(NCS writer Andy Synn packed a lot into a May 17 show in Leicester, England — a review of the show, an interview of Gorod, and today an interview of Michael Keene, guitarist and song-writer par excellence of The Faceless. I’m biased, but I really enjoyed reading this, and there’s a lot of revealing info in it, too. But mainly I wonder how Andy got this interview after he explained he was from a site called NO CLEAN SINGING.)
On the same Leicester stop where I was lucky enough to interview Gorod, I also had the opportunity to grab The Faceless’ guitar shredding master-mind Michael Keene for an interview of his own.
Reading the transcript you’ll get some insight into the man himself, his goals and influences, see how we bonded over a shared love of Extol, and get his thoughts on how it feels to be the only death metal band on a non-death metal label. All this plus some of the conceptual and lyrical influences which will be present on the next record!
Ok, so how’s the tour been for you and the band so far?
MK: Well this is the fifth date of the tour and it’s been amazing. I think 3 of the 5 shows so far have sold out. It’s been awesome. Every show.
How about things with the other bands?
MK: It’s been super-fun. I’ve know Born Of Osiris and Veil Of Maya for a long time now, and spent a lot of time with both of them. I’ve recorded both of them at different times. Two albums with Veil Of Maya in fact. And we’ve toured with both of them several times. So it’s just really fun being with both of them together and, like… it’s been such a long time coming for the three of us to be together on the same tour, just because we’re all friends and it’s been overdue, both personally and musically. (more after the jump . . . )
Any embarrassing stories yet? From any of the bands, feel free to drop anyone at all in it.
MK: Oh god, I did. I said I wasn’t gonna drink on this tour, no particular reason, just for… health and you know, I said I was going to get in shape and all that. So I said I wasn’t gonna drink, but first day I got pressured into drinking with everybody and we went to some dance club that was going on after the show. And, I lost my phone within the first 20 minutes of getting drunk. So… that’s why I shouldn’t drink. Fuck.
How are thing with Evan (Brewer) who’s just joined? I saw him play years ago with Reflux…
MK: Oh wow, I’ll have to tell him.
Please do, he’s such a great bassist. I thought it was such a good thing when you announced he’d joined.
MK: Yeah it’s been amazing, he’s been amazing. He brings not only an amazing level of talent to the band but also some really positive energy, which is really good, something that we’ve needed for a long time.
What have you been getting up to when not playing on this tour?
MK: We’ve been writing… yeah, we’ve definitely been doing a lot of writing. But I guess we’ve also just been trying to relax a little bit, ‘cos we’ve had such an intense touring schedule for so many years now.
It does seem like you guys are always busy, either recording or touring, nothing in between.
MK: Exactly. For almost five years, no, and this is kinda the first time we’ve decided to actually have some real “us” time between shows and tours, just doing our own thing. We’ve been writing the whole time though, so the album’s been coming along. As soon as we get back from this it’s going to be crunch-time to finish the record and get it out there.
Talking of the new album, is there anything you’d like to share about it? You’ve previewed one song (“The Eidolon Reality”) already, so do you know what sort of direction, musically or lyrically, the rest of it is going to go in?
MK: Musically I think the new song that we posted, the pre-production track, is probably a pretty good indication of the musical directions, stylistically. Although I definitely think the album’s going to be a bit more… a bit broader… than anything we’ve done before.
It did seem a lot more “open”, like you could listen to it in more than just the one “standard” way. I felt the clean vocals came from a kind of different place as well. Was that still you?
MK: Yeah, there was a definitely different approach there. And I think there’s going to be more of that, from one song to the next it will still be undeniably “Faceless”, but it will have a broader range of styles and the spectrum will be… wider.
How about the lyrics? There was a lot of David Icke lyrics on the last record, which always make for great metal lyrics because the man’s so crazy.
MK: Oh yeah, full blown insane. So that works out perfectly. Well, “The Eidolon Reality” for one thing is based on an idea outlined in a book I read called “The Holographic Universe”, which is sort of like a new, widely accepted alternative to quantum physics. It’s a pretty intense concept, kind of hard to wrap your mind around… it’s a lot to take in, so there’s a lot of material to work with there. I think a lot of the lyrical content will be focussed on things I’ve been reading from Ray Kurzweil. I read a book of his called “The Singularity Is Near”, and a lot of the lyrics are going to be focussed on technology, the future of biology and the intertwining of biology and technology.
Ha, you guys should get a tour together with Scar Symmetry. They have an album called Holographic Universe, their latest album deals with the same Reptoid conspiracy stuff that you touched on. Thematically, you guys would fit so maybe you should give them a call?
MK: No way, I had no idea. I mean I know that they’re real shredders, so why not? I had no idea at all though, that’s crazily similar.
Talking about the use of clean vocals in the band, something you’ve done in a really distinctive way since the start, on the new song I got a more Extol-vibe from them, rather than the more Cynic-y ones from previous records.
MK: Yeah, actually Extol are probably my favourite metal band. Of all time.
Ha, me too.
MK: Yeah, you get it then. They have been since I was in like, high-school. They’ve always been a really big influence on The Faceless. Absolutely shameless about that. Extol are a HUGE influence on us. Love that band. Awesome. Don’t necessarily agree with their lyrical content… but that’s just me.
And with the way they changed over their career…
MK: Yeah you know, some people don’t get all of it, but I like all the eras. They’re all different. My personal favourite is Synergy. I think!
I’ve got to go with Undeceived, even though I know it’s the obvious choice. Do you see The Faceless ever progressing as drastically away from the sound you began with on Akeldama in the way that Extol progressed so far away from Burial?
MK: Undeceived and Synergy are probably the best, but Synergy is my real favourite. In terms of progressing… probably. I would say so. The next record will be closer to Planetary Duality than Akeldama, of course, but it’s still going to be different. I think our priorities as musicians have changed, and certainly my priorities as a song-writer have changed. Dramatically. I think on your first couple of records, at least in this style of music, if you’re a technical musician and you play with other technical musicians, you kind of tend to have something to prove – and I absolutely do not care about that in the slightest any more. It’s not the focus of my song-writing.
That’s interesting, as I think you can see even with the incorporation of the clean vocals right from the start, you weren’t quite following the precise, proscribed way of doing this sort of metal. Like you have to be “brutal” all the time, but adding the clean vocals here and there, you’d already stepped outside that without going down the route of just adding clean vocals because you’d run out of other ideas.
MK: I think I agree with that. There’s such a strict format, not of what you’re able to do but what you’re allowed to do. How it’s done. And I think that, having respect for that format, knowing that it’s not exactly what people are used to hearing, rather than just doing a 50/50 type of thing, trying to catch the attention of someone who’s not paying attention, using it not as a gimmick, as an additive to actually enhance the song. That’s more where it’s come from. Our music is definitely not for the close-minded, that’s certainly for sure, and I’m okay with that.
That kind of leads onto my next point. You’re on Sumerian, and there’s currently a very “Sumerian sound”, like every time you see a band has signed to Sumerian you kinda know what it’s going to sound like, i.e. very derivative of Meshuggah and pretending to be progressive just because of that. Yet you guys stick out like a sore thumb, if you don’t mind me saying?
MK: Yeah we do, I agree, we completely do. We don’t write our songs in the same way for one thing. That whole kind of Sumerian sound came about well after we’d signed to Sumerian. We’ve been with them literally from the ground up. If you look at Akeldama, you’ll see it says “Sumerian 001” on the side. It was their first proper release. And ours too. So I guess that’s why, that whole phenomenon came completely after we were already in place. It was kind of half accident, half kind of guided by the musical tastes of the people who run the company that that “Sumerian sound” developed after we’d already signed.
They don’t ever discriminate against you guys because you don’t really fit with the rest of the roster then?
MK: Errr… I wouldn’t say they discriminate. I mean they treat us really well because we were their first band and I think they have a soft-spot in their hearts for us because in the beginning Sumerian really didn’t have a leg to stand on and, although we’d had some really good offers from some big labels, we chose to sign with them just kind of, on good faith really. And I think in that beginning phase they kind of owed us as much as we owed them, so that led to a really good bond, and the relationship has always been really good because of that.
I’m probably not the only person who has been a little worried or confused about your place, what with how the roster has changed and developed, moving one way and you guys moving off on a very different tangent.
MK: Well we really didn’t know what to expect with what their roster would become after signing with them, being the first band to sign, so we just saw it all unfold. And especially in the beginning, we kind of felt alienated a little bit, initially anyway, especially being the ONLY death metal band on the label. And we saw them further and further away from us all the time, and we were just thinking “are we going to end up just totally out of place on this label or what?” But I think that they’re a diverse enough label now, and that they have enough bands that are so dramatically different, that it’s all working out fine. Although there are some pretty pop-punk bands who are on the label now!
Well, what are your plans for the future and the next record? How far do you want to take this thing?
MK: As far as it’ll go. Yeah. I think that this record, musically at least, could open up a lot of opportunities and open us up to a bigger audience, just in the sense that, like I said, I don’t really feel like I have a lot to prove and I just want to write great songs. And I feel that, regardless of who you are or what you listen to, you can connect with a great song. So I think that, with that in mind, there’s the potential, without compromising any of our integrity, that this record could propel us to a bigger audience and by doing so… we intend to take full advantage of that and push this as far as it can go.
Although I guess you’re always going to get people who, if you start getting successful, are just going to hate that.
MK: Of course. Always. I mean we posted that pre-production track up and we got comments like “it’s not that I don’t like YOUR clean vocals… I don’t like clean vocals”… and I don’t get that. It seems like you have such a narrow limit of what music can sound like. Like, you have such a small amount of music you can pick from if you actually don’t like clean singing. It’s so limited.
So have you attracted many tech-groupies yet? I know that a lot of bands these days are getting less hot girls and more geeky guys asking about your amp and your pick-ups.
MK: Oh yeah of course. That’s all we get. Girls don’t like our music.
Hey, some girls like your music.
MK: I bet we get around 5 or 6 tonight.
And half of them will have come with their boyfriends anyway…
MK: [Laughing] Exactly! That’s the way it goes. But yeah, every day, always. “What head do you use?”, “what pick-ups are you using?”, just a million questions, and I’m just sat there wondering if they even like our music or just what gear we’re using. I keep telling people that, whatever gear that they’re using, maybe they should stop worrying about it as much and just enjoy playing for a bit?
And it seems like that’s exactly the sort of thing they could find out on the internet pretty easily, rather than wasting your time…
MK: I use some weird stuff that looks strange, not the obvious stuff you’d expect, so that confuses people. But don’t get me started on Axe Fx, every kid who comes to our shows just assumes I have to play Axe Fx… why would you assume that? Just because EVERYONE else does? I prefer people to be interested in the music, rather than exactly what we used to make it.
So anything you want to add about the new music? Any more potential titles, anything like that?
MK: Nothing yet… not at this stage, no. I guess we should really get working on that. There’s not any lyrics written beyond “The Eidolon Reality” yet; musically, yeah, but not lyrically yet. I have ideas though. I definitely have ideas.
Ok, well thank you for talking to me.
MK: No thank you, and thank you to everyone who reads this and supports The Faceless. We really appreciate it.