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Interview

Vito Marchese

Chicago guitarist on his work with Novembers Doom, The Kahless Clone and his tablature publishing company, Resistance HQ Publishing.

Guitarist Vito Marchese jumped straight into the deep end when he joined Chicago’s Novembers Doom in 2005. He was 23 years old and Novembers Doom — the death/doom band founded in 1989 as death/thrash band Laceration before shifting styles and ultimately changing its name in 1992 — was coming into sharp focus after recruiting ex-Neurotoxin guitarist Larry Roberts and releasing two solid albums in 2000 and 2002 for Massachusetts label Dark Symphonies. Vito’s entry to the band coincided with the beginning of three important events: the band’s signing with New York’s The End Records, who would go on to release the band’s next six albums; the band’s promotion of long-time collaborator Chris Wisco (Belle City Sound) to the band’s official producer; and the hiring of Swedish death metal legend, Dan Swano (Unisound) to mix. Since then, the band has released a steady string of well-produced albums with Wisco & Swano at the boards and played extensively throughout North America and Europe.

In addition to his work with Novembers Doom, Vito has released two albums of proggy instrumental post-metal with his band The Kahless Clone, founded Resistance HQ Publishing (a company for publishing guitar tablature), released an album with Chicago prog-metallers Divinity Compromised, guested on several albums for other artists.


Part I: Novembers Doom

Novembers Doom debuted 27 years ago and have released a new album every 2 to 3 years since. What have you seen since joining in 2003 that contributes to the band’s longevity and consistency?

I think the main thing is the fact that we can all get on the same page when it comes to what we think our next step as a band should be. We’ve gone through member changes since I’ve joined, but the core members all have a vision that we try to get everyone on board with when we do find new members.

Since the addition of Mike Feldman (bass) in 2009 and Garry Naples (drums) in 2012, the lineup has been stable. How has that stability benefitted the band?

When you’ve got a band with a stable lineup, there is so much less to worry about. We know that when we get together to write, rehearse, or plan stuff, the five of us understand what our roles are. We also know what our strengths and weaknesses are. That’s a very big deal in a band situation. You need to be able to trust that the people you are with are going to show up and be consistent in their roles.

What’s the band’s writing process? Do you jam up ideas in the same room or do you write separately and bring in ideas or demos to the band?

Usually Larry or I will come in with a riff or a song idea that we’ve worked on at home. These ideas may just be a few seconds of music, or they might be a somewhat “complete” song. That’s always a good starting point for us so that when we do get together in a room, we have something to work on/jam on. There are times though when we are setting up our gear to rehearse and Garry will start warming up on drums and we just start playing to him and have come up with songs that way.

How long does it typically take to write an album?

About a year from the first day of writing until we get into the studio. Just keep in mind that a lot of times we’ll spend three months writing an album and then throwing most of those song ideas away and starting over from scratch. We can be pretty hard on ourselves when it comes to the quality of songs that we want to put out there. I know for me personally, I feel like I need to get through three or four terrible songs ideas of my own before I get in the groove of writing a new album.

Does the band work in cycles of writing and recording one year, promoting and touring the next year, or is it more of a continuous process where all of it happens simultaneously?

Our typical cycle is we’ll spend around a year writing and reworking a new album and then spend about two months or so recording, mixing and mastering it. Once that gets handed into the label, we typically have a few months before it gets released to the public. During that time we get a game plan together on how we are going to promote the album and start looking at booking shows/tours once it is released, etc.

Does Paul get involved in composing and arranging?

Paul doesn’t necessarily get involved when it comes to actually composing the music since he doesn’t play an instrument per se, but he does get involved in the arranging of the songs. For instance, he might say something like “I’m not feeling the flow of this song, can you try adding a different bridge in there or cut that verse short”, etc. Or he may want us to change chord progressions to better suit a vocal melody/pattern he’s come up with. Sometimes suggestions like that really make a song come out great.

Can you describe the band’s pre-production process?

Larry and I sit down and record rough guitar tracks to a click and give them to Garry so he can record drums over them. Usually, Garry will just set up a couple of mics in his rehearsal room and record his drums while he listens to the tracks in his in-ears. We’ll take those drum tracks and touch up any guitar parts that we think should match those drums better. Then Mike will record his bass ideas over those tracks and we just keep building on these rough recordings until we get close to what the final song will be. After that, we’ll send it off to Paul so he can start really hearing everything to construct his vocal melodies and patterns better.

Chris Wisco has been involved with the band since 1995 and has produced every album since 2005’s The Pale Haunt Departure. What does he bring to the table? How does he work with the band?

Chris has become an extremely important part of our sound since he’s been involved with producing us. We’ll send him our pre-production demos before we go into the studio so he can get a good feel of the songs. He always has awesome ideas about what tones we should think about using, adding extra elements to the music that we didn’t think of, and especially teaming up with Paul when it comes to producing the vocals. Working with Chris at his studio is such a great experience. It’s fun, laid back, really comfortable to work at and we always come out of there with a better album than what we walked in with.

Dan Swanö has been mixing the band as long as Chris has been producing you. Do you know anything about their working relationship?

Dan and Chris have worked very closely together since we have been using that team. Dan has some specific requests when it comes to micing up drums and how he likes to get tracks to make sure he can do the best job he can. Chris has always been accommodating to Dan’s requests and is always a team player when it comes to getting us the best final product we can get.

How closely does the band work with Dan on mixes?

We work very closely with Dan on mixes, but Dan usually nails the “final” mix in the first pass and we just have some minor tweaks we’d like to see changed. We’ll go back and forth with him until both parties think we have the best mix we can get.

Does his location in Sweden present any challenges?

It doesn’t present any real challenges since we can do everything through file sharing now. We will either send him a hard drive that has everything he needs or upload the tracks to his private server. The time zone does make a minor inconvenience sometimes, but it’s nothing major.

Nephelim Grove is your first album for Prophecy Productions. How did that deal come together?

I don’t have all the details on how that got put into motion since Paul primarily dealt with that. I do know that they were fans of ours for a long time and when we announced that we were looking for a new home they answered the call. We ended up doing their Prophecy Fest in Brooklyn, NY in November of 2018. I think doing that show and meeting the heads of the label was a really good experience for both parties. We got to see firsthand how they treated their artists and they got to see how we were as people. We couldn’t be happier with our decision to join their roster.

What has the band been up to in the time between wrapping up recording and the release of the album on Friday? Is that quiet time or are you prepping for the next phase?

Right after we got done recording this new album, we took a couple of weeks off to kind of recharge. After that, we started putting together a game plan with the label on how we are going to promote Nephilim Grove. We ended up shooting some music videos and doing a video podcast doing a track-by-track discussion about a Brazilian Novembers Doom tribute album that was released back in August of this year. Right now we are planning and preparing some tours to promote the new album.

What’s planned for the next few months going into the new year?

We’re performing at Macabre’s Holiday of Horror show in Chicago on Saturday, December 21st. Larry and I will be going to the NAMM convention in California in January courtesy of Seymour Duncan where we’ll be working with them and promoting Nephilim Grove. We’ll be performing at the Maryland Death Fest on Saturday, May 23rd, 2020. We’ve got a couple of more aces up our sleeves, but I can’t really discuss those just yet.

You guys spend a fair amount of time Europe. How is touring there different from the US?

Touring in Europe is such an incredible experience. A majority of our fanbase is over there so the shows are really good. We don’t get to do as much sightseeing as I’d love to do but we are able to visit some amazing places outside of just performing at the venues. A couple of downsides are we are spoiled Americans, so when we don’t have 24-hour convenience stores or restaurants that are open after a show we can get a little cranky. The Wi-Fi situation can sometimes be a downside as well. But seeing as we are a band that is able to tour all over Europe, I’d say we have it pretty damn well. The drives are much shorter between cities than they are in the US, so that’s definitely a plus.

Have you had any issues with visas / work permits, etc.?

We try to do everything by the book and get all the paperwork in order before we even step foot on a plane. There was an instance where that was not an option: We had a show in Manchester, England where we didn’t have the proper paperwork and were almost denied entry into the country. Luckily we were able to get in, but when we got to the show it turned out the promoter had skipped town with the pre-sale money, the doors to the venue were chained shut and the show never happened. We are still pretty sore about the fact that we have never performed in England. That will hopefully change soon.

Part II: The Kahless Clone

Where does Novembers Doom end and your instrumental band The Kahless Clone begin? They’re very different end products but one could imagine some of these ideas taking root just as easily in Novembers Doom.

It’s hard to draw the line on where one ends and the other begins. Since I write the foundation of all the music in The Kahless Clone, there are going to be similarities to my normal writing style that I use in Novembers Doom. The main difference is I know when I want to incorporate some electronic elements to a Kahless song that I couldn’t bring into Novembers Doom. I also have the freedom to explore ideas that don’t have to rely on vocals to carry some of the emotion behind the music.

Is this band a vehicle for your compositions or is it collaborative?

I write all the basic foundations of the songs and have a pretty clear idea of how I want the song to come out in the end. With that being said, I wouldn’t be able to get the final product without all the other members of the band contributing their ideas to the table. Having Ben, Garry, Zach, and Larry adding their ideas really take the songs to a level that I could never bring them to myself.

Ben Johnson’s keyboards add a lot to pieces (notably that synth on “I Can Almost Reach You”). Are you composing those parts as well?

I do create the basic keyboard melodies when I present the rough song recordings to the guys. Ben is able to take those melodies I’ve come up with and really embellish on them and flush them out better. Our songs rely heavily on the keyboards to add a lot of the melody and emotion to the songs. The songs wouldn’t be the same without Ben’s input.

Are Garry Naples and Larry Roberts still involved?

Garry and Larry are very much still involved with The Kahless Clone. Garry brings so much to the table with his drum ideas and performance. Larry comes up with great bass lines that I wouldn’t have thought of. I’m extremely lucky to be able to play with some of the best musicians in Chicago.

Is there an album in the works?

I do have plans on doing another album soon. I’ve just been very busy with Novembers Doom and starting up my Resistance HQ Publishing guitar tablature publishing business. I’d love to be able to record the next Kahless album in the summer of 2020.

Part III: Resistance HQ Publishing

Why did you start a tablature publishing company?

The reason I started a tablature publishing company is that since I started playing guitar I’ve been obsessed with guitar tabs. I learned how to play guitar using tabs, I always transcribe the music I write with Guitar Pro and I always use guitar tabs to show people how to play songs. I wanted to turn that obsession into a service that I could offer bands. Smaller tier bands, unfortunately, aren’t given an option to have their guitar tabs published by a company unless they sell a certain amount of books to make it worth it. I was frustrated with that when it came to my own band, so I figured why not just start my own publishing company instead.

Can bands publish their album tablature through your company? How does that deal work? What does the band need to provide you?

Bands can absolutely publish their tabs through Resistance HQ Publishing. The beauty is there are no upfront costs to the band. The basic arrangement is either I can transcribe the guitar parts for the band or they can supply the tabs themselves. I create the books and handle all the storage/shipping/distribution of the tabs. The guitar tabs are sold as part of a licensing deal so the band would get a percentage of each sale. They can also buy books directly from me so they can sell them at shows or on tour. The things I need the band to provide me are the artwork from the album and the stem tracks from the album. With those, I can transcribe the music and get the book covers made.

In general, what are the benefits of tabbing out one’s compositions? Can you give any specific examples where having tablature of your own works has been useful?

There are a lot of benefits from tabbing out your songs. You can offer to sell these transcriptions to your fans to earn another stream of revenue for your band. Novembers Doom has been able to earn extra money by selling our Nephilim Grove guitar tabs. We’re able to put that money towards band-related expenses such as getting more merch, having money for future travel plans, etc. Let’s say you had to replace a member of your band or you have to get someone to fill in for a show/tour. Well, it’s a lot easier and faster for someone to learn your songs if they have the guitar tabs. And in case you forget how to play your own songs, well all you have to do is dig out the tab and you’re ready to rock. Larry, Mike, and I have also used the Nephilim Grove tabs to remember how to play some parts of the songs we just got done recording a few months ago.

Part IV: Wrap up

How do you balance Novembers Doom, Kahless, the tab company, work and home life?

Balancing all the things I have going on can be tough. I knew that I wanted music to be the most important thing in my life from a very early age. Because I knew that going in, I’ve set my life up to be able to put music as my number one priority. I believe that in order to be a successful creative person, you need to be very selfish with your free time. You also need to use your free time wisely. Instead of watching TV for 4 hours after work (which I have done a lot), spend those hours doing something productive that helps you reach your goals.

Last question: Have you invested time, sweat or money in anything over your career that has paid off particularly well in the long run? Gear, touring, learning to sight read, working out…anything at all.

I’d say the thing that I invested in that has paid off so well has been sticking with Novembers Doom. We’ve had a lot of ups and downs in our careers, but we always end up on top of it at the end of the day. I’ve been able to accomplish so many of my life goals because of Novembers Doom. I’ve been fortunate to travel all over the world and perform in front of people that have such a connection with our music. It’s truly an amazing experience and I will always be grateful for the opportunities I’ve had.


Thanks to Vito for taking time to answer our questions. You can check out the new Novembers Doom album, Nephelim Grove and both albums by The Kahless Clone on YouTube and all the major streaming platforms. Resistance HQ Publishing has tab books for all three of those releases available for sale, plus new titles in the works.


Links

Novembers Doom

The Kahless Clone

Resistance HQ Publishing

Also mentioned

Photo Credit

Photo by Hillarie Jason, taken November 2, 2018 at Prophecy Fest, Knitting Factory, Brooklyn, NY. © 2018 Hillarie Jason Photography.

Posted by Jason Muxlow

Founder of this here publication and guitarist for Witchcryer (Ripple Music) and The Living Fields (Candlelight Records). Also ex-Earthen Grave (Ripple) and Wintering (RIP, little death metal band). Michigan born, Chicago aged, and currently residing just outside of Austin, TX.

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