No Skeletons in the Closet: An Interview with Evan Linger of Skeletonwitch

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By Renee Trotier; Evan Linger live photo by Laina Dawes

For the past 10 years, Skeletonwitch have proven themselves as one of the most consistent and hard working bands in the business. Not always an easy task when your business is shredding faces. Whether it’s making their home on the road, building relationships with fans or writing top quality blackened thrash metal for the masses, the dudes in Skeletonwitch will always find a way to go that extra mile.

Take this interview for example. Thanks to some personal efforts on behalf of the band themselves, I was generously granted a timeslot after their show at the Mod Club. Despite the rather last minute arrangement, bassist Evan Linger was more than accommodating. We chatted about everything from album art and work ethic, to horror movies and bear fights. Consider this fair warning though – things get a little weird!

I wanted to start out by talking about your newest album Serpents Unleashed, which is amazing by the way. I’ve heard that a lot of your members are really big cat fans. Is it any coincidence that your album dropped on National Cat Day?

[Laughs] I didn’t know that until somebody told me, and it is a coincidence. Purely
a coincidence.

I figured as much.

Well, it’s not a coincidence so much as it’s serendipity. It was meant to be!

I guess it’s like picking a favourite child in a way, but do you have a favourite track from the new album? Whether it’s a particular song that you really like playing, or a riff that stands out?

Yeah, I like the second song the best. It’s called “Beneath Dead Leaves”. We haven’t played it live yet.

Will you?

Yes, we probably will. It’s my favourite song musically, with all the different parts to it. It’s just an awesome black metal epic.

On every album you work with a different producer, and this time you worked with Kurt Ballou. I know you tried to work with him on the last record, but this is the first time it actually worked out. How was that?

It was awesome! Last time we went to L.A. and did a bit more of a slick style of production just to try it out. It sounds good and I’m happy with Forever Abomination, but a lot of people say things like “Your albums never do you justice,” and “You’re a live band,” which is true. I mean, none of us are really studio nerds who just like to go in there and shred. It’s a pain in the ass to go in the studio. But I mean, we did the slick thing last time and then we went with Kurt this time just because it was the complete opposite and we wanted to try something different. To me, I like the production better because I’m more of a rock n’ roll, punk background sort of guy. Personally, I just like it a lot better.

Which brings me to another thing I wanted to ask you about, and you personally, because I noticed with this album the big difference is the bass. You can just hear it so much more on this record, and the mix overall is pretty amazing. Was that Kurt’s influence or did you consciously try to turn it up in the mix?

I think it was Kurt. If you just listen to his rock n’ roll records, bass really drives him. So I think that was Kurt. Coincidentally though, on Breathing the Fire the bass is kind of loud compared to Forever Abomination. And Jack [Endino] is more of a rock n’roll guy too, so I think it has a lot to do with the producer. But at the same time everyone in the band are huge Overkill fans, for example, and they love to hear really gnarly bass. It’s never like, “Let’s turn it down”.

Now to talk about the album art; it’s just awesome and perfect for the record. It’s the first time you’ve worked with John Dyer Baizley since Beyond the Permafrost. Why the reunion? Why now?

I don’t know. We used Andrei Bouzikov for the last two records and he’s awesome. He’s done a shirt design for us that we have for sale today. But I think with the music on this record and our attitude, we just wanted it to be as honest and genuine as possible. There’s no over production on the record. We don’t use a triggered kick drum or anything like that, and the same goes for the art. We just want everything to be honest and John is a painter. He’s an artist, and he will make you an honest piece of work. He wanted lyrics and song titles and ideas and all these things, and he has this grand vision. When he sent the art, he not only sent the art but he sent this paragraph about what it was about. I was like, “Jeez, you really thought about this.”

That’s amazing. You actually have a description of the piece and what (each element) represents symbolically?

Yeah, and I don’t even remember what he wrote unfortunately. [Laughs]

Is there somebody specifically in the band that drives the direction of the artwork and has a vision, or do you just pick your artist and let them go with it?

Yeah, with Chance [Garnette] the lyrics are his vision so obviously when it comes to the art he wants it to correspond with the lyrics. So his hand is in that heavily, but at the same time it’s like I said. We just want good, honest looking stuff. We don’t want a Photoshopped, prefabricated cover or just a photograph that we put our logo on the top of. We want something that really represents the band.

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You guys tour so much and it seems like you’re always on the road. I know you have friends and girlfriends and pets – cats, obviously – back home. How do you balance your extensive touring schedule with your home life? Do you find it really difficult?

We’re just really fortunate to have a great support system at home. Everyone, whether it’s parents or girlfriends or whatever, are just really supportive about what we do and it allows for some level of comfort back home. If I personally didn’t have a girlfriend who was also doing well with what she does, I would not live to the level of comfort that I do. I’d probably be living on someone’s couch. We just have a really good support system of people who are willing to help us out.

What’s your secret to staying sane? You’re so humble and approachable as a band so how do you keep from going crazy?

It’s just enjoying it, you know? We see a lot of bands just being on tour, and obviously I’m not going to name any names but they’re so burned out on what they do because it’s the only thing they know how to do. They’re just making their money, and they just keep doing it so they can make that amount of money and maintain that quality of life. For us, it’s nice to make money doing what we love to do but at the same time it’s also a passion for us. We still enjoy it, and I think that keeps us sane. I think people start to go insane, or flip out and not have fun on tour when they don’t enjoy their craft anymore. They don’t enjoy the people that they’re with. They don’t enjoy the shows, or the fans. I think people start to get jaded on that kind of stuff.

It’s almost like an indicator that you should just get out.

Yeah, definitely! To me it is. I see bands that are like that, and it’s a little disgraceful to see people doing (the same job) we do, who are shitty to their fans and shitty to each other. It’s definitely inappropriate.

What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever received that might have helped Skeletonwitch get to where they are now, and who was it from?

When I joined the band they already had a system of responsibility and personal accountability. Everyone works really hard at what they do. We all practice at home, we all help load in. Like, no one is sitting around texting or anything while everyone else loads in, you know what I mean? Even Chance and Nate grew up that way. Their dad was in the military and I think he instilled in them a really intense sense of personal responsibility. It just reflects on the band. We all kind of do our part, whether it’s loading, doing interviews, doing press stuff. Or even self-managing, which we are doing right now. You never get comfortable and say “Oh, someone else will take care of that.” Even though we’re on a label, we’ve got a van and we’re on tour. You just have to stay hungry and do all the hard work.

I was going to say, it seems like you and Scott [Hendrick] do a lot of press stuff and I know that Nate [Garnette] drives pretty much all the time. Does he get to pick what music you listen to while driving?

He does drive, all time! We have satellite radio in (the van) and a lot of people ask if we listen to the metal station and we do. But when we’re on a tour and hearing blast beats all night the best thing you can listen to is the ‘80’s station or like, ‘60’s on 6 or ‘70’s on 7. So he does get to pick the radio stations, but when I’m up front with him doing a shift to keep him awake, I’ll completely just black metal him out for like 4 hours between gas stops. If I pick it we’ll just sit up there and listen to the worst, shitty black metal.

Do you have a certain album that’s been on rotation a lot lately? It doesn’t have to be metal.

Yeah, it’s funny. Nate downloads stuff on his iPhone and he’ll download a playlist of stuff that we always hear on these ‘60’s and ‘70’s stations. Hilarious things like “MacArthur Park” or Joan Baez songs or Dolly Parton. But yeah, there’s also some good metal records that have come out in the last few years that we listen to quite a bit.

At Hellbound we’re pretty proud of our Canadian identity and try to support a lot of homegrown metal acts. Are there any Canadian metal bands you could give a shout out to or any you have particularly got into?

Just because I don’t live up here I guess I don’t get to see much of what the local scene is all about. When we headline up here there will be some local bands, but I will say that any Canadian band we’ve toured with – the bigger bands from Canada – have been nothing but awesome. They’re kind of just kindred spirits and lifelong friends. Like, even though the music is different, those 3 Inches of Blood guys have become such good friends. They’ll come and hang out and then stay over at my house when they’re in town. We’ll just stay up until five in the morning and drink beer. Every band we’ve met from up here though has been pretty awesome.

I wanted to ask about the video for “I am of Death (Hell Has Arrived)” because you used a really cool horror movie type narrative for it. Are any of you really big horror fans?

Yeah, our drummer is a huge horror movie fan and he knows about all this stuff I don’t even know about. I like the older stuff. Actually, Chance wanted to do the horror movie concept because the song concept is about someone that becomes the Reaper. He becomes death and it’s his responsibility to kill people. But I was thinking about all these old horror movies I like, like Evil Dead and stuff like that, and I thought we should put an old school treatment on (the video). Make it seem like an ‘80’s B list horror movie, because those are my favourite. Like the original Last House on the Left. It’s not that I even like horror movies, but I just like how shitty those movies are. It’s like what I was saying about black metal earlier! The shittier the better for me.

Who would win in a fight between a fully grown female grizzly bear and a male Silverback Gorilla on neutral territory?

I would say the Grizzly bear. They just seem mean as hell. Actually the other day we did an interview with a guy who asked if we’d rather fight a horse sized duck or one hundred duck sized horses. I think I just said I’d get eaten alive by either of them.

On a more relevant level, who do you think would win in a three way throw down between Noisem, Fallujah and Black Dahlia Murder? I won’t include Skeletonwitch because of the bias.

Okay. Is it a bracketed tournament or are they all fighting at once?

They’re all fighting at once.

Oh, Black Dahlia Murder. For sure. Have you seen their bass player? He’s the Incredible Hulk. I think he would just beat everyone’s ass and then beat everyone in his band’s ass. He would come out on top. That’s my answer and I’m sticking to it!

As a more personal question since you’ve got great long hair, do you use both shampoo and conditioner or just whatever is available on tour because you need to wash?

I will not wash my hair unless I have both products, and I bring them with me. I bring some hippy, animal cruelty free stuff that my girlfriend gives me on tour. Conditioning is really important.

You just had your 10 year anniversary as a band. Where do you see Skeletonwitch 10 years from now?

Jeez, I don’t know. That’s a big question. Hopefully doing the same thing and like I said before, being as honest as we can while doing what we do!

Skeletonwitch’s latest album Serpents Unleashed is out now on Prosthetic Records

Sean Palmerston

Sean is the founder/publisher of Hellbound.ca; he has also written about metal for Exclaim!, Metal Maniacs, Roadburn, Unrestrained! and Vice.