Getting involved in the music business is like gambling. An artist offers their two greatest possessions, time and talent, used as currency to play a one-sided game where the prize is a promise their music might be discovered by the masses.
As unlikely as it is winning against the house, artists continuously play this game, occasionally hitting the jackpot. However, as in all gambling, the ‘hot streak’ is often short-lived. In the end, you are left with music and memories.
Rick Scythe has played this game with the legendary blackened thrash act Usurper. Now, he’s at it again with his new band Scythe. When Rick walks out on stage, he’s all in.
I had the opportunity to speak with Rick last month – we talked about his follow up to Subterranean Steel, line-up changes for the band, upcoming live dates and the importance of social media networks to today’s artists. Please enjoy some excerpts of our 3/26/15 interview.
David Halbe: What’s the status of Scythe’s follow up to Subterranean Steel?
Rick Scythe: Well, right now we’re working on four new songs, it’s going to be an EP. It will come out on RIP Records in the US, it’s gonna be a classic EP on vinyl. In Europe, it’s gonna be on CD and that will be released through Primitive Reaction. We should begin recording around the end of summer and we hope to have that EP out towards the end of 2015/early 2016.
Dave: Is there a title for the album yet?
Rick: No, no title yet. Just the songs for the EP we’re working on but we will decide on a title very soon.
Dave: Do you have any song titles yet?
Rick: Yeah, we have some ideas but nothing I really want to release at this time.
Dave: Can we expect the music in the same vein as Subterranean Steel?
Rick: Yeah, it’s very close to it. It should stand up as a solid follow up to Subterranean Steel and if you listen to Beware of the Scythe, you’ll find both albums are very similar but Subterranean Steel has more polish and a more up-front attack. The new material is continuing in the same direction, definitely for people who like headbanging, fist-pumping metal!
Dave: Kick Ass! Are you planning any video promotion for the EP release?
Rick: Oh yeah, we’re definitely going to do another one. We really liked the way the video for “The Iron Witch” came out so we will probably use the same director, it was a pleasure working with him.
The reasoning for doing a video is that it gives you lots of opportunities to include other visual elements, the sound is directly off the CD and it’s got a good blend of how the band looks live and how the band sounds on an album, not to mention the other visual elements you can’t include on either one.
Although it’s always good to see bands play live, the live concert footage you find over the internet, it’s just not that good, unless you are a diehard fan of the band and you can appreciate that kind of stuff. It can get boring looking at just one camera view, not to mention the possibility of bad sound quality because it’s shot from the balcony of a club.
Dave: You made a line-up change recently, replacing bassist Dan Geist with Mike Drysch. What prompted the change? How has Mike’s addition enhanced the Scythe sound?
Rick: Ok, this has been going on for a while now, there’s no hard feelings. Dan just got busy with his personal life and just couldn’t commit a lot of time to the band. We had a lot of shows coming up last year and he did the shows but we weren’t able to rehearse as much as I would have liked. I feel a band really needs to rehearse. Rehearsals should be long, hard and directed, in the end there really shouldn’t be any excuses not to rehearse at least once a week. Dan approached me after the New Year rolled around, he basically told me he was stepping down. Even though we both knew this was coming it was still a bummer, but at least we got to play a lot of great shows together.
Mike Drysch was in a band called Hedlok out of Indiana. We’ve been in contact since Scythe first started, he was a big fan of the band. I checked out his band and found out he basically did everything, played guitar, bass and his vocals sound incredible. You know Scythe is a two-vocalist band, he’s just a really talented guy.
Well, it just so happened that his band broke up. He ended up doing some touring through the US and Canada with a punk band, but this guy is a metalhead at heart; but it was great he got some stage experience, touring and playing live shows.
Honestly, Mike’s involvement couldn’t have been a more perfect fit. He’s only been in the band about eight weeks and he already knows most of the songs, not to mention the new songs we’re working on. I don’t want to get ahead of myself but this is really sounding like the best line-up I’ve had for Scythe yet. We’re really excited about it.
Dave: Hell yeah, that’s great to hear. Do you have any live dates scheduled for this year?
Rick: Well, right now we’re going to take a few months off to practice our old material and really hone in on the new stuff. We’re going to make it so we’re ready to record by the end of the summer or early fall. So, we’re probably gonna hold off on the live shows until fall. I know we are playing at least one date in Chicago this fall but I can’t remember where that is right now (laughs). But we will be playing a few dates with Slaughter Messiah, it’s Franck’s from Enthroned (Franck Lorent aka Lord Sabathan – bass/vocals) new band.
Dave: No shit?
Rick: Yeah, I’ve known Franck forever. The first European tour Usurper ever did back in 1998 was Usurper and Enthroned.
Dave: Wow! That’s really cool.
Rick: Yeah, we’re about the same age and we’ve been at it, making music, around the same amount of time and if you really think about it we’re kind of in similar situations too, we both came from big, established, underground acts, acts that have done tons of touring worldwide and we’re now both onto the next chapter with our new bands. It will be great playing shows together again. So, we’re really looking forward to that upcoming mini-tour.
Dave: Fuck yeah!
Rick: And we’re still working on some dates in California and Texas. We plan on doing a lot but I want to make sure things are planned out right. I don’t want to rush anything.
Dave: Understood. Is there anything going on in the Usurper camp?
Rick: Well, right now it’s on definite hiatus. All my time and energy has been devoted to Scythe but if something comes up with Usurper and it’s right, the timing is right, we have the right people doing it with us, that would be something we’d approach but realistically, I can’t see anything in the immediate future.
Dave: I’ve noticed some of the earlier Usurper releases are getting harder to find. Have there been any discussions to re-release that material if/when it goes out of print?
Rick: Yes, it probably will be eventually but I kind of want things to go out of print, largely because it means something to the people who have supported the band from the beginning.
Nowadays, you can download a version on the internet or purchase an MP3 but to me it means a lot to own the physical copy, so you can experience the whole package. I want it to be special for the fans so I’m gonna let it run out and when it comes back it’s gonna look a little different and we’ll probably add something to it, but definitely we want to reward the people who have been with us since the beginning, those who ‘got it’ before anybody else did.
I’ve been doing this for so long I’m more into quality over quantity now, I don’t care so much about playing two hundred shows a year or having records available in every store. I want things to be unique. People get caught up in being on a big label, being on a tight deadline, just that whole corporate schedule and that’s something with Scythe that I really want to be the opposite. I want to create for the diehard fans, those who want to hear something because it means something, you can’t rush what’s real.
I appreciate the people who come to our shows, headbang, buy our albums, really creating a small demand for us. It makes it personal and I’d rather have a few diehards than a bunch of mediocre fans who don’t give a fuck.
Dave: Hell yeah, I recently started tracking down Usurper albums for my personal collection.
Rick: That’s awesome man! Great to hear. You know, Usurper ran for so long I started running into people who got into the band during different stages of our career, I could always tell when they got into us by what songs they said they liked or what albums they wanted me to sign. I think it’s cool, at that point in their lives, that song or album really meant something to them.
Dave: It’s a time capsule of memories you want to relive.
Rick: Exactly, I know some people may not care as much about things like artwork, album concepts or packaging because we are in a digital age, but some still do and I want to continue to cater to those people, I want everything I release to be quality.
You know, I don’t follow trends, I don’t pretend my stuff was recorded in 1985 but I have been around that long so it’s natural for my riffs to be grounded that far back. I have a distinctive guitar style and I owe it to myself and the people who have supported me to continue to supply them with what they’ve come to expect.
Dave: Scythe has shared the stage with Sabbat on several occasions, when did you first meet?
Rick: Basically, I met Sabbat through RIP Records, they’re signed to RIP in the US and the first time they brought them over from Japan, they really wanted to play a show with Usurper and we felt likewise so it really worked out great.
Dave: What year was that?
Rick: I believe it was 2005?
Dave: No shit, so you’ve known the guys in Sabbat for almost 10 years?
Rick: Yeah that’s right, it’s been a long time. That was a memorable show, Sabbat headlined with Usurper in support. Then in 2013 they came back again and they wanted my new band, Scythe, to open for them.
Dave: Yea, I was at that show, it was kick ass.
Rick: Thanks man. Then we did the 20th anniversary show with Sabbat just last year.
Dave: I know, I wish I could have made it to that one. Final question, how important are social media networks to today’s artists?
Rick: Well, whether you are working or not, it’s the current state of things, it’s not going away anytime soon. I could take a hardline stance that says I’m totally against it but then you are alienating yourself from potential fans, even diehard fans because now it’s a major way to communicate. When Usurper started it was all tape trading, writing letters, waiting six weeks for a response, p.s. please send my stamps back!
Rick: You know it was definitely the way things went back then, it was a lot of work, it cost money and took a lot of time, so in that respect things are much easier today. I do like connecting with fans, what I don’t like is the fact that everyone is a critic now, anyone can give an opinion and put it in your face whether you want it or not, they put their whole life on the internet for all to see.
Dave: I know what you mean, I remember going to see bands in the ’80s, and there was a mystique, you didn’t see the headliner till they hit the stage.
Dave: Nowadays, they’re at the merchandise tables drinking and talking with you!
Rick: Exactly, I agree, the mystique is gone. I can’t imagine Slayer back then. I remember hanging in the crowd, wondering, who knows what they’re doing, hold up on a mountaintop made of Marshall Stacks!
Rick: When all you saw was a picture on the back of an album cover you had something mysterious, nowadays, that aspect just brings them down to a mere mortal level, instead of that iconic indestructible figure.
Dave: You’ve got it brother, you just hit the nail on the head.
Rick: Man, sometimes, it’s just better not knowing, the unknown is fascinating. I’m just glad I grew up when I did, when metal had it all. I don’t care what anyone says, it was the golden age of extreme music, those mid to late ’80s. You’d hear about a band, wait for their record to be released, you’d get a ride to the store and buy that fucker. You’d play it front to back a million times, pay attention to the sequence and order, devour the liner notes and imagery.
Sometimes, you’d connect with an album quickly, other times it would take a while to grow on you but you’d be patient because you spent your hard-earned money on it. I think that’s another huge part that’s missing. For kid’s today it’s all instant, you can just click and play, if you don’t like it after a few seconds you just move on, you never get the sequence that way, you never feel the momentum of the record build. There doesn’t seem to be time to let things grow.
Dave: I know what you mean, I live with the albums I review, I listen to them umpteen times because if you don’t, you miss the nuisances, the real relevancy of the release.
Rick: Right, not to mention doing it with something other than a compressed MP3 file on a pair of crappy computer speakers, the sound isn’t even close to vinyl or CD. Definitely, not the best listening environment for picking out those nuisances or a wicked guitar solo.
Dave: For sure. Hey Rick, I really appreciate your time today. Good luck with the EP!
Rick: I appreciate it Dave, good talking to you, take care.