Interview with Andy LaPlegua by TG
Norwegian-American electronic hard rock/heavy metal group Combichrist has returned with its eighth studio album This is Where Death Begins, via Out of Line Music.
An apocalyptic behemoth of guitars, electronica, infernal drums and dark elemental force, This is Where Death Begins was produced by Oumi Kapila (Filter) plus Combichrist’s own Andy LaPlegua and mastered by the legendary Vlado Meller (Red Hot Chili Peppers, Slipknot). The 15-track album also features guest vocals from Chris Motionless (Motionless in White) and Ariel Levitan (MXMS).
MGM spoke to Andy via the magic of Skype to understand what the new album and the intriguing videos that accompany it mean.
MGM: Have listened to your album ‘This is Where Death Begins’. It’s awesome and I have it on all the time.
Andy: It’s my favourite too. Wait it’s not my favourite album but my favourite of ours (laughs).
MGM: Well I checked out the video today for ‘My Life My Rules’ which is one of my favourite tracks from the new album and I hadn’t realised until today that it was directed by the guy who did ‘Maggots At The Party’ (from their 2014 album ‘We Love You’), Jason Alacrity, which is really cool as I really liked that video as well.
Andy: Yeah which was the reason why we worked with him again because we were so happy working with him on the first one, mostly because we worked so well together. It was really easy, we kind of threw out an idea and he knew exactly what we meant right away which is hard to come along people like that. When you are trying to be creative and you have a certain idea and it is hard for other people to vision what you’re visioning. It was great from the beginning on for ‘Maggot’ he just really knew exactly, we understood each other really well.
MGM: Yes because the video for ‘Maggots’ was perfect, you know the whole party feel, biker scene, it was great and then you have got the ‘My Life My Rules’ video, it suits it completely even though I did notice that at the beginning of both videos, it was kind of the same with you waking and getting up, the first one was with beer cans and the second one was with bodies.
Andy: The third one is probably going to start the same way too. (Laughs).
MGM: Yeah I can see a theme there then. I wanted to talk to you about the videos and the songs because I know you have had two songs feature in horror films and I know that you have directed some of your videos as well so I was wondering if this is something you would do yourself i.e. go down the Rob Zombie route, a full soundtrack or a film, a horror film?
Andy: I think it’s too early to say but I mean obviously the idea has been there. It’s always been there for years and I have been talking to several people about certain ideas. We’re supposed to be doing something a couple of years ago and we had the script and everything ready then it was bought up by a movie company and then they decided not to do anything with it. The only reason they bought it up in the first place was because they had a similar idea for another movie and they just bought the rights for it so we couldn’t do it. That’s how the movie industry works. Might be something else down the road, I don’t know but it’s definitely been in the back of my head for a long time.
MGM: Well your videos are great because they are like movies. Take ‘Throat Full of Glass’ which feels like a manga film. Each time I see your videos, it’s like watching a mini-movie.
Andy: Well that is what we are going for a little bit. Also, no matter how serious the topic, we try to make it a little bit tongue in cheek so you have a little bit of humour in it so it’s not us being macho, it’s us having a good time and making a good video you know? So it’s always important for us to have a little bit of humour in it.
MGM: I am going to ask about the album in a little while as I definitely want to talk about that but I know that on the 9th April you played a solo show at the Complex in Glendale in California? You did everything didn’t you with the set list included tracks like Brain Bypass, Adult Content etc. – would you be doing that again?
Andy: Probably not. I did it as, how should I explain it, I did it like, this latest album is a rebirth of the band which kind of ties us into the album’s title, ‘This Is Where Death Begins’. It’s not about something ending, its death starts with birth, kind of like a rebirth of the band a little bit. I wanted to do the set as an exclusive thing, to have done it before the album came out.
MGM: Was it a kind of a goodbye as well?
Andy: Yeah but I never say never. Shit in a couple of months from now there might be something more different. If I do something, I want to do it for fun right? So you never know but I absolutely have no plans for it. It just doesn’t mean that I won’t do it.
MGM: That’s good because obviously I didn’t see it… Just wanted to ask you, Scandinavian Cock. That’s different, Rockabilly and Psychobilly which is a great genre but I didn’t know that was something that you were interested in.
Andy: Well this is a funny thing. We were always changing in Combichrist and people were always saying about ‘don’t forget your roots, what are you doing, don’t forget your roots’. The funny thing is that I am from the punk rock scene as that’s what I grew up in so that’s what I did. I mean I toured my teenage life and most of my twenties in punk rock and hardcore bands. I wasn’t even getting into electronic music until the end of the nineties and one of the reasons I got into electronic music was because of Ministry and Jello Biafra’s Lard. The Dead Kennedys were in there too and that kind of piqued my interest in Industrial so that is how my first encounter was with Industrial Rock and not Electronica so it’s kind of a full circle especially with this album because it actually is my roots. This album has way more of my roots than any other Combichrist album I have released. So Scandinavian Cock is a big punk rock band with me and some friends of mine just meeting every now and then, bring a six pack of beer and play some rock and roll and have some fun. It’s really nothing else. We have done a handful of shows in pubs mostly in Atlanta. We haven’t really planned on doing anything bigger either. It’s just a fun little thing we do with friends. It’s just drink and Rock and Roll.
MGM: Sounds like fun though, maybe something to bring over with Combichrist as a support or something maybe.
Andy: Exactly (laughs).
MGM: Talking about the album, ‘This Is Where Death Begins’, you had said that you can hear your influences in it. I could hear everything. I head Rammstein. In one song to me, you sound like David Bowie singing. Honestly it was crazy, it was ‘Homeward Bound’. You start singing and I think it’s Bowie who has gone all dark.
Andy: It’s funny you saying that because I had always said I only had one hero and that’s David Bowie. That’s funny you said that. Of course there’s a lot of artists that I admire and that I think are amazing but I only had one real hero in music and that’s David Bowie. Of course the album has everything from me at this point. It has all my electronic influences, my metal influences, the industrial, the punk, everything. It’s got everything in it.
MGM: For me, I come from an alternative/industrial background in the nineties that was kind of my thing and also the electronica and then I got into hardcore, rapcore, metalcore so for me, the album you have got now feeds every single element of music that I love.
Andy: That is good. Mission accomplished (laughs).
MGM: The very first song on the album ‘This Is Where Death Begins’ when it starts, I can hear the influence of Rammstein in there. I know you did quite a lot of touring with them.
Andy: i think somebody said something about bands like Manson, something like this. I think it was more that we had the same, we were inspired by the same things in the early nineties. I am not really a big fan of either one of the bands they say we sound like. We were definitely inspired by a lot of the same bands in the nineties to do what we’re doing now so I can see why people would pull those parallels because one of those, two of those bands would be very inspired by music from Ministry or Nine Inch Nails and the others and were heavily influenced by those bands as well. For certain we had the same sort of upbringing in music so maybe that’s why.
MGM: That’s probably why – I think I said the comment that I heard Nine Inch Nails but then, to be honest, think you’re pure industrial and it’s not you compare with them but that you’re on an equal level with the band and I did hear industrial in there.
Andy: I never sit down and write a song and go ‘oh yeah I’m gonna write a Nine Inch Nails song’. It’s all there in the back of your head.
MGM: It’s not that you are Nine Inch Nails, you are your own industrial sound. I think you are original. Also electronica – you know the song on the new album ‘You Don’t Know How I Feel’, it really sounded like ‘Throat Full of Glass’ (from the 2010 album ‘Making Monsters’) but it is sped up which for me was really interesting. It was like a weird remix but completely different which was really good. I can see myself dancing to that at an industrial club somewhere or an electronica one. Was that intentional or were you playing around with it?
Andy: (Laughs) It’s actually funny you say that because I never thought about that. Now I have to go back and listen to that. I actually never really thought about it at all but now I have to slow down the track to see if you are right.
MGM: It’s actually a compliment, it is a compliment because it was like a sped up version and I even had to check the lyrics just in case to see and sing along. (Andy laughs…thankfully).
Andy: Never thought about that. Now I am curious.
MGM: Talking about the new album, have you written this as a theme because I compared it to vampire novels I have read – Necroscope, Anne Rice and also zombie apocalypse, it felt that way. ‘Homeward Bound’ in particular, if you have ever read the Necroscope books, it’s very in keeping with that theme. Is that intentional?
Andy: No, when I write, these things are always hard to write, even happy songs. It’s hard for me to write if I am in a good place. If I’m in the happy place, I’m just not as creative. You put yourself in this dark place and I think that’s just the result of putting yourself there and that might fit the themes for those books because they are obviously dark. I guess you are writing from the same point of view.
MGM: For me, it works because it appeals to me that kind of feel. Also I did read up about you writing on some of your albums. There as one album that you did actually write on the road, on tour. Was it ‘Making Monsters’? Was this one (This Is Where Death Begins’), one that was at home or in the studio to write or while you were on tour?
Andy: I would say 50/50. I do write a lot on tour because there’s a lot of late nights and those good times to sit up on the tour busses and just moving down the highway, sit there alone and everybody is sleeping and you just sit and have a few drinks and you sit and write you know? There’s really nothing else to do so I tend to write a lot on tour. Most of the lyrics are written on the road. Of course a lot of the music has been written around it later. We already had the music and I am sitting writing for it on the road so it’s kind of 50/50 most of the music, the musical part I end up doing in the studio and most of the writing itself I end up doing on the road.
MGM: You mentioned that this album is your favourite Combichrist album ever but not your favourite album of all time so what is your favourite album of all time?
Andy: (laughs) I think that it’s unrelated to anything that I really listen to but I probably think that ‘Sabbath Bloody Sabbath’ is probably one of my favourite albums of all time because it’s one of the first albums I was introduced to as a kid and that’s what really started my interest in, what shall I say, alternative music. And ‘Bedtime for Democracy’ (Dead Kennedys) really got me into the punk scene I could probably say those two albums but there’s really nothing that might be my most favourite album to listen to but those are definitely my two top albums because it kind of steered me in the direction I am now.
MGM: So what are you listening to now especially with your punk roots and hardcore roots?
Andy: Actually right now, let me look at my playlist now. Well Gallows and Architects, Billie Holliday.
MGM: Billie Holliday?
Andy: Sinatra (laughs). Yeah it’s all over the place.
MGM: So do you still listen to hardcore then like The Architects – Sam Carter and I Killed the Prom Queen and all those bands?
Andy: Yeah I still listen, when I do it really depends on my mood too of course. I listen to, when I’m home, or we are having a party, whatever at my house, my playlist is all hardcore stuff and punk rock stuff. You know when you’re sitting relaxing on a plane I don’t really listen to it, more like swing or blues, calm, jazz, stuff like this you know. So really it varies with what I am doing but I definitely still listen to it.
MGM: Is there anyone you can recommend that we check out?
Andy: i think because I mentioned the Architects, that’s one of the bands, if people don’t know them. They have been around for a while but I just discovered them myself.
MGM: They do tour the States.
Andy: I still haven’t seen them but I think it’s definitely one of the bands that pique my interest because they have been in the hardcore scene for so long. It’s actually nice to hear something that is a little different, that has a little different sound. Yeah it was just one of those things.
MGM: Speaking of live, you have just done the UK tour, you have just finished that. What have you got coming up next? I am pretty sure you have got some festivals coming up but any plans to come back to Europe? To the UK?
Andy: First we are finishing a couple of shows here and a couple of shows this weekend and then we are doing a festival in Germany mid-August. Then back to the US then we’ve got six weeks in the US and then I am probably going to do another four weeks in the US. I guess then it’s next year. We will see but probably next summer.
MGM: Great! Is Wacken one of those festivals in Germany?
Andy: I will be playing M’era Luna 2016 (Hildesheim, August 13-14, 2016). We played Wacken last year. I think we are maybe leaning towards it next year but we will see.
Andy LaPlegua – vocals,
Joe Letz – drums,
Eric 13 – guitar,
Brent Ashley – bass,
Nick Rossi – drums,