Interview with Jamie Saint Merat of Ulcerate
Agoraphobic News: What separates Ulcerate from the rest of death metal scene?
Jamie: What makes us unique? That's incredibly hard to answer from within the band - all I can say is that we've always tried to craft and hone our own personality, and just create ideas that we feel are our own. We've never been afraid of dynamics and subtlety, and we're very aware of suspending a palpable atmosphere.
Agoraphobic News: Do you feel like Ulcerate is still an underground band, despite your terrific discography?
Jamie: 'Underground' is a relative term though you know? Underground in comparison to what? We're certainly not in the mainstream consciousness, but I understand that our profile is growing and to some that means that you're out-growing your initial starting point... We see this happening all the time, even a band like Bolzer are starting to get weird backlash as they grow in size, even though stylistically, aesthetically and philosophically nothing has changed. I really don't have the energy to devote to pondering these kind of things at this point, you write what you write and let journalists and fans make up their minds if they like it or not.
Agoraphobic News: What was the hardest point of your career? NY incident perhaps?
Jamie: To be honest, even though something like that was demoralising, within an hour or 2 we had decided to soldier on and focus on the task ahead. We all lost money in the long-run obviously, but it's just money, it can be recouped. No-one was hurt. For me personally the hardest point of playing in this band was during our last North American tour - my grandfather suddenly passed while we were stuck in a traffic jam outside of Chicago, so it was incredibly hard trying to decide whether or not to continue the tour.
Agoraphobic News: Would you rather relinquish using blast beats or double bass drumming?
Jamie: I don't see the point in relinquishing either. If it suits a part, then it suits. I would never ever use either outside of metal, but in-context it's just another stylistic device.
Agoraphobic News: What is your favorite drum-beat?
Jamie: Half-time shuffle. Not appropriate for death and black metal, but when slowed right down you can get away with it sometimes haha. I use a very broad version of it in Clutching Revulsion towards the end of the track. But it's typically used in blues/funk, the most 'famous' use of it is by Jeff Porcaro in Toto's 'Rosanna'.
Agoraphobic News: There are 2 kinds of drummers : а typical dummer and a musician. The former is playing a a couple of beats while the latter is really using his brain instead of just beating the shit out of drums. Do you agree with this?
Jamie: 100%. A musician plays for the music and augments the atmosphere. If a part calls for almost nothing at all played on the kit, then that is what should be played. We've run across a couple of people (not necessarily drummers) in bands on tour that are very technically proficient but can't seem to make anything remotely interesting come out of their instrument, it's always just a flurry of robotically tight notes. There's no individuality and no connection with the person listening. Drummers in this style are notorious for this, just pure focus on speed and nothing else.
Agoraphobic News: What is the hardest job for a drummer in general?
Jamie: Learning your place as the backbone of the music. An entire band's sound can be ruined by a drummer playing too much (or too little) or not having the solidarity needed to provide a solid base for the other instruments to feed off. This encompasses feel, tempo, meter, tones etc. Basically developing great ears. Knowing what cymbals are suitable for certain passages, knowing how to tune drums for incredible punch, being able to strike the drum exactly as you intended every single note. A lot of drummers in metal these days can reach very high tempos, but very few feel great (read: punishing) while doing it.
Agoraphobic News: How dedicated death metal drummer must be to reach ,,an octopus level“ ?
Jamie: It's an entire lifestyle, you really do need to give your life to it, or at least early on at least. So that means a lot of sacrifices in terms of spare time. But long-term it's incredibly satisfying to reach goals you set maybe 10 years before, and being able to execute ideas freely without needing to actually figure out how to physically manage playing them.
Agoraphobic News: Is it possible for a death metal band to play more than ~ 75 minutes live? Personaly, I think not because of both vocals and drumming.
Jamie: Yeah for sure no problem, all our rehearsals are 2 hours straight. I think it's more fatiguing on the audience more than anything. Same with album lengths, it can be very draining to push beyond the 1 hour mark. So live our sets work out to 7-8 songs, which for us is usually 1 hour, maybe 10 or 15 minutes longer if there's an encore call.
Agoraphobic News: Who are your biggest musical influences?
Jamie: For the band's direction - when we were younger bands like Immolation, Cryptospy (old), Angelcorpse, Gorugts, Today is the Day guided the initial direction. On a personal level guys like Kai Hahto, Tony Laureano, Derek Roddy, Dave Weckl, Chris Coleman, Jojo Mayer, Benny Greb, Thomas Lang...
Agoraphobic News: Can you name some of your favorite albums?
Immolation - 'Close to a World Below'
Gorguts - 'From Wisdom to Hate'
Arkhon Infaustus - 'Orthodoxyn'
Ascension - 'Consolomentum'
Bohren und der Club of Gore - 'Black Earth'
Deathspell Omega - 'Si Monumentum Requires, Circumspice'
Angelcorpse - 'The Inexorable'
Clutch - 'Earth Rocker'
Today is the Day - 'In the Eyes of God'
Yob - 'The Unreal Never Lived'
Ulver - 'Messe I.X-VI.X'
MGLA - 'With Hearts Towards None'
Kriegsmaschine - 'Enemy of Man'
Vomitory - 'Redemption'
Agoraphobic News: Of Fracture and Failure is more than a decent debut album. It stands out from the rest of your albums both production and music-wise. Of course, that record layed foundations on which Ulcerate music stands on. Did Ulcerate have different approach of writing music back then?
Jamie: That album for us was about pushing the linearity of the song-writing as far as we could. There's a huge Cryptospy influence there in terms of how chaotic everything is. We wanted to push past our demo material as far as we could, and to be honest I think it's just a little too all-over-theplace, sort of us throwing everything at that we had with little to no restraint. Obviously the vocal approach is a lot different due to a different vocalist for that one album, and that definitely puts it in a different space for better or worse. But a valuable and necessary album in terms of developing our sound for sure.
Agoraphobic News: „Everything is fire“ was a gigantic leap forward for Ulcerate. Album itself is pretty dynamic - it incorporates groovy riffs, sheer death metal brutality and atmospheric „clean moments“ as well. One may say that it was a turning point for the band if If we bear in mind that from then on the band’s line up is constant till this very moment. What were your aims for this ground breaking record?
Jamie: Our aim was to just distill and focus everything down from the demo material and the first album. We figured out exactly what we liked and what we didn't like, and pushed further in those directions. Structurally it's still quite dense but it's a lot more in-control than 'Of Fracture' as we'd developed hugely as players since that album - we weren't always just pushing to play as fast as possible, and so there's a far greater commanding element over the songs. We were also learning about creating churning atmospheres more and more, and for us this is definitely the first material of ours that feels like it got it right.
Agoraphobic News: Is there any advantage of being a 3 piece band?
Jamie: There is for us - it means that every single person is on the exact same page in terms of philosophy towards music, we don't have to utilise a live guitarist that needs to be taught hours of material and touring becomes a lot more financially viable. We now take our sound-guy with us everywhere we tour, which we feel is a much more valuable asset than a second guitarist. There's really no down-side, as even live these days we can replicate at least 80% of the second guitar parts via channel splitting / loop pedals.
Agoraphobic News: Your band is really easy to be recognized. I mean, a listener needs 3 seconds max to realize it’s Ulcerate and no bands that sound like that (except for Nero di Mart xD ). When speaking of production, there are no big oscilations between Everything is fire ,The destroyer of all and Vermin. What caught my eye is that both you and guitarist Michael Hoggard do all the production, sound engineering, mixing etc. How essential DIY spirit is nowadays for young underground bands?
Jamie: I don't know that it's essential at all, most bands don't work like this. But it's the only way we know how, and it's how we're most comfortable working. We just like 100% control all of the time, as we have a very direct vision of how things need to sound. But I do think that at least attempting things yourself at some point in your career helps hugely in establishing a holistic approach, making sure that each piece of the puzzle fits.
Agoraphobic News: You did all the artwork for Ulcerate. My personal favorites are Everything is Fire and The destroyer of all. What do they stand for? (And by the way, construction of Sistine chapel was financed by both brothels and indulgences xD)
Jamie: They're visual representations of how I interpret the audio and lyrical components - there's some figurative and metaphorical material in there, but more than anything it's to set a mood in the listener's mind of what to expect from the music itself. Everything fits thematically with the lyrics, and there's a ton of interview material floating around on the net where I've explained the over-arching themes for the albums.
Agoraphobic News: What differs The Destroyer of all from Vermis??
Jamie: Vermis is intentionally a lot murkier and filthier. More riffs go straight for the jugular. 'Destroyers' was written almost literally from top-to-bottom so has a very different way of parts flowing. 'Destroyers' was us capitalising on the atmosphere of the whole piece, and 'Vermis' was a distinct move away from that approach.
Agoraphobic News: Do you like touring?
Jamie: Touring is fucking great.
Agoraphobic News: Is Ulcerate the leading band of New Zealand’s metal scene ?
Jamie: I don't know about 'leading' as that can mean a lot of different things to different people (particularly as there's a couple of more mainstream metal bands here that would probably want ownership over that title), but we definitely have the most visibility internationally for sure.
Agoraphobic News: You did a show with Gorguts in Auckland, New Zealand. I guess that was a big proving-ground for Ulcerate. I mean, playing as opening act for death metal legends like Gorguts in your hometown must have been a big challenge! Well, share some details!!
Jamie: Not challenging at all, we're friends with the guys and it was a pleasure to finally make it happen. There's been a lot of schedule mismatches over the last couple of years when trying to get something happening.
Agoraphobic News: Do you apreciate Steeve Hurdle’s musical legacy?
Jamie: Yeah for sure, although Luc Lemay's writing style has always been more up my alley (same goes for the rest of us really).
Agoraphobic News: Ulcerate is signed for Relapse Records. Are you satisfied with overall promotion that band gets from it?
Jamie: Yeah most definitely, so far things have been perfectly executed on all fronts.
Agoraphobic News: When are you going to release a new record???
Jamie: We're 3 songs into writing it so it won't be until next year some time.
Agoraphobic News: Last question must be stupid – Lord of the rings or Game of thrones?
Agoraphobic News: By the way, is there any chance of Ulcerate touring Eastern Europe again? Sadly, I missed a show in Budapest. Next time, you must come to Belgrade, Serbia! You have small but loyal fanbase here!
Jamie: Yeah for sure, we love Eastern Europe, always the best shows. We'll do our best for sure.