Exhumed's Matt Harvey: "Metal Is All About Tearing Down Sacred Cows"

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Not to burst any death metal bubbles here, but Matt Harvey of Exhumed is a really nice guy. He's insightful, seems to genuinely care about how much fun fans have at their shows, and when I approached him from the standpoint of why and how he does his thing, he was all for it. The 30-something singer and guitarist, who fronts the Northern California band, even gave me a fair amount of his time, until he had to excuse himself because nature was calling.

If you are new to the band, well, you won't find a more lighthearted and fun-loving group of guys in all the metal universe. Okay, lighthearted might be a stretch -- considering their songs have much to do with death, killing, and dismemberment -- but like Harvey says, "It's not like we actually do the things we sing about."

"We're just having fun and make something that we can be proud of." Harvey and the other members of Exhumed -- Bud Burke, Rob Babcock, and Michael Hamilton -- crank out seriously rockin' songs and have recorded their last couple of albums in the Phoenix area with metal maestro Ryan Butler.

After taking a six-year hiatus from Exhumed during most of the Aughts, Harvey was more than ready to get things rolling again. I asked him about this and many other things during our interview.

What motivated you to go on the hiatus? Why come back and keep cranking out Exhumed records and tours? Um, you know, time off. I had just turned 30, which is a kinda scary number. I had been in [Exhumed] since I was 15. I wanted to see what else was out there. Wanted to see what I was going to be and if could I do something else. Ultimately, after working a few jobs, living a few places, dating a few different chicks, I decided I wanted to do Exhumed again -- and people wanted to hear it.

I got back into playing music and listening to lots of heavy music. I got the fun aspect again. I really [enjoy] playing this style. I did a few different projects during the break . . . played some thrash metal.

The thrash influence is definitely apparent in your sound. I'm from San Jose. In the late '80s, when I was growing up, there weren't really many metal people around. We were all skaters and we listened to a lot of the punk and thrash bands at the time. Bands like Dead Kennedys, Angry Samoans, Dayglo Abortions, Exploited, and GBH. Loved that shit. Mainly, though, as far as Exhumed goes, it was unfinished, you know? It didn't feel resolved. Our last tour [prior to the hiatus] didn't go that well, and it just didn't feel right to let if fade away like that.

How is it going now? We tour all the time. It is awesome because everyone contributes. We're all psyched to see what presents itself to us in the future. We are a full-time working rock band.

Do you have a day job outside of music? Some of us work between tours. It's not glamorous, but we scratch out a living. It's a lot better than pumping gas -- not that I'm any better than someone who does that -- but playing heavy metal is not a bad way to make a living.

What is tour prep like for you guys? I do Excel spreadsheets and map it all out -- and I hate Excel spreadsheets. This is when it is like job. We work with the vendors to get merch sorted out and figure out how to pay for it.

You guys take care of all that yourselves? Oh, yeah. We call all the promoters and set our schedule, work out a budget for the tour. There is always something unexpected. The van breaks down [while we talked, Harvey was waiting to hear from his mechanic about an oil leak in the tour van] or gear breaks. Sometimes you look at the amount of money you're making and think, this is pretty cool, but then you look at the expenses and then it is not so cool.

Sounds like you guys fully embrace the DIY ethic. Oh, definitely. One thing about the climate these days [in the music business], the more DIY you are, the better you are going to do. The leaner and meaner you can run it, the more it is going to work in your favor. "I enjoy the whole process . . . from humming a little tune to holding the record in your hand to rockin' out for the kids.

How do bands do like you guys do it these day with gas prices being what they are? We've had to raise our T-shirt prices to cover it, and that sucks, but what are you going to do? I don't know how our opening acts, or bands just starting out, do it these days.

Any advice for up-and-coming bands in looking to succeed in the metal world? Be realistic about what you are doing, especially if you are playing heavy/extreme music. We're not the biggest in our kind of thing, but we're bigger than a lot of bands, and it is still a financial struggle to pay our bills, keep it going, keep our phones on, etc. Getting rich at this [heavy, extreme music] is not realistic. If you want to do this, you have to do it smart and be smart.

Finish school, get a good job, keep working at it, and maybe something will happen and you can go out and do the rock thing with something to fall back on. The real key to anything is just fucking hard work, whether it's playing guitar in your room for five hours or sitting in a van waiting to get the next gig, it's all the same. If you think it's going to be threesomes every night and be rolling in money, you're probably going to be disappointed.

Make sure you call your parents a lot to say hi. That way, when you call and ask for money, they won't say, "You only call when you need something."

That's sage advice. How often do you play in your hometown? None of us actually live there anymore. We're all spread out across the country, so the logistics are impossible, and we would hate to have to ask for the kind of money it would take to get us all there. It would cost us a $1,000 just to get everyone there. We get together to rehearse to go on tour. Right now, we play about 150 shows a year, so we stay pretty tight."

What advice do you have for aspiring metal vocalists? Oh, man, I don't know. Just sing, scream, whatever you do. Yell until it sounds cool. If it hurts, you're probably not doing right. Find something natural and don't lose the personality in your voice. Keep what makes your voice distinctive.

If you listen to King Diamond, you know it's King Diamond from hearing that voice, you know? Lots of people want to sound brutal, but you still have to be yourself. You can be brutal and intense, but if you sound like everybody else, then what? It's not about how good your voice is, think about Bob Dylan, Neil Young . . . dudes like that. They don't have the greatest voices, but people love them. The key is finding your own voice.

Who are your heroes? Starting off, you know, James Hetfield, Donald Roeser -- people with a little more feel -- Michael Schenker [UFO]. I usually focus more on feel and voicing with guitar. I like a lot of people out there, and we still talk about our songs in terms of the bands we think [the songs] sound like, you know, like the solo goes into the slayer riff. That sort of thing.

As far as heroes . . . there are no sacred cows. I'm a huge fan of music. I've got hundreds and hundreds of LPs and shirts, all of it, but I don't really idolize anyone. Metal is all about tearing down sacred cows -- religion, politics -- tear it all down. You don't want to get into hero worship. To me, it's a very naïve, although if I was to run into KK Downing [of Judas Priest] or Adrian Smith of Iron Maiden, that might be a little awkward.

You would be a 15-year-old again? How do you handle it when some young death metal fan comes up and expects you to be this super-brutal guy?

The vibe of our band is pretty laid-back, you know, conversational. We are always smiling. We want the crowd to enjoy this cool thing with us. We joke a lot on stage. We don't necessarily want to overpower the audience. Our shows are more participatory. We do this thing where we try to get the audience clapping with us.

Every once in a while you'll meet somebody who is just too brutal for life. You see kids who want everything to be brutal all the time. They seem a little disappointed, but what can you do? These days, there is so much more availability of the bands, and it is easier to get a sense of what people in bands are like as human beings. Kids have more of a feeling of like a peer to peer thing with a band, than "Oh, my God, I'm so nervous to talk to him."

Where do you find the balance between having fun and taking this completely seriously? Because we play so much . . . we develop a lot of confidence in each other to get things done. We pick up for each other -- have a give and take -- if someone is a little hung over one day and moving a little slow, we pick up the slack 'cause they'll do the same [for me] the next day.

The songs become second nature and that allows us to enjoy the show. The more we play, the better we get and the more we can improvise our sets and pull out extra songs to help keep it fresh. If we're somewhere and maybe the promoter did a lousy job or the show is one where there aren't a ton of people at, we can try new songs out. Keep it fun.

It's kind of like when you are young and first having sex, you know? You just want it last longer than 100 seconds, but when you get older and get more experienced, you can try new things, new positions, [and] enjoy it more.

What's the biggest thrill so far, in your music career? After doing it for so long, it's not like there is one moment. I see progress. We get better as song writers, better as players, get a bigger audience. Progression. It's more of a cumulative effect of what we are doing. We're really fortunate -- fucking lucky, really -- but the main thing is the kids keep coming to the shows and buying records. It is cool to see things moving forward.

Exhumed is scheduled to perform on Tuesday, January 28, at Club Red in Tempe.

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