Mortillery – Shifting into OverdriveMonday, 30th May 2016
Thrash truly is international in appeal. Every country has at least one band that straps on their axes, pounds on the bass and drums, and screams/roars in unison to create riffs, hooks, melodies, and songs that rage. Mortillery is a five-piece from Edmonton, Canada who since 2008 has put the ‘wasteland’ (their words to describe their home area, not mine) to good use, firing off a self-titled EP and two full-lengths while playing shows wherever they could.
Shapeshifter is the band’s third album, distinctly much sharper in focus and attack. Thanks to the help of Toxic Holocaust main man Joel Grind, cuts like “Bullet” and “Torture” take no prisoners and leave everything out there as far as quality thrash is concerned. Reaching out by Skype to one of the band’s founders guitarist Alex Gutierrez, this was a very quick hitting conversation that tackled everything from his upbringing in El Salvador to the thrill of European touring with Sepultura, how Mr. Grind improved the band’s output, and the juggling of day jobs versus music endeavors which can limit Mortillery’s impact on the long tour front.
Dead Rhetoric: What are your origins surrounding metal- as far as when did you get into the style and how did you gravitate to finally picking up an instrument and playing?
Alex Gutierrez: My first big rock show was Def Leppard in El Salvador in 1997. That’s where I am from and that’s where I grew up. Ever since then I was like ‘whoa, I want to be in a band’. After that I started getting into alternative stuff, punk in high school- and after that I finally got into metal. Overkill was the first thrash band that I really got into. Taking Over with the cover, I thought that was the coolest thing ever. In grade seven I picked up the guitar, one of cousins showed me how to play some Nirvana riffs, and I wanted to start a band.
Dead Rhetoric: Was it difficult to discover hard rock/metal bands in El Salvador in your teen years?
Gutierrez: I guess- I just didn’t look for it. I moved in 1997 when I was 13, so I was still pretty young – I wasn’t totally into music then. When I left to go to Canada, that’s when I became more interested in music being important.
Dead Rhetoric: You gained current lead guitarist Kent Quinlan in 2013- why did Alex Scott leave and do you see any differences as far as their lead guitar play?
Gutierrez: Yeah, they are definitely different guitar players but great in their own way. Alex left on his own, he just wanted to take a different path in life I guess. Not too really sure, he moved to a smaller town and started doing his own thing. It was all good, it helped us meet Kent and he really pushed us further since he’s joined the band now. It’s weird to describe- writing songs with each one of them has been super easy. We don’t have to write anything down, we just sit in front of each other and show riffs. Alex is maybe more 80’s thrash, and Kent is a little more open with his style, he can bring in influences from all these other places.
Dead Rhetoric: Shapeshifter is the third Mortillery record, and you split the recording between Oregon with Joel Grind of Toxic Holocaust plus your hometown of Edmonton. How do you approach recording these days, and do you feel you’ve become more mature and in-tune with what you want to accomplish with each recording?
Gutierrez: Definitely with this album we feel super focused. I think the songwriting got a lot better and a little less messy, there’s more direction to this album. It was weird. The first two albums we did them here at home, so it took about 2 months or so because we would go to the studio to record for a few hours at a time after work during the week, but it was at home so it was pretty comfortable. Over there, we had all day to record but only 12 days to do it. Maybe about 16-17 days total to do it, and we thought we could get it all done in that time, but we didn’t quite finish it all. That’s the reason we finished it here- so it was never really a plan to do this in two different places. We went to Oregon to do everything we could, and if we didn’t finish things up we could do the rest at home.
Dead Rhetoric: What do you think Joel was able to bring to the table to improve Mortillery’s sound?
Gutierrez: He made us really comfortable, because we were extremely nervous to sit there and record with him. He brought the rawness of our music forward, I think the way he likes to record it’s more of a live, raw feel and it was exactly what we were looking for.
Dead Rhetoric: Can you tell me a little bit about the album cover, and do you think art work is important to public perception and branding for a band?
Gutierrez: Yes, for sure. I have bought so many albums just based solely on the front cover, whether they turned out to be really sweet or not. Todd Knutson does our art- he’s done every piece of art we’ve ever used, t-shirts and everything. We let him do whatever, he has a few ideas and he produces these awesome pieces of art for us.
Dead Rhetoric: I’m familiar with some bands from the Edmonton scene like Striker and The Order of Chaos – how do you feel about your local scene?
Gutierrez: It’s really fun, it’s not just metal- there are punk bands, rockabilly bands, alternative music. It’s not that big- the city has just under a million people so the actual underground punk and metal scenes are not that big. It makes things really fun because you get to go to all types of different shows all the time.
Dead Rhetoric: How do you feel about the Canadian thrash scene- as there is a long history with bands like Exciter, Razor, and Sacrifice among others?
Gutierrez: Anvil is pretty fun, Razor is probably our top one out of those you mentioned. The thrash scene is getting popular again here, there are a lot of bands but not quite specifically thrash. A lot of old school 80’s styles of metal, it’s fun to see people bring that back.
Dead Rhetoric: What are your views on Mortillery in a live situation, and are there preferences in playing clubs versus larger festivals?
Gutierrez: In all honesty we haven’t done too many big festivals or anything like that, but the smaller shows are definitely fun. It’s where we come from, and it’s more personal. Our live shows are intense, we try to keep up with the bands we are playing with.
Dead Rhetoric: When it comes to Mortillery’s origins until today, what is the toughest aspect for the band to conquer, given the current state of metal and the lack of proper major media support?
Gutierrez: Personally for us, time and financial support really. Everybody has day jobs, and it’s hard to manage the time you need to take off from work and do band stuff- and yet you need your job to pay for the band stuff. That’s the main obstacle that we all really have to work hard at balancing.
Dead Rhetoric: Are the different workplaces understanding of your band activities and coordinating time off for tours?
Gutierrez: No, it’s pretty good. (Bassist) Miranda is a tattoo artist, she makes her own schedule. Kevin our drummer, he’s a bartender so he can work around it. Kent, Carrie and I are the ones who have more specific day jobs, and they are supportive. They work with us to make it happen. The main reason we don’t go on tour more often is because we can’t take all the time off work we would need to survive.
Dead Rhetoric: How do you feel about Napalm Records at this point three albums in?
Gutierrez: They have been super nice, and they have shown us the way. We were super young, a new band when they picked us up. They have helped us out a lot, and the relationship we’ve developed, especially on this last album, we feel super taken care of.
Dead Rhetoric: I know that the band has a love for vinyl records, can you tell us some of your favorite metal standards, and maybe one underrated band or album everyone needs to check out?
Gutierrez: The standards would be for me – Metallica – Kill ‘Em All, Flotsam and Jetsam – Doomsday for the Deceiver, that’s a really great album. I said Overkill early, but Taking Over is super rad.
Dead Rhetoric: You are going to be going on a European tour soon with Suicidal Angels – are there any plans for a US tour?
Gutierrez: No, unfortunately there aren’t any immediate plans. It’s kind of hard like I said before for us to get the time off for that- for the European one we had to pull some strings to make it happen. It’s funny because it’s easier for us to tour Europe than it is to tour the United States. We need proper visas and everything to tour the USA, so that definitely complicates things and makes it more expensive.
Dead Rhetoric: That is the frustrating part as a fan of metal in the United States, the fact that there is so much government requirements to prove that you are coming to work as a touring musician here…
Gutierrez: Exactly. I understand why they do it- it’s not a malicious law. They want to make sure that American bands get hired to play certain places. You have to have all these visas confirmed, contracts confirmed with everybody. I have heard that Canada and the United States are talking about making special admission changes for bands that want to come across.
Dead Rhetoric: That would be nice. As I’ve heard that festival action is picking up in Canada, in addition to the strong scenes you have in Toronto, Montreal, and Vancouver…
Gutierrez: And we want to have you guys come up here to check things out. The population in the United States is huge.
Dead Rhetoric: What have been some of your favorite shows or touring memories as Mortillery? And have there been any weather related incidents that have happened that were shocking or scary?
Gutierrez: It’s funny you say that. We’ve learned never to go on tour in the winter up here. Where we live, you can drive south for 3 hours and hit Calgary, or drive west for 13 hours and hit Vancouver. Those are the two closest major cities to us. It sucks to go anywhere… in the east it’s all flatlands. There have been some pretty major accidents on the highways, even bands. For favorite shows, the tour with Sepultura was insane. It was our first time going to Europe or doing any kind of major tour like that and a dream come true for every single one of us. It took us 6-7 shows to even say hi to the guys in Sepultura, we were very excited.
Dead Rhetoric: What worries you most about the world that we live in today?
Gutierrez: Oh man. I try not to think about it too much, because I would get super depressed. Humanity’s apathy, nobody cares about anything anymore. Concentrate on doing something, creating something. Goals would help a lot, instead of being mindless zombies that hang around.
Dead Rhetoric: How important is having the right team in place as far as management, booking, record label support for the band?
Gutierrez: I think it’s super important, especially for very active bands. Ourselves, we pretty much do everything on our own. We have legal help for those tricky contracts, besides that and our label, they put us in contact with people like you for interviews and they do a lot of promotion. When it comes to booking and band management, we do it ourselves because we aren’t as active as a band that needs management.
Dead Rhetoric: What have been some of your favorite shows purely as a metal fan?
Gutierrez: Iron Maiden was pretty rad. Metallica, who else. It’s hard to think- I’ve been to too many shows.
Dead Rhetoric: And what are the plans for the rest of 2016?
Gutierrez: There will be one more single to be released, it’s probably going to be after the album comes out. Just try to play shows, we will promote this album and get out there.