by James Harris
…Marcus Newstead, guitarist for Fister (fisterdoom.com)
One of the first things you notice upon seeing Fister perform is total gearhead amplifier worship. What unholy altars of gain produce your current tone? What’s the signal chain look like?
—Tone is key. It keeps the legitimacy of what we are trying to accomplish a little more in reach when we are comfortable with our sound. It’s changed a lot over the years for both Kenny and myself, but my primary setup has been a 90’s (I’m not sure what year) Gibson Flying V outfitted with Lace Sensor Dirty Heshers pickups in the bridge and neck. Pedal wise I use a local pedal maker’s model of an lm308n chip Rat for my main distortion called a Dunn Effects Deceiver. I stack that into a Lone Wolf Audio Plague Rat which is another incredible ProCo style circuit but it is its own beast. From there it yet again stacks into a Lone Wolf Audio Black Goat Fuzz, a vicious reimagined Bee Baa design. Then it’s to the mod/delay pedals. I’ve had a Boss ps-3 pitch shifter delay on my board for 10 years now, which I cherish highly. From there it’s another pair of LWA pieces; the Full Nelson Delay/Reverb and a Chokehold Delay which is a sort of Lo fi delay pedal with a hold function capable of some pretty insane feedback/oscillation and lets me explore some expansive sonic ground. After that it goes to my two Stonecutter Amps. One is a tried and true 100 watt hand wired Plexi style and the other is a 200 watt 75 Sunn Moldel T Super that had the mid switch function and a completely different tone stack than the original T’s. Neither amps are not clones or kit builds. Morgan Demling from Stonecutter is an extremely talented builder and has an incredible ear for the trade. I play through an old Emperor 4×12 (Eminence Cannabis Rex’s for speakers) and recently I acquired an Atlas 4×12 (celestion gt75/Gm-70’s) as well. Sturdy craft is the best description of these cabs. Excellent builds. I also will r corporate a Mesa Boogie 4×12 with vintage 30’s and a Marshall 4×12 with GT-75’s when we go full bore.
There is a sense of ritual in the setup, placement of gear, and even the level or type of intoxication engaged during a performance, almost like arranging the altar for summoning. How does writing or recording differ from performing in these ways for you? Is it easier to capture live energy on tape, or are the performances attempts at expressing carefully constructed recorded ideas? You guys do a lot of splits with other bands….is that something you all planned, to share so much space with these other groups or did it just happen organically?
—-Being as we never take too much time off from anything involving the band, writing and recording has become about as regimented as a tough touring schedule is for us. We are an extremely organic band in that we’ve rarely had a time when connecting on ideas was an issue. Our last full length “IV” had some arrangement issues when it came time to record that translate to us sometimes not thinking of everything before it gets to tape. We’ve re learned songs before because they were laid down and then by some action of intoxication or sheer surge of creative spontaneity. We learn from ourselves a lot too. I feel like everyone can conduct everyone else very equally. Countless times Kirk has had me change patterns or add or subtract chords or lines to emote a drum fill and it always makes the song better for all three of us. Over the years it’s become our mission to play good shows. Perform the material to the standard that people expect from jamming our records. I think the secret goal ultimately for us and any heavy live band is to play a show that’s slightly better than the recording. Not so much as perfection but as to give the material virility and poise due to the visual elements happening with us actually performing the songs. As far as the splits go, we just get along with other bands really well it seems! We get asked to do splits a lot due to that and we honestly just like writing a lot of music that categorically wouldn’t fit on an album. We take the full length approach in the classic sense that those songs should share not so much a theme but should just sound like they all belong together. Not conceptual but worthy of a long play without bailing before you flip the record essentially because the first 2 or 3 songs wear you out. Bell Witch’s latest record Four Phantoms was a perfect example of album pacing for a full length. Commonality in style through all the songs. That’s the kind of record we are going to continue to put out, as we are gearing up to begin work on our fourth LP.
Considering how often you play with feedback at high enough volumes to physically feel changes in the turbulence in front of the speakers, I imagine gestures and movement of more than just your fingers plays a big part of your sound. Orientation toward or away from speakers, your motion affecting the shape of the sound waves etc…is this a skill you practice or have any sort of system for or is it intuitive and something you just play with? With Kirk being such a loud percussive drummer, and Kenny producing his own swamp of drone to swim through, how does the band as a whole affect your own personal process?
—Kirk holds the band together. His drumming style and attitude drive me to write the kind of riffs I write. I couldn’t do that with another drummer for this band. Kenny, aside from having a great ear for the heaviness of his bass tone, has an incredible mind for composition and arrangement so the content flows and ideas form very quickly in our camp. My process starts at song conception. I’ll imagine what I want the song to sound like and then start from the ground up on the sonic aspect; choosing what rhythm tone would accompany the theme in my head, which layers I want to have in the heaviest sections, and what the other guitar player would play if we had another one. I try to write two guitar parts for every song and then meld the two for live performance.
Fister has evolved from straight up stoner doom into an impossibly bleak funereal war-drone. What prompted this evolution, what is it that drove you so far into the bleak and away from that original goofiness?
—It became clear to us that writing the songs were becoming more and more complex projects when we added the live drummer to the mix. We thought initially that it wouldn’t amount to a performance worthy catalogue of songs. It went from getting ripped out of our skulls and writing and recording a demo song in a single night every few weeks to writing songs for 3 or 4 days in a row and actually thinking about making them more cohesive metal songs. It stopped being stoner doom Sleep and Electric Wizard riffs with mean vocals and started to take shape as something a little deeper into a general “metal” vibe, which we embraced and loved. Keeping it slow was the only aspect I think we stayed attached to because the spacial opportunity to write songs is one we work well in. One review not too long ago genrefied our modern approach as Funeral Death, leaving the weighted “doom” connotation out of it. I though was kind of funny at first but then after thinking it makes sense. Most of our content and concept rely on themes of death and frantic terror. Horror, fear, and disgust play heavily into how all of us process the weight of life and our pasts as humanity. We are all on the surface functioning and loving people but everyone has a heavy mind that they medicate one way or the other. For all the good there is still bad, we just try to keep it in the music where it’s a healthier filtration to get these feelings of dread worked out.
Do you all share lyrics writing duties?
There is a heavy blend of “intoxicated on religion/religion of intoxication” vibes and total nihilistic failure at work in a lot of the lyrics, especially on IV:
We are reborn
God bless us all
Trance like death…
…Hear our prayers
High on his glory
Alone we die
Abandoned by the father
How do these themes of religion, drugs, failure, violence intertwine for you?
—Kenny and I share the lyric writing duties 50/50. We are also help each other with the vocal phrasing too, which I like a lot. It is much more pleasant to have support when bouncing ideas off each other. This is the first band I ever wrote serious introspective lyrics that weren’t based on nonsensical pairings of metaphorical and attractive words. Our lyrical content base centering around those themes are direct results from that natural procession of “getting it all out” in a healthy way. I’m not going to go burn a church but it can still disgust me and piss me off to see more and more heavy handed domination of stupid and scared people. Failure and violence make our planet what it is. Human failings are louder than having my head next to our speakers at full crank, and it nearly nauseates me to witness such banality on a daily basis, and I’m thankful it comes out coherently in our music and presence.