The Gates of Slumber Interview: Born of Steel in a World of Plastic

This one's in color. The rest are not. (Photo by S. Scott Hunter)Indianapolis trad doomers The Gates of Slumber have their sound in the key of epic. On their latest album and first for Rise Above Records, Hymns of Blood and Thunder (reviewed here), the trio craft a heavy metal classic in the grand tradition of both the grand and the traditional. Guitarist/vocalist Karl Simon, bassist Jason McCash and drummer “Iron” Bob Fouts capitalize in every way on the success of 2008’s Conqueror, as though this album were built on the foundation of its predecessor. As Simon reveals in the extensive interview below, in many ways it was.

Speaking of revelations (no, this isn’t a Christian thing), at the very beginning of our interview, in what would normally be mundane cordialities not worth printing, Simon and I wound up discussing how he makes his living. Given the noble nature of his work and the fact that I think it’s an interesting read, it’s staying in. You can decide the relevance for yourself.

In either case, please enjoy the Q&A after the jump.

Okay, this one's in color too. Doesn't count.?What do you do?

I work with a mentally handicapped adult. He?s got severe autism and basically I just hold the fort down overnight and make sure that if he does wake up he knows he?s in a secure environment, because he?s only been living on his own for a short time. Before that he was with his parents. His parents are ridiculously well-to-do, so they bought him a house. It?s a living (laughs). A cool job.

So it?s in-home care?

Basically. I do more than that. I do life-skills training and some behavior management, but mostly with this guy I basically just help him to make the right choices in the morning, help him make his breakfast, help him make his bed, direct him through hygiene and all that stuff. Drive him to his day program. I?m kind of a security blanket in case there was to be an electrical fire at four a.m. or something, I?m the one who?s supposed to get him out of the house. If he wakes up afraid, I reassure him, ?Alright, you?re still at home, bud. Everything?s cool, go back to sleep.? In the morning, he gets up on his own and I just direct him. He?s got OCD, so I try to keep him motivated (laughs) to move along and not get stuck on whether or not the stuff on his bureau is arranged properly. Get him moving.

That?s really interesting. How did you get into that?

God, I just kind of fell into it maybe 10 years ago. Before then I?d just done odd jobs. Anything. I was living in Cleveland at the time and my roommate?s girlfriend was a manager at a group home and I was out of work and she?s like, ?Well, we could always use people,? and I just kind of fell into it (laughs). It stuck. It?s a cool gig in that you can feel good at the end of the shift that you?ve really made a difference in somebody?s life. And also, I?ve got a little bit of that old punk rock thing in me that it?s helping work with underrepresented people. And they are. The mentally handicapped are still a pretty marginalized group. I feel pretty positive doing that.

Good for you, man. I applaud you.

(Laughs) It?s really not that hard. People say that all the time. It?s the kind of thing that, once you fall into it, some weird stuff with happen — I?m not gonna lie, it gets pretty frickin? bizarre — but once you get started in it, you?ll go one of two ways. You?ll either take everything way too seriously and you won?t last a month, or you?ll see the almost — and this is gonna sound bad, but it really isn?t — black humor in everything that?s going on and you?ll be able to take the weird and the sometimes pretty damn tragic things that happen more in stride. That?s the real turnover point. If somebody can be faced with real human tragedy and not get so absorbed in it that they can?t be affected anymore. This dude I?ve got now, he?s peaches and cream. Everything?s easy. But I?ve had gigs that are just ridiculous. Severe abuse cases, severe sexual abuse cases. People in that population are 65 percent more likely to be physically or sexually abused than anybody else, so if you work in the business long enough, you?re going to read case files that will just? ?Wow, really? Is this it? This one's in black and white. (Photo by S. Scott Hunter)Somebody hit the button right now, let?s give the whole thing back to the roaches.? You can really find out how horrible people can be to each other, and how horrible people can be in general, because again, you?re dealing with people of diminished capacity and taking advantage is literally taking candy from a baby sometimes. Yeah, anyway (laughs)? I could keep babbling on about that. I?ll talk about it for hours. I literally just get started on it and I?m a big mouth.

About the record, were you surprised at the reaction Conqueror got?

Um, how to say this and not sound arrogant (laughs). No, not really. I mean, there?s no way for this not to sound like I?m full of myself. Me personally, I really believe in what this band is doing. I know that Bob and Jason do as well, but I?m the guy talking and I want everybody to be cognizant of the fact that there?s two dudes that have a lot of say in what goes on. There?s no dictatorship in The Gates of Slumber, so I always tread on eggshells around that. I never want to come off as the guy who calls all the shots, because I am far from that, but for me personally, I?m just always really confident in what we?re doing. For me, when somebody says it?s awesome, I?m like, ?Of course? (laughs). That kind of sense of things comes from being hyper-critical. Both Jason and I really have that. I throw away maybe 30 or 40 ideas before settling on one for a song. Any song that gets brought into the band, there?s nothing that we ever really want to be considered throwaway. Everything is A-material and B-material we just give it the Spartan treatment, throw it out on the hillside and let it die. It never gets even rehearsed for a split or something, something that maybe only 500 people are going to hear. We?re always trying to bring our best material. And that can be tough, because some days you?re just not on, some songs aren?t going to be as good as the one that came before it, but we always try to bring our best and hardest material forward for records or splits or anything. When people were like, ?Wow, Conqueror?s really amazing? — I don?t know how other bands work, but I know I put countless hours into writing and trying to make things as good as I possibly can, and I know Jason and Bob do the same. That said, it?s actually ironic, because of all the records we?ve done, Conqueror?s the one I?m least satisfied with (laughs). There?s just so many issues about it that I feel that the songs themselves are each individually really good, but the flow of the record was very flawed. That was one of the things that I really wanted to see happen with Hymns of Blood and Thunder, is to pay more attention to the broader context of the record rather than, ?Okay, here?s this song and here?s this song.? You can transition songs together fairly simply, but to make one track stop cold and immediately, logically be followed with a related track that isn?t making the record stagnate, but is moving it in its own arc. A song has its arc it goes through. A record should have an arc as well. You?ve got To Mega Therion or Holy Diver; records that have these real powerful, like, ?God, I?ve got to hear the next song? sort of things. That?s always the goal, to make sure that each song, you want the next riff to come, you can almost feel the next riff coming, and the same thing in the broader context of the record. It could just be that I need to get out more often, I don?t know (laughs).

The flip side of that hyper-criticism is a tremendous amount of self-pressure.

This one too. (Photo by S. Scott Hunter)Yeah. There is. It?s a constant pressure cooker.

Coming out of Conqueror into Hymns of Blood and Thunder, were you like, ?Now people are paying attention, we?ve got to step it up?? or was it business as usual?

It?s just pretty much business as usual. I remember saying to a guy who writes for Decibel, Jay Bennett. When he asked me about the next record, I was like, ?It?s gonna kill this one.? That was the goal, was to correct the mistakes that I felt the band made on Conqueror, take the strengths of course. But it?s business as usual in that the pressure?s always on (laughs). There?s always maybe an unhealthy level of stress we put ourselves to try to really do as best as we can every time — for ourselves, not anybody else — to make sure we?re always striving to not repeat ourselves, or if we do repeat ourselves, to make it clever (laughs) rather than just, ?Here they?re recycling this riff.? I don?t ever want to do that.

Did you go into working with Sanford Parker again saying, ?This is how I want this to be,? with set goals?

Actually, no. I completely turned the reins over to Sanford. I only brought minimal guitar equipment and the only input I had on any sort of tonality on the entire record was the solo in ?Descent into Madness,? just because I really wanted to use my Sunn Beta lead with the reverb tank cranked all the way up, because it has a really nice, lush, full reverb and the solid state response really helps with that solo. He designed every other tone on that record. He wasn?t a dictator, it?s not like he?s like, ?You?re going to use this now,? but if he came in and was like, ?Hey, what do you feel about using the Jimi Hendrix octave on this part?? I said, yes, let?s do it. That was my answer. It was an exercise for me to just let go and allow someone else who knows what they?re doing to do the job of production, to make the sounds, to mix the record without me following behind like, ?Why don?t you do this?? As far as it goes, the pacing of the record, that was just natural. It was even less work, really, than Conqueror or Suffer No Guilt or any of the others to sequence the record because the songs we had written just fell into place. ?This is obviously the lead, this is obviously two, three, four, five and six.? That?s just how it happened. The focus was really on writing songs so that no matter what the sequence of the record was, you could hear a familial quality to the material. For example, on ?Death Dealer? and ?Beneath the Eye of Mars,? I?m using a similar structure in each of the songs. The songs are totally different, but the harmonic movement is the same and for me — maybe I just am too close to it — because I?m using the same musical movement, the songs become kindred spirits. I feel that leads very well. Jason?s ?Chaos Calling,? he wrote that one, it sets up ?Death Dealer? and ?Death Dealer? sets up ?Beneath the Eye of Mars,? and then there?s the change track, which is Jason?s ?The Doom of Aceldama,? and it comes at exactly the right moment in the record. It?s beginning, related, more closely related, complete change, to build and add interest. As far as Sanford and that, he doesn?t mess around with the range too much. He did detail a couple of solo sections in favor of putting in the Moog keyboard, which I think it really lends a different atmosphere and brings out a slightly different aspect of our collective influences when he?s doing that. In ?Beneath the Eye of Mars,? for example, it lends this almost Rainbow-esque feel to the track, which I was like, ?Wow, that?s really awesome.? I still wish the solo was there, because I play it live, but I think that?s just part of And one more. (Photo by S. Scott Hunter)the fun, people hearing the difference between the recorded track and the live track.

Any element taken from Rainbow is not a bad thing.

I can?t really disagree with you on that one. It was not something that I had thought about, that riff having a feel that Rainbow would have used. Then he put the keyboard in, and it was like, ?Wow, that?s really Rainbow-esque? (laughs). That?s always kind of neat, when you can catch, ?Oh wow, I did something really classy right there and I didn?t even mean to (laughs). I was just jerking off as usual.? I think a lot of his ideas were just really super, super ideas.

I know it?s early, but do you think you?d go back to him again?

I would in a heartbeat. It really all depends on how long this record is viable. It?s our hope that we?re going to be working this one for at least the next year and a half. We would really love that, and we?re really in a position in our lives that we?re in this window now where if we?re going to get out on the road and pound it for a while, this is the time. The record, I feel, is strong enough that we could work it for a long time and hopefully that will be the case and we?ll be able to really get some serious road work done. We tour a bit, but more is always more. We?re kind of greedy in that respect, always going back for seconds and thirds.

What else do you have planned for the rest of the year?

There?s a couple of one-off CD release shows, then we?re going over to Europe for a bit. We?re going to be doing the Hammer of Doom Fest with Trouble, Count Raven, Spiritus Mortis. We?ll be touring with Lord Vicar, the ex-Saint Vitus, ex-Terra Firma, ex-Reverend Bizarre band. We?ll be doing some dates with them over there. We?re doing Damnation Fest. We?re actually opening Damnation Fest (laughs). Very first band, like at 10 in the morning. We have to headline London, get everything loaded out, get in the van at like seven in the morning the next morning after three hours sleep, drive to Leeds and walk right on stage and play. I don?t even know what to expect. It will probably be the most diverse bill we?ve ever played on. Akercocke, Destruction, My Bloody frickin? Valentine is playing. I have no idea what to expect. We?re just going to walk out on stage and kick our 20 minute set and that?s it. After that, November, Bob is going to be on the road with Nachtmystium. He does work with them and Gotta squeeze this in.they?re going to be on tour with Marduk in November. Then December is the shutdown, but in January we?ve got some things lined up, possible things. Then February there?s things lined up as well there. Talk about maybe, maybe, maybe doing Saint Vitus in Europe. Roadburn. Hopefully it gets a lot more solid. If it doesn?t, that?s gonna be a depressing stroke, because we?re really eager. Jason?s got three children and his wife?s giving him this bit of leash, so we really want to take full advantage of it before early middle age starts to settle in and we?re like, ?Oh, this is it.? We?ve got to do some cool stuff. I can?t say that rock and roll hasn?t been awesome to me. I?ve been to Europe five times, toured the US several times, that?s been very cool to me, but again, just a greedy bastard always wanting to go back for more and see what can happen. Hopefully that gets a lot more full. It?s pretty full as is, but hopefully it really starts to fill up.

The Gates of Slumber on MySpace

Rise Above Records

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3 Responses to “The Gates of Slumber Interview: Born of Steel in a World of Plastic”

  1. Mike says:

    Kudos to Mr. Karl Simon for having such a noble job and being humble about it. Regardless of what he says, it takes a special person to work with the mentally challenged. I respect that.

    Thanks for keeping that part in. Excellent interview all the way around.

  2. Excellent interview. Thanks for this one! Surprising stuff, not that it matters, but is always interesting to hear what musicians do for a living. In instances like this, it definitely makes us reflect in the kind of people they are.

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