Black Breath Interview with Guitarist Eric Wallace
We recently caught up with Black Breath guitarist Eric Wallace for an in-depth interview as the band prepares to drop their second full-length LP, Sentenced to Life, on Southern Lord Records on March 20th. Black Breath have earned a gargantuan amount of critical and fan appreciation through their Southern Lord debut, Heavy Breathing along with the re-issue of their debut EP Razor to Oblivion, which sees the band combining the best elements of black metal, Swedish death metal, crust, and hardcore-infused rock ‘n’ roll, for an exciting spin on modern metal. Eric gives Blow the Scene readers the inside scoop on writing processes behind the new record, recording at God City with Kurt Ballou (Converge), interesting equipment picks, tour plans, lyrical motifs, life in Seattle, and blasphemous graveyard rituals during tour. We recently examined Black Breath‘s forthcoming LP, Sentenced to Life, in a recent review, so be sure to scope that and enjoy some listening samples.
Without further ado, let’s hear from Eric.
Joshua BTS: Thank you for taking a few minutes with Blow the Scene readers from around the world, we really appreciate your time. Please introduce yourself and declare your weapon of choice with Seattle’s hard hitting wrecking crew, Black Breath.
Eric: My name is Eric Wallace and I am the guitar player in Black Breath.
Joshua BTS: Your forthcoming new release dubbed Sentenced to Life is the highly anticipated follow-up to your 2010 debut on Southern Lord, Heavy Breathing. The release was received very well by critics and fans alike with a crushing mix of Swedish death metal and hardcore-fueled rock ‘n’ roll. Now I understand you once again returned to work with Kurt Ballou and God City Studios. What does the recording process look like for Black Breath when you hit the studio?
Eric: This time around was similar to the last recording with Kurt. We went in and had about thirteen days total blocked out. This time was little bit different because we didn’t have everything quite ironed out before we got there, so we practiced for a couple of days. That was an expensive practice. We starting recording drums and went instrument by instrument through the whole thing until it was pretty much done. Put vocals on it near the end and there you have it.
Joshua BTS: Did you guys try anything different this time around since you’d already had experience working with Kurt? Was there anything that you guys got to try out this time that you didn’t last time or experiment with new things while you were in there?
Eric: The first time we were there, we definitely spent longer just fucking around with everything that he had in the studio because he’s got a lot of cool amps and toys to play with. We sort of spent longer than we needed on that. This time around, we weren’t as distracted by the toys I would say. We ended up using a lot of more of the stuff he had in the studio, different pedal and amp combinations and different guitars. So there was a little bit more experimentation with tones, which was cool, and we had a little bit more time, two extra days with this recording than with Heavy Breathing. So we had a little bit of extra time to mess around with overdub stuff.
Joshua BTS: Were there any particular pieces of equipment that stick out in your mind or any really unique recording techniques that you implemented with this record?
Eric: There was a unique amplifier used on the rhythm guitar tracks, none of us expected to use, I don’t think Kurt did either. He had mentioned he had never used it before. It was this cheap solid state Carvin bass amp I believe it was, and we had our normal setup which at that time, which was a Peavy VTM and Ampeg V-4 running through some cabs. He pulled this Carvin out of the back and blew the dust off of it and said, “let’s try this too.” We thought he was crazy. Threw it in there, and sure enough it lent an other-worldly tone to the mix that we definitely didn’t have with our regular tube amps. We ended up tracking with it the whole time; I was really surprised with it. That was definitely a curve-ball that we ended up sticking with. I’m pretty happy with how it ended up sounding. I got to track one of those things down actually [laughs]. Other than that I think we used a 12-string at one point . Our other guitar player Zach was playing it on some shit as sort of a last minute idea, so there was some new stuff for sure.
Joshua BTS: We got an early copy of the record and it sounds killer for sure. So what does the actual writing process look like for you guys? Does everybody in the band play an active role or is there one person kind of steering the ship? And what did the actual timeline look like for the writing process behind Sentenced to Life?
Eric: For this record, it was a little different than the two prior recordings. I keep using the word “rushed,” but I hate that word. We jammed more productivity into a shorter span of time on this recording. So basically, we had from the end of our first European tour which ended in late November or December of 2010, up until the middle of March when we started recording. We basically had that time to write everything. We sort of had some stuff ready, some songs ready to go or close, but we threw most of them out and pretty much started fresh after that. Basically the process is different people bring different riffs or song ideas to practice. This recording was more or less split fifty-fifty between me and our drummer Jamie, we wrote the majority of the riffs. Whoever has the ideas will bring them to practice and everyone will get together and usually it’s in the middle of the night, cause we’re getting done evening shifts. So usually we’re starting practice around midnight or one in the morning. We come up with stuff and jam out ideas. We usually all come up with stuff, that whoever had the original idea would never have thought of, so at that point it becomes very collective.
Joshua BTS: So do you have a studio space that you rent out in your hometown of Seattle?
Eric: Ya, we got this shithole practice space up on Capitol Hill that we’ve had for years that floods every winter and cracked seams- I’m painting a bleak picture but it’s kind of just a party spot. Too many people have access to it and not enough actual bands play there. But there are some real bands who do play there and fortunately we are moving out this month to kind of save on some money. We’ve had a 24-hour space forever and that has allowed us to play at fucking weird hours.
Joshua BTS: Because the Heavy Breathing LP was so well received- Did you guys feel any added pressure or excitement? “Pressure” is kind of a restrictive term- But when you stepped up to the plate to write these tracks- Did you feel like you needed to up the ante? Is it more just that you feel what you write and go with it?
Eric: It’s a little combination of both I suppose. We didn’t expect the first LP to get the kind of positive reviews that it did. We weren’t expecting for people to hate it necessarily, but the idea wasn’t to come out and please a bunch of reviewers. We never thought about that. So the fact that it was talked about highly at all was flattering for sure. In the back of our minds we knew for the second LP we didn’t want to come up with something that was going to fall flat in comparison, but I think most importantly we were out to outdo ourselves. Everyone in this band has come along in their own abilities and their interest in pushing themselves and pushing the songwriting of the band. We had a concentrated effort to make everything faster, meaner, more aggressive.
Joshua BTS: Ya, that definitely comes across in the recording, it feels like the next level. I know you play lead guitar and that lyrics really aren’t your thing, but- Were there any major lyrical motifs or themes that you guys stuck with for this record?
Eric: Neil writes all the lyrics and every now and again we sort of give ideas to help out. Our vocalist is the main lyrical man and he is an interesting guy. You flip his journal to any given page and you’re bound to read something fucking blasphemous and twisted. So half of the time we are just kind of going through that and picking his brain. I’d say lyrically he has been on a similar path for a while. Desperation and violence, anger, and sexual bullshit [laughs]. Half the stuff I don’t really know what he talking about until I sit down and look at it afterwards and I’m like “You said that? You got to be fucking kidding me?” [laughs]. He definitely has free reign to do stuff but now and again we got to reel him in.
Joshua BTS: Right on. Do you guys all live in Seattle currently?
Eric: We just had a member switch up recently. We were all living in Seattle at the time the recording was made and after we did our last European tour, our guitarist Zach quit to (as we’ve been quoted before) to go to law school in Los Angeles and become a total wimp. So he’s doing that and now we have a new guitar player who is residing in Vancouver BC. Old friend of ours named Mark and so far it’s been working out. So at the moment, four of us are in Seattle.
Joshua BTS: When you guys aren’t active with Black Breath what do your daily lives look like? Do you guys have nine to five jobs?
Eric: Outside of Black Breath it’s mainly just working whatever job everyone has- record store, bar, working at a kitchen at a bar, etc. , driving around for money, it’s pretty mundane shit to be honest. Ya [laughs]
Joshua BTS: Right on. I know Seattle has a fairly intense political history with some major protests that have gone on. Do you guys follow or support any of the grassroots organizations in your neck of the woods?
Eric: On a very base level I agree with a lot of them, but as a band, no. We don’t endorse any particular organization or movement.
Eric: Depending on how well we can get away with paying rent while we’re on tour, we’ll be on the road quite a bit. We got April in Europe lined up, then doing a US tour in June and July, and talks of doing Mexico at the end of July, and then August we are going to Japan. And I just read an email from a promoter in Australia, so we may try to figure out a way to do that in the same trip as Japan, so we’re going all over the place this time. We’ve never been outside of the states and Europe so we’re trying to go to a few new places and hit the old favorites again as well.
Joshua BTS: What are some of those old favorites if you don’t mind touching on a couple? Any stops you’re particularly looking forward to getting back to?
Eric: Sure. In the states, the West Coast is always fun. We’ve been getting an increasingly better response in LA and the Bay Area and those shows have been great. Doing the East Coast, New York, Philadelphia, and Boston will be cool to go back to and Chicago n’ stuff. Definitely looking forward to going back to the UK and playing in London and going back Stockholm for a second time. We had a great time the first time around. There will be some fun shows coming up.
Joshua BTS: Is there anything off of the beaten path that you are looking forward to checking out while you are on the road? I know tour life doesn’t leave a lot of time for sightseeing.
Eric: It seems like once a tour we end up going out of our way to find an old graveyard. We usually bring some tape-recording devices and a knife and Neil ends up cutting himself over a grave or two, and we press record and see what happens. We’ve had some interesting results in the past.
Joshua BTS: So obviously you guys pull influences from a ton of different bands and genres. You can hear crust in there, you hear black metal, you hear Swedish death metal. Are there any particular genres or bands that are really exciting you guys that you’d like to meet up with on the road or that find their way into your playlists from the day-to-day?
Eric: A lot of those influences that come through in our music, obviously we listen to those on a pretty regular basis. I could take all week to list all of it and everybody has got their own slightly different tastes and influences and what not. But as far as me, it’s always cool to run into a band that we were listening to ten years ago and now we’re just getting around to doing something that maybe similar to them and not have them scoff at that is a pretty good feeling. [laughs] There have been some cool times. For instance..I’m trying to think back to some bands people have likened us to whatsoever in a review or said we stole from.. We’ve played with Entombed and Graves on the Swedish band front. All of those guys were really nice and didn’t kick us in the head for stealing their sound.
Eric: Sure, well this new LP is coming out on Southern Lord and so far they have done good by us. Greg is a good friend of ours at this point and everyone there has taken good care us and they are nice people, so we are happy to work with them. The way it came about, we just sent out some records. We repressed an Ep maybe 2008.. I don’t remember the year, but we pressed up some 4-song 12-inch vinyl pieces, Razor to Oblivion, and sent them to some labels. A couple wrote back and were interested and Greg was one of those people. So he came up to Seattle and he sat down with us at a bar and we had a good time hanging out and a lot of the ideas that we had for what we wanted to do for our first LP were right in line for what he was talking about. We had already made up our mind we wanted to try going to God City and record with Kurt and we wanted to go to Europe and do a US tour right after that release came out. Sure enough, he had come to the decision that he wanted his bands to record with Kurt. So I think we were actually the first band on Southern Lord to record there, obviously not the first band of all time, but on his label I believe we were, and now a lot more seem to be going there. Kurt is a fucking killer engineer and knows what the fuck he is doing, so it works out.
Joshua BTS: As we wrap up the interview- What do you see as some of the long term goals for Black Breath? Do you foresee being able to hang up the day jobs permanently and do the band full time? Or is this something you feel you will continue to work in with the norms of daily life?
Eric: So far I think we have struck a decent balance with being around at home and having somewhat of a normal life, then a few times a year, taking a month off and doing some fun stuff and playing shows. I find that it is a good idea at least in the beginning to take it a little slower just so people don’t get as burned out. I see a lot of bands and my friends’ bands that they end up touring nonstop for a year and a half or two years and then everyone gets so burned out they quit. I didn’t want that to happen to us and I’m sure the other guys don’t either, so we’ve been taking it a little more realistically as it comes and not over-exerting ourselves or overextending our patience. So this summer will be a bit of a test, we’re going to cram a little more into a shorter span of time with tours. I definitely have some personal ideas of where I see things going in the future. It’s a little difficult to imagine what the possibilities are based on four years ago we didn’t really picture ourselves in the position we are in now. I think we still have some stuff to do, we have a few more records in us, we’ll see.
Joshua BTS: We appreciate you taking time with our readers and we look forward to keeping up with your future endeavors and would be great to touch base later in the year see how things are going.
Eric: Absolutely. Thanks for the call, much appreciated.
Interview by Joshua T. Cohen
Black Breath Links
More info on Black Breath:
Black Breath streaming music
Black Breath – “Mother Abyss” taken from Sentenced to Life LP
Black Breath 2012 European Tour
Mar 29, 2012 Baroeg NL/Rotterdam Victims, Tormented
Mar 30, 2012 Trix Bar BE/Antwerp with Victims, Tormented
Mar 31, 2012 De Kreun BE/Kortrijk with Victims, Tormented
Apr 1, 2012 Stuck on a name rec studio with Nottingham, United Kingdom Victims, Tormented
Apr 2, 2012 The Underworld UK/London with Victims, Tormented
Apr 3, 2012 Islington Mill UK/Manchester with Victims, Tormented
Apr 4, 2012 Clwb Ifor Bach UK/Cardiff with Victims, Tormented
Apr 5, 2012 Le Ferrailleur Nantes, France with Victims, Tormented
Apr 6, 2012 Heretic Club Bordeaux, France with Victims, Tormented
Apr 7, 2012 Mogambo San Sebastian, Spain with Victims, Tormented
Apr 8, 2012 Caracol ES/Madrid with Victims, Tormented
Apr 9, 2012 Razzmatazz 3 Barcelona, Spain with Victims, Tormented
Apr 10, 2012 La Dynamo FR/Toulouse with Victims, Tormented
Apr 11, 2012 Tap-Tap CH/ Schaffhausen with Victims, Tormented
Apr 12, 2012 Juha West DE/Stuttgart with Victims, Tormented
Apr 13, 2012 Roadburn Festival Tilburg, Netherlands with Voivod
Apr 14, 2012 AJZ DE/Bielefeld with Victims, Tormented
Apr 15, 2012 Hafenklang DE/Hamburg with Victims, Tormented
Apr 16, 2012 Hemgarden Lund, Sweden with Victims, Tormented
Apr 17, 2012 Debaser SE/Stockholm with Victims, Tormented
Apr 18, 2012 Revolver Oslo, Norway with Tormented
Apr 19, 2012 Truckstop Alaska Gothenburg, Sweden with Tormented
Apr 20, 2012 Templet Lyngby, Denmark with Tormented, Saviours
Apr 21, 2012 Festsaal Kreuzberg Berlin, Germany with Christian Mistress, Tormented
Apr 22, 2012 Fzw Dortmund, Germany with Christian Mistress, Tormented
Apr 24, 2012 Ajz Chemnitz Chemnitz, Germany with Christian Mistress, Tormented
Apr 25, 2012 Arena Vienna, Austria with Christian Mistress, Tormented
Apr 26, 2012 Atlantide Bologna, Italy with Christian Mistress, Tormented
Apr 27, 2012 Lo-Fi MilanItaly, Italy with Christian Mistress, Tormented
Apr 28, 2012 Jugendhaus Wangen Wangen, Germany with Christian Mistress, Tormented
Apr 29, 2012 Lakei Helmond, Netherlands with Christian Mistress, Tormented
May 26, 2012 Highline Seattle, WA with Massgrave, Theories
Bottom Live picture by Phil Jenkins