Gruesome - Interview
When opportunity to talk to Matt Harvey, a prime mover for Exhumed and Gruesome presented itself, I jumped on it right away. I'm a fan of both bands, and two of them playing in Tampa was not a show to miss; but the main reason for me was Gruesome's new release called Twisted Prayers (which kicks serious ass in case you were wondering). Twisted Prayers is for Gruesome what Spiritual Healing was for Death (in Matt's own words), and the whole interview turned out to be pretty long and filled with lots of info. I won't keep you any longer. Dig in, read on, enjoy!
Hey Matt, how are you doing tonight?
So, you are pulling a double duty tonight huh? You're going to be tired tomorrow (laughs).
Ummmm yeah!! (laughs). This is the first night doing it, so guess we'll find out. I've done double duty few times before but not with these two particular bands, so we'll see what happens. I mean, if I play guitar, I like to play for like three hours anyway so the playing side should be ok. I just hope that my voice holds up.
I was thinking about your voice actually…. How long is Gruesome going to be on stage?
We are doing 45 minutes.
…and Exhumed another hour and a half?
An hour actually. I mean with this kind of music I feel that an hour and a half is a little bit much.
Yeah! Between two bands it would also be a long freaking time on stage!
I'm trying to lose weight! (laughs).
OK. Now on a serious note. You play tours all over the world, people dig what you do with Gruesome (or with Exhumed) and your new album gets mainly positive reviews. Did you ever expect to be in the place you are right now?
Well, you kinda like hope for it. It's a weird thing because obviously when you are in this "business" you see people doing much better than you, you see people struggling and you can see people that come up after you and they're doing much better than you. And you can see people that were doing better than you and now you are doing better, so it's kinda relative. I don't sit around thinking "people love me, that's kinda weird" but at the same time I do feel really lucky to have the opportunities that we have. When I was in my early twenties and Exhumed was still not signed, I set a goal for myself and said "if we are not signed to an actual record label by the time I'm twenty five then I should probably go and finish college, and get a job and do this on weekends" you know. Luckily or unluckily for my bank account we got signed when I was twenty three and then just continued on in different ways ever since. It's very cool to be able to play and travel and do stuff that resonates with people.
Cadaverizer and Dekapitator were your first bands, correct?
Exhumed was my first band, then we started Dekapitator in 1996, and then Cadaverizer we started in 1999. It never really got out of the garage but it is interesting because it was right… or maybe it was a little bit later in 2000 or 2001… that sounds right actually. It was right after Chuck's death, and I remember we were writing stuff that was very much influenced by Death and Massacre; and then fast forward 15 years and I ended up using some of the material, some of the riffs and basic song structures for Gruesome because it was the same kind of idea. We were talking to Kam Lee about doing the vocals for it way back when and we just weren't organized enough and we lost touch. Then Exhumed got busy and we just forgot about it.
You've been an active musician for over twenty years then, what is your recipe to stay sane and still have some fun?
(laughs) I wouldn't keep doing it if it wasn't fun, you know! I mean, maybe if you're like Kiss or whatever, and you hate doing it but you're making real money so you're like "Fuck it!!" and you go out and do it. But if it's not fun, it's sort of pointless at this level. Not that I don't make any money doing it; but I don't make enough to justify it to make myself miserable. I try to keep busy doing a lot of different things and I really enjoy playing with different people and sort of exploring different stuff, and that's what keeps me personally interested and excited. It's like saying "Hey! Let's try doing something new, let's take it further, learn from each other and hang out!" It's cool.
Ever had a time where you struggled and just wanted to give up in your musical career?
I think Exhumed felt like we hit a wall after the third record. We took a hiatus in 2006 or 2005. It was a case of "the band started when we were all in high school"… and original drummer and I were there the whole time. Then he left. Then the whole line up left and it was very daunting to sort of build the new band, because it was it was more like bunch of friends hanging out. The market for death metal was kind of changing at that time, and we didn't think that we fit in and we were thinking like "OK??!!" I didn't stop playing, I just stopped playing death metal and I stopped playing in Exhumed - but it was definitely frustrating. It was a good and humbling lesson because I think that we did three albums and each one I felt like "this is the one that's going to make a difference, this is the one that will get us to the next level". I would set this sort of goals and expectations that had nothing to do with the music, so I kind of learned now that I'm older and can move back in hindsight to let go of that stuff, so we're like "You know what, we're just gonna do something and then if people like it it's great, and if people hate it, we'll something else next time". Whatever. Maybe they're gonna hate that too or maybe they'll like it. I learned to let go of that kind of expectations because ultimately I feel that we did a good job on the record and we did what we set out to do. I can be happy with it and it doesn't matter what kind of reviews it gets. That's the cherry on top.
You can only play music that's in your gut…
Absolutely! That's it!
How do you see the differences in the metal scene back then and now?
I think it's a little bit… It's not just with the metal scene I would say. It's with me and entertainment in general. There is a little bit more awareness of the business side of it. Even for the bands that are just starting out, because there is so much information now and also because everything is so data-driven. For example, we were sitting and talking about the show, and there is The Facebook Event Page and it has 269 people going and 400 and some interested or whatever, so you have access to all this information and not just raw numbers but also information about the bands, reviews, interviews and so on and so forth, so people have a little more awareness of the bigger picture. When I was a teenager in the early nineties I didn't really think "The metal scene arrived and this is sort of its heyday" because it was just happening. Immolation played one month, Massacre played the next, and Morbid Angel played the next month and Autopsy after that. It was just going to shows and you didn't think of it as a scene, and you didn't have access to know if new Morbid Angel charted higher than last because you didn't know and nobody knew. You just sort of existed in the bubble and for me it was mid-to late nineties and I turned around and I was like "Wow! Is that it? Is death metal over now?" Because nobody aside from Cannibal Corpse and Morbid Angel was making records that were making any impact, nobody was coming to California on tour and I was like "Wow!" Now, with the information, you're not in such a little bubble, so I think that's a big change, but ultimately - nothing has changed. People like music, they want to hear records, they want to see bands and get together. It's the way you connect. Instead of getting a tape - you just have to type it in and there it is.
All of you play or played in a bunch of other bands, what was the catalyst for the creation of Gruesome?
With Gruesome I did the first Death To All run in the States. I had a great time, it was super intimidating to go on stage with Gene Hoglan and Steve DiGeorgio, and it kind of scared the shit out of me (laughs) but it was really fun. I've been a Death fan since 1988 at this point and I love the band and it was great to see how much Death meant to so many people. The thing that I felt that I wanted to sort of add to that legacy was: so many people have praised Death for being progressive and for transforming the genre or whatever but original intent was like I wanted to sort of celebrate the early stuff and kind of cement the legacy of Death as a death metal band not just "progressive this and that kind of thing", which I thought was being more talked about and more celebrated. So, Gus and I were talking backstage when Exhumed played with Death To All later and I said "It would be cool to see a version of Death To All with maybe like Terry Butler, Rick Rozz and James Murphy" and he's like "Yeah! I'll play drums and you can sing and play guitar and that would be great!" It was just guys having some beers and talking shit you know, we didn't take it seriously and I was like "Yeah! If nothing ever comes together I'll just write some songs that sound like Death and it'll be a record" (laughs) Few weeks later I was in England visiting my girlfriend (now wife) and she was working in a pub, so I was sitting at her apartment and there was a guitar just sitting around so I was like "Maybe I'll write a song that sounds like Death" - so I send it to Gus and he ended up really liking it. We stayed in touch and he put together the rest of the band in Florida - and so here we are. It has always just been about celebrating Death and celebrating what Chuck and all the other guys did.
How often do you listen to it?
To Death albums? It depends. In a way, with Gruesome, I feel I'm saturated with music so it is not as often as it used to be, but at the same time I listen to the entire catalog more evenly. The other day I was listening to Individual Thought Patterns throughout. I love the record but it's not one of my favorite Death albums, so I was like "Huh? This is weird. I never put this on!" But, usually what I do I just make a playlist, I'm a playlist guy. I like to make a playlist of whatever genre I am in a mood for. I have an 86 to 90 death metal playlist that has almost every Death song from the first three albums on there, so they come up pretty regularly.
What are the stages of Gruesome composing process, how do you work on new songs, do you work on new songs collectively in practice room or are you the main composer taking care of all that happens?
I'm kinda like a prime mover over here I guess. It's a little weird logistically because Danny and Gus live in South Florida, Robin is here in Tampa (when she is not on tour), and I live on the West Coast. I usually put together a rough idea of a song and then I send a demo to Gus and Dan, and they rework stuff or they'll add stuff, or they'll say "This part sounds not right" or whatever; and then I usually end up taking their material and putting it into the song. Dan and Gus do the demoing here in Florida and they send it back to me so I can do my vocals and solos, and so we have like an outline of the whole album.
So, going back and forth till the songs are ready?
Was there anything that you did differently in the writing process for Twisted Prayers?
Yeah definitely! The thing is, when we started doing this we didn't really have a plan or whatever. Now, that we are sort of moving forward through the Death catalog chronologically it's just more challenging you know what I mean? We didn't change the method of what we were doing but coming up with the material was more a challenge because, obviously, Spiritual Healing is much more melodic, technical and more 'flashy' then the first two records. We wanted to come up with stuff that can echo that and also show that we can hang with the source material. We were trying to be respectful and execute as close to the level of Death as we possibly can which is the challenge for everybody.
I imagined and was hoping that you gonna say something like that (laughs). Twisted Prayers is your second full length, and I was wondering about the creation process for it. Was it easy and natural, did everything go as planned?
The great thing about Gruesome is that we never like casting around for direction. When we are doing new Exhumed album we are like "OK, the last one felt really fast so maybe we try and find something that contrasts that or whatever"; with Gruesome we are like "we know where we going" and that's really nice. Usually for me it's like start, stop, start, stop, start, and stop type of thing, and once the rhythm comes - I write four or five songs in a month or whatever, and then a little while later it's easy to get back in the groove. It was similar with this one and once I had 'Inhumane' (which was the first song we wrote), it kinda just flowed from there pretty quick.
Was there a song that gave you the most trouble?
'Inhumane' because it was the first one. The first one you just trying and trying and trying, and once you succeed, it’s like your little confidence booster to move forward.
Which one was a breeze to finish and record, why do you think that was?
'Fatal Illusions' was one of the easiest ones (for me anyway) because Gus and Dan wrote almost like 60% of the riffs so it was really fun like "Instead of using a bunch of my shit I get to work around their stuff" which is a lot easier, and it's cool because those guys are great writers and I don't want people to think that I'm doing everything.
What does Twisted Prayers have that Savage Land didn't?
It echoes the mood from Leprosy to Spiritual Healing, and the lyrics are now focused on real life. They still are sort of outwardly focused like the first three Death albums are, but are talking about things going on in society that are morbid or shitty or whatever. It's definitely more melodic, it's definitely more technical so we get a little bit more space to show off and/or fail (laughs). So Yeah! It's definitely a big progression and change.
We all know who the inspiration for Gruesome is. If it wasn't Death and you would decide to start something in similar vein, who would you pick and why?
It's kinda funny because I had a band about 10 years ago and it was called Scarecrow - and it wasn't as directly tribute-oriented, but we basically sounded like Metallica - because Metallica is my absolutely favorite band. So, I guess if I was gonna be something else, I would just pick up right after that.
Where does Twisted Prayers fit in the timeline, how many more albums do you see in the future of Gruesome, and do you even consider saying 'enough' any time soon?
We got to the point now… Like I said, when we started we didn't have a plan but Savage Land is sort of our Leprosy; Dimensions Of Horror, even though it is a mini album, is kind of our Scream Bloody Gore; and Twisted Prayers is our Spiritual Healing; and then we'll move forward through the catalog, and then, I guess, when we reach the end of it, it will be enough, but we still have a long way to go and it only gets much more difficult for us from here.
Most of you are currently members of other bands; between all the bands you are in, all the things that you do, and all the promotion you do for all of it - what do you do to unwind?
I'm pretty relaxed most of the time, you know. I just read or go swimming or have a beer (laughs)
So, the usual stuff then (laughs)
Yeah! Nothing weird or anything, don't need to get into a meditative state or trance, or anything. Very simple (laughs).
Thanks a lot Matt, here is the last one: what would you say to yourself from 20 years ago if you had the 'Back to the Future' moment and could do it?
The main thing I would say is that… I would try to tell myself to think a little bit more about parts of the band that don't involve music because it was something that I never paid any attention to. In terms of just thinking about merchandizing and a business aspect of it or different ways of looking at what a band is suppose to be, because where I started as a kid I thought it was all about, you know, getting four friends together and you just stick together no matter what. Ultimately, you have to be friends with the people you're in the band with, but if your friend is a shitty bass player you gotta find a good bass player and then make friends with him kinda thing and then just be friends with shitty bass player and hang out on weekends, you know what I mean! Hindsight is 20/20 and a lot of lessons never… I mean ask any parent, you can tell someone to write something a million times, but until they fuck up and then they learn - that's the right thing and that's the way you got to learn.
Last words are yours.
Thank you very much for the interview and the support. We really appreciate it and thanks to Chuck and everybody involved with that. Whether you like the band or not, we just hope that everybody knows that we are an intentional tribute band, and we wanna keep it that way.
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