Recently, I was given the good fortune of interviewing Scott Hedrick of Skeletonwitch as the band brought their tour with 3 Inches of Blood through Iowa City. We talked about the band's upcoming album, European Open Air Festivals, beer, and more:
TMC: This is Jeremy here with...
Scott Hedrick: Scott from Skeletonwitch.
TMC: You guys are out on tour with 3 Inches of Blood right now, and it seems like a dream tour for you guys, how’s the tour been going so far?
SH: Yeah, it’s been killer. Today would be the fifth show, and the first four were awesome. Lots of people came out, everyone’s been crazy, really energetic crowds. It’s been great, and like you said, the writing’s kind of been on the wall for a long time, for us and 3 Inches to tour together. We’ve actually talked about it several times over the past few years, and it just didn’t work - one of us had something going on or the other. One time we were in Europe when they wanted us to tour with them, so, finally, we got everything together and got it worked out. So far it’s been really, really good.
TMC: You guys have been on a lot of different tours before, everything from Danzig to Ozzfest. What’s been the most memorable one so far?
SH: Ooh, that’s tough to say, there’s memorable things about each one. If I was forced to choose at gunpoint, I guess I’d say Danzig, because it was the first big tour we ever did, and we’re all massive Danzig fans. It was the first time we ever got to play on stages that big consistently, and have that experience. It was also memorable because it was much different playing outdoors and in front of bigger crowds. Danzig was really the first time we were out of playing in smaller clubs and in theatres, and we got to meet fucking Glenn Danzig, who turned out to be super fuckin’ cool and really nice. It just kind of blew our minds to be involved with that, so....I’d have to go with that.
TMC: Speaking of giant crowds, congratulations on being chosen to play at Wacken (Open Air Festival) this summer.
SH: Thank you! Yeah, I can’t wait to get over there. We’ve toured Europe three times, but we haven’t done the festivals over there yet, so this’ll be our first time doing the festival thing. We’re going to play Wacken, Summer Breeze, Party San, Brutal Assault, and maybe a couple of more, we’re not sure yet. We’re still trying to get on some more, but I can’t wait to get over there. It’ll be a different experience than what we’re used to, playing the smaller club shows instead of the big festivals....It’s going to be pretty gnarly.
TMC: How do you prepare for crowds that size?
SH: Get drunk. (Laughs)
Actually, drinking a little helps out, takes the edge off, for sure, but there’s not really much you can do. I used to get really nervous when we’d play in front of big crowds, but then I realized once you get up there, it’s still just doing what you know how to do and what we’ve all done together so many times. Once you’re up there and you hit the first couple of notes, any nervousness usually goes away. It’s like, “OK, we’re doing what we’re here to do what we know how to do” and I shouldn’t have been nervous in the first place. It kicks in and then you don’t even really think about it.
TMC: Do you think a festival like that could ever work in America?
SH: Not in the same way. There are some that are similar, like Ozzfest, but I don’t know if we’d be able to do one that has a hundred thousand people like they do over there. I don’t know - try it! I mean, they do Mayhem Fest, they do Ozzfest, but I don’t think we’d be able to do it much better than they do over there. Good question - I don’t have the capital to find out and try to put one of those together, but it would sure be interesting as hell to see.
TMC: It seems like over the past few years that some of the traditionally “Non-metal” crowds are starting to get into the genre, with stuff like Mastodon and High On Fire or Kylesa. Do you guys notice any change in the demographics at your shows?
SH: Not really, but we’ve always played with a lot of bands that weren’t just straight-forward metal, for instance, us and Baroness used to do house shows in Cincinnati’s DIY spaces, people’s basements, and stuff like that. Even some more straight-forward metal bands that have different crowds, like Wolves in the Throne Room is a black metal band, but there’s an element of indie and...I don’t want to say “Hipstery”, but I guess that’s it - which is fine - and we’ve played a lot with them. High on Fire we’ve toured with, and Kylesa we’ve toured with. We kind of run the gamut between straight-ahead death metal like Cannibal Corpse, who we’ve toured with, and stuff like Nachtmystium, Baroness, Kylesa. We’ve always had a little bit of a foot in the door there. With a lot of those crowds, though, there’s going to be segments that might see us and think “Fuuuuuuuck this”, you know too straight-forward metal than they’re used to. We’ve always gotten a lot of love from people who are open minded, and as long as they can appreciate metal bands, then it doesn’t matter that it’s not their main thing they listen to all the time - We seem to translate pretty well.
TMC: Speaking of those DIY venues, the last time you guys were here in town you played at the White Lightning Wherehouse down the hill....
SH: Oh yeah!
TMC: Do you guys do a lot of DIY shows like that anymore, or is it an every-now-and-then sort of thing?
SH: It’s a now and then sort of thing. We used to do them all the time. We did all the booking ourselves, and we’d play anywhere you’d let us. We’ll play at your mom’s house, we’ll play in the closet, whatever. We’re definitely not above it - if we need a show and someone’s willing to provide space, we’re down to do it. It doesn’t happen as much anymore. It’s always fun, though, we show up thinking “Oh man, how’s this going to work?” gear-wise and everything, you get there and think “Oh shit, what did we get ourselves into?”, and then it ends up being a really, really fucking good time and I think “Why was I being such a fucking asshole and second-guessing it?”.
TMC: Do you guys find yourselves playing a lot of smaller markets like Iowa City?
SH: It’s not really that thought out. I mean, there are times where we think “OK, we should really hit the big cities” when the new album comes out, but it really depends on the goal of the tour. For this one, we knew we were playing the New England Metal & Hardcore Fest, and we’re working on a new record, so we figured we’d go out for a few weeks based around that fest. You know, start knowing we’re playing that and book shows around that to knock the dust off because we’ve been sitting around for months writing and stuff. That was the point for this one - “Who will have us and where can we play to go out for a couple of weeks”, and accomplished that. That’s a factor, and also, if you’re supporting somebody, you really don’t have much say at all. They present the dates, and you say “yes” or “no”. It just depends on the tour and what we’re trying to do, but we’ll play anywhere. We’re not scared to play somewhere just because it’s out of the way. In fact, some of those end up being the most fun.
TMC: What do you see as some of the pros and cons of these smaller markets?
SH: Well, the cons would be that since it’s a smaller place and since metal is still kind of...since we’re all still misfits and outcasts anyway, sometimes at the smaller places there just isn’t a huge metal scene. So, if you’re playing somewhere on a Monday or a Tuesday, there may not be a lot of kids there because there’s not a lot in that place. That’s a con, but that’s not a huge deal anyway - we’re going to do what we do no matter who’s there, whether it’s ten people or ten thousand. The cool thing about it is that a lot of times when you come to those places that maybe aren’t hit by a lot of bands, people are really appreciative and they’re really energetic and excited, which is awesome. They tend to get crazier at the shows, have more fun with it, and they’re just happy that a tour came through because a lot of people pass on it. Plus, it can make some really hardcore fans, too, because they remember the fact that you came.
TMC: So, you said you guys are writing a new album - how far along are you guys in that process?
SH: Pretty far, actually. After we finish this tour, we have a couple more tunes to write, and we’re going to record in June out in Los Angeles for about three weeks. We’re over three-fourths done, writing-wise, but it’s all demo, 8 track versions and crap like that. There’s no professional recording or anything yet.
TMC: Do you have a title or release date for the album?
SH: We don’t have a title as of yet, but we’re pretty close. I think I know what it’s going to be called, but the label will get fucking pissed because, well, they’re a label. I might get in trouble for saying that, but it’s going to come out in October, it looks like. There’s not a street date or anything yet - we’re actually talking to them right now about when we can put it out.
TMC: What can we expect from that new album?
SH: When you listen to it, you’re gonna know it’s us, especially if you’ve heard us before. You’re not going to wonder “What the fuck....what happened?!”. There’s so many bands I love, then all of a sudden, you stick in an album, and it’s like “FUCK! What happened between this album and this album?!”. In a certain sense, it’s not like we’re doing anything drastically different, but, it’s maybe a little....Put it this way. Some people tend to prefer Beyond the Permafrost
more because there’s more harmony and prettier stuff up front with catchier melodies, whereas Breathing the Fire
is a little more pummeling, and that stuff’s in there but not as in your face. There’s gonna be a little bit more of a mix of the two, where there’s a lot of harmonies and pretty epic stuff in there, maybe even moreso than on Breathing the Fire
. I’d say it’s a pretty good combination of the two. It seems like some people are polarized by one or the other. “I like this one! Fuck you, I like this one!” depending on their taste. I think it’s a better amalgamation of the two, if that makes any sense.
TMC: A lot of times it seems like you guys get misplaced with the whole “Thrash Revival Thing”..
SH: Oh yeah, all the time.
TMC: Why do you think metal fans feel the need to sub-classify so much?
SH: I don’t know. I mean, in terms of if you’re a writer or a journalist, it makes sense to put some kind of fucking label in front of it to give people an idea of what it is. I prefer to just call it “metal”. I don’t even like to use the stuff like “Trash Can”, “Garbage Can”, “Black-Thrash-Post-This-That”...whatever. It’s bullshit. It’s all just metal. I don’t know - people just love to nitpick and categorize it. We always found it weird that we get that. You know, we have a pretty big thrash sound, and we don’t deny that by any means, because we love thrash metal, but it’s not the only thing we do. There are bands out there that strive intentionally try to play like it’s 1982 and it sounds like “Oh hey, this is a new Nuclear Assault album I haven’t heard!” or “Is this a new Demolition Hammer album?”, but it’s actually a brand new band. That’s cool and all, but we’re not trying to just relive the past. We want to take that style of music and what we like from that and also things we like from Black Metal or even New Wave of British Heavy Metal, then write the music we’re into. It’s basically a combination of our influences, and that’s more than just thrash. Maybe it’s the logo. (Laughs) Maybe that’s why people call us “Retro-Thrash”.
TMC: How many shows do you guys do a year, roughly? It seems like you guys are always on tour.
SH: That’s a good question. We typically tour about 8 months out of the year, and we don’t like to have many days off. It’s quite a few - you know, I’ve never counted them up, it’s easily over a couple hundred shows a year.
TMC: How do you guys stay in shape for that with the beers and the smokes every night? I mean, you guys play a pretty demanding form of music physically, so how do you guys keep doing that?
SH: I think the beers are what help you keep doing it. You just put off the hangover until you stop the tour, then you recover, then you go back and do it again. You just get into a routine, you know. I will say, though, it’s not for everybody. There’s a lot of bands out there that say “Man, I wish I could go out there and tour like you guys do”, and then they have the opportunity, and the next time I see them, it’s like “How’d it go?!” and they say “I’m never doing it again”. Fair enough. You just don’t have a choice, so you just do it one way or another.
TMC: Our readership is on that kind-of “Mid-way” that I was talking about earlier. people that are maybe just starting to get into metal and might not know much about the genre, or Skeletonwitch in particular. What would you tell them to show that metal can be a lot of fun? Why should they give it a shot?
SH: One thing I would say is “Come see us live” and make up your mind. Actually go to a show, see who’s there, meet the bands - just go experience it for yourself rather than look at a couple of record covers or listen to a couple records and say “I hate these vocals” or “I can’t do this, it’s too fast”. Get up off the couch, spend the five or ten bucks to go to a show and check it out. Make up your own minds, cause I think that even though metal’s a really tight community, metal guys aren’t as scary as they look. They’re actually some of the nicest people to meet, and it’s usually just a really good time, and there’s a community there. Some shows I’ve been to....we’ve all been to shows where there’s a crowd full of elitists...he’s shaking his head yes, people.
TMC: Yes, I am.
SH: I don’t get that sense at a metal show, you know? Everyone seems to be there for the same reasons, to have a good time and appreciate it even if it’s not their favorite style of metal. Usually, they don’t shun the other bands or shit-talk them. So, I’d say fuckin’ go for it, get off the couch, grab a beer, come to the show and check it out for yourself.
TMC: You mentioned that people should just come out and meet the bands - Do you guys hang out before / after all the shows?
SH: Yeah, definitely. I mean, there are certain times where we’re busy, cause when we’re on the road, we’re either booking other shows or talking to the label about the new record. There might be a time where we’re “Less Seen”, but we’ll usually hang out at the bar and have a couple of beers. That’s part of the fun of touring, actually meeting everybody and hanging out. If I have the opportunity and good fortune to be able to travel and tour like I do, I don’t just want to sit in the backstage of a venue or sit in the van, I want to meet everybody and hang out. Definitely come talk to us, that’s one of the things we look forward to.
TMC: Have you had any weird or scary meetings with fans over the years?
SH: We’ve had a few that may have creeped us out a bit, but nothing too bad. I’ve never felt threatened or anything like that...except for the times I’ve been directly threatened. It’s usually good, like I said, the metal crowd at large and metal community is full of really cool, nice, considerate people that love metal and are appreciative. Every once in a while you’ll see kids in the audience fight each other, but no one really comes at the bands too hard.
TMC: For a last question, if you could pick out three bands that you would want people to listen to more, out of all of them, what would they be?
SH: Oh man....Mercyful Fate? Man, that’s really tough...we’re talking metal bands only here?
TMC: Whatever you like.
SH: Hmm. Can I say Mercyful Fate three times?
TMC: You can if you want.
SH: Umm....I’d say Mercyful Fate, Death, and....(Long Pause)
TMC: Good call. Thanks for taking the time to talk with us.
SH: Thanks Jeremy, it’s much appreciated.
Thanks to Scott Hedrick of Skeletonwitch for taking the time to talk with us and being a truly awesome dude. You can still catch a few dates of this tour with 3 Inches of Blood, and look for the band to release a new album in the fall, as well as tour until the end of time. Also, thanks to TMC Friend Zak Neumann for the photo of Scott.