Thursday, August 4, 2011
Interview with Lich King
As the Massachusetts thrash generals Lich King make preparations to embark on their first ever US tour, the Lichmaster Tom Martin, took some time to answer questions about his life in art, graphic design, and (of course) music.
What were you into before the other: drawing or playing music?
Drawing. Music was always just a hobby thing, I'd relax by plugging in and chugging along to Anthrax between art jobs. Years later, I started writing actual songs and putting them up, people liked them and music started taking over. These days art is still winning, but music is the hobby I never took seriously, and it snuck up on me and started taking over.
Many bands usually have a tough time to budget for good album cover art and posters. Could you comment on how awesome it is to be able to do your own art and graphic design?
Honestly, it's pretty awesome. I've saved thousands of dollars by just being me. Add in our drummer who does all our (post-WGD) recording and sound work in his home studio and we are raking in the bank by not spending anything. And by that I mean we're only slightly less poor than your average metal band that has to shell out for a logo, cover art, graphic design, studio time and mastering.
Where did you study art and design?
I went to the JOE KUBERT SCHOOL OF CARTOON AND GRAPHIC ART in New Jersey. I went in around the time comics were big, intending to come out a comic artist. The comic market crashed spectacularly before I graduated and now, here I am, doing whatever art I can so I can afford canned peas for dinner.
Is graphic design your full-time job?
Yup. I sit around and leave Netflix on all day so it can rattle off documentaries while I do album covers, logos, layouts, illustrations, concept art, creative consulting, lots of stuff that sounds great and doesn't pay nearly as well as you think it does. ...OH WAIT, you're a graphic designer too, right? High five for low living.
How often do you get hit up by other bands to do art or design work for them? How many want it for free or trade?
I get hit up pretty regularly. Here's how it usually goes.
Band: Hi, we're (forgettable name you've never heard of). We were wondering how much it costs for art.
Me: You're going to have to be more specific, my price quote depends on the details and how much time it's going to take me.
Band: We were thinking of having a zombie invasion in a post-apocalyptic city with a mushroom cloud over it and fighter jets going overhead and these radioactive stormtroopers are waging war against the zombies and these wicked undead bats are flying everywhere and there are ghosts n' shit.
Me: (thinking okay, this is going to take a ton of time. I'll work it out so that by the hours spent, I'm ALMOST making minimum wage.) $600.
Band: WOW, really? We definitely can't pay that. How about you do it for forty bucks and a pack of gum? We'll put your name in the booklet, it'll be great exposure for you.
See my "canned peas for dinner" answer above. This is why.
A lot of the bands are very good about it but my main gripe is that no one respects that this stuff doesn't just fly out of me and I rake in the cash for pressing a button on my talent. It takes hours of concentration to turn out this shit.
What are some do's and don'ts when asking the Lichmaster to design a band logo or album cover?
• Give me tons of details on what you want, as opposed to just asking "how much for art."
• Understand that I make my living doing this and I need money to survive. I'm not going to do this for you because we're all brothurrs of metallll.
• Try to come up with a concept that's going to stand out and be interesting, it'll motivate me.
• Ask if you can get the art before you pay.
• Ask for something that's almost exactly like another cover but with your logo.
• Ask for it to be set in a city. ...just because I'm terrible with rigid backgrounds.
• Ask for stuff that bashes a religion. I don't do it. I'm not religious, but it's a personal choice. Deal with it.
What do you do to begin designing another band's logo? I imagine that you want it to fit the overall "feel" of the band.
Yeah. I never listen to a band for inspiration, as what I get from a band and what they want to project are very rarely the same thing. Instead I ask them for the SORT of logo they'd like, by band name. It helps give me a flavor of what they're looking for. There are a lot of different logo styles out there and I don't think anyone's looking for something completely original. If they say they are, I think they're a bit out of touch on what's best for a metal band. ...I bet the Metal-Archives crowd would jump all over me for that sentence.
When I first heard your band name, I didn't think of World of Warcraft, I thought of the cover to the AD&D module Tomb of Horrors. How did you come up with the name and the look of the mascot?
Well aren't you as sweet as a baby junebug baked into a blueberry muffin. ...I just made that up, I don't know what it means. Anyway. Yeah, D&D was the inspiration for the name and the mascot. I just thought it'd be cool to have a huge enemy that's an undead wizard that's taken over the entire land. Once I had the idea, I just sketched out a skeletal dude with a crown, a sword and a suit of armor. I lost the armor, over time, and I'm glad I did- the WoW Lich King is heavily armored. I can't say our mascot is too terribly original, as everyone's got a nigh-undefeatable undead dude as their mascot, but the crown and the story kinda lend ours a weird spin, I feel. The King's story in album four is going to take a very strange turn.
What decisions do you make to have your artwork for Lich King fit the feel of the music?
In the first two albums, I just kinda made generic thrash metal art- main undead guy, army of zombies, radioactive stuff, not much creativity to it. With album 3 and 4, the art is matching what's happening in the King's song, almost like the cover of a book. WORLD GONE DEAD's cover featured the destruction of Boston by a horde of fiends, and the next album will feature a very different kind of plot point.
Do you get the same feeling of satisfaction when you finish a killer piece of art or design as you do when you finish a new Lich King song?
... ....I dunno, it's hard to compare the two. I definitely get a rush out of both, but the flavor's different. I guess I'm more excited when I turn out a new song, because the feedback you get is much more visceral. With art, the best people can say, usually, is "wow, looks great!" With a great new song, people really seem to lose their minds. Maybe it's just that I haven't been doing music quite as long, but I'd say I get slightly more satisfaction out of a song.
It seems to me that your song Black Metal Sucks is the most talked about of all Lich King songs. Did you think that it would cause such waves when you were writing the lyrics for it?
Nope. In fact, I looked up stuff I said at the time, and a word I was using for it when I made it was "filler." I was calling it filler before anyone had heard it, and just thought I could use a two-riff joke song to get some laughs. The way that frickin' song took off is... well, I mean, it's great promotion but as I always say, if I'd known it was going to be that big, I'd have put some effort into the songwriting.
I've admitted that I am not a huge fan of blackened thrash (although the actual music can be great). From what I gather, you are not a fan of blackened thrash either. Am I wrong about that, and if it's true, why?
I CAN be, it can be good, but honestly what I like about blackened thrash and death-thrash is just the thrash part. You can leave all the other stuff at home.
Does Lich King's sense of humor piss off a lot of the "angry thrash only" guys?
Not so much from the angry thrash only guys, but the serious metal only guys hate us and the original metal only guys hate us more. We also irritate the troo thrash only guys... the phonies that think you're making a mockery of thrash metal if you're not playing about satan and evil and wearing the thrash metal costumes when you do. L.A. is thick with thrashers, but from what I can tell, they may or may not completely turn their backs on us when they see we're short-haired dudes wearing regular clothes. There's lots of image-conscious bullshit in metal, and the only way to make everyone happy, it seems, is flying under the radar by looking and acting just like everyone else.
A couple more questions: Were you surprised by the success of your van fundraiser? (This past April, Lich King held an online fundraiser to help buy a touring van. -r.)
Yeah, honestly. We knew Razormaze (and you should check those guys out, by the way) had gone in and done a successful van fundraiser through Kickstarter.com. We started up our own, shooting for $3,000, and being very careful to not annoy people by mentioning that we were panhandling too often. Halfway through, we had- like... three tenths of our goal, and I was starting to give up hope. Then in the last week we did a push and were shocked to see the money pouring in. We actually shot 300 bucks over our goal, a day or two before the fundraiser ended. We were kinda shocked. Occasionally, still, we stand in the van and say "free van." It's really odd to think that the VEHICLE you're standing in was a gift from your fans.
How is the van holding up?
It's great, it runs beautifully and the air conditioning is like an arctic blast. The seats could be more comfortable, but ehh. I just left Brian's house yesterday, where we were building a bunk platform into the back. This thing's going to be great when we take it out. This is our first tour so we're probably overplanning things. We take off in about exactly one week from now, as I write this.
Thanks to Tom for the killer interview. Here is a list of dates for Lich King's upcoming US tour.
• 8/11/2011 Thur Philadelphia PA Jr's Bar
• 8/12/2011 Fri Virginia Beach VA Cozumels
• 8/13/2011 Sat Richmond VA Strange Matter
• 8/14/2011 Sun Raleigh NC Volume 11
• 8/15/2011 Mon Johnson City TN The Hideaway
• 8/17/2011 Wed Columbia MO Cafe Berlin
• 8/19/2011 Fri Chicago IL Reggie's Rock Club
• 8/20/2011 Sat Fort Wayne IN Brass Rail
• 8/21/2011 Sun Lansing MI The Blackened Moon
• 8/22/2011 Mon Toledo OH RamaLama Records
• 8/23/2011 Tues Chillicothe OH First Capital Music Hall
• 8/24/2011 Wed Cleveland OH Tower 2012
• 8/25/2011 Thur Pittsburgh PA The Smiling Moose
• 8/26/2011 Fri Buffalo NY The Funeral Home