The Absence – Dig out the Coffins

Tuesday, 29th June 2021

Still doing their thing, now for almost 20 years and five albums, the vicious death metal of The Absence has its addictive qualities. The aggressive melodies and catchy hooks keep you right into it, helping them to carve out a name for themselves over the years. We caught up with vocalist Jamie Stewart for another round of conversation for the band’s latest, Coffinized. You can see his thoughts about the album, the influence of geography, what he’s taken and learned from the band, and more below.

Dead Rhetoric: So do you feel that you guys feel like you are back in the groove, coming off of the longer time between albums?

Jamie Stewart: Yeah, it was more of a ‘hit the ground running’ kind of thing. We released the record, did some touring, did some videos and whatnot. We ran the album cycle, worked on other projects that we have going on and our other endeavors and the time felt right to start writing again. As per usual, with the way that Taylor [Nordberg] writes, he just kind of runs with it. He hit a streak and just kept pumping out songs. Before we knew it, it was a full-length record. We may have toyed with the idea of an EP, but regardless, we had a bunch of songs to figure out what would be on the album. It took a few years – it felt like a normal band-type occurrence, which hadn’t happened in a while. The space between album three and album four was eight years [laughs]. This felt way more organic and locked in.

Dead Rhetoric: At this point, Coffinized is your fifth album. How do you balance keeping some degree of consistency with innovation?

Stewart: I think it just comes from personal growth. We are all very much our own individual people. We all like a lot of the same stuff, but what makes it magical is that we all like a lot of different things. We have never afraid to implement that – whether it’s a songwriting structure, or a melody, scale, or vocal cadence. So I think, with innovation, it’s that moreso than ever, we are really at a point where we just don’t care what people think.

We are making this music for ourselves first. It has to be something we all like, but without sacrificing the framework of the house. You can refurbish a house, but if it doesn’t have a good foundation or sturdy build, it’s going to crumble. So keeping that in mind, I think the ability to push yourself and not make the same record over and over are completely there. There’s a lot of things that can influence you. That’s something we have always done, but maybe it shines through a bit more these days. Maybe it’s getting older? I’m not sure.

Dead Rhetoric: So what would you say the foundation of The Absence is?

Stewart: Definitely Swedish death metal [laughs]. I don’t even want to say melodic death metal in general, but just Swedish bands – I can speak personally that when it came to death metal in general, the Swedish stuff is what nabbed me. Even bands like Entombed or Dismember. Edge of Sanity is the reason this band exists, because of a conversation I had with our former guitar player in the middle of the street. We both realized that we liked this slightly obscure Swedish death metal band. All of these Swedish bands had this underlying sense of melody that came with their music. Carcass was, and still is, a major influence for us.

Obviously, stuff like At the Gates and other bands that came in through the second wave. That’s kind of where we picked up, as far as age bracket goes, being able to discern music on your own. Speaking from personal experience, I kind of caught on about that age. Entombed had already been out, Dismember and At the Gates had already been out and had put out Slaughter of the Soul right before that. A lot of bands were either breaking up or done, but I would say that would be the foundation of the band.

Also, death metal and thrash. Metallica, I think everybody can check that off on the list as being an influence. Although Taylor would say Megadeth – he’s a huge fan. But that old school thrash. Any band with melodies and ripping solos, especially if they had two guitars. Again, I have to bring up Carcass with Mike Amott and Bill Steer completely shredding your face off with this virtuoso level of guitar playing but then go into this insanely disgusting death metal dirge of music outside of the leads.

Dead Rhetoric: That said, what do you feel Coffinized does that has a slight tweak to it in your ears?

Stewart: I think, especially with the song “Coffinized” in particularly, I think there’s a lot of classic elements there in what we do as a band. With the songwriting itself, how the first chorus drops down and becomes this really big build up that feels cinematic and emotional – that’s what tied into the making of the video as well. Dare I say, we touch on some more black metal influences when I listen to it. I can hear traces of a band like Dissection, to bring up Sweden again. But bands like that, black metal bands that can be more melodic. I can hear it in that song in particular. The new single, “Black Providence,” it isn’t the first time we have played at a mid-tempo or slower pace, but we have never really made that kind of song before. Again, it has a big build up to it. We have some industrial sounds in the background, which we also used in some other songs.

As far as messing around with that influence, bands like Ministry and Nine Inch Nails and Skinny Puppy. Nothing too crazy, but just below the surface kind of stuff. I would advise everybody to listen with headphones to pick out all of the little nuances that we slid in there. Recording it ourselves, something that Jeramie [Kling] and Taylor are very adept at – they do all of their personal projects, they recorded the last The Absence record, but Jeramie mixed it this time around, which is something we haven’t done. That also plays a part in the sound because he did such a fantastic job with it. I think just being more hands on with everything to be honest. Mike [Leon] and I, we handled the first two singles as far as videos go and Jeramie did the videos for the last record. So making it more of an in-house, DIY family event, that overall plays a big factor in it. When you deal with labels and this, that, and the other rigmarole when it comes to the business a lot of things get lost.

I think in the end, feeling more cohesive – the last record was the first one with Taylor on guitar and a songwriter. He had toured with us for years before that while we were trying to figure things out with our former guitar player. So the last record was more shaking off the dust and this time around everything was very well lubricated and fine-tuned.

Dead Rhetoric: Could you talk about the cover art for the album, it has a very cool, trippy, and bleak feel to it.

Stewart: That was created by our good friend Chad Wehrle. Mike is friends with him and had talked about a few things. If I’m not mistaken, Mike has his actual artwork tattooed on his body. He’s a pretty renowned artist, he has books out. Drawloween is one of his things, which he ended up making a book out of. He does mostly pencil art, it’s hyperdetailed and supergloomy. So with the theme Coffinized and the whole essence of the record, Mike brought him to the table. He showed us the art and we really liked it. We ended up having him do a rendition of our ‘mascot’ aka the Skullerfly. We actually gave him a name, David Lee Moth [laughs] or DLM. He did a rendition of that and it blew us all away. It was kind of like a try out.

We wanted something handcrafted. We didn’t want anymore digitally created art. No diss to that, but we have had four records of it. I wanted something more old school, something hand drawn or painted, something towards death metal in the ‘90s. I was leaning more towards a handpainted thing and he brought the pencil and paper thing, black and white, and it blew us all away. We wanted a gatefold record, so we wanted something expansive that would just wrap around. We sent the lyrics, sent the concept and explained it to him and then just let the artist be the artist. We were really impressed by the end product. Holy crap, it’s this funeral procession and its beautiful. You can zoom in on the trees and mountains, it’s got the David Lee Moth on the steeple, it’s fantastic! I have to be honest, for the first time in the history of the band, maybe other than Riders of the Plague, I was able to look at album art and felt comfortable that the artwork was really representing what we were trying to get across, lyrically and aesthetically.

When we put out Riders of the Plague, that was a pre-existing piece of art that we ended up purchasing, but this time, he just nailed it. Looking at it today, and we only just got the cd but the art wraps around because it’s a digipack so I opened it up and was like, “Wow.” It’s so beautiful and creepy. It’s so stark in contrast because of the white and the black with the grey. I feel like you could stare at it for hours. It’s the perfect album cover for this record.

Dead Rhetoric: It seems like everyone keeps busy outside of The Absence. How do you all balance everything that’s going on?

Stewart: You just have to make the time. We are all adults, but it’s not even about being adults. If it’s important to you, you make the time. It’s time management. Between Mike, who is on Twitch and he streams a lot as well as Soulfly and Cavalera Conspiracy. As far as Jeramie and Taylor, they have Inhuman Condition, Ribspreader, and a bunch of other projects. I have another band I play in called Hot Graves and an electronic project too. You have to make the time, but scheduling comes into play. You can’t just hit someone with a ‘hey, this needs to be done tomorrow.’ So there’s a significant amount of planning and letting everyone know ahead of time.

On top of everything else, we all have personal lives and partners, Jeramie’s marred and there are children involved, plus the pandemic. It’s about having all of your cards on the table and communicating. Being willing to bend a little bit – there’s no shortage of things going on. It kind of helps you see through the fog, especially with this past year. There’s no touring, so just let me make art and music, and then it helps you prioritize what is important. Sometimes schedules conflict but there’s never been anything too crazy. We are always communicative with each other and open.

Dead Rhetoric: What keeps you going, considering the span of time The Absence has been around for?

Stewart: It’s definitely an emotional release for me, first and foremost. It’s an artistic release. Speaking from a personal standpoint, it’s something I’m good at, so I want to perpetuate that and make the best music I can. We make this music for ourselves first, but immediately after that, I want my friends to like this –there’s always people’s opinions out there that you trust. But I think it’s just the need to create. If it wasn’t for this band, I make a lot of music on my own. We all do –it’s just a sheer need to be creative. There’s nothing more rewarding than that! That’s what the last album title was about, A Gift for the Obsessed. A gift for the obsessed person is really that finished product. When you make a song, or finish a painting or drawing, or the perfect recipe – whatever you are good at. The people who are artists or anyone who dedicates a certain amount of time to something – which I know doesn’t go to everyone because there’s tons of people out there that do things they don’t want to do.

But when it comes from the creative bug, there’s nothing better than that feeling, and being able to present it to yourself or the world. I think that’s a big thing that keeps me going. It’s a pretty awesome feeling. To be lined up with these guys, I have been lined up with Jeramie for about 20 years give or take. He was away from the band for a bit, and Taylor has been in the band for about 10 years, and Mike. We have put in all this time together, so to not only be creative in your own microcosm or world, but to be able to be that creative and collaborative – to make something bigger than yourself. Anyone can make something by themselves, which is great and I urge everyone to do that, but if you can find people that you can make something even more grandiose, that in itself is probably the most rewarding thing.

When it comes to making music in this band, there are only a finite amount of people that actually understand it. I was talking to the guys about it for a while ago. There have been people in and out of this band, and a lot of people that really like/love our band and buy our albums and have tattoos – they get it. But when it comes to the inner circle of making this music and crafting an The Absence song, there are only so many people that get that and I get to look at these guys and marvel at their abilities. It’s a beautiful thing. Anyone in a band that really connects will agree with that. I would rather be inspired by my friends than anyone else.

Dead Rhetoric: Do you feel that you have gained any specific knowledge by playing in The Absence over the years?

Stewart: Oh yeah, absolutely. If not from just being in the band with unique individuals, which I say in both a good and bad sense because there have been some not so great people in the band in the past. Learning about what people you want in your life versus the ones you don’t. What you are willing to put up with as a human being and what your self-worth is. Learning about the road – touring and it’s not for everyone. There’s a lot of soulcrushing ways that it can put a deterrent on you, but there are also a lot of really awesome things too. I have made some lifelong connections and friends because of this band just by playing a show and meeting someone and just having a good night – from just someone being a rad person and wanting to stay in contact or having a profound experience. Being able to go places that you would have never been able to before in your life. Things like going on the first 70,000 Tons of Metal cruise – never went on a cruise before. It was one crazy instance!

Then there’s the other side of the coin, where you are going to some no name part of America that unless you were on tour you wouldn’t go to. You aren’t going there for vacation. Unless you have family there, it’s just the most random place of all time, playing music. Some of those nights are the most magical nights. You just can’t explain it. I was playing in a laundromat in North Dakota and 80 people showed up and it was the greatest night because it doesn’t take a whole lot to have a great time and be moved by people. I think a lot of people expect a lot and they don’t get it because it doesn’t exist. They say to stop and smell the roses, and that’s been a big thing with this band. Those really weird, awkward moments of magic. I can’t even explain them because they are so weird [laughs].

Just growing as a songwriter too, and being more confident in that. Perpetually creating a style of music. I’m an original member. Our old guitarist and I started this band way back when. I have been here since day zero. To see this grow, that’s changed me too. It’s like a child. It’s something I helped nurture and create, and hopefully made someone’s life better along the way. I know it definitely has made mine better. It’s very powerful and humbling. To make music that you like is one thing, but for anyone out there in the world, to take one second out of their day to appreciate anything I have done, musical or otherwise, blows my mind to this day. I think that’s one of the biggest things too. It’s a humbling thing and I really appreciate it. I try to be as humble and appreciative as I can be, and I falter at that sometimes unfortunately. But that’s something I try to keep in mind.

In all the bands I have played in, I have been very lucky to play with some awesome people. They are family. I don’t have any brothers or sisters – it’s just been my mom and I. To feel like I have a family with brothers, and the offshoot of their family and partners, that has been a big thing. To have an extended chosen family, it’s huge in adding to the warmth to give life a little spark.

Dead Rhetoric: You mentioned a lot about Swedish influences. Being from Florida, do you take influence from the local geography as well?

Stewart: Absolutely! Pretty much all of it. Some bands that people think are from Florida actually aren’t, at least in their origin. Morbid Angel wasn’t originally from Florida and neither was Cannibal Corpse. But for all intent and purpose, they are Tampa metal bands because that’s really where they chopped it up, for lack of a better term. I know Deicide is huge, and all the big ones – Cannibal, Morbid Angel, Obituary. But even bands like Brutality. A popular band here in Tampa, but they never got the credit they deserved. Nasty Savage goes without saying. It’s not just Tampa either. Death was a band that gets lumped in too, but they are from Orlando amongst other places. They are a HUGE influence on us. Malevolent Creation, another band not from Florida originally. There’s a lot of Floridian and Tampa bands that we get down on.

We have been lucky enough to befriend and play with them too. The Obituary dudes, Terry Butler in particular, is a good friend of ours. It’s really crazy to talk to him and pick his brain, and get his stories. The Cannibal dudes, we get to hang out with them sometimes, at least pre-COVID. Deicide – Jeramie is good friend with Glenn Benton. Touring with them, it was a very jovial experience. Despite the hotness Florida, especially Tampa, is known for, when it comes to these old school cats there is a lot of love to be had. There’s a lot of really good bands that are coming out now. Carnal Ruin, from Tampa, are some friends of ours that are killing it now. They are old school, kind of Swedish sounding death metal. I am hoping that things are being able to clear up so I can see some of these people.

Dead Rhetoric: Coffinized comes out this month, anything else you guys have going on?

Stewart: We still have a few videos to release. We have one set for around when the album releases too. We have at least one more after the release. We have been recording playthroughs and other behind the scenes stuff. Other than that, we are crunching some numbers on what it will take to do a show – whether it’s live or a stream, we just have to make sure it’s done right and safely. If not, we will just keep cranking out content. We are getting a good response from the record so far, so if we don’t end up doing any shows right out, we will find a way to be interact with our peoples and have fun with it. Mike has his Twitch, and I’ve gone on there a handful of times. People just want to know stuff. They want to interact and talk and ask questions – production stuff, or meanings behind lyrics or what amps we use. At the very least, there’s a lot of interaction we can do with people. We will figure something out. Expect to hear from us even after the album drops [laughs]!

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