Most questions and transcription by Willie Strausser.
Interview conducted by Matt Longo (with random impromptu bits).
Matt Longo: So you guys left Southern Lord and started your own label, The Grind-House, in order to release your new album, Evil Power. The new label is still getting distribution from Southern Lord. What was the motivation behind making the change?
Steve Rathbone: Well, it was something that we’ve actually wanted to do for quite a long time. When we originally started the band, we had recorded a demo and basically after about 3 months after the demo had been out, we were signed to Southern Lord. So things happened really quickly and I mean we’ve had a great time with them, a great experience with them, and they’ve been really cool with us, but this is something that has been kind of like in the back of our minds as something we wanted to do and we thought this was the right record to do it with and basically the label is like a partner company of the business that I run which is The Grind-House (http://www.thegrind-house.com/) which is basically my day job. So when we started talking with Greg from Southern Lord about this, you know, he was really stoked on the idea, obviously that’s what they did when they started the label, and he was really into it and he was on board with the distribution. It’s been quite an experience having a lot more of a hands-on approach with your release. It seems like the other stuff before you just kind of let it lay in the hands of a lot of other people.
ML: You almost wanna say “take the bull by the horns,” don’t ya, but are you trying to skirt that? (Laughs)
SR: (Laughs) Yeah, right, exactly! But I mean, yeah, pun intended that’s kind of exactly what we wanted to do and so far so good. It seems like people have been really into the record.
ML: And speaking of the new record, it’s dominated by fairly shorter songs, some of which are under the 2-minute mark, whereas a lot of your older albums generally kept them in the 3-5 minute range. Was there any difference in the way you guys approached songwriting for the new album?
SR: Yeah, it was definitely a bit of a concept. The last album, War Metal Battle Master, was about Ares, the God of War, and basically a story kind of about his rise and also about this period where this very peaceful period is becoming very violent, and there are lots of wars and whatnot. So, this record is basically kind of like a big victory party after a bloody battle. (Laughs)
SR: And so that’s kind of the elements we wanted to have in the record. You know, basically having like a party record.
ML: Yeah, much rejoicing.
SR: Right, celebratory. And so that’s where I kinda went with it was back to the kind of stuff that you would associate with a band of marauders or you and your friends going out, getting drunk, listening to metal, and having a good time. So it’s Motörhead, Judas Priest, obviously Slayer, Celtic Frost, and maybe even some AC/DC, that type of thing. Also a little more of the punk type of stuff: the Misfits, and you know we definitely wanted to have it be very anthemic. You know?
ML: Yeah, right on! So I was checking around on your MySpace, and it says you guys claim to be a “sonic fuck you to the current trends and subgenres of metal.” What are some things about the metal scene today that you’re just not feeling?
SR: Well, it seems like the whole aspect of all the subgenres just keeps it watered down. I’m sure that you don’t need me to tell you that.
ML: Oh, dude, I’ve listened to scores of albums every month, easy.
SR: Right, right, and it seems like there are a lot of bands that take elements from metal, but they shy away from a lot of the classic-type lyrics or imagery or whatever; tone, or sound, or that type of thing. It just seems like there is a void for a lot of bands that are just doing this kind of classic balls-to-the-wall, raw, kick-ass fucking metal, and that’s exactly what it is. There’s no subgenre, there’s no, you know, “oh they sound like this” or “they kinda sound like this, or a worship band or anything like that. Personally, I don’t really listen to a lot of new stuff that’s out right now. I mean, I do hear stuff every once in a while, but I’m just kind of in my own bubble.
ML: Right on.
SR: So, it’s kind of like when you hear our stuff and it sounds a little bit different than what’s going on now, it’s not about what’s cool or being retro, it’s just that I don’t really listen to what’s going on or what’s popular right now.
ML: I often hear that a lot from guys. How old are you, Steve?
ML: Okay, I’m creeping up on 30 myself and it’s like I feel like I have to go out there and listen to a lot of new stuff. It’s my job, but when I talk to a lot of dudes that are my age or older in there 30s or even older, in their 40s and 50s, they say a lot of the same thing, even people that are still putting out new metal – older bands like Testament or whatever, older thrash bands – they don’t listen to much of the newer stuff that’s coming out. You ask them, “Who do you like for new thrash bands?” and they’re just like “I don’t fucking know.” You know, it’s like, “we’re making new music,” “we’re making what we wanna make,” but it’s not like you’re actively seeking out all those people that are following you.
SR: Right, and it’s hard to keep track, too. There are a lot of bands coming out now and it’s hard to really kind of keep your ear to the ground of what’s going on, but there’s definitely stuff that I really like, like High on Fire, Revenge from Canada is one of my favorite bands.
ML: I’ve not heard them but is incredible! Snakes for the Divine is probably one of the best albums this year, honestly.
SR: Yeah, I actually just heard that in the van on one of our drives, so, yeah, it was awesome. I definitely thought that the last one was really good as well.
ML: Oh, absolutely. Talk about a band that’s coming into their own, jesus christ. Matt Pike is just getting more and more vicious with with age, I gotta tell ya.
SR: Yeah, and I just heard about them playing with Metallica overseas. I’ve got nothing but respect for them and what they’re doing.
ML: Right on! Now, you’ve got a lot of mythological elements in your music, you always have – you’ve got the minotaur obviously – but I have to ask you this. I wouldn’t normally had I not seen it just the other day, but Clash of the Titans: you’re a fan?
SR: (Laughs) Yeah, sure.
ML: Obviously. Have you bothered to see the new one yet?
SR: Actually, I have.
ML: What did you think?
SR: You know, it seemed like it was chopped up quite a bit; it seemed like the storyline was chopped up, and I came to find out – I read some article – that apparently they had filmed a completely different movie and they went back and re-filmed and basically changed the whole plot in the original version that the director had made. Like, Zeus was the bad guy and Hades was kind of in the background but then they changed it and made him the bad guy.
ML: Did you notice that it’s pretty much just Zeus and Hades as far as gods go in this movie, too?
SR: Yeah, and I guess some of the other gods had a lot bigger role in the original version. They were just kind of in the background in that one. So, I would be kind of interested to see what the original director’s version of that was. But as far as the effects go, I thought that the Kraken looked great, Medusa looked great…
ML: I actually agree. As much as I loved the old one, as much as I love Ray Harryhausen and what he does with his creatures, I thought [the 2010 remake] was a better interpretation of the Kraken.
SR: Yeah, I mean, obviously the original one holds a special place in my heart, but I don’t know, I’m a big fan of horror and I’m torn sometimes with all of these remakes that go on, you know?
ML: Oh, I am really dicy on the new Nightmare, I don’t know about you.
SR: Yeah, I’m very interested to see exactly what they’re going to do with that. The only thing that I am kind of into is the whole fact that they’re not making him into a comedian. Supposedly it’s supposed to be kind of as serious as it’s gonna get.
ML: And more sympathetic to his character. I think they’re gonna draw that out.
SR: Right, right, and, I don’t know, I just thought the way that kind of things went, especially ’cause the sequels went on, it turned into just like this joke, you know?
ML: Right, how many goofy ways can Freddy kill the kids?
SR: Yeah, and he’ll say a little one-liner.
ML: He’s killing them in a video game, faces in the pizza… (Laughs) Alright now, a question, Steve, about not only your origins, but also playing live. You left your original band because they decided to stop playing live and move strictly into the studio. What is it that makes performing live so important for you?
SR: It seems like it’s kind of like the roots, you know? It just seems like there’s really nothing like that: performing your songs in front of some people who are actually appreciating them and are really into it and maybe know the lyrics. It’s really cool to share that or be able to do that in front of people.
ML: Do you feel like if you’re just writing in the studio and not performing live – there’s obviously, as being someone who’s been a lifelong listener of metal, something extra about a live performance – you’re not getting that kind of camaraderie, you’re not communicating that way to your audience and it seems like something’s lacking?
SR: Yeah, I mean, definitely. That’s probably kind of the way things were back in the day when I was growing up. It was like that was where you met all your friends, and that was where you go to shows and there was this sense of community within the metal world.
ML: Speaking of your origins, was there one specific experience that got you into heavy music, as far as you can remember?
SR: Well, obviously being born out of the ’70s, it was Kiss…
SR: Yeah, Kiss and Sabbath were like the big things. The first album I ever got was Kiss‘ Alive II, then I think after that it was a Queen record and Black Sabbath‘s Sabbath Bloody Sabbath.
SR: So it was a good starting point, I suppose.
ML: You started with the proggy Sabbath, too. That’s interesting. It’s actually one of my favorite Sabbath albums to be honest with you, too. I really love Sabbath Bloody Sabbath a lot.
SR: Yeah, it’s a fucking great record.
ML: It’s very dominated by keyboards, though, which I always thought was very interesting.
SR: Yeah, I think people go back and forth on that one – Sabotage, as well. I am, personally, a Vol. 4 fan.
ML: Vol. 4 is the heaviest of all of their albums, bar none. “Cornucopia”, “Wheels of Confusion”… people can say what they will about their other albums, but 4 is the heaviest, straight up.
SR: Right, and obviously Master of Reality‘s got a special place.
ML: Oh, yeah.
SR: (Laughs) We’re just gonna mention all the albums!
ML: (Laughs) Dude, Sabbath‘s my favorite band! We’re gonna get into the next person’s interview so we should probably stop right now. One last thing, though: is there anything you’ve never been asked before in an interview but would love for people to know?
SR: Wow, that’s a good question. Probably, if anything, that what we do comes from an honest and pure place. A lot of people think that because of the name or the type of lyrics that we do that it is some sort of big joke or something, and that’s exactly what we wanted to do. We wanted to just draw a line in the sand and be like “this is metal.” If you don’t like the lyrics or you don’t like the imagery, then I don’t think you like metal! (Laughs)
ML: Nice. That’s a good spot to end, man, I appreciate it. For more on Lair of the Minotaur, go to www.lairoftheminotaur.com, www.myspace.com/lairoftheminotaur, and www.thegrind-houserecords.com. Steve, thanks for joining us!
SR: Take care, man!