Interview with drummer and vocalist Mike Browning
Interview conducted by Luxi Lahtinen
Date online: December 7, 2013
Nocturnus is no more but Nocturnus AD is doing well and breathing new fire in the world of Death Metal. Many of us remember when Nocturnus' debut album, The Key, came out in 1990 and how it changed our ideas of how good Death Metal can sound, with keyboards, no less.
Nocturnus AD is the reincarnation of the disbanded Nocturnus, featuring exactly the same lineup that drummer/vocalist Mike Browning put together for his other band, After Death. Nocturnus AD is currently writing new songs and preparing to play a number of shows in 2014.
Mike wanted to shed some light on a few things regarding Nocturnus AD, including the band's short and long-term plans, and the possibility of a Nocturnus AD album. The Metal Crypt is privileged to be the first to reveal Nocturnus AD's strategies for 2014 to the world via the following interview with Mike Browning himself...
Luxi: What's new in Tampa, Florida Mike?
Mike: We are taking a break from playing shows around here so we can concentrate on writing some new material and finishing up on some After Death songs that we need to record for a project that will be a custom deck of the 22 Major Arcana Tarot cards. It will have2 CDs and a bunch of bands doing either one or two songs that will coincide with a particular Tarot card. We will be doing The Death and Devil cards. So that is pretty much what we have planned for the rest of 2013.
Luxi: When we last chatted via email, we were talking about Nocturnus AD's short European tour in October, 2008. It's been 5 years since that tour, did you ever think you'd be doing shows with Nocturnus AD again? You have A Day In The Valley Of Death III festival in Texas (on February 23rd 2014) and Maryland Deathfest (on May 22nd 2014) already booked for next year. Seems like the Nocturnus name still has an enormous amount of power behind it...
Mike: Yes ever since I made the announcement that we would be doing Nocturnus AD as a full time band we have had several offers for shows and tours! In April of this year we went to Mexico and played a couple of shows as Nocturnus and in 2012 we went to Chile and played a couple shows there, as well. We are starting to get asked to do a bunch of festivals, which is really what I want to focus on as far as playing live.
Luxi: What will the set list be like at these festivals? Will the emphasis be on The Key without diminishing Nocturnus' follow-up album, Thresholds?
Mike: Well, it all depends on the amount of playing time we have. At Maryland Death Fest, we may only have enough time to play The Key in its entirety, exactly as it is on the album. At the Texas Fest the set will hopefully be a bit longer, so we will probably pull out a few old Morbid Angel songs that we do. We haven't really worked on any Thresholds songs, but it's not out of the question. Back in 1990, when Nocturnus toured Europe, we played "Grid Zone" as an encore, so we were playing a couple of the Thresholds songs when I was still singing and playing drums.
Luxi: Do you feel comfortable playing live with Nocturnus AD, trusting that your band mates have properly rehearsed the songs and will do them justice?
Mike: Yes. The cool thing is that our guitar player, Demian, was a friend of Mike Davis and Davis showed Demian how to play all of the songs on The Key several years ago, so we do play everything pretty much exactly like the album. The only difference is that all the Nocturnus songs are in E flat and we play them with a D tuning, so they are a little heavier sounding.
Luxi: How important is it to stay loyal to the original song structures when preparing Nocturnus songs to be played live?
Mike: I think, since I wrote most of the lyrics for The Key and sang all the songs, I know how each song should feel and if it's being played the right way. I have to say, of all the lineups I have had, that this is the strongest and when we play a set, it really has the same feel that it did back in the 90's.
Luxi: I assume you guys have been discussing Nocturnus AD playing other Heavy Metal festivals in 2014 and other gigs/tours around the globe. Is there anything exciting you can reveal about where people might have a chance to catch Nocturnus AD live in 2014?
Mike: We are talking with several promoters and we are in negotiations with a couple of them for some festivals in Europe in addition to the two in the US that we are already doing. We are just working out some details, but it looks like we may be able to play in Europe a couple of times in 2014 and I am really looking forward to doing that again!
Luxi: Due to unresolved conflicts with some ex-members of the original Nocturnus lineup, you decided to add "AD" to the name to avoid any further headaches. That was a pretty smart move by you because now you are free to make new music under the Nocturnus AD moniker, right?
Mike: Yes, I needed to make a decision and try this. I found out that Louis Panzer has been watching what I have been doing and he posted something, about a month ago, on our guitar player's page saying we were a bunch of old men playing cover tunes. So he is still around trying to make trouble about the name. It's funny he would say that I was playing cover tunes when I was the one who wrote and came up with most of the ideas on The Key. How can that be a cover tune? But it just goes to show that there are problems that could arise if I was just using the Nocturnus name without adding the AD. If that is what I have to do to be able to play my own songs, then so be it. But yes, this does make it possible for us to write new music and get signed to a label as Nocturnus AD.
Luxi: Talking about new stuff, you already mentioned that you have two new songs that are intended for Nocturnus AD. Can you tell the readers of The Metal Crypt a little bit more about them?
Mike: They are still in the writing stages, as I mentioned earlier. We still have a few After Death songs that we need to record and finish and then we can concentrate on writing some new songs that will be for Nocturnus AD. I don't want any more confusion for people than there already is.
Luxi: How do you determine which songs are for Nocturnus AD and which ones are meant for After Death? When a song starts to sound more technical and complex, is that the signal that it should be used for Nocturnus AD? Is it that simple?
Mike: As far as the music, actually yes; we are trying to get in a different mindset and since we already play all of the Nocturnus songs, we know there needs to be a noticeable difference between the two bands. We will write music that is more technical and with strange timings and things like that. The biggest difference will be in the lyrics. I haven't started on new lyrics yet, but I have several ideas and the biggest thing I will do is continue the story from The Key where "Empire of the Sands" left off. It's going to be kind of like how King Diamond has King Diamond and Merciful Fate.
Luxi: Do you work with your songs the old school way, i.e. gathering together for a band practice, or do you use modern technology that allows you to build up a song, piece by piece, and then send the rough demos to each other so everyone can add their ideas?
Mike: Mostly, we just get together as a band, or maybe just me and one or both of the guitar players, and they bring riffs and we just start working on them that way. A lot of spontaneous stuff comes out that way. Sometimes, one of the guys will bring in a song with all the riffs put together, but it will just be guitar or maybe keyboards, so we all end up adding our parts to it and sometimes we change the arrangements as well. But yeah, usually we just build the songs at practices and then we do a rehearsal recording once we have it down and I write the lyrics last.
Luxi: So that people wouldn't be too confused, both of your bands, After Death and Nocturnus AD, have the same musicians. How does the songwriting processes differ between After Death and Nocturnus AD? Do some of you concentrate on writing more stuff for Nocturnus AD while others keep the main focus on After Death?
Mike: Well, I really just came up with this idea of doing Nocturnus AD a little over a month ago as far as being a band that doesn't just play live but will write new music as Nocturnus AD. The majority of the After Death songs were written by Demian and myself, but everybody is starting to write more for both bands lately, so we are shifting what we normally do, which is rehearse for live shows. We all have different stuff going on in our lives so we only get to rehearse as a full band once a week or so. We usually have some show coming up that we are rehearsing for and we have neglected writing new material because of that. We have purposely stopped playing live for the next couple months so that we can focus on writing.
Luxi: The Key was a groundbreaking, landmark release from Nocturnus. Are you hoping to achieve something similar with these new Nocturnus AD songs, i.e. the same kind of evil atmosphere and stuff that made The Key such a great album?
Mike: Well, I don't think The Key 2 could ever be created and we didn't do it with Thresholds in 1992, so I think that album was a product of the times. Many new things are being done with Metal and keyboards and technical music these days so the timing of The Key was just perfect. People were open to hearing everything that was called "Metal" back then. Today you have Metal separated into genres, so every band is now put into some kind of category first and then judged from that angle. I think we are going to really try and get that same feel that Nocturnus had before Thresholds and pick up from there because that was my intention back in 1990. When we got a singer in 1992, the whole band sort of changed and the other guys didn't want to focus on what we did on The Key, they wanted an almost all sci-fi record and I never got to continue with the story from The Key like I had originally planned to do.
Luxi: Do you believe your band mates understand how you would like these new Nocturnus AD songs to sound so there won't have to be any compromises?
Mike: Yes. We have been playing Nocturnus songs live for several years now, so we pretty much know what we need to do. It will be a totally different mindset from how we write for After Death because with After Death we had no limits or style that we had to stick with, so we could use almost anything that we wrote or came up with and fit it in a song somewhere. With Nocturnus AD it will be more of a building style of writing, where the songs change a lot and won't repeat parts or riffs as many times.
Luxi: Have you faced any problems splitting time between After Death and Nocturnus AD? Running two bands isn't easy especially if you also have a family, a regular day-job and other things to be taken care of.
Mike: Things have gotten a lot busier for me, that's for sure, but it's a good busy. I have been doing After Death for 13 years, so this will be a good chance to get into a different style of writing and, luckily, we have a lot of After Death material and some things that will be coming out under the After Death name in the near future. Nocturnus AD will be the priority for 2014. The good thing is that people are being really supportive and we have received a lot of offers, so now we can pick the shows that will give us the most exposure won't have to sacrifice our personal lives to do it. I think some bands play way too much and their shows aren't special events anymore. I don't want that to happen to anything that I do and now, with two different bands with two different themes, that makes it even better.
Luxi: To me, it looks like there's a resurgence of the Nocturnus name these days. Earache Records, for example, just re-released the Thresholds album on vinyl with four limited edition color versions. Is this something that the label asked permission for and did any of the other ex-Nocturnus members participate the negotiations?
Mike: Actually, the whole thing is a really big coincidence. It's great timing for us, but it definitely wasn't planned. Earache owns the rights to all the Nocturnus songs and artwork, so they didn't need to ask us about doing this reissue. I was surprised when they asked me if I would like to help promote it, but the whole idea of the different vinyl versions, the re-master and all that was already in motion before I even knew about it. They have done a few other bands now, but they didn't use Kickstarter. I think they only did it with Thresholds because they weren't sure if it would have been worth the investment only to have them sit on the shelves in their warehouse, so they asked if I would help promote it and, of course, I agreed because I really liked the idea of seeing it re-mastered and re-released on vinyl.
Luxi: What about Nocturnus' most well-known and highly praised release to date, The Key? Will it get the same type of treatment as Thresholds did or is it a more complicated issue, requiring agreements from the original Nocturnus members?
Mike: Like I mentioned in the last question, Earache owns all the rights to the songs and artwork, so they can do the same re-release with The Key whenever they want to. They have done it with Carcass and Morbid Angel and I think a few others, so I am pretty sure The Key will get its turn. I really would like to do a whole remix and remaster on The Key, but a remaster would be cool too. I don't think there will be a Kickstarter campaign because they won't need it for The Key. I just hope they decide to do it, because it would be great to see that album come out again.
Luxi: If Nocturnus AD ever gets in to a studio environment to record a new album, is there any chance that you might use Morrisound Studio and Tom Morris since they were behind the recording of The Key?
Mike: You know, I already discussed that with everyone in the band and that is exactly what I was thinking. I would like to go back into Morrisound, but I would like to use Jim Morris. Earache wanted us to use Tom because he did the Morbid Angel Altars of Madness and Dig wanted us to use him, but I always liked the stuff Jim did and I wanted to use him for Nocturnus. Maybe with Nocturnus AD I will get the chance to try my idea of what will work best.
Luxi: There are a lot of bands that made great albums during the heyday of Death Metal (that's the 90's, of course) then split up before getting back together again. Pestilence, Grave, Asphyx, Autopsy, Broken Hope and Gorguts are just a few that reformed and put out new albums. In your opinion, which band had made the best of their reunion?
Mike: I don't know, maybe Carcass or Autopsy. I really like their new albums and I have heard that Coroner is back together, so a new album from them would be awesome!
Luxi: Have you been able to follow what's been happening in the current Metal scene, and Death Metal scene, in particular? Do you still find it interesting or much less now because there are thousands of bands out there nowadays doing similar sounding stuff, making it harder to separate the "pearls" from the big pile (of shit)?
Mike: As much as I like Facebook, because of its marketing capability, it has over run the scene with bands. I see probably 10-15 new bands a day now on my Facebook news feed and obviously you can't take it in and listen to all of them. Most new bands want to sound like another band, so there is just not much originality out there anymore.
Luxi: What's your point of view about with regards to Pro Tools in the recording process? What kind of advantages and/or disadvantages does it have? Are you completely against it or do you let the producers and engineers worry about it?
Mike: We have recorded almost all of our own songs in After Death for the past several releases and we didn't use Pro Tools. We use a combination new and old recording techniques. These days there is no getting around it unless you have a huge recording budget and can find a studio that still uses reel to reel analog recording. It really doesn't matter whether you use Pro Tools, Cubase, Logic or whatever, once you use digital instead of analog, you are in the same situation. Even if bands record in analog, they end up mixing and mastering in digital, so it defeats the purpose of recording it in analog in the first place! I will always be there for the mixing and, as far as production, I really know what I want things to sound like and what effects I want to use, so I don't know that I would prefer to have a producer over a really good engineer.
Luxi: Dan Seagrave did the cover artwork for The Key. Wouldn't it be cool idea if he re-visited Nocturnus (AD) again, and did something for your next album?
Mike: That would be really cool and I think I want to continue with the same concept for the cover of the first Nocturnus AD album that was on The Key, so it would have the Nocturnus character in a new situation. There was an artist before Dan Seagrave that did a cover for The Key that we didn't use because it looked too cartoonish. The whole idea for the cover of The Key was mine and the original cover has the same things in it and it is what Dan Seagrave used as a basis for his version. Seagrave's is much more Geiger-ish looking than the original, which looked like a 1970's comic book cover. Having Dan Seagrave do the cover, if we ever do put out a Nocturnus AD album, would just connect it even more with how I wanted the band to continue back in 1991.
Luxi: This is it, the very last question of this "chat," so congratz Mike for making it this far! What would you like to say to all the Nocturnus fans, or should I say, Nocturnus AD fans, around the world that hope to see you guys in their home towns and hear some new stuff in the future?
Mike: Yeah man it's been a great interview that I think will answer a lot of people's questions! Mainly, I want to say THANKS to everyone who is supporting the idea of bringing "The Lost Key" back to life with Nocturnus AD!
Luxi: Thank you, Mike, for your time and patience with this interview and last, but not least, I want to wish you all the best with your future endeavors. You can have the last word...
Mike: As always, I want to THANK you, Luxi, for the support that you have personally given me over all these years and I look forward to seeing and meeting many of my friends that I talk to on a regular basis soon! Also, check out the new website for After Death/Nocturnus A.D; www.afterdeath666.com and, of course, all of my Facebook pages.
|Other information about Nocturnus AD on this site|
|Interview with vocalist and drummer Mike Browning on February 7, 2015 (Interviewed by Luxi Lahtinen)|
|Interview with drummer and vocalist Mike Browning on August 21, 2016 (Interviewed by Luxi Lahtinen)|
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