Mitch Harris (Menace): personal and complex mechanics

The least you can say is that Mitch Harris’s new project, Menace, fills him with enthusiasm. The musician, more used to the more extreme aspects of metal, surprises everyone, including himself, in his new, multi-faceted artistic environment. But as it turns out, the many colors of this project merely represent everything Mitch Harris stands for. Menace grew without a clear direction, but the entity eventually took on a life of its own thanks to drummer Derek Roddy (Serpents Rise), with whom Harris has already worked in the past. The project started out with Max Cavalera and Brann Daylor, and even though both had to stand down, Harris still hopes to collaborate with them one day.

The guitarist (and, for the first time in his career, vocalist) tells us about his feelings towards the recent album, Impact Velocity, which allowed him to explore new artistic processes, far removed from those of Napalm Death. The man also talks about his relationship towards the video medium, and introduces a talented young Ukrainian artist, Kseniya Simonova, who’s worked on the video for “To The Marrow”. And since we couldn’t possibly forget to talk about Napalm Death (who has recently started work on a new album), Harris tells us more about his special relationship with his bandmember Shane Embury, who followed him in Menace.

« Sometimes musicians are so good it takes a lot of discipline to let the space to develop an atmosphere instead of always outplaying each-others. »

Radio Metal: What has motivated the creation of this new project called Menace? Did you feel the need to break away from extreme music, to take some fresh air?

Mitch Harris (guitar, vocals): Well, I think it has so many different kind of music combined. It’s coming from an extreme background so that’s always there at the root of it. But the idea was to expand on the vocals, melodies, and to try to give a different feel and meaning to the lyrics which were very personal. Over the past 17 years there were some songs that I had which didn’t fit or seemed like they needed something more, like orchestra sounds so I saved them until one day I decided “I want to sing as well, so let’s see if I can join these songs together and write some new stuff now that I have an idea of how to try to approach melodies”. Then Season Of Mist agreed to release the album even though they hadn’t heard the vocals. [Laughs] so it was a risky move for everybody, really. But for me, it gave me creative space that I was curious to spend time developing.

Most of the musicians who play on this album are known for playing extreme music. Even if this album isn’t death metal or grindcore it has some dark and twisted parts. In order to write this album, did you need to work with musicians who have these extreme influences?

Maybe it’s because I found friends to work with that all have that kind of background. But honestly, we listen to different kinds of music as well and we all like to try different things. It wasn’t really our intention to create darker moments; it’s just the nature of some of those songs. I think if you heard some songs first you would say “Wow, it’s a completely different band”. So it’s kind of difficult to find one song that represents the complete mood of the album, you know? I think it’s good to have the option: if we want to play something wacky or progressive we have musicians that are capable of doing that. But also the most important thing was the concept of the songs and not taking away from the basic vocal things. Because, well sometimes musicians are so good it takes a lot of discipline to let the space to develop an atmosphere instead of always outplaying each-others.

Does this new project creation mean that there were a few elements from your personality that you wanted to express but couldn’t let out through Napalm Death?

It’s not that I couldn’t do things in Napalm, because I surely had 100% creative freedom in Napalm as well, but I also have a vision of what the band should be and sometimes those things I want to try, even I think isn’t the kind of way that I would like Napalm to go, you know? That’s a personal way of doing it without saying: “Hey guys, let’s completely, radically change the style of Napalm after 25 years”. No, but it opens doors to try new things as you learn how to do so, you never know what can happen. But now that I have the Menace album finished, and I’m working on a new Napalm album, it’s a different feeling. I’m like “Yeah I know exactly what I want from Napalm now, right here” it’s just crazy shit.

« I think a band should be limited to try whatever they want but the fanbase sometimes might not be opened to those radical changes. »

Does that mean that you don’t support bands like Morbid Angels who, after so many years, have decided to do a completely different album like they did with their last album which has some really industrial metal parts?

Yeah. I think a band should be limited to try whatever they want but the fanbase sometimes might not be opened to those radical changes. With Napalm, things changed over time in a logical way. Every one or two years there are developments and different breakthroughs, but when the radical change happens after so many years, yeah I can see fans might also be offended by it. But maybe it’s not in the way they incorporate different approaches it’s in the way it’s presented, really. You know if it’s always later in the album, maybe people wouldn’t care as much than if it’s their first impression, sometimes. I don’t know what people’s first impression of Menace is. Nobody knows what to say! [Laughs] They’re like “it’s just really hard to describe, I don’t know.” [Chuckles]

This project was first supposed to include you, Max Cavalera and Brann Dailor, but you ended up writing the whole album by yourself. What pushed you to work with these artists in the first place, before splitting?

Well, we never really got together, that’s the thing. Me and Max were writing to each other and sending each-other songs about five or six years ago. And then Cavalera Conspiracy got busy and Soulfly was busy and our schedules didn’t work so we never collaborated. But I thought the songs needed a different vocal thing anyway, maybe a kind of build-on atmosphere and stuff so. And Brann Dailor, he was involved in – he was gonna play the drums – and he recorded two songs, and he was also very busy and we… I don’t know, the process took a very long time so I put some time and arranged the music I wanted to come out and I just thought of Derek Roddy, a guy I played with years ago but I didn’t know how to contact him. I wondered what he would think of the material. Finally I got his e-mail from Terrance from Suffocation. I sent him two songs and he was like “yeah, I’m into it, listen I recorded it” and I was like “Oh my god, it’s like ALIVE!” So I kept sending him songs and before I knew it, after three weeks, we had the album finished and I was like “Oh my god, this is killer!” I was excited.

Ok, do you think you will work with Max or Brann in the future?

I’m open to everything. Those are my dear friends, so yeah, that would be cool. But we do have two songs recorded with Brann already, that we might be released at some point.

Can you tell us more about these songs recorded with Brann? How do they sound like?

Oh we released Derek’s version on the album. So it’s two songs of the album which might be… I won’t say it now… [Laughs] Sorry.

About Shane Embury : « We don’t speak as much about things it’s more like obvious […] He knows the magic notes when he plays, it’s weird, it’s like I don’t have to say anything. »

Shane Embury is featured on this album. Do you have a special working relationship with him?

Yeah, it’s like Jedi! [Laughs] Like, we don’t speak as much about things it’s more like obvious, but a different kind of communication. He knows the magic notes when he plays, it’s weird, it’s like I don’t have to say anything, he just tries his stuff and I’m like “Yes! Killer! Amazing!” But Shane was a big part of the creative process because a lot of the material was written during the Utilitarian period and I had so many songs that I was trying to separate into Napalm and this would be better for singing melodies so it would be for Menace so Shane helped me choose all of these bloody songs and he was like “Oh god” sometimes. [Laughs] But he was like “these belong together here” and “these belong together here”, so I was like “Ok, thanks dude, ok, I’ll work on these”. So I said “you know, you have to play on the record”, Freddy [Frédéric Leclerq] plays bass too but he picked four songs and he chose some of the greatest songs, which is cool.

The album is very diverse, which can notably be observed in both the visual environment (artwork and music videos) and the themes tackled and the lyrics. Would you say it kind of is the mix of all your influences combined?

Yeah, sure. I mean I have a lot of influences outside of music, in art department, I was teaching media at a college and I did a film degree. So I was working on a movie, that’s why I wanted to learn how to edit video and then I wanted to do some Napalm videos and then once Menace was finished I was like “Oh my god, look I have an idea for this video, I have an idea for this and this!” So I put things together and sometimes I would get in touch with other artists and explained the vision, just trying to combine, making a visual album basically, which tells a story in a different way, things that haven’t been done before maybe or that have an approach that I’ve never worked with before. When it comes to the photography and the artwork and the concept I never miss anything and it’s really fun actually. It’s time consuming because I thought about the whole thing so much about “how can we actually present the band, when the drummer lives in Florida and everyone’s in different countries?” so I was like “ok, well, maybe we can relate to people on different levels through video communication and then try to build a theme for live performances”, which we are planning. All these visuals would be really good for the shows if it’s projected in the right way; just building a concept really, so hopefully by summer we can start to do some shows.

It really looks like for you Menace isn’t just about the music but rather a full artistic experience. Would you agree with that statement?

Yeah, it’s like everything from my life really. But it’s not just my personal side about it it’s about joining people together in a collective sort of emotional environment where they can… I don’t know, connect on a different level with each-others and with the band. That makes me happy to think that there are some kinds of concepts which you can’t really even put a word on. You know, something that inspires people to do something about their life and live for now, and appreciate life. [Chuckles]

« It’s like everything from my life really. But it’s not just my personal side about it it’s about joining people together in a collective sort of emotional environment ».

You declared in an interview that « even the most improbable dreams should be explored ». Is Menace an exploration of your most improbable artistic dreams?

Well yeah, if you would have told me that I would have done this album in 1992, I would have been like “WOW, but how do I get to that stage where I can do that?” Or try harder, or have the courage to get to that level, and then for me it’s like the first of many steps, you know? It’s like I want to make an album that’s official, that has every song that has the videos and then tour and create a theatrical thing. And that takes a lifetime, almost, to achieve and then you say “Ok, where does it go from here?” because obviously I want to make a film at some point, because the concept of the band started just as soundtrack music to me. I thought “I want to make soundtracks for my own movie” because nobody would ever think that we could do a soundtrack, like probably Napalm soundtrack sounds like something crazy, but it works! So for me that’s an improbable dream but if you don’t… – you can’t just wish for it, you have to actually do it. It’s not about whatever it is that you’re missing in your life or you feel you should have done, it’s about taking small steps to try to build on. It could take… – I mean it took me the last five years really, putting it together, and that’s nothing, in a lifetime. So maybe an example would be to follow your heart.

Could we say that it is the most personal thing you have ever done?

I don’t know yet, because in a way that’s how it’s connected with all the other ideas which are obviously personal but – I mean everything I do, with Napalm and other previous projects, I put everything into it, you know? I live and breathe it until it’s done. But with this, it seems like a platform where it can be expanded over the next two years and there’s a lot of work to do to relate the message in the way I want. And with other bands sometimes it’s more like you release an album, do a few interviews, you tour and there’s a different cycle but you don’t have time to maximise your presentation really, in a way that it inspires people. Everything is personal but this is just like lower levels, it is like layered. [Laughs]

The music video for « To The Marrow » is beautiful and the drawing technique is quite impressive. Could you tell us more about the woman who draws these figures in the video?

Yeah, it’s Kseniya Simonova, I found her on a forum somewhere and I saw the thumbnail of her animation and I thought “oh, that looks interesting.” And I clicked it and I was like “oh my god, amazing!” and then I found her life story, how she won Ukraine’s Got Talent and how she developed her skills. It was amazing to me. And she was also supporting a child cancer charity. “To The Marrow”, when I was writing that song, I finished the guitar track and at the same moment there was a cart crash in front of my house, a girl was hit by a car, and I ran outside to assist her and we connected, because I tried to keep her awake until the ambulance came, and then she died and it was a horrific experience. But then they revived her and she lived with brain injuries so I thought “I want to do something, like this song will be for her, and I don’t care what anybody thinks about it” it’s just about our experience and how we take life for granted and how strangers and neighbours become rescuers and how people join together. So I thought she would be a good person to ask, so I approached her about the story and she told me about the charities, we talked about how I wanted to do something positive from a very negative experience and she agreed to do two videos of “Painted Rust” and “To The Marrow”. She put so much time and love and energy and effort into it. I never asked for so much. I was telling myself “Oh my god, you’re so fortunate!” [Laughs] So yeah, hopefully we could do something to help.

« For me that’s an improbable dream […] you can’t just wish for it, you have to actually do it. It’s not about whatever it is that you’re missing in your life or you feel you should have done, it’s about taking small steps to try to build on. »

By the way, what was she using in the video? Is it salt or sand?

It’s sand, but it’s a special kind of sand. It’s volcanic sand, because when she was working with regular sand it was too rough, if you know what I mean? It didn’t have the texture for the details, so she found this volcanic thing and I was like “killer man! Killer!”

Who and what are the two beings represented on the album cover and in the video for the song « I Live with Your Ghost »? Because I read that this video is about two planets that are colliding?

Oh well, that’s how the video starts, but the planets are like a symbolic for two people, really. And in a relationship where two people were once connected in an environment that could be love, marriage, school, work related, but they can’t find each other anymore and they both need affection and they both need to express themselves but they can’t do it because there’s a barrier between them. And they both want to try but they both can’t get past it. So for the album and “I live With Your Ghost” that’s the general message. They’re both seeking affection but they’re facing opposite to each other and she’s shielded by a barrier and he’s open to the attacks from the universe and all the elements but he’s still hopeful that there’s a chance to connect, because that’s just one of the things: you share the same space and sometimes it’s difficult, people just need to work harder, or move on, really. So that’s the question.

How do you see the future of Menace? Is there a tour coming up? Will there be a second album?

Well, yes. I’m not sure about the tour or how it’s going to start but soon we’ll be rehearsing and we’ll try to do a series of shows and see where to take it from there. But we definitely want to do as much live as we can. And for the next album, I already have – well there are lots of things that didn’t fit on this album: there are actually two unreleased songs which will come out later, which I thought were too much for this record, so there’ll be more material. And yeah, I think I might have 12 [songs] already for the next album but until I start really working on it, it’ll be difficult to explain. But surely there will be other albums, yeah.

Do you have any news to tell us about Napalm Death? Have you begun working on the successor to Utilitarian?

Well now we’re on tour with Hatebreed in Europe. We get back in the beginning of March and I’m going to record with Danny. I have like more than enough songs, I think, for the first session. We’re gonna go in and throw three or four different sessions and have a different approach to recording and capture spontaneous moments. And yeah, what I have is very fierce and concise, and to the point, energetic, and memorable, so I think it should be exciting really! I think it’s a good… Eh I don’t know if it’s a step forward but it’s a different style, a different approach from Utilitarian. But it’s certainly extreme and exciting. [Laughs]

Do you think that your experience with Menace will have some artistic repercussions on the next Napalm Death record?

No, because it’s funny, all the material from this album was written at the same time as Utilitarian. At that time, I think I wrote maybe like 60 or 70 songs, others were total garbage but the ones I saved for Napalm; I thought it had a different feel than Utilitarian, so there’s no… I don’t think they have much in common at all with the Menace album, really! [Laughs] Which is cool, because you know, people might expect I’m going to try and do more like that. But I have different outlets now. It’s odd, it all happened at the same time but yeah, eventually we’ll get it recorded! [Chuckles]

You were featured on a song with Max Cavalera called « K.C.S. » from the last Soulfly album. Can you give us your impressions on this collaboration?

You know, we’ve been friends for years me and Max and Gloria [Max’s wife], and the family and we had a day off in Seattle, and I heard that they were recording with Terry Date in studio X and I said “Oh my god, I’ll go on my only day off”. I went to see him and Gloria, and he asked “You sing, right?” and I was like “Yeah” and he was like “You want to do some vocals now?” and I was like “Fuck yeah dude! Show me the lyrics!” and then, yeah, he set up two microphones and said “let’s do it together.” It was fun man; I was like “Oh my god Terry Date is recording, one of my favourite producers!” Deftones, I love their sound, whatever. But I didn’t try to sing on that, maybe I was too shy! [Laughs]

Interview conducted by phone on February, 21st 2014 by Metal’O Phil.
Transcription : Natacha.
Introduction : Alastor.

Menace official website : www.menace.tv

Album Impact Velocity, out since March, 14th 2014 via Season Of Mist.

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