The story of Slaughterhouse

Relicseed's second studio album "Slaughterhouse" is one of the turning points in the band's career as it developed new relationships, attracted attention, taught many lessons, and led to the first significant tours across the US and Europe.

Everything started with the band being picked up by a the underground rock’n’roll legend Lord Bishop Rocks. This giant, explosive, overly charismatic performer, yet unbelievably humble man rushed to the backstage of Fontaine Palace venue in Liepaja, Latvia after Relicseed’s performance on December 30, 2010 and offered a 100 gig touring deal across Europe along with the record deal. Mr. Bishop walked away leaving the jaw-dropped youngsters staring at him while living their “this happens only in movies” moment.

Lord Bishop
Lord Bishop. Photo by Fran Cea Photography

While negotiating the deal, the band’s frontman-manager and overall always overly excited character Edgars Rakovskis understood: if someone saw the band performing in Latvia singing in Latvian and got excited enough to strike a deal like that – it is a matter of time when someone offers a deal in America.

Edgars’ obsession with Metallica and especially James Hetfield’s riffing transformed into a different substance during 2011.

This year was the biggest band’s in the world 30th anniversary year and it was no doubt that something will happen in honor of that. When San Francisco thrash icons announced the series of celebration events and limited the attendance just for the club members… Relicseed just had to become a part of that. The fanclub forum was rumbling already before the huge announcement was made, but after that it all went to another level.

Where the wild things are

Schedule looked like this: Metallica would perform on December 5, 7, 9 and 10 at the Fillmore theatre; the fan organised happenings were planned to be tucked everywhere in between. The Bay Area was about to get packed with metalheads from all over the world from December 4-10, 2011, but there was a specific event which caught attention - “Metallibash: 3 Decades of Damage”. The concert was scheduled to happen at Kimo’s – the same small club where Metallica played their “surprise gig” back in 2002. So, Edgars reached out to the event host and agreed on the following: if the band is ready to travel across the world and play a show for free – the people are willing to welcome 4 Latvians to the party.

It is still hard to comprehend what really happened back then; it was unbelievable that someone in America believed the promise Edgars gave.

No one from the band had ever been to the States, no one knew how it is to play for a foreign audience… no one new nothing.

But four Latvian fellers appeared on the stage of Kimo’s in at a sold-out show and every single person in the audience somehow knew exactly what Relicseed was. While the details of this event remain undisclosed, the path to the biggest music market in the world was right and clear ahead of the four boys out of Latvia (which is not a state, by the way).

"Consider it ironic or just plain heavy ass dedication and wicked chops but the best Metallica inspired band in the world may just be halfway around the world. Relicseed from Latvia have landed.

Relicseed is the heaviest thing to drop in Eastern Europe since the Berlin wall. From loud and lovely Latvia, hit the lights and raise whatever flag you choose."

Inspired and motivated by this quote of the Lonn Friend, the band started gearing up for the next album recording. And it was clear that the process should happen in America. While someone would ask “why?!..” or label this idea as a “complete waste of money”, the decision was made and the search for the studio was the next challenge accepted.

In early 2011 the band got introduced to the late Bryan Carlstrom who run the Tranzformer Studios at the time. Bryan came to see Relicseed performing at the Key Club in Los Angeles on December 7, 2011 – the night before the Metallibash event in San Francisco. The engineer was impressed of what he saw, asked several questions and everyone agreed to meet in May of 2012.

While recouping and digesting the first USA experience, Relicseed started the pre-production process of the record. Countless hours in the guitarist at the time Karlis’ studio polished the music, but lyrically it was a huge confusion. The initial idea of translating Latvian songs into English failed miserably, however, one song in Latvian “Slaucējs Smalkjūtīgais” made it to the “Slaughterhouse” record as “Domestic Devil”. Several ideas were in the works but eventually Edgars left Latvia without finished lyrics for almost half of the songs.

In early 2012 the band went on a short tour around Germany, Netherlands and several other European countries what helped to pump up for the upcoming recording session. However, it was agreed that

these kind of shows (in basements with none or close to zero attendance) would be the last ones Relicseed should ever play and especially after recording THAT kind of album. If someone could have told at least half of the reality what fellers were about to face pretty soon.

Just weeks before the departure the band released a single “Brothers' Tears” - a song devoted to Tibet and Tibetans who chose the ultimate stance in the battle for independence and democracy - self-immolating. The song was a ballad, yet heavy enough to represent the direction the band was moving on to. Along with this recording, there were 3 more demos prepared and later presented to Carlstrom in a pre-recording meeting. 

Got visas, eh!?

About 2 months prior to leaving Latvia a slightly unexpected situation occurred: in order to execute the plan of recording and releasing an album in America boys needed specific visas. This was brought to the attention during an interview at US Embassy in Latvia when the initial tourist visas guys applied for got denied. “Just bring us the right document needed for the visa and you will be allowed to do whatever you have to do”, said the consul at the time. So, what exactly is what is needed then?!.. Phone calls and emails back and forth with the US Embassy in Latvia and it became clear that

getting the necessary documents for the visa in less than 2 months is pretty much impossible.

It was not enough just to fill out an online form or to fill in some paperwork; a whole different level of proof and documentation needed to be presented to the US Immigration Department. This required a US attorney's involvement and A LOT of time and effort. Plane tickets were booked, the studio was booked, visas are not to be issued on time… However, it was impossible for Relicseed to stay home and miss this recording. 

Thanks to the Metallibash organizer Edgars got in touch with a respectable attorney's office and started communicating. Needless to say, the amount of money needed right away in order to pull this off was unexpected and that became an issue Nr. 1 before anything else. Just another loan and boom! - the process was ready to be started. Starting with a phone call to make sure what exactly is needed and how to get it together, Edgars started gathering the pile of paperwork from all levels imaginable: fellow musician friends, musical institutions, some deputies etc. Everything was happening within hours, sometimes within minutes between multiple institutions and people on different continents. A total autopilot mode with one simple mission - to get the band in the studio. 

Two weeks before the flight.

The petition (the main document of the visa application) was ready to be handed in, however, the usual review time for this document is 3-4 months. The fastest it can be reviewed is in 15 days for an additional cost. 

Another loan... Transfer - done. The petition is handed in for the extra fast review. 

Wait.

5 days before the flight. 

On Tuesday, April 17, 2012, the petition got approved. Now there are just some final steps missing like arranging the visa interview and actually getting the visas in the passports. Usually, of course, these processes take a couple of weeks, however, in Relicseed's case it was a phone call and a couple of emails to get these four happy faces in front of the US council again.

Friday, April 20, visa interview - visas got approved. Monday, April 23, early morning at the US Embassy collecting the passports; the same day afternoon - boys are on the plane to the US. The recording is supposed to start on May 1. 

“You're staying in my house!”

Having landed in NYC and cruised around the necessary tourist routes, Relicseed travelled to Allentown, Pennsylvania to perform at Strip Club Choppers Pa/Nj Biker fest - a small, cosy occasion where the band was invited and accommodated as some sort of international celebrities. There was still a ton of work needed to be done prior to the recording like finding a place to stay for a month. Needless to say, the boys had no clue where to stay after the gig (the rented van seemed big enough), however, it all changed within a blink of an eye when a charming, hippie looking woman with a can of beer approached:

Marybeth (MB). Photo from Relicseed archive

“Where ya guys stayin' tonight?!” Egdars started answering: “In the van…”

“OK, you're stayin' at my house, aaight?!”

Smiling, happy people all over the place, a lot of beer, motorcycles, loud music and a woman who cared about the band as they were her own children marked Relicseed's first couple of days in America. Lady's name was Marybeth or MB as everyone called her. She and the whole household acted as the band's visit was planned long time ago: fellers had a place to stay, rest, eat and everything was taken care of. The night after show ended on the next afternoon as everyone was too busy singing and playing “Stairway to heaven” and getting to know how the hell four “crazy ass latvians made it the States to record an album with Bryan Carlstrom?!” The environment and vibe of these days at MB's house inspired the song “Mary Beth” which Egdars wrote a couple weeks later in the studio. It was time to take off to LA.

SLAUGHTERRECORDING PROCESS

The recording started on the still full-on autopilot mode while getting through, all the songs, demos, structuring everything and actually adjusting to the environment no one had ever experienced before. “How did we got here”, “what is going on” are just a few thoughts popping up in the head mixed with a heavy jetlag, multiple issues regarding stuff like accommodation, transportation etc., and, of course, the first phase of the recording process (drums) pretty much summed up the first week in the studio. 

The drums were done in about three days and it was time to star recoding the guitars. Knowing the drill and being rehearsed well enough, string section nailed 3 songs in one day; at least the band thought this was done. However, the listening (which was the first thing to do every morning besides the coffee) on the next day went a little different as expected. Bryan played back all three songs the last one being “Surgeon” - the slowest and the most groovy piece on the record. A good pause, silence; someone from the band started to say something like “I think we should…” and Bryan quickly finished: “..we should redo this.”

Although the process itself was a regular work in the studio, everything was different. There was a reason for that - nothing was left without consideration to make it the best possible. It was much more about the feel and groove than about being super precise. That is why the “Surgeon” guitars, for instance, were re-recorded multiple times in order to achieve the swing that was missing in the first take.

During the second week everyone started to feel a little more relaxed and adjusted to each other as well as the extraordinary environment. A couple songs were already recorded, however, Bryan more and more started to use phrases like "you know what - you can do that better!", “just for the curiosity… let's do this again” and one of all time favorites -

“you know what?! I think this might sound more tight”.

No stone was left unturned; every note was analysed in a manner the boys had never experienced before and it felt like in a conservatoire. Every next day brought something new - be it a new arrangement or playing manner, or another re-recording of the guitar tracks. It was obvious that having an outside look on the material the band was used to produce by themselves was an important step forward. Subsequently, this approach led to a couple frustrations.

SERIAL GROWL

Obsession with the downstroke took its toll on Edgars' playing abilities and he ended up practicing the intro for over one hour straight in order to be able to play 12 bars. As embarrassing it was, the result sounded worth it.

The next trick was “Domestic Devil” - the only piece originally composed in Latvian but adapted to the record in English. Somehow the intro did not sound good enough as in the demos and was re-recorded more than twice. From this point forward all the rhythm guitars were recorded either by Karlis or Edgars only depending on the song as it was the only way to get the necessary tightness. Also, DD was the song Edgars started singing with and built the foundation for the next adventure -

blown voice.

In the beginning of the second week boys had to relocate to the Torrance city - home for the next couple of weeks. The floor of the one room apartment was just big enough for 4 exhausted guys enjoying their 10-12 hour workday routine. The band agreed with Bryan to take off at least one day a week, however, later this gap turned a little longer as Edgars lost ability to sing.

Around May 17 drums, bass and rhythm guitars as well as vocals for “Domestic Devil” were done. According to the schedule, it was 4 more days left to finish the record. It turned out not to be the brightest idea but Edgars wanted to sing “Serial Leader” next - probably the most brutal song on the album vocal wise. As the opening track of the record named “Slaughterhouse” it needed to make a statement, so, the decision to force vocal cords at the beginning of the singing phase (kind of) paid off. During the recording of these vocal tracks Edgars and Bryan developed the pattern of getting the best performance: every verse was sung three times automatically generating the overdubs as well as some backup options. This was the first time ever that the self taught singer started to realize what the so called growling singing technique is. Bryan stepped in with several arrangement as well as production ideas - the heaviest vocal parts where recorded using the tiny Gibson combo from the previous century. 

The Gibson combo used in voice recordings. Photo from Relicseed archive.

Having nailed the “Serial” vocals, “Looney Tunes” seemed to be a great song to continue with. Not too high, yet intensive verses were the easiest part as Edgars had warmed up pretty good, however, the high chorus parts was the moment the singer's voice started to choke. This was one of the songs that was actually finished on the spot - the solo parts and lyrics were missing until a couple of days before they needed to be recorded. The main, as Bryan called it - “clever riff” - again was the part replayed and re-recorded multiple times, however, it was nothing compared to the middle breakdown part (around 3:30). Originally this thing was almost 2 times slower and was actually meant for a different song, but ended up in “Tunes” as a great fit. The band spent a significant amount of time getting the pattern together and it has always been one of the most fun parts to play live ever since.

By the end of the third week Edgars was almost unable to sing. The plan was to finish the record by May 20 and to warm up Sabaton at the Key Club on May 23.

The reality, though - 7 more songs to sing, no studio time (and money) left, a sold out gig to play in a couple of days.

The only thing left to do was simply do nothing - get a good rest, sleep as much as possible and avoid any stress. “Take all the time you need, rest your voice and let me know when you are ready to sing”, Bryan said and it was agreed to take the time off until May 25 at least.

Warming up Sabaton was the second time Relicseed appeared on the KeyClub stage. By this moment the reality of LA music scene started to become more clear and obvious:

no one cares who you are, where are you from and how much of a following do you have. As soon as you are ready to pay and your music does not suck entirely - you are able to have a spot on the stages of the Strip.

This is called a “pay to play” principle that most LA bands used as a great way to party on and off the stages they normally would never step on. For Relicseed it was a chance to start promoting the upcoming record and meet some new people. Practically everything worked according to the plan except the band leaving the stage on time. 

Relicseed were given 25 minute gap including the load on and line check time. Plug in, check the signal and go - nothing too complicated. Right before the last song of the set the soundguy said something like “3 minutes” and the band decided to play the song as planned. It turned out that 3 minutes meant exactly 3 minutes and not a single second longer -

in the middle of the song the PA was turned off and two giant security guys quickly rushed the band off the stage.

Seeing the shock in Latvians' faces the security guy kept repeating “very sorry, I'm very sorry but I have to do this” but at the end of the day it was just another lesson about how to behave as a bigger band's warm up act. The evening rounded up at another band Sirion singer friend's place. A well deserved party and resting for the next couple of days was exactly what had been missing for too long. 

It was time to finish the record. Bryan was willing to do whatever it took to help and on May 29 almost 8 songs were finished. Voice was able to produce notes, however, it was far from the shape needed to pull off the songs like “Brothers' Tears” and the high phrases in choruses are a clear evidence of that. Somehow the ballad ended up sounding as it should, however, “Best Friend” parts needed to be changed - Edgars was no longer able to deliver the first verse of the song. Originally it was meant to have the same melody pattern in both verses, but respecting the circumstances, the first verse's melody was transformed 1,5 steps down. Second verse, however, was nailed as planned but within all the changes the song had lost the punch. Obviously, the singing sounded too weak which made it even more difficult to understand how to fix it. The throat was still able to produce sounds, so, the idea to harmonize all verses eventually saved the song. On June 4, 2012 the album recording process was considered as finished and Bryan produced the first mix of the “fast song” (working title of “Slaughterhouse”).

To be continued...

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