Anti-Mortem symbolizes the purest moments in live music when a committed group of young hungry kids from Oklahoma deliver an absolutely unforgiving performance in front of a small crowd in New York City.
During a warm night in the borough of Manhattan, I took a trip down to Webster Hall where I witnessed five musicians capture a synergy reminiscent of a young Metallica or Cowboys From Hell era Pantera. In fact, I’m going to shamefully admit that I never listened to Anti-Mortem beforehand. Talk about winning an audience over, I went to see them again two-nights later at The Saint in Asbury Park, New Jersey. Throughout my experiences covering professional music acts, I never came across a band so close to one another where the friendship just poured itself onto the stage.
Anti-Mortem embodies the old school metal aesthetic of combining heart-rattling guitar riffs with a genuine soulfulness severely missing in modern metal. Hailing from the small town of Chickasha, Oklahoma, this group displays a gracious attitude and veteran maturity even with an average age of 21-years old. Forming this brotherhood in high school, Anti-Mortem cut their teeth playing live in Oklahoma City where prominent labels including Roadrunner and Nuclear Blast scouted them before they even reached their twenties.
Drawing its sound from a range of hard rock and heavy metal influences, Anti-Mortem’s debut album New Southern is burning up the Billboard Heatseeker’s Chart as the band continues to receive exposure on tour packages opening for Machinehead, Lacuna Coil, and Kyng. From top-to-bottom, New Southern’s serenading melodies transition into moments of devastatingly commanding groves while vocalist Larado Romo’s delivery pierces from his heart into the microphone. Based off shear talent alone, Anti-Mortem possesses the highest ceiling of potential to make a significant impact on the future of rock and metal.
In an exclusive interview with Pop-Break, Anti Mortem’s founding members and guitarists Nevada Romo, Zain Smith, and bassist Corey Henderson sat down for an in-depth conversation covering a range of topics including the band’s hell bent determination for writing music following the release of New Southern.
Pop-Break: Starting off our conversation, talk about the formation of Anti-Mortem and how this band came together…
Nevada Romo: When Rado (Lead Vocalist, Nevada’s Brother) and me were young kids, we were making tunes together in once place while Zain was learning guitar and Corey was learning the bass. We’re talking when we were 12, 13, or 14 years old (laughs). We all eventually met up in high school in Chickasha, Oklahoma where we started in jamming at Zain’s garage.
Corey Henderson: Zain and me have known each other since grade school and he basically brought me into the band. I was actually in another band playing guitar when Zain said, ‘We need a bass player.’ I told him I never played bass before and he said, ‘I’ll teach you.’ I went over to Zain’s house and we jammed for a couple days before I played my first show with them.
Zain Smith: Like they were saying, it all came together in high school. We all played instruments and listened to the same music. In high school, it was an open campus during lunch where you could leave and go eat wherever you wanted before you had to comeback. When you’re a freshman, you couldn’t leave unless you had an older sibling with a car. We would eat lunch and there would be 30 minutes to kill before we had to go back to class. I started to bring my guitar to school and Nevada would walk by and say ‘Hey, I could play.’ That’s how it all came about.
Nevada Romo: From there, we started to practice and take it very seriously. We decided to throw our own parties and put flyers around the entire high school. Basically, we made our own songs and we didn’t know where to play so we put together our own shows. There was actually one day in Spanish class where we called the Fords Center in Oklahoma City; we’re talking about an arena that holds thousands of people and asked, ‘How do we book a show opening for Tool (Laughs)?’ It might have been Zain or myself but we used a fake name and pretended that we were representing the band (Laughs). From there, we wound up getting into the local scene in Oklahoma City where we opened for the big local acts and national bands and we’re here talking now.
PB: How quickly did the recognition start falling into place before you were signed?
CH: It actually took two-years for us to get signed between the lawyers and everything.
NR: We were in a weird spot after Atlantic Records absorbed Roadrunner. There was a lot of stuff that happened. We were swept under for a little bit and we were talking to all kinds of different labels. By the end of the legal limbo, Nuclear Blast was interested, Roadrunner became interested again, and we even talked with Century Media for a little bit. We were in a really good spot after the whole situation and I’m really glad that things worked out because that legal stuff went on for two-damn years. Nuclear Blast made so much sense because we had such good relationship with Monte Conner (Founder of Nuclear Blast Entertainment). He went to bat with us for so long and without him, I can’t say we would be doing anything. Steve Esquivel from Skinlab put us in contact with Monte and our management team 5BM. They have some great bands and they do some great work for us so we’re very fortunate.
PB: Roadrunner, Century Media, and Nuclear Blast are the biggest metal labels in the world, how did you cope with the recruitment process?
CH: Until we received the contract and read through four different copies, it didn’t affect at me at first. I really had to see it to believe it. We went through so many in’s and out’s with different situations. Once we signed, it was just amazing to see our signatures. It was like, ‘Oh my god, we just signed to Nuclear Blast.’ We’re out here doing this and we went out to Los Angeles to record our album and see our team. Everyday, we see how much our band is growing.
NR: This whole experience still reminds me of the times we jammed in Zain’s room only we’re playing in different places now. It just doesn’t seem that much different. We’re having a great time and I’m not expecting us to be like, ‘Oh, we’re definitely going to get here.’ You know when you read a story in a rock magazine and some record executive will come up to you and say ‘Oh, you’re a rock star and here’s your rock star things like the cars and music videos.’ It’s not anything like that. It’s a progression and there are moments where you have to stop and say, ‘Wow, we have really done some big things.’ It still feels like we’re the same band we were in high school. I think it’s important that we’re still buds and hang out together.
PB: Going off what you said, the whole band literally grew up with one another and went from boys to men each step of the way.
CH: From the beginning till now, it’s morphed into a business but we really don’t get at each other’s throats as far as business goes. We’re professional with each other and we handle everything very well. We could use constructive criticism in our band without any animosity. It’s not all one person to handle everything and we split everything between the entire band. Nobody is working more than anyone else. We have a great system. We really communicate with one another and that’s the biggest part, not enough people communicate. The biggest fault for most bands that break up is miscommunication.
PB: The music video for “100% Pure American Rage” touches on some relevant social issues. How much creative input did you have on the video?
CH: We definitely had a lot of creative input into the video. We really pay attention to politics because it’s important to know what is yours and when your rights are being invaded or taken away. We want everyone to wake up.
NR: There’s an important message going on in the video. We want people to realize that each person has a weapon and it’s their mind. I don’t think fighting is going to solve anything; it never has before. There are two wolves inside you and the one you feed is the one that wins. If you look at the wall behind the kid in the music video, there are hundreds of different google searches regarding stories or open facts that the government has declassified. We wanted to make a positive message where you could choose to fight with your words and make an important statement. I felt like we were making it when I first saw that video because we’re big Rage Against The Machine fans and the message is important for me. When the video came out, I said ‘We’re going to have to stand behind it.’ We’re not just a political band but these issues are something we’re conscious about. That song is an aspect of New Southern in that we would rather talk with you about our problems instead of fighting.
PB: If you look at the broad range of sounds on New Southern, the influences are spread across different decades whether it’s late 60s/early 70s classic rock, 80s thrash metal, or 90s groove metal…
ZS: It goes like this; Nevada loves Jimmy Page, Joe Perry, Humblepie, and Ted Nugent, and I love Dimebag Darrell, Kirk Hammett, eighties Megadeth, and Lamb of God. I love all of that stuff. When it comes to songwriting, Nevada’s brother Rado lays in the middle between both our tastes. With Corey, he really digs Rex Brown (Pantera) and John Campell’s (Lamb of God) bass tone but at the same time, I have heard him play an Aerosmith song or classic rock tune.
CH: We listen to every style! Seriously, if you look at the CDs in our car stereos or even scroll through our iPods, our tastes are so spread out.
ZS: I’m just saying that Brother Lynch Hung and The Chronic are the best albums ever! Whether it’s Snoop Dogg, Dr. Dre, or N.W.A., we’re into it (Laughs). That’s how our band keeps our influences and sound together. There’s so many different bands and albums that we like. Believe it or not, our record only covers four of our sounds. I’m not saying this is the way our band is going now; I’m just saying that we have wrote some real rock ballads, acoustic songs, and some real heavy metal songs. When I say heavy, I mean heavy.
NR: With our sound, we have been able to create some real niches. With “Hate Automatic,” “Ride Of Your Life,” and “Words of Wisdom,” those songs are staples on the record because they are real trailblazers for us. “Hate Automatic” has such a strange song structure with a cool bridge break. On “Words of Wisdom,” Zain came up with a tuning that’s pretty crazy and enhances the song. Both those songs started out as one thing but shifted into something completely different and that’s given us an opportunity to launch our sound for the next record.
PB: Between the both of you (Zain and Nevada), how do balance or incorporate each other’s guitar riffs into the songs?
ZS: Nevada and me write most of the music to the guitar parts. Nevada is more of the classic rock guy and I’m more of the metal guy and somehow, it just blends so well. He enjoys playing the heavier riffs and I don’t mind playing the blues. If we’re putting it into a ratio, Nevada is 80% blues and 20% metal and I’m probably 80% metal and 20% blues.
PB: How do you go about jamming and bringing your material to the other members in the band?
ZS: Our band is a jam band; I think that’s something to put on record because that’s how our best pieces are written. We bring acoustic guitars along wherever we go and I also play the drums. Our drummer lives 40 miles away so if he couldn’t make it one day, I’ll just play so we could still write something. We’re all about jamming together, period.
NR: We started writing songs since we formed our band. We never were at the point where we were a cover band. In the beginning, we would write a certain way for two years than write a different way for two-years. For the meat of this record, songs like “Stagnant Waters” were written when we were 16-years old. The other songs were written as demos in our home studios. We’re able to compliment one another without hindering one another. If I developed a song in my own classic rock world, I’ll bring it to jam and Zain will come in and just add something different that makes it work.
ZS: What’s cool about our band is that we are all studio guys during our down time. “Hate Automatic” was a studio song that Nevada wrote with Rado and I wrote, “Ride of Your Life” with Rado. With songs like “Stagnant Waters” and “Truck Stop Special,” we didn’t have any computers, protocols, or any of that shit. We were in our jam room and I had a riff that I brought in where Nevada was like ‘Oh, I just wrote a riff that could work with that.’ It’s like, ‘Hell yeah, we just wrote a badass song.’ We’re going to keep that formula. Even now that we have protoools, I do not want us to come together on our next record and say, ‘Oh, I have seven-songs and he has seven-songs.’
Nevada: What you wind up getting is copy and pasted songs or material that doesn’t feel live.
Zain: Another thing to mention, Levi is the newer member of our band and he didn’t get much writing on our first record because he wasn’t here. Corey started getting to the point where he was helping us write towards the end of the writing process. I’m really excited to see what both of them bring to the next record. We take care of most of the writing but both of them are willing to help and they are ready to go. We all write lyrics, music, and we all play different instruments. Nevada plays keyboard and bass all the time. We put together music everyday. I have metal projects on my own and my brother raps so I’ll make rap beats. We make as much music as we can. Life is short so we make projects.
PB: You mentioned how you only tapped into four of your sounds on New Southern, where do you see yourselves taking your sound and musical blueprint on the next record?
ZS: In my opinion, we found out what worked and what didn’t work on the first record. There are a couple of songs that I won’t single out but we were like, ‘Eh, that’s okay but we’re not doing that again.’ But there’s a few songs like “Words of Wisdom,” that’s a tone we never tried before so let’s explore that area some more for one or two songs. We want every record and song to mean something, because we miss the vinyl type of listening experience where you could spin a record from top to bottom without skipping a track.
NR: When I look at all the bands with great legacies, that’s something I want. I don’t want us to be known for one song. We’re going to make something that’s a step forward and moves us in a new direction. After this record, I have the confidence to say that we could step outside and do something weird in a way that’s awesome and constructive. If we put our minds to it, I know that we have some really good material that we’re sitting on right now. It’s just a matter of putting the songs together. On the first record, some of the songs didn’t really come together till the very end. I’m excited to get back into the studio. I don’t know what’s going to happen with the recording process regarding our producer or where the album will be recorded. It’s all up in the air and that has so much to do with how the next record will come together. Aside from all the demos we’ve written, we have at least 25 or 30 songs that we could submit for the second record. And that’s not adding in my eight demos or Zain’s eight demos and all of the others demos we’ll record once we get home. We’ll have a very large catalog by the time we’re done jamming but the most important thing is to make quality songs that stand out. I remember the first time I heard our song “Truck Stop Special” after we finished recording it and I was like, ‘Wow, that’s a good song with a great story behind it.’
PB: “Truck Stop Special” really defines your sound with its southern style riffs and Rado’s vocal approach….
ZS: “Truck Stop Special” is one of our personal favorites because it did so many great things for us. Not to mention, it has a refreshing sound and everyone tells us that every time it’s played. I never get tired of playing that song. It came together perfect with the verse, pre-chorus, and chorus. We were young when we wrote it and we found out later that was the proper way to write songs. Our label wanted us to learn a little bit about how to write songs, which we already knew this stuff but our producer (Bob Marlette) showed us how to set up choruses and pre-choruses. We listened to his advice and we definitely were like ‘That’s cool’ but we actually did that with “Truck Stop Special.” And it wasn’t predictable because we did it our own way.
NR: “Truck Stop Special” didn’t get messed with because it was already good song. Some of our other songs were maybe lacking in the ways they were put together, so I can’t blame Bob considering the songs we brought to him. At the same time, I think us given the capability to prove ourselves with our first record means we know what we’re doing. Whether we work with Bob or somebody else on the next record, we established that we could be trusted with the songwriting. We strive for the 5 out of 5 instead of the 4 out of 5. I look at Metallica and remember hearing Bob Rock talk about seeing Metallica live. Not that I think The Black Album is Metallica’s best record but I think it’s their best sounding album. I think one of these days; we’re going to capture our live sound on record because I don’t think that’s happened for us yet. I’m looking forward to when it does happen. I want to see our career progress because if our first record is our best record and these are our best songs, we’re fucked (Laughs).
ZS: We’re trying to break away from our first record because unfortunately, most bands aren’t great songwriters. Some acts may have taken eight-years to get signed and during that time, they managed to write one good record but could they write a follow up when the time comes around? Most of them can’t write and this leads to the producers working with them and writing these generic rock songs that flood rock radio right now.
PB: If you could go into more detail about your experience working with Bob Marlette, how was it having your first record come together with someone who produced Shinedown, Rob Zombie, and Alice Cooper?
ZS: That was all Monte Conner; he had mentioned Bob since day one. Bob recorded Shinedown’s first record Leave A Whisper and that was really inspiring to us and we enjoyed some of his other records that he produced. We worked on some demos with Bob and did some really great work with him. We didn’t branch out our sound too much so we might like the opportunity to try out a few other guys and see what we could come up with on the next one. I think there’s pro’s and con’s to everything in life, including music. We let a few things slide. It’s a little give and take when it comes to songwriting. It was like ‘Alright Bob, we’ll let you do that.’ There are only a few spots that were changed but we judge our stuff harsher than anyone else. There’s a little lead at the end of “I Get Along With The Devil” that didn’t make it onto the record and that isn’t Bob or anyone else’s fault. We had to fly home and I thought we tracked it. When I heard the final take, I was like, ‘Oh man, what happened to my lead?’ I called them and nobody could find the file so small things like that were left off. Now, I have a cool part to add to the live show and we’re all about the live show. Bob’s a great dude though and he fucking rocks. His way of working with notes, structures, and harmonies is amazing, especially with the way he brings Rado across. It was definitely a crazy experience living out in Los Angeles because we were out there for 28 days.
NR: I’d say all in all, I had a very positive experience in Los Angeles. It was cool working with Bob, especially the first time. I was awe struck because we were in Los Angeles and working with him. I was 18 or 19 at the time and we were out there for three weeks working on our first 5 demos. When we came back, it was so much easier to work with him. I learned a lot in terms of what works and what doesn’t work during a song. Bob knows gear, guitars, and tones very well. If we work with him or somebody else on the next record, I think there are a few things that we wouldn’t do next time. I think its good thing to not walk there like a little kid (Laughs) and I felt we earned his respect.
PB: You mentioned how both of you play different instruments, including the drums. I definitely hear the drumming aspect in the riffs because the rhythmic precision helps the guitars bounce and synchronize effortlessly.
ZS: Don’t get me wrong; we weren’t drummers at first.
NR: We didn’t start out bouncing but we realized those bouncing riffs worked. I think we were probably 13 or 14 and we played an old song with a bouncing riff and the crowd lost their shit. After seeing that, I was like ‘Oh, I get it.’ It was almost like Fogat where you could sing “Slow Ride” over the rhythm. If you listen to Black Label Society’s “Suicide Messiah,” that riff just bounces. It’s metal yet still has groove and I think that’s cool. We could write a million different things but I think we’re really good at writing bouncing riffs like that.
PB: From what I understand, Rado’s into writing poetry and heavily inspired by Edgar Allen Poe.
ZS: Rado had a poem published in a book, and so did Nevada, when he was very young. He had to be in the 5th grade.
NR: We were in middle school, I think he was in sixth grade and I was in eighth grade. We had books around the house and both of us were into reading. Rado loves Edgar Allen Poe and he also loves Jim Morrison. Corey reads a lot too and that helps generate our ideas for music. The stuff that people don’t hear so much is what’s going to affect them. Having literature around the bus, we’ll sit here and ramble to Zain and Levi about it. As long as I could remember, Rado has always been writing words down. He played bass in the beginning of the band before we moved from our hometown when we were younger.
ZS: I’m still blown away by how young Rado was when he first joined the band. He was still a kid and he would be playing video games when Nevada and me were outside writing guitar parts. We would be like ‘Rado, please come play bass on this part. We’re putting this idea together and we need you.’
NR: He was only a kid but he loved to hang out with my friends. It wound up getting to the point where he was 13 and I was 15 and we sat down to learn Seether’s “The Gift.” It was 2005 or 2006, I genuinely liked Seether at the time and it’s a good acoustic song. I remember Rado going into his room and he walked out two-days later and could sing. He just practiced over and over again. We were pissed off because our family was in shambles. We moved from our hometown and things were horrible so we would stay at Zain’s house or he would stay at our house when thing’s were going wrong for him. We would also go stay at Corey’s house and we all grew up together at such a young age. It molded us together.
ZS: It sealed the songs and built our friendship for sure. Those two were always the lyricists. Rado’s reading level is probably a college reading level. If I listen to a song, I wouldn’t be able to tell you about the words because I’ll probably be able to play the drum part, bass part, and guitar part by the time the song ends. I could solely focus on the drum part and bleed out the rest. I’m more of a music guy and I listen to the whole song in general.
PB: How’s the adjustment going from playing the club scene in Oklahoma City to touring on a national scale?
NR: I live near a river and I like to be in the middle of nowhere but my dream is to play music and build a career. I realize more than ever, you have to be door-to-door salesmen to sell your record. You have to show the people why they should give a fuck about your music. You need to show them why they should come out to see you in concert. I think people need to believe in rock and roll again because there are some cool principles in the music that people think are dead. I don’t think they’re dead.
ZS: I’m thankful because we would still be a local band if it weren’t for our record label and team. Bands try and try again to make a name for themselves but if it doesn’t happen around our age our when they’re a little older, life gets a hold of them. I saw it happen to so many great bands in our city. I see so many bands that have been together for a while but the lineups change and they have two hired guns. Our whole band has been friends since high school and I couldn’t see us having anyone else. If somebody were to leave, it would truly change the chemistry. It would be weird.
NR: It’s funny; the people you bring out on the road help contribute to the atmosphere. We’re touring with Zain’s brother Zach and it feels like we’re in high school having him out here.
ZS: It’s cool because my brother has never been to the east coast and he’s so excited about this stuff and seeing him makes us excited. He’s a huge Soprano fan and we drove passed the Holland Tunnel and he was like ‘Ah! Oh man, we’re here!’
PB: With the release of New Southern, what are your plans for the rest of the year?
ZS: We’re going to play Download Festival in June and we’re going to be home for a few weeks before we tour with Machinehead in July! You could find those dates on our Facebook.
Anthony Toto is Pop-Break’s resident heavy metal writer, taking that title from the editor-in-chief in 2013. He is a recent graduate of Rutgers University and his work can also be read on Baebel Music. Follow him on Twitter at: @Anthonymtoto