Phone interview with Ross Dolan of Immolation
By Aniruddh "Andrew" Bansal
March 7th 2010, Los Angeles CA
Andrew: Your album 'Majesty And Decay' is being described by your label as your strongest, best produced and most crushing album to date. Can you elaborate on that?
Ross: Its definitely one that we're all happy with. It is kind of unusual for us all to be happy with a release because we're always very picky (laughs). We always find something wrong, something that could be better. This one, as the label said, is the best- produced record in our entire 22 years history. It's a very strong record, its very heavy and dark. It's a record that incorporates all the Immolation elements that our fans are looking for when they buy a record. It has the diversity in the tempos. It has the very heavy, dark sounding melodies. It has the fast parts. Steve did a really good job drum-wise on this album and you could actually hear the drums, so that helps (laughs). So yeah, everybody who's heard it so far is really happy with it. We're just in a good place right now because the feedback has been very positive.
Andrew: You recently toured North America as direct support to Nile. What were some of the positives coming out of that tour?
Ross: Well, it was a weird time to tour for us. Obviously the record wasn't out and usually we don't want to tour like that. Technically, we were still touring for 'Shadows In The Light', which came out three years ago. It was kind of like a pre-emptive strike (laughs). It was a move just to get in there and pre-promote the record. When we heard about the tour, we were obviously very excited about it because we knew it was going to be a strong tour. It was an extreme package with extreme package across the board [Nile, Immolation, Krisiun, Dreaming Dead and Rose Funeral]. The line-up was as strong as you're going to get today. It was definitely a fun tour for us. Personally I thought the shows did really well for an all-extreme tour. It's very hard touring today. You really need a strong package to bring the kids out to the shows. That's what we've seen over the past couple of years. The attendances were really strong and it was strong across the board, not just for us. It was a very good tour for everybody. We knew Nile for a long time. We did shows with them in 1999-2000. We've done three tours with Krisiun. We weren't that familiar with Dreaming Dead but we became good friends with them. They were a fucking amazing band and good people. Rose Funeral were solid every night. They were nice young kids. It was a strong tour and more importantly a good vibe. Everybody got along and it was fun.
Andrew: I agree with you on Dreaming Dead. They surprised everyone I thought!
Ross: Oh yeah. Laura and Liz are very accomplished guitar players. They're amazing, and every night they get up there and do their thing. You could tell that it's not just a gimmick. They are musicians and they can play their asses off (laughs). They have our respect for that because they are passionate about their music, they are good players and this is what they want to do. They did it well every night. I got a copy of their CD on the tour. I really like it, it sounds great. Good stuff! I didn't realize that Laura also played in the other band [Meldrum] with Gene Hoglan. We met him too and its always a pleasure because he is such a nice and humble guy.
Andrew: Your lyrics have mostly been anti-religion, touching a little bit on politics in the previous two albums. So lyrically, how does the new album compare?
Ross: There's little less on the religion side this time. I think we have only three songs that directly deal with religion. 'Power and Shame' is a song we wrote about the church. 'Comfort of Cowards' is another song about religion and there's 'Divine Code' which is more about the fanatical side of religion. The rest of the songs on the record touch on war again. We've had songs on the last couple of records dealing with war. This time more specifically, we went back. We're kind of history buffs and we read a lot so a couple of songs are WWII inspired. There's some political stuff, but not that much. It's very subtle and hidden. Its still there and there are some social issues like the purge. So it's kind of diverse lyrically and it's along the same lines on where we're going on the last couple of records. There are some different takes on some ideas. So yeah, its all very dark and it works well with the music (laughs).
Andrew: Your brand of death metal over the years has been very unusual, complex and dissonant. When you play it live, does that give you scope for more improvisation?
Ross: Honestly, people think its more complex than it is. It sounds more complex because there's a lot going on tempo-wise. We do a lot of additional guitar stuff where one guitarist is playing one rhythm and the other is doing something totally different. So, that kind of gives the illusion that there's a lot more going on, specially with the time changes and the way the tempo change abruptly, taking a left turn here and there. That kind of throws you off a little bit. So it's really not as technical as some of the other bands out there that are very technical and very well played. We try to make it interesting. We focus more on the feeling and the dynamics of the songs rather than being overly technical. We just try to write good songs whether its slow and heavy, or fast and destructive. We try to keep it interesting to listeners so its not just one thing straight through. Our songs have a lot of different peaks, crescendos and a lot of low points. It all goes back to the dynamics. They are key to our music. And when we play it live, we play it exactly as they are on the record. We don't take liberties of re-arranging or changing anything. I think Bob does a good job of nailing the solos each night.
Andrew: Its been said about the band that you never rely on previous albums for inspiration, and each new one is like an adventure in itself. Would you agree?
Ross: Yeah. Once we close the book on one album, we start moving forward and start getting into writing some new material it's kind of like a clean slate. We start fresh and it's usually after a break of sorts. Once an album's out, we pretty much do all the touring for the record and for that year, year and a half it's chaotic. You can't really focus on a new release. You want to separate yourself from that and clear your head. We usually take a few months where we don't even play or touch our instruments. We move into the new project with a clear head. It's a clear slate every time. We're inspired by life, pretty much (laughs). We're obviously inspired by music but also our day-to-day lives and what's going on in the world, as well as our moods and feelings throughout that time period till we start writing a new record. So we grab inspiration from all over the place (laughs).
Andrew: Which are the bands and musicians that have influenced you?
Ross: I've been more inspired by a lot of the earlier stuff because as a bass player, it was Steve Harris from Iron Maiden who pretty much inspired me to pick up the bass and start playing. That was the first band where I really took notice of the bass and appreciated it for what it was. So I have to say Iron Maiden was a big influence on me and for Bob as well, because Bob was a huge Maiden fan. He loved the Smith and Murray duel leads. He was very much inspired by Maiden. Then there was stuff like Black Sabbath, early Van Halen, early Metallica and all the early Venom and Slayer stuff. We came up through the ranks just like most metalheads back in the early to mid 80s (laughs). We were all into the same stuff and then it got gradually heavier and heavier. As far as Bill and Steve go, they are a little younger than us, not by that much but a few years is a big difference. So I think they were more inspired by some of the late 80s and early 90s wave of metal. So we have two different groups of inspiration within the band (laughs).
Andrew: Its good to know about the Maiden influence. They are Gods.
Ross: Maiden is classic, dude. I love all of their stuff. I must have seen them probably a dozen times. I've seen them on the Powerslave , Somewhere In Time and Seventh Son tours. They played a show at L'Amour in Brooklyn back before Seventh Son came out. L'Amour was like a small club that had a 1500 capacity. They played there under the name Charlotte And Harlot. They didn't even play under their own name. It was a surprise gig. It was one of the best shows because we got to see Maiden in a small club. It was amazing! That was the place where they had all the classic shows back in the 80s. Everybody from Metallica to Slayer to Possessed, everybody played there. That was also the place in New York where we went to see extreme metal shows back in the 80s.
Andrew: You've had a total of four label changes. How much of a say does a label have in a band's music?
Ross: Honestly, the music has always been ours. The label really doesn't interfere with the music, the sound or the production. It's basically up to the band to write a good record and pick a good studio. The label basically gives you the money for the studio. So if you don't have enough money, you can't go to a really expensive studio. Back 20 years ago it was a big deal because if you didn't go to a good studio, you wouldn't get a good sound. Today its very different. With computers and all the great recording programs that are out there now, you could pretty much record an album and make it sound as good as anything out there, in your house (laughs). So it's a little bit different today and that created a decrease in the studio cost. It is not as expensive to record something of the quality that you would need a bigger budget for, back 20 years ago. Everything's digital and it's a whole new ball game. But the labels really don't interfere in the sound or the direction. We just changed labels so many times because we've kind of been free agents, fulfilling contracts with labels and moving on to the next label. Right before this record, we decided to shop around to see what kind of interest we could get, and Nuclear Blast were the first ones to express interest. That's whom we ultimately went with because we felt it was probably the best move for us at this point in time.
Andrew: Death and extreme metal is not everybody's cup of tea. What do you think about that and what still inspires you to keep playing it?
Ross: Well, it is definitely not everybody's cup of tea. That's why we have different kinds of music. This is just something we enjoy doing. I always listen to all kinds of music and not just death metal. From classic rock to jazz, blues and popular stuff, I listen to everything. Of course, I love all kinds of metal. This is what I enjoy playing the most because I enjoy the whole process. I enjoy the creative aspect of working on new material, piecing it together and creating songs and writing the lyrics. I enjoy going in the studio, listening and watching everything come together. Then of course, touring is probably the coolest part about it. You're travelling to all these different countries and states. You meet all kinds of cool people and everybody is there for one reason, for the music! The whole process is fun. If we didn't enjoy it we wouldn't be doing it, because we don't make a living off of this. We all have full time jobs, we all work. This is just something we are very passionate about. We've been doing it for 22 years and I don't think we'll stop unless we get tired of it (laughs).
Andrew: Besides this album, what else is in store for Immolation fans around the world this year?
Check out the band's website www.everlastingfire.com.
Ross: Mainly we are working on live stuff now. We've got a few shows coming up in Europe in April-May. It'll be just five headlining shows and three festival shows. Then we plan on going to Europe in August, hopefully to do some festival stuff. We're going to work on doing a full tour in the States, possibly headlining in fall, with a full tour in Europe in fall as well, headlining. We'll see. At this point, whether we headline or not is not that important. I just want to get out there. If there are no packages for us to jump on, like the main support slot or something like that, then we'll probably wind up doing our own thing and just headline, take out some bands that we'd like to come out and tour with us. We have a couple of bands in mind but we'll see how it all works out. That's the plan right now, to do a lot of touring. We think the new album is very strong, we want to get out there and let everybody hear it live.