DARKEST HOUR’S MIKE SCHLEIBAUM TALKS NEW RECORD LABEL WITH METALSUCKS
Six albums and ten years after signing with Victory Records, Darkest Hour found themselves free agents after their most recent release, 2009’s The Eternal Return. Last month’s announcement that Darkest Hour had signed with E1 (formerly Koch) came as a surprise to many who thought they’d end up on a more established metal label but makes perfect sense given E1’s recent track record of signing already established metal acts.
Shortly after the band announced their new label, I caught up with Darkest Hour guitarist, occasional MS columnist, fellow member of The Tribe and MS interview alum Mike Schleibaum to chat about the band’s career, their recent label move, and what to expect on the next record (it’s already being written). Darkest Hour were doing a short string of headline dates on their way back from their U.S. tour with Dillinger Escape Plan, Animals as Leaders and Iwrestledabearonce, and though a slight snafu prevented us from talking the day we’d originally planned on, we hooked up the next afternoon. Our chat after the cut.
Sorry we didn’t hook up yesterday. It was equally my fault too.
Yeah, dude, I mean, shit. We’re driving like 8 hours a day. We finished the tour with Dillinger, so we’re playing random shows across the country to make it worth our while enough to drive 4 days in a row. But it’s just rough when you don’t have a tour package and you’re just playing random shows. It’s “meal ticket metal,” dude. For sure.
So you’re just winding your way back home?
Yeah, we’re on our way back home. We’re on our way back to regroup and start writing… well, we’ve already started writing the record, but we’ll keep putting it together and make that the main focus. The last couple of shows are kind of the last shows we’re going to play for The Eternal Return. The last one is going to be at this kid’s house in Grafton, OH for free. He won the contest, and of course nobody at Victory did anything to help facilitate anything in that contest. So it’s like a year and a half later, but it almost feels like a good place to end the cycle anyway.
He’s going to be stoked. It may only be him and 3 of his friends, but who cares?
So what happened yesterday? You guys had some van trouble or something?
We had some van troubles when we were going to Corona. Yesterday was hectic because we had to drive all day in the desert where there’s no cell service. Then Fender is actually based in Phoenix, right? So Mike, the other guitar player, and I are sponsored by Fender. They took us out, and they gave us a bunch of shit to use. We had set it up for weeks in advance, so it was important to do.
More important than my douchey metal blog.
Let’s talk about E1 and how that came about.
When we were writing the Eternal Return we knew it was the last Victory record. We knew that things were going to be rocky with not resigning, so we had our tentacles out there. It wasn’t until after the record came out — and we’ve been on tour for awhile — that we started getting offers. I’m happy to say that the decade of turbulence on Victory Records . . . still surviving that, and we still had an offer from almost every label you would want to sign to. It was pretty obvious from the beginning who were the ones that we’re the best fit for. E1 is kind of new. They do have artists, but it’s not the first one that I would have thought of. After seeing all the deals and meeting all the people, they just really seemed like they’re the perfect place for us to go with a whole new start and being able to totally re-launch as a band and have our own identity. For so long we were tied to the way Victory markets bands and being in that role, you know? It’s nice now to be able to be an extreme, aggressive metal band that has its own identity.
Do you feel that at the end of the Victory contract, and especially on the cycle with the last record, that nobody there gave a shit about you?
It’s just not that simple. Victory has tons of bands, and they sign tons of bands every day and they have tons of releases. I don’t even know if they are at like Victory VR 400 [referring to the number on the spine of their 400th record release. -Ed.] now or something. So not resigning (and being there for 10 years) of course they’re going to cut their losses. Why continue to support a band that’s been around that long that’s not going to resign? Part of the vibe of The Eternal Return is dark and twisted as it is and how short and aggressive it all tied up with everything that had to do with the making of it. We knew that it was probably going to be the most tortured, artist defined release, and it is. When it’s all said and done, the catalog is there and it’s going to be really cool. It’s going to be a really cool record that fits with everything for sure.
It’s pretty obvious having been a band for as long as we’re a band, and what Darkest Hour does and does well… I definitely think that the next record will be a metamorphosis of coming of age for our band. We had Lonestar joining the band, we wrote a record together, there was a lot of turmoil while we were trying to do it based on our situation, and we’ve come out on the other side a tighter and stronger band. I definitely think that that’s going to affect the music more than a new label. I do think having somebody who wants to be proactive and work with us (and not to fight us) will help us no matter what happens.
Do you feel like you’re in a better position to be yourself and maybe take a few more artistic risks with this next record?
Artistic risks? Oh god. In metal that could be the kiss of death. You know what I mean? We haven’t been afraid to take them in the past, and I think just being on a new label . . . Victory, it’s not like it wasn’t a good label to be on at one point. They can sell records, and sometimes they sell records for bands that can’t even believe they can sell records. Everywhere we went, we always got grief for being on Victory. Every time we tried to get on tours, people were like “we love you but.” At least we hopefully won’t have that working against us. At the same time, I’m not going to sit here and say that there weren’t really good times for the band during the Victory era. On Undoing Ruin, they did a really good job, but it is what it is. History speaks for itself.
Yeah. What about your relationship with Lonestar as far as writing goes? How’s it working out with you guys?
Lonestar is the man. I really appreciate all the support that you guys gave Mike in the beginning because there were plenty of people that didn’t understand, like “why didn’t they go and try out every guitar shredder?” or “why didn’t they have open cast calls?”. You know what I mean? “Why did they pick this one guy who happened to just be their fucking guitar tech?” The thing is, Mike is such an awesome guy and such an amazing guitar player. Over the course of The Eternal Return we just got the chance to bond and hang. When you’re a guitar player for a metal band, almost all the songs spawn to those riffs, so you spend a lot of time together. I definitely think that Mike and I have a more symbiotic relationship when it comes to writing now because sometimes he’ll do something and right away we’ll know what to do next or we’ll know what the other person is thinking. He really came into his own, and it’s pretty nerve-racking to join a band that’s been around for 15 years and toured the world and played with all these bands. Shit, he just did a tour with At the Gates — that was his first tour he ever did with us. To join the band and say “hey, come on in and write with us”, that’s a lot. We could have said “just join the band and we’ll write the entire record. You can play some solos on it.” We really wanted somebody that would get in there and continue to add some more special sauce. I think that’s what Mike did, and he’s full on in there. You see the band now live . . . we’re tighter, we sound better than ever, and I’m just stoked about where we can take the record now that we’re really ready to hit the ground running – not to quote David Lee Roth or anything.
Why wouldn’t you want to quote David Lee Roth?
I try to quote him all the time, actually.
Yeah, cool. I’ve always said, and I said it in that press release: we’re not just a local band that got signed and developed into a touring phenomenon. We logged in those road hours. We played a lot of shows since 1995 – that is good and bad. In a lot of ways, it’s good because we covered a lot of ground. In other ways it’s bad because we learned a lot through that entire . . . if we could bust out Darkest Hour as a brand new band – sounding the way it is now, it would be a completely new impression. Having grown up in front of people, it’s hard to really knock them over the head with something new. I do think that with Mike in the fold, we at least have a fighting shot.
I’m happy you guys are keeping it going, and I can’t wait to hear the new album. I wish you guys all the best with the new label.
Fuck yeah, man. Thanks again for all the support. You’re the fucking man, dude. We love your site. We probably check it like every day.
Oh, thank you! I appreciate that.
Yeah, I’m always like “what the fuck are they ripping on now”.
And I hope it’s not me.
If you ever need someone to write another Underrated kind of band and get them back together, I’ll do it. We just got to pick the band.
That worked really well for The Crown.
That was awesome.
Any last thoughts?
The new E1 record will be dope. The Eternal Return stuff matters to me…. but this isn’t my personal favorite Darkest Hour record. The next one will probably be bad ass, but this documents a really hard time in my life and the other guys’ lives. So I’m always going to look at that black record and just be like “god damn”. You know what I mean?