LA-based Groove Metallers, Once Human are primed to release their third full-length album, Scar Weaver on February 11th via Edel Music/Ear Music. Frontwoman Lauren Hart took time out to chat with RAMzine ahead of the release; we covered everything from her start in music, working with Machine Head’s Robb Flynn and Kamelot, her creative processes and everything in between.
RAMzine’s Jay Brown [JB]: The big subject we’re talking to artists about is of course Covid, it’s still around and was still a big issue last year, how much of an impact did it have on the recording and the release of the new record?
Lauren Hart [LH]: It impacted the release for sure, I think everyone, all labels around the world didn’t know what to do in the situation. They didn’t know if they should release or wait. Especially with a new band, it’s important to release an album around a tour. It’s [also] very important to get on the road playing it live [as] it’s the best promotion you can get for an album. So our label thought it would best to wait until we had a tour but even before that [happended] the album was pretty much done two years before it was released.
We had five years between Evolution and Scar Weaver and that’s because I was out with Kamelot for the tour cycle of The Shadow Theory and then Logan was out with Machine Head on the twenty-five year anniversary tour. Then when Logan got back, Max Karon, our guitar player had already written ten songs for Once Human, all done, ready to go. Then it was up to me to finish my lyrics and toplines on top of that, so the album was petty much done. Then when the pandemic hit we had all this extra time and I’m a perfectionist so it’s never done you know? Unless I have a deadline, it’s never done so I just kept changing things, Max and I re-wrote some stuff and I think it actually became better because of the pandemic. It’s a terrible thing that’s happened in the world, the pandemic, but if I wanted to try and look on the bright side it would definitely be that. If it wasn’t for that, I don’t think Rob would have had the time to do ‘Deadlock’ so for that I’m grateful.
JB: With things now starting to finally improve around the world with the pandemic do you feel this album is a cathartic release from everything the world and yourselves have been through? Especially when you can get back on tour and have that release…
LH: Well we were really lucky, we got to do a tour with Cradle of Filth in the US so yeah it felt really good to just vent on stage. It felt good to just be myself again really because it’s sort of how this pandemic is making me feel, it’s like I can’t live, I can’t be myself and live the life I like – but when I got on stage I felt like me again, you know? I got to express my art and as far as the music goes, I know that the pandemic has shaped my lyrics in a very dire and down, dark way. On our previous album Evolution, things are a lot more triumphant and feel-good and I for the life of me could not write something feel-good, and that was just the weight of the world.
JB: Scar Weaver, drops on February 11th, I saw in the press release that the band has described this as your best album yet? That you’ve really found your footing?
LH: I think we’re always growing and always learning, I think that in myself I’ve shown growth as a vocalist but I don’t know, I think it depends on the person who’s listening. I know a lot of people who really connect with the first album and then some people who are just die-hard Evolution fans or Eye of Choas fans, then this album, I guess it just depends on each unique person but there are some things I really love on Evolution as far as the lyrics go and then musically things that I really love on this album that show we’ve come a long way so, I don’t know, I love them all! They are like my children, I can’t pick a favourite! They all have a meaningful impact on my life and I can’t say that this is it you know?
JB: Yeah, I totally understand that, I’ve personally been really enjoying it. To me, you seem like a band that has a really strong bond between all members, are you all based in the same area or are you spread further apart?
LH: Not so much anymore, we all dispersed, we all used to live in a house at the beginning of writing this record, Max, Logan and I and another roommate all lived in the same house together so that made things really productive and the studio was there. We are all really close, we’re all really good friends and when we get together we just pick up where we left off like a group of best friends. We’ve all had to adapt to what’s going on so we had to split off.
JB: You mentioned a tour with Cradle, do you have any more tour dates lined up? You must be itching to get back on the stage again, especially to promote this album?
LH: We do have tours that we’ve been talking about but it’s up to the world whether or not they can happen! Finger crossed, I really got tired of saying ‘guess what tour coming soon!’ only for nothing to happen, so I’m just waiting until I’m there and playing the first night or I won’t believe it! We’re just hoping for the best at this point.
JB: There’s nothing worse than getting people’s hopes up only to have to cancel at the last minute…
LH: Yeah and I think everyone is on board with that too, as soon as a tour is announced everyone thinks, well let’s see if this happens! Who knows what’s going on?
JB: Things are getting better and here in the UK we are getting some shows back on the road but as you said, no one knows about the next show, we just have to take things day by day I guess, hopefully, come the summer the UK festivals and worldwide festivals can go ahead, is there a dream festival you’d love to play?
LH: Definitely Wacken… I’ve never played it before so that’s a big one, I did play Bloodstock with Kamelot, that was one of my favourite times ever, I loved that show!
JB: Circling back to your single ‘Deadlock’ featuring Rob Flynn, I read that when he sent the lyrics through you were blown away, how was it working with him on this track and the video?
LH: I’d finished the chorus and a couple of other bits were done and the only holes in the song lyrically were the intro and parts of the verse. With the intro, it’s like this nu-metal riff and when I was talking to Logan I said, ‘I really hear this like nu-metal sound and a guest feature, someone with a nu-metal, not rap but that rhythmic style vocal that I can just not pull off’. Of course, we were thinking of Rob but we just didn’t think he would do it, at the time he’d never done a guest feature before on anything so it was a long shot asking him but we did it anyway and he loved the song! Then he decided he wanted to try something on it and he sent the song back with my chorus gone and his chorus on there. At first I was like ‘what the hell’, what happened to my chorus (laughs) then by the end of listening to it I was like ‘oh, his chorus mops the floor with mine, so much better, a much better hook, the guy is just a genius and talented’.
The only thing he actually kept of mine was the word ‘Deadlock’, we went back and forth on the verse and I ended up doing the intro that was something different to what I thought I wanted but it turned out to be a really great collaboration. Rob then did some rearranging and then when the song was done we thought it would be a long shot that he’d be in the video but we asked him and the same shit happened, he was like ‘yeah I’ll fucking do it!’ So we flew out and it was an amazing experience, the energy that he brings on stage, that power, that presence. He walks into a room and it’s like he’s this god, it’s crazy the power, it’s insane. It was really difficult for me, doing that video and trying to scream and I just wanted to smile, I was so happy, trying to scream but being like ‘yeah!…🥳’ I was so excited. Again, if it wasn’t for the pandemic, I’m not sure Rob would have even been home, he’d probably have been on tour somewhere so it would have never happened. Then he came on stage and did it live with us with Cradle of Filth and damn again, it was great so it turned out to be an amazing experience.
JB: So how was it playing the song live with him then?
LH: It was crazy, we’d never played it live until he got on stage with us so it was insane. San Francisco is always an amazing crowd, then after that, I got to play ‘Davidian’ with Rob and that was just huge! I had so much, so much fun, we have it all on video, I think there are bits of it online somewhere.
JB: That is pretty crazy! The video for ‘Deadlock’ is really interesting as well, who came up with the concept for that?
LH: I had a vague idea of screens behind the band and the singers being on the screens and something like a V For Vendetta movie vibe. Robert Graves, the video Director, takes my ideas that are like floating up in the air and he focuses them so perfectly and so beautifully in these masterpieces. He also did ‘Erasure’ our song that just came out, he is just an incredible artist, so that was all hm. He hired the actors, he told them all what to do, all the running around, again he’s just an amazing guy to work with.
JB: That’s a good segway into ‘Erasure’, I understand that’s about blood diamonds? Which I’m not sure is a topic that’s been covered in metal much before…
LH: It hasn’t? I thought for sure people would have talked about blood diamonds before!
JB: How did you decide you wanted to cover that topic in a song?
LH: Well a friend of mine was getting married and they said they got a blood diamond and I’d heard the word thrown around many times but I never took the time to look up what it actually means. So when I did I went down a rabbit hole of some terrible, very violent pages and I educated myself on what it was and how it still goes on in certain parts of the world today. Even though there are laws in place and it’s more difficult to get an actual blood diamond, you can get certification that a diamond was purchased humanely. But it’s still happening today, there are still people dying and being tortured for this fucking little things that represent love.
I felt really compelled by all the stories and what I saw, I had to write about it. It was the same thing with ‘Eye Of Choas’ which is about little kids whose lives are taken away so I guess those two songs have that in common. It’s like a storytelling thing, not something I’ve experienced personally but something that really deeply affected me and I felt compelled to write about it.
JB: Inspiration can strike in strange forms and music is such a great medium when you’ve got a message or something to convey, especially an important message such as those topics. It’s great to be able to express your anger through art.
LH: I’m surprised it’s not a more popular topic in metal!
JB: Maybe I’ve just not heard those songs! Talking of inspiration though, there’s a Strapping Young Lad cover on the album, you’re a big fan of Devon Townsend?
LH: Huge! Huge fan, I remember seeing him when he had the skullet, way back when (laughs) but yeah I love him. I didn’t pick that song, Max, my guitar player was like ‘you’ve gotta sing this song’! I was like ‘are you serious? You want me to sign Devon Townsend, are you fucking kidding me’? It took some time for me to feel like I could do it, again I’m a perfectionist but it came out awesome! I loved it and I really enjoyed doing the little video, it was a lot of fun to do that song and we did send it to Devon and he loved it so that made me feel really happy.
JB: So can we expect him to turn up on a track on the next record?
LH: God, I hope so!
JB: What is the plan next? Obviously, you want to promote this album on tour when you can but what’s the future looking like for the band as a whole?
LH: Just doing it again you know? Writing an album and touring again when hopefully the world opens up and makes it a little bit easier. I don’t plan on stopping, I’m really keen to write another album right now.
JB: So you met Logan (Mader) in 2014, how did the two of you cross paths?
LH: Oh god, it was the wonders of the internet really. I’d just come from Australia, I had this tiny little studio in LA and I decided I was just going to get back to me and I brought like easels and paints and a cheapo guitar and amp. I just decided to start filming videos of myself playing, I don’t think I was any good at all but I uploaded it anyway. I was playing these like metal riffs and whatever and it got into the hands of an ex A&R guy for Roadrunner and he thought it was interesting I guess, maybe because it was this girl playing speed picking riffs? I don’t know. He sent it to Monte Connor (Producer) thinking he could maybe do something with it and Monte sent the videos to Logan like ‘Hey what do you think to this girl? You could build something around this’.
The next thing I know I’m in Logan Mader’s studio and he’s showing me songs that maybe I want to start on finishing and write some stuff on. Then I convinced him to eventually start writing with me and be in the band and he said yes and we immediately started hitting it off musically and that’s how it happened. Honestly, it just fell from the sky, I sometimes felt, back then, like I didn’t deserve it or I wasn’t worthy of it. I felt like an imposter. In the beginning, I wanted to scream, scream, scream, I didn’t even want to sign clean. I was like ‘I’m not a good singer, I don’t know how’. But Logan said ‘No you can sing’. But I was always comparing myself to the singers that I know of like the Adele’s and the Whitney Houston’s. Eventually, with a lot of time and practice and going on tour with Kamelot I discovered my own voice. I don’t sound like Whitney Houston or Adele but I sound like me and I became more confident in myself and evolved my own voice and here I am…
JB: It’s all about owning your own talents, isn’t it. Where did you learn to do the metal vocalisations, was it self-taught or did you start on a path that then led into that?
LH: Self-taught! So when I was a teenager listening to metal, I had an ex-boyfriend who was in a band and I would always go to his rehearsals and after they were done rehearsing, I would always come in and they’d free jam and I’d scream on the microphone and I remember always tasting blood in my throat afterwards. Back then there was no YouTube, no internet really to look up whether or not that was okay so I thought ‘I’m doing it right because I taste blood’! Obviously, though there was something very wrong there.
We broke up and I left that sort of thing behind for a little bit and I went to theatre school and in that theatre school we had voice class, which wasn’t really signing but it was speaking and breathing classes. Because in theatre there are no microphones you have to learn how to project and speak and breathe properly in order to reach the audience in the back. The years of doing that, helped me with my screaming, I incorporated all that into my screams and now I don’t taste blood, it all feels really healthy. I get on stage after an hour and there might be a little bit of swelling but it goes down quickly. I’ll know that there is some swelling because I’ll get off stage and I’ll notice my voice is a little bit lower and that’s all that there is, there’s no horseness at all, no pain, no blood. So I know that those theatre classes saved me and by doing it all the time with Once Human I’m learning different ways to shape my mouth to get different tones and highs versus lows and all that stuff, that all comes with experience.
So no one taught me screaming but I did get singing. Melissa Cross came in and helped me with the transitioning from screams to cleans because that can be quite difficult, and that’s that.
JB: That’s really interesting! Not to go too far off topic but did you want to talk a little about your work with Kamelot and how that came about?
LH: Well I was on tour with Kobra and the Lotus and Kobra Paige told me that Thomas Youngblood (Kamelot) had his eye on me for a while because, as you know he’s taken other girls on tour, like Alissa White-Gluz (Arch Enemy) and Elize Ryd (Amaranthe) as they always have a guest feature. He always has his eye out for someone he can take for the next record. Kobra came up to me after one show in somewhere like Arizona and says ‘Hey, do you want to go and play a show with Kamelot?, you’re going to be opening up for Iron Maiden and Ghost’… I was like ‘uhm yes’!
So that was my first show with Kamelot, opening for Iron Maiden and Ghost at Glen Helen Amphitheater (San Bernardino, California). They seriously just threw me in the deep end and it was insane! I had the greatest time, Kobra was on stage with me as well, it was great. After that Thomas asked me to do a couple of songs on the record, which I did and then I went on the world tour with them.
JB: Wow, that really is in at the deep, opening for Iron Maiden, that’s got to be a lot of fo pressure?
LH: It was insane yeah! It was so great though. You know what though? I feel more nervous in the small clubs when I can see everyone’s facial expressions but when it’s a massive festival and it’s a sea of people I’m a lot less nervous, it’s weird.
JB: The small venus are a lot more intimate, aren’t they? You can make eye contact with people and you can get a better connection. I imagine it’s a bit more daunting?
LH: Yeah and that’s the beauty of scream too, I’ll be a bit nervous and jittery before but as soon as you let out that first scream all those nerves are gone, that’s what I love about it.
JB: In those smaller venues, what’s it like seeing people sing your lyrics back to you?
LH: Oh, it’s great, it throws me off sometimes. I get so overwhelmed and emotional over it. I remember clearly when it’s caught me off guard, I like stop and I’m staring at them and I’m thinking ‘yes dude yes!’ It’s awesome.
JB: Well hopefully you can get some more shows in soon, maybe the summer will look a bit better. Is there anywhere you’d really like to visit on tour?
LH: Well, I haven’t been to Russia, I’m quite interested in a couple of the cultural things over there that I’d love to experience and see so Russia would be great. South America I haven’t been to yet and of course, I’d love to go back again and again to Australia, it’s always a great time. I love Germany so much, I’ve been trying to learn the language, that’s how much I love it, it’s so beautiful there and Switzerland, they’re just stunning places. Honestly, everywhere, I find beauty everywhere, I love being on the road, it’s when I feel like I’m most at home actually.
JB: Going back to the album, how was the writing and recording process both collaboratively and individually? Does everyone chip in with writing the music and the lyrics or is divided up between you all?
LH: No, I write one hundred per cent of the lyrics and the toplines. This album though was one hundred per cent Max Karon writing the music, he did all the music. The previous album was a collaborative effort of Max, Logan and I did a little bit of re-arranging. The first album though was the only Logan and I doing the music. So it seems to always be a little different but this album was all Max. Like I said when Logan was on tour with Machine Head, he came back and ten songs were done by Max already. Max is a riff machine, he just shits riffs!
So the album was already done and Logan thought it was amazing, he didn’t want to touch it so that’s how it went this time but it might be different next time.
JB: Well, I think we’ve just found the pull quote or headline for the interview, “Max Shits Riffs”.
LH: He’ll love that!
JB: Logan has connections with Soulfly as well as Machine Head, any plans to bring Max Cavalera onto a track in the future?
LH: Well, that would be awesome, I don’t think it’s been discussed but I’m open to it of course!
JB: Are there any female artists out there you’d like to work with, either on your own record on as a guest?
LH: Oh gosh, I’d be stoked to work with Angela Gossow (Ex Arch Enemy) and Alissa White-Gluz of course. Elize Ryd I’d love to work with and Nora from Battle Beast! I have so many girl crushes it’s crazy…
JB: Do you think it’s time to sort of lose the label of female-fronted and just let the music speak for itself? Should it matter if a band is female-fronted or male-fronted? For me, it’s all metal, be it male or female-fronted.
LH: I can see how that separation can cause that, I see the conflict but I also see a lot of my fans, I’ve gotten to know a lot of my fans on Patreon – a lot of them are huge fans of female-fronted metal, they’ll go to every show, they’ll buy all the merch and it’s a genre they are just in love with, I don’t know, there are good points and bad.