Mark Heylmun: 'When You Hit the Bottom, Anything Is Better Than Where You Were'

artist: Suicide Silence date: 07/01/2014 category: interviews
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Mark Heylmun: 'When You Hit the Bottom, Anything Is Better Than Where You Were'
As if playing in a band isn't hard enough, Suicide Silence has had to endure the incomprehensible pain of losing their singer. Mitch Lucker suffered a motorcycle accident on November 1, 2012 and died as a result of his injuries. The deathcore band was justifiably knocked off its axis and at a loss about who to do.

A month later in December, they coordinated a tribute show called Ending Is the Beginning: The Mitch Lucker Memorial Show, which featured musician friends covering Suicide Silence classics. Guitarist Mark Heylmun says, "It was the first time we had played together after Mitch had passed. So Mitch wasn't there and we were playing together and it was kinda like, 'This could be the last time we ever play together. We don't really know what is gonna happen after this memorial show.'" Another year would pass before the band realized they had to - and wanted to - carry on. They brought onboard All Shall Perish vocalist Hernan 'Eddie' Hermida and began working on a new album.

"You Can't Stop Me" is the end result of this new collaboration. Hermida brings a menace and power to these new tracks as characterized by "Cease to Exist," the sole track released at the time of this interview. The album combines the organic qualities of the "The Cleansing" - recording live in the studio - with the more processed approach of "The Black Crown," which included more overdubbing and complex song structures. Here, Heylmun talks about the earlier records and how the band survived losing their bandmate and friend.

Ultimate-Guitar: Would you agree that The Black Crown represented a big jump for Suicide Silence in terms of songwriting, style and sound?

Mark Heylmun: Yeah, I would. I think that's when we really took the approach to the songs seriously. We're the kind of band that really likes to come into the band room as a band and as the dudes that are going to be playing these songs.

That's the way records used to be made.

We work the songs out together. It's not so much just me sitting in front of a computer with Superior Drummer [software] or something and working on a riff. We really like to work the songs out and I think "The Black Crown" was the first time we all really had experience writing an album. Writing song-by-song and making them cohesive and actually working with each other as well as working as a song within itself.

You really did pay a lot of attention to the actual songwriting?

I think it came out proving that because a lot of the songs came out a lot different than each other because we were really honed in on working on each song individually.

That was the first time you worked with producer Steve Evetts [Dillinger Escape Plan]. Did you like working with him?

Oh, well yeah. From the first time we ever met Steve it was like, "This guy is obviously somebody we would like to work with 'cause he just speaks our language." Just like I was saying how we like to play as a band together and play live and write the music, he's all about real sounds and real performances. Making sure what's being played on the album is really being played and that's what we're all about. We like mistakes. You know what I mean?

I understand exactly.

We like to keep the human aspect of it. It just seems like everything is so perfect nowadays. We try and make things as perfect as possible but within our capabilities. We're not blowin' people away with crazy technicalities. I mean sure we probably could try and do that but we're more all about just playing like we play and playing something that feels natural. As opposed to sitting - for lack of better terminology - and nerding out and trying to make it more than it has to be. It's like, "If that's what we played then that's what we played and that's what we wanted to play."

Steve Evetts really picked up on the live aspects of the band's approach to recording?

He just really knows how to figure you out real quick and how to get you to play your best and how to get the best out of you without really even trying. He's awesome to work with and he's just real natural. It's great. We recorded "The Black Crown" with him and we ended up going back again so that's a testament to how good he is.

What you've described happens a lot in metal - a band digitizes every beat and corrects every vocal to the point where all the passion is gone. Right?

I one-hundred percent agree. I hate it because I always get the question, "What music are you listening to lately?" I have to really dig down and think, "What have I heard lately that I actually like?" There are tons of bands I really am prone to like because I've grown with them. We started and played with Job For A Cowboy, Whitechapel, and Emmure. We were all coming up together and I learned to like them because I know the band and I've seen 'em play live and I get to know the way they are. But it's like I don't have a relationship with all these new bands. It's like, dude, my favorite band is the Who.


Yeah, I love the way Pete Townshend wrote songs and I loved the actual approach to telling a story. It being pseudo-political and no one would ever really know it and the way the songs were put together. Yeah, just the fact it's so real.

What other bands were you listening to?

To get more on the metal side - Metallica. That's exactly the footprints we follow from record to record. The way they built their evolution was just so perfect and the same with Pantera. In the more modern stuff, Slipknot was not something I got right off the bat. I didn't like it right when it came out. But as time moved on and all these other bands were trying to do what Slipknot was doing, I realized it's not as easy as it sounds. Really they're playing this really human music. I don't think the first two records - Slipknot or Iowa - were recorded to a click. I think they were recorded live and they were done just like we did our first album: 100 percent live in the studio. That's where we've been comin' from since day one.

"The Cleansing" was recorded live?

"The Cleansing" we recorded live in the studio with real amps and all in the same room together. We just gradually progressed from there.

What were your musical ideas for the first Suicide Silence album?

I think that was the beauty of where we were at at that point. We were so young and we were just really amped up that people gave a sh-t what we were doing. When you get that feeling, for us we felt like all eyes are on us. We put out an EP ["Suicide Silence" EP] and we toured a lot of the world at that point before we even put out a full-length. We were just like, "You know what? This is our opportunity to write something that is just ignorant and sounds ridiculous."

So you did know the first album was going to be brutal?

At that point all we really knew about ourselves was our live show. That was where that whole idea came from. John Travis [Kid Rock, Social Distortion] had come to see us play and he was like, "Your live is intense. I wish I could just record that and that would be the album." Then we all kind of put our heads together and it's like, "Let's just record the album live. Let's write the songs, get 'em tight and go in the studio and play 'em and that's that."

Producer John Travis really understand who the band was?

Yeah, so that was the idea to get something out that really shows what we are as a band right now. At that point in time we were a band that wanted to play live and wanted to show people something that was just sonically intense and violent. We were young and angsty and just real pissed and that's something we've held onto to this day. We know what it felt like in the early days to want to put on a display of something and what we're displaying just keeps on evolving. We haven't really lost that angst and the only reason why we get onstage is to let out that aggression.

Sometimes it gets hard as a musician as someone who doesn't like to take it too seriously. You know what I mean? I like to still keep it fun. But sometimes it's hard to let go of that seriousness 'cause it's become something more serious I guess. But you gotta kind of let that go and remember that it's fun and people are gonna listen to it and lose their sh-t and that's why they wanna hear it 'cause they wanna let go. And just go for it.

The entire band recorded live on "The Cleansing"?

Yeah, for the most part. There was like two or three songs where I did the bass and both guitars and [Chris] Garza did a song where he played both guitars and I played bass. But I think there was only three songs and I can't even remember which three they were. But for the most part we all played it together and then I went back and did a guitar track or Garza went back and did a guitar track.

That live recording approach worked for the band?

That kinda became our way of doing things on all the rest of the records too. We wanted to record the songs live first with scratch guitars and get a live drum track and get the drums as live and as real as possible. Then go back and do the guitar tracks. It didn't really change too much from the whole real live thing and everybody in the same room playing together. Because we like that vibe and we like to hear it and it sounds like we're playing it.

Did you record "You Can't Stop Me" live?

We record to a click track but when we get those click tracks and we wanna go practice a song in the studio, it doesn't take us any time at all to just throw the click track on and play with it. It just feels natural until we figure out what tempos we want and make sure the click tracks are exactly where we are and there's ramps and stuff.

If you looked at our click tracks and the tempos we played to, it's a f--kin' math equation and it's just all over the place. Everything is swelling up and dropping down and moving all around but that's just what we naturally do. [Steve] Evetts [Dillinger Escape Plan] is really good at figuring out exactly what tempos we're playing and how to ramp it down and ramp it up. It's beyond me. I'm not the techiest dude in the world when it comes to that kind of stuff. I just like to jam out but it all works out and it's fun.

All of that youth and being p-ssed off comes out on "The Cleansing" and particularly in the video for "The Price of Beauty." What was the intent behind that?

At that point in time that's what we wanted to do. We wanted to offend people and wanted people to be like, "F--k these guys. Who do they think they are?" And for us to be like, "Well our band name is Suicide Silence - what do you expect? We're gonna be somewhat vulgar and offensive." That was what we wanted to do.

Do you still feel that way?

It's not like we don't necessarily want to do that anymore but we look at where we're at in this world anyway and we need the A and B. We are this vulgar and we can get super crazy and wild but really if you want to talk to us and find out what we're all about, I mean we are just artists.

We're performing something and putting on a show. It's still to that release side of things. Where it's like, "You want to see something? You want to be a part of this with us? This is our release and we want you to be a part of the release as well. We don't want you to go home and release it in any other way other than checking out a Suicide Silence video where a woman's getting her face completely ravaged."

In a way you're using the video as a release for those feelings so people won't go home and do that kind of stuff. Right?

It does all come to that - we like it to be a release and we like you to have fun with it and we like you to keep it with the Suicide Silence entertainment factor and not bring it anywhere.

There weren't a lot of straight up guitar solos on "The Cleansing." Was that the nature of deathcore at the time?

I think there was only just one if it was a solo. It's just like a little lead. It really just came from that same mindset where it was like, "Get in the room. Play what feels natural and just play and get it going. Do what feels right." There just wasn't really the actual time and nothing felt right to throw a bunch of solos in this style of music. It just felt like it needed to be driving and didn't need to get pulled away by some kind of flashy guitar lead. Yeah, everything that was on that first record was what came natural.

On the second album, No Time to Bleed, you brought in Machine [Lamb of God] to work with you. What was that relationship like?

That one was totally different. We had done the live album and we wanted to experiment with what it was like to put something down that was - for lack of a better word - more machine. Really, really precise. We had a really good time recording that and we were really happy with the way it turned out. I wouldn't say it was a misstep in any way. We got done with it and we were like, "You know? We need to be more live than that. We need to make sure we're more comfortable with the way we're recording all these things."

Recording in that way didn't quite feel natural for the band?

I had a great time recording guitars and guitars were really fun and I learned about re-amping and I learned a lot in the studio through the whole process. But it was just a lot of new technology and back to what I was saying, we needed to be human. That's why with "The Black Crown" we went with Evetts and why we've stuck with him. Really, I give it up to Machine. He really is an amazing producer.

For people who are really honed in on their songs and ready to go in the studio and know exactly the way they want to play things, then Machine's ways are really, really good. For a band like us who go in and want to record a live drum track and we wanna record these scratch tracks and jam in the studio and get a live feel, it was just a little askew from that way of recording.

Do you dig the process of experimenting with guitar sounds in the studio?

I do. I just recently made the dive into using the Fractal Axe effects. I just run it through my amp and I use the four-channel method and I use it just for effects. It's amazing. I love that it's just everything right there. I have every effect I could possibly want. I toy with all of it and it's really fun to go back and listen our old songs and I can recreate all of my lead solo tones and find how to make everything perfect. That's new and really cool to me.

What else have you been checking out?

It's not like a wah pedal is anything new or anything but I just got a new wah. I've always been using a Zakk Wylde Dunlop or the Cry Baby From Hell but I just got the Dunlop Cry Baby rackmount wah that I'm having a lot of fun with with all the EQ on it.

What kind of amps do you use?

In the studio, I have the Mesa Mark V, which just has every amp you can imagine in it basically. I just got one of those for the jam room and I'm using it right now to rehearse with and potentially gonna bring it out on Mayhem. 'Cause normally I'm running the Triple Rectifier.

You like Mesa stuff?

I'm pretty sold on Mesa as far as my real gain tone and heavy tone goes. Mesa just really doesn't do me wrong.

You've been playing ESP guitars for a while?

Yeah, I've been ESP since 2007 or maybe 2006. I have a Signature LTD - the MKH-7 - which is a really sweet. It's kinda like the Eclipse body style in matte black. That's a sweet guitar.

Have you been playing the ESP 7-string since the beginning of the band?

The 7-string came when I joined Suicide Silence in 2005. I wasn't really too hip on super low tunings. I had come from standard E, standard B and dropped-C maybe and always on a 6-string. Garza actually bought me a 7-string - an RG7620 - and that was my first 7-string. It was an Ibanez. Once I had it and I realized the tuning Suicide was in was just dropped-A then a standard E, it kind of opened up a whole new way of playing for me.

The 7-string and dropped tuning helped expand your guitar playing?

Yeah, 'cause I had the standard E but then I also have the dropped A. It just kinda opened up everything for me even more 'cause everybody learns in standard E, I assume. That's what made most sense to me so it was really easy to pick up and have been sold on it ever since. It's just the way I roll. When ESP came to the table, I got rid of all my Ibanezes and went straight to ESP.

You had been playing Ibanez?

I was an Ibanez guy when I first started. The ESPs are just way more my style. They're more of a fat [feel]. The neck is more to hold onto. I feel like the Ibanez is super shreddy and I just really like the ESP feel. The big frets and the neck and there's just more to hold onto it seems like.

Mitch Lucker passed on November 1, 2012. But he did see the release of "The Black Crown"?

Oh yeah. We did a lot of touring on "The Black Crown." Really when Mitch passed, we had gone into our jam space and started our initial writing for what was to be our fourth record. Yeah, we wrote two songs musically while Mitch listened and wrote some lyrics.

You actually began this new album with Mitch?

The accident happened and we did the memorial show [Ending is the Beginning: The Mitch Lucker Memorial Show]. We took months off and didn't do anything to do with the band. But we knew there were these songs we started writing and we knew Mitch had started writing lyrics but we just didn't know how much. When it came time to actually move forward and we decided to continue writing that album, we got in the studio with Eddie and we got sent the lyrics Mitch had written.

What did you think when you read the lyrics?

It turned out what he was writing was called "You Can't Stop Me." It was one song called "You Can't Stop Me" and we immediately knew we had the album title.

That lyric became the jumping off point for the album?

We just threw it on our whiteboard.

What's the whiteboard?

Our whiteboard is where all our tentative song titles and song structures are. We just wrote "You Can't Stop Me" and that became the main influence and idea behind the whole record.

How did you feel after playing that tribute concert?

I think there was definitely a strong sense that, "We are a band and we love to play music." This group of dudes and we were so young when we started so it's kind of a hard thing to disband. For the month that followed it was just, "Let's not think about it." So we didn't know what was gonna happen.

Eddie Hermida sang "Slaves to Substance" at the memorial show. Was he there because you were thinking about him as a replacement for Mitch Lucker?

There was no telling. There was no thought in our heads at that point. We had just lost a friend and a bandmember and really we were just so much in shock. It was a massive trauma. There was no thought at all of, "Let's get a new singer. Let's try these people out while we're at the venue."

The band was still in grief.

The real thing was that memorial show was our main prerogative and we wanted that show to be the biggest tribute to Mitch and the biggest potential to start this educational fund for his daughter. That was all that mattered.

When you had uncovered Mitch's lyrics and realized Suicide Silence was going to continue, what was the process in looking for a new singer?

All that really mattered was we know the way we are and what it takes to do what we do. I'm not only talking musically, I'm talking about traveling and living together and working together all the time - being in a band together. That was really the main thing. There's pretty much an endless list of people that can probably come in and fill this spot and do vocals and do a very good job. But who is it we can actually put in the band and it would feel right?

The criteria was as much personal as it was musical?

Honestly it took us a while to even think that Eddie would work because when it came to the memorial show, he was one of the first people we called. 'Cause he's just such a good friend of ours and he was one of the first people to hold of us after Mitch's accident. I mean he's just a good friend.

It should have been a no brainer but it took us a good five, six months to actually bring his name to the table. It was like, "Well we should ask him and see if he wants to maybe do something." Once we asked him it was kinda like, "Yeah, I'll record something for you. You wanna hear my voice on a track? I'll record it." He did it real quick and we loved it and we asked him, "Do you wanna write a record?"

Did Eddie jump on that immediately?

He was like, "Let me get back to you" and kinda gave us a three-month waiting period. All Shall Perish was touring and doing a couple things. But there were just a lot of things going on and he needed to talk to everybody around him like his family and his band.

There really was no other suitable choice just because I don't know if anybody could have effectively come in and approached the job with the respect Eddie had for it. He was friends with Mitch and he understands we lost a friend, a brother and a bandmember and he understands there's a fanbase out there that feels the same as we do. They've lost someone and that's what is really great about him. He knows how to handle every aspect of what it is to be the new singer of Suicide Silence.

Once you had Eddie onboard, did you think your fans were going to compare what he did against what Mitch had done on earlier records?

I guess so. In the whole scheme of things, I feel like Suicide Silence has had this stigma about us our entire career. Like either people talked sh-t on Mitch for the way he looked or people loved him. It was a love/hate relationship with the critiques from the audience our entire career. There was always pressure and there was always wanting to put our middle fingers out.

When a band starts catering to what they think their fans want it never works.

We wanted to just be like, "You know what? This is what we wanna do and there's no stopping us from making the music we're going to make. And in no way is the opinion of the audience going to affect the way the record's gonna come out. It's gonna be what we wanna put out. It's a cumulative decision of everybody in the band that we love this music and if we love it so much then obviously there's gonna be other people that are gonna love it." That's always kinda been the outlook on it. That's the same thing we did with this record is just like, "Let's make something we can be really, really proud of and be proud to share with people." Because that's all that really matters to us is just making sure we really like what we're working on.

You referenced earlier that "You Can't Stop Me" was a return to the earlier live approach to recording?

I would say it was and it wasn't. There was some stuff I guess was a little more technically difficult to play so there was some stuff that didn't exactly get performed live. But in the real scheme of things? Yeah, we keep it as natural as possible and we make the joke that, "Steve Evetts is Steve Evetts and not Steve Edits" so we play it right the first time and make it happen. So we're always as live as possible.

"Cease to Exist" is a really brutal song with menacing vocals from Eddie. Is this indicative of the rest of the album?

I think "Cease to Exist" is a good summation of the entire record. Just because that was a song we wrote in a day right before we went into the studio. Musically we wrote all that riffage and stuff the day before we went into the studio because we had an extra day and we wanted to try and get one more track that we could like. 'Cause, "What are you gonna get done in a day when you already have 12 other songs written?" So we said, "Let's write something new" and "Cease to Exist" ended up being that song. It was kinda like I was saying earlier, we used the other music to influence what we're working on. It's like, "We already wrote a song like this and we already did something like this. Let's try this."

What direction did you want to go in with this track?

That song ended up being thrashy and groovy, which I guess is a good combo of everything on "You Can't Stop Me." The whole record is thrashy and groovy and fast and this song particularly hones in on that fast thing and thrashiness with those super huge punches. I love the lyrics on that song too. Eddie totally plays it like you said so it just seemed like a good song to put out as the first song 'cause that's our most natural song I'd say on the record 'cause it was just written in a day.

As we're doing this interview, no one has heard the new album. So why don't you give us a few words on some of the tracks. What about "Inherit the Crown"?

"Inherit the Crown" was one of the first riffs me and Garza really got behind. The opening riff of that song is this super grooving right-hand technique. It's a bouncy riff and something we had for a long time and we knew that song needed to be something special. Eddie wrote lyrics 100 percent and it's kind of his homage to the fans, Mitch and to him being the new singer in Suicide Silence. It's a super special song.

"Sacred Words."

"Sacred Words" is probably our most structured, to-the-point song. But it's funny because I've shown people that and it's like for laughing reasons, "Here's our radio song." I play it and they get done listening to it and they're like, "That's what you call a radio song?" It's super catch and has a proper chorus and super fun, bouncy riffs I can't wait to play it.

"Control" features George Fisher from Cannibal Corpse?

Yeah, "Control" has got Corpsegrinder on it. That's really a throwback tune. It's thrashy and it's deathcorey, hah. It's got the straight blast and it's very typical Suicide Silence. It was one of the first songs we wrote together with Eddie and it came out just slaying. We ended up throwing Corpsegrinder on it 'cause he was down to do it and that's freaking awesome.

And Greg Puciato sang on "Monster Within"?

Yeah, Greg from Dillinger is on "Monster Within." That kinda came last minute just because there was a vocal part and it seemed like it needed two voices in that area in kind of a battling-type thing. It sounds awesome. The opening scream Greg comes out with kinda sounds like a pig that just got gutted or something. That song is what I call a party tune. It's got head bobbing, bouncing, super fun riffs that are just punishingly heavy. It's really easy to listen to that song.

You revisited "Ending is the Beginning" from the "Suicide Silence" EP. Why did you want to rerecord that song?

Yeah, we knew with this and bringing Eddie into the picture, we needed to have some super throwback kind of thing. "Control" was a song we wrote where we're like, "Let's make it sound just like 'The Cleansing.'" Then we kind of hit the rehearsal stage and learned some old songs with Eddie and we're like, "'Ending is the Beginning' is just such a heavy song."

And it was the name of the memorial show and it was a song we didn't really play enough for very long. We only played it for a couple years and we really abandoned it once we put out records. We thought we would revisit it, record it and anybody who remembers it will have a good time with it. It's a really crushingly classic Suicide Silence song.

In some respects, now that you've finished "You Can't Stop Me" and made it through the fire so to speak, do you feel like Suicide Silence is even stronger than ever?

I think when you f--kin' hit the bottom, anything is better than where you were. So at this point I feel like everybody is feeling very empowered and ready to hit it hard. We feel good. We wrote a record we really are happy with. Just to think of where we were a year ago to where we are now, it feels like we've made a lot of progress. We were at the lowest of the lows so right now it feels like we're at the highest of the highs.
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