Interview: Andrew Lee – Ripped To Shreds

October saw the release of Ripped to Shreds’ third full-length album, 劇變 (Jubian), which is one of the best death metal records of the year. Our friend Peter K., aka Trendcrusher, was lucky enough to speak to Ripped to Shreds mastermind Andrew Lee on release day. They spoke about some of the inspirations for 劇變 (Jubian), Lee’s many side projects, Asian representation in the metal and hardcore scenes, and a lot more. It is a great conversation, which can be read below. It is also quite enjoyable to watch or listen to. You can do both on Trendcrusher’s website here.

Peter K: I’ve got Andrew Lee of, Ripped to Shreds. How’s it going, Andrew?

Andrew Lee: Not bad, man. How’s it going for you?

Peter K: Good. I mean, it’s the morning here, so can’t complain. First of all, I must say congratulations on the release of your third album, Jubian which is out today on Relapse Records.

Andrew Lee: Thanks man, it was kind of a long journey. We wrote it really quickly and then it took a couple of months to record the whole thing. We started recording in late September and then we didn’t finish up until January. So I’m glad it’s finally done and finally out there.

Peter K: I must say, the album is a fucking banger.  I know it’s very cliche to say, but the album does shred. Would you agree?

Andrew Lee: I love shred guitar solos. Ever since I got into playing guitar, I’ve just been into solos from day one. So any excuse I can find to put in some guitar solos, I’m all for it.

Peter K: So I’m sure there’s a lot to talk about guitar music, with you. For those wondering, Jubian, in which language does it mean Upheaval?

Andrew Lee: Mandarin.

Peter K: Oh, it’s in Mandarin. All right. One of the first things that strikes me about the album is, while this is the band Ripped to Shreds’ third album, this is the first band album, if that makes sense because the first two were kind of done solo. How would you describe that evolution literally from it being a one-man project to now a 4 piece band?

Andrew Lee: Originally, because I never planned to play live, but I started getting some offers and I thought, OK, maybe I should just take the plunge and find some people to play with. And then once I hooked up with Ryan and Brian and we started playing together, to me it just made sense. (I decided) you know what, I’m just going to make them a part of the full band. So actually the first full band recording we did was the flexi-disc for Decibel Magazine. That was “Sacrificial Fire.”  That let me know what everyone was capable of and how I should write to really take advantage of everyone’s abilities and then when it came to the new album, I had a lot of confidence in what I could do and the confidence in knowing that whatever I write these guys can handle it.

And it also frees me up a bit to do live stuff because if  I’m worried that, okay, now we play live. What if there’s like too many parts? I mean, the long song on this album, we aren’t going to play it live. 

Peter K: I’m glad you addressed the elephant in the room already, got it out of the way.

Andrew Lee: Yes. Having a second guitarist and second vocalist, lets us try dual vocals live and we can play all the harmonies live.  I think it just lets me write with confidence that I can be assured everything is going to be translated well live.

Peter K: Yeah. And I think that’s one of the interesting parts that especially when you see in death metal. I mean,  let’s not get into that whole tech discussion about recording studio and live. But there’s something I would say, watching death metal live, there’s a certain primal aspect about it. That’s why I enjoy going to concerts. It’s that raw feel in there. You don’t want that processed sound. Oh, you definitely don’t want a backing track, right?

Andrew Lee: Yeah. At least, okay, I understand why symphonic bands have backing tracks, but it’s not for our kind of music. We were very punk-influenced, late 80s hardcore, Swedish hardcore. The other guys all played in crossover or modern hardcore bands. So there’s also a big punk sensibility and I think whenever we talk about Swedish death metal, it owes a huge debt to the Swedish punk scene. So I think it would just be really strange for us to be a kind of band that would use backing tracks and we have to – well if you’ve got a light show and you’ve got a light show, and you’ve got fire and pyrotechnic stuff, okay yeah, you got to have that all synced to click track and you’ve got all your laptops and backing tracks or whatever. But at the end of the day, we’re just like a dirty death metal band. We don’t have all these fancy furls and stuff. We try to present the raw live energy.

Peter K: Yeah. Now, I wanted to save this for the later part of our conversation, but since you brought up Swedish death metal, I mean I don’t want to immediately get your thoughts – and I’m going to say it quickly so you don’t have to think too much – thoughts on the latest In Flames singles.

[Laughter] 

Andrew Lee: They’re trying to trick us. We know for the last 15 years In Flames has put out nothing but terrible albums. The new In Flames singles, they’re trying to trick us and make us think that they’re going to put out an album that doesn’t suck. But when the full album comes out it’s going to suck for sure. That’s how I feel about it.

Peter K: Haha! Because, I have to be honest, I mean, for the longest time, especially when I heard the first singles, I was like, this is In Flames’ reaction to The Halo Effect. And then when I heard Ripped To Shreds, which has only been a few days, I was like, fuck, can someone send this to the In Flames guys? Because I mean, it’ll just kind of jog their memory and remind them what they used to sound like, right? And I’m glad at least you’re not kind of like hiding your influences, so to say. 

Andrew Lee: Right.

Peter K: It’s kind of straight up. 

Andrew Lee: I mean, In Flames was literally the first metal band I ever got into. It’s what introduced me to metal and got me into playing guitar. Uh, and this would have been like 2005 or 2006. And so I actually have a soft spot for um, Soundtrack to Your Escape.

Peter K: Yeah, I remember that album. 

Andrew Lee: I can listen to it now and I know objectively it’s not a good album, but I can still enjoy it because it means a lot to me when I listen to the Newton Flame singles, it’s almost like, maybe it’ll be good this time, but I know it’s a trick. I’m pretty sure it’s a trick.

Peter K: Alright, so now that we’ve got that out of the way, let’s dive a bit more into Jubian. And one of the things I was very curious about is that a lot of the death metal I enjoy, like Bolt Thrower and stuff like that, while it’s kind of inspired by war, you decided to steer away from that right?  And stay true to the whole aspect of your Chinese heritage. Can you tell us more about the whole Sun, Moon, Holy Cult? Because from what I’ve read, it’s actually inspired by martial art novels that are written by the Chinese author Jin Yong. So tell us about that whole aspect. I’m really curious.

Andrew Lee: Yeah. I feel like death metal has a pretty narrow range of, uh, acceptable topics, you know? It has to be dark and negative in order to match the general feeling of music, right? So you’re automatically kind of limited to violent things. Death, war, pain, monsters. And I love Bolt Thrower. I love Asphyx. I love Hail of Bullets. Uh, but the thing I see with all these war-themed bands, it’s very much Eurocentric. Almost everyone only sings about World War ll. I mean, even World War I is like pretty rare. And then outside of the European theater, basically, there aren’t any bands that sing about it. So for me, when it came to approaching historical themes or war themes, I felt like I wanted to do it from the Chinese perspective because it’s just something that hasn’t been touched on, and there’s thousands of years of history and totally brutal shit that you can sing about that no one really has before. 

So that’s where I’m kind of coming from with songs like “Violent Compulsion…” or like “Opening Salvo,” or like  “Open Grave,” all those songs.  And then for the “Sun Moon Holy Cult”… So, Jin Yong is one of the biggest martial arts novelists of all time. He wrote a lot of novels that are super influential still today. They’re still making TV spin-offs and movies of his books, even though they were written back like – they were written as newspaper serials back in the sixties and seventies. They were later collected into volumes and sold as books. So, the main series that I took inspiration from would have been “The Smiling Proud Wanderer,” and there are a whole bunch of adaptations of it. For people older than me, they would know the Hong Kong 1987 I think, adaptation, but that’s kind of like the generation before mine. And then, so I mainly know the 2001 mainland China CCTV adaptation, and also the Jet Li movies. But yeah, so basically there’s all sorts of different martial arts sects. Some are against the government, some are just for themselves. There’s always like a beggar or peasant kind of sect where it’s like homeless people or otherwise downtrodden parts of society. And they’re all trying to become the strongest martial arts warrior in the world. Right? So that’s kind of where you can find a lot of interesting conflict, or it’s just generally violent stuff.

Peter K: Okay, so I think you’ve piqued my interest, and I hope definitely for all the readers. Now, another thing I was very curious to talk to you about, I read that actually the album was recorded and mixed at your home studio. When was the last time you actually heard the album in its entirety?

Andrew Lee: Probably like an hour ago. [laugher] You know, it’s…  I’m not someone who’s shy about listening to their own music. Because when I write music, my biggest goal is to write something that I want to hear. I want to write my dream album. If it came out and I just saw it in a store somewhere, I wanted to be an album that I would be like, “I need to listen to that.” And when I put it on, I want to be like, “This is exactly what I’m looking for.”

So, I don’t feel weird about listening to my own music at all. And I listened to it a lot when I was mixing it, but when you hear it in the little bits and pieces and you don’t hear it as a record front to back, you know, it’s a slightly different experience. And of course, once I finished mixing and handed it off to Damien [Herring] to do the mastering, he also imparts his own sonic touch to it. So what I heard during the tracking and the mixing here is still a bit different than the final product.

Peter K: Okay. Because that’s one of the things, I think when you work on your own music, right? It’s like you reach that saturation point in there and that’s what I was kind of checking on.

Andrew Lee: It helps that I am usually working on five different projects at once. I’ve got another album coming out on November fourth. Houkago Grind Time. And that was recorded in December. I just took December off because we had pretty big gaps between recording the drums just because the way that we did the drums. Brian would take like two songs and really practice them and he would come down here and we’d record two songs and then he would go back, spend another couple of weeks studying the next few songs, and then come back here and record two songs. So that way we spaced out the recordings over several months, and Brian was able to really focus and practice on each song. But then that left me a lot of time to kind of do whatever down here. So in that period of time I was like, “Okay, you know what. it’s time to record a new Houkago Grindtime album.”

Peter K: This is the point of the interview where I have to take a deep breath and ask you –  Azath, Skullsmasher, Houkago Grindtime, Archaganini – you got a solo project that you did also last year. Do you have time for any more projects?

Andrew Lee: It’s actually kind of funny because I’m not actually really working on music every single day. Okay. I have to pick up my guitar and play and practice. That’s like a daily thing. But when it comes to actually writing music, I have to be in a mode for writing, and basically I can’t let anything else distract me while I’m doing it. So maybe I have like a month or two where every day I’m not really doing much. I play guitar, I play some video games, watch some anime, and then I get an idea for some kind of release that I want to do. Then I drop everything. I have to work on it every single day. Write, record, and then I only eat, sleep, drink, and breathe this release until I’m basically done. Once that’s done, then it’s kind of like I’m in hibernation again. I’m not really doing anything until I get another idea.

Peter K: Okay. That’s a very interesting approach to take, especially considering you have multiple projects in there. So that’s a smart way of doing things. Now, I have to quickly ask you. Because considering you talked at the start about the Chinese stories, I’m assuming we’re in a similar age bracket. So one thing I always notice, especially now, because I live in India, so at least I’m familiar with some of the Asian bands. But growing up in the US, what were some of the Asian role models you saw in metal? 

Andrew Lee: there weren’t any. There’s basically none. Death Angel, they’re Filipinos, but uh, they’re like maybe like two whole generations before mine. They got big in the early 80s, something like that. And I was born in 1990. So I didn’t start getting into metal until 2003, 2004, so at that time the only Asians I could look to were basically like DragonForce. Herman Li from DragonForce, and like Dave Suzuki from Vital Remains. And that was kind of it. There’s basically no Asian musicians in Western metal bands at the time. And then when I started going to local shows, that’s also something that’s very visible. Even though I live in California, which is something like 30 or 40% Asian in my area, and then depending on which specific areas you go to, it’s like 60 or 70%. But when I go to metal shows, it’s still mostly only white Americans.

Peter K: Yeah.

Andrew Lee: And something really interesting I noticed in the last couple of years. When I started going to hardcore shows in the area, it felt like I was in high school again, because everywhere I look there’s a ton of Asian kids. And I feel like a big part of that is because there’s a lot of hardcore bands now in the Bay Area with so many Asians in them. Like Hands of God, like Gulch, like Tsunami, like Spinebreaker. And I feel like having people (in bands) that look like them draws these people to those communities. So that’s something I really hope Ripped to Shreds can kind of do and also inspire other Asian American people to start their own bands.

Peter K: Yeah, that’s quite interesting. I mean, like, even if you look at it in Asia or, like, Southeast Asia, a lot of your idols are still the Western Valley, like the west.

Andrew Lee: Yes.

Peter K: Especially for an Indian context, you just kind of figure out, like, “Hey, he looks a bit Indian, but he’s not really Indian.” It also becomes something like that. But I just want to wrap up, I know you’ve got a relief show coming up with Ghoul, Wolf King, and Doomsday. I’m guessing you’ll share members, so that helps. But you’ve also got a European tour coming up with Live Burial next year, which has been announced. But for all of those (reading) from the rest of the USA and also in Asia, do you have any news, any updates for all of us here?

Andrew Lee: Not yet. I mean, I’m sure we’re going to play, like, a couple of times locally before we go to Europe, but we don’t have anything booked yet for the East Coast. We’re talking with some people, you know, we’re talking with some bands and some friends. We might come to the East Coast next year. But it’s not like, for sure because we’re all like, I work in IT. The other dudes in the band, they work. They’re engineers or they’re photographers. So we have regular jobs. It’s kind of difficult to take off long periods of time to go on tour. So our big tour next year is going to be Europe. I want to come back to Asia. I want to do Japan. I want to do Malaysia and Indonesia and Taiwan again and all that. But it won’t be next year. Hopefully 2024.

Peter K: Okay, and my final question for you, since we talked live, what’s one song from the new album that you can’t wait to rip out live?

Andrew Lee: Um, we’ve been playing “Reek [of Burning Freedom],” and we’ve been playing “Peregrination [to the Unborn Eternal Mother]” a bunch live already. We’ve talked about playing “Race Traitor” live. It’s a tough song. It’s very demanding on our picking hands for the guitarist, and it’s very demanding on our drummer because it’s kind of, like, nonstop. So I really want to put it in the setlist because I think it’s a super sick song. It’ll come off really great live. We’ll have to wait and see.

Peter K: “Race Traitor” (is) one of the tracks you definitely want to check out live when Ripped to Shreds plays. Thanks so much, Andrew, for taking time out and speaking to us. And congratulations again on the release of your album.

Andrew Lee: Hey, man, thanks for having me. 

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s