NUMBER OF THE BEAK: AN INTERVIEW WITH BLAKE HARRISON
Now that using a Human Being as a vocalist is old news, what's next? Avian Metal will soon become a household genre.
By Russel Gardin
Photo provided by Blake Harrison
How did you think of the name “Hatebeak”?
Blake Harrison: The story is not that interesting, but Mark was in a band called “Index” and I was in a band called “Daybreak” and both of us had wanted to work together at some point and we were at the point where Daybreak broke up and Index stopped doing stuff, so we kind of came up with the idea of how cool would it be to have like a parrot sing for a death metal band because parrots basically mimic stuff. And, you know, we’re both goofy dudes so we were laughing it off and once I came up with the name Hatebeak. It stuck and we decided to do it just kind of on a whim at Marks’ studio, actually in his bedroom at the time, so that’s the short version of that.
Was making “Number of the Beak” a different process than “Bird Seeds of Vengeance”? As in, when you were recording this record, were you trying to go for a different sound to expand “Avian metal”?
A little bit, yeah. When we first did it, we did it as a joke and we didn’t really expect much to happen with it. We kind of wanted to step it up a little bit and make the riffs a little bit better and catchier and put a little more effort in it. I mean, the first record, “Beak of Putrefaction,” we recorded in like three hours in Mark’s bedroom. So yeah, we definitely took a little more time, I don’t know if it was a conscious decision necessarily. I’d love to say that it’s the most brutal thing on the planet, but it’s definitely not. We definitely took a little more time to try to get it to sound a little better. Like I said, we’re both goofy guys, as long as it makes us laugh, that’s all that matters.
After the hiatus, has Waldo, the avian vocalist, been better recording this time around? Was he more willing to talk than he was the last time you guys were in the studio?
No, this record was actually recorded nine years ago. It’s all the old split seven-inches and six or eight new tracks. This has actually been in the can going on ten years. We do have plans to do new stuff, so for that question; I can’t really speak because we haven’t done new stuff. Chris, the owner of Reptilian Records, stopped doing the label and I was focusing on Pig Destroyer and Mark moved to Jersey. It was one of those things where if we don’t feel like doing it, we’re not going to do it, it’s just something for us to do to goof off and have a little fun.
What did Waldo’s owners originally think of the idea of Hatebeak and using Waldo as the vocalist?
They’re not like us normal people I would say. Vince is pretty active in the Church of Satan and they’re both old school Baltimore punk rockers. They thought it was a great idea, it’s not like I went to my grandmother with a parrot and said “Hey grandma, I got this fucking awesome idea”, you know? They both know me; I’m a little off the wall sometimes. So they thought it was cool, man. I wish I can give you a more interesting idea where they were normal suburbanites and like “What the fuck are you talking about?”
Since you use a parrot as the head of the group, do you modify his voice more than you would a person’s vocals or is it pretty much raw?
It depends, but I would say there is definitely a lot of “Studio Magic” and trickery that goes into it. We’ll pitch shift it or time shift and stretch it or flip it backwards to get it with the music. So there is usually a lot of vocal processing that is required and it just depends. We write the music first and then set up the mic and let Waldo do what he does, which can sometimes be a pain in the ass. If he’s not comfortable, he doesn’t really do anything. That’s one reason a split seven-inch is a lot better for us. Then again, there are a ton of Death Metal bands that are fucking process vocals.
Did you introduce Waldo to Death Metal before recording?
Not really, we tried to. Mark and I are old school Death Metal fans; we love Death, Obituary, Morbid Angel and bands etc. He isn’t too responsive to music in general; I think most of it just has to be pleasing, like I said, if he’s not comfortable, he won’t do anything. The mimicry is a form of play for the parrots, especially African Grey’s. We played stuff for him, but I don’t know if he digs it or not.
From 2004 to 2007, do you think Waldo realized what he was doing the second time around in the studio?
Probably not, we try to make the studio as comfortable for him as we can to have a relaxed environment. He does a lot of things that are actually useless to us, as a Death Metal band. He loves to whistle the theme to the Andy Griffith show, while that’s funny, that’s not going to work for what we’re doing.
Do you see Hatebeak continuing after Waldo is not able to do it anymore?
It will probably be the other way around. These animals can live to be like sixty to eighty and he is only like 20. It would probably be that Mark and I are gone, or we will be replaced. I’m not going to say it’s a joke band, but it’s definitely not one hundred percent serious.
Have you thought about sending material to a major label?
[laughs] No, just because they would need material in a certain timeframe, we’re just not going to be able to do that. They’ll be like “Alright, dude, it’s been like two years, time for your next record” and that wouldn’t be possible. I like it as it is now, if it grows, that’s fine. I’m not trying to quit my job, it’s not a money making venture for us, it’s for fun. If someone wanted to put out one record, that’s’ cool, but I definitely wouldn’t do a four record deal.
Are you going to continue the parody for the next record?
Definitely! The working title is “Nested Are The Sick”, based off of Morbid Angels “Blessed Are The Sick.” Who knows what we’ll do but there will be some inside jokes in there somewhere. The one on Relapse didn’t really reference any record cover, I’d really like to work with Vince Locke, who did a lot of work with Cannibal Corpse and a comic book called Deadworld. I sent him a couple of emails over the years but he never responded and I can’t tell if he thought “What is this bullshit?” or if he was like “Give me a break, this isn’t real” [laughs].
Since you don’t take Waldo on the road, have you or Mark thought about touring without him?
You know, we could do that, but if you’re a fan of the music, would you really want to pay ten bucks to see that? If we did it, or was ever able to pull it off, we would probably do one or two performances, nothing crazy, but you know, it has to be done right. You don’t want to say to your buddy, “Hey, there’s this fucking crazy band with a parrot for a singer and you want to go see it?” and then it’s like a video, I would be like “Fuck this, this isn’t what I payed for. This isn’t what was advertised.” I’ve definitely gotten idea from people like Skype with Waldo during the show. The volume isn’t the only reason we don’t do it, he doesn’t perform on command. If he’s just chirping random shit over us playing a million miles an hour, what’s the fun of that either? People like it, but I don’t know if we have legitimate fans of the band [laughs]. It would be fun to do Maryland Deathfest, or something like that, but right now, there are no real plans.
Was there more press coverage this time around?
Most definitely! When we first started, the internet was still a big thing and records and cd’s were still purchased in stores, which is now almost non-existent. The climate of the industry has changed so much. The fact that you can just go online and download all the Hatebeak records, it’s definitely gotten more press. I think it actually comes out today (June 29th) no, tomorrow! In fact, someone even flew over from England to shoot a show, but it never aired, I haven’t even seen the footage. I was like “You’re going to fly to Baltimore for what? From where? [laughs]. But yeah, the press this time has been huge and great!
What did the rest of Pig Destroyer think of Hatebeak when it came about?
Those dudes know me; they know I’m a complete idiot. It was pretty much what everyone else thought about it, they got a giggle out of it, that’s about it. I’m not Albert Einstein here, you know?
Do you ever get requested any Hatebeak material at a Pig Destroyer gig?
Yes, people yell it out all the time. Not specific songs but they just yell out “Hatebeak.”
Thanks again for the interview. Good luck with the new material!
No worries, man, take care. Thanks.