Saturday, May 22, 2010

Interview: Deteriorot

Now Deteriorot has had a very long journey in music, being around in the metal scene in the States for quite some time...have there really been specific times in your band's history when the interest in your music has peaked or grown rapidly, and then correspondingly decreased at other times?

Without a doubt the biggest response we got was when we first released our 1991 Rehearsal, 1992 Demo and then 1993 7"ep on Drowned [Productions]. The mail was overflowing every week. It was very hard for me to keep up with it; I started splitting up the mail with my drummer Jon Brody. It was hard because we were both still in school and had to have jobs as well. These were the absolute peak times for us. We were able to quickly gain a local fanbase; this prompted club promoters to put us on amazing shows that I would have only dreamed about. Playing shows with Entombed, Obituary, Pungent Stench, Immolation, were frequent for a period of 3 years. Then after 1994 the death metal shows were empty like a ghost town, It was quite suddenly too. We had played to a packed house of around 300 people just 6 months prior. Then our next show we had like 50 people. The decline in Death Metal was evident. I sort of put the blame partially on the bands that were great, just a few years prior and then disappointed fans by not trying to be innovative anymore, weakening, deciding to write generic music or just wimping out in general. People then lost interest in showing support. And I have to admit that I then lost interest in it myself, and so did Jon Brody. There was no calls for gigs, we got news that Drowned Productions who had signed us 1 year earlier to 3 albums was releasing us from our contract due to them shutting down. It was quite disappointing and depressing for us. We decided we needed to concentrate in our schoolwork. Deteriorot would be put on hold for sometime.

I imagine that during the entire black metal boom of the mid-90s, or for the last few years, the public's interest in 'traditional' death metal wasn't that strong, for whatever reasons, and I wanted to know if there really has been an upsurge or reawakening of listeners into this kind of music lately, or if it's just all hype on the part of record companies. What can you tell us, being involved in a band that has seen all of these things rise and wane, stop and start again? Are things beginning to pick up again for Deteriorot?

Since we announced that we reformed. It has picked up for us just like it has in 1991, 1992, and 1993. The daily responses from fans have been very encouraging. I thank them all for the kind words and hope that has been given to us. That alone makes it worth it.

I'm not sure if it was a Black Metal thing that did it or not. Mainly any Extreme Metal in general was dead here in the NY/NJ area from 1994 to just recently. Most Definitely! Right now it feels like a very strange feeling in the scene. I don't know if it's just me. But earlier in the past year 2001 it was feeling very similar to 91, 92 era. Where more people were coming out to Death Metal shows again. More shows were coming through town. But now after the 9/11 tragedy, things have been a little slow. But we have a few shows coming through town in December and January. A setback will be in January for the Metal industry here in NY/NJ. The "main" Metal Radio Station 89.5 WSOU will be forced to change formats due to the license holders being the Newark Catholic Arch Diocese. This is a very important Radio station here that plays non stop metal of all genres, it has a signal as powerful as the commercial radio station here. It can be heard through all the NYC area and all the 5 boroughs of NY. It is heard through the majority part of NJ. So it is a very powerful blow here to our metal scene that relies on this station for advertisements of all Major Metal Shows. This station plays on regular rotation, Slayer, At The Gates, Morbid Angel, Dimmu Borgir. Which you don't hear at all at any of the other commercial stations here in the Metropolitan area.

As I sit here and listen to your newest material, the rough mix of your new album 'The Faithless' that you sent me, I can't help (and I mentioned this to you earlier) but think that Deteriorot's music is beginning to grow even darker as time passes, and that you are descending, in a way, into realms that maybe you didn't feel as confident exploring earlier, when the style of your band was not exactly suited to the melodicism of despair - even though there seems to have always been a certain 'black strain' in Deteriorot, from the very beginning. With this new material, however, it seems like this focus - on extremely morose, downlooking, pessimistic melodies - has been increased tremendously. For example, the middle of 'Into The Abyss of Loneliness', with its slow, hesitantly pacing single guitar mourning alone, and really throughout the entire album, where the main melodies always seem to be evocative of hopeless, miserable emotional states...why is this 'latent' element in your sound coming further into the light now? Was it a conscious decision on your part to try to make Deteriorot a darker, more complex entity, or do you find yourself just composing in this way instinctively these days? Could it reflect some of the music you have been listening to lately, or anything else?

My writing style is always in a way of looking ahead of myself. I'm a planner. I already knew and had planned what the second and third album were going to sound like ever since I was 17 (1991). The same time I was exposed to My Dying Bride, Cemetary, Abhorrence, Amorphis, I just know that whatever I write currently, that it had to advance itself to the next level being darker and capturing this haunting melancholy essence but retaining it's original roots. I like to think of albums from my youth that I listen to that have always grown so much into the 2nd or 3rd album. I'm speaking of all general metal albums - not necessarily just Death Metal. We have to always give it up to our forefathers for general inspiration. Black Sabbath, Motorhead, Venom, Slayer, Metallica, etc.

Deteriorot is also a band that always seems to concentrate on building involving or highly eloquent atmospheres within its songs, and this new album really takes this part of your sound and puts it at the top of your priorities. For example, in all of the songs on 'The Faithless' there are parts where you draw away from the linear movement in the song, come to a sort of rest, and then beginning weaving or spreading outwards a sort of musical summoning, constructing a world of interlaced guitars that builds, within the mind, vast landscapes that are so easy to sink into...an effect that is very calming (almost soothing, really, to me), and one which definitely places you in a completely different 'form' of music when it comes to comparing Deteriorot and its contemporaries. These are the parts that I like the most in your music, when the guitars turn away from each other and try to reach outwards and create a three dimensional space that is isolated from the rhythms or progression of the rest of the song. Now this is a technique (or concentration) that has been completely missing from death metal in the last few years, but which older bands like Autopsy, Bolt Thrower, Amorphis, etc. seemed at one point to revel in, always referencing the music that had come before them, and never really forsaking the emotional quality inherent in metal since its beginning - something, again, which the bands of the last seven or eight years seem to have forgotten. Could you comment on this? How important is it for you to create music that is not only aggressive, but also emotionally expressive?

Well to me, I can't write riffs without digging deep within myself. I have to bring out all my emotions and bring them out in my music. I like to express that to the listener so they can feel what I am feeling and connect to their own emotions. Whether it is anger, frustration, despair etc. I want to pass down the same feelings I experienced when I first got into metal when I was 12yrs old and was able to connect with Iron Maiden songs like Hallowed Be Thy Name, or Flight of Icarus. Metallica albums and such. I just want to pass down what has been passed down to me from those times. The song structure from those times just scream pain, disgust, and evolved Death Metal with the same structure using more experimentation of extreme measures as for instance in vocal patterns and down tuning guitars. Getting more extreme without losing it's natural and original essence of talented musical songwriting that we heard from the bands that later came about in the late 80's and early 90's from the Earache invasion to the Swedish invasion. That is what I retain in my writing style. Unfortunately that method of songwriting has been lost and buried by certain guitarists. You can be the best guitar player, but being a good guitar player and a good composer are two different things. I believe these type of Death or Grind Bands have no songwriting skills, no song structure, but tend to write endless riffs in the way of trying to be more extreme. But in the end you lose the listener and get lost in obscurity with no identity. I, myself don't consider myself a great guitarist. I really wish I were better. But I know what I have in my songwriting skills. And that is my point. [Exactly - Ed]

I don't think you would be angry if I ended up, at one point or another, referring to Deteriorot as a group that really looks to the past of the genre you are involved in instead of the future, and having talked to your about this (and it's pretty obvious in your music), I know that you mainly derive inspiration from recordings that surfaced around ten or more years ago. What is it about these albums that really draws you towards them?

By no means would I be angry with that. Most of my influences are from 10 to 17 years back. These are our forefathers that paved the way of this genre for us. And it is my way of paying respects to them to drive on the influence that they gave me. That is definite in the way we look in. I think that it is about time that someone today did. Most people that I know for the past few years have been telling me that they wish that Death Metal would not have evolved into this Dying Fetus, Devourment, stage that is has come to. That they wish it was like the times when every album you would buy, would always be a great album. So part of me doing this music is out of frustration, and to bring Death Metal music back to a different crossroad which it should of taken some 7 years back. If we don't try to do it, maybe nobody will. It always takes at least one person to make a difference, and we hope that others will follow.

Can you put your finger on and define, or isolate, just what it is about the older styles of death metal that is so powerful?

It's all in the beauty of the traditional songwriting methods that express all true emotions and capture the listener without letting go. I can still listen to albums like Bathory's "Under the Sign of The Black Mark", which I got when I was 14 yrs old or Kreator's "Extreme Aggression" as if it was just bought today - my point, after half of my life has gone by - I still can't let go if these albums.

Is it just the case of having listened to those works while your ideas concerning musical composition were first forming?

I'm sure it is. The way I was able to learn to play guitar (which I'm sure many other kids my age learned as well) was by listening to Metallica at 12 yrs old. I played all 3 albums (at the time) to death. My mom was so sick of hearing the phrase "MASTER, MASTER" all the time blasting from the living room stereo (which was the good stereo in my house). I got my 1st guitar the next Xmas in 87 and was determined to learn Kill 'Em All, Ride the Lightning, Master of Puppets songs. That is the way I learned to compose. (There was no way in those days I was able to learn Iron Maiden songs - to hard for me, I gave up trying - hahah)

So there is so many different metal bands that influenced us. You hear many different styles on "In Ancient Beliefs" album and that is why it is so diverse.

I'm guessing that you and I are around the same age, and while I grew up listening to Slayer, Sodom, Destruction, Possessed, Bathory, Celtic Frost, the early Swedish and British scenes, etc. I don't know if I would want to start a band that tried to take the ideas of that time and expand upon them. For you however, there must be something in this music that moves you above anything else, and Deteriorot seems to have the ability to endlessly come up with new rhythms and melodies in this 'traditional' vein, without ever slipping into plagiarism. Can you elaborate?

Yeah definitely. To me the most important part of being influenced by something is to have your own interpretation and your own identity! When I write riffs - I only think of Deteriorot - I never think I will try to write a riff like Dismember or Bolt Thrower or such. That is why I guess you can say the sound is reminiscent of that time. But you can never link us to just one band.

The first bands that I got into when being exposed to more extreme metal in 1987 was all those bands mentioned above as well. I made a good friend named Renzo and he told me about Death Metal, being into Slayer, Metallica. He explained that there is a whole other world of heavy music and introduced me to Sodom's "In The Sign of Evil" album in his basement. I never heard anything like that before and was immediately enamored with this sound. That very week I bought Destruction's "Mad Butcher" and the rest just came into place.

It's a little strange to me now that death metal, or all the forms of 'extreme' metal, are now old and established enough to the point where we can refer to some bands as being 'traditionalists', others 'innovators', etc. I'm sure you'll remember that at the beginning of the '90s, for example, almost every band that released an album (especially if they happened to be on Earache) was considered to be an innovator in one way or another, because the aesthetics and root principles of the entire death metal genre were still being formed, and you could look forward to each new album trying to push the envelope. It was a very exciting time for everyone who was involved - mainly, I think, because anything seemed possible, and while 'extremism' was at the forefront, there were a lot of bands who also were trying to experiment and bring new elements into the death metal sound, to alter the mold in whatever way before it was turned to stone forever. Why do you think that at one point (and it's difficult to nail it down, but it seems to have been in the middle of the '90s) bands just stopped trying to innovate? Do you think they finally reached a sound or style which they were comfortable with, or did exhaustion assert itself when an 'end' in the race of extremity for extremity's sake was reached? Did the entire ethic of extremity just destroy itself? Did the focus/intent on this element of death metal switch over to other parts of song writing? Or do you think it's just more important now for bands to concentrate on their own internal progression - reaching always towards their ideal of expressive capabilities - instead of watching what is going on in the movement as a whole?

I had a debate with a friend of mine through Instant Messenger from Spain just a few weeks ago over this matter. He tends to defend a lot of todays Death Metal and conformed and accepted the fact that there is no more progression musically. He was telling me how great the new Immolation album is. I told him that most of us here in the area think that album is just filled with endless riffs that don't really make too much sense (my opinion of course) . I'm a fan of Immolation's "Dawn of Possession" and that album was an influence for me as well. My friend made a comment that stuck out in my head. He said "What do you expect in the scene today, another Altars of Madness or Symphonies of Sickness?" I said "That is today's problem with Death Metal. People have accepted "not" being innovative as the norm. We shouldn't expect great albums anymore because we already have those great albums from then. We are supposed to be happy with generic mediocre releases, because that is our expectation now." I disagree totally with this outlook. And realized that this the root of the problem. It is up to ourselves (I'm speaking as far as Death Metal musicians worldwide) to try to make a dent and a difference in the scene today by digging within yourselves and try to experiment as much as you can on expressing yourselves musically. Then and then only can we make a difference.

Switching gears here, let me ask you a more practical question: could you tell us a little about your record deal with Repulse, and what that involves? How did it come about? I know there have been a few problems with distribution here in the States, and that it's a little difficult to find your last album...are there any measure being taken to correct these impediments? Are you satisfied so far with your relationship with Repulse? I know that's a loaded question, but it might be instructive for other musicians to read about the difficulties that are always a part of dealing with a label - especially one that's located overseas.

After 1 year or so, Jon and I got together and started playing the songs in his basement. It still didn't feel right, there was no chemistry at the time - it was too soon maybe. By early 1998 I was talking to Jon again and at this time 3 years had passed. He told me he was playing in Black Sabbath cover band, as a Black Sabbath fan myself I had to go see his cover band live! It was great!

We talked about recording some of our older songs and making this album that never came about. I contacted Dave Rotten which of course released our 7"ep with Drowned and he was very interested in releasing this album for us on the condition that we were planning on staying as an active band and not just doing it to record an album. But once me & Jon started rehearsing in the studio -the chemistry was back! No doubt was there, once we were recording and hanging out all the time now. We definitely wanted to do this again!

We got a basic contract for 2 albums that explains "We are responsible for all the recording costs." The label is responsible for all the costs of artwork, and manufacturing and promotional costs. We are entitled to 15% of the pressing. I have been displeased with the delay of the album which has not been released in Europe by Repulse as of yet. WWIII has released it here in the states. They have sent me only 18 copies of the CD. I was really disappointed about that. [That's actually alot more than most bands get - Ed] I was expecting them to send me a lot more copies than that. A lot of people have asked me for a copy of the CD, but I can't really. I only have a handful of copies and will only be able to give away cd-r's.

But on the other hand, I don't know if I really have anything to complain about. Our album is available now. It is a lot more than I expected. So I should just be happy that after 10 years, we finally have an album in stores. Some bands go on their entire life and never make that accomplishment. So for that I am definitely grateful to Dave Rotten for giving me that chance and for working hard to have this released, licensed here for distribution in the USA. Dealing with a European label has not been that difficult I think. The power of the Internet makes it so easy. If I have a question or a request from Dave Rotten, he responds to me in the same day through email. So it has been a great relationship with Dave and myself which goes back around 9 years going on 10 now. I even had him stay in my home for a week along with his bandmates earlier this year.

How was the response to your last album? Were you satisfied with the ways in which it was understood and 'interpreted' within the underground?

The response has been amazing. Better than I anticipated. It seems that for the most part, people seem to respond the same way in feeling. I've seen the same phrase used in a few reviews saying that it sure is a breath of fresh air to hear a band playing this way and sticking out in a genre that has been dominated in the latter years by speed, gore, grind with retaining the pure elements of Death Metal.

Do you consider Deteriorot to be a 'live' band, or is it something that is only rarely offered to people through performances? I don't know at all how often you play live, but it seems from the video you sent me that you are practiced, comfortable performers, and I would guess if I had just seen this video without knowing anything about your band think that you WERE a group that in fact played out often.

We have played out quite a bit this year so far. Since January 2001 we have been very active in the local community. We were playing shows at least 2 times a month for the first 5 months in order to re-establish our place here in the local scene. But now we want to slow things down since May and play once every 2 or 3 months. That way people won't be too sick of us around here. It gives us I believe a stronger fan base that way. People will want to see you more often if you haven't played in a few months. Rather than playing every 2 weeks.

Are there good places to play where you live, or is it a constant struggle like it is in so many other places in the States?

Playing shows is definitely a struggle now. Most clubs are looking for cover bands and it is very hard to set up Death Metal shows now. We have been lucky this year, we have a local club called Connections that features Death Metal every Thursday night and have been able to play shows there. Other than that there has not been much else, so we are grateful to them for that.

Do you have a strong local following there? Are there plans for a tour in the future? If so, who with.

Our fanbase has been extremely loyal it's always our inspiration. Touring right now has been difficult. I live alone and have to pay all my own bills. So to leave a job for a tour is not likely unless I can work something out. Our drummer Jon has the same dilemma with his situation being married with 2 children and a mortgage, car payments and bills to pay every month. We had an offer to Tour with Mortician just recently but like I said, right now the financial struggle is too evident. Hopefully sometime later on we can work something out.

Who would you like to tour with if you were given the opportunity?

I would probably wanna tour with Sodom, Destruction, and Kreator. Just to be with the pioneers of extreme metal. On another instance - Iron Maiden, Metallica, Slayer just because it would be a 12 year old boys dream.

Related to the question above, I know that as a musician it must be very exciting and rewarding for you to take this music that you create - which is so important to you - and then play it in front of people, having them experience, maybe only for a short time, just what has inspired you, and feel, through their enjoyment, that you are reaching outwards into the world and communicating in ways that normally would not be open to you...guitarists are always saying that they can express things through their instruments which they could never put into words, touching in their way upon the central founding principle of all music - its universality, its power to communicate without words - even though for most of us who are involved in this type of art, we find only scorn, misunderstanding, or disapproval. Do you ever think that musicians are really only trying, through a broadcast of their emotions, to find other like-minded souls (who are immediately drawn to patterns of communication they can empathize with and instinctively understand) in order to start relationships which end up being much more gratifying or satisfying than the one of performer and audience? Not sexual relationships, but rather...the music being spread outwards as a net to draw inwards and capture, for a time, similar souls that can form a community around the musician and give him the support (emotional and otherwise) that he may need?

It's definitely important to feel that connection, the support you feel from individuals are a sort of an energy that can match no other feeling this world has to offer. I feel that what I have experienced in my youth as a fan, a listener and I must pass this down to others so they can in return pass it back to me. It is very gratifying. I only wish to someday make it able to be able to experience this globally or at least nationally.

How important is it for you, personally, to regard your music as something of a high priority in your life? What I mean by that is: as you are walking around, or working, or relaxing, just living every day, how often do you think about your band, your music, what songs you want to write in the future, etc.?

I think about it too much in fact. It really distracts me from my work. I work in an office, so I am constantly on the Internet checking my email and looking for reviews or any other news on Deteriorot. That is where I do most of my band work, like interviews and replying to fan emails and such. I even wrote most of the lyrics of "In Ancient Beliefs" album at work. But yeah, it's too distracting from my own job. I have been warned several times at work about my personal Internet use. [Oh, that's great... - Ed]

Is it the kind of thing where you have to jump out of bed in the middle of the night to work out a melody that came to you, or have you reached a point with your composing where you can set strict times for putting in work on songs?

It used to be like that when I was a teenager. I would always play guitar in my bed and wrote all my songs that way in fact. I would always jump out for the guitar with a riff in my head or an idea I had to get out. But now it's not really like that anymore. I hardly play my guitar really. I usually just play when we practice every week on Tuesday or Wednesday night. We setup a rehearsal area (very studio like) in my home. Sound proofed the room and we have colored lighting to set the mood. I do all my songwriting there with my drummer. We setup times to write a song. It comes very natural now. We write that way very spontaneously. And it has been very successful. I just start playing what I feel and Jon is always a step ahead of me with what I am feeling. He plays the drumbeats with some amazing fills that I never imagined in the song. It always comes out better than in my head when Jon adds his thought and ideas with his drum playing.

Is it a sort of habit now, always regarding Deteriorot as something that will be in the back of your mind - always behind your eyes as a creation that has taken on a life of its own?

I feel that Deteriorot is kind of like a novel with many chapters, spawns, or sequels. I have to always think where it is leading to and the continuation has to make sense from where the story has left off.

Are you the sort of musician who finds himself 'regularly' inspired, or is it a sporadic thing, something that comes and goes, sometimes powerful, sometimes barely there? Have you been able to distinguish, for yourself, situations, events, people, happenings, etc. that are particularly inspiring for you and which seem to always result in new melodies, new riffs, new songs?

I'm not regularly inspired by what is going on in the world but September 11, 2001 inspired me to write "Apocalyptic Holy War". You can feel the pure anger, hatred and disgust in the riffs on that song. I think it stand out quite a bit from the rest of the album "The Faithless".

Also (and I have asked a number of people this question now), are you a person who picks up his guitar during the day, or is it something that often comes to you only at night? There are certain points, for me, when it is almost impossible to write music during the day...which is one reason the Winter is so inspiring (outside of its associative influences), there being naturally less daylight during those months...any comments?

Well for me - definitely the night is when I play guitar. There is just somberness and eeriness to the night that sets the mood to be creative.

All right, let's talk about the new album for a moment. How long did it take to compose or put together? Is it completely new material (aside from the Sodom cover)? Where was it recorded, who played on it, and when do you think it will be released?

The new songs on "The Faithless" are all completely new. Most of the songs were written mainly unintentionally and spontaneously. Our bass player was usually the last person to get to practice due to his work schedule. So me and Jon would just start warming up in the studio and the riffs just flowed out of me. Next thing we knew, we had a new song completed that night before practice began. It happened quite often. We were managing around 2 new songs a month. It was recorded in the same studio we used to record our last album - Network Studios in Union, NJ. It features the main 3 members in Deteriorot - (myself) Paul Zavaleta - Lead Guitars /Vocals , Jon Brody - Drums, and the debut of O.D. Lallo - Bass.

I don't expect it to be released for at least 2 years. We just wanted to get a jump-start on recording it now. We were really excited about our new material and just wanted to get a sneak preview ourselves on what this album is going to sound like. Our latest album "In Ancient Beliefs" was just released around 3 weeks ago or so. So to everyone, this is our new album. I would like to have people get a chance to experience that album for sometime before unleashing its next chapter to the world.

Are there any certain lyrical themes or subjects which make this new work different from what has come before? Tell us what to expect, if you didn't already answer that question above...

Well the new songs are in a much more darker vein and focuses more on that. It has some more of everything once again. I feel we were able to emphasize the best parts of Deteriorot and we put that in the forefront. We were able to point out our identity more strongly and it definitely developed our style to what it is today. Comparing it to the last album, you hear where the older songs sound like we were a bit confused in what direction Deteriorot was heading. But in "The Faithless" you get a dark and haunting nightmare.

Is there anything else you would like to add? Take this space for yourself...how can our readers contact you or find your merchandise if they are interested?

Mainly I want to thank you for this great interview you conducted. I only wish all zine editors were as knowledgable and passionate with this music as you are.