Last week, we brought you an extensive look at Mortals’ crushing new EP “Death Ritual,” an astonishing two-track effort that shows a band with newfound savagery (and they were scary before this) as well as refined songwriting skills. This band is ready to explode, and it wouldn’t shock me in the slightest if, next year at this time, they’re ensconced on a big indie metal label.
The band – guitarist/vocalist Elizabeth Cline, bassist/vocalist Lesley Wolf, drummer Caryn Havlik – are embarking on an extensive tour starting tomorrow (check out the dates at the end of the story), and the band was kind enough to talk to us about their new album, their ambitions, and what they hope these upcoming shows will do for them. Go check them out if they hit your hometown, and grab “Death Ritual,” an EP we absolutely support and love.
MMM: “Death Ritual” is another shorter release — two songs, albeit longer ones than usual. Is this a precursor to another full-length? Or are these songs you simply wanted to get out there now?
Elizabeth Cline: “Death Ritual” and “Final Hour” definitely represent a new era for us. We know these songs stand apart from and above our earlier stuff, and we wanted to record them straight away. To us, these songs are Mortals, and what came before is almost an entirely different band.
Lesley Wolf: As long as we keep writing music together we’ll eventually record again, but there are no concrete plans to do so on the horizon. The fact that we almost never play anything from “Savanger” anymore, and certainly not from “Encyclopedia of Myths,” also meant we strategically couldn’t go on another tour without a new release.
MMM: You certainly can hear a great deal of progression on these songs. They’re more wide open musically, lots of different influences packed into them. Is this a product of becoming better songwriters? Is your musical landscape growing more? A combo of the two? Something else entirely?
EC: I had a moment about eight months ago where I told myself, either this band is going to take a huge leap forward, or we should call it off. Just from touring behind our older stuff and playing it live, we were all dissatisfied with where we were at musically. For me, this translated into putting an ungodly number of hours into writing riffs, trashing them, and then writing more, and totally changing up my influences. I think we were all listening to a lot of High on Fire, Inquisition, Watain, and Absu when writing this EP. The second component of the change came from within the entire band. Caryn, the drummer, and I, have a tendency to write from our brains instead of with our ears. We learned to override that. Lesley is great at calling us out when we’re getting eccentric. We all started craving the more straightforward, stripped down, open sound that you’re describing, but what makes us Mortals is that our music is still packed with lot of changes and influences. We just figured out how to do that well.
MMM: What different influences — and not necessarily bands … could be genres of music, art, films — do the members of the band bring to the creative process? What types of things inspire you to write? What topical things push you lyrically?
LW: Music is what inspires me all the time. I am constantly seeking out new music, new bands. We are also fortunate enough to be surrounded by so many incredibly talented musicians and bands in Brooklyn. I can honestly say our fellow musicians here, many of whom we can also claim as good friends (Mutilation Rites, Krallice, Hull, Anicon, Batillus, Mutant Supremacy, Trenchgrinder, to name a few) are often inciting musical influence on us. As far as lyrics are concerned, I don’t really write about specific experiences or stories. I pull from the dark recesses of my brain, where all the bleak, negative stuff builds up, and I try to expunge it into words or phrases that fit into our riffs. We are all in a world that is self-destructing, there is fear mongering everywhere, our society perpetuates it, and there is little to look at as a bright happy future anymore. Warfare, survival, mind control, loneliness; these are some of the themes I’m enjoying these days.
EC: Usually it’s a single killer riff that I hear in a song that gets me going. But generally, I don’t need to get inspired to write songs, I just do it. My process is that I write, get depressed, hate myself, think I suck, and then finally write a bunch more shit that I’m happy with. In my experience, a lot of inspirational moments as a musician happen after you work your ass off and get to another level as a songwriter.
MMM: Why did you settle on the title “Death Ritual”? What’s the significance?
LW: Part of existence is death, it is a rite that we cannot escape, and it ties us all together as humans (or mortals, if you will) on this insane asylum of a planet. Life is fragile while death is permanent. It was also a lyric pattern that fit with part of the song.
MMM: You worked with Kevin Bernsten on “Death Ritual.” Why did you choose him, and what did he bring to the recordings?
EC: Kevin recorded Mutilation Rites’ “Empyrean,” which is just one of sickest sounding albums. Kevin brought the same thunder to our recording, partially because he has an insanely amazing collection of gear. I played through a Marshall JCM800, an Ampeg VL502 Lee Jackson and an Emperor cab. Prior to “Death Ritual,” “Empyrean” was the only album that made my speakers rattle off my desk. Now, my own EP does the same thing.
MMM: Think I read there are plans for vinyl version of “Death Ritual.” Correct? Mulling over any other format other than that and digital?
EC: Yes, I’ve wanted to make cassettes for a while. So get your Walkmans ready.
MMM: The band’s still going the DIY route — self-releasing the EP, doing the Bandcamp thing. Has there been any label interest? Is that something the band is considering, or are you happy doing things the way you are now?
EC: We’re a well-oiled machine from touring so much, but we would also love label interest. We’re in the process of figuring out who we need to know to make that happen. If you want to help us out, please get in touch.
MMM: Mortals certainly have shared stages with all different kinds of metal bands. What has that done for Mortals? Expand your audience? Or is it just fun to kind of mix it up with different kinds of metal bands?
LW: It’s clear when you hear a Mortals song that we all three love heavy music. Period. We play shows with other bands that are deemed heavy in one sense or another. There are so many subcultures and genres, but it’s all a bunch of wordplay if you ask me. Give me a good riff, some clever songwriting, that’s what I want to hear. Blackened Sludge Doom Thrash Death Melodic Grind Atmospheric Crust Stoner. Whatever. Bring It.
EC: Agreed. We are all some of the most open-minded metalheads I know. We all seek out many different types of music and surround ourselves with many different kinds of people, and we’d all die of boredom if we had to hear the same genre of metal every night.
MMM: I’m assuming the band isn’t your full-time job (yet). Yell at me if I’m wrong. If not, what do you all do in the meantime? Jobs? School? None of anyone’s business?
EC: Everyone in the band has really successful careers outside of Mortals, which is probably unique for a touring metal band. A friend of ours is promoting our show in Lafayette, Louisiana, as doom metal by “intelligent people,” which I find hilarious. At a Mortals show, you can come for the music and stay to discuss the global economy. Just kidding, we usually want to get drunk after we play.
LW: We all have jobs that allow us to have the time to tour and play music. I work freelance in the graphic/fashion design world, Caryn works for WNYC (public radio), and Elizabeth is a freelance writer/editor.
MMM: Ultimately, what do you hope for Mortals future? Do you want this to be a full-time gig? Full-time touring unit?
EC: We don’t have any illusions about making money off metal. But I do think the music we’re writing deserves to be heard. And if someone called us up tomorrow and put us on a long-term tour with a bigger band, we’d all do it in a heartbeat.
MMM: You have a pretty extensive tour coming up in late October and early November. Playing, again, with different types of bands. How do you hope the tour benefits the band, other than having a chance to play your music live?
EC: We’re playing several festivals this time out and are playing with some bigger acts, so this tour is all about establishing us as a band to take note of and take seriously in this scene. We love the house shows and the intimacy of the DIY music circuit, but as a band, you always have to have a desire to go to the next level.
For more on the band, go here: http://www.facebook.com/mortalstheband
To buy their music, go here: http://mortals.bandcamp.com/