STUDIO TO STREET: Degradations


Degradations are the square peg in the round hole. They’re a metal band, yes—loud, heavy and aggressive—but they don’t fit neatly into any one of the seemingly infinite sub-genres that fans and critics alike like to use to compartmentalize the gargantuan beast that is metal music. Their songs are amalgamations—fierce, abrasive, occasionally brutal composites of sound that run the gamut from doom to sludge to hardcore to noise rock and wherever else their contorted riffs and punishing grooves decide to take them. Their self-titled debut EP has been available for digital download via Bandcamp since last October, but tonight the band will finally celebrate their CD release with a stacked lineup at Star Bar. Recently, I got the opportunity to speak with guitarist Brad Paul and I managed to wrangle him into this interview. Among other things, we talked riffs, recording and the rise of the Atlanta metal scene.

How did Degradations get started? Was there any one vision that drove you guys together?

Degradations was originally brought up to me by Dylan (Kilgore), our vocalist, who was playing playing guitar and screaming with the band Withered. About a year and half ago, we—Micah (Vaughn), Dylan and I—all worked at the Masquerade. Well, Down happened to come through, and to say the least, we were blown away by seeing them live. I’ve always really dug their music. At the end of the night, we all were shooting the shit and talking about how good it really was and Dylan brought up the idea of starting a band with that heavy, Southern, sludgy, doomy, metal. Micah and I were more than ready. (Micah and I had been in another band, Grave of Man, where he was the vocalist, instead of playing guitar. And it never really completely went the way that either one of us had wanted, and we were very anxious to get started.) After that night, Micah and I were on a mission, and just started riffing day after day after day. Again and again. Dylan had known Terry (Walker), who also plays drums in Iron Whip, from years of playing in various bands in the underground scene of Atlanta. And we’ve been buddies since the first day he came and jammed with us. Instant fit. Our original bass player didn’t work out after the first few shows due to personal differences. I don’t think he shared the same vision for what we wanted to do with this band. Allen (Keller), who plays bass in Iron Whip as well, joined up with us shortly after that. Like with Terry, we’ve been friends and have respected each other as musicians ever since the first day we jammed.

So you and Micah are the principal songwriters in the band? How does that process work?

No, sir. It’s not just Micah and I, at all. Everyone has their own part in the songwriting-jamming-recording process. Everyone brings their own flavor to the Degradations equation. We all listen to different kinds of music (not just metal), and come from different musical backgrounds. And I think that makes us kind of unique in the way that we approach music with this band. We don’t want to have limits on our music, we don’t want to be put in any specific genre, and we want to continuously progress our sound. I will say, however, that most of the riffs and guitar work are done first by me at my little home studio. I think everyone would agree with that. I’m the only one who has a rig set up to record whenever I want, so I’m constantly riffing it up. I try to do it on a daily basis. How else will I progress as a musician and a songwriter if I’m not constantly working on my craft, you know? At least that’s how I look at it. Micah and Dylan handle all the lyrical content and vocal patterns that we’ve done so far. On the newer stuff that we’re in the process of writing (and recording soon), Dylan has picked the guitar back up and Micah will be stepping up and doing more vocals. It’s adding two whole new elements to our equation, and we’re pretty damn stoked about how it’s all turning out. Can’t wait for people to hear this new stuff.

You guys hit a lot of different metal touchstones on your debut—thrash, doom, stoner, hardcore, etc. Is that deliberate on your guys’ part as a means of reaching various audiences or is it more a by-product of having everyone in the band contributing to the songwriting?

First off, I think it’s awesome when I hear people say that we don’t really stick to a certain genre. In the few reviews I’ve read of the album, the word that pops up most to describe us and our sound is “versatility,” and I think that’s fucking awesome. But, is it a deliberate and conscious effort to make it so versatile? I don’t think so. Like I said before, it very much comes from how all five members come who from different musical backgrounds and have different playing styles. And I think that makes us a tiny bit unique, maybe. The one consistent factor in the equation is that we are all fans of everything heavy. Whether it’s lyrical content, the riffs, the vibe, and so on. We just want to try and write good songs, good riffs, do whatever’s best for the song and music, and simply keep it heavy as possible. And it just so happens that those songs on the album are what came out of our genuine love for heavy, heavy music, no matter what kind of music it may be. And if people think the songs on this album are diverse, just wait until you hear the songs for our next EP.

Your record was recorded at Wizkid Sound. Describe your experience working with them and how did they contribute to the overall sound and feel of the record?

Our experience at Wizkid was awesome. The guys—Robert Dyson and Garrett Scates—over there are just great guys to hang with, and they genuinely gave a shit about what we were trying to capture and how we wanted to go about doing it. It was also just one of the most laid-back, non-stressful times I’ve personally ever had, and it’s because they provided that “family” type vibe. They’re good guys. They have reasonable studio rates, they get an awesome, raw, real sound in their recordings, and I highly recommend them to any up-and-coming bands that are trying to get something recorded.

The Atlanta metal scene is definitely experiencing a period of fertile growth and creativity right now. Why do you think that’s happening now and where do you see Degradations fitting into the scene?

Degradations QuoteI’m glad you mentioned that, man, because there are some really talented bands coming out of Atlanta right now that are pushing the envelope. It’s a damn beautiful thing, seeing all these local metal bands like Demonaut, Palaces, Order of the Owl, Whores, Hawks, Halmos, Crawl, Harvester, Lazer/Wulf, Canopy, Death of Kings, All American Organ Grinder, and countless others that are pushing the envelope constantly. And when that happens, it forces all the other bands to progress and try new and different things to stand out. Why is it happening now? I really don’t have clue. Maybe it’s because of bands like Mastodon, Zoroaster, Royal Thunder, Baroness, Black Tusk, and so on, who have been paving the way for the scene. Personally, I’d like to believe it’s because this Atlanta metal scene is the strongest, most solid and close-knit that I’ve ever seen it, and we’re gonna continue to get louder, faster, heavier, and push the so-called envelope until people start to notice (laughs). As to where I see Degradations fitting into the scene? I don’t know if we do. We’re just trying to make music that incorporates everything we love about heavy music whether it be sludge metal, doom metal, hardcore, punk, death metal, thrash metal, stoner metal, speed metal, and everything in-between. We didn’t start this band to put limits on our sounds or our songs so if that helps us fit in, so be it.

Okay, time to hit the streets. What’s the best venue in Atlanta to catch a metal show? Why?

That’s a tough one, man. I don’t think I can pick just one. Atlanta has such a variety of different bars, venues and clubs that each have their own vibe and feel to them. It’s hard to say which one’s the best. The obvious and easy answer would be the club that’s booking the metal shows, bands and bills that I care about seeing in a live setting. Favorite venue to watch a show? I’d have to say Center Stage or the Tabernacle. Those would be the venues that, I think, sound the best when it comes to going out and experiencing a show. That’s the thing, though. Not many bands that I would want to see are big enough, I guess, to play at those venues. The Basement, however, is definitely my favorite venue to see the smaller scale, more underground acts and local Atlanta bands play. That room just sounds so damn good when you fill it up with sound and people. Every time I’ve played on that stage I’ve had a fucking blast. It sounded amazing, the staff treated us well and we actually got paid (laughs). Can’t ask for much more than that.

Are you a drinking man? What’s your favorite spot to tie one on?

I’m a beer drinker, for sure. I love my Guinness and Newcastle, and I’m really starting to dig on the milk stouts like Duck Rabbit or the Left Hand Milk Stout. Not a big liquor fan, though. I tend to do really stupid shit when I start drinking liquor, so I do my best to not let that happen anymore (laughs). Any bar or venue where there’s plenty of Guinness and good music would be my favorite place to tie one on. I’d say 529, the Highlander, and the Clermont Lounge are my top three when it comes down to brews and tunes.

If you could eat at only one restaurant in the city what would it be?

Easy choice. Elmyr. I love a good burrito and those guys have the best and most unique burritos in town, hands down!

If you could change one thing about the city of Atlanta what would it be?

I’d exile all the hipsters and juggalos (laughs). Just playing, but not really. I’d get rid of the stigma of Atlanta being a strictly hip-hop and rap town. There’s a shit ton of bands in the local scene right now that are just killing it and I wish they’d get more attention.

We’re just starting to get into 2014. Give me one local band or artist that you think is going to breakout this year.

Whores. They’ve just been getting some real good press since they released Clean at the end of last year. Those guys kill it during their live shows, their albums are raw, huge and pissed, and people are starting to take notice.

Degradations will celebrate the release of their self-titled debut tonight at Star Bar. Supporting them will be Demonaut, Palaces, Halmos and Dead Fiero. Doors open at 9pm. $7 gets you in.

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