THE LORD WEIRD SLOUGH FEG have a new album out and I guess that this is the right time for an in depth interview with Mike Scalzi. Put the new record on, grab a beer and here we go.
Interview by: Zippo
Five years have passed since “Digital Resistance”. Now that it has come to full circle what is your view on that album? Was it supposed to be a breakthrough to a bigger market (due to label Metal Blade records) or just you doing your thing? Are you satisfied with the result after all these years?
Full circle? What do you mean? Because technology has finally seduced us and made us morons? If that’s what you mean, then yes, it has come full circle! The results of what? Digital Resistance? Or the new album?
In the Cruz Del Sur announcement you stated that: “a smaller ‘boutique’ label such as Cruz Del Sur is appropriate for our sound, fanbase and work ethic”. Did this had to do with your collaboration with Metal Blade? Apparently, such a label is more demanding towards bands, in terms of touring, selling and popularity. Did it somehow affect the way the band works?
No not at all, much the contrary. Metal Blade was not demanding of us at all – and didn’t have any tour plans for us. Metal Blade was fine, but I actually insisted on a 1 album contract, rather than 2, and ironically, they decided not to renew it after one album, and we were actually fine with that. No bad blood there – they treated us pretty well, but Cruz is a little more intimate, Enrico pays special attention to us and takes a big interest in the band. More of a partnership, and that works great for us. He’s a pretty unique label-owner, really a big metal fan and still really loves the music he puts out and shows it by helping out a lot.
Having been on both “underground” and “mainstream” labels, what is your view on this? Is somehow underground music free of trends and everything is pure and sincere? Or is it the same business in a more compact wrap?
We made the same album regardless of what label we were on. There was absolutely no difference in the creative process – I know very little about the music business actually—as far as records are concerned. No one’s making any money off them at this point as far as I can tell. As for trends, I couldn’t tell you much about that either, the last trend I remember hearing about is “Power/Violence” or something like that. And I still have no idea what that means. Please don’t enlighten me!!
Having been around since ages, how did the coming of the internet changed things? Did it somehow equated the way bands gain their popularity? Nowadays a band with just some youtube videos and a facebook page can gain lots of popularity. Does this affect the view you have on the “underground” scene? And is there an “underground” scene today?
I don’t know. Is there an underground scene? There was 20 ears ago, but I don’t know what that would mean anymore with the internet—other than the fact that everyone is free to publish their music online now. But does tat make stuff more underground, or more above-ground, because it’s so accessible? I don’t know. And if there is an “underground” scene at this point, then so what? I care about good music, not whether it’s under or above-ground.. As far as playing live there definitely is an underground scene, and clearly we are part of it – seeing as we don’t play for huge audiences. So we are “underground” in that sense, but as far as a ‘scene’ goes—I’m not sure what’s going on anymore—I know about bands that were underground 20 years ago–
What exactly you meant when you mentioned about “work ethic”. Did it had to do the way you treat the fans, other bands, albums, or yourselves? Do you look for ethic in the works of other bands or you just want the music to be good? Do you think that “ethic” is missing from today’s music scene?
Again, I don’t know – “work Ethic” , I guess I meant that Enrico of Cruz Del Sure gets involved with out band in more of a “hand’s on” way than other labels. I don’t think I meant the way we treat fans or other bands – I hope we treat them all well—I can’t talk to every individual person at a show without blowing out my voice, that has been a problem lately – I have to stay backstage sometimes in order to shut up and save my voice, because given to my own inclinations I would run around and blablablabla with everyone and have no voice left when it’s time to play.
SLOUGH FEG have always been an underground band with an underground attitude. Both your music and aesthetic are made to be as weird as it can get. Haven’t you ever felt that you should consider a more contemporary and catchy style in order to survive in the music industry?
What is an underground attitude? Does that mean we want to be obscure, because we don’t . We want to be huge and play arenas like every other band, whether they want to admit it or not. No band really wants obscurity, otherwise why would they waste their time making albums and playing shows? You do it to be recognized.
As for being weird, I don’t think we are as weird as possible. I can think of many bands that are weirder than us and do weirder things, in fact many people have referred to us as “Traditional metal”. That doesn’t sound very “weird” to me. In fact many of our songs are referred to as “catchy” by reviewers, etc. Are you sure you have the right band?
You were a part of a newer generation of bands that spawned from the depths of the underground scene back in the 90’s. Together with Twisted Tower Dire, October 31, Skullview, Solstice, Paragon you kept the flame alive. Do you feel that you were a part of a certain scene back then? Do you still have connection with those bands (alive or not)?
Yes. We were definitely part of that scene, and we were lucky to be, since no one else wanted anything to do with us. And yes, I keep in touch with many of those people. In fact I just Marc the drummer of TTD in Baltimore – the other I am often in touch with by email, etc. Obviously all of us are older now (that scene was going on 20 years ago) but I am still in touch with some of the people and we all have fond memories of playing shows together in America and Europe.
How did the recordings of the “New organon” progressed? Do you have any standard procedure on writing or recording music or you just improvise?
We get into the studio and just play most of the time. A very live sound! Two of the songs recorded by Batuka were recorded in our rehearsal space on an 8 track!!! The others were in a proper studio, but we told Phil we wanted a very raw, live sound. No bullshit, not “fix it in the mix”. There are a couple things I would change but not much.. overall I’m satisfied, quite satisfied. The Album took a couple of years to complete because of scheduling difficulties with my life and the engineer’s life – we’re good friends and we both have busy lives outside of music that sort of got in the way of getting it done – but surprisingly we stayed focused and I think it turned out great – Phil (engineer) got a very good live sound – as did Batuka (engineered 2 songs) and Justin (mastering engineer). Great work all around and a damn energetic sounding album I think.
The album sounds like a classic SLOUGH FEG. It does keep the trademark sound of the tween guitar harmonies, but the overall sound is quite heavier, more than the hard rockish “Digital resistance”. Do you see this as a progression to your sound or a reminiscence of your earlier days?
It’s a return to form. We decided it was time to make a real metal album again – not just a rock one. You can’t make the same album over and over again – but people often do. We just did what felt right at the time, wrote what came to mind, and it took a long time. But I didn’t plan anything out that way – it just came out like it did. I was thinking a lot about ancient and enlightenment science—so I wrote songs about it.
I am not very familiar with philosophy (I prefer economics) but I think that the new organon had to do with a new way of understanding the world around us, moving away from theory and tending towards experience. Why did you choose this title for an album? Is it a statement somehow that after all these years, you just do your thing automatically without planning thins? Or there something more?
Well, I can’t really explain it well – because the lyrics I just sort of make up according to the music and melodies – I just started creating syllables that sound good with the music, and then I start to incorporate a theme—I was reading books and lecturing about early scientific method and ancient pre-Socratic and Aristotelian “science” – so that’s what got into my head. There’s nothing very esoteric about it. Once we though the earth was flat and the “Heavans” were static. Now we don’t—that kind of thing. Organon refers to a tool or instrument for acquiring knowledge. Francis Bacon (17th Century English Philosopher of Science) wrote a book by that name in 1620, a book I really like—which was a reaction to the scientific „methods“ of Aristotle that had been stagnant since the ancient world and through the middle ages—Bacon wanted a new way to acquire knowledge, a more rigorous method than the old Aristotelian one.
The front concept is minimal. Green/blue without any picture or drawing, just the titles. It does have an 70’s essence, yet it is intriguing in its own way. Some words about it?
It’s designed to look like a philosophy text book, because that’s what the lyrics and song titles are mostly about.
Listening to the album was a great experience. It keeps the 70’s Thin Lizzy elements that are associated with the band and the weirdness of “Ape uprising” and “The animal spirits” albums. Yet I miss the epic sounds of “Dawn among the deadmen” or the straight metal futuristic tunes of “Traveler”. Do you think that there is room in your music for something like this again?
Actually I think it does sound like those records. I think it sounds similar to Down Among the Deadmen. I guess I hear it differently than other people. I will never try to repeat myself, but it does happen naturally at times. We already did those records, so I’m not going to try to repeat them. Who know what will happen next…… perhaps an album that sounds like Duran Duran……….
Since I have only the newsletter from Cruz Del Sur could you shed some light on the songs of the “New Organon”? My favorite track is the title track, but I also fancy a lot “Headhunter”, “Being and nothingness”, “Sword of Machiavelli” and “The apology”. By the way to whom is the apology? And what about the “Discourse of equality”?
Those are Philosophy books by Plato and Rousseau. I like the ‚Being and Nothingness“ „The Apology“, the song „New Organon“ and „sword of Machiavelli“ the best I think. I really like the whole album, much more than I did the last album, at this point. We play a lot of the songs live and have for a long time, before the album came out. We put them to the test in front of audiences and they responded well – so we recorded them. That’s really what the album is, sort of like many bands‘ first record. You write songs and play them at shows for a year or two, and the ones that get a reaction you put on an album – well, we did the same thing, but it just happens to be our 10th album. But it’s the greatest hits of the songs we wrote in the last three or four years really.
“Coming of an age in the Milky way” reminded me of songs like “Kon-Tiki”, “Second coming” or “Man out of time”. There is an eerie softness in the song, yet it is indulging in its own way. Without having read the lyrics I’d say that its about being nothing in the vastness of the universe. Am I wrong?
Sort of, that and being depressed and isolated. But the melody is more like a sixties pop song by Petula Clark, like “Downtown” or something. There’s a lot of nonsense in the lyrics about astro-physics, and black holes and that kind of thing. The melody was originally written when I passed a nail-salon by my house, and the melody came into my head, sounding like an advertisement for a beauty-school. How it became about astro-physics I’m not sure, maybe I was reading too much Neil DeGrasse-Tyson. But that song was a weird development, first it was about a nail-salon, then it was about being depressed and broken hearted (I was going out with a girl around that time which ended abruptly) , and then it was about astro-physics. How this all took place I don’t know, but as I sang the song more and more the lyrics came out of the melody – according to what I was thinking about at the moment. And although not many song writers describe their writing process in this way, I believe it probably often occurs just like this – this simply write the music and the melody, and the lyrics sort of spontaneously come out while they are signing, according to what they are dwelling on at the time. God knows Dio must have done that!!
I read in the Crystal Logic interview that you weren’t completely satisfied with the “Traveler” album. Well, “Traveller” is my favorite album. Not only it was the only S.F. album I could completely understand but its science fiction themes were unique. And it had a dog space pilot as a cover (though I am a cat guy). Haven’t you ever thought on returning to this one and writing a second part?
It sounds straightforward and like more commercial metal in a way, and it was also never finished. There was a lot more I wanted to do with it but could not because of money constraints – It was an experiment in more poppy, more accessible sounds. Definitely not our most weird or original sounding album – which is what I honestly wanted to do at the time – to see if we could do a record that sounded more like a traditional metal band. I thought it was ironic that many “underground “fans thought it was our best album – that our most mainstream sounding album was their favorite. I’m not criticizing people for liking my album, because I like it too – and I always want people to like what I do, of course. but it was an experiment in sounding more straightforward – and less unique – my conclusion was that underground fans have the same kind of taste as everyone else, they like catchy poppy melodies, which totally fine – but a bit ironic.
Throughout your albums there are lots of acoustic songs, almost all of them containing folk/Celtic melodies. Haven’t you ever thought of doing a full acoustic album as a side project?
Not really. I don’t think I could. Quite frankly I’m not good enough on the acoustic guitar yet – I’d have to practice that style to do anything really interesting. I think I would get bored with an entire album of acoustic songs, and therefore I think my fans would as well.
Are you in touch with the modern heavy metal scene? Nowadays classic metal is an upcoming trend and the retro movement has been overwhelming to the point of being tiring and the scene being saturated. What is your view on this? Are newer bands taking any risks when they choose to play classic metal or just go with the flow while they know that this music is welcomed by the younger audience?
I don’t know I guess the answer is that I’m not in touch with that scene. I’m happy if younger bands are doing classic metal, but I agree that it can get old, and people need to try something new. What that would be at this point is hard to say- – but each group of musicians is unique in some way, and they should capitalize and emphasize this point, rather than try to sound like someone else. Easier said than done!!
During the last years the states have been in a political turmoil. I always thought that there is a political niche inside the lyrics of SLOUGH FEG. Am I wrong? Do you believe that tanking a political stand is polarizing the scene and the fans?
There is really no political message to SLOUGH FEG, and never really has been. I am very politically naïve, like most musicians, and any opinions I would express would probably be inaccurate and ignorant, as I really wouldn’t know enough about the reality of politics to form a coherent opinion. And the worst thing I could do is come up with some political bullshit without knowing what I’m talking about, and spread that ignorance to other people, so I tend to leave politics out of the music. Having said that, I certainly have political opinions, but they are very general and standard – not very interesting song material. I am a liberal democrat and most of my political and ethical beliefs fall right into the standard views of that category—not very interesting. Ok, I’m on the fence about the death penalty – perhaps that’s my one non-liberal view, I believe that perhaps people who kill and mutilate other humans should perhaps be killed and mutilated themselves. I’m not 100% sure of this, but I strongly that some people should be put to death for the atrocities they commit. But even on this issue I am not completely unmovable, I’m sure there are good ethical arguments against the death penalty, and I might be convinced by them if I talked to the right people. Ad I’m not gong to write lyrics about the death penalty – I think Metallica and Agnostic Front covered that ground thirty years ago!!
Through the years the band has evolved lyrically from medieval folk/epic themes to more social/philosophical stuff. Frankly though I am missing the old tales of primeval heroes, I do enjoy this evolution. Was it something natural?
Natural? I’m not sure what that would mean in this case. It was a conscious, reasoned decision in one way, and in another it was all intuitive and impulsive. But I don’t think the themes have really changed that much- – I still write some songs about bloodshed and disembowelment!! Headhunter, from the new album is about chopping off peoples’ heads on a stone and wearing them around your neck—standard metal stuff. Songs we’ve just talked about on the new album are about misery and madness, and so are many on the first two albums—so not that much has really changed.
Well this is it…any last words?
Don’t break the oath, man.