Critical Reception has been pretty good, how you do feel about the album, and what’s been keeping you busy since release?
I’m very happy with how the album turned out, there’s been some mixed reviews, especially from the fans point of view, at the least the fans that we had already. You know, I don’t really worry too much about that. It’s a record that we wanted to write, it’s the record that we needed to write. We’re really young, we’re still trying to figure out who we are as a band and whatnot, and I’m very happy with the idea. With the time that we had to do it, and the events that were going while we were writing, everything said and done I’m incredibly proud of it. Since we released it we’ve just been touring. We went out with Death Angel in America, we went out with Cavalera Conspiracy, then we went over to Europe and did a co-headliner with Bonded By Blood, we’re on the HeavyMTL festival in Montreal, playing on the same stage as KISS, so that’s gonna be fuckin’ sweet. Then, we’re doing in a couple weeks, a little headlining run on the east coast and some of the south and whatnot, so it should be pretty cool. After that, we’re looking for some bigger things. In the meantime, we’re just writing, continuing on and keep building on what we had on that second record and transition it into the third.
“The Onslaught” was mostly written while you were still in high school. How did it feel to work with brand new material for the first time in a number of years, and how do you feel like you and the band have matured since you first started writing your debut?
It’s a totally different mindset. Anybody who says it shouldn’t be is ridiculous. When you’re a kid in high school, you have only one aspiration when you’re starting a band, you wanna be a rock star. That’s the mindset we have, that’s the mindset that every band should have, and you’re just writing songs to write songs. We never really thought we were gonna be rock stars, we just wanted to write the music that we wanted to write. It just so happens that that music got us by a couple years later, and it was what it was. Obviously, as you grow not only as a band but just at this point in our lives, we soak in everything, we’re in our early twenties. In anyone’s life, I don’t care what profession or what field you’re going into, that’s a time that’s going to define you as a human being. To be able to travel the world and play in front of thousands of people and do what we’ve done so far is going to shape us. It obviously has. It brought a much more mature sound [to the record.] We had a lot of experience recording the first record, so this one was just a totally different vibe going in, and obviously focusing more on songwriting than just cool, fast riffs. It’s crazy that we’re this far, we’re just taking it day by day.
To that end, as much as I enjoyed “The Onslaught,” “Black Rivers Flow” feels kind of tightened, streamlined and cut some of the fat out from the debut. What changed during the songwriting process, apart from not just focusing on writing cool riffs?
That had a lot to do with it. When we were in high school, we were just writing things that sound cool, and what sounded cool when we played them live. When we went back to the record and listened to it, we said “wow, there really is a lot of fat there, that kinda sucks, these songs aren’t put together very well.” We obviously had that in mind when we were writing the second record. We wanted verses, we wanted chorus, we wanted to bring back some of that old-school basic song vibe. Not too oversimplified, but just something where people would know it’s a song, and we knew we didn’t want to make them too long, and stuff like that. So that was the mindset going in, and we definitely wanted to diversify. “The Onslaught” was just in-your-face, balls out, thrashing record, and “Black Rivers Flow” is not. It kinda brings you up and it brings you down. That’s what we were going for; we were trying to show people that we’re not just some thrash band, that we’re trying to hold our own. Trying to be legitimate in 2011. And not taking away from who we were, this is just the progression.
So, I guess for lack of a better term, that’s how “Black Rivers Flow” ended up with more “groove” than the previous one?
Yeah, definitely. More of the Pantera influence came out, where the first one was more the Testament/Exodus stuff. We’re obviously fans of both, and it just so happened that this one was a little bit more groovy. Which is cool, because we really like groove.
You’ve been on constant tour, you’ve been all over the world, played all kinds of festivals, what was the moment when you realized you had “made it” as a band?
I still don’t think we’ve made it. That hasn’t really set in yet. In Japan, if we play in front of ten thousand people at ten o’clock in the morning, it’s a very big deal, and it’s really, really cool. Not many people in this world get an opportunity like that. So I guess to be able to do that is really like the pinnacle thing we’ve ever done. But as far as us making it, I don’t think we’re there yet, I don’t think we’re close, to be honest. We’re nowhere near where we want to be, personally. We’re not yet where we feel that the band should be. We’re just gonna keep working at it, keep writing records and keep touring as much as we can, understanding that this game that you got to play to make it to the top is not easy at all. And it shouldn’t be easy. These bands that are enjoying all the fruits of their labor put in twenty years, some of these bands. We’re not a flavor of the week, we’re not huge one day and gone tomorrow, we want to build our career up and stay there, eventually. The only way we know how.
So then, do you have a concept of what the next step will be to become that band you want to be, or is it just a process of continuing to work and meeting more people?
It is! It’s a lot about who you know, meeting the right people, getting in contact with the right people. There’s a lot of politics involved in this terrible business. I think there are a lot of opportunities that we have missed out because we are so unknown, and we are from Wisconsin, we’re kinda on the outside of things. Until some of those contacts, some of those opportunities start coming out way, it’s gonna be a struggle. As far as musically, I don’t know what direction it’s going in, I just know that it’s going to be a natural evolution. We didn’t write the second record thinking “hey, we’re going to hit it mainstream.” You listen to that record, it’s not. Compared to the first one, it’s more mainstream, but it’s not mainstream. If I wanted to write a mainstream rock record, I would have written one. I understand the chord progressions and what goes into making a commercial rock record, and that’s not what we were going for. There definitely is some seventies classic rock vibe, and maybe more so on the next record, but there might also be some heavier stuff. I’m beginning to talk to heavy bands. Who knows, man? I just know it’s going to be natural, that’s the only way we’ve ever done it.
For “Black Rivers Flow” you’ve got a combined vocal affect where there’s singing and screaming. The previous album didn’t have that, does that give you more depth as a band? Is that part of your progression?
Oh, absolutely. That was something, I guess you could say, that we focused on and made a conscious effort to do. That’s because when we first started the band, we were searching for a singer. We couldn’t find one because we live in Kenosha, Wisconsin, and there aren’t any good singers around here. So, we just ended up saying “hey, fuck it, we can sing better than that, we’re gonna be fine.” I just kinda fell into being lead singer, Dan [Gapen] doing backups here and there. For the second record, we really wanted to show what we could do. Not even so much show what we could do as try what we could do, just see how it sounded with the music. There’s spots on the record that could be better, that I don’t think worked as well as I wanted them to, but that’s just the learning process, and I think until you have it on record, you don’t really know. Until you play it live, you don’t really know. I know I’ve learned a lot on this touring cycle alone, [as far as] what is going to work, what isn’t going to work on the next record and what I want to do as far as the vocals go. Sometimes you have to experiment, sometimes you hit gold, sometimes you don’t. I think we’re right in between on this record, I don’t think it was a gold record, I don’t think the first one was gold. I definitely think, and every artist should always think, that your best material is still ahead of you. If you think your best material is behind you then you’re in the wrong game. So yeah, the dual vocal thing going on, with me screaming and singing, and Dan singing as well was something we wanted to try, and sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. It’s exciting. I like it.
Just the way you’re talking, has writing already started on the next album?
Yeah, it definitely has. We’ve already got a ton of riffs already in the bank, and we just started practicing a couple weeks ago and jamming and stuff, and it’s sounding even different! Which is good. It’s still really heavy, is has a Slipknot-esque vibe sort of. Then again, it also has a Pantera/Black Label Society kind of…I don’t know what you want to call it. It’s just the first thirty seconds of one song. Who knows what the rest is gonna sound like? As time progresses we’re going to keep writing, and when we feel we have ten or eleven songs, that’s what it’s gonna be.
I suppose we could just say it sounds like Lazarus A.D.?
Exactly. That’s what I want it to sound like. I don’t think it’s good when a band can say that on their first record or second record. I think it takes three or four records to say “that sounds like Lazarus A.D.” I think when people say something sounds like Lazarus A.D., they’re going to be referring to that you don’t really know what it’s going to sound like. It just lets you know that it’s going to have that certain, special fire to it.
Coming from Kenosha, Wisconsin, how does one get discovered there?
It was kinda luck. I mean, we worked really hard to get everywhere that we have, our city is located right in between Milwaukee and Chicago. So we had two major outlets that we could play and grow a fan base around. And we have the internet and stuff like that, we built the buzz. We took out a seven thousand dollar loan and recorded “The Onslaught” ourselves. We had professional people work on it, Chris Djuricic engineered it and then James Murphy mastered it. We had professional people working on this before we were anything. And labels like that. They like to see that not only are you working toward playing shows and developing your live sound, but you’re willing to spend money and put effort into what you’re doing. This caught wind of one of the guys over at Earache [Records,] and they put one of our songs on a compilation record, and three months after that came out, we started getting calls from labels.
Did you ever consider moving permanently to one of those other outlets?
Yeah. We definitely considered moving out to LA, because at the time we thought that was where everything was going to happen. I’m still considering moving to LA just because it’s such an amazing city compared to Kenosha, Wisconsin. But as far as music goes and stuff like that, it doesn’t matter where you’re from anymore. It’s not one of those things. The tape trading days are over, everything’s all done via the internet, and you have access to every person on the planet via the internet. So for a band to get in contact with a label, you just have to know which avenue to take, how to take it, and get in contact with the right people. That’s all it took for us, and that’s all it’s going to take for the next big band. Years ago, these bands pop up in a scene. The last big boom that was, was that whole “New Wave of American Heavy Metal” or whatever, but you’re talking about something that was five states wide. They didn’t just all come from the big city. Where grunge and Bay Area were very confined areas, that New Wave was pretty large, that stretched all the way to Boston. That was a pretty big gap. As far as now, you don’t really need to move anywhere. Now, as far as talent goes, if you’re trying to fill a band and you’re in the middle of nowhere, you can’t find talent, then I understand that. The more people the better, obviously. We were very lucky to have the musicians we had when we started in high school. I don’t think that it would have developed into what it is today had I not started the band in high school with the caliber of musicians that I had at that time.
It felt like you guys and Warbringer came about when American thrash needed a shot in the arm. Where do you see American thrash now, and can it regain its former glory in your opinion?
You know what? I don’t think it ever is going to, I don’t think you’re ever going to see anything like that again. In metal or anywhere. Even Lady Gaga right now, who is the biggest artist in America, she sold a million records in a week at a dollar a record. What the hell’s that? That’s good, I guess, but it’s not great for how popular she is and what not, and even as big as she is, she’s the number one artist, but it’s hard to say if she’s going to have any longevity, like a band like Metallica and those guys, you know what I mean? Slayer, they’re playing consistently to four thousand cap rooms, and they’ve been doing it for thirty years! What artist these days can ever say that they’re going to do that? I don’t know. I don’t know if it’s possible anymore, with the way that music is right now, with how many albums you have and how much music there is. With the availability of it, there are so many more hands in the cookie jar. You’re not going to see those massive artists anymore. And maybe that’s not such a bad thing. I think there’s still amazing art being put out by a lot of bands, and it definitely doesn’t have that same kinda ring that these massive bands have, and it’s just a different vibe. It’s more underground, it’s more intimate, more experimental. It’s a little like the seventies when people were just writing what they were writing, and becoming ridiculously famous over it. People aren’t worrying about being commercially successful, they’re just doing what they’re doing, and some amazing music is coming out because of it. I just don’t think they’re going to see the fruits of the labor that these other people got because they had the luck of the draw to be born in seventies and not the 2010’s.
Do you think this freedom to “write as you want to write” comes from internet exposure’s ability to draw your target audience to you no matter what you’re doing?
Yeah! I think that definitely is a big part of it, but I also think it has to do with any band, at any given point in any decade, staying true to themselves and having a vision of what they want, and not letting people persuade them. Those are the bands that become the big bands. Those are the ones that do have careers, because they’re just real. You can tell with a lot of these cookie-cutter metal bands and all these followers how big deathcore has gotten and stuff like that. I can’t tell these bands apart! They all look the same, they all sound the same, all their logos look the same, all their t-shirts look the same. It’s like they’re just riding a wave of trends. Which, that’s cool, because you’re going to be successful for a little bit, but how long is that gonna last?
I’m glad you said that, because I thought I was the only one who thought that.
No, man! Dude, I said that when I first started Lazarus [A.D.]. I was like “yeah, we’re gonna start this band, we’re gonna kill that whole trend.” Here we are, six years later, and it’s bigger than it has ever fuckin’ been. No disrespect to any of the guys who are doing that stuff, it’s just not my cup of tea. I don’t like drinking it, I don’t have to like it. I know there’s this camaraderie in metal, but I don’t have to like something because it is metal. I listen to all types of music, I’m not afraid to say that and I think a lot of metalheads are. That whole “I can’t listen to it, it wasn’t fucking brutal.” Fuck that, dude. Listen to what you want to listen to. Who cares about a label, you know? If it moves you in any way, shape or form, then it has done its job. That’s just the way I feel.
So, listening to all types of music, what’s something that you really enjoy that you don’t think people would expect?
I’m actually huge into top 40 dance music. People like Lady Gaga and Britney Spears and Ke$ha and Katy Perry and shit like that. Because even though a lot of that shit is fake, obviously it’s all computerized and auto-tuned and stuff like that…at the same time, I just like it. I can’t help that I like it. Like I said, it moves me in a way that I really can’t explain [laughs].
So you’re absolutely serious, you’re not joking at all.
No, I am absolutely serious! I listen to so much music when I’m on the road, that when I’m home I just flip on the radio and I listen to that. I just want to see what’s really popular, why is this popular, why are kids listening to this, and I get it. I get it because it’s feel-good music, it’s not like metal. Metal is very acquired, it’s very intricate, it definitely gets you a totally different feeling than something like Lady Gaga will get you. And I get it because some people just don’t want to have to think about music, they just want to hear something that’s easy to listen to, is going to hook them for that month that it’s on the radio, and then forget about it. That’s how most people in this world lead their lives. They go to their job, they want to forget that they’re working, so they cloud everything with things that distract them. I’m like the total opposite type of person. I’d rather be poor and enjoying what I’m doing every day, then hating what I do every day and be rich. Money doesn’t fucking matter, and I guess it’s very fitting that I’m a starving artist. I’m happy with my decision and I wouldn’t trade it for anything.
Switching gears a bit, now that you’ve had some success, it seems like critics from various levels of metal, from underground to larger publications, have put Lazarus A.D. in that zone with LeBron James and Sidney Crosby, where people expect you to do great things. Are you conscious of that pressure, do you worry about it, or do you put greater pressure on yourself than that?
We’re obviously not stupid, so we definitely know that there is that pressure. But we also know that we can’t let that get to us. You gotta stay true to what you know, you gotta do what you want to do. Lamb of God said it best, once you’re at the top, everybody wants to see you fall. I mean, look at LeBron James. He’s having a bad playoffs, everyone’s cracking down on him like he’s fuckin’ terrible. Guess who helped him fuckin’ get there? It’s dumb; I hate the haters like that. It’s natural for people to want to [see you] fail because it’s just jealousy. They don’t want to see you succeed because they’re not succeeding at what they’re doing. That’s really all it is. If you truly like somebody, no matter what status they are at or have been at or are trying to get to, you want to support them. I bring this whole thing back to Metallica. So much hate is put on Metallica, and it’s not because of the music they have written, it’s because they’re so popular. Which is so dumb! All the people hate on the “Black Album,” and the “Black Album” is an absolutely phenomenal fucking record. And if you can’t see that, then you’re an idiot! I mean, I just don’t know what to tell you. If you don’t like it because it’s not like the first four, then you have issues, not them. It’s a great record. And the direction that they took is the direction that they wanted to take. Well guess what? It worked out for them, and I’ve loved pretty much everything they’ve ever done. Except for “St. Anger,” I thought that record totally blew ass. Whatever, dude. When you’re ten for eleven, Jesus Christ, you can’t really get much better.
You’re on a lot of long bus trips all the time. Are you guys prone to watching horror movies? What do you watch a lot?
We’re big into Arnold Schwarzenegger. I think “Total Recall” gets played on our bus more than any other movie for some reason. One of our other guys, Alex [Lackner], he’s really big into horror. I personally think the golden age of horror is gone. [I feel like] there’s not so much you can do, really, with a horror film anymore. The horror movies that are coming out now…back in the day it was so ridiculous, and that’s what makes them good. Nowadays, it’s just for the shock value. When the first “Saw” came out that was cool, but then when they did the other seven, I was like “ah, okay.” Guys like Rob Zombie, I love “House of 1000 Corpses,” I thought it was a great film. Then when “Devil’s Rejects” came out, just totally blew my mind. He took the horror aspect and brought in drama, like actual good story and good casting, good acting, everything about it. Where, in a lot of horror films you don’t see it. Usually you have a pretty girl who gets her top ripped off and stuck in the heart with a knife, and that’s the way that things are going nowadays. I’m big into drama, I really like drama movies with good substance, and when good horror movies are good, and you know it’s good, they bring some of that into it. You can tell a good story when it’s just a blast, and those are the horror films I like. I’m sure you get more of that in the underground, but I have got way too much on my plate to have the time to find them [laughs].
Just for curiosity, being halfway between Milwaukee and Chicago, does that make it Brewers territory, or Cubs, or White Sox?
We’re split in the band. Three of the guys are Cubs fans, and I’m a Brewers fan. Dan and I are Packers fans and Alex and Ryan [Shutler] are Bears fans. And for basketball, they’re all Chicago fans, I’m a Bucks fan. So, I like all Wisconsin, they like all Chicago except for Dan who likes the Packers. Obviously, this year for us football-wise was incredibly fucking intense. We had a party for the NFC Championship, and there were definitely sour faces on both of my friends.