By Andrew Bansal
Los Angeles-based extreme metal trio Harassor have been the city’s epitome of subversive music for the past dozen years, and continuing on with their destructive, unrelenting brand of musicianship, they recently released their new full-length album ‘Into Unknown Depths’, a record that justifies its title and reaches further than Harassor have ever done before. On July 17th, they put on a typically skullcrushing performance at Complex in Glendale, for a show featuring a four-pronged lineup of great bands put together by Church Of The 8th Day and Thee Static Age. Before the show, I sat down with all three members of Harassor, namely Pete Majors (vocals), James L Brown III (guitar) and Sandor GF (drums) for a detailed chat. Read the conversation below.
It’s good to sit down and talk to you guys. Your new album ‘Into Unknown Depths’ came out a couple of months ago and sounds fantastic. How long did it take you to work on the album and finish it?
Pete: Very, very long. Almost exactly two years ago was when we tracked this record for guitars and drums. It was not until early 2013 that I would sneak into the studio on different nights to do the vocals for it, and then shortly after, we had some mixing sessions and were trying to get it done for hopes of a late 2013 release. But then by the time it was ready to be delivered, it was on a schedule for this year. It was still nice that Dais Records was down to do it, because after that long to take to make a record, we were not sure if they were still going to put it out (laughs).
Sandor: It was definitely very extended with fragmented sessions for the record. The drums were recorded in one or two takes, and same with the guitars I believe, in a few meetings. So it was one of those deals where we were able to record for a cheaper rate even though this is our first recording done in a proper studio with real production and a producer. But we did it on a budget with the help of friends, so little by little we finally got it done. It was kind of a smooth going but very delayed.
James: I want to add too, we were working on three releases at the same time.
Pete: Yeah, a couple of the releases came up after we had taken on the endeavor of doing the new record. The Glass Coffin split release was something we had already planned and we were kind of on the schedule for that, unlike anything we’ve done before (laughs), and then we got an opportunity from a friend, the comic book artist Ed Lujay to do that split with Author & Punisher. So literally then we were in the midst of finishing up the split with Glass Coffin and finalizing layout and artwork for the Harassor full-length on Dais Records. So all three releases ended up coming out in about a five-week period.
Sandor: And that’s not atypical for Harassor because we’re all working on different projects at all times. It just turned out that three Harassor projects were layered on top of each other. Besides, there’s James and Pete’s duo side project Dargar, James’ solo project Moonknight and my solo project Lord Time. So we’re always working on all of these and just shuffling it constantly. It’s chaotic but it’s just pure creativity.
Pete: Yeah, Sandor and James have new records coming up with their projects and Dargar is doing a split with Demonologist that’s going to press any day now. After that we’re waiting off on a full length of material that was also mostly done two years ago. But that’s a bedroom thing that will never be live. It’s just me and James where I do some guitar and vocals and James does all the leads and drums.
Interesting. You said that the Harassor album was very fragmented. Do you think that’s why it has a mix of everything in terms of the style of the material?
Sandor: You know, I would say that it’s very diverse and we consciously picked out diverse songs, but all the drums were recorded in one session, then all the guitars and all the vocals. So it was still one batch of songs and it was not like different recording sessions for each.
Pete: The process took a long time, and there are a couple of very new songs which I think we had to convince each other that we were ready to record at the time when we were tracking. These are standout songs, a little bit different tempo-wise, like ‘Winter’s Triumph’, and ‘Purest Hate’ specially. I think we were skeptical to track them in those sessions because they were so new and also very different from the rest of the record. But yeah, that was really where we were at the time and we’ve written a few new ones that were on the Glass Coffin split, one of which we’ll play tonight, called ‘The Deathless Urge’. That was a totally different process because it was all improv jams, then I would go back and do vocals and James goes back to overdub guitars. But the songs for the full-length were the songs at the time that were done, so the time it took to record it was just more or less finding the time to get into the studio and to get things done the way we wanted.
Sandor: Yeah, we’re all busy ‘professionals’, if you will. We all have full-time jobs. So the band stuff is really done only whenever we find time on the side and however things work themselves out. It’s all self-financed, DIY, so whenever we can actually make it happen, it happens. But sometimes it’s a struggle. This record is very diverse musically, because we kind of figured this was going to be the introduction to a lot of people to Harassor. This is the first release on a proper label that’s not self-produced, more or less. But we definitely wanted to craft an album that’s very diverse and provides a unique listening experience.
James: The diversity in style is something I’m really happy about in the band, creatively. We have so many different influences and we listen to a wide range of music, even beyond just metal. So when we write, we’re not even really conscious of it. We’re just channeling all these influences into the songs and I think it shows because for me personally, going and seeing a black metal band where every song has a similar style or dynamics, those songs kind of start to run together and it’s hard to pick out distinct parts. So at least for me, riff-wise I strive to break that up and give people a variety of riffs, things you can hook onto and things that jump out to you in songs if you’re seeing us live, to avoid just coming out like a wall of noise and being monotonous. I like to mix it up.
Sandor: We don’t really come up with ideas to make a grindcore, death metal or punk song. It’s just naturally happening in our band. We’re always jamming and coming up with new riffs and if a riff pops up that we like, we just make a song around it. We love all styles and we don’t discriminate against anything. I mean, you’re probably not going to hear any hair metal in our music or soft metal with clean vocals though (laughs).
Pete: Yeah, we’re going to make our ‘Cold Lake’ later.
Sandor: May be one day! But yeah, we’re not just extreme metal fans, we’re music fans. So we have diverse influences and it shows in Harassor. To some people, this new record is shockingly diverse.
Right, it definitely shows. When I listen to this album, it seems like you haven’t held back. It’s fully expressed, and the title ‘Into Unknown Depths’ totally fits as you’re very exploratory in that sense.
Sandor: Yeah, sort of! I had a similar feeling about it. And even the cover artwork has a weird science exploration feel to it, as if we’re looking into the depths and discovering something.
James: But I agree. In this album it’s like we’re reaching out to places we haven’t gone before and there’s some different sounds on there that might surprise a couple of people that are used to what we do.
Talking of the subject matter of your music, every human being has negative qualities, negative expressions or whatever you may want to call it. You guys are lucky to have an outlet to express that …
Sandor: You got it right on the money. That’s exactly what it is! We put in a lot of negativity into this project. It’s definitely negative music with very, very bitter and negative thoughts but it helps us to keep sane, basically. For me, music as a creative outlet is totally essential. Without it, I feel like I’d be in a far worse mental space. That’s why I would like Harassor to be an inspiration to people. We’re not the most skilled musicians but we just love music and you know, we are skilled by now because we’ve been doing it for 10-15 years. But it’s not about that. It’s about creative expression, putting your heart and soul into it and even if it’s negative or hateful music, it can bring out positive experiences and inspiration for people. It’s interesting how that works. You guys would also agree, right?
Specially Pete with the way he plays on stage, I’m sure.
Pete: Well yeah, I joke around with a lot of people and tell them, ‘Man, if you would just sing in a metal band, you wouldn’t be such an asshole all the time’ (laughs) But like Sandor said, it is an outlet and if I didn’t have that, I’d be much more frustrated with my daily life, just going about my job, relationships and whatnot. It definitely helps me cope because it gives me that avenue to let that angst out. It is just true hate for people, because when the day ends, I don’t really care for people very much. But it’s an odd outlet for me because most people who know me or us in general think of us as pretty happy-go-lucky, easygoing and friendly people. I’ve heard people say that we’re the nicest metal band (laughs). So you know, we are who we are but this is an artistic expression and it’s totally different from me as a person. Having that outlet is key for me.
I’ve seen you guys live many times and you play as a 3-piece. I’ve never felt the absence of a bassist, but how deliberate is that?
James: Going into our history a little bit, we all met at Amoeba and we kind of wanted to start a black metal band as it was our common interest in that type of music. We had another band called Anathoth with a second guitar player, but even then we had no bass player. We wrote a few songs and the second guitarist left the band, but we decided to carry on and try to do something legit with it. We originally formed to play ‘Amoebapalooza’ at Amoeba, a one-off festival, and we came up with the name Harassor. It was just the three of us and I don’t think we were consciously excluding or keeping from having a bass player but it kind of didn’t happen and then over time, we just accepted that as the way to go. We decided that the three of us are the band and this is it. As a guitar player, I feel like I’m trying to compensate for the lack of the bass being there, so I tune my guitar super-low and we try to pump the guitar up in live shows and stuff. But that’s just what Harassor is.
Sandor: In my drumming style too, I’m the one-man rhythm section so I approach it that way and try to fill out the spaces, play hard, and it definitely affects our sound. The way the songs are built without a bassist is just what gives the uniqueness to the band. Some of my favorite bands from the past didn’t have a bass player, so I always kind of liked to flirt with the idea. Occasionally it’s a struggle to fill out the sound but we consciously try to make it heavy, specially live. It’s a very stripped-down sound and very much like a musical skeleton. But it’s got some meat on the bones, I think. It’s very interesting, it’s a stark sound. It’s unique and we just roll with it. Once back in the day we did jam with a bass player but he tried to change the song!
Pete: I think we initially wanted to have a bass player, we tried it out, we tried two guitar players, we moved rehearsal spots, we auditioned one guy and he wasn’t feeling it at all, so we just thought it would all be a lot easier if don’t even worry about that. It got so much easier after the other guitar player left, just in the way we were writing songs and working together creatively. It opened up the doors for us where we didn’t have one guy who was may be not happy with the song structure or felt that it needed to be more traditional. Once we lost that, we decided that we don’t need a bass.
James: We’ve all been on the same page since day one. We knew what we wanted to do.
As you mentioned, you’ve been a band for more than a decade and you’ve been playing shows in LA. You’ve stayed underground. Is that subversiveness also something you prefer, because of full-time jobs and other things?
Sandor: That’s just how things happen. I mean, of course it would be nice to make money or make ends meet playing music and we’re always happy if people are interested in our music, but where do you compromise? We’re an oddball band. We don’t compromise at all, we totally do our own music with our own ideas, and we’re not trying to sound like someone else or whatever’s popular right now. It’s just the Harassor sound. We’re very stubborn and singleminded, and sometimes I feel like we’re too different for a lot of people, a weird band with no bass player. Originally people had an apprehension towards us.
James: It’s like we were too metal for punk shows and too punk for metal shows, so we played both and we kind of don’t fit in exactly anywhere.
Sandor: Yeah, and we also play experimental shows sometimes with avant-garde bands and we have a connection with that audience too. So I guess we’re more artistic than some metal bands in a weird way.
James: I would like to have a career doing this, but the money is just not there. We’re realistic, and since we’re not going to make any money out of this, there’s nothing to lose! So we just do whatever the hell we want. We don’t compromise (laughs).
Pete: It definitely was a creative project where there was never any forethought into aligning ourselves into a scene. LA itself is geographically so spread out, there weren’t any tight-knit scenes and there was a whole thrash revival going on when we started, but we were closest to a lot of avant-garde, experimental music, and without even thinking about it or deciding to be this way, in our first few years we ended up playing almost only experimental shows. We would be the only band with a drumkit in a lot of those shows. And then we would play weird random shows with bands that ended up being big. Like I remember when we played with Intronaut in 2005, I was like, “These guys are fucking good and can actually play! Why are they playing this show?” That was when Leon del Muerte was still in the band. And then even when we played with Toxic Holocaust, that was like, “Wow, we really turn people on when we play with metal bands”. But we never thought to do things that way because people weren’t approaching us and we weren’t proactive enough to try to really market ourselves.
Sandor: Yeah, we’re an outsider band, not your typical metal band. But we’ve chosen that identity. Of course we want people to like it, but we don’t waver, we don’t change directions. We just go after our own creativity.
James: It’s like the success is just the icing on the cake. We happen to be successful, and that’s great, but we were really going to do it anyways.
You mentioned the LA scene and that brings me to my final question in this interview. You said that it was not a tight-knit scene back then, but I can say from my own experience that it’s that way even now. It’s very scattered, still. Would you agree with that?
Pete: It really is, and I think part of it is there’s just a lack of venues. The support system is not there, even though there’s a great fan base. We’ve embraced that a lot with so many friends that come out to our shows now who really support us and buy the releases. But with that said, there’s not enough places to play. I know so many people with labels and promoters that are looking to book great shows and they ask me, and I’m like, “Man, it would be killer, it would do well and it would be successful, but I can’t tell you where we could do that. I don’t know where that band can play.” There’s the typical places that you see a lot of shows at, specially for underground metal. There’s the Black Castle and the Five Star Bar where things happen weekly, but beyond that we’re trying to get an alternative. We’re often playing DIY spots, art spaces, galleries and things like that.
Sandor: Yeah, next Saturday we’re playing a big birthday bash at a underground warehouse space with a bunch of crazy bicycle fix-gear party people (laughs). So we do that kind of stuff and it’s very typical for Harassor. That’s where true underground music lives, because most pro venues are not willing to take chances on weirdo stuff that’s not a proven moneymaker.
Pete: We’ve played the Viper Room and the Whisky, and I can say that I’m not as comfortable on a stage as I am on a level plane field with the audience where we’re more eye-to-eye and we can get a feedback and feed off of what the crowd is doing.
Sandor: There’s definitely a more punk and more down-to-earth attitude towards it. We’re not trying to be metal superstars or virtuosos. We kind of frown upon that. I mean, we’re all metal fans here but we know that there’s a lot of comedy in the theatrics of metal, and in the personalities and the egos. We’re trying to be not like that, as much as possible (laughs)
James: We’re music fans just like the audience, and to me that’s the main thing. We’re not an ounce better than anyone else. Anyone can do it, can start their own bands and do their own thing. Ideally that’s what I would encourage.