Ken Susi Of Unearth- An Interview

June 19, 2011 by Chris Grosso

unearth [ʌnˈɜːθ] vb (tr)- bring to light; “The CIA unearthed a plot to kill the President”

Ken Susi is a man who doesn’t mince words. He’s been playing guitar with the band Unearth since the late 90’s and has no problem speaking his mind. In the following interview Ken discusses Unearths new record, their upcoming tour, 80’s music, Jimmy Eat World and why haters need to shut the fuck up.

Interview conducted June, 2011.

The Ken Susi Interview

TIS: So I’ve read from various sources that Unearth collectively feels like Darkness In The Light (set to release in the US on 7/5/11) is your best record to date since The Oncoming Storm. Do you agree with that and if so, what sets it apart?

KS: I actually have these conversations all the times about other bands like the Beatles etc discussing “what’s the best record?” The way I see it on this record is that it had a lot to do with just crunching down and obsessing over all of it. The Oncoming Storm was a great record for us and has a lot of key signature moments. There’s a lot of cool things you could only get at that time and it was very monumental, but I also think there’s a lot of looser tracks towards the end. There’s a lot of great tracks too that have a lot of bang for your buck. They’re just not all bangers. On this record I feel there was a lot more isolation from top to bottom in a good way. Isolating each song individually and having a lot of time to work on it and iron everything out made it more of a complete effort. I mean we were young when we wrote The Oncoming Storm. I’m not taking anything away from that record. I think it’s one of the greatest things I’ve ever done in my life, but do I feel like I’ve progressed as a writer and written an exciting record, yes.

I feel like the odds were somewhat stacked against us because there’s been a lot of people saying “oh your record this” or “oh you sound like them”.  I mean everyone is a critic but for the most part when you’re in the band you can either listen to them or rise to the occasion and write what you like, and personally, I like this record a lot. As for all the people who are like “oh it just sounds like typical Unearth” well I just think they’re fucking high. There’s certain websites like Lambgoat, which I love, but always have certain haters and I just don’t think they understand music at all. Like they see the name “Unearth” and automatically don’t like it, but if it was called something else it’d be the next biggest fucking thing. Let’s face it, at this day and age I’m not holding back any punches. A lot of fucking bands copied us, a lot. And a lot of bands have been getting big off our sound. Let’s not forget the history books and remember that we were one of the first bands to be doing what we were doing.

Back when we started it was cool to be straight edge, militant Earth Crisis Hardcore, which is music that I love but didn’t want to be playing. We were on the forefront of playing melodic hardcore with heavy breakdowns etc and you know what, if you want to hate on us, go ahead and hate, but you also have to hate on all the other bands you turn around you say you like because they’re just jacking from us anyways. I mean Christ, there’s an album this year, and I’m not going to name any names but they sound quite a bit like us and they seem to be doing very well, you know?

TIS: I’m a musician myself but certainly haven’t been in your position so can only imagine your frustration.

KS: You know, it’s not even frustration. I use it as a challenge. I want to say to all these other bands who want to copy us and do our thing, I dare you to do it…do it, try it. We’re still going to be the originators. We’re still going to be better at it. It’s in my blood, not yours. If you want to copy me and chug and do whatever you do go ahead, but I know in my heart that we were there and were one of the first and there’s a lot to be said for that.

TIS: Well right on man. So how was recording with Killswitch’s Justin Foley on drums on the new album?

KS: It was unbelievable. At the time our old drummer Derek Kerswill, who is a good friend of mine, his style just wasn’t quite fitting. That’s one of the things I didn’t like about The March. Derek plays a lot of groove, soul stuff and the record wasn’t too dynamic. It wasn’t very fast or very slow so when the band approached me and told me how they felt I said if you want to release Derek that’s fine, but let me pick the drummer who plays on the record and they agreed.

I saw J-Fo playing in Red Tide back at The Hanover House in Meriden, CT years ago and he was so good but then in Killswitch he was so limited. He had to play in the pocket but I knew he was extremely talented and all I wanted was a drummer like that to play on our record. So I gave him a call and he was into and I really think the proof is in the pudding. What I’d do is write a lot of stuff with Buz and use drum machines and send it over to J-Fo. He’d then take thoat and make it even better and I was like “wow!” what a great drummer. The new album will really show what kind of a rhythm section we have.

TIS: So you mentioned the Hanover House, one of CT’s short lived obscure clubs. Now there’s a throwback!

KS: Hahaha, yeah. Well we’d drive our big van in ’99 and play as many local shows as possible. We’d do all of CT one weekend and come home and then play NH, ME and Canada the next weekend, then we’d play Boston for three days and then play RI for three days and Philly and Jersey. We were always just isolating areas. I spent a lot of time in CT because of friends. There was Adam from Killswitch who lived on the boarder and we were really close, as well as Howard who I met separately. When Killswitch needed anew singer, Adam called me and the first person I mentioned was Howard.

We were all a big community whereas the community now seems to have a lot of bands trying one up each another. I remember back in all of our hay days sitting backstage and talking about farting and shitting our pants o whatever. We’d never compete or talk music, or if we were to talk about music it’d be about what albums we were into. Now a lot of bands are pissed at each other for not supporting one another etc. But back then when we met J-Fo and Howard and Corey from Blood Has Been Shed, we were just of community of dudes supporting one another. I think that’s the way it will be for the rest of our lives. They’re all good friends and always will be.

TIS: Very cool, and you mentioned Adam (Dutkiewicz- Killswitch Engage Guitarist) who you worked with as producer on the new album. Can you tell me a bit about that?

KS: Adam is really tight with us as far as friendship wise. We’ve been going to a lot of Hockey games and what not, so when it came time to do the record it was like “dude, you’ve gotta work with us” and he was really into it. He heard a bunch of the new stuff and really liked it. I co-produced the record with him and what really ended up happening in the end was…well there’s a lot to be said for somebody who has no emotional ties to your record. You can write and write and write, and the true job of a producer is to come in and listen to everything in its entirety and then just start pulling stuff apart.

The cool thing is we’d write and feel like a certain part was really good and he’d look at me and be like “really?”, and I’d be like “no?”, and he’d say “well I heard another riff you had in another demo so let’s try that here” and that’s where things started to gel more. So there’s something to be said about being in a band and writing vs. coming into a band situation and being like, no. When you’re not emotionally tied to it, that’s what makes you great. You can just push and pull things, even if you’re not a great musician or even play an instrument.

TIS: Cool, so you guys are heading out in July to headline the Jagermeister Stage at this year’s Rockstar Energy Drink Mayhem Fest w/ Disturbed, Godsmack, Megadeth, Machine Head and more. Can you tell me about some of the pros and cons of these bigger tours vs. your headlining club tours?

KS: Well I mean in a festival type atmosphere the pros are there’s more exposure to a lot of different people, many of which may not know who you are because they don’t go to clubs, they just wait for big shows. The cons are all the kids that sit home and obsess on Lambgoat or whatever website and say “they got to big” etc, but you know what, let’s face the facts, there’s a lot of jaded metal dudes in the scene who can’t handle when a band gets popular. We like to play both. We just did a benefit for our old Bass player who passed away and there were only like 500 or 600 people who showed up in a small, intimate place, and people were into it and honestly, we love playing shows like that at home. We like to play small shows in front of people but we like playing big shows as well too. I mean it’s where we grew up and you said it yourself, you go to shows, you’re no different than me. I’m sure we were at a lot of the same shows.

TIS: I know we were. Ok, top three favorite guitarists of all time?

KS: Sure. Paul Gilbert probably being my first. He’s just extraordinary. He’s a man that can do anything. He’s in a league of his own. As far as influential I really like Marty Friedman, he’s one of my favorites and I’m psyched to see Megadeth on this tour even though he won’t be there, but he’s a really great guitar player. And lastly, I’d have to say Steve Vai because when you think of him you can’t help but think of a God of guitar, he has that presence. He just comes off as like “look at me, I’m perfect” and he plays everything perfect and he’s just really perfect. It’s almost like looking at a hot chick.

TIS: Haha, I can see that. So do you have one defining metal album that influenced you just a little bit more than others?

KS: Hmm, I would say Iron Maiden’s Live After Death Record. As a kid I just remember playing that record non-stop to the point where I can’t even listen to it anymore because I’m so burnt out on it. It’s just one of those records that I can’t even talk about because it’s so good. It’s exactly what I needed as a kid in order to get my creative juices flowing.

TIS: Absolutely man, Maiden rules! So who are you listening to outside of the metal/hardcore genre these days?

KS: I’m a huge Beatles fan. I could listen to nothing but the Beatles. It’s funny because my best friend just bought me this huge “Help” Beatles thing and now I’m stoked because I have something to do for the next week of my life. I listen to a ton of Jimmy Eat World and a lot of Nirvana. I’m a pop guy. I listen to a lot pop. Rick Springfield etc. I’m into the 80’s, whether it’s dance 80’s or electronic 80’s I’m into it. If people want to know when they see me lifting weights or I’m in the parking lot, that’s who I’m listening too. I like listening to Jessie’s Girl and I like seeing girl’s tits shaking in front of m while I’m playing.

TIS: Haha, fair enough. Now you touched on a sensitive subject with me when you said Jimmy Eat World. Are you a fan of a certain era of theirs?

KS: I actually was saying the other day how I saw them for the first time because I’m always on tour when they’re around. I’m a Bleed American kind of guy, Clarity is a great record too, but I really like Chase The Lights as well. Even the new album is good. Put it this way, no matter what they choose to do artistically, I don’t think they’re capable of writing a bad song.

TIS: Well my friend, we may have to agree to disagree on that one. I loved everything up to Clarity and Bleed American had a few good tracks but after that…well that discussion is for another time.

KS: Haha, sure.

TIS: So in close, can you tell me about one of your craziest tour memories?

KS: Oh man. Well there’s plenty of nights I can’t remember so I’d have to start thinking about the top five drunken moments of my life, like where I just wanted to die. I have some seedy friends I made very early in my career once I started getting into the Hollywood and LA scene. I’m friends with Craven Moorehead who works in the adult entertainment industry and we’re always getting into trouble like a battering rams smashing through life, getting drunk and yelling obscenities in the most inappropriate places.

There is this one time though, which was very surreal. I was with Willie from Lamb of God and we got wasted in Japan, mind you we couldn’t speak the language, so we were roaming the streets looking for a bar. We walked up to these two attractive girls and asked if they spoke English and they said a little. I told them we wanted to go where they were going, asking where’s the bar? So they brought us into an elevator which took us to the top floor of this weird building and the next thing you know it was seriously like a 50’s prom.

Women were wearing big poofy dresses etc. A guy met us at the door and said $30 each- all you can drink for an hour. Next thing I know we just started pounding something like Jameson and were getting wasted. They had a karaoke machine and the microphone was too loud for the music so we got up there and just started yelling “fuck this, fuck that” and everyone was laughing and having a good time and it was one of those moments in your life where you have to ask yourself, am I on the moon? I mean I could have been and not even know it.

TIS: Well man, thanks for your time and the trip down memory lane.

KS: Anytime my friend. The pleasure is mine.

Visit Unearth Online Here!

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Chris Grosso is a public speaker, writer, recovering addict, spiritual director, and author of Indie Spiritualist: A No Bullshit Exploration of Spirituality (Beyond Words/Simon & Schuster) and Everything Mind: What I've Learned About Hard Knocks, Spiritual Awakening and the Mind-Blowing Truth of it All (Sounds True). He writes for ORIGIN Magazine, Huffington Post, and Mantra Yoga + Health Magazine, and has spoken and performed at Wanderlust Festival, Yoga Journal Conference, Sedona World Wisdom Days, Kripalu, Celebrate Your Life and more. Chris is passionate about his work with people who are in the process of healing or struggling with addictions of all kinds. He speaks and leads groups in detoxes, yoga studios, rehabs, youth centers, 12-step meetings, hospitals, conferences, and festivals worldwide. He is a member of the advisory board for Drugs over Dinner.
  1. scott says:

    thanks, there shows are so fucking fun and that was awesome. i don’t think i’d get his face tattooed on my ass like that one dude but ken’s still the man haha.