sobota 9. dubna 2022

Home » , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , » Interview - SUPREME CONCEPTION - The metal underground is a thriving and a very diverse organism. Almost anywhere in this world you will find people who are extremely passionate about metal music and way of life.

Interview - SUPREME CONCEPTION - The metal underground is a thriving and a very diverse organism. Almost anywhere in this world you will find people who are extremely passionate about metal music and way of life.

Interview with Czech death metal band SUPREME CONCEPTION.

Answered vocalist Sepp, thank you.

Questions prepared Jakub Asphyx.

SUPREME CONCEPTION - Empires of the Mind (2021):

Hail SUPREME CONCEPTION! I always have a habit that when I write interview questions, I also play music from the band I'm interviewing. With you, I went from driving to work, with your last year's album "Empires of the Mind" blaring full blast into my ears, fluently to my computer, where the player immediately offered me the same album. For me it's quite strange, because I'm picky about technical death metal. I like very little of it. But I keep discovering something on the new album, different corners, passages, moments. Will you let us have a look into your "kitchen"? How was the record made?

Sure, happy to share some insights. The music was crafted entirely by Marty Meyer. He normally starts with writing down the notation for each song and this is how he prepares all guitar arrangements upfront. When he had all the five songs for “Empires Of The Mind” outlined this way, we went to a studio to record the demo versions of the guitar tracks. Interestingly, we recorded those in New York, with Chris Basile from PYREXIA, because both Marty and I were spending some time in the US at that point. The reason for doing those demo tracks was to find out what worked and what did not, and at the same time to have professionally recorded guitar tracks for a drummer. We then sent those to Aaron Stechauner who prepared the drums. And with the drums ready, we could finally go to a studio again – this time around to Davos Studio in Vyskov, CZE – and did the final recordings there. We made some small tweaks and alterations to the songs during each stage of the process outlined above. And that’s how we landed at the final shape of “Empires Of The Mind”.

When it comes to the lyrics, I had had a few high-level ideas for the concept in mind, but I wrote the actual lyrics in parallel with the music, so that they were tailored more fittingly to each song. It may appear that the music and the lyrics were done in silos, but the truth is that Marty and I discussed the details throughout the prep and consulted the various parts where we had a few options on how to approach those parts. I think this is how we will continue working in future as well because this has worked quite well for us. And we both now have more understanding of how the other one thinks.

There are currently two members of SUPREME CONCEPTION (Sepp - vocals and Martin Meyer - guitar). But you recorded your last album with a completely different line-up (Sepp, Jirka Zajíc - drums, František Šerák - guitar). So we could say that you are a completely different band. How did the changes affect the way of composing, recording and the overall vision you have? The new one sounds different from your first record "Liturgy of Spiritual Disturbance".

I agree that “Empires Of The Mind” may at first sound like a different band compared to the one that did “Liturgy Of Spiritual Disturbance”. At the same time, it’s important to remember that there is a 12 years’ gap between the two records. Most bands who like to think progressively would have naturally evolved into a somewhat different territory over such time too, even if they functioned continuously. So I see the change as a logical evolution, though I admit that a few links may be missing.

“Liturgy Of Spiritual Disturbance” was a record stemming from brutal death and when it was released, it fully reflected our mindset at the time. Coming up with something a little different now was an interesting challenge and it was one of the things that I liked about the new record. Also, as a listener and a music fan, I tend to prefer bands that gradually evolve and move forward – and hence it’s something that I personally would like to see with SUPREME CONCEPTION.

Thanks to Marty, SUPREME CONCEPTION was resurrected and transformed from a one-time project into a band. And it’s also due to him being the composer now that SUPREME CONCEPTION sounds different. Marty as a musician comes from a different generation compared to Frank Serak, Jirka Zajic and myself – he thinks differently, his way of writing songs is different and he has grown up listening to different bands. He also has a proper music education which impacts the way he writes music and crafts arrangements. But I think we are finding a common ground and the result is not a typical combination. Which is great because we want to have our own thing going as well.

Having said all that, I really don’t want to compare Marty with Frank and Jirka or infer that one line-up was better than the other. Working on “Liturgy Of Spiritual Disturbance” with Frank and Jirka was a fantastic experience and I like to think that we came up with a record that stood out. There is nothing peculiar behind the line-up change – Marty had some musical ideas that were fitting the direction in which SUPREME CONCEPTION could go. Moreover, Frank and I are now playing together in ALTARS ABLAZE, and Jirka and I have also done some music together since “Liturgy Of Spiritual Disturbance”. So there is definitely no bad blood among the original SUPREME CONCEPTION members (smile). Among ourselves, we’re just now creating different music, which is good at the end of the day.

So I understand you had guitars and vocals written and you were missing drums. You approached Aaron Stechauner, who is obviously an incredible musician, professional and from what I've read, a great person. I just can't imagine how it actually went. Did you leave it all up to him or did you fine-tune the details, were you constantly in touch and discussing every beat, every changeover? How did the cooperation work?

We’d given him a free hand really to come up with the initial ideas, because he was the expert when it came to drumming, not us (smile). All communication was electronic but that was not an issue at all, because Aaron was very responsive and flexible. We did ask for a few changes but the vast majority of what you hear on the record are his ideas and arrangements. He also suggested some changes to the structure and composition of some songs that we went ahead with. Perhaps today we would hold the line on some things, but the truth is that at that time we did not have strong opinions on certain elements or arrangements and Aaron’s arguments were convincing.

The collaboration with him was certainly a very interesting experience and we are happy that “Empires Of The Mind” sounds the way it does and has its own character also thanks to his input. We have already started working on a new material and it will most likely feature a different drummer, someone closer to us geographically. If it all works out well, then it will be really exciting!

In an interview you mention that you recorded the new album in different places and finally Chris Donaldson from CRYPTOPSY mixed it for you. Again a great performance, I really like how the sound is organic and dark. At the same time it has this hard to describe "sparkle". Why him? Do you think we couldn't make a similar sound here? And how do you perceive the sound? Are you absolutely satisfied or would you like to change something in the future?

I am very happy with the sound of “Empires Of The Mind”. There are a few things that we’d like to do differently in future, but those things have nothing to do with mix and mastering. Chris Donaldson was a great choice and we’re planning to work with him on our next record again. He has got some interesting productions under his belt, he plays tech death himself and obviously understands the genre, the records he does sound contemporary but without following a generic formula.

Personally, I am excited about how he has mixed the vocals, keeping them clear and understandable, and how he has approached the layered vocals. This is where the outcome was a really pleasant surprise.

And whether someone over here could come up with such sound and production? I hope so, at least in the near future. But to be honest, no one who would be specialized in producing tech death and played in an international league comes to my mind right now. Truth be told though, I had not done too much research locally and choosing Chis was a safe bet.

But we were not after a “big name” necessarily. We’d wanted someone with an outside view who would interpret the record differently compared to what we would have done ourselves. We’d wanted a producer to shift the sound into a direction we would not naturally go into ourselves, And that’s exactly where Chris was a great help, because we did not have to follow any trial-and-error process.

I personally see vocals as another instrument in technical death metal (and not only in it). It depends not only on the timbre, how powerful and "loud" it is, but also on what emotions the singer can convey. Sepp, you are an experienced singer. Is the way of singing in SUPREME CONCEPTION different? Maybe it's age or you eat nails for breakfast, but I find it more "powerful" than DESPISE or HEAVING EARTH used to be. Do you approach singing differently?

I do approach vocals differently than I used to in the past, in a few ways actually. I have been working on my technique over the past few years – and it all started with vocal lessons that I was taking from a classical singer for about a year. We worked on the basics that every vocalist needs. I also started focusing on keeping the vocals understandable, without making them any less growly. And I paid more attention to the form of the lyrics, to ensure the phrasing worked well with the music without loosing the clarity or power. Last but not least, I am no longer afraid to let some emotions into the vocals, exactly as you mentioned. When it comes to the recording process in a studio, I am also much more relaxed and focused these days and enjoy recording vocals a lot more than I used to. Which was not always the case in the past.

It's not just about singing. When I see young guys, what and how they are able to play (especially drummers) in their twenties, I always think, I'm curious about you in your fifties. I think death metal is a hard discipline, even physically. How are you doing? Do you have to do sports or do you have to follow a lifestyle? To do the same thing at a gig as you do on a record must be incredible hard work!

I think that at the end of the day, it is mostly all about discipline and perseverance. It’s almost impossible to make any more progress from a certain point without a regular practice – and it does not matter whether we are talking about music, sport or chess playing. One can have some initial talent but without practicing and training, he or she hits the limits. And then you have a plenty of people who may not necessarily have the “right talent” or be “naturally gifted” but they have the motivation and discipline and perseverance, and so over time they reach the required level, and sometimes even surpass those more talented ones who don’t work that hard. In my view, pretty much anything is possible – it may just be easier for some than for others. But I really think it’s mainly a question of how much time and effort you are ready to dedicate to your thing. And whether you are willing to take some advice or help from someone else maybe.

When it comes to vocals and maintaining the voice in a good shape, I have been trying to follow the usual advice given by seasoned singers – good physical fitness level, enough sleep, voice hygiene, or taking it easy on drinking and eating spicy food. Not that I always succeed, but I am certainly making the effort here. I know where my areas of improvement are – which is good news actually, because this means that an improvement is possible and I can still make some progress, even at my age (smile).

In the texts you are inspired by Yuval Noah Harari's Homo deus - A Brief History of Tomorrow. The book is about the transformation of a man influenced for centuries by different religions, who in the contemporary world is faced with social networks and a completely new approach to life. One can agree with the author on many things, but I found some of them too scary and depressing. Anyway, hats off to you, most of the contemporary lyrics not only in death metal are common, boring, repeated thousands of times and you managed to graft the ideas onto the music precisely - moreover, the album has its own direction, vision, idea. How did you come up with Homo Deus? And why were you inspired by this book? Were the lyrics for "Empires of the Mind" inspired by other authors?

Thank you and I am glad you see it that way. Reading is another hobby of mine – in general, I like to absorb new information and seek further context. When the opportunity to do another SUPREME CONCEPTION record appeared, I started to think about what the right follow-up to “Liturgy Of Spiritual Disturbance” lyrics-wise should be, while refreshing things a bit. It made a lot of sense to me to complement the technical brutal death on the first EP with somewhat philosophical and spiritually charged lyrics. The current musical direction, however, required something different – a bit more futuristic, with questions about where we find ourselves as the species, how we got there and where we are headed.

And in this area, it is Yuval Harari who brings some fascinating insights and observations. As an anthropologist, he obviously has a deep knowledge of the history of Homo Sapiens, but he also has the ability to put things in broader context and perspective – social, political or technological. He asks provocative questions and often outlines even more provocative possible answers. He really makes the reader think about matters that he or she would not contemplate exactly on daily basis. There is one more aspect of his books that is important to me – his critique of religions, or any other dogmas on that matter, and emphasis on thinking, science and rational approach. Because if there is one thing that I can’t comprehend, it is the existence of groundless dogmas and blind faith in them, as opposed to using own brain in a creative or critical way.

Even though “Homo Deus” was the key inspiration for the key messages and concepts of “Empires Of The Mind”, I need to mention a few more interesting books that have had some impacts on me while I was writing the lyrics: “Cosmos” (Carl Sagan), “Beyond the Weird” (Philip Ball) or “Physics Of The Future” (Michio Kaku).

Orion Landau has painted you a very memorable cover. Is there a brain on it, which I understand to be more of a consciousness, which in your case travels through space? It's a great idea, I like Orion's work in general, but I'd be interested in your interpretation of what's on the cover? And how would you describe the motif in relation to the music?

We always knew we wanted to have a strong and distinctive theme of the cover artwork. The key idea came from Marty and Orion was the who was able to transform that idea into a visual that really worked, he added some interesting twists to it and moved the whole thing to a different level. Which only proves again that it always pays off to work with a professional who is able to add extra value.

The theme itself contains a few layers of meaning. The brain does represent the human mind or consciousness as such – whether as a product of or something that also influences the universe. The mind that comprehends how the universe works on macro and micro level – and an intelligence capable of creating new forms of intelligence.

And as far as the relationship between the artwork and the music itself goes, I can see two connections. The first being that a human brain or mind may serve a symbol of progression – the urge to keep moving and evolving. And the other is an element of cautious optimism because of the fact that the mind is not only the source of various problems but can also be a key to their solutions. And it is this optimistic symbolism that corresponds with a relatively positive and upbeat mood of the record.

The question arises, what about SUPREME CONCEPTION and concerts? Again, of course, the drummer is essential. But the bass also makes the music. In my opinion, it is absolutely irreplaceable at concerts. Are you ready and will you perform? And what direction do you want to take SUPREME CONCEPTION in? Do you have a goal? Please give us an outline of the future of the band.

Gradually we’ve been getting ready for future live shows because we really enjoy playing these songs and can’t wait to perform them live. I agree that a drummer will be the key person here. We need not only someone able to play the material easily, but also to have a similar approach like Marty and myself with respect to playing and being in a band. If we don’t find someone locally, then we’ll hire someone from abroad. We’ve already made some contacts and had some preliminary chats about that. And regarding the bass – our next record will feature a proper bassist and we will find someone for concerts as well.

I don’t think we’ll rush into playing live this year as we still need to add a few more songs to the playlist, so that we don’t run off stage after 20 mins or so. We will be releasing some new material this year, but I can already say that this new material is not going to be something that could at this point become a part of the live playlist.

As a whole, SUPREME CONCEPTION is for me a technical death metal band that wanders in a dark universe. Actually the lyrics make you seem rather "negative". I know, this all comes from a certain concept, the album is also terribly easy to listen to (because it is simply well composed, which is quite often forgotten nowadays). But I would be interested in your opinion about the contemporary world, society. I think it's clear that we are at a crossroads. On the one hand we have great technology, on the other we have a lot of people who have nothing to eat. But for me personally the biggest problem is education (not only Facebook). What is your opinion?

This is quite interesting because I actually think all the lyrics that I wrote for SUPREME CONCEPTION are quite positive (smile), especially those on “Empires Of The Mind” and compared to what I’ve been writing for my other bands. I do admit that they may still come across as critical with respect to dogmatic “thinking” or herd mentality, but the underlying message is still positive. “Empires Of The Mind” is a homage to all the visionaries and great thinkers, thanks to whom the humanity has been able to reach today’s level. By that I mean that the science, technology (and I don’t mean just information technology) and collaboration are at such a level that many unsurmountable problems of the past have now become merely technical challenges that can be solved sooner or later. The progress is really striking – from a bit more sophisticated ape we became a dominant species on this planet and our mind is massively expanding across time and space. Which I find really fascinating.

At the same time, some things just don’t change even as generations come and go. We still have that reptile part of the brain that influences the way we act. And in some ways our minds are still stuck in the “dark medieval times”. So we live in a world of paradoxes and contrasts beyond our comprehension sometimes – as you say…

I do think – or perhaps that’s just wishful thinking – that as people we are at a certain crossroad. Globalization has started a number of processes and people can finally see themselves more as members of one species inhabiting this (by now quite decimated) planet, rather than as competing clans (please read as: states, political, religious, political or cultural tribes – and feel free to add any other categories). At the end of the day, we all are after the same things in our daily lives. So yes, there is some potential for us to become a sort of planetary civilization – and possibly reach even beyond this planet. We know so much about the cosmos now and it would be a real shame not to visit some of the places one day (smile).

Beside that “madness gene” that is urging us to keep moving forward and into the unknown, there is also something genocidal about our species. Because I can’t think of any other species capable of obliterating its own members (or relative species) just because they are too familiar to ignore yet too different to tolerate. Maybe rats and sewer rats treat one another in a similar manner. And it’s this aspect of Homo Sapiens (which has been there since the inception) that represents another fascinating mystery.

To be honest, I am not really sure what kind of future scenario I would bet on. But if the past few millennia provide any guidance, then perhaps over the next few decades or centuries there will be some more positive progress despite the risks of serious missteps and setbacks along the way.

And I totally agree with you that education is absolutely key. One may look at what Europe looked like during some 1,000 years after the fall of the Roman Empire, when it was co-ruled by the Catholic Church that maintained the monopoly over “culture” and “education” – during those 1,000 years Europe was one of the most backward places in the world. For 1,000 years (!!!) – until renaissance and enlightenment came and people realized that instead of going to a church they can start using their brains. Even if we fast-forward to our times – many people are content with having “information” and “opinion” – and share that “opinion” under the shield of anonymity with the rest of the world without much consequence. Everyone has an “opinion” (even the biggest morons) but having access to information (or “information”) does not necessarily mean that I actually understand something (even if I am totally convinced about the opposite). So it boils down back to education – it provides at least some basis for being able to process the available information and course-correct own” opinions”. On the other hand, education itself does not guarantee that people will use it wisely. Bashar al-Assad for example is apparently an educated man, yet it did not stop him from totally devastating Syria and mass-murdering its civilians. But that’s a different debate…

And how do you see the current underground scene? I mean promoters, labels, concerts. You've been in the scene for years, you've worked in the US and Saudi Arabia, you've seen a lot of the world, you've met a lot of people. Has a lot changed over the years? I don't think of it nostalgically now, but rather new technology in the studio, people's attitude, etc.

I don’t have as much experience as other musicians, but I will share a few observations and personal thoughts on this. The metal underground is a thriving and a very diverse organism. Almost anywhere in this world you will find people who are extremely passionate about metal music and way of life. For example, I met one of my best friends (Shazwan) at a totally UG concert in Dubai a few years back, and he started talking to me because I was wearing a HEAVING EARTH t-shirt. It became very clear that Shazwan knew not only HEAVING EARTH, but also many other Czech bands, LYKATHEA AFLAME being one of his all-time faves. These are the things that don’t change over time or based on geography.

Like everyone else, I too see the massive shift in how music is produced and distributed compared to the situation 10 – 20 years ago. Recording is so accessible and literally anyone can create something on the musical front. And basically anyone can share their music with the rest of the world. And both things cost close to nothing. Hence on one side, we now have the access to some fantastic bands and records. On the other, the internet is flooded with new albums every day, which makes it impossible to keep up with all good music or separate the quality stuff from junk. So in a way, the gate-keeping role that record labels or mags played in the past is missing now a bit. But I am definitely not nostalgic about any “good old times” or “golden age” or whatever.

Luckily most bands who want to reach a certain level now understand that they need to stand out of the huge crowd, whether via getting help from various PR agencies or via relentless touring, especially on international level. Though things have got crowded there too – you really have to book interviews or press profiles months in advance, and even that may not always help. And the value of certain tour packages is dropping with the number of support bands increasing, especially if the quality is not necessarily the key decision factor.

So yes, the times have changed and continue to change, though some principles (such as the fundamental passion for music itself) are constant. But I believe it’s better to use some opportunities the new times bring rather than fight against the changes. But it’s up to each band to determine how they want to use their energy {smile).

What I do regret to see is a certain fragmentation of the metal scene along the lines of various sub-genres, but I guess that’s just the way things are (smile). But the thing that does worry me quite a bit is how political the musical scene in general has become. It seems that artists’ political stances (both current and past), or the absence of them, is more important to some people than the actual music they create. The whole notion of whether the music is “engaged enough” (of course, in the “correct” direction) or whether the music is not “hurting” someone’s “feelings” is really concerning. For me, metal music and mentality of dictating/controlling what’s right and what’s not just don’t go together. Censorship and auto-censorship kill creativity. But I still believe that common sense and not taking everything so bloody seriously will prevail at some point (smile).

Thank you very much for the interview, I appreciate it. And especially for your music. Because I keep coming back to "Empires of the Mind". There's always something to discover, to enjoy. I wish you as many loyal fans as possible, crowded concerts and that people think more about your music. May you do well in your private life and I'll look forward to seeing you live somewhere!

On behalf of SUPREME CONCEPTION, I want to thank you as well for the support and space in Deadly Storm zine. We really appreciate that you had dedicated some good time to “Empires Of The Mind” and were willing to dig under the surface!

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