Q&A with Ulcerate of Relapse Records | Interview Features
Auckland, New Zealand’s metal trio Ulcerate have remained diligent practitioners of socially expressive music for well over a decade, creating some of the most mind bending and unorthodox compositions in modern heavy music and making a political stance in the process. Lyrically, they have a very strong message that touches on important subjects matter such as poverty, mental wars, systematic power control by governments and the other mechanisms of control that society blindly accepts or allows to occur. Musically, Ulcerate has a crushing sense of dynamics, breaking open expansive grids of power infused song writing that doesn’t stop at choruses or versus to define its totality.
Working with Nuerotic Records, Candelight Records and Willowtip for the release of their first three full length albums in the last half decade, the technically and emotionally challenging trio has joined the ranks with the infamous Relapse Records for their most lethal and hypnotically inducing affair Vermis. A cyclone of musicality and social despair is presented on Vermis through 9 songs that stop at nothing in pulling one deeply into its abyss. A pulverizing experience that has left us in awe through every listen, Vermis is one of the most earth shattering and pleasing metal albums of the year.
We caught up with Ulcerate co-founder and drummer Jamie Saint Merat this month to ask about the new album and it was a learning experience that has really meant a lot to us as music historians and fans. We are very happy to present this exclusive interview with Ulcerate at SCV today and welcome you to stream their new single “Confronting Entropy.”
Q&A with Ulcerate of Relapse Records
Conducted by Erik Otis
Erik: Hello Jamie, I wanted to first congratulate you on your singing with Relapse Records and the achievement of sound reached with Vermis. I am a fan of music from many worlds of past and present eras and there is something very special about Vermis that goes far beyond genre. Can you walk us through some of the most important memories you have while putting together Vermis?
Jamie: Thanks for the words, really appreciate it! In terms of memories – on the whole this album has been a lot tougher to construct then previous albums. Particularly when compared with The Destroyers of All, which came together very quickly and naturally for us. Because of the speed with that album, we’ve found in retrospect that there was an element of rhythmical intensity that got a little lost, the album came out a little too fluid on the whole. So this time around we went to great lengths to really work on the arrangements to bring us back to a level of unpredictability we’ve always had in the past. So countless hours of tracking rehearsals, re-arrangements and discarding of parts. When it came to instrument tones we were also looking for a change, and this was also really difficult for us to find the right balance between clarity and excessiveness, and this flowed right through to the mix, which has been definitely the toughest to date due to this reason. The album definitely pushed us out of our comfort zones, but I think the final product is very layered and deep in its intensity.
Erik: I definitely agree. What are some of the most important things that you are personally trying to achieve with your approach to music and specifically what can be heard on Vermis?
Jamie: A suffocating atmosphere, elements of complexity, a cold and callous thematic base, structural freedom, rhythmical and melodic ingenuity. Whether or not we pull these things off is totally subjective obviously, but Vermis certainly adheres to these guidelines.
Erik: I feel you guys succeeded in that mission but that’s of course my own view. Can you talk a little about how Ulcerate has evolved over the years and what makes your band unique?
Jamie: For me to speak on uniqueness is difficult, as again that’s totally subjective for each listener. But I do think we are now at a point where we do have our own clear voice, and there is no doubt that there are key ways in how we approach things. From feedback we get, it seems to be our level of dynamics that set us apart from a lot of death metal – we’re not reliant on high tempo all of the time, and there’s elements of doom / sludge / down-tempo in the sound as well as really brooding quieter passages. Thematically and aesthetically we’ve naturally gravitated toward subject matter that is certainly far away from the gore/horror aspect the genre has a proclivity towards.
Erik: The technique and discipline it takes to play the kind of music on Vermis is demanding to say the least. Can you give us a window into the type of rehearsals and practice sessions your band would take on when putting together the structure of the music?
Jamie: We consistently rehearse four times a week, in 2-3 hour slots. And yeah for sure, if we’ve ever had breaks for two weeks or so, we definitely notice a change in proficiency. For us it’s less about the idea of ‘practicing’ and more about just enjoying the music we play, and wanting to do it all the time with at least some level of ease and mastery over it.
Erik: Was there any moments of the album that proved to be more challenging when composing or recording then the rest?
Jamie: Not drum-wise so much, but certainly a lot of the guitaring proved to be more difficult to execute than past albums, particularly the quicker rhythmical stuff. And as mentioned earlier the mixing process was definitely a fairly painful process trying to get everything where it needed to be.
Erik: I am a big fan of vinyl releases and was really excited to hear that you guys will be doing a double album print for Vermis when it releases to the public. Is the band fans of vinyl or do you guys not have a preference?
Jamie: Yeah vinyl is the way to go. I personally quit buying CD’s maybe two years ago, and haven’t looked back since. The whole point of buying physical copies is to really experience the album from a visual standpoint, and there is no better medium for your art than a 12″ surface area. So I’m very happy that Relapse is treating the LP with as much importance as the CD.
Erik: I love talking with people who tour a lot and hearing about some of the most wild shows they have experienced. Any cities stick out in terms of people really responding back to the energy you give on stage?
Jamie: For sure – easily the most intense crowds are Polish – our show we did in Krakow last year was incredible in terms of people giving us almost more energy than we could muster on stage. Edinburgh in Scotland, New York City, Boston, Montreal, Melbourne, Berlin and Rimini (Italy) have all been highlights.
Erik: Let’s talk drums! I know all the drummers will want to know, what type of kits are you using and what’s some of the most important practice techniques you go through to keep your chops up?
Jamie: I’ve been using a PDP LXE kit for the last three albums, which I’m actually looking to move away from soon. I’m endorsed by Meinl cymbals, I play a Pearl Masters snare, Pearl hardware, Axis pedals. In terms of practice regime – I adhere to a fairly simple philosophy that I’ve seen a lot of the best drummers on the planet talk about – play everyday, and try and play something new every day that you can’t. On days we’re not rehearsing as a band I practice 1-2 hours at home, combination of metronome work for feet and hand-foot combinations, as well as trying to evolve my hand technique for more power and more efficiency. Everything I work on exercise-wise is based around combinations of rudiments (singles, doubles, paradiddles, flams, drags etc), moving as cleanly between doubles / paradiddles / singles at high tempos etc. Outside of the rudimental material, I also practice stickings and patterns from other styles to be able to maintain versatility – at the moment I’m trying to get at least a little proficiency in drum n bass / break style drumming, as well as cleaning up my shuffle feel.
Erik: I know there will be a lot of established and upcoming drummers who will appreciate reading that, thank you. Can you talk about the album title Vermis and how it was chosen?
Jamie: I actually suggested that title based on the lyrical matter Paul was presenting to us. Latin for worm, we’re using the invertebrate metaphor for the cruelty of oppression over those that do not have the capacity to know any better, or are blind to their own predicament. Paul’s standpoint from a theme perspective is exploring the manipulation of power in fascist, doctrinal and religious tyranny.
Erik: In less then 10 words, what does Vermis mean to you?
Jamie: The next chapter in our development as a unit.
Erik: Thanks for your time Jamie, I hope you guys have a lot of success with your new LP. Cheers.