It would be an understatement to say that the sudden release of Bird Eater’s debut LP last week (February 11) came as a pleasant surprise. Despite the lack of promotion and shoddy planning by label Black Market Activities, the release hasn’t fallen on deaf ears. The highly-anticipated record from the Salt Lake City-based band, which features mega-talented members of Gaza, Day of Less and others, is everything that fans have been expecting. Following 2007’s Utah EP, Dead Mothers Make the Sun Set is an outstanding offering, which combines death metal with elements of doom and sludge, and is layered with country influences and dismal, eerie tones.
In this recent interview, vocalist Jon Parkin discussed the long-awaited record, the inspiring western deserts, as well as which Bird Eater members make “magic” together, and more.
Dead Mothers Make the Sun Set has been a long time coming. When exactly was it completed? Why did it take this long to be released? How does it feel to finally be able to share it with fans?
We finished recording this a couple years ago now. It took this long to release because of the way the music industry is now, everyone is terrified to pay for, or promote a record for a band that doesn’t tour. There is no money to be made. It’s a damn good death metal record but it’s done with some theme and perspective that will set it apart.
Why the sudden release on February 11th? Why vinyl-only at first? It seems as though Black Market Activities didn’t plan this one out too well.
I don’t know that BMA has ever planned anything well, god bless them. It’s a small label doing what it can between paying its own bills and staying afloat. I think it just got to the point where they got tired of hearing no from PR people and Chris’s [Clement, guitarist] constant nagging. It was supposed to be released vinyl with a digital download. Not sure if that happened but it’s up on iTunes now. I’m sure others will follow. And I’m sure someone will have it on the net for “illegal” download as well.
Since the record has been sitting for while, how are you feeling about how it turned out? Do you feel any differently about it now as opposed to when it was just recorded?
I think the record is something out of the ordinary. It’s death metal but with a very grungy and thrash twist – and not the flip up hat cheese-dick thrash – all on top of a western motif. It’s very heavy and very eerie. It came together very well.
What was the writing and recording process like for Dead Mothers Make the Sun Set?
Same as it had always been. At times very slow because of various touring and at others there would be blasts of creativity. It was difficult being in multiple heavy bands for some of us. You get tapped out and need to wait on inspiration.
The album sort of picks up where the Utah EP left off. It features the same kind of dismal vibe, Utah theme, and song patterns. Was that intentional? Does Bird Eater have a specific formula?
No formula. We had been toying with doing an EP of heavy tracks and an EP of the western tracks but we just combined them. It’s music from the landscape and environment really. The western deserts are one of the most harsh and beautiful environments in the world and when the wind howls you can hear these things. At least I can.
In what ways does the album differ from the EP?
There was more of an eye towards composition with the quiet songs. And it had more of an album feel to the recording session than a demo like the first EP. We were able to take some time and get the textures right.
You also performed bass on the EP. How was it having Oz Inglorious take over bass duties for the full-length?
Oz is an amazing bass player. I got by… barely. Playing live I was half-assing bass and vocals and the band thought it would be better to concentrate on one or the other. I chose bass, the band chose vocals. It was the right choice. Oz is really good.
Bird Eater’s sound features elements of many different styles (death metal, doom, sludge, hardcore, etc.) How do you describe the band’s sound?
Well, forgive the cliché but it’s a mash up of all the music we’re into. You take what you love and build your own thing from that foundation. But with most things I try to take it to the extreme. To set a new standard. If it’s going to be heavy, it’s got to be the heaviest. I feel like we pushed a lot of boundaries with this record.
The slower-paced instrumentals (“Head Smashed in Buffalo Jump,” Cihuateteo,” “Gather”) contrast greatly from the heavier, more chaotic tracks, and they have a distinct western/country influence. Where does that come from?
That comes from the desert quiet. It comes from AM radio on long drives south west. It comes from memory, and loss, and loneliness. I can’t speak for Chris and Anthony [Lucero, guitarist] as they were the composers, but as far as shape and atmosphere that’s where I was coming from.
All of the members are in, or have been in, other bands. Has that worked to Bird Eater’s advantage?
Definitely not. It retards the writing process and it’s really hard to get a flow going. It made shows pretty few and far between as well. But Anthony and Chris were kind of magic together. They kind of had an ESP for what the other was writing and they clicked like you do with a good friend you haven’t seen for a while. They always picked up right where they left off.
Was the Utah theme a conscious decision for this band? Why is Utah such depressing subject matter?
I don’t think there are any borders tied to the music. And Utah certainly isn’t a political topic for the band. It’s more the dark past of pioneering, anarchy, genocide and haunting of the old west.
Is there a specific concept behind Dead Mothers Make the Sun Set?
No concept where one song ties into the other in a storyline or anything. But there is a very heavy theme on dying and death. Not in a cartoony blood and guts way. That’s a bit of an afterthought. There is a lot of attention paid to particular moments, sounds, and thoughts. Things you might hear from ghosts if you were somewhere you shouldn’t be.
Did you approach writing lyrics differently from the way you wrote for Gaza?
Very different. With Gaza my aim was political and there was a lot of social commentary. Here I got to be a storyteller. I got to paint scenes and details and get lost in imagination for a while. Kind of fiction versus non-fiction. Writing these lyrics was, dare I say, fun? The Gaza stuff was very serious. I enjoyed both quite a bit. And it was nice to have the ability to have one foot in both worlds.
Will Bird Eater be performing any shows? Are there any plans for the band to continue?
I very much doubt either.
Have you been involved with any music projects recently? Do you plan on making music in the future?
I was playing in a band called Day Hymns locally for a while but school and other priorities have kept it from producing much. Chris and I have been making music together since we were 16. I’m sure there will be some form of he and I till we die. I’m older now and have spent enough time of my life in vans to make anyone grateful. And I am. Grad School, mental, physical and financial stability have eclipsed any urges to continue with extreme music as a profession… at this point.