Fubar – Saint Louis, Mo
By: Matt Albers
Photos by: Nick Licata
Anything new and unfamiliar is often seen as a lot to take in. To an outsider, metal music can appear daunting and intimidating. But even within the genre, it’s common for fans to be divided upon lines of subgenres or even specific bands. It’s also common for some of the most forward-thinking, innovative, and progressive musicians and outfits in metal to be well-known almost strictly in an underground setting. This is where these two concepts of extreme music and extreme listener reaction can meet, with varying results.
To a layman, it may sound far-fetched that forms of metal music – more than one might even realize – incorporate many different styles, influences, and techniques into their sound. Depending on one’s preference, bands can sometimes actually sound like they’re brining TOO much to the table, and can result in a sound that may be difficult to digest and comprehend. However, a band like Boston, MA’s Revocation proves that with the right knowledge, balance, and approach, a band can create a big, unique sound so infectious and enjoyable, that it can appeal to so many different types of music fans.
During the St. Louis, MO stop of their tour with Crowbar, Havok, Fit For An Autopsy, and Armed For Apocalypse, I had the opportunity to pick the brains of front man and founder David Davidson and bassist Brett Bamberger.
Anyone who’s ever listened to Revocation seems to know almost immediately that you’ve earned all of your continuing success through the product of your talent and art, as any good band should and rightly so. But when it comes right down to that Revocation sound and style, while there are definitely parallels and similarities to other bands and subgenres (both in and out of the metal spectrum), you seem to blend so many together so well that you’ve created your own unique identity. Was this a plan or goal of yours to begin with, or did you just kind of happen into it through experimentation?
David Davidson (guitar, lead vocals): I think it was sort of a natural process. We all have pretty diverse tastes in music. I’m not sure if it’s a byproduct of growing up in the Internet age where you have access to so much stuff… If you think about it, in the Bay-area thrash scene, if you were living there at the time, then you were into thrash metal. Or if you were in the Florida death metal scene, that was YOUR scene. Being a kid and having access to Cannibal Corpse, and then I’d find out about Exhorder, and then this and that, and finding all of these bands at the same time, I think kind of just ended up instilling a very diverse taste in music in me at an early age. That, coupled with the fact that I was attending music school where I was studying jazz and all that kind of stuff, I was always thinking, “How can I create a synthesis of different styles so that hopefully it’ll be unique?” Rather than just saying, “OK, this band is just this and nothing else,” I’ve always wanted to try to fuse as many things together as possible, and attempt to find a unique voice that is specific to us.
How important is it that you incorporate multiple styles, influences, and techniques into what you do, and how do you find the right balance in the writing process?
I try not to think too much about it when I’m writing, I try to just think about making music that I’m passionate about. And if it happens to fall under the thrash subgenre or the death metal subgenre, I try not to think about that too much. At the end of the day, I just try to think about, “Does this work for Revocation?” That’s really my end goal when I’m writing; does this work with our sound? Does this fall within the parameters? Does this maybe extend our boundaries a little bit, going into some uncharted territory here? And if so, does it still make sense? But so much of it is about [the] sort of vibe, and if it’s not working right then I’ll discard it and move on to something else. That’s happened to me with different songs where I have different riffs, and I’m like, “Oh, this could work,” and [then] I’m just like, “Nah, this really doesn’t fit with the song here.” Because at the end of the day, we’re writing songs. I don’t want it to just be a mish-mash of a bunch of riffs that maybe are technical or sound cool but don’t have a flow to it. So if it doesn’t flow, if it doesn’t feel cohesive, I’m going to keep working on it until I get it right.
Does a collaborative effort come into that as well? Does everyone in the band have their own background that they throw into the mix?
Yeah, I mean his [Brett] is definitely different than mine.
Brett Bamberger (bass guitar, backing vocals): Dave is the main songwriter. He pretty much, like, puts dinner on the table, and you can put your own season on it. You know what I mean?
On the new record, Brett did a bass solo that is totally his own flavor, his own style. Same thing with on the self-titled, on [the song] “Fracked” he had the really cool tapping bass part that I think really added so much to the part. A.) I’m not a bass player, and B.) I have different influences from Brett… You’re coming from a different, like noise rock scene and stuff like that. So he’s going to inherently approach something a little bit different. The thing that I think is special about this band is even though each member has his different influences, they’re each able to sort of focus it through whatever lens they’re looking at it and make it work with the Revocation sound. So it’s not like, “OK, here’s this part that doesn’t fit.” It’s, “Here’s a part that’s written by Brett or by whoever that fits within the parameters of our sound.”
We all know what we’re going for with the sound of it, and it’s not conflicting and nobody’s really scared to give their true opinions on stuff, which really makes it a pleasurable working experience and work environment.
Through your diverse instrument playing, vocalizing, and songwriting, Revocation has – at least to me – achieved that difficult-to-attain goal of peak of making a form of extreme music that is still somehow accessible, welcoming, and enjoyable to so many different fans, audiences, and demographics. Is it also important to you to have a diverse fan base or audience to match your music, so that the greatest amount of people can be exposed to your music and appreciate it no matter where they may come from? Or would you find it more important for your music to speak for itself and “let the cards fall where they may,” so to speak, as far as a listening audience?
I think it’s the latter. I want the music to speak for itself and if we happen to reach a wide demographic with it, then that’s great. We write music for ourselves, first and foremost. If you’re trying to write music to please other people, you’re always going to end up falling short, because the people that you’re trying to please today might not be your fans tomorrow.
Whether you fail or succeed, you’re going to be happy. As long as you’re doing what you want to do and what you believe in. So if you try to, as Dave said, do it for somebody else, you can’t live up to your own expectations.
In your experience in your career, have you gotten people into your music or come up to you that weren’t necessarily metalheads that say, like, “I listen to jazz,” or, “I listen to classical,” or “I listen to rock,” and become a fan of your music? Is that common or rare?
I’ve had that happen before, for sure. I think it’s cool that we can kind of reach across the aisle, if you will, and connect with fans [where] maybe metal isn’t their flavor. I think that sort of speaks to the diversity of the band, that someone who’s not into metal at all can find something that they like about it. Maybe it’s the guitar solos that draw them in, maybe it’s the bass playing, maybe it’s the drumming, maybe it’s just seeing how all the components work together and just seeing the band and [how] they operate on stage that draws you in. Like, “Oh, I never liked metal, but I get it when I watch you guys play, because there’s a certain element to it.”
That’s definitely happened to me before… Totally.
So I can’t speak for what they’re feeling, but that has happened to me. Which I think it’s really, really cool.
Revocation seems to be a band that isn’t afraid to have a little fun and show their humorous side from time to time, whether blatant or tongue-in-cheek. Why is this important aspect for you as a band?
We like to have fun on the road, and I think we definitely show that side here and there. To me, playing music is fun and I’m hanging with three of my closest friends on tour. So inherently it’s going to be a fun experience.
A lot of laughs come out. We’re very serious about our art and our music, that’s the first thing, and then any other little flourishes of personality that come out when we’re performing or hanging out is just part of everyday life for us.
What about your background, particularly the scene of your local region when starting out as a band, affected you, your style, and your direction to eventually break out on a larger scale?
For me, growing up in the Boston scene was awesome. First of all, it’s a pretty diverse scene. There were thrash metal bands, death metal bands, grind bands, black metal bands, and then there was the punk rock scene, which was this HUGE underground punk scene. And we would play with all those bands. So we would do like a club show or a bar gig with some death metal bands, and then we would go the next weekend and play a basement show with a bunch of punk rock bands. Then we’d go to a different club and there’d be a thrash metal night. Then we’d do an abandoned warehouse somewhere on the other side of the tracks with a bunch of hardcore punk bands. So seeing both sides of the underground scene really inspired me. For me, the boisterous nature of punk rock was so inspiring, and then the musicality of metal inspired me as a musician. The D.I.Y. nature of the punk scene really inspired me to get off my ass and think like, “OK, we’re not going to wait around for some giant booking agent to come sweep up off our feet; we have to pound the pavement ourselves, we’ve got to live in a van and really go for it and make it happen.” I mean, Brett grew up in New Jersey…
Yeah, the Jersey scene was always killer, man. I spent a lot of time in New Jersey having Boston envy too, because of that whole Hydra Head thing was something that I was into, and that came out of Dave’s area. But my area was like the Ripping Corpse, the Human Remains, Burnt By The Sun, all that stuff. The scene was always strong in New Jersey, just watching all those guys grind and do it from a distance and then up close and personal, that was very motivational for me as well.
It sounds like it wasn’t just the music and the writing but also the culture.
So many of my close friends are musicians from the scene. I would say, the majority of my friends are musicians in one way or another. So just forming those bonds, being a part of that culture. I mean, I remember just being a kid trying to break into it [like] flyering and this and that, just trying to meet people, meeting promoters and other bands that we were looking up to. Then all of sudden, we got asked to open a show, and it was the coolest day of my life to sort of break into that scene. I remember the first time people, when we were first starting out, called us a thrash metal band; I felt a connection to something. Like, “Oh, yeah, we’re playing thrash.” It [was] sort of a stamp of approval or an acceptance from the scene which I thought was really cool. So [there] was so much about it; it was not just the music, it was about the culture, the people, meeting new friends, community, the whole thing.
I’ve always felt that Revocation is such a diverse band with so much going in and coming out of its sound and style, that when people ask me what you sound like, I always respond with, “The better question for you to ask and for me to answer is: What kind of metal does Revocation play?” To which the answer is, “Yes.” Because I can’t pigeonhole you or your music into one particular subgenre
That’s our goal. I would say the core of our sound would probably be death/thrash. But I mean we have so many other different elements that we bring to the table. So the biggest compliment I can receive is not, “They sound like this genre or that genre,” but, “They sound like Revocation.”
You’re on a pretty diverse tour right now, with bands that sound very different from each other. How has the experience been throughout the routing? What have crowd reactions been like?
It’s been great so far.
Yeah, the crowds have been great, all the bands get along really well together. Crowbar, obviously legends in the scene, I remember growing up listening to Crowbar, and to meet the guys… they’re just so cool and chill and laid back, it’s just a real pleasure to tour with everyone. And it’s such a weird lineup, but…
Kids are turning out and sticking around for the whole show.
Yeah, for like the thrash metal parts, kids are circle pitting. And for, like the heavy, crushing riffs, people are fucking headbanging. I think metalheads in general have kind of a diverse taste because it’s kind of a subculture as it is, and there’s just so many bands in the underground that you get exposed to; whether it’s someone playing you this or that, or you go to a show and you see a doom and grind show, and bands that are playing incredibly slow and bands that are playing incredibly fast. But for some reason that sort of contrast just works.
Do you prefer to tour with bands that are different or more similar to your own sound, style, and audience demographic? Why or why not?
There’s different answers; yes and no.
I think we can tailor our set to who we’re going out [on tour] with. I think that’s the cool part about this band. We can do a tour with Megadeth and we can kind of lean more on kind of our thrashy, kind of rockin’ parts. Or we can do a tour with Dying Fetus and we lean heavier on our death metal catalogue. So I think it depends.
From where do you draw inspiration for your lyrics, and why are the topics you choose to write about important to you?
I draw inspiration from everything from my personal life to things that I see going on in society. And then as a sort of a form of escapism, going into a little fantasy as well. I mean, if I just did sort of a cross-section of lyrics, “Deathless” is straight up about our lives on tour; being in a van for twelve hours a day, you get a lot time for reflection, and thinking about the choices that you’ve made that have gotten you to this point. And it’s sort of the dedication that we all have to music, because it’s not a lifestyle that’s for everyone… There’s just something about it that draws you to that lifestyle. Whereas a song like “Madness Opus,” that’s inspired by the writings of H.P. Lovecraft. Reading different fiction and stuff like that, it helps to put you in a different head space; it’s a little bit of escapism or whatever you want to call it. The thing that was so great about Lovecraft is that he just created this whole universe of horror; it wasn’t like a ghost story, it was like this cosmic entity that was unnamable in its chaos. Just that whole element really drew me in, it really just gets your imagination going. And then a song like “Labyrinth Of Eyes” is sort of a critique on our current society living under the watchful eye of the N.S.A. and stuff like that. As far as metal lyrics fodder goes, there’s really no shortage of things to talk about today if you’re just looking at society; I mean we’re just so dystopian and Orwellian in this society that we’re living in, so I felt compelled to write about that topic because it effects all of us.
There are definitely some songs and themes that are politically driven (“Fracked” and maybe “Dismantle The Dictator” seem to be prime examples). Are you trying to give off any particular message when you write a political song, or is it strictly personal and internal?
I try not to be heavy-handed with it, but at the same time if it’s something that is really kind of weighing on me… I don’t want to paint a pretty picture of something to sort of whitewash over it. I think if it’s something that is a problem, then it’s good to sort of, as an artist, if it’s on your mind, you want to get it out… There’s a quote – I think it’s Bertolt Brecht said: “Art is not a mirror to reflect the world, but a hammer to shape it. So, you know, you think about that… art can kind of change people’s minds, it can expose people to new ideas, and it can do so in a way that kind of helps you cross that threshold without being so abrasive that you’re getting into a political argument or something like that. Just the nature of music, whatever the genre – metal is known for being more abrasive, but to metalheads, metal music is very welcoming… So, if you’re already a fan of the music, then maybe you’ll read the music and think about things.
At the same time, I’m not a politician or anything like that; like I said, I never want to be too heavy-handed with it, but I think if it’s a topic that’s weighing on my mind or I’m thinking about, I don’t want to shy away from it [just] because I don’t want to offend someone. To me, making music is taking risk and exposing yourself a little bit, and if you make some fans because of it, that’s great. Some people say, “Oh, that’s too political,” then that’s fine too… But they could always like, not read the lyrics or whatever [laughs]. Which is fine… A lot of bands I grew up listening to, I don’t necessarily know the lyrics, I listen to it for the music, so you can look at it either way. But either way, we’re not going to be, sort of, flying the flag for one sort of political agenda [in an] in-your-face way; it’s more… trying to be a little poetic about it. Not beat you over the head with any one ideal.
You’ve just been signed to a new label, Metal Blade, congratulations!
What are your experiences and opportunities like after this change compared to your previous label, and what can we expect from your next effort?
We’re just going to grind it, man. We’ll be doing the same thing… We had a great time working with Relapse [Records], we’re having a great time working with Metal Blade, and we look forward to the road ahead because we’ve got a lot booked coming up, and we’re just planning on supporting the record to the fullest extent. And having that dream relationship where both the label and the band work really hard together, so we just look really forward to that.
What have you not done yet as a band that you still want to do? What are your goals, both short-term and long term at this current point in your career?
Touring, like, South America would be cool. There’s still places we haven’t been to yet.
South America’s on the hit list.
We’re going to be going to Australia for the first time. We haven’t done it yet, but that’s a big “check” for me.
This is our first six-month stretch pretty much, where we’re going to be going crazy.
Other than that, I don’t know. When you start out, it’s like, “Oh, I want to tour with this band. That would be awesome.” And then [after that] the bar gets raised and raised and raised. I mean I think it would be great if this new record cracked top 100 Billboard chart. Our last one cracked top 200 and I was super stoked, so that would be cool if we got to that next level and that next milestone, or whatever. I think it’s important to be realistic about your goals though, too; not to think like, “Oh, we’re going to be fuckin’ #1.” I mean, that would be amazing, but you have to realize that it’s a grind and every step of the way we’re totally making progress. But I don’t think I’m going to wake up tomorrow and be a multi-millionaire.
We don’t want the sun, the moon, and the stars, man. We’re really grateful for what we have and what we’ve accomplished, and all the options that area available to us. We’re very much realists in our goals and expectations of ourselves as musicians and the business side as well.
But yeah, go buy the record; get us to #1 – YOU CAN DO IT!!
A lot of people say, “What can I do to support [the band]?” Buy a record, come out to show, buy a shirt.