Interviews : Master
With Paul Speckmann
Paul Speckmann's wooly death metal brainchild Ė Master Ė was born over two decades ago in the bowels of Chicago's metal scene. Revolving around Speckmann's throaty roar, pounding bass and thick, bludgeoning riffs, Master are best known for their first two albums on Nuclear Blast Records. After their 1995 Pavement release, "Faith is in Seasonn" Master fell off the radar for many, but it was in those quiet years that Speckmann regrouped in Europe, rebuilt the band and continued to release albums and tour, tour, tour. Master's latest Ė "Slaves to Society" Ė is a ripping, violent, superbly-produced slab of true death metal the likes of which haven't been heard in ages and arguably the band's finest hour. If nothing else, one has to admire the tenacity it takes to not only stick it out for so long and against so much, but to come back to the table with this much fire still raging in the belly.
I admit to not having heard everything Master has ever done, but compared to what I have heard, "Slaves to Society" has to be one of the best Master albums. How do you rank it?
Well, it depends on your perspective. Let's face it, I still receive tons of mail and read countless accounts and reviews about the first two CDs. Many people will and have always believed that the debut Master album and my first official solo outing as a sole writer for Master called "On The Seventh Day God Created Master" are the best. But to be realistic, the last three CDs are the best in my opinion. "The Spirit of the West," "Four More Years of Terror" and of course "Slaves To Society" are my latest personal favorites featuring the strongest lineup weíve had in many years.
But again, the truth is that the first two CDs will be re-released on Displeased Records from Holland, and hopefully wonít overshadow the sales Slaves To Society. Of course I am pleased to re-release these classic Master CDs again, but people should really give the latest CDs a good listen.
If nothing else, "Slaves..." is easily the best sounding Master album to date. What / who takes credit for the huge leap in sound quality?
I am not really sure how to take the question as Scott Burns produced...well, actually remixed the debut CD back in 1989, and I was sort of forced to use his so-called expertise on the second album. Burns actually recorded The Speckmann Project as well. Many people loved all three of his CD mixes, but I think the inhuman drum sound detracted from the overall sound. But what do I know; these records sold many copies. I am the first to admit that Mr. Burns recorded some great albums with many of the early pioneers at Morrissound, but I personally didnít really like the sound he produced for Master. The bass was never heard on a realistic level. When we recorded "On the Seventh Day...", I remember going to his car and listening and the bass was really killer, but he said it was a bit too much. The final mixes were actually finished after I returned to Arizona, and when I listened to the record there was little or no bass guitar. When he remixed the debut Master album, he forgot many guitar solos. So much for being a professional. When I called from Phoenix, he said, "Sorry Paul, itís too late." So the Displeased release will feature the original Speckmann and Schmidt mix, with real drum sounds as well as bass guitar, and of course all the missing guitar solos. So for real fans, you might want to go out and get the re-release of the first Master debut.
As for the sound quality for the latest CD, we have pretty much had a similar sound on the last three. We are using the team of Petr Nejezchleba, and Pavel Havlica at Shaark Studios in Bzenec, Czech Republic. I have been recording with these same engineers since I moved to the Czech Republic in 1999. If itís not broken, donít fix it. This is an underground studio, which invests and improves every year with the latest technological advances in recording. Actually they had their first US band called Mucopus from New York a few months back. So anyone interested in a working holiday in the Czech Republic should contact the studio, and tell them Speckmann sent you.
As for the leap in sound quality, this means you must of listened to the shit sound from "Faith is in Season" back in 1998. This album had a shit sound from the beginning, as the guitarists on this album knew nothing about their own guitars, let alone sound. I had nothing to do with the production of that record, except for writing the songs. The music wasnít captured properly on that CD, and for this I apologize. I will say that even with that shit production, we did make it over to Europe, and for me the rest is history. I have lived and prospered in Europe ever since the tour for the CD with Malevolent Creation, Master, and Krabathor in 1999.
How did you get back not only the rights to re-release "On the Seventh Day..." and "Master" but also the tapes to remix the latter?
The "On The Seventh Day..." CD is literally just a re-issue for this particular release.
As for the Master debut Ė which also will be rereleased Ė this is the original mix without Scott Burns at the helm. Schmidt and I mixed the CD in Hoffman Estates at Solid Sound with engineer John Towner and sent the CD to Marcus Staiger and Nuclear Blast. They didn't like the raw heavy mix, and at this time it was becoming fashionable to mix with Burns at Morrissound. So after Nuclear Blast heard the sound they forwarded the tapes to Burns for the remix. Burns left out many of Mittelbrun's guitar solos and basically triggered the drums. The debut has the absolute original mix which has more power than the Burns mix.
Of course both CDs wil be remastered...
As for the rights, I regained all the rights to all the NBR releases in 1993, so if anyone wishes to re-release Abomination, it's available.
Does your label (Twilight Vertieb) appreciate how good it is? Are they supporting it?
This is such a great question. I suppose they like it, but every label can improve on distribution as well as promotion. They are supporting it, but as I said things could always improve, and I hope they will. Itís a small family label and they absolutely are doing the best that they can. The label continues to grow every year, and hopefully we will grow along with them. Time will tell I suppose. John from Incantation may set up a license with Twilight, and this will help with the distribution from Ibex Moon Records in America. I certainly hope an agreement can be reached, as I know many Master fans cannot find many of the last few releases in stores.
I can't help but think that the new album is a bit thrashier than your other releases. It's still clearly death metal, but would you say there any accuracy in that?
Yes, I suppose the younger generation of the players in my band have contributed to the feeling in some ways. I have musicians in the band from different backgrounds I suppose. They are younger of course and listen to the likes of Anthrax, Exodus and many of the earlier Bay Area Thrash bands, as well as newer school stuff as well.
I wrote all but two songs on the album. Actually this is the first album with Alex Nejezchleba writing a few tracks, and itís killer to have some help, and different ideas. I welcome this, but it is rather hard for me to find decent writers. I mean even the few tracks he wrote had to be rearranged by yours truly, but I think they turned out well anyway.
"Slaves..." has one of the better death metal bass tones I've heard. Distorted but now fuzzy, present without being overbearing, punchy but smooth, etc. Can you shed a little light on your rig?
We used my Ampeg SVP Pro 2 again, as always. I went directly through the board, and we also tracked my Hartke 500 watt amp as well. A good mix of the two seems to work out for me. I used my Gibson Blackbird as well on this CD.
Also, do know what Nejezchleba (guitar, hope I got the name right) played through for the album? Again, great tone.
Alex used a combination of three heads and two boxes, the likes of Marshall, Peavey and a Double Rectifier.
It'ís funny because RockHard Germany said the CD is killer, but the production is totally old school and doesnít compete with modern productions. I am old school, and this is what you get.
How would you describe the difference between an 'old-school' production and a modern one?
The truth of the matter is that any drummer with a basic rhythm can trigger the drums and get a decent sound in my opinion. Drummers like Schmidt and Nejezchleba as well as Nickeas were power hitters and didn't need triggers live or in the studio to enhance their playing. These guys were using sheer energy.
Today, everything is so over-produced the musicians sound inhuman. It's only my opinion. I still use an original real sound for the Master records, and I suppose this may be why some don't like this original normal production. Hell, in the old days we used analog and there was no punching in. Today with the flick of a switch you can punch in the drums as well. This takes away the talent as far a I am concerned.
Your voice sounds venomous, as well. Has it gotten easier / harder for you to sing that way over the years?
For this record I spent quite a bit more time recording the vocals. It seems when recording vocals these days, it is much more difficult for me, but live itís no problem. I normally record an entire album in 2 hours, but this time I recorded a few songs a day, usually two or three takes in an hour. I drink a lot of hot tea, as before it was only whiskey, but times change, as you get a bit older. The whiskey is only live on stage now.
Who's responsible for the lovely cover art? I think Mother would love a copy for Christmas...
This was my idea. My friend Michael Kull created this masterpiece back in 1995 for the inside of "Faith is in Season" for the American release only, and I thought this would make a killer cover. Many people simply just donít understand the concept and call it juvenile. I suppose if you cannot face up to the fact that we are all Slaves To Society, then maybe you cannot fathom the meaning of the cover. And besides in Europe every gas station is filled with pornography, so why not give the Europeans exactly what they want?
Was it actually banned or are you guys just playing it safe with the altered art?
Twilight said they would never get the cover in the German stores, so they had to change the cover. Whatever, it made it to the German shops so this is a good thing.
Twilight Vertieb doesn't seem to have much going on in the States. I see the new album on iTunes and Emusic (which is great), but are they getting the CDs over here? If not, does it matter? Just curious...
It matters completely, so as I said earlier in the interview, hopefully John will get this CD in the US shops, because of course I want the Americans to enjoy this killer record as well.
You have 21-date tour coming up in just three weeks. What's going on in the Master camp right now to prepare for that? Packing a van, printing up merch, rehearsals...?
No, we will be traveling on a double-decker night-liner with Lividity from Peoria as well as a few other bands form the USA and Europe. I have been working for a company called Kraft Evention in Germany for the last five years.
This keeps me extremely busy every year working as a tour manager, merchandiser or a roadie for the likes of Divine Empire, Macabre, Vital Remains, Testament and many others. I will join the reunion of Massacre, Jungle Rot and Denial Fiend in late October after the Master tour in September is completed.
Festivals seem to be popping up everywhere. Is this a result of an increase in metal's popularity, or are they replacing tours for bands?
I don't know about America, but festivals have always been prevalent since I have been visiting as well as living in Europe. But I do agree that many festivals are popping up in the USA. The thing is, is that I never seem to get invited to play at these US festivals. I guess the jealousy will never go away there. It's nice to have been part of the original wave of the original style of the genre. People it seems, would rather see the imitators in America more than an originals.
You've been in and around metal for nearly 3 decades. From your perspective, what - if anything - has stayed the same over the years?
The ability of the promoters to rip bands off for one, and of course the continued support of Metal fans all over the world united to a common goal. You know you can go to concerts in any part of the world whether itís Japan, Columbia, or Germany, and the people are united and there is no difference including race, color, or creed involved in the music. People all hang out and enjoy it. I think the politicians of the world could learn a thing or two from Metal-Heads.
What's changed for the worse?
Downloading is killer the industry for the artists. People are getting the music many times for free, and itís nearly impossible for me and others to get a fair share of the proceeds.
What's changed for the better?
The internet has improved the situation for interviews and finding festivals and tours for us.
Assuming that metal's no longer an outlet for channeling your excess youthful energy, what makes you pick up a bass and crank out a song like "Remnants of Hate" or "World Police" when you could just go watch TV and sleep?
Actually you are only as old as you feel. There is nothing like going on the stage and kicking ass to a crowd of raving lunatics, and I still get off on this energy every year, at every performance. I spend around 7 or 8 months on the road with Master as well as supporting other groups. I prefer the nightliner.
And how the hell do keep from repeating yourself? You can't possibly remember every riff you've put down on tape...
I have a great memory, and this comes from years of experience. I am absolutely non-mechanical, but my memory still works fine.
Master's bread and butter is mid-paced, chunky DM. Do you think playing with your fingers has anything to do wtih that? Maybe if you'd played with a pick, you would have fallen into the trap of playingasfastasyoucanbecauseit'snotreallythathardtodowithapick....?
There are many killer players that use a pick, and this doesnít matter too me. Only I prefer the fingers as itís a bit more challenging for me. I write the songs on guitar, so of course I use a pick.
By all accounts, Master has been criminally-underrated over the years. How do you feel about the position Master is in right now compared to that of your contemporaries from back in the day (Death, Obituary, Cancer, etc.)? Is there any frustration, or sense of injustice?
I donít really care about this theme as I know that Master has been around since the inception of the genre, and I am grateful to have been a part of this, and influenced so many in the genre, period.
Has flying low had any unexpected benefits?
I suppose I am still alive and kicking, not just another dead has-been.
What other overlooked bands from Master's early days should people dig up?
In another interview you mentioned that you're a hardcore fan from way back. What's your take on the "hardcore" / "metalcore" explosion that's been all the rage in the US the past 3 or 4 years?
What I said is Hardcore, GBH, The Exploited, and Discharge. The rest is just rehashed crap.
I'd like to get your thoughts on some of the recent "comebacks" of some of your colleagues from the good ol' days of death metal...
Obituary, "Frozen in Time" / "Xecutioner's Return":
I never heard either of the latest CDs, although I had the pleasure of joining the Tardy brothers on a European Tour back in 2004. We played too many sold out houses, and this gave me an opportunity to share the music with new as well as many old fans. I have to thank Frank for this. After we played Fuck The Commerce in Germany, Frank called the agency and requested us for the tour, as he said the Master debut was the first Death Metal record he had listened to.
Cancer, "Spirit in Flames":
Never heard it.
Trouble, "Simple Mind Condition":
I havenít heard it, but there is nothing like Trouble. This is one of the coolest bands ever to come out of Chicago, and hell I auditioned twice for Trouble and was excepted, but turned it down to continue with Master.
Deicide, "Stench of Redemption":
I never heard it. I mainly listen to old Heavy Metal. I not really interested in religious themes these days. I realize that people buy this crap continually. I suppose I like seeing the cross up Jesus ass as much as anyone else, but it surprises me how many people really believe their going to heaven or hell. I thought we were all going to Mars. Thatís what John from Dissection said???
Slayer, "Christ Illusion":
This record kills. It reminds me of the old days. I went with Alex Olvera from Funeral Bitch to the Aragon Ballroom backstage on the Hell Awaits Tour back in the day. Itís great to see finally a killer record from Slayer again after all the years of garbage they released.
You have a massive discography including and beyond Master. What highlights would you point fans of this album to if they want to dig into your back catalog?
Master- Master Master- On The Seventh Day God Created Master Martyr- Murder X The End of the Game Krabathor- Dissuade Truth Deathstrike- Fuckin' Death
That's all from me. Final words are yours. Best of luck on the tour!
Check out Slaves To Society, you won't be disappointed.