BLACK CROWN INITIATE’s most recent release The Wreckage of Stars has taken over my stereo with its sweeping, technical melodic death metal. I didn’t know which chocolate I’d get from the BCI box, but I was lucky enough to score Andy Thomas, lead guitarist and clean vocalist for the band, when I went to see them at The Champ in Lemoyne, PA. We had an interesting conversation and I found that he has a hazelnut center: a certain nutty wisdom that is pretty yummy on the cerebral end.
I.O.: I brushed up by watching a few interviews with BLACK CROWN INITIATE and you guys seem like a lot of fun. I watched the interview where you were drinking the hot sauce.
Andy: Yeah, when our manager made us drink the hot sauce. That was unpleasant. I do ingest hot things a lot so—
I.O.: Are you Irish?
I.O.: Do you know the most fiendish gas comes from an Irish ass?
Andy: It’s a fact. For sure. I’m guilty of fiendish gas. I’m definitely the farter in the band.
I.O.: Well I’m from an Irish family and we have fart contests. My brother was one of those guys where you’d be sleeping on the couch, and he would hang his ass over your face and let one loose.
Andy: Yeah, yeah, my girlfriend and I do that shit to each other all the time.
I.O.: <laughs> How old are you?
Andy: I’m twenty-eight.
I.O.: And how long have you been playing music?
Andy: I’ve been playing guitar <pauses to think> for eighteen years.
I.O.: So you started when you were ten?
Andy: Yeah, just about.
I.O.: How long have you been in the band? I know you have an E.P. [Song of the Crippled Bull]
Andy: We’ve been in this band for—it’s October—like a year and a half.
I.O.: Just this band. So like what happened because right before you released your E.P., it had already been done and everything, your drummer and one of your guitarists left, right?
Andy: Well, we never had another guitarist. Our drummer, who is our drummer now, he left and then he came back. So we’ve had two drummers, Jesse [Beahler] then another gentleman and then Jesse.
I.O.: So now you have an additional guitarist.
Andy: Yeah, the E.P. was just me on guitars.
I.O.: So you on all the guitars. Jesse actually did the drums for that?
Andy: We wrote drums with Jesse and then we programmed them because he left. So those drums on that E.P. are not “real.” But all the [drum tracks] and stuff were composed by Jesse.
I.O.: And after that you played the New England Metal, um help me out here—Editor’s note: I.O. suffers from geriatric brain farts in addition to the Irish ones.
Andy: The New England Metal and Hardcore Festival, yeah, that was cool. It was really cool. We played really early in the day and I didn’t think a lot of people would be there but they were and they were crazy.
I.O.: How did this new album [The Wreckage of Stars] come together for you?
Andy: We had a lot of offers, well not a lot but a few, from different labels and we had a few pretty high-profile people in the music industry hitting us up a little bit. We had Steve Seabury, our manager, who owns High River Hot Sauce, which we were drinking, which is great hot sauce—SHAMELESS PLUG—but we also had Dan Rosenblum, who works for the agency group, he was interested in working with us and we now do work with him. He’s our booking agent. We eventually signed to eOne Records because we felt that was the best choice for us for a number of reasons.
I.O.: What’s the primary reason?
Andy: The primary reason for me was, it might sound weird but eOne isn’t home to a lot of really extreme bands. They’re home to metal bands like BLACK LABEL SOCIETY, HIGH ON FIRE, stuff like that but the extreme bands, there’s not too many on eOne. So we thought as opposed to being just drowned in a sea of bands that are maybe not like us but the same kind of general style, we might stand out a little bit. We were right because eOne has really taken care of us and they’re a really cool label to be on.
I.O.: You were touring with BEHEMOTH. Did you tour with anyone between them and RIVERS OF NIHIL?
Andy: Yeah, we did the first tour with BEHEMOTH on the Metal Alliance tour and then we did FLESH GOD APOCALYPSE and SEPTIC FLESH. That was really cool. We replaced [HOUR OF] PENANCE on that because they had some visa issues. That was cool for us and then we did Summer Slaughter Canada with THE FACELESS and FALUJAH and then um, oh man—
I.O.: You’ve just been touring and touring and touring.
Andy: Yeah, I forget all the bands we’ve played with so we’ve been around a few times. Now we’re out with RIVERS [OF NIHIL]. We come home for ten days and then go out with UNEARTH and DARKEST HOUR for a little while. It’s been crazy.
I.O.: [The Wreckage of Stars] just came out. What’s your favorite song on the album?
Andy: My favorite song is probably “The Malignant,” which is the third song.
I.O.: Do you sing clean or harsh?
I.O.: Oh, so you’re the clean vocals. It took me a while to get used to the harsh vocals but once I did, now I can make out the words.
Andy: Yeah that’s how it kind of goes. You’re not used to it but then you do get used to it.
Andy: As far as the clean singing goes, I very much listen to a lot of music that isn’t metal at all. I was raised on bands like CROSBY, STILLS, NASH & YOUNG and stuff like that. I really love that stuff still and those are guys that really could sing. I’ve always wanted to—although I haven’t really been singing that long. I didn’t know I could sing and maybe I still can’t. I don’t know, I’m just like trying it still.
I.O.: What??? What???
Andy: The first time I sang was on the E.P. (which you can take a gander at below).
I.O.: <incredulous look on face> You have a lovely voice.
Andy: Well, thank you.
I.O.: And I’m a vocalist and I come from a family of vocalists.
Andy: Well, thank you. I don’t really know what I’m doing, just kind of singing, you know. Tonight should be interesting because I’ve got this sinus infection.
I.O.: Which makes me wonder what would happen if you got some training.
Andy: I think about that a lot. I probably will at some point when I have a little bit of time. I try to think about the diaphragm and stuff when I’m singing and really it just distracts me at this point. I don’t really understand.
I.O.: You don’t want to do that. You want to do all your breathing when you’re off stage. You want to get it so that it becomes habit. You’ll notice that singers generally have extended bellies. Have you ever noticed that?
Andy: Yeah, yeah. I do, but I thought it was the beer.
I.O.: Well mine isn’t beer. <laughs> Mine’s babies and singing.
Andy: Yeah, that’ll do it too. This is my beer baby.
I.O.: <laughs pretty hard> Now your vocalist, he does the harsh.
Andy: Actually, the other guitarist [Rik Stelzpflug] and our main singer [James Dorton] both do it and they’re both very good at it. So there are points on the album where they both are doing different things like in “The Eye That Leads You,” the middle section of that where there’re two vocal patterns going on at the same time, that’s actually both of them and we do play that live. I don’t know if we’re going to play it tonight.
I.O.: That’s one of the interesting things that I did say about the album in my review (which you can read HERE) was that you guys take the harsh and the clean vocals and create a depth that I haven’t heard any other band actually achieve. That’s why I’m surprised you have no training.
Andy: I do have musical training. I studied in college but not to a great extent and I’m not by any means a literate musician. I can read music but I can’t really sight read or anything like that. It’s all very emotional so it’s not really about what type of technique you have, although to play the kind of music we play you have to have some type of technique. [Technique] is not the first thing to focus on.
I.O.: That’s what you’ll find with your singing as you progress. Once you get all the technique down, then it becomes about emoting.
Andy: Yeah, that’s what I’m finding. I used to struggle with some things that I don’t really anymore. Though like I said, I’ve been stuffed up and last night I had a tough time.
I.O.: <gets all motherly> That saline I told you about—
Andy: Yeah, I should try that. I feel like I have a baseball in my face.
I.O: I ask everyone this question. The state of metal music today: do you think it’s in decline, do you think it’s steady-on, or do you think it’s improving?
Andy: I guess it depends on what you would call “metal.” I don’t really know. I do listen to metal, obviously. I have my favorite bands and you can hear [their influence in the music I play]. Well no, it’s not in decline because a lot of the bands we’ve toured with like THE FACELESS, FLESH GOD APOCALYPSE, BEHEMOTH, it’s not in decline as long as dudes like that are out there. FALUJAH, those dudes are playing some serious music. I think if you chose to look at it from a different perspective, maybe one that focuses on doing this for reasons other than musical or emotional, then you could say maybe, yeah it is [in decline]. But I think the whole music industry’s that way and I think that the main thing that I’ve always found—I’m like a half a generation older than most kids these days playing music. What I’ve noticed is a lot of bands today, they have two bands that they really love, maybe three, but they all sound the same and then they sound like those bands. I was raised on so many different types of music. There’s the musical logic [behind listening to different types of music] and there’s also the emotional logic behind it, which is you don’t feel the same way all day long. I don’t feel the same way every five minutes so why would I want music to reflect [feeling the same all the time]? That’s boring. The point with that is there are many bands that approach music [with that different logic] and they’re great. Is [metal] in decline? No. Is it moving forward? I don’t know. It’s all cyclical anyway. I don’t know.
I.O.: No, it’s all good. I’ve finally asked you a question where you have to piece it together because you haven’t really given it much thought. You’ve been doing it rather than thinking about it.
Andy: And that’s a big thing with [BCI]. One of the huge things we sing about a lot is the cyclical nature of everything. I guess [metal music] is the same.
I.O.: Who are your favorite bands that you listen to?
Andy: I have my favorite metal bands, which would be MESHUGGAH, STRAPPING YOUNG LAD, OPETH, GOJIRA , DECAPITATED, BEHEMOTH of course, THE FACELESS, which is crazy because I’ve played with these bands now and that’s fucked up. But my favorite bands all together [crossing genres] are TOOL, I love TOOL, I love IRON AND WINE, modern type stuff. I like MUSE though they’ve kind of lost me with the past couple of albums they did, but I was a really big fan up until they did weird [psychedelic] shit.
I.O.: That was the same for me for the band who did “Creep.” What is their name?
Andy: RADIOHEAD. I love RADIOHEAD.
I.O.: They lost me after the first couple.
Andy: They got kind of heavy but I still like them, but yeah, RADIOHEAD’s awesome.
I.O.: What made you do metal then if you’ve listened to all these different influences?
Andy: Well, metal is the music I gravitated to as a teenager, which is what I think you find with metal musicians almost across the board. They play [metal] because it’s a part of their musical DNA, which formed at probably the most important time, which is your teenage years when you’re figuring everything out.
I.O.: Yeah, mine was DURAN DURAN <laughs>.
Andy: I love that stuff too but I like guitars that sound the way guitars do in heavy metal. I like fast things, loud music, so that’s why. I don’t try to approach it—I’m not a very tough dude or anything. I don’t really try to approach it from that aesthetic. I’m not really interested in skeletons or zombies or anything like that.
I.O.: <teasing> You’re not? Why?
Andy: Because women give me enough trouble.
I.O.: <laughs – a lot> Okay, do you have any last words?
Andy: Anything that makes you think and anything that challenges you is a good thing. Picking up an instrument is never a bad thing. Playing the shit out of it, playing for hours and hour and hours, is never a bad thing. What is good about heavy metal and rock is that it teaches you, it’s inherent, to think somewhat freely and question things. I think that’s the most important thing, that you learn to critically think.
I.O.: I think that people who critically think are drawn to metal. So it’s kind of—
I.O.: Right, did the chicken or the egg come first?
Andy: Both and neither.
I.O.: There you go!
After the interview, I saw the show and BLACK CROWN INITIATE did not disappoint. That review will be coming in the next few posts so keep an eye out. Also, a shout out to Nick Shaw, bassist for BCI on the E.P., the full-length, and at all the shows. \m/\m/ BCI is touring like a mo’fo’ into 2015 with the likes of CROWBAR and UNEARTH. You can check out the tour HERE.
Give BCI some love at their Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/BlackCrownInitiate
I.O. Kirkwood is a Metal Descent contributor. You can view her personal blog HERE.