One of the most important and influential bands to emerge from the Arkansas metal scene, Deadbird, is back! And they have a new album out Friday, October 12 through 20 Buck Spin. It’s called III: The Forest Within The Tree and they’re playing a pair of shows in Little Rock and Fayetteville this weekend to celebrate its release! Deadbird features brothers Chuck and Phillip Schaaf on vocals/guitar and drums, respectively, alongside a number of other key players in the metal scene: CT (Rwake, Iron Tongue), Reid Raley (The Obsessed, Nachtmystium, Rwak), Alan Short (Seahag), and Jeff Morgan (Rwake). The announcement of their new record this summer caused excitement throughout the metal world and was covered by Metal Injection, Decibel, Metal Underground, Revolver, and many other outlets. The band also performed at this year’s Migration Fest.
Deadbird’s III: The Forest Within The Tree releases Friday, October 12. That night they’re playing at the legendary White Water Tavern in Little Rock alongside Tranquilo and Terminal Nation. The shows starts at 9:30 PM and the cover is $8. The following night they’re heading up to Backspace in Fayetteville to play with Groaners and Bones of the Earth. That show starts at 9:00 PM and there is a $5 cover. In addition to the new album, they’ll also have a very limited cassette release of their classic first record The Head and the Heart for sale this weekend, so be sure to hit the ATM before heading to the show! Chuck and Phillip were kind enough to talk to Shindigmusic about all this and more via e-mail.
It’s been ten years since the release of your last album, Twilight Ritual. Aside from playing some shows and releasing a split single with Burned Up Bled Dry in 2010, you’ve been away from the public eye for quite a while. What’s the story with your downtime and what brought you back?
Phillip: Well, we have been pretty sporadic for the last decade. There was only a brief moment where I felt that we were damn near finished as a band, and that was when I moved to Little Rock in 2010. Eventually CT asked us to play the Mutants of the Monster Fest in 2011 and we started to rehearse and rehash some songs. We’ve been playing regionally ever since.
It takes a lot of planning for us to get together, given all of our day to day responsibilities, but we love playing together and we are looking forward to starting the writing process again with this current lineup of the band.
Chuck: We have always done as much as we can. The band has never ceased to be in my mind and I have never stopped thinking about it. Riffs, song ideas, visual concepts, lyrical inspirations. All of these things are pretty constantly pondered in my mind. I have a few other projects going now as well (Circle the Wagons, Pinebox) that are pretty early on in the process, and I think on those as well, but most of my inner attention has always been focused on this band. We have actively worked on this recording since the Summer of 2011. We spent two years writing it before that and one of the songs dates back over ten years. It’s not as if we decided “wow, doom metal is getting really big these days. We better put a record out.” This thing was intended to be out years ago. It just worked its way out in its own time.
We are hoping to make a record the ‘normal way’ for once on this next one in that you book a studio for a week or two and you come out finished. Tracked, mixed and ready to be mastered. Every one of our records has been a journey to make and they’ve all taken way more time than we originally thought they would. I guess that we don’t just play slow, we do everything slow. Haha! Also, just to clarify, we never set out to play “doom”. We never consciously said “We wanna sound like this…. or we wanna sound like that…” We just got together and played and this is the kind of stuff that has always come out of us.
This new record features CT from Iron Tongue and Rwake, whom Deadbird members have a long history with. How did CT come to be in Deadbird and how will this affect the future for his other bands?
Phillip: We asked CT to add some noise/synth elements to the songs which is something we’ve always wanted. He was starting to play some noise shows in Little Rock and it just felt right. With as sparse a rehearsal schedule that the ‘bird has, I doubt what we do will have a significant effect on his other bands. We’ve all been friends for so long it just made sense to start jamming together. Jeff Morgan started jamming with us around the same time, as Reid started playing with The Obsessed and wasn’t able to commit to Deadbird full time. I learned to play drums with Chuck and Jeff, so to bring that full circle is really fucking cool. We are all family, and the bond is strong. It feels good to play with all of our brothers. There will be times when we play with both Reid and Jeff and that’s truly the heaviest we will ever be.
Chuck: CT has about a million unbelievably awesome things going on musically and I don’t think him being in any amount of bands would ever slow him down! CT has done more for music, particularly heavy music but not exclusively, in Arkansas than anyone else that I know. Jeremy Moore has also done a ton to help out the scene with his annual pilgrimage to Liverfest. Radio show, show bookings, Iron Tongue, Rwake, filmmaker, you name it, CT can and is probably already doing it! CT is an idea man and he has a ton of great ones, but he is also an executor. He just gets shit done son!
You’re currently signed with 20 Buck Spin, easily one of the most respected labels in contemporary metal. Arkansas expatriate Nate Garrett from Spirit Adrift played a big part in your deal. Can you tell us a little bit about that and what it’s like working with 20 Buck Spin?
Phillip: Nate is a longtime friend and Chuck sent him an unmixed version of the album. I guess Nate was into it enough to pass it along to Dave at 20 Buck Spin. Dave is awesome, and he’s put out a lot of great records over the years so it’s really awesome to have a chance to work with him.
Chuck: With the amount of time that the work on this record ended up taking, I would listen to it in cycles. It’s not like we were making Chinese Democracy or anything. We weren’t in the studio for four years straight obviously, but we paid for the recording ourselves so that factored into the timing of sessions. Also, we lived all over the mid-south and we all have kids so that would factor into scheduling sessions as well. It just stretched out longer than I ever would’ve imagined and there were a few times that I worried that we might not ever get it done. But I’m a worrier by nature anyway. I would go on walks and listen to the thing, unmixed, without EQ or compression (it still blows my mind how good Alan Burcham’s source sounds were. I was convinced that the first rough mixes we got HAD to have had some mixing done on them because the drums sounded so good, but they were uneq’ed and uncompressed. Alan Burcham is an INCREDIBLE engineer/producer!) and would be equal times really excited about it and also at other times really doubtful of it. Then I would put it away and not listen to it for a month or two. We would get some more work done on it and then it would be in rotation again.
I honestly got to a point with it that I couldn’t tell if it was any good or not anymore and I needed an outside ear that I trusted. I thought of Nate. We had been in touch some and kinda on a whim, I sent the thing to him. I wanted to get his feedback. I was nervous about what his thoughts would be. It was still unmixed and I’m not even sure if all the vocals were on there or not. The response I got from him was super positive and was a relief for me to hear an outside opinion of someone that I trusted completely and have tons of respect for both as a human being and a musician. It was Nate’s idea to send it to Dave.
Truth be told, Steve Von Till of Neurosis had asked CT about the new Deadbird record SEVERAL months before the thing happened with Nate and Dave and we didn’t even have vocals on the thing yet. We felt like that since one of our lifelong ultimate heroes was asking about our record and that it was even on his radar somehow, that we should demo some vocals over the rough mixes and send him something. We ended up sending him 2 songs with demo vocals on them and we went back and forth for a little bit communicating with him via CT. He said they really liked what they were hearing and it looked like maybe we were going to get to release the thing via Neurot but that line of communication ultimately went cold. Every member of the band Neurosis has to be on board for everything they release and I felt like we had sent them the music too early on in too raw of a form and I didn’t want to make the same mistake with Dave.
Nate said he thought that it would be fine where it was at at the time soundwise and convinced me to agree to send it on over. I had 20 Buck Spin in the back of my mind for years as a label that we would REALLY love a chance to get to work with. While in Pallbearer, I recall conversations with Joe where he said that Dave was just such a great dude and that they were friends more than anything else (20 Buck did Sorrow and Extinction‘s vinyl release) and that they would call each other just to talk about life. On top of that, it is one of the best labels going with spot on beautiful releases that are obviously works of passion and love. Dave Adelson is such a great guy and we couldn’t imagine being in a better place with this record. It would’ve been a trip to have Neurosis release our record but I KNOW without a doubt that we are exactly where we need to be and are damn lucky and grateful to be there (on 20 Buck Spin). We hope to be able to continue making records with Dave/20 Buck. Nate has been a huge supporter and has lifted me up when I was in doubt about things. I can’t ever thank Nate enough! Great, great human being right there and a phenomenal musician, but you already knew all of that Dave Morris! Lol!
Chuck played drums for Pallbearer, one of the biggest bands of any genre to emerge from Arkansas in the last several years. What was that like and how has it been to see them elevate the Arkansas metal scene even further?
Phillip: Chuck recorded their first record, Sorrow and Extinction, in his studio in Fayetteville. I think the drummer that played on the record wasn’t able to commit to their touring schedule, so they asked Chuck to join and he went out on the road with them for a bit. Those dudes are great and obviously putting out some of the best dynamic heavy tunes these days. It’s awesome to see your peers get out there and connect to a large audience in a big way. They have definitely turned a spotlight to the scene we have had here for so long.
Chuck: Man, I miss playing with those dudes ALL THE TIME! It was an incredible experience to get to share the stage with them and to hear Brett’s vocals soaring in my drum fill every night! It really took my playing to new emotional places with the drums. I hated to have to leave that band but ultimately it was what they needed. I was living three and a half hours away from them and things were really starting to happen for that band. It was incredible to witness and to actually get a chance to be a part of it for a minute. I knew I was holding them back. I was in school fulltime and had just found out I was going to be a father. I am a good deal older than those guys and they just needed a local badass (Mark Lierly!!!) that could come in there and practice and play shows all the time with them. They are an amazing force to witness and I am very proud of all of those dudes! They are paying it forward too by taking out other Arkansas bands with them on tour. Same way Nate is helping us and others out! It’s so awesome to see these guys do this! They have attained major status and are using it to help their friend’s bands out and it’s just an incredible thing! Mike Meacham from Loss actually turned Chris Bruni onto the Pallbearer demo much in the same way that Nate turned Dave on to our record.
Reid of course also used to play in Rwake, but post Twilight Ritual he had a stint in Nachtmystium before landing his current gig playing with certifiable legends The Obsessed. How did those experiences influence his role in making the new album or the album itself?
Phillip: Reid is a lifelong member of Deadbird, even when he can’t be an active participant at times. His influence on our music and our personal lives is massive. He’s one of the best dudes and best players out there, and we love it when he can make it in to play with us. He was there during the writing process of this record but wasn’t able to make it into the studio. Reid is family, just like the rest of us.
Chuck: Reid is our brother. We are a family. It is SO unbelievably awesome that he plays in The Obsessed! Wino is a friend of mine and that is just a mind-blowing statement to be able to make. We don’t call each other or nothin’, but whenever I see them, we always kick it hard and he is such an incredible, inspiring guy! Reid AND Wino both! The Obsessed rule the universe and they should be one of the biggest rock bands on the planet if we lived in a just world!
There were very strong Stephen King influences on the lyrics for Twilight Ritual to say the least. What themes and inspirations shaped the new one?
Chuck: On Twilight Ritual we were all reading The Dark Tower while writing that thing and that crept in there quite a bit. That story works like a modern day mythology. Even filtered through that story, the lyrics were essentially still about what they’ve always been about which is personal experience, existential questioning, the universe and how we fit in to that and are a part of it, the self-destructive nature of man, the self-destructive nature of self and also the inherent beauty in the world that is, especially these days, with everything and everybody being wired in, easy to miss. It is easy to live without really paying attention to your natural surroundings and the beauty and power and fragility of the natural world. The world that exists outside of human influence, which is smaller and smaller every day. Also, obviously the lyrics have always dealt with mental issues such as depression, anxiety, substance abuse and the vicious cycle that it creates.
Obviously, you’re about to play a pair of shows to celebrate your new release, and you recently did some festival gigs. Will you be doing a proper full-scale tour later this year or early next year?
Phillip: We will see what lies ahead. We have a lot going on personally, but we hope to play out as much as we can. It will likely be 2019 before we can get cracking on any of those plans though.
Chuck: We are hoping to do as much live action in 2019 as we can possibly pull off! We are all dads now and we are all real family men! We love our wives and kids and want to be with them while they grow up. That being said, it is really tough to schedule shows, rehearsal, photoshoots, anything but we are all committed to doing as much next year as possible and try and give this music the best shot we can. We would love to get out there with Spirit Adrift or Pallbearer! There was a thread on the ol Facebook that Primitive Man started and we got to talking about doing something with them ‘next year. It was about as unofficial as you can get considering that it was a FB thread but it’s still really exciting that those guys are obviously into the idea of touring with us or with Rwake. That is a truly original and destructively heavy band right there. We would definitely want to go on BEFORE them if we got to do that thing! LOL!
You’ve never really been a political band, but the world is a vastly different place than it does when you were more active and seemingly everything has some kind of political tinge to it currently. Care to weigh in on the Trump Administration?
Phillip: The world is facing some difficult times and challenges. We are definitely on the brink of drastic change which can be violent and turbulent. I’m personally not a fan of the current administration, but I feel that the issues extend much deeper into the entire political process. On a whole, I think we have lost sight of true human nature a very long time ago. Religion and politics have marred the ability to coexist. The album title, The Forest Within the Tree alludes to the idea that we individually carry the collective within us at all times. We lose sight of our relationship to all living things. The current state of our world is a reflection of this. All of the pain and anger and divisive shit that is pushed into the atmosphere comes from the severe disconnection we are experiencing.
Chuck: We are not a political band and have never been one but that doesn’t mean that some of our feelings on shit like that doesn’t creep into our writing. The sample that sounds like storm wind or the ocean that begins the record is actually a recording of the largest glacier calving ever caught on film. It is a massive sight and sound to behold and is mighty and powerful and extremely sad and scary. I felt it was important to have it on there. The ice is melting. The oceans are getting hotter. The weather is crazy and we’re still stuck debating it as if it is a ‘belief’ or a political idea. It is ridiculous that grown men and women are choosing to deny the scientific facts about the most important issue in the world today, as far as I’m concerned. I have two small children. What kind of world are they going to be living in in 30 – 40 years? The answer to that question, I believe, is completely dependent upon what we as inhabitants of this planet choose to do regarding this RIGHT NOW! We are already seeing and feeling the effects of the climate change and there is more to come from what we have already historically done. There is no avoiding that. It’s a done deal. BUT, we could keep it from getting so much worse by changing the way that we think about and use energy.
I’m not trying to get on a soapbox. I drove my gasoline powered car to work today and am sitting in an air-conditioned space that is powered, most likely, by the burning of coal or some other fossil fuel. There are so many amazing new developments and ideas and technology surfacing every day that obviously takes super, incredible amounts of brain power to produce. It just blows my mind that as a species we’re able to create all of these mind-blowing creations and advancements yet our ‘politics’ and the way we treat our brothers and sisters all across the globe are devolving into some sort of ridiculous charade. When you have children, you pay attention to that shit. Back when we lived in Fayetteville and practiced 5 nights a week, I didn’t have a clue what was going on in the outside world and I liked it that way. Now I have to stay informed. I don’t like either team. I don’t like the concept of having teams, but if we’re going to continue doing it like this with the Dems and the Repubs, then we have GOT to get some new teams that can displace these antiquated, greedy shills. I do still believe that humans are inherently good for the most part and are driven to help each other out. As Phillip said, politics and religion have truly splintered this world into a bunch of pissed off pieces.
PHOTO CREDIT: Adam Peterson/Restless Photography