Larry Roberts: “Writing is never an “easy” process for us, honestly. Especially now after eleven albums it’s difficult coming up with material that feels fresh and interesting for us, but also not straying too far from what people want to hear from us. However, it was definitely time to stretch our boundaries and attempt some new ideas, like the song ‘The Obelus’.”
Novembers Doom bestaat dit jaar 30 jaar! Tenminste, wanneer we de drie jaren als Laceration erbij tellen. In ieder geval is zanger Paul Kuhr al drie decennia met allerlei kunst bezig en onze bijzonder vriendelijke gesprekspartner, gitarist/componist Larry Roberts, kwam erbij in 1999. Enkele dagen geleden bracht het Amerikaanse doom/death metal instituut de opvolger van ‘Hamartia’ uit en dit elfde studioalbum werd ‘Nephilim Grove’ gedoopt. Een heerlijk album waarop monumentale heftigheid hand in hand gaat met fragmenten van breekbare melancholie en triestheid. Wij waren er als de kippen bij om met Larry een lang onderhoud te hebben over het nieuwe album, de hoogte- en laagtepunten van 30 jaar bandgeschiedenis en de (voorzichtige) hoop voor de toekomst met een Europees nieuw label.
Vera Matthijssens Ι 7 november 2019
Hello Larry! Hope you are doing fine. It is a tradition: with every Novembers Doom album we have a nice chat for an update of things. Obviously this time for the excellent ‘Nephilim Grove’ as well… How are things going over there in Chicago?
Hello Vera, Larry here, good to hear from you! Right now it is Halloween here in Chicago and oddly enough we are in the middle of a snowstorm! So we are staying indoors where it’s warm, for now anyhow.
Let us pick up the thread around the time when the previous album ‘Hamartia’ came out in April 2017. What happened next with the band? Did you manage to do some gigs or did you tour for it?
Yes, after ‘Hamartia’ was released we did play some shows, though not as many as we’d hoped. We did a short tour of Europe in November/December 2017, and just a handful of shows in the Midwest and east coast of the U.S. Not long after the album was released, the record label we were with became inactive and that caused problems for us in terms of promotion and support. So unfortunately we didn’t get to tour and truly support it like we’d have preferred. We’re working on fixing that for the new album though now that we’re with Prophecy Productions.
These days the world is a village, also for metal bands. Was there a territory you played that was new for you? If any fine stories about special locations cross your mind, please share them with us…
We always enjoy playing anywhere and everywhere we can, even if we’ve been there many times before. On the ‘Hamartia’ tour we played places like Spain, Belgium, the Netherlands, etc. and it’s always a real pleasure to get back there and play for everyone and see our friends. We did get to play a few shows in Italy in 2017 as well, and that was a great experience. We shared the bill with some incredible bands and worked with some awesome promoters. We also did some radio performances in Italy that was fun to do. While playing in the Netherlands on that tour our good friend Dan Swanö showed up to hang out, which is always nice. We’ve worked with him on our albums for fourteen years or so now, which is a pleasure, but we don’t often get to just have a drink and hang out. It’s always fun when we get to see friends on the road that we don’t see very often.
When did you start writing the new material for ‘Nephilim Grove’ and can you tell about this flow of the writing process this time?
We started writing material for the new album roughly about a year before entering the studio. The process wasn’t terribly different this time around than it’s been in the past. Garry, Vito and myself spent a lot of time riffing on ideas and trying to see what parts worked well together, and we’d play some of our ideas for Paul and Mike as we’re going along. Unlike ‘Hamartia’ however, Paul and Mike got involved a bit earlier in the process with coming up with their respective parts (vocals and bass). Paul and I spent a little time together just working on some lyrical structures and making sure harmonies and melodies worked properly. We didn’t have any particular concept or direction in mind other than that we knew we didn’t want to just repeat ourselves and make ‘Hamartia Part Two’. It was definitely time to stretch our boundaries and attempt some new ideas.
I know Chris Wisco and mighty producer Dan Swanö are your trusty sound guru’s in the recording process, but can you nevertheless also shine a light on your adventure to eternalize the new written songs in the studio?
Well we did do some things a bit differently on the production end of things this time around. We decided to track all of the drums and rough tracks at Decade Studio in Chicago with Sanford Parker. We’ve always done them at Belle City Sound in the past and that worked fine, but again we just thought it’d be a good opportunity to try something new. We’d heard a lot of what Sanford had done with other bands and really liked the drum sound and approach he had taken, and Garry had worked with him before, so we thought we’d try it. We’re quite happy with how it came out. Then we moved over to Belle City Sound and tracked the guitars and bass and vocals with Chris, which turned out great as usual. And then all mixing and mastering was done by Dan at his place.
Which song did you write first? Did you see that as a kind of blueprint for the rest? Was it a difficult process this time or quite easy when looking back?
Writing is never an “easy” process for us, honestly. Especially now after 11 albums it’s difficult coming up with material that feels fresh and interesting for us, but also not straying too far from what people want to hear from us. I believe the first songs we wrote were ‘Petrichor’ and ‘The Obelus’, though it took months for them to really be fleshed out and completed as they sound now. We knew that ‘The Obelus’ was definitely a different sounding song than what we had done in the past and we liked that, but I wouldn’t say it dictated the direction at all. We didn’t really have any specific direction in mind other than doing what I said earlier… writing music that was interesting and new to us but also keeping in tradition with who Novembers Doom are and keeping the overall vibe consistent.
When and why and how did you decide on the title ‘Nephilim Grove’ and what does it exactly mean to you as link to the album?
Paul is always the one who comes up with the lyrical content and the album titles as well as the conceptual theme behind the artwork and such. He’s very good at coming up with these titles and themes that combine dark mysterious imagery with personal topics and things that mean something to him. When he came up with the title and the concept behind the artwork we were all definitely enthused with it and knew it was a good one. That’s not always been the case in the past, where at times we’ve been unsure in the beginning whether or not the album title was connecting with us or whether it would connect or make sense to others. But with ‘Nephilim Grove’ we all agreed quickly that he’d come up with a winning title and theme.
And always an irresistible question for me: can you go deeper into the lyrics and your sources of inspiration this time? (of course I know that Paul writes the lyrics) Can you maybe illustrate that with songs that have a special meaning for you?
Obviously Paul would have to give you the answer to this to be more concise, but I think what he’s been doing these days is combining poetic, fictional ideas and themes along with his very personal feelings and thoughts. When we first started as a band Paul was writing 100% fictional poetic lyrical themes, but after a few albums of that he turned around and did the complete opposite, writing extremely personal and up-front lyrics dealing with his physical and emotional pains and setbacks in his life. I think with this new album, he’s really touched upon the perfect balance of both personal thoughts and poetic storytelling type of lyrics. I think this works best because while it’s not all just made-up poetic themes, it’s also not so directly personal that it makes people uncomfortable or un relatable. It leaves a lot of interpretation up to the listeners. I know there are some songs on the album, such as ‘Black Light’ and ‘Still Wrath’, that are coming from a personal place and have to do with some very personal subjects for him, things that he’s had to deal with in the last six years or so. But whereas in the past he’d put those thoughts out there in a much more blunt manner, this time he’s made them a bit more ambiguous for the listener to draw their own conclusions. And that makes it fun for us too, hearing how people interpret our songs and seeing if they come close to what our intentions were.
I remember there were a lot of guest appearances on ‘Hamartia’. Are there any guest contributions somewhere this time and if so, please tell a bit more about them?
No, this time it was kept to just us in the band, and we’ve again incorporated Ben Johnson on keyboards. At this point, we consider Ben to be a member of Novembers Doom, even though he may or may not tour with us in the future. He’s been working with us for nearly ten years now and he really understands our music and how we write. This time we really gave him some space to contribute more of his own ideas and input into the songs. Though we still ultimately pick it apart and decide what works best for us and what doesn’t! But he’s cool with that. If you hear the bonus tracks on the deluxe version of ‘Nephilim Grove’, Ben took those two songs and really took over in terms of not only the playing but orchestrating how it all came together musically. And I love how it came out. I wish we could do a whole album of material just like those two songs, someday.
What can you tell about the artwork?
As I mentioned before, Paul comes up with the concept in his head, usually as he’s writing the lyrics. He’ll get inspired by a line or verse or chorus, and suddenly he’ll start building a visual concept behind it. He’s a graphic designer and was schooled in it, so he’s got an edge on that sort of thing that many others tend not to. Paul and I are usually the ones who come up with most of the concepts behind album art, t-shirt designs, video concepts, etc., but it’s predominantly Paul’s ideas. He sought out the right artist to bring this visual concept to life, and it was quite a task once again not only finding the right person but also getting them to reach our artistic vision and not just simply do their own thing regardless of what we want. He finally found Pighands and it all came together. His style of art and how he conceives it and creates it is unique and extremely detailed. I really love the look of this new album art and the colours, it’s fabulous. And once again, people might look at the artwork and just think, “Oh this is dark and evil”, but there’s deeper meaning behind it. You’ll have to listen closely to the songs and look at the art and see what you make of it yourself, however.
For ages you have been on the roster of The End Records. You can imagine I was very flabbergasted when finding out you signed a deal with an European label now!!! And with Prophecy Productions, one of my favourites. Please tell us how this label change came into being and what are your expectations?
It’s a long, tricky one to answer but I’ll do my best… The End Records signed us back in 2004, and at the time it seemed a logical choice for us. They were based here in the U.S. like ourselves, but they had great worldwide distribution and they had other bands who we’d toured with and considered peers and friends of ours that we admired, like Green Carnation, Agalloch, Antimatter, The Gathering, and so on. Unfortunately as most folks know, those bands either ceased to exist or they moved onto other labels gradually over the years. At the same time, the label’s distribution started to become more limited in some markets, and their roster and mindset really changed from where it was when we’d signed. I think it became pretty clear at some point that we were the oddball band on that label after a while. We were on a label that was mostly interested in just being a distro for other bands to get their product out in the U.S., whereas we were a U.S. band who needed to be distributed and promoted more in places like Europe and South America. But the label really didn’t have any interest in us doing more shows or sales in Europe etc., because it wasn’t their focus anymore. So gradually over time it just got more and more apparent that we were a bad fit for one another. Plus, they’d constantly have a different staff of people working there every time we were putting out a new album, so it was very difficult getting support and enthusiasm from them when everyone who’d worked hard to push Novembers Doom would suddenly be gone from the label a month before we’d put a new album out! Finally around the time of ‘Hamartia’ the lines of communication just completely broke down between ourselves and the label, and now at this point I don’t know if that label even technically exists anymore, or if they are they’re laying very low and quiet. Beyond that, I can’t really comment any further because of various legalities. But in regards to Prophecy Productions, they were very enthusiastic to speak with us and work with us, and being on a label that is based predominantly in Europe just makes the most sense for Novembers Doom. That is where our largest fan-base is, and it’s a place that’s felt like home to us many times over the years. And we’re now on a label where the staff understand our music and our direction, and we’re label mates with other acts who are our peers and whom we respect a lot. So far, so good.
I hope we can see you even more live in Europe now! Of course it remains an expensive trip with a lot of arrangements, but are there any plans to play in Europe again?
Being totally honest with you, travelling to Europe and touring there is far more expensive now than it’s ever been, which is a problem. In order for a booking agent to make any significant money and afford to put on a tour, they need bands to play for many weeks straight and for the band to travel as cheaply as possible and make little to no money for themselves. When we were young guys with no cares or responsibilities this wasn’t a major concern. But now, we’re adults, many of us in the band are either getting close to our 50’s or 40’s, with jobs and children and health problems. We can still tour, but the days of big long tours are behind us, it just can’t happen. So, yes we are currently looking into getting back to Europe to tour, as well as other areas, but the trick is finding promoters and others who will agree to do it on our terms and work it out so that no one goes broke, no one gets screwed over, and whatever makes sense for everyone involved. I am hoping that we’ll get out to Europe and at least do a couple of weeks of shows, maybe festival appearances, and so forth. We are already working on it, but until we find the right situation with the right promoters and agents who’ll help us make it happen, it’s up in the air right now.
What are until now, the plans for the near future and for concerts?
As I mentioned we’re looking into Europe of course, but we’re also hoping to get back to South America, where we have an incredible and dedicated fan-base who we know would love to see us tour there once again. If we can make that happen, we’ll be very happy. Also there are still some territories in North America that we’ve yet to properly play, and we’re talking about making that happen finally as well. It’s very tricky at this point in our lives to get it to all come together, but trust me we are definitely trying.
The album comes out in many different versions and I think that’s quite new for you. Here is the moment to tell a bit more about special editions and even a guitar tab book…
Yes, one of the many benefits of signing with Prophecy Productions is that they care very much about providing the fans with lots of cool collectibles and things for their collections. We’ve always been into that sort of thing, especially Paul and I because we’re collectors of everything from toys and comics to vinyl records and other forms of art. So we’ve always wanted to offer more than just the usual CD and stuff. There’s the regular CD in digipack form, which I know some people don’t care for digipacks but there’s a lot of folks who love to collect them so we agreed to go that route. There’s also the artbook version, which has the full album CD as well as a bonus CD with the two extra songs I mentioned earlier, and a book full of lyrics and photos and things that are exclusive to the book, showing the creation of the album as well as the artwork in various stages. The vinyl comes in three different colours: black, red, and silver – with amazing etching on side four of the vinyl records. And then there’s a boxset version which contains the artbook, the silver vinyl records, the two CDs, and some other items like posters that are exclusive to the boxset. We also have the new album available for guitarists as a guitar tablature book, that is available in physical book form as well as in a downloadable file, that’s being put out by Resistance HQ publishing. We’ll be doing other albums of ours in guitar tablature form in the near future as well. We’re currently working on finishing the transcriptions for ‘The Pale Haunt Departure’ guitar tab book, which should be available in the near future.
What can you tell about the making of the three beautiful video clips you have shot until now?
We’ve always loved the visual medium of music videos. Obviously nowadays, music videos aren’t as beloved or important as they once were, but we still find them to be good means of getting our music out there and giving somebody something interesting to check out, especially since we don’t get to tour as much as we’d like. Prophecy Productions definitely likes the idea of us doing as much as we can with things like YouTube, Instagram and other social media platforms, so having videos to promote helps that a lot. Doing the animated lyric video for the song ‘Nephilim Grove’ made the most sense, since the artwork is so striking and interesting to look at, and we were lucky enough to have footage of Pighands actually creating the artwork, so we thought it might be interesting to people to see his process a little bit. For the ‘Petrichor’ video, we’d shot a fair amount of footage of ourselves in the recording studio creating the album, and we also filmed some candid bits of us discussing it amongst ourselves at the studio and also doing some video interviews, which we are in the process of editing all together for a “Making of Nephilim Grove” video that we’ll be releasing very soon. We thought it’d be cool to take some of that footage and use it to make a video for ‘Petrichor’ as well, and maybe get people interested in seeing more of that behind-the-scenes footage we’ll be releasing. The video for ‘What We Become’ was mostly Paul’s idea, he had pictured something in his head that he wanted to try, with everything moving in slow-motion, but still in time with the tempo of the song, and a slight concept behind it regarding the breakdown of a relationship of sorts. He’d had a much more elaborate idea in mind, but with a limited budget and limited time we were unable to really get it done the way he’d have preferred, but I think the end result is quite decent and works well for the song. We have more music videos planned for the new album, too, that we just had a meeting about the other day actually. Once we have the time and budget to get it done, we’ll start working on it.
Congratulations with the 30 Year existence of the band! Wow, what an era! To celebrate this, I have three special questions about that for you: firstly, what are your earliest memories of the band, thus a feeling about the early days…
Well, Paul started this band in 1989, and I didn’t officially join the band until February 1999, but I was friends with the band since the early days and I spent some time around them and we were both part of the same music scene here in Chicago. I was playing in Dead Serenade, which actually shared some members with Novembers Doom at the time, and we were two of the only bands playing this style of music at the time in this area. Those days were filled with a lot of naiveté, and eagerness to succeed. We didn’t understand much about the way the business worked, and we certainly were far from mature in terms of our outlook on things or even our musical direction. For bands like ours, it was a struggle getting noticed then, because there weren’t many others doing this kind of music in the U.S., which at the time was predominantly either bands doing alternative/grunge or playing brutal death metal or hip-hop groovy nu-metal. So we were always struggling to get noticed in our own country. Meanwhile we started to grow a fan-base overseas through mail-order and fanzines, but a lot of people didn’t take us seriously because they thought we were only copying European bands, which wasn’t really true. They just didn’t realize there were some of us here in the States who had the same influences and musical tendencies as the bands in Europe also had, but because the States weren’t known for this, they didn’t know any better. Hell, we still deal with that kind of mindset from people, haha. But when I think of those older days that’s mainly what I think of, a group of young guys and women with a lot of vigour and energy towards creating music, but not having a lot of clear ideas and direction on how to get to where we wanted to be. It’s been a long, bumpy ride.
How do you look back now at your first EU tour in 2006?
Overall it was great. We were shocked at how passionate and dedicated a lot of the fans were towards us, because we just couldn’t be certain. You read articles and reviews and receive mail from people and that gives you an idea, but it’s not until you actually see it and experience it in person that you truly understand. It might sound like a cliché but that tour feels like it was a lifetime ago, and yet at the same time I can remember it like it happened almost yesterday. I was in my early 30’s at the time and thought I knew it all. Now I’m close to 50 and I realize that I didn’t know a lot of things, and I am mature enough to realize that I still have a lot to learn yet. I was so nervous and stubborn about a lot of things back then, I almost wish I could go back and do it again and probably enjoy it a bit more than I did. But really I guess I wouldn’t change anything, you live and learn. I’m grateful we got to tour with such amazing bands and work with incredible people on that tour, that’s stuff I’ll always cherish.
What were – until now – the highlights in the band’s career and your mind, and – there is always yin & yang – what was a disappointment for you?
We’ve had so many highlights and so many low points, it’s hard to just narrow it down like that. Obviously getting to record and release albums worldwide is amazing, and getting to tour the world is amazing, and playing big festivals like Graspop or Brutal Assault is an incredible experience that I relish in. Having met so many wonderful people, many whom I now consider to be friends, because of this band has been one of the highlights for sure. The disappointments are things like, bad record deals, people trashing your band and putting you down when you’re only creating music to make yourself and a few other people happy, that sort of thing. Even after thirty years we still have people insisting we’re just copying other bands that we don’t even listen to, haha. And of course, there’s many places we haven’t been to yet that we really want to and I don’t know if we’ll ever get there, so that’s disappointing. But overall, we’ve been very fortunate to get to do this for all these years and that anyone even cares at all about us is a blessing, so to speak. So I can’t really complain much.
If there is something you’d like to add, please feel free to do it right here…
Thank you so much to you and everyone who has supported us for these many years, we couldn’t do it without that support and that’s the honest truth. We hope we’ll see as many of you as possible in 2020!
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