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Steel for Brains

Exploring the Brains behind the Noise

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If you Wikipedia just the word “Tombs” you get the first line of “a repository for the dead.” How fitting for a band who basically lays to rest the presuppositions of fans, self-defined music gurus, and critics alike with a sound that is inherently all things and nothing at once.  With each band or musician that Steel for Brains talks to it seems that the term “metal” itself becomes more and more an abstract concept, whereas the reality is found within the sound itself - the amalgamation of punk, hardcore, black metal, thrash metal, sludge metal, and the other umpteen derivations of that terminology.  Mike Hill makes no fuss about what his goals are for the band.  There is a comfort in simplicity, and there is a success in the annals of music’s history where bands who’ve ultimately sought the sound and not the terminology have inevitably created their own path in the music world.  For Tombs, that path has been carved, not gently, over the past five years plus to a point that has not so much reinvented the perception of the metal genre as it has redirected the sound to encompass far more than perhaps it ever has.  

I recently had a phone conversation with Mike Hill (vocals/guitars) and an email conversation with Andrew Hernandez just to pick their brains, covering everything from the American concepts of metal and art to the simplicity of what they enjoy outside the realm of music.  

MIKE HILL (GUITAR/VOCALS)

The first question I have, Mike, is with the immediacy of our culture today and the way art and music is perceived, how do you see American art and music as it’s being sold, marketed, and essentially branded these days? 

Well, I think that before the internet there was definitely more character associated with different geographical locations.  I think that culture differed more as a result of communication being slower between regions, and now that the internet is sort of lacing everyone together and we instantly have access to information in any part of the world.  You know, I can get online right now and find out something that’s happening in Russia or Poland or something like that.  So I feel in some ways it’s sort of homogenizing things in a lot of ways.  For example, with death metal, there was a Swedish sound.  There were bands like Dismember, Nihilist, and Entombed – all those early Swedish bands – and that was kind of their sound.  It sort of cross pollinated across the globe, and now there are bands that have that same sound in California and Richmond, Virginia, and places like that.  So I think culturally things are becoming a little bit more common.  There’s more of a commonality.  Now, the sort of impact that might have on more extreme cultures like say in the middle east or whatnot – the sort of fundamentalist vibe of those kinds of countries where they’re trying to keep their population controlled by limiting information – people are still finding a way to get on the internet, and they’re still taking ideas and applying them to their own situation.  I feel that nowadays there’s more of a global influence on people.  There isn’t this sort of nationalistic vibe, I think.  I think people more readily take information and ideas and incorporate them into their own lives and not just the local sort of fashion.  These influences and information are coming from all over the world now. 


It kind of reminds me of the rhetoric that came with World War I that the world had basically shrunk, man.  There was immediacy, or at least the beginnings of it even then, and of course now it’s just propelled into a completely different realm with social media and other outlets, it’s like you said – people find a way.  People find a way to get the art they want.  They find a way to seek out the things that they find comfort in no matter where they are. 

There’s also this sinister aspect to it as well, though.  In some ways it almost seems like the internet is connecting people like we’re all sort of components of a larger machine, at times.  I don’t know if you’re familiar with Ray Kurzweil and his concept of singularity.


Absolutely, yeah.  

A lot of that seems to be valid, honestly.  I mean, the way things are accelerating exponentially, information is available faster and faster and things change so quickly, that I see that as a possibility. 


The name of that documentary he did slips my mind right now, but there’s certainly a dichotomy there.  There seems to be two aspects to it:  the ugly part and then the part that is quite exciting because it works as a catalyst of sorts for things like access to intellectual liberation in places where many didn’t have that access before now.  As far as yourself, personally, as an artist and musician, how do you view the artistic temperature within American metal today?

Real quick, that documentary is Transcendent Man. 


Gah, that’s it.  Dammit.  Haha. 

It’s awesome.  I’ve watched it like three or four times, man.  As far as the question goes, though, I think that the last ten or fifteen years, even back into the late 90s, I feel like metal has been sort of opening and incorporating a lot of other influences into it.  Bands like Neurosis I think are influencing a lot of other bands that have been more of the traditional metal sound.  But you know, back when you’d have thrash metal and you’d have death metal.  And there seemed to be a really narrow vision of what constituted metal back in the 90s.  Even back in the 80s there was a real division between hardcore, punk rock, and all that sort of stuff.  But I think overall, the atmosphere has been more of a continually influenced sound incorporating all of those sounds like punk, metal, and hardcore.  Even bands like Type O Negative, and I’m not even a fan, but they incorporate that goth influence.  And I think that’s what I think is happening today in the metal genre, or at least the American metal genre.  It isn’t traditional metal.  I think a lot of bands playing in the metal genre are being influenced by bands who aren’t necessarily in the metal genre.  I mean, sure, you’ve got Metallica, Slayer, Napalm Death, and whatnot, but also you can find bands being influenced by Godflesh and Swans or Neurosis who are sort of broadening their scope and not just sticking to one formula.  I think a lot of interesting stuff is going on in the United States metal scene. 


When you talk about that kind of amalgamation of sound – these bands who are not streamlining their sound but instead reaching out for more of a conglomerated perspective on the art they’re creating, as far as Tombs is concerned, do you feel like a lot of the critical acclaim you guys get is attributed to the fact that the music the band creates is hard to compartmentalize? 

I think that’s something that, in some ways, has worked against us, but in some ways it’s also worked in our favor.  Specifically when it comes to the press writing about the band.  I just think someone who has a knowledge of music in general like a publication such as Decibel and notable publications.  They pick up on the fact that it’s not just some sort of one dimensional project that we’ve got going on, that there are other elements besides just metal with what the band does.  It’s giving them something to write about besides Oh here’s this band playing this riff that sounds like Haunted Chapel or whatever.  I think that’s definitely helped us out in the press, but I also think that fans of metal don’t know what to think of the band sometimes.  I mean we’ve toured with lots of different types of bands.  And you know, we’re not a thrash metal band, so when we play with those types of bands, there’s fans that don’t really get what we’re trying to do.  When we play with black metal bands or bands with that kind of vibe, I think those fans are more open to what we do.  We’ve toured with bands like Isis, Pelican, Wolves in the Throne Room – those were very much type of bands that were perfect for us to play with because the fans were open to different ideas and experimentations. 


The thing that I find fascinating, just in the last five or six years, is it seems like these press outlets that a decade ago wouldn’t touch metal of any kind are suddenly embracing the genre.  Tombs is on Pitchfork.  Metal is featured on NPR.  I mean, as someone who’s attended a lot of metal shows throughout the years, Mike, I’m seeing a change in the audience.  Are you seeing that as well, and what’s your take on that?

I think it’s great that people get into music at all period.  The only thing I’m critical of really are the fairweather fans.  Metal, hardcore, and punk are not things you just enter into lightly.  Most people that I know, myself included, are lifelong fans.  Extreme music, in general, most of my friends and myself – we grew up in that environment, and it’s become a part of who we are – a part of our personalities.  And some of these newer fans that don’t necessarily have that sort of background, approach the scene differently, and that’s something I find myself a little uncomfortable with.  It’s unfortunate.  To them the music is just music.  It’s some consumable item that they’re going to make use of for a few months like a pair of fluorescent pants or super tight jeans people wear.  I mean, when that goes out of style, they move to the next trend, and that’s the only thing I think is unfortunate.  Hopefully, some of the people that get involved with this music are seeing at as more than just a passing phase.  Most of the people I know who like metal are lifelong fans.  It just grabbed a hold of them when they were kids, and it’s been a part of their life ever since.  That’s the only criticism I have, really, is the sort of transient fan.  I mean, when you people go to shows it’s so much more than just a social event – it’s supposed to be a meaningful part of their life.  I’m happy that people are coming out to see bands, of course.  For a band like Watain to sell as many records as they have, even to non-metal fans – I think that’s great. 

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Mike, when you’re talking about people that are there for a social event – I think bands like Tombs and bands like Neurosis or Converge they kind of demand attention.  It’s hard to socialize.  There’s something abrasive yet immediately digestible that’s occurring onstage at these shows.  I think, to an actual fan of the art of metal, that’s the draw.  For me, the measure of artistic success is being able to kind of divide the line between the recognizable and the wholly original, and I think that’s something Tombs succeeds with on every level as it’s a blend of sounds.  It’s a blend of genres, and it can’t be cataloged.  As far as right now, when we’re talking about the trend of metal being the “hip” thing, it’s really intriguing to me to hear these kind of distinct but very subtle differences you hear between metal bands from various parts of the country.  To you, personally, what region holds perhaps the most distinction as far as the music that’s being produced?

Richmond, Virginia.  That is a very distinctive place when it comes to playing music in bands – specifically metal, hardcore, and punk.  That, along with Austin, Texas, are probably the two biggest music hubs.  I mean, people there love music, they love going to shows, they like metal,  you can go down there and have a good time.  I love playing those two cities probably more than anywhere else in the country, and at this point I’ve got a lot of really good friends who live in both of those towns.  One of my very best friends lives in Richmond, actually.  Dave Witte, from Municipal Waste.  He’s from New Jersey, originally, but he’s been in Richmond long enough he’s an honorary Richmondite or whatever they’re called.  I love playing there, man.  You go down to Richmond, and there’s just people who are down for anything musical.  They wanna see shows.  They wanna see bands play.  They wanna go out and support the bands.  Similarly in Austin.  I don’t think we’ve ever had a bad show in Austin.  People just show up, and they want to get blacked out and have a good time.  There’s really very little attitude in either of those places unlike certain cities like Northeast cities where there’s this kind of calculation involved in going to shows.  It’s a sort of scene, calculating vibe.  Like New York or Boston or Los Angeles or places like that where there’s definitely more of a hip kind of trendy vibe.


There’s definitely a misconception about smaller towns or smaller venues as well.  You know, I’ve been to the arena shows, and I’ve been to these smaller shows at little dives or bars here and there and, to me, there’s just no comparison.  The intimacy you get in these smaller towns with these smaller venues is refreshing and surprising.  And the fact that you have such a huge turnout.  You have that connection with the crowd.  It definitely speaks volumes to the art that’s being created, at least from my perspective, Mike.  Now, you were in a band called Versoma.  I know a lot of the early stuff you wrote for Tombs was actually written while you were still in Versoma. 

There were riffs that I was working on at the very end of that band, and we never finished writing the songs around the riffs.  That band – you know, it was fun – we just never quite hit our stride.  It was me and Jamie Getz, who was in Golden Sky and then Gods and Queens, and he and I were really good friends for a really long time, and I think our creativity kind of bent in different directions, and that’s kind of why that band didn’t exactly take off.  But I had these songs I’d already written while in the end stages of that band, and that might be the reason that early stuff sounds a bit different than the more recent releases.  It was just sort of residual material left over from Versoma.  I literally started working on material for the band Tombs like a week after we broke up Versoma.  There’s no down time.  We had this drummer from Versoma, and when I got the call from Jamie saying, you know, Yeah, I don’t really want to do this anymore – that following weekend the drummer was like Yeah, let’s go on playing.  Let’s continue doing this. 


Well, when you talk about the conglomeration of influences you have, Mike – the sounds that have kind of worked to propel the distinctive sound that Tombs creates, I know you’d mentioned in our emails that you wanted the sort of mood of Joy Division with the ferocity of Celtic Frost or Hellhammer.  Could you expound on that a little bit?

The thing is, if you really listen to Thomas Gabriel Fischer’s contribution to music you can actually hear there are a lot of different influences that come from that sort of post punk gothic feel, especially with Triptykon – the newer stuff.  In a sense, there’s this kind of Bauhaus vibe to a lot of that material.  But, the power of bands like Hellhammer but also the sort of emotional component to My Bloody Valentine or Joy Division – the sort of personal, emotional expression, as much as I love Hellhammer – the only thing that’s missing from Hellhammer’s music, for me, is that sort of real emotional connection.  And that’s what I wanted to do.  I wanted to be in a band with the same sort of intense heaviness like Hellhammer or Celtic Frost, yet would still be able to provide the emotional content that I wanted to hear.  That’s basically the mission I had in mind when I was thinking about doing the band.  I just my thoughts together about how I wanted to approach the band, and that’s where I was coming from. 


How do you, personally, approach each song from a lyrical standpoint, Mike?  It seems to me that there’s a lot of emotional authenticity that’s being poured out into Tombs’ lyrics. 

I try to come at it in that direction.  There’s two different ways, really.  I mean, we just wrote that song Ashes for Decibel.  Initially when it comes to writing lyrics I keep several journals.  I have an idea book that has stuff that I ultimately want to use for future songs.  If it’s something that grabs me I write it down immediately regardless if a song happens to surface or not.  Anything.  Anything that, to me, seems like a kernel of an idea for a possible lyric, I’ll just put it in the book.  Even if it’s like a paragraph describing something that I’ve observed or something pulled out of a book I was reading, or a movie I’ve seen, or just an interaction I’ve had with some random person.  It’s just sort of a combination of all of that, and occasionally the song ideas and titles will come together from that.  The more data – and this is where the more scientific, engineering type mind comes in – you start throwing all this data together, you can sort of make these connections and patterns and that’s how the lyrics sort of evolve.  I just try to find connections between these ideas, and slowly it becomes the framework for what I want to write about lyrically.  It’s a really slow process – writing the lyrics.  Except for [Laughs] Ashes – the brand new one.  It was a new way for me to write songs.  We wrote that whole thing in like two weeks which is a first time for me, man.  Usually the music comes really easily, but the lyrics – I spend, you know, frustrating hours of my time writing that stuff and, with Ashes, one line came right away, and then the whole song fell right into place.  But, you know, with that said – more likely, over the next few months, I’ll be applying different ideas and things and there’ll be, hopefully, a more accomplished version of that song on our next album. 

You had mentioned over the phone the other day that you were headed into the studio, was that to record the Ashes track?

We were actually headed into a friend’s recording space, actually, yeah.  We recorded the Ashes track as well as the David Bowie cover, “Heroes.”


That’s actually my next question, Mike [Laughs].  I saw and listened to the Bowie cover and was just floored and really excited to, once again, see that kind of diversity present in bands and a genre too often pigeonholed, man.  What basically drove you guys to cover that song in particular?

To be honest with you, I’ve wanted to record that song my entire life [Laughs].  When I was in high school, I ended up seeing this German film called Christiane F., and, for a kid especially, it was a really intense film about this German girl who was probably about my age when I saw the movie who had gotten involved with drugs and prostitution.  It’s like this real dark film.  Bowie did the entire score, so it’s filled with all of his music.  The song “Heroes” played prominently in the soundtrack, and maybe a couple of weeks later I actually found the Christian F. soundtrack on vinyl and right away I bought it, and I realized there was actually two versions of the song on the record.  There’s the all English version which Bowie released on his own album, and then there was the version in the movie called “Helden,” which half of the song is in German and half of it is in English.  And because of that, I was like man, this is such a great song.  Something really resonated with me.  That song’s just always been a favorite of mine.  I’ve just always thought that someday I’d like to record that song and maybe, at some point, I’d like to do justice to it.  And that’s why when Ghettoblaster asked us to do a cover that was right away the song I wanted to do. The German part of the song was actually sung by my good friend Ralph from Planks, an incredible band.  It means a lot to me that he was wiling to do with us, and I’m hoping that this little thing we did may leak into something bigger with them. 


Now, you mentioned reading science fiction.  As far as when you’re not touring and not having to devote yourself to Tombs, what’s your escape of sorts, Mike?

For me, I’m pretty heavily into martial arts – Jujitsu and Muay Thai.  When I’m not rehearsing with the band I’m usually doing that, and that takes up a big part of my life.  And also, when I can, I try to read a good book. 


What are you reading in particular right now?

I’m actually reading FIGHT by Eugene Robinson.  I got a hardcover version with all the photos and stuff in it, man.  I found it on Amazon for like three dollars or something.  I’m really stoked about it. 


Do you ever get a chance to read on tour?

In the states, usually I’m the driver, so all those hours everyone else is reading books I’m having to pay attention to the road [Both laugh]  But when we got to Europe we have a driver, so that’s usually when I catch up on all my reading material.  I usually read one or two books while I’m on tour. 


When you guys are playing live, Mike, how do you guys get into the mode of your performance?  There’s definitely an aesthetic present that goes beyond just the “plug in our gear and play” sensibility.  How do you guys approach that?

I just think it comes from all the time rehearsing.  It’s the connection of playing in a band together.  I mean, we rehearse a lot.  Typically, we tour a lot too.  We spend a lot of time doing exactly that – playing.  That, in and of itself, is what creates the atmosphere on stage.  The repetition of playing the songs over and over again.  The chemistry of constantly playing with the other musicians in the band creates a sort of energy.  I think it’s what people respond to.  I mean, we don’t have any rituals or anything that we do.  [Laughs]

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Well, I didn’t figure you guys were sacrificing goats or anything before every set [Both laugh].  As you see music pushed into new places, Mike, places it hasn’t gone before, where do you see the metal genre going?  What’s the future of heavy metal from your perspective?

I just think it’s going to be more of a cross-pollinization between genres.  Not all of it’s going to be good.  As many great bands as they are who are pushing boundaries like Blut Aus Nord and Deathspell Omega crossbreeding with electronic music and industrial music, there’s also a whole legion of bands that are using not the greatest of ideas to incorporate ideas into their own music as well.  There’s like all those weird bands like Iwrestledabearonce or whatever taking influences from pretty weak music to start with and incorporating it into what they do, which is not very interesting to me, at least.  I mean, you’ve got to look at the good and the bad.  I mean a great band like Deathspell Omega or like Jesu, they’re going to continue pushing boundaries in a positive direction, but then there’s always going to be a sort of dark side to that.  There’s going to be bands that pull elements of rap and R&B into metal which is honestly probably no the best outlet for those things [Laughs].  And who knows?  Maybe somebody will do it, but for me it hasn’t worked so far. 


When can we expect another Tombs release, Mike?

We’ve actually got about half the songs written for a new record right now, so we hope to be in the studio by early next year, man.  


As far as growing up “metal,” I mean you obviously had other influences as well, but what was it about metal that basically hooked you?

Well, metal was the first thing I got into way before hardcore or punk.  It was just the intensity of the music, man.  The aggression.  I mean, when you’re a young teenage boy filled with all these feelings, oftentimes you don’t know where to put all of it.  You don’t have an outlet for this energy.  And the early bands I liked like Black Sabbath, Judas Priest, and Deep Purple – that sort of stuff – that was sort of the first stuff I listened to.  That was my outlet, and, for me, that music always had kind of an outsider vibe to it.  And that’s something that resonated with me, personally.  I mean, I’m an only child, so I don’t have any brothers or sisters to kind of bounce things off of.  I just spent a lot of time by myself, you know, reading comic books and listening to metal and getting into science fiction.  Watching horror movies and all that sort of stuff kind of formed my world view.  As a result of listening to metal, and those bands I just mentioned, especially early Sabbath – inspired me to create that same sound.  It didn’t sound like the Cars.  It didn’t sound like the Police.  And I wanted to be a part of that. 

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ANDREW HERNANDEZ (DRUMS)

Andrew, Tombs is a hard band for any critic or fan to group into a specific genre.  That’s always a good sign that an artist has achieved a certain level of success - having that sort of sonic ambiguity.  When you came on board in 2009, from what path were you coming?  What’s your band/musical background?

Before I played in TOMBS I had mostly played in death/grind (ASRA/KNIVES/BLOODRED RESIDUAL), dark crust (RXSXN) and experimental sci-fi metal (LEADER, a 2 bass, no guitar band).  Actually when I came on board Mike and I had been trying to start a real fast 1349/(early) Gorgoroth type black metal band (with some CELTIC FROST sprinkled in), I also just wanted to play REALLY fast like ANAAL NATHRAKH! I’m a huge fan of technical metal and progressive death metal, I’m not at the level of some of the drummers like NECROPHAGIST, ROTTEN SOUND, HUMAN REMAINS, SPASTIC INK or the like, but creative drumming is very influential to me. That’s where I’m trying to come from. Brandon Thomas (DIM MAK/THE DYING LIGHT/RIPPING CORPSE), biggest influence on me to this day, dude is a drumming genius.  
How do you, personally, as an artist and musician view the sort of artistic temperature with American metal today? 
I think American metal is pretty interesting right now, there are a lot of current bands re-expressing themselves in new directions (SULACO, ORIGIN-now catchy and insanely technical!), new bands melding styles, (PYRRHON- swans, tech/death, jazz, atmospheric) and some seriously sick swedish style black metal (BASTARD SAPLING). As far as mainstream American metal goes, it’s not for me, I think it’s pretty crappy ozzfest shit (or a “Chipotle Burrito mega metal tour”, whatever it’s called). Probably due to the Internet and the fast pace of modern reality, people just seem to be going through 3 year fazes instead of decades of growth, I don’t know that it’s good or bad, but it’s certainly interesting (although the in-betweens are really gross, for example: “crab-core”).The middle 2000’s sucked, it was a time of transition between 2004-2006, but lots of weird metal booms afterwards.  First technical death metal came back (Necrophagist = awesome) and then a really heavy rock/metal style that was spearheaded by Mastodon then cmetal and now rock metal like Baroness.
I always hear from other musicians that Europe has a more intuitive understanding of respecting its artists, but it seems like an absolute battle here in the states to pilfer through banal music and get to something respectable - something different.  Why do you think that is?
I think what people may be talking about there is the security you get, you’re fed, paid and provided a place to stay (hostel/venue sleeping quarters), it’s pretty weird when you consider the dependency we in America have for hotels (when on bigger tours you can’t just ask someone to stay over there house).  I can’t speak for everyone, but all of my experiences there have been awesome, we get paid fairly enough because of the euro/dollar conversion to break even and because there is a driver we just get to relax and focus on playing, it’s a totally different experience than the “hard tours” of America.  We had some overseas friends of ours come to America for the first time and tour with us and I’m pretty sure they are not rushing to come back anytime soon, it’s a totally different thing over here.  So  I really think that is what people talk about, I mean, I’ve experienced “bored” looking audiences in Europe just like the “bored” audiences in the US, I almost got into a fight with a sound guy in Italy because he ruined our set, it’s not like it’s NEVER NEVERLAND over there where people are just flying around! but it is certainly nice.  A good comparison that is a discussion I had with my mom this morning actually, is that Europe is not a geographically big land mass and yet there are a lot of countries packed together with different culture musically and historically. America has some different styles that come out of different areas, southern bands like ACID BATH/SOILENT GREEN, NYHC, California has their punk style and Washington state had a huge influence on indie rock (I can’t ignore Jazz either, that’s America’s soul)… anyways, over there you have so many countries and so many different styles, I don’t know what the hell kind of music is coming out of Montana or Wyoming or the Dakotas (though I’m sure there must be something).  We live in a GIANT country, over there they have a lot more culture, I mean, imagine how different America would be if Mexico where in the middle of it, we’d be completely different culturally and musically I’m sure.

It’s always intriguing to hear those distinct but oftentimes subtle differences between metal musicians/bands from various parts of the country.  To you, what region seems to hold more distinction that any other?
Well, I think the coolest band we ever played with where this band from Sweden, I think they were called PEST or something, I don’t know if that’s right, they were awesome, they had a mandolin and the bass player played a stand up bass, they had some really trippy jazz death (CYNIC/ATHEIST), black metal, some earthy weight like NEUROSIS, but also had some folk aspect that must have been culturally significant. there atmosphere was awesome. AHA! that reminds me that the band ORANSSI PAZUZU, we played with them at ROADBURN in Holland, they were mesmerizing, REALLY, REALLY, REALLY fucking evil and psychedelic. They’re from Norway.  Oh, so I think my answer is Scandinavia, that area has so much awesome music (DISKORD, PARLAMENTARISK SODOMII, VIRUS)… wait, I just mentioned only Norwegian bands. hahaha. whoops.
When you’re not touring or writing, what are you typically doing as a sort of escape, or is creating the music itself your escape?  Please elaborate.
We practice twice a week on Wednesday and Thursday, I practice with my other band TWIN LORDS on Mondays and Fridays (sometimes I squeeze TL in before TOMBS on Wednesday), I work M-F 7am-3pm and in between practice I go to the gym or ride my bicycle.  Saturday and Sunday I just hang out with my girlfriend, just relaxing, although last Saturday I rode my bike to the gym (7 miles) and then I was at the gym for 2 hours and then I rode my bike back home. I love exercise, it’s awesome pushing yourself, I don’t really “pump iron”, I just do shitloads of push ups and pull ups (“super sets”) and 45 LB crunches and lots of heavy bag work (I used to take Muay Thai), that’s what I like doing these days. I just visited my hometown back in Massachusetts and while I was there I ran 7 miles (which is pretty much from one side of the town to the other), I’m sort of a freak like that. One day I decided to run home from work, that’s almost 10 miles, I’d only run 3 miles before that as my longest run, it was AWESOME! I felt like an aborigine running through civilization, I don’t run often, but when I do I really like to just let go of the world and ease my mind, next thing you know, whoops, I just ran 10 miles!
One time when I was growing up my roommate and I decided to ride our bikes out of town, we ended up riding through Vermont and into New Hampshire, I think it was something like 70-80 miles by the time we got back home, the human body is capable of amazing things, I recommend to everyone that they try to live. That may sound stupidly simple, but so many individuals just don’t live life and that’s pretty sad.
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Tombs shows are deafeningly transcendent, Andrew.  There’s a certain aura or aesthetic the band members seem to tap into during the set.  Many artists/musicians don’t seem to truly value the atmosphere of the show itself.  How important is the setup, as it were, to Tombs?  What makes a venue a viable one to truly accomplish what you’re hoping to accomplish?
Let me just say this really quick. hahahaha. okay. I am so very thankful for that compliment, but that’s just us, we don’t do anything except play and I’m a emotional drummer, I try to put all my love and pain into my playing and Mike’s music really speaks to me, before I was in this band I would be the jerk/weirdo who was going insane during their set.  I don’t think the venue has any importance to us whatsoever, I know that monitors are awesome and that a PA where you can hear the kick and vocals are necessary, but we don’t need to play at a 600 year old church to be inspired… you could put us on a rug in a parking lot and I think (I hope) you’d still feel what we are doing, the space is not important, it’s the passion/emotion/energy.  And again, thank you for “feeling” our shows.

The varying influences on Tombs can easily be heard on any given song, yet the band’s sound itself is wholly unique.  How do you manage to harness the obivous influential sounds and sort of reinvent them without seeming derivative?  That’s quite a feat.
What’s really helpful is that while Mike may think something, hear something, from a riff he writes, I don’t know that I really hear the same thing.  We connect, that’s for sure, but when he says, play a JOY DIVISION drum beat, I sort of have an idea, but I don’t own a single JOY DIVISION album or song.  We do actually start out by calling songs “JOY DIVISION”, “LEVIATHAN”, “MORBID ANGEL”, ha ha ha, but that’s just a foundation, maybe a single riff, by the end of that song I generally laugh at the initial title, I mean, VERMILLION was called YEAR FUTURE in the practice space, go listen to that song and then listen to every YEAR FUTURE song, there is 0% comparison. I think the key is that it’s okay to start a song out where you feel it’s inspired by another band, but do you want to keep writing riffs afterwards that are still that bands? you can write a riff in a song that’s the “SWANS part”, but that might just be 15 seconds, the rest is up to you as a creative musician.
What non-metal/punk/hardcore music do you enjoy listening to?  Do you usually tap into that while recording or touring?
I just bought a TONY WILLIAMS LIFETIME album and a BIG CITY record, they’re both Jazz Fusion albums with amazing drummers as their band leaders, I think I might be getting more into that, I’d like to really get on top of my interdependence and double-strokes.  People laugh at me when I saw this and I’m sure metal dudes will scoff and turn their back but one of my favorite bands is MODEST MOUSE and I could not really give a shit what anyone thinks about that. THIN LIZZY are also so damn good, I love CHINATOWN, great record, I have some 90’s screamo in my collection too, this fantastic band from Georgia, they were called PORTRAIT, I love that band, they were the most emotional band I have ever seen play, the fucking singer was crying, it was stupid powerful.
How do you personally see the indie movement as it is today across all genres?  Suddenly you’ve got press outets covering metal who, five years ago, completely wrote off the genre (including hardcore and most punk as well).  Why the shift?  Is the music getting better, or are people simply paying more attention?
Okay, like NPR? I think they are understanding that metal is very complex music, in atmosphere and execution, that’s the only place I know of, maybe PITCHFORK, but their opinion is up and down, I mean, I think they like that band from Brooklyn, with that dumbass NYU student in it… what the hell are they called? “burst beat”? so dumb… so arrogant.  I think you can also look at population, there are constantly more people on the earth and as those numbers grow so do the audiences of sub genres, you look at that and the internet pretty much opening up the world and that’s why you can have a magazine like SPIN writing about a one man black metal band from Nicaragua.
What’s the general approach for you as a percussionist?  Is the the approach derived as a kind of collaborative effort, or is it something that one of the members creates that the others musically latch onto and let the process evolve or devolve from there?  Who are some of your contemporaries you admire and respect as drummers in the metal scene?
I don’t usually come into practice and put my beats on display and ask Mike to write to me, I’ve changed some meters and rhythms for sure, but usually I just try to make something creatively appeasing to myself while not being to self indulgent that I misrepresent the song musically. It’s a thin line and is based on opinion, I for one love crazy playing, the first MASTODON EP is an amazing album of crazy drumming, some people hate that style and in TOMBS I can’t go 100% the whole time, there are parts where that would be disrespectful to the riff.  I also play guitar actually, I’ve played for longer than I’ve played drums, when I write my own album (whenever I get the free time) I’m going to base that around my drumming for sure.  Some drummers that influence me are Jazz masters like Buddy Rich, Max Roach, Billy Cobham, Elvin Jones, Vinny Colaiuta, and now I’m getting into Tony Williams (finally, I know!), technical metal drummers like Gene Hoglan, Sean Reinert, Richard Christy, the blast master himself Dave Witte, Brandon Thomas is probably the master, he influenced Dave and probably influenced Brann Dailor too, Brann rules too, the dude has been sick it seems since the day he was born, his work in Lethargy is insane, then again, Dave was probably 20 years old when he played in HUMAN REMAINS… that’s unbelievable to me.  I think Danny Walker is excellent, so is Bryan Fajardo, Elway from BASTARD SAPLING is a fucking monster behind the kit, his legs are like steel barrels, crazy power and speed, he’s probably the best BM drummer in America that I know, he could play for any of the great European Black Metal bands. I love FROST, I’m a huge SATYRICON fan, all their stuff, his drumming on the newer albums shows a lot of growth beyond “crazy fast” and I think even there he has just gotten faster (which is insane).  Hands down though, (again) Brandon Thomas is my biggest influence, he taught me through his recordings with THE DYING LIGHT and DIM MAK (but especially THE DYING LIGHT) how to add real flavor to black metal drumming, accents, ostinatos, syncopation, I learned all of that through him, we only met twice but I really owe him a lot for how I play.  I love playing open hand between the kit while maintaining a beat on the high hat, Derek Roddy does it on I, MONARCH, Dave Witte did it on THE PERFECT IS THE ENEMY OF THE GOOD. Brandon Thomas plays a lot of ostinatos on SURVIVAL GUIDE TO THE APOCALYPSE using ride patterns, I try to do that a lot to and you can hear it on the new TOMBS track ASHES.

As metal is being seen, once again, as an art form and not simply a sort of vessel for ridicule because of schtick or theatrics or other such things, where do you personally see the genre headed and, most importantly, where do you see Tombs in all of that?  Will Tombs, like the genre itself, evolve as the band and its members progress as musicians and artists?  
I really have no idea where metal is headed, it’s progressed so much in the last 10 years, I was blown away by bands like DISCORDANCE AXIS back in the 90’s, now there are bands like ULCERATE where the drumming is just mind numbingly fast and complex, I don’t think you can really get faster, there is a limit to that and I think we’ve reached it, the place where metal needs to grow is (at least for drummers) technique and feeling, people will only be surprised by the spectacle of speed for so long and like I said, metal is not getting any faster. Maybe we should get Mick Barr and Frost to start a band with Mike Flores (from ORIGIN) on bass, they could play stupid fast! Look at a drummer like Thomas Lang, a studio musician with amazing chops, I don’t like the music he plays, but his ability is undeniable, metal has drummers of that level in someone like Derek Roddy, but maybe that’s off the point, drumming is vast and the combinations are infinite, we stay within the confines of structure in metal, perhaps the next wave will be more fusion, it’s certainly harder to play in CYNIC than DEVOURMENT. (love’em both).I think TOMBS as a band is and has evolved, when you look at the progression from the first EP to WINTER HOURS to PATH OF TOTALITY there is absolutely a progression and seeing as I have a look inside the next album I can easily say that YES it is a progression.  Mike knows what I’m capable of and I think I’ve brought out more of his ability through my ability and I can tell you that his professionalism and perfectionism has also influenced me greatly, I’m a much better drummer today than I was when I joined the band 4 years ago. Which reminds me, Aaron Harris was a huge influence on me too, our tour with ISIS showed me his finesse and his creative fusion, having been a fan since day one I saw how much he had grown and from that I saw that I could learn from him and grow as well, he’s a fantastic drummer.
Thanks so much to Mike and Andrew for their willingness to offer me a moment of their time.  If you’ve not had a chance to check out their newest track “Ashes,” then do so here, and if you’re wanting to expand your musical palate then check out the absolutely stunning cover of David Bowie’s “Heroes” by Tombs and special guests Planks here.  From a personal standpoint, my first experience with Tombs was at the Bottletree Cafe where they opened for Pelican and Isis.  I remember being utterly blown away then (during the Winter Hours tour), and Tombs has never failed to absolutely crush my expectations of what they’ll do next in the very best way possible.  Metal is changing.  It is, like its listeners, evolving to a new consciousness - utilizing soundscapes and concepts which essentially sharpen the teeth its had all along.  Thanks again to the guys in Tombs.  If you’ve not introduced yourself to their sonic gauntlet, then do so here.  Support good metal.  Support good music.  
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2 years ago
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