The Absence is the full-length debut from Wisconsin’s Luna Mortis. It was produced by Jason Suecof, who also produced the four song demo they shopped to labels. Their sound isn’t easy to pigeonhole, with elements of progressive metal, death metal and other genres. Vocalist Mary Zimmer alternates melodic singing with aggressive yelling. Zimmer gives us the scoop on the making of the CD, the metal scene in Wisconsin, her classically trained background and many other subjects.
Chad Bowar: Give us a background of how Luna Mortis got together.
Mary Zimmer: Brian (Koenig, guitarist) and I went to music school together.
We both have music degrees like nerdy people. Jacob (Bare), our bass player, also went to the same college. Erik (Madsen, drummer) and Brian have known each other since they were six, and Cory (Scheider), our second guitarist, is the youngest member of the band by about eight years. He was Brian’s guitar student when he was 14. That’s the short end of a long, long story.
Why did you change the band name from The Ottoman Empire to Luna Mortis?
That’s the one question everybody has asked, and I tell people to Wikipedia the Ottoman Empire. The history’s pretty bleak. There’s a point where it’s okay to be offensive in metal, but there’s a point where it’s not cool. The original bass player, who hasn’t been in the band for several years, came up with the name. It was a long time ago, and they thought it sounded like a cool name at the time. We’ve been talking about changing the name for years, but finally decided to do it.
Madison, Wisconsin, where you guys are based, is a college town with a good music scene, but how is the metal scene there?
There isn’t really much of a metal scene in Madison.
The only band I know from Madison that ever got real big was Last Crack. They were on Roadrunner. But I’m happy to say that we’ve kind of started one, or at least revived one. It seems like we have full houses and things. It’s coming along, but historically Madison is a hippie town, not a metal town.
How did you originally hook up with Jason Suecof?
We were shopping to labels at the time, and were actually being looked at by Roadrunner when we did that demo. That’s how we met him. We did that demo, then they passed, obviously. But by that point Century Media had gotten wind of us and liked the stuff on the demo. Then we got signed and decided to go back to Jason. Four of the ten songs were already done, because we never released that demo. We just decided to turn it into an album.
Did you go to Florida to do the recording?
Yes, his studio is in Sanford, Florida. It’s near Orlando. We went down there to do that, which is nice, because it’s not Wisconsin and it wasn’t cold. I was cool with that.
Is his style hands off, or does he make suggestions to shape and change the music?
Jason is very hands on with the music. He’s really brilliant when it comes to producing music. He gives little ideas that make a huge difference. I’m blown away by him sometimes. He can make the smallest suggestions musically, and it’s something that should have been there all along.
Your band’s sound can be hard to categorize. Has it evolved over the years, or has it been pretty constant?
Overall it’s the same vibe, but the older stuff is more New Wave Of British Heavy Metal, Iron Maiden-ish kind of stuff. You can hear our metal roots in that. It’s also a little more proggy. As we’ve progressed the music has gotten darker and heavier with more elements of death metal coming in. We’re all happy with that evolution.
Which is easier for you, the singing or the screaming?
The screaming is so easy. If that was my only job and didn’t have to do any singing, I’d be hooked up. I don’t want to say that it’s easy for everybody that does it, but for me personally it’s way easier than singing. The singing is much harder.
Was vocal performance part of your studies in music school?
Yes. I was trained to be a classical singer. I did that for about five and a half years, and a lot of that was concurrent with my time in metal bands. I learned how to do the screaming based on a lot of technique I had learned from classical singing. I really love classical singing, but we don’t do that with Luna Mortis. We didn’t want to be another Nightwish or Epica. I sing in more of a belter or rock style, but I do have a lot of classical training.
You thanked Melissa Cross (a well known metal vocal instructor) in the credits of your CD. Did you study with her?
Yes. I went to New York and did lessons with her. It was awesome. She was amazing. She had to undo some of the classical things I was doing that I didn’t have to do anymore. I was using all these breath techniques for being on the stage without a microphone singing over an orchestra. It made my life a lot easier and refined what I did. She’s the only specialist I know in this type of music. She taught me a couple different screaming techniques, different colors that I hadn’t used before. I really enjoyed hanging with her.
On the CD there’s some overlap between the singing and screaming. How do you handle that playing live? I do the screaming, and Brian our guitar player does the singing. He has a tenor voice, and can replicate within reason whatever it is I do. It’s funny, because none of the guys can scream. I’ve been trying to teach Brian how to do it, and he’s getting the hang of it a little bit.
What inspired the album title The Absence?
It’s really not that interesting. We needed to come up with a title and liked that song title as the title of the album. The album wasn’t all written at one time, but a musical theme came out. Jason (Suecof) pointed out in the studio that all our songs were about the end of stuff. We didn’t even realize it until later. When we listened to the whole album later, that song title sums up the feeling of the album.