Interview with Gus Rios (drummer).
Gruesome is heavily inspired by Death. Tell us a bit about the concept, birth, and history of the band. Both Matt and I were involved with the early DTA (Death To All) tours. Matt did guitar/vocals on the first 2012 run, and I was a guest drummer and Sean’s right-hand man on the 2013 tour. Exhumed was direct support on a couple of the shows and Matt and I bonded (with generous help from alcohol) over our mutual love and respect for all things old school and old Death in particular. I wanted to put together an old-school version of DTA with Terry Butler and Rick Rozz, but those guys were too busy with Massacre at the time. So Matt joked, “Maybe we should try to write our own Death songs?!” About a year later, when I quit Malevolent Creation, I remembered Matt’s crazy idea and messaged him, asking if he was still interested. He proceeded to send me a demo, which was impressive, and then he sent another one (which ended up being the song Savage Land) and that was even more impressive! I remember thinking that it sounded like lost Death demos from 88-89! So I enlisted my buddy Daniel from Possessed (cuz he shreds) and together we re-recorded the demo songs. Early on, I had called James Murphy to see if he was into doing a guest solo and, of course, to see what he thought of the material. Cause, let’s face it, if James would have thought it sucked, we certainly wouldn’t have moved forward! When he gave us a resounding thumbs-up, I called Matt and said, “Shit just got real! James is down for a solo and he says we hit the nail on the head!!” We released the demo track of Savage Land and the response was pretty good, good enough that Relapse offered us a deal the next day! I called one of my oldest friends, Robin Mazen, to round out the lineup, and the rest is history.
Dimensions of Horror is Gruesome’s second release. Can you talk about the recording process, and some of the highlights? We decided to have Jarrett Pritchard record, mix and master this one, because he did such a great job mixing and mastering Savage Land. Jarrett is also an old school Florida death metal veteran, and knew exactly what we wanted …which was basically a slightly cleaner and updated version of Scream Bloody Gore. Once again, we tried to stay true to the techniques utilized in 1987…live acoustic drums without ANY added audio samples or editing; old Marshall amps from the 80’s; NO reamping or use of profiling amps; and, of course, lots of reverb! What I liked in particular, and am proud of, is that a lot of the album was one-take performances. I felt like in 1987, Chuck probably wouldn’t have had a huge budget to record doing take after take, and so we focused on capturing energy and vibe as opposed to perfection. All the guitars and vocals were also recorded without use of cutting and pasting …cuz that shit didn’t happen in ‘87! To me a HUGE part of what we’re trying to do, probably more so than writing fun and killer old school death metal per se, is trying to bring back a feeling or memory from days past. That’s why ALL elements are a MUST for it to work in my opinion. We very purposely try to capture not only the right songs and riffs, but also the lyrics, album production/sound, album cover, album lay out, etc. etc. All of the pieces to the puzzle have to be in place for it to FEEL like 1987…that’s super important to us.
You guys are pretty spread out. How does your songwriting process work? Matt writes the songs at home in California and sends us the demos. Then Daniel and I will get together and flesh out the songs with more complete demos, with live drums, guitars, and solos, as well as make changes to things like tempo and grooves, etc. Now, both Daniel and I are writing for future releases as well, so that will add to the dynamics of the band. It’s actually a very proficient way of working, to be honest. We already have the next album 80% done, as well as a little bonus release that should be out by spring next year. We are particularly excited about that one because it features a very special guest!
You did a video for Dimensions of Horror, which featured a pretty cool nod to Ed Repka’s iconic Leprosy artwork. Talk about the video a bit. Again, this was us thinking or trying to think like 17 year olds in 1987. We wanted it to be like one of those cheesy B-movie horror flicks that you’d pick up at the corner video store…you know, the one with all the horror stuff in like a back room kinda thing?! Our buddy Mitch from Maruta is a video guy, and he and his partner did the whole thing. They shot all of the movie-like parts the week before we did the live band stuff, so I didn’t get to see any of the fun stuff, but it was still a cool experience.
Death evolved quite a bit throughout the course of their discography. Does Gruesome intend to mirror that trajectory up through The Sound of Perseverance? At first, we didn’t even think that far, because we weren’t sure if it was going to be successful enough to last enough albums! Once we began seeing just how popular this whole thing was becoming, Matt and I discussed the future of the band and decided that we would indeed progress in a similar fashion to Death. One reason why we decided to do Dimensions Of Horror and intentionally go backwards is because we figured that once we got going, it may have been too late to revisit ‘87. That said, I think that we’ll always have one foot in the old-school door, more so than Chuck did, just because we still genuinely love it. From what I understand, Chuck was heading into a more traditional metal direction, because that was where his heart genuinely was. And that’s all one can ask from an artist…to stay true to themselves. I don’t see us changing the logo, for instance, but we will definitely add more progressive elements to the band. It’s all good for me, because I like that style and Sean Reinert was my drum instructor back in the day, so I get to finally use some chops! Haha! But again, like I said, I think we’ll always keep things a little more old school and therefore probably not get quite all Sound of Perseverance, but it’ll be genuine, progressive enough, and fun!
Your first album, Savage Land, did very well. When recording Savage Land, you tried to stay true to that original Death sound. Did you have the same approach with the new album, or did you do some things a little differently this time around? 100%! My studio motto was “If it didn’t happen in ‘88, it’s not gonna happen now!” I was fortunate enough to watch Scott Burns work back in the day, so I tried to utilize as much of that experience as I could. I’ve always been way more a fan of organic recordings, as opposed to the super slick and perfect production common in modern metal. And, as a producer/engineer, that was my style. So, producing this album was like second nature to me, and it was so much fun! One thing that was a change for me was the drum tones, as well as drum performance. To capture that late 80’s vibe, I had to tune my drums as low as they would possibly go, even to the point of sounding shitty to the naked ear. But my buddy Derek Roddy tunes his drums that way, and he was always telling me how good they sound recorded. Now I’m a total believer! Actually, having the drums tuned so low and loose really helped me simplify the drum parts because it made me play more open and simple. I gotta give props to Bill Andrews; I know a lot of people dog his playing, but simplicity is his genius, much like Phil Rudd of AC/DC. If those old albums would’ve had someone like Reinert playing, it would NOT have been the same. To be honest, even the Human album is basically a traditional old-school death metal album, but Sean’s drumming almost solely catapulted that album into technical death metal territory…the first of its kind, I might add! That fact is why I knew that the drumming HAD to be more simplistic—and in a lot of ways more thought out—because of it. The drums can really dictate the vibe of a song, and that’s true for most any genre of music. Drums aside, I wanted to use old Marshall amps with less gain than usual, no modeling amps, etc. The only real difference between Savage Land and Dimensions Of Horror is that we purposely made Dimensions Of Horror a little more lo-fi and the drums are 100% natural, whereas Savage Land has kick samples, like Scott Burns would use. So, we spent a little more time on getting drum tones for Dimensions Of Horror, but everything else was done similarly. That is definitely something that will not change for Gruesome. You will never hear a total modern sounding album from us…if we didn’t play it in the studio, it won’t be heard!
What are some of the highlights of the past year? Several! We’ve released 2 albums almost within a year of each other, played shows in Canada, Europe and USA, and shot a video. We even did a short run with Exodus! I think my favorite part of all of it, though, is hearing from fans, things like “Thank you for bringing me back to my youth, bringing back this sound, etc.” For us, it’s the same thing too! We’re just fans like anyone else, but because of what we do and who we are, this is our way of showing appreciation to Chuck and his group of dudes that he created amazing music with. It’s been a beautiful ride and we’re just getting started, so we’re excited about the future! Oh…and playing Born Dead and Open Casket with Terry Butler live on stage did NOT suck one bit!! And at the Tampa and Orlando shows with his new band, Hideous, Donald Tardy lent us his kit (the one used to record the first five Obituary albums!!) so I got to play classic Death tunes with Terry on a legendary drum kit!! How did I almost forget THAT?!?!
You’re starting out on your first tour. Where are you going? Do you see any live albums in Gruesome’s future? We just got back, and the tour was great! Because it was our first tour, we didn’t really know what to expect, but pretty much every day exceeded our expectations and never ceased to amaze us. People have really taken to the band and seem to genuinely appreciate what we’re doing. To us it’s always a little strange, because we’re like “Dude, we’re just copying Death?!”, but the fans are happy to basically get new Death-style songs to enjoy! Every day we were super stoked and surprised that we were not only main stage at these festivals, but also at really good time slots! There was even a show in Essen, Germany, that was cancelled. I was simply chatting with a Dutch buddy of mine, Rai, and when he heard from me that the show was cancelled, he was able to within 24 hours put together a raging show in Amsterdam that was packed! That kind of appreciation and support means the world to us, and we in return appreciate the fans the same! We got to play in Belgium, Holland, Germany, Austria, and France. Also did a short run of shows with the mighty and so gracious Exodus, who let us ride on their bus and use their gear. How cool is that?! Btw, if you haven’t seen Exodus lately, you haven’t seen Exodus! Those guys are playing more savage and tight then ever! As far as a live album, haven’t really thought of it, but there are plenty of youtube vids!
You’ve put out vinyl editions of both EPs. Talk about that a bit. Also, what are your thoughts on the resurgence of vinyl? For us, aside from the current vinyl craze, it really went hand-in-hand with the nostalgia vibe. We even did cassettes, complete with kind of crappy white or black cheap-looking cassettes with really simple layouts …just like the ones I bought as a kid in the late ‘80s. Again, it’s ALL about the vibe and nostalgic memories. Don’t get me wrong, the music is still #1 in regards to priority, and we try to write the best Death songs that we can (funny statement right?!), but all of those other elements HAVE to be in place for the full effect. I listened to Savage Land recently on vinyl and what a difference in sound! THAT is how old school death metal should be consumed! It’s interesting that such an old medium for audio is still the best sounding for records made using older techniques. Vinyl rules!
What’s next for Gruesome after this tour? We have another full length that we will probably record sometime next year, but we also have another maybe 2-song thing (maybe 7” or another medium) that should hopefully be out by spring next year. We are particularly excited for this little release because it features a VERY special guest! Don’t want to give away the details, but for me as a fan of Death, this is like a dream come true! That’s all I’ll say….
Where can people find your merch and follow you? We have product obviously at the Relapse online store, but also JSR direct carries our official merch in the USA. You can follow us on all of the usual social media outlets like Facebook, bandcamp, and whatever else is cool these days…I’m too old school to know exactly. Thanks for the support, and in the words of the great Chuck Schuldiner, Let the metal flow!!
(c) Morgan Sylvia