunch of tours and we didn’t have a lot of time to think about it, we needed someone that could be solid and a good bass player. We knew of Brett when he was subbing in another band The Binary Code that we had toured with, and we knew he was a cool dude. So when we called him up, he told us he was ready to tour more and we put him on a trial run for a summer tour- it clicked right away. He is so happy to be a part of this band, he helps out with a really good vibe, and as a player he has a lot of different techniques that he can do. He is adding different technical elements that we didn’t have before- bass tapping and all these different parts that we can now explore. He is able to contribute creatively on bass and he’s been a great addition to the band. Playing the parts is only half the equation- the other half is can you hang in the van with the dude for 8 months out of the year, and we can."
In the fall of last year you released an EP entitled "Teratogenesis" that is available as a free download through Scion A/V Metal. Tell us about the collaboration and thought process behind this 5 track release?
"Essentially Scion approached us and said they wanted to do an EP with us. They would pay for the recording, pay for a video and it would be released free to our fans. For us it was a win/win because we didn’t have to invest any of our own money into it and they would do all the legwork and promotion just like any record label would. We knew it would work because we had done a Scion showcase and a Scion Rockfest, they fly us out and put us in hotels, so we knew that working with them was going to be a professional experience. I think it was a nice little release to put out between full-lengths, sort of help tide the fans over in between."
How quickly were you able to pull together material for this latest self-titled album that will be hitting the streets in August? I feel that a lot of the songwriting this time around is much more dynamic in terms of the heavier parts and more open, cleaner work… how do you view this effort in comparison to your previous albums?
"I think it’s our best record to date. As fans everyone is going to have their own favorites, some fans love the first album the best, others love "Chaos of Forms" the best, but for us the material (we wrote here) is the newest and freshest. We are happy with the way it turned out, and songwriting-wise these are the best songs we’ve ever written, they are all pieces that contribute to the greater whole. Playing-wise in terms of my solos, this is technically the best stuff I’ve ever laid down. Over time we are working on technique and songwriting, the better you should get at it. Some songs are more concise while still having the twists and turns that we are known for. Nothing gets in the way of the song itself, everything is there for a reason, so we couldn’t be more happy with it."
I love the opening charge of "The Hive"- a lot of the back and forth riff/ blast attack sounds like Forbidden in their prime on steroids. Was this an easy choice to serve as a single/ introduction to the new record?
"Yes, I think so. Obviously when you have 10 songs there is going to be a little bit of a debate as to what goes as track one, and what the first track you release is going to be because there is so much material to choose from. But once we realized with the intro that our producer put into it, it sort of made sense to release this as the first track, it sums up what Revocation is all about. It is equal parts death metal and thrash metal, it has a cool bridge section and a little bit of an out there solo, it’s aggressive and in your face. We were stoked that the label was on board with putting this song out first. The reaction has been great and the fan response has been outstanding."
Who thought about the idea of adding a banjo in "Invidious"? And is it important to the band to make sure this outside instrumentation ‘works’ within the context of the song instead of just throwing it in to be diverse/ different?
"It was my idea. The verse riff is played on electric guitar and it was inspired by that banjo tone and type of sound. After the fact, once the song was written we charted out at our practice space and I thought it would be cool to throw a little banjo break in there. We never go out and throw things in there to just throw things in there, we have to have these parts serve a purpose in our own heads. Even though it’s really quick it gives the record a different dynamic and sound against that heavy guitar/ drums that assault you for the rest of the record."
What types of topics did you touch on lyrically with this record? At this point coming up with lyrics in your career, is it an easy or difficult process in comparison with creating riffs?
"Lyrics are always more difficult. With words you have to choose them carefully and I like to have some sort of arrived theme. Music can just be music and stand on its own to speak for itself. With lyrics you have to really pick topics that you are passionate about- we don’t just want to write lyrics that don’t fit with the vibe of the song. Words carry a lot of weight- especially if you are talking about personal experiences. It’s definitely a harder process. Once we got the ball rolling, it started falling into place. You always have ideas kicking around but once you get one song in, the creative process flows into the next song. You want to make the patterns work with the parts of the song.
As far as themes go, it is a dark record lyrically. 3 of the songs are about the dangers within media. I think that the way news is delivered to people these days is a travesty. It is so agenda driven and completely biased, I don’t even know how it can pass through as news. The more I watch the mainstream media channels the more clearly it has a slant and agenda behind it. A lot of people are still getting this information from these mainstream outlets and the news was never supposed to be this way. Other topics include everything from like personal experiences, relationship issues, "Fracked" is about the controversial process of hydraulic fracturing, the means of which companies are extracting natural gas- it is destroying the environment. The silver lining to these companies is the creation of jobs- but why don’t we reinvest in renewable energy sources? We aren’t going to care about these new jobs if we can’t breathe any fresh air. All the science that comes up in support of it is being funded by the companies that make billions of dollars in profit- so can you really trust the results that are coming out of this. Thrash metal can have environmentally conscious themes- Annihilator did back in the day with "Stonewall" off "Never, Neverland". These are issues that are still very real in 2013."
You are now in the midst of the Summer Slaughter North American tour featuring The Dillinger Escape Plan, Animals As Leaders, Periphery, Norma Jean, Cattle Decapitation, The Ocean, and Aeon among others. How are things going so far, and what’s the atmosphere like back stage- who has impressed you the most for bands?
"Things have been great. We have toured with Periphery and Cattle Decapitation before, so they are buddies of ours. It is an advantage going into a tour like this of already knowing certain bands and getting along with them. The other bands have been great- I’ve been a fan of The Dillinger Escape Plan on record, but never got to see them live before this tour. It is really impressive to watch their stamina- how they do it beyond me. Animals As Leaders is very impressive live- obviously on record everything is pristine is but live you get that natural raw energy of the band. You don’t get the chance to watch the whole show because you have to warm up before your set and load out right after. We go on right after Aeon, and they are an awesome death metal band, very straightforward."
How do you manage to not get on each other’s nerves through the rigors of long van rides, changing time zones, harsh weather changes, and all the other busyness that occurs on the road?
"You definitely get on each other’s nerves from time to time but we are always laughing and joking around. We have a great internal band dynamic. Certainly there are days where we fight over stupid things, but most of the time we can let it roll off our backs."
What would surprise people to learn about your personality and work ethic when it comes to Revocation?
"I can’t really say. That’s a hard question to answer. There is a lot of time and effort that goes into crafting the songs and maybe the perception is because we put out a new record about every year that it is almost a simple process. There are a lot of hours spent on writing riffs, revising, re-arranging. I think one of the biggest misconceptions is that we are successful financially as a metal band. People see us on bigger tours in front of big crowds but there is so much cost being in a band- be it gas money, management, etc. that you come home with very little. We will be going to Europe, and the plane tickets to get over there come out of our pockets. That’s why it is important to buy merchandise at the shows, pick up the CD when it comes out. The first week sales really do matter in terms of how much money you can get for the next studio album and budgets in terms of tours."
What concerns you most about the world that we live in today? Where do the leaders need to focus more in the next 3-5 year to turn things around for the better, if they can at all?
"What concerns me most is the sociopathic tendencies of the ruling class. How perpetual wars happen with seemingly no regard for the future in terms of our environmental policies. Our whole fiscal system is set up by these bankers to rob us blind and have no repercussions when it comes to them whatsoever. The whole system needs to go through a drastic overall, and we have to realize that there is strength in numbers. The majority of people are not millionaires, they are regular people who are just scraping by little by little. All of our freedoms are being taken away, I myself am worried about the social security system because for my mom and dad they’ll be fine, but for me I doubt the system will still exist. There needs to be a real changing of the guard, a lot of the policies in US, the conflicts we are getting involved with overseas. Hopefully more people through the internet or grassroots movements can stand up and take some of the power back."
Collectively as a band, who would you say are three metal acts that you admire or appreciate for their live performances or studio records through the years?
"Martyr from Canada, both for their live performances and for their studio records. They are one of the most technical bands I can think of and they completely crush, play flawlessly and within their studio records there is a lot we study. Pantera certainly, I saw them live 3 or 4 times and they were amazing on stage. I have never seen Gorguts live, but I really like their approach on record. They think outside the box when it comes to death metal, taking the genre to a whole new level."
How do you guess personally balance the technical aspects of your music with making things flow in the sense of song construction?
"We balance it through practicing the art of good songwriting. We made a conscious effort to scale some songs back this time from a normal 5-6 minute timeframe. We try to trim the fat, there may be a riff that is super cool and technical but if doesn’t fit with the vibe of the song, we have to omit it and make those judgment calls. You may end up saving that riff for later for another song. The key is showing restraint at times, you will have dynamic contrasts and the song will be much better for it at the end. Technicality can have a wow factor, but if you throw a straightforward part it will make that crazy part stand out more. It is almost harder to write catchy riffs, those riffs carry a lot of weight to them. You don’t have to pay a million notes all the time to be cool."
Do younger people hit you up for advice concerning how to improve their playing skills, or music business/ industry related activities- and if so what areas do you want them to think about or take to heart?
"I teach guitar lessons and people hit me up about that. My advice to players is to take things slow at first. If you can’t play something slow, you can’t play it fast. Work with a metronome to get the basics down if you want to learn how to be technical. More general concept based stuff- I try to get the students to gain a foothold in music theory, because that’s where I started from. You can then bend the rules when it comes to playing the guitar based on your own tastes. Know your interval chord theory because you can build so many different arpeggios and riffs because you learn what it takes with certain triads, it’s like building blocks. As a musician you want to have the least amount of time between your thought process and the idea coming out of your instrument."
What does the rest of 2013 and beyond for Revocation?
"We are doing Europe in the fall with the Black Dahlia Murder and Aborted, and then we are doing another fall tour in North America but I can’t say who it is with quite yet – it is an awesome ‘thrash’ metal package. We will be very busy through 2014 and that is a good thing because we are very passionate about this record and want to tour a lot behind it."