Enjoy a new exclusive interview with Michigan’s metal-infused hardcore purveyors, Hollow Earth, as the band continues to support a new buzz-worthy LP, Silent Graves, on Panic Records with a dense tour schedule alongside some of genre’s leading heavyweights. Vocalist Steve Muczynski brings us up to speed on the band’s history, writing processes, studio sessions, gear picks, lyrical themes, top band picks, and so much more in this exclusive in-depth interview. Listening samples and links for further investigation included below. Without further ado, let’s hear from Steve!
Joshua BTS: Greetings! Thank you for taking some time with Blow The Scene readers from around the world. Please introduce yourselves and your musical weapons of choice with Michigan’s Hollow Earth.
Steve HE: Thanks for having us! I’m Steve and I’m the vocalist.
Joshua BTS: I’d like to focus on your recently released LP, Silent Graves, that hit streets early in November via Panic Records. Although the band is often categorized as metallic hardcore, truth be told, Hollow Earth pulls and purveys a wide range of influences, everything from d-beat to death metal. With that said- Do you have a member that directs or dictates the prevailing feel of the music or does the writing happen more organically?
Steve HE: I’m glad that the wide array of influences is as evident to you as it is to us! To answer your question, yes, Mike Moynihan is our visionary. And to be honest there wasn’t really any preemptive discussion. He just started writing songs and every time he’d send or show me a new one I just thought, man he’s really hitting the nail on the head as far as I’m concerned. When we started the band we had a solid line-up and we operated largely in a collaborative manner, still with Mike at the helm for the most part, but with added bonus of brainstorming and bouncing ideas off of one another. But that didn’t last long, for during our first year of touring we watched that solid line-up rapidly disintegrate. So for a long time Mike and I (the only original members) were the only ones with a vested interest in the band, so it really became of matter of writing music that appeals to both of our interests. Being as close of friends as we are, with largely parallel tastes, agreeing on the direction of our music comes very naturally. I think it’s finally safe to say – and I’m actually going to knock on this wood table that my computer is on – that we have successfully reestablished a solid line-up and can hopefully revisit the organic/collaborative process going forward. But ultimately Mike is a fantastic song writer, something being in this band has kind of forced him to realize and I’m sure he will remain the driving force behind the music we create.
Joshua BTS: When did the writing sessions for Silent Graves begin? And what did the songwriting process entail throughout the crafting of Silent Graves? Do you demo everything and go into a proofreading mode before the studio?
Steve HE: The writing process began in late 2012. We got pretty burnt out on only having 6 originals and the occasional cover to choose from on a nightly basis, so we set a goal to hit the road with a couple new songs come 2013. With continuous uncertainty as to who was actually in our band, Mike took it upon himself to start demoing out songs on his computer, complete with 2 guitars, bass and programmed drums. ‘The Reclamation’ and ‘Black Blood of the Earth’ (the first two tracks on the album) were the first two songs born of that process. We agreed they kicked ass, the boys learned ’em and I wrote the lyrics… Simple as that. And really that’s how the rest of the album came to be as well. But it wasn’t until Fall of 2013 (finally with a somewhat reestablished line-up) that we got serious about bringing those demos to life in the practice room. Then, at that point we naturally made some tweaks to the songs here and there as we saw fit.
Joshua BTS: Where did you choose to record and master the music and vocals for Silent Graves? Do you play an active part in the engineering and mastering processes?
Steve HE: We chose to go with Andy Nelson at Bricktop in Chicago. Up until very recently I used to play guitar in another Michigan based band called Great Reversals, and we recorded 4 songs with Andy… It was a great experience and we were quite satisfied with the results. So between that and some of Andy’s other work (Harm’s Way, Dead in the Dirt, and his own band, Weekend Nachos) it seemed like a great place to make a Hollow Earth record. And it was! We are very happy with the final product of those sessions, and that’s partly because Brad Boatright (AudioSiege, Portland, OR) nailed the mastering process. Everything was tracked in Chicago with Andy over the course of a week and we left the engineering up to him.
Joshua BTS: Please give us your gear run-down for the Silent Graves recording sessions. Any special or unique pieces of equipment employed in studio during the recording? Any special pedals, heads, cabinets, drums, mics, or like that you experimented with? And we’re gear nuts here, so please no “oh we just did a standard recording” If that’s is the case- we want to know what’s ‘standard’ for you.
Steve HE: For Mike’s guitar tracks we ended up going with a Soldano Avenger 100 out of an Emperor 4×12 with a little HM-2, which was unique to the record because his live rig is a Bogner Shiva out of an Orange 4×12 with a little HM-2. Sean’s guitar tracks were pretty true to his live rig, Mesa Triple Rectifier through an Emperor 4×12… However on the record he used an OCD overdrive, whereas live he uses the Maxon overdrive. At the time we didn’t have a bassist so Mike handled those tracking duties and he did so through a Sunn Coliseum through an Emperor cab with an OCD Fulltone on top. Our drummer Mike Walsh decided to use the studio’s house kit, which I believe is made by Shine. As far as mics go, that was all on Andy! And as far as I know he didn’t use anything out of the ordinary.
Joshua BTS: Was there anything during the recording sessions of Silent Graves that saw you step out of your comfort zone and try techniques you had not attempted before?
Steve HE: Well, there’s a singing part in ‘Swallowing Knives’ that I was doing in the practice room sessions and even at a couple shows leading up to the recording of the album and it was definitely something I was nervous about. What ended up happening is exactly what I figured would happen, it was cool idea with poor execution on my part so Mike stepped in and experimented until we found a way to make it work. Incorporating a little melody here and there may be something we experiment with more going forward as well. Also, the instrumental track on the record (The Funeral of All) required a good bit of experimentation on Mike’s behalf as he’s not super acclimated with keys… So I’d say we kinda went out on a limb with that. But aside from those two things I think we played it pretty safe.
Joshua BTS: Who crafted the cover-art of Silent Graves? And does it bear any significance in context with the lyrical motifs on the record?
Steve HE: Mike happened upon an article on Huffington Post called, “Deadly Lake Natron Turns Animals Into Ghostly Statues.” Lake Natron is in Tanzania and apparently “the water has an extremely high soda and salt content” which causes animals that come in contact with it “to calcify, perfectly preserved, as they dry.” The photographer then took these animals that washed up on the shore and placed them in living positions and photographed them. So the actual image of the bird on our record comes from a photo titled “Calcified Songbird” which is just one of many incredible photos included in this feature. We really wanted to use the photo itself as the album cover but had no luck getting in touch with the photographer, so we had our friend Jacob Parmentier (Abernathy Designs) recreate the image by hand. We then handed over the drawing to our pal Patrick Galvin from Australia to take of the design elements. Without really putting it into words we just felt that somehow the image of that calcified bird on a branch just seemed to fit the overall feel of the album.
Joshua BTS: Are your politics as band reflected in your artistic output? Are there any political issues that have your attention and/or backing behind them currently?
Steve HE: To varying degrees I suppose. And I guess it also depends on your definition of politics. We’re not a vegan band but we have a song on the new album that is born from vegan ethics. We also have a song on the album that offers commentary on humanity’s dependence on fossil fuels, yet we drive around the country in a big dumb blue van that runs on regular old gasoline. So while we may not be some outspoken, rigidly political band we certainly do our best to be consciously aware of the world we live in and I think that’s evident in our lyrical output. The whole Ferguson, MO situation certainly had our attention on this past tour… Lots of van discussion about that.
Joshua BTS: What is it like working with Panic Records? How did you two come to link up for this release?
Steve HE: Timm who runs Panic has become a great friend of ours! All things considered it’s been a great home for us. He’s a total goofball and he’s pretty laid back. He fronts us records ahead of time which is super helpful to us, and we always get him paid back so its a nice recurring process. He heard about us through the wonders of social media I believe. Someone he knows heard the first 2 songs we posted from our EP and shared the link with Timm… He liked what he heard and was impulsively interested in releasing our record so we signed a 2 release agreement with Panic: We Are Not Humanity being our first effort and now Silent Graves.
Joshua BTS: What bands both here and abroad have your attention right now?
Steve HE: If you were asking us as individuals I’m sure you’d get a slew of different answers but there’s likely be a few names that would be consistent: Exalt, Run with the Hunted and Axis are definitely at the top of our list. We’ve toured with all 3 to some capacity or another and we can’t say enough good things about these bands and the people in them. Others include Divider, The Banner, Withdrawal, Seizures, Vein, Of Feather and Bone, KEN Mode, KDC, Trenchfoot, Homewrecker, Die Young, Cult Leader, Capital, and Old Wounds. Can’t say I know a whole lot about what’s going on abroad save from the few Canadian bands I just mentioned. We are trying our best to head to Europe this summer and if the odds are in our favor I suppose we’ll find out firsthand.
Joshua BTS: Apart from your musical endeavors- Do any of your members dabble in any other arts or hobbies?
Steve HE: Band hobbies include playing Ultimate Werewolf, Ultimate Frisbee, getting roughty at karaoke and apparently D&D is going down on the next tour! When we’re not on tour most of us just hold down jobs… Our drummer teaches lessons and I play hockey. Mike was a nanny for a while which is quite comical in its own right! A couple of us play in other bands as well: Left of the Dial, Cheapshow, Great Reversals, Tharsis They
Joshua BTS: What does Hollow Earth have planned as we head into 2015?
Steve HE: A short tour from 2/19 – 3/4 which will consist of 4 or 5 shows on our own and 9 or 10 shows with Divider… Which we couldn’t be more psyched about! Met those boys on our very first tour in early 2012 and I’ve been a fan ever since so this is a long time coming. A few scattered Michigan shows here and there, including this year’s Berserker Fest in mid-March! Then a west-coast tour in April which will be centered around Run with the Hunted’s farewell home show in AZ. Hopefully Europe in July which would end at Fluff Fest, something we couldn’t be more appreciative of! And then who knows what for the Fall. We wanna do as much touring as we can to support Silent Graves, that’s the bottom line. We also have some new material that we are kicking around and may try to record at Witch Ape in Seattle when we’re out that way… Just a couple songs, maybe for a seven-inch… We’ll see.
Joshua BTS: Thank you kindly for taking a few moments with Blow The Scene readers from around the World as we look forward to hearing and seeing more from Hollow Earth. Any final thoughts before we sign off?
Steve HE: Thank you! And I have to laugh at the way this question is worded because I certainly took much longer than a few moments… And for that I do apologize! Thank you to you for the questions and thanks to anyone reading, we truly appreciate your time and attention.
Interview by BTS’s Joshua T. Cohen