January 2003 - M-SQUAD
Does anybody remember the great BLOOD FARMERS? They've released one fantastic album on Hellhound Records in 1995, and it's a legendary release in doom metal circles. But that's history, and M-SQUAD has risen out of the ashes of BLOOD FARMERS. M-SQUAD is one of the very few bands that have captured a total authentic 70's sound on their new highly recommandable second album "Smoke". That's is no boring retro-crap and "Smoke" crawls easily into your mind to leave a lasting impression. Furthermore they haven't forgotten their doomy roots. Whenever I listen to the new album - and that's damn often - their sound reminds me to some of the forgotten 60's/70's band as Cactus, Sir Lord Baltimore or Captain Beyond. M-SQUAD deliver the psych-tinged Heavy Rock with passion and energy. So I had to get in contact with their record label Primate Media for this inner-view with the complete band. Check out the real stuff!
First off, a big praise for your new album "Smoke". For me, it's a perfect combination of 70's Heavy Rock and Doom. It's rich on variation and far away from all those boring "stoner" stereotypes. What do you think about "Smoke"? Is there anything that you would like to change if you could?
MIKE: 'Smoke' was an incredible experience for us. When I say we went to hell and back again making this album, I mean it! In the studio, you could get so into the variations in mixing that you never finalize stuff. We wound up with over a hundred hours of bed track takes as well as mixes. And there would always be something bothering someone, about this mix or that. Eli would always say "Save the take-tape is cheap". So we would keep going, thinking "It could be better". Well, know what? It was probably just as good 10 takes ago too. We had to finally say, ok! Stop, enough is enough It's good! Go & gig, start a NEW album!! So, it stands as it stands, reflecting us at that point in time. I find myself very satisfied.
ELI: There are a few things, still never satisfied. The three of us recorded and mixed the entire thing and got to go back and remix everything as many times as we could stand. Some things still weren't perfect when we got to a point where I couldn't mix any more, so we got the best mastering engineer in the world to fix our fuck-ups. Considering all the crazy shit we were able to pull off with this record, I'm not going to complain. I'm as close to satisfied as I've ever been. Of all the recordings we've done it's definitely the best. I wish we had the same opportunities in the Blood Farmers days.
MATT: I would have to agree with Mike and Eli, it took us way too long to make this album. When we first started tracking I thought we would try to record quickly, but it didn't turn out that way. All in all I think it was worth it.
How much time have you invest in the whole album?
MIKE: From the laying of the 1st track to the mastering probably took a little over three years. We went through alot of heavy stuff during that time, taking one step forward & 5 steps back!
ELI: We started recording in January of '99. I wish I knew how many hours we spent doing all the overdubs, all the mixing, all the artwork. Somewhere between 500 and 1000 hours, maybe more.
When you compare the new release with your self-titled debut, where are the biggest differences?How would you compare both albums?
MIKE: Well the biggest difference should jump out at you when you turn both albums around and hold them in front of you. Also, Smoke, as opposed to our first album, was a Pro production. It was mixed at Electric Lady and mastered by THE George Marino at Sterling Sound in NYC.
ELI: The sound is the biggest difference. We really took our time recording this, trying to make everything as heavy and psychedelic as our mush brains were capable of. We spent two months just doing basic tracks, breaking down the whole setup in the middle of it and starting all over again. Nothing from the first half of the recording had a good enough drum sound, so it was all scrapped.
MATT: I think the biggest difference is the line-up. Iâ€™m playing guitar now, and Eli is playing bass now. Mike Nichols gave us a more mainstream-metal type sound, but I prefer the more classic/psychedelic direction weâ€™re going in now.
With the nearly 15 minutes long "Back In Time", you've intergrated a long guitar-jam without losing the red thread in the song. Is there a lot of improvisation in the song, or have you planned it right from the start?
ELI: We had planned to do a lot of improvisation from the beginning. Matt had this idea that he wanted a huge Grateful Dead drum jam after a monster-length guitar jam. Kind of like being in the parking lot of a Dead show on acid. Back In Time seemed like a good theme for us.
MIKE: Iâ€™m really into songs that give me a chance to get into the groove & then stay there so that I can enjoy it for a bit. You canâ€™t get that from a 3 or 4 minute piece. We had a basic structure for Back In Time. We knew we wanted to have a long jam ending that had a lot of stuff going on. We also wanted it to flow into â€œLost in Sonic Distortionâ€ and then â€œSmokeblowerâ€ tastfullyâ€¦We laid a ton of tracks. We used what worked. But what we wound up with was definitely not fully planned. Much of it was spontaneous.
MATT: All of our songs have space left for improvisation. It allows room for spontaneous inspiration, and it keeps it fun for us. All my solos are improvised. Even if I have ideas at the beginning, I always try to vary. I always liked the idea of making our stuff more than just â€œsongsâ€. Adding all the drums and connecting the songs together gave â€œBack In Timeâ€ an epic quality that I always admired in bands like Rush, and Pink Floyd.
Another highlight for me is "Steps Away", which was formerly released on the "Stone Deaf Forever" compilation. It sounds, as if you've re-recorded the track for the album. Am I right and how did you get together with Red Sun Records? What do you think nowadays about the compilation?
ELI: It's actually the same version. We remixed it two more times when we moved into Electric Lady. What a big difference in sound. The mix on the Red Sun comp was done in six hours on a Mackie board. The album version was done over three days on an SSL 9000.
MIKE: Yeah, what a difference equipment & facilities make... not to mention George's final touch with the mastering. As far as Red Sun, they had contacted us through a third party, if I remember correctly. The comp is cool and opened me up to some of the other bands that I had not heard yet.
MATT: Being on some of the comps is cool. We're always willing to contribute.
ELI: It was cool finding out there's all these other bands out there. Ten years ago there were like 20 stoner/doom bands out there and fifteen of them were on Hellhound, now there's like 200 of them and I don't have any idea what they sound like! These compilations give you an idea. There are a lot of cool bands on it.
Aside of "Steps Away", are the any other older songs on "Smoke"?
MIKE: All of the material on Smoke is of the same period. Steps Away was bed tracked at the same time the rest of the songs were. We just did a quick mix for Stone Deaf Forever very early on.
ELI: Back in Time and Before the Grave were being written while we recorded them. This album took so long to make. We almost have our next album written since finishing.
"Before The Grave" is one of the excellent doomier songs, which reminds me a bit to your older band, the legendary BLOOD FARMERS. What is the song about?
ELI: The song is about the classic doom subjects: a bleak future, and dying. It's about being "Before the Grave".
MATT: "Before The Grave" is one of my favorite solos, pure noise!
MIKE: I'm really into it - what a way for the album to fade out. We might not be total doom, but we love it and will never let go of it. It's so heavy and fun to play & pound out.
Where's the main opposite between the lyrics of M-SQUAD and the BLOODFARMERS?
ELI: Well, the Blood Farmers theme was that most of the songs should be about classic exploitation movies from the 60's and 70's. The original concept originated from Dave Depraved and myself, but the movies were really something he brought in, just like the Mountain and Cactus albums are what I brought in. Left to my own devices the lyrics now are just whatever I feel like writing about.
MATT: M-Squad is less about horror, and more about outer space, and of course, being a mush.
The album-artwork could be back from 60's and for my taste, it looks really great. Who's responsible for the trippy cover-artwork? Have you ever thought about releasing it in vinyl-format?
MIKE: A vinyl release would be cool, but senseless as Eli will explain. It would be great just having one in my album collection though!
ELI: The front cover looks like it could be from the 60's because it is from the 60's! It's a painting entitled "Stoned Blue" by Isaac Abrams, who's a great psychedelic artist from Woodstock. He's doing things with glass now that look like the painting. I visited him at his home and he had metal work all over his yard that looked amazing.
It was really incredible. I saw the painting and knew immediately it was the perfect album cover that I've always wanted. The inside cover was a drawing Matt did that we fucked with on Mike's computer. Vinyl? We mixed it to DAT so there's not much point. It's not really an analog recording anyway. It's kind of cheesy when they do these fancy vinyl reissues that come out of computers. You can tell it's digital. It would be worth it for the artwork, though!
MATT: A poster of the full back and front of the album cover will be available soon via our website: msquad.com.
MIKE: Yeah, the cover is a masterpiece and I would hang it on my wall no matter who had put it out.
Once again, you've released "Smoke" on the small underground label Primate Media. Is it your own record-label?
MATT: Primate Media is an entity involved in many different endeavors, one of which is M-squad. Although we are a major aspect of Primate's activities here on Earth, even we don't know the full extent of this vast intergalactic organization.
MIKE: We think they had something to do with the pyramids.
ELI: Yeah, they keep telling us they'll fly us there to do a gig!
Have you played a lot of gigs in the USA to promote the new album and with which bands do you have shared the stage in 2002?
MIKE: We have started gigging in support of "Smoke", not yet having the opportunity to do a show with anyone worth mentioning. We're hoping though, to still be able to get on some of the bigger, festival-type bills this coming spring & summer.
MATT: For a long time we were really focused on recording, so we didn't gig that much. Unfortunately none of the venues are too exciting, and none of the bands are worth mentioning. I'm really disappointed with the live music scene, here in NYC especially. Most of the local bands are pussies, and most of the venues won't pay a dime.
Sad to say, but for me it seems as if M-SQUAD is a very underrated band. People are taking more notice of the same-sounding "stoner" acts, while original bands as you f.e. are still belonging to the deepest underground. What do you think about the whole situation? Are you happy with it?
ELI: I don't really care that much for what people take notice of. Most of the music I like is ridiculously obscure as well. There were always a few people who understood what we were doing. That's enough for me. I like the underground, especially the deepest underground. That sounds cool.
MATT: We're happy to keep doing what we're doing, as long as a few people understand where we're coming from. We would love to have more fans and sell more records, so we're going to keep on rocking until people wake up and realize pop music sucks.
MIKE: Ultimately, it doesn't matter what people think. We really get off on jamming with each other. We run tape when we play, catching groovy ideas and jams along the way for us to listen back to. The cool stuff winds up getting worked into songs & tracked. Hey, if you're into us, you're into us. If you're not, you're not. It's all good!
With the BLOOD FARMERS you toured together with Vitus and Internal Void in 1993. Are you still in contact with the (ex-) members of both bands?
ELI: Dave stayed in touch with Eric Little for a while. We went down there a few times after that and saw Maryland. It was really amazing back then. Like a small pocket of America developed differently. You go to a club and they're playing Captain Beyond on the PA! Everyone loves Vitus! I don't know if that scene is still there, but there were so many people into cool music and in bands. It was amazing. I'd love to see Vitus again, I wish I had seen them with Scott Reagers.
You never been to Europe with the BF, so is there a small chance to see M-SQUAD someday here in Germany? Do you like to do a bigger tour outside the USA?
MATT: We would love to come to Europe, we just haven't had the opportunity yet. If there are any promoters out there, we're ready!
ELI: All we need are plane tickets and shows booked! I think there's actually a scene for this music in New York, but we're not part of it, as usual. Maybe that will change. Maybe not.
MIKE: As things take shape we'll be out of the states and about real soon.
How important are substances as weed and/or shrooms for you, when you're playing and composing the songs? Does the bong always glow in your rehearsal-space? What are your favorite inspiring substances?
MATT: The bong does glow in our rehearsal space. In fact we wrote "Lost in Sonic Distortion" specifically for people high on LSD/shrooms. However, we're about music not drugs.
MIKE: No comment, hehe...
ELI: Yeah, we spent a lot of time "writing" "Lost in Sonic Distortion". All those catchy choruses....
What can we expect from you in 2003?
ELI: Hopefully we'll get more mobile and kick some ass.
MATT: We've written most of the next album already, and plan to start recording soon. The next album promises to be heavier and groovier than anything so far, with more doom, and more psychedelic jams to please Mushes around the world.
MIKE: You'll see the next release by years end. It won't take as long as Smoke, that's a definite. We already have a lot of it ready to track. Hopefully we'll find ourselves on some of the festival bills this summer, as I said earlier. Also, keep an eye out for show dates and don't forget to request us on radio!
Thanks for your answers and your time! Is there anything you like to add at least?
MIKE: We do it for us. So it really turns us on to know that others are into it as well and think it's groovy. I speak for the three of us when I simply say thank you to all those who really are into our scene and come out to see us and or have bought our albums. And an extra right-on! to all the fans from the BLOODFARMER days and for all the good reviews. Thanks!