“You leave people behind so that you can progress”: An interview with Mike Hill of Tombs

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Tombs, the New York City-based purveyors of post-punk shaded, sludgy black metal, have a new album due out June 16th through Metal Blade Records. We took the opportunity to address a few questions to vocalist/guitarist/sole mainstay Mike Hill. He offered insights into the inspirations behind the new album and the malleable nature of his band’s lineup, as well as some thoughts on the history of human civilization and Antifa.

 

The Grand Annihilation is your second album produced by Erik Rutan, following the All Empires Fall EP recorded by Sanford Parker. What made you decide to return to Rutan?

It was a budget thing. We produced Empires on our dime and licensed it to Relapse; our contract was up, and I wanted to actually own something before we signed a new contract and entered the sharecropper culture that exists between the band and the label.

Rutan is my producer of choice. Metal Blade provided an adequate budget, so we returned to Mana Studios.

This is your first full-length release with Fade Kainer on synth. How have his contributions affected the band in the studio and as a live act? [Kainer was still in the band when I last caught them live, and the roster I checked was out of date. My mistake, obviously.]

Fade is not on the new album, so you should probably review your intel. He was in the band for about a year and played on Empires. His contributions fell short of my expectations. I don’t think being in Tombs was really for him. He wasn’t really a team player, so he had to go.

Tombs has undergone more frequent than average lineup shifts, even for a metal band, but has remained fairly stable the past few years. Do you hope to maintain a more regular situation moving forward or expect to keep making changes?

I don’t think that is true, actually.  The more bands I come into contact with, it seems like the revolving door of members is a routine thing. In all honesty, it hasn’t really felt like a band since Andrew [Hernandez] left a few years ago. He is actually a friend, someone who I’ve known for years prior to his involvement with the band. That wasn’t the case with the guys that were in the band since his departure, especially the drummer that replaced him, who was more or less a permanent fill-in.

I’m comfortable with Tombs being me and a series of other musicians, be it for recording or touring.

The title of the album echoes The Great Annihilator by Swans. Was that record, or Swans in general, an important inspiration for you in putting together these songs?

The Swans are a HUGE influence on me, but the title was more or less a coincidence.  The title came from a piece of writing I did over the last year, and I just snipped that line out. Speaking of lineup changes, the Swans are the same kind of trip; members come and go.

On a similar note, “Saturnalian” takes the band perhaps farther in the direction of your post-punk influences than ever before, including an emphasis on the style of melodic vocals you explored on All Empires Fall. Why did you decide to release that song as a preview of the album?

Metal Blade chose that song. It sort of makes sense I suppose, showing that the record has a lot of different looks on it.

 

Where did you find lyrical inspiration for this album? What are the major themes to tie this record together?

I write a lot about the cycles of death and life and extrapolate that into the rise and fall of civilizations. The opening and closing of doors has always been fascinating to me, life changes and things fall away into dust. You leave people behind so that you can progress. These are the topics on the new record.

I’m a big fan of Graham Hancock John Anthony West, and Egyptology in general. A big topic that they explore is the likelihood that an advanced human civilization existed a long time ago and was wiped out by some type of extinction event. It’s fascinating and, to me, very likely. The record is a collection of these types of musings.

What do you think is the most important way you’ve developed as a songwriter or musician in recent years?

I’ve become more introspective, more dialed into expressing myself without outside influences. As much as I like to say that I make music for myself, I have to admit that I have other people’s expectations in mind. This time around, I feel like I’ve gotten closer the the ultimate objectivity that I’ve been chasing.

You have a tour ahead with Fit for an Autopsy and Moon Tooth, which is an intriguingly eclectic lineup. Your last outing was with Darkest Hour and Ringworm, who also have very different sounds from yours. Is that sort of unusual mix of bands and audiences something you look for when deciding on touring plans?

I receive an email with a tour offer and I accept it if the details look good to me.  I approach all of this like I’m a plumber working for the union. I like to be on the road playing gigs, and that’s pretty much the whole story. It’s cool to be out with different bands. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t.

Whether they want to or not, bands from the black metal tradition are increasingly finding themselves roped into debates about how to address extremist political viewpoints in music, with notable incidents like Antifa protests of Marduk and Woe being removed from a German festival. Do you have any concerns about how these conflicts could affect Tombs?

Antifa are a bunch of cowards. There are real issues out there that these guys should be concerned with. They remind me of a certain hardcore “crew” that was concerned about the “Nazi Menace” and as a result caused an incredible wave of violence that destroyed the scene. Fuck Antifa. In my opinion, they’re a collection of insecure bullies that get off on pushing their agenda.

The Liberal Extremists are the worst thing to happen to free speech. I believe everyone has the right to express their ideas and if you don’t agree, you can peacefully enter into a dialogue with them. In no way should violence be the answer unless there is a physical conflict to be resolved. These gangster tactics are bullshit to me. Intimidation, vandalism, and all of their little man trips are hypocritical and dangerous

How is the coffee business? What are your goals for the Savage Gold brand?

It’s going well. I’m trying to expand and launch Savage Gold Cold Press. I’m also trying to launch a new site with more of a community vibe. I’m adding a blog and video section that will deal with cool topics like motivation and my experiences with trying to live a positive lifestyle with so much negativity and weakness surrounding me.

The Grand Annihilation is out June 16th. You can find pre-order information here.

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  • xengineofdeathx

    Does that guy have to be a prick? Like is it in the rules? Dudes that do Jiu Jitsu usually have a lot more chill. Also, Nazis are a problem, it’s not just a bunch of people crying about free speech.

    • There’s so much weakness.
      All around him.
      Around him.

      • But love will find a way just give it time,
        time,
        time…

      • themaleshoegaze

        I think Hill’s repeated, clearly pejorative use of the word ‘weakness’ and his implicit adoration of strength and power in himself and the world as such + his tough guy ‘so he had to go’-band member policy (all perfectly fine if not really endearing to me) make it way too easy to put him in a corner from which an antifa-diss seems, erm, ill-advised and unaware. Also, I’d be aghast at criticism of anti-fascism as a stance, he doesn’t make it clear where he stands there. His ‘peaceful dialogue/free speech’ stance doesn’t convince me so much: is he asking me to follow a kind of appeasement policy with fascists? Fascism is bad. No two ways about that.
        The music? Saw the Path of Totality (interesting album title in light of this Interview) iteration of the band, like their sound and talent well enough, but nothing for me to rave about.

        • Getting curt with interviewers is just self-defeating. Especially on the Toilet.

    • LOL at the last sentence

    • Óðinn

      They really coordinated their wardrobe for that picture. Their stylist is on the ball. The dude with the best buckle plays in a Country band on the weekends.

      I agree with you. As a Metal fan, I have to say that we (collectively) spend way too much time worrying and bitching about Antifa giving Nazis a hard time than we doing about actual racism and fascism, while debating whether it’s appropriate or not to use violence against people who advocate for actual genocide. I say this as a liberal who admittedly grew up in a rough neighborhood, and then became an intellectual and an artist; it makes us look like a bunch of whiney bitches who would rather tacitly support racism than stand for something. If people will not fight against genocide, when will they fight? If you don’t stand up against fascism when it’s directed at someone else, don’t be surprised when nobody sticks up for you. See how much fascists care about free speech when they’ve got stranglehold on the government. Fascists have no intention of honestly debating an issue with you and then coming to a mutually satisfactory conclusion. They want to take over the government, kill people based on race, gender, religion or politics, and keep their boots on the throats of all but a few. Let’s not just keep pretending music is ultimately more important than politics just because it’s cool and edgy to pretend we don’t care about politics.

      Yeah, Antifa may misdirect their tactics against certain bands where not everybody is racist, but missing a Metal show isn’t the end of the world. Let’s stop pretending that the idea of fighting racism and fascism is somehow worse than actual fascism. Society has forgotten what can happen when we don’t oppose fascism.

      • xengineofdeathx

        For sure man. And also I’ll say that I get why people have problems with Antifa. There is kind of a caveat that goes with them, because you wonder if some of these fringe groups that are under that banner will lump some less malevolent things in with Nazis, and use that same violence against it.

        But I think as a whole, people underestimate just how prevalent white supremacism is, and how willing these people are to resort to violence. This country has a long history of that kind of thing, and if we respect their opinions too much, they will gain power. We might respect them right into the fucking white house.

        So yeah, some Antifa people are showing that there are assholes in every group, but I feel zero sympathy for some racists that get stomped. Violence was never off the table for them, so I don’t want to hear people crying that some Nazis got a fucking black eye.

        • Óðinn

          Agreed 100%.

  • Edward

    Good interview. Path of Totality is still my jam.

  • Guacamole Jim

    Interesting interview. I’m sure the antifa comments will be the subject of a lot of debate, but for the most part I agree with him (in different words). Peaceful resolution of conflict and the use of dialogue to change ideas are much more effective than physical violence. The battle is an ideological one, not one of physical prowess. If it becomes about physical prowess, then the heart of the issue is: truth = might. That’s a dangerous line to walk, especially with Nazis.

    • dan

      Since when did truth=might? Bizarre statement.

    • FrankWhiteKingOfNY

      I have never personally met an “Antifa” follower, so I can’t really know how they’re like in real life, so I don’t know what is and what isn’t true about those “Antifa horror stories” – but IF they’re anything like what has been written about them, then I don’t necessarily disagree with Mike Hill in saying they’re in essence a bunch of bullies. I’m most certainly not against people who are vocally anti-fascism, but when physical intimidation against targets that aren’t even clear cut becomes the name of their game, it does become a problem.
      Extremism in any shape or form belongs in the trash.

      • Count_Breznak

        It started out as an antifascist movement, and like every movement, after reaching a certain size and popularity, attracted attention whores of all calibers using it’s name for their own agendas. Infighting starts, “feminists” vs “vegans” vs “anti-USA” vs…whatever else considered itself “left” at some point in time, and of course the cause you yourself support is the most important one, while people not instantly chimeing in without questions are worse than Hitler. This leads to the overzealous (s)creamfests, because what better way to show your unwavering conviction. Going full circle to the fascism they originally wanted to fight.

      • dan

        They’re not a lot like what’s written about them imo, what’s said in that interview seems utterly uninformed to me. I’m not antifa, and I don’t agree with them, but the idea that they’re just cowards who don’t like free speech is pretty ridiculous.

        • FrankWhiteKingOfNY

          Like I said, I can’t be 100% sure, because I never personally came across any of them. I never came across actual neo-nazis either. Mouth-breathing racist morons? Sure, but I never met an actual neo-nazi. Then again, I don’t need to meet a neo-nazi to form an opinion on them, because it’s pretty clear to me their ideology at base is completely contemptible in itself.

          With Antifa, written sources and videos are basically all I got to form an opinion on them. And to be quite honest, I kinda believe that there at least has to be “something” positive, in a substantial and credible way, written about something before I can see and believe its existence has any benefits. Thus far, the amount of negative stories I’ve seen surrounding the so-called “Antifa” movement completely dwarfs the amount of positive stories that have been published about them. I mean, the bad seems to outweigh the good to a ridiculous extent. Is there some demonification going on? Possibly…but wherever there’s smoke to be found, there’s fire.

          • dan

            I think you have to take into account that antifa are, for the most part, anarchists, so they’re an enemy of most authorities, media etc. and so aren’t going to get much positive coverage. As far as their ideology, as a group, goes, it’s essentially that they disrupt gatherings where fascists are attempting to organise. They certainly tend to have other things in common, but that’s really the core ethos.
            I’d agree that there’s no smoke without fire, I’m not convinced at all that that’s antifa tho, I’d be much more inclined to think that the smoke and fire is fascists and nazis.

          • FrankWhiteKingOfNY

            You seem to have gotten my “no smoke without fire” statement a bit mixed up. I’m not even talking about fascists and nazis; I don’t need to read stuff about them to know what kind of dregs they are. When I’m talking about “no smoke without fire”, I”m specifically talking about the information I can gather about antifa. When there’s so much negative coverage on you, when so many left-leaning people voice their disapproval of antifa and their ways of “getting things done”…I’m a firm believer there must be something wrong.
            Nazis? Sure, they exist. And if all of them could somehow be grouped together and an asteroid would crash right into that gathering place, there would certainly be a good excuse for the rest of the world to throw a party – but it’s not as if you can’t cross a street on planet earth without bumping into a nazi. They exist, and every nazi is one too many, but it’s not as if they’re all over the place. All too often antifa seem to look for any feeble excuse to start a ruckus, which almost makes them as much of a public nuisance as those they’re supposedly fighting against. The impression I get from antifa is that they’re blowhard attention seekers at their best and complete and utter garbage at their worst.

          • dan

            When do you see or hear any antifa people other than at far right rallies? The idea that Trump et al don’t have any fascist or nazi support is blatantly false, many of his supporters were vocal nazis and or fascists.
            Also, although they are anti-nazi, they’re specifically antifascist, and fascists aren’t necessarily nazis, so, that you’re not seeing nazis doesn’t make a lot of difference, fascists aren’t necessarily going to be dressed in nazi costume. Can you point out any examples of antifa actions were there weren’t any fascists?
            Then too, where are you getting your info from? Antifa themselves run several blogs newsletters etc. where they go thru all this stuff, what events they’re attending, tactics, motives, reports from the events etc. etc.
            Wrt them being blowhards etc how can they be when they operate anonymously?
            Claiming they’re as much a public nuisance as fascists or nazis is likewise very odd, fascists and nazis both are political ideologies with a desire to control the societies they operate in, significant support among the establishment and populace, and are explicitly in favour of using violence, up to and including murder to advance their interests. Antifa just disrupts nazis and fascists, admittedly with some violence, but the idea that they’re in anyway as dangerous or problematic as nazis or fascists seems ludicrous to me.

          • FrankWhiteKingOfNY

            Dude, you know what? I’m pulling out. Maybe I’m not too well-versed on the subject, probably I don’t know enough about them to form anything resembling an accurate opinion, so I’d do best to keep my mouth shut. Otherwise this will turn into a discussion without end and I’m not going to waste my time on a political discussion on a music blog.
            You do bring up some solid points, but all I know is that there are LOTS of people on the left who hate antifa’s guts. Without reason? In my opinion not.

            Listen up. I primarily come to the metal blogs to discuss music. I come here to enjoy myself and I’m enjoying myself when I can discuss music. I can’t remember we ever interacted, but when I went to your disqus track record I can clearly see that you’re primarily involved whenever there’s something political going on. If that’s the way you want to spend your time on the internet, that’s perfectly fine, I’m not judging that. Me on the other hand, when I come to this blog, I just like to do what’s enjoyable to me: discussing metal, discussing music. I know I kinda dragged myself into this political discussion, but I know when it’s time to pull out. This isn’t going to end up anywhere, there won’t be a consensus of any kind and I don’t know about you, but for me, I know I’m only going to end up frustrated. I don’t think you’re a really regular commenter on here, but I’ve seen the way those political debates ended up in complete shitstorms between regular commenters who used to get along in the past – which kinda kills the mood for everyone.

            If you want to talk metal (or music in general) on here, you’re welcome, I’m all ears. If you want to challenge me in a political discussion…I’m not the right guy to do this with. I know I kinda dragged myself into the discussion, I try to make sure it won’t happen again, because discussing music is where, for me, the fun is at.
            I like to think I’m reasonably easy-going and respectable; I’d rather get along with everybody on here.

          • Óðinn

            FrankWhiteKingOfNY: “I know when it’s time to pull out.”

          • FrankWhiteKingOfNY

            Well that does come across like a rather ambiguous statement, doesn’t it hehehe?

          • dan

            Fair enough man, no worries.

  • FrankWhiteKingOfNY

    Speaking about Tombs’ music; I always found them to be a band with tons of potential, yet they never really delivered “that special album”.

    • drug_genosh

      agreed. I do really like that ep though.

  • Sid Vicious Promos

    I agree with this guy. Free speech is an important part of our government and everyone has the right to express their opinions and everyone has the right to disagree in a peaceful way.

  • KJM, Dr. Disco
    • Óðinn

      Upvoted just because.

  • Waynecro

    I saw Tombs recently, and it was a great performance. Thanks for the awesome interview!

  • Cockypock Aioli

    I think protesting black metal bands is a bit dumb but I think the antifa/free speech debate is way off base. I’m at work and in the bathroom so I can’t spend much time explaining why but I’d encourage checking out the “Berkeley antifa” response to the recent attacks. They offer an alternate perspective that both the left, right and middle are not really offering (which is itself suspicious).

    • NDG

      Do you have a link anywhere? Just trawled through their Spacebook page to no avail.

      • Cockypock Aioli

        http://www.dailycal.org/2017/05/01/breaking-the-siege/

        I don’t necessarily agree with everything they’re saying but I think their perspective has not been fairly represented. I tend to think of “free speech” as a sorta mental stop-gap, similar to “freedom” or “liberty”. They’re often used pretty simplistically in order to trigger certain ideological assumptions (such as who is engaging in acceptable political discourse).

        • NDG

          Thanks for that.

          We have a similar situation happening here in Australia regarding “free speech” and the softening of our Racial Discrimination Act.

          Difficult to write a sort statement without presenting the history of the debate but my main issue is those pushing to make changes in the interest of “free speech” are the first to lose their minds when someone makes a statement they do not agree with.

          • Óðinn

            With the exception of the US, most western democracies have laws against hate speech. The idea is that speech should be mostly free in democracies unless you intend to use that speech to take away free speech and liberties from others or use your speech to have others (usually minorities) harmed.

            Now that should be common sense. But the right wing likes to muddy the argument and make it seem as if the real problem is that opponents of hate speech are actually bullying fascists and racists, which is actually the apposite of what they are doing. Opposing hate speech is not bullying, it’s defending the rights of human beings.

          • NDG

            I hear that.

  • Max

    The Toilet is securing some great interviews lately, even if Tombs leaves me underwhelmed personally.

    • Óðinn

      Tombs: Leaving Metal fans underwhelmed since 2007.

      Seriously though, I actually do like their music, and I own Path of Totality and Savage Gold on CD. I probably won’t buy another one of their albums though. This interview (no fault of Dr. Kolkey and the Toilet) made me realize that Mike Hill is kind of a dick. Plus, the coffee promotion and the “molon labe” logo are pretty lame. No need to support this band financially any further.

      • PostBlackenedWhaleGaze

        Weird thing is, Tombs is coming to my town in a few months, but they are playing in an actual coffee shop… Like, a tiny, quiet coffee shop where local folk/bluegrass/indie/acoustic groups play… I kinda just want to go to see what that’s gonna be like.The place can only hold, like, 50 people max.

        • Óðinn

          That is weird.

  • The Tetrachord of Archytas
  • Great interview, Dr. K!

  • themaleshoegaze

    I will never not think of Born Against’s glorious ‘Well fed fuck’ when reading the word team player.
    https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=NqesjFNU6js
    Pretty sure BA are not really Hill’s favourite HC band of old.

  • Glad to hear his comments regarding antifa. Nothing but a bunch of crybaby losers. Love how the interviewer completely switched the subject after his antifa comments. So how’s the coffee biz?? LMAO

    • It was an email interview. He submitted the questions and got responses back. Little hard to press a subject when it’s conducted that way.