Interview with drummer and vocalist Mike Browning
Interview conducted by Luxi Lahtinen
Date online: August 21, 2016
Floridian sci-fi Death Metal band Nocturnus' debut album The Key was released on Earache Records back in 1990. This album made the band famous for the keyboards that they incorporated into the songs which provided an extra dose of universe-opening atmosphere. Nocturnus' next two albums, Thresholds (1992) and Ethereal Tomb (1997) couldn't match the quality of The Key and were also missing Mike Browning's genuinely evil, signature vocal style (he was relegated to drums only after The Key and was out of the band after Thresholds).
Nocturnus is no more but now we have Nocturnus AD to continue the musical legacy of The Key. Mike Browning is the only guy from The Key with the rest of the lineup comprised of musicians from Mike's other band, After Death. The band have been working on their debut album for quite some time, good news for fans of this highly appreciated Florida sci-fi Death Metal act.
Nocturnus AD were invited to play at Tampere Metal Meeting festival in Finland on the second day of the festival (June 18, 2016) and they were a huge success. The following interview with Mike was done right after the festival and Mike talks about his first ever experience being in Finland, about plans regarding new Nocturnus AD songs and the decline of the Florida Death Metal scene and much more... Read on!
Luxi: So Mike, this is your first time visiting Finland. How do you feel about your trip with Nocturnus AD, thinking back on it?
Mike: The only bad thing about it was the weather, everything else was awesome! Everyone I met was really cool and the Finnish women are all beautiful and the reindeer was really good, lol! I have to say Finnish people really know how to party! It would take me a while to get used to those really long days in the summer and nights in the winter I think!
Luxi: You introduced a new song titled "Antechamber" to the audience here in Tampere and it sounded great IMHO. Were you able to see people's reactions to this new song? To me it sounded like a perfect continuation from where you left off from The Key, which I think is a very good sign...
Mike: Yes, we announced that it was a new song before we played it so that people would pay more attention and from what I saw, it went over really well. Everyone so far has said that it really fits in with The Key-style songs and that is what we were going for.
Luxi: In your own words, what is the story behind the song "Antechamber"?
Mike: It is a continuation from where "Empire of the Sands" left off and the main character finds an old Antechamber under the left paw of The Sphinx and in there he finds a bunch of ancient alien machinery and he figures out how to activate the machine which wakes up all these sleeping monster type entities from an alien race.
Luxi: I also remember you mentioned that one of your other new songs is called "The Return of the Lost Key", as your new T-shirt design says. Do I remember correctly?
Mike: Yes, that is the second song that we wrote and it is the next part of the story after "Antechamber" so when these entities appear he tries to control them with The Key. I don't want to give too much away but it will probably be four songs that continue with The Key story and we will do that on every album and then the rest of the songs will be about various other stuff and continuations of other songs from The Key.
Luxi: Do you have working titles for some of the other songs that you may use for this forthcoming album and can you reveal any for the fans of Nocturnus AD?
Mike: We have one other completed song that is a continuation of the "Neolithic" story and is about the next era in history. Like I said I don't want to give too much away yet! We have the music for a fourth song finished but I haven't decided yet what it will be about or what it will be called. I have about 15 song titles and the idea of what the lyrics will be about so it's just a matter of when the music is finished and how it sounds which gives me the idea of what title and words will be to use along with it.
Luxi: By the way, do you have the album title ready for this Nocturnus AD album? Wouldn't The Return of the Lost Key work out, for example?
Mike: That is definitely one good possibility but it is still too early for me to say anything concrete because I have so many ideas for lyrics and song titles. A bunch of people like that as a possible title!
Luxi: How familiar were you with the rest of the bands at Tampere Metal Meeting festival? I mean bands like Tiamat, Deströyer 666, Finntroll, Kalmah and so on. Were they any that you wanted to see in particular, besides Demilich of course? ;o)
Mike: I was actually familiar with most of the bands already and yes especially Demilich. I love old Tiamat and Deströyer 666 is awesome and a few weeks before the fest I was checking out Jess and the Ancient Ones and others as well, trying to get more familiar with most of them.
Luxi: How much have you revisited The Key as you have been composing new material for Nocturnus AD's upcoming record, to get inspired and remember what you did on that classic album?
Mike: We play those songs all the time so I hardly ever just listen to them anymore. As far as the new songs, most of them will connect with other songs from The Key so there will be a lot of connections between the old and new stuff.
Luxi: Are you planning to incorporate more unusual elements into the songs for this forthcoming Nocturnus AD record which may surprise some of the fans or do you want to stay loyal to the keyboard-driven sound that you basically invented on The Key?
Mike: The more unusual type stuff is why I still want to keep After Death around and since it is all the same people, it gives us a lot of room to write different type stuff, so something like that would be great for the other band.
Luxi: As it may take some time before this album hits the stores, are you planning to record a demo first so that the fans of the band can get an idea of the style of your new songs and what they can expect from the record itself?
Mike: My plan is to get 8 or 9 songs fully written and then we will record all or most of them in demo form where we rehearse with a 16-track digital recorder that I have. Then we will take those songs and create a 3 or 4-minute teaser track with a bunch of parts from those songs edited together and we will release that to the public and labels. If a label is interested, then we will have the songs recorded so the label can hear what they actually sound like. As far as the record, I definitely want a good production and a very cohesive album so the songs will flow in and out of each other. I also want to have a really good one-song CGI-type video for the album.
Luxi: Do you believe some mid-sized label (i.e. Massacre Records, Listenable Records, Napalm Records, etc.) might actually be a better choice for Nocturnus AD than some major label (Nuclear Blast, Century Media or Metal Blade)? Supposedly these smaller labels take better care of their bands than the major ones, you know?
Mike: Well there are certain things I really would like to do with this album, like the video I mentioned and some cool packaging that will make people want it just for the packaging alone. I want to make sure that the label can do some advertising in the bigger color magazines but I also don't want to get lost on a big label and be signed to a 100-page contract, either! The mid-size labels are able to do quite a bit nowadays and they actually know and care about the bands, so they are probably the best choice for us.
Luxi: The Key was recorded at Morrisound Studio in Tampa, Florida, and it was produced by Tom Morris. This is perhaps too early to ask but have you planned to try and capture the same magic again, recording the Nocturnus AD album there and even using Tom to produce it perhaps?
Mike: One of the things I really wanted to do was go back to Morrisound but maybe try Jim Morris this time instead. However, as most people know, Morrisound was sold to the Trans-Siberian Orchestra people, building and equipment so that is not going to happen for sure. I have some other ideas but I don't want to say what they are unless it actually is going to work out. That is still a ways down the road for us right now.
Luxi: What's the real story behind the bass tracks on The Key? It's been rumored Jeff Estes couldn't play them himself as he was kind of wasted when the time came to do his job. Here's your chance to spill the whole truth and only the truth about this matter...
Mike: Jeff was drinking a lot and when Tom Morris came to our warehouse about two weeks before we were going to record the album to see what we were doing and do a little pre-production, he asked us to play a couple of songs. We did and after we played he asked Jeff to play a certain part again to hear what he was doing and Jeff tried to play the part and was really drunk and couldn't do it. He put his bass down and just walked out and we didn't see him again until the morning we were supposed to record. I remember pulling into Morrisound and seeing Jeff there arguing with his girlfriend and holding half of a six pack of beer in the middle of the Morrisound parking lot. His girlfriend stormed out of there and it was clear that he was really drunk already and it was like 10 in the morning. Well, again he couldn't play the songs so Mike Davis ended up learning all the bass parts and recording them during the week we were there so that is why the bass is turned down really low in the mix. I imagine if we had had stronger bass playing on the album that I could have locked onto with the drums and that it would have made the album much better. I ended up recording all the drums with just one scratch guitar track and back then there was no drum editing programs like people use these days. The album was done on reel to reel, not digital.
Luxi: How important do you feel The Key is among the other Death Metal albums that were released back in the day? No one can deny it that it was very unusual to hear keyboards on a Death Metal album back then, certainly not as heavily as you did on that record.
Mike: Well growing up in the 1970s I listened to the heavier rock bands and most of them had keyboard players or at least used a lot of keyboards and I always liked the atmosphere that keyboards could give a band versus just guitar, bass and drums, so I really wanted to have some form of keyboards in the music, whether it was just for intros or more. At that time the challenge was more finding someone that could play keyboards at all! When Lou started playing along with the songs we already had it just gave the whole band a completely different sound and that made me think this is exactly what I always wanted!
Luxi: When talking about Tampa, I cannot help asking about the current Death Metal scene compared to the scene you had 30 years ago. Is it still as alive and vivid as during the heyday or worse?
Mike: Actually, it is much worse. I mean there are certain local bands like Obituary, Cannibal and Deicide that when they play a good-sized crowd does come out, but for most other local bands it's hard to get over 100 people at your shows. Then these Nu-Metal type bands come through on tour and their shows are packed with these younger bearded guys that you never see out supporting the bands that started it all. I guess times and crowds change. There is still a Metal scene, but it is kind of a commercialized type crowd that comes out to the shows.
Luxi: One last question and then I will let you go; how much thought have you given to next year and where you will be with Nocturnus AD as far as plans for 2017? I assume the main priority will be to get your album recorded, right?
Mike: Yes definitely! I really want to have the songs written and a teaser recorded as I had mentioned earlier before the end of the year so that next year we can record and hopefully release the actual album by spring time. That would be a very attainable goal for me.
Luxi: Thank you Mike for your time. It was pleasure talking with you and, of course, meeting you once again in person here in Tampere, Finland. It was great witnessing Nocturnus AD doing its magic at the festival as well. As for the last words, you should already know that they belong rightfully to you...
Mike: Thanks Luxi, it's people like you that keep people like me going and it is awesome because there aren't a lot of us old dinosaur Metal heads left around anyway, so I want to thank you for the support you have always given me!
I also want Nocturnus AD to be a special band that doesn't tour 200 shows a year. I really like doing special shows and festivals and I think it makes it that much better when people don't get to see you all the time and they look forward to it more! And, of course, getting to play Finland for the first time was amazing! I really liked it there and hope to return again!!! So just keep checking our Facebook page and my Facebook page because I always try to keep that the most up to date with what is going on with us!
|Other information about Nocturnus AD on this site|
|Interview with drummer and vocalist Mike Browning on December 7, 2013 (Interviewed by Luxi Lahtinen)|
|Interview with vocalist and drummer Mike Browning on February 7, 2015 (Interviewed by Luxi Lahtinen)|
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