Interview with guitarist and vocalist Tomás Skošepa
Interview conducted by Luxi Lahtinen
Date online: November 12, 2021
So, what do you know about Czech thrash metal? If you are like me not that much, not enough for sure. Like many other countries it isn't really known for its vivid underground thrash metal, but almost every country in the world has promising bands. From Trutnov, Hradec Králové Region, which has around 30,000 inhabitants, comes a band known as Exorcizphobia, who play thrash metal and have been around since 2005 (2005-2006 as Deathmarch). They have released three full-length albums so far (and a pile of EPs, splits and even a live album), played around at some meaningful festivals in Europe and shared many stages with a bunch of cool names (E-Force, Artillery, Napalm Death, etc.) over the years.
The band is no stranger to us here at the shiny ivory tower of The Metal Crypt as they have impressed us with their last couple of albums, About Us Without Us (2018) and Digitotality (2020). We contacted the band's guitarist and vocalist Tomáš Skořepa, who was more than willing to share lots of detailed info about the band's past and present and also gave us a quick glimpse into some future plans of the band...
Hey hey there! How's life? Eh, fuckin' virus, right?
Tomáš: Hey Luxi! Good! Thank you for asking! How's yours? Yep, fucking viruses!
HOW IT ALL STARTED...
We are here to talk about your band, Exorcizphobia. Could you tell the story of how you decided to form the band in the first place?
Tomáš: Exorcizphobia, or Deathmarch (the first name) to be more accurate, was founded when I was fourteen or fifteen years old, so it wasn't a question of some thoughtful move. It came about pretty naturally.
When did you hook up with the ex-members of the band? Did you feel connected with them or did you have to work on getting the band going?
Tomáš: My older sister's schoolmate played the bass and one day he hooked me up with a guy by the name of Jan Erben. He wanted to have a band and play bass. Then he found out that his schoolmate Jakub Vaclav just started to play drums. After the first few sessions, I brought up my football teammate Josef Valkoun on second guitar and here we go...
We were a bunch of young, passionate metalheads about the same age, so there was a drive and thrill about everything we experienced together. No serious issues, no exorbitant ambitions, just a pure joyful adventure!
As time passed some of the members lost the passion and left. Even though Trutnov is not a big city, we found good or even better replacements every time. I consider it a small miracle, haha...!
What inspirations influenced you to become a musician in the first place? What band was a real turning point that made you want to become one and join a band?
Tomáš: I have had the musical bug since I was little. The first important band for me was The Beatles. I was like eleven years old and I was crazy about them. Not long after I started to skate and it helped me discover various styles of music. I was into hip hop and electronic stuff for a while, but then I started to pay more attention to music that my dad used to listen to, bands like Judas Priest, Iron Maiden, Accept, Ozzy Osbourne and mainly Metallica. So, it could be that Metallica was a real turning point in that matter.
Are you more connected to the sound of American thrash metal or European thrash and why?
Tomáš: I definitely feel more influenced by American thrash metal. I love European thrash metal as well, of course, don't get me wrong, but the overseas variant has always been closer to me somehow. It is hard to say why, I just feel more connected with its flow, energy, and delivery. I never thought too much about why it is so, to be honest.
How did you hook up with the guys currently in the band?
Tomáš: Well, let's take them one by one. Guitarist Ondra Sima joined the band in 2014. We knew each other from the pubs and we also used to play some local shows along with his former band from time to time. Pretty much same story about Ales Kostka. Same city, same pubs, haha...! He's been taking care of the bass in Exorcizphobia since 2018. The last piece of the puzzle is drummer Tomas Kejkrt. We had been seeing this young and promising lad around the local scene. Back in 2019, when we were looking for a drummer, he was the number one pick for us without a doubt. That's it... Oh wait, I forgot that wanker by the name Tomáš Skořepa. Vocal, guitar, last original member.
I feel the current lineup has really good chemistry. We are all fully dedicated to the music, that's really important.
The band's debut album, Something Is Wrong, was released in 2012. Can you still remember the feeling of what it was like to get the album out and prove to everyone that you really did something cool you can still be proud of?
Tomáš: After the Disease Inside EP, our first studio experience, we were pretty pumped up to lay down some "classic piece of our discography". We decided to try a different studio than the last time, so we booked a good-looking one in the capital city of the region. Everything looked promising until we got a call from the owner of the studio, like two weeks before the session that went, "Guys, I have a problem with a janitor, gotta move my studio, but no worries, all's gonna be perfect..." Two weeks later, we arrived at the address of his new haven. It was in Teplice, a small town on the border with Poland, in an old hotel called Falcon. "I know guys, but don't worry it's doable... Let's check out this room. "Yeah, it could work here," he says after he clapped ostentatiously to show us the magnificent acoustics of this old hotel's dancing hall. All of a sudden, a bus passes and the entire room starts shaking. "Don't worry guys, there's no traffic, bus passing by just a twice a day."
That story sums it up pretty well. We expected something completely different, I don't have to tell you that. Even though we were bummed, the guy convinced us to try it and make a deal according to the result. So the whole album was recorded in two days in these conditions. When you are eager youngsters, you want to have the thing out as soon as possible no matter what. So it came out like that, which I regret in retrospect. It's a shame because I think that the songs are pretty good on this one and the fans want to hear some of these live, but I don't like the sound and the way we recorded the album.
Things do not go your way sometimes, but it was a good lesson for the future, that's for sure (https://exorcizphobia.bandcamp.com/album/something-is-wrong).
After the split that you did in 2013 with your country mates, Lahar, the band's foundation started to crumble a bit as you went through a drummer change first and then a guitarist change in 2014. How tough of a time was this for the band? May I ask did if it was only lack of commitment and not like "difficult and unfitting personalities" or something?
Tomáš: Drummer Jakub Vaclav left before the next record and was replaced by Martin Sotola.
The chance to do a split with Lahar was a great thing for us and it came out well! We had good momentum at the time. Exorcizphobia played a lot of shows and got awareness on the Czech metal scene.
However cool that is, it also brings you an important question; "Is this the way I want to live my life?"
The band has gone through many lineup changes over the years. None of these were forced by the others, maybe one partially, haha...! In every case it was about burnout or priority change. We remained as friends. Every former member has shown up at gigs from time to time, which is very cool...
Are these lineup changes the main reason it took six more years to get the band's follow-up album, About Us Without Us, recorded and out in 2018 or were there some other reasons for this gap?
Tomáš: This gap was caused by the combination of several circumstances. As the things are going up, you have to work even harder and we just weren't able to do some important steps at the time. We played a lot, mostly in Czechia but went abroad as well. Fun times, but some of the members were slowly starting to lose interest and enthusiasm, I guess.
There was a period in 2014 when Pepa Valkoun left the band and Ondra wasn't able to join us yet, so we performed as a three piece. In this lineup, we went on a short tour in Slovakia and Poland in support of E-Force (band of Eric Forrest—former member of Voïvod) and we had a blast. I got a call from Eric a couple months after that. "Dude, I need a rhythm guitarist for the next tour, wanna go?"
For a huge Voïvod fan like me, it's something I could not refuse. My collaboration with E-Force lasted for a couple of years and I played more than sixty shows all around Europe with them. Great memories and important experiences indeed!
To get back to the story a bit, we got an offer to do a three-way split with Terrordome and Nadimac in 2014. Unfortunately, it never happened due to issues on all sides. We used some of the material on the split with Catastrofy and Kaar in 2016. I should also mention that we have a second band called Final Flag, which we founded with Eric Helzer, singer of the American legend Wehrmacht after meeting on the Obscene Extreme Festival in 2015. The first album, Capture the Flag, came out in 2017. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uPXHXEIyvO0)
So the discography of Exorcizphobia didn't grow during these years much, but we weren't dead, as you can see, haha...!
SECOND ALBUM—ABOUT US WITHOUT US
I really liked your second album, About Us Without Us, stating in my review that the album has snippets of Death Angel, Voïvod, and—yes, "Bay Area-ism" in it, which is never a bad thing. Could you tell what kind of process it was to get this album composed, recorded, and released on the small Czech label Support Underground?
Tomáš: Glad you like it, mate! I think that this one was supposed to be some sort of restart for us in many ways. When we had the songs prepared, we decided to go to the same studio where first EP, Disease Inside, was done. We wanted to keep the sound as natural as possible. I feel that we made a couple of crucial mistakes during the process again, so the result is not as good as could be expected. But I like this one anyway and I think it was an important and inevitable step before Digitotality.
Even though there's no revolution going on, About Us Without Us can be described as a most "experimental" piece of our discography.
People often say your singing style is similar to Snake of Voïvod. Is it something that comes naturally to you or did you want to try singing with a similar tone to his and found it a comfortable way for you to sing?
Tomáš: As I mentioned before, I'm a huge Voïvod fan and that's an influence I can't hide. People compare me to many other singers. I'm surprised by the names they say, because I don't feel any similarities in many cases. But it's flattering and fun to get feedback like that.
I never attended any lessons, so it could be the same as a learning guitar by yourself. I mean, you discover how it works through the music of artists you like. It sticks with you no matter if you want it to or not, I guess.
When the music is done, I usually hear the vocal lines in my head, so I try to keep it that way. Many times, I find I'm not able to execute it and these are the moments where I have to push my limits and learn something new. Every song needs a different approach, so I try to find the right way and then gut it out, haha...!
Moving on to November 2020 when you released your third album, Digitotality. I am sure you can safely say that it's your most advanced and refined album to date, but I will let you tell us more about the writing and recording processes for the album.
Tomáš: I definitely agree with you! The current record is definitely more mature sounding than the previous ones. I would also say darker and more serious...
Doing music is a process of evolution. It's not just about the musicianship, I feel we are getting better with the activities around the band in general. Every detail, every little experience helps you to improve. All those things just fell into place on Digitotality. We are satisfied with how it went. It gave us much needed solid ground for the future.
Before this whole pandemic thing started, we had four songs prepared. So as there wasn't chance to play live, we had more time to prepare the rest of the material. The whole process would take much longer if we were playing as many shows as we usually do, that's for sure.
When I'm working on the songs for an album, I try to bring in some concept or idea, something that holds the entire thing together. Digitotality is like that, a concept album. I had this vision pretty much from the start, so I just needed to find the right pieces of the puzzle.
The album was recorded at Davos Studio in August 2020, produced by me and Jindrich "Otyn" Tomanek. It was our second session in Davos and I just can't say anything bad about it. We enjoyed it and our cooperation with Otyn was as fun and effective as before. His involvement in the project had a big impact on the final result indeed (https://exorcizphobia.bandcamp.com/album/digitotality)
Were there any real challenges to get this album done or did everything go smoothly?
Tomáš: I had a cold a few days before the studio session, so my voice wasn't in good shape. Ales, our bassist, had a pretty serious toothache. We both were self-medicated by alcohol and it somehow went out, haha. My voice even got better during the weekend. Other than that, everything went surprisingly well, I would say.
As we know by now, it's difficult to arrange tours that cover neighboring countries due to these difficult and very unfortunate Covid times. Now that millions of people around the world have been vaccinated, do you look at the future with more hopeful eyes, so much so that you are trying to get some gigs booked for the fall of 2021?
Tomáš: Yeah, the situation sucks indeed. We have played about 25 shows since June, which is not bad. But all of them were just in the Czech Republic and we miss being on the road, I don't have to tell you that. It sucks when you have a new record out and you have not had the chance to promote it with a solid tour.
We decided to stay in our country this year, but I've just started to book a tour for April 2022. We would like to do about 10 shows in Germany and Benelux. It would be nice to get on some summer festivals next year as well. Wish us luck, haha!
You guys played at the Obscene Extreme and Obscure Mosh Open Air festivals in July this year, both underground Metal festivals. Can you tell us something about them? Did they make you guys feel more "alive" again, so to speak?
Tomáš: We had a pretty busy summer and played many cool shows, but those two you mentioned, plus Josefstadt (a smaller version of Brutal Assault) were by far the best! Obscene Extreme is a special one for me, so it's big honor to be included. This was Exorcizphobia's third appearance at this legendary festival! It's a blessing to have such a cool event in our hometown every year!
Obscure Mosh took place in the legendary Prague club named Modrá Vopice and every band on the bill was killer! Czech metal at its best! It was our first bigger event after that long break, so it felt just great! Crazy crowd, brilliant sound, nice showtime. Who could ask for more?
Obscure Extreme (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cvmYn7y6ztM)
Obscure Mosh (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Do1RjZK6DhU)
Performing live in front of an enthusiastic and supportive crowd is for some bands the best thing they can hope for. Is that the main reason you want to keep this band going?
Tomáš: It's a massive part of the whole thing, that's clear! We love to play live shows and we love to be on the road. That half year break was terrible. Nobody in the band had ever been without a gig for so long. Sure, you can rehearse more, work on new stuff, but at some point, you just start to miss it. When you're sharing your music with an audience, there's something magical going on. Sometimes you are exhausted and you take it for granted, but you realize really soon how important it is when you don't have it. Maybe it sounds a bit cheesy, but it's true, haha...!
JUMPING INTO THE SNEAKERS OF SPIKE CASSIDY
I read that you have also filled in for Spike Cassidy (D.R.I.) at a show at Obscene Extreme festival in 2010 as he was unable to perform on that day. How did it all happen for you?
Tomáš: Yeah, what a crazy story! Spike Cassidy suffered a major haemorrhage when he and Harald O (bass player) were at the airport before departing for the Czech Republic. He wasn't able to do the show of course and Harald stayed with him. The rest of the band (Kurt and Rob) found out not even 24 hours before the show, so it was really hectic. We had just a couple of hours to solve this crazy situation and practice songs together. I was just in the right place at the right time. So I filled in on guitar and Mike Howells, roadie of the band at the time, had a bass. We managed to prepare like eight or nine songs, if I remember.
I was twenty years old when it happened, and it was a really important experience for me and my music journey. I realized there are real people in all those bands I admire. Regular mortal dudes, haha. It was probably the final and crucial moment when I realized that's what I want to do the rest of my life. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OGG_KlFatj4).
Have you been in touch with the guys of D.R.I. since your extraordinary and memorable performance with them?
Tomáš: We know about each other due to the occasional contact on Facebook, but I've only seen them twice since the Obscene Extreme thing. The first time it was like six months later in Dresden on the "Persistence" tour, where D.R.I. headlined with Sick of It All. They took me backstage and I hung out with Harald on the tour bus and heard many stories from their Bay Area thrash beginnings. That was really cool.
The second time we opened for D.R.I. in Ostrava and I played "Thrashard" with them unexpectedly. The guys were always great to me, I hope there will be another chance to see them again (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hMHUtUyIPTY).
CZECH THRASH METAL SCENE
What can you tell us about the thrash metal/crossover scene in your home country? How do you view the vitality of your country's thrash metal/crossover scene?
Tomáš: I think that the Czech thrash scene is not bad at all, especially for the small country we are. We have a couple of bigger acts like Debustrol and Malignant Tumour (they are more like crust 'n' roll, but thrash is somehow in the mix as well, I guess) and thrashcore stuff such as Lahar or Stolen Lives. I must mention Laid to Waste, Kaar, Murder Inc., Bajonet or 1000Bombs. There are also a couple of young, ravenous and very promising bands like Faüst, Refore, Fatal Punishment and Commander. Hope I didn't forget anyone. If you haven't heard them yet, check them all out, definitely worth a listen!
Laid to Waste (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TuzlrVceCpE)
NEW EP—FRIEND OF LUNACY
As for recent news, you guys just digitally released a new 8-track EP titled Friend of Lunacy on July 22nd. To me, it's your most aggressive recording so far, having quite a strong Bay Area thrash-tinged sound to it. How would you describe the songs on this EP?
Tomáš: Your description is on point. The songs on the EP are much darker and more aggressive than our previous stuff I think. That corresponds with the lyrical theme pretty well. The atmosphere is beefed up by two "intro tracks" taken from the cult movie 12 Monkeys. The record was produced by Martin "Bilos" Bilek, mastermind of the legendary Czech band Malignant Tumour (MT) and that's also a huge reason the sound is more aggressive than before. Having him in the studio was cool and educative experience indeed. It was also a good occasion to do a cover with him and we did so! It was a song called "Missing Rebellion" by MT and it was a perfect choice and you can hear it as a bonus track on this EP.
As you mentioned above, the EP is out digitally since July 22nd. CDs will be released on November 15th on French label Soman Records. The material will also be part of the split with our Costa Rican friends Heresy. That split will be released on vinyl in April of next year by same label. We are really looking forward to finishing this awesome cooperation and have these cool items out (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=krEY-p6M038)!
Do you have new material ready for the band's fourth studio album?
Tomáš: I have four new songs composed and we started to practice them this week. If everything goes well, the studio awaits us in the spring. I have to consider the concept of the whole thing, because it seems that Hypocrisy were faster than us with their upcoming album Worship, but let's see, haha...! However, I expect to have it done next year for sure, so if we find a label, it could be out at the end of 2022 or at the beginning of 2023.
WHAT TO EXPECT FROM THE FUTURE?
OK, I have just one more question before I let you go for a well-earned cold Czech beer. What do you expect as far as the band's comings and goings are concerned before the end of 2021?
Tomáš: We have six remaining shows until the end of this year in our schedule. The Czech government will talk about some restrictions again, so let's see what's going to happen during the upcoming months. I'm trying to keep a positive attitude. There are things that are out of your control, so better be ready for everything. But I'm sure about one thing, we are going to do new music, no matter what...!
Thank you, Tomáš, for your time and getting this interview done. Let's hope this damn Covid thing will be over soon so we can focus on those things that are difficult to make a reality due to all of these restrictions. Take it easy, stay healthy, and all the best for your future endeavors with the band. Uh, any closing thoughts/comments perhaps?
Tomáš: I thank you, Luxi, it was a really fun chat! All the best to you and to readers of The Metal Crypt! If you guys want to check us out, you can follow us on the links below!
Stay heavy and keep it real! Hope to see you on the tour soon!
|Other information about Exorcizphobia on this site|
|Review: About Us Without Us|
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