Back in 1996, when I first unwrapped my shiny new SYL CD entitled Heavy As A Really Heavy Thing, I certainly did not anticipate to see a rather disturbing CLEAR photo of some dude's hairy ass smiling up at me, in addition to a caricature of some other guy on the shitter. Needless to say I didn't know WHAT to think as I put it in my CD player. And what came out was probably the very last thing I expected. SEARING organized chaos molded into an industrial metal carnage with plenty of lightning quick double bass pounding in your face. Since then, SYL has continued to amuse, shock, brutalize, impress, and most of all SURPRISE it's listeners with EVERY release. This year's offering entitled Alien is certainly no exception. Except maybe the production just keeps getting better, as is right on par with any Devin Townsend product. In the words of Devin Townsend: "It's just entertainment folks!" Right?
Interview with Byron Stroud of Strapping Young Lad on 2/15/05.
Metal Update: So what's up with Zimmer's Hole?
Byron Stroud: Zimmer's Hole! (laughs) Unfortunately nothing right now, because I've been so busy, you know? The fact is our drummer Steve, he moved 4 hours north of Vancouver, so we've kind of slowed down writing that because we've got a deal pending with Century Media still. They made us an offer, we made a counter, and then all of the sudden it was just like stopped dead now that I've joined Fear Factory... But I'm hoping we'll get it together again sometime in the near future.
MU: Plus Jed's living in Philly now...
BS: Exactly, the beauty of Zimmer's Hole is that we just get together on a Saturday night and just jam and write crazy music, have a few drinks, and now it's like, we don't do that at all anymore, and we can't write without each other. So it's probably going to be a while before the next one.
MU: Yeah, a buddy of mine told me it was like completely done, and I was like, "OH NO!"
BS: Well we haven't given up on it, you know? We still keep the web site going, and we still think about it and talk about it a lot, but just haven't actually done anything yet.
MU: So how is Fear Factory to deal with man?
BS: Fear Factory is killer man! It helped me out in so many different ways, as a musician, as a bass player. It really helped me find a love again for playing bass. I'm working with a bunch of cool guys who have been everywhere and done everything. It really was like working with veterans, it kinda like stepped up my whole playing and attitude towards the business. I really needed it too, because I was so fucking bummed out with the year before. It sort of felt like I was doing it for nothing and this suddenly came along and totally made it better, ya know?
MU: Now, did they approach you or how did that work?
BS: Yeah, they had a few bass players in mind, I was on the short list of like 3 guys...
MU: Do you know who else was on the list?
BS: Yeah, Jason Newsted and Rex Brown...
BS: Yeah, so it was a cool list, and when I heard that I was like, "Fuck yeah, I'll do that!"
MU: Ya think?
BS: Yeah man. I think it was like June of '03, and I was so busy with SYL, I was like, "Dude, I don't know if I can do that, I'm really interested, but...." And after a few months of Christian calling me and Burton calling me and then Devin telling me, "Dude I gotta take a year off," I was like, "Well that's cool. That'll give me a year to do Fear Factory." So they basically kept after me and eventually I got down there to jam with them, didn't really even have to try out. They were just like, "Yeah, you wanna do it?"
MU: So the SYL guys obviously had no problem with it?
BS: Everybody encourages each other to do other things, because every one of us knows how difficult it is to make a living in music.
MU: No shit.
BS: And the more stuff you do the better, ya know? At the time, Devin had had enough of it and was like, "Okay, let's take a break." And we don't push him to do more, because we know it could easily end badly. (laughs) We just kinda let him do pretty much what he wants and that leaves everyone else a lot of time to other things, which is cool.
MU: Plus he's got DTB.
BS: Exactly, and plus all his production gigs. I always know there'll be time for me to do other things. Before I had Zimmer's Hole, but now I've got Fear Factory, and it definitely has become a priority; so I'm hoping it's not going to become to hard to juggle the two bands.
MU: I was just gonna say, is there going to be any touring conflict or anything like that? And what's going to happen if there is?
BS: It looks like there might be actually this year, but we're trying to make it so the two bands will tour together in Europe for a couple weeks, plus Fear Factory is trying to get out a new record. It looks like I may be out on the road with SYL at the time, so I may not be able to do my parts, but I mean Christian's amazing, he'll play it and I totally don't feel weird about it at all. And hopefully once the SYL tour dies down towards the end of the year, it will be time to do Fear Factory again, ya know?
MU: Any name for the new record yet?
BS: Fear Factory?
BS: Haven't heard any yet. Just working titles, nothing finalized until Burton finishes his lyrics.
MU: So do you ever feel overwhelmed with the two major bands you've got plus all the side projects?
BS: Yeah, a couple weeks ago I did, because it's like all the sudden we got the SYL tour offers and it kind of interfered with what Fear Factory had planned, and I really kind of had a minor breakdown, like, "Oh my god. How am I going to make this happen between the two bands? I don't want to be forced into making a decision."
MU: That's a lot of pressure, between these two killer metal bands!
BS: It'll work out though. I've talked to both sides and everyone is willing to help and make it work for me. It's totally cool. Fear Factory's management, our management, we're all working together now. Everyone understands, and it's not so bad. It's a lot of traveling. Just to rehearse with them, I gotta fly down from Vancouver, or to do a video...
MU: So did you have to make any changes in your bass sound or just adapt the same one you had?
BS: Totally had to change my sound, my style, everything, oh yeah! SYL is more I just play single notes and kinda like try to be heard around all the chaos that is SYL. And I used a cleaner tone, just slightly distorted Ampeg.
MU: Oh, you use Ampeg?
BS: Yeah. With Fear Factory, it was like basically playing second guitar, full-on distortion to catch the high end and then the full-on sub lows, so I had to run two separate rigs, one total distortion and one totally clean for the low end. And then basically teach myself to be a guitar player! I was so used to SYL and being like, "Man, how can I be heard?" (laughs) "I'll just play along with the snare instead of the kick so I can be heard." That's basically my whole style, so when I joined Fear Factory I tried to bring a bit of that SYL sound with it, and it just kinda didn't work.
MU: Wow, no shit.
BS: Yeah, and he was like, "Dude this is more of what we need." They were used to having that sound, so I had to basically teach myself to play a different style of bass, which is killer because in the long run it paid off.
MU: Makes you more diverse too.
BS: Exactly. And I'm thankful for that. It really paid off on the new SYL record, there's stuff on there I never would have done with the band previous to that.
MU: So how's the new SYL record sounding?
BS: I love it. I think it's the most amazing record we've ever done. Everyone was in such a good place when we made this record. There's tons of confidence, ya know? We made a record for ourselves.
MU: Yeah I listened to "Shitstorm" and I was like, "Yikes, this is pretty crazy!"
BS: Yeah, we definitely went over the top with it. But that's what SYL is. Like the last SYL record was just us really happy to be doing it again, and we wanted to write songs that would be easy to play live and come across really cool live. Maybe we didn't get that on the recording, but for live it was perfect. And on this one, we're like, "Well what makes SYL SYL? The extremity." So we just tried to take that to the next level. We really enjoy it man! We listen to it and we just laugh. We don't care. We know we're not a band that sells a million records, so we don't give a shit what people think. Hopefully a few people will like it.
MU: So what's the SYL writing process as opposed to the Fear Factory writing process like?
BS: It's kind of similar, actually. With the new Fear Factory stuff, Christian has so much in him, he's like a born again guitar player. First he was a guitar player, then went to bass, now he's ended up on guitar again and just has riffs coming out the ass. And Raymond is just the sickest drummer. I'm so lucky to play with two of the sickest drummers in metal.
BS: So when Christian and Raymond get together, they just write stuff and just laugh the whole time. And they're like, "Do you got any ideas?" I'm like, "Yeah I got ideas, but you guys got a fuckin' thousand!" So basically they go for it and we kinda just say, "Cool." So I really didn't have a lot of input on the record at all. But I was definitely there in spirit. And with the new SYL record, Jed was off in Philly a lot, and I was on tour with Fear Factory. So I only got in the writing process for about 4 songs or so. Jed wrote a couple, for example the main riff in that "Shitstorm" song that you've heard already. It's mostly Devin and Gene though, because they spend the most time together when Jed and I are away.
MU: So how's your rehearsal space? Is it studio setup or just a room with amps?
BS: We've kinda been going in and out of bigger places just because no one was really around last year, so we kinda gave up our one space that had a studio and everything. Now we rehearse at a warehouse that Val (the singer from Zimmer's Hole) lives in and owns, where he keeps all his Choppers and his car, and he's got a little space for rehearsing there. Gene and I are going to be playing on Val's girlfriend's record. Her name is Annie Kid, its kinda cool, its more of a rock project and Gene and I are going to be laying down some tracks. It makes it easy, we can rehearse with her and we have our SYL stuff there too. The studio stuff is between there and my house and Devin's house.
MU: Do you think there's going to be any guest appearances on the Fear Factory album by any SYL guys or vice versa?
BS: Um, well there were rumors that Burton did a few vocal tracks on the SYL CD, but it didn't actually happen. But at the moment, there probably won't be any guest appearances. As much as we'd like to, I mean if we were all in the same city maybe. But what we are doing right now, is SYL is going to appear on a Melvins tribute album that is going to be put out by Jason Popson. He used to be in Mushroomhead and has his own record label. He put out the last Meshuggah EP and he's doing this Melvins tribute. Myself, Devin and Burton from Fear Factory and Braun, the drummer from Mastodon all did a song called "Joan of Arc" from the Melvins. It sounds great. It's going to be killer.
MU: So for the SYL CD, did you guys go to Hipposonic Studios/The Armoury again?
BS: To record it, yeah we did. We usually go through a bunch of different studios. We like to use this studio called The Armoury, right here in Vancouver, which has one of the best sounding rooms in the world. But it's REALLY expensive. We decided instead of doing everything there and spending all of our money in a few weeks basically, we take it to another studio where we pay like $100 a day and we can rent it for a month, and do all our tracking there. Basically it's just a big empty room and we set up a couple of ProTools rigs in there, build an isolation booth and do all the tracking there.
MU: So you kind of did it yourself, essentially?
BS: Yeah, we have an engineer, Shaun Thingvold who works with us, and he's a wicked cool guy and does great work, and we put him through hell like 18 hours a day (laughs). Actually, we all do a little bit of engineering ourselves. It's basically recording it ourselves. This time we could only afford two weeks at the Armoury, so we had to like RUSH it, but this time we decided to mix on ProTools in a small room that was next to nothing, which was Shaun's old place, where he mixed like Devildriver and Fear Factory. So he's got a small studio, and we can get it for really cheap and we just basically spent like 6 weeks mixing the record, ya know? And it turned out WAY better, it's much easier to do it like that than to spend the money on a big studio. I think we got a way better mix just because of the time we spent on it.
MU: So what's been spinnin' in your CD player lately?
BS: (laughs) Um, lets see. Ya know what? It's funny, but I've been listening to the SYL record and the Zodiac song we did for the Melvins tribute. (laughs) I just did a road trip and took a bunch of stuff, my AC/DC collection. Honestly dude, as far as metal goes, I'm so blighted by my own music that when it comes to listening to other tunes, sometime I don't even listen anymore; (laughs) I just like to have silence! I'm like, "Yeah guys, let's just listen to talk radio on the way home." Yeah man, it's crazy! Like, the Misery Signals record, I really like that, the band we were touring with. Honestly dude, I'm so busy doing my own music, that I don't have much of a chance to even listen anymore.
MU: Well it's not like you don't have your plate full (laughs).
BS: (laughs) Like when I joined Fear Factory they were like, "Well, what do you listen to?" And it's like, "Well lets see, I gotta learn like 40 songs here... so there ya go!" (laughs)
MU: So how do you feel about the state of metal currently?
BS: Ummm, I think it's really good man! It's definitely coming back, it's becoming credible again. Like a lot of bands are having breakout sales, like Lamb of God, Shadows Fall, etc. It's really great for the scene, it keeps everyone on their toes. They really are the future of metal. Ya know, a couple of years ago, I would have told you there WAS no future in metal, but now it seems there is. I live by this high school, and I see kids walking around with Children of Bodom shirts on and shit, its crazy!
MU: Plus all the American metal festivals, such as the New England Metal and Hardcore Festival.
BS: Hell yeah man, that's going to be good. I can't wait to play it! That was one of my favorite shows I've ever done, was the one we played with SYL a couple years ago, even though we only got like 20 minutes.
MU: Yeah! I was super disappointed by that!
BS: It was SO fast man. That was like the fastest, most intense show we'd played all year. Insane! Then we had this huge party on our bus afterwards. It was pretty crazy! We had a really good time.
MU: So what did you do for work before you were able to make a living in music?
BS: I did lots of different jobs before man, the biggest one was a conveyor belt mechanic. That was the last major job I had, but you know I've had landscaping jobs, cleaning movie theaters, I did a lot of electronic work putting together laser systems that measure sawmill equipment, because that was my family business (my father and brother do that)... I did lots of different stuff man! I've been doing strictly music for like 5 years now, and I've always managed SYL, made a little money doing that to pay the bills.
MU: And what is your favorite drink when you're out on the road man?
BS: (laughs) I don't really drink man! To tell you the truth, I may have a Corona here and there, and I like Crown and Coke, but yeah, I don't really drink much dude! And a lot of my friends are the same way these days. Like Christian enjoys his Captain and Coke, and I might have one of those once in a while, but it's like I'd rather just smoke weed man! And Ray, he doesn't drink at ALL. Never has. Doesn't smoke, doesn't drink. But I like to have a drink with the guys, if everyone's having a beer, I'll have one, but I don't go out of my way to get loaded. Because I hate being drunk, I hate not being in control. And all my friends out here quit drinking too man! Everyone is off the booze these days... Gene quit drinking vodka, which is kind of crazy, and a few months ago, he decided he didn't want to drink anymore. And he actually looks a lot better because of it, looks healthier and IS healthier...
MU: OK man, that's all I got, thanks for your time.
BS: Yeah dude, I'm sure I'll see you at our shows in Mass, take care!
review of Strapping Young Lad - 'Alien'
review of Strapping Young Lad - 'City'
review of Strapping Young Lad - 'SYL'
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