Saturday, October 17, 2020

Interview with Ritchie Randall of GRAVEHUFFER (second interview)


Interview with Ritchie Randall of GRAVEHUFFER (second interview)

Since Alan Lisanti interviewed you last year, Gravehuffer released a new EP that’s been well received. How long did the band work on it, what platforms is it available on and how many zines have you contacted for a review?
We released a two song EP called “Demon Face and Stalingrad’s Cross”. It was released on NoSlip Records last September on Friday the 13th. It was a vinyl only release that had four different color variations. The first color was solid white, the next was white on black splatter, and then black on white splatter, and smoky swirl. We spent a couple of months writing and recording. We were going through a drummer search at the time and we had a friend of ours named Kasey Denton that helped us out with drums on this recording. The bulk of the two song EP was written by our bass player Mike and myself. We had several other songs we were working on but these two were the most complete. NoSlip Records were the ones that suggested doing the EP. When we were writing “Stalingrad‘s Cross” our singer at the time, James thought that the rhythm of the song sounded like a march for an army. He had always wanted to write a song about the Battle of Stalingrad. We finished the music for “Stalingrad’s Cross” and James wrote the lyrics. Demon Face was something that I had suggested for a subject and it was about a man named Edward Mordrake. He supposedly had a parasitic twin in the back of his head. I thought that subject was perfect for Gravehuffer. Mike and I wrote the music for that in his bedroom one day while we were trying to find a new drummer. We were very inspired at the time. James wrote some fantastic lyrics for “Demon Face”. It was something that he really got into. Once we had the parts and the lyrics together we decided to go ahead and record them. Mike had just moved into a new house and he set up a recording studio on the third floor. We were starting to get a bunch of new gear and were eager to try it out on this EP. I remember we recorded guitars in the stairway and we even recorded a laughing track at the end of “Demon Face” in the bathroom. Some other fun recording that we did was on “Stalingrad’s Cross” where we used a banjo, a pedal steel guitar, and an E-Bow. A couple of our guitar player friends in Joplin played the guitar solos in “Stalingrad’s Cross”. They are in a band called Sardis. We sent the EP to about twenty-plus reviewer‘s. We did get one bad review, but it seemed to be just personal attacks and nothing that amounted to any constructive criticism. Everyone else really enjoyed that these two songs were more experimental.

Why did the one reviewer who gave “Demon Face and Stalingrad’s Cross” a bad review make it more of a personal attack than something constructive?
Our bass player Mike played in another project called Freakflag, and this reviewer had emailed him asking for free merchandise and music. Mike politely told him that he couldn’t afford to ship all of that overseas and sent him a link to order said merchandise. A couple of weeks later, we see the rough draft of this so called review. It was very odd, considering that we had previously done interviews with him, and he reviewed or previous two releases, which were favorable and well written. So we called him out on it and he reacted very harshly. We haven’t spoken with him since. Probably for the best.

Considering your experiences with this reviewer, would you say readers shouldn’t take every review they read at face value?
Yeah, it’s just an opinion of your music from one source, so no need to take it to heart. The problem with the particular reviewer you’re referencing is he was making personal attacks towards the band members, and that is not right. Reviews should be a one hand washes the other sort of thing. Even if the reviewer doesn’t enjoy the music, they should be able to at least realize if there is the quality, hard work, and a good presentation. Basically just constructive criticism. We’ve had some great reviews and a few that are on the fence, typically because they think we haven’t found our sound yet. Haha. That’s the beautiful thing about music is that it doesn’t have rules. As long as you put your best foot forward as a band or artist, then it’s a good thing.

As for the reviewers who appreciated your EP and didn’t trash it for the sake of trashing it, what aspects of it did most of them like?
They tended to like the experimentation of these two particular songs. They also liked that both songs were of the epic variety and took the listener on a journey. They all seemed to think that the music represented the subject matter of both songs very well. There were lots of references to doom and sludge mixed with punk and thrash as far as genres were mentioned. People seemed to also enjoy that each song had movements so to speak. Demon Face getting more aggressive as it goes on and finally ending with the face that the demon face causes Mordrake to kill himself. Stalingrad’s Cross has the marching to battle feel at first then the battle is fought in the guitar solo section and the aftermath is the melancholy ending. We are still very proud of these songs.

In what ways is the EP an improvement from Gravehuffer’s previous releases?
It’s definitely more experimental and the songs are more epic sounding. You can really hear the growth in our songwriting. The recording process was also much more enjoyable and that reflected in the music. These two songs could have ended up on NecroEclosion, as they were written around the same time. They just happened to be the songs most completed at the time.

How did you first hear about Edward Mordrake? How much research was done on him for “Demon Face” and what was the extent of the information you uncovered about him?
I seem to remember years ago, someone posting about Edward Mordrake on Facebook and thinking that would make a really cool subject for a Gravehuffer song. Our singer James spent hours reading about Mordrake online, in books, and watching YouTube videos. There is speculation that he even existed, but either way, it makes for interesting lyrical content. James was able to find out a lot about him and decided to write the song from the point of view of the parasitic twin combined with third person. It seemed more sinister that way. We learned that he was supposedly around in the late 1800’s and had nobility in his bloodline. The parasitic twin which Mordrake himself dubbed his ‘demon face’ apparently liked to whisper ‘things from hell’ into Edward’s ear at night. It would cry when he would laugh, and vice versa. He tried to get doctors to remove his other face, but no one would perform the surgery. Edward could not take any more of this, so at the age of 23 he committed suicide by drinking a bottle of poison.

What videos or books did James find about Edward Mordrake that offered the most information?
With James no longer being in the band, that’s a difficult question to answer. I do remember him mentioning American Horror Story, and most likely Wikipedia. We left James alone for the most part when it came to writing his lyrics.

How much more sinister was “Demon Face” from the parasite’s point of view than it would have been from Mordrake’s point of view?
It just seemed a lot more disturbing to write it from the point of view of a parasite that doesn’t belong. It ties in to fear of the unknown and the alternative, fear of death. Those are the two of the biggest fears of mankind. Tapping into that just made more sense. It does switch to Mordrake’s point of view in the second chorus with him basically succumbing to the demon face and committing suicide by drinking the poison. The song then gets frantic and that is when Mordrake is feeling the effects of the poison he just drank. The ending was fun to do with us recording laughing and crying tracks. We did eight different voices, four of us all together doing one track of laughing then the other track of crying.

Having read James’ lyrics while recording the EP, how would you describe the way they tell Mordrake’s story?
I think they paint quite a picture of pain and suffering. It’s very tragic and scary at the same time. We were quite impressed with the lyrics that James wrote for sure! He’s really good at writing to the music as well. They reflected the intensity. He even recorded his vocals with the building intensity that was reflected in the lyrics. One of James’ finer moments!

At what point after the recording of “Demon Face and Stalingrad’s Cross” did James part company with the band? What led to him leaving after he contributed the lyrics?
James left when we were recording the drum tracks for the upcoming album “NecroEclosion”. There were signs that maybe he was starting to lose interest in general, but there were also signs that he was taking his craft more seriously, such as doing vocal warm ups before shows. It was quite a shock to be honest when he told us. He was saying that he thought maybe he was holding us back. That remains to be seen, but we told him otherwise. He still decided to leave after we told reassured him that wasn’t the case. It was cool indeed for him to give his blessing to use the lyrics he already wrote. He wrote about a third of the lyrics, with Travis, Jay, myself writing the rest. The one exception is the song “Causes”, which was a poem written by a deceased friend of ours, Ryan Smith. We did that as a tribute to him.

What about the lyrics to “Causes” made you want to include it on the new full length? Who in the band will be tasked with writing the lyrics from here on?
It just seemed to fit the mood of the music. It’s basically about the ‘causes’ that can drive a person to have suicidal thoughts. The song starts slow and the start of the poem is more introspective. Then the intensity really picks up musically and it tied in perfectly with how the lyrics change to that same feel. We didn’t have to alter or cut any of the poem. It fit the song perfect. It was kind of spooky how well the poem and music worked together. As far as the lyric writing goes, we really haven’t discussed it, but we seemed to enjoy the collaborative effort from “NecroEclosion” so I think that may be the way things continue to go. It seems to go with our disparate musical tastes and styles.

Is the band seeking another vocalist since James left? Are you looking for a singer whose style is similar to his or something a little different?
We do have a new permanent singer, and his name is Travis McKenzie. He tried out in March and we decided he was the best fit out of the others who showed interest. It’s interesting in that Travis and James are best friends, so we’ve all known each other for many years. It was a no brainier honestly. We were looking for someone who could sing in the gruff style James had, but add their flavor to it. The cool thing with Travis is that he has a few other vocal stylings that he does that work very well with what we do. One is a more 80’s hardcore punk style, and the other has an unhinged almost grindcore vocal sound. It’s really cool! It gives us that much more room to work with musically as well, especially since Travis plays some keyboards, and a bit of guitar as well.

Some people think that underground metal in general has reached its limit of experimentation. Especially with the increasing amount of bands around the world. Do you see this similarly or is there still unexplored turf for bands to tap into?
Personally I think there are no limits to music. There are always new ways to play an instrument, new instruments being invented, and new ways of using the human voice. It will never be an ‘it’s all been done before’ situation. As long as people have this mindset, we will be fine. If you just try and emulate everyone before you, it will get stale. There tends to be a reinvention of sorts when new decades begin. I’m not sure why this is, but that is the pattern that seems to be happening. Someone will get sick of hearing the same old shit and come up with something new. It has always happened that way.

Grindcore, death metal and black metal all exploded onto underground music at the start of the 90s and made such an impact that they lasted to this day. How much would you credit those genres for shaping music altogether?
I would say they are all really important to advancing the extreme music movement. It needed to happen with how violent things in the world were getting and no way to properly express how you feel about it. There seemed to be this pent up anger and aggression that music was not quite reflecting properly until those styles surfaced. I know for myself they really touched a nerve, and I think I speak for the rest of the band as well. It was mind blowing hearing that stuff for the first time! I still listen to that stuff on a regular basis and it is still a massive influence on my playing and writing.

What bands are you listening to lately that are doing something different with their music, or at least making an effort to? What are the reasons you would recommend these bands?
There are so many, but I will list a few that I have been listening to lately: Moths, The Reticent, Uncle Woe, Fog Light, Kosm, Tommy Stewart’s Dyerwulf, Coming Home The Band, Sapata, Good Against The Living, Voivod, and the list goes on. They are not afraid to play what they like. You can hear the sincerity and conviction in their music and that is my favorite kind of art. They are also very unique to themselves. I am a big fan of distinct sounding music.

From what you’ve seen, do bands last longer when they take time to grow on their own terms, rather than force themselves to please a wider public? How much does the former option help a band’s longevity?
Yeah I believe so. Trends are only cool for the short term, hence the meaning of the word ‘trend’. It’s great to be inspired by a certain type of music, but it usually fades into obscurity after that type of music runs its course. All of the older classic bands were typically given that time to grow on their own terms and that is the reason they are regarded as ‘classics’. Again this goes back to the previous answer I gave about bands being sincere and having conviction in what they do, on their own terms. We just see ourselves as players of extreme music, not just metal, not just punk, not just hardcore, or whatever labels get thrown around. You don’t paint yourself in a corner if you are allowed to develop naturally.

How much do your listeners perceive your efforts to stand out from other local bands? Has the band received feedback from fans on this?
We have always felt like the odd man out every time we play a show or release an album. Our fans definitely let us know that too. We always here people tell us that ‘you guys just sound like Gravehuffer’. It’s like we are our own genre. I don’t mean that in any arrogant way either. Sometimes it can be frustrating for people too because we are so varied that we’re not always considered ‘cool’ or ‘fashionable’, so no one knows what bands or shows to put us on. We always tell people that we have enough songs to tailor the set to a particular sound, style, or feel. We’ve played with punk bands, hardcore bands, metal bands, doom bands, black metal, death metal, grind, you name it. It’s something that we kind of pride ourselves on but also understand that we aren’t everyone’s cup of tea so to speak.

Does Gravehuffer tailor their set according to the bill you’re on and/or the bands you’re sharing the stage with?
Sometimes we do if we have time to rehearse songs to tailor the set. Other times we just have to stick with the set that we’re playing at the time. When we write set lists we try to mix it up. Usually every other song will have various tempos and that really helps with keeping the flow and not sounding the same every song. For instance we’ll have something that’s more midtempo followed by a really fast song and then a slower doom style song. That’s the way bands did it when we were growing up watching live shows.

Do your supporters who listen to different genres have favorite Gravehuffer songs in common? Which of your songs stay on your set list most often?
Yeah it seems that there are fan favorites so to speak. “Shut up and Skate” is a song that lots of people like, another one is “Destroyer of Worlds”. The song “Gravehuffer” is a song that is in the set a lot, “Chains Around You” is another, “Demon Face”, “Prince with a Thousand Enemies”, and “Circle of Blood”.

How much of “NecroEclosion” has been completed this far? Is this album intended to be self-produced while it’s being made and self-promoted upon its release? On what platforms will you be advertising it once it’s out?
We’re actually done with the record. It was turned into the label the first of July. We did self-produce it. And as far as the promotion we are using Dewar PR. As far as the platforms it will be on all digital outlets, vinyl, CD, and cassette. The major platforms would be iTunes, Amazon music, Deezer, Napster, YouTube music, and we highly suggest Bandcamp. Our Bandcamp page also has all of our merchandise such as shirts, past vinyl and CD releases, Posters, guitar picks, patches, stickers, and more.

Going by what we discussed above, how do you expect Gravehuffer to progress on releases you’ll be working on in the future? And how do you expect new fans to resonate with the direction you’ll be taking?
It’s still early to tell, but we’ve talked about writing songs that are slower in tempo. I’m sure there will still be fast songs, and our need to experiment will probably be more intense. I have already started writing for the next record, and so far it has a dissonant vibe to it. I also plan on using seven and eight string guitars. It will be interesting to see what Travis comes up with after being in the band longer. This will also be our second album coming up with Jay, our drummer. He’s already writing new ideas as well. As far as fan expectation it seems that our fans like it when we stretch the boundaries a little bit. I feel like we’ve always done that so that has allowed us to stretch out and do different things. We pride ourselves on not having a specific genre. It seems our fans are willing to take the ride with us.

Are there still listeners in your local area who would be willing to travel with you, so to speak?
Yeah I think so. We have a decent following here in Joplin and the surrounding area, enough that people do get excited when we release new material. The thing with the feedback we get locally, is that a lot of them are in bands or play music as well, so they totally understand where we’re coming from on a musical level. We’ve even had people say that we’re not necessarily ‘their thing’ but they still appreciate the work and talent that goes into it. There are a couple of handfuls of local bands that we’re really tight with that we respect their opinion. We’ve even had a couple of them play on our albums. The band Sardis has two guitar players, and they each did a solo on the song ‘Stalingrad’s Cross’. It turned out amazing! It’s important to have that sense of brotherhood in the local scene I think. 

How important is brotherhood and camaraderie, the lack of competition and infighting, to your local scene and underground scenes in the US in general? I heard a lot about the back stabbing that went on in the Long Island scene in the 1990s; was there any you heard about anywhere? How does this affect underground music in your view?
Lots of good points brought up in this question! Brotherhood and camaraderie are super important! The scene can only thrive and prosper with it. The amount of networking we’ve done with other bands in all the areas has been fantastic! We try to live by the adage of ‘one hand washes the other’. I’ll never understand the competition aspect that a few bands adopt. It really can ruin a music scene. That’s probably why I’ve never been into any kind of ‘Battle of the Bands’ competitions. It seems to bring out the worst in people and causes lots of unnecessary drama. We try to avoid all that as much as possible. At the same time, if there is someone trying to have that negative competitive attitude, we will call them out on their bullshit. We’ve unfortunately had to weed out some of the negative attitudes and shout it from the rooftops so to speak. There’s no room for the egos and negativity in the music scene. 

Where will Gravehuffer fit into the grand scheme of underground music, as far as self-promoting on streaming sites and social media and being interviewed on print and net zines?
I feel like we’re still going to remain underground, but will also use any media we can to help spread the word. we enjoy networking with other bands, DJs, as much social media as possible, as well as print zines and Internet zines. As far as we’re concerned the more the better. Using both the old-school and new school approaches really seems to work the best. You can reach a younger and older audience that way and have more exposure and possibly wider appeal. This new album campaign will be the first time that we’ve ever used a PR company, and so far it seems to be working very good. I’m sure will use PR companies for future releases as well.

What PR company are you working with and how long did it take Gravehuffer to settle on them?
We’re using Curtis Dewar with Dewar PR. He’s been fantastic to work with! Our label Black Doomba Records assigned them to us basically. When we turned in the new album in July to the label was when we first started working together. This will be our first time using professional PR and not strictly self-promotion. So far they have gotten us into quite a few big name publications, one being Metal Injection, who will premier our new lyric video for the new single ‘Ghost Dance’. Thanks to Dewar PR, reviews are already starting to pop up and they have been overwhelmingly positive. They also wrote our press release, and it’s written to sound like a review of the new album, so it’s great!

How much do you expect a PR company will help to expand your listenership in the days to come?
So far they have been really good. Our lyric video premiering on Metal Injection is quite cool, and we have the Dewar PR company to thank for that! It seems that we are definitely getting more attention on our social media pages, more requests for interviews, more radio stations wanting our music, and more websites promoting our music. Again it’s that whole positive attitude, networking, and supporting who supports you. That’s one of the most important things in my book. It really goes a long way. People already have moments of feeling insignificant, so why add to that? The arts should make people have strong feelings, because that’s what should be put into it. We try our best to interact with everyone, and share what is shared for us. Pat each other on the back so to speak. The future looks exciting!


-Dave Wolff

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