When people think of offbeat musical machinations they usually look to New York or Los Angeles, perhaps even the Pacific Northwest or Chicago, but lately the truly twisted are coming out of Texas. Meet Surrounded By Monsters, a Denton, Texas sextet that puts its own spin on what heavy music could sound like…through dark and chaotic minds, of course. This week Metalholic caught up with keyboardist Traci Pason and vocalist Mike Batson while on an evening stroll with their dogs. We discussed the band’s unique signature, bunnies behaving badly, the anti-chorus, influences, and their picks for the best albums of 2012.
Surrounded By Monsters came about in 2007 as an act of attrition. The members, which also include bassist Joe Demerrit, drummer Chris Hoedebeck, and guitarists Lee Dudley and John McCoy, all came from other bands. Surrounded By Monsters was formed through addition by subtraction from their former projects.
The band takes a somewhat mercurial approach to making heavy metal: Step one, throw out the rule book. Choruses? We don’t need no stinking choruses. You can’t put SBM in a box. They will claw their way out. Much like fellow Texans Fair To Midland, SBM are willing to throw any genre of music into the mix if they feel it suits the song. SBM is of course much heavier than FTM, but one gets the idea. With influences that span Tori Amos, The Deftones, Radiohead, and so much more, each song is a journey for the listener, and even for the band:
“We all like aggressive music for the most part,” offers Batson. “That’s our style. Everything else just gets mixed in with that aggressive feeling.”
“Everyone in our band is really influenced by super different stuff and super different types of music,” states Traci. “And not all of it’s metal. So whenever we get together to write a song everyone just brings in a piece of what inspires them which may or may not be metal which kind of makes such really weird concoctions.”
With so many musical ideas swirling around and so many members in the band, I asked how the songwriting process works in the band, and if there were one or two members who are the primary writers:
“It’s mainly John, who’s our lead guitarist, and Fuzz (Chris) who’s our drummer,” reveals Pason. “They lay a lot of the underlying work down. On the last album, ‘Novella‘, that we put out they worked really hard on that. And then also Mike came up with a few guitar parts just brought them to the table. I came up with some other parts that created other parts on the keyboard. Some other things that I was influenced by. So sometimes there’s just groundwork laid down and we all add our own flavor to it, and then I’d say about half of the new album it was people coming in with ‘Hey, I have this weird riff’ or ‘I have this weird idea’ and it would just grow from there.”
After a wonderful tour with Iwrestledabearonce, Vanna, and Oceano, Surrounded By Monsters headed out with The Bunny The Bear, and soon found themselves wrestling their own bear. Only a few dates into the tour, SBM announced its departure from the tour due to a conflict in ideals with the headliner. According to Traci:
“Pretty much the entire vibe of the tour was just very negative and hostile, and we saw some language that we didn’t like going out to the fans. Like when they would be playing the shows they would be saying derogatory things to their fans. We didn’t feel it was the right choice to make when you have the power to have the microphone and kids listen to you–you should be a little bit more positive and not insulting. We didn’t want to get associated with that sort of a reputation.”
Surrounded By Monsters is a band that loves to be on the road and they are already chomping at the bit to pile in the van and head back out there. In the full interview, which you can listen to below, Traci and Mike share what they must have with them on tour, and the trials of finding food as vegetarians. They also give us their picks for the best albums of 2012, how they came to sign with Nuclear Blast, and more insight into the new album, “Novella“. You can also check out the band’s newest video for “New Blood” below: