Latest album: Psycroptic (Prosthetic)Website: psycroptic.com
Psycroptic remains one of the most technically impressive and yet musically concise extreme metal bands around. Drummer Dave Haley is quite simply one of this nation’s best metal drummers and is also always easy to chat to about metal and the minutiae of his drumming craft. We spoke to Dave recently in preparation for the upcoming Thrash, Blast and Grind tour that includes Psycroptic, reputable US thrash band Revocation and the unpredictable but entertaining King Parrot on the bill. Aside from information on the coming tour, Dave also discusses methods of keeping afloat in a competitive industry and also explores how he keeps his insanely precise and fast drumming skills intact.
Before we get into the coming tour, what’s the latest with Psycroptic?
We’re in the final stages of writing a new album. We’ve got most of the music written and we’ll get into the studio after this coming February tour. It feels like a good continuation of where we left off with the last album. If you look at our song writing as one giant process, the end of one album is generally the start of the next one. There’ll be new elements but it’ll continue along a similar progression.
It is largely done by yourself and your brother [Joe Haley – guitars]?
For the core writing, yes. But when it comes to more structural elements then that is when everyone else gets involved. But yeah, the majority of the music is actually written by Joe.
One of the funny things about new material is how long it lasts in a set list as you go through to the next album and tour.
Yeah, totally. It is something I am conscious of because I know that when I go to see bands I want to hear the songs I know and then maybe a couple of new ones. But as a performer, you always want to play the newest, freshest and most exciting material to yourself so that’s a catch 22 situation. It still feels like we have to play a lot of the old material but sometimes it is a bit of a struggle to get everyone to agree just because we want to focus on newer material. It is not boring to us if we haven’t played it a million times. It is always a hard one but perhaps one way around that is going back and learning older songs that weren’t in the set. That way, you get a set that is comprised of older and newer songs but it still has a spark in the live setting. We’ve usually got say 15 songs that we can comfortably perform because we haven’t forgotten them or rusted them. So it is just a matter of combining songs together so it feels like a set and not just a bunch of songs. Sometimes on paper it can look good but when we play them, we have to think about keeping the energy going or having the right order of songs. So usually after a tour cycle or definitely after an album, we’ll juggle the set around a lot to keep a good rhythm and to keep people captivated for the entirety of the show. Near the end of a touring cycle we’ll have it nailed down. But as soon as we have released something new, we’re always trying to figure out what works and what doesn’t which is actually an exciting process.
The upcoming Thrash, Blast and Grind tour has a substantial line-up. Have you got your health insurance in place to be on the road with King Parrot?
Ha ha, public liability has definitely been paid, so yes. They’re long term mates and their show has gone from strength to strength over the years. It is always killer to be on the road with them.
I suppose it is organised chaos because you can’t indulge every night if you want to survive the tour.
Exactly. You’ve got to be able to play the next day but still, they definitely can, you know.
What can audiences expect from the tour?
It is a bit of a mixed bill and hence the name Thrash, Blast and Grind. We’ve got Revocation who definitely bring the thrash element. The grind is covered pretty well with King Parrot and Whoretopsy. So, the whole ethos behind it was to put together a bill that caters for the heavier end of the spectrum but has still got a lot of different contrasts as a show in itself. We are really looking forward to seeing how it goes in the market with the punters. The reaction thus far has been really good. So if the punters get behind it then hopefully it will be something we can do annually and then expand it out to something bigger and better, its own beast.
Yeah, it could be where you have the international band slot being the one to change each year.
There are so many different ideas being thrown around at the moment. If people get behind it then it could be anything such as an annual thing with the same ethos but a completely different line up. Who knows? It is more just testing the waters by putting something out there that we think is a great, value for money package. It is a cool, varied bill so if people vote with ticket sales, we can expand it.
Speaking of supporting bands, both King Parrot and you have vinyl releases. Is that something you’d also want to keep exploring?
For sure but vinyl these days is not a need, it is more of a want for people. See, with Spotify and iTunes being so prevalent, everyone has got music on their phones so they can listen to it anywhere whereas the vinyl is more like being spoiled. You’ve got a bigger version of the artwork and it is a whole process in listening to a record rather than skipping through songs every two seconds. Instead of today’s instant gratification that we’ve become so accustomed to, vinyl is more of a ritual and so I definitely want to keep releasing vinyl because the format itself is just cool. The whole ritual behind it is coming back but it was almost a lost art for a while there.
It can be expensive to do depending on the package you put together and then to find how to at least break even with it.
Yeah exactly, if you look at it in the same way as producing a t-shirt, it is kind of comparative in terms of production costs. Rather than it being the actual medium that people are listening to music on, it is more of a collector’s merchandise item and that works out being a bit more viable. It is a cool thing and I guess with it being a digital society these days and everyone wanting something for nothing, you really have to give value and something unique to people so that they will sit up, take notice and purchase things. There is both good and bad but I prefer to see the good in it because you get people being more creative in their art and their output.
Maybe a vinyl and shirt bundle that you can only get at gigs works?
Something like that is a killer idea and similar things have been talked about, especially for this tour. But we just want to see how it goes first and then expand it out.
For Psycroptic being quite disciplined in the final sound, how would you say your overall production methods have changed?
Over the years, we’ve always had a self-producing vibe to our albums. Early on when we started recording, we saw the studio bills adding up so we took to the opinion of buying our own gear and doing it ourselves. So, essentially that’s what we did. Joe taught himself how to use the equipment and as a result he has become a better recording engineer and producer which has benefitted him by allowing him to derive and income from it and it has helped the band by giving us a better produced album each time we record. It has been a cool progression and we could have gone down the other route straight away making albums that cost us tens of thousands of dollars that perhaps may have sounded better than some of the albums we’ve produced in the past. But, I think that the road we’ve taken is a more self-sustaining one that has also allowed Joe to carve a career out of it. So, over the years, as he learns more and as we learn more skills as song writers, we’re getting better results which is a cool thing. Primarily, Joe is the driving force behind the sound of our recordings.
In that light, would getting an external producer be looked at as being an extravagance?
Yeah, I can see the pros and cons. A producer is going to bring in whatever experience they have and be an outside force with different opinions. I would say that we are not opposed to bringing someone else in, it is just that we haven’t found that particular person that would suit the role. I don’t think we’ll do so for the next album because Joe’s skills are getting quite good but possibly in the future we might do it.
As you’re a quite technically skilled drummer, have you changed your approach to drumming at all over the years?
Ah, that is a really hard one to answer because I haven’t made a conscious effort to change my style other than that I like to learn about the instrument and to advance. So, I still try to take lessons when I can, as well as teaching drums because that solidifies stuff I know and inspires me to go and learn other things that I don’t know. I do that because I feel a responsibility to the student and the instrument. People listening to the albums get a snapshot of my playing style at that particular point in time but I guess as I am living it continually, it is hard for me to pinpoint any moments where I might decide to changes things. I do try to keep a busy rehearsal regime and to turn up for work, as it were, even if I am not feeling motivated just so that I am there if inspiration does decide to strike rather than sitting down and trying to plan things out. Again, perhaps it might be a new method to try to actually plan out processes.
Once you’ve gotten as fast as is physically possible and reached that extremity threshold, where is there to go?
Yeah and it is kind of a case of having been there, done that. However, it is something that I have to keep up with because I have all these songs at particular tempos as that is how they are. So the physicality has to be maintained but sitting there playing blast beats for hours is not something that I find inspiring these days. I would rather concentrate on other elements and then practice the actual songs when it around time to go out on the road.
Your muscle memory is intact and that has to be kept up to speed but if you slow things down, do you ever thing form aspects in style you’d change?
Oh yeah, there are always elements popping up because it is such a physical instrument and you’re using every limb. Any little change at all is going to have some impact, even down to changing the type of drumming shoes worn. There will be times where I will have to relearn things that I haven’t played for years just because, for whatever reason I am unable to perform some sort of technique at the time. Who knows why but it could be mental, physical or anything. So there is a lot of self-analysis that has to go on with my playing in trying to find the most efficient ways possible whilst still retaining the performance that was on the album. My partying has pretty much decreased to almost nothing when I’m on the road because if I’m partying, I just can’t do it.
Psycroptic has toured with bands that have pretty impressive drummers too. Do you soak up their hints and tips on performance whilst touring?
Yeah, I always share outlooks with different drummers. I’ve have been fortunate to tour with a lot of killer drummers over the years, sharing information and watching how people do it but everyone’s body is different. So what works for me might not work for someone else and vice versa. I try to take everything on board.
Finally, can you talk a little bit about the recent Ruins album, Undercurrent?
Yeah that album was about three or four years in the making. I tracked the drums about three years ago so the songs are a lot older than that. Ruins is a band that is kind of art for art’s sake, if that makes sense. Alex [Pope – vocals, guitar and bass], the leader of the band, honestly doesn’t care if anyone hears the album or not as long as he has got a copy of it and he can hear it. He is never in any rush to release anything, ever. Things get released because people around him are kind of telling him that it has to happen. So, it has definitely been a long process but for me it was cool because I did the drums so long ago and I didn’t hear the songs as the album was getting recorded. I had completely forgotten all of those drum tracks and the music that I performed so it was like it was completely fresh when I heard it when I listened to it in its entirety three years later. For me that was pretty cool thinking it sounds very familiar but not remembering any of it. It was like hearing an album from scratch so it was cool.