INTERVIEW: Eric Lauder of Plague Years
Detroit and thrash metal are a natural pairing. It follows that the city responsible for some of the loudest and fastest cars ever made would produce human beings with a propensity for loud and fast music. Plague Years are the newest champions in a long line of underground Detroit thrash bands to make waves around the internet and their new record Circle of Darkness is getting everybody wet. A carnival of moshpit riffs that never lifts off the gas in its 45 minute run time, Circle of Darkness is a high water mark in modern thrash that any band could be proud of and most thrash enthusiasts will adore. The album leans sonically on 90’s thrash and hardcore tropes, particularly in the reverb vocals and the overall feel of songs like “Witness Hell” and “NRFTL” which is an album highlight with its sing-along gang shout chorus and seditious hardcore vibes. If you’re okay with crunchy vocals in your crunchy guitar music, you’ll find lots to enjoy in Plague Years and Circle of Darkness.
We talked to guitarist and Detroit scene veteran Eric Lauder about the delayed release of the new album, the thrash metal fitness plan, making beats for rappers, and his band’s 200 BPM come-up.
JGilbert: I’ve come across your band a number of times in and around the Detroit live metal scene in the past year, but this is my first chance to get to talk to you. Can you tell us the Plague Years backstory?
Eric Lauder: Mike (Jurysta, drums) and I started this idea a fairly long time ago; about 2010-ish. We were very inspired by Iron Age and we just wanted to do the stuff we heard growing up, you know, Metallica, Slayer… this & that. It wasn’t until about 2017 or 2018, when we got a full band, that everything started getting into motion. The way we got to where we are now is a crazy and random story: Trevor (Strnad) of the Black Dahlia Murder posted us on his Instagram, and then Joel Grind from Toxic Holocaust heard it and liked it and he messaged me on Instagram and sent us his manager. At the same time, Toxic Holocaust was looking for a new label so our manager just pitched us to eOne along with and they loved it. Here we are!
JG: That’s amazing! Congratulations.
EL: Thank you!
JG: Can you elaborate further on the period between 2010 and 2017 and tell us what made you ready to take the next step?
EL: Mike & I were writing, meeting and recording in the studio just me and him. Really, it took a long time for us to click with anyone who could even play the music, to be honest…
JG: Yeah, the music you make is pretty demanding!
EL: Even though the riffs in our songs don’t always sound that difficult, it’s really more about endurance. It’s a lot of tremolo picking and a lot of down picking, and that bit is… I don’t care, if you never done it before? I don’t care if you play tech metal… doesn’t matter what you play, if you haven’t down picked at 200 BPM for twenty minutes straight, it’s just a whole other world.
JG: I can give you about four bars of that and then I need to change up the music to give myself a rest.
EL: Yeah! So once we finally got members we were able to take things seriously. Our singer had been out of music for quite a long time, but he was a guy I remembered from bands back in 2008; I remembered hearing his voice… I mean, it’s hard to find a good vocalist, man! Trying to find the components of a band is really not easy.
JG: It seems like the drummer is the hardest part, but you’ve got that one figured out.
EL: I’ve been lucky enough to have Mike be my drummer since 2006 or 2007, but finding a vocalist or other musicians who already know how to play their instruments so I don’t have to teach them… I don’t want to have to wait for my bandmates to catch up!
JG: Playing thrash metal at the level that your band does, particularly in a live setting, is a physically demanding thing; what kind of practice regimen does it take to keep Plague Years in shape to play those shows?
EL: Leading up to any tours we go on, we’ll be practicing at least two times a week, but there’s also an expectation that you’re going home and working on it, too. It’s important to not only have the songs well-rehearsed and really locked in, but it’s also keeping up that endurance; it’s like a workout! For example, the pandemic hit and we all just took a break, you know? There’s really not much to do during lockdown so the first time we got back together to practice it was like “fuck… haven’t done this in a while!”
JG: You linked up with eOne in April, and the album had a target release for late May. That release date was then moved to September 18th. Can you talk about the postponement of the album?
EL: Yeah. We dropped the first video to promote the new album in like the first week of March, and it was the very next week that everything shut down. At the time, everyone I was talking to at the label and elsewhere in the music world was like “oh it’s fine, this will be over in a month” but as time kept going and we kept getting closer to the release date, we noticed that a lot of people were cancelling. Eventually I reached out to the label and I said “if this tour gets cancelled we should push the record back so we can tour then.” In hindsight, we still can’t tour now. The album was ready in April, we were just hoping the Covid thing would be done by now…
JG: Yeah, nobody could’ve predicted any of this… but now that it’s here and coming out in the middle of the pandemic anyways can you tell me about what this album means to you, as a band?
EL: Once we got signed and realized it was all happening, it was definitely an amazing feeling, but at the same time, I feel like we deserved it! I’ve been working on music for a looooong time. I’ve been signed in different bands and this is something I’ve been doing since I can remember, but even though I feel like we earned it, we still want to push it to the next level. This LP for us is like putting our foot in the ground and trying to carve our lane; even though I feel like we’re at where we want to be, this is just the beginning of that.
JG: It feels like the new album came together very quickly; how would you describe your work ethic when it comes to creating new music? Do you normally churn out new work very quickly or was this special for you?
EL: I’ve adapted; before, I wasn’t writing songs like I do now. I got really into production–making beats for R&B and hip hop–and if I decide I’m gonna make a song or a beat or production or whatever, I’m gonna make it right there. I go into it thinking “I’m gonna make a song” and hopefully by the time I’m done I have a song. And that’s kinda how I write metal now. I’m doing a death metal project right now, and I decided to write four songs; I hadn’t written in a week and a half, but once I turn my brain on to writing, man, it just pours out. And once I’m done, I’m done! I don’t like to keep writing when I don’t need to keep going.
JG: I was just about to ask how you get past the workshopping phase and when you decide that a song is finished; it sounds like you have a system for that. I think that’s going to be a blessing for you going forward as a signed musician, because producing new content is one of the hardest parts for bands. A lot of times they spent years writing the first album and then the label tells them to deliver the next one in six months and they can’t do it consistently.
EL: I don’t think I’ll ever have that problem. It just comes out of me; I don’t know how to explain it.
JG: When you can write new material like that, how do you put together a setlist? If we were in a post-pandemic world and touring again, would there be some old songs in your live performance?
EL: We haven’t had the chance to play much of the new material yet because our last tour was in October. After that, we were planning to maybe do something early, like January… we were either gonna do something with Frozen Soul again or we were gonna wait until the new record came out. Once the thing with Frozen Soul fell apart, we decided to just take our time to really grind out our live set. We were about to embark on a way bigger tour than we’re used to and we wanted to just crush you know? And then everything went to shit! So we haven’t had the opportunity to play much beyond the first EP, but once we get some time to play the new material, we’ll definitely open things up a bit. At the same time, as an opening act, we might only get twenty or twenty five minutes to play and I write five minute songs so we’re really cramming them in there!
JG: You just gotta pick the best four or five songs, and that’s IF you get to start AND end on time.
JG: Tell us about the pro team you got to work with on Circle of Darkness, big names like Nick Morris (Cloud City Studios) and Arthur Rizk, what was that like working with them?
EL: Nick’s a cool dude. I like having him in the studio with me, but he keeps this “no emotion no nonsense ever” approach and just stares at the monitor and I never know if he likes what he’s hearing. Once in a while he’ll say something and that’s when I really know. Working with Arthur’s the shit, I’ve known him since about 2009 and I love him to death. I met him when I first went on tour with Razzle Dazzle and he was playing in War Hungry. We’ve kept in contact the whole time and he plays in Razzle Dazzle sometimes. Arthur has a very unique sound to him; if you play me something recent I can pretty much tell you if he worked on it. Not to bring anything against other thrash bands but I feel like a lot of the bands lately have had a very clean and tight sound and I like MY music to be very dirty and dark… super heavy and eerie-sounding; which Arthur just crushes.
JG: Definitely. What were some of your favorite places in the area to play? I’ve seen your band come through The Sanctuary a few times but are there others that stand out to you as someone who’s been playing for a long time?
EL: The old Magic Stick before it changed to whatever it is now; that was one of my favorite places to play. And the old Sanctuary, that was some really wild times.. You could literally do whatever you want there!
JG: What is it about Detroit thrash? It feels like there’s always a lot of great thrash bands around here. When I first got into local metal it was Soldiers of Scrape and Battlecross…
EL: For us I think it was the wave after that, like Manic Outburst and MRSA and Nuke…
JG: Everything Mike Erdody does. That guy STAYS busy, between Acid Witch and everything else.
EL: What’s his other band… Shitfucker! He got his dick sucked onstage at a Shitfucker show! I wasn’t there, but my mans had his girl crawl up there and suck Mike’s dick while he was playing!
JG: Wow… Detroit metal bands, I swear! What are some of the influences you draw on when you’re writing; is there any one sound in particular you want to be like or do you think of it as an amalgamation of everything?
EL: There’s definitely times when I straight up say it, like “I’m gonna do a Slayer part,” like, full-blown. Or at least, what Slayer is to me in my head. I think like that a lot. I was listening to a lot of Sodom and Dark Angel when I was writing. When I’m not writing, I listen to a lot of rap, but when I’m writing, that’s when I really indulge in the stuff that I want my music to sound like. When I’m writing music, that’s when I’m listening to as much thrash as I can, both new and old, so that as I go about my day I’m still thinking about it and constantly getting ideas.
JG: Relating to your love of hip hop, is there any plan to release any of the R&B production you’ve been working on?
EL: Aside from a few things I’ve posted on my Instagram, I don’t really release it. I don’t have a Soundcloud or anything like that. The production game is so much different from being in a band; you try to work with an artist directly, you give them a bunch of music and you hope that they use some of it; it’s a lot of making beats for people who never end up using them. But I went pretty hard in it for a while, man. There’s a few of my songs out there on the internet you can find; I did songs with a number of people from around here, including one with Boldy James, although it didn’t end up working out. That’s the thing with working with rappers; you might be in the studio with them all day and make three or four songs, but… are they gonna use them? A rapper might make 50 songs and then only pick ten. I don’t have anything to link you to right now, but that’s something I’ve been doing since 2013.
JG: Do you think that love of hip hop and your work in that genre will ever come around to Plague Years in some way? Not necessarily rapping on the metal, but in other ways?
EL: Rap influences a lot of my music now, I just don’t think most people will pick it up. I flip rap lines to use them in my songs sometimes. For example, on “Hellborn” there’s a line “your world is expired, you live on borrowed time” and there’s a song by Freddie Gibbs called “Thuggin’” where he says “I live on borrowed time, my expiration date I passed it” so I flipped it for my song but how many people would ever know that? “Paradox of Death” is about killing a snitch, which is totally a rap subject, but I made it a metal song. It affects the music in a lot of ways but it’s not as obvious so people won’t be as quick to pick it out. A lot of my experience with production helps me make my metal sound as heavy as it does, too. The knowledge of how to put this kick drum here or put these parts in a certain way to make it bounce harder.
JG: That groove is so crucial to making good thrash; it’s gotta make people move!
EL: For sure.
JG: Where is your band going from here now that the album’s out but there’s nowhere to tour?
EL: The plan right now is just to stay really active on social media. That’s all we can really do; when we were on the road, we felt like we were building a lot of momentum so it’s been really hard to stop right when we were starting to get going. We’re trying to do some live streams so look for that; we’re trying to get it figured out so it comes out the way we envision it; I don’t wanna be playing in front of my phone camera or some shit. Other than that, all we can do is wait for this shit to be done.
JG: Any plans for making new material while things are closed down?
EL: There’s some talk about that; I have a death metal project that I’m working on… I’m not ready to talk about that, I don’t wanna say who’s in it yet but it’s gonna be dope, man, it’s gonna be hard.
JG: We’ll be looking out for that when it’s ready, and we’ll look forward to following your future successes! Hopefully we can do this again soon and talk about the next project!
Circle of Darkness is out now on eOne records