CHIMAIRA’S MARK HUNTER: THIS INTERVIEW AIN’T HELLISH
Chimaira vocalist Mark Hunter has now been interviewed for MetalSucks more times than any other musician — which is fine by me. Not only is he one of my favorite front men all of modern metal, but I always come away from these interviews feeling like I actually learned something about a band I love. In a world where it increasingly feels like too many folks are giving what I’d call “paint by numbers” answers to interview questions, Hunter’s willingness to be so sincere is always refreshing.
And, besides, Chimaira’s new album, The Age of Hell (out today on eOne — stream it here, buy physical copies here, or download it from iTunes here), is not only totally awesome, but it arrives admist a flurry of drama and controversy, as the band changed fifty percent of the line-up in the intervening years since 2009’s The Infection. So there was certainly plenty to discuss this go-’round!
After the jump, read the full transcript of my most recent chat with Hunter, in which he discusses those line-up changes, Hell‘s creation, the band’s upcoming tour plans, and much, much more.
Although was a difficult choice to do that [laughs]. It was hard with what we had facing us. It’s difficult to change, and it’s definitely difficult to accept that people have things in their lives that they would like to do that are perhaps different thanwhat the entity Chimaira requires.
So there was a moment in time where I was like, “I’m throwing in the towel; I’ve had enough.” But about five minutes later, I came to the reality of what that meant. I just really enjoy doing this too much, and I guess I’ll put up with the whatever is thrown at the entity of Chimaira and what’s thrown at me at least one more go-around. I enjoy this, and I enjoy how I know our music makes our fans feel.For me, that has so much more worth and value than any of the obstacles that were put in front of us.
You guys didn’t really solidify the new lineup until after the album was done. Did you ever think about doing that beforehand? Was there a reason why you decided to make the album with the three of you… or I guess the four of you, if you include Ben [Schigel, the band’s longtime producer].
There was a discussion. But it all happened so fast. Literally, we were scheduled to be in the studio in February, and we kind of decided to make the internal changes… or the internal changes started to manifest, I should say, right before the Christmas show.
The initial thought was, “Why bring new people into the mix that have never really played with us before and try to see what happens, when we’ve already made so many albums together with Ben?” I personally was in a band with Ben before Chimaira [Skipline, which also featured now-former Chimaira bassist Jim LaMarca.-Ed.]; he’s always kind of been the silent seventh member of Chimaira. It made more sense to us to work with him. We knew not only that he would he just rule on the drums, but that he understands the songs, understands the band, understands the players, and understands Chimaira better than most people. It made perfect sense to focus on what we had with him.
So we scrapped virtually all of our demos, and basically, it came down to Rob [Arnold, guitarist] and I working solely with Ben, writing the album virtually from scratch. I think out of all of the tracks, maybe two or three were written before all of this stuff happened.
Is this the most involved Ben has ever been with the songwriting?
Yeah, without question. He’s always chimed in. He’s had his hand in some of our well-known songs, like “Down Again” and “Power Trip,” by helping to rearrange those songs from the original demo. We’ve let him in since way back in the day, and he’s helped song structure and finding… sometimes as an artist, you’re like, “What is it missing?” He really helped us find what we were missing. We’re very comfortable working with him.
And based on my experiences with working with him before Chimaira, I was really excited about it. Not only was it returning to my youth so it was like, “Wow, this is the guy I originally wrote songs with,” but I also knew what a great of an improvisational player he is, and that’s how I like to write. So I knew that it would be very exciting, and that we would have no idea what to expect. Working with him is like getting on a rollercoaster.
That sounds fun.
It was exhilarating, because we knew it was going to be awesome, because we had confidence in ourselves, even if it was also going to be scary because we were working without guys that we had been used to working with our entire career.
It was also really fun because it was a chance to just let it all out and be ourselves and go for it and see what happens.
You did the effects-y stuff on this album, the stuff Chris Spicuzza used to do, right?
I also had help from a good friend of mine who is in an up-and-coming band in the area called Ohio Sky. They’re like a Pink Floyd meets Mastodon meets Deftones kind of band. Their keyboard player [Patrick Finegan] and I have become good friends, and he’s been helping with some of the artwork, too. He helped out quite a bit with the samples as well. It’s been a collaborative effort. A couple of friends came in. [In addition to Finegan, Kalam Muttalib, Lauren DuPont, Vincent DiFranco, and Emil Werstler are all credited in the album’s liner notes with “additional keys and samples.” -Ed.] With anyone that came in the studio that was hanging out, were were like, “Hey, do you want to put a little something on this album?” We tried to make it fun, and not just me doing every little thing. That’s the beauty of the electronics, is that they’ve always not just been Chris and I, but the producers always help, and somebody always comes in and fills in a little bit and throws a little more paint on the wall. We just maintained that tradition.
It’s interesting because you would think that there would be less of that stuff without Chris, but you’ve got one entire track, “Stoma,” which is basically an electronic interlude. Can you talk about that track and how it came about?
Basically it was just Ben and I hanging out in the back room.I think we were just messing around with a Moog synthesizer. We stumbled upon a noise, and an hour or two later, we had that whole piece recorded.
Something Chris and I always fought for was to have more electronics in the band. We’ve always tried to have it be more upfront. There was a period when our first album [Pass Out of Existence] didn’t do so well where some folks thought we shouldn’t have a keyboard player. It was considered nu-metal and cheesy. We just never really paid attention to that. It was like, “You don’t understand what we’re doing.” Chris wasn’t ot a DJ and it’s not straight-up keyboards. It’s more like we’re designing the score for a horror movie or something.
So with each album, we’ve experimented more and more. I think that this time around… [Chris] would have a lot of fun making this album. It was definitely weird not to have him around. I wouldn’t describe the experience as, “I’m so glad that these guys are not there.” Because they always will be there in spirit.
My thought was, “I want these samples to be great, so that hopefully if Chris hears it, he’ll think ‘Wow, they stepped it up.’” His work definitely influenced everything that was on this album.
Speaking of experimenting, there are some way different vocal performances from you on this album. I think the song “Clockwork” alone has more clean vocals than all the other Chimaira albums combined… and that’s not the only song. How did that come about?
I think when we started out, we had the intention to have melody in the group. Those that are familiar with our DVD [The Dehumanizing Process] know that in our earlier days, half the band wanted singing and half the band didn’t. During The Impossibility of Reason there was some singing, but I think that whole argument [about that singing] kind of destroyed my desire to sing that much.
And it was probably a lack of confidence as well — “Man, why don’t the guys in the band want me to sing?” It was like a silly, youthful mistake. You kind of want to make everyone happy, so you put a little melody in here and a little melody in there.
Bu this time around, it was just what I wanted to do. I feel this is the right time, and I had the right amount of confidence to do it and make it serious. We’re not one of those bands who are like, “Okay, we’re going to put some melody in because we want to sell some records.” I wanted to sing, and I wanted it to sound great with the music we were writing.
There is also this little bit of… I mean, back in 1998, I was one of the very few screamers in a world of more aggressive yelling and melodic metal. Fast forward to the present, and who’s singing?
It’s interesting, because I feel weird calling them “clean vocals,” because obviously that’s what they are, but it’s not at like what Howard Jones or Phil LaBonte does. It keeps making me think of Alice in Chains. It seems like a much moodier style of singing.
I just go out with the same approach that I do with the screaming. To even have that comparison is so mind boggling.
I will never not say that I don’t try to emulate…. it’s definitely no secret that [Layne Staley] was one of my favorite singers. But I’m also 100% trying to sound like me. There are so many more easier ways that I could sit here and go [mock screaming noises] all day long. I think it’s just me being me. I’ll choose to do the same harmony that [Alice in Chains] might do.
I didn’t mean to imply that you were aping him…
Hey, all musicians are borrowing from each other. That’s not secret. There’s a difference between ripping off and paying homage.
It’s just a matter of having the confidence to do it. I feel that it’s time, and that the music calls for it.
Was there less resistance to the singing from your band mates this time?
[laughs] Well, there were less band mates this time.
I guess I should say from Rob. Was Rob resistant to the singing this time? [laughs]
I think that this time around, we both kind of looked at each other like, “What have we done?” Everything — where we got to and where things went unexpectedly — we, as leaders of the band, take responsibility for. If a member leaves, it puts that weight on our shoulders. A lot of this stuff is life decisions and needing to move on. So we looked at each other in the studio and said “Hey, let’s make this the best Chimaira record.We have to make this great for our fans. This is now or never — put it all out. Put everything that you wanted to put on a record.”
That’s great! And you guys have already played some new material live. How was the reaction to that? I would imagine that it was pretty positive…
Yeah. I recall in the past when we would debut songs, trying to gauge the fan reaction… This is six albums in now, and this time it felt different. You could see this excitement when people rushed up to you after the show. They were lik,e “wow, I really like that new song!” They were almost grabbing us. There was this genuine feeling of, “Whoa, I can’t wait to hear more”. Whereas before, you would get the obligatory “Yeah, that was cool. Now play some old shit.”
That’s usually the thing. Usually your fans are an album late.