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:: Spotlight :: Interview with Austrian Death Machine

By: Justin Donnelly

Quite possibly one of the funniest releases to emerge this year has to be ‘Total Brutal’, the debut offering from Austrian Death Machine. While the album is lyrically based around the hilarious one-liners that have become a trademark of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s films, ‘Total Brutal’ also reveals itself to be an over the top thrash album that pays tribute to the genre’s heyday from the mid to late ‘80’s.

Determined to unravel the mystery behind Austrian Death Machine, I cornered sole mastermind/member Tim Lambesis (who was on the road as part of the Vans Warped Tour with his other group As I Lay Dying) in Birmingham, Alabama and pried out of him the details behind the making of the album, the real identity of vocalist Ahhnold and the inspiration and ideal that brought Austrian Death Machine to life.

“The idea behind Austrian Death Machine actually came out of a conversation I was having with some friends while out on tour. We were all goofing around and talking about all the one-liners from all the Schwarzenegger films. And it was during that conversation that I started thinking about how great it would be to use those one-liners as the choruses to brutal metal songs. I distinctly remember thinking that I could have people singing those great movie quotes. It was kind of one of those things where everybody involved in that conversation thought I was joking. But I was serious. I really wanted to do this, and blow people’s minds. Anyway, it was just a passing idea, until a year later when I made it happen. Now that the album is finished, those same guys have come back to me and said, ‘I remember that conversation. I thought you were only kidding!’ (Laughs)”

The differences between As I Lay Dying and Austrian Death Machine are evident. And according to Lambesis, so to were the recording sessions for the two groups.

“Recording ‘Total Brutal’ was actually a lot of fun. I have never had so much fun in the recording studio before. I have a studio at my house (Lambesis Studios), and that’s where we recorded the last As I Lay Dying album (2007’s ‘An Ocean Between Us’). So I had all the equipment, and all the knowledge I needed, so I didn’t have to worry about that side of things. Armed with all these songs that I had been putting together in my head, I just went in there and recorded them. It was a great time. Most of the time, people/musicians are stressed out when they’re in the studio because you’re worried about getting everything perfect. But this time around, it was just so easy. It was just me playing everything on the album, and I was laughing most of the time. Obviously the subject matter was a whole lot more light-hearted than any of the other albums that I have recorded in the past. But I think the more you laugh in the studio, the more fun it is.”

Of course, while the songs (not to mention the various skits in-between the songs) on ‘Total Brutal’ are a light-hearted dig at Schwarzenegger, they’re also a tribute to his films, as Lambesis reveals himself to be a big fan of the actor’s films.

“Austrian Death Machine is a combination of me really loving all of Schwarzenegger’s movies as I was growing up, and me being able to laugh at the funny Schwarzenegger moments. When you think of leading actors in some of the biggest action films, Schwarzenegger is the perfect action film actor. But then sometimes, he’s outright funny without actually meaning to be. I mean you only have to sit down and watch ‘Total Recall’ (1990). That film is my favourite. To me, it’s kind of philosophical, like ‘The Matrix’ (1999) where you couldn’t tell what was real and what was not. But apart from that, there’s this hilarious side where the character Schwarzenegger plays, especially when he’s confused and doesn’t know what’s going on. He’s does these things that I just find so funny throughout the whole movie. ‘Total Recall’ is a good combination of philosophical, action movie and comedy all at the same time.”

Lambesis also ensured that Austrian Death Machine’s debut paid a fitting tribute to Schwarzenegger with the its cover artwork, which was provided by Ed Repka.

“I’m so proud of the artwork that Repka did. It really helped give this album a life. I gave him a rough outline of what I wanted, and that was this Schwarzenegger like character that had destroyed a whole city, but only with the use of his microphone. That was my basic idea. And as you can tell by looking at the album cover, Repka pulled it off perfectly. There are no weapons in Schwarzenegger’s hands. There’s only a microphone there. And yet there’s total destruction behind him. The cover embodied everything I wanted Austrian Death Machine to be.”

Humour, like music, is subjective. But what makes ‘Total Brutal’ different from a lot of other parody albums is its thrash backbone, with guest guitar solo contributions from the likes of Jason Suecof (Trivium), Mark MacDonald (Mercury Switch), Dan Fitzgerald (Dan Fitzgerald & The Unknown Comets), Adam Dutkiewicz (Killswitch Engage), Nick Hipa (As I Lay Dying), Eyal Levi/Emil Werstler (Dååth) and Jason Barnes (Haste The Day).

“So far, the response to ‘Total Brutal’ has been great, especially from other musicians. I was able to use a lot of the elements within metal that are kind of cliché, but using them in a way where I’m almost poking fun at it, and yet make it sound fun for other musicians. There’s a guitar solo in every song no matter what. I think that’s something that guitar players love. Every guitar player wants to hear a solo in a song, and I had some great solo players play on this album. It’s kind of funny, because I had this prerequisite that if I was to have any guests on the album, they had to be my friend, had to be a great guitar player and be a diehard Schwarzenegger fan. That sounds like a pretty tough prerequisite to fill, but it really wasn’t. Most of my friends are great guitar players, and they’re all huge Schwarzenegger fans. I really can’t play guitar solos, so I did all the other work and let them do their own thing. I also let the guitarists choose the songs they wanted to play on based on their own favourite movie. Most of the time it was just one guy playing a guitar solo per song. But in the case of Suecof, he did a couple of solos on the album because he loves all of Schwarzenegger’s movies. I think the drummers will love this album too because it’s so ridiculously mechanical. Obviously the band is called Austrian Death Machine, so the drums had to be mechanical sounding. Drummers seem to love it because it is so over the top. But in regards to the humorous side of the album, it depends on the listener’s sense of humour. European’s have a very different sense of humour. They grow up hearing an Austrian accent all the time, so it’s not really funny to them! (Laughs) So I’ve had them make comments like, ‘I don’t think the album is very funny, but the music is good. So why don’t you just make a good thrash album?’ Obviously they don’t think it’s that funny. But over here in the U.S. and over in Australia, people who don’t grow up around that accent all the time think it’s funny. And that’s what makes it all more enjoyable. I hope that the music itself stands out on its own, because I would like to think that it’s enjoyable to a thrash metal fan as well.”

Obviously Metal Blade Records’ owner Brian Slagel was sold on the thrash component on ‘Total Brutal’.

“There was no real overhead cost to me, because I have my own recording studio set up here at home. So I just started recording it. If I had to release it independently, I really wouldn’t have minded. I wasn’t really worried about who was going to release ‘Total Brutal’ until I finished the album. In fact, I wanted to keep Austrian Death Machine a secret until I had some music to play somebody. When you explain the idea to somebody, they’ll think it’s all funny and cool, but at the same time without understanding exactly what I was really talking about. So when the music was all finished, the first person I played it to was Slagel. He’s a huge thrash fan. Some of the earliest bands on Metal Blade Records were thrash bands. I mean this is the guy that released the first Slayer album (1983’s ‘Show No Mercy’), and released the first Metallica recording (‘Hit The Lights’ on 1982’s ‘Metal Massacre’ compilation). He just loved ‘Total Brutal’, because it’s so thrash influenced. He really wanted to release it, and that was before any of the vocals were recorded. Once he heard the vocals, and understood the whole concept of the album, he really wanted to do it. I was kind of scared that the vocals would scare him off, but they only made him love it even more. It’s really cool to work with a record label where everyone is getting as much enjoyment and having fun with the album as much as I am.”

And in regards to those funny moments, I just had to ask just which track on the album stood out as Lambesis’ favourite.

“I guess I would say that my favourite skit is ‘What It’s Like To Be A Singer At Band Practice’. That’s my favourite because it’s so absolutely true. When you listen to that piece, you think there’s no way that band practice could be so annoying. But it is! Every time I try to say something when I’m rehearsing with As I Lay Dying, somebody is always screwing around on their guitar, or playing a stupid drum beat. Of course, putting Ahhnold in that position, and finding out that he’s the one getting frustrated instead of me, is just so funny. I just think that it’s so hilarious just hearing somebody else deal with my frustrations. The other cool one is ‘Broo-Tall Song Idea’. That one was really spontaneous, and we kind of did that at the very last minute at the tail end of the recording sessions. It seems that when everyone is laughing, one idea leads into another. And that kind of came out of that method of doing things. That was just me and my friend Chad Ackerman (Destroy The Runner lead vocalist). Ackerman did all of the Schwarzenegger impersonations. We wanted them to sound like movie clips, but without using the actual movie clips, or getting sued for it. Ackerman did all the movie type clips, and the stuff that goes back and forwards between the two of us in-between the songs.”

Given that ‘Total Brutal’ is solely based around Schwarzenegger’s larger than life characters, I asked Lambesis if he was expecting Schwarzenegger or any of his people to react to the album.

“We sent him a copy of the album, but I’m sure it’s sitting in a big pile of other stuff on his desk. I’m sure he’s a pretty busy guy. Hopefully he’ll hear it. The more the word spreads, the more likely he is to hear about it. Look, even if he gets upset, I think it would be cool to hear him acknowledge that. But I don’t think he’ll get upset. I’m hoping that he’ll endorse it in some way. I think he has a sense of humour. I mean this is the same guy that did ‘Kindergarten Cop’ (1990) and ‘Junior’ (1994). So I really do believe that he has a sense of humour, and I think that he would enjoy hearing the album.”

Despite ‘Total Brutal’ recalling some of Schwarzenegger’s best one-liners, there are some glaring omissions by the way of ‘Conan Thew Barbarian’ (1982) and ‘Commando’ (1985). But as Lambesis explains, they’re not there for a very good reason.

“Neither of those films are represented, because I’m saving those for the next album. Both of those films are full of great quotes. A lot of people think that ‘Total Brutal’ is just this one album deal, and something that I recorded purely because I had too much free time on my hands. But that’s not the case at all. I really have a bigger vision and a lot of ideas coming together for a second album. That’s definite too. I already have ideas. I definitely want to make it a real band, and record multiple records. This is just the first one, and I think it kind of sets the standard in what the rest are going to sound like in the future. Like any good band, I think Austrian Death Machine will get better with time.”

Part of being in a band is playing live, with Lambesis planning to take Austrian Death Machine out on the road in the near future.

“I’ve been talking to some of the people that made a guest appearance on the album. In fact, they were the ones that approached me first, and said that if I ever wanted to do this live, I should call them. They’re more than willing to be a part of it. So it’s just a matter of everyone’s schedules matching up. With me touring with As I Lay Dying, it might be another six months before we can really make this happen. But I think that’s good timing anyway, because at that point, everyone will have heard the album. Part of the idea is to play these songs and get people singing along. I mean it doesn’t take long for people to figure what the words are. Even if people have never heard the songs, all I would have to do is announce the name of the songs, and they would pick up the chorus straight away. I mean ‘Get To The Choppa’ is the perfect example of a sing along type of song. I’m actually working on a video for that song too. Of course, with As I Lay Dying being so busy, I don’t want to push things too crazy. But it’ll be about a month, and that video will be done. The concept is just about worked out. I don’t want to give away too much, because it might change before then. But what I wanted to do was create characters using claymation. There will all be these robotic band member characters made out of claymation, and that their heads would constantly change. Sometimes it would be my head, and then it would switch to Ahhnold. It’s a hard and crazy concept to explain, but once you see it, it will be really entertaining.”

I would like to thank Tim Lambesis for his generous time, and Jeanna Sims at Stomp Records Distribution for making the interview possible.

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