Nate Olp, Steven Rathbone and Chris Wozniak of Lair of the Minotaur
The new Lair of the Minotaur album is out this week. Those of you who were worried that the Chicago trio were going to drop their Greek mythology shtick will have to go find something else to worry about, because Evil Power sticks it to the Olympian pantheon over and over again with an even more brutish approach than LOTM's last few. Screw that Clash of the Titans abortion. This is the real shit when it comes to Greek god-busting in 2010. I caught up with the band's main man Steven Rathbone for a soon-to-be-published Decibel feature. Here's how the talk went down.
You’re at work right now?
Technically, yeah. I work at home.
What do you do other than rock the mic?
I run a business called theGrind-House.com and we sell movie poster t-shirts. The label that’s putting out the new record is kind of like a sister company of the Grind-House. It’s called The Grind-House Records.
Why did you decide to go the self-released route with this record?
Our contract was up with Southern Lord. We had them behind us with distribution and whatnot. We just wanted to take it in our own hands. It’s kind of in the original spirit of the band. We got signed with them (Southern Lord) early. When we first signed the demo had only been out for six months. And so it’s something we always wanted to do, and I thought it was the right time, and it was the right record, and so far the response has been really great.
Is there much of a difference in making this record as an independent band distributed by a larger label as opposed to going straight through Southern Lord? Or have you not noticed that much in terms of what you have to do on a day to day basis?
It’s definitely a little more hands-on as far as the label aspect of it, but the approach with this record is exactly the same. I mean if this record would have come out on Southern Lord, it’d be the exact same record, you know? It is a different aspect of trying to act as a salesman a little bit more for your record. I think that’s something that I find a little bit hard to do. It’s one thing to write and record an album and make music. It’s another thing to go like “Aw, you gotta check out this band! They’re fuckin’ awesome!” Like, do what labels do. Which is sell a band.
I imagine you taking off your Conan helmet and instead of saying “I’m going to destroy you!” saying “Will you please buy my record?”
That’s also where some help comes in handy. My good friend Josh Diebel is partnering with us on this label. He used to own Alleysweeper Records back in the mid-90s, and they put out some of the old Tribes of Neurot stuff, and solo Justin Broadrick stuff, and Mick Harris – experimental, ambient/noise stuff. So he has a little more experience with the label when it comes to sales and that kind of thing. It definitely helps to have someone else doing that and not the guy from a band.
Let’s talk about the new record a little bit. Evil Power has a much simpler, more straightforward vibe than the last one. Did you try to strip it down for this record?
Yeah! The storyline is a continuation of the storyline from War Metal Battle Master (reviewed here), which was about Ares. If anyone doesn’t know, our stuff is about Greek mythology. So it was about him becoming a god. And it was also about this period of peace ending, and this period of – it was sort of a violent period, where men became very violent. And so the music – it’s also about celebration, about the celebration after a big victory, a bloody victory. That was the overlying theme behind this record. To create a record that was celebratory, kind of like a party record. When I started thinking about that, I had some older stuff I had worked on, that was working out real well with this. And it’s basically we wanted to make a really kickass record could put on at a party. The kind of stuff you would listen to – Judas Priest, Motorhead, that type of thing and that type of vibe. And it’s also about drunk-driving as well.
Really! Tell me how drunk driving fits in to the equation.
Well, it kind harkens back to when I first started driving, growing up in Detroit. We didn’t really have much to do, and that’s all we did, drink and drive. Listen to music. I definitely look back fondly on those times now. Don’t want anyone to get a DUI, but… ::laughs:: it’s one of those records that’s good to put on if you’ve had a few and you’re driving real fast on the freeway.
Got it. So it’s more of a throwback to those heady days of driving under the influence than a recommendation that your listeners do the same.
::laughs:: That’s right. You’re just begging for a DUI if you buy this record.
That’s a subliminal message you don’t want to record backwards on your album.
And then there’s the overlying story of the Greek mythology, and there’s a lot of movement in the marauding type thing, with these bands of soldiers, so there’s also that. The marauding type element to it, you and your friends get in a car and jammin’ some tunes. Havin’ a good time, going somewhere or whatever.
I was going to ask if, after four albums of Greek mythology, you were starting to see some sort of overarching allegory in your music, or a connection to modern living. And I guess that would be it.
Yeah. That’s pretty much it right there. I dunno if we would ever make it out that all of the songs are about partying and getting pussy, but…::laughs::
A lot of them are! So the War Metal Battle Master DVD (reviewed here) was one of the most over-the-top blood and tits fests I’ve ever seen. Do you have something similar planned for Evil Power?
Actually I’m supposed to see the final edit of the video tonight. The Deciblog is doing the premiere at the end of the month.
What song is it for?
It’s for the song “Evil Power.” And yes, this video makes the last one look like crap. It’s gonna blow people away. The artistic element is way over the top, the blood and the gore and everything else is tenfold. I’m really happy. I promised myself that we wouldn’t do a video for this album. ::laughs::
Was it just for financial reasons?
It was such a headache. That War Metal Battle Master – it took like a year to put that together. It was like, a lot of time. And it was cool, and it did its job, it created a buzz for the record, and a lot of people saw it and a lot of people really enjoyed it, and it was fun to make, but when I started thinking about doing something like that again, I was like “aw man! I don’t wanna like, unless I have some HUGE budget.” But we started talking with Ryan Oliver, who directed it. He had done some of the special effects for the War Metal Battle Master video. And he lives here in town in Chicago. And we just started talking, and one thing lead to another, led to another, led to another. Next thing we know the scope of this thing just grew tenfold. Yeah, I’m real pleased. But yeah, it’s insane.
Are you using the same actresses that played the Keres in the last one?
No. This is a different story. There is a minotaur, and it’s basically what goes down in the lair of the minotaur. It follows the storyline, the myth of virgins would be brought to the lair of the minotaur to be sacrificed, and that’s what you see! ::laughs:: It’s brutal. It’s fuckin’ unbelievable.
It’s just concentrating on that part? It’s not Theseus coming in and saving the day?
It’s just the sacrifice of the virgins.
Theseus doesn’t come in on this version. I mean it’s a two-minute song. So of course we’d love to keep adding all this stuff but it’s a shorter song. I think it fits well with the song, and it fits well with the album. We have definitely one-upped the last one so I’m happy about that. I don’t feel like we’re putting out a lesser video. It’s definitely…MORE.
What makes the Grecian war concept more badass than what Nile’s doing with Egyptian mythology, or what Unleashed is doing with Norse mythology?
I am personally just attracted to it for the D&D aspect. I grew up playing D&D, and Greek mythology was sewn into the game. And so that’s how I got into it, along with old Ray Harryhausen movies like Jason and the Argonauts, Clash of the Titans, Sinbad and all that type of stuff, and then I started reading early on the Aeneid and some of these early writings, and it’s just something I’ve always been into. As far as metal lyrics go, it’s perfect. It’s filled with lore, and monsters, and death and fuckin’ horrible shit. And it expands on themes…some of these stories are as old as man. You can’t really trace how far. Half of these stories weren’t written down until around 1 BC or something. And so that also interests me too, the lore aspect of these stories, sown and told down through the ages. When it comes to metal lyrics, there’re a lot of bands doing stuff about Satan, and so with that ground being so well covered, we figured the Greek mythology angle would be perfect for us. I had the name of the band first before I started writing any of the lyrics, so it was grown out of that. When I first started writing lyrics, I was like “Oh, we’ll just kinda roll with this.”
So that concept was always with you. As soon as you had the name Lair of the Minotaur, did you know that you would forever be writing lyrics about Greek mythology?
Heh…yeah. I remember the look of dismay when I tried to tell the rest of the band.
I can’t imagine this band singing about anything else. But what do you think? If you ever moved on from Greek mythology, are there other themes that you’re interested in exploring?
Probably not with this band. I’ll robably keep (Lair of the Minotaur) along these lines. There’s just such a well of stories. I’ll make up stuff, too. I’ll use some of the characters and just make up stories as well. So that’s fun too.
Why do you think that American metal bands so rarely engage American mythology? Yeah there’s not as much history, but it’s always been interesting to me that usually when you hear about a band working with lore, it’s Scandinavian lore, or pagan lore, or Greek or Egyptian lore.
Right. All we have is Christianity.
Well you know, there’re the myths of the west, there’s Paul Bunyan, there’s Native American lore they can work with.
I don’t think I’ve ever heard of a band using Native American lore in metal. Probably in types of world music. But yeah, I’m not really sure what bands’ lyrics are about these days. I don’t really have much of a clue.
There’s a lot of consciously retro metal going around these days. Do you consider yourself aligned with that at all?
No. I’m kinda in a bubble and I don’t really listen to a lot of new bands. When you hear Lair of the Minotaur sounding the way it is, it doesn’t sound that way to be cool or retro, it sounds that way because that’s the kind of music I listen to, and that’s the kind of music I want to write. As far as any kind of scene, we’ve always existed outside of any scene. Even as being part of Southern Lord, we were never really sounded like any of the bands on Southern Lord. It seems like there are little cliques of bands that for together, and kinda sound similar, from the same region. We’re friends with plenty of the bands around here but I wouldn’t say that we sound in any way in the same vein.
At the same time you’ve got this other band 7000 Dying Rats (reviewed here), which is totally different and also going for something completely different than most grind bands. Let’s talk about that. It’s basically a satirical grind band. Would you say that humor is an important part of Lair of the Minotaur as well?
I tell you what. I grew up listening to metal, laughing and having a good time with my friends. And most of these bands that try to portray an image of being really serious, when you meet them, they are just as goofy as me and you. And so there’s never been a big façade or anything that we try to pull to try to be super serious. But at the same time, the music is serious to me. The way I’m singing, the song names, the albums, the reason it’s so over the top is to cut the wheat from the chaff. The impetus for doing that was that there are so many bands that would take little elements of metal but you could tell that they still thought of metal as cheesy. There’s that popular kind of misconception about all those shitty glam bands from the 80s, that that is what metal is. Or when they have the “Top 40 Metal Videos of the 1980s” on VH1, and it’s all Poison and all that. And so I think there’s a generation now that think some aspects of it are cheesy, whether it be Dio, or that type of thing, the sword and sorcery type of thing. Spinal Tap made fun of it as well. But to people that grew up listening to metal, that’s what metal was. Metal was fantasy, and sword and sorcery, and monsters and Satan and having a good time. And so that’s a big part of why we do what we do. It’s to draw a line in the sand and just have something that’s so over the top metal that if you don’t like it, you should move on.
You’re saying Lair of the Minotaur forces you to address why you listen to metal to begin with?
Right. In some ways. It depends on the listener, you know. When people grew up.
I started listening to metal way after you did, so to me the Dio stuff seems silly, but it’s something I embrace as part of metal’s history. And an essential part of its development, too! Even without the fantasy theme, getting up there on stage and brutalizing a crowd is a form of escape, you know? So why not match that with lyrics, too?
Right, right. That’s what it’s supposed to be. Slayer, Celtic Frost, so many of these old bands wrote fantasy-type lyrics.
General Diaboloical Slaughter from Usurper guests on a track, yeah?
He’s a good friend. And we actually wanted to get him out o n the last record, and he wasn’t able to. So we made sure this time we got him out, and laid down some shit.
Which track is he on?
He’s on four or five of the tracks. Just backup stuff.
Tell me about the switcheroo between bassists DJ Barraca and Nate Olp. How and when did that come about?
That came about two years ago actually. Our original bassist DJ – his wife had gotten pregnant, and he was not going to be nailed to doing this nonsense. And Nate from Demiricous – we’re good friends with those guys, we’ve played with ‘em several times down in Indianapolis –he was the first person I called, and he’s a super awesome dude, and we’re happy to have him in the band.
So he’s a full-time member now?
So he’ll be touring with you whenever you come out.
A lot of people accused Demiricous of sounding exactly like Slayer. But I don’t care. Slayer’s great! Demiricous write amazing riffs!
Kerry King loves them, too.
That’s enough for me.
Nate has actually hung out with Kerry before. He’s a huge fan of the band.
So tell me about Sanford Parker. Obviously he’s all over the place these days, especially for Chicago bands. You’ve used him for pretty much every record that you’ve put out. What works so well about him and the Lair of the Minotaur aesthetic?
He has a really good ear and he’s really easy to work with. We’ve recorded everything so far with him. And he’s one of the very few people that I will actually take suggestions from concerning a song.
You mean the writing itself?
You know what I mean. Effects on the vocals, that type of thing. He’s got a nice little setup over there (at Volume Recording). He’s moved into a larger spot than where he was originally recording us. And it’s really comfortable. Nice, big place. I consider him a fourth member when we’re in the studio.
Has he ever suggested adding keyboards or anything beyond your normal band setup?
I mean all the keyboard stuff is stuff that I’ve done. It’s not so much changes in the songs, as much as little studio things. Doubling up parts of vocals, that type of thing.
I’ve got one more question. And this one is killing me, because it’s about lunch time out here. You’ve got your own Kuma’s Corner burger with caramelized onions, pancetta, brie and bourbon-soaked pears. I’m assuming you’ve eaten it a few times?
Yeah, it’s pretty good.
Do you ever feel this weird auto-cannibalistic lust when you’re eating your own burger?
::laughs:: Yeah it’s crazy. I guess it’s the best-selling burger there. And still to this day, probably twice a week I’ll get a drunken e-mail from someone going “Dude! I just ate your burger!”
“You taste great!”
It’s funny. When I’m there, I can hear people ordering it behind me, and I cringe.
There’s really nothing that metal about pears. But I guess you’re soaking them in bourbon before you put ‘em on there.
I saw just recently one of the shows from the Food Network. And some guy went there, and they prepared the burger and he ate it, on the show. Some blonde guy that has the show and runs around and sees all these food places. That was weird as well.
It’s a pretty dubious distinction to add to your press pack, you know? That you have the best-selling burger at Kuma’s Corner in Chicago?
Have you ever been?
No, I haven’t been to Chicago in years. But I need to go. It’s a mecca for metal definitely, but I’ve been hearing so much about the burgers over there. It’s like a hangout spot for the Chicago metal crowd, right?
Yeah. It’s become very popular, so sometimes it’s a little unbearable. There’re a lot of people there. But all the food’s really good. They have this killer mac ‘n cheese. It’ll blow your mind.
Steve, you’re making me salivate. Is there anything else you want to say about Evil Power?
No, I think it speaks for itself. Personally it’s my favorite of our albums. I’m stoked for it to come out.
BUY Evil Power:
See Lair of the Minotaur live:
4/16/2010 Melody Inn - Indianapolis, IN w/ Coffinworm
4/17/2010 Peabody's - Cleveland, OH w/ Solopsist
4/18/2010 Sonar - Baltimore, MD w/ Revolta, Wolfnuke
4/19/2010 M Room - Philadelphia, PA w/ Ludicra, Tombs, Krallice
4/21/2010 The Charleston - Brooklyn, NY w/ The Binary Code, Elks
4/22/2010 Velvet Lounge - Washington DC w/ Ol Scratch, Admiral Browning
4/23/2010 Broadway Joe's - Buffalo, NY w/ Cattle Decapitation, Gaza
4/24/2010 The Summit - Columbus, OH w/ Fools Crown