In the past several years, Eyal Levi has made his name known throughout the metal community. While best known as the guitarist of Daath, earlier this year he branched out into instrumental music, releasing an album with Daath guitarist Emil Werstler as Levi/Werstler. In addition to his fretwork, he’s also a noted producer, and more recently, has gotten a name as a blogger, contributing regularly to Metal Sucks. With Daath’s self-titled third album (and first for Century Media) out now, we caught up with Levi to talk about production values, their label switch, and the need for a label in the first place.
How is the new album different than your first two? In what ways have Daath progressed?
One thing that was majorly different about this one was that nothing was tampered with while we were creating it. No label interference. No line-up change crap going on. No interference from the producer either because I co-produced this with Mark Louis. The reason we hired Mark was because he knows how to work with us and his style is basically meat and potatoes, and he kept my vision intact for the record. So this is really the first time that we got to make a record without having a bunch of fingers in our cookie jar stirring shit up. That’s really important because I think no matter who you are, in what band, or what you say, when you hear things from a label rep and even if they’re not being aggressive about “you gotta sound this way,” you’re still getting their opinions and it doesn’t matter what you think you take in, you’re still hearing it and it’s still affecting you on some level. It’s still tainting your art somehow. So I’d say this time there was none of that. The label didn’t even hear it until it was completely mastered and done – we didn’t even send them demos. We’re just operating from the principle of our job is the music, you trust us, that’s why you signed us. Just trust that we’re going to give you something that is the best we can do, the same way that we trust each other and when I trust my band members that they’re going to push it to the limit. The label should trust us and not worry about it and not get in our way. So that was the very big thing.
Also, recording wise, I’m just sick and tired of the way metal records are sounding these days. I feel like there’s this formula going on that basically has been designed to take bands that are below average and make them sound passable. The problem with that is when you have a band that’s exceptional and you put them through the formula, you don’t come out with something that sounds exceptional, you come out with something that sounds passable. It’s kind of like the great equalizer or sterilizer depending on how you look at it. I wanted to have nothing to do with that so we went for the old school organic raw approach, which is actually a much harder way to make a record – much more stressful and much more demanding on the mind and the body. But, we made it happen and it was some tough, tough work. And the other main difference is that there were no external concepts in the music or affecting the lyrics. All the Kabballah nonsense left with the member that brought it in. This is completely based one hundred percent on real life – fears, death drugs – you know the things we deal with every single day. I would call it more of an exorcism than anything else.
You mentioned label involvement, have you had a lot of that in the past?
Yeah, of course. And I don’t hold that against them. It’s not that it’s a bad thing. If you look at the type of label that Roadrunner is, they deal with huge bands that put out radio hits. That’s part of their business model, and it works for them, and that’s why they’re the biggest. More power to them, but we’re not trying to appeal to the mainstream. We couldn’t care less – we’re doing this for ourselves. That kind of pressure kills your creativity kills your spirit. They were never like “oh you gotta sound like this band” or” you gotta sound like that band”, but there was definitely that pressure and now there’s none and it’s great for us.
You mentioned the production. Did you record it using analog gear?
We had as much analog gear as possible, but with the kind of budget that we have, getting analog tape would have eaten up a third of the budget. Unfortunately that stuff is very, very expensive. But in lieu of that, we got the highest quality of everything that we could rent, as well as used everything that I already had in my studio. Take drums for instance. Normally how things go these days is you spend a day getting some basic drum tones, three or four days to record it, and then a week of editing and replacing all of the sounds – because you know most of these metal drummers are not what you hear on the record. What you hear on the record with the double bass perfection isn’t what they actually sound like. Most of the time they really cannot pull that off and that’s why there’s so much more time actually replacing their sounds.
Like triggered stuff?
I don’t have a problem with triggers because all a trigger does is create an impulse when you hit the drum and then a sound comes out. It’s no different than a pick up and changing a guitar sound. What I mean is that’s done, but it’s not done in a way that actually reflects a dynamic performance. It’s usually done in a very static fashion to where, say, there’s double bass going and in reality the volume of the hits will be flowing over time because no one hits the drum the exact same volume every single time. What gives double bass that really awesome natural vibey feel that it should have are those slight fluctuations and in this modern sound you don’t have any of that – that’s why it sounds like computers are playing it. We took the time to really get a great natural drum sound so that nothing would have to be replaced afterwards. I mean it took days and days to get this and we had to change rooms a couple times and set ups. We just made sure the actual sound of Kevin being recorded was already badass so very little would have to be done in the mix. We made sure the performances were there so that they wouldn’t have to be edited to hell and back just to have something accessible. He’s a great drummer, he’s one of the best and there’s no reason to do that to him. Why not just take a little bit more time and capture him for who he really is because we’re lucky to have someone that good. Why not take advantage and let the world hear him for what he is?
Sure. I was just listening to the re-issue of Cowboys from Hell and the production definitely struck me. It’s that late 80’s early 90’s, reverb-y gated drum sound. You can kind of tell just by listening to it when it was recorded. Do you think that when people look back they’re just going to be like oh that was definitely the mid 2000’s or whatever?
Yes actually, and that was another reason we wanted to take a completely different approach because when this sound came about and we had that first Killswitch record that broke all of that ground, or like Dimmu Borgir’s Death Cult Armageddon. The groundbreaking records of the early 2000’s that first had that sound, it was a new thing and it was exciting. But at this point it’s old and tired. It’s beating a dead horse and it’s getting to the point where you can’t differentiate between the bands. It seems to me like the industry is wondering what the hell is going on, why are things getting worse every year? But look in the mirror, look at what you’re putting out. You’re putting out garbage. What do you expect out of the consumer? Their minds are shut off to this. It’s the same thing over and over and over. The brain does this. You have an itch, you scratch the itch, it feels good, and then you don’t even really feel yourself scratching anymore once it’s gone. The brain will stop responding to the same impulse over and over again. It’s just natural and it’s the way the brain works. It’s the same for audio. You put out the same thing over and over and over again, and people stop caring. I do think that that sound is going to be associated with this time period and it’s going to be just like that 80’s sound you’re talking about, or early 90’s sound, and I wanted to get as far away from that as possible.
Do you feel like your last few albums were recorded with that sound?
I definitely do. I think that Jason Suecof did a fantastic job on The Concealers. I’ve never been pleased with the mix and a lot of that had to do with label interference after the fact. The original mix was absolutely crushing, but a lot of this has to do with the labels. The labels have a template of what has sold, so a lot of people are trying to get everything to sound like what has worked at some point in time and The Concealers is the victim of that. On the label end of that, no big deal, right? But for those of who made it that’s our fucking hearts and soul and months and months of effort out of our lives. It hurts, it fucking hurts to hear that done. This time we just couldn’t allow it.
You’ve switched labels from Roadrunner to Century Media. How vital do you think a label is in 2010? How important is it to be on a label?
I just think it depends on what your goals are, where you’re at, and where you plan on going. For a band like us, where we’re kind of still establishing ourselves, but we’ve already been signed for awhile – I don’t know if we have the resources yet to go indie so it’s still very helpful for us to be on a label. If we were a startup band, then maybe we wouldn’t need one because we could just start from the ground up like that. For a band in our spot that would be going backwards. However, two albums from now, let’s say we keep on growing, who knows if we’ll need a label. I think it just depends on how resourceful you are and how motivated you are to keep the machine running without an external apparatus running a lot of the boring stuff for you, but it’s not necessary anymore. We’re not at the point yet where they’re obsolete by any means. If they were we wouldn’t have chosen to sign to a label.
Speaking of labels, or lack thereof, I know you reached out to Iron Thrones, the winners of our No Label Needed contest.
Yeah I did, because I do that blog for MetalSucks and I did one where I asked for people to recommend unsigned bands for me to check out. The rules were you can’t recommend your own band. The list ended up being like 700 long and it took me months to go through the whole thing. I contacted most of them that weren’t absolute garbage. Dude – there were some horrible bands on there. Man, it was rough. It was kind of discouraging, but Iron Thrones was the best one. So, I contacted them for sure and it’s funny that they won the contest a couple months later.
You’ve been blogging for MetalSucks for a while now. Would you have a blog regardless of whether you were doing it for a website or not?
I’ve always been good at writing down my thoughts. Back in the day when blogging hadn’t been invented yet I would just write journals and stuff. I ended up actually burning them all because I didn’t want anyone to find them. I actually did have a blog before MetalSucks, I was on [MTV’s] Headbangers Blog but then they fell through. So then I asked MetalSucks if they would inherit it for me because originally that’s who I wanted to do it for anyway. Dallas Coyle was kind of running the show blog-wise back then, but you know, he kind of said what he had to say and there was a gap to fill. It was a case of really good timing. The cool thing about MetalSucks is that there’s so much response there too that it’s inspiring to keep on going.
Are you finding people are getting turned on to your music from first having read about you on there?
I’m sure it happens. I’m sure there’s also people that can’t stand my music, but dig the blog. I definitely do know of people who have written me personally who have checked out the band because of the blog. So that’s cool. MetalSucks is a huge site now, so there are a lot of people reading it. It just stands the reason that it helps the band out. Doing a blog that you keep up regularly is a lot harder than people think. To always have something to talk about, it’s not as easy as people think it is. If it wasn’t something that I genuinely enjoyed doing, I wouldn’t be doing it.
So talk to me about the Levi/Werstler record that came out. Was it specifically like ‘hey, this is instrumental music and there’s no way that vocals can go over this,’ or was it just written at a time where you were in-between vocalists? How did everything come about with that?
No, the label [ed. Note: Magna Carta] was very, very specific. They did some sampler or compilation CD where it was a mix of some really established guitar players with some up-and-comers. Somehow Emil and I got on that and I guess they liked it because they offered us a deal. Part of the specifics was that it be instrumental and nobody else from Daath could be on it. And that was okay with us because I think for any guitar player that has the goals to be a pro, doing a solo album or a guitar album – it’s on the bucket list, It’s gotta be. So for us it was just a matter of when it was gonna happen. Opportunity presented itself and we jumped on it.
Would you do another one? Are you under contract to? Or is it just the one option?
They have one option and we’ll see if they pick it up or not, but even if they don’t, I know there’s other people interested in getting it. We had so much fun making it that we are going to make another one. Sean Reinert, the drummer, has already agreed to do the next one. So it’s a thing, it’s real. It’s going to happen again.