Interview: Deicide’s Steve Asheim
Deicide need no introduction, Deicide want no introduction. As one of the foremost death metal bands of all time, they have defined and redefined what death metal truly is over the course of their tumultuous 23-year career. At its core, Deicide comprises two people, the Mick Jagger and Keith Richards of death metal: Glen Benton (the philosopher) and Steve Asheim (the technician). Together they represent one of the classic, most lethal songwriting teams in the history of death metal, one which should automatically receive respect from anyone with fealty to the death metal subgenre. Their latest album, To Hell With God, came out last year, and they've been touring in support of it since then. I got in touch with Steve while at a gig in Edmonton; we discussed the minutiae of Deicide’s music, the finicky nature of the music industry, the response of the fans, illegal downloading, and his favorite Deicide track (among other things).
This interview was originally scheduled to be with Glen Benton. Unfortunately, Benton developed a severe throat infection in the middle of their tour that severely curtailed his ability to perform (as noted here) and in order to save what voice he had left, he had to drop the interview.
Thankfully, Steve was kind enough to take up the reins at the last minute. This did mean that I had to drop a lot of the questions I had formulated about Deicide’s lyrics, philosophy, and about Benton himself (who is always an interesting character), while trying to focus more on the technical, logistical, and experiential side of things. Thus, please bear in mind that these are in large part not the questions I’d initially planned on asking, as a lot of them are ad-libbed, and that Steve’s responses are also fairly on-the-fly due to last-minute stepping in and the inevitable distractions of being on tour.
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How are you doing?
Pretty good, pretty good; we’re in Edmonton right now, doors are about to open, and we’re about to do our thing.
How’s the road going for ya?
Good; this is our second trip into Canada on this tour, headed west. Shows have been going really good, we’ve been sounding really good every night [laughs], and, y’know, people have been really psyched about it and pumped about seeing it, so it’s been pretty cool, man.
Glad to hear it. This is roughly 20 years of touring you guys have done. Has it changed much in the past two decades, or is it still largely the same?
For the most part, it’s surprisingly the same. You tour the same circuit, meet new people, deal with what you gotta deal with, put on your shows and do what you gotta do, so in that regard it’s the same. I tell you what, though: a GPS helps. That’s a positive change.
Beats driving around a city for two fuckin’ hours looking for the club with an out-of-date map [chuckles].
No more of that.
No more of that, man.
Here’s one that y’all probably have first-hand experience with: Given how shaky things have been in the music industry with the rise of music-sharing and the recession, how much does touring impact your financial state as a band? Is it the main thing keeping you afloat, or is it more difficult given the expenses involved?
Well, we don’t sell a whole lot of records to begin with, as far as business. Really, we never relied on royalties to get us through; it was always based on touring. And, so far, that hasn’t changed; we still need to get out and do that now. I mean, it sucks, and you do feel a pinch, but money-wise it hasn’t affected us that bad. We’ve been able to survive in the same way we always have: touring.
That really is the only way you do make a lifestyle work in a band of any kind.
Totally, man. It’s just a matter of getting out there and to work.
How much of a say do you guys want in whatever bands you tour with? For you guys, have you established preferences and come to recognize who you want to tour with, or is better just to let the label handle things?
We’ve got a pretty good agent for handling tours for us, and we just kinda work it out with him and friends. It’s good, you know, to hold the fort together. So far as packaged tours go, our agent just handles that and we just go out there, bring the bands, and see what floats. On the one hand we meet new bands and new people, and we just do what we can to help ’em out.
It’s always validating. Getting off subject a little and onto the band’s sound, especially now that To Hell With God has been released, do you ever go into recording with a fixed idea of what you ultimately want the record to sound like, or do you just go in with the songs as a loose framework and play it by ear?
Anymore it’s a little bit of both. I mean, when we write our songs, there’s a degree of pre-recognition of what they’re ultimately supposed to sound like on record. There’s always been, in our case, the circumstance of the first recordings we do always coming out way better than we’d imagined. It’s just the reality of the situation. And yeah, as we’re in there, ideas get built up on one another that we’d never imagined happening. Once you get the idea in the studio, that’s when the real action occurs. And, usually, it’s pretty awesome.
A perfect storm, so to speak.
Just gotta make sure everyone on board is pretty satisfied; compromising is always part of the deal. All in all, I think this one’s a pretty good record.
When playing with Deicide, is there a unique, particular technique that you use that doesn’t appear in, say, Order of Ennead, or is it all just the Steve Asheim style?
You know, it’s kind of just how I play, be it this, that, or the other. Yeah, honestly it’s just my technique, but that varies. The reality of the situation is, like with Order of Ennead, the material really has a different feel entirely. It comes off as more technical, which I think is pretty cool. When I sit down to do Deicide, I can just go automatically, while Order of Ennead’s material is more exploratory for me, as I get to work on it more collaboratively [with the other members]. And that’s a technique that’s kind of … like, I always bring a different approach to it. Either way though, you just gotta match the drums to the riffs and make it as heavy as possible.
Definitely. That said, when you’re playing with Deicide or Order of Ennead, is there ever an opportunity to innovate, or do you ever wish for an entirely different venue to do something entirely different?
Well, we experiment somewhat, but we can’t get too experimental as far as Deicide goes. We keep a close watch on the songs, the writing styles, the riffage, the drum patterns, and we try to keep it interesting and try not to repeat ourselves too closely. It would be easy to get stuck in a rut, but it hasn’t happened yet.
Relating to fan demand, are there any songs in the Deicide catalog that you have come to really dislike playing but still have to due to their popularity, or are there ways to make performing your set fresh even with many of the same songs after 20 years?
Well, you know, it’s easy to get tired, I reckon, though much of that is just being on a really tight schedule, which just tires you. Personally for me, though, I just see [our songs] as being classic for everyone, especially when it comes to show time. The energy level that’s there sets the tone for the gig, makes it happen, and then after it we can crash and burn. But until that, we gotta give our best work, and to do that we gotta keep our energy level up, and so on we go. And that’s just what we do. We’ve been doing it for a long time now, and that’s the way we’ll keep doing it.
After 20 years, it must just be coded into your system, and you can go out there and do it flawlessly because it’s part of who you are. So, it’s mostly Glen who’s behind the lyrics, right? Do you ever want any say in that, or do you just stand aside and let him do his thing?
Yeah, that is the nature of our project: I do the music and he writes the lyrics. Period. He doesn’t wanna sing anyone else’s words, he wants to do his own thought and lyrics and such, so I just do the music and then hand it over to him to set it to writing.
Right, of course. This is a more philosophical question, but it pertains to lyrics: Deicide has always been really strongly anti-Christian for most of your career as a band. Has there been any sort of cooling of that, like have you all ever thought about introducing other concepts, like taking on Islam or something like that? Or is Christianity so familiar that it’s a more recognizable target and one that can be more easily dealt with?
Confronting Christianity is what we’re in the best position to do. I think that in this regard we’re fairly uncompromising as a band. It’s just what we know. I mean, we gotta do what we do as Deicide: be heavy, brutal, and anti-Christian. And keep digging at the Christians, you know? We’ve had a couple different lines as a band, but we are still very much the same and we’ve still got a lot of work to do. The anti-Christianity’s what the people want, and that’s what they get. We’ve still got records we’re going to put out, we’ve got shows we’re going to play, and, again, we’re just going to keep doing what we do and keep the following alive.
Keeping the formula strong: I can empathize with that. Has the music itself changed at all, has it become more or less technical?
A lot of the stuff in the music business has changed as I’ve been in it, for nearly 20 years, but we’re still very much similar to what we were. And I guarantee you that we really won’t change too much in the future, man. We’ll keep trying to fit in to our particular spot in the business of metal, and giving the world a good kick in the balls while we’re at it.
I’ve heard Deicide’s music as being mainly about "power". What do you think the key element to Deicide is?
Power is the thing. I mean, people use our music to torture fuckin’ Al Qaeda and shit [chuckles]. At our shows, you can see what it does to people in the pit when they start fuckin’ tearing each others’ faces off, and hot chicks start fuckin’ punching each other out, man. I mean, heavy music, Deicide’s music, just has the power to do that to people, man. It’s a powerful message. Whether it’s hearing it on your stereo or hearing it live, it drives people out of their fuckin’ minds, literally. It’s a powerful form, and I’ve borne witness to it. And we just wanna keep delivering it on a larger scale.
And you see, I totally get that impression. With the advent of the internet, is it weird to, say, go to small communities and see people who know about Deicide everywhere? Is that weird compared to, say, the smaller regional scenes that used to exist?
Well I tell you what, the internet has done a lot for spreading the band’s message around the world. It’s not too weird, because we were known around the world anyway before the internet [laughs], and on the downside it does take a lot of the mystique and mystery away from being in the band. Like, every single detail is posted, there’s a million videos. But, I mean, it is what it is. The technology has changed the business, and everyone’s gonna have to deal with that: invasions of privacy, stuff being downloaded legally and illegally, so on. But, like I said, people still want the Word of Deicide, so we’re gonna have to get that out still.
On the subject of illegal downloading, what are your views on downloads? Do you think music can be free so long as it spreads the band’s message and art, or, as an artist whose livelihood depends on the record industry, do you have problems with it?
Let me put it to you this way: If music were free, musicians wouldn’t get any money and we’d all have to get real jobs in order to live [laughs]. But from my point of view, nothing in this world is free, so why should music be? Just because the technology to obtain it for free is there, that’s not what that technology was meant for, though it’s what it’s being used for. A lot of musicians are getting the shaft, and a lot of bands are breaking up because they can’t afford to exist anymore. How is that helping the scene? It’s killing bands. So no, for me, music should not be free, it’s a ridiculous notion.
Understandable, given that your lifestyle depends on profits from the music. Getting back to the music itself, is there one particular Deicide track that you venerate above all others? Like, one song where you play it and it makes you realize, "this is the reason why I’m still playing with Deicide."
I like "Homage for Satan", that’s one really good track [laughs]. I think that when we play that one, it really sorts ourselves out, kicks the shit off, and just lets everyone in the room get a taste of what we’re about. Yeah, that’s a good track. But it’s good to play the old stuff, too; given how many songs we’ve written over the years, it’s hard to pick just one.
After 20 years, is it hard to stop from burning out? Has it been an uphill struggle or is it fairly easy to keep it together?
You know what, it’s always an uphill struggle. Really. You just gotta go one day at a time, one job at a time, one track at a time. I never once thought I’d be doing this for 22 years, you know; that’s how volatile a situation [playing with Deicide] is. Back in the day, it could have been over at any second. It’s a little more stable now, but that’s true with any situation given time. But man, I’m glad to still be here doing this, partly because I never thought I would be. But yeah, we’re doing OK still, better than we ever have on a personal level, and so we’re just going forward and will do as many records and get as many shows under our belts as we can before our day is done.
Business as usual.
More big festivals, maybe play the European fest circuit more - that’d be nice, and just finish out our contract. I’d be happy with that.
Anything else in particular you’d like to add?
As always, I’ve gotta thank all the fans from all the years for their support and whatnot, let everyone know that we’ve got a new record coming out, so they should get out and buy that shit [laughs], and I hope to see folks out at the gigs.
Well, that’s all I’ve got. Thank you very much for being willing to do this, man; it’s a major honor for me.
Thank you, brother; I sure appreciate it.
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Steve Asheim recording Order of Ennead
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Deicide - "Homage For Satan" (live)
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HEAR TO HELL WITH GOD
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Deicide - "To Hell With God"
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BUY TO HELL WITH GOD
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