EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW WITH ANIMOSITY’S LEO MILLER
Animosity’s Leo Miller is not a man of large stature, which is why it was so surprising to see him command the stage like a rabid dog upon catching them on the Metal Sucks-sponsored Job for a Cowboy/ All Shall Perish/ Annotations of an Autopsy tour. Miller and company brought the sort of frenetic energy necessary to translate their last two stellar full lengths – Empires and last year’s Animal – to life, which is by no means a small feat. In a time when death metal bands rely on either predictability or shifting between riffs too rapidly to savor, Animosity jump from thought to savage thought masterfully, producing blink-and-you’ll-miss-it excellence reminiscent of old Dillinger Escape Plan through a DM lens. Their records demand repeat listens, and reward greatly upon them. Miller’s gruff vocals and atypical lyrical approach help elevate the band to thinking man’s level, counteracting metal’s brutish stereotypes.
I managed to catch him – after three botched attempts – on my way out the door after Job for a Cowboy’s set in Providence at the end of last November, and goddamn, I’m glad I caught him. He possesses the kind of eloquence and thoughtfulness an examination of his lyrics would imply, and it was interesting to get a glimpse into the thought process behind the gut-wrenching Animal, easily one of my favorite metal records of 2007, if not in the last few years. Despite the difficult personal events that lead to the album, Leo had a positive tone to his voice throughout our entire conversation, touching upon the band’s plans for the future and his feelings on our next president.
How are you doing?
Doing pretty good.
For me personally, you guys are the band that I like the most on this bill. I’m fucking broke right now. I have $20 until two weeks from Friday, and I bought a shirt.
Oh, thank you.
Because you guys are great. I didn’t get into you guys until Animal. Then I tried to listen to Empires after that, and it’s not the same. It’s just so different.
You didn’t like us until Animal, and you don’t like the old stuff.
I like it. It’s a departure, but you guys still sound like you. What do you think kind of inspired that?
It’s just a natural progression. We didn’t write want to write the same record, but we didn’t try not to. Literally all it was is a two year difference. Emotionally we were all in different places. Relationship-wise with each other, we just reacted to each other differently and it just came out how it did. Maybe there are ways that people could describe the differences, but I wouldn’t be able to express it.
It’s really hard to quantify.
Yeah. It’s less groovy. You can’t say that about Animal. It is what it is. We never had a vision musically for a whole album. We just start writing, and when there is enough material we’re like “let’s record this shit.” Lyrically, I have a little bit more vision.
Speaking of lyrics, you guys go for a more political and social theme than typical death metal gore kind of stuff. Why do you go that route to being with?
Well, I write all the lyrics, and I just don’t have interest in that stuff. I am more interested in what’s real and what’s going on in the world and in my life as opposed to fantasy bullshit. I’m down. I listen to Cannibal Corpse every day, but I feel that when you are in a position to give yourself to hundreds of people a night, that you should put out something worthwhile and that you can stand behind and care about. I also recognize the value of shocking people and writing from an outsider’s point of view. I think that’s cool, but I just really try to express myself with the band because this is all I have. I have other creative outlets, but this is my main thing obviously. The lyrics are just an expression of what I’m feeling. Because of who I am, my upbringing, my family, I am not into gutting women and raping people and shit. It’s not what I’m about. I’d rather talk about something that could improve the world.
You guys have a big political slant. The war on terror had a lot to do on Animal.
As well as on Empires.
Yep. What do you think of the new incoming administration? How do you feel about that?
I’m pretty excited. I don’t have really high hopes, but I do have some hope as opposed to the inevitable doom that we were facing before. I understand that the situation that we are in is really grave. I don’t have the answers to stuff. I am excited for what happened in this election locally in San Francisco as well as nationwide. It was a big victory for my team. I worked on the election, and I worked for Obama. That being said, Obama is not my savior. He is not even my ideal candidate, but I am really excited that he won and so is the rest of the world. So there you have that.
That’s cool. Do you think it will affect your songwriting at all?
It’s interesting to think about, because right when George Bush leaves office, we have a number of songs written specifically about him and his administration and their mistakes. So there goes something big for us.
Like a chunk of your set.
But I am happy to let that go. We are starting to write a new record now, and I don’t have any lyrics. To be honest, I haven’t tried. I think about it sometimes, and I am in a place in my life far different than I was when we wrote Animal and Empires. I am finally at peace with myself and really happy about my life. It’s not to say that I don’t want to write new death metal songs, but I’m not constantly pissed off and I don’t need to vent anger. It’s hard for me to find a way to express other emotions and feelings with this band. I think the music is probably going to be very different as well.
I don’t know. We always say that.
Well, every band always says that.
We have a few riffs noodling around, but there’s nothing really developing quite yet.
You guys don’t have a clear vision yet as to where the album is going to go?
No. I think once we get home from this tour, we’re going to start cracking down on it.
That makes sense. What does inspire your lyrics? They’re very different as far as the typical death metal or even hardcore stuff. They have a weird almost string of consciousness thing to them. What causes you to go towards that approach than the road more traveled?
I don’t know. I am what I am. I just try to express myself. I do value lyrics a lot. I also value the vocals as an instrument. I get it when people aren’t into lyrics, and I appreciate it when they are as well. I never wanted the lyrics to be the centerpiece of Animosity. Like there are some bands that have a movement a meaning behind the message. I don’t want everyone who listens to Animosity to have to be barraged with my thoughts and my message, but I want those that are interested to look further and to get something real out of it. I don’t know why I write the way I do. I know that I am a unique person, but we’re all also very similar and people can relate to my experiences.
What influences you musically and externally? What influenced Animal as a whole?
Mainly for Animal it was a personal struggle dealing with the loss of my girlfriend, who was killed right before we started writing the album. So that was the whole album for me with the exception of maybe two songs. Animal is probably the most aggressive thing that we’ve ever released. It was because I had that going through me. That being said, I am in a better perspective dealing with that now. It’s been a few years since that happened, and I have just learned a lot more about myself. So I expect to write different stuff now. That was what was going on with Animal. With Empires it was more of a social/political thing. I was 18 or something when we wrote that. You know I was coming into the world and figuring it all out.
So Empires was much more of an external record where you were sort of looking at the world beyond you.
Exactly. It was more of a commentary of what was around me, and Animal was a much more internal almost memoirs in a way. Even though I don’t write in that style, it was just looking at myself more. Which was kind of scary at first because I never wrote about how I felt or expressed myself to people in a way that wasn’t common. You can find tons of people who hate the war in Iraq, and I can write a song about that and a lot of people will really feel me on that. But if I have to look inside myself and write about how I’m feeling, it’s scary because you don’t know if people are going to look at you and misinterpret it. I think the response that I have gotten from people who actually take the extra step to look into the lyrics, has always been good. I think people give this band the respect because I don’t write joke lyrics and don’t write fantasy songs. People who disagree with me fundamentally on stuff are still able to come and converse with me about why I am the way that I am and want to learn more about it because they value it as something that took effort and a lot of thought.
What do you guys think about being called “deathcore?”
I think it’s stupid, because if you really want to pick it apart, we don’t have much hardcore music at all in our music. Really that little tag of “deathcore” is applied to bands that I think really suck. It’s not like rewarding to be called that, but I don’t care because I think most people having to do with this music are pretty stupid anyhow. If you want to put that on paper, that’s fine. It’s just people like to label shit and then they can classify it whatever way they want. I don’t give a fuck because if you listen to it, you’ll see that it is unique and cannot be classified into some subgenre like that.
One of my favorite songs off of Animal, which was not played tonight, is “You Can’t Win.” How did the intro to that song come about? Was that a gutsy sort of thing?
That song, more so than any of the other songs, is specifically about the anger and depression I was feeling at the time. So that’s just what I did.
So that scream in the beginning was all the culmination of that?
Yeah. That was the first song that we wrote for the album.
That was the very first song that we wrote, and that was right after she died. We did a demo recording of that with our friend Michael Keene from The Faceless. We were on tour with The Faceless, and we went to his house and I just started yelling into the mic. That’s how the song went. That intro into the song is just raw emotion.
Going back to the material on Animal at this point, is that hard?
Writing the album and performing the album was like a huge healing process for me and my personality. It just made me a much happier person. I know it sounds corny when people talk about venting their frustration through metal music and moshing, but it really was what got me through the hard times that I was having. I think about it when we’re playing, and it feels good now. It feels different some nights than others. Some nights it’s what I need to be doing. Other nights it’s just going through the motions.
I don’t know how much you personally had with that thing with Drumcorps…
You know what? He’s here.
Isn’t that weird?
What does he look like?
He’s got long, black dreadlocks. He’s like a weird looking dude.
I think I saw that guy. How did that come about?
Basically when we were writing Animal, I was getting into electronic music. I was listening to a lot of that kind of stuff, and I noticed similarities and thought about crossing the genres and stuff and how it could work together. I know there is mutual interest in both sides. This guy Aaron who is Drumcorps, he had done a remix of a Converge song and I was a fan of his. I literally just sent him a message on Myspace and said “I like your music. We’re making a new CD, and I’d like to make a real project out of it instead of just a remix.” He was just way into it. I’m really glad because that’s my favorite thing that we’ve ever done.
I just think it’s the coolest music that we’ve made, even though we didn’t do much beyond the Animal. I think what he did for us is so cool, and he’s here. He lives in Berlin.
Yeah, and he’s here. I saw him in the crowd. I was like “what?!” We’re going to play together in San Francisco in a couple of weeks.
Yeah. The other part of it is that I started to notice that there are a lot of people who exclude a lot of music from their lives because they feel that it doesn’t fit into their image or what their friends will think of them. With that release, I wanted to say to our fans that there is more out there musically and to just open the boundaries of our band more. We really don’t feel tied to any sort of deathcore or label. What we do is what we do when it comes down to it. We will do whatever we want, and that was an example of that.
That’s cool. It’s weird how you guys have a tendency to run from one riff to another. You guys blended really well with the breakcore thing.
I saw Animosity remixes and I sort of rolled my eyes at it. That one made sense.
Also there are metal bands who are doing remixes, but you never really hear death metal remixed like that. It just never happened. I am proud of that one.
As you should be. Where do you guys see yourselves going? Do you have any set plan or anything like that?
Our plan is to just keep making music. We’re going to write a new CD. There is so much politics involved in this community that are encroaching on our band that it is hard to say where we are going. If you want to know the honest truth, it is probably nowhere.
Except just on the road and doing what we do. That’s what we do. Bands feel like they are going everywhere because there is more commercial attention to metal and more accessibility to it. I am trying not to get caught up in that kind of shit. Where we’re trying to go is to the studio to make a new CD and then back on tour. That’s the plan.
That’s all we really need right now I suppose.
It’s hard to deal with all that kind of shit though.
How long have you guys been out on the road this time around?
Almost three weeks so far. This is an awesome tour.
Yeah, it seems like a real awesome tour. I know you guys seem to get along real well too.
Yeah, our band?
Well, with the other bands on the tour.
Well we’re good friends with Job For a Cowboy since they started. Everyone else is cool too.