From any number of different standpoints, be they social, financial, mental, or even physical, being in a metal band has never been an easy path to take. Sure, there are far more difficult circumstances a person can find themselves in than enduring 14 hour drives between shows and living off $5 food buyouts every day, but these and many other factors can add up over time, and what they usually add up to is a classic case of burnout. That was the situation Exhumed’s Matt Harvey found himself in six years ago when he decided to lay the goregrind band he founded in his mid-teens to rest. For a decade and a half he had put the full weight of the band almost solely on his shoulders, and in 2005 he was done—burnt to a crisp and bound for the blissful, perpetual waking coma that is otherwise known as the real world.
But this sojourn into the realm of slack-jawed, doe-eyed suburban middling, with musical projects existing only in the periphery, was to be only a temporary one for Harvey. Having stepped away from Exhumed for a few years and tasted what life was like without it, the passion for the demands of being part of the underground elite network of road tramping metal warriors he thought had been forever lost was allowed to return naturally over time. Now, Exhumed is back with a literal and figurative vengeance, and recently released an album that, despite Exhumed’s long hiatus, lacks nothing of the psycho-carnivorous edge the band held in its forceps-like grip back in the day. In fact, many critics have hailed “All Guts, No Glory,” as Exhumed’s finest hour, past or present. Period. Harvey spoke to Metal Underground about Exhumed’s resurrection, and how things are different this time around.
Metal Underground: Why was this the right time to resurrect Exhumed?
Matt Harvey: For me, it was right because I had a nice break from Exhumed and death metal in general and I was able to get psyched about playing this style of music again. Also, it was the right time because the other guys were into doing a record which wasn’t the case before. Wes really is to blame for lighting the fire under my ass to do this again. I curse him every day for that, ha ha!
Metal Underground: In the years between Exhumed releases, you joined the “real world” for a while, working in tech support and selling TVs in Hawaii. What was it like to go from working for labels and doing music full time to leading a more conventional lifestyle for a few years and just doing a few different musical projects on the side?
Matt Harvey: It was definitely different and helped me really get a handle on who I am and what it is that I’m all about. I kind of felt like I had spent 15 years concentrating on music and I wanted to sort of look around at life from different perspectives and shit. I think it was almost like a kind of pre-mid-life crisis or something. I really did have high hopes for the band Scarecrow that I started, but ultimately I wasn’t focused enough to really push that forward. It’s been a good feeling having that focus back with Exhumed and this new record.
Metal Underground: You’ve said that the reason Exhumed was first laid to rest was that your passion for it went away. What brought it back?
Matt Harvey: I think I was able to get away from the things about the band that were frustrating me and get some objectivity about the things that Exhumed had accomplished and the cool shit it had brought to my life. I wanted to try my hand at doing some other stuff, and that won’t go away, but it’s been good to have Exhumed back in my life – or to have Exhumed take over my life again, I should say.
Metal Underground: Though it’s been nearly a decade since the last Exhumed album came out, on “All Guts, No Glory,” it sounds like the band never went away. How did the band manage to accomplish that?
Matt Harvey: Well, for me I wouldn’t want to do a new record if I didn’t think we could top what we had done before. If we weren’t going to be able to come out with all guns blazing, it wouldn’t be worth making a record. That said, I didn’t really have any expectations as far as anything when we were writing. We all agreed that the period of Exhumed we liked the best was “Slaughtercult” and wanted to mix that with the technicality and melody of “Anatomy….” A big part of the revitalization was the fact that Wes (Caley, guitar) wrote half the songs on the record. He really kicked my ass into gear. I think we both really pushed each other to write better songs and be more prolific. We came up with 22 songs or so, 11 of which made it on the final album, and four more that we recorded as bonus tracks.
Metal Underground: What was your reaction when you got the final mixes back for “All Guts, No Glory,” and at that time how did you feel it would be received?
Matt Harvey: I was really happy with it. I honestly feel like it’s our best record yet, by far. I didn’t really think too much about how it would be received – I try not to think about that kind of thing. I just focus on making the record that I wanted and making myself and the other guys happy and proud of what we’d accomplished. Even if everyone hated it, I’d be stoked because it came out more or less exactly how I wanted it to.
Metal Underground: You’ve talked about struggling financially for years while doing Exhumed the first time around. What sort of mental state does that put you in on a day to day basis, when you know you’re doing something you love, but that you’ll likely never be able to put anything away for the future?
Matt Harvey: Well, it is what it is, you know? Things are a bit easier for us now, not that we’re rolling in dough – far from it, but things seem to be moving forward and working well for this record. I think for once we have everything on the same page at the same time – we have the label behind us, we have a great touring line-up (with Mike Hamilton from Deeds of Flesh on drums and Rob Babcock of Gravehill on bass and vocals) that’s ready to dig in and get to work, we have good agents in the US and Europe, and people seem to like the record, all of which helps things. It’s all about having a good team and being able to plan and work together to minimize the stresses of doing this. Of course, it’s not all fun and games, but overall things are improving. That said, I’m not planning on starting a 401K anytime soon. Also, I hope that I haven’t come off as whiny or complaining – ultimately, I’m the one who made the decision to pursue this – I could’ve gone to college and done something else, but for whatever reason, I’d rather be doing this. Of course it gets frustrating sometimes, but never as frustrating as being stuck in some kind of cubicle-farm 9-5 grind working on meaningless bullshit to make some other asshole more money.
Metal Underground: Now that Exhumed is back, how is your mindset different the second time around?
Matt Harvey: Well, I don’t put as much pressure on things, or myself for that matter. I feel like we have a good rapport with everyone in the band – the recording and touring line-ups – and everyone is on the same page. We all discuss shit together and figure shit out together, whereas before I kind of took everything on myself. I realize now that that was a choice, not a necessity, and I’m much happier and healthier in a more team-oriented atmosphere than a dictatorship, like it was when Col (Jones, original drummer) and I called all the shots. We don’t sweat the small stuff or freak out like we used to. There are no more screaming matches about changing a note in a riff or anything stupid like that like there used to be. Now, we just work hard but don’t put unnecessary pressure on each other.
Metal Underground: What concerns, if any, did you have in bringing Exhumed back in regard to the reaction of the fans to your new material?
Matt Harvey: I wasn’t thinking too much about anything except making myself happy and staying true to the essence of the band. I kind of wanted to figure out what Exhumed was all about and build on that. For me, I hadn’t played any Exhumed songs for years, so I kind of re-learned the style of the band from the outside in. Almost like I was joining a band as an outsider and figuring out the style. It ended up being a lot of fun.
Metal Underground: How does it feel to be back on stage playing Exhumed songs again, both old and new?
Matt Harvey: It feels good, man. The first few shows were pretty tiring, to be honest, but now things are moving into the “machine” type of mode where we go out and just attack the stage with confidence every night and we don’t have to think too much about things. I like when we don’t have to think too much about shit.
Metal Underground: While you were away from touring for a few years, how much did you miss being on the road?
Matt Harvey: I missed certain things about it, like hanging out with friends, seeing far away places and traveling, shit like that. I didn’t really miss sleeping in the van and 14 hour plane rides, but it’s all part of the package.
Metal Underground: What will your approach to touring be this time around as opposed to ten years ago?
Matt Harvey: Well, initially we weren’t going to tour that much, but offers kept coming that we couldn’t really turn down, so we’re going to be on the road a lot. We’re already planning shit for Spring and Summer 2012. It’s kind of crazy. Right now, the iron’s hot, so we’re just trying to make the most of it. As long as it makes sense for us to keep on playing and people want us to come to their town and rock, we’ll keep doing it. Right now, it feels like we have a lot of momentum and shit, so we just want to capitalize on it.
Metal Underground: Exhumed is known for its vast back catalog of split releases. Will you continue to take that approach, or will you lean more toward putting out full albums exclusively?
Matt Harvey: We’d like to do more of that in the future. We’ve been talking to Dead from Germany about doing a split 7″, and we’re going to be resuming work on our DVD and shit like that. That said, we have already been talking about the direction of the next album and shit like that, so the band is definitely back – this isn’t like a reunion/nostalgia thing or whatever.
Metal Underground: What’s your plan as far as avoiding the loss of passion that put Exhumed to rest previously?
Matt Harvey: I don’t know that you can plan or not plan for that kind of thing. Mostly I just want to have fun doing this and try to work smarter, not harder so as long as we keep doing this, I think things will be fine. Also as long as we have a good core team in the band where we push each other to keep writing our best material and working together, it won’t get stale. Before I felt really isolated and a bit overwhelmed, now there’s more communication, teamwork, all that shit that makes things cool and fun and not a grind or a drag.
Metal Underground: Exhumed is currently on the road in the U.S. and Canada. How is the tour going and how does it feel to be barnstorming North America once again?
Matt Harvey: It’s going really well. We’re super psyched to have a great package of killer bands, Macabre, Cephalic Carnage, and Withered who are all cool dudes to hang out and party with and go out and kick ass every night. It’s been a blast reconnecting with old friends and raging. We just announced the sequel to this tour which will focus on the East Coast, Eastern Canada and the South, with Goatwhore, Cephalic Carnage and Havok supporting, so we’re really just getting started as far as touring for “All Guts…” See you all out there! Bring beer!
Joe Henley is a freelance music journalist and editor currently living in Taipei, Taiwan. In addition to pulling vocal duty in a death metal band, he maintains a website on the Taiwanese metal scene and writes regular features on the touring bands that come through Taipei for a local monthly music magazine.