Project Wonderful Leaderboard

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Interview: Mike Justian of Unearth

So what sets III: In the Eyes of Fire apart from your previous albums?
What sets it apart from our previous records is that it is a more band-oriented experience, it was a collaboration. Everybody in the band, not just a couple guys writing the bulk of the material. Everybody coming in later to orchestrate it all. It was just a raw… the word organic has been thrown around a lot for this record but it’s true it is a more organic, stripped down process where we recorded the album live and did some overdubs and a few little tricks here and there but for the most part it is a real, true record. That and I think it is a more abrasive record. The sound and the songs in general are faster and more aggressive.

What was it like making the album with Terry Date? Was it any different than using a different producer?
Of course, with different producers come different areas of expertise. Different approaches, you know you have some guys who focus on the performance and the tones. You have other guys who rework your material and pull out their tools and fix any of the problems the band has with writing music. For us, we all felt relatively confident with our scheme of writing; we didn’t need any one dictating to us what was right and what was wrong. Terry was instrumental in helping us extract good performances that were still believable and didn’t sound like they had Pro Tools all over it. And he’s just a really relaxed guy, really easy guy to work with.

III: In the Eyes of Fire performed pretty well on the Billboard charts reaching #35 based more on word of mouth than radio airplay. Since all styles of metal are gaining or regaining popularity again, why do you think rock radio is so slow to start playing what people are actually listening too?
I think that the radio is still obsessed with the instant gratification appeal of music. They want their pop stars and they want them now, regardless of what credibility they have. Metal and more agitated music, there is a certain degree of credibility because it starts with people having their ears to the soil and it goes from there. As opposed to being some big grandeurous cloud in the sky that just kind of dissipates after a while. I think heavy music will always have its place and its status, I mean, Slayer won a Grammy last night, that’s fantastic. Whether it will get all the press and radio play it deserves is yet to be determined. I think as long as it stays true to itself then it doesn’t really matter whether it’s going to get played on the radio. There is a market out there and legitimate fans for legitimate music. That means more to me than getting played on some syndicated radio program or some conglomerate.

The video for Giles was one of Headbangers Ball’s Best of 2006. What was it like making a video? I’ve always pictured it being kind of irritating.
It was especially irritating for me cause I had possibly the worst hangover any human being can possibly conceive of. It was to the degree that I apparently passed out three stories up on the ledge; the balcony. Woke up the next day feeling like someone was punching me in the side of the head over and over again. Suffice to say, the video for me was not a terribly enjoyable experience. But working with Darren Doane was a tremendously enjoyable experience cause he’s such a cool guy. He’s really focused and knows exactly what he wants to achieve and is really efficient. We spent the day doing that video, and it was us in a big studio in Burbank California. It was just us playing the song, except that we weren’t actually playing the song. It was us really performing and putting our hearts into it. We did it for 12 hours.

Unearth has had a long association with Adam Dutkiewicz of Killswitch Engage, who produced The Oncoming Storm and The Stings of Conscience. Is there a real sense of camaraderie with bands coming out of Boston?
Yeah. A lot of really talented outfits come out of Boston, and I don’t really know why it is the Mecca or the breeding ground that it is. There are a lot of talented people there, and rightfully so; there are a lot of talented people everywhere. It just so happens that a lot of the more noteworthy bands are from the Boston or Greater Boston area.

Are there any rivalries, friendly or otherwise between bands in the scene?
Always. There is always a friendly competition with other bands. I’m not afraid to say that. Everyone wants to see everybody succeed because we’re all ultimately… we all have the same common interests and the same goals. But sometimes, by having the same goals and common interests, situations were there is one at the top, you’re the one who wants to be there.

Do you think that competition makes the music better?
Well yeah, I think that it is a healthy thing to have a symbiotic relationship with your peers and other bands and musicians. That propels you to get better and grow and develop. If there is no competition there is no reason to continue to grow.

Who are your favorite bands today?
Neurosis will always be a big favorite of mine. For heavy music, the new Planes Mistaken for Stars is one of my top five. Nothing against the bands that we’ve played with, but I don’t really listen to most of the bands we’ve toured with. And I’d like to play with more of the bands that we don’t tour with.

Who do you think is the best drummer in the world today?
Best drummer in the world? I mean, there’s billions of drummers; trillions of drummers. There is probably drummers in other galaxy’s. Jon Theodore, he was with The Mars Volta for a while; one of the best contemporary rock drummers around. You have, I can’t think of the cats’ name, the drummer from Hella (Zach Hill), is just a retarded drummer. I think he is literally from another planet. Then you have guys like Abe Cunningham; just true monsters. But I can’t even begin to speculate who the best drummer is. How about not me. How about that?

What do you think about Winger reuniting with the original line-up?
I really couldn’t care less. Rod Morgenstein, there’s a good drummer. Kip, you know, maybe he should stick to ballet and composing.

What interests do you have outside of music?
Outside of music; playing, composing, listening to it… I don’t know, playing with my dog. Yeah, you know, copious amounts of binge drinking extravaganzas, which I’m trying to ween off of.

Why are drummers always the first to leave a band?
Because I think that drummers are the most adaptable. There’s fewer good drummers than anything else, so there is always a demand for great drumming. And because drummers are so adaptable they are constantly looking to expand and play with other musicians and other outfits. From a purely ego standpoint, drummers are probably the first to leave bands because they are the last to receive any real credit.

Since the murder of Dimebag Darrel, have you noticed any changes in the security practices at concerts and has security or a lack of it ever been a problem at any of your shows?
Very few times is it just right. Very seldom do you come across a situation at a venue where it’s adequate security without being overwhelming. It’s either no security, or too much security. Very few times is it solid in between.

How did you feel the first time you had your own tour bus?
Uh… I felt drunk despite the fact that I was completely sober. It was exciting; I was ecstatic. That’s a huge mile marker in the success of any band. It doesn’t have to be, but for me it was. One of the reasons why I play this obviously is not just because of the sheer fact that I want to play music, but I want to make a living out of it; I want to be able to sustain myself doing it. And like, being in a situation where you can afford something that’s as astronomically expensive as a tour bus, lends itself to the notion that you are doing well financially.

What do you think of the Aqua Teen Hunger Force “bomb scare” a few weeks ago? Do you think they overreacted?
I’m not even going to dignify that. I’ve never heard anything so ridiculous.

What was your first concert?
My first concert was two Boston bands and one band from Maryland who is actually still around and doing really, really well. Salem Black Church, Boston Treat, and Clutch. I was… 12? And I’m 27 now. Great band, and that’s another great drummer; Jean-Paul (Gaster of Clutch). Really underrated drummer.

What is the most memorable concert you’ve been
My most memorable concert would be Neurosis. Neurosis is… it’s religious. It’s like a religious enlightment. Unlike anything you’ve ever seen ever before.

If you could kick the shit out of any drummer in the world, who would it be?
Like, literally? Or musically?

Well I was going literally, but musically will work too.
Uh… I don’t know. Maybe Dustin (Schoenhofer) from Walls of Jericho. Kidding! Kidding. They call him the ‘Knockout Kid’ pretty much take your head off with one punch. I don’t know, [laughs] guitar players who play drums, how about that? Any guitar player, and guitarist that thinks he’s a drummer; I’ll fight that dude with both hands tied behind my back.

That’s actually been happening a lot lately.
Eh, well, what can you do. Besides fight him with your arms tied behind your back.

Which do you think is better, Boston Clam Chowder or New England?
… Wait; hold on, Boston clam chowder or New England? There’s a difference?
[Woman on the bus] Isn’t one red and one white?
That’s Manhattan, that’s like Manhattan clam chowder; that’s red. Boston or New England, there’s no better chowder in the world; I’ll put it that way. Seven Presidential Inaugurations cannot be wrong!

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