Australian death metal veterans Psycroptic just released their latest album, As The Kingdom Drowns. I caught up with vocalist Jason Peppiatt, who talked about the new record, touring, building a fan base in North America, his favorite non-metal artists and other topics.
Chad Bowar: How did your newest member, bassist Todd Stern, come to join the band?
Jason Peppiatt: Todd did session work for us for probably about two years or so before we actually made him a full-time member. After the release of the self-titled we weren’t sure if Cam (Grant) was going to tour with the band again, or be a member of the band because of his career choice. So we used a couple session bass players for a few years. Then we came across Todd as a recommendation by Brett from Revocation. Todd did maybe four or five tours for us as a session. He has a lot of similar personality traits as what Cam did and the way he was on stage. He just meshed with the band so well that we thought with Cam not coming back, Todd was the obvious choice.
Was there anything unique about the songwriting process for As The Kingdom Drowns?
As the Kingdom Drowns was done the same sort of process as what we do with all of our albums. It gets built up. Joe (Haley, guitar) comes up with the basic ideas and song structures and riffs, then there is just a lot of to-and-fro between me, Dave (Haley, drums), and Joe to see where the song’s going to go. Everyone builds their parts, a lot of it gets altered in the studio as we go. It’s a very similar way that we’ve written the last four albums.
What is your strongest memory of recording the album?
My strongest memory of recording the album will probably be the time spent in the studio with Amy Wiles when she was doing the choir backing vocals in the chorus of a few of the songs. It was just amazing to hear the transformation of those choruses and the sections that she did. It was an idea I had during the writing process of having some sort of operatic vocals backing some of the choruses up just to bring a bit more of an epic side to it and make the choruses bigger and stand out more.
When I was actually in the studio with her, and she was building it up and doing all the harmonies, just hearing it all, ideas that I’d had coming to a reality, and seeing what Amy actually did with it. She had a lot of ideas about harmonies and how to do it as well. That came up way better than I ever would have imagined. That was a really good thing that all happened.
Did you struggle with song order at all?
With the song order, we didn’t really struggle with it. It was a lot of back and forth between the four of us trying to get a flow and loading it into iTunes and listening to the songs, listening to the album as a whole, and trying to get a flow happening with it. That came together over a couple of days, with a bit of back and forth between all the members. It wasn’t too bad.
How did you decide on As The Kingdom Drowns as the album title?
When I was writing all the lyrics and titles and stuff for the songs, “As the Kingdom Drowns” was a line that really jumped out at me, and I thought this would make a really cool album title. To me, that was probably the most standout line that I thought would make a good album title. Then Dave came back to with the same thing. He said, “I think we should call it As the Kingdom Drowns.” I hadn’t spoken to him at all about it. I spoke with two of the members looking through all the lyrics and the songs, and both coming out with that same phrase. I guess it shows that it’s meant to be. To me, it suits the whole conceptual idea of the lyrical theme throughout the album.
Psycroptic albums have generally been relatively short. Is that by design, or just how things turned out?
Generally, our albums are quite short in the scheme of things. It’s not a conscious thing. We don’t think, this album’s got to be 35, 40 minutes, whatever. I suppose it’s just how it works out. Generally, there’s at least one song with most albums that gets written, and by the time it’s finished, we’re not quite happy with, and they get dropped off the album. I think every Psycroptic album’s got nine tracks on it, which is not really something we do consciously, but it’s just the way it works out, I guess.
You have an Australian tour coming up. What’s in the pipeline for 2019?
In 2019 I think we’ll be trying to keep fairly busy. I’m sure there’ll be lots coming up in Australia and overseas: North America, hopefully Canada, Europe, the usual suspects of places for touring. I think we really want to put a good push on touring with this album, because I think the songs are going to be really fun to play live.
What were some of the highlights for you North American tour earlier this year?
The “Devastation on the Nation” tour in North America was great. Probably one of the things that I thought was really great about it was there was so many really cool people on the tour. Aborted we toured with a bunch of times, so they’re good friends of ours. It was just a great bunch of blokes on the tour, great bands. It’s kind of hard to pick a highlight.
The Canadian shows were really good. Montreal was incredible, but I’d have to say, probably my favorite show on the tour would have have been L.A. That was probably the biggest crowd of the tour. It was a brand new venue, which was really great. The crowd was enthusiastic. I think we were at the perfect point on the tour where we were playing at our finest.
Do you feel like you’re making progress building and maintaining a North American fan base?
I think we’re starting to build up a fan base again in North America. We’ve always had fans out there. We probably haven’t put a lot of focus on North America as much as we probably should. We gave it a bit of a push about ten years ago, and did a bunch of touring over there. I think we started to build things up, and then we didn’t really come back for about five years or something. We didn’t tour North America. It wasn’t that we didn’t like it or that we didn’t want to. We put a lot more focus on touring in Australia building up our home country fan base, I guess. There was a fair bit of focus on Europe.
Things just weren’t coming up in North America till we hooked up with Steph from Continental, our booking agent. He’s got us out there a bunch of times over the last few years, which I think is doing good. Having Todd in the band, being that he’s American, means that we’d be foolish not to put a bit more emphasis on it. I think it is building up. We’ve definitely got to work a little bit harder out there now, and take a bit more consistency to build things, but I think it’s on the rise for us. Definitely. The “Devastation on the Nation” tour was really good for us. We sold a lot of merch. There was a lot of people knew our stuff and a lot of enthusiastic fans, so it was great.
Seven albums in, how difficult is it to put together a set list, and how much does change from show to show?
It is getting harder and harder to put set lists together because it’s an hour long set for our live shows. There’s obviously a lot of songs that we’ve got now to choose from. We’re looking at it and putting the more popular songs into the set. It was a little bit challenging now that we’re trying to play a lot songs off As the Kingdom Drowns.
Trying to work out what older songs to drop off the set list has been a little bit challenging. But we’re all on the same page. We’ve got songs we want to play, what we all enjoy to play live the most, and what goes down well with the crowd. From show to show within the tour, we don’t change the set list. Maybe, every now and again, halfway through a tour, we might drop a song out and add a different one in, if we discover the set’s got a bit of a dead spot where the crowd maybe dies a little bit consistently. We might switch a song out, but apart from that we keep the same set the whole tour. Keeps it nice and tight for us.
Who are some of your favorite non-metal artists?
I like a lot of old-school rap music. Cypress Hill, Ice Cube, Snoop Dogg, all that sort of stuff. I like a lot old classic Aussie rock: Cold Chisel, Midnight Oil, John Farnham, obviously. I go through phases where I’ll listen to a lot of metal for a long time, and phases where I break from it and listen to a lot of other stuff. At the moment, I’ve been listening to a lot of early black metal actually. That’s my go-to, I suppose.
Seen any good movies/DVDs lately?
Not really. I’m not much of a TV or movie guy. I like to keep a bit more productive. I’ve been getting into doing a lot of art and stuff like that, and writing a lot of music lately, so I haven’t really had much time sitting around watching movies. The only movies I do watch are kids movies with my kids. They’re probably nothing the fans are going to want to know about.
Anything else you’d like to mention or promote?
Keep an eye out for us. We’re going to be keeping busy over 2019. Keep an eye on our Instagram and Facebook. Come to shows. Buy albums. Support metal. Have fun. Hope you enjoy the new album.
(interview published November 12, 2018)