Falling upon my gaze through their contributions to the A389 MMXII mixtape and Toxicbreed’s Casa De Diversion Vol. III compilation, Like Rats emerged as a definite surprise for me. Taking me away from my year-long musical journey through the realms of hardcore, powerviolence, and sludge metal, Like Rats grabbed me by the collar and thrust me through a nostalgic time portal to the confines of my metal upbringing. Possessing a unique sound derived from hardcore punk, death metal, classical, Tom Warrior sensibilities, Like Rats combine the wisdom of extreme music past with the bite of the future, ultimately creating a sound I do not doubt will end up on many end of the year lists. I recently had the opportunity to speak with Todd Nief of the band in which we ended up talking about a myriad of subjects including musical diversity, piracy, the status of death metal vocals in modern context, riff thievery, and the inspirations behind Like Rats absolutely behemoth sound. Check out the full interview after the jump and a stream of the full length album.
Hello Todd. My name is Eric and I’m checking in on behalf of American Aftermath. Thanks for doing the interview. Could you please briefly introduce the band and your role in it? How did Like Rats initially come together? Give us a brief history.
Man, I kind of forgot about all of this stuff. Andy, Dan and I did a one-off, very raw six song in demo in like 2008 that was significantly more black metal sounding than anything we’ve released since. Andy did vocals on it and kind of sounded like Attila on De Mysteriis, and the riffs were way faster. I think I was just trying to sound like Hellhammer and Ildjarn, but that was a long time ago so I don’t really remember what I was thinking. Most of those songs showed up in slightly different iterations on the 2009 demo and the 2010 7”.
Anyway, Andy and Dan’s Queens of the Stone Age sounding rock band broke up, and our friends John and Daniel moved back to Chicago from New York and Baltimore respectively, so we started doing a thing.
Your debut LP was just released last month on A389. How do you feel about it looking back and how’s it been received? Any favorite tracks, things you would like to change, etc.? What was it like working with A389?
Very proud to have that thing out. It was a long process getting everything together and I legitimately feel a huge sense of accomplishment now that it’s a real physical object. It’s been a long-term goal of mine to release a full-length, and I’m very grateful to Dom for helping us get this thing done. It also feels cool to have Eyehategod releasing records on the same label.
As for reception, we’ve been getting a lot of positive reviews, but it doesn’t seem like many people really get where we are coming from. Not surprising given that we’re on a label that releases mostly hardcore records and that we usually play shows with mostly hardcore bands. I hope that people who like our record start digging into some of the metal stuff that we’re ripping off (Immolation, Incantation, Celtic Frost, Sepultura, Asphyx).
Favorite songs on the LP have to be “Bloodline” and “Russian Midnight,” and my favorite riff is the bendy one in the middle of “River Dread.” If you had asked me what I wanted to change like one month after we finished recording, I probably could have named fifteen things. I actually listened to the whole album recently, and I liked it way more than I expected to, so no complaints.
Looking through your own personal blogsite, Primitive Future, it was hard not to notice your diverse and eclectic music tastes(ranging from soul to Brazilian guitar to death metal to classical). How did that sort of musical taste come to fruition?
I think I became a full music freak sometime around age 19. Before that, I got into “underground” music in seventh grade via ska and punk bands (Less Than Jake, Slapstick, Operation Ivy) that the kids in my math class with cool older brothers were into. My taste progressed into more technical post-hardcore bands like Jawbox & The Honor System and metalcore like Converge before settling on Slayer & Iron Maiden. In the search for more “technicality,” I ended up listening to Cryptopsy, later Emperor & Deicide’s Legion, all downloaded via mp3.com and shitty rips on Kazaa. This started me digging into extreme metal, which coincided with a huge opening of my ears. This was around the same time that Soulseek became a viable option for downloading music, and suddenly, I could find a decent rip of pretty much anything I was looking for. I downloaded every band name-dropped on every thanks list and in every interview, and I also scoured Allmusic.com’s best of lists. I’d look up bands that had done Peel sessions and read the lists on Scaruffi.com. I was also part of several online communities full of people who were way more freakish and knowledgeable than myself, so I tried to let some of that rub off on my brain.
You guys undertook a huge change in sound from your punk-oriented 2009 demo to your more death metal inspired 2010 self titled EP. What propelled that change? Also, what was going on in that studio update video you posted in 2010?
Ha I forgot about that studio update thing. We are all just thinking about DJ DEEON and acting accordingly.
As for the change in sound, I started writing more melodic, single-string riffs that didn’t fit with the raw, punk structures of the 2009 demo. As such, the song structures got a bit more complicated, but I still wanted to maintain something of that Discharge feel. You can pretty much hear the transition on the first song on the 2010 7”.
Your riff breakdown on your own blog, Primitive Future, was to say the least, illuminating. Let’s just say you had some “exterior composing assistance”. What was your mentality with the stolen/inspired riffs? Was it homage, plain thievery, a healthy mix of both? How did having those riffs affect your own self-composed writing for Like Rats? Was the writing process collaborative or more singled out onto each individual member?
With a lot of those stolen riffs, I was more interested in why I liked them, you know? I’ll hear something and be like, “what makes this good?” In that sense, I’ll often figure out how to play things as sort of a “study” of composition. In that same spirit, I’ll often try to compose something that accomplishes a similar musical function, but with rearranged details. Sometimes these things are good, and I’ll keep them for Like Rats.
Also, when I’m writing songs, I’ll “hear” the next part as a reference to something else. It’s like, “Ok after this riff it has to have a closed hi-hat part just like in that Immolation song” or whatever.
And with some of those Prokofiev melodies, for example, I just want to hear those things played in the context of metal. Those melodies are so dark and powerful, and I just want to make things that sound like that.
As for songwriting, most of the compositions are my work as an introvert. I have tons of riffs saved on my desktop, and I’ll just go through and start to piece things together and iron out transitions. I usually come to the band with a nearly finished product, and then they’ll offer up input like, “Maybe we should do that six times,” or “How does that part sound on the ‘one’ instead of the ‘and.’” For the LP, Daniel wrote all of the lyrics, and I made him smash them into my ideas about vocal patterns haha.
One of the purposes to your blogsite was to share real music that you honestly listen to, without hiding behind a mask of “I’m brutal” or any sort of bullshit like that and you offered free downloads/links to downloads of albums you enjoyed. With piracy obviously being a hot issue at the moment, what are your views on file-sharing?
Clearly, I am an avid pirate. Having some skin in the game doesn’t really change that. I was honestly stoked when I googled our LP to see it posted on all of the file-sharing blogs. That means that people are listening. Not sure how Dom feels about that…
Other than that, I know how profoundly music changed for me when I could really dig into it without limitations. Still, the pendulum has swung too far on some occasions, where music becomes something that I’m just trying to “get through” so I can tell myself that I’ve heard every Pastor Troy record or something.
Anyway, it’s not like I’ve ever had any realistic ambitions to support myself by writing music. Still, I think that, if you make music that isn’t disposable, people will purchase it, whether that’s a donation on a website or actually buying a vinyl record.
I have to be honest. Every since I picked up on death metal, I gave up on lyrics. Aside from the occasional song title uttered in the song or the coherent mosh inducing tough guy shouts, I view vocals as another sonic instrument. Similarly, I viewed Daniel Shea’s vocals, which were mad excellent and downright angry, in the same light. With Like Rats, do you view the vocals in a similar light or are there deeper themes and lyrics you would like your audience to explore and interpret?
Metal vocals are pretty much just another percussion instrument. I don’t know how much I want to explain the lyrics since they’re Daniel’s, but I will say that Like Rats is supposed to be the musical equivalent of Werner Herzog’s thoughts on the jungle.
What’s with the nature-oriented artwork for Like Rats and who designed your kick-ass logo?
As referenced above, our goal as a band is to invoke the absurdity, horror and beauty of existence. Our artwork is an attempt to capture that feeling.
The logo came from some of Dan Polak’s doddling. In between drawing pictures of Ronnie Coleman smashing through walls wrapped in chains, he put that thing together. Regan touched it up a bit, and we added ourselves to the melting pot of illegible metal logos.
Aside from the three upcoming shows you have in Chicago, Minnesota, and Maryland, you guys are playing this year’s absolutely legendary A389 Anniversary Bash. What are your feelings on that? Are there any bands you are absolutely stoked to be sharing the stage with? And are there any plans for any larger scaled treks or tours afterwards?
I feel that the A389 festival will feature many angry dudes with hygiene problems and social awkwardness who are into dark music. I also feel that Dom has done a great job of pulling together current bands, long-running stalwarts, and ghosts of hardcore past to create a truly interesting line-up.
I really want to see Ilsa and Integrity, but it seems that we will be playing in Columbus that Friday before heading to Baltimore. Left For Dead is kind of a weird band for me, because I got into them via Propagandhi way before I was into anything else that sounded like that. Definitely not something I thought I would ever see. That set will be ridiculous and hopefully everyone leaves in an ambulance.
We’ve been talking about doing some short weekend trips, but, in all honesty, everyone in this band has their own business as well as a day job or school. We’ve also all done our time and jaded ourselves on eating at Taco Bell and pissing in bottles in vans, so I can’t say that extensive touring is high on our list of priorities.
Thanks for some absolutely awesome records and thanks again for doing the interview, Todd. Any last words or shout-outs you would like to make?
Shout out to Chicago: Weekend Nachos, Harm’s Way, Hate, Manipulation and the mighty Cianide. Violent End demo and Other Women demo destroy all, as does Nara Leao’s 1964 album.