Ulcerate interview (05/2020)
|With:||Jamie Saint Merat|
|Conducted by:||RaduP (e-mail)|
One of the bands to push the boundaries of death metal in the past year, with their latest record (review here) pushing the sound into an even more atmospheric direction, I wanted to get a bit more insight into what lead to it sounding the way that it does. And also to see exactly how a band from New Zealand can tour that often.
Stare Into Death And Be Still
RP: In my review of Stare Into Death And Be Still I quoted one of my fellow reviewers who described it as "Ulcerate's The Eye Of Every Storm". I know you didn't make the album with that in mind, but how do you feel about that comparison, and about Neurosis in general?
JSM: That's a flattering comparison, but it also depends on how you feel about Neurosis - I'm personally not a huge fan of their material after Through Silver in Blood. I know the others in the band hold a much higher opinion of their later output though.
RP: Did Stare Into Death And Be Still feel as much of a change in sound to you as it did to us? Or should we see it more as a natural continuation of what was approached on the previous records? What is something that you willingly wanted to do differently this time around?
JSM: Absolutely - were acutely aware of the direction shift. So it feels like night and day for us. The same could be said to a lesser extent about all of our output, you just hear and feel things completely differently when you've created it. But this album ushers in a lot of seismic changes for us - an overhauled melodic approach, an across-the-board higher tuning, an entirely recalibrated production approach, and a decisive move to more impactful and less-obfuscated drumming. Ultimately we wanted to turn all of our instincts on their heads - 6 albums in now we have said all we can with how we've approached making records in the past, this album has revitalised us in terms of how we convey our intent.
RP: I have seen this new album described as "post-apocalyptic", with previous albums being a ravaging maelstrom, and this one being more of an aftermath of once all hope is already lost. How do you feel about that?
JSM: If that's how people hear or perceive it then that's absolutely fine by me. But this summation doesn't really mesh with how I perceive this album - all facets of the presentation, sonics / art / lyrics, point to the sense of horror in passivity of observing death pull life from right beneath your fingertips. The nameless dread of literally being drawn into the next void...
RP: It wasn't until recently that I found out you also did the cover arts for Ulcerate as well, as well as how they're all digitally created. How exactly do you manage to give them such a natural feel digitally?
JSM: I'm a huge fan of artists that create with physical tools - oils, charcoals, inks. I have no such training, yet when it comes to our work I am too stubborn to allow anyone else in on the creative process, so I'm stuck with what I know. So I'm essentially creating a pastiche of physical mediums through digital collage. I use a lot of scanned textures, photography and colour grading techniques to give the work some sense of tactillity that is often lacking in digital work. I do what I can.
RP: Your more atmospheric sound and your recent label change towards a more black metal tinged label is probably coincidental. How did you sign up for Debemur Morti?
JSM: Yeah, a lot of the album was written before we even signed with DMP - but there's a conceptual and artistic alignment there that absolutely makes perfect sense in my head. Debemur Morti reached out to us around the release of Vermis, at which point we had 2 albums to fulfill for Relapse. And they're a label that has always been in my peripheral view, so this first contact definitely sowed the seeds of the collaboration. I had early discussions with label owner Phil and it became stunningly clear that this was a collaboration I wanted us to pursue.
RP: I have never read an Ulcerate interview that wasn't answered by you. When, how and why was it decided that you would take care of the media stuff?
JSM: I've just handled everything since we first started accepting interviews. I look after all the management / logistical side of the band, so it's always just been an extension of that.
RP: You've toured a lot, so I assume you've had a lot of pleasant and unpleasant experiences. What was either the worst concert experience or the worst fan interaction you've had?
JSM: Oddly enough our touring for the most part is almost exclusively positive. There's always the odd show that sucks for whatever reason, or bizarre uber-fans but neither of those are worth talking about. There have of course been a few incidents where people have had to be 'dealt' with (ie rip-off scum, line-stepping behaviour, theft, promoters reneging on guarantees post-show), of which I'm not going to into any more detail.
RP: Related to the previous point, do you get to experience much of local cultures when touring? What was the best thing you've seen, visited or eaten because of your touring life? Did you eat alright when you played in Romania?
JSM: All depends on the schedule - which is usually super tight. A usual day touring Europe will start at 7am, drive 5-7hrs, load-in and soundchecking 4-6pm, dinner - and then you might have an hour to get into town to explore before playing. But we make sure to see as much as we can, we all love travelling and exploring new places - and good food is a must. The best thing? Hard to say - I guess seeing iconic cities and monuments for the first time is always a thrill. Food-wise, we've eaten very well throughout most regions - we'll often hit restaurants rather than relying solely on rider food, you've got to make the most of it. Romania - we literally flew in, drove straight to the show, ate pasta (I think) right before playing, then straight back to the airport after the show. Unfortunately we saw nothing of Bucharest…
RP: Most interviews would have some question about current tour or tour plans, but with the live music industry on life support currently, we have to adapt. How did the pandemic and lockdown affect the band financially and how did it affect you personally. What do you spend your time with in the lockdown, and will the lack of a tour mean that you have started the planning for the next album earlier?
JSM: We've had to cancel 3 tours this year - Australia, New Zealand and North America. We're rescheduling Australasia to later this year, and who knows with North America. Plans are underway for Europe early 2021. Financially we're fine, we hadn't booked flights or visas, so we literally just pulled the dates. As for lockdown, all 3 of us have been able to work our days jobs from home, so have been doing so. I've been working on music for another project with my e-kit, and doing endless interviews exactly like this. In terms of writing - no, we need to take a break and get some live shows under our belt before we start to consider the next album.
RP: I'm sure you get asked about your New Zealand origin a lot and about the struggle of being a metal band from so far away from the rest of the world. You probably could've had it worse if you were from the South Island. Can you tell us about the breakthrough moments that lead Ulcerate from being more than a local band into a world touring act?
JSM: I actually think that us getting signed for our second demo was the first steps towards branching out from New Zealand. I was extremely proactive in 2002-2004 in terms of getting our demo material into the hands of magazines, zines and labels for review, which culminated in a small amount of label interest. But this cemented in my mind that people outside of NZ cared about the band, so from there it was all about making contacts one by one. We started touring 'internationally' with some very crude early Australian shows, and our first European foray was in 2009 in support of Nile, Krisiun, Grave. These shows absolutely were a proving ground for us, and a huge learning curve in terms of the logistics of underground touring when you're based in NZ. And from there, it's just been a gradual snowball of increasing momentum.
RP: Also in regards to the New Zealand scene, what would you say are some acts, old and new, from it that we should check out other than you and Abystic Ritual?
JSM: For starters Abystic Ritual was a side-project from Paul, myself and ex-Ulcerate vocalist James, so I can't really recommend that. Bands worthy of your attention: Vassafor, Vesicant, Witchrist, Heresiarch, Sinistrous Diabolus, Distant Fear, Shallow Grave.
RP: I always assumed that Old Zealand would be the Zeeland in the Netherlands, but typing "Zealand" on Wikipedia takes me to the Danish island of Zeeland, also known as Sjælland. Shouldn't the country be "New Zeeland" then? How does it feel having a monopoly on the names "North Island" and "South Island"?
JSM: I have actually no opinion on either of these questions...
RP: Who would you say is an underappreciated drummer in metal? Also related, is Buddy Rich as relevant to jazz music as us non-jazz initiates would believe?
JSM: To me, Kai Hahto is the best drummer in metal by a long shot, and yet I almost never see him mentioned among whatever 'top metal drummers' lists that get circulated. Which is criminal.
Buddy Rich is widely regarded as the best drummer to walk, past or present. Still to this day you'll see monsters like Dave Weckl shake their heads in awe at his prowess. For me personally, I bow to his skill, but there's almost nothing of his I actually enjoy listening to, on any level.
RP: Is it true that the drum fill in Phil Collins' "In The Air Tonight" is one of the best moments in music?
JSM: It is the #1.
RP: For a long while, technical death metal was the metal genre that first started seriously incorporating jazz music. Nowadays it even seems a bit cliche to add a saxophone to your prog black metal album, and you have some of the biggest names in modern free jazz (Mats Gustafsson and Colin Stetson) either collaborating or spearheading metal albums. How do you feel about this leap that we've taken? What is the next step?
JSM: I don't want to hear saxophone anywhere near metal personally. Obviously innovation is a fine line, but there's certain timbres that are only a detriment to ultra aggressive dark music. Clean singing is also one of them. I like a certain sense of orthodoxy in music, and I don't like innovation for the sake of it. A band like Bolt Thrower gets endless spins from me, and they are as innovative as a shoe. Which is besides the point - the point is evocation and introspection, what are you communicating not how. Ultimately, there is a rich world of music spanning countless genres, I don't need them all shoved into a contrived metal context in the name of 'innovation' or 'progression'.
RP: Other than jazz, hardcore punk has been one of the outside music genres to have most say in metal drumming, but it's one that isn't as present in Ulcerate's music. Do you ever feel like Ulcerate's ethos of technicality keeps you in any way from exploring certain styles of drumming?
JSM: We don't have an ethos of technically on any level. I'm aware that a lot of our material has a level of complexity, but it's never been for the sake of it. When it comes to hardcore - it's just not a relevant style on any level. And to be honest, the only beat which I feel has a singular or unique genre sound is the d-beat (which I actually love, both the genre and beat). I'm 100% open to the drumming in Ulcerate ingesting as many influences as possible, but it has to be appropriate in-context.
RP: Do you roll your eyes a bit when people narrow down your influences to just Gorguts's Obscura?
JSM: You can't pay attention to these sort of things (particularly this late in the game) as you'll go crazy. Everyone has an opinion, which is fine - it's not for us to dictate. Oddly enough, Obscura is not even an influence of ours - if anything it's From Wisdom To Hate, which both Mike and I were infatuated with for a period early in the bands' career.
RP: If you could get any living director to direct a music video for Ulcerate, who would it be?
JSM: We already have one, details will be revealed in good time.
||Posted on 04.05.2020 by Doesn't matter that much to me if you agree with me, as long as you checked the album out.|
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