THE FUNERAL PYRE’S JOHN STRACHAN: THE METALSUCKS INTERVIEW
With Southern California black metallers The Funeral Pyre making this blogger’s year-end list (again) in 2010, what better time to catch up with frontman John Strachan than on the cusp of another year, jam-packed for the band with new tour dates, new music, and new(-ish) releases? Plus, he’s got a few picks of his own from last year — and a few gripes — to boot.
On the eve of the January release of a Vultures At Dawn 180 gram LP, MetalSucks took some time to talk with Strachan about the band, the album, and Forest Moon Special Products, Strachan’s record label with more than a few admirable releases under its belt. The conversation after the fold.
Okay, so Vultures At Dawn came out earlier in 2010, and you guys already did the tour across the country [last summer, with fellow Californians Early Graves]. Now you’ve already got some stuff for early in 2011 and later in the year, too. What all is that going to include? Which areas?
Yeah, we did a first run on the record, and now we’re getting ready to head out in the beginning of 2011. I just know it’s going to pretty much be another U.S. tour and details are forthcoming… Probably sometime by the beginning of the , once it’s all set in stone. But it’ll be a great time, and we’re bringing out a very cool band. I can’t say who just yet, but they’re great dudes and it’ll be rad.
Are you going to play different places, the same cities, or what? You guys are obviously comfortable with playing a house party, a backyard, a basement, a venue. Like you guys just played NYC again and that went over well, right?
This time we’ll be hitting some of the same cities, but also new places we haven’t been yet in the States. We’ve already covered most of the ground in the States, so it’ll be good to see a few new places and see how it goes. We’ve hit New York City on the last two tours, and both times have gone over very well. We will be hitting NYC again.
You just did that quick run up the West Coast to the Bay Area, Reno, that stuff [in December]. Does that interfere with planning the upcoming tour, or is more of a comfort thing, to do a couple shows to stay on point and tight as a band?
For that last little three day run we just did, it was ‘cause we get stir crazy at home. Plus, heading up into the mountains and playing some shows with friends is a great thing. We also like to keep on-point with that, especially since now our band is living in different places in California, and practicing doesn’t happen all that often [as it once did].
Can we talk about Chris [Brock, Early Graves, ex-Apiary] joining? Did he play on those gigs?
Yeah, Chris played with us for those shows. He’s been playing with us — really — since April. Right after we did SXSW, he started filling in, then eventually joined over the summer [while The Funeral Pyre was touring with Early Graves], once we knew that our other guitar player couldn’t commit anymore.
Is he full-time with you now, then?
Yeah, he’s a member now. He’ll be helping to write the new record as well. So I know we’re all excited about that. Chris is pissed off. So having him be angry at tons of shit with us is going to make some good music.
Yeah, he wrote some gnarly stuff for Early Graves. Is it easy to bring in another player when they’ve been friends with you and the rest of the band for however long?
I think as far as Chris is concerned, him joining The Funeral Pyre made sense. He’s filled in plenty of times for us. He’s toured with us a bunch, as well, over the last four or five years. So it all just worked out really well, because the chemistry between him and the rest of the guys was already there. It’s not like we had to “audition” some guy we don’t know and hope that it works. With Chris, we know it’ll work for however long we all permit.
And what does that mean for James [Joyce, guitar]? Is he still involved at all, or is Chris writing with you now?
Not really sure where it stands with Jimmy down the road. I mean, it’s not something that we’ve really talked about. We’ve kept in contact and we’re still best friends, but his heart isn’t in metal anymore. So I guess we’ll just find out. I’m sure he’ll want to be involved in some way, though.
And you guys seem like you’re always busy releasing a full-length, or a split, or something. Are you guys constantly working on music, or are you guys content for now since Vultures is still relatively new?
Actually, we’ve already started writing the next record, and we hope to demo some songs before we take off again. The writing is in the very beginning stages, but we all are definitely thinking about the next record already. As for splits, there’s always talk about them… Nothing has been confirmed, but I’m sure we’d like to do a split before the next record comes out. That will probably happen.
Is that like a way to warm up for a full-length for you guys, doing, for example, the Landmine Marathon split before Vultures, or is it more of a way to team up with another band that you might not initially associate with The Funeral Pyre?
It’s honestly just a way to put more releases out there. We will always write music, so it’s good to put things out that are a bit more limited and exclusive. Plus, it just gives us something else to have… we like adding to our catalog all the time.
A lot of the non-full-lengths you do on Forest Moon Special Products.
Most of our splits do come out on Forest Moon, which definitely makes everything easier.
I want to touch on that later, but first, when you guys first formed the band almost ten years ago, did you think you’d still be out there as a band, getting recognition across the U.S. and Europe after all this time? Or was it more of a “Let’s make a band, dudes!” sort of thing?
I think it was just more of the whole idea of starting a band. None of us had ever been in a band that was more “serious,” so the idea of it was something we all wanted to try. Luckily we all were friends before and it’s stayed that way over the years, so being in a band with your close friends just works for us. So, we are definitely lucky that it’s been that way. We started never really with wanting to get “big” because that’s just not what’s going to happen. I think we all thought that if we could do some fun tours and put out records we like, then that would be good enough.
And from talking with you before, I know you dig like Shai Hulud and Morrissey as much as Dissection, and Southern California has had a rich scene the last decade or two to draw from. Was it easier to do that out there than maybe the middle of the country or something?
I think it has to do with the fact that in the Los Angeles area, you are just able to find music. It’s so easy. There are shows every night, of every style of music, so isolating yourself into one style never seemed to make sense to me. Everything has something to offer, so I definitely try to find that with all music. It’s cliché and whatnot, but it is what it is. Shai Hulud, Morrissey, and Dissection all have great attributes to their music, so I just try to enjoy them as much as I can.
Do some of those attributes slip into The Funeral Pyre’s music, then? Like “Monolith” on Vultures is really different for you guys. And then the second half of “Personal Exile” is almost a thrash song after that brooding intro.
Yeah, you could definitely say that. I mean, traditionally we play fast a lot, but why do we need to do that always? I mean, we love playing songs that are extremely fast, but slowing it up and throwing in something that’s a bit different isn’t a bad thing at all. Same way with “Personal Exile”… It has a basic intro riff, then just goes right into a more thrash-oriented song. It’s just the way it came out, really. We felt if flowed nicely.
For you guys is it that somebody brings an idea to practice and you hash it out with everybody’s input, or what’s the drill? Especially for stuff like that, where it might not be what you’d expect from The Funeral Pyre…
Normally it’s your basic drill: a guitar player brings a riff or the skeleton of the song then we go from there. But I think now, more so than before — due to the fact that we can’t practice as much as we used to — the guys are writing their songs and just showing [the rest of] us. If we really feel like something doesn’t work, then we’ll figure it out. I trust that they’ll bring good songs every time they show one off at practice, so it fits. It’s not stressful and we’re not over thinking anything. I mean, at the end of the day, it’s just a song. We’ll write plenty more.
Going back, sort of, to California, what do you think of the current climate of So Cal bands? In the past few years, there’s been a batch of heavier metal bands that got picked up and gained some recognition, be it metalcore, death or black metal, or bands like Intronaut and Holy Grail. Is it a healthier climate in years past or is it headed to the hair metal days of over-exposure?
I guess you could say the current situation with bands out here is pretty good. I mean, there are definitely some really good bands. Like you said, Intronaut, Holy Grail, Exhausted Prayer… to name just a few. But the situation is that there are no places to play really. I mean, shows do happen, but a lot of more “real” venues have closed down or started charging ridiculous prices for shows. I don’t think it’ll get to the dreaded hair metal days, though. Or, at least I hope it doesn’t.
Yeah, Exhausted Prayer rules, but The Knitting Factory closing was a bummer. What do you guys do in that case, as far as venues go? I know you play Blvd. Cafe regularly, but unless you’re on a “big” tour playing the Whiskey or House of Blues or something, it’s got to be different with you guys as a more DIY-based band, booking your own tours.
What we normally do is book things at The Blvd [Boyle Heights neighborhood of Los Angeles]. They work well with more underground, D.I.Y. bands. It’s just easier to cover all costs involved with them.
What’s it like for you guys as a D.I.Y. band, even though you’re on Prosthetic, booking your own stuff, then? Is it a reliable network you’ve established over the years from trudging it out on your own?
As for being on Prosthetic: it’s great, but we still book the majority of everything we do. Some bands get agents, some bands don’t, but that doesn’t stop us from still hitting the road and building our own network and while we’ve been at it, we’ve created some really good friendships. So I think that as a whole, it’s been a success regardless of the fact that there’s [not much] money involved.
What do you think about the quick turnaround for some bands, though, getting a deal, an agent, and huge tours on the first record?
I think that just has to do with some politics within the music industry. It’s definitely something that happens. I mean, there’s nothing you can do but just wait your turn and hopefully something can happen. It’s a long process… that is if it ever happens. I’m not going to name names, but there are a lot of shithead bands out there thinking that they deserve much more than they do. Again, I won’t name names, but a lot of these bands, because they get some type of funding, think that they are entitled to a lot more than they are. I’m not saying all of them, because some of them have worked their asses off to get what’s theirs. But a lot of them are just taking things for granted and in return getting a huge fucking ego out of it. I think they forget that this is heavy metal.
Metalsucks had written about Scion and the Magrudergrind/Agoraphobic Nosebleed pseudo-fiasco sort of along those lines.
Yeah, I saw that.
Since that sort of touches with what you mentioned, what’s your take on that?
I’ll just say that without the huge funding from a company, that these shows would still happen. Bands would still tour and do things to make metal something everyone can enjoy. Most of the kids growing up in metal now think music is free anyway, so they’re just fucking spoiled with everything that has happened. Now, if kids have to pay for a show it’s nothing but complaints… That’s not to mention the hardworking guys and gals that try to put on quality shows for cheap in a lot of cities. I hate to see them struggle, especially out here in Los Angeles, just because some people are waiting for all shows to be free.
Okay, so looking over what we already covered, I wanted to hit on Forest Moon Special Products, the label you run that you mentioned. Can you talk about how you manage your time between The Funeral Pyre, your day job, and doing this?
Forest Moon takes a minimal amount of time, only because there’s hardly any advertising and whatnot that goes into most releases. Obviously, for some [records] I’ve worked a bit harder on than others, but certain bands we’ve worked with sell records ‘cause they constantly play. But The Funeral Pyre takes more time than Forest Moon Special Products, definitely. Plus, Forest Moon is just a money pit!
[Laughs] So is it more a thing to help the bands out? Or a passion thing?
It’s more of a passion thing, for sure. I don’t work with bands who want to be a huge band or tour 10 months out of the year. Most of them are just friends that are looking to put out a nice, quality release. So hopefully it works out and I can put that stuff out. Luckily, some of the releases have sold very well, so I’m definitely happy about that.
Speaking of that, Plutocracy just put out Off The Pigs in July through Forest Moon. How’s that doing? And, especially after 10 years or whatever it’s been for that band, how’s it feel to work with them?
Working with Plutocracy has been pretty rad. Mostly because they come from a different world of music. They’re a little bit older dudes that are now seeing music differently due to the times. More kids show up to their shows now than back in the day, so it’s pretty rad for them.
And what about you to add them — a pretty well-established band — to your roster? Does that help to push maybe your Funeral Pyre splits, Despise You, As Hope Dies, Slough Feg…whatever, too?
Yeah, I see some trickle down sales from having older bands on the roster. But the only thing is that not all of the music released [through Forest Moon] is power violence, grind, or punk stuff. We have some black metal, death metal and what not. So hopefully people are buying everything not expecting the same band on every release. That would just suck.
So it’s safe to say that’s you goal for the label: to have a wide variety of stuff and keep folks enjoying each release across the board?
I’d say the goal for the label is to continue to put out quality bands and releases without completely throwing my ass into debt. It’s never going to be a full-time thing, but if it’s a way to put out awesome bands, then yeah I’ll continue to do it.
Like especially Oakhelm. I’m a fanboy; I listed that as one of my hopefuls for 2010 but it’s been quiet on that front. How’s that looking?
There’s a lot happening for them. We’ve been trying to pin down the final artwork for the record, which has taken a while due to issues out of the band’s control. So once we get the art complete, we’ll announce some type of release date. I know the band is going to try to tour next year in support of it as well. The record is so good that I honestly can’t wait for people to hear it. It’ll be a sleeper hit for 2011.
We’re calling it the jam of 2011 now? Because Betwixt And Between was amazing and the live show at Cobalt [Café, Canoga Park, Calif.] was awesome. That band is awesome. I need another word for awesome.
Well, I’m calling it the record that will definitely surprise a shitload of people, because that band only knows how to write good songs.
Lastly, speaking of good songs: What about your favorite records of the year, since Vultures was on my Metalsucks on my list? Metal or otherwise?
Well, I only have five: Alcest – Escailles de Lune, Lantlos – Neon, 1349 – Demonoir, Horseback – The Invisible Mountain, and Sargeist – Let The Devil In. Those are what I’m working with.
Our thanks to Strachan for hanging out with us scumbags for awhile and filling us in on the latest across the board. Definitely check out the tunes if you haven’t heard them yet, and remember that the LP version of Vultures At Dawn (Bob Cock approved!) is out later this month and shipping soon. The band plays The Blvd. and Yayo’s in Las Vegas this weekend, but the next tour should be announced soon, too, and you can bet the mansion monkeys will fill you in with the details as they roll through the fax.