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CVLT Nation Interviews Skeletonwitch

Interview & Photos by Teddie Taylor

The past year for Skeletonwitch has been busy: a new singer, new songs and new tours. After announcing that Wolvhammer’s Adam Clemans would be taking over vocals, they released The Apothic Gloom, a four-track EP where the band showed that more than the just the lyrics would be different. On a stoop near Siberia in New Orleans, I talked to guitarist Scott Hedrick about the band’s constants, the direction of the EP and, later, when Adam arrived, beer.

Tour lineup. Super, super amazing. You’ve only been at it for a few days now, but how is it going so far?

Scott: Oh, it’s killer. It’s really awesome when a tour syncs up in such a way that all of the bands enjoy watching each other play and hanging out together and it feels like a family. A slightly dysfunctional, crazy, partying too much family, but it’s great. To have 3 bands on tour that I’m a fan of and I’ve never seen live until this tour is awesome. So, I’m like, Holy shit, I get to watch all three of these bands play every night? And four when Homewrecker joins up. It’s absolutely fantastic and I think, if I may say so about our own tour, it’s one of the more diverse and interesting heavy music lineups in a little while.

Yeah, nobody sounds alike. It’s different. Everything.

S: That’s important to us. We’re fans of music so we want to put together a show that we would want to see ourselves. I really get bored of, let’s say, the bill that has ten extreme death metal bands on it. I love me some extreme death metal. I also love pizza and I don’t want to eat it for every single meal. You know? So that’s what we’re trying to bring to the table and I think, so far, it seems like we’re succeeding in bringing it, an interesting package, together that can be appreciated by a lot of different people that are into heavy music.

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Y’all have been a band for a long time now. Over ten years. What has—obviously some things have changed, a few little things—but what’s still the same from when you started?

S: The same is still: myself and Nate started this band. Nate really started it with me, I should say, so long ago. He and I are still writing all the music. We’re still the main creative force behind it. Not that everybody doesn’t have their say, as they certainly do. But through all the changes, of course the most significant one being the vocalist change recently, the main creative wellspring of this band has still been Nate and I and the guitar riffs. That’s how it starts is with the melodies and guitar riffs and that foundation and that’s always been there. Also, [laughs] Nate and I’s terrible decision making socially when we hang out with each other and drink too much and, like, Oh, come over and we’ll work on some new music, and that lasts for a small portion of the day and the rest of the day is us hanging out. We’re such good friends that when we get together it’s so much fun and it’s also terrible for our livers [laughs], but our relationship has not changed. We still love doing this. We still love hanging out together and I feel more creatively free and excited than I have in many years in this band, with the new developments in the lineup and stuff too. The same chord has been running through this band since the very beginning.

I read in another interview that you took on more of the songwriting this time around, whereas Nate usually does a lot of it. How was this writing/recording process different than usual?

S: Sure, sure, to sort of clarify a little bit—you’re absolutely right—historically it used to be I was an ideas man and I’d throw riffs and parts and different debris, creative debris, at Nate and he would build something out of it and make sense of it. And he would just write his own songs as well without any input from me and he was a more compositionally strong member of the band. He could see things from beginning to end, whereas I had all this stuff and didn’t know what to do with it and he would make sense of all my crazy ideas. As time went on, from Permafrost all the way up to Serpents Unleashed, I ended up having more material that was more complete thoughts or complete songs that ended up on Serpents Unleashed. So, getting to the EP,  I ended up writing more material than I normally would for a release. I ended up writing 3 of the 4 tracks on it, which is partially why some of them are longer. That’s more my style.

So you did the last one then (“Red Death, White Light” clocks in at 7:12).

S: [Laughs] Yes, yes I did. It was different because I ended up writing more material, which is not usually the case, and then also my style tends to be a little longer and more cinematic in scope. Nate. I cannot write a brutal riff the way he does. That’s a testament to him. The stomp parts and the really thrash-y stuff is pure Nate. He could do that all day and I just don’t know how he does it. Mine tends to be the more tremolo picked, epic, black metal, ambient, and borderline-ambient stuff.

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You can totally tell. That answers my next question [laughs]. It seems less thrash than usual. So that wasn’t intentional? It’s just that you took on more of the writing and that’s how you naturally do it?

S: You nailed it. I tend to be a little less thrash metal and death metal oriented in my guitar playing. It’s probably due to music that I listen to. When Nate and I started this band, we still do, and did, listen to a lot of thrash and that was a big part of it. Death metal and stuff. My tastes, musically, probably get the weirdest out of anybody in the band. I like to listen to a lot of ambient music and outsider guitar stuff and some noise music and a lot of world music stuff, as well. When you listen to music, that stuff sort of finds its way into how you write music. There’s all kinds of what a lot of people that are maybe a little more rock-and-roll and metal oriented people would call weird stuff and out-there shit and psych music and it’s all kinds of different stuff. That finds its way into my writing and I think some of those, like the very last song, “Red Death, White Light,” where it just keeps building and building and building…

Like you said, cinematic. That’s definitely a huge song.

S: I’m sure a lot of non-metal, instrumental bands I listen to unintentionally informed writing that. Filtering non-metal influences into a metal band is what I’ve realized I do more than anything for this band. Nate is the more traditional metal guy and keeps it grounded and keeps it tough and on-point with what you would expect a metal band to be doing. Together, I think we work well in that regard.

Now that you explain it, it makes sense. A lot of my questions were, “Why is it like this?” and now I know.

S: Someone’s explanation of their material can really adjust a listener’s ears to how, like orient them, to what it sounds like. If I just made some bullshit up and told you, Well, what we did was we recorded separately in different rooms not knowing what the other one was playing until that last piece of that song. Someone would be like, Woah! And it ended up like that? Basically, a narrative can really influence how you hear something. So now, it probably makes more sense.

Yeah. Okay, do you think there’s one song, whether lyrically or writing it, that took more time? Is there one song that you put more effort into?

S: Lyrically, Adam wrote all the lyrics and came up with the titles and everything. As far as that goes, I can’t really put words in his mouth for that. But, do you mean musically or lyrically or?

Just, what song do you think everybody spent the most time on?

S: It probably would be that last track, “Red Death, White Light.” Adam and I went back and forth a bit about where the lyrics could or would go on that song. There was a lot more back and forth with Adam writing this material, honestly, than there was with Chance. He was kind of like, Write a song, give it to me and I’ll put lyrics on it and then we’ll get together and make some adjustments. When I was writing riffs and structuring a song, he wasn’t really involved in the process that early on, whereas Adam wanted to be and was extremely helpful and vice versa. I came up with a couple of spots where I thought maybe it would be a good spot to do, if you will, a chorus and a pattern that this would fit in and he said that that sort of unlocked that song for him. It made sense. He was like, Oh okay, I’ll start in this area where you want this exact cadence and I’ll come up with something to fit that and sort of wrote the song around it. He did a really awesome job. That song was probably the most labored over and back and forth of anything.

Worth it. That’s my favorite one.

S: Awesome. I’m really happy with how it turned out. Sometimes shit comes to you and comes together really quickly, right off the bat, and it’s great and other times you really have to work at it quite a bit before it gets where you feel like it needs to be.

Do you think touring before recording another record has opened people up to this lineup change, because I know at first a lot of people were like, What the heck?! [Laughs]

S: Oh yes. Absolutely, absolutely. That was our intent. When we decided Adam was the guy and we were moving forward with him, our first thought was, Alright when we announce that he’s the new singer, let’s also announce that we’re doing a tour and let’s announce that we have new tunes coming out and in short-order release one of those, put it out there. Metal fans are the best fans in the world and they’re so dedicated, almost to a fault, where they’re dedicated to your band that if your band changes…They don’t like change. I can understand that. Your mom and dad get divorced and you’re upset about it, of course. [Laughs] It makes sense and I get that. We decided if we just said, Hey, here’s our new singer, he’s awesome, it’s Adam, he also has this band Wolvhammer, he’s done all this stuff, you can check him out, people immediately just start forming opinions, good or bad, about him without even hearing how he interacted with Skeletonwitch and sounded with Skeletonwitch. The idea was to do the EP because it’s faster and we can move quickly with that. Write a handful of new songs with it, show how he sounds with the band and then say, Come see us. We’re going to be on the road. See how he is on stage. Make up your own mind and here’s an opportunity to do so. You can stream the song. You can come see us at this place because we’re going to play near you. Well, if you live in the US anyway, or Canada. [Laughs] Here’s what’s up, then make up your mind based on that. It was very much thought out that we would do all that at once. Here he is. Here’s where you can hear him. Here’s where you can see him. Beyond that, it’s on you. If you don’t like it, you don’t like it. No problem. No big deal. 

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Skipping to something else, you came out with a beer (Red Death Sour ale). I’m super interested in this. Of course you can’t get it here, but are you guys really into beers?

S: Actually, Adam happens to be standing right here. The biggest beer nerd in our band is definitely Adam. You have the most sophisticated palate, sir.

Adam Clemans: [Laughs] That’s high praise.

S: [Laughs] I have a garbage, like, pilsner palate. I like pilsners. I like sours quite a bit. One of the reasons we did the sour was that everyone in the band could kind of agree on a sour with their tastes. Let’s be real. Nate’s taste is Miller Lite. My taste is any pilsner or Mexican beer with a lime or just a PBR. Adam, let him speak for himself since he’s right here.

A: I’m a complete beer nerd all-around, though. I don’t have a style. I just like beer. [Laughs] Stouts are good. Porters. Everything.

There we go. [Laughs] Well, since you’re here now, one of my questions was actually for you. Is it weird singing songs you didn’t write?

A: At first it definitely was, because I’d listened to the songs so many times as a fan of the band. I mean, the first week I was on tour with these guys I kind of felt like I was doing karaoke for a while. Now, I’m so in the pocket with it, it’s really fun to play those songs. So yes and no. [Laughs]

S: I can’t imagine that. It would be easier to just jump in and play another guitar player’s parts than it would to be to sing a song you didn’t write the lyric lines and the cadences for. I don’t know how you do it. [Laughs] It’s awesome.

A: He’s a very different vocalist than I am (Chance Garnette). The way he paces and words stuff is way different than I would, but yeah, it’s been challenging.

S: But you’re killing it. [Laughs]

A: Thank you, Scott. [Laughs]

S: No problem. You were up to the challenge, for sure.

Are there any bands that aren’t so well-known that you think people need to listen to?

A: Gatecreeper.

S: Yeah, the three bands that are on this tour. I think a lot of people are aware of Iron Reagan because of Municipal Waste and stuff. With Oathbreaker being from Belgium and this only being, I believe, their second tour in the US… They’re about to be really well-known, I feel. Same with Gatecreeper. They’re about to be really well-known but they’re not quite yet. Those are two bands that, I know it’s playing it close to the vest ‘cause they’re on the tour, but, let me think for a second… What have we been listening to a lot lately? Not a lot of crazy, underground stuff. What about you, Adam? Le Cassette?

A: Yeah! There you go. Le Cassette. It’s this really awesome, 80s, new-wave kind of band, but they only put out one release and never did anything else. It’s so good.

S: It’s sweet. Basically, it sounds like an 80s movie soundtrack. If that gives you any kind of vibe. It’s very non-metal. [Laughs] She has a look of worry on her face about this answer…

[Laughs] Yeah…

S: But it’s awesome, you should check it out. Le Cassette. That’s a fun one we’ve been jamming that in the van a lot. There’s a lot of stuff we listen to, but everybody knows about it. Check out Gatecreeper, Oathbreaker and Le Cassette.

A: [Laughs] What an odd combo.

Anything else you want to add?

S: Thanks to anybody who has supported our band throughout the years. We appreciate it and we don’t take it for granted that we’re able to do this and we’re able to be here in New Orleans touring in a metal band and it’s fucking awesome. Appreciate it.

Skeletonwitch are currently headlining the Curse of the Dead tour with Iron Reagan, Oathbreaker and Gatecreeper.

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