Signs of the Swarm – Heavy Is A FeelingSunday, 6th August 2023
Photo: Andre Giovanni
There’s a huge swirl of underground buzz percolating to the larger metal scene when it comes to deathcore. Thanks to the explosive popularity of Lorna Shore, you hear other artists gather momentum as followers seek out more of what they desire to quench that fixation. From Pittsburgh, PA, Signs of the Swarm is another act surging, signing with Century Media for their fifth album Amongst the Low & Empty. Probably delivering their widest array of material to date, these gentlemen incorporate elements of industrial, metalcore, djent, and death to keep interest elevated. We reached out to drummer Bobby crow to provide insight into the work on the new record, the personal lyrical content relevant to this album, what it’s like joining Century Media versus their time on Unique Leader, specific game changing tours, bucket list goals, as well as their busy road schedule ahead.
Dead Rhetoric: The latest album for Signs of the Swarm is Amongst the Low & Empty – the fifth studio record in the band’s brief career. Where would you assess this album in the band’s discography in terms of the material and the overall final product, especially compared to 2021’s Absolvere?
Bobby Crow: I would say this record feels a lot more natural. We did a lot more trusting of our guts. We wrote this record very quickly. Most of the records we would write at my house and have tons of time, years to work on them and go over parts. We wrote most of this album, 75% of this, in the studio. We would go through a song, like it, make little changes here and there, but it was a lot of fun. We went hard. We always try to take parts of our records and keep a certain sound, but we are always trying to outdo ourselves and do something cool. With this record, a lot of the stuff we usually do we tried to think what’s something different, left field, while keeping it exciting, heavy, and crazy. We tried to stay away from symphonic sounds, a lot of bands are doing that now and doing it really well. What are other sounds that we could do to maybe get that same kind of feeling, that’s unique for our band, versus our older records?
Dead Rhetoric: Do you think the lineup changes also had a little bit of impact on this new record?
Crow: Yes. We’ve had a lot of lineup changes over the years. We are a very busy band, we work a lot, we tour a lot. There have been a lot of players in and out – mostly guitar players. Our first two records, and some of the third record, most of those people are not in the band anymore outside of myself. The sound changes, but I do a lot of the songwriting now and I’ve been with the band pretty much since the very beginning. I still have the context of how we wrote things and how we go about things. Try to stay true to that to an extent, but I think this record is very big. We trusted our guts on it, and it’s a great representation of the people who are in the band. The personalities, the sound you hear you can tell where the influences come from. I think it’s really cool.
We wrote this as a three-piece, and I did most of the songwriting. It’s a little bit more of a focused sound, less people trying to pull you into another direction. It definitely makes a difference, probably for the better in my opinion.
Dead Rhetoric: How did the pandemic affect this record? Did you find you had more time to dig deeper into the smaller details?
Crow: Not so much with this one. With our last record, our fourth record, we wrote that record during the pandemic. That was a big turning point for us, we had a lot of time to reflect on the stuff we like performing live, and things that might go over better or worse with the crowd. We paid attention to the things that we really enjoy more than others and capitalize on that. Make the most out of the stuff we want to do while also making people happy. We didn’t have a time to dive deep. We did a lot of touring. If it feels good and sounds good, we ran with it.
Dead Rhetoric: What was it like working with producer Josh Schroeder for this record – as he is certainly a hot commodity given his work with Lorna Shore recently? Were there specific areas that he helped push the band or get different ideas across that you never took into consideration that worked out well in the end?
Crow: Yeah, absolutely. He’s absolutely insane, in the best way, and I love it. He’s been doing this… obviously Lorna Shore is probably his biggest success story, but he’s been doing this since I was in diapers. I’m 28 now, he started out about 25 years ago with his own bands. There are a lot of contexts there, it makes for a very comfortable working environment. He does a great job of not pulling you in one direction or another but making you comfortable to do the best that you can do. He’s very thoughtful. He taught me a lot about songwriting. How to grab people’s attention, keep it, but also make it interesting. The difference between hype versus substance in music. How to lay things out – especially working on a computer, how to properly organize things and make everything efficient. It changed my perspective on songwriting a lot, he was definitely a guiding light.
He definitely pushed us too. It’s nice to have someone push you, not just like, kind of push you. He will push you as far as you can go, and that’s something for sure. It’s all well received.
Dead Rhetoric: Where did you want to come across with the lyrical content on this record?
Crow: David is our vocalist, and I personally don’t do a lot of lyric writing. Dave does the majority of it, and our bass player Mike is very smart and works well with words. Those two together worked for the first time on an album, locking themselves in a room, bounce stuff off of each other with different words, different phrasings. Josh would really push Dave to really move things around, pronounce things with different enunciations. See where he could really go. Dave pulls from within himself, we used to do more outer things that are happening in the world, whether it’s religion, government, life. In the last few records, it’s been more so personal to Dave, and I like that. The parts are really catchy, they have a purpose. He’s done a great job of putting himself into the music.
And also, Dave is very smart. We try to make our lyrics match up with the music in a way. We will have parts with the drums and guitars, noises that repeat, they will happen multiple times and he does a great job with referencing those lyrically. We have a song “Shackles Like Talons”, there’s a big part where everything fades out, and that kicks back in and his lyric choices for that stuff is awesome. The main lyric there is ‘fades away’… it makes it a piece of music rather than just a metal song. I love that.
Dead Rhetoric: Can you describe the atmosphere or aesthetic you were going for when it comes to the cover art for the new record?
Crow: Amongst the Low & Empty, it’s a song we had talked about off and on for a while, it was a lyric idea David had for the last record. One of the songs, “Tower of Torsos”, we wanted to reference that because it sounds awesome. If you zoom in on the bodies, you see this pillar of torsos. The vinyl inside, you’ll see more details, all the bodies all the way up and down. We originally had a different plan for the front, we had a figure for the front, so we wanted to keep that in there, it’s in the booklet. There is a dark spot in the middle, it sucks you in and grabs your attention. A lot of happy accidents. The more things build up, you reference other things, and it makes sense.
Dead Rhetoric: How does it feel to be a part of the Century Media roster after spending the past three albums on Unique Leader? What differences have you seen so far when it comes to the staff, the promotion, and the publicity?
Crow: Firstly, I’d like to say, I have a lot of respect for Unique Leader, and I really appreciate them. Especially Erik (Lindmark), the founder of Unique Leader who passed away a few years ago. He was the first person to take a chance on our band, at all. We had small management who were basically just our friends. He got our name out there, and a lot of fans of that label are not big fans of deathcore. He saw that in us, and Jamie (Graham) took over and he was really good to us. We kept growing and we wanted to do something bigger. We talked to some of the people at Century Media, and a bunch of other labels. The people made a big difference – not only is it a great team, but they also have a good system and a good schedule. Unique Leader was mainly based in the UK, and Century Media has people that work here in LA and NY even with their home base in Germany. That ease of access and ability to communicate with people, it makes for a great team. They wanted to have us as people, not just our music. That was very enticing to us.
I’ve been listening to Century Media bands my whole life. I never really considered that they would be a possibility until that came rolling around. I’m very grateful for those people.
Dead Rhetoric: Even though you always have deathcore as the main platform of this band stylistically, it seems that the new record incorporates other outside influences from djent to industrial, as well as metalcore and death. Are you consistently looking to expand horizons as naturally as possible while keeping the essence of Signs of the Swarm top of mind?
Crow: Yeah, absolutely – that’s a perfect way of summing it up. We are very influenced by different styles of music. I grew up on anything from country to r & b to metalcore – aside from the o.g. metal bands like Slayer, Cannibal Corpse, Slipknot, I listened to a lot of indie rock, pop/punk, all different kinds of bands. When we wrote this record, it was very much whatever came naturally. We’ve always tried to reach into the industrial side, we really like sound effects and the energy that adds to metal music. Some of my favorite bands are Fear Factory, Meshuggah, very rhythmic, very heavy and interesting with their soundscaping. It helps to meld things together. You can have styles that sound different, and put it all together to make a nice, cohesive piece of music.
The metalcore thing kind of happened accidentally. My teenage years were mostly metalcore. We just want to be a heavy band. We have done the slam thing, the slow breakdowns, things like that – I just feel like you can only go so far in that direction. How do we elaborate on the band now? We’ve done super slow, we’ve done super-fast, so I think trying to do that and maintain that sound but make it catchier with something that gets stuck in your head, and more than just because it’s brutal. We are trying to make music that we can relate to and other people can relate to in the same way. It comes out in melody, and metalcore especially, the catchy rhythms, the syncopated patterns. We’ve gone on tour with bands, and we’ve seen what really resonates with the crowd, things that make you move. We have noticed that in playing our new songs on tour, the energy jumps up in the room, everyone starts moving. We have to do whatever feels right at the time.
Dead Rhetoric: Having the opportunity to tour the globe, how do you approach the live performance aspect compared to the studio recordings? What makes for an ideal show experience – and does it differ when playing a small, sweaty club versus the larger festival settings?
Crow: We are starting to learn what people seem to enjoy and react to live versus what they enjoy better on the records. We have songs that are a little longer that can be epic and cover a little more ground, and songs that are bangers, riff, riff, keep the energy going. That’s a good point, it’s often pretty different… this will be the first time doing some of the bigger festivals versus the smaller stages/rooms. In the small rooms, usually what gets the crowd going is the really aggressive, heavy shit. When you are in a bigger place, you try to reach the people in the back too. In the past, I used to just pay attention to the people up front, and make them throw down. As we’ve been playing to some bigger crowds over the past few years, I find myself if we are playing a venue that has a balcony, I can’t see them, I’d like to see them moving their head. I want to make that person enjoy it to the same level as the people down in front.
Our music on this record covers more of that ground. The jumpy vibe to keep people interested. I want to get everybody in a room to enjoy it. I love seeing that.
Dead Rhetoric: Do you think there was a tour or two that may have been specific gamechangers for the band to expand your following?
Crow: We’ve been fortunate in the last few years to branch out a lot. We went to Asia for the first time probably five years ago. We’ve been twice since, every time we go back it’s huge. The first time we went there, we thought no one would show up, no one would care – but the crowds were so kind and considerate, so happy to have us. In the United States, you can go to a venue during the week and always see something. It doesn’t happen as much over there.
Here in the states the Chaos and Carnage tour was a huge turning point, it was some of the biggest crowds we played with. Off and on we’ve done many tours with Lorna Shore, being on Chaos with them when the singles for their new record were coming out, it was very good for us as we are in that same genre. They’d get exposed to us for the first time. We did Whitechapel this year, that was good. They are a huge influence for us, when we are writing we think about them a lot. Not so much in the sound but in the energy they convey. They are a deathcore band that can reach that person in the back. This is our first year doing the major festivals in Europe, which I hope is going to be huge. Anything we can do to get to more people, it’s what I want. I love meeting people, and we are here to have a good time.
Dead Rhetoric: What are your thoughts on the state of the metal music industry currently? It seems like over the past few years, there’s been a steady growth of more extreme bands garnering healthier followings – does this excite you and open horizons for what success may mean for your efforts as well?
Crow: Yeah. It’s strangely since the pandemic we have noticed a big surge in attendance and also in our streaming numbers. People are taking things for granted less than they were before. It might be slowing down, but that first year to a year and a half for COVID was crazy. It was great for underground bands. Huge bands and artists are talking about deathcore for the first time. Demi Lovato on Sirius Metal. Seeing it in movies again. In the early 2000’s I remember you had a lot of nu-metal and metalcore on movie soundtracks, and that was lost for a while. Video games like Doom – huge for metal. It’s the first time I bet a lot of people have heard a low-tuned, eight string guitar and death metal drums.
That lends itself to our music being able to expand and do different things. Maybe five years ago we would never make a record like this record. It wouldn’t have felt right. We can branch out, do different things, and do what we want. Especially deathcore is a genre now where you can go wherever you want with it. Heavy is more of a feeling than a sound.
Dead Rhetoric: How would you describe your approach as a drummer within Signs of the Swarm? Where do you think you’ve grown or evolved from your early days to your approach now?
Crow: I’m a drummer at heart, I’ve been playing drums for twenty years now which is crazy. I do a lot of the songwriting, I play guitar, use the computer on that end of things. Being more creative when I sit behind the kit, drums are a language for me. I’ll be sitting with my fiancé, she’ll play me drummers on Instagram, and I can pick out who it is, how they speak. I love that. I grew up trying to go fast, I did drumline and all these things that forced me to focus on myself. I grew up in a time where YouTube wasn’t a big thing or the internet, I developed my own style from teachers and being in band. I am grateful to have that fundamental understanding, playing the role of being a supportive musician. When I get the moments to shine, I cherish them.
Dead Rhetoric: What’s on the bucket list for Signs of the Swarm to accomplish over the next three to five years in terms of building the brand of the band?
Crow: We are locked onto Century for a few more records, so the plan is to keep going. We want to be in an even better position. We are a band that tours a lot – touring is our bread and butter. A huge bucket list item for me would be to go to South America, as the fans there are incredible. I would love to play the main stage at Download Festival – that’s been a huge goal for me and everybody. We’ve been fighting to get into this European festival circuit for years, and we’ve done a lot of tours to get to this point.
Dead Rhetoric: When you feel overwhelmed and start to lose focus in life, what sorts of things do you like to do to regain focus and perspective?
Crow: I’m a pretty calm guy. I have a wonderful fiancé, and we’ve been trying to get married but obviously the band life keeps me very busy. I try to go back to my roots, visit my family because I don’t do that often. My mom lives out in the middle of nowhere in the sticks, and I go out on the farm, hang out, and have some food. It’s very centering for me. If music didn’t ever work out, I have that sense of grounding. I like this part of life as well. I love taking walks with the dog. I love video games too – sitting down and reconnecting with my friends before band life. I try to make the most of my time at home since we are gone so often. There is another part of life outside of being a deathcore drummer.
Dead Rhetoric: How do you see the next twelve months shaping up for the band in terms of touring, promotion, etc.?
Crow: We are going to be very busy this year. We are already booking (tours) into 2024. Keep your eyes out. We will do a full Europe and UK run, a full US tour with Carnifex later this year. We are trying to book a headline tour. Looking well into the end of 2024 before we start working on new music.