Interviews

EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW WITH LAIR OF THE MINOTAUR’S STEVEN RATHBONE

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Before their Spring show at NYC’s Knitting Factory with The Ocean, Kylesa and Withered, Axl, Vince and Kip triple-teamed Lair of the Minotaur mastermind Steven Rathbone to ask him questions about his band, their new album, the motivation behind their fantasy-tinged lyrics, and of course the band’s ridiculous BEST MUSIC VIDEO EVAAAR (warning: NSFW) for “War Metal Battle Master.” Read our interview after the jump (and also check out our interview with The Ocean’s Robin Staps from the same evening).

So, you’re 3 days into the tour?

Five; we did 2 days before we met up with The Ocean. We did a date in Lansing, Michigan. Gas is so ridiculously expensive, we cannot afford to take a day off and just drive.

So how’s it going so far with the 2 days and then the 3 with these shows [with The Ocean]?

Really cool, really cool. It’s a really cool package and a little bit of diversity in the bands so it’s bringing out a cross section of people and stuff. So it’s really cool. All the guys in The Ocean are awesome dudes, so that’s always nice. When you’re out with a bunch of bands and there’s not any kind of conflict or anything like that . . . yet.

[Laughter]

Until someone gets into a fight.

Right, right.

So you have a new album out? Can you talk a little bit about the writing process for the album? Do you guys write as a band or do you write everything yourself, or do you guys all write together?

Well, yeah, actually I write all the songs. What I’ll do is that it’ll all be on guitar, and I write everything out on guitar and then I’ll record demos. I have a little studio at the house with a drum machine, bass and everything all together. Everything except for the vocals. I’ll get the entire album together so I can listen to the whole album before we even take the next step, because I think it’s important to have an entire album. You know what I mean? To have it be a complete thought and not just a bunch of songs kind of thrown together; one really good song and a bunch of filler, that kind of thing. So that’s all we’re trying to do, make albums. So at that point I’ll go ahead and give the stuff to the guys; the drums are like a basic structure that I’ll come with and I’ll let Chris kind of go off and do his own thing on that and let DJ do his thing on the bass. We go through a lot of . . . we like to rehearse the songs a lot before we go in so we can just go in and record them and not have it be where you’re writing in the studio and, you know, still kind of figuring out the ins and outs of the songs. I like to play them live as much as possible, and I think that has a lot to do with the first album of a band usually being some of their best stuff. Some of the material they’ve played the longest they’ve had a chance to kind of mold the sound of these songs. A lot of times a band will get popular, and by the time the second record comes around, they got to jump back into the studio and that’s where a lot of the sophomore curse comes from. So usually when we go into the studio, most of the stuff we do is maybe 2 or 3 takes; some of them are 1 take. We don’t do any filler and shit. No triggers that we record to tape; guitar, bass, drums, all to tape. We bump it into ProTools and I’ll do one extra guitar track and do vocals and that’s it. You know, there’s no crazy trickery or . . . we like to have this real raw sound. I mean, what you hear is the band, you know?

Speaking of you saying making a complete album, the new album is a concept album of sorts. Can you want to tell us a little bit about the concept and how that came together for you?

Well actually I started working on this when the first album came out. When Carnage came out, I originally had the idea to do the album about Ares. So all the songs are either about Ares or they’re about his offspring or battles. So what the original concept is about, the press thing that went out was very vague. I think it said something about settling conflicts or something like that. [Laughter] That was an Email I sent to Southern Lord one day, and they used it. [Laughter]

That wasn’t meant to be used, but it kind of got misconstrued because I’ve seen some reviews where people were saying that these songs aren’t about Greek mythology; but they are. I think they just took that as what this album is about, but they are and there are some writings about Ares that kind of . . . not as much to describe him as a person, but how the will to kill itself would be described. If there was a battle and they’d be like Ares was with them on the battlefield that day. So I thought that was kind of a cool concept so I kind of went with that, and that’s a running theme for the whole album. It has no connection with any kind of current wars or any political stance or anything like that. It’s all heavy metal fantasy fun.

You guys obviously also have a pretty good sense of humor. Like, you don’t take yourselves too seriously. Obviously your video to some extent displays that and also just how exaggerated your last album was: The Ultimate Destroyer and this album, War Metal Battle Master?

Yeah.

So why do you think more metal bands don’t have that kind of tongue in cheek sensibility? They take themselves so seriously. Why don’t you guys take it so seriously?

Well it’s not so much . . . I can laugh at anything. I think most people I’ve known that listen to metal can laugh at themselves and have some of the best senses of humor out of anyone that I know. It seems like a lot of that more comes from Europe than it does from the States, that real serious type thing. What we’re trying to do is purposely take it over the top. A lot of what we do really isn’t in line with what any bands are doing now and is . . . I think it was something that I kind of saw a little bit of a void in music [today]. It seems like a lot of bands will shy away from traditional heavy metal imagery or lyrics, and I think it’s kind of been over the years construed as cheesy. People make fun, like “Oh, Dio,” you know what I mean? Like that sword and sorcerer kind of thing. But anyone who grew up listening to metal, that’s what metal is. You know what I mean? It’s Dio and Judas Priest and all those kinds of things, and I think anyone who is a metal head kind of takes it to heart when they hear these people making fun of that. So as much as we are a little bit tongue in cheek, we have a sense of humor but very serious about the music. What we wanted to do was kind of bring a little bit of that back, and we have nothing to do with fashion or stage shows or anything like that. We’re kind of anti-that just because to me that type of thing has come and gone. And we’re to a point now where it’s almost like a costume when you see a lot of people do that, and there’s a lot of people that do wear costumes; makeup and all sorts of things like that. A lot of times that’s what’s considered real, you know, real metal. It’s interesting when you think about it, what gets thought of as real metal: people wearing costumes and makeup.

Right.

[Laughter]

Anyways, I won’t go too far into that. I mean that’s something that’s sort of all eras of metal, going back to Kiss and Alice Cooper and Dio. I think in large part the people that may shy away from those traditional imagery and lyrics in heavy metal do this because of the negative association with, say, glam metal or hair metal. In popular culture when that shit was coming out, people would think “Oh, this is heavy metal.” Like Britny Fox is heavy metal. So I think there’s a lot of bands that are like, “Well we don’t want to call ourselves metal because people will think we’re Britny Fox” so there are all these sub genres that have come out. But if you notice, sub genres come and go.

There’s been grunge and metalcore, rap metal, this and that, but like just hardcore, raw heavy metal is still around and still doing well. There’s band likes Celtic Frost, there’s Slayer. They’re touring now and doing really well. So I think it kind of sets itself apart from some of the sub genres and flash in the pan stuff.

How do you think the current state of the metal scene is? Do you think there are too many bands that take themselves too seriously or do you think it’s a good time to be a metal band and ride it out?

Yeah, I mean it seems that there’s a big resurgence of thrash bands. I think that’s really cool. I mean I’d rather see a million thrash bands than a million metalcore bands and so . . . there’s a lot of really good stuff going on with that. I’m a big fan of Craft and Revenge from Canada. There are some bands that are doing some really cool stuff and there’s also a lot of really cookie cutter stuff out there. There are a lot of bands that you could say “Okay this is . . . they’re like this band or they’re like this band.” I mean, I like to think that you couldn’t just say “Lair of the Minotaur sounds like this band,” you know what I mean? And not like it’s this huge amalgamation of all these different bands or something; it’s just heavy metal. I think people could say that. It’s heavy metal. When we were starting the band, I didn’t think anyone was going to like it at all because it didn’t sound like any of the metal that was out at the time, just because of us being completely over the top with the name. I mean the name alone . . . I named it that just because it was kind of cutting the wheat from the chaff. If you’re too fucking cool to listen to [a band named] Lair of the Minotaur, then get the fuck out. You know what I mean?

[Laughter]

Get the fuck out. So that kind of draws the line right there with people. It’s become apparent that there are people out there that are wanting something a little bit more than that cookie cutter stuff. We hear from people and we hear what they’re playing out on tour and stuff. So it’s real reassuring to hear that kind of stuff. I mean none of us think or ever imagine that we’d be where we’re at right now and doing anything that we’re doing with this. So it’s all been very surprising and unexpected and fun.

The last question and then we’ll let you go. We’ve got to ask about the video. How did that come together? Was it a collaboration between you and the director? Was it the stupidest crazy thing possible?

It was an idea that I had. He approached us at the Murderfest in L.A. last year. Gary Smithson, the director, has directed videos for High on Fire, Goatwhore, Exodus, Tomahawk and a bunch of shit like that. We started talking, and I was like “Well, you know, I have this idea for a video, but it’s not like a normal video and I don’t know if we have the money to do this.” [Laughter] “But this is what I want to do — I just don’t want to do a normal video.” And we started talking, and it first started out like “Well I got this friend here who could help us with this. I got this friend who could do this.” Between the both of us, we know people that work in the horror industry that do special effects, and so we got a lot of help and a lot of people who really came out. Once we told them what we wanted to do, everyone was ready to lend a hand, no problem. We probably spent as much or more time dealing with that, the fucking video, than recording and writing the entire album. I couldn’t imagine filming a movie. I know there’s a lot more people working on it, and I wore a lot of hats on this, but man, it’s just a lot of bullshit. In the end, I think we did something cool. There are a lot of videos out there that are really lame.

So we wanted to do something for hardcore metal fans and hardcore horror fans, which, you know… we’re all fans of horror. We had a very limited budget, but I think we were able to convey what we wanted to convey to create this video. Again, we heard from people time and time again. “Dude I’ve been waiting to see a fucking video like this. I’d given up on videos until I’ve seen this.” So it’s good . . .

That video definitely makes an impression, dude.

That’s good to hear.

Cool. Thanks a lot!

-AR & VN

[Lair of the Minotaur on MySpace]

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