Suicide Silence Guitarist Mark Heylmun Discusses "The Black Crown"
Band Photo: Suicide Silence (?)
Suicide Silence has a loyal following with their reckless, yet catchy, brand of death metal. It’s not complex music, relying on breakdowns and one-note riffs, but it’s hard to stay seated to their hard-hitting attack. The band has spent the last two albums building up their repertoire, and now they are crowning themselves as head honchos with “The Black Crown.” Songs like “Fuck Everything” and “Slaves To Substance” are anthems for a disillusioned youth, which should get over quite well in a live setting. I had the opportunity to talk to guitarist Mark Heylmun in early August about the creation of “The Black Crown” and the difficulty in writing simple riffs.
Heavytothebone2: The band has a new album out, “The Black Crown.” That title can have multiple meanings to it. What does the title “The Black Crown” represent to you?
Mark Heylmun: We’re from Corona, California. Corona is crown in Spanish and Corona is where we write most of our music. That’s a little bit to do with it. Also, just us crowning ourselves in this genre of new death metal, new American whatever metal theme that is going on right now. We’re putting the black crown upon ourselves. That’s why we named it “The Black Crown.” Just trying to set the standard, put our stamp on the scene that’s going on right now.
Heavytothebone2: Do you guys have certain rituals when it comes to recording music?
Usually, we practice in a garage that we turned into a band room. We carpeted it, sound-proofed it, built a little studio, where we pretty much do everything. For this album, we got a cabin in Big Bear. We went up to the mountains and got snowed in. It got ridiculous. We built a studio up in the middle of nowhere. We were up in the cabin for a month and just jammed out all together. More so, searching on the sound we wanted to go in with this record. As opposed to sitting and writing the whole time, we talked a lot about it and worked out the kinks and everything that was going on like, ‘What do we want to do with the third record? How do we want to step it up?’
Heavytothebone2: Being in that environment, did that affect the songwriting at all?
I don’t know. The environment was pretty much more of a home environment for all of us. We were all living together as a family. Waking up, cooking breakfast, hanging out, playing video games, watching a movie, not worrying about if we’re going to jam that day or not. Whenever the mood was there, the mood was there. It was more of a lax environment, how we were going to go about it. Not really worrying about it. We had a whole month in our own spot. We jammed anytime of the day. If it was four in the morning and we felt like we wanted to jam, we just did. It helped out because we could have 24 hours a day to jam or just talk it out.
Heavytothebone2: Having a whole month, did you guys find yourselves cramming in a certain time frame or did you guys have songs periodically come out?
What happened was we wrote a lot of songs in the cabin and those songs weren’t the songs that we put on the record. We wrote like seven songs in the cabin and those seven songs didn’t even make the record. We took the good parts of those songs and over the course of the next 11 months, we took all the cool parts of those songs and transformed them into what became “The Black Crown.”
Heavytothebone2: So why did the band decide to do that with the seven songs?
They weren’t third record caliber. It didn’t seem like what we wanted to do. We wanted to step up, and the songs ended up sounding more along the lines of something that could be on “No Time To Bleed.” It didn’t seem like the proper progression that we wanted to go in.
Heavytothebone2: A lot of these songs have an anthemic quality to them, almost like an uprising type of feeling. Was that one of the band’s goals when writing the album?
We’re always going for the live mentality. We’ve always been working on songs that we believe are fun to play live. We’re a live band. We’re on tour too much. We want to write songs that we could go out and play live. I think it’s working out because right now, on the Mayhem Festival, we’re playing new songs and the new songs are going over better than the old songs are. I guess we were going for the songs that get the crowd amped and let everybody have a good time. We’re going to have a good time playing them.
Heavytothebone2: What did the band learn from the creation of their past two albums that helped in writing and recording “The Black Crown”?
The first record, we recorded entirely live. That’s pretty much what we’re always going for; getting a good live feel on all the songs. We tried to trim the fat. We’re better at groove, we’re better at getting people to react and just bounce, head-bang, and have a good time. We took what we know worked live and used it for this record. We went more in the direction we felt comfortable with and we didn’t try too hard about being super-technical or super death metal. We went in the direction that we felt good. With the third record, we wanted to step it up, and just do what we’re comfortable doing.
Heavytothebone2: When it came down to recording this album, did you find it easier than the last two albums because of the experience factor? Or were there unique challenges not seen on the first two albums?
That’s one of those things we asks ourselves every time. We were writing the third record and we just asked ourselves, ‘How did we write the last two records? How did that even happen?’ They just came out of nowhere. We just jammed and worked it out. With this one, we jammed and we worked it out. But then once we jammed, and we got all these songs down, we sat back and we revised and thought about what’s going to be good live. What is better for the fans when they come out to see our show? What are they going to want to see? What do they want to hear? It’s for us and it’s for the fans. Make something that we’re proud of and something that the fans can listen to and be stoked on.
Heavytothebone2: Do you wish you had that mentality of revising material with the last two albums?
No. We’ve always had the same mentality, but it’s just us growing and figuring out how we need to connect to the people that want to come watch us play. We’re always the same band. We’re not changing anything. We’re just growing and making it better and becoming more of a unit as five dudes that write songs. It’s not just one of us that writes the songs. It’s all of us that work together. This is just the natural progression of where we’re going.
Heavytothebone2: Did that progression also relate to you as a guitarist as well?
Yeah, absolutely. My goal as a guitar player is to write the most simple, heavy, you-hear-it, you-can’t-forget-it (riffs). As soon as you hear it, you know how it goes. Most of the riffs on this record, you hear it, automatically you’re like, ‘Holy shit. This is heavy. This is fucking badass. I want to pick up a guitar and learn how to play this riff.’
Heavytothebone2: Are there any particular riffs on a song that you hear it back and you’re like, ‘Wow, this kicks ass’?
The first two singles, “Fuck Everything” and “You Only Live Once,” I think those riffs hits with me. You listen to “Walk” by Pantera and, obviously, one of the most recognizable metal riffs of all time. You listen to “Fuck Everything” and it’s basically one note all the way through. It’s groovy, it’s ridiculous. “Fuck Everything” is so simple and effective that that’s my goal with this sound. Write the most simple, effective, heavy...gruesome tunes. The same with “You Only Live Once.” It’s bouncy, catchy, there’s nothing that’s going to go over your head. The song starts and then you’re bummed when it’s over, because it’s already over.
Heavytothebone2: You say you like to write simple riffs, but is there any difficulty in trying to write simple riffs? Most people would hear the term simple riffs and go, ‘Oh, they probably did it in a day.’ Did you have any troubles at all when it came to writing the album?
It’s not the troubles. It’s more so that you write a riff and it’s like, ‘How can I make this even simpler? How can I make this even easier to understand?’ You start playing it and somebody goes, ‘Oh, what the hell just happened? It’s already way over my head.’ Something that hits you in the face straight from the beginning and they understand it. You listen to “Fuck Everything” and for me, it reminds me of old-school Korn. That’s what got us wanting to write this simple shit.
Hearing it and being able to remember it as soon as you hear it; that’s hard. Anybody can write a riff that’s got 50,000 notes in a second and that sounds cool, that sounds hard to play, but I have no idea what the hell just happened. I think it’s easier to write something that’s technical than it is to write something that’s easy, memorable, and it just hits you right away. I think it’s way harder to write the simple shit than it is the hard shit.
Heavytothebone2: You mentioned Korn a minute ago and Jonathan Davis does guest vocals on “Witness The Addiction.” How did you guys land him onto the album?
As simple as meeting him a couple of times and him being a fan of our live show. We asked him, ‘Hey, do you want to sing on this record?’ That’s how it happened.
Heavytothebone2: How did you guys fit him into the song? Did you guys have a certain part that you knew would be perfect for him when you started writing it or did it happen after you guys knew he was interested in guesting on the album?
We called that song “Epic Fail” before we ever knew he was going to be on the record. We called that song “Epic Fail” because if he wasn’t going to be on the record, then the song would not be on the record. We wrote that song for him. Basically, if he wasn’t on it, that song wouldn’t be on the record.
Heavytothebone2: Speaking of songs not on the record, did you guys have any songs left over that you didn’t use on the record for whatever reason?
Yeah, there’s one that’s a bonus track. I believe it’s on the Hot Topic special edition. It’s the only B-side that’s on it. It’s called “Revival of Life.” It’s about taking your life and living it day-by-day and not worrying about shit.
Heavytothebone2: Why did the band decide to cover the Rob Zombie tune “Superbeast” for the iTunes edition?
That song came out of the blue. I actually sprained my wrist during the writing of “The Black Crown.” I had a weird, drunken incident and hurt my wrist. I couldn’t play guitar for like two or three days because my wrist was all fucked up. Garza (Christopher Garza, guitarist) and Alex (Lopez, drummer) started jamming on “Superbeast.” They were playing it in our standard tuning, which is Drop A. I listened to it and said, ‘What if we tuned it stupidly low to F? Make it sound even heavier.’ Grabbed a guitar that was tuned in standard F, recorded it, and listened to it back. We were like, ‘This could be something that no one would expect.’ We love Rob Zombie and we love White Zombie. We were going to do a White Zombie song, but the Rob Zombie song just seemed to fit more.
Heavytothebone2: “The Black Crown” landing at number 28 on the Billboard chart. “No Time To Bleed” got in at number 32. Before you heard about the chart ranking, were you guys expecting “The Black Crown” to be around the same spot as the last album or were you hoping for a higher position like you got?
I didn’t really think about it too much. We were hoping to sell as many records as we possibly could. We did what we did. We almost did 15,000 records. Who sells that nowadays? If we did over 10,000, we would have fucking been super-stoked. Not a lot of people are selling a lot of records. We did a ton, so we can’t complain.
Heavytothebone2: What do you credit the fact that you guys have been able to hold onto your fan base for these last few albums?
Honestly, I think it’s us just appreciating that we’re in the place we’re in. We really recognize that we’re doing something that everybody wants to do. We’re happy to be here. On Mayhem right now, we do a signing with the Rockstar guys. We sit there for two or three hours and sign everything. We wait until all the line is gone. We appreciate the fact that people come out to see our shows. We interact with our fans and I think they really appreciate that we appreciate that they are there. That’s a life-long goal. We’re not trying to fade away. We’re trying to make a stand in this thing as a metal band. We’re all fans of metal and we just really appreciate that we can be doing what we’re doing.
Heavytothebone2: How is the Mayhem Festival going for the band so far?
It’s killer man. I can’t complain at all about what’s going on in this tour. It’s the perfect tour for us. It’s a traveling metal festival with some of our favorite bands: Megadeth, Machine Head, Unearth. Everyday, we try to let everybody here have a good time. Not a lot of these people know who we are, but we try and show our colors.
Heavytothebone2: With such diversity in sound and so many different bands involved, have you felt that the reception to your music has been better than you expected it to be?
That’s beyond me. That’s not something I think about. I don’t think about how people are going to receive it. It’s more like, ‘I’m writing this and hopefully everyone can understand it and have a good time.’ Like I said before, we’re a live band. We want to write music that people are going to come to see what we’re going to do and see what kind of show we put on. Hopefully, everybody understands it and gets it. It’s not like it surprises me, but when we get on stage and it’s a good show and everybody freaks out, it’s like, ‘Hell yeah.’ I’m more stoked than surprised.
Heavytothebone2: What are the band’s touring plans looking like once they get off the Mayhem Festival?
We’re starting a world tour. We’re doing Australia after this and we’re doing some Asia stuff. After Australia, we come home and we’re off for a week. Then we’re going to Europe to do the Never Say Die tour and then after Never Say Die, we’re doing a headlining Canadian tour. After that, we’re doing South America with Cannibal Corpse. Basically, we’re just non-stop.
Heavytothebone2: What country has the craziest fans you’ve ever played for?
South American man. South America is a freakout. It’s insane.
Heavytothebone2: If you could tour with one band, past or present, who would it be and why?
I’m not going to say the first band, because it’s depressing and I think everyone that would be reading this would know who I would be saying. I would love to tour with Lamb of God. They are one of my favorite bands. Mark Morton is a killer dude. They are the leaders of heavy metal right now.
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