Interview With Chris Spicuzza of Chimaira
Band Photo: Chimaira (?)
In our ongoing Sounds of the Underground coverage, I had the chance to interview Chris Spicuzza (keyboards/fx) from Chimaira by phone last week. The band had yet to play their set in Winston-Salem, NC that day, and were to play immediately before headliners Lamb of God that night. Despite some phone issues, the interview went pretty well and Chris seems like a very cool guy. Here's how it went:
Doug (aka deathbringer): So you're about a week, maybe a little more into The Sounds of the Underground tour, right?
Doug: How's it going so far?
Chris: Pretty f***ing good. We didn't know what to expect, just because of the amount of bands on this tour and just the whole situation. But it's been pretty fuckin awesome actually. The crowd's been great and all the bands have been awesome. We've been having a good time. We've only done one other festival like this and that was Ozzfest. And that tour is run so professionally, you know, and we could only hope that this would compare to it. And for this being the first year of the tour, it's been great and the crowd's been awesome and all the bands have been a lot of fun and it's been good so far. Hopefully it'll stay like this.
Doug: So are you guys playing right before Lamb of God?
Chris: Just today we are. There's this rotating system that I don't even want to get into, it's so confusing. We're in like the final tier and basically we rotate with 3 other bands and Lamb of God is the headliner every night.
Doug: How much time do you guys get to play?
Chris: We get 30 [minutes]. Every band gets 30 except for the opening bands. I think the opening bands get 25 [minutes]. And then Lamb of God - I don't know about them - I think they might get like 45 or 50.
Doug: Are there any bands there that you're particularly psyched to be touring with or see perform? Any guys you hang out with on the tour?
Chris: Yeah, we try to hang out with just about anyone. We're actually sharing a bus with Every Time I Die and they're great guys and we've done this before, so it was good to rejoin family again. I mean we hang out with basically everyone - Unearth, Lamb of God, Poison the Well - those guys are cool. Gwar is really cool. It's cool. It's like a non-ego tour, so you don't have to worry about any of that bullshit.
Doug: Cool. You guys have a lot of tours lined up. It was just announced that you're going to be on Danzig's Blackest of the Black Tour as well.
Chris: Yep. I didn't even know it was announced, but that's cool. [laughs]. Yeah, I think that's October? I'm not sure if they've set dates, but we haven't even seen any particular dates yet. But after this tour which ends July 31, we're gonna do a headline run with Six Feet Under, All That Remains and 3 Inches of Blood, take a couple weeks off, possibly go to Europe and then do the Blackest of the Black Tour.
Doug: Ok, so you might go to Europe between those two US tours?
Chris: Yeah, we're hoping to. Nothing's booked yet, but that was the plan.
Doug: Well that kind of leads me into my next question - You guys have gotten so much heavier since your first Roadrunner album and are now touring with all these really heavy bands like Behemoth and Mortiis are on the Blackest of the Black Tour and Six Feet Under on your upcoming tour. What's been influencing the band in this direction to make heavier and heavier music?
Chris: It's really not much of an influence by anyone outside. We were just writing how we feel and doing our thing and it just happened - we evolved. We didn't [inaudible] write the same record twice. I think it's a natural progression. A lot of people might think it's pretty drastic from "Pass out of Existence" to "Impossibility of Reason," but I think it's just who we worked with from the next record on. We stuck with Ben and it's good chemistry working with Ben and Collin and I think we'll just stick with that. But I could see why some people think it's drastic 'cause "Pass Out..." was very electronic-heavy. I think that's basically due to the mix. I think if it was mixed lower, people would think completely different of that record. Everyone has their own opinion, so whatever you know.
Doug: With your upcoming record - do you know the release date of that offhand?
Chris: August 9th in the United States and August 8th it comes out worldwide.
Doug: What's the direction on that album? Is it about the same heaviness as "Impossiblity of Reason" or have you guys gotten even heavier since then?
Chris: It's the next natural step from Impossibility of Reason. It's definitely more brutal than "Impossibility" - there's less melodic songs, there's no "Down Again"s or anything like that. It's not because we tried to write that, it's just what we wrote is what happened and we wrote songs with zero limitations. We left them with a lot of room and space to develop themselves and each song has it's own identity. We don't want to have songs that you don't even know what it is when you put it on. We want someone who puts on one of our songs and within like 10 seconds, a group of guys who love Chimaira know exactly what song it is and it's not like just some metal song. It's hard to explain how I actually feel or how I think about this new record. It's just the most natural progression for us and the one I think all six of us have worked together solidly and created something that we can actually say is Chimaira now as a unit. It's not just one guy writing songs and one guy doing lyrics - it's everyone doing their thing.
Doug: Where are you in the process of recording the new album. Is it all recorded and just waiting to be mixed, or where are you in that process.
Chris: Basically what they'll do is - when we're demoing and writing songs, they'll write it and once it gets to the point where it actually feels like a song and there's something there and actual structure, they'll start recording just shitty demos for me then I'll take them home and just toy with ideas for them. Unfortunately the way I work is separate. But once I have my ideas down and I record 'em for them, I bring it back to them and they'll voice their opinion on how they feel, how a certain thing sounds or if I should try something different and it just goes back and forth like that. I think it works good for us. In the future, I'd like to be more involved in the actual writing process - like being there for that - not just taking my stuff and trying to bring it to another level within the song. But that's how it works so far. I'm kinda the guy after the music's written. Actually Mark and I probably work at the same time. Once the music's written, he does his thing, I do my thing. That's how it works.
[Note: Chris took my question more like "where do you fit into the recording process," which is cool and his answer was enlightening. But I really wanted to know if the album was done or being mixed, etc, which was answered the next day when I received an advanced copy in the mail. And it fucking rocks!]
Doug: Is there a reason for that or is that just how it happens naturally? How can you integrate yourself into the process more?
Chris: If I want to integrate myself into the actual writing process, I'm going to have to actually set up all of the stuff I use at home at the practice space and sit there every day. That's the only way I can do it. A lot of people might think it's an easier process than it really is, but sometimes it might take me an hour to find one little thing that I know I want for a certain part of a song and a lot of people don't have the patience to wait for that, which I do when I'm sitting at home. On the spot, that could be frustrating for them so that's why I've always kept it separate - I don't want them sitting there staring at me wondering what the hell I'm doing. I just want to be on my own and just show up with ideas.
Doug: With the success that you guys are seeing - it's obvious you're becoming more successful as a band and getting bigger tours and bigger billings - is there any difference playing live shows other than the bigger venues? What else comes along with that?
Chris: I think we feel more respected in the scene. At first we were just kinda like that band that played a couple tours and no one really gave a shit. I think people actually notice us now and might actually talk about us now. At the actual live shows, the crowd response is definitely better than they were in the past. That's really it. We're just doing our thing and playing our shows and it's always great to get better shows and play in front of bigger crowds and different crowds. There's really not much more to say. I don't think we're at the point where we're like full headline status yet where we can just take on the world and just tour. You know, there's a couple bands out there that just headline - they don't open up for other bands - and I don't think we're near that yet.
Doug: Yeah, I remember seeing you guys open up for Slayer after your first album and that had to be a tough gig to do.
Chris: Yeah, we were a different band then too - especially with the lineup itself. Three of the members on that tour aren't even in the band anymore. We're just a completely different band now and I wish we could do that tour all over again with what we know now and the songs we have now and I think it would have gone over a hundred time better.
Doug: Oh yeah, especially with the heavier songs form the newer album.
Chris: I don't particularly think - well the new ones are more thrashier, I guess you could say that. Those songs are heavy, but I believe the way they're mixed, they don't have as heavy a feel as the new ones. But I can see what you're saying and how you're perceiving all that. But I think in general, what we know now we could put to use on the Slayer tour. Back then, we were just kids and that was a big learning experience for us. To behonest, that could be one of our bug reasons we're doing what we're doing now. We found our calling.
Doug: Yeah, your stage presence has gotten tremendously better since then too.,
Chris: Yeah, you live and you learn, you know, and you just figure things out as you go. Just look at any band when they started off and look at them now. Any band's different. No band has stayed the same.
Doug: How has Kevin Talley [drums] been working out for you guys?
Chris: Oh, he's been great. He was a big part in writing this record and the drumming's tremendous on it and it's definitely our best drums to date on a record. Live he just brings an immense energy and vibe - it's awesome - that we haven't had before. In the past, we've had guys who kind of just play drums, and this guy actually lives and breathes drums and you can just tell watching him on stage that he's been doing this his whole life and this is what he wants - this is his passion. Beside that, he's a fun guy to bring to the party.
Doug: How did you guys hook up - how did you actually get him?
Chris: A year ago - January of 2004, I think - that's when our old drummer, Andols decided he couldn't do the tour thing anymore and we basically let him part ways. We were in a bind and at that time we had two options - there was Ricky Evanson from Soilwork or Kevin Talley who what suggested to us by Kerry King. He [Kevin] was one of the many drummer who tried out for Slayer when they didn't have a drummer, when Paul Bostaph took off and before Dave Lombardo decided to join the band again. Kevin Talley was one of the #1 prospect to be Slayer's drummer. So we called Kerry King and he's like "yeah, try this guy out" and we wanted to, but we never really had a chance to get to know him. We already knew Ricky from touring so we said "fuck it, we'll just take Ricky - we'll have him try out - he's a great guys and we already knew what he was like." So we just went ahead and went with Ricky and that didn't work out, so we naturally just called Kevin. He came out, practiced with us for like a week or so and joined the tour with Machine Head and he's basically stuck with us now [ed. Is that he IS stuck with us or he HAS stuck with us?] and we enjoy having him in the band and he's been great and a big asset to the Chimaira sound.
Doug: Do his [Kevin Talley's] heavier root come through in the new record? Do you think it's heavier because of him partially as well?
Chris: Ah, no. But we can try out different things drum-wise than before. He's big on blast-beats and he's got the Dying Fetus/Misery Index background - his old bands - so if we want to throw in some blast-beats or some really fast double-bass, we can do that now. But I wouldn't say the songs are heavier because of him, because it just happened - what we did - nothing was pre-planned.
Doug: How have Mark's lyrics affected the direction of the music? I've read that he poured out a lot of his personal problems on this album as well. Can you tell me anything about that?
Chris: Well, he definitely wrote his most personal and darkest lyrics. There's no songs like Powertrip or Pure Hatred - with the chant-along choruses - there's nothing like that. People have called those simple lyrics or whatever - I don't know what people have said - I think they are just intelligent and well-written lyrics on this record and I don't think the other ones were bad, but I think he really stepped up and did some good stuff and poured out. But he wrote everything in a way that a listener can adapt to it and get their own perception of what he's talking about because if he did straight-out tell everyone exactly what he was writing about, it would probably alienate sixty percent of our audience 'cause no one would understand what the hell he was talking about and they wouldn't be able to relate.
Doug: With the success you guys have been having, can you make a living off your music?
Chris: We're almost there. Yeah, we're paying bills now. We're still at that phase where we can cover our bills and we don't have to get construction jobs when we're home. We're definitely not riding around in nice cars and buying mansions or anything like that. We're almost to the point where we'll have a decent living. It still might be still a little while away. We have to wait til this record comes out and see how it goes. Things are getting better of course, but you definitely can't say we're loaded by any means, or well off. I'm doing decent and getting by and getting my bills paid, and you get to see the world in the process so I definitely can't complain.
Doug: But you get the focus on your music at least.
Chris: Of course. I think we're in a good position because we don't have to sacrifice our music at all with this direction. We can do whatever the fuck we want from here on out and we don't have to worry about any label or anyone telling us exactly how to write our songs. And if we do get really successful sometime, it'll be great that it's on our own terms and we're not fucking selling our souls to do it.
Doug: Speaking of labels, how many more records do you have on Roadrunner?
Chris: I think quite a few. I don't think we're anywhere near out of our contract. So yeah, you'll see quite a few more coming out [on Roadrunner] unless Roadrunner decides they don't want us [laughs] that's the only way that we won't be doing any more Roadrunner records.
Doug: Ok, well I think that's all that I have for you. I can't think of anything else really.
Chris: That's everything that's going on with us, for sure. Got the record August 9th and then we've got some tours coming up.
Doug: Yeah, you got a lot of touring coming up.
Chris: Yeah, that's just the beginning. We're going to be going out for at least another year, or year and a half. We're gonna try to push this record hard.
Doug: You guys have been on tour pretty much non stop since the last record, heaven't you?
Chris: Well we've been off tour since September. We got off tour and we wrote the record - basically went right into the studio and didn't fuck around. We haven't stopped working - that's probably what I can say. We've been off tour though - we've done a couple shows here and there, but this is the beginning of our American touring now. So we really haven't had a serious break. We've always been doing something. There's never been a point where we can sit around doing nothing.
Doug: Well my last question was "What's in the future for Chimaira," but it sounds like a hell of a lot of touring. Anything else interesting you can tell us?
Chris: Yeah, this record comes out and we're touring our asses off. We'll take it from there and hopefully we'll see some success from this record.
Doug: Well alright. Thanks for taking the time to answer my questions.
Chris: Thanks for promoting the band.
Doug: Sure thing and I hope to catch you when you come around the DC/Virginia area!
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