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Act Of Defiance (l-r): Chris Broderick, Shawn Drover, Henry Derek and Matt

‘Birth And The Burial’’s status as title track was the result of Act Of Defiance’s chosen cover artist. “Travis Smith, who was the cover artist for the record, he did several Opeth records, Nevermore,” the lyricist cites. “He’s a fantastic artist – he did the new Sanctuary record (The Year The Sun Died, October 2014). He was coming up with ideas. He kind of said ‘Why don’t you guys give me some song titles? Give me the song titles that you have, and I’ll start doing some artwork based on some song titles. If you have any song lyrics, send them over, and I’ll start doing some artwork based on some song titles. Then you if you have any song lyrics, send them my way, and I’ll kind of get an idea for that.’ That’s what we did. We sent several song lyrics, and he started to come back with artwork.

“Once we saw what became the artwork for Birth And The Burial, we all just freaked out. We said ‘Man, this is fantastic. This is so weird, and crazy, and dark, and really heavy looking and stuff. What did you base this off of?’ He said ‘‘Birth And The Burial’.’ If you look at it, you can see the skeleton. It has an umbilical cord. You’re being born, and basically descending into hell and dying and stuff. Of course it’s a lot more involved than that, but he said that this idea came from the lyrics and the song title for ‘Birth And The Burial’.

“We just said ‘Hey, why don’t we call the record that?,’ and we instantly all agreed to it. It was really spearheaded by Travis, and Henry who wrote most of the lyrics for that song. He came up with the song title, so that’s kind of a Henry thing. He’s the one who came up with the song title, so it was more of a collaboration between him and Travis the artist. Once you’ve got the physical product, there’s all kinds of artwork throughout the inner CD jacket. There’s plenty of really great ideas, but ultimately we all agreed that what you see for Birth And The Burial – the cover artwork – was the choice that we made, based on that.”

Critiqued against his own, Shawn can identify common traits within Henry’s lyrical content. “He has a similar kind of writing style to me I think, because the stuff that I write…,” he begins. “And again, for the Eidolon stuff, I wrote every lyric to every song for the majority of the records. The last record, it was a record called The Parallel Otherworld (June 2006) where Nils K. Rue became our singer – the singer from Pagan’s Mind. Because he’s a good lyricist, we just said ‘Here, you write all of the lyrics and all of the melodies. You’re better than I am, so you can have at it.’ All of the previous records though, I wrote all of the lyrics, all of the melodies, and about 90% of the music. So, again, I was well-schooled and kind of had my own style in terms of how I wrote lyrics.

“Once Henry expressed interest in writing some lyrics as well, upon looking at his lyrics – again, if you look at the lyrics – they’re not even understandable. They’re kind of vague and you have to come up with your own conclusions off of certain things or how they’re phrased, and I’m kind of the same way as a lyricist. Most of the lyrical themes are very dark in nature, though, but again, it’s not something that… With lyrics, I’ve never really tried to explain in graphic detail what they all mean, because I think that kind of spoils it for the people who like to read lyrics and kind of come to their own conclusions of what they’re ultimately about.

“Neil Peart (Rush drummer) never let on what ‘2112’ (from the February 1976 album of the same name) meant when he wrote it back in ’76, and I kind of like that because you can kind of come to your own conclusions of what you think it’s about. I purposely try to keep my lyrics a little bit vague that way, and I think Henry does too. It’s not black and white where you read the lyrics and instantly know what it’s about. It’s a little more thought-provoking than that, and I think Henry did a really good job of expressing himself that way.”

The performer, Chris, and Henry are all responsible for Birth And The Burial’s lyrical fare. “Chris wrote ‘Throwback’, Henry and I wrote ‘Legion Of Lies’, Henry and I wrote ‘Thy Lord Belial’, Henry wrote ‘Refrain And Re-Fracture’ by himself,” he credits. “‘Dead Stare’ I think was Henry and Chris, ‘Disastrophe (A New Reality)’ was me and Henry, ‘Poison Dream’ I think Chris wrote, ‘Obey The Fallen’ is me and Henry. ‘Crimson Psalm’, Chris wrote that one, and ‘Birth And The Burial’ was all Henry I think. Chris wrote lyrics on the record as well, but if you add them all up, Henry wrote most of them. I co-wrote three songs with Henry, and Chris co-wrote some with Henry. Henry wrote some on his own, and Chris wrote some on his own.”

Returning to the topic of musical style, Act Of Defiance boasts several metal subgenre ingredients besides thrash. “Of course, I’ve been asked this question in every interview,” Shawn tells. “To me, it’s heavy metal. I’m in my 40s. When I was growing up, heavy metal wasn’t relegated into a hundred different categories like it is now. Everybody wants to put music into this tiny little subcategory of heavy metal, and a lot of times someone will say ‘What does that band sound like?’ ‘Oh, they’re black metal’ or ‘They’re this kind of metal.’ Instantly, some people will go ‘Oh, I don’t like black metal, so they suck,’ and they haven’t even listened to them. They haven’t even given the band a chance, because somebody has said ‘They sound like this’ or ‘They’re this kind of metal.’ To me, that’s quite a daft thing.

“If you listen to Mercyful Fate or King Diamond… I keep going back to those guys, but if you listen to King Diamond – like Abigail (February 1987), or something – the record’s all over the place. There’s some stuff with acoustic intros, there’s some really heavy stuff, there’s some more atmospheric stuff. It tells a story, but at the end of the day it’s all heavy metal. That’s kind of how I think about this record. Like I said, this record has elements of thrash metal, elements of progressive thrash, more progressive stuff. It has a classical intro on one song, and it has an intro with a piano and a cello in it, but then it kicks in and it’s all metal. I don’t want to subcategorise it. I just prefer to call it all heavy metal, because what would we even call it?

“You can’t call it thrash metal, because two songs are thrash and then a couple of parts of some other songs are thrash, but then the rest of it is not. Calling it thrash metal isn’t right, to call it old school metal isn’t right, and to call it progressive metal isn’t right. There’s elements of five or six different categories of heavy metal in there, so to put a label on that to me is quite stupid. I just prefer to call it heavy metal. The people who listen to it and dig it, that’s ultimately all I care about. If you dig it, you can call it whatever you want – it doesn’t make any difference to me. As long as you like, and even if you don’t like it, that’s fine as well.”

Having authored several compositions, a band name was inevitably required. “It’s funny,” the rhythmist muses. “At this point of the game, heavy metal bands have been going on now since Black Sabbath – since 1968, 1969 – and a lot of the great names are taken. It became a situation with Chris and I, and this is just Chris and myself. At the time when we came up with the name, we didn’t have any bandmates. We had a list of 10, 12 or 15 names, so we looked up the names, like Dark Vengeance. ‘Okay, let’s look up Dark Vengeance… Oh, there’s four bands called that, and one of them has the trademark to the name, so that name’s out.’ ‘What about Dark Defiance?’ ‘Okay, let’s check that out… No, somebody’s got that name.’

“It became a situation where we literally had to think ‘Well, maybe we should put three words in there.’ We both liked the word ‘Defiance’. We thought the name Dark Defiance would be cool, but that was taken. Chris said ‘What about Act Of Defiance?’ We both liked it. We both looked it up, and nobody had it. No-one had that name, and no-one had trademarked the name. Of all the names that we came up with, that was the one that was available, and that was a name that we both really liked a lot. First we had to both like the name to take it a step further, because if one of us didn’t like the name, it’s kind of worthless looking into something if the other one doesn’t like it. We based our search off of names we both liked, and ultimately that name… Chris really liked that name a lot, actually, but I wanted to look at other names and make sure that we were ultimately picking the right name (laughs).

“Another thing too that I like about it is that it’s not instantly recognised as a really brutal heavy metal name. Act Of Defiance, if you look at it, that could’ve been a jazz band or something. Of course, once you see the artwork and stuff, it doesn’t take long to figure out that we’re completely a metal band. Judas Priest, you pretty much know right off the bat that that’s a total metal name, whereas if you look at a band called Gojira, it doesn’t necessarily… You’re not gonna look at that, and go ‘They’re a total, brutal metal band.’ You don’t see that right away, so I kind of like that. I like the fact that Act Of Defiance wasn’t immediately recognisable as a band that plays really heavy stuff. I kind of like that. It’s something a bit different.”

Taken from December 1967’s John Wesley Harding, Bob Dylan number ‘The Ballad Of Frankie Lee And Judas Priest’ lent its name to Judas Priest, so perhaps Judas Priest’s name wasn’t instantly indentifiable as heavy metal-oriented at the time of the band’s inception in 1970. “You know what?,” Shawn asks. “Maybe because you’ve heard the name Judas Priest for so many years now… I’ll put it this way; when I first heard it as a teenager, I knew that they were a metal band. The first records I saw were Stained Class (February 1978) and Killing Machine (October 1978), and if you look at the way the font of the logo is presented, it took me maybe a second and a half to go ‘I bet you those guys are a metal band.’ Of course they were, but you know what I’m getting at. Some metal bands’ names are instantly recognisable, like Cannibal Corpse of course. You know that they’re a brutal band, a brutal metal band, whereas something like Gojira isn’t necessarily construed as such, and I kind of like that.

“I kind of like the fact that Act Of Defiance isn’t instantly recognisable as a band that plays really heavy music. I kind of like that, because then you’re not getting pigeonholed right away. If we called ourselves Dissect A Mutant or something really brutal like that, people would say ‘They’re a brutal death / thrash metal band.’ Our music has all kinds of different things within the category of heavy metal, so I just thought it was pretty smart on our part to do something a little outside the box with the name.”

Drum parts were recorded with Chris ‘Zeuss’ Harris at Dexter’s Lab in Milford, Connecticut. “At the time when I did drums for the record – I started tracking drums at the end of January – we still did not have a bass player,” the sticksman recalls. “Henry was in the band at this time, and we made the decision that Henry and Chris would go and record at Chris’ studio in LA (Ill-Fated Studio), which is what they did. We didn’t have a bass player, so the search was on for sure. Like I said, once I was tracking the record – doing the drums – that was when I came up with that thought of contacting Matt, which, like I said, our producer ‘Zeuss’ had the same thoughts about as well. That was just a happy coincidence that that happened, but I recorded the drums in Connecticut, and Chris and Henry recorded their parts in Chris’ studio.

“Once Matt joined the band, he said ‘I have a whole ProTools set-up in my house,’ which he did a lot of work with the Shadows Fall guys on, so we said ‘Why don’t you just do the bass tracks at your studio?’ It was a matter of convenience. Instead of flying somebody to LA and doing all of this kind of stuff, Matt had the affordability of time and convenience. He could stay at his house and work on the tracks all day long at his house, and not have to be cooped up at a hotel, and all of that stuff. It actually worked out quite well. I was actually the only guy who left town to go and record the record. I flew to Hartford, Connecticut to go there and do that.”

Act Of Defiance (l-r): Henry Derek, Chris Broderick, Matt Bachand and Shawn

Drumming wise, Shawn possesses an innate feeling nowadays. “Again, because I wrote half of the record, and we all had demos…,” he ponders. “For all of the songs that I wrote, I made demos for, and Chris did the same thing. Chris gave me kind of like a blueprint for his songs. He said ‘This is kind of the beat that I’m thinking about here.’ He programmed a drum machine and all of that stuff, just to kind of give the blueprint of what he was thinking, like what kind of beat he wanted and stuff. Of course, I added my own flair to it and made it my own and stuff, but with my songs, I pretty much already knew what I was gonna do. The demos that I did had a drum machine, just basic drum machine beats and stuff, to kind of give Chris a reference point of where I was headed musically with my songs.

“That was a good thing, so going into the studio, I already knew that I had the demos for all ten songs. I banged the record out in four-and-a-half days. I did ten songs in four-and-a-half days, because I knew what was going on – I was prepared. I felt very inspired and energetic about the record – just a lot of positive creativity on the record – and Zeuss was a great, great guy to work with. He had some fantastic ideas as well, and just was a great guy to work with and collaborate with, and bounce ideas off of. He’d say ‘Oh, that part doesn’t work there – it doesn’t sound good.’

“I can easily take constructive criticism. As long as you have a better idea than I do, then I’m all for it. If it makes the song better, then I’m all for it, and I’ve always been that way. But yeah, Zeuss recommended a studio up in Connecticut. He had worked there many times. It’s called Dexter’s Lab in Milford, Connecticut; it’s actually owned by the drummer of Toxic Holocaust, which I’m a big fan of. I only found this out at the last minute, right before I got there, so I was like ‘Shit, I love Toxic Holocaust.’ It turned out to be a really great experience, doing drum tracks for the record.”

On February 26th, 2015, it was revealed that Act Of Defiance had inked an album contract with Metal Blade Records. “That was cool,” the percussionist endorses. “Again, once Chris and I started recording demos, we had maybe three or four songs. Now, this was just music. There were no vocals or anything at that point, and of course I was with Metal Blade for many years when I was with Eidolon. I did all of the Eidolon records on Metal Blade, so I’ve known Brian Slagel for a long time. Chris lives in LA, so he’s known Brian Slagel for a long time as well, and Tracy Vera (Chief Financial Officer / General Manager) – all of those people. So yeah, it was just a matter of Chris and I contacting Metal Blade. We contacted Metal Blade and many different heavy metal labels in the US and stuff – Nuclear Blast and all that kind of stuff, and Century Media – but Metal Blade were the first to come back with an offer. I would say within less than a week, we had an offer – a solid offer – from Metal Blade.

“Chris and I ultimately hoped that we were gonna sign with them anyway, because for me it’s a homecoming. Like I said, I was with them for many years. They’re all good people, and they just like metal bands. They’re not trying to dictate, like ‘You guys should write two songs that are potential hits.’ There was none of that. They heard some songs that were demos, and they signed us based off of that. We turned the record in when it was done. There was no ‘We have to listen to the record’ or ‘We have to hear these new songs every two days.’ There was none of that. They had complete faith in us I think based on our history – Chris of course with Jag Panzer as well, and stuff like that. They were the first to come to the table and they were pretty aggressive about it, so we’re really happy that we signed with them. To me, it’s like a homecoming, so I’m definitely glad to be back with those guys.”

Such comments suggest Shawn has experienced past situations with record labels where they wished to hear tracks every two days. “No, I never experienced it, because I was always with Metal Blade,” he elaborates. “When we did the Eidolon stuff, it was the same thing. When I initially got signed to Metal Blade when I was with Eidolon, it was actually Metal Blade Europe at first. I sent my stuff over to Michael Trengert over at Metal Blade Europe – this was like 1998, 1999 – and they ultimately signed us and talked to Brian Slagel at corporate in LA. Then we got a worldwide deal with them, and they never told us one time…

“They never said ‘The next record, you guys should put in this kind of song’ or ‘… that kind of song.’ It was never like that. We said ‘Okay, we’re gonna record a new record,’ and they said ‘Cool.’ ‘This record’s called Nightmare World (July 2000).’ ‘Okay, cool.’ We sent them the finished product, and that was it. We had 100% artistic control in Eidolon, which was a great thing. It’s great to have that kind of freedom, where you can do exactly what you want and have complete faith in your record company supporting you. It’s a great thing.”

Such comments could perhaps be a veiled reference to Megadeth. “No, not at all,” the songwriter stresses. “I was never part of any of that. I just went in and did my stuff. I was not a part of the negotiation or any of that – that was all strictly between those guys. No though, it wasn’t like that with that band either as far as I know, because I never knew of any stuff like that. I’m making reference probably to pop music or something, where the company really has a say in it. The company then has a say in how to mould the artist, and ultimately make the artist as marketable as possible. Really, I wasn’t making a reference to anything when I said that. Metal Blade has just always been extremely supportive; they were never demanding to hear music every three days, or anything. That wasn’t a reference to anything. It’s just great that they don’t do that.”

Act Of Defiance inevitably has touring commitments in the pipeline. “I wanna do it the old school way, going on tour and just working,” Shawn discloses. “We’re gonna have to earn this; we’re not gonna be headlining stadiums, and we’re not stupid enough to even think that. We’re gonna have to do it grass roots, man. Start from the bottom and work our way up, to try to prove ourselves out there, which of course we will. We’ll get on some bigger and better tours over the course of time, hit as many festivals next summer as we can, and be exposed to as many people as we can. That’s ultimately the way to do it, and the more people you can be exposed to, hopefully the more people that will ultimately latch onto you.

“We’re gonna have to go out there and earn it, though. It’s something we’re gonna have to go out there and work on, and work our asses off. Chris and I have that. We’ve always had that work ethic. We want to work; we want to go out there and prove ourselves, so we’re looking forward to doing it. This is what you need to do; you need to get out and play to the people, the ones who support the music. That’s who you need to cater to.”

Birth And The Burial was released on August 21st, 2015 via Metal Blade Records.

Interview published in August 2015. All Act Of Defiance promotional photographs by Stephanie Cabral.

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