Means to an End
CoC chats with Dylan Ruskin of Brain Drill
by: Jackie Smit
You can't plan for this shit. You really can't. It's mere hours after I've put the finishing touches to my interview with one of California's fastest rising stars -- at least as far as hyperspeed, über-technical death metal is concerned -- when the headline pops up on my RSS feed: "Brain Drill calls it quits". Teetering on whether to let my jaw drop to my ankles in gob-smacked astonishment, or simply let loose a hurricane of foul language, I make my way over to the band's MySpace page. There I find a rather lengthy, if incoherent ramble about various band members' marijuana habits and how Dylan Ruskin, the man I spoke to just over a fortnight ago, can no longer work with them.

Of course, this leaves me in something of a quandary. Do I hit the old delete button on my hard work? Hell no! If the current state of things is anything to go by, these guys will be back together within a month anyway. And if that's not the case, then you're about to read one of the last ever Brain Drill interviews.

[Author's note: I just checked the band's MySpace page again and Dylan Ruskin's rant has mysteriously vanished. Does anyone else smell the sweet stench of reconciliation in the air?]

CoC: First of all, I'd like to talk about how your deal with Metal Blade Records came about, because word has it that Alex Webster was campaigning pretty heavily on your behalf. How did everything come together?

Dylan Ruskin: Well, we recorded our demo and put it online, and then someone told us that Alex Webster had mentioned us in an interview. We didn't believe it at first and then we went to their website and saw it mentioned. So we e-mailed him and thanked him for giving us props in his interview. We didn't think he'd actually reply back, but he did, saying that he liked our music and thought our band kicked ass. So, a few months after that we started to submit demos to a bunch of random labels and we gave him the heads-up that we were going to do this and asked him whether he'd put in a good word for us with Metal Blade. Sure enough, a short while after that Metal Blade contacted us and said that they wanted to put together a deal. So I think that his influence definitely played a fairly big part in us signing with them. I've been a fan of Cannibal Corpse for a long time, so when I first heard him talk about us, my jaw was just on the floor, and it's awesome to know that a guy like that likes the music I make.

CoC: Brain Drill was also quite prolific on sites like MySpace. Going back a couple of months, there was quite a backlash against what was seen as your label-mates in Job for a Cowboy getting perhaps more recognition than they deserved for this very reason. What's your take on this whole issue?

DR: I think it's a great thing. You know, it's a fantastic tool to be able to get yourself out there and have people discover you and it's a big part of the way in which communication is changing in general. And the proof is in the pudding. If you're getting a lot of plays, it's a dead giveaway to labels that your record is going to do pretty well when it's released. So as far as I'm concerned, it's a great way to get attention where previously you wouldn't have had that option as a band. People who diss bands for being "MySpace bands" or whatever -- I think that at the end of the day, whether you're promoting yourself by traditional means or online, if your music is good, people will eventually take notice.

CoC: As a pseudo-journalist, one of the things that I've certainly seen over the last few years is a distinct change in the styles and variety of promos that I'm being sent by record companies, particularly over the last eighteen months, and much of that I ascribe to the change brought about by MySpace where bands who wouldn't have been able to get the attention before, are now able to quickly and easily get their music heard by potential fans. Do you feel that MySpace is serving as a wake-up call for a lot of labels?

DR: Yeah, totally. I think that labels have been burned in the past by signing bands who commercially didn't work out for them the way that they thought they would and it's probably because they were largely out of touch with what people wanted to hear. MySpace and the Internet as a whole is definitely changing that in my opinion. Now suddenly you have brutal bands like Nile and Necrophagist getting more and more popular and being able to play shows to bigger audiences, and you wouldn't have had that before. I also think it's helping listeners evolve as well, because they're able to get into a lot of bands and different types of music that they wouldn't have been able to discover otherwise.

CoC: For a band like Brain Drill, who really have come up out of the nether-regions of the underground when you think about it, how does being signed to a fairly substantial label like Metal Blade change your perspective on being a musician and writing music?

DR: It has a pretty big influence actually. With this deal, we have worldwide distribution, and we're getting some pretty good tour support from the label too. So it's awesome from that point of view. Plus, we also get so much more promotion now. There's just a whole lot more opportunities open to us that we would have never had before.

CoC: What's been the most surprising thing to you in terms of what you expected it would be like being signed and what the reality has turned out to be?

DR: Just the fact that we're on Metal Blade to begin with is insane. I would have never expected in a million years that we would have been on a label like this. I mean, I've been in a bunch of bands over the years and we've sent our demos around and the feedback is always something like: "You're great, but you're not what we're looking for at the moment." So being approached by a label like Metal Blade is a major shock to the system. In a good way. <laughs>

CoC: You've mentioned you being a number of bands and your drummer Marco [Pitruzella] has also played with a number of noteworthy projects like Vile and Vital Remains. How useful is it having that base of experience within the band, particularly as you're now releasing your debut?

DR: It's great. I mean, everyone in the band is already a pretty well-seasoned musician. Marco has been in Vital Remains, as you said, and he played with Vile for a while too. He's really experienced and he's an amazing drummer. So he's toured around a bit, as has Jeff [Hughell, bass], and ultimately it's great just having people around you who have their shit together. There's never any issues with learning new songs or working with the music I write. They know what's what when it comes to printing up merch, and they know what the score is when it comes to playing shows at certain venues and trusting certain promoters. It's definitely an asset having that experience on board.

CoC: How does songwriting get approached in Brain Drill, because obviously you're a cut above your average verse/chorus band?

DR: For the most part, I will write and finish a song in its entirety. Then I'll show it to Jeff and he'll tab it out in a bass version. Then I'll show it to Marco, or I might record it and just add some metronomes to it and he can take it away on a CD-R and come up with the drum patterns to the song at his leisure. Then we get together and we jam it in the flesh, and we'll all make some suggestions while we're doing that.

CoC: I've spoken to a number of older bands recently who have all bemoaned the fact that death metal has become too technical and that too much speed is taking the soul out of the music. As easily one of the most technical bands to come out in recent times, what's your response to that?

DR: I certainly don't take issue with that. There are a lot of bands who are very technical, but I think it's how you apply that technicality that makes the difference. For me, all I can get into is technical death metal. I'm not interested in anything else, and I think that there are a lot of very technical bands like Dying Fetus and Spawn of Possession who are able to hit a great balance between groovy, memorable songs and being really technically proficient. We try to make that happen too. We don't want it to be all just technical. We want parts that people can get into as well.

CoC: So what's on the cards for Brain Drill in 2008?

DR: Well, we're going on a tour of the East Coast in the US with The Black Dahlia Murder, and then we're playing the New England Metal and Hardcore festival. I also think that we'll focus on writing a second album as soon as possible. We've already got three songs completed, and we'll continue to work on that and hopefully have it done fairly soon, depending on the tour offers we get in the meantime.

CoC: As far as the new material is concerned, what secrets can you let us in on?

DR: It's definitely a lot more progressive than the stuff on _Apocalyptic Feasting_. It's not as repetitive and it's probably a little heavier and more technical. It's the same kind of style, but it's definitely a step forward.

CoC: Well, thanks for your time, Dylan. What would you like to end this chat off with?

DR: Keep rockin'! <laughs> Oh, and buy our album; keep death metal alive.

(article submitted 13/4/2008)

2/3/2008 J Smit 9 Brain Drill - Apocalyptic Feasting
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