An Interview With Bassist John Maggard of Unearth
Unearth is the exception in today's generic radio-friendly metalcore, with songs that are injected with raw emotion rather than the ever so popular commercial mainstay. "A lot of our friends who used to be in kick-ass metal and hardcore bands are adding these pop choruses now for no reason," says frontman Trevor Phipps. "I think they're making the same mistakes that all the bands in the early '90s made when metal turned to complete horseshit. They're totally watering down their tunes to sell more records. We're just trying to prove that bands can still sell records and tour and have a career by making a heavy fucking record."
Unearth was formed by Trevor Phipps, Buz McGrath, Ken Susi, Mike Rudberg, and Chris Rybicki at Winthrop, Massachusetts in 1998. On the small independent label, Endless Fight Records, they released their first EP called Above the Fall of Man on May, 1999. Years after the release, Unearth signed to Eulogy Recordings to release The Stings of Conscience in 2002 and Endless in 2003. During the process of Endless, bassist Chris Rybicki left the group and was replaced by John Maggard.
I sat down with John Maggard to talk about their tour with Slayer.
Roya: Tell me about This Time Was Mine.
Maggard: This Time Was Mine is basically an ode to our friends who've passed away. Our time as kids growing up and our time as young adults before they passed away. So it's kind of our way of showing that we still think about them.
Roya: When did they pass on? Was it this year?
Maggard: We've had friends pass on, quite a few of them over the past years, and it's quite been a running force behind the scenes. And we think this is what they would have been doing if they hadn't passed away. So we kind of use that as our drive.
Roya: Why did you call the album In the Eyes of Fire?
Maggard: It's actually a lyric from the song out of the Devil has Risen . We were trying to figure out an album title and we were having a rough time, and it kind of made sense when Trevor brought it up, so we just went with it. It means a little something different to everyone. You'd have to ask them.
Roya: A big theme in the album seems to battling demons. Tell me a little about that.
Maggard: Yeah, it's on more of a personal level. Before, we used to be a little more of a political band, now we're a little more personal--with ourselves. We all have our own demons -- our own addictions: Drunks, gamblers, cigarettes, what have you. There are a lot of addictions, and we battle them everyday, and this is more of a personal album because of that.
Roya: Tell me how you've grown as a band.
Maggard: We're much older [laughs]. Our love of pizza is still there. Our love of alcohol still exists [laughs]. We've got to the point where we're comfortable touring a lot of the year-- and we're used to that, it doesn't bring us down. We keep our heads straight--keep our heads together; we're always friends. Anytime there's a problem with one of us against another guy in the band, we always sit down and talk it out/ hash it out so that there's never a problem in the way, or a big riff that develops.
Roya: Other than changing from political to a more personal level, how has your music changed throughout the years?
Maggard: I think just as we became better musicians, the music became better, but I don't think that the formula's changed all that much. We've been Unearth the entire time. And for us we don't feel like we've changed what we do, only improved what we do as we become better as players.
Roya: How was it like recording in Seattle with producers like Terry Date in Seattle (Pantera, Deftones, Soundgarden), and recording the entire album in seven weeks?
Maggard: It was fun; he's a great guy, really cool to hang out with -- laid back guy. I think a lot of people have the misconception that he's some sort of rock star producer, and he's really not. He's a laid back guy - he let's the band be the band, and he just does his best to keep that in sight.
Roya: How was the Slipknot tour in comparison to the Slayer tour?
Maggard: It's really not all that different. There's a different type of crowd I think. You don't see as many younger kids as you do on a Slipknot tour. But at the same time it's the same sort of vibe-- metal, it's a big metal tour.
Roya: So what were your challenges in writing this album? I heard you had weight gain issues?
Maggard: Well, you know when you're sitting around and drinking all the time and there's a huge thing of M&Ms sitting in the corner, it tends to happen. Yeah, we used to hang out in the Hurricane Café in Seattle while we were recording the album and they have very greasy food, and we gained a little weight, but we dropped it as soon as we got back on the road.
Roya: How was it recording your new video Sanctity of Brother with director Darren Doane (The Filmcore)? And what was it like transitioning to Soren Kragh-Jacobsen (Soren Films) as your director?
Maggard: The video is amazing. I actually just saw it for the first time just a few days ago, and I was actually speechless for first time over anything this band has done. There have been songs that I have felt really good about, there have been videos where I felt that there were very few critiques, but this particular video, I watched it, and for a good ten or fifteen minutes I had nothing to say. I think people are going to really appreciate what Soren did. It's amazing!
Roya: Did you discuss your vision with him, or did he just have his own vision?
Maggard: Darren had an idea, and we had an idea, and the transition morphed the idea. The idea definitely came through in this video, and I don't want to even actually talk about what it is, because I just want people to check it out and see for themselves and see what we're doing with this. Once you see it, it's not over--it's only part one. And it's cool-- very cool. It's something that is a big chunk of meat to bite off, but if it's successful it'll be pretty amazing.
Roya: So have many episodes do you plan to have?
Maggard: We'll see…we know that we're going to have storyline parts -- just parts which we will put together all on our website for a full viewing so that it'll be like a mini-movie by the time it's done.
Roya: Do you plan to sell the DVD to the public?
Maggard: I'm sure that on our next DVD, aside from eight hours of us being completed retarded, will include the video [laughs] but that hasn't even been talked about yet, so I couldn't even give you that information, to be honest with you.
Roya: So what do you think is Soren's inspiration behind it? I saw a clip of it, and it's pretty crazy. Where did he even get those ideas?
Maggard: I don't know. The guy's got an imagination.
Roya: Is his other work along those lines?
Maggard: I couldn't even tell you, to be honest with you. He does a lot of different types of work. I'm sure you've seen some of his work and didn't even know it, but that's all I can say. It's a very secretive thing with this guy.
Roya: How did you pick him out? Because I heard that Darren just wanted a new director that was cutting edge.
Maggard: Yeah, when Darren saw this guy, I guess he was from Prague, and Darren liked what he did. I don't know--I play bass--I don't even know. It's so weird and secretive and misinformed, I can't even tell you to be honest with you. I'm sure it'll all come out later, but I honestly can't you anymore than that.
Roya: Do you want to tell us a little more about the album?
Maggard: There isn't a lot more about the album to be said. We're just working hard and touring on it. We're going to be out on the road all the year, working our asses off, and we just hope people enjoy the show.
Roya: I saw that you plan to hit up Europe as well?
Maggard: Yeah as soon as we're done this tour we're going to hit up Europe for a month, and then we're going to be back in the state hopefully for another six weeks right after that.
Transcribed by Hannah Wagner
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