LIVE TO KILL AGAIN
AUSTRALIAN GUITAR’S PETER HODGSON TALKS WITH THY ART IS MURDER’S HEAD AXEMAN ANDY MARSH ABOUT THEIR ROLLERCOASTER RIDE FROM HOLYWAR TO DEAR DESOLATION.
Thy Art Is Murder could easily have been thrown off their steady upward trajectory by the departure of vocalist Chris “CJ” McMahon towards the end of 2016. Lineup changes – especially behind the mic – can rapidly change the fortunes of a band, and for a while there, it was uncertain just how Thy Art would look going forward. A number of touring vocalists stepped in to fill the void, and it appeared that the plan was to select a new permanent full-time vocalist to reassert their rightful place in the deathcore pantheon. Then, at the Unify Gathering in January, McMahon was back, bringing with him a new commitment and fire. The ultimate result is Dear
Desolation, the band’s fourth studio album. It’s their most brutal yet, with killer guitar tones and lots of great riffs and songs. Australian Guitar caught up with former AG cover star Andy Marsh to talk about this new phase in the band’s history.
Talk us through the process of how you got from the last record to here.
ANDY MARSH: It’s been a bit of a rollercoaster. There have been a lot of precautionary measures and a lot of changes to the strategy of touring and whatnot so that we can navigate this period and figure everything out. There’s been a lot of tippy-toeing around. There’s a lot of politics involved in being in a band, from the band members ourselves, to the crew who rely on you for their job, to the management, to the agents, the other bands, the fans, promoters – it’s neverending how this industry intertwines. It’s kind of like the investment marketplace: a line-up change can cast doubt into investors’ minds, and a totally arbitrary thing can affect the price. Likewise with us, CJ being out of the band changed so many things for us. We just proceeded with caution and underplayed things quite a lot, and that helped us get through the storm.
I guess as we get older, we become better at dealing with unpredictable situations.
MARSH: Absolutely. I think that’s my primary skill: navigating difficult situations and coming up with solutions. We’re all committed to each other as friends – to this little institution and to this little conglomerate that is the band, as friends, as creators, and then to the fans – and to continue to deliver music that we find enjoyable, and that our fans will find enjoyable as well. Touring is our livelihood, and it is only afforded because our fans enjoy the music. Many are generous enough to purchase our music and support us in that way, but even if they don’t purchase it, if they enjoy the music, it creates an opportunity for us to tour. That only exists because of the relationship between the creator and the consumer. So for us to have this as a job wouldn’t exist just because we like making music. If we were a stay-at-home band who put records out for the sake of putting them out, then sure, we wouldn’t need fans and we’d just keep working our jobs and making records and putting them on the internet – but we love to get out and actually perform music, and our ability to do so depends solely on that relationship.
Did you guys have to reignite your link with CJ after the time apart and the changes you’d all gone through personally?
MARSH: We’re a band of people who just get on with it. Obviously, there was some kind of caution and trepidation about how it was going to be, but we were making an album anyway and we would have had another vocalist had it not panned out with CJ. Obviously, our preference was for him to return. We’ve said this before in other interviews: we imagine him as the other guy in our band. We’ve been together for a long time and his is the voice we hear over the music, in the same way the way you imagine how the guitar or the kick drum sounds. His voice is the one we imagine when we write. So we went in and started writing the record, we and had been working towards it with CJ to make sure we were willing to accept him back, and he was ready to come back and deal with the pressure and responsibility that comes with being in this band. But you never know how that’s going to pan out until you get there. I mean, people bail on their weddings right before they’re about to put the ring on their finger! So if that hadn’t worked out, then Nicholas Arthur – who had been singing for us in Europe – would have done it. But we got together before playing Unify and that was great, like it was meant to be. CJ truly was like a healed man.
You worked with Will Putney again this time around. Is he a permanent fixture for your sound?
MARSH: From a production standpoint, a lot of people don’t understand the difference between a recording engineer, a mixing engineer, a mastering engineer and a producer. Will is all of those things, but the main asset that he provides to the band – aside from his friendship – is guidance as a producer, in terms of songwriting, in terms of structure and in terms of, ‘No, don’t do that, you did that on the last record.’ We’ll have these moves we’ll make in going from one section to another, and he’ll say, ‘It feels too
“IF YOU’RE LISTENING TO OR WATCHING JUST ONE NEWS SOURCE, YOU’RE SCREWING UP.”
familiar. You did this last time.’ He’s like that extra member of the band that knows as much about how to play our songs as we do. But he’s removed that one step that we aren’t able to be by not being so close to it. We feel that we have a great working dynamic going on, and there’s no real need to change that up. In terms of introducing new dynamics in terms of sonics, maybe someday we would consider using a different mix engineer to apply some kind of change or evolution – if we felt it was necessary – but in terms of the ac tual production, we make our records in about twoweeks with Will. We like to work longhours and so does he.
Your conceptual approach is very distinct, and heavily informed by world events. Given the biases from both sides within the media, where do you get your news?
MARSH: I think just having good perception. I know that sounds really whack to say, but I like to think I’m a pretty good reader of people and situations, and I think that does allow you to forecast and see the true motivation. There’s this rich tapestry of what goes on behind everything. I mean, it’s not just the toilet that you flush – there’s this network of pipes and levers and switches that lead that water to and away from you, and some people can see that network behind everything. Sometimes I feel that when you see a situation, you can see those ulterior motives that are really going on behind something. So I do feel very in-tune with things like that, which allows me to then better understand and moderate the data that I do c ollect – and I do try to monitor information from as many sources as possible. In this day and age, if you’re listening to or watching just one news source, you’re definitely screwing up. Everyone has their motivation for that and they have their back-door deals and agendas, and for whatever reason, the majority just cannot understand that that’s how the world is. Maybe it’s this thing of, ‘ We don’t want it to be that way, so we won’t believe it,’ but that’s the way it is. So to answer your question, I try to collect my news from as many sourcesas possible.
What guitars were you shredding out on in the studio?
MARSH: We used an Ibanez RGD2127 with an EverTune bridge, and we recorded most of the rhythm guitars in three or four days. Recording the rhythm guitars normally takes forever, simply because of the tuning: when you’re stacking guitars, any kind of micro adjustment in the tuning is bad. You’re often tuning guitars for four hours a day! But the EverTune made a massive difference. It’s our lucky pickup. There’s this violin or amber, honey-yellow Ibanez Prestige sevenstring that they only made a few of ten or more years ago, and we used it on Hate and Holy
War, but because we were using the 2127 for the extra scale length and EverTune, we had to de-solder that pickup and put it in the RGD. And I removed all of the other electronics so it was just pickup to amp.
And for leads?
MARSH: I have a very lucky guitar, an Ibanez JEM BRMR – a mirrored one that the TSA cracked for me. And I also used my touring guitar, which is an Ibanez RGD2127 in Lamborghini Yellow that I call ‘The Bumblebee’. It has a Seymour Duncan Pegasus pickup in the bridgeand a Sentient in the neck. I think the Pegasus is a great pickup. The midrange texture is totally different to a traditional metal pickup, and the super, super high-end is kind of lopped off, which I like because you’re going to take that off for a recording anyway. And we used a lot of cool pedals – too many to remember! The amp is a 5150, and we used maybe a Diesel as well.