INCANTATION – interview with John McEntee
Interview with John McEntee singer/guitarist and founder of INCANTATION
With a new album around the corner, the American death metal act INCANTATION is brining metal lovers something new to look forward to in the middle of the pandemic madness, when a lot of aspects of the music industry have been turned upside down and no one really knows what nor when to expect things to happen. The band’s upcoming release is due on August 21st via Relapse Records and the singer John McEntee has taken his time to hold various online chats, including one with us in Eternal Terror. We talked both about the album, the current situation, gear details how the band functions and Bali mythology. You have below both the audio version and the transcribed text for those who might be old fashioned and prefer the lecture. Enjoy!
Me: How does it feel to put a record out in 2020? You cannot tour, you have no idea if people are able to go into record stores and check it out? Where are you right now?
JM: It’s definitely a strange time but we’re honestly really happy to put it out now. For us, personally, we just want to get the whole thing out. We finished it in early January and as a band we want to have the stuff out there. We wrote music, we want people to enjoy it, even if it’s not the perfect situation for it. It’s never really a perfect situation. Always something happens and screws things up. I think at this time things are crazy in the world so it is good to have something that metal fans can look forward to, enjoy and help get their minds of how sucky the world. The most important thing is that we put out music that we feel comfortable with and in the end people either enjoy or hate it.
Me: But you’re not making the most cheerful of music..
JM: That’s true, and that might be one of the reasons why it’s actually good right now. Maybe we’re indulging their depression, who knows. But I think when things are crazy in the world, people want music which they can use as a release from this. I think death metal always does well in situations of turmoil or insanity.
Me: Do you listen any kind of music to use for such releases for yourself?
JM: Yeah, I listen to stuff that depends on my mood. If I’m in a shitty mood, not in a good place, I listen to a lot of old hard core punk bands like old Dead Kennedys or Black Flag which is really good music to tell the world to fuck off to. There’s also old thrash and death metal bands, like Carnivore, Dark Angel. I like listening to old school death metal, like the peers from our time, Dismember or Morbid Angel. This offers a great release through music.
Me: It must be a nice feeling to actually offer people a chance to get something as a venting mechanism
JM: For sure. It’s been super amazing. The reaction for the new album it’s been really great so far. People seem to really embrace it and it seems like people really needed something that was old school and familiar. Maybe people like to reminisce and think of a simpler time and music might bring them back. Not sure I fully understand as we don’t really make music with the concern on whether people will like it or not but somehow it seems to be reasonating really well. I can’t complain, I’ll take it.
Me: I also believe you can feel when music is planned and overworked versus when it flows naturally
JM: Any kind of music, no matter the style, to me at least it’s always better when it’s passionate and pure and when it’s not based around the business and the industry. A lot of bands are so caught up in this circle of starting with something good but then they get watered down because they try to please the masses. I don’t care what style you play, but I want to hear the reality of your music and the honesty of the musician, that’s what makes it interesting for me.
Me: Was the release planned as it right now or has it already been delayed or impacted in any way?
JM: Originally it was supposed to be released in June or so.
Me: So not very delayed
JM: No, just a little while. Once the quarantine stuff happened, it took a little while for Relapse Records to negocite everything, being a new situation that nobody knows exactly how to handle. I think that by late April or May they said they want to go with August 21st as release day and I was all cool with that. We have a very good relation with Relapse and I let them think what should be done. I don’t know what the right thing to do is in this situation and I’m sure they want the album to do the best given the circumstanes, and I trust their judgement. It seems like it’s been good, the reaction, like I said, it’s been great. There are the things you mentioned before, being a problem from a business point of view. You cannot tour immediately, but at the same time it’s ok. We just deal with the situation as it comes. Besides, writing music is a lot of fun and we’re even writing music now during the quarantine. And I’d much rather get it out instead of sitting on it for too long. Once the quarantine is over, it’s gonna be flooded with releases anyway. It’s gonna be insane with albums that have been postponed or got written during the quarantine. So we get ours out before this explosion.
Me: It’s easier to be remembered I guess. Hopefully. What do you like best about this album?
JM: For me it’s the unity of the band, coming together and agreeing to make everything happen. We recorded the drums for the album like two years ago. And we got so busy touring after that and we never got around to getting the rhythm and the rest down. I was really happy that last summer we were able to all just get together and get the album done. It was a little bit challenging at first having been so long after recording the drums. It felt a bit weird as, natuarally, you think of things differently than you did two years ago, musically at least. It took us a little while to get into the vibe of it but we were able to dig in deep and focus on the songs and it ended up coming really good. But it took a bit of extra effort and despite this gap in the process, the album is doing surprisingly good. Not that we expected it to do bad but we’ve had the songs for so long and it was awesome that it fell together in a way is so well received.
Me: Did you modify the drum tracks at all or you worked with those two years old recordings?
JM: We had to replay some of the drums, not a lot. Just certain parts that didn’t feel quite right when we tried to work with them again. Luckily, with the technology used in recording today, we could flawlessly integrate in the music. Overall, it’s like 90% of the drums are from two years ago. So it’s only minor changes. Dan Swanö, who mixed the album, did such a great job. I don’t know how he does it, but he makes magic happen. We just send him all the tracks and somehow it comes back and we say ‘wow, it sounds great’.
Me: If I look at the numbers correctly, there’s been like 30 years between your first album and this one. If you were to look at the ‘Making of’ movie of the first album and the movie of this latest album, somewhere in your head, what would they have in common?
JM: The thing we have in common the most it’s the dedication and trying to make the best album we can.
Me: Nice to know you keep that after 30 years.
JM: A lot of the stuff is different though. 30 years ago we didn’t know what the hell we were doing and we depended a lot on our engineer and producers to help us with everything. Now we know a lot more, we understand so much more about recording and it helps making the process easier. But the amount of care and dedication and I speak for myself as this is very important to me. I feel like I have to be able to express myself properly with the recording and this has been from day one. You could say I’ve been an asshole to some extent where I really wanted to band to express certain feeling that I had, express them musically. I spent countless hours really thinking about all these parts that people might not care about when they listen through the record, but for me they are really important. It was the same thing on our first album and almost on all of our albums. I get like a mad scientist on how meticulous I am. It’s just the guitar parts and the structure and small things I get really obsessive over sometimes. But to me it’s not just music, it’s an expression of myself and of the band. I look at it as a piece of art. We’re not writing commercial pop songs, we are writing pieces of expression. DELETE 16.36 18-51 I started Incantation as my own vision and I tried to find people who wanted to help play my vision. It wasn’t a bunch of friends that just started jamming in the garage and decided to start a band together. I have played in another band that wasn’t my band, yet I was really into – Revenant, a thrash death metal band. I wanted to go into a more death metal direction so I said ok, let’s start a band and try to find likeminded people who wanted to do what I wanted to do. It’s selfish maybe, but it’s probably the way to be if you want to keep an artistic vision alive. Some bands are very experimental and they don’t mind having all these different ideas, and that’s great for them and it works out for them. But we have our own way and we’re happy with it. Some people believe that bands should be a full collaboration and that works in some situations and it’s nothing wrong with that.
Me: We can have a long debate on this subject, so let’s get back to more Incantation related questions. How has your own gear evolved during these years? Do you still have old stuff that you are really really attached and you’d never get rid of or are you evolving with technology?
JM: I like the stuff that I grew up using. It’s a mixture in the end, there’s new stuff that’s better and I am willing to work with but at the same time there’s certain things that I just feel comfortable with. Guitar wise I like using my B.C. Rich’s, I’ve used them since I was a teenager. It feels comfortable for me. A lot of people use Floyd Ross tremolos, but I like these Kahler tremolos because when I started playing guitar I had one of them and I felt comfortable using it. I still work with newer companies for stuff like my amplifiers for example. For years, I used Marshall cabinets and Mesa Boogie heads for a while. Heads wise I’ve never really felt comfortable with anything, but recently I worked with a cabinet company called Omega Cabs. I got to use it because we played at a festival and they asked if we wanted to use their cabinets, as they were already on stage. I wasn’t sure, we had our own gears but they said we could try it out just for the show. So we did and it had a killer sound. I am not stupid, if it sounds killer and it is something different than what I use, I am not going to be stubborn about it. I can still be stubborn on some of my gear but I learned that some stuff in technoogy could be good if used properly. I used to shy away from technological news and equipment. I wanted to preserve the old style. I realised that a lot of the issues is not the gear itself, it’s the way they use the gear. Just like with production. You can use digital production to totally falsify a recording or you can still use to get an organic recording, if you don’t use it to fix everything up and strip away all of its personality. Which makes a lot of music in the past years to kinda suck. Some of the best music in the world was recorded before there was a way to fix stuff.
Me: Do you still learn any guitar techniques?
JM: I guess..neah. Little things here and there. I don’t spend a lot of time with theory or techniques. This is difficult, but I am probably a worse guitar player now than when I was younger. Ever since I started taking over the vocals and doing guitar, I always felt insecure about my guitar playing. I am good at rhythm but when it comes to a lot of leads, I don’t have the passion to perform the leads live. That’s why recently I tried to work with another lead guitar in the band who can handle that aspect. I learned that I can be the front man/vocalist and handle the rhythm and it’s more easier for me to express my feelings in the music. When I was doing the leads parts it took me a lot of work to learn to play them good and there’s other guitar players who can do it while you just snap your finger. So I thought that maybe playing leads it’s not my calling.
Me: I don’t play so I cannot make any comments there. It was an interesting aspect
JM: I don’t mean to pretend I’m such an amazing virtuoso. I play in my own way. People like it, cool, they don’t, I fully understand, I’m not the greatest.
Me: You guys are based in New York now?
JM: We started in New Jersey, New York area, but we moved. I moved since then but we had a great scene back then
Me: That was actually the question I was going for. How is the death metal scene in the New York area? Or metal scene…is there a metal scene?
JM: These days, there’s still bands that are from there, bands like Immolation, Suffocation, but as far as the scene goes, I really don’t know. I live in North Carolina but when we tour we always play New York and the shows are always great. As far as the local scene, I don’t know how it actually goes. There’s some good venues supporting the local scene, like Saint Vitus for example. I am sure they have an underground scene but not living there anymore, I cannot say much about it.
Me: There was a question that I skipped about the album. You have little time, so hopefully it will be quick. The album is called "Sect of Vile Divinities". Who are these vile divinities and what would you tell them if you were to meet them?
JM: The concept belongs to our bass played, Chuck Sherwood who came up with this amazing concept. If I came across any of these vile divinities I’d probably be pretty fucket. I think it’s very interesting because he came up with stuff that’s normally not sung about. The song "Entrails of the Hag Queen" is inspired by Bali mythology. It’s an interesting take, I never heard other bands doing stuff like that. Like any religion, they have their evil tales and these interesting stories about a queen being excommunicated from her kingdom and she makes a deal with a witch. The witch gives her the power to control these heads with entrails and they’d eat newborn children from pregnant women. This is not an actual thing that happens, but it’s an actual thing that they believe in their religion. If you go there, you can see reenactments about it. It is really crazy.
Me: It is. And it makes for a theme for a death metal song.
JM: Actually there’a b-horror movie based around the same topic, the entrails of the Hag Queen. It’s kind of cheesy but kind of interesting. It’s rather difficult to make a visual of these heads without it being too cheesy. But it’s kinda cool in the end.
Me: I’ll look for it. I’m happy to hear that things are going well for the band and that people are happy with the upcoming album JM: Thank you very much, I aprecciate the interview. It was really awesome.