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Interview: Exhumed

L – R: Harvey, Caley, del Muerte, Walker
Photo by Sawa

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For the complete – and I mean complete – story of Exhumed, see this interview at Metal Maniacs with vocalist/guitarist Matt Harvey. The brutally short version is this: NorCal high school kids form Exhumed in 1990 as part of the thrash-becoming-death revolution sweeping the metal world. Harvey and drummer Col Jones lead the band through a zillion lineups, a zillion splits, and a few albums. (Personally I have a soft spot for 2003’s Anatomy Is Destiny, the …And Justice for All of goregrind.) Exhumed splits up in 2005. Harvey somehow ends up in Hawaii, where he thought he’d take a break from metal. Wrong! He ends up in the metal scene there, fires off a few fateful text messages, and before he knows it, he’s going back to Cali and reviving Exhumed with Wes Caley, Leon del Muerte, and Danny Walker. Exhumed recently released an absolutely killer album, All Guts, No Glory. I asked Harvey about the record, but we got pleasantly sidetracked.

— Cosmo Lee

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What was your mindset going into this record?

The mindset was just to go in and have fun, and to keep it a little bit looser than on Anatomy, which was super-clean. It’s been a weird process putting it together. We started writing when I was in Hawaii, and everybody else was in Califonia, so we didn’t really have a lot of time to rehearse together. But luckily we’ve all known each other and played together off and on in different configurations for a lot of years. Really, the mindset was just to get back to doing this again, and having fun with it, and enjoy the good shit about being in Exhumed and leaving all the bullshit behind us that caused us to stop playing in the first place. There’s no inter-personal drama, but it’s more like burnout.

Why revive Exhumed now?

Really, what it comes down to is [the fact that] I like playing this kind of music. I enjoy it. As shitty as touring sometimes is, I miss a lot of my friends from all over the world. I miss traveling, and I miss playing for people.

You’re not the same guitar player you were when you were 15 and started Exhumed. Is it hard to recapture the rawness of the first record and step back from the technical aspect of Anatomy?

It’s not like the new album is totally simple. There’s definitely some challenging parts. To me, it’s just sort of a continuation. For me, it’s more about the spirit and not just the tonality of the riffs. Where I get all my note choices and shit like that is Mentally Murdered and Left Hand Path and Symphonies of Sickness and World Downfall, and a few other records and some thrash stuff. But I think it’s because I’ve been playing those riffs for so long that the riffs, by default, sort of get more involved. I’ve already written the simpler ones (laughs).

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How would you compare playing with Wes, Leon, and Danny now to playing with them back in ’03 – ’05?

If Leon and Danny had continued on after the Anatomy touring, and then Wes had come in, and it was just the four of us right then, I think what happened in 2005 would probably have been a lot different. At the time, Danny was a drum phenom kid, and he wanted to establish himself and do different things. I totally understand and respect that. Being the drummer for Exhumed is not really the way to carve out a niche for yourself as a virtuoso drummer (laughs). So in many ways, this is the lineup that I would have wanted to continue with in 2005. If the lineup was then as it is now, the band very well might have kept going. It probably would have [realized] more potential.

That said, playing with these guys is always fun. We always find a way to have a good time. We all just like to sit around and crack jokes and drink beer. It’s a real good vibe. The great thing is, we play in a band where everybody is more or less on the same footing. Everybody can bring something to the table and know that it will be executed very well and very powerfully. At the end of the day, that’s the goal: to put across something powerful-sounding.

How would you compare yourself now to yourself then?

My perspective on the band is different now. Before, Col [Jones, drummer] and I were very much the band leaders. We had this vision and were pretty much on the same page. When he left, I was stuck trying to recreate that same dynamic: four guys against the world.

We’re all getting older, and that’s just not realistic. Now it’s a bunch of guys that know each other really well and come together and do this. Everybody already has other band commitments. We want Exhumed to do as much as it can, but we want it to work within people’s schedules, and there’s going to be allowances for that. My view is the band now is almost sort of a co-op, where we’ve had so many people through the years, if somebody can’t do a tour, we know enough people so we can get somebody else that’s also credible and has history with the band.

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How has Exhumed’s mission changed, if at all?

When we were kids, like other bands in this genre, we started out thinking about how to be the heaviest, how to be the fastest, how to be the sickest, or whatever. That’s a great jumping-off point, but there’s nowhere to go [from there]. I was talking with Scott [Carlson] from Repulsion about this, and he was like, “Yeah, we did Horrified, and it was like, ‘Now what?’ The band’s pretty much over”. So what sustained me after [the intial drive to be] heavy, brutal, sick, or whatever [was that] I just like writing songs. Even when I wasn’t really in a band for several years, I was still writing songs and recording songs by myself. I like writing songs, and I try to write good songs and try to progress that way – not so much as a guitarist, but as a musician or songwriter.

And it’s fun. Playing this kind of music is fucking fun. We wouldn’t do it if it wasn’t. That’s the core mission at this point: to get together and have a good time and not lose our asses financially and just get out there and have fun and play. The fact that people are actually interested in having us play is pretty amazing. We’ll try to do ight by them and deliver a good show and have a good time, get some free beer, and travel…that’s about it, man. I would try to take over the world, but that’s a lot of pressure, you know (laughs). I have no interest in that anymore. I’m way more laidback as a person than I was even five years ago. When I think back on some of the shit that we used to argue about in the band when we were kids, it’s crazy.

So you’re still on the gore tip.

It’s Exhumed. We’re not going to change our stance. We’re going to try to do different things with it to keep it interesting for us, but I’m not into bands that do a 180 or whatever. It’s fine for other people, but it’s just not my thing. If you do something, and you go out of your way to stand for something, you should stick by it – or just do a different band.

What makes you stick with gore after 20 years? The subject seems like it would be limiting.

It kind of is, in a way. To me, it’s what fits with the music. The music is brutal and aggressive and dark, and to sing about something that doesn’t match up with that doesn’t really make sense.

One thing I like about gore is that it gives you a set of aesthetics to work with to use as an allegory or metaphor. Even as far back as the first album, a lot of the songs are metaphors for different things. We have songs about consumerism and songs about relationships and songs about politics. Instead of me coming off like a whiny bitch complaining about society, I’m able to put it across in a way that’s really allegorical and has its own entertainment value without having any deeper context. As evidenced by this interview, I can be pretty wordy…unnecessarily. So the gore metaphor keeps me from becoming a preachy, pretentious douchebag.

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Who are your inspirations for songcraft?

My tastes are pretty all over the map. I do listen to metal, but I have to be in the right kind of mood. Lately I’ve been listening to Spacemen 3 and Cat Power (laughs), all kinds of stuff. Sometimes I’ll just listen to crappy music and look at the songwriting elements that they use. The other morning, when we woke up in the hotel, I was watching CMT (Country Music Television), and I was like, “Man, this fuckin’ song sucks”. But I was like, “OK, why do people like this? What’s going on here? What kinds of devices are they using? What kinds of dynamics?” I have a pretty varied taste in music. I just don’t want it to show up in Exhumed, because Exhumed is a death metal band (laughs).

I think that you can apply some of those tricks or devices in a metal context.

I do, too. And I think that’s been a big part of what we’ve been trying to hone. On any song that we’re writing, the first thing I think is, “Where’s the chorus? What’s the chorus? Where’s the hook?” Then we’ve got something to build around. I’m very into the regular pop format of verse-chorus-verse-chorus-bridge-verse-chorus and variations thereof. To me, the chorus has to be the thing that grabs me and hooks me in – especially in death metal, because there’s no vocal melody. Yeah, you’ve got riffs, but you have to have something to hook the listener in, to bring them back, to keep them listening again and again and again. That’s really the goal, to create music that I would want to listen to five years later. For me, it’s all about choruses and trying to write catchy songs.

What are your three favorite song choruses in metal?

Whoo! That’s a tough one, dude. It’s weird, because I used to think about stuff like this all the time. In high school, I used to write shit like this down (laughs). In death metal, it’s tough because the whole point is to be extreme, which lends an air of unlistenability to it.

It doesn’t have to be death metal.

Well, in regular metal, I mean, fuck – Maiden, Priest, Accept. Those bands are chock full of great choruses. But if you listen to a record like Altars of Madness, it’s full of choruses, dude. “Maze of Torment” has a great chorus. “Evil Spells”… There are so many killer songs on that record that are memorable because they do have choruses. So it can definitely be done in a death metal context as well. But most bands seem like they’re so busy showing you how good they can play that they don’t end up doing it.

Manowar is another one of my favorite bands, too. They have so many great choruses. I couldn’t even pick a favorite one. That’s nuts. Fuck! Maybe “Blood of My Enemies” – that one gets me pretty excited (laughs). They’re a little bit more dramatic than what death metal does, which is the challenge of making this music. And that’s part of what makes it fun. How do I make something big and bombastic without it sounding pompous and douche-y?

It’s interesting that you mention the choruses, since people in metal often have this stance of “We listen to metal, fuck that pop music stuff”, when a lot of metal is really just pop music with different tones.

Absolutely. Especially some of the early traditional metal – even some of the chord progressions are pretty much the same as pop music. Granted, they’re all minor progressions, but they’re plying the same progressions. You can find the intervals in “Motorbreath” in a shitload of pop songs. There’s a Pet Shop Boys song [ed. note: “Suburbia”, perhaps] where the whole bass line is [sings “Motorbreath” riff]. It’s still the same fucking chords, just played on a synthesizer and a lot slower. I’m all about commonalities. I don’t make that many distinctions anymore. Only in metal – that’s the only thing where I care about distinctions. There’s thrash and death metal, and everything else I’m not really into (laughs). But musically otherwise, all I really think about is what everything has in common.

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Pet Shop Boys vs. Metallica – “Suburbia” vs. “Motorbreath”

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Do you separate out thrash and death? Is there a fence between them?

There’s gotta be a fence. Playing in a thrash band myself, and playing in a death metal band – in both bands where I’m the primary songwriter, there has to be a fence, or else then everything [runs together]. Then Dekapitator and Exhumed just become Exhumeditator.

(Laughs)

The way I think about it is almost like acting. You put yourself in a certain mindset, and then you write from there. I always write [thinking], “This is the heaviest song in the world” – from this perspective. When I was in Scarecrow, I just thought, “OK, there’s basically only Raven, Tank, Angel Witch, Venom, Armored Saint, and that kind of metal. Now how do I build off that?” And in Dekapitator, it’s like, “OK, there’s Kreator and Dark Angel and such-and-such framework”. That might sound kind of weird, but it’s the only way that I know how to do it. I like to set up parameters for myself and work within those. I’m a structured person like that.

Does it bother you, then, when people do many-adjective bands, like “blackened death metal”?

No. Certain genres make sense together. Black metal and death metal and thrash metal – they all pretty much go together. But what I don’t get into is “folk metal” or “funk metal” or “opera metal” or whatever. I’m like, “If I want to listen to metal, I’ll listen to metal”.

I used to take it really personally, like, “Fuck those bands! Those guys are fucking poseurs! Fuck people that listen to them!” But nowadays – I’ve been listening to a lot of different kinds of music for a long time, and I forget that there are people out there that only listen to metal. When I’m depressed, I already have tons of Cocteau Twins and Cure albums. I don’t need to hear a metal band do it in order to hear that sound. But people that only listen to metal – they need a metal band to do it, or else they’re going to have a really, really, really stunted palate.

(Laughs)

Whatever – different strokes for different folks. There’s a certain thing I want out of metal. It’s gotta be aggressive, or I’m not interested.

Are there newer metal bands that excite you?

Mostly I just hear my friends’ bands and shit like that. Ryan’s [Butler, producer of All Guts, No Glory] band Landmine Marathon is really good. I like some of the newer death metal bands that are coming out. Some of them aren’t new, but are finally starting to get press, now that it’s OK to play old-school death metal, like Funebrarum or Nominon. I’ve been listening to those bands for, like, 10 years. It’s cool to see them get a little bit of recognition.

I don’t keep up on it too much because I don’t have the inclination to the way I used to when I was a kid. I had hundreds and hundreds of metal LPs and cassettes and CDs and this and that. [Now] if something comes my way, I’ll check it out. But I don’t go out of my way to find new things. I find more stuff going backwards. In the ’90s, I was into ’80s metal. And now I listen to a lot of Thin Lizzy and early Aerosmith and shit like that. I find more stuff that way and put things in a greater context rather than focusing on what’s happening right now. And a lot of the bands now, the younger kids doing this – they have a really short attention span, so things are all over the place, and there’s, like, 14 different styles of music within one song. Maybe I’m just old and jaded, but it doesn’t interest me. I have a long attention span. I’ve been listening to my favorite bands for at least 20 years.

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ALL GUTS, NO GLORY: FULL ALBUM STREAM & PURCHASE

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EXHUMED/CEPHALIC CARNAGE/MACABRE/WITHERED – TOUR DATES

7/22 Des Moines, IA @ Vaudeville Mews (no Macabre or Withered)
7/23 Urbana, IL @ The Canopy Club (Central Illinois Metalfest)
7/25 Milwaukee, WI @ The Rave Bar
7/26 St Paul, MN @ Station 4
7/27 Winnipeg, MB @ The Royal Albert Arms
7/28 Regina, SK @ The Exchange
7/29 Edmonton, AB @ Pawn Shop
7/30 Calgary, AB @ The Distillery
7/31 Kelowna, BC @ Sapphire Nightclub
8/1 Vancouver, BC @ Rickshaw Theater
8/2 Seattle, WA @ Studio Seven
8/3 Portland, OR @ Branx
8/4 San Francisco, CA @ Slim’s
8/5 Sparks, NV @ The Alley
8/6 Las Vegas, NV @ The Cheyenne Saloon
8/7 Hollywood, CA @ Key Club

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