Martyr interview (08/2008)
|With:||Daniel Mongrain (vocals, guitars)|
|Conducted by:||Darkside Momo (phone)|
Phoner broadcasted live, 6 of April 2008
This interview was, at first, done in French for French people, because it was part of my live metal radio show (called Saturations Métalliques - Metallic Saturations in English), on a French local radio called Radio FMR based in Toulouse (south-west of France). It wasn't originally supposed to be posted here, that's why it is published four months later… Some of the questions and answer are clearly not of international value.
Anyway, we started with technical problems: no-one could hear Daniel on the radio! So he had to wait for five minutes while we (Nath - my 'boss' if you will - and me) tried desperately to fix it. In the end, it was done, and even if the sound was not very good, we could proceed. At this point, we already have to thank Daniel, because he was very kind and understanding, and patient enough to wait.
Saturations Métalliques: - So we'll - at last - start the interview.
Can you first tell us about Martyr's history, from the beginnings until now?
Daniel Mongrain: Yes, I'll try to do that quickly.
We started to play music when we were between 11 to 14 years old, then we quickly decided to start a band when we listened to bands like Metallica, Coroner, Celtic Frost, and others like that; we started at once to write our own stuff during years 90-91.
We did a first demo in 1995 which is called Ostrogoth. Next, two years later, we recorded our first album, Hopeless Hopes. We started to play much more shows, there was a good reaction from the crowd; we went to festivals like the Milwaukee Metal Fest at that time (1998). A few years later, we released our second album Warp Zone, which allowed us to do even more shows, and then we released a live album called Extracting The Core.
And then, five years after Warp Zone, we released our last album which is called Feeding The Abscess. Five years, because of line-up change reasons, and questions about finding the good direction for it. And also reasons of life, work, to reconcile work, music and family too; all these factors made it difficult for us to get in the studio for the last album.
- It certainly is a very good album and you have to talk about it. I think it's much more experimental than the others, and I'd like you to explain us what you wanted to do with this album.
Well, first the album is called 'Feeding The Abscess', as in nourishing it and not piercing it. The album's cover represents a character, chained with cables directly to his brain, and other characters at his feet, who are crawling, and they seem to be in pain. This is to picture the people who are part of a system, who are comfortable but don't have their free will; they are connected so they are just a link in the chain. The others are the free-thinkers who sacrifice their welfare to be true to themselves, to think freely, have opinions and be able to denounce something without being prisoner and/or compromised by the system. I think it has been the driving force of humanity for centuries, and still it hasn't changed, people with power are the same, we could conclude that it is how human beings are, but… In fact, we wanted to denounce this fact once more with our album.
And so the music is really complex, the lyrics are quite accusing, both from a psychological and a political point of view; all this, without being really explicit politically speaking, because they are quite metaphoric. And the music reflects well the complexity of the world we live in… With the music, we wanted to reflect not necessarily technical prowess with our instruments, but the organization of a system that works in chaos, and also tensions, colors… It might not be something we want to hear or feel, but it's something that exists, that we wanted to accuse with our music.
- That true, one can feel it when listening to the album, there's a stressful side to it, then it quiets down and starts again. A bit disturbing and unhealthy too, more than on the previous albums.
Yes, completely. It's also a bit of a reflection of all that we lived through these five years… A bit of frustration regarding recognition, or about the fact that musicians like us, who have a potentially good product, must make compromises in order to subsist. These compromises exist because one needs to be at least a bit a part of the system to achieve his purpose.
- Like working to pay the rent, and so on…
That's it… So our artistic proceeding is compromised before it has even started. However I can tell you that it has taken five years, so it's not an artistic compromise at all, but one about time.
- Can you speak about your implication in the Quebec scene? You participated in several projects: you played with Blacky [ex-Voivod], and also with bands like Cryptopsy, Gorguts or Quo Vadis…
I nearly collaborated with Quo Vadis, but it never went further than a rehearsal, because their deadline for the album had changed, so our schedule didn't work anymore.
But yes, in fact I get a living with music, so I'm a freelance guitar player, I have original music bands, but I also work as a side-man, with popular artists whether in pop, reggae or jazz. I even have a hip-hop show next Tuesday. So I've always been in nearly all music styles… I remember when I was 16, I had a blues band; we played blues with brass and diverse orchestrations.
I always liked music, but metal has always given me the aggression and the 'without limits' side to it. It's a bit like contemporary music, and for me metal is a part of it. So we could go as far as our ideas leaded us, even if it was really dissonant and/or baffling. The idea was to express exactly what we had to, through this orchestration two guitars - bass - drums, and to play the music we heard, finally.
- Why do you choose to record concept albums?
We can say they are nearly concept albums, especially Warp Zone because the album plays on continuously from beginning to end, there's no real pause. The last one is only half-concept, I'd say there's a general theme but the tracks are quite different from each other, there are no real similarities in tempos, harmonies… But there's still a unity.
- There's also Dead Horizon, which is divided in four parts…
Yes, I'd tell you that it's our favorite on the album, because it's the song on which all members participated on the four parts, and also because it's towards this style that we're headed now… Something more progressive, maybe a bit less 'technical death metal'. We don't really like this denomination, because it's a bit reducing… We prefer saying death or thrash-flavored progressive. But we grew with bands from Quebec like Voivod, DBC, Oblivion… We listened a lot to Voivod and King Crimson when we were young, and we still do. So, in the end, it's more the progressive side that gets us crazy!
- And you're in touch with Voivod and Blacky, who participated on your album. Can you talk a bit about that? [Momo: at the time, Daniel didn't knew he would play with Voivod live]
Yes; I was dreaming for a long time to do a Voivod cover because, if Voivod is not my biggest metal influence, I don't know what it is! It's a band that has all qualities one is looking for in a metal band. And to have known Blacky in 2002 gave me this idea, and it finally became real. We searched a long time to know which song we would cover, because I like them all… But we thought that Brain Scan was well in tune with the album we were making, with the concept. And to have Blacky playing it… I think it's really wonderful to hear once again the sound of the 'blower bass', to hear it with us, it's a real pleasure.
We also played it live, during the album's launching party in Montreal, and Blacky accepted to play again on his blower bass and its unequalled sound, we had a great time! By the way it's a bonus on the last DVD.
Blacky playing live with Martyr
- Now that you mention it, can you talk about the DVD? Where was it recorded, when does it get out, where can we find it?
It has been recorded in Québec City, in a beautiful venue called l'Impériale. There was a good atmosphere, full of energy. For those who never had the chance to see Martyr live, I think it gives a good idea of what it's like. Given that we never played in France, it can be a good idea for a gift (laughs)!
I think it reflects well our career from A to Z; there are bonuses, studio footage, old videos from our beginnings, a biography, live pieces captured during other shows… It was filmed with 8 cameras, the sound was mixed by Pierre Rémillard (the one who also mixed Feeding The Abscess and Warp Zone).
- Good sound, good looking… Nice!
Yeah, I'm really proud of this product. I didn't involve myself very much in it, because I don't know that much in video stuff and… Let's say I'm more comfortable in a studio and musical environment. But the guys who worked on it were perfect, they did an excellent job, and I'm very proud of it: I saw it recently and I'm really proud of the result. It's really beyond my expectations.
- And where can we find this DVD?
Sure you can find it on the Galy Records website, and also on Martyr's one. It's going out the 8th of May.
- Is it distributed in France?
I don't think so for now. For now at least… We're sorry.
- It seems that you were signed with the little label from Toulouse called Warpath, so many here know and like you, so how did it happen that you were on this label? [Momo: in fact, it seems our informations were wrong]
(silence) Errr… (laughs) My memory is playing tricks on me… In fact it was difficult to find distributors; I remember we had two in Europe. For the last album, we had an offer, but since we couldn't play at Hellfest, the company resigned, because it would have been great exposure for the band. So I understand their position but I was a bit disappointed, because we could have sold enough albums anyway, even if we would have done better with the Hellfest. So well… The only thing I'm asking for is to go playing over there, as possible.
- Sure, it's more and more difficult. Are you still in touch with the Hellfest's organizers?
Not now, but there's no proof that it won't work next year... So we'll see the possibilities in the future. Sure we're interested to go, it's been years since we dream to play in Europe, in France… But that's sure, we are a band that isn't big enough in Europe, we haven't enough financial back-up to build a tour from scratch. We have to graft ourselves to an existing tour with renowned bands, who will attract enough audience to to be worth it. So it's a bit of a political question too. It's quite expensive, to leave from here, going on tour over there for little results, in the sense that the pay, for Martyr, will not necessarily cover our expenses.
- Now the system is more and more into the 'pay to play' thing…
We don't exactly support this; we understand the bands that do it, but we, all of us, also have our works and lives so… Always weight pros and cons and choose for everyone to be happy.
- Did you try contacting bigger labels like Metal Blade or Century Media?
We nearly signed with Relapse for the Feeding The Abscess album but finally, we thought again about it and decided to go on with Galy. It's not for exposure reasons: we knew we would have more visibility, but we would however lose control over our material, and we would have played for free for years. For the morale it was maybe not the best thing to do. We are a fifteen years old band, but sadly the band's success is still more local (in Canada) than worldwide. We have fans in the US, we have fans in Europe, in South America there are people that really like the band, there's a good potential for us… But we have already paied our dues, paying nothing (in Quebec), and also playing for nothing, playing in terrific conditions, and we might not have the taste to start all from scratch again.
- Which is understandable.
Yeah. So we're waiting for the good opportunity, the good moment to step in, to say "OK, it's worth it, we're on a good tour, even if we're not paied much we will roughly get our money back, and we'll play in front of a good audience and not in a 4O persons bar". So, we're waiting to see the opportunities to come.
- For now, you've only played in Canada and a bit in the United States, haven't you?
That's it, we played 2-3 times in the US, however it was in festivals, worthy ones. And we also did the Maryland Deathfest, the 23rd of May, with American bands for the most part.
- Maybe you should search for a label more connected to Europe, for tours etc. Of course the problem is: will they make an offer nice enough, that would permit to keep the rights on your music and all that stuff…
Yeah, but sure when it's a licence deal, there's no real problem about rights. In fact we sent a pitch cut to selected labels. There was one who was interested, but because of Hellfest they stepped back. I understand and don't blame them, it's business… But it's sure we're open to offers, we searched too, but now the album is two years old and it's not that fresh.
- And so, did you start thinking and writing the new album?
Yes, yes we're thinking. We'll take a different direction, because I think we have done all we wanted to regarding the technical aspect, and it was a bit of a puzzle to fit it all together. Because in our music in general, it can be really complex but each instrument and each note has its place like in a Lego game; each instrument, each part is complementary with the others. But it can be really dense. However, where we're headed to is stuff more airy, less dense, and with a bit more groove. Because I think that we've explored everything with this emotion.
- But still experimental nonetheless?
Yes of course, or else we'll have to change the name! (laughs) I think we'll try to explore new worlds that we haven't touched yet with Martyr.
- And how can people in France buy your albums?
Well, Martyr's website or Galy Records' one work fine. It's quick to order, answers come quite quickly, and it's safe enough. However, about stores in France, I don't know… I know that Warp Zone was distributed over there.
- Yes, here in Toulouse we did find it in the little Warpath store. But it's closed now, because it went bankrupt.
What a pity... But, if record stores go bankrupt, can you imagine how bands are going?
(laughs) Internet changed many things. It changes a lot the financial means the bands have to record an album: the advance the labels give are smaller and smaller and… That's understandable. I think we're in a recess… In fact, maybe some kind of return to pure art, in the end.
- Just a last question: the whole Québec scene is not really well known here in France, so which other bands would you recommend?
Voivod, of course! (laughs) Gorguts, Augury, Quo Vadis… Oblivion, even if it doesn't exist anymore it's a great band. But I must confess that, for a few years now, I'm a bit disconnected from the metal scene in general, sadly… Oh, there's Neuraxis too… There are many talented bands in Québec.
- They have to get out and come play close to we live, we're waiting for them! If you can, tour together, all of you!
That would be a good idea… Québec on tour! We'll think about it.
- Yes, you have to import all this potential!
Absolutely! Nothing would please me more…
- We would be very happy too! Here, we only see Kataklysm and Cryptopsy, but all the other bands are really interesting too!
Let's say that these bands have an easier time. In fact what's very, very difficult for Martyr is that we have a target audience in a target audience. We're playing metal, yes, but it's thrash-death flavoured progressive technical metal, so it's really very precise, a very small sub-category… And you have to target correctly the right audience, and that's what is difficult. Also counting are diffusion and interest granted to this style. A few years ago, there it was bigger, with bands like Death, Cynic or Atheist. Our music comes a bit from this even if it's not identical, but nowadays people listen more to hardcore mixed with metal, stuff that grooves, catchy at first listen… And more experimental bands have been cast aside, I think.
- It's coming back a bit in Europe: last year, the Hellfest featured the reunions of both Cynic and Atheist, and many people came to the festival to see at least these two bands…
We did play with Atheist last year in Chicago, and it was really pleasing to play with them. But yes indeed, I didn't remember that, but that's great if there's an interest, it could help us to come!
- So, as a conclusion, what do you want to say to your fans?
Well go to shows, support your local bands, support the underground scene… And be patient, we hope to come the sooner possible, the sooner the better! And we'll kick your ass! (laughs)
Thanks again to Daniel Mongrain for his kindness!
||Posted on 13.08.2008 by Once your regular Hellfest reporter, now retired. I (strangely enough) listen to a lot of metal. And enjoy good beers, comics, novels and role-playing games.|
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