“We wanted to make Death Metal with a Street Attitude”: In Conversation with Internal Bleeding guitarist Chris Pervelis

Interview by Jason Williams

Long Island, New York death metal group Internal Bleeding has been in existence since 1991, and they are known as the ‘Gods of slam’, for injecting an unmistakable element of groove and slam into the genre they loved most as young aspiring musicians. In 2017, they are still going strong despite having recently undergone a change in vocalist, and the sudden and tragic passing of drummer Bill Toley, who died in April this year while on his day job as firefighter. Internal Bleeding recently concluded a North American tour as support act to Vader, and after the Santa Ana show at Malone’s on June 5th, our writer Jason Williams sat down with guitarist and founding member Chris Pervelis for a very open, honest chat about a variety of topics. Read it below.

There were a lot of issues outside the show on Monday at Malone’s, with the bus breaking down in Arizona. But it panned out to be an epic evening and excellent crowd response as well. I believe this is your first tour since the 2014 tour with Suffocation and Kataklysm. How would you describe the reception from the fans on this current tour?

Oh, it’s been absolutely amazing. Not only lot of long time IB fans coming out to the shows, but we’ve been gathering a lot of new fans, which is great. Selling a lot of merchandise, selling a lot of CDs, and just being complimented all around for our real intense, really fun nature, which we try to do. We try not to take ourselves too seriously, but really try to make everything fun. Everybody has a million problems in their life, come out, have some fun and let’s fucking rage, and have a good time, you know? We’re getting a lot of compliments for that, and I’m really happy that we can spread our music and our particular sound to the country, it’s real good and super excited about it.

The 2014 tour I mentioned, that was one of your first tours in many, many years. What was the initial anticipation for Internal Bleeding on that tour? Did you believe people would remember the band from the older days, or being on a tour with Suffocation would help the band’s exposure?

You know, that’s a great question. Our first real tour was in ’96, with Six Feet Under and Immolation. That tour really set a fan base, and then we didn’t tour again really until that Suffocation tour you mentioned. And that really did a lot of good for us. It really cemented us again with our old fans, and it really did introduce us to a lot of new fans. I always say there’s the underground bands, and then there’s the bands that are little above the underground. So a band like Suffocation, and Kataklysm, who have had larger labels, and far more exposure than us, who are I would say, a top underground band, but you know never got through the underground. So we kind of peeked our head above it, you know? It increased our fanbase. Just talking to a lot of fans, they remembered us from the Suffocation tour, so it made a big deal. I can feel the multiplying effect of all the work that we’re doing, I can feel it. It’s real good, and a wonderful tour for us. We’re also best buds with Suffocation, so it was like going out on the road with family. We didn’t get crap on that tour, we barely had any food, or barely had anything, and the guys in Suffo really stepped up, and literally took everything out of their room, and gave it to us. To eat, to survive on the road, it was a real great tour for us.

From the ’96 tour you were talking about, there was a real downtime between albums. Was Internal Bleeding technically broken up, or more on a longer hiatus? What were the causes for the band’s time off from the scene? Suffocation went through the same from 1998 to 2002, so was it the same for this band?

It’s kind of both, believe it or not. Pavement, our label at the time, in ’96 was flushed with money, and did a lot to support us. And then we got stuck with their contract and had no money. So we put out an album in ’97, and got no support for it. That was the ‘Extinction of Benevolence’ record. And then in 1999, we put out another album, ‘Driven to Conquer’, and got zero support for it. From I would say from ’97 to 2000, it was horrible, just no tour support. We played a lot of shows, you know? I did a lot of work myself to get us on shows. But no real tours. Touring is where you really solidify your fanbase and things like that. And then, we jump off record labels, finally got out of Pavement, and we got onto Century Media. We did two tours when we put out the ‘Onward to Mecca’ album, and then after that everything just fell apart. I went into hiatus mode, until I could kind of get my spirits back up, and get the band going again. Dealing with ten straight years of disrespect from the press, trashing our music and things like that, and a lot of bullshit from Pavement, screwing us royally, and just things not working out, I was so frustrated. The band just kind of fell apart, and went into hiatus from 2006, and wasn’t until 2011, that I said, my spirits are better, let’s get this thing back, get some fresh blood going, let’s really want to do this. It’s what I love, and I just needed time to regroup.

What were those aspects that finally brought your spirits up? Was it the fact that a lot of older bands have more help getting their music across with social media, You Tube, watching old show recordings?

I guess partially that, but the biggest part is that I missed it. My wife would see me in my room playing guitar all night, you know? And writing riffs and stuff, having a huge collection of riffs. She would tell me, “Why aren’t you putting the band back together? I don’t understand. Why are you sitting here depressed? You want to do this, this is what you live. So do it.” So she was the reason getting my ass kicked. I was just so depressed, and me saying, “Alright fuck it, let’s go.” And so now, here we are. We have renewed energy, lot of great new material, just really excited about the future and everything else.

From your most recent album release in 2014, ‘Imperium’, was that all the summation of the frustration and anguish you and the band were feeling up to that point? To get it out onto some great Internal Bleeding material?

It’s a great question, I think it was the perfect time to make the album. It came out, and the album did exactly what we all wanted the album to do. We invented the term “slam”, and slam turned into, I don’t want to say a mockery, I want to say slam turned into such a formula, that we said we got to do something. We have to push the genre forward, and move it and show people that it can be more than just “stop, breakdown riffs, stop, breakdown riffs.”

You can thank a large majority of deathcore bands for that.

Yeah, so we were adding some melodic bits, and also adding some solos and starting to play around with different rhythms and stuff like that, and I think it made a big difference. I think it pushed things forward, actually. I’m sure a lot of slam people don’t like it as much because it’s not as traditional, but I think it’s great. Really catchy and groovy, and what it should be. Catchy, groovy, full of hooks, more, even I would say it’s even more slammy than our old stuff. Just because it’s so groovy, and it’s what I’m always striving for, is that groove and those hooks.

I’m always fascinated to talk to a band member or a band as a whole, who either made a genre or was a part of it, as Suffocation did with brutal technical death metal, and yourself with slam metal. It may sound like a simple or redundant question, but how did you create slam? Did it come from non-metal genres, native instruments, various influences? What made slam, slam?

All of us loved death metal when we first started. And we also loved hardcore. The thing that we didn’t like about death metal, was what we called “technical noodling.” I can remember this, this is 26-27 years ago. It bored us to death. We didn’t want to watch someone do blast beats all day long, it’s boring. And of course, this is just our personal perspective, you know? That’s not for us. We told ourselves, that it’s got to be heavy, groovy, got to be death metal with a street attitude to it, because that’s who we are. We’re rough and tumble kind of fucking guys, you know? We’re cursing, and all kinds of fucked up shit, and we wanted rhythm. Rhythm was our thing, you know, and beats, stuff like that was our thing. So that’s kind of how we kind of put it together. Like a band like Suffocation on ‘Effigy of the Forgotten’, they had some slam parts, good ones, damn good ones, you know? You can’t deny it. But that wasn’t their thing, that just happened to be in the song. Our approach was, yeah we’ll have some blast beats, but the rest of the shit is going to be all groove! And that’s the defining difference, as we ran the other way. It caught on, it really did. And then coming up with the term slam, my drummer, may he rest in peace (Bill Tolley, died in a fire while on duty as a firefighter a few months ago), sitting in the diner, and we would talk and I would remember, the diner by the practice space, and saying that we needed a tag line for the band, just fucking around and talking. And we were talking about the word “mosh”, you know? We knew what we were, we were a band that got people to mosh, and wanted pit action, this and that. Then we’re talking about Anthrax, and my drummer’s like, “Anthrax sucks! I can’t stand them, they’re weak. We’re fucking Slam, that’s what we are!” And I said, that is a good idea. And that’s a punk rock term, slam dance, you know? And we took out the dance, and just put slam on it, and ran with that and called ourselves total fucking slam, because that’s what we are, we’re not mosh, that’s weak. Slam is where it’s at, and that’s kind of how it all came together. I didn’t think it was anything special at the time, we knew we were doing something different than everybody else, but we didn’t think it was special. But, going down the road, and you can look backwards at the trail of bands that you’ve influenced, it’s like really, wow… it’s pretty cool and exciting. It’s also been really cool that I’ve had people on this tour coming up to me, shaking my hand, and saying, “Thank you for paving the way, and really had an impact on me and my band.” It’s so gratifying, no money could ever make up for something like that, you know? That we’ve all had the ability to touch people’s lives like that, it’s a wonderful feeling. And very few people get to do that, and I’m really fortunate.

That was relating to my next question, about the tragic loss of the co-creator of the band and your friend and drummer Bill, and also with Keith DeVito leaving the band and having your new singer Joe Marchese taking over. DeVito was in the band for about 5-6 years, so can you discuss what went with that, and also through a very difficult and emotional time the entire band is feeling right now? Some are able to handle it perfectly, and for others it’s a lot harder. We’re human, with emotions, with no right or wrong answer on how to handle it.

With Keith, it really sucked what happened. Keith got injured at work, and it became very difficult for him to perform. He hurt his back real bad to the point where breathing was difficult, and he just couldn’t do it anymore. Keith was really upset and hurt about leaving, but he knew what was right for the band, and he left. And we’re all upset about it, but fortunately we had Joe ready to go, you know? He jumped on the opportunity and were able to mold him what we were looking for in terms of vocals, and he’s fit right in. Bill has been a whole different story. He was my best friend for 27 years, you know? Him and I were like this (crosses fingers). I can’t describe to you, the sense of loss, it’s just hard. I literally just stopped crying two days into the tour, is when I stopped crying, and I’m finally able to talk about it decently without breaking up. It’s just, he was such a great guy, and the loss was just fucking horrible. But him and I always talked about, that the band was like our child, almost the most important thing in our lives. We all have family, but you know what I’m saying. The band was super important to our lives. We discussed, the band goes on as long as me or Bill are around. And we had these discussions, and Bill would say, “I’m a firefighter, I could die any fucking second. Band’s gotta go on, you could fucking die, but the band has to go on.” As long as one of us is there. If none of us are around, the band can’t go on. (Long pause) And he fucking died, but the answer was easy. I already knew in my heart that it had to go on, or else Bill would kill me. Wherever he is, if there’s an afterlife, he would reach through the dimension, grab my throat, and rip it out, and call me an asshole and punch me in the face, if I didn’t continue the band. He was real excited about all the new material we wrote, you know? I still have a lot of his, at least half an album of his beats written and recorded. So whoever is going to play drums on the album, we have half of it that Bill wrote already. So it’s going to be great and we’ll put out the next album, and even though another drummer is playing it, Bill wrote those beats and everything like that, so it’s going to be real special. But the loss, I can’t even, words cannot express how much I miss him every day. Every time before we play or whatever, I sit down and smoke a cigar, because that’s what Bill and I did. We smoked a cigar and shared bourbon together, before a show. I still do that, as a tradition to honor him, because that’s what he would want more than anything. That’s what we talked about before this tour, “Can’t wait, we’re going to lounge around, smoke cigars and drink bourbon in every state!” It’s horrible, I miss him every day, but everything we’re going to do is a tribute to him, and crystallizes things and makes it more important. For us to carry on and to continue into making him proud, wherever he is.

My last question, was about discussing your longevity in Internal Bleeding, since ’91, that you’ve not only founded the band, but also part of a rich death metal history when those bands started, like Suffocation, Morbid Angel, Morpheus Descends, Cannibal Corpse, Deicide, Immolation, etc. You were around during the prime and birth era of those bands. Talk about from looking in the past then, what you remembered the most about, and what you believe this generation can learn from back then?

Oh wow, that’s a great question. I remember how, first of all, the shows were out of control, 500-700 a night. Even during the middle of the week. I hope that comes back, and I see signs of it. The camaraderie was just unreal, and I think there was, I hate to sound like an old crank, but I think there was a tighter bond between fans and bands back then. Because as a fan, you had to work to get in touch with the band, to touch and see the band, you had to write a letter. You had to go to a show, and couldn’t go to You Tube and say, “I’ll just watch an Immolation concert.” You had to go (laughs), if you wanted to meet the band. And when you went, you met the band! They weren’t assholes or didn’t fucking hide in the backroom. They would be hanging around and drinking beer, and it was an exciting time. I think some of that excitement is lost. On the other hand, I think it’s great because a lot more bands are getting more exposure, because of all the social media and everything like that. I think it’s really exciting in that respect, and I feel if somehow we can get the loyalty thing back. That’s the thing I think is the biggest and has to be. I was even loyal, even as a kid, I was loyal to bands. I was loyal to Black Sabbath and Iron Maiden, and whatever, Jimi Hendrix too. You’re a loyal fan, now I think many are acting wishy-washy. That short attention span thing, instead of watching a band grow and watching a band develop and then going on the ride with the band, you know? I’m still like that, fortunately I guess, and there’s still a lot of bands I like that I’ve seen throughout the years, that I get excited when an album comes out, and enjoy listening and saying, “Oh they changed this, and changed that.” You feel like you know them, and I hope and I’m still sure it happens. I’ve seen a lot in the underground, and see how they’re into it, but I just hope that loyalty thing stays. And it works both ways, the band has to be loyal to the fan. It just can’t be the fan being loyal to the band, you know? The band can’t abuse the fans, it’s got to be a reciprocal kind of thing. You have to respect each other back, and I feel if we get closer to that, that moral compass or whatever you want to call it, I think shit will explode.

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