Melbourne thrashers Desecrator have become one of the top metal bands to come out of Australia in recent years thanks to a ton of touring and the fun energy of their live shows. It’s hard to believe then that in the 7 years that the band have been around for that we have yet to see a full length album come out of it but that changes on March 24th when they release “To The Gallows” which could very well be one of the top metal albums of the year. We chat to vocalist and guitarist Riley Strong about the debut album, touring Australia including the Blacken Open Air Festival and more.
Andrew: So let’s talk about the new album and get straight into it. “To The Gallows”, we had a great review of it, I just love the album but what I can’t really believe about it is it is your first full length album!
Riley: Yep we get this a lot man! We’ve been a band for 7 or 8 years now and we did 6 or 7 tours last year and clocked up more than I can remember but we just never did a studio album. It purely started out in the first place that the first release we did was a live album and it wasn’t accidental or a lack of budget release, it really was something we wanted to do that at the time we really wanted to show the organic side of the band. We were classed as a live band, we were trying to get more gigs, we were trying to do them all so we wanted to show people what the band sounded like on stage. We wanted people to hear and come to the shows so it seemed really like a great idea and it did work in a lot of ways, in a lot of underground ways it really worked for us. And then from there we got busy man! We started touring, we got some great shows in Australia and then ‘How do we get bigger, how do we go overseas, how do we get bigger shows’. And then our ‘Down To Hell’ LP 10 inch that we put out, it was always meant to be a stop gap and just something in between what was meant to be the live album and the first studio album so it was always meant to be just to tide people over and give them some new songs to showcase and play. But at that time was when the first lineup of the band left, they all left on their own accord at a seperate time but within a fairly quick succession they all kind of moved on and new members came in and that of course you start again with new members and you start writing new songs and new dynamics and not the right time to go into the studio. And it just kept going from there, we kept getting these great tours and these great offers and the live side of the band just kept taking off and kept getting propelled so far that it was never a conscious decision to not do a live album but at the same time it just was never the right time.
And then we finally got to the point last year where it had to be the year, this was just ridiculous. We gotta get an album out with all these new songs, there was time to do it and there was time to step up and say to people that yes we haven’t done it but we’re doing it on our own terms and in our own way and we think it’s going to stand up on it’s own. So we did it unconventionally but in a way, looking back at it because of all that Desecrator has done and because of all that we’ve been able to achieve without a studio album, I kinda hope that it in a way opens up some people’s thinking. I mean I’m not by any means saying we’re a band that people should follow – we’re still trying to find our place ourselves – but at the same time there’s such a classic idea that when you start a band you gotta spend heaps of money on a studio album and then it’s going to do something for you. But you don’t have to do that, it’s a different era especially for heavy music. The classic rule book from when record labels used to be in control and have money and run the industry is gone, bands can really dictate what their timeline is and what terms they do things on and I think it’s a really cool thing and we’re proof of that because we’ve achieved so much so far and it’s really been a great ride and we’re only just still kicking off in my mind. We have so much more to do but the album to me feels like it’s smack bang in the middle, not right up the front.
Andrew: Yeah when you look at it on paper it sort of looks a bit strange where you’ve done all this stuff but then when you actually think about the history of the band and how you have gone about and done it, it makes sense. And funnily enough when you mentioned the live aspect of the band, I’ve seen you a number of times in various places around the country and I feel you have captured very well the signature live sound on this album which I guess is something that you really wanted to keep on these new songs.
Riley: Yeah that was a big thing for us. The studio choice for us as well because going into a controlled environment, going into for lack of a better term, a studio environment, it’s the furtherest away from a stage you can go, you don’t have anything to feed off. You’re not in that moment anymore but you’re trying to express that moment still so it was something that we did sit down and spend a lot of time talking about between ourselves as a band and also with Jason Fuller at Goatsound who we got to do the record because it was really important to us that we sound in a way to not only get the tones that we feel kind of represent Desecrator but also the energy in the performance. Because playing your instrument one way without any aggression but proficiently is one thing but then putting in that attack and feel that you get live, it’s not easy to do. It’s not easy to do on like a nice sunny day when you’re comfortable and you’ve had a coffee and you’re ready to start your tracking, it’s a very different vibe than when you’ve had 10 beers and you’re getting up on stage in front of a bunch of German people. It’s a very different vibe and I like to think that we got it and I’m very proud of the sound that we got and I think it really does represent Desecrator but at the same time it was something that we had to sit down and discuss and kind of guarantee because the last thing that any of us want was to get to the end of this recording and sure, we come up with something that sounded polished and professional and sounded even heavy metal but it didn’t sound like us. Because we are a form band and we do believe we have a sound that we’ve been running as a consistent being for a few years now that we did have to kind of guarantee that we got that.
Andrew: Yeah I definitely think you have captured it quite well, when I listen to the album I immediately hear Desecrator straight away and think, ‘Yeah this is exactly how they sound live’. You mentioned that you tried to get that live sound onto the recording, how did you actually attack it? Did you play the way that you perform live like standing up and things like that?
Riley: We didn’t, we actually went the other way. The other side of recording in a controlled environment is that you don’t have all the overtones and the room sounds and everything to hide your bad notes. Because I mean live there’s a certain amount of leeway that a live room will give you performance wise but in a studio there’s zero tolerance to anything, your performance is key and it’s crucial so we really did have to sit and focus. Jarrod (Roberts, drums) tracked the drums whilst I played along, we stood in a room – well I stood, he sat – we’re in 2 rooms looking at each other with the thing blaring so we did get for the drum tracks. Because they weren’t done to a click, they were done just [from] a live feel, we did sit down and made sure that we had to have that, ‘Are we making ugly faces while we play. Are we banging our heads’. Is this the moment or are we playing it too fast because we’re nervous or are we playing it too slow because we’re trying to nail every nuance of it? So we did it for the drums especially, trying to recreate at least the rehearsal of a jam room feel to keep that kid of fluidity. I’m a firm believer that thrash metal especially is such an energy movement based genre, that it needs to have flow. It can’t be clinical, it needs to have that give and take that almost has a tight version of looseness if you think about because you’re playing tightly to each other. The overtone and the swell of the music is a fluid thing, it changes, it moves. Sometimes it moves with the fatigue of the player, sometimes it moves with the excitement of the next riff that’s coming, so we definitely guarantee that we locked that in from the start and then from there we really just sat in the control room and tracked it out, cranked the amps up and sat beside the computer screen in the studio and made it happen.
Vocal wise I’ve never been an overly trained singer so for me I need that live emulation, I need everything to be loud and I need everything to be in my face otherwise I can’t actually produce my vocal tone. It’s not something that I know how to do so I can’t sing with headphones like most singers do so for me we had to create a bit of a vocal booth that had 2 big fold backs looking at me so that I could create that live foldback sound. So we got 2 big wedges and we rammed them in a room and I sat there with a bottle of whiskey to keep my throat going and a big almost life size cu7t out picture of Blackie Lawless staring at me so that I feel like every scream I did wasn’t quite enough because he would of done it better! But between all those things, it equaled the result that it is so we’re pretty happy man.
Andrew: Yeah definitely I think you should be because as I said, I’ve listened to this album a few times now and it’s got exactly what Desecrator fans would expect which I guess was something that was in the back of your mind when you sat down and recorded these songs. With these songs that are on there, how many of these were old songs and how many were new? And were these songs that had been floating around for a while?
Riley: A couple of them we brought forward from the older set, I think if you were to count them the majority of them are newer songs which have only come up in the last year or so. Maybe 2 years and the rest are songs that have been around from the end of the first lineup and were developed when the second lineup came in so there are songs that we’ve been playing live for a long time for the majority so people will recognise because if they have seen us they will recognise them. But there’s definitely a bunch of tracks on there that are going to be brand new to Desecrator listeners, that was important too. We had a bit of leeway too because we have put this off for so long we did have a big body of work to choose from as far as what was going to go on the studio album but it was important to us that we created a fresh sounding album in our mind, partly for us because we want to play new songs. We were making new songs and stepping forward and creating new material but partly to keep the fanbase interested and make sure there were new sounds on there that they hadn’t heard and kinda challenged the audience. I personally feel that I think on this album even though it does sound like a Desecrator record, it feels to me like the writing approach and the sound of the songs has spread out a lot more and got a lot more room to breathe. I don’t feel it was trapped in the confines of thrash metal as maybe we were in the first couple of years in the band, I really feel this album in a lot of ways is starting to transcend the genre which is not something we’re overly focused on but at the same time it’s nice to feel that the band is maturing.
Andrew: Yeah definitely. One of the songs on there, “As I Die” is actually quite melodic and has got acoustic passages which kind of surprised me to be honest as I know you guys are really a thrash metal band so it’s kind of at least made me realize that you guys are expanding and evolving your sound a little bit.
Riley: For us, part of that is track 4 has gotta be a ballad. It’s gotta happen, it’s the rules! [laughs]. On a thrash metal record there’s gotta be one ballad. But I’ve been trying to write one for a long time, it’s something that we all do appreciate in songs. We all love the kind of down paced or mood driven song on an album so it can change gears, something that we all sing out loud when you’re driving between A and B and you’re sitting in the car for long hours. A ballad from a certain album comes on or the slower track, we always notice it and always comment on it like, ‘Oh it would be great to be able to incorporate that type of gear changer in an album’. But to be honest I’ve been trying to write a slow song since the band started and it’s really hard because every time we get 2 riffs into it, I just speed it up and play faster! It was just never in me to do it and to finally sit down and do it, this one came out very naturally in the rehearsal room. It was very confronting for me to play it to the guys at first, it did start out on an acoustic guitar. It was just me and singing openly and honestly and singing without any type of yell in my voice was something that was quite confronting to do even in front of the band guys. But it really just showed that everyone had the right thing to offer to this song because it was just a culmination of parts, everyone naturally started adding what they thought should happen to it and all of a sudden we had a song! We used to just play it when we got to the end of a jam, whether we were rehearsing live sets for a tour or we were in there to write but we never played that song until right at the end. Once everyone had kind of run out of steam at the end of a rehearsal we would play it once before we left and we would never really talk about it. Whether we played it terribly or played it really well, we never talk about it. We just play it, everyone kinda looks at each other and then pack up and go home. It’s just slowly over time it took it’s own course and yeah, I’m really proud of it now. It’s really nice to say we’ve done that and whilst I don’t know if anyone will ever hear the band play it live, it will be great to be something that we can evolve on as well on future recordings.
Andrew: Yeah I was going to ask if you were planning to play that one live actually! Is it something you think you might do in the future?
Riley: Donington maybe!
Andrew: [laughs] Best time to do it I think!
Riley: [laughs] I’m not against it but I think by the time people know the words and have their lighters out, then I’ll think about. Crowd first on that one, crowd first not band first so we’ll see what happens. If people start yelling for it we might bring it out one time but otherwise it might just be one of those track 4 album songs that you’ll enjoy when you’re drinking red wine.
Andrew: Speaking of the live shows and touring, you got a bunch of dates coming up and you’re coming to the west coast and doing a couple of shows over here (Perth) which is always good to see. I’ve managed to catch you the last couple of times you’ve been over here but one particular show I do want to ask you about is the Blacken Open Air Festival out in Alice Springs. That’s going to be such a great festival, how do you feel about doing a show like that in Australia as well?
Riley: That’s amazing over there! We did Blacken The Globe before it was a camping festival when it was an outdoor festival still but was smaller and we went up and played that and it was such a fantastic experience. Pirate and The Black Wreath who run it are such an amazing crew, Alice Springs as a town is such a really different experience especially coming from Melbourne, a big metropolitan city. It’s so rawly Australian out there even though the landscape with the red dirt, it just appealed to us so much. The metal fans up there are so into it and so passionate about heavy metal and they’re such a small but proud scene. They are so proud that they exist and they’ve struggled through it and they’ve grown and the fact that they’ve been able to get an identity for the festival to a point where people want to fly in from other states to their open air festival every year is phenomenal and they’ve done it all totally DIY. There’s no support up there for them apart from their community and it’s just great because they’ve done it and when the offer came up to do it again this year, it just felt like a really great thing to be a pat of. And we feel really honoured to go up and play it. There was a great moment that I remember last year, we were playing just before Frankenbok who were playing last and it was right on twilight. So we got on stage, it was kind of dusk and then just as we got off stage the sun was going down like on a mountain range behind the stage and we were walking off the stage walking to the open air to the backstage tent and looking at this absolutely breathtaking baron, red landscape with a setting sun in the background and just thinking, ‘What is this? Where am I?’ I think Australia has such a great metal identity at the moment and I’m so proud of being an Australian band but when we get a chance to play festivals that feel uniquely Australian and it didn’t feel like we were copying or parodying anyone else’s ideas, it really felt that what they have up there is really unique to them but to be a part of that is amazing. Anyone who loves live heavy metal, no matter who is playing on the lineup, go once because it will totally change your life up there and you’ll always want to go back.
So yeah it’s an exciting thing, the whole tour is exciting. We’re excited about all the dates and coming over to Perth is a really big deal for us. W.A. has always been a big market, we’ve been coming over there since the band was really young and there’s not a lot of Melbourne bands who will continually go to Perth. I mean coming from the east coast, it is a big flight and it is a big outlay but we’ve always found Perth to be really supportive. Even from the early days when Dysie would help us out from Prime Cuts, he would bring us over and we weren’t totally fitting in with any of the other bands that were playing but there seemed to be something happening over there and it was always a great time so we’ve always put it on the tour schedule. There was a little dry spell for a while but we came over last year at the end of year tour and it felt good so we’re very keen to get back, very keen to keep it on the regular touring circuit. I don’t think just because you’re on the other coast means that bands shouldn’t have to be on the touring circuit, I mean sure it’s a little bit hard for east coast bands but what’s not hard about playing in a band in Australia? What isn’t a struggle playing in a heavy metal band in Australia? I think that bands start struggling, they struggle for the whole time and they either break up or they keep going. If you’re going to stand up and assert yourself as a heavy metal band in Australia then I think you’ve gotta get right out there, explore Australian markets. Don’t just play the 3 east coast stops that everyone plays, get out into the regionals. Discover whether regional New South Wales appreciate your style of metal, discover where the pockets of people who totally appreciate your band coming because that’s where you find your die hard markets. It’s where you find people who don’t get metal bands often, if they identify with your metal band, if you can somehow change their experience by going there and playing you can win fans for life in those places. I think that’s important for Australian bands not just to look overseas and to look at all these bigger continents like Europe and the U.S.A and just dream and fantasize, make Australia your home. Be proud of Australia and make it work because countless bands do, it’s a very doable thing.
Andrew: Exactly, it’s where all the bands start from. You start at the bottom and you work your way up by playing anywhere and everywhere, it’s the way to do it I think.
Riley: Damn straight!
Andrew: Well it’s been great chatting to you today, congratulations on the new album and have fun on tour man!
Riley: Thank you very much!
DESECRATOR AUSTRLAIAN TOUR DATES
March 31 Hobart – Republic Bar
April 1 Launceston – Gunners Arms
April 13 Adelaide – Enigma bar
April 14-16 Alice Springs – Blacken open Air
April 26 Warrnambool – The Loft
April 27 Ballarat – The Eastern
April 28 Geelong – Barwon club
April 29 Melbourne – Bendigo Hotel
May 5 Canberra – The Basement
May 6 Woy Woy – Statik at Leagues club
May 7 Sydney – Frankies pizza by the slice
May 12 Perth – Amplifier bar
May 13 Bunbury – Eliot St Bar