INTERVIEW WITH SCOTT IAN LEWIS BY JOE DALY
PHOTOGRAPHS BY SHANNON BROOKE
This summer sees the release of World War X, the seventh and most ambitious outing yet from San Diego’s Carnifex. Delivering all of the neck snapping riffs and pulverizing tempos that have become the band’s calling card, World War X sees the death metal five piece—vocalist Scott Ian Lewis, guitarists Jordan Lockrey and Cory Arford, bassist Fred Calderon, and drummer Shawn Cameron—conceiving a war themed modern metal epic that’s as emotional and evocative as it is brutal. We caught up with Lewis to get the story behind the new record.
Summer is well underway now. What have you guys been up to lately?
We’ve been finishing the editing process for our new music videos, then we’ll be rolling those out, getting the singles out there, and gearing up for Summer Slaughter.
It seems like videos have regained their prominence in music, but perhaps in a different role.
It’s funny you say that because videos have definitely had a roller coaster ride. I remember when we got signed to Victory Records in 2007, everybody was saying that music videos were dead because MTV had stopped playing them, and at that time, YouTube had yet to really take off. Now, it’s totally the opposite. Now, you have to put out a music video if you want your song to have any chance to cut through. So, videos are a big part of this album, and they’ve been a big part of our creative vision as a whole. We’ve really pushed the music to an ambitious place, and the decision to pair that music with videos meant that the videos would need to be ambitious as well. So, we’ve taken that idea forward and tried to make these videos as spectacular as we possibly can.
How active are you in producing the videos?
I directed the “World War X” video, so I’d say that I was pretty involved with it (laughs). It was a pretty hard shoot—definitely a lot for me to take on for my first time directing, but thankfully I worked with a lot of great people. We had the same production company that we hired for the “No Light” video.
“AS AN ARTIST, YOU NEED TO LEARN HOW TO THRIVE IN THE CHAOS.”
2019 has been an insane year across the board. Politically the globe continues to splinter, and technology is outpacing culture at every turn. In the middle of all of this turmoil, however, we’ve seen some amazing achievements in music, film, and other creative arts. What’s got you excited this year?
Honestly, I’m excited about this record! (laughs) But all that crazy shit is going on, and I think that as an artist, you need to learn how to thrive in the chaos. For us, it’s great any time. There’s upheaval, so we’re thriving.
It does seem that over the course of history, the most turbulent times have inspired the best music.
I mean, it does seem that way. Maybe there have been great records when things have been chill, but when times are polarizing and when what’s happening in the world is on everybody’s tongue, I think that passioned artists do tend to emerge.
Do we see a reflection of this kind of global struggle in the themes of World War X?
Absolutely. Everybody is struggling with one, or probably many things at any given point, and it can feel really intense. So, distilled down to one sentence, the whole album is about subverting the idea that because you’re dealing with something emotional or something that’s a struggle for you internally, that in some way you’re less than or weaker because you’re coping with that.
Does that mean the war that you write about is a personal idea?
Yeah, that’s why it’s World War X. Maybe it’s the war you’ve already fought or maybe it’s one you’re fighting right now. It’s personal to every individual who hears it. When we wrote the music for that track, we knew that the opener needed to be a song that represented a really good taste of the entire album, and I think that this lays out a good buffet of what the album’s going to offer. Lyrically, there’s a bit of a back and forth monologue, a lot of cynicism, and a sense of discovering allegorically and posing the questions that we’ll confront later in the album.
As a band, what was the biggest challenge in getting this record done?
Just sticking the landing—the execution. We had the ideas really early on, and we knew that even during the Slow Death touring cycle that we wanted to take three years for the next one, so time was our biggest struggle. On all of our other records, time was our biggest enemy. We’d want to try something, but then we’d run out of time, so this time around, we created a situation where that wouldn’t be a problem. But the challenge in giving yourself unlimited time is that if you run a little late on say, the songwriting, then you push the recording back and it becomes a chain reaction. So, the biggest challenge was maintaining the discipline to really maximize the time we gave ourselves, and as I said, stick the landing.
Do you think that people think of war today the way they did say, during World War II?
Well, for a lot of people I’m sure they do, but that’s tough to answer. My own view has evolved over the years. One thing this band has been awesome about has been introducing me to people in the military. We’ve met military people from all over the world, and a lot of guys still in the military come out to shows. I love getting the chance to interact with them, and it absolutely changes my perspective on the military. I grew up watching Platoon and Full Metal Jacket, which kind of glorified the way war is portrayed, but it’s really not like that. It’s not like that at all.
And you’re from the San Diego area, which has an enormous military presence.
Yeah, I grew up in Southern California around all of these military bases—they’re everywhere. You can’t drive 20 minutes without going past an Air Force base or a Naval station or Camp Pendleton or whatever. That probably had some influence on me as well.
“THERE WAS A PLAN TO PUSH OURSELVES BEYOND OUR COMFORT ZONES AND WRITE EVEN MORE AMBITIOUS SONGS.”
With 2016’s Slow Death, Carnifex introduced some new elements into your sound that really resonated across the metal community. That seems to be the case on the new record as well. There are more atmospherics, brighter dynamics, and stronger melodies. How conscious was this direction?
That’s definitely true, but I don’t know if there was a plan, so to speak. There was a plan to push ourselves beyond our comfort zones and write even more ambitious songs. We knew that we were going to take three years to write the new album, and with that extra time, we got a new deal with Nuclear Blast. So, we said, “Let’s go for it!” And Slow Death did great. It was our best selling record to date, and I think that we took all of the energy and goodwill that came with that and we were inspired to really swing for the fences.
What’s an example of something that you tried on World War X that you hadn’t attempted on previous records?
Bringing in guest collaborators. We went like, 70 songs without having any guests, so that was different! (laughs) But really what we changed was our process. It’s not like we consciously tried different things. It was that we had such a long timeline, that when we went into the studio, we had the luxury of staying as long as we needed to, which turned out to be 44 days. That’s really where the change occurred. It was the process of giving ourselves more time and recording songs the way we knew they needed to be done. Also, this was a really different recording process for us. I didn’t go to Florida to track vocals. I stayed in California and tracked in Newport Beach, which removed any pressure. Hearing the songs in the studio when we were doing the final sessions and knowing we had the time to record each track our way was great. That’s when I felt the most accomplished.
Fans already have a taste of this with “No Light Shall Save Us,” your track with Alissa White-Gluz. How did that come about?
We got connected with Alissa through our label, Nuclear Blast. One of the guys there had worked with her and connected us. We had a pre-production demo—this was about a year ago—and we sent it over to her and she responded to the material and we just started trading ideas. We ended up going back and forth until we landed on the final product. We tracked that in January, and I think the finished product is fantastic. We wanted to be able to do something like that on Slow Death, but it just wasn’t able to happen. So to be able to get it done on this record with Alissa was a huge bonus, and we’re really satisfied with it.
What were some of your influences on this record, musical or otherwise?
Full Metal Jacket was a big one. I really like the way that Stanley Kubrick took on war through satire. Very dark satire, but that’s what that whole movie was. Having watched the movie really young, I had no idea that it was a satire, but getting older, I watched interviews and eventually learned what was really happening there. So that was really cool, and some of that was definitely expressed on the new record. Also, I’ve been listening to Lana Del Ray a lot and some Chelsea Wolf. And have you heard of 3Teeth? Their new record is one that I can’t turn off. It’s fantastic.
What’s the band chemistry like these days?
It’s perfect, honestly. Shawn and Jordan are the main songwriters. On the road, we’re always generating new material. Not songs, per se, but riffs and sequences of two or three riffs. Then as we collect material, we put the pieces together to create a song. We add each layer bit by bit and pass it around the room until it’s done.
You’re a Southern California guy. Do you surf? If not, how do you blow off steam?
No, I don’t surf, but not for lack of trying! (laughs) I used to try to surf when I was younger, but I ran out of time. But there’s not really much blow off steam time. We’re a self-managed band so I’m always working on something—doing the record, doing the videos, getting ready for the tour. It’s a full-time operation!
Let’s wrap it up with a few quick either/or questions. Choose one and briefly tell us why. Black Sabbath or Slayer?
Sabbath. Better melody.
Horror or comedy?
Oh, man! Ugh…(long pause) Man, I don’t know…comedy, maybe? That’s a tough one. There’s no good answer!
Books or podcasts?
I’d love to say books, but I listen to podcasts regularly. That’s how I blow off steam—listening to podcasts.
Beer or liquor?
Easy, neither. I don’t drink.
Cats or dogs?
Well, I would have said cats forever, but three years ago I got a dog, so now I’ve got to say both (laughs).
What’s next for Carnifex?
We’re doing the Summer Slaughter tour and then we’re taking the fall off and heading to Europe in early 2020. Then we’ve got a headliner tour in the spring of 2020.