Interview with guitarist Robert "Bob" Vigna
Interview conducted by Luxi Lahtinen
Date online: December 13, 2015
NY Death Metal pioneers Immolation hardly need an introduction. Immolation has been building a reputation as a high-profile Death Metal act with each successive album, staying true to their original NY Death Metal roots but also renewing their sound on each record.
Immolation's ninth studio album, Kingdom of Conspiracy, was released by Nuclear Blast Records in the spring of 2013 and since then people have eagerly awaited new stuff from them. The fans of Immolation need only be patient a bit longer because their 10th studio album is currently in the works.
The Metal Crypt contacted Immolation to ask what's been going on in this much-appreciated New York Death Metal camp. Guitarist Robert Vigna was kind enough to provide a prompt and detailed update about some of the recent comings and goings in Immolation. Read on...
Luxi: Time seems to be flying fast; where have all the months disappeared to? Do you feel the same?
Bob: Absolutely Luxi! Time definitely flies for sure! We had a few things going on scattered throughout this year, plus with work and whatnot the time really gets away from you! We don't have too much planned until next year so we have time to really get working on the new album.
Luxi: It's been quite silent in the Immolation camp so the question is what you guys have been up to lately? Working on some new material?
Bob: Yes, we have about a third of the material written so far, most of which I wrote back in May/June. We played some gigs in Europe in April (Neurotic Deathfest) as well as a couple of gigs recently in Montreal, Canada and California; Obscene Extreme Fest Montreal and California Deathfest in Oakland, CA (from the organizers of Maryland Death Fest). So we had some cool trips and good times!
Ross and I did some shows with Gospel of the Witches this year too. Four total, all of which were a lot of fun and had really good crowds! It was good to see Karyn and Davide getting so much positive feedback from the Salem's Wounds record. It is a phenomenal record. They put a lot of work into it and it shows!
We also ended up shooting a video for "The Ascent", which was a lot of work but a lot of fun too!
Aside from that, our jobs and life in general tend to take up a bit of time as well, haha! So although things have been a bit quiet for us in the mainstream, we have been plugging away behind the scenes with some writing, projects and shows here and there.
At this time we are just concentrating on the new material and pushing to get album #10 completed so we can get back out there in full force!
Luxi: As you mentioned, both you and Ross have been involved with Karyn Crisis' Gospel of the Witches as live members. The band plays sort of occult-orientated, progressive Heavy and Doom Metal. How did you join the band? What's the story behind this one?
Bob: Karyn and her husband Davide Tiso approached us in California back in 2013 while we were on the Decibel Magazine tour with Cannibal Corpse and Napalm Death. We knew Karyn from our early days as she was a big part of the U.S. east coast scene. They had a new project they were working on and wanted Ross to help with some backing vocals for their record. Apparently it was the "Glorious Epoch" video that lead to having Ross in the mix as that song caught their attention and they knew that Ross' voice would work perfectly for what they were doing.
So in May 2014 Ross and I went in to Millbrook Sound Studios to record Ross' vocal parts for the Salem's Wounds record with our producer Paul Orofino. Ross just added his vocals to the audio files we received from Karyn and Davide and they were later be added to the final mixes. It was pretty funny, because originally Karyn mentioned that Ross would do a few vocals as back up. In the end Ross appeared on most of the record and in a lot of parts of each song. And once it was completed it really worked incredibly well! Karyn has great vocals, both clean, heavy and in between, and Ross' vocals really complemented them perfectly!
We thought that would be it but before long they approached Ross about taking things to the next level and be part of the live act as well. Neither of us had been involved in any other projects since we started Immolation so it was something that Ross needed to contemplate. Before long Karyn and Davide approached me as well and that pretty much locked us in! Ross and I both loved the Gospel of the Witches music and the record was amazing, so it was a no brainer. We didn't have to write anything so it was fairly easy. We just learned the songs and then got ready for the shows. Ross' job was a little tougher than mine as he had to learn to play and sing the material, but it was really not that bad.
In the end we had a great time and the shows we played were awesome. It was a lot of fun and a great experience. It was cool to take the back seat for a change as Karyn is the main focus when we are performing. Less work for us, haha!!
Luxi: Did you feel like joining Gospel of the Witches allowed both Ross and you to try out some different musical ideas that don't fit with Immolation, giving you a good opportunity to expand your musical horizons a little bit? Perhaps this experience helped when working with new stuff for Immolation?
Bob: Ross and I have always been very open-minded when it comes to music, so this was a unique chance to actually experience working with something very different than Immolation, but something that was still very dark and atmospheric. That being said, we didn't write any of the material. All that credit goes to Karyn and Davide! We are kind of just along for the ride, and a fun ride it is!
Although we are not writing anything for the band right now, it still does enable us to do a little expanding for sure. I don't really play 7-string guitars but as it was needed for the Gospel of the Witches material I was forced to start! I was lucky enough to hook up with ESP and get a couple of really great 7-strings from them. I really got into it and once I went back to the 6-string it actually felt a bit strange!
The whole experience has been inspiring for Ross and I. Being out there playing the shows and just doing something a little different for a change was nice. We all had fun rehearsing and playing the shows and the crowds were really cool, so it was all very positive for us! We hope to do more shows or some touring next year once the new Immolation record is done! No worries though; we will do the Gospel of the Witches tours between the Immolation ones!!
Luxi: Kingdom of Conspiracy, Immolation's 9th studio album, was released on Nuclear Blast in May 2013. Now that you have some distance from that record how well do you believe you captured all the elements that Immolation should be all about, both musically and lyrically?
Bob: I think the music and the lyrics were captured better than we had hoped and the message of the album definitely got out there, which was great! The fans we met on the road all understood what we were trying to get across in the music. They were actually very receptive to the fact that we were taking on the issues we did on this album. All the instability of our world is being felt by the people in the Metal scene. It is all too real, and when they read into Kingdom of Conspiracy they related extremely well to it.
We have always written about the ills of our world, but this record was just a little bit more direct, yet at the same time crafted in our own way to keep that dark feel. We didn't want to make it an overly political record, but we also felt that what is currently going on around us could not be ignored. So we like to find that fine line between where we can speak about important subject matter yet remain dedicated to the style and atmosphere that we are known for.
Luxi: How did the writing of Kingdom of Conspiracy differ from Majesty and Decay?
Bob: Ever since Majesty and Decay I have done all the writing on my computer so the process itself is pretty much the same each time. Most often the hardest part is getting started. Coming up with ideas out of thin air can sometimes be a bit challenging, haha! But once that flow starts, it can really gain momentum and before you know it you have a new record!
It's always an interesting process. I get ideas and come up with a riff then I add drum parts to it. Then depending on the part I may add some overlying melodies, so to speak. After that I move forward and create something else. Eventually you get enough parts together to create a song. The infinite ways of putting the parts together is where the challenge really escalates! You can have a musical part that you think is just great, but if it is not used in the right way it can become a total dud. You really have to have some patience and wait for the feeling where you know it all clicks together.
Once I get a song together and feel it is ready I will send it to the guys and they will learn it, maybe we'll make some changes, and then that's it. After everything is written, we meet in the studio and record!
For me the coolest part is when we take the pre-production version I made and bring it to life with Steve playing his drums and Ross' vocals, etc. It all really takes shape. Normally we don't know what each song is going to sound like until we are finished in the studio as we often write all the lyrics while we are in there. And then I add solos after we are out of the studio. So it really is pretty wild how it all comes together.
We hope to be able to make more "complete" pre-production versions with vocals this time if we can. It just helps to have everything actually written before you get into the studio, instead of during. But it seems to have worked pretty well for us over the years, so no complaints here. It would be nice to be a little less stressed while in the studio though. I'd like to be able to record my guitar parts without having to stay up all night writing lyrics with Ross, haha!
Luxi: Do you feel the fans appreciated all your efforts on Kingdom of Conspiracy as much as they have with other Immolation releases?
Bob: Oh definitely! Our fans always appreciate our efforts, and with passion! Some people actually felt that this release was one of their favorites since our first album Dawn of Possession. So to us that says that we are doing something right. I think our fans always seem to have a different favorite album though. To us this is good, as we feel all the releases hold up on their own. But Kingdom... really got a lot of positive feedback and some very strong support from the scene.
There will always be a few sour souls out there who have to add their two cents into what could have been better or what they weren't happy with record to record but in life, no matter what you do, you can never please everyone, haha!
Overall, we just keep doing what we do to the best of our abilities and it is great to see that so many people appreciate it. It really inspires us!
Luxi: Immolation has developed a very distinctive and unique style over the years and every fan can hear a new song from you guys and tell right away, "hey, this is Immolation." Do you try to differ from other Death Metal bands on purpose by putting extra effort into your song structures and not "going over the fence where it is lowest"?
Bob: I think we just strive to do the best we can. We try hard to be creative and make the music as interesting as possible. We do put as much effort as we can into each song. When it comes to an album we don't want to have any filler songs, we want each track to have a presence on the record and a purpose in meaning.
I can't explain why we write the way we do but it is definitely a good thing to have a distinct style that people recognize. When writing I have an open mind. I don't worry too much about what other people expect from this genre of music. I just like to bring as many new elements to the table as I can. They might be subtle but it's those subtle things that can make the most difference sometimes.
I like to try and expand things as much as possible. I love all of our older material, but I never feel the need to try to revisit where we have already been. You can never recapture those feelings or moods of the past; you can only create new ones. My goal every time is to try and make something new that can be even stronger or darker than what we have done before. I believe you have to keep moving forward to really grow and become better at what you do.
Luxi: As you mentioned already, you have written about a third of your tenth record. Can you reveal what it's going to sound like? Do you have something even more unusual in the works that may surprise the fans when they eventually get to hear what you have come up with?
Bob: We are in full swing on the writing now and once that starts it moves pretty quickly. We get into a groove and just keep at it until it is done. I would say the newer material is very much Immolation, but as usual, with some minor different elements not always expected. It's hard to say as we still have a ways to go before we have a complete piece of work, but it is definitely off to a strong start I can tell you that! This will be our 10th album, so the pressure is definitely on!! We have to make this a good one for our fans and for ourselves.
I have to say, aside from some production issues here and there in the past, we are very happy with our discography. We have always kept true to ourselves and what we want to do, but at the same time moving things ahead. Our music is kind of a mixture of fast, slow, dark, doom, brutal, atmospheric, Death/Black Metal. We will always try to expand on this and we hope to really make something special for our fans with the new album!
Luxi: Do you think pushing the envelope, with certain restrictions, is essential so that you do not get stuck in a certain formula and start repeating things you've already done?
Bob: Yes, it is essential! When writing new songs, we always try and police ourselves and make sure we are not re-writing something we have done before. It does get harder and harder and more challenging with each record I can tell you that! But you just have to keep pushing forward. I feel there is always something new or interesting that we haven't done yet, so it's just a matter of working towards finding those elements.
Luxi: How do you see yourself as a songwriter? Do you demand a lot from yourself and are you the type of guy who is always striving for perfection in what you do with Immolation? How do you know when to stop and tell yourself, "leave this or that riff as it is, it's just perfect"?
Bob: I do demand a lot from myself, and often question half the stuff I write. But at the same time you have to draw the line and not over think every single thing. You have to let spontaneity take over sometimes. You have to let the music flow and find its own way out. Otherwise things start to become unnatural.
I do analyze the songs as I put them together though. I try and listen to them as an outsider as best I can. I try to feel the flow, the movement, see what is working and what is not. It's a process for sure. Once a song seems to have the right dynamics and flow, you just know it. You say; "Ok, yeah, that's it...Done".
Luxi: Do you over think things at times when trying to figure out whether this or that riff or rhythm pattern would fit Immolation?
Bob: I would say I over think more of how to put the pieces together rather than what actually "fits" Immolation. Whatever we write will "fit", it's just a matter of giving it the right space. I go through a lot of riffs and parts, but we know really quickly what is worth keeping and what isn't. I don't even share half the riffs with the band as I shoot most of the lemon riffs down before they even get to their ears, haha! I usually present the material a song at a time, not by riffs or parts. I like to give the band a complete idea and then work from there if need be. It becomes too confusing to have all the riffs out there for everyone because there are infinite ways to put things together and it would become anti-productive.
I usually get a bunch of ideas together then compile them into a song and create more parts to complete that song. I try and get that song to the point where I feel we can go straight into the studio and record it. That's when I present it to the guys and then any changes we end up making are even more of an improvement.
Luxi: Is there some specific season of the year when you feel like you are able to reach your most creative mood for the songwriting?
Bob: Always better to work on music in the fall for sure!! It's just that season! Most of our writing and recording has been done in the spring and summer however, just by chance, but if I have my preference it is the fall for sure! It's definitely my favorite season and that helps to motivate and inspire as well!
Luxi: How important is it for you to find the kind of riff and/or rhythm pattern for an Immolation song that can carry the entire song from start to finish? Sometimes musicians complain about how they should have done this or that riff, rhythm or whatever, a bit differently on a record.
Bob: Yes, I do often try and find that magic riff. You just know it when you hear it. There can be a lot of great riffs, but then you come up with the one, that monumental one, and that is what you build the song around, or build it up to. I just like to have something to look forward to in each song. That part where you are like "what the fuck is that!?" but in a really good way! You can also make a song strong with an even field of solid riffs too. It all depends on the song and what dynamic you are trying to achieve with it. Our goal is for all the riffs to be strong and some to just be stronger. In the end each track needs to be able to carry itself and stand on its own.
As for past songs, yeah there are a handful from the early days where we had some really good parts but they were not used the best they could have been. Not that they ended up bad, but we feel they weren't used to the best of their potential. This is something we have learned from and gotten better at with time. It is a continual learning process.
Luxi: Do you believe your band mates share a similar musical vision about how they want the stuff you compose for Immolation to sound?
Bob: I pretty much write each song then, if needed, we make adjustments where necessary. A lot of times the songs are kept as I originally wrote them and other times we make some minor changes or complete overhauls, depending on the situation (but I have a pretty good track record, haha!).
I'd say we all share a similar vision, maybe not always an "exact" vision, but a similar one for sure. Ross and I have been working on music together for 28 years now so we have a good idea of what direction we want to take. I'd say Steve and Bill trust us and have been happier with each release, which is a good thing. Their input, whether by suggesting arrangement changes, or lyrical input, has definitely helped keep us in check and pushed us to new levels for certain. It really becomes a collaboration and regardless of how much one or the other puts in the outcome is that it is a collaboration of all four members.
I think we all want Immolation to be dark, menacing, intense, heavy and to create a feeling of uneasiness and I think we have been achieving that. So we are all roughly on the same page!
Luxi: The last seven Immolation albums have been recorded at Millbrook Sound Studios in New York. What makes it the perfect studio for Immolation? Have you considered recording your next album at some other studio?
Bob: Ever since we started going to Millbrook Studios we've never had the urge to go elsewhere. Paul Orofino, who runs the studio and engineers our records, is just like family now. He is a great person with great musical ability and a magic ear. We rely on him to get the best performances out of us.
Paul creates a great recording environment and makes you feel as ease. We are very comfortable there and that is very important. We really do not feel the need to change. We have a great time at the studio with Paul and we get the job done. There is no nonsense, not until after the sessions anyhow, haha! But we know each other and work together well and at that point what else do you need?
Even though we have the convenience of recording the tracking in upstate NY we have Zach Ohren mixing and mastering in California. The technology allows us to do what we need without having to change the main recording part which is very important to us. Zack does a great job on his end as well, so the combination has been working really well for us.
We will be recording in Millbrook with Paul again early next year and we are looking forward to it!
Luxi: How important is the visual side of Immolation, e.g. album covers, videos, how you look onstage, etc.? Do you think your visual side should support your music? Obviously you cannot think of performing Immolation's music wearing Hawaii shirts on, can you? That would look somewhat hilarious in the eyes of Immolation fans, I guess...
Bob: Yes, I think image for the music is important. Performing on stage, videos and album covers should all be a complete package.
We always put as much effort into the ideas for the artwork as we can. We want the meaning of the music to be reflected as best as possible, kind of putting you in that mindset, bringing you into the atmosphere of the record.
We also try and make the videos reflect that as well. When you don't have "superstar" budgets you need to get your point across in a more simplistic manner, yet maintaining the feeling of the music. I think all of our videos have done that so far.
For the live shows we have always tried to do things when we can. When you are not headlining all the time this is a bit difficult due to the tight schedules of the shows but when we do headline a tour and are able we like to bring out some things to create an atmosphere for the stage. It really makes it more special.
Luxi: I have always wanted to know more details about your video for "Illumination". The place where this video was shot looks like a church, cathedral or some other "holy place". How on earth did you manage to get the band to shoot in a place like that considering Immolation does not really preach about the importance of going to Sunday school, confession and stuff like that, eh?
Bob: Yeah that was a good one for sure!! We broke into a church late in the day and shot the video throughout the night. The walls started bleeding by midnight and we were certainly a blasphemous force against the blood of Jesus Christ that day (well that sounds cooler than the real story anyhow, haha!)!!
Actually, the director of the video, Tommy Jones, found that location in Philadelphia. They actually do events there. It is an old church that is no longer in service so to speak. Obviously they didn't change much so the look of it is the same, they had just taken out the pews (bench seating). So it really worked out perfectly! It gave a great atmosphere, especially with the way Tommy shot the video with all the slow motion and weird-looking movements.
Funny story, during the shooting Bill and Steve went for a little "smoke" break behind the altar through one of those special doors where the priest usually goes. It was just funny because the people who run the place are still a bit "church-like" as it is still a functioning mission and they do still hold certain gatherings of the Catholic sort there. So not a minute after Bill and Steve emerged from their smoke this Church Lady comes up to get some pamphlets from that back area and she must have run into a cloud of smoke! She came out and quietly went back downstairs and then one of the guys running the place came up and went in there sniffing around afterwards, not saying anything to us until he came out. Needless to say, they were pissed, haha!! But they really couldn't throw us out, so we continued on. But then after that they kept coming up and checking in on us. It was pretty funny. We felt like the bad students at a Catholic school for the rest of the night, haha!! But overall a really cool location, experience and shoot for us.
Luxi: Is there still something that you would like to achieve with Immolation?
Bob: Oh there is plenty. We have been lucky enough to do and achieved a lot as a band but we still feel that we are just getting started. We are always looking to do and achieve more. We are still very driven and ambitious after all these years, and I think that is part of what keeps us going strong.
There is always more ground to cover both musically and geographically with the band. We love visiting new places we have not yet been to before and we enjoy creating new music to take things forward for us. The best is getting out there and playing the shows. It's always an adventure and we feel we still have a ways to go.
Luxi: When Immolation has traveled to the end of the road some day what would you like to see written in the epitaph?
Bob: "H A T" or "WHAT WERE WE THINKING?"
Luxi: Thank you for giving us an update as to what's currently happening in the Immolation camp Bob and let's hope that we can get some new stuff from you guys within 2016. Anything you'd like to say to your fans to close this conversation properly?
Bob: Thanks Luxi for your endless patience and support!! Although it takes me a long time to get these interviews done for you with my inhuman work schedule, I do appreciate and enjoy your questions. You are definitely one of the many things that keep us inspired to keep moving forward!
We are hard at work on album #10 so be certain you will get to hear some new Immolation in 2016!! We look forward to all the shows and festivals we have coming up. Be sure to come out and support all the bands and join us! Keep posted to our Facebook page for the latest festival and tour dates!
Thanks to all our fans worldwide, see you next year!!!!!
|Other information about Immolation on this site|
|Review: Close To A World Below|
|Review: Failures For Gods|
|Review: Bringing Down The World|
|Review: Shadows In The Light|
|Review: Majesty and Decay|
|Review: Dawn of Possession|
|Review: Here In After|
|Interview with guitarist Robert "Bob" Vigna on March 19, 2012 (Interviewed by Luxi Lahtinen)|
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