INTERVIEW | Andrew Lee
Ripped to Shreds [USA]
Photo Credit: Greg Goudey
It’s sick when a band we’ve been covering since their inception gets their just desserts after killing it and staying true to what they’re all about. Californian death metal band Ripped to Shreds is a band that was birthed out of founding member Andrew Lee’s newfound love and passion for all things heavy. What started as a bedroom project is now a full-fledged band with a THIRD full-length that comes with the Relapse Records stamp of approval on the back. The record has been getting rave reviews all over the world and even got a full Banger TV video review as well.
Watching all this unfold from afar is super nuts but super frickin’ cool. We’ve always been friendly with Andrew but didn’t know now that his band is slowly becoming quite the name on the metal circuit the world over, whether or not he’d be interested in hanging out with our small little site. We hit him up, and a mere seconds later we were good to go.
Huge thanks to Andrew for his time and for supporting our little site from out here in Asia. Go enjoy the interview below but DEFINITELY go blast this record. There’s a reason why people everywhere are flocking to it. Shit rips. Plain and simple.
Hey Andrew! Thanks for taking the time to answer some questions for us! We are SOOO stoked to see how far Ripped to Shreds has come! How’re you feeling right now with all the amazing attention the band is getting?
It’s been nothing but totally surreal and gratifying to see all the support and attention the band is getting! I always try to keep the same mindset as when I started RTS as a bedroom project because I’m still the same as when I started: just a nerd who really loves death metal.
For real man! I can sense how grateful you are for all of this and it’s such a great reminder to everyone that this band did start as just a fun project. I mean remember writing about you on Unite Asia back in 2018 (link below)! Just to give people a little context – what was the original concept of the band? I know you love messing around with people which always provides me with so much entertainment – but this was always more of a serious project. Was this an homage to something? What was the background for beginning RTS in the first place?
I remember that you were one of the first to cover us, and I definitely don’t forget that! I do love trolling, but I think musically all my projects are very much “serious.” I inject a bit of light-heartedness into the presentation of all my bands cause that’s just kinda the guy I am. Though of course something like Houkago Grind Time is overtly meant to be absurd. When I started writing songs for Ripped to Shreds, at first I didn’t have any real plans for what the project would “be.” I just wanted to write some cool death metal songs, and then as I continued to get further into the creation of the first album Maizang I began to get inspiration for how to present the visual and lyrical themes.
Absolutely – as soon as I pressed play on your first release I knew this was something you were really passionate about (I own both your first two albums on vinyl). It really seemed like someone who had done his homework in this specific genre of death metal. So before we get into the Asian themes in the music (can’t wait), can you just tell us how you found your way to death metal?
I used to be huge into hip hop (still listen, but I don’t really keep up with modern artists anymore so I only know the absolute biggest ones), but in high school, I just heard an In Flames song by chance. This would’ve been in 2004 or 2005, and it was ‘The Quiet Place’ off STYE. It was so totally different from anything else I’d ever heard before and I became obsessed; from there I got into older thrash, classic rock, and guitar playing in general. I think the specific strain of old school death metal that’s really popular I didn’t get into until like 2014. I’d been studying jazz and basically just kinda kept up with Meshuggah or Dream Theater at that point, but some friends showed me Dead Congregation and Horrendous’ new albums. When I heard those, it was like, “I have to start my own band and play music like this.” And from there I just became obsessed with diving into the modern underground scene and all the old death metal classics I’d missed out on the first time. I of course knew about bands like Dismember, Death, Cynic, Cannibal Corpse, etc before that but I was really mainly into the mainstream bands like Bodom/Nightwish/Dragonforce when I was in high school.
Woah! You got into metal after being in Hip-Hop??? That’s an amazing path to take and something I don’t hear often! If we unpack that for a bit – let’s go back to hip-hop. Just out of curiosity, as an Asian American kid when you were getting into hip-hop I can see SO MANY reasons why you would’ve found your way to hip-hop, but can you tell us what was it about hip-hop that got you into it?
My big sis was mainly responsible for my early music taste! And I think it was basically what was playing on the radio at the time, like Blackstreet, Dr Dre, or Lauryn Hill. There was also that Chinese guy, MC Jin, who got famous through rap battles on BET. He actually made me want to try and be a rapper, but thankfully there’s zero recorded evidence of any of my early attempts at music hahahhaha…
Hahahahaha…yeah MC Jin had done well in HK for a while too and then he became a bootlicker here and has promptly faded from the limelight.
Now when it comes to your journey into metal you mentioned quite a variety of bands just now. In Flames to Meshuggah to the older death metal bands – all of those are quite different (maybe not In Flames as much). Is there a reason why out of all those different types of metal, you ended up playing in something more on the old school death metal tip?
I think while I enjoyed those mainstream bands a lot and they inspired me to learn guitar and learn their songs, at that time in my life I was your stereotypical Asian American kid; study hard, go to college, get a good job, etc. But once I actually had a job and was a “productive member of society” I didn’t find it fulfilling. So I think it’s just a storm of coincidences: rediscovering old school death metal at right time, wanting to do something more with my life, wanting to really improve my craft on guitar and try writing songs, that made me start writing the kind of stuff I do now.
So rad. Thank you so much for being so candid with your answers! And as you began this journey into writing what would become RTS – you mentioned it was just meant to be a bedroom project (or started there), but you quickly began to want to bring it to stages including playing in Taiwan way back when. When/why did you make that decision and as a one-man band – how was it figuring out who to get to play the music live?
I got an offer from this guy to play at a festival in Europe. That offer actually fell through once I actually assembled a lineup, but we’re heading to Europe on tour next year so I guess that makes up for it! At the time of the first album, I was still a total unknown in the local Bay Area scene and wasn’t close with any musicians. But on one of my trips back to Taiwan, I attended a Butcher ABC show that was organized by Derek from Brain Corrosion and got to know him there. In addition, Joe from Dharma and Eric from Pub Metal Shop showed me a ton of kindness and support, so I was able to secure musicians through these connections.
Though there were plans to come back and tour through Southeast Asia with the Taiwan guys in late 2020, of course, the pandemic happened and put all of that on hold. When the second album was coming out in early 2020, I figured I had to come up with a lineup to play a few local shows to support the album. They were actually introduced to me through Josef from Sunami/Spinebreaker. He was already a fan of RTS and offered to play bass, and introduced me to the drummer from Spinebreaker, Brian. Though his work schedule ended up overlapping with our planned shows, so Josef suggested his bandmate Ryan from Doomsday to play instead, so that’s where the current lineup comes from. Mike, I’ve known him a while, since I put out the Disincarnation demo on Unspeakable Axe Records (his band Hemotoxin is also a UAR band), and when we were invited to the Decibel Festival I knew I needed a second guitarist to really bring our show to the next levels, so I invited him to play since he also played headless guitars and could shred and do vocals.
Wow! That connection to the Bay Area hardcore scene is rad! Josef is pretty much a household name amongst the worldwide hardcore community now because of those insane Sunami live videos hahahaha…
Before we get into these members that you have now, let’s hop back to those shows in Taiwan. You mentioned going “back to Taiwan” – something like that would certainly make PERFORMING there super powerful on an emotional level. What were those shows like for you? And how was the reception?
Yeah, my roots here are definitely more tied to the hardcore scene I think; Spinebreaker was one of those local DM/hardcore bands that I got really into, and Cole (ex-SB, Gulch) does all my merch printing. That guy’s work is sick!
Those shows were really stressful! I was a total nervous wreck because those shows in 2019 were the first time I ever played live, and we only had a couple of days to really rehearse together. But of course, the drummer is the most important part, and Chris (ex-Bloody Tyrant) knew the songs really well and held everyone together on stage. I think everyone was really into it at both the shows in Kaohsiung and Taipei. What I found interesting was that the audience were more fans of metal and heavy music in general, rather than a specific genre. Here in the States, we’ve mostly played to people who are specifically looking to hear our type of death metal, but in Taiwan the scene for “heavy music” is tiny, so audiences are just happy to hear anything heavy.
Yup, you hit the nail on the head. In smaller “scenes” around Asia – ALL heavy music gets lumped into one category “heavy music”. And so it’s totally common for the same people who show up to a metal show to also show up to a grindcore show to also show up to a hardcore show. There are just too few people to go around hahahaha…which is kind of and maybe the only good thing about a very VERY small scene. People seem to be way more open-minded and haven’t really pigeonholed themselves into one specific thing that they ONLY listen to.
So let’s fast forward to Relapse Records picking you up! For something that was to be just a bedroom project, how the hell did that happen???
I sent my demo to Relapse a long, long time ago, and Mike from HPGD works there as a manager, and basically all the demos that get sent to Relapse go through him. I was definitely too small for Relapse to consider at that time, worked with Mike on the RTS/Brain Corrosion split. I think in 2020 is when the band really started picking up steam: Pulverised put out the new record, covid happened and Brujeria managed to write the dumbest song about Chinese people eating bats ever, I wrote an op-ed about it for Decibel and got on the radar of Albert, the editor-in-chief, we got invited to Decibel Metal & Beer Fest, placed on Metal Blade’s Metal Massacre series, etc. So in May of last year, I put out feelers for larger labels cause I felt it was time to write a new record, and I asked Mike if Relapse would be interested in the new one, and their management came back and said yes. And that was pretty much it!
DAMN! Gotta respect the hustle, my friend! And all that patience and hard work are paying off now. It’s really important for bands to understand that having great music is for SURE super important, but learning to “network” is equally if not more important as well. As “evil” as that may seem to some people, if you want your band to get places then you do need the help of people beyond your own band members.
Yeah, absolutely. I feel like “going places” is half working hard, half knowing the right people, and half getting very lucky to be at the right place and right time! Though I honestly don’t have much patience for a lot of networking stuff, so I count myself as extremely lucky haha.
Agree – I think for most musicians we’re all a little introverted and so the “networking” aspect of playing music is a complete nightmare for some. You did touch on that Brujeria issue above – I also remember that your op-ed in Decibel garnered a LOT of support from the worldwide community. How did that make you feel, especially in a time that Asians were getting shit on left and right.
I was very glad to see so much support! You know, it’s really easy to start doubting yourself about race issues, even when you 100% know they exist. So it’s really important for me to reach other Asians and Asian Americans, and also for me to receive their feedback as well. I also realized (in no small part to some of the morons who reacted to that article) that trying to convince people their worldview is wrong is a big waste of time. It’s much better to focus on energizing people who are already sympathetic to your viewpoint, and if onlookers manage to learn something, that’s just a bonus.
Read Andrew’s full article HERE.
That’s a great mindset, especially accepting that some people who have dug their heels in you’re just never going to convince them otherwise. I know we haven’t really touched on it, but as an Asian myself who has NEVER gotten any support from his parents, I’m super curious to hear what your own parent’s journey has been from when you started the band to the amazing position you find yourself in now.
Haha….. I know they love me and like to see that I’m happy, but they would still rather see me making big career advancements and such rather than playing music. However, it’s definitely not zero support; they’ve still come to see some of my shows and encourage me. I just know that they would “prefer” that I was more of a career-minded guy hahaha
But even that’s an awesome stance that they support your passion and even come to your shows. Alright, Andrew – this has been such an amazing interview! I really appreciate your time! Could you just tell us in the coming months – what are all the amazing things RTS are about to embark on – tours, more recording perhaps, festival appearances, etc
Yeah for sure, I know that although they’re first gen immigrants and still sort of old school in mindset, my parents are way more open-minded than a lot of my friend’s parents. So our first big order of business next year: we’re gonna be playing Bloodshed Festival in the Netherlands, alongside bands like Suffocation, Pig Destroyer, Wolfbrigade, etc, and we’ll be touring with Live Burial all the way from the UK, through France and Germany, to get there. We’ve talked with friends about setting up some appearances on the East Coast, and also maybe some other shows in the PNW, but those are all still in pretty early planning stages. I wouldn’t expect more new music before 2024 at the earliest though, probably 2025 realistically since we’ve got to support this album a little bit before thinking about the next one! Thanks so much for always supporting the band Riz!
Absolutely my man! Good luck with everything and hopefully after all the dust settles here in Asia we’ll get you all out here!