Hell Has Arrived

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My introduction to Skeletonwitch goes back to 2007 when I first heard their second album, Beyond the Permafrost. I had wanted to get their debut, from 2004, At One with the Shadows, but it’s out of print and one day it will be reissued for the masses. However I was really digging the band and their blackened death/thrash attack. One of the main ingredients of a good band is songwriting and the band excels in that category. I could not believe the guitar melodies on the album, that not only were the songs brutal, but they were memorable and played with emotion. A lot of feeling goes into how the band constructs a song and how they incorporate the riffs. I love the albums after BTP, Breathing the Fire and Forever Abomination and own quite an array of Skeletonwitch shirts.

However the new album, Serpents Unleashed, may just be their finest album. Having a blistering production, but songs that punch you in the face, rattle your bones and make you scream out in agony and delight. This album rules and it’s one of the best of 2013!

I was able to catch the band on tour opening for GHOST and Skeletonwitch put on such a ferocious performance. The guitar melodies of Scott Hedrick and Nate Garnette came through beautifully live, especially on show closer “Within My Blood”; beautiful, ferocious and just plain ass kicking. I really can go on all day about this band and what they bring to the scene in terms of their awesomeness and organic sound… but do you really need me to? I mean just look at yourself in the mirror? Go brush your teeth, take a damn shower and order Serpents Unleashed!

I was gonna say go to your local record store to pick it up, hence the showering, and looking presentable. However since no records stores exist anymore, lie in your funky clothes, go and order it online and buy a fuckin shirt too or The Witch will come looking for you. They will hunt you down until you buy their new album. And if you download the album, without paying for it, then you’re gonna have me on your tail, and really do you want someone who can eat a 1lb burger in under ten minutes on your tail?? No you do not. So support Skeletonwitch, because they rule and read this interview with Scott Hedrick, who knows how to play the guitar!

Ok, Scott, explain to us how Serpents Unleashed compares to your past recordings and are you happy with the results?

Serpents Unleashed is the most focused, unique and alive record we’ve recorded to date. One becomes better at things over time. We’ve become better songwriters and players. With each record we also develop our own voice a little more clearly. I’m extremely happy with the results.

Any plans on re-releasing At One with the Shadows? I actually do not own it, for me the band began with Beyond the Permafrost. How has the band developed over the years and did you ever envision the band to get this popular?

We’re absolutely going to release “At One..” We’re going to wait for things to slow down around Serpents Unleashed first. The new album is our main focus.

Like most bands, we’ve developed organically… making records, touring, and the occasional member change (we’re on our second drummer and third bass player). I never envisioned the band becoming this popular (which I would argue is NOT really that popular), but I always believed in the music we were creating. Good tunes and hard work is all you need. Of course that’s much easier said than done.

I loved the recording quality of BTP, it was punchy, clear, however still organic sounding and not overly produced. I felt that Breathing the Fire and Forever Abomination were killer releases, but marred by production. They had a muddier/rawer sound that did not bring out the songs/melodies as much. Do you agree with this assessment? What was different on this recording?

Hahaha! That’s funny. I like the Breathing the Fire and Forever Abomination production significantly more than BTP. I think Breathing the Fire did have a rawer sound, but Forever Abomination had a slicker, more compressed modern sound.

I notice the new album, Serpents Unleashed, has a production sound similar to BTP. It seems to have that punchier/crisper sound, do you agree?

I do agree, but I think it has more teeth. The sounds are more in your face and the spatial relationships between the instruments is used to greater affect. I think it comes the closest yet to capturing the energy of a Skeletonwitch live show in a studio setting.

What kinds of guitars, pickups, strings and amps do you use to get your unique sound? How long have you been playing guitar and how do you feel you can further grow as a musician?

I have 2 custom guitars built by some fantastic luthiers here in Athens, OH. I have a custom “Explorer Style” that is my main guitar. It was made by United Lutherie (http://www.unitedlutherie.com/). My backup is a “flying V” style made by EJC Guitars. I only have a bridge pickup in each guitar. I use Seymour Duncan pickups (a Duncan Distortion, and a Black Winter). I use GHS TNT Strings. Gauges .10-.52.

Nate and I recently fell in love with a Blackstar Series One 100 watt guitar head while recording Serpents Unleashed. Kurt had one in his studio. So we snagged a few and they’ve been working out great.

You and Nate Garnette have wonderful guitar chemistry and seeing you guys live further impressed me. Do you guys practice together and what goes into constructing a Skeletonwitch song?

Practice?! What’s that? Ha! We actually don’t practice together, other than full band practices before a tour or studio time. We just always write things with 2 guitars in mind. In fact, we don’t even write together.

We write separately, with drum machines, and then the 2 of us go over what we’ve come up with. Often Nate and I will ask each other for ideas/help on specific parts. It’s also pretty common for Nate to write an entire song but ask me to come up with a 2nd guitar part for a couple riffs and write a lead over a certain section. It’s also common for me to have a lot of riffs and chunks of songs, and I hand them over to Nate and he makes sense of them all.

Once we get a demo to a skeletal stage with 2 guitar tracks and a drum machine, we share it with everyone else. At this point everyone’s voice is heard and we’re always open minded about making changes. We just prefer to have an outline or foundation in place before everyone starts jumping in.

Also, Evan, our bassist, contributes a guitar riff here and there as well. He wrote the badass black/thrash sounding riff on the last track.

So how did it feel just touring with GHOST – 2 polar opposite styles, but I thought your show in Baltimore, MD was exceptional, who put this tour together and do you feel you opened up some fans eyes to the sounds of the Witch?

Thanks! Glad you enjoyed it. We absolutely turned some new people onto the Witch! We heard 1st hand from a lot of people every night. I was actually surprised that people thought it was weird for us to tour together. I prefer diverse lineups. It’s extremely boring to watch 6 fucking death metal bands in a row, you know? (Unless all 6 of them are Entombed. Haha!)

Explain to us how the concept of Serpents Unleashed came about and do you guys have full creative freedom or does Prosthetic Records have a say in matters? Do they also offer tour support when you guys are out on the road?

Chance is responsible for the lyrics/title, so I won’t put words into his mouth. I also don’t like to delve too deeply into “the concept” or “what it means to us.” I’d rather let people decide what it means to them and not get in the way. There’s not a specific message we’re trying to push on everyone.

We have FULL creative freedom with Prosthetic. We wouldn’t be there if we didn’t. They’ve offered tour support a couple of times throughout the years

Are you able to make a living off the music, as of this time and how far do you wish Skeletonwitch to go? What are the touring cycles planned for this new album?

Depends on how you define “living?” Haha! If you live modestly, yes. I occasionally work at a bar and record store while I’m home. The other guys have similar setups if they feel like putting in some hours.

I don’t have a goal for how FAR I want Skeletonwitch to go. I have a goal for how LONG I want it to go. As long as we’re enjoying what we’re doing and we’re making music for ourselves I want to keep going. If it’s forced or feels wrong, I’ll stop.

We have lots of touring planned:
– Full U.S./Canadian Tour with The Black Dahlia Murder in Oct./Nov
– Full U.S. Tour with Amon Amarth and Enslaved in Jan/Feb
– Hopefully quick UK/European Tour in March
– Australia, New Zealand, and S.E. Asia in April
– Europe Festivals in the Summer

Dustin Boltjes joined the band prior to Forever Abomination, how do you feel his drumming style helped improve your overall sound, live performance and band chemistry? Did he leave Demiricous, because they kinda were on hiatus, not really doing much?

Dustin has been killer! He’s a maniac behind the kit. That goes for energy during a live show, but also being able to handle whatever we throw at him, when working on new material.

Because we’ve been a band for so long, I know it was difficult for him to walk into a situation where the 4 of us already have a slew of inside jokes and history together. By now, though, he’s fully integrated. I think it took a year or two before everyone truly felt like a family. We’re back to that place again and it feels good.

Dustin heard we were looking for a drummer and reached out to us. I think Demiricous’ inactive status had something to do with it. We actually considered Dustin right away, but decided not to ask him because we are such good friends with the Demiricous guys.

Is it difficult for you to tour so much and be away from friends/loved ones? If you have another job, how does the job work with you for purposes of leave?

It depends on the relationship. In some cases, it’s nice to have short breaks, but we rarely do short tours. Just like anything, you deal with it. We chose to do this, and those that care about us are aware of it. It’s part of the package.

The Midwest has always been a hot spot for extreme music, do you go to local shows to support the scene and any pointers to new bands coming out?

I go to local shows here in Athens, and occasionally make the trip for a show I really want to see, recent examples being High on Fire and Imperial State Electric.

Any pointers?

– Don’t be a dick.
– If you’re not headlining, be wary of your set time.
– Don’t break down a drum kit on the stage.
– Be honest.
– Remember that you’re not better than anyone else no matter what success you have.

I know a lot of musicians offer lessons, do you offer guitar lessons and when someone comes to you and they just want to play fast, do you offer that or do you recommend form and style when teaching someone?

I teach a couple of younger students. They’re both beginners so we’re starting everything slowly.

Among some of your brutal blackened death thrashiness there is also a considerable amount of melody as well as emotion. For instance, album closer “Within My Blood”, off BTP, and personal fave, has some exceptional melodies that actually is emotive, I feel. There seems to be a lot of feeling with the guitar melodies and are able to transcend emotional boundaries – something that is great about you guys – care to comment and address the importance of emotion in the music you play?

Absolutely! It’s extremely important to us. Nate and I get so fucking bored when some guy plays like a robot and sweep picks all day. Big deal. Every guy that works at GuitarCenter can do that. There’s a reason he still works at GuitarCenter.

Any final thoughts/comments for our readers?

Thanks to everyone who has supported Skeletonwitch throughout these 10 years. It’s been amazing and we couldn’t do it without your support.



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