Interview with vocalist Kelly Shaefer
Interview conducted by Luxi Lahtinen
Date online: April 18, 2014
Isn't it amazing how time flies? Here I am, sitting at my laptop, 25 years after a Floridian Death Metal sensation called Atheist released their groundbreaking debut album Piece of Time.
Florida was the undisputed "hot bed" for Death Metal back in the late 80s, but Atheist was nowhere near your average Floridian Death Metal band. Atheist's sound was very complex, thanks to Roger Patterson's intricate bass lines and the other guys had to follow along as best they could. As a result, Piece of Time made Atheist one of the hottest acts back in the day.
The Metal Crypt asked vocalist Kelly Shaefer's to share his thoughts about Piece of Time that, as Atheist fans surely know, is 25 years old in 2014.
Luxi: 25 years; it's a really long time. "Time" really flies, doesn't it, Kelly?
Kelly: Yes... indeed it does.
Luxi: Indeed, 25 years ago Atheist's debut album, Piece of Time, was released. That must have been a dream-come-true for four young blokes living in south Florida. Thinking back 25 years, do you still see this record as one of the finest and most remarkable things you have accomplished in your life? Of course forming a family, getting a decent job, staying healthy, etc., is also important, but if we put this other crap aside for a moment...
Kelly: It's a tremendous pleasure to be remembered for our art. I am so proud of all the records and of the band for everything we have endured.
Luxi: The rehearsal sessions prior to entering Morrisound Recording studio must have been very intense as I am sure you wanted to get the songs just right. Could you describe how intense the recording sessions were? Did you ever get angry with each other when songs didn't seem to click the way you wanted?
Kelly: Well, you must understand that, when writing these songs, we were a furious bunch. We argued a lot when recording but that's what made the music intense. We didn't have a lot of time so we were not able to do many of the things we wanted to, but Scott Burns was such an asset to all of the bands back then that, without him, we would have not completed it with what we had for a budget. In the end we still left mistakes, but we were proud of it.
Luxi: Did one person take the role of making the final decision as to when a song was finished or would you say that Atheist was, more or less, a democratic unit?
Kelly: With Atheist, there were no "extra" tunes, so we used everything (*lol*). But while constructing, we did seek a democracy. It was always heated, in terms of decision-making, but most of the resistance was between me and Rand; we argued a lot.
Luxi: You also wanted your lyrics to stand out as much as possible. Piece of Time was sort of a concept album, blending religion with science and the paranormal. Did you want to do something different from all the gory, gruesome and satanic stuff that many Death Metal bands put into their lyrics in those days?
Kelly: Piece of Time was not a conceptual album, by the way. It was a collection of like-minded, anti-establishment themes... it was not intentional. It was just things I was passionate about. "On They Slay" I wrote when I was very young (I was 16 at that time) and those lyrics were a bit silly but the subject was not. It was more on par with the Death Metal type influence, I guess. As time went on my lyrics got more involved and specific.
Luxi: What were some of the driving forces for the songs for your debut album? What motivated to work your asses off for Piece of Time?
Kelly: We were just kids who wanting to bash it out. We loved Metal and we loved complex music. We married the two and the result was Atheist. We wanted to make an album and we really didn't care if anything happened, we just wanted to do shit the way we wanted... and we did.
Luxi: Sadly, Piece of Time is bassist Roger Patterson's last work as he died in an unfortunate car accident in February 1991. I am sure people are curious to know what kind of an "animal" he was with his 4-stringer when you jammed together? Did he help when you were trying to figure out how the band should sound, like a sort of tutor in the band? And what was he like, as a person, when you were just hanging around with him?
Kelly: Well, he wrote 95% of the bass lines on Unquestionable Presence so that is actually his final work. But Roger was a fucking beast, as a player, and was so complex and had so much attack in his riffs, it drove us to orchestration. We had to play around his bass lines and that's what really became the template for what we do. As a man, he was my roomie and one of my best friends. He lived loose and carefree. He didn't work much; he basically got stoned and hung out all day and played bass. He has a twin brother and he plays drums so they just played music all day and listed to music just like us. He was also very funny and simple... I miss him.
Luxi: How was your rehearsal room equipped back in 1988-89? Did you ever miss any new gears at your rehearsal place so that you could have had a chance to try out a few different ideas in some certain songs of yours, but due to lack of them, you basically rejected these promising ideas?
Kelly: Really not sure what you mean?? Our rehearsal place was amazing. We often had like 75-100 people watching us write and rehearse what would become Piece of Time.
Luxi: While you were at Morrisound recording Piece of Time, did you face any major obstacles and if so, how did you overcome them? Was a limited budget one of the obstacles that may have had a negative effect on playing the songs as professionally as possible?
Kelly: Yeah like I mentioned we were on a tight budget and had to get it done in 7 days, no matter what, so some things got left behind in terms of post-production ideas, delays and effects. But the song structures were already in place and well rehearsed at the point of going in the studio.
Luxi: How intense were the actual recording session for Piece of Time?
Kelly: It was our dream and so we had a great time. We were so excited to be able to record our album. We stayed at a hotel in Tampa and got some weed and busted out the best Metal we could.
Luxi: Piece of Time was produced by Scott Burns, who produced many albums and bands, as he was the "hot" hand among Death Metal bands as far as producers were concerned. How happy are you with the production on that record listening to it now, after 25 years? Is there anything you'd change, to make the album stand out even more?
Kelly: Scott has been a great part of the success of Atheist. His skills in getting bass drum definition were groundbreaking in extreme Metal. Anyone who makes records will always have things they wish they could have done to make it better - and with us it's no different. For its time, it has stood on its own for 25 years and it represents symbolically what we would become.
Luxi: How much did Mr. Burns help you guys in the actual recording sessions for Piece of Time? Did he provide useful ideas or tips, maybe things no one in Atheist thought about prior to recording at a professionally equipped studio?
Kelly: He helped all the bands in so many ways, in terms of studio stuff; he was the man. We knew very little about it all; we just played. But, when recording the guitars, he was very helpful in making sure we got tight performances. He didn't bullshit us, plus, you must remember, what we were doing was way different than anything at that time and Scotty "got it". He was amazing and totally understood the complex nature of our music in a time when no one else did.
Luxi: Was Scott Burns the only name in your mind when you started your "producer hunt" or did any other names come to mind?
Kelly: No, we only wanted to work with Scott. He was one of us and a true pioneer in the way Metal is captured, in my opinion. There were not many people who understood us the way he did. That's why Cynic worked with him as well as many others.
Luxi: When the Piece of Time album was finally out and available, how did you feel the first time you saw the album in a music store? I suppose you felt proud, thinking you had accomplished something worthwhile and meaningful as a band. Is that correct?
Kelly: Sure!! We were excited to see what our grooves looked like in the vinyl. We were so very excited, especially Roger; he was so happy. You only get the feeling once, if at all, of having a debut record released internationally. It's always exciting but never quite the same as the first time.
Luxi: What about the cover of Piece of Time? What can you tell us about the symbolism?
Kelly: It was done by Ed Repka, who had done a few other covers from that era, and he had great realism and we liked it. I spoke with him once on the phone and relayed the ideas we all had for the cover and voila! he nailed it. I wish I had the original painting and wonder if he still has it. Hmmm. Anyway, it was exactly what we wanted: no blood, no guts - just brains. :)
Luxi: What kind of impact did the release of Piece of Time have on the band's gigging opportunities and can you remember some of the major sacrifices you all made to keep this band rolling back in 1989-91?
Kelly: Everything was a sacrifice. After we finished the record it took a year before it was available around the world. We had all kinds of distribution issues so it started off very rocky - and then many were puzzled as to what to do with us, who we could tour with, etc. There was no one like us at that point. It became such a battle to get people on board with our sound. It was trying, to say the least.
Luxi: Playing live in the front of an enthusiastic and wild audience is always a sweet experience. At best, a well-played show might put you in trance for several days or even for weeks. How did Atheist prepare for shows so it would be memorable for both for the audience and the band?
Kelly: Again, we were not well received back then so we rarely saw a friendly crowd. I remember Minneapolis and Montreal being great for us but we prepared differently. Everyone has a routine of sorts that they go through before the killing begins. :)
Luxi: Disappointments are also part of the life of a musician. Did Atheist experience any disappointments during the time your debut album was hitting the streets in 1989 (in Europe; a year later in the States)?
Kelly: It's been so long I don't remember all the details of what we missed out on but we certainly missed chances, not just because of the delay of the record, but also by the (at that time) technicality. So many were just confused by it and so we were not afforded the same chances as others.
Luxi: NMG Entertainment was supposed to re-release all the three Atheist albums in 2000, but after the reissue of Piece of Time came out, you decided to abort plans to reissue the remaining two albums. What happened? Did they not honor their part of the contract you had with them?
Kelly: NMG Entertainment was a company I was working with in Neurotica and, when I talked about wanting to re-issue the catalog, I tried to do it through this company, not really thinking that anyone else would be interested. Once we started working on it, it became evident that they did not have the resources to do the reissues correctly and the deal was aborted. And then I found my own label licensed the record to Relapse. They knocked it out of the park!
Luxi: How well do you think Piece of Time has stood the test of time over the past three decades?
Kelly: Better than I could have ever imagined. It seems it will last for a while and that's always a goal as an artist but never usually a reality. I will pass knowing that at least we made some art that transcended time and styles... I am humbled by that.
Luxi: Are there any weird or bizarre stories you can tell about Piece of Time that people don't know yet that you can share with all of your Atheist fans from all over the world? If so, just go ahead Kelly... ;o)
Kelly: Well, the whole damn thing was bizarre my man... good times and crushing times. We practiced our asses off and wrote all of those songs in front of dozens of school friends while passionately arguing about riffs and arrangements... smoking tons of pot and just having an amazing time creating.
Luxi: Congratulations Kelly, if you made it this far. That's all the questions I have about Piece of Time, released some 25 years ago. I want to sincerely thank you for sharing your thoughts about this masterpiece and for providing some of your personal memories about what was happening in the Atheist camp 25 long years ago. Greatly appreciated, man, and I am sure the Atheist fans from all over the world appreciate it, too. Is there anything that you'd like to add to conclude this special chat about the 25th anniversary of Piece of Time, perhaps?
Kelly: Just an enormous thank you to guys like you who have nurtured this scene and believed in all of us along with metalheads around the globe making it happen from a grass roots movement. Thanks for the continued love for Atheist, old and new... watch for our new album coming soon, we are working on it now. See you for some shows soon! Cheers!
Kelly Shaefer- Vocals Atheist/Stones of Madness
|Other information about Atheist on this site|
|Review: Piece of Time|
|Review: Unquestionnable Presence|
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