Chimaira has built itself from change

Mark Hunter doesn’t consider Chimaira’s numerous line-up changes since the creation of the band, fifteen years ago, as something at all negative. Although he is the sole survivor of the original band, he has managed to maintain a spirit and a vision of metal such that the entity is still alive nowadays. After two albums that have seen the band take different directions, at once darker and more varied than the metalcore the band used to play in the early 2000s, Chimaira are back in 2013 with Crown Of Phantoms. As Mark tells us in this interview, this record combines Chimaira’s past, the experience gained through the last two albums and an ever-present desire to offer more intense music.

From the arrival in the band of new, former Daath members, to their growing, essential role in Chimaira, and from the writing process to the themes this seventh album revolves around, Mark Hunter takes stock with us of the bubbling activity of Chimaira in 2013.

« We want to be pioneers, we want to do things that are a little bit out of the box and a little bit unorthodox. And I feel that it’s necessary, just as an artist. »

Radio Metal: You recently said that when you started this band, you had a desire to make extremely heavy, eclectic Metal. Does nowadays Chimaira style fits with your initial expectations?

Mark Hunter (singer): I believe so. I think that it’s following the tradition in the same mindset that I always had and still in the ground of style and groove that is preferred. And I think that the experimentation has to be eclectic and still have the ability to expand on our sound which is exciting.

When you say the band has “gone through hell” to get to where you are now, did you specifically target something or someone?

That is in reference to various setbacks the group has had over the years with an ever changing industry, record labels, differences, line up changes… And it seems that every time there’s a wall put up in front of the band, the band decides to push that wall down. Sometimes there are team members who walk out the way, but the goal is still knocking down walls and climbing them.

How did you manage to have consistence and continuity while changing so often the musicians you’re playing with?

I think that is large in part to the fact that the essence of Chimaira has always been that the individual musician brings in their own artistic flair and, when combined with other people’s input, it creates a hybrid sound. And that it’s not trying to be on a specific style. It’s trying to be abstract. And by being abstract, it winds up… like order to chaos, like how the universe works. It winds up organizing itself and having that correct style with everyone just putting in their heart and their own integrity; it’s not really worrying about a specific genre or sound. It’s about playing in jams and seeing what happens, and writing from the heart and making it heavy! We followed that tradition from the first song that was written in August 1998 to the last song that we wrote at the beginning of the year 2013.

Jeremy (Creamer), Emil (Werstler) and Sean (Zatorsky) all come from the same band (Daath). Is it more a coincidence or was it something fully wanted?

It was mostly from a Chimaira tour with Daath, this is how was born the bound and friendship with Jeremy, Emil and Sean. We really enjoyed each other’s company as well as musical tastes, drive and commitment to music. We could just tell that we had a chemistry right off the bat and working together seemed like something that we wanted to do. It was my idea but it was based on a chemistry and vibe, as well as a desire to work with them on a musical capacity because of their tremendous capabilities.

Some of the fans have been surprised by the two last albums, that are heavier and darker, have slower tempo and going in different musical directions, such as death metal, for example, leaving a bit the metalcore style we were used to hear you play. Crown Of Phantoms seem to gather the old Chimaira speedy rhythms and spontaneity with the recent darker and heavier style. Would you agree with this analysis?

I believe so, yes. I think that the last two albums were the start of really learning how to not worry so much and put more… I don’t know how to explain this… It was more improvisational and less thought out, and I think it was imperative to learn how to really put something from nothing. But with Crown Of Phantoms, there was definitively improvisational moments but a lot of it was planned, which would be more in line with some of Chimaira’s earlier work. I think by going outside of the realm a little bit on the last two albums and being more an improvisational band, taking that knowledge and learning, then going back to being a little more prepared, thought out and calculated, the combination wound up in something like you described, a mixture of what you used to hear, next to what was in the two previous records, as well as something completely new.

« To be able to work with guys that are all what I consider virtuosos on their instruments is definitely a challenge and an upgrade. »

We find a lot of influences in this album coming from very different kinds of metal. Do the other new and older members of the band share your view of an eclectic and diversified metal?

I believe so. I think that the majority of us in the band, while we are all metal fans and love the genre, we definitively are looking to make changes and not follow a format, you know? We want to be pioneers, we want to do things that are a little bit out of the box and a little bit unorthodox. And I feel that it’s necessary, just as an artist. I mean there are groups that will put out a very similar sounding album through and through, and that’s OK. We’re just not one of those artists. So, everyone from the band definitely comes from a place of really diversified backgrounds, whether it’s common music like rap and pop or electronic or more avant-garde like jazz, classical and gipsy jazz… that, mixed to traditional metal and heaviness just brings out more colors to the spectrum.

Could you tell us more about the writing process of this last record: do the main ideas come from you and were developed afterward by the musicians, or do you settle the vocals and lyrics once the music is made?

This writing process was done in a pretty interesting method. Basically, we used technology with writing guitar riffs and whatnot on a laptop and then emailing them to each other. We kind of constructed the songs that way. I write the majority of my lyrics and vocal patterns once the song is in a position that I feel I’m able to tell a full story and have memorable repeating parts. So it definitely comes afterwards, and I would say a majority of the heavy riffs, the riff writing in general, was done by Emil and everybody contributed in putting their own spin and putting their own two cents afterwards. Basically, if we were building a house, Emil made the foundations and Austin (drums) came in and put out the dry wall, and the paint and blablabla… everybody had his own part and section of the house to make a complete product.

A striking element of the new album is the guitar play of Emil and Matt which seems to be faster and more technical than what has ever been done in Chimaira. Was this musical progression important to you, and a way to reach a next level in Chimaira career?

Well, I think so. I definitely think that we’re in an era musically where you can no longer fake it to make it. We’re in such transparent times, so you have to be excellent at the instruments. To be able to work with guys that are all what I consider virtuosos on their instruments is definitely a challenge and an upgrade. I feel like we’ve upgraded the operating system, if we were a computer. That’s what it feels like, it’s got all the new bells and whistles but at the end of the day, it’s still a working computer. But it just feels like an upgrade and evolution in the musicianship while the guys are extremely talented, they also know how to not just… you know, I’m not fan of some of these records where the band is so talented that all they’re doing is showing off! Sometimes it’s cool just to rock out! That’s what I love about a song like the title track « Crown Of Phantoms », where those guys are just jamming! It’s really not the most technical song in any way, shape or form, but it’s just a good quality song. So I think it really speaks a lot for how well-rounded the musicians are, when you can start the album up with a song like “The Machine”, that’s really fast and technical and tons of crazy changes and parts, and then you get a song like the title track which in my opinion is like a heavy Nirvana song! So that’s really cool to be able to wear two different hats but still be the same character.

The first single “No Mercy” is musically uncompromising and shows that the anger you had at the band’s start has not diminished. To whom do you concede “No Mercy” in this song?

That song is about the death of ego and all of the layers of ego that we have, constantly doing a lot of self-reflection and finding that sometimes there’s part of the self that hangs on just a little too long. And this can be a negative aspect and we’re just trying to completely change that and read that like it’s just a fake glitch on the psyche, on the system and the brain, and basically killing those parts of the ego to try to just be more well-rounded, compassionate humans.

The song “The Transmigration” is remarkable in different ways: it’s really different from the rest of the songs, but it also shows the band is able to make ambient and ethereal songs. Where does the idea of this song come from?

Emil wanted to have an intro to the title track and I know that some of the inspiration came from Testament, The Gathering, the way the album starts. Apart from the fact that Emil really liked it, he wanted to do his own spin and make something, not similar, but that kind of have that essence to it. So basically, he and “Zat” (Sean Zatorsky) escaped into a dark corner of the studio one day, and above twelve hours later, they had surfaced and that was the end result.

About their crowdfunding campaign: « That was really cool, actually humbling as well, that we doubled our initial goal. I think that speaks volumes to any of the people that cast doubts about this band. That really kind of shut them up! (laughs)

You have launched a crowdfunding campaign to support the release of a special fan-edition CD/DVD. Is it a way for you to gather forces and get back some kind of unity of the fans around the band?

I think it’s important, I definitely think that’s a good reason, yes. But also, we’re in such a wild, wild west era for the music industry, everything is changing, so this is a new outlet that was introduced to us by our audience and by our fans, that they had experienced with some other groups and wanted to see us do something like this as well. I had never even heard of it until our fans suggested it. And that was really cool, actually humbling as well, that we doubled our initial goal. I think that speaks volumes to any of the people that cast doubts about this band. That really kind of shut them up! (laughs) But it was a great way to enhance the experience of the album and do something that might be a little bit old-school, like making videos and a documentary, by doing it in a “new-school” way.

What are your touring plans to support this record? Will you come to Europe once the first US tour of this summer is over?

Yes, we do for sure. I think that we’ll be touring for at least a year on the album and we want to go on all four corners of the planet. So, Europe is on the horizon, we’re looking at the Fall, and definitely hope to get there by then.

We know you’re a big Nine Inch Nails and Trent Reznor fan. Like Trent Reznor, you go on with your career with different musicians but following the same path. Is it a comparison you would accept to be made?

I definitely am fan, I definitely am inspired, and I definitely think it’s amazing that every album that is produced has a different line-up but yet maintain the integrity of the original, but I’m definitely not trying to follow suit! The line-up changes are not something I have ever anticipated, it just happens, and rather than letting it dictate that it’s going to be the end of my career as a musician, I use it to enhance it.

Are you excited by the Nine Inch Nails reunion and the new band line up?

I’m interested, I can’t say that I was pleased by the first song that was released, but it doesn’t deter me from hearing the rest of the album. I’m still excited; I just wasn’t a fan of the new song and the new video.

Interview conducted by phone on July, 22nd 2013 by Amphisbaena
Transcription: Amphisbaena

Chimaira’s official website: www.chimaira.com

Album Crown Of Phantoms out since August, 12th 2013 via eOne Music.

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