by Ryan Meehan
In 2003, when American teenagers were raiding the makeup sections of their local Halloween shops to paint up like their favorite black metal bands… there was Skeletonwitch. In 2005, when every burnout who sold enough weed bought an Orange amp and tuned their guitar down to “C”… there was Skeletonwitch. In 2007, when kids with pricey haircuts and freshly inked full-sleeves learned two At The Gates riffs and simplified them with breakdowns… there was Skeletonwitch. In 2010, when sweep-picking Guitar Center employees decided to eschew songwriting and showcase their “chops” in soulless robotic fashion… there was Skeletonwitch. Today, in a landscape that finds them surrounded by a) bands begging their own fans for money, b) vest-wearing, by-the-numbers “retro” rock nostalgia and c) heavy labels blindly signing bands based on breast implants… there, still, is Skeletonwitch, a band that has successfully carved its own left-hand path with an unwavering quality of metal and old-fashioned hard work. This organic approach has garnered legions of fans and an undeniable level of respect in the worldwide metal community from both sides of the stage.
Since signing with Prosthetic seven years ago, a new SKELETONWITCH album has materialized like clockwork every other October. First, there was the group’s sophomore breakthrough, “Beyond The Permafrost.” Produced by late GWAR guitarist Cory Smoot and featuring iconic artwork by John Baizley (Baroness, Kylesa, Kvelertak), the album – and subsequent tours with the likes of Danzig, Dimmu Borgir and Amon Amarth – told the world what the rest of Ohio already knew: that SKELETONWITCH was a metal force to be reckoned with. That album’s “Soul Thrashing Black Sorcery”would eventually be featured in the video game “Brutal Legend,”placing the band in excellent company with digitized versions of Rob Halford, Ozzy and Lemmy. Then came 2009’s “Breathing The Fire,” produced by the legendary Jack Endino (Nirvana, High On Fire, 3 Inches of Blood). Supported by tours with Cannibal Corpse, Children of Bodom and Ozzfest, the album – the band’s first featuring bassist Evan Linger, and also their first to crack the Billboard Top 200 – caught the attention of Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim, who invited the group to film a zombie-themed video for the song “Bringers of Death” that the band members still haven’t stopped hearing about. In 2011, “Forever Abomination” –produced by Grammy-winner Matt Hyde (Slayer, Deftones) – saw the arrival of drummer Dustin Boltjes (ex-Demiricous), as well as a return visit to the Billboard Top 200. On the road, the group toured alongside Arch Enemy, Kvelertak, The Black Dahlia Murder and Nile before embarking on their most ambitious trek to date: a 63-shows-in-65-days test of endurance that they passed with flying colors. 2013 brought us to “Serpents Unleashed,” the group’s fifth and latest release. Recorded with Kurt Ballou (Converge, High On Fire, Isis) in Salem, Mass. (insert bad “witch” joke here), the album is another blistering helping of two-and-a-half minute blasts of blackened metal amalgamation. This time around, the band also shows off a few new tricks – note the Scandinavian doom-vibe in the opening of “Unending, Everliving” and the devil’s swing of “This Evil Embrace” – but does so without compromising the frosty/fiery/abominable metal spirit or blue-collar humility that has endeared them to so many over the past decade. Ultimately, it’s both a fitting testament to what they’ve accomplished to date, and an exciting nod toward what the future has in store. As for that future, in 2020, when pedal-steel rasta-metal will be all the rage, there will beSKELETONWITCH, still doing what they – and, most importantly, their fans – love, trends be damned. Guitarist Scott Hedrick is part of this metal assault, and he’s our guest today in 7 questions.
RM: Now that you’re a decade in, what is the most surprising thing that you’ve learned about the music industry that you would never have guessed was the case before you started?
SH: I entered into the music industry with open eyes and ears, and, little expectation. There haven’t really been any surprises, so to speak. I’m surprised, in a positive way, that we’re still able to do Skeletonwitch full time. Not everyone is that fortunate.
I suppose this is also a good opportunity to kiss a little ass. I believe Prosthetic Records had a sizable role in our smooth sailing on the seas of a notoriously treacherous industry. From the very beginning they went beyond the traditional role of a record label (budgets, tour support, distro) and helped quite a bit with management/booking (endorsements, securing support slots, finding producers etc.).
They also offer bands soberingly, realistic budgets and marketing in an attempt to grow bands organically and, hopefully, give them longevity. RM: Do American bands with black metal influences tend to be viewed a certain way by European black metal bands because the product is coming from a different place than where it is known to have originated?
SH: That’s difficult to answer. We haven’t had too many euro black metallers go out of their way to critique us. I’m sure a few of the real basement-dwelling, booger eaters might hate on us a bit. How can we truly be trve when we’re Americans? You know?
On the other hand we’ve had some great times with Enslaved, 1349, members of Taake, Kampfar, Vreid, and Aura Noir. They all seemed down with Skeletonwitch, at least on a social level. I wasn’t about to be that guy who asks everyone what they think of his band. I hate that guy.
I like to think that most people pay more attention to the music than the geography, though, admittedly, on some level you can’t take geography entirely out of the equation.
RM: Let’s talk about the new record “Serpents Unleashed” for a second…How was working with Kurt conducive to what you were specifically trying to accomplish with making your last album?
SH: We were specifically trying to capture the energy and punch of a Skeletonwitch live show in a studio setting. Kurt got closer, by leaps and bounds, than we had ever been before. He did a fantastic job.
RM: The artwork for that record looks pretty intense…Who did that; and do you usually have a pretty good idea of what you want for the cover art by the time you go into the studio to record a new disc?
SH: Our good friend Mr. John Baizley did that. He’s a stellar artist and human being.
We typically give John an album title, the lyrics, and demo versions of the songs. Then we jump on the phone and discuss color palettes and imagery. John has a lot of ideas and usually after a couple conversations we all agree on a general direction. Then John starts sketching with pencil and ink and sends us jpegs to make sure we’re cool with how things are looking.
RM: How did you get the nickname “ScuntyD”?
SH: It’s more boring than one would think. A friend of mine gave me the nickname “Scotty Delicious.” It stuck and everyone at the bar I worked at called me that or “Scotty D.”
Somewhere along the line Nate altered it to Scunty D and it made us laugh, so it stuck. Nate and I spend a lot of time butchering the English language for laughs. At this point I think we can communicate with “English” that no one else can understand.
I’ll answer to Scunty D, Scunt, Scun T.D., and Scoony. Or you can call me Scott. That’s the one my mom uses.
RM: The “original four” American thrash metal bands are widely considered by most journalists to be Metallica, Slayer, Anthrax, and Megadeth. We’re doing a piece on what the “next four” of that genre would be from that time period, and since you’re a part of theAmerican metal landscape we were wondering: Which artists would you consider to be in the “next four” when it comes to the overall influence they’ve had on thrash metal?
SH: Since we’re talking overall influence I won’t choose a lesser known, wildcard band. I’ll go with:
RM: Returning to the latest disc, on your website the track that shows exclusive behind the scenes footage is “Burned From Bone”. Why did you choose that cut in particular; and what song off of the record do you think is going to be your favorite to perform live?
SH: We chose “Burned from Bone” because it’s a good representation of our overall amalgamation of sound. The intro is a little deathy, the next riff is quite epic, then it gets a bit thrashy, and we end it with a rock and roll vibe.
I love playing “Unending, Everliving” because the intro is so melodic and is a nice change of pace in a live setting.
RM: Speaking of live performances, you did some shows this past year with Amon Amarthand Enslaved…what’s the most bizarre thing that happened to you on that tour; and what is your favorite bustime activity when you’re between gigs?
SH: Either seeing Enslaved’s penises constantly, or just meeting Enslaved’s drummer Cato. Anyone who has met him understands.
Between shows we do the usual….movies, music, reading, sleeping. Sounds pretty wild, doesn’t it? RM: What’s up next for Skeletonwitch in the remainder of 2014 and beyond? Anything big in the works that we should know about? SH: We’re currently on a headlining tour. After that…
-supporting Amon Amarth in Canda/U.S.
-writing a new album during the winter
-European headliner in the early spring
-U.S./Canadian headliner in late Spring
-record a new record
*I would also like to cram Australian/Asian tour dates in there somewhere, if possible.
Official Website: http://skeletonwitch.com/
Skeletonwitch on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/skeletonwitchmetal
Skeletonwitch on Twitter: https://twitter.com/Skeletonwitch
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