From comfort wear and cures for homesickness to global metal identity, Desecrator frontman Riley Strong covers a lot of ground with Scott Adams. Oh, and they talk about the band's splendid new album, too...
Melbourne’s Desecrator are a rare bird indeed. Not because of their extreme excellence, oh no, although it is becoming harder to find bands of this scintillating pedigree, that much is for sure. No, they’re rare because they are only just now getting round to recording their debut studio album, after aeons in existence, and already having released a live album! So of course it’s necessary for Sentinel Daily to have a chat with the band to find out more about this interesting tale. So here we are, vocalist/guitarer Riley Strong and I, ready to chew the fat over all manner of important subjects. To the gallows!
It’s a great album. You must be pleased with the reception it’s garnered in all quarters? “I am! To be honest, we left it so long in releasing a studio album that we didn’t have that experience of releasing a record and seeing how it was going to be received by people. We’ve got a lot of experience of doing live shows, of touring and all that side of being in a band, but it was a bit nerve-wracking to put it out there and see what people thought of it. But the reception has been great, and people seem to be really supportive. The already existing group of fans seemed to dig it and it seems to be breaking us into new territory so I couldn’t be happier!”
I remember the first PR blurb that came through with review copies of the album quoted you as saying that you’d ‘dodged recording a studio album for seven years’. What was the thinking behind that? Or was it merely circumstance? “In the early days, when we first started the band, Desecrator was started with a hunger to play live. We wanted to tour, we wanted to get to audiences as fast as we could. When it came time to showcase Desecrator, our first release was a live album, there was no budget, we didn’t do it in a premeditated way, it was just something to show people what we were like. The most direct way to show people what they would experience at a show was to release a live album and to try and get them to come to shows. The focus was always to get people down into venues to see us. From there we got some good tours of Australia, some good supports, people seemed to be supportive from the start so we really ran with what we saw as being our strong point at the time. We did kind of dance around doing a studio album – it was never something we were against – we always knew it would be in our future to release one, but I guess it was always put to the side for what we were aiming to achieve at any given time. And then time actually just flew! We didn’t sit on our hands, we did a lot of touring, went to a lot of places… looking back on it now though it is a long time between conception and album”.
That said, you’ve now come up with a very ‘live’ sounding album, haven’t you? When you put it on it’s like you’re standing in the middle of a rehearsal room with the band around you. “That was a really important thing to us as a band. Being that the live performance side of Desecrator has always been our focus, and has been – I feel – our strength, when it came to entering a studio, which can be such a sterile environment, a big focus of ours was ‘how are we going to show people what we are known for?’. How are we going to bring out our strength without losing it in ‘production’? We really set out from the start to try and achieve an organic recording, something that sounded like the organic instruments we were playing, and that it was played by dudes who were excited to be playing it”.
Well I think you certainly succeeded in that aim. It’s one of the best sounding, for want of a better term, ‘non-major label’ records I’ve heard in a long time. When you hear the record you can almost see the band playing. It’s rare that I get that feeling. “When we approached Jason Fuller at Goatsound Studios to take on the project, our biggest conversation with him was ‘we want this to be what your rehearsal room sounds like every week when we turn up!’ But we didn’t mean that in a messy way, we didn’t mean it in a ‘garage’ way. We don’t want to be lo-fi, we don’t want to be unrehearsed, we don’t want to be ‘unproduced’ – we just want it to be real. And he just seemed to understand. It was lucky that he did, because none of us are studio buffs, we put our trust in him and the result came out. And we’re really happy with it”.
I guess everyone has a different response to the record when they hear it, but I get bands like Razor and Sacred Reich when I hear the album. What were the main influences of the band would you say? The ones that drive the band to its sound today? “Definitely I think there’s a common thread between us for the Big Four… everyone grew up as a Metallica kid, a Slayer kid, but for me as a songwriter I got more into the European thing… Sodom, Destruction and Kreator. The thing I liked about them wasn’t the sound they were getting on the records, it was more the energy. I really liked what was going on with the production of records in the States in the eighties and early nineties but I didn’t really gel as much with the songwriting. I found the European songwriting a lot darker, so I guess a melting point of those two things was the starting point. Also because we toured so much early on I feel we drew a lot of things from the bands we played with, heavy bands like Cemetery Urn, more rock n’roll type bands like Dreadnaught, it all used to rub off on us. So obviously we grabbed a lot of style from those big bands of our formative years, but also we took stuff from band’s we’d meet, gig with, bands that influenced us because they were there, blaring at us just before we had to get onstage and do it ourselves!”
Talking of which, your tour in support of To the Gallows has started – tell us a bit about your experience at Blacken Open Air. “It was amazing. They run an absolutely amazing festival up there. It’s the second time we’ve played it, we did it I think three years ago, and back then it was a one day festival at a smaller venue, but you could see that something was going to happen with it. They have an amazing crew, and a support network in Alice Springs that’s really unique. Because of how starved they are of metal out there, nobody is spoiled enough to segregate off into all the separate genres… and there’s a beauty in that because everyone is so behind the intensity of the music rather than what t-shirt somebody is wearing. It’s a really pure strand they have there, which is why so many bands from all over Australia are excited to travel up there. It’s a completely different experience to playing in any other state. We were stoked to go back. Every music fan in this country should do it at least once”.
It’s interesting that you allude to the isolation; the internet has made the world smaller, globalisation means the same shops are in high streets all over the world – you’ve toured nationally and internationally, are headbangers coalescing into the same thing world wide or do you still detect national heavy metal identities? “I think there really is still that sense of identity. The metal fan is the last bastion of the ‘proud music fan’ out there. We’re such a staunch and proud lot, proud of where we’re from, showing other metalheads from other places what comes from where we come from… there’s a lot of pride involved in all of that and I think that’s what separates metalheads. They are still really proud of their version of being a metalhead. The internet definitely makes finding music easier, stuff spreads like wildfire across it, so people generally don’t have the blind faith commitment to music that existed before the internet. But speak to a Russian metalhead and they’ll want to tell you about Russian bands, speak to a German and they’ll want to tell you about German bands, and I think that’s a really cool thing”.
Now to matters slightly less weighty. What’s one essential item that you can’t get by without on tour? “One essential item? A Cold Chisel CD (laughs). There’s something about, when you’re out of Australia touring and you’re getting a little bit homesick, the easiest way to be transported back to Australia is Cold Chisel. Plus I think it’s the only band that all four of us agree on on that point”.
And what about a luxury item? Something you really shouldn’t take but that you might like to smuggle away in your kit bag. “Well, on the tours we did last year, on the Venom Inc and Overkill tour, for the first time I took Ugg boots on tour. I’ve always been a staunch no track pants, no comfy shoes, just boots and tight jeans no matter what man – sleep in ‘em, live in ‘em, wear ‘em. But as you get older these battle lines soften. I like being comfortable now. I’ve gotten to the point where I’ll admit that to myself. Venom Inc were actually selling track pants on tour so I nabbed a pair of them, got into my Ugg boots… I tell you, as the days went on it got closer and closer to stage time before you could get me out of them. There’s no way they are staying at home in the future”.
Desecrator’s debut studio album, To the Gallows, is out now on Dinner For Wolves, and their tour in support of the album continues in Warrnambool at The Loft on April 26th.