Photo by Fred Pessaro
AoC: Hi Ryan! First off we wanted to thank you for sitting down with Axe of Contrition for our very first interview! We understand you just made it home from a US tour with Warbringer, Lazarus A.D. and Diamond Plate, so we appreciate you taking the time for this. Let's start this off with you telling us a little about yourself, what you do, and your history in the Arizona music scene.
RB: Wow, well, that's a long history because I'm getting to be old as dirt in hardcore and metal years. Haha. I currently play guitar and write for Landmine Marathon and run Arcane Digital Recording up in Chandler, Arizona. I've been playing music and recording for many years and my obsession with metal and all things heavy began as a youngster in the early '80's and I grew to love all kinds of music. I've mostly played in heavy bands, but always dream of doing some acoustic indie project. Haha. I started playing in the orchestra in the late '80's and kept with that 'til I graduated in '95 and in high school I began playing in punk and hardcore bands. Since then, I've played with the likes of Wellington, Unruh, North Side Kings, Structure of Lies, Lyburnum, the mighty Richard Cranium, etc. and toured around the world. I've been engineering for a living since 2004 and been into recording since around '96. I've always been a big proponent of Arizona and I truly love this state and the people in it.
AoC: That's certainly a long career, especially in a business as tenuous as music. You mentioned Unruh, which many of our readers should be familiar with. You guys were fairly progressive for a hardcore band, toured extensively, and managed to make a bit of a legend for yourself. Did these early years, paying the dues in the van, form the ideals and ethos you still apply to your life? Or has the business changed too much?
RB: Yeah, some people have said I have a lot of integrity. For me, it's more of a fact that this stuff is just my life's blood. I get bored of it sometimes and feel as if I need to move on to other things, but the second I start drifting away, I get stoked on something else and go right back to it. It's easy to get burnt out, especially running a studio 7 days a week, but it's just become what I do. I love it. I love making music, I love creating. The easiest thing to get burnt on is touring, and I have a syndrome that our singer calls "Week Three Butler" and that's when I just start getting a little crazy and grumpy three weeks into a tour. Haha.
Unruh is probably still the band I've done that people talk about the most. We were definitely considered a hardcore band at the time, but we had a ton of death and grind influence. There wasn't many hardcore bands using blast beats in 1995 and we definitely crossed over into a ton of genres. I think just being involved in hardcore, crust and power violence etc. early in my teen years is what formed my current ideals, but a lot of them are always a bit far fetched when you're younger and think you can do anything and anything is possible. I see most people abandon their ideals and even their music early on in the extreme stuff, possibly because it is so extreme in sound and ethos. So, I still have a lot of it in me. I've sort of been dragged kicking and screaming into the business of music, while still wanting to be a DIY guy. I never in a million years would have though fifteen years ago that the singer of my band would be on the covers of huge magazines, on MTV, on a huge label or even using a booking agent. But, that's just what it has become out of necessity. But, I'm still vegetarian, still pretty leftist and still love a good 7" of crust core.
AoC: Well, let me drop the inevitable next question on you before we move on then. With the current resurgence of influential bands from the '90s like Rorschach currently happening, is there any chance we might see an Unruh reunion one day?
RB: Very doubtful. Our singer is apparently a religious republican now, our drummer lives in Seattle and it's really just not meant to be. We all have our own things now. It'd be cool to do a last show, since we never really had one, but it's been 11 years since we played together and it's just too far gone.
Photo by Jeremiah Cooper
AoC: That's unfortunate, but not surprising after so much time. At least we'll always have the vinyl! Let's skip ahead to the present then. Landmine Marathon just released "Gallows," which many think is the band's most mature and powerful release to date. You added an intimidating new drummer in Andy York and as mentioned before, just knocked out a full US tour with Warbringer. Are you pleased with the progress Landmine has made? Do you feel the band is reaching it's full potential in an obviously saturated metal market?
RB: Pretty stoked on the outcome of the record. I was just saying to someone yesterday that most of the songs on this record I would feel confident in playing live. I am usually really happy with two or three songs from the LP and feel they carry over well live. We've yet to play a lot of them. So, I hope we get some chances to in the future. The record industry is a pretty fucked up place to be these days. The internet has taken the money away from it. As lame and not DIY as it is to say, the industry requires money to work. It's vital. Gas tanks don't fill themselves. I can't record bands for free. It costs money to make t-shirts and records for fans to buy and fill the gas tanks. Records have become less special to people because they put no effort into getting or finding them and have nothing invested into them when they just download a bunch of songs off line. So, we put it in people's faces as much as we can. We're doing as much as we can. It sucks that we can't tour with the bands that we'd love to, because kids just don't give a shit about going to see Grave or Entombed any more. I've even heard Napalm Death is giving up on the US. The market is really saturated, as you said.
Photo by Fred Pessaro
AoC: If you could change any one thing about the music industry, what would it be? Personally, I would have had the bus fall on Lars, but what you have done differently?
RB: To be honest, I'd probably delete computers from it. I'd be fine with giving up Pro Tools to go back to tape and have the industry thrive. I'm pretty tired of every band being on the Internet and shoving it in your face. There's no filtration system and we're inundated by every band. All the bands who do make it to CD or vinyl are having their records put up for free online and all their hard work is just given away and every kid with GarageBand thinks he's a recording engineer. Computers, and the Internet in general, have destroyed all that was precious about music and taken the value out of recordings.
Photo by Fred Pessaro
AoC: With the industry being in the state that it is then, it seems people are constantly taking new steps to stay involved with the industry. Aside from Landmine Marathon, you're also the owner of Arcane Digital Recording. You've done some work with some fairly well known bands, such as Exhumed, Misery Index and Phobia, as well as recording your own projects like Landmine there. Do you feel that owning a studio helps you stay in touch with the metal scene, both locally and nationally? Taking into consideration the constantly evolving face of music today, where do you see yourself taking the studio in the next few years?
RB: Well, yes and no. It keeps my foot in music in general, especially locally, as the bands keep me aware of a lot of stuff and I have to know about current things as well to know what they want. But, it's also steered me away from a lot of stuff as I just have no desire to listen to music in what little free time I do have after working with it 40-60 hours a week. That being said, I love my job and plan on continuing to keep the struggle going of owning my own business and being in a touring band. I plan on expanding my space somehow in the very near future and am considering possibly taking on some management help. I also plan to continue to strive to not be pigeon holed as a metal/punk only producer as I just don't want that to happen, but it's very difficult.
AoC: Let's shift gears for the last few questions. We have some gear heads that read this blog, so give us a run down of your live gear. What are your go to weapons on the road? Is this different than what you use to record? And tell us if you have any secrets for getting the really gnarly guitar tone that you're known for.
RB: My live rig is fairly simple. EVH 5150 III, Mesa Boogie Cab, Full Bore Metal pedal to boost solos, Wah pedal, Noise Suppressor, Tuner and a variety of Jackson Soloists. Our recording setup is a little different. On every record we've ever done, we've used an Engl Powerball and an original Bogner Uberschall across the board for rhythm. We've tried deviating from this and never been happy. A variety of Royers, Sennheisers, Shures, Cascades etc. and tons of different preamps have been used on our guitars and I don't really have a formula for that. A Royer R121 is usually in the mix, though, as well as some Neve stuff. I now always use the EVH for leads as it just screams! And I would normally just use the EVH for rhythm as I love it live, but I have an "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" policy with our rhythms after trying different things. I use the EVH for plenty of other bands and get gnarly tones out of it.
AoC: Okay, I have the proverbial gun to you head. Pick the five essential albums you take to a deserted island with you. One metal, one hardcore, one punk, one rock and then surprise us with the last one.
RB: Fuck, that's a challenge.
Iron Maiden - Number Of The Beast
Rorschach - Protestant
Discharge - Hear Nothing See Nothing Say Nothing
Guns N Roses -Appetite For Destruction
Radiohead - OK Computer
It broke my heart to leave out Motörhead, Black Flag, Carcass, Entombed etc.
AoC: Let's say money was no object and you could name your price. Which would you rather record, Danzig's next album or ReLulu?
RB: Jesus. That's a tough one. My first instinct is to go with Danzig as I've heard that his newest effort is decent. But, knowing that he's a phenomenal PIA, I'd probably go the route of working with my childhood idols, put arsenic in Lou Reed's exotic tea, and put glass in Hetfield's throat coat so he'd sing like he did in the 80's. The riffs on Death Magnetic were heading towards Metallica being decent again, the vocals just killed it. I know Metallica would pay better, too, as I've seen Danzig's house, but you said money is no object.
(Fuck this shit.)
AoC: I am the root. I am the tablet.
RB: I'm assuming those are Lou Reed lyrics? I'm not a giant Velvet Underground fan, but they weren't bad. Lulu, I just don't get. Do an EP, folks!
AoC: Those are some of the more cogent lyrics on Lulu. I just wanted you to be sure of what you're getting into. I'm not sure you can kill Lou Reed either. Much like Keith Richards, I believe he is technically immortal, in a medical and biblical sense.
RB: I don't know. I've recorded some pretty hard to listen to stuff over the years. So, for a big paycheck, I think I'd rather deal with Lou Reed and Metallica. They all seem like fun dudes. Patience is a virtue of any good engineer and I can listen to just about anything.
AoC: You're a far braver man than us, Mr. Butler. I think that just about wraps this up. Thanks so much for sitting down with us! To bring this thing full circle, on your way out, let us know about some Arizona bands to look out for, and why you think people should give a shit about Arizona's scene.
RB: Man, you're challenging my memory even more now. Sorrower, Godhunter, Methra, The Rule The Law, The Riveras, Territory, etc. etc. I just think Arizona is a beautiful state with a lot of great people. We may not have had the most monumental music scene over the years, but we have a ton of great folks involved!