Bible of the Devil Interview with Mark Hoffmann: Swearing the Hijacked Oath to Always Know What is Right on Night Street
Primo makers of Midwestern mischief, it’s nonetheless been nearly four-friggin’ years since the last Bible of the Devil album came out, so the arrival of For the Love of Thugs and Fools is well received. The Chicago four-piece’s last album, 2008’s Freedom Metal, was a highlight of that year, crisply produced by Sanford Parker and maybe not capturing the band’s live sound — driven ever forward by their dual (also “duel” in the sense that they seem to be in an eternal battle against that which is neither awesome nor about the night) proto-NWOBHM guitars — but still presenting their best collection of songs to date. With For the Love of Thugs and Fools, though, the date just changed.
The album — which, much to my shame, hasn’t been reviewed yet (I said I was deprioritizing digital promos and I meant it); though I did premiere a track — is rawer than was its predecessor, but even so, it’s immediately clear that the foursome of guitarist/vocalists Mark Hoffmann and Nate Perry, bassist Darren Amaya and drummer Greg Spalding put whatever time they actually had apart between touring and releasing splits with Züül, Blade of the Ripper and Winterhawk to good use. For the Love of Thugs and Fools not only matches Freedom Metal punch for punch in having two songs with the word “night” in the title, but it surpasses that album in its more natural feel, the band returning to producer Mike Lust, who helmed some of their earliest recordings.
What’s more, Bible of the Devil hold a special place in Obelisk lore and personally for me for being the first interview I ever posted on this site, so it was an extra pleasure to speak to Hoffmann again about For the Love of Thugs and Fools and what he and the rest of the band has done in the years since issuing Freedom Metal. Same as last time, he wasn’t as much of a talker as some others, but nonetheless friendly and especially open when it came to discussing the band’s ongoing friendship with San Francisco’s Slough Feg, with whom they’ve toured several times over and are planning to release a split 10″. The ongoing theme of the night in Bible of the Devil song titles — as witnessed on “I Know What is Right (In the Night)” and “Night Street” on this album and “Hijack the Night” and “Night Oath” on the last — comes from a running gag between the two acts, and when I brought it up, I could almost hear the smile through the phone along with the prevailing laughter.
So while the following discussion is relatively short, take that as an extension of Bible of the Devil‘s penchant for rock classicism mixed with their no-bullshit ethic — both equally admirable traits. We still found room to talk about the correlation between “Ol’ Girl” from Freedom Metal and “Yer Boy” from For the Love of Thugs and Fools, the band’s changing tour ethic, songwriting methods and ongoing affection for all things Thin and Lizzy.
Full Q&A can be found after the jump. Please enjoy.
I guess when Freedom Metal finally came out, we toured behind it and did Europe, and after that year, maybe got burnt out a little bit. We were still playing shows and stuff, but not touring as heavily. I guess we needed a break, and that’s why doing a few singles was good, and then we kind of got going again, did a little more touring and started writing again. Before you knew it, three or four years had passed, and (laughs), here we are.
Were you writing that whole time?
Off and on. I’d say the heaviest writing’s gone on the last year and a half or so, but I mean, we wrote songs here and there for the split 7”s and singles, and we were writing stuff looking forward to the new record, but we ended up discarding a lot of it or combining parts into single songs that used to be two songs, that kind of thing.
Is that normal for you guys, doing that kind of thing? Do you throw out a lot of stuff?
I’d say earlier records, we were more along the lines of, someone would bring in a complete idea. With this record, it was more all of us would – I hate using the term “jam” (laughs) – but jam on an idea and flesh it out that way instead of somebody just saying, “Here’s the song,” and then everybody playing to it.
Was that something you wanted to do to change, or did it just work out that way coming back to writing?
It just kind of worked out that way. We maybe refreshed some ideas and learned to work together in a different way.
What was behind going back to work with Mike Lust again?
We had kind of lost contact with him a little bit the last few years, but I guess we started hanging out again. Can’t beat the price, for one thing. He’s very reasonable to work with, but also, the direction we were going in with this one, we kind of wanted to make it more of a rock and roll, KISS-sort of feel, and that’s totally what he’s into. So he seemed like a good fit.
It sounds a little bit rougher than Freedom Metal did. Does that translate more of the live show for you?
Yeah, definitely. I’d say this is probably more representative of what we sound like live and not the “studio version,” if you will. But that kind of goes along with Mike Lust’s style too. He likes to make sure it stays rough around the edges instead of making it too perfect.
How long were you in the studio?
We split it up over a few months. We’d demoed stuff late last summer and fleshed out the vocxals and everything, but the actual recording process was several sessions over three months. We all still have our day jobs, so whenever we could fit it in.
I know all the info and everything I’ve seen about the album has you guys saying it’s about Chicago and people you’ve met along the way in different places. Can you talk about some of those stories or some of the people and events the album is chronicling?
I guess some of it centers on crime and violence. A couple of us have been in street fights over the last couple of years, or have been mugged. There’s some weird people that have passed away too young. It’s our tribute to the dark side of living in a city like this, where it’s pretty unpredictable.
Was there something specific that inspired you to want to put those ideas to tape?
Yeah, for sure. In the past, I think we’ve dealt with more abstract concepts, or not really written from a personal point of view. This record for sure is definitely the most personal, from our standpoint, rather than writing about some fictional tale.
I have to ask. Freedom Metal had two songs with “Night” in the title, and this one does too. I remember talking to you back when that record came out you said you guys were in a contest with Slough Feg to see who could have more songs about the night. You’re way ahead.
(Laughs) I think we’re winning, yeah. This is a gauntlet we threw down a few years ago with them (laughs). Mike Scalzi very much enjoys the concept of “the night” (laughs). But yeah, I think we’re winning, for sure.
Is there any going back? Can Bible of the Devil ever put out an album with less than two songs about the night again?
I don’t know if there’s any going back now. Might be three on the next one (laughs). Widen the lead.
Tell me about the track “Yer Boy.” It stuck out to me the way “Ol’ Girl” did on the last record. Was this one written as an answer to that at all?
I guess it started as sort of an inside joke and part of our vernacular, calling women “ol’ girl,” whether it’s the ex-girlfriend or some chick you see, you just call her “ol’ girl,” and “yer boy” went along with that. Yeah, we sort of wrote it as an answer song to “Ol’ Girl” (laughs), which turned out to be the surprise hit on the last album. It seemed to be the one everybody latched onto. Both songs started as generic ways to refer to just random girls and guys, but I think it fits.
Tomorrow you’re leaving to go out on tour?
Yeah, we kick it off in Madison tomorrow night.
Apart from taking time off work, do you guys have any rituals to get ready for tour? You got your life in order and all that?
Yeah, it’s always a race. You think you’re prepared weeks in advance, but it comes down to those last couple of days and you realize, “Oh crap, I’m not gonna be here for two weeks.” Our jobs are all pretty cool about it, so we straightened al l that out weeks ahead of time. It’s just stuff at home. I’m moving right after we get back, so it’s very hectic, but we always manage to pull it together and whatever doesn’t get done has to wait until we get back.
You lose that time though. Part of it’s like you never left and then on the other hand there’s a ton of shit you missed.
I know what you mean. We’ve done it so much over the years that I feel like I’ve just lost lots of time and what’s gone on here. Of course, things are familiar or people are familiar, but you hear these stories and you go, “I don’t remember that. Oh. I was probably not here” (laughs).
If you spent most of 2009 on the road, are you going to do pretty much the same thing for the rest of this year? Just stay out?
The two major things planned, I mean, we’ve got this tour for a little over two weeks, then a little random weekends out of town here and there. We’re doing Europe in the fall and now we’re talking about doing the East Coast after that, but it won’t be a constant tour or anything like that. We’re not that big of road dogs at this point. We’ve still got to keep things together with all our jobs and that stuff.
For Europe in the fall, would you go with Slough Feg again? Did you do Europe with them, or was that the US?
We’ve done the US with them a couple times, but this time in Europe, we’re going to go with that band Zuul. I think we’re doing the majority with them and some with a band from Belgium that we toured with last time called Solenoids. Should be fun. Zuul are a great band. I have their records. You should check them out.
You did the split with them.
Yeah. We did that. They have one full-length and another one coming out, but they’re a good pairing for us. We’ve known those guys for years.
Any idea who you’d come east with?
Probably do it ourselves and just get a whole load of the cool bands we know in each place. It’d probably just be by ourselves.
Are there plans for more splits or recording in the works?
Actually, we’re talking about right now doing a split 10” with Slough Feg, probably each band would have at least one live song and probably one or two originals on each side. That’s probably going to be, we’ll get back from this tour and start to work on that, get some material ready for that. That should be neat. 10”s are kind of rare, let alone split 10”s (laughs).
It seems like you guys and Slough Feg have a pretty strong bond. It’s been years that you’ve done stuff together at this point.
I first hooked up with them – I guess we played with Hammers of Misfortune in 2005 – and that’s how we met Mike. None of us had ever heard Slough Feg at that point, but he told us all about the band and he gave us some of the albums. We went home and listened to thenm and we were just blown away, like, “Why have we never heard this? It’s so awaesome!” The following year we ended up planning a tour with them, that was the East Coast, but we ended up hitting it off with them. We’re very different types of people in both bands, but we totally hit it off and did tours after that. Mike’s such an interesting dude. He’s very much the philosopher, and not only about life, but about music as well. We’re pretty influenced by him.
How do you mean, “the philosopher?”
Well, he is a philosophy professor, for one thing (laughs).
Okay. So he’s literally a philosopher.
He’s very opinionated about not only heavy metal, but music in general. When he moved to San Francisco from Pennsylvania in the ‘90s, heavy metal was so uncool. When he started Slough Feg, it was this defiant thing. He’s seen both sides of the coin, where his band was totally hated, and he’s said people would just make fun of them all the time and totally mock them, to now, they’re this respected underground legendary band. He’s seen both disrespect and respect. He suffers no fools gladly, I guess is what I’m saying (laughs).Bible of the Devil, Chicago, Cruz Del Sur, Illinois