(One of the most-read pieces we’ve ever published at NCS was BadWolf’s May 2011 interview of Blake Judd and his bandmates in Nachtmytium. This year brought us a new Nachtmystium album — Silencing Machine — and another BadWolf interview of Blake Judd, which follows.)
This interview happened on july fifth.
This interview sat on my hard drive for a few months, gumming up the works. Blake Judd was my first ‘break’ as a blogger on this very website. Since then he’s become one of my favorite people to work with (when you can keep him in one place for more than ten seconds). Honestly, I found that interview so hard to follow that I nearly deleted this one. But you deserve to hear it. Judd only gives excellent interviews, and his new album, Silencing Machine [reviewed here] is likewise excellent.
Judd and I shot the shit for close to a half hour, talking about the cancellation of Gathering of Shadows fest, Roadburn, the new record, marriage, and what makes a good song.
BadWolf: The heat’s really fucking with me. I don’t know how people stand it.
Blake Judd: I was at South by Southwest earlier this year. Probably the tenth time I’ve been to Austin and I love that city, I’d love to live there. When it gets cold I keep saying to the wife we should move down there. Then you get a day like this? No way I could ever live somewhere this hot.
But you live in Chicago, I live in Toledo.
We get the same shit weather.
We get the swamp heat, the humidity. Austin’s dry.
Yeah that’s more tolerable but I definitely have a sweaty gene in my DNA. If it’s over 80 degrees I pour sweat. It’s super uncomfortable. I need an air conditioned area.
Is that why your summer tour is so sparse?
It was never meant to be a tour. We were just invited to do Gathering of Shadows and organized these dates around that, but GoS was cancelled. The guys in Nightbringer all lived in a cabin up in those woods and it caught fire. They lost everything, so obviously no more festival. Those dates were just shit to do on our way out to Colorado and back.
Have you ever done the summer festival circuit?
Oh fuck no. And if it were ever to be put in front of us I would decline. I hate the heat that much. I can’t tour in this shit. And loading in at 10 AM? That’s not up my alley.
And then nobody watches your gig—they all want Black Label Society.
Fuck that. We’re gonna get behind Silencing Machine a little late this year. We already did our European tour but that was way before the record came out, which was stupid. It seems like that always happens to us with Europe.
We always do Europe based around a big festival date, which this year was Roadburn.
How was Roadburn?
Oh, it was awesome.
We linked to your set online.
Fuck yeah, Roadburn was cool. I would have liked to get a few dates under our belt before the festival, but this year Roadburn was the first date of the tour. Always nerve wracking—you’re jet lagged and your head’s not in the game like it is even a week into touring. But also with Roadburn the set was Instinct: Decay, and half of that album has never been played live before ever. I’m the only person in the band that was even on that record. It was brand new material to people on an intimidating stage—there were four thousand people in that room. And the fans seem to like it, but I can’t listen to that record. I could tell you ten things I don’t like about any given song. But the crowd liked it and we sold a fuckton of merch so I call it a success.
Roadburn loves you. I have your 2010 Roadburn set on vinyl and it’s a blast to listen to. I can’t get over that bit in “Hellish Overdose” when you’re like ‘Tilburg! Go home tonight and have yourself a fucking… hit hit hit O-VER-DOSE!’
Hahaha, Yes. That set was really good.
Absolutely. We’d been on tour for like seventy days at that point. We were ungodly tight. After seventy days you’re rock solid. Not to say that we aren’t tight at the start of a tour, but you can only get better.
So Instinct: Decay is really popular and a lot of people hold it in high esteem, but you don’t love it, so why play it?
Well, because Voivod asked us to. They curated that day and they asked us specifically to do that album beginning to end to make that date special. Yob did one of their albums front to back as well.
I just saw them at MDF and they put out a killer set.
Aren’t they awesome? And they’re that tight as a three piece! I love that band.
It seems like it’s a good time to do the psychedelic metal thing—Yob just opened for Tool, that’s a huge tour. Why do people want this style of music right now?
I’m not sure. It’s definitely caught on. I’ve been doing the psychedelic thing for seven or eight years so I can’t say. We did that so long ago because I like that style of music. I think because of bands like Nachtmystium. And I’m not saying we are the sole reason but we are part of this wave of extreme metal bands that have tried to break out of this shell of typical metal sounds. I think it’s caught on, people realize that metal doesn’t need to be blast beats and screaming. It can be The Devil’s Blood. It’s a different approach to dark music.
But you know, Silencing Machine is a lot more abrasive than the Black Meddle records. It really does feel like the sequel to Instinct: Decay.
That was the intention. This has been my plan for five years since we signed to Century Media in 2007. When we recorded Assassins we were on two major labels actually—we’re on Candlelight in Europe. So we had a two record contract and the idea was to do a two album arc that would carry a name. That became Black Meddle. We wanted them to be experimental, and the plan was to make the third record a return to form. Everything was planned to be an eventual directional shift back.
So what makes Instinct: Decay the touchstone?
It’s the perfect fusion of what we do best: by-the-book black metal and an experimental approach. Silencing Machine is combining those two styles.
So you didn’t know it was going to be called Silencing Machine?
No, that came later.
So the title is a reference to the song “Mr. Self Destruct” by Nine Inch Nails, and the next song is called “And I Control You…”, which is the next line in the song “Mr. Self Destruct”!
That was a coincidence because I wrote “And I Control You” without that in mind—I placed it after that song later. We’re not referencing Nine Inch Nails for a particular reason. That phrase “Silencing Machine”, to me, represents something huge and disastrous such as a nuclear bomb or a plague. It’s more of the words and their representation for me, it wasn’t me breaking out my old records and giving tribute to Nine Inch Nails because I had to.
But they were a big influence on my writing. I love the early Nine Inch Nails albums. I just want to clarify because people have pointed out those parallels: it is not like we felt we had to reference Nine Inch Nails, it’s just a couple words that perfectly described what I want the album to symbolize.
When we last spoke I talked about how focused Addicts was, lyrically. Maybe I need more time but I can’t really find a focal point like that on Silencing Machine.
No, there isn’t one.
But there’s sort of a more religious edge to it.
Definitely. It falls into the same category of our lyrics being about the world around us. Like if you look at what’s going on in North Africa and the Middle East, these fights at their roots are started by religious fundamentalists of one form or another. The album deals very much with my opinions on religion on a large scale. Especially fundamentalists who exist all over the world, not just the Middle East. There are fundamentalist Christians in the south of the United States, taking their ideals and pressing them on young people growing up there—that’s how this shit continues. And it will never stop if we let it continue. So I’m more about attacking that than what any religion represents.
So, I hear you got married.
That I did, and I’m super psyched about it too, man. I married this girl Christy and she’s rad. Definitely changed my life for the better. I’m a lot more focused now—I felt like I was drifting before I got into this relationship. I’d been in a relationship for eleven years with Rebecca Clegg, who did the artwork for Silencing Machine and Instinct: Decay. We’d been dating from about 14 to 25. We’re both thirty now. So during those years, and during that time I just felt like I was drifting. I had the band, but I’m not an idiot—this won’t last forever and someday I’m going to have to do something with my life. When Becca and I broke up I didn’t feel like I had any foundation—I wasn’t in any one place for any one reason. I was very nomadic because back then the lineup of the band was not as solid so I could go anywhere and do anything. I realized I didn’t like living like that after I met Christy. We fell very much in love with each other and decided ‘we aren’t getting any younger, let’s give this a go.’
That drifting feeling filtered into the band, you can hear that aspect.
Especially on Addicts. Addicts was very much the story of what I had done to myself with substance abuse and how we can rely on that as a tool to escape our own miserable realities. To wear glasses that let you see the world as something that it’s not, and it’s easier to live that way. Or at least you think it’s easier when in reality you’re just hurting yourself and those around you. It’s ironic: I actually met Christy while we were recording that record. One of the nights after I got done tracking we went to the bar and we met. It’s weird the way that whole album came together… Chris Black wrote most of the lyrics on Assassins and Addicts…
That’s another thing that’s different—Silencing Machine is the first album where I’ve written all the lyrics and placed them where they lie on the tracks. I haven’t done that since Instinct: Decay. That’s another thing that makes those two albums similar.
Chris Black has a real knack for a hook.
That’s why I love him.
But there’s a lot of good hooks on Silencing Machine.
Well that’s one way we two are similar: we both are good at writing hooky shit, and Chris taught me how to apply that to lyrics. I’ve never had a problem with catchy music but to place lyrics over music was not one of my strong points. I remember him saying that when we were finishing Instinct. “On the next one we need to work on choruses.”
So, I definitely have learned from Chris and that’s manifested itself on this album. I like how it turned out: it sounds enough like the old shit but you can tell that Chris rubbed off.
Really good songwriting is one of your trademarks.
That’s something we focus on. It makes up for the lack of… You know, none of us are shredders, at least I’m not. All the guys in the band have influences from people who play their instruments steadily and hard hitting and straightforward. Our drummer Charlie [Fell]’s favorite drummer is Chuck Biscuits from Danzing and Black Flag, he’s as in-the-pocket as it gets. That’s how I play guitar as well, I’ve never sat around practicing scales for hours. Anyone can learn to do that, you can learn to shred if you want to. But you can’t learn to write a good song. That’s something that comes from in your heart and your soul and something that you cannot learn. You can learn about how to build a song, but to touch somebody and make the back of their neck stand up is something that you have in yourself. That’s my thing: if I don’t get a chill from writing it I don’t use it on the record.
So what makes a good song to you?
Just playing from the heart. Meaning it. That’s the first thing. It’s gotta be legit, and then after that you need structure. You need a hook, something that people can hear again and again in their heads. That comes from being a music fan. Take what you like best and then do your best to make something that makes you feel the same way that does. That’s the best answer for that.
I enjoyed reading that immensely.
I did, too. This should be a monthly feature. 🙂
Yep, great interview. Loved Silencing Machine too.