Vital Vinyl: Ringworm’s Human Furnace Talks New Album ‘Hammer of the Witch’
Longtime hardcore rockers Ringworm have finally unleashed their latest studio album onto the world. Quite possibly their masterpiece, ‘Hammer of the Witch’ is a nonstop punch in the gut with killer guitar riffs and spine rattling vocals. On top of that, the band made sure to create a full experience around the release with mesmerizing artwork and exclusive vinyl runs; in addition to black wax, ‘Hammer of the Witch’ is pressed on black and white swirl vinyl and even clear vinyl.
Frontman Human Furnace — real name James Bulloch — took a few minutes out of his busy schedule to chat with Loudwire about all things metal. Gearing up for a tour with Death Before Dishonor, Human Furnace chatted with us about ‘Hammer of the Witch,’ his own appreciation of vinyl and what he thinks of the current state of metal.
Congrats on everything surrounding ‘Hammer of the Witch.’ Every time I listen to the album, I find new things I didn’t hear before. What’s in store for Ringworm now that the record is out?
We’re heading out on the road to do a full U.S. tour that starts March 28 and runs through April 19. That will cover the whole country. We’re co-headlining with our buddies in Death Before Dishonor. We’ve got a lot of stuff planned for this year.
Ringworm have been making music since the early ’90s. Has the writing process changed a lot since then?
Vocal wise, I know myself a whole lot better after years of being in the studio and being on the road. I know how to use my voice a little better than I did years ago. I know what I’m capable of live and in the studio. Of course, I try to go above and beyond that. The writing process is pretty similar. We kind of have a little system in place. It’s very simple: Musically, Matt or John will write a song and practice it. They’ll go record it, then once all the songs are recorded, I go through and I’ll scrap a couple songs and I’ll go home and write a couple songs and then record the vocals. No one in the band knows what the song is going to sound like until that’s done. So they’ve never heard the song with vocals until I’m finished with it. It seems to work out pretty well that way. My vocal influences have always been the same. I’m singing about personal experiences, life in general. Since the beginning, you know, there’s not much else you can write about unless you want to make stuff up.
It’s interesting to hear about the process, how you guys work on things individually. With ‘Hammer of the Witch,’ I find the guitar riffs and lyrics very catchy, which I think is somewhat unique in the hardcore genre.
My instrument in the band is my voice, so I try to be as creative with it as I can. I’ll be the first to tell you that I don’t have an overpowering range. I have two speeds: fast and faster. I have to come up with interesting phonetics or timings to try to make a song that would otherwise sound boring into something a little more exciting. I want more hooks in it. If it’s musically very straightforward, maybe I can sing it at a different cadence to make it a little more catchy and exciting. That’s the challenge. Even in metal or hardcore or punk rock, basically your timings are primarily the same. That hasn’t changed for 20-plus years. My job is to find new and interesting ways to sing over the same type of tempo. That’s where it gets tricky. You have to try to figure out new ways to do things. It makes it exciting and different than your average band.
A significantly exciting part of ‘Hammer of the Witch’ is the artwork. What’s the story behind the cover?
I did that piece. It’s called ‘The White Witch’ and it was about a year and a half go that I curated a gallery show in Cleveland. It was basically all of my favorite black and white ink-style illustrators from all over the globe. That’s the style that I’m really in tune with, a lot of my work is based in ink. I put the show together and that was the piece that I contributed to it. The show was called ‘Life and Death in Black and White‘ and we may be doing a second one, so keep your eyes out for that. Moving on, around that same time of finishing the piece, you know I was really happy with the way it turned out. It was really striking and bold. We were starting to put together ideas for the new record and I usually don’t get involved in the songwriting process until the music is written. There’s not too much for me to do until it’s time to go in there and scream, so aesthetically and theme-wise it’s my job to give ideas about what the new record should look like.
When this piece was done, I knew I wanted to use it for the record in some aspect. It’s a pretty bold and striking picture and it commands a lot of attention. That kind of dictated the name of the album and title track. It all fell together and we just all felt that we should use it for the cover. We didn’t even put our name on the front, we just used the artwork to get your attention.
It looks great and even better on the 12-inch jacket for the vinyl edition.
It looks pretty cool. The first pressing, the cover is actually embossed and comes with a big giant poster of the full artwork. The cover is a little bit cropped, so you’ll get the full poster with the vinyl. I think it looks really cool. It’s nice to see your work big like that.
In today’s day and age, why go to the efforts of pressing music on vinyl when you could just do simple digital releases?
We’re in our early 40s, so vinyl is still a very viable format. There’s still a huge market for that. We grew up collecting records and that’s still what we do to this day. That was a big draw for us to go with Relapse Records because they’re really into their vinyl. It’s such a cool format, it’s big, you can put posters in it, you can look at the artwork. It’s really hands-on. It’s really important for the record to have that art, it’s part of the whole package. It’s nice to sit and read along with the lyrics when you listen to the record. It’s something that me and you and a lot of people are still really into.
It’s definitely making a comeback, but it never fully went away. I don’t think it ever will. Another thing is that with CDs, you can just burn a copy for someone. With cassettes, you can dub another cassette. You can email digital files. Vinyl, it is what it is. It’s hard to reproduce.
Exactly. It’s more of a permanent format, absolutely.
You’ve been around a long time and have been making music for a long time. What do you think of the current state of metal?
Well, you know, I think it’s tough to say. For every generation and even every year, there are bands that rise above other ones and there are bands that suck, yet they gain popularity somehow because the market is so open and easy to break into if you’re willing to do what it takes to get popular. There are always going to be bands that are doing something different and there are always going to be the next wave of bands that follow what they’re doing so that might make it more popular than the bands they’re directly ripping off. It’s the bands that rip off the originals that seem to achieve success. It’s kind of the way of the world I guess.
In general, there’s not tons of creativity out there, but there are still several good bands. I think the state of music is fine, I think it’s the business of music that’s really gone down hill. It’s become impersonal and has ruined a lot of what music is all about.
What do you think the cause of that is?
I come from an older generation. I’m in my early 40s. When I started getting into music, you had to go to record stores, you had to go to shows, you had to actually talk to people in person and socially interact with people and meet people and make your fliers at Kinko’s at three in the morning and drive all over town dropping them off. You had to write letters to people! That gives you a finer appreciation for the whole personal aspect of music.
Nowadays, everyone’s attention span has become so short. People will forget about you in a millisecond. The industry knows this so they flood you with so much so quick. If you don’t hit right away, you’re out. They gravitate toward whatever is the hottest thing. The public being the public will more often just go along with it. I mean, look at YouTube. Stuff gets out there instantaneously. You don’t even have to go to shows. Watch the YouTube video and then tell your friends you were there. The whole personal aspect of everything has dwindled away. There are obviously positives to new technologies that the industry is using, but sometimes there’s no replacement for the human element of interacting with people.
With the new album out, how soon before you start thinking about the next record?
You know what, we’ve already been thinking about it. Though, we’re really not in a place to do much. You’ve got to recharge a little bit. We’ve never felt pressured to put out a record every year. Some bands are, they have to keep their visibility out there or people are going to forget about you. We’ve never felt that pressure because we’ve never been on that level I guess. We feel that good records happen when they happen, whether it’s 1, 2 or 3 years. If it’s quality, people will wait for it.
‘Hammer of the Witch’ has been done for awhile actually. By the time it came out, the record was done for about a year for us. You get to the point where Matt is already screwing around with new riffs and songs and it’s great, let’s keep the ball rolling, you know? We’re ahead of the game. We’re thinking about it, we haven’t even begun touring for this record cycle yet, but it’s always good to keep the creative juices flowing. If good thoughts happen, let’s get them down and start working on stuff as it comes to us. We’re working, man!
Well, good luck with everything surrounding the new record. Spin after spin, I’m digging it even more.
That’s awesome, man. I’m glad. I mean, you know, we don’t really care too much what people think of our stuff because we just do it because we do it. But it’s always nice when people dig it. Especially after 20-plus years of doing it, it’s nice to get that satisfaction that you’re still doing something right.
Ringworm’s ‘Hammer of the Witch’ is out now via Relapse Records. Get your hands on the CD, digital download or vinyl here.
Ringworm, ‘Hammer of the Witch’