Interview with Kelly Shaefer of Atheist: We have 3 hours of guitar riffs for the new album!

16/04/2021 Video Interviews Share

Minions! We were honored to have interviewed Kelly Shaefer of Atheist/Till the Dirt. Kelly is, by far, one of the most influental growlers and metal guitarists of all time! With his original band, Kelly created what is today known as technical death metal. He has 3 absolute classics behind his back: Piece of Time (1990), Unquestionable Presence (1991) and Elements (1993). Atheist is one of those criminally underrated bands. The original lineup had 2 left handed guitarists: Kelly Shaefer and Rand Burkey on the guitars (the guy played his death metal guitar upside down just like Jimi Hendrix!), while the drum and bass section was filled by Steve Flynn and the legendary Roger Patterson (RIP). After a huge break, Atheist came back with a splendid album called Jupiter (2010). We were priviledged to talk to him about pretty much everything within an hour-and-a-half long conversation.


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We started the interview with the current issue that is shaking the world (and the music industry). Right after, I had to ask Kelly whether he was working on a new Atheist album. "I started writing right at the begining of Covid....I started writing and recording because I had so much time at home. So I recorded personally a little over 3 hours with the guitars stuff for Atheist...You know, right now the next Atheist album needs to be an important one and we surely don’t want to make it and put it out until the smoke is clear on Covid. Because it would be a shame to waste… A lot of bands’ records came out and just disappeared into void. There’s a lot of great records that deserve more fanfare and appreciation but just got lost in the Covid shuffle. I don’t want that to happen to the Atheist record ‘cause… I don’t know if it’s gonna be the last one but you never know…We definitely want to make sure that it’s a grand one and the one that returns us to our roots and the one that has a fair shot of being heard by everybody. So there’s that factor there, but we have a ton of material and it’s gonna be sick as sh*t. And we’re just gonna make sure it’s gonna be everything I think the fans will want to hear out of the new Atheist record."


Speaking of the release date for the upcoming album, he stated "I can’t see it not happening next year though. I definitely see Atheist…we should be able to have it completed by the summer for festivals." When describing the sound of the new Atheist album, he stated: "I think that if anything coming into the new Atheist record, I want it to be super crazy but I also when I use my songwriting skills to sort of pull it together in a way that makes it more catchy than just blinding technicality." He then talked about the upcoming lyrical concept for the new album. "I can imagine avoiding the topic of the madness that we went through here in America in the last four years. So I’m sure that will come up."

Kelly then started talking about the formation of his new band, Till the Dirt, completely different from his original band. I was priviledged enough to hear 2 songs Kelly sent me via e-maill, "Starring Role" and "Forest of Because." Kelly Shaefer mentioned that he has written 25 songs in 3 months and that 10 of these would be released on the debut album which will be out in 2021. He described the new music as "Soundgarden meets Sweden, black metal."  He underlined that both new Atheist and Till the Dirt guitar riffs were written by him, despite the rumor that he hasn’t recovered from Carpal tunnel syndrome (that only prevents him from playing guitar live). The new Till the Dirt will be mixed by the legendary Scott Burns of Morrisound Studios. He also mentioned that one song will feature Steve DiGiorgio for the title track and Jeff Loomis of Nevermore playing solo in a song "Privilege". However, he stated that the new album was not a technical record by any means.

After that, Shaefer recalled playing his first guitar when he was around 14. He also recalled some of his early influences as well such as Metallica, Judas Priest, Iron Maiden, Dio, Rush, Yes, Frank Zappa etc. As for the vocal influences, he mentioned the "witchier vocal style" of Destruction and Kreator. We then discussed the lyrical content of Piece of Time. "I was never a big horror movie fan, so I never wrote about that stuff." He then moved on to talk about how he wrote  the lyrics for Sepultura’s "Stronger than Hate" while Sepultura was  recording the Beneath the Remains album at Morrisound Studios . He mentioned that the term "Inner Self"  was taken from the other lyrics he originally wrote for Sepultura that the band ended up not using.

Kelly said that John Tardy and George Corpsegrinder Fisher are one of his favorite death metal vocalists and mentioned that Sean Reinert (RIP) had one of the best John Tardy impressions. Afterwards, our discussion was focused on the legendary Roger Patterson (RIP), the original bass player of Atheist. When asked about Roger Patterson’s bass influences, he mentioned Gene Simmons of Kiss, Geddy Lee of Rush, Les Claypool of Primus, Billy Sheehan, Chris Squire of Yes, Doug Keyser of Watchtower, Steve Harris of Iron Maiden. Kelly mentioned that Roger Patterson was burried with a picture of him and his favorite bass player – Doug Keyser of Watchtower. Kelly said that Steve DiGiorgio’s bass playing reminds him of the former Atheist bass player. Then, he stated that Roger Patterson created the Atheist logo which was then improved by Ed Repka. After that, I mentioned that Napalm Death’s Mass Appeal Madness and Suffocation’s Effigy of the Forgotten was dedicated to the legendary bassist and that Steve DiGiorgio and Sean Reinert paid respects to Roger Patterson in the "Thank you" section of Death’s Human album ("A warm hello to Roger Patterson whose soul has left the confinements of Human Illusion.") Kelly said that Napalm Death was waching one of Atheist’s rehearsals and that they really appreciated the playing of the bass god.

Kelly Shaefer also stated that he would like for Borivoj Krgin or Monte Connor to write a comprehensive book about death metal. He also said that he considers Possessed’s Seven Churches as the very first death metal album. We then continued our conversation about Roger Patterson, and Kelly Shaefer recalled some funny stories. He stated that while Atheist and Candlemass were playing shows in Sweden, all the bands like Dismember of At the Gates were in the audience. Kelly recalled that Lars Petrov of Entombed  (RIP) made fun of his newly bought snow boots. He also said that Entombed were influenced by R.A.V.A.G.E.’s demos.

Then, our discussion shifted to the Piece of Time album. Kelly stated that Borivoj Krgin hired Ed Repka for the debut album cover. Kelly named Unquestionable Presence as "the first statement of jazz infused death metal." He said that Sean Reinert and Paul Masvidal were the only reason why Death’s Human is considered a technical death metal album. He stated that Chuck Schuldiner of Death was sabotaging Atheist’s in their pursuit for the record label: “Me and Chuck had a lot of problems personally…he went to great lengths to try to keep Atheist from being signed. I don’t know if a lot of people know about that but I’ll save it for the book“. Afterwards, Kelly talked about how he saw Cynic and became friends with them.

Then, we talked about Roger Patterson’s basslines on Unquestionable Presence album. Kelly said that Tony Choy originally wrote the bass parts for “Mother Man“ and "And the Psychic Saw“, and that he tried to mimic Roger Patterson’s original bass lines as best as possible. He stated that both Roger and Tony Choy were friends and compared their bass playing in general. Then we talked about how Tony Choy came to the band and how Elements album came to be. The band wrote the entire record in 12 days and recorded and mixed in 40 days "very high on mushrooms and weed!" Kelly said that Steve Flynn brought jazz influences on Unquestionable Presence through his latin-jazz drum teacher. On the other hand, he said that Tony Choy brought latin vibes on Elements. He stated that he doesn't have contact with Rand Burkey anymore and that his bad relationship with him and bad reviews for Elements are the main reason why the band split up in 1993.

                Our discussion then shifted towards Cynic: “Cynic is a jazz band with hints of metal and Atheist was a metal band with hints of jazz”. Kelly then shared his appreciation for Cynic’s Focus album.  He also recalled doing some shows with Gorguts. By the end of the interview, Kelly Shaefer mentioned some of his favorite bands and albums. And goddamn, make sure to hit those LIKE, SHARE, and SUBSCRIBE buttons!

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