Skeletonwitch are back with the EP The Apothic Gloom, their first release with new vocalist Adam Clemans (Wolvhammer). I spoke with guitarist Scott Hedrick about the lineup change, the new EP, touring and other topics.
Chad Bowar: You’ve had lineup changes in the past, but is it more difficult when it is the vocalist?
Scott Hedrick: We had a steady lineup for a very long time. The changes that you mention that happened in the past, happened quite a while ago. I am not going to lie and say it is easy, because it certainly is a difficult task. But what took us a while and why we were quiet for the better part of a year was that we were making sure we made the right moves and were comfortable with our decision moving forward.
Once we made our decision and decided to go with Adam and move forward, then it was easy. The difficult part was the quiet part where we were deciding what we were going to do and how we were going to do it and the best plan to move forward. We didn’t want them to hear from us until we were a hundred percent ready to go and ready to get back out there and do it again and do it the right way. So the answer is yes, but it was all behind the scenes and then we were like, “we’ve got this.”
How is Adam fitting on musical level and a personal level?
Wonderfully. We knew he would before we made the decision. We did not put out an open casting call. We didn’t turn to the Internet. We decided we would make a decision and execute it and go forward without letting public opinion be involved.
We’ve known Adam for almost 10 years now, so we knew he was a good person and we have toured with him before. We’ve hung out with him plenty and that’s a very important thing to us, making sure that we can get along on a personal level, on a social level and we knew that was not to be a problem with Adam.
We had him come down here to try out. He was in Minneapolis. He came down and he knocked it out of the park right away. We did one rehearsal with some old songs. As soon as he got back to Minneapolis I sent him new material that were working on and I asked him to start writing lyrics to it and see how that would go. It was great and it was pretty easy at that point.
It sounds like from the second he was in the band that you were already working on the material that became The Apothic Gloom EP.
Yes, that is correct. We always start with guitars. A lot of people don’t realize this, but Nate (Garnette) and I write the music. Everybody contributes, but it usually starts with a demo version of a song written by Nate or myself or a collaboration between us. We put down drum machine, both guitar parts and then turn it over to everybody and have Evan write bass lines and have Dustin fine tune the drums and then the vocals are always the last thing to go. From day one the vocals were always the last thing.
So the lineup change didn’t really impede the writing process because it always started and usually ends with Nate and myself with some extra input. So in that sense it wasn’t like, “Chance is gone, how are we going to write these new songs?” It was, “Let’s just keep writing material like we always do and we’ll make it work.”
But one thing that I will say that is different and wonderful about the musical part of working with Adam, was that a couple of the songs that ended up on the EP that I was writing, I actually brought him into the process early on while no one else had heard anything. I said this is what I’m thinking for what could potentially be a chorus or where the title of the song would go, and I had some ideas for vocal placements and cadences and he was really open to that.
It was great because he and I, we have pretty thick skin and he said, “How about you don’t put so many guitar solos in it?” All right, if you want to do that, how about if I suggest this? I loved it. Taking me to task. Make me explain why this should or shouldn’t be there. That’s a level of collaboration that was never present in Skeletonwitch ever.
It is nice to have someone else besides Nate that I could bring it to the process a little bit earlier to make suggestions. Not only can he handle criticism or suggestions and not feel like I’m trying to do his job for him which I am not, but he takes it and runs with it and offers stuff back at me. So it’s been really positive in that sense as well.
When it came to deciding who you going to record with, how did producer Kevin Bersten’s name come up?
He actually was suggested by a few different people. We considered working with Kurt Ballou again. It turned out that was an impossibility just due to scheduling. He’s so busy with his studio and Converge. His time frame was such that we would probably be recording now. (laughs) He is really, really busy. So we asked him, we asked a bunch of different people.
We had a short list of about three or four people and once I contacted all of them and basically felt them out and listened to their most recent stuff they had recorded, he became the clear choice. It was based on the recommendation and based on his work with Mutilation Rites and our buddies in Noisem. He did great work with those guys too, really organic production, really in your face. It doesn’t sound overly processed or produced, so it fits with what we are doing quite well.
Are the four songs on the EP also going to appear on the studio album, or are you planning a completely different recording session and a new producer for the full length?
It will be the latter. It will be completely new songs that no one’s ever heard with a new producer and engineer and everything. This EP is, for lack of a better way to explain it, sort of a reintroduction to the band. Here’s Adam, check out our new singer. I hesitate to say it’s a new direction because it is not drastically different. It is easy to just bang out 2 and 3 minute black thrash songs super fast and not try to progress or change.
And with this new EP, with some of the songs being a lot longer in length and having some more dynamics and additional guitars in there and ambient stuff that we haven’t had in the past, I would say there is an addition rather than a change in direction. There’s an addition of sounds, and an openness to be slightly more progressive than we have been. Here is where Skeletonwitch is at musically. Check out Adam.
Instead of announcing a new singer and saying wait a year and a half before we come out with a record, we wanted to have something out right away, not just tell you who our singer was, but show you. That was the purpose behind that and that’s why none of that will be repeated. It will be entirely new material for the full-length and the producer is yet to be seen. It could be Kevin again because he was great, but we haven’t really decided yet.
You’re getting ready for a headlining tour that also includes the Heavy Montréal festival. When you play festivals, do you approach them differently with set lists since a lot of the audience may not be familiar with you?
We really don’t. With a band like ours, a more extreme metal band, it is not like we necessarily have the hits. Usually we have a truncated amount of set times for those festivals. So it’s more finding out if what we’re currently playing on tour fits into the usually more limited time slot at the festival. There are a couple that we feel like we should play, like “Beyond The Permafrost.” Mostly it is just how much time do we have and what do you guys feel like doing.
When you started, the way to tour was usually a headliner and an opener. Now it seems like most tours have several bands on the bill. Why has that changed so much over the years?
That is a great question. Typically we don’t like to have too many bands. Having us and three others is the most we ever want to do. This tour we are embarking on in Canada, there are no support bands. There are local support bands, but there’s no band on the entire tour with us the whole time and that was by choice.
However, the bands that were available were just too good to pass up for the US run. We are good friends with and fans of Iron Reagan. Oathbreaker are a killer band who I have been a fan of for a while but I’ve never actually had the chance get to see them live. So I get to see them night after night, which will be rad. When these bands said they were interested in touring with us or we reached out to them as the case was with some, there were too many bands that were good and we thought, let’s just bring all these guys and let’s do it.
But I think by and large the industry standard of bringing like a million bands on tour, I’m not necessarily a fan. Four is my limit. 6, 7, 8 bands on tour is a lot. Sometimes those bands are buying on or they are getting paid very little. People are bringing them on tour for insurance. Even if it doesn’t do too well at least we’ve got these young guys who are just really hungry trying to get ahead, selling tickets and doing some kind of bullshit. There’s a lot of that going on that I am not necessarily a fan of.
You’ll see those big bills because those bands’ labels are giving tour support. Who wants to go to a concert and watch eight different bands if it’s not a festival? It just seems like too many bands, too much gear, too much changeover time. There’s a lot of wasted time in between sets. It doesn’t make a lot of sense to me, but hey, I can only be in charge of what Skeletonwitch does and not what everyone else does, I suppose.
You don’t have a lot of free time when you are on the road, but when you go to a new place or a new country do you like to explore the sights if you can?
Yes, if we have time, absolutely, especially in Europe. There’s not a huge difference let’s say, between Indiana and Ohio. But there’s a huge difference between France and Germany. Every day you can be in a place that is wildly different than you were the previous day. In Europe there is so much to see and do and eat and listen to. It is really fun, so over there particularly we try to make a lot more time to go see things. Here in the States the drives tend to be longer in between places where you are able to play, so you end up spending a lot more time driving and traveling.
I’m in North Carolina and we’ve had a lot of controversy over a bill the state legislature passed, and some big-name artists have decided to cancel concerts that they booked in North Carolina. Is there any sort of political or social issue that would cause Skeletonwitch to cancel a show?
We try to keep our personal politics out of Skeletonwitch. We all have different opinions on things. Not drastically, we are probably all in the same ballpark as to how we feel about a lot of broad issues. I don’t really know. I guess that would have to be tested. If something comes up that we feel that strongly about, I am sure we would.
But for the most part we try to keep politics out of the band. For us it’s about the music, the entertainment, the energy. Maybe our music is fun for you to listen to. Maybe it helps to get through a difficult time or gets you pumped up to do something. We are not trying to teach you anything, we’re inspiring you. We try to be an escape from the bullshit and the politics and the things that bother you and that may be shitty in your life.
A bright spot would be going to a show as a release. It can be cathartic and can be a fun experience and forgetting about all that shit. However, we are still human beings with opinions and even though we largely keep them out of the band, if something offended us enough, I’m sure we would definitely put our foot down.
Since you are around metal so much do you tend to listen to non-metal music for pleasure or is it all metal all the time?
It’s definitely not all metal all the time. To me it just seems like a terrible idea, just being a well-rounded listener of music or fan of the arts, to bludgeon yourself with one style of music constantly. You’re limiting yourself and I feel sorry for people who only listen to metal because you’re giving yourself a pretty small exposure to amazing music and art that’s out there.
I’m a big rock ‘n roll fan, I like a lot of jazz, there’s lot of old psychedelic music I’m into, garage rock, pretty much anything. I’ve worked off and on for my buddy at a record store for the last 12 years. I’m a big, big music nerd and sell vinyl to people, so I’m exposed to a lot of stuff. It’s not just a metal store, it is everything.
Are you the snobby record clerk guy or are you more willing to help people?
My buddy who owns it, he’s the cantankarous, curmudgeonly record store guy and I tend to be more like just ignore him, let me suggest this to you, let me help you out. I’m the good cop and he’s the bad cop in that dynamic.
Is there anything else you’d like to mention?
Just a quick thank you to anybody who has supported our band in any way; coming to the show or buying a record or whatever it may be. We don’t take it lightly that we are able to do this as our living, as our main job. Thank you to everybody and check out our new EP and check us on tour this summer and fall. Keep an eye out for a full length before too long as well.
(interview published August 18, 2016)