Revocation’s David Davidson Talks New Concept Album, International Lineup + Marty Friedman
We recently spoke with Revocation vocalist, guitarist and sole remaining founding member David Davidson. The mainman discussed the themes of the band's first concept album, Great Is Our Sin, how the artwork correlates with the record, having Marty Friedman play a guest solo, their new drummer, what it's like writing with an international member and taking part in the Summer Slaughter tour for the second time. Check out the chat below:
Great Is Our Sin is your first concept album and the way that society is in disrepair right now, it seems like apocalypse and dystopian future is more prevalent in metal than ever. You took the title from a Charles Darwin quote, can you expand on how this touched you and the themes running throughout the album?
Sure, sure, so the full quote is, "If the misery of our poor be caused not by the laws of nature, but by our institutions, great is our sin" and the final part of that quote really really stuck with me and inspired me to kind of take a look back throughout history and see the sins of mankind throughout the ages.
So, I touch on themes like the conflict of religion and science. A song like “Copernican Heresy” addresses that or themes like crime and punishment in medieval times which with public execution and how it was meant to not only shock people into submission, but also in a weird way the morbid entertainment.
So there's a double-edged sword with that. There's the power that be putting this violence on display and the actual populous coming up on their own to witness that violence as a form of entertainment.
And then going all the way up until present day, I have songs that touch on the environment as well as songs that are about corruption groups in our political system. For example, a song like “Only the Spineless Survive,” that was a quote I read from a book called The Rich & The Rest of Us: a Poverty Manifesto that's written by Cornel West and Tavis Smiley, and it basically states that there's no real hope for change in the political system because by the time someone already comes to power, they have already been bought and sold. So it fosters an environment where only the spineless survive. I thought that was just a great quote. It definitely sticks with the need of how great is our sin.
Lyrically, a lot of it is dealing with our own demise and looking to the future. The album cover sums that up perfectly because you've got a human skull, next to prehistoric fossils. There's rats, vultures, it's like a historical overview of why mankind no longer exists. How did the album art come together?
The album artwork was done by my close friend Tom Strom; he actually does all of my tattoos for me. So, he and I have been very, very closely intertwined with artwork for quite some time. He also did the Deathless album cover so we had a blast working together on that and on this one I told him we were going to do a concept record based on this scene so I essentially sent him all the lyrics, the song titles and the album title and if he can incorporate as much of this as possible into the artwork to really have a cohesive artistic statement.
The music and the art can be married together and it was also — Tom's such a great artist and I told him I wanted to do a triptych with this, meaning a three panels rather than just one central cover which of course tripled the work. Tom was really, really inspired by this and he had everything done and he was all about that. So when you actually purchase the record you get the full three panel artwork that folds out to really tell the story.
Interestingly enough, the artwork — I wanted to be inspired by the works of Hieronymus Bosch. He's a painter who is incredibly ahead of his time. Probably one of the first surrealist before surrealism was even a thing. When I brought that up to him, he said "Oh that's so funny, because I just came from…" He was living in the Netherlands at the time and he just come from the Hieronymus Bosch museum there and so he was really, really inspired by it and was looking to do a Hieronymus Bosch inspired piece so it was just a weird sort of telepathic thing we have with one another. We were both thinking the same thing.
Marty Friedman contributed to this, he played a solo on “The Exaltation” and you played on his album Inferno in 2014. You played guitar and did vocals. How did you guys first get in contact with each other?
I think my first interaction with his camp, the label had contacted me a few years back when he was releasing something and they wanted me to give a quote for it. They were going to different modern metal guitar players and asked me to give a nice quote about Marty for this press thing we have cooked up. So of course I was happy to oblige. Marty is one of my favorite guitar players of all time. So I gave him a nice quote. Not too long after that, I was contacted about guesting on his next record. I guess I was on Marty's radar, he was a fan of my playing and he wanted to work with me. So soon after we had a few emails back and forth with the label, but then I started talking with Marty directly and started talking about writing.
From there it was just email after email back and forth, getting to know each other a little bit and we just started writing, I sent him some ideas. The whole process was really fun. It was a collaborative effort and I really enjoyed working with him. I think the song we wrote together came out really great, so I knew that I wanted to have him on our new record when it came time. I reached out to him directly, and said ‘Hey do you want to be on the new record? I'd love to have you solo on this one song.’ He hit me back within a day and was all about it. It was a real easy process, which was nice.
It's got to be one of the most affirming moments of your career. I'd imagine you idolized Marty Friedman, Rust in Peace and everything. To have him contribute to one of your albums seems pretty amazing.
Yeah, of course. He's such a legend and rightfully so, he really is an incredible guitar player. He's not just some famous guy happening to get a lot of accolades because of fame. He really is deserving of all of the accolades he gets. He's such an incredibly lyrical guitar player. Interesting guitar player, the lines he comes up with — they have a signature sound, which I really love about his play. I can always tell when it's Marty Friedman, there's always a certain vibe to his playing which is so unique.
It works well, that's an instrumental he played on, too. His playing has a lot of character, as does yours, so to leave that and let the music speak for itself I thought was pretty interesting. You guys always have at least one instrumental per album, is that just sheerly coincidental?
Yeah, that's part of our thought process. Especially because it's become a running theme through every full length we've done. Part of the thinking is, we don't have a standalone singer in the band so we can kind of throw an instrumental in, as if we're doing a headline set. That way it breaks up a little bit of the aggression.
All of the instrumentals we've done are still really heavy and aggressive but it can be a palate cleanser at some point in our set. It can come back in with another song with vocals, that was we can have some peaks and valleys in our performance. Every time we do a record, we try to think about what songs / collection of riffs would work best to create an instrumental song. It also frees me up a little bit, because I don't have to think about a verse or a chorus. The music can just flow. Sometimes it can flow in an unorthodox way.
The structure of “The Exaltation,” there are some themes that get fought back. There is no chorus or verse or anything, so it develops in an interesting way as the song progresses.
You're playing has a lot of personality to it, too. If there's no vocals, you can come away from the song humming a lot of the leads you play too and at the end of the day you're humming a melody. If it's a vocal or a guitar, it's memorable and catchy. Especially with your solos too, you have so much character in them and you bring a lot of elements outside of extreme metal and metal in general. Specifically in your solos, is that an outlet for you to get in some other playing, have a little bit of fun and be more expressive than some of your riffing that's more true to your core sound?
Yeah, I think it just comes out naturally. I listen to a lot of types of music. I listen to a lot of jazz and try to work on a lot of jazz when I'm home and those elements creep into my playing here and there as far as some of my phrasing. I definitely have diverse tastes in guitarists that I like in the metal genre. So I try to bring all of those different elements to the table.
I don’t know if they're really in the forefront of my mind, I guess they're more in my subconscious and when I'm playing, that's what comes out. So, I definitely like to try and find my own voice as a musician. That was one of my big takeaways, studying with different guitarists and musicians. Finding your own voice, certainly bring your influences to the table, but you don't want to be a derivative rip off of someone else. You want to have that creative spark that lets someone know, OK this is… you have a recognizable sound.
It seems one of your biggest influences is Voivod, especially on “Profanum Vulgus.” Can you talk about that one?
Sure, that's a real interesting song. It's crushingly heavy. It's got some really weird progressions in terms of how the rhythmic feel is being carried out with the drums, guitars have a cool interplay between the different instruments. Then, the bridge section is also pretty unique for us — we go into this weird shuffle type of feel. With a quieter, lower gain guitar and I do some singing on that one. That was fun to bring in different elements of what I can do as a vocalist over a really heavy song. That's actually one of my favorite parts on the record, actually because it's such a different mood for us, a different atmosphere. I think it contributes a lot to the song.
This is your first album with Ash Pearson on drums. There is a huge pool of drummers in the Northeast, why did you choose to go with Ash with him being so far away in Canada?
Well, you know it's — he was the right man for the job. You have to have someone who not only can play the parts, but can you also really get along with and someone who's really passionate about the music. So while they're lots of people, some of those traits, you kind of have to have all of them if you want to tour as much as we do.
So the fact that — we probably could have found a YouTube sensation drummer, but have they been road tested? Have they gone out? Some people's music is their passion, but they don't like touring when they think they want to tour and then once the realities of the road has set in, being out on the road for a long period of time, being away from home and family, it can bump some people out to be pretty frank. It's not for everyone.
So the fact that he had toured so much with 3 Inches of Blood, we knew that he was really passionate about being on the road and hitting it hard when the time came. Loved to travel, that's another perk. Some people when they go out and tour, it's like they travel in Europe and don't want to see anything. It's more of a miserable experience, but we're all really down to go out and sightsee and check out things. It's nice that he's really all about that.
His playing is just outstanding. He's really just a secret weapon. The stuff he was playing with 3 Inches of Blood was really fantastic but he was going for more of a traditional heavy metal / thrash sound and on the new record, I think he really shows what he can do. He comes out guns blazing and doing everything from blast beats, to fast double bass, to bringing on really prog-influenced parts that I think add a lot to the music.
His cymbal work is what stood out the most to me. Since you didn't get the chance to jam as much, sending files back and forth a little bit more than normal maybe. How did this affect your writing and mindset when you're creating these riffs, playing around with tempos and not having a drummer there to really bounce everything off of?
It didn't really affect it too much, to be honest. When I'm working with drummers I'll naturally air drum parts and sing drum beats back to them. So we don't necessarily have to be in the same room when you're doing that, I can do that over Skype this or that. I sort of play a riff on my computer and air drum along to it so you can see where the snare was falling or what downbeats I was feeling over certain parts.
Then, when you can start to wrap your head around it so so much of putting music together I think is mental and also when vocalizing certain parts when they can't get behind a kit and play these certain parts, obviously, so I vocalize a lot of the stuff so they can hear what I'm thinking. It's funny, Ash is like dude you're a really good air drummer [laughs].
Ash is such a great musician so that he can pickup on all of that stuff and really get where I'm coming from. It's not a confusing experience for either of us. We can practice, pad out, and play things back to me basically in real time. There is a little bit of a lag, but technology is so incredible these days that I can have a crystal clear video conversation with him even though he's on the opposite side of the country.
And we did get together and jam in person, so I definitely don't want to give the impression that we never got together. We'll do long tours, but we'll still do some shorter weekend warrior headliner dates and so now when we get together to do that, because everyone is so spread out, we try to really get the most bang for our buck.
We'll buy plane tickets, we might do two weekends and in the middle of the week we'll be back home. So we'll travel down and play New York, [Philadelphia] or something. Then the next weekend we'll play, I don’t know, Connecticut or New Hampshire, Boston or something. Or even go up to Canada and then the weekdays there we’ll just be back in Boston rehearsing on stuff because we didn't have the luxury of getting together every single week when we wanted to.
I think it actually helps us to focus us that much more because we really have to make the most of our time. There wasn't any dilly dallying. It wasn't like this, just sitting there fucking off for five hours in the practice space — we really went in there with a goal and yeah, I think it helped focus us.
This is definitely your strongest vocal performance yet. Your harsh vocals — you're all over the place employing a bunch of different styles. Then you've got the backing vocals vying for everything, bringing in even more different elements and then your clean vocals too. There's a little bit of Troy Sanders inflection on certain parts, at least to me. How have you been developing your clean voice over the years?
I think it's just practice. Going out on tour for sometimes months at a time straight, you have to keep your voice in shape. We've been bringing in different songs, have some more clean vocals depending on the tour we're on. So that's just more practice. It's like anything else, the more you do something the more confident you are in doing it the more your voice develops. It's not something I really practice when I'm home.
I'll start warming up my voice maybe like a week and a half before tour will start, just to let — so I can be fresh. For the most part I'm focused on practicing guitar. I'm not in the practice space doing vocal warm-ups every day, I'd rather spend my time playing guitar. So yeah, being on a tour, I think really conditioned my voice. I do think it's my best vocal performance yet. I appreciate that.
You're going to be on Summer Slaughter again, Cannibal Corpse is headlining. You went out with Cannibal Corpse… was it two years ago?
I think it was. It was right when Deathless came out. We did a U.S. tour with Crowbar, kind of amping up the release and then we flew to Europe to do the Cannibal Corpse tour for seven weeks, and as soon as we got to Europe the album was out.
On the first Summer Slaughter that you did, it was more of a modern lineup. Then, this year’s is definitely more old-school. Cannibal Corpse, Nile, Suffocation, Krisiun. You guys really fit any metal bill really well, whether it's thrash, whether it's new school bands or old school death metal bands, you guys run the gamut. What are you excited about this tour versus the other Summer Slaughter you did with the modern bands?
We're really excited to go out on the newest incarnation of Summer Slaughter. It's a really brutal tour, so we're definitely going to be playing a more brutal orientated set. The nice thing about the style we play, is that it's pretty diverse as you were saying. So we can kind of cater our set depending on what the tour package is like. We can play a thrashier set, or we can play a bit more progressive set or we can play a straight up death metal set. We'll definitely be bringing some heavy tunes for this upcoming tour.
Thanks to David Davidson for the interview. Pick up your copy of Revocation's Great Is Our Sin at Metal Blade's webstore and catch them on tour as part of the 10th installment of the Summer Slaughter tour with Cannibal Corpse, Nile, Suffocation and more. All stops can be found on our 2016 Guide to Rock + Metal Tours.
Revocation, "Crumbling Imperium"