Decrepit Birth are surely at the forefront of the avant-garde in brutal death metal in this country. Their reputation precedes them, but their absolutely monstrous debut album "...And Time Begins" [which just happens to be released today, September 23rd] will satisfy all fans of this genre while silencing any critics that may arise. It is, to be frank, a stunningly extreme work of art, and raises the bar for all other bands playing in this style all across the world. I recently contacted the band's sole guitarist and founding member, Matt Sotelo, to ask him a few questions and to see if I could pierce through some of the mystery that surrounds this elite unit of musicians.
For the people who are completely clueless and who are reading this interview out of idle curiosity, or who have not heard your band even once, can you do them the favor of explaining just what are the differences between the style of death metal that you play, linked to the "California" form of brutal death, and then…say, the New York style of death? What kinds of ideas and opinions about the future of death metal do these stylistic differences reflect? What makes Decrepit Birth a "modern" death metal band, like it says in your bio?
First off, thanks for the opportunity to answer questions for you and your readers. Decrepit Birth was put together to create an original sound and a new level of ferocity in the genre of brutal death metal. Obviously we are trying to take the feeling that death metal bands had in the early 90's, and better incorporate it into the new school of extreme death metal. A lot of bands have completely lost that feeling I used to get from the fathers of this type of music (i.e. Suffocation, Gorguts, Malevolent Creation). One of our goals is to revive those images in the listeners' minds. The new cd entitled "...And Time Begins" features Tim Yeung (ex-Hate Eternal/Agiel) on drums, Derek Boyer (ex-Deprecated) on bass and vocals, Bill Robinson on vocals, and I play guitar and do vocals as well. We are from Santa Cruz, California. I guess you might say that the "California style" death metal was established by Deeds of Flesh in the mid-nineties...I used to watch them play and it would absolutely blow my mind, because they were playing exactly how I was wanting my band to sound. I think you could really say that the Cali-style of death metal that you are speaking of is kind of derived from the New York and Florida scene of the nineties. It just seems like a lot of the bands from here are just more into speed and technicality. But, it is not good to generalize, because now you have death/grind bands from California (Impaled, Cattle Decapitation, Psypheria) that sound completely different than say what we or Disgorge or Severed Savior does. And [at] the other [end of the] spectrum, you have amazing brutal, death metal bands popping up all around the world! I'm glad to see this, for too long places like Europe were recognized for black/melodic metal...which is cool, but when it comes down to it, I enjoy hearing brutal death metal more. I hope we will see more quality brutal death come out in the future, because...I still see so many crappy demo bands out there who think mixing in funny or silly themes in with brutal death metal is cool. I cant stand that...it makes it seem as if though they don't take this art form seriously, and honestly, its embarrassing for the genre. We take this stuff so incredibly seriously, it's not just the music, it's the whole life style of playing in a band with serious ambitions. I think that our style of playing kind of speaks for its self when it comes to answering a question like "what makes Decrepit Birth a modern band?", go out and buy our record and you will hear what I'm speaking of.
You also declare in your bio: "We are a band with serious intentions to create an original sound, with great speed and accuracy." How exactly does a band go about creating an original sound, especially at this late date in this history of death metal? What is the process?
I feel like there are so many amazing death bands these days, and you're right by asking "how does a band go about creating an original sound?" I think we are doing some things that I really haven't heard yet, because we are pushing the limits of technicality while maintaining a strong connection to the early 90's death metal scene. Although this is just my opinion, I don't blame anyone if they think we are unoriginal, but in my opinion I think we bring something new to the table. Maybe that will become more apparent after a few more records and tours. As far as obtaining accuracy goes...it's practicing your instrument, listening to as much music as possible, having a vivid imagination, having the drive to want to play this music, and having a good knowledge of tempo and time signatures.
All right, a few quick questions about your current line-up. Is it permanent at this point? It also says in your bio that you recruited Kevin Talley, ex-Dying Fetus, as a drummer at one point, what exactly happened with that? Why was he not able to continue with you? Tim Yeung, who has played with Hate Eternal and Agiel, then recorded your new album with you. Will he be a permanent member or are you now looking for another drummer? Tim, on your debut album, seems to fit your style of guitar riffing so well, I think it would be a shame if he didn't continue with you. Why do you think it is so difficult to find the right members for a band like yours? Are people just not able to handle the material?
Yeah, Tim was brought in as a session drummer to record this record. He is an amazing drummer...his speed and control are far beyond what most people can imagine! What happened was, Derek and I were composing songs for the record. Derek had just gotten back from filling in on the Dying Fetus tours, so he had the connection with Kevin Talley. We recorded a promo song to get our name out and what not. [Editor's Note: This is the 'Prelude to Apocalypse' promo] Kevin recorded the drums for us, but he was never a permanent member. When Unique Leader signed us, they said that they would help us bring Tim out to record in the studio. So he did the record for us but also was not a permanent member of the band. Although, we have established a huge connection with Tim...I'm not saying anything for sure, but I wouldn't doubt seeing Tim doing some work with us again in the future. But as of now we are currently searching for a full-time drummer. We do have a few individuals who we are in talks with over the position. Yes, I think anyone who does end up being our full-time drummer has quite a task in front of them, that's why it takes a special individual, you have to really want to push yourself!!!
Why did it take four months to record "And Time Begins…"? Was it just a matter of scheduling the studio time, having enough money, etc. or of getting everyone together at the same place? Can you tell us a little about the studio where you recorded this album and your experiences with the entire process? Would you say it was a "positive" experience? Any complaints? How did you keep, in your mind, the same level of intensity in a recording process stretched over four months? Or were the…tracking of different instruments just extended over time, and you recorded all the guitars at one point, together? The album has a remarkable level of cohesion, there isn't a let-up in force, from the listener's point of view, all the way through…
Yeah, money was a huge factor in why it took so long for us to finish. We multi-tracked the whole record in my studio. But there are certain standards that a professional record requires. We spent a huge amount of our own money on recording equipment, rent, weed, living day to day. It was tough, but it was a great experience. It was nice to not have to worry about paying hourly studio fees, so we kind of took our sweet time. For example it took a few days just getting the perfect guitar tone. It took me about a week to do my guitar parts. The lyrics and vocal patterns were not quite done by the time we started to record, so that had to be finished. Plus about 3 weeks worth of mixing and mastering at Imperial Mastering, not to mention we all have jobs and obligations that have a way of consuming time. I think the next time we record we will be a little better prepared.
Another thing I enjoy about this album is the production itself, outside of the energy level displayed in the material. One of the most common complaints about this form of music is that, somehow, the musicians just aren't as skilled as instrumentalists from other genres. When bands like Disgorge get a substandard sound [I'm thinking of all their work, but most noticeably 'Consume the Forsaken'] it makes it really easy for their detractors to just say "well, there you have it, you can't hear anything, it all sounds the same", etc. There won't be any excuses with this album and I'm sure that must be gratifying to you, having your music just come shining through, without any production difficulties getting in the way between you and the listener. It must take an enormous amount of time to assemble a Decrepit Birth song and piece it together from all of its component riffs. I have been asking other bands this question lately, and I might as well ask it to you, as it particularly applies in your example: what exactly is the process for writing a Decrepit Birth song? How long does it take, on average - I mean just related to this new album - to construct a track that flows well and presents a unified front while cycling through SO many riffs, so many rhythms, so many ideas? Did you rehearse these tracks to death before entering the studio?
Wow, I'm very happy to hear that you like the production, Seems to me that there is always room for improvement though. As far as the songwriting process, ideas are constantly running through my head, I have so many ideas for new material and because I love to play my instrument so much. Sometimes I think the music is almost as if it was meant to be. Everything I do is a reflection in my music, I am so influenced by what I have seen and experienced so much that it comes through and manifests itself through my musical expressions. I guess its personal though. Also, I can't leave out the fact that our bassist, Derek, had a huge hand in the songwriting process as well.
One of the most important elements of the California style of brutal death just seems to be forcing the listener into a kind of sensory overload, with a barrage of so many riffs and micro-rhythms that he/she completely loses her place in the progress of the song. Bands like Decrepit Birth now take up this style that [supposedly] sprung from Deeds of Flesh and are pushing it to an even greater extreme…why? Why the constant press towards extremity, towards a kind of "madness" of execution where the forms of the songs themselves are so over-the-top that it just stuns the listener?
We play this music for our own satisfaction, I have always enjoyed mind-challenging music, whether it be jazz-fusion, progressive-metal, classical, and of course technical death metal. So, we set out to create a sound with no boundaries, and we strive to push ourselves to the limits. We do this because it makes us happy...it's what I want to spend my life doing. Even if no one liked our sound, we would always be doing the same thing. And in the future you can only expect to NEVER be let down by hearing Decrepit Birth playing half-assed and slowing our tempos down so people can "understand". We will always try to outdo ourselves, with each recording. I guarantee that the next cd will have better sound production and songwriting.
Why not write more "catchy" or simplistic material? I guess what I'm trying to ask is…does the style of Decrepit Birth reflect your personal musical ambitions, the kind of material that you just naturally find yourself at home inside, or does it also serve a "political" function, as in an attack on the listener, an attack on those who do not understand this kind of music? Does it make you feel empowered to create this confusion and "pain of mind" inside the listener? Is it a kind of display of anger towards the audience, a form of revenge? How do you view music enthusiasts who enjoy art that is also painful to them? Does art have to be painful to be considered "extreme"? Can death metal only be original as it tries to be more and more extreme than what has come before?
Amongst the three of us we have an idea of what kind of music we want Decrepit Birth to evolve into, and its pretty far away from simplistic. Now, don't get me wrong, I love very catchy and simple music, sometimes. But when it comes down to what we are as a band, it is to completely disregard the standards of pop music...and progress into something that almost disconnects you with reality. To create a canvas of sound and emotion...and to tell a story through our music and lyrics. This is the way I felt the first time I heard CDs like Death's "Human" or Suffocation's "Effigy of the Forgotten". Those bands were pushing the limits and setting standards that bands still strive to achieve, even to this day, some ten years later. And we just want to emulate what those bands did for the scene back in those days. This music is meant for a select crowd, I realize that this form of musical intensity is not for everyone, and it was never intended for anyone other than fans of extreme metal.
Do you think that there is a certain level of musical competition among technical death metal bands to "outplay" each other, coming up with more and more difficult material? Do you think competition like this would be a positive thing, that it would press the musicians involved towards evolving a stronger and more "pure" approach towards their own songwriting? Or do you think that all forms of competition should be removed from an artistic process? Is art just a solo venture, a creation of the individual will for the musician, outside of his/her relations with other artists? What do you want other musicians to take away from a listening of your debut album?
Nah, no competition at all, I get very inspired by the other bands in the scene today. For example, take a band like Spawn of Possession, extremely technical...but in a completely different way than us. I wouldn't say that one is more technical than another just a different style...same with Origin, Hate Eternal, and Psycroptic. These bands are very over the top, but with their own original flavor. I think if anything, there is a lot of comradery between bands. We are all respectful of each other's styles. I would hate to think that playing this music was a competition.
Are there any key concepts or a concrete ideology behind Decrepit Birth's lyrics? Because you do not have your lyrics up on your website at this time and I'm approaching your band having only listened to mp3s [Unique Leader does not send us promotional material and your album has not been released], can you tell us a little about the fictions you create, the texts that mirror the musical complexity of your songs? The song title "Rebirth of Consciousness" caught my eye, can you explain this song to us? The main themes, the ideas behind it?
Well, this whole record has a theme, it's about the end of mankind as we know it and the beginning of the new time. Our lyrics are not the typical immature gore and Satan bullshit. Its about some fiction, and some abstract reality. We will be putting up our lyrics on the website on Sept 23. So, I say this...make what you will of the lyrics, its cool to hear the different meanings people perceive after reading our lyrics and listening to the music. We take great pride in the themes and words that we connect to our music.
A question about the cover art for your album: did the artist [Dan Seagrave, and its nice to see his work again] listen to your music before he began the piece, or did you just purchase something he had already done? Was he familiar with your band? I seem to remember an old interview with him where he claimed he never listened to death metal - which I always thought was mildly ironic. The artwork is an effective visual encapsulation/capturing of your band's sound, I think, with the tornados, etc. - just the violence and "controlled chaos" in the imagery. I can't help but also wonder if…your choice of this artist was a sort of deferential nod to the death metal bands that have come before you, or a sort of challenge, using their personal favorite artist to decorate music that is ten times as intense as theirs ever was! Why did you decide on Seagrave?
I'm a fan of this music so much, and when I was a kid in the early days of death metal, I would spend hours just enjoying the layout and artwork that my favorite bands would have. I would always notice the name Dan Seagrave being credited for the artwork, and I always imagined having his artwork on my CDs, because his style of visual art is so relative to our style of musical art. I had the idea for the cover concept, and it goes with the whole theme of the music. I contacted Dan, and told him what we wanted and he came through in a big way!!! I hope to continue a partnership with Dan in the future as far as being our artist, he is simply amazing! Check him out at http://www.danseagrave.com.
Thank you for answering this short interview…I appreciate your support of my magazine and hopefully this question and answer session will benefit us both. Do you have anything else you would like to add, any news or plans that our readers should be informed of? I wish you the best of luck with your music.
Thanks bro! I just want to mention that we really appreciate all the support from the fans and friends. We are trying to raise money to shoot a video for one of our songs, and Tim Yeung will be appearing in it. We are getting new merchandise at our website soon, including full color album cover shirts, stickers, posters, CDs, hoodies, and more! We are also preparing the band for touring, if we can't find a permanent drummer, we will be hiring someone to fill in. Please go to www.decrepitbirth.com or www.uniqueleader.com for official Decrepit Birth information and updates, or if any drummers are interested in showing us their skills. Thank you guys very much for the opportunity to do this interview, good luck!