Love them or hate them, Sumerian Records have been a big part of why the metal scene has been constructed for almost ten years now. They’re one of the few labels to have a distinct genre under their wing and even a name to describe it: Sumeriancore. A sub-section of the weird places between djent and metalcore, Sumeriancore is characterized by open chugs, technicality and a certain common reliance on shared themes and ideas, whether aesthetic, lyrical or musical. Among these bands, distinct generations can be seen: from the early bands who made the genre live, to the transition bands who worked alongside them to carry it forward and bring new elements into it, finally to the new generation that is in a bit of an identity crisis, unsure where they fit in.
When we got the chance to interview not one, not two, but three different bands from this sub-genre, we couldn’t resist. Both After the Burial and Veil of Maya belong to the first era. They’re progenitors of the style and while they’re still active, they’re still looked at as the genesis point of the sound. ERRA have their legs in both sides of the dividing line: they’re veteran but something about their sound speaks more to the middle era, a certain melodic quality that signifies them as more of the torchbearers than the torchlighters.
The interviews below reflect these divides but like all good field findings, subvert the theory as well. You can see common threads running through the artists’ words, hinting towards a common ground that transcends the chronological distinctions that we might like to draw. End of the day, this makes sense; we’re talking about artists that tour, record and communicate together, creating a hotbed of shared ideas and themes. Just like we started with, Sumerian Records continues to be a home to these related artists and that’s something, love them or hate, that you have to admire.
JESSE CASH OF ERRA
So you guys just picked up JT Cavey as your new vocalist. How exactly did that come about? I know he used to play with Texas In July, had you played shows with them before?
Jesse: We toured with JT when he was with Texas in July two years ago. It was May of 2014 when we toured with him, and that was actually the last tour we did with our first vocalist. Ironically it was the tour we met JT on. But the reason why we changed vocalists the second time was our second frontman Ian…we started working on Drift in July. Once we started the screaming vocals, it put a lot of obvious strain on Ian’s vocals.
Was that not something he’d really done a lot of before?
He had. He was in a local band that we used to really like, but he never toured. That’s such a big part of it, because you have to do it every day. It’s like a totally different technique that goes into it, and you have to be so much more careful with how much you do. So he never really had that kind of conditioning for his voice. It was one of those things that we felt over time he would just adapt. And it’s not to say he didn’t improve, but in the end it just became obvious it was really hurting his voice.
Was that a mutual decision with the rest of the band?
It was definitely initiated by us, but it was also things he knew were an issue and he was already very concerned about it. We’re all friends, so we just talked it out, but the conversation was tough. We just had to say that we don’t think you’re physically able to keep doing this.
Things have been going well so far with JT, I assume?
Yeah, JT leaving Texas in July was really just convenient timing. We were in the studio with Ian when those problems came up tracking the album. We ran out of studio time, so that was when I called JT because I knew [Texas in July] were doing their farewell tour in November. I asked him “hey, could you come do vocals in the studio this week?” He actually said that he’d join the band, but he couldn’t come at that time. So we booked more studio time two months out in October, and just me and JT went to the studio. We had already finished everything but the screams, so we just spent a week of him screaming six to eight hours a day. Sometimes ten hours! And he was sick. It was brutal. By halfway through the week he was getting so frustrated…
I mean, that’s got be a lot to take in.
For sure. The stress of it all and the time crunch…it was definitely stressing us out. But he got through it, and his voice held out the entire process. He never lost his voice the entire six days.
So I’ve heard the two new songs you guys have put out, and I noticed that in the song “Drift” there’s this huge tapping melody that follows most of the song. Is that an indication of the direction you guys are pushing things in? Or is that an isolated thing?
I would not say that the song “Drift” is a representation of the album as a whole, by any means. I would actually say the two songs we have put out are the most similarly categorized of everything on the album. Those songs definitely carry a similar vibe, because they both utilize tapping for atmosphere.
Yeah, it’s definitely got more of a post-rock vibe to it than shred.
It threw a lot people off, because usually a tapping part indicates a solo or something like that. For me, I just wanted to use it to create more of a backing atmosphere to carry the rest of the song. Especially for “Luminesce,” which is heavily based around the vocals. That was actually something that kind of happened by accident, releasing those two songs first. We didn’t realize that until afterwards. They were just songs that we liked. But I also don’t think there’s any song on the album that’s a good representation of the album. Every song feels so different to me.
If you don’t mind me asking off that, in what ways does it become different? What can people come to expect from it?
I think the song that’s the most different is already out, the song “Drift.” It’s pretty out there. The key of it and the constant changing of modes on guitar…it’s a very interesting vibe. I’d say that was one of the big surprises, and then there are a couple of songs that are really rock influenced. I know when I say that people are going to get scared. It’s just very comfortable though. Back when I wrote Augment I was very concerned about people being afraid of change, so I catered to what people expected out of me and the band. There was a lot of panic behind it, and with [Drift] there’s a lot more comfort. When I was writing the guitars I just did exactly what I wanted to hear, and I didn’t worry. I had a lot of security in that, because I know I really feel happy with the songs as they are. Whatever I think people might be “afraid” is coming; I think we already got that out there on the table.
You mean that you put the weird songs out first? I’ve noticed bands do that more lately so then you can settle in to it.
Back then we were so safe, and we always had to release the safe single first. Because we’re scared, know what I mean? We were scared of criticism.
So you guys pay attention to criticism then?
Of course. The day we release a song, that’s all I’m doing. Just reading comments and brooding, and I’ll read some that I really consider. I don’t want to disappoint that kid, but then I’ll read something else from people that totally get it. Those are the ones that I really care about. And then of course there are the ones where people just say “oh this sucks” and I couldn’t give a fuck about those comments.
Do you think part of maturing as an artist is trusting more in yourself?
I think so because I really feel like these are the best songs that I’ve been a part of in this band. And this time around I really feel like I was very in the zone.
Did you write the whole album?
Not every aspect of the album. All of the guitars, structuring and synth was me. Alex always writes the drums. The vocals and lyrics were 50/50 between me and JT. I’d already had a lot of the lyrics written before he came in, and we already had a few songs tracked with Ian’s old lyrics. So those are actually on the album, and he has credit for it too. The next one will probably be all JT, because it’s just one of those things that I’m totally fine with not doing. It’s just one more thing to have to write, which takes a whole lot of time and energy and creativity. You don’t get that every day. It just comes in spurts over time. I like having someone there to take the weight off me. When Garrison was in the band he wrote all the lyrics, so it’s nice now. I can just focus on guitars and my singing and just the lyrics I song. On the next album I imagine JT will write his vocals lyrically and I’ll do mine.
So Drift is going to drop in April. After that do you guys have more shows lined up? I figure you’d do a big summer run or something.
There’s something being worked on for right after the album release. Like April into May. We’re definitely still at the support stage which is comfortable for us. We’re not really comfortable with headlining at this point. WE just aren’t there yet. That’s pretty much it for the timeline currently. I don’t have any news or updates for anything after that, and everything is pretty tentative right now.
Check out the interview with After the Burial on the second page!
TRENT HAFDAHL AND ANTHONY NOTARMASO OF AFTER THE BURIAL
Trent: So you’re going to bust our balls now? Is that what’s going on?
Yeah, you’re about to go through the gauntlet. It’s about to get very real. I’m doing some hard hitting reporting today, so I’ll start off with a very serious question: how’s the tour been, buddies?
Trent: Amazing! We started off in Minneapolis on the day our record dropped, so that was fucking overwhelmingly awesome. There hasn’t been a bad show yet.
There have been kids outside lined up for a while. I got here at 5 to do interviews and there were already kids around the block. I come to this club a good bit and I rarely ever see that.
Trent: Apparently there’s still a line now! It’s been a while since all of have toured together…
I’ve been listening to all three of the top bands on the bill for a good while now and I can’t think of a time when you were all together.
Trent: There was a “Sumerianos” tour where it was the three of us (After the Burial, Born of Osiris, and Veil of Maya) and a band called…uh…oh, it was Sea of Treachery. That was in 2008, so that was a long, long time ago.
Are there any sold out shows coming up? I’ve seen a few dates have already been sold out.
Trent: I think there might be more coming up because people are starting to realize “oh, I might not actually be able to see the show if I don’t get a ticket.” So as far as sold out presale, there’s only been one. I want to say we’ve sold out five now.
And you’re about ten shows in now, right?
Anthony: Last night in Baltimore was about sixty away from being sold out.
Trent: And we’ve been playing bigger rooms, too. We played the Skyway Theater in Minneapolis, which holds 2,000. We also played the big Palladium stage, which is about 1,700. The numbers have been good, though! We all kind of knew this was going to be an awesome tour, so it’s nice to see it finally come to fruition.
So speaking of numbers, what have you guys heard about the sales of Dig Deep?
Trent: The first day we did over 10,600, and it’s our highest selling record! It feels good, because it really took a lot of hard work for us to get it done.
Anthony: And we’ve been gone for so long, so it finally feels like everything has paid off.
Trent: Plus it leaked really late.
Yeah, I saw that it was within a week of it being out.
Trent: It’s nice because Sumerian Records has people they can pay to police that kind of stuff and take down links.
I’ve noticed compared to other labels they’ve usually been way more protective about their promos and material.
Trent: Well, when you’re shipping physical copies to shit like Best Buy and FYE, there’s always going to be one kid who’s stocking a shelf or gets a box in the receiving department who has to bust it open and make sure all the stuff is good and notices it’s a band they like. Boop! Right in the pocket, and then he’s doing everybody a favor.
Anthony: He’s getting some fuckin’ internet karma.
And in this day and age with a lot of bands streaming the album a few days beforehand, it’s really not as big of a deal.
Trent: We did the stream for it two days before and we’ve basically doubled what we sold for Wolves Within.
For the new album in terms of tone, it’s not nearly as bright as Wolves Within. Everything is way, way darker. The album art reflects that too. Was that something you deliberately wanted to push, or did it come out that way?
Trent: All this emotion was happening in the studio and even when it came time to make a guitar tone I was just in a dark place. It reflects that, and when we sent Will Putney the mixes it came out more that way too. I’m a fucking mix freak, and I think between us we did about 13 mix changes. As far as the actual guitar tone, I just wanted to sound pissed. Really, really pissed off. All the riffage is pretty pissed.
I’d say so. There are still plenty of solos and techy riffs, but it feels like there’s a lot more groove. It really feels more primal and like Rareform, but it does encapsulate the past, present, and future of the band.
So I’m a big nerd and noticed in an old video of you guys recording Wolves Within there was a riff from “The Endless March” in there. How much old stuff went into this new album, or was that a solitary thing?
Trent: The thing with “The Endless March” was that we were going to put it on Wolves Within but it sounded like way too much like another song to us. It might not have to anybody else, but it felt like it would have been filler if we did. So we just put it on the backburner. As far as what was old as far as material goes…dude…I demoed “Heavy Lies the Ground” in 2006. So a big chunk of that song has been sitting in the archives for years.
Anthony: And for “The Endless March” I wrote vocals for that on Wolves Within and then completely threw them all away into the garbage can. I just didn’t like them.
Trent: It’s nice because sometimes in the winter like to play guitar and write a lot of riffs, and I save everything. Some of ‘em are shitty, but I always toss it in the archive. Justin [Lowe] used to keep a ton of stuff and I have it. It has over a hundred song ideas in it! Literally I think it’s at 106.
Wow, are these all whole songs?
Trent: No, I mean if you click on one it might just be a synth line. But if you click on another it might be an entire song. We’ve got entire songs that we’ve just never used. We’re all about the “all killer, no filler” mentality.
I definitely like that, though. I think a lot of bands will load up albums with like 14 tracks, and I really just want 8 completely killer ones, you know?
Anthony: A lot of people will come up to us and say “why only nine songs?” We’re not going to put some doodoo in there for the sake of it. Plus they’re long songs.
So much like Trent, do you also have a bunch of lyrics on the backburner? Or do you wait until a song is done and you know it can be used?
Anthony: I’ll write ahead of time, but with this record I only had two songs written. I didn’t know what they were for though; I write without the music. Then I’ll listen to it, and see which song has what feeling. A lot of it I was writing in the studio though, because it was just the way it worked out for this one. I don’t really have a lot ahead of time.
Trent: Plus some of the times before we go into the studio it’s the first time he’s hearing the full mix. It’s just the whole perfectionist aspect. You are always going back and changing the song. I’ll go back and send Anthony shit four different times with the most minute changes. Then he’ll say “just tell me when it’s done!”
Anthony: I don’t listen to the music anymore, I just write by myself. That way every single line, every single lyric, every single word all has meaning. They all make sense, and they all belong together, instead of me just trying to fit it into the song.
Trent: For me, I just write wherever. I’ve got a pretty similar routine every day, and I have a lot of guitars hanging around the house. I wrote a riff while we were at home before leaving on this tour, and I did that on the couch just watching Jeopardy.
Anthony: With a bunch of tissues and napkins around him!
Trent: Probably just some coffee. I just play with a practice amp and place my phone up to it. If you went through my voice mailbox you’d hear all sorts of goofy shit. You’ll hear me singing into the phone or doing beats. If you have it, get it down.
Oh yeah, totally. I have so many garbage videos on my phone of me writing riffs.
Trent: Even in my Notes app I have full song structure ideas. “How about we do 4/4 at this tempo for this amount of time?” Blah, blah blah. It’s a way to break down a structure. I don’t’ know man, writing music is crazy.
Do you intentionally map out crazy tempos and time signatures, or do you just make a riff and figure it out later?
Trent: It’s always groove. Just play along with it. If I’m stuck on a song I’ll play through it like a hundred times and just start to play different things after and see what feels right. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t, but that’s why having the archive is good. You can see where old ideas fit with new ones. We probably write music in a really fucked up way compared to most people, but I don’t know! It’s cool.
I feel like you guys more than any other band on this tour keep things more in house, so to say. You guys seem to keep a lot in the home studio and don’t send it off until it’s basically all finished. Is that something you always want to keep doing? What importance or good qualities do you find in that?
Trent: Up until this last record, that’s how we did it. With Forging a Future Self, all of the instruments were done in my bedroom of a two bedroom apartment that I had with our singer at the time. We recorded gang vocals in the kitchen! All of the demoing always happens in house. For Rareform, Justin and I rented out a studio just to put ourselves in a creative spot where it felt more like we were really doing something here. If you’re in your bedroom you can get distracted and you don’t have that same sense of importance. You’re just fucking around and jamming. In Dreams, dude, we were tracking guitars in hotel rooms. We were just doing DI tracks and sent those to a studio in Sweden. We were in Europe at the time trying to download mixes over their shitty Wi-Fi they have over there. I was so stressed, dude! This time we just went out for a month saying “all right, let’s just do this.” We lived there, too. There’s an apartment in the studio, and it was awesome, man! It was like going to your job, but a good one. I woke up, made coffee and breakfast and then do 12 hour days banging everything out. I was just immersed in it, which was really cool.
Anthony: He’d be in one room doing guitars, I’d be in another room tracking, Dan [Carle] would be doing drums over there…then we’d go take breaks and watch each other.
So it wasn’t like you did all of one instrument at a time?
Trent: Well, the first things to get done were all the guitars, because we’re a guitar-heavy band. The guitars are often on top, so just to have those done so the drums can fit under them well and the vocals mesh really well, they have to be done. So right when I got in the studio I was like “I gotta write three songs, ugh!” It was crazy, and stressed, but it came out great and was all worth it.
After this tour do you guys have stuff lined up for the summer or even before that?
Trent: We do, but we can’t talk about it yet. That’s usually how it goes.
Will you be headlining next time, or is it another support run?
Trent: I can say that we won’t be headlining probably until later in the year, because when you drop a record it’s nice to get it out there to as many people as possible. Obviously doing a tour like this where you have a great opportunity to do that.
Is that going to be another US run, or do you plan to head over to Europe?
Anthony: There’s another US run, and we’re aiming for Europe. We have tentative plans for that, though. We’re still waiting for offers, and it’s just that usual band stuff where you just have to wait around and see.
Trent: It’s out of control on our end now, though. We just have to wait around for other people like “fuck, let’s go!” [laughs]
Speaking of decision-making and touring, I had a question for you guys. Recently CJ from Thy Art Is Murder talked about quitting the band due to lack of sustainable income. Is it really a 24/7 struggle where you’re starving even at this level?
Trent: I could assume that for them since from Australia because it’s really expensive to get over here. Even when they’re over here…I don’t know how much they make, but going back and forth I can imagine takes a pretty big chunk out of what they’d actually keep if they lived here. Plus all the gear rentals and shit, hiring crew…
Anthony: You can make, as far as like monthly, compared to doing 9-to-5’s we still make pretty good money. The thing is that we’re on tour for a month and then you’re off the next. That’s where it starts to weigh in.
It’s like working 20 hours a week instead of 40.
Anthony: You can look at one month and think you’re doing great, but rent’s still due next month.
Trent: None of us live in our parent’s basements or anything. I mean, we both own houses at this point.
I feel like people started building this myth about how hard it is, but at a certain point you’ve got to be doing at least reasonably well as long as you don’t horribly mismanage your money.
Anthony: It can be really fuckin’ hard if you don’t get to a certain level as a band, but you’re playing music that takes a lot of passion.
Trent: It’s not like we’re pop stars or some shit, but I haven’t worked a day job since like 2007. This has been it.
Anthony: I do actually have a business now when I’m at home. Just a small mouth guard business. We have a lab in the back of our house, it’s super sick. They just got so busy lately and they needed me.
Well hey, you probably got to get warmed up for the set now, it was great talking with you!
Check out the interview with Veil of Maya on the third page!
LUKAS MAGYAR OF VEIL OF MAYA
Thanks for taking the time to do this, man!
Lukas: Of course!
The last time I saw you guys was last year in Raleigh with Revocation. How’s your past year been, and how’s the tour been so far?
Oh yeah, that was a fun time! Tour’s been pretty packed and really fun. As far as the past year, it was a really fast year to say the least. A lot of touring doing album support, and luckily the album did do well.
It was your best-selling one yet, right?
Yeah, it was the highest selling album, and it actually was #1 on iTunes in metal for like a week. So that was totally sick. It held the #1 rock spot for like a day, too! Now we’re just trying to continue the hype from the record going.
Plus you guys put out a new video not too long ago, too.
Yeah, we did just make a second video for “Aeris.” The fans seem pretty stoked on that, and the crowd response live after the video came out has been pretty great.
What songs would you say have been working the best live so far?
“Mikasa” usually pops off. “Three Fifty,” a lot of kids are stoked for. I think they get rowdy for “Leeloo,” and some people get pretty into the intro of Matriarch as sample. So when that starts, the crowd seems pretty excited about it. Honestly, I think the new stuff in general has hit this new sweet spot. I don’t think many songs really get a bad reaction. I mean, maybe if I were to say one it might be “Phoenix,” I suppose. But we’ve been playing that one for a long time.
So a lot of the titles of songs on Matriarch reference various characters like how “Aeris” is from Final Fantasy and “Mikasa” is from Attack on Titan, etc. Whose idea was that? Was that put into place before you came into the band?
All of the songs had names before I was involved. But lyrically, they aren’t necessarily about any of the characters. However, the role of the characters and the story of the lyrics do kind of mesh well and tell a really powerful story of someone trying to carry on through something. It really leaves it open at the end as to whether this person did or did not succeed, but he or she went for it but now it’s time to transcend and become better.
Does having song titles like this ahead of time help frame your mindset a little bit? Is that a way to help inspire you, or does it feel like more of a placeholder than anything?
It depends on who names them, I guess. In this case, no. They were what they were and I wrote what I wrote. Things went together in a way, but as I said, they definitely don’t relate to each character individually. I paid little attention to it, and I honestly don’t know or follow any of the shows. I do believe that “Daenarys” is from Game of Thrones, but I only know that because someone told me!
Do you write your lyrics to prearranged songs? Does the band give you stuff to throw on top?
Well, in this case it was definitely a record that was already done. I was just listening, catching the vibe of the record, and relating it to my life at the time and what was going on, because that was really all I had to write on. It was very on the spot and it needed to be done. So I tried to write about my life experiences and my current scenario through each and every day and put those parts in to where they fit with the song. I was trying to fabricate a story that’s not necessarily true, but it helps it have more weight. But there’s a lot ways to go about writing. Some people come up with lyrics and vocal melodies first and others get inspiration from music that’s given to them.
So I guess it’s been a little less than year now since the last album came out, but have there been any demos floating around? Are you guys thinking about new stuff right now, or is that not on your mind?
We’ve just been touring a lot. That’s pretty much where most of the time goes. Plus momentum seems to continue to build at this point, so a lot of people have been bringing up doing a new record soon. But a lot more people are continuing to be stoked on coming out to support us live. I don’t think there’s a lot of pressure on us to write at the moment, though we do need to get started as soon as possible and get an idea of what we are going to move on to and sound like. There really isn’t anything to go off of right now. There’s just been discussion on how we want to evolve at this point.
I feel like you guys, After the Burial and Born of Osiris have been somewhat synonymous and have grown up alongside the Sumerian label. I know you’re a relatively new to the picture, but what can you say about how the label has grown, and what place do you think it has in metal? It’s a pretty name in the genre now.
I am surprised that they’ve made the mark that they have in just ten years. Honestly, when I heard about this tour and that it was a ten year thing; it really caught me as a surprise! You know what I mean? I think they’re doing a great, and this tour’s been very successful. Hopefully the next ten years will be as successful.
I know you have played a lot of other shows besides this tour with the other bands. Do you have any sort of goofy tour memories that stick out to you?
Anthony [After the Burial] I know likes to mess around on stage and say weird stuff about the other bands on the package. And he’ll get personal sometimes. I won’t get into some of them because I can’t believe some of the things he says, it was just so weird. He came off one stage to me and said “just so you know I told the crowd that I taught you everything you know.” So I totally played along with it and in-between one of the songs I was like “I’d like to give a shoutout to Anthony from ATB, because if it wasn’t for him, shit…”
What’s the rest of your year looking like now? You guys doing festival stuff during the summer?
We’ve got a big summer ahead of us, and we’re all pretty stoked. There’s a big summer tour and I really can’t name it. But it’s a nice, girthy summer tour. We are hitting the Philippines in either April or May, and I think we just confirmed China.
Has the band ever played at either of those places before?
I don’t actually know. I do know that they’ve played Japan and we’re going back to Japan for like two weeks after the summer tour. I’ve never been to Japan, so I’m really excited for that, and very excited for the Philippines. I’m also really excited about the one I can’t remember anymore.
Is the set tonight going to be an even spread of the albums, or is it mostly new shit?
Only three old songs, “Unbreakable,” “Punisher,” and “It’s Not Safe to Swim Today.”
Damn, so now “Crawl Back?”
We actually just stopped playing that after the last tour. I don’t know if we’ll play that one ever again, actually. It’s one of those things like where if we bring one back it’s either “Subject Zero” or “Crawl Back,” but now there’s even more new songs in the set. We kind of have to now, because the contrast in our sound is just so apparent. You really just have to commit to it. From here on out we can still do whatever we want, but we’ll always keep that heavy side. The last album was still very heavy, and anyone who disagrees is lying! It’s just not the same thing all the way through.