Arsis Interview

I touched bases with a couple of the dudes in Arsis, Noah (bass) and James (guitar/vocals) and they revealed some relatively exciting tidbits about what’s to come in the next few months.

Hey guys, how are you both (Noah Martin, Jim Malone) doin today?  

James:  Doing very well, thanks for asking.  Just super busy trying to get everything together for our upcoming tour.

NM: My girlfriend and I just got back from a 16-hour drive from Arkansas, visiting her family for Turkey Day. I’m pretty burned out from the traveling, but trying to get back into the swing of things. I was going to stop by your place in Richmond, but it was super-early in the morning when we pass through.

You’re always more than welcome to stop by.  So, you guys are doing a Scion A/V sponsored tour this December right?  I think I know what this ALSO means.  You guys are all buying Scions.  

James:  Haha, of course we are buying Scions.  I have test driven both the Scion XB and the Scion iQ and it was amazing!!!  Amazing on gas, crazy new age transmission that you can't feel shifting, and the easiest u-turn I have ever made in my life!!!  Nothing but good things to say.

NM: I’d love to take out the FR-S. I wish Scion made vans or tour buses.

If I buy a Scion Tc today, will the CD player come loaded with an Arsis EP presented by Scion A/V?

James:  I would like to think so, but the marketing of the EP is still a mystery to me.  It's like blankets; I am still not sure how those work either.

NM: We can’t really comment too much on the collaboration with Scion, so you’ll have to wait and see. Scion has had their feet dipped in the music scene for quite a few years now, and worked with noteworthy bands. I mean, would it surprise you that greatly if Arsis decided to work with them again? They’ve been doing some radical stuff lately.

Alright down to business.  What have you two been up to in the last year or so?  Drummer Mike Van Dyne left (again) and it looks like you got Shawn Priest back.  Is this revolving door syndrome starting to get to you guys?  Or does it not really matter who’s playing behind you two?

James: Noah and I have been extremely busy with Arsis since last February, we basically wrote the entire album in 2 months, we really were writing nonstop.  We then spent most of the summer honing the tracks and recording them with Mark Lewis (Audio Hammer), finishing the album in August.  

From there we starting mixing and mastering and in the middle of this were approached by Scion to record an EP.  The catch was that we had less than a month to write and record the EP.  We accepted the challenge and I feel we are a tighter band for doing so.

A month is fuckin’ nuts.  Is this the same deal they’ve given everyone else?  Revocation, Corrosion of Conformity and some others have all been helped out by Scion A/V lately.  It’d be crazy to think that these bands have gotta push all this material out in a month’s time!  Also, what is the name of the upcoming EP?

James:  Yes, it is indeed nuts and it is the same kind of deal that have done for other acts, although I am pretty certain all of those bands had more than a month to complete the project, haha.  We were stressed as hell, but are all happy with the way it came out in the end.  The EP is called 'Lepers Caress'.

As far as 'the revolving door' of musicians is concerned, the wikipedia page is very misleading.  There are people listed as being former members that I literally never met in my life, haha.  Just because you played session bass on a demo 12 years ago before the band was even called 'Arsis' does not make you a 'former or past member.'  Just saying...

While it is true that we switched drummers with these recordings, Shawn probably did as many tours with Arsis to support the last album as Mike did.  To me it felt like he was doing a ton work without getting respect of playing on a recording and this was terribly unfair.  Shawn's playing on the new recordings is effin beast!!!  I could not be happier with way everything came together for these releases.

The fact of the matter is that the band is better now than it has been and I hope everything stays as it is now for the rest of our career.

Noah, you’ve been in and out of the band a couple times, what’s your long term status now?  

NM: Well, this only happened once. I left the band once in September ’08, and returned to the group in May ’10. I’ve been in the band, full-time, ever since. During the time I was out of the band, I was taking full loads of classes and working at music shop here in Virginia Beach. Now, I’m just getting in a semester here and there during our down time. It really isn’t more complicated than that.

Jim, in the last year or two, you’ve stepped down from an Arsis tour, got married, cut your hair and now you’re back writing new Arsis material.  What else have you been up to?  How’s life treating you?

James:  All of this is true, I guess a lot can happen in a short amount of time.  Life is busy, but its a good busy.  If I am not at my day job with Parks and Recreation, I am busy doing music in some manner.  If I am not writing and recording with Arsis, I am working on music with my wife.  It’s kinda awesome.

You know Peter Steele worked for the Brooklyn Parks Department in his early days...

James:  I did know this.  Parks and Rec. is really not a bad field to be in at all.  I have heard that working for Parks and Rec. is not all that Pete Steele and I have in common, haha.

What was the skinny on stepping down from the Arsis tour anyway?  Were you having second thoughts about continuing the band or did you have other priorities?  

James:  I know it came as a shock to a lot of people that I would not be participating in the tour, but the fact is that I informed the band and record label 2 months before the tour was to start that I saddly could not do it.  It wasnt as if I just didnt show up to rehearsal or something.  Basically, the tour offer came to us in February 2011 and we agreed although the tour was not to take place until October 2011.  In March of that year, I started working full time (at a hair salon), for the first time in years and was qualifying for health insurance in September 2011.  This would've been the first time I had health insurance since we recorded 'A Celebration of Guilt' when I was in college.  I have been very public about some of my personal issues that have caused problems for me/us professionally, so the idea of having health insurance, if even for a short time, to get some of these things under control was VERY appealing.  Unfortunately this ment sitting out a tour, letting down my band, our fans, booking agent, promoters etc..  It literally broke my heart, but it was necessary for the run.  I am a better person now, and have been able to focus for the first time in years and give my all to Arsis again.  I am glad the guys pulled it together and did the tour without me.  While I was depressed about the whole thing, I was proud to know they were out there kicking ass and doing the right thing.  I regret not being able to do so.

I’ve heard a couple demo tracks that were uploaded to SoundCloud over the summer and some of it sounded fucking great, particularly “Choking on Sand.”  Have you any plans to release an official single before ‘Unwelcome’ (the new Arsis full length on Nuclear Blast) comes out next year?   

James: I have been dying to release something for months now, but everyone keeps telling me “It’s too soon.”  They are probably right, I am just so proud of what we recorded that I want to share it...and soon!

NM: Malone and I were talking about how “Choking on Sand” seems like so long ago. It was the first tune we’d really finished since we started working on the songs that would become “Unwelcome.” We currently don’t have plans for a single, but we certainly are putting together a great music video. This time around, we won’t be offering any tongue-in-cheek visuals or anything of the sort, but we hope people will enjoy it.

The last full length, Starve for the Devil, I thought was excellent.  It was technical, catchy, and in my opinion, balanced enough to please all kinds of audiences.  I feel like Arsis is a band that needs balance to succeed.  Otherwise, you’ll find yourself lumped in with the other extreme technical progressive death metal bands which have such a tight, niche audience.  On the other hand, you can’t get too catchy and easy lest you find yourself opening for Trivium.  Is this balance hard to capture?  Or is it something you guys don’t even think about?

James:  I am glad you have such kind words regarding “Starve for the Devil.”  While I feel it is a strong album as well, the fact is that a lot of the songs that I wrote for that album, I originally wrote for a different vocalist; a more traditional metal singer.  When things fell through with that person, I decided to change the songs around and keep them for Arsis.  Afterall, I spent a lot of time on the riffs.  Plus, I thought it would make a statement next to We Are the Nightmare because when I wrote songs for that, I was simply trying to 'out tech' the other bands we were touring with (I never thought they were good songs, just techy and NOT fun to play, haha.)

Were you working on a different band altogether, or were you being hired to write music for another act?

James:  I was working on a different project altogether.  Nick Cordle and I initially started playing together because of this project.

With the newest album, 'Unwelcome', we just wrote from the heart.  I had been out the game long enough not to care if the songs we were faster than (insert random tech metal band).  Noah, Shawn, and I worked very hard to make sure the arrangements were perfect, brutal, and catchy but 'no bullshit' at the same time.  'Unwelcome' is that; a no bullshit version of Arsis, probably falling closer to the first two releases than anything we have done since.

Unwelcome artwork from artist Mark Riddick

Nick Cordle left the band officially.  How much did he contribute to the pre-production of the new material, whether it be Unwelcome or something else?

James:  Nick was busy with Arch Enemy by the time Noah and I started working on 'Unwelcome'.  While we would’ve loved to continue working with him, it wasn’t in the cards.  He had an amazing gig to concentrate on, but Noah and I had to keep trucking with the material.  So yeah, the pre-production for Unwelcome was 100% Noah, Shawn and myself.

So, the core of the music being written now is mostly you two (Jim, Noah)?

James:  This is indeed a true statement.  Even the songs that I wrote by myself on this one, Noah helped greatly with the arrangements, vocal patterns etc..  There a few songs on the album where Noah would send me a riff and be like 'write a song using this' and I would go to town.  Those are some of favorite songs on the record.  In the past, I wrote 100% of the lyrics, but on this one Noah contributed quite a bit lyrically. Shawn wrote all of his drum parts and one of the songs was written around one of Shawn drum ideas.  This is the closest thing to a 'group effort' that Arsis has ever had and I simply can't wait to start writing with our new guitarist Brandon Ellis.  He is incredible!!!!  While he only contributed solos to the full length, he has shown he is committed to Arsis and we are beyond stoked to have him!!!

James, will you be splitting lead duties with the new guitarist, Brandon Ellis?  I liked the balance that Nick offered as far as solos went.  You two seemed to compliment each other’s styles very well.  What is Brandon bringing to the game?

James:  Brandon and I do split the leads, but I feel silly playing next to him because he is THAT beast!  Brandon brings a lot of awesome to the game!!!  Furthermore, he and I both love all that is 80's metal, so it is sweet to have someone to geek out with.

What can we expect from this new material?  Is it similar to any album or are you continuing the progression from Starve?  I want some punchy rock n’ roll riffs thrown in there (Beyond Forlorn)!

James:  You can expect the Scion EP very soon and for Unwelcome to come out early next year.  I wouldn’t compare either to Starve... but you will not be let down.  This much I can promise.

NM: If I had no other choice than to compare it to the older material, I’d say it’s most similar to Diamond and Nightmare.  I’ve felt that since Nightmare was being written, the band has tried to capture a natural balance between more involved death metal and streamlined 80s stuff.  Perhaps it was that Starve and Nightmare were polar opposites in that respect.  On this new release, we certainly utilized more three part-writing than on the previous couple albums.

Jim, lyrically, where are you coming from on the new stuff?  The lyrics to Choking on Sand (demo) sound depressing.  Almost heart-wrenching.  Is there a pattern of inspiration here?

James:  I had a lot inspiration between Starve and the writing for Unwelcome, that is for sure but would not say its vastly different than the content of the other albums.  Ya know, the usual loss, depression, anger, and regret.  Cheerful stuff.

Lets talk about gear and gadgets.  Are you guys jumping onto the digital re-amping revolution or are you sticking to some old tube heads?   

James:  I am currently using a 20 year old tube amp.  It is impossible to teach me anything new.  Christ, I basically wrote the initial demos for Unwelcome using a four track tape recorder.  Haha.

NM: I’m rocking an 80s ADA MB-1 with a QSC power amp. Live and recording are two different animals, though. For instance, we did get to experiment with a Kemper on “Unwelcome.” In regards to digital recording, yes, a lot of groups abuse contemporary production tools. This isn’t one of those albums, nor are we the type of band that does so. For example, all of the drums on the full-length aren’t sound-replaced, with the exception of the triggered kicks. Working with Mark, we immediately gravitated toward keeping this release as raw as possible. We made mistakes all over this release, but I’m willing to bet they’re the sort only we’ll notice.

I think the last time I saw you guys, you had some really gnarly looking Washburn Rhoads kind of thing, with hot pink bevels.  Even way back in the early days you had those neon colored Ibanez RG’s.  Got anything new to take out on this upcoming tour?

James: I recently got the old Ibanez RGs set up and will be using those on tour.  I will have this awesome 1980's Peavey Tracer on tour as well.  The paint job is ridiculous.  

You guys announced an in-store appearance and free show at Fantasy in Newport News on Dec 2.  How long has it been since you’ve played this place?  I think I was still in high school when you guys would play there.  Was this just something nice you thought of doing, or did Nuclear Blast suggest it?

James:  I was kinda my idea to get the band in there.  The store's owner has always been a great guy to me and the band, even employing inbetween tours.  It just seemed like a win for everyone; we get to rehearse, the fans get to hang out, and hopefully it brings some traffic into the store.  I am stoked!!!  We are also playing a warm up show in Va Beach on December 5th!!!  That show is gonna rule!!!

NM: See you there, Grant! Bring some pizza, dude!

Look out for Arsis on their US tour with Sonata Arctica this December.  Their next full length, Unwelcome, will come out early 2013.

06.12.2012     Gramercy Theatre, New York, NY (USA)
07.12.2012     The Palladium, Worcester, MA (USA)
08.12.2012     The Note, West Chester, PA (USA)
09.12.2012     Empire, Springfield, VA (USA)
11.12.2012     Opera House, Toronto (Canada)
12.12.2012     The Altar Bar, Pittsburgh, PA (USA)
13.12.2012     Peabody's, Cleveland, OH (USA)
14.12.2012     Harpo's, Detroit, MI (USA) - new
15.12.2012     Mojoes, Joliet, IL (USA)
17.12.2012     Bluebird Theater, Denver, CO (USA)
20.12.2012     Whisky A Go Go, Los Angeles, CA (USA) 

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