Interview: Venomous Maximus Guitarists Talk Debut Album, Lyrical Themes and More
Based out of Houston, Texas, occult rock band Venomous Maximus started out in 2010 and self-released their debut album, Beg Upon The Light, on their own label, Occulture Records, late last year.
The album is set to get a bigger release via Napalm Records this summer.
I recently spoke with guitarist/vocalist Gregg Higgins and guitarist Christian Larson about their recent tour with Down, the debut album, lyrical themes, guitar setups, Texas influences and more. Check out the interview below, and visit the band's Facebook page.
GUITAR WORLD: You guys recently did a tour with Down. What was that like?
GREGG: It was a pretty surreal experience for all of us, because we’re basically all around 30 years of age, and being from Texas, we’re just raised on Pantera, you know. It’s like in the water that we drink. So to actually get a chance to go on tour with those guys was great, and plus we’ve always grown up listening to their other bands. Even though it’s a different state, we kind of have a special relationship with those New Orleans bands. It’s the same kind of vibe.
You self-released your debut album, Beg Upon The Light. Are you satisfied with how it has been received?
CHRISTIAN: We’ve been getting a lot of good responses on it. As far as how it turned out, it’s probably the best record any of us has ever put out and put this much time into working on it, and just putting everything we had into it. It’s a big step-up from the last EP we did. We put this out on Occulture Records, which is our own label, and now it’s been confirmed that Napalm Records will be releasing it this summer.
GREGG: The reason the album was kind of, so "over the top," you could say, and so full of stuff, is because those are the things I’ve always wanted to put into making a record. Just growing up being a teenager, you don’t have the money or the time to actually do such a thing. You just have the idea. But this record was when it all finally came together and hit. We always try to figure out a way to make all of our products as artistic creations. I also do tattoos, drawing and print.
I feel the atmosphere is created with the vocals and the theme is done with the lyrics. In terms of the guitar, do you also have to keep a dark vibe in that sense, or is it totally separate from the thematic part of the music?
GREGG: All the lyrical themes come in my head, before any of the guitar playing is done. A lot of the times it won’t even start with any kind of sound, it will start with a title or a theme. And then I sing a song on that theme. It’s almost like a little short story. So once the lyrics are made up, I just naturally hear the music behind me. But yeah, when it comes time to practice and play the song, it’s already done.
And for the vibe, does the guitar tone become as important as the songwriting?
GREGG: Absolutely. It’s not even so much about the actual tone of an electric guitar, it’s about where you’re playing it. A lot of our songs are able to hold up on the acoustic. If I can play our songs on acoustic and they still sound dark and heavy, then that’s good rock, you know. It doesn’t need the distortion. So the distortion, amps and all that is just something to amplify. That’s all it is.
Do you compose on the acoustic?
GREGG: A lot of the time, when I play my guitars at home they are not plugged in. And when I actually plug them in, I play them in clean tone. A lot of it is really just me humming and singing these songs in my head, weeks before I pick up the guitar. I mimic the guitar sound with my voice.
You said you use the amps simply to amplify. Do you just plug in the guitars to amp, or are there effects involved?
GREGG: Christian is the one who uses all the effects. Mine is pretty much straight to the amp. I plug in a tuner and that’s about it. But we’re Gibson and Marshall all the way.
CHRISTIAN: Yeah, everything we do is with Gibson and Marshall. For the effects, I kind of mess around with a little bit of flange, horizontal stuff and some wah.
GREGG: We always make sure not to go overboard on that stuff, because you want to keep it having the vintage sound. You have to realize what effects and possibilities existed in 1974. You don’t really want to go over that because you don’t want the machines to take over the people. You have to keep that in check.
There are a lot of dual lead guitar parts on the album. While writing or recording, how do you work with each other on that?
CHRISTIAN: Once we come up with a lead, we kind of just sit around the house and jam on the couch. It takes a while to figure out where we want to go with it. It starts with both of us playing the same thing, one of us then deviates off, and then go back to it to see what it sounds like. We finally get it to that spot when you know that it "hits" perfectly.
GREGG: It’s really cool that you mentioned it because we were actually playing guitar last night and we were working on all the new material. One thing we were working on was, our guitars always doing something different on the new stuff. We want that everybody does something different but it all goes together. That’s something we’re looking for.
In terms of the theme, how do you actually come up with it? Do you read a lot, watch movies or stuff like that?
GREGG: It comes from not being directly influenced by rock and roll bands and from getting influenced and being inspired by other things. One special thing for me is movies. They are a very big thing, specially with their soundtracks. This lady named Lisa Gerrard has done things for all kinds of movies. We like the epic movies because we like their soundtracks. At times we get jealous, and we’re like, "How come they get to do that? We’re musicians too!"
There are a lot of occult rock bands. Why is it all of a sudden we have so many bands playing this style? Is it a case of too many bands?
GREGG: One thing is (and I’m not going to get too deep into it), dealing with 2012 and getting past it, not just musicians but everyone is getting completely spiritually free. It doesn’t matter if it’s yoga or meditation or anything else, everybody is finding another way. For all us people growing up with punk rock and being into comic books and tattooing, the most natural thing is to go towards the dark. It’s stuff we’ve always grown up with. But of course it’s a fad, and it’s a new trend for everybody to be doing it, and that’s OK. The only difference is, when people actually live it, you can tell that in their music. There’s a truth that comes out in it. I’ve been into this way before this band. But yeah, it’s a new trend and it will go away, but that’s who I am.
You guys are based in Houston. There are bands from Texas playing a similar style, even if it’s not the same theme, like The Sword and Ancient VVisdom. You mentioned Pantera, but what other music were you able to absorb from the shows you went to?
GREGG: There’s old ZZ Top. That’s a big thing. We’ve really been influenced by people like Rocky Erickson, too. There’s this thing in Texas, it’s so damn big that you can travel around all the cities and it feels like you’re on the road. You don’t even have to leave Texas, you know. So that tends to be the thing with all of us. You go to Austin for a week, come back home and go to San Antonio for a week. You drive around and get a sense of seeing the small little world that is Texas. People like really Rocky Erickson capture that way of living that you really won’t understand unless you live in Texas.
I read about some kind of award you got for the best metal band in Houston. What was that all about, and does that stuff mean anything to you?
CHRISTIAN: It’s an award from the Houston Press. Honestly, it’s cool, but in the big scheme of things it doesn’t change anything that much.
GREGG: But it is good to be supported by your hometown. That’s one thing that we have to give to Houston, specially Montrose, which is the neighborhood we live in. We’ve always had a lot of positive support.
Andrew Bansal is a writer who has been running his own website, Metal Assault, since early 2010, and has been prolific in covering the hard rock and heavy metal scene by posting interviews, news, reviews and pictures on his website — with the help of a small group of people. Up till February 2012 he was based in Los Angeles. After that, he had to move to India, but is still carrying on his heavy metal endeavors with the same intensity.