Tombs are back with a new album and a new label. The Brooklyn band’s latest effort is The Grand Annihilation. We checked in with frontman Mike Hill who fills us in on the album, tour plans, his podcast, the Trump effect on music and other topics.
Chad Bowar: With a couple new members since Savage Gold, was the songwriting process any different for The Grand Annihilation?
Mike Hill: It’s been the same. I write everything pretty much on my own, make some demos and send it to the band where everyone works on their parts. We all live in different cities so time management is important. In the practice room, things change, evolve and develop. It’s been like that pretty much from the beginning.
You worked with producer Erik Rutan again. What’s his producing style, and what does he bring to the table?
Erik did Savage Gold as well. I think that, after years of working with different producers, I finally found someone that I click with professionally and on a personal level. Rutan is from Jersey originally, so we have that northeast, tri-state area thing going on.
If you look at his discography, he has worked with some of the best bands in extreme music: Cannibal Corpse, Nile, Goatwhore; some of my favorite bands. I’ve always wanted that kind of power on a Tombs record and once we had the opportunity to work with him, I jumped on it. He brings an attention to detail, a level of quality control and also a deep understanding of the science of recording; I don’t imagine going anywhere else as long as we have the budget. He’s the best.
How challenging is it to make an album diverse while still remaining cohesive?
In Thailand there’s a saying: “Same, same but different.” That’s the best answer to this question.
Did you struggle with song order at all?
Not really. Some of the material was already in the setlist by the time we recorded it. There are always demos of the songs before we hit the studio, so I play around with order way in advance. By the time we get to mastering it’s all worked out. I’ve been going to Alan Douches for pretty much every record I’ve ever played on so he also adds some comments about order and that kind of thing. The team of Erik Rutan and Alan Douches really works for me.
Lyrically you say the album celebrates freedom through embracing the dark side. What do you mean by “the dark side”?
Society wants to keep you on a narrow path so they can control you and mold you into a perfect citizen. The knowledge and lifestyle that exists just beyond the tree line past the glow of the campfire is where true freedom lies. I’m interested in that existence. Anything worthwhile is worth risking your life for. The easy path has never been interesting to me; trust me, I’ve tried to live a normal life and it doesn’t work. The dark side is the world of the individual.
Did you have the album title going in, or did it come later in the process?
I had been writing an essay on the rise and fall of civilizations, the cyclical nature of the universe on a cosmic scale and that phrase was part of the text. I just sort of hijacked it for the album title.
This is album is a little shorter than your last couple releases. Was that planned, or just how things turned out?
How can you really plan this kind of thing? I wrote some songs and the time came to what it came out to be. Everything is exactly what it needs to be for that specific time.
How did you come to sign with Metal Blade Records?
It was simple. Our contract with Relapse was complete. We released the EP All Empire Fall on our own and licensed it to Relapse. They handled manufacture and promotion. After that we had a discussion with our management about doing an LP, looking into what our options were. Metal Blade was interested, we entered into the typical negotiations with our legal representation and that was pretty much that. There is no collaboration creatively with the label.
Does that affect your expectations for the album?
Do you mean that since we’re on a bigger label, I expect to sell more records? Maybe, but I guess we’ll see. I realize that Tombs is not everyone’s cup of tea.
You have a tour kicking off the day the album comes out. How do you go about mapping out a plan for a touring cycle when it comes to headlining, opening, festivals, domestic vs overseas. etc.?
There’s no real plan. We want to support for the rest of the year so we were kind of at the mercy of other bands’ tour schedule. Our booking agent and management look for suitable tours and it sort of goes from there. With that said, Fit for an Autopsy worked with us and slid the tour back so that it would work out with the release date of the record. That was really cool of them, and I appreciate that very much. As far as festivals and all of that, you have to have an offer on the table in order to plan for it.
With this being your fourth full-length, does it get more challenging to put together a setlist?
Not really, we have some old staples that we mix into the list. Since there is a new record, I want to play more of the new stuff.
Do you change things up from show to show, or keep it consistent throughout a tour?
It’s the same set every night, only the faces change. I don’t like throwing in a lot of variables when it comes to the live experience. I like to put together something with a lot of impact and just by the nature of having multiple setlists, one will not be as powerful as another, in my opinion.
You’ve been doing the Everything Went Black podcast for a while. Was there a guest that you thought you already knew well, but learned something surprising during the interview?
I learned that the J in J Bennett’s (Ides Of Gemini, Decibel writer) name stands for Jason. I’ve known J for over 20 years and thought his name was Jay.
Who is on your bucket list to have as a guest?
Nick or Nate Diaz, probably Nick more than Nate. I’m a huge Diaz Brothers fan. Josh “Warmaster” Barnett, who is actually going to be a guest in a couple of weeks. Joey ‘Coco” Diaz; I love his comedy work. Aubrey Marcus, the founder of Onnit. Renzo Gracie, Matt Serra and the comedian Jim Norton.
How’s your coffee business going?
It’s developing. I’m working on a bottled cold brew that I’m really excited about. I have the long view on this whole thing. I’d a marathon, not a sprint.
What effect do you think the Trump presidency will have on music?
The one good thing about Trump being elected was that it seemed to have awakened people from their long, apathetic sleep. This whole thing got slipped by us when we weren’t looking. It’s crazy. I don’t know how it will affect music. Some people think it will cause this kind of ’60s like “happening” but I don’t think it will. These days, digital technology has made everyone so solipsistic; we’re a society of detached brains being toted around my meat machines.
Seen any good movies/DVDs lately?
I’ve seen some really great horror movies: The Blackcoat’s Daughter, A Dark Song, We are the Flesh. In a lot of ways, though these films are all very different, they represent the new move in horror films. They’re all very artsy and spend a lot of intention on atmosphere.
What’s currently in your heavy musical rotation?
River Black. I have a promo of their forthcoming record; great brutal metallic hardcore featuring ex-members of Burnt by the Sun. “Blood Hunt” by Centinex. “Ceromonies” by Fields of the Nephilim. “Loud Love” by Soundgarden to pay respects to the late great Chris Cornell.
Anything else you’d like to mention or promote?
I have an electronic album coming out on Translation Loss later this year. The project is called Vasilek and the record is called The Dark Road.
(interview published June 15, 2017)