INTERVIEW by ZAK SLOMAN
BAND LOGO by BEN WRIGHT
In 2018, Stoke-on-Trent three-piece Rage Cave, an outfit that had made quite n impact on the city’s music scene, decided to call it a day.
One of the members from that band, Max Jeffries, saw this as an opportunity to begin a new musical project, and after a year of doing everything solo, he decided to bring in a collaborator, who turned out to be an American musician called Dustin Burmeister.
Since last summer, the two-piece have been working hard on honing a sound influenced by a host of legendary rock and metal bands, and with not one, but two albums coming out shortly, both Max and Dustin spoke to me about what can be expected from these releases, and much more.
How did the band first form?
MAX JEFFRIES: Underking started as a solo project, pretty much immediately from when Rage Cave ended. I wanted to show how I had developed as a musician and as a person since Rage Cave‘s last album dropped in 2018.
In the summer of that year, I started writing for Underking, and decided that I was going to look for a singer and a screamer, as I didn’t really feel comfortable with being the singer of a band anymore, and I definitely didn’t know how to scream.
In the summer of 2019, Dustin offered to do the screamed vocals for the project, but I knew that I was going to have to do the singing, so, because of this, I decided to split the project into two distinct halves, one with singing, and one with screaming. The two projects that are being released on April 3 reflect this, I think!
DUSTIN BURMEISTER: I met Max online last August, he had posted some clips of these songs on Facebook asking for a vocalist, and I was interested. After listening to them, I reached out and asked if he was still looking, which he was, so I showed him a little bit of what I was about while we discussed the project, and hit it off from there!
How did the name Underking come about?
MAX: The name of the band came about in a discussion I was having with Kieron, the bassist from Rage Cave. I originally wanted to call the project Witch King, but he shot that down, as it sounded a bit generic.
Still wanting to think of some fantasy reference and the king imagery, I chose the name Underking, after the Elder Scrolls character of the same name. I thought it fit with the demos I had at the time, so it just stuck!
What would you say was your approach to songwriting?
MAX: Writing for this project was really fun, as I didn’t really set myself any limits. I just decided to run with pretty much every idea until I thought it was a finished song. Starting with ‘Gravedigger‘, I thought it was a step up from anything I had written in Rage Cave, and it just progressed from there, really – with ‘Nothing But Bone‘ and ‘Hexed‘ rolling straight out after.
However, like all projects, some got thrown out, as I didn’t think they were quite good enough or going anywhere. Some just didn’t feel like I had written them, or sounded too much like other stuff I had heard, but luckily, a lot of them sounded like me, which is what has ended up releasing! I finish up with 14 tracks that I was really happy with in the end, and couldn’t be happier with how they have turned out.
DUSTIN: After getting the vibe from what Max was more or less aiming for when we first discussed the project, I came to the conclusion I wanted to write from more of a narrative point of view, each song being its own small story. They don’t tie together in any special way other than the lyrics being morbid, violent, and/or angry. These songs aren’t necessarily written from any personal experiences, just ideas and concepts.
What inspires the band lyrically?
MAX: With the half of the project that I wrote lyrics for, I wanted to go for a dark vibe – with lyrics about religion (‘Black Lungs‘), and some of my first introspective stuff with ‘Fading Colour‘.
The first lyrics that I wrote for the project, however, were for ‘Witch Hammer‘. I was really interested in studying the witch trials at the time, and the “Malleus Maleficarum“, so I just wrote song about it! It was just a stream of consciousness, really, and I just wrote about what I was thinking at the time – with Adam (the producer) streamlining my ideas and helping them to be as good as they could be.
DUSTIN: Lyrically, I would say most of the songs on ‘Amongst The Dead‘ are very loosely inspired by horror/sci-fi movies and stories that I’ve either made my own rendition of or are original, just with similar themes.
You will shortly be bringing out two albums, ‘Ghosts Of The Past’ and ‘Amongst The Dead’. How were the recording processes for them?
MAX: The recording processes for both of the albums started in my bedroom. All of the guitars, bass, and the vocals for ‘Ghosts Of The Past‘ were recorded in my room, with the drums being programmed.
Once Dustin joined the project, he recorded his vocals at the Ragnarok Recording Studios with Drew Thompson, and we both sent all of our recordings to Adam Buckley to mix and master everything! It wasn’t easy by any means, and it was sometimes difficult to convey what we all actually wanted to each other at times, but in the end, we got there and made two records that I’m really proud of.
DUSTIN: Drew is an awesome producer. I’ve worked with him in the past on other projects and enjoyed it, so that part wasn’t hard.
Honestly, the whole process was fine, I was say this, though, you gotta have someone you can vibe with and bounce ideas off while in the studio, I’m sure everyone will agree when I say it’s hard to push 100% when you just ain’t feeling it.
And how do those albums differ stylistically to the work you did as part of Rage Cave?
MAX: ‘Ghosts Of The Past‘ is sort of a natural evolution from Rage Cave, in my opinion, with the songwriting staying relatively the same. The genre and tone of the music is very similar, and I focused on that classic heavy metal sound.
With ‘Amongst The Dead‘ on the other hand, I wanted to go for something a bit heavier, focusing on my thrash and black metal influences like Kvelertak, Megadeth, and Midnight, to name a few.
Once Dustin added his vocals over the top, though, it took that half of the album to the next level, and made it as heavy as I had hoped.
In your opinion, how will the current global coronavirus outbreak affect the British music industry?
MAX: The coronavirus will affect the British music industry in a lot of ways, obviously, but I think perhaps the main thing will be the effect it has on the live events, as Download and Glastonbury have now been cancelled, and Slam Dunk has been moved to September.
Financially, I think it will kill off a lot of small clubs, as well, so I think as soon as the quarantine period is over – we should all definitely go and contribute to our local music scenes, or if you can’t wait that long, donate to your local venues, and keep them in business!
And lastly, what is the long-term aim of Underking?
MAX: Underking started out as a bedroom project, but has become an international one with a fair few people involved at this point. I would love to continue this for a long time, and develop it even further.
My goal when I started writing the first song was always to put a modern spin on some of my favourite classic sounds, and I think I’ve achieved that with these two albums, but there’s always room for improvement. I would love to push this sound as far as it can go, and I’m going to keep writing and hopefully play some gigs in future, if the stars align!
‘GHOSTS OF THE PAST’ & ‘AMONGST THE DEAD’, THE DEBUT ALBUMS FROM UNDERKING, WILL BE RELEASED ON APRIL 3, AND FURTHER INFO ON THIS – AND THE BAND – CAN BE FOUND THROUGH THE FOLLOWING SITES: