Early Man are yet another act resurrecting the sound of classic Thrash Metal as those of us who were around in the Eighties remember it. Their latest effort, Beware The Circling Fin is a four song EP released on The End Records meant to whet the appetite of Metal fans while the band puts the finishing touches on a new full-length that should be eagerly anticipated by anyone who has heard these guys shred. I was granted the opportunity to engage frontman Mike Conte on a variety of subjects and was pleasantly surprised by just how engaging he actually is. I guarantee that you will be too.
Interview by Christopher Roddy
DTC: First off, congratulations on the fine four song EP. In your view does it seem right that Homo Sapiens absorbed the Neanderthals and how different do you believe the world would have turned out had Neanderthals proved the dominant and lasting species?
Mike Conte: Thank you and thanks for your interest in the band. I guess it all just evolved the way it was supposed to with Neanderthals having their time and place in history. I think maybe they were too intense to last long. Had they prevailed I'm sure there would be a lot less bullshit happening on the planet.
DTC: You count many classic bands as influences, most of which are still putting out albums today. So how do you view the recent works of some of your favorite acts and how they relate to the older material? Which of them have aged "well" and which...really haven't, in your opinion?
Mike Conte: That's a tough question. Anyone who has been in a band that has lasted longer than lets say a couple of years knows how difficult it is to simply exist as a band and it continues to become harder in this day and age. There are many factors that get in the way of any given band having a long term career. Those things can take their toll on creativity. Some people/bands handle that stuff better than others. Some burn out quicker, some last forever, etc. A band that
has existed for 20 or 30 years will go through many phases.
To me its less about whether or not people like or dislike certain material and more about the fact that the band exists and continues to put out music. That's the important part. If people say: "the new shit sucks, the old stuff is the shit!" or vise versa, it's really just an opinion. The important thing, at least to me anyway, is that the band is still putting out music and getting reactions from people. I think you've aged well if you've been working as a band for many years and somehow you're still making music that gets reactions. The vast majority of people who were in a band let's say when they were 20 years old, by the time they're 40 they've been working for corporate America or something similar for 15 years and have been completely out of touch for that same amount of time with the actual music scene. I think that is a huge failure. So you might hear someone say "old (insert metal band here) is way better than new (insert same metal band here)" or whatever but at least they still exist and are a fully functional band.
And for people that are frequently saying these types of things it begs the question: What the fuck have YOU done?
DTC: When you were looking to learn and improve on your instrument to which artists did you specifically turn for examples and inspiration? And notice I refrained from being more specific than referring to "your instrument."
Mike Conte: Learning and improving on your instrument is an ongoing process. I can draw inspiration from many different sources. I might hear something brand new that I've never heard before or see a show that unexpectedly blew me away and it will propel my guitar playing and song writing process greatly. The same thing can happen by listening to a record that I've heard literally hundreds of times. The body of work that some people have put together is in and of itself
inspirational sometimes. Dave Mustaine comes to mind for me as an amazing guitarist/songwriter as does Andy LaRocque. Or look at someone like Dio. Still KILLING it. Lemmy. I just saw Carcass live, that pumped me up. I could go on forever but I wont.
DTC: Thus far you've released one album and two EPs. Word has it you're working on another full-length. What is your perception of your own evolution to this point and how will the next album build upon everything you've achieved?
Mike Conte: Things are clipping along nicely right now. We have refined what we do and the way we do it quite a bit at this point so it's been pretty effortless writing on this upcoming full length. I'm very pleased with what we've got and where we're headed.
DTC: Having contributed a song to the Aqua Teen Hunger Force movie are you a fan of the series? Are there any other Adult Swim shows you enjoy?
Mike Conte: I love ATHF, particularly the character Meatwad which is why I agreed to write the song. Of course Metalocolypse is the shit and even funnier if you're in a national/worldwide touring metal band. That show is so on point it's sometimes not even funny to me. I'm like, "fuck, that's us," half the time. But I try to avoid TV as well.
DTC: So is there anything else worthwhile on TV these days in your estimation?
Mike Conte: I get sucked in from time to time for sure. It's a waste though. Turn that thing off and pick up a guitar. You've got a short time on this planet to make your mark.
DTC: Where did Metal go wrong?
Mike Conte: It didn't. There have always been bad sides to it but there are down sides to everything. But the real shit has always been there for those who need it. Just dig a little and...presto! There it is.
DTC: So what the hell happened to you during your childhood that altered the course of your otherwise potentially socially acceptable existence and led you down this path of Metal mayhem?
Mike Conte: A few different things. To put it simply, too much religion crammed down my throat at a very young age. Also, I have no interest in fitting into anyone elses idea of what social acceptability is and I realized this very early on. It's all just a facade anyway. Why chase it? Do what you love despite what anyone thinks of you. It's the only path.
DTC: What experiences with "music education" did you encounter growing up and did they have any effect on the path you've chosen or were they merely one rung up the ladder from useless? Do you believe exposing children to music at early ages is important?
Mike Conte: I played violin for many years in grade school and junior high school. It had a huge effect on me actually. I quit to play guitar full time and I've always regretted it. Not that I didn't fall in love with playing guitar because I did but I do wish I had kept playing the violin. It definitely helped in my songwriting abilities to see how an orchestra works and all of that at that young age. I think children should be exposed to music in the womb. So put the record of your choice on and wrap those headphones around your pregnant belly. You can't start too early.
DTC: Where do family and friends fit into the Early Man equation? Have you had a lot of support from the people in your life over the years or has this been more of a solitary path that required a great deal of intestinal fortitude on your part?
Mike Conte: Solitary path for sure. My family disowned me because I chose to not follow the religious path that they had chosen for me. Not only did they offer no support but they were and actually continue to be somewhat of a minor obstacle with regards to what I do. But there have been some people, they know who they are, that have supported me and the band through the years and have made the difference.
DTC: Beware The Circling Fin contains some eco-friendly social commentary. What do you say to people who criticize entertainers for using music to vocalize their views and opinions regarding goings on in the world? Do "protest songs" with socio-political leanings have a place in our polarized society where half the fans may potentially tune out at the mere suggestion that the things they support are, in fact, wrong? And do you take a more diplomatic stance to their objections or are you more insistent regarding your positions on issues?
Mike Conte: I think when we get into labeling, for example even using a term like "eco-friendly," it cheapens the issue a little. Terms like that conjure certain things in my mind that are lame. I don't think an artist owes anybody an apology or explanation for being educated and intelligent and having that come through in a song. Every song is different as well and takes on its own personality. Early Man has songs about drunken bar brawls and gang knife fights. To me it seems to fit right in to have a song about the Sea Shepherd if you know anything about him or his history which is what "Beware the Circling Fin" is about. I don't really give a flying fuck if I polarize anyone with my songs. The songs are for us, the band. Period. If people are into it, cool. If not, also cool.
DTC: How is your relationship with The End Records? What are your views on record labels given the current climate and at what point do you see yourselves venturing out on your own a-la Radiohead or Nine Inch Nails? Oh and, out of curiosity, what might be included in a $300 super-mega-bitchin' limited edition of one of your albums that would ensure you became millionaires within a week?
Mike Conte: Relationship is good with The End. As far as venturing out on your own goes, that's all fine and dandy if you're a fucking huge band that has sold millions of records in the past. When Radiohead did that release themselves I loved how all of these bands were like "that's the way to go, we're gonna do the same thing man. fuck the system, brah". yeah, good luck. It might even actually work if your music is worth it, which is rare to say the least. The problem is no
one would give a shit about your band even if you were on a label, let alone putting that crap out yourselves on MySpace or whatever. A good label will help a band. It's simple and hasn't changed much. What has changed is the manner in which that label has to take your music to the masses. The old system of how to work a band doesn't work anymore. It's constantly changing, now more than ever.
What would we include in a $300 limited edition that would ensure we became millionaires? $315 in cash I suppose. Not sure a label would go for that though.
DTC: Have you become fans of any of the other newer acts resurrecting the classic Thrash battle flag? Which ones have gained your allegiance and how do you view the contemporary Thrash scene in comparison to your perceptions of the subgenre's classic years?
Mike Conte: I'm a fan of good song writing, good Heavy Metal. I particularly like it when a new band keeps things simple. It seems like everyone is trying to out-noodle each other anymore. And then you have all these dip shits that don't know their ass from a hole in the ground judging bands on technical skills rather than whether or not a song moves you when you hear it. I'm not saying you can't have the best of both worlds but I like hooks in songs. That's why I love Judas Priest. There's a huge thrash element in a lot of their work, like Painkiller era stuff, but it still manages to have hooks. I like bands that do that. That's as specific as I want to get.
DTC: Where do your loyalties lie as far as gear is concerned? Are there instruments and accessories you swear by to achieve that definitive Early Man sound?
Mike Conte: I have a 1984 Jackson guitar that I swear by. Outside of that whatever sounds best, I'll use it.
DTC: Do you give much thought to the performance aspect of your music? By that I mean what, in your view, makes for a great live experience?
Mike Conte: The most important thing to me is the energy that builds in a live show between the band and an audience. That's the difference between a good show and a bad one. I'm less concerned about how perfect the performance is or isn't and much more in tune with whether or not we're connected and feeding back and forth off of an audience. Recently I feel like we've started to connect with and build something special, perhaps for the first time ever, with certain crowds outside of NYC. The last tour we did we had some really amazing shows in Denver, Chicago, Atlanta and Austin. And it was all because the fans there brought amazing energy to the venues. We feed off of that heavily.
DTC: In the past Thrash bands have give us some of the most memorable album covers in Rock. Given an unlimited budget what artists would you want to utilize for the definitive Early Man album cover and merchandise artwork? What images are important to serve as an exclamation point to the music?
Mike Conte: This is what makes the genre unique. The artwork is of utmost importance. I'd like to see what HR Giger would do for an Early Man cover. Or perhaps Frank Frazetta.
DTC: If the music thing falls through what do you do? What direction do you pursue in life?
Mike Conte: Wow. That's a pretty deep question (laughs)! But in all seriousness I don't really view life like that. Life is about the journey, it's not about compiling a bunch of meaningless achievements which is why music will never "fall through" for me. It's part of who I am regardless of what hand I'm dealt in life. I'm not making music to become anything or achieve some goal and then walk away from it or anything like that. I'm never going to be the guy who is like: "Finally. Bono and I sang a song together on our world tour. I can die happy man". Fuck all that stupid shit. I'm not interested in the rat race, especially the one that goes on within the music industry. My direction in life is to have no direction. To wake up every day and follow my inspiration, no preconceived ideas, no rules. My goal is to completely submerge myself in my own creations and to focus entirely on my artwork. I make my life my own dream regardless of what anyone might think of what I'm doing. It's the only way I know how to operate.
DTC: So where could we find you for a drink? You seem like the kind of guy with whom I wouldn't mind hanging out.
Mike Conte: I've been in L.A. for about 6 months now. The best drinking spot I've found here is El Coyote. Nothing beats margaritas on the patio with a beautiful girl.
See also: Review: Beware The Circling Fin