Interview with vocalist Don of the Dead
Interview conducted by Luxi Lahtinen
Date online: June 8, 2023
Live pictures by Luxi Lahtinen
Thanks to Martin Schulman from Dreamtide Music Management & Agency for setting up the interview
Originally from Pittsburg, Pennsylvania, Nunslaughter is a crazy band. Just take a quick look at their discography which makes it feel like it would be easier to read The Holy Bible all the way through than collect the countless releases they've put out since their inception in 1987.
What's also so cool about them is that they have stayed true to their straightforward and raw death/thrash metal sound over the decades, never compromising or changing it to something else in an effort to chase "a more accessible" sound. Fortunately, they've followed their own path and not given a flying fuck about what's popular.
The Metal Crypt sat down with the always humorous and talkative Don of the Dead (the only original member left in the Nunslaughter lineup) at Steelfest in Hyvinkää, Finland and we discussed quite a few topics from the band's previous visit in Finland in 2007 to the lineup changes to playing shows and so on.
It's time for an education about this infamous Christ-slandering band named Nunslaughter...
First off, welcome to Steelfest, Don.
Don: Thank you, I appreciate it coming here.
It's been a while since Nunslaughter played in Finland, actually 16 years ago when you did the Nordic Nightmare tour in 2007 with Swedish death metal bands Nominon and Demonical. What do you remember from that tour?
Don: Yes. Well, I remember touring in Finland, and we did four shows. Being so far north, at the time we were here, the sun never really set. It was always kind of light out. Got to be 4:00 am in the morning, and I'm like, "Man, I'm really tired." [*laughs*] They're like, "Yes, it's 4:00 am in the morning. Holy shit, I got to get to bed." My body was all messed up. It was fantastic and I was so appreciative to be here in Finland and now 15, 16 years later finally we're back. I mean, I would've loved to have come back earlier, but we weren't invited. [*laughs*]
Now you are here at Steelfest in Hyvinkää, Finland and the lineup is roughly 85%-90% black metal. How does it feel to play at a festival like this when you are surrounded by mostly black metal fans, or does it really matter for you as long as you have fun onstage and get at least some support from the crowd?
Don: Right, we talked about that in the band, how it's more of a black metal fest, but realistically, for us, we'll play with any band, anywhere pretty much anytime. We play with grind bands, we play with punk bands, we play with noise bands. To us, it doesn't matter because again, there's a lot of cross-over, especially here in Europe with people liking multiple genres of music. For me, I was excited because Witchtrap was playing. We had played with Witchtrap in Colombia many years ago, and we did a split with them. To hear them last night was fantastic. What's also nice is, back to what you were saying with so many black metal bands, I think the death metal bands stand out a little bit more because they're playing a different style of music.
Do you prefer mixed crowds, like getting heavy metal fans, death metal fans, thrash metal fans and so on, all together for a Nunslaughter show?
Don: For me, it doesn't matter. I think it's good to mix it up because there are people that might never listen to Nunslaughter because they think, "It's a death metal band" or they think they know what the band sounds like from either the name or just something somebody told them. Then when we start playing and they can hear us and see us and think like, "Well, I'm kind of into this shit." [*laughs*] It could win over people.
Are there any bands on Steelfest's bill this year that you are looking forward to seeing live?
Don: I was looking forward to seeing Nokturnal Mortum, but they didn't make it. I completely understand, but it's just ironic because when I looked at the flyer, that was the band that stood out for me. I was like, "Oh, I'm going to get to see Nokturnal," and then they canceled. I was like, "That figures, that's my luck." [*laughter*]
Yesterday, I didn't watch anyone other than Witchtrap. I was really fucking tired and I sat in the beer garden and I had some friends here from Europe that I hadn't seen in a while. We ended up just talking outside pretty much the whole time except for Witchtrap. Then it was 1:30 am and time to get on the bus. I was very tired yesterday.
I noticed the other day that your 5-track demo, The Guts of Christ, celebrated its 30th anniversary this April. My sincere congrats for that by the way. Do you have any plans to play a song or two off that demo at Steelfest tonight, just to celebrate this milestone?
Don: Oh, shit. Wow...! Time flies. I'll mention it to the guys. I'll take a look at our setlist. I'll mention it to the guys and maybe we'll squeeze one on because we only get, I think it's 40 or 45 minutes. I think it's 45 minutes, no, maybe it's 50. I can't remember what our set time is. We have to fit everything in. This lineup is pretty good. We know about 55-60 songs, so we usually switch it up all the time.
NEW NUNSLAUGHTER STUFF UNDERWAY
It's been roughly two years since your fifth studio album, Red Is the Color of Ripping Death, came out. What's your current situation with new material? Are you planning to enter the studio any time soon to record your next album?
Don: We have probably, I'd say 10 or 12 songs already. The music's pretty much written, but no lyrics or titles yet. Once we get back from this show, the idea is this summer we'll finish recording an album and hopefully put it out at the end of the year or the beginning of next year. I don't want people to say, "You said there was a new album coming out." That's the idea, that way we can put something out in the beginning of the year and then tour next summer, hopefully in Europe.
Does each member of the band contribute equally to the songwriting or are some of you more responsible for it than others?
Don: Yes, so in the early days, it was anybody who had any idea just gave it a shot. Then for probably eight to ten years, it was mainly me writing most of the music and all the lyrics. Then I met our drummer Jim, who unfortunately died. After I met Jim, he took over the songwriting process. He would write most of the music and then I would write most of the lyrics and he would also help out with them. He was a big help.
After he died our current guitar player, who was on tour with us when Jim was in the band, has stepped up. He understood our songwriting, how we wrote songs and the style that they were written in. He's taken over writing most of the music, but we definitely all contribute. I'd say the musicians in the band contribute to writing the music. Then hopefully I can come up with some lyrics... [*laughs*]
Red is the Color Ripping Death, the last album, some of the songs were taken from very obscure releases that never really got their justice because it wasn't recorded well. We took some of that. I had tapes of riffs that Jim had come up with, just him humming, and I played them for Noah (Buchanan), the guitar player who is known as Tormentor now. He put his own spin on it and Red is the Color Ripping Death is actually a perfect example of three different people contributing to one song and I think came out as one of the strongest songs on the whole album.
Jim (as Jim Sadist in Nunslaughter) was a very important part of the band for 20 years but passed away in 2015. How hard was it to continue the band after his untimely death, knowing how much he meant to everyone in the band when he was beating the skins?
Don: Jim and I had conversations about me dying and how he wanted to keep the band going. I was like, "please don't." [*laughs*] He wasn't an original member. Not saying anything negative about it, but I was like, it's done. Jim liked to keep bands going for many years. We never had a conversation about him dying because it was very sudden. Anybody that knew Jim would know that he would've wanted the band to continue.
I definitely went through a grieving process. Actually, I sold just about everything I had and moved halfway across the country and started a different career, living in a different city and everything, but I always knew that I was going to continue the band. It just took some time. Which, when I say time, it's not like we're fucking Def Leppard where they waited for a guy that lost his fucking arm. It took us about six, eight months before we really, Noah and I, started talking about it. It only took us about a year to gather our senses and start saying, "Okay, we're going to do something after Jim's passing."
STAYING TRUE TO YOUR ROOTS
What's always been a great thing about Nunslaughter is how you have stayed true and loyal to your sound since the day you started this band in 1985 as Death Sentence. Many bands who started out about the same time have either changed their sound from one release to another over the years or completely disbanded. Do you believe that if you can stay loyal for your sound for as long as you have, it actually helps you to keep your loyal fans because of one simple reason; You have not let your fans down by changing the band's sound...
Don: I don't know if it's been a detriment or a benefit to Nunslaughter and that is because a lot of bands and musicians want to grow, and their sound changes with their abilities to play their instruments. I completely understand that. I was always disappointed when a band changed their sound. It didn't even matter if maybe they were writing better music, when it sounded better, they were better players, and everything was better, better, better. To me, I was disappointed. Very early on, we talked, and this is with the original members of the band. We were like, "We don't want to change the sound, or at least, the style, the music was being played."
After 36 years and probably a dozen or more guitar players, things have changed a little bit, but Jim and I would always try to keep the train on the same rails. We'd hear a song and we're like, "Yes, it's a little different. Let's pull it back." We want it to sound more like this. Sometimes it handicapped or handcuffed the guitar player, or bass player because they wanted to do different stuff, or they wanted their own influence in it. Jim and I were like, "No, we're going to do this" and that's why we had so many different member changes.
Playing live is fun for many bands, especially if you have some other good bands to play with. Are you more into playing at small and intimate clubs with some true and obscure underground metal bands or do you like to do bigger festival shows because you can reach big crowds and even make new fans that way?
Don: There are benefits to playing both. I enjoy whatever size stage, wherever we're at, in a basement, outside, a basketball court, wherever, that doesn't matter to me as much. There is, however, something to be said for being able to play in front of 5,000 or 10,000 people at one time because there's probably quite a few thousand people in there that have never heard your band. They think they know what you sound like and then they're like, "Huh, that doesn't sound like anything like I thought it was going to sound like--" so you win them over. Then again, smaller, intimate shows are great because people are right in your face. You're sweating.
You feel the energy that comes from your crowd better when you are closer to them, especially playing at smaller places...
Don: Yes, absolutely.
At best, the audience can actually give you that extra boost to make a proper show, right?
Don: Yes, a little more. It's like drinking 10 of these. [*shows an energy drink as example*]
And speaking of playing live, what kinds of plans does Nunslaughter have for this summer and the later half of the year?
Don: We have a few one-off shows, and we actually had a tour planned with our friends Midnight, but it turns out they can't do it. They had, let's just say, a better offer for a bigger tour. That's all changed. I'm possibly working on something towards the end of the year in the United States, but it all boils down to the availability of the rest of the guys in the band, and myself as well. You have to coordinate everybody's lives around doing a tour. Just a bunch of one-off shows but no tours. I don't think we have any other fests this year, not even in the United States. Just a couple of shows and then we're going to be writing and recording hopefully before the end of the year.
DEVIL'S CONGERIES SERIES
As Nunslaughter's discography is ridiculously massive, comprising dozens and dozens of different types of releases, have you ever thought of putting together some sort of an ultimate Nunslaughter boxed set that would contain special picture-LP sets or cassettes and, of course, limited to 1000 copies, for example? I mean, it would require tons of work but then again it would be something totally cool for Nunslaughter fans who may be total newbies to the band...
Don: The past couple of years, we've been doing what's called the Devil's Congeries. We have four volumes out now and it is exactly what you were saying. Now, they're each individual compilations, but the first one is just a double disc. Then I think the second one is a triple, but then the third and fourth, I think, are four discs. It's three audio CDs and one DVD. I have seven of them planned and that brings us up to about 2019 as far as our discography goes. Probably by the time the last one is out, I'll have at least one, if not two, more Devil's Congeries made.
Because it's come up before like, "Oh, you should do all-encompassing up to whatever like 2020 or something." Then I was like, "Well, that's a couple of basically, it'd be like Blu-ray discs" because you can get 50 GB on that. I'm like, "I got at least 100 GB, maybe more of just the audio shit, let alone videos or live stuff that we could put out." That would have to be, I don't know, who could take that on. It'd be massive. It'd be massive...
TAPE-TRADING TIMES FROM THE PAST
I know you were a huge tape trader back in the late eighties and early nineties, the times when there was no Internet. Do you still occasionally trade tapes from time to time, or are those days completely over?
Don: No. I wish I did. In fact, just a few months ago, a friend of mine in Cleveland said he had digitized all his live shows and demos. Because I had a hard drive full of old stuff of mine that I had digitized, he said he'd come over. It's modern-day tape trading. "You come over with your hard drive and I'll take everything off my hard drive." I plugged my fucking hard drive in and it was dead. I'm like, "Son of a bitch. That's decades of work."
Luckily, I messaged the original singer for Nunslaughter, Greg Biehl, in Pittsburgh. I said, "Hey, my drive died." We had kept moving audio between the two of us. He's like, "Don't worry, I got it all saved." I sent him a drive and he filled it up with a couple of terabytes of older demos that, scrolling through it, realized there are so many that I forgot existed. Then, of course, he's still been collecting. He buys the cassettes and digitizes them. Now, I probably got hundreds of bands I've never heard of on this drive that I can go back and listen to. As far as tape trading, I don't tape trade. I give tapes away, though. If somebody is like, "Hey," just take it, but I don't tape trade, unfortunately.
Those were pretty fun times. "Please remember to send my stamps back...", etc.?
Don: It was a lot of fun. You used to get a paper list, and you'd have to scroll, look through, and you're like, "Oh, I have Slaughter but I don't think I have that date."
It was crazy. You saw, for example, some rehearsal tape from one of your favorite bands on one of these lists, having like let's say 4-6 songs on it, which you still didn't have, so you had to get it no matter what...
Don: Yes, I have to get it. Then, of course, with me, I was always looking for a better quality, a lower-generation tape. I might have four or five different versions of the same demo because this guy was closer to the band. He was like, "Oh, they're friends of mine. You can copy it directly from my tape." I was like, "The one I have sounds like shit." Now, I got another copy of it, and so different quality copies, different generations.
I have one more question for you and then I will let you go to prepare for your show here at Steelfest. As Nunslaughter have been around, more or less, since 1985 (as Death Sentence in 1985-87), have you ever thought of making like a full, professionally made and definitive documentary about the band's career thus far? I believe it would be a great thing for extreme metal fans to get a detailed video documentary about the band, which would possibly include some of the band's first rehearsals, live concerts, interviews from the early days up to this very day, etc. Have you given any thought to that?
Don: Yes. Oddly enough about, oh, it's probably about 10, 12 years ago now, a friend of mine who was on a sabbatical, let's just say. I said, "Mike, how about I give you the camera. Just tell me what you spend traveling around either flying or driving and I know where pretty much all the ex-Nunslaughter members are. Go around and just interview them. I don't want to be there, because I want them to be honest. If they want to say, "fuck Don" or something like that, go ahead. Please, I want to be honest, I can't be there. He was just like, "Oh, no."
I drove down to Pittsburg, and I was going to interview the original Nunslaughter singer, Greg. I told him, "That's what I'm doing. I'm coming down. We're going to hang out for the weekend. I'm going to interview you." I got there and he goes, "I thought about it. I don't want to do this." I'm like, "It's going to be a boring documentary if it's just me." The whole idea went out the window, but that would be great. I would love it if somebody would go around and interview a lot of the ex-members. Of course, there are a lot of labels and other bands that we've done splits with. I'd love to see if they still have any of the stuff or if the labels are still in existence. I would like to watch it.
I think you should give this a second thought because it would be pretty cool actually...
Don: It's funny you mentioned that, but just recently, I thought about it again. Unfortunately, the most interesting character would've been Jim Konya and he died, so you can't fucking interview the guy. I do have plenty of clips. There are clips of him in the tour bus making jokes and cracking wise. I know they've done documentaries where a person in the band had died. They used old clips and everything, but he would've been the most interesting interview out of anybody.
I know you don't have a crystal ball in your hands but what do you believe will happen in the Nunslaughter camp within the following two years or so...?
Don: Like I was saying, hopefully, an album, if not at the end of the year, the beginning of the next. For next year I was going to talk to Martin, our tour manager about doing a European tour. I want to go to countries that Nunslaughter has never been to. I have to start working on that. When I get home, I'll message him and see what he can do and hopefully, we'll do a European tour here next year. I'd also like to go back to Asia or Southeast Asia. That's something--takes a lot of work.
My time is up, so thanks a lot for your time, Don, and wishing you all the best for tonight's show as well.
Don: Thank you very much. I appreciate you for coming over and having this talk with me.
|Other information about Nunslaughter on this site
|Review: Red Is the Color of Ripping Death
|Review: Red Is the Color of Ripping Death
|Review: Nunvomit of Death
|Review: Nunslaughter / Blood
|Review: Nunslaughter / Fluids
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