Despised Icon

Despised Icon
Genuinely avid musicians and performers, Despised Icon are easily one of the hardest working bands in metal. Since their Century Media debut, The Healing Process, they have toured almost endlessly with some of the genre’s biggest names, bringing their modern blend of all things brutal to the global stage. Their newest effort, The Ills of Modern Man, showcases the depth of these experiences, bringing a diverse set of influences to their already eclectic mix. Getting their start in Canada’s favourite hair-whip hotbed, these six young Quebecois have drawn influence from their roots and beyond, evolving into their own as one of the country’s best known and highly regarded exports.

From reading the lyrics, it doesn’t seem like this is a commentary about "the ills of modern man,” more so just a collection of personal reflections. Does the title actually unite the album conceptually?
Vocalist Alex Erian: I think that when Steve [Marois, vocals] and I wrote the lyrics, we didn’t have that whole title and perspective. It’s not supposed to be some concept album either. Basically, being in a band on tour all year long does bring some complications to your personal life and I think that us writing about it helps vent out all the emotion. I think that the more you write about it the more it helps you cope. Most of the topics covered on this CD are regrets, dealing with disappointment, fears and inhibitions. I feel pretty nostalgic at times as well but there’s a negative part to all of us and being in a band helps balance things out; it’s a positive outlet for negative energy. The reason why we chose that title for the entire thing is that we talk about how we feel but we don’t [want to] lose the perspective that everything that’s going on right now is way bigger than our small little problems. We do feel bad at times, but we just got to keep that in perspective. A friend of mine that used to sing in Neuraxis almost died yesterday, so our little problems are horseshit compared to what he’s going through. That’s kind of out of the subject but I had to bring it up. The title does sound mean, and we do consider ourselves a death metal band, so we have to reflect our music and we’ve got to try and sound badass here.

I’ve read before that the writing process is usually just you writing drum parts and then working from there. Has this changed over the years?
With this new record, I would say Alex — there are two Alexs in the band and one Al [Glassman, guitar], so it might get confusing — but Alex [Pelletier], our drummer, and myself immediately start off and write an entire song on drums and then program all of the drums beats, one after the other, as if they were riffs, so certain beats will repeat themselves. Then, most of the time, we just kind of [have] an idea of what the music would be over those beats and we just sit down with Eric [Jarrin], our guitarist, and hum riffs ’cause we don’t know how to play guitar. We’re pretty good at humming now. On the last tour we just did, All Shall Perish kept playing Guitar Hero so now we’ve got our whole Guitar Hero van set up going on and I’m really into that, so I’m thinking of actually starting to learn how to play guitar. The next time around I might actually play riffs instead of just humming them. As far as how we write, it’s still pretty much the same thing that you described but now more than ever everybody in the band — it’s never been a dictatorship, nobody’s like, "alright, I need you to play this part whether you like it or not,” everybody has a say — but more and more everybody is giving their feedback and we all keep that in mind when we make the final arrangements. This time, Steve and I wrote half the lyrics each, [whereas] on The Healing Process I wrote most of the lyrics. I think that our approach is somewhat the same but we wanted to evolve as a band, so it’s not quite the same thing. We added a few elements here and there. Part of me wants to say we’ve never worked this hard on a CD before ’cause we’ve all been in a lot of bands in the past, and I think I speak for all of us when I say we put everything we had into this CD. We’re pretty satisfied with how it came out.

That kind of relates to another question I wanted to ask. I think this album is a lot heavier than what you’ve done in the past and I’m wondering if you went into the studio thinking, "Okay, we’re going to evolve into a way heavier band”?
I don’t know. I guess it was just initial progression. We’ve been fortunate enough to be put on really decent tours. We’ve toured with some of the biggest death metal bands like Morbid Angel, Suffocation, Deicide, Behemoth and all that, but we’ve toured with straight-up hardcore or metalcore [bands like] Hatebreed and First Blood, and we’ve played with melodic bands like Through the Eyes of the Dead, All Shall Perish and the Black Dahlia Murder, so that’s pretty much how diversified our music is and how open we are musically. I think that’s our main mindset every time we try to write a song. On this record the title track, "The Ills of Modern Man,” is probably the heaviest, fastest, most brutal death metal song we’ve ever written. On the other hand, this other song, "Tears of the Blameless,” has no blast beats whatsoever and is a bit more metalcore. The last track of the CD is this big melodic outro clean part that we’ve never quite explored in the past and on the opening track we have a guitar solo. We’ve written about 30-something songs in the span of five years and it’s the first time we’ve had a guitar solo. I think structure-wise, the song structures are a bit better thought out. Still, I don’t think we sacrificed the whole chaotic aspect of our music for structure. I like our CD so I hope people will dig it.

Other than being on tour with all sorts of diverse and popular bands, have you found your deal with Century Media to be all big label life is made out to be in terms of the opportunities it affords you?
There are pros and cons. Look at it this way: we’ve toured with some of the bands that got us into music in the first place, which is quite an honour. We’re not 18-year-old MySpace kids, we’re 23- to-30-year olds, we’ve been into death metal for at least half our lives. We’ve been following the scene a lot, we know our roots and we’ve been offered the opportunity to play with those bands that got us into death metal or hardcore in the first place. That is a major advantage to being in this band. Our label has been really supportive, they’ve been supporting us financially to put out these records and these music videos, and hooked us up with this interview with you right now. We just went to Europe for the first time a few months ago with Job for a Cowboy and Unearth and that was out of this world. They paid for our plane tickets and for the tour bus, which we could have never afforded. And now they’re bringing us back to Europe in February and it’s the same deal. I’m really stoked. I started getting into music when I was 12 and I would just dream of living the life that I’m living right now. But, with that being said, we are broke, we do miss our families, friends and girlfriends, and as I said earlier, it brings a lot of complications. We have gone through some bullshit in our personal lives but we are living our dream and we’re one of the hardest working Canadian metal bands. I think our scene overall is getting a lot of recognition, a lot more than it used to get in the past few years. We’re really proud of where we’re from, we’re really proud of all the bands that come from back home, like our brothers in Ion Dissonance or Beneath the Massacre. One of the CDs we’ve listened to the most this year in the van is Elementary, the new one by the End. I’m really digging that CD so everybody check it out. As far as doing this Exclaim! Canadian tour, the last time we toured coast to coast was a year-and-a-half, two years ago. Earlier this year we did do the whole of East coast Canada, you know, Quebec, Ontario, the Maritimes, but haven’t been in BC, the western part of Canada in quite some time so we’re really looking forward to that.

How do you think people are going to react to you on this tour? Obviously your fans are going to come out but at the same time the Locust, Child Abuse, and the Discord of a Forgotten Sketch all have a lot more similarities musically. How do you think that’s going to go over?
As I said, we’re a band that are really open musically and we’re all about touring in different scenes, so I think that illustrates what we’re all about once more. It should be interesting to play in front of a more spazzier grindcore crowd. I’m pretty sure some of them will dig what we have to offer, and I’m pretty sure a lot of our fans will show up as well. We’ve been getting a lot of mail, a lot of support from the English Canadian part of this country and we’re really stoked to be back so it should be a lot of fun.

What do you think is the hardest part of touring Canada coast to coast?
Long-ass drives, a lot of nothing in between cities. I wouldn’t say it’s hard, I mean, I don’t know.

Do you find it’s harder to get people out because the cities aren’t even that big to begin with?
A lot of people underestimate Canada; a lot of touring bands just skip our country. I think that if they were doing what we’re about to do and what we’ve been doing for a few years, which is always playing in this country, they’d finally realise that Canada does have something to offer, that Canada does have a great scene. I really love Calgary and Edmonton, personally, and we haven’t played there as often as I would have liked.

What do you like about Calgary and Edmonton?
I like the scene itself, not so much the scenery; it’s pretty chill. I mean, we’re constantly playing in like Detroit or Chicago, places that have a high crime rate and are just big cities with a lot of stress. It will definitely be cool to tour Canada, which is really laid back. One thing I’m frightened of is the weather, like if it gets insanely cold. When we did our first headlining East coast Canadian tour with Job for a Cowboy, I just got mad sick, had a fever, missed out on two or three shows just ’cause I had to go to the hospital. I had a throat infection and was on antibiotics and all that crap but touring in the winter is really hard and this year we only have October off. We’ll be touring September, November and December. Scratch that ’cause in December we’ll be in the southern states of the U.S., so we’re actually going to skip some of the cold.

Ah, vacationing.
I’ll be in Florida and California while my friends are freezing to death. I had to brag.

What would you say is the worst place in Canada to play?
I do want to mention that my friend Gabe from Ion Dissonance filled in for me when I was sick on that Canadian tour, so I was really fortunate to have him around. I did fill in for him when he quit Ion before so he owed me. Sorry, what was the next question again?

What would you say is the worst place in Canada to play?
I don’t know. I don’t want to piss anybody off.

Keeping quiet then?
We played in this one area in Vancouver, which is really kind of crazy, there’s like so many crackheads and all that everywhere. So stay away from hard drugs. It’s really saddening to see all these people hanging out in alleys just staring at the floor looking for crack rocks and all that.

Was that at the Balmoral down on East Hastings?
I’m not sure. It’s just the part that has a high density of drug addicts. Music can be your anti-drug. But none of us are straightedge so I don’t think I’m preaching right now. We’re not a preachy band.

I wanted to ask you about what place you think metalcore has in the history of metal. I see a lot of parallels — I’m not saying this applies to you — but I see a lot of parallels to the hair metal thing in the ’80s just because it has become a fashion thing and it’s really huge. Bands like As I Lay Dying are selling 40,000 copies in their first week. So what place do you think metalcore has in the history of metal and do you think that there are any parallels to the commercialised, fashion-oriented "metal” that dominated that era?
That’s a touchy question. I would say to each their own. I sort of get the feeling that emo is going to be the glam rock of the year 2000. Like how it’s possible to make fun of how all those cock rock and glam rock dudes were dressing up in the ’80s, I kind of get the feeling that emo kids will get the same treatment in a few years but who cares? If you feel good dressing that way then just do it. It’s no big deal. I stay away from message boards but I’ve had friends of mine that do write stuff and they were telling me that we’d be discredited as a death metal band just because I would wear like a hat or a small red T-shirt or something as stupid as that. Metal has nothing to do with how you dress; it has to do with just being a fan of the music. This whole type of music started out as a big fuck you to the mainstream and now all of a sudden people feel compelled to look a certain way and just get pigeonholed into the same thing they were trying to stay away from ten years back. As far as the music, I personally listen to metalcore, I listen to grindcore, I listen to death metal, and in my book there are some metalcore bands I find heavier than thrash metal or even death metal bands. Maybe that’s just me. Like I said earlier, to each his own, everybody can see it the way they want to and I think people should stop segregating and being real Nazis about metal ’cause who cares if it’s death metal with some metalcore influences? That doesn’t mean it’s not metal. The word "metal” is in metalcore.

I wanted to ask you that question ’cause I was at a show a few years ago in Toronto you played with Cryptopsy and during your set some douche bags started chanting "Cryptopsy.” I was curious about what you thought because, and I’m using this word loosely and mostly sarcastically, a lot of "true” metalheads tend to shun the metalcore ’cause they think that’s for the emo kids. How do you think that fits into the bigger picture? Have you had a lot of trouble with assholes that think you’re unworthy of the metal title?
We’ve toured a good portion of the world. One of the tours we were on was Morbid Angel, Krisiun and Behemoth, and you know we still did well on that tour. We still made new fans, we still proved that even though we’re not a straight-up, 100-percent death metal band that a large part of our music is influenced by death metal. A lot of people can acknowledge that but for some reason some death metal fans in Toronto are the hardest fans in front of whom we’ve played. Our homies in Ion Dissonance did that "Summer Slaughter” tour not too long ago and one of the only, if not the only, shows they got booed and showed the finger was in Toronto. That’s fucking bullshit. They are, and we are, one of the few metal bands out of Canada and a Canadian city not showing support? I don’t know. It sounds kind of bitter but I would expect this country to be more supportive about its bands. Just going to support U.S. bands and not giving a fuck about our scene, I think it’s complete bullshit. I do remember that show ’cause that’s the last show I had that hard of a time dealing with [it]. As I said earlier, I’m not a preachy dude and we’re not a preachy band but here I am preaching right now. At that show I do remember saying the exact same thing I’m telling you right now. The whole hardcore scene, the whole Toronto and Ontario metalcore scenes are really supportive so I feel fortunate that at least they’re there for us. There are metalheads out there that dig our shit as well. I’m happy they overlook the appearance and just enjoy the music. Just look at the most recent Decapitated, just look at the most recent Aborted, those are some of my favourite death metal bands and they’re incorporating new elements that have nothing to do with traditional death metal. More and more I think for this style of music to rejuvenate itself and perpetuate itself it has to come up with new styles in order to make new fans and keep on going, otherwise it will just die out with some of the older forms of metal. I mean, thrash is obviously not doing as well as it used to.

What do you think are these new elements that make bands like Decapitated and Aborted the future of death metal?
I don’t know. Maybe that’s just me talking.

No, I agree whole-heartedly.
Back in the day, in the late ’90s, there was the Dillinger Escape Plan and Meshuggah that got me into this weird type of technical metal, hardcore, whatever you want to call it — mathcore. And I sort of get the feeling that Decapitated, with their most recent music, incorporated some of those elements into those death metal sounds and made it really original. I haven’t heard a lot of bands that have pulled that off lately, or ever. I’ve got to name drop one of our bands, this band from Montreal, Negativa, which features Etienne [Gallo] on drums, who filled in for me when I quit Neuraxis. He played in Augury as well. There’s Miguel [Valade] that played in Ion Dissonance and the two Gorguts dudes who are doing that band. It’s something completely different and back in the day Gorguts came out with Obscura and I can’t name one band that did something as crazy as that record. It’s sad that a lot of people try to copy that and don’t even know where it comes from. A lot of these hardcore kids that are into death metal music, they listen to all the cool bands — all the cool MySpace bands that I don’t even want to mention — and they don’t even know that all those bands were influenced by Suffocation and Obituary and all that. They don’t even know who Suffocation and Obituary are. It’s those same 13-, 14-, 15-, 16-year olds that talk shit on message boards about us or Ion Dissonance not being metal enough. We’ve been listening to this for half our lives, back when they were ten years old listening to New Kids on the Block or Britney Spears or something.

You mentioned Negativa, who haven’t exactly gotten huge as of yet, but are there any other Quebec bands that you think people should know about that you think are doing something really special?
Unfortunately lots of my friends’ bands have broken up in the past year. Shaolin and Orphans in a Coma are broken up. These days, aside from the bands I’ve already mentioned, there are my friends in the Plasma Life from Montreal that are doing pretty well. Their guitarist Oli, I’ve known him for years, we had our first bands together, back in the day. There’s Maynard [Moore], who was the first singer in Neuraxis — that’s before I even played in Neuraxis — he plays in that band, and one of my best friends, Sean, is playing drums with them, so I totally support everything that the Plasma Life do. Aside from that, there’s Camilla Rhodes, they’re doing pretty well; they just recorded a new CD, their drummer Jade [Simonetto] is now in Hate Eternal.

What?
Yeah. Drummers are really rare.

I know, but for Eric Rutan to ask you to be in his band, that’s pretty crazy.
Yeah, there’s Jade in Hate Eternal, there’s Ben [Dussault], who used to play in Montreal, he used be in A Death for Every Sin, he’s been playing in Throwdown for like four years or something. There’s Dennis [Pavia] who used to play in this band from Montreal called Tantrum, he’s playing in Diecast now. Montreal has some of the best drummers so I think a lot of bands are trying to steal our drummers.

What do you think is the worst part about having the best metal scene in North America? What are the drawbacks?
Drawbacks are like all the…

Bullshit.
Yeah, I’m trying not to say bullshit for like the tenth time; I was trying to think of a different word. But all the bullshit when we have to cross borders. Us being a Canadian band, we have to get work permits. Fortunately our label takes care of all the legal stuff, they pay for the papers and that does get quite expensive, we’re talking like $8,000 a year just for us to play in the U.S. Even though we go through border bullshit, they always find stuff to pick on us for. It’s just really shitty, we’ve been stuck at borders in the past for half a day. Back in the day my friend Kevin [McCaughey], who now sings in Ion Dissonance and my buddy Chris [Bradley, vocals] from Beneath the Massacre, they filled in for a few shows on one of our U.S. tours with Deicide, if I’m not mistaken, and at some point, since they weren’t officially in the band, they were rejected at the border. We had to play as a four-piece for a few shows and fly in our original members. That’s kind of complicated. A few months ago we played the New England Metal Fest and they denied us entry into the country even though all the merch we were bringing was from the U.S. We had paid border shipping from the U.S. to Canada, we had paid the custom passes and all of that, and it was basically U.S. goods just coming back into the country and they were like, "there’s nothing that proves to us that your U.S. clothing company paid the taxes for those Fruit of the Loom shirts that come from El Salvador.” Are you fucking kidding me? One of the biggest screen-printing companies in the U.S. and you’re accusing them of paying for taxes and shipping over shirts from El Salvador and all that? They just wanted to pick on us; they just wanted to give us a hard time.

Did you end up getting through?
Not even. We had CDs as well, CDs from Century Media Records that say on the back, "Century Media Records, Hawthorne, California,” and they said to us, "there’s nothing that proves that these CDs were made in the U.S.” It says California, U.S.A. "Well, it doesn’t say ‘printed in the U.S.A.’,” so they denied us entry even though we had work permits that gave us access to that country. We basically had to drive back and drop off all our merch, all our CDs, and just drove back the U.S. borders a few hours later. They just let us through. That’s just how fucking random they are. I can live without that. We’re a bunch of music enthusiasts; we’re obviously not making a shitload of money out of it.

We’re running ultra-long here so I’ll just end it with this. You said you were loving the new End record, what else have you liked this year?
I don’t know, the new A Life Once Lost, the new Between the Buried and Me, it’s probably their best material. The new Red Chord, the new Through the Eyes of the Dead, they’re our touring buddies, we love those dudes, Nate [Johnson] their new vocalist is badass. There are a few releases I will look out for. Ion Dissonance, they’re our best friends. Minus the Herd I’ve listened to a lot and I really like it.

For even more on Despised Icon, check out VBS.TV's episode of Practice Space feat. Despised Icon.