If it hasn’t become obvious to you I will come out and say it clearly once and for all: I’m pretty high on the new Horrendous album, Anareta. By some miracle of luck I was able to chat with the band about musicianship, family and artistic vision. If you haven’t had a chance to check out Anareta, you will in the upcoming weeks. Anareta is planned for release on 10.30.2015 on Dark Descent Records. Definitely mark that date on your calendar and make sure to pick up a copy as soon as possible.
The talent in your band is just insane. It’s clear to me that you guys listen to, and were taught, more than just metal (although I gather you guys like Iron Maiden a bunch). How much training have you all had on your multi-instrumentation abilities? What are some of you favorite non-metal influences and idols?
Damian Herring: I personally took guitar lessons for many years in various styles, including rock/metal, jazz, and classical. I also studied piano, but only for a short while in college because I thought it would be a useful skill. I also studied cello and trumpet, but neither of these instruments have found their way into Horrendous’ music (yet!). In terms of non-metal influences, I like a lot of 80s music, horror synth themes, and I’ve spent a good amount of time with acoustic folk, ambient, and indie music.
Matt Knox: For a very long time I was more of a ‘self-taught’ player–I played mostly by ear and only really played metal/punk music. Once I went to college I started to learn more theory and began studying some jazz guitar–something I still try to keep up with today. As far as influences go, I love progressive rock, jazz, folk and some electronic music as well. I particularly love King Crimson and I think they are a big inspiration for me as a songwriter.
Horrendous is one of the few metal bands that doesn’t have its members splitting time with other bands. How much time does that give you guys to focus on the band and writing? What’s the process been for writing? Is it a group project or does someone take the lead on different tracks?
Jamie Knox: Since Horrendous is our focus, we would probably spend the same amount of time writing for it either way. But I think the difference is that Horrendous receives the totality of our creative output this way. We don’t have to split musical ideas between bands, and I think that adds to the quality of the music. As far as the writing process, it has remained fairly constant over time. In the early days, the whole group worked together to develop ideas and fill out the songs that might be based on a single starting riff. While this group writing mindset still remains, greater portions of finished songs are now being brought to practices before the band works on them together. For instance, Matt started most of the songs on Anareta and nearly finished some of them on his own before jamming as a group, but plenty of fleshing out was done by the band as a whole in general.
A Band of Brothers. Do you guys ever get compared to Eddie and Alex Van Halen and is that a comparison that you would welcome? But, seriously, what are some of the challenges and advantages of working with someone you know so well?
Jamie Knox: Haha no we have not heard that comparison yet but it is surely welcome (although I’m not sure there are a ton of similarities). I don’t think there are many significant challenges – we have been playing music together for close to 15 years so we know how to work off each other very well. We also have very similar interests and philosophies, so I think our goals are often the same which allows us to develop ideas quickly and efficiently.
Following the family motif, how supportive have your parents been and how much hell did you guys put them through growing up and playing this loud, obnoxious music in the household at what I assume was all hours of the night?
Jamie Knox: Our parents have been supportive of our music since day one, which has been so helpful. It is loud as hell in the house when we play, so they must have gone through quite a bit of hell (but I think they got used to it years ago). And they did let us play pretty late into the night for the most part. I think they have always been happy to see us being creative, so they tolerate it pretty well. We still play music together at their house from time to time.
Not to leave out Damian Herring, how long have you guys been working with Damian and how did you meet up? It seems like you can imitate each other well, to the point where I can’t tell who’s playing what instrument on each track. How is it working together with the instrument switching? Do you inspire or challenge each other?
Jamie Knox: I actually met Damian during my first few days of college at the University of South Carolina in the Fall of 2006. We have been friends since that point, and Matt ended up coming to the same school two years later. The three of us spent a lot of time hanging out together. We really started playing music with Damian in early 2009 when we started Horrendous. Matt and I had been experimenting with some bizarre thrash/punk stuff at the time and we brought him to play with us once or twice. I don’t think we really gelled as a group with that stuff, so the three of us started to mess around with some thrash/death metal (which was much more up Damian’s alley), and I think our song Merlin from our demo was written within a session or two. I think the three of us have a great musical chemistry, but I’ll let them talk about the guitar interplay.
Damien Herring: There is a definite interplay going on in our writing process. One member’s riff will inspire a lead part or the next riff from another member, and so on. Matt and I have fairly different lead styles, but I think our playing inspires one another to a point where we can play off of each other, creating something that is both coherently unified and unique. We spend a ton of time writing solos and general leads during the recording process, and we give each other feedback continuously through the process, sometimes even altering one another’s parts.
Which brings me to the bass. Holy hell. I’m reminded of late 70’s Jaco Pastorious hearing the bass lines that creep through on I accredit that mostly to tone (unless you are playing a fretless). I’ve played a lot of instruments in my life but the ability to play bass has completely eluded me. So, it’s a skill that I hold in high regard. Are either of you a natural bassist or are you adapting your guitar skills to the bass?
Damian Herring: Matt and I share bass duties during the recording process. Neither of us are bassists, so we just adapt our guitar skills to the instrument, essentially treating it as a third guitar in terms of the writing. We have never used a fretless bass, but we do sort of shoot for that tone with our style. We just have a lot of fun with the bass in our songs, utilizing it as a time to experiment with additional harmonies and intricacies, and then I just make sure they actually pop through the mix during the production phase. There’s so much metal out there where you can’t even tell what the bass is doing, and we don’t want that to be the case with us, especially after we spend so much time crafting the parts.
What changed about the overall vision between Ecdysis and Anareta? It sounds like Anareta might be a bit more accessible for the casual death metal fan. Maybe a bit more “straight-forward” with the time signatures. Was that something you worked at? How much pressure did you feel to following up Ecdysis and all its critical acclaim?
Jamie Knox: Actually, Anareta is a much more complex album than Ecdysis (and this includes time signatures). I’m not exactly sure what makes Anareta seem more straight-forward – to me, Anareta seems more cohesive and has a more natural flow, so maybe that’s why. But we didn’t set out to make it sound more accessible or, conversely, more complex. By the time Ecdysis was released, we already had a chunk of the early writing done for Anareta and we continued to write new material that to us seemed interesting and satisfied our creative appetite. Ecdysis was well received, which made us feel a little bit of pressure. But we didn’t let it bother us much – we figured people wouldn’t be let down if we worked as hard as possible to craft a quality follow up.
Horrendous is making experimental or progressive death metal while somehow holding firm to the genre. A rarity these days. With so many bands are essentially leaving the genre and reviewers throwing around terms like “post,” insinuating that death metal is dead, it’s reassuring to see a band moving things forward while retaining the core. Do you have any vision for the future of metal or are you just playing what you feel?
Jamie Knox: The bottom line is we play what we feel and we love to challenge ourselves. So over time, as we improve as musicians/songwriters and our musical interests stumble into new territories, I think our sound evolves naturally. We don’t want to be stagnant simply because that is boring – I’m not interested in rehashing anything and I like to think that our creativity has given new shapes and forms to our sound. So we let our ideas flow without bias, and that has worked out well. It seems like creative metal bands are starting to pop up now, which is great – for a long time, it seemed like new bands were mostly interested in worship. But that makes for a lame genre. I hope that the future of metal continues to be one of experimentation because that’s what will keep the genre interesting and compelling.
It’s my nature to end with a fun one, and since you’re from Philadelphia and I am loathe to discuss Philly sports with Philly sports fans, I have to ask: what’s the inspiration behind your name? Are you guys really that self-loathing?
Jamie Knox: Believe it or not, we aren’t serious Philly sports fans so you are in luck. There is absolutely no inspiration behind the band name. We started with a different, very shitty name (which we used for our first show), and we knew we needed to come up with something quickly after that. We ran through some ideas and thought Horrendous fit best since our music was pretty filthy (especially compared to the rest of the local scene at the time). And so it came to be.
Damian Herring: Horrendous seemed like such an obvious name for a metal band, and in that sense, almost iconic. We were quite surprised to see it hadn’t been used before, which was a pretty important prerequisite for us, so it seemed like the perfect name to use.
Millions of thanks to Damian Herring, Jamie Knox and Matt Knox for their time.