WITHIN A SHELL ALREADY DEAD – AN INTERVIEW WITH GRUESOME
WITHIN A SHELL ALREADY DEAD – AN INTERVIEW WITH GRUESOME
Vocalist/guitarist Matt Harvey welcomes us to the vile and rotten world of Gruesome who are conjuring up amazing sounds from beyond that harken back to the early and pioneering days of Death Metal…
First and foremost, I have to ask you what is happening in the Gruesome camp these days? Apart from promoting "Twisted Prayers", what are you guys currently up to in terms of band activities? Are you by any chance composing and writing new material?
Matt: We’ve all been focused on different stuff since the record – Robin is working on new stuff with Castrator, Dan just wrapped up a new Possessed record, and I finished work on a record with my NWOBHM-esque band Pounder earlier this year. We do have a few drafts of new songs that have been kicking around – 3 songs that are fairly solid and some other miscellaneous riffs and such. Right now, we’re on tour in Europe, hanging out in Jönköping, Sweden getting ready for the gig right now, actually.
Do you remember how you were introduced to (or sucked into) dark and obscure music, i.e. heavy metal and its countless subgenres? Was it one or more specific releases that changed your perspective on music, or was it something else entirely, perhaps a friend or a bandmate who introduced you to one or more genres such as death metal and thrash metal for instance and then you just got hooked on the cursed thing?
Matt: My personal introduction came via the old Columbia House 10 cassettes for a penny record-club thing. I was 11 and I heard a bunch of stuff I was fairly familiar with, Ozzy, Dio, W.A.S.P., Whitesnake, etc, but in those 10 tapes was Master of Puppets, which completely blindsided me and shocked me into a new realization about what this kind of music could be. From there it was only a matter of time until I heard Reign In Blood, which in turn led to records like Morbid Tales, Black Metal, Under the SIgn of the BLack Mark, Persecution Mania, The Force, Scream Bloody Gore, Pleasure to Kill, and then on to From Enslavement to Obliteration, Left Hand Path, Symphonies of Sickness, World Downfall, Horrified, Consvming Impvlse, Severed Survival etc. So between 1987 and 1990 I was going totally crazy looking for the heaviest, fastest stuff that I could possibly get my hands on. It was a very exciting time to watch Death Metal establish itself as something distinct from Thrash and Black Metal and be a fan as so many great records were coming out.
How do you guys go about writing and arranging songs for Gruesome? Do you ever try things out in rehearsals together, or do you live so far apart from each other that you send the ideas, song files, and so on to the others for them to learn and add their parts to? Is everything more or less planned and set in stone before you start recording in the studio or is there room for a lot of spontaneity once there?
Matt: I live in California and everyone else lives in Florida – and not particularly close to each other in Florida either, I might add. I come up with the framework of the song and send a rough demo to Dan and Gus, who usually add a few different bits and stuff, then they make a much better demo that comes back to me for me to work out the vocals to. It’s sort of counter-intuitive, but it’s actually more productive to work this way, since at rehearsal you always ended up shooting the shit and drinking beer as much as actually playing and rehearsing. By the time we get in the studio almost everything is planned out and very structured. It’s easier to work that way and less stressful, because there’s less to come up with on the spot.
Your debut offering "Savage Land" is a stunning release and a superb collection of vile and atmospheric death metal. I am curious as to how you view that album nowadays now that you have been living with it for a few years.
Matt: With this band, it’s a little different than other stuff I’ve done, because everything we do is an homage to Death and so it’s almost hard to view the album as something that I’ve done, because my personality and writing style is completely submerged within the tribute and I actually can enjoy the albums more than some Exhumed stuff, because they don’t feel like they’re really "mine." I still dig the record, and the earlier and rawer part of the Death catalog has always been my favorite, so I get a kick out of both Savage Land and Dimensions of Horror.
Did you approach anything differently when writing and recording the songs for "Twisted Prayers" compared to "Savage Land" and the two EPs that were released in 2016-2017?
Matt: In terms of the nuts and bolts of the process itself, everything has stayed the same, except this time Dan and Gus wrote a few more riffs. But because we were doing an homage to Spiritual Healing, we knew that the material itself had to be flashier and more melodic. So that in and of itself was a challenge, coming up with stuff that still really evoked Death, but retracing the band’s steps as they started to mature and bring in new elements – prolonged slower sections, occasional varied time-signatures, more "singable" melodies, technical passages, etc. So that was challenging, but as a tribute band, we always have a template to follow and a direction to go in, so at least we have a clear idea of what the challenge that lies ahead is.
One thing that I love and cherish about "Twisted Prayers" is that everything, i.e. the music, the lyrics, the song titles, and the cover art, seems to go hand in hand and belong to each other, if that makes sense. Every part of the album enhances the other, so to say. Could you elaborate a bit on some of the thoughts that went into the creation of the whole package and how the music, lyrics, and artwork correspond to each other?
Matt: Thanks for saying that! We strive for everything to feel seamless – the art, the logo, the layout, the music, the lyrics, the vocal phrasing – everything should feel like a trip back in time to your local record store to pick up a new Death album. Despite the fact that we’re kind of a "novelty" act, we put a lot of time and thought into every aspect of an album’s creation. We’re very lucky that we got to pick the brains of people like Terry Butler, James Murphy and Scott Burns for insight into the musical and lyrical development of Death around the time of Spiritual Healing and the technical recording aspects of the album as well. So there’s a lot of attention to detail with Gruesome because we really, really respect the source material and are trying to do it justice however we can.
Each member of Gruesome is involved in other bands and projects. Is it tough to balance these different things and make sure that there is sufficient time for everything? I can imagine that it must be quite stressful at times to make room for everything.
Matt: It can get a little hectic in terms of scheduling, but we don’t really put a lot of pressure on the band. Things have flowed pretty naturally, and we’re enjoying that momentum. We all like each other and enjoy playing together, and the material is fun and challenging to write, so it’s easy to stay motivated to keep working on it. I’m a pretty restless songwriter, so I always need an outlet and am constantly composing stuff – everything from film score type stuff to Grindcore to traditional metal, to poppy electronic stuff. I’ve always got a bunch of ideas rattling around my head, so I like to keep busy.
The band has existed for 4 years now. What motivates you to keep doing what you do? Are you always coming up with new ideas for Gruesome tunes and thinking of where you can go next, or do you think there is a limit to how far you can go with this particular style of death metal from a musical and lyrical point of view?
Matt: Well, the response to the band has been well beyond anything we could have predicted or expected, so we’re grateful to have that momentum to capitalize on. Being a Death homage band, we kind of know where to go next, which takes a lot of the guesswork out things, haha! I definitely think there’s a limit, because there’s a limited amount of Death source material to work from, and that’s a good thing. I think as a tribute / homage band, it would be disingenuous of us to try to change our style, since the people that like Gruesome are into it for the same reason that we the band members are: because they’re fans of Death. I personally love the challenge of trying to take the same journey that Chuck did, from the raw nastiness of Scream through the confident sophistication of Symbolic. It’s an epic musical progression that we’re going to try our best to live up to. We’re walking in the footsteps of giants here, and having a blast documenting it with other Death fans along the way.
Given that some of you grew up listening to metal long before the advent of the internet and modern-day music distribution, I was just wondering if you ever long for the days of old and the way things were back then, releasing and distributing cassette demos and writing letters and stuff?
Matt: I’m very grateful to have grown up in those times and have experienced the explosion of the "classic" Death Metal scene firsthand as a fan, but honestly, everything was much, much harder back then, and now as a 42 year-old, the idea of sitting around xeroxing cassette covers and stuff sounds like a chore. When I was 15, I didn’t have anything better to do, and it was great, but the convenience and accessibility of the various media and recording technology that we have today is probably the biggest thing helping the metal scene stay alive. Today, there are endless opportunities for connecting with fans, bands, and media that I would have killed for in 1991. I think it’s a different experience and ultimately, as long as you really resonate with the music and feel it, it doesn’t matter if you heard it six months ago on Bandcamp or you rode your bike an hour each way to the record store and bought it on tape with your allowance in 1988. Each person’s relationship with the music they love is deeply personal and I will never shit on anyone else’s experience just because of when they were born or what format they encountered their favorite band on.
And finally, what albums are you currently listening to at home?
Matt: I listen to a lot of different stuff… Lately I’ve been listening to a lot Leadbelly, Night Flight Orchestra, Jerry Goldsmith, Roky Erikson, M83, Earth Wind and Fire, Haunt, Bone Sickness, Y&T, Dictators, Stooges, Parliament, Mortuous, Hammock, Lazer Hawk, Ennio Morricone, the various Nuggets compilations, Aldo Nova, FM, Def Leppard, Skeletal Remains, Ruin, Coke Bust, just all kinds of different stuff, man.
Any final insults to the scummy readers of Eternal Terror Live before we cap this off?
Matt: DEATH METAL will never stay DEAD, but you will!