Necronomicon formed in 1988 and has specialized in creating death metal with epic, operatic, and orchestral elements before those were popularized by bands like Septicflesh and Fleshgod Apocalypse. Last year they released their sixth album, and during their long and storied career, the one consistent member has been Rob’ The Witch’ Tremblay. ‘The Witch’ is the name for Rob’s on-stage persona, and just as a different role can be transformative for an actor, so is ‘The Witch’ transformative for Rob every time he steps on stage. I had the great privilege of interviewing Rob towards the end of last year, albeit, while I was sick with a cold, but he still generously humored my questions and even concluded with some advice for my recovery. He was freshly home in Montréal, Canada following a successful tour with New York brutal death legends Suffocation and Austria’s blackened death pioneers Belphegor. This interview dives deep into not only the latest Necronomicon album, Unus, but also into many more personal aspects of Rob’s life, including his spirituality – as he was raised by a shaman, the dangers of touring, his thoughts on corpsepaint and the Norwegian church burnings, the importance of stepping into the boots of ‘The Witch’, the near-fatal crash they experienced on tour, and it ends with Rob divulging some of his favorite indulgences from his French Canadian heritage.
Indy Metal Vault: Greetings Rob, this is Kyle from Indy Metal Vault. Congratulations on the new album and Necronomicon’s longevity. This is the first Necronomicon album where you recorded the bass, in addition to the guitars and vocals. How did that decision come about?
Rob Tremblay: (laughter) Actually it’s a last-minute decision because the bass player we had didn’t show up, heh. Literally. The guy started to not show up at practice, and the studio was booked, so we had a bass session (booked) for the recording of the bass, and there was no one there, and there was me, and the guy from the studio, so I decided to write the bass right on the spot. There was no bass written at all since the bass player didn’t show up, so I took the bass, listened to the song, and just flew through the song, wrote the bass right on the spot there, so that’s how it happened.
IMV: Unus features Jean-Philippe Bouchard on drums, who also put out another great album this year with the NecroticGoreBeast debut. How did he get involved?
Rob: Actually, NecroticGoreBeast is his side project. His main project is Necronomicon, he’s a full member. He passed the audition almost two years ago. That’s when we changed drummer when the previous member left the band. He was the twenty-second drummer to ask for an audition. There was already someone pre-selected, and he totally blew that guy off the map. He was the last one to ask for the audition, and he literally beat out pretty much everyone else, so he’s in the band. He started NecroticGoreBeast – I think – last year. I’m not sure about that, that other band. He’s a really good drummer. He likes intense stuff, so he needs something that’s more, like, really grind/death, like, the super-extreme, you know, band. I don’t mind (Jean-Philippe) having another band; they don’t really go on tour and stuff like that.
IMV: Necronomicon has been around more than 30 years now, how would you describe your newest album, Unus, as differing from your earliest works, such as The Silver Key EP?
Rob: The Silver Key is, if you listen to the actual song, you can hear the direction we were going back then. Of course we didn’t have the technology to be able to have like, the financial means, to have a full orchestra and stuff like that, but we were really using stuff like operatic voice and stuff like that. So that was in the plan since the beginning of the band. It’s just that I didn’t know how to bring it, I was trying some stuff and, I didn’t want to put keyboard. There was never any keyboard on the Necronomicon end because I didn’t want it to. I was listening to keyboards on stuff, and it sounded so cheap, so I wanted to wait until things went better, the money and technology would be better, and now, with computers and all that stuff, you can have, what we’re using is VSPs. VSPs are actual musician choir, singers, a full orchestra, played for real. It’s just pre-recorded with the notes you want and the effects you want. Those are real samples of real musicians. It still is expensive. Some people say, ‘Oh, it’s cheap to do that’ – No. If you want to use the real VSPs, the real, top-of-the-line VSPs, it is real expensive. It is easily like two, three, five, six thousand dollars for real VSPs. So when you put that on top of the actual recording, because you need to record, but you need to work with it, and impose all of the music in the system to have all the melody and stuff. It is time-consuming also. That’s the kind of stuff I don’t have the proper computer to do that at home, so you have to do it directly in studio. It costs more there also. So it’s always been – what I’m doing now – it’s always been what I always want to do and, like I said, if you listen to The Sliver Key, the song Silver Key, the original version in the nineties, you’ll see that it’s pretty much a precursor to what was coming in the future for Necronomicon.
IMV: You’ve mentioned in interviews that you were raised by a Native American yoga master and shaman – do you maintain any of the spiritual practices from your youth nowadays?
Rob: I still believe it’s part of my everyday life. I don’t do as much yoga anymore. I’ve been doing yoga since I was four or five before it became a trend; I was already doing that. In the last five years, it’s (yoga) become a super-big trend. I was already doing all that stuff way before that. I’m eating a bit of meat now because when I’m going on tour, it’s hard. It’s really hard. I’m not eating red meat, I’m eating chicken only. And not too much because I feel weird when I eat that. It’s not because of animal rights or something like that, it’s just that since I was born, I was told that you eat meat. So naturally, my parents didn’t like imprint that on me, so I started to look for, so now we’re talking about the seventies. So it was not an easy time. Vegetarian food back in the day was pretty gross, right? Where I came from, you didn’t have stuff like in Montreal. I live in Montreal. Back in the day you didn’t know about Indian food. They had Indian food for vegetarians. Montreal was pretty easy for me. My parents divorced, and my mom remarried a shaman who became like my father. When I was eleven, that happened. He raised me like a son, and of course, I have my native name and all that. That’s still, pretty much, the main belief I hold. I have a different outlook on life than other people, and this has been guiding my life. I don’t do yoga anymore; I don’t know why it just happened, I guess. But I was doing yoga until I was maybe thirty or thirty-two, something like that.
IMV: Is it something you miss?
Rob: Sometimes, when I want to relax, I still know a lot (about yoga). My younger brother, at one point, since we’ve been raised into that, he had students and has been teaching yoga lessons. I could teach yoga because my mom was a master, and she taught me and my brother everything. Pretty much everything, and we were super good at it. A lot of technique and stretching for this and that, and it being helpful for this and certain stuff. Like I said, my brother stayed longer into it. He was teaching at a point with it. He had some students. I’ve never been interested in that. I’ve always wanted just to do music. I could start to do that again (yoga), but I don’t know (laughter).
IMV: What is the relationship between Necronomicon and your own spirituality?
Rob: Actually, pretty interrelated. Necronomicon is a part of me, it’s an extension of what I am. Everything I’m talking about in the lyrics is the life experience that I’ve been living. Back in the day, I was just talking about Lovecraftian mythos and stuff like that. When I started the band, I was 17 (laughs). I wasn’t singing about my spirituality and life experience; I was far from that. I was just writing metal. But with time, around 2017, I started thinking about why I don’t talk about what I know and what I’ve been experiencing. My knowledge about my spirituality and stuff like that. It’s how it all started.
IMV: Corpsepaint, or the application of stage makeup, is an important personal process. Can you tell me what your face paint means to you and how it transforms you?
Rob: Uh, first thing’s first, some people know, and some people don’t know, face-painting was big in the nineties. The idea of it was to get inspired by Celtic Frost, To Mega Therion era, so at that time, when we moved around and moved to Montreal, the face-painting, the corpsepaint, wasn’t as prominent. My brother, the bass player of the band at that time, he went more vampire-like with a really pale face. My drummer and I had just black under the eyes like Celtic Frost, To Mega Therion era, with nails on the arms. Classic, more underground, less refined. When the church burning and all these things happened out in Norway, when people started to freak out everywhere in the world, and it started to get pointed at here in Montreal. Even if I understand the reason why that happened, I don’t encourage people to do that, because there’s different ways to do it. I understand why people did that, and I agree to a certain point with the motives, but to do that, for me, is really immature. So what happened was that people started to point at us, and there were a lot of things going on, so we decided to take off our corpsepaint until an undetermined time. So we removed the corpsepaint, and those (the years without the corpsepaint) were the most painful years of my career. Every time I went on stage, I wasn’t feeling like myself. I was feeling like I was playing a game. And when we took back the corpsepaint some years later, I never felt so good. It never felt so good to go back on stage, ever. For me, it’s a process that’s super-super important for being myself because I drew a line a long time ago for various reasons. I drew a line between my personal life and my life in the band. I don’t mix one and the other. That’s really important for me. Some people do it differently. For me, it’s work, and I needed to draw a line. For me to get there, I need my corpsepaint, my armor, all that stuff, it’s super important. It doesn’t take me long. It takes me five minutes. Five minutes, everything is done, but it’s present like a force that I’m channeling, to be the Witch King. It’s the physical manifestation of what – what they call the voice of the dragon – which is channeled by the Witch King. So it’s super important for me. The most important [part of my stage attire] is usually the boots. When I put on the boots, it’s like grounding me into that energy, and after that, it’s the corpsepaint. But it’s super important.
IMV: As someone who has been involved in death metal from the beginning, how would you say that death metal and the appreciation of it has changed over the years?
Rob: Of course, there’s a lot of variation. The bigger thing about it is that it’s getting super-technical. I think it represents a generation of people that want to go fast, but they don’t take the time to learn properly. That’s my point of view. It’s easy now that anyone can grab a guitar, open Youtube, and just learn in a matter of a few months what would usually take years to learn. By doing that, you don’t learn how to let the music breathe. It’s like breathing. Metal, it gives you energy, it gives you life. Now it’s like fast food, like McDonald’s or whatever, so most of the bands these days are soulless. They’re empty. No matter how good they are [musically proficient], or fast, or technical, there’s no soul. On the last tour that we just finished, our session bass player listened to a lot of that stuff as a death metal musician. I was listening, and a lot of those bands were soulless. There’s no soul in there, it’s just like people masturbating on the guitar fretboard. Of course, that’s only my opinion. Myself, sometimes I try to put more technical stuff in my music, but every time I’m trying to do that, I don’t feel it. The way I compose is totally opposite of that. It’s related to feeling and emotion. It doesn’t feel how it should be. The best bands are the ones that have been around for over twenty years. Suffocation is a good example. Deicide is a good example. Those bands are still doing great and decent music.
IMV: Necronomicon have been around for over 30 years now. When all is said and done, years after you pass on, what do you want Necronomicon to be remembered for?
Rob: I don’t think about these things. I’m just doing my music; I don’t think about that. I take it one day at a time because the past is passed. You can’t change it, and the future doesn’t exist because it’s like a tree. We’re going forward, and there are multiple branches going in every direction. Depending on which direction it takes, it can lead you to one place or the total opposite direction. The future is unexistent until it starts to happen. We’re riding second by second, minute by minute, so I’m not thinking about that. Of course, I still want to go forward doing tours and the stuff that we’re doing. We’re selling more albums, we’ve released the best albums we’ve ever released with the last three albums, we are selling. I’m not talking about quantity, because the quantity is smaller because the industry has changed a lot, but in ratio, the band is bigger than they’ve ever been. It never stopped growing. For me, I’m taking it how it comes, and I’m trying not to focus too much on the future. It’s not easy, but I try really hard.
IMV: How was the tour with Suffocation and Belphegor? Was there a sense of camaraderie between you all since you’ve all been doing this for decades?
Rob: Oh, totally. Totally. Totally. Necronomicon and Suffocation have been friends for around twenty years. We never toured together previously, but we crossed paths on some festivals, but it was always something that we said – we should tour together – and now it finally happened. It happened one day, we were working on another tour, and suddenly Terrance Hobbs just wrote me and said, ‘Dude, I want you to come on the tour,’ Belphegor was up for it also, so they wanted us. It just happened like that. Literally, just like that. I said, wow, I’m going to hang out and go on the road with my buddies. I’m going with my friends. And at my age, when you’ve been around so long, my goal isn’t to tour with this big band, it’s just to tour with friends. For me, that’s more important because you all know each other, you all get along, and for me, that’s worth more than touring with, I don’t know which huge band. For me, I just want things to roll normal and easy and be sensible, so touring with friends is my biggest thing at the moment.
IMV: I heard that there was an accident on this tour. Can you tell me about the incident with your tour van hitting a deer?
Rob: Well, that was not a nice part of the tour. Other than that, everything was fine. We were doing really good; we had our people, our crowd. We’re doing super good every night. Merch-wise. Reaction-wise. It was fantastic until one night, we were in a super-good mood, and we were going to drive an hour-and-a-half, two hours, three- hours max, then sleep. And there’s a really big male buck, like, really fucking huge, just crossing, and we hit at like, seventy miles per hour. The frame of the truck was like a tank, and the hood just broke and jumped through the windshield, and that’s what protected us. Because at the speed we hit that, it was so huge, that animal was so huge, and I’m coming from the mountains of Quebec, and I’ve seen some big-ass ones, that one was huge, really big. If it wasn’t for the frame and the quality of the vehicle, we’d probably all be dead right now. The truck is totally destroyed. So we were stuck on the highway for six hours in the cold. It’d take a long time to explain everything because a lot of things happened, but all the factors put together were perfect, it wasn’t just the buck, it was the flying piece of metal. The 18-wheelers were flying by. Everything was perfect for someone to die right there. The weather and everything went well for what happened. It’s that truck that saved our life – how sturdy it was.
IMV: What things do you miss when you’re on tour? What is the first thing you do when you return from tour?
Rob: Hmm, that’s a good question. I’m a weird creature. I realize when I’m on tour, I don’t miss anything – I’m just happy to be there. Some people miss their bed, miss their friends, and I have no one at home. I’m living for my music. I wouldn’t mind if a tour could last forever. I’d be okay with that. I wasn’t missing anything. The other guys, maybe, my drummer was saying, ‘I can’t wait to be home.’ Me I don’t care. I mean, I’m a weird creature. It’s really hard to answer that because, before the accident, time was passing so fast, we were suddenly one month into the tour, and it felt like it started two days before. When things are going well, it’s easier. After the accident, pretty much everyone was in shock, we weren’t traveling as comfortable – we had to take what we had, it wasn’t comfortable at all. The last week and a half were pretty hard on us physically because it was not comfortable. We were not sitting properly and stuff like that. It felt like the road was longer, even if the longest drive was weeks behind us. So at that point, every time we were getting out of the truck, our legs were hurting, our back was hurting. At that point, you can’t wait to have everything finished. Now that I’m back home, I just went to have dinner with my brother, coffee, a glass of wine. I just went to have dinner with my brother last night, which was awesome. Just cutting myself off from everything and just being with my brother. Now I had some stuff to do; you know you need to follow-up with your band, you know, all that, the usual life stuff (laughs). Now I’m in a coffee shop enjoying a little pastry and having a coffee. It’s awesome. In the States, it’s really hard to find awesome coffee places; it’s little things like that. We have a big French heritage in Montreal, you know it was colonized by the French originally, so all the food is better. We usually have amazing wine and stuff like that. A lot of good food and good wine. I’m really epicurean. I like the beautiful and good. I like that kind of stuff. I’m pretty much going to take time doing stuff for me. I spend a lot of time by myself.
IMV: Thanks so much taking the time to answer these questions for me.
Rob: No problem, man. I hope you’ll be better. Drink a lot of water (laughs).
IMV: (Laughs) I appreciate it.
Rob: What you can do, you can go to the grocery store, buy ginger root, take a grater – grate it, put it in warm water, and you put a little bit of lemon juice, and you drink it like that. When you get to the bottom, when you get to the ginger root, you chew on it, and you swallow it. It’ll help you.
(If anyone was wondering, I did take Rob’s advice and treated myself to his suggested beverage that night)
Check out Necronomicon’s latest album, Unus: