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.