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Trauma's Kris Gustofson: "We were playing a Zeppelin track, Immigrant song, and Donny could sing the piss out of this. I remember he blew the roof off the place…"

Interview with Kris Gustofson from Trauma
by Lior "Steinmetal" Stein at 25 September 2022, 8:19 AM

Losing an icon, a front, but the important thing is, a brother and a friend, has a magnitude. There were plenty of examples where bands just ceased to be, as to find a replacement was either not optional or impossible. The US Heavy Metallers, Trauma, recently lost their longstanding vocalist, Donny Hiller (R.I.P.), and things were uncertain. Nonetheless, after finding the right guy for the slot, along with the former's wishes, they continued. Releasing their new "Awakening" album, things gone darker and heavier. Steinmetal talked with drummer, Kris Gustofson, about the experience and remembrance.  

Hello Kris, it is a pleasure to have you for this interview with Metal Temple online Magazine, how have you been doing sir?

Hello, all is going good. I hope you're doing well..

It was more or less three years since the last time I had a chance to interview one of you guys, last time it was with Donny Hiller (R.I.P.). My condolences sir for his passing. I know that Donny left this world two years ago, yet, it would be nice if you can say a few words about him, perhaps greatest memories?

Thank you for the kind words. Donny is very much missed. An excellent vocalist. Not many had his range. There are so many memories with him it would be hard to name just one… One night we were doing this benefit gig for a friend. We were playing a Zeppelin track, Immigrant song, and Donny could sing the piss out of this. I remember he blew the roof off the place, I mean people were floored by his performance, I even got goose bumps listening to him sing this song from him behind the drums. Unreal!!

Even though I am sure that Donny’s passing was a major blow for the band, you pushed forward, and kept going, continuing the Trauma vision. We had a dark period during these last couple of years, along with Covid and the war in the East to add to it. With everything that happened, especially the pandemic, what gave you the strength to continue Trauma?

That’s a good one. Well, Donny wanted the band to continue. We were getting ready to record when it all happened. So, when it did, we took I think 3-4 months to think on it hard before trying to look for a new vocalist for the band. He wasn’t someone who would be easy to replace. As far as the pandemic, we all just had to weather through it. Horrid times…

With your new album, “Awakening”, you also signed with Massacre Records, which I believe is the rightful place for you gents. Even though you are a veteran musician, in a band that saw much, what are your current expectations from your new label, in particular one with a legacy as Massacre Records?

Well, we will have to see how it goes. They seem excited to be working with us as we are as well. It is one of those things, building a new relationship. They make a great product.

The title of the record, as mentioned, is “Awakening”, which I found out to be one hell of a stream of thought, or should I say thoughts. Therefore, I ask, is this the awakening of the band after what came over it or rather an awakening of a new awareness to what is happening around us?

Yea, I guess it is a bit of both. The title seemed to work well with what was and is going on. 2020-21 were bad years for most everyone. Everything was shut down, no shows to play or go to, couldn’t really do anything but stay home. Very depressing times. Kind of gave us all a peak into what really could happen under the right circumstances of events. As soon as we got an upper handle on the pandemic, immediately, Russia invaded Ukraine. It is almost like as soon as one shitty thing happens and gets a bit better, a whole new wave a bullshit comes in. This album has nothing to do with any of this.

There is a lot of anger, darkness and anguish laying around in the songs, constant attacks on matters that are dear and also plenty of criticism to go around. I wonder though, in your mind, do you believe that some hear the cry outs, the shouts, that this record produces in the masses? Will someone think straight for a change?

This album was written during a very dark time for the band. We lost our brother Donny which was bad enough, then the pandemic that shut virtually everything that we like to do down, not just us but around the world. It was terrible. The songs on AWAKENING just reflect what we as a band were feeling at the time.

In that aspect, I am curious about what has been bothering you personally, such things that the last thing that they could give you is a good night’s rest. How do these things captured on the record in your view?

I really don’t want to get into what is really bothering me personally. I live a very nice life, no complaints, however we write music based off what is around us. It is virtually what one perceives, everyone may not see things the way you do because we are all different and everyone has an opinion. Music is about feelings and setting a certain mood.

What can you tell about the symbolism that is looming within the artwork? What I see is a mixture of things, different scenarios, landscapes and a haunting image that has something to tell. What is your take on that?

The artwork was done by Ioannis at Dangerous age. Years ago he told me that he worked with H.R Giger doing album artwork way before he created all of the Aliens artwork in the movies. So, I do think Ioannis’s style reflects a little of this from past works. I guess you could say it is a bit apocalyptic in a sense. We are thinking of it being our new mascot. We just need to come up with a name for it.

After taking on a rather melodic edge on the previous “As The World Dies”, the current “Awakening” is one hell of a heavyweight. In a way, it sounds similar to the great qualities that were added to the US Power Metal scene in recent years, plenty of riffs, heaviness, complexity in a way and biting vocals that might rip your head off. What can you tell about this process of change that went through the band on this record musically?

I wanted to do a heavier sounding album than Rapture and Wrath and As the World Dies. Meaning faster tempos, heavier riffs, Go back a bit to Trauma’s roots in Heavy Metal. The songs originally were mostly written with Donny Hillier in mind. So, when he passed away and heard Brian Allen, we needed to make a few adjustments within the chord structures and tunings to fit with Brian’s vocals. When we recorded 2 of the new songs in the studio and heard Brian singing over the top of the music we were like Holy Shit!! This will be fun…

One of the cherries of this album, other than the paces and of course the heaviness that is compelling, is the addition of cracking Brian Allen. I enjoyed his performances in Vicious Rumors, and I sense that he gave you quite a lot of boost. First things first, how did this new relationship come to be?

Well, When Don passed away, we didn’t know what we were going to do. I considered ending it. We took several months to consider if there possibly be anyone that could fill Donny’s shoes. Our producer Juan Urteaga called me and said I may have the guy, Brian Allen. We sent him a tape with no vocals, I think maybe 2 songs and we asked him to just sing on the 2 songs and send it back when done. He did that, and we were excited to think he might be the guy. Next we flew him down and had a band rehearsal and it just clicked. We were extremely lucky that we found him because that could have gone on for who knows how long.

In your view, would you say that the music written for the album was not only to reach a certain level of darkness but to rather sit well with the intensity and energetic feel of Allen’s vocals?

It is a combination of the 2 that I think works well together. It was during a very lousy time for everyone, so for us, it was a perfect time to record a new Metal album

Let’s dig into the songwriting process of the album. Since we mentioned that Trauma became a harder shell, musically speaking of the robustness of the material, how did that change the way you write songs and your approach towards a song in overall?

We had a lot of time to come up with this material. Since it was the lockdown days, we would just send each other ideas until it became something. Steve Robello, and Joe Fraulob would come up with a good portion of the music if not the entire thing, Then I would put drums on it to bring it to life and then we would again try other ides until it sounded and felt right. A long process…

One of the biggest challenges is to find the cohesion between lyrics and music, and that goes for any artist, especially in Metal music I believe. How were you able to find that proper mix, to make sure that the music expresses what you feel?

Most of the lyrics on the record were written by Donny Hillier. Some were written by Rochelle Robello. They in turn, coincide with the music that was created. When Brian came on board very little lyrically was changed. Lots of pre-production work went into the making of this record.

When it comes to completing the record, were the any obstacles that kept you from reaching your goal, in particular due to all the restrictions and the status of the pandemic in the US earlier on?

Not really, with the loss of Donny being the worst for us, we forged ahead… The only real problem was getting in the same room together. No one during the 2 years caught Covid.

The song “Meat” had me thinking, at least at first, as a kind of vegan demonstration of power, so to speak. Nonetheless, after several listens I got the intention and it had me shrieking in my brain. One of the toughest tracks and the most brutally honest of the album. What can you tell about the song, as you see it?

That was written by Joe Fraulob w lyrics by Donny Hillier, Don was a master of coming up with lyrics, that was his thing that he really loved to do. It really has nothing to do with being a Vegan. The song is about how we are all used by certain ways countries interact with the people. Meaning we are just MEAT to them nothing more…

The last track, “Death Machine” is a thriller no less, and I would say a little creepy. Allen certainly provides enough of his vocal theatrics, an intense contribution of force. What can you tell about the creative writing of this particular track? On what is it all about?

Yea, it is a bit creepy. Steve Robello came up with that one. It is a bit Brutal. What a title Death Machine… makes me laugh…..

I noticed that Greg Christian, which has been with you for some time, left the band. Were there any bad ills between you guys, or simply a wish to go forward?

Greg is our brother. He needed some time. We wish him the best of everything!

On which areas are you focusing on in order to properly support the album? Where can you be found live?

Our manager is securing some date for us. Hopefully we will have an announcement soon for everyone because we really want to get out there and play for everyone. We just played at the Alcatraz festival, and it was great. Very cool people and they seemed to like what we did over there. In the meantime check: www.traumametal.com for info…

Kris, thank you so much for your time and effort on this interview. I wish you guys all the best and plenty of thanks for a good record, I want to hear more from you. All the best!

Thank you very much for your interest in the band, It is always a pleasure to hear from you. I hope one day soon we will meet each other! Best Wishes, Kris


 



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