Matt Harvey on forming Exhumed: "We were the angriest fifteen-year-olds of all time"

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A lot of people now seem to forget that once upon a time it took a while to get things going with a band.

There's so many more tools available now to a young kid starting out. When I was fifteen, if I had brought Napalm Death's Scum to a guitar teacher, he would have laughed at me: "I'm not teaching you how to play this. This isn't even music. Get the fuck out of here." Now, it's just been around for so long, that it's just a thing.

For better or for worse, death metal and grindcore are part of the musical landscape, a small part, but it's acknowledged. If you're into music, even if you're a flamenco guitar player, and you hang around musicians long enough, you're going to hear a Napalm Death album somewhere along the line.

Now kids can just go on YouTube and just be like, "Oh hey, here's a guitar lesson that Ryan Knight from Black Dahlia Murder put online. Bam! Now I'm playing sweep arpeggio's. I've only been playing guitar for six months but holy shit." The same thing with drumming. There's so many drum cams and drum clinics teaching people how to play blast beats, which never would have happened when we were starting out.

Our original drummer and I had an exclusive mindset. We didn't want to be influenced by outside people. We didn't want people instructing us or whatever. Which made us do things that were circuitous and difficult but ultimately it helped us find our own sound.

It just went at a much slower rate than maybe other bands did because we didn't avail ourselves of the tools that were available then. We never took lessons, we never bothered to learn any theory, and we never counted beats. We were just like, "Alright, just go, play really fast, and play the next part." That was it. It's kind of retarded, but it ended up working out.

And yet that method really helped you to develop a unique voice as a band. You didn't start one year and have a full-length album a year or two later on a label of any kind. You released a number of 7-inches and split releases before putting out Gore Metal in 1998. You were a band for eight years at that point. What do you feel, other than what you already mentioned, that you learned during that time? A lot of bands probably would have quit before eight years was up.

One of the things that I think helped us to continue was that we always sort of had a hobbyist mentality about it. Our original drummer was always going to college and always intended to be a scientist, which is what he is now. He's a biochemist, and makes tons of money. Our old bass player, Ross, was going to college, too, and we worked normal jobs, so we weren't really thinking like, "Hey, we play in a death metal/grindcore band to be rich." We didn't really look at it as a career path, so we didn't put that kind of pressure on it.

We had a lot of passion for it, but I think we were so disconnected from the idea of there even being a business side of it. At the same time, I remember being 21 or whatever and thinking, "We don't have an actual record deal with Earache or something, but by the time I'm 25, I'm either going to quit or just go to school full time and not worry about doing it." When I was 22 or so, we got signed to Relapse, and I was like, "Okay, cool, I guess I don't have to go to school."

So we didn't put any financial pressure on ourselves, and we didn't have much of a concept of success, outside of doing what we wanted to do and play the music we believed in. We never thought about managers, booking agents, publishing or record companies. We just thought it would be cool to put out a record you could buy in a record store. That was the goal.

With the splits and stuff, we played a lot of shows with a lot of punk bands and power-violence bands and bands from that scene, and that was kind of what they were doing, and there wasn't really a lot of interest in signing newer death metal bands at that time. So we just kind of took whatever came along, like, "Oh, cool, a track for a compilation or a split 7-inch, alright let's do it." These small things started adding up to the fact that people started knowing who the band was.

Also our old bass player, Ross, was a tireless guy always dubbing cassettes non-stop, always at the post office, always at Kinko's, printing out J-cards and glue-sticking everything together. He was, by far, the spearheading guy of that whole effort. It was sort of a long slow build-up to where, "Oh, this is a band that people have actually heard of in the underground." We kind of lucked into getting on to Relapse, and we've been there ever since.

Reading interviews you've done over the years, it's obvious you're not just into metal. So it really should come as no surprise that on Garbage Days Re-Regurgitated, you cover "A Reflection" by The Cure. How did the Cure inspire and influence you as a musician?

I've been huge Cure fan ever since high school. The weird thing was that when I was in high school, I listened to death metal, grindcore and then like Sonic Youth, the Cure, My Bloody Valentine and Skinny Puppy and stuff. It kind of just started because the only chicks that would talk to me were into that music.

The vibe and everything, especially Pornography or Seventeen Seconds, is just as stark and bleak as any necro or black metal album or any Autopsy riff or whatever. It's just taking it in a different way or responding to that same sort of despair differently. I even like a lot of the later albums. Not all of them, but most of them are pretty good.

We wanted to showcase some interest outside of rock and metal, but it's pretty difficult to take a Sonic Youth song from Daydream Nation and turn it into a death metal song. But the Cure is a little bit more simple and stripped down, and we took it in the opposite direction and went big with it. We made a Cure song sound like the intro to "Blackened" or something like that.

In an interview with Invisible Oranges you did a while back, you mentioned being into Spacemen 3. What is it you appreciate about them?

Oh, I just like shit with a trippy vibe, man. Maybe that makes me sound like a hippie or whatever, but when I was just out of high school, I tried mushrooms and my dad was always into psych rock. I grew up around Jefferson Airplane and Cream and all that '60s kind of stuff. To me, it has that same spaced out, fuzzed out, dreamy vibe. I know that kind of bums out some brutal death metal kids, but when I don't listen to metal, I listen to all kinds of music, but I really like stuff that's spaced out and kind of fuzzy.

I don't smoke weed or anything, but I feel like it kind of puts me in that same, zoned out headspace. I always hang out with people who aren't into metal, and pick up on their perspective, and see what they're into, musically and otherwise. I feel like if you're always getting the same stimulus again and again and again, you're going to be stuck on a rut. Then when you come back to it when you're doing what you do, you have nothing fresh to bring to the table because you're on a steady diet of the same thing.

It's like if you're a chef and you cook French cuisine, and only hang out with people that eat that, and hang out only with chefs that make that, you're not going to bring anything new to it. You need to go, and hang out with people that cook Thai cuisine and see what that's all about, and then, you can take something away from that and hopefully do something that's your own thing.

In that same Invisible Oranges interview you mentioned that you liked Cat Power as well. What do you like about Chan Marshall's music, and what did you think of Sun -- which was very different from everything else she's done.

Yeah, you know, I bought it, but I wasn't super stoked on it. I thought it was good, but I only gave it a few listens. I guess it's one of those things where I heard The Greatest, and it really grabbed me right away, and I kept playing it over and over. The new one...I should probably spend some more time with it because I don't mean to slag it off. It just didn't grab me as much.

Obviously she has a fucking great voice. There's something really honest about what she's doing. She seems really straightforward: "I'm being myself, check it out." That still comes through on the new record. I get jealous of other kinds of bands that get to have vocal melodies and a lot more dynamics and stuff than we can really do with our band.

And I just like a voice that just grabs me, like hers does. Just like, "Damn, there's something going on here. I'm having feelings. I like it! Good." I like female vocals, in general. It's just nice to hear a pretty voice. Again, that's not very metal, but I like it. I'm never going to get rid of my Kate Bush records, sorry.

As a guitarist, you've gone for a certain kind of sound with the band. Is there anything you do to challenge yourself in making sounds that are interesting and different but still fit in within the realm of what you want to do with the band?

I think with the new record, we went in a more conscious direction starting out. I liked what we did on the last record, but it felt a little monotonous to me after living with the album for a while. A lot of that had to do with just sort of writing it all in one five or six month period just being at home writing riffs. With this one, it was cool because it was between tours, and it allowed the songs to stand out from each other a little more. It's kind of difficult to keep things fresh because you're working with the same set of ingredients.

The real challenge, I think, that we put to ourselves, honestly, was to focus on traditional songwriting. The conceptual aspect of music is more interesting to me than the technical aspect of playing such and such a passage quickly or more quickly. To me, that just turns into a numbers game, and also, I just burn out on it. I get bored really fast trying to sit down and clean out my scale runs. After five minutes my mind starts to wander.

We just tried to look at songs we liked from any genre and find commonalities within the construction whether it's a modulation technique or a way to come out of a chorus into a bridge in a different way. And then find a way to sort of apply that to the genre we're playing. People in interviews often ask me, "Oh, do you guys try be as extreme as possible." And I say, "We try to be as accessible as possible."

We're not trying to be more extreme than we are. I mean the band is already pretty aggressive. So within that framework we try to make things understandable, accessible, catchy and enjoyable for the listener. We're not trying to overtax the listener. There's some shock and awe involved but there's not an excessive amount of thinking.

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Tom Murphy is a writer, visual artist and musician from Aurora, Colorado. He was a prolific music writer for Westword and a documenter of the Denver music scene.