We’ve got to start this interview with the most important question, obviously. What’s your favorite Death record?
That’s hard. Because to me, and this is a two-part answer, to me Scream Bloody Gore and Leprosy should be a double record. If, in my ideal universe that were to happen, then my favorite death record be between those and Human. Now, in reality, and if I have to pick only one, I would go with Human.
Getting into the documentary itself, from watching the preview we can see a lot of visual effects going on. Can you tell us a little about the decision to introduce those elements? What motivated you to go with this sort of approach?
Right off the bat I can’t take credit for the whole visual part because my sidekick, well I wouldn’t even call him my sidekick, we’re like Bill and Ted or something on this death metal trip, my buddy Jaan [Silmberg] is the art director on this thing. He’s not a death metal fan -- well he is now, but he wasn’t before. The reason why we decided to go this way was because in our many trips, talking about the records and the band and everything, describing Human always came with this, [element of] it’s almost like you took Pink Floyd and Rush and then Death and put them into a blender, you know? We wanted to explore that concept as much as possible using the elements that are already there.
The reason for that is because we don’t want to make a statement like “that to me, Human is like blah blah blah,” and then come up with new graphic elements that did not have something to do with the record originally. Using [the original elements], and the technology available now, with Jaan we were able to just basically explode the Human cover. And that’s "explode," not "explore," because explore is you just sit and look at it while you’re listening to it. But with the way that we wanted to show how awesome and, I just can’t describe it, how Human is, we wanted to take the Human cover and pump it full of LSD. And then lick it.
If you were trying to introduce some new element, or some new graphic, that would take away from what Human means.
Human as an album, everything about it was so different. Everything aboutv[the documentary] needs to be different. We’re talking about the album, and listening to the clips, whatever, but you have the whole visual aspect. You have to blow people’s minds, the same as you’re blowing their minds with the music.
The film will be screened in its entirety and Choosing Death Fest: Grimposium; what part of the production process are you currently in?
Because this is a doc it's easier to have a full story edit done. Think of it like a manuscript of a book: it’s easier to have that finished before everything else, dropping in the images and graphics. The part we’re in right now is that the movie is done, it’s been done for maybe a month, per say, maybe less than that. And logged and everything. Now a friend, Gustavo Valderrama, who's a huge Death fan, is doing the audio mix. And Jaan and I are working on graphic stuff, because we’re using after effects on it so takes a while to do a few things like renders sometimes.
Can you give us some details about the structure of the documentary and why you chose that?
Originally I wanted to just talk about Chuck being this genius or musical dude. But then after thinking about it for awhile, and reading Albert’s book and everything, Chuck and Death are intertwined in a way that the band is almost biographical of him in many ways. So then it was a thing of the proof is in the pudding type thing, it was a rewrite approach to show about Chuck as this musical genius that he was, then how that translates into a doc. For example how we show Human.
But then also you have this side of him being, I don’t want to say paranoid, because when you’re close to your thing, it’s not paranoia, but really high strung and wound up about things, so that translated into other things and lyrics. It became almost-- I don’t want to say multi-dimensional-- but we also didn’t want to spoon feed the audience, saying things like “because Chuck was feeling this way he wrote this song.” But at the same time, those parallels are drawn by the people that lived them. It’s not a flattering thing either, you see things on Facebook like “ Oh ‘The Philosopher’ was written about Paul Masvidal because blah blah blah,” No. It’s more like why was Individual Thought Patterns done and written up, and have the approach that it did. And why did they bring Andy LaRocque, and all of these bigger questions kind of linked to the same thing.
You’ve got quite an impressive cast of interviews. Was there anyone in particular you found to be most surprising, or gave some surprising insight?
All of the interviews can fit into that category in one way or another because this happened so long ago that it’s interesting to see these guys think back to when they were teenagers when they are my dad’s age now. So that was weird, realizing like”Wow, Terry Butler is my dad’s age.” [Something that] wasn’t surprising to me because I’ve worked in the industry with things like [YouTube metal channel] Banger before, but to somebody like my wife (because she came on the road with us on some of the trips), [it was surprising] meeting someone like Terry Butler who is into horticulture and has an amazing garden. Beautiful flowers in these skull pots. I was like "Yeah that’s wicked," but she was even more impressed because this is Terry Butler from Obituary, you know, Inked in Blood is their last album, he’s got this public image, so that was the surprising part in the regard.
To me, and this was happening on the spot and then later on in the edit, you’re hearing stories and when you ask somebody else that was involved in the same incident, or whatever, later on in another interview, and they tell you the same story and it’s really interesting to hear it come together from the same people. And in the same way things can fall apart. I won’t tell you which stories fell apart.
One of the interviews that was amazing like that was Terry Butler and Rick Rozz because of many things. If you remember, about a year ago was the DTA/Massacre tour, and towards the end of that tour there was a big blowup, very public. There were a lot of nasty things said, both publicly and on the bus, and this was very fresh when I went to see Terry and Rick. I saw them a day apart. Then when I’m asking Rick I’m like “Tell me about Leprosy,” and his face just changed. And when I asked Terry the same thing it almost felt like they were next to each other, after doing both the interviews and seeing what they said (and hopefully this comes out in the edit too) it almost came to a point where they were completing each other's sentences in telling how things went and how the record was done. So that was really cool, because just a few months they were at each other’s throats because of all this other stuff.
Watching the preview, the quality on it really nice, with a high production value. In comparison, sometimes you see the heart is there, and the video quality isn’t great, the sound quality isn’t good. This looks very professional. Could you explain why you decided to go with the route? Rather than an iPhone in the basement.
There are a few prongs to that. For one, it’s my job, I work in film, so that’s a personal standard. Putting that aside, it’s one of those things that you need to have in order to have a legitimate acceptance. And I’m not trying to make this like a black album, or make Death the next Sublime or whatever, but if I want a lot of people to watch this, I need to get this on Netflix or Hulu or whatever. And if I want these guys to look at this seriously, then this needs to look like the rest of the things that are in there. There is an approach if you want to sell it, because fandom is like a mountain and very few fans are going to be at the top and buy an uncut, four-hour VHS thing of their super obscure band. And I’m not saying Death is obscure, but if they are as awesome as I’m trying to convey in this documentary, then I need to make this documentary as awesome as I’m trying to say this band is.
Could you tell us something that you think the long time Death fans will enjoy about the documentary, and something that you think a new fan will enjoy?
A long time fan would find, I don’t know if "closure" is the right word, but would find a straight up answer (finally) to questions like what happened in the Spiritual Healing tour when Chuck didn’t go. At the time there was no internet, and they were pissed at each other when they did the interviews, so it’s hard to sift through the bullshit. Now what happened, we’ll answer that in the best way we can, and they’ll be more in the extra features.
They will enjoy hearing, or maybe not, about the the Human tour of Europe, and about how it went, because again, with no internet, even to this day, information is mixed because of the time and all this other stuff. A long time Death fan will definitely enjoy hearing Chuck’s mom tell how this whole thing came together.
A new fan, or a new convert, will see these guys now and see that they are true to what they were before, or who they were. Like Rick Rozz is still riffing it out in Florida, and you see it where we interview him. And people who have met Terry Butler know that he is super chill because we interviewed him at his house. Everyone that we interviewed, we tried to get them where they feel the most comfortable, so the new fan will know that it's like [in death metal voice:]“Fucking ‘Mutilation!’ but I gotta go mutilate the weeds too.” That type of thing.
I’m a big documentary nerd, I’ve watched documentaries since I was a kid, so I get off on the realness of it. For a long time I thought that the whole Ozzy Osbourne shot on the Decline of Western Civilization where he spills the orange juice, the whole thing was staged but I thought for the longest time that the whole thing was real because he was so fucked all the time. I like that type of thing.
From the preview, it seemed like a good amount of the footage is backstage, live stuff, stuff that someone had from a personal camera -- is there a lot of footage that was unreleased?
With Death, it’s hard to say what’s released and unreleased. Basically between Chuck’s passing and until they got to Relapse, there was a lot of back and forth and not everything was owned by the same people. There are a lot of things that a lot of people I’ve shown them to have never seen them, and I’ve never seen them, so I don’t know how rare those things are, but I would suppose they are rare. Specifically, that backstage thing, that is a tape transfer from Eric, who said he’s never given it to anybody, so I have to go by that. So it’s a tape transfer of [then manager] Eric [Greif] filming this observational documentary basically, so reality television of Death basically, from the “Lack of Comprehension” video (because it was a one day film shoot). He shot most of the takes, and the dicking around, and it’s about 45 minutes long. And from there I took all the takes and put together what you saw on the video.
In the preview there is a shot with Sean [Reinert] where he cuts from now, talking about the video, to Eric catching him at the time talking about the many takes on the drums and how much of a bitch it was. There's a couple like that. Also, this guy, I don’t know who he is, but he’s friends of Eric I guess, [had these] three VHS tapes. These are legit the dude’s tapes from 1985, or something, and he’s like “Yeah I was there, and we used to trade tapes, you can probably use these.”
Now one of the videos is not on YouTube -- I’ve only been able to find one song and it’s super shitty quality online, and that one is the Milwaukee Metal Fest of 1991, with the Human lineup and Scott Carino on bass. The other two are what I think are the earliest videos of Death. One is from their very first tour, and the other is from when they met Eric, before he signed on as their manager. I got those three tapes professionally transferred, so they’re like as sharp as we’re going to get out of a VHS, and you’ll see they’re pretty good. On YouTube everything is just a big blob, and here [in the documentary] you can see them play and it sounds great.
The Milwaukee Metal Fest one is from the side of the stage too. I don’t know if you’ve seen the old pictures of Eric wearing a green Israeli Defence Force sweater, it has some yellow Hebrew writing on it, and a big star. If you’ve seen those pictures and if you watch the Milwaukee Metal Fest video (which will be included in the extras in the DVD), you’ll see Eric standing at the other side of the stage, standing and just rocking next to the sound board guy.
Have you seen a strong reaction or buzz about this?
The fans are into it. The ones that know, because pretty much every day we’re hearing over Facebook from people like “Wow, I didn’t know this was going on. I missed the t-shirts!”
“Wow really? We’ve been going on for more than a year, but that’s cool.”
So they’re pretty into it. In terms of internet buzz, aside from talking to Justin [Norton, of Decibel] about new content, that’s about it. I haven’t put up new content for a reason, to keep it all under wraps. Not just to build up the hype, [but] because you don’t want people to watch a movie when they’ve already seen half of it in the trailers. Also, you don’t want to show something in the trailer, all the cool parts, and then you go watch the movie and you’re like “Man, the trailer was better than the movie!”
Now I have shown this movie in some stages to Albert and Jeff Wagner, and Eric saw it last night of what the movie is looking like, with graphics, up until yesterday. He loved it, and he said it was great, it hits all the points. Chuck’s sister has seen it, (some parts not, the whole thing) and she really liked it too. That’s a good thing I guess, right?
What else would you like to say to some interested death metal fan?
Even though it’s official, the band --well Perseverance Holdings-- was behind it in the way they are facilitating access to a lot of things, this is 100% independent, there’s no label involved, there’s nobody.
The reason why I mention that is because it's not cheap to make something like this, so that’s why we’ve been selling the shirts. And it’s also tricky to run a crowdfund and keep people happy. I say that because I’ve had previous run ins with that stuff, like the extreme metal episode of Banger. At Banger, we didn’t have a full crew the way they had with say a full-fledged Metal Evolution episode, obviously for payroll reasons.
But it wasn’t just me doing it. It took us a long time, working every day, to get this stuff out. That was a big challenge, the whole crowd funding thing, and I’m pretty happy with the way that’s turned out. I think people are happy about the t-shirts too, so that's cool. I’m going to be running the last t-shirt campaign hopefully, this time we’re doing sweaters, or hoodies, for instance in the US [laughs], to basically finish off.
We’re all fans here in this, but we’ve got to keep the lights on, you know?
For more info and updates on DEATH by MetaL, check out the Facebook page. To help support the project, grab a Death shirt or hoodie from Teespring, available in Scream Bloody Gore, Sound of Perseverance, and DEATH by MetaL cover designs. You can purchase tickets to see the advance screening of the documentary as part of Choosing Death Fest: Grimposium—featuring workshops with J.R. Hayes and Leila Abdul-Rauf, panel discussions — which will take place at 12pm Saturday, April 16 at Underground Arts in Philadelphia, PA.