Chimaira’s Mark Hunter Talks ‘Crown of Phantoms,’ Lineup Changes + Isolation Tanks
Chimaira may have experienced a massive overhaul since their last record was released in 2011. In fact, vocalist Mark Hunter is the only member of Chimaira who has been in the band for more than four years. Despite this, Hunter is confident in the current incarnation of Chimaira, which he shared with us during a recent interview.
Hunter spoke to us about Chimaira’s upcoming album ‘Crown of Phantoms,’ always being open to change, inspiration provided by isolation tanks and psychedelics + much more. Check out our exclusive interview with Chimaira vocalist Mark Hunter.
‘Crown of Phantoms’ is the new album coming out soon and the band has gone through a big overhaul for this record. So who are these new Chimaira members and what unique characteristics have they brought to ‘Crown of Phantoms’?
Great question. The first thing I should mention is our drummer Austin D’Amond and he’s just a really crazy drummer. He’s constantly changing the beat up and the patterns and you never know what you’re going to get from him and it’s just really fascinating to listen to him. He’s just a very versatile drummer and the fact that he’s able to play all of the drummers that have contributed to Chimaira in the past, he’s able to play their parts as well. He has his own unique style, just, says a lot.
And on bass guitar is Jeremy Creamer, he’s one of those virtuoso musicians that can hear the tiniest minute detail that nobody else in the room can hear if it’s just slightly sharp or flat. Went to Berkeley School Of Music, really talented guy. Both he and Austin, as the rhythm section, they have a great bond and connect and vibe out to a lot of electronic music as well that they’re into.
Then the guitar players are Matt Szlachta and Emil Werstler and both are insanely talented. Emil comes from a more of a gypsy jazz style and Matt is a kind of on the classical realm and the ’80s metal realm and together they create a really technical, yet easy to grasp sound.
And on keyboards is Sean Z (Zatorsky). He just brings in all sorts of crazy electronics and keeps that tradition that Chimaira’s always had and expands on it. Bringing in a little bit more of the analog synth, it’s something that is a newer to the sound and also contributing with vocals and with me together, we sound — I think — pretty demonic, so it’s pretty cool.
You’ve released the song ‘No Mercy’ already, and listening to it, despite the lineup change, it really does sound like Chimaira. Was that the intention or did you record these songs with the attitude of, “We’ll just make something and hopefully we’ll like it and hopefully the fans will like it.”?
[Laughs] Well, I kind of think it’s a little bit of everything you mentioned to me. Everyone knows what band they’re in and we’re not going to hear somebody submit a riff that would be better suited for a different [act], per se, but at the same time it was very natural and everyone was just themselves completely. We didn’t really know what we were going to get and kind of flying by the seat of our pants for a little while there in the beginning. We were creating it and it was done in such a relaxed environment, my kitchen — that was kind of funny. Just cooking meat and listening to riffs and recording them and just having a good time. And then a few months went by and we all kind of got together and went into a studio to see how it would all come together and we all just kind of knew right at that moment, once we had all the pieces put together, that we were onto something and it definitely was worthy of maintaining the Chimaira name.
Chimaira in general has gone through a lot of changes in its overall sound since forming. Would it be fair to say that Chimaira is a band that’s always open to change?
Yeah, I think that’s kind of been, slightly, the intent for quite some time now. [I'm] just a fan of artists that are constantly doing different things on their albums. I just grew up in era when records were released and you didn’t know what you were going to expect. Bands would all-of-a-sudden shock you out of nowhere. Take for example a band like Fishbone — all of the sudden in the ’90s they released a metal record, like, who would have thought that would happen? You know, it’s just cool things like that. So I’m always a fan of changing but also understanding that we are a metal band and we have carved a niche and we can’t stray too far out of the box before we alienate our fans. [Laughs] But I think that it’s been a natural progression and a honest evolution. Every record from the beginning, from writing our first song 15 years ago, in August it will be, up until the last song that was written. Completely different line up, but yet it was the same mentality of every individual brought a piece of them into it and just made metal music and that was it. And it’s a hybrid — kind of always has been and the actual Chimaira beast is a hybrid. So I’m thankful for all the various people that have been in the band over the years because they added new textures and layers that have stuck with the band since then.
Back to ‘No Mercy’ — How does that song represent the ‘Crown of Phantoms’ album?
The album celebrates how there really is no true individual, that we’re all an expression of the people that have surrounded our lives and even the spirits of those that were before our time. So in continuing with that, ‘No Mercy,’ the song itself, dives into ego death. And that would be an expression of not having any true individual.
The music video for that song has got a lot of cool colors, bizarre filters, all that kind of stuff. Does that represent anything in particular about the song?
Yeah, exactly. Definitely. The song goes through the journey of ego death and paranoia and [you] basically see me almost in like a buried alive sense. Having the flashback of what had happened and going through the layer of Hell and seeing me in the club and getting shot. It’s really all just a paranoid hallucination. A lot of it came from reflection, an isolation tank, psychedelic exploration — it all kind of ties in with that.
Do you own an isolation tank?
Oh, I wish. There’s one about 35 minutes from here in a town called Lakewood.
It’s fantastic. It’s like, you get out of it and it seems kind of weird. Like, I’m sure you’ve had a massage before, and you just, you kind of, your body feels relaxed and it’s like, “Thank you.” This, imagine this happening to your brain, that’s kind of what I feel like. And you’re just like, “Oh, I can work today.” And just really relaxed and focused.
When Matt and Rob departed Chimaira there was a big response from your fans saying that it was the end of the band. How do you respond to a reaction like that?
Well, at first, I don’t disagree with the comments by any means. I think that Rob and Matt were essential to how we got to where we are and their sound paved the way for many young artists to pick up guitars and want to learn our songs and stuff like that. I definitely respectably agree that it is the end of the band, per se. I’d say it’s the nail in the coffin for that era. And I think that it being a new incarnation, and one that was being constructed with the presence of those ex-members, I have to look at this as a complete new chapter — almost like a reboot, a whole new thing. But having that essence and for me, like, “How can you continue? It’s a completely different line up?” — I’d mention that 15 years ago, when we were writing that first song, Rob Arnold wasn’t in the band yet. Andy wasn’t in the band yet. It was a completely different line up. So, a lot of people don’t realize that the lineup that people grew to love is obviously the lineup that had the most impact and everything. But I just wasn’t ready to end at that time and I still had more things to say under the name Chimaira. I sing a specific style and if I start a new metal band everyone will just say, “Well, why don’t you call it Chimaira? Because it sounds just like that.” [Laughs] So I wouldn’t be able to win either way.
As you said, 15 years are under your belt. In your mind what more is there to achieve? What are the new goals for you right now?
Well, I think that so much of the existence of this band has been for me moments of just trying to climb a ladder or learn the ropes, or you know, basically keep learning how to ride a bike without the training wheels, if you will, and never really had an opportunity to enjoy it, per se. Not that I didn’t, but meaning, you know, take time and smell the roses kind of enjoy it, like, “Wow, this is what I do.” Really be grateful for it and really put 110% focus into the art side of it, versus worrying about the business side and worrying about how we’re going to a new step or a new goal, I just want to enjoy it.
Do you see yourself, when you’re getting onstage, especially with this new material, thinking clearly, “I’m so happy to be here right now,” maybe more than before?
Yeah, for sure. And that’s exactly what’s been happening for the past 19 months that it’s been since this new lineup assembled. And leading up to that, the last tours with Matt and Rob, I mean they just weren’t … it’s not like there was fighting or anything on the bus, but it was just more or less like, “Man, this is like a closing of a chapter,” and it’s kind of also opening one. It just was a dark time, you know? That was like basically the closing of that chapter of everybody that had left, that I was officially, quote unquote, on my own in a new realm. It felt good to kind of come back on that other side and start it off with a tour amongst a whole bunch of our peers who were really excited about the performances or the energy and glad that we would continue. Then, watching the audience react and chanting our name and genuinely be exited that we kept moving forward. That all felt awesome and it’s just been a very positive experience since then and that’s how I’ve been able to enjoy it and it seems that every obstacle that gets put in front of us, we get through it. We have veteran mentality now and it’s cool to be in a position where nobody really has much of anything to worry about but the band and we can focus on the art and just have a good time.
Our thanks to Chimaira’s Mark Hunter for taking the time to chat with us. The new album ‘Crown of Phantoms’ arrives July 30 and can be ordered in various packages at the band’s merch store or at iTunes.