The Black Dahlia Murder are one of the best death metal acts touring today. They have a loyal fanbase which the band loves and appreciates, a strong work ethic which drives the band to release a new album every year or two and a relentless touring cycle which takes them over the globe every year. I’m a huge fan of the band and have seen them four times, twice in two days, the band are one of the great modern death metal bands and I was thrilled that front man Trevor Strnad gave me 25 minutes of his time to chat about his music. So fresh from Mexico, here is the man himself. Trevor Strnad.
Jack: Hi Trevor, thank you so much for agreeing to do this interview. I think that Nightbringers is is a classic TBDM album, why do you feel it’s your finest hour?
Trevor: Dude, I think it’s the culmination of everything we’ve been heading towards all this time. It has the most identity between all the songs and it’s very varied and Brandon coming in, as our new lead guitar player, I think was a huge assert. He’s done a real lot to show out on this record and show his talents, he wrote a lot of the songs as well, four out of the nine, which was a real pleasant, awesome surprise from a new guy. There’s also a lot of excitement in the band at the moment and it’s definitely be shown on the album.
Jack: You said “The pressure that comes from people being excited to hear what you come up with next can be intimidating, but it’s so exciting that those people love you so much for just doing what you do.” Do you always feel pressure before a release of an album?
Trevor: Yeah and it increases each time because this snowball seems to be getting slowly bigger each two years. I definitely feel the pressure at the beginning of working on the album. I have a wrestling match with myself saying “oh, you’ve run out of terrible things to say, you’re never gonna make it.” You know just having more and more eyes on you makes that darkness get a little heavier sometimes. But on the other side of the coin, it’s so SO inspiring to have people love what you do and people waiting for what you’re going to do. People anticipating particully the lyrics you know means the world to me. The people that take the time to get into that so I try to honour that have that respect to us in the major way and try to represent what I love about death metal in what we do. I try to up what I do in the past in terms of obsenity and creeping people out. [Laughs]. That’s a great pleasure I have, lots of necrophilia, loves of blood and guts, all the good staples that brought me into death metal so hardcore as a kid are something I’m always going to be representing.
Jack: What inspired the night time theme?
Trevor: That’s really been somethings that’s been ongoing since the very beginning. To me death metal is the music of night time and night time is the setting on which evil thrives in general. Being on the side of metal is aligning yourself with an evil for sure in my eyes, it’s devil music an thed music of rejecting the norm and the music of rejecting the shackles of religion for more free thought. It’s also very vampiric to me, the lyrics of Black Dahlia. We have a lot of vampiric lyrics, a lot of werewolves kind of thing so night time is the setting where all things macabre kind of transpire so it’s very natural for me to do that. I look at it as the night time is our time, it’s the right time, it’s where anything cool happen, it’s where metal shows happen and it’s the time for death metal.
Jack: Rather than sticking to a template, you prefer to do things organically, why is this?
Trevor: It’s staying the course I think, we want to be one of those bands like your Slayer or your Cannibal Corpse that stays on this road where the fans know what they are going to get. They know you’re not going to left turn on them and start singing or bringing in a DJ or something. But they also know you’re going to strive to have quality and to outdo what you’ve done in the past. It’s like strandling a line in a way and that’s been it, it’s been the mission statement since the beginning and we’re still honouring that same kind of melting pot of black metal, death metal, thrash metal and melodic metal. But there is always new stuff coming in and I think that’s what keeps it fresh too for us peronsally is becoming better players and incorporating more musicality into things, incorporating more dynamics and small details which help differentiate the songs. And with our age has come certain wisdom I think in how to make better Black Dahlia songs.
Jack: What was the recording process like as a whole especially with the new members in the mix.
Trevor: It was great, it was really exciting. I think it was a really easy, natural process. Now that we’ve done it eight times or more including the EPs and stuff. The studio is a lot more relaxed than it was when I was first starting out, it’s a lot less intimidating. I enjoy that process, it was a bit piece meal in the way some bands do it. We had Bart, Ryan Lee Williams our old bass player. He tracked the drums, then he tracked the rhythm guitars and the bass. We had Joe Sincata from Full Force Studios out of New York, he came here to track my vocals. Brandon did his own solos at home because he has a lot of studio experience which was very very cool, saved us a couple of bucks there. Then we sent the entire product to be mixed by Jacob Hansen out of Denmark and he’s a legendary producer, done a lot for melodic metal and a lot of different styles in the underground. We wanted to have a European touch to it because we are very much Scandanvian sounding at heart and a lot of our influences have differently stemmed from there so it was very natural. The production just seems to be the best yet so it seems it was very much the right decision.
Jack: You’ve been with Metal Blade for every album, what’s it like working with them?
Trevor: Still outstanding man, we’ve resigned with them twice in our career and they’ve always been so gung ho with us and put a lot of energy into us this entire time and I’m just thankful for that relationship. I really love those people, I hug them and try to put as much Jagermeister inside of each one of them as I can when I see them. [Laughs] They’re just really cool, they’re my friends. I feel a mutual love and respect for them so I love flying the flag for Metal Blade still after all these years and being considered one of the flagship bands for this era of the label. So it’s an honour, it’s a priveldge and I can’t see us being with anyone else man they’ve always been such a family affair you know.
Jack: That’s good to hear as when I’ve spoken to anyone from Metal Blade for interviews they’ve always been very understanding and supportive with what we do and I get the same impression they’re like that for bands as well.
Trevor: Yeah they’re just good man, they care. It’s a passionate label driven by passionate people for this music and to me it shows in every way. I think they saw the same passion in us as youngster and Brian Slagel (head of Metal Blade) maybe was attracted to me in particular being a bespectacled nerd, a fellow Rain Man for metal information; just wanting to soak in as much as possible and seeing the underground as not just an opportunity for us, but also seeing it as a whole in all the different bands play and in the way in which we loved as fans too.
Jack: With Metal Blade you’ve released an album every two years since 2003, what’s the reason for this rigorous work ethic?
Trevor: We’re on an accelerated pace like that because we just think it’s working. We think that being everpresent is better than letting it fade or lose momentum. We want to have fresh stuff coming out and with each album is like a rebirth of excitement for new people; it’s new music, new tour opportunites, new artwork, new t-shirts, just new everything that you do as a band. It’s been a really good tactic to keep stuff coming at such a rapid fire pace, especially in this world. I think the internet has made music a little more disposable to people than it was 20 years ago when I was getting into death music. It’s an oversaturated crowd out there and it’s definitely good to stay omnipresent and stay in people’s consiciousness and it’s been the goal and it’s been paying off for sure.
Jack: Do you have day jobs outside of the band or is Black Dahlia the only thing you do?
Trevor: It’s the only thing I do, I live in Michigan and the economy basically collapsed here because of the car companies going under, so I am very fortunate in that regards as it’s very cheap to live here. We have three guys in Michigan, one of which does Uber driving but it’s mostly just to stay busy or something, he doesn’t really have to, I don’t believe. But we do have a couple of guys on the East Coast where things are very much more expensive and they have to seek out other things, doing a little bit of studio work in Brandon’s case or for Max it’s graphic design work. But I am very fortunate to have this be the only thing. It doesn’t seem like work to me, so it seems like I have a life of freedom in every way, it’s ridiculous to me so to call what I do a job would be very much a stretch for me.
Jack: Did you ever imagine you’d be touring the world when you formed back in 2001?
Trevor: No, but it was a dream and I think I was the person who brought the idea to the fold of wanting to even leave the state. It was the first thing I said to those guys when I met them and came to try out was “alright man I want to do this, I want to get us signed, I want to get out of Michigan and I want to go do stuff. I want to have people buying an album from us or something.” I was just looking at it as being something that would potentially be something that grew beyond a local band even before we started anything. I think I introduced that mind set to them and that was one of the things that attracted them to my personality and had me in the band for it I believe.
Jack: In terms of your carrer in the sixteen years of being a band, what’s been your proudest moment?
Trevor: I really think it’s now, I think it’s this album but there have been a lot of turning points and flagship kind off moments. I think getting on Ozzfest on our second album was huge in terms of getting us in the eyes of the press and getting us into peoples conciosuness, that was a really big turning point. The first Summer Slaughter and the Nocturnal album both came out at the same time. That was a huge moment, it put us at the top of the bill over Kataklysm, Vader, Cryotopsy, Aborted and Psychroptic and all these incredible bands. So it was a huge compliment and it paved the way for even more success. That moment was just a huge eye opener.
Jack: Last year you toured with Napalm Death, what was it like touring with a band that influenced you?
Trevor: It was awesome man, it was actually our third tour with those guys actually. The first of which was in 2005 on a Christmas Tour, Xmas Festival across mainland Europe. We just hit it off with them really good, I revealed my fandom to them very early on and they liked our goofy kind of swagger I guess. They really talked to us and took to us, we’ve always got it on really good with those guys and it was very much an honour to play with them in the States. Yeah man I love them, Barney and Shane in particular are just the coolest dudes, Mitch I love too, you don’t see him out on the road that much anymore but he’s definitely still an integral part of things. So nothing but love for those guys. It’s definitely a huge honour to get any kind of a nod from the old guard of bands. It’s gone from me staring at their posters in my bedroom at 13, to walking round a town in Holland with them or something so it’s a very cool life for me. It’s not the most lucriative thing, obviously for an extreme band things are going very well. We’ve transcended the kind of glass ceiling on some of what is possible with death metal I think in that way. But also my life is so rich in that I get to be surronded by music all the time and get to rub elbows with a lot of cool bands that I worship and meet people I respect; and as a fan this has been the most awesome trip.
Jack: That tour took place during the US election last year, did that affect the tour in anyway?
Trevor: I think in particular with Napalm and them being such a politcal force and being so obviously an opposition of Trump coming into power, I think people are going to need Napalm in these times and it’s a special thing. For us we kind of provide an escape I think with our fantastic approach and that’s what I like to offer to the world. Whatever, it’s macabre music, it’s about murder, it’s death but it’s about bringing people in the form of a concert, in a scene and a common ground and idea. There is a togetherness, there is a comradary and there is a lot of smiles to be had a lot of fun to be had in death metal.
Jack: So the whole election of Trump and the rise of the alt-right hasn’t affected the album in anyway?
Trevor: I think it definitely put that gloomy shade over the world I think. It’s a shock, it’s a scary time for us in the States and it feels like we’re out of our own control. So yeah I do feel like that stirred things up in everyone. It’s a dark time for all of us you know.
Jack: You came back to the UK this year for Tech Fest, how was it?
Trevor: It was very cool, it was a big success. It was cool to represent and be acknowledged in such a way because I do feel like we have a lot of technical stuff, especially in the most recent years. I liked how varied the fest was, in different styles, all under the one banner of being technical players. So it was a cool, different kind of line up that what we normally see and I think it was pretty well received our performance there so I was pleased. But I’d like to have more UK dates, I believe we’re going to be back in the winter time, I can’t reveal who with but it is pretty exciting and it should come out in a couple of weeks and we’ll be back around January.
Jack: You’ve played the UK a lot, I’ve seen you four times. What do you love about the UK?
Trevor: To me it is a very metal place man, there’s a very strong, rich history of metal around Earache and just classic death metal bands coming out of there. You’ve got your early Paradise Lost, Bolt Thrower of course, absolute legends, Benediction; so I have a lot of love for their old scene. There’s a lot of great bands coming out of the UK, Mithras, Crucimentum, Spearhead, just a lot of really exciting bands and sounds. I feel like it’s one of those scenes where the people aren’t fickle, I feel like people are lifers as metalheads in the UK, a lot like mainland Europe too, they stay the course and that’s like me, not a trend hopper you know I’ve been loving metal for so long I’ve been kind of tunnel visioned on it. So I have a lot of people that really enjoy the history of metal, as well as the new stuff and just stay with it you know.
Jack: I’ve actually met you twice, once at Bloodstock and once at The Underworld with Benighted. I remember Brian was chuffed that I came out just to say thank you for coming over and playing. Also you gave me a hug for seeing you two nights in a row. How does it feel to have such dedicated fans?
Trevor: It’s amazing dude, that’s the thing that drives this entire thing is the love and respect for our fans, the excitement for our music, the continued excitement for new material and new tours and new everything. It’s important to us to break that fourth wall and shake hands and reach out to people. You know metal people are my favourite people in the world, they’re my escape from everything. When I was in high school I was the only person of my kind that I could find; so diving just head first into all this and just surronding myself constantly with the scene and the underground too. Just keeping my nose the ground in that regard, always checking out new bands and sounds. Metal is my entire life, it’s my passion, I have so much love for fans and metalheads in general.
Jack: How did you find that tour with Benighted?
Trevor: It was wicked man, I really enjoy those guys. I’m a big fan and I have all their shit, so it was a huge honour to finally meet them and find they very much were mutual fans of us. They are incredibly disgusting live, so it was kinda hard to keep up and it felt like a challenge which is inspiring. Julian is one of the sickest vocalists I’ve ever seen or heard. He is one of the most, beneveolent, nice, hardworking people. He’s a force in the underground, that dude is exactly who you should be in the underground, he is fucking awesome and I love that man. It was natural for me to… when they asked me to sing on a song on the new album I jumped at the opportunity with a heartbeat. So I have nothing but love and great things to say about that.
Jack: Apart from coming back to the UK in the winter, what are your upcoming plans?
Trevor: We have a tour that kicks off very shortly, it starts the day before the album drops on October 5th. We’ll being going around the States and into Canada with Suffocation, Decrepit Birth, Exhumed on a few dates, Necrot out of a Cali, they’re really awesome upstarts. Also Wormwitch is a newer band that is very cool and we are having them open, its’s a kind of black and roll thing. A nice varied bill, lots of awesome, respected bands. It’s very exciting to have a legendary band like Suffocation be on the bill and be peers to us. They’re one of my favourites, they’re my very first death metal band I ever fell in love with so huge, huge honour for me.
Jack: Where do you see The Black Dahlia Murder in five years time?
Trevor: Doing the exact same thing man. We’ll be coming out and be between two records then, because we always put them out every other year. But yeah doing the same thing man, we’ll be a few more records deep and hopefully we’ll keep ramping up this excitement that seems to be growing and growing. The pre sales for Nightbringers right now are breaking all the rules man, we broke Metal Blade’s record that this is the biggest preorder they’ve ever had of any album. That is really indicative of this constant growth and this is like it will be the biggest era yet for us. So I imagine, hopefully in five years you know, my dream would be to keep it going and see it get even bigger but who knows.
Jack: I’ve always wanted to know this but you always finish live with ‘I Will Return’, do you ever see yourself putting a different song at the end or is this it for the future?
Trevor: We mix it up a bit but overall I feel like that is it dude, that’s one of my favourite songs if not my favourite that we’ve done. I feel like it embodies a lot of what we do in a great way and that it has that important drama to it that makes it a great closer. We try to think about the album closer songs that try to pick out one that has a lot of dramatic sense and I feel like it is a closer and it will be stuck around for sure.
Jack: Finally when I spoke to Jason Netherton from your friends in Misery Index, he said he finds extreme metal so appealing because “It satisfies something in our inner-self, it satiates desires, it takes the edge off, it fuels our creative spirit, it reifies our imaginations“. Do you feel the same way when you play extreme metal?
Trevor: Oh yeah that’s like the appeal. To me it’s an escape for me to create it and an escape for me to play it. It’s an undying passion, it’s representing traditions that I see as important in the form of our band, whether it’s artwork and themes or lyrics and sounds. You know metal is the driving force for my entire life and I’m very passionate about it and I can agree on all those levels there.
Jack: Thank you for your time.
Trevor: Our dude, thanks for having me.