Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Interview with Robbie Manus of SICKNESS IN THE SYSTEM by Dave Wolff

Interview with Robbie Manus of SICKNESS IN THE SYSTEM

The band has a new release coming out in August. In what ways is it going to compare or contrast with your previous work? How much thought did the band channel into writing and composing the material being included on it?
Our last record was the remix album “Stale Scalpels: The Remixes Vol. II” which came out in August 2014. It’s currently free on our Bandcamp, along with some of the songs from “The Scarecrow’s Lament”. We’re currently doing one last run of pressed CDs before we pull these out of print forever. They’re limited to 200 units each. Once those are gone both of these are going into the vaults forever. On comparing “Veins” our new EP with any of our currently available works, I have this to say. None of our recordings, at least not since the demo version of “The Scarecrow’s Lament” have ever sounded anything like our live show. Which has always bothered me. Also the layer of FILTH that encrusted the demo version of Lament was scraped away making it sound like a radio metal album, which other than the title track was incredibly wrong. That was not the way it was supposed to be. This new one is going to be closer to our live sound. We’ve always been chaotic and sloppy (in the best kind of way) but we’ve also always been progressive and hard to peg into one genre. The two new songs reflect who S.I.T.S. is in 2015. We’re six different people. Shawn’s back (he left in late 2012, returning at the end of 2014) bringing his chaos and catharsis to the guitars, where he should’ve been this whole time. Bryce and I have stood our ground and remained steadfast despite all the internal disruption and chaos. Bryce took over the lead guitar spot and has blossomed as an artist. Our new bassist Dakota Hawkins is a beast! Jake has been with us since Jamie’s departure and has brought his own flair to both the clean vocals (which he took over upon Terry’s departure) and Jamie’s keyboard lines from the old songs and something new and amazing to the new material. John, our new drummer, is a (school) band kid and brings a kind of energy I can only hope to achieve. We’re where we need to be. These are the people I want to be in this band for the rest of its existence. Jamie, Terry, and Ostin all played big roles in the early development of this band and I’m grateful to them for their time and devotion to this band, but this is the way I’ve always envisioned our sound. What can I tell you about the actual contents of “Veins”, well let’s talk about the new tracks? Veins is going to be a huge monolith. We’re looking at 8-10 minutes. It’s going to be a departure for us in a lot of senses. I’m going to be doing some clean singing on it. Don’t for a second think we’re getting soft though. The breakdown we have planned for the tail end of this thing is going to HEAVY as fuck!

How many favorable reviews did The Scarecrow’s Lament receive following its release? Did most of the reviewers covering it get the point the band was making?
We honestly didn’t really send it out to the press much, but everyone that got a copy seemed to love it, including our label at the time (Sick Lens) which was actually a film studio. We had a few friends do reviews, and everything was favorable. Except for the production being too slick. Those who took time to listen to the album front to back connect with it pretty strongly, and those that just listened to the songs were probably confused.

Are you still releasing material through Sick Lens? Does the band plan to film any promotional videos through the film studio?
Sick lens dissolved quite some time ago. We will have new videos, but no SICK LENS is no more. So that won’t be happening through them. Johnny and Phillip are still very close friends of mine. Johnny did our newest photo shoot actually. Phillip and I are working on a film project that should be out sometime in the future. It’s a sequel to our last film “BROOD”.

In our previous interview we discussed at length the conceptual ideas for The Scarecrow’s Lament. Were these continued on any subsequent releases?
No real story this go round. However Quarantine is very conceptual. It's based on what mental illness at its worst can do to the human brain.

Who penned the lyrics of Quarantine for the band?
Lyrics are usually 60% by me, 20% by Bryce and 20% by Jake. We tend to divide them differently depending on what the song needs. I wrote the concept for Quarantine about the time we completed Lament. We were supposed to start on it as soon as we came home from our tour, but we just kept playing shows and just never getting around to it. The release of Lament was damaged pretty much from the jump as our distributer lost their contract with Amazon just a few days after launch. We couldn’t get it up on iTunes, and we had issues with the hard copies having pieces of songs missing at random. It was different CD to CD which was awful. We wound up taking burnt copies in plain sleeves with us through the tour to sell. Then all the shit happened with Jamie and Terry leaving and Ostin falling off. We decided to take a hiatus at that point. We needed to recharge our batteries and figure out what the future held for Sickness. But we’re back now and we’re ready to get the ball rolling.

What is the concept of Quarantine? Was there any research done for it as you were writing it, such as news articles or programs on the History Channel?
I suffer from PTSD, ADHD, and BIPOLAR so I have life experience plus plenty of research. As far as the concept goes. It deals with mental illness, you’ll have to wait a while to get a more in depth answer.

Describe the recording process the band underwent for “Stale Scalpels: The Remixes Vol. II”; who composed the tracks appearing on it, where and how It was recorded, etc.
Stale Scalpels is comprised of previously recorded music by Sickness In The System. I did all the remixes at home in several hours. There are a couple of sound collages I built from scratch but most of it is our material from various releases and it even includes a remix of an unreleased song “Goodbye” which was recorded the day after a dear friend of mine, Giovanni Rodriguez, singer for the band Luna Scar, passed away. It was such a personal track that we didn’t release it. Earlier this year I remixed and mastered it as a free giveaway on our Reverbnation page where it can still be downloaded or streamed.

What equipment were you using to remix the tracks that appeared on Stale Scalpels? Were you satisfied with the results?
Just fruity loops and a basic remixing program. I’m beyond happy. I believe that it’s a journey in its own right. If you go in with an open mind it’s a hell of a ride.

When you posted Goodbye on Reverbnation did you make it a point to indicate who it was dedicated to? What has the response to that track been so far?
We honestly just kind of put it up there and didn’t really say much about it. It’s quite an emotional song for me. I felt that it needed to be heard. It burns for me to listen to. Giovanni was a dear friend of mine. We were actually talking about doing a project together just days before he passed. Which made it hit all the harder when he died. His band Luna Scar and my last band Hellmouth666 used to play together a lot. Jacob, the drummer of Luna Scar was in Hellmouth for a little while too. He was a great dude, cool as fuck. I miss him.

What are your most vivid memories of Giovanni? What sort of project were you and he discussing working on?
Playing shows together. Gio was a hilarious amazing human being. He didn't give two shits what someone thought about him either, he was a Mexican-American bisexual metal singer. He gave zero fucks. We were talking about doing an old school black metal band. Lo-fi recordings and all. Luna Scar was black metal but it wasn't like what we were talking about doing. Gio was also a uniter. He could make mortal enemies cool while he was in the room. RIP Amigo. 

How long have you been streaming your material on Bandcamp? Since you made your songs available there, how many new listeners has the band gotten? Do you prefer Bandcamp or Youtube when it comes to promoting on the Internet?
I like Bandcamp. It gives people a chance to pay for our music if they so desire. You can monetize with Youtube but to be honest it’s a pain in the ass. Our fan base is steadily growing at a healthy rate. Especially since we returned from our hiatus back in April. We’re hoping to be able to go out on another slightly larger tour by the end of the year.

Is selling your material online generally more convenient than selling it through snail mail? Which method do you prefer? What is your position on free downloading of a band’s material vs buying a band’s material?
As long as music exists people are going to find a way to hear it for free. So it’s something you deal with regardless. Digital sales help. I want our music in as many outlets as we can get them. If you genuinely love a band, or even really like them, you should buy their music.

What were the reasons Jamie, Terry, and Ostin decided to leave the band? Did they part ways with the band on amicable terms, and have they remained in touch with you since?
Jamie is my best friend; we still hang out on a semi-regular basis. He was having some issues in his personal life that were affecting his performance at the time. Terry is a long story. All that needs to be said about it is this: we’re good. I still love Terry like my own flesh and blood. But I wouldn’t want to be in a band with him again. Ostin never officially left. He just kinda fell off the face of the planet and I haven’t spoken to him personally since the tail end of last year. I see his car at the grocery store where he works from time to time. But there has not been contact for a very long time. Everyone that’s ever been a part of Sickness in the System is important to me. I may not want to be their friend or be around them but they still mean a lot to me. People come in and out of your life for a reason. No one is ever just there; regardless of how little you think they have impact, they still have impact.

How long was the band on hiatus before you decided to start it up again?
Just a couple months. Long enough to do a show with Hellmouth666 and record a couple of new HM tunes.

Did the hiatus begin after the departure of your former members? Where did Hellmouth666 perform during this time and how well did the performance go?
Yes and no, it was planned long before that, but it wound up coinciding and giving us a chance to do what we needed/wanted to do without the constraint of what’s expected from Sickness. Hellmouth666 had been away for almost five years at that point so we had enough draw to get some attention without it being a big deal.

Describe the new tracks that Hellmouth666 recorded. What were the musical and lyrical influences and how do they differ from the material usually recorded by Sickness in the System?
Very different from the norm even for heavy metal. They were what we came to call Nu-Black; it was like Korn and Cradle Of Filth had ugly babies. To be honest, most of the material was not up to par. We used pre-recorded drums, and wrote around them. We also didn’t take ourselves in the least bit serious. There was no pressure to preach a message or worrying about letting people down. Which was relieving, but by the end of it all we were glad to be done with it. The one show Hellmouth666 played was an absolute disaster. It was miserable. There were two songs we took back with us when we started working on Sickness again. “Burn” and “Vendetta” Which I guess you could call Sickness in the System covering Hellmouth666. Both version bear a similar sound but you can distinctly tell the difference. We’re looking to record the Sickness versions of those for B-sides. Hellmouth666 is cursed. I swear. I could go on forever about it. 47 people. 3 deaths. Drug addiction. Deviant sex. You name it. At least one former member was into it. I held it together in the midst of a tornado from 2001-2010 the first time. All while tackling my own drug addiction and depression issues.

How did the idea of drawing influence from Korn and Cradle Of Filth begin? As far as you know, how original do you believe the idea has been?
Nothing is truly original, everything has roots in something else. It’s just a natural progression.

How did you manage to hold Hellmouth666 together while dealing with depression and drug addiction? How are you still dealing with the latter today?
Not very well… honestly. I lost record contracts. Blew through advances. Maligned my own career. Self-sabotage. I am an addict. I’ll always be one. But perseverance, I won’t give in. I will never go back to that life.

How did you find the new band members and what made you decide they would benefit the new lineup? Were they local musicians or do they have to travel to work with the band?
We don’t actually ever go out seeking new musicians. When people leave usually one us knows someone already we bring them in and see if they mesh with us as people and musicians. John was someone Bryce had been trying to convince to play with us for a long time. He wanted to finish high school before taking on a band. So once he graduated, he came out and we clicked liked we’d known each other forever. Dakota was a mutual online friend of most of us. He and I talked on a regular basis about doing some Death covers. Instead of trying to replace Ostin, we hired Dakota for bigger live events and studio recording. We have never had a complete stranger try to join. I try to keep us a close knit circle.

Did your hiatus help the remainder of the band recharge their batteries enough to allow for new ideas? How many new ideas did you have in mind when you reformed?
We’re ready to move forward. Veins is going to be mostly re-recordings, because these songs sound so different now. They sound like new songs. The two new ones included have been something we’ve been toying with for quite some time.

Describe the two new songs Sickness composed and how you went about putting them together. How do they fit the material included on the new CD?
Well it’s the here and now. It’s what sickness is in 2015. The new songs reflect our growth. They’re uglier, heavier and meaner.

How do you expect Sickness’ covers of Hellmouth666 to sound once they’re completed? How much different will they sound from the original versions?
Hopefully dramatically different. For one, John isn’t a drum machine, he’s a badass human. So the drumming won’t be cold and lifeless. We’ve also adjusted them to fit our sound closer and honed them down to a more controlled chaos. The songs are really strong hence the carryover.

Has forming the band from a close circle of friends and acquaintances helped the band function as more of a unit?
We move a lot more seamless, I feel. We know each other like the backs of our hands. There’s rarely any fighting or arguments. They do happen from time to time; they’re just really rare.

In what ways do you think clean singing will help enhance the band’s overall sound?
Well there’s always been clean singing in Sickness; it’s just never been me. I believe that when used in the right context it can be infinitely more from terrifying. My influences are pretty far stretching, so that has a lot to do with the kitchen sink approach we tend to take. On one hand you have bands like Suffocation, Suicide Silence, and Kraanium, but on the other end of my influence spectrum there’s stuff like AFI, Hide and X Japan, Alkaline Trio and Cowboy Mouth. All of those bands have an impact on me; they may be hard to pick out within the context of Sickness but they’re all there. Shawn’s a rapper as well. So our influences and the things we are typically influenced by are very different that of an average metal band. We’re definitely the black sheep musically around here.

I’ve watched Youtube videos showing the discipline to death metal vocals; it’s not just roaring into a microphone. How do you handle singing with that approach?
I’m a disciplined singer. I blew my voice out when I was a teenager playing in a shitty black metal band. Since then I’ve worked constantly, learning new techniques and building my range. Death metal singing if done wrong can cause serious damage. You have to know what you’re doing. Another thing that comes up frequently is how a lot of these bands nowadays; Avenged Sevenfold being a prime example of this; get progressively softer vocally until there’s no screaming at all. All That Remains is another. These are guys that take their voices to an extreme, almost destroying it before switching to softer styles. But then you have guys like Chris Barnes who do nothing but drink heavily and smoke a shit ton of weed and still maintain the same scream they’ve been pulling off for years. I don’t know what makes them different. But I worry about my voice, I do exercises, control my diet during show and recording season, just whatever I can to preserve what I’ve got.

Can you think of any example of clean singing having more of an effect from death and black metal vocals? How would you explain the feeling you get from listening to those bands or specific songs?
It’s honestly about the moment. I guess it’s easier for me to give exact examples than trying to explain it. I’m a huge fan of Underoath, and while they’re DEFINITELY not a DEATH METAL band, they are by no means soft. Aaron’s choruses in songs like “its dangerous business walking out your front door” or “too bright to see, too loud to hear” are super impactful and way more so than if Spencer had screamed them. I do also think it can be used too much and kill the effect. It definitely doesn’t need to be in every song or even a lot of songs. Just when the right time comes.

Rap and metal have often crossed over since the 80s. Anthrax and Public Enemy, Slayer and Ice T, Biohazard and Cypress Hill. All those artists have proven the two can cross over quite easily. Thirty years ago someone told me hip hop and thrash metal are both street music. Does Sickness plan to fuse the two genres together?
They’re both from a similar aesthetic, on the moment we don’t really feel it’s necessary for us. There are hip-hop elements in our music at times but as far as like rap metal or something. No, “Mr. Beast” is the closest we’ll ever get to that at least at the moment. We play shows with rappers frequently. Shawn’s merch is usually at our table too.

What rap artists has the band appeared with in recent months? How have these shows generally gone over with audiences?
Lately just Shawn (Shroomz, Shondavillin) but I’ve been working with my good friend Bandalero Da KB, a Spanish rapper from Chattanooga. I really like his music and I’m trying to get something set up with him for the near future. Any time we do these kinds of shows we still get a really good reception. Our kids love all our projects which is really fortunate for us. Bryce has terasophe, which is world music, but largely based in rock. Jake has ONA (our new abnormal) which is primarily electronica. I have Scarspasm, and I also help Shawn with his rap stuff.

How would you describe Bandalero Da KB’s music and terasophe to people who haven’t heard either?
Bandalero is a fast Spanish rap. He’s the only Spanish rap I’ve ever really listened to. So giving him an honest description is hard to do. It’s definitely different from the normal rap/hip hop kind of thing. Terasophe is all over the damn place. Bryce just kinda does what he wants. It really changes song to song.

Many of us know that bands like Sepultura have successfully combined metal and Latin music on their recordings. What do you think of the idea personally? Is this something you would want to do at some point?
We incorporate small elements of that stuff now. I hope to use Latin instruments to some degree on Quarantine.

-Dave Wolff