Saturday, June 20, 2020
June 20th, 2020 - "Dark, Evil Sounding, Pissed off... All The Good Stuff!": An Interview With John McEntee (Part 1)
I had the great pleasure of interviewing the incredibly talented, friendly, and very forthcoming John McEntee, frontman, lead vocalist, and guitar player of death metal giants Incantation last week through Zoom. Unfortunately, the video didn't record correctly, but I was fortunate enough to preserve the audio, which I have transcribed and edited for your reading pleasure. Here's the first installment of that interview... enjoy!
B&T: Cheers! Happy Thursday!
JM: Yeah... hell yeah!
B&T: Meista here from Brews And Tunes. I'm interviewing John McEntee from Incantation today. Why don't we start with what's going on right now with you. Obviously we are living in this crazy world with a pandemic, there are riots going on, there are protests going on.
JM: [laughs] Yeah!
B&T: What's happening with John McEntee and what's happening with Incantation right now?
JM: Actually, we've been pretty busy. I was just in Columbus, Ohio over at Kyle's [Severn] place, our drummer, working on some new material and getting some other stuff we need to get done. We haven't been able to get together as a band since the pandemic happened. Things started opening up a bit so we decided to get together and work on stuff. Things having been going really good with that; there's so much inspiration we have in the band right now. It doesn't necessarily have anything to do with the pandemic or what's going on now. It's just that we've really done a lot of touring in the last couple of years. We have been super busy. This was kinda the time we were going to chill out anyway and work on new material. We ended up having to work more on our own. It was really nice to finally get together and get some of these brand new songs we've been working on... demo them out a little bit... just a get a vibe, ya know? So I've been doing that. Besides that, I've been catching up on a lot of stuff. I had been away from home for a long time for touring.
B&T: Nice! So obviously that good news for us Incantation fans that you are working on new material! How far along in this process are you? Can we expect a new album in the next year?
JM: We have an album that is already finished. We are just kinda waiting to release. It got sidelined because of the pandemic stuff. It's basically getting rescheduled. So actually the music we have been working on is new music on top of the new album we have coming out. I guess we are a little bit ahead of the game, but for us there's no proper time to write. It's just when we are inspired, we just do it. We actually finished the album in like late December or early January. I can't remember when it finally got finished. We did that tour with Morbid Angel and Watain. We had most of it done before then. Once we got back, we did the finishing touches. So we have a new album waiting to come out. We are just waiting for word from Relapse [Records] when we can say more about it and get an actual release date.
B&T: Is there a title? Is there artwork?
JM: I can't really share anything about it at the moment. As far as I know, pretty soon we will have some sort of announcement. For me the sooner the better because we really want to get it out. We were hoping to have it out already, but since the pandemic happened it obviously screwed everything up. The label, Relapse didn't really know what the best route to go was. Like everybody else, it's their first pandemic so they didn't really know how to deal with it. Ya know? [laughs]
B&T: Right! That's exciting news though. That's really exciting news that you've got an album ready to go.
JM: Yeah! We are really happy with it. We've been working on it on and off a good two years. It was right after... even before the release of the "Profane Nexus" album, we were already kinda putting ideas together for the next one. It's been the last two years or two and half years where we gathered up material and worked on material when we were home from touring. We finally had a bit of a break. I can't remember if it was South America or Australia or something, but then we came back and we had a good two month stretch where we didn't have anything until that Morbid Angel / Watain tour. We were even supposed to do that tour, but it came up. It got offered to us and we can't refuse that! [laughs] I mean it's Watain and Morbid Angel!
B&T: That tour was amazing! I saw it in Salt Lake City.
JM: Yeah, it was a lot of fun. We're friends with both bands too so between wanting to do it because it was going to be a killer tour and getting to hang with cool bands and cool people, it was just a no-brainer ya know. Luckily we were able to get our album finished up in that two month time. We didn't finish it 100% before the tour, but we came back, put on the finishing touches and got it to Dan Swano who mixed it.
B&T: Nice! And he mixed the last album, right?
JM: Yeah. He mixed the last like four albums we did. We have a good working relationship with him. At this point he's kind of like a fifth band member as far album production goes. He just really understands where we come from as a band. He's our generation so he understands where we came from musically so it's very comfortable to work with him. He's done a great job. Each album he's done for us... they each sound a little bit different, but they still sound like us and they all sound really good. The last three that he did all sounded good, but good in there own way. He took the songs and definitely brought out extra life. Sometimes you record [tracks] and you hear them and it feels good, but when they are properly mixed and everything is organized properly it's like "oh wow!" He really livens it up. We are happy to have him in our camp to help us out. He's really great.
B&T: Yeah... "Profane Nexus" is... the sound on that album is phenomenal. It is just a tight, tight, solid album.
JM: He's knows what we are like in general, but then he gives us his own opinion on what production works best for that sound and then we work from there. On the new one there are elements like what was on "Profane Nexus", but it definitely has its own identity. It is still extremely brutal, heavy as fuck, everything that is necessary for an Incan album... dark, evil sounding, pissed off... all the good stuff. [laughs]
B&T: You are an incredibly busy man. I mean the band is, but you, yourself are incredibly busy... the touring that last couple of years, and extensive touring, but you are also doing work in three other bands, correct?
JM: Well, I like to stay busy. I get really creative at times and I really like to do stuff, but sometimes I really like to do stuff that isn't mine. I don't write all the Incantation stuff, but I do write the majority of stuff and it is stuff based around my musical concepts. At the same time, as a songwriter and just as a player, I like to also work on other people's visions and be a team player. That's also very fun and very rewarding in it's own way. Recently I did the Beast of Revelation album, which really exceeded all of our expectations on how well the reaction has been to it, which has been really awesome! And then Tribe of Pazuzu... I've been doing work them them too, which is great because both of those bands are different. With the Beast I'm doing vocals and I think I added a couple little ideas here and there riff-wise and harmony-wise - barely anything. It was really just trying to take their vision and trying to use my vocals to basically give the album what it needs to get it across properly. And then with Tribe of Pazuzu, it is more guitar playing. All the music was written by Nick [Sagias], the main guy, the bassist and vocalist of that band. It was more just me trying to give him what he wanted guitar-wise, which was really fun to do. As far as other bands, I have actually another side project that doesn't have a name yet. It's with the drummer Eduardo [Lane] from Nervochoas, a band from Brazil and also Paul Speckman who plays with Master. We've been talking about doing this band for years, but every time we try to finish it up, I'm always so damned busy. I never get to finish it up. So I've been trying to work on getting that one done. And as far as Funerus goes... I actually haven't been playing in Funerus for about three or four years or something like that. I was just getting too busy with Incantation and I wanted to let them just do their own thing with the band and not hold them back because of my super busy schedule.
B&T: Which if people aren't familiar, Funerus is your wife's band, correct?
JM: Yeah, Jill's band.
B&T: And it is a killer band. I picked up the Beast of Revelation not too long ago. It is great! It's so cool! Just really slow and sludgy and heavy. One thing I've always loved about Incantation... I mean you guys basically invented that sound of combining death metal and doom metal. Nobody sounded like that in the early '90s. The band Death played around with that a little bit and Morbid Angel touched on it a little bit, but Incantation really defined that sound more so than anybody else in my personal opinion.
JM: Well, there were some doom/death metal bands at the time, but most, if they were doing it, were sticking in that death/doom realm 100%. It wasn't like mixing it together so much. Bands like early My Dying Bride and Paradise Lost had that a little bit of that death thing, but they didn't really pick it up too much. We wanted to mix it so it was part of the overall mood of the song. It wasn't like we wanted to go all doom necessarily. We just wanted to not stop ourselves from experimenting or expressing ourselves however we wanted to with different speeds. It just seemed natural to me being a fan of doom metal bands like Trouble and Candlemass, stuff like that. In the '80s it just seemed like another place where death metal fits. It seems normal to me, ya know? It wasn't really though out like "we are going to incorporate this doom stuff" or whatever. It was more just that it was part of the songwriting process. It just seemed right and we went with it. It became a little more agonizing as it went on. We just stared realizing that it really helped bring it down. Actually a big influence for us too was old Carnivore stuff. I liked how they incorporated an almost heavy metal crossover vibe, but then hit these killer doom parts. It brings the song a whole new feeling... really influential.
B&T: Speaking of that early stuff, maybe take us back in time. How did you get started in music? What were your initial influences?
JM: Well, I knew that I wanted to get involved in music pretty early on. As a pretty young kid I was really influenced by Kiss and stuff like that in the '70s. I just knew that I wanted to be involved in music or play something, but it didn't really take until like '83 or something like that. It was when I first got my first real electric guitar. I had an acoustic guitar before, but I just wasn't interested because I couldn't get those chords to sound good. I wanted that distortion. So I got a halfway decent old Ibanez guitar. Actually, I originally wanted to play bass, not even guitar, but I didn't know enough about music to... I knew guitar teachers, but I didn't know any bass teachers so I figured, "I guess I'll play guitar because there's no one to teach me that". I really liked Steve Harris. I really liked that Iron Maiden bass. I remember "Phantom Of The Opera" was a big deal for me back then. I remember listening to those first two albums and I just thought that bass tone was so killer. I wanted to do that, but I didn't know enough about music. I mean, I knew what a bass was, but I didn't know anyone that teach me so I said, "screw it. I'll just play guitar." It just worked out that some of my early bands were just me playing guitar. Part of wishes that I tried playing bass. I do like that heaviness of the bass. It is such a killer instrument for doom stuff, low-end stuff. That's why I was super happy when we got Chuck Sherwood in the band. He's a great bass player. I really like the bass tones that go under the music. I was also a big fan of Cliff Burton of Metallica. Guitar-wise, I was really influenced by Toni Iommi. Iron Maiden was a big influence. Hank Sherman and Mike Denner from Mercyful Fate were big influences. And Slayer... all that stuff was a really big influence on me. I was basically just a sponge for metal and early styles of thrash. I would just absorb it all. I mean, I'm still obsessed with metal, but I was really obsessed with metal back then. Especially because it was all fresh and new. All these bands were coming out that were playing stuff that was different from anything before it. All the firsts came out in the '80s.
B&T: Yeah, I agree. I remember the first time I heard "Kill 'Em All" or Anthrax.. there was a pirate radio station here in Utah for a very short window of time and they would play all this thrash metal. This was probably '86 I think. Yeah, it was mind-blowing. I know it's cliché, but there really was nothing like that! The emotions I had... suddenly there's music that matches that.
JM: Yeah, exactly! For me, it started with hard rock as a young kid in the late '70s. And then I started hearing metal stuff. It seemed like the boundaries were getting pushed a little further. For me, I had stuff like Exciter and that early Venom and bands like that. And then I'd hear stuff like Kreator's "Pleasure To Kill" or Destruction and it would just be like, "holy crap!" You'd hear and it and you couldn't believe it. I remember the first time I heard Sodom. "Holy crap! I cannot believe how crazy this is!" Even when I first heard Slayer - "Hell Awaits", I was just like, "This is just unbelievable how evil this is!" It was really mind-blowing ya know? And early Exodos... It was speaking to me. It meant something more to me. When I heard it, I immediately connected with it. It was part of my being. It wasn't just enjoying music. It was like I was somehow connected to it. I didn't know my destiny was to play music and death metal for all this time, but I just knew it was super important to me.
B&T: I'm glad you mentioned that. Was there a point when you said to yourself, "I want to do this. This is what I need to do"? Or did it just kind of happen?
JM: Well, I knew I wanted to play to some extent and I had cover bands I played in. We'd play stuff like Anthrax and Metallica, Slayer, or Exodus. I joined my first "real" band, Revenant... I think it was late '86 or early '87. That was the first time I got a real taste of musicians that were writing their own material. I wrote some material before that, but it was just no good. I just didn't understand the ins and outs of it. I knew when I joined [Revenant] that I wanted to take music really seriously. I was obsessed with my band Revenant. It wasn't even my band. I joined the band, but I was obsessed with it. I was doing everything I could all the time... my brain was like, "Revenant! Revenant!" Always thinking that, ya know? But the real decision for me was when there started to be a music change. Revenant wanted to go a little more technical, a little more refined and I still wanted to... I still had a lot of piss and vinegar left in me where I wanted to play more vein of bands like Death, Obituary, Morbid Angel; those bands were all coming out... Terrorizer. I was doing tape trading too so I knew a lot of the underground stuff and I wanted to expand into that. There was a technical quality that we had in Revenant that was good and intriguing to me, but it got to the point where I really felt that I really wanted to go more with a feeling in the music that was more that a technical aspect of it. Once I started Incantation, I made a distinctive choice that I was going to do this seriously and do this the way I wanted to do this. I'm not going to conform to anybody's rules. I'm going to do the music I want to do. And I also kinda realized the chances of me being successful was probably really small, but I was willing to take the chance to do it. To put it into perspective, at the time my former band Revenant was about to get signed to Nuclear Blast Records and I could have stayed in the band long enough to do their first album, but I didn't see eye-to-eye with them on anything. I was writing these newer songs, which ended up becoming Incantation songs. They just weren't digging that vibe and I knew that I could stick around and say that I'm on an album, but I'd be sticking around to be on an album that I'm not proud of so it wasn't who I was at the time. I'd rather them have someone who really believes in the band do the album with them. That was around '89... I was 19 or 20. I realized then that I gotta follow my own path and just say "fuck it" and see what happens. I knew that I was playing the kind of music that was very controversial and something that was not going to be easily accepted by people and at that time nobody knew that death metal would be around as long as it has now. I thought it was something where the lifespan of a band would probably be about five years max and then something else would come. I didn't realize that 30 years later people would still be interested in death metal. It's kinda crazy!
B&T: In some ways I think it may be bigger now than it ever has been.
JM: It kind of is in a way, but it's difficult to tell now because back then you could depend on records sales to tell you how big things are, but now you don't really have that way of judging it. To me, I think it is bigger now... at least for us. We are bigger now than we have been ever in our career. We've had some extremely successful eras of our bad especially when we first came out. Everything was really fresh and new, and shows were going great, but now, I think it is bigger and better now. More people really get it now. When we [first] were doing it, we had our diehard followers that really liked it a lot. They really understood what we were doing, but the majority of the death metal world was still... we were still a little too off the beaten path for them to really like it. The way most people get into death metal is you are into thrash usually first and then they hear death metal and get into death metal [it]. At that time though, we were different from thrash enough in our sound that they would get into thrash and then into death metal and then maybe into us. That would be the next step. A lot of the bands then, a lot of great bands, they had... I want to say a thrash production, a refined death metal production. At that time, we were more... way more chaotic. We were tied closer to grindcore. We were death metal as far as production goes, but... Even when we did tours, those early tours, some of them were with Anal Cunt and bands like Phlegm... just really more grindcore influenced death metal bands. They were more of our contemporaries at that time. It wasn't until later that we got to a point where we became more of a household death metal name. We were 100% death metal, but we were kind of more for the really extreme fan... someone that may have been into early Napalm Death or Terrorizer would like us more than say if you liked more of the early '90s Death albums. Those kind of fans at that time... well, we were too much for them. We even played shows opening up for Death. I think on the "Individual Thought Patterns" tour... it was only one show, but that crowd was not happy to hear us. They were like, "what are you guys doing?" [laughs]. We kind of knew we were going into hostile territory at that time, but then later on we played with Death on the "Sounds Of Perseverance" tour... we played a four band festival in Chile and we fit in perfectly by then at that time. You have to put it in perspective. The early '90s were just different because... not that we were ahead of our time, it's just different than what the other, bigger bands were doing. A lot of the other bands were going for that Morrisound type of sound or the European bands were getting into that Sunlight type sound. We were still more in the underground area.
B&T: Yeah. I think that was one of the main reasons I was always attracted to your music because it was so different than everything else that I was hearing... even though I love Death. I love Morbid Angel. I love Morrisound. I love the Swedish death metal sound as well. But you guys were just different. There wasn't a sound like that. I had never heard anything like that before.
JM: Well, that was the thing. People might have misinterpreted, because they sometimes hear me talking about that stuff. It's not like I... I was into a lot of those bands too and I like Morrisound... especially the early Morbid Angel stuff. It is a huge influence. As well as Obituary... a bunch of great Morrisound bands. We just knew that wasn't us though. If we had gone there, it would have taken something away from what we were trying to express with our music. I think for any band you need to know where you fit into it and just be honest with yourselves. We knew at that time and there wasn't a template for what we did. We even had a little bit of a struggle early on because trying to go to a studio and explain what we were looking for. A lot of bands in our era would go to Morrisound and be like, "here's "Altars Of Madness". We want to sound like this. Or here's "Cause Of Death". We want to sound like that." We'd go into the studio and give them CDs and say, "it's kind of like this and it's kinda like that" and it would just be confusing for them. I know Steve Evetts who was the engineer and kind of the producer of our first album, we were just driving him up the wall because he just didn't understand. We just wanted it brutal and heavy. We had our own way of talking about it, but it wasn't in terms of what a normal person would understand. He didn't know how to interpret it. Now it is different. It is really easy. Once that template is made, it is easy for other bands to go in and say, "we want to sound like this or that". There are lots of bands now that sound similar to our earlier albums. It's great! It's a total honor to influence these people, but it is so much easier once you have that template. We didn't have a template. We couldn't really say. We just had to somehow make it happen and have people tell us we were crazy for doing it this way. With our first album we did a mix before the mix went on the album and it actually sounded cleaner, but when our record label heard it, they knew how we were supposed to sound as a band and they were like, "no! Go back and make it sound like your guys." It was honorable for Relapse to do that because Relapse knew we were struggling to get our sound on a recording and they wanted us to release an album that sounded like us. We were good enough friends with Relapse at that time that they knew when they heard it that it wasn't right and they actually came to the studio when we finished and were ready to mix and helped us tell the producer and engineer, "listen to these guys when they tell you this." That helped us get our sound on the album. I really thank Relapse for that. Most other record companies wouldn't want to pay the money to do it or they just wouldn't have taken the time and care to want to let us preserve our sound the proper way.
B&T: And that could have changed the destiny of the band significantly.
JM: [laughs] Yeah! I know. For us to take 100% total credit isn't fair because there were other people involved in it as well. I mean yeah, it was our band and our overall sound, but to get those sounds on a recording wasn't easy back then because as I said, there wasn't a template to go by. It would have been easy for us to say, "we want to sound like Obituary", but us sounding like Obituary would have ruined us. We aren't Obituary. Obituary is Obituary. They're great, but we aren't them. We are not Morbid Angel. Morbid Angel's production sounds great for Morbid Angel, but not for us. And now it has proven in time that making those decisions early on and being a little bit stubborn about it paid off because now there's hundreds of bands that draw back to that sound on our first couple of albums, which is something that I'm so humbled by because you never think that... It wasn't like we were trying to create our own sound and make a movement. It was not that kinda bullshit. We just wanted to sound like us. We didn't realize that after 15 or 20 years after the first album that people would use it as such a heavy influence. That is an honor as a songwriter for sure. It's really cool. Some of the most promising new death metal bands are bands that are heavily influenced by us, which is an honor. It's like passing the torch on, ya know? [laughs]
B&T: I would imagine in some ways that it is kind of mind-blowing to think that you guys have been around for 30 years.
JM: I know... trust me I know. I never would have expected to be around for 30 years. Hell no. Was not even a thought back in the day.
B&T: Did you have a goal in mind musically? Or was it just, "we are going to do our thing and have fun and see what happens"?
JM: Early, in the early days I was just.. our first goal was just let's at least put out a demo and then maybe if we are lucky, we'll put out a 7 inch E.P., and then maybe we put out an album. And if we put out an album, everyone will hate it and then we'll have to figure out what to do next. It's kind of funny because the way I look at it, the game plan didn't really work. You want to put out an album and have everyone hate it and then tell the world to fuck off. When you are young... it was just a total "fuck you" attitude with the band. Once the album took off, it actually hurt us far as keeping the band together because none of us were really prepared for people to actually like what we were doing. We knew that we were doing something that was outside the box. When you are in your early twenties and you do something that is 100% musically selfish I guess, it can screw with your head a little bit because it is hard to keep you head on straight when you start thinking, "wow, all these ideas and I made this thing happen from nowhere". It's easy to lose perspective, which I did. I think the whole band did for a little while. For a little while we really got a little too arrogant for ourselves. [laughs] It took the black metal wave to come out and totally make us irrelevant for a couple of years for me to really get my head on straight and realize that I do this for a love of music. You can't think about whether or not people or going to like it or not like it. It wasn't like that at first, but once you do an album and everyone really likes it, all the sudden there is this pressure on you, but you also start to think, "oh I did this. Everything I touch turns to gold." And then you realize, no, it really doesn't work that way. You just got lucky. [laughs] It's funny because even with younger bands now... sometimes we tour with younger bands that get really popular really fast. I see it with them too, ya know? They get a little bit arrogant about it. I realize in a few years they'll settle down and realize and thank their lucky stars that anyone even gives a crap about what they do.
B&T: Right, yeah. Kind of along the same lines, are their songs or albums that you listen to now, that you think, "ah, I would have done that differently now as my older self"?
JM: Oh, with Incantation albums, of course, but I don't really listen to our stuff that much. It's not really fun for me to hear stuff that I recorded. It's just... I do, I scrutinize it too much and think about all the flaws. I can't listen to it and just enjoy it for what it is so much. I mean, I try really hard... even when we do a new album. Once I get the final mix and it's approved, I don't want to hear for a while. I want to take as much of a break from it as possible and then try my hardest to listen to it fresh so I can kinda appreciate it. You get so into the weeds when making an album that it's difficult. But, yeah... there's definitely stuff we would change, but we just say "fuck it" and change it with newer stuff instead of going in and trying to dissect it. There was a time when it crossed out minds to remix "Mortal Throne Of Nazarene" properly because there was a lot of drama in the band at the time. We got two versions of the album that nobody was 100% happy with and we'd rather there was just one version that everyone was happy with; there was a time when we were thinking about pulling together and doing it, but it's stupid. It's a waste of time. People love those albums and people love both versions: "Mortal Throne of Nazarene" and "Upon The Throne of Apocalypse". People love both versions for different reasons. It's for them at this point. Once you do it, once you record it, it's for other people to enjoy. It's not for me to sit here and complain because we made this bad mistake while mixing it. Those mistakes that we made are what gave it its personality anyway. We don't really like rerecording songs. We did rerecord a couple songs for our 25th anniversary release and we recorded the first two songs we ever did and we recorded one "Diabolical Conquest" song and one song that we never really properly recorded... kind of a lost track or whatever... a lost track we recorded. We did that on one side and then we have a live side. It was fun to do and it came out good, but at the same time I could see somebody being bummed out because they prefer the original version. We did it more as a tribute. 25 years was a big milestone for us so we figured we'd take the first two songs we ever wrote and put them on that, redo it. It was more sentimental for us to do. I definitely would not do a rerecording of our first album or any album. It would be ridiculous to try to capture that vibe plus part of makes any album good is say the lineup you had on the album or just the feeling you had or... Take our first album as an example. I'm never going to be... what was I.. 21, 22 years old? It's like.. to redo that album now. Yeah, I could probably play the songs better, tighter or something, but it won't have that feeling of a twenty-something year old, pissed off at the world metal head, which is part of what makes it. And it wouldn't be with the same people that were on the album. Their life experiences and their personalities. The songs all are connected with everybody who plays on it and their personalities. You can't recreate that. Even if we took the four guys that originally recorded it and got together now, it would still sound different because we are not in our early twenties any more doing it. We are older now. It is a different time. We have different ways of looking at things. We are probably technically better as musicians, but it's kinda like that stuff would ruin it.
This concludes the first half of my interview with John McEntee. Stay tuned for the second half of interview, which I will be posting in the very near future.
Keep it metal!! HAILS!!!