Words by Brendan O’Mahony – Photos by Olga Kuzmenko
MGM: Hey Max, thanks very much for sitting down to chat with me. First off how was the trip over from Scotland?
ML: Great, we actually took a really early ferry and then drove down from Northern Ireland, so got some sleep on the way down, not too crazy.
MGM: The joys of touring and catching sleep when you can.
ML: Yeah, we just got over here so we haven’t had time to relax enough to notice that we are tired because we are already tired from coming over here.
MGM: Well it’s great to have you guys over here. Unfortunately, in terms of the city, you’re not going to get a chance to see too much.
ML: Yeah, it’s been a couple of years since we’ve been over here, maybe two or three years.
MGM: Yeah, it was the Abysmal tour when you were last here so 2016, I believe.
ML: 2016, oh wow it has been a long time.
MGM: Well look you’re not forgetting about us so that’s the best thing.
ML: Oh no man we wouldn’t forget about Ireland, we’re going down to Limerick tomorrow but I don’t know much about the city.
MGM: Ah man, it’s a great city and Dolan’s Warehouse, it’s a proper venue. The walls are dripping in sweat when it’s packed in there.
ML: Oh nice, proper sauna of a show with the lights and everything man.
MGM: So, for these shows you are here for the Nightbringers record.
ML: Yeah, we’re tying up the rest of the touring cycle for this one you know.
MGM: Yeah, it’s been out since the end of 2017.
ML: Exactly. We do two years of a cycle for records. We are coming to the end of that now and then we will construct and unleash the new record. We are working on new stuff too so it’s good man.
MGM: Right, I was going to say it’s been an album every two years since 2003 so it’s nearly your time again.
ML: Right yeah. I mean that’s also not taking too much time. At least after two years you have had time to think and reflect on ways of approaching the material. Some bands do a record every year but for us it’s better every two years.
MGM: It gives people time to digest the album, speaking of which how have you found the reaction to the album?
ML: Oh man this has been the best one. We’ve been seeing the most growth on this one. Visibly the crowds, you’re like there are way more people here or they know all the songs. People are singing the words and people freak out for the title track especially which is really cool. Overall, it’s had a huge impact and been growing all the time which is really great.
MGM: From what I understand as well for your label Metal Blade Records, it was the fastest selling pre-order in their history.
ML: Oh yeah, we broke some records with that one. It is surprising considering the state of the music business right now and how things are selling. Record sales are obviously down because there are other options out there now. Not that that’s always a bad thing but things have been divided now and we are still doing well in that area.
MGM: You guys are label mates with Behemoth and Cannibal Corpse and still able to do it so you’re definitely doing something right.
ML: Yeah, it’s awesome, it warms my heart (laughing). It keeps getting better and I never want to be like “oh yeah it’s the good old days” but it has been getting better every year.
MGM: In terms of the streaming services like Spotify does it have an impact on touring as album sales can sometimes be limited by the streaming services?
ML: Well, as a method of practice that makes sense from a volume point of view definitely but also a bit depressing as you have to spread yourself thinner to see the same return. I mean we do have to work harder because there are more things out there but recently there was legislation that passed for bands to get more royalties from their record streams which Spotify is trying to countersue against so at times they are not always helping but if the other ones pay what they are supposed to and what’s fair I don’t think we will have to increase the volume. We are already out there a lot and if streaming services divide even more then what do we do? Do we never have time to write a record because we have to get stuff done in that time too not just play shows.
MGM: So, in terms of writing, from what I see you guys are some of the hardest working guys in metal for touring, you’re everywhere all the time, do you write at home or on the road?
ML: Home definitely. The way we do it is everyone has their own writing/recording setup at home. It’s very achievable now the way everything is, it’s pretty easy to write separately, send each other songs and we will take pieces or whole songs and go to pre-production to an edited version of it and then take those templates to the final cut, to lay out a grid. We will create a template with the click base and a grid, go into the studio with the outline and then go from there. We start individually and everyone votes or talks, deciding which pieces can be added in or taken out. Everyone is involved and we do have guys who write most of everything but everyone is involved in the process.
MGM: In terms of the album itself, on previous albums like Ritual and Everblack, they were longer albums, more experimental in a way with strings and pianos whereas this one Nightbringers is 33 minutes of straight up death.
ML: That was on purpose too. We said quality over quantity and wanted to focus on these bangers and then be like right let’s focus on a darker, more familiar sound and went with a Nocturnal vibe.
MGM: Yeah, even the album artwork, you went back to Necrolord for that.
ML: Yeah, it’s supposed to be like an area at the back of the castle yeah, yeah.
MGM: Kind of like closing the circle in a way.
ML: That’s cool too because you know it’s like a piece, more to it than just the red one.
MGM: We had Aborted over here a few months ago and Sven was saying for the style of music that it is, because it’s so intense, albums need to be shorter.
ML: Yeah, that’s like the science of it too. You only have so much attention to give to something and sometimes it can be too much. You don’t want the person listening to the album ending their thought process with “oh, I got to shut it off, it’s too much”, better they shut it off and go that was awesome.
MGM: Kind of like guerrilla warfare, get in, get out.
ML: (Laughing) Yeah, man exactly.
MGM: In terms of Metal Blade, for me anyway looking from the outside in, it’s very rare to see a band stay with the same label the whole way through so how has it been for you since you joined the band in 2012?
ML: It’s been really good. I’ve had experience with other labels obviously but for instance I know everyone in the label, even the guys at the top and the guys we work with regularly on a first name basis. We are friends with everyone and they are always at shows like the L.A or New York shows. They’ve flown over to Europe, I’ve seen the label heads at Hellfest, Wacken and other festivals where they will just come out to support us you know. We’ve known them for so long and it’s been great. Sometimes it’s stressful you know, your boss or five of your bosses are watching you work but it’s been good man. They are great people, nice and funny. You hear about other labels dictating clothes you will wear, colours and facial hair or whatever but they don’t say that stuff to us.
MGM: They’ve got the confidence in you guys, eight albums in.
ML: I hope it stays like that. The long and short of it is they are our friends and it’s like a family unit. They’ve been there since the start and have seen the band grow up.
MGM: Coming back around to the touring for you guys, you’ve been over to Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Mexico and you jumped on the 70,000 Tons Cruise Ship tour. How was that experience being so close to fans?
ML: Oh man, it was amazing. So, I’ve had friends who have played it before and they said it was so great. I’d never even been on a cruise before so wasn’t totally sure what to expect. My first thought was it could be small, maybe gross with people super drunk and throwing up all over the place but it was great. It was way bigger than I thought it would be, accommodation was great, the variety of bands was amazing. You know, I got to see bands that I like from all genres. I like a lot of Power Metal and stuff so I saw a lot of those bands.
MGM: Yeah you had Power Metal mixing with Nile and Obituary.
ML: Yeah man, it’s like 24 hours a day nearly. In my down time I was thinking I’ll sleep for a few hours then I’ll go see Exmortis at 3 am and I did and it was awesome.
MGM: Yeah, you’re sets were at 2 and 3 in the morning as well.
ML: Yeah, we played the first day at 3 in the morning and then we had a day off to hang out. Then day 3 play at 2 am but in between that we are all doing stuff there was rock climbing and surfing in wave pools, a full-on gym with free weights. It’s like a small city. I remember watching Dark Funeral and thinking we are in the middle of nowhere just blasting Black Metal and it’s fuckin’ great. You know fog blasting out of the stage, it was just crazy man. If you’re going to do something make sure you do that man.
MGM: Yeah, we are really lucky over here to get Hellfest and Download but I’ve never been on a cruise ship myself so it’s definitely one to try.
ML: Yeah, they are getting a bigger boat next year too. It also means that the music is succeeding as the boat is getting bigger so that’s great to see.
MGM: Having been so close to fans on the ship I have to ask about the Blast Fiends, your fan club?
ML: We have chapters of them.
MGM: It’s like a motorcycle gang.
ML: (laughing) yeah. We have chapters with different patches, admins will design their own patches and stuff which is cool. They get exclusive stuff as well, like pop sockets for phones, certain stuff only available for them. They do a lot for us, supporting us and it’s cool. It’s huge now and it’s a good place to see what people want from us.
MGM: They are going to be honest with you.
ML: Oh yeah for sure.
MGM: They’ll tell you if you’re going the wrong direction.
ML: Oh of course and they’re right, make sure we don’t go in the total wrong direction.
MGM: Like going down a dubstep route.
ML: (laughing) yeah or getting hit in the head with a flower pot and totally forgetting where we’ve come from.
MGM: So, what is next for you guys? I know you head back over to the U.K for a couple of dates and then into Europe.
ML: Yeah, we head over to Russia after that and then Mexico for Domination fest. Then from Mexico we fly to Atlanta directly to start the Meshuggah tour while our tour manager and driver haul the gear to Atlanta to meet us. There’s a two-step process going on, much like over here, we have a European team, so we have different crews for different parts of the world we are in.
MGM: With all the travel, is it hard to switch off when you do get some down time?
ML: Eh, yeah when I go home for sure. You know we have things and processes everyday on tour and then suddenly you go home and that all stops but I have multiple things to keep me busy.
MGM: Moving over to, I suppose, band history, you’re edging ever closer to the 20th anniversary, so for a new generation of metal fans you are becoming the old guard now, a newer version of Cannibal Corpse. How do you react to that?
ML: (laughing) Oh man how can I react to something like that. It’s crazy to think of that because for me Cannibal Corpse was a band, I’d go see front row when I was 15 so it’s surreal to think like that. I love that we can be compared to them because of the level that they are at and the impact they have had.
MGM: Well the consistency of the albums since day one has been a case of, you know what base template you’re going to get, with some experimentation thrown in there.
ML: Yeah, even guys in Metal Blade have said similar things. Some people have asked for advice in terms of music and I’ve said whatever you’re good at just stay consistent and reliable over time and that’s what will work.
MGM: So, as we have referenced earlier you guys are on an album cycle every two years so can I ask when should we expect a new record from you guys? Have you got it written? Are you far along in the process?
ML: We have some of it written and will be recording it this year. We have to work on the release date so I don’t want to say too much right now but definitely sooner than later. To give you an inside look on the process we are ready to track some stuff soon and have some time booked, the majority of everything is written we just need to tighten up a few things and just get in there. We will finish these tour legs. We actually pushed some things back to give our drummer more time to track because if we didn’t, he would have literally had to go from the road to studio without really being as familiar with the work as he would like to be. It’s in the process, it’s not like we are thinking about doing a new record I mean it’s happening within the next few months.
MGM: That’s great news to hear, it’s always interesting the anticipation for some dark, death metal. So, in terms of Death Metal what attracts you to the darker side of music seeing as you were saying before you’re a big Power Metal fan?
ML: Well, I’ve been into Brutal Death Metal since I was young, I used to be in a grind band. I always liked extreme music and the complexity of it. It’s really fast but it’s also quite calming with the intricacies of some of the material. It’s a better payoff as a musician as it’s more challenging. The community aspect too, I’ve met a lot of friends through the music and I’ve gotten to travel a lot to places that I may not have seen, maybe if I was in the military or something, but that side of it in so far as doing it for a career has been great. The fact I get to impact people everyday is cool too.
MGM: So, if you weren’t a musician what would you be doing?
ML: I’ve always been into art. My trade was graphic design so I’d probably continue with that most likely but it’s really bizarre to think of my life without music. Even if I wasn’t in a professional touring band I’d still be in a band. You’ve got to have an outlet, something else and music is my outlet.
MGM: So, last question- best band you’ve seen live?
ML: I’ve seen Scorpions live a few times and I’m like yeah, well would that be it? Yeah, I want to say seeing Scorpions. They had these crazy video screens behind them that were edited live and were using real time special effects. It was really impressive and they sounded good too.
MGM: Well funnily enough and a vast move away from metal, Tame Impala did something similar in the case that if you were a fan you knew to bring 3D glasses to one of their shows and suddenly the video screens in the background had all this trippy stuff coming towards you so enhancing the visuals for the show.
ML: Oh man, it’s cool that bands can still operate like that with such a high budget show. I hope it stays like that so people can still generate enough money to do these big ass shows.
MGM: Like Aerosmith and Queen back in the day.
ML: Yeah man exactly.
MGM: Well Max, thanks so much for taking the time to chat with me and best of luck for the show tonight and the tour.
ML: No problem at all. Thanks man.