Interview with Suffocation Drummer Mike Smith
Drummer Mike Smith has had a fundamental influence on the death metal genre by his idiosyncratic drumming. He has pioneered some of the most innovative drumming of the death metal genre known by fans as the "Smith Blast," which utilizes the bass drums, cymbals, and snare, all in unison. I would consider Mike Smith to be very versatile in the music industry because he has an eclectic catalog of musical talents. Indeed, Mike Smith is very talented. He can play drums, guitar, bass, vocals, and even is a producer and engineer. Even though he has contributed to Suffocation for twenty years, Suffocation still is awaiting for the opportunity to play on bigger tours like Mayhem Festival and more Ozzfests. Despite missing some of the bigger experiences, like Mike Smith says "Suffocation still bashes other bands know matter how big they are."
Daniel Becker: What's it like to have invented one of the most influential drumbeats of all time and how did you invent the "Smith-Blast?"
Mike Smith: It does not pay me or any other band members any other money, some people might not look at it as “inventing” per se. I really do not look at it that way. The time that I did it, we started early in the scene, so at the time, when you listen to it first, the impression was that you were going to play and write the rhythm and the staple of what metal is.
Becker: How does it feel to know that you have that legendary reputation in the death and black metal community?
Smith: How do I like it? I love it! Like I said, to be able to do anything where people actually want to look up to you, want your autograph, or even be able to say that they were influenced by you is better than any feeling in the world.
Becker: How do you feel about all of the deathcore bands that have ripped off your style and then dumb it down that are now popular like Suicide Silence and Whitechapel?
Smith: Well, those bands know they ripped it off. In that sense, at least they would not sit in front of us pretending to be like they are on to something new. The problem that I have with these bands is the huge spotlight and reception they receive from touring.
Becker: When bands try to imitate rather duplicate it becomes problematic. What is the secret to have that identifiable sound by Suffocation?
Smith: What is the secret that these bands have, or what is the secret that Suffocation has?
Becker: Suffocation of course.
Smith: We have never changed. We have always approached our instruments and songwriting in a natural way that we think the music needs to come out. It is not in a way that is forced upon. Being in it early enough where we can say that we are apart of the foundation of the black and death metal community, we are still under the rug; we hope the industry will eventually catch on to Suffocation. We stay exactly the way we are and make every copy the way we want to.
Becker: What motivated the change in label from Relapse to Nuclear Blast?
Smith: It seemed that Relapse did not have anything more to contribute to help get the band anywhere. We had done a lot of other labels prior, so we were left with Nuclear Blast that had high intentions of taking us on.
Becker: It is interesting since Nuclear Blast puts out a lot of that really melodic power metal; you listen to power metal?
Smith: Not into it. I’m not really in that label for what bands they sign. I’m in it because like I said, they had intentions of taking us on.
Becker: What's the deal with the video game project that was mentioned last year? Will we see Synthetically Revived in Rock Band or will this be something different altogether?
Smith: As for Rock Band, I do not know what is going on with Rock Band. We hope to be involved in their future. For the video game I can honestly say that we have put that project on the back shelf until we get our DVD that we have been talking about for the longest time out. Of course we would like to have all of them out in succession, but the reality in this business and industry is we cannot do things like that. We go ahead and tell our fans we are going to do this, and then something drastically changes where we tell them it is not going to happen anymore. That is really the bottom line now. The video game, we can care less about until the DVD comes out. You mentioned Rock Band. I don’t know anything about that project. If we can get into that, it would completely get the kids wild and help out with the industry.
Becker: Rock Band and Guitar Hero really revived the industry. Bands that were covered on any of their installment reaped the benefits for their CD sales. The prime example of that would be Dragonforce’s “Through the Fire and Flames.”
Smith: Yeah, and that is good. Kids are learning how fun it is to actually pick up instruments earlier Once they actually get the satisfaction that they actually have learned a song per se, it gets the kids motivated. Now it is a family event, and there is nothing wrong with that.
Becker: It's obvious due to your solo rap album Demise of the Clone and your collaboration with Necro that you're also into the hip-hop scene. When did this desire to expand your musical horizons begin and how do you feel about artists who pigeon hole themselves into one genre and never branch out?
Smith: A lot of the artists can’t branch out. There are plenty of artists who are stuck with what they are doing-writing a guitar, never writing lyrics or writing a note. For me, I play every instrument. I play guitar; I play bass; I play drums; I sing; I’m an engineer and even a producer. That is all that Mike Smith is. For me personally, that is the way I speak. When I took a break from Suffocation, I came out with the Demise of the Clone album. At that time, the hip-hop genre was starting to mix in with rock and crossing over to metal. All of a sudden, this was becoming the newest craze and the newest sensation. The thing that upset me was that hip-hop artists did not know anything about metal to begin with. Being that I came from it, I took offense to it too. The second thing that offended me was that I grew up in the hip-hop scene when it started throughout. So before there was death metal and before there was thrash, there was rap and hip-hop. That was the natural progression that I took when it was responsible and reliable good music. Now it is garbage. So, back in that time I decided, since I know best for metal, definitely better than these fraud hip-hop cats are trying to do and I know hip-hop, I’m going to blend them both and make Demise of the Clone. It was not made for the streets. It was my way of getting everything off my chest. If time allows, I might even come up with a follow-up to this little side project.
Becker: For me, I cannot bear to listen to any contemporary rap. In my opinion, I think rap died along with Tupac.
Smith: I divorced hip-hop in 1993 or ’94. After that it was garbage.
Becker: We live in the rap and hip-hop age of “autotune” which I find extremely annoying. Like I was listening to Soldier boy, and I was thinking to myself what crap is this?
Smith: Crap, but it sells millions. That is why I call the album Demise of the Clones. Being that all of these guys are the clones, they have to be rid of otherwise both music genres are going to die to garbage. Young kids are listening to this and even becoming introduced to this garbage and that is a real shame. That music is really just brain nonsense. That shit is making a lot of money.
Becker: Simplicity triumphs all.
Smith: Unfortunately, yeah.
Becker: Since you're one of the two biggest metal bands from Long Island, do you ever hang out with the Dream Theater guys?
Smith: Some of are members have. I have not personally hung out with them. Frank I think has hung out with them; I’m thinking it was their drummer. We are not enemies, but we just do not see them that often.
Becker: Is it more difficult to maintain a fan base for 20 years than it was to first establish yourself or do you find that you attract more fans as time goes by?
Smith: I think it is easier now. You always have to put the time in to get the fan base that was meant to be. When we started we drew a fan base early. It was not as big as it was now, but it was enough to get us signed and build a career from that. It is important to keep in touch with our fans and hang out with them. You have to let them know that you are a real person and not a robot taking their money away from them. Now it is definitely easier to acquire new fans. We are doing more touring then ever and fans cannot deny what they see. Our music is not false. After we perform, the decision is made: they either like us or they don’t. If they do, they will quickly spread the word.
Becker: What are your plans for the rest of 2010?
Smith: To bash motherfuckers like we do nightly on stage. We then move on to the next club and hopefully we will get bigger and better opportunities that we never saw in the twenty years we have been doing this. There are a lot of tours that we have never been involved with like the Mayhem Festival that we never have been on. Bands have been invited to the Ozzfest tour four or five times and we have only been on once, and that happened fifteen years after we started. I think that it is time that we started becoming involved with these tours. Even if we have to go out for little money, our biggest strength are knowing what we do on stage will speak for anything else. We do not need to be paid heavy. Just let us play for those 10,000 people a night and at the end of that tour we will not have to ask for anything ever again because people will wisen up to what is real metal. We are not getting this opportunity for who knows what, but after twenty years you would think that this would be the natural progression. We just take it every night step by step. You dare us? Okay, we will come up on stage and smash this place and do the next thing tomorrow. That is the only attitude we have now because we are bitter, but we are good too.
Becker: Yeah, like Cannibal Corpse got on Mayhem festival.
Smith: Yeah, Cannibal Corpse is as old as us. After their twentieth year, they got on one major tour. Come on! There are bands that have been out for two years and they are touring with Maiden and hanging out with all of the major bands. It upsets me because they have been out for five years tops. Overnight sensations in this business get taken seriously. That is a slap in the face to people who have taught you how to play. Not that we are asking for anyone to bow down to us, but you know the realistic moment that you are in, more than enough people have bowed and would say 'we cannot believe you guys have made this shit. We would never started without you, but we are going out with Ozzy next week. Nice meeting you, it was an honor.'
Becker: What I meant was that with Cannibal Corpse on the tour, Death Metal once again was rejuvenated and became bigger again.
Smith: Yeah, but it maybe a little too late. We have families. We are not kids riding bicycles and sleeping in our parents’ house. We have mortgages, kids and cars and shit that needs to be paid for by us traveling the country and leaving our family and homes. So on the twenty first year, they are going to just start suddenly say, ‘Oh wow, you should come out on this tour, but since we are doing you this favor of getting you on this big tour, we are going to pay you five-hundred a night.’ There is a big problem with that you understand? Do you take it, or do you not take it? That is the problem they keep us at; that is the level they keep us at which leaves us mad. They want us to do a lot but they do not want us to come home and survive from it. They think they are doing us a favor, so it is a real delicate situation. It is a delicate topic, and that is all I can say on the subject. Everyone who knows Suffocation and anyone who knows me knows that they will get that same answer. Every time it does not matter. If you are smiling, if you are hot, if you have big titties, it does not matter. I’m still going to tell you that Suffocation smashes bands on stage. It does not matter how big you are. We are still waiting for that opportunity to get our day of play in front of people who don’t know.
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