Interview with Michael Dorrian (guitars and vocals)
Interview conducted by Luxi Lahtinen
Date online: November 27, 2011
Netherlands Metallers Anatomy Of I, led by the brainchild Michael Dorrian and his longtime friend Dirk Verbeuren (Scarve, Soilwork) on drums and Steve DiGiorgio (best known for Sadus of course) on bass, have coined a sound for the band's 10-track debut album titled "Substratum", that keeps them pretty much away from any known sub-category of Metal genre. There's basically all kinds of stuff involved in their sound – from Death Metal to Thrash Metal to Black Metal, etc. – all this having blended with some non-Metallic, unorthodox elements that actually give a very unique twist to the band's original sound.
Since the band's debut record was released this autumn – and Anatomy Of I is also aimed to play live, Michael was forced to recruit three new members to replace both Dirk and Steve due to the guys' other commitments in their life. I let Michael continue from this, to tell the story of Anatomy Of I; how it all started for him and how overall the band's story will be continued in 2012 – now that a couple of doors have been opened for them.
So, please enter Michael...
Luxi: First off, would you tell us how you guys met each other to form this 3-piece band, named Anatomy Of I?
Michael: I guess this is a slightly different story than what you're used to read... I've known Dirk since I was 10 years old, as he was in my older brother's class in junior high, and I pretty much got into metal thanks to the tapes he was giving to my brother; Dirk really transferred that fascination for everything metal at an early age. We actually jammed together at a much later stage, in 1996, when Dirk was studying/teaching music at the MAI conservatory in Nancy (France) while I was in my senior year of high school. We basically played some Slayer and Death covers together with my friend Ed on bass/vocals. A couple of years later we worked on a project together which never really took off as Dirk was fully focused on Scarve and I had actually moved back to Holland. We'll probably share some rehearsal tracks as bonus tracks for the next CD. After years of playing in different bands, I simply decided to give Dirk a call when the material for "Substratum" was done. My reluctance to do so over the years was due to the fact that Dirk wouldn't be available for live shows, and I was afraid to be stuck with killer music but without a local drummer could play this stuff live... in the end, not only was it better to have something out there rather than nothing at all, but I've recently found a killer local drummer in Amsterdam, by the name of Melle Kramer from the band Obsidian, who will be playing live with us in the near future. Regarding Steve, I've known him since 1995 more or less, where I simply dropped him an e-mail as a fan, inquiring about his activities and new recordings, etc... The friendship grew over the years as we're both avid 70's fusion geeks and have a similar sense of sarcasm/humor. When yet another local line-up fell apart, I figured I'd just give Steve a call and worry about a live replacement later. As we need to start out locally and open for some touring acts, Robin Zielhorst (Exivious, ex-Cynic) was hired on bass for upcoming live shows. We've also added a second guitarist named Tobiad Ruijter who has played in a few bands with Melle Kramer before he started/joined Obsidian.
Luxi: When you started this band, did you have a clear idea right from the very start as to how you wanted Anatomy Of I to sound like, like never losing your focus on those things that you considered essential to create a specific sound and style for this band?
Michael: As most people, I listen to many different things, and as most musicians, I also enjoy playing and writing different things... that being said, the material written for Anatomy Of I comes naturally to me, so I had quite a precise idea of what the end result should sound like. Obviously, I didn't know exactly what Dirk and Steve would come up with, but I made sure that every song had room for embellishments from each individual.
Luxi: Do you try to keep Anatomy Of I out of some certain musical box so that you could use all your creativity to run this band the way you want to, without even thinking too hard how other people might want to call or judge your stuff?
Michael: Although I've just said that I knew what the music would sound like once finished, I didn't head into this with a pre-conceived style or genre in mind. The overall sound is obviously Metal, but that'd be the only box we've trapped ourselves in. I understand that people listen to specific genres and sometimes want to emulate a specific style within metal, but that just wouldn't work for me. I can get caught up in a vibe for a couple of weeks, only listening to one specific genre and liking it to the point of thinking I should try to write something similar, but as soon as I sit down with a guitar and work on it, it just doesn't feel right... the parts sound generic, predictable and fake... which is when I realize I'm just answering to an impulse, rather than expressing myself. If I'd have to describe our style I'd say I'm focused on writing catchy Speed/Thrash/Death Metal songs, while adding depth by fitting ingredients to them from various other styles of music. All this without interrupting the flow of the songs... the song remains at the core of what we do. We're not about to interrupt the flow of a song to display some sort of instrumental wizardry, as it would kill the music. On another note, I don't like to use the term ‘tech' as our goal is not to try to play the hardest kind of parts and to show off, we're simply adding depth and variations to the songs. Addition without subtraction, I'd call it, as we're adding details to the skeleton of a song, without hurting its essence.
Luxi: What's the best time in the day when you think you are in the most creative mood to get the best ideas for the band, either lyric- or music-wise? Or does it really matter when this flaming spark of creativity hits you?
Michael: I usually come up with basic ideas at all kinds of moments and just write them down or hum them into my phone, in order to track it in the evening. Once it's time to develop these initial ideas, I'll listen to the unfinished song and try to add something to it, maybe re-arrange it... if I think something's still missing or I can't think of what parts to add, I simply put it away and work on something else. Not working on one song at a time helps to keep the creativity flowing, in my case. I can have 15 unfinished songs that consist of a few riffs or chord progressions put together, and I'll go through each session and see what I can do with it. A lot of times, the end result won't even include any of the original parts, but variations of these, in other keys, tempos and/or syncopations.
Luxi: When you got Steve Di Giorgio (Sadus, Death, Testament, Obituary, etc. fame) in and convinced about this band, how much did he actually manage to challenge you to put even more effort into the songs on your recently released/forthcoming debut album, "Substratum"?
Michael: Actually, I've been talking to Steve about recording on my songs ever since we started talking, back in the mid-90's, but it never happened till now, as I always felt that the material was too straightforward and would simply be a waste of his talent. We did work on some jazz fusion tunes in San Francisco, back in 2002, together with Sadus drummer Jon Allen, but it didn't result in any concrete material. I had written a whole pile of chord changes and themes which we jammed on, following the tradition of great 70's fusion bands... yet, the material wasn't developed enough in order to turn these ideas into real songs within a week. The jams were cool though, too bad we didn't record any of it! So to answer your question, I felt that the music had to match both Steve and Dirk's talents, else it wouldn't make sense having them on there. If we follow this trail of thought, it was essential to me that every detail of their playing would cut through the mix, as once more, it wouldn't make sense having them on the record if I was going to put layers of distorted guitars and screams on top of it. Simone Mularoni did a great job emphasizing all the needed dynamics without losing any punch.
Luxi: When Steve (Di Giorgio) was recording his bass tracks in the studio for the songs, did some of his somewhat wacky techniques came to you as a surprise how he was actually able to this and that, really leaving your jaw completely open by all his trickiness as far as his complicated yet at the same time, very trademark-ish playing style is concerned?
Michael: He used some flamenco-style picking techniques that I wasn't aware he was using... for some fast parts, he'd put his index and middle finger together and use them as a pick, doing up and down strokes like that... twisted stuff! I've actually seen him play lines like that before, but I had always thought he was playing simple up-strokes... Besides from that, it was cool to see him add some signature licks at spots where I figured he'd play some more discrete, laid back parts. One of the recurring things we applied in order to keep the bass balanced with my guitars and Dirk's drumming, was this ‘rule' (so to speak) we came up with where Steve would play busier parts when the tempo was slower, and play something slower and more melodic whenever Dirk would go into hyper-blast speeds... this helped a lot in having the bass stand out during the crazier parts.
Luxi: What do you think makes Steve such an easy guy to work with then? Obviously he's also a very laid back, down-to-earth type of person, but still has a strong opinion about certain things if something does not sound quite right to his ears. Does this correct?
Michael: Steve is just a no bullshit guy who doesn't sit around and talk about what he plays, he just plays it. I'd show him the guitar parts, he'd interpret them his way, and we'd immediately record them... it couldn't be more spontaneous. Whenever we'd encounter a part where we felt the bass should play something special but couldn't come up with it right away, we'd leave it ‘till the rest of the song was done, come back to it, and Steve would simply nail it. The intro to "Organic Machine" was done this way. I used to play a short guitar solo at the beginning, but I felt that the neo-classical sweeping I was playing was a little bit cheesy, so I left it out for Steve to do something interesting instead. As this was the first song he tracked, it wasn't good to start out with some crazy improvements so we tracked the whole song, listened to the whole thing, and went back to the intro. Steve figured out what he wanted to play: a harmony to the chords with some of his signature artificial harmonic slides. It embellished the intro chords, filled the void that I left by leaving out the guitar solo, while making perfect sense, musically. He also has a very ‘classical' approach to his parts as he's really following the drums' accents and fills while playing something resembling the guitar parts, or at least being in the same keys/progressions. For the parts that grooved more, where Dirk is playing open hi-hat parts, we muted the guitar parts so that Steve could really jam to Dirk's beats. This resulted in the guitars and bass playing completely different parts to the same groove. I didn't alter any of those guitar parts afterwards, as this seemingly odd combination simply worked great. An example of this is the mid-section in the title track, Substratum, where Steve's playing this funky slap-thing with a wah pedal while I'm playing a palm-muted riff with artificial harmonics... somehow the odd time signature (7/4) and the differing syncopated guitar and bass parts just fit! This is one of the great things about this session, as I had a certain pre-conceived vision of what it would sound like; I programmed drums and recorded scratch bass parts in order to give Dirk and Steve an idea of what I was looking for, but all these interesting twists and new paths would come along the journey, which made it so much more fulfilling. These unpredictable moments also added to the overall maturity and depth: a win-win situation, really.
Luxi: Also your drummer Dirk Verbeuren ain't any rookie, with his experience behind drum kits of both Soilwork and Scarve. What do you think what are his best assets as a drummer, and what type of ideas has he brought into the sound of Anatomy Of I, to make things a bit more special and even more sort of unique for you all in all?
Michael: Dirk is not only a very versatile drummer, he's actually really good at all the styles he touches! Most importantly, he always plays with feel/taste and groove, whatever the style, whatever the speed. All this brings a very natural element to the drums that are the key to good drum parts, in my opinion. Especially with today's technology, where it's easy to quantize, and use drum replacement plug-ins to remove all natural feel out of the drums and make it sound like a drum machine... it suits some styles of metal, don't get me wrong, but we want our dynamics to be heard ! It makes the music breathe, so to speak... Regarding the specific type of parts, he knew I was looking for fast parts alternated with groove-filled open hi-hat parts, and accents, etc... the main thing that Dirk changed compared to the drum parts I had programmed in my demos was the presence of blast beats. I wasn't sure whether we should use them, as I was afraid it'd take away from the overall clarity of the mix, covering the bass and/or guitar parts. Dirk was convinced it'd only add more variations in the dynamics and I went along with it, as long as they'd appear in short spurts. Another big change Dirk brought was speeding up certain songs, boosting them up by 10 or 20 bpm ...surprisingly, he didn't want to speed up the slower songs, but the fastest ones!!! I trusted his judgment as he has a lot of live experience and knows what songs work well with the crowd and what stuff might sound a little dull in a live setting. I definitely wanted to avoid the common mistake of having the songs sound great on a stereo, while not being able to move a crowd. I think Dirk sped up 3 or 4 songs, and removed some riff repetitions here and there.
Luxi: The album was mastered by Simone Mularoni at Fear Studio in Italy. With all the experience Simone has with many bands of different musical styles, I guess you felt safe all the way through the mastering process when you handed over the first Anatomy Of I product to his secure and skilled hands – kind of knowing deep inside you that there was no way that he could possibly fuck up this product...
Michael: Actually Simone mixed the record at Fear Studio, which was his last job for them, and mastered it in his own studio, Domination Studios. For both mixing and mastering, it's great having a capable engineer with a lot of experience, but in the end the record has to sound the way the band wants it to sound, and Simone did exactly that! Communication is the key here, and he understood what we were looking for, regarding every single detail. The mastering stage was a different process, as we took a break from the mix in order to have fresh ears, so to speak. He'd email me different masters, and I'd give him feedback, indicating what I liked and disliked about each master, and he'd tweak them a little... I think he made 6 different masters, and we ended up going for the 2nd one, as it was the closest to the final mix.
Luxi: How important do you find it to get a completely right setup (all the right amps, monitors and stuff) for a studio whenever you may start some serious recording sessions with the band? Have you ever compromised anything in a studio environment whenever you have noticed some things simply cannot be accomplished the way you originally thought they should have been in the first place?
Michael: Nowadays, studios offer so many options that you can make things as hard on yourself as you want, so compromises have to be made. In the end, you simply can't have a different sound for every riff or solo, as it's not only a tweaking nightmare but also a nightmare in the mix. I've used the same rhythm sound throughout the whole record with the same guitar, and merely used different guitars and sounds for the leads. I'd say the big compromise I made in this recording, was lowering the second guitar parts and synths in the mix. These parts were often intertwined and would merely add an extra layer of chords in the background, so I figured they needed to take a step back in order to make sure the drums, bass, guitar riffs and vocals would get most of the attention. Creating an album is all about compromises and setting priorities straight, and I'm sure we've made the right choices.
Luxi: What do you want to tell by the band name, Anatomy Of I? It really ain't any of your typical band name for a Metal band for sure, so could you kindly shed some light on your decision to name the band "Anatomy Of I"?
Michael: Anatomy of I stands for self expression, playing music from the heart and mind. The music we create simply has to feel natural; otherwise it's not worth writing/recording/playing it. Honestly, I prefer shorter band names, one word being ideal, but everything I came up with was already out there, so I just went with something odd instead. It works both ways, as the originality of it avoids us from being put in a certain box, but it also might make it harder to reach fans of certain styles of music that could appreciate us, but wouldn't be naturally inclined to check us out because the name doesn't resemble anything they're used to listening to.
Luxi: Lyrics are also a relatively important part of a song for many. How would you view Anatomy Of I's lyrical contribution, how well they overall support your music – and vice versa?
Michael: To me, they're less important than the actual music as I don't really want to spread a certain message through them... I'm expressing thoughts through figures of speech to such an extent that people can read them and come up with something they can relate to while giving their own interpretation to it. I find it interesting to hear what people come up with, as it can be something quite different than what I had in mind, while making perfect sense. That being said, there's no way people can interpret the lyrics in such a way that they might think they're about something I don't stand for at all. But do keep in mind that nothing I write is meant to be taken literally. "Banished Messiah", for instance, has nothing to do with religion, while "Organic Machine" is not about some sort of bio-mechanical machine... although I found this interpretation interesting when I read it in a French webzine.
Luxi: Are you aiming to play live with Anatomy Of I as well?
Michael: Yes, definitely, although the line-up will differ from the recording line-up. As soon as we started working on these sessions, Dirk made it clear that he's currently exclusively performing live with Soilwork, therefore Melle Kramer came into the mix. As said before, Steve will be unavailable to play live with us in 2012, which is why we've hired Robin Zielhorst to fill in for him, and we've also added Tobias Ruijter to the mix on rhythm guitar.
Luxi: The band is located in Den Haag, Holland. How is the club scene over there anyway for playing live? Do the owners of some of these clubs also book Metal bands often to play at their clubs, or do you usually get your gigs booked outside of the area where you live?
Michael: I'm just starting to deal with these people right now, so I can't really express an opinion about it. We're busy booking some shows around the Netherlands/Belgium/Germany and we'll see how that goes... Most tours pass through Amsterdam, Rotterdam, Haarlem, Utrecht or Tilburg, so it's easy to catch shows and the places are usually packed, so I'd say that Metal is still alive and well in the Netherlands.
Luxi: Nowadays it's kind of tough to survive in today's music world, which is full of zillions of bands that desperately want to get recognized and heard. What's Anatomy of I's so-called ‘secret recipe' to keep your heads above the surface for at least the next a couple of years to come when mirroring your own thoughts against the fact that was presented above?
Michael: Well, we don't really have a secret recipe as we're trying to figure out how to survive as well... running our own (home) studios helps in cutting costs, which is a good way to compensate the losses from illegal downloads, but we haven't broken even yet. The only thing we can do is keep writing/recording songs, play live, and keep a positive attitude about the future... We've worked on a special packaging for our CD, courtesy of Jakebox, to add something special to this release. It's similar to a digipack, but with an additional claw which is holding the CD and pops out when you open the case.
Luxi: What's the word perfection mean to you personally, let's say, when you get for example a song finished for Anatomy of I? Does 100% perfection even exist in the first place in your opinion when one could be absolutely 100% happy with all his/her efforts for the music he or she tries to create?
Michael: I've actually mentioned the ‘perfectionist' aspect before, when discussing Steve and Dirk's participation in this recording. I wouldn't want them on there unless I felt confident about these songs, that they're containing the right mix of catchiness and depth. There are a few things that I'd want to do differently on the next release, but these are things related to the recording process, not the music itself. But yes, 100% perfection is unrealistic, so there's always room for improvement, which is good. In the end, if you ever finish something that you're fully satisfied with, there's no point in going on, you can just call it a day...
Luxi: What are your goals for the last half of 2011, as well as for 2012?
Michael: The goal for 2011 is to spread the word about Anatomy of I, do as much promotion as we can while getting ready for live shows in 2012. We've been rehearsing for a month now, and seeing good progress every time we get together, so things are progressing smoothly...
Luxi: Thank you Mike for your time for doing this and keep up the great work with Anatomy Of I. If there's still something you'd like to add to conclude this interview, then feel free to do so now...
Michael: All I'd like to add is that our CD is currently available exclusively through our website (www.anatomyofi.com) so get it now!! Thanks for the interview Luxi, we're looking forward to seeing you when we get to play in Finland!
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