The Acacia Strain – Interview with Vincent Bennett July 8th, 2010
Interview by Mike Bax
Next week Chicopee, Massachusetts metal act The Acacia Strain will release Wormwood (their fifth album) on Prosthetic Records. Wormwood promises to be an advancement on The Acacia Strains' past efforts, with Vincent crafting some of his finest lyrics to date, and guitarist Daniel Laskeiwitz manages to bend his guitar strings in even more new and interesting ways.
Currently on the Cool Tour (with As I Lay Dying, Architects, Between The Buried And Me and Cancer Bats, amongst other bands) which touches down tomorrow at Sound Academy in Toronto, The Acacia Strain, along with their tour mates, promise to deliver a menacing and exhilarating performance of epic proportions on every date that they play.
I caught up with Vincent just before the Cool Tour started at his home in Massachusetts. After ironing out a particularly crappy phone connection, we got down to business discussing the new album and tour.
Mike: Where are you right now, Vincent?
Vincent: I’m just at home. I’m waiting for our tour manager to swing by so we can head out on the upcoming Cool Tour.
Mike: Cool Tour hasn’t started yet? When does it kick off?
Vincent: I think it starts on Monday, but we aren’t allowed to play the first show in Florida.
Mike: You’re not allowed? What’s up with that?
Vincent: I don’t honestly know. I know that the show is on Disney Property – House of Blues in Orlando is on Disney Property. So Mickey Mouse hates us or something.
Vincent: Yeah, whatever man. We did whatever we could. We wrote a letter apologizing for anything we might have done to try and make up for whatever was bothering them. But it didn’t seem to do much. They didn’t really respond to it.
Mike: That’s fucking crazy. So Wormwood, your new album… up until last night, I hadn’t even heard it. I’d heard the advance single ‘Jonestown’, and I was finally provided with a digital copy of Wormwood late last night to check out. It’s pretty fucking awesome man.
Vincent: Thank you very much. I appreciate it.
Mike: Has the album leaked yet? Do you know?
Vincent: I have no idea at all. I really hope it doesn’t (pauses) but it probably will.
Mike: You are pretty close to release date now. Ten days or something? That’s pretty good these days.
Vincent: Yeah, I suppose. It’s lucky that it hasn’t leaked already.
Mike: Is there anything on the upcoming Cool Tour that you yourself are looking forward to? Any bands you are excited about?
Vincent: We’ve played with Between The Buried And Me before, but it was like three or four years ago. It was really fun. I love those dudes to death, and I’m really excited to go back on the road with them. At the same time, all the other bands on the tour are really good, too. I’m really excited to be a part of such a big package tour this year. There’s a good variety of bands on it.
Mike: Aside from seeing your performance of course, what would you tell kids around our Toronto area to see? What’s mandatory as far as you are concerned? Do you know when it’s going to start, what order the line-up is? Is it like an eight hour long show?
Vincent: I’m in the dark right now man. I honestly have no idea what is going on. I think you should watch the entire show, because it’s such a mixed bag of bands. You’ve got a lot of different genres represented on this tour, and it might open your eyes up to something completely new. I’d want to watch the entire thing myself.
Mike: Can you talk a little bit about Wormwood, Vincent? How do you feel it compares to your some of your previous efforts?
Vincent: I think this is our most mature release to date. We spent a lot of time working on this record as a whole. We tried some different things on this record. We recorded with eight string guitars. I did some different things vocally on this album – I actually do some rhyming on this record, which is different for me. There’s a lot of verses and choruses on it. If someone is going to pick up an Acacia Strain record, I’d suggest picking up Wormwood because I think it will ease them into some of the heaviness of the previous records.
Vincent: I’m not saying this is a commercial record; just that this is probably the easiest of our stuff to listen to because it's so mature for us.
Mike: At what point did Acacia Strain go down to a single guitarist?
Vincent: Hmm. That would be at least four years ago.
Mike: What did you find the most challenging thing about making Wormwood, Vincent?
Vincent: We had some things that came up, you know. Things in our guitar player's life that he had to deal with at the time that impeded his writing process. But at the same time, once he got over the things that he was dealing with, he pretty much just sat down and wrote the entire record in a shot or two, and it came out really nicely. It stressed us out for a bit because we didn’t know what was going to happen to our guitar player for a while there. After it was all said and done, I think Wormwood came out better than we’d all expected it to.
Mike: How long were you working on this follow-up to Continent (the Acacia Strain's fourth album) as a band?
Vincent: As a band… this is kind of a tough one actually. I constantly write lyrics. I can’t actually say as a band how long we were all working on this one. I’m always at it. And our guitar player Daniel is always writing material. It’s been a few years since Continent came out. I guess as a band we sat together for a few months working on it. All of our records kind of come out of a jamming process. As a band, we kind of wrote when we had time. It’s that process of getting everyone together to physically work on ‘an album’ that will determine it’s inception.
Mike: What was the hardest song to realize for you on Wormwood, and why?
Vincent: Wow. I don't really know. It all had a nice flow and came out pretty well. I found it hard trying to compose rhyming on the record and that became a bit of a challenge for me. I wanted to make sure we didn’t sound like Dr. Seuss or Mother Goose type lyrics, you know? I didn't want the album to sound like nursery rhymes. I had a hard time going over the lyrics over and over again and making sure they all didn’t sound like Cat In The Hat.
Mike: There’s a lot of material centered around destruction on Wormwood. ‘Terminated’, ‘Bay Of Pigs’, ‘Unabomber’ and ‘Tactical Nuke’. Is this a recurring theme for you when you write?
Vincent: Yeah, I guess it is. I’m infatuated with the end of the world, what can I say? This record is more about the nature of man… the inherent evil that lies in all of us. And I feel that whether the theme is about destroying the earth, or destroying space aliens or whatever, it’s just in our blood to destroy. So when I’m talking about the nature of man, I’m also talking about destroying everything.
Mike: Who handled the artwork on the cover for the new album?
Vincent: His name is Justin Kamerer. His website is angryblue.com. It’s our first time working with him, and it’s been a really interesting process. I basically gave him all of the lyrics to the record and just said “make something with these.” He’s just such a creative guy that he’d pick up some key words from my lyrics, visualize them, and then turn them into artwork. He did a really good job.
Mike: Did Justin present you with a number of concepts? Or was he able to narrow your lyrics into a visual directly with out a lot of different sketches? Or did he nail it right away?
Vincent: That’s really it. He threw pencil sketches at me that I thought were awesome. It was hard for me to see my lyrics as pictures. That’s one of the reasons we went to Justin… I’m kind of visually retarded.
Mike: Well, you’re artistic in a different way, right? You are making art with your music. Not everybody can write, not everybody can paint, and not everybody can play music…
Vincent: Exactly. Basically, what he showed my on his first draft – I was like “That’s it”. I think he hit it spot on.
Mike: I’m not sure what it is exactly that I like about the cover. Aesthetically, it’s quite pleasing. I think it’s the colours – the hot orange colours around the raven mixed in with the aqua-marines that frame the illustration… it’s quite striking. It’s a different looking cover for a band of your particular style, you know?
Vincent: That’s true. A lot of the bands in the same genre as us want to go dark. We really wanted something that would stand out to the eye. It’s so competitive at the store level, and that cover might just pop out a bit more than the albums beside it on the shelves, you know? It pops a bit more.
Mike: It’s an eye-grabber for sure. It’s very colourful. I like it. Now, you have some friends on this album with you… HATEBREED’s Jamey (Jasta), 100 DEMONS’ Bruce (LePage) and Kyle (Chard) of BORN LOW. Were thay all actively in the studio with you? Or did you file share their contributions?
Vincent: Oh no dude… they came to the studio. Jamey was not too far from the studio, and Bruce is a good friend of the band. I wanted to have Bruce on the last record, but schedule conflicts prevented it happening. It’s funny, cause Bruce sold merch for Acacia Strain for a little while. It was just one of those things for us – we had to have Bruce on this record. He was really appreciative to be included actually. It was kind of nice. And Jamey was talking about working with us earlier. You can’t say no to Jasta, man. Everyone came out and hung out for a little while, and we laid down the tracks. It was cool and fun.
Mike: This might be more for Daniel than you Vincent. How did the Acacia Strain handle playing some of the songs recorded with two and three guitar-lines live? How did you retrofit those songs to be played by one guitarist? Was that a logistic to figure out?
Vincent: Yeah, that is more of a Daniel question. When he writes riffs he kind of hears it all in his head when he’s working out the details of the guitar work. Live it’s kind of hard to re-create, but on record I think it really works. He’s good at that sort of thing. I think he does a really good job with it all. He’s been writing the majority of our material since we started. He’s got it pretty much down pat.
Mike: There is this guitar part midway through ‘BTM FDR’ where it sounds like the song almost folds in on itself - the guitaring gets all sludgy and almost sounds like it’s going backwards or something. I don’t know how Daniel comes up with that shit, but it sounds pretty amazing…
Vincent: I have no idea either, man. He’s just one of those guys that comes out with that kind of amazing stuff. He presents himself as a really sincere person. He’s really intuitive when it comes to writing the guitar parts for our music. You can only wonder what he’s coming up with after some of the tracks are laid down and recorded, and he starts playing them back to add things to. He comes up with that kind of stuff left and right.
Mike: Do you consider your band a ‘singles’ band? Is there a song that is put forward as a lead single from the album? Do you guys even think in terms of ‘lead singles’
Vincent: I don’t think any band of our style is really much of a singles band. We don’t get that kind of action. We’re not a rock radio thing like Godsmack or whatever. With us, you have to hear the whole record to get the entire atmosphere of our music. A lot of bands in our genre are the same way. You have to hear the whole album in context, as that’s how it sounds the best. We don't write hits. We write songs that we want to play.
Mike: Do you adhere to the typical marketing tactics for a modern band? Do you look to make a video, and put it online or an a broadcasting medium of some sort – to get it cycled around so people can put their eyes on it.
Vincent: We just shot a video for ‘The Hills Have Eyes’. I mean, there’s a 1% chance it will air on television anywhere, right? But we wanted to do a video. They get hits on YouTube and stuff like that. So people are watching them. That’s all that really matters. As long as people are seeing it, I could care less if it's on TV. The internet seems to be where it’s at. More people are watching YouTube videos than Fox News these days…
Mike: Yeah, when you can look at how many people are going to the web to see footage these days with zero lead generation / advertising – but just a desire to see the footage they want to see… it’s pretty amazing. The propaganda you have to wallow through on television is so mind-crushingly mundane, and you can get all of this great music and video footage online without any of that advertising… it’s pretty amazing.
Vincent: Yeah, for sure.
Mike: How about your merchandise, Vincent? Do you have a lot of control of what your merch looks like? Are you actively involved with the merchandise you sell your fans? You obviously will make much of your profits off of touring and selling your merchandise at shows. How much of an eye do you keep on what’s being sold with your name on it?
Vincent: That’s 100% me. I come up with every single idea for our merchandise. We have one or two artists generating this stuff, and I can tell them pretty much anything – and they seem to be able to reproduce exactly what it is I tell them for merchandise. If it doesn’t look exactly like what I thought it was going to, they change the designs up for no matter what. They are great to work with as well. I have 100% control over what gets produced and what doesn’t. It’s pretty liberating.