Andy Thomas of Black Crown Initiate: The Heavy Blog Is Heavy Interview

This isn’t the first time you’ve seen us geek out about the progressive metal maestros in Black Crown Initiate, and it certainly won’t be our last. While their new material has been pretty unexpected to say the least and it’s drawn some differing opinions from various writers here at Heavy Blog, make no mistake that Selves We Cannot Forgive features some of the band’s most musically dense and daring material to date. Now that the band’s recruited shredder extraordinaire Wes Hauch to join the group, the band’s overall musical chemistry has reached dizzying new heights with this album, an increasingly challenging concoction of progressive death metal, swirling technicality and soaring clean vocals. I had a chance to chat with one of BCI’s founding members, guitarist/vocalist Andy Thomas, about the non-musical influences behind the new album, tackling personal neuroses through lyrics, the band’s upcoming tours, and much more!

So how you doing, man?

Good, man. I’m watching Rosanne with my dog. So not terrible at all right now.

I think I saw something that she may have endorsed Trump, but that may have been bullshit. I don’t know.

Oh, well, I mean…that would suck. I don’t want to see anybody do that. But I guess some people are…

Didn’t she also try to run for president last time too? I don’t remember.

I would totally vote for her if she did.

So I finally got a promo of [Selves We Cannot Forgive] last week, and it’s fucking sweet! It’s definitely not what I had in mind. Which is not a bad thing at all, it just caught me by surprise in a lot of spots. I thought there was a lot more progressive rock influence on this one, like newer Opeth and Tool in how it was layered. Would you agree with that or not?

Honestly, I’m a very big Tool fan. Moreso, I’m a big fan of Maynard’s voice, and I think Danny Carey’s awesome too. Newer Opeth I like too but I wouldn’t say that it’s been a huge influence on me. Not nearly as much as their older stuff, but that’s neither here nor there. It’s hard to say what music influenced the album because when we write, and I guess in general I don’t listen to a whole lot of music any more. 

Yeah, I’ve noticed a lot of people say that when they’re writing and I think that makes sense. 

Obviously nothing is created in a vacuum, but you try to have as little outside influence as possible. The music was largely just…Nick [Shaw, bass] and I had a lot of fun writing this one. It’s hard to pinpoint and say what influenced it, really.

The thing that I thought about as far as the Tool influence goes on the album was that there were a lot of parts on the album where every single member is doing something different and independent. That’s where I picked it up the most, not necessarily riff-wise, but just that everybody has their own individual thing going on, and here moreso than maybe the last album. 

Yeah! That’s actually fair, and I think that might be something that I got somewhere along the line from maybe Trent Reznor. He does that lot with rather simple pieces forming of a kind of complex whole, and I’ve always admired that about him.

BCI

Was that ever something you wanted to focus on when you and Nick are writing, or just separately? I’ve always wondered how people come up with stuff where every part can stand on its own, but they all work together. How do you guys go about tackling parts like that?

Well, it’s not really that difficult for us. The way we write, if things don’t flow naturally for us, let’s say we come up with a section of music next and we don’t know what to do with it next or it doesn’t come to us easily. We don’t force it. We’ll leave it and let the part sit for years if we have to, and sometimes you use them again and sometimes you don’t. With regards to composition, we really don’t struggle too much with it because if it works, it works. And if it doesn’t you move on. And as far as that approach, I don’t know where that came from, either! Like I said, I’ve always admired Trent Reznor’s ability to do that and Nine Inch Nails has always been a huge influence on me, so it could be that. But I don’t know, because I don’t think we ever really sound like Nine Inch Nails. 

Definitely. Were there any times where you had a part and it just didn’t feel right? Did anything that may have been sitting for a while maybe come out on any of the songs on the new album? Or was it all done pretty much in the past year?

Let me think about that for a second…(pauses). There’s one in “Matriarch,” the first riff in that song, the hybrid picked thing. That I’ve had sitting around for years and we finally found a spot for it there. Also the whole arrangement basically aside from drums and bass for “Vicious Lives,” the last song. That I probably wrote, at least the main guitar parts to, in 2008. So that’s been sitting around a while and I always knew I wanted to do something with it, so Nick and I sat down with that arrangement. Originally that was how we were going to start the album but then when the lyrics came together it was apparent that it needed to go at the end. 

Did you guys ever try with “Vicious Lives” to put it on either the EP or the first album? Or did you not even bother with that?

We never tried until this album with that particular one.

And you said the lyrics were the reason it determined the order. Do you always write lyrics after the music? Or do you ever just have a batch of lyrics that you feel can go with something later?

I write down thoughts from time to time, but I never really try too hard until the music’s done. Because when the music’s done and you’re really stoked on it when your whole arrangement’s finished, it’s much more inspiring and the lyrics come so much easier because you can already hear where they go. So I generally prepare beforehand and get some ideas going, but not anything concrete. 

BCI

Gotcha. With the first two releases, it wasn’t solely focused on things that were either religious or philosophical but it was definitely there. Was there anything either related to philosophy or religion here? Were you reading anything this time that you wanted to talk about, or keep things more personal? And if so, how did you merge those ideas?

Well, there’s a lot of personal stuff on the record for sure, definitely more than anything we’ve done so far without a doubt. There wasn’t that much philosophy this time around, but there was more social commentary this time around. Although I’m not really preaching at all and I never try to do that in our music, but it’s kind of hard to not want to say something because of how bad shit’s getting. 

What are some examples of that you wanted to get out there?

Like in “For Red Cloud,” Red Cloud was a Sioux Native American who really resisted the white man’s occupation. There was a war that they called Red Cloud’s War, and he really gave white people hell for a little while. But that song is based off of the writings of a man named John Trudell who is also a Native American but I don’t remember what tribe. He was a part of the American Indian movement, that’s the group that took over Alcatraz for a while a few decades ago and really fought for the rights of those people. I’ve always admired him for resisting occupation.

That’s a pretty cool concept! It tackles a common theme of resistance, but I’ve never heard anyone in a metal band talking about stuff like that. 

Trudell wrote a lot about how white people, particularly Europeans, have done a lot to also psychologically enslave ourselves. And a lot of that song is based on that. I really admire Trudell. 

So going along the theme of that, I felt like even though the first album wasn’t a particularly happy thing, this new album feels a little more somber and grey to me. Would you agree or…

…100% agree! For sure. It’s definitely the most hopeless thing we’ve done, but that’s kind of how I feel right now. We are about to elect either Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump to be the president of our country. And that’s on a broad scale, but just seeing how people are behaving in this world. Not that it hasn’t been done before and probably has forever, but I’m getting older and I can’t believe some of the stuff that’s going on. So the album is very representative of that, for sure. It’s weird, I mean, I’m approaching 30. You start to think back on your life a lot; not that I’m an old man or anything. You start to look back on your youth and maybe I dealt with or touched on a lot of stuff that maybe affected me as a child. Not that I had a bad childhood or anything, but you start to think about where your own neuroses come from or other mental issues come from. A lot of times you can’t necessarily touch them, but there’s some of that on the album too.

Do you think that you helped come to terms with some of these things by doing the album? 

Well, I think that some of the things I wrote about aren’t things you can necessarily come to terms with. So when we got it done, it didn’t feel like “ooh, closure!” You know? But I mean, it helps to start thinking about certain things because if you can be aware of them you can hopefully change them? But maybe not, I don’t know.

Yeah, that makes sense. So I guess moving onto a slightly lighter note, you said you were doing some rehearsals for your European tour. How much new stuff have you been tackling? 

On this Ne Obliviscaris tour we’re going to do two new songs, the two that are released, “For Red Cloud” which have already been playing live and “Selves We Cannot Forgive.” We haven’t been collectively rehearsing yet because we live so far away from each other, but we’ll be getting together very soon because we leave on July 6th! So we better get together soon! We’ve always been the kind of band that rehearses a lot independently and then we get together for a few days and are very well prepared when we get there. 

Definitely, it seems like a lot of bands are having to do that these days. 

The reality of having a band these days and having capable musicians is that you can’t always look in one area. 

When I’m listening to the clean vocals on the new album, there seems like not only are there more than before but they’re a bit more off-kilter than before as far as following the guitar parts. Has it been more challenging to pull off? Through just listening to it, it seems like it would be a lot more difficult to do. 

Clean vocals, and just my vocals in general, they never came naturally to me. I just kind of started doing them in this band because we couldn’t get anyone else to do them, you know? So yeah, there’s some stuff on the new album, particularly the two songs we have already released, that are really difficult. I took vocal lessons last year and this year for about nine months and that helped quite a bit, but it’s still a work in progress. I really hope to continue to improve, because singing and playing live in general is a crazy beast. I’ve got some in-ears now and that helps for sure, but the difficult part is you have to sing the parts the song needs. Often times I’ll simplify parts or add a more textural part on guitar for me to play. The parts are definitely getting more difficult and they’ll keep doing that until I eventually get frustrated and hit myself with a hammer. 

So whenever you’re coming up with these vocal parts, do you not really think about performing both of them together at the time? Like, it just has to be the part for the song and not like “oh shit, I have to do this in tandem!”

Yeah, it’s just what has to be there and it can be really frustrating. 

BCI

Do you guys think you’ll be incorporating more material on whatever tours you’ll be doing in the fall?

Oh yeah, by then we’ll be absolutely playing mostly new stuff. I’d like to bring back some EP stuff too, because I really like playing that live. 

Yeah, man! When I saw you guys on the Napalm Death tour, I think it was all stuff from The Wreckage of Stars, and “Ghosts She Sends” is still my favorite song by you guys. 

I think maybe I like the EP more than I like Wreckage, personally.

Oh, yeah? What makes you say that?

I don’t know, I’m just very proud of that thing, man. It was a very weird thing in my life in the way it just kind of came together. People seem to really like it, and people get upset because we can’t replicate that again. Which doesn’t make sense, there’s no way anyone could do something like that again. If you’re making honest music, depending on where you’re at in life, it’s going to be different every time. I don’t know, I’m just really proud of it and it was a really big achievement in my life and I think it will always feel that way. Not that I’m not proud of Wreckage, I’m just really proud of that EP. 

Would you say that you’re equally as proud of the new album as you are the EP?

Oh yeah, for sure. We worked really hard on the new one, and it was a different thing. With the EP there were no expectations and we had all this time. Just like “fuck it, it doesn’t matter!” But there were a lot of lessons we learned from the first two albums; good things, bad things, things we don’t want to repeat or explore again. And we really implemented them on this album. It’s a very mindful album and we were very aware of what we were doing, so yes. This album I’m really proud of, and I’m already really looking forward to the next one. 

Same here! It’s not even out yet I’m already stoked on what’s coming up. Well thanks for taking the time to talk with me, dude!

Have a good day, man! I’m gonna go watch Roseanne with my dog.

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