Led by extreme metal veteran Matt Harvey (Exhumed, Gruesome, Expulsion), Pounder is what metal is all about. Using the classic sound of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal as a starting point, Pounder incorporates a wide range of metal and hard rock influences, all of which come through on its full-length debut, “Uncivilized,” released in February 2019 via Hells Headbangers (review). As the band gears up for a West Coast tour with hard rock warriors Gygax, Harvey took the time to chat with Live Metal about Pounder’s formation, inspiration and more.
LIVE METAL: Hey, Matt. Thanks for taking the time to answer some questions. I really love the new album, “Uncivilized,” and I’m curious how a guy like you, who’s been a staple in the more extreme metal scene for a long time, ended up starting a very NWOBHM-influenced act. Was this something you had wanted to do for a while? How did the band get together?
MATT HARVEY: This was something that I had been talking about with varying degrees of seriousness for at least a decade. About the time we did Necrocracy with Exhumed was when I really started to consider taking it from “fun idea” to “actual band.” The real stumbling block became finding a singer, and we eventually gave up and I just gave it a shot. Our bassist Alejandro (Corredor) and I work together a lot with Exhumed from an engineering/tech standpoint, and we always talked about our love of classic metal and hard rock, so I wrote a couple of tunes and not much happened. Then we met Tom (Draper, lead guitar), and once he expressed interest, we kind of kicked things in to high gear, enlisted a session drummer Carlos (Denogean, Weedeater, Salvacion, RIP), and I started trying to twist my larynx into a configuration that would allow actual pitches to emanate from it.
What are the biggest influences?
When I first started writing, it was very strictly stuff like Diamond Head, Maiden, Priest, Motorhead, Tank, Mythra, Tygers of Pan Tang, Praying Mantis, Angel Witch, Manowar, Jaguar, etc., but by the time we finally got the band going, there were a lot of newer bands covering that ground really well. So I wanted to include other stuff that made sense—hard rock like Blue Oyster Cult, April Wine, Y&T, early speed metal like Exodus, Metallica, Running Wild, Warrant, Helloween, Savage Grace and sleazier stuff like Dokken, W.A.S.P., Lizzy Borden, Savatage, Black n’ Blue, as well as just good ol’ fashioned AOR like Journey, Joe Lynn Turner, Survivor and shredder stuff like the early Racer X and Yngwie Malmsteen stuff. So it’s a fairly wide net, but anything heavy and intense that’s not death/black /thrash from about ’75 to ’85 gets put in a blender.
It’s kind of rare when an artist who’s a couple decades or more into their career can surprise listeners, but I think you’ve done that by taking this turn with Pounder. Was that part of the appeal of doing this?
I think that after playing death metal for so long, it’s clear that I love it, but it’s a genre that’s pretty limiting. I listen to pretty much all kinds of music and stay so narrowly focused in a subgenre is a recipe for burnout. I think that’s why I spend so much time listening to stuff outside of the “extreme metal” box, whether it’s Turbonegro or Martin Denny or Chic or Cocteau Twins or Leadbelly or whatever strikes my fancy on any particular day. The main appeal is to celebrate the kind of traditional metal that I love and put my own stamp on it, and if people are surprised along the way, so much the better. But anyone that’s paid attention to the shirts I wear onstage or the things I talk about in my interviews shouldn’t be too surprised by the direction of Pounder.
Who is your favorite NWOBHM band, and who do you think is the most underrated act of that era?
I think Diamond Head is pretty much my favorite band from that movement, because they’re so versatile. Sean Harris has such a distinctive, classic voice, and Brian Tatler’s riffs are bluesy, soulful and heavy as fuck. I love the “Canterbury” record a lot, it showcases so much growth from the seminal and essential Lightning to the Nations era. There are of course a ton of very underrated bands from the NWOBHM era, Angel Witch probably being the most obvious. Despite their unassailable “cult” status, it’s hard to understand why they didn’t vault to the stratosphere like Maiden and Def Leppard did, at least based solely on the music. And of course, there are lot of bands like Geddes Axe or Mythra that never really got a chance to show the world just how good they were. Sweet Savage would be another pick for a band whose music stands as tall as anyone’s, but they never broke through to see the success of even Angel Witch or Venom.
Did you always intend to be the singer of Pounder?
Not at all! (laughs) In fact, I specifically did not want to be the singer. Looking for a singer was one of the things that kept songs like “We Want the Night” from the record in mothballs for five years. Finally, after not finding anyone, I decided to take matters into my own hands, and here we are.
Stop me if I’m wrong, but I don’t recall you performing vocals like this before. Was there a process, some trial and error, for you to find your voice and get your vocals to how you wanted them to be for this?
There was a lot of error, and it was definitely a trial! (laughs) It’s been a massive learning curve and a real challenge. I’ve learned a lot about singing but have a lot further to go. The hardest adaptation is learning that your vocal chords are a musical instrument, and you’ve got to take care of them and stretch them like any other muscle. It’s a totally different discipline than the “my body is a temple, so let’s desecrate the motherfucker” approach that’s served me fairly well doing death and thrash metal. Even listening back to the record, which we recorded in February of 2018, I feel I could do a lot better now, but it’s basically been the process of learning a whole new instrument as I go.
What is the writing process for Pounder? Do you approach it differently than you would the other bands you’ve been in?
Not really. To me, a good song is a good song. It needs a chorus, a couple verses and a bridge. I always think in terms of what would be considered “pop songwriting,” and that doesn’t change at all. The cool thing about Pounder is that I have a few more colors on my palette to work with then I would writing an Exhumed or Gruesome song. Vocal melodies and harmonies open up a ton of new possibilities that keep me very interested and engaged with the process.
Do you plan to bring a full-time drummer on board?
We do. There just hasn’t been the right combination of chemistry, availability and musical like-mindedness just yet. But hopefully we’re zeroing in on that. Gus and Carlos both did great work for us, and we’ve played live with a bunch of talented guys already. Hopefully something will materialize that works all the way across the board.
Maybe I’m imagining things, but it seems like a lot of bands have a hard time finding permanent drummers. Any ideas as to why that is?
Drummers tend to be the most in-demand musicians in metal. With production values and musicianship improving leaps and bounds from the formative years of the genre, drums have become more and more crucial and more and more scrutinized. If you want to be a musician and always have a gig, become a drummer.
In a lot of ways, the music business today is almost recognizable from how it was when you were starting out in the ’90s. How does getting a new band off the ground today compare to how it was back then?
I’m not really sure, as I’m extremely lucky to have been involved with this scene/industry for 20 years now and I’m in the enviable position of being able to get someone at a label to at least listen to whatever harebrained idea I’m working on. I feel incredibly lucky and grateful to be able to do that, and I try not to take it for granted.
I think as a new band now, the business becomes part of things so much more quickly than when I was a pimply-faced riff-monger in the early ‘90s. With the internet in general and social media specifically, every user (individual, artist, fan-group, whatever) becomes a commodity, which is weird in and of itself, but if you’re putting together a band, you’re putting together a product, whether you know it or not. You’re already in the branding business, and that will encroach on things instantaneously in the internet age—not just because your ability to be heard is now in the hands of third party corporations like Spotify, YouTube, etc. (as opposed to an independent network of tape-traders not beholden to any external governing body) but because you have instant access to whatever feedback you’re generating from fans, reviewers, etc. I think it would be difficult to keep the focus on the creative part of things, but then again, I grew up without the internet, so younger musicians may be so accustomed to this kind of reality that it doesn’t even faze them now.
To me, the most important thing has always been finding my voice and focusing on what I want to express, and all of the other stuff is just stuff that you have to do if you’re in a band—some of it fun, some of it tedious. But now that “other stuff” is so omnipresent and all-consuming in everyone’s daily life, I think it takes even more focus and discipline to keep your head straight creatively.
You have a West Coast tour coming up in May with Gygax, another great band more people need to know about. What can fans expect to see at those shows?
A lot of intense riffing, dual guitar-work and a great night of metal and hard rock. I’m very excited to play shows with Gygax, who I think are criminally underrated and one of my favorite newer bands out there at the moment.
Are there plans for more extensive touring, out to the East Coast or anywhere else?
We want to play everywhere that makes sense. When we started putting the album together, we already were thinking in terms of “I don’t know if an American audience is going to get a song like ‘Answer the Call,’ that’s really something that would go over better in Germany, Greece or Japan.” We really hope that this record will enable us to get out and play all over the world. We believe in the songs, and I believe that heavy metal fans will respond to them—whether they live in Detroit or Buenos Aires or Osaka or Helsinki.
Do you see Pounder as a long-term thing, with more albums and live shows well into the future?
We do. We believe in what we’re doing 100%, and we’re doing it 100% sincerely. I’m sure some people out there will think that we’re just weekend warriors because we play in death metal bands or whatever, but I don’t give a shit. I think that pound for pound (no pun intended), we play heavy metal that stands up to anyone out there today. We’re not trying to compete with anyone, but we play this shit because we mean it, and I know that will come through to anyone really listening.
Thanks again for your time, Matt. I’m in Maryland, so if you bring Pounder out east, I’ll definitely come to a show. Is there anything else you want to say?
I hope we can make that a reality very soon. Thanks for the interview. Hail and kill!