Coffinized: An Interview With Mike Leon
No matter what he’s doing, it’s clear that Mike Leon shreds. The most recent evidence is with The Absence in the form of their fifth studio album, Coffinized. The eleven-song collection is bolstered by his blistering riffs and bravado.
Vocalist Jamie Stewart explains the album best, saying “This record is a void-bending combustion chamber of creativity. Every single song bears a torch of deprivation, darkness, and triumph. In the end, we do actually win. One second, you feel creative and accomplished, validated and whole. The next, you seem empty and worthless and feel the claustrophobia of being forced into an unwilling casket. ‘Coffinized’ collects in detail the hysterical scratches and screams found on the inside of this casket’s lid – the kind of gashes made by four beings who are very much alive and giving their all to be heard from a forced burial.”
Aside from his duties in the Florida thrash band, Leon also handles the low end for Max Cavalera and Soulfly. That groove-metal outfit will be heading out on tour for the first time since the pandemic this fall.
We caught up with the bassist to get the scoop on the new Absence album, playing in two bands, and how Twitch has helped him during the past year.
What is the writing process like in The Absence? How did it differ for this go around as opposed to A Gift for the Obsessed?
Well, Taylor had a huge reservoir of riffs stockpiled up, so he and Jeramie started putting drums to the riffs, and creating songs. When there were about 20 solid ideas, we chiseled down the strongest tracks as a band and the focus began to shift. Once the songs took form, Jamie started tracking vocals, and I started tracking bass, nearly simultaneously!
For the bass sessions, Taylor and I would go over the riffs and try to fit the most tasty, thrashy licks and tones we could fit in. I would lay down the takes, and then it was off to the mixing phase, which was also done by Jeramie and Taylor.
The only differences between the two albums were years of time leading into AGFTO and it being mixed and mastered at Ghost Ward Studios.
Coffinized was very much an “in-house” project, as everything was written, recorded, AND mixed at Jeramie and Taylor’s studio: Smoke and Mirrors. Mastering was handled by our dear friend Jonas Kjellgren in Sweden.
This was recorded before the pandemic, correct? What was the recording process like?
That is correct, JUST before things got crazy. I remember right around the NAMM Convention in January 2019 was when I recorded my bass parts, and the process was relatively simple. Taylor would show me what he was playing, and then we would craft the parts until we were both hyped on what we got!
My signal chain for the album was pretty simple. I used my LTD B-1004 for the entire thing, with SIT Stainless Steel Medium strings (a new set each song). We plugged into their Kemper, and used the Neural DSP Parallax and Darkglass software to dial in the tones.
I really love the video for “Coffinized”. Can you give us the background on that?
It was a few months into the pandemic, and both Jamie and I were starting to think about video ideas for the songs. We got together and pooled our ideas, which were very much aligned right off the get-go.
The theme we both were visualizing included a somber, funeral-esque journey where we were acting as pallbearers trudging through stressful and treacherous terrains. We set to work building the coffins and writing the storyboard out, and once that was dialed in, the rest of the boys got together and we spent a few sweaty days carrying said coffin all over rural Florida!
Speaking of the music video, you debuted it on your Twitch channel. You’ve really taken to the platform, so can you tell us about your channel?
Yeah the video debut on the Twitch channel was a blast! Twitch has been a real life saver in the past year for me, and the channel/community has grown into something that I’m VERY proud of. Being able to stream during the pandemic has allowed me to showcase myself practicing my craft
while simultaneously building a strong community of people that enjoy hearing musicians playing live music together.
You bring the heat for The Absence as well as Soulfly. What are the struggles of being in two bands and how do you overcome them?
There are certainly a few difficult decisions that have to be made at times, for example, there have been Absence tours that I had to sit out due to being booked with Soulfly in the past. We have a tremendous bassist named Jesse Jolly who takes my place in The Absence in the rare event that happens, so it all works out.
Otherwise, I just try to fit in what time I can with the Absence boys whenever I’m not on tour and we get what band business we can do then.
What are you most excited about for the upcoming Soulfly tour?
It’s actually hard to pick only one thing, but I think it’ll be really rad to see all of my US friends in the cities we are playing since it’s been over a year and a half since we toured last. There is actually something about the tour that I’m SUPER stoked about, but it’s a secret! You’ll see!
How do you prepare for a tour?
Having Twitch now has been really cool because I’ve been shredding all these tunes live for this whole time we’ve been in the pandemic, so that’s one thing.
Otherwise, I just try to spend my last few weeks getting all my gear and bags situated, and spending as much time with my girlfriend and our cats as possible.
What is your current gear setup?
For basses, I’ve been flying the flag for these LTD B-1000 series basses, with Nordstrand Big Split pickups, and SIT stainless steel strings.
When I’m playing live, I use Peavey amps and cabinets, two Peavey Mini-Mega heads run into an 8×10 cab and a 2×15 cab stacked on their sides.
My weapon of choice for distortion and DI signal would come from the Darkglass Microtubes B7kV2 pedal, combined with a Darkglass Hyper Luminal compression pedal.
I just recently became an artist at Rode Microphones through the Twitch stream, and I’ve been using their NT1-A mic with the RodeCaster Pro interface for the on-stream rig. My In-ear monitors are a custom-molded pair of CT-500Elite IEMs by Clear Tune Monitors, and my travel/on-stage cases are provided by ENKI Instrument cases.
What advice do you have for up and coming metal bassists?
Make efforts to be just as cool of a dude off-stage as you are on-stage. Tours can be quite long, and there are many hours in the day. Be a good person as often as you can!
Also, there is no fingerstyle versus pick playing competition. All techniques have their applications in heavy and extreme music, it’s all about how it feels and how it sounds.
What else is coming up for you?
There is a new Soulfly album in the final stages of mastering at the moment, poised to release early 2022. I’ll be taking the stream on tour with me LIVE thanks to Rode Microphones and T-Mobile, so you can catch me live three days a week at Twitch.tv/MikeLeonShreds. But until then, I’m gonna be dropping a new merch line on Friday, August 13th on my website MikeLeonShreds.com, so keep your eyes peeled!