Once again I’ve been lucky to be able to have a chat with Larry Roberts from Chicago’s Novembers Doom. These guys have been around for awhile, but they’ve always been stuck in the underground without being noticed by the general public at large. With their new album Aphotic I think that’s about to change.
So without further ado, Larry Roberts of Novembers Doom.
So Larry, it’s been awhile since our last chat. In that time you’ve done some touring and got a new album done. What else has gone on for yourself as well as November’s Doom?
Yeah, it’s good talking to you again, I have indeed been pretty busy in the time since then, doing various shows and writing/recording the latest disc, as you mentioned. During that time we had another revision of the lineup, adding new bassist Mike Feldman to the band, which has been great. He and Sasha (drums) work really well together and I think we have one of the strongest rhythm sections this band has ever had now, which is evident on Aphotic, I believe.
As for myself, not a whole lot has changed, not for the better anyhow. I’ve had to deal with some serious medical issues recently, which even caused me to have to cancel my participation in the filming of our last video (“What Could Have Been”), which sucks, but health comes first.
How has the touring been of late? Have you had to deal with any serious problems? Any memorable shows?
Touring is good, though we’ve only just started the latest bunch of shows, with a short week’s worth of gigs on the East Coast and a hometown show in Chicago. We plan to hit the West Coast later in the year, hopefully more gigs around the Midwest, and then with any luck we’ll be back in Europe in early 2012.
We haven’t had any really serious problems lately, other than my health stuff, and of course Paul is always dealing with his health issues too. We’re a sick bunch, it seems!
But as for memorable shows, honestly they’re all memorable as long as we’re playing for fans who are appreciative of us being there and we have a good time, then it’s a good thing.
Where have you gone touring the last year and a half or so since we last talked?
Well the first thing we did with this current lineup, aside from a local show beforehand, was a two-and-a-half week tour in Europe back in early 2010. That was a crazy tour, for bad reasons haha.
The airlines lost our luggage and gear, we had to do the first couple shows with borrowed gear (which is never easy) and with the same clothes on our back for several days. Needless to say, tempers got a bit flared and it really tested us. But it all worked out, we got our stuff back, and the rest of the tour went smoothly. By the time we get back to Europe it will have been about two years, so hopefully by then everyone will be excited for us to come back, plus now we have new material so that’s a good thing.
Is there any extensive touring planned for Aphotic? How about Canadian dates?
Well, the touring wouldn’t be “extensive”, I suppose, by most people’s standards. As time goes on and responsibilities and health and stuff becomes an issue, it gets harder to do extensive road trips. So that’s why we’re doing it in smaller increments throughout the year. Doing a trek on the East Coast, then a couple months later doing the West Coast, and so on.
But I will say we’re going to hit more markets then we have in the past, especially in the U.S. We’ve neglected the West Coast for far too long. Not intentionally, mind you. We need more decent promoters to step up and help work with us in making these things happen. We’re always getting requests from promoters and fans to come to the East Coast, but not as much on the West. Hoping to change that this time.
As for Canada, we’d love to get up there, every gig we’ve played there in the past was a blast! But again, it requires serious promoters who are willing to get us there and the proper paperwork for us, etc. At this point there’s no way we can “sneak” into Canada to play shows, we gotta do it all legally or it’s big trouble. Crossing borders can be hell for a tour, unfortunately.
Was Aphotic written on the road? If not, when and where was it written?
No, Aphotic was mainly written in our rehearsal room. We started it in early 2010 before we left for the last European tour, and then a little while after we got back and rested, we started work on it again. For a band like us there is really no time to write when we’re on the road. Though I think a couple of riffs did come up in soundcheck once or twice.
How did the writing process go for it? Any easier or more difficult than previous albums?
The writing process wound up being slightly different this time because about halfway through the process, our drummer informed us he was relocating to New Mexico, which is quite far away from Chicago. We went through a rough period of trying to figure out if we could still make it work with him, doing a long-distance kind of thing. But it wound up working out alright. Luckily for us, he an extremely talented drummer and is reliable when it comes to putting in the time on his playing and ideas on his own time. When he was actually in town to rehearse and write with us, things went pretty quickly, thankfully.
Who was it that started bringing the first ideas? Or did you guys actually sit down together and intentionally start jamming for new material?
Usually it’s myself and Vito who come up with the ideas, and then the other guys start to throw in their suggestions and changes. This time, the two of us also sat down and wrote with Mike’s involvement early on as well, which was cool because we’ve rarely ever had a bassist be that involved in the writing process and I think it made a difference. A couple of songs, like “Harvest Scythe” and “Shadow Play” were created at the start with myself and Sasha, and then the other guys added their ideas later. Of course, Paul always writes his own lyrics and stuff, though this time I had more input on the lyrics and melodies, mainly just helping Paul decide what worked best and smoothing a couple things out.
Between writing, recording, and finally release, how much time has passed?
Well, we started the early stages of writing in early 2010, we finished the writing process around September 2010, recorded the disc in October and November, and then the disc just came out in May of 2011. So about a year and a half I guess.
Who did the art for the new album? It’s a gorgeous piece.
The art for the cover was done by Tommy Genest, who did the art for our last CD as well. It suits the theme and mood of the music and the lyrics on the CD so we’re pretty happy with it.
Have you made any changes to the way you approach playing the guitar for Aphotic? Are you going for a more technical style, keeping it the same, or even going for something more simplistic?
Hmmm, good question… In some ways I guess you could say the answer is “All of the above”. For certain songs and parts I definitely pushed myself to do something different than I normally would, which isn’t to say it’s necessarily “technical” but just taking me outside of my comfort zone at times. Then there were times when I had to use some restraint and keep it simple for the sake of the song, even though it would’ve been easy to go off and do something a bit crazier but not necessarily for the best.
I will never claim to be the greatest guitarist, surely. I consider myself just a decent musician in general and more of a songwriting than anything. But I think I am slowly, steadily evolving as a guitarist over the years… so by the time I’m 70 years old I should be pretty badass at this rate, heh.
In all seriousness, I am always trying to absorb new ideas and styles into my playing and writing style, and that definitely occurred on this disc too.
How has your playing changed for non-Novembers Doom stuff, when you’re just jamming by yourself?
Well, I have always been a diverse musician, in terms of never just locking my style and interests into one specific genre or whatever. When I’m at home I tend to play acoustic guitar most of the time. I like to play with other musicians on the side for fun, doing cover songs and whatnot. It keeps my chops up, and helps keep my mind open to other stuff than just the specific metal style that we do in N.D.
I enjoy all kinds of music from blues to jazz to pop and new wave and so on, so I spend a lot of time learning and playing a lot of that stuff, and it really does help me when I go to write new material for Doom, because I draw influences from a lot of different places that have nothing to do with metal and then I apply it in our way and make it suit our style and sound.
What have you been listening to lately? Any good books?
I admid I haven’t listened to a lot of new stuff recently, not a whole lot of stuff has really caught my attention in any major way. I loved the last discs from Mastodon, Alice in Chains, Paradise Lost, Forbidden, Arsis… I also listen to stuff like She & Him, Florence + The Machine, Junius, and I’m still always listening to my old favorites like Pink Floyd, Zeppelin, Beatles, Alice Cooper, Kiss, Deep Purple, early Scorpions, Captain Beyond, and so on… I really loved the last Woods of Ypres disc, we just did a handful of shows with them too, which was fun.
As for books, I tend to read a lot of books that are biographies on musicians and artists, and books about the music industry. It helps, because the people in charge of the business tend to treat musicians like a bunch of idiots who don’t know better, so it’s good to have some knowledge of how shit really works. I wish I could say it helped us overcome some of the music business bullshit a bit better, but sadly it’s still a struggle.
I also like to read books about history and science. Most people would probably find that boring, haha, but I don’t. I still read comics sometimes as well, mostly Marvel.
Here’s a question that may stir some controversy: Have you heard the new Morbid Angel? What do you think?
Oh boy… yeah well… you know, that’s a loaded question, haha. Well let me put it as simply as I can. I have heard the disc, I wasn’t overly thrilled with it but at the least I do commend them for trying new things and being adventurous. That was one of the things I loved about discs like Covenant and Domination because they weren’t just your standard death metal discs. Same as why I loved discs like Celtic Frost’s Into the Pandemonium or bands like Pyogenesis and Atrocity, who risked alienating their fanbase in order to spread their wings a little more.
But the real question for me is whether or not the disc is well written and well executed, and for me I haven’t totally made my mind up about it yet. Even the songs that are more typical Morbid Angel just didn’t strike me as being nearly as good as I’d have expected from them.
The playing is certainly superior as always, I’ll say that much. All I can say otherwise is that I think people should listen to it for themselves and then decide if it’s good or bad, don’t just be a sheep and follow the flock and hate it because others do. I know a few people who really love it, so you just never know.
Some of those lyrics that David came up with are quite interesting, to say the least, hahaha… but we’ve been criticized for our lyrics and stuff over the years too, so what do I know?
That’s all I’ve got for you for now Larry. Thanks for being a willing subject. Anything else you’d like to add?
Thanks for the support you’ve given us over the years and for taking the time to feature us once again. And thanks to everyone out there who’ve shown their support for Novembers Doom, we appreciate it more than you know. And for the new people out there checking us out for the first time, please just give us a fair listen and don’t let the other opinions out there color yours, good or bad. Think for yourselves, experience new things, it’s fun!
Take care everyone, and see you on the road soon, hopefully.