The Black Dahlia Murder is one of the best modern death metal bands. Each record is better than the last, and the songs only get bigger and better. Such is the case for the group’s latest effort Everblack, out now on Metal Blade Records. I got to talk to bassist Max Lavelle about all things Black Dahlia, as well as touching on classic rock, really poor bathrooms, and why he chooses not to use a pick.
First off, congrats on the new record! We gave it a near perfect score, as did Metalsucks. How have you been responding to all of the reactions your record has generated thus far?
Well I think they’re great. I’m glad that we’ve gotten so much positive feedback. Whenever a new record comes out you’ve always got the trolls that are gonna tell you to die or explode or “screw your album” or whatever; but I’m surprised that we’ve gotten so much positive. I feel really good about it, and I’m glad that it’s coming out and there’s more positive than negative.
The band itself has been progressing over the years and seems to improve with each and every album. But I think people were most skeptical about this album after losing two integral members in Bart and Shannon, who really helped their sound evolve. They gained you and Alan, and you’ve worked with Bury The Silence and Despised Icon and Alan has worked with Abigail Williams, and I feel like you guys were able to combine melodic death metal, deathcore and black metal on this record.
Yeah there was such a huge array of backgrounds on this record it was bound to mesh eventually.
Are you happy with your performance on the record?
Yeah, I’m extremely pleased with it. I had a lot of time to go over all the parts and digest all the music, so for me I had a great time tracking it.
Were you involved in the writing as well or was it mostly Brian and Ryan?
For all of the music it’s mostly Brian and Ryan.
And Trevor wrote all of the lyrics right?
Yeah, Trevor and Brian. I wouldn’t even know what to do with lyrics. I’m a player, so I’m good at writing parts and different music sections but not at writing the lyrics [laughs].
Your parts on the record are really killer. Personally I like it a little more when you can actually hear the bass over the guitars, especially with lower tunings. What kind of gear did you use while recording to get that sound?
Well to record the record I used a Kemper unit, which is a guitar modeling frame that literally simulates every head and cabinet that you could imagine. For my bass tone I used a direct-in with a Kemper, and then I blended it with a Sansamp PSA-1 which is one of the best, if not the best, bass racks that you can buy. I’m actually pretty sure they stopped making them. They’re one of the best things to have.
Have you used this gear before or is it all new to you?
I’ve been using Sansamp products ever since 2006, but I haven’t used all of them. I used to just use the bass driver pedals but the RDI and the PSA models are similar, but they’re an old staple. They’re the best products to use live and to track with.
Do you think that because they’re a little bit older that they sound better? I know there are some people that like to have that old “classic” sound.
Yeah. A lot of the older stuff is built better and is less digital. A lot of the digital stuff is very thin-sounding and there’s a lot of noise and there really isn’t a lot of original tone signal that you’re getting as opposed to an older piece.
Right. Now, when you joined the band, it was before Alan was a part of it?
Yeah, I was part of it a year before Alan was.
Was there any difficulty with the transition of Shannon leaving and Alan coming in to fill the drum throne, because you had only played with Shannon for about a year before he left?
Well we auditioned people for a while. We looked at a ton of people. We had some time off when we were looking, so we had more time to try people out. So the transition was like…we didn’t do a tour until we got Alan, so when we did get him it felt pretty easy. His first tour as a part of the band was the Dethklok tour.
I actually saw Abigail Williams on their last tour, and I remember how much of a powerhouse he was. Then I heard he’d be the drummer and saw some live videos and knew he’d be a pretty good fit for the band.
Yeah, Alan’s great. I think that we found out about Alan either through Trevor or Ryan at some small show, and they were like ‘This kid is a beast’. Then they wound up remembering him and that’s how we got him.
Sweet! So, when you came into the band, you obviously learned their back catalogue so you could perform their songs live. Have you been able to take those parts Bart wrote and make them your own, or do you just stick to what Bart wrote?
If it’s recorded I’ll never change it. As a musician, it’s not right to change anyone’s parts if it’s on a record. So I really have taken everything as it’s written and play it how it is on the record, because I don’t want to go around changing parts because that can ultimately change the sound or the mood of the song or something like that, so I had to learn the parts note for note, which is actually a lot harder than making up my own parts. If I had to make up my own parts I could play a number of things, but having to learn someone else’s parts exactly takes a lot of time.
Do you think that your playing styles are similar or different?
We’re pretty much almost identical with what we play and the way that we play it. We both play hard, speaking in terms of hitting the strings really hard, and just play with the same type of style. If I wasn’t in this band and I had to compare myself to another bass player, it would be Bart.
I guess this band is a good fit for you then? [laughs]
Oh, it’s great. Seriously an amazing fit.
You don’t play with a pick at all, do you?
No. I experimented with the thumb pick just for some sustain on certain solo parts for eighth notes, but the tone difference was too much so I stopped using it. I only experimented for about a month using it live in conjunction with my fingers, but I really didn’t think it helped too much.
As a listener, do you prefer to hear a pick or do you prefer finger picking?
It really depends. I’m on the fence with both of them. I’m very active on bass forums, and I’ll talk bass, and I’ll read up about the debates between finger vs. pick. It’s really personal preference. If you can’t play with your fingers, you should play with a pick, and if you can play with your fingers, then you should play with your fingers and use picks less often. For me, playing with my fingers, it can sound the same as long as you hit harder, but for things that you’re gonna be doing like string skipping it’ll be a lot easier to do with your hands. I think finger picking is better for a lot of technical parts. But there’s so many great players like Dave Ellefson of Megadeth, who is unbelievable, that play with a pick.
It really depends on the type of band when it all boils down to it. You wouldn’t hear anyone playing with a pick in Obscura or Beyond Creation but would be more likely to hear it in a band similar to The Acacia Strain or Gojira.
Right. Stuff that’s more thrashy and has a lot of straightforward gallops and stuff like that is more pick-driven bass playing which is very guitar-heavy music too, which is why more of those bands usually have pick-using players. Picks are almost designed for that super-fast, thrashy style of music.
Right. It’s definitely just as good.
Oh, for sure. I love picking as much as finger-style when I’m listening. I just prefer not to use a pick when I play.
I remember talking to Vince (Metal Blade Records publicist) the other day when we were setting up this interview, and he told me about you telling him a story about when you met Alex of Cannibal Corpse and how he pointed you in the right direction to help you get some of your first endorsement deals.
Yeah! This is when I was on tour with Cannibal and Black Dahlia in South America doing my first South American tour with the band. Alex actually gave me the introduction to Darkglass Electronics and I met a sales rep over in Chile when I was down there and he’s the one that got my foot in the door with them. It’s awesome. Alex is a great player and I was really honored to have someone like him talk to me.
Is he among your influences on bass?
Absolutely. He’s probably my main influence for playing bass. Me and Alex talked a lot about bass technique and all of that type of stuff. We actually just shared a bus with Cannibal Corpse on this European run we just did. But yeah, Alex is great. Cliff Burton is also one of my early influences, as well as Dave from Megadeth. Even though Dave plays with a pick, just his clarity and the way he writes his parts, I think, is great.
For sure. I’m actually seeing Cannibal Corpse this week, and they’re playing South Florida, which is essentially like a hometown show for them since they’re based in Florida. I think it’s really cool when guys like Alex, that are in huge bands, can still take the time to talk and listen to their fans and spend time with them up close. It really makes you feel that they care about the fans. How do you feel about it? Has that sense of closeness with the fans gone away because everyone is striving for the next best ‘sound’ or are bands really still about the fans?
Well, I mean yeah. Some people are dicks, which is stupid because, coming from a fan’s aspect, I have tried to meet bands and if I get to hang out with them and they were really cool it’s just awesome. I’ve even met people in bands, even now, that I’m kind of like ‘Oh, okay then, see ya’, but I think it’s important to be cool with fans. I’ll always go out and talk to people and stuff, and I feel like that’s something you should do as a person, regardless of how famous your band is. If someone likes your music and is interested in the band then you should go talk and hangout. It’s just a good quality as a human, you know?
Yeah. So, how do you like your eggs?
I’m like egg man, I eat a billion eggs. Usually I eat them scrambled or I fry the crap out of them. It’s like either/or.
Nice! So this summer you guys are doing a run on Warped Tour, and I’m sure everyone in the band is excited about it. You will most likely be the heaviest band on the bill and not similar to any of them, which is really cool. How do you think you’ll fit in with the other bands and connect with your audience, many who have never heard you guys before?
We are gonna stick out like a sore thumb, but it’s gonna be awesome! I think this is a great tour, because we are so different, like you said. We’re going to be so different that’s it’s hopefully going to attract some people who may never have been exposed to this type of music before. I know that there’s a lot of people that are going because of other bands because they’re already set on going. But we’re gonna be so different in terms of stage show and music that it’s something I’m excited for.
We’re all excited for you guys! So the new record comes out this week. Are there any favorite songs that you have, whether it be because of your parts or just because of how the whole song turned out?
My favorite track is “Raped [In Hatred By Vines Of Thorn]”. I still don’t remember song names because we had nicknames for them until everything was ready to go, but the Evil Dead-themed song is probably my favorite because of the bass parts. I do some tapping parts in it and some really technical bass parts in it that are going to rule to play live. “Ghost Of Departure” is killer, and “Map Of Scars” is another favorite.
Those are all killer. Will they be on the live set for Warped?
As far as I know “Ghost Of Departure” and “Raped In Hatred By Vines Of Thorn” are.
Now, going back to the metal community, I’ve talked with a bunch of different people who play in metal bands over the years, and I’ve actually found, recently, that a lot of them don’t listen to metal because they feel like it can affect their songwriting and they may be sick of it after playing it for years and years.
Yeah. I feel like it’s kind of a cop-out when someone says “Oh, I don’t listen to metal” but plays in a metal band. I think that if you’re in a metal band it’s in your best interest to listen to metal. Not only because it’s what you do, but because you were influenced by others, so why not listen to them?
Do you have any non-metal artists that you really dig?
Yeah! David Bowie, Kiss, classic rock like Boston. I just like old classic stuff like Aerosmith, which was my favorite band before I got into metal. AC/DC. Solid rock and roll stuff; it’s got its own personality. Blue Oyster Cult.
On that note, what are your top three favorite records and why?
Well I’ll break it down. For death metal, I’d have to pick Cryptopsy’s None So Vile. When I was about 15 or 16 I probably listened to that record all the way through every day for about a year and a half, front to back. It was just pushing technical death metal to the point that is was technical, but also had groove and heaviness, kind of like that Pyrexia or Suffocation sound, but mixed with that familiar Quebec technical stuff. I’d say …And Justice For All in terms of a straight metal record. It’s one of the best produced albums. Songs are awesome, It’s just one of those things where I don’t think I could ever get bored listening to it unless it was, like, 15 times a day every day forever, you know? It’s just written really well, you can hum every single solo on the record. Just awesome.
Too bad they turned down the bass all the way on that record. [laughs]
[laughs] I know! Trevor actually showed me a version that a guy recorded all the bass to and uploaded it to download. It’s the album with bass, and it’s killer. But, yeah. One more album I really like. I’m gonna have to think. It’s so hard to pick; there’s so much stuff amazing stuff out there. Ultimately I’m going to say Meshuggah’s Destroy, Erase, Improve, because it’s a killer record. It got people interested in intelligent metal, and it was so influential. That’s probably one of the most influential metal records of all time. I’m gonna say those three because they had a big impact on me and it kind of sums up my influences when I write.
Rad! So have you heard any of the new releases from 2013 so far?
I haven’t really had time to listen to a lot of them but I was just trying to grab a bunch of records I have yet to listen to so I can bring them on Warped and jam. Some of the stuff I’ve been able to get my hands on are the new Ghost, which is really good. The new Wolvhammer split is also killer. The new Mors Principium Est record from 2012 is actually really good as well. Ryan actually has a solo on it.
Oh, he does?
Yeah, he solos on the song “Birth Of The Starchild” I believe. I think we were in Finland and a couple of guys from Mors came out to see us, and Ryan talked with the guys and then did a solo. But the album’s great; thrashy, melodic, super great stuff. I recommend everyone go buy it.
I’ll have to check it out. Now, although you’ve been in the band with the guys for a little over a year, you’ve done a few tours. Got any funny anecdotes?
The only one I could think of is when we were in Indonesia and the bathroom situation was a horror story. There was a hole in the floor and the toilet paper was a bucket full of water and you would use your hand. [laughs]
But yeah. That sucked. [laughs]
At that point I would have rather used a leaf or something.
I think we waited to go to the airport because it was so gross.
When you tour, do you see any difference in crowds? Is there a strong difference between crowds here and crowds in Europe, Australia or Asia?
It really depends on where you’re going, honestly. Certain places like Southeast Asia, like when we played in the Philippines, for example. People were very into it and fanatical. I think because in America it’s just the over-saturation of just so many bands, and you go to places where there aren’t that many bands, such as in Asia, that play what we play, and everyone is really thankful we came out and wants to make sure they give us the most they’ve got to give.
That about wraps it up! Anything you want to say before we finish things off?
Just keep your eyes peeled and go hit up your favorite store and buy the new record! Come see us on Warped and then get ready for our own tour in support of Everblack!
Everblack is available now through Metal Blade Records. Physical copies can be purchased direct from Metal Blade or digitally through iTunes and Amazon.