Theocracy – All About GratitudeThursday, 17th November 2016
Dead Rhetoric: How important has friendship been in developing Theocracy to attain a foothold and career? Is it a tightrope balancing act between your music endeavors while also making a living with outside full-time careers?
Smith: Yes, it’s very tough. It’s the hardest thing I would say. Lucky for us, it’s not like our workload is that demanding- it’s not like we are on the road for 360 days of the year. It’s reasonable, but it definitely can be hard. The friendships… the reason I got into this is I love to write songs, that’s what I love, the studio, the creative process, the sonics, being able to get my thoughts out. In a way, the ancillary stuff is secondary. The friendship thing is very important – I don’t know how I could go to all the trouble it is to keep a band going, dealing with personalities and scheduling, if we didn’t get along. All of the guys are great guys, I’m very lucky and thankful for that. We all get along wonderfully, no drama or big egos- it’s about as good of a situation as I possibly could ask for.
Dead Rhetoric: Athens, Georgia is known as a college music haven, especially during the 70’s/80’s with bands like the B-52’s and R.E.M. making it big on the national scene. What else stands out living there – as I’d imagine it’s not exactly a metal mecca?
Smith: No it’s not. It’s funny, especially early on in our career we would get asked about this a lot. It’s such a great music town- it must be so wonderful for you! (laughs) Well, I love my hometown, but the music part of it has no impact on what we do. Aside from the fact that there are plenty of cool venues in town. And it’s always fun when we get to play here- but it’s not like a lot of people show up. It’s a different scene, you know. I love Athens, the biggest thing about it is it’s a college town, everything revolves around the university. Pretty much everyone around here is either attending school or works there. That’s what makes it fun- the town stays the same age, full of college kids non-stop and there’s always stuff to do. I love it here. I do look forward to club shows around here- funny enough there’s a famous venue for Athens downtown, The Georgia Theatre- which was recently renovated after a fire. We played there a couple of years ago for a benefit, and still to this day that was the best on stage sound we’ve ever had anywhere around the world.
Dead Rhetoric: How would you describe Theocracy live and do you have to work out songs differently because of certain layers you use in the studio?
Smith: I’ve never liked bands who like to use a ton of backing tracks- for vocals or anything else. Not to name bands, but there are bands that I have seen live where it’s like, why don’t you just play the CD over the PA. It’s definitely a balance to get things to the point where the songs are recognizable and everything that you need to be there is there. We will use backing stuff for orchestral parts or keyboard things here and there- other than that we are singing the harmonies and stuff will be left out and missing. That’s what is great about live shows, the audience picks up that slack. If they are all singing the chorus, it doesn’t matter that you don’t have a 50-piece choir up there singing it. Live it’s a different thing- more about the energy and the spontaneity. It’s a great balance.
Dead Rhetoric: How do you feel being on Ulterium Records – do you enjoy the small roster and support Emil gives to Theocracy as compared to being a little fish in a bigger pond of say Nuclear Blast or Metal Blade?
Smith: I do. So far they have been great for us. Emil the CEO of the company, he’s a great friend and he was a fan before he signed us. He loved the first album, so when I was trying to find a deal for Mirror of Souls, somebody put me in touch with him. So it’s great to be with a label that comes at things from that perspective. He loves the music, he loves what we are doing and what we are standing for- he believes in the same things that we do. It’s nice to feel that a) you are not constantly fighting for attention on a roster of 75 bands and b) that you are all pulling in the same direction. I’ve never had any illusions of being more than what we are. The fame or money or any of that stuff couldn’t be further from my mind. It’s been more a creative outlet for me, that hopefully will touch other people as well. Emil and Ulterium are really in tune with that. It feels right where we are with what we want to do.
Dead Rhetoric: What are your thoughts on the state of the metal industry today? If you had the power to change one aspect with unlimited resources available at your disposal, what would you change and how would you implement things?
Smith: Oh man. The first part of your question. I’m happy that it always seems like a younger generation is discovering metal and the great bands that we grew up with. It’s a pretty amazing thing. I even feel like when the whole Guitar Hero thing was blowing up a few years back, and a lot of people were complaining about it, especially the snobby musician types who wanted people to learn to play a real guitar- I just thought it was cool that so many people were discovering Iron Maiden, Metallica, bands that maybe are in their golden years and the audiences are an age range to single digits to 80-90 years old. Metal has a generational reach that I don’t know how many other styles of music achieve- I guess probably the Grateful Dead and the jam bands of the world can do that too.
As far as changing things about the industry. Specifically, I don’t know it’s hard for me to sort of pinpoint one thing. If I could change things it would be bigger picture. With all the great things that have come with the internet and the information age, I think the devaluation of art in general and working for things. It’s human nature to appreciate things more when we have to put effort into them. What I most miss are the days when people would take a risk on an album- buy it because the artwork is cool. Maybe you listen to it and it sucks, and maybe it grows on you and becomes one of your favorites. Either way you are invested. There is so much out there and people get it so easily now, and so quickly. I think so often it’s just onto the next thing. A lot of time people don’t put the time into listening to albums that they would have in the past if they don’t have 20 more albums waiting to listen to. A blind buy, a person puts more time and investment into things. The way music is consumed is the biggest thing I wish I could change.
Dead Rhetoric: Can you tell us three of your favorite albums of all-time, as well as what makes them special to you? And what have been some of your favorite concert memories from purely a fan perspective?
Smith: Number one is always Operation: Mindcrime by Queensrÿche for me. They were the band that really turned my head. As a kid I liked the hard rock stuff, and then one day I discovered them. Everybody who was into the band was blown away- the intelligence and how different what they were doing seemed to me. I would have to go with a Metallica album too for the second one- I think I’ll say even though Ride the Lightning is probably my favorite Metallica album I’m going to go with the self-titled Black album. That was the one that… and more specifically than the album, The Year in the Life studio video that chronicled the making of that record that blew my mind and got me interested in recording. The magic and the mystery of things. I’ve watched that frame by frame, trying to see where every microphone was, the settings on the gear. Those two shaped me… and the third one. It could be anywhere from Queen- Queen II, to Dream Theater. I’ll probably say there’s a German band called Edguy, a power metal band. A good friend of mine whose family owns that farmhouse, he’s their webmaster. Their album Mandrake came out in 2002, it was a big influence on what we do in Theocracy- especially in terms of the choirs and things like that. That stands out because that was the first one we were waiting for as fans, we were checking the mail everyday waiting for it to arrive. Tobias Sammet their lead singer, we are acquaintances because of the musical connection and early on he gave me tips on the production side.
Concert memories, oh man, so many. It’s funny because I’m slightly too young to have seen my favorite bands at their apexes. Even Dream Theater and Fates Warning when they toured together, for Awake and Inside Out in 1994, I didn’t find out about them until a few months after that. I have friends older than me that brag about how they saw Iron Maiden on the Powerslave tour for $12 from the third row. Another friend of mine talked about seeing Metallica on the …And Justice for All tour. Lucky for me, ProgPower USA is about an hour away from me in Atlanta, the premiere festival for this kind of music. In a way that’s made up for all that stuff, because so many bands that we never thought would come over to the states have played live there. My best concert memories are related to that, I was at the very first one in Chicago with my girlfriend at the time who would become my wife, we drove to see Symphony X play. I remember ProgPower III with Blind Guardian, Edguy, Angra- all these killer bands. Most of my magical concert memories revolve around this festival.
Dead Rhetoric: On your personal Facebook page, there are many photos related to the Boston Celtics – are they one of your favorite sports teams, and what do you love about them?
Smith: They are actually. This goes back to childhood- my dad was big into the Celtics, especially in the Bird era of the 1980’s. Growing up in Athens, you are sort of indoctrinated into Georgia football, but outside of that these were my early sport memories. I’ve always kept up my fandom- it’s actually kind of fun. The other guy I was talking about with the Edguy stuff and the farmhouse, he’s a huge Hawks fan. We both have greatly contrasting memories of those Hawks-Celtics battles of the 1980’s, and I love talking smack to him about those games, and he gives me some ribbing. I’m happy to see what happens now in the Al Horford era, maybe they will make some strides in the East this year.
Dead Rhetoric: How do you see the next twelve months shaping up for Theocracy activities? Will there be another special Christmas recording this holiday season?
Smith: The second part, I don’t know yet. We actually… we were walking out of rehearsal a couple of days ago and I said something about doing another Christmas song. I don’t know, being gone most of November to Europe is going to be tough, but we are kicking ideas around. As far as the next year or so- tour in Europe, an album release show in Atlanta we are doing December 3rd, and then everything beyond that is still in the talking stages. We are thinking about that little US tour idea, I have also wanted to do a covers EP for a while, so that might happen next. Maybe next year, not really sure- something like 5 songs. Also, the label wants us to compile all the Christmas stuff and officially release an album of all the songs so far. I would assume they would kind of be updated and remixed a little bit. People always ask for that, and I really don’t know why because they are available for a free download. That’s kind of the whole idea behind this, they are Christmas songs as a gift. I guess people want to have them all in one place, so we are talking about finally doing that next year. Those are the things we are juggling in the air at the moment. Maybe we will do a couple of new ones and release them on there.
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