Interview with Sam Hatch of Sever the Drama

Hatch droppin' the thunda. Photo stolen from Facebook.

 

Sever The Drama plays razor-sharp, aggressive loud rock that doesn’t skimp on melody or passion. The Stafford-based band, which features vocalist Scott D’Amato, guitarist Chris Collman, bassist Sam Hatch, and drummer Carl Murawski, is a fixture on the local scene.  They have just released their second album, Chasing Shadows, which has garnered them quite a bit of attention outside of Connecticut.

So, we thought this was the perfect time to send Hatch, the “new guy” in the band, some questions concerning the band’s new album, his reasons for getting back in the game, and the strengths and weaknesses of the music scene, among others.

His answers follow below.

What made you decide to use Telefunken Elektroakustic in South Windsor for the recording of Chasing Shadows? What did they bring to the table? Why did you decide to co-produce?

It was a combination of fate and our reluctance to settle for the established standard. The Pro-Tools revolution created this glut of basement production studios, and it seems now that everybody you meet “knows a dude” that they recommend you work with. Not that those guys don’t know what they’re doing, but as a self-funded band, we actively discussed early on in this album’s process what kind of a production we’d be shooting for. As guys who love hearing punchy, well-produced records, we decided that we should spend our money on what we want instead of settling for what’s available down the street.

On the flipside, we still had a budget to work with and weren’t about to set up a Kickstarter campaign just so we could fly out west and hire Andy Sneap. Luckily, we bumped into Chasing Shadows’ producer Ian Jones after playing an Agrippa 93 show at The Webster Theater in 2012. He’d had a working relationship with the venue and its booking guru Rusty, and would often stop in to check out shows.

Rusty called me over after our set and pretty much forced Ian and I to have an impromptu powwow in a nearby hallway. Ian laid out what he did, who he was, and what he liked about our band – and we’ve been working together ever since.  I had no idea that Telefunken’s microphones were manufactured in Connecticut, much less that they had a flagship HQ in South Windsor that was also equipped with a recording studio, but Ian invited us over for an open house and we were sold.

The vibe was great and just weird enough – the facility wasn’t known for metal and had primarily catered to stuff like jam bands and acoustic acts prior to this. The album’s engineer Brendan Morawski split his time between there and Jungle City studios in New York, so he was more used to working with artists like R. Kelly or Alicia Keys.  Needless to say, it wasn’t the location every other metal band was using, which was awesome. I’m a huge fan of those moments when the things that don’t intuitively add up just feel 100% right, and this was one of those cases. We knew that we’d have to get involved in a lot of the production since we had a very specific sound we were after, but we also needed a legitimate full-time producer to focus on all the details we might miss from being stretched too thin. Since Ian knew our stuff and had already started collaborating with the band through mixing our live shows, we knew we could trust him to steer the ship while we focused on not fucking up our performances.

In addition, how did you get Alan Douches to master your new disc? Why?

We had always assumed that Ian would mix and master the disc, and that was the goal for a long time. It wasn’t until we had been working on the release for over a year and were knee deep in the mixing stage that he came clean and said that he honestly didn’t know if he’d be the best guy for the mastering process because of how close he was to it.

So we approached the mastering phase similar to that of our search for a producer – with a mindset that there was no reason to settle for less and that we should get the absolute best we could for our limited means. A lot of the big guns were discussed – like Ted Jensen and other guys at Sterling Sound, but during my research I kept seeing Alan’s name cropping up in recommendations. I was sold – I mean, he had done most of the Dillinger Escape Plan discs and recent stuff from Skeletonwitch and Motorhead and his discography listing on All Music is insane. So we contacted his facility West West Side Music in New York and found that unlike most of his peers, Alan’s rates for working with independent artists were entirely within the realm of possibility without the need to pawn our cars, houses and internal organs. With a pile of sheer luck, his calendar in early 2014 wasn’t fully booked and we were able to squeak in.

Recently the band has gotten a lot of love from Jamey Jasta for the song “Wilson Philips Anselmo.” He played the song on the Full Metal Jackie show a while back. In addition, the track was featured on a Hatewear Inc. compilation that was given away at all stops of the Mayhem Festival this summer. Plus there was another plug on his new podcast. How do you guys feel about all the attention? And are you a little surprised, in a pleasant way?

Definitely! I’d been picking up those Hatewear comps each and every year at Mayhem Fest, so I knew how much exposure they could bring. I’ve known Opus from Dead By Wednesday since before I was in Sever the Drama, and he also does work for Hatewear and is the guy who calls out for submissions from local acts every year. I had wanted to submit something for the 2013 CD, but we hadn’t begun mixing yet and you need a polished sounding track to even be considered – since you’re gonna be going toe-to-toe with national acts like Machine Head etc.

This year, the timing was right, as we were just about done mixing “Wilson Phillips Anselmo” when the casting call came out. There really wasn’t much indication that anything beyond that would happen –there was talk about Full Metal Jackie getting a copy of the compilation, but absolutely no guarantees that it would lead to radio play (and then some). Most local bands get some copies of the disc, hand them out to friends and life goes on. But it was only a few weeks after we’d submitted the song that we got contacted by Full Metal Jackie’s program director, saying that they needed a copy of the tune for airplay. Sure enough, a few days later Jamey let it rip as his weekly “Pick from the Pit” and it hit national syndicated radio before we had even finished mixing the album.

We figured that was a fun one-off moment, but then the Hatewear website started featuring our video on their front page. And when Jamey announced his new interview podcast “The Jasta Show” in August, I checked out the first episode and there we were again. We knew we’d get a lot of attention from the song’s name (one of the rare working titles to make the final cut), but obviously that alone wasn’t going to make the tune resonate. So it’s surreal to find that a half year later Jasta’s still promoting a bunch of schmucks from a smelly garage in Stafford, but we totally appreciate it!

I know you joined the band right when they were mastering their first record Vested Interest back in 2010. What made you decide to join the band? What were your reasons?

It had been a long time since I’d been in a metal band. I formed my first band in high school with Michael Modeste (now of Dead by Wednesday) and we ripped it up the best we could and even played CBGB before it died. Once that band ended I kept busy with other projects, but apart from a few coffee house performances here and there on acoustic guitar, I had pretty much relegated playing in a band to “that thing I used to do” and was prepared to be that annoying guy forcing his friends to watch old VHS footage of the good ol’ days when he rocked.

As lame as it sounds, the video game Rock Band is what rekindled my interest in group playing. As much as you’re jumping around like an idiot slamming plastic buttons, when you’re playing with friends it’s pretty close to the vibe you get from being in a band. So that got me at least interested in practicing on real guitars a bit more. In 2010 I joined the US Census Bureau for shits and giggles, and was fated to meet some great friends who just lived and breathed heavy music. One of them happened to be a monster multi-instrumentalist. I started jamming on vintage thrash tunes at their house, which dusted off the cobwebs further.

I had known Chris Collman from Sever the Drama since 2000 or so, and had hung out with him routinely during times when he either needed a guitarist or bass player. As always, I was the guy who “used to do that”, but once I started jamming with the Census guys, I technically was doing it again. That, compounded with our mutual ladies’ insistence that we go ahead and jam, led me to go ahead and say yes to the band’s invitation.

In addition, what would you say are the differences between the first record and this new one? What are the similarities? Of course this is speaking as someone who joined after the first album was recorded.

I think the first record Vested Interest is a little more steeped in the style of the guys’ previous band Gaugeplate. The similarities are definitely in Chris’ guitar work, since writing tasty riffs is his bread and butter, and if it ain’t broke…

But Chasing Shadows definitely stretches out more. Our drummer Carl Murawski has mentioned more than once that these tunes are the ones in which we began to find our own particular style. The title track had just about been written when I joined, but I was in on the ground floor for everything else and a lot of what makes it different is everyone’s eagerness to try things that weren’t obviously in our wheelhouse. Hence, the swingy Clutch vibe of “The Horizon,” which was initially something totally out of the band’s comfort zone.

Also, as players we challenged ourselves whenever possible and appropriate. None of us are big fans of overplaying, but we still occasionally found ourselves pushing back against the illusory walls of what we thought we were capable of. In the end, our singer Scott D’Amato was hitting notes he wasn’t hitting before (like in “Sane Again”), Chris was playing riffs and leads he wasn’t initially confident in, Carl was conjuring up beats no normal human could play, and I was certainly pushing my own personal boundaries with some bits I still can’t play.

On a more general note, what is your take on the loud rock scene in CT? What are its strengths? What about its weaknesses? Be as candid as you feel.

Having played in bands during two different eras of the CT scene, the strength is definitely in the sense of camaraderie among local bands. Since the recording contracts and other elusive “prizes” became a thing of the past, so did the dog-eat-dog mentality and lame rivalry. Like Robert Deniro pointed out in the film Brazil, we’re all in the shit together. Might as well make some friends and have some fun while we’re wallowing in the lack of Elektra Records-funded glory.

Also, back when I started there weren’t many metal bands here period. Sure, there were the Fates Warnings and the like, but as a young thrashketeer I had no peers. Every single band I played with at the old Bridges Café in East Windsor was a sub-Dokken hair band or a glorified cover band. The fact that you can’t walk five feet now without bumping into a death metal band is beyond my comprehension.

The weaknesses are too many shows at too many venues, all conflicting with each other and diluting the effectiveness of each. While we seem to have more heavy bands than ever in CT’s history, many of them tend to play too many shows at the same venues, which are also too close together. There aren’t enough “event” bills, and fans have the luxury to skipping your shows because they know you’ll be back in a week or two.

Not to say that the event shows always go over well either, but that’s been a CT-centric problem as far back as I remember. I recall seeing Killing Joke at the Sting in New Britain back in 1994 or so, and having the stage announcer berating the crowd because it was so much smaller than in New York and Boston. Granted, it was a Thursday night, but don’t yell at the few people who actually paid to come out on a work night.

Still, while some national tours struggle to fill the Webster Underground, there are the occasional local shows that pack the place. It’s weird times we’re living in, I tells ya.

Do you think the loss of WCCC will affect the loud rock scene in CT? Will it affect how your band does business or promotes itself?

Having just played on a high profile rock bill and seeing the parking lot half-empty well after nine o’clock, it certainly seems that the lack of commercial rock radio promotion has already taken its toll. Other factors may have been involved, but on the surface it appears to be changing things for the worse.

It was weird seeing WPLR representing at Mayhem Fest, and I hear they’ve been trying to fill the void by heavying up their playlists a bit. But it was equally weird seeing WCCC continue sponsoring Slayer concerts after they had made the switch to Bruce Springsteen. So yeah, we’re definitely going to have to step up in terms of promoting our shows, even when we’re on the bill with high profile artists. We’re certainly used to the DIY work ethic, but the singular ‘It’ in that acronym has quickly expanded and multiplied, so we’re now more of a DEY band – Do Everything Yourself.

Ironically, we fired up our national radio campaign for Chasing Shadows the very same week WCCC made its final bow as a rock station. While it felt great to make the rotation on stations in other states, it was a bit of a bummer that the one in our own backyard was now only spinning the same twelve ‘positive and encouraging’ chunks of hyper-polished blandness.

What are the future plans for the band? More shows? Maybe some limited touring? What is going on?

We were just talking about plans for shows in New Jersey and Pennsylvania, so some smaller touring jaunts are definitely in order. Especially after working so hard to widen our national profile, we really have to capitalize on that awareness and not let opportunities slip by.

We’re always in the process of refining and expanding our stage show, so I’m sure there’ll be plenty of that in the near future. There’s also been talk of making a video for “The Horizon” and possibly finishing up a DVD or some sort of live release.

In the meantime, we’ll be playing with the Carnal Carnival Burlesque Troupe at the Lucky Dog Music Hall in Worcester MA on September 27th. That’ll be followed by a show opening for Lacuna Coil and The Devil You Know at the Webster Theater in Hartford on October 10th. There may be a local Halloween-centric show in the works, but after that we’ll be focusing on spreading our disease across stages in other states.

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