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INTERVIEW – Zain Smith, Anti-Mortem – May 2014

| 28 May 2014 | Reply

INTERVIEW – Zain Smith, Anti-Mortem – May 2014

Anti-Mortem Zain Smith 2
Zain Smith, guitarist with Oklahoma natives Anti-Mortem, tells SHANE PINNEGAR that they started out just like every other garage band around the world, rehearsing and writing songs for their just-released debut album New Southern in his family’s barn.

Smith says that although the barn was supposed to house his Dad’s vintage car collection, you can’t overvalue family support.

“We have two buildings,” he details, “We’ve got a barn that’s a Quonset hut, and it’s kind of an airplane hangar looking thing. That’s where [he keeps] all of his old cars and motorcycles and cool gadgets and stuff that he’s collected over the years, you know, it’s kind of the graveyard for them – they’re in there hanging out.

“There was some in the smaller building that we took over, but he was willing to move whatever was in there over to the barn and just let us take over the place. Still to this day we practice there.

“It’s convenient…,” Smith hesitates briefly, “like, there are pros and cons to it obviously. The best part is it’s out in the country so we can practice whenever we want, [and be] loud whenever we want. The bad part is we play out in the shop so it’s really cold when it’s cold and it’s really hot when it’s hot. But, you know, its hard work and dedication to be out there, so that proves a lot.”

“We practiced in there for a while. We got one place in our hometown to play and the capacity was 55 and we started filling that double over and once we got to the point to where we filled that up, we started playing out here at the house and inviting friends over from high school and stuff like that and packing it out. Yeah, we do that a lot.”


Smith explains that Anti-Mortem – made up of guitarist Smith, vocalist Larado Romo and his older brother-guitarist Nevada, bassist Corey Henderson and drummer Levi Dickerson – were first noticed by Roadrunner Records exec Monte Connor, which led to them being signed by Nuclear Blast Records for their debut release.

‘We met Monte because we were opening for Skinlab, and how we met Skinlab is through Provo, [who] used to play guitar in Skinlab. Skinlab comes to Oklahoma, we open for them. Killed it. Right after we get done playing, Steev Esquivel, their singer and bass player, he comes up to us, like, ‘I’m friends with Monte. I’m getting you guys signed to Roadrunner Records. I did the same thing with 36 Crazyfists.’ He’s like, ‘let’s do it!’

“Then we got in contact with Monte and basically we were with him forever and we built this relationship for a good year and a half, and it came to an end when he [left] Roadrunner. We just found out one day they got rid of him and kind of chopped a bunch of people out of there man. It was like, ‘wow Monte has been there forever, [so] what does that mean for us?’ You know, the relationship had been built for a year and a half or more and he went to Nuclear Blast.

“We were like, ‘well, Nuclear Blast is too heavy [for us]’ That’s when our manager was starting to look elsewhere, and Monte called me and said Nuclear Blast is starting to get to where they’re wanting to branch out and not only do death metal and just black metal or symphonic metal and just crazy metal. They’re going to do rock and radio rock. They said we’re going to bring back the balls to the radio and just get the real rock scene going, you know, like classic rock all the way. I don’t know if you’ve ever heard of Graveyard or Scorpion Child but those are acts that Nuclear signed that’s like, dude – that’s kick ass! Music like that is… you know people are mentioning it, it’s coming back around, you know. But that’s basically how that happened, you know.

“I mean Nuclear Blast didn’t know of us. Basically, the moment Monte got settled in at Nuclear Blast, he asked them about it and the owners of the label were like, ‘go for it. Do what you want,’ basically and Monte has taken us under his wings from there. He’s a bad mo-fo.”

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Bringing rock back to the masses is a subject close to Smith’s heart, as it is to all of us at 100% ROCK. The six string slinger can’t help but bemoan the current state of radio in The States.

“Oh dude, I can tell you that’s the goal of our band. It inspires us because when you turn on the radio and you can’t figure out who is playing because it all sounds the same, you know what I mean? You’ve got to break out your Shazam and be like, ‘who is this?’ You’re like, ‘oh okay, that’s that band, whatever, it’s like that could have been this band.’ It’s so overproduced. It’s way too poppy and it’s just like way far away from where rock needs to be.

“Kids are growing up thinking Maroon 5 is rock and it’s like ‘what?!?’” he continues, “Like, you are kidding me? What’s Metallica up to? You know what I mean? It’s like, where are they? It’s like we’re trying to bring the youth back to it, [get] little kids going to Metallica or Pantera shows. It makes my day when we see young one’s out, it’s awesome.”

One quote that has reappeared in dozens of articles and even the band’s promo is from their lead singer Laredo, who said “Fuck the world, Fuck the album, come to one of our shows.” When I bring this up Zain is quick to point out that he was in no way being critical of the album, but singing their praises as a live act.

“No! I mean, I feel the same way – it’s the [way the] fucking rock n’ roll experience is about the show man. Nowadays with ProTools and just everything in the world, you can autotune a fart and turn it into a song and you’re famous, you know what I mean? It’s like, dude! We’re kind of at the point where we know our CD is great, but I would say it’s 8 out of 10.

“What can we bring, you know what I mean [to make it a ten]? Because it’s not just what you hear on a CD: it’s about our hair banging everywhere live and the whole friendship with the fans and just the whole… I don’t know, you’ve got to be at a show to see it, but I mean, we’re all about a live show and I think that’s what Larado is saying. He’s loving this record.

“We’re all very proud to finally release [a record] and be able to say, ‘hey, our first record was on a fucking good label.’ We made it, you know? That’s really cool. I think it’s all going good. I think Larado, he was just saying that about our live show, you know.

“It was basically like, back in the day on the first three Metallica records when, you know, Bob Rock saw them or whatever, he [must have] said, ‘Metallica, you have not captured yet on a CD, what you guys bring live.’ That’s when they started working with him and stuff. It’s like, you know, I think we did a damn good job but I mean, I still feel like it’s almost impossible nowadays, like all the [extra] stuff.

“It’s like, music is not in the raw form anymore,” he tries to explain, “it’s not a live band going and then cutting records. Like, bands still do that, but whatever you’re hearing on the radio, the stuff that’s really getting huge, half the time it’s programmed drums and pre-written songs by the producer that recorded it. It’s really huge for us to be here and be releasing this and be able to say that it’s true, it’s us. That’s what we’re trying to bring back for sure.”

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Difficult to put into words though it is, Smith has a point – The New Southern sounds like a band recording live to tape, and a behemoth of a band at that. Yeah it’s metal, yeah it has Southern inflections, but most of all it has great songs and performances from all involved. Using Bob Marlette – fresh from work with Black Stone Cherry, Alice Cooper, Sebastian Bach, Airbourne and Shinedown, he captures Anti-Mortem right on the bullseye.

“Well, the last thing about Bob is he is a great dude,” elucidates Smith. “He’s an old school guy. He’s at the age to where he’s done it for a long time and he knows what to do and he knows what will work and he knows what won’t work – but there’s pros and cons to that, like I’ve been saying, with anything.

“Basically the pros are, he knows the best gear, he can tell you how to write a good song, he can help you, guide you into making something that’s sonically really heavy and bad ass. But I would say the downside would be since he’s been doing it for so long and he knows what works, every now and again he’ll be like, ‘hey, play this guitar right here because that’s the one Seether used on Remedy,’ or ‘hey man, play this bass because that’s the one we used on this Black Stone Cherry record,’ and it’s kind of at that point we’re like, ‘can we use our bass, can we use our tone,’ you know, we want to be original and it’s kind of like on the vocal end of things we’ve had some fans, say, ‘oh the vocalist sounds like Josey Scott [Saliva] or Brent Smith [Shinedown],’ and it’s like, Bob recorded both of those artists.

“Even his production of the way he brings Larado’s vocals across, it’s good, but there’s nothing original, you know – there’s nothing new about it. There is definitely… that’s kind of what I’m bringing in there when I’m saying ‘come to a live show.’ Our record is an 8 of 10 because it’s how… you’ve got to think about a record as ‘this is how this person recorded it and brought them across to the world.’

“When you’re watching a live show, it’s like, this is what they as a band are making without anybody else’s technology, anybody else’s brain, nothing. They’re making this sound to me right now. When you go through a producer that has been doing it for so long, he’s like, ‘well this trick’s been working, I’ve done it on 50 records, so I’m doing it on yours.’ It starts to get to a point where this is why we’re in this situation, this is why every song sounds the same, because you’re writing the same riffs or you know you’re doing the same tones or you’re doing the same whatever tricks. You know, it’s like, just be original!

“That’s what we’re about,” he says passionately. “That’s what we want, because that’s when you know you’re really good and you have something special, is when you can be out there and people be like, ‘dude, I’ve never heard anything like that and I love it,’ versus, ‘hey, you kind of sound like this band.’

“I’m not dissing Bob at all. Bob is a great,” he assures us. “Like I said, it’s definitely an experience man. Like, you get to go work with a big producer like that, [who] knows the game and just knows what to do, but at the same time if you’re willing to sacrifice a little bit of your say so. For example, the producer we would use in Oklahoma, Provo, when you give him an idea or he gives you an idea, if you like it awesome, if you don’t like it, ‘hey bro, it’s your band,’ but Bob on the other hand, if he gives you an idea that he loves and feels strong about, he is going to fight you and probably put it in there anyway.

“It’s kind of like, [you have to be] willing to give up some of that.”

Anti-Mortem 2

Whilst on the subject I couldn’t help but bring up the ballad Black Heartbeat, which – in fitting with Smith’s comments above – does sound more reminiscent of Nickelback or Shinedown than anything else on New Southern. If any song on the record is going to be a crossover hit, it’s this one, but was it their idea to make a radio friendly song, or the label or producers?

“Here is the story behind that,” says Smith. “Basically, when we were with Roadrunner, we were younger and we were going out to work with Bob again to write the songs, and we were under the impression that Roadrunner was looking for a southern sounding band but really they were looking for a really good original rock band for the radio.

“When we went out there – and at this point it is kind of our fault, so we had written like two or three or four ideas that were more commercial, more radio ideas. We get there and we cut five songs and we get back and Monte and just everybody from our management staff called and were like, ‘what happened? We are not really digging this, what did you guys do?’

“Black Heartbeat was one of those songs, and that was one that they actually thought was decent but there was one called Losing You, that was totally not even that. Bob helped us write that, but it didn’t make it to the record or even anything further than that demo session.

“That’s what happened – we wrote three or four songs that weren’t really us. They were us, but we made a point to write for the radio. [So] we kind of scratched Black Heartbeat and scratched all these songs and started writing new ones and when we did the record there is a song that we had previously called, Don’t Cry and it’s kind of just like Black Heartbeat out of the same kind of lyric content, same meaning, but we did it with Provo in Oklahoma and we had it forever so the plan was to put Don’t Cry, on the record, but at that point as a band we had had that song for so long and Monte was watching us rehearse it and he was like, ‘you guys look bored, you guys look like you are not even enjoying this song, so the song comes across shady.’ He was like, ‘let’s use Black Heartbeat instead,’ because when we play, the two songs are almost identical when it comes to what they are about and how they sound, almost. They are kind of the same tone, years apart though, but same kind of song.

“Monte just saw us play Black Heartbeat and he was like, ‘I think the record can use a spot for one song that can be on the radio,’ and so we did it. I mean that song, I can tell you all of our band members and me personally, that’s one of our least favourite songs on the record because we wrote it for that purpose. It’s not… It is us, don’t get me wrong, but we just love the stuff that we enjoy playing live, that’s heavy, and that brings the show. Black Heartbeat is very commercial and [it’s meant] to be on the radio.

“The good news is though,” he continues, excited again, “they have been playing 100% Pure American Rage, that’s our single, that’s the one they chose because instead of going to the radio with your first single with Black Heartbeat getting us the name that we are playing pop music, it’s like, ‘hey let’s release 100% Pure American Rage because this song is the heaviest song that’s made it to the radio in probably fifteen years!’”

Anti-Mortem Zain Smith 1

Smith’s got that right – 100% Pure American Rage is an out of control bull of a song, and a surprise addition to more than a few radio playlists.

“For sure,” agrees Smith. “We can’t, obviously, be hating on stuff [like Nickelback or Shinedown], but there is parts of our record that I wish could have been better, but at the same time you could sit here your whole life and fucking work on shit and tweak it. I have that problem as a producer, I produce myself, and the issue that I run into, well when I am producing other bands it’s not a big deal, OK you subtract this, you’re out, here is your product.

“When it’s me, my own music, I sit here and like, ‘yeah. This sounds great. Wait the guitars are a little bit low, bring them up a little bit, wait this doesn’t sound right,’ and I never get the final product out, because I am sitting here tweaking it all day. At the end of the day the record has it’s spots where we are like, ‘dang it, that didn’t happen or that got left out, or what the hell,’ but at the end of the day it’s a fucking killer debut and you have to look at it like this: come to a live show to really see what we are about and the record is just for history and for memorabilia to have and get signed.

“The record is where it’s at, our shows are way better in my opinion, but like I said it’s a killer debut and fucking we are happy to finally release it.”

“We were still very happy with Black Heartbeat – [but] I couldn’t imagine if the record had six of those songs on there! We did a really good job of having four of five really bluesy, southern heavy songs, then we did four or five really heavy metal sounding songs, then we did two that were for the radio.”


Category: Interviews

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