Savage Art: A Conversation With Tombs Founder Mike Hill

Hello and welcome to the first interview of the week. We have talked a lot in recent weeks about the one year anniversary of our blog, and now that we’re in the early days of year two we are going to begin rolling out a few new features that we believe allow us to offer a more complete view of the current music industry. If you have any questions about the content of the blog, or if you would like more information regarding the distributional services offered by Haulix, please email james@haulix.com and share your thoughts. You can also find us on Twitter and Facebook.

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If you have been following the blog for more than a few months you will no doubt recall a string of artist centric interviews we ran near the end of 2013. Those features were fun, but we ultimately walked away feeling like we could have done a better job of promoting the artists’ work while still finding ways to touch on topics like advice and piracy. After much deliberation we decided to shelve the feature until we felt we had a better grasp on what we wanted to gain from each interview. 

Today we are resurrecting our Artist Interview series with a little help from the metal outfit known as Tombs. Their new album has served as the in-house soundtrack to many long days over the last month at Haulix HQ, which lead to several conversations about the band’s lasting authority in the world of hard rock. Savage Gold will only be the group’s third album, but already they are one of the most beloved and furiously defended groups in the metal community. 

After reaching out to PR, we had the opportunity to speak with Tombs founder and bassist Mike Hill about the new record’s creation, his thoughts on the state of metal today, and what advice he would offer dreamers who believe they are destined for a career in music. You can read thoughts on all of this, as well as topics like piracy and the group’s plans for the future, below.

Savage Gold arrives in stores next Tuesday, June 10, via Relapse Records. You can access an advance stream of the album right now on Pitchfork. We understand metal is not a style everyone can enjoy, but if there is one heavy album you absolutely need to hear this month it is this one. Take a chance on something you may or may not be familiar with and give the full 57-minute experience an opportunity to entertain. You will not be disappointed.

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H: Hello! before we dive in, please introduce yourself:

M: Hi, I’m Mike Hill.

H: your third album, Savage Gold, arrives in stores this month. What has changed in the three years since Path Of Totality came out in 2011?

M: We added a guitarist and acquired a new bassist.

H: I don’t want talk about the last record too much, but i can remember the wave of positive press that followed the album’s release. do you concern yourself much with reviews and what critics say? If so, did you feel any pressure when approaching this record because of the response to path?

M: I don’t pay a lot of attention to what is written about the band either positive or negative. I don’t want anything to skew my energy in any particular direction. I’ve read a fair amount of positive and negative reviews…It’s all subjective so i can’t really put too much stock in any of it.

The only real pressure is our own expectation on improving our creative output.

H: Totality found you focusing a lot on death and the end of various things. While i find the new album to be more extreme from a musical perspective, i also found it interesting how much the focus of the songs themselves seem to have changed as well. What influences and ideas were you channeling when working on the lyrics for this record

M: I think death, in a very real, immediate way has influenced the record. The whole record is a meditation on death and infinity and how we have absolutely no idea about how the universe works.

H: I read in another interview that you hope to make a great impact with the lyrics on this record than your previous releases. What types of messages and ideas do you hope people take away from the album?

M: I don’t recall saying that anywhere. I always want to make an impact with my lyrics. I always want people to think and not limit themselves but i don’t have any kind of agenda that i’m pushing.

H: You originally entered the studio to begin work on Savage Gold back in november with Erik Rutan. Having produced the last record yourselves, what inspired you to seek out Rutan for this album?

M: Rutan is a great producer/engineer. I think his production style fit the goals that we had for this record. basically, we wanted to move away from the murkiness on our first few records in order to hear all of the details. I feel like Rutan is a specialist in producing a clean recording.

H: What was the creative process like with Rutan in the mix? How do you think he impacted the record?

M: Rutan isn’t part of the creative process. all of the writing and creative activity has been completed months before we arrive in the studio. Rutan captured and help mold the sound of the record. he made the listening experience more powerful.

H: When it comes to creating new music as a group, where do you begin? Does one member take lead writing duties, or does everyone bring ideas together and you build from there?

M: The writing isn’t really a group effort. I write all of the riffs and lyrics. The band helps arrange the material and everyone develops their parts in response to the riffs that I wrote.

H: There is a great mix of metal and thrashy post-punk throughout the new record. Are there any specific bands or albums you feel influenced your work on Savage Gold?

M: A ton of bands have influenced us, but i’ll name a few that have taken more of a primary role as inspiration. I think Godflesh, Swans, Fields of The Nephilim, Slayer, Dissection, Morbid Angel, Celtic Frost and Black Flag are all bands that have been part of the consciousness of the record.

H: The metal genre is a curious place in the music industry. Where many areas of music appears to have a constant need for artists to be delivering new material, metal fans seem willing to wait, thus allowing for their favorite bands time to create. You, for example, have been able to take 3 years to get this record out, and fans appear to be as excited as ever for its release. Do you have any thoughts on why dedication and support from fans is so strong in the metal community?

M: I think in general metal fans are more concerned with quality. It sort of goes back to the 70’s heavy rock world where bands like Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple, and Black Sabbath put out a large body of work. Metal and hard rock fans are interested in a band and their long term statement. In that way it differs with other scenes that have a flavor of the month. Hardcore and punk fall prey to the flavor of the month syndrome.

H: We focus a lot of our efforts on helping young artist understand the realities of life in the music industry and what it takes to become a full time professional. When aspiring musicians approach you about make a career in metal, what advice do you offer?

M: I think that the career aspect should be thought of more as a long-term, lifestyle choice. If there is any money, it usually takes a long time to come. I like to look at is as a “creative lifestyle” where writing and performing is part of the natural flow of my life, not a job where i clock in and get a regular paycheck. In that way, it’s similar to learning jiu jitsu; you go to the mat everyday and slowly you will achieve your goals, improve, change the way you see the world. you can’t rush it.

Perseverance is key. Follow the things that make you happy and ignore trends.

H: The focus our day-to-day business is music protection. we do our best to fight piracy at every turn and make people aware of its impact on musicians’ lives. Tombs more or less came up at a time when piracy was rampant, so i am curious as to how view its impact on your career. some say piracy helps get the word out, while others claim it only takes money out of their pockets. where do you stand?

M: That’s an interesting question because I can see both sides of the coin, but ultimately I think piracy hurts the artist. All of this stuff takes time, resources, blood, sweat and tears. It’s not easy. I just want things to be fair. I don’t want music fans to have to pay an unreasonable amount of money for a record, but I also don’t think that it should be free.

H: I want to thank you for taking the time to speak with us. Savage Gold is a fantastic record and we are thrilled to help promote its release. We will likely include a song stream with this post, so what is your favorite track off the new album?

M: I thin seance is one of my favorites.

H: Before I let you go, do you have any final thoughts that you wish to share?

M: Thank you.

James Shotwell

James Shotwell is the Director of Customer Engagement at Haulix and host of the company's podcast, Inside Music. He is also a public speaker known for promoting careers in the entertainment industry, as well as an entertainment journalist with over a decade of experience. His bylines include Rolling Stone, Alternative Press, Substream Magazine, Nu Sound, and Under The Gun Review, among other popular outlets.