It’s been a big fucking year for metal music, and one of the more notable releases of 2016 is Despised Icon’s comeback record, ‘Beast’. The last time the band released an album was eight years ago with ‘Day Of Mourning’ and this new effort basically picks up right where the French-Canadian’s left off. Recently, I was lucky enough to get in touch with Despised Icon’s Alex Erian for a very lengthy, but a very open and candid chat about reforming the band, ‘Beast’, touring life, family, and dodgy promoters. We cover it all, basically!
So Alex, tell me what mental state was the band in when you guys reformed back in 2014? Where there any new expectations set?
To be honest, we didn’t know what the fuck we were doing. We didn’t know if people still cared. But as soon as we announced everything, a lot of people seemed really stoked about us. After playing a couple festivals, we got really good turnouts. But that wasn’t solely for us, being a festival obviously. So we played a few headlining shows in between and to see all of the die-hards, and the fresh faces that got into us after we first broke up coming out really gave us the kick in the ass we need. It made us think ‘Let’s really give this a try’.
Good to hear, man. Four years can be a long time in this industry, and to have people still remember and care is what you want!
Oh definitely, man. People in general, myself included, have such short attention spans so to have people still remember us and still care is awesome. Hearing how far some people have travelled to see us, hearing their first experiences with our band, it’s just a good feeling. People seem to really care, and I’ll take it! [Laughs].
That’s sick! One reason stated for the disbandment was that some of you guys were starting families, but now that the kids are slightly older, you can play again. Have you guys shown your kids your music and what’d they think?
The kids think it’s really cool, man. We have a lot of support from the kids, the girlfriends, and the parents. Yannick [guitar] has four kids, Eric [guitar] and Grind [Alex, drums] have two kids each, Sebastien [bass] has a kid, and Steve is a step-dad. I think that Grind’s daughter has a crush on me, which is slightly awkward [laughs]. I’m actually the only one without a kid, but I do have a dog…so maybe that counts.
We’re actually playing a festival in Canada called Rock Fest next week and it coincides with Sebastien’s daughter’s birthday. She actually knows some of the lyrics to our songs, and as we’re French-Canadian, on every record we have a song or two in French. On Beast, the French song is Drapeau Noir, which translates to “Black Flag”, and we’re debating whether we have her on stage to do some of the lines from the song. According to Sebastian, she’s been practicing her growls. So I’m curious to see how that would sound.
Oh, that’d be awesome to see. Who knows, you may have your third vocalist coming along soon…
[Laughs] I actually want my dog to be on the next record. Have her do some barks right before a breakdown. I think that’d be hard as fuck!
Holy shit, that’d be a metal world first right there! Now, having heard ‘Beast’ a few times now, I find that it’s exactly where the band left off six years ago. It’s not softer, it’s not heavier; it’s just Despised Icon. Was that a conscious effort to go with what many people expected or did it just happen organically?
It’s funny that you point that out, and I’m glad you did because we’re not getting any younger. You’d expect that our age would reflect in the music as a lot of people thought that now we’re back we’d quiet down, get more commercial, be more accessible. That’s what many bands do when they get older. But when it comes to Despised Icon, you just get Despised Icon. This album is what we would listen to back in the day; a lot of death metal, a lot of grindcore, and a lot of hardcore. It’s a real “back to roots” record for us as we identified what we enjoyed and disliked the most about our past albums. I know it sounds super generic, as it’s what every band says about their new album, but I really like Beast. It really is the best of Despised Icon.
Right on, man. I’ve been spinning the new Whitechapel and Carnifex albums and yes, they’re very different to ‘Beast’. In fact, the album’s first song, ‘The Aftermath’, gave me some massive hardcore vibes…
Yeah, there’s definitely that New York hardcore sound, as we listened to a lot of bands like Hatebreed. But we also listened to a lot of slamming death metal from back in the day, a lot of obscure bands. Those are our roots; death metal but with more groove. When we started in 2002, we would listen to a lot of Nile and Hate Eternal, a lot of fast bands that didn’t have that much groove. With myself being a drummer back then, the groove has always been very important to me.
Oh, nice. As a drummer myself, I totally understand the groove element. What were some of your favourite drummer’s that inspired you? I know he’s not a metal drummer, but Buddy Rich was the one that got me into drumming.
Well, I picked up a pair of sticks in ’93, and everything else became secondary as music became my sole focus. The drummers that influenced me to play where drummers like Vinnie Paul from Pantera and Igor Cavalera from Sepultura. I was also really into Cryptopsy and no one was as fast as Flo Mounier. Kevin Talley [Suffocation] is also a great drummer. The list just goes on, man.
Yeah, all solid drummers, mate. I’ve got a big list too! Between 2010 and now you’ve been in Obey The Brave, but what other non-musical work did you do during the Despised Icon’s break?
Well, when Despised Icon disbanded, I got a job as a marketing coordinator for a clothing company here in Canada. While it was well paid, had lots of advantages, good staff, I felt that I still had that need, that craving to be in the band. I have a hard time fitting into real life and I just get stuck in a bubble where I just wanna play music again. So a couple months later, I started Obey The Brave and the rest is history, really.
Well hey, going from metal to marketing, that’s pretty cool, man.
[Laughs] Yeah, well, I didn’t want to sell my soul, either. I had to sell something that I really believed in. Recently, I’ve just been in the studio alternating between various jam spots and studios for the new Obey The Brave record. So far, I have 11 out of 13 songs recorded, so next month is when it’ll be done. Spending this whole year to write and record two albums has made touring pretty impossible. So money wise, I worked at my girlfriend’s bar and I fucking hated it [laughs]. I also did work for a month or so with our good friends in Ion Dissonance as they knew I needed some cash. Of course, I’d rather be out on the road touring and despite it being hard, it’s a hell of an experience.
For sure Alex, and of course, it’s better to be rich in friends and memories than be loaded and have no one.
Oh, don’t get me wrong, I do like money. But I sometimes see comments saying that we’re only back for the money. But that’s not why I play metal or music period. All the money we made from our 2015 shows was all reinvested into the band. So the music that you hear, the music videos that you watch, that’s all paid for by the fans, for the fans.
Yes, I’ve seen those comments too, and I just thought that if it were only about the money, then why would you reform a death metal band, you know?
Exactly! We’d just stick to our day jobs [Laughs]. As long as we’re not losing money, we can get back on the road and play for the fans. If we were in this for the money, we’re in the wrong line of work.
…I don’t know why I’m gonna mention this to you as I’ve never spoken publically about this before, but the last time Obey The Brave played Asia the promoter was supposed to pay for our flights. Originally, he was gonna pay for the first half before the tour, and the second half, after the tour. As we were getting ready to go to Japan, he hadn’t paid for the flights so we paid for them ourselves, as his excuse was his car got totaled. I later learned that was a lie. After the tour, he had a fair amount of money on hand to pay us and as we were heading straight to China and Thailand, we asked him to wire us the money…and he never did. We lost $8,000 on that tour.
Yeah, and he hasn’t responded to any of our emails. We took it like a man and moved forward, but that’s still a heavy blow. Every once and a while situations like that arise and you question what you’re doing with your life, you know? ‘Should I follow my peers and family and get a regular job?’ Luckily, we have great fans and I have a very supportive girlfriend and family. I just take it one step at a time and I guess that’s why I’m still out here doing this shit.
Wow, that’s fucked! But thank you for sharing that story, and I’m really sorry to hear that it happened in the first place. Those kinds of stories are sadly all too frequent, but it’s good to see you guys could move on from that loss.
And let that be a lesson to any band out there; don’t let anyone take advantage of you. Now more than ever, a word or a handshake isn’t worth all that much. If you come to any agreement, make sure you get it in writing. Otherwise, it might bite you in the ass five, ten years from now. Hopefully, he’ll pop up one day and pay us what he owes us, and we can all make peace with each other. I try not to hold grudges, but ultimately, if we had known that would happen, we’d have just stayed home.
No, I bet man. And if he does ever pay you back, hopefully, he includes the fucking interest on that payment.
[Laughs] Well, it’s been since last November so interest should be kicking in right about now.
[Laughs]. Well, we’ve been at this for a fair while now, Alex, so we’ll have to end it there. Thank you so much for your time today, dude. It’s been a very long chat, but a very good one!
Awesome, thank you for taking the time man, I definitely appreciate it. Thanks again!
‘Beast’ is out June 24th through Nuclear Blast Records.