DATE OF INTERVIEW: 20th February 2018
HEIDI SHEPHERD; CARLA HARVEY
'Lilith', the mythological Sumerian goddess - incessantly demonised throughout history, although regarded through other avenues of scholary thought as a powerful and important feminist icon - is the rather apt title of Butcher Babies' third full length work, released late last year. It's seen the band diversify their sound and lyrical themes, while retaining their potent fusion of retro metal motifs with a fresher, more modern dynamic. It's also their most compositionally mature work to date; a beast of a record that builds on the solid foundations established on their first two albums, 'Goliath' and 'Take It Like a Man'. Metal Discovery met up with the band's two vocalists, Heidi Shepherd and Carla Harvey, in Nottingham, a short while before showtime on the first date of their 2018 European tour, to discuss Butcher Babies' progression; just what engendered the raw passion discernible on 'Lilith'; stories behind some of the songs on the album; tour bus monikers; and who they'd want to direct 'Butcher Babies - The Movie', should such a venture ever come to be...
METAL DISCOVERY: ‘Lilith’, I have to say, is a phenomenal album…
HEIDI: Thank you!
(Carla Harvey on Butcher Babies' natural evolution and progression as a band)
"I think that we have been a band for so long and we’ve grown so much, lyrically and vocally. We’ve kind of come to the point where we feel we can do what we want to do."
Heidi and Carla in their dressing room at the Resuce Rooms, Nottingham, 20th February 2018
Photograph copyright © 2018 Mark Holmes - www.metal-discovery.com
Interview & Photography by Mark Holmes
MD: I gather you’ve described it as a rebirth, of sorts. Has this been a natural rebirth or a planned rebirth?
CARLA: I think it’s a little bit of both, in a way. I think that, naturally, after we’ve been a band for eight years, there’s growth and that causes an evolution. If there’s not, you’re doing something wrong. We’ve all grown tremendously, as musicians, throughout the last eight years and we’ve grown tremendously in the way we write together. And the unplanned, yet planned part, was a new drummer. We didn’t want to have a new member change; we’ve never had a member change but, life happens, so we have a wonderful new drummer, who also added a tremendous amount of growth to our sound and we couldn’t be happier.
MD: Did you write around Chase’s playing at all? Did he bring something to the band where you thought you could utilise that style of drumming?
HEIDI: Well, we’ve known Chase for a really long time. We actually met him before we started Butcher Babies, so he’s been a friend for a long time. When we toured with Otep, he was Otep’s drummer and then we did the Mayhem Festival in the United States and he was the drummer for the band Thrown Into Exile at the time. So, we’ve toured with him before and we’re good friends with him. We always knew that, if push came to shove, he would be our drummer. He knew, we knew, everyone knew! [Laughs] We didn’t call anyone else when we needed to find a new drummer. We didn’t call anyone else; we didn’t ask anyone else; we didn’t hold auditions. It was just like, “Hey Chase, are you ready?” And he learned our catalogue really fast.
So, I think with that, there’s obviously gonna be a rebirth but, you know, with this album, it took us a year and a half to write it. And, so it was kind of like a rebirth and a refresher for us. It was very welcomed, in that sense.
MD: There are still a lot of grooves and thrash in the new music, but you’ve also diversified your sound somewhat… there’s a lot more light and shade, and a much wider range of emotional expression. Did you feel more confident this time around, in how you’ve progressed as a band, in being able to channel so many different emotions through your creativity?
CARLA: I think that we have been a band for so long and we’ve grown so much, lyrically and vocally. We’ve kind of come to the point where we feel we can do what we want to do. We’re very comfortable with that. We have a great fanbase that allows us to be comfortable with that. You know, they really let us put out what we want to put out. But, I think you also have to be confident; you have to not be like, “Oh, what if they don’t like this? What if they don’t want to hear that?”
HEIDI: The reception has been great. On our last album, we had a couple of diverse songs. ‘Thrown Away’ on ‘Take It Like a Man’ was a very soft song; all clean vocals; very emotional. And then we’ve got a hint more of that on this album, too. And we’re also diving into topics we’ve never written about and coming into our own as women. You know, when we started this band, eight years ago, we were… women, but younger… [Laughs] Yeah, I used to think I was a girl, and I’ve definitely blossomed into something a little bit more powerful and more confident and happy in my own skin.
I think that it shows in the writing and Carla, as well. For us, we’re diverse people, naturally. We like all sorts of different kinds of music. We’re metalheads, through and through. If I turn on something, it’s gonna be metal but, if I’m on a long car ride… I mean, we have a wide range of things that we like. So, pulling in influences from Van Halen to pop to… Suicidal Tendencies to punk… you know, all sorts of different kinds of influences on this album kind of made it unique and fun.
MD: Music, and art in general, is about emotional expression, so if you listen to just one style of music, then you’re delimiting the scope of what you might be able to do.
HEIDI: Fully agree.
MD: The high level of energy and passion from a Butcher Babies live performance shines through on the album, particularly in the vocals, so are there any studio rituals and routines you have to ensure you’re able to channel that same level of passion when you’re tracking vocals?
CARLA: It’s never gonna be like performing a live show. We’ve tried other things. We’ve tried holding the mic, instead of having it in front of you, but that picks up weird sounds sometimes. And I think that, over the years, I just believe that doing it time and time again, you learn how to channel it to bring it out in the studio. But it definitely is a different experience altogether than performing it live. I think that, you know, obviously, we write the lyrics and we’re invested in the lyrics that both of us write. The whole band writes so, whatever instrument or using your voice, we feel invested in it when we’re doing it. That helps a lot, as well.
HEIDI: One thing that I think was really cool about this album and I’ve mentioned before that we took a year and a half to write it, to write and record, and you can really hear how much we’ve practiced these songs. And every note you hear, we sing. There’s no Auto-Tune; there’s no pitch shifting; none of that shit - it’s all drums; all real guitars; even the tambourines, shakers and everything… all real. Piano… real. Everything’s real. And I think that that’s how you get that live sound. Our producer that we worker with, Steve Evetts, he was so adamant about, “I want this to sound like you; I don’t want it to be perfect, but I want it to be you.” And, so, you hear things with attitude in ‘em. I feel like so many times, nowadays, that producers will look for that perfect note; that perfect sound…
MD: Yeah, a very clinical sound. Like an Andy Sneap production, or something like that. Great for what it is, but it lacks the emotion and passion, I think.
HEIDI: I think it definitely strips away the rawness of it and it doesn’t allow a band to sound like a band. So, I’m glad that you picked up on that… [Laughs]
MD: Obviously, you’re not performing in the studio like you do on stage but, when you listen to the record, you can really envisage and feel that performance.
MD: Part of the essence of Butcher Babies is that you always achieve that rare, perfect balance between retro pastiche and a much more refreshing modern dynamic. Do you always try to take older metal idioms and freshen them up?
CARLA: No, I think that is just due to the fact that we all grew up loving different kinds of metal. Everyone in the band, you know. I grew up a fan of old school thrash metal, and she grew up more of a new school metal fan. Whereas I was listening to Anthrax, she was listening to Slipknot. Henry loves stuff like Meshuggah and Van Halen. Jason loves death metal. Chase… I don’t even know what Chase likes…
HEIDI: Chase is a jazz drummer.
MD: Oh, okay, wow!
HEIDI: Yeah, he’s a jazz kid and he goes to jazz concerts and stuff. And, in his car, when he’s driving, it’s always jazz music, so he brought a lot of that influence into the band.
MD: So people shouldn’t be surprised if you release a jazz metal record for your fourth album!
HEIDI: [Laughs] You’re gonna hear a little bit of a jazz influence tonight.
MD: Parts of ‘Underground and Overrated’ have quite a bouncy, fun dynamic to them… it seems to be quite a different track for the album. So what’s the story behind this one? There’s the lyric in the song, “we'll all end up underground and overrated”, so I’m guessing “underground” is used both literally and metaphorically?
CARLA: Yeah, everyone’s gonna die and everything you think is important right now, it’s all overrated. All the social media… all underground and overrated. And, yeah, that song is really fun and the bouncy, bubbliness of it, that’s kind of who we are as people, as well.
HEIDI: We had about twenty four songs going into this album and we had to whittle it down to twelve… it ended up being eleven. When ‘Underground and Overrated’ came out, when we finished writing it, it was like, “That’s funny, it probably won’t end up on the album.” But it ended up being so cool and so unique, that we kinda had to put it on! [Laughs]
CARLA: We had a hard time in the studio with that one… with the approach in singing it. Then our producer said, “You guys love Pantera… think about how Phil Anselmo would do that song.” We’re like, “Oh yeah!”
HEIDI: [Laughs] It was like a light bulb… ding! [Laughs]
CARLA: And then we suddenly loved it.
MD: I’m guessing Henry’s a massive Dimebag fan as there’s a lot of groove in his sound?
CARLA: He is. We’re all huge Pantera fans and Henry is definitely a Pantera fan.
HEIDI: The idea for the song, though, was actually Jason. He came over to our house at one point and he was like, “Hey, you know that beat from ‘Hot for Teacher’? Let’s make it a metal song!” [Laughs]
MD: There’s a nifty bassline near the start, so you can hear the bass influence, I guess, in the song.
HEIDI: Yeah, so that was initially his idea and then we ran with it and it ended up being so cool.
MD: And what’s the story behind ‘Pomona (Shit Happens)’… is that about the ancient Roman goddess of abundance or the LA city?
CARLA & HEIDI: [Laughs]
CARLA: I didn’t even know there was an ancient goddess of abundance!
HEIDI: That’s real?!
MD: Yeah, yeah.
HEIDI: Oh my god! [Laughs] What?! That’s so perfect! We’ll have to research that!
CARLA: Pomona’s a city and the song is just total slapstick humour about a night gone horribly wrong… or right, depending on how you look at it!
HEIDI: You wake up, just foggy and hungover and, “What did we do last night?”
CARLA: You’re sleeping in your car, with your best friend and you’ve got to figure out how to get home because the car has broken down.
MD: I was reading far too much into that song, then!
CARLA: Yes, you were!
MD: There’s a lot of shitting and fucking in the lyrics so I guess that’s prime sing-along material!
CARLA: What was the count of the “fucks”? How many “fucks” did we give?
HEIDI: Fifty two.
CARLA: Fifty two “fucks”.
HEIDI: Well, you now, we kind of took the influence of it from Suicidal Tendencies’ ‘Institutionalized’. That’s why we refer to it as our ‘Institutionalized’ because it’s a story and it’s neurotic and there’s craziness going on, on all angles, between the music and the vocals and the F-words are just like, “Ahhh, fuck, I can’t remember what happened. Fuck, what did I do? Fuuuck!” [Laughs]
MD: If you think of swearing in the metal scene, then I guess Mike Muir’s your guy!
MD: What about ‘Burn the Straw Man’? Straw men are rife in politics, but am I reading too much into that in thinking Donald Trump is your straw man?
HEIDI: You’ve nailed it, right on. It’s not about Donald Trump. It’s more about the conspiracy theory of the straw man. It’s political, but it’s not about Donald Trump. I’m not gonna even give him the satisfaction of writing a song about him!
HEIDI: It’s the theory of when you’re born, they take your identity. You’re basically just worth what that piece of paper is; your birth certificate with that name. And then they just sell you off in the army and kill your kids for you. It’s more sort of that political side of it.
MD: Donald Trump has become the kind of archetypal straw man in politics by bending all kinds of truths and then declaring anything against him is fake news.
HEIDI: I agree.