Black Dahlia's Trevor Strnad In New Mexico: 'It's just a commitment to metal'...

"It’s like a secret world of awesomeness..."

When I caught up with The Black Dahlia Murder vocalist Trevor Strnad, he and the rest of the band were enjoying a day off from the Warped Tour in the scorching heat of New Mexico. I opened the interview by asking about the bizarre line-up that BDM have found themselves on; “Yeah – definitely a lot of variety and we’re definitely a ‘sore thumb’; we don’t really have a lot in common with a lot of the bands on here – I think it’s been a really good opportunity for us to stand out and reach some new fans. So far, so good, it’s all been a pretty good experiment.” Have you managed to catch The Aquabats set yet? “No – but I do like The Aquabats! And there are a few others that I like on the bill. I saw Goldfinger the other day – that was cool, and I saw Big D And The Kids Table; those are the kind of bands that are keeping me from going insane…but we’re there to kick ass and just do our thing so we’re not too concerned with everybody else.”

And BDM is off touring Europe in September? “We’re over there quite often and it’s getting good over there, man! It’s exciting and if we’re not playing over here in the States then we’re pretty much on tour [in Europe] and that’s the best kind of advertisement for the band. We’re just one of those bands – always out there, always doing it…”, and he adds “Europe’s fun – I think that anywhere you go in the world you want the same thing – you want people to crowd surf, you want ‘em to go crazy, you want ‘em to sing the words and you want ‘em to smile, have fun and just kind of forget about the crap of normal life for ten minutes, you know? I think metal is an escape; music is an escape – really we just wanna make people happy, man; that’s what it’s all about, dude! I know it’s metal and it’s all about skulls and death but it’s really about community. I guess it’s about a hidden world – that’s how I kind of think about metal – it’s like an awareness of something that most people don’t have. It’s like a secret world of awesomeness – it’s just awesome to be completely immersed in metal in my life now, whereas when I was kid in school I felt like such a frikkin’ alien and so alone but now I’m just in my own world, man! Just talkin’ to metal heads all the time and just being around music all the time; it’s fun, man. It’s a good change of pace from being a completely introverted weirdo…”

It’s pretty sweet getting paid to do what you love, yes? Trevor is eternally grateful: “It’s crazy, especially playing extreme metal - you know it’s never gonna be popular, you know it’s never gonna become mainstream. And we don’t have any goals to soften what we do; if anything I think we’ve gotten harder over the years. The better we get at playing, the better we get at doing more extreme things. It’s just a commitment to metal, man. We’re gonna keep doin’ what we do, in our style, and just hope for the best and try to take things as far as we can. The excitement is still there, six albums deep. It’s just about how much awesome stuff we’ve been able to do and how many great opportunities we’ve had, how many great tours we’ve had, and the energy in the band just makes you want to keep going and take it to the next level, you know? The excitement is definitely still there.”

So you guys have just released Everblack (2013), the sixth BDM album, and it’s been nearly 10 years since the debut Unhallowed (2003); do you look back and think “Fuuuuck” ? Indeed, he does. “Definitely; there’ve been so many shows, so many obstacles overcome, member changes, flipping the trailers, and all kinds of shit. Just thinking back to Unhallowed and how green we were – we were recording that album and we hadn’t even toured yet, and you can hear it on that album – it’s not the tightest album in the world; it’s definitely us as kids playin’ those songs. There’s been a lot of growth in those ten years, you absorb a lot from touring, seeing other bands that have played a million shows, and just going all over the place. It’s definitely helped us evolve; it’s part of our evolution.”

When I ask about being in a band that tours so extensively and if Trevor finds it easy to chill out when he has some free time, he admits “It goes both ways; I love goin’ home and I love gettin’ some privacy ‘cause we’re always in the van together or in the same frikkin’ hotel rooms together, so I definitely enjoy my privacy but it does feel like hittin’ the wall kind of at 2000 miles per hour when you come home because I live in the same town I’ve lived in my whole life and no one gives a crap about me there, you know?!” He laughs at the metal-star to nobody analogy – he’s keeping it real, folks, keeping it real…

And how was the recording debut for Max Lavelle (bass) and Alan Cassidy (drums)? “Good. They were really excited; Alan in particular – he’s 23 and it’s his first time playing on a proper full length album – he’s just so good and has so much awesome stuff ahead of him. I think he’s gonna be the next drummer that people are talkin’ about…The guys are excited to be contributing and excited to finally have the album that they’re on be released to the public, and have people put their faith in them,”  Trevor cracks up as he says “Seeing someone so young kicking so much ass, it brings a tear to your eye! It’s great!”

He can’t stop pouring praise on Max and Alan but speaks just as highly of Ryan Knight (guitarist) when I ask about the soloing on Everblack – I heard that a lot of the solos on here were improvised, is that so? “Yeah, I think that’s Ryan Knight coming into the full bloom that he’s been heading for as a guitar player; the influences that he looks at, that’s what they would do; they’d go into the studio and they’d improvise: Marty Friedman, Jeff Loomis and a lot of Shrapnel guys from the eighties and nineties and you can really hear a lot of that classic shred guitar stuff in there; that’s probably his biggest influence. I’m just so proud of him, man! And he takes it so seriously and he’s made it his mission not to use the same lick twice so when a new album comes out, he starts from the ground up and tries to avoid everything he’s done in the past, carve a new path and do all new shit.” Trevor waxes lyrical about Ryan for ages before I get him back on track by asking about the other Ryan; ex-bassist Ryan ‘Bart’ Williams who produced Everblack. It certainly shows there’s no animosity, right?

“That was cool - we’re still cool – it’s not like he was kicked out or left in weird circumstances with any bad blood and also we wanted his knowledge because he’s always been an asset. He’s an engineer and someone who knows more about that kind of stuff than the rest of us. It takes years to be trained in the details of recording so we didn’t want to lose that kind of anal-retentive quality control that we had with Ryan so it felt really comfortable having him there. And Max and Ryan are long time friends too and Ryan thought it would be a great idea to have Max join the band so there was certainly no weirdness in that regard either. It was just natural; I think it’s something we’ll be doing in the future too – having Ryan involved.”

Getting back to the actual content of Everblack, Trevor says “It’s in the same vein as Ritual, and we took what we learned from Ritual and kind of expanded it, incorporating other instruments, more dynamics, more variety of songs to keep things interesting. Ritual did so well but it also took a lot more effort than the other albums; we took more time with it and working out all those details takes time – it’s kind of intimidating! Especially with the success of Ritual; having to compete with that there was a lot of pressure on us. We were feelin’ the pressure there for a second but it’s good; it feels awesome to have people care about what you do so much that they’re waiting with baited breath to see what you do next. It’s awesome and it’s part of why you want to keep going, we’ve done some amazing stuff and there no sign of slowing; it’s like a giant snowball that just keeps getting’ bigger and we’ve just been so fortunate…so we’re always pushin’ it to see what happens next…”

And you finally did a song on the Elizabeth Short murder in the form of In Hell Is Where She Waits For Me, what prompted that? “The fans have been asking for it and in a way it was a statement of saying ‘We’re back and we haven’t changed - look at this; it’s a Black Dahlia song’. The song itself has that kind of At The Gates/Unhallowed style to it; it’s just bringing things full circle with Everblack, it’s like ‘We’re still here, still evil, still doing it how we do it, we’re still the band that you know’ and it’s been great that people are embracing it.”

As the main vocalist, you get to write all the lyrics but do you still love the challenge? “It’s something that I really like to do. I love horror and I love that I get to try and scare people – I’ve garnered somewhat of a reputation for writing gory, macabre lyrics, and it’s fun to have that pressure on me,” and he cites Phantom Limb Masturbation as a prime example, explaining that it’s about “a guy that wants all his limbs removed because he thinks his life will be better without them – and those people are out there; that song’s based on reality! It’s like a race to outdo what you’ve done in the past and the pressure does mount up with every album but it’s exciting, you know? It’s an exciting world to be a part of, for sure…”

I ask if he’ll ever write about kittens and flowers for his solo project but Trevor prefers to save his energy for BDM lyrics, noting that that most topics have been pretty much covered “but I try to put my own spin on it in the way that I write things. I just like describing and painting a little picture and I think, for me, it was Cannibal Corpse that started that…”

And after the European tour, any plans to come back to Australia? Sadly his lips are stitched shut with black thread: “I can’t really divulge any details yet but it’s in the works. It’s gonna be happening and we’ll be out there pretty soon…”

And finally, what’s been the most unexpected part of the BDM journey/experience for you? Cue ‘Masterchef’ style music: “Just that it’s taken on this entire life, man! We have fans and we have a rabid fan base. There was point when all I wanted to do was have one actual album that I could hold in my hands and be proud of and say ‘Look! We made this from the ground up – it’s all us’ and it’s gone so much further than that – now there are people that like us, you know?! It’s just gone way, way further than I could ever have asked for, and it’s beyond a dream. I don’t know what to say; we’re really thankful and it’s still exciting, man! I just can’t believe it…”