Interview with Trevor Strnad of The Black Dahlia Murder
By Dark Juan
Good afternoon, you beautiful bunch of misfits and miscreants! I trust you have been following the gospel of Dark Juan and have given your livers a workout worthy of Arnold Schwarzenegger in his prime? Have you been defiling with wanton and base lusts the bodies of those closest to you as you have been exiled for the good of the realm? If not, I WANT DETAILED REPORTS OF WHY NOT ON MY DESK THIS AFTERNOON! If there was ever a time for peace and love to flourish it’s now, boys, girls and persons of other genders. I request and require that you show love to everybody. Love is the law.
In other news, I spoke to one of my musical heroes and it was surprisingly NOT the fucking car crash I expected it to be, considering I am an enthusiastic and somewhat demented amateur music journo. Couple this with an accent thicker than the mud at the bottom of a drain and a sense of humour that could charitably described as baroque and you might consider that Mr. TREVOR FUCKING STRNAD OF THE BLACK FUCKING DAHLIA FUCKING MURDER actually deigning to speak to me and being a consummate gentleman throughout was something of a minor miracle. He happily appeared to be able to put up with all kinds of amateur nonsense, such as a Northern monkey rapidly riffling through notes and simultaneously soiling himself and Lord Igor Egbert Bryan Clown-Shoe Cleavage-Hoover alternately yowling, barking, meowing and for one glorious moment mooing. He did this with grace, class and bonhomie. Trevor did, not Igor. Igor’s a twat. I present to you all, my Church of the Poisoned Mind, the verbatim conversation we had, INCLUDING my deeply embarrassing fangirling.
I wonder whether animals can have species dysphoria? It would explain much about Igor. Anyway, the “interview”…
Dark Juan: Good evening, Mr. Trevor Strnad. I’m Dark Juan and I am the ridiculously overexcited idiot responsible for the 10/10 review your album “Verminous” got from Ever-Metal.com.
Trevor fucking Strnad!!!: Ah, thanks a lot man, that’s awesome. I’m very flattered by that.
DJ: (frothing in a frankly disgraceful fashion): Mate, what a record! In fact it’s not a record; it’s a weapon, man!
TS: (Laughs ): Fuck yeah, dude. Glad you like it man.
DJ: (heart rate still not normal and running off pure adrenalin and copious amounts of cider): It’s awesome. Forgive me for being a prat because this is my first time interviewing a major metal star and I’m shitting bricks about it!
TS: (one wonders how often this man comes up against pretenders of music journalism): You’re doing good man, no worries.
DJ: (desperately trying to appear professional and failing catastrophically): “Verminous”, first of all, a total contender for record of the year as far as I am concerned.
TS: Big words there, I like hearing that, man. Thank you so much.
DJ: First time I listened to it, it was almost simplistic, but on repeated listens it opens up in front of you and you have got these polyrhythms and super complicated riffs and your vocals range from the depths of hell to taking God’s head off with a buzzsaw. It’s got everything.
TS: (struggling gamefully on and proving his professionalism considering the fact that there hasn’t been an actual QUESTION yet): It definitely has more layers to it (than previous releases) and I don’t think it reveals itself fully the first time you listen to it, you know. There’s definitely some information to unpack over time.
DJ: (Deciding that now is NOT the time to preach his own somewhat confused faith): Yeah, I get that totally. Do I detect a SLIGHT HINT of antireligiousness in there, by any chance? A tiny bit of not liking the church?
TS: (Perhaps composing a stern email to the PR company to make sure this doesn’t happen again in his head): What else is new, man?
DJ: (finally managing to marshal his confused thoughts into a form that might actually have a question in them): So, your vocal style. I’ve noticed that you have said that Carcass was/ is a major influence on you. Was that Jeff or Bill’s vocals?
TS: (the man is a legend. He hasn’t yet screamingly clawed for the end call button): Well, it’s both actually. I wanted to be able to do both vocals with one person. I know I’m not the deepest, most guttural on the low end of all the guys out there, but I’m influenced from that Bill Steer mid rangey grittiness you know. It was listening to the “Tools Of The Trade” EP, that was the first glimpse of Carcass that I had and it’s still my favourite of their output you know? I have the “Tools Of The Trade” tattoo on my arm and yeah, dude, I’ve just been aping those guys ever since (laughs) and on the song “How Very Dead” (on “ Verminous”) I was trying to sound like I have an English accent and really going for Carcass.
DJ: (on safe ground at last!): Yeah, I thought I detected a real classic Carcass vibe on “The Leather Apron’s Scorn” – my favourite song on the record.
TS: Yeah, that song’s cool man. It’s different for us. It’s kind of progressive and very groovy. There’s a lot of groovy stuff on this record which is kind of new territory for us. Yeah man, that’s a definite high point of the record for us. A very creative song.
DJ: I have been a fan of The Black Dahlia Murder since 2003 (Trevor interrupts in surprise, “NO WAY!”) Yeah, man, you’re one of my favourite singers…
TS: You’re making me blush over here!
DJ: (inappropriate sense of humour immediately making an escape out of the box it had been beaten and forced into): Never thought I’d hear a bearded man tell me that but (TS is busy laughing) this record really does transcend all your other releases to date as far as I am concerned.
TS: Thanks, man. Yeah, “Nightbringers” was such a success, and having Brandon (Ellis – lead guitar) in the fold now we have a lot of creative juice and everything was just going right so it just gave us the confidence to push things a little further than we have done in the past. We are very happy with how it came out and it feels like a very proud moment for us.
DJ: (finally behaving like a fucking journalist!): Talking of Brandon, what did he bring to the party that wasn’t there before do you think?
TS: Um, Ryan (Knight, ex-guitar) was another awesome songwriter too, so I don’t wanna slight him but Brandon has this youth and this excitement to be here amongst the band. He’s just the most creative person we have had and he’s the most musically inclined, honestly. He’s the most educated, I mean he taught himself to play guitar from different sources on the internet and has never taken a lesson in his life which might surprise a lot of people. He’s just kind of a virtuoso and he looks at music in a different way and we have all been learning a lot from the guy even though he’s the youngest member of the band – He’s wise beyond his years and he has definitely taught us a lot about songwriting and different detail you can weave into a song and to consider the very minutiae of a song and I think that’s what makes these songs special , a little more elbow grease and he’s got a unique way at looking at songcraft and I think it’s kind of affected us all and we’re just trying to keep up with the kid. He’s lifted us all up and inspired us all and he’s definitely the guy you want in your band! Just feels like a really great time in TBDM history and feels like a real high point right now.
DJ: (having nearly shat himself with relief at getting a reasonably interesting question in before his already shaky confidence falls apart): That’s something that really shines through on the record I think. That kind of indefinable something where you can just tell that people are really enjoying playing that song, that’s what shines through on “Verminous”. That’s what makes it special I think.
TS: (doubtlessly relieved to be talking about the album instead of responding to Dark Juan metaphorically prostrating himself in front of him): Right on man, I’m glad that came across. It was fun to build from the ground up. Giving Brandon more control this time, with him recording most of the record, I think was a good move and gave us more control and able to take it really slow and look at things with a microscope. I think this is going to be our recording process from here on out because it was so successful. He stepped into the band and wanted to have a big piece of the pie and be creative and in control of things and we trusted him. We trusted him a lot on “Nightbringers” during the mix and he took a lot of control then and he just showed us what he could do, so this time we trusted him with more responsibility and the record is that much better for it. He’s just that kind of take charge kind of dude, man.
DJ: “Nightbringers” was such a massive success, you were touring that for two or three years, right? I mean, touring “Verminous” is kind of on hold because of coronavirus which means you could end up touring an album that’s a year old. What does that make you feel like? Do you feel the songs will stand the test of time or do you chalk “Verminous” up to experience and record a new album for the touring cycle?
TS: Um, I still think people are going to be excited to hear the songs and they have a lot of time to listen to it and fester on it. Honestly, from our point of view being in the band, there’s nothing better that could have happened during this than drop an album. That’s the ultimate content you could have and entertain all these bored people right now. The pace of life at the moment is so freaking slow. There’s time to enjoy art and absorb it, so in a weird way I think this has turned out to be advantageous, you know? Um, it’s just that it was nothing that we could foresee but we could have got caught at the end of a record cycle with no new content or anything else to offer up so honestly it’s turned out to be the best kind of thing that could have happened, I think. Honestly, it has hurt the sales a little bit, not being able to go to the record store, also we were booked to go on tour with Testament which would have been our biggest tour ever. But I’m hoping we can just jump back into this thing and pick up our momentum where we left off and hopefully people will be excited to hear these songs.
DJ: This record, I’ve found when I listen to it, third or fourth time through, you have so many different influences on it… Instead of the straight up melodeath on previous releases, there are so many disparate influences you have managed to weld into a cohesive whole and it could all so easily have sounded like a load of metal pans falling down the stairs. Has the songwriting taken longer than usual, or is it luck or judgement?
TS: It’s a lot of years of experience of writing Black Dahlia Murder songs. In the last few years, I think the goal has been to make the most dynamic music we can make. Music that really takes you on a ride and has different emotional flavours to it and I got to agree that we did add a lot of approaches that we didn’t have before. We got songs that are pretty rock injected where we close the high hat and just rock out and we have never done that before. You have “The Wereworm’s Feast” for example which is very King Diamond influenced, very classic heavy metal feel to it. Yeah, I think this record has a lot more style and we are becoming more comfortable and spreading our wings and focusing on that aspect of it. It is definitely a cocktail of that classic Black Dahlia Murder sound but also mining from different corners of heavy metal.
DJ: (having managed to obtain the dizzy heights of competence for all of seven minutes before plunging back down into the black murk of idiocy): I finished the review off by claiming that “Verminous” is the first metal album that doesn’t need more cowbell.
TS: (Laughs): We definitely did put some rock in there! It’s Brandon’s influence. He’s not like your normal 26 year old. He’s definitely a child of the 80’s and he’s very progressive in what he writes and he has pushed us all in that direction to be more creative with what we do and lifted us up and we are all just trying to keep up with him and he’s inspired Brian (Eschbach – guitar and vocals). Brian has turned out some of the best songs he’s ever written and it’s just a great line up right now. It’s the culmination of a lot of positivity, a lot of great times together – we toured together for three years off of “Nightbringers” together and had a great time and a lot of success. We just took all of that praise for that record and the positive vibe and just pushed it into this record and it made us very creative and something that felt new for us.
DJ: (in sensible question SHOCK!): Do you know what kind of response you had with online and pre-sales? Are you selling well?
TS: (Clearly wondering what sort of madman has been allowed to talk to him this time): Yeah man, we have hit the charts pretty hard which was surprising. I have to credit a lot of it to our fan club, the Blast Fiends, they have a Facebook group that really focused on collecting Black Dahlia stuff, vinyl variants and they are just total hounds for the record! So some of those guys showed up and bought a lot of copies and they are like our unofficial street team and they have really pulled for us so we could hit the charts hard, and we made some waves in the press because of it. Even during this pandemic we are able to make waves so that’s pretty cool.
DJ: Got any words for the Blast Fiends while you’re here?
TS: Thanks a lot guys, we really appreciate it. We do this for you guys and you are a huge part of it and we have yet another victory for the Black Dahlia campaign!
DJ: (still panicking like a schoolgirl but much less obviously now): “Verminous” – The title gave me the impression you were trying to evoke the seedy underbelly of life in general. Do you want to expand on this? Are we (the metal kids and the alternative people) the kind that are creeping out of the sewers to terrify the norms?
TS: Yes, that’s how I see it, man. The world on the album cover is sort of a metaphor for our place underground, literally underground. I look at metal, and especially death metal as this kind of hidden world, a secret that most people can’t see. They can’t see the value of it, they can’t see the culture of it and they can’t see the positivity of our scene, and how it’s like our lives and it’s so important to us and it’s a secret, a hidden world and it’s a plague we’re spreading, like a plague of knowledge and an awareness, an awakening to this world of freedom from religion, creativity, free thought and unfiltered art. I mean, death metal is not made for everybody – it’s made for a select few and it’s a labour of love. If we had any delusions of trying to become rich or hugely famous we would have been a totally different kind of band. It’s an act of love and something we pride ourselves on making this music and staying extreme. This is the culmination of years of hard work, trial and error when writing in the past and I feel like we are an older, wiser band right now but also that we are still young with regard to how creative we can be. I feel like this is the opening of a new chapter where we can be more creative as a band. We’ve been together for twenty years now of history with the band, but I still feel we have another 20 years. I can’t see us doing anything else. It’s been my entire life, this band, we’ve gone so hard in one direction and Brian especially, being the other original member, and we have to just see this through. We have to keep going and I feel honoured that people have stuck around and we have had so much success and that’s a big inspiration to make our music as good as we can and to keep our fans happy. It’s a never ending thing, man, and it keeps snowballing out of control, the success of this thing and we have to honour the initial opportunity Metal Blade (record label) gave us and just push it to the hilt.
DJ: (gotta hit those clichés!): Do you view “Verminous” as your “Reign In Blood moment”, or is it more your “Show No Mercy” moment and you are going to grow bigger and more expansive?
TS: (to his eternal credit, NOT rolling his eyes at the demented Englishman): I kinda see “Nightbringers” as more like “Reign In Blood”. It was more of an attack, attack all the time record with a lot of information crammed into it. More of a barrage, if you know what I mean. “Verminous” is more a “South Of Heaven”, where it has a lot more variety and is more dynamic. It still has its fast parts, but it’s much more like us opening our doors, spreading our wings and using this dynamic energy. We wanted the album to feel less samey and have real variety in the songs and let the songs stand out as their own entity. We tried to make the compositions more epic, this time around, definitely less intensity at times, perhaps some buildup, to have some tension, release and to have the chance to really emote this time round. We have a lot of melancholic songs that are gripping on that level and trying to be a more emotive package as a whole and really trying to elicit a response from the listener.
DJ: (now having calmed down somewhat and actually doing what he’s supposed to): Songwriting techniques – how do you go about it? Do ideas spring from a single riff, or a lyrical idea, or a title idea? How does The Black Dahlia Murder work as a musical entity?
TS: The lyrics come second. I’ll have a list of some ideas that I kick around but for the most part I’m reacting to what I hear in a song. Either guitar player will demo the song in ProTools and by the time I hear it, it has both guitars, it has bass and it has programmed drums that sound pretty good. Then our drummer rewrites the drums hit for hit what will end up on the album and then I’ll start writing with it. I’ll sit with it, I’ll listen to it a gazillion times in my fucking underwear and really it’s a challenge to me and something I look forward to. Listening to the song a million times and then plotting how the plotline is going to go up and down with the music. I try to make the story fit every moment of the music and it is a challenge to write in those confines but it’s also very cool when it all comes together. I try to make the lyrical climax come with the musical climax so it makes this bigger picture. I really care about the lyrics and it’s not just something I scribble down but I try to bring somebody in. I try to make the listener go to a different place or imagine a different character. It’s a lot of fun, but it’s a hell of a challenge though. The rest of the guys pretty much write in solitude, either guitar player and it’s been this way for a long time now since we had members living out of state and we are pretty used to being spread out – there’s a lot of WhatsApp group texts that we talk to each other through, emails with ProTools files and we are used to this way of working now. Before we all used to write together in one room at band practice, but now we don’t have a traditional band practice anymore. We will get together before a tour all in the same spot and freshen up on things for a couple of days but now we rely on everyone looking after their own upkeep at home and keep their chops up on their own time and that’s a big responsibility but it’s just how this thing works now. The creative process is something I look forward to – every time I come back to it I’m excited to see where the band is musically and with every record there’s a big jump with creativity and I think the guys absorb a lot of information during three years of touring. We play a lot of music to each other, we play a lot of shows, see a lot of bands, so even though we are cranking out these records at a fairly alarming rate, there is a lot of growth between records and this is the most growth we have had between albums and a lot of it has come from “Nightbringers’ ” success. I’m looking forward to the future man. I see us pushing the boundaries further in the future.
DJ: I’m looking forward to seeing you tour in the UK as soon as this virus is done with. You’re going to be hungry. I expect you’ll be tearing my face off…
TS: There’s talk about maybe January for Europe and the UK. I think it might be our first tour back, but I’m not sure just yet.
DJ (who actually really does need to visit the lavatory at this point such is the relief of ending this extremely stressful experience): How different is Trevor Strnad, mad bastard throat with The Black Dahlia Murder, to Trevor Strnad sitting peacefully at home?
TS: I dunno man. I don’t really feel that I have two faces. I feel like I’m the same person here too (at home). A fun, easygoing metalhead. A lot of my life revolves around music, you know, collecting music and being a hound for the underground and checking out new bands and checking the scene… getting metal in the mail every day… I don’t look at what I do with The Black Dahlia Murder as a job, that’s an insult to it I think, it’s so fun. It is hard too, there’s a lot of sacrifice and a lot of hardships. Tours are largely very boring – there’s a lot of waiting around and shitty travel situations and you can liken it to camping at times. It’s not really glamorous and a lot of people don’t really think about or see the amount of work that it entails. I basically gave up my entire life to do this and I love it, I love staying in touch with the underground and it fuels my passion for The Black Dahlia Murder. I’m pretty much the same guy behind the scenes, you know, a big metal nerd!
DJ: Maybe a slightly quieter one than on stage…
TS: A little more reserved. There is a dark part and it’s a release for me to be on that stage and embodying the demonic characters that I have conjured up. Getting into that villain role – I feel that death metal is villain music and we’re the villains to societal norms and religion and it’s all about celebrating freedom, celebrating the underground and the friendship and the culture that’s there and there’s so much positivity there for “negative” music. I think people give us a bad rap, man.
DJ: Thank you, Sir Trevor of Strnad, for putting up with me barking drunken questions at you and basically flailing desperately to appear like I know what I’m doing… You fucking legend.
TS: Thanks a lot, man, it was fun. Take care.
And that’s fucking that. If you need me, I’ll be in a darkened room with an IV of absinthe and 24 nubile young virgins. Knock before you enter, otherwise it’s at your own risk.
Buy “Verminous”. It’s awesome. And so is Trevor Strnad.
“Verminous” by The Black Dahlia Murder was released by Metal Blade Records on 17.04.2020.
Disclaimer: This interview is solely the property of ‘Dark Juan’ and Ever Metal. It is strictly forbidden to copy any part of this interview, unless you have the strict permission of said party. Failure to adhere to this will be treated as plagiarism and will be reported to the relevant authorities.