The story of Tombs has been nothing if not turbulent. Line-up changes have been a constant issue with the band, but they have not affected their music in a negative manner. Today they return with the beginning of another chapter in their discography, and their most daunting line-up with the newest EP, All Empires Fall. Mike Hill talks about the production of the new record, the member changes through the years, the lyrical themes inherent in the band's work, and his other ventures.
Besides the band, vocalist/guitarist Mike Hill also keeps busy with his Everything Went Black blog and podcast and with Savage Gold coffee.
Scene Point Blank: Hey guys! First of all, thanks for finding the time to do this interview! It is much appreciated. You had a line-up change with [i]All Empires Fall. Do you want to introduce the new line-up for Tombs?
Mike Hill: Mike Hill - Vocals/Guitar, Fade Kainer - Electronics/Vocals, Evan Void - Guitar, Ben Brand - Bass, Charlie Schmid - Drums
Scene Point Blank: Through the years you have switched members quite a few times, but that has not negatively affected the quality of your work. How can you explain that? Do new members, sort of, reinvigorate the band?
Mike Hill: Mostly, I write the basic song ideas and lyrics and the band adds their color to it. I’m not taking 100% credit for the songwriting but the main ideas are results of me sitting at home working on riff ideas and refining them into more or less solid ideas. This probably explains the continuity in the way the band sounds despite the changing line-ups. Everyone contributes their own perspective to the songs. For example, if this line-up recorded the Winter Hours record, it would have a different characteristic because of the way they approach their instruments.
Scene Point Blank: The new members, Charlie Schmid (Vaura,) Evan Void (Sadgiqacea, Hivelords) and Fade Kainer (Batillus) are very well-known in the extreme/experimental scene. My question here is two-fold. Firstly how and to what extent did they contribute to the compositions of the new album? Do you see them having a bigger impact to Tombs' style in the future? Do you feel that their participation with other bands might cause scheduling issues or are you not worry about that?
Mike Hill: Everyone in the band has a unique perspective on the way they approach the material so when we get into songwriting everyone has a significant impact on the characteristic of the songs. Like I mentioned earlier, I write the basics riffs and everyone else adds their signature to it by interpreting the vibe of the songs in their own unique way.
I’ve admired Fade for a while. He’s done so much great work in all of his other projects, most notably Statiq Bloom. I see his involvement in the band as a real step forward into uncharted territory. It’s really exciting to me.
Scene Point Blank: Do you feel that their participation with other bands might cause scheduling issues or are you not worry about that?
Mike Hill: We have to coordinate all of our touring efforts with the various bands that everyone is involved with. The Tombs plans usually come together with a lot of lead time so that makes things easier.
Scene Point Blank: All Empires Fall comes after the awesome, and critically acclaimed Savage Gold. Do you feel there is a certain connection between your last full-length and this new EP? What can you tell us about the evolution of Tombs through the years?
Mike Hill: The records are connected in that they both sprung out of the sub-conscious depths of my mind, but thematically there is no storyline between the two records.
I think that the band has become more focused on songwriting over the years. We’re focusing on melody and not just playing fast. In general, we’re trying to create an atmosphere for the listener with dynamics, peaks and valleys in mood and emotion.
Scene Point Blank: Can you talk about the lyrical themes that you explore in All Empires Fall? Do they follow the same concepts as in the previous records?
Mike Hill: The lyrics deal with the insignificance of the human experience in the cosmic sense. We develop names for things that we cannot comprehend, that are larger than our ability to quantify. Our perspective is so microcosmic when you consider how little time it takes a particle of light to travel across the universe. With that said, most of what we perceive as reality is an incredible subjective illusion that exists inside of our neurons and synapses.
Scene Point Blank: Who did the artwork for All Empires Fall. You have a history of collaborating with Thomas Hooper, so was he involved? I think it fits perfectly the title of the album with the skull among the jewels. Is that what you were going for: a sense of decay and demise, even amongst the powerful and fortunate? Was the artist given guidance for this piece, or did he/she have free range over the piece?
Mike Hill: Valnoir did the artwork for this record. You’ve seen his work with Black Anvil, Blut Aus Nord, and some other great bands. I met him when we were on tour with Black Anvil in Europe at the Paris show. I like to have a personal connection with the artists that we work with; it makes communication easier.
The EP was an experiment in a lot of ways. I’m deeply moved by Thomas Hoope'rs work, but we wanted to try something new for this record.
Scene Point Blank: Again about the title of the new EP. It always felt, at least to me, that your work was in a sense exposing the underlying chaos present in the world, with the first words in Path of Totality also being “chaos reigns” (also a quote from Antichrist by Lars von Trier.) Does that concept of chaos fits with the decays of a system (or an empire) and the descent into disorder and animosity? Also, as a side question, was Antichrist a film that influenced Path of Totality? Are there any other sources outside of music that you draw inspiration from, especially in the case of All Empires Fall.
Mike Hill: You see, this is the whole essence of creativity. You came up with your own interpretation by listening to the music, absorbing the material. I think that’s great.
My personal opinion is that there is no system, that the natural state is chaos and that any “system” is just the pattern recognition of the predator that comes into play.
The world and reality is the sources outside of music that I draw upon. The work or Marcus Aurelius, Graham Hancock, Terence McKenna are some of the literary influences that I’m into.
Scene Point Blank: You also released a video for “V.” You have released video clips for a few tracks in the past (“Gossamer,” “Passageways,” “Heroes.”) So how do you find filming the video clips as an experience when compared to the songwriting or the production of the music? Also the clip for “V” felt quite surreal going through mystical and astral imagery. What is the point that you are trying to get across?
Mike Hill: Making a video is cool but it’s really someone else’s trip, someone else’s vision. I don’t work in that medium so I leave it up to someone else more qualified, in this case Jaclyn Sheer, to develop the video. The song “V” is about an inevitable cosmic event that is going to occur and its impact on humanity. I think the video captures that idea well.
Scene Point Blank: Can you give us some insight on the production of the new EP? You previously worked with Erik Rutan on Savage Gold, and now with Sanford Parker on All Empires Fall. Both, in my opinion, are awesome at crafting a band's sound. What was it that signaled the change? Did you feel that the two releases needed different helmsmen?
Mike Hill: It was really a budgetary constraint that led us to work with Sanford. All Empires Fall was produced by Tombs and licensed to Relapse for release, so we had to come up with the funds to make the record. Erik is a good friend and so I didn’t want to put him in a position where we didn’t have enough money to do the record and have to ask for a favor. Fade had a working relationship with Sanford and it fit into the budget. He did a great job on the record.
Scene Point Blank: Looking into the future, are you currently working on new material for an upcoming full-length? Do you believe that this will be in the same vein as All Empires Fall, or will it see a stylistic change?
Mike Hill: We have a bunch of new material in the works. Hopefully, we’ll be back in the studio at the end of the year.
Scene Point Blank: Do you have any plans for upcoming gigs?
Mike Hill: We have a short run of dates coming up in May and some more extensive US touring in the Fall