Interview – Ryan McCombs of SOil

soilLife is full of surprises and through the journey, we find sometimes that it is never too late to go home.   For Chicago-based, alternative metal band Soil, it took seven years before reuniting with original vocalist Ryan McCombs in 2011.  What appeared to be a short term partnership, in honor of the tenth anniversary of their breakthrough album Scars (2001), blossomed into a mended relationship of Soil’s core members.  Now back together, Soil is engaged heavy touring and in 2013 put out their first album with McCombs on vocals in nearly a decade, titled Whole.  Recently, we sat down with McCombs for an in-depth look at the reunion of Soil, his time in Drowning Pool, their new album Whole, and much more. – Soil has been established for almost two decades, now. The story of the band is rather interesting as you exploded onto the alternative metal scene back in 2001 with Scars, and the band was on a variety of big tours, including a run with Ozzy Osbourne. Since then, the band has released four more studio albums and has become a household name with rock fans. What was that success like early on with Soil?

Ryan McCombs – It was a surprise. As Soil, we had done two EPs and a full-length that no one was really aware of before Scars had ever came out. We were on two different record labels, both of them small independents. The first EP Soil (1997), which was actually the first demo we had ever done, was done two weeks after I had joined the band.  That demo was bought and released; we called it “the worm disc” because it was self-titled and just had a picture of a worm on it. Then, we had another EP called El Chupacabra (1998), and a full-length called Throttle Junkies (1999) that was out on MIA records, which was really fitting because it went out of business about a month after the album was released.  In the industry, there’s no asterisk next to the release saying the record label went out of business. So, all it looked like, if you looked at the album, when we were shopping for a new label, was an album we released called Throttle Junkies which sold x amount of copies. It wasn’t a good number, the record label was gone, and there were no records out there to be bought. They don’t know that though, all they see is you had a chance and you sold x amount. We were pretty much damaged goods.

We kept trying to find a label and nobody would buy it and then we did the demo; they talked me into doing another demo. I had my truck packed and ready to leave Chicago at one point. Adam actually talked me into staying and trying one more demo, and we did one more. That’s the demo that had “My Own”, “Need To Feel”, and “Halo” on it, which all three songs ended up on the first record, Scars.  Then some radio station, WJRR in Orlando, Florida got a hold of it and started spinning “Halo”.  It was a very influential rock station at the time, and “Halo” ended up being the most requested song on the station. Once that occurred, everyone under the sun came running trying to sign us. So we went from one extreme to having the opportunity to hand pick where we wanted to go. It definitely was crazy, it wasn’t even at the twelfth hour it was an hour past the twelfth hour, it was like one in the morning for us because we thought we were done, and all of a sudden, just boom.

MIA Records – That is an unbelievable story and it’s great you persevered.  You followed up Scars strongly with Redefine in 2003, but a year later you departed from the band. In your time apart from Soil, you recorded two records with Drowning Pool. What was the experience like working with Drowning Pool, and did that experience help you grow as an artist?

Ryan McCombs – It was fun, those guys were my best friends in the business. Dave Williams, Mike, Stevie, and C.J. were those guys that, when we were on the road with them, I had a blast. Actually, when I “retired” from music, when I quit Soil, for my “retirement” party, we laughed about it and I flew down to Dallas and met up with those guys to see a Cleveland Browns and Dallas Cowboys game. Them being Dallas fans, and myself being a Browns fan, so there were jokes then. They weren’t about to poach a singer from a band, when they just lost their singer. They weren’t about to really try to come after me hard about joining.  Things got really rocky and fell apart with the singer they had after Dave, I had been out of music for about 9 months when they gave me a call and asked, “What would you think about getting back into it again?”

My time with them was great and we had a blast. I think they put up with way more shit from me than I ever did from them. It was a great learning experience because it was an opportunity to work with different professionals than what I had worked with previously. So, you know you always learn a little something from everybody and I had a chance to work with different producers for those records.  We had a blast, I just happen to have what appears to be a seven-year itch problem. Seven years with Soil, seven years with Drowning Pool, I was married for seven years, the relationship before I was married lasted seven years. Yeah, I seem to have a bit of a seven year problem.

J Records
Eleven Seven
Eleven Seven – That is an interesting pattern right there with the seven year intervals.  Now, back in 2010, you reunited with Soil for the first time in six years for 10th anniversary of Scars. It’s clear that was a positive experience because you are back as the vocalist of the band. Tell me a little bit about that and what was the turning point for you to say let’s reunite for good?

Ryan McCombs – I don’t know. I was still in Drowning Pool at the time when they got a hold of me to do the UK run for the tenth anniversary and I was kind of getting to that “seven-year itch” thing.  I was really frustrated with the industry and I think that’s the biggest problem with me, is I’m still just a small town kid at heart or old man at heart. The music industry sucks. All the crooked people that like to have two or three houses and a bunch of cars, while the musician’s out making the money and struggling to pay his heat bill at home. I don’t like the industry, it is disgusting to me. A lot of the people that make a living off of other peoples’ struggles, it sucks and I can only take so much and then I just have to get the hell away from it for a while. I was getting to that point again during my time with Drowning Pool. Then, the guys got a hold of me to do this tenth anniversary tour over in the UK. We went and did it, and it was crazy. We got together one time and rehearsed before we did our first show, which is the live recording, the DVD Re-Living-Ing The Scars In London (2012). That was our first show, we had only rehearsed one time previously and hadn’t played together in over eight years. So it was kind of magic in a bottle, we had a blast, we probably had way too much fun because I came home and was home for a little bit.

Me and C.J. talked and we realized it was time for everyone to go their own direction and we parted ways. I closed the book on that chapter. I really didn’t know what I wanted to do. I wasn’t closing the book on Drowning Pool to do Soil, just like the original time, there was a nine month period there. It was a few months between Drowning Pool and finally deciding to do more Soil stuff. When we got back to the states, a lot of people were like, “Why did you just do it over in the UK? What about us?”, so we started doing some shows here and there. The more we were around each other and enjoying each others company again.  The talk about another record started becoming more and more frequent. I still really wasn’t interested in the business side of things, and the more we got to talking about it, the more we realized we were on the same page.  If we did another Soil record, we wanted to keep control of it ourselves and make all the calls. At the end of the day, finally in our career, we only had ourselves to blame if it didn’t go right, instead of somebody else’s decision making being ludicrous and leading to some stupid thing, which seemed to always happen.

J Records
J Records – That is great that you were all on the same page after all that time, and found that chemistry as musicians and friends again.  Last year, Soil released their first record in four years and your first record back with the band in a decade titled Whole. What was the writing and recording process like going back into the studio together?

Ryan McCombs – It was different because for the majority of the writing, I was living in Baton Rouge, Louisiana and Tim and Adam were still up in Chicago. So a lot of it was just sent files, e-mail wise. I’d listen to the music and start writing the lyrics to it. We did a lot of the stuff that way, and for some of the songs I flew to Chicago and we would lock ourselves into a room and see what came out of our heads. The song, “The Hate Song” was written like that. That was us, sitting there and waiting for Tim to quit dilly-dallying around with his gear, and Adam just started spacing out and played this annoying riff and he saw me looking at him, and I must have had a pained look on my face. He was like “Oh, sorry”, and I was like “No, keep doing that for a second.” I had this idea for a song about that angry aspect, and that annoying piece-of-shit guitar went perfect. So we wrote long distance, but we also sat in a room to throw things out. The writing process was cool.

I sucked at being able to play instruments, so I’ve been blessed in my career to have writers music wise like Adam and C.J. with Drowning Pool; guitar players that can sit there, just create the music, allow me to come in, and throw my ideas vocally on it. Also, they are cool enough guys that are open enough for me to be able to go, “That’s a cool verse not a chorus, so let’s switch that around and do this,” because a lot of guitarists think that their music is God’s gift, and they don’t want you toying around with it. I’ve been blessed with two guitar players that, not only are great guitar players/writers, but they also allow me to tear the shit out of their music and rebuild it.

Pavement –  It does sound like a gift to be able to have musicians who are laid back in that matter to work with you like that.  The new record came with a lot of anticipation for dedicated fans, and while other vocalists did a fine job as part of Soil over the years, many look at you as the face and voice of the band. How exciting is it for you to see the reactions of fans to hear Whole and see you contributing to the band as a writer and vocalist again?

Ryan McCombs – It’s cool. I have always considered myself just a guy that’s lucky to scream on key. In my opinion, I grew up listening to people that could sing. I grew up on Aerosmith and Creedance Clearwater Revival. Seeing that not only stuff that I did a long time ago is still relevant to people who still hold onto it and they like it, but they still are grabbing a hold of the stuff that I do today enjoying it, relating to it, and continuing to give me a job to do…is pretty surreal to me. It has been a gift to be able to do this for seventeen years. It’s pretty crazy. – It has to be a surreal feeling to know you have touched so many people with your music.  Tim, Adam, and yourself are the catalysts of the band, having been here since the beginning. It’s obvious you three have a bond and chemistry together to work together and reunite like you did. How would you describe the dynamic the three of you share together?

Ryan McCombs – Adam and Tim are freaks. Those guys, at some point and time, Adam needs to get divorced and the two of them need to get hooked up (laughs).  I mean they were in a death metal band before Soil called Oppressor, so they have been together for something like twenty-three years playing in bands together. It’s so odd because they are so opposite of each other it’s not even funny.  Back in the day, I didn’t drink my first round with Soil and so I was on a bus with a bunch of raging drunks every single night, and it drove me crazy. Now we all drink, so we are all stupid together. They have laughed and said, “Man, if you would have drank back then we probably wouldn’t have broke up.” We would have, seven years would have came eventually (laughs).

I think the biggest difference now is that we are all older. Back in the day, you were so scared of the people that were controlling your career, doing something wrong, that you were just so consumed with everything.  You were not only consumed with what they were doing, but also with what you and everybody else around you were doing, and every little thing that you didn’t quite agree that drove you nuts. Now, we are just older and we realize what’s important. We have all been allowed to do this for so long now that we realize, if you keep sweating all the little things you’re gonna go friggen’ insane out here. I mean, it’s hard enough to be on a bus with a bunch of dudes day in and day out, when you wish you were at home with family or loved ones, or whatever your case is. So, I think the biggest thing now is that we’re all the same jackasses in our own ways. We all have our idiocies about us, but I think we just realize that, at the end of the day, what the outcome of the three of us together musically is that we are always putting up with somebody’s idiocy here and there.

soil-10-watermark – That is a good outlook to have and obviously comes with experience.  Like anything in life, the road has obviously had some bumps and detours. As a working musician who has experienced extensive touring, writing, and recording, what are some of the most important things you have learned over the years?

Ryan McCombs – (Laughs) As I said, definitely don’t sweat the small crap and I think the other thing that I’ve learned is, keep your shit level. You may be on top of the world today and you may be below ground tomorrow career wise…not just living. I remember going from day one being able to do the Ozzfests, being out there with all these new bands, just like we were one of them. Through the years, just being on the road constantly in my life, the new bands that are up and coming, you can just tell by the attitudes of them sometimes, that you’re gonna be gone tomorrow. You don’t treat your fans that way, you don’t treat people that way, whatever the case may be.

I learned just to be myself. I used to catch a lot of shit from the label early on, that I need to cut my hair, I need to shave my beard, and I needed to dress differently. I just wouldn’t and I think it was the second record, Redefine, the same guy from the label that gave me shit all the time came up to me and said, “You remember all that shit that I used to give you about changing your image and communicating with the fans differently, and being a little bit more rock star-ish instead of looking like you were part of the crew? Forget all of that, because for some reason, people relate to you.” I replied, I’m just them, they’re me, and I’m not any different.  I think you see that with some of these bands sometimes, you just see the artist or somebody that thinks he’s God’s gift and I’ve learned over the years that karma will come back and bite that fucker in the ass.

soil-9-watermark – That is a great outlook to have to treat your fans as equals.  People sincerely relate with that.  What are some of your personal music influences?

Ryan McCombs – Oh wow, I grew up listening to a lot of old stuff because my dad was into really into rock. I grew up listening to AC/DC, Aerosmith, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Led Zeppelin, but I think the first band that I grabbed as “mine” was Alice In Chains. That was the first band that I grabbed their music, just like Guns N’ Roses was my brothers, and Motley Crue and Bob Dylan and CCR and stuff was my dads. Mine was Alice In Chains. That was that band that I grabbed a hold of musically and claimed as mine. Now days, I listen to everything. You’ll find me listening to Mumford and Sons just as soon as you’d find me listening to Volbeat or something. I like a lot of different bands and I grew up listening to a lot of folk music through my dad so, Mumford and Sons definitely hits a note of home there for me.

Columbia Records
Columbia Records – It is great to have a wide musical tastes.  My last question for you is pertaining to films. is a music and horror film publication, so we like to focus on all the genres. If you are a fan of horror films, what are some of your favorite horror films?

Ryan McCombs – You know to be honest with you, I went to go see Saw II (2005), this was how long ago, I went to see it in theaters and I haven’t voluntarily seen a horror movie since. I don’t know why, the whole Saw movie series wasn’t scary, but they were always just…you’re watching someone’s arm get twisted off and the whole time I’m watching the movie, I’m all tense and shit in my chair. I could hardly sit in a car for the next two days afterward because for two hours, I sat there in my chair all clinched up. So, I haven’t really voluntarily went out and seen any horror flicks. I’m probably not the first person to ask about horror movies, now Tim our bass player, he is a horror movie freak. He watches, he doesn’t care if it’s a B flick, C flick, it could be a G flick, he’s watching it. He loves horror movies no matter how good or bad they are.

Catch SOil on tour with Hed P.E. are the following May 2014 dates:
1 Arlington Heights, IL HOME bar
2 Waterloo, IA Reverb Rock Garden
4 Denver, CO Summit Theatre
7 Los Angeles, CA Whiskey A Go Go
8 Pomona, CA The Glass House
9 Las Vegas, NV LVCS
10 Tempe, AZ The Marquee
11 Ramona, CA Ramona Mainstage
13 Long Beach, CA Gaslamp
14 Fresno, CA Strummer’s
16 San Francisco, CA DNA
17 Sacramento, CA Ace Of Spades
18 Reno, NV Knitting Factory
20 Spokane, WA Knitting Factory
21 Seattle, WA Studio Seven
22 Portland, OR Hawthorne Theatre
24 Salt Lake City, UT In The Venue
25 Colorado Springs, CO Black Sheep
30 Oklahoma City, OK The Chameleon Room (SOiL Only)
31 Kansas City, MO Kansas City Rockfest (SOiL Only)

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