Interview with Trey Azagthoth
by Mike from Walls of Fire

Trey Azagthoth is definitely one of the more interesting musicians in Death Metal today. Focused entirely on his own artistic vision, he sometimes comes across as detached and out of touch with what most people would consider "the real world." But what some might call insanity is really just Trey's own way of seeing things, and on close inspection, there's no denying that it all makes perfect sense - it's just different from the way most people see the world. Of course that makes Trey a somewhat peculiar person to talk to, and he definitely has a reputation for being difficult to do interviews with. But after having talked to him over the phone for about 45 minutes, I've come to the conclusion that it's mainly that he's always got his brain in sixth gear, and he expects you to keep up with him.
So here's our conversation about the new album "Heretic", about Trey's philosophy, about what Morbid Angel is really all about, and about the recent R'n'B influence in Trey's songwriting. Since much like Morbid Angel's music, the interview had a certain flow to it, it was nearly impossible to edit anything out of it. Plus reading it in its entirety should give you a good idea of what Trey is really like, and most importantly, that he's definitely not the arrogant rock star that some people seem to think he is.

Let's talk about the new album. Probably the most obvious difference is that after slowing things down with "Gateways to Annihilation", you've got some pretty fast songs again now. Was that a conscious decision, or what brought about that change?
Let's not forget that with our first two records that we ever made, we did the same thing. It's just kind of a continuation. Conscious decision? It depends how you define consciousness. We're just the instruments of nature, really. We just let the energy of the creative force through us and express the love of the universe and the infinite possibilities. So basically, to look at it in a mundane sense, yeah, I like contrast.

What can you tell me about the lyrics? Is there a specific concept that holds the album together?
It's basically about being a heretic. It's about thinking outside of the box. It's about recognizing that systems are systems and not real. It's about recognizing, realizing that there is no meaning to anything, other than the meaning that you give to it, and that that is one of the first steps to the realization of a cosmic mind. The creative. The Living Continuum. Whatever title you want to give it. Think for yourself. That's basically what sums up all of our message. Thinking for yourself and not allowing others to advertise so much in your mind. Because this world, society, is set up in a way where different institutions take their turns to cast their spells and share their lies as shadows on the cave wall. And it's good for us to recognize that, to break free from that so our thoughts and our minds are more ours as opposed to something planted.

Since that's the way you feel about our societal system, I was a little surprised when I saw that statement on the Morbid Angel web site about the American soldiers in Iraq. That kind of seems like something too physical for you to even be concerned with. Why did you put that statement up there?
Why? Well, because I think the soldiers risk their lives and die, and it shouldn't go unnoticed. Disregarding the policy... I don't have any comment on what the meaning of it all is. But Vietnam was such a tragedy and I didn't want to... you know, I personally did my little part to make it not be another Vietnam.

We don't have to talk about the war, but the whole concept of war kind of boils down to what you just said about society, doesn't it?
I don't know. I just think that we can think for ourselves, but it's also nice to not be selfish and to think about offering and sharing insight for others to be inspired to find their own truth, without actually directing or programming them. It's all in words, you know, words are funny. But I'm not just concerned with my own world. I do feel kinda compelled to share, so that's what I do.

We'll get to the message of the band later, actually, but I'd like to talk about the new album some more first. One thing I noticed about the production is that the guitar sound is pretty different from what it used to be, to say the least. What was the idea behind that?
Technically I used a combination of the Marshall sound that I've always worked with and used in addition a Solid State amp sound. Just to try to get more of a useful guitar signal, that the definition would be more clear, I guess. So that was pretty much what I was going for.

You used to have this really low-end guitar sound and it's very different now. That's kinda what I noticed about it.
Sure. I've had people tell me when they see us live that they didn't know that there was so much going on in the guitar parts, that it seemed so much more basic on CD, and I was thinking that's a shame. So I figured I've really gotta get working on this because I would like to present this stuff as clear as possible so they can see the effort that's in it and the details, so that's what I did. I thought of this idea of mixing the two amps together. Because I do really enjoy the warmth of a tube amp, the Marshall, but on its own it sometimes tends to be low-end sounding or dark, and the Solid State amp is just pure presence. By itself, it's not such a nice sound, but the two together make a really cool sound, they kind of help each other.

Did you use a click track at all this time?
Yes. On some of the songs we sure did.

That's just something I remember, you made kind of a point of not using a click track back when "Formulas Fatal to the Flesh" came out. Whose idea was it to go back to using a click track?
It was mine. It's just all about the different types of music. Morbid Angel creates all kinds of stuff. So in this whole idea of contrast, we move back and forth. We're always changing, you know, change is the only thing that's real. Change is what's always happened. The dynamic of living things. So we change. And we're not worried about what we said before, that's just for humans to ponder. So basically, we're always growing. It's like a belief, you know, for anyone to think that a belief is real and permanent, I don't know, that's kind of a limited view, in my opinion. It should be updated just like, say, Windows is updated. What got you to this point might not get you any further. As we grow, our paradigms and beliefs should grow right with us. So basically, yeah, we're just always doing different things.

That makes perfect sense of course, I'm just curious why you decided to use the click track again. It definitely changes things, doesn't it?
This album really has a lot of swing to it and swing is kinda hard to do if tempos rush up and down. On "Formulas", there's all kinds of rushing going on. There's certainly rushing on every song. Which is cool, it's all subjective. And on this record, it's more locked into a pulse, and that's what the songs are about. That's what helps establish a really nice pocket, that the tempo doesn't fluctuate or rush. But then in other kinds of songs it's great when it rushes. A kind of surge of energy or this diving down and melting. But these songs don't really have that in the timing, they're more a straight continuous pulse and the guitars melt all around them. Do you know what I mean?

Sure. That pretty much takes care of my questions about the new album then. There's something else I've been wondering about. You've said just recently that you draw your inspiration from what you call the Living Continuum. You actually used that term a few minutes ago. Can you elaborate a little on what you mean by that?
It's just the creative force of the universe. It's a higher self. Whatever title one cares to use, I used to call it the Ancient Ones, now I have a new title, the Living Continuum. It was referred to as the Ancient of the Days, God, God-Head, the machinery that runs the universe, the cosmic mind, there's all these different titles for it, but basically, it's just for people who believe that there's something beyond time and space, that there's an inner rhythm. So that's what it is, that inner rhythm that we all are connected to, that we all are. That connects us all and makes us as one, like water. It's only the ego that would see or even notice if water is separated in containers and separated by space. But still, water is water. So it's the idea of transcending time and space and being one with the power that creates all things.

Creativity is an important part of it for you, isn't it?

Would you say that the fact that you're an artist, a creative individual, is the reason you see the world this way?
Sure. I mean, it's just a point of view. We all create our own realities, our own worlds, and they cross paths, and some people have more similar worlds that come together with their paradigms and other people maybe have some different details in the makeup of their worlds. It's all based on our beliefs. I don't believe there's any static reality. I don't believe there's a reality outside the mind.

Given those complex philosophical concepts behind Morbid Angel, do you find it at all frustrating that a lot of people still see it as a just a satanic band?
I don't know, I don't really pay attention, to be honest. Other people can draw their own conclusions, that's fine, that's all we have in mind. Just to think, and to draw conclusions and to put together our own realities. And I wouldn't want to change that for them. I take my moment to express where I'm coming from, but it's still based on my interpretation as to how it manifests in their minds.

So you're a believer in the idea that art is up for interpretation and there's no fixed concept behind it for everybody to just swallow.
I have a belief that reality is up for interpretation and there's no fixed anything.

Another thing about those philosophical ideas behind the band is, some people seem to feel you're placing the message above the music, especially with the last three albums. Would you say that's true at all?
Placing the message above the music? No. It's just that if I have a chance to talk, then that's what I have to say, but if it wasn't for the business, I wouldn't even do interviews. See, I'm not an entertainer, I'm just playing this role, you know what I mean? As an entertainer. And being an entertainer, you have to do interviews and things like that. And with music, you know, there needs to be singing with this kind of music or it's missing something. And with singing, you have to have some kind of subject. And the only subject we have is thinking for yourself. That's it. That's the only message. There's nothing else to it. And that's really all I've ever said. That's what the intent is, to inspire people to think for themselves, to reflect on the story of the allegory of the cave by Plato, to search out their own truth, break free from the limiting paradigms. But whatever they take of that and do with it, that's up to them. It really matters not to me. I'm not here to change anything, I'm just here sharing my insight. But yes, the music is definitely the most important thing. It's just, what else am I gonna talk about in interviews? Daily, mundane things? They don't interest me.

Do you feel that having to write lyrics to your music actually limits the potential of the music? You just said you have to have words, and if you write lyrics, you have to put the concepts behind the music into words.
No. I was just saying that the voice is an instrument too, and I think the voice is important. But you don't "have to" do anything. That's just the way we do it, our band is about occult, spiritual things, that's something that interests us, and it's something that's useful und worthwhile, I think. We do stuff for ourselves, and like I said, the music, the energy just flows through us, it's not like we just sit there like a bunch of brainiacs thinking about all this theory and how to stuff it into music, it's all just energy. I don't know anything about theory. I just know about flow. I like to talk about these types of things if anybody's interested in listening, but it's not like I know anything. Some people are interested in these kinds of things, and some people aren't. Some people are interested in the occult, spirituality, and some people aren't. Some people are more interested in facts and science and you know... whatever. So you know, it's just different preferences.

That actually gives me a nice segue to the next bunch of questions because I've got some more mundane things to ask you. First of all, most people would probably like to know how Steve (Tucker, vocals/bass) ended up back in the band.
Well see, he just took a break because he had some things he had to do. And the band still had big touring plans. So we had someone fill in for him and when it was time for me to look for someone else to sing on the record after I'd already prepared most of the music, I wanted to talk to him first and see if he was still up for doing it, if he was into it, and he was. And I think he contributed some great stuff, I'm really happy with him, his singing and the parts that he added.

Was there ever any truth to the rumors about Dave coming back?
(puzzled) For this record or something?

Well, when it seemed like Steve had pretty much quit, obviously people started talking and a lot of people started talking about Dave coming back.
I've talked to David about possibly doing something in the future, but nothing really panned out. Not that I was planning on having him be on this record, it's funny how rumors are. I've talked to him about possibilities in the future, but that's about that.

Who's gonna be playing the second guitar on stage when you're touring again?
I don't know yet, but we'll find somebody who's gonna do a great job.

But Erik Rutan's definitely not gonna do it?

And since we're talking about touring and playing live, what you said before about how you don't feel like you're an entertainer... what's your take on the purpose of playing shows? I mean, if you're completely against the concept of the musician as the entertainer... if you're on stage, you're obviously putting on that entertainer mantle, but how do you feel about that?
Well, I don't know, maybe you just don't understand my words. It's just, I'm so detached and so far from this reality that maybe I'm coming through in waves. Let me try and reshape my delivery. I'm not writing music to please others. I'm writing music as a pure experience in meditation. You come up with this energy and to share it with others, there's a difference there for me. Maybe it sounds like the same thing to anybody else, but to me it's a little different. I don't check in with the scene and see what's cool and how I can fit into it. I don't even know what's going on. I just come from a whole different place. So basically, our music is just a pure experience from ourselves. Touring is a nice way to connect to people and to share energy. That's what it is for me.

So it's more about sharing energy than entertaining people.
Well, that's just words. Sure, maybe it's entertaining people. But the reason why I say I'm not an entertainer is because I write music for myself as opposed to even considering what people would expect or would want from me. That's what I mean. Maybe I am still an entertainer. See, it's funny when you look at how nothing has any meaning other than the meaning you give to it, when you come from that place, then words are really funny in that respect.
v I'm a linguistics student, I know exactly what you mean (I'm referring to semiotics here, uh, look it up).
You're just asking me these questions for the benefit of an informative interview?

Well, yeah. Okay. Let me do the talking for a second here. I've been listening to Morbid Angel for twelve years. I can go on about my interpretation of what you do for hours if someone wants me to. But the point here is to get you to talk and to get you to try to explain why you do the things you do. And with the attitude behind what you create that I see in what you do, I completely understand that it's hard for you to even talk about it or to even see the point of talking about it. Because the music's there, right? And that's the only point.
Sure. I just felt that in your pausing and your tonality, maybe you were surprised by some of what I say.

Actually when I'm pausing I'm trying to figure out where to go with your answer and what to ask you next to keep things interesting. I think I understand what you're talking about, if that's what you're worried about.
Right. That's good. I just didn't know if maybe I was coming through with these words that didn't make much sense. It makes sense to me, but maybe they don't make sense to you. I want to communicate and do my part to communicate accurately, if there's such a thing, to get some kind of useful message across. But normally people will listen to some of the things I say and think "That guy's way out in left field, he's sick!"

Well, obviously you're just different from most musicians, or at least the way you talk about your music is different from the way most musicians do. Anyway, I'm done, and we've pretty much used up our thirty minutes. Anything final you want to add or should we just leave it at that?
The only thing I can add is that like I said, our message is for people to think for themselves and to search out their own truth. And I think that's probably the only message that I have that's of any usefulness to share. Other than that, it's just a bunch of babble.

Alright, that's it then, thanks for taking the time to do this...
Cool, thank you... but what's your impression of the feeling of the album, do you have any opinion on it, have you heard it enough?

Well, I've listened to it about a dozen times, I'm still kind of struggling with the guitar sound, that's why I asked you about that. But the album has a lot of energy to it, it sounds really alive, kind of like Gateways to Annihilation times ten. Because it's faster, the songs are more complex, and I like complex and hyperactive music because that gives me that feeling that there's a lot of creativity going into the music. And that's definitely what I'm getting out of it.
How do you like my lava solos?

The solos?
My anti-vacuum culture miking technique, did you like that one?

Uh... is that one of the tracks toward the end?
(laughs) No. Actually that's one of the things I do to create this unusual solo tone. You can hear it, it's in the first solo in the first song, in the right speaker is the anti-vacuum culture miking technique. I was just wondering what that tonality, which is definitely not a regular sound, did for you.

Well, I like the solos, but I gotta tell you, I'm a drummer. So I don't really know that much about the technical aspect, so I can't really comment on that, but the general impression I got from listening to it a couple of times now is that I really like the solos better than on the last album this time because of the atmosphere they're creating. You really seem to get the atmosphere and the feeling across better than on the last album. And that's what you were going for if I understand you correctly, right?
Yeah. It's all about the atmosphere. There is no technique. I just use the word "anti-vacuum culture miking technique" because I like to sound technical sometimes. Everything is just fun. You know what I mean? That's kinda where I'm at right now, I have fun in my world and I have fun with my titles and my meanings and my games that I play. So... what do you think about the snappy drum beats?

What, the drumming in general? I probably like the drumming best on this album so far. Because Pete's really trying to put a lot of variety into what he's doing now and if there's one thing I disliked about his drumming sometimes, especially on "Covenant", it's that it was a little too straightforward for my tastes.
Well, I can tell you, I wrote probably 75 percent of the beats anyway, on this album. He played it, but I wrote it. It's very different. It's very on purpose that there's such dynamical fills and purposeful cymbal action and things like that. I just thought you might've picked up on that difference.

Yeah, I definitely did. And it seems to go much better with the nature of your guitar work because there's always so much going on on the guitar, and then it's kind of a shame if the drums are just all straight blasts underneath it.
Sure. I agree. I think that this record is really snappy and that's something that I'm really excited about, how snappy it is. How it moves the hips. I'm really into having my hips moved by music, side to side, not just thrashing up and down. I like that full body jello feel like I get from R'n'B. Do you get any of that?
Yeah, I see what you mean. It's just funny because a lot of people tend to think complex drumming ruins what you call a snappy, groovy feeling. But I'm the same way, I like drumming where there's a lot going on because straight beats bore me.
Sure... yeah, I think there's definitely such a thing as overplaying on drums, guitars, bass, anything. What's really tough is to find that happy medium of making it as complex and over the top as possible but still easy. That takes a lot of work. I've noticed this.

Actually I think that's the reason you've been getting away with complex music like that all these years, because you're trying so hard to get that right. Usually bands that are as complex as Morbid Angel don't get that big because people don't seem to be able to get into it.
Yeah, I know what you mean. That's why it takes a long time to write records, I wish it would go smoother. But I'm my hardest critic. Nobody can knock my stuff into the dirt as much as I can, nobody. I knock my stuff into the dirt, stuff that other people might think is cool and would use, I throw it right in the rubbish bin.

So how do you write songs then?
It starts with a riff, then I add the drumbeat with my drum machine and then I come up with a complimentary riff. On this album, there's a lot of polyrhythms going on, and... basically five of the songs that have singing are the ones that started with me doing the drum machine in my little studio, just putting it together, the riffs, and thinking of these snappy beats and getting it to where instrumentally, it's really exciting and it has all this stuff going on. It's not like it's kind of cool, but the vocals are gonna give it the icing on the cake. It's already awesome and then the vocals add to it. In my opinion, of course. I'm only speaking my opinion. What am I, other than a point of view? It's not for everybody. But that's my opinion and that's kinda what I try to do and that's why sometimes I even waste cool riffs because I'm not really into just having a simple riff underneath singing, I kinda like the whole thing to be cool.

In that case, you really construct the songs at home, it's not one of these jammy type things, then?
No, there's a couple songs that were jammy. There was a couple, for sure. But most of them started out the way I'm talking about. Like for instance, there's one song, it's called "Stricken Arise", and that's a song that Pete came up with. He came up with drums first and recorded it into his computer, gave me the recording and some guidelines to what kinds of rhythms he was thinking about. Just real basic, he's not a guitar player, but he can definitely hum... (the promoter cuts in and tells Trey he was supposed to start the next interview five minutes ago) ...alright, I'll shape it up. He wrote that song, and I contributed to his foundation. It was really cool that way, we'd never done it like that before. He actually wrote the whole thing and then I just contributed some riffs and filled in the gaps. So that was cool as well. And then there was a couple we just jammed on together.

Well, I'll let you take care of the next interview then.
Cool. It was great talking with you. I hope that my answers, you know... will be cool.

This was honestly one of the most interesting interviews I've ever done, so yeah, it's gonna be useful.
You can even add that I'm from another planet, it's just confusing here.

Hahaha, yeah, people know that about you, so that won't be a problem.