Chad Bowar: How has new bassist J.J. Hrubovcak fit into the band?
Erik Rutan: He's doing great. He wrote all the bass lines on the new record. He also wrote riffs for some of the songs as well. He's really been a great addition. I've known J.J. for quite some time. He lives in New Jersey and I'm from New Jersey and my family lives there. I've known him for about 10 years, and knew he was probably going to work out. He's an incredibly talented guy and fits right into the fold. Everything is perfect right now as far as the lineup. We all get along, we all synch up in all areas.
When it comes to writing a new record, do you do in in bits and pieces over a period of time, or do you write it all in one short span?
We spent probably a year and a half writing. A lot of material starts with me sitting on my couch at home writing, and then recording it to my Pro Tools at my house, then sending it to J.J. and Jade (Simonetto, drums) and them coming up with ideas. Then every time we do a tour we do pre-production and record demos of the songs. I still write a majority of the songs. I always have and probably always will, just because I write a lot of music and play a lot of guitar. But Jade and J.J. made tremendous contributions to this record, which made for an expanded album because of it.
How would you describe the sound/style of Phoenix Amongst The Ashes?
It is definitely our most dynamic album. We tapped into a lot of different things that we had never done before. We have a lot more tempo variance and more atmosphere and dynamics. The heavier songs are way heavier than anything we've done before and the faster, aggressive songs are more attacking than we've done before. We just expanded on what we've done in the past and branched out even more. We have some more melody in there as well, and some cool solos.
I don't think people will be surprised by it, but have taken notice to how expanded it is compared to our past catalog. The production I was able to achieve is the best production we've had, by far. Everything can be heard in a great fashion. I'm very excited about the new record. It's a cliché to say it's our best record. I always think our best record has yet to be recorded, but this is our most dynamic album, by far.
What's the most difficult part of the songwriting and recording process for you?
Writing the riffs is probably the easiest because I write a lot of material all the time. Jamming with Jade and J.J. and doing pre-production demos are the good times. But as soon as the record starts tracking for real, the smiles turn to focus and things change. We're not playing easy stuff. It's very challenging. For me personally, mixing the album is the hardest, because by the time I get to the mix I've already been working for months. Mixing the record is really difficult. I also spend a lot of time on lyrics. I try to make them interesting and unique and creative. I like to have a little mystique behind the lyrics as well, and make you read between the lines.
Did you have the album title going in, or is it something you came up with during the process?
The title came during the process of finishing the lyrics. I wanted some kind of correlation to Fury And Flames, because when I finished that album I felt unsettled. Not that I wasn't proud of the record, because I am, but because I had a lot of stuff happen during the process of that album that affected me in a very deep way. It was the hardest record I've ever done, and when I finished that record I went through a stage of depression that it was done, and I was dealing with all these other things that really inspired that record and had to deal with them at face value. I went through a tough time before, during and after.
This feels like a new start for us, but at the same time a continuation. The metaphor and legend around the phoenix in different religions and stuff rang true to my situation personally, as well as the band. I felt we could reference the phoenix, not as in taking flight, but as in the process. And that's what I felt like during this whole recording, that it was a process of letting out some inner demons and moving on into the future and regaining a lot of things that I felt were lost in the mire of tragedy and heaviness.
I felt Phoenix Amongst The Ashes was a rebirth of sorts for the band. It has to be one of the most satisfying things I've done in my career, to have the record come out as good as it did. I've done enough interviews over my career that people, even if they don't know me personally, know I'm a perfectionist and a workaholic and never happy with much. But I can say with this record I can look at it and feel really good about it. It's a step in the right direction, I guess.
Hate Eternal does a lot of touring. Have you noticed the effects of the recession on your crowds at shows over the past couple years?
Sure. It's definitely tough. People are buying less merch because people have less money. A lot of people aren't even going to shows. They can't afford it. Album sales are down because of illegal downloading and whatnot, and people don't have as much money to buy CDs. That means bands aren't making money off of that, and the music business is taking a hit. If you look at Billboard Top 200 chart, if you sell a couple thousand records you can get on there. Back in the nineties, it took a lot more than 2500 records to get into the top 200. So things have changed, sales are down.
The music business is hurting and the economy is hurting, and when you put those two things together, it's a whopper. I see it from all angles. I see it from bands that are signing record deals and coming to the studio with much smaller budgets than a few years ago. Merch sales are down universally. It's tough to be in the music biz right now, but I'm one of those guys that's a survivor. I survive through whatever. I always try to be five steps ahead and look toward the future and have a backup plan. What's it going to take to solve the problems in the music business? I have no idea. I guess we'll find out.
It also seems there are a lot more bands on every tour, instead of just a headliner and an opening act. That has to be taking money out of your pocket, too.
That's what's tough. Nobody was really making a lot of money in the first place, and now it's been cut more and more. If you want a killer package, you have to have more bands. A lot of booking agents now are doing door deals. They aren't even giving budgets, because times are tough. To be in a band now is very, very difficult. You have to know what you're dealing with.
You have the production side of things you can fall back on. What have you been working on lately?
I worked on the new Agnostic Front record. I also produced the Madball album last year. It was really awesome to do two legendary hardcore bands. I also produced some songs for the Mountain Goats, who are an indie rock band. It's something totally different for me as a producer. I also tracked some drums for the new Morbid Angel record, mixed Abysmal Dawn, mixed Cannabis Corpse. I did a lot of stuff last year.
I love producing and engineering. It's something I've always wanted to do. I went to school in New York City for engineering many years ago, and the fact that I'm actually putting that to use is awesome.
Is there anything you can bring to Hate Eternal by working with indie rock and hardcore type bands?
Not musically speaking, but from a production standpoint I learn something new on every record. The interesting thing about working with Agnostic Front and Madball was when it came to the vocals, there was a lot more variance in vocal styles than in a death metal song. I was able to do a lot of different things to capture different emotions and things like that.
You can never learn enough. And in recording the Madball and Agnostic Front and Mountain Goat albums, I not only learned a lot about recording other styles of music, but I learned a lot about myself and what I'm capable of doing. It was awesome all around. The records came out really great.
How was the Morbid Angel recordings?
I only recorded six songs because of time restraints, plus they recorded at four different studios. They wanted to do some different things. The songs I recorded were awesome. I thought they were great. It was a great experience to record with my old bandmates. We had a good time, but worked our asses off. We talked about the good old days and old times. It was a rewarding experience. Even though I've been out of the band for 8 or 9 years, I always feel like I'm part of Morbid Angel, and I guess I always will, because I spent a lot of time with them in my career. It was a very important time. They will always be family to me. It was great to be part of a Morbid record in a different context.