Interview with Funeral Leech
Formed in 2015, Funeral Leech has had a relatively quiet few years with only a single demo and a single dropping before this year’s debut album. Though they’d built a small growing fanbase across a series of high-profile shows, there were no signs of the runaway success that their first album, Death Meditation, has achieved. For such an increasingly popular band there is shockingly little information on them available, and so I sat down (figuratively) with the band to get some answers.
Hello guys, thank you for doing this interview with me! Am I correct in thinking that this is the very first interview you’ve done after the release of Death Meditation?
Zack (Guitars): Thanks for taking the time to do this with us, man! Yeah, this is our first interview since putting out the record.
Lucas (Drums, Vocals): This is one of the first we’ve done in a few years. Some Peruvian fanzine did one with us when the demo first came out in 2017, but I never heard anything back after we sent our answers in… and we did one for Decibel’s “Demo: listen” a year or two ago.
I’m sorry in advance for asking some more obvious questions mixed in with the smaller ones—since it’s your first interview after the album, it seemed important to give your fans that because nobody else had gotten here first! Now, Death Meditation sold out its first vinyl run almost immediately after release, something almost unheard of for a debut on a small and young label, even if it is run by someone from well-known bands. Did you guys ever have an inkling that it’d go this well?
Z: Honestly, I don’t think any of us had a clue that Death Meditation would do as well as it has done so far. I have been absolutely blown away by the response. We had been sitting on mastered recordings for about 9 months before the record was announced so I had listened to those songs so many times before the release and nitpicked them so much in my head that I lost all perspective. I really didn’t know how the record would be received—I hoped people would like it but I was fully prepared for it to bomb, especially considering the pre-sale launched in the middle of a pandemic. But all credit to Chad Gailey/Carbonized, man. He’s been fantastic to work with and I think he’s a big part of the reason that the record has done as well as it has.
L: To be honest I could have never expected this, I was really happy with the final product… but that was just me personally. By the time it was actually released I was very tired of hearing it haha. I was worried for a while it wouldn’t come out, since we were sitting on it for so long, plus I wasn’t sure how it would translate to other listeners. Or how people would take my lyrical content.
Once we finally announced it, the reviews started coming in, and I continued to wait for someone to say something negative, but besides like two reviews everyone seems to love it. I was truly blown away. Not used to that at all with something I’ve created musically. I’m really thankful Chad took a chance on us, a fairly unknown and newer band and wanted to put this record out.
Though none of it carries forward into Funeral Leech, the band has a punk background from before you guys ended up playing death metal. Did that shared background tie in at all to your decision to release with Carbonized Records, which has a similar affinity for punk and for death metal? How did you guys get in touch with Chad?
Z: Well, before we recorded Death Meditation we were actually linked with a Euro label that was interested in putting out the record but we couldn’t come to a mutual agreement when it came time to work out the terms. After that fell apart, Lucas spent a few months sending the record out to everyone we could think of and we got some good feedback but ultimately didn’t get any bites. Around January or so we realized we hadn’t sent it to Carbonized yet, which was odd because, as you’ve alluded to, it turned out to be a perfect fit. Once we got in touch with Chad all the pieces fell into place pretty much instantly. I think the punk connection definitely helped seal the deal. It’s been great because Chad understands where we are coming from and I feel like we’re getting the best of both worlds – he’s obviously well known and respected within the death metal community for drumming in all of your favorite bands (Necrot, Mortuous, Vastum, etc) but his approach to running a label is firmly rooted in DIY, which cuts out a lot of bullshit.
L: After several months of frustration with a label that we were working with, I took matters into my own hands and sent our record out to what seemed like every label under the sky. One day I was talking to Erika and Paul (Chthonic Deity) and they mentioned maybe Chad would be interested. I reached out to Chad and sent him the album, and he said he wanted to put it out! He has a very DIY attitude to running a label and it makes us feel right at home. Me and Chad nerd out about punk records very often now. We’re glad to be part of the Carbonized family.
Has that shared background affected anything in the band’s dynamics, or how you operate?
Z: Yeah, we function like a punk band. It’s all any of us know how to do. Pretty much everything we’ve been able to accomplish so far has been because of connections we’ve made through playing in punk and crust bands.
L: I was born and raised on punk, in the heart of the New York punk scene. It’s all I’ve known, so punk and it’s rich history has shaped a ton of things in my life, the band being one of them. The genuine anger and attitude of punk is such a grounding point for the band, the raw emotion and sound I feel comes through on Death Meditation a lot. Even down to stuff like the equipment used on the record, instead of triggered drums and stuff like that, I went for a natural sound with my vintage Tama drums, which I sought out after seeing some of my favorite punk bands using. Our past in punk and crust bands were the building blocks for us, and gave us the experience to play the way we do today.
To touch back on your previous comment about your lyrics, what made you decide to touch so much on personal depression and a bleak worldview, particularly given how unusual it is in this sort of more aggressive death/doom? I’d expect you guys to sound more like Warning than your actual sound if all I had was a lyric sheet!
Z: Lucas writes all the lyrics so I’m going to leave this one for him. I will say, though, I fucking love that you’re using Warning as a point of comparison here.
Lucas: Lyrics are one of the most important parts of music. I wanted to write something I would relate to if I was reading it. While I love gory death metal lyrics or songs about dark rituals as much as the next guy, but that’s just not who I am. I don’t feel a personal emotional connection to “Hammer Smashed Face” compared to the connection I feel listening to something like “Self Defeating Prophecy” by Dystopia. Depression and mental illness is something I’ve dealt with as long as I can remember and the one thing I found solace in music. I wanted to write something that maybe someone else going through the same issues might find something they can relate to in our music.
Is aesthetic as important as the lyrics are? Is representing yourself a particular way something that Funeral Leech spends time thinking about?
Z: Personally, I appreciate bands who go all in on their aesthetic, whatever that might be, and I think lyrics and visual presentation are (or should be) inextricably linked. I mean, I’m willing to overlook a lot if I connect to an album musically, but I’ve been turned off of bands before because I felt a disconnect between their sound and their aesthetic. As a band, we don’t spend any time “curating” our image beyond trying to bring a meditative, somber atmosphere to our live performances. Funeral Leech’s presence developed fairly organically and I think is mostly Lucas’ work as he writes all of our lyrics, but we’ve all certainly been influenced by our surroundings. NYC has a proud history of bleak, miserable death/doom.
L: I think aesthetic is important, but we don’t change who we are for the band’s image, it wouldn’t feel as genuine if it was. I touch on some serious subject matters, and I think we carry ourselves just as serious. We don’t wear cloaks or makeup cause that’s not us. Plenty of our friends do, and it works for them because that’s who they are. In a live setting I wanted to capture the cathartic feel I had during the record touching on such personal matters. There are no theatrics, just dark lights and incense, it almost feels meditative.
How did you guys make the decision with the ever-talented Karmazid, and what sort of direction did you give him for the cover? Do you feel like it matches the music?
Z: Lucas brought Karmazid to my attention shortly after we put out our demo and I realized that I had been seeing his art everywhere. He is an absolute master at his craft and Funeral Leech will continue to work with him until we’re no longer a band. The Death Meditation cover is a fairly literal, beautifully rendered interpretation of Lucas’ album concept and I think it is absolutely perfect. We’ve had so many compliments on the art since the record was announced. Also, it has some unintentional parallels to Demigod’s Slumber of Sullen Eyes and I’m fucking stoked on that.
Lucas: After we had finished the demo, and I had started to feel more comfortable with my writing style, I started compiling lyrics. A lot of them. I filled an entire notebook with songs, ideas and general themes. I kept coming back to the theme of accepting your own death, and focusing on that. Getting stronger through it. Meditating on it. We had Karmazid make our sigil, which we all loved. I knew of his work through Urfaust and wanted to work with him. After the sigil was done, I gave him an overall theme of what the record was gonna be about. He had a general idea, but I had also included a frame of reference of Darth Vader meditating from the fairly recent Darth Vader comic series by marvel. I wanted to depict someone meditating on their death, while rotting away, and accepting it. I feel like Karmazid hit the nail right on the head, I couldn’t imagine the album with any other art, and I can’t imagine working with a different artist ever again.
As a final question on aesthetic, you both mention wanting to continue to use Karmazid going forward, always; is there anything to be said for the importance of a continued aesthetic and image, or is all secondary compared to just working with whatever artist you feel you need to work with?
Z: Consistency is important, but there is a fine line between being consistent and being stagnant. Bands grow and change, and their aesthetic should reflect that. So many artists are incapable of presenting ideas outside of their singular vision. Karmazid, though, is incredible at digesting the feedback you give him and using it to create something unique and meaningful. His style is clearly identifiable, but at the same, despite doing art for half the metal community at-large, his work doesn’t look serialized or overly self-referential. For that reason we feel comfortable using him repeatedly without worrying about getting stuck in one place.
L: I always like to have some sort of continuity. The art from Death Meditation goes along side the story it tells, and I feel like once you do that, there’s no going back. I would love to do that for the next one, I’m a constant planner so I feel like in my head I’m 4 steps ahead of everything else. I really appreciate it when bands have a continued aesthetic, and have it coincide with their overall theme. It feels more genuine than someone just picking a random piece of art and slapping a logo over it.
Was there any learning curve associated with switching genres? How naturally did writing and playing death metal feel after years of playing nothing of the sort?
Z: There was definitely a learning curve. Before Funeral Leech, I had been playing drums exclusively in dbeat/punk bands since 2010, so jumping right into writing death metal on guitar took awhile to adjust to. I’ve been listening to death metal practically as long as I’ve been listening to punk so it’s not like I was trying to write music I was unfamiliar with – I was actually able to use some riffs I had been sitting on since 2009 or so—but, compositionally, death metal is very different. I think that transitional period is pretty clearly apparent on the demo because those songs were much simpler than the ones we have written since.
L: Not particularly. I’ve played in faster bands and I’ve played in slower bands, I spent a decent amount of time before Funeral Leech playing in a grindcore band, which felt much more chaotic and uninspired, while with funeral leech everything feels calculated and thought out. The song building between me and Zack feels incredibly solid and tight.
What made 2015, when you guys formed, the right time to start playing death metal as opposed to 2012 or 2010 or earlier?
Z: I grew up in the DC area and didn’t move to New York until 2013. Our bassist Kevin is from Long Island but he lived in DC for a few years as well, which is where I met him. We actually talked about trying to play some death metal around 2010 or so and I wanted to play guitar but we couldn’t find a drummer so it never happened. The DC scene was pretty small so every drummer (including myself at the time) was in 5 bands already and there wasn’t a ton of interest in death metal outside of the guys in Ilsa regardless. There’s actually been a pretty huge death/black metal resurgence since I left spearheaded by our friend Hasan who runs Ripping Headaches Promotions, though, which is awesome. Anyway, once I moved to NY, it took me a year or so to start playing music again and I jammed with a few dbeat/crust bands, one of which had Lucas on drums. By then I had also started playing bass in his grind band, Grudges. The punk band fizzled out in 2015 because no one was really that into it, so Lucas and I started jamming some death metal and Funeral Leech was born. By that time Kevin had moved back to Queens so we asked him if he wanted to play bass. Fun fact, this incarnation of the band also included RJ from Magrudergrind on guitar as well. Between his job and constant international touring he wasn’t able to stick with us, but he was in the band for about 6 months. After RJ left, we concentrated on writing and eventually put out our demo, The Funereality, in early 2017. Once that was out we wanted to start playing live so Lucas reached out to Alex, who had been in a band with him previously, and he said yes.
L: Me and Zack were playing in a grindcore band and a punk band at the time. We both knew each other for several years beforehand but this was when we bonded over our extensive love for death metal, and desire to play and write some. It probably would have happened sooner, but this was when the stars aligned and our paths crossed.
I can hear obvious traces of Vastum, Bolt Thrower, and Demigod in your music, all bands somewhat faster than what you do. What made you decide to slow Funeral Leech down? Are there any other bands you’d like to talk about that are notable influences on your music?
Z: Those are good points of comparison and I’m happy they come through in our sound. Bolt Thrower and Demigod were my two main influences when Lucas and I started Funeral Leech and I’ve been a huge fan of Vastum since Carnal Law came out. I set out with few ambitions beyond writing some chunky mid-paced, riff-heavy death metal and that’s where we started, but as you’ve pointed out, we slowed down a lot and leaned heavily into the doom. It was natural progression – we always played our songs slower live because it felt more powerful and that bled into the new songs we were writing. Coincidentally, the tracklist for Death Meditation is in chronological order, so it’s pretty easy to see that songwriting progression. As for what inspires me, and in particular what I listened to while writing the album, I think a lot of my influences are fairly transparent so I’ll focus on some that may be less obvious. I suppose it’s not surprising considering my background, but Amebix is a hugely important band to me and I listened to Monolith specifically a lot while writing side B. On that album they managed to harness total, molten power while creating an atmosphere of apocalyptic dread that no one else has quite been able to match. I was also listening to a ton of trad doom and epic heavy metal, stuff like Solstice, Procession, Atlantean Kodex, Argus, etc., and a good bit of Hellenic black metal for good measure when writing leads.
L: Death doom has always been near and dear to my heart, as well as Doom acts such as Asunder and Burning Witch. So it was very welcoming to write songs that felt as soul crushing as doom can feel while still having that churning death metal edge. I feel like playing a little slower makes it all the more powerful, especially when it comes to a part that eventually speeds up. It explodes.
For me my main influences are Chris from Autopsy and Dino from Dystopia/Asunder. Those two bands of his are easily in my top five favorite bands of all time and definitely have a standing impact for me, as well as countless punk bands that shaped my life at an early age. As far as lyric writing goes, I gathered a ton of my influence from a lot of various mediums. Most of it is not from the realm of extreme music. A lot of comics, singer/songwriters, books, movies, video games and poets, too many to list off.
Most of the album came together via spit, grit, and DIY, with a friend handling the recording and an underground artist on your cover and a release on an underground label, so what led to the decision to use the increasingly expensive and mainstream Arthur Rizk for mastering? Will you guys ever move more in that shinier, more polished world for other aspects of the band, or do you guys envision staying underground forever?
Z: It all goes back to punk, man. Arthur’s a big name these days, and rightfully so as he’s had a hand in a ton of big metal releases over the last few years, both playing on and recording/mastering/producing, but he’s been in punk bands forever. We didn’t go to Arthur because he’s a hotshot metal producer, we hit him up because he’s a friend that does good work and we trusted that he knew where we were coming from and what we wanted. He did a great job, too—his mastering job sounds fucking huge. He also actually had a hand in the demo. He did the solo on “Left to Rot,” so this isn’t the first time we’ve worked with him. But production aside, we have no desire to move beyond the underground. It just wouldn’t be authentic to who we all are.
L: Arthur is the homie, he did a solo on our demo and I personally love his mastering work. He’s recorded several records that also sound amazing to me. The original plan was him to come and record us with Travis as a joint deal, but that fell through. So it just made sense to me to reach out and have him master and have him involved in the record.
Will there ever be extensive Funeral Leech touring to capitalize on the incredible momentum you guys have with Death Meditation?
Z: I definitely hope to do some touring but I don’t know how extensive it will be. Kevin has a young daughter and we’ve all got full time jobs. We’re never going to be a band that tours nonstop as our collective lifestyles don’t support it but I’d love to be able to do a short tour or two every year. Ideally, we’d like to do some festival dates that get us out of the state and/or country, but we’ll see what sort of offers we get.
L: Extensive? Not likely. All of us work like dogs full time, and have prior obligations that take up almost all of our free time, so longer tours are not really on the table. We will definitely play around when we can and where we can. For sure a smaller run for us in the future. I did a very long tour when I was younger and didn’t handle it too well so I kinda know my limits of what I can handle mentally, with my anxiety and everything.
Zack mentioned months of nitpicking before the record was even out. What do you guys foresee changing with future releases, and what will always stay the same, if anything?
Z: Most of the nitpicking was me critiquing my guitar playing, haha. But I definitely felt like I could have varied my songwriting a bit more overall. I tried to mix things up a bit on the last two songs on the record, so hopefully that trend will continue on future releases. I’d really like to vary our tempo a bit more and write some more intricate guitar work. But we’re never going to stray from our core. We’ll always try to play oppressive, mournful death/doom to the best of our ability.
L: I definitely very much enjoy our process in songwriting and recording and wouldn’t change that for anything. This was the first time in my entire life recording to a click and I don’t think I’ll ever go back to doing it without. As for future releases, I want to push my limits playing/vocal wise more while still having a distinct sound. I stepped out of my comfort zone with the chants on the record. I’m really happy I did. I can’t imagine the album without them and will include them on future recordings.
What comes next for Funeral Leech? What are your plans?
Z: Assuming we’re actually allowed to go places again before 2020 is over, I’d love to do a quick tour before the year is over. Ultimately, we’d love to get to a point where we start getting festival offers so we can get out of the states. As far as our next release is concerned, we’ve been writing new material intermittently since the end of last year so I’d like to do something shorter form than an LP, probably an EP or split, to try out a few new things before we shoot for another full length.
L: Before the shutdown/pandemic started, me and Zack had been writing some new stuff. We’re not working on a new LP right away, but Ideally our next release whenever that is will be an EP or a split. One shorter song and one longer song was the idea I think. I’ve been bugging Zack for a few weeks now about demoing stuff at home because we have the means to do so now. I’d like to keep the ball moving in some way shape or form but it is hard to do so at the moment. Me being the obsessive planner already have song names and lyrics written out for this… and I have a general theme and songs for the next album down the road.
Do you have anything else you’d like to talk about or promote?
Z: Huge thanks to everyone who bought or listened to Death Meditation! For anyone that didn’t manage to get a copy and still wants one, Carbonized is doing a second pressing that should be announced shortly if it hasn’t been already by the time this gets published. So thanks to Chad for all his hard work getting this shit out there! Also, you’ve had a pretty big year, yourself! The Azath record you put out on Pulverised absolutely destroyed me and I can’t wait for that Draghkar record you’ve got coming out later this summer! [EN: Thanks, Zack!]
L: Yeah. Shout out to Chad and Carbonized for taking the chance on us, and thank you to anyone who bought our album or checked it out. We should be announcing the second press soon. This is not the end… death is a new beginning!!!