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American Heritage interview

| October 31, 2006 | 0 Comments

American Heritage
What’d He Say?

There’s no way we would let American Heritage vocalist/guitarist/bassist Adam Norden off the hook without asking about the band’s song titles, which in the past have included “Pole To Hole,” “Ass To Ass,” and “Phil Collins.” The Chicago trio’s most recent release, Millenarian (Translation Loss), ups the ante, if possible, with gems like “Peckerwood,” “Toilet Paper And Leotards,” and our favorite, “It’s Like Fucking A Napkin Full Of Toe Nails.”

Two obvious questions come to mind: Are these serious? While pretty fucking funny, they can’t actually have anything do with the song matter, can they?

“Sometimes they do, sometimes they don’t,” Norden says. “Usually not. What I tell people, and I don’t know if this is a good answer, but I’m just like, ‘Well, I don’t pay attention to song titles myself because I put a record on and listen to the whole fuckin’ thing.’ I can’t even remember which record it is half the time.

“So I just don’t put a lot of,” he pauses, “they’re just funny things or whatever, I don’t know. I’ve been trying to think of a really awesome answer to that question.”

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He’ll need one, because Millenarian, the band’s fifth full-length, has definitely raised Norden, guitarist/vocalist Scott Shellhamer, and drummer Mike Duffy’s profile, so questions about the song titles are bound to continue. Even though American Heritage released their first album, Why Everyone Gets Cancer (album titles aren’t spared, either), in 1999, the band have more or less toiled in obscurity since, fighting to even make a name for themselves in their hometown (“There’s no scene for us here. There never has been,” Norden insists).

Millenarian has proven to be a spark, though. Besides the regular underground metal Web sites, American Heritage’s name is sneaking into mainstream outlets like like *Revolver, which profiled the band in its November issue.

There are a few different reasons for the increased attention, Norden says, and the first is the easiest to explain. “[Millenarian] is, I think objectively, our best record so far in a lot of different ways,” he says. “It sounds great; it sounds fantastic and most of the credit has to go to Sanford Parker, our engineer/producer at Volume Studios. He was really instrumental in shaping the way the record sounds. Also we had Scott Hull from Pig Destroyer do the mastering, and that kind of pushed it over the top.”

The band’s new label also helped their cause. “They heard the record because we gave it to them finished, and they were impressed enough to want to put some, umm, resources behind the record,” Norden explains. “They didn’t just release the record, you know? They’re actively trying to sell it, which helps a lot.”

It also doesn’t hurt Millenarian is Heritage’s most-straightforward record to date. Prior to 2003, the band were strictly instrumental, which often led to being pegged as art-metal. But in 2003, one of many lineup shuffles pushed Norden from bass to guitar, and on that year’s split 7-inch with Mastodon (“The first time I saw Mastodon I almost shit myself,” Norden says. “There was just nothing else approaching them.”) American Heritage used vocals for the first time.

“It was sort of like, it was just a time-to-change kind of thing,” Norden says. “Andrei [Cabanban], our original guitar player, had finally quit, umm, permanently quit, I guess you would say. The three of us just sort of collectively decided it was a good opportunity to change the way we did everything because we had to change the way we wrote songs, obviously, because it was different people. When we started doing that it’s when we said, ‘Well, let’s start doing some vocals but not be overly complicated just for the sake of it.’ Try to be more of the kind of band we liked listening to at that point, really.”

Don’t put too much stock into “straightforward,” though, and definitely don’t mistake the term for meaning “less heavy.” Millenarian is a pile-driving 35-minute affair with an emphasis on stop-and-go time changes, heavy-handed percussion, and churning riffs — all elements of the pre-vocal American Heritage. Now those elements are streamlined, though; they fit the greater song structure, a term not always associated with the free-wheeling, wall-of-sound chaos of their earliest records.

It’s not unrealistic to think American Heritage would be mentioned in the same sentence as critical darlings Sunn O))) and fellow Chicagoans Pelican had they stuck with instru-metal. Instead of jumping on the bandwagon, Heritage tucked their heads and dove off, a move Norden doesn’t regret, despite that scene’s popularity surge.

“It doesn’t bother me because we’re getting more attention now than we ever have. There’s nothing to be bitter about. I could be bitter about the last 20 years, not being famous for 20 years,” he says with a laugh.

“And also a lot of this instrumental stuff has just shown itself to be, umm, very . . . I’m not into that ambient shit,” he says, refusing to sugar coat. “I’m not into stuff that puts you asleep. A lot of that kind of is that or it started out being more aggressive and then moved toward being ambient kind of music, and I’m just really not into it. That’s not really the kind of music I listen to, either. I like listening to some older Isis and stuff like that. But, I’m not going to name names or anything like that, but a lot of the newer stuff just really isn’t for me I guess. I’m more into aggressive stuff that really kinda grabs you by the throat a little bit.”

So vocals it is. And speaking of, Norden thinks he now has the perfect answer to the song-title question: “It’s like this: The lyrics in the song are usually about something. And the song title may be peripherally tied into that, you know what I mean? Like for example, ‘It’s Like Fucking A Napkin Full Of Toe Nails,'” he rethinks this. “Well there’s not really any lyrics in that song. But like ‘Way To Go Cowboy,’ that’s about something, but then the lyrics aren’t really about that. But they kind of are about that.”

O.K., maybe it still needs a little work. But as Norden points out, “Does someone really want to sit down and figure this out?” he asks, taking a jab at his own, difficult-to-decipher lyrics.

If so, Norden has a proposition. Call it a special IE Metal Issue contest. Figure out what the hell Norden is screaming, write new words for him to yell unintelligibly.

“Let’s take ‘Piss Engine’ and if someone can figure out what the vocals are and write them down and send them to me, and if they’re correct, actually the closest person to what I actually say can write the lyrics to our next song,” Norden says, very seriously. “Find us on MySpace or whatever and if you can tell me what I say in the song, the person who comes the closest can write the lyrics to our next song.”

Remember, employees and family members of American Heritage are not qualified to win. Oh yeah, one more regulation for the “Piss Engine” contest winner: Keep it simple.

“As long as they’re not really long,” Norden pleads. “I can’t remember a lot of stuff. I don’t want to be readin’ a book here.”

— Trevor Fisher

Category: Features, Monthly

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