Q&A with Brian Villers of Immortal Dominion
As with most of our Rough Mixes interviews, we had an abundance of material to work from and a limited amount of space in the paper. Subsequently, the piece on Immortal Dominion in this week's print edition, barely scratches the surface of our recent chat with guitarist/vocalist Brian Villers. The following is the entirety of our exchange in which Villers talks in length about a number of things, including Immortal's new album which arrives with a notable stylistic shift, the prospect of alienating longtime fans, the religious undertones of the group's name and its lyrics, dealing with the murder/suicide of former bassist Stephen Sherwoor and Villers' sister-in-law, Sara Elizabeth, working with producer Sterling Winfield and scoring the soundtrack to the indie breakout film, Teeth. Read the full transcript and watch the Teeth trailer after the jump.
Westword (Dave Herrera): The new record sounds a bit different from the last record, Awakening. I noticed it's more accessible, along the lines of "Sold My Soul," and less punishing than songs like "Something to Change." What prompted the change?
Brian Villers: Sterling, our producer, kind of came in, and he took a listen to what we had, and he just felt like getting in and tearing things apart and rearranging stuff, and slowing some stuff down. It kind of happened by accident, too, because we decided to record the drums last instead of first, which we've never done before, but that's the way he wanted to do it. So the guitarist went in, and we laid down tempo maps, with our guitar riffs, and that just naturally seemed to slow things down, because the tempos we wanted to play at, maybe the drums were playing faster or whatever. So we created tempo maps and recorded all the vocals, bass, guitars, solos and everything, and then the drums came last. So I don't think we made a conscious effort to slow things down; it just sort of happened naturally. And I think that was his plan in making us record backwards like that.
WW: Were you guys happy with that?
WW: It's quite a bit different. It's almost hard rock in places. Do you think that's going to alienate some of the hardcore extreme metal fans?
BV: Well, it may. You know, we did worry about that a lot in the past. This time I think we just decided not to try to be anything in particular --not to try to be death metal, not to try to be extreme - and just write the songs that we want to write. And it just kind of came out that way. You know, so it's almost the opposite of selling out. It's like we've always been scared to put our more commerical stuff out there, for that exact reason. We decided, you know what - we don't care. We're just going to put out the stuff we like, because we listen - just like anybody - we listen to a wide range of music, and I like things that are catchy. And hopefully, this will get us more radio play.
WW: That's not to say that you didn't have that aspect in the music to begin with. It's not that much of a departure, because "Sold My Sold" definitely had distinctive elements of accesibilty. It just wasn't as pronounced.
BV: I think we just brought more of that out on this one.
WW: With that in mind, is it easier to perform live?
BV: Yeah, I'm noticing getting up on stage, I'm more comfortable. Our first show's really this week, but as we're playing it and practicing it, the tempos don't change and we're not just going at eight hundred miles an hour and things like that, so I do think that I'm going to be able to focus on performing and more comfortable playing the songs. I've noticed that already.
WW: Does that lend itself to you being able to exert even more energy? You guys are already energetic, but does give even more momentum?
BV: I think so. After we've practiced it [the songs] so many times, it's so second nature that you can actually perform on stage instead of just trying to get through it.
WW: Have you guys played the new material out yet?
BV: Not yet. The first time will be this weekend up in Fort Collins.
WW: So your longtime fans haven't really had a chance to hear the new stuff yet?
BV: Not yet.
WW: What do you think their response is going to be?
BV: You know, I'm not sure. I think Ray, our singer, we were talking about that, and he said, "Yeah, some of the more extreme fans, we might lose them. They might not be into it." But he thinks we'll gain three times as many other fans because of it [the changes]. So it will be a bit of a trade and open us up to people who haven't heard us before. And I think a lot of times, too, our music scared the normal person off almost.
WW: Is there any sort of trepidation on your part that you might lose some ot those extreme metal fans?
BV: Well, you know, we appreciate every fan we've got. But doing this for fifteen years, half the time, you're standing up playing in front of the same people you've played in front of for fifteen years, you know? If we lose them, I think, well, fine. I guess they can go support other extreme bands they like. I really don't worry about it to much. I'm more excited about the new stuff than anything. It's a strange form of rebellion, rebelling against being extreme, you know?
WW: So I've noticed that beyond the music, the vocal style has evolved, as well. There's less high pitched shrills - was that something that came about naturally?
BV: Yeah, yeah, for the most part. I mean, there were parts in there, where having a producer, he kind of cut certain things out and changed things. He would say, "Ah, don't do that; do this," and he would change vocals. And Ray - that high pitched shrill that he's done all these years - I think his voice has just matured, and he has a harder time really nailing those high notes. And he'd been working on this style for a long time. So when we got in the studio, none of us had even heard it. He just whipped it out and surprised everybody. Everybody was wondering, "What's Ray going to do with his vocals?" We were struggling with it, and he just went in there and laid it down. I think it sounds great!
WW: So how did you end up working with Sterling?
BV: I knew we wanted to an out-of-state producer and I wanted to find somebody who had a wide range. So I started looking on albums -- I think somebody's either really good with death metal, but not good at the clean tones, or they're really good with the clean tones, but they don't know what to do with the double bass and blast beats and stuff. So I wanted to find somebody that was really well rounded. So I started looking through, like, Atreyu and Bleeding Through, looking on the backs of albums and just finding out who produced them and just kind of educating myself. When I came across the Hellyeah album, I just really liked the sound of it. So I looked on the back, and it listed Sterling Winfield. So we started googling his name until we found an e-mail address, and then I sent him an e-mail telling him what we were trying to do. I mailed him a CD, and out of fifteen producers we had contacted, he was the most excited about our music and stuff like that. It was just clear that he was the guy we were supposed to work with.
WW: We're you surprised that he got back to you?
BV: Yeah, I was. It's amazing. I think, right now, the music industry is struggling, but you can use that to your advantage. All these people that maybe would've been unreachable before are returning your phone calls.
WW: If you think about it, it is kind of absurd that you can just send an e-mail and have someone of that stature respond. Even ten years ago, that wouldn't have happened.
BV: Yeah, some of the entertainment lawyers that got back to me were surprising. They were getting right back to me, and they're big New York lawyers, and they're getting right back to me. After a while, reading about the downturn of the music industry and everything else, we realized this was more of an opportunity than a bad thing for bands that aren't big.
WW: Another thing I noticed, listening to the disc, particularly the song, "Thrice," which is a song about Peter, and then taking into account your name, Immortal Dominion - there seems to be an underlying Christian theme in play. What's that all about?
BV: Well, we all met in a church in a youth group when we were young. And then we left organized religion, but I still find a lot of the history of it interesting. And the reason I wrote "Thrice" -- it's almost like that reverse rebellion thing - I noticed there was some monks out in Italy, and they all wore upside down crosses. And I thought, That's really interesting. The reason is, is because of the cross of Peter. The fable is that he requested to be crucified upside down.
And so I kind of just took the whole upside down cross thing and turned it around. I started researching it and pulled up Fox's Book of Martyrs, and any other historical synopsis of the bible, and I just decided to write a song. His life got really interesting as I started looking into it - however much of it's true or fable or whatever. Just his life in general and how he's viewed in history is interesting to me. I wrote the song and it just started getting bloody and crazy and weird. And I thought, Wow, this is cool, because it's a song about Peter, but it's not really religious.
WW: So are you guys still Christians, or did you walk away from Christianity all together? What sort of impact does that have on your lives and your music?
BV: When we were in church, I started studying the history of it, and I was just appalled at what the Christians have done over the years. I don't want to be associated with that in any way. But the stories and the history of it all still intrigues me. I would probably still call myself a believer, but it would take a long time to describe what we actually believe in. But I probably don't agree with anything that any certain church does or anything like that.
WW: You mentioned youth group. Were you influenced by Christian metal growing up? The band you sort of remind me of, particularly vocals on your past records, is a group called Believer.
BV: Oh yeah. We loved all that stuff. We got to open up for Living Sacrifice twice. We listened to quite a bit of that.
WW: What's the significance of the name of this album.
BV: We have a song on the album called "Diety Definer," and we were just joking around one night, making up instruments the gods would use to create the universe. That's where the solar-powered dream hammer comes in, and all this stuff. We were just laughing - it was a joke to start off with, and then it turned into a serious song. So we started wanting to make a concept for the album, and we kind of just came up with the primordial - I started reading about primordial soup and all that stuff, the stuff that existed right before the big bang. And it kind of tied in with the whole gods creating the universe concept. We were trying to find stuff and I was looking up all these crazy words that were really techinical and they weren't working. We were trying to do something with primordial, and one of our friends just said, "Hey, why not primortal? It will match Immortal Dominion." And we thought, Yeah, that's kind of cool.
WW: You guys have been through a lot in terms of just living, just the things that have happened to you. How has that impacted the progression of the band?
BV: I think you have to hear it in the music. It was a really horrible time, and very stressful. We dedicated the album to Sara, my sister-in-law, and I still see her face every day because I'm raising her daughter. So I think it definitely affected things.
WW: While it obviously changed your lives, what sort of impact did it have on your music?
BV: I think we all went through it together, and it made us stronger. We've been through something really hard together. Maybe it even influenced some of the changes. I feel like I'm probably wiser because of it. I think that's the biggest thing: We don't take practice for granted and we don't take each other for granted. You never know what tomorrow might bring.
The slow song on the album, "Hind Sight," has a lot to do with that whole situation and me kind of blaming myself, things I could've done differently and possibly the outcome might've been different. Of course it's not true. It probably would've gone the same way anyway, but that song's kind of about that. It's definitely prevalent throughout the album. The Awakening album was very angry. That's when the break-up happened and everything was going on. And then you see this album, and it's - I don't want to say mournful - but kind of soulful.
WW: On a final note, Morris [Beegle, from Hapi Skratch Entertainment] set you guys up with the opportunity to do the soundtrack for Teeth, how big of an impact did that have on the band? Did you realize at the time that that was going to be that impactful for you?
BV: We just thought it was going to be some b-movie that never went anywhere, you know, just an underground horror film. And then it gets into Sundance, and we're all like, "Wow!" And then it wins the award at Sundance and gets picked up by Lion's Gate, and we were like, "What is going on?" We hadn't seen it yet, so we had no idea what it was like or about. When we actually did get to go see it, it was amazing to hear our music through all the big speakers in the theater. And the movie was really good and really funny and really clever. It's the type of movie I'd be proud to be in, instead of just not wanting to tell my mom.
WW: Do you think your involvement had anything to do with the producers and lawyers getting back to you so promptly?
BV: I do, yeah. It kind o
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