The Agony Scene: A Report from The Summer Slaughter Tour in Los Angeles
The Summer Slaughter Tour blasted its way into the Los Angeles area, making a stop at The Novo Theater for a superbly heavy adventure in sight and sound. Headlined by the likes of Between The Buried And Me, Born Of Osiris and Veil Of Maya, right smack in middle of the multi-band touring package was The Agony Scene! Hitting the road for the first time in over a decade, The Agony Scene is touring in support of their latest magnum opus entitled Tormentor, unleashed through Outerloop Records. Right before their earth shattering set at The Novo, we caught up with vocalist Michael Williams of The Agony Scene to discuss their participation on Summer Slaughter, a few of the songs from their Tormentor manifesto, the ever-present Christian band inquiry, advice for musicians seeking a record label (they’ve been on four!), and many other topics of intrigue. Read on…
Introduce yourself and tell me what you do in The Agony Scene
My name is Michael Williams and I’m the vocalist of The Agony Scene.
How has the Summer Slaughter Tour been going so far and what have been some of the highlights?
It’s been great man. It’s our first tour in 11 years, so we’re all just happy to be back out on the road getting to see all of our favorite places that we played at back in the day again. Seeing new faces and old faces has been a pretty remarkable experience so far. And we’re in the middle of a pretty amazing lineup, so it’s been great. And we’ve been having a lot of fun.
For you personally, what has it been like to get back on the road again? It has been a while and touring may have been part of the reason the band broke up to begin with…
Yeah, we’ve all been working for the last ten years at whatever jobs. That life gets a little monotonous, so it kind of feels like vacation right now. It’s the first of many, because we’re not clocking in 9 to 5 everyday, so that’s been cool. You get reminded of all the good stuff and all the bad stuff simultaneously. It’s like “Oh, yeah, we’re sleeping in a parking lot tonight!” But you know, I’m in Los Angeles playing a show with my friends, so there’s an even flow to the whole thing. It’s great, but it also sucks. It’s great more than it sucks most of the time, so it’s been good.
What could one expect from a live The Agony Scene show in 2018?
A good mix of new and old songs. We are supporting a new album, so we do need to play the newer stuff. We try to pick some stuff from the older albums, where if you’re coming to see us and have been a fan before, we’re trying to make everyone happy. So yeah, it’s a good mix of old and new. And we all look much older – and that’s about it.
Is there any overall story or concept behind the title of the album Tormentor?
Our guitarist Chris Emmons came up with the title while we were in the early stages of writing. We just felt it was a very strong title. It’s sort of nine different interpretations of what that word means – so a lot of it has some religious connotations to it – or just general human experience connotations to it. Every song was inspired by that word in a different way. It’s not a concept album but there’s a through-line of like these are all the variations of that term that we could come up with and write to. Every song is about different stuff, and it leads back to that general theme – Tormentor – a sort of jealous or angry God – or maybe a former romantic interest – different things going in different ways. It bridges a lot gaps. There’s my experience of losing a close family member to cancer. It’s a lot of different stuff – there’s no easy answer to what it’s about.
Let’s talk about a few of the songs from Tormentor. Your latest video is from the song The Ascent And Decline. Let’s talk about that one…
Not to get political, its kind of the idea of giving up or sort of compromising your core beliefs for what you believe is a greater good. And that kind of being taking the wind out of the sails where you don’t have solid ground to stand on because you’ve turned a blind eye to certain things in a social or political way, because you want to further your political sights and agenda. And the end of it is sort of a call and response to the idea of like, if this is the most vocal religious right stance on certain things, then I’d rather be not counted among the ranks if Revelation comes. So that’s sort of what it’s about.
Let’s talk about The Submissive.
There’s a lot of songs around religion. The Submissive is about the misuse of authority in church – like a person of power or authority misusing their influence to do nefarious stuff if you will – to either illicit money or force things out of people out of a pressure or fear. They’re the voice of God so to speak – to be less than good to younger people in their community. I’m not going to come right and say what it’s about – maybe you can pick up the contexts – but it makes me uncomfortable to say what it’s about. I’m a gentlemen and I’m trying to be polite.
And this has been a very gentlemanly interview. (Laughter)
Exactly. We’re both wearing top hats. It’s important to know that we both have top hats and monocles. And we’re sipping tea. (Much laughter)
You mentioned a song about a loved one passing away. Which song on Tormentor is that?
Mechanical Breath – it’s the last song on the album. My dad passed away from brain cancer and he had several surgeries. Towards the end of his life, he was sort of kept alive by a breathing machine essentially – hence the title of the song. At the time, I took on a lot the responsibility of dealing with all of that, because I guess I was the most emotionally prepared out of my family to do it. So it’s like a very detached account of that experience – and properly the most personal song I’ve written for The Agony Scene about anything that pertains to my life in a real way.
Who produced Tormentor and what was it like working with them?
Mark Lewis – whose done a million things – a bunch of DevilDriver records and he remixed a Megadeth album – he’s done all kinds of stuff – he did all the Whitechapel stuff. His and our goal at the time was just to make something really raw and sort of angry sounding and not super polished. There was a big emphasis on making a raw, almost punk, aggressive album. And he’s a genius – and we came up with some really great stuff. And I would be thrilled to make another album with him. He gets what we’re going for – and I know he’s very proud of the way it turned out also. Huge props to that guy – and I hope we get to do more in the future.
You are on Outerloop now. How did that come about?
Outerloop is a record label started by our management essentially from back in the day. Over the decade that we weren’t a band they started a record label – and when we came back to them with an idea of doing another album, they were like “Well, we have a label. So you guys could just do it on there.” It was a pretty simple conversation – “well, we conveniently own a record label, so we could put it out.” There’s a comfort with them where we could kind of do and make what we want. We’re sort of more in control than we would be in another place – and they trust us in a creative regard to make something that everyone will be happy with. We have a lot of freedom.
So The Agony Scene has done four full length albums on four different record labels.
Yep. Who else can say that? You try to get your band signed four different times to four different substantial labels and see how that goes! (Much laughter)
What advice would you give a band seeking out a record label?
Don’t break up. Just don’t stop – and if it’s gonna happen, it’s gonna happen. We’re just persistent and can’t give up the ghost so to speak – so we just keep going – for some reason. Yeah, just don’t stop. That’s the best advice I’ve ever got – just don’t break up. Keep playing shows. Keep doing it. If you really want to do it, it will happen, or not.
Ever since your signing to Solid State for your first Self-Titled album, people have always asked, “Well, is The Agony Scene a Christian band?” Even though all the record labels after that were not Christian labels, do you still find yourself having to explain this way?
Yeah, it’s a question that never dies, which is fine. I’m happy to always explain it. When we started the band while we were in high school – literally 16 and 17 year olds – the guy that was an original singer was a Christian, so there were some religious connotations to our material at that time. That started to sort of evolve out of that – as soon as I started being in the band, we all sort of got out into the world. Most of us weren’t Christians per say – but we existed in that world – especially on that first album – having to sort of act “as if”, because Solid State obviously expects a certain kind of pattern of behavior out of their artists – and so we sort of had to adhere to. But yeah, we’re not, and haven’t been ever on a recording – but we did start that way – and that’s sort of how it came to be.
Looking back on the two albums that followed – Get Damned and The Darkest Red – what do you think of those two albums in retrospect?
I love both of them in very different ways. Darkest Red I think is just the stars kind of aligning – that’s been consistently everybody’s favorite – and I feel that at the time, it came out very organically – and we worked with Rob Caggiano who produced a bunch of great stuff – and now he plays guitar in Volbeat – and that’s nothing to shake a stick at. I’m really proud of that one. And I like Get Damned – I don’t think it’s anybody’s favorite or anything. We always just write – all the stuff just is whatever we feel is the best stuff we’re coming up with at the time. Those were just two sets of the best songs we came up with at different points of our career. I liked Get Damned a lot – I think lyrically it’s a great album. I like a lot of the songs – but it’s also the one we broke up on. It didn’t really get its fair shake like the other ones, but I think it’s still good.
And what’s up next for The Agony Scene after The Summer Slaughter Tour is all over?
More tours. Nothing I’m allowed to say yet, but we’re putting together our fall and our winter – and probably early next year too. We’re kind of planning it all out right now. I think it took this one to sort of get the ball rolling for the rest – so that’s all coming in. We’re going to do full tour cycles on this album, so we’ll be out for a long time.
And you’re ready to hit the road and there’s no looking back?
Yeah, I feel like that’s the only way to do it anymore. If you’re gonna do it, do it! I really don’t want to “weekend warrior” this. I feel that Tormenter deserves us being out there working on it. I’m really proud of it, and I want as many ears on it as we can get. And we’re just going to stay out until that happens…
(Interview and Candid Photo by Ken Morton – Live Photos by Jack Lue)