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Interview: SUCCUMB – The illest band in San Fran’s deadly alchemy returns on ‘XXI’

Posted by Morgan Y Evans - Walking Bombs on Monday, September 27, 2021 at 5:56 PM (PST)

A big thanks this week to the Succumb camp for doing this brand new interview with us promoting the new, must hear XXI release. Not quite a “best kept secret” anymore now that their star is rising, but certainly they remain a band you hope thrive yet also whom are so good you almost still want to covet their music to yourself in a secret, blood encrusted cave. I actually was worried they had broken up but still rocked one of their older debut shirt designs anyway cuz they fucking rule even if they HAD been one and done.

Thankfully, that wasn’t the case.

Cheri Musrasrik, of course, is a very enigmatic vocalist but the whole band have stepped things up from their already brilliant early material to deliver a complete knock out punch via this latest release. I knew they were special but always hoped they could be THIS special. If that doesn’t make sense now, it will when you hear the new record from this bleak and bludgeoning crew of cadaver kickers.

Thank you to Derek, Harry, Cheri and Kirk for all participating in this. Read more BELOW.

This record is very physical. It is an onslaught of dives, barraging drums and bass and dissonant riffs. The production has strengthened and the arrangements are more complex and brutal at the same time. The vocals remain intense but feel even more visceral somehow. Like the whole band feels super present. I loved earlier stuff but am so glad for this record as I always felt like this band had so much potential for further greatness and you’ve proven me right! How much blood, sweat and tears went into writing and recording this thing?

Harry: Thank you! I think we all really pushed ourselves physically on this record. For me personally I distinctly remember during the writing process not really being able to play certain parts, just because they were such an endurance test. I think we went into these songs with the mindset of like, this is how these songs should sound whether we can do it or not. Then we just kept playing them until we could. It was a pretty long writing process as well. We were pretty consistently writing on & off since the release of our first album in 2017, so there was the whole neurotic song structuring part of it too. How many times do we play this riff, how does this one segue into the next one, etc. All pretty normal band stuff, but the process definitely felt more intense this time around. We really consciously wanted to push Cheri’s vocals up front too, to make them more in your face and immediate. I think we wanted the whole thing to sound that way, less murky and atmospheric, more visceral and intense.

Cheri: Writing the album was a very thought out and intentional thing. It took a while to get the structures and placements exactly right. It was great to have more time in the studio to add all the finishing touches, transitions, and special tasty details.

This new record has maybe my favorite cover art of the year. The vibes are real. What inspired the choice? 

Cheri: The album art is Stefan Thanneur’s interpretation of the symbolism and themes of the album. He was able to integrate the topics of each song into one piece of art in his signature style.

 I feel like more than some bands that have been overhyped, Succumb has had actually earned buzz and also have worked at your own pace and let the music bring people to you. Like, the people I know who know of the band are fucking stoked hard. Do you feel like you have focused more on the work than the image side of things? Cuz it feels like you have gone about it more as real artists than as clout/fame chasers for sure, lol. Not that you don’t deserve all the monies and power and glory in the world. 

Harry: I’m not really sure. I guess the songwriting is our biggest priority, even more so than playing live or touring, although we love doing that too. But that stuff is all kind of moot if you don’t feel really proud of the music you’re playing, at least for me. But I think our aesthetic is really important to us as well as far as things like album art go, if you can consider that part of the image. Certainly 90% of the work is writing & rehearsing for us though, especially right now when live shows haven’t been an option for so long. That said, I think we were all pretty surprised with how much attention the first album got and how many people actually care that this one is coming out now considering it’s been four years. Any buzz or hype is purely a happy side effect of us doing what comes naturally I think, which is very flattering.

Kirk: Kirk: For me, I hate promotion and telling people about my band or anything like that. I really hate social media and actively avoid everything to do with it as much as I can. I’m beyond elated that anyone likes the band but for me that is wholly secondary to what I get out of it and why I do it.

Cheri: Coming from the background of playing in a punk band that was a bunch of rejects the idea of even underground fame always cracks me up a bit. I’m still shocked whenever someone is genuinely interested in the things that I do musically. My motivation for being in a band has always been to have fun with my friends and travel to new places with them. The work for me is a means to an end that is mainly about having fun and telling jokes.

Are you excited for Northwest Terror Fest? That is maybe the sickest lineup for an American fest that I have seen in a long fucking time. If I saw Ludicra, Grayceon and Succumb at one fest I would pee my pants, probably. 

Harry: Very! I’m especially excited to see Ludicra again. They were a really important band for me personally as a metalhead in the Bay Area in the early 2000s. They were really one of the first local bands I really got into, and opened up my eyes to how diverse & cool the Bay Area metal scene is.

Cheri: I am happy to be in such legendary company. It is always fun to play the PNW as we have done over the years. I have a lot of fond memories and look forward to making more at the fest.

What do you think the connective tissues of the record are thematically for you, as far as is there a dialogue between songs? Or would you say there aren’t so much repeated themes as there are individual topics or influences on the words?

Cheri: The album is about the elements: earth, water, air, and fire. Each song expands on one element through an allegorical treatment of various mythologies.

 

Do you think the pandemic has made you appreciate the band more or grown closer together? You sound super tight right now. 

Harry: Yeah, definitely. Even just having the outlet of writing and rehearsing for this album during that period of lockdown I think was really beneficial, both mentally and physically. The fact is too that we just had a lot more time to rehearse than we would have otherwise. If we do sound tighter on this record that’s probably a big part of the reason. We were also able to spend more time with Jack Shirley during the actual recording and mixing process which really made a huge difference. Sometimes you feel kind of pressured to bang it out when you’re making a record or just get impatient to have it finished, but the nature of things right now sort of allowed us to take our time a little more.

Cheri: Writing felt like a very collaborative process so that naturally brought us closer throughout. My bandmates feel a lot like brothers to me. We spent some time together in a cabin in the woods to celebrate recording and it felt very bonding as well. A lot of us went through similar life changes during the pandemic with living situations, work, and etc.

Kirk: Yes, not much more to add there. At least for me, it felt like the first time in my life I could just focus on one thing without a million other things demanding my attention. I basically only thought about our music for about six straight months and it was wonderful.

How much do you consciously decide to rep your influences versus go your own route? Or is it just really a matter of writing cool shit and letting the chips fall where they may? I hear a few old Earache bands and Gorguts in the sound but also a lot of fresh energy and personal catharsis. I also love how the band has never shied away from cultivating sounding “uneasy”, which is something I love about a band like Today Is The Day as well, for example. It feels even more intense than a band just trying too hard to sound brootal/evil if you are actually creating a fucked up atmosphere! 

Derek: The writing process is very natural for us, as everything we do stems from the riff and letting things develop from there. Our influences do play a big role in driving the creative process, but it is really a matter of taking aspects of said influences and putting our own spin on it. Honestly, there are a few riffs on both of our albums that are merely the product of taking a couple riffs that I like and fusing them together into some kind of mutated riff baby. I think the “uneasy” sound that we cultivate comes from a very physical approach to playing our instruments. We put everything we have into our performances, and as Harry mentioned earlier, we often come up with ideas well before we can physically play them ourselves. Perhaps that “barely holding onto the rails” approach that we have contributed to the atmosphere, and if it sounds absolutely harsh and fucked up then I guess we have completed our mission!

Kirk: I don’t think we discuss a lot of that stuff in advance or get too caught up in that when writing our own music. We know what we like and we know the general idea but it’s mostly just sticking to what sounds good to us and cutting what sounds bad. I think we have our general approach that’s informed by specific influences and we just kinda feel out when we’re straying too far from that.

What do you think led to the records being somewhat far apart and do you expect we will get a long wait and a third album like Portishead and then have to just worship those forever or will you try to be Iron Maiden and make like 800 albums of varied quality? Lol. 

Harry: It’s hard to say what took so long. I play in another band that made a record in between the first Succumb record and this one, so at least on a personal level that probably became my focus for a while, but I think a lot of it was just the logistics of getting everyone together to rehearse and write. That initial hump I think is the hardest to get over, after you’ve finished making an album, and then there’s the whole six month process of it coming out and then you start playing shows, and that’s all about the current material, and then you start thinking about the next one. All of the ideas start flowing naturally eventually, but you can’t really force it. I definitely hope it’s not as long of a wait for the next one! I have a feeling things will come together faster next time. Famous last words!

Cheri: I think there were some nerves involved with what direction to take our second album and a certain personal pressure in wanting to make something worthwhile and to put it plainly something better. We all wanted to challenge each other to rise to the occasion and as we started putting our ideas together everything started to fall into place more and more.

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