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An Exclusive Interview with Trevor Strnad of The Black Dahlia Murder

by Michael McCarthy

When I think of death metal and extreme metal, usually the first band to come to mind is The Black Dahlia Murder. The reason for that is simple. They’re the best metal band of either sort on the planet right now. That’s my opinion, but they have legions of die-hard fans that would certainly agree. To that end, I don’t think it’s possible to be a casual fan of The Black Dahlia Murder. If you’re familiar with them, you either love them or you hate them. If you’re smart, you love them. Again, just my opinion. In any case, I’ve wanted to interview their vocalist/lyricist Trevor Strnad for ages and I was lucky enough to finally get the opportunity last week. As you’ll see, we covered many topics and I think you’d find the interview interesting even if you’re not familiar with the band. Of course, there are plenty of videos here to get you familiar, so you have no excuse for not checking them out right now. I hope you’ll enjoy the tunes and the interview.

MM: I know your albums have been doing better and better on the Billboard 200 and other charts. What did Abysmal peak at?

TS: I don’t remember, honestly, off the top of my head. It was cool, you know? It’s cool to register on the same charts that the rest of the music world is in. Even though it’s metal and it’s underground. For us to show there is flattering. I’m more concerned with the fans and their opinion on things, their reaction to it. That’s my most focused point. But, like I said, it is cool to kind of see when it happens.

MM: Who did the album cover art for Abysmal?

TS: It’s a guy named Daemorph. He’s a Russian dude. He does a lot of brutal death covers. I just thought, man, this is really fresh artwork, a really cool style he’s doing. That would be something to kind of shake things up a little bit.

MM: It’s amazing because I bought the album on iTunes – I have an older version of iTunes with the larger square for the artwork, but even with that, it was only when I made it show in an individual window that I noticed half the details. So, it’s pretty awesome.

TS: Yeah, man, three panels of artwork. I think it was probably the biggest undertaking that he had ever done up ’til that point, you know? But it was a challenge that he rose to. He killed it for us. Obviously, we were having him depict hell. The abyss to go along with Abysmal and stuff like that and I’d say he nailed it. I definitely don’t want to go there.

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MM: You guys have been releasing albums roughly every two years since 2003, not to mention touring your asses off. How much pressure do you feel to keep putting new albums out, if any?

TS: I mean, we do feel some pressure but I think we’re just kind of used to it, you know, moving at this accelerated pace all the time. We’ve been always trying by the seat of our pants. When we’re not touring we’re writing an album very quickly. It’s just part of our mission, man. To stay relevant and to stay in the public’s mind in a world where attention spans are getting shorter every day it seems like.

MM: It’s almost like if you don’t put out an album every couple of years you run the risk of them forgetting about you.

TS: Kind of, yeah. It’s always good to have new artwork coming in for people to get excited about. New shirts. New everything, you know? Each album cycle is kind of like a rebirth in that way.

MM: I know you did take six months off before making the new album. What did you do with your time?

TS: Mostly just kind of decompressed. That was the longest break we’d ever taken since the band started touring. So, it was necessary. I think especially for Brian and I, having been here the entire time, you know what I mean? Just to decompress. Try to live a semi-normal life at home for a minute. But then we afforded ourselves more time to write the album than ever before, too. So, I think that Abysmal came out stronger for it.

MM: I know that you’re finishing a leg of touring the U.S. How much longer is that and do you have any touring beyond that to do?

TS: Well, the official tour ended yesterday but we have two dates on the way back home. Tonight we’re playing in Memphis, Tennessee with Abnormality. And then one more left and then we’re done for the year save a Christmas show in the Detroit area. It’ll be a couple days after Christmas. It’s reoccurring thing they do called Black Christmas. We bring all the best local bands out. Then it’s that time to start thinking about the new record. Getting it together for the springtime. That’s when we’re supposed to record, I think.

MM: What would say are the biggest misconceptions people have about your band?

TS: That it’s a joke or some kind of a comedy thing. We carry ourselves in a humorous way, I guess, and have some funny videos. But the music is definitely taken very seriously. And the rest of it’s an after thought, you know?

MM: These days do you listen to more death metal or black metal?

TS: Still more death metal but I do like black metal. I keep up on both quite a good bit. I still get the same kick out of hunting through new records and new bands and stuff as I always did. That kind of keeps me young and keeps my energy for this whole underground thing, you know what I mean? Stay plugged in and see what’s going on. I always have. I’ve always been a big nerd for it.

MM: Do you still do a column for Metal Injection?

TS: Yeah, The Obituarist. It’ll be coming out pretty soon. I just gotta get home and wrap up a few things here and the next edition will come out. It’s supposed to be every month and that’s been really fun for me. Just spotlighting bands I like. I just don’t see many bands I like getting mentioned in metal press. I feel like it’s the same bands over and over. Just a really label-driven thing. So, I just wanted to highlight especially brutal death, which flys under the radar so often. It’s in such a boom right now that somebody had to do it.

MM: Do you have any ideas for albums that might make a top 100 of 2016 or some albums you feel are worth mentioning here?

TS: I thought the new Defeated Sanity was awesome. That’s one of my favorites of the yeard. Neurogenic is another one that’s really good. Awesome brutal death. Super brutal. I’m looking forward to the new Death Spell Omega. That should be out soon. I think it’s already streaming somewhere but I haven’t heard it yet. I’m banking on that being one of the finest black metal records of the year for sure.

MM: Are you familiar with a band called Noctem out of Spain?

TS: I think I’ve heard the name but I don’t think I’m really familiar with the music.

MM: They’re one of my favorite black metal bands. They sing in English. Their new album is all about the Spanish Inquisition. I’ve interviewed those guys a couple times. That’s why I mention them.

TS: I’ll have to check it out, man, I will.

 

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MM: With so much competition these days do you think it’s still possible for a band to become as popular as Slipknot or Marilyn Manson were at their peak?

TS: I don’t know. That’s a good question. Times are becoming increasingly hard to sell records first of all. So, as long as that’s the big measuring stick for everybody it’s gonna be hard to get to that level. Definitely around these times. Could there ever be another Metallica or Big Four size band? It’s like, I don’t think so. The times are different now, man. It’s a different world.

MM: I think on the fan side it’s kind of cool in the sense that there are so many bands to choose from and enjoy, whereas back in the day if you liked thrash there were maybe 10 bands to pick from.

TS: I guess that’s kind of the great thing about the internet era. You can get connected to any band, anywhere, of any size. So, if you know what you’re doing and you like the underground, the internet is definitely where it’s at. Just to reach out and find bands internationally, it’s better.

MM: I know a lot of death metal and extreme metal bands are even more popular overseas than in the United States. What countries are you the most popular in?

TS: I guess it’s gotta be here still. It’s picking up steam in Europe. We go over there twice a year. So, we’ve been really hitting it quite often since 2004 when we first went over there. So, I’d say that’s like second place for us. But it’s getting pretty good. It’s getting pretty exciting over there.

MM: Where would Japan rank?

TS: I’m not sure. I like Japan a lot. We’ve been fortunate enough to play out there a lot of times, but they haven’t given us a decent offer in a while so I guess they can’t be liking us that much. [Both laugh]

MM: Looking at the line ups of tours that you done, it would seem that you’re generally in favor of taking out lesser known bands. Is that true?

TS: Yeah, man. I always try to bring bands that are gonna bring some excitement to the tour, that are new to people. That people want to come out and see. And also a little variety, too, you know? We’ve had Disentombed and brutal death metal bands on the bill. All different kinds of stuff, you know, and when we have it our way I just like to take some bands we like. Some bands we think are cool. [That] we like their albums. I like being able to lend a hand. Hopefully, get them in front of some new people. It’s just the same thing with the Obituarist. I like to give as much as I can. Give as much info as I can to people. Having that be a vehicle where I can bring out new bands and stuff is cool for me.

MM: Was there a vehicle like that for you when you guys were starting out?

TS: We got pretty lucky, I want to say, with our first handful of tours. The second tour was The Red Chord took us out and that was when they were really on fire there. That was really huge for us and helped us get our feet wet. We definitely look up to those guys. I guess we were just lucky. The first time we went to Europe we were at the small end of a bill with Belfegore, Finntroll, Napalm Death, Vader and Marduk. That was our very first Euro tour. Somebody was taking a gamble on us, it seemed like.

MM: I was looking up the chart of your line up on Wikipedia the other day and I noticed that Ryan Knight, who was your lead guitarist since 2009, has parted ways with the band. Now you have Brandon Ellis. What’s the story behind Ryan parting ways with the band and finding Brandon?

TS: This is something that’s been in the process for a long time. We’ve been playing with Brandon for over a year now. We were a little hush hush when it started, you know? Pretty much any time we’re gonna change members you’re not gonna find us just blatantly announcing it because the fans get so bent. It’s almost worth it to try to just go out without saying anything for a while. Let them kind of slowly figure it out. It seems to play out better that way. Ryan – when he joined the band – he came literally from his child’s birth in Chicago and he drove out to Michigan to start writing and playing and practicing with us for Deflorate, which would be the first record he was on. So, I knew there would be a shelf life on his stay with us. We all did. At some point he would have to go and be with his kid, be a full-time parent. He did everything he could to be an awesome Dad while he was with us. I was very impressed, honestly, with the effort that he put in. But we knew he’d have to end sometime. It just came. He’s like, guys, in about a year I want to go off the road. He was such a dude about it, that he told us so far in advance. We had time to work it out and we were like, who do you think man? Who’s gonna do it? And he was like Brandon Ellis is my first pick. He came after Ryan left and, yeah, he’s been incredible. The way we worked out all the details there it just made the transition so smooth. Brandon had a year to master the songs. By the time we played with him it was just like holy shit. It couldn’t have played out better. I thank Ryan for being such a noble dude. There’s no bad blood on our part at all. We’re still great friends with the guy. Changing members is different than it used to be. Now I understand that people’s visions change. You can’t expect someone to have the same dream. Especially with the same intention that Brian and I do, being here from the entire get go, [bringing] this entire thing into fruition. So, I don’t know, there’s some people in the past where the split up was a little bit hairy and there were some shitty words said and stuff but we’re just older and more mature now. We’ve dealt with this.

MM: Will Brandon be contributing to the writing of the next album?

TS: I don’t believe so. We’re talking about in the future but Brian seems really bent on writing the album himself as he did the first three albums. Just kind of bringing it full circle, I guess, for us.

MM: He writes music and you write the lyrics, right?

TS: Yeah, yeah, I write all the lyrics.

MM: When you write a song about “Raped in Hatred by Vines of Thorn” is it meant to be like a mini-horror movie or are you using that as a metaphor for something else?

TS: Well, that one is just kind of like a re-telling of the plant rape scene from Evil Dead where the trees come alive and snatch up the woman.

MM: Oh, yeah, I see it now.

TS: As far as like what I’m usually doing for a three minute song, definitely, yes, a brief horror story. I try to have a beginning, middle and an end. I like that style. I really got that from Cannibal Corpse. They always have just a comic book style approach to their topics and stuff and it really rubbed off on me.

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MM: What are some of your favorite horror movies?

 

TS: Susperia, Zombie, Dawn of the Dead – the original, real one is probably my favorite. Evil Dead 2, I really like a lot. Beyond the Darkness is a good, kind of obscure gore movie. The song we wrote, “Deathmask Divine,” the lyrics are a lot influenced by that. There’s a scene where the dude is like embalming his girlfriend and stuff. It was pretty awesome.

MM: Do you ever find yourself thinking, how am I going to top a certain song lyrically where you’ve already gone so dark? Does that concern you or do you not try to push yourself in that respect?

TS: I always try to push myself. I always want to have at least one song on an album that has the intention of shocking people, you know? Or turning some heads. Giving somebody the creeps. I do run into blocks where I feel like, oh, man, how can I possibly out scare this song I’ve already done. Or be more heinous. I don’t know, I enjoy the challenge of it. I really like to write for the band. I get a kick out of it. I love the freedom of just being able to do whatever I want. I look forward to it. And some people are into it, you know what I mean? That’s really flattering to me, that people want to hear what I’m gonna say next. I do feel a pressure from the fans but it’s a good thing.

MM: It’s kind of like, where’s Stephen King going to go next?

TS: That’s definitely one of my influences, too. Stephen King. Lots of old horror. Lots of ’80’s horror kind of stuff. From writers to movies, that kind of thing. Definitely.

MM: Do you guys usually write at home or in the studio?

TS: It’s all at home. There’s basically nothing ever written on the road ever. I just kind of keep the two modes separate. Brian goes home, sits with his computer in Pro-Tools and hangs out in his underwear writing some riffs. By the time I hear a song, or a piece of a song, it’ll have both guitars with all the harmonies and bass and nice sounding programmed drums. I start with a pretty high quality demo compared to the boom box days of the band. It’s definitely nice.

MM: Do you guys record your albums at more traditional studios or do you do home studios these days?

TS: We do a bit of both, actually. We do the drums at this place Rust Belt in Royal Oaks. It’s kind of nearby where we practice. Otherwise, it’s been kind of non-traditional. We’ll have the producer come up to Michigan. I tracked the vocals in the closet in my apartment pretty much for Abysmal, which was interesting. I didn’t seem to get in any trouble, so far. So, that’s good.

MM: Yeah, I don’t think anyone noticed.

TS: Yeah, typically it’s just us and Bart. Bart, our old bass player. He comes down and tracks all the strings for the guys. Tracks the drums. And then we start dealing with the producers and stuff.

MM: Do you generally prefer making albums or performing live?

TS: I definitely like the live scenario better. But, I don’t dread the studio like I used to. I actually enjoy it now. Before it just seemed so high pressure in the early days. Now we’ve done it seven times. So, it’s kind of like just a necessary evil.

MM: Have you been doing songs from all of your albums in the current set or are you mostly focusing on the most recent ones?

TS: We’ve got a bit of everything, as usual. It’s getting hard to pick, man. We have so many songs now. But we try to touch on the singles that we put out over the years and fan favorites and stuff. We try to pay attention to what they like and make the set reflect that. There will always be new stuff in the set but there will always be certain classics, too. I don’t think we’ll ever stop playing “Deathmask Divine” and a few others I think will stick around.

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MM: You guys have been releasing your albums on vinyl since 2009. What do you think about the vinyl resurgence?

TS: I think it’s cool. I think it’s great that somebody is selling some copies of an album. I’m a CD guy so I see the appeal in vinyl. The artwork is even bigger. It’s more immersive to have that giant artwork sitting in front of you. I like how personal it is. You have to get up and put the record on. It’s a pain in the ass. Like you’re listening to it if you’re gonna do that. It’s cool in that way. I respect it.

MM: Especially now because a lot of times they’ll put an album out on 180 gram vinyl and they’ll put it on two records in 45 rpm so it sounds better and you’ll only have a few songs per side and have to keep flipping them over.

TS: But it’ll sound awesome, man. Audiophile style.

MM: So, are you into vinyl at all or are you strictly CDs?

TS: I get it sometimes. There’s stuff you can only get on vinyl and I end up getting that typically. But, yeah, I’ll usually grab the CD version of things but I have a decent vinyl collection, too. Just out of necessity. My girlfriend’s the vinyl hound. Between us we have like a whole record store in our bedroom.

MM: Has the demand for vinyl copies of your albums increased with each one you’ve put out?

TS: I don’t know. And I don’t really know about the pressing information. I know there are certain albums that they are demanding now that are hard to find. Miasma in particular has been really hard to find and there’s been some talk about doing a reissue with new artwork, which would be cool. So, we’ll see if that ever comes into fruition. I’d like to keep the vinyl available readily.

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MM: What are your thoughts about streaming services?

TS: You know, it is what it is, I guess. I understand the convenience of it. I like that about it. But, I don’t know, I think it’s kind of like people are looking at it like I’m paying my ten bucks a month I can just listen to as much music as I want and not feel any guilt about it, but in reality I don’t think we’ve ever seen a dime or anything from those guys.

MM: A lot of artists I’ve interviewed have talked about getting two dollar checks and framing it and putting it on their wall as a humorous thing.

TS: Yeah, we haven’t even seen that yet, I don’t think. But it’s one of the only things between people and just straight up stealing music. I like it better than nothing, but I’d prefer if we were still in the physical-driven world. But what can you do? I’m an old man, you know?

MM: What do you think about people stealing it? Have you ever been into that?

TS: Yeah, on some level. It’s still part of how I do my research. Finding things and trying new things. I understand the excitement of having any album you want at your fingertips. But I’ve always done it with a responsibility. I always collect, too. I always want to have the physical copies. I always want to help the bands. So, I don’t know, I’m on both sides of the fence, honestly.

MM: I’ve read that you guys are big stoners. What are your favorite strains right now?

TS: Man, The Cheese, I like The Cheese. And Black Dahlia, of course. Gotta like Black Dahlia. I don’t know, man. I like it all. [Laughs] I’ll try anything. It seems like it’s just coming up everywhere now. It’s so awesome. In Michigan where we live it’s been decriminalized recently and we have programs and stuff in the State. It’s been awesome man, so it’s an exciting time for the world of stoners, I think.

MM: They just decriminalized it here in Massachusetts. I don’t know how long it’ll be before they start opening dispensaries, but…

TS: That’s gonna be so awesome.

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RANDOM QUESTIONS:

MM: What was the first album you ever bought with your own money?

TS: I think Countdown to Extinction by Megadeth.

MM: Name three artists from your parents’ record collection who you actually like. Or liked growing up.

TS: [The band] Yes, I like from my Dad. Big time. When I was a kid I didn’t realize I was liking it. And then many years later I heard 90125 when I was walking into a record store. I was like, oh, yeah, I know every single word and nuance on this album. And then I just started listening to it again from a more educated perspective, I guess. A few years older. Playing in bands. It’s just brilliant. It’s awesome. And from my Mom I would say Phil Collins. The second album in particular. Hello, I Must Be Going. I fucking love that album.

MM: Yeah, it is a good one.

TS: And, let me think, third one. Well, Van Halen. My love of Van Halen definitely came from my Dad. But there’s no shame in that. They’re awesome.

MM: If you could resurrect one musician from the dead, who would you bring back?

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TS: I guess Chuck from Death. That’s like the very first instinct I had. To see what he would do next. See where he was gonna take extreme music. He was always pushing the boundaries and reinventing it for the entire duration of Death. So, I’d love to see what he had up his sleeve for years to come. Who knows.

MM: What is your biggest pet peeve?

TS: I guess waiting around. [Laughs] Which I have to do a lot of.

MM: What is the most awkward encounter you’ve ever had with a musician?

TS: Um, let me see. I don’t know. Nothing’s really popping into my head. Off the cusp. Yeah, I don’t know, man.

MM: What is the coolest encounter you’ve ever had with a fellow musician?

TS: I guess it’s gotta be the relationship I have with Carcass. They’re one of my favorite bands, if not my favorite. I have a Carcass tattoo. And I ended up meeting them just to do an interview when they first re-formed. So, they became aware of me and the band. And then eventually we got to tour together. And that was just the coolest tour we’ve ever done. One of the most exciting times of my life. Yeah, just that they know we’re alive or consider us some kind of a peer or something is just almost too much for me to handle.

MM: Finally, I’ll ask you, name three things from your bucket list that you haven’t done yet?

TS: I want to skydive. I want to do heroin when I’m an old man. I’d like to shoot a flamethrower, too. That sounds pretty fun.

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Paris365

An entertainment journalist for 20 years, Michael McCarthy was a columnist and contributing editor for the magazines Lollipop and LiveWire. He co-created and wrote for Cinezine, one of the '90's most popular movie E-zines. The only time he's not listening to music is when he's watching television shows and movies or reading, usually music magazines.

1 Comment to “An Exclusive Interview with Trevor Strnad of The Black Dahlia Murder”

  1. Black Deathilicious says:

    Trevor fucking rules, man. I love his column. You should do more death metal interviews. Black metal, too, like that Noctem one you did a while back. I hope Trevor checked them out and mentions them in his column.

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