January 24, 2019 Interview – Lee McKinney of Born of Osiris
Progressive metallers Born of Osiris have been making technically-proficient, hard-hitting Metal albums for over a decade now. They made their official, full-length debut with 2009’s A Higher Place, and boldly went on to follow this with three more albums — from 2011’s The Discovery to 2015’s Soul Sphere — over the next six years. Never losing sight of their beginnings, in 2017, the band reimagined and re-released their 2007 The New Reign EP under the title of The Eternal Reign.
With the 2018 departure of long-time Bassist David Da Rocha, 2019 was guaranteed to be a year of change in the Born of Osiris camp, and this evolution heralded the arrival of The Simulation, an album with an open-ended concept at its heart. Chock-full of astounding musicianship and insightful lyrics, this is an album that demands discussion. Guitarist Lee McKinney recently sat down to discuss The Simulation — from its concept to its creation and much, much more.
Cryptic Rock – Born of Osiris has been making music for well over a decade now. What have been some of the highs for the band, thus far?
Lee McKinney – Recently we got to go on tour with Killswitch Engage, and that was fun for us because that was a bucket list band for us. Growing up, when I was 16 or whatever, I was delivering pizzas listening to Killswitch. So, for it to come full circle, it was a special tour and a special moment for us.
Cryptic Rock – That’s awesome to be able to achieve a bucket list tour. Now, let’s dip right into the brand-new album, The Simulation, which is full of themes of finding clarity in our chaotic times, rebooting, and searching for something deeper. What inspired that, and was it a conscious theme or just something that came together organically?
Lee McKinney – The current age of social media, technology, and everything kind of started to creep into their thoughts; I don’t do the lyrics. Joe and Ronnie hadn’t really done a big theme, a full record theme, before and this was the time they wanted to do it. There’s so many things we saw, like the Elon Musk/Joe Rogan podcast; all these eye-opening technology, Artificial Intelligence kind of things where we were enjoying the topic. Ultimately, to choose a topic like that, we’re not saying this is what to believe — it’s just bringing things up conversationally. The way everyone is tucked into their phones and the way that everything is advancing, it was the time to talk about taking a step back and finding beauty in the simple things, not getting too caught up in technology.
Cryptic Rock – To go a little left-field with this line of thought, do you think that life in 2019 is already part simulation?
Lee McKinney – I don’t go that extreme with it. As far as the theories go, I don’t really believe but I do see how it could trend in that direction as further things move on in the way we integrate with technology. You think about our phone, for example, we choose to keep it at our hip all day; they’re in our hand all day. If they were connected to our body, literally connected, then you could consider yourself almost like a cyborg. With your phone, you can do perfect math in seconds, you can go anywhere with GPS in seconds. You can Google anything in seconds. If it was just connected to your body, you’d already be technically this machine-style cyborg; it’s just the fact that we choose to hold onto them. If we can disconnect from them that’s good, but a lot of people don’t. We’re headed in that direction but, no, I’m not crazy like, “This is a simulation, life isn’t real!” I’m not there, but I do see what people are saying.
Cryptic Rock – For a lot of people, it seems like the phone is a way to avoid the initial discomfort and awkwardness of social interaction. If you pull out your phone, you can avoid talking to other people; it becomes a kind of safety blanket.
Lee McKinney – Absolutely, and I think it’s kind of a snowball. You become so used to having that way out of a situation that it’s a quick out scenario, and when you take it away, people get real uncomfortable. These are normal things that happen between people: you have to find a way to connect. You know, when you grow up with that option, I think it snowballs.
I’m 29 and I had the pager pretty early. I was riding my bike around the block, and I got 911 on the pager and I had to get right home. Now, my little brother and little sister — my dad didn’t want to give them a phone until he felt that they needed to have it. In school, it seems like kids get it as all the ‘cool’ kids have got one. So, now it’s a part of being cool or fashionable more than it is the purpose of the phone.
Cryptic Rock – Weren’t pagers for the cool kids? (Laughs)
Lee McKinney – (Laughs) I believe so. Think about the way that we’ve gone from the pager to now, just think about in a short 50 years what it could be just from the advances that we’ve had in the last 20 years. Twenty more years from now, these things are happening faster than we really think about — so that’s kind of what we’re talking about. We’re not crazy conspiracy theorists: it’s a big rabbit hole you can go down and we’re not there. We’re just pointing out that things are a little crazier than you think — take a step back and think. We listen to our phones constantly. It’s wild!
Cryptic Rock – It’s interesting that many of the first albums of 2019 have similar themes. For example, Soilwork’s Verkligheten focuses a bit more on reality and explores what is reality in 2019.
Lee McKinney – I feel like a lot of musicians are kind of going towards it. This album has been in-the-works for years. We re-recorded, re-released and reimagined our first record from 2007 in 2017. So, that was the last thing we really released and technically it was just old songs redone. This album, as far as all new music from the ground up, has been in-the-works since before that. Now that it’s finally out, I’m starting to see — I like that band The 1975. My wife and I enjoy their music, and they’re kind of doing this thing where it’s about online relationships. It’s just a different route of all this stuff — online everything, internet everything, technology everything. I think that everyone’s on the same page about it. Even the way you record records, it’s all digital and you can do it anywhere, anytime. Everything has changed in that direction.
Cryptic Rock – Everything comes full circle, so perhaps the old-school ways of recording will soon come back in style.
Lee McKinney – I think that would be fun! I just got done with a recording session – it’s a Rock band that I do on the side called In Motive. When we’re doing things like that, we’re taking a step back on everything. With Born of Osiris, everything is perfect, everything is edited. You copy, paste, and just make it, because that’s the sound we’re going for. But this one, we were just tracking bass for a new song that we’re writing and it was just like, “This bridge happens twice. Do we just copy and paste?” We’re like, “No, we’re not doing that!” I think that’s one goal that we’re doing over there. There’s a purpose and a sound, it’s situational, but I’m having fun with both directions. Embracing all this stuff, because that’s one aspect of it: you can embrace all the technology, because it’s a beautiful thing; use it to your advantage. If you do it too much, you’re just living in it.
Cryptic Rock – To steer us back to the specifics of the album, let’s discuss that intro to “Under the Gun.” Clearly, you took chances here and, very loosely, let’s call it a Hip-Hop intro. Were you hoping to mess with people’s minds a bit?
Lee McKinney – It’s so funny you say — I’ve been explaining a similar story for the song. Basically, being a Progressive Metal band, you write that kind of thing as a riff. The intro, that melody, I made that a couple years ago. Everyone I showed it to was like, ‘Man, I don’t know!’ So, I started rewriting it and I wrote that song in so many different ways: I’ve made it Rock, I’ve made it Electronic, I’ve made it Metal, I’ve made so many different forms of that song.
I believed in the melody and I wanted to pursue it and see it to the end, so we put it on the Born record and made it a Metal song. I was like, ‘Alright, when the album comes out, this is going to be the song that everyone’s pissed about.’ It’s been the opposite, actually! Everyone says ‘This is beautiful.’ I was expecting at least the die-hard Metal dudes to go keyboard-warrior style on the internet and talk shit about everything — I was waiting for it, but it didn’t come. Now, because of the reaction being in the opposite direction, overwhelmingly positive, now we’re playing it on the next tour and we’re doing a video.
Cryptic Rock – That’s great! Everything about that song works perfectly, but to be entirely honest when it first hits your ears for the very first time — there is that moment of hesitation. That like ‘Oh god, here we go.’
Lee McKinney – (Laughs) That’s funny! I wasn’t trying to do Hip Hop: I actually don’t really listen to Hip Hop. I’m not that Metalhead that won’t, it’s just not a big part of my interest. I don’t know what it was, but, as a matter of fact, that key line is more about the synth that I used; it was more about the program I was using that I loved. I wasn’t trying to flirt with Hip Hop at all, but I do exactly see the comparison. I’m glad that the reception has been good!
Cryptic Rock – There are a lot of amazingly intelligent and insightful lyrics throughout the album. Even though you’re not the lyricist, do you have any personal favorites that really resonate with you?
Lee McKinney – Well, there’s one song at the end called “One Without The Other.” It’s talking about ‘without my brother, we’ve never been one without the other.’ It’s talking about our bass-player is no longer with us, the one we’ve had for the entirety of the band. They resonate because I feel those lyrics, and when I hear them I know exactly what they’re talking about. Otherwise, the technological lyrics and those kinds of concepts, like I said, you can take them in any way but it’s more bringing up facts and saying think about it. We’re not saying, ‘Hey, we’re in a simulation right now, believe it!’ Because that’s not what we think, it’s not like that. As far as the lyrics that I know are about something so close to our hearts, I connect with those ones the most.
Cryptic Rock – Understandable, as that’s much more personal than an open-ended concept. Okay, to play devil’s advocate for a moment here, The Simulation is a killer album but it is, in effect, seven songs. Was there a concern that you were offering fans too little on this go-round?
Lee McKinney – Especially because of how it rolled out! We had a 14-song album and I finished all the instrumentals — I produced and engineered the record instrumentally in December 2017. They started working on vocals, tracking vocals, meanwhile, we were touring and stuff. They did the vocals in two different places, and then eventually the label was like, ‘We want to add more songs.’ So, it got up to like 16. We were like, ‘Alright, let’s do a double-album, or a Part I and a Part II.’
At this point in time with that knowledge, I say to the internet via my Twitter: ‘Hey, just so you guys know, we’re adding a couple more songs so it’s going to take a few more months, but in the end you’re getting a longer product.’ Then it rolls out at eight-songs and everyone’s like, ‘What the fuck? What’s happening now? This isn’t what you told us!’
The way that it’s been rolled out, yeah, is confusing a little bit. That being said, we have an entire new record right now that we could release tomorrow if we wanted. We’re not going to do that — we have this out right now and it’s the beginning of something, for sure. We’re not at a place where this came out and we’re going to start writing a new record; we have another new record right now. We might add another song or two to that, but we’re going to follow it up quickly. We’re just going to see how we can roll it out in the best way possible!
Cryptic Rock – Two shorter albums actually seems preferable to a double-album in this day and age because of the rampant ADD among listeners. Sixteen-plus-song albums can be a bit trying to get through as a listener.
Lee McKinney – Absolutely! A lot of the world is that way. On the radio, it’s one song by an artist and then the next song by a different artist. If you give someone sixteen songs — I’m just branching off here but let me say this. As a songwriter, all sixteen of those songs, to me, are something that I want to have equal attention and their full moment. I don’t have songs that are like, ‘Well, those ones are good, so those are the singles. Those other ones suck, so let’s just throw those in there.’ I like all of them!
For that reason, we’re releasing eight now and I know you’re going to hear every one of them. When the next eight come out, you’re going to listen to those eight, too. If we rolled out sixteen songs, I wouldn’t be surprised if 75% of the time you listened to the record you stopped around Track 9. Maybe the car ride’s over or your attention has shifted to something else; maybe you don’t have the time to listen to a record for over an hour. But this way, everyone is getting all of the songs and they can have their moment with each song.
Cryptic Rock – That’s actually a great way of seeing it: each individual song will get more attention this way. For the album, as a whole, what do you hope listeners take away from The Simulation?
Lee McKinney – I just want them to have their own experience with it. Lyrically, as much as I didn’t write them, I want them to look at what it is, maybe check out the situation and see what they think; draw their own conclusions. Then, as far as the music, I just hope that they like the direction. I did an interview yesterday where they asked me, ‘How far away from the first record are you as a musician?’ I think the question means well, because they’re asking how much growth has there been and how you evolved.
The answer is interesting: I think evolved is a different question, because that happened, obviously. Obviously being 16, 17 when we wrote the first one and being 29 now, we’ve evolved. That being said, some people will drop comparisons to the first record on this. People can take away that we’re still the same band doing the same thing. We’ve changed as the times have gone on — and that’s why eleven years later we’re bigger than we’ve ever been. That said, it’s still throwing back, stylistically, to the first record because we haven’t lost where we came from. That’s something that I hope people notice about it when they listen to it.
Cryptic Rock – You have come full circle. Now, in February, you will hit the road with Chelsea Grin and Make Them Suffer. What should fans expect?
Lee McKinney – Well, we’re going to bring out a pretty wild light show. We’re working on that right now — we have a guy in New Jersey building it, working it all out, and driving it to Chicago where we practice. The lighting rig is going to be special on this one. Artistically, you’re going to see some cool stuff: we didn’t use the same artist as we’ve been using for so many years. Not because anything was wrong, but because we wanted to visually be a little different this time. You’re going to see a little of that difference, and you can expect a fun Progressive Metal show — heavy music, technical music, good vibes, heavy vibes.
Cryptic Rock – It should be awesome! Chelsea Grin are a killer band, as well.
Lee McKinney – Absolutely! Good people and they’re fun live, because of how heavy they are and how emotional they are.
Cryptic Rock – Two-thousand and nineteen is shaping up to be a major year for music, and a lot of bands who have been gone for a while are coming back. Are there are any releases that you are especially looking forward to, personally?
Lee McKinney – Slipknot, I don’t know what’s going on with them. I’m not sure of the timeline and it’s not my business to speculate, but I hope that comes out — Slipknot’s always been a monumental band for me in Metal and growing up. A lot of records I liked came out this year, or last year, sorry. (Laughs) But that’s one I’m excited for in 2019, and there was some cool shit in 2018!
Cryptic Rock – Like what?
Lee McKinney — Well, The 1975 thing I brought up and that’s a weird one, because it’s definitely not something I think a lot of Metalheads listen to. I enjoy the direction, it’s fun! When they first started, they were real Pop-y. My wife was definitely like, ‘This is the shit!’ I looked at it like, ‘This is cool, it’s throwing back ‘80s vibes and it’s fun Rock. They’re definitely talented.’ The coolest part is that as they’ve progressed, I got hooked more and more. Now, I think the last record is mature: it’s not a teeny-bop, ‘girl record’ — it deals with emotions. You never know what you’re going to get from them! They’ve had saxophone players, they had a beautiful choir. They’ve done some really cool collaborations — it’s not just a Pop-y, bubblegum record!
Cryptic Rock – Okay, last question. At Cryptic Rock, we cover music but also movies, particularly Horror and Sci-Fi. Are you a fan of Horror and/or Sci-Fi and, if so, do you have any favorite films?
Lee McKinney – I keep mentioning my wife, but we met on a tour — it was Born of Osiris, Five Finger Death Punch, Rob Zombie. He’s a big thing for me and I love his movies, and his music, as well. So, any of his stuff. We were just watching The Devil’s Rejects (2005), House of 1000 Corpses (2003) — we were watching all of those. As far as Sci-Fi, I’ve been talking a lot about The Matrix (1999) lately, just because of how it’s representing a simulated situation. They’re plugged in and then they’re in the matrix, in a simulated world, so I’ve been talking a lot about that one in the process of this record.