Birds Of Prey | Interview with Ben Hogg

[Birds Of Prey]

Made from members of well known acts like Beaten Back to Pure, Alabama Thunderpussy, The Last Van Zant, Baroness and Municipal Waste, Birds of Prey is essentially a studio-project created with the purpose of playing old-school flavoured death-metal with a southern-rock vibe. And that’s exactly what the quintet handed over with stiff conviction and tongue-in-cheek humour in their first two full-length albums, “Weight of the Wound” from 2006 and “Sulfer and Semen” from 2008. Their recently released third full-length “The Hellpreacher,” though it doesn’t lack none of their trademark groove and heaviness, it sees a slight sift in approach with Birds of Prey geared to piece together a more serious concept album about an inmate-turned-priest. Scratch the Surface approached the band by e-mail to find out more about this intriguing story, as well as to discuss the origins of a band whose sole purpose of existence is to smack out some crushing and groovy tunes. Vocalist and lyricist Ben Hogg was kind enough to answer to all the questions so, read on…

“The Hellpreacher” is your third release in less than four years, which almost makes it one album issued per year. How do you guys manage to stay so prolific, especially considering everyone is in different bands located in several regions of the US?

“Where there's a will there's a way. Erik is the prolific one. He's writes constantly and jams in a handful of bands at any one time. He's the one who initiates our getting together and studio time. Once he and Bo have enough music then they get together and hammer out arrangements. Then they bring the rest of us into the equation, one by one. I'm usually last. I recognize that doesn't explain our output level but that's all I got. Erik is a whirlwind of action. If it were up to me we'd pump out a record every 6 or 8 months, like Cheap Trick did in the late 70's. Really flood the market with shit. Motherfuckers don't do it like that anymore. Elvis was putting out 4 to 6 albums a year for christsakes. An album a year is very doable, especially when we don't waste time playing shows. All recording all the time.”

It’s well documented that Birds of Prey stems from a personal challenge of Dental Records’ owner addressed to guitarist Erik Larson to gather some southern-rock musicians with a creative itch towards death-metal and see the outcome. How did you guys become friends and collaborators in Birds of Prey?

“Hmmm, that is pretty much how it all came together. I knew Erik and Bo from playing shows together. I'll assume that's how everyone knew everyone. I didn't know Summer or Dave until we got together that first time. The original bass player that was approached was Danny Nick from Suplecs fame, but Hurricane Katrina ran that whole band to Arizona and out of our lives. We got Summer. One hell of a great back up plan if you ask me.”

On the new record, Birds of Prey’s take on southern and groovy death-roll is meaner and grittier than ever, though the music now also steers towards a more melodic and accessible tilt. In your opinion, what are the main differences between the new record and the previous one “Sulfer and Semen”? Was there any sort of concern to imbue the new songs with a heavier edge and still retain some listenability or it was just the way the music evolved?

“One of the advantages/disadvantages of being a project like Birds is that we don't over think anything. We get together and rip it out. What ever falls out of the speakers is apparently what the material is meant to be. We don't get to tinker with our thoughts too much. They come together raw. I think there are pro's and con's to this way of operating but due to our geographical differences, this is what we have. Beaten Back to Pure operate totally differently, we are prone to over thinking material and tinkering with minutia until our ears bleed.”

“The Hellpreacher” is a concept album about an inmate that turned into a priest, was it difficult to write about more serious matters and come up with an album story like that?

“Yeah it was a lot harder. I never knew what was entailed in writing a concept album. You can't know unless you've done it yourself. You have to have the tracks in order prior to writing word one. And the ebb and flow of the story have to make sense with the music on hand and everything has to wrap up in a specific number of chapters. The writer in me is proud of how it came out. I would have liked one more chapter but you get what you get.”

I’ve read vocalist Ben Hogg stating that there’re some similarities between this character and David Koresh, the leader of a religious sect involved that was killed in a FBI siege in 1993. What can you tell us about the whole plot of “The Hellpreacher”?

“I am Ben, so you've come to the right place. Any similarities are coincidental. Outside of both people being cult leaders that is the end of the similarities. If you notice, all cults have a similar mode of operation. Mind control. Fear. Abuse. Strange relationships under the banner of "love". Those are simply unavoidable similarities. The plot is about a guy who leads a group of whores and miscreants to the Montana woodland and digs a giant underground chapel/home/cave with mixed results at best. For more specifics read the words.”

Birds of Prey are confirmed to play at Maryland Deathfest in 2010 and this will be the band’s first official show. Are you nervous about the prospect of playing in front of thousands of peoples possibly without a single rehearsal?

“Fuck that, if we don't get to rehearse than I ain't doing it. I don't plan on getting on stage and looking like a fool. It is a weird place for a debut gig, but we've all played a million shows. None of us know each others personal dynamics on stage. It's bound to be interesting. My hope is that we can at least be in the middle of the pack and aren't the laughing stock of the fest. I'm sure we'll only get 25 or 30 minutes, I figure I can do anything for that length of time.”

What else can we expect from Birds of Prey in the future besides the Maryland Deathfest 2010 appearance?

“I don't know. That’s all I know. I think Relapse wants us to slow down our output so I doubt we'll have another album out until 2011, but that's purely speculative. Hey man, we just take it as it comes. It's all we can do. In the meantime I'll sit back and watch Baroness and Municipal Waste become huge stars.”

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Photos by:
Chris Boarts Larson