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Exclusive! Interview With Guitarist Trey Azagthoth of Morbid Angel
By Brian Davis, Contributor
Tuesday, September 30, 2003 @ 12:20 AM
AZAGTHOTH: Cool! KNAC.COM: Well, shall we start? Iíve been reading about the alphabetic process you use in naming your albums. You started with Altars Of Madness, and are up to H with Heretic now-is there any specific reason behind that?
AZAGTHOTH: Well, it kinda goes along with numerology and the sequence of things. Itís just kind of a special thing we did -- I mean, the first two albums just kinda came out that way naturally, then I paid attention and we were thinking we should keep doing this because itís kind of different. Before I played in a band, I was always interested in bands that I would listen to that had any kind of special little things to read between the lines. When Iíd listen to their music Iíd think, ďWhatís this band about?Ē you know, back in the old days, before they would do MTV and whatever. Youíd look at a record, or read a magazine, maybe see them on tour. So yeah, I was just thinking -- yeah, it would be a cool thing to do; and it does go with, you know-- our band has always been about spirituality and the occult and secret teachings of all ages, things like that, so it kind of goes in that way. Itís just a really nice sequence. KNAC.COM: Very cool. So this album will be the 3rd time youíve been the sole guitarist on an album, correct?
AZAGTHOTH: Uh, letís seeÖ KNAC.COM: I believe there was Covenant, then Formulas [Fatal To The Flesh]Ö
AZAGTHOTH: Yeah, that was-- yeah, yeah, yeahÖ I did all the guitars on Covenant, Formulas, and this one, and I played all the riffs on Blessed [Are The Sick]. KNAC.COM: Ok, does that have any differing effect on your writing/recording process?
AZAGTHOTH: It makes it a lot more fun for me. I really kinda like to work alone, and I got it covered, you knowÖ I got all these-- the whole idea is like, I come up with one part, and then I really enjoy coming up with what would be the next part. And I kinda know where itís gonna go because Iím the one putting it together. When you work with other people, you know, unless either you donít have any particulars as to how you want it to go, or it can just be a surpriseÖ Iím not really like that. I kinda like to put it all together myself as much as possible, and itís kinda hard sometimes to explain where Iím trying to go with something so that someone else can contribute, you know, make a rhythm that goes with it, and I donít like hurting peopleís feelings when I donít like something. I kinda avoid the whole thing. KNAC.COM: As far as touring and the live setting, have you found a replacement for Erik [Rutan] yet?
AZAGTHOTH: Uh, weíre working on it. Weíll have a guitar player for sure once we start touring. KNAC.COM: Steve Tucker has come back on this album as well, with the bass and the vocalsÖ I thought Jared [Anderson] did a good job in the live setting, but Iím excited to see Steve back.
AZAGTHOTH: Yeah, yeahÖ Heís doing a great job, Iím really impressed with everything he did for his singing on the record. Iím real happy about it. KNAC.COM: Formulas is my favorite Morbid Angel album, and I think he really stepped up into some big shoes there and just made an over the top record.
AZAGTHOTH: He didnít have a lot to have to deal with on that record. I wrote all the lyrics, and [laughs] I really didnít take into account breathing. [Laughs] On songs like ďChambers of DisĒ you know, itís like-- man, the linesÖ so many words! I felt bad, didnít give him time to breathe. It was more me trying to put together some cool stuff like ancient poets, like ancient poetry, ancient chants, things like that, you know. But on this record, of course, he wrote all the lyrics. And he wrote them with the way he would do his phrasing and breathing and working words in that he says really well and, you know, whatever, so he put his personal touches. And heís been in this band and done enough stuff to where it came natural for him to do the right thing and come up with something that fits, you know, do something Iíd be excited about and heís excited about. So yeah, its all good-- Iím really happy about it. KNAC.COM: Iíve managed to hear a few of the new songs and I definitely noticed some extra range and a little more ferocity coming out of Steve. It sounds great.
AZAGTHOTH: Yeah, that was something I talked to him about. I definitely wanted to have a good mix of underground tonality butÖ [LOUD CRASH] WowÖ KNAC.COM: Whoa! What was that?
AZAGTHOTH: Lightning around here! Ö.Um, underground tonality and real catchy phrasing. So, hooky phrasing but with a really tough tonality, really edgy, which is kinda tough to do sometimes. KNAC.COM: There seems to be a little more hook to the music too, from what I heard. The guitars seem to be maybe a little more crunchy or groovy.
AZAGTHOTH: Oh yeah, yeah. I definitely am all about putting together some sick poly-rhythm grooves at this time and putting swing in even the fast stuff, which is not much different than the old songs, itís just that with this record we were able to spend so much time getting the performances just how we wanted them, to get the sound right that I think this record really delivers with feeling. You know, weíve been doing triplets, grooves and stuff since Altars in songs like, ďBlaspheme The Holy GhostĒ -- it has the same vibe as the first song on the new record. Itís the same triplet thing, itís just more -- thereís more going on, itís expanded. But itísóyeah, I think with, as time goes on, it keeps working out more interesting ways to make the guitar come across like itís playing backwards, you know, weird stretching kind of things, in and out of the timing, but have it still hooky and catchy so itís not just like you have to be a jazz musician to enjoy it. KNAC.COM: Youíve done the vocals on the songs ďSecured LimitationsĒ [from Gateways To Annihilation] and ďInvocation Of The Continual OneĒ [from Formulas Fatal To The Flesh]. Was that ever a consideration to you, to just step up and take over the bass and vocals yourself?
AZAGTHOTH: No, Iím just a guitar player. Like, for live, I just really like to focus on guitar, so I wouldnít wanna try to take away from that to sing live. So, just on recordsÖ on records you can do whatever, you know? You can do stuff, you knowÖ thereís all this extra room to explore, thatís the way we do it. So, it was fun for me to sing on the few songs I did in the past, and it didnít matter if we couldnít do them the same way live, you know? I donít care, it doesnít matter, itís all about fun. Some bands make records that sound totally different than the song is live, you know, thereís all kinds of different rules, I guess, to that. But for me, I just really-- those two songs I felt like I really wanted to do them, and I just did them. It was a lot of fun, I like the way it turned out. KNAC.COM: ďInvocationĒ -- thatís my personal favorite song. The lyrics on that are definitely over the wall.
AZAGTHOTH: Oh yeah!! That one, I really had a great time doing that, those words really meant a lot to me, and that whole song was just, like, a big celebration. KNAC.COM: The whole approach -- I mean, obviously the musicianship of the band is what sets you guys apart, but the thing that won me over was your lyrical approach with the Sumerian and metaphysics and the occult themes. It totally opened me up to not only the music, but to reading subjects and other stuff like that that is so fascinating, so much more than most people are putting into their music nowadays.
AZAGTHOTH: Sure, yeah I guess so. I mean, I know that for what drives this band is that-- this band is like the instrument, the medium for what I believe is the energies of the universe to channel through. And itís not THE only medium, itís just one of them. And we-- thatís where I come from with my writing, and thatís the message, you know, the key towards tapping into your higher self and to first start thinking for yourself, and to start understanding the basic principles, the divine order of principles of all things of the universe, the way things work, the power of beliefs, you know, the power of habit, the power of the different parts of the mind and the different levels of existence, and identifying yourself as the silent observer, or as the manifestER not the manifestED. You know, lifting out of yourself and seeing the difference between what you see and your self, or what you hear and your self,** because theyíre no different. The only difference is just a bunch of words, a bunch of messages in the mind. Separating the Ego from the Spirit and the Soul. You know, that type of stuff -- I think itís really powerful stuff, Iíve always been interested in magic and the occult. So thatís in the music, and I definitely mix it up, itís not like I just read one book and thatís what Iím talking about. Iíve read all kinds of books; Iíve put together my own little salad bar of the way that it works for me and only offer it as suggestions and guidelines and something to maybe inspire somebody to look further. I always give my references -- Iím not here trying to say I know it all and Iím sharing this brilliant new belief system, because itís not new, itís been around since thereís been thinking individuals. So yeah, thatís what I do, it mixes it up, it has a little bit of Sumerian, it has Tony Robbins, it has the Quabalah, itís got PlatoÖ you know, itís just all kinds of stuff. KNAC.COM: Awesome. And that kind of ties in with the cover on the new album, which I think is a great cover. There seems to be a lot of imagery coming into play on this. I read a piece that you had written that was up on the Earache site about the dualism of Water representing Force and Fire representing FormÖ
AZAGTHOTH: Actually itís the other way around. KNAC.COM: Ah, ok -- so Fire is Force and Water is Form.
AZAGTHOTH: Right. Itís just, you know, when we go into talk, words and stuffÖ itís just descriptions, and theyíre not ones I made up, Iíve read them in many-- theyíve been referenced in many books, especially about the Quabalah, about this dualism of Force and Form, you know, these two things that keep things in balance like, say the sun-- well, youíve read the thing, so Iím not going to go into what Iíve already said, but Force and FormÖ you see it everywhere, and the fire and waterÖ itís like the Quabalah, the most high triad of the Quabalah is Kether, Chokmah and Binah, and Kether is the divine breath, the realization of the potential of what one can do, and Chokmah is the will, the drive, the fire, and Binah is the water, the reflections of the imagination. So itís kinda like, you know, you got your form, which is your material parts to put something together, then you gotta put energy into putting it together. These are two things that work with manifestation, you know, without going into it really deep. But, it is, you know, itís referred to in many studies, people might use different words, something like that, but yeah, itís just the way I look at it personally. KNAC.COM: What about the owls on the cover -- whatís the symbolism there?
AZAGTHOTH: Thatís part of the image of Lilith, the Goddess of the Heretic, or Amah-Ushumgal-Anna, thereís different titles I give to the image. But the owls, Iím sure thereís different kinds of ideas, but like with Athena, the Greek goddess, they were like wisdom. Thatís kinda one of the most common associations with the owls, and, you know, Iím sure thereís other ones as well, itís just part of the image. KNAC.COM: Alright, what about touring? Youíre going to be going out on the next leg of Danzigís ďBlackest Of The BlackĒ Tour, correct?
AZAGTHOTH: Well, weíre hoping that that comes togetherÖ um, it hasnít been confirmed yet, so I canít-- I donít really wanna talk about it until I hear from my manager for sure, but we can only hope. Iím looking forward to it, and I hope that it happens, you know, it should be really cool, it should be a blast. I would love to play these new songs for a large audience like that and see what the response is. KNAC.COM: Yeah, that tour has a lot of potential to get a lot of good bands a little more out of the underground and in front of a larger crowd, so hopefully thatíll do some good.
AZAGTHOTH: Definitely. KNAC.COM: Ok, last time, when you were touring for Gateways, you got a big boost by getting to go out with Slayer and Pantera. That was pretty unprecedented for an Extreme Metal band to get that arena access and mass appeal. What was that like for you?
AZAGTHOTH: Ah, it was awesome. I had a great time. It was really cool to be able to play on these big stages and playing for all these new people, plus there was a lot of people that came that knew about our band, so it wasnít like it was just people that have never heard of us. But there were also people that didnít know much about us and they got a chance to check us out, and it all seemed good. You know, I think we got some new fans, some people that were checking out our records and all that after the tour, and coming up to some other tours we did. So it was very positive, and it was a lot of fun -- I personally enjoyed watching Pantera play. I think theyíre a great band and I really like the guitar player and I think Phil is really an awesome individual. So yeah, it was just a blast Ė I had a great time. Iíd giggle inside of myself every time weíd play some of these songs and play it on such an arena, you know, such a big presentation of some of these songs, and just knowing like, even when weíd play something like, ďAgeless Still I Am,Ē you knowÖ nobody writes songs like that-- that song is so over the top, so different, so trippy, you know, the stereo imaging of the guitars, the poly-rhythms, the weird grooves, and whatever-- it was just, yeah man, very, very exciting and very fun to know that weíre just drilling people with stuff like that, and like ďChapel Of Ghouls,Ē you knowÖ whatever, all these different songsÖ ďRaptureĒÖ just blasting and beating people down with the blast -- it was phenomenal. KNAC.COM: Yeah, it was great being in the crowd, seeing the look on a lot of peopleís faces. In their minds, Pantera and Slayer was the heaviest shit and then Morbid Angel comes up right away and just kicks the crowdís ass. It was pretty gratifying as a Morbid Angel fan to see them get some new perspective on that.
AZAGTHOTH: Absolutely. Yeah, I thought it was absolutely phenomenal, and I was so happy, and it was all thanks to Phil. Philís the one that pulled for us to be on the bill when it didnít make sense any other way -- we werenít selling millions of records, we didnít have any labels lacing anybodyís palms to buy us on, whatever -- we were just there because Phil wanted us to be there, and we didnít have a reputationÖ it was mainly Phil, you know -- he was the one that put it together for us. KNAC.COM: Like you said, it opened you up to a lot more people. I noticed before the tour youíd had about 300,000 or so on the counter on your website, and now itís well over 1,000,000. Obviously that had some serious impact on some new people out there!
AZAGTHOTH: Yeah! KNAC.COM: Did you like the arena scene as opposed to the intimate club type setting, or is there a preference, or just as long as you can play?
AZAGTHOTH: I donít have a preference. I like all of it, as long as I can get some kind of cool sound on the stage where I can feel what Iím doing and things sound powerful where Iím standing, then itís all good. I like big stages, you know, and small stages are cool, too. KNAC.COM: Now your solosÖ they always stand out. Ask anybody about Morbid Angel, and thatís one of the first things theyíre gonna talk about: Treyís solos. Theyíre almost like a song within a song. Most bands nowadays donít even play solos, and yet you put all this special effort into it. What drives you to put so much effort into your solos?
AZAGTHOTH: Being inspired by great guitar players like Eddie Van Halen; growing up on people like that, thinking of that as whatís normal, to do that kind of stuff, to stand out, to offer new stuff, to think outside the box. Thatís what it is for me -- me just being a kid at heart, playful with what I do. I still listen to our stuff like a fan. You know, I write this music and Iím a fan. It might sound funny, but I fuckiní love the music that we do and I TOTALLY love this record. When I listen to the solos that are on there, the drumming, whateverÖ the whole thing, especially the solos because I went so deep into making them feel like youíre inside a lava lamp. You know, actually being inside the environment of a bubbling lava lamp, and thatís just the feeling of it, the sound, and I did all these weird mic-ing techniques with the wind riffs** and the anti-vacuum culture, and all these interesting ways of putting the microphone to the cabinet and some kind of weird thing going on, a creative little thing to make it sound special. And itís all over the record, and when I listen to that Iím thinking, Yeah! I try to think of how is this coming out today compared to what other bands are doing today, and yeahÖ I do think itís different. I feel real excited about it. KNAC.COM: Itís encouraging to hear that level of dedication. Standards seem to have slipped in certain industries, so itís good to see guys like you out there pushing to maintain a certain level of enjoyment in the music, and making it fun and original.
AZAGTHOTH: Yeah, itís fun. With us itís all about doing what we want to do, and I think our fans understand that -- they know that weíre not making music for them, like weíre just making music hoping that theyíll like it -- thatís not our approach. Weíre making music that makes us feel satisfied and music that we really feel in our hearts, and weíre not considering what anybody else in the whole world or universe will think about it, just us -- what do we think, whatís really true for us, and there it is and then we offer it and people can listen to it and make of it what they will, you know, and so far so good. People have been into what we do and they know itís a pure experience and weíre not thinking, ďOkay, well whatís going on in the scene todayĒ and ďOkay, this stuffís popular, so lets try to sound like thisĒ or whatever. I donít even know what music sounds like today, to be honest. KNAC.COM: What are you listening now? Are there some old bands or new bands that you think are out there reallyÖ
AZAGTHOTH: I mainly listen to R&B. The silly rap and R&B, silly stuff like that on this one channel, Ďcause itís groovy. I donít like the radio. When I drive in my car I listen to the radio, but other than that I really would never listen to it. I donít like Rock & Roll on the radio, I donít like Metal stations -- maybe there are some really good ones out there, but not in my area. But R&B just has this silly little thing going on, it just makes me laugh and it moves my body and, you know, I love music like that -- music that moves my body and grooves and stuff in that kind of way, dynamic. KNAC.COM: Right on. Letís seeÖ getting down to the end of my list here. So, whether the Danzig thing comes together or not, do you have a big world-scale tour planned, or are you gonna start slow and local, or what?
AZAGTHOTH: Um, weíll be touring -- as far as the main touring -- will be the beginning of next year. I donít know exactly when or where, but I imagine itíll be like any other year where weíll do at least two headlining tours in major markets, and then hopefully some opening slots. You know, if we get something like the Danzig tour, or maybe something else next year. But yeah, definitely a lot of headlining stuff. I would say weíll play all the major markets like before, like we have been doing, and usually twice -- we usually go through there twice -- tour the states twice as a headliner or something like that. I would imagine thatís what weíll do again. Maybe some bigger places, you know, it all depends on how many people get into the record, so weíll just have to see. KNAC.COM: Well, itís certainly got the power in it -- I was certainly impressed with what I heard. Canít wait to check out more of it.
AZAGTHOTH: Yeah, it does have a lot of power. And it sounds probably different. Iíve heard different, how can I sayÖ minimalÖ minimalistic criticism on some things, but I think itís just nothing different than when people first heard Blessed [Are The Sick]. When people first heard Blessed, they were disappointed. It was really funny, I remember it SO well, I remember it SO well, nooneís gonna fool me. When Blessed first came out, it was like-- I mean not everybody, but there were quite a few people that were just really taken off guard, and what they said to me was, ďWhat happened to the sound? You guys changed your sound. Itís so clean now, itís so clear now. I donít know if I like that or not. You guys slowed down, whyíd you do that?Ē And itís just so funny. But, you know, today Blessed is usually on each Morbid Angel high part of their list, you know, the one they like the best. So maybe itís just that it was so different and shocking and they were expecting Altars Of Madness Part 2, and they didnít get that -- they got something totally different, and they were taken off guard a little bit. And then after they listened to it they found what it had to offer, you know, which was cool. With this record, I mean, this record is crushing -- this Heretic record. But you know, itís not super drum-heavy like, in other words, I think bands today or even some of our music have had the drums, like the kick drum is more bassy, swallowing up the rhythm, and the vocals may be a little bit louder or something, I donít know. But this thing sounds brilliant. I mean, one guy said, ďOh they just went for the easy listening mix where everything sounds clearĒ**, but yet itís not clear and thin -- itís like really pumping, itís the kind of music to listen on headphones to. Most Death Metal or real Extreme Metal on headphones -- or at least to me -- gets kind of exploding sounding, and this almost sounds like Pink Floyd on headphones, you know all the details, thereís lots of dynamics. We did special things with the mastering where we didnít compress the hell out of it. Itís almost like a record. Itís actually the guitars and things that ripple out of the speakers thatís supposed to be tamed by compression, you know, limiting. We did all this special stuff, so itís probably a paradigm shifting mix and production compared to what other people are doing today, so maybe people might be confused because the music is right there and the sound is perfect -- I mean, I wouldnít change a damn thing! Itís ALL deliberate, the way it is. I wouldnít want it to be more exploding, because the explosion -- thatís cool for some songs, but not these songs. These songs you need to hear the definition, to distinguish all the stuff going on. There is some high technical, complicated stuff going on with these songs, but itís not done in some way where you gotta be into jazz or be some shredder guitar player to appreciate it. Itís easy, but itís not easyÖ Itís a yes/no, itís really something special; it took a lot of time and effort to work on it, but itís very deliberate to be totally twisted and sick but yet easy to listen to at the same time. Itís like a yes/no -- itís a paradox. So yeah, itís definitely exactly what we wanted, itís exactly what I wanted, and I think itís just really over the top. I wanted the guitars, the rhythm to be so out front that people could hear everything going on, and know thereís all this playing going on, you know, itís not just like a distorted guitar soundÖ thereís all this picking and deliberate technique. Itís not just smokescreen with technique to try and be some phenom guitar player or whatever, but itís just feelingÖ itís lava. Itís not even technique -- itís lava. Itís just painting worlds and landscapes, you knowÖ this mix I think really shows that so well. KNAC.COM: And I think thatís the thing that makes your band stand out-that effort. And pleasing yourself -- I think thatís the easiest way to make the fans happy, doing whatís honest and true to you, then everything else just follows suit by maintaining your own integrity. Iím glad to hear that.
AZAGTHOTH: Yeah, we do things our own way, and Iím sure other people do things the way they wanna do it, you know. Iím not here to judge the difference between us and other bands. I mean I donít even really know what other stuff is going on today, but I know that what weíre doing is we just kinda -- like my stuff, when I write, Iím not listening to other stuff, Iím not going out to clubs, I donít know anything about whatís going on, I just know whatís going on in my own world, so I just come from that place. Yeah, I think thereís some really cool riffs. I mean, I think about these riffs and I just think man -- theyíre so cool! I just get really excited about it. KNAC.COM: And I also read that you took a lot of inspiration on your solos out of the Quake and Doom PC games.
AZAGTHOTH: Oh yeah, yeah -- definitely. And actually, I even made a Doom map for Doom II -- not the newest Doom, but the old school Doom, and thereís this patch called Z-Doom which you can add to the Doom II game and then you can jump and you combine controls, like Quake, and you can change resolution and whatever, itís faster, thereís all kinds of cool stuff. But I made a map -- a single player map -- and Iím gonna share it with all the fans, whoever wants to download it. Iím gonna put it up probably on the website, you know, sometime close to when the record comes out so people can listen to the music and then they can go into this world that I created and jam against all these hideous monsters and all these situations that I set up, you know, waiting for them like a trap. I donít know, I mean, by now everybody knows Iím totally into games. Some people might think Iím boring because thatís what I like to do but hey, Iím not here to live my life for anyone else. I like to do what I do, and I get the joy out of it, and at the end of the day thatís what lifeís about: getting the joy. So yeah, I got this map and think some people will be stoked to check it out and whatever --itís another avenue of my creativity. KNAC.COM: Have you ever considered branching into that any more? Maybe devoting more to a game, or even doing soundtracks for games -- thatís becoming popular. Any considerations like that?
AZAGTHOTH: Iíve kinda looked into it, but I donít know -- it just hasnít worked out yet. Maybe itíll work out at some point -- I think that some of these peopleÖ [**Note: The tape ran out here, and part of the dialogue was lost as I was switching over**]ÖYou know, thatís the kind of game I wanna do, or I donít wanna do anything at all. So maybe people understand that, and they know that Iím very particular and Iím not gonna waste their time or my time doing something that I canít get into, and some of these people are waiting for me to sell a million records or something before theyíll consider it. So that kinda has to do with it -- it just hasnít worked out, but you know, maybe it will. Maybe thatís what Iíll do, you know, 10 years from now --I donít know. KNAC.COM: Well, that sounds like a good possibility there. Itíd be great to see your efforts in other fields as well.
AZAGTHOTH: Oh yeah. KNAC.COM: Well, Iím down to the end of my list thereÖ like I said, this has been an incredible honor. This is my first interview and to get to interview one of my all time favorite musicians is quite an honor. So I certainly thank you.
AZAGTHOTH: Excellent man, no problem -- thank you. I enjoyed it, it was good! KNAC.COM: I canít wait to get the album. Iím sure it wonít leave my CD player for several months, so Iíll soak it all up.
AZAGTHOTH: Yeah, you know and it comes with a bonus disc as well, with demos -- demos that Iíve prepared of these songs with my drum machine, and doing my little left and right guitar, you know, building stuff and making demos to give to Pete and to Steve to do their part with. So thatís included, too, on the bonus disc. I just wanna really-- just trying to do all these different things, you know. I started out with doing the ďLove Of LavaĒ thing, and some people were really into that, you know, they thought it was pretty cool. But the overall thing didnít have a whole lot of time to it, even though it was kinda like a special thing whereÖ how else are you gonna hear the solos without the music? So I did it like that. And thereís a lot more exploring like that on this record, on the bonus disc, and thereís all these little things that people should enjoy listening to. Thereís lots of time worth of sounds and things to hear. KNAC.COM: Right on, theyíll definitely get their moneyís worth out of it.
AZAGTHOTH: Yeah. KNAC.COM: Cool. Well, like I said -- I certainly appreciate it. I look forward to seeing you on tour. Hopefully you make it up to the Northwest at least once, hopefully several times.
AZAGTHOTH: Sure, excellent! KNAC.COM: Alright, well -- good luck, and hopefully weíll talk to you again soon.
AZAGTHOTH: Alright man, take care and thanks for the interview! (Photos by Sean Sitka @ MorbidAngel.com)
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