Friday, June 26, 2020
June 26th, 2020 - "A Big Family Of Metal Heads": An Interview With John McEntee (Part 2)
As you know, I had the great pleasure of interviewing the incredibly talented, very friendly John McEntee, frontman, lead vocalist, and guitar player of death metal giants Incantation recently. I posted the first half of the interview last week. Here's the second half of that amazing interview with John... enjoy!
B&T: I was curious about your writing process. I know you write the majority of the music and Chuck [Sherwood] writes most of the lyrics, correct?
JM: Yeah, Chuck writes the majority of the lyrics. He writes a lot of music too though. Both for "Profane Nexus" and the new one, he probably wrote close to a third of the music... so a significant amount. Honestly, I kinda guide the ship maybe with my songwriting and sometimes I'll dominate a song with my vision or whatnot, but really everybody in the band does contribute quite a lot. I mean when I present a song, everybody has a say whether they like it or don't like it... how the flow of the song goes and stuff like that and if anybody has an idea like a cool riff to throw in here or there or mix things around or even take my song and turn it upside down, all these things are always on the table. We write as a band. I've always liked doing it that way. Everybody in the band has a lot of input. I've been under isolation for a while so I had six songs that I wrote... the whole outline of the songs, but once I brought it to practice, everybody started playing it and little things started changing here and there for the better. Really for me as a songwriter, I can write a song, but once everyone throws in their own personality to it, it makes the song better most of the time. The perception of the song I might have... well, someone might have a little bit different perception and I hear that and it brings out more feeling in it, ya know? For me it is a fun thing to be able to come up with a basic idea and have the whole band really just take it from just a shell to bring it to life.
B&T: Yeah, it sounds like it is a very collaborative effort between all of you, which is cool. When you come in with a song idea, do you have a basic theme in mind that you want the lyrics to form around or is it more you bring in the music and then Chuck's like, "I have an idea for some lyrics that could go with this"?
JM: Yeah, usually Chuck will have an idea lyrically or I'll see what lyrics Chuck might have already. He usually has an abundance of lyrics ready so I'll go through his lyrics and see what kind of fits in with the vibe for phrasing or for the general idea. And even with lyric patters, sometimes... for instance for these brand new songs I did come up with lyric patterns myself ahead of time and then showed it to the guys and then had them critique it and give me their opinions on it. Really Kyle [Severn], our drummer... since I've been doing vocals in the band, he's been really an important part of organizing the songs with me lyrically... not words, but more structure on how they flow over the music. A lot of times he'll come up with an idea that looks at it in a different way than what I'm thinking. I think of it mostly as a guitarist, but he'll come up with a way of playing a different area of the beat. Plus he coaches me a lot. When I [record] vocals, he's usually there telling me, "okay that was good or that sucks," which is really good to have that... it's really good to have people around you that you can listen to their criticism and take it - not take it personally and know that they are just trying to make the best possible song. And even if you don't agree with it, you know that their opinion is because they really want what's best. And Chuck is the same way. Chuck tries to coach me. It's like a big negotiation. We keep doing it until everybody feels like we are at a good spot. Sometimes you have to just say, "your idea is better. Let's go with that." Sometimes you think your idea is better, but the guys think the other way is better so you just say, "fuck it. We'll go with your way."
B&T: Speaking of vocals, you started singing [for Incantation] in 2004 for the "Decimate Christendom" album. Was that by necessity or was that something you had wanted to do?
JM: No, I never wanted to. I always wanted to be more like Mike Torrao from Possessed, just the songwriter / guitar player of the band. I never wanted to do vocals, but I think it was before our "Blasphemy" album... we did a tour with Immolation... and Mike Saez, who was doing guitar and vocals at the time for us... this was I think '01... Mikey got involved in a fight at the show. He wasn't actually in the fight. He was trying to break up a fight and he ended up getting stabbed in the arm and it sliced his bicep pretty bad. He had to get surgery. We had to cancel the rest of our tour. It was a real bummer because it was Immolation, us, and Goatwhore and it was a really, really good tour for that time and we were really excited to do it. Both bands are really good friends of ours. It was going to be a fun time, but the second show in and our vocalist gets stabbed. After that happened Mikey decided he didn't want to do it anymore. After that happened he kind of lost interest in doing it, which I understand. It was a traumatic experience. It was a real bummer. Mike didn't leave because we didn't like him. WE were good friends. We all thought he was great guy. We loved working with him. He was sessioning with us for a long time and then he became a member of the band and then this happening and screwed him up. I realized after he quit, the only way we would have a steady vocalist was if I do it or Kyle does it. Kyle was adamant in not doing it. And I was too, but I was like, "fuck, I gotta learn how to do this". I understand the problem because a vocalist comes into the band and we are telling them this is what we are looking for vocal-wise. This is how we want it. And then whoever it is cannot be 100% themselves because they are trying to be what we want them to be. I realized the only way it is going to be the way I want it to be is if I just do it. It is not fair to expect other people to come in and just basically take orders. We weren't doing it in a mean way. We actually worked with a couple session vocalists for a year while I was practicing and trying to do vocals. It took me a while to learn how to even do them and play. It was terrible... a lot of work. And it wasn't fair to the fill-in vocalists because we'd get mad when they didn't do it exactly the way we wanted. It is difficult because you put so much passion into your music so you want someone to present it the proper way and then when they present it their way and their way isn't your way, it causes a problem. After about a year of practicing in my basement doing vocals and once I got the tones pretty good, then I had to learn how to play guitar and do it at the same time. I neve did anything before, but just play guitar so it took a long time. We did a few shows... test shows in Mexico. The Mexican crowd is always a good crowd... always very forgiving for us. They have been very supportive of Incantation throughout the years so we figured it would be a safe place to do it so if I did suck, then it would be out of country at least. [laughs]
B&T: And you're not going to get stabbed.
JM: [laughs] Yeah. We did it and we video taped it. I watched it and I thought, "okay, it could work." The first show we taped was in Monterey, Mexico and I was pretty happy with it, but it wasn't the proper tone I wanted for Incantation. It reminded me of old Sepultura from like the "Morbid Visions" era. So I was like, "okay, this is pretty cool. If nothing else, at least I know I sound like my influences as a vocalist." Through the next few years, just doing it over and over again, I started building confidence and getting better and better. And some people think that my vocal performance on "Decimate Christendom" is not the best and I agree, but it was the best I could do at the time. It was the first time recording vocals in the studio and I was super nervous. I got coached through it. It definitely is not my best, but I don't think it is terrible by any means. After a few albums... really after I really once I started with "Primordial Domination," I started coming into my own. I had played enough shows and realized these are the things I can bring to the table vocally. From there it just kind of grew and grew and got better and better to the point now where I understand my vocals better. I feel pretty confident about it. I feel pretty good about it. I feel like I'm presenting the band properly. I had to go through a learning curve. I went in kicking and screaming. Just to get to the level where I was just okay... it took me a year just to get there. Now it's great because now I understand my voice. Now I feel like I'm where I'm supposed to be as a vocalist. I like the way I front the band vocally. It took me a while to even feel comfortable. Throughout the years in the studio, I'd always feel really self-conscious about it. It gets nerve-racking. We've had such amazing vocalists in the band... Craig Pillard on the early stuff, Daniel Corchado was great, Mike Saez was great. And I was like, "man, I've had these really great vocalists. I've got to be able to do their stuff really good and do my own stuff to a high level." I'm happy that I'm finally at that spot. I've been here for a couple of years where I feel extremely comfortable. Now when I play live I feel like I'm where I'm supposed to be as a vocalist. I don't feel limitations. There was a point where I did feel limitation with my voice. It was annoying, ya know?
B&T: Well, the fact that you are now the vocalist for Beast Of Revelation... you are just the vocalist. Obviously that shows you've come to a point where you are pretty comfortable.
JM: I was extremely flattered that they asked me to do it. That was one of the things that really made me realize that maybe I can be just a vocalist. I though it was a good thing because I actually want to do a band where if I do get the opportunity to play live, I can just do it as a vocalist. I would love to be able to go on stage and concentrate just on the vocals because it is difficult to play guitar and do vocals as powerful as I want.to do it or just have as much feeling. It's nice just to be able to not have to worry about playing guitar and be able to focus 100% on the vocals. Yeah, it's cool. And this Metal Against Coronavirus I was asked to do recently... yeah, they took me on and asked me to do vocals on a song.. just vocals on the song, which was also another nice compliment. It's nice that people like my vocals enough where they want me to be the vocalist on their song. It's awesome! I guess I'm not as bad as I think I am.
B&T: Another thing I am interested in discussing is with Incantation it is almost like you have two bands in a way. You have what's recorded and then you have the touring band, which is a little bit different. Would you talk about that a little?
JM: Yeah, so as far as the band, we have a touring lineup and a studio lineup. It just happened because at first we were having problems because Chuck, our bass player has a steady job and he just wasn't able to get the time off like he used. We had to start getting other people to fill in. He was kind enough to be cool with us finding someone else to do stuff because he didn't want to hold back the band. The band means a lot to him. I can understand. It's got to be terrible for him because he wants to be able to play the songs live. He loves touring! He just doesn't have the possibility because of his job. He just didn't want to lose his job over it, which makes sense. I understand. If I had a job like his, it would be a difficult situation for me too. With Kyle our drummer, he runs his own construction company and he was touring with us for a while. The last tour he really he did with us was the Marduk tour. This was probably two and a half years ago. I could tell that he was just so stressed out with trying to have a great time on tour, but then every morning he would have to get up at six in the morning and prepare stuff for his workers and it just got to be too much where he wasn't able to enjoy touring because of outside stuff. Basically both Chuck and Kyle said, "if you want to keep touring like this, you're going to have to find someone else that can do it" and Kyle actually helped us find the one drummer that helps us out. His name is Frank [Schilperoort]. He's from Holland. He's great! He was doing a lot of outside the U.S. stuff with us because it is difficult for him to get a work visa for the U.S. And then we had Charlie [Koryn] from Ascended Dead. He's the one you saw with us on the Morbid [Angel] tour. He actually sent us a video of him playing Ibex Moon. Once we put out a post saying we were looking for a drummer, [Charlie] e-mailed us and reminded us that he sent that video. I jammed with him and once I jammed with him I realized, "wow, it sounds"... he has the same vibe as Kyle. Not all drummers will fit with our sound. We have an untraditional sound to some extent. We were really fortunate. Luke [Shively] was playing bass for us on tour. He's been playing bass for us on tour for on and off, five years now, which is crazy. He's become such an important part of the band. Actually, now he is playing guitar for us in the band. He was a guitar player originally and was switching off to play bass for touring. He's been working more with us and we are actually trying to integrate him more as an actual member of the band so we've been writing with him. It's more just practicality with real life. I've learned over time that you have to live in the life that you have; you can't live in the life that you want to live in. In a perfect world, of course we would tour with the same band that we record the albums with... we'd love to, but I'm so extremely grateful that I have amazing guys that fill in and do a phenomenal job when the guys that played on the album can't do it. Charles - on drums - does such a phenomenal job... it sounds so good! It brings out such an amazing vibe live. I almost feel like I'm playing with Chuck and Kyle even though they're not around because the other guys are so great.
B&T: Luke seems like a really good fit for the band. I've seen him play with you a couple of times... one time on bass and one time on guitar. It seems like he really gels with you guys.
JM: He really does. He's great in every aspect. As a person, he's great... really fun guy to be around. He's an amazing player and he just feels the music. He doesn't just play the music, he feels it when he plays. That's really important when you play live. Anybody can get up there and just play the part, but he feels it just as much as anybody else does. When we play, we are playing as one unit. It's not four individuals playing as Incantation. I don't have to think about anything. I just know everything is going to be taken care of... I have such high caliber of players in the band now that understand the style. The fact that they are able to capture that feeling makes what I do so much better. It was just natural for us to have Luke contribute more to the band because he does such an amazing job. Like I said [first half of the interview posted last week], we've been working on new music, and it was just so great to have his input. He brought a lot of interesting stuff to the table.
B&T: As you said earlier, he's such a nice guy. I met him at the last show here and he was so down to earth, as are you too. That's a good dovetail into my next question. I was watching your last live podcast on Facebook and it was cool to see that you really want to be in contact with your fans. You want to talk to people. In fact, I thought it was cool to hear that you don't even call your fans "fans". You call them "friends of the band". And I've heard you say that multiple times in different interviews over the years. And on that podcast, you addressed every single person that was on that call. That's pretty amazing! You don't see that with a lot of other bands. I think that's a big difference with you and Incantation vs. some other bands. After you play, you often come out and mingle with the crowd
JM: Yeah, for us, I guess the most important thing is that we are fans of metal. We're metalheads. We enjoy playing the shows. We enjoy hanging out at shows. We enjoy hearing people's opinions and getting feedback. The important thing is that I do this because I love to do it. The fact that our band has had some success or been around for so long, that's great, but I'd be doing this either way. Even if I wasn't signed to Relapse and having all these amazing experiences, I'd still be doing it. And I know as a metal fan... I met... I guess it was 2001... I met Ronnie James Dio. My friend Beau gave me backstage passes for a meet and greet. So I went back there and sat down at a table. Ronnie comes into the room and just sits right next to me, puts out his hand, and says, "How ya doin'?" I didn't know what to say. [laughs] I thought it would be a quick little meet thing. That was one of those experiences in my life where it really put things in perspective. I got to see things how other people might look at me. I mean, I'm no Ronnie James Dio by any means, but our music still has touched people, been part of people's lives, and for some people, it is very important too. I want them to have a good experience... just like I did with Ronnie. Another person that I learned a lot from was Richard Christy. He played with Death, with Blind Guardian, Iced Earth. He used to play in this band called Public Assassin that used to open up for us in the Springfield, Missouri area. I knew him for years and he was always a really humble guy. When we played in Chile with Death for the "Sound Of Perseverance" tour, I hadn't seen him for a while, but it was great because he hadn't changed at all. He was just as humble and nice as he was when we used to see him in the Springfield, Missouri. Later on for the "Infernal Storm" tour, he filled in on tour for us. It was just a van tour. We were touring with Coffin Texts and Decapitated. (It was before Decapitated was popular.) Richard had so much fun with us on tour. He kept telling me it was the most fun he had ever had on tour. I'm like, "Wait a minute. You've toured with Death. You've toured with Iced Earth." He's telling us he did these festivals touring with Blind Guardian, opening for Iron Maiden and hanging out with Nicko McBrain. And then he's telling me he's having the time of his live on our tour all in a van. So seeing an amazing musician just having a fun time... having a fun time playing. "I'm with my friends. We are playing some shows. We're having a great time." That's the most important thing. And he reinforced my way of looking at things. Yeah, I do this because it's fun and I'm playing with my friends. A lot of these people that are coming to our shows have been coming to our shows for years. They are my friends. I get to see them. There's new kids that might see us for the first time that are now new friends of ours. They are all a big family of metal heads. Sometimes someone will come out that used to come see us in the mid '90s that we haven't seen for years. It's amazing to see them. It's almost like a family reunion. And sometimes it's band members we used to tour with like Martin [Schirenc] from Pungent Stench when we tour places like Austria or something like that. It's just so great to hang out and bullshit about the tour and talk about what we are doing now. Because of music, we have friendships and relationships with people I would never have had in my life so it's cool. I get to do what I love doing. I had no expectations early on with the band. I didn't think there was longevity with it. Nothing like that. So every day that I still get to do it is like I'm living my dream, ya know? I started this... I have a lot of help from a lot of people, but I started this dream. It was something that I made the decision to do this band and do it a certain way. And I'll take the consequences. And trust me, there's been a lot of crappy things and hardships, but it's all taken me to a place now where I'm so content with my life. My life is great! I get to play music, I go on great tours, I get to express myself with the band. There's no reason for me not to be extremely happy. I think for some bands it's a chore to go out into the crowd. We go out and talk to the fans at every show. The only time I don't is when I'm feeling sick or there's something wrong with my voice where it might be detrimental. Otherwise, I always talk to the fans at the shows. We're always going to be a personable band. We come from the streets pretty much. We're a metal band... a very meat and potatoes death metal band. We're nothing fancy. We just go up there and try to kick ass as much as possible and give the best show we can. We don't hold ourselves higher than our fans, our friends. Sometimes that causes problems. When we tour with bands sometimes... I mean, there are bands with egos and look at themselves as special. And sometimes I don't get along with them so well because I will talk to whomever. I'm not going to be on tour with a band and be fearful or kiss ass. I'm going to talk to them like they are my friends. If they are the headlining band, I'll show them respect as the headlining band, but I'll still talk to them like I would with any of my other friends. I don't treat them differently than I do anyone else. That's one of the things that I really liked about touring with Watain. We were able to talk just like friends. They are just metal heads. We have a lot of respect for them as a band and they have a lot of respect for us as a band. We are able to have a fun time and talk like friends and talk about stuff we have in common. They are really interested in the early days of death metal so it is fun being able to talk about the old stuff. From that tour [2019 Sickness Tour with Morbid Angel], they are now some of our best friends.
B&T: I've seen a lot of shows, but that tour, that Sickness show was fantastic! It was one of the best shows I've been to ever! You actually came over and talked to me while I was getting my camera ready.
JM: [laughs] It was such a fun tour to do. We've had a lot of great tours, but there was just a certain... I don't know... almost a magic to that tour. It was just the right combination of bands. Just the vibe of that tour... it just worked out. Having Watain between us and Morbid Angel just worked out perfectly. The chemistry of the whole event... I could feel it myself. I knew. Every night I was ready to kick ass, but I knew I was part of something more important than just us. It was something really special. It reminded me of those really special shows in the early '90s when we were playing Bride Crusher tours or something like that. I just knew... sometimes you can tell that this really means something. Three really strong bands and each band has its own pocket of style differences, which is important, but at the same time it was a cohesive thing. It just worked out great. Everybody on that tour I think was extremely happy with it. It was such a positive vibe. Every day it was like we couldn't wait to get on stage and kick ass. It was a night of killing posers. [laughs]
B&T: Speaking of touring, if everything works out, you'll be touring with Belphegor in the fall, correct? In Europe?
JM: Yeah, I really, really hope that happens. It looks like it is going to happen. I don't know enough about the regulations in Europe so it's hard for me to comment on that aspect of it, but it'll be great. We did that Devastation On The Nation Tour with Belphegor and Dark Funeral, which was an amazing tour too. We've known Belphegor since... well, the first time we played with them was 2002. We have a pretty good friendship with those guys. For us, it's a really good thing to be able to play with a band like that... especially in Europe. They do really well in Europe. Between both bands we get a little bit of a different crowd. We both are intense and aggressive. It will be a fun tour to do. I am definitely looking forward to doing it, and like I said, it is great to tour with them. We had a really fun time during that Devastation On The Nation Tour. And that was another tour too where it was like man... just so much fun! It was great for us because we were kind of like the odd ball band a little bit. We were the only real death metal band on the tour. I mean, Belphegor is kind of a death / black, but we were the only old school death metal band on that tour and it was just so much fun to be able to got out and just kick ass. On a tour like that, we really stood out as something different than the other bands that were playing. It's been great. The last couple of years of touring, it's been great. I don't really know how to explain it, but we just feel this power of metal.
B&T: And you just did the 70,000 Tons of Metal Cruise this year. Is that the first time Incantation has played that?
JM: We played it one other time. That was... I guess that was about five years ago so we knew what to expect and it was definitely a fun experience. For me, it's right up my alley because you're on a boat and everyone is hanging out. There are so many bands on that ship. The amount of friends is just crazy plus meeting new fans and friends. There great thing about 70,000 Tons is it brings people out from places where they don't get a lot of shows.. a lot of central American people that just don't get shows. You get your full year's worth of metal in one weekend. It's a lot of fun and I get some fanboy moments like meeting the guys in the Michael Schenker Group. That was super cool, a dream come true. I got to hang out with the Possessed guys. I've known some of the guys in Possessed well and I've known Jeff [Becerra] for a little while, but to really have time for some one-on-one, just hang out talking. Also, Emilio [Marquez] is playing drums for them. It was nice to see him. I've known him for a long time back from the L.A. scene. He played for Sadistic Intent for a while. It was nice. One night we had dinner, just me and him tossing the bull talking about old times and just life. It just fun to catch up with people and meet new friends and fans from all over place. It got to meet Ross The Boss, which for me growing up in the '80s and being a big Manowar fan was really cool. And we were just bullshitting, just hanging out. It was a lot of fun. We met Cronos from Venom, which was... for me that's... wow! [laughs] Being able to have really meaningful conversations with Jeff Becerra was really cool because Possessed is one of the most important bands for me. With Incantation, I always looked at Incantation as the next generation of Possessed. I wanted to do what Possessed did. Not that I wanted to be Possessed, but I wanted to do what Possessed did for music. In my opinion, Possessed created the what was the blueprints for death metal. And I wanted to take it and do what they did. I wanted to have an album that was distinctively something different. Even though it's death metal and we are pure death metal, it's something different. The first time I listened to Possessed I knew then and there that this was a game changer. This sound is different from everything else. Even though I didn't understand it 100%, I knew there was something different and special about it. I took a lot from that mindset. It was about bringing it to that next level. They started it and we're here to finish it because they had broken up by the time we were starting. We wanted to take what they were doing and say, "okay, here it is fuckers!"
B&T: Thanks very much for meeting with me tonight! I really appreciate it. I'll finish up with one quick question. So John, you are finishing up a long day of recording or touring or whatever, what beer do you crack open and what album do you put on?
JM: Well, I pretty much will drink anything because I don't drink that much beer anymore. I'm actually more of a bourbon guy.
B&T: Oh, okay. What kind of bourbon do you like?
JM: I'm usually happy drinking Gentlemen's Jack or something like that, buy Kyle has been turning me on to such killer high-end bourbons. I'd go broke if I drank that stuff all the time. As far as what to turn on, since we were talking about Possessed, I'd have to say Possessed's "Seven Churches" or the new Possessed, the "Revelations Of Oblivion."
B&T: That's a fantastic album!
JM: I was so happy to hear one of the most important bands to me and have a band after so long to put out an album and have it kick that much ass. Yes! It wasn't just a win for Possessed, it was a win for me and all the other metal fans.
B&T: Yeah, I won't lie to you. I bought it on vinyl and when I put the needle down and it started to play, I think I may have teared up a little.
JM: [laughs] Yeah, it was the same for me. It was very sentimental. Everybody wants the bands they grew up with to kick their butt. You are routing for them. You want the album to kick ass. To me, it sounds perfect. It is exactly what they should be. It has enough of what they are, where they came from and it is just in the right context for me. It makes total sense. I love it.
B&T: Is there anything you would like to convey to your fans and friends before we log off?
JM: I just want to say thank you to everybody. I'm just happy to still be playing metal and we really look forward to getting this new album finally out and be able to get back on the road and play some metal for everybody. We really put a lot of thought into our upcoming tour and setlist. We really want to mix it up song-wise. We have so many records out and so many songs that I think are worthy to play live and that fans really want to hear. We purposely really mixed up the set. We obviously have some new songs in it, but we also put in some old songs that we haven't played for a while and some that we barely ever played. It's going to be really fun. We want to do something special for our fans. I think our newer fans will enjoy it and for our diehard fans, I think they will really appreciate the fact that we didn't go with the common, easy songs.
B&T: Well, John, thank you so very much for meeting with me. Best of luck to you in this coming year and this crazy time we are living in. Hopefully, you will be on the road soon.
JM: Thank you! Hopefully we'll see you soon! See ya... take care!
Incantation's brand new studio album, "Sect Of Vile Divinities" comes out on August 21st and is currently available for pre-order from Relapse Records!! Pre-order your copy today!! https://store.relapse.com/b/incantation