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I Want To Believe: An Exclusive Interview With FALLUJAH Frontman ALEX HOFMANN

By Peter Atkinson, Contributor
Saturday, July 16, 2016 @ 11:09 AM

“It was supposed to be more thematic and larger. Contrast and dynamics are our biggest things and over time we’ve become a better band and started writing better songs.”

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There are a million stories about musicians working shitty jobs to help pay the bills during the “off-season” when they aren’t touring – or, in many cases, just to pay the bills, period. This, however, isn’t one of them - in the traditional sense anyway.

During the summer of 2015, as Bay Area metallurgists FALLUJAH were between touring stints and getting material together for the band’s third album and Nuclear Blast debut, Dreamless, frontman Alex Hofmann spent the time in his old hometown of Vancouver, British Columbia, working as a production assistant on movies and TV shows – including the rebooted X-Files. It might still have been a shitty work, but helping bring Mulder and Scully and their bizarre world of aliens, monsters and conspiracy theories back to the small screen after a 14-year hiatus is a hell of a lot cooler than telemarketing, flipping burgers/waiting tables, twirling signs hyping new condos or something as equally thankless – not to mention joyless.

“I had a lot of time on my hands, so I moved to Vancouver, where I was from originally, and a family member hooked me up with a job,” Hofmann said during a phone interview from Nuclear Blast’s Los Angeles office. “And it was an insane lifestyle."

“I spent my whole summer in a 15-hour-a-day film world. I worked on the X-Files, Man From The High Castle, that was my summer job,” he said. “It was kind of a new thing. It was cool, it was exciting. I’m not a 100 percent sure I would do it again, but I’m glad I did.”

Indeed, the work, particularly watching the actors and crew as they shot the scenes — and techniques they employed to evoke the emotions implied in the script in order to translate that to the viewer, if not outright manipulate their feelings — ended serving as a source of inspiration for Hofmann when it came time to write the lyrics for Dreamless. He ended up matching the cinematic grandeur of the album’s overall sound with storylines built around films and the emotions they elicited in himself.

“It was an interesting thing to watch from this side of the camera, because there is a lot more going on than just telling a story,” Hofmann said. “It was sort of the motivation, but not completely the motivation. I think it would have happened regardless, but it was a factor. It got me thinking.

I’m a film fan. The movies I like definitely have to have rich dialog. Dialog is a huge a factor. I don’t really give a shit about the comic book movies, I don’t really give a shit about romantic comedies or the bigger comedies. I’m more into minimalistic movies with emotive qualities, movies that are a bit abstract in their narrative.”

Hofmann’s lyrics on Dreamless – take “There is hope beyond the scars on your skin, Open your lungs and let me in,” from “Scar Queen”, for instance - are abstract, if not cryptic, enough so as to not give away just what film inspired which song. And he’s certainly not about to tell, preferring to let the curious try to figure it out for themselves, no easy task given his full-throated vocals that turn the words into a jet-engine roar.

Much of the emotional impact of the material on Dreamless, which was issued in April, comes courtesy of the serene intermittent female vocal accompaniment of guests Tori Letzler and Katie Thompson, and the band’s sprawling, multi-layered score. The music encompasses technical death metal, deathcore, post-metal, prog, gothic, electronic and ambient even new-agey elements, and moves between them with seamless ease. Atmosphere and drama share equal time with brutality and bombast as contrast is the order of the day here. A review of FALLUJAH’s last album, 2014’s The Flesh Prevails, noted that the band “wants to sound immense”. With Dreamless, the quintet – rounded out by guitarists Scott Carstairs and Brian James, bassist Rob Morey and drummer Andrew Baird – achieves that in spades.

“It was supposed to be more thematic and larger,” Hofmann said. “Contrast and dynamics are our biggest things and over time we’ve become a better band and started writing better songs. I think this album is leaps ahead better than the last one. The last one was maybe undermined by some production problems, but this time I think we nailed it. The album is kind of easier on the ears even though it’s really heavy.”

For a brief time, The Flesh Prevails was at the center of a “loudness wars” debate among metal nerds on the Internet who complained about its dynamic range – or lack thereof. It got to the point where producer/mixer/masterer Zach Ohren provided an uncompressed version of the album to some reviewers to let them compare, which only spurred more debate.

Things have been relatively quiet on that front, however, with Dreamless, which Ohren once again produced but Mark Lewis mixed and mastered. Hofmann, for his part, is pleased with how the album turned out and was not about to throw Ohren under the bus for whatever failings there were with The Flesh Prevails, real or perceived.

“People cry about things regardless and if they want to cry about it, if they want to crap on the production, then so be it,” he said. “I think the older you get and the longer you go along, the less you care about that. I think the album still sounds good and I don’t think Zack deserves the flack that he got for it.

We had the new one mixed and mastered by someone else, but I like working with Zack, Zack’s good on a mechanical level and he’s intuitive. I had a great time working with him and I’d 100 percent work with him again.”

FALLUJAH launched the new album with a lengthy North American tour supporting THE BLACK DAHLIA MURDERDEVIN TOWNSEND/BETWEEN THE BURIED AND ME tour, then it’s back to Europe for a run opening for WHITECHAPEL.

“It will be a long stretch, it’s gonna be tough, but I’m excited because we’ve been doing a lot of sitting around” getting the album finished and setting up for its release, Hofmann said. “So it’ll be good to be get back out on the road. We will be busier this year than we’ve ever been before. It’s gonna be pretty nonstop.”

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