WHERE THE SPIRIT LIVES:
An Interview with Trey Azagthoth of MORBID ANGEL
By Alicia Downs
I have always been open about my chagrin towards "death" metal music. I
never really found much there. Recently, I saw Morbid Angel for the second time and
- in allowing myself to open up to their talent and live show - I shed the skin of my former self and began to finally appreciate
what others have long known. After that enlightenment and guidance from our very own
East Coast Editor Christopher Kelter, I had the opportunity to sit down with Trey Azagthoth. Forewarning, what could
have been just the standard "blah blah blah" and thank you interview turned into a discussion
between two people about Trey's thoughts on spirituality. While his dogmatic statements about life
only stood in the gateways of his beliefs, they brought with them a new light to see not only the
composition of Morbid Angel as a band but to give substance to a genre of music that
may not always be known for such.
Rough Edge: "Gateways to Annihilation" marks the bands seventh album?
Trey: That's right.
Rough Edge: How do you think that your sound has changed and / or remained the same since you began in '84?
Trey: From '84, we had a different drummer back then until around '87 and our drummer was not really able to do the stuff that we wanted, or that I had wanted, to do. So once we got Pete that made a big difference in the speed and attack and it really helped the momentum and the power of the songs. As far as writing, when we did "Covenant" there was the addition of the seven-string guitar so we added that and then on "Domination" like "Where the Slime Lives." That kind of brought in a sick, down-tuned grungy groove. Before that it was more like speed and just more cutting stuff so we kind of balanced it out with that. I think also as a band we continued growing and started using the new ideas that we would come up with and we would get faster. For myself, when I write I try to keep exploring and doing fresh stuff from album to album. Really, every one of our albums has a lot of exploration on it.
Rough Edge: Erik has taken helped produce a lot these few years. How has his role shaped the band's dynamic?
Trey: On this album we just did, his soloing and his playing and the song he wrote helped but not as much production-wise on this last record.
Rough Edge: Your Hendrix influence- why do you find him to be such an inspiration?
Trey: Well, it's just about breaking out of the normal patterns - exploring. It's not just Hendrix- it's also Eddie Van Halen. Van Halen is really my favorite but Hendrix was doing this type of stuff before and it's not about technique, it's about doing things a whole new way. It's about showing new ways of doing stuff outside of the normal standard model.
Rough Edge: Do you think Hendrix was the best at encompassing that for his time?
Trey: Absolutely. It's about closing your eyes and playing without thinking out a bunch of technique and scales - playing based on intuition.
Rough Edge: Over the years there has been some turmoil in the band's lineup. Where do you think you are now in terms of your line up?
Trey: We're good, I think so.
Rough Edge: How are the members of the metal community handling Chuck Schuldiner and Chuck Billy's recent bouts with cancer?
Trey: Well, I don't know a whole lot about it. To be honest I am not really tuned into the "scene." I don't watch the news but I definitely have compassion for them being stricken with disease. But as far as ...
Rough Edge: You have no idea.
Rough Edge: I wanted to ask you about your last name. Is that your birth last name?
Rough Edge: What significance does it have?
Trey: It's a spirit name.
Rough Edge: I've heard something to that effect but I don't want to mutilate what I've heard with what it really is.
Trey: It represents the Lord of Chaos. It also goes with the theme of one man's insanity is another man's genius - it's all in your perception. So, myself, I've always felt like I was from another planet and I was really not a part of this thing going on here on earth - human nature and stuff like that. I look at things a lot different than most people and I question things, as opposed to just wanting to accept what the majority thinks and just fitting in. That would not be the natural thing for me so I just have a different way of looking at stuff.
Rough Edge: Who is this Lord of Chaos? I know nothing of him so educate me.
Trey: Basically, the main book that you can find it in is "The Necronomicon." It has something to do with the writer using that name. As far as where it really came from I don't know - but that was the first time that I had read it. It was from back in the more ritualistic days of meditation and exploration. It was just like bringing that kind of energy into myself; actually tapping into that energy because to me what I feel about each individual person is that all we really are is a pure spirit and we are one with the creation of all things with the potential to make all things. We are bigger than our behavior, bigger than our personality and bigger than our beliefs. We are the creator or our thoughts and our personality so once we decide that we want to be different than since we are the creator and we are capable of creating all things because we come from this pure potentiality - this is getting a little deep I know - but it's all just spirit.
Rough Edge: One of the themes that comes through in the music is a reverence for things greater than man - do you find any conflict with that beings that we put entertainers such as yourself so high up on a pedestal?
Trey: I always tell everybody that I am just like everybody else except for that I just think for myself. I have this purpose to allow this energy to flow through that I feel is the instrument of what I call the living continuum - or a great spiritual field. But, me, I am just a person like everyone else and everyone else can do it - everyone has the same potential. I think it is just your decision that all people consider different ways as to what they do with themselves and their decisions and beliefs. I don't like to think of myself as in a position that other people put me at. I'm grateful that people feel an impact but that's about where it ends for me, I'm just here to have fun and let this energy flow and when people ask how I do it, I tell them it is just about believing in yourself and finding your purpose and the thing you're passionate about - our true will, our true purpose. For me I've always felt that I was a person to create and have energy through myself and through the music.
Rough Edge: The last few tours have been more mainstream. How do you think the audiences are responding to you?
Trey: I think it's been great actually because our music is really extreme but it also has melody and all that. It's not extreme as far as extreme in hype - it is extreme as far as performance and heart. There is a difference between a bunch of hype and plastic and true intention so our music just comes out with this force, this intention, to blow stuff down and this is a vibe that people pick up on. Plus our band has been around for a long time and that kind of helps, it's not like we just started, we're not newbies. We've been on MTV and all that and our music has its own kind of unique sound and people can feel the energy, like the energy of what I call the living continuum - the ancient ones.
Rough Edge: Do you like playing in the bigger arenas?
Rough Edge: Do you think that the systems in the arenas capture your sound better?
Trey: Yeah, it's more powerful.
Rough Edge: Has the grind of touring gotten any easier?
Trey: It's fine with me. I like to have breaks here and there. For me routines get old so it's like do something so long and then do something else. When I'm not touring I like to go home and play Quake III and then go back on tour to keep it fresh.
Rough Edge: You've brought that idea of the living continuum up now a few times. Care to explain that to me?
Trey: It's just a title, the total of all activeness and stillness in the universe. There's the potential to create all things and I call that the field of pure potentiality - it is nothing but the potential to be all things. It has no shape or size because it has the potential to be all things - once it becomes something it is now the likeness of one thing and not something else - it has become limited. So now through manifestation it took a particular route to become one thing and now that's all that it is- the particular likeness of this one thing. It comes from this field where there is nothing but the potential to be all things - like this absolute potential to create. I believe that is what we really are - all of us in our spirit. It is a stillness and it's nothing but the potential to manifest all things through design and will power and realization of ones imagination - the ability to act and make things happen. There are the steps to make things happen; I am, I will, I create. Ideas are just energy and we make them concrete through our reference points.
Rough Edge: Looking back at the path that metal is taking over the years, what do you think about all the new trends of nu metal and hardcore? It seems like there is a lot of divergence to the original metal.
Trey: I don't pay attention to any of that crap. I never have. I
don't like any of it, I think it's for people that are inquiring minds who want to know and I'm not one of them. I follow my own instinct and I
think a lot of people don't do that and they have to have like people gather them. I just don't buy into
it. To me, I don't care about the imagery or the hype, I care about how a song moves me. It doesn't
matter if anyone else likes it; it is about how I like it. Right now the main band I listen to is The
Gathering. I think The Gathering is the best band in the universe today for me personally. I think that
they are bigger than everybody, and that is just my opinion and it is all about how I feel when I listen
to it. I think they're brilliant and it doesn't matter if there is all these bands that sell like millions of
records because it just kind of shows me that there's lots of people that - it's just like fashion- it's
just something that I don't pay attention to. This whole thing is about people that are afraid to make
their own ideas and they are looking for others so they can gather with them and through the
numbers is how they find their confidence- and how they fit in- and I don't buy into that.
Rough Edge: But here's the conflict: I find with a lot of young kids in metal today - it seems like they talk about the nonconformity and about how they hate being judged, yet they will all flock and wear the same black t-shirts with like the black cargo shorts and look at others who are into fashion and look down on that - which makes them not only conformists but hypocrites.
Trey: It's all in how you look at it. You have to step way back - everybody that's breathing is conforming. Everybody breathes so everybody conforms. Because we breathe we are gathering with others who breathe. To me there is no inherent meaning to anything in the universe - there is no absolute truth.
Rough Edge: No? Then why are we here?
Trey: I can tell you why I think we are here. We are here to enjoy the ability to experience things and not need the details to find happiness.
Rough Edge: Where do you find your spirituality if there is no inherent meaning?
Trey: Where is it? It's all around.
Rough Edge: But maybe we are just a product of evolution and elements and that it all has no inherent meaning other than biology. Where do you get spiritualism from an inherent nothingness?
Trey: Spiritualism - my kind comes from beyond the realm of time and space. So it comes from beyond man and all references because all that happens in this lower field of existence.
Rough Edge: But, biologically speaking, man is supposed to think on these finite terms.
Trey: Spiritualism is higher than the mind.
Rough Edge: So then, how could one ever possibly grasp it?
Trey: It is a silence based between thoughts. Going to the Kabala, you have these different triads and levels and you have these personality spheres, then the individual soul, and then the united souls. You have the field of all potentiality above which is like the nothingness and the realization of the potential to create all things and then realization of the drive to create all things - gives you the realization to have something to apply your energy towards. That is like the first steps to becoming part of the united soul. The united soul is like the great ocean and the individual soul is like the cup full of water.
Rough Edge: You look as an ultimate goal of elevating up the levels of the triad?
Trey: It's basically allowing that flow to go through us and not block it with our own judgments and our own definitions and things like that. Because all that happens.
Rough Edge: Would you say that would require people to be vulnerable then?
Rough Edge: Because you are talking about breaking down the fibers of our majority religions and politics that put these definitions up and these boundaries. This dominates and controls our modern world - what you are saying is to take down the barriers that society puts up which would inevitably make yourself vulnerable to that outside of all you have understood and felt safety from.
Trey: But all that stuff you're talking about is in the ego and the ego is nothing. You let go of the ego and the fear and there is no vulnerability - it's like what are you vulnerable of? Are you afraid of losing? But with the spirit you never lose and you never win because they are one in same. There is no bad or good, no less or better. In spirit all things are perfect already as is. Through your own judgments you create different degrees of perfection that were not there. Well, I'm not quite a 10, 10's perfect and I'm an 8. Those are little rules you make up for yourself or borrow from others in the game called life. You use those standards and beliefs to play the game called life but it's a game - it doesn't change your self-identity. In spirit you are perfect and could never be better or worse so you're already perfect so you have that confidence of perfection and letting that flow through - letting the whole spirit flow through you instead of blocking it off and separating yourself. If you are separate from the whole it is like the cup with the water - but you are still the water not the cup and even though you can take this cup and put it like 10 miles away from the whole it is still water- it is still one- there is no separation. The only separation is through time and space. The spirit is above the realm of time and space - it is above judgments - good and bad and right and wrong - it's above that - measurements. But the measurements are all about playing the game and the game is that you live and you play in the rules but it's just to play a game and have enjoyment because the whole purpose of the game is finding joy - if you're not finding joy than that would be the losing. In the spirit there is nothing but joy. So it is kind of like evolving yourself into this - a reference point would be like if you see a movie about aliens and they look at humans and they see how they are so primitive and stuff because these alien beings are coming from a place where they are getting their joy just by the ability to experience things - not by what the things mean. Meanings are just things you apply to situations to feel good. It's kind of like being an artist and painting pictures - it does not change your self worth ... This is the part where I come to that most of my life I have not bought into trend and things like that, but most human beings do not think like that. If you go through life thinking like this you will have a lot of people thinking you are a freak because you will have them feeling guilty or afraid or worrying about their own beliefs because you make them think they might be wrong and they don't want to be wrong. You'll become a heretic that is holding onto different ideas about things - kind of like the witches where they burned the witches in the past. These witches would say they believe in nature and I don't need your Jesus Christ because I have my own way of finding truth and the Christians way back then would say you're evil because they have this authoritarian type of view and they want to control. For instance, the Bible: I think there is a lot of extra words added that were about controlling but if you take out those words you will have the truth - at least one version of the truth. The thing is the idea that you have to go through the Church and Jesus Christ can be thrown out. Jesus Christ was more of an example. I think the bottom line is that in life there is no inherent meaning to anything so make up your own meanings - make up the meanings that make life fun. When you feel great - isn't your life going great?
(We went on for a little more about these ideas - debating modern ideas of religion with themes of nothingness - but the thing that I got the most out of all this was a light into the substance behind the creative force in Morbid Angel - which counteracted my initial impressions that were based on those boundaries Trey talks about. His theories and thoughts are ones that can be felt in his music if not always comprehended or agreed with.)
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