Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Axemaster (part 4: conclusion of the interview)

Previous issues of Metal Bulletin Zine have been looking into the past and present of Axemaster. The following is the conclusion of the interview. At the end of the interview you will find the band links to find out more and to hear some of the music.
Axemaster is traditional heavy metal from the state of Ohio, U.S.
The band started in 1985, and has gone through lineup changes, including name changes, but lead guitarist Joe Sims, the only remaining member from the old formation, continues to steer Axemaster today. In 2014, the band signed with Pure Steel Records (Germany), and Sims produced, mixed, and mastered the new album "Overture to Madness.” Pure Steel released "Overture to Madness" in 2015, an album which, according to the band, “helps to define Axemaster's overall general style as a combination of the dark riffs and feel of doom metal and the energy and aggression of non-speed thrash metal.”
BAND MEMBERS
Geoff McGraw - vocals/rhythm guitar
Joe Sims - lead guitar
Denny Archer - drums
Jim Curtis - bass
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A lot of metal musicians are perfectionists. When asked about this or that "masterpiece" album, some musicians say something like: We like it, but for us it was another album and we didn't know we were making a "classic." Other musicians say: We like it, but we hear a lot of the imperfections. You, Axemaster guys, have now had time to digest your 2015 album "Overture to Madness." -
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Joe: I'm DEFINITELY one of the perfectionists you spoke of, I always hear imperfections in stuff I do. Most of the time people don't see what I'm seeing as an imperfection, but they are still things I'd do differently. There are only a couple in "Overture to Madness", and the couple have to do with my production and not the writing or playing. Overall, considering the HUGE amount of work and BS I had with doing this album, I'm really happy with how it came out. I thought from when I wrote all the songs that it could be the best thing I have ever been a part of and now I definitely think it is. A "classic"? It's not for me to say whether it is or isn't, that's up to the fans. But what I will say is I think the album is pretty kick ass! 
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Geoff: Perfection to me isn't playing everything exactly 100% right. Perfection has as much to do with feel and emotion as it does technique, a song that is strictly perfect technique sounds sterile and lifeless, there must be passion behind it. That being said I tend to be a perfectionist in my pursuit of how I imagine something should sound or feel. Joe will corroborate that when recording vocal parts I would cut some things over and over again in an attempt to make it sound exactly how I heard it in my head. Perfection is in the ear or eye of the listener, for me the album sounds like I wanted it to, but is it perfect? I don't know, I'll leave that to the individual, but I am very happy with it. -
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What specific things do you want to make better on the next album? -
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Joe: Well, in my opinion perfection is impossible, anything and everything that anyone does can be improved in some way. I don't think there is any certain thing about "Overture" that could use a lot of improvement, but one thing that will be different about the next album that I think will be somewhat of an improvement is that the way we write music is now quite a bit different than the way it was done on the album songs. I wrote all the music and did 95% of the arrangement for the tunes that are on the album on my own with VERY little input or suggestions from anyone else. Hell, I even created a whole lot of the drum beats you hear on it! Now, the way we do it most of the time is I come up with a basic template, a concept for a song (the riffs I want to use with a basic, scratch arrangement), then I record a demo of it with a metronome and play it for all the guys to see if they dig it. If they do they learn what I did and we put the tune together as a unit. Everyone offers suggestions for changes here and there, many of which we use. They all write their own parts instead of them just going with what I want them to play. I think doing things this way will add a little extra diversity and energy to the music, I think everything will have a little more feel and not in any way sound at all robotic. Plus, Geoff wrote 90% of the music for one of the best new songs we have, so that one SURELY has a little different feel. -
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Geoff: Joe is right, while I really dig Overture To Madness the way we do things now is much more organic. What you have to realize is that during the recording of Overture the band was almost in a constant state of flux, the one absolute constant was Joe. He was the focal point for anyone who came into or departed from Axemaster, so most of what you hear is the direction Joe was reaching for, and that turned out a great album. I am very happy that I was able to write the lyrics and vocal melodies, and that I was able to leave my mark on the 1st album after being asked to join the band. Now the writing and arrangements of the new songs are more about taking a concept and working together to create something we all have a hand in, much more organic. -
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Are you completely pleased with the drum sound, for instance? What about the sound of the bass? Would you say that Jim and Denny are pleased with the sound? -
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Joe: Well, I'm never 100% pleased with ANYTHING I do, so that's an easy one to answer! Even though I like the sound of the rhythm section on the album, I think it sounds pretty solid overall, there are some things that I know can be improved. Denny didn't play drums on the album, it was original Axemaster drummer Brian Henderson, and Brian recorded the drums himself using his own recording gear. Honestly, a lot of the drum tracks he gave me sounded FAR from professional. I took a lot of time with them and pulled some rabbits out of my hat to make them sound good. For the next one though we will have better sounding drums from the start which will make my job A LOT easier. Plus, we need to record the bass differently. I have a lot more experience now and know a lot better what needs to be done from the beginning. Jim's okay with the album bass sound, but I know he would have liked it to be a little stronger and clearer, and a little more out front in a couple certain spots, and I totally agree with him!
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Where do you all stand on the issue of drum recording and drum sound? Do you all think it is not a problem to use a fake drum sound on a metal music album? Lots of metal albums nowadays feature not the sound of the drummer's real drum set, but the sample drum sound of a computer program or application or whatever. It's basically, some say, drum programming because a drummer knows that the sound is not the work he did. Plus, it's been fixed or enhanced so that the imperfections are taken out. Is Denny ok with the idea that on an album, people hear not his drums, his abilities, his particular way of drumming, his quirks, but the perfect work of computer software? -
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Joe: NO WAY would I EVER use totally programmed electronic drums on an album. I hate the sound and feel (or lack of feel) of those things! Even though there are some great systems that sound pretty close to real, I can still tell the difference. I'm sure Denny feels the same way, but in Axemaster he will never be faced with that issue because it will never happen in this band; we will ALWAYS have a real person playing drums on recordings. Honestly, I don't know of any professional metal albums that use only totally programmed drums. If you would, give me a couple examples of what you're speaking of, now I'm curious.
[Answer from the editor: Please see at the end of this interview for the answer.]
Anyway, on the other hand, I don't have a problem with using triggers on drums, they clean up the sound, but it's still the actual drummer playing. Those are used a lot in pro studios and as long as the process is done the right way, it comes out the same as using mics on the kit except the sound is a lot clearer, the hits are more defined, and all the different tracks are easier to control in mixdown. But it takes a good producer with experience using triggers to get the proper result, if they aren't done correctly, the drums could easily come out like total shit!!!! I also don't have a problem with fixing/editing some things during mixdown, that's standard procedure. On (especially) a studio album, the goal is for each song to sound as good as it can possibly sound, and it's the producer's job to do whatever is necessary to make that happen. I'm not talking about totally changing parts or anything, just small adjustments to take things from being "not bad" to being totally right. You certainly don't want to go nuts and change things to the point to where the band isn't able to play the stuff correctly live, but I don't see any problem with making adjustments so the material sounds totally correct. -
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Geoff: I think what you have to remember is that technology that replaces old techniques is not a bad thing, like drum triggers or digital editing, It used to be that you would cut tape to achieve the same thing. I do not miss cutting tape, while it's a skill I am glad I learned the number of hours you spend cutting tape is insane and if you make a mistake you have to start over again. However replacing a musician with a machine, takes way the feel and then it's not music, it's mechanically reproduced sounds....although there is some of that stuff I like, lol. I would not want us to ever replace a human with samples. -
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For many people, this is the first album that they hear Geoff singing. Is Geoff able to go back and listen to his own singing on the album or does he find it difficult to dissect his own performance? -
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Geoff: Actually I do listen to the album, I think it came out how I wanted it to. I don't think there is anything I hear that I wish I had done differently. Like I said previously we cut and recut anything that I wasn't satisfied with, in every case we started with recording a scratch vocal that I thought was more or less what I wanted, then I took that and played it at home and tweaked the ideas. When we actually recorded the final tracks I tweaked it some more. There were in studio revelations where I decided to do something different or change approaches entirely, those "hey wouldn't this be cool" moments. Joe made occasional suggestions which I was free to use or not use. In the end, if it didn't feel right I kept working on it until it did. Because I did that, when I listen to it now there isn't anything that I am dissatisfied with, I can listen without nitpicking my performance or wishing there was something I had done differently.
I guess it sounds pretty much like I addressed the 1st question about if I am a perfectionist or not again....lol. -
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Say, do you like the artwork of the album as much now as you did at first? It's very grey and it almost looks like the artwork for a doom band, right?! It's grey and somber, but it's difficult to be cheery about madness, isn't it? The album cover looks like it could be for a band like Candlemass or old Trouble! -
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Joe: I was the one who found the artwork and I still LOVE it. Like I'm sure I mentioned somewhere in this interview, our music is heavily influenced by doom. The only kind of riffs I use have the dark feel of a Sabbath or a Candlemass, the main difference being that we usually put those riffs into a more thrashy context. And Geoff's lyrics aren't exactly the kind of thing you would find in an episode of "The Smurfs," the little blue fuckers would have to go to therapy after that hahaha! His words fit the mood and feel of the music absolutely perfectly. So overall, I think the artwork totally goes with our material and the album. To me, it being black and white also gives it the cool feel of an old horror movie and makes it stick out; there aren't a whole lot of label releases out there that are done entirely in B&W. -
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Geoff: I do like the album cover, not as much as the original concept though. Being straight forwardly honest we had an amazing original concept that an artist was going to provide us with. Promises were made prices were agreed to, and then with just a few weeks before deadline and release he revealed that he hadn't started on it and wanted more money than agreed upon from the label. It really pissed me off, I realize that sometimes these things happen, but this was supposed to be a special case and a special price because he was Joe's friend. This was a betrayal of friendship, not business, and I can never forgive him for it. That being said, I really do like the artwork that Joe found, it fits precisely the mood and feel of the album. All the various images of the cover, music, death, art, life, and it's use of negative space are moving, even darkly enchanting. I would like to see the original concept someday, maybe on a rerelease, but then again maybe not because it would be a different artist which would make the piece different too. -
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I'm no expert on bands from Ohio. I remember Shok Paris because I heard them on radio back in the day. In y'all opinions, what bands from Ohio are pioneers in metal? Black Death, Destructor, Breaker? I'm just throwing some names, but I do not know the history in a real sense! I hope that this interview has given you all a chance to explain to us a bit about the history of metal in Ohio! -
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JOE: Well, Black Death is definitely a pioneer because they were one of, if not the first signed heavy metal band that had all black band members. They are still around by the way, they played at the Ragnarokkr fest in Chicago we played in 2014 and I believe just had a new album come out. Cool band and great guys! Anyway, yeah, there was/is all those Auburn bands like Shok Paris, Breaker, etc., but there have also been other metal/rock musicians from around here like Jani Lane of Warrant back in the day (even though that's obviously not the kind of thing I have ever been into, still is a genre of metal). None of the bands from here made it HUGE, but there have always been a lot of groups of all the different rock genres around here that have put out cool stuff over the years. Actually, a couple of our label-mates on Pure Steel are from Ohio, Wretch and Sunless Sky. -
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Geoff: I have to disagree with Joe about bands from Ohio not making it huge. There have been tons of bands and artists from Ohio, many have even made it National such as Mushroomhead, Chimaira, Chastain, Necrophaigia, Skeletonwitch, Tim "Ripper" Owens, Nine Inch Nails, Filter, Marilyn Manson, Maynard James Keenen of Tool, Hawthorne Heights, Devil Wears Prada, Salt The Wound, Gilby Clark And Steven Adler were both born in Cleveland....and dare I even mention them ...Black Veil Brides. It doesn't even end there, Ohio has a long and rich history of producing musicians in all genres from rock and blues to jazz and hip hop. While many of these artists don't necessarily appeal to everyone there can be no argument about their influence and that they indeed "Made It Big". -
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Joe: I totally forgot about Marilyn Manson and Nine Inch Nails being from this area, and I honestly didn't know that a couple of those musicians were born around here. The term "making it big" is very subjective, what I meant and should have said is that ones I was thinking of aren't quite household names that even non-metal fans totally know about. They aren't as recognized as bands that are universally known like Sabbath, Kiss, Priest, and Maiden. Which is really unfortunate because there have always been a lot of great musicians in this area.

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Do you know the people at Auburn Records? Do you know Bill Peters? -
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JOE: Oh yeah, I've known Bill for quite a few years, he does a metal show on local college radio every week. I don't know him THAT well personally, but he seems like a really good guy who is totally into metal. Our drummer Denny actually knows him better than I do. Strangely enough, I don't know any of the other Auburn people or even the bands personally. You would have thought that after all these years I would have crossed paths with some of them but never did. The thing I always thought was strange though was when I was first sending the original Axemaster demo around, I never heard back from Auburn but Azra Records out of LA wanted to sign us on the spot. I always thought it was odd that the hometown label seemingly had no interest in the band, it took a label from LA to sign us and first get us into the international scene! -
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In band discussions, how do you see the future for Axemaster from here on out? Do you feel like your band has every reason to continue into the future and to find out where this music will take you? I would like to remind you all that in metal music the old legends are playing music and are in their 60s (or maybe older, I don't know!). Therefore, Axemaster could be just getting started, in a sense. Who knows, it's just a matter of being really stubborn and not breaking up, not stopping, getting through the obstacles, and continuing as Axemaster from here until the wheels come off and everybody is a senior citizen!! -
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Joe: The music business as a whole is HIGHLY unpredictable, you could say the only thing that's certain is uncertainty. But the one thing I can say FOR SURE is that I'm a totally stubborn fucker and I'm not gonna give up as long as I'm breathing and still able to play!!! I could be 100 years old and if my fingers still work and people are into seeing an old bastard jam, I'll be on the stage and it will still be Axemaster, hopefully with the same guys as now!!!!! I'm not gonna repeat past mistakes and am gonna see this band through till my days are over. Like you said, in a way, Axemaster IS just getting started while at the same time having a kick ass history. We're in a uniquely cool situation where we kind of have the best of both worlds: although we have a name that a lot of fans already know, we are seen by many as somewhat of a new band (which in a lot of ways we are), so we aren't looked at like an old band that's past its prime. It appears to me that people look at us with having the potential "up-side" like a new and fresh project would have, while at the same time we have a lot of long-time fans and a history that's a definite advantage. Given all that, we would be totally nuts to not go for it and see how far this band can go!!! I think this is just the beginning of a long and kick ass ride!!!!!! -
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Geoff: I think that there is indeed a feeling of just getting started, and I feel a lot of optimism toward the future. Joe and I were actually just talking about the fact that we both see this as a long term deal. Music has always been at the heart of who I am, and while I am also open to doing side projects and guest spots, Axemaster is the platform that I see as being my foundation. After all these years of slogging it out I feel like I finally found a home, and as everyone knows..."there's no place like home". -
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www.puresteel-records.com/bands/view/333/Axemaster
www.facebook.com/axemasterofficial
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The following is the answer to the band’s question about drum programming. The band asked for examples of professional metal bands that use drum programming.
Without doing research, here’s a bit of an answer. It is well known that Fear Factory’s “The Industrialist” (2012) is drum programming because the band makes it no secret. The band has made it clear that their albums and lots of bands that they know, are basically using drum programming, but some bands just don’t want to admit it publicly because in metal there is this illusion/perception/belief that there is more integrity. It is also well known that the long-running metal band from Germany, Running Wild, for “Victory” (2000) and “The Brotherhood” (2002) used drum programming. Other metal musicians, such as Rage (Germany), for instance, have publicly stated this about those Running Wild albums, and many German metal musicians have stated that it is drum programming because they know from personal connections that they have. It is also well known and it is believed that many U.D.O. albums are drum programming because Stefan Kaufmann did the programming. For instance, listen to “Holy” (1999). Does it sound like real drums to you? That’s just one U.D.O. example. Many people believe that King Diamond’s “The Eye” (1990) is drum programming, but King Diamond denies it and drummer Snowy Shaw refuses to give a straight answer (due to legal contracts/disclosure agreements?) when asked point blank by Sick Drummer Magazine. I think his refusal to answer the question is itself the answer. I also remember reading that he cried when he heard the album and he realized that it is not his drumming. I cannot find you the article for that right now, though. Judas Priest’s “Ram it Down” (1988) has some drum programming and I remember reading in an interview that they did it because the drumming was no good in certain places. Last example for now, Bathory admitted to using drum programming specifically on “Under the Sign of the Black Mark” (1987). That’s at least one album that Bathory admitted to doing it.
Plus, this zine has asked some bands, bands whose albums do not seem to have real drums, and some of those bands did not answer the interview. Apparently, that “crossed the line” by asking. Some bands have answered and have been honest. Others apparently got angry and decided not to answer the interview. The above examples do not even cover modern extreme metal, which has many bands either using drum programming or using it for some parts, but calling it something else.
THE END.

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