The veteran Cleveland thrash/hardcore band Ringworm are unleashing their latest album Death Becomes My Voice. Vocalist Human Furnace fills us in on the album, tour plans, the album promotion process, his latest Netflix binge and other topics.
Chad Bowar: Was there anything unique about the songwriting process for Death Becomes My Voice compared to previous albums?
Human Furnace: The actual process, like all our records, was quite simple. Matt (Sorg, guitar) comes up with some songs, works them out with our drummer, then they record them. Then it’s my turn with them, vocally.
Ben Schigel and Spider Studios have been part of your recording process for a long time. What keeps you coming back?
For this record we actually recorded with a different engineer, for the music, anyway. We wanted to record somewhere different and change things up a bit. For this new record we did the tracking at Mercenary Studios here in Cleveland with our friend Noah Buchanan. Noah has a fantastic ear and we really wanted to record everything live for this one, especially the drums, to really capture the rawness of the new material. Our drummer Ryan, absolutely killed it with these new songs and Noah was really able to capture the power and the grit of the new material.
Now, as for the the vocals, those were done at Spider Studio with Ben. I wanted to record with Ben as we work very well together. He knows my voice very well and knows how to get things out of me, vocally, that I sometimes don’t think I can do. And then, for the mix. This time we had Taylor Young (Nails) do the mix for us. Again, although we were always happy with what Spider had done, we decided that a fresh ear could really breathe some more life into the material.
Early on, Taylor had expressed a lot of interest into mixing our new record. Taylor has been a fan of the band since the early days and sometimes the ear of a fan can bring something to the table, mix-wise. He was able to bring out certain elements of our sound that perhaps over the years we’ve never noticed, or sub-consciously may have drifted away from throughout the course of our catalog. We are very happy with the results. He was able to capture the raw and vicious nature of the songs and truly was able to bring out the extreme power behind them. Of course after that, the mastering job by Brad Boatright was stellar as usual.
What was the most challenging part of the recording of this album?
The recording part was quite easy, really. Personally, vocally speaking, I find performing the vocals on every record is very grueling. It’s very taxing mentally and physically, but I’ve learned over the years to expect that and honestly, I wouldn’t have it any other way. But another somewhat challenging part of the the whole process was the mix itself. For all of our records, we’ve been present during the mix.
With Taylor being from LA and us being in Cleveland, the back and forth nature of finding the right mix that we all could agree on took quite some time and you have to have faith in someone so far away mixing your material. It was quite a bit out of my comfort zone, as I can be quite a control freak when it come to my vocals and how I like them, but eventually Taylor found the “sweet spot” and we were all happy with the end result.
What lyrical topics do you cover?
I’ve always written about things that I can draw from personal experience, the way I feel about life and how I see the world around me. The human condition, if you will. MY condition. I write about love, hate, life and death. Many of our songs are about depression, suicide and loss. But in between what some could consider “negative” lyrics, there’s often an underlying feeling of strength and victory over your demons, if not for the simple fact that I have not let them defeat me, in many ways.
What inspired the album art?
Although, this new record itself, musically, is neither a concept record nor a continuation of the previous records, the artwork for this one is. It’s sort of a part three of a trilogy that started with our 2014 Hammer of the Witch album, whose cover features a piece that I did entitled “The White Witch” and continued on our 2016 album Snake Church, which features the second piece entitled “The Black Witch” and finally concluding with our new record Death Becomes My Voice album cover entitled “The Red Witch.” It may be a bit hard to explain, but each drawing (witch) represents a different set, attitude or personality in the way I approached each record vocally and emotionally. So, in that way, aesthetically, the art is very much part of a concept.
As you get older, does it become more difficult to summon the anger and emotion that fuels your music?
No, not really. Life has a way of throwing all sorts of problems and situations at you no matter what age you are at. Most issues that drive me lyrically remain the same type of issues that effected me on our demo from nearly 30 yrs ago. With age, I find that while most of those issues often remain, I find myself with new sets of emotional inspiration. If anything becomes more difficult, it’s the toll that this type of “violent” and aggressive release takes on my body. Although, sometimes I feel that it equates to the old proverb “there’s nothing more dangerous than a wounded and cornered animal.” The older I get, the more aggressive and vicious I seem to become.
How was the video shoot for “Acquiese”?
The video for Acquiesce was a very exhausting, yet very exciting process. Much like our last three album covers, the video for “Acquiesce” is part three of a trilogy. But, in a different way. It’s a part three to a story that started being told in our very first video we ever made, for 2005’s Justice Replaced by Revenge. The story then continued with the video for “Shades of Blue” from 2016’s Snake Church and thusly, finding a part three in the new video. It tells the story that I wrote about an occult serial killer who finds himself at odds with crooked police detective, who may or may not be, more twisted and perverse than our killer.
It’s a deep storyline that in a music video format, can sometimes be difficult to portray. But, I’ve found it a great deal more intriguing and a lot more fun. We’ve been fortunate enough to actually have the same “victim/villain” for all three videos, in the way of our “dead girl” character for all three videos spanning nearly 15 years from the first to this new video. The story behind the videos quickly out grew the music video format, and I’m currently making plans to direct a standalone short film telling the “entire” story, which is very exciting and a new platform I’ve always wanted to try. We have plans to start filming by the end of this summer.
How important are videos these days?
Continuing from the last question, in many ways, the music video has lost some of its importance. But I think that is because of a lot of reasons. Obviously is the lack of a dedicated platform like an MTV, of course. But, this has been gone for decades now. I think the rise of music’s instant availability, and ultimately the easily forgettable nature of it, that having the next “big thing” shoved in for face every five minutes can cultivate, could have a lot to do with it being sometimes considered not worth it.
But in spite of the promotional benefits that labels often don’t find in the music video, I do think they are still a very important resource for bands, IF they make them interesting. There’s still a lot of bands that make very creative, funny, thought provoking and highly enjoyable videos to accompany their songs. Of course the music has to come first, I think, but, personally, I love the process. I love being able to have a visual component to the song.
What are your upcoming tour plans?
Yes, we have plans to get out on the road. You’ll see us this summer.
With so much material, how do you go about putting together a setlist, and does it change from show to show within a tour?
Yeah, sometimes it gets tricky putting a setlist together. At this stage, we have a lot of songs that people want to hear, both old stuff and new stuff alike. We try our best to play selections from every one of our records. But every tour we rehearse more material than we’d be able to play in a single set, so we can swap some songs out every night or pull something out of the bag at any given time.
The album is available on vinyl. Are you a collector?
I am a vinyl collector for sure. Our guitar player Matt has a pretty huge collection. I love the format. I love the presentation and packaging that can be done with it and a nice record on a bitchin’ turntable sounds better in my opinion than any digital format.
Are there any Ringworm albums that were overlooked, underrated or underpromoted when they were released, but in retrospect have held up very well?
One record that always stands out to me in all of those categories is our Venomous Grand Design record. It’s still a personal favorite of mine. After the success of our Justice Replaced by Revenge album, we really wanted to make a change. I think a lot of people, including Victory records, wanted a Justice part 2. And it was pretty obvious by Victory’s total lack of any promotion for that record. We wanted to head a newer, more thrashier direction. I think that we were a bit ahead of the curve in that respect, considering the upcoming thrash revival that would take place a few years later and I also think that our label of a hardcore band really prevented the right audience from hearing it.
We really tried to get victory to push that record into the ears of the established underground thrash metal scene, where I thought it would really get appreciated, but Victory’s metal scene wasn’t really were we needed to be heard, so to speak. Most of that scene was used to “Victory Metal” bands, which we had very little in common with. Plus I think that, our hardcore fan base wasn’t ready for a record like Venomous. We focused more on speed and thrash than breakdowns. In retro, it’s still my favorite record and over the years seems to get more respect than it got when it was released, but still not enough, in my opinion. It’s an absolutely vicious record that combines great elements of thrash, some hardcore and grind. For me it serves as the cornerstone that divides the bands early ’00s more hardcore influenced metal catalog and the crossover/metal with some hardcore tendencies band that we’ve become. I believe it’s overlooked, ahead of its time, underrated and was defintely under promoted.
Today’s album promotion process is lengthy and transparent, due to social media. Do you like the greater access and interaction, or do you miss the days when there was more mystique behind new albums?
In this day and age, you kind of have to be more visible on social media. Although, coming from an older generation, we have more of a workman’s approach to things. We put most of our effort into the product rather than worrying about all the promotion. If we had a team of PR guys, that might be a different story. That would be great. Let them do all the Instagram, Twitter blasts, in-studio video reports, etc. We should do more in that regard, but we just worry about the product, and consume ourselves in what we are in the studio to do. And that’s make a good record, which, in the end, is what gives it the long-term staying power, as opposed to short term hype or buzz. I guess because of all that, our new records always hold more of a mystique and mystery to them.
The world is so polarized today. Have you noticed that in metal as well?
I dunno. Personally, I don’t pay attention to anything like that. I suppose that type of thing goes on, but, for me, I just pay attention to what I like and if I don’t like something I don’t waste much energy on announcing to the world about how I don’t like it, or think that it’s crap. I find it quite stupid and annoying when people find it necessary proclaim their opinions to the world. Ok, we get it. So you don’t like it. Ooh, edgy opinion. Who fucking cares? You don’t have to like something, but someone might, and that’s fine. You like what you like and I’ll like what I like. I certainly have my opinions, and if we were sitting down having a conversation over a beer or something, sure I’d share mine. But in the end, who fucking cares what I think? Who cares what YOU think?
What was your most recent Netflix binge?
Recently I blasted through the first season of Mindhunter. I thought that was real good. Looking forward to season two, whenever that comes.
What’s currently in your heavy musical rotation?
I listen to a lot of ’80s goth/punk and alternative that I grew up on. There’s a revival in that genre as well, so some of those new wanna-be ’80s goth bands are doing that well. I listen to soundtracks quite a bit. Lately I’ve been revisiting A Storm Of Light’s catalog, I guess. Some of that shit weighs a ton. The complete Killing Joke catalog has been in rotation since i was 16 years old, as well as Voivod.
Anything else you’d like to mention or promote?
Obviously I wanna plug the new Ringworm record Death Becomes My Voice. It’s a very intense record. It’s not pretty. Non-easy listening. It’s fast, angry and vile. We like it. You might like it to. Go buy it and give it a try. It’s not for the weak-hearted. Also, check out me and our bass player Ed’s other band Gluttons’ new record. I play guitar. It’s heavy rock and roll. Good stuff. Go buy that here.
(interview published May 2, 2019)
Watch Ringworm – “Acquiesce” Video