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Legendary US Death/Doom band Avernus are back on the circuit (again), and even threatening some new recorded material by the end of the year. Band mainstay Rick McCoy talks to Michael about that, and more...

Interview with Avernus.
"Avernus has been an underground staple for decades now and after a brief hiatus they're back. I was fortunate enough to get singer Rick McCoy to tell me about what is happening in the underground realms of the Averni."

In the hot seat: Rick McCoy from Avernus.

Hello Rick, thanks for agreeing to this interrogation. Would you tell us who you are and where you're from?

My name is Rick McCoy. I was born and raised in the Western Suburbs of Chicago, and have pretty much lived here for most of my life. I lived in Colorado for almost three years before moving back to Illinois. I currently work in the mental health field, providing treatment and forensic testing.

I currently live in Woodstock, IL. The town is famous for a few different reasons. Orson Welles was born here as was the guy who created the Dick Tracy comics. The movie "Groundhog Day" with Bill Murray was also filmed here. Outside of that, it's pretty much a strange mixture of art people and rednecks who compensate for their shortcomings in over sized trucks with confederate flag stickers on them.

According to the internet Avernus was founded in 1992, how did it all begin?

Rick Yifrach and I both met at a Milwaukee Metal Fest in 1991. We just happened to be standing in line next to each other and I noticed he had a Paradise Lost shirt. Standing in line for three hours waiting to get in was part of the fest experience, and we ended up talking and finding out we had similar musical interests and both played an instrument. I ended up leaving before we had a chance to exchange numbers.

We ran into each other at a metal show later that year and finally exchange information. We ended talking on the phone and I believe we had a name and t-shirt design even before we ever attempted to write a song. We eventually got together and wrote a badly out of tune song with a singer whose eyes crossed when he sang. The guy was like a body builder or something so we made sure to laugh at him behind his back like the assholes we were back then.

Anyways, that band ended up falling apart. Rick Yifrach, the guitar player from this band, Jason, and myself got together again about a year later and formed the first incarnation of Avernus. This first incarnation originally sounded more like old school European death doom in the vein of Paradise Lost, etc.. Jason eventually wanted to go more in a brutal death metal style and move away from the "doom" elements. The rest of us didn't want to go that direction and we parted ways after recording and releasing our first demo.

Looking back on that demo, the best part of that demo was that the engineer gave up due to his frustration with trying to work with us and let us mix the songs ourselves (which is not a good idea being that none of us knew how to properly mix anything) and you can tell who mixed what...:)

I remember mixing the first song, which is telling since the vocals are way louder than the instruments! After we parted ways with Jason we decided to incorporate the guitar synth I had lying around since we thought keyboards sounded cool in metal when done tastefully.. I know Mike Ventura agrees with me on this despite what he says...

We eventually wrote and recorded 4 or 5 songs which became the Sadness demo and it took off from there...

Avernus in the early years.

It sounds like you and Rick hit it off rather quickly. How long did it take you to find the members who would eventually be on the demo? Did you and Rick write the 'Sadness' demo exclusively or did the rest of the band help?

Our long time and current guitarist, Erik Kikke joined us in 1993 before we recorded our first demo. He replaced the guitarist we had at the time who quit due to the difficulty of working with Jason. Our bassist back then, Tony Volpe joined the band in early 1993 if I remember correctly. When Jason left in late 1993, Roberto Franco joined to fill the open guitar spot. Everybody in the band contributed to the music on the Sadness demo. It seemed like it took a long time to complete those 4 songs that made Sadness , but we just clicked really well together, and our individual styles complemented each other nicely.

How did Kim Goss get involved in the project?

I know we were wanting to try out the whole "female vocals" thing that became trendy with this style in the 90's. I believe Tony Volpe found her. Where he found I don't know, but I wish he would have left her there.

Agreed. I'll never understand how she became popular. Your first proper release saw you move from doom/death to goth metal, it was also your first and only release via a record label. What precipitated that change? Did being on a label change how you operated?

I think a lot caused us to make a drastic change to our style like we did. As much as we enjoyed writing and performing the songs from Sadness , every song on that demo took so long to write..Spending a majority of three to four months per song in attempts to make it "perfect" (this is how we thought at the time) was really draining. Also, I think some of the other guys in the band were becoming disenchanted with heavy music in general and wanted to try other things. like incorporating clean vocals (which I struggled with), and shorter songs that we would sometimes write within two practices. Looking back, we could have kept the heavy vocals mixed with shorter songs and simplified song structures, but I think we were really stuck in our own heads at the time and didn't see the bigger picture and maybe too worried about trying to create something new in our eyes and ears.

I have always been a fan of "goth" bands like Fields of the Nephilim, Sisters of Mercy, The Wake, etc. but we didn't have to get rid of the "death/doom" template we established on the Sadness demo. For your information, about 90% of the music I wrote for the Sadness demo was influenced by Lycia, The Cranes, The Cure, Tangerine Dream, and Patrick O'Hearn. So, I believe you can mix different influences but keep it heavy.

The label didn't have much bearing as far as our style or the way we operated. I do recall the label wanted to remix and redo vocals for ...of the Fallen.. most of the songs on that turd were taken from demos we recorded prior to being signed to Olympic/MIA.

Main discography: 'A Delicate Tracery Of Red' (Demo, self-released 1993), 'Sadness' (Demo, self-released 1994), '...Of The Fallen' (MIA 1997), 'Where Forgotten Shadows Die' (Live, self-released 2000), 'Where The Sleeping Shadows Lie' (Compilation, Cursed Productions 2000), 'Bury Me In Fire' (EP, self-released 2003).

I recall thinking the demo versions were better than the album, but I like them all. It sounds like everyone wanted the change. That album was released in 97. You seemed to reintroduce heavier elements back into the music with 98's Downpour, were these leftovers from ...of the Fallen or were they new songs?

I agree with you on that. The label wanted to transfer the songs from the demo, which we recorded digitally, to analog for a "warmer" sound. During the process, they somehow lost a couple guitar tracks, and some other things that, in the end, changed the dynamic of the songs when they appeared on the album. I had to redo my vocals which I thought was a good thing as I had just started taking lessons prior to redoing them, and was planning on bringing my vocal teacher into the studio, but the label would not allow that for some reason.

As far as Downpour, we wrote that song after James Genenz joined the band, and both Rick Yifrach and Roberto Franco left to pursue other styles of music.

The two song demo, which has your two heaviest songs, showed Avernus going funeral direction. What brought this on?

Are you referring to the 'Isolationist' and 'Rift in the Aura'? Around 1999-2000 I believe, I was the only original member left in the band. James had been in the band for a couple years, and we brought in Brian Whited (Novembers Doom, Dead Serenade, Eve of Mourning) on bass, Jeff Joseph on keyboards, and Bill Hamning on drums. Everyone in the band at this point agreed to go back to the heaviness and atmosphere of our early work which was great for me as I truly missed it. As far as the "funeral" aspect, I feel confident in saying that James had a part in that, being he is fan of "Funeral Doom" and was our main guitarist at that time, and he incorporated his influence, as did everyone else, into the music. I actually did not write any music during this particular time. I found that Jeff was able to replicate my parts perfectly, and had such an intense playing style that added a new element to the band that there was no need for me to try and compete with him. I was fine keeping to just vocals and lyrics.

Yes, I was referring to those songs. I had no idea you focused on just the vocals and lyrics at that time. The music's quality never changed to me. It wasn't long afterwards that you released a compilation, 'Where Sleeping Shadows Lie' comprising most of your earlier works. How did that come about?

Yes, at that time, it was apparent that Jeff was a total machine on the keys, and again, I didn't see a reason to try writing along side of him as he was able to play multiple parts at the same time and I did not want to saturate the songs with tons of synth and keys. One thing I can admit to is that I feel we have overused keyboards or the guitar synth at times, but this is how you learn what works and what doesn't.

The compilation came about when our friend Ray Miller of Cursed Productions inquired about the possibility of re-releasing the Sadness demo on CD. We have known Ray as a friend as well as the person behind Metal Curse 'Zine. Our bands both played together numerous times and we felt we could trust him. We decided to throw a bunch of unreleased or limited released material on there to fill it out.

The last official release was back in 2003, are you planning on releasing a new album?

We have been writing here and there throughout the last couple of years. We have plenty of riffs and ideas, it's just a matter of getting everyone together in one place at the same time, which is proving to be difficult as we have band members with children and families, careers, other bands,etc. I can say with confidence, we have definitely become better at knocking out quality material in a shorter amount of time. Part of this is I believe is due to the fact we are more interested in having fun and enjoying music rather than trying to reinvent some music wheel like we used to.

Is it safe to assume there's no time table? Musically what should we expect from you on your next release? Would you try to secure a label deal again?

Possibly, but there should be a time table. It's been way too long since we released anything new. The new material does reflect back to how we sounded on Sadness, but not a direct copy. We really just went back and identified what we liked best about our music and just made a decision to have fun and write what we want without worrying if people will think it's retread of our old stuff or whatever. We are well aware we are not going to be leaving our careers, day jobs, families, or going on world tours. We do this because we like working together, and have a strong musical chemistry, especially with this lineup. As far as labels, we have had some interest despite not putting anything out in a long time. I'm down for working with a label if I feel we can trust them, and they don't tell us to change anything about our music, or want us to change our appearance. For example: Prior to signing with MIA/Olympic, one label showed interest, but felt we needed an "image." The notes we got from the rep was "They should wear capes." Since it was the 90's, and there was a weird mixture of goth and black metal stuff happening in the scene, I assumed they wanted to market us to those fans. Sorry, but no one needs to see us dressed up as Count Chocula. No thanks.

It would've been a hilarious gimmick. I don't know how well it would've translated live. The band has existed in one form or another for more than 20 years at this point. Are you planning on doing or have you done something to celebrate this?

It would have been funny, but I'm sure it would have somehow led to someone catching on fire somehow, because that's how shit rolls in this band. We kind of did a celebratory reunion show in 2012 to mark our 20th anniversary.I think at this point we just want to put out new music and go from there.

I can't wait for something new from Avernus. I know there are many others who feel the same way. Thank you for letting me waste your time. Is there anything you'd like to add?

Not a waste of time at all, I really enjoyed this. Thank you to everyone who continues to support us. I really am hoping we can have some new material out by the end of this year. Cheers!

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Interviewed on 2018-09-23 by Michael Ventura.
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