Psycroptic remain innovators and purveyors of an intensely idiosyncratic style of death/thrash metal in an ocean of boring copycats and sterile clones. How do they do it? Why do they do it? Why do they approach death metal in the manner that they do? I was curious about some of their motivations and sent an interview to the band's drummer, David Haley. He forwarded it to the group's talented vocalist, Matthew Chalk, who did Erebus the honor of replying for the rest of this Australian collective. Read on.
All right, let me just begin by saying that I started to appreciate Psycroptic at first just because of your basic sound, which I believe is completely original at this time in the death metal scene. How much work was put into making the style of the band stand out from others in the genre? Does this involve a lot of riff-vetoing on your part, throwing out material that you believe might actually carry the taint of other styles? Do you think at this time that you are mainly getting attention because of the originality of your style, or do you think it has more to do with a certain intrinsic quality in your songwriting? I should ask…which would you rather believe?
Well, firstly thanks for your comments about us being an original sounding band - we appreciate that. Basically, when we started it was our loose aim to create something that we felt was original and music that we enjoyed playing. We didn't want to copy anyone else's sound , because it is theirs…you don't need 2 of the same band in the world. So we just set out to write music we liked, and music that didn't sound like anyone else. In terms of riff writing, we don't throw riffs out if they sound too much like one style or anything like that…a good riff is a good riff, and if it fits we'll use it. We also try to make each song 'stand alone' so to speak - the song is different than what we've done before. So in terms of vetoing I would say yes and no; yes riffs are not used if they sound too much like something we've done, and no - riffs aren't thrown out just because they sound too much like one particular style. We aim to write songs, not just riffs, so hopefully people get into us because of our songs…but if people are checking us out because they think we're original, then that is cool. The more people who listen to us the better - not from an ego point of view like trying to be the biggest band, but for a personal satisfaction of knowing that someone on the other side of the world is listening to our stuff, and maybe even getting into it.
Is there pressure in Australia, of any kind, to follow the styles of the more successful bands from that nation…say of Destroyer 666 and bands like that, which have set down a fundamental sound that most people in America and Europe just now instinctively identify with your country? Is there pressure from record labels outside of Australia to follow that pattern, appearing in how they select bands to sign? Why do you think people outside of Australia have such a hard time realizing the sheer size of your country, and how there can be different local scenes that do not share style characteristics, that do not try to form some kind of national identity of Australian metal?
To be honest, I don't and wouldn't care if there was pressure to play a particular style just because we're an Australian band…if someone came up to me and said that we should play a more Australian style I would just laugh at them…we're an Australian band playing metal, isn't that enough to constitute having an Australian sound (even though it might not sound like the stereotypical aussie sound)…I don't really care what other bands do - they can do their own thing. Anyway, if there was any pressure to play a more 'traditional' Australian style, we don't feel it since we're isolated from the mainland of Australia (since we live in Tasmania). Label wise [we've] not felt any pressure - we recorded both our albums before having deals offered to us, so it was almost 'take it or leave it' from the label's point of view. Luckily Unique Leader was interested in releasing our new album "The Scepter of the Ancients" after hearing it.
I think that many people underestimate the size of Australia out of naivete; nothing malicious - its just hard to imagine a single country that is this big.
Describe for me, if you can, the process of writing Psycroptic songs. Do the lyrics come first, or the music? Or are they written at the same time? Who writes what? By listening to your latest album, "The Scepter of the Ancients", I think any nominally perceptive fan could tell immediately that you must put in a lot of work tightening and adjusting the rhythm work, which is the basis of your sound - I mean primarily the interaction between the rhythm guitar parts and the drums. How much work went into just making these two instruments strike together, as it were, as one weapon? Do the guitarist and drummer collaborate on material at first, or does one of them take the lead in songwriting for the other?
There is a basic system to writing Psycroptic songs that isn't always the same but I will try and give you an idea of the general process. Usually a song takes anywhere from one to four months to complete. Joe (guitars) writes the majority of riffs, with Cam (bass) and Dave (drums) putting a few in here and there also. I don't write riffs (but I have written some for some new songs) but I help arrange songs. Anyway, a base riff will be written, to which bits and pieces will slowly be added. As the songs are being written the drums will be implemented almost instantly. Once a small amount of a song is done, the drum parts will almost be finalized for that section already. There are a few reasons it takes a while to write new songs, the main ones being: (a) we don't like to rush songs and end up with bits put in for the sake of finishing a song or section and (b) we are often writing 2 or 3 songs at one time. As I already said, Joe writes most of the riffs, and does nearly all the actual musical (guitar-wise) construction of the song. In relation to the latest album, we are all just getting better (I hope/think) at our instruments, and we just want it to be as tight as possible, as when you are playing a style like ours, it hurts the sound if you are sloppy. The lyrics are written well after the songs are fully completed. I go and jam and listen to the songs, and improvise vocal noises to figure out my singing patterns, and then I write the lyrics specifically to those patterns. Many of our lyrics I was still completing minutes before recording them in the studio. As far as the tightness between drums and guitars, Joe and Dave are brothers, and live together, therefore they practise far more than the band does as a whole, which turns out to be quite a lot of hours a week.
Are there limitations to just having one guitar in the band, or do you use that as a personal challenge in your songwriting? If you had two guitarists, how do you think that would change your style?
I guess in some ways having a single guitarist is limiting, but I actually think in some instances, particularly with Psycroptic, it might be more limiting to have 2 guitarists. The reason of this is that Joe is a pretty decent guitarist, and some of the later riffs [are] quite technical, so obviously we would have to find a guitarist with the same level of playing ability, that is into the same tunes, and is tight with playing Joe's style. Now to find this combination would be hard I believe. We have toyed with the idea, as it does sound good to have 2 guitars in a metal band. I actually play guitar myself, and if I if get a bit closer to Joe's standard I will more than likely play 2nd guitar, but that is a while off. Also its only really limiting with live stuff as in the studio we do a few guitar overdubs in sections to create a bigger sound, and just for having some harmony sections otherwise impossible. It's hard to do this live exactly the same, but we get pretty close - no one ever says anything anyway! I think two guitarists would only really change the band slightly - maybe we would put more harmony guitar sections in, and probably do a bit of left guitar leads - right guitar plays rhythm stops at the start of songs and stuff like that…I suppose I guess if the other guitarist was someone other than me, they may put some riffs in also, which would obviously affect the style a bit - or considerably.
If a historically minded fan of yours was really curious about your strongest influences, the bands that inspired you and made you want to write this kind of music, who would you point him towards? And these bands that you would tell him about…what would you say was the most influential about their inspiring power, the music itself and its form, or the way they approached the songwriting process? Both? Neither?
All the members in Psycroptic obviously have their own individual influences, as well as some shared ones. I guess the most appropriate to mention are probably some of our individual influences, as we never started the band with an intended style in mind, so any bands we like as a group only give us minimal influence towards our music. In the beginning I believe Dave (drums) was (and in some ways still is) heavily influenced by Metallica, Slayer etc. In fact, although I should say, for all of us, Metallica was our earliest influence that held a kind of obsession, as to me and the rest of the guys, they were THE band of the 1980's. Their riff work, the leads, the drumming, lyrics, orchestration, singing patterns, image, etc to me were perfect on the first four full lengths, and also on their EPs and demos - very inspirational, [they] definitely set me on this path. Anyway, back to Dave. As you can tell he loves his fast double kick work, I think that initial interest would definitely have been Dave Lombardo, but then I think on hearing early Morbid Angel he would have been pumped on that. Dave's other main early influences were black metal bands Immortal (his fav band), Emperor, Satyricon, etc, so that is probably where his early interest in blasting came from. I think nowadays Dave is into many bands of varying styles (as we all are) but I think predominantly bands with sick drummers influence him, bands like Deeds of Flesh, Dying Fetus, Gorgasm, Suffocation, Hate Eternal, etc., but also he gets some brutal groove drumming from Internal Bleeding, Devourment, Abuse, etc. I think some of his biggest influences as far as drummers in the last 5-10 years are: Frost (Satyricon), Trym (Emperor/Zyklon), Kevin Talley (Dying Fetus/Soils of Fate), Derek Roddy (Nile/heaps of shit), Tim Yeung (Decrepit Birth/Hate Eternal/Aurora Borealis), Dave Culross (Suffocation/heaps of shit) as well as professional drummers like Dave Weckyl, Virgil Donati, Terry Bozzio, Dennis Chambers, and heaps more - this is where he wants to be, in the calibre of those guys, and that gives him the drive. As far as Cam (bass) goes I'm not that knowledgeable [about] his history, but I know some of his early likes were Macabre, Broken Hope, Mayhem, Burzum, etc. Nowadays he likes Katatonia, Arcturus, Spiral Architect, Enslaved, and many more. Cam also like lots of mellow stuff, like the "Donnie Darko" soundtrack, and some pop bands. Joe (guitars) had many similar early influences to Dave (inevitable for brothers) but really gets into Iced Earth, Soilwork, Blind Guardian, Nevermore, Cenotaph, Vile and more, but loves his pro guitarists like Frank Gambale, Tony Macalpine, etc. I will just list my vocally influencing people and their bands, otherwise this will be too long. My biggest vox influences have been: Joe Ptacek (Broken Hope) Frank Rini (Internal Bleeding), Karl Willets (Bolt Thrower-my earliest influence), Dani (Cradle of Filth), Al Jourgenson (Ministry), Chris Barnes (Cannibal Corpse - biggest influence in my first 5 years), Ruben (Devourment), Frank Mullens (Suffocation), and heaps more, also some real singers I love that inspire me are Jeff Buckley (my fav performer), John Lennon, Paul McCartney, Freddy Mercury, Layne Staley, etc.
In each of our cases I could have listed more stuff, like that early on we all liked Guns n Roses, and Anthrax and so much more. I could also have listed all the bands we like, but I think we draw our individual inspirations from the ones I mentioned. I think there are bands that provoke you emotionally, and ones that inspire you musically, and I guess I have tried to list ones that (mostly) combine the two.
Do you think it's that important still, in this day and age and with the recording and manufacturing technology we now have, for bands to continue to seek out getting signed by established record labels? You released your albums, at first, on your own - what can your new record label offer you that you were not able to gain/accomplish by yourselves? Do you think the act of getting signed by a recognized label will also draw more attention to bands in Australia that try to write music outside of the "war metal" stereotype?
I think there are two sides to the answer to this question. I think the growing ability for bands to self-release material of a decent quality is mostly beneficial to the metal scene, and it can work well. There are several problems with this though. One (the most fickle) is the ability for bands who can't really play or write music particularly well recording an album, and then releasing it, promoting it themselves with statements on flyers like "the most brutal release ever", or more commonly "brutal death/grind with guttural vox, extreme blasting and excellent production", and you actually spend money on it, only to receive a very average recording, sometimes on a CD-R (which they don't mention), and generally I think of this as a kind of deception, although I suppose its hard for some people to be objective when describing their own band promotionally. Another problem is that as we all know, not many people plan to make money from metal, but when you self release, many people don't want to buy your CD, they want to trade their CD for it. You are then left in the same predicament, as with the purchase of music you haven't heard. Often you do a great trade, and sell all the CDs you trade, and make your money that way, but you never make much, because if it's a sick album, all band members keep a copy, and you lose a part of your money instantly, and as I said, its not about making money, but you have to get some profit so you can put money [back] into other things like transport, merchandise (t-shirts, etc), postage, etc. I think the good aspects of self-release are many, like the simple ability to release an album if you have the money to do so without restraints of any kind. You almost always know where your CDs are going, and get an idea where your strongest market is, and where you need to do more work/promo. You also get to interact with many labels and other bands first hand, and that is very cool. You also get to hear a lot of the response to your music, mainly from mags, because you know most of the ones that received a copy of your disc. The biggest problem with self-releasing is distribution outside your own country. We did quite well ourselves on our first disc, but to sell/distribute as many as we would have liked would take LOTS of time and effort, and we are generally at our limit as it is. So in this regard being signed is good. Our label (Unique Leader Records) does all the manufacturing and distribution outside of Australia, which not only makes it easier for us, but they have many more contacts than us, and therefore should sell (hopefully) lots more albums. We do sell some CDs outside of Australia (of our new album), but not many, as we don't want to cut too much into their market. This last sentence obviously says what I should have mentioned - we still "manufacture" and distribute our CDs in Australia, as we have a good hold on the market here, and have great distribution in this country, and this means we have copies to sell to whoever, wherever.
As far as the last part of the question, I think it's a shame if people outside of Australia think that the "war metal" style is big here, and that it is our main style - there actually aren't that many bands here that play it, it's just that some that do are known around the world I suppose. Australia has a diverse metal scene, each major city seems to have its own culture and slightly communal sound (sort of), but most bands are relatively different. If the fact that we are signed gets that idea [out there] that Australia may have some other metal than just "war metal" to offer - then great, but hopefully people have [heard] some of the sick brutal bands we have here already - like Intense Hammer Rage for example.
What are your goals for your band? All of them, any of them - what would you like to accomplish with Psycroptic? Where do you want this band to take you? Has it been worth the effort so far? Do you ever get discouraged? Have you been disappointed by any reactions on the part of fans or the "press" to your music?
Since Psycroptic started, we have had, and still have many goals . In the beginning, there was a major goal - starting and keeping a serious band going. Prior to Psycroptic, I was in a band, Dave and Joe were in a band together, and Cam was in a band also - the thing we all had in common was that our bands were not serious enough, generally due to other members. So, when we started the band, the first goal was to be as professional and serious as a young group of guys could be, and to keep the band going a long time. The next goal obviously was to release something, that dream turned into "The Isle of Disenchantment". Other major goals were to get known in our country and overseas. I guess one of the major goals (I assume most people want this) that has always been there and is still, is to be one of the biggest metal bands in the country, and the world. I would love to be able to financially support myself from the band - this is a less realistic dream, but I love music/metal so much that to just do it for a living would be amazing. There are also lots of messages within our music that I would like people to "get" as well - this is also a goal. I don't like to force things upon people, but we are very anti-discrimination in many ways, and this is a message I like to work into our music, without making it even close to the purpose of my lyrics. I guess other things we want are to tour the U.S and Europe, these are big goals. I personally have many goals in the realm of meeting certain people in other bands that I admire, and there are many bands I would love to tour with. Right now we are in the midst of organising a tour for Deeds of Flesh in Australia next year, so that is definitely big on my "things to achieve" list. As far as getting discouraged - yes, there are many times when I/we feel a little perturbed I guess. Like when you rely on people in other states (of our country) to organise gigs and they fuck you around, or someone in another country asks for some discs on consignment, and we trust them because we believe that if you are always suspicious the world will keep regressing, and then you send off the discs and never get a reply for months, etc. Look, these are petty things I know, but we like to let other people help us sometimes. One goal we have achieved is doing things ourselves. We don't have a manager, and we have done fine - this means we are always hands on, and I hate leaving shit up to other people mostly, as they often fuck you around - its great when you have people to rely on though, it's a great reward. We love playing metal, and being a small part of the scene, and I guess we want people to help each other out. There is a lot of misplaced and unnecessary arrogance in the scene, and this makes it very similar to the pop scene - and ffuuucckk that with a stick.
As far as being disappointed by fans or press - not really, we've been really lucky. I've barely read a bad review or received much criticism. Obviously these things are not particularly desirable, and often hurt, but you can't expect everyone to like your music (although that would be sick). The only time I get disappointed is when people are personal with their criticism. One thing that has really disappointed me is an alternative fanzine down here (in Tasmania) that seems to have a serious grudge against us for fuck knows what reason, and continually give us shit with bad live reviews, bad album reviews and more - but hey - we deal with it, and they suck goats.
Last of all, let me just ask you this: do you have any general criticisms of the world death metal scene at this time? What would you like to see appear in death metal music in the future, and what would you like to see disappear? Is Psycroptic trying, in itself, to point the way towards something just through its music? What would you like people to take away from the experience of listening to your work?
Wow, what a question. This is the sort of question that an answer too in depth would definitely make lots of people think I am a fuckstick, or whatever. So I will answer as well as possible. One of my general criticisms is arrogance. Many larger bands (in my country and overseas) seem to get to a point in their popularity and turn into rock star cocksmokers. I don't understand why people playing metal can get huge egos, I mean, none of us are better than others at a personal level, and none of us are rich from our music, or are respected highly in society, so where the fuck do these egos come from? I think it's great for people to be confident in themselves, and it doesn't even hurt to be a little sure of yourself, but when people start referring to everyone who doesn't play as "fans" or "punters" or "groupies" and talks down to any of these "types" of people, it makes me fuckin' sick. I can see with bands like Dream Theater (for example) having maybe a little more confidence, as when you are very accomplished musicians like those guys you have earned it (sort of), so in some cases when an artist or group is of a REALLY high calibre of playing and push it hard, they get a little more room to be tools, but when its some metal band who just gets "popular" and think they are "the shit" then it sucks, I think. Another thing I don't like in metal is the promotion of war and killing. Its fine to sing about things like that, it makes for great lyrics, but when bands use their lyrics in a kind of propaganda sense, it annoys me. I mean, I put messages in my songs, but I don't push the point, or say that what I have to say is all there is to know, but some bands just say "kill, rape, kill Christians, kill other races" etc, and this to me is fucked up. I am anti-racism, anti-war, anti-discrimination against minorities. I don't expect everyone be like me, that would be a joke, I just wish everyone was a little more tolerant. And while I'm on the subject of tolerance, another thing that annoys me about the "scene" is this ongoing rivalry between some people playing different styles, especially black and death metal. I would love to see this barrier gone. I mean, the styles may be different, but not much - I mean, its all extreme metal music. Just because some black metal people want things to be "true" and some death heads say "its piss weak, not brutal enough" doesn't seem to constitute any reason enough for this predicament. I love black metal and death, [and although] I don't like everything I hear in either of these genres, I won't give it shit. I mean, I don't really like gothic metal, but if other people do, great - at least they are listening to metal, and supporting part of the "scene". I mean, that's the basis for my last point, if more people stopped hating other styles for unnecessary reasons - I mean if they have a good reason, then they should stick with that - and started supporting other genres within the overall title genre of "metal" then the scene would be heaps stronger, the bands would be more financially secure, and the best thing (apart from the fact people wouldn't hate each other because of music) would be that people would see more of their favourite bands, because it would be more affordable for bands to tour with more cash. There are so many bands I would love to see tour Australia, but they will never be able to afford it, unless the scene gets stronger. So I suppose these are some of the things Psycroptic and I are trying to "point towards" with our music, but especially when we get opportunities like this. I mean, I would love the whole "brotherhood" of metal to be really embraced also ( sorry if that is misogynistic, it isn't meant in a literal sense). Also I am sick of many girls/women in metal not being taken seriously just because they are women, fuck that, if you love metal, no matter what sex, age , race, etc., that is awesome, and it makes me happy to see anyone support this brilliant form of music.
Thanks so much for taking the time to answer this interview, please use this space to announce anything else you would like our readers to see. What is on the horizon for Psycroptic?
I would just like to say thank you very much for such a great interview. You presented me with the best questions (also the hardest in a sense) that I've had to answer. I could have gone on for a long time on all subjects, but that would be boring for readers, so I hope I answered your questions satisfactorily. Any readers who want information or correspondence can email me/us at email@example.com, or come to our website at www.psycroptic.com. Also our record label has a great list of some of the best metal acts in the world, headed by the mighty Deeds of Flesh, and they are at www.uniqueleader.com, so check it out if you want. Keep an eye out, Psycroptic may be releasing something next year, perhaps in the form of an EP. Also we will be touring our own country a lot over the next 12 months, but we also may be journeying to Europe next year sometime, but that is in no way definite. Once again thank you sincerely for the interview, we appreciate all those who support metal, especially enough to write about it. Thank you to all those who took the time to read this, we appreciate it. Cheers, and support the underground (and the rest).