“You leave people behind so that you can progress”: An interview with Mike Hill of Tombs
Tombs, the New York City-based purveyors of post-punk shaded, sludgy black metal, have a new album due out June 16th through Metal Blade Records. We took the opportunity to address a few questions to vocalist/guitarist/sole mainstay Mike Hill. He offered insights into the inspirations behind the new album and the malleable nature of his band’s lineup, as well as some thoughts on the history of human civilization and Antifa.
The Grand Annihilation is your second album produced by Erik Rutan, following the All Empires Fall EP recorded by Sanford Parker. What made you decide to return to Rutan?
It was a budget thing. We produced Empires on our dime and licensed it to Relapse; our contract was up, and I wanted to actually own something before we signed a new contract and entered the sharecropper culture that exists between the band and the label.
Rutan is my producer of choice. Metal Blade provided an adequate budget, so we returned to Mana Studios.
This is your first full-length release with Fade Kainer on synth. How have his contributions affected the band in the studio and as a live act? [Kainer was still in the band when I last caught them live, and the roster I checked was out of date. My mistake, obviously.]
Fade is not on the new album, so you should probably review your intel. He was in the band for about a year and played on Empires. His contributions fell short of my expectations. I don’t think being in Tombs was really for him. He wasn’t really a team player, so he had to go.
Tombs has undergone more frequent than average lineup shifts, even for a metal band, but has remained fairly stable the past few years. Do you hope to maintain a more regular situation moving forward or expect to keep making changes?
I don’t think that is true, actually. The more bands I come into contact with, it seems like the revolving door of members is a routine thing. In all honesty, it hasn’t really felt like a band since Andrew [Hernandez] left a few years ago. He is actually a friend, someone who I’ve known for years prior to his involvement with the band. That wasn’t the case with the guys that were in the band since his departure, especially the drummer that replaced him, who was more or less a permanent fill-in.
I’m comfortable with Tombs being me and a series of other musicians, be it for recording or touring.
The title of the album echoes The Great Annihilator by Swans. Was that record, or Swans in general, an important inspiration for you in putting together these songs?
The Swans are a HUGE influence on me, but the title was more or less a coincidence. The title came from a piece of writing I did over the last year, and I just snipped that line out. Speaking of lineup changes, the Swans are the same kind of trip; members come and go.
On a similar note, “Saturnalian” takes the band perhaps farther in the direction of your post-punk influences than ever before, including an emphasis on the style of melodic vocals you explored on All Empires Fall. Why did you decide to release that song as a preview of the album?
Metal Blade chose that song. It sort of makes sense I suppose, showing that the record has a lot of different looks on it.
Where did you find lyrical inspiration for this album? What are the major themes to tie this record together?
I write a lot about the cycles of death and life and extrapolate that into the rise and fall of civilizations. The opening and closing of doors has always been fascinating to me, life changes and things fall away into dust. You leave people behind so that you can progress. These are the topics on the new record.
I’m a big fan of Graham Hancock John Anthony West, and Egyptology in general. A big topic that they explore is the likelihood that an advanced human civilization existed a long time ago and was wiped out by some type of extinction event. It’s fascinating and, to me, very likely. The record is a collection of these types of musings.
What do you think is the most important way you’ve developed as a songwriter or musician in recent years?
I’ve become more introspective, more dialed into expressing myself without outside influences. As much as I like to say that I make music for myself, I have to admit that I have other people’s expectations in mind. This time around, I feel like I’ve gotten closer the the ultimate objectivity that I’ve been chasing.
You have a tour ahead with Fit for an Autopsy and Moon Tooth, which is an intriguingly eclectic lineup. Your last outing was with Darkest Hour and Ringworm, who also have very different sounds from yours. Is that sort of unusual mix of bands and audiences something you look for when deciding on touring plans?
I receive an email with a tour offer and I accept it if the details look good to me. I approach all of this like I’m a plumber working for the union. I like to be on the road playing gigs, and that’s pretty much the whole story. It’s cool to be out with different bands. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t.
Whether they want to or not, bands from the black metal tradition are increasingly finding themselves roped into debates about how to address extremist political viewpoints in music, with notable incidents like Antifa protests of Marduk and Woe being removed from a German festival. Do you have any concerns about how these conflicts could affect Tombs?
Antifa are a bunch of cowards. There are real issues out there that these guys should be concerned with. They remind me of a certain hardcore “crew” that was concerned about the “Nazi Menace” and as a result caused an incredible wave of violence that destroyed the scene. Fuck Antifa. In my opinion, they’re a collection of insecure bullies that get off on pushing their agenda.
The Liberal Extremists are the worst thing to happen to free speech. I believe everyone has the right to express their ideas and if you don’t agree, you can peacefully enter into a dialogue with them. In no way should violence be the answer unless there is a physical conflict to be resolved. These gangster tactics are bullshit to me. Intimidation, vandalism, and all of their little man trips are hypocritical and dangerous
How is the coffee business? What are your goals for the Savage Gold brand?
It’s going well. I’m trying to expand and launch Savage Gold Cold Press. I’m also trying to launch a new site with more of a community vibe. I’m adding a blog and video section that will deal with cool topics like motivation and my experiences with trying to live a positive lifestyle with so much negativity and weakness surrounding me.
The Grand Annihilation is out June 16th. You can find pre-order information here.