Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Damnation a.d. interview with vocalist: Mike McTernan. August 17th. 2011.



Vista: Hey Mike. The first question that I wanted to ask you is about the NYC show {Santos Party House} Damnation a.d. played with: Unbroken, Indecision,Jesuit & a bunch of other decent bands as well. What are your thoughts on that show & the response?

 

Mike: I have known the guys in Unbroken for a long time. They used to stay at my place when they would come through DC and I got to tour with them in Europe when they went out with Battery in 1994. I was so excited when I heard they were going to play, but of course I did not get a ticket in time so I was worried about whether or not I would be able to go. About 2 weeks before the show Rich Hall got in touch to say that one of the bands had dropped off and wanted to know if we would play. At the time Colin was in Europe with Most Precious Blood and Ken was over there with YOT. I told Rich we could do it without even talking to them. I am glad it worked out. For many reasons that was a very emotional show for me. I felt like we played well and could not have been happier with the response. I am so grateful to Rich and Unbroken for letting us play.
 
Vista: What was you first exposure to the hardcore/punk scene? Was there a person who kinda introduced you to the scene?  Was it just friends with mix-tapes or a crew of skater kids? How old were you when you first got into it & what bands were the first to really grab your attention? Also, what was your first hardcore/punk show & who played the show?

Mike: When I was in 6th grade my best friend started turning me onto music. His sister was into new wave and was always sharing it with us. When she got into high school she started dating a guy who was into punk and she started passing that onto us also. It was interesting because I was going to a catholic school and they did not know what to think of it. Soon after that a skinhead from New Zealand moved in up the street from me. He started turning me onto real punk stuff. I also went to my first show with him. It was in the summer of 1987. I had just gotten out of 7th grade. He took me to see 7 Seconds and Justice League. That show changed my life. I felt part of something. I felt at home. It was such an amazing feeling.
 
Vista: Over the course of all Damnation a.d. recordings two things always come to mind for me...1. You guys have used a heck of a lot of sound-clips from the movie "Shawshank Redemption"?  2. The song "The Hangedman" has been recorded a bunch of different times. I'm wondering...Which version of "The Hangedman" do you like the most? And also, besides it being a classic movie with great sound-bites, are there any other reasons behind these quotes within Damnation a.d.
Mike: Hahaha! Yeah. Shawshank has some pretty intense lines. It was never a conscious thing. I have watched that movie so many times and would hear a line that would fit with the lyrics and so we put it on there. I know when we did it for the last album it was because we knew that it would be the first time hearing us for most of the people who listened to that record. Since that is a song we have played throughout the years we wanted an updated version of it. As for the other recordings I think Ken was always looking for the perfect sound for it. I hate that song. Only because the lyrics still carry so much meaning for me. They are from a different time but every time I sing the lyrics I realize they are still relevant to my life and that means I am still making the same mistakes. I need to listen to myself when I say "never again."
 
Vista: Vocally, who are your influences? When you were just starting out, where there any vocalists you look towards as an direct influence or maybe even looking back...Someone as an indirect influence on your style & vocal approach?
Mike: Some of my favorite vocalists growing up were Clifford from Bl'ast, Shawn from Swiz and Tim from No Escape. I am not sure any of them actually influenced a vocal style for me. I just opened my mouth and screamed. There really was not much to it past that. I am not really much of a musician. Ken always laid out the vocal patterns for me. I am not a performer. My hope is that when people see us they realize that when we play it is an outlet for pain. I know some people see us play and turn it into their own outlet. (I am talking about you, Sunny.)
 
Vista: Who wrote the majority {or all} of the lyrics for Damnation a.d. songs? I always thought the lyrics were a complete reflection of the music that you guys created. The lyrics were as dark as the music. And that is just one of the aspects of the band that I love. Were the lyrics all from life
experiences or from other inspirations, such as: books, movies, dreams...Or even nightmares?

Mike: Ken has written most of the lyrics for us. I don't mind singing the lyrics he writes because he takes a lot from stuff I have given him or conversations we have had and gives it life. We have known each other so long and I think he knows me better than I know myself. I have always found it difficult to express my feelings and damnation has given me a voice. The only time I write is when I am in pain and that is where all my lyrics come from. If you look at them you can see that they are from a confused kid who always follows his heart. Unfortunately following your heart very rarely has the best consequences. As I mentioned before I don't always learn from my mistakes so I keep making them.
 
Vista: I remember the album "Misericordia" was released not too long after "No More Dreams"? Am I just thinking there was a short time span in between these two albums? "Misericordia" is still my favorite releases of all Damnation a.d. albums. I have read in the "Burning Fight" book that you weren't too happy with this recording? Was it intended to be an E.P.? Considering "No More Dreams" wasn't out a long time...Why not have waited to do this as a full length?
 
Mike: I don't remember the exact time frame but I think we wanted to do a 10" since it was a little bit different. I always collected vinyl and had very few of those so I thought it would be cool to do one. I think a couple of the songs came out ok but our session got cut short at the last minute. We ended up being rushed because another band was on their way into the studio. That was kind of a tumultuous time for me and I think the lyrics for "Bitter" and "Rain As My Veil" give hints to that. I have a hard time separating myself from my frame of mind when I wrote those songs so it is difficult to listen to them. I will if we are playing and I need to refresh my memory. Otherwise I stay away.

Vista: There were a handful of live songs at the end of "Misericordia". Where were they recorded? I know from listening, it was a radio station? Can you give us some details from that in-studio recording { I know it is a longtime ago}. Do you know what other bands recorded at that studio/station?
Mike: We recorded those songs at a college radio station. I think it was at U Mass in Lowell. Honestly I don't remember much about it. I was looking for the CD to see if it has any info but I don't think I have one. Hahaha.

Vista: During that recording, there is a cover song of G.B.H....I think? If so, are the lyrics different? Also, over the years, what cover-songs have Damnation a.d. done? Can you name all the cover-songs performed by the band?
 
Mike: My memory is terrible so I don't remember why we decided to do the GBH cover. It may be that we were listening to it on the drive down to the studio wanted to throw it on there. We did change the lyrics. We tried to make it a lot of fun. We have also covered Judge and the Cure. One of the earliest recordings we did was "Cold" by The Cure. We played that live a couple of times but it never went over too well. On our first tour in Europe we played the Judge song every night because our set was just under an hour and we needed to add one more song. At the moment Ken and I are wrapping up a Cure cover album. We rerecorded the whole Pornography record. Ever since we did "Cold" we have talked about doing the rest of the album. We finally did. Hopefully it will be out soon!
 
Vista:  I have wondered now for close to 15 years...What the heck does "Misericordia" mean?
 
Mike: Compassion, or pathos. It is a compound of the words miser , meaning miserable, and cor, cordis; meaning heart or soul.  I took that definition from a something online. It sums it up pretty well.
 
Vista: During the mid 90's there were a bunch of hardcore bands that had a metallic edge to them. From your memory, how well were Damnation a.d. received by kids? I mean, did you see or hear a backlash towards what the band was doing? There were a lot of "purist" hardcore kids in the 90's that must have cringed at what the band was doing...Was this PART of the whole fun of it for you guys as well?
 
Mike: We really did not fit in too well with many of the bands we played with. Mainly because at the time it seemed like people wanted to be able to label a band. As people we were very diverse. What we were playing was not groundbreaking, but it was new to the kids we were playing to. When we toured with bands like Lifetime, Walleye, and Ignite it was difficult because we did not fit in too well with their crowds. I think people had a hard time figuring us out. I had a hard time figuring us out sometimes. Those guys had a vision of what they wanted the band to be. I was much more short sighted. For me playing in basements forever was ok. Looking back now I see how unrealistic that was. I heard that we were a bad and wanted to be metal band so many times. People also said that the only reason Ken and I called ourselves sxe was so hardcore kids would like us. What can you do though? Anyone who got to know us, knew our hearts were in what we were doing. Whether or not people understood or not. We got out there and played to whoever would listen.
 
Vista: From your memory, how did Damnation a.d. originally get hooked up on Jade Tree Records? The label seemed to have decent distribution but did it seem like an odd-fit for a band with the style you were doing?



Mike: I went to High School with Tim Owen. I remember when he first did Axtion Packed. I helped # the Release and 4 Walls 7"s. Then when Tim and Darren started Jade Tree they were so supportive of us. We were so proud of what they were doing and wanted to be part of it. The bands on Jade Tree were so diverse that it was not such a stretch that we worked with them. Those guys worked so hard to make that label a success and I am so happy that we were able to play a part in that.
 
Vista: You guys ended up having albums on: Jade Tree Records. Revelation Records and Victory Records. All three releases were during really different time era's for hardcore...The mid 90's {Jade Tree}. The later 90's {Revelation} and in 2007 {Victory}. Do you look at one of these era's as more productive for the band? Also, which label did you like the most?
 
Mike: When we were on Jade Tree we were the most active. Unfortunately we took a break Right After "Kingdom" came out on Revelation and then When "In This Life" came out on Victory we really tried to get things going but were not able to. We wanted so badly to be able to get back out on the road and tour full time but the music industry is so much different and it is just not possible for us anymore. I really could not say one of them was my favorite. My favorite part of each was working with the different people. I will always be grateful to Tim and Darren at Jade Tree, Jordan and Jason at Rev, and Clint and Tony at Victory for showing faith in us.
 
Vista: What are your top 10 favorite albums of all-time? It doesn't matter what genre...Just your essential stuck on a deserted island type must-haves?
 
Mike: Elliott Smith - Figure 8.
7 Seconds - The Crew.
Bright Eyes - Fevers and Mirrors.
Counting Crows - Recovering The Satellites.
Battery - Whatever It Takes.
Cro-Mags - Age Of Quarrel.
American Nightmare - Background Music.
Lifetime - Hello Bastards.
Agnostic Front - Victim in Pain.
Bayside - Bayside.
 
Vista: I know in the mid-90's Damnation a.d. did a 7inch release on Victory Records & you guys obviously did "In This Life Or The Next" with them. Was it due to the past dealings with Victory that the album was released through them? Are there any plans for anymore Damnation a.d. recordings? Also, was the Victory deal just for a one-off album/release? If so, how did they NOT rope you into a 5 album deal? Ha!
 
Mike: When we did the 7" with them the plan was to do the full length next. At the time They had so many great bands and were doing such a great job promoting them. But when it came time to talk to them they had a guy working for them that had booked tours for us in the past and had been less than responsible. We were very torn because Victory seemed like the best match. In the end we chose Revelation. To be honest I have no idea what our contract looked like for the album we did with them. I am not very good with that stuff. I know so many people have problems with them, but they have been nothing but up front and honest with us from the very beginning. Other than the Cure record there are no plans for anything new. Ken is a machine when it comes to writing so I can never rule out anything new.
 
Vista: Are you still involved with the band, "When Tigers Fight"? Can you give us a history of the band & year started? Has this band done any shows? I heard about this project quite awhile ago. Any recordings?



Mike: When Tigers Fight started around 2006. I had been talking to JD(The Promise/Another Victim/Unholy) for a while about doing something. At first there were not really any plans other than recording a 7" and that was it. I called and asked Ken if I could record the vocals with him. We had not worked together in about 10 years so I was very nervous but it came together so well. It was like no time had passed. Then he and JD started talking about writing more. So far we have a 7" and a full length. Right now JD and I are finishing a new album. I have about 4 more songs to do and it will be done. This one is a little different because I have written 100% of the lyrics for it. I am very proud of that. We have not played too many shows so far. 3 or 4 in the US and then we did a short tour in Europe with Killing Time and Teamkiller.
 
Vista: This is a question that I ask often, just out of curiosity. Looking back, is there a band or two out there that you feel just didn't get the recognition they deserve & just came-and-went under the radar? For example, I always look at the band "Statue" from California. I loved that band still & I still wonder why the hell that band didn't catch on. Thoughts?

Mike: The bands that come to mind at first are Cast Iron Hike, Turmoil and Refused. Each of those bands were doing something a little different from their peers and it never really caught on. I don't think America was ready for Refused. It is so sad that they broke up so soon after "The Shape of Punk To Come" came out. That album is brilliant!
 
Vista: Outside of hardcore bands, recording, shows, etc...What are some of your interests and hobbies?



Mike: I spend most of my free time on my bike. I love the freedom that not having a car gives me. It took a little getting used to cause this is the first time in my life I have not had one. Now I love it! When I am stationary I am reading or writing. I also love playing video games. Although it has been a while since something really grabbed me.



Vista: Over the course of time recording in the studio, who was the biggest pain in the ass? Hahha! There HAS to be the one guy who just CAN'T find his sound or CAN'T get their part right...Or maybe just CAN'T get their vocal part right? Ha!

Mike: Without a doubt I have to be the biggest nightmare in the studio. As I have mentioned I am not really a musician and sometimes it takes me forever to get things right. The other guys usually get their parts right the first time. It puts so much more pressure on me since they are so good. Sometimes I have a really hard time understanding what they want. I do my best to stay patient when I want to explode. Afterwords I am grateful that they pushed me so hard to get it right.

Vista: While performing live, what are a few of your favorite songs to play? Can you pick two or three that you enjoy the most?
 
Mike: "No More Dreams" and "The Hangedman" are always fun cause I like to watch how much people get into it. It makes me feel so good to know that lyrics to our songs hit people so hard. I also really like playing "Rain As My Veil", "The Mortal" and "Let Me In" because the lyrics carry so much meaning for me.



Vista: Best metal band to walk the earth. Only one?

Mike: Darkest Hour!



Vista: Best hardcore band to walk the earth. Only one?

Mike: Fuck. Fuck. Fuck. Hahaha. Ok -- 7 Seconds.
 
Vista: Mike. Thanks for your time. This has been great for me cause I have wondered about a bunch of these questions for well over a decade! Any final thoughts?


Mike: Thanks for letting me do this! I have been blessed by friends and family who have encouraged and carried me when I have been so close to giving up. Without them none of this would matter. You know who you are.  Love you. xxx

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