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SOIL – Redefining The Scars
Anthony Morgan
November 2012

Ryan McCombs

It was publicly disclosed on July 5th, 2011 that Chicago, Illinois-based heavy rockers SOiL would be rejoined by original lead vocalist and co-founder Ryan McCombs for their October 2011 United Kingdom co-headlining tour with Puddle Of Mudd. A member from 1997 until 2004, Ryan lent vocals to the EPs Soil (1997) and El Chupacabra (November 1998), and the albums Throttle Junkies (May 1999), Scars (September 2001), and Redefine (March 2004).

“Originally the guys came to me and asked if I was interested in being a part of the tenth anniversary of the release of Scars, our first major release back in 2001,” Ryan recounts. “They came to me sometime in 2011, and asked if I wanted to be a part of that. That was all the plans were. We toured the UK. I had some down-time at the time with Drowning Pool, and it sounded like it would be fun. The Drowning Pool guys understood, and they were supportive of it. It was good timing for me personally.

“We did it, and put our past squabbles behind us. We got together, went over, and just had a blast. At the time, I was kind of in that frame of mind. I felt like I needed a change musically. Playing those old songs again, remembering where they came from, feeling a lot of those emotions again within those songs, and having a blast doing those shows in the UK was just enough to breathe life back into me. When I came back home, I was still kind of unsure about what I wanted to do. Adam and Tim and I kept talking, and things just kind of snowballed from there. We had almost too much fun, so it was hard to even think about not doing anything further. Adam and I started writing, and it just felt right. Doing the SOiL thing just kind of came naturally once again.”

A member from 1997 until 2007, guitarist Shaun Glass wasn’t invited to rejoin the fold. “When I left SOiL back in the day, and again with Drowning Pool… I don’t ever wanna throw stones,” the frontman stresses. “Everybody’s got their reasons for the decisions that they make, and when the three of us decided to do this again we just wanted it to be amongst the three of us. Again, I’m not gonna throw stones about it because everybody’s got their reasons for feeling however they do and within their own mind they’re justified for it. In my mind though, these were the guys that I wanted to do this again with in their minds. In Adam’s and Tim’s minds, this was the package they felt comfortable doing it again with. Just for the sake remaining the good person I hope I always do remain (laughs), I’ll just leave it at that.”

The decision to make SOiL’s current incarnation a trio was a collective one, as Ryan mentions. “This was the only way that the three of us felt comfortable in doing it,” he explains.

SOiL have elected not to recruit a full-time drummer. “That was another thing,” the artist begins. “When we decided to do this again, we were all really of the mindset that as far as the drummer went we weren’t looking for a full-time replacement. If we find one along the way down the road then great, but it wasn’t a focus in terms of what we wanted from day one when talking about doing another record. We had a great time with Jon (Wysocki) – the former drummer of Staind – when he came onboard for the UK tour; he ended up sticking around, and did some shows back here in the States with us. We’ve had a couple of other guys come in and do live runs with us.

“We have another gentleman with us right now who we’ve done several US runs with and he’s gonna be doing the UK / European run with us, a drummer by the name of Mitch Gable. Personality-wise and off the stage as well as on the stage Mitch is just a great fit. We’re having a blast with it, but we’re not in a position to really commit yet though. People might recognise the name Will Hunt, formerly of Evanescence, Black Label Society, and Skrape and I don’t know who all else – he’s played with a myriad of bands. He’ll be coming in and recording the record with us. With the drummer thing, right now we’re going by what feels good when the time comes that we need a drummer.”

SOiL (l-r): Tim King, Ryan McCombs and Adam Zadel

Issued in September 2001, Scars was the outfit’s sophomore full-length and arguably their magnum opus. “It was that moment,” Ryan reflects. “I think we caught magic with the record. That was a record with so much angst involved in it, and so much passion. I think all of our music always had passion, but I think with that particular album you’re hearing a band that had taken some wrong turns and some wrong advice, and made some wrong decisions on our own. When we finally got the chance to do the album Scars, it was really this internal view that this was our last chance. We had been signed to a couple of different independent labels before that and really encountered some really bad luck at the end of the day, to where we really felt like we were kind of damaged goods until we got that shot at doing the album Scars. I think it was five guys that just had this fire that this was our last hurrah, that this was really our last chance to put our foot in the door. I think it comes across with a lot of that emotion, and that angst in all of those tracks.”

SOiL’s October 2011 UK trek included an appearance at London’s Electric Ballroom on the 14th, a performance later collected on May 2012 DVD Re-LIVE-Ing The Scars. “It was amazing, the whole experience,” the singer enthuses. “That was the first show of the tour, and we had gotten together with Jon. He came onboard to do that tour with us, and we had gotten together – the four of us – for one, maybe two rehearsals before that show. Me, Adam and Tim hadn’t played any of these songs together for seven to eight years, and Jon had never played them with us. We went in to rehearse two days prior to this tour, and that was like a week or two before the tour even started. In seven to eight years we had two days of rehearsals, and another week or two off before the first show in London. We went into that first show just having no idea what to expect.

“I remember sitting backstage before we went on just trying to remember the lyrics (laughs), trying to remember the songs first and foremost. I didn’t know what the reception was really gonna be, and then we hit that stage. It was just like the old saying about riding a bike; it just all came back to us, and it just seemed so natural. We had such a blast up there, and the crowd response was phenomenal. It was like the band had never left, and it was just such an amazing experience. I look back, and it was a blessing that it turned out that way because of the fact that we were there recording that particular show. The whole tour ended up being that way; it was night after night of just an extreme feeling of being back where it all began, and that first show in London in particular was definitely a highlight. It was definitely an amazing experience.”

Ryan’s departure from Dallas, Texas-based metal ensemble Drowning Pool came to light on November 28th, 2011, his departure arriving following a six-year tenure (2005-2011) which spawned two proper outings (August 2007’s Full Circle and April 2010’s Drowning Pool). Sadly, Ryan grew apart from the band. “In the beginning of the SOiL days, I was always kind of the fifth wheel,” he notes. “I was the one guy that didn’t really grow up in the music business; I didn’t grow up playing music with the rest of the guys in SOiL, so I was always kind of the fifth wheel with that band. When I joined Drowning Pool after a little time off in between bands, they definitely did their best to make me feel welcome and to make me feel a part of it but there was always that same kind of feeling of being the fourth wheel.

“To be fair to those guys, my personal life really took on some big changes. I went through a divorce during my time with Drowning Pool, and dealt with some of the personal demons that can result from those kinds of changes. Those guys really were there for me, and at the same time had to put up with a lot because of what I was going through. It did cause kind of a separation between myself and the other three members. They were really great guys and we had a lot of good times together, but there was definitely a bit of separation there that kept growing in the last few years.

“I joked around on the anniversary tour that I discovered I may have commitment issues, jumping around from one band to the other (laughs). You get into a situation, and for me the business side of music has always weighed a lot on me as far as just not liking the way a lot of things are done in the business. It seems like after I’ve been involved in a certain situation for awhile, it’s hard for me to deal with a lot of the things that frustrate me about the business. It does weigh a lot on me, and I tend to lose sight of the enjoyment of it. Every once in awhile it just seems like the way my life has gone, I just need a breath of fresh air, and something new to relight my fire and my passion for what I’ve always loved to do. It was just the right thing, the right moment.”

Personal issues arguably facilitated the lyricist’s exit from SOiL back in 2004. “It was a culmination of things,” he confesses. “There were definitely some personality issues between myself and some of the other members. My wife and I at the time had had a child, and the stress that I was feeling internally – wanting to be home, and wanting to be there with my sons and with my wife – really just compounded and made those internal struggles that I go through every day that much bigger and real to me internally. I had such a desire to be home with my family, and so after the touring cycle for Redefine it finally just came to the point where I made the call for me personally and emotionally that I just needed to try to go home, and be the father and husband that I wanted to be.”

Ryan feels that he is in a spiritually good place at the time of writing, and that he has the ability to honour necessary commitments towards SOiL. “We’ve been having a blast writing, and we’ve been taking a lot of new directions with the business side of things,” he shares. “We’re attempting right now to do this next record completely on our own. We’re all at a point in our careers where there are so many different instances throughout our career where we can point at different things – different decisions that were made for us – that we regret, and at the time we didn’t necessarily agree with. We have a lot of ‘What if?’s, so at the very beginning of talking about writing again and possibly doing another record, the main focus – besides the material – was also that we wanted to do this next album differently.

“We wanted to keep all of the decisions within the band, from the material that we wrote and how we recorded it to the marketing, to the production, to the manufacturing, and to the publicity. Everything that has to do with this next release we want to keep in-house, so that we can oversee it all. At the end of the day, if there’s a mistake made I wanna be able to point at myself and go ‘Darn it, I didn’t see that one’ or ‘I made the wrong decision there.’ That’s instead of having somebody else I wish I would’ve spoken up to. We’ve just gotten to the point in our careers where it’s important for us to take a stab at it, and try to do things on our own.

“With the state of the industry right now, you see the major labels closing their doors every day and you see mergers going on within the industry because it’s such a hard time right now within the industry. There are a lot of bands who are getting lost in the shuffle, and we feel like by possibly taking this unpaved road – taking this road less traveled, and trying to do it on our own – if we can do it the right way and find success in doing it this way, that that will maybe open up new avenues. Maybe it’ll open up new roads for future bands to be able to travel down, and find the same success hopefully.”

The composition ‘My Time’ marks the first track which SOiL has written and recorded with original member Ryan since sessions took place for third platter Redefine, released in 2004. “We originally wrote ‘My Time’ to promote the Kickstarter project that we’re involved in – it’s a tool for that,” he informs. “It’s really just about where we are right now in our careers, feeling like it is our time with the new direction that we’re taking – wanting to do everything on our own, and wanting all the decisions in-house.

Ryan McCombs

“It’s about the confidence that you have to have doing this and the confidence that a lot of us are feeling right now. We’re experiencing more work – more nose to grindstone work business wise – than any of us ever have before, because there’s so much involved in making sure we have the right people in place, making sure we’re making the right decisions, and that we’re working with people that… The business side of things is a whole new animal to us, but in order to tackle this… That song is a good representation of just having to have that fire, that determination, that feeling of this being our time, and this being what we’re supposed to be doing. That’s what really the whole song I think is. The song really comes from that emotion, from that feeling.

“A lot of people said back in the day that perhaps we were a little bit before our time, so we’ve just got a huge fire burning in our gut right now. I think the song is a good representation of it, and it recently got picked up by several radio stations. It got leaked on radio here in the States, and it’s been catching on like wildfire. Right now the only place the song is available is through the Kickstarter project, but we will be previewing that live for the first time on this run.

“I’ve let a few of my fans from back… Not fans, but friends from back in the day because I consider them one and the same. I’ve let some of the people that have been familiar with our material from way back when – through my entire career, through Drowning Pool – take a sneak peak listen. Those friends and the people that are involved in these radio stations that have been picking it up all seem to be saying the same thing, that everybody is back where they belong. That when you listen to the song the feeling is that old fire is back, that feeling that SOiL gave them back in the early 2000s. They get that same gut feeling, that same fire when they hear the new track.

“I let my ex-wife listen to it. She was one of the first people I let listen to it, because she has known my material from day one. She right away compared it to Scars-era SOiL, and that was the first thing she said. I think with the album, you’re going to have a vast array of emotions on that album given everything that we’ve been through in the last couple of years, and just life in general. I think there’s going to be a definite feeling of that old school SOiL within the record.”

The musician feels SOiL’s aforementioned sixth studio full-length ‘will pick up where Redefine left off.’ “This is the first time Adam, Tim and I have been writing together since Redefine, so you have the key component of what made those records,” he critiques. “I was always the lyric writer of those albums, and if I stumbled somewhere Adam was always there to give me a little boost, and give me a little direction here and there. You’ve got us back together as far as the lyrics that I write go. You’ve got Adam too; he was 98.9% of the music on those records, and if he ever had any struggle with whatever – if he ever had any questions – I was always there to help with the arrangement of the songs. We really got the key components of those albums back together again, and I feel like the material that we’re coming up with is that perfect anchor to where you had Scars and Redefine. I think this album is the next stage, the next album in line for SOiL.”

To date, roughly 15 tunes have been penned. “We have more than will go on the record right now,” Ryan imparts. “I’m excited to get it all out. I think we’ve written some of the best material we ever have done, and that I’ve ever been a part of. At this point in time the album is written and we’ve already started some of the pre-production stages of it, making the songs tighter and tearing the songs apart. We’re making sure that they are what we want them to be, and that they are saying what we want them to say and how we want them to say it.

“We definitely haven’t closed the door on writing new material. Adam may come up with a riff tomorrow – he may have something he wants me to listen to. The writing process never stops until the album is done, and I learnt that with the first album I did with Drowning Pool – the album Full Circle. That album was done, and then all of the sudden at the 11th hour CJ came up with the music for ‘37 Stitches’. I put lyrics to it, and it was the most successful song on that album, so you never close the door on the writing process. Right now though, we have a bunch of material that I’m so excited to actually get into the studio, record, and get out there. I can’t wait to get to that next stage of actually getting into the studio, and getting it recorded.”

The SOiL composer wasn’t initially receptive towards Kickstarter. “At first when I heard about the whole Kickstarter thing, I wasn’t sure how I felt about it,” he admits. “I’ve always had such an appreciation for our fanbase, and the people that allow us to do what we do. When I first heard about it, I kind of felt like I was standing there with my hand out wanting something. As I then looked into it though, and I read more about it, and people started… And bands even came up to me that had heard about that, and suggested that that was the direction we should go in. They really explained to me how even they themselves looked at. They said ‘You’re not asking for a hand-out. You’re asking for the fans to basically just purchase the record before it’s out.’

“In doing so that allows us to take that money, and actually put it towards the production of the record. That allows us put it towards every aspect of making and releasing a record, to put every cent of that into that process. That also allows us to make sure it’s the truest form of SOiL that we produce. At the same time though, if you look at the Kickstarter campaign, you’ll see that there are numerous different opportunities that we’ve offered out there to the fans. Those opportunities are from coming and spending time with us in Chicago to going into the studio and actually sitting in on a day of recording, everything that a lot of people don’t ever get to experience but being a big music fan you wish you had. We’re offering a lot of unique opportunities for the people to come in and be a part of this from step one, which people typically don’t get a chance to do.

“That aspect of it, especially when bands came up to me and started explaining to me that this was maybe a direction we should look into, I started feeling more and more comfortable about. The response has been great; we’re already two-thirds towards our goal with halfway to go, and the response has been wonderful. Hopefully it’ll come through for us, and we’ll be able to get that backing we need to go into the studio when we get back from the UK and Europe. Hopefully we’ll be able to record the record, and everything will stay on track time-wise and stay smooth. The neat thing about Kickstarter too is if it raises more money than what the set goal is, that money is used as well. We’ve already got it all set up to where we can use that money to better the chance that we will be able to tour anywhere and everywhere.

“We’ll just sink that money into the touring aspect of it, since that’s one consequence of going on your own. When you’re with a label, a lot of times the label will help finance your touring. Being on our own, we don’t have that opportunity. We don’t have that door open to us, so Kickstarter will also allow us to be able to tour as extensively as we desire to. The Kickstarter thing is just a way for us to be able to do what we desire to do though, and what a lot of fans are hoping to see from us. That’s taking everything in-house, and producing the truest SOiL album we could possibly produce.”

SOiL 2011 (l-r): Ryan McCombs, Adam Zadel, Jon Wysocki and Tim King

Ryan hopes that Kickstarter is an avenue that will be greater explored by music groups in future. “I hope it proves to be an alternative door for bands who are struggling because of the climate of the industry,” he observes. “I hope it proves to be an alternative door for bands to travel through in order to be able to maintain and to be able to survive within the industry given the way it is right now.”

All Kickstarter packages are charged inclusive of postage. “What you pledge is all that comes from your individual account,” the songwriter clarifies. “It doesn’t matter where you are in the world; your pledge is your pledge. It’s our responsibility to get whatever it is you have coming to you to you. The only thing on there that we really had to leave open for our own protection was… There were certain packages in there… For instance, there’s a package in there where we will come to do a show for X amount of money. We then had to do a different one for anyone outside of the United States that includes the same thing. As we witnessed when we were going through everything in order to get ready for our first show of this run – it’s in Russia (Plan B Club in Moscow on November 25th) – it’s such extensive travelling that if somebody in Russia for instance bought that package, we would basically just about break even on that package because of how expensive it is to travel there. We had to make certain changes to certain packages to take account of the fact that it would cost a lot more for us to do the same thing in a different country. As far as purchasing the album though, shipping costs will be met by us.”

To obtain a physical copy of SOiL’s sixth studio record, fans must pledge $30. $30 is arguably an expensive amount for a compact disc. “I can understand that, absolutely,” Ryan concedes. “We really based a lot of our packages off of what we were seeing on Kickstarter already; we used a lot of the different Kickstarter campaigns to have a blueprint for our own, having never been a part of this before. I’d have to have the ability to pull that one up, and read exactly what that one is. I’m not exactly familiar word for word with every package. I don’t have a great answer for that, other than the fact that we haven’t really been a part of something like this before. We based a lot of our pricing off of what we saw on Kickstarter. I do apologise.”

SOiL’s Kickstarter campaign has been the subject of criticism from some fans of the band. “We have been open to criticism of course,” the vocalist acknowledges. “It seems to be… And I love the ones that actually… I’ve had several of them where we’ve been criticised for doing this, and I’ve stepped in. By reading their criticism I understand that they don’t really get the climate of the industry, and that they really don’t get the reasoning for doing what we’re doing, or why we have to do what we’re doing. We’re doing what we love to do, and when those people allow me to explain to them, they then really read what I am saying and open up their minds to start understanding.

“A lot of people’s perspectives of the music industry is that if your CD is on the same shelf as Metallica’s – like ours is in store – then you’re all making Metallica money, and that’s so not true in this industry. For every band that you have like Metallica that’s making Metallica money, you have 100s of bands that are just scraping to get by. Because of the deals that I’ve been involved with and the situation of the industry as I’ve been growing up in it, I’ve never once made a dollar on any of my records – from Scars, from Redefine, from any of my Drowning Pool stuff. The way deals are written nowadays, and the way the internet and everything has evolved and come to be the thorns in the industry’s side, the money isn’t there that people think is there. You see it everyday, and I don’t think people realise.

“When so and so from this band splits and goes home though, it’s usually not because they want to. A lot of times it’s because they have no choice; they have responsibilities at home, and the money is just not there to continue on. They have to make a choice between their obligations at home, and what they love to do. There’s a big misconception of what kind of money is being made. I would love to be in a position in my life – and believe me, my kids would love me to be in a position in my life – where I could cover all of the finances of the next SOiL album, but none of the three of us are.

“We’ve all struggled to stay around through the years, and luckily we all have by the grace of our fans giving us the time of day. Really though, Kickstarter is allowing us to hopefully plot out a path so that other bands could follow suit and can do the same thing. So and so’s favourite band that was here today and gone tomorrow maybe down the road won’t be here today and gone tomorrow. Maybe they’ll have a chance to have a better career, and continue doing what they love to do.”

Should SOiL’s Kickstarter campaign be a successful one, album pre-production will begin in January 2013. “The schedule right now has us – again, as long as everything works out (laughs) – going into the studio with Ulrich Wild in February to start the recording process,” Ryan divulges. “The other two guys – Adam and Tim – recorded True Self with him, the first album that SOiL did after I left. They go on about him. They loved working with him and talk about how easy going he was in the studio, so I’m really looking forward to getting in there with him. They say he’s full of great ideas and just a great guy to work with, so I’m definitely looking forward to that.”

A minimum of 11 tracks will appear. “I don’t like to do any less than 11 songs on a record,” the frontman states. “I wanna make sure that there’s a good, full album out there that people have available to them, so I would say a minimum of 11 songs. I can’t picture any less than that.”

Additional material might perhaps be recorded. “We always record more songs than we’re going to put on an album, just so we have some little extras that we can put out there for B-sides, singles, and so on,” Ryan muses. “There’s already been talk of maybe putting together a vinyl 45” of ‘My Time’, and throwing another track on the back side of that. We like to have at least a few songs recorded that we can have for little special offers, and little things that we can put out there for the fans.”

A July 2013 issue is being targeted. “Hopefully we’ll get the album out in time to take advantage of some of the summer tours and festivals, and be able to play the new material along with some of the old material,” the singer contemplates. “Hopefully we can get the new material out there, and get people accustomed to them.”

An album title is yet to be selected. “I don’t like to decide on a title this early on,” Ryan comments. “I like to enter the studio and see how the songs come to life, and see the directions they all kind of form in as you’re putting them down for recording, and as you’re trying to get a feel for how the album’s gonna lay out. I like to then go from there on what you title the body of work.”

SOiL 2001 (l-r): Shaun Glass, Tim King, Ryan McCombs, Adam Zadel and Tom

From November 27th until December 6th, SOiL will tour the United Kingdom alongside Fozzy. “We’ve been looking forward to this run for awhile now,” the wordsmith tells. “It comes at a time where we’ve been really concentrating on the new music and getting the new record written, but at the same time we’ve been so ready to get back over. The UK embraced us from day one, and there’s such a close relationship between ourselves and the bands there. Back in the day when I was in SOiL and being back again today, any chance that we’ve gotten to go over there has been the highlight in our year, the highlight on the schedule. It’s something we really look forward to.”

AJ Cavalier handled vocals for SOiL from 2004 until 2010, a period which spawned studio outings four (March 2006’s True Self) and five (October 2009’s Picture Perfect). SOiL are yet to rehearse AJ Cavalier-era tracks for Ryan to supply vocals to in a live setting. “It hasn’t really even been discussed much,” he confirms. “I’ve brought it out onto the table that if there is a song or two the guys wanna work on from the time that I left the band, I would be more than willing to try my hand at it. We’ve just been having so much fun though, and been getting such a good response from bringing those Scars and Redefine-era songs, bringing them back out the way they were originally written and with the original voice back on them. We’ve been sticking with that.

“We do have a couple of treats that I don’t wanna let out of the bag yet, but we do have a couple of treats as far as the setlist goes on this next run. We’ll be bringing some songs back that I don’t think people are gonna expect to hear. That should make for a pretty enjoyable evening for everybody that comes out and shares their time with us.”

The SOiL musician appreciates True Self and Picture Perfect. “I think that there’s some good material there,” he reckons. “I’ve always respected Adam’s writing abilities; I missed writing with him when I wasn’t anymore, and so I’ve got a big respect for his songwriting abilities. From the time that I’ve spent around him AJ is a super-nice guy, and he’s got a good instrument with his voice. I think they put out a couple of decent albums there.”

SOiL launched a Kickstarter campaign on November 6th, 2012 to fund the completion of a sixth studio full-length.

Interview published in November 2012

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