Interview: Darkest Hour Guitarist Reveals What It’s Like Working With Iconic Producer

Darkest Hour guitarist talks to Alternative Nation


The current year marks another chapter in the saga of D.C. metal and hardcore giants Darkest Hour. Back in February, they released an album successfully crowdfunded by their fans, produced by Kurt Ballou (and Darkest Hour), and released on Southern Lord Recordings. Since then, they’ve been on the road, most recently being accompanied by Havok, and Jesus Piece. The band’s own incarnation of “The Dude” (founding guitarist Mike Schleibaum), spoke to Alternative Nation outside of their tour stop at Dingbatz in Clifton, NJ. He had much to say about this ongoing chapter of Darkest Hour.

Tell us about the tour package tonight and Darkest Hour’s history with the two touring bands.

Well, tonight we have Darkest Hour, obviously. And we also have an amazing band from Denver, Colorado called Havok. They are a sick blend of modern American thrash metal, and they’re amazing. Very excited to have them on the tour. We also have label mates, Jesus Piece. They’re more of a hardcore, raw, energetic act. This is the type of package we like to put together. It’s a little eclectic, and together it kind of makes up the songs that make up Darkest Hour. A little punk, a little metal, no band is the same. All bringing something special to the table.

Have you ever been to Dingbatz before? How often in say the past five years does Darkest Hour come to relatively smaller clubs like these?

We play small clubs all the time. We’ve never played at Dingbatz, but I have been here before because there’s a New Jersey legend up here. His name is Loki. He’s a horror punk legend, and he loves Dingbatz. He used to come here to party and drink when we were working on the self-titled album. We did some pre-production for it over in Jersey City. So, we’d come over here and party with him.

There are major differences between “Godless Prophets & The Migrant Flora” and the self-titled album. The style change, new producer, new partnership with Southern Lord. Is this transition everything you had hoped for?

I think every album is the sum of people that surround it. And I will say that this time, this album is a really honest interpretation of that. There’s been good people from the start like Greg from Southern Lord, our manager Mike who put together the crowdfunding campaign, all of the people who pre-ordered. It’s a special story this time. So, I think it yields a little different result. The self-titled was more produced, cleaner, it was targeted more towards radio and modern metal. So, you end up with a different product, but it’s hard. Like I was asked in a previous interview what my favorite Darkest Hour album is. They all document a different point in your creative life, so it’s hard to pick a favorite one. Some of them have hits some of them have misses, but in the end, they all define who Darkest Hour really is.

Under Kurt (Ballou), how was recording this album different from previous sessions? Did you use different equipment? Was he more detail-oriented?

The main thing about Kurt is that he has a philosophy that almost no other producer we’ve worked with employs. He will ask you “What do you think?”. If you were to ask him “Do you think I should do this or do you think I should do that?”, “Should I play this part this way?” “Should I put this fill here?” “Should we arrange this a certain way?”, his immediate reaction is “Well, what do you think?”. A lot of producers will react by telling you what they think, so that you can make an educated decision. But his whole thing, is for you to challenge your first impulse. I think this approach really helps him create in the now, and also helped to make the album have the urgency and authenticity that it needed. Not saying the other albums missed it, but this one was accentuated because of Kurt’s philosophy. In the end, he insisted that I put produced by Darkest Hour & Kurt Ballou. That just shows where his philosophy is. He’s a partner with the band, not a partner with the label, or pushing his own vision.

Where did the title for this new album come from anyway?

The title is a reference to the story that circulates through the entire album. Sometimes when you’re doing songwriting, you like to use a story to express how you feel, rather than something that’s biographical. That way you can express something special, or do it in a way that might impact people differently. So, the name of the album is a reference to the two major characters in the story. The Godless Prophets and The Migrant Flora. The Godless Prophets can be either the main character or they could be us, they could be the powers that be in the world right now. Depends on how you read it. The Migrant Flora is really like this Mother Nature symbol. It’s based on this idea that plant life is the most dominant species of life on Earth, because it’s able to migrate wherever without legs. And it will basically exist on this planet until it’s totally dead, no matter what sort of vegetation will exist. So, this idea that these two things are at war with each other and interact with each other, is kind of the nucleus of what the whole story’s about. Hence the title.

This is the first tour following the 10-year anniversary of ‘Deliver Us’. Are you going to commemorate that in the set tonight?

Well, we are playing songs from Deliver Us, as well as songs from every part of our catalogue. I don’t know if we have plans to do that album in our entirety, but we love doing albums in their entirety like that. We did that with Undoing Ruin. It would be a challenge with Deliver Us, which I love. It’s a hard album with a lot going on. I think people would enjoy it. We are a band that can easily do an entire album tour or one special set somewhere. I’m definitely not ruling it out. I love that album it’d be cool to play it all the way through.

You brought your new signature beer with you on this tour?

Well unfortunately, because of these things called laws in the U.S. we weren’t able to bring our beer across state lines. I’ve actually been arrested for this offense in Oklahoma. Little unknown fact. You can’t import or export liquor across state lines unless you have a permit. So, you can’t bring a case or two of Budweiser across Washington D.C. into Jersey. Especially not for sale. Unfortunately, we won’t have Savor the Swill® for sale today. You might need to contact DC Brau, or just enjoy it locally in D.C.

How does it stack up against Trooper Ale or Anthrax’s Wardance?

It’s way better than both. They’re very hoppy, and they’re thicker and they have a higher alcohol content. This is a summer beer, a party beer, a rock and roll beer. It’s a 4.9 German Helles. A nice clean, crisp, not too heavy kind of thing. Something you can have on stage and jump your ass off, or have with food, we usually just stick with the liquid diet, so I’m not so sure how well it tastes with food.

What was your first experience with Swedish Death Metal?

I had known of In Flames before I’d heard of At the Gates. So, it may have been the In Flames album, The Jester Race. There was a heavy metal/black metal section in Tower Records, a record store that I used to shop at back people did that. It was where I discovered my first European metal collection. John had gotten into other black metal, speed metal stuff and we were kind of just experimenting. I gravitated toward In Flames, and then Dismember, and Entombed, and it just compounded until one day, I found At the Gates which was like my ultimate. Then the second phase of influencing my guitar playing happened in my songwriting. I was just like “Oh, I like riffs like this.” Me and John connected because he did too. Then the band sort of just blossomed like that.

Do you still compose music for TV? What are you working on these days?

I did a couple rewrites for another Shark Week show that came out this year. The last Shark Week show that I did “Return to The Isle of Jaws” did pretty well. You can find it online. I currently don’t have any television projects because we’ve been touring a lot. Been focusing on the band. I’ve been recording a bunch of bands at home. Finishing up those projects. I did a band from Bulgaria called Secret Society, which is a hardcore band, and then I did this band called Throwdown Syndicate, from Washington D.C. they consider themselves “ghetto metal”. I enjoy recording other people’s bands, because it helps other people’s visions come to life. But it’s hard, because I don’t think people understand that you can’t just make something amazing. A band is what they are. And a true recording is a reflection of what the band is. You can have God produce your album, but if you’re not good, I’m not sure if he can help.

First stop of this tour was D.C. Based off of what you saw there, is the passion for shows greater or about the same as it was when you first started going to shows?

A lot of things have changed. There were no iPhones when I started going to shows in D.C. And there wasn’t an internet, so there was a closer-knit group of people who were there because they found it through a subculture. But I will say the crowd is energetic. These clubs have cracked down on moshing a lot because they’re all worried about getting sued. So that’s kind of fucking annoying. Like here, we have a “No Dancing” sign here tonight. But in general people love live music. I don’t believe the hype that DJ-ing is taking over. People love the sound of heavy metal. Love the sound of a guitar, the drums, and it’s cool to see people still love to watch live heavy metal.

What’s your desert island album?

It’s a hard choice because I would pick either Lonestar’s rap album that he made, under the name “Reservoir Tip”. Really sick West Coast meets Houston collaboration. I think it would be enough to force me to kill myself early and not torment myself on this island. But if I didn’t take his album then I might take a nice Van Halen album, because if I’m on an island, I’d want to listen to maybe Van Halen I, good beach music. Or maybe Women and Children First, Diver Down, the later ones. I’m just saying Van Halen is good beach music. So, if I’m gonna be stuck on an island for a long time, I’d just go with the beach vibe, or pick something that will make me want to end it fast, because I’m not sure if I would enjoy the seclusion of an island. I’m not good with being by myself.