We all know, being in a band can be a blast (in more ways than one). A group of like-minded musicians all working together with one goal.
It can be quite rewarding and if you’re lucky, you end up with a group of musicians that get along, have fun and great synergy.
What qualifies for a metal band these days can be from two to seven members. Maybe more, but that’s as much as I have seen personally.
Working in a band of course, does come with its own set of challenges.
Especially if everyone has a different idea of what the band and/or the music should sound like among other things.
It can be a delicate balance.
But to be a solo metal musician can be a whole different story.
On one hand, you don’t have to worry about what this guy or that guy thinks should be done. You can just do it your own way.
But it comes with certain drawbacks. Not everyone wants to be a “back-up” band to one person so gigging isn’t so easy.
Not everyone is cut out to be a solo artist. Some people never even give the idea much thought.
Yet others seem destined for it. Some do both.
In this interview we talk to Birtchum Thompson, a solo metal artist from Tallahassee, Florida. He has a solo, 5 song EP entitled, "HAUNTED".
Tell us about yourself. How did you get started?
My journey into music began around the age of 12. My stepfather was a musician himself, and a decent one at that.
I would watch in awe as he’d slay Neil Young songs on his acoustic at family get-togethers and the like.
He and my mother were also extremely religious, so he was also a member of the praise and worship team at the
church we attended.
I would sit there in my pew and just imagine myself up there jamming out. So naturally, it wasn’t long until I was
hounding him to teach me how to play as well. Imagine my elation when he handed me an old Ibanez 4 string
bass to cut my teeth on!
I would sit in my room and play that thing from the time I returned home from school, until I was told to go to bed.
After a month or two I was offered the opportunity to join the praise team as a bassist.
Performing alongside other musicians in that setting endowed me with the musical foundation on which I have
steadily built on ever since.
What/who are your biggest influences?
Around the same time that I was playing with the worship team at the church, the whole Nu Metal movement was
beginning. On my bus rides to and from school each day, I was seated around older high school age kids who were
members of the area’s only metal band. I would pester them to let me hear what they were listening to on their
Walkmans and was immediately captivated by what I heard. They would make me copies on cassette (to show my
age a bit) of albums from bands like Korn, White Zombie, Coal Chamber, 311, Marilyn Manson, etc. These are the
bands that would become my so-called “roots” and played a significant role in influencing the way I approached
music early on.
As I grew older, my tastes in music began to diversify. I fell headlong into the metalcore scene with the most
important influences coming from bands like Killswitch Engage, Chimera, In Flames, Soilwork, Trivium, Avenged
Sevenfold, and All That Remains. During this period I also began to delve into the world of heavier metal bands, with
Gojira, DevilDriver, Amon Amarth, Arch Enemy, and Black Dahlia Murder being among my favorites.
Today I am influenced by a multitude of different styles and bands, from symphonic metal to tech death, melodic
metal to progressive, and even radio rock. I pull inspiration from everywhere that I can. This is such an exciting time
to be involved with the music scene because of the overwhelming amount of music at your fingertips. Because of
that, inspiration is always just around the corner. All you have to do is search for it!
What, if any, other projects have you been, or are you involved with?
I’ve been involved with a host of projects/bands on the local level, with the two most note-worthy being StormCraft
and Altar of Flesh. Both of these bands are based in Tallahassee, FL, are still active, and are comprised of talented,
hardworking dudes with an unrivaled passion for what they do.
As of right now, I am focusing most of my energy on my solo work, although I have recently teamed up with another
solo artist from the Buffalo, NY area named Art Caveretta. Talk about shred guitar! This guy is absolutely amazing at
what he does and we are excited to see where our partnership will lead us musically. Check out Art Caveretta w/
Birtchum on SoundCloud!
What are the ups and downs of being a solo artist in the music industry?
That’s a great question! Being a solo artist comes with its own unique set of pros and cons I think. The most obvious
and important positive aspect of it is the complete independence of being able to take the project in whatever
direction I decide to. Whether it’s on an album by album basis, or song by song, I am free to pursue an idea to
fruition without the consent of four or five other people. I feel that this allows me to more accurately express my
artistic vision, while at the same time continue to develop as an artist in every aspect of the process.
With that being said, there definitely a few drawbacks to it as well. First of all, the option of playing live is taken off
the table. With live performance being the main income generator for musicians in today’s industry, that can be a bit
of a blow. Also, as a solo artist, the entire workload of an album rests solely on my shoulders, and it’s a ridiculous
amount of work! The secret to not becoming overwhelmed by this is taking everything on in small, manageable
Tell us about the EP “Haunted”. Is this your first solo effort?
“Haunted” is my first SERIOUS solo release for sure. I do have an older, hard to find (and poorly produced) instrumental album called “Starlight Symphony” that I recorded when I was
still very much new to the world of recording and production. I believe that it is still floating around the web on some obscure sites.
Are there any other musicians in these recordings?
There are 2 amazing guest solos featured on this album. The first is by the aforementioned Art Caveretta on the song “Believe in You” and the other is performed by Andrew
McCommons on “Hell to Pay”. Both of these guys are extremely skilled at what they do, and each elevated the song that they are featured on to a new level. Andrew is also
responsible for the mixing and mastering of 3 songs on the EP; “Vultures”, “Haunted”, and “Believe in You”.
Do you have a songwriting process?
I do have a process. It’s actually fairly similar to how one would set out to write a term paper or an essay.
It usually begins with a cool guitar riff or an inspirational drum beat and then I will build off of that.
I will map out and record the music for the entire song, working out all of the bugs as I go.
Once the rough draft of the music is complete, I write the melody line for the vocals on piano so that I know
exactly what I need to practice. This also allows me to write the lyrics in a way that compliments the song.
When all of that is worked out and the lyrics are written, I re-record the music of the song for the final time,
paying close attention to detail and quality. I will then get a decent rough mix of the music to record vocals to,
and head into the vocal booth.
After I am done recording the vocals, it’s on to editing, mixing (possibly my favorite part of the process), and
mastering the song for release.
Is there a message or theme to your songs?
The message that I try to convey through my music is perseverance and triumph. It’s no secret that this world can
beat you down at times, even to the point of making you feel like giving up all together. Having been in that negative
space all too many times, I’ve found that it can take equal measures of hope and encouragement to help lift
someone up from the mire of sorrow that can try to swallow them. I believe that music can touch a person in a way
that is completely unique and unexplainable, even magical. Its ability to motivate and inspire is unparalleled and
should be used to help and heal, not harm and hinder.
What can you tell us about the song you submitted for the Metal Meat Comp Disc?
When someone of incredible influence in your life says vile and demeaning things to you, it can be crippling in a
way, sticking with you for a very long time. It can haunt you and even mold and effect the way you approach life.
“Haunted” is about standing strong in the face of such a curse and denying it the power to control and destroy your
life in the way it seeks to do.
“Haunted” is also the first single from the album to be approved by Pandora Radio for incorporation into their Music
Genome Project. Add “Birtchum Radio” to your current list of Pandora stations here:
What was the biggest show you have done so far?
That would definitely be the Albany Metal Fest in Albany, GA at the Albany State Theatre in 2014. It was a massive
all day event featuring the best metal from Florida and Georgia.
Every band and performing musician has encountered many different types of people and seen and/or done
some crazy things. Can you share a story about the funniest experience you had at a show.
Well, this was not so much funny at the time as it was embarrassing, but it’s funny now in retrospect.
I was fronting and playing bass for a death metal band and we were opening for a national act that happened to
be playing that night.
We all were determined to put on the best damn show that we ever had in order to win over all of the fans that came
out that night. As it were, that was not in the cards that evening. Things got rough from the moment we started our set.
Our new drummer at the time was a bit nervous and began to play an entirely different song than the rest of us.
We all tried to play it off and adapt, but it was impossible. We all were looking around at each other in dismay,
attempting to figure out what the issue was. We forced ourselves through the three and a half minute catastrophe
finally and were greeted by a crowd that looked entirely bewildered and confused.
You could literally see question marks lingering above their heads. So, in an effort to redeem ourselves,
we jumped into the next song with all the confidence that we could muster after that and all was well.
Until… I was midway through screaming the second chorus of the third song and the screw that held my straplock
on my bass in place just completely fell out. So there I was, holding my bass up at chest level, trying not to drop it
as I played, and performing vocals at the same time. Fortunately a good Samaritan in the audience jumped up on
stage and attempted to fix the AWOL straplock as I played. His engineering held up for a bit, but that was not the
last that I would be plagued by it that night.
Two more times this happened, and each time was more embarrassing than the last. To top things off,
my bandmates were looking at me in complete disgust the entire show as if I were somehow intentionally trying
to sabotage the performance.
Needless to say, I was never as excited to finish a set and remove myself from sight as I was that night!
If you could collaborate with any musician, dead or alive, who would it be?
I would want to collaborate with Rob Zombie! He is an extraordinary artist with an unrivaled ability to breathe life into his
vision. From his over the top stage show, to his movies, and of course his music, he is second to none when it comes to
providing the overall experience.
Who do you think would win in a wrestling match between Mick Jagger or Angus young?
|Interview by Dave Henninger
Haha! That’s the best question so far! I would have to put my money on Mick Jagger I think.
I believe that while they are both getting up there as far as age is concerned, Mick has the upper hand when it comes to
energy and reflexes.