When Church Of Misery bassist and founder Tatsu Mikami suddenly found himself without a band in 2014, the Tokyo-based doom veteran didn’t enlist another group of Japanese musicians like he had in the past. After consulting with his friend and label boss Lee Dorrian from Rise Above Records, he decided to look to America. As a result, the sixth and latest Church Of Misery album, And Then There Were None, features Earthride drummer Eric Little, Blood Farmers guitarist Dave “Depraved” Szulkin, and—most surprising of all, perhaps—Repulsion frontman Scott Carlson on vocals.
In fact, Carlson might be more surprised than anyone. “Out of all the bands that I’ve ever thought it’d be cool to work with, I never expected to hear from Church Of Misery,” he tells us when we visit him at his Los Angeles apartment. “That’s kinda what made it so cool. It wasn’t one of my buddies asking me to do something—it’s this guy in Japan who I’ve only met a couple of times. It was so out of left field that I thought it was great.”
It’s worth mentioning that Carlson hadn’t written a full album of lyrics or recorded a full album of vocals since Repulsion’s Horrified, an extreme metal landmark that arguably invented death metal and grindcore in one fell swoop—when it was recorded in 1986. On And Then There Were None, Carlson hewed to Church Of Misery’s longstanding tradition of writing songs only about serial killers. Mikami suggested ripe candidates like English physician Harold Shipman, who in early 2000 was found guilty of killing 15 of his own patients, and fellow Brit John George Haigh, a.k.a. “The Acid Bath Killer,” who disposed of his victims in a vat of sulfuric acid in the 1940s. But Carlson also relied on his own research, which turned up quite a few notable serial slayers—including a few women.
Noisey: How did you end up on a Church Of Misery album?
Scott Carlson: I had met Tatsu on a number of occasions, so we’d hung out a couple of times. When he was making this album, he’d lost his whole band, and somehow my name came up when he was talking to Lee Dorrian about potential vocalists. Lee agreed that it was a good idea, so they got a hold of me and asked if I’d fancy singing and writing lyrics for the new album. Being that it had been a long time since I’d written a full album’s worth of lyrics—and sang a full album’s worth of lyrics—I was up for the challenge. I love Church Of Misery’s music anyway, so I was really gung-ho about it from the beginning.
Did Tatsu ever tell you why you were his choice?
Nope. He just said he liked my vocals. He liked Death Breath and Repulsion, so he just said, “That’s what I want you to do.” I had to think about how I was gonna work my style into slow songs because I’m used to shouting really staccato bursts of vocals. Church Of Misery is a little different than doing death metal because you have to hold the notes a lot longer. But other than that, it’s the same.
All of Church Of Misery’s songs are about serial killers, which is something you obviously knew going in. Did that appeal to you?
Honestly, not really. But as I started to do research, I got inspired. The idea of writing songs about real-life monsters and horrendous acts of violence did not appeal to me. But once I started thinking of it more from a psychological standpoint, I got more into it. So I asked Tatsu for a list of killers that he’d already covered, and all of the superstars were already checked off, like Son Of Sam and H.H. Holmes. All murder is bad, obviously, but the only thing I was really against writing about was woman-stalkers or child molesters or anything like that. I wanted to find people who had interesting cases, or a different twist on the whole serial killer story. And I found that in a few places, along with a few killers that Tatsu was psyched about having songs on, like John Haigh, “The Acid Bath Killer.” Tatsu already had planned to put a picture of him on the album cover.
Which killers did you dig up on your own?
John Bender and his family. There’s a film [Sergio Corbucci’s 1967 Western The Hellbenders] very loosely based on their story. They were a family of murderers in the old West who got away with shit because they lived on Massacre Trail, where lots of people were being murdered by Indians. People would come around the Benders’ inn trying to find out what happened to the victims, and they’d just be like, “The Indians must’ve got ’em!” They had a good-looking daughter who did fortune telling, so she’d invite these men into their house. They had a guest chair at the dinner table with a trapdoor underneath. So after the daughter had lured them into the house, the brother would whack them on the head and then they’d drop them into this pit underneath the house. Then they’d dismember them and bury their remains in their apple orchard.
Harold Shipman was another killer that Tatsu recommended…
Right. He’s sort of like a Jack Kevorkian type character—except his victims weren’t asking to be killed. That was another interesting case. When you start reading about that stuff, it’s crazy how many “mercy killers” there are, these people who take it upon themselves to end the suffering of people who are terminally ill or whatever. There’s tons and tons of stories of killer nurses. It’s pretty insane how many people dedicate their lives to assisting people who are ill and then just completely distort the concept of that into “This person is suffering, so I’m just gonna end their life.”
Clementine Barnabet was another interesting one you found—a black, female serial killer.
Yeah, she was a black teenager in Louisiana who was in a cult in the early 1900s that thought they could gain immortality by murdering families of five. She was like 17 years old or something. That song is called “Hallowed Axe,” and it’s actually only on the seven-inch that comes with the diehard vinyl version of the album. But she’s not the only woman who has a song on the record.
Leonarda Cianciulli is the other one.
She was this Italian woman who went to see a fortuneteller who told her that her children were going to suffer and die young. So she got it into her head that she could make a sacrifice and save her children somehow. This was in the 1940s. So she started inviting her friends over to do some fortune telling over her own. When they came over, she’d kill them, chop them up with an axe and then boil down the parts to make soap and teacakes out of their fat. She was just totally fucking nuts. That song is “Confessions Of An Embittered Soul.”
It’s interesting that you’ve got two songs that involve women doing fortune telling to lure their victims.
Well, I sort of did the research that way. I started by looking for women and minorities and foreign people because I find that more interesting. There’s a lot of white American men who are serial killers, and they seem to be the superstars of the whole phenomenon. There are a few English ones who are also infamous, but for the most part, white American men seem to have the market cornered on crazy-ass serial killers.
Just like they have the market cornered on most things.
[Laughs] Anything that has to do with the suffering of minorities or women, they have it all covered. So yeah, to find female serial killers was interesting. I was looking for things like that, and for people who had supernatural reasons behind their killings because that’s just more up my alley. I had the most fun with those.
What about “River Demon”?
That’s about Arthur Shawcross, who came back from Vietnam but thought he was still there. He was paranoid and having flashbacks and went on a crazy killing spree. That was another Tatsu suggestion.
As you mentioned, this is the first full album of lyrics and vocals you’ve written since Repulsion’s Horrified. Were you rusty?
Vocally, I’m used to being rusty because Repulsion only plays five or six times a year and we usually only get one or two rehearsals beforehand so I never really get a chance to get my voice in shape. So the first session for this album was a little difficult. But then I took a few days off and it got easier every time. I was really up for it, though, because I hadn’t done it in so long. And I had a lot of fun. Bruce Duff, the engineer I recorded with, is not really from the extreme music world—which was cool because he got me to try some things I probably wouldn’t have otherwise.
What about lyrically?
When I first agreed to do it, I thought, “Oh, man—I hope I still have it.” Because it used to be effortless: Back in Repulsion, I’d come up with a riff and I’d write the lyrics seconds later. And this process reminded me that I can still do that. It kind of got my creative juices flowing, which is good, because it’s got me itching to do more.
Tatsu’s English is way better than our Japanese, but were there any difficulties with the language barrier or the fact that he lives half a world away?
Not really. At first I was like, “Okay, we’ve gotta sit down and have a meeting and go over all these ideas.” But he was like, “No—just do what you do.” In a lot of ways that was even scarier. Because now I have complete artistic freedom, no direction, and it’s on me. If the vocals or lyrics stink, it’s my fault. I’d worked that way before with Nicke Andersson in Death Breath, except that’d he’d given me lyrics to most of the songs and in some cases had even done a guide vocal on a demo to show me where the words go. In this case, I did ask Tatsu where he wanted the words because I didn’t want to sing over a part that he wanted to use as a sample bed or wherever the guitar solos were supposed to go—because the original demos I got didn’t have guitar solos. So he sent me some notes about where he thought the verses and choruses should go.
Besides Tatsu, you haven’t met the other guys who play on the album.
Not in person, no. I’ve just talked to them via email. I sent them a congratulatory note after Tatsu sent me the finished music because those guys played great. I’ve always thought of Church Of Misery as more of a punk band—they’re very doomy, obviously, but they’ve always played with more of a punk attitude and aggression. This album is way more bluesy and riff driven. It’s way more Sabbathy, and I think those guys brought that out even more.
Has there been any talk of doing a tour or festival appearances with this lineup?
Not yet. Tatsu asked me months ago if I’d be up for touring, but we never really got around to discussing it at any length. I have no idea what he plans on doing. I don’t know if he’s gonna ask us to do it or if he’s got people already lined up. Obviously, he lives in Japan so it would serve him to have a band in Japan that he could rehearse and tour with. As far as I’m concerned, David and Eric and I are just contributors. We helped him get this record done. We’re not really members. It’s Tatsu’s band. So I hope people appreciate that and stick with him.
J. Bennett has never been to Japan but would be psyched if you bought him a plane ticket.