Great metal bands do exist today, but for each band that gets it right, there are 100 more that get it wrong. According to the ancient and serious code of metal ethics, each new band must be approached with serious skepticism, as the whole point of heavy metal is to turn it up and openly head bang in earnest. We spoke with Early Man, a classically styled metal band who signed to Matador this past year. Can they defend their honor? Read on, but judge for yourself at Bowery Ballroom on Dec 3. My guess is that you’ll probably wake up in the morning with a sore neck.
The L Magazine: Since you and Adam moved from Columbus, OH to New York, can you talk a little about the difference in how people in each place perceive your music? It seems people in NYC might approach it with a touch of irony. Have you found that to be the case, and if so, how do you feel about it?
Mike Conte: Our true friends in Columbus are very supportive of what we’re doing. We are doing what few have been able to do on a much larger scale than either we or any of our friends ever thought possible and we’re doing it with a no- bullshit approach, both musically and stylistically. Our old friends are behind us 100 percent and that is extremely important to us. Some people in NYC tend to have jealousy issues when they see people become successful. It goes with the territory. The important thing is that we, the band, are dead serious about our music. It’s not ironic. Anyone who perceives us that way clearly isn’t getting the vibe. But I can’t really sit around and concern myself with what a bunch of misinformed idiots are chit- chatting about us. If you like the music, turn it up loud and rock the fuck out. If not, don’t listen to it. It’s a pretty simple formula.
The L: You guys keep your metal sound rooted in the early old-school that is no doubt influenced by the likes of Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, and Black Sabbath. Describe what it was like discovering this music as young lads?
MC: My late grandmother had a son (my uncle) later in her life who was a few years younger than me. When we were teens he started a band that was covering Metallica, Megadeth, Sabbath, etc. When I would visit them he would be practicing in the basement. This was some of my first exposure to hearing the power of heavy jams live and loud. I was never the same and of course became a huge fan of all of the heavy hitters you mentioned in the question, plus so many others.
The L: Not only do you harken back to old-school metal, but your equipment is also old-school. Talk a bit about the importance of your guitars to the overall sound you’re going for, especially the five-piece Zickos drum kit from 1972 that weighs over 500 pounds.
MC: I use a Jackson Randy Rhoads from the 80s because I think it sounds and plays better than the newer ones I’ve encountered. Jackson pick-ups are really good for thrashy stuff and delivering riffage. The drum kit that Adam uses sounds very thunderous and big. The sound is very classic, which is why he likes it.
The L: You guys create a really heavy, monster metal sound with just two dudes. And now you’re adding a new bass player, and touring with an additional guitarist. Tell us about all the additions.
MC: I write all of the Early Man material by recording riffs myself, many times with programmed drum tracks to get an idea of whether or not I’m liking something that is floating around in my head. I do a lot of demo-ing before I decide I like something. When I have enough stuff together for a song idea, then Adam and I start jamming the ideas live together at our practice space and he never ceases to blow my mind with his approaches to what beats should be flowing underneath my riffs. When we do an actual recording for real (like for Closing In) I record as many as three or four guitar tracks, then play all of the bass lines, then do the vocals. When you write that much into a song you can’t pull it off live without having someone play the bass lines you’ve written or the extra guitar stuff. So when we tour we present it as a four piece. Currently we have Pete Macy playing second guitar and Andy McCloud on bass.
The L: We have to ask, what’s the story behind the “Pentecostalists” description of you two in the first sentence of your bio? Is this somehow tied in with Early Man’s obsession with general evil, destruction and death?
MC: It’s true and of course has altered my viewpoints on life, death, destruction, evil, etc. from a young age.