Monday, May 9, 2016

Interview with Erik Martin and Otto Kinzel of SKIN DRONE by Dave Wolff

Interview with Erik Martin and Otto Kinzel of SKIN DRONE

Skin Drone are preparing to release their debut recording Evocation online in June. I reviewed it and got an impression of how unorthodox it is. What can you divulge to us about the songwriting process?
Otto Kinzel: I think we get those unorthodox compositions because we literally do not have any rules or agenda when we write. It's a true collaboration between Erik Dismembered and I, and neither one of us is afraid to try something that may be a bit "out of the box' so to speak in terms of how we think of heavy music and approach it. When we first started writing together, we were both very cognoscente about keeping an open mind and really listening to each other's ideas. We realized very early on in our partnership that as songwriters we both had very different influences and a very different "head space" in which we found inspiration, but at the same time those spaces were both really cool. So it seemed a natural fit to make it work.

Otto and Erik were involved in separate projects before collaborating in Skin Drone. Was there anything that told you something could come from you working together?
Erik Martin (Erik Dismembered): For me there was a lot of pressure with that first song and really having to knock my audition out of the park. I listened a lot to Otto’s solo music and instantly became a fan. He was also someone that I grew to respect quickly, so when I was approached to work with him on this project, it would have been rather stupid of me to say no and not learn from one of the best.
Otto: That’s high praise Erik! From my standpoint, I was equally inspired by Erik’s work with Critical Dismemberment. His vocals and lyrics really spoke to me and I could easily envision his DNA mixed in with my guitar riffs. Erik is being modest but I’ve found lots of inspiration in the ambient-noise type parts he creates. He comes up with this really dark, avant-garde type stuff that is very similar to his solo material & it really helps to get my creative juices flowing.

Does Erik’s band Critical Dismemberment have any material available on Otto’s record label Bluntface Records? How big a response have they gotten through advertising and distribution?
Erik: We have our debut EP “Feel My Wrath And Tremble” and our split Halloween EP “Home For The Helladays”. Critical D has gained a lot of success through networking and promoting throughout the underground. Even though we are on hiatus, we are still getting played like crazy, especially our older Nintendocore stuff. Home For The Helladays also won Album of the Year on Metal Devastation Radio for 2015, which was a gigantic “didn’t see that coming” moment.

I talked with John Nelson about Nintendocore when interviewing him in December/January. We talked about new bands and how well known the genre is on social media.
Erik: The new wave of NxC bands that are what I would consider the “Godfathers” are She Wants The D-Pad, A Challenger Approaches and Unicorn Hole. What they are doing with the genre will cement it as a permanent genre of metal and eventually out of obscurity. There is also a one-man project called Chainsaw Massacre Party, that is very experimental and he is doing some crazy stuff as well. There is a lot of promise and talent in the scene; Chase and I are working our asses off to get these guys noticed.

How much effort does Erik and Chase put into promoting Nintendocore bands? Who is involved in Chainsaw Massacre Party and why are they worth checking out?
Erik: Chase and I try and support everyone as much as humanly possible. It’s a tight knit group and with the amount of support everyone gives each other, the underground should really be taking note; these guys are doing it properly. CMP is a one-man band ran by Haylow Black. He has a unique approach to writing and arranging Nintendocore elements with various genres, it is very refreshing to hear experimentation start to take hold in the younger guys’ music. It gives hope that the current blandness in metal in general will hopefully and eventually cease.

How long has Haylow Black been doing CMP? Does this project have any material available for streaming or ordering?
Erik: Haylow has been doing CMP for two years. He actually had two EPs before “Radiation Zone” but decided to use them as learning experiences. He takes his time when writing and recording so everything always comes out naturally and isn’t forced for the sake of releasing something. I respect him a lot for having this approach. We share a lot of the same views when it comes to the quality of the music being released. You can check out and download for free his debut EP here:

Is Lavender Conspiracy Records exclusively supportive of Nintendocore, or do bands of other genres release through them? How long have they been streaming their bands on Bandcamp?
Erik: LCR is open to anything that is in the electronic realm, metal or not. It’s mostly experimental so far. LCR has been streaming since January of this year. It will probably be some time before I can fully devote time to it, but everyone understands Skin Drone is my primary focus.

How prominent and influential do you think Nintendocore can become in extreme music?
Erik: It will get bigger and more recognized, but it will be quite some time and a lot of hard work to become both prominent and influential. These guys like being in their own corner in the underground, and I don’t see that changing any time soon.

How many similarities existed between your compositions, and where did you see your creations could fit?
Otto: For me I write a lot of heavy music, but I also do a lot of dark ambient type stuff, and there are clear parallels between both of those styles I do on my own and Skin Drone. The first song Erik and I worked on together, which became Witching Hour, was based originally on a set of riffs and drums I had written for a separate project that never panned out. So it was a perfect way to ease our way into this new adventure.

What would you say was “cool” about your head spaces? “Cool” is a subjective term; how would you further define your head spaces?
Otto: Maybe we each think about music in a different way? I’m not sure I can really answer that without sounding like a pretentious douchebag, haha.
Erik: What is cool about our headspaces is that while we have the same “center” if you will of what we want music to sound like. Our other influences are the opposite end of the spectrum, for example, there were cases on this album where I matched Otto’s very heavy song with a very non-metal approach to layer it, like The Faceless meets Tyler Joseph… it shouldn’t work, but our attention to detail allows us to create things “normal” people wouldn’t usually think of.

From what I heard of Evocation, it seems to incorporate elements of death metal, math metal, black metal, goth metal, thrash metal and several other subgenres. Did this progress naturally or did you set out to combine these influences?
Erik: The process of smashing genres together and essentially making our own was something that came naturally as we got more comfortable writing together. I was inspired by what Otto was throwing at me musically and vice versa that we decided to run with it. I think it adds an element to our music that is hard to capture. Every song has a life of its own and a vibe of its own. All that came together as we continued writing. Our influences musically smashed together make for some monster songs and unique perspectives on what can be incorporated into extreme music.

You would say the more comfortable you became playing and practicing together, the easier a time you had melding these influences and letting the chips fall where they would?
Otto: We’ve never actually been in the same room together. Ever. I live in New Hampshire and Erik lives in Arkansas so we’ve always had to practice and hone our craft with each other remotely. But I do think it helped both of us stay disciplined when it came to writing and recording. Both of us knew that because of the distance we couldn’t afford to waste time. We both had to bring our “A” game to every session, every time.

Early death metal involved a combination of science and philosophy; Skin Drone’s music by contrast is like the soundtrack to losing one’s mind. How accurate a description would you say this is of the band?
Otto: I would say it’s a fairly accurate description. Certainly, it is not the only influence but it is prevalent. So much of the music was inspired by chaos, no only in our personal lives but also from experiences we’ve both had. The idea of schizophrenia and paranoia is a common theme in the music and lyrics because it’s a common theme in both my life and Erik’s as well. We are writing from our own personal experience and trying to exercise these demons.

What bands do you know of that touched on schizophrenia and paranoia before you began pursuing those subjects?
Otto: Although not in the literal sense, I do think a lot of Mike Patton’s more experimental stuff has that feel, like one of his solo albums Adult Themes for Voice. Also John Zorn and most of his catalog. Its so “out there” that I can’t help but feel like mentally they are in such a different place.
Erik: I actually found those themes common in The Plot In You and also the vocalists solo project. Landon Tewers “Dead Kid EP” blew my mind. Even though he was in the midst of a bad addiction, the feelings of paranoia and confusion came across so real, it was very profound and almost hard to listen to.

I remember King Diamond touched on the subjects of paranoia and schizophrenia on a couple of his albums. What do you recall from those days?
Otto: He gave substance to these issues and gave people a reason to care.

With death and black metal having five different types of blast beats, and the discipline required by the vocals of death and black metal, how much have you seen extreme music as having matured over the last two decades?
Otto: Oh god, it has matured significantly. Each generation has found inspiration in the previous generation’s music and used that to help evolve the genres within Extreme Metal and push it forward. We all stand on the shoulders of the giants that came before us. It’s about trying new ideas and pushing the boundaries; not being afraid to take chances by using different (or “non-metal”) ideas and instrumentation. You have to evolve or you get left behind.

Which bands are the best examples of the evolution and maturity of extreme metal these days?
Otto: I love bands like Gorguts, Obscura and Gojira. All of them take big risks with their music and push the boundaries of what extreme metal CAN be. Especially Gorguts on their Colored Sands album. That is a huge influence on me. It’s more than just technical wizardry; its got so many different elements and dynamics that they blew the doors of what technical extreme metal “should” sound like.
Erik: The biggest one for me is Vildhjarta. They do some pretty crazy time signatures and chord progressions. Along with the atmospherics, they create some rather unusual and dark music. Persefone is another. Both bands are so technically proficient, there really isn’t anything they can’t get away with.

Did you hear anything by the Japanese band Sigh? Their releases Hail Horror Hail, Ghastly Funeral Theatre and Infidel Art pushed the boundaries of extreme metal and you had to really be open minded to appreciate them.
Otto: Sigh is not an easy band to “get” into. They really tested boundaries and challenged the listener to dive into the deep layers of their sound with them. Highly experimental, which is something I’ve always been fascinated with.

From my interview with Erik for Critical Dismemberment, I remember they composed their songs through the internet. Is Skin Drone doing the same? How do you work out the songwriting process from your respective locations?
Erik: It is exactly the same. The only difference being that I am more involved with the writing and arranging of music on Skin Drone than I was with CD. There’s a lot more to Otto and I writing together because of that. Our music is also a lot more experimental and complex than CD, so we have to make very clear when talking to each other what we are trying to achieve sonically. It works better in the long run because we cannot afford to have a mis-step, which makes us better musicians and songwriters. I would imagine there is going to be more Skype session when we begin writing record #2 simply because our goals for this record, especially ones I’ve set for myself will require us actually talking it out face-to-face rather than a 2500 word essay on Facebook messenger.

Do you see more bands emerging whose members collaborate on the internet?
Erik: I personally haven’t seen an uptick in that respect but I have seen a lot more one man projects spring up over the past few years. I would like to see more internet type projects, I just think with the live show being the ultimate goal, it probably won’t gain any more attention.

How many single member projects have you seen on social media since more people began recording independently a few years back?
Erik: I’ve actually seen quite a few, most of them really good. The bedroom studio for all its downfalls has also let the guys with talent in places where there is little to no scene to get noticed. Pink Carnage, Aberration Nexus, Ashen Horde are some of the cream of the crop when it comes to one-man bands.

Are the single member projects you have heard generally able to record and release well-produced material?
Erik: There are the good and the bad. Some guys know how to produce, some are learning and others haven’t quite figured it out yet. The talent is there in all aspects when it comes to the material, and I honestly haven’t heard any poorly produced records from underground artists in a while, hopefully that trend stays course.

The band’s motto reads: “A compliment from a true underground metal fan trumps the praises of an MTV/Viacom groupie every time.” What does this mean to you and why have you made it a rule to reject mainstream standards?
Erik: For the band in my perspective, it means continually thinking outside the box. Doing things that that would scare other bands and facing those challenges head on. We stand true to what our label stands for, representing the bands that don’t fit in or do things differently and could care less if the bigger mainstream media and radio show interest or not. The music and staying true to who we are as a band and people is what matters most.
Otto: To me it means never being satisfied with just going through the motions and producing contrived shit. The “popular” mainstream type music that gets the majority of the coverage by these Clear Channel owned radio stations is so unoriginal, so uninspiring… it all sounds so formulaic and unoriginal. Listen to any random song from Justin Bieber, Beyonce, Megan Traynor, and Kayne West… the production is all the same. The programmed drumbeats and the syncopation of the drums are all the same. The song structures are all the same. It’s just a recipe major producers use to “write” songs. And people who don’t really give a shit about music eat it up and praise these dolts. Those people are entertainers, but no way in hell are they fucking musicians. I NEVER want to be that. Sure I assume the money, the fame and all the stuff is probably really great and is good for the ego, but for me it would NOT be good for my soul. Fuck that.

How do you account for generic, reconstituted music being widely accepted by the masses? Why do you think fewer people aboveground care to listen to something original?
Otto: I have no idea. I mean, if I actually knew the answer to that then I would be able to write a bestselling book about marketing to the masses, haha. I think the majority of people just do not care to be honest. They have lots of stuff going on in their lives and just aren’t as passionate about finding more indie or underground type of artists. Or they’re too quick to disregard those underground artists. Getting into any type of medium that is not “popular” or easily accessible takes work sometimes, and many people do not want to do that.

It seems more people have just become lazy and don’t want to try anything different. How much more important does that make it for those of us still creating original music?
Otto: How else are you going to stand out from the pack? I don’t ever want to be part of the preverbal “herd”. Even if people are not into my individual stuff, I still want to strive to be unique and different. If you’re happy to just be generic and sound like everyone else who came before you then I think that’s a sad indictment on your artistic integrity.

It seems pop punk, screamo and most nu-metal is now part of the Clear Channel-ruled system. Mallgoth culture centered only on fashion has had no understanding of goth culture since the mainstream turned into a marketing ploy. How much does this undermine punk and metal’s original idea to shatter complacency?
Erik: I think there will always be those bands that will always be anti-establishment and will always strive to buck trends and do their own thing. It’s prevalent in the underground much more than in the mainstream. Breaking Benjamin comes to mind when talking about nu-metal. Even though it has that “sound”, the man is still a monster composer and lyricist. While I agree that the Clear Channel system is oversaturating the market, there are still some guys that will stay true to who they are, and that is an inspiration for those of us still working to achieve the next level.

In what ways does Breaking Benjamin differ from nu-metal bands? What about his songwriting sets him apart from the rest of the genre?
Erik: Ben is how I learned to write with a certain atmosphere in mind. Albums like Phobia and Dear Agony really showcased his ability as an artist to have the tone of the lyrics match the music perfectly. He’s also the one of the few not to rap. His lyrics reflect exactly what he was going through at that point in his life and is unafraid to bare his soul. It’s not clich√©; it’s real. It gives a level of connection with the people who listen to music for substance more so than those that listen purely for a good time.

Does Breaking Benjamin’s lyrics differ from those penned by most nu metal bands? How do his lyrics speak to you?
Erik: Ben writes about things very personal to him. It’s not the clich√© rapping/singing nonsense. It’s upfront and personal, which is something not a lot of guys do, if at all, in the genre. I highly recommend Breaking Benjamin simply because of the emotion and lyrical to music genius he brings to the game. It’s not super heavy or technical, but he always finds a way to speak to you, whether it be positively or negatively.

Are there any examples of BB songs that resonated with Erik? Quote some of the lyrics to these songs for the readers?
Erik: Too many to list, but there are gems such as Dear Agony:
Dear Agony
Just let go of me
Suffer slowly
Is this the way it's gotta be?
Don't bury me
Faceless enemy
I'm so sorry
Is this the way it's gotta be?
Dear Agony

There’s also Breath:
You take the breath right out of me.
You left a hole where my heart should be.
You got to fight just to make it through,
'cause I will be the death of you.

Another one that resonates with me is “Give Me A Sign”:
Dead star shine
Light up the sky
I'm all out of breath
My walls are closing in
Days go by
Give me a sign
Come back to the end
The shepherd of the damned

To open up a song with lyrics that painful just gives me goosebumps. If I had to choose, Dear Agony would be my favorite and had the most profound influence on me, that whole record is so dark and full of pain, Phobia is a close second. Songs like “Dance With The Devil” and “Had Enough”, an example is the chorus in Had Enough:
You had to have it all,
Well have you had enough?
You greedy little bastard,
You will get what you deserve.
When all is said and done,
I will be the one to leave you in your misery and hate what you've become.

I have a very similar writing style lyrically to Ben (not on purpose) so I always naturally gravitate to his music for inspiration.

What are the most prominent similarities between Erik’s and BB’s lyrics?
Erik: On this particular record, not much. Overall, there is a lot pain, anger, confusion and everything in between. I learned very early from Randy Blythe of Lamb of God “I write what I know, and right now, I know a lot of fucked up shit”. I just write about what has happened to me, once I finish the song, that chapter closes.

Despite the turn the mainstream has taken, underground communities seem unaffected as more bands and labels have more creative control. How far has social media gone toward helping unsigned underground bands get their work out there?
Otto: It has helped so much, and come so far since Myspace was first created. It’s given an unknown act like ourselves a chance to have a voice; a chance to connect with other music fans who otherwise wouldn’t even know we existed. It’s like the old tape-trading scene but streamlined 100%. Music fans and people who are passionate about helping underground artists gain exposure have always existed. But now the tools to do so are so much better.

Independent radio stations such as Brutalism and Deviants Underground Radio have been giving more unsigned bands a chance to be heard by listeners in other countries. Do you know of any that readers would want to seek out?
Erik: Metal Devastation Radio is probably the biggest and best when it comes to supporting the underground. Their website is setup like a social media website, which allows you to promote and support the underground and musicians in it efficiently. Digital Revolution Radio, specifically the shows JustINsane and The Killogic Effect have been HUGE supporters of the underground and giving bands opportunities that normally wouldn’t present themselves.

How much have these independent shows helped unsigned bands that otherwise would not be noticed get fan support?
Otto: Tremendously! I’m not sure you can really measure just how valuable they’ve been for the underground.

Has Skin Drone gotten much exposure on internet radio so far? How about the other bands you both are involved in?
Erik: Skin Drone has torn up the exposure front on internet radio. From Witching Hour all the way to God Complex we have received nothing but love from underground radio. Critical D has received the same spoils; we stay in regular rotation on a lot of different radio stations. Essentially, both bands help get the other exposure.

How much support and exposure has Metal Devastation Radio offered the band so far?
Erik: MDR has been amazing. We have multiple interviews with various DJs, we are being played around the clock on autopilot plus in the shows. We also have a contest set up with them for fans to win free CDs, they have been an integral part of helping us get the word out about Evocation.

How much did you get to talk about the band when MDR interviewed you? Who on the show conducted the interview and what sort of questions was he asking about your background and your direction?
Erik: As of May 7 we have only talked with DJ Metal Craig. We do have two more on tap with Grace and Mike Mosall and also Zach Moonshine. Craig asked us the usual questions regarding our background, themes, how we write, why we write etc. I’m sure as we dig deeper with the various DJs the questions will get more diverse.

Getting back to Skin Drone, how was the band named and how does the name Skin Drone relate to the band’s music?
Otto: The name is a statement on what we talked about: people who are too lazy to try to be different in their music. Alternatively, in any aspect of life for that matter. It’s an indictment on people who are all too happy to play things “safe” and let life pass them by. They’re just walking zombies for the most part. The name and our music are cohesive together in that we do NOT want any part of that in our art or our actual lives.

Does Otto and Erik share lyric writing for the band? Are the lyrics written similar in style to your other respective bands?
Erik: I did all the lyric writing on Evocation. Otto did however, throw some stories at me like the Mason Verger story to use for inspiration and it was also a subject matter he was interested in writing a song about. The lyrics on this album are very different to what I have written for previous projects. Almost all the songs are just stories I came up with, I did incorporate some personal aspects but I kept them very subtle. I wanted to push myself as a lyricist to be a storyteller and not write every song that was straightforward personal. I ended up intermingling the two, but it worked out perfectly for the overall atmosphere we were trying to achieve. This was the first time I wrote each song specifically for the music that was written. I have notebook after notebook of lyrics, but the songs wouldn’t have flowed as well if I was just sticking lyrics to songs that didn’t flow properly. It forced me to write lyrics out of my comfort zone and I became a better lyricist for that. (Another achievement thanks to Otto!).

What is the story of Mason Verger that Otto filled Erik in on? What are some of the stories Erik based his lyrics on?
Erik: In a nutshell, it’s the story of a man who was given copious amounts of drugs, took broken glass, disfigured his face and fed it to his dogs. I put a twist on it and instead of Hannibal being the culprit, I made it seem like he was having a spiritual delusion, hence why I repeat “God told me to do it”. He had to cleanse his soul by mutilating himself, purge himself of sin through excruciating pain (which I got from reading The DaVinci Code). I based the other lyrics on the supernatural, occultism, paganism and witchcraft. I made up my own stories, rituals and nightmares. That gave the album an overall conceptual feel without actually being a concept record.

From where did Otto first hear the Mason Verge tale and what made it one of his preferred folk tales?
Otto: I’m a huge fan of the Silence of the Lambs franchise, and Hannibal is where my first introduction to the character occurred. It also didn’t hurt that Mason was played by Gary Oldman, who is one of my all-time favorite actors.

What about The Silence Of The Lambs and Hannibal appeals to you?
Otto: The character development is big. Hannibal is more than just some cannibal-bad guy. They really explore the character and as a viewer you can’t help but feel engaged to him, and root for him. I’ve always thought he was more of a tragic hero in the series. Even the traditional antagonists like Jame Gumb or Francis Dolarhyde in Red Dragon; they have their own story and you get to see the journey they took, and how they came to be the people they are. Really good storytelling throughout.

Reading about how you based a song on Mason Verger, I remember an independent movie called Begotten (directed by Elias Merhige who directed Marilyn Manson’s Antichrist Superstar). In the first scene of that movie God Himself commits suicide as a means of giving birth to a new world. Have either of you seen it?
Otto: I just watched Begotten recently actually! At first I was bored with it but there was something there that made me come back and watch it again. It has a very disturbing quality to it that can really unsettle you. But it’s also visually beautiful, in an ugly, gritty type of way. I don’t know; it’s hard to describe. I can see why so many film critics hold it in such high regard. Merhige is a great director and a great visionary.

I always wondered what it would be like if a metal band did a concept album based on Begotten. How do you think an idea like that would pan out?
Otto: I think that, if it’s done right, it could be a huge mind-fuck for the listener. Something that really challenges you to listen deeper to the music and force a reaction from the listener. After all, all great music does that one way or another.

I noticed Otto has been promoting the impending release of the first Skin Drone album Evocation on social media. Is this generating interest?
Otto: We have been getting a ton of interest! I think Erik and I are both surprised by the level of excitement that metal fans, and our friends/contacts at all the various radio and press outlets we work with have been anticipating it. I mean, we know we made a good album. We’re very proud of our work and we stand behind it 100% but with all the other releases that happen in the metal underground on a weekly basis I was figuring we’d have to fight tooth and nail to get any attention. We still have to work hard to get our name out there and get people to pay attention but having people like yourself, who not only took the time to listen to Evocation but also review and then off us this interview, is a huge blessing.

What songs from Evocation are personal favorites of Otto and Erik, and why?
Erik: My top two are Ghost Reflection and Salvation. Ghost Reflection is such a powerful song. All the vibes and chills we were able to create, there’s just something about it, I get goosebumps every time I listen to it. I love Salvation simply because it combines so much of what Otto and I worked toward; months of evolution rolled up into one song and truly is an epic song. The overall vibe and fight with heavy and soft is blended well with the story, it gives the ultimate listening experience.
Otto: For me it’s Ghost Reflection, hands down. It makes the hair on the back of my neck stand up every time I listen to it.

How many reviews has your first album gotten since promotion began? Do your reviewers generally understand what the band is doing musically and lyrically?
Otto: Reviews so far have been great! And surprisingly most critics have understood what our lyrics and music are about. And that’s really satisfying; that people who are knowledgeable about music and metal can “get” what we’re trying to do and convey that to their audience in return.

How aggressively will you be promoting Evocation when it comes out? Will you be promoting it through physical fliers as well as on the internet?
Erik: We are promoting it aggressively as we speak and will continue to do so until all outlets are exhausted. Fliers would make sense if we lived in the same area, but we will continue to promote this full blast until there is no stone unturned.

If Evocation does well upon its release, will there be a second full length from this band? If so, in what ways do you think it will be an improvement from the first full length?
Otto: I think the chances of us making a second album are good, regardless of how well Evocation does. We love writing and recording together and that’s at the core of everything we do. We’ve both had so much fun making this album that I think it’d be impossible not to make another one. We’re already tossing around some preliminary ideas for the concept and direction of the next album. So although nothing is ever guaranteed, I’d say that it’s a pretty safe bet.

-Dave Wolff

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