This was the longest in the making interview ever conducted, at least for me. I originally talked to Ross and Rob about doing it in 2018 after the show in Tampa and we were gonna hook up and do it over the phone. Easier said than done!! In the end, they went to Europe and I stopped trying. Forward to 2019 and I got Rob to talk to me before the show in Tampa at The Orpheum. Same place, same dudes, different year. My persistence and patience paid off.
It is probably a little silly to start an interview from kissing up right from the start, but you've come back with possibly the best album in your discography, what do you feel when people tell you how good it is? How content are you with Atonement?
We are very happy with it and we feel good that the fans like it so much, and I think it's definitely one of the best things we've done, both the song writing and the production. We just kinda hit a peak on this one, you know what I mean; we worked with same producer Paul Orofino for many years but just started using Zack Ohren few years back for the mixing and mastering, so it took a few releases but everything he did was really good and I think this one - we really fine-tuned it correctly, you know what I'm saying, like we got it, we hit a nail on the head. It took a few releases for Zack to understand what we were looking for and I think we finally really got it good with this one. So, Yeah! It makes us feel good, we're just happy to be around for 31 years now, people like this one just as much as they liked the first one and we got a really good reception for this record, and we are really happy about that and we couldn't be happier with the record and we're just looking to move forward, to take that and advance on that to the next one.
Are you going to go back to the same people that you…?
O yeah! Absolutely! It took us awhile… I mean we've been going to Paul Orofino in upstate New York since '98 since Failures For Gods. We enjoy recording with Paul but now with Zack Ohren… Zack's gotta…. Paul has his own way of doing things, so he gets the sounds and Zack is able to really put a modern production on it. It works out great and the combination has been really well, working good for us and especially with the latest record so I think we're finally hitting our stride with that and we like to take it to next one to make it even better.
Was there a presumption or some kind or a plan of where to go with new music when you started to work on new album?
There never is. You write by feeling and you try to get the stuff going and create one song at the time, and as you create songs you can feel what the entire album is missing out, what does it need. I look at every record almost as it's one big long song, in a sense that I have this kind of song and that kind of song, and the album flow feels like it needs something like this or something like that, and once you go into writing a song - it just comes out naturally anyway so you kind of take it like it comes, you know what I mean? It's all by emotions and feeling, never anything else for us, you just gotta go with the flow so to speak. We are not like ‘we just gonna do this or we just gonna do that' - we just go with it and hope for the best.
And with as many albums as you have, it worked (laughs). Have you reached all the goals that you may have set with this record? Where there any?
The only goal you can ever hope for is for people to enjoy the record. In that sense we knocked it out of the park because not only the older fans like the record a lot (which is very important), but we gained a lot of new fans with this record. They hear it and they never heard us before. The first tour we did with this record we did with Cavalera brothers, the "Roots Tour". The album wasn't even out yet and we played minimum, we probably played 50 to 60 percent new songs on that set for that album, for that tour and new songs went over the best and no one even knew them. It was a good thing, it was a good sign. We're just happy with how everything worked out with this record and this album got us more recognition in a sense and got us bigger and better things so we're moving forward. We did the Cavalera thing, we went out with Mayhem which was really good, we did Decibel Tour and now we're just working to escalate from there. When you've been around for as long as us and pretty much been in the underground of the underground for so long, you can only go up, so we've been constantly going up in very small increments, but this record definitely gave us another boost so it's positive, all positive.
Four guys living in four different cities, four different states, no practice room to mesh ideas. What was the biggest challenge?
We used to all be from one area in the early days but now we work differently and it's the best way. I write the stuff on the computer, I send it out to everybody and then everyone kinda like you know… most of the time especially with the last record it was like ‘here it is' and everybody just learns it and that's it. I create everything for the songs, the drums, the overlay parts for the leads, sometimes I'll use solos on the pre-production and I float those right over for the album because they just happen to come out and I'm like ‘they actually work", or I just fix it up a little bit and put it on the album. That's how it goes. Steve for instance, he's the only one that really will change anything. We have some drum parts and I have an idea for it all, and he'll have some ideas and we play around with it back and forth. He's got a very unique style so that needs to be present on the music too, so he'll adapt to stuff or sometimes release the stuff exactly how it is because of the way it works with the riff and, other times he'll change stuff up and make it better. It's a process. These days…. we used to… for the past few years we used to do everything on the computer, everyone would learn it, we'd meet in the studio, Steve would lay down his parts, we'd lay down our parts and we would never ever play any new songs together as a group ever till the very first show of the very first tour for that record. Now we have a little more time because we're doing this full time now so now we're like ‘OK, we have a few songs down, let's go out to Steve's we'll hang out and play the songs together and get a good feel for it.' We are trying to do it the right way and have more fun with it. So, now we play songs together before we go to the studio and feel things out even more, so you gradually grow. We are spread out, but it doesn't really matter. I've noticed over the years that more and more people are doing it that way because with the technology right now it makes it a lot easier.
How excited were you when you saw how album was shaping up in the studio?
Never excited! Literally if you look at the interviews, and this is after the studio, so when you are in the studio….especially… all of the past records, we pretty much did most of the lyrics in the studio so the two weeks that we were recording the record Ross and I writing the lyrics for the album, all of them you know what I mean , so it was a lot stress and that end. So, by the time…
You guys were in the studio and didn't have any lyrics?????
In the studio is where we were writing the lyrics!!! In the studio!! We are trying to change that this time (laughs). So, we go in the studio for two weeks and week and a half of that and during that time we were in the studio Steve was recording his parts and we were working on guitars we write all the lyrics at that time right before Ross has to go and do the vocals!! It's crazy!!! Now we're gonna try and do that differently. In that sense you go in and you almost hear your songs for the first time, so if you go back to the videos that they did after the album was recorded and done and you look at those videos of me and Ross talking about the album and they do song per song … at that point I couldn't tell you one song from the other because everything was so new and fresh for us that when they asked us about one of them we were like – it's a new title, which one was that? Was it number 4 or 5? We didn't really know (laughs). So, we were like Yeah! It's dark and heavy… I'm trying to picture the song in my head, but everything was so fresh for us that we were like… OK, I think I remember that one… it was hysterical!! (laughs). In the studio we were thinking that it's all good, but it all still needs to sink in, you know.
And all this time I was imagining that you guys work on songs, go into the studio and record it and now you're telling me that you don't even know and just try and remember which part what was!!! NUTS!!
The way we write songs…. I write a few songs and on the way to the studio I'm thinking ‘All right! We have 1,2,3, 4 songs done, and then we get to the studio and then it's like 5,6,7….8,9, and 10 (laughs). You're doing so much at one time and you're doing everything so sometimes I'm listening to it and I'm like ‘how did it go again?' (laughs), it's like one big song for me. When you hear it in the studio you're like ‘Ok, I think we got this' and then you hope for the best.
Your style and sound are very recognizable, maybe even specific, and yet with every album you make things get even better and more…. Immolation, and all that without addition of ‘non-conventional materials' Are there any boundaries that Immolation would never go outside of?
Not really. We know what works for us, you know, it's not like we going to try and do something completely different. If there's something that we would do, like, those couple of times that we did some different things, for instance, on last record we have couple of sound effects here and there like on "Fostering The Divide" because it just works for the feeling of the song and that's something we can reproduce ‘live' because it's just little things that we can hit on the pedal you know. If there is something else and we think it works for the song, we'll do it and figure out later but it's all the matter of what works and what doesn't work. We wouldn't stop from doing anything, but we always try to use and create the sounds or things that work together with the guitars, the bass and all we have as oppose to throw in a bunch of stuff in addition too. We are not a band that plays with a click track, and in order to incorporate all those crazy things most of those bands play with click track so when it done well it's phenomenal, but for us playing with click track is to lose that natural feel, you know what I mean, so it's not something we get into. And then again, if it's something that would work for the song - we will do it. So, when something comes up and we want to do it we are not gonna stop ourselves.
New album boils with energy and power; it is dark, gloomy, furious, and packed with sinister melodies. How was the creating process, what did you want to channel through the music this time?
It was same as every time. You just trying to create interesting stuff, pretty much like you said: dark, gloomy, sinister and heavy, we like to create stuff that is different. Sometimes within each song and sometimes from song to another song. We are not a band that just creates one thing, we're not just heavy or just fast or dark or doomy. Whatever that element is that feels like it needs to be there, that's what we put in. We're not stopping ourselves from doing one thing or another, whatever worked for the song, especially on the last record where every song has so many different elements. It has a dark element, a heavy element, there's fast parts, it speeds up, it slows down, it's heavy, it's aggressive you know, whatever works.
Atonement could mean different things to different people (depending on or if you're religious or not), what does it mean to you?
It has a number of meanings but one of them is that you do things and you feel you can basically atone for your sins and it all washes away, but the song says that you can't (laughs). It's kinda like one of the things, but it basically means different things to different people and we leave it at that.
When going through the album booklet it is hard not to notice how artwork mirrors the lyrics. You had two different guys working on that, can you tell me more about ‘Atonement' artwork.
The cover was inspired by some of the lyrics I had for the song "Atonement". There is part in the song with the lyrics and as we were trying to come up with ideas (I had those ideas for the lyrics and I basically came up with something) and we sketched that up and that was the idea we had and then Par Oloffson took care of that doing a really good job with it. And then we had some other ideas for the inside and we wanted to do a little more because, needles to say, the Kingdom Of Conspiracy record packaging-wise didn't come up quite the way we wanted to come out and we wanted to do something a little more interesting and in depth with this one, and make sure we get it right this time so, you know, we wanted to put few more pieces on the inside and we ended up using Bielak for that and he did an amazing job. We kinda gave him some ides for some of the songs we had, and he put his little twists on couple of those as well and made them a little better, so we were very happy with that and the artwork is darker and like we wanted. We wanted more of the dark feel to it and we got that, so it worked out well.
Was Zbigniew Bielak art created for the specific songs or did you pick the ones that he had, and which fit for what was needed?
We told him what we wanted and usually sketch out everything we do so we sent him the sketches. He pretty much followed most of it and the only one that is different is "The Distorting Light". He took that idea and did it from a different angle. It doesn't matter really because he understood the idea and what we were trying to do. He's an artist and they always make some minor changes but as long as it works it works. He obviously did an amazing job!!
Lyrically, Immolation oscillates around the subject of religion and darkness of human nature, some of your album covers could even be considered controversial. Did Immolation ever get in negative spotlight because of your music and lyrics, and have you had any negative experiences in the past because of what Immolation represents?
We are so far off the radar that I don't think anybody cares (laughs). If you would look at all our stuff lyrically, no matter what it is talking about, there was always double meanings and things anyway. We never really are that band that says something because we always use different meanings. I like to get the lyrics out there so everyone gets what they want out of them. We'll have people come out to us and say, "I love this song and I know it's about this or that" and we're kinda like "not really" (laughs), "but it's cool that is like that for you" (laughs). That's really the way it should be you know. I don't like to say that it's exactly about this or that or the other. It's cool when people take things and they take them for themselves, that's the art of it you know. It means something to one person and means something else to another. Nothing wrong with that. So, at the end we never had any issues.
What are your thoughts on oppression of freedom of art, speech and opinion in nowadays society in United States and in the world?
I think, obviously, people should be able to do whatever they got to do. There is so much separation now and so many different things going on that it's crazy. Art, especially and all that kind of stuff should be left as is. If you don't agree with it you don't agree with it, nothing should be not allowed if it comes to that kind of stuff. There is a lot of stuff that I don't agree with that exists over here and abroad, all negative and stuff, but if you say that they can't stand on the box and speak their peace then you are creating a society that's closed. If you aren't someone that talks about things you don't agree with, and probably 99.99 percent of country agree with you, you still got to let the guy talk and the best thing for me would be to just ignore the guy (laughs). Obviously, there is a lot of people that spew out the hatred and all sorts of crazy shit and that's unbelievable but that doesn't mean that don't have the right to say it. Let them say it and let everybody ignore it.
I've read somewhere that song "Immolation" that was added as a bonus to the digipak edition of Atonement was your first song ever written as a band and "Epiphany" which is the last song on it is your 100th. Was it deliberate? How did "Immolation" end up on Atonement?
Well, what happened was that Albert from Decibel Magazine wanted us to do one of those flexi discs and we didn't know what we gonna do. We wanted to it but timing of it was gonna come out sooner than we were ready with the record. Originally, we were gonna rerecord different track for it out of the songs we were recording but, in the end, before we even did the record, Ross had a good idea. He said "You know what? It's the 25th Anniversary of Dawn Of Possession, why don't we do the first song we ever did- "Immolation", we just re-do it and that'll be the flexi disc" Albert was like "Yes, it's a great idea". We ended up recording it during the sessions for when we did the record. Funny thing is that, going into the record, I had 10 songs for the album and we were figuring out how many songs we have, and we were like "we gonna have a lot of songs now" so, with all the songs that we had on EP's and everything else, all original songs from Immolation, and it turned out we had 99. I was like "well, I have this one riff I was working on from when we were on tour in Europe, I had this one thing going which was the main riff in "Epiphany", I know I can get a song out of this!". I knew it was there and I said, "if we gonna do our 10th record I want 100 songs" (laughs). I had that one done, and we had 11 songs on the record and 100 songs with the 10th record. The funny thing is that because both of those songs were in the same recording session, Ross and I during the same day we were recording and tracking the songs (that was the last one and the 12th one so to speak) we ended up doing guitars and bass for our 100th and the first one ever on the same day. We thought it was funny. We just worked on our first ever written and our last ever written, you know (laughs). It was cool little antic.
This would be a good time to mention our first time too, can you guess who was featured in first interview ever posted on MetalBite.com in 2001?
It was an interview with you done by Chris in 2001, our first ever.
Really??? I'm touched (laughs). That's cool! I'm proud of that.
You've been playing music for a very long time and I was wondering: what do you feel when you are on stage, what goes through your mind, what do you want to get out of it?
Sometimes you're into the music and the crowd and sometimes you're like "did I leave the toaster on at home?" (laughs) it depends on the situation (laughs). For the most part we get into the music, we do our thing, we just get into the zone you're playing and concentrate on music and you're going for it. Sometimes there are distractions, where there are people coming on stage or there's crazy shit going on in the crowd and that will throw you off sometimes. We just try to get into the zone, play the songs and do our thing and that's the main thing. We try to play the songs the best we can and get into the performance, especially when crowd is really going for it then we just go for it too and try to have a great time. That's mainly what we are doing.
How hard is it to pick song for a live set and what are the criteria that you guys use to do that?
It's the hardest thing ever for a band especially after 10 records, soon to be 11 and EP's and stuff. It is the worst thing in the world because you don't know what the fuck to do!! You want to do everything you can to have something from every record at that point, there's certain songs that work better live, you might want to pull out a weird once in a while and you practice it and play it live at two shows and it doesn't work out, so you drop it (laughs). It's such a hard thing to do and it's probably the hardest part of what we do is picking the setlist.
Since we are on the subject of playing live, which song from the new album gets the best response?
They all get pretty good response so it's hard to tell. Like I said, when we first played songs from new album, before new album was out, they all got really good response, and everyone loved it. Those are the songs that get the best reaction, the new ones. "Jackals" goes over great, "Distorting Light" the first song from on the record goes over great and they all go over really well. Depending on what show we are we doing because tonight I'm not sure we gonna do it since we don't have as much time. "Lower" goes over great.
How about new blood, do you remember the youngest fan ever at Immolation show, did you get to meet him or her?
We had some young ones at shows, especially in Europe because people bring their kids to the show. I don't remember off hand, there's been some young ones at shows… 10 maybe 14 I don't know.
What is the best book you've read lately or maybe this year? Did you turn it into a song? What book would you recommend for the bookworms out there?
Well, actually one of the last books I've read was the one we did for "Jackals". Ross had the idea after reading a book called "Confessions of an Economic Hitman'. He read that one and had some ideas and after we wrote the song I ended up reading the book because … I understood what it was about ... but I wanted to read it anyway and it was an interesting book for sure. That's basically what this whole song is about, the inner workings of how our government would go into different countries and wanted to create different things at different countries - whether they like or not, they were gonna do it. It was a very interesting book, I strongly suggest it. It's a good read.
Do you cook? If you do what is your favorite dish, can you make it yourself?
I'm sure my favorite dish I cannot make myself (laughs). I cook every once in a while, and I like to much food to say one particular thing. I like Italian food, I like Mexican or TexMex, I don't dislike too many foods (laughs), I like everything (laughs).
What is your favorite beverage?
I'm asking for those that would like to buy you a drink after the show?
I'm a foofy drink kinda guy but I also like Belgian beers. Paul Orofino has a bar in the studio and he turned us on to all these really good Belgian beers. The darker ones and the ones that have a lot more going on so I'm into that but I'm also into foofy drinks like Margaritas and stuff like that (laughs). We don't drink that much… mostly…. once in a while, but it's very rare.
2018 just ended, was it a good year for Immolation?
It was alright. It was definitely good but this one is shaping up to be even better. We started off with a lot of stuff earlier in the year and then towards the end of the year we had a lot of things going on, so we didn't do as much stuff as the band goes but now we are kicking back in. We gonna be doing a lot of stuff this year. We did some good stuff last year too, we went down to South America, we went over to Europe, this year we are going to go to Asia and Australia and Japan, Asia and Japan for the first time, we're going back to South America, we're going to Europe to do a bunch of festivals on three different occasions. We'll be pretty busy this year and then of course writing new record and I'm working on a couple more videos for the last one and we'll be doing the videos for the new record so there is a lot going on. This year is going to be a build up for the new record which will probably…likely… come out at the end of the year or early next year. There is going to be a lot of build up with shows….
New Immolation early next year???? Maybe even this year!!!!!
Definitely early next year. If we can squeak it out at the end of this year, fine, but I'm thinking it's probably going to be more like March of next year.
We are working on it and a bunch of other stuff at the same time, so this whole year will be like a big push for the new record. All of the stuff we're going to do this year should be nothing compared to next year when new album comes out then we'll be touring even more than last year. We are working on it and getting there (laughs).
Thank you so much for finding time to chat a little with MetalBite.com, all the best to you guys, closing statement belongs to you!
Thanks for the support, thanks for having us as your first interview and (at least at this very moment) your very last (laughs). We appreciate the support and look forward to seeing you and all the fans at the shows over the next couple years. We'll be out there a lot. Looking forward to it.