“I’m down for the cause of death metal”
Few bands in Death Metal (or in any genre for that matter) have the credibility and trajectory that Suffocation displays. After 20 years moving between the studio and the road, these Long Island natives have made it clear that there is still a lot more to be seen from them and that their mission is nowhere near finishing.
Right now the band is, as usual, reaping the rewards from their last album, “Pinnacle of Bedlam”, a true death metal masterpiece that has been praised across the board by reviewers everywhere.
Terrance Hobbs, the lead guitarist and founder of this death metal ensemble gave us a call and showed us a little bit of the world of Suffocation.
Metal Blast: Hi Terrance! How are you today?
Terrance: I’m OK; I’m actually working in the next Criminal Elements record, so I’m here with Derek Boyer sitting at the computer. Yeah, we wanna have something out this year, besides the Suffocation album. It’s a never ending business! You know how it goes.
MB: Yes, of course. Then again, considering the state of the music industry it’s always good that you keep yourself busy and producing more and more.
T: Yeah, that’s the deal; I always gotta be creating.
MB: Well, that’s also what makes you an artist and sets you apart.
T: Yeah well… I try to anyway [laughs].
MB: Anyway, let’s get down to it! Suffocation has always been pushing the boundaries of death metal, and “Pinnacle of Bedlam”, your new album, shows that this trend is nowhere close to being done. After so many years of being together, what continues to be the inspiration for all of this?
T: I think that, for the most part, the guys and me just wanna keep to the same standards that we had back when we were kids. Even though the band is a little bit different now, because Mike is not in the band and we have Dave back in the band, etc. But each of us still really feels that we wanna make the best death metal records that we can possibly make and still stick to the same standpoint that suffocation has always had. It’s still an evolving process, but we’re still trying to keep our integrity exactly the same, and I think that this is what keeps us driven enough to make the new products.
MB: Well, as always, these “products” that you keep releasing always stand up the top in terms of death metal
T: Thanks man!
MB: Now, maybe it’s just me but there seems to be some parts in “Pinnacle of Bedlam” that are almost subdued,if your will, maybe with a bit more groove than usual. Was this a conscious decision or did it just flow naturally throughout the writing?
T: I did a lot of writing in pieces, as we were touring all over the world, so I took those rhythms and tried to fine-tune them. It’s not really a conscious decision to formulate how each of those passages are, it’s more like a feeling. We’ll say “well, this sounds kind of cool in this area…”, and then we’d fine-tune it out from there. The majority of our record, before “Pinnacle of Bedlam” was even recorded, was done in pre-production, so we did have a lot of time to reflect on the structure of the songs and things like that. But then, once Dave came into the picture, he took what I had in terms of scratch drums and things like that, and put his feelings in there, which totally changed the vibes of the rhythms, even though they were still the same. Everybody played their little part and, in some way, shape or form, made the album sound the way it did.
MB: With this idea of “everybody doing their part” in Suffocation, what would you say is the writing process for the band?
T: Well, each of us do our own particular writing on our own, like Derek will be at home and write some riffs, I’ll do the same, so does Guy… and as we’re doing the touring we’re not so much concentrating on putting everything together while we’re working out on the road, because we gotta put ourselves in “show mode”. But when we have time at home, or even on tour,, we’ll be writing riffs and jotting down notes, and later on, when we have some time at home, we try to coalesce them together and make our pre-productions for our next record.
That’s pretty much it; everybody pretty much does his own thing, but then we meet and bring it together and from there we pre-produce and then we go into the studio.
MB: The last track of “Pinnacle of Bedlam” surprised me quite a bit, because it has a cover of “The Beginning of Sorrow”. Out of your massive catalog, what made you choose this song?
T: When we were recording “Breeding the Spawn” it was a pretty crazy time for us, so the production was really terrible, even though the music was great. Every single person in our band always felt that it should have had a much better production or that it should have been re-recorded in some way, so every time we do a new record we take one of the old songs from “Breeding the Spawn” and re-record it, so that our die-hard fans, who have all of our records, will be able to actually take each song off of one of those records and re-create the “Breeding the Spawn” album. There’s still two more songs left, we haven’t re-recorded them, but they’ll be on the next records. And then, by the time these next two are done, you’ll literally be able to go through our catalog and pick each “Breeding the Spawn” song and make a whole new record.
MB: Does it happen often that when you look back to your songs you think “well, this could have sounded better”? Do you usually encounter this sort of regret regarding some of your previous stuff?
T: I think that in every single record, in every recording that I’ve done, whether it was a demo, for other bands or for my own band, I end up reflecting and listening to the mix so much, that I will always find something that I would have liked to do differently. But that’s just the way it is, I’m my own worst critic so, of course, when I listen back to our previous recording I think that I should have done this or that, but I’m very proud of the previous recordings we’ve done, but I’m more proud of this one now, because I really think that it shows the production values that, since the beginning, we’ve tried to get across, but just didn’t have the technology, the engineers or the money to be able to do so. This record is, definitely, the pinnacle record for us in terms of production.
MB: You’re definitely right on this, since you can’t really tell this album apart due to its great production value. However, and continuing with the previous question, do you also look at “Pinnacle of Bedlam” and think that it could have been better?
T: Maybe after I listen to it some more… I mean, I’ve had these songs beat into my head for the last year, so when the final production actually comes out and sinks in, I’m sure I’m gonna find a ton of things about which I’ll say to myself “FUCK! why didn’t we do it differently”. It’s always going to be like that, since whenever you just sit there an over analyze something you’re bound to find some inconsistencies. To be honest, I’d rather have inconsistencies than a flawless record, since we do have to play the music in order to record it, and that’s what we wanna get across live.
MB: “Pinnacle of Bedlam” was produced by both Joe Cincotta and Chris “Zeuss” Harris; what were the deciding factors that led you to work with them?
T: We have worked with Joe quite a lot; he has his own studio here in Rhode Island, in which we have always been affiliated doing some type of studio-work and even helping build up the place; plus, it’s more convenient since we are at home.
Once we got all recorded at home, we sent it all to Zeuss, who has an amazing ear (he has done some fantastic productions with bands like Hatebreed) since we really wanted to get the production value really up there. He was the man to go to; we had Nuclear Blast send the actual files to a bunch of different engineers, and they thought that Zeuss would do the best job. After we talked with him, and realizing how knowledgeable he is, we realized that was the way we wanted to go. He’s a really fucking awesome engineer.
MB: After many years as death metal pioneers, the Long Island Music Hall of Fame finally inducted Suffocation as one of its members. What did this recognition mean to you?
T: After all these years in which I’ve been playing heavy metal, I never thought that I would ever get an award for it, especially one from Long Island, where I live and grew up. I’m really honored that they paid some kind of tribute to my band. For the most part I don’t feel any different; I’m down for the cause of death metal, it’s the music I love and that I grew up with. It’s a way of life for me, and which has allowed me to see the world and meet a lot of new people that I would have never had the opportunity to meet otherwise. It’s nice to know that, at least at home, after two decades of playing this fucking god-awful music that most people hate, that somebody respect us. I have to say thanks to the people in Long Island and in New York for supporting us, it’s really cool.
MB: Last year we, once again, saw Mike Smith parting ways with Suffocation and being replaced by Dave Culross (who has been doing a great job, by the way). What caused this new separation from Mike?
T: Mike is a great drummer, don’t get me wrong, he’s a very talented individual, but for us in Suffocation it started to get to the point where Mike wanted to be more of a leader of something as opposed to an actual member of a group. He has his own way about him, and it was getting more difficult for us, as a band, to function as such with someone overshadowing everything that you do. I think that it was in his best interest that he ended up leaving the band, since now he can do the things that he wants to do and he doesn’t have to feel jaded towards things.
At the same time, it was also a breath of fresh air for everybody else in the band when he left, because now we don’t have such an adversarial type of relationship in the band, but quite the opposite. Everybody is trying to be more supportive of each other, and I think that will make a difference in the longevity of the band as well. It’s a sad thing to say, since I don’t like to say goodbye to anybody, but I think this was the best choice for him to make, and also for us. So, in lieu of that now we’ve got Dave Culross, who played in the band before, is super awesome and plays at 200bpm with a smile on his face. We’re having a great time jamming together, making this record, and I think that we’re all in a much better situation with him.
We’re super happy! I wish Mike the best of luck, but I think that in the long run this was the best choice.
MB: Was there any skepticism, or did perceive some skepticism, about Mike leaving the band, or was this something that had been agreed upon by everyone?
T: I think that between the label and everybody outside, nobody wants to see anybody go, especially from this band, which has gone through so much. We’ve had a lot of hardships throughout the years, that’s just part of the game.
The label had some concerns, wondering if Suffocation was still going to be the same… but I assure you that if any member of the band does change, including myself, I’ll be the first one to be training someone to take my spot, just to keep Suffocation strong, healthy, moving and being the kind of band that people want to pay attention to.
In the long run, however, it’s not about what everybody else thinks, the outside world is not the person that has to work with this type of musicians and to make things work; so for us to take Dave was a really good call, because he works well with us, while letting Mike go was also a good call, even though Nuclear Blast was a bit skeptic as to what we were going to do. We just did what we felt was natural and went with someone that we really thought would fit the bill, who lived down here in New York (he’s a native New Yorker, just like the band) and just went for it.
MB: You say that if you left there would be someone there to replace you, keeping suffocation alive. Do you think that there is a certain core or an element without which the band would simply disappear?
T: I try not to think of everybody as replaceable, because nobody is really replaceable in the world, especially for me. I try to stick my neck out for everybody involved in the band, but sometimes you have to make hard choices, and people change and do different things.
As far as me being replaced… I don’t aim to do it! Trust me! [laughs] I don’t want to be replaced but I think that Suffocation is a bigger thing than just one person. So, for example, Frank Mullen can’t be around all the time because he has a lot of things on his plate; when we have some shows that he can’t make we get some singers to fill in, but he is the one that picks those singers, not us! [laughs] We try to keep everything as cooperatively as possible for the band to care about itself… the rest of the world doesn’t matter that much when it comes to the band.
MB: Speaking of Frank, he might not be able to tour with you this time?
T: For the most part we are not planning on touring as a whole band. We would all love to tour all year long if we could, but unfortunately we really can’t. Frank has kids at home, he has a full-time job, he has been out for 20 years, he’s had to make a lot of hard choices, and the band supports his choices; basically, we just work around his schedule. He can come out as much as he can possibly do. Sometimes we might have to be out longer than he can, so in that case we just ask him “hey, do you know anybody who wants to be a fill-in singer?”, and he’ll probably have one already. This is not nice, but at least gives me the opportunity to work with different musicians sometimes, which is really kind of cool.
It’s a win-win. Even though we’re not going to be out as much as we would all like to be out. We’re still coming out to play for you guys, Frank will be with us as much as possible (he is a founding member of our band) and we’ll just work around it, doing as much as we possibly can.
MB: And in those occasions in which, on this tour, there will be someone filling in for him, do you have any names as to who that might be?
T: Not right off the bat. I mean, we’ve had Bill Robinson, from Decrepit Birth, fill in with us; he’s always the first choice for us, because he’s already worked with us before. Besides this, it is still completely up in the air if there will even be a need for a fill-in singer.
MB: It has to be a very difficult decision!
T: Yeah! It has to be someone who can fill Frank’s shoes and, unfortunately, there aren’t many people that can.
MB: It goes beyond the voice as well, it’s also about Frank’s stage presence, which is unique in metal.
MB: About that… does Frank know that there’s a facebook page devoted to “That thing Frank Mullen does with his hand”?
T: [Laughs] After 20 years some people catch on to their own little knick-knacks, so I think it’s wonderful. For Frank, who does what he has to do, he has to be kind of honored that people would do something like that. I think it’s pretty unique and there aren’t a lot of unique singers out there, that’s why we’ll never get rid of Frank: he’s brutal!
MB: Seriously though, that hand thing has almost 3,000 facebook fans.
T: [Laughs] That’s so funny!
MB: What would you say is the secret to Suffocation’s longevity and success?
T: The secret to Suffocation’s longevity is not taking everything too seriously, man. If you take everything too seriously it just fucks up everything.
Also, stick in to your guns. As much as I’ve heard many people say it before, stick in to your guns, stick to what you’re good at, to what you’ve made for yourself. This is the most important thing that I can tell to anybody, any person or any band; just stick it out, that’s the best thing to do.
MB: When will we see you on the road again?
T: We’re looking to be out in the States sometime in April, and we should be in Europe in May or June. Then we have some time in South America.
We’ll be back on the road to say hello to all of you guys and play some metal!
MB: Any final words for the fans?
T: I want you guys to watch out for us on the road; we’ll be out there to see you.
Myself and Derek [Boyer] have two more releases coming out at the end of the year, one of them will be Criminal Element’s “Modus Operandi”, and then the new Deprecated album, “Engulfing Illusions”. Three metal releases for us this year! (at least for me anyway!)
MB: Terrance, it has been a huge pleasure to talk with you, thank you very much for taking the time to do it.
T: No problem man. We’ll see you out on the road!