At the forefront of the modern technical death metal movement stands Origin, a quartet who are among the most extreme and precise noise-makers on the planet. The band’s jaw-dropping chops and absurdly heavy compositions have surely discouraged just as many hopeful metal musicians as they have inspired, and they’ve induced more than their fair share of ‘bangovers’ (neck pain after a night of relentless headbanging). But times change and so does Origin, as on Entity , their first Nuclear Blast release (they made the jump from their longtime home at Relapse Records after 2008’s Antithesis) where they explored more dynamic, but no less severe songwriting.
As technically astounding as their music is, it’s still about the same thing now as it was in the beginning: Brutality. And this updated version of the band, made up of guitarist Paul Ryan, bassist Mike Flores, drummer John Longstreth and vocalist Jason Keyser, uses silence, space and longer notes (remember, this is relative to death metal) to create an unequaled, unholy and more-devastating-than-ever Origin.
The Aquarian spoke with freak bassist, songwriter and part-time vocalist Mike Flores for the following interview. Below, he discusses the successes and pitfalls of working with a band that is scattered across North America, what got him started playing death metal bass, how he plays this stuff without getting hurt and more.
How do you guys deal with being in a band and living in all different parts of the country?
I don’t know. We all jam on our own, practice just like we’re a regular band. We just do it individually. For tour, everyone’s gonna fly in and we’ll have a few days of rehearsal as an actual unit and just start, just go.
Recording, it’s a little bit different. We’ll make tracks at home—demo tracks—and send them to each other and build off of those and, again, get together and rehearse the music as a band and go into the studio. It’s a lot of independent practice, for sure.
So before this tour coming up you’re only going to have a few days to rehearse?
Yeah, about three days. We’ll generally have [days] like 2 p.m. – 5 p.m., then take an hour off and do it again from 7 p.m. – 10 p.m. or so because we’ve got a noise ordinance where we practice, so we have to be done by 10. But we jam for six, seven hours and rehearse what needs to be worked on. I mean, we just got off another tour a few weeks ago, so it’s still pretty fresh. With us still jamming independently it’s not a problem.
Do you find there are some—maybe stamina issues, not having the practice with the band?
Not really. There’s a lot of pressure to make sure everything falls in sync and everything feels right. The very first jam is always a little bit [iffy], but it comes natural. Whenever we play live there’s always a bit of an adrenaline thing going on; we tend to make fast parts faster and slow parts slower, for a really harsh mood swing. Each song is always gonna have its little problems here and there, but I think [that would happen] even if we practiced like a normal band, ideally. But we make it work; we’ve been doing it this way for quite some time. I feel like we’ve gotten better at it.
When the band started, you all lived in Kansas, right?
Yeah, for sure. Paul is from Topeka, just like me. John [worked] in Kansas City, which is about 45 minutes from here. He lived in Laurence, KS, which is about 20 minutes from here. Jeremy [Turner, former guitars/vocals] was from Topeka. But our lives took us to different places.
John ended up on the East Coast, Jason, our vocalist now, is from the East Coast as well, so they can see one another all the time. Paul lives on the West Coast. We make it work. There’s four hours between John, Jason and Paul, so it makes it hard that way, but we make it work.
Entity isn’t slower than previous Origin stuff, per se, but I think there’s more of a dynamic range. What brought that on?
We’ve grown more as a band. We’ve gotten better as songwriters. Everyone plays fast; it’s more about trying to make a good song, a song that is fun to listen to, you know? It’s not about being the fastest—that’s always nice; sometimes you want to hear fast. I don’t know. I think the songs just take that turn. We play fast music. I think the songs just kind of create themselves; they kind of flow. I’m pretty happy with the way it turned out.
There’s so many technical death metal bands out now, what keeps you inspired or what keeps you from getting discouraged?
I’d say, just good music. There’s a lot of great bands now, for sure. The competition is fierce. Just when you think you’re the fastest, there’s somebody faster or who can sweep way harder. People are amazing! Just write a good song. Old music inspires us. We listen to a lot of mid-‘90s Earache, Roadrunner bands, stuff like that. You can hear it just evolve, that style. Music like that inspires, maybe makes us feel a little bit different about early stuff .The evolution of music is inspiring in and of itself.
What got you started playing bass?
My dad played bass, my grandfather played bass, it was readily available to me. I kinda wanted to try to play guitar, because what kid doesn’t want to play guitar? But I just wasn’t very good at it. It didn’t work out with me. All the discouragement of not being able to be a great guitar player, my dad’s bass was right there the whole time. I seemed to actually somehow be better at that. It was always there.
My parents [grounded] me from guitars, but they couldn’t ground me from a bass because dad had to have his bass to play. So I could always play. That was cool. There’s more need for bass players, so that was great too.
Death metal was cool. I wanted to play like that. So I just took my dad’s bass and made it sound like that.
You’re more of a finger-style bassist than pick-style bassist, right?
Yeah, my dad played polka music and Mexican music and stuff. It didn’t require a pick, so when I started playing, I didn’t have the option to play with a pick. I would have if I had that option, because that sounded metal and it looked metal. But nope, if I wanted to play bass, I had to learn to play with my fingers. I just had to learn how to play as fast as everybody else. So now I can’t play with a pick.
How did you develop your right hand technique?
I wanted to play metal, I wanted to play fast, but I didn’t have the pick, so I used my finger as a pick, just up and down strokes with one finger. I got quicker and quicker at it. I figured out ways to kind of exploit the bass to get faster at it, but that was just because I didn’t have a pick—I needed to figure out some ways to play metal. I could do four fingers, but that seems like a gallop or it gets clicky or clanky, depending on your settings. If you use your finger and just flick the string back and forth, you get the note and then it just kind of hums out, it’s not as clangy.
So you use one finger as a pick?
Yeah, I use my right middle finger the same as a pick. Every now and then when my fingernail gets long enough it might actually make that pick sound because of my fingernail.
That was really surprising. I assumed you were more of an Alex Webster-type three-finger style guy.
Well, I use all my fingers on my right hand at some point. Predominantly, for slow stuff, I’ll use three fingers—well, not slow, but I mean anything that’s not speed picking, tremolo style. That’s always one finger flicking the string back and forth. Everything else is regular [bass technique].
Your music is so technically demanding—especially since you have to be able to do almost everything Paul does on a much larger instrument—have you or Paul ever had problems with tendinitis or other guitar-related injuries?
I think we’ve both got signs of some arthritis in our hands, but nothing that’s causing any problems right now. I mean, it’s not that bad. I do feel some wear and tear when the weather changes, but nothing I’m really concerned about right now.
It’s kind of like exercising: If you do it within reason, with moderation, it should be all right. I’m not playing 12-hours a day.
How has the experience with Nuclear Blast, the new record label, been?
We’ve only been on Nuclear Blast for a short time, so it’s hard to really say. We’ve only been signed with them since last year. They’ve treated us really well. I think Relapse treated us pretty well, for the most part, but I think Nuclear Blast is larger, they’ve got more capabilities. More opportunities are available with Nuclear Blast. Not to say anything bad about Relapse; they’ve totally helped us out from the beginning. It was just time for a change, really. Everything seems to be going pretty well now. We’re pretty happy.
The tour coming up, you’re going out with Cattle Decapitation, Decrepit Birth, Aborted, a bunch of big acts in the death metal scene, so how did it come together?
It’s six bands, I think. We were looking to get on tours about this time. Months ago, we started trying. The touring season is about to start, as far as America. Things just weren’t happening; it wasn’t really working out, so we just tried to put a tour together ourselves. Our management really took care of a lot, and our booking agent. Management helped out a lot. They got all these acts together, made it all work. We’re pretty excited. We’ve done shows with some of these bands before, but it will be nice to go out for a while.
Origin will be playing at Championship Bar in Trenton, NJ, on April 22 and Club Europa in Brooklyn on April 24. For more information, go to facebook.com/origin.