SUFFOCATION drummer Mike Smith has denied former bassist Chris Richards' assertions that the legendary death metal act's planned reunion is purely money-motivated and has indicated that a new album from the group may surface sometime next year, provided the quintet's upcoming tour and subsequent songwriting sessions prove to be a success.
In the following exclusive interview conducted via e-mail, Smith offers insight into the group's future plans and their reasons for returning to the scene after a four-year hiatus.
Q: According to reports, the line-up of the reunited SUFFOCATION is Mike Smith (drums), Terrance Hobbs (guitar), Guy Marchais (guitar), Frank Mullen (vocals), and Josh Barohn (bass). Can you please confirm or deny?
Mike Smith: The actual lineup isn't written in stone because the position for second guitarist will be decided through tryouts. Guy Marchais [who was in an early incarnation of the group in addition to currently performing with INTERNAL BLEEDING—ed.] was offered the opportunity, because he is one that I happen to keep contact with, and he told me he was interested. As for myself, Terrance, Frank and Josh, that is set. The ultimate outcome will be whoever can successfully pull off their position. I can only speak for myself as a returning member that my spot is filled. Josh will set his own destiny. I can only wish the best for all involved. We have to take it seriously first or the fans won't.
Q: How did the idea to get back together come about?
Mike Smith: Frank first approached us all about rejoining. Myself, Terrance and Josh felt it was worth responding. SUFFOCATION internally has been through a lot since the original lineup. In my opinion, we were the worst clash of personalities growing up. We were tight in appearance to the fans but certain members had their own personal agendas that resulted in constant lineup changes, uncompromised music direction and predictably, complete band dismemberment. Focus was lost and we didn't take advantage of having the privilege of being a signed national act. Now years later, a few realize and are willing to fight to regain respect as true original musicians that have always, despite all the bad decisions, created incredible music. For the record, Jay Fligman as manager was the best thing for us. He asked for nothing, put all his time and money and in return go shit on. No one in the band was willing to do for ourselves what he did for us. If he was that terrible, I can't imagine why they would sign to his Vulture Entertainment label to release Despise the Sun years later. It makes no sense.
Q: You had previously stated that former bassist Chris Richards was not approached for the reunion. Why not?
Mike Smith: I did say Chris was not approached, but I'll admit I was wrong. By the time Frank had approached me, Josh had already been placed in the lineup and there was no mention of Chris. It turns out Chris was approached first along with Doug and they together decided that a response was unnecessary. The band has always been divided into certain cliques, that being one of them. It is sad, because I've known Chris a long time and Doug twice as long, but you can never really be sure if your right to consider them your close friends or acquaintances, whom somehow merged together to form the most brutal project of all our lives, SUFFOCATION. Maybe it is just me.
Q: You had previously stated that Doug didn't have the respect to respond to an invitation to be part of the reunion. What exactly do you mean?
Mike Smith: Terrance and Frank have tried repeatedly to contact Doug and they both failed. We know Doug's shoes will be hard to fill, but it can be done just like the rest of us who eventually faced the hatchet at one time or another.
Q: How did you decide to get Guy to take Doug's place in the band?
Mike Smith: Guy was the first-comer to show interest in the position. As true fans know, he was involved with us when SUFFOCATION first formed. Since then he has been one of the most dedicated musicians I've come across. So it is worth giving him a shot. Guy knows whoever successfully tries for the spot and solidly pulls it off will ultimately be, but it is worth a shot. He knows us all pretty well.
Q. What have you done in the years since you left SUFFOCATION, musically speaking and otherwise?
Mike Smith: Since I left SUFFOCATION, I have fooled with many different musicians, not necessarily speed metal-related, but once you have played with musicians like Doug, Terrance and Chris, others just don't seem to understand your need and desire for the next level of music. Most are intimidated, because I am just not feeling it the way they do. So I kept to myself, locked up in the studio and wrote a rap/whatever album directed mainly to these talentless rap artists who have successfully broken the barrier and crossed over into rock/rap and have the world on their knees believing that they know something about the extremes of being a musician or rock music. So I came out with an 18-song album under the moniker GRIMM REAL and titled it Demise of the Clones. It undoubtedly contains the most direct and chest-clearing lyrics I have had the opportunity to write. By no means did I care to be labeled a rap artist — that is just the form the lyrics came out as. I had been to Sony [Records' offices] a few times to discuss possible signing, but after wasted trips to see them, they finally admitted they didn't know what genre to label me as, and being I went to them with the album fully pressed and packaged, [it] backfired. I appeared too independently developed for them. They needed a clean slate to work with and prostitute like the rest, which is exactly what the album protests.
Q: What are your short-term and long-term goals for this reunion? Will there be another SUFFOCATION record?
Mike Smith: My short-term goals are to rebuild my stamina and shred the temporary fill-ins that took my spot. My long-term goal is to keep my mind healthy by playing what I know I am meant to play, music from the soul that touches people the same way. I know I am a musician and capable of staying updated and on the edge. If I have the opportunity to continue to what I started, I would be a fool to do otherwise. There is a lot of garbage music out here influencing people's lives in major ways. There has to be a little room for me. Once the lineup is intact, there will be another SUFFOCATION album but it won't be rushed.
Q: Have you actually gotten together and rehearsed as a band yet?
Mike Smith: Frank hasn't returned from Las Vegas to Long Island yet. When he does, which should be in one week, we will get it together. As for the rumor that we are working on an album and are ready to set shows up, that is false. We will be concentrating first on securing the lineup and relearning past albums Effigy Of The Forgotten and Pierced From Within, so we can hit the road promoting a solid Effigy/Pierced tour. That will get us in shape to create what we feel is needed at the time.