Along Came A Spider

feature image

Even though European heavy metal fans have always trounced their stateside counterparts in terms of dedication to their bands, it still puzzles me that so many folks on this side of the pond bypass Novembers Doom. Not only has the Chicago act perfected a unique brand of doom/death, but they’ve improved and expanded their sound, resulting in albums like The Pale Haunt Departure, The Novella Reservoir, and Into Night’s Requiem Infernal that are filled with quality metal and memorable songwriting from top to bottom. That Novembers Doom can play a Minneapolis festival with the likes of Primal Fear and Atheist and be lucky to draw 100 people, then turn around and fly to Spain to play a show for 800 people that sold out in advance speaks volumes about the difference between European and U.S. punters. In the interview that follows I discuss that contrast, the new album and generally all things Novembers Doom with guitarist Larry Roberts.

You just finished practicing?

Oh yeah, I kicked those fools out [laughs]

So you practice at your place then?

Yeah, we practice downstairs in the basement the old school way.

How often do you practice?

Well, it kind of depends what’s going on. If there is a tour or we’ve got a recording coming up, then we kick it up a little bit. Right now we just keep it to once a week. We know the shit like the back of our hands.

Tell me about this spider that got you in Portugal.

Oh dude… We just went over there for a couple of shows. We played a festival in Madrid, Spain with Saturnus and a few other bands. The next day we played a festival in Portugal with Behemoth and some bands. The shows were great. We were staying at this old ass hotel in Portugal and I woke up pretty early the next morning after the gig and I felt the back of my leg and thought “what the fuck?” I thought maybe it was a pimple or something and then I realized it was like a bite of some kind. I have no idea what bit me, whether it was a spider or some other kind of bug. I’m assuming it was a spider. At first it was just like your standard little bump and I didn’t really pay it too much mind, but I got home the next day or whatever and by the end of last week it hurt so bad just to sit on it. It was the back of my right leg, so when I’m driving that’s the leg I’m using for the gas and brake. So driving was a fuckin’ pain. It just got worse and worse, so on Saturday I ended up going to the ER and they admitted me because it was all infected. So they had to cut it open and make a hole and put a little drain in there to allow all this crap to drain out of it. They did that and they gave me oral antibiotics for that day. By the next day it wasn’t looking better; it was looking a little haggard. So they put the intravenous in me and just pumped me full of really good antibiotics and then that seemed to do the trick because by Monday I was considerably better. It’s mostly healed now, but it’s still a little tender.  They did cultures on it and stuff just to make sure it wasn’t something worse. It wasn’t like a recluse spider; it didn’t get all necrotic or anything. That would really fucking suck. It’s especially fucked up when you’re over in some other country and you have no idea what bit you [laughs].

I assume that was the only negative about the shows overseas.

Yeah, that was only real negative. The shows were great and we had a really great time. It was cool because we’d never been down there. We’ve always kind of stayed further north in Europe and east and west, but not south. I’d like to get down to Italy and Greece next.

That kind of coincided with the album release.

We played some one-off shows. Back in August we played the Brutal Assault Festival outside Prague and that was great, a lot of fun. We played in front of 12,000 people or something like that, so it was good exposure. We had been doing the one-offs because tour stuff for the States just hasn’t panned out, man. It’s too hard here. You’ve either got to deal with some shithead promoter that doesn’t want to pay you anything or the distances are so far from city to city. Even for us to go to a close city like St. Louis is like five hours. In a five hour drive in certain parts of Europe we can hit two or three major cities [laughs]. In five hours we can go from Brussels to Amsterdam and Rotterdam and Dusseldorf. You can hit some good areas in a short amount of time. Because of that it makes it a little more affordable. Plus we just draw better over there.

So are you coming back with at least a little money?

Sometimes. Even when you do when you really sit down and figure it all out you’re just kind of breaking even. We’re so lucky. I know a lot of other bands at a comparable level to us and they’re still…. If they do go overseas to play they’re still paying for everything out of their own pockets or they’re begging their label for money. We’re lucky that we’re drawing well enough so that we can do these with all expenses paid mostly. We’re pretty happy with that. We never figured we were going to make any real money doing this. Shit, nobody makes money in this business any more. The fact that we can just get out there and do it and not have to go home and get beaten by our wives for spending this month’s rent money or something makes us happy.

Did the DVD help exposure-wise at all?

It did a little bit. I think that it wasn’t promoted as much as I would have liked it to have been. There are not a lot of bands in our genre or whatever you want to call it that have DVDs out. We’re a still fairly small band and the fact that we got a halfway professional DVD out would be a little more noteworthy and it just seems like the label put it out there and that’s all that she wrote. Our fans loved it. We did seem to get some new fans from it. It’s funny, at the festival in Portugal, we were going into songs like “Rain” and there were fans that were up in front yelling out Paul’s stage banter at him, like [in accent] “I think it’s time to bring the rain!” [laughs] Obviously they got that from watching the DVD. It definitely seems like the DVD did pretty well overseas and probably in areas like that where we had never been before. Over here, a little bit. At this stage of the game I’m not going to say we don’t care about America because we do, but we sort of know what to expect. So we’re not going to kill ourselves trying to prove ourselves to America. What we consider the cool people are going to come across us eventually and hopefully they’ll get it, or they won’t, and that’s fine. For example, two days before we left for Spain we played the metal fest in Minneapolis and we played with Atheist, Primal Fear, and Gnostic. Every band that was on that bill was really good. The promoter of the show did a lot of promotion for it; he really did bust his ass on it. And it drew like nobody. We played up there a few years ago when we played with Primordial and Moonsorrow and stuff and that was amazing; it was packed! A couple of years later we’re playing with Primal Fear and Atheist who you would have thought just between those two having enough cult fans that it would have fairly packed the place, but nope. There were maybe a hundred people there. Literally a few days later we were in a venue in Madrid, Spain that held six or seven hundred people and we sold it out in advance and we were the headliners! It just shows the difference. So when people sit there and say “Oh, how come you focus so much on Europe?” The answer is pretty fucking clear. I would be tickled pink if we could draw half that much in a club in Chicago or Cleveland or someplace like that, but it’s not the case. The last time I saw Katatonia play here they played at a venue that held like 800 people and they had it maybe a fourth full. It’s fucking Katatonia, man! Jesus! So who knows?

What do you have coming up release-wise with The End? Another re-release?

Sometime early in 2010 we’re going to do the 10th anniversary re-release of The Knowing. It’s not just going to be a simple repress; it’s going to have new artwork and new shit, all sorts of new stuff, plus the original album. And I think – and I don’t know what the holdup with this is – they’re still planning on putting out the audio CD of Novella Vosselaar. That might actually see release around the holidays.

I was thinking about Into Night’s Requiem Infernal when I was writing the review and noting how it compares to previous release. I think you kind of hit stride with The Pale Haunt Departure as far defining your unique doom/death style. One might think that the new album is The Novella Reservoir: Part II, but it’s really not. In some ways it’s a little darker and there is some more contemplative stuff comparatively speaking.

The Novella Reservoir was really important because we needed to open that door. I was really frustrated with not being able to do a little bit more aggressive stuff, a little bit more up-tempo stuff. I needed to open that door for us and see if we could make it work. I think it did. We got heavier, we got a little faster and a little more death metal-y, without totally losing our identity. It wasn’t like we just turned into Carcass or something. Once we were able to do that then it was like with writing the new album, ok we’ve got more avenues now and it felt a little bit more comfortable now to go back and say “this song doesn’t need to be so aggressive and heavy, and I wanted it to be darker and more somber” because I missed that. That’s a part of who we are too. There is obviously more of that on The Pale Haunt Departure and To Welcome the Fade than there was on The Novella Reservoir. So for me personally, and I don’t know if the other guys feel this way, and from my writing perspective, this album kind of completes sort of a trilogy for me. The last song on the new album “When Desperation fills the Void,” at the very end when that doomy part is dragging on it’s more of a throwback and if you listen really close right before it cuts off you’ll hear the voices that start The Pale Haunt Departure album. It’s very subtle and then the CD just stops, cutting off real abruptly.  That was a little bit of my nod to the Beatles [laughs]. It was a very Abbey Road thing to do. But seriously I threw that in there and I felt it was really fitting because The Pale Haunt Departure kind of starts with that kind of feel, the ghostly voices. And this album ends with those ghostly voices, so it’s like… I’m not saying the next album is going to be any great departure or left hand turn or anything for us, but I definitely feel like those three albums opened a lot of doors for us musically. Now with the next album I really want to take advantage of that and try not to have any kind of boundaries. It’s nice not to have to sit there anymore going “Oh I really like this riff, but it might be too heavy or it might be too death metal” or “this is a really doomy riff, but those fans of The Novella Reservoir aren’t going to like it.” Now I feel like it’s wide open for us. We can do whatever we want. We can put a really fast song on there if we want or even a fucking tender piano ballad or something, I don’t know. As long as it all ends up at the end of the day sounding like a cohesive Novembers Doom album then it’s cool.

You’re basically agreeing with my assessment then. It’s not quite as aggressive overall as the last one, but it’s not a total throwback either. It’s more of a balance.

My thing is that I still love slow and plodding shit, don’t get me wrong. There is always going to be stuff like a straight up doom song like “When Desperation Fills the Void” on our CDs, but I like the option of being able to say we don’t have to do all that. Just because we got a little more death metal and a little quicker on The Novella Reservoir doesn’t mean you should expect that’s what we’re going to do all the time now. I want people to not really know what to expect.

Songs like “Eulogy for the Living Lost” and “Empathy’s Greed” are in the meaty part of the middle. And they’re catchy too, especially “Empathy’s Greed.”

Yeah, that was my favorite one for a while. Now I don’t really have a favorite now. But when we were first writing the album it was the song I was most enthusiastic about just because I think it has almost every ingredient that makes up this band without it sounding like a big thrown together hodgepodge. That’s an easy trap to fall into and we’ve had to censor ourselves during the songwriting process plenty of times.

You’ve the light picking, the chug and even under those light sections you’ve got this cool, busy, very percussive drumming.

Having Sasha [Horn] makes a big difference. We haven’t even touched on what that kid can do, man. He’s a really, really good musician.

That really jumped out. I don’t recall that, for lack of a better term, percussiveness on a Novembers Doom album.

Joe was a great drummer and one of my best friends and I loved playing with him, but Joe was definitely… There was a limit to what he would do. Joe was a very old soul, an old school guy and he had his own style and he was very into that style. But after The Novella Reservoir and trying to figure out where we were going to go from there and in trying to write the new album we realized that where we were going musically and where his head was at it was moving too far apart. I know it’s cliché to say “musical differences,” but that’s really what it was. It had nothing to do with personal issues because we all love the guy; he was in the band almost as long as me.

The other song that stands out is “The Fifth Day of March.” You really got that Pink Floyd and a little Katatonia thing going on there.

[Laughs] Oh dude, for me to sit there and try to deny that my fucking nose would grow [laughs]. David Gilmour is easily in my top three most influential guitarists. I’m such a huge fan of his and ironically most people think that I’m the one that wrote that song because it kind of fits my style more. But the main writer of that song was actually Vito [Marchese], which really surprised me because it was very different for him. Especially when somebody else brings in a song it’s cool because I get all mad scientist on it and instantly I’m like “Oh, I can do this, I can do that” and I get into that mindset. Plus Paul’s [Kuhr] vocals have started to get that kind of Gilmour quality to them over the years, the kind of melodies and stuff and the way he sings. He just naturally started doing that.

Well, I noted that this is probably his most versatile vocal performance to date.

When I first joined the band he was really kind of tentative about singing. That’s why when you listen to the earlier doom albums it was a lot of that epic, sad poet spoken word thing, which was cool, but I was always “Man, this would be really fucking cool if you would just sing it, like an actual melody.” It took a little while to really get him comfortable with that and now he has no qualms about it. He’s gotten strong enough at it that we can do things like “Eulogy for the Living Lost” where he goes from the pure brutality to a lot of cool clean fucking singing. He goes back and forth a lot in that song and it’s not easy to do. He’s just gotten really good at that. But when Vito brought that song in and he kind of gave it to me and said do your thing, I sat down and added all my stuff to it. When I played it back to him and it got to that middle section, man, they just looked at me like “Oh my god!” And I was just, hey, you know what you’re dealing with and you know what I’m into [laughs]. The sad part about it is that for guys like you that know a little more about music than the average person you’ll right away catch on to the Floyd thing. Everybody else goes “Oh, they’re trying to sound like Opeth.” It’s like, come on, Opeth are great, but they didn’t invent the fuckin’ wheel, people! Go back a little bit and it just might be that we steal from the same guys. What can I tell ya? [laughs] When it comes to that and people say “That’s a great Floyd rip off,” then I’m happy. I’d rather it be a great Floyd rip-off that just a so-so original. Sometimes it’s nice to wear your influences on your sleeve a little bit because it’s fun. It’s fun to sit there in the studio with a lap steel and a bunch of delay and just get those kinds of echoes and tones and stuff. I would never want to do a whole album of aping that kind of stuff because obviously that gets a little out of hand.

In preparing for this interview I came to the realization that Paul is the only original member left in Novembers Doom. And you’ve been with them a long time now.

Paul is definitely the only original member. He was doing this band for almost 10 years before I even came around. This year it’s been 20 years. They weren’t called Novembers Doom, they were initially called Laceration, but Laceration was basically the same band that wound up changing their name to Novembers Doom and making the first doom album. Paul’s pretty much done it nonstop since ’89. In those early days even then Paul was always sort of the real nucleus of the band. Once that first Novembers Doom CD came out they went through so many fuckin’ lineup changes between ’94 and ’99. There was no solid lineup for more than a few months at a time. It wasn’t until Sculptured Ivy, the second album, came out that the lineup stabilized. I joined right after that album was finished, before it was even released. So I was part of that whole album cycle; I just wasn’t on the recording. To me it was with Sculptured Ivy when Novembers Doom finally became more of a steady band. That lineup went on and did the next album. We’ve always had a revolving door of bass players. Bass players for us are like drummers in Spinal Tap. We’ve always had that problem. I don’t think it was until ’98 or ’99 that Novembers Doom became a real unit, that sort of thing. He’s a dedicated motherfucker, man. What can I tell ya? This is his outlet. He wants to write deeply personal lyrics and who am I or anybody to tell him “no?” This is obviously a tremendous labor of love for him to have done it for two decades. And I’m more than willing to help him on the rest of the journey.

It is within the realm of possibility to see Novembers Doom continuing for another 10 years?

I think 10 years would be pushing it for reasons good and bad. Good in that we’ve achieved a lot and we don’t sit here and consciously think in finite terms where we’re like “Ok, two more albums and we’re done with this shit.” We don’t think about that. But we’ve achieved a lot and we don’t want to overstay our welcome either. Some people would say we already have and those people can go fuck themselves [laughs]. It’s for ourselves. Once the day comes where we’re looking at each other and we’re 45 years old and are going “Ugh, do we really gotta do this?” then it’ll be no more. But the other problem is with Paul’s health, which will always be a pretty fragile situation. Getting around is hard for him. He’s a tough dude, he’s a really fuckin’ strong guy. People can sit there and talk shit about him, but dude, that guy will fucking stomp you. He is a tough motherfucker inside and out. He doesn’t let on to a lot of people just how much pain he’s in a lot of times. I know because I’m there. He gets up and puts on a show and performs and he still smiles and laughs, but things like travelling are hard on him. We’ve been really lucky that we’ll still able to continue to do this and he’s still strong enough to be able to get around and go and play Grasspop or play Brutal Assault and do these things we’ve always  dreamed of doing. But 10 years from now? I don’t know.

www.myspace.com/novembersdoom

Comments

  1. Commented by: Grymmbear

    Why this band isn’t bigger here in the States is mind-boggling.

    Top-notch death/doom metal band, right here.


  2. Commented by: Shane

    Good interview. I am questioning their position on my year end list. I think they made a great record but am wondering if its top ten material. It is for me personally but…not sure.


  3. Commented by: biff tannen

    Nice to see an interview with Larry on here…I’ve been friends with him for years. They really do only pull MAYBE 100 people at shows here in Chicago, its a fucking travesty!


  4. Commented by: Alexander thompson

    america sucks i mean only a small amount of people understand what metal is. its not just some hardcre metal its me and the small amount of peeps life without metal. god nows what crazy mom mom f— id be. mental heads are the most freindly people i now. example i was in aution for the trivuim party at emos, some kid dropped his glasses in a mose pit, not only was it not stepped on someone else ran in and got them to its owner if thats not nice wtf is? at the same party ateen lost a ear piece and half the group looked for it. if america dosent understand and it urts us


Leave a Reply

Privacy notice: When you submit a comment, your creditentials, message and IP address will be logged. A cookie will also be created on your browser with your chosen name and email, so that you do not need to type them again to post a new comment. Your post and details will also go through an automatic spam check via Akismet's servers and maybe held up for further approval. We purge our logs from your meta-data at frequent intervals.