Burying the Dead: San Diego death metal band Theosis talks about New Beginnings

By Sebastian Vazquez

Metal Assault recently sat down with San Diego based melodic death metal band Theosis to discuss their newest studio album ‘The Plague and the Heretic’ released via Dead Sea Records and chatted about their upcoming plans, the follies of being in a band, and their creative outlets. Enjoy the conversation below, with Theosis members John Haskins (vocals) and Dana Roselli (guitar).

So, let’s move it right along. Your recent studio release is out via Dead Sea Records. Is this your debut record?

Dana: We had released an EP a few years ago, but the production was not done very well and it had different members of the band, so we kind of did what Pantera did with their glam/power metal and kind of washed it away (laughs). Like we took it off the internet, so yes, you could call this one our debut.

So in a way, the record gets the band off to a fresh start …

Dana: Yeah, absolutely. Most of the stuff that we have been performing live over the last year or so made it onto the record. There is a couple songs that we have only performed a few times here and there, but for a lot of fans out here and our new audience it is our newest stuff. Like three of them were written right before we started tracking the album, and the other six we have played a bunch of times before.

John: Compared to our earlier stuff, our sound has changed too, especially my vocals and how I approach it.

I find your approach interesting. Starting fresh with your debut record and giving your audience the newest take of Theosis. What was the writing process like?

Dana: Well, a lot of the songs were written way long ago and were performed quite often. Obviously when we had our lineup changes and such, we did not have the style to include a lot of guitar leads and solos. Like now, we definitely try to incorporate dual solos and offer an opportunity for more leads to come out in the music. John did a great job of learning the old stuff and providing his artistic take on the music, but with the new stuff, he had a lot of room to still have the sound we used to have, but provide a new freedom to write whatever he wants to write. We had a lot of songs just sitting there and needed to get done for this record. The whole album was fun to do, man. Metal is such an expressive genre that if you are not putting in your emotion into the record then you should not be recording metal.

How did the recording process unfold?

Dana: It took us several days to track the record since our engineer had limited time in his day-to-day jobs to actually take us on, so it was a lengthy work in progress. The drums were set up in a studio and tracked there, and we actually had our bass drum directly connected to a MIDI, so that it became a lot easier for the mixing process and for any small patch work that needed to be done in post production. For guitars we were able to track all of them through pro tools, and then re-amp the tracks through a Kemper profiling amp. There we were able to fine-tune all the sounds we wanted for our guitars and then dial it in the way we like it. In a nutshell, we were doing everything that we could to keep recording costs down using little tricks here and there.

Dana Roselli – Theosis

So with these nine songs on the record, what were your main influences? What inspired your writing process?

Dana: I definitely like to write sweeps and all the flashy jazz, you know? I kind of got into the sweeping guitar sound, and I am not really good at the two-hand tapping stuff, but I like those sounds. Think of old-school Children of Bodom and Darkest Hour. I just like the way arpeggios sound (laughs). I like to try to add them in there when I can. I just really like sweep picking (laughs). When you get proficient at the technique, you can make really cool different chord changes and also layer some cool sweeps and stuff like that with all the changes.

What about the other guitarist? What were his contributions? What about you, John?

Dana: Most of the time he is playing a riff in root note position, and then I’ll try to harmonize on top of that, like a third, fifths, or octaves. He has got a super crunchy tone and he is pretty good in his sweeps too. I would say he is a great technical player, and not so much focused on the bends or whatever, you know? We like the same kind of music, so we are stylistically similar.

John: For me, I am not really into the low-sounding heavy vocals. My register is not super low growl, so I have a pretty high growling register that complements well the faster tempo music that we write. Basically, my favorite vocalist is Trevor from The Black Dahlia Murder, so I was trying to model that with this band. In this band, I do not really sing low, and we have Lee who can do that for us whenever we need some backing vocals or growls. Like, I was trying to emulate a sound that is not really typical here in our scene but also across the region, but the higher scream sits better with the style of music that we are writing. I would say the high pitched vocals are my selling point (laughs). I have even tried experimenting with some falsetto stuff too.

Wait, you guys have new material already?

John: Oh yeah (everyone laughs). Should be recording that stuff, and if everything goes as planned, we should be tracking early next year, I think.

So did you have a lot of influence in how the vocals were written?

John: I threw a lot of my flavor on the songs that were written before I came into the band, and then I got to do four songs on the album where I contributed a lot to writing process. Like, I contributed to ‘Skies of Hell’, ‘The Plague and the Heretic’, ‘Decaying Alive’, and rewrote some vocals for another song. I was able to hear the tracks already written out and then I thought about what I wanted to include musically for vocals, and then include that onto the work.

John Haskins – Theosis

So how has the label been able to support you guys?

Dana: Well, we were fortunate enough to secure an independent deal with Dead Sea Records. How that came about, I actually contacted the owner of the label, Michael Black, quite a while ago. I sent him our old EP and he said it sounded subpar, but he got the gist of what we were trying to accomplish. He liked our potential and was willing to bring us on to the label. This band pretty much started over four years ago and now I am the only original member that started, so dealing with all the lineup changes also set us back in working the record label.

John: Yeah man, lineup changes are rough on a band. It sets things back at least six months. Especially searching for new members, getting them up to speed, and bringing them on to learn all the material.

So Dana, how would you say Theosis has evolved over the last four years then?

Dana: I really think the three newer songs on the album are intricately written and they just flow a lot better. They are more specific in the melodeath genre. We have written some stuff that actually has like a mini-song within a song, which is fun. I typically do not like to play in the same key in one song, I like to change things up. So I think some of the newer stuff is not so much tangential, but more refined and polished. Whenever I am writing stuff, I get into a certain kick with the music I am listening to at the time, and try fun and new things all the time. I went to school for jazz and classical, so I always try to include and take my spin on it and see if I can create my vision. If that makes any sense (laughs).

You know, I do think changing your sound is really important. If you keep spitting out the same stuff over and over and over again you will lose traction in developing a fan base. But do not be too crazy with it, you know?

Dana: A lot of our writing is definitely Theosis. A lot of the newer stuff is more intricate and more solos (laughs). It is not like we are going in a completely different direction, but it is just taking certain things and ideas and meshing them to see if they work together. At the same time however, the style is relatively similar.

So some of the newer stuff that you have written incorporates similar songwriting structure?

Dana: Yeah, absolutely.

What plans do you guys have set in stone for this record? Anything specific in mind for the long term?

Dana: Well, obviously we want to play a show debuting the record officially and having our band merch available to our fans. We want to go out and play to our local market and sell some merch. We have also hopefully in the next year or to try to develop some national plans, like getting on a tour or jumping on a festival slot. We want to avoid going on tour in hopes to just break even financially because I have done that before, like hitting the road as a local band and I want to avoid that for now. Right now, we are looking to fill in our drummer spot, and focus on promoting the record.

Any plans moving on after the record? Where do you see Theosis five years from now?

John: 70000 Tons of Metal!! (everyone laughs)

Dana: Hopefully either playing on a national level or not existing (everyone laughs). I mean you could only put so much money, time, and effort into such things and I have been doing that for four years with this group, and our financial situation, everything like this is new to us. I have never really been the sole person handling the production of an album. I have learned a lot from doing that, and our label being a big help has been a huge learning curve. For now, we are hoping to see what happens.

What is the meaning behind Theosis? Let’s change gears a bit. What was your vision for the band when you were starting this project?

Dana: Oh, that is a good question. It is a question that a lot of people ask, but it is an Eastern Orthodox term. Theo means god, and sis means transformation. As far as the religious term, it does not necessarily becoming a god per say, but it means that you are so in tune with your religion that you become god. Like man becoming god. It is what inspired our artwork, actually. When we first started, all we wanted to do was go out and play as many shows as we possibly could and get on some mini-tours. After a bit, I wanted to record an album, as that was my main goal in life, thinking it would make me happy and reach nirvana, but now I want to go out and play in front of a shitload of people. My appetite became more gluttonous (laughs).

Do you guys have anything you want to reveal to Metal Assault that not a lot of people know about?

Dana: The Hollywood story!! You want to handle this one, John?

John: Hollywood is weird, man (everyone laughs). We were coming back down from playing a show in San Luis Obispo and we had played at Loaded, you know, an afternoon show. It was fun and pretty cool, but when you are outside smoking a cigarette you saw all kinds of people walking up and down Hollywood Blvd and I was just like, dude. All of a sudden this lady comes us to us and pulls her boobs out and just starts bouncing them up and down and then starts pulling up her skirt and showing us her vag and it was just… bad (laughs). Imagine this old, nasty looking lady just coming up to you. She comes up to us and then tries to give Dana a kiss on the neck and then she said, “you got a cigarette for me big boy?” This heavyset almost 300 LB woman had me going the other way and then I turn around and she drops her skirt and had this huge, angry bush and starts prancing around and then everyone writes it off like… just LA (laughs).

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