By Aaron James. Published on 5/28/2014.
Last month in Denver, Aaron "no coast" James met up with The Black Dahlia Murder frontman Trevor Strnad prior to BDM's show with Carcass. Here is the ensuing conversation.
So, how's the tour been going for you guys?
Awesome, man. This is a dream tour. If you know anything about the band, then you know that we worship Carcass. So it's been like a teenage wet dream. I definitely did not see ourselves even knowing Carcass back when I used to listen to them on tape, when I was like 15. So it's just been a trip. Gorguts is another band that is totally legendary, so it's like a double feature of awesomeness.
Your presence, live, is a whole different level from the album. Is there something you guys do to make the live show even better?
Thanks, man. I think part of it is not recording, not taking advantage of all you can do in the studio. You can lay down a bazillion guitar tracks. But we want to
sound exactly how it's going to sound live. Another thing is that we're a metal band, but we've come up along punk rock and hardcore and played a lot of those shows. And everyone that has been through the band has been into hardcore to some degree. I think the intensity of the shows come from that and being around that. It's really about being responsible to your band mates. You do your homework, have your chops, and go up on stage and kill it and everything else will fall into place, hopefully.
I love to play live. It's like an exorcism of sorts. I'm really anxious, an anxious sort of person. I go up there, I take my glasses off, I can't see anything, and it becomes another world. It's fun. It's definitely fun.
So for the fans that don't know, does BDM tour in a van or a bus?
We mix it up. Mostly in the van, though. We've kind of sworn to each other that we're just gunna keep going. And if it doesn't ever get any better, that's just
fine. We've committed to band life, forever. There are a few tours where you have to spring for the bus, like a Summer Slaughter situation, where there's a bazillion
bands, and you play last. Or a summer thing, where you're outside, like we did Warped Tour. You got to have somewhere to hide when you do Warped Tour. There's nowhere to go. You're out in the sun all damn day. We did do Sounds of the Underground in the van, outside, and that was definitely... I don't know man, we had a blast. I guess we just got trashed. We go with usually the seven of us, we push all our own gear, fucking set everything up and break everything down. Just keep it bare bones... kind of depends on the cash that's coming in, and also, we can't fit anybody else in the van comfortably. It's how we do things. We have all the seats taken out in the back and lay across like human sardines. There's just room for just the seven of us and everybody techs their own shit.
Favorite city or show on tour thus far?
First one in Florida was really cool. Maruta was on there. I guess the San Francisco show would be my favorite. Repulsion was on there. Lots of cool one-off
appearances; more fuel for the fire for me as a metal fan.
I'm guessing you have local support for every city you're in?
No, for the most part, it will just be the four of us. But Decibel, has hand-selected certain bands to open. Like tonight, Vimana, ex-Cephalic Carnage. Fucking
awesome, they're kind of a legend here. Zac Joe's new band, Vimana. They're awesome. I've heard their EP. Maruta played in Florida. Coke Bust is playing in Maryland, I think on the last day.
Is there anybody you've seen that you didn't know about until you saw them and were like "wow"?
Well, Bastard Feast played from Portland; they used to be called Elitist. I'm aware of the Elitist stuff, but when they played they were fucking incredible, they
were so heavy. Just kind of do that sludge meets dark hardcore kind of stuff that all the kids are loving right now. They're fucking awesome.
You're touring, what is it, Europe this summer?
Yeah, we've got some festival stuff over there. We're busy boys. We've got Asia, two days after this tour. No signs of slowing. That's just the usual. The planning
this time was poor. Two days off between one tour and another, but, we'll plow through it and be fine. And then we got a month off so that's kind of like reward. A
month off for us, is fucking, it's a long time off for us. It's very nice.
What's the best part of doing a European tour versus a US tour?
I think it's really the venues. I like the way the venues are operated over there. There's a lot of in-house catering and bedding and stuff in-house. They kind of take things to the next level over there in that regard. As far as the crowd and stuff, I think it's relatively the same. We want the same thing, the same reaction from any person no matter what language they speak. It's definitely getting good for us over there, man. We've been hitting it a lot, twice a year usually. Been going over since 2004 and it's been exciting.
We've always had eyes to be a global band, not just a kicking around the states and seeing the big picture and kind of getting out there. Now, this Asian tour coming up has us going to places that we've never touched before, like China. It should be interesting.
Are you guys a little nervous with global tensions?
Yeah, with the global tension, I'm a litter weary about that, but I'm also not going to let that stop me. We're going to go, it's going to be cool, and it's going
to be fun. They're going to be glad to see us. Not many bands get out there. I've only heard of a few of our peers really getting out there, so it's exciting.
Back to the Europe thing, is there a country that sticks out in your mind as...
LOCO... Germany is pretty awesome. When you go to Europe, you play a shit ton of shows in Germany. Everyone knows. It's like guaranteed. It's fun. It can vary a little bit there, but I think that's where the fans go fucking nuts. For real. We just starting getting out to Scandinavia on the last few tours now, and that's really exciting for us, since we've been so much musically from the Scandos. Playing in Sweden has been really exciting, playing in Norway.
So it seems you're just on tour, tour, tour, tour. How many years do you think it's taken off your life?
Quite a few, man. Let me tell ya. I don't want to live those last years anyways. It's going to be boring. I might as well put them to good use.
Do you envision a point where you're just gonna say "Shit man, I'm too old for this?"
I imagine it will happen someday, I don't know that it will be something that I feel like I've grown out of. We're kind of seeing where the physical ceiling is for
death metal, the first generation; a lot of us guys are still kicking out there. Napalm, Cannibal, they're blazing a trail, and they got no signs of slowing. As far as we see it, we got plenty of years before we even start thinking that way. I don't think you can physically play blast beats forever. I don't think so. There's got to be an age cutoff on the drumming.
Have you noticed any changes in your fan base over the years?
I just notice that we have fans from all walks of extreme. Guys that like punk, guys that like hardcore, death metal guys, and then the guys that won't touch us
with a ten foot pole. The guys that are like guys with tunnel vision on death metal elitism. Ya know what I mean? At first, I was just like, "Why don't they just call us a death metal band? What's the big fucking deal? What don't they see in that video? I don't understand?" In turn, I think, being called so many different genres by so many different people helped us branch out in a million different directions that we would have never had foreseen, and reached a billion different kinds of people that we maybe would have never reached. I don't care what the hell genre they're calling us. As long they're calling us. As long as they want to see us, I'm cool with
You've been releasing albums for more than a decade.
First one in 2003.
Is there ever a desire to reinvent yourself, or is it more about giving the fans what they expect from BDM?
It's kind of always both. We have desire to make things more satisfying to play. Which I guess would be more complicated, more complex music. But we've also tunnel vision-ed on the initial mission statement, which was to be a melodic band that was also an aggressive band. It's a line between doing what you think the fans will like, and also injecting more style each time.
The last two albums, Ritual and Everblack, we brought in different kind of instruments, some samples, we started doing samples live, segways and stuff like that. And we'd never done anything like that before and that kind of helped flesh things out. At heart, it's still the same formula: Black and Death.
I've always felt that Everblack was a "new sounding" BDM album.
It's us adding some new stuff. That's kind of the thing. We'll inch into a bunch of different directions. Like this time, we had "Every Rope A Noose," which was
kind of a wildcard song. Like more of a "black-and-roll" kind of thing, going on there. And we'd never done anything like that. It's really just further exploring the genres that we've already kind of mixed together.
Was there difference with the recording process on the album?
Really, we learned a lot from Ritual, in that we could be a more dynamic band while still doing what we do. We have to get someone to go from the first song to the last song, and in these modern times where attention spans are like so short, you really got to pay attention to the detail. We learned a lot from Ritual and applied a lot of that knowledge to Everblack and our approach to it.
Has BDM, or you personally, ever attempted with the vocals, to lighten them up?
There are a million bands that scream and sing out there, and I mostly detest that in my heavy music, honestly. There are some bands that are good at doing it, but I think, by and large, it shouldn't be that way. We've kind of made a statement that we would never go down the path that Soilwork went down, and In Flames. Those were both big influences on us and at the time when those bands were doing that, they kind of abandoned the early record style that we liked so much, and we were bummed. We were like "we're never going to do that." I have been trying to make the delivery more clear, and in the last two records, some of what I do, is a bit more notey, I wouldn't call it singing still, but trying to have the right notes at the right times and paying a bit more attention to that. Also delivering the lyrics a bit more slowly, so that they have time to sink in, time to be heard. As far as putting in clean singing, I don't ever see that happening for us.
I would imagine there's an additional "album sales" kind of smell that goes on top of that. But for you, it's about this being BDM and that's what we're always going to be about.
We've done a lot of things where people can point the finger and be like "You've sold out, why would you ever play Warped Tour?" We played Warped Tour with our
music that we wrote, we didn't write it with them in mind, we didn't change anything we did to go there. That's pretty much the statement. We're just gonna do what we're gonna do.
We're happy that we have all these rad ass fans that keep coming back and we're happy to keep pleasing them. Like I said, if it never gets better than this, we're still gonna keep trucking away. So there are people that point the fingers at different things that we've done and different bands that we've toured with and stuff like that. But there is a level of integrity that we won't bend, in those regards.
A year ago you had some pretty heated words for people out there who were content to download your albums with paying. How has your
perspective on the matter changed since then?
On one side of the coin people like I download music, but I also buy the shit out of music; downloading to me is the radio for death metal. There's no radio for
death metal. You're not going to hear it anywhere. You're not going to hear a new band anywhere. You're not going to get a recommendation from some dude walking down the street, it's not like that. But I also have a room full of 4000 CDs. I'm doing my part and I see both sides of the coin.
What I was trying to say really that day was just that there's a yardstick in which the business measures you and it's sales, that's it. It's not merch, it's not the shows... we're thankful for all that stuff, but by their fucking measure that doesn't even sound their radar. So it's like if you really want to make a difference, just get off your ass and go get it, even if you're the kind of person that wouldn't normally do that, and we'll see a difference but so many people just don't buy shit anymore.
Does the number of plays on Spotify or 'Likes' on Facebook offset the label's opinion at all?
It all means shit to us. We're the ones who get to see the fans at the show, but I don't think so until Billboard is not the only part of the measurement. Really, it was just like a rant that just kind of came out wrong for the most part.
But you were expressing something you felt at the time...
Right, and I think a lot of people don't understand really how the behind the scenes works with record sales and anything like that anymore. There's kids now that
have just been born into the downloading generation. They've never bought anything they don't know, anything different. That's real... I'm 33, fucking old timer now.
BDM has gone through a small handful of drummers over the years. What is it about drummers? Are they stupid, impulsive, or just too awesome to stay tied down?
It's different stuff every time, man. There's some guys we had who just didn't do the upkeep, you know, and I think a lot of it is being able to keep your ego in
check because the drummer is the most slotted position I think of the death metal band, especially an extreme fast one. So lots of praises coming in and you have to be able to keep yourself on earth and do your shit. You got to warm up. Playing drums for this band, it's the hardest slot; there's no puns about that. We've had a
reputation of quality, so if you're not willing to do the work and the upkeep, then you got to go.
Or if you don't want to tour anymore, which was Shannon's case, our last drummer after 6 years, he just didn't feel like touring anymore and I understand that cause we keep it at that band level and have kind of swore to that. Not just coughing up the money for the bus every single time, like a lot of bands do, so that takes its toll on people. Pierre, he just, he was the one before Shannon and he didn't play on our record, but he was our first like super insane in the pocket lunatic drummer that kind of raised the bar for us. When we played with the guy, we were like, "wow, this is what we need to be doing. This is how it's going to be," and he quit because I guess he had never really toured before he went to music school and had like a Masters in drumming. We found him online and he was just incredible. But once he got out there I just don't think he cared for it. I think a lot of it was his language barrier, being a French Canadian guy not being the most English equipped dude out there or the most social guy, so he would kind of isolate himself. Tour is boring as it is. For the most part you're just waiting around, so if you're not hanging out with your friends or the other bands or something to stimulate yourself, I understand how that wouldn't be what you wanted to do.
Alan's incredible and I think he's still winning people over that I think are non-believers, but I think the proof is in the pudding on the record. Once that came out, people were like, "well, it's fucking good, so what is there to complain about?"
Every member change has resulted in some parties going "Hey where's this guy?", "I saw a video a hundred times with this guy?," but it's been years and members. We're not a TV show, we're a band. The DVD is an after thought, but we have a new one on the horizon finally to get everybody up to speed with who is in the band and their unique personalities, etc.
So with the drummer and other position changes in The Black Dahlia Murder, has there been a real struggle finding musicians of the band's
It's not easy, but I will say that this time, it was six years later when we got Shannon when we were looking for him, it was easier this time. I think a lot more
young kids have gotten into extreme metal and have only heard all these perfect Pro Tools death metal records and try to play like that and Alan was one of them. He
was a young kid that had a lot of talent. We actually were looking at a lot of guys, so it was just a whole different ballgame as far as players go.
Changing members, we used to get only guys from Michigan at first because no one wants to live there. No one's going to fucking move to Michigan; it sucks. So we were always trying to look out of state but no one wanted to do it. Now it's just like everybody flies in before we go on a tour. We practice for like four days before get back up to speed. So we got Max [Lavelle], he lives out in Massachusetts, and Ryan [Knight] he lives in Chicago, but he's a southern boy. Alan just happened to have a parent who was still living in Michigan, so he just kind of moved back there. So we've been lucky, but I think our success has afforded us the ability to look outside just the normal local scene type of dudes; that's the pool we were grabbing from at first.
So has this all helped you evolve musically?
I think so, yeah, like not putting a ceiling on what you wanted because it just wasn't available to you locally. We wanted a guitar god, basically somebody that was going to play like the leads in Soilwork, In Flames, and Darkane that we looked up to and he was leaving Arsis. Arsis was kind of like dissolving at that point and he (Ryan) was looking for a new gig, and we were looking for members, but you can't go public. First of all, people make such a stink when you change a member, so you might as well go on the tour without them and let the rumor mills circulate for a while. That's kind of how we've done it the last couple times. But you can't just go "hey we need a new drummer, man. Just send me a video." Yeah, right. At this point dude, fuck that, I'm not doing that.
So with that, is there anybody in The Black Dahlia Murder that is truly irreplaceable?
I think that Brian and I, ya know, the OGs. He is the ultimate, the brain behind the band, with monetary stuff, tour decisions; he's always been that guy. Part of why we're around is just his making good decisions and watching our asses as a unit. And also, up until Deflorate, it was largely all his music that he wrote. Now we're fortunate enough to have two minds working on things, and that's well for us, but I don't want to think about the band without Brian, or any of these guys. Things have changed so much since Ryan came in too, that losing him as a creative force would be a major bum-out. A lot of the songs that we've written that people like, since he's joined the band, ya know, he wrote half of each record. He's been instrumental in pushing us forward with his knowledge and his technique, and we're just trying to keep up with him. He's been awesome, man.
If your previous paced remains, as in album release to album release, BDM will release another album next year?
That's what they say.
Are you still under contract with Metal Blade?
Yeah, we re-signed actually. I'd say it was just after Ritual. They've just been so awesome to us, ya know. [Brian] Slagel just saw something in us from the very very beginning and thought this band could do something, and I really like these guys. So they've always been there for us, always advertised the crap out of us, always put muscle into our tours. We're nothing but thankful for everything they've done for us, so yeah, Team Metal Blade still.
for people who don't know anything about him, can you tell us a little bit about Metal Blade CEO Brian Slagel?
He's the godfather of metal, ya know, what can you say dude? He was part of discovering Metallica, he brought the people Slayer, brought the people GWAR, Cannibal Corpse, and he's still just a kid about metal. He's excited about it, still putting so much energy in to it. He's a really great guy, he's a personable dude. Every time we come to California, he'll be there, they'll all be there. I don't always see that kind of relationship with bands and their labels, and I'm really happy to have that kind of family thing with them.
I'm gonna get back to the label thing, you mentioned GWAR. Dave Brockie was recently laid to rest. Is there anything you would care to say about him?
Dave was an awesome guy. We were one of the last bands fortunate enough to hang out with those guys. We were in Australia with them just and they were on every
flight with us, every bus, in the same backroom tents. It's not the first time touring with those guys either. Dave was just a good person. He was benevolent. He was
nice to every single person. Cool to everyone. Just loved to do what he did. And being in GWAR is, by and large, a bank-less operation. All their money goes back into making it bigger and better and having more costumes and his unwavering dedication to just the whole thing is something everyone should remember. He was just a great guy. They were talking about taking us on tour in the states, and so it was like triple surprise. Like I said, we were one of the last bands to hang around with those guys, and it's just really sad. It's still kind of sinking in I think for a few of us.
On a personal level, do you think GWAR is going to continue to pursue?
I don't think they can. I don't think any of them. I don't want to speak for any of them; I just don't think that's possible. I think they won't see that as
possible, I could be wrong, I just think it's, ya know. He was the heart and soul, the everything.
Going back to Metal Blade, over the course of your career, has there been any consideration from BDM of other labels? Like was maybe Century Media secretly sending you flowers?
We've never had any other labels come try to moonlight, or try to sweet talk us or anything. I think they just kind of see the relationship we have with Metal Blade; we're kind of gung-ho with them. Also, when we sent out our demo with 3 songs and this EP that we had recorded, we sent it to 30 labels and we got 28 rejection letters so everybody said no already.
So what's next on The Black Dahlia Murder's agenda? Upon your return from Europe in July, what do you guys have planned?
Tthere's talk about one more romp around the states on Everblack; it's in the very blueprint stages. More touring, keeping busy and we'll probly be sticking with
that same old record cycle. That was kind of a response to the modern attention span as well, to always have a new record out, keep shit fresh in the people's mind,
keep them excited, and keep them coming out.
Collectively, with all the material you have out, is there anything that sticks out when doing it live?
Every time we've come back with new songs and played them live a few times and really get them where we want them to be, I think each time we come back they're more
satisfying to play than once before just a little bit more complicated, a little bit more dynamic. Everblack has these kinds of buildups in it and stuff we can kind of
create a drama live which is something we're not normally doing by playing thirty-thousand miles an hour. When I go back and listen to things, I like how the last two
records sound, Ritual and Everblack. Before that, I go, "nope, too young, could've done the vocals better here"; I like the songs but having performed some of those
songs a million times since then, I go back and listen to it and go "should've done it like this, big boy."
That's good though. It shows evolution as a musician.
I think we all kind of have that same thing going. Nobody is really stuck on a record. It's all about what we can do, like pushing the boundaries and ever expanding. I just see this band putting out a lot of records and having a little room to grow; we're always changing. There's no signs of slowing.
I notice a trend with The Black Dahlia Murder where you keep talking about evolving and expanding, is that kind of The Black Dahlia Murder's
thing, expanding the rules of death metal? How do you keep doing that?
We tried some of the rules of death metal, with how we look and carry ourselves, the different avenues we've taken as far as playing with bands and stuff... we have
pushed the envelope, I think. I've never said that what we're doing is new in any way. None of us have even thought that we're so deep in traditional
metal and the melodic stuff, like At The Gates and Carcass. It's just a mix of all this shit that we like. We're not necessarily a original band, we're just a lucky band.