"some music was meant to stay underground..."

Interview

Derelict Frontman Eric Burnet: "You Have To Find Your Own Inner Strength And Smash Through Those Obstacles."

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Band Photo: Derelict (?)

It was Friday, November 30th in Montreal, and my butt was killing me. Let me explain.

I'd arrived a little while ago at Katacombes, a little cavern of a club with a corner stage partially in the round. Headlining the evening was Derelict, an increasingly popular technical death metal outfit carving quite a name for itself across Canada. After tracking down frontman Eric Burnet, we escaped the noisy chatter - and the impending racket of the opening act - by ducking down a flight of stairs to a basement alcove outside the restrooms.

In the shadowy corner, we claimed a precarious perch atop two beer kegs while Eric brought me up to speed. We discussed all things Derelict, including this year's sophomore album "Perpetuation;" (reviewed here) the overall death metal genre and beyond; Eric's personal techniques and goals as a vocalist and lyricist; the downloading controversy; and more.

Mike Smith (OverkillExposure): While “Perpetuation” seems to be gaining Derelict a reputation, the band is still very much a Canadian beast. We need to spread some recognition in the States! So treat me as if I know nothing.

Eric Burnet: [Laughs] Sure. We’re a technical death metal band from Montreal. We’ve been evolving to what we are now over the last seven years. We’ve played pretty much every province in Canada except Newfoundland, so we’ve been all over the map here. And our style… if you know bands from Montreal like Cryptopsy, Neuraxis, Quo Vadis, and stuff like that, we fall into that spectrum. But our forefront idea for playing in this genre has always been to have listenable songs before all. We don’t try to “go tech” first; we go, “What’s a song?” and build around that if we can think of cool technical parts to add. But the basis has to be a song, where once you’ve heard it, you can sing back a riff or remember a part, instead of it being a complete gibberish fest that’s impressive but not catchy at all. So that’s kind of our thing musically. Lyrically, we’re just kind of pushing an “open your mind, educate yourself” ethos. We encourage people through the lyrics to stand up for themselves, find out everything they can about what’s going on in the world, so that they can have informed opinions and not just get steamrolled by everything that’s going on.

Mike: In today’s “informational overload,” it’s easy to get steamrolled if you’re not vigilant about resisting it.

Eric: It’s also easy to just sit back and take the very easy pop culture information and never really dig into what’s going on. I think we’re really lucky to live in a generation where we have access to any information we want, so I feel it’s our responsibility, to a certain extent, to be at least moderately informed about our decisions.

Mike: I’m sure a lot of younger bands could learn a thing or two from Derelict’s foundational philosophy you mentioned in regard to songwriting. It seems people’s big complaint about technical metal these days is that bands approach it the other way around: “tech first,” with everything else as afterthoughts.

Eric: I definitely agree. I mean, not to take anything away from those kinds of bands. It’s fun too; it’s got its thing. I think part of our songwriting approach comes from the fact that our drummer Jordan [Perry] was not strictly a metalhead. He’s really into metal now, but when he joined, we were really his first metal band. He kind of joined as an experiment to see if he could do it, y’know? And he got really into it. But he’s always kind of kept us in a direction where if things get too ridiculous, he brings a sort of “outsider’s” perspective. He can go, “Hey guys, where’s the song? Where’s the foundational melody we need here to make this work?”

Mike: And for another semi-outside perspective, Chris Donaldson [Cryptopsy] produced “Perpetuation,” correct?

Eric: Yep, and the one before, “Unspoken Words.” [2009] He had less involvement in that one. We brought him the tracking, which we’d done in different places and had already finished, and he mixed and mastered it. But this time around, we recorded the drums and vocals with him. He really coached us and was a lot more involved. He runs Garage Studio. He may have moved in the last year, but for a while, he was literally in a garage. The back of his sound room looked like a soundproof wall, but if you pushed a button, it would open – it was a garage door! [Laughs] He’s just an excellent guy to work with. I love the new Cryptopsy and the sound he got on that. He did the new Beneath The Massacre, the latest Neuraxis, and all of The Agonist’s records.

Mike: Cryptopsy’s done some pretty controversial stuff in the last few years. Everyone in metal tends to have a very loud opinion about it. What’s your take, as someone closer to the situation?

Eric: I find it funny, because obviously I know Chris very well, and Matt, [McGachy] their most recent vocalist. I don’t want to say “new,” because he’s been in the band about five years now. We knew Matt before that. He was in a band called 3 Mile Scream, and we played some of our first shows with them. So when he joined Cryptopsy, we were like, “Wow, sweet, Matt’s in the band!” And it’s weird observing them from that perspective. I know the guys, and I find that people have such strong opinions about their band, stronger than they do about other bands. It’s almost as bad as the Metallica situation, when you look at the threats that people post under Cryptopsy videos on YouTube. I was always a big fan; “None So Vile” [1996] had a really big influence on my songwriting. And when they did their most controversial album, “The Unspoken King,” [2008] I didn’t hate it. I just thought it was odd. It was a big change, so maybe they should’ve just changed the name and put it out as a different band or something. But now, Matt’s saying, “I don’t want to do clean vocals anymore,” and even though I didn’t dislike that record, the new one just destroys. I’m so happy they did it. I saw them at their tour launch a week ago here in Montreal, and fuck, man, it was fantastic.

Mike: I also really enjoyed that huge compilation they released recently.

Eric: Yeah, I think putting out a “greatest hits” was their way of capping off their deal with Century Media, but they also threw in some songs that weren’t on any other record, which is awesome.

Mike: Back to Derelict. You’re pretty clear on your influences and inspirations, but have you heard any interesting comparisons drawn by fans? What kind of reactions to your sound have you been hearing?

Eric: One of the ones I really liked, I saw on YouTube. Someone commented on one of our songs and said, “Hey! These guys sound like Obscura mixed with The Black Dahlia Murder!” Which is cool, ‘cause we’re not as progressive as Obscura, and we have a lot of melody, kind of like Dahlia. And then sometimes people compare my vocals to Randy’s, from Lamb Of God. Which is awesome, ‘cause he’s another one of my big influences. Especially their album “Ashes Of The Wake.” [2004] I find that’s one of the only albums with screaming vocals where you can still understand every word he says without reading the lyrics. I took a big influence from that. A lot of singers will write lyrics, and without considering the lyrics, they’ll choose the vocal tone they want for a part, and then force the word into a tone. So if they’re going guttural, they’ll deliver a whole sentence in guttural, even if it mashes up the words. I’d rather write the lyrics and then let the vocals develop to the words, so it’s comprehensible. If the word leads me to a high scream because of the syllables, then that’s what I’ll do. That’s what Randy does with Lamb Of God, and especially on that album. I remember thinking, “Wow, I can hear everything he’s saying!” It gave the album a way bigger impact, especially at the time, because it was super antiwar and politically charged.

Mike: Do you ever have trouble maintaining your voice?

Eric: The important thing is to warm up, which I’m gonna do after this interview, [Laughs] and drink a lot of water. It’s the same technique as regular singing, so when you hear singers talking about needing to rest their voices or warm up, it’s the same thing. I encourage anybody who does death metal vocals, especially people starting out, to really look into it. Go on YouTube and look at those videos where they send a camera or periscope down the throat to the larynx. You can see what’s happening, and it encourages you to take care of your body. There’s so much information, and it’s really worth learning to do it right, so you’re not destroying your voice. I actually have a friend coming here tonight who’s a doctor! He’s an ear, nose, and throat specialist. One time we were talking about death metal vocals and looking at some of that stuff on YouTube, and he was like, “Oh OK, I totally get it now! You’re using your false vocal cords, and I understand how you’re pulling this off… but I can also see how if someone did it wrong, it would be REALLY bad.” [Laughs] It’s nice to have a doctor confirming that what I’m doing makes sense.

Mike: An album like “Ashes Of The Wake” must’ve also been a big lyrical inspiration, at least in spirit and attitude. You mentioned that Derelict strives to spread a certain ethos in that regard. What are you telling people in these songs?

Eric: I don’t think there’s a single unified message, apart from the fact that a lot of our songs are pointing out, let’s say, certain fallacies or absurdities of human society. Just things we do that make me think, “Why are we doing this?” We’re not beating people over the head too much with facts, but just encouraging people to find out what’s going on. We have a song called “Expiry” on the new record, which was largely inspired by the BP oil spill in the Gulf. I wrote those lyrics looking at all the gushing, from the camera they had under the ocean there. I just think that people need to know what’s going on. Like we were saying before, there’s a lot of access to information, so we can do it! Also, I took a bit of a positive direction on a couple songs. There’s a track called “Yours To Surpass,” which says, “Your fate is yours to surpass, your foes are yours to destroy.” Everything that’s in your way in life, if you look at it like, “My destiny is putting me in this situation,” you’ll never get through your problems. You have to find your own inner strength and just smash through those fucking obstacles. That’s a bit of what we’re talking about. Also, the song “Shackles Of Indoctrination” is kind of about, “Hey man, you don’t have to believe exactly what your parents and your community said. Make up your own mind about the world.” Wake up and go for it. It doesn’t matter what direction you take, as long as you chose it, and know what you’re talking about.

Mike: I’m curious about the meaning of “Digital Birthright.”

Eric: I used to get – I still do sometimes, but less now – I used to get into really big arguments on Facebook. [Laughs] You’ll post something political, and somebody from a completely opposite ideology comments, “Oh, that’s a big waste of time.” I realized through a lot of that stuff that digital identity, through social media, is often just really misused. I count myself within that; I’m not pointing a finger. We really waste our time, given the power of the technology we have. Just a little while ago, I was standing here with my phone, and my drummer Jordan needed to go buy a cymbal before the show. He said, “Can you check if that store is open?” And I checked, and said, “Yeah, you can go.” Ten years ago, that wouldn’t have been a possibility. He’d have had to wing it. So I think “Digital Birthright” is saying, “Why don’t we use the strength of this technology for positive things, rather than just trolling each other and attacking each other?” Look at groups like WikiLeaks and Anonymous. As controversial as they are, those people really believe in what they’re doing. They’re not wasting time; they’re going for what they believe in and they’re using technology to the maximum extent possible. I encourage that!

Mike: Another unavoidable technological controversy is, of course, downloading. People see both positive and negative sides to it. Do you feel downloading has helped or hurt Derelict?

Eric: I think the side where it helps us is, when you look at our Facebook stats, we have a pretty high fan count, and it’s really evenly spread across the world. There’s a really big Southeast Asian presence, people from countries where we don’t have distribution of any kind, where incomes might be a lot lower. So buying something for ten Canadian dollars might be a huge investment they’re not willing to make. If they download our album, I’m more than happy, because I can go on the Internet and know there are dudes in Iraq, in Pakistan, and all over Southeast Asia, India… We had conversations with fans in India saying our album was their favorite this year. It’s like, “Okay, go for it, man! Download the shit out of it!” On the flip side, when people do buy our records, we’re not in any way making our living. We’re losing money doing this. So when people buy a record, it directly increases our ability to play shows and record our next record faster. That’s all it is. There is a big entitlement culture, though. Young people now feel like they deserve to have everything that they want, and not have to pay for anything. And at the same time, they’ll put pressure on bands: “Yo, when’s your next fuckin’ record, man? C’mon! It’s been two years!” And it’s like, “Yeah, dude, but if you’d BUY IT… [Laughs] that would give me a fraction of the money I’d need to make it!” When you look at it conservatively, it’s not far from ten grand to put out an album, and distribute it, and print copies, and all that. So if nobody buys it, it takes forever to make that money back. It’s insane. So if people buy it, the next one comes out faster. That’s all it is.

Mike: Do you have future music currently cooking?

Eric: Yeah. We already have two songs for the next record – or an EP, depending on what we put out – that are pretty much composed. I’d say the lyrics are 99% done. We haven’t jammed them yet, but we work with Guitar Pro a lot. Say a member has ideas, he’ll tab them out with Guitar Pro and email them to everybody. Then the rest of us can pitch in our ideas from home and learn the stuff at home. Our drummer will grab the tabs, learn the drum parts, and write them. Then when we all come together, it’s ready to go. So we’re slowly working with that, and we have – I don’t think Xav [Sperdouklis, bass] actually writes full songs – let’s say four and a half writers out of five. So we’ve got stuff coming, man!

Mike: Can we expect any new influences to seep in on the next record?

Eric: I would hope so! It’s funny, ‘cause we were consciously trying to go… not necessarily slower, but just to have more groove parts. “Perpetuation” is really a full-speed-ahead record, and we don’t want to do the same thing twice. So far, the first two songs we’ve written are really fast and brutal as well, but the next one we’re doing that I wrote has a lot of, I guess, Obscura influence. I’ve been listening to a lot of Guthrie Govan, a guitarist that used to play for Asia. He has his own project now, and he’s amazing. The song “Waves,” in particular, just blows my mind. So I got a bit of influence from that. We’re just trying to do something a little bit different and see where it goes. We don’t want to do the same record twice.

Mike: I really love the grooves, I have to say. When you slide from the thrashy, full-speed-ahead parts into those headbanging passages… that’s just gold to me.

Eric: We try to have at least one of those per song! But it just always ends up being fast! [Laughs] I don’t know.

Mike: What influence or musical love would I be most surprised to hear about, coming from you?

Eric: Probably hip-hop stuff. I’m a publicist, so I represent different musicians by getting them press, and I have hip-hop clients. I’m working with one group from Montreal right now called Cannonhead. It’s really underground stuff. They have all sorts of influences, and it’s really not commercial. Really interesting, cool stuff. I’m into any kind of music that’s not just following a formula. You can do cool stuff in any genre. I’ve heard country that I love, y’know? You just don’t want to go for clones and pop-written, radio stuff. But for musicians trying to do something interesting, there’s stuff in all genres.

Mike: And how about some kickass metal records of 2012? What are you into these days?

Eric: I just bought the new Arkaik record. Those guys slay. Really good band, tech-death to the max. I really like the new Anaal Nathrakh. It’s like “fuck you” music. Why? Because fuck you! [Laughs] The first Canadian tour they’ve ever done, they came here two or three weeks ago, and it was insane. The new Cryptopsy is excellent, the new Katatonia I really like… what else did I buy? Oh, man – Woods Of Ypres, “Woods V.” Fuck. I can’t go into too much detail on what I think of David Gold’s lyrics, ‘cause it’s very sad, ‘cause he passed away. But I think that record almost instantly slotted itself into my Top 5 records ever. Just, bam! Such a big emotional impact. It’s a statement of sorrow, man. You read the lyrics, and having struggled with depression and stuff myself, I realized there really are other people out there suffering, and that we need to take care of each other. It really reminds you of that. Those lyrics are explaining why he hates the world, and it’s just so sad. You wonder, “Why is no one grabbing him and saying, ‘Dude, you’re gonna be OK?’”

Mike: Speaking of “fuck you” music like Anaal Nathrakh, have you heard that Rage Nucléaire record?

Eric: Aw, no, I keep meaning to check that out.

Mike: They’re from here. Lord Worm fronts the band.

Eric: WHAT? For real? OK, I have to check that out as soon as I get home. It’s funny, ‘cause I ran into Lord Worm a couple times while I was studying at Concordia University. Not to blow his cover, but he teaches English there. And he was talking to me about that; he said, “Yeah, I’ve got this band,” et cetera. His description at the time was, “It’s so dirty that you’ll have to take a shower after listening to it.”

Mike: So on a final Derelict note, what’s in the near future, in terms of the holidays and the new year?

Eric: Well, we’re playing next week on December 8th in Sherbrooke, supporting Cryptopsy and Blackguard on a Christmas metal fest. That’s gonna be cool. Other than than, we just have to fix our van, ‘cause it broke down today. We’re building a new jam space, so we’ll be taking it easy for a little bit and working on new music. Then when the snow melts, we’ll be back out playing shows all over!

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Mike Smith is a Southern-born, New England-based writer and a diehard metal and hard rock fan. As a music journalist, he is a staffer with Metalunderground.com and Outburn Magazine. As a screenwriter/producer, he is currently working on his first film with director Jason Matzner ("Dreamland").

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