Interview: Matt Harvey (Exhumed, Gruesome, Pounder)

Interview conducted by Greg DiPasquale*

mh2Matt Harvey. No, not the pitcher for the Mets; this Matt Harvey is way cooler. Why is he cooler, you ask? Well, since you clearly know nothing about his track record, let me bring you up to speed. Exhumed, Dekapitator, Scarecrow, Gruesome, Repulsion, Gravehill, Death (To All), Pounder, Expulsion. There’s probably something I’m missing, but if you don’t get it by now, you either never will or you need to hit the fuckin’ books and learn. Kids, this one’s a real treat for me. He’s one of my favorite metal guitarists, the master of gore metal, the leader of the Slaughtercult, and the real fuckin’ steel deal. Enjoy.

Greg DiPasquale: So, I’m going to start with the obvious first question(s). Maiden or Priest? Why?

Matt Harvey: That’s an impossible question, haha! I go through 5-7 year cycles where I get more into one than the other. I’ve been on a Maiden run for the last few years, but when I get the itch to hear Stained Class, nothing else will do. I couldn’t really imagine not having them both in the rotation.

GD: What was the band, or bands, that sent you down the heavy metal trail?

MH: Metallica was the band that really captured my imagination. The fact that they were so “street” compared to where metal was in 1987, with records like Turbo and The Ultimate Sin being a big thing, was really inspiring to me. It made me think that I could pick up a guitar and try to do something cool too. Of course, there were countless bands that I got into along the way but Master of Puppets was the absolute game changer for me. It was like the day before I heard it, my life was going one way, and the day after I heard it, my life was going a completely different way. The next record I heard that blew my head off like that was The Peel Sessions by Napalm Death. It made me feel like there were no limits to how intense things could get. It opened so very many doors for me and the power, speed and attitude of it just blew me away.

GD: Guitar influences? Not a metal specific question.

MH: Hmmm… Songwriting is kind of my main focus, not just guitar performance, but ultimately I love riffs. I mean, I LOVE me some riffs. I guess my faves would be Hetfield, Bill from Carcass, Chuck from Death, Michael Schenker, Adrian Smith, Glen Tipton, Piggy from Voivod, Tommy from Coroner, Uli Jon Roth, Ritchie Blackmore, Holt / Hunolt era Exodus, Matt from Repulsion, Eric from Autopsy, Gary Moore, John Sykes, Mille from Kreator in the ’80s, etc. As far as non metal- Kevin Shields from My Bloody Valentine would be an obvious choice, for his super innovative layering, usage of effects, and looping. Thurston Moore is also great- I keep returning to Daydream Nation it’s such a masterpiece.

GD: How was the recent east coast run with Gruesome? Was that the first extended run of dates in the U.S.A?

MH: It was the longest run we’ve done so far. We did a week on the west coast and then 2 weeks with Obituary that were a blast. We have mostly done one-offs and weekends so far, but it seems like a full tour is becoming inevitable, haha! We got to play for some new people and spread the love for DEATH METAL as well as hang out with friends and generally have a damn good time.

GD: For the uninitiated, what was the foundation of the Exhumed sound as far as influences go? Have there been newer influences added along the way or are you still working off the original template?

MH: I think the initial influences were your basic early ’90s death metal and grindcore starter pack: Autopsy, Repulsion, Carcass, Death, Pestilence, Obituary, Napalm Death, and Terrorizer. A few years later, we started getting back into the thrashier stuff like Kreator, Razor, Sacrifice, Exodus, and Slayer, then the early death metal stuff like Possessed, Master, Slaughter, Infernal Majesty, Sacrifice, and Necrophagia, as well as more punk and crusty stuff like Amebix, Nausea (NYC), Assuck, Crossed Out, Cryptic Slaughter, Final Conflict, the early NYHC stuff, etc. The main way other influences have crept in over the years is via the solos and melodies, and especially in my ideas about song structure. One of the biggest differences between Exhumed and most other “extreme” metal bands is that we really focus on using traditional pop structure in our songs and try to use blatant hooks to make the songs catchy and more accessible.

GD: The whole “Carcass clone” tag for Exhumed and a few other bands: Did that ever bother you? I don’t think it’s entirely accurate by any means, and you’ve clearly gone beyond that, but did you ever feel it hindered or misrepresented the band’s public perception?

MH: I never really liked it, honestly. I mean Symphonies of Sickness was a big record for me as a kid, and I would never deny that they were one of our influences, but we really don’t sound that much like Carcass. Just a couple of really obvious things – we’re a lot more focused on playing fast than they ever were and we have a lot more low vocals. It didn’t really become a hindrance until Carcass got back together and then it got pretty frustrating at times. It gets tiresome hearing how similar the two bands are, when we really aren’t that similar. I don’t think anyone who gives Exhumed an honest listen would think we were any kind of “clone” band. To me, it speaks more about how limited people’s frame of reference is when they listen to us. Trust me, if I wanted to make a true clone, I would. Look at GRUESOME. Now, that is a clone band.

GD: Exhumed took a nap for like 5 years some time ago. In between, you revisited Dekapitator, had stints with Scarecrow, Repulsion, Gravehill, etc. If at all, how crucial was that break to you coming back with Exhumed so strong afterwards?

MH: I think playing other styles and playing with other people is always super healthy. It’s almost like a palette cleanser when you’re wine tasting or something. You drink a white, have a glass of water and a cracker, and then try a red with fresh taste buds. It’s the same with music. Playing the same style of music for years gets stale so doing other things makes it feel more fresh when you come back to it. I definitely needed a break from Exhumed, because the material I was coming up with for the band before we split just wasn’t that great. It wasn’t focused and it wasn’t aggressive enough.

GD: You’ve been able to score some pretty awesome guest spots in your career. I’d imagine working with Exodus, Death (To All), & Repulsion were pretty surreal moments, any memories or thoughts about those experiences you care to wax poetic about?

MH: They were all surreal. I feel that I’ve been very fortunate to play with some of my favorite musicians and pick their brains a little. I remember when Col (Jones, original EXHUMED drummer) and I were both playing with Repulsion and we were rehearsing, just the two of us. I closed my eyes and listened and thought to myself ” Wow, this really sounds like Repulsion.” Then a thought hit me: “This IS Repulsion. That’s so fucking weird.” I also remember rehearsing with DTA and we were running through whatever song it was, and Gene Hoglan was kind of dragging the tempo down and playing too slow. And I was soooo nervous to bring it up to him. I felt super awkward about it, haha! But he was like, “Yeah, that felt slow to me too. We’ll juice it back up.” I was so relieved. I definitely felt a bit out of my depth there, hahaha! When I did the gig with Exodus, the guys were kind of quizzing me at the airport – like “What’s the third verse of ‘A Lesson in Violence?’ or whatever – and I stopped to think about it, and was like – ‘There is no 3rd verse in that song!” which we all got a good laugh from. Those guys were just so chill and welcoming. I really regret not pushing a bit harder to do more with them, although I’ve really enjoyed what they’ve done in the last few years- it’s so much better than the latter-day stuff by the vast majority of their ’80s thrash contemporaries.

GD: Through your many projects, it’s apparent to anyone with intelligent ears that you have a knack for pinpointing the hallmarks that make a metal sub genre (or band- see Gruesome) great and are able to apply them quite authentically to new material. Any other sub genre, or genre, you’d care to take a crack at in the future?

MH: Well, I’m all about seeing commonalities in music, so I approach most projects pretty similarly. If you have a good hook, it’s a good hook – whether it’s grindcore or yacht rock. As far as other styles, I have like 30 songs that I wrote a few years ago that are in sort of a dream pop / electronic / alternative vein, influenced by stuff like M83, the Cure, My Bloody Valentine, Chameleons UK, etc. I don’t know if I’ll ever do anything with those tunes. It’s one of those things where you really need the right singer. I also recently did some music for a Canadian short horror film called “Hell Haunt” that was a lot of fun. I’d love to do some more of that kind of soundtrack stuff. I also had an older band called Scarecrow that played very Metallica-influenced stuff that we still talk about doing something with every so often.

GD: In the last few months you’ve unleashed a new project, the traditional metal styled Pounder. The demo is great, a total ripper. How long has it been in the works for and what does the future hold?

MH: We are getting the demo released on tape soon, and we’re also in the process of negotiating a deal for a full length now. We’re gonna be doing our first gig at the excellent Frost and Fire festival in California in October. I’m really excited to get this project going, as it’s something I’ve been writing material for, for a few years now. It started kind of as a joke – we’d be on tour with Exhumed and people at the random gas station we’d stop at in the middle-of-nowhere would always be like, “Hey man, are y’all in a band?” and I used to always give these ridiculous fake band names, and Pounder became my favorite of them (Sexer and Rough Beast were also standouts). Our sound guy, Alejandro (who also plays bass in Nausea) and I started talking more and more about it because we were always jamming Manowar and Thin Lizzy, and I slowly started accumulating material for it. A couple of the songs on the demo, “Hot and Runnin'” and “Give ’em the Hammer” are some of the earliest things I came up with – they’re like three years old at this point. I have tons more stuff since then, though.

GD: What inspired me to check out Exhumed back when I was a younger lad, was that I saw Alex Webster wearing an Exhumed t-shirt. If any, what bands can you remember checking out through similar means, and who was it that provided the incentive?

MH: I remember seeing a picture of Chuck from Death wearing a Sadus shirt and then seeing a flyer for the Dark Angel / Death 1989 tour with Sadus opening so I figured they HAD to rule. And I was right, haha! The big one for me was REPULSION. NAPALM DEATH were always talking about them and I was determined to find Horrified. When I finally did, I was rewarded handsomely for my efforts with the greatest death metal/grindcore record of all time. We always used to scour bands’ “thanks lists” for stuff to get turned on to, and of course you would pay attention to what label the releases you liked were on – as well as where they were produced, etc. Now with the internet, it’s so easy to preview records and stuff – I’m a bit envious of all the resources kids now have to find intense metal.

GD: Man, that Eric Andre Show appearance looked like a lot of fun. There was so much wild shit crammed into like a 15-20 second spot, it was so over the top. How did you guys get hooked up with that?

MH: They actually wanted Pig Destroyer, who were unavailable, so since we were in California, we got the nod. We went to the taping and just got hideously, disgustingly drunk. I’m talking like – drunk to unprofessional levels – which is part of the reason the clip itself is so short – but it’s a nicely condensed bit that gets the essence of the experience across. I wish we had been a bit more level headed about it in hindsight, though.

GD: Word association, respond as lengthy as you choose.

– The 90’s:

MH: Easily the worst decade for rock music. A decade when gutless music made by completely shitty losers with no balls filled the airwaves and the worst “metal” ever made was produced. I mean, the early ’90s were great for death metal, but thrash went to shit, and radio rock kept finding new lows to sink to. The fact that nu metal ever existed is just disgusting. When I die and go to hell, that’s how I’ll be tortured – listening to ’90s “metal.” Let me say this – hip-hop is awesome. Metal is awesome. Mixing them together is NOT awesome. It’s the opposite of awesome.

GD: Morrisound:

MH: Victims of their own success. After elevating the death metal genre to new heights, Scott Burns and co. were saddled with rising expectations, lowered album budgets and less-talented acts. No surprise that the records coming out of the studios had a dip in quality.

GD: Kam Lee:

MH: The father of low death metal vocals. I will always be a massive Massacre / Mantas fan and Kam’s vocals are such an integral part of those bands, as well as the general development of the death metal genre as a whole.

GD: Buffalo, NY:

The weather sucks and the city is a bit depressing, but Tirant Sin was pretty cool. And those Cannibal Corpse boys did all right for themselves, too.

GD: N.Y Mets pitchers:

MH: I’ll always be partial to Dwight Gooden and the 1986 Mets (although Tom Seaver was a beast in his day) but if I have to share a name with an athlete, at least it’s a good pitcher with a Batman-related nickname.

GD: Nocturnus’s hair:

MH: The fluffiest locks in Ybor City back in the day. They went great with their bright yellow guitars. Although, the Science of Horror demo ain’t nuthin’ to fuck with!

GD: Pizza:

MH: I eat way too much of it. But I can’t stop.

GD: Chainsaws:

MH: You don’t need to go to Texas to have a massacre with them.

GD: Black Metal:

MH: I love Venom, Bathory and Mercyful Fate. Do they count?

GD: Don Dokken:

MH: Great singer. I love the old stuff. People tell me his voice is shot now, but Tooth and Nail and Under Lock and Key both rip forever. I’ve always wanted to hear the Blackout sessions he was rumored to have sang on with the Scorps.

GD: – Cassette revival:

MH: I think it’s cute, but a bit silly. Having lived through the cassette era, I think it’s a far worse format than vinyl and CD. But hey, whatever the kids are into, right? If people are buying physical copies of music in 2017, it’s a positive thing, in whatever format.

GD: Anatomy Is Destiny:

MH: That was the first record where we really, really tried to be a “good band.” We were pretty disappointed that it never became more of a “breakout” record for us, but in hindsight, I can see why. It feels a little bit like an overreach in some ways when I hear it now.

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GD: What’s your gear setup? Is it the same for all your bands or do you tweak it and use different gear for each one?

MH: It’s pretty much the same for everything – a Peavey 6505+ with a Maxon OD808 overdrive pedal in front. I use a phaser for a couple of breaks and solos – but I just tweak the EQ a little for each band. The higher the tuning, the less mid-range I use. But recently I’ve backed the gain on my amp WAY back – to like “3.” I’ve found that I really prefer a bit drier sound, as it’s a bit more honest and old-school sounding, and makes things like pinch-harmonics and stuff really come alive and feel quite dynamic. I have my go-to guitars for each thing – I use an ESP EII Arrow for Gruesome, my Ibanez 27-fret Xiphos for Exhumed, and for Pounder, I have a Gibson Explorer and an Ibanez Iceman. I pretty much swear by Seymour Duncan Blackout pickups – they have the high output you want in an active pickup, but more dynamics and tone flexibility than a lot of other pickups and are much, MUCH lower noise than a lot of other active pickups. I like the original blackouts – the Mick Thompson ones have a bit too much of a squelched mid range and too much presence for me.

GD: If I’m correct, I believe I read somewhere at some point that you worked for a few record labels? If so, which ones, in what capacity, and what was it like seeing the industry change so drastically from the inside?

MH: I worked for Necropolis Records from 1998-2001, which was pretty depressing for the last year and a half or so. It was disheartening to see a label really grow and then sort of implode as you helplessly watched while trying to mitigate the damage to your friends’ bands that you helped bring on board. But it was a great learning experience and I made a lot of friends there and gained some insight as to how the industry works / worked. A few years later, I worked at Jello Biafra’s Alternative Tentacles Records with Dave Adelson (who founded 20 Buck Spin Records) who I had also worked with at Necropolis. It’s so crazy how much the industry has completely transformed in the wake of the omnipresent internet. It’s a completely different world than it was even 10 years ago.

GD: As if Exhumed, Gruesome, & Pounder weren’t enough already, you’ve got the Expulsion debut coming out in a few months. How did that project start up and did it basically name itself?

MH: Matt Olivo approached me about doing something new in the Repulsion vein and of course I was very into it. I loved the material he came up with and it was a lot of fun working out lyrics and vocals for it. I recorded the vocals a couple of years ago and kind of gave up hope that it would ever see the light of day – but now it’s coming out in July, which is really exciting. I think I suggested the name as kind of a stopgap thing until we came up with something better – which obviously never happened, haha!

GD: Lastly, in 2018, will Exhumed “Make America Gore Again”?

MH: We are sure as hell gonna try! We have a new record coming out later this year, so… you’ve been warned.

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