Interview with REQUIEM FOR OBLIVION
Requiem For Oblivion formed in 2007 and released their debut demo Funeral For Futility in 2010. Why was there a long delay from your inception to your first release?
Steve Jacobson (Guitars, vocals, bass, keyboards, drum programming): I'm the original founding member so I'll field this one. It was just me in my girlfriend's basement with new studio equipment recording dark, ambient, acoustic music to get used to the recording process. I met my future drummer Mike Bryan a couple of months later (October-ish) and we started writing heavy music together, though many of the ideas and a couple songs from pretty much every release, except Burning Nation, were already mostly written.
Over the next year we wrote and jammed the tunes, while I worked on playing somewhat complicated guitar parts and doing vox at the same time! I hadn't been the lead singer, lead/main guitarist in a band for many years. I had mostly only done backup vocals while playing.
The recording commenced in 2008 and while we were recording I met TJ Calavera who would end up being the second guitarist for RFO until 2011. Since we initially couldn't find a bass player, we ended up playing acoustic gigs around town.
We converted a few of our originals to acoustic tunes and played covers. For the acoustic sets I played a six string, TJ played a twelve string and Mike played a cajon. I also used a vocal effects processor to attain the ghostly clean vocals I later achieved on the recordings.
So, I had my first turn at mic'ing up and recording a full drum set. Once we captured the drums, I went to work recording multiple guitars, bass and vocals. It was fun and inexpensive!
How different did the band’s songs sound when they were played with acoustic instruments?
Steve Jacobson: Well we intentionally used a few of our songs that were already more slow and atmospheric, (i.e. Casting Shadows and Illuminata). The early RFO stuff had a lot more clean vocals, so that made the transition to acoustic fairly seamless. We added songs like Trains by Porcupine Tree and Mad World by Gary Jules (Donnie Darko soundtrack) to round out the set. They were played with a cajon box for the drummer (Mike Bryan at the time) an fx pedal for the vox, a twelve string and a six string. It sounded a little different but it still had a cold, doomy vibe that was pretty neat.
When you started writing and recording songs, was it just as a hobby of sorts or did you have it in mind to found a band from the beginning? And who were the guitarists who inspired you?
Steve Jacobson: I was coming up with song ideas while in the death metal band Forsake The Flesh I co-founded in Sacramento, California. Some of the ideas didn't quite fit what we were doing in that band or just never were developed and recorded before I moved to Pennsylvania. So when I moved to Erie I had the idea that RFO would become a band... or at least I'd be able to find a drummer and put out albums with me writing and performing everything else. Ideally I would want to play local and regional shows, and perhaps tour but I also knew that may take time. It has taken many years to find the right musicians to have a stable lineup... and in some ways that is still developing. Case in point: currently, with our drummer's schedule, when we play Saturday or out of town shows, our bass player Kyle jumps on the drums and we play without a bassist. Ideally, Austin would play all shows with us but for now, we're doing what we can to continue to perform live. I'm a huge Rush fan and have always admired all the different thinks Alex Lifeson could do, and do really well. Also felt he has been painfully undervalued as a player, performer and writer and as an influence on generations of guitarists. So he would be number one. But as far as extreme metal I've always admired the duo from Nile (Karl and Dallas... whom has since left the band). I really liked Jeff Loomis in Nevermore, especially his tone and blistering solos. Joe Haley from Psycroptic is someone I enjoy listening to though I don't break consider him an influence per se. There are certain bands whose guitar duos and discography have influenced RFO in many ways. For example, the guitar work by Katatonia, Agalloch, Daylight Dies and Opeth was a huge influence on our early to intermediate stuff. Whereas bands like Obscura, Nile, Beyond Creation, and The Faceless have influenced the last album and a half or so.
Did Forsake The Flesh release anything on demo cassette, CD or in digital format while they were active?
Steve Jacobson: We actually recorded an eight song full-length that was never mastered or released. I have a mastered version of Dawning Of The Darkest Day and an unmastered version of Her Wicked Embrace floating around here somewhere if you bugged me enough for it. I think you can find a few songs on YouTube and maybe some fan made videos but that's about it. We continue to talk about finishing the mastering and releasing it but the songs are buried in our drummer Mark's computer somewhere.
What was the proposed title of Forsake The Flesh’s full length? Did you have a title at the time or were you still thinking of one? Why was it never released?
Steve Jacobson: I think there was some talk about calling it Her Wicked Embrace (which was one of the songs) with a sexy, creepy succubus on the cover but it was never really confirmed. Shortly after the full-length was recorded I moved away and everyone just kind of sat on the recordings. Not really clear on why everything halted at that point unless it was the fact that I was no longer there to push its release... or, they assumed the band would fall apart when I left. However, I don't think that was the case since I found and trained my replacement before moving away.
What sort of studio equipment were you working with when you were playing in your girlfriend’s basement? Was this equipment you purchased or built independently?
Steve Jacobson: I had a cheap setup to start. I bought a podcasting kit actually... a small 4 input Behringer mixer with a FireWire interface, an old Compaq desktop computer with Audacity and a few low to mid-range priced MXR microphones. It did the job! I have since upgraded to Cubase Elements 8 with some higher end Blue and AudioTechnica mics, a nice Roland (Edirol) mixer/interface, a newer Lenovo lapper and a bunch of different amp heads (Marshall, Vox, Blue Voodoo, Line6) and a Simmonds electric drum kit, a Yamaha keyboard, and various other instrument and drum programs.
What outlets do you visit to purchase equipment? Do you look for anything sound wise while seeking new equipment?
Steve Jacobson: I personally use Musicians Friend and Guitar Center online, and I look for used or open box or blemished new gear (discount). Mostly because we don't make a lot of money and because I like to have two of everything in case something breaks down. As far as specificity of products, I like to seek gear that I perceive is actually geared toward heavier music for the most part: Randall, DigiTech, Line6, Schecter, Dean, Ibanez, Halo, Jackson, Crate, ESP, Agile, etc.
How would you describe the sound you are developing using the equipment you work with?
Steve Jacobson: I'm personally a fan of atmospheric or ambient death metal (and ambient music in general) so I'm always looking for great effects. I currently have a Digitech multi-effects unit and a Line6 POD HD500. I also like to use vocal effects because I draw a lot of influence from Cynic and Obscura. So I have Boss and TC Helicon vox effects pedals as well. Otherwise I just want a good, brutal distortion for my guitars so I try different combinations of heads with cabs and distortion settings with my pedals.
Are copies of Funeral For Futility still available from the band, either in physical format or on social media? How many copies were originally made when it came out?
Steve Jacobson: The demo currently is unavailable. We never did get physical copies cut but all six songs were digitally available in exchange for an email on Reverbnation for a year or two. I plan on re-releasing it with a 7th song, Fortress which was recorded (live and not very good quality I might add) as a single. Fortress was supposed to be recorded with the 2011 Godbuilder EP but since that was the one release we recorded at a professional studio, we ran out of time and money.
How much of a response did Funeral For Futility receive upon its digital release? Were the digital copies offered in unlimited copies?
Steve Jacobson: The digital songs were actually better received than the songs were live because of the region we perform in. Most people had no idea who bands like Opeth and Agalloch were around here and if they did; they were not the majority of people going to live shows. I think people thought we were interesting but they just didn't know how to process what we were doing. That's my assessment anyway. So, we offered the songs up for free in exchange for someone joining our email list. We built a list of over 150 people and landed quite a few reviews that were mostly positive from that demo.
What songs from Funeral For Futility were most influential on the band’s subsequent releases?
Steve Jacobson: I think Nemesis Pt.1 (yes, there are parts 2 and 3 that need to be re-recorded since they're about as high quality as fortress was, lol) and The Release because they're very diverse and unpredictable to a certain degree. Lots of changes and left turns. They laid the foundation for the 'outside the box' thinking we often employ during our songwriting processes.
Was Nemesis intended to be an epic tale to comprise more than one song? Or did the first song end up needing two more tracks? What is the story entailed in the lyrics?
Steve Jacobson: Nemesis was originally written in sections, but as one long song. When it was finally mapped out and recorded, it was around twelve minutes long. I took the first four minutes which introduces a couple riffs and an acoustic part, and made that part one. It ends on an epic, 'black metally' transition part that worked nicely to close out the song (or part one). Unfortunately, that was the only part of the song that has ever been learned by the whole band and played live (so far). But who knows what the future holds? Nemesis refers to the disease of addiction I've been fighting for decades. The hells of active addiction and the hope of recovery were the center of many of the early songs' lyrics. As a band now, (especially on Burning Nation) we've taken a more whole world view and address national and global ills.
How did your 2011 and 2013 EPs represent your progression from Funeral For Futility?
Steve Jacobson: The 2011 EP had Godbuilder, the first song that was a collaboration of songwriting with a whole band (or who the band was made up of at the time). Up until Godbuilder, all the songs on Funeral For Futility and even You Not Me (the other song on EP 2011) were all written by me. But, as has been a recurring issue with this project, keeping a 'band' together has proven to be the biggest challenge. So of course around the release of EP 2011 Mike Bryan (the original drummer) and I found ourselves looking for a new guitarist and bassist. So because of the downtime we experienced (even though I found my guitarist replacement pretty quickly, Geoff Radziszewski), EP13 was something I did all on my own to put something out. The reason I rushed to put something out was, I had been hearing and reading articles about how artists need to keep putting out material as frequently as possible... and consistently. Basically content is king. So basically EP13 was just finishing up some song ideas, (some left over from the Forsake The Flesh days), and releasing it on Reverbnation only at first. It did kind of take the project back to where it started, with me writing and performing all or nearly everything, but did give us more content to promote. Addendum: Demon Drug from EP13, was a collaboration with my old Forsake The Flesh guitarist, Marc Nocerino who wrote most the guitar riffs in that song.
What reasons do you account for it being a struggle to maintain a steady lineup?
Steve Jacobson: I think there are a few reasons. First, this is a project I started by myself in essence, and anyone who joins the band has to understand that even though I am easy to work with, I also get the final say on all decisions. Second, our area is not that big. We're in a town/area of about 100,000 to 150,000 people. I suspect if I lived in Los Angeles or some other sprawling metropolis, I'd have found guys who were really into exactly what I was trying to do. To me that's the key to longevity, guys who love the style of music they're making and if they change/grow/explore it's because they all want to change/grow/explore together. THAT is difficult to find... or has been until now. If we were a deathcore or stoner jam band I could just throw a rock and hit someone that would want to take part in that (laughs). It seems here I get musicians I know that are willing to sit in with the band for a while, or to fill in, but people have rarely committed. Luckily for about two years now, we've been able to maintain the same lineup.
I noticed how consistent bands have to be when it comes to releasing material due to social media. Recently I’ve noticed more singles and EPs coming out (also video singles and lyric videos etc); this has been as common as releasing full length albums. How do you think this will help bands get noticed in their home countries and abroad?
Steve Jacobson: In my research, I've read some articles that stress the importance of having something to offer the public on a consistent basis... without too long of a dry spell in between offerings. In fact, what we did in anticipation of our Burning Nation release was to post three of the songs off that album early (we recorded them live when we were tracking drums for that album). We released those as streaming songs and a couple of them as videos (Fuckisil and Shards Of Glass) months before the release of the album itself. I think between now and the next album, we'll be releasing a couple singles on our site, as well as on YouTube as lyric videos.
How much of a response did those tracks receive when you released them as videos and streams? Did it create more of a buzz for Burning Nation?
Steve Jacobson: It was a bit better than the last album but still nothing to write home about. Lol. Being featured on No Clean Singing and New Noise Magazine helped a little but we've never had any label, blog, YouTube channel, or major radio backing, so our momentum is usually short lived. I did hire a small PR firm briefly and they did good stuff but again, any momentum is short lived. I think part of it stems from never sustaining any continuity and momentum over the life of the band. It's been almost constant overcoming of adversity.
One site where I have seen many video singles and lyric videos is Youtube. I have also been seeing more live videos being uploaded there. In what ways do you think this will help bands demonstrate their live show to listeners?
Steve Jacobson: I think live videos are great. I almost like them more than the old MTV style, over-produced, studio shot videos. They can definitely showcase how good a band is live, how true they are to their own songs, what kind of sound and energy they have, etc. The problem we've had with live videos is we don't have, nor do we know anyone who has, a camera that records good sound. So we get good visual footage from time to time with cell phones, but the sound is always distorted. I think something we may invest in soon is a camera with high quality sound recording.
How much has the ever-increasing use of social media led to the forming of more bands? Do you see more opportunities for original music to be heard or more of a chance of oversaturation of bands all doing the same or similar things?
Steve Jacobson: To me, it seems there's an oversaturation of bands in all genres, and they're all clamoring for attention. It's disheartening to see bands regularly on Youtube I've never heard of, having hundreds of thousands of plays while we're stuck with just a few hundred. I'm speaking just of music similar to RFO here, but I see a lot of artists who aren't mainstream by any stretch of the imagination that have hundreds of thousands of plays or followers and it makes me realize we have a lot of work to do. I think with the evolution of social media, access to music programs, DAWs and midi sounds, everyone is trying to put out music. So yeah, there's a huge oversaturation in extreme metal, alt metal and hard rock (genres I'm most familiar with). We even see examples in real life and not just online. In my town, there are sooooo many bands and too few fans and venues. Classic oversaturation. So are there too many bands/acts? Maybe. But the internet/social media platforms, provides us with so many opportunities to promote. If you have a good work ethic, some money and/or connections, and pretty good to great music, you'll do okay.
How did this global influx of bands compare to ten or twenty years ago?
Steve Jacobson: I think anyone who starts a band now and in recent years has so many more resources available to them than even fifteen years ago: online lessons, tutorials, and song play-throughs for skill enhancement; internet, web hosting and social media for promoting, marketing, PR; email list building, streaming and self-publishing tools (CDBaby, et al) and music and video hosting sites like YouTube, BandCamp and Reverbnation. As a result of these resources there are most likely more bands forming and getting off the ground than ever before. BUT ALSO, we're being exposed to more bands, from the ones that are months old with one song recorded to veterans with several releases and shows under their belts, i.e. RFO, to well established, famous bands we hear on the radio.
How many bands did you get wind of on social media who are doing something original?
Steve Jacobson: Obviously almost every band has things that are unique to them. However, I do hear a lot of bands (especially in the deathcore genre) that start to do the same things, have the same formulas, and generally have the same sound. Some unique bands I have discovered online include Beyond Creation, The HAARP Machine, Intronaut, Ulcerate, and even Opeth many years before that.
Has the band made any studio/promotional videos for their songs? If so, did they fulfill your expectations?
Steve Jacobson: The teaser video I did for Burning Nation was actually pretty fun and did get a little bit of positive feedback... mostly on Facebook. It gave us something to share. I'm working right now on a couple new videos for this album. I think next time we do a teaser or sampler (like this sampler I did for early RFO https://youtu.be/TLqBaeh3tIA), I will try to put some money behind it. I feel like if we could reach a huge audience it could do some real positive things for us.
Can you share anything about the new videos you mentioned are in production?
Steve Jacobson: We're just having a couple lyric videos made for I Am Myth and (I think) Death Legion. It's in the early stages (laughs). But the truth is, we've only done one lyric video in the past, for Thinking Of Death (from the Dark Tales...album). It was a depressing, mellow, dark, atmospheric piece. Now we'll do a couple heavier, more progressive songs from the new album.
Describe the songwriting process for Burning Nation and the band's influences at the time.
Steve Jacobson: Generally when we sit for a songwriting session, Geoff comes up with a starter riff and we build off that. Often times a song will go Geoff riff, Steve riff, Geoff Riff, Steve riff, etc. We try to build off a main riff; variations to expand on the idea. Austin was very involved, especially the last few songs we wrote for Burning Nation. Kyle adds his craziness on bass. Mark Fedorcek came into the band late in the process so all the lyrics and lyrical ideas had been written. But on the last couple songs (The Alpha, The Omega and I Am Myth) he modified the lyrics slightly to fit what he was doing. That was the process for Burning Nation. We're taking a different approach for the next album.
Geoff Radziszewski (Guitars): A wide variety of influences came together to write this album. Heavier bands like Bloodbath and Suffocation had their hand in influencing the bulk of most songs because we wanted to go towards a more brutal direction as a band. But within our music there will always be a sense of melody that permeates through it that is born of our love of bands like Alice in Chains, Opeth, and Katatonia.
Mark Fedorcek (Lead vocals): Being that most if the writing was already completed when I joined the band last year in the production of putting together this album I brought my influences of old school death metal acts like Cannibal Corpse and Suffocation for my vocal style, but also I was listening to a lot of Morbid Angel as well as Nails. Among the heavy influences, for vocal warmups I verbalize and annunciate hip hop lyrics from artists like Tech N9ne, Yelawolf, and KRS-One, among a lot of others.
Where was Burning Nation recorded? Did the band work with anyone to assist in the overall sound of the album?
Steve Jacobson: Just like with the previous release, Dark Tales..., we recorded drums at Orphean Son studios in Albion, PA with my buddy Dan Donch. He always does a great job and his setup allowed us to record 3 of the songs live to tease online, (since we knew it would be months for the real thing to come out and, in reference to an earlier phase of this interview, content is king!).
Everything else was recorded at my place, which I affectionately call Cedar Closet Sound Studios. It's a long story (laughs). So mainly I like to record at home because I like to do weird things with my vocals and I like to think very outside the box with my leads, (improv, cut n paste, backmasking, effects, layering, acoustics, different guitars, different amps, et cetera). In addition, I will add parts to songs in production stages that were never there before. I get a very different sort of creative bug in studio.
Other than Dan helping us with drums I also used LANDR to master this time around. I had a new mastering program around that time but figured it would take too long for me to 'master' the program, (pun intended), so I used LANDR to save time.
I mastered Dark Tales... just using the variety of plugins I had at the time and it turned out okay but wanted to try something new this time. Money permitting, next album I want to enter a studio near here that has recorded extreme metal before and see if we can achieve an even better sound.
What led to your decision for the band to take a heavier direction?
Steve Jacobson: I had been listening to heavier music: Fleshgod Apocalypse, Bloodbath, Beyond Creation, Obscura, Decrepit Birth, Hour Of Penance, Suffocation, Morbid Angel, Aborted, Gorguts, Ulcerate, Gorod, and of course my favorite, Nile. When Kyle and (later) Austin joined the band they brought a little bit of a more brutal, focused, new direction. Geoff and I had also observed that in our immediate local area where we play a majority of our live shows, more brutal (and less artsy fartsy) bands were soliciting a better response. Also, bands with a front man (not tethered to a guitar and mic stand), whose main duties were vocals and inciting the crowd, seemed to be better received here as well. So we did both: moved in a heavier direction and got a frontman.
How much did Mark have to modify his vocals to adjust to the band’s new material? Metal and hip hop were extensively crossed over in the 90s, with Biohazard/Onyx and the Judgment Night soundtrack to name a couple of examples.
Mark Fedorcek: Biohazard with Onyx was a big influence for me, in fact I have their discography on my phone. I love listening to darker hip hop from contemporary sources like Suicideboys, ASAP Rocky, Ferg, Mob to Action Bronson for some lyrical complexities. I look to hip hop artists to learn of the verse and meter so that somehow I can adapt to fitting lyrics over beats that are complex, along with having some soul to it in voice Inflection or even an accentuated dialect, for example a "rolled R", sounds different in a rock n roll song, to a hip hop song, to even a "rolled R" sound with guttural vocals, it's a new ballgame when you add in the death metal aspect. Truth be told, not only did I adapt to the sound that RFO was producing, it was also a work in progress to perfect and come into my own understanding of how to sound for a band that was evolving as it was.
How much would you say Burning Nation is an improvement over the band’s previous full length Dark Tales Of Forgotten Mindscapes, after all the effort you channeled into refining your sound?
Steve Jacobson: Not sure I would call Burning an improvement over Dark Tales per se. But I will say that it is the most complete band effort with the usual suspects, (Geoff and me) but also the newer guys, (Kyle and Austin) making good contributions in the writing process. Dark Tales was 90% written by Geoff and I and I did all vocals, my guitars and bass. And while the sound we achieved on Dark Tales was what we were looking for at the time, I think Burning represents the group effort, more technical aspects and heaviness we had been longing for more recently. I'll reiterate that the heavier direction was partly due to the newer guys contributing, the music I was listening to at the time (Hour Of Penance, Bloodbath, Nile, Obscura, etc...) AND the fact that our immediate region doesn't respond very well to 'artsy' metal and really appreciates 'dumb' riffs, brutal metal and breakdowns.
Is Burning Nation being well received by zines, webzines and magazines since it came out? Does the support validate the work and effort the band put into it?
Steve Jacobson: I'll probably never feel we're being supported like I'd like until we're touring, making lots of money and being chased by big labels (laughs). But for where we're at, yes New Noise Mag and NCS were very enthusiastic about the release. A few other foreign language sites posted and reviewed as well. We've had spotty internet radio airplay as well. Overall, it has had way more exposure than Dark Tales... but not nearly what I'd like to see. I think even if we were playing to only five people at our gigs and never sold another CD, we'd still be doing what we're doing because we love it! I can't not do it!
Are there any ideas the band has in mind for the next full length?
Steve Jacobson: We started writing for the new album almost immediately after the release of Burning Nation. It stalled shortly after that with rehearsals for upcoming shows and such. We have a show in Cleveland, OH on Black Friday and again mid-December in Erie, PA for an event called Mosh For Tots. The idea going in for this next album is to have a more expansive sound...get back to a little bit more ambience and integrate some aspects of early RFO while staying more brutal. We also plan on having a space or cosmic theme and plan to use numerous guitar effects that we haven't used much in the past. We're also trying different writing techniques like me bringing whole song ideas in to elaborate on and sculpt as a band together at practice. The last album was mostly Geoff and I sitting around riffing and getting feedback and input from everyone in the room until a song took shape.The last album was a little disjointed because it was written over a two plus year span with two different lineups, so the music from song to song reflects that lack of efficiency and continuity. We're hoping to write this whole album in a year's time (give or take), and with the same four people involved to really put together a focused, cohesive, intense, thoughtful piece of art. I think we will release a couple songs, staggered apart, during that six month downtime before the new album drops... to keep pumping out content, tease the new release and build a buzz.