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Interview

Skeletonwitch Guitarist Scott Hedrick Discusses "Devouring Radiant Light," Jazz And The Thrash Revival

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Band Photo: Skeletonwitch (?)

Fifteen years after forming, Athens, Ohio's own Skeletonwitch has become one of the most beloved bands in the metal underground. After making the difficult decision to replace their vocalist, they released their first full length album with new singer Adam Clemans, "Devouring Radiant Light" in July of this year. While there will always be fans who are put off by changing the frontman, the heart and soul of Skeletonwitch is still very much there. The band is still a force to be reckoned with both live and when it comes to new material and will keep on thrilling fans who come out to see them.

At their recent show in London, I had the pleasure of sitting down with guitarist Scott Hedrick to discuss the changes in the band, the "Devouring Radiant Light" album, the influence of jazz on their music and how their appearance in the Get Thrashed documentary affected their career. You can listen to it in full below.

Diamond Oz: Straight into it, the new album, "Devouring Radiant Light" is out now. It's been quite a gap between this and "Serpents Unleashed." Obviously you've had the new vocalist come in but aside from that, why has it taken so long for a new album?

Scott Hedrick: Well, we've also done an EP, "The Apothic Gloom." That would be the biggest thing, changing singers, in between that we wrote and released an EP, then we wrote and released a record so it just took time to regroup, to figure out what we wanted to do and there's been an overhaul in the sound of the band too. You can hear it progress from "Serpents Unleashed" to the "Apothic Gloom" EP to "Devouring Radiant Light," I think if you listen to those three in a row, even with the vocalist change, you can hear the music going in the direction that it's currently in. But yeah these things take time, we just don't want to rush anything, we wanna make sure that we're happy first and foremost because we're doing it for ourselves, so if other people think that it took a long time then we don't really care!

Oz: Well, you can't rush quality! Like you said, this is your first full length with Adam, how was recording a full length album different from recording an EP?

Scott: It was great. There wasn't much of a huge difference between those two, more of a difference between him and the former vocalist. Adam listens to so much more music and has better taste and a wider variety of music that he listens to. Within metal and outside. So he's got more of a palette to work with and he knows more references, so I can reference non metal bands and if I'm talking about a certain part that we're working on. In addition to that, it's much easier to collaborate with him.

There was a time in the past where I was told, "I'm the singer, don't tell me what to do," when we were just trying to work together, which was something I feel we wouldn't do. It was kind of like: Write music, give it to the singer, he'll do what he does and there's not very much back and forth. With Adam it was completely different, he's open to working back and forth with ideas and he can handle constructive criticism and I think ultimately that's one of many factors which led to "Devouring Radiant Light" being, I think our most developed and mature album yet.

Oz: Cool. Where does the title come from?

Scott: You know what, I don't really know, you'd have to ask Adam. I don't want to put words in his mouth but that's all Adam.

Oz: This year also marks the fifteenth anniversary of the band...

Scott: Oh my God!

Oz: Well, that answers my next question! I was going to ask if you'd done anything special or had anything planned.

Scott: No, because I didn't even know! *Laughs* I had no idea. Maybe I'll take myself out to dinner.

Oz: Ah, well there's a decent kebab shop over the road you can just go there.

*Adam walks in*

Scott: Hey Adam, where did the title "Devouring Radiant Light" come from?

Adam: My head. It just came to me when I was writing the lyrics.

Oz: Well, there's been another change within the band as well. Your drummer's left and I think you've got James (Stewart) from Vader filling in tonight.

Scott: We do.

Oz: He's a fucking great drummer.

Scott: Yeah, he's awesome. Our situation right now is that we have James from Vader and we have Jon ("The Charn" Rice,) who's drummed for Behemoth and 1349 before and his main gig is with Uncle Acid And The Deadbeats. So between the two of them, who are both incredible drummers and really great people so it's like, right now we're not really that worried about it. They both love touring with us and they've both said they'd be willing to make records with us so you never know who you're gonna get. It might be we get one of those two guys and we'll just make the scheduling work out between the two bands and it might be that we're a two drummer band, just not at the same time!

Oz: Yourself and Nate (Garnette, guitar) are the main songwriters for the band. Obviously there's different styles between the two of you. I watched an interview you two did in Canada where you mentioned that you tend to write the longer songs. Was that still the case when it came to "Devouring Radiant Light"?

Scott: Yeah, like the longest song on the record, "The Vault," is like eight minutes maybe. When you compare that to the song lengths on say "Beyond The Permafrost" they're like two minutes or two minutes and twenty seconds. One song maybe hits three minutes and that's more of Nate's fast, thrashy writing style and I tend to try and make things a little more cinematic and grander in scope, add lots of layers.

This is the first album where we didn't limit ourselves in what we would do, meaning in the past we had the mentality of, "If we can't play it live, like with extra musicians or something, then we're not going to put it on the record" which I increasingly felt was a bad idea because the record and the live show are two completely different things, so you can create something to sound the way you want on the record and then sort of reconfigure for a live setting. So on this album, like the opening song, "Fen Of Shadows," there's like thirty guitar tracks on that intro. Of course we aren't going to have thirty guitars live but we figured we'll figure something out.

Oz: Yeah, it's like adapting a movie into a play.

Scott: Yeah, so that's another reason the length is there too, because I wanted to expand the sound and in three minutes it's hard to make something expansive and deeper than we've done before. So the length just sort of came from me doing what I do, I write in that style. My contributions to older records are usually the longest ones. If you look at the records, every song that's the longest is probably one of the ones I wrote. *laughs*

Oz: "This is nearly three minutes, what the fuck are you doing, Scott!?"

Scott: Yeah, exactly! *laughs*

Oz: Well I know you're a big fan of free jazz too, is that what kind of shapes your style?

Scott: Sort of, that and ambient music. That kind of droning stuff, it takes a long time to develop. I was listening to a really great record that came out this year by Terry... somebody. It's like sign waves and tones and chanting and all this stuff and that's the kind of thing that you can't do in a short format song, you know when you're really developing a feeling and a vibe and sort of like a meditative kind of thing. So I think listening to that kind of stuff is really a factor in me taking time to get somewhere, maybe with a song.

Oz: Cool. I first heard of Skeletonwitch about ten years ago now, when the Get Thrashed DVD came out and you guys were all over the bonus segments, which was cool finding younger bands like yourself and what was cool about you and some of the other bands on there like Rumpelstiltskin Grinder is that, unlike some of the other bands of the thrash revival, you weren't just copying, you could hear that influence but it was still something fresh. How much would you say thrash itself influenced you and how did taking part in that documentary help?

Scott: I think we were more thrash influenced earlier on. When we were younger and the music was faster and more aggressive, we just more into that sound. But it was always really only one element because just as much as we loved early Exodus or Demolition Hammer or Kreator, we were also listening to lots of Swedish death metal and black metal and rock and roll like MC5 and The Stooges, as well as modern rock bands like The Hellacopters from Sweden. So, there was always a lot more going on than just thrash, but I think we got saddled with the "thrash revival" title and I think it hurt us more than it helped us.

I don't mean to sound shitty but people hear what you tell them to hear a lot, so when people read "thrash revival" and see our name, they really focus on the thrash part, even if they just see our logo, they assumed we were a one note, one style, retro, pretending to be eighties band, so in a lot of ways, being called part of the thrash revival again and again and again in the press, made a lot of people dismiss us as another retro band that doesn't really add anything new. We didn't really feel at home in that world but also we're not just a straight black metal or death metal band, so a lot of people didn't really know what to do with us.

Oz: Yeah, a friend of mine was at a gig once talking with the guys from Gama Bomb while another popular band from the thrash revival was playing. When they asked her why she wasn't watching them she said, "I've already heard 'Reign In Blood.'"

Scott: Yeah exactly, to be honest I feel that way about a lot of straight thrash that are newer. Personally, it's less and less of an influence. I rarely listen to thrash anymore. I rarely listen to any metal anymore.

Oz: Well when you've got all this different jazz and ambient music...

Scott: Yeah, I still listen to some metal. It tends to be more black metal or crazier, avant garde kind of stuff. But yeah, the basic metal just doesn't do anything for me as much it used to. I've heard so much of it and I don't think there's a lot of people doing much interesting with it.

Oz: I find it if you take a break from it and come back at a later date it tends to be fresh again.

Scott: Yeah, I agree with that too. It comes in cycles. You know, I'll get into a phase where I'm really into a certain type of music, devour it, read about it and listen to it as much as I can, then I'll get burnt out and feel like I've got a handle on it and switch to something else. I'll do that with World music. I get into something like West African rock/psychedelic stuff from the seventies, all these records are being re-issused and they're great. I'll just go crazy on it for a while then I've got to take a break from it and listen to something else. It's one of the cool things about music and art though is that there's so much out there you can always change your focus then it's fresh again.

Diamond Oz's avatar

Ollie Hynes has been a writer for Metal Underground.com since 2007 and a metal fan since 2001, going as far as to travel to other countries and continents for metal gigs.

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