Monday, August 13, 2007
Blake Judd Interview
The first time Nachtmystium was brought to my attention was by my friend Jeff Wilson, who mentioned he was trying out to play second guitar for them. It was the day after my 25th birthday and we were in his basement before a party to celebrate my b-day and the house resident's moving out. I checked out Instinct:Decay and thought it was great from the first impression, but some of the elements were hard to place. The more I listened to it the more I liked it, and it's grown into one of those records that will always stay in my collection and on my turntable. They also rule live. Nachtmystium's founder and singer/guitarist Blake Judd sat down and talked with me in the basement of the Empty Bottle in Chicago on May 10th during the Antichrist Vanguards tour. Jeff also joined in on the conversation.
LHP: With the release of Instinct:Decay, it's apparent there have been some big changes with Nachtmystium. The album boasts many elements that were hinted at on the Eulogy IV EP, the production has been stepped up, and more experimental elements have been incorporated into the song writing. There are acoustic passages, soaring leads drowned in delay, and some wah pedal usage. How have these elements brought you closer to your vision for the band?
It’s kind of a way to be more free within black metal, if that makes sense. I love pure black metal music, but I got bored with it. There’s a lot of bands doing it right now, some doing it very well and some don’t, but there’s enough of it. I like a lot of other music. I like a lot of psychedelic music, which I’ve said many times before. We (Nachtmystium) have a big Pink Floyd influence and in a way it’s cool, because you can almost be a pioneer within this type of music because nobody’s really walked that path. It’s not really a conscious decision to try to be different, it’s honestly more of what I really want to do and what I really want to hear.
LHP: Has the execution on record and live met your expectations?
Yeah, I wish we hadn’t recorded (Instinct:Decay) in someone’s living room on 16 tracks of ADAT. We just recorded again for the Leviathan split, but we took the ADAT tapes to a studio where we were able to drop it in track-by-track and mix it in ProTools. We didn’t ‘cheat’ with it, but we did take advantage of being able to clean up the sound a little bit and with the drums and the microphones we were able to make it sound crisp. There’s a lot less noise and bullshit.
LHP: Given that Nachtmystium has had a rotating lineup over the years, have you found it hard to find musicians who share the same ethos and direction for the music, or has it been more of a personal vehicle, finding players to play the different parts?
A little bit of everything…I think we have the most solid lineup right now. Zion has been playing with us for a couple years, Jeff our second guitar player has been with us for about a year, and we all get along really well. Our biggest problem has been people will get a little greedy. When we go on tour I sell our old records. They weren’t on our old records, and it’s my label’s release. The problem that has existed with the ‘rotating door’ has been I bring my business on the road, my label and my distro. A Nachtmystium CD that someone with us didn’t play on might as well not be a Nachtmystium CD for that person. It’s for my business, so there’s been some conflict with people not really understanding that. I do my best to make sure everything is very fair and very even, and anything that anyone plays on is all split percentage-wise by how many people we’re dividing it up between. I’m no exception to that, but there have been issues with that. It’s not so much finding people who do or don’t get it, but I do need people who get it. I don’t want to play with super evil black metal guys who get dressed up and have to have a front to prove something to people.
LHP: Like you have to coax them out of their mom’s basement?
Yeah! Exactly, and there’s so many people out there like that. To me that’s weakness. I want people who aren’t afraid of experimentation and the idea of freedom within music, because true music has no boundaries. It doesn’t matter what you’re doing whether you’re a country musician, a black metal guitarist, or you play a drum in a tribal band…if you want to really express yourself you can’t be withheld by the confines of scenes, genres, or cliques. I think it’s best that people have an open mind. You don’t have to be a Satanist or some evil guy…we don’t have to share any political or religious ideologies with each other. Just a group understanding that we’re trying to create something that’s very much our own, and I want people in the band that don’t have egos, that don’t have some agenda with black metal. There’s so much of this elitism bullshit that I don’t understand, it’s not my thing. I understood it, but when I was 19 years old. I’m a grown man now. (Lo-fi recording) works for some bands, but other times it’s just tired-sounding. There’s a lot of bands that shouldn’t be recording or releasing music. Anybody can rehash Darkthrone and anyone can find some kid that wants to start a label that has $1,000 to press a CD to do it. We (Nachtmystium) did it, and I feel we made a mediocre attempt at doing the Darkthrone black metal thing. I was really young and for the time I’m really proud of it, but I know damn well that those albums aren’t landmarks for anybody. Maybe somebody from that time who was there with us might have some nostalgia tied to it. I mean, I don’t have some desire to become a ‘rock star’, but I’m releasing music and working hard…I want to be heard and I don’t want to be a sheep amongst the flock. We want to be the wolf, so that’s why Nachtmystium has taken the direction it has. I have a vision and I want people to listen to my music and experience something unique.
LHP: What changes has the band gone through since the release of Instinct:Decay and how has that evolved the band?
Well, we went to from kinda being nobodies to being something…what level that’s at kind of depends on the person reading about it and judging. I can really assess where we’re at. We’ve got a little international press coverage and we’ve got a lot of opportunities arising for us, and that’s very cool. I’m glad that the album was effective…it did what I wanted it to. I wanted it to touch people, which surprised us. We recorded with Chris Black, who has done our stuff for years, and he looked right at me and said “I don’t think you should release this record, I think it’s too weird and I think the recording suffers. The mix is muddy, and there’s too much going on with too little engineering capabilities.” It wasn’t that we didn’t know what to do, it’s that we didn’t have the equipment to make it more audible. I didn’t like the record at first, but it grew on me, and even though it is under-produced so are all our other records. That’s kind of our charm. The fact that there were all these new elements on the record, I decided to go for it. It would kind of suck for Battle Kommand, for my business, if it flopped, but at the same time we didn’t spend a ton of money on it…that album cost us $600 or something. We probably had $1,000 to spend, about $500-600 on actual record and the rest was on beer and pot. We recorded at my friend’s house in their living room.
LHP: Well, it sounds awesome. The first time I heard it I really didn’t know what to think and it really grew on me. Most of the records I’ve come to really connect with have been like that, though, where at first I don’t know what to think. You listen to those records again and again and get more out of it each time.
That’s been the general reaction and it’s totally understandable, because at first that was all of our reactions, too. What I thought was that it jumped around too much, that was my problem with it at first, but the noise tracks between the songs were the things that kind of melted it all together. I wanted it to start and stop…there are very few points on that CD where there’s any silence. That was intentional, and I wanted it to be one whole vision. In doing that and fusing it all together, and the mastering helping to clean it up…you should have heard it before it was mastered! It was a nightmare. We sent it to Hydrahead and they said no, then sent it back to Hydrahead after it’d been mastered and released and Aaron (Turner) said he really wish he’d released the record. It made that big of a difference.
LHP: In September of last year you did a string of dates with Pelican and Daughters. What can you tell me of the experience?
I loved it. I love those guys. I used to work at Metal Haven years ago and I know Laurent (Lebec) and Larry (Herweg) from then when they’d come in to shop. At that time they were just getting on their feet, I was just getting on my feet. We talked a lot and kept in touch, we all read about each other’s bands over the years. Then they just emailed me one day saying, “You wanna come on tour with us? We read an interview with you saying you wanted to go on tour with bands that weren’t metal, so we’re gonna give you that opportunity.” I was like, fuck yes! I don’t listen to Daughters on CD, but live it was amazing! Their whole persona is so obnoxious and they execute it beautifully. We bonded with them through an arm wrestling match on the same day we crashed our van! That was a fun night.
(Jeff Wilson joins the interview at this point)
LHP: You have an upcoming split release with Leviathan for Southern Lord Records. Will this be comprised of all new material?
Blake: Two new songs. I think they’re the best Nachtmystium songs yet, wouldn’t you agree (to Jeff)?
Jeff: Yes, and they’re complete opposites.
Blake: Yeah, they’re complete opposites. One has Moog synthesizers…we call it ‘Hammerheart-era Bathory getting butt-fucked by Burzum on a Spaceship’.
LHP: Hell yeah!
There’s that and then a more aggressive song…we stripped it way down, didn’t put a lot of solo shit in it because we wanted to be able to recreate it live. It’s more of an angry thing. Instinct:Decay was so weird and had so much mellow stuff that I wanted to do something really aggressive this time. We re-recorded the first song from the Demise LP, ‘Solitary Voyage’, it’s a little more tripped-out…it doesn’t have the feeling of the original, but it’s cool. Then we did a Goatsnake cover…we did ‘IV’, and then we did a cover of Death in June’s ‘Rose Clouds of Holocaust’. It’s pretty strange, man, but it’ll be cool I think. The Leviathan material is cool, he’s doing a Today Is The Day cover and a Christian Death cover.
LHP: It was recently announced that Nachtmystium has signed a 2-album deal with Century Media, they’ll be re-releasing the Eulogy IV EP, and you’ll also be doing a DVD.
Yeah, a DVD and two new records with them.
LHP: Did you have other offers from other larger metal labels, and if so why did you choose to sign with Century Media?
Simultaneously we had Earache, SPV, Candlelight, Century Media, and Metal Blade all gave us written, full on offers. Someone got paid to draw up a contract from all those labels. We weren’t trying to be cocky or rock stars about it, but the thing is I own a label and have good distribution. We didn’t need them…at this level I don’t work another job, we can afford to go on tour and don’t need a big label. The idea behind it was to score some cash to buy ourselves a better vehicle to tour in and they can offer us bigger studio budgets. All the other labels wanted 4-6 albums, but we told Century Media “You can have one or two, you can have the re-release, and the video. If not, that’s fine and no hard feelings, we’ll just put it out ourselves.” When we started playing hardball like that, we got what we wanted, and I’m psyched about it. I like Steve Joh a lot, he’s the A&R guy at Century Media. He left (Century Media) for a couple of years and then came back when they wanted to become a real metal label again. It’s great and we’ve got a lot of freedom in our contract. It took about 4 months to negotiate our contract. For instance, any advertisement…they can’t advertise Nachtmystium next to God Forbid, for example. Our deal was, we choose who we tour with, who we’re advertised with, they have no control over our artwork at all, they have no control over our lyrical content within reason, obviously. I mean, we’re not gonna turn into a (racist) band or whatever. The thing that’s cool is that the guy that wanted us the most, Steve Joh from Century Media, that’s what he wanted. He wanted a band to come in and be this ‘loose’ kinda thing, and add something that wasn’t so cheesy and intentionally borderline mainstream at Century Media. They’ve done really well with bands like God Forbid and Lacuna Coil, but they’ve also invested in 30 bands that sound like God Forbid and Lacuna Coil, that you’ve never heard of, and they’ve spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on these bands. Steve had told me that the company was basically at a point where they were just barely breaking even despite having the best selling records they’ve every had on their label right now. They’ve dropped a lot of bands and are digging back into the underground a little bit. They didn’t start off as a (commercial) label, they were an underground metal label. They’re a lot bigger now and have more cash, but…they put out ‘Blood Ritual’ by Samael, they put out fucking Unleashed ‘Across the Open Seas’, they put out the first Grave records, all the Eyehategod records! They licensed Mayhem and Emperor…if it wasn’t for Century Media we wouldn’t be sitting here right now, because that’s what I heard first when I was 13 years old. I also wanted to sign to Century Media because Nachtmystium has gotten to the point that since I run Battle Kommand Records almost exclusively alone I have a really hard time focusing on other bands on my label. Nachtmystium demands a lot of my attention, especially in pressing and releasing the record. When stuff sells quickly and I sell out of it that causes me to delay the releases of bands that I want to work with. I didn’t think that was very fair to those bands. I’m trying to develop a lot of bands that I really like, but if I’m worried about pressing Nachtmystium so we can tour and I can’t push the other records that doesn’t help anyone. The reason that Battle Kommand exists is because there are a lot of shit labels out there that walk all over little bands that might have a little buzz. They get fucked over or taken advantage of in some way and I’m here to try to be a person to help at least a few of those bands that I really like.
LHP: What do you have planned for the next Nachtmystium full-length release?
Blake: I don’t know yet (laughs).
Jeff: We’re gonna move closer to each other and then figure that out.
Blake: Me and Jeff need to live near each other so we can write music better. (laughs) I don’t really know. If you asked me what I was gonna be doing tomorrow the only thing I could tell you is that I’ll be at a Watain show. If I wasn’t on tour I’d probably wake up, make coffee, smoke pot, and maybe play my guitar. The only thing that sucks about this record deal is I’m sure somebody is gonna put some kind of time limit on when they need the record. That’s good, though.
LHP: With more funding at your disposal via Century Media will you be entering a 'proper' studio for the new album?
Jeff: Maybe. For part of it.
Blake: Maybe. Probably just for the mixing like we just did.
Jeff: The Leviathan split sounds 10 times better than any other Nachtmystium release.
Blake: I don’t like going to a studio. I don’t like feeling like the clock is ticking, but the guy we mixed it with was really great to work with because he’s very patient and he’s a metal head. He’s in November’s Doom and he’s played in Jungle Rot and some other bands over the years. He gets ‘the metal’.
LHP: Nachtmystium has several exciting tours lined up currently, including this one with Angelcorpse and Watain. I've also heard talk of a European tour with Celtic Frost?
That may or may not happen. Tom Warrior is here tonight…I’ll have to go ask him what he thought. (laughs) He had a lot of good things to say to me about what we’ve been doing, which was not provoked by us, so that was really cool. It’s such a compliment that he would acknowledge us, much less have respect for it. As far as the touring goes, I have no idea about Europe. We will go eventually. It used to be a priority for me. I still want to go, but it’ll happen when the time and the money are right.
LHP: Do you feel that Nachtmystium is a black metal band?
No. I consider Watain a black metal band. When you see Watain you’ll understand why I don’t consider us a black metal band. I think we’re intense, honest, and genuine. I think we have our own thing going on and we’re extreme, but black metal to me is the music of Satan when it’s the real thing. Watain is one of three bands that are the real thing in my opinion. I know it’s the real deal because I watched them drink animal blood and vomit and pray to the dark lord himself last night! That’s not my trip…I’m a Satanist kinda by default, but I don’t consider us a black metal band because that’s a very restricting title. I’ve got respect for Dimmu Borgir because they do what they do and they do it well. They make a lot of money and they’re doing what they want, but that style or something of that ilk that’s cheesy is not black metal. It’s not dangerous, it’s not intimidating. I watched Watain last night and I had to walk outside because I couldn’t take it anymore or I was going to fucking kill someone. I started losing it…it brought that much out of me. That’s what differentiates us from them, because I don’t see anything we do inspiring people to kill anyone, cut themselves, or whatever. I like to think of Nachtmystium as a band that is very black metal at our core that has evolved beyond that. I don’t think it’s fair to tag us with a genre because we like everything. That’s why we jokingly call ourselves psychedelic black metal, because there’s no other way to describe it. So, we’re the pioneers. (laughs)
LHP: Are there any other changes or influences in that realm that you’d like to make?
Not really. The cool think about the Nachtmystium sound is that I’ve never really had an agenda or a vision for it. I think we’ll get weirder, hopefully, and I think you’ll see more different kinds of music come through. I buy a lot of records…I listen to everything from roots reggae to gore metal, and everything in-between like old country. I like it all and if there’s something that I can relate to and can find a way for those influences to seep into the music then it might happen. That’s what I like about Nachtmystium, there’s freedom. There’s no direction, there’s no path with it. The agenda is just to keep busy and to always be doing what I want to be doing. I want the people who also want to share that same vision and experience to be there as well, and those are the people who are here tonight.
LHP: Would you mind talking about Twilight for a minute?
LHP: In regards to the Twilight project, there have been some changes to the project since the first release. Malefic is no longer a part of the band. How did Aaron Turn (ISIS) get involved with the band?
I love Aaron, man. I’ve known him for a few years now. He’s a really cool guy…we got in touch through the fusion of the scenes with the whole Hydrahead and Southern Lord crowd drifting into the black metal world and vice versa, for those of us that are into other music. It was cool to start hanging out with him and talking with him more, and I saw ISIS live one night. I’d never really heard them. Someone let me borrow Celestial years ago, but I wasn’t feeling it at the time. I listened to it for 30 seconds and then turned it off, because it wasn’t my thing and I wasn’t ready for it at the time. I went to see them and was blown away! Everyone shit on Panopticon I found out later, and that’s my favorite album by them. It’s very melancholy and depressing. In a way, if you sped those riffs up and put blast beats over them and some distortion a lot of it would be black metal. I like the way he sings, the overall attitude of it, and I like the fact that they sell out the Metro three nights in a row and don’t have a fucking ego. Not one of them. They’re the coolest, most down to earth guys and they tour with Tool. They’re just laid back guys doing what they do, but like any great band in any scene people have shit all over them because they’re the band doing it better than anyone else and nobody wants to hear that.
LHP: What can we expect with the forthcoming record as far as changes?
I don’t know. (laughs)
LHP: Has anything been written?
Kind of…we got together a few weeks ago and tried to do some shit together. It was an interesting week. We did a lot of drugs and didn’t do much of anything. (laughs) We wrote four songs…it was Wrest, myself, and Imperial from Krieg. We all collaborated, though. It wasn’t like, “Alright I wrote this riff…now you write the next one.” We were just all playing together, feed off of it, and just go with whatever sounded good. It’ll be a lot more of a group effort, Aaron Turner will be involved in writing as well, and we’re gonna take our sweet ass time with it. There’s no timeline for it.
At this point the interview had to be cut short and Blake left to help setup and prepare the stage for Watain’s performance. The remaining questions may be answered at a later time, so check back for the continuation. A huge thank you to Blake (and Jeff) for this interview. Nachtmystium are poised to destroy the west coast soon with thrashers Skeletonwitch.
For more information, merchandise, and show dates check out the Battle Kommand Records web site or Nachtmystium's Myspace site.