Withered’s Mike Thompson talks about Verloren, Atlanta, and more

Conducted by Scott Belzer | March 16th, 2023

SB: Thanks for taking the time to talk with me! You guys have been unleashing metal in Atlanta for quite some time–almost 20 years! Not a lot of bands make it that long. How has Withered kept pace and stayed active for as long as you have?

Yeah, actually, June this year will be 20 years since we formed. Which is a bit of a mind fuck to think about. Haha. Feels like a blink and an entirely other life simultaneously. I think it boils down to we just write what we need to write. Not for capitalistic ‘success’ or posturing or anything else. We genuinely want to take music to places (emotionally) we’ve never been before and I guess it still pays off for us. It definitely does for me. Twenty years ago I thought I’d be bored or “over it” by now. Not at all. So a few years ago, I accepted it’s apparently a lifelong sentence for me.

SB: Your latest album, Verloren, is your first offering since 2017. What drove this record’s creation?

[Mike]  Primarily, it was locking down and settling into our (hopefully) long-term lineup. And, well, with any album, sooner or later, the overwhelming urge to climb that mountain can’t be ignored any longer. Rafay & Dan have been friends for many, many years, and on a personal level, we all share a unique perspective on trauma and existence. This was the primary force behind ‘Verloren’.

SB: What song do you enjoy the most from this album and why? What’s the most fun to play, especially live?

[Mike]  That’s a tough call. Each song is uniquely contextual, so the place, time, people, and personal state of mind can call for any one of the songs. I know that’s vague, haha. So, as a listener, the combination of the song “Verloren” as a setup for “From Ashen Shores” and the journey those take me on is tough to beat. Vinyl + headphones + pure dark room = transcendence for me. Live, however, “The Predation” is an explosion of energy and cathartic release.

SB: What separates Verloren from your previous work? What makes it unique?

[Mike]  As mentioned before, the 4 of us as a working entity is relatively new making it unique to bring Withered through that new lens. Also, we finished writing and start tracking for this as the pandemic kicked off in full force. That context shaped it quite a bit. It also affected us individually in significant ways. I think each of our albums stand out quite a bit from the rest. Much to the dismay of many genre-loyal fans/critics. Haha. Best move is to just have a listen, focus on the emotions, and take what you will.

SB: Where was the album recorded, mixed and mastered?

[Mike]  We tracked at Orange Peel in Kennesaw with our dear dear friend, Raheem Amlani. He also did our previous album. This one, however, I tapped an old buddy, Greg Wilkinson from Earhammer Studios in Oakland to mix it for us. He was going to fly in to join us for tracking but… Pandemic. We then tapped another dear friend, Jarett Pritchard for mastering. He’d worked with us on several tours as tour manager and front of house. We’ve wanted to work with in this aspect for quite some time and couldn’t be happier with the results.

SB: What active bands are you guys rocking out to? What role do these bands play in Withered’s current sound?

Hmm, strangely, I listen to less and less music these days for some reason. I still love it but am maybe just too busy. I listen to a lot of non-metal but equally atmospheric stuff. I love a project called Boduf Songs and instrumentalist Steven R. Smith these days. And I’ll always be stoked when Crowbar, Dead Congregation, and a few other timeless albums are on.

SB: What bands inspired you guys to get started in the first place? What about them made you want to make your own offerings to the metal gods?

Oh man, for me it’s more about albums than bands since, as discussed, a single band can vary greatly from album to album. So, my biggest inspirations were [Metallica’s] “…And Justice For All”, [Graves’] “You’ll Never See…”, [Neurosis’s] “Times of Grace”, [Weakling’s] “Dead as Dreams”, [Crowbar’s] “Sonic Excess in It’s Purest Form”, [Entombed’s] “Clandestine”, and we’ll say [Sepultura’s] “Arise” to balance it all out.

SB: Do you have a favorite tour you’ve been on? What made it the best of the best (the bands, the people, the venues, or all of the above)?

[Mike]  That’s a really tough call. Pretty much every tour has been amazing and gifted me with lifelong friends. Blackest Of The Black with Danzig in 2010 was like rockstar fantasy camp. Everything was great. Our 2017 tour with Morbid Angel was a blast. We had so much fun with those guys, Suffocation, and Revocation. But I always tend to miss intimacy with crowds in those contexts. I truly enjoy packed bars with 100-300 people. It’s intense; I can look everyone in the eye. I can’t think of a tour that isn’t uniquely special to me. Our last U.S. tour with Primitive Man & Blood Incantation was near perfect in that regard. They’re all pretty much a gift. I will mention our 2016 tour with Inter Arma as being the only one I absolutely couldn’t stand and would never do again. Those fuckin guys! Haha, psyche. I cannot describe the kind of bond you share with certain folks and those guys are 666% family for us. I go way back with a few of ‘em and that tour was bonkers.

SB: When it comes to Atlanta, what’s one thing most people don’t know about its music scene(s)? What’s it been like playing in Atlanta for as long as you have?

What I think is most evident here that people don’t realize is that, despite the diversity of bands, we’re all fairly intimate and quite friendly with each other. Many of the other national acts that are from here all started together in the same DIY spots, punk bars, etc. It’s fairly unique and enjoyable that most working bands here stand on their own and aren’t part of a “sound”. I still really enjoy Atlanta. The camaraderie among the people I know is unbeatable. I’ve spent a lot of time in a lot of towns and I’ve yet to be tempted to move. The grass is always greener at home 😉  

SB: How have things changed in the Atlanta music scene since you began playing?

Completely…. About 3 or 4 times over. Haha. I started playing out as a young teen in the mid ’90s. I watched the Olympics wipe out a good portion of small & DIY venues that were critical to the scene back then. And I’ve watched all the waves of trends, etc. The artists/musicians always build neighborhoods & communities to then be usurped by someone with more money than sense. But I think a lot of towns experience that. Nowadays with the Y’allywood phenomenon, it’s ultra insane. But I think it’ll keep on truckin’. Flip side of the coin, Mastodon built a nice cozy music complex many bands call home, EAV is mostly dominating the bar/venue scene, & A Rippin production has almost single-handedly re-sculpted the rock/metal scene for the better and helped put Atlanta back on regular touring rotation for national acts. I remember a long time when most bands would just skip this town.

SB: What Atlanta bands have you the most excited right now? What should ATLiens be listening to?

I recently got super stoked on Tsuris. They’re an unrelenting black metal band from the south side. Love ‘em. If that’s not your thing, my other favorite old-timers and reconveners, Royal Thunder, are back with a vengeance. Everyone loves them, and rightfully so. Sadistic Ritual is simply badass. Always love them. And I’m excited about Drifter too. Not to exclude anyone, there are several other fantastic groups right now. Just pay attention to who’s playing Boggs, The Earl, Sabbath Brewing, & Catacombs. That’ll send anyone in the “right” direction.

SB: Any advice for younger bands looking to make their mark in the city?

[Mike] Get a van, be awesome, have fun, make friends, support other bands/shows, take what you can get and find gratitude for having a healthy scene that will actually let you play shows. Oh yeah, and BE AWESOME. Mostly as people. Doesn’t hurt to also be an awesome band but being rad people to spend quality time with is utmost.

SB: Provided you had a way to play it, what’s one album you’d bring with you to a desert island? Why?

 …And Justice For All. I still get goosebumps when that “Blackened” intro comes on.

SB: Pizza, wings, or nachos? 

[Mike]  Yes, please.

Withered kick off the party Saturday, April 8th at Boggs Social & Supply with EYEHATEGOD & GOATWHORE!