Psycroptic – Kingdom of DevilsThursday, 15th November 2018
A prominent force in the death metal community since their first lauded release, The Isle of Disenchantment, back at the turn of the century, Psycroptic have made it a point not to stand still. Through the years, they have refined and evolved their sound to a razor-sharp and intricate edge, but never forgetting to make sure there are some moments for the average listener to latch onto as well. Something that’s quite clear with the recently released seventh album, entitled As the Kingdom Drowns. Drummer David Haley gave us a chunk of his time one evening to catch us up to speed with the revered act, in everything from the new album to teaching drums, to progressions over the years and adopting a Tasmanian devil.
Dead Rhetoric: How much did the massive amount of touring impact the wait between albums?
David Haley: It definitely affected it somewhat, because we can’t write material on the road. We’ve tried in the past but it just doesn’t work. For us, these days, writing is done at home in between touring. We don’t sit down and do it in a big block. We are always sporadically working on new material. It seems to be about 3 years between albums for us. That’s what we can manage between heavy touring and being happy with the quality of the songs that we have written.
Dead Rhetoric: Does time between albums give you a chance to feel more refreshed when you get back into it?
Haley: To be honest, not really. We are always busy in some regards. We don’t really take any time off. We are writing and recording in between tours, so we are always trying to stay busy and work as hard as we can. In some regards, where the listener might only check us out when we put out a new album, we are always working on something. So it’s not really refreshed so much as a constant load of work [laughs], which is good. It’s not a bad thing – staying busy is awesome. We are more enthused with the band than ever, but there’s no time off.
Dead Rhetoric: How do you feel As the Kingdom Drowns represents Psycroptic in 2018?
Haley: It’s an organic progression from the last one, which was the self-titled, which was an organic progression from The Inherited Repression, and so on. It feels like a natural step. The album is just a snapshot of who we are as a band at that time. We make a musical snapshot every three or so years when we release something. It’s where we are at, in terms of being better songwriters, understanding the recording process – you can always get better at it.
It was the first time in a long time that we have had someone outside the band mix the album. Usually Joe [Haley] would record, produce, and engineer it. We tried to get out of our comfort zone so to speak, but it wasn’t a huge leap. It’s still quite a progression – there’s new elements and it sounds different again, but it all makes sense in the context for us.
Dead Rhetoric: What do you feel that having Will Putney added in having him involved with the mixing and mastering?
Haley: We basically gave him a completed album that he was able to interpret with a mix. It was great to get someone outside the band to do that. I’m not going to lie, Joe wasn’t into the idea of having someone else mix it at first, but his workload was immense. It was almost like we were taking it off of him, so he could just focus on the creative side and the engineering, instead of having to focus on mixing and mastering too. I think now, in hindsight, he could see what we were doing, but at the time he was a bit offended. But it wasn’t that – we wanted someone else to get their interpretation of what we do. It was good to get us out of our comfort zones too. After a few mix revisions, I think Will really nailed it.
Dead Rhetoric: How important has it been to keep the band moving and progressing organically? In comparing things back to the first few releases, there’s definitely some differences.
Haley: I would say that if you put all the albums together and listen to them, even though they are vastly different, the progression makes sense. We haven’t gone from one particular style and then completely changed genres. It’s more about keeping it interesting and exciting for us. We don’t live off the band, so we don’t have any monetary pressure to put out the same album, so we want to keep it interesting as well as doing something new and different.
The majority of our fans have stuck with us with these changes and they dig what we are into. You still get the occasional person who doesn’t like what we do now and want us to go back and do one particular album. But in the end, who cares? That album’s there and you can go listen to it. We aren’t going to make a part II of anything. That’s pretty boring. We want to keep it something that we are enthused about, and aren’t just going through the motions. I think that’s the reason we have managed to stick around this long.
Dead Rhetoric: What do you feel the balance of intricacy and catchiness needs to look like to be successful?
Haley: Catchiness takes precedence over any sort of technicality for technicality’s sake. To be perfectly honest, I get bored a lot by technical bands. I don’t view us as that technical, even though we have a tech death tag attached to us. I think it’s more just how we play our instruments together. It’s all about the riffs and the grooves – the song is paramount. If the song’s not catchy, then what’s the point? You might as well just upload videos or audio of you practicing styles or drum parts. I couldn’t be less enthused by that. It sounds horrendously boring. I guess the style that we play is intricate, but not technical. The word technical makes it sound cold and un-emotive. You can have something intricate but it’s still natural. That’s the side that we would err on.
Dead Rhetoric: With your brother and yourself the only original members remaining, how much of the sound is based on your interactions?
Haley: I’d say that Joe is the primary songwriter without a doubt. Creatively, it’s almost like the Psycroptic sound is his sound. I will definitely help with the structures and the overall vision for the end result. Something like having a few songs work together and knowing that we need a slow one in there. Or judging tempos of a song. So I will help with the construction of it, but Joe is definitely the one that’s writing the riffs. The sound comes together with the four of us collectively. Even though we have had member changes, they have been spaced out and it didn’t really affect the music that was being created. Joe is the creative music mastermind behind everything.
Dead Rhetoric: Could you talk about the cover art, because it’s really gorgeous.
Haley: Yeah, the artwork is amazing. It was done by a Polish artist, Mariusz [Lewandowsky]. I had seen his work before. He did the Bell Witch Mirror Reapers album and when I saw that, I said, “Wow! This is amazing!” At the time, I didn’t think about using him as an artist, because we weren’t in that phase at the time. When it came up though, just randomly I hit him up to see if he was interested. We sent him over a whole bunch of lyrics, and maybe 10 of his pieces we liked.
We didn’t give him any guidelines in particular. We liked his style, so we gave him some lyrics and just wanted to see what he would come back with. You are always going to get a better result if you let the artist you choose work within a loose framework where they are artistically free. I’m not going to tell an artist how to paint – they are the artist. Just as they aren’t going to tell me out to play drums or help write a song. So you choose artists for their talents, and if you let them go free, they will come up with some pretty sick results.
Dead Rhetoric: Looking at your drumming approach over the years, how do you feel that it has advanced and changed?
Haley: Definitely evolved – it’s a constant battle to be honest. To play this style of music there’s a level of just general maintenance that you have to do physically to be able to perform. A lot of time goes into that. But you always try to advance. I’m always trying to get better at the instrument. But it’s often the case of, if you don’t use it you lose it. You can always be better. It’s a lifetime pursuit.
There will be a point in my life where physically, I can’t play this style of music anymore – let’s not sugarcoat it. You can’t play this type of music forever. Maybe when that happens, I will go into other creative realms, or explore other things on the instrument that might intrigue me down the line. At this point in time, I love playing the metal style primarily, but I do try to practice other genres and techniques. I think once you get into music wholeheartedly, you are a lifer. You have no choice. It’s just what I’m doing.
Dead Rhetoric: I was looking through some other interviews you’ve done. Are you still teaching drumming?
Haley: Yeah, I still teach. I do it as much as I can. It’s not my primary source of income. I’ve got about 4-5 litte jobs that I do that make up my living, which is cool because I’m only teaching students that I enjoy teaching. I’m not teaching everyone. I still really enjoy it and I think it’s important that if you have any sort of artistic or creative pursuit, that you actually teach it. In teaching it, you solidify your understanding of it, and you are responsible for passing on the tradition as well. Teaching is as beneficial for me as it is for my students.
Dead Rhetoric: What do you feel are the most important aspects to hone in on when teaching?
Haley: Keeping them enthused with the instrument first. Everyone has a different agenda and motivation. Early on, it might feel like you have to teach this rudiment or that, but I think that’s missing the point. It’s keeping the student enthused and wanting to learn more. That would be the primary role as the teacher – keeping them wanting to play drums.
As a secondary thing, then it would be the other elements. It’s going to be different for every student – their age, their goals, their spare time, their personality. Everything is a factor. Every student is completely different in approach. There are some core things that need to be taught, but if I scare away the student or if I don’t connect with them, then I’m not doing my job.
Dead Rhetoric: What do you feel continues to drive the death metal genre forward at this point?
Haley: I think there’s always going to be people that enjoy pushing music to the extreme. I don’t think that will ever go away. In car racing, people always want to go faster. In Olympic sports, people want to run faster. So in extreme music, there will be those who want to be more extreme than the bands before them. That is again subjective – what’s more extreme and intense. It has got room to move, evolve, and change. Just as every music style has done. I don’t know where it’s going to go, but I don’t think it’s going to go away. It’s always going to be around in some sort of context.
Dead Rhetoric: You had paid to ‘adopt’ a Tasmanian devil at one point, correct?
Haley: We paid the upkeep for the devil for a certain period of time. We thought it was a cool thing to do because it’s so iconic to our state. The devils, over the last few years, have been endangered as a species, so we thought we should give something back. We tried to figure out a way we could make a small difference. So we put on a benefit show of raising money to adopt one for a year and pay off all of it’s costs. It was a cool thing to be a part of.
Dead Rhetoric: I don’t remember the details, but it has to do with some sort of cancer/tumor in their mouths right?
Haley: Yeah, there’s a facial tumor that they can spread through blood. They fight a lot so it just decimated the population. I think about 90% of them were wiped out. I do believe there has been some recent breakthroughs and they are combatting it. But as a precaution, they isolate healthy devils from the population. That’s the area that we supported. So we supported a devil that was isolated in order to keep healthy populations alive.
Dead Rhetoric: What plans are up between now and early next year?
Haley: We have quite an extensive Australian tour in late November, so that will be both capital cities and regional areas there. Then we are working on both European and US tours. There will be a lot of shows between now and mid-next year. We are piecing together at the moments. It looks like we will do a US headliner in April of next year. That’s what we are working on, and are looking forward to it.