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Metal Special: The Black Dahlia Murder

The American melodic death metal band on their new DVD, ‘Fool ‘Em All’ and
why they are a party band while on tour

Anurag Tagat Jun 26, 2014
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Trevor Strnad, Brian Echsbach, Alan Cassidy (seated), Ryan Knight and Max Lavelle (from left)

Trevor Strnad, Brian Echsbach, Alan Cassidy (seated), Ryan Knight and Max Lavelle (from left). Photo courtesy of Metal Blade

Diarrhea, smoking weed and fart tracks are all prominently featured on American melodic death metal band The Black Dahlia Murder’s second DVD Fool ‘Em All, which released last month. The obvious nod towards Metallica’s seminal debut album Kill ‘Em All notwithstanding, The Black Dahlia Murder are mostly seen partying and joking around on their second DVD. Their first documentary, Majesty [2009], featured similar footage of the band cracking crass jokes and enjoyed chart success as well, scaling music video charts and being certified Platinum in Canada. Back from their Asia tour with Italian tech-death metallers Fleshgod Apocalypse, TBDM vocalist Trevor Strnad says his band may not be so lucky with Fool ‘Em All when it comes to sales. Says Strnad, who is a founding member of the band alongwith guitarist Brian Echsbach in 2000, “It’s been several years since the last one came out. I think the sale of DVDs overall has not been making sense. There’s been a massive decline — they are available more easily these days and a lot of DVDs just end up on YouTube and people go there to watch that.”

To make a hard sell, the band even took to the 3D format, with hilarious scenes of bullets and shield combat shot in stereoscopic 3D. The physical package of Fool ‘Em All supplies 3D glasses as well. Fool ‘Em All is directed by Robbie Tassaro and filmed by Ben Mayer – both friends of the band who have worked with them on previous music videos [“Goat of Departure” from TBDM’s equally-successful sixth album Everblack] and Majesty. The two-disc Fool ‘Em All features a 70-minute documentary, following the band through a sweltering US summer tour as part of the Warped Tour and a European tour in 2013. While one disc features the documentary, the other disc features live videos from the tour. Says Strnad about having a camera follow them around for a second time, “If it was just some random camera, it might not have gone that well. Having a friend there makes it easier. You find yourself telling your jokes to that person, you know what I mean? If the cameras are off, we’re just joking around the same way. A lot of it is to entertain ourselves and entertain others.”

In his interview with ROLLING STONE India, Strnad talks about being filmed for Fool ‘Em All, why they won’t get called back on to play at Warped tour and how many times they used a fart track on the DVD.

RS: I heard you guys were just back from your Asia tour. Are you getting some time off now?

Trevor Strnad: We haven’t had much time off – we had one day off after the Carcass tour [in March] and we’ve been out for seven weeks now. We’re so glad to be home. [laughs]


What is it like having a DVD like Majesty go Platinum in Canada?

We were surprised that it did so well. That was pretty exciting. But now, with this DVD [Fool ‘Em All], I think it’s going to be different. It’s a bit more difficult now to sell this one.


Why do you say it’s difficult?

It’s been several years since the last one came out. I think the sale of DVDs overall has not been making sense. There’s been a massive decline – they are available more easily these days and a lot of DVDs just end up on YouTube and people go there to watch that. We did our best to make it a good, funny follow-up to Majesty and it’ll get people acquainted with the new guys [bassist Max Lavelle and drummer Alan Cassidy joined the band in 2012]. The DVD also has 3D parts, stuff you would need 3D glasses for. We’re hoping people would want to get it in physical packaging. It’s definitely an uphill battle. Before, people were crazy about Majesty. There are people who watch it till this day and they come up to us at our shows and quote stuff from our DVDs. But that was a long time ago. Just seeing the impact it had, made us realize it was high time we made another one.


What was it like working with Ben Mayer, who directed the video for “Goat of Departure”?

Working with Ben was cool. He was the guy out filming, but everything was directed and edited by Robbie Tassaro. We definitely had to have Robbie involved – his sense of humor and vision is definitely proportionate to ours. We wanted to have him back and have someone we’re really comfortable with. He gets us – he knows how we want to come across on this thing.

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What was it like having a camera follow you around? Were there times when you felt uncomfortable with it?

I think that’s part of having a familiar person with you. If it was just some random camera, it might not have gone that well. Having a friend there makes it easier to me. You find yourself telling your jokes to that person, you know what I mean? Having somebody with that sense of humor is an important factor for us. We spend a lot of time joking around. If the cameras are off, we’re just joking around the same way. A lot of it is to entertain ourselves and entertain others. We’re all good friends in the band and that’s what we’re saying, and showing the special bond as a band.

Watch the trailer to Fool ‘Em All

There was a lot of pot smoking and some nudity as well on the DVD. Were there some scenes you couldn’t put in?

There’s mostly nudity — stuff that we would think was funny but it don’t think it matters too much. People don’t want to see your naked ass [laughs]. As far as fighting or anything like that, there’s nothing we would be embarrassed about. We don’t have anything to hide. If there was some kind of drama to the tour, then we would definitely put it in. It would make things interesting for us. We get along really well – we have a very well-oiled machine, as a band.


You and Brian [Echsbach] are the funniest guys on the DVD. Is that down to the weed?

There’s no secret that we smoke a lot of weed. But I think that everybody in the band is funny. There’s a lot of scenes on the DVD where you’ll see the five of us together, cracking jokes and stuff.

If you look back at Majesty, that’s something that really happened. I guess having Shannon [Lucas, former drummer] as a straight-edge guy was different for us. We are known as the party band and here’s this guy that didn’t want to be around weed, doesn’t want to be around a bunch of drunk people. There were times, I think, when it was a lot of pressure for him. But now I think we’re a little more relaxed in that regard. We partied together. You can definitely see the bond between Brian and I, though. We’ve been friends since we’ve been in the band, for the last 13 or 14 years.


How is it that you guys play very brutal, very serious music but end up being the most light-hearted band of musicians in the scene?

I think for us, it’s just fun to be here. It’s fun to have what’s amazing to us – that we can play in front of people every day and have so many fans across the world. You can see that we’re having fun on stage. We’re out there having a good time and it’s hard for me to act otherwise. If there’s a band on stage that acts so serious, in extreme metal, I understand that. There are all kinds of bands that conduct themselves in that [serious] fashion.

I just think we’re lucky to be here and totally immersed in the metal scene at all times. When I was a kid, I was living in a small town and probably the only guy who was into death metal. It felt alien, so now it’s my whole life. I could travel the world and play with all these really cool bands at different festivals, so it’s a good time. It’s hard for me to not smile and have a good time. I think that comic relief is what makes music possible for us.


On the Warped tour, you were the only death metal band among all the pop punk and core bands. Did it feel like you were out of your comfort zone on that tour?

It was interesting. Warped tour was the farthest out there that we’ve gone. It was a very high-profile tour and that was the best part about it. That we would get to play in front of lots of new people who had just maybe heard of the band. It was insane there. The entire crowd there is so young. We were tapping into an entirely new market altogether. It was also a lot of walking around in the heat. [laughs]

Right after that, we were in Europe with our friends [American tech-death metal band] Revocation and also [Belgian death metallers] Aborted. It was just playing to metal fans and being around in our comfort zone. That’s kinda how I come out of my shell. I’m a very shy and anxious person in life, being surrounded by people like these has given me a lot of strength and a level playing field. Warped tour was a different environment – there were a lot of fashion-minded crew out there. It’s a whole other world out there. It did not occur to us at all [laughs]. I think we are one of the ugliest bands that has ever played on the Warped tour. It was interesting to observe and to be a part of it, but it didn’t make me very happy or normal, as compared to touring with [British death metallers] Carcass and [Canadian tech-death metal band] Gorguts. Warped tour was the opposite end of the spectrum for us.

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Do you think you’ll get called back?

No, I don’t know if they’ll call us back. They might, but I don’t think we would go back. It was just too long and excruciating. Maybe if they had the lineup from when I used to go – from 1996 – I would go back. There were bands like Pennywise, NoFX, Bad Religion, Strung Out – I like all those bands. I’m a punk guy. That kind of element just wasn’t represented any more with Warped Tour. The flavor has changed from what the youth like. It’s more of a [goth and emo fashion retailers] Hot Topic crowd, you could say. The original few bands that went with us on the Warped tour were excellent, though. I definitely miss that.


A lot of the time, on the DVD, I feel like the band is always telling it like it is. You make no secret of how your former guitarist John Kempainen left the band.

I don’t want it to be so negative. I don’t want people to be like, ‘Man, all these guys do is complain. What’s with that?’ The thing with John was that it was never cleared up to the fans. We are a bit embittered by the way things ended. After all we were been through, all the years that we’ve been paying out of our pockets to go on tour. It hasn’t been easy. For him to just screw us over so hard and to leave just before we were about to go on tour was just embarrassing. It hurt. The two of us – Brian and I – are embittered by that. You definitely get the vibe on the DVD.


Quick fire: How many kilos of weed did you smoke during the filming of Fool ‘Em All?

I couldn’t even tell you. We don’t keep track, but pretty much we did a lot of weed, especially Brian and I. Alan [Cassidy] partakes a little bit, but Brian and I are serious weed smokers. I think it’s very necessary for tours. Like our set at Warped tour was just half an hour. The rest of the day was just waiting around. It’s makes things fun. It makes jokes hard to tell. It’s been tied to the band.


You’re shirtless for most of your live performances. How many times did you change your T-shirt on tour?

I usually wear one shirt a day on tour, which is a lot for a lot of touring guys, but I sweat so damn much as a large guy so I need to have a fresh T-shirt every day. I was putting them in the ice chest. Some of the shows on the Warped tour were in temperatures over a 100 degrees – it was very hot and very different for us to be playing so early in the AM. For me, death metal is the music of the night, you know. [laughs]


How many times did they use the fart track on the DVD?

I think just a couple, but everything was real. [laughs].


Lastly, are you guys working on any new material yet?

There’s a couple of riffs in the pipeline, but nothing major yet. We just like to take our time and enjoy the fruits of Everblack, let people enjoy Everblack while the iron is still hot. But pretty soon, we’re going to start thinking about it and go back into the laboratory. It’s always exciting.

This article appeared in the June 2014 issue of ROLLING STONE India.

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