Monday, March 6, 2023

Interview with Ritchie Randall of GRAVEHUFFER (fourth interview) by Dave Wolff

Interview with guitarist Ritchie Randall of Gravehuffer by Dave Wolff

Gravehuffer is currently offering preorders for their upcoming album "Depart From So Much Evil" through Black Doomba Records (Atlanta, Georgia, USA). Can you tell me how it has been received so far, and when it will be released?
I want to start by thanking you for having me! It’s very much appreciated. The new album releases on February 17. The response of the reviews that have been released so far has been fantastic! Definitely have some of the best reviews we’ve ever received for any album we’ve released. A couple of internet radio stations have been playing the majority of the songs from the album, and the people that have been listening to it have been blown away by all the music they’ve heard. Everyone seems to think this is our next logical step, as well as the best album we’ve released. We’ve also done a few interviews in the last month or so and even the interviewers have been very surprised by what they’ve heard! We were initially a little bit concerned that people might not be into it, but so far the response has been overwhelmingly positive!

Are you previewing "Depart From So Much Evil" before it's released? What other formats will it be available in besides digital when it's released? Will Black Doomba Records and the band handle mail and net order distribution?
We’ve only released a couple of songs online from the album so far, and again the response has been great. A couple of videos are on Youtube as well, and they’ve been watched more than any of our other songs in a very short amount of time! The comments we’ve seen have been very interesting, to say the least; everything from ‘you guys are legends in the making’ to ‘this is some of the most brutal stuff we’ve ever heard’! As far as the physical copies of the album, it’ll be released on CD right now, and vinyl will be available in a few months. The vinyl pressing plants are extremely backed up right now, so we decided it would be best to get the record out there and release the vinyl as soon as it’s available. Cassette tapes are being discussed, so we are thinking it will probably happen. Black Doomba Records takes care of most of the online distribution for physical copies, while we mainly sell on Bandcamp, at shows, and the majority of digital sales.

What labels will you consider if you release "Depart From So Much Evil" on cassette? Do you plan on releasing a vinyl record based on how many copies you can sell?
The cassettes will be released on our own label Thunderchief Records. The vinyl was actually turned in before the CD but because of the severe backlog at the pressing plants, it has been delayed. The good thing is we could get the release out a little sooner and release the vinyl separately. We've learned that people will buy vinyl regardless haha!

What did you hear about Black Doomba Records' reputation with bands that convinced you to sign with them in the first place?
One of the reasons we went with Black Doomba Records is because Tommy Stewart, who is the owner of the label, was in Hallow's Eve. They were and still are, on Metal Blade Records, so that told me that he knew his stuff. We actually got to know Tommy for about a year or so before we signed with Black Doomba Records. We also played some shows with his solo band Tommy Stewart's Dyerwulf, prior to signing. Getting to know Tommy personally and actually talking and playing shows with him in person really helped us build a rapport and gain each other's trust. He's been a great mentor for all things music related!

In addition to Gravehuffer's performances with Dyerwulf before signing to Black Doomba, what insight did Tommy Stewart provide about the music industry?
We played a handful of shows with them before signing with the label. It was a lot of fun to get to know Tommy and see his approach to live shows, selling merchandise, and interacting with people. Tommy has been very transparent with his business dealings, and it's been a little eye-opening but also very appreciated. Some things we were aware of and others not so much. I'd say most of his insight has been with the financial aspect of it. He's also been helpful with getting contacts for booking shows as well.

How did Thunderchief Records come to be, and how is the label active both locally and internationally?
Thunderchief Records is something we just put together a few months ago, to release our musical projects that may not make sense for Black Doomba, or any side projects we may be involved in. Our first two albums are no longer on a label, so we decided to form our own label to release any future pressings of those releases. We just felt it was important to retain the rights to those albums and release them how we see fit. So far the label is only for Gravehuffer and the members' side projects, but we may start looking at other bands as well. We honestly haven't thought that far ahead with the label yet.

Thunderchief currently represents how many Gravehuffer side projects? Are there an official website and distro for the label?
The only side project is Mike and Travis and another guy named Earl and it's called Funeral Of Sores. It's mostly experimental and ambient music with quirky and improvised vocals from Travis. Mike and Earl play the music, which is typically keyboards, samples, and drum machines. They only have a Bandcamp page as of now with digital releases only.

What songs from "Depart From So Much Evil" were previewed early, and why?
We chose “Blueprint for an Early Grave” as the first taste of music from the new album. It is the start of the record and we thought it provided a great teaser for what to expect. A lot of people that heard it seemed to agree as they told us that it felt like a teaser to them as well. The other song was actually just the “Inferno” section of the 22-minute title track “Depart From So Much Evil”. That song is of course based on Dante’s “Divine Comedy” regarding his journey through Inferno, Purgatory, and Paradise. “Inferno” is six plus minutes and it has the more familiar sound to our past work. So the logic there was to introduce people to the Dante concept but in a concise and more straightforward way. After “Inferno” goes into “Purgatory”, it really starts to change the sound, and it continues to experiment in the “Paradise” section as well.

Why did Dante's "Divine Comedy" inspire the new album's conceptual story? Once the project was completed, did you get a sense of how it differed from other interpretations of Dante Alighieri's work?
We had been talking about Dante’s “Divine Comedy” for many years now. Personally, I've always wanted to write a 20+ minute epic track so this seemed like the perfect time to do it. Mike had written a different version of it for a side project he had in the early 2000s so it was on his radar for quite some time. It's a story that is very relatable to the human experience so I think that's why we chose it. We aren't too familiar with other bands' interpretations of it to be honest, other than Iced Earth's “Dante's Inferno” which is just about the first part. We honestly just followed our gut instincts when we wrote it. Each section gave us a certain vibe so we wrote them based on how they made us feel and the vibe we got when read them. We wanted to make a death metal movie soundtrack.

Would you consider basing concept albums on any other works by Dante? Are there other writers you'd consider? For example, H.P. Lovecraft seems to strike a chord with many bands.
We don't really plan too far ahead on the subject matter. It usually is more of a spur-of-the-moment thing. Dante was one of the very few exceptions. We even made a disclaimer and put it on the liner notes of the new album, stating that basically, this isn't indicative of any new direction for the band. It's purely an experiment and something we've wanted to write about for a long time. So far we've had very good feedback and even some people are hoping we change our minds and keep going wild with the experimentation. Who knows what the future holds, but I'm pretty sure we will continue to keep pushing the envelope a bit each time we release something new. It is what we live for, and we are just making this music because it's what we want to hear.

What internet stations have been previewing songs from the new album, and where have the band given interviews about it? Did you select the same songs for early streaming?
There’s been a lot of internet radio stations playing the new material, in particular Metal Devastation Radio, Castle Blakk Radio, XRP Radio, and many others. Most of the stations just played “Blueprint for an Early Grave”, although the week prior to release, we did send out the rest of the album to radio stations and they started adding other songs as they saw fit or whatever each particular DJ preferred.

We discussed your two-song EP "Demon Face and Stalingrad's Cross" in our second interview in 2020. Is it still available today? What about previous releases?
The “Demon Face and Stalingrad’s Cross” EP is indeed still available. NoSlip Records had 500 copies pressed. We still have about 80 or so in four different colors available on our Bandcamp store. All of our previous releases are available on our Bandcamp page as well, but only on CD and digital. “NecroEclosion”, our release prior to the new album, is sold out on vinyl, but Black Doomba Records are repressing it on green vinyl. It will be available in the summer of 2023.

In that same interview, you talked about a reviewer who slammed the EP in retaliation for not receiving free music and merchandise. Has the band experienced similarly biased reviews resulting from personal spite or have recent reviews been fair?
So far the reviews have actually been the best we've ever received in our careers! We had some reservations about how this album would be received and they have exceeded our expectations for sure! We've heard the words ‘masterpiece’, ‘album of the year’, and ‘best album I've heard in years’ thrown around, which is honestly mind-blowing.

What are the consequences of bias like that displayed by the reviewer causing readers to have misconceptions about the bands being reviewed? Is it necessary to publicly call out those who spread that bias?
Honestly, we feel like if you're not going to give constructive criticism, then why bother doing reviews? It doesn't help anyone if you just say, “I hate this” or “This sucks”. It's very immature and we don't need that kind of thinking in the arts. All it means is that the reviewer is just very poor at conveying their thoughts. We only call people out on their reviews if they are poorly written or throw in personal attacks. I really think that needs to be removed from the scene.

Is there a fine line between constructive criticism and slamming something just for the sake of slamming it? Or using words like "cool" or "awesome" to undermine the importance of a release? Does the same go for trashing a release and implying a stellar review was expected?
To me, a review should more or less let you know what to expect from a particular product, not necessarily someone’s opinion of it. Personal preference differs between people so much, and a good reviewer will typically point that out. Writing something is terrible or awesome and not expounding on it is just lazy and uninteresting. It definitely doesn’t help the reader make any kind of decision about whether they should try the product or not. There’s no point in labeling something great or terrible if you don’t explain yourself.

In underground music networks, I used to see people calling out ripoffs and yellow journalists; now they just generate social media drama. Is this as damaging to scenes as anything else?
I honestly think it really does hurt the scenes out there. It kind of goes back to my previous answer. People seem to have this zero-tolerance attitude toward everything anymore, and although there is a time and place for that, the arts is definitely not one of them. People take it way too personally if a band tries something different, or if they stay the course as well. It’s music, not something that caused you bodily harm or something haha! It’s ridiculous the amount of vitriol that people throw at artists for trying something different or for sticking to their guns. It’s very bizarre thinking to me.

In a recent review I wrote, I addressed something similar to what you said; as long as you play what you feel, it doesn't matter if you're "open-minded" or "self-limiting". And people who preach open-mindedness and overdo showing how versatile they are can be just as elitist as bands with a narrower range of influence. Do you believe honesty is the most important thing, regardless of whether you draw from the Beatles or Morbid Angel?
Yeah, I totally agree that honesty and sincerity are the most important. We don't bullshit each other or the people who enjoy our music. Like it or not, we are playing exactly what we want to hear ourselves. I think true fans of music can tell if artists are being honest or not. As far as what you draw from, of course, it's totally up to your own personal tastes, and whether or not you allow it all to shine through. We're all over the place because our tastes are as well. Very rarely do we delete an idea because of where it came from? It's usually whether or not it sounds good to all of us in the context of the song.

In the eleven years you've been active, Gravehuffer has always combined thrash, crust, and grindcore. What keeps the band's music fresh?
I think we keep it fresh by adding new elements every time we write and record. That's what keeps it exciting. We are always on the lookout for what new concept or instrument can we add to the mix, without it stepping on our own toes. Usually, we start with the typical guitars, bass, drums, and vocals, then we hear something to add as we're either writing or recording it. We basically let our imagination dictate the sound, but it all spurs from a very basic idea. We get bored easily too so that also contributes haha.

In the future, would the band consider addressing or interpreting these issues?
Maybe so. If we did, we probably wouldn’t be deliberate about it. It would be more open to interpretation lyrically. It’s definitely something we feel strongly about so I could see us being creative with it and it is an intense experience.

"Mind Over Metal - Volume 1" and "Violence Against Violence" were compilations you appeared on in 2021 and 2023. How much did those two compilation albums contribute to the band's success? Which songs were selected for the compilations?
“Ghost Dance” was on “Mind Over Metal - Vol 1” and “Blueprint For An Early Grave” was on “Violence Against Violence”. They were both charity compilations so that’s why we submitted to them. They’re both released by Cave Dweller Records’ Bandcamp page. We were just honored to be a part of both of them.

Alan Lisanti's first interview with you disclosed how many endorsements the band had at the time, such as Arachnid Cabinets, Firebird Straps, Killer B Guitars, Spectraflex Cables, and Dirtbag Clothing. Are you still working with the companies you were working with then, and have you hooked up with any new ones?
We’re still with Arachnid Cabinets and Firebird Straps, but we’re actually with quite a few new companies now. Alphabetically they are Coffin Cases, Custom Audio Mutation amps, InTune Guitar Picks, Pig Hog Cables, Rock N Roller Multi-Carts, Seymour Duncan pickups, SIT Strings, Solar Guitars, and WB Gear.

Black Doomba Records also hooked you up with the public relations Dewar PR. How are they treating you to this day?
Dewar PR has changed to C Squared PR, but they’re still the same people in charge. They typically help the label with album releases of all the bands on the label. I’m not sure if they handle other aspects or not, to be honest. They’ve done a great job with both of our album releases on Black Doomba Records. It’s our first time using a PR company so we don’t have anything to compare to but they seem to be well-respected in the industry from what we can tell.

Youtube videos you recently posted include covers of Godflesh, Twisted Sister, Frank Zappa, and Black Sabbath. How did those videos come to be made?
The covers were mainly done just for fun, but we also wanted to release something to tide people over until the new album was released. All of these bands have been a major influence on us since we were all in our early teens, so it just made sense to tip our hats to them. We plan on recording and releasing more covers later in the year. These three particular covers are ones that we've been wanting to record for quite a while, so they made the most sense to get the ball rolling.

There are also several live performances from across the US and an interview you did with Metal Deli in May 2022. How many views do those clips get on YouTube?
The live clips don't really get that many views, unfortunately, so we may not post as many from now on. We're thinking that if we get some higher-quality clips from other sources besides ourselves, then maybe we might post those instead. Youtube is a difficult platform to get traction on, but we keep plugging away at it. Interview clips in general don't get as many views, but the views they do get are by people that are really into our music. They're the ones who like to dive deeper into the process and appreciate all that goes into it.

How do intensive, informative interviews help readers and podcast viewers get to know artists better? Please provide some more examples.
I personally think they do. I’d much rather read or listen to an interview that’s informative and interesting than one that just states the more obvious things. I like knowing what makes an artist tick than the general questions. Most good interviewers preface their conversations with artists by breaking down the basics for the reader or listener prior to the interview. The last handful of interviews we’ve done for this new album have actually been some of the best we’ve had! Here are some links:

Are there any news clips the band plans to upload to your Youtube channel? Are there any new live shows or lyric videos to accompany the new album?
We actually have a couple of new videos for the new album on our YouTube channel now: “Blueprint For An Early Grave” and “Inferno”, which is part 1 of 3 in the “Depart From So Much Evil” track. The “Blueprint for an Early Grave” video uses footage from the old silent movie from 1927 by Fritz Lang, “Metropolis”. We cherry-picked and edited all the coolest footage about the workers overthrowing the city. “Inferno” video also uses old footage, this time from an Italian silent film from 1911 called “L’Inferno”. It is directly inspired by Dante's “Inferno”, so we thought it made sense to use it. It is one of my personal favorite videos we've released!

How did those classic movies from the 1910s and 20s provide a fitting atmosphere for your video?
The subject matter for each song is an age-old issue of good versus evil, and black-and-white footage represents that struggle perfectly. We just feel like the older footage would make it more relatable for more people and not necessarily make it a trend or dated visual.

Are there any other movies from that era that you consider favorites? Are there any horror films or obscure films from those days included?
I would say “The Phantom Of The Opera” and “The Cabinet Of Doctor Caligari” are personal favorites of the band. Travis and Mike have a side project that basically wrote scores for silent films and those, along with “Metropolis” are ones that they wrote music inspired by the films.

Would you mind sharing with us some ideas for future videos or albums based on what you've released so far? Can you think of any other classic movies from the early 20th century that you'd like to sample?
The feedback we’ve received for this new album has been very positive, so we will definitely not hesitate to keep pushing the envelope with future releases. This album is our biggest stylistic change to date from the previous album, so we were curious about what people would think. The song ‘The Cryptid and the Iron Bird’ started a subject that will continue in future releases, and I think using different instruments will be something we explore even more with the next albums. As far as video clips, that all depends on the subject matter of the song. The song always comes first and the visuals are an enhancement of them. If we find something that works well with the subject matter of a song, we will definitely look into the classic visuals from that era.

How far can the band go in the direction it is heading? What other ways do you plan to improve your music with visual accompaniment?
Well, I think our mindset is basically to keep doing what we do and don't look back. We know we're probably not going to top the song “Depart From So Much Evil” so we're not really going to try. Our goal has always been to write music that we want to hear without compromise. There is always an element of intensity and sincerity as well as the melting pot of influences that we bring. We've already started writing songs for the next album and so far things seem to have a doomier sound, but that could all change at any moment. We write how we feel, and right now we seem to feel in a more relaxed and heavy mood for riff writing. Who knows, maybe the next time we get together, shit will hit the fan in our personal lives and we start writing fast and furious stuff. We just let the moods take us where they want to go and if other people can relate, then that is honestly remarkable to us! We live for this stuff!

-Dave Wolff

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