Interview: King Fowley (Deceased)
Retrospective death metal is gaining ground daily. Hell, there’s a new Gruesome EP around the corner. Given the state of affairs, it’s critical to remember the granddaddy of all retro death metal bands. Deceased, the first band signed to Relapse records, began their career looking back on the golden age of horror-inflected classic metal from the pre-thrash '80s. But Deceased was also groundbreaking. They innovated their own variety of the melodic death metal sound not long after the Swedes, but before almost anyone in the US had adopted the sound.
Now’s as great a time as any to remember Deceased. Transcending Obscurity is repressing their early out of print albums, beginning with 1997’s Fearless Undead Machines. We’ve got a full stream of that album below, as well as a long chat with Deceased’s drummer and singer King Fowley, whose approach to the genre remains as rooted in hard work and perfectionism as it was when Fearless Undead Machines first rose from the grave nineteen years ago.
Full disclosure: Transcending Obscurity label boss Kunal Choksi has contributed to Invisible Oranges in the past.
It's good to hear that Deceased is still playing shows, at least, because you guys haven't done a record in what seems like forever.
It's been a while, since 2011. I mean, that's a long story, but [...] we have never been one of those bands. We're not going to just shit a record out and call it the new record. We're totally 100% proud of everything we've done in our discography. We don't think there's ever been any lulls. I'm not saying everything's high and mighty, but we're all proud of everything we've done. We've never said "Well, this could have been better, that could have been better." Sure, as far as getting better as you go production-wise you have to learn from your mistakes. But as far as quality of the songs we're writing, in our opinion, they're very good, and we're proud of that. We ain't going say "Oh, here's the new Deceased record because it's been five years."
My first Deceased record was Supernatural Addiction, and no record afterward has disappointed me after hearing that one. If someone were to ask me where in your discography to begin, I would start with Supernatural Addiction and beyond that say “I don’t know, pick one.”
Well, that's cool. That's my all time favorite Deceased record. You never know one that came afterwards better than that first one, yes. Well, we're trying, bro. We really are. We want to get some new stuff out and playing live means the world to me. We have to. We've got some really good players and good friends that are in the band that were long time supporters of the band. I pulled nobody off the streets, people I didn't know. We never put an ad up saying, "Hey, who wants to play for Deceased?" It's been friends of mine that have asked to come out and play on the road with us. I'm very happy with who's playing in the band right now live. I think we are a really, really tight unit live. I'm very proud of what we are able to accomplish on stage.
Is there anyone in the live unit right now that I might recognize from something else? Because I have never had the chance to see Deceased.
I'll just give you a quick run down. And this will be quicker than you think it will take, but in 2006, Mike [Smith, guitar] stopped playing live, okay? In 2006, after he stopped playing live, we brought in a guy named Shane Fuegel who was in a local D.C. band called Biovore, somewhere between Voivod, The Bad Brains kind of style. We always loved that guy. He used to come to all the shows. He used to always drum roadie for me. He was just a super cool guy, and he played guitar. And I said, "Hey, you want to be the guy to take fucking Mike's place?" He was honored, and he came right in. He's still a fan since then.
But in 2007, Mark Adams, the other guy that was pretty much one of the originators of the band from back to 1985, he basically gave up on playing music out of the blue. It was kind of weird. He decided he wanted to get married. He moved out of the country. He now lives in The Virgin Islands. And he didn't want to do it anymore. So basically within a year's time, I lost both of the guitar players for the live front.
After that, I decided to bring in this other guitar player named Matt Altieri who lived in Massachusetts. He's a good guy. I love the guy. I knew him from a message board back then, and we used to always talk, and he was a big Deceased freak. And I just said, "Hey man," because I liked what he was doing with his stuff. He had that Hail Plankton band. And I said, "I like what you're doing. Your speed picking's good and stuff." I said, "You wanna come down and jam with Deceased?" He's like, "Dude, Deceased is like, one of my favorite bands." And I was like, "I know." It's always important for somebody to know the tunes and like, heard them before. Instead of me just handing you 20 new songs, "Well, go learn them." He would at least have heard them before.
He came down and he jammed. He played in the band for about four years. He actually went on our West Coast tour in 2010, which was our 25th anniversary. Everything was fine, but the problem with him was that he didn't drive a car, and he lived in Massachusetts. So he was always busing to get down to me, which was already a five to six-hour drive. And then, me and him would drive down to practice, which is three more for us. He was looking at a lot of long days and a lot of hard times because of the busing. He was in until about 2010.
Switching back to 2008, Les [Snyder], the original bass player from basically the classic lineup, moved to Texas and got married, but he wanted to be in the band. But money caught up with him. If we're going to play a show in D.C. you're going to have to fly from Texas in and out, that's 350 bucks and he started realizing, "I can't afford this shit." When he can he still plays with us, but not as often. So we got a guy who was a friend of mine named Krump. Chris Krump. He lived in New York and he did drive, but after a while it got to him too, because it's pretty stretched out. It took a while to get all the stuff right.
Now where it stands here, we have Shane is on guitar. We have a guy named Matt Ibach on guitar who was also the guitarist on October 31, my other band, and they both live 30 minutes from each other. And Walter White is playing bass for us who has also been in a band with Matt Ibach before, which was called Acid Queens, which was all NWOBHM covers. They jammed before. So basically they all get together. And on drums is still Dave "Scarface" Castillo who actually played on the As the Weird Travel On album. He's the live drummer. All four of them basically can jam any time they want in D.C. and I'm three hours away. They get all the instruments down. They start learning more of the old tunes. I come down, I throw the vocals and some practices and we go on tour play them.
I always ask this. I live in Seattle, what are the odds I get to see you on tour?
We're trying to, but I mean I don't know about Seattle. We played Seattle [before], we put it on a Sunday. It was weird because we went there and this [promoter] said, "You know what, this show's going to be a bust. I knew it from the get-go. I took you because I like you guys, but there's the biggest tattoo convention in town and everybody's there. I should have had you guys play tomorrow, but I heard you were going back home." I said, "Yeah, this is our last show. We're flying out of here. We're flying out of Seattle home." And he goes, "Yeah, I just booked your show, wanted to help you guys out." I would say there were 20 people there. [this] was 2010. We basically came the night before from Portland, Oregon and played that show. Some of us flew home. Shane drove the van back home. I didn't care. I mean, you're going to get big shows, little shows. Doesn't matter to me. And in 31 years of me doing this shit, I've seen it all. I've played for 50,000 people and I've played for nobody. It doesn't make a difference to me. It's all about fun. As far as getting back out there it's just a matter of shooting up the coast. Usually we'll fly to California. And then it's like...what is it, 10 hours up to Portland and then 2 more hours up to Seattle, something like that? I can't promise you this year. We're supposed to go to the West Coast and do a show or two with Autopsy in November. And we're probably getting no closer than Oakland, California to you man.
We have plans to come do everything again. I mean we really do. We have plans to play all over the place again, probably next year. Within the next two years we'll be up your way again. We have to. I mean we played there once and like I said, it was what it was. Of course, there was some big deal going on. That people had to do their thing. It is what it is, but we definitely want to get back there. We will. I promise you we will.
You guys are reissuing three records and one of them, the one that's coming out that we're doing this interview for, is you're reissuing Fearless Undead Machines. Do you have any particular memories of that record?
Every record has its own memories and its own special place in my heart. The thing I remember most about that record, and I always tend to say this, is that it was the album that kind of changed us. I mean, basically when we started the band in 1985 it was me and a guy named Doug and we were buddies, we were stoners and fucking young kids out to take on the world and teen angst and all that stuff. We were just out to write the fastest, craziest, over the top weirdest songs you could write. For the most part they were basically simplistic EP songs.
Those came out on demos in '86 '88 '89. Evil Side of Religion, Birth by Radiation, and Nuclear Exorcist. In 1990 we were asked to sign to Relapse Records. We were the first band to ever sign to that label. We went in and we did Luck of the Corpse. At that time, Doug was kind of on his way out of the band. He started seeing the world differently than me. He kind of wanted to do his own thing. He ended up leaving the band.
So Mike Smith took his place right after that and we went in and did that EP called 13 Frightened Souls. When we did that there was just two new songs. Just trying to see where we wanted to go. It was a different world now, because it was no longer Doug and I, who wrote most of the stuff over the last half of a decade. After that we had no place to practice and we were kind of like, literally for the next year and a half, all over the place practicing at storage spaces, people’s basements, living room. Just keep getting thrown out of all these fucking places because it was basically set up and hope the cops don't come.
In that time we kind of threw together The Blueprints for Madness, which was our album from '95. When we did that, I don't want to say we didn't have a direction, because we did. We wanted to make this totally over the top insane record, which is why we chose the album title, The Blueprints for Madness. To me it was kind of like a kitchen sink thing where we had weird keyboards, there was even some orchestration in some parts, a lot of timing changes. When we were done with it we kind of said to ourselves, "You know, that's cool and all, but there is more to us than this."
Me and Mike especially sat down and in '96 we actually built a space in the basement of my house, we built a room inside of a room. We decided, "Now we can stay here. Let's bring some recording gear in here. Let's record all the practices. Let's start from the get-go. Let's start this album here and let's finish this album here and we won't have anything else on our mind except writing this record." So for the next year we did that and we noticed we're really into more than heavy metal. We loved everything from heavy metal to pop music to hardcore to disco to classic rock. All this stuff was stuff we loved. Of course, we didn't want to start this out like fucking Journey, but we did have all these influences.
One of the things that I've always tried to put in Deceased is a memorability of it all. I think our songs are catchy. I like to have a course. I like to have something that sticks out; a melody to every song. I want the songs to be normal. I don't want them to just come and go as a whirlwind of blur. That's one thing that we started to notice. We started to put stuff like, "Oh, this is cool. This part here's kind of like Queen stuff. This part's kind of like Villain, this part's kind of like Repulsion." You had a little bit of everything. Nothing was intentional, but it was deep inside of us. Our influences were just starting to come out. That's the album that really started to come out and as far as the concept for that record, that went back to the demos from back in '88 '89.
Sure, kind of now the zombie thing is way overdone and done to death, but at the time, going back as far as the demos, it was still pretty young and unique. Night of the Living Dead wasn't even 20 years old yet at the time. It came from the best childhood things in my mind. And when we got back to it, and got that concept, by then I was older I could think deeper, I had more ideas for the storyline instead of just making demo songs around this basic thing.
That's the thing that really sticks out to me is how far the band came, as far as better vocals, better playing, better lead work, better arrangements, just better everything. We really made a big fucking jump from Blueprints for Madness in '95 to the Fearless Undead Machines in '97.
That is one thing I'm proud of. I think Deceased sounds like Deceased. No one can compare it to anything and I'm proud to say that. It's almost like we have our own sound.
That's absolutely right. You guys definitely preceded the idea of melodic death metal. Everyone brings up the Europeans. No one brings up that you guys had more clean vocals and these sort of soaring melodies before almost anyone else in America did.
Well that's true. I was listening to, one day years and years and years ago now, but when Paradise Lost got popular, I think it's cool how they mix this clean guitar with this heavy vocal. I was thinking to myself—and I wasn't bragging this up; or kissing my own ass or something—this is pretty much what we did on the song “The Nuclear Exorcist” in 1989. That came in with a clean guitar part with a low end vocal and then it kind of took off from there. Then everybody was saying how unique this was. And I was thinking, you know, we were kind of doing this already. I wasn't knocking them for what they were doing, but I was saying, "Maybe we were a little bit ahead of the pack on a lot of that stuff."
I think hopefully, a good reissue campaign will maybe give you guys a little more ability to bring what you've done to light. Do we know what the other two albums that are going to be reissued are yet?
I'd like to do them all with them one by one, but basically I said, "I'll pick a number, let's just go with three." And Kunal goes, "Okay, well do you have one to start with?" I said, "What do you want to start with?" He said, "Fearless." I said, "That's fine." Some people say that's "our masterpiece" or whatever, and this and that. I said we'll probably end up doing it. We haven't even decided on this, so this isn't for sure. We are definitely doing Fearless. I would think we should probably do The Luck of the Corpse because that's the other one people see as a starting point for us. And then I think we should do Surreal Overdose which as of now, is the latest record we've done. That way you get spectrum. It kind of spans '90 to now.
Even though Supernatural is my favorite, I think this might be a good starting point, middle point, ending point for now. That's the plan at this point is to do those records. And we'll do them one by one, but I didn't want to just come in and do Fearless Undead Machines and kind of walk away.
We all know today albums don't sell like they used to and stuff like that. It's going to be a work in progress, but with some dedication, you can push it as far as you can push it. I don't expect the world. He probably doesn't either. We're just trying to get some new fucking ears on it that didn't get to hear it back in the day for whatever reason.
First of all that's worthy and second of all, I think Supernatural was reissued not that long ago, was it not?
Yeah. They've all been reissued. What it is when we left Relapse I pretty much took all the records with me. They let them all go out of print one by one. And today I'd love to do Luck of the Corpse. Horror Pain Gore Death was the label that wanted to re-do that and I said, sure. We ran 1,000 copies and that flooded the market for about a year. Then when that was gone then it was out of print again. Then my other friend from Lost Apparition Records out of Virginia, he was like, "I'd love to put that out. I love that record." I said, "All right, let's put it out again." So you know, I'm just trying to keep it out there.
Even though it comes out on different record labels, I just want to keep the stuff out there. Fearless I actually re-released a few years ago as a double disc. I put it out with the demos and stuff like that. It was out of print again because Relapse let everything fall out. Then Hell's Headbangers started putting out a few. They did Supernatural Addiction. Then The Blueprints for Madness was on Severed Records. I gotta keep it out there so somebody can get it. Someone messaged me “I can't find Luck of the Corpse” years ago. "Well, go check eBay. You'll probably find it." They're like, "I just saw a copy for $65." I'm like, “fuck that. Let me get it repressed”. What's it cost, $1,200 to press a pallet of CDs? Probably cheaper than that now. Sell it for a good price and let people hear it, that's all.
People say the vinyl bubble is going to burst.
It is. I mean it's back again for now. It's weird. It's a weird world. People going out now don't buy CDs anywhere, only vinyl. Now cassettes are popular again. And fucking VHS tapes are popular again.
What's your format? What do you like things in?
I like different formats for different reasons. I love the vinyl because you get the biggest artwork. You can open it up and look at the lyrics. You can see the collages on the other side. The vinyl sounds so warm and nice on the stereo, it's got the low end. It's just pressed the best. But then, you can't take it in your car and you can't drive it around, that's when your CD comes in handy and stuff like that.
Now of course it's all iPods with the cord, you plug everything in, but for some reason that just seems goofy to me. It always has. For some people, that's fine and dandy for them. I like streaming apps, but if I like the record I want to have it in some kind of real format. Usually for me, for most of my life, it was vinyl. In the last few years it's been more CDs just because of being older in the space of my house, and things like that. But I also grew up with millions and millions of cassettes. You can find them for a dime or a quarter lots of times. That's how you get albums by bands you can't afford to buy their whole fucking discography. Whatever it could be, Aerosmith’s Toys in the Attic or Led Zeppelin’s “No Quarter”. Another thing is—you might even be too young for this—I'm a big 8-track collector. I've got over 1,500 8-tracks.
I don't think I've ever even seen an 8-track.
They're a really bad format. It's so weird. It's four channels and almost every time you get one, at least one of the channels will fade out and fade up on the next channel in the middle of a song. Most of the time they usually run about 10 minutes a side. If the record is about 40 minutes, you're looking at fades running 11 minutes on that side and at the 10 minute mark it starts fading down and there's nothing and all of the sudden a little pop and it'll go to the next track, it'll fade up and you'll still be in the same song. It does it on an Ozzy Osbourne’s “Crazy Train.” Halfway through it'll fade out, next track fades back up and the song finishes. It's pretty ugly and there's no fidelity to it at all. It's basically a mud bath out of the gate.
But it was something as a kid I collected. By the time I was getting into 8-tracks as a kid they were starting to fade out. They were really cheap. You used to get lots and lots of records for 88 cents. It was in my price range, so to speak. I had all that stuff. Now I go back and collect them. I'm done looking at them now. I've got some wild shit over here. Shit that would knock you to hell. Almost all of Black Sabbath up to and including Born Again. So a lot of that. Number of Beast on 8-track.
What's your approach to storytelling in songs? Because that's the thing that always stuck out to me about Supernatural Addiction. You and King Diamond are the great storytellers of classic extreme metal, to me. What's your approach to storytelling?
Well I could tell you this, being that I call the band "Death Metal from the Grave," we're of a different era of death metal. When I grew up it wasn't Incantation. It wasn't Cannibal Corpse. It wasn't Obituary. It wasn't Dying Fetus. It was Cirith Ungol. It was Metal Church. These bands were called death metal because they sang a lot of songs about horror tales. I always used to think, “this is what I've got to write about.” When we decided on the name Deceased, it was obvious where it was going. I'm a happy kind of guy. I'm always up and having a blast, but in my mind there's a lot of warped morbid shit going on.
I've always said to myself when I write these songs I don't want any happy endings ever in our songs. I want there always to be a fork in the road. I want there always to be a twist inside of a twist inside of a twist. I like to sometimes be the narrator of the tragedy and sometimes I like to be the tragedy. I like to set myself up. Which is another reason I like Fearless a lot, because it’s kind of where I started the finding that voice. You're living that tale, you're living that horror. You can actually, I think, feel it coming from the voice out of the record. You start to feel that death metal. You start to feel that surge. That bad karma.
And the rest of the writing?
I'll usually have a song title. I'll present it usually to Mike, and the band. We will all sit down, "Okay, this is what it's about." I'll say, "I want you to think about this when we play.” Then we play. Sometimes they'll come back and I'll be like, "Nah. I'm not feeling that riff for this, but I am feeling that riff for something else," or, "nah that's not going to work for anything."
We start building from stuff and then it becomes like a pot, stew. Then they come together easy. For example, we'll take Fearless Undead Machines, “The Psychic” from that album came together riff after riff after riff after riff, and it was done. It literally wrote itself in two hours.
Take another song, and we'll go to Supernatural Addiction, we'll say something like “Dark Chilling Heartbeat” from that one. The Edgar Allen Poe Telltale Heart song. Basically that one took a while to find the right riffs. It took months. Like I was telling you at the beginning of this interview here, we are always doing things the right way until the song is complete. Everything we do from beginning of the song to the end, is the best we can fucking possibly be.
I know we've got it mastered. I'm proud to say this is as good as it's going to get. “With this song we've given it our fucking all.” Then it comes out and you just hope for the best. You hope people say, "Hey, that's weird. That's fucking Deceased." Like you were saying earlier, you know, haven't had a new album in years. People are sending me fucking messages all the time. “When it's a record coming out?” We love the fuck out of that. We all do. But until it's right you can't do it. That's the secret. You can't just throw shit together and call it a fucking record.