Photo: Matt Garcia
In April, Suffokate entered Undercity Studios in Hollywood, CA to start work on their third album, ‘Return to Despair.’ The group focused on attaining a stronger sound this time around, while remembering not to compromise on their usual bone-crushing riffs and unruly breakdowns. Although the new record is at its core similar to the band’s other efforts, vocalist Ricky Hoover went about making sure its message was even more personal, spawning something a little darker and unalloyed. Overall, what the band ended up with was a fittingly intimate collection of songs.
A few days before ‘Return to Despair’ was released, Ricky took some time out of his day to speak with Rock Edition about his role as a vocalist, his tattoos, the new full-length, and the band’s upcoming tours. Head below to hear about it in his own words.
As the vocalist, you arguably get the most attention thrown at you. What do you think the worst part of that is?
That’s definitely true. I don’t really mind it. When I was younger, I always looked up to people who sang in bands and stuff like that. A lot of times, I would find it disheartening if they were too rockstar-ish — I guess you could say — and not talk to people or respond to their fans. I try not to be like that. Like, I tweet back everybody that tweets me. I always talk to kids at shows and take pictures with people. I guess it doesn’t really bother me that much. Being the frontman, you do get all the attention, which also brings in all the hate. It doesn’t really bother me too much, and most of the time all the crazy stuff people say makes me just laugh.
I’m sure you’ll agree that it seems like the first thing people critique when listening to a band for the first time is the vocalist.
Yeah, because every kid wants to sing in a band. No matter what I do with my voice, I get some kind of hate about it. People will say that my voice is either too low, or they can’t understand what I’m saying, or the last record was better. It gets old, but I’m happy with the way I sound and that’s starting to be all I really care about. You can never please everybody.
How much do you think your appearance affects the listener? If they didn’t know what you looked like, would they think differently of you or the band?
I don’t really get as much hate for the tattoos as I do for my big ass plugs. If they didn’t see me, I don’t really think they would know at all what I look like; they’d probably think I was some big burly dude or whatever. Unfortunately, image does sell a lot. Look at all the bands out there who aren’t talented musically but do so well because of their looks.
Have you ever been in a situation where somebody from a record label or a director in a music video has told you to hide some of your tattoos or change your clothing?
No, not too much. We’re really close with our label, and we don’t really have a Hollywood consultant or anything. I do remember when I first started stretching my ear lobes bigger, the label told me not to go super big with the ears, but I told them that I wanted to and then they were like, “Alright, it’s cool.”
We get a lot of love from our label; they do a lot for us. I haven’t had anybody tell me what to wear or how to look. I can see how that could help in some areas, I guess. People seem to love what they’re fed, and if they get fed it enough…
By the way, speaking of tattoos and things, did you ever finish getting your legs done?
I got my shins done a while back, so now I’m working on some other stuff on my legs. I still have a little ways to go before I reach my goal, which is to have my whole body done.[laughs] Wow, yeah. At this point, you’ve covered your torso, neck, hands…
And my knuckles, my thumbs, sleeves, stuff on my legs — I’m trying to cover everything.
What’s something that you think a lot of fans don’t realize about Suffokate or being in a band?
I think a lot of people don’t understand that once you do get signed to a label — unless you’re some huge pop star — stuff doesn’t really get thrown at you. I mean, you still have to work your ass off no matter what level you’re at.
On a similar note, isn’t it funny when you guys get comments like, “Well, you guys are filthy rich, so it’s not like you have to…” whatever it is?
[laughs] When our new CD leaked, we posted something on our Facebook page saying that if you downloaded the CD you’re not a true fan because you’re not supporting [us]. Some fans seemed to take it the wrong way. It’s just that unless you’re selling millions of records, you don’t really make a lot of money; it all goes into the cost of recording and stuff, especially with an indie label. What they don’t understand is that first week CD sales are what determines if you’ll be able to get on the next tour. A lot of the kids that download don’t understand that they’re limiting the band’s chances to get on bigger tours that they want to see them on.
Of course, as you said, some artists/bands are selling a ton of albums and making a lot of money. Most often, I see bands out there that are making less money than they would if the members were working office jobs.
Yeah. We definitely don’t make much doing it at all. We pretty much do it because we enjoy doing it. We work when we’re not on tour so that we can still tour. I don’t really know if there’s a way to make a living at it unless you blow up and get crazy support. We’re happy where we are, but you don’t really make that much money when you’re at [the level we’re at].
I remember someone I was interviewing told me once, “Man, if we wanted to get rich, we’d be like lawyers or something.”
On the new record, the band sounds tighter. Should we attribute that to the amount of experience you all have now or the boost in production quality?
It’s both. On our last record, we kind of got rushed a little bit. I love that record and we’re really happy with it, but with this record we wanted to make sure we took our time and were really happy with the songs and production. Our guitar player actually did a lot of producing and engineering on this new record. We’ve also been touring consistently for the past three to four years now. This is the first break we’ve had in a really long time. Touring together and just growing as a band has helped us a lot.
And it sounds like you tried to dig a little deeper vocally this time.
It’s funny because a lot of kids are saying that the vocals aren’t as heavy, but I think so. I didn’t really like the way my voice sounded on the last record. It was low, but it was inaudible. I definitely go lower in some parts on this record than I did on the last record. I changed up my voice a little bit. The highs are better, and I wanted kids to be able to understand what I was saying but have it still be kind of low. Some kids are getting that; some are not. Sometimes it seems like they just want to listen to a low guttural without any lyrics. This record kind of has a message that I want kids to understand so that they can relate to it. Also, on ‘No Mercy, No Forgiveness,’ I don’t think I was as experienced. For this new record, I went into the studio knowing exactly how I wanted to sound.
So you had a plan.
Yeah, exactly. I tried to change things up a little bit. I wanted the songs to be heavy only when they should be. We definitely want to be more than just a heavy band — not that there’s anything wrong with that. Some kids don’t understand that songs don’t need to be heavy the entire time. If they want to listen to songs that are heavy the entire time, then they should stick to listening to what they’re listening to. We just wanted to make stuff that was a little bit different, and we wanted to grow as musicians.
Someone in the band answered a question on Suffokate’s Facebook page recently. His answer was: “Ricky doesn’t believe in anything; he just enjoys offending uptight people.” Is there any truth to that statement?
[laughs] It’s more or less the way I look and what I say [that offends people]. I have no problem with people who are religious. I just have problems with the people who are so uptight and use religion in bad ways. I think a lot of wars are started for religious reasons. People who are homophobic or racist — a lot of that stuff spawns from religious reasons. A lot of racism still exists and people don’t realize it. Our last record actually had a lot of anti-religious songs on it. There’s not too many anti-religious lyrics on this new record because I don’t want to push away our religious fans, I just want them to understand that if you’re religious, that’s awesome, but don’t push it down other people’s throats and don’t assume bad things about people who aren’t religious.
Does everyone in Suffokate have different religious or spiritual beliefs?
Yeah. My guitar player and drummer do believe that there is something there. We don’t really talk about it too much. I’m more agnostic, I guess. We definitely didn’t want to make it a big topic on this record. My guitar player Taylor [Jones] was very adamant about that.
To completely switch topics for a second, how is your company Gotwood Plugs with your dad doing? Was forming the company something you had to convince your dad to be a part of?
Basically, I was touring and I said to him that I wanted to make my own plugs for tour because they’re way too expensive to buy, especially out on the road. I also needed some new ones that stayed in on stage, because my ears were continuing to stretch. Anyway, my dad just took the initiative and made me new plugs for a Christmas present. We realized that we could start selling some for super cheap. It’s kind of just snowballed ever since then. I took them to Europe with me, and I sell them all over on tour. We’ve sold them to people in Africa, Australia — even Tasmania. It’s going really good. I guess at first my parents weren’t cool with my plugs. I’m a bit extreme with a lot of the stuff I do. But since they’ve been around it so much now, they see how it hasn’t really changed me.
Do you think your appearance influences a lot of fans? Do people come up to you and tell you they got a tattoo because of you?
I have noticed a couple kids that copy some of the tattoos I have, but then again a lot of people get the same things tattooed. I’ve had kids come up to me with my lyrics tattooed on them, which is the biggest compliment. For somebody to understand what I’m saying and put it on their body is a big thing for me. Kids come up to me and say things like, “I want my ears to be as big as yours.” I think it’s cool that they want to express themselves that way. I’m sure their parents hate me.[laughs] Parents have always hated rock bands!
Oh yeah. I get stared at everywhere I go. I’m great with kids; they love me. When their parents see me, they get all scared and shit, though.
That reminds me: the first annual Brawloween tour is coming up. You’ll be hitting the road with Throwdown, Carnifex, and First Blood. Will everyone be wearing costumes?
After that, you guys are going back to Europe?
Yeah, it’ll be our third time.
Our last tour was like a week-long tour and we played a couple of new songs on it. That tour actually did a lot better than I thought it would. A lot of kids came out to the shows. I’m definitely excited that the kids are liking our stuff. We played the Hard Rock Cafe in Vegas on the last tour and there were close to 400 kids at the place, which I was amazed at. I don’t know how it happened. We’re going to play there again on Brawloween, so I’m stoked to play there again.
Cool. Anything you want to say before we call it quits here?
Just keep buying our records and keep supporting the band and helping us out so that we can tour more.
Pick up Suffokate’s new album, Return to Despair.
For the band’s upcoming tour dates, check out their Facebook page.