Formed in 2014 by guitarist Logan Mader (ex-Machine Head, ex-Soulfly) and Australian vocalist Lauren Hart, Los Angeles quintet Once Human have quickly become a major player in the world of heavy metal. After issuing two full-length albums – 2015 debut The Life I Remember and 2017’s Evolution – the group has a new album to unleash. With a lineup completed by long-time bassist Damien Rainaud, drummer Dillon Trollope and second guitarist (and now chief riff-writer) Max Karon, the band will release new effort Scar Weaver.
Mader, also a renowned producer, spoke to Heavy Music HQ from his home in Les Vegas about the making of the new Once Human album, participating in the 25th anniversary tour for Machine Head’s landmark 1994 Burn My Eyes LP, collaborating with Machine Head main-man Robb Flynn again, his business endeavors outside of the band, and more.
Brendan Crabb: Once Human have been drip-feeding singles and videos for some time now, so it doesn’t seem like it’s been nearly five years since the previous record. Was that a conscious strategy, or just how it ended up happening?
Logan Mader: Well, yeah, it was absolutely a conscious effort. It had been a long time since our last record in 2017. We did the Evolution album cycle and then went into starting the third record, but Lauren got this opportunity to go tour with Kamelot. She did guest vocals on their album, some songs that were released as singles. So she took that opportunity to go do a world tour with Kamelot, which was a great experience for her and was awesome. But that took time away from Once Human. And then I got into doing the Machine Head Burn My Eyes anniversary tour. So that took a little more time away from Once Human.
Then finally we get ready to go, we were going to be putting a record out in 2020, and then the end of the world happened (laughs). And we weren’t going to put a record out during this whole pandemic bullshit, so we waited. We waited as long as we could, and then we just couldn’t wait any longer. Our label wanted to put the album out now, like in February this year, but we wanted to at least start putting singles out when we did, which was like six months ago. We put out the song “Deadlock,” and since then we’ve put out several singles.
We wanted to make sure people didn’t forget about us, because it had been four years since we put anything out. Even though the record wasn’t coming until February 2022, we just wanted to start putting singles out. So I convinced my label to let us do that. And now here we are – we’re almost at the release date, and I’m feeling pretty good about it.
When the pandemic hit, some acts like Ghost publicly said they weren’t going to release an album they couldn’t tour in support of, while a band like Lamb Of God decided to issue their record anyway. So was Once Human’s main reason for delaying the release because you couldn’t tour?
We didn’t want to put a record out into the vacuum of a pandemic. We needed to put a record out during a time when we could possibly be on tour to support it. We really needed to be out there on the road, connecting with fans live in real life in order to support our album. That’s the best way for us to connect with our fans and grow new fans, is to be there, face-to-face, in real life. So that’s why we waited. (Being) in the business of filling up rooms, at a time when you’re not allowed to fill up a fucking room, it was just like, ‘we’re going to wait and hope for the best.’
How has the dynamic within the band shifted since the previous album? I know Max has really come to the fore in terms of writing.
Max was heavily involved in the previous album – he came on as an outside co-writer, and then he ended up falling in love with the band and joined the band. But the difference now is, we wanted to let Max really just be himself and express his creative identity on this new record. He’s a great writer – he’s really efficient.
Long story short, I’m on tour with Machine Head doing the Burn My Eyes anniversary tour, and when I came home from it at the beginning of 2020, he had like ten songs written, done, completed, and they were amazing.
I was just like, ‘holy shit, these are great, let’s go with it. It’s not broken, I don’t need to fix anything, I don’t need to add anything or change anything. It’s great, let’s go with it.’ I’m the producer, the mixer; I wear many hats in the band. But in this case, this record, all the music was written by Max. It’s great, I love it. He’s a big, big part of Once Human’s sound. Lauren, she writes all of her own toplines, and I record, produce and mix, and there we have it.
Lauren has a powerful, versatile voice. Does having such a multi-faceted singer offer more avenues from a creative perspective?
Yeah, she’s grown a lot as a vocalist. The range and the spectrum of voices that she can do now, versus like five years ago, is a lot bigger than it was. You can hear that on this album – she’s got this half-dirty, half-clean, but melodic, really powerful, aggressive but melodic voice that she’s doing now that she’s discovered recently. And then her clean vocals are more powerful and stronger, which I think is just due to her having spent time touring with Kamelot, plus she’s spent some time training with Melissa Cross on vocal coaching. After the repetition of doing these things, pushing herself and discovering new sounds, she’s blossomed into a really well-rounded, diverse vocalist. And you can hear a lot of that on this new album.
Have you talked to her much about the inspiration for the lyrics on Scar Weaver?
Nope (laughs). I can tell you the song “Cold Arrival” is written about. During the pandemic we lost a close friend of ours. It wasn’t because of the pandemic, it was a strange, unknown… A friend of ours died suddenly, out of the blue. She wrote that song about him and his passing, and so that was very personal, sad and emotional topic to write about that she expressed herself through. As far as the rest, the lyrics are quite personal to her, and the best way to get valid answers about the lyrics of Once Human is talk to Lauren. Sorry I can’t give you any more than that (laughs).
(Laughs) All good. Aside from the Burn My Eyes heritage tour, Robb Flynn is featured on the new Once Human track “Deadlock,” and you also collaborated with Machine Head on a recent song. How was it working with him again on new material?
Doing the Burn My Eyes stuff was awesome, and as you said, I did a collaboration on Machine Head’s recent song “My Hands Are Empty.” I had a couple of riffs on it, I played on it and I was in the video. So that was the first collaboration I had done with Machine Head in about 20 years. It felt really good.
And then when we were working on “Deadlock,” which is a song we felt we wanted to get a guest vocalist on. The first person I thought of was Robb Flynn, I didn’t know if he was going to be into it or want to do it, and at that time (he) had never done a guest vocal feature on someone else’s band. I thought it was a long shot, but it couldn’t hurt to ask. I asked him and he said, ‘let me hear the song.’ He said he liked the song and we took it from there. He got really involved creatively; he did some alternative arrangement ideas that he had, his take on how the song would be arranged. He just switched it up and we liked it, so we ended up going with it like it is.
It must be a welcome proposition to have that positive working relationship with him nowadays, especially given the pivotal role he played in your past?
Yeah, it’s great. It’s like a big full circle thing. Burn My Eyes, 25 years later, the fact that I was able to go back and kind of relive that peak moment of my life in music, after 25 years is a pretty uncommon thing that I feel very grateful about. Not a lot of people get to do that, 25 years later. Even to be able to do something like Burn My Eyes the first time was quite fortunate and kinda like hitting the lottery. To be able to relive it in a way that was really celebratory. Machine Head’s gotten bigger over the years, so the production was big; bigger than it was back when I was in the band. The whole vibe was bigger and more awesome, and it was just a really fun celebration. That’s a meaningful thing to have been a part of. My friendship with Robb is strong, and it’s all good stuff.
Machine Head has experienced some turmoil in recent years with high-profile personnel changes. Robb seems like such a resilient figure though – they’ve just kept moving forward, even when members have left, they’ve had label issues or copped critical backlash.
Nothing can stop them at this point. Everything that could possibly have stopped them in the past has just been brushed off, and he recovers from it completely.
It’s interesting, because around 2018 I texted Robb and I was like, ‘you know, Burn My Eyes is going to turn 25 pretty soon. What do you think about doing a reunion/anniversary tour?’ He was like, ‘nah, I don’t know,’ because he was full on in the Catharsis album cycle and he wasn’t thinking it would be logistically possible at the time. But he was like, ‘maybe the 30-year anniversary, you never know, never say never.’
And then in November 2018, half of his band quit. I texted him immediately (laughs). I didn’t even wait, it was like the same day. I saw it on Blabbermouth and I was like, ‘hey Robb, how about now?’ (laughs) It was a little soon, he was like, ‘I need a minute to reflect here.’ But I felt like that was really good timing. Not to be selfish or anything; that was a bump in the road for Machine Head and kind of a tragic thing to happen at that moment. Or maybe it would have seemed like one. But in reality, it gave way for us to go and do the Burn My Eyes thing, which was a nice distraction and a nice way for the world to see that Machine Head is going to go on, no matter what. And we killed it.
He brought in Vogg from Decapitated to do the more modern Machine Head stuff, and Matt Alston on drums. So there was two versions of Machine Head – there was the Burn My Eyes alumni, like vintage Machine Head, and the younger Machine Head doing its thing, and it was crushing everywhere. It’s like people forgot about the fact that half of the band just quit. It was really good timing, to make something really successful, positive and productive out of a bit of a negative situation.
Back to Once Human, obviously the world is still in a state of flux due to the pandemic, but what are your touring plans?
I have a good team for management and booking, and things are still kinda up in the air based on the current state of the world. We’re ready go on tour, we’re wanting to go on tour. We don’t have anything booked right now because things are, a lot of tours are getting booked and then cancelled, and who knows with what’s going on. Even Machine Head was supposed to go to Australia for the Burn My Eyes thing and I was really looking forward to that because I love it there. But then the end of the world happened and we didn’t get to go there. I want to go play in Australia, I want to go play all over the world. I’m ready to go, we’re all ready to go, but we’re kinda just waiting to see how things play out.
You’re also well-renowned for your studio CV – producing, mixing and mastering numerous other bands. Were you being offered more work than ever once the pandemic began?
No, actually it kind of slowed down in the beginning because bands I think slowed down, everything slowed down. People put the brakes on. The whole music industry really suffered because, like I said, if you’re in the business of filling up a room to make money, you’re not allowed to fill up a room. But what it triggered in me personally was to create new revenue streams and even brand new career paths in my life, out of survival instincts. I’m a fighter, I’m resilient. So I got into the cannabis industry. I created a fitness nutrition supplement that’s going to go to market soon, and I got an investor for that. I’m the new West Coast brand ambassador for the 22Red cannabis brand, which is a cannabis brand that’s founded by Shavo Odadjian from System of a Down.
This is exciting – I love the cannabis industry. There’s a lot of money in it, it’s new, it’s exciting and it’s growing. It’s something I’ve always… I thought about wanting to get into it in recent years, and I decided when this pandemic hit, I just really went for it. And so I got into a few different things; I have a part, a piece of the ownership in Cali Care Group, which is in California and does cultivation, manufacturing and home delivery, retail. I play a very passive role in that, it’s a small piece, but it’s something, it’s like skin in the game. And as an independent contractor I do like credit card payment processing for cannabis dispensaries. Obviously all of this is licensed, it’s legal, cannabis is legal in 27 states in America. It’s a cool space, it’s a cool industry, and I enjoy it.
So that’s one thing I started doing outside of music. But then music stuff started picking up for me a lot in 2021. It started picking back up again, and so I started producing and mixing a lot of projects. It’s weird, because I had a bit of a moment where I went, ‘fuck, I’ve been doing music for 25 years.’ I had told myself, ‘I can’t do anything else, because that’s all I do.’ And it’s actually not true, and I realized, ‘wait a minute, I can’t tell myself that. If I tell myself that, then it’s the truth.’ So I told myself, ‘yeah, that’s all I have done, which is great, but it’s not all I can do.’ So I left myself open to new ideas and started exploring other things. And as soon as I did, I made progress in all these other new pathways.
On another topic, both you and Lauren are known for leading active, gym-focused lifestyles. Is that an activity you’ve practiced for a long time, or something that’s only really kicked off in more recent years?
I’ve been working out for 30 years. Lauren has been working out since before I met her too, and that’s just part of our routine. For me, personally, being into health and fitness is just part of maintaining the body that I have, and also the mindset that I have, to maintain a youthful mindset, and feel young, be mobile, strong, fit and healthy. My immune system is strong, my body’s strong. I’m 51, and I’m in the best shape of my life. I have a six-pack. It’s just part of my routine to do health and fitness. I can’t imagine ever not having that as part of my daily activities.
Any famous last words?
You can check out our new single “Erasure” which just came out. There’s a video for it on YouTube, and people are really responding well to that song. And check out the new album Scar Weaver when it’s released.
(interview published February 11, 2022)
Watch Once Human “Erasure” Video