Interview: Blood Of The Martyrs

Blood Of The Martyrs is a hardworking metal band out of Farmville, Virginia. This DIY outfit has two independent full length albums under their belt, 2011’s Once More, With Feeling and 2013’s Completionist. BOTM is now set to release their Endgame EP this Friday, Feb. 26th.

Endgame is available for pre-order right up until the release date, with a reduced pre-order price on iTunes, and CD/merch bundles available through MerchNow.

Last week I had the opportunity to  speak with BOTM’s bassist (and former drummer) Bobby Huotari. We chatted about the difficulties of line up changes, the extensive process behind Endgame and more.

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Going back to Completionist, there’s a lot of electronic and synth type stuff, and what you’ve released so far from Endgame sounds pretty different. Can you outline for us the differences between albums and the writing behind them?

Oh man. With Completionist, the writing process was really stressful. I think with any bands like this when you write music you’re just in a garage or basement or whatever your practice space is and you just play along with everyone until you get stuff you like and you write that way. But with Completionist, what made that writing process difficult is that our lineup was really scattered all over the state of Virginia, so it was really tough for us to get together on a regular basis like we had previous years in the band when the lineup was kind of more centralized in one area. We would get together and we would almost stress out and try to write well as much as we could while we were together. Where Endgame, the big difference is we really started utilizing GarageBand, MixCraft, and Reaper and all these musical interfaces and what our guitarist would do is he would just write a ton of riffs. Just a bunch of riffs, different tempos, whatever, and he would send them to me and I would sift through all the riffs and start, essentially, compiling them into a structure that I liked and then I would send it back to him. If he liked it, then I would write basic drums to emulate what we were kind of envisioning and send that to our drummer. Then he would take that and really write it and then it would be a process of them sending it back and forth and me making changes and them suggesting changes. It was a lot more where someone could open it up and really sit on it for a day or two or a weekend and make their changes.

Then finally when we had a song or structure that we were happy with we would take that song to a good friend of ours, Andrew Reynolds, in Maryland. He goes by Drewsif Stalin – he does a lot of YouTube covers – we would record the structures that we had with him so it was like a second phase of pre-production. He would give his input and maybe help us restructure and polish things and as we were recording through that process, we got a better idea of what we did like and what we didn’t like.We then took those to our full production with Andreas Magnusson in Richmond, Virginia, where we then we re-recorded everything a third time with him for final production. He gave us more refined input, mixing, and altering this, maybe tweaking this a little.

So with Endgame every process just had so much more thought behind it than with Completionist where it was just like “Man we’ve got to pump out riffs, we’ve got to pump out songs.” Much more stress free, but a lot more time consuming with Endgame. But I think what we have, the final product, is a lot stronger than what ended up coming from Completionist.

What was the total time frame this whole process?

Immediately when we put Completionist out we started writing stuff for Endgame. We put Completionist out in Oct. 2013, so from then we wrapped on final vocal tracking in Sept 2015 for Endgame. It was almost a full two years. It was a pretty intense process for these songs compared to what we had done and I think people listening to the two songs we have out right now can see that vast difference than if they were to listen to a few songs off of Completionist.

It was during this two year time, you changed over vocalists, right?

Yeah, unfortunately when it happened it knocked us back. We’ve always tried to be a pretty heavy touring act and unfortunately, when we lost our vocalist we still did a few tours after that but we just hit a point where the guy who we were originally hoping would take this spot, he went through a lot of personal issues and obviously it was out of his power and we fully understand his decision to step back from it. This was also Nov/Dec 2014 when this happened, we’re like “Well, let’s really try to find a new vocalist and at the same time keep working on this new material and keep reworking songs.” We really scaled back our touring schedule to really find a good fit for a new vocalist who fit, and again, just really try to make these songs the best that we felt we could craft.

It was during that time you were set to do a tour of Mexico with Grave Robber right?

Yep, that is exactly it. That was just a stressful situation because at that point that’s when our then prospective vocalist took a step back and again, it was totally out of his control, there’s no hard feelings, but he dropped. When he dropped it was 2-3 weeks before that tour started and the problem was not necessarily finding a replacement, it was finding a temporary who had their passport ready. I don’t know if you’ve ever tried to get your passport, but 2-3 weeks is not going to cut it.

We tried and tried to pull on any strings we could, and we had some offers that we just didn’t feel comfortable with. We had the guy that set the tour up, he said his son could do it. We seriously considered it, but we’re like “Man, we’ve never met this guy, we don’t know.. we’ve never practiced with him, we don’t know his vocals.” We just felt like it was too big of a risk to go to another country and have someone who we’d never met step in on vocals. It didn’t seem realistic, so we had to unfortunately say, “We’re really sorry, but we really don’t think we could make this happen.” It was a really huge bummer, but stuff happens and it’s just kind of the way it goes.

 Are there future plans for after the release comes out, or tours in place for the summer?

I’m not really sure. With where the band is personally, we have a lot of stuff going on, I don’t want to say we’re never going to do anything after this, but it’s not as much of a priority for us I guess you could say, which may bum people out to hear. But, as of now, there’s nothing that we have set in stone. We have a lot of stuff going on in our personal lives, other obligations and responsibilities. Our new vocalist has a child on the way, our drummer has another band that he’s working with, and you know, we all have these things that we have obligation to that we’re working on. So as of now there’s nothing planned.

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Let’s talk about “Dr. Killinger.” The band Facebook page says you guys “stepped out of your comfort zone for this one.” Can you tell me a little more about this song specifically?

I guess one big thing is, especially when we were writing it, Jason’s vocals really helped relieve some of the hesitation we had toward how musically, this song really isn’t that heavy of a song. A lot of the riffs are mostly riffs that you’d hear in a hard rock band, rather than a metal or metalcore band. So when we were writing it musically, we’re like “These really are riffs that don’t fit with the music that we’ve written in the past,” and just having this real kind of dreary vibe with it.

Also with this album, we totally stepped out of our comfort zone because Jason incorporated a lot of clean vocals which we’ve only ever touched on clean vocals in a few cover songs that we did but never in our original stuff. So that as a whole, is us stepping out of our comfort zone, but this song specifically, if you just listen to the guitar riffs, and really the overall structure of the song, it’s not really that heavy of a song. And we’re thinking, “Man, are people really going to dig this? Are people going to think we’re just try-hards to make this sound like a rock song?” But it seems like everyone who’s listened to it really seems to dig it. I think for a few of us especially it’s one of our favorite songs on the album. We’re definitely really happy with the way it turned out, especially Jason on the vocals. I just have to give him credit all around, he absolutely killed this album. Vocally, he’s just a monster in studio.

Awesome. Lyrically is that also done collaboratively, or does Jason take the lead on that?

Actually, interesting thing about the lyrics: for the past two albums, I personally wrote all the lyrics from start to finish. This album, I wrote, I think two or three songs but Jason really, for the majority, really stepped in and took the lead. It was just one of those things where he would present these lyrics and as I looked over them, I’m like “This is something that I couldn’t have said any better at all.” He definitely has really good ideas lyrically and vocally and because he can really craft lyrics to have that message that really all of us can stand behind, but also he can vision it in how he really wants to push it in the lyrics and stuff. Yeah, he definitely did step up and take the lead and really, really crafted some good lyrics for this album.

How does your personal faith came into the music and how is it expressed as a band?

Blood of the Martyrs is always labelled as a Christian band, which we have no issues or qualms about being labelled as a Christian band, but I definitely feel that our lyrics aren’t necessarily clear cut Christian. They have those big undertones to them and the way that I really try to explain it to people is that what we do, playing in this band, and touring and writing music, is heavily inspired by our faith but it’s not necessarily that “this is only for someone who shares that belief system.” It just happens to derive from and be inspired by our faith. When people read the lyrics, I want them to know that the reason we feel the way we do regarding these topics, it derives from our belief system, our belief in God, in Jesus Christ, but I don’t think you have to share that same belief system to relate to it at all.

It’s been almost ten years you’ve been a DIY band, what keeps you motivated to keep pushing on?

It’s tough. I definitely think, just with the time frame, that’s one big reason why we kind of have our shift in as far as how touring is not our main priority anymore. Obviously, the music aspect is still a huge thing that attracts us to doing this and on top of that, the people who support us and really appreciate our music are another big attraction to why we would want to keep on doing this.

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