On top of being one of the best years for new releases, 2019 gave some of the most badass tours I have seen in my young, adult life. Wrapping up the year here in Las Vegas we had Nile with Terrorizer in November, Despised Icon with Ingested, Shadow of Intent, and Kublai Kahn in September, Amon Amarth with Arch Enemy in October, and probably my absolute favorite of this year: Cattle Decapitation alongside the legendary Atheist and many other powerhouse acts.
First of all, the lineup on this tour was absolutely bonkers in the best way possible. As if the aforementioned legends weren’t enough, this tour exemplified a strong presence of subgenre diversity. Primitive Man with their ball-crushing, droney, doom atmosphere. Author and Punisher, essentially a one man “machine” generating heavy, soul-grasping, industrial compositions. Darkest Hour, Melodic Death/Metalcore. Unearth, ripping Djenty Metalcore. And Vitriol, the most pissed off sounding Death Metal band this world has ever seen.
Though even with this amazing platter of heavy, musical destruction, the favorited moment of the night, of course, was getting to talk with Kelly Shaefer of the almighty Atheist. Man, if this guy was any cooler he would be an ice cube. One of the most humble legends I’ve had the pleasure of speaking with. Looking back it felt like less of an interview and more of a good conversation with an old friend.
Well first of all thank you so much for giving me your time. I’ve been wanting to meet you for a pretty long time.
Kelly: You’ve been listening for awhile?
Oh yeah, since high school. I’m 23 now.
Kelly: Oh shit, that’s awesome.
Yeah that was a time when I started getting into more thrash and death like Demolition Hammer.
Kelly: Oh so you went back?
Yeah I started on the more modern side of metal like Slipknot and things like that.
Kelly: What’d you think, starting from Slipknot then going back? Did you understand the pecking order, like where shit came from?
Oh yeah. My family was big on understanding your roots.
Kelly: Gotta know where shit’s been before you know where it goes.
Exactly. And obviously you guys have been hailed as pioneers of essentially Tech Death.
Kelly: Yeah we made some weird shit. Wasn’t so well received back then in the early days so its nice to see someone in their twenties go “yeah I get it.”
Going off of what you’ve stated in previous interviews, you say you were the outcasts of the outcasts in the Florida scene.
Kelly: Yeah I mean that’s how it was. Tampa was already an outcast scene and then we were on the outside fringe of that. So we would try to find other bands to play with that were more musical and concerned about musicality. It wasn’t until we met Cynic after we were done with Piece of Time we were like ‘alright we got a sister band now who kinda gets it.’ And then we met some other guys that were kinda pushing the boundaries like Ripping Corpse from Jersey, they had a really great drummer and bass player. Obliveon from Canada-
That’s a band that needs to come back.
Kelly: Definitely. They would do so well. You hear that guys? Come back!
I wanted to ask a slightly personal question. When you started Atheist back in the day you handled vocal and guitar duties. Do you still have problems with Carpal Tunnel and Tendinitis?
Kelly: I still play guitar. There’s that common misconception that I just stopped playing but I still write. Me and Steve maintain the integrity of Atheist by writing together and then using other musicians to sort of accompany what our template is but uh.. Standing up and playing fucking kills my thumb, I can’t make a fist but when I sit down y’know it’s all good. And obviously I didn’t want to just sit down and play, y’know, so I figured I’d just sing and someone else would play the guitar parts and its actually more fun and I’m kinda glad that it happened because I like Writing and recording but its so much work to play and sing at the same time, especially this shit.
Your vocal style. Where was the inspiration behind that? Were you trying to emulate a certain aspect or did it just come naturally?
Kelly: I just remember.. I mean it’s been so long so it’s hard to remember exactly. We had a singer who kinda sounded like Bruce Dickinson when we were called R.A.V.A.G.E. And he kinda just phased himself out and then I was like ‘fuck it I’ll try.’ I didn’t have all that super low guttural shit. I have a higher, witchier kinda voice so I lean more towards Mille, Kreator, Destruction, Shmier and all that so I thought ‘I could do that.’ So I just kinda went in that direction.
2019 has obviously been crazy for music releases. Have there been any newer releases that have especially caught your eye?
Kelly: Fucking Vitriol. Jesus, I mean like, and that’s not just because they’re on tour with us I was just blown away by those kids man they’re like technical but they’re furocious. Two of the most amazing singers that I’ve heard. I hear them backstage they don’t even need a microphone, they’re just fucking monsters. I don’t think people realize how hard it is to be a brand new band and come out with an album that strong. I can’t really think of anyone whose done that in the last few years so I really love them alot. Some friends of mine are in a band called The Offering. Actually our guitar player used to play in The Offering. That’s a strong album. Really great singer. So much good shit. Death Atlas, candidate for album of the year, easy.
Kind of a funnier question. What are your most and least favorite experiences you’ve had on tour since your reuniting?
Kelly: Best was probably.. I mean it’s pretty hard to top Wacken Open Air. I mean there’s tens of thousands of people and that was our first time coming back and we didn’t even realize people had remembered us so we were just shocked to be there. Shocked when we came out on stage to the response so that was definitely a moment and we kinda looked at each other like ‘wow. Holy shit.’ Lucky guys we were to be able to come back after 17 fucking years and there’s this whole new group of young people who found our records online and started bands as a result of that. Bands like Obscura stating how much of an influence we were and we didn’t even know people knew who we were so it was a really eye-opening experience. The worst uh.. Flying sucks, y’know like that’s the worst part about touring like having to play, pack everything up, be in the airport by five in the morning, get on a plane by eight. Fly to the next place, sound check, get no sleep. Like people see touring as something glamorous and it’s like, fuck, it’s hard man.
So it goes without saying that many fans, myself included, are wondering is there going to be new Atheist material coming soon?
Kelly: Oh yeah man. Big announcement coming soon, I can’t wait to fucking talk about it. But yeah it’s going to be exciting. We’re hoping to get that done by early summer and then spend the next two, two-and-a-half years out playing and really getting out and hitting all the places we never got to back in the day. Steve Flynn (drummer) isn’t big on touring y’know, he likes to make records but he doesn’t like touring, he’s got like four kids.
Is he on this tour?
Kelly: No. He was going to do seven shows on this tour but he ended up with appendicitis and he had a complication from that, caused some internal bleeding. He has to sit it out for two-and-a-half-months, can’t play drums or anything. But we were already using Anthony anyway. Anthony was going to be Steve’s understudy and that’s kind of the new template that we’re working towards so that way we can make a new record, get out and support it, play it. These guys are playing the shit out of these songs, especially the older stuff. They’ve been playing it better than anybody so far, it’s no bullshit, you’ll see.
This night was the absolute best way to wrap up the year. Never would I imagine getting to not only see Atheist in the flesh but also get a one on one with one of the band’s veteran masterminds. Keep your eyes out for that new Atheist announcement ladies and gentleman because if I know anything about these musical psychos I’m willing to wager it’s going to be a very memorable release. Happy New Year from TMR!