Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Interview with Matt Serven from Backstabbers Inc.

Backstabbers Inc. was probably among the first darker, crustier bands I got into back in the day, and I think it mostly had to do with their biting sociopolitical critique and powerful live shows. I got to see them twice around the time of their classic “Kamikaze Missions” LP, and even interviewed them for my old print zine Holy Shit. 

However, shortly after “Kamikaze Missions” dropped, the band broke up (or so I thought) as two of their members, Ryan McKenney and Brian Izzi went on to form Trap Them. However, totally unbeknownst to me, the core song writers of Matt and Brian Serven slowly and quietly kept the ball rolling.

It wasn’t until a month or two ago when I saw a friend on Facebook like  one of  their statuses that I knew BSI was back! Stoked and intrigued, I dropped  them a line to see what was up. Guitarist Matt Serven immediately got back with me and was happy to share.

Read on about the return of one of hardcore/punk’s most intense bands.

For those who are either new to the band or who like me have sort of lost track of the history, talk a little bit about the origins of BSI and the early evolution of the band. You guys released the monstrous “Kamikaze Missions” in 03 or 04, and if I'm remembering it right within about a year or so things sort of fell apart. If my memory serves me correctly, it wasn’t necessarily the most amicable of situations. I’m sure there may be things that are appropriate and perhaps not so appropriate to reveal, but what were the core issues that led to the dissolution of the line-up that graced our ears with “Kamikaze Missions”?

I started the band with Ryan (Trap Them) under the name Life Passed On back in 97' or 98' with some other co-workers of ours. It was started as a side project to another band, (As I Bleed) I was in with my brother Brian at the time.

The early incarnation was heavily influenced by metal and grindcore, early demos will attest to that, giving way to influences such as Rorschach, His Hero Is Gone, Burned Up Bled Dry, From Ashes Rise, Die My Will (CT), Tragedy, etc, among other not so obvious things. We went from being a 5 piece, to a 7 piece, to a 4 piece, back to a 5 again. Many, many fill-in's, wayward children, lost souls and ex-members to list. Trust Me.

My brother joined in 98', 99' on bass initially, and soon became the other primary song writer sharing the duties with me 50/50 for “Theory/History” and “Kamikaze Missions”.
Following the release of “Kamikaze Missions” my brother Brian took over second guitar and we also began sharing vocal and lyrical duties with the departure of Brian Izzi (December Wolves/Trap Them) and Ryan (Trap Them).

Mike Justain at this point who had played guitar on ""While you Were Sleeping" and "Theory/History", began playing drums on "Kamikaze Missions". However, we parted ways shortly after so he could focus on his careers with The Red Chord, Unearth, 108, Madball and the other probably 100 bands he's played with.

As far as I'm concerned they're weren't really any core issues to the dissolution of that particular line-up other than Ryan needing to leave due to some non-band related personal issues. Brian and Mike were musicians with their own careers and ideas and went their own way amicably. As I said Brian and I were the primary song writers with Ryan writing 98% of the lyrical content up to that point, so once those 3 went on their way, Bri and I just continued on writing the music we always had.

As far as there being any bad blood, there isn't/wasn't any. The timing of Ryan's departure was admittedly ill-timed, but that's life. We continued on, and he made a happy career of Trap Them.

Somewhere in the mid 2000's we picked up drummer, Jonah of As Long As We're All living, We're All Dying/Ramming Speed having played many shows in his many infamous basements, and bassist Nick of Waranimal through mutual friends and acquaintances. Both of them played on our newest, yet to be released record "M.I.A."

So what's been happening since the mid 2000's with you guys then? It sounds like a few sporadic shows here and there, but the public profile of the band has definitely been on the low. Have there been other musical ventures for you guys or just a "sometimes life gets in the way" sort of situation?

Mid 2000's were spent breaking in the new members, a few tours here and abroad, playing a some one-off shows and fests in the North East.

For the latter part of the question, a little bit of both: We were a little spread out with Bri and I here in NH, Nick up in Portland, ME and Jonah down in Boston. Jonah and his other band Ramming Speed have been gaining momentum over the years, and Nick having become a Husband and a Father. Brian's been busy with Karate and Yoga, and I've had a few musical projects over the years, with some new releases seeing the light of day around the release of “M.I.A.” conversely...(and If I may mention that) , I have a solo electronic/digital hardcore grind project named "Goodbye Cruel World!!!" with a double tape release on Boston Noise label Existence Establishment coming out on the first of the new year, and an Electronic Doom Industrial two-piece band (somewhere between Fall of Because, Killing Joke, Godflesh and Early Ministry) with drum machine named "ØDE". The new CD release titled "Dread Pleasure" will also be out around the first of the year.

Talk a little bit about the new record "MIA". How long ago did you guys start working on the songs, who did you record with, and who's releasing it? Also, what were you guys trying to accomplish with this new batch of songs (i.e. were there old elements you wanted to build on, new elements you wanted to introduce, etc.?)

We began the writing process for “M.I.A.” several years ago. We see it as the second part of a loose trilogy started with "Kamikaze Missions". The music this time, is a little more stripped down and decidedly more Hardcore, than say Metal or even Grind. We took a more mid-paced approach. That's not to say it is slow by any regard. What we may lack in incessant blast-beats, we make up in overall anxiety.

Even though most would consider this an "EP" based on the number of songs, or the length of the overall recording, we still think of it as an album, because to us that's what we were trying to create. "Kamikaze Missions" started off loosely in a way with the mind set of what it would be like preparing for war, for a battle that you might not return from, that kind of anxiety not knowing what was to come of it all….especially a suicide mission. “M.I.A.” is when you wake up in that nightmare, that Hell. "In the shit", as my brother likes to put it. This album is meant to be urgent and claustrophobic, short and to the point. Even the cover alludes to a sense of fog and haze. Artist/illustrator Alex Eckman-Lawn did a great job capturing that vision for us, a kind haunting and terrible confusion.
We hit up Kurt Ballou again this time over at Godcity Studios, and likely will again if he isn't too busy. Kurt is just really a solid down-to-earth guy who wants to help you put out the best record you can. We appreciate that.

Were the lyrics written by one of you guys or was it more of a collaborative effort? How was the process different having to write lyrics and music this time around as opposed to just focusing on the music itself?

Collaborative in the fact that Bri and I were responsible for writing the lyrics to our own songs. I believe initially we had thought to try to write together, but we realized shortly that the differing dynamics in our writing styles, much like the music itself, are best served to compliment each as a whole at the completion of the album.

As you would expect, much more difficult. Having to concern yourself, just not with the soundtrack but also the storyline is very challenging. That and also thinking about how you want it be delivered, your personal sound, will our voices be discernible from each other?, what parts do we vocalize over?, can we sing and play these at the same time??

It comes with practice though. You get it. It becomes more natural and intuitive.

The lyrics to "Kamikaze Missions" had a lot of very overtly political subject matter, which as a reader/listener I always interpreted as a reaction to a lot of what was happening/had happened during the Bush Administration. Politically we are obviously in a very different situation now. Although Obama leaves a lot to be desired in many areas, I think for progressives the Bush years represented the utter abyss. Is there a continuation of political themes on the new record, and if so, how would you describe them?

As mentioned before, Ryan wrote the lyrics to all but one song on KM, and I'd rather not elaborate on his behalf too much. With that being said however, I'd say you were right on with your interpretation of the lyrics on KM. There is a slight political continuation on “M.I.A.” as I believe there will always be on all BSI records. The difference I would say would be not be so much of an opposing view or stance from what Ryan was saying, but, filtered by my brother and I's perception about what we think about. It being more about the politics and stress, anxiety, and frustration of human existence as opposed to any of the particular current events in which Ryan was referring. Our message is a bit more obtuse and general.

Although nothing official has really been said about it, since there's been no label mentioned I'm assuming you guys are doing it as a d.i.y. release. Why did you guys decide to go that route this time around?

It is indeed a DIY release. We had too many headaches dealing with labels this time around and decided to self release. We've always admired bands such as Neurosis and Tragedy who have total control over their music. Now we do. There will be growing pains involved I'm sure, trying to get the music to people's ears but, I've no doubt we'll pull it off. However, that's not to say we wouldn't be interested in releasing music on a label in the future if it were agreeable.

You mentioned that when Ryan and Izzi left the band they did so in part to focus on their "career' with Trap Them. I'm not sure whether you used that word consciously or unconsciously, but one of the biggest changes that's happened in punk and hardcore since the last BSI records were released (and it of course started prior to that time) is the ability of bands to do music as an actual career. It seems like more and more bands have booking agents, managers, etc. What do you see as the pros and cons of this development and do you see BSI as being your "career" or as more of a passion, a really expensive hobby, etc.?

It was consciously. I've always been torn about this subject. I have no issue with bands and musicians who are able to make their band, their passion, a career. Unfortunately, for me and Bri while Backstabbers Inc. is and will always be a huge, important part of our life, we've always been hesitant to put all our eggs in one basket, so to speak. What I mean to say is that there are so many other interests in this world that my brother and I would not want to sacrifice for making this a career. Nor would we want to become burnt out or complacent. Perhaps that is why we are still around after 15 years or so.

I'm glad you asked this question, because I was thinking of this very thing today. I've gone back and forth over the years of wanting to dissolve this part of my life but I always come back to it. Any time I pick up a guitar THIS is what comes out. It's in my blood. I think that as well as the fact that BSI wouldn't survive as a career is that neither Bri or I would be interested in writing material under contract. Pressure. It would seem too inauthentic to me, for us. Speaking for myself I'm not one to fiddle around on guitar for the sake of it. That's not to discount those who do. It's a tool for expression when the time comes. While we may never be the flavor of the month, the sickest shredders, the fastest players or the Hardest Hardcore band around, I want people to at least understand and remember that our music is honest, sincere, and always from the heart. No matter how long it takes us.

Looking back over the question, there is definitely more to this that may be in contrast to what I just wrote, but I think compliments it. I suppose if I were to look at the term "career" a bit more loosely, I do think Bri and I are heading into a more productive era; learning from our past mistakes and honing our learned skills as we move ahead into the future. You haven't seen the last of us. No, not in the least.

You can stream/purchase the new BSI record right here:

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