EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW WITH BELIEVER’S KURT BACHMAN
Believer have made a downright biblical return from the dead this year with the release of Gabriel, their first album since 1993’s Dimensions. If you were still stomping and screaming at your parents for attention in the line for the Peter Pan ride at Disneyworld (and I know I was) you might not have been listening to Believer back in the day. However, you may have heard of one of their better known cohorts such as Atheist and Pestilence and much like those bands, Believer were experimenting with a lot of technical brilliance and progressive depth to make some very impressive metal. The day after Gabriel’s March 17th release, vocalist/guitarist Kurt Bachman was kind enough to talk to me about the making of the new record, kids these days, reunion mania and how they never really wanted to be known as a Christian band.
First question, how was your St. Patrick’s Day?
Fantastic. It’s funny because now you have the internet so now you get instant feedback which is kind of unnerving. It’s been a long time and we had no idea what people were going to think of the record. You have family and friends who are like “It’s really good!” but what do they know, right? [laughs] No, I was actually pleasantly surprised, it seems like people are digging the record and it was an exciting day for us.
What inspired you to reform Believer after all these years?
Basically, I moved closer to the studio near where Joey [Daub, drums] lives. He was working on this project called Fountain of Tears and they were doing some studio stuff so he called me and said “Hey it would be great if you could come down and help us produce some, help us with the mix”. So I came down and that helped fuel a bit of the studio bug for me. We just got together and started playing and having fun, nothing serious, but the chemistry was still there and stuff started clicking. We wrote some tunes, played them for some people and then some of our friends in the industry said “you guys should put this out, maybe there’s one or two Believer fans still out there that wouldn’t mind hearing it”. We got a little more serious about it. We have our own studio which is nice, so we can do all that stuff ourselves. We recorded it and it snowballed from there. We hooked up with Howard Jones [Killswitch Engage] and from him hooked up with Brian Slagel from Metal Blade, and Brian said “Believer? Absolutely, lets do this.” It was sort of an easy process for us as far as the business end of it was concerned.
How did you get in contact with Howard Jones? Did you know each other?
No, actually we didn’t. I don’t know if Joey put something up on his website saying we were getting together or something but the word got out a little bit that we were writing and starting on another record. I guess he [Howard] did an interview or something and he had heard about this and was really stoked. I don’t know if it was Borivoj [Krgin] from Blabbermouth or Monte [Connor] from Roadrunner who was like “Hey, why don’t you talk to Howard, maybe he wants to do something on the record”. We got in touch with him and it turns out he’s a big Believer fan. He knows more about the history of Believer than we do! It was really cool. So we flew him in to the studio, we worked with him over two days. Then he mentioned that he was starting this imprint with Brian Slagel from Metal Blade and he asked us if we wanted to be the first band on it. That’s how it happened.
What’s the name of this imprint?
So has Metal Blade been very supportive then in comparison with other labels you’ve worked with like Roadrunner?
For Roadrunner: they were really great and really supportive. Like I said, I’m still in touch with Monte Connor. We still talk. It was a great relationship that we had with Roadrunner. We were very happy with them and the people were great.
For this one, we have our own company so it was more of a licensing thing. We were doing everything ourselves so weren’t sure what sort of support as far as marketing, promotion, stuff like that that we were going to get but we’ve been unbelievably happy with Metal Blade. They’ve been great. They’ve been really pushing the album. They’re just a great bunch of people: Brian, Mike F., the promotions people, Kelly. Everyone has been so cool with us and really excited about helping us promote this.
Believer’s first record came out on R.E.X. records, right?
Yeah, like a small independent guy out of Atlantic City.
And that’s a Christian label if I’m correct?
They did a little bit of both. He had a couple other bands on there and he got them Christian distribution and stuff like that.
I was wondering if there was a reason that Believer has often chosen to sign with secular labels as opposed to Christian-based ones. Is that just kind of the way things happened?
Well we never wanted to be known as a Christian band for one [laughs]. It was one of these things where it got out of control. With promoting records it was one of those things where the record company was like “Hey, here’s a slant. Something different. Something new and unique. Let’s go for that”. I’ve always tried to stay away from labeling the band. For me it’s a band, it’s entertainment. We even get called death metal some times even though I don’t think we resemble anything death metal-ish out there, but then again I have my own opinions on what death metal is. We just don’t want it to be one of those things where someone’s like “oh I hate thrash music, so I won’t like Believer”. You get labeled and we’re going to have to go through labels but we’re not really comfortable with any.
What’s your opinion on the metal scene and metal fans nowadays as opposed to when you started. Are people mostly the same in regards to what they listen to or on the business side of things?
It’s interesting because when we first started, which was a while ago [laughs], Metallica was just starting to get play in the mainstream market which was weird for us. I can remember getting the first Metallica, the Kill Em All record, and it was nowhere. Nobody was going to play this, no record station or anything. You can see it develop through the years. As far as metal goes, I don’t know if it’s being more accepted or that there’s a bunch more metal fans in positions in media now who are going back and playing what they love. It’s kind of a cool atmosphere today where you have so much different music that’s easily accessible. It’s out there and there’s a huge fan-base for heavy music now. I mean musicianship…some of these bands out there are unbelievable.
Yeah some of them are pretty crazy.
Yeah it’s sickening to me, I feel like throwing away my guitar! I think you have all of this new metal that’s out there that’s really new and different but then you also have Cynic putting out a new record, and Obscura coming out. It’s awesome because it’s not like this or that band is on the outside, or on a branch, it’s all melded into one.
Regarding Cynic, I always thought it was cool that Believer chose to put out a new record now. Originally you guys were pushed on this compilation at Roadrunner
Yeah, “The Breed Beyond.”
Right, and now Cynic has put out a new album, Pestilence has gotten back together and they’re about to put out a new album, and now Believer as well.
It’s kind of bizarre. You’d think that we all called each other and said “hey let’s put out a new album” but I don’t know what it was. I’ve talked to Paul [Masvidal] from Cynic. I’m in contact with Kelly [Shaefer] from Atheist, and he was pumped that we were getting back together and he was like “throw me songs, I gotta hear the new stuff” and I’m doing that to him going like “wait a second, Atheist is back in the studio? You gotta give me some of that stuff!” [laughs]. Sacrifice, they’re going to put a new album out, I’ve heard a bunch of that. I don’t know what it was, it’s like when you’re wearing the same color shirt as somebody else, people ask “did you call each other?”.
Not only are all these bands getting back together and putting out new albums but like you said, people are really interested and excited. All these bands are getting lots of media attention…
Yeah, we were really surprised that people knew who we were and were excited about us putting out a record. We weren’t expecting that at all. I mean we still think of Gabriel, we still think of it as kind of our first record. A lot of the people who are listening to it weren’t alive when we were putting out our first records.
Was it a different feeling going back to the studio to record Gabriel from when you were recording your other albums?
You fall back into the swing of things, so to speak. We have our own studio now, and we had a lot of the gear that we did Dimensions with but there was also a friend who had more studio equipment who we partnered with. It’s a nice thing to be able to record for two days and then not record anything for three days, come back with fresh ears and hear how it sounds, or decide how we like a part now. From before with the first two albums, you have a recording budget, studio time and you better be ready. You go in, you record it and that’s it. This time we were able to produce on the fly, make some critical decisions during the recording progress and not be freaked out about budget.
How long did it take to record Gabriel all together?
About nine months.
Wow, really? That’s quite a labor of love then.
It was. We were still acquiring new equipment, too, being like “oh we need that, we have to get that, we need that for this album now”. Along the way you obviously have your technical glitches and things. We have two more albums left for Metal Blade and I’m actually looking forward to the second one because I think the recording process will go much smoother. We know a little more about what we’re doing with the equipment that bought during Gabriel. Looking forward to it.
So you produced the album yourselves, too?
Yeah. That was cool, too, because even with Metal Blade, I guess there’s enough people there that they can say “We trust these guys, because they’ve done it in the past. Let’s let them go”.
I just heard Gabriel for the first time this morning actually, and I noticed that there is a different sound in the production from the first few albums. What was going on there?
Basically, what we wanted to do on this record was we wanted to capture more of the dynamics. We wanted to have more separation between the instruments. Some of our older albums have been mostly guitar and drums. For this one we wanted to make sure that even if we had a bass part or a keyboard part, even if we wanted to put that in the back, it was still audible and there was a reason for it to be there. We played around with a lot of micing techniques for the guitars and vocals and different things like that. We’re still learning, by no means do I think that we’re the amazing studio producer people but we have fun with it and we have fun experimenting.
Do you write most of the lyrics for Believer?
I write some of them. We all kind of contribute. If I started writing everything it would be staggered because there is only so much insanity that is going on in my brain that I have to involve other people! It’s cool, some of the tunes, I may have penned a verse and then Joey penned another verse. Jeff [King, keyboards] had a lot of great ideas. Then you bring it together and everybody thinks about how it’s going to be phrased.
What is the lyrical content about in Gabriel then?
The lyrical content in Gabriel, well we wrote about a lot of stuff, stuff that could have happened to us that certain day or when we were writing a song. Some things that we were going through personally, anything like that, just things that affected us at the time. There’s a lot of personal stuff going on there even with the title Gabriel. One of the things that’s exciting is we can see what other people get from it.
That’s pretty much all the questions I had for you. So you’ve got two albums left with Metal Blade, what else does the future hold for Believer?
We’re rehearsing right now and we’re looking to get out there and play some shows. I don’t think we’ll be doing any major world tours. We’re getting ready and we’re going to see how the record does. We want to bring back the live experience to people so there will be some mini-tours, doing things like podcasts and things like that. It should be fun.
Thanks very much.
You, too! Thanks for the interview. We really appreciate it.