I reviewed Shroud Eater’s album Dead Ends recently and had a number of adoring things to say, but none more revealing than this: I was undertaking the daunting task of preparing my end-of-year top 40 list for Decibel Magazine (half a year ahead, because I’m an obsessive creep), and Dead Ends is right up there battling in the top 5. Their massively catchy yet crushingly heavy psychedelic sludge deserves all the superlatives it receives. Plus, the band name is nothing less than bad-ass; a “shroud eater” was a type of vampire thought to bite through the burial cloak and rise from the dead to terrorize and spread disease, so during burials the suspected vampire would have a brick placed in their mouth between their jaws.
I was able to catch up with Shroud Eater guitarist and co-vocalist Jean Saiz and ask a few questions about Dead Ends, her own visual artwork, and shady motel rooms. Read on for possible murder scenes and more:
Mister Growl: What was the songwriting process for Dead Ends, and did it differ from the process of ThunderNoise?
Jean: With our first album, ThunderNoise, Janette and myself had a bulk of songs already written from the purgatory-like state of not being in a slowly disintegrating band. When Felipe joined us and we formed Shroud Eater, there was an adjustment period for all of us, just getting used to new musical influences and directions and so we just went with it. The result, in retrospect, is a little scattered and lacked a definitive focus. For Dead Ends, we had written on our whiteboard “MORE MOOD, MORE GROOVE,” as the overall feel for the record. When we started writing the songs, I would practice at home with Janette on our acoustics. Then I’d go over to Felipe and show him the songs acoustically, and he had a hand-held drum where he would figure out his tempos and basic beats. The idea was to strip all the superfluous stuff out, and just get to the core of whatever worked best for the spirit of the song and where it was guiding us. We worked like this for a bit, and when we finally took the songs to our warehouse and plugged in, there were parts where it was like, “This riff or fill or guitar lick or whatever is okay, but it’s extra. Let’s take it out and make the song stronger.” So we did a lot of pre-production in that sense but the three of us are pleased with the result. Dead Ends is a much more honed-in attack in general than ThunderNoise.
Mister Growl: When it comes to lyrics, what is your writing approach and do you have a song whose words remain your favorite?
Jean: Writing comes in bursts to me, and Janette as well. I’m influenced usually by something that pisses me off (this happens often). I like to read books a lot, fiction, philosophy, poetry, esoteric stuff … it all comes into play somehow. I have at least three separate notebooks -- one for lyrics/song ideas, another for my sketches, another one for random thoughts and observations on the world -- so when I sit down to put words to a song, usually it’s combining things I’ve written at various points and various books into one somewhat cohesive structure. I think “Sudden Plague” (which actually Janette wrote) has one of my favorite lines, which goes: “Heavy head has been mislead - Treading faster as we go, echoes fade and silence grows, casting demons as we lay, a tangled deed a sudden plague.” The song is about being torn in multiple directions, people deceiving you under the pretense of guiding you, and how those decisions eventually bear upon you in a negative way. We were going through a shitty year and I just really love how well she penned it.
Mister Growl: You've mentioned before that Matt Pike was a huge musical inspiration for you. What's the key to working on a serious Pike bellow as a vocalist?
20% Whiskey drinking.
20% Green smoking.
20% Barking/yelling at my dogs.
40% Screaming angrily at terrible Miami drivers.
Mister Growl: Between the artistic presentation of each releases and the lyrical imagery of the songs, Shroud Eater's music seems perfect for the music video format. Any plans to shoot one in the future?
Jean: YES! Well, there’s definitely a lot of ideas. That’s a big problem for us; lots of ideas, not much time/money to execute. The songs have a mood and a bit of a story behind them, and on my list of “Shit to Stress Over”, storyboarding a video is somewhere in the middle. Janette has tons of ideas too, although her ideas involve some sort of choreographed dancing. In my head, I see a video that is somewhere between David Lynch, Ingmar Bergman, and Quentin Tarantino. In other words: Dark, weird, and bad-ass. It would definitely involve some witchery, perhaps some fast cars, and maybe a little bit of booty dancing. We’re from Miami, after all.
Mister Growl: In a past interview you mentioned (bassist/co-vocalist) Janette was hounding you to start a website promoting your graphic design and illustration work. Do you have an online portfolio now, and if not, do I have permission to hound you about it as well?
Jean: HA! Yes, actually I am currently doing three things: writing my answers to this interview, eating my lunch, and working on the Primitive Violence website! In the past year, well with the release of Dead Ends, I started a record label focusing on cassette releases with cool, limited edition packaging. The first release was Shroud Eater, and the second release (another fantastic Miami band, Orbweaver) is coming up this Friday, August 2nd (pedal to the metal!). So, in the interest of maintaining my sanity, I decided to combine the cassette label with my illustration and design work, so I am now the happy, stressed, and a little frazzled founder of Primitive Violence Records & Visual. Music and art/design are so interwoven to me that it just made sense to combine the two into one entity. For the time being, the visual aspect of the site serves as a portfolio but I plan to do prints and artwork under the name, and the more the music reaches people, so does my artwork and vice versa. I’m not sure if it makes sense outside of my head but this is what I’m working with.
Mister Growl: You had some trouble with your van during a recent tour, a problem that plagues pretty much every hard-working band somewhere along the road. Just wondering if you could mention the history of your uncooperative van and other obstacles bands face on the road.
Jean: Ah, Big Red has always been a trooper. On our last tour, we had taken her in for servicing since we would be on the road for two weeks. Well, serviced she was and goddamn did I pay for it. By the time we rolled into Philly, we noticed Red was driving funny, and though she tried to get us to safe harbor, she died on an empty intersection at 3 AM a few blocks from Kung Fu Necktie. Red’s always been good to us and although we spent a grueling 2 days missing shows, we were back on the road and she was driving fine. Van problems are definitely an issue, as is not getting paid, or a show not getting promoted, or playing to no one at a bar, or band/venue/sound people flying off the handle, or a local (and only opening) band cancelling on you last minute. We experienced ALL of those things last tour, but it’s something that as a DIY band you have to come to expect. You have good shows, you have great shows, you have shitty shows, you have shows where you question why you’re spending another decade of your life doing this shit... It comes with the territory, and at the end of the day, it’s just fucking fun to do this. Plain and simple.
Mister Growl: What was the craziest/strangest story from touring the past year?
Jean: Well, it’s not particularly crazy, but the first night of our last tour, we played in Savannah and needed a safe place to crash. We ended up driving a bit and grabbed a super cheap hotel. When inside, it looked alright, but then our tourmates Holly Hunt noticed the box spring on their mattress had a curiously large type of red stain. We looked at our mattress, and there was also a curiously large type of red stain- did we stay in a Double-Murder-Motel-Room??? Possibly. When Janette (who found the hotel) read the Yelp reviews the next morning, it was a litany of “DON’T STAY HERE. SHUT THIS PLACE DOWN. ONLY STAY FOR A GAY HOOKUP OR DRUGS” and stuff like that. We were happy we made it out in one piece and all our gear was safe.
Mister Growl: What's the Miami music scene like these days?
Jean: The scene here is thriving. There’s not a unified scene really of sludge/doom bands like other places in the states, but there are a handful of bands and most people are very supportive of each other. We are fortunate that for the past few years, more and more bigger name bands have been making the trek all the way down to Miami, which has certainly been great for the scene here, whether you’re into punk, grind, metal, doom or what have you. Things are pretty cool right now.
Mister Growl: What's up next for Shroud Eater?
Jean: Well in a few days we are doing another little regional tour through Florida with our friends in Orbweaver and Hollow Leg. Both bands have new albums out and are quite good. After this little tour, August remains relatively quiet and then we are taking off again the first week of September. We are SUPER excited to be playing Mutants of the Monster Fest III, a great festival put together by C.T. from Rwake. We are playing on Sunday so we have a tour booked there and back. We’ve been working on new material, and between my work schedule, Janette’s work schedule, and her other band, we have a ton of riffs and arrangements but only a handful of it is really solid right now. We are working towards tightening up our new songs and making plans to record a full length. Nothing is set in stone but there are a lot of ideas percolating, lots of stuff in the ether that just needs to materialize. We work slowly, we take our time, but slow and steady wins the race.
Many thanks to Jean for her time, and interrupting her lunch for us Growlers. If you haven’t listened to Dead Ends then hop off whatever horse you’re riding and listen to this mean piece of business over here, also available as a $5 download at Bandcamp: http://shroudeater.bandcamp.com/releases