After receiving an email on Monday about an interview on Tuesday, and then having to schedule it around 5 other things, I managed to work out an interview with the death metal veteran and flag-waver: Erik Rutan. From starting Ripping Corpse, to joining Morbid Angel in the early 90s and starting his own band Hate Eternal; Erik has always been a force behind the death metal machine. Aside from singing and playing guitar for Hate Eternal (which also has J.J. Hrubocvak on bass and Jade Simonetto on drums), he also runs his own recording studio, Mana Recordings, producing the likes of Goatwhore, Morbid Angel, Madball, Agnostic Front and even The Mountain Goats. Never one to be short on words, I caught Erik on his trip between St. Petersburg, Florida and Kansas City, Missouri to meet up with Fear Factory for their World Industrialist tour, and we had a pretty cool talk.
Erik Rutan: Hello!?
(((o))): Hey Erik, it's Ryan from Ech(((o)))es & Dust.
Erik: What’s up man?
(((o))): Not a whole lot dude, just trying to schedule things today. What about you, on the road?
Erik: We’re headed to meet Fear Factory right now. It’s about 1350 miles, so we wanted to get there a little early. Just to get there and not have to worry about anything. We've got a great slot, we’re main support, so we are pretty excited about it. Going to be a great tour.
(((o))): I know some people think it’s an odd paring, you and Fear Factory, how do you feel about it?
Erik: I think it’s great and will attract a lot of different music fans. Fear Factory are a great band and I’ve know the guys for a long time. I can’t tell you how many guys throughout the death metal scene listen to and love them as well. When we got the offer to play with them we jumped on it right away, without a thought. They’re just a great band. There’s probably going to be a lot of people there that haven’t even heard of us or seen us play before. So we've been practicing a lot and have a really badass set list we’re busting out.
(((o))): I have to say I've always been a Fear Factory fan, but as soon I saw you guys were on the show, I jumped right at a chance of going. I’m sure it will draw some fans that don’t know much death metal.
Erik: Oh yeah, they’re going to know about it afterward whether they like it or not! (Both laugh)
(((o))): It’s been a pretty crazy day. I had stuff going on and I had to try and schedule this with you, and there’s a Goatwhore show tonight.
Erik: You going?
(((o))): Oh yeah. I love them live.
Erik: Yeah, they’re a great band and a bunch of great guys.
(((o))): It’s always cool to meet bands that play aggressive music, but are very down to earth, nice people. People on the outside of the scene always think we’re a bunch of angry people.
Erik: You know, some of the most down to earth people I've met in my life are all death metal guys. Death metal is a pure form of music really. The people that do it, they do it because they love it. There are no fillers there, man. It’s all about the passion for the music. Like Goatwhore, they’re a blend of all types of music, and they are some of the best guys I know. I've produced their last three records.
(((o))): I know, I was going to ask when you were going to join the band [Goatwhore]?
Erik: I’ll have to ask Sammy (Goatwhore guitarist) if I can out with them sometime. (laughs) Those guys are like family to me, they’re some of my favorite people in the planet. Love those guys. Love working with them, love hanging out with them, love the music. You just can’t beat Goatwhore, I just think they’re one of the best bands on the planet.
(((o))): I actually found them on the first album you produced, [A Haunting Curse, 2006] and I had been into metal for a while and then I found that. I knew your Morbid Angel days, but for some reason never looked into Hate Eternal. Then I heard your album “I, Monarch”  and I just dove head in… I’m sorry dude, I’m rambling. It just not every day that you get to talk to someone you admire.
Erik: It’s cool man, and thanks. I’m just grateful that I get to do this; anytime I’m on tour or every time I play, I just feel very grateful. I don’t think about this too much, but I was actually just talking to the guys in the band last night, and 20 years ago this month I was getting ready to do my first tour with Morbid Angel and here I am, still touring. Half my life later, I don’t have much to complain about. I do great tours, I play with bands that I love and I get to produce bands I love.
(((o))): You've been doing this for over 20 years now though haven’t you? Were you in any bands before Ripping Corpse or not?
Erik: I had a band I played for before I was in Ripping Corpse when I was 16. We never did any professional demo or anything. Then with Ripping Corpse, we did that record [Dreaming With the Dead] in 1991 I think [correct!], so that’s 22 years now.
(((o))): Yeah man, you’re coming up on your silver anniversary of death metal.
Erik: I've definitely been doing this for a long time man. (laughs) I should be able to collect some kind of retirement cheques in the next ten years or so for having my 30 years in man.
(((o))): You would think so, like a pension or something. They should do that.
Erik: My death metal pension. My death metal security or something. (laughs) Unfortunately that doesn't exist. And, honestly man, in ten years from now, I’ll probably still be doing this because I love this shit. By that point I might have a cane or a wheelchair, but I’ll still be pumping something out.
(((o))): As long as they pull a stool out there for you, you can still play.
Erik: Exactly! Hey, I remember see some video of Prince and the bass player had his own couch. I was like “Holy shit, that’s badass!” and it was some kind of velvet, plush couch, and this guy was busting out some bass. That’ll be me when I'm like 60.
(((o))): No doubt there. I was going to ask you: What is your favorite city to play in?
Erik: Well I grew up in New Jersey, so anytime we play in New York I just love it. There’re so many cities I play in, and even though I live in Florida, I grew up in Jersey and went to school for audio engineering in New York City. So I spent a lot of time in there, and anytime we get to play there I feel like it’s my home. Something about New York, I love the city, I love the people and it’s always a good show.
(((o))): I bet.
Erik: It’s hard to pick just one place though. There are so many great places to play. Just New York being my home area, I've got a lot of friends I see and places I go, it’s always great. But we've played so many places worldwide that it’s hard to pick. I’ll just go with New York cause it’s my home area.
(((o))): Now what are you guys doing after this tour? Are you going into writing mode, or are you going to grind it out on the road for a while?
Erik: When I get home, I started producing this band Rivers of Nihil on Metal Blade [Records], and I have to mix that. Then I’m finishing production on Ephel Duath and then finishing the Belphegor album. Then we’re just going to finish writing the new record. We’re hoping to record it before the end of the year, probably start in September or October.
Erik: Yeah, everything was recorded but the vocals, last year. I recorded it down at my place, the guys came over from Austria, but we did it at a couple different times. The main guitar player had some surgeries, so we had to schedule around his healing and stuff like that. All I have to do when I get home is finish the vocals and the mix. It’s a massive record and it's great to work with those guys, they’re a great band.
(((o))): I’ll make sure to check it out when it's released. I always like the albums you produce, you have a certain sound.
Erik: I’m always into producing new stuff. There was a time when I was just doing album after album after album. You tend to get burnt out if you do too many records, so I’m really just trying to do a certain amount of records per year and really focusing on them and making them the best they can be. My work has gotten better since I stopped doing ten albums per year. It’s hard to balance my musical career and my producing career at times. So, I've been focused on working on my producing and playing and balancing it all out.
I’m always looking for new bands to produce. This band Rivers of Nihil, I've been in touch with them for a couple of years now. A few of the guys were still in high school when I started talking to them, but they were one of the newer bands that I though was awesome and had a lot of potential. I helped them with a couple contacts, and before you know it they’re signed to Metal Blade, and the records coming out awesome.
(((o))): I remember reading about them actually, but I haven’t listened to them yet. Now, are they straight up death metal?
Erik: Yeah they’re death metal with a bunch of different influences. Sometimes it pure death metal and sometimes they mix in melodies and atmosphere, it’s heavy as shit. It’s a really unique blend of death metal.
(((o))): I’ll be sure to check them out. It can’t be bad with your stamp of approval and all you’re saying about them.
Erik: Well thanks, man. It’s a band I heard and I thought they’d be an awesome band to work with. It’s their first record but it doesn't sound like it. They’re ahead of their years; they’re all young guys in their early 20s. They have a bright future and a lot of potential, and glad to help them realize that and help bring it all to fruition.
(((o))): It’s cool to see somebody who has been in the scene for so long but still has the urge to seek out new bands. You’re still waving the flag, so-to-speak, of death metal and heavy music.
Erik: I try. I just love this music. I love touring, I love performing, I love writing; I just love doing this you know. To me, once I get home and I finish all these records and get back to Hate Eternal, there’s just nothing better than that. Having your own studio getting to do this… We’ll do pre-production for a few weeks and then do the record, it's just killer to be able to record my own albums, and find new bands I enjoy. I really try to work with bands I feel very passionate about. I like to think when I’m producing I become an extra member of the band because I get so deep into it. When I’m recording a record it becomes the most important thing in my life at that time, I give it everything I have. That’s why it's important that I do the records that I feel really good about. That doesn't always mean it's just death metal; I like all types of music. Obviously death metal is my forte, but I o doing different records. It’s a great but hard work all at the same time.
(((o))): I saw a few years ago you produced The Mountain Goats and then an Agnostic Front record. I think it's cool that you don’t just stick to one thing. A person can’t just stay put, you have to evolve and stay moving.
Erik: Yeah, and when I think about death metal and all the bands I've produced, there are still bands I’d like to work with. The thing about other types of music is that it really challenges you. It’s a whole different perspective. So I try to approach each album I do individually and try to make it have a unique sound to it rather than just making it the same.
Growing up in New Jersey I grew up around Agnostic Front and back in Ripping Corpse we did a lot of shows with Sick of it All and Biohazard, a lot of hardcore. So I did a record [Empire] and an EP [Rebellion EP] with Madball, I did the Agnostic Front record [My Life My Way] then I did The Mountain Goats[(four songs on All Eternals Deck]. That was an awesome experience and learning experience as well. John [Darnielle, Mountain Goats writer/composer/guitarist/pianist/vocalist] is a super talented guy, the rest of the guys as well. So that was just awesome to do. It’s a different style of music so it requires a different focus. If you listen to any of the albums I've done in my whole career, it's always been challenging. So I guess I just like to challenge myself to be better all the time. I want to be better at what I do and be a better person period.
(((o))): That’s something that a lot of people fear, is change. With any type of music things become sterile if you don’t look around.
Erik: That’s the truth. I’m always trying to expand my horizons and seek out other music. It keeps me on my toes in the studio for sure. Even with this tour we’re doing with Fear Factory. We are definitely a different package, but we’re excited about the challenge. They’re a band that is pioneers of their sound and have been doing this for years, so it should be a really good tour.
Erik: Awe man, it's vicious. We’re doing 45 minutes so we are just packing them [songs] in. There won’t be any time for a break until we are done. We've been practicing a lot and combining songs so we’re ready. It’ll be a good mix of songs from all the albums. It gets tough to pick songs when you have five albums, but look at Cannibal Corpse, they have 12! Look at Iron Maiden, I can’t even imagine how hard that is.
(((o))): No shit man, that’d be crazy. Well I’d like to say thank you for your time Erik. It was cool talking to you.
Erik: Thank you man. It was cool on my end too. Be sure to come find me at the show, we’ll talk for a while.
(((o))): I will, for sure. Thanks man.
Erik: No problem. Take care.
I’d like to thank Erik for entertaining my rambling and excitement. (HA!) Be sure to go check them out on their current US tour with Fear Factory. And if you haven’t heard their music, I urge you to fix that problem soon.
A special thank you goes out to Kelli from Metal Blade. She helped set this up in a short time frame, and it is greatly appreciated.
- Ryan Stephenson and Ech(((o)))es & Dust