(In this post, our own Andy Synn turns in an interview with Alan Cassidy, formerly of Abigail Williams and now the designated hitter for The Black Dahlia Murder, whose new album Everblack is coming to North America on June 11 via Metal Blade.)
Hello Alan. So to start things off, please, introduce yourself to our readers.
My name is Alan and I like to party… I also play drums for The Black Dahlia Murder.
Ok, simple enough! Let’s keep on with some basic background information. When did you first start playing drums, and who were your earliest inspirations behind the kit?
I’ve been playing drums ever since I was a baby. I used to grab toys and piece together makeshift kits to bang on. I grew up listening to the Beatles cause of my dad so Ringo was there from the start but my early influences on drums were mainly Travis Barker and Joey Jordison. I loved the speed Travis had with all the interesting fills and drum beats he would put into songs and Joey had a cool style too but he was one of the first guys I heard playing double bass.
What bands were you involved with prior to being picked up by Abigail Williams/The Black Dahlia Murder?
I started out playing for a band called The Breathing Process in 2008 then I joined a band out of Ohio called Karen Page that had some guys from another band I had met there while I was in The Breathing Process. After that I joined Abigail and then Dahlia.
And are you still involved in any of them on the side?
I’m still loosely working on some side projects with the singer from Karen Page. One is called Unbodied it’s sort of progressive metal with some stoner, death, and post hardcore influences. Then the other is called Cryptic Abuse and it’s straight death metal.
How did you first hook up with Abigail Williams?
After high school I was looking for a signed band to join and back in the days of myspace I had gotten a friend request from Abigail right after they put out their EP. I listened to them a bit and liked the sound, then I noticed that they didn’t have a drummer listed under their members so I messaged them asking if they had a drummer or were looking for someone and if I could try out. Ken, their singer, messaged me saying they didn’t have anyone at the moment and gave me some songs to try.
I had a friend film me playing them, and put them up on youtube, but it was right before their album In the Shadow of A Thousand Suns came out and Trym from Emperor had played on that album so it really stepped up their technicality with drums. They ended getting Samus Paulicelli a few weeks later as it was more convenient location-wise and to be honest I wasn’t completely ready to handle drumming of that calibre just yet. So we kept in touch for the next couple of years and he hooked me up with my two prior bands to Abigail before asking me to try out for them again after their last drummer left.
How were the tours and live dates you did with them? Any particular stand-out shows or crazy events you really remember?
The tours I did with them were the first major tours I had ever done. The size of the venues and crowds was a pretty big leap from what I had been playing before.
The first tour I did we had thanksgiving with Mayhem, Keep of Kalessin, and Hate which was awesome. I had heard about Mayhem a few years before that but I had never thought that I would be sharing a holiday with one of the most infamous bands in black metal. The DIY tours allowed us to play some more interesting places like a house show where everyone got trashed at the end of the night and the sister of the promoter head-butted their cousin just messing around and when he started bleeding from his lip all over the floor she caught the blood and started slapping him with it.
I also ended up getting our Irish bass player, Brian O’Sullivan, denied entry back into America half-way through our tour with Mayhem because everyone else was in on him not having a work visa for Canada but me. I had to do my first drive through the boarder back into the U.S. from our last date in the country because everyone was drunk. We were the only ones there at 3 AM and I had to deal with a guard who was a huge dick to us for no reason. When he asked who was in the van I explained and said lastly we had a bass player from Ireland who was, I guess, being previously referred to as a merch guy because he didn’t have a work visa. After being asked for his work visa papers and seeing Ken’s reaction to this demand I realized I had fucked up and that lead to us being pulled inside the border office and Brian being questioned as to what his real purpose with us was for 3 hours. He was denied entry back into the country and had to be sent off with a fan of the band in Canada to stay with for a few weeks til he could get back to Ireland! So we were bass-less for 2 more dates until we got a hold of our guitar player Ian’s friend and told him he needed to learn our set in 3 days to fill in, which he did, and it went pretty smoothly after that.
I’ve felt terrible about it for a long time but I think he’s forgiven me since.
How did you initially make the connection with The Black Dahlia Murder?
Abigail decided to call it quits, or a sort of hiatus now, that summer and decided to make that DIY tour the last one. We played a show in Chicago and Ryan Knight (BDM’s guitarist) came out since he had known Ken back when he was in Arsis. After the show he mentioned to Ken that Shannon was leaving and asked him if BDM could try me out for drums since we were breaking up.
What was your audition process like?
They gave me 4 songs to learn and make videos for, then after I sent them in they asked if I could come out for an audition in person. So I flew out to Michigan and jammed the 4 songs I learned with Brian and Trevor.
What four songs did they get you to learn?
I had to learn “What A Horrible Night To Have A Curse”, “On Stirring Seas Of Salted Blood”, “I Will Return”, and “Malenchantments Of The Necrosphere”.
Nice. Some of my favourites there (though I’ve never really been a fan of “Malenchantments…”). What sort of pressure do you feel replacing Shannon Lucas (the 19th best modern metal drummer, according to MetalSucks)?
Shannon is a great drummer and he helped pick me as his replacement so I don’t really feel pressure if he thinks I’m playing the songs well, right? The pressure I feel mostly is just from myself because they were one of my favourite bands for a while. They were a huge influence on me and my friends in my first local band so it’s crazy to be playing for them. I just want to use my style for their sound to add what I’ve always wanted from their music and to make it better every album.
How would you say your style differs from his? From the one song that we’ve heard so far, “Into The Everblack”, it seems to me, from early impressions at least, that you have a more pointed black metal style to your playing, more feral, less machine-like (though no less precise).
I am a little more busy with some of the stuff I play and I’ve always liked drummers who were too, like Ben Koller from Converge and Thomas Pridgen who was in The Mars Volta.
One of my big influences for a while has been Brann Dailor from Mastodon. After first hearing him on Remission, all I ever wanted to do was try and throw in as many different rhythms and fills to riffs as I could just to really jam the parts. Black metal was especially a great outlet for that. Learning the parts of Trym and Ken Bedene from the previous Abigail albums was really challenging but exactly how I liked to play so it allowed me to build and refine my skills and broaden my fill and rhythm ideas, and I guess I’ve retained a bit of that style. I had to kind of tone some of that down for this band but I’ve still gotten to add my flare to the songs.
At what point in the writing/recording cycle did you join TBDM?
After recording the album with them I was asked to join the band
How was the experience of integrating yourself, and your style, into the band? Their way of working certainly seems a tad unconventional at the moment, what with certain members stepping down, but still keeping involved in the writing.
I had been given the songs to learn around early December. I didn’t get to actually sit down and play them till we got back from the Dethklok tour we were on at the time, which didn’t end until almost the end of December, and then I had 2 weeks to get ready to track the drums. I pretty much demoed a song a day on my electronic kit just to figure out how I was going to play certain things or what I was going to add! Then I would head to my practice spot to play the previous songs I had done to fully learn them. I was really excited to incorporate my style to the music but didn’t do a whole lot since I didn’t have that much time to really experiment with the songs. Still you should be able to hear it in places.
And what sort of role did you/do you play in writing and arranging the songs? Did anything change significantly after you started to write/record the drums?
Well everything was pretty much ready to go, including drums, before I stepped in but I added a few different drum parts in a couple songs and played whatever fills in the studio.
With the songs being already written like that I really couldn’t change much. I did change some drum parts here and there when I heard something in my head that I knew could be really cool, but I couldn’t really overhaul anything and there was no need to either since what was written was pretty fitting for the parts already. I didn’t want to just make a lot of unnecessary changes for the sake of trying to be involved with the writing.
Without giving away too much about the new album (though if you want to, or are allowed to, feel free to give us any exclusive info you want) can you tell us about any favourite parts for you to play or listen to, and maybe any parts of your drumming that you’re particularly proud of that you’d really like to say “check this part out in particular”?
I like playing the songs that are the most different on this album because they have a unique feel which allowed me to play things that you don’t normally hear in BDM songs. Unfortunately the song I feel I contributed the most and best out of my style to was the Japanese bonus track for the album!
It was a little more simplified on drums in the demo and had a great feel to it so it was really easy to run with and build off of although not too many people will get to hear it unless they look for it.
What was that song’s name, so our readers can track it down (if they’re so inclined)?
“Seppuku” is the bonus track.
I’d assume you’re going to be pretty busy with TBDM over the next several months, gearing up to the album release and some major touring. Is there anything particular you’re really looking forward to?
I’m pretty much looking forward to the whole experience haha. I’ve always wanted to travel and these guys go all over the world all the time so I’m excited to see all these different places as well as meet and play with awesome bands that I listen to, not to mention play the songs of a band that I was jamming to years ago for fun.
Do you have a particular touring regime, diet wise, work-out wise, etc, that you like to stick to?
I try to work out with something easy like perfect push ups but it’s usually in stints… haha. I like to walk around wherever I am and find cool places or go to the attractions in a city if I know they have something I want to see there. I try to eat healthy and it’s not too hard because we get good food… but then I have to try every horribly greasy, fattening, sugary, alcoholic, specialty food that whatever city I’m in has, cause that’s whole point of travelling right?
How about outside the band, what do you get up to when not behind the kit?
Drums have been such a big part of my life in the past couple of years that I try to practice a lot to keep my chops up. I recently had to pretty much give up skateboarding because I can’t really afford to break anything again. I watch a bunch of movies and TV because I’m really into film but I’m trying to read more so I can quote something other than Dumb and Dumber and Aqua Teen every once in a while.
And finally I always like to leave interviews with an open question at the end, so you can recommend some music/films/books/whatever you want our readers to check out.
I would just like to take up the next 18 inches of this column to talk to you about the lord…
Joke. But I would recommend taking acid and watching The Holy Mountain. You’ll either reach enlightenment or insanity. Either way, it’s a good time.
Also check out the band Synapses from Italy. They’re awesome.
Thank you Alan!
great drummer and a great interview, i’m really looking forward to Everblack
I could be wrong, but I’m guessing the ” secret BDM item ” noted in the Everblack collector’s pre-order bundle is said bonus track.
Alan is a very talented drummer. He is on the cutting edge on technique and death metal style. Thank you for a great interview with him.