Interview with drummer Lee Harrison
Interview conducted by Luxi Lahtinen
Date online: July 15, 2018
Floridian Death Metal veterans Monstrosity have been silent for a long time. I bet many fans weren't sure they existed anymore, to say nothing of them having a new album in the works (well, I sure didn't). What a surprise to find out that these Floridian Death Metallers were in full swing and the recording was done for their next album.
The Passage of Existence is the title of the band's sixth studio album, due out on Metal Blade on September 7, and it's their first in eleven long years since their last album, Spiritual Apocalypse, released on Conquest Music in 2007. The band has worked hard with the new album and the fans are eagerly waiting to get their hands on it, no doubt.
The Metal Crypt wanted to know more about the band's new album and approached drummer Lee Harrison (who's also the last original member) to get some answers...
Luxi: How's life in Florida these days?
Lee: It's hot!!!! July and August are really humid, so it's uncomfortable doing anything outside. Even at night sometimes the humidity is still bad. Most Floridians have great air conditioning though, so it's bearable.
NEW ALBUM TALK
Luxi: The great news, of course, is Monstrosity will have a new album coming out on Metal Blade Records on September 7, titled The Passage of Existence. It's the band's first studio album in 11 years. 11 years is a long time, so I have to ask if you have always had faith in this band, believing after your previous and excellent Spiritual Apocalypse album, you would release a new album?
Lee: The answer is definitely yes!!! I never had a doubt it was coming, it was just "how long will it take?" I always put everything into what I'm working on so sometimes things drag out when trying to find perfection. We had many obstacles regarding the recording and packaging, so it was just working through those things.
Luxi: Do you believe that due to this long gap between Spiritual... and The Passage..., many fans started thinking the band was over?
Lee: Well maybe towards the end of the "wait", it was rough. I just got to a point where the next words you will hear from me are going to be announcing a release date. I got sick of saying "it's coming" so I went into a self-imposed "radio silence". Actually, in this Internet age, we have a lot more followers, so I knew they would be there when it was finished. I record these albums for my personal satisfaction first. The songwriting represents musical "experiments" and ideas I have. I pretty much think at this point if I like it, the fans will like it too. At this point I realize there's always critics and people who want to drag you down in a comments section. In the early days we had all positive reviews and everyone was supportive. It was hard because there were so many bands, but everyone was positive towards what we were doing. The later albums had great reviews too but there would be some here and there that would make negative points, but I found that usually it was because they had an affinity for a particular line-up. Most of the reviews actually praise us for "keeping our sound" regardless of line-up and the secret to that is the fact I've been so involved with the songwriting all this time. You guys should know by now that I'm a "lifer" in this thing.
Luxi: Did you feel that you had a good vibe with the band as you went through the songwriting process or were there some obstacles that you eventually managed to overcome?
Lee: Well, we started writing seriously in 2011. I tried to let Mark and Matt bring their ideas and songs to the table. Mostly it was Mark and I in the band room working out the songs. Matt would send his ideas of which I would work on with Mark and we would make small changes if needed. Matt would take my songs and keep the same basic melody but augment things to make them more interesting for him as a guitar player. Mark brought a few songs and I would work on those with him in the band room. It was an organic album in the fact that we played the songs a bunch of times would shape them and make any changes. We would experiment with different ideas and really craft all of the parts to make them better.
Luxi: I have listened to the teaser song titled "Cosmic Pandemia", which is the opening song on the album. The song sounds killer, having the classic Monstrosity vibe with some really crunchy guitars and the real badass, evil vocals of Mike Hrubovcak. How would you describe the rest of the songs on this record? Are they pretty much in line with "Cosmic Pandemia" musically or are there even more unorthodox and different sounding things that may take some listeners by surprise?
Lee: We always try to mix it up and add dynamics to the album. We don't like to write 10 of the same kind of songs. We want to take the listener on a journey that goes places. We don't want all fast songs or all slow, we like to mix it up. I will say that the focus of this record wasn't speed. It was natural that the songs came out the way they did. The focus is on songwriting and making songs that are strong was our focus more than just relying on speed to make our point.
Luxi: Do you feel like this new album is more like a band effort than some of your previous albums? Did each of you contribute equally or could the album be considered more like a "solo thing"?
Lee: All of the previous albums are written by me and a guitar player. On the first album I wrote a lot with the bassist Mark Van Erp. The second album was Jason Morgan who I was writing with. Jay Fernandez for In Dark Purity, Tony Norman for Rise to Power, and then Mark English for Spiritual Apocalypse. This album was again written with Mark, but we brought in Matt's songs too.
Luxi: Mark English plays both in Monstrosity and Deicide nowadays. One might think it may take some extra planning when it comes down to arranging tours for Monstrosity and Deicide...
Lee: I play with Terrorizer on guitar and we each have other projects so it's not just Mark who is doing other things. At this point everybody has other things going on with projects and life. For example, Mike Poggione went to school and became a physical therapist so there are times where we use different guys on bass, or we bring in different guitarists due to people's availability. I could tell you that it's going to be the same line-up for all future shows, but history shows that it's not always a perfect world, so I'm used to mixing players up and I try to have replacements for each member so when these things come up I can put other people in their spots. I'm very critical so I expect a certain standard so that's why I think there is a level of quality we try to maintain even if it's with different guys.
Another thing is before we used to just take any gig we were offered for whatever fee we could work out. Now we are a little older and have learned some things so we don't want to just take any show, at any situation. Now, we only take shows that are of a certain standard. We have no desire to play clubs with bad PA, no backstage, and no lights. Those days are over if we can help it. Sometimes conditions aren't perfect and we have to go along with things but we really have no interest in doing those kinds of shows anymore. So, I expect we will play less in the future due to that. I think the shows will be better so I would rather have fewer shows that are better than more shows that are less quality.
Luxi: You used three different studios for recording, mixing and producing the album. Was it easier for everybody that way where you live in different places, like Mike (Hrubovcak) living his life in Philadelphia, for example? How was working with veteran producer Jason Suecof on the drum tracks?
Lee: When we did the last album Spiritual Apocalypse at Morrisound everything was done "on the clock". We had 12-hour days for the drums and it was professional, but we had to make it happen fast in a sort of rushed way since the clock was ticking. With Jason Suecof, he is an old friend of mine and he has a different way of working. He gave me a set price and then I had a week to get it together. Doing the drums that way, I was able to spend more time getting the "tones". Usually we spend 4-6 hours at most changing drum heads and mic'ing it all up. I usually start recording within a half of a day. With this one, we spent almost two days before we even started recording and it was three days until the first song was tracked. That's the way Jason works, and I didn't question him since his productions speak for themselves. So that was how the drums came to be.
For guitars, on the last album, we tracked it at Morrisound and Jim Morris and Mark spent a lot of time going through all the parts, making sure everything was super tight. When it came to Mark's solos he did them in his home studio and brought the dry signal tracks into Morrisound, they ran the track through an amp and recorded that. It's called "re-amping" for those that don't know. Now, recording this way is more commonplace but at the time it was sort of an experiment. It worked and we were happy with it so the idea was that Mark could record all of his parts at his studio, on his own time and not be rushed. We would take those tracks and re-amp them like we did on the previous album. So, we ended up doing all the guitars and the bass at Mark's studio and while that was a positive it also made things drag out and added to the long 11-year wait. Mark was adamant about me coming over to engineer him through his guitar parts before we even did the drums so I spent several weeks doing that. In the process I taught him how to use his pro-tools beyond the very basics which is where he was when we started. So, once he learned pro tools from me, he ended up going back after the drums were tracked and recutting most of the tracks on his own. So, things dragged out due to all of that.
For bass, Mike Poggione came out every weekend for probably six weeks and we did two songs at a time. In the past, he never had more than a day to cut his parts and the bass was always kind of an afterthought. This time I wanted to make sure the bass was something more integral to the sound. I wrote a lot of the bass lines and Mark backed me up helping write the rest. Matt Barnes even contributed a few bass lines, so it was a collaboration between us.
For vocals, Mark's studio is in a room with tile floors and big sliding glass windows, so it's not conducive for recording vocals. With guitars and bass, it was all direct into the preamps to the computer so there's no outside sound to interfere but with the vocals we needed a studio or a room that had better acoustics. In 2012, I toured as second guitar with Obituary and they offered their studio to me if I needed to record anything so when I didn't really have a room to do the vocals I thought I would hit them up and they were great with it and helped me get it all together and just let me go in and do my thing. We spent three days, more or less but that's how that came to be.
Once the tracking had been completed, we sent all the individual tracks to Mark Lewis who mixed the record. We had to wait for him to finish up the projects he was working on so there was a little more time added to the wait, but I definitely don't blame him for that.
Luxi: How did you choose The Passage of Existence for the title? Did any special literature inspire you to have this rather, may I say even, "pompous" sounding album title?
Lee: Not sure what is "pompous" about the title and it had nothing to do with anything I've read. Usually once the album starts to take shape I will have an idea for a title. This time it took a little longer. I had the word "passage" in mind. I spent several months with just that word and coming up with different things. I was calling it "Rites of Passage" for a while but I really didn't want to settle on that since it was already a "thing". So, I just kept thinking on it and it finally hit me. So that's how that happened. It's an ambiguous title so I like that too.
Luxi: Obviously, after the album is out, you have some plans to tour a little bit, just to get the album promoted and stuff, right? Is there some announcement coming up shortly regarding this tour thing?
Lee: Yes, we hope to tour. Nothing is confirmed but we are working on things. Like I said before, we have to do things that make sense, so we will see how it goes.
BACK IN THE DAY AND AGING TALK
Luxi: The heyday of the Florida Death Metal Scene happened in the early nineties when many bands in the state put out quality albums, one after another. How has the Florida Death Metal scene changed from those days? All have aged, many bands have broken up (and some of them reformed) and many clubs have closed their doors. Is there anything else you'd like to share about the once so famous Florida Death Metal scene of today, compared to the old times?
Lee: It's still going and still strong actually. In the earliest days there were a lot more people coming to shows because this music kind of went mainstream for a while. Then the scene dried up and the flaky people dropped out and ever since it has been consistent with people coming and going but for the most part it's a lot of the same faces. Now as time moves on it has definitely grown with the younger crowd but it's still there.
Luxi: One of the newest and most promising discoveries that I made just recently was the band Fire for Effect, featuring Gio Geraca (ex-Malevolent Creation), Bret Hoffman (ex-Malevolent Creation) and Derek Roddy (ex-Hate Eternal, ex-Nile). Do you know their stuff?
Lee: Well I know those guys for sure, but I haven't heard anything. I didn't know they actually had anything released yet. I knew they were working on an album, but I didn't know it was finished. It's funny when Monstrosity first formed, 3/4 of the band had recently left Malevolent Creation so critical fans would jokingly call us "Malevolent Rejection" and now we can pass that title off to those guys since they are all ex-Malevolent, too. All I can say is I hope Bret pulls through with his health. I know he is having a really hard time right now, so best wishes to him. Bret was always a super cool guy and a great talent in Metal.
Luxi: When I mention this ageing thing, if you look five years down the road, I bet we are close to a time when there may be no more bands like Judas Priest, Saxon, Anthrax, Testament, etc. - and who knows, not even Iron Maiden. Ageing is an inevitable thing, happening for all of us, which will lead to some to unfortunate but inevitable retirements. I hate the thought of this happening... What about you?
Lee: It is an interesting time for sure. People get old. It's good to see these bands still playing well into their golden years.
Luxi: The music industry has changed a lot over the years, thanks to new technology. It undoubtedly has some downsides as well, like all the illegal downloading and shit, making it harder and harder for bands to earn money. That's why most musicians also need to have some regular jobs, just to make their living somehow. What are some of your thoughts about the current state of the music business?
Lee: It's harder these days to sell CDs but we also have more fans thanks to social media and YouTube et al. People are exposed to our music easier these days, so the band is bigger than ever. It depends how you look at it. CD sales suffer but merch sales and the general awareness of the band is higher.
Luxi: Do you see yourself more like an analog man in a digital world or always into new technology that may be helpful in capturing some weird noises into a hard drive?
Lee: I love technology actually. I've got the Zoom H6 thanks to my friend Lady Lexy. I had the H4 before, but I played in Bogota with Terrorizer and the promoter there Alfonso Pinzon stole the equipment from me. Lexy felt sorry for me so she got me the H6. It's a great little tool and it's fun to get ideas to the hard drive like you say.
GETTING SIGNED TO METAL BLADE TALK
Luxi: How did this Metal Blade deal happen? Did you send some raw demo material over to them, asking if they would be interested in releasing your next album?
Lee: Great question. Actually, when we did our first album for Nuclear Blast, the main guy from NBR is Markus Staiger. The number two guy at the time was a guy named Michael Trengert. Michael was really supportive of the band and was our liaison to the label. He was the guy we dealt with most, so fast forward years later when Michael ended up as the label manager of the European division of Metal Blade. We were talking, and it just worked out that Michael would release the last two (Rise to Power and Spiritual Apocalypse) through Metal Blade for the Europe territory. Conquest Music handled the album in all of the other territories. Unfortunately, a few years back Michael passed away, so he is no longer with us. I really didn't know if we had a record deal for Europe on this album since Michael was gone and although Metal Blade did have an option for one more album, and we did have some big offers from other labels, we didn't know if we would have a deal or not. Fortunately, the label heard the record and thought it was great, so they've been hugely supportive and made an offer to Conquest Music for a worldwide deal. We wanted to try and see if there would be a bump if we signed with them and so far, the response has been great. It's nice to have a big machine behind us and hopefully we don't get lost in the mix but right now things are looking great.
Luxi: That's all I had in my mind for this conversation. I sincerely want to thank you, Lee, for your time with this interview, and lastly wish you all the best with all of your future endeavours with Monstrosity. The last commentary is rightfully left for you, so just go ahead if you have anything else in your mind...
Lee: Thanks to all who have supported us. We can't wait until you can hear the new album in full. It is a huge weight off of my shoulders to have this finally finished so I'm just glad it's done. Look forward to seeing everyone on the road one way or the other! Take care!!
|Other information about Monstrosity on this site|
|Review: Rise To Power|
|Review: In Dark Purity|
|Review: Spiritual Apocalypse|
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