Last year Zud released their début album The Good, The Bad and The Damned and it is an album that would have easily gotten a high ranking on my best of 2013 list had it not been for the fact that I heard it for the first time in 2014…D’oh!
Missed opportunities aside, Zud are an exceptional band and one which heartily deserve more people to listen to them. I had the honour to ask their main personality Justin a few questions about the band, and here’s what he had to say…
For those that are unfamiliar with your band – introduce yourself.
Okay, well… weird question baring in mind the rest of this interview (and I’m answering it last), but… Zud is from Portland Maine and for the most part the music has been described as “black’n’roll.” There have been a lot of later Darkthrone comparisons, which are in my mind quite poorly placed but that’s alright. I often describe the sound as something like “Sworn to the Dark” era Watain doing CCR covers with crazy Lynyrd Skynyrd-ish solos, but that’s not a very fair description either. I guess it’s up to the listener to decide. I do most of the vocals and most of the easier guitar parts, as well as most of the song writing.
It’s a very long story, but to give it a consolidated shot, there have been two very different phases of Zud (three now). The first was just me recording stuff with my laptop on garage band, mostly consisting of me (trying) to play a giant mandolin in places that had a lot of natural reverb. I’d add other layers of sound or effects later or sometimes at the same time. Greg was on one of the songs. Eventually there was enough material for an EP, which became “Fevered Dreams.” It was almost all improvised and though it was all very dark and at times had a quite “blackened” feel to it, it wasn’t very “metal” per se. I released it as a CDr with all handmade packaging during summer 2011 and I think there were less than 50 copies.
There was always an intent to “someday” turn Zud into a standard metal band, but I didn’t have any means (or skills/talent) to do so until kind of by accident in fall of 2012. The rehearsal space which many bands here in town have been using for almost 20 years was about to be bulldozed for development and the old manager had let the place fall apart pretty bad. The sale of the property and development took much longer than anticipated and one thing led to another and after another very long story, I ended up as the landlord/manager myself, with the understanding that the building was still going to be sold and bulldozed, etc… but until then, I could rent the building and continue the business of sub-leasing studios to bands. Greg became involved with running the place shortly thereafter and one of the first “new” tenants we rented to was Zak who we became friends with. One day, Zak and I were playing guitar and started playing some stuff which sounded a lot like what I imagined Zud would have sounded like as a standard metal band (stuff which eventually turned into “Blood and Twilight”) and so we got Greg to do drums and another guy to do bass who’d been in an old band with both Greg and I several years ago. So that was the “formation” or whatever you want to call it. However, the intent was not to last for very long. The goal upon forming Zud with a full line-up was to play maybe three shows at most and to bang out one awesome album and than go our separate ways, being that the practice space would be gone. Personally, I was planning on leaving Maine and likely not coming back for a very long time, if ever and likely re-devoting my time to traveling the way I did before running the studio. I don’t know what the other guys would have done. So anyways, there was this sense of urgency all throughout putting together that which became “the Good, the Bad and the Damned.” I don’t know if normal listeners can hear it, but I know I can and that’s all that really matters. There is a lot of shit crammed into those songs because that album was intended to act as a monument to carry with us in memory of a place that had been so special to us for so long (special in ways I could write a very long book about). And I made sure that it (the album) got the treatment it deserved once the songs were ready to go. It was recorded and mixed by a guy who I knew would do a perfect job (Todd Hutchison at Acadia Recording here in town) and the same goes for the guy that did the mastering (Tore Stjerna at Necromorbus over in Sweden). And I made sure the packaging was equally awesome. I didn’t want to look at that album in however many years and think, “well, I wish we hadn’t half-assed on this or that,” and though it has been a little bit less than a year as I write this, I have absolutely no complaints or regrets and I know damn well that we didn’t half-ass anything.
The third phase which I referenced is a story which is still going on, because not only has the practice space not been bulldozed yet, the developer (who did buy the huge parcel of buildings/property which our building is part of) turned out to be really cool and recognized that what we were doing with the building was essential toward any city the size of this one having any sort of legitimately interesting “music/art scene” and we’ve been working very hard on a solution. We’ll see where that goes, but for the time being, it has allowed Zud, as well as Greg and Zak’s other bands (Feral, a really fucked up black metal band and Stone Tools, a really kick-ass thrash band) to continue. Not to mention the 25-30-ish bands and other visual artists who rent from us. Life can be crazy sometimes and nothing is ever set in stone (and likewise, nothing lasts forever), but as a friend of mine once said, “when a good offer comes around, and it seems like something that you might actually enjoy doing and it… than you’re just a fucking idiot if you say no.” So here we are.
What are your influences?
That is a very broad question. The biggest influence for what goes into Zud, for me at least, is made up of many different life experiences. Places I’ve gone, things I’ve seen, people I’ve known, things that have happened. Experiences which have had such a profound and emotional or sentimental effects on me to the point where this energy gets brought out and there is nothing to do with it but to at least try and channel that which has been created, creatively. One of those particularly profound things which has a huge effect on songwriting (since this is a “music interview”) are those feelings I remember of first discovering rock music. I was about 9 and it was all through the radio station which played all classic rock here in town (WBLM). There was this feeling of immense anticipation which I don’t really find many places anymore, when a song I liked was announced. Or like when a favorite song would come on unannounced, there would be this surge of energy that would go through my head and it was such a cool feeling. In a sense, it was like the of early stages of being “in love,” as dumb as that sounds, but way more interesting and longer lasting. A lot of those classic rock bands (like Zeppelin and Van Halen especially) which were still really big in that time of “pre-grunge/pre-modern rock” (that funny final phase before they all got pushed from MTV to VH1, if that makes any sense) are in a sense the biggest influence in song writing for me. Some of those songs today evoke feelings which almost nothing which is active or recently active can have any chance at doing. There are two recently active bands which have driven me to tears while seeing them play live (the Devil’s Blood and Dispirit), but there are probably hundreds of songs from that time of discovering rock music, which could by all means be really shitty songs by really shitty bands, that are able to do the same thing very easily, just by surprising me at the right time. I know a lot of it has to do with having been such a little kid at the time, but all the same it is a very powerful thing which those songs are able to tap into, whatever it is. A Zud song should be able to at the very least be able to tap into that stuff, which they all do. Otherwise musically, it might be kind of confusing for the average “metal head” to grasp, but I don’t personally find much influence for doing Zud in metal music. Of course there is the old Mayhem and old Bathory and old Slayer and old Metallica stuff which is all fucking awesome and all are huge and essential pieces of what Zud is “planted” with… and of course there’s a bit of more traditional (and cheesy) heavy metal from the 80’s as well like WASP and Grim Reaper. But, maybe a little bit less expected would be that early Fields of the Nephilim and Roky Erickson’s solo stuff from the early 80’s which are equally huge influences. Heart and Pat Benatar might come off as a surprise but they are both big influences, as is old school blues rock like CCR and the Hollies. Van Halen is another big one (for me at least). Even shitty In Flames (well, nothing after “Clayman.” Then they got TOO shitty) and shitty Dark Tranquility have their very essential moments because of various memories they evoke (crazy times of being 19-22). I could go on with bands/artists that I find inspiring musically, but there are two other bands who I actually don’t consider much as musical inspirations, but they have been hugely inspirational (and helpful) as far as ways of going about being in a band which you truly believe in and conducting various “behind the scenes logistics.” These guys I know in real life so I’m not going to name any names, but both of them are mentioned elsewhere in this interview and I owe them a lot of credit.
What are you listening to at the moment that you want to recommend?
At this very moment, a “best of” Blue Oyster Cult compilation and it’s a pretty good one. Again, that’s a pretty broad question. I listen to a lot of different stuff. First and foremost for active stuff, anyone who hasn’t heard Repugnant and thinks they have any “self respecting metal-cred,” or whatever, can think again. I think it’s a safe bet that most folks reading this probably have indeed heard them, especially since that guys “secret band” became superstars, but if not; this is the band that just about ended metal for me and made me lose at least 99% of any interest in death metal. They have been my favorite recent/new-ish band since I found them in 07, to the point where they almost don’t even count because they are just that much better then everything else and they do it in an almost effortless way. Anyways, an older one that I just discovered is Lucifer’s Friend, from Germany. I don’t know much about them but I find it quite interesting to note that a good chunk of the sound that both Sabbath and Zeppelin accomplished over their whole respective career’s is covered pretty well in this band’s self titled album alone, which is from 1971. For newer/active stuff, I actually have been enjoying the new Behemoth, which was a cool surprise being that their albums have always kind of annoyed me. One Tail One Head (Norway) is pretty good. Negative Plane (NYC) is rad. Hetroertzen (Chile) is pretty cool. Aluk Todolo (France) has some really cool shit which incorporates a lot of rhythmic 70’s Kraut rock through a really raw blackened sound. Dispirit (Bay Area) have some pretty amazingly insane ideas going on and a very unique sound. Midnight (Ohio) of course and Danava (PDX) kicks ass too. I guess I don’t really dig too deep these days for underground shit that is active. I get a lot of promo material emailed to me constantly for my zine, a lot of which I don’t listen to, but every now and then something interesting will pop up. Power Trip, a new-ish thrash band from Texas is alright. Valkyrja (Sweden) have their moments, but I bet could be a lot better. Both the new In Solitude and Watain albums I thought were excellent. Almost everything which Selim Lemouchi has been involved in or made that I’ve heard is fabulous (in fact, his solo stuff and Devil’s Blood I think I’ve listened to more regularly than any other new-ish bands, for quite some time now). Head of the Demon (France or Sweden?) arrived in the mail today and I’m psyched to finally check them out, but overall… most of the time I just listen to the older stuff I listed as influences above. If I had to make a “top three to a desert island” list (which applies only to me), I think “Des Mysteriis…” “Elizium” and “Halloween Live: 1979-81” would do the trick… assuming I already got to take Zud along. The 1st Ash Ra Temple and that “Best of Both Worlds” VH compilation that everyone (except me) hates would be the runnerups.
The song’s for the most part wrote themselves. It was very unforced. I’ve found that the bands I gravitate towards the most are those who are able to really let their songs breath and do what they will do and with that, there was no intended genre (or boundary) for Zud. If a song can go from one genre to another in the same song, who gives a shit? Yes there are parts that sound very “blackened,” as there are others which capture the sleazy pop sound of the 80s or veer into a 90s melodic death metal sound or further still venture into territory which was perfected during a time before I was born. Other stuff that was from way before that… All of those things have had their effects on me and are very important ingredients to Zud. But it’s not like, “okay… we’ve gotta have this part and then that part and then the black metal part and then the washed out psych part…” It’s more like, “let it go… and we’ll see what comes out.”
What does the writing process involve for you?
It has been really random, I guess. A good chunk of it has been me writing stuff and then taking it to the other guys and sort of “directing” them with parts that I think are set and pointing out parts that are open for interpretation. Often there have been parts or riffs that I’ve written in my head and found how/where to play them on the fretboard, but they are above my skill level as a guitarist to play well, since I can barely play guitar, so I teach them to Zak and he can handle them just fine and then I’ll do some rhythm underneath. Most of the time when I’m writing stuff by myself, I leave a lot open for when the other guys come in so there will be a lot of creative room on their part, always trying to imagine roughly what they may do with it as individuals. That “creative room” is open because I know that they are the “guns” which will get the job done. There have been a couple songs (“Blood and Twilight” and a new one which doesn’t have a name yet) which were put together in a more collective manner, and I would actually prefer to start leaning more in that direction, but it can be quite hard being that I tend to be a control freak with Zud and I am still very much a “beginner level” guitar player and get really confused and distracted easily when there is lots of other shit being bounced around all at once. Greg and I have been working on another new one together more recently, which has been shaping up interestingly, and I’m very excited to see where it goes once Zak gets a-hold of it and shreds the fuck out of it, or, “Zakifies” it.
Give us some background on how the lyrics came about.
99% of the lyrics are by me and are made up from combining life experiences (like discussed above) with weird dreams and weird intuitional stuff. A lot of stuff is from experiences I’ve had traveling, in the US or elsewhere for very long chunks of time and often under quite abnormal circumstances (at least when compared to most people who gravitate towards metal music). Also having been for the most part an emotional wreck (some would say a VERY bipolar and obnoxious one) and having constantly been balancing on the edge (and often falling off) of some pretty massive amounts of depression for as long as I can remember, has had it’s ways of spicing up all kinds of times which I will likely never forget, for better and worse. Though I take it with MANY grains of salt, anyone who takes this astrology shit remotely seriously is welcome to take the birth chart for 6/23/81 and put that in their pipes and smoke it. So… lots of these things; good, bad (and damned! How’s that for a shitty joke?), have been worth writing about and have made their way into lyrics. Then there are the times when it all gets thrown into the blender and expressed all at once in some sort of psychedelic-netherworld-brokenhearted-outerspace-deathobsessed-apocalyptic-hatred-fantasy shit. But even if it is exaggerated by being made poetic or whatever, it is still very real in some way or form (to me at least). There have been a lot of folks seeming to think that we are a Satanic band for whatever reasons, even though none of us are religious people at all (as far as I know). I will say however, that I don’t think we as a species are meant to know everything there is to know and that I believe that particularly western science is a very young and still “under construction” thing. Anyone who refuses to see the similarities between a velociraptor and a turkey is a complete and total fucking moron, but that does not mean that we know everything yet. Personally, I am a very firm believer in the idea of anything, no matter how supernatural or miraculous it may seem, does have some sort of explanation; no matter how absurd it may seem from a scientific perspective. If a ghost comes out of a brick wall and hands you a cigar and then says “have a nice day,” and then goes back into the brick wall and you are holding the cigar and you know what you saw and maybe had someone with you who saw it too and there are no drugs involved or anything else and there is simply no question as to what happened… however crazy any reality may be, there is an explanation, even though in such a case that explanation probably hasn’t been discovered yet by science… and the odds of it being explained any time soon are pretty slim (who the fuck’s gonna fund something like that anyways, other than some rich hippie-dweeb who’ll loose interest before long anyways?). So, that sort of mentality indeed went (and continues to go) into the lyrics as well. And no, I’ve never had a ghost hand me a cigar.
Although you have an atypical Black Metal sound I think you embody the spirit of Black Metal a lot better than many of your peers. Is it important to you to follow the music regardless of where it takes you?
Thanks for that. That’s quite a nice thing to hear. As far as the question, I’m not really sure what you mean with this, but a few thoughts come to mind.
First, I am pretty sure that Zud has the potential to gain quite a wide following, if the cards are played right. I’m not too sure where I’d want to draw the line because being in a semi-successful “rock band” can be very interesting and have it’s very much worthwhile moments (as dumb as that sounds). It can also be quite addicting, which is where a lot of the delusional and confusing shit gets brought in, especially when things start to happen fast. Though I would hope that things were able to always remain as close to our own terms as possible, I know there are certain compromises which will have to be made sooner or later, unless the intent is to just “stay kvlt” forever or whatever, but fuck that. That’s boring. As annoying as I find most of the music world to be from a business or logistical perspective, you only live once, and to be given an opportunity to take a band that you believe in with a bunch of friends that also “get it,” on a tour and to do the “rock band” thing I think is something that can indeed be done right… or at least half way right. Again, “a good opportunity is a good opportunity.” It doesn’t mater if there is label support or if everything is out of pocket either. As a band from Portland Maine (or anywhere else which is as out of the way, like West Virginia or Idaho), it is a ground rule to accept that you are on your own to create any kind of “buzz” if that’s what you want to do. There are no scouts or labels with even their most remote reaching radars aimed up this way (for good reason). And in that, 80% of the press we’ve received would not have happened, had I not hired PR reps. I have a few “connections” still from doing my zine for almost 10 years and sent a few physical copies out to folks I’ve been in contact with since and with perfectly good results, but the funds to distribute physical promo copies on such a wide scale far outweigh what it costs to hire the folks we had do the digital promo thing. I would have of course preferred to send physical copies out to print zines only (shit loads of them), but it isn’t all that realistic anymore (which sucks). So there is one compromise right there. And I think utilizing things like that are perfectly okay. Getting back into the live side of things, I’d be just as quick to book a tour through a booking agent as I would to just do it all DIY. It really comes down to weighing opportunities and the headaches in advance but above all, listening to ones intuition upon making such decisions. I think I would be willing to ride with Zud doing the modern day “rock band” thing, where ever it goes as long as I could look myself in the eye and look the other three guys in the eye’s and know that at least I believe in it and that they believe in being a part of it and that we all believe in what is happening to it and that Zud is not anyones tool but our own. Speaking only for myself, I don’t give a shit about most metal shows or big festivals (there are of course exceptions like paying $40 to see George Thorogood last year, which was fucking rad, but I guess that doesn’t really count). I would be happy to play something like MDF or CMJ or SXSW if the offers came along and it made sense (but I don’t think I’ll be paying to go to any of these things any time soon). If this band can act as a vehicle to such things and we feel like it is indeed the right thing to do and that we’re not going to get fucked by it or have an overall shitty time, so be it, but anyone who thinks it’s much of an “honour” or “achievement” to play MDF or be featured in Decibel Magazine or whatever has got some serious fucking illusions about the entire world of rock’n’roll. Being that Zud wasn’t really expected to last this long in the first place, it is still in a stage of “feeling out” how this next phase might play out and how to do it. Everything that has happened since last June is considered to be a bonus as far as I’m concerned.
If you are referring to the songwriting process with this question, I guess so… of course, but I think a better way of putting it is that there is this “force” which is emerging and the best way (or one of the best ways) for it to be expressed without us (or primarily me) getting locked up is through music (there have been times in the past where travelling took care of this pretty well). Like I said, there are tons of different musical influences which get absorbed into this band. And there are a lot of non musical influences and experiences and emotions and inspirations which get expressed through the music. It really goes back to a lot of what has been discussed above. The songs need to be able to breathe, and if a song needs to go from sounding like Morbid Angel or Possessed to ripping off Los Lobos to some surf rock sound into some blackened biker riff to something that sounds like Dire Straits or even Huey Lewis and the fucking News getting played through an HM-2 or whatever… well fine. But the point is not to be weird or crazy or diverse for the sake of doing so. It is just to be ourselves and let the songs which are in a very strong sense pieces of ourselves trying to escape and become their own thing, do just that. I don’t know if that makes any sense, but that’s what I’ve got.
How do you feel you fit into the wider Black Metal scene, and is this important to you?
I don’t think we really fit in with any scene at all, Black Metal or otherwise and no, that is not really important. That doesn’t mean there aren’t any bands we can properly share a stage with, but I think we would be kind of a “love ’em or hate ’em” kind of band for any metal fan. Over the past few years, it seems that black metal and doom became a “hipster” thing and that “apparently” the only “trve” forms of metal became war metal and traditional heavy metal which is played and presented just so… and that Mortician meets Immolation-ish death metal is “totally making a comeback,” all the while, shitty generic modern thrash remains as profitable and retarded as ever (Stone Tools I predict has the capability to put the entire genre of modern thrash in it’s place if they play their cards right). It also seems that the only “cool” labels are either NWN! or HHB’s (both of which are very good labels, but however good they actually may be isn’t really the point in this case). I don’t think we fit very well with any kind of metal scene because most metal fans or even fans of music in general are so obsessed with classifying and rating things on levels of “coolness,” in ways which have very little to do with music itself. Being that Zud is such a diverse band which goes in so many directions, I think most folks that gravitate towards whatever “trve metal” may be at whatever given time, would write us off as a bunch of “hipster fags,” which is fine. But, for most “hipster fags,” I think we’d be a bit too scary and not quite PC enough. And then throw in the idea of being “influenced by Heart or Van Halen.” That is a very “uncool” or “unmetal” thing to say by todays supposed standards, not that I give a shit. Our local scene here in town seems to be a bit unable to grasp what is going on with Zud, which is okay (Portland Maine is a very small and very sheltered town). As for active/semi-active and pretty well known metal bands that are not from here in town that I would be interested in sharing a stage with; Repugnant, Dispirit, Arizmenda, Midnight, Watain, In Solitude, Tribulation, Negative Plane (Occultation too), One Tail One Head, Year of the Goat, Black Witchery, Aluk Todolo, Communion, Destroyer 666, Impetuous Ritual, Nocturnal Graves and anything which that guy who was in Thralldom/Villains/Unearthly Trance (Killusion?) does, all come to mind. And I guess Mayhem still counts as active too. If Selim Lemouchi ever takes his solo stuff on tour or if we ever get over there, that would be a no brainer and of course if the Devil’s Blood hadn’t broken up, they would have been the “ultimate band to tour with” or however dumb way one wants to word it. Metal and genres aside though, I’d rather play with bands who I feel truly believe in what they are doing and that it is from the heart. With that in mind, I think Zud could play to quite a few diverse crowd selections, regardless of genres, with good results both on stage and in the crowd.
Are you happy with how the album came about? Would you do anything differently?
Of course I’m happy with it and no, there is nothing I would have done differently (and I know there are a few fuck-ups in there that we missed but they don’t matter). Apart from the stuff I mentioned way up at the top, I wanted to make my favourite rock/metal album ever, and that goal was achieved. Those songs are reminders of what being alive is all about and what can be accomplished if ones mind is set to the correct levels… and they do a fine job with it. I think it’s really cool that my favourite band is Zud and that if I get hit by a car tomorrow, I’ll know in that split second before I die that I at least saw it (Zud) through to the fullest with the time I was given.
What’s next for Zud?
It depends on how the relocating of the practice space goes and how long it takes to get it back on its feet. We will be at least doubling in size and becoming way more mixed use than just band rehearsal rooms, so there is a lot of stringy shit attached to that project, not to mention that we may very well drive each other insane. But seriously, that is what’s on the front burner right now. There will likely be local shows simultaneously while all this goes on and maybe a few regionally, from Zud as well as the others, but there won’t be any real touring any further than the North Eastern US until late fall at the earliest. Another full length is in the works, but I’m in no rush. It’s not like any interesting labels have been trying to break the door down and this shit ain’t cheap. “The Good, the Bad and the Damned” had such a specific and direly important purpose, which was accomplished fully, that I think to rush into a new batch of songs (even assuming this huge project with the studio wasn’t already happening) too quickly would be doing the album a bit of a disservice. Being that I’ve gotten this taste for what bringing Zud to a stage is like as well as putting so much energy into a band which I actually believe in all the fucking way… it has led to this almost lustful sort of hunger and I am very glad that it has been able to continue with the little bit that it has. If and when the time is right, more shit will be unleashed…
Thank you very much for the interview and for the very nice review as well.