If sheer, balls-to-the-wall ferocity is your thing, then buckle up for a trip down the Rivers of Heresy with Empire State Bastard. The alternative metal band released their debut record, Rivers of Heresy, last month via Roadrunner Records. Led by Simon Neil of Biffy Clyro and Mike Vennart of Oceansize, this record will absolutely floor you. The intention was to create the most visceral, scathing music they could produce. As you hear on these ten new tracks, it’s a surefire success. Vennart described the approach as generating unabridged “hatred in musical form.” Bassist Naomi Macleod and the highly regarded Dave Lombardo on drums round out Empire State Bastard.
Neil and Vennart first came up with the idea for Empire State Bastard while on tour with Biffy Clyro. When they had some time off, they brainstormed some ideas, challenging each other to come up with the most outlandish music they could muster up. It ended up taking several years to be fully realized, with Vennart starting out composing various instrumentals. These instrumentals were inspired by bands like Siege, Slayer, and Sleep and the Locust. Neil then tried to equal that brutality with his vocals, which were quite unlike anything he had attempted before. The results are all quite beautiful.
Joining us today is Vennart for a quick chat about Empire State Bastard, Rivers of Heresy, current heavy music, touring plans, and more. Also, make sure to check out our recent photo gallery of the band’s gig in Leeds from the summertime.
How would you describe your own music?
Mike Vennart: “It’s kind of like John Zorn macro dosing LSD with Slayer in a wind tunnel full of grit.”
What is the story behind the name Empire State Bastard?
“The name came first! Simon misspoke whilst in New York, and thoughtfully took a note of what is probably the greatest band name since ….And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead. It took us about ten years to write a single song worthy of the name.”
How would you describe your creative process?
“To write the riffs, I have breakfast, drink a double espresso, a shot of tequila, set the click track to fast as fuck, then jam to myself while I death scroll through Twitter. If you want to be appalled at the state of the world, just spend five minutes on Twitter. You’ll soon be conjuring Armageddon.”
Tell us about Rivers of Heresy. What was your experience of making it? What went on behind the scenes? Any notable moments that stand out?
“The record was made during the pandemic, that dreadfully boring period of enforced solitude. I constructed tons of riff demos for Simon to bellow over, and he curated them into a cohesive collection of ‘songs.’ Only when we realized that we needed the best drummer in the world did the fun really start.
“When I was making these elaborate demos, the drum programming always said ‘Dave Lombardo.’ It served as a reminder as to what this whole thing was supposed to sound like. Because, really, Lombardo is a genre all to himself. So, we hit Dave up. Miraculously, he jumped right in. That’s when we knew this was a fucking serious record.”
What do you think of the current state of the heavy metal genre?
“I don’t really know what genre we are, but we have very specific ideas about what we’re not. The parameters we’ve set could be deemed as restrictive, but the most important thing for us is that it sounds real. So much ‘heavy’ music these days has the life choked out of it by over-processing, over-quantizing and the riffs just being nu-metal hangover, flat pack bullshit. We’re here to bend thrash into new and unorthodox shapes.”
What are some of the newer bands that you are listening to or enjoy?
“Nerver, Chat Pile, Body Void, Portrayal Of Guilt, Wiejedood…”
Do you have any touring plans in support of the record?
“We just played a handful of shows in New York, which were wondrous. We’ve done a bunch of European festivals, including Download, Wacken, and Hellfest. We feel right at home, despite being spectacularly overdressed. We really want to get to Canada! Simon and I share a love of Canada, in particular Vancouver.”
If you were stranded on a deserted island and could only take three CDs with you for eternity (assuming there was a solar-powered CD player), what would they be?
“Sing to God by Cardiacs, Angel Dust by Faith No More, and Spirit Of Eden by Talk Talk.”
Do you use the same gear when recording as you do when playing live? If yes, what and why? If not, why not?
“In terms of guitar gear, the entire record was made using a Matamp GT1 and nothing else. That amp is integral to the sound of the band. So I try and use that wherever I go.”
If you had an unlimited budget, where and with whom would you record your record? What about production and mastering? And why?
“I’ve always wanted to work with Alan Moulder and Flood, Steve Albini and Electrical Audio…. And Quincy can record the synths.”
Politics and music. Yay, nay, or what the hay?
“If you’re making music in the present day and it ISN’T in any way political, your music probably isn’t saying a whole lot. We’re living in the fucking end days. Music like ours was invented to soundtrack it.”
How did you link up with Roadrunner for this release and what about them was attractive enough to make you sign?
“We fought off every label with a shitty stick, and picked Roadrunner because they knew what we were about. Plus we wanted their logo on our record.”