THE MAKING OF DAATH, PART 1: EXCLUSIVE IN-STUDIO REPORT
Eyal Levi’s studio resides in the basement of his family’s home in suburban Atlanta. It’s a small room that couldn’t comfortably hold more than five, maybe six people; if your only mental image of a band making a record comes from A Year and a Half in the Life of Metallica, it might be a little off-putting. You’re perpetually aware that you’re actually in the middle of someone’s house; various non-local metal denizens (including this blogger) populate the guest beds and couches, while members of Daath who live within driving distance but aren’t necessarily needed at the moment come and go as they please to share meals, jokes, vape rips, and the work-in-progress. It’s only when you really look around and soak in the details of your surroundings — the box full of copies of Daath’s self-released debut, Futility; the Misery Index vinyls; the post-it note by the door that makes reference to an incident involving Arsis’ James Malone, the house security system, and the local police department — that you realize: Oh, yeah. I’ve got albums on my iPod that were recorded in this room!
Daath have returned here to make their new, self-titled album after recording 2008’s The Concealers at producer Jason Suecof’s Audio Hammer Studios in Florida. The relaxed and homey environment was chosen deliberately for this outing. The name of the game this time is “creative freedom,” and the atmosphere at Eyaland (the studio doesn’t have an official name) definitely seems to breed open thinking — which is key, given that the group has only written and demoed skeletal versions of the songs, with the flourishes that, frankly, make Daath Daath still-to-be-added.
The decision to work this way came about because the band has felt, in the past, as though sometimes their preproduction demos “would sound better than the records we released,” Eyal explains. “Lots of times we’d feel we were making better-sounding-but-more-stale-versions of what we did [on the demos], because lightning doesn’t strike twice in the same place… This time we didn’t allow that. We got the songs to the point where we’re comfortable hitting ‘record,’ and we’re taking them to the next level in the studio.”
When I ask Emil Werstler how he can be so sure that resulting record won’t be a total clusterfuck, he tells me, “we’ve been a band for so long, we kind of know who and what to trust.” Eyal later echoes these sentiments, again emphasizing the “trust factor.” “Maybe it wasn’t there before,” he says, “and not because anybody doubted anybody else, but because we hadn’t been working long enough together to really fully know what everybody is capable of. Now we’re of the mentality that if you put some pressure on us and give us the tools to record ourselves or to be recorded, in the right environment we’ll do some crazy shit. So we’re just trying to capture that this time.”
The capturing of the crazy shit, at least during my multi-day visit to the studio, goes down like this: co-producer and engineer Mark Lewis, who worked with Daath on The Concealers (he’s been Jason Suecof’s frequent collaborator since the Roadrunner United album in 2005) and also co-produced Levi/Werstler’s Avalanche of Worms earlier this year, sits at a computer bank at the front of the room. He has a humorous habit of constantly swapping the first letters from any given pair of words; one night, Eyal uses the phrase “new job,” and Lewis bursts out laughing — but it’s a good twenty seconds before anyone else is clued in on the joke. Meanwhile, Eyal, who is producing the album with Lewis, reclines on a nearby black leather couch, observing quietly while often stroking his long, wizard-like beard, his physicality appropriately conveying his status as The Godfather of these sessions.
Emil, who teaches guitar lessons via Skype during the day and has an excitable, almost boyish energy about him (“Oh, I love that band!” he proclaims multiple times during conversation in any given night, and you don’t ever get the sense that he’s bullshitting you), sits in a backless chair on the opposite side of the room. When bassist Jeremy Creamer is present (he’s not yet laying down bass tracks), he takes a seat on the other end of the couch from Eyal; he’s the quietest member of the band, and he gives notes less frequently than Levi, Werstler, or Lewis, but, perhaps not coincidentally, his ideas are most consistently the ones that are immediately adopted into the songs. Emil or Eyal will fiddle with a guitar part; then everyone else will give their input, and the musician in question will fiddle some more. Thanks to the speed and ease of Pro Tools, the band can experiment with dozens of different ideas for a song and play them back instantly before punching in to make further adjustments, allowing them to maintain the raw, dirty production style they’re aiming for without sacrificing their perfectionistic impulses.
And they do have perfectionist impulses. My first night in the studio, I spend hours listening to Emil record, discuss, re-think, re-record, re-discuss, re-re-think, re-re-record, re-re-discuss, etc., what will ostensibly end up being about thirty seconds of the song now known as “Destruction/Restoration.” (During recording, each song has been assigned a woman’s name as a working title. When I ask Eyal if the names are references to actual girls that the band knows, he tells me “No” with a sly, shit-eating grin that suggests he may or may not be telling the truth.) When Emil and Eyal decide the song should end with some feedback, Emil leaps from his seat and, voice full of excitement, announces he has the perfect axe for the job — and switches guitars literally just to get exactly the right noise he’s looking for. Emil has a habit of announcing that he’s going to take a cigarette break before deciding, “Well, lemme just knock this one part out, I can do it quickly,” and then completely forgetting about his cigarette break for another two hours. The group routinely works into the wee hours of the morning; one night, it’s after 2 a.m. before anyone realizes they never had dinner. With all other eatery options now closed, gas station sandwiches suddenly seem as appetizing as anything made by Wolfgang Puck.
But all the hard work is worth it — even just sitting in on these preliminary sessions, it’s clear that this is the heaviest, darkest, strangest, most misanthropic, most layered, and most diverse work of Daath’s career thus far. No two songs sound exactly alike, and each member of Daath seems to be performing at full-throttle. “We don’t try to keep recreating the same thing ever,” Creamer tells me. “We’re into what we’re into right now. It would be a shame to sit there and keep doing the same record over and over again.”
Vocalist Sean Z. goes on step further, attributing the the album’s creative success to the solidification of this particular line-up: “We’ve all been in this band together now for a minute. I think we’re writing more as a band because we have been together for quite some time… it’s definitely kind of like this band’s second album… And maybe even the first.”
That might sound like hype, but it’s not. And you don’t even have to take my word for it; we’re still giving away a free mp3 of the aforementioned “Destruction/Restoration,” and now the band has debuted another new track, “Indestructible Overdose,” which you can check out below. It’s mind-blowing stuff… I mean, did a fucking alien record that guitar solo, or what?
Daath comes out October 25 on Century Media. In the coming weeks, I’ll have exclusive interviews with most of the band, as well as Mark Lewis, so you can delve even deeper into the creation of this incredible album.