A Different Mindset

Despised Icon

Early July, my first interview for this issue was with Alex Erian of Despised Icon. It was one of those chats that went way off script and ended up eating into the time of the colleague granted an interview after me. Just a great chat, and hopefully a fun read. Despised Icon is back, with a BEAST of a record and a new found brutality. It’s a great time to be Despised.

Thank you for taking the time to talk to us, how are you?

Great thanks!

How are things in the world of Despised Icon?

How are things with Despised Icon right now? We’re just keeping busy. We are releasing a new music video tomorrow for our third single, “Bad Vibes”, and our new record comes out in about a week or so. So yeah, trying to promote everything as much as possible and keeping busy man. We have a lot of shows in the works and what not, so one day at a time you know?

Yeah, exciting times. I get that, you have a lot going on! Let’s have a bit of a look back. In 2010 you guys broke up. You went on to pursue other careers, and you wanted to start new chapters in your personal lives. How was the break for you, and did you find what you were looking for?

Well, we were all pushing thirty back then in 2010, we had been doing music full time for about a decade or so, and spending most of our time on tour, you know? And granted, we were lucky to be given that opportunity, but it just got too much at some point. It got overwhelming, and we were curious to see what life was outside of Despised Icon, and outside of music. A lot of my boys started families, a lot of the guys had good career opportunities. Music has always been the center point in my life, and I felt as if I needed to end it with the rest of my boys, and sort of move on, and try to do the 9 to 5 and the life at home and all that. Very early on, it only took a couple of months and I realized that I wasn’t fit for real life so to speak *laughs*.

Music was still in my system, and I couldn’t get enough of it, so a couple of months later I started a band called Obey The Brave. Later we signed to Epitaph records, put out two records and toured the world and all that. Simultaneously the rest of the guys all went the opposite way. A lot of them stopped music and didn’t touch their instruments in quite some time. They did stuff that had nothing to do with music. Everybody did what they had to do. We all learned how to let go, and life was outside of the band, but that being said, it only took me a couple of months, but it took the rest of the guys a couple of years to realize how important music is in our lives and how important Despised Icon is in our lives. We’ve lived through a lot of experiences thanks to the band. And their kids being a little older, my boys have maybe two kids each on average, kids being a little older, them having more stability in their work environment and at home, you know, that gave them some freedom to be able to do this band once again, and to balance out the work life, the family life and touring part time with the band. And you know, fully realizing how lucky we are to have this opportunity once again, and doing this for the right reasons, on our own terms.

I understand that. You could say that you got a taste of the real life, the regular life, and now you get to go back to the dream you built a few years ago.

Exactly. We’re back. You know, this new record on Nuclear Blast is there, we just toured Europe a little over a month ago and right now we’re back home in Canada as part of the summer festivals here. Rock Fest, Heavy Montreal, we’re going back to Japan this September for a week, we’re going back to America in October for a week, so slowly but surely we are booking this world tour for the new record. But that being said, as far as us touring like six seven months out of the year like back in the day, that’s no longer an option for the time being. So if we do come your way, make sure you come out, otherwise it might take another year or two or three before we come back, you know? We’re doing everything we can to revisit the world and what not and we already have ideas for new songs and all that, but we can’t just tour Europe three times a year like we used to.

No, family changes everything in that aspect, absolutely. What would you say you missed the most during your break about the band, the fans? The writing of new stuff? The tours?

I didn’t miss touring because I’ve still been touring all this time, but I guess for the rest of the guys, music had become work. We were on tour back in the day, at some point it was just punch in, punch out. On to the next show, on to the next show. Here today, gone tomorrow, let’s go to the next city. And the next, and so on and so forth. But now, we’re on tour and it’s a different mindset, like for my guys especially, they feel like they’re on vacation now, it’s like a field trip. They go on an adventure, you know. They love their kids, they love their families, they love their jobs, but for them it’s a little vacation from all that. It’s definitely a change of pace, but it’s interesting. That being said, it’s vacation for them, but they’re very happy to get back home and to their families and all that. We’re just really doing our best to make the best of both world happen right now.

You’re blessed to have both!

Yeah! *Laughs*

So now, 2016, you’re back with a vengeance, bringing us a brand new album called Beast. What can you tell us about this release?

The last record we put out was in 2009, a few years ago already. Getting into this record, first of all we need to thank the fans, because when we played those reunion shows in 2014 and 2015, the fact that so many fans came out to those shows… Die hard fans came out of the woodwork and broke mosh retirement and went to a show and watched us live and told us their stories of how they first got into our band, but also seeing some fresh and unfamiliar faces. People that have only recently gotten into the band, that never saw us live before we broke up. Seeing all those fans that are still present, it’s kind of overwhelming, kind of unexpected, but also very welcomed. That was sort of the motivation we needed, the confidence that we needed and that good kick in the ass to say you know what? Maybe we can do this thing again. Maybe we can write some new songs and play some new tours and all that, and still somewhat be relevant. I don’t think we would have gone all the way if it wasn’t for all the support from the fans.

So getting into the record we didn’t really know what to expect you know? We hadn’t written anything in seven years but I guess it’s just like riding a bike. At first we were like let’s just do an EP and put it out independently, set our expectations low. Then we were supposed to do that, and it rapidly became a full length on Nuclear Blast. And having our fans by our side, being so supportive from the get-go, we didn’t approach any other labels. We hit up Nuclear Blast like “yo, you want to hear our new record?” and they were like “Yeah! Let’s do it!” Lucky enough, it was that easy!

But as far as the music itself, we’ve taken that huge step back by not doing the band for a little while, but also playing all those records that we’ve put out live. From 2002 to 2010 we sort of identified what we like the most, and what we like the least in Despised Icon, and essentially we just isolated those elements that we prefered and made a best of. For me the best of Despised is Beast. It encompasses the old school material that I’m really into, which is a bit more mosh, slam, traditional Death Metal oriented, those are the elements that I prefered in the band, but fans that are more into like fast, technical aspects of Despised like on the last two records, The Ills Of Modern Man and Day Of Mourning, those fans will be served as well. It’s a little bit from every era of Despised, all mashed up into one. That’s Beast.

Yeah, I really liked it. I had a few listens to it, I really thought it was aptly titled, it IS a Beast.

*laughs* Thank you.

It’s a brutal, uncompromising record. When you were writing this, what was your mindset while you were writing these songs?

The thing with our band that I think is different from most of the Deathcore bands out there, is that when we started out, there was no Deathcore, you know? We were one of the first bands to do it, if not the first. We just influenced ourselves mainly from the Death Metal and Hardcore records that we listened to in the ‘90s, you know? Add a bit of grindcore to that, and that’s us. So I feel like we are different, you know? Coming into this record I hear a lot of our peers that are coming up with records, and I feel their sound is a bit more up to date if I may say so, what’s currently trending or popular. I hear a lot of Djent influences in current Deathcore bands.

They do it well, but I feel like our influences vary from those bands and I feel like, that’s how we achieve sort of that identity and our own personal signature sound. I feel like that really shines on Beast, you know? Our intention was to make a record that was fast and uncompromised. A lot of people sort of expect a band, when they get to their fifth record and they are like, approaching their 40’s, you expect them to slow down, become more accessible, become more commercial. And there’s nothing wrong with that, but where it comes to Despised Icon, I feel we did a full 180, and this record is probably more extreme than the previous records. That was sort of our intention.

Your fans expected brutal, and you delivered!

*Laughs* there you go!

You already mentioned it, many people see you as one of the founding bands of the Deathcore sub genre. To you, what is Deathcore, and what makes a song a Deathcore song?

Like I said, when we started there was no Deathcore. We were on tour with Deicide and Immolation and Suffocation and Morbid Angel and Behemoth and so on. A couple of years later when Chelsea Grin and Suicide Silence and Oceano and Carnifex and Job For A Cowboy, all those bands started surfacing and started touring, it made it tourwise a lot easier for us. Some of those traditional Death Metal fans were a bit reluctant to get into our sound, but we stuck to it. That’s how we got the name out.

At some point, in like 2007, 2008, 2009 it became like a trend, like a real bandwagon. Every band was trying to be a Deathcore band and trying to do pig squeals and all that and for a couple of years it was like the cool thing to do. I feel as though it sort of died down. A lot of the bands are no longer active, but the ones that still are, are definitely representing the style well. Definitely a band like Whitechapel or Suicide Silence, they’re huge, you know? We’re going to be supporting them in America in October. But how do we compare ourselves? I think we’re slightly different to be honest. As I said we’re a little older, and our influences are different. I don’t know. For us it’s literally like a mixture of Death Metal and Hardcore. And when I listen to other Deathcore bands, that traditional Hardcore sound, that influence that we have from bands like Biohazard and Hatebreed and Madball, I feel like that’s not so much present with other Deathcore bands. But, you know, Deathcore. There’s the Core element in it. It speaks for itself. I think that’s not really present with a lot of the other bands out there, but whatever. More room for us. I feel like there’s less and less blast beats as well. We definitely have a big doses of blast beats on the record *laughs*

*laughs* yeah. That’s a good thing! How do you feel about the founding fathers of Deathcore label? Does that mean anything to you?

Well, we’re all fathers, except me, so theoretically the term applies *laughs*. I don’t know, it’s sort of accurate, you know? Like I said, when we started Despised Icon, when we started writing the first record in 2001, there was no Deathcore really. All of us had been in Death Metal bands prior to Despised icon, for a lot of us it was our second or third Death Metal band, you know? Being in our early twenties back then, when we sat down and decided to make this band, we were like what can we do to make things different? And so we came up with our signature style of metal and later on I guess the term Deathcore got used up a lot, but I don’t really know what to say. It’s not really a competition. There are other bands out there that do it just as well and some are even bigger, but there’s enough room for everyone. But as far as being credited as being one of the first bands, I definitely welcome that, yeah.

I had the pleasure to interview Candlemass for the previous issue, and they’re the founding fathers of Doom. They were really honored, and really humble, so I was curious how you would feel about something similar for your particular genre.

It’s definitely humbling, it’s definitely appreciated. We put all our time and money and heart and soul into this music and we spend a lot of time. It’s really not something that we do for the money. It’s just because the only way to feel whole, to be an accomplished human being for us, is to play music. And to get that amount of support and consideration from people out there that we’ve never met, they are from parts of the world that we might not even have entered, that’s definitely overwhelming.

That’s one of the great things about being an artist I think.

Yeah I definitely feel fortunate, but we definitely worked hard for it as well, you know? It’s definitely been a long, slow and steady process.

Going back to the album, what can you tell us about the track Dedicated To Extinction? That one came a bit out of left field for me!

Yeah, that’s like an old title that we used on some of our merchandise about a decade ago. I liked that title, and when we came up with that instrumental track, we thought the title was fitting, you know? It’s very like orchestral Black Metal influenced, you know? Enjoying bands like old school DImmu Borgir, or some of the older Cradle of Filth records and so on. We wanted to do something a little different, and our drummer plays a lot of video games and you’ll recognize that title as an epic soundtrack, it’s definitely influenced by that as well. We felt as though it was sort of an epic intro to Grind Forever, which is the track that’s right after that. Which is also the fastest song on the record. It was just a cool intro. We’ve also been using it live as of late. In our live set we’ve been using that song from the record. It’s pretty good!

I was wondering about that, because the visual I got while listening to the song was like a little intermission in the show, right before the storm.

*laughs* yeah it’s actually the beginning of the show

Where it comes to the title of the album, Beast. What does that mean to you?

I think you said it yourself, it’s just like a strong word that I feel aptly represents this record and the band itself. It’s fierce, it’s in your face, it’s brutal, you know? We’re keeping it brutal after all these years, so I feel Beast was a fitting title.

It most definitely is. And there’s a song in French as well on the album. How did you decide to use the French language on that one?

We are a French Canadian band. Our native tongue is French. The only time that we speak English for the most part, is when we’re on tour, or doing interviews with you right now and all that. English is the universal language, it’s probably not your first language neither. Where are you from?

Holland.

You’re from Holland?

Yeah.

Sweeet. So yeah. It’s what us Canadian bands do. It’s also what European bands do. We sing in English in order for our message as acceptable as possible, so it can open up as many doors as possible, for us to be a touring band. And to have fans relate to your art. So English is necessary, not a lot of international bands have the guts to sing in their native language. That’s something that we’ve been doing, whether it’s Despised Icon or my other band Obey The Brave, that’s something that I’ve been doing in a few songs on every record. Just represent where you’re from, show people where your roots are, our cultural roots. French is a beautiful language, there are a lot of words. For me it’s actually easier to sing in French than in English, you know? Just because of that ability to write instantaneously, instead of spell checking, double checking this English word or that English word. I just thought it was something different, to keep it interesting for other people out there, but definitely when we play French songs in Quebec, the French part of Canada, or whenever we’re in France, or the French part of Belgium, or Switzerland, or Luxembourg and so on, it’s definitely a treat to be able to play a song in your own language, that far away from home. It has that extra little cultural thing to connect to the fans, you know? It’s a great feeling, man.

I get that. I really get that. I just didn’t make the connection with Canada and the French language, that’s my oversight.

Yeah, we’re the French minority. People mostly speak English here as well. Where I’m from, Montreal, it’s probably like 50/50. Fifty percent French, fifty percent English, but when you’re in the outskirts of Montreal and throughout the province of Quebec, it’s mainly French.

Alright! Well, we learn something new every day. Well, these days it’s a lot more accepted to sing in your native tongue. Bands like Rammstein from Germany for instance, they’ve been doing it for quite some time and they’re famous world wide.

I’m not really familiar with the scene in the Netherlands and Holland and all that, but are there some extreme bands from your country that actually sing in your native tongue?

Hmm, let me see. Extreme bands? I don’t know any extreme bands top of mind. I do know a few Dutch metal bands that sing in Dutch, like Heidevolk for instance, but they’re not that extreme.

Alright! Well I would encourage any band that is reading this interview to try it out. It will feel great, trust me! And you will have like that little extra thing to connect to your fans back home especially, you know?

Definitely. Wave your flag proudly. Where it comes to the new album, I really love the artwork. Like the album itself, it’s raw and violent. Who made it and what was the assignment?

We often like to work with people that we know, mostly French. I feel like keeping it in the family. It makes the result even more personal, you know? We worked with a long time friend. His name is Alexandre Goulet. He is from the province. We’ve played there at shows, with his previous band and his current band in the past and recently, and we’ve stayed in touch ever since. He gets it when people are friends, he understands who we are as a band, what we’re going for and everything, so it’s quite easy. I told him straight off the bat, we wanted the record to be called Beast and we wanted a big fat beast on the cover. It was simple as that, you know? Not trying to over process the whole thing, that’s what we were going for. He sent one draft for the cover and we were like yo, this is it, you got it. Fortunately it was that simple. We wanted something that’s not too colorful, that had mainly one or two colors. Us being big fans of Suffocation, they have their logo that’s often green, so we got that Suffocation green and we wanted that type of color or color scheme to go with our record.

It looks great! It also has a little bit of a mechanical thing going on and I found that surprising, it could just as easily have been the cover of an industrial band, for instance.

Yes. I mean, for us, we wanted something that looks a bit more old school, and we had him do a new merchandise design that’s going to be on Nuclear Blast soon, and it’s very inspired from old school bands like Brutal Truth, or Napalm Death you know? A bit more of that nineties crust look. He sort of gets that background as well, and sort of applies that to everything we do.

Mission succeeded! Where it comes to finding your inspiration for writing music, how does your writing process work?

I’m very much involved in the music writing and the lyrics. I write about half the music with Eric, our guitar player. We’re influence like I said by a lot of old school Death Metal and Hardcore, influences being mainly Hatebreed, Madball, Suffocation, Dying Fetus, Devourment, and so on. And as far as the lyrical themes and what not, it’s just stuff that I write mainly for myself. Just stuff to keep my head above water, and try to take things one day at a time, and to not get overwhelmed by life itself. It’s just some real life shit, it’s trying to turn a lot of my negative experiences or negative thoughts or obstacles that come about, to try to turn those negative experiences into something positive, through music. Instead of jumping into self destruct mode and doing dumb shit, I’d rather just pick up a pad and pen, write some lyrics, go on stage and give it my all, you know? That’s my way of dealing with negative experiences and ultimately trying to keep a positive state of mind.

In what way does the current world we live in influence your writing?

It’s kinda scary. I feel like on one hand, things are definitely getting out of hand. Especially if you take a look at what is going on in America, and all these shootings that are happening left and right. But also events that happened in Paris and London in the past year. I’m trying to keep that world wide perspective and things are getting out of hand. I guess we’re not a very political or socially engaged band, but we do observe what’s going on, and I guess we do have a certain commentary on all that, but I don’t know. There’s that on one hand, and there’s the media that’s sort of  sensationalizes everything, and sort of creates and develops that culture of fear that everyone is just scared to get out there and live life, you know? Something bad could happen, or this could happen, or that could happen, and ultimately they deprive themselves of life itself. That’s another aspect that we discuss. Like the song Drapeau Noir, which is perhaps the most politically engaged song on this record, it translates to black flag in English, which is self explanatory. It just talks about going to the full extent of your believes, no matter what other people think or say, and to try and not derive from that half or anything. Essentially that’s about it for the lyrics.

To wrap up, do you have any last words for our readers?

Like I said, if it wasn’t for the fans out there, I’m not sure if we would have actually had the confidence to get back out there and start playing music again, so thanks to everyone that stayed faithful, and thanks to you for taking the time to chat, and thanks to the new fans out there for keeping us relevant and shit. We appreciate that a lot. Check out the record, if you like what you hear, please pick it up and hopefully we’ll see you out on tour, early next year!

Awesome. We’ll definitely come check you out live, and we’ll keep in touch. Thank you for your time, and Metal On Loud!

Randy Gerritse