Breaking Cages: An interview with Venom Prison’s Larissa Stupar

Photo credit: Andy Ford Venom Prison are one of those bands that seems like they should be a way fucking bigger deal than most folks make them out to be.

2 years ago

Photo credit: Andy Ford

Venom Prison are one of those bands that seems like they should be a way fucking bigger deal than most folks make them out to be. They have a spotless track record with some incredible LPs and EPs under their belt, everyone and their mom seems to love them (seriously, do you know anyone who doesn’t dig these dudes?), they’ve even got streetwear collabs that seem far out of range for your typical death metal group, and yet it feels like they’re still on the brink of something huge. It’s a rarity for an extreme metal band of such broad critical acclaim to still have such wide underground appeal without really getting that breakthrough moment. I suppose that might be what all the buzz is about with their upcoming release, Erebos, which hits shelves tomorrow. Be sure to grab a copy online or pester your local record store to get some fresh wax in, something tells me this might be the one to really take them to the next level, and you won’t want to be left without one in yer mitts. In the meantime, get in the know with some details about how Erebos came together, how the group spent lockdown, good reads, and more in our interview with Larissa Stupar.

Thanks for taking time to chat. I’ve always appreciated how you guys are crystal clear about having a political stance on things, it’s refreshing. I feel like there’s so many grumpy assholes out there who wish music wasn’t political, so it’s nice that you guys wear that on your sleeves. Can you detail some of the themes that we might get into on the new album?

Larissa: Yes of course. It has a wide range of themes, I would say. Mainly, I try to focus on incarceration in different forms. One of the songs, “Judges of the Underworld,” which was our first single, deals with the cycle of violence,  someone who is born into poverty and into ethnic minority communities. So coupled with poverty, these people are being cheated by the system. These people have no tools to get out of this cycle of violence, where they can be victims, offenders and witnesses all at the same time, because they experience violence when they are children, when they grow up… They see violence everywhere, they get into trouble by having to do certain things that are against the law, because they need to survive, and that is the only option they have. Once they come into contact with incarceration and the prison systems, even after they finish their sentence, they are being released into the same environment without any help without any support to improve their lives or to get out of this cycle of violence. So this is what “Judges of the Underworld” is about. Some other themes deal with immigration laws and how immigrants and refugees are being treated on our borders and on the borders of America, pretty much all over the world, and how people are being criminalized for looking for a better life or future for their families and their children. The fact that there have been whistleblowers that work within immigration facilities in the US that have described that some women have had medical procedures performed on them without their acknowledgement, without them agreeing to them, things like having their uterus removed is very disturbing. Some other themes on the album just deal with somewhat more personal things like depression or losing a loved one. So everything is kind of really inspired by the time that we all lived through while we were in lockdowns, while we were all isolated from the world of self. And all of this just kind of made me want to explore incarceration and prisons. It was also kind of fueled by George Floyd and the BLM protests all over the world, and realizing or not just realizing, but understanding that it’s not only America who has these problems, in the UK they’re also very present, but it’s not being talked about over here. It’s just really frustrating, because England and UK have been involved in the transatlantic slave trade heavily. Without England, this probably wouldn’t have happened. And people here seem to forget that.

That ties in nicely with my next question. I don’t really want to talk about COVID much, because I’m sure you’re sick of that too, but the fact that all these things kind of bubbled up over the span of that while everyone was isolated is interesting. Like, there’s all these things happening with George Floyd and BLM across the world and this Kyle Rittenhouse situation in the States and the insurrectionists… It’s crazy, almost surreal. It’s kind of overwhelming but it’s a necessary reminder that, I guess, as Americans, we kind of have this perceived privilege and “freedom,” but there are all these problems, all these things like systemic racism, things that feel so obvious coming to light now, or maybe just more people are paying attention now. So I was wondering what things specifically you’re experiencing in the UK, because I feel Americans are self-absorbed and we’re not necessarily the world scholars that we should be. Were there things over there that bubbled up locally, play a role, or have some kind of influence on the record?

Larissa: I feel like in the UK people often try to overlook or just don’t seem to realize that we face really similar problems as you do in America, very similar issues in regards to racism and sexism, misogyny, homophobia, transphobia, all those kinds of things. People seem to just always look at America and pretend like it’s not really happening here. And that’s something that I really, really noticed with the BLM stuff going on.I feel like the political system here in the UK, or society is trying to kinda hide it, if that makes sense? They don’t really talk about it in school or anything. I grew up in Germany. So in Germany, we talk about the Holocaust, and about a national socialism and the Nazis and World War II, we’re being taught that in school on multiple levels, people are trying to deal with with the history there, and to overcome it to make sure it doesn’t happen again. In the UK, it’s just not being talked about. People here in school, being taught how “great” England was or how “great” Great Britain was when it comes to participating in World War I and World War II and how much they’ve accomplished. And how “great” the imperial world was of Great Britain, and how amazing all these things are, but the fact that so many people have suffered by the hands of Great Britain for centuries is just not being discussed. They’re often not even aware of that because it’s just not present, it’s not being talked about and I think that is really sad. I think this is one of my biggest problems is the fact that it’s just being completely hidden away as if it’s not a problem over here when it is. When police brutalities against the Black community happens, people are being murdered because they are Black and being treated like criminals just because they’re Black – we have the same problems over here, and I think it’s it’s time that people start to realize that. Another thing that the UK really has a big problem with is also poverty, especially children just being completely overlooked. People who live in poverty are not being supported by the government, the government is a conservative government, and all they care about is corporations and the wealthy. Everyone who either cannot work or just hasn’t got the needs to have a more fulfilling life to make sure that their children go to a university or just even go to school and have school meals, all of this is just completely being ignored by the government, and that’s a really sad reality.

Interesting, you bring it up too. Comparing what and how you’ve learned history as a student in Germany to today in the US where our elected officials are petitioning against Critical Race Theory because they’re worried that kids are going to learn about real history and Black experiences? Like, they prefer to ignore it. I don’t see how one can expect anyone to evolve or learn from those mistakes when they’re never really being taught the history.

Larissa: Yeah, it’s awful. I think countries like the US and the UK seem to forget that, even though this was a problem, or it came from Germany, there’s people all over the world that share those same opinions and those same values. That’s just something that needs to be talked about all over the world, not just in Germany.

Totally. I appreciate that you bring that up, your political directness is something I really appreciate about the band. On the topic of the album, I’m curious because I feel like you guys always have some sort of like, reference back to some kind of philosophy, whether it’s like biblical references, the Buddhist concepts you touch on Samsara, or even some of the Greek influences you have – I’m assuming that’s what this title, Erebos, alludes to – So like, what’s the connection? Are y’all just like big fans of the Classics and humanities? Or is there some other kind of connection?

Larissa: I personally just love connecting certain mythologies. I see Christianity in the Bible more as a mythical world than a reality personally. And the fact that we in the Western society share values that have come from Christianity is just something that we cannot remove or deny. So being able to incorporate that into songs is something that I always wanted to do. I went to Bible school because my parents are religious and stuff like that, so I do know my shit there, you know? And, obviously, you don’t want to do one thing over and over again, so being able to dip into different mythologies or different religions to just kind of feed from there and see if I can make a connection with the lyrics and themes that I’m currently working on has always been really interesting for me. Greek mythology is just absolutely fascinating to me. I thought it was the right choice for Erebos, because I feel like everything within Greek mythology kind of deals with really human aspects. It’s about emotions, it’s about life and death, and it’s about figuring out why. Why does this happen? Why does that happen? It’s kind of trying to explore why the world works the way it does. So I thought it was really really fitting to go with Erebos.

I find it’s enlightening that there’s this other layer to explore because I’m not huge into or super knowledgeable about that stuff myself. So I’m always like, “Oh, what’s this all about?” And then making these connections like “Oh, there’s this reference to a god of suffering” or something else. It has a way of piquing curiosity.

Larissa: I think on the other hand, as well, I just love to not be as direct. I like people to read into the lyrics and figure out their own opinions and analyze them and the ways they might feel about it. So I never try to be very direct. I put some of my ethics and my morals and values into the songs, but I want people to explore them by connecting with them through their own opinions and their own values, if that makes sense?

Yeah, totally. The last single you dropped, “The Pain of Oizys,” was a really surprising and pleasant change of direction. Also a really intriguing choice, as a single for this record. As I’m sure you’re aware, it’s a very fresh sound for you. What was the impetus behind the shift?

Larissa: We always wanted to try new things and bring new things into Venom Prison. We always try to mix things up so we don’t release the same album over and over again. This time around, we just had so much time because of COVID and because of being locked up at home, we wanted to just utilize that time creatively and just use all the skills that we have developed, really since we started making music. We just really wanted to push it and see how different we can be without really completely leaving what Venom Prison is. It’s definitely one of my favorite songs on the album.

Not to get back to the pandemic, but since you bring up the writing process in isolation, I’m sure that makes changes or challenges to your artistic approach. Aside from – I’m assuming that things are just a little slower because there has to be so much more back and forth – what other effects did that have on the record?

Larissa: Honestly, because we started writing the album in 2018, we had most of the songs ready before COVID hit. With tours being dropped everywhere, we just felt like this is now the time to change things up and just go over the songs again, see what we can change and what we can get out of them. And this was a really big difference because usually we are just right in between tours, so time was really limited and we just tried to do our best. But this time, we had the benefit of the time being on our side. So we have reworked songs so many times, we scrapped songs, we wrote new songs, and the fact that we weren’t able to see each other when we were writing as much because I live in England, Ash lives in Wales, and they have different rules over there for COVID, so when, when we in England were able to meet other people, the people in Wales couldn’t even leave Wales at the time. So, usually when I record vocal demos on the songs, I usually meet up with Ash and then we record together, he gives me his input while I’m doing my thing and we kind of collaborate. It was not possible this time around, so I was recording all of my vocals at home. It was really out of my comfort zone, I have to say, just being completely left to my own devices, where you don’t know if you’re doing something right or wrong, or if it’s good or bad. And you have to kind of judge it all yourself. I also never really used recording software before, all of that was a big learning process for me. So every time I recorded something I had all the time in the world to just focus on the song to write the lyrics for it to make sure they fit. When I was satisfied, I was able to send it along and then I would get feedback from Ben and Ash and just go from there and then work things over, completely scrap them, or just add something that I think works better than what they suggested, and it’s been really a huge positive for us. Also the fact that when we went to record into the studio, all this was still happening in between lockdowns; everything took a lot longer than we ever thought it was going to be. So we had recorded drums in December 2020. Then the lockdowns hit, so we couldn’t record anything until March again. We went back to record guitars and some vocals, then we had to go back into lockdown, then we came back in April, and then again in June, so everything was really stretched out. Throughout this whole time we were still able to improve things and, being able to work with Scott Atkins, who produced and recorded the album for us was just an amazing thing. Having his impact, having his opinion, and for the first time having someone who’s able to help us to bring out the best, really get the best out of the songs. It was really hard to get used to working this way, but it was a great opportunity. I’m really, really grateful that we could utilize this horrible time in creative planning.

Yeah! You got to make the most of it. Last year, too, you guys released the Primeval and there’s two new tracks on there. Was that part of these most recent recording sessions, or was that from earlier as well?

Larissa: This was a bit earlier. So, these two songs, when we decided to record them for Primeval, we were already writing for Erebos. We recorded these before COVID in 2019, I believe. We just wanted to put some new songs out to show what people can expect from us.

Looking back, did revisiting the older material for Primeval kind of put you in a different mindset or change your approach as you were writing Erebos?

Larissa: I definitely think it had a big impact on us because we were able to reconnect with our roots, if that makes sense. Being able to really experience what we enjoyed while writing those songs and why we wrote them to start with. So we definitely took some of the elements from our early songs that we really, really liked and put them into Erebos as well.

Any other surprises like “Pain of Oizys” on the record?

Larissa: I think that one’s probably the most extreme one. But, people can expect more memorable songs, I would say. For us, it was really important to create something that doesn’t just last for 10 seconds. If something was worthy of coming back and being catchy, we really wanted it to come back and stay in people’s memories. So this is probably the one thing that people will notice with this album.

I feel like that’s a logical kind of move for a lot of bands, especially in extreme music where you’re not necessarily beholden to any like, “rules.” You guys aren’t getting played on top 40 radio or anything, so you don’t have to give a shit about like regular structures or having a palatable sound but you know, I imagine as the band ages that becomes more of like a thing where it’s like, “Well, why not? Why not try that?”

Larissa: Yeah, definitely. I think we’ve also come to the point where we don’t really care if people see us as a death metal band or whatever. We just want to make music that we are happy with and we want to show that we are capable of changing and capable of developing as musicians. I wouldn’t even say that Erebos is necessarily a death metal album.

Awesome! Have y’all picked up any new hobbies over the past year or so? I feel like the big thing at the beginning of the pandemic was like everyone’s like, “Oh, I’m gonna come out of this a better person with some new skills. I’m gonna like, learn how to bake a fucking loaf of bread or something.” What’s the Venom Prison loaf of bread?

Larissa: I think Ash started riding bikes? He got his bike license. Ben has his, too. I think you have to have like the small bike license to get the big one to ride faster bikes and Ben did that. So, we have two bikers in the band now? I tried to play more video games and read more, but I kind of gave up on that now. And yeah, I was baking loads, I was baking a lot of cake.

What games were you playing?

Larissa: Oh god, so at the start of lockdown, it was also my birthday so my partner bought me a Switch and he got me Animal Crossing so I was playing Animal Crossing for months. After that I just went to Dragon Ball and Pokémon and all of those Switch games and I absolutely love the Switch. I’m too shit to play like shooters and stuff like that, isn’t just not really my thing. I’m into really cute and wholesome games like Mario Golf and these kinds of things. I did try to play Fortnite because my partner wanted me to play Fortnite with him and then we played it on Switch and most people that play Fortnite switch are really, really bad. So I got some Victory Royales. [laughs]

What were you reading?

Larissa: I was reading a lot of things while I was writing lyrics for the album. I read Caught: The Prison State and the Lockdown of American Politics, Homeward: Life in the Year After Prison: Life in the Year After Prison, I’ve read multiple articles on the war on drugs and mass incarceration and women in the criminal justice system and things like that. I was just revisiting some old classics, things that I really wanted to read from some Russian writers like The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov, which is a really great book. Those are some of the ones I really remember. I’ve also watched loads of TV shows and movies, I rewatched The Matrix trilogy, I’ve watched The Sopranos, actually on the last season now. Mad Men, Breaking Bad

I love those! The Sopranos is one I gotta catch up on. I kinda just stopped for no reason after the first two episodes.

I started watching it right after Mad Men, and watched the first two episodes as well and stopped, so I came back this year and watched it all through, it’s worth revisiting for sure.

That’s just the push I need to get started! Anything musically? Heavy Blog is pretty genre agnostic, any non-heavy or extreme artists you’ve been listening to lately?

I’ve actually not been listening to much metal recently. When we’re working on an album I’m not interested in that, I like to look for inspiration somewhere else. I listened to a lot of Placebo, Depeche Mode, and a lot of new wave stuff. I discovered Angèle, she’s a Belgian artist who does French-language pop music; I’m absolutely obsessed with her. She’s got a new album coming out in a couple days [Nonante-Cinq – out now!], but you should check out Brol, it’s absolutely amazing. Listening to some Tears for Fears as well. They’re going to play a few shows in the UK next year and we got tickets so I’m super excited for that.

Final question: how do you like your eggs?

I would say scrambled because I’m vegan and I like scrambled tofu.

Venom Prison’s Erebos drops tomorrow, Friday the 4th of February. Grab it here.

Jordan Jerabek

Published 2 years ago