Interview with guitarist Robert "Bob" Vigna
Interview conducted by Luxi Lahtinen
Date online: March 19, 2012
One of the true pioneers of New York Death Metal, Immolation, released five new songs in 2011 on the "Providence" EP, showing the band's songwriting pencils were still sharp enough to create some dark, unyielding and mercilessly crushing Death Metal. Ever since, the guys have slowly but still determinedly been composing new songs for their next album, which will hopefully come out before the ominous day, 21st of December 2012. Nah, don't be silly and let the masses fool you.
The founding guitarist of Immolation Robert "Bob" Vigna shared a few thoughts for The Metal Crypt about the band's latest "Providence" EP, Scion A/V, what keeps him inspired when he should start coming up new songs for Immolation - plus, remembering also some of the times when they were recording their debut studio album, "Dawn of Possession" at Musiclab Studios in Berlin, Germany in early 90's.
Luxi: So, you told me Bob that you guys are working with new songs for Immolation's 9th studio album, which may come out during this summer. How's everything been working out for you so far? Has it been any challenging process for you guys?
Bob: Things are going great thanks! The promotion and release of "Providence" has really kept the ball rolling for us! It was the perfect follow up to "Majesty and Decay". We finished our Scion tour in the U.S. at the end of October. The tour went really well. We had Jungle Rot and Gigan out with us. Two great bands... all super cool people! It was a good time. Now we are writing new material, which is always a bit of a challenge. The toughest part is getting started. So we are in the beginning stages now and working hard to get some really good stuff going! It's not always so easy, but we always look forward to working on the new material!
Luxi: Your 8th studio record, "Majesty and Decay", came out in 2010 and was highly liked amongst the fans of the band. How would you say these new Immolation songs compare with the songs on your previous album, music-wise?
Bob: I think with each release we learn something new and also try new approaches to the writing. One of the biggest differences with "Majesty & Decay" though was that it was the first time we were able to write all the music on a computer and create a full pre-production. This enabled us to be more creative and get a good idea of how the songs would sound before we recorded them. The other biggest difference was that, although we still had Paul Orofino (Millbrook Sounds Studios) involved for the recording process, we tried something new for the mixing and mastering by hiring Zack Orhen at Castle Ultimate Studios. Zack was really able to bring out the power in the music. So with a better approach at the writing and production we ended up with one of our best records. The music was more straightforward, yet very dark and heavy - and the sound was very strong and menacing. So it was certainly a step in the right direction and we feel that this combination was proven once again with the EP for Scion, "Providence".
Luxi: About this new, limited 5-track EP of yours, titled "Providence", which was put out on Scion A/V – it contained only new songs. What was your main idea to get this EP recorded anyway - and released via Scion A/V both as a digital download and as sort of limited, physical promotional items (both on CD and vinyl) that were given away mainly at Immolation's shows on your North American tour last year?
Bob: Our booking agent in the US, John Finberg, first got us involved with Scion doing a one-off show in NYC in 2010. The guys who work on the Scion AV team are all super cool and really into all the music they support. So for us it was a great experience working with them. From that first show Scion went on to support some of our gigs on two tours... having us get their materials out there. Then in March 2011 Scion invited us to play their annual Rockfest, which happened to be in Pamona, California last year. The fest was amazing! It was like a mini-euro fest! They closed down some streets in town and had 4 locations for bands to play. We had a great time and the whole event was free to all the fans! After that they offered to do a music video for us, so that's when we came out with "A Glorious Epoch". We were lucky enough to have the label get us Tommy Jones to work on the video. He was super cool and easy to work with and did a great job! We all collaborated together and the end result was really professional and created the perfect feel for the song. Then shortly after that Scion asked us to do an EP, with a tour and another video. So it was a no brainer! Scion took care of everything, got free music out to the fans, supported our tour and we also got to work with Tommy Jones again to create the video for "Illumination". It so happened that 2011 did mark our 20 year anniversary since we released our first record, "Dawn of Possession". So we thought what a better way to celebrate that than to offer our fans some free music!! It was a great thing and we really think what Scion is doing is remarkable for the scene. These are great people trying to do some good for the music scene, and we hope to work with them again soon! And Nuclear Blast loves it too! They work with along with Scion to spread the word and the music, so it's just a win / win situation for the bands the fans and everyone involved!
Luxi: About "Providence", overall in all those five songs that have been featured for that EP, there are basically three key factors that connect the songs together: Technicality. Complexity. Brutality. And in fact, that has always been the case with Immolation: Immolation's sound has always been very distinctive, unorthodox and challenging in many ways, so would you explain a bit more what kinds of things you try to pay attention to whenever you start composing a new Immolation song; what are those key sectors within Immolation's song structure that should be in there in order to sound like an Immolation song in the first place?
Bob: Well first off, with this EP, we really wanted to make something special. Even though it was an EP, and we could have just done some cover songs etc., we chose to make it more like a short album. To us it was just as important as anything else we have done, so we went into it like we would any other album. We wanted to give the fans some of the best music we could make and nothing less. So that was our aim. We knew Scion and Nuclear Blast were putting a lot of effort into this, so it had to be good. As far as the writing, it is really hard to say what we look for. There really is no formula; it's just all about feeling and what works. I'll come up with something that I like and just build on that idea until it seems to be complete. There is never any pre-determined idea, things just kind of form. One thing I always try to do is just be as creative as possible, and not set any boundaries. We like to try new ideas and keep things as fresh as possible, but also try and keep it true to what we have always been. In the end we want to be happy with the music ourselves and we want every next release to be more crushing than the last. We still have a lot of fire in us and a great passion for the music. We just follow that passion and do the best we can.
Luxi: Do you believe that that there's even a chance that the next Immolation album might even be a concept album? Do you like doing concept albums anyway?
Bob: I think we probably have already created some concept albums, without realizing it. Each album always seems to have its own feel and unique vibe. They all revolve around a certain idea or concept usually. It's never really done on purpose, but the songs on each record usually have a kind of flow that binds them all together.
Luxi: A Swedish artist named Pär Olofsson has done the artwork for your couple of previous releases ("Majesty and Decay" and "Providence"). Do you think that there might be a good chance we'll see his artwork on the next Immolation release as well? How did you find this guy anyway?
Bob: Once again Nuclear Blast! Gerardo at the US office had been instrumental in turning us in many right directions. He told us about Par and once we got past "Majesty & Decay" that was it! As we worked on the EP we knew we had to have him involved with the "Providence" project. And luckily, even with his very busy schedule, he not only was able to do the artwork but he did an absolute amazing job! As long as Par is good with it, he will definitely be working with us on the next one for sure! He really seems to like our ideas and he always nails the concepts down perfectly and creates the perfect visual emotion we are looking for to represent the music. We look forward to working with him again!
Luxi: What kind of things inspire you to grab on your guitar and start churning out riffs for Immolation? Do you have certain periods in a year when you can tell straight away that during this period you feel most inspired for coming up with the best stuff for Immolation?
Bob: You want to know when I'm inspired, I'll tell you... it's when Ross and the band start badgering me that we need to get into the studio and get a new album done, ha-ha!! That's my inspiration! I work a lot of long hours, and it's easy to get sidetracked by your daily everyday world. We all do, working, trying to keep up with our families, etc. - the time just flies! So for instance after we were finished with the October tour, work got real busy, then the holidays, then more busy times at work. The next thing you know it's March and it's time to get some Metal going, ha-ha!! It does take me time to get into that groove though. I usually come back from a tour and don't touch my guitar for a couple of months or more. Then when it's time to start writing I slowly get into that mindset. Once I start though it's just a streamline race to the finish line! I think being away from the music is what keeps things interesting. Then when I get back into it I'm more inspired and excited. That allows me to be more creative.
Luxi: Whenever you guys gather together at your rehearsal place, do you have certain routines (or habits) that you do almost every time when you start putting your riffs, drum parts, vocals, etc. into one mould that eventually results in the birth of new Immolation song?
Bob: Well, being that Steve lives in Ohio and we live in NY (about 8 hours' drive apart from each other) we don't rehearse all that often. I will write everything on the computer, send the songs to Steve. We will go back and forth with ideas until we feel the song is good. Then Steve will get the songs down and add all his own stuff to them. Once we all know the songs we will rehearse a little before we go into the studio. With the "Providence" EP though we didn't even do that! Steve got the songs down in Ohio and we just met him at the studio and started recording. We didn't play the songs as a band together until a month later after the whole EP was already finished. We wrote most of the lyrics while we were recording the music and kind of figured out what parts and how the vocals would be done. We make a couple of changes here and there as we record, and once it sounds right we keep the takes and that's it. Solos and guitar overlay parts too. Some are created prior to the recording, other things come up as we go. And amazingly enough for us it seems to work out pretty well. I think it's because we just have a really good idea of what we want to create, and how we want it to sound. It's just a matter of fine tuning as we go until it's all done.
Luxi: When it comes to the band's songwriting, could you say that Immolation is pretty much a democratic unit, in which each of you have enough power to say whether some certain things fit into an Immolation song or not - and eventually even make each of your fellow band members understand what's best for the band's musical image?
Bob: Yeah it's pretty democratic. Everyone has a say. Ross and I obviously have a really good idea of what works and what doesn't as we have been there from the beginning. So there are times we have to tell the guys -"trust us... this is going to work". But there are also plenty of times that we also have to trust the guys too. Steve has come up with some great ideas along the way that have improved things tremendously. So it's a give and take. As I'm writing everything from scratch and creating most of the basic ideas, etc. It sometimes is tough for me to make changes but that's just because I'm very passionate about what I'm doing, so once you get something you think is really good, you don't want to fuck with it. But that said, once you listen to your band give you honest criticism and take those suggestions and work on them together... that's when you get the best stuff!
Luxi: In all honesty's name it must be confessed what's so great about Immolation, you guys have never made any compromises regarding your stuff. With every release you have put out over the years, one can tell right away this sounds like an Immolation release, so I think you must be feel pretty darn happy about the fact that you have succeeded in maintaining the band's sound very recognizable during the Immolation's whole existence, release after release?
Bob: Yeah it is pretty cool when you put it like that. I mean one thing you always want to strive for is having that identity. That really is one of the hardest things to do, is to be unique, to stand out. And after many years, and a lot of hard work, I think we have at least accomplished that much, ha-ha!! As I mentioned earlier, we know what we are about, and we know what we want to sound like. We also never forget where we came from. Our goal is simple, just to create the best music we can as we know how. And that is the main idea we have been following over the past two decades.
Luxi: Have there been any preliminary talks between the band and your label about getting Immolation on the road right after your upcoming album is out, just to get enough promotion done for it?
Bob: Right now we have some things in the works. We should be out in Europe a little bit in the summer and we may be hitting a couple of other areas we haven't been yet which will be cool if it all comes together. We will definitely be back out in Europe in full force by the fall and I'm sure the U.S. too.
Luxi: Talking about playing live, just for one more question: how has the club scene changed in New York over the years, since those days when Immolation (or Rigor Mortis in the very beginning) started doing their first shows in your own home town of New York? Have many of these clubs closed their doors due to not being profitable enough for their owners - and are there possibly some new clubs near your location that are actually surprisingly active for arranging events with even more extreme sounding Metal bands?
Bob: The one thing about New York is that there is always something going on and there are always places to play; it's just that they tend to change from venue to venue over the years. Like back in the day when we were growing up it was L'Amours in Brooklyn. Every underground show went through there. Up near our area, we had and helped build up the scene at a place called Streets in New Rochelle. In New Jersey it was Studio 1, or The Sundance in Long Island. Other great clubs like Limelight and BB Kings also had their long runs with all the underground music, but over time either the club would be completely changed (as in the case of The Limelight) or just end up not catering to much underground metal anymore (BB Kings). But no matter what, there is always a place to book a show. Now here in the city The Gramercy Theatre has been the main spot for most of the big underground shows. There are still plenty of other smaller venues too that are really cool as well. But yes overall we have been lucky to have some nice places to play and go see shows over the years. Some better than others, but there was never a problem with finding a show in NYC!
Luxi: What about some new, upcoming Metal acts coming from the area where you live; are there some that you'd like to recommend people to keep their sharp eyes out for in the near future?
Bob: It's pretty hard for me to keep up with the local scene, mainly because I'm older and I work so much. I end up missing a lot of shows and tours that come through as I also work on the weekends. So I am not that up on the newest local bands. However, when we are on the road I get to see newer talented acts like Gigan and Lecherous Nocturne for instance. It's great to see the people come into a show not knowing about a certain band on the bill and then leaving with a CD of that band and telling us how impressed they were by them.
Luxi: What's going on with the official Immolation website www.everlastingfire.com anyway? It seems like it hasn't been updated since October 22nd 200, so would you mind shedding some light on this matter why it hasn't been updated for such a long time...
Bob: Some friends of ours put that together, from here in the US and overseas. But they were doing it because they had the time available and just wanted to do something to help the band. We never expected them to keep up with everything for us. It was cool enough that they put the whole thing together in the first place, so we were really happy about that. So with Myspace and Facebook getting so popular we just never got around to getting the site updated. We do plan on moving on that soon though and also getting some of our merch out there in the near future. So that is entirely our fault, and we look forward to getting some good info and merch up there soon.
Luxi: I know my next question is a bit tougher one but let's try it anyway: What are your 'top 3' Immolation songs of all times - and why?
Bob: Top 3 songs? That is a tough one for sure. Just remembering them all to figure out and answer is even tougher, ha-ha!! I always tend to like our latest material honestly. But, that being said I would say the first ones that come to mind as some of my favorites are "Close to a World Below", "Challenge the Storm" and "Illumination".
Luxi: How much do you miss that unexplained, nostalgic feeling when you guys signed to Roadrunner Records back in 1989, and your first experience to get a chance to record your first ever studio album at Musiclab Studios in Berlin, Germany, which was your classic "Dawn of Possession" as everyone of us surely remember? I guess that's one of those mind-sticking experiences in your whole life that you'll probably never forget, right?
Bob: Yes, it was a great experience and pretty cool to be doing something like that for the first time. We were there in Berlin recording at the same place that so many bands we grew up on recorded at. So it was pretty awesome. Harris Johns was so great to us, taking us out to shows and different clubs and really making us feel welcome. Even seeing The Wall right after it had recently just come down... it was definitely a unique time. But to be honest with you, as great as that was, I really don't miss it at all, ha-ha!! I can honestly say that the times we have now are far more enjoyable overall, because where we are as a band and as people in general is just so much better than it was back then. And as far as that unexplained feeling, I think we still get that feeling today even more so. We go into every project and tour with a kind of excitement. And now that we have so much more confidence in the studio and on stage these days, we tend to enjoy everything a lot more. So yes, of course the early days and first time recording an album was certainly a great experience and something we will never forget... absolutely! But miss it? Not so much, ha-ha!!
Luxi: Okay, understood. Well, do you have any goals with Immolation then that you'd like see happening for this band before all of you guys eventually decide to retire from this band?
Bob: For us mainly it's about writing new music, and seeing where we can take it. There is always room for something new or different and a new approach. So we love to keep working at it, and I think we do accomplish some great things with each release. Always striving to be more creative and make an even better record. We also would like to play and see some places we haven't been to yet. Like Brazil for instance. There is a good chance we may go there this year, so that will be awesome! Always having something to look forward to, that's the goal that keeps us going.
Luxi: I think that's all I had in my mind for this interview, so thanks so much Bob for your time and last but not least I wanna wish you all the best with Immolation and hopefully I will have a chance to see you guys at least once live in 2012. Any closing comments perhaps?
Bob: Thanks Luxi for the cool interview! We always appreciate your great support and we definitely look forward to seeing you and all the fans out there this year!!! All the best!
|Other information about Immolation on this site|
|Review: Close To A World Below|
|Review: Failures For Gods|
|Review: Bringing Down The World|
|Review: Shadows In The Light|
|Review: Majesty and Decay|
|Review: Dawn of Possession|
|Review: Here In After|
|Interview with guitarist Robert "Bob" Vigna on December 13, 2015 (Interviewed by Luxi Lahtinen)|
|Interview with guitarist Robert Vigna and vocalist and bassist Ross Dolan on June 11, 2017 (Interviewed by Luxi Lahtinen)|
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