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Interview: Make Them Suffer’s Sean Harmanis on the new album ‘How To Survive A Funeral’

“Everyone’s going to die and it sucks and you can’t do anything about it. And what I think is interesting and beautiful about that is in life, you can have a lot of conflicts and disagreements with people – people are just making enemies all over the world right now, it feels like the whole world is in turmoil – but in death, everyone is the same. Everyone dies … and it’s this massive equaliser for everything and I think there’s some beauty in that.”  That’s the overall message of Make Them Suffer’s fourth full length, ‘How To Survive A Funeral’, according to founder and lead vocalist Sean Harmanis.  “There are some songs that are just straight up personal for me where I’m just exploring some darker feelings inside myself, and then other songs are about specific people I know – things I’ve experienced – so it’s a bit of a mixed bag in that regard.”

Harmanis has always been interested in the contrast of light and dark elements, so the word ‘funeral’ in this instance is quite dark and morbid in a sense, but, turning it into a title with ‘How To Survive’ was a light hearted joke. “It’s meant to be akin to one of those books that you read: ‘How to survive an earthquake’, ‘how to survive a drive-by’ or whatever it may be,” he says. “Musically, that idea of light and dark and the juxtaposition runs rampant throughout the record.  We just felt it was a very fitting title, as well as also embodying the meaning of the lyrics of the title track of the album as well.”

The frontman says the way the tracks flow into each other is almost seamless.  “Releasing singles is fun and it’s been great that we’ve had such a positive response for everything so far, but it’s really an album that works very well as a whole.  It’s definitely the work that I’d be most proud of to date.  I’m just really excited for everyone to hear it.” 

In terms of the music writing, instrumentation, melodies and riffs, everything was composed by Harmanis.  The lyrics were mostly composed by him too, aside from the single, Erase Me, which keyboardist and clean vocalist Booka Nile worked with him on.  “We wanted the vocals in the chorus to be quite prominent, and I just wanted her to be there for that process so that we could write a melody and lyrics that really fit well with her voice.” Lead guitarist and backing vocalist Nick McLernon, drummer Jordan Mather and bassist Jaya Jeffery then worked their magic in the studio. On the production front, they enlisted the assistance of Drew Fulk aka WZRDBLD, who has worked with artists like Motionless In White, Bullet For My Valentine, Yelawolf and Lil’ Wayne. The band travelled to LA to shack up at Fulk’s studio; the first time in their career working this closely with a producer.

Not everything was smooth going though, as some of the albums were sent out early due to miscommunication. “Some people already have the album in the States.  We’ve been ripping our hair out over that, but something always seems to go wrong when it comes to album releases. You can never really have a perfect release. I’m really confident in the product itself, so I’m quite happy to stand behind it regardless.”

The cover art this time around was more hands on. Composed by Harmanis and a longtime friend and photographer, they workshopped a bunch of ideas and tried a selection of different photos.  “That was the one that stuck that we were most happy with,” he says.  “That was a really fun process. It’s been super rewarding being more involved in the artwork side of things for the band. We had a bunch of shots and we weren’t really happy with them.  We had all these flowers that we bought for the previous shots.  (The model is) our friend Sharni, who just happened to live in the area where we were taking the photos and we just called her up last minute and said, ‘Hey, do you want to come over and model for this photo for the album art?’  She’s in a bathtub and there’s flowers all around her. We turned all the lights off and blocked out any light that was coming into the room.  So it’s pitch black and first we covered her and the flowers in talcum powder then basically put the camera on a 10-second shutter speed above her face and then painted on the light with a cold light torch, so she had to be very still.”

Celebrating 10 years of musical output with a new record this year, Make Them Suffer now stand alongside Karnivool and Voyager as one of WA’s biggest metal bands.  Pretty impressive considering those groups had a 10-year head start.

How To Survive A Funeral is out digitally on June 19 and physically on July 10 via Greyscale Records

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