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By: Gavin Brown
Scott Carlson is a revered figure in extreme music and rightly so and it was with great excitement that Gavin Brown had a chat with him. With his role on the brilliant new Church of Misery album And Then There Were None…. fresh in the mind, they talked about how he came to be in the band, the recording of the album and the base subject for Church of Misery songs, serial killers. Add to this, tales of horror films and his time in Death Breath, Cathedral and Death and of course Repulsion and you can see why he is so highly thought of.
(((o))): How did you come to sing on the new Church of Misery album And Then There Were None….?
Scott: Tatsu Mikami got a hold of me after his band left and he was looking for members, he asked Lee Dorrian if he thought I’d be interested in doing something. We had played with them a couple of times with Cathedral and another time Repulsion played at a festival with Church of Misery so I met Tatsu a couple of times already. My name came up when he was brainstorming for vocalists and I jumped at the opportunity.
(((o))): How was the experience of doing the album?
Scott: It was great. I think the album is the extent of what we’ll do together, maybe we’ll do a gig here and there, but I think Tatsu might be putting together a Japanese band right now for touring purposes. Making the album was an incredible experience. I think all the musicians involved are great and I had a great time writing the lyrics. It really woke up my creative side so I was really happy about that and I think it turned out really well. I’m extremely happy with it.
(((o))): For the first time on a Church of Misery album Tatsu didn’t write the lyrics for the album, they were yours. Did you work together on the music first?
Scott: Yeah, Tatsu actually sent me the music, he had demoed all the music, which is how Eric [Little; drums] and David [Szulkin; guitar] were able to learn it before they started recording. Tatsu pretty much had the album musically demoed and sent it to me and I started working out the vocal melodies and where I was going to put everything and after they’d recorded the music in Maryland, I actually started writing lyrics. I started doing research and putting the actual content together. That’s how it worked, Tatsu recorded the music in Maryland with David and Eric and then he sent me the final arrangements and I started placing the lyrics in.
(((o))): Church of Misery are well known for their songs about specific serial killers. Was it your choice of what killers to write about?
Scott: Well, Tatsu had some ideas because he wanted one to be about John George Haigh, the English acid bath killer so he gave me a couple of ideas and then a lot of them, I just came up with on my own. I had to ask him in advance because Church of Misery have been around for a long time so they’ve already covered a lot of the more well-known serial killers and the more notorious ones so I had to do some digging to find some interesting cases that had not been upturned by Tatsu already.
(((o))): What made you choose the subject matters that you did?
Scott: I was trying to stay away from the standard female stalking, rapist, deviant type of character and go with something a little more interesting so I found some that were a little younger or things that happened years ago. ‘The Hell Benders’ is about a family who were in the Old West of the United States. Leonarda Cianciulli, who ‘Confessions Of An Embittered Soul’ is about was an Italian woman who was told that her children were going to die young so she decided to make a sacrifice to try and save them, she started doing tarot readings and when neighbours would come over for tarot readings, she would kill them and then boil them down into soap and teacakes. Another one is only on the die-hard version of the album, but it’s a song called ‘Hallowed Axe’ and that one is about Clementine Barnabet who was an African American teenager in the early 1900s who was part of a cult that thought she could gain immortality by murdering families. So that’s the kind of stuff I was looking for, stuff that was a little off the beaten path.
(((o))): Were serial killers a subject you were knowledgeable about and interested in before you were a part of Church of Misery?
Scott: Well, I’ve read plenty of books on the subject over the years. I’m a horror film fanatic and have been since childhood and anything that’s macabre or bizarre has always appealed to me, not that I think serial killers are great or that I idolise them in any way or even want to celebrate them, but it is fascinating to read about monsters who exist in our society rather than the fantastic ones we create in our minds. These people actually exist and many times they are more frightening and more deranged than anything our imaginations could come up with, so I have always been fascinated with the subject but it’s not something I obsess over
(((o))): As a big horror film fan, what is your favourite horror film of all time?
Scott: I would have to say Re-Animator is the one that sticks with me more than anything. Re-Animator and maybe Dellamorte Dellamore are two that stick with me the most. In fact, on Saturday I went to an art show and was able to chat with Stuart Gordon and Brian Yuzna, the director and producer of Re-Animator, I had no idea they were going to be there and it was amazing! I think I chewed Brian Yuzna’s ear off about my first time going to see Re-Animator on LSD when I was a teenager so he really enjoyed that story! Those two stick out, but I’m a huge fan of Italian horror, Fulci, Argento, Sergio Martino, all of the gallows slashers and the American stuff going all the way back to the Universal horror movies I think is absolutely amazing, so pretty much all of it, any horror that I see, lots of good films. I just saw a good film called The Witch that I thought was really great. I see stuff all the time still, that I think is really good, but that classic Italian era and the American maverick era from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and The Last House On The Left to it ending with the Evil Dead and Re-Animator, that decade and a half or so of American horror filmmaking was pretty amazing as well. I could go on about this all day! The British Hammer Horror stuff as well, I was just watching a couple of Hammer films last night.
(((o))): The lyrics are different, but still as horrific as the ones you did with Repulsion. Did you approach the songs in the same way when writing the lyrics?
Scott: Maybe some of them, with Repulsion I would usually get an idea from having watched a horror film or reading. I used to read a lot of Lovecraft when I was a teenager, maybe reading a Clive Barker or a Lovecraft story would spark something in my imagination or a lot of times the songs were based on horror films of just one particular scene from a horror film, or the Cold War threat that existed at the time. The threat of nuclear annihilation was something that burned in the back of my mind as when I was a kid we used to have bomb drills in elementary school and stuff like that, so that kind of stuff was very close in the back of my mind. In the 80s when films like The Day After and Threads came out, I was completely having nightmares about nuclear annihilation and had stuff crept into my lyrics as well. When I was writing the Church of Misery stuff, I was looking at serial killers, looking at the bizarre acts they did and thinking about the psychology behind that and that’s where I came up with the ideas.
(((o))): This is the first time you have sung on a full length album since Repulsion’s Horrified. How did the sessions go for the album?
Scott: They went actually really well. I worked with a friend named Bruce Duff, who is not an extreme metal guy so he had a different perspective on it, whenever I tried something that was a little out of my niche, he was naturally able to help me decide whether or not it was worth keeping it not, some of the clean vocals I did, the double track stuff or things that I was little nervous about just because I’d never tried it before. I mean I’d sung in rock bands before, but doing something extreme, when I’m singing I’m doing it aggressively like with Death Breath or Repulsion so this was definitely a case of trying something new in a way, even though it is still pretty harsh vocals I’m doing. I was trying a few different things and Bruce, who recorded the vocals for me, helped me out with a lot of that stuff.
(((o))): I heard that you hadn’t met the other players on the album, David “Depraved” Szulkin and Eric Little as their parts were all recorded separately. Has that changed now?
Scott: No, we haven’t actually met up, like I said I don’t think this line-up is going to tour. It was strictly to help Tatsu get this album done. I’ve talked to David and Eric a lot through emails. David also works for Grindhouse Releasing and Eric plays in EarthRide and David plays in Blood Farmers so I was aware of them before and I respect what they do and it would be great if some day we could play a couple of special one off shows together or something, but it’s not in the works as of now.
(((o))): You are about to head out on the road with Repulsion. Are you looking forward to that?
Scott: Yes, unfortunately the two shows in the UK just got cancelled, but we’re going to Roadburn still and we’re playing at the Maryland Deathfest this year, I think the gigs we have booked are all festival type things. We’re always looking forward to playing, we don’t play a lot but when we do, we have a great time.
(((o))): Will you be making it back to the UK, will these dates get rescheduled?
Scott: I would love to, I’m not sure when, but if we can get the right bill together we would love to play in the UK again. It always great, you know. It was a dream of ours before we even played there to do it and we’ve done it a couple of times, never enough! I would love to play the UK more.
(((o))): You played at Temples Festival a couple of years ago, how was that experience?
Scott: That was great, that was a really great festival, excellent bill and we had an amazing time, the crowd was great. Aside from the headlining show we did in London that was the best gig we’ve played in England.
(((o))): As you mentioned, you’ve got a date at the Roadburn Festival, is that somewhere you have played before?
Scott: I’ve never been to Roadburn. We’ve played at Neurotic Deathfest, which is at the same venue, but we’ve never played at Roadburn. I’m really looking forward to the diversity of the bill Lee Dorrian is curating this year and I think he’s put together a really fantastic bill. I’ve heard they’ve sold more tickets for Roadburn this year than they ever have before so I am very much looking forward to that [Ed. It’s sold out now!].
(((o))): After the live dates, are there any plans for any new material from Repulsion?
Scott: Matt [Olivio; guitar] and I both have other things going on and our drummer Chris Moore has tons of stuff, he’s always got something going on! So I don’t think there’ll be any new material from Repulsion, but you’ll certainly be hearing lots from the members of the band through other outlets.
(((o))): How did Repulsion get back together?
Scott: It just sort of happened by chance. We had just finished a big project compiling demos and artwork and everything for the Relapse reissue of the CD, this is probably 12 years ago now and they asked us if they could put us on their booking roster and we just sort of laughed and said sure, whatever! Didn’t think anything would come of it, but suddenly we started getting offers and the offers have never really let up since then, I mean it’s not like we get hundreds of offers each year, but we get ten, fifteen offers a year and the ones that are appealing to us we always fit them. Sometimes it just doesn’t work, but if we can do it, we do it. We won’t take just any old show, but if it looks like something we’re going to enjoy then we’ll do it, but we never just take a gig for money or whatever, it’s got to be something we’re interested in doing.
(((o))): Horrified is rightly hailed as both a classic and extremely influential, both from fans and peers. Did you think the album would have as much as an impact as it did?
Scott: Absolutely not haha! When we recorded it, I thought it was really good, I just thought we were a good band. I was proud to be in the band, I don’t think we were arrogant in any way, but we felt like we were a good band and we liked what we were doing as we were really into stuff that was fast, heavy and noisy so when the rest of the world didn’t immediately respond to it, we were confused because we thought, hey we’re a pretty good band, why doesn’t anyone care? When we recorded it, it just happened to coincide with our drummer losing interest and Aaron [Freeman], our second guitarist, his son was born that summer, right around the time we finished recording the album, so it was a transitional period and we just never recovered from it. It wasn’t like we didn’t get along or anything like that, it was just a transition and being the age that we were at the time, we were in our late teens or early twenties, we just all moved onto other things and left Repulsion on the shelf. A few years later when Earache contacted us about releasing the album finally on vinyl and CD, we were over the moon! We thought it was great and since then the Internet was invented and people’s knowledge and ability to access information has just increased so since then the album has continually picked up momentum and people just can’t seem to stop talking about it. So I find myself talking about it all the time which is remarkable, and yes, getting back to your original question, I would never have thought I would still be here talking about Horrified today, in fact when we didn’t get signed immediately, I thought the demo would just be forgotten forever and no one would think anything of it.
(((o))): Well I’m glad they did! Would you ever resurrect Death Breath for an album?
Scott: That is always a possibility, I mean there’s actually a full album’s worth of material , sort of halfway in the can, so when Robert [Pehrsson; vocals and guitar] and Nicke [Andersson; drums, guitar and bass] are both available at the same time. That’s the problem, they’re both having pretty successful solo careers, so in order to get that band back together we would have to find that moment in time where Robert and Nicke are both available simultaneously and if that ever happens I will definitely push to make Death Breath happen again cos I’m extremely proud of my involvement with that and I love both of those guys and Erik Wallin from Merciless, the other guitar player, who plays in the live stuff. I love all those guys like brothers and I would love to play with them again.
(((o))): You also played with Cathedral for a time, do you have good memories of your time with the band?
Scott: Absolutely. When I joined Cathedral originally in 1993, they were my favourite band, favourite new band anyway. I was totally in love with Cathedral’s material and I had seen them play and I thought they were amazing and when I had the opportunity to join Cathedral was like a dream come true. So I was extremely happy when I joined the band and proud to be a member. Things didn’t work out financially and logistically that first time around, we got dropped from our record deal, I was living in America and the rest of the band were spread out all over the UK at the time so that didn’t work out and then when Lee [Dorrian; vocals] and Gaz [Jennings; guitar] asked me to rejoin for the farewell tour and to record the final album with them, I was extremely pleased and I’m very happy and proud to have been able to do that as well. It kind of puts some closure on that chapter.
(((o))): Finally, you were also briefly in Death, what do you remember about those days?
Scott: Well, we were young and we were just having a laugh all the time and Chuck [Schuldiner] was amazing and we got along really great. We initially came together because Chuck and I were pen pals and we started exchanging tapes of our music and realised we were very much on the same page musically, so it made a lot of sense to combine our bands together. So Matt and I packed our stuff up and went down to Florida and started playing with Chuck and Kam [Lee]. It wasn’t long after that, that Kam decided he wanted to be a frontman, there were too many frontmen in that band, you had myself, Chuck and Kam all capable of fronting a band and Kam was the one who just stepped up and said I just don’t want to be behind the kit anymore. That set us on a course looking for drummers, which of course was not easy to find in 1985 in Orlando, Florida. Combined with the fact Matt and I were headed into a more primitive, brutal sort of direction, simplified approach as you hear on the Horrified album and Chuck was heading in another direction where he was sort of slowing things down a little bit and adding some melody, adding some time signature changes and things of that nature and that’s not what we were out to do, so we kind of shook hands with Chuck and wished him well and he wished us well and we both went our separate ways. But I’ll never forget that summer we spent down in Florida, hanging around with Chuck and Mark and John Gross from Guillotine Magazine who were managing Death at the time and you know, we had a blast!