The Famine's Nick Nowell Explains "The Architects Of Guilt"
North Texas death metallers The Famine have now dropped their second full-length album "The Architects of Guilt" through Solid State Records. Former bassist turned vocalist Nick Nowell spoke with me about the album, the state of the music scene, and how he tries to give his lyrics meaning.
Commenting on writing the new album, Nowell stated "I figure the world is full of enough death metal bands singing about decapitating women and mutilating their genitals. There are enough metal bands complaining about how their dad’s didn’t hug them enough and stuff like that, so I wanted to try to do something at least a little bit different."
Nick went on to speak about trying to be socially conscious with The Famine's music, parting ways with former vocalist Kris McCaddon, and the problems the band has faced by being labeled as "too Christian" by some and "not Christian enough" by others.
xFiruath: For those who may not be familiar with the Famine, when did you get started and what’s been going on with the band?
Nick: Mark and Andy, the drummer and guitar player, started playing together in 1992 I think. They played in a metal band called Embodyment and that was one of the first bands that Solid State Records ever signed a long time ago. They broke up in 2003 or 2004 and towards the end of their career I was playing guitar in another Texas band called Society’s Finest, which was also on Solid State Records. So we were kind of running in the same circles and we were from the same area. Three of the guys from Embodyment decided to start The Famine in 2006, early 2007. They brought me in to play bass. I knew what it was like to be in a band and had a lot of the same experiences so we kind of rekindled things. I think our first record was probably a continuation of where Embodyment left off.
xFiruath: Give me your thoughts on the new album “The Architects of Guilt” and how it’s different from “The Raven and the Reaping.”
Nick: Actually between our last album and this album, our singer Kris left the band, who was the original vocalist from Embodyment. I switched from bass to vocals and we brought in our new bass player. We had some lineup changes and I think like with the most bands the lineup changes are reflected in the sound. I think this record is a lot less of a continuation of Embodyment and much more of a strike out in our own direction. I think it’s much more of a death metal record than our first album was. We tried to make the kind of record that we would have wanted to listen to. I feel like we played it a little safe with our first record and followed a lot of the verse/chorus verse/chorus structure. It was very mid-tempo and kind of groove based. We wanted to take some chances this time.
xFiruath: Tell me about the themes of “The Architects of Guilt.” What are the lyrics dealing with?
Nick: It’s not a concept album, but there is definitely a theme to the record. I think for me, I grew up listening to punk music and early hardcore like crossover bands. A lot of the guys who were griping about Reagan and stuff. My roots are in music that was socially conscious. I try to write from a socially conscious perspective, to arguable success I’d say. I figure the world is full of enough death metal bands singing about decapitating women and mutilating their genitals. There are enough metal bands complaining about how their dad’s didn’t hug them enough and stuff like that, so I wanted to try to do something at least a little bit different. I know we weren’t reinventing the wheel, but thematically we talk about things like the Waco siege and Jonestown and Ruby Ridge and the dragging death of James Byrd. All the issues that led up to what happened in West Memphis, Arkansas and the West Memphis three.
I guess some of the more controversial issues in the last 20 or 30 years of our history that a lot of people don’t talk about. I guess for me there’s a lot of valuable lessons we can take from those experiences if the knowledge were a little bit more common. I have this awesome opportunity, in at least a tiny way, to shine a light on some of this instances and not just say “Oh yeah, Jonestown” and use the clip of Jim Jones talking to be completely shocking or anything like that. I hope that they are put in context to what the message of the record is. A pretty big part of it is that as soon as we begin talking about some of these things we can move beyond them. I think if the country had really come together and addressed what led up to the Columbine shootings instead of blaming them on Marilyn Manson, maybe Jared Loughner wouldn’t have put a gun up against a congresswoman’s head and pulled the trigger. I’m doing my best to encourage a national dialog, but I have a feeling I will not be successful when everything is said and done.
xFiruath: As far as putting your songs together, how does the song writing process happen for The Famine?
Nick: The first record was written completely by Andy, our guitar player, I mean even down to drum parts and everything. He’s a fantastic musician and he had a vision for the first album so he picked it up and ran with it. This record we wanted it to be more of a communal record. I have a background in literature so I was excited to make my mark on the lyrics on this record. That was the first thing right out of the gate that we knew would be different. Kris, the vocalist before me, lived in New York City so we never really had an opportunity to have all four of us in a room to write a record. All four of us were in a dingy practice space twice a week with nothing to do but hammer out songs. I was playing guitar in a band before The Famine so I was able to come in and bring some guitar riffs and put in parts here and there. Having a new bass player, who is a much better bass player than I ever was, he was able to bring a lot of ideas. This one was kind of just a happy, feel good communal effort.
xFiruath: How’s your local scene these days?
Nick: The local scene in Dallas has had its ebbs and flows. In the late ‘90s, there were a lot of bands. It was kind of the place to be. Pantera was the king of the universe. We had a few bands from Dallas/Fort Worth that were on Solid State. There were always hot, new acts. Just like anywhere else it’s had its ebbs and flows. Downtown Dallas has gone through some tough times, but it’s on the rebound now and things are getting better. I don’t think I’m ever going to go to another metal show where it’s sold to twice capacity and kids are stacked on top of other kids. I don’t know that that’s necessarily just a Dallas thing though. From touring year to year I think that show attendance and record sales are just down period. I don’t know if it’s an economical thing or a sign of the times and the way we are going with the Internet. It’s very instant and fast and bands find you now. I remember when you had to order Misfits t-shirts from the Misfits.
It’s not like that anymore. You can get on iTunes or MySpace or Amazon or whatever. For people who are a little more technologically inclined than myself you probably could have stolen our record through the Internet three weeks before it came out. So if you aren’t going to pay money for the record, why would you pay money to go out to the show? You can watch it on YouTube and pour half a beer on yourself and get the experience. I can’t really pinpoint what it is. I don’t want to sound like one of the old guys hearkening back to the good old days. I think that things will come full circle and I hope there will be a renaissance. But it’s like there can never be another band as big as The Beatles. There can never be another artist as successful or completely insane as Michael Jackson. The construct of our society won’t allow for it anymore.
I don’t think there will ever be another 1983 thrash boom. It was so new and unique and kids weren’t doing it because it was something to copy, they were doing it because they didn’t know how to play guitar and they wanted to play as fast and as loud as they could. It will come back and it will have a different face and shape and name and form. There will be things like Cannibal Corpse still banging out death metal tunes, just like they have been. Bands will come and bands will go. Genres and styles will flip around and change. Maybe we’ll be a part of it and maybe we won’t. As far as how we’ve been accepted in Dallas, it’s been weird. People didn’t know we were a Dallas band for the first several years we were a band, essentially through the entire first album cycle, because our singer was from New York City. The only time we played was when we were on tour. We played Dallas only a handful of times.
Opportunity to do regional stuff is really great. You have places like Oklahoma City and Little Rock that maybe don’t have as much urban sprawl or quite as many bands. It’s like the concept of going to Australia. A heavy metal band goes to Australia and you don’t even have to be great, the kids are going to love it just because their market is completely super-saturated. That’s why bands don’t really want to play Los Angeles anymore. Everybody places Los Angeles and there are fantastic shows every night of the week. You’d rather go play Sacramento or Pasadena or any of those places in the surrounding areas where they are going to appreciate it a little bit more.
xFiruath: Do you already have live shows lined up to support this album?
Nick: Not yet. That’s priority #1 now that the record is out. There was a shuffle at the record label. Our A&R left the label like a month before the album came out. We’ve been working with a new management company and we’re sniffing each other’s butts right now trying to figure out how things are going to play out. I think that’s where this record will come alive. You can hear the album and some people will like it and some people won’t like it, and that’s totally cool, I understand that. I think if we have the opportunity to play these songs in front of people maybe people who wouldn’t have given us a chance otherwise are going to be more in to it in a live setting. There’s been several bands for me who are the same way. I think we have a great record and it’s been pretty well reviewed so far. I don’t know very many people who enjoy sitting in the studio and just banging out album after album after album.
For me, the big payoff is going and seeing it in action. I love the conversations in smoky bars over half empty Bud Lights and stuff like that. It’s not for the paychecks. It’s going out and making connections. Hopefully we’ll be able to tour. We’re trying to get on the same page with management right now about making it happen. With attendance being down and us being in this weird middle place between being a thrash band and being a death metal band and people thinking we’re too Christian or people thinking we’re not Christian enough, we’ve got to find a way to carve out our niche in the market. Nobody can do their job for no money.
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