“We Chill in a Weird Niche”: An Interview with The Black Dahlia Murder vocalist Trevor Strnad

By Andrew Bansal


Hailing from Detroit, Michigan, melodic death metal group The Black Dahlia Murder have established themselves as one of the genre’s modern-day mainstays in the 15 years since their 2001 inception. They found a stable home at Metal Blade Records very early on in their career, and all seven of their full-length albums released till date have been on the same label. Touring extensively with other extreme metal bands across North America, Europe and beyond, The Black Dahlia Murder initially often found themselves slightly out of place, owing to genre elitism on the part of the audiences. But on the strength of technically skilled musicians and an entertaining frontman, The Black Dahlia Murder kept releasing solid albums and putting on high-energy shows to win over the harshest of critics, and succeeded in creating their own niche. Most recently, they completed a co-headline North American tour with Napalm Death last fall, and during that run, vocalist Trevor Strnad spoke to Metal Assault about all things TBDM. Enjoy the candid conversation below.

Trevor, it’s good to have you on Metal Assault, man. You guys are coming towards the end of a co-headline tour with Napalm Death. I was at the LA show at the Regent, and it was really great. How have things been going for you guys through this run?

It’s been killer, man! This is our third time touring with Napalm Death, over the years, so it’s kind of like a family affair. We know those guys pretty good. The first time was in 2004, our very first experience with them over in Europe. They were just really cool to us and we hit it off really good. So, it feels familiar to be back with them. It’s awesome!

They’re obviously a lot more senior than you, but I think they’re still relevant enough and going strong enough to be co-headlining a tour with a band like you, in 2016. That’s testament to their longevity as well.

Yeah man, that’s awesome and they’re one of the bands we look up to for that. Ever since we came out, we shopped to be a longterm band, and bands like Napalm Death and Cannibal Corpse were always the go-to examples of bands that survived from generation to generation, and they just keep on trucking. It’s amazing.

Right, and from what I’ve observed, Napalm Death and The Black Dahlia Murder have two different sets of fans. Some people are coming to shows on this tour only to see one or the other. A band like yours, you have always been influenced by bands like Carcass and Napalm Death, and you do have that death-grind element as well. Do you think you have more in common with Napalm Death than may be some people realize?

Yeah, I see it that way. I see that we have a lot of crossover in what we do, doing the same kind of things. I do see that there’s people coming for one or the other band on this tour, and that’s fine, because I think we’ve won them over and Napalm Death have won some of our people over. That’s what touring is all about, man, not necessarily just preaching to the converted, but reaching a little bit, trying to reach some new fans. And I think there’s a lot of people that like both bands already, so it’s cool. It’s definitely a generational difference, but not necessarily in the fandom. There’s all kinds of people that like Napalm, all different age groups and stuff. So, it’s been really interesting.

I spoke to Barney from Napalm Death at that show in LA and he was saying that he prefers when there’s no barricade in front of the stage and people can go crazy, stage dive and all that stuff. At that show you guys had a lot of that happening during your set. Do you like that?

I like it when there’s no barricade. We definitely have that in common. I think that’s kind of like one of the punk elements of our band. People call us a hardcore band, sometimes, or see that we have hardcore influences. That’s what I see when I say that, the full-contact kind of show where we like people singing into the microphone, stage-diving, crowd-surfing, circle pit, the whole nine yards. So, I guess we did kind of take that from hardcore, and we do want the same things, us and Napalm, in that regard, that’s for sure.

Even people who get up on stage, that whole thing has evolved over the years. Now people take selfies, which was not something that existed even a few years ago. That’s something different for you as well, I’m sure.

Oh yes, it’s extremely strange. We’re still kind of coping with that. I prefer if people just came up and jumped off. I don’t mind a hug or a high-five or whatever, but sometimes people stay there too long, just trying to do their stupid social media stuff, you know.

Exactly. So, this is a co-headline tour for you and you’ve done other tours along the same kind of lines where you either co-headlined or were main support. In those cases, did you ever have any hecklers that you noticed when you were up there trying to talk to the crowd?

That was more so in the early days. I think there was less awareness of us, and people just did not want to see a short-haired band alongside a band like King Diamond or something. That’s when we had the most hecklers, I would say. Starting out in Europe too, going over there being a short-haired band, and not a lot of that kind of bands had been there at the time yet, and it was a new thing for them. They kept asking us everyday, “You’re a talented band, but why are you here?” (Laughs) So, you know, there’s always somebody. There’s always detractors with this band. We kind of chill in a weird niche, I think. Some people are into it and some of them aren’t. So, what can you do.

Do you think that contributed to you changing your own look? I have to admit, before this last LA show I hadn’t seen you guys in at least a couple of years and you looked a lot different this time.

Well, it doesn’t have to do with conforming to what I think what’s normal in metal or whatever, but I don’t know, I just tried to grow my hair out several times but this time I made it! Everyone is saying I look like Jonathan Davis from Korn, so I might kill myself soon (laughs).

Right! And in comparison to somebody like a Johan Hegg or a Corpsegrinder who are more like towering personalities and larger-than-life kind of frontmen, you are in a different league, I think. You’re more on the same level as the fans, even. Do you think that makes you more relatable in that sense, when you talk to the crowd?

I think that’s one of the biggest things that’s transcended through our music, just how we present ourselves. I want to be seen as a fan. I’m a fan of metal first, I’m just lucky to be here, to be able to spectate all this awesome shit. So, I do think that’s what attracts people to our band, and I guess they just see something different in that sense, and that we don’t do the normal thing. I like all those bands, I like Behemoth, they come out and they’re very serious and they never break character, stuff like that. But it’s just not for me. I can’t not smile up there, first of all. I’m so grateful to be up there, receiving this energy from the crowd. I’m just so happy to be doing what we’re doing that it’s hard for me to suppress my smile. So, that kind of blows up the whole “looking cool” thing, for us (laughs).

And you don’t really pronounce song names in a death growl voice before you play them either.

Oh right, there’s all kinds of weird stuff we do. A lot of times we’re just up there telling fart jokes. So, we’re all friends and we kind of bring our personality as a group to the stage, I think. I just see myself as one of them, one of the crowd. I still do. So, I guess I just approach it with that kind of attitude.

Definitely, and I think it goes a long way in the live shows. One more thing I wanted to talk to you about this tour is, I noticed that you have Brandon Ellis filling in on guitar. I didn’t honestly know that he was doing this tour for you, and all of a sudden I see him on stage, and it’s like this guy pops up out of nowhere for any band. But he’s just that good. How di you find him?

Ah, well, Ryan (Knight) warned us about him stepping down. He’s been out of the band for a year-and-a-half now, and before that, he told us that he was running out of steam for the touring and had to go home to his kid. We knew that was going to happen some day. The whole kid thing was putting a shelf life on how long he could stay with us. So, in the back of our minds we were prepared for the moment when Ryan would have to leave, and we were like, well, who should we get? Ryan was like, Brandon could totally kill it. So, he was the first choice, and in secret we had Brandon learning the songs for about a year, so by the time he came to play with us, he was just murdering it. He’s done a lot of work to be here. It’s kind of a weird phase right now where we don’t have new pictures yet, as we’re on the end of an album cycle. But people will be made fully aware of his presence in the band sooner than later, and I look forward to that, for his sake. He’s awesome, man. He’s brought a lot to the live show and he’s real exciting to play with. He’s young and full of energy. I mean, he’s freaking young, compared to me. I’m 35 and he’s 24 (laughs). He’s insane. So, it’s a pleasure, it’s been a really smooth transition, and I thank Ryan for that. He didn’t want to put us out and he wasn’t leaving on bad terms. He wanted this to go as well it could, and it totally did. So, I’m thankful for that and thankful for Brandon joining the ranks. So yeah man, it’s all full speed ahead as usual.

Awesome, man. That’s good to hear. After this tour, what’s next for The Black Dahlia Murder?

We’ll be off for a while, into the Spring, and we’ll be writing and recording a new album. There’s really nothing done so far in that regard, but that’s how we like to do it. We just keep the writing and recording stuff completely separate from touring. It’s like different phases of the dahlia moon, I guess (laughs). So, I look forward to making a new record, specially having Brandon in the fold. I want to hear what he’s going to do it.

If you like what you’ve read, make a donation of any amount and help keep Metal Assault running full time!

The Black Dahlia Murder links: website | facebook | twitter | instagram