Matt Hensch for Thrashpit: Thanks for taking time out of your schedule to do this interview. You guys have been touring your assess off at this point, almost three straight months.
Scott Hendrick: Yeah, today is the sixty-first show.
Thrashpit: Wow. How'd it go in retrospect now that you're at the tail-end of it?
Scott: It was great. It was really, really good. It was overdue that we did a headliner, I think. We have done so much support for this last tour, and all the headlining we did was a week here, a week there...it wasn't a full US tour. Also, playing that many shows in the US, we were able to cover so much ground. Typically, if we do a lap around the US, it'll last a month. We basically did a lap around the US, but we played everywhere we possibly could, and it ended being sixty-three shows in total. And we're still alive and not hating life!
Thrashpit: Things on a tour like that are bound to get crazy. What's the craziest thing you've witnessed on this tour?
Scott: It's been relatively uneventful as far as that goes. In Columbus, there was this really, really drunk chick that sat on the stage, and then a few people in the crowd tried to help her off the stage and she flipped out and started punching this guy. She grabbed me and my guitar and almost pulled me off the stage. That happened yesterday and I did not see that coming—that was unexpected. Other than that, Mike from Mutilation Rites was running around naked outside of the hotel. I didn't see that coming either, but it's been uneventful in that sense, which is a good thing. It's been pretty smooth and the shows have been good.
Thrashpit: You guys do a lot of heavy tours. I saw Skeletonwitch open for The Black Dahlia Murder and Nile, and now Skeletonwitch is back in Grand Rapids just a few months later. What are the stressors of doing tours constantly?
Scott: There's nothing that's one huge stressor—it's just making sure you're on time, being away from home, sleeping like sh*t, sleeping in weird places...you just get used to it, though. You just flip into 'tour mode' and have the mindset of being on the road and just go for it. It's really not that stressful. You have to love it. We love doing it, so for us it's not that taxing because we're doing what we love. We consider ourselves fortunate to be able to even do this. When you look at it from that perspective, all the little bullsh*t is pretty miniscule. It doesn't matter. The worst day on tour is better than the best day in a cubicle, or a factory, or somewhere we don't want to be.
Thrashpit: That's really cool. I was talking to the Havok guys and they feel the same way.
Scott: We're like a shark: if we stopped moving, we'd die.
Thrashpit: Listening to "Forever Abomination" and your back catalog, how do you think the band's sound has naturally evolved?
Scott: We certainly don't consciously try to write in a certain way, meaning we don’t try to make it more thrash or death metal or black metal. The more time goes by, the more music we listen to, the more stuff we absorb, the better we become as musicians and songwriters, that we don't rule anything. There's even a couple of doom parts on the new record; just a couple, but there are some doom metal riffs for a little bit, for example. "Infernal Resurrection" has a 4-4 beat, very black metal, kind of rock 'n' roll, real mid-tempo. Those are the kind of things that early on we wouldn't have done. Maybe we wouldn't have thought of it or thought we wouldn't want to do it.
But we're way beyond the point of caring what anyone else thinks and we write the music we want to hear. So if it ends up being a little more rock 'n' roll influence, or black metal, or thrash, or all of the above...as long as we're feeling it or into then we really don't care. I think that definitely came to light more on "Forever Abomination" like on the acoustic intro, and some of the slightly more textual stuff, you know? We aren't going to do the exact same thing every time. We're always going to have our core sound, but the tendrils will reach out a little further each time.
Thrashpit: It seems like you guys aren't trying to appeal to one niche. It's more like taking everything and pulling it together.
Scott: We love a lot of styles of heavy music, so why would we try to force ourselves into a pocket or one specific thing like a one-dimensional retro thrash band that only tries to write an Exodus album. They already did it, it was great, but we don't need to rewrite an Exodus album or a Nuclear Assault album; let's learn from what they did and make our own take on heavy music.
Thrashpit: Musically there are a lot of bands that do the black metal, thrash, death metal thing you guys do. You guys have a lot of success, being that you guys are on a successful headlining tour with a lot of turnout and you guys are doing a lot of big tours, in under a decade. What do you think draws people to Skeletonwitch compared to your cohorts?
Scott: I don't know for sure, but the only things I can think of are songwriting and work ethic. We bust our ass in a lot of different ways besides just writing music. Nowadays, it's tough to be in a band and make end’s meet if that's your sole source of income, basically it is for us at this point. It takes a lot of work. Being in a band, the amount of the time you spend away from your guitar doing work for the band sucks, but it happens a lot, from networking with people to trying to get your name out there and working really hard. That's part of it, but if you don't have the substance to back it up, no one gives a sh*t.
I think songwriting is a huge, huge part to it. We really try to make each song sound different or have an interesting feel to it or different melodies. Back to the one-dimensional retro thrash thing, I get bored with it really, really quickly. A lot of bands forget about the songwriting aspect. Or like technical death metal; I can't play guitar like a lot of those guys, but I also don't care. It's so boring. It's all about the songs first and foremost, and after that it's just working your ass off, and I think that's why we're at the place we are now.
Thrashpit: What's the most challenging part about being a guitar player and playing these songs?
Scott: Not drinking too many beers before I have to play them (laughs). No, I have that down now. Constantly coming up with new ideas and new melodies, that's always challenging. Sitting down and writing riffs for hours and hours and hours, and then realizing you won't use any of it. That part it is frustrating when working on new material. That's the most challenging thing. I try to throttle my skill set and my ability each record and every time we have time off, but I'm never going to be one of those full-on shred guys.
Thrashpit: Not your thing?
Scott: There's nothing wrong with it, but almost everyone that shreds almost always loses a huge element of taste, I think. There are definitely some good shredders out there that are tasteful, though. You can train a monkey to play sweep arpeggios if you try hard enough. From a technical aspect, there's nothing too worrisome for me because we write what we like and do what we do, and I don't write parts I can't play. I have written some solos that required some practice, but you know. You got to find a balance of technical ability and also songwriting and not get too hung up on flash. Keep it focused on the songs and the rest will fall into place.
Thrashpit: What is the worst thing that has happened to Skeletonwitch when touring?
Scott: Van breakdowns always suck. When we kicked out our old bass player and left him in LA and had to not do the rest of the tour—this was years ago, that was sucky. On a personal level, just feeling sh*tty. I had a 102-103 degree fever and I had the flu really bad and was throwing up on stage for a couple shows. That sucked, but we played so it was all good; I lived to tell the tale. Little things like that. There's never been a huge game-changer. We've had dates cancelled, van breakdowns, and weird sh*t happen, but it's going to happen— the regular trials and tribulations of being a heavy metal band.
Thrashpit: What are your favorite bands of this year, or albums that were released this year that have made a big impression on you?
Scott: There hasn't been a lot of new stuff that really blew my mind, mainly because I've been so busy on the road. When I get home in three days I have a huge list of stuff to listen to, some of which, oddly enough, labels send us. I'm on a mailing list where they give me advanced copies of records from Metal Blade and some places. It's like this weird way to get them to promote their bands; they're doing this thing where they send it out to artists and trying to get other bands to promote their albums. There's a lot for me to catch up on. To be honest, there's nothing that really blew my mind, but I am excited to hear the new Graveyard album. The new Enslaved is pretty rad; I'm into that. This is not metal at all, but there's a band called Band of Skulls—sounds actually metal, but it's very not metal. That record was one of my favorite records this year. I recommend checking that out, unless you only listen to metal, then don't, because you'll hate it. It's a rock 'n' roll band.
Thrashpit: What does the band have to do to stay relevant and continue being successful at this point in Skeletonwitch's career?
Scott: I hate to keep harping on writing good songs, but I think a lot of people worry too much... you have to make smart moves. As much as it sucks, a band is a business. If you're not making any money, how are you going to pay for gas? There are costs involved with being in a band with gear and gas and everything. You have to be concerned with making intelligent moves as far as making sure you can still do this. That's something that's been there since day one is making smart decision with who to tour with and business decisions.
From an aesthetic point of view, I hate it when bands question their sound and their look to stay relevant. The first thing you should do to stay relevant is not worry about that and do what you love doing. If you're talking about us continuing to be relevant, I'm assuming the presumption is that we are relevant. If we are relevant, we should do what got us there and keep doing what the band is about, and not sit there and access how to make it further. We'll keep doing what we're doing: writing the best songs we can, making the smartest business decision we can, try to get on bigger tours, get to some new areas like Japan and Australia, do more festivals...just do what we've been doing over the last ten years and keep slowly growing. Not press the red button and try to do something weird like cutting our hair and wearing weird outfits. You can't over think it in that sense and force yourself to do something to increase fandom.
Thrashpit: Last question I have for you. You guys are pretty close to being at the ten-year anniversary milestone. What are your future plans for that, and just in general, like when the tour gets done or a year down the road?
Scott: Right after the tour gets done, we go right into writing mode. We're immediately going to continue writing the next record and record it. We aren't going to play anymore shows until the next record is recorded and done. We're also planning on reissuing "One With The Shadows." It's our first album, and it's been out of print for years. We've been getting requests to re-release that for six or seven years, so we're finally going to get around to doing that while we have some down time. We'll be in writing mode, we'll re-release that, then we'll record the new record and be back on the road like maniacs. We're hoping to get to Japan and Australia next year because we haven't been to either place, and we'd love to get to South America as well and then go do some festivals in Europe and hit it up in the States again. At some point we'll probably do a ten-year anniversary tour of some sort. I don't know anything about details, but that's all for next year: Europe again, Japan, Australia, South America, more US touring and a new record. Keep going and staying busy.
Thrashpit: That's all I got for you. It's an honor to speak with you. Thanks for the interview.
Scott: Thanks man, I appreciate it.