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Metal/Prog Metal Interviews

Usurper

Interviewed by Mike Korn
Interview Usurper's Jon Necromancer From 2003


MSJ: This interview is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2003 Year Book Volume 3 at lulu.com/strangesound.

What's the current Usurper line-up, Jon? I understand there's been a change in the drumming department.
Yeah, our old drummer Dave Hellstorm was on our new album "Twilight Dominion", but he was getting sick of the band, he didn't want to tour any more, he didn't want to commit the time and the effort. We did a tour with Manowar in April last year and after that, he expressed the fact that he was kind of ready to step down. We kept him on for the album and he did really good on it, but after that he left, and we've jammed with a couple different guys since then. There's one guy we're probably gonna keep but we're gonna jam with him for a couple more weeks and make sure. Everything's pretty much taken care of, though. Other than that, the line-up's the same: Rick Scythe on guitars, "The General" Diabolical Slaughter on vocals, myself Jon Necromancer on bass and Carcass Chris on guitar.
MSJ: Were you pretty satisfied with how "Twilight Dominion" turned out?
Oh yeah, this turned out the closest to the vision we had for it of any album we've worked on. You always have an idea before you go in the studio what an album is going to be like but it never comes out exactly the way you want it to. But this one is definitely the closest that it's ever been...about 99.9%. The sound came out balanced; the songs came out well. It was cool after all the rehearsals to go into the studio and hear it played back. You're more used to playing the song than listening to it.  

MSJ: What was it like working with super-producer Neil Kernon?
Neil was great! He's a riot. At first, our label Earache suggested Neil and we were open to suggestions. We knew all the albums he producer before, and we were nervous about him being a big time producer, a Grammy award winner and all this stuff. We thought he might be some hot shot coming in and tearing apart the Usurper sound. We just wanted a guy who could get us the right sound and be laid back and real easy to get along with. We had Neil come out to a few practices and he was great. We sat around, shot the breeze, drank some beer and played all the tunes. He liked everything, and we went into the studio with him. Totally laid back guy, hysterically funny. He didn't try to tamper with anything. He made us perform better because there was an unseen pressure on us. It was like "Oh man, we really gotta kick a** on this one!" and that helped us kick it up a notch.
MSJ: He seems to now be gravitating towards heavier material because he cut his teeth on Queensryche and bands like that.
Believe it or not, he engineered on the first Judas Priest album "Rocka Rolla" back in the day. So he's done heavier stuff before things were really heavy. There was a period in the early 80's where he actually did a couple of Hall and Oates albums. He said he just got sick of doing that pop crap, y'know...it was too pansy-ish for him! (laughter) He just likes a heavier sound and he's got a knack for getting that sound.
MSJ: "Twilight Dominion" has got quite a variety of material on it. Some of it is quite catchy, some of it is screaming thrash, some is quite epic. Was getting all these diverse sounds under one roof what you meant by getting the album just right?
Yeah, partially. For us, our most experimental album was "Skeletal Season", which we did back in 98. We tried to make that a "headphones" album. You know, where you put on headphones and you get all these different tones and effects. But that all came out like s***! (laughter) We were happy with it but...
MSJ: I thought that was like the Celtic Frost type album.
Sure, but you know, we tried to do some eerie feedback and strange subliminal messages. It didn't work out, so when we did "Necronemesis", our idea was to get more back to basics and do a more straightforward album...headbanging the whole time. You didn't have to listen so hard; it was easier to get into. With "Twilight Dominion", we wanted to combine the two...we wanted to have something to scream along with and headbang to but at the same time insert some stranger and more unusual elements into it.
MSJ: There's no way you're going to confuse one song for another on this album.
Yeah, we are influenced by older bands like Slayer. Every album Slayer up to a certain point sounded uniquely different but you knew it was Slayer. "Show No Mercy", "Hell Awaits", "Reign in Blood"...every one was undeniably Slayer, but it was a different sounding album. And then each song on the album sounded different. Each song meant something, there was an identity to each and every song and that's what we always appreciated and tried to strive for ourselves. Sometimes it turns out better than others, but with the new one, it really seemed to stand out more.
MSJ: Let me play devil's advocate now and ask what your response would be to somebody who says Usurper can't be taken seriously because of their image?
I don't know, I guess I just don't get it. We're a serious band, we're a real band, we're not like one of these supergroups that gets together once a year and writes an album in the studio. We practice three or four times a week, we hang out with each other, we're the real deal! We're totally into metal; we're into that old Destruction, Slayer type image. That's where we got the Usurper look from and anyone who can't take it seriously, I guess that's their loss.
MSJ: I was fascinated by the song "Vatican Time Machine" on your record. What exactly is the story behind this one?
It's a pretty ridiculous story. I read the lyrics and said, "you gotta be kiddin' me"! (laughs) It's about this guy who's a priest at the Vatican, Father Arnetti, who tried to invent a device so he could go back in time and view the Crucifixion. The device was called the Chronovisor. I don't know what the scientific theory is behind how the device works...I think it captured old light and sound waves like an old recording.
MSJ: One of the things that fascinates me about Usurper is your lyrics. Superficially, it seems to be the usual monsters and demons type stuff, but if you examine it closer, the songs all look at strange phenomena in a different way.
That's exactly right. Two guys write the lyrics in the band. Rick Scythe the guitar player writes about 50%, and The General, our singer, writes the rest. You can tell the difference between the two. The General tends to write more abstractly, more of the gung-ho metal lyrics. Rick's tend to be more about the paranormal. He's totally into that stuff by John Keel; he's into that weird, underground stuff. He reads a ton of stuff and writes about what he comes across in his reading, whether it's UFO abduction, Hollow Earth theory, stuff like that.
MSJ: I have an interest in that myself. I know you've done songs about Mothman and the Beast of Gevaudan.
I know for sure that Mothman was the basis of "Dismal Wings of Terror" off of "Skeletal Seasons".
MSJ: It blew my mind when I saw quotes from John Keel on your lyric booklet.
Actually, John Keel sent Rick an email. It freaked him out at first, because it said, "Oh, I see you've ripped off the idea behind my Mothman book. You'll be hearing from my attorney!" But then he wrote back and said he was just kidding. Actually, Rick and John Keel wound up corresponding with each other, it's pretty cool.
MSJ: Did you ever see "The Mothman Prophecies"?
No, I'll generally steer clear of anything with one of the Baldwins in it! (laughter) Actually, Rick saw it and he said it was totally gay.
MSJ: What's the most fascinating phenomenon that you think Usurper has covered?
Oh man, there's so many. Actually, "Dismal Wings of Terror" and the whole Mothman thing is my personal favorite.
MSJ: You had a song that dealt with The Philadelphia Experiment...
Yeah, "Full Metal Maelstrom"! That's a fascinating story that lends itself quite well to our style. The title's kind of a tongue-in-cheek stab at "Full Metal Jacket". (laughs) I dunno, we're just weird!
MSJ: What's your favorite track on "Twilight Dominion"?
Well, it's hard, because we have such a connection with all these songs. "Metal Lust", the opening track, is a total headbangable favorite, but I think "Vatican Time Machine" might actually be my favorite! It's a real simple, straightforward riff. Originally, we were going to use it as a bonus track. Rick wrote the whole track in five minutes, including the lyrics. It came right to him, he brought it to practice and told us "I came up with this song, it's kinda cheesy, it's kinda rocking, maybe we'll use it for the bonus track." We all learned it quick and said, "that's going on the album". It's really impossible not to headbang when you're playing it. It's so metal! Just chug a beer, raise your fist, go friggin' nuts to it!
MSJ: I liked "The Oath of Silence" myself.
Yeah! That was The General's baby actually. It's based on "The Lord of the Rings"...the General is a complete "LOTR" nut. He brought it to Rick and said, "write an epic sounding song to go with these lyrics", and he did and it turned out pretty cool.
MSJ: There's a guitar solo in that song that's so metal, it will bring tears to the eyes of every headbanger who has an Exodus patch on the back of his denim vest!
(laughs) That's great, man! I'll have to tell Chris that tonight at practice, he'll love that line. This was the first album that Chris did with us, and he's been a good addition to the band. Rick had been talking about it for years, and he asked me what I thought about adding a guitarist. I said, I dunno, let's leave it a four piece. But eventually we decided to try it and it's one of the best things we've ever done. Chris has a good ear for solos; he knows what to put where.
MSJ: What do you think about the current state of the American metal scene?
I think it's kinda depressing. Everything seems to be veering towards nu metal. How can you even use the word "metal" to classify that stuff? I mean, there's chance things might fall back in metal's direction but more likely it will go back to rap, like it always seems to anymore.  

MSJ: Do you think metal is better off being underground instead of the big thing it was back in the late 80's?
Absolutely. That's what makes extreme metal so cool, it's like being part of a cool elite crowd that no one else understands. Some people get it, you can sit down and drink with them and shoot the s*** about metal for hours, and then most think you're a complete lunatic.  

MSJ: I get more of the latter than the former.
Yeah, me, too! And that's what makes it so cool. There's no room to be a poser anymore. In the old days, it was "poser this" and "poser that". Now it's only the diehards that are left. It's probably good what's happened with the metal scene lately because the underground is now REALLY underground.  

MSJ: What was the last CD you got for your own enjoyment?
It was the new Darkthrone album "Hate Them".
MSJ: I heard they recorded that in about 20 hours.
(laughs) That's the great thing about Darkthrone, they're so primitive!
MSJ: And the last concert you went to?
Hmmm, it's been a while. It was probably Motorhead the last time they came to town. Every time Motorhead comes to town, I'm a guaranteed ticket sale.
MSJ: What was your Spinal Tap moment?
(laughs) We played in Cleveland in 97 and we were joking about "Spinal Tap" the whole way out there. We're totally drunk, we jump on stage, The General grabs the mike and yells "HELLO, CLEVELAND!" You can't get much more Spinal Tap than that!
MSJ: You didn't wind up in the boiler room?
No, the club only held about 200 people. If we got lost there, we'd really be in trouble!
 
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