Cleveland, OH metallic hardcore legends, Ringworm, are celebrating their overall thirtieth anniversary with the release of their new album Death Becomes My Voice, which arrived last Friday (3rd) via Relapse Records (order here). We caught up with frontman Human Furnace to discuss more about their new album, balancing his life between music and being a tattoo artist, and more.
How long did it take you to write Death Becomes My Voice?
Well that’s kind of a tricky question, ’cause when we finished up the tour cycle from the last record, Snake Church, Matt (Sorg) had already had some of the material written, our guitar player. So by the time he was done with that … that took him a few months, to come up with all the songs, and then when that was done, that’s when it fell into my hands, and I started doing stuff with it vocally.
I guess you could say it took a good maybe, I don’t know, six or seven months perhaps, to get it all finished. Then of course, once the record’s done, it goes through the protocol of what it takes to put a record out, but that’s usually … you could add another five months onto that. So it didn’t take us all that long, I guess, to answer your question.
How would you compare the new album to your prior efforts?
For me it’s another record. Purposefully we don’t really try to go, I guess, too far and experiment with stuff that really doesn’t belong with our sound. That’s kind of maybe a bad explanation, but we don’t really monkey with our formula too much.
Whereas every record has its own personality, its own different sound, its own attitude; they’re all … I don’t know, it’s kind of hard to say, ’cause being so involved in it, it’s kind of hard to compare it against. It’s kind of like picking your favorite kid, you know?
You have a system and a flow going on with the band that works for you guys.
Yeah. Our process is really streamlined, very simple. Matt will write some songs, he’ll go over with our drummer, they’ll record it, and then I get a hold of it and do my vocals. That’s pretty much it, there’s not a lot of big pre-production, or anything like that.
Most times, I don’t even hear the material until it’s already recorded. So, it’s pretty streamlined, but that’s the way we’ve always done it, and in this day and age, it is beneficial because it’s a lot cheaper to work that way. It’s just the way we do things, it’s very streamlined, very efficient. But, sometimes we have setbacks, but other than that it goes pretty simple.
Are there any specific lyrical themes you feel like talking about?
Not that I don’t feel like talking about them, but basically every record I sing about the same type of stuff, and that’s pretty much what I’m going through in life, how I view the world, my takes on things. I sing about what anyone should really sing about. I don’t sing about stuff that I don’t know, but you know, I’ll sing about love, hate, anger, suicide, and depression. That’s pretty much just what I sing about on every record. I sing from personal experience, rarely will I even dip into political talk or anything like that, because that stuff really doesn’t concern me.
I just keep it really simple, and just kind of go with how I feel about things, and what’s going on in my life at that certain time.
Do you guys have any touring plans?
Yeah, we do. Things are kinda hush hush until everything’s confirmed, but we’ll be out there this summer, for sure. We’ve got some plans that we’re putting together, and summertime’s really tough because you do have to be strategic with when you go out, because you know how it is. Sometimes if you’re a concert goer or you want to see bands, sometimes in your own town there’ll be 10 shows in one week. So you’ve got to be strategic, and work around other stuff sometimes. But we do have plans to be out there this summer, so we’ll be out.
I hear you on that. Just the other day we had three sold out shows on the same night here in New York.
Sometimes when you plan to do a tour and you look, and you’re like, “Man, there’s 10 other tours going on.” You’re say, “Well.” And you want the most people to come see you, and I’ve been in a position before too where two of my favorite bands are playing at two different venues in the same night, in the same city. You’ve got to make a choice sometimes, and that kind of sucks. You’ll have no shows for a week, and then five shows in one week, and you can only go to two.
In that respect, you kind of got to be selective, and you have to be strategic about when you go out, but we’re making plans and we’ll be out there this summer, promoting the record.
In your opinion, how has the metal scene in Ohio change over the years?
I don’t know that is has, really. I don’t really pay attention to it, as well. To be honest with you, I do my endeavors, my bands. I usually just stay home and work a lot, and draw. So I’m not really in tune with any of the newer scene, or what’s going on. I’m sure I hear new bands sometimes, but honestly I don’t really think it’s changed in Cleveland. Cleveland’s pretty cool in the fact that there’s a million venues that any band could play in town.
That’s one great thing about Cleveland, ’cause some cities, there’s like one place you can play. In Cleveland, I could name seven places right off the top of my head that you could do any type of show at, whether it’s punk rock, country, heavy metal, thrash, punk rock, you could do anything.
Cleveland’s always been good in that respect, as far as venues. And, when you’ve got the venues. that usually spawns a lot of bands, ’cause you’ve got the platform, and the places to play. I don’t think it’s changed much. Cleveland’s always been a pretty strong scene. I’m sure there’s a lot of newer bands that I’m not even hip to yet, that are out there killing it right now.
I don’t think it’s changed much, just still moving forward with what it’s always done.
Sometimes cities change drastically, so I always like to see what has changed in the scene locally over the years.
Yeah, I mean I guess maybe if you’re talking like “hardcore scene”, which I don’t really know too much about, to be honest with you. I’m not really part of that. If you’re talking in the hardcore genre, that’s the type of scene that is kind of more centralized around a younger crowd, youth.
That always has a high turnover rate. Kids usually start in hardcore bands, and grow up and eventually start playing folk rock. Once they start drinking, they’ll play folk rock or join a goth band.
The metal scene stays pretty consistent here in Cleveland. There’s a lot of bands that’ve been around for a long time, that are still quite successful and still kick ass, so that helps the scene out a lot. Then there’s a lot of younger bands coming up too. I’m sure there’s changes that I probably don’t even know about, but it still seems like a vibrant scene, to me.
I notice a lot of people tend to give up on their dreams on being a musician or artist because they expect it to be more lucrative than it is. They end up going back to school, or stay at their unfulfilling 9:00-5:00 job. From your experience, because you’re both a musician and a tattoo artist, how do you balance your time between both jobs, and do you have any advice you can share on this subject?
Well, you know, I mean balance is the key, I guess. I have to be honest,I’m able to do all the things that I like to do just because one, I don’t sleep ever. I sleep maybe like four hours a day. So that helps. But, I mean you’ve got to have some balls too, and kind of be willing to, I guess, give up some type of security for the unknown. But what you’re willing to achieve in the end is probably a little bit of happiness, because when you’re doing something that you love to do for a living, that’s priceless.
But also you have to balance that with reality too sometimes. You’ve got to live, you’ve got to eat, you’ve got bills that you have to pay. So you’ve got to have a lot of balls, and just kind of be willing to work tremendously hard for a long time, and understand that things don’t come easy. To some people, they do. Some people just fall right into something, and the next minute you know they’re popular, rich, and famous.
But for most people, it doesn’t happen that way. You’ve really got to work at it, and maybe realize that, you know what? That may never happen for you. You may never achieve the level of what you think, where you should be no matter how hard you work. But, when it’s all said and done, you have the peace of mind, and you’ve worked hard, and you’re doing something that you like in the end.
It’s a give or take thing, and you’ve got to understand too, even like with musically, whereas Ringworm, we’ve had a bit of success. We’re not Metallica by any stretch, but to be able to do what we’ve done for as long as we have, and go where we’ve gone, and all that. I consider that pretty successful. But, I also keep in mind that musically, this is not the type of thing that’s going to take over the world. I mean, the way we sound is not going to be on Top 40 radio, so you’ve got to temper what you do with realistic expectations as well.
I guess if I had to give anyone any advice, it’s basically just work hard. Just work your ass off, and see what happens, and be willing to take some chances, you know?
I completely agree with that mentality, and I admire that you run on four hours of sleep every day.
Every day. I mean, I own two tattoo shops, I’m in two bands, I have three t-shirt companies, I do album covers, t-shirt designs, storyboards. I’m getting ready to direct a film, I’m a landlord, I have three cats, so my life is pretty much work, but it’s fun, and it beats being board. I like to make things and do stuff. I’ll sleep when I’m dead.
I have three cats and a dog myself, so I completely understand that thought process.
Oh yeah, you should. The struggle is real, and I live by myself so it’s like, I’m a one-man show for the most part, but things need to get done, and I’m the only one. I have no assistants in most things in my life, so it’s basically when I want to do something, I have to go out and get it done. It’s a tough road sometimes, but you know, you can’t really depend on a lot of people sometimes to make things happen, you just got to go do them yourself.
I 100% agree. Sometimes you learn the hard way that you can only depend on yourself and that’s about it.
Exactly, I mean, you know, for some things you put good people in place to help you, and to partner up with when you can, and work with. Surround yourself with creative people, which also helps tremendously in anything you want to do, obviously musically. But, artistically and in a business sense too, I mean, you need to surround yourself with good, hardworking, creative people like yourself, and good things could happen from that.
You can only set the stage so much, and work really hard, and then a lot of it just comes down to luck, and a little bit of faith, and you see what happens. You try your best.
As a tattoo artist, do you have a piece of work, or experience that you’re willing to share, from any project?
I guess, area in my life, I work extremely hard on tattooing. I do that pretty much every day, I mean I’m constantly working on big pieces, small pieces. Some artists exclusively, I guess, devote themselves to original pieces, which I do for the most part. But I always make myself available to anything that somebody wants to do, whether it be, Bugs Bunny, or a fucking tribal arm band. You know what I mean?
I don’t really judge. I’ve been doing this, tattooing, for too long to judge what people get anymore, and I try to make myself, versatile, as far as what people want to get. Because not everybody’s into the same thing, and obviously you do want to make money, but when you do that you often get to meet a lot of people, and you get to hear a lot of different perspectives from a lot of different angles from people; different opinions on life, and what’s going around.
If there’s one particular story or piece that I want to talk about, but I guess the benefit of … You know, basically I always think of myself as not a very good people-person. I think most people kind of suck. I always find it very strange that I’m in the business that I am, where you’re dealing with people on a very intimate basis.
But I’ve benefited a lot from meeting a lot of different people, and you learn things outside of the artist world. You just learn stuff about people, and you get to learn how to get along with a lot of people that you probably wouldn’t have given the time of day to otherwise. You find out that there’s maybe a little bit more good people out there than I think there is, but there’s not too many stories that I can share, but that’s one part I can tell you about.
It helps you connect with people.
I guess so. I mean, I’m not that much of an asshole that I just don’t like to talk to people.
No, it’s more like an introvert, in a way.
Yeah, for sure, because if you look around the world in general, it’s a pretty ugly, nasty place, and people do very bad things. You know, all types of shit. You kind of have to navigate your way through life, and try to steer clear of stuff, or meet stuff head on when you have to, but I guess through tattooing I’ve maybe learned to communicate and see other sides, other points of view.
Maybe not necessarily agree with some people, but you come to a better understanding of where people are coming from, and I’ve basically learned to … agree to disagree with people, and not take it to a next level where you just, hate a person just because you don’t really agree with them. Tattooing has helped that, because over 30 years I’ve been doing it, I’ve met so many different types of people, and from different walks of life. You kind of step into their world a little bit, as you’re working on someone for a long period of time, and you could get inside their head, and see where they’re coming from occasionally.
Tattooing like that, and outside of the artistic stuff and then actual tattooing, on a person to person basis, the tattooing has definitely helped me in that kind of aspect.
It’s one of those things. I never let it go off too far in my mind that what I get to do for a living, which is tattooing, that’s how I earn my living. The band does okay, but it’s more of an expensive hobby. It’s something we love to do. We certainly could probably do it more, and perhaps earn a living, but it wouldn’t be a great one. Half of us probably wouldn’t have cars, and we’d live in shitty apartments if we had to do it for a living.
Tattooing is my livelihood. Running the business often gets problematic and troublesome, but every time if I find myself being bummed out about it, I just remind myself that I get to draw pictures on people for a living. And, that’s basically what I do, I get to draw pictures on people for a living, and I couldn’t think of a better job to do, so I’m thankful of that every time I get to go to work and do that.
Is there anything else you want to say, or add about the album?
Death Becomes My Voice, is out now on Relapse Records. It’s our third full-length record with them, so we’re pretty excited about it. With the last records we were signed to them, it was a two record thing, and the last two records have done pretty well, and Relapse is an excellent label to work with, they’re really good people. We made a deal, and we’re going to do this new record with them, and see how it goes. We’re pretty excited about it.
It’s a little bit different than our last one, sound-wise. I probably should have said this earlier for that question, but this record, we went with a different engineer, and a different person mixed it, so it’s got a really raw, heavy, heavy sound to it. We recorded a lot, everything mostly live, so it really comes through on the recording, and I think it’s going to translate well. I think people will dig it. It’s not pretty, it’s not nice, it’s like most of our records are, just a very angry record.
But I mean they’re also, if you look beyond all that stuff, there is kind of positivity to it, you know, if you really dig deep a little bit, and kind of apply the lyrics, or the feeling of the record, to your own life. You could find some positivity to it as well. We’re pretty excited about it. We had a string of shows here on the third, fourth, and fifth. We’re still planning on the tour for this summer.