EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Candiria’s Ken Schalk pt I – Reunion, Kiss the Lie, and the Band’s Beginnings

Well the news is out: Candiria are making music again. True, it’s not exactly a reunion, and the possibility of live shows is uncertain, but if this doesn’t get you snare drum crushing excited then you either don’t like groundbreaking metal or you’re younger than 24. As the esteemed Vince Neilstein, proprietor of our sister site Metal Sucks recently pointed out, it’s questionable whether the band could have the same impact with a younger generation that’s grown up on the slew of bands directly influenced by Candiria.


It’s easy to forget how formulaic death metal could be before the mid ’90s. Even something as simple as breaking the verse/chorus structure was rarely done. Certainly bands before Candiria set the precedent for linear structures and heightened technicality, particularly the progressive Death/Cynic/Athiest/etc scene brewing in Florida. But Candiria took that still-new development and then blew the fucking doors off of the genre associations. These weren’t a bunch of longhairs in ripped jeans harmonizing in harmonic minor. They looked like a hardcore band. Their vocalist jumped between guttural grunts and hip hop. They had a straight up jazz instrumental in the middle of their record. Not some Birds Of Fire fusion guitar solo in a rock song, but just drums, keys, and bass going off like Weather Report. Sure it lacked something in consistency, but the pure ambition of it was unheard of. And for my money Surrealistic Madness may be one of the 5 most important metal records of the ’90s, and certainly it’s one of my favorites.

So when I got this chance to talk to the band’s drummer (and by the way, one of the best musicians in the scene, period) Ken Schalk, I almost pissed my smelly blue jeans off. He was at Candiria guitarist John LaMacchia’s place, working on new material. I slept on the interview for a while so the band could announce their return, which will be heralded by the April 29th release of The Invaders, a limited 7″ out via Giant MKT.

Ken had a lot of stories to tell, and I had a lot of questions to ask, so I’m splitting this behemoth into two parts. This first section deals with Candiria’s hiatus and the delayed release of Kiss The Lie: what I assumed was a posthumous album until recently. We also talked about the reasons for the reunion (even though there was never any real break up), and, since this is a gear site after all, the equipment that the band used to get the… distinctive tones of Surrealistic Madness. Check back next Tuesday at the same time for the back half.

You guys are back together for the first time in a while right? When were you actually recording Kiss The Lie? When was the last time Candiria was actually together as a band?

We tracked the Kiss The Lie album in  the first half of 2006. Preproduction started in December of 2005 and then we tracked it through the first half of 06. It was a lazy process from that point. The band never really disbanded as a business entity as a whole, but oftentimes I guess if a band stops touring one would perceive it as a band “breaking up” or “disbanding.” But I wouldn’t say that we ever stopped working together. I would say that Kiss The Lie was an album that started out with good intentions, but because of the progression of everyone’s individual lives it never really manifested into a tour where we could take the band out and tour that album.

Didn’t the label dissolve at the time too?

Well basically what happened was that after I tracked my drums I had some things going on in my own life that put me into an awkward situation between myself and personal choices, and by moving out to LA I didn’t necessarily leave the band, but obviously I became a distant member. There were a lot of things weighing into the equation on how the progression of this album could get worked on. It’s not that I would throw any particular person under any bus, but I think reality is reality and I think and it’s unfortunate not just from our end, but also the record label that we had signed with was a very unstable source too. And I’m not trying to make David Bendeth look like he did something wrong, but his ability to push and promote the band was something that was not easy either, even when we were trying to tour on the What Doesn’t Kill You album.

So ultimately our ability to keep moving forward as a touring entity was already starting to take a hit,. As a band we almost felt pressured. And I don’t want to say that we rushed the music for the Kiss The Lie album, but wanted to tour more for What Doesn’t Kill You, but at the same time we were like “there’s no real help to keep us on the road, to keep us pushing an album that’s not being pushed enough by the record company.” So it was a tough task for us and we thought it was maybe better for us to just head home and see if there was any music going on that we could work with…. So it was a good escape for us to make Kiss The Lie but at the same time so many different things that were happening between our personal lives and the business of the band made it really tough to try to figure out a way to tour that album. So we didn’t really disband or break up, but we definitely did have to dissipate as a touring band. Before we ever ran into these issues with the band in these later days, we always knew that we could never stop writing together… that even as a songwriting entity we would always be in each others’ lives.

If the band hadn’t stopped touring around that time, and if the Kiss The Lie record had been able to be released [right after it was recorded], because I know it was in limbo for a while, how do you think it would have been received? I feel like it flew under the radar a little because there was such a delay. A lot of people considered What Doesn’t Kill You to be a big change record for Candiria, and I guess it was, but ultimately I think Kiss The Lie seemed to be a bigger departure. What Doesn’t Kill You still often sounded like Candiria but with some more melodic elements on top of it, where Kiss The Lie sounded like you guys were really experimenting.

Well again it’s a combination of two things. One it’s a natural progression of John as a songwriter, and the natural progression of his influences over those years from What Doesn’t Kill You to Kiss The Lie. And that mixed with the band’s overall openness. One disclaimer we always gave with the band was to expect the unexpected. As much as that appeals to many of our fans, also in the general scheme of how music works it could trip out your most devoted fans because a lot of people really just want to hear the same exact thing over and over again.

Yeah, especially with a band that has such a distinct sound…

Yeah, and I think that was validated when a few months ago we dropped a precursor of one of the new tunes and everybody was tripping on it because it was bringing back the elements of our older writing style. You weren’t hearing a Kiss The Lie song in essence. And to get back to the Kiss The Lie thing, first of all everybody in the band who worked on the album was in favor of the music. We as a band, and as musicians, love the progression. And I think what people still fail to realize is that you still hear a progressive metal band writing those songs. Those songs are not straightforward, easy songs. They’re long. They have a lot of intricacies in their arrangements. It just wasn’t taking the approach of to write these chapter-based songs, but actually taking these elements of progressive metal that John and Carley [Coma, vocalist] were influenced by the last few years, and implementing [them]. Not to mention being courageous enough to change the tuning format and not being a straight E to E, or Eb half step style, but actually say “let’s go B to B, let’s really change the tuning arena.” So it was really adventurous for me to be part of the experience too, which is always what we were about.

To be honest with you the only reason why Candiria’s first 4-5 albums sound like a similar progression is because I think it was still a progression within a progression, like we still developing something. And I think once we apexed with it on 300% Density we were left with nowhere to go with it but somewhere else. It’s not something we were trying to force ourselves, to do something different. We felt the natural organic pressure that an artist should feel when they’re growing.

You’ve got to remember we were left idle as people, as musicians, as artists, growing on our own again from this situation, from the accident. A lot filtered through us on our own that when we got back together to start writing What Doesn’t Kill You, a whole new slew of influences came about. Carley, as a lyricist, was more vulnerable. [He said] “I’m writing things, I’m feeling things that I actually want to sing.” So as a band it was a whole new system of thought and support, behind where we were going. I think Kiss The Lie was a good progression of that.

Had the opportunity come to be able to tour that album, I think that would have been amazing, because of the fact that by adding melody we gave ourselves a much bigger platform to be able to tour with bands that we always wanted to. Like The Deftones. Even though they were fans of ours it never logistically worked out. But you bring that much singing and melody into your music and you can start to look at a new audience that you never could before.

It took me so long to hear that record, but when I did I really liked the songs. But I find it interesting that a lot of people said “oh, Candiria are awesome because they mix metal with jazz,” and they accepted that went it was like, “well here’s the metal part, and there’s the jazz part.” But then when you start bringing those elements together into the same part, then people start saying “woah, woah, this isn’t what I signed on for.”

Well that’s what I said, it’s funny. At least our fans, the core fans, know that we gave that disclaimer, but like I said it just doesn’t matter, you know? You try your best to help your fans realize that we really are a band that’s going to do whatever. We’re going to try to take an authentic and unique snapshot of our musical lives every time we make a record. And if it comes out so different than the last one don’t be afraid of that.

When we wrote 300% density you could just hear that that album truly is as far as we could have taken that songwriting approach, and we felt it too. When we were done with that album we were like holy shit. Some of the things we worked on were literally like conception, and then writing and arranging, and then getting it rehearsed and getting it into the songs and everything—some of those moments and big parts took months to finally get to fruition. That album truly was the first time as a band that we didn’t have to mingle touring. We did a couple of local shows but ultimately we had 4 and a half months to just be at rehearsal 3 or 4 days a week and really write that album. We took it to the limit, and after that we were really just so drained from that approach. What Doesn’t Kill You was a combination of the back pressure, feeling like “I don’t know if I can write another 300% Density even better. Because we can’t make another album worse than the last one either. 300% Density was to outdo Process Of Self Development and so on. So when we came to writing [What Doesn’t Kill You], between the vulnerability from the accident mixed with the pressure to outperform 300% Density we were like “guess what guy? It’s time to turn the wheel and take a new direction. So it worked out that Carley wanted to sing because it took a lot of that pressure to make an album better than 300% Density. Our vocalist brought us somewhere else.

And you’ve got to remember, it’s not just about trying to outdo yourself, but how do you also not, 5 albums in, become a parody of yourself? How do you make so unique of a sound for yourself that then you don’t eventually sound like it’s just a repeated version? I think it was important for us to make those steps on those last few albums, to go where we went, otherwise we would have wound up being a more falsified version of ourselves had we tried to still keep writing the way we always did.

(guitarist John LaMacchia)

So then what does the new material sound like? What mentality are you in, going into writing this one?

Well obviously this EP that we’re putting together now is something that’s been culminating over the last few years. The first song I wrote goes all the way back to 2010 I think. And then I wrote another one in ’11, or early 2012. But John’s songs also stem across these last few years, so some of them have that B to B sound that comes from the Lie vibe, but not in the vein of sounding like the Kiss The Lie type of music. There’s more energy and a more aggressive push to it. Not that I would say we came full-circle necessarily, but we are definitely bringing the elements of our older arrangements, of taking a more chapter-based approach to the songwriting.

As far as any electronic music influence goes, obviously [it’s more relevant] today than the last time we wrote music, so whatever we’re implementing is based on how we’ve progressed musically with the times.

I would say the real hurdle, I guess, when everything is done, once we get all the songs tracked and the music is down… then it would be a matter of determining whether we want to go the full-on sound replacement road or not. We did that with What Doesn’t Kill You. We didn’t really do it [with Kiss The Lie]. We did add a snare drum layer… but other than that we didn’t really use any sound replacement. So even though it’s become such an industry standard, we can still rest a little bit in knowing that we’re getting a clean enough recording that we may not have to do sound replacement. But I’m not opposed to it, because ultimately if we really want to build big tracks over these songs then we will, and we’ll do some sound replacements for layering.

I’m trying to think back to the recordings of the old records. It didn’t sound like there was a lot of sound replacement on the old stuff [before What Doesn’t Kill You]. One thing that I noticed that was really interesting about each old Candiria record was that it seemed like there was a very different recording style on each one of them. Surrealistic Madness had a very up close sound. That one almost sounded sound replaced, but that was the mid ‘90s…

Yeah, it’s funny you bring this up because, the guy who was working with us, his studio was growing in this organic way that was parallel to us as a band. Like our first album, we were doing it on a mix of 8-track analog cassette and 16-track digital ADAT.

Like a regular “cassette” cassette?

Yeah, it was an 8-track cassette. It was a Tascam 8-track cassette recorder. It was a pretty cool unit. And he had that SMPTE’d up with two ADATS, and we were doing 24 tracks of that album. But it was very sterile and digital because there was very little preamplification in the room at this point, so a lot of his ADAT recordings were straight digital. There was no real analog liaison going on to really beef the sound up. You start to hear more implementation of that with Beyond Reasonable Doubt.

The one problem that we had with Beyond Reasonable Doubt is that we had a couple of outboard compressors that we were using in our sub-mix before we went to mastering, and we overdid it by flatlining our mixes so when we went to mastering… our mastering engineer was a good guy, but he was like “are you a fucking douchebag? You gave me nothing to work with!” [laughs] So he was upset about that, but we did the best we could with it at the time. We actually had the chance to remix and remaster that album when we did The Coma Imprint, so that was pretty cool.

So then you move on to Process Of Self Development which was interesting wecause we had a friend of [first four albums’ producer Michael Barile] came in, this guy Night Bob. And he was bringing in a whole bunch of other amplifiers. That album was almost like taking the digital progression of the studio and now bringing in a whole bunch of vintage gear too. Night Bob called that Candiria’s Dark Side Of The Moon because we spent a whole month in the studio, and we had our songs very well rehearsed. And only half of the album was heavy songs. So the initial tracking was done pretty quick and we spent a lot of time just experimenting with that album, and as you can see we made a fully segued album. We really wanted to make an artistic endeavor with that album.

That album jumped out at me because when I was first learning about recording, and one guy that I was learning from pointed out to me that “these guys must have really wanted to go more natural because on the first two records the drums sound like they’re right next to your ear” but Process Of Self Development sounded a lot more “roomy” than the first two. Were you trying to do something different on that one?

Yeah, totally. Again, it goes back to where our engineer was going.

Was that Michael Barile? He was [at the helm of] the first four, right?

Yeah. And we were organically allowing him to implement his growth and experimentation as an engineer into our albums. We didn’t say to him “no, you’re going to get the sounds that we want.” We were like “where you at? What are you up to? What’s going on in your world with music? What do you want to implement into our sound to help it get that uniqueness?” In that case that’s just where we were, between meeting that guy Night Bob and befriending him and having access to all his vintage gear. And mix that to where [Michael] was with drum sounds, bringing in more room ambience and stuff. We were also, as a band, finding new influences too. It was always a growth process with us, finding how each album took on its own sonic palette.

I’m just curious if you remember, since not just the band’s music but the sound of the band kept changing so drastically: do you remember what the evolution of the band’s guitar amps was at the time? The first album sounds very much like a distortion pedal into a head, and then they became more vintage and amp-like over the next two records.

When I first joined the band they were just a death metal band and they had this other drummer, and they got rid of their drummer and decided they wanted to restart their band and change the name and stuff. So I get in this band and we said we’re going to call it “Candiria” and this is the new music. And one day I stopped them and I was just like “do you guys, like, ever think about having a real head?” Because I had one guy on one side using an [Alesis] Quadraverb, one of the original Quadraverbs that added distortion, and he had a [power] amplifier. And that was his amp to make a guitar sound. The other guy had that Fender M80 transistor amp. And those were their guitar sounds! Because, I was a few years older than them, but the bands I was in up until starting that band, we were all metal bands and stuff and we used [Marshall] JCM800s. So I was just like “why don’t you guys… don’t you use Marshalls?” It felt so weird. And I asked them but they really were insistent to prove to me that their stuff was the bomb. I was blown away by how much they were stubborn to that. Needless to say, to make a long story short, by the time we got to Beyond Reasonable Doubt they were over it: we were using modded JCM800s on one side we had a Marshall Jubilee on the other side. Both were modded to sound ridiculously fat. But the first album was that garbage I described to you before. [laughs]

I’m sure those amps sounded bad live, but I do feel like they added a certain quality to on the recording [of Surrealistic Madness]. There’s an evil tone that works on that record.

I would agree with you that even the digital thinness of the drums and everything else helps make the thinness of those guitars sound complimentary. But had we have gotten full, rich, deep drum sounds at that point, but gotten those guitar sounds with it, then it would have been a little off. But I think for where we were in our musical career, and where our engineer was, those sounds worked well enough to make Surrealistic have a mood. So I do agree with you in that sense. But at the same time it was a great, great day when we started hearing kick ass Marshalls really beefing it up.

I especially can’t imagine those [solid state] heads before you guys had a bassist. Because the first time I ever saw Candiria was about right when Mike joined the band. [*note: for the first couple years of the band’s existence Candiria had no live bassist. Ken and guitarist Eric Matthews recorded the bass parts on Surrealistic Madness and Beyond Reasonable Doubt. Bassist Michael MacIvor joined in 1997]. So I think by then they had made the change to Marshalls.

Yeah totally, because by then John was in the band too [replacing original guitarist Chris Puma]. By then there were no more transistor heads.

Written by

Chris Alfano has written about music and toured in bands since print magazines and mp3.com were popular. Once in high-school he hacked a friend's QBasic stick figure fighting game to add a chiptune metal soundtrack. Random attractive people still give him high-fives about that.

Latest comments
  • Amazing interview. Amazing answers. I might have to give the new stuff another listen.

  • This interview was/is like a mental vacation for me. It’s so great to finally see the band’s view on the recent 2 albums and the era surrounding them. What Doesn’t Kill You is honestly really awesome (Especially ‘Vacant’, ‘Blood’, etc) and Kiss The Lie has a few hidden gems that feel like a Deftonesy Candiria.

    I think the true difference between their “core era” and their “radio era” was that when they were exhibiting their core material, they were ahead of the game and unmatched in delivering the experience. During the last 2 album cycles and the “hiatus”, however, they were merely trying to catch up to what everyone else was already up to. This shortcoming is undoubtedly the primary yet hidden explanation to what happened in the minds of the band and its fans.

    I am very excited for the EP and the following album, as I sense a very strong merging of both of these “eras” now that Candiria is proving to be tech-savvy, up to date, and self-aware. Having heard the instrumental demo late last year of one of the new songs, I can be confident that the new material will re-ignite the faith of thousands of older fans, while still pulling in a fair share of new and youthful fan demographic.

    Also, I laughed really hard at “if this doesn’t get you snare drum crushing excited then you either don’t like groundbreaking metal or you’re younger than 24” I just turned 24.

    Although I have a friend that is into Candiria as much as I have been for 10+ years, and he’s only 22. The future is bright.

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