Interview: Lee Harrison of Monstrosity
Interviewed by: Jason Repantis
Lee Harrison, as humble as he is, has every right to be considered a death metal OG. A Florida native, he’s been in the scene since the beginning. After short stints in Malevolent Creation (1989) and Atheist (1990), he started Monstrosity and never looked back. A drummer, guitarist, lyricist, producer and label owner, he also has an excellent memory (as you will read below) and I was lucky to catch up with him prior to the band’s show in London.
The Razor's Edge: Browsing online I couldn’t find when was the last time you played in London. We missed you on your last European run in 2018 as there were no UK dates on it.
Lee Harrison: Well, I played here with Terrorizer twice during the past couple of years. (ref: Lee plays guitar in Terrorizer and recorded/co-wrote the band’s latest album 'Caustic Attack') Before that, I'm gonna say Camden Underworld. Maybe 2006. Yeah, we also did Manchester, Leeds, Glasgow back then.
The Razor's Edge: Am I correct in saying that you have personally written a lot of tracks already for the follow up to 'Passage To Existence'?
Lee: Yes, the drums and guitars are done. We're working on setting up the bass tracks right now. So it's not like imminent. We take our time as you know, but it's not gonna be eleven years this time. Hopefully we're on a path where things can move forward. I hate to ever say a date because it never works out. It's always been that way. Our average is about four years between albums. The one album we had eleven years ('Spiritual Apocalypse' (2007) until the band’s latest album in 2018) and then with the pandemic we're a little bit behind. I actually wrote all the songs for this next album and I'm working on a song already right now for after that. I'm trying to get ahead of the game a little bit, but it's hard.
The Razor's Edge: So the difference is that 'Passage to Existence'” was more of a collaboration, but the next one is pretty much your songs and riffs.
Lee: Yeah pretty much but there are songs I wrote myself like 'Slaves of the Evermore', 'The Proselygeist', 'Eternal Void'. And from the classic era of the band songs like 'Storm Winds', some of 'Fatal Millenium', not the super technical stuff, that was Jason Morgan but then a lot of my riffs are mixed in.
The Razor's Edge: I'm glad you mentioned 'Slaves to the Evermore', one of my favourite songs from 'Passage...' for which you’ve written the music and the lyrics. It’s almost prophetic as it makes you think how greedy and naïve the human race can be. How do you come up with ideas on what to write?
Lee: I just do it man..
The Razor's Edge: Just thoughts in your mind?
The Razor's Edge: Do you try and write lyrics every day?
Lee: What I tend to do is like when I was on the Inhuman Condition tour (ref: Lee was the session drummer for one of the band’s tours) and things like that, I would just write down passages and stuff. Like for this album, I'm working on the lyrics now actually. How I do it is I kind of go through the song and then just kind of whisper vocal patterns without words. Even count along the bars and then I fill in the syllables with words. That's the quickest way to do it for me. I've noticed recently that when I prewrite lyrics, they tend to not fit and I end up using pieces instead of using them as whole.
The Razor's Edge: Do you read any books for inspiration?
Lee: I mean, I do read books, but a lot of the books I read are music books or technical books or rock and roll books, so I don't get like, subject matter from books necessarily.
The Razor's Edge: Is the new album going to come out under Metal Blade?
Lee: We still deal with Metal Blade and at this point, yeah, we will work with them again
The Razor's Edge: As a label owner with Conquest Music would you ever think of going independent or you would rather just license?
Lee: That's probably what's going to happen with the next record. Because in America we're there, you know, in Europe and other territories, we can't be there we’re kind of forced to get behind somebody.
The Razor's Edge: Speaking of labels and reissues, 'Imperial Doom' whose anniversary this tour is celebrating, came out of Nuclear Blast and has not been reissued. It’s quite expensive to buy on vinyl.
Lee: There was a reissue in 1997 I think but it was on CD and only in America. At this point, I think it's a complicated subject.
The Razor's Edge: Are you in touch with Nuclear Blast?
Lee: No, not anymore. We don't deal with that. We don't talk with them. We do have some plans for it but as you probably read in previous interviews, we were never happy with the album. We were young kids. The timing's hideous. Some of the playing is hideous. The drums were too loud, the guitars could barely be heard. In some of those blast beat riffs, the guitars are just inaudible. I want the fans to be able to hear the riffs so that's another reason we've never really been like so antsy to get it back out on the street. We’re kind of embarrassed to be honest. 'In Dark Purity' was the first album that sound wise we really achieved our goal.
The Razor's Edge: Do you find that a lot of people glorify like the sound that you’ve described ?
Lee: Of course they love it. You know, the worst thing we've ever done? It's like the Brazilian live album that we did which is some of the worst playing we've ever done in our lives. It was so hot we were just dying of heat. All the songs are dragging slow and there's just all kinds of mistakes. It's like a comedy album more than a regular album for us [laughs].
The Razor's Edge: Also a lot of younger fans are not familiar with how hard it was figuring out how to play extreme metal.
Lee: Absolutely. There was no Derek Roddy out there teaching people how to play fast drums and there was no youtube to teach you all these techniques. With every generation, things get better and evolve. As kids we could never dream of playing, like, John Longstreth, Derek Roddy and George Kollias, you didn't think it was humanly possible.
The Razor's Edge: Did you receive a lot of pushback from people in Florida and the music scene there when you started playing a kind of heavy metal that was different and more extreme?
Lee: Yeah there was a certain excitement about it though, you know what I mean? There was something that was coming, you could tell back then, more and more people were getting into it. But I remember when Cynic was a thrash metal band and Malevolent Creation before the album and stuff. And I remember just the early days like that, when it was kind of a surprise when Florida became the place, I didn't really see that necessarily coming, but it was cool. I think pretty much the main reason it all happened there is Morrisound studios. Without Morrisound things might not have happened.
The Razor's Edge: You were there in the beginning and still here decades later. How do you stay disciplined and motivated to still do music every day?.
Lee: That's just what I do. I am dedicated for life.
The Razor's Edge: Did you know it was going to be like that?
Lee: Since seven years old. Kiss changed my life at seven years old with Love Gun. That 1977-1978, period was just transforming. When you look at that gatefold of Kiss Alive II and you're hearing the live album it just made me want to play music. From there it was AC/DC, Van Halen and then eventually Iron Maiden,Judas Priest, Metallica, Slayer and then as time goes on it got heavier and heavier.
The Razor's Edge: Did you start playing guitar or drums first?
Lee: I started with guitar. But I'm left handed and my dad wouldn't let me play left handed. So I just got frustrated and my dad had a friend who taught drums so I ended up going for lessons. I would go every Wednesday to his house and we would do 15 minutes hands and then 15 minutes on the kit. At that point I might have been nine years old. Before that I started with spoons on magazines and then my dad built me a little rubber, it was like a little wood block and he put like a tire inner tube, so that was my wood pad and eventually I got a snare and then finally I got a five piece drum set, which I still have actually in my house, old Slingerland drum set, five piece. When I was 16, I saved up, worked at a movie theater for 3.25 an hour saved up for this black drum set that I used for the early part of my career with Monstrosity. That was a horrible kit, but whatever, that was what I had and that's what I used. So when I was around 9 or 10 years old we had like a neighborhood band, we were called the Ozone. We would practice and then after practice I would play a little bit on guitar and eventually I just got used to playing right handed guitar. I am glad about it too because it just makes life easier.
The Razor's Edge: Where did you grow up?
Lee: I grew up in Miami until I was 11 and then we moved over to the west coast of Florida just south of Sarasota and there was nobody into music. There were three kids in the whole school that had even heard of Iron Maiden, you know. I was like 12, 13 and I was jamming with kids that were like 16 and 17, they were older and they were like more about the party drinking and smoking. They weren't serious about music, it was a pipe dream for them while I was focused. So we recorded a couple of demos and they were off doing other things. So eventually I went out and I was playing more guitar. I went and bought a Kramer striker guitar and a little amp. Then I would record drums and play that through my stereo and record guitar on top using this two track demo recorder. I was also writing lyrics and in my imagination I wanted to do this full time one day. When I turned 18, I had my drum set that I saved up for, I packed it up, threw it in the van and moved to Miami. And that's when I met Cynic and I met Mark the bass player, the original Monstrosity bass player who is actually playing with us on this tour.
The Razor's Edge: What was your impression of Cynic at the time?
Lee: I was impressed with them because they were actually a functioning band and that was the first time I really hung out with some guys that were serious about this as I was. These guys were ahead of me, whereas in the past I was always the guy ahead so to speak. That was kind of inspirational, so I helped them for a while do their thing, pass out flyers with them and help them promote gigs or take them to the gigs in my van. So from then I ended up with this hardcore band called KGB from Miami and that bass player taught me a lot about drums and odd times. He was a good player and stuff but they really were kind of at the tail end of their path.
The Razor's Edge: Did you join Malevolent Creation around that time?
Lee: Malevolent Creation had moved down from Buffalo, so I was seeing Phil at all the shows. And since we were hooking Cynic up with shows with Malevolent, I was talking to him and they weren't happy with their drummer, he couldn't do double bass, which was in 1989. So pretty much at the beginning of 1989 I left Miami and moved up, took all my stuff, packed up my van again and moved to Fort Lauderdale and joined Malevolent. Within three weeks we're playing our first shows and that was even before the Florida boom. That was February or March of 89 because in June of that year I remember Phil coming into the rehearsal warehouse with Slowly We Rot and Beneath The Remains copies and that was when we kind of started to realise that, you know, there was stuff going on.
The Razor's Edge: Is it because of these two albums you ended up recording 'Imperial Doom' at Morrisound in 1992 with Jim Morris?
Lee: I was friends with a band called Elyzium that were recording their album there at Morrisound and I met Tom Morris and you know, kind of saw what was going on there. Scott Burns might have been around, but I didn't meet him yet. I remember right after that there was a warehouse party and all the bands were there, Morbid Angel, Obituary, Cynic, Chuck was coming out with James Murphy which was like the first time people were going to meet the new guitar player for Death.
We're all talking and hanging out with people and you know, next thing someone says to me this is Scott Burns, and I was like, “wait right here one minute” and I go and grab Paul from Cynic and I grabbed Phil and brought them over to introduce to Scott Burns. Not that they wouldn't meet him anyway, probably, but it was just that's how it went down. And so we went back to Fort Lauderdale and like I said, we were playing shows every two weeks, this place called the Treehouse. Phil [Fasciana, Malevolent Creation founding member] had a lot of brothers and cousins that he had brought down from Buffalo. So we kind of had a built in crowd, you know? The club owners were like, “yeah, let's book these guys, they bring people!” One of the their first out of town shows Obituary played was when we brought them down at that venue in ’89. We also brought Morbid Angel down to play with us, their album hadn’t been out in America yet, it might have been out in Europe. So that was when the scene was like, blowing up for sure, there was hope of getting a record deal. So I sent the video from those shows to Roadrunner.
The Razor's Edge: How did things go from then on?
Lee: I started talking to Monte Conner [A&R at Roadrunner] and I was gonna do the second demo with Malevolent. Unfortunately I had gone to an Atheist show and I did a stage dive and I broke my wrist so I couldn't play. So we had to cancel the second demo, and then after that me and Phil had arguments which lead to me being out of the band. I wasn't really happy about it, but whatever, it's the way it was. So I went back home to my parents house in Sarasota and I was talking with Roger from Atheist, and they were like, “our drummer's going to college, we need a drummer, we haven't practiced in like six months, we’ve got the album waiting to come out”. I knew they were going somewhere. I had a cassette tape of 'Piece Of Time', and I started learning it. And then they were like ”Steve's gonna stay, he's not going to college, so we don't need you”. And then they called me like a month later on the morning of the show night to come down and do it. So I went and played with Atheist and half the songs were good and the other half were horrible, that was my one time with Atheist.
The Razor's Edge: How did you meet George Fisher who ended up being the Monstrosity vocalist for the first two albums?
Lee: So after that, I was at a Morbid Angel show in Tampa in 1990. After it was over we were all hanging out at the club. The Cynic guys were also there, they were doing their 1990 demo and I brought Kelly from Atheist and myself and we ended up doing backing vocals on it. Anyway, after that show I met this guitar player named Ted who was from Maryland and was playing for a band there named Exmortis. They were looking for a drummer and I had nothing going on, I was looking for something since the Atheist thing didn’t work out. I flew up there but he got kicked out of Exmortis so he wanted to start a new band with this singer named George from Baltimore. We drove up to Baltimore picked Georgia up and then we drove up to Philadelphia to hang out and meet other people in the scene like John McEntee and Alex Books from Agoraphobia who now plays with Immolation. Coincidentally, after I had left Malevolent Creation, Mark had joined [Van Erp, original Monstrosity bassist who is also playing live with the band these days] and they were playing a show in New Jersey. We all went to the show and ended up forming the band’s first line up so that was another one of those weekends where a lot of things came together.
The Razor's Edge: How did you end up writing songs together after you all met?
Lee: After that weekend, I went back to Sarasota the plan was to eventually try to do something with this Ted dude and George. About a month later Mark called me and he's like “dude.. Phil kicked me out of the band” and he had a house in Fort Lauderdale that was paid for for the year. So I basically packed up my drums and moved down to Fort Lauderdale into that house. So we wrote 'Definitive Inquisition' and 'Burden of Evil'. Those were the first two songs we ever wrote. We were talking to Roadrunner and there was a little gossip circle about all of the bands getting signed at the time, Suffocation, Immolation.. So anyway we had a show with Massacre and I called George and asked if he wanted to come down and do it. Ted wasn’t up for it but Jon Rubin had just been kicked out of Malevolent Creation at that time. So we all got together and formed Monstrosity and opened for Massare. We did our first demo and started sending it everywhere but at that point Roadrunner had signed like 10 bands. They wanted us but it was one too many at that time and so they hooked us up with Nuclear Blast that ended up releasing 'Imperial Doom'.