Saturday, May 22, 2010

Interview: Harakiri

There are many bands in and outside the "official" death metal scene currently trying to redefine the characteristics of the genre and push the entire death metal gestalt to new heights of musical expression. Whether you examine groups that are becoming more and more technical and analytical in their approach to songwriting as time passes, or bands that are trying to completely reshape and remold just what it is that that the style can adequately contain and/or sponsor, there are worthy collectives at this point across the world ambitiously working within the confines of what is now a worldwide movement to accelerate musical progression. Harakiri is such a band, and their debut album "Twilight of the Idols" was interesting enough for me to want to question them. This is a short interview with one of the band's guitarists, Chris Morrison.

I read recently on your website that you're busy preparing new material for an upcoming release. Would you like to talk more about that? Does this new music mark any kind of progression for Harakiri, or any changes in your songwriting style? How do the new songs compare to the band that is presented on your first album - what has changed and what remains the same? Have there been any line-up changes in the group or will the same band from "Twilight of the Idols" be returning to the next album?

Yeah, we are currently in the writing phase of the new album. We have a couple songs fully completed for the most part and about four others that are 75% complete. We're taking our time. We hope to have it released this fall or winter though. We've just had a lot of things holding us back and taking up time. We lost a drummer, and then we got a new drummer and had to break him in. A couple of us bought houses and got new jobs. I got married and am playing in a rock/punk band which is taking off a bit. All kinds of stuff just slowed us down. We kind of needed the little break. We finally played our first show in a year. But yeah, things are definitely moving forward now and running more smoothly.

As far as the new stuff being a progression. I would say yes, it will be a progression. Maybe not in the ways that people might expect. There will be changes. We want to do different stuff, even though we aren't planning anything deliberate . Don't get me wrong, we're still going to be a death metal band (I guess...I'd rather just be a "metal" band), but we're tired of most of today's death metal. We pretty much are just going to do what we want. The vibe in the band is different since "Twilight." You'll probably see some variety between the songs. Sometimes we're in an old school mood and sometimes we're in a total forward-thinking mindset. One will probably notice more emphasis on interesting riffs, dynamics, melody, and different sounds rather than just focusing on brutality, speed, etc. I'm sure that if one is familiar with Harakiri that you'll be able to recognize it's us. Compared to the oldest stuff we have, the new songs are just way more mature and way more thought out. They are heavier while focusing less on the stuff like blasting and more on the songs and individual parts. There used to be this thought in the backs of our heads that we needed to keep it brutal and pummeling for some reason. We've realized that we can still be heavy and not have to throw in all this clich├ęd death metal crap that so many bands do over and over again. We started toward the more open minded direction on "Twilight", but we haven't truly freed ourselves yet. As for what has carried over since the first album. I don't know...our attitudes? Just the fact that we're still kind of the black sheep of this scene. We don't quite fit in anywhere. We're not typical enough death metal for some and we're not moshy enough for others. Some say we're good songwriters and some think we're terrible. Whatever...we don't care. We'll just do what we do. As for the lineup, we have a new drummer, Bob Fouts. Our last drummer is gone. He wrote some stuff on guitar on "Twilight" as well, so there will be some differences in some songs I am sure. We'll just have to see when all the songs are complete.

I was thinking last night about your music and its decidedly anti-commercial, "anti-pop" stance, and about how Harakiri is really, for lack of a better term, a musician's band, the kind of group that I think other musicians would be attracted to, not only because of the complexity of your music but the fact that most of the real meaning in it, the real diversion and interest (at least for me) are in the songwriting skills, the ways in which the instruments are interacting and the structural details, the technical fine points. Harakiri doesn't seem to be a band that focuses on a "larger picture" or grand sweeping statements but rather on subtleties, minute changes in melodies and rhythms, almost in a sort of "microscopic" style. Do you think this is accurate? If so, why does this style satisfy you in ways that other styles of playing would not?

Yes, I think that is pretty accurate. Quite a few of the reviews for the album also mention how upon first listen the album didn't grab them, but after they gave it a second or third spin, they really started to hear what we intended to do. Then it makes sense. When we were done we were pretty unsure if people would get it. Its not that we're over the top or anything, but we also knew it wasn't easy listening. We do not do this for anyone other than ourselves. I know that TONS and TONS of bands say that, but we really mean it. Of course it's nice when people like what you've created, but it doesn't really matter to us. We'd still do it this way. If we wanted to be super popular and be some commercial band, we could do it in a second. We COULD start making our music more commercial and easier to listen to and then start touring nonstop so we could get signed to some big label. We could've done this. We've passed on opportunities for various reasons. I see tons of bands that started out around the same time as us getting huge. Thing is, what a lot of these bands are doing is a lot more simplistic and more one dimensional than what we do. It's easier to listen to. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, as I love some of those bands. It's just not what we do, like you said. We pay attention to details and subtleties a lot more than many bands. We really try to pride ourselves on songs. Each song on the album can be totally different, and that's fine. We like that actually. We just cut everything down and analyze it and figure out what it is that we like. As far as satisfaction for playing this style, I dunno. I think we like it because it keeps us interested. Keeping us interested in death metal is hard to do for some of us. That's why we are doing it the way we'd like to hear it. But don't get me wrong. Everything doesn't have to be super tech or detailed. Sometimes the strongest point can be made with a slow simple riff or progression.

Is this songwriting approach on "Twilight of the Idols" an expression of your own personal views of what death metal SHOULD sound like, because it reflects what interests you in this form of music, or do you regard these songs as more of a natural, reflexive creation, a spontaneous outgrowth of your creativity? Is Harakiri a band with a musical manifesto, a point to prove? Do you want to be seen as innovators? How do you want your band to be seen by other musicians, or your audience?

I'd have to say a bit of both. We are just playing our interpretation of death metal (or metal in general). I don't want to says it's what death metal SHOULD sound like. It's what we want to sound like. It's what we like. I guess we aren't satisfied with what's out there and feel like we know what we want to hear, so why not create it ourselves? I guess we do take what we like from death metal and make it our own unintentionally, but we do it in a way that is natural. I never say, "Hey guys, I want to place this Suffocation-style riff with this wacky Cephalic Carnage part for our next song!" It's natural in that we do not to have a manifesto or a point to prove. We just write what we write. We aren't setting out to be kings of technical riffs, or different structures, or speed, or mosh riffs. Nothing like that. We just write what we like. We do try not to be derivative or sound exactly like someone or like a clone of our favorite death metal bands. I think we are successful sometimes, but I am sure we fail sometimes too. We also try to push ourselves to be creative when writing. I don't know if we've done enough to be considered innovators at this point. It would be nice to get to that point someday, and I think it is something we strive for to be honest. We'll see where this new material goes. I can say that we are become less and less influenced by what is around us and more influenced by things we think we'd like to hear, if that makes sense. We kind of like being separated from the pack and try to do stuff that is new and interesting to us. It would be cool if others see it that way too, but if not, it's not the end of the world. I just want others to see us as being honest. We have no reason to be doing this other than we like to create music. We aren't making any money or trying to get signed to a major. We don't sing about zombies, guts, or Satan. We don't really blast through entire songs anymore. We aren't the most talented musicians on the planet, but we like to use what we can do to make music we dig.

I noticed that in the press for the first album there were several instances where your lyrics were mentioned, especially the song "Blest be the Retarded", which either rubbed people the wrong way (or seemed to) or people THOUGHT it might distract and/or annoy certain listeners, when in fact maybe it never did. Is it refreshing for you to have attention actually paid to your lyrics (this is a rarity in the metal scene), or do you think that this was another case of people just talking about ideas and/or approaches to the music that they really didn't understand? Do you think people now see Harakiri as a band that courts notoriety, or was this in some sense blown out of proportion?

Yeah, the lyrics get mentioned a lot. I wanted Matt, our vocalist and lyricist, to reply to this question, but he's taking too long...I think its great that people pay attention to our lyrics because I pretty much quit paying attention to death metal lyrics a long time ago. For the most part, they are all total crap and a total afterthought. I don't get the whole horror/gore thing. I guess I just don't care. I don't care about really being OVERTLY political or anything either. I like Matt's style. He's just honest and creative in his words, philosophies, and topics. And, no, people shouldn't see us as a band that courts notoriety. The whole "retard" song was kind of a joke in the title and stuff. I mean if you read it, it's glorifying an innocent mind. How cool would it be to be so simple. It's not "anti-handicapped" or anything.

The most interesting lyrics for me on the first album were the ones for the song "One More Tool In The Shed", with its main idea of a sort of personal virtue in basic emotional survival skills and an equanimity or independence from worldly matters. How much of this is drawn from experience, or how much of it is just idealized or romanticized? Does this view of life really reflect the basic attitudes of people in your band, or is it more of a goal to reach towards? How can a thought like "what matters most is how well you walk through the fire" be applied not to your personal lives, but your music, and your music "career" or history? Can this ethic be applicable also to way in which you write music, and the way that you approach the entire music scene?

Answered by vocalist Matt Reese: I'm glad you enjoyed the lyric. I guess you can say that the basic theme of the song is from personal experience, in that I like anyone at various times have found myself in pretty undesirable situations. I've been poor. I've been addicted. But rarely have I ever been truly unhappy. It is partially a characteristic of my personality, and, I think, partially a choice. Most Harakiri songs celebrate something, rather than bitch about something. I think this particular lyric reflects the broader psychological outlook that drives me to compose in this way. I may be writing lyrics to a brutal metal song, but sadness, hatred, & malaise inspire nothing for me. Challenging the prevailing perception of what conditions are compatible with contentment has been inspirational for me; and it has set Harakiri apart from our genre in a way that we would have never expected.

There is one song segment or melody which really stands out for me on your first album, and that's the part from 0:58 to 1:16 in "On Being Succinct", which is just a beautiful little dual-guitar melody which is reworked or shadowed in a later riff starting at 2:03 but which never appears again in the song, and its type does not appear anywhere else on the album. Can you give us the history of this riff? Was it spontaneous or something that you thought about at length before including it in the song? I only mention it, like I said, because it doesn't seem to be echoed stylistically in any other song on the album, and it is that 18 seconds of music which initially made your band stand out for me from so many of the other things I was listening to at the same time.

That's one of the songs that Kent, our old drummer, wrote. I am sorry I can't really give you too much info on it. It's just the mindset that was going on at the time. Each of us writing what we felt without worrying about the bigger picture. It doesn't matter if it only happens once on the album. Just like in life, sometimes things are a constant. Sometimes things slip in here and there and are rad and sometimes they are ugly. It's just us being honest while writing. If a happy melodic beautiful passage fits, we'll use it. If a brutal breakdown feels perfect for the part, we'll use it. If the song calls for ugly dissonance, we'll put it in there. But I am sure there wasn't a second thought about putting that part in the song. It just fit and was natural.

Another thing I really like about "Twilight of the Idols" is the production, it's just (in my opinion) an excellent reflection not only of the type of music you play (and a lesson in how to capture it on disc) but a model example of what to highlight in a technical metal band. The guitar and drum sound, the bass presence, the sound of the leads, it's just all (in my humble opinion) a great representation of this material...can you give us some more information about the actual recording process of this album, how long it took, who were the engineers, where it was recorded, etc.? Are you satisfied with this production or will you try to change certain particulars on your next album?

Wow, thanks! I think it's the best production we've gotten on a recording thus far. We knew going in that we didn't want a stale triggered computerized sound (even though it's a digital recording) but we also didn't want it to be totally warm sounding. We wanted a mix of the warmness that things like tube amps and tape can make mixed with the tightness of modern production. It's hard to get a compromise between the two without it getting muddy or too bright and tinny. I think we got close. We recorded it at Canyon Studios in Louisville Kentucky with Chris Cassetta engineering. I guess you can say we produced [it] ourselves with Chris throwing in opinions here and there. This is the same place we recorded our "Virtuous Symptoms" CD-ep before "Twilight." We just liked the vibe of the studio, it's only a couple hours from home, and it was pretty affordable compared to some studios in our hometown. If I remember correctly we probably tracked instruments for 4 or 5 days and mixed for 2 or 3. It's been awhile, so I can't remember exactly. As far as changing things with the production, it's going to change regardless because we're going to go to a different studio probably. There's talk of going Florida to record at a labelmate's studio or we'll do it here in town possibly. We threw around the idea of doing it ourselves, but that could turn out to be terribly difficult. We'll probably go for a similar production, but hopefully we'll experiment a bit more with tones and sounds. That's one thing that I think could be better. I'd like more time to add more layers and use different guitars and amps and stuff like that. We've always been rushes in the studio. Hopefully we'll have the opportunity to demo out all our songs this time. We were still learning a couple of songs and writing parts in the studio last time.

Well, that's all I wanted to ask you for now. Please include anything else you feel to be relevant or anything else you want this magazine's readers to know. Thanks for answering this interview.

Thank you for the interview. I hope some people who have never heard us will decide to check out our stuff. Our next album will be out on Willowtip Records hopefully in late 2004. You can buy shirts from Willowtip as well. We need to sell some more as we need to fix our van.