ProgPower Interview: Divinity Compromised Discusses Band Strategy, Originality In Music, Their Debut Album, and Getting Things Done Right Rather Than Done
Divinity Compromised will quickly be known for the band’s dedication to quality over quantity. As I would find out in an interview with them at this year's ProgPower USA festival, the bandmates really take the time to be as exacting as possible on their music, as well as their performance and planning in general. My experience with the band was ridiculously comfortable and kind of goofy, like most of my experiences with folks from Chicago. After opening the Saturday of ProgPower USA XIV strongly, I knew that I’d be dealing with heavyweight-level musicians, but what I didn’t know was how personable they would all be. In fact, they chatted with me for a half an hour during the latter part of the Circus Maximus set before anyone looked at their watch.
This interview is a detailed one, so I’ll cut straight to the point and get to the text of it. “Getting it right” is very important for these aural craftsmen, and their track record is beginning to show it.
Frank: So you guys are from Chicago, of course. How tight-knit would you say that the metal scene is there?
Mike Mousel: There isn’t one! The only thing there is a cover band scene!
Lothar Keller: It is the capitol of cover bands and tribute bands.
Mike: Cover band capitol of the world!
Lothar: It is. If there is a band that you want to see a tribute of? In Chicago, you’ll find one.
Andy Bunk: It’s been like that for a long time. I think it’s in the extreme, where people go out and say “we want to go out and sing along with bands,” so that equals covers… Well, why don’t you support local bands, learn their stuff, and sing along with it? It’s not like it’s a barren wasteland. There are still good venues to play. We’re playing with Helloween in a very good venue in Joliet [interviewer’s note: this fell through later]. But, by and large, it is the domain of, for metal anyway, covers. I’m sure that non-metal original bands might do okay in the hip clubs in the city. In the suburbs where we’re at, it’s mostly covers.
Most of the musicians I know of are in cover bands, and I was as well.
Mike: Most of which are 80s and 90s.
Andy: Now, the 90s covers are coming out more because the generation is turning over.
Frank: I would like to see a generational flip, where you go to a metal show and you see older guys that are wearing polos and stuff, singing “childreeeen of a deeeaaaad godddd!” [sung]
(the guys laugh)
Lothar: Let’s put it this way: One of my other bands, in the past, we started a Savatage tribute band just to get a few extra gigs.
Andy: What some of the other bands used to do, back in the day… There was a Pink Floyd tribute band called “In The Flesh.” They had an original prog rock band, and they would open for themselves, because In The Flesh had GREAT DRAW. So they would open as their original band, and then change clothes and play as the cover band, the headliner. That way, people would notice them! (laughs)
Mike: How horrible! That’s horrible! That’s Chicago in a nutshell.
Andy Bunk: That’s what it takes. If we do that, it’s going to be opening for ourselves as a Spinal Tap tribute band. (laughs)
Frank: [To Mike] As a drummer, YOU had better watch out!
Mike: Yeah! (laughs)
Andy: I have plenty of basses to go around! (laughs)
Lothar: We’ve talked about Big Bottom and the three bass guitars, so it’s already been figured out.
Mike: I don’t think we’re loud enough. Our amps only go to 10.
Lothar: We could work it out! We could work it out.
Andy: I’m not doing the cucumber, though.
Lothar: Oh, I am. In fact, I’m going for the eggplant!
Jeff Treadwell: A what?
Lothar: Eggplant. It’s bigger.
Jeff: I like that!
Frank: But that would look proportionally disproportional on you.
Mike: Proportionally! Disproportional! (laughs) He hit it on the head.
Frank: Yes, I’m captain of the Redundancy Squad, in case I didn’t introduce myself as such. (laughs) So, you guys had released “A World Torn” earlier this year. How was the writing and recording process for it? How long was it and who did you do it with?
Jeff: Well, me and Vito got together. We just started writing on our own. I think that most of the writing was done in a few months. Once everyone else joined, parts were changed and added.
Andy: I joined the band in late 2010. Most of the songs were written by then. In fact, they were almost ready to track it with just Vito playing bass. I was like, “Yeah, let me do the bass.” They were just kind of getting used to me, so obviously, between that time and the record coming out, a couple more years passed. A lot of that was Ben writing all of the orchestral stuff. We only started playing with the orchestral tracks live within the last four or five months. That was always the goal, but it took a little work to get there.
We try to do it as a balance. I was the last one to track, except for some touch-ups. Ben mixed the record, as well as wrote all of the…
Ben Johnson: I did all the orchestra stuff and did some production things here and there, kind of tying everything together.
Frank: It’s a hell of a mix, and very melodic death metal influenced -- Studio Fredman-type production.
Ben: I spend a lot of time on the Andy Sneap forum and hear what other people are doing. They post a lot of techniques and post their mixes. It’s a big mecca of sorts for audio production for metal.
Frank: I should have known that you had came from the Sneap forums! I’m on there, too, and it seems like that’s where all the big engineers go who actually sound good.
Andy: You’ll never have a bad-sounding record from that guy. I love his works a lot.
Lothar: Dead Heart In A Dead World, for me. That album, for me, just locked me into Sneap.
Andy: Oh, yes! Especially, after Dreaming Neon Black was a little harsher-sounding, Dead Heart was just perfect.
Lothar: That was balls.
Andy: We probably could have gotten the record out in late 2012, but it’s not always a good time to put a record out in the 4th quarter, so we put it out in March. I think, with a lot of bands’ debuts, there’s this long lead up to it. Now you’ve got the sophomore thing, where they will probably be on a time table for it. Our goal is to start writing fairly soon. We’ve already got a couple ideas we’ve already kicked around in the past. As I’ve said in other interviews, I don’t think anyone’s plan is to wait years to do another record.
Lothar: A lot of what’s been going on is developing what Divinity Compromised is. To this point, I have to say, we’ve spent roughly four years getting to this point. A couple of member changes. Developing the product is the hardest part. We’ve done our set of live shows around the Chicago area. To go out and take it to a worldwide audience, we want to make sure it’s right. We want to make sure that we spend enough time getting it to that point, which is why it took as long to get the record out. It’s self-produced: we did it. Mastering is literally the last touch, but this is what we envision we are. Anything beyond this point, is just where it takes us.
Andy: Ben spent so much time and effort to get the mix just right. We had it mastered by Jens Bogren, who’s done a lot of high-profile releases in the genre. It’s very important for us to be competitive, sonically, in the genre. I think that surprised some people. I take that as a huge compliment, because, as a fan, I am very critical of sonic production. I have records that I love to listen to that I just can’t that much, because it’s brutal. I’m not going to name names! (laughs) But there are some brutal records out there, and not from a “heavy” standpoint.
We were just talking about this in the van last week, and this is more the fault of the time, but old Vicious Rumors, like “Digital Dictator.” I love that record, but it’s SO HARD to listen to it. Especially when their later records sounded so kick ass. We’re actually playing a show coming up with Vicious Rumors!
Frank: How has your album been received by the public, so far?
Andy: It’s been received generally positively. I haven’t seen a negative review.
Mike: So far, I’d say low numbers, but positive quality reviews. So far, the rumors I’ve heard at ProgPower have been really good. People are coming up to me and other members of the band. We just need more people to hear it.
Andy: This one has sort of been a slow burn of a release. If there was one thing we probably could have done better, it would have been to drum up more publicity in advance of the release. But, you know, we don’t have management. We’re talking management stuff right now, but we’re doing this all ourselves. Hopefully, next time we release a record, it will be how bands usually do.
Mike: Management, to some degree… I don’t know if you want to call him a consultant, but Metal Mike is helping us out.
Lothar: Mercyful Mike.
Andy: I would call him Metal Mike, too. (laughs)
Frank: Is that Chlasciak? Metal Mike Chlasciak?
Lothar: No, Mercyful Mike Smith.
Mike: Mercyful’s a pretty cool guy. He’s gotten us some opportunities. He’s Milwaukee-based, yeah.
Frank: Nice! I’m a reviewer, myself, so I know that sometimes we’re full of shit. Have you gotten a really, REALLY, really stupid criticism for this album so far? What was it?
Ben: Every official review that we’ve had has been positive. There have been internet users out there that have said stupid little things, but that’s just diarrhea of the mouth. (laughs)
Lothar: The only thing I’ve really heard that would have been taken negative was, “Well, it’s nothing new.” What do you mean by that? I don’t know what that means. You’re not giving me an explanation or definition of what that is. It’s a matter of opinion at that point. If somebody says, “it’s nothing new,” well, there’s a LOT of music that isn’t new that people are going NUTS over.
Andy: It would be like going to a restaurant and saying, “Well, they didn’t have any dishes I have never heard of before, so I’m not going to eat here.” Even though maybe their steak is the best steak you’ve ever had!
Lothar: “Aww yeah, man, best steak down the road!” You’ve gotta go for it. I don’t even eat steak!
Andy: It’s more about blending genres and crossing genre lines that makes things more interesting, but there are so many bands out there that are doing their own thing and their own mix of it. The only way you could truly create something new is to say “we’re the first KAZOO metal band. We’re going to use all KAZOOS instead of vocals,” and maybe you’ll carve your own niche there.
Mike: I don’t like it when someone asks me about a band or about us, and asks what genre we are. METAL. We play metal. After that, if you want to know more, you’ve got to listen to shit. There’s only a couple bands I can think of that fall perfectly into a genre, and normally, they’re kind of boring. But once in awhile, they’re not! (laughs) What I’m saying is that influences come from all angles. Metal is metal.
Lothar: I grew up with a lot of classical.
Frank: You can tell by your voice. Are you a baritone?
Frank: But you have an added two octaves, right?
Lothar: I have managed to keep what is left in the top end just by using it. As the voice started to drop, I had to learn how to re-use it. I started to change when I was, like... I had a full beard when I was 12.
Lothar: There’s really nothing more I can say, I was a freak of nature. I was 12 years old, walking around with a full beard in elementary school. What am I going to do?
Andy: They’re like, “Lothar, let’s go, I need to buy beer!” “Hold on, I’ll be right there!” (laughs)
Lothar: I was a member of the North Carolina boys choir for several years. Over those times, I just kept using it. I will say that Robert Plant is a singer that I use as an example of how to keep it working. Falsetto. If you can learn how to use it and go between the two? [snaps fingers] Done.
Andy: I’ve always wondered how singers accomplished that change in the falsetto without making it sound like falsetto. I always think back to the first Dream Theater record with Charlie Dominici -- that’s not a real good changeover in falsetto! (laughs)
Lothar: My first Dream Theater tune I heard was Ytse Jam. There was no vocals! (laughs) I was like “Ahhh god, this band’s awesome” and then I heard the vocals, so I was like “Oh, yeah… they’re... good.”
Andy: You know, I won’t say too much here, because Mike always gives me shit for talking too much…
Andy: As a fan, I think Lothar is one of the best singers I’ve heard. It’s so hard to find a good singer for a band AND a good frontman.
Frank: It’s true, because they have to be a real entertainer.
Andy: I’m not trying to kiss ass, but every band member here… I feel like I have the easiest job in the band, as the bass player. I think that every one of these guys is so good at what they do. If I was putting this band together, I would pick these guys, and I was the last in!
Mike: This is the most talented band I’ve ever been in.
Jeff: This is the only band I’ve ever been in.
Mike: You got lucky! You did. I’ve been in good bands, and I’ve been in a lot of shitty bands.
Andy: Vito happened to play a show with me. He happened to be in Novembers Doom like nine years ago. We were on the bill, and I was in another band at the time, and he remembered me from then. He got ahold of me, and I was like “Yeah, I sort of remember you.” You can’t get in a band like this through a classified ad -- it’s always word of mouth. I don’t know a lot of musicians myself, because, quite frankly, I don’t hang out in the scene a lot.
The fact that this fell into my lap… I feel very fortunate for that.
Mike: I had been practicing at the time, about five or six years ago. I just played by myself for a long time. I think I was watching an Iron Maiden live thing on HBO, and I was like “SHIT. I want to play LIVE with all these people watching!” So I put a Craigslist ad up, and a band got ahold of me. Vito was a member of that band. I had seen him play with Sigh, a Japanese black metal band.
Frank: That’s S-I-G-H, right? Not P-S-Y, the Korean pop guy, right?
Lothar: Whoah, let’s make sure we get that straight!
Mike: Novembers Doom opened for Sigh, so I started playing with him, and he asked me if I wanted to make the band with Jeff Treadwell.
Andy: Otherwise known as “Shredwell.” (laughs)
Lothar: He will, from now on, be known as “Jeff Shredwell!”
Frank: Speaking of technicality and practice, what kinds of regimens do you run through to get your skills to where they are?
Andy: I eat three White Castles, and then just…
Mike: Wing it! (laughs)
Jeff: Lots of internet porn.
Frank: That’s an interesting strategy.
Mike: Jeff practices, right now, probably more than anybody.
Frank: Virgil Donati actually looks at a bunch of porn before he plays.
Frank: He admits it! On a DVD. I think, a [Steve] Vai DVD.
Andy: Does it help him grip the sticks better afterward?
Frank: I don’t want to know. (laughs)
(the guys laugh)
Mike: I remember watching an interview with Virgil Donati. This guy’s knocking on his hotel room door. The whole place is filled with steam. The windows are steamed. And he says, “Aw, sorry, I was practicing.” All there was was a practice pad and a little foot pedal pad! (laughs)
Frank: He’s a beast!
Mike: And he’s a beast because he practices. Even now, he continues to get better.
Jeff: I just practice every day if I can. I try to spend at least a couple hours a day practicing. If I have nothing going on, I’ll just practice the whole day.
Andy: Personally, I try to run through the album tracks a couple times a week. There’s this app called JamIt where you can drop the bass out and play along with it. They’ve got all kinds of Dream Theater, Rush, Yes, and shit on there. They have it for drums, too. I play along with it a lot. I’d rather do that than exercises. Like, “I’m going to try THAT run today!”
Ben: Unfortunately, for me, I don’t get to practice as much as I’d like to, but when I do, I started out playing classical piano, so that’s what I like to do. I just pick up a new piece of music and sink my teeth into it. Every once in awhile, I’ll play through the tunes to keep sharp on those. Playing piano is what I do to practice.
Frank: What kind of classical are we talking about? Rachmaninov? Or…
Ben: Chopin. Beethoven, Bach… Those are my favorites.
Mike: Spanning through hundreds of years. Years ago, I would make up different drills and stuff that I would borrow and change from different videos that I watched from guys like Virgil, Mike Mangini, and Bobby Jarzombek. Eventually, it was just picking the fastest way to really have fun. To increase your skill level instrument, in my opinion, is to find a REALLY hard tune that you think is awesome, and learn it. Bar by bar. Just get through it.
Eventually, you’ll play the whole thing. I’ve got a YouTube channel (linked here) and I’ve got a little bit of traffic. I haven’t been putting a lot of stuff up.
Lothar: Well, you might get a lot more right now. (laughs) Now you can’t get out of it!
Mike: Youtube.com/MikeMousel -- I played some Blotted Science, some Death, some Children of Bodom, and I’ve added a lot of notes in all of those. I’ve had nice chats with Ron Jarzombek [sic] and Alex Webster where they were complimenting my interpretation. It’s what I would play if I was in the band. That’s probably what escalated me to where I am and if I want to get better, I would probably be practicing more Spastic Ink or something.
Lothar: I’ll be honest, the practice regimen for me is when I’m in the car. The problem with me is that I play multiple instruments, so I can spend time on guitar working on stuff for other bands or what not, but for me, it’s a lot of just vocal exercises. It’s not a matter of whether I know how to find the notes. It’s a matter of just keeping it active. To go out there and sing like I do all of the time is ridiculous. I couldn’t sit in the car and belt out my vocals. It’s not going to happen.
But what I can do, is I can go through them with the CD. As long as I’ve got the rhythms, the lines, and the vocals down. I’ve dealt with some vocal coaches in the past that have taught me some warm-up techniques that are really nice. I can get warmed up in a couple of minutes and I can go out there and, within a couple of songs, I’m good to go. I’m not going to lie and say I spent hours and hours and hours, because it doesn’t happen. But I do put my time in. As far as the end result, it’s really a matter of what the song calls for.
I’ve listened to a lot of stuff over the years, and I’m not going to say that one style or the other is going to work better. You have to play with the song a little bit, and it’s a matter of what the emotion calls for. As far as gruffness or cleanliness, high vocals or low vocals go, I just make it work for however it sees fit.
Frank: What other bands are you interested to see at ProgPower as fans?
Mike: I’ll go first. It sucks, because I didn’t get to shake hands with the man and didn’t get to see him, but Luca Turilli. It’s a really epic story with a tragic ending.
Lothar: Mike is really sad right now.
Mike: I’ve always been a big Rhapsody fan, and especially Luca Turilli. I did see them play at Mojoes’, but it was with Tom Hess in place of Luca Turilli, but I did get to meet Fabio and Alex, the band.
Ben: I really wanted to see Soilwork and got to see them. I think their tunes are pretty kickass, but I’m a big fan of the production on those albums, too. It was really cool to see them play.
Andy: For me, because we were in transit yesterday, we weren’t able to see Myrath, and I would’ve loved to see them.
Lothar: We’ve heard a LOT of really good stuff about them. We’ve heard their performance was phenomenal.
Andy: Yeah, and actually, besides missing Rhapsody Thursday, as Savatage fans, we didn’t know Circle II Circle was playing all of “Wake of Magellan,” which would’ve been cool to have seen. We’ve played with Circle II Circle before up in Chicago. For me and Ben, we’re big Soilwork fans. Shadow Gallery’s really cool. As far as bands today go, Circus Maximus, for sure.
I was not really familiar with Sabaton at all. I checked out a couple of their tunes online. I actually picked up a CD in the vendor room to check them out. Armored Saint, everyone’s familiar with. I’m a big Joey Vera fan as a bass player. It’s a great bill. I wasn’t real familiar with Heaven’s Cry or Wolf, so I couldn’t speak to that.
Jeff: I would’ve liked to have seen Ashes of Ares, but… And Soilwork. I’m a big fan of Soilwork, but by the time we got to the hotel, I pretty much passed out and missed them.
Andy: Dude, I didn’t even really sleep Thursday night. I drove the whole time and I SAW Soilwork!
Jeff: Shut up!
Andy: They did play some old stuff, too. They played “Bastard Chain.” The new record is just fantastic. It’s the best thing they’ve done, in my opinion, in years. How about you, Lothar?
Lothar: For me, I had to check out the Soilwork guys. Same deal. Really tired when we got in. Definitely excited for the Armored Saint set. Sabaton? Just from hearing so many people talk about them. I’ve never seen them live yet. Tonight’s the night. I really look forward to seeing them. For me, ProgPower’s an experience. It’s not so much about one band as it is seeing the rest of the bands in conjunction with the headliner. It’s like the Woodstock of prog metal.
It’s a very open environment for people to engage the music that’s being presented before them. If they like what they hear? It’s a win-win.
Frank: Do you have any immediate plans for the future?
Lothar: The band knows that gig possibilities can always happen. But we know that new material is a must and we don’t want to wait much longer to get that going. When gigs come about, if they’re worth doing, we’re all over it. Other than that, the new album has got to get done.
Andy: We’re at a situation right now to where the album is 52 minutes. So if someone says “we need you to play an hour,” like ProgPower, we throw a cover in. I thought that [Hall of the Mountain King] was a very appropriate song for this crowd, but we don’t want to go past one cover in a show. We do it kind of as a “thank you” for the fans. We’re talking about a couple of other covers…
Mike: We ARE from Chicago! (laughs) One cover or maaaaybe two.
Andy: So we’ll let those be a surprise when we play them. We’re trying to carve out some challenges for ourselves, but if we get an opportunity to play 90 minutes, we need more material. It’d be cool to not have to do every song off of the album. I’d rather have it be where someone says “Oh, they didn’t play ‘When Myth Becomes Truth’ this time, so maybe I’ll see them play it next time” or something like that. We’ll see how the live show evolves.
This is the most we’ve played live in quite some time in a short period of time. From July until the end of September, we’ve had 8 or 9 shows total. Before that, it was once every few months. We’re definitely getting tighter as a band.
Lothar: Yeah. One thing that I will say about this band, unlike a lot of other bands, we’re not in a hurry to go out there and play 50 shows a month to try and grab 2 or 3 people. For us, it’s about pick the right shows [sic], pick the smart shows [sic], and go out and conquer them. The talent speaks for itself. I’m very confident that the band is capable of doing what it needs to do.
We don’t want to blow our wad playing five times a month.
Andy: We want it to be an event, exactly.
Lothar: It’s not about how much we can saturate people. It’s the quality. We would rather make sure that it’s right and not just shoving shit out there.
Frank: Perfect. Thanks, guys.
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