Interview with drummer and vocalist Mike Browning
Interview conducted by Luxi Lahtinen
Date online: October 25, 2023
Nocturnus AD was brought forth from the ashes of the technical sci-fi death metallers Nocturnus in 2000 by Mike Browning, with the purpose of continuing the same thematic saga that Nocturnus started on the legendary album The Key in 1990. It took 19 years before they were ready to unleash Paradox, which placed the band on the same path of violence that was started 30+ years ago.
Nocturnus AD has been in the studio for the past few months recording their follow-up album. To find out what's to be expected, we contacted the mastermind behind the band, drummer and vocalist Mike Browning, who was more than keen to tell us about the songwriting process, some lineup changes, and other things as well.
Without further ado, let's welcome Mike to talk about the album plus some of their plans for the coming months...
Good day, Mike! How are you? You told me a while back that Hurricane Idalia hit the heavily populated Fort Myers area some time ago, but apparently it was less destructive to the human communities than expected and just brought epic rain. Did the Tampa area get some of it even though it's about 130 miles away from Fort Myers?
Mike: How are you doing, Luxi? Yes, things are going quite well. I've just been working on the new album and now it is finished. I guess we'll be talking about that. Yes, we did have a hurricane come through Florida. Luckily, it didn't hit Tampa directly, but we did get quite a lot of wind from the outer bands of it whipping around overnight. It wasn't too bad, though, just a lot of branches down and things like that. Probably 40, 50 miles an hour winds. We got lucky again.
The big news is that you have finished recording Nocturnus AD's next album, which apparently is still in the final mixing and mastering process and will be taken care of by Jarrett Pritchard at New Constellation Studio. Do you see Jarrett as sort of the 6th member of the band, so to speak, seeing as you let him do all the mixing with the band's comeback album, Paradox, released in 2019, also?
Mike: Yes, Jarrett is someone that I've known since the mid '90s because he's lived in Tampa for a while. He used to play guitar in a band called Eulogy. We lived across from each other at one point. He lived downstairs and I lived upstairs. Our apartments were across from each other, but upstairs and downstairs. I used to hang out with him and see him quite often. We used to hang out then he moved to Orlando and became a really good engineer and producer.
He's worked with a lot of great bands like 1349, Goatwhore, lots of bands like that. He's doing all the Tom Warrior stuff now. He's very familiar with Nocturnus and he did a really good job on our 2019 record, so we've had him do this new album as well. He is like the sixth member of the band because he has a lot of great ideas, and he knows what we want. He has known some of us in the band as long as he has known me. I think there's only one guy that doesn't know him at all.
BACK TO THE MESOLITHIC ERA
You have released a spoiler, saying there will be a song called "Mesolithic" on this forthcoming Nocturnus AD album. What can you tell us about this song?
Mike: Yes, "Mesolithic" is one of the songs. It's a continuation from "Neolithic" from The Key to "Paleolithic" on our last album. Each song is a little description of what was happening during that period of time. "Mesolithic" is the third chapter, you could say. We wanted to keep that going. Maybe on the next album I might go backwards to before "Neolithic" and do a prehistoric thing. I'm not sure yet because these three periods of history were interesting. After that, it gets into more just regular historical stuff with humans and things. I'm not sure if I will continue from here. These three are all in the same vein. They make their own little trifecta of history.
You also mentioned some other surprises regarding this new album. Can you perhaps kill our curiosity and reveal something more? We are all humans and are dying to get more details, you know... ;o)
Mike: Definitely. We will be continuing The Key story on this album with another four songs. That's one thing for sure. It's the next step in Dr. Magus's life cycle. I think there's some new songs that don't really connect to anything, of course. There's a couple of those that we like to do. Then there's the four songs that continue The Key story. There's "Mesolithic" and we also redid the song Nocturnus from 1987.
That completes the story of "Lake of Fire," "Standing in Blood," and "Seizing the Throne." It's now called "Nocturnus Will Rise." It's basically the same song with the same lyrics, but we've added a couple of new parts, and modernized it a little bit. I think people will like it. It's definitely a new version of the 1987 Nocturnus song on the first demo.
You had one instrumental track, titled "Number 9," on your previous album. Will this new album contain any instrumentals?
Mike: Yes, we've actually continued "Number 9." Not continued it, I should say, but we have a new instrumental that's going to be at the end of the album again like "Number 9" was. Right now, we're just calling it an outro. I don't know if we're going to have an actual name for it. We didn't really have a name for the last one but because it was the ninth song, we just called it "Number 9" as a little joke.
This time we might just call it the outro. It's pretty neat. It's got some new stuff that we've never done before and is very experimental sounding. It's really dark and it's not so much a song like "Number 9" was. This thing is a lot more experimental and it's more like an atmospheric soundtrack to end the album. I think people will definitely like it because it's very dark.
Are all the songs completely new on this album, or did you remake some old demo songs like "The Entity" or "Unholy Fury" off Nocturnus' 1987 demo?
Mike: Yes, like I had mentioned earlier, we redid the song "Nocturnus" from 1987. It's close to the original song. We did add a few new parts and spruced it up a little bit. I kept the lyrics exactly the same. The weird thing is the lyrics are like the fourth part. As I said, "Lake of Fire" and "Standing in Blood" fit together. Then "Seizing the Throne" was like the third song in that story.
Then when I was looking at the lyrics to those three songs, I realized that the song "Nocturnus" was actually the fourth song even though it was written in 1987. The lyrics fit perfectly as the fourth part of that little "Lake of Fire," "Standing in Blood," and "Seizing the Throne" story. Since it's a different version, we called it "Nocturnus Will Rise." It all goes together as a little four-piece thing like The Key does over the different albums in the same story.
Paradox came out in May 2019. Can you tell us why it took four years to get this follow-up album recorded?
Mike: Yes, it doesn't seem like it's been that long, but it has been quite a while since Paradox came out. We didn't have any time restraints on the record contract, so we really were taking our time writing the new songs. Our labels didn't really push us to write and finish this in a certain amount of time or anything like that. We took our time, but also we had COVID hit and several things kept happening.
We had to cancel a bunch of shows. We didn't practice for a while because of COVID and so many other things happened. I think the whole world almost shut down for like two years because of COVID. We wrote off and on, but we didn't get together a lot. It was just one of those things that I think the whole world was affected by COVID, and it played into us taking longer to write this record. It was a good thing because we didn't have to rush, and we weren't under any pressure to do it. I think it worked out really well because of that situation. I'm sure when we start writing the next record, it will definitely be a quicker process than this one was.
How proud are you of this new opus? Do you feel the whole band gave 100% to make it a perfect continuation for Paradox?
Mike: Yes, I'm really, really happy with the way the album turned out. It's longer than Paradox. It's over an hour long, and has some really good stuff on it. It's a good follow-up to Paradox and The Key, but it's a little different from them, too, because as a band, we've gelled even more, and our sense of direction is even better with where we wanted to take things from Paradox.
I'm very happy with the recording and we're going to be mixing next week. That's going to be done soon and should be done within two weeks. I'm looking forward to hearing how it all ends up sounding, but the recording came out great. We're really happy with it.
NEW BLOOD IN THE NOCTURNUS AD CAMP: KYLE SOKOL
You have a new bass player named Kyle Sokol. How did you find him and was he also a part of the recording process on this new album?
Mike: Yes, we have a new bass player, Kyle Sokol, and he's been in Tampa for quite a while. He saw Nocturnus play back in the day, and he's been a fan of the band for a long time. He's an amazing bass player. He's done stuff with Kelly from Atheist and several other bands. He likes the prog-type stuff, and he's got a six-string fretless bass. He's an amazing bass player.
Things weren't going the way we wanted with Daniel. He had a lot of stuff going on in his life, and he rarely came to practice, for different reasons. I don't want to get into any of his personal situations, but it just wasn't working out for us because most of the time we didn't have a bass player when we practiced, and he never contributed to writing any material in the 10 years that he was in the band. We just wanted somebody that was going to be there more often and contribute to the writing and things like that. Our guitar player, Damian, knew Kyle much better than any of us. I had met him a few times and knew who he was, but Damian knew a lot more about him than I did, so when we were looking for a new bass player, he mentioned Kyle and I looked at some of the stuff he had done and I was like, "Oh my god, this guy is amazing, he'd be great in the band." He was really the only person we had come and try, and it worked right off the bat and so far things are fantastic.
Daniel did some of the recording on the album and then both of our guitar players did a bunch of bass tracks as well. Daniel only played on three or four songs, I should say. The new stuff we'll be writing will definitely have Kyle's participation and we're definitely welcoming him to come in and write stuff with us as well because we like to all throw in stuff, so it's a mix of different styles and not just one person doing all the writing.
Compared to the songwriting process of your previous album, Paradox, do you feel that the songs for this forthcoming album were a tad easier to write because you had cemented the band's musical direction on The Key album back in 1990 and then continued from there on Paradox, 29 years later, which was considered a successful return to the band's original sound?
Mike: I think the next album is going to be even better than this one, so it's going to have probably even more technical stuff in it as well. As far as the writing process of this new album, it actually was a little bit easier because we've been together for so long as a band and after Paradox, we knew exactly how we were going to keep the direction going and the type of songs we wanted to create.
Paradox was like a big experiment to see if people really would like it as a follow-up to The Key and it went over very well, so we took the blueprint of Paradox and used that to continue writing for the new album. I think people will really like it, it's a very good continuation of The Key and Paradox. The songwriting is a bit similar but also different. We are always going to add new stuff, but the continuation of everything is really what's important and that's what we kept more than anything. We knew that we wanted to go in that direction and keep things going the same way.
As I mentioned, Kyle had seen Nocturnus play back in the '90s and he's always liked the band and The Key is an album that he really likes a lot, so when he came into the band, he already knew exactly what we wanted. He had also bought Paradox and said he listens to it quite often as well, so when we asked him to join the band he was like, "I'd definitely love to do it." One of his favorite things to listen to is The Key and he really likes Paradox a lot.
As Kyle has earned his spurs in many other bands and proved to be a seasoned musician, do you think he's got a good understanding about how this band should sound?
Mike: He completely understands what we want, and we've played the new songs for him and he started learning a couple of them as well and he loves the new material. I think things are going to go really well with him because his writing style will definitely work with our writing style. I think he's been to about seven or eight practices so far and he's got seven or eight songs down already, so things are going very well and I tell you, I can't wait to start writing new material with him added into the mix as well. It's going to be really awesome.
Why did Daniel Tucker decide to step away from the band?
Mike: Like I said, he has a job where he works a lot of weekends and although he was a member of the band for quite a while, he rarely came to practice. I think all summer he came to practice maybe three times and we practice once a week. He was not there more than he was there and over all the years he never contributed a single riff to any of the songs that we wrote. He's a great guy and everything but we needed somebody that was going to be there. It wasn't helping that when he would show up, we'd have to go back and help him learn things and get him back up to speed. He'd come a week or two in a row and then miss three weeks, four weeks.
He just had a lot of other things going on in his life and it did not help us any to have somebody that wasn't there most of the time. There were other things as well that I don't really want to talk about because it's his situation and not any of ours, so I wish him luck in whatever he wants to do.
I'm not sure if he's going to keep playing bass or not, but things just weren't progressing for us after all the time he'd been in the band, so we figured it'd be good to try to get somebody else in there that actually wanted to write and be more a part of the band and not just show up every once in a while and practice and play shows and that was it, so that's what happened in that situation.
It was unfortunate but we really needed to move on and find somebody that was more interested in being a part of the whole situation.
NOCTURNUS AD VISUALIZER UWE JARLING
The cover for Paradox was done by an artist named Timbul Cahyono. Will he also be responsible for creating the art for this new album? If so, did you give him the bones of an idea of what it should contain in order to follow the band's visual side of things so that when the fans of the band finally see it, they will recognize it as a Nocturnus AD album cover right off the bat?
Mike: Timbul did a fantastic job on Paradox. This time we wanted to change it up and have somebody different try something different as well and the guy that created the Dr. Magus figure for me that I use, Uwe Jarling is his name, he does a lot of 3D art which is really awesome.
Once the figure of Dr. Magus was made, it could be used in videos and things like that. I figured that since Uwe did a really great job creating a real Dr. Magus for us and now he can be animated and used in movies and things like that, I wanted to give him a chance to do an album cover as well.
We got Uwe to do the new album cover and it turned out great. I had all the ideas for it like I did with Paradox and The Key. Basically, I tell the artist exactly what I want in the cover in a very detailed way, and then we work together on it as it's being done and when it's finished it's like, "Okay, this is perfect." I did the same thing with Timbul and Paradox but we wanted to have somebody different do this one and I'm not sure what will happen on the next one, maybe we'll get even somebody else to do that one so they're all a little bit different in style but the same continuation of idea.
Have you set a release date for your new album?
Mike: We don't have any plans as far as an actual release date yet, since the mixing and mastering is not quite done. Once the mastering gets finished, then we will start working on setting a release date. It definitely won't be till next year because it's already October. Hopefully, the mixing and mastering will be done by next weekend.
GIGGING PLANS FOR 2024?
Is there anything you can reveal about your gigging plans for 2024? Are any European summer festivals in the pipeline, perhaps?
Mike: As far as shows, we don't have anything planned. The main goal for us was to get this album recorded and finished and then we were going to start looking at playing live again. We'll probably do some local stuff first. We probably won't play any big shows until the next album is out, although we haven't really done any big shows with the Paradox material. We've played a couple of songs here and there. We have a lot of stuff that we can play live now that's never been played live before.
I think we're going to look into doing some festivals later on because it probably won't be until at least March before the album gets out. Maybe we can set some stuff up over the summer since the album should be out by then. Possibly Europe, of course, perhaps South America. We'll see how it goes. I'm sure we will start doing live shows again, but we just want to make sure the album was done and ready to come out before we started doing that.
Do you miss touring, I mean like a longer tour somewhere, or are you completely fine with doing one-off shows here and there?
Mike: I've never really been in a big touring situation except for a long time ago with Nocturnus. Ever since then, I've mainly been doing small things and one-off shows. I really do like doing the one-off shows because it makes things more special. I don't think we'll be doing any big tours. We'll probably just try to stick with being able to get on these festivals because I really like doing those and you play in front of a lot of people all at once. The sound systems are fantastic. It just seems to go pretty well with the festivals for us.
I like that and some one-off shows here and there. The smaller festivals are great, too. I like doing things that way and keeping it that way, which is probably what we'll do. You never know what'll happen in the future and how things will turn out with this new album. We're going to try to keep it to what we've been doing for the past several years, doing a couple of big festivals a year and some small ones and some smaller one-off shows.
Do you still feel comfortable taking care of drums and vocals at the same time while playing live?
Mike: I'm so used to playing drums and singing. In my band that's probably what I'll always do. I'm not really into being just a front man. I don't think that's really my thing. I think for me, I will just keep playing drums and singing until I can't do it anymore. [chuckles] Right now, everything's been going pretty well with that and I'm not having any problems with it yet.
I think we're just going to keep things the way they are. It always seemed to work better that way. If I do any side projects or things like that, I might just play the drums, or just do vocals on a project, but not really live. I don't know, I'll probably just keep it the way it is because it's worked for me and it's the best thing to do things that way.
NOCTURNUS AD GOES TO VIDEO GAMES?
Is there still something in your mind that you'd like to achieve with Nocturnus AD someday?
Mike: I liked that we were able to make the "Apotheosis" video and make Dr. Magus come to life on the screen. I'd like to see some more videos with him being made. Possibly, I'd like to branch out with Dr. Magus as a character and maybe a video game or an animated movie with him in it, CGI type stuff.
The video game would be awesome, maybe even a comic book, and have an actual figure of him. Something like that would be really, really cool to branch out into, other than just having the band. I'd definitely be into working with any company that'd be interested in making a Dr. Magus video game. Since I have him in a 3D character now, he can easily be put in any game system and a whole game built around him. I have an idea that follows The Key story for a whole game that could be created around him.
I think that's something that I'd really like to see happen more than anything, maybe even a short, animated movie with him in it. That could even be The Key story as well as a movie. I think that would be pretty interesting for people to have, be able to see that. We pulled it out a little bit on the "Apotheosis" video and it turned out really, really well. His character looked awesome on film. I'd say there's a lot of possibilities that can stem from this. I'm hoping maybe something like that might happen.
That's all I had in mind for this conversation, so thank you, Mike, for your time and all the best with Nocturnus AD's future comings and goings as always. If you have any last comments, feel free to spit them out... ;o)
Mike: In closing, I'd just like to say, thanks to everyone out there that's followed my career and liked all the stuff that I've done over the years. It's been over 30 years I've been making music, and I never would've thought 30 years ago that I'd still be doing it. I'll be 60 next year. I never thought that that would happen, that I'd still be playing drums and singing death metal-type stuff at 60 years old, but it seems to be that that's what's happening.
I'm going to go with it as long as possible and hopefully things will go well. Things will branch out from there and give even more possibilities to everything that's in my mind that I'd like to bring out for everybody.
Of course, I want to thank you, Luxi, for being a friend for a long time and always giving me the opportunity to do stuff for The Metal Crypt. It's always fun. We will see each other again and look out for our album next year. It will definitely be out. See you... Hails!
|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)
|Interview with drummer and vocalist Mike Browning on August 21, 2016 (Interviewed by Luxi Lahtinen)
|Interview with drummer and vocalist Mike Browning on June 16, 2019 (Interviewed by Luxi Lahtinen)
|Interview with drummer and vocalist Mike Browning on December 31, 2022 (Interviewed by Luxi Lahtinen)
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