Genre, charts and metal: Trevor Strnad talks Deflorate

The Black Dahlia Murder released their latest album just last month: Deflorate. To talk about the album and what's going on in the BDM camp, I caught up with frontman Trevor Strnad for a bit of a chat.


When I spoke with The Black Dahlia Murder's vocalist Trevor Strnad, it was a lovely day in California and the band were just two days into their most recent headlining tour of the United States, which they began very soon after finishing up a month-long tour just prior.  After a short break over Christmas, these guys are heading to Europe; but it isn't going to stop there either. 


'We're just gonna try to spend as much time on the road as possible, hit as many places as possible, try to push the new record as hard as we can,' Strnad explained. 'It seems to be going well so far, so we're just excited for the future, you know?'


Knowing fully well that the BDM guys like to have a bit of fun - if you've seen the guys' DVD Majesty you'd know it yourself - I couldn't resist asking what sort of pranks they play on each other when they're on the road, to keep themselves occupied. While Strnad couldn't recall too many pranks, there was one in particular that he remembered.


'Brian has been known to prank our manager a lot and fuck with him all the time,' he said. 'He's always screwing his life up,' Strnad giggled. 'You know, calling him up in weird voices and pretending that we got in an accident and stuff like that. He's done some pretty ruthless stuff, you know.'


But like Strnad explained, he's been with the band for a long time and knows what to expect; so while it sounds fairly harsh, their manager is a good bloke and rolls with whatever the BDM guys throw at him.


Being the sort of band that looks they way they do, and that have been the butt of many discriminations largely because of the way they look, I asked Strnad what his take was regarding genre. Specifically, I wondered what he thought of the notion that only a band has the right to pigeonhole itself into a particular genre. In discussing genre, Strnad told me that he thinks that it's kind of an obsession, to try and define things and cram them into genres.


'Like, you just can't listen to music and enjoy it for what it is, you know? I think it can work both ways. Sometimes it can be helpful if you're trying to define a band you know? If it sounds like, well, something like another band. But you know for us, we were labelled a ton of different things, and we still are to this day, but it's worked out, it's been cool,' Strnad said. 'I think we've got to play with a lot of different bands.'


Having had the experience of playing with a lot of different bands has given The Black Dahlia Murder a greater connection with a broader diversity of fans, however. As Strnad explains it, he believes it makes them more 'tangible'.


'They feel like they know us, and they feel like maybe they would want to know us, and I think that's been a helpful thing too... Being something different, you know?'


The Black Dahlia Murder has a fanbase comprised of hardcore kids, punk kids, death metal and black metal fans; and a lot of that is also because they do play, and have played, with all kinds of different bands. Strnad said that the fact that so many people are getting into the extreme at the moment, and the influx of young people, has been one of the contributing factors.


'It's really cool to see. It's a really cool time. And it's everywhere man, everywhere right now. There is just so many young people are getting into this stuff. It's cool, you know? It's definitely exciting,' he enthused. 'It probably comes in cycles. It's kinda like when death metal was coming out in the first place in the early 90s, it had a huge boom, and then it kinda fell off the radar for a while but now it's coming back in a major way.'


The Black Dahlia Murder's last line-up change is one that Strnad had been quoted in previous interviews as saying that it was 'almost too easy'. The reason it happened the way it did is because the band had reached the sort of maturity level where they were able to know what they needed to get to the next level.


'That and having the success to afford to look around outside of our local area, because now, you know, we've done a lot. We've got a really good thing going and a lot to offer these really good players you know. It was just easy because we just wanted to have this guy on board, you know?'


The Black Dahlia Murder guys are the sort of team now where writing material is a fully collaborative and exciting process; and as Strnad said, every time he sees what Ryan (Knight) has to offer it blows him away. Bringing in another band member, one that they could trust to write with them, that has the style they were after and the same influences, has been awesome for them.


'It's just worked out in such a killer way that we're pretty excited about the future with him too, you know?' Strnad explained. 


Dealing with lineup changes, in terms of dealing with fans, is something that is difficult for any band. Given that John (Kempainen) was one of the original members of the band, and had been there from the first recording, The Black Dahlia Murder knew that a lot of kids identified with him and would be sad to see him go. But in the end, it was the only decision that made sense because John couldn't be considered a contributing member any more. I asked Strnad whether the most delicate way of dealing with a lineup change is something that keeps him awake at night.


'Yeah, you worry about it,' he said. 'I just didn't want it to be like, "we're having another member change" and have anyone lose faith in our band. So you try to do it a little bit more on the down-low, and not just blow up the spotlight immediately, and maybe cause some kind of.... You know, the rumour mill is kinda powerful; the bigger you get, the more you have to think about this kind of stuff because it's important, you know?'


While The Black Dahlia Murder is no stranger to the Billboard charts, the band's latest release, Deflorate, has been the release that has been present in the charts for the longest out of any. At the moment, given that it's quite difficult for bands - in the US at least - to sell a CD, the Billboard rankings were exciting for the guys.


'It's exciting actually. Downloading is at an all-time high, so you know, it just means that we have great fans and we're just really happy about it,' Strnad explained. 'And it's kind of a statement for the whole of extreme metal, because we haven't compromised our music in any way to get to this point. If anything, every record is more brutal than anything we've ever done.'


As Strnad explained, metal is still often considered the 'music of the pariah', and penetrating the charts the way that they did with Deflorate gives that the lie; as he himself said, 'that's insane'.


The Black Dahlia Murder worked very hard on Deflorate, and it's resulted in a release that has been widely held as their tightest and most mature work to date. In particular, one of the focuses of the band's work has been to try and keep the songs as individual and unique as possible, despite the fact that in playing fast that's not an easy feat to achieve. While one might think that it could be difficult to keep an overall sense of cohesion throughout an album while maintaining the individuality of each track, Strnad believes that the melodies in the album are one of the key things that hold it together as a unit.


'You gotta try to really keep the songs interesting, really pay attention to the dynamics,' Strnad explained. 'All the extra, little things. The melodies overall [mean that the album is] memorable; and that's one of the things that make the songs more cohesive, I guess. While we *did* push the boundaries of trying some new things, playing some different times like on the song Christ Deformed, we tried to do some groove parts and we'd never really tried anything like that before. It was cool, but I think throughout, no matter what we're doing, you'll know that it's us. It has that touch of Brian's wizardry.'


Many critics have commented on how clean the production is on Deflorate. With The Black Dahlia Murder's previous release, 2007's Nocturnal, the band entered the 'digital age'; Brian has learned how to use ProTools and the band members are now able to write whole songs at home: Bart wrote a couple of songs, Ryan wrote a couple. But in terms of any other production elements that would have lifted Deflorate, Strnad puts a lot of it down to the fact that he went into the recording a bit more focused.


'I had more of a vision for the songs that I really had never attempted in the studio,' he said. 'It's very much a slowed-down process for me, being very anal-retentive I guess, and just trying to do the best I could. And I think Jason Suecof is a very talented producer.'


The band members have a great relationship with Suecof; they're like old friends. But more than this, The Black Dahlia Murder know that Suecof is always on the same page regarding what the band is trying to achieve. Strnad told me that the experience of working with Suecof for both Deflorate and Nocturnal was phenomenal.


'And Jason's just so well-versed in death metal and old death metal, and with guitar playing, which is why we trust him with this band because it's such a guitar-centred band,' Strnad explained. 'So we knew that we would able to get the great guitar sound we wanted, and we knew he would be comfortable working with hyper-fast drums. He grew up around it just like us, you know? There was no point where we weren't on the same page. We're gonna go back to him again.'


If you've seen the artwork for Deflorate, you would know how striking it is. It is also an element of a release that Strnad thinks about for a long time. For this album, he really wanted something that was going to embody the album's vibe, and something that was going to separate it from Nocturnal. What the band didn't want was for people to think that, because of Nocturnal's success, they would just do another 'copy' of that release.


'I wanted to do something that was gonna be striking, that was gonna stand out on the shelves amongst a bunch of other records. So that really bright kind of thing is influenced a bit by Powerslave, and kinda classic death metal albums from the 1990s - just with really colourful logos and stuff like that. It's kind of meant to be a throwback but also would be something that nobody really is doing now, as far as artwork goes,' he said.


While, when I spoke to Strnad, The Black Dahlia Murder hadn't gotten plans together for any global tours in support of Deflorate, they were thinking about it and starting to get things sorted.


Before he had to head off, Strnad wanted to send a huge thanks and a big shout-out to anybody who has picked up Deflorate. He also said:


'Keep your eyes on our MySpace. We might have some tour dates on there sooner than you think.'


The Black Dahlia Murder's Deflorate is out now on Metal Blade/Riot.