(In this post we present BadWolf’s interview of Mark Kloeppel, frontman for Baltimore’s Misery Index, conducted live at Maryland Deathfest — with photos taken there by the talented Alyssa Lorenzon.)
One of the highlights of my trip to Maryland Deathfest was the opportunity to see Baltimore’s own Misery Index live twice in a single weekend. The No Clean Singing crew has a soft spot for relentless mixes of grindcore and death metal, and Misery Index are among the best bands in that vein at the moment—not only is their rhythmic attack, weighed down by bassist Jason Netherton (formerly of Dying Fetus) and drummer Adam Jarvis (also of Pig Destroyer), fierce in a way many of their peers are not, but their approach is also intellectual. The band has a strongly anarchist-liberal lyrical bent, which only adds to the vitriol and complexity of their music. It’s the kind of death metal that makes me want to revisit it over and over.
Mark Kloeppel joined the band in 2005, and plays guitar, as well as screams, on their finest run of albums. His vocals and melodic guitar lines dominate the band’s 2014 album, The Killing Gods, which made up much of their MDF set lists. It’s the most melodic album in the band’s discography, but Kloeppel himself seems less than harmonious. He sat down with me behind a tent in the blazing Baltimore sun to talk about the new album, parenting, and how, economically speaking, we all lose.
It seems like there wasn’t a lot of activity on the Misery Index front for a couple years there. I remember Heirs to Thievery came out when? 2010? Four years ago?
Yeah. In 2010, the touring cycle started with us going out with Dying Fetus and then picking up our new lead guitar player. We did some other stuff… We toured with Grave. We did a whole bunch of stuff. It’s kind of hard to remember everywhere we went. I know we went to Indonesia, Japan, Australia, and a lot of places in South America like Brazil and Colombia. We did a tour with Cannibal Corpse in the States. That was the last thing I think we did in the States before this.
Why the recording gap? You guys were on a pretty steady two years per album clip for almost a decade.
Yeah, and that sucks! It’s like when you first start a band. When you first start a band, you spend a good five years crafting your very first songs. You go play shows, and it’s awesome because you’ve spent so much time crafting good songs and you grow and stuff like that. Being a seasoned musician and not being able to dedicate the proper amount of time to make a quality record, you feel like you’re being robbed. We stuck to the tight schedule that was imposed upon us by the label. It was kind of necessary to build the band for Discordia, Traitors, and Heirs to Thievery. After that, we were done with that schedule. We didn’t want Misery Index to do that anymore. We just spent the time you’re supposed to spend writing a record.
The death metal scene seems to be somewhat of a different pace. It seems a little unnecessary. It’s really more fueled by generating interest in the entities that make money off of it. We’re totally fine with that, but for our art we wanted to do something more in depth. Like I said, we wanted to spend the proper amount of time writing material, writing an album and songs. That’s what we did on The Killing Gods. We set aside the time, we didn’t put ourselves on a schedule. It was done when it was done. There was a cursory release date and recording schedule we started to adhere to as it was developing. We basically just spent the extra year putting it together.
It really seems a bit more polished than some of your other records do, both in terms of the way it sounds and in terms of composition. It struck me as the most melodic record you’ve ever done. I thought there was almost a little Thin Lizzy, twin harmony thing going on.
There’s definitely that kind of stuff. That shouldn’t be a big surprise for people who are really into our stuff. All those elements were on the Dissent EP. All the elements that are on this record are on past records, it’s just done a little differently. It’s really the vibe of the record that changes things. It’s totally intentional, but people are picking up a dark, intrinsically influenced vibe, where a dark cloud is sort of billowing in your mind. That was intentional. That’s what we were going for. That’s the kind of thing we were all feeling. That’s what the record is. In terms of composition, we spent a lot more time on it. So, you’re going to hear that it sounds more planned out. In terms of production, we spent a lot more time on that, too. The last record, Heirs to Thievery, was a good production I think for 2010 for a death metal/death grind album. It was kind of tight, a “Everything’s on 10” kind of sound.
Very crisp. Some of the drums and stuff are sampled for no apparent reason, because Adam can play his ass off. It was really just for production’s sake because we had a really strict timeline. We had to get that whole record done within three or four weeks, mixed and mastered. It was a pretty good record. Those songs are kind of ridiculous. We just didn’t really have the time to spend on getting everything cut through. That’s not to say we didn’t track it in there right. We did. On The Killing Gods, we did the exact same tracking process that we do, but we just approached it differently on the mixing end of things. We didn’t just go and sample drums or any of that stuff. It was really the old school way.
So the drums on The Killing Gods are all live?
Yeah, that’s all real stuff. There’s no triggered, re-sampled stuff going on there.
The trigger debate is really going on a lot right now. Now that record producers who produce the records are going on social media and talking about their process and tracking the process themselves, it seems like there’s so much more transparency into the way that death metal drums are made. It’s cool to me that you’re trying to get it in a more organic light.
It doesn’t sound like someone’s playing their ass off. It sounds like a sample.
It sounds like I’m doing it on a keyboard, with my thumb and my index finger.
Yeah, and that’s cool for people that have a cursory understanding of the music. It’s giving you the music in its fullest kind of form. Right now, I think people are just done with computer-generated records. They don’t want to hear that shit. They don’t want to hear a guitar riff spliced into a million pieces that sound like a robot’s playing. They don’t want to hear Superior Drummer playing the drums anymore. They don’t want to hear that shit. They want to hear true, real, raw aggression. They don’t care how you do it, just that it’s there.
We took that to heart. We see it in the scene and we’re trying to step ahead of that mark with this record and get that on tape. I think we did it. I think the guitar tone sounds really organic and raw and natural. Drums sounds the same way. Bass, obviously, is very present there, and the vocals, too. It’s all very raw and visceral, while still having an album “sound,” a proper mastering job, a proper mixing job.
What do you look for in music to listen to? You’ve got a lot of opinions on the way that your own stuff is made; what do you look for when you’re acquiring music?
I don’t impose the beliefs that I have for what I want to do with my stuff on other people. I take bands as they are. Their expression is their expression. When you really want to hear, like, “What are these people trying to say?”, and you just get a bunch of samples and generic sounds, or just generic uses of sonic devices and stuff, you feel kind of cheated. It’s like, “You’re not really telling me anything new. You’re not really revealing yourself.” They’re sort of hiding behind this wall of trendy bullshit, and that’s just not okay. For me, anyway. I will tolerate a balance of that, because with some bands, the crowd that likes them makes it so they have to have some kind of element like that to keep their crowd satisfied so they can keep doing what they do.
You can’t just be a total contrarian all the time. You’ve got to give the people what they want. If that’s what they want, you’ve got to give it to them. If other people don’t think that’s necessarily cool, you’ve got to strike a balance there, and I recognize that kind of stuff. Once you hear that kind of thing going on in music enough times, you just go, “Yeah, you’re kind of pulling my leg.” On the whole, I just like bands to sound like themselves. I don’t care what you do. You could sample the shit out of everything. It doesn’t matter to me. As long as you sound like you, and that’s the sound you’re wanting to go for, it’s authentic. I know I’m ranting about authenticity, and that’s kind of a weird subject—what is that?
Even outside the realm of music, the authenticity debate is in all creative professions, and in the arts, visual arts, in sculpture, in film. Everyone has that debate, “What does or doesn’t constitute authentic?” It kind of strikes me as a losing proposition if you dwell on it too much. It exists.
Yeah, it exists. And it’s subjective, but some people have a more in-depth expectation of how they feel about authenticity. I don’t know if I do or not. I just sort of react. I just take it in and I see what the group is trying to do and I react to it. That’s about it. I’m a consumer.
It’s funny that you call yourself a consumer, but you’re in the anti-consumerist death metal band.
I suppose. We’re on a major label, we’re selling products.
Major by whose standards, though? I think that, by a lot of people’s standards, Season of Mist is a very independent label.
Yeah. Call them what you want, they’re a fairly large label. They have good distribution channels that are very mainstream. They’re putting stuff like Inquisition out. Channels that really do not match the aesthetics.
I could get your record at Best Buy if I wanted, that’s something.
In a capitalist society, that’s a good thing.
I don’t want to debate good or bad about that. We could be talking here for hours about what is or isn’t good about being able to get whatever you want wherever.
Capitalism is inherently bad. The top consumes the bottom, and when that happens, slavery happens. That’s a bad thing. It’s the imperfect system that we’ve got to strike a balance in.
So you do personally espouse the beliefs present in the Misery Index lyrics?
Yeah. Jason and I definitely do, and the other guys do, too.
I know that Jason brought that into Dying Fetus, but when he left, that left the lyrical realm of that group. I was under the impression that that was only Jason’s ideology.
That’s right. That’s true. That’s his thing. Since I joined the band in February of 2005, I’ve been standing next to that guy, screaming into the microphone and riding in the van. He’s a smart person. I think I’m a smart person, too. You just start adopting each other’s philosophies, both stylistically in our vocal styles as well as our opinions, and views and stuff like that. Just by default, I was poised for that kind of philosophy anyway. We have very similar views on things. That’s why we can both do lyric writing for the band.
Just to go off on a tangent here, Jason’s stuff is more extrinsically influenced. He’s focusing on a lot of current events. As of recently, he’s getting more artistic expressions on those kinds of ideas. For me, I like to incorporate that stuff too, but I almost take it for more of an intrinsically based influence, where you’re taking it in and digesting it in your mind and incorporating other things in my lyrics also. I’m not saying he doesn’t do that, but I think it’s a different process. I think you can hear that.
Where do your lyrics come from? What do you want to hear out of yourself? Or do you even think in that way?
It’s kind of hard to put into words, but it’s like I said before, a billowing dark cloud in my mind. Terrible shit is happening in the world, how we’re all very imprisoned by what has been built before us and it keeps on being built around us—and we help build it!
That’s the disgusting part, isn’t it?
I don’t know why I’m smiling about it. It’s so disgusting and it’s so real. It’s so fucking sad that all you can do is be ironic about it.
Is that all you can do about it, though? Really?
No. You can make records and scream into a fucking microphone and change people’s minds about it. Or try to relay what you’re feeling, or how you’re feeling about it. How you’re not brainwashed or how you don’t accept the white picket fence idea. You’re not into that, and you’re seeing through how people are being taken advantage of. This is how capitalism works. And colonialism. Have we ever transcended into post-colonialism? Has that ever happened? I don’t think so.
I would argue that, by definition, post-colonialism includes colonialism. Just like post-modernism includes the inherent cynicism of modernism.
Now we don’t have countries, we have corporations.
Let’s take it a step further. Work through this problem with me. I’m you. I have a problem with capitalism. I internalize it, digest it, formulate, create the art, broadcast the art. Now, I’m me. I take your art, I ingest it, I’m speaking with you. We’ve come to an accord. Yes. We both agree this shit sucks. Now what?
Yeah. Now what?
We’re fucking sitting here at MDF. What should we be doing about colonialism?
I’m not trying to stand on the podium and say that our art is full of activism, but it is. It inherently is, but you’ve called me out here, because we’re not offering solutions. This is an emotional reaction.
I’m doing to you what people have done to me for saying the same thing. They say, “Okay, what’s your solution, smart ass?” I thought, “I don’t know, maybe the guys at Misery Index are smarter than I am. Maybe they’ve got an idea that I don’t.” I’d love to hear a good idea.
Throughout history, people have tried out a lot of things. There’s been a lot of very great anarchist movements that have succeeded, albeit for a short amount of time. As soon as the other systems see it working — which it will, and does work — they try to crush it. They’ve been doing it throughout history. Big countries need slave labor. It just comes down from that. When you start seeing cooperative, interactive social systems work, then they have to be crushed by this system. When I say “they” I don’t mean to say…
It’s not Big Brother.
I mean to say that, throughout history you see this repetition of behavior happening where being cooperative happens, and it works, and it gets crushed by the distinctly different other systems. They don’t want it to exist, because it excludes profit, it excludes slavery, it excludes holding people down. What’s the solution? Spread these ideas far and wide enough, I guess, so we can all try to get into an understanding. Once it gets bad enough, people are going to start changing their minds about what they’re fucking subscribing to.
That seems to be the consensus. Everyone’s like, “What we need to do is wait until the dick in our ass is real fucking wide, and then we’ll hit ’em.” At what point is it wide enough? We’re not even talking about music anymore.
Let’s put it this way: the United States government has a pretty good understand that you have to have a middle class and you have to keep them happy and subdued. That’s how you prevent a revolution. That’s the whole point. In a nutshell, you want the country to stay happy and subdued and to keep doing their thing so we can exist for the future just like this and everybody can take a piece of the pie and the people on top can just keep collecting. But it’s okay because everyone’s all right with it.
But they’ve gotten too greedy and they’re screwing up their own system. They’re creating a huge class divide, which inevitably leads to riots and anarchy. It inevitably leads to violence in the streets. You can call it a knee-jerk response. We’re going to see it again all over the place. They’ve gotten too greedy, so the class divide is going to get huge and then the class war is going to start. Or some kind of revolution. I’m not saying it’s going to all turn out happy and peaches. It’s not. It’s just going to get rearranged. Really, greed fucked it all up. I’m not saying it’s good to skim off the top, but it’s good to keep things copacetic. For what it’s worth. I guess that’s the way it goes. Any kind of system that’s based upon oppressing other people is inevitably going to ruin itself because it relies on people. People rely on other people. We need each other.
Which is, in and of itself, cooperative.
Yeah. So, when you start oppressing groups…
And you judge that with the misery index your band is named after.
Exactly. That’s what it’s measuring. It’s measuring the class divide.
Has there ever been a discussion where you say, “We’ve played out the whole ‘economics of evil’ lyrical theme. We can’t go on that anymore.” Has that ever been a discussion?
Yeah. That’s The Killing Gods, which took a lot longer to write. We can write poly-sci fucking grindcore all day long. We just didn’t want to do that.
So you think the new one is less political?
It’s more intrinsically influenced. It’s more a disgusted reaction. It’s more pissed off. It’s more authentically, really pissed off about things, coming from a very, very, dark internal place.
Was there any specific thing that made you pissed off enough to write the record?
I have a child. I have a son. He’s two and a half. I gotta bring him into this, all this stuff. The polar ice caps are melting, man. He’s going to grow up with that. We did all that. I don’t know, man. When I say “we” I mean everything leading up to this, not just us. We do have a part, though.
What you’re saying is that in a way, parental love is what spurred you to get pissed off enough to write this album?
Yeah. I’m not saying that was the sole element, but yeah, there was an element of that: “We’ve got offspring now. What world am I letting him come into?” That pisses me off.
That’s sweet of you. You just had your teddy bear moment.
That is a very violent teddy bear. That’s a teddy bear with razor blades.
There’s a song for you right there. “A teddy bear with razor blades.”
We’ll leave that to somebody else. I think we have a lot to work from now. We incorporated so many other elements into this record. We utilized what we had already been doing in a different way. Now, we’ve got a grasp on what’s possible. It’s going to introduce this new vibe and I think we can really go many other places in future records. We might just try to have a grindcore element. I don’t know. We might just react to ourselves and say, “Dial it back up.”
Take it back to the garage.
Yeah, take it back to the garage and do more blasting. When you’ve got the mind of a metal person, you’re always trying to rebel against something. Maybe it’s yourself. People say, “This record’s too dark. This is strange. This is a death grind album.” We might feel the same way.
At the same time, I need to stay stimulated. I’ve got so many albums that are just 80% blasting. That E string, now it’s down to a C string. I’ve got so much of that already. I don’t really need any more.
Death grind and grindcore… I don’t know who fits into these categories. We did the album Traitors, and then we did Heirs to Thievery when it was only a minor departure from that. Fuck man, I mean, you’ve already got Move and Kill, you’ve already got Rotten Sound. You’ve got Nasum, even. You’ve got Napalm Death. They’re still putting out records. Do you really want more of that? You’ve got these other bands… You’ve got the originators putting out new albums. We’ve got to progress. We’ve got to do something else.
So where do you want to take it?
Where do we take it from here? I don’t know. The record’s just coming out. I’m still planning. Who knows?
You’ve known about it for months. You’ve heard it before.
I’m still digesting it. I’m still in a re-feed kind of thing. I’m just taking it all in as an album. I know we’ve got a classic album on our hands. I don’t care what anyone says about it. I don’t care which critic has any kind of bullshit to say about it. I know it’s good.
Find Misery Index on Facebook here. If you haven’t yet heard The Killing Gods, you should — the album stream is just below, followed by David Hall’s music video for “The Calling”.