Interview by Alan Daly
© Olga Kuzmenko
Photos by Olga Kuzmenko
Alan: Hi Ben. Nice to meet you. Welcome back to Dublin. You were here about two years ago…
Ben: That’s right; with Three Inches Of Blood, Havok and Angelus Apatrida. It was at the Pint!
Alan: Exactly! You obviously have memories of that visit? What comes to mind about it?
Ben: That was a really good show man! I just remember that venue specifically because it’s on the second floor, and I remember it being higher up.
Alan: So your latest album, Constricting Rage of the Merciless is out about four months now. How is the new material going down live?
Ben: Everything’s been going really good with it… We’re playing a lot of material from it as well. For these shows we’re doing like five or six songs from it in our set. But the overall feedback and the first week sales went really good. And it got us on some kind of charts or something! I don’t really follow a lot of that shit too much. Even going in, as a band, writing it and putting it together, we were really excited about it. When you do that kind of stuff, you don’t ever perceive how it’s going to be taken in by the audience, because as a band you kind of do it for yourself, and then from that point as it unfolds, anything is possible.
Alan: I read that you intentionally tried to shorten your album recording cycle.
Ben: Yeah, we used to stay on the road a lot more. We still tour a lot, of course. I’m sure people see that we tour the states a lot. But I think we came to a point where we’re a little bit pickier about the tours we do, and we try not to do so many. Because we don’t really achieve any writing when we’re on tour; it only happens when we’re at home and we can sit down and go through everything. So we decided to try to pull away from that and focus on writing a little bit more.
Alan: I assume you need to reach a certain stage in your career to be able to make that sort of conscious choice, because most new bands need to tour as much as possible to make a living and to become recognised?
Ben: Yeah, I think sometimes it’s a catch-22. You can hurt yourself, because sometimes if you’re out on the road too much then people have had enough of you, and they’re like “Oh they always come through; we’ll see them next time”. So at a point you’ve just got to pull back and focus on the music a bit more. It’s a weird kind of balance. You’ve got to work it out. I don’t think there’s any real true formula within the music industry.
Alan: It’s two years since you’ve been here, and I feel like that’s a good frequency to visit, because when some bands visit every year, it can feel like a bit too much.
Ben: The thing I think about out here [Europe], is that we have toured here a lot less than in the US. We’ve been over here like four times now. I guess twice, or three times in Dublin. But still, that’s over a duration of so many years. I wouldn’t see an issue in maybe coming back a little sooner, like under a year. Because nowadays there’s so many metal bands or heavy bands out there that tour, and they’re all touring so much that, yeah, you might have come through, but six months down the line you’re kind of forgotten about. Metal Blade does a good job of promoting our records, but the way the industry is going now; so much stuff comes out, that you get over-looked sometimes. I mean, we’ve played a lot of shows even on this tour, and people are like “I’ve never heard of you before. I’m a Dying Fetus fan and I’ve come to their show”. So it shows that we still have a lot of work to do. Hopefully we’ll be going to some festivals out here in mainland Europe and the UK. I know we’re coming back in late May to do Temples Festival which is over in Bristol. So hopefully that leads to more festivals opening up, because I know festivals are a big deal out here, and if you can play those, you get in front of more people.
Alan: Yeah, I was actually going to ask you if you had any Summer festivals lined up…
Ben: So yeah, we have that one. And actually we just confirmed Inferno Festival in Norway as well, which is really cool too. That’s a really awesome festival. I did it with another band, back a while, but it’s really nice, and hopefully some other festivals will fall into place as well.
Alan: Back to your new album (Constricting Rage of the Merciless): We’re there any songs that you recorded or worked on that didn’t make it onto the record?
Ben: Ah, I wouldn’t say full songs, but maybe bits and pieces. Because we do construct a lot of songs, and then we tear things apart when we’re not happy. We can get completely to the end of a whole song, and be done and then just be rehearsing over the new material and be like “This song just doesn’t have the vibe, the feeling we’re looking for. Something’s not clicking”. Even though when you sit there writing it, you think it all falls into place, but the end result just doesn’t feel right, it doesn’t feel comfortable. So we end up taking a song and ripping parts out and constructing other songs and maybe the first part of that song is maybe the middle of another song, or whatever. Sammy has a whole big stockpile of riffs from like way back on the first record. Even on the new record, you’ll have riffs that were from older times when we were putting things together and the pieces just didn’t fit in at the right point. And now, working on new material, they kind of fit into a spot in a certain part of the song. So there’s not really like “B-sides” or songs we don’t release. We don’t really have anything extra except all these little pieces that we’ll use later on for other stuff.
Alan: So I was looking at the schedule for the current tour. It’s absolutely crazy. You are going non-stop from the 8th of November right up until the 19th of December, with only two days off…
Ben: [Laughs] Yeah, only to take a ferry from Sweden to Finland, and then play Finland, and then take a ferry back to Sweden. It is pretty relentless, but I think in a way it’s really good. We’re hitting a lot of places we’ve never played before, and we’re playing in front of a lot more people than we have in the past, because Dying Fetus has such a solid fanbase. We pick tours, and some tours are alright… Some people come out but they’re just into a certain band on that tour. But it seems like on this tour, every band is doing really well. Each band is offering a variation in styles within metal; from Fallujah to Malevolence, to what we’re doing and what Dying Fetus does. Overall though, the Dying Fetus crowd are into the entirety of the package.
Alan: I had planned to ask you what are the worst things and the best things about such a busy tour schedule, but I think you’ve already answered that…
Ben: Well, you can either look at the glass half full or half empty. We’ve had some rough moments. Some of the load-ins are pretty crazy with stairs like last night in Glasgow there was a place called the Cathouse, and there are stairs that go up and up and up. And we’ve got to bring all the gear in and bring the gear out, and that can be pretty brutal at times. But overall, it’s what we all wanted to do. We all wanted to play in an underground metal band, so we have to accept everything with it. We’re sharing a bus with Dying Fetus and Fallujah, and in the US we have our own van with a trailer, and we sleep in the van every night. It’s such a convenience now to climb into the bus and not to have to drive. Because that’s a brutal thing in the US; especially when you get out west, you have 8 to 10 hour drives to the next show. You finish the show, you pack everything up and you just hit the road, pull off for a little while, sleep wherever in the van, and then wake up 2 hours later and just keep going.
Alan: So what are you listening to yourself at the moment?
Ben: A little bit of everything. I’ve been listening to this band Vallenfyre from the UK. It’s got some guys from Paradise Lost, My Dying Bride, At The Gates, Doom. Then a band called The Ruins of Beverast. Some older stuff like Priest, Maiden, Motörhead. Things like that. It’s all mixed up.
Alan: Do you tend to just put music on random then?
Ben: Yeah, most of the time lately I do that. I just shove everything on my iPod and then sometimes you scroll through and you just can’t pick something, so I just hit shuffle on the entire fuckin’ iPod, so if you get to something, and you get that little click and think “Oh, I want to hear this whole record”. I like Queen too, so I have some variations.
Alan: Anything else that might surprise Goatwhore fans?
Ben: [Laughs] I guess. I’ll never be able to sing like Freddie Mercury for sure. There’s a lot of people that think they could do what he did, but he was phenomenal. I watch videos online of his performance and the way he was as a vocalist, and I think it influences me in his ability to be eclectic within his style. And that’s what I want to be within metal. Kind of eclectic. You know, I’m really into death metal, black metal, thrash metal, so I want to use my voice in those ways within it, so it’s kind of like a small influence of Freddie Mercury. Not necessarily vocally like him, but his ability to change into so many different formats, as Queen did as a whole; not just him.
Alan: You just explained your admiration for Freddie Mercury, but if you could share the stage with any artist, living or dead, who would it be?
Ben: It would be awesome to play some kind of show with Judas Priest, Slayer and Goatwhore; that would be fucking amazing. I’ve got to say, we’ve already gotten to do a lot of things, that growing up as a kid, I would never have conceived I’d be doing. We toured the U.S. With Celtic Frost. We did shows with Emperor. We did a small tour with Venom in the States as well. When you’re growing up and not even in a band yet, you don’t think that one day I’m going to be in a band and we’ll be touring with a band that is basically a major influence on everything we’re doing now. It’s cool that we’ve hit those kind of things. Because, way back before we did that, if you were to ask me “Who would you want to play with?”, I’d be like Celtic Frost, Venom, you know? But that’s achieved. But what isn’t achieved; is Judas Priest, Motörhead, Slayer. Maybe Queen; but then I don’t really think we’d fit in with Queen much. Unless we did something like the Roskilde Festival, where they have so many different variations of music, then it would be unique. Even
Alan: What would you consider to be the high-point of your career to date?
Ben: Pretty much the bulk of it! Like I said; with the Celtic Frost and Venom tours; it’s kind of a weird state; you’re sitting there going “Wow, I’m actually out with these guys”, and when you’re sitting there before the show, and you’re at the venue with Tom Warrior [Celtic Frost] and you’re just talking about something; just some regular discussion. Or Cronos from Venom; and he’s sitting there having a cup of coffee or tea or whatever, and he’s telling you old stories about the early days of Venom and things that went on. And afterwards you think “Wow, that just happened. And I didn’t goof off like a fan boy, and not be able to say anything”. I mean, if everything was to end today, would I be satisfied with everything that happened? Yes. I’m happy with a lot of things that I’ve done in this band, and what this band has done as a whole. I definitely want to keep going on, but I’m getting older, and as you get older, this style of music gets rough to do. I wouldn’t say metal is a young man’s thing, but extreme metal is definitely a young man’s thing, because it’s all about the performance and it’s got to be extreme and in-your-face. You see Judas Priest, and they’re still doing it in their sixties, you know? But then again, that’s not really extreme, vicious metal like Dying Fetus does, or we do.
Alan: I guess it takes its toll…
Ben: Yeah, everything falls apart; it happens! But there’s a lot of really good younger bands out there. So to me, I feel like if everything was to end now, there’s a lot of really good young bands out there, doing things and keeping that momentum going within the underground extreme metal scene. Which is good to know that that’s still going on. And then I can be at home watering the garden, feeding the dogs or something, and thinking “Yeah, I’m satisfied with this”.
Alan: So who’s your hot tip for a young new band, that maybe hasn’t gotten a lot of publicity yet?
Ben: Well, Fallujah, who are opening up here tonight. They’re a younger band, but they really have something unique going on in how they do it and how they structure things. It’s an experience, and it’s cool because they have all these ideas in the way they work things together, and they are really hungry for it. That’s the thing with young bands; the industry hasn’t gotten to them yet, and torn them apart and made them bitter and nasty about how everything runs. And they’re about to work out a new record deal with a bigger label, and things are on that peak where it can open up like this [spreads arms wide]. So; them. And there’s a band we toured with in the past called Havok, and they’re more like old school Bay-area thrash metal, but they have that hunger too. I remember touring with them on that Three Inches Of Blood tour and in the U.S. And you can tell they are excited. And it makes me excited too.
Alan: Does it remind you of your own early days?
Ben: Yeah, it reminds me of being young! Because when you get older you get… Not necessarily bitter… But just that, I’ve been there, done that, kind of thing. But you’ve got to kind of push that away. You’ve still got to keep that young flame going. It’s really hard to be original nowadays because so much has been done over and over. You get to the point where you go back to the classic stuff like Judas Priest, Celtic Frost, Venom, and we kind of recreate it in how we think it needs to sound through us. We’re not ripping it off, but we’re recreating it in the way we perceive it, and the way we would want to do it. Look at The Black Dahlia Murder; I remember touring with them in the early days when they were really small and they were just starting off, and it’s amazing to see how they have evolved into what they are and how much of a fanbase they have and all the work they did. And that’s really fucking unique. I really appreciate how all that fell into place for them.
Alan: Thank you for your time. It’s been a pleasure talking to you. Any final words to your Dublin fans?
Ben: This question is always the hardest one… Just… If you’ve never heard of us, give us a try. I’m definitely not one of these people that complain about Spotify or downloading. To me it’s like the industry is kind of fucking itself. All these labels complaining how sales are low and people are downloading, but at the same time; if 10 new records come out every week for a month. That’s 40 records, at 10 euros or 10 dollars or 10 pounds for each record… So that’s 400 of whatever currency, that a kid… or even an adult, couldn’t pay for in a month. So if you put out so much stuff, and then you’re complaining that people aren’t buying records… Then do you not see that the majority of the population are paying to live and do things or they have kids, then why wouldn’t people go and download or check things out on Spotify? It’s only way for people to hear things and know what’s coming out, you know?
Alan: So would you prefer somebody to spend that 10 dollars or whatever on coming to see you perform live at a show than buying your latest album?
Ben: I would rather them come, and know the material. If they can’t afford it because of whatever. They might not be able to afford 4 records in a month; much less 40 in a month. So if they download our music; like what they hear; I’d rather they come to our show, and maybe buy some stuff, but even just pay to get into the show to support the band in general. Especially in this style; look how many fucking bands there are! It’s insane. Just look at the numbers. Statistically, it’s easy. And for labels to sit there; and even huge artists that are complaining about the whole Spotify and download thing, that make great fucking money and they’re still bitching about it… It’s like, we’re roughing it out. We’re staying filthy for weeks living in vehicles and stuff like that. I just want people to know the material when they come to the show. Whatever I can get… If I can get people into it, I will, by whatever means. I have to say yes, downloading sucks because it does hurt the artist and things like that, but at the same time the alternative is just not feasible financially. And a lot of labels don’t want to hear that, because they just want people to buy the CD, because they can make more money right there on the spot with it.
Alan: Fair point. Well, hopefully you will have a great crowd here tonight who will recognize your music…
Ben: Oh I’m sure there will be. I’m sure it’ll be great. A bunch of people getting drunk, having fun, not worrying about work tomorrow…
Alan: Haha yeah… We’re looking forward to it. Thanks for chatting to us!