Slough Feg just released New Organon, their tenth studio album and first in five years. Vocalist/guitarist Mike Scalzi gets us up to speed on a new member, their new record, touring, the promotion process and other subjects.
Chad Bowar: How did your newest member, drummer Jeff Griffin, come to join the band?
Mike Scalzi: We found him with an ad, I believe. We tried out a lot of drummers from a Facebook ad, but no one quite worked out. Then I think Adrian put out an ad on Craigslist for a gig he needed to do with his other band, which is a surf band. They are a three piece and do surf classics, and I think Jeff answered that ad and rehearsed with them. Adrina heard him play and thought, “Shit! This guy sounds like a metal drummer!” He obviously had what it takes to play in a metal band, and had played metal and hardcore and done double bass before, so luckily for us he was interested.
What led to the five year span between albums?
Life. Life led to the five-year span. We are obviously not rich rock stars who have nothing to do but make records. It’s difficult to find the time to do all of this and work as well. One thing I struggle with is remaining inspired and creative in the midst of boring daily life. It’s hard to be in the right mindset all the time to write songs and create music like this. We had a lot of false started on song writing and recording over those years.
I personally was not ready to do another album until we did, and we started recording New Organon two years ago, so it wasn’t really five years. Life gets in the way, and you don’t want to record an album every year when it’s your tenth album. It takes longer to come up with good stuff, and even feel like going into a studio to record.
Was there anything unique about the songwriting process for New Organon compared to the usual Slough Feg album?
No, not at all. It was the same as ever really. Usually starts with guitar riff, like every other metal band! Except for several songs like “Coming Of Age In The Milky Way.” That started with the vocal melody. But most of my songs are written very very quickly; they sort of write themselves. If they take to long then I know there’s something wrong. Maybe that’s why they’re so short for metal songs! But if I have to think about it to long it started to sound “forced” and that’s not what you want. The good ones just come out of nowhere. One minute they’re not there, and the next minute they are. One part comes out of another and it’s done quick.
What will be your strongest memory of the recording of the album?
Recording the vocals. Doing the music was relatively simple. It was a pretty “live” process. It is always the vocals that are the hardest, that take the longest, and it was tough this time. It takes a log time to prepare my voice because I’m getting older and it’s much harder to sing high. I sing way higher than my natural range, and it gets harder with age. I have to strain, and shut up for days (which is really hard for me!) and then when I get into the studio it takes a long time to warm up. It’s a pain in the ass!
How has the band’s sound evolved from Digital Resistance?
I don’t know, you tell me! I think if anything it de-evolved, and that’s good! It’s a much rougher, rawer live kind of sound than Digital Resistance, I think. Sounds more the way the band really sounds live.
How come you chose to use the full Lord Weird Slough Feg name again?
I didn’t really choose it. It happened because it looked better on the album sleeve. It was really a graphics/presentation decision. I don’t think it’s very interesting anyway, we just did it because we felt like it really, and it looked better.
What is the lyrical thread of this one?
Most of the songs are named after philosophy books. It’s about the history of philosophy, mostly, except for a couple songs which are, yes, about desperation, depression and disembowelment as usual! I’m not trying to say anything academic with this album, since I get enough of that at work. But I find the history of ideas and “progress” as a pretty dramatic subject, and I hope people who listen to the album are inspired to check out some of the philosophers and their ideas that I talk about in the lyrics. The idea was, as always, to make an interesting sounding album that doesn’t sound like every other metal album, to write about something interesting and different. To dramatize the history of philosophy was a fun idea to me, that doesn’t bore me to death (obviously). Again, if I just wrote another album about Celtic mythology and apes in spaceships, I think it would get pretty boring.
“New Organon” is pretty technical in a way, though. It’s about a new structuring of the scientific method (new in the 1620’s, that is). I ‘m only really interested in science if it’s from ages ago. I don’t know why, it’s just more intriguing thinking about primitive scientific equipment and theories. Very influential on the way we think today, whether we know it or not. One point I’d like to make is that people today don’t realize how much their thinking and “world view” is influenced by people like Aristotle and Francis Bacon. Kids in college think, “What the hell has Aristotle or Socrates to do with my daily life?” They don’t realize that the ideas they take for granted about perception, “reality,” the “self” or “soul” or “laws of physics” are completely steeped on philosophical and religious concepts that originate in the middle ages and earlier. Even most the he western religious ideas they have are completely steeped in Aristotelean and Platonic metaphysics. I think people need to be reminded of this and investigate the ideas that they take for granted as “factual” or “objective.”
How did you come to sign with Cruz Del Sur?
We were on Cruz Del Sur before. We have four other albums on their label. We were quite happy on Cruz Del Sur for years before we signed to Metal Blade, and Enrico was always very helpful and easy to work with. But when we got the offer from Metal Blade we figured we had to try it out in case it was “the next logical step” in our career. A bigger label always had that allure, and they treated us well. But later, I believe Metal Blade were going through some troubles. I’m not really sure, and they dropped a lot of bands all in the same months, and we were one of them! We were not a big seller for Metal Blade, so I guess they had to shed off a lot of their catalog, and so the next logical step would be to return to Cruz Del Sur and luckily Enrico took us back. Maybe we belong on an underground boutique label anyway. We’ve developed a pretty good working relationship so we’re happy to be back.
Does that change your goals and expectations for the album?
No, not in any way shape or form.
The promotion process for an album has changed a lot in the social media era. Do you like that level of transparency/interactivity, or did you prefer when there was a bit more mystique?
I don’t know. I can’t tell the difference, actually. Not doing a record for five years builds up a mystique in any case. I don’t really pay much attention to that aspect of things; I like to concentrate more on the music. Maybe I’m a bad businessman, so be it. I’m no Gene Simmons. I make music and enjoy it. The marketing I do to the extent that I have to, but I didn’t get into playing guitar to sit behind a desk and push buttons, or make business deals. I did it to rock out, and that’s why I’m still in it. If I wan’ted to make money by sitting in front of a computer I’d go get a tech job and makes tons of money, not be in a metal band.
You’ve toured quite a bit in both North America and Europe. How does the band’s level of awareness/popularity compare between them?
I don’t know. We’re known in both places. We just toured the east coast of America. It was pretty good. We toured Europe last year and it was pretty good too, I don’t really know. Maybe we’re a little more popular in Europe.
What’s the coolest attraction/site you’ve had the chance to visit while on tour?
I think the old Gothics quarter of Barcelona which we visited last summer. I didn’t want to leave. I mean, it was so great, so incredible there that I physically found it hard to walk away, back into the newer part of the city. I literally had to force my legs to walk back to the hotel. It was incredible. All I could think about was going home and putting my stuff in storage and moving back there. Obviously I didn’t do that, but I’d love to spend a summer there or something.
Read any good books lately?
I sort of read the same books all the time for my work as a teacher, but recently I read a great book called “The Invention of Science: A New History of the Scientific Revolution” by David Wootton. Really great book, and somewhat inspirational for this album, actually. I also read a really great one on the history of beer, wine and tea. It’s pretty interesting to read about how beer was discovered in Mesopotamia. Someone put a bunch of cereal grains and water in a tree stump, or stored in animal stomachs, and it rotted a little and became beer. Interesting.
What’s the last thing you binge watched?
Anything else you’d like to mention or promote?
Promote?! Has life become on big advertisement? Yes, I’d like to promote a new brand of shoelaces I’ve invented. They’re made out of goat intestines and are really strong, they never break! Lifetime guarantee! And they can also be used as condoms if the right moments comes up and you find yourself empty handed in the heat of that special moment! Just pull off your shoelaces and go to town. And at a bargain price!
Actually, I’d like to promote life itself. Don’t kill yourself! Things change, they always do. Don’t die until you have to! Don’t worry, it will come soon enough, may as well enjoy the ride! Things do get better, believe it or not.
(interview published June 23, 2019)