International Music Interviews

A Conversation With Miss Lava: On Hanging With COC, Writing ‘Doom Machine,’ and Catharsis

Miss Lava is a formidable four-piece from Lisbon, Portugal. Given the opportunity to review their recently released Doom Machine, we were taken by the album’s intricate songwriting, heartbreaking lyrics, and atmospheric depth. We don’t dole out a ton of 10/10s here at Monster Riff, but Doom Machine was a deserving exception.

Miss Lava is:

Johnny Lee: Vocals
J. Garcia: Drums
K. Raffah: Guitars
Ricardo Ferreira: Bass and Vocals

We recently caught up with Johnny and Raffah to talk about Doom Machine and a few other topics.

An Interview With Miss Lava

Here’s our interview with Johnny and Raffah of Miss Lava:

On Doom Machine’s Release

Monster Riff: Doom Machine comes with quite a history attached to it, and it’s been a long time coming. It was initially recorded in 2019, and it was supposed to be released in early 2020. It only recently came out earlier this year. How does it feel to finally have it out and for people to listen to it now? 

Raffah: It’s a great relief to have the album out. When you’re in a band and you’re waiting for an album to release, it just brings so much anxiety to the entire crew. It’s not like it’s the first time it’s happened to us, but it’s never been this long. 

We had different dates proposed by the label, and the 15th of January was the first one… We just couldn’t sit around with it anymore. We understand that record plans have delays because of COVID, and there was no way around it. 

We’ve done what we can to promote it. We have the music videos. We have the interviews. We have the reviews. But there hasn’t been anything else because we can’t go out to tour and play it live. On one hand, we could have waited to go out on tour and play it live. But it is what it is. 

The overall feeling is that it is a great relief to have it out. We worked really hard on this album. 

Monster Riff: What about you, Johnny? 

Johnny: The same. We finished recording in August of 2019, and then we took four or five months to mix it. Then we had the album ready in the first week of January, or something like that. Everything was set to release around May, but it was postponed because of the pandemic. 

On Tragedy and Catharsis

Monster Riff: This is an album that is really marked by tragedy. My condolences to Raffah on the loss of your child. You had this terrible personal tragedy that occurred before going into the studio, and then everything was delayed by an international tragedy in the form of a global pandemic. Can you talk a little bit about catharsis from an artistic standpoint? Was there any sort of catharsis in the creation of this album? And is there any sort of catharsis now as it comes out? Or do you find yourself reliving some of those moments and emotions from the recording process?

Raffah: Thank you for your kind words. For me, there was definitely catharsis during the process. After my son passed away, my heart was in a different place. When you go through something like that and you start to play, things will flow differently. They will be much deeper. I think catharsis is a good way to put it.

I think this record is as much about darkness as it is about light. When I think about my son, I think about the good feelings. He will always be with me. I’ll remember him for the time he was here with me. 

Johnny can talk more about this, if you want to see my relationship with everyone in the band. Here, in my family, I have three more kids—three girls. We never dealt with my son’s passing like it was taboo. We think about him in a bright way, with lots of color and light. 

This album was cathartic for all of us in the band because the other members also have kids. My kid was born, and he spent about a month in the hospital. And then he came home, and then it was another week in the hospital. In the meantime, Ricardo’s second daughter was born in the same hospital where my son was. 

I was going to the hospital to be with my kid overnight, and he was going there to be a father. It was all so complex. You’re losing your kid, but another guy is having his kid, and I’m so happy for him that his kid is healthy, but I would also like for my kid to be healthy. And when you look at it from his point of view, it must be very hard for him as well. 

Cathartic is a good way to put it. 

I hadn’t listened to the record for a long time after we mastered it. And then the album came out and I started listening to it again. And there are some songs where I’m immediately drawn into those moments again, and some of those moments are difficult. There’s a song, “The Fall,” which makes it difficult for me to relive some of the darker moments, the most difficult moments of my life. There’s an interlude song called “Alpha” that is an ode to him. Whenever I hear that song, I’m thinking about him. 

Although I relive some of those darker moments, I also like to have a smile on my face. When I relive these moments, he’s here with me. When I’m talking to you about this, he’s here with me.

Of course, Doom Machine is not only about him and about this tragedy. It inspired Johnny to develop something else with his lyrics, to think about questions like, “What is our role here? What are we doing with our time here?” 

On Doom Machine’s Sound

Monster Riff: Doom Machines is a bit more atmospheric than your other records. Was that a deliberate choice? Or is that something that happened organically as you were jamming and tying everything together?

Raffah: For our third album, Sonic Debris, we started experimenting with a lot of different stuff. We deliberately wanted to be more psychedelic, and we wanted to do stuff we had never done before. When we started playing that album live, we would often go onto the stage and jam. We didn’t know what was going to happen because each jam would be different from one jam to another. I think that stayed with the band during the creation of this album. 

When the third album came out, Garcia, the drummer, was a father. And then my wife was pregnant with Antonio. And then Ricardo’s girlfriend was pregnant with his daughter. And then Johnny started spending more time in Africa for work, so we had intense periods of rehearsal and longer periods where we wouldn’t rehearse. And we thought, well, we have to make new music. So Ricardo came up with the idea of just going into the rehearsal room to jam. So we just started jamming more and more. The best jams were the ones that became the songs on Doom Machine. It wasn’t intended to happen like that, but it happened organically. 

I remember one time we were doing a show in Barcelona. It’s a long trip, like a nine-hour car ride to Barcelona from here. During the trip, we listened to the recording of our jams. We sat in the van and dissected the songs, figuring out what we were doing well, what we weren’t doing well, what we should and shouldn’t do. And Johnny sort of held the role of producer, and he recommended that we try different song structures. We shouldn’t use the normal structures of verse, chorus, verse, chorus. We should try something different. So the atmospheres were organic, but there was a lot of work behind it because we rewrote everything so much. 

Miss Lava Band Photo

On Lyrics And Visual Art

Monster Riff: I was really struck by the lyrics on this record. There was even a section on “The Great Divide” that I called out in my full album review that I mentioned seemed like something T.S. Elliot may have had in “The Wasteland.” Johnny, you’re in charge of the lyrics. This is a skill that you learned from reading Metal lyrics, right?

Johnny: It started that way. But I remember in my Portuguese classes learning about Fernando Pessoa, a poet from the late 19th century, early 20th century. I loved dissecting all of the lines and words. 

Monster: And did I read that you learned English by studying Metal lyrics?

Johnny: Yeah, that was my first connection with lyrics. In Portugal, we never dub over television.  So, if a guy speaks in English, we always have subtitles. When I was younger, I was already reading and trying to understand. 

Monster Riff: Any bands you liked to read or listen to for their lyrics when you were younger?

Johnny: At first, I was very into Thrash Metal. All of the politics and chaos. And because I was a young rebel, I would have long hair and everybody called me a junkie even though I never used drugs. 

Monster Riff: I’ve also read that you learned how to draw by drawing Iron Maiden covers. 

Johnny: Yeah, I was like 10 or something. And really, all the covers. 

Monster Riff: Have you done any of the covers for Miss Lava albums?

Johnny: No, never. They would never let me! [Laughs] No, I’m just kidding. My kind of design is very realistic. And I don’t think that it’s the right approach for the band. I started making some banners in the early stages, with very realistic fire, and the guys didn’t like it. So we asked a friend of ours, and he’s been doing the art since then. We’re very glad he does that.

Raffah: Johnny’s joking about us not letting him, of course. He has done some of the artwork for our merchandise. 

On What’s Coming Next

Monster Riff: There’s been quite a bit of time between when Doom Machine was written and when it was finally released. You typically release new material, whether it’s an EP or a full album, roughly every two years. Any chance we’ll see something new from you next year?

Johnny: We don’t have anything planned. And because of the pandemic, we’re not rehearsing. We share the rehearsal room with many other bands, and we don’t know them personally. So we don’t know their habits, where they’ve been, whether they have children back home… We don’t want to risk an infection. But I think we’d like to do something live, maybe record something live for a broadcast. A jam would probably come out of that session, and then we may have some new material. 

Monster Riff: Are any of the band members writing solo at the moment?

Johnny: I don’t think so. I’ve been spending all of my free time with my child. And because I’m working at home in front of my computer, I don’t have any spare time for writing right now. 

Raffah: I don’t think anyone’s writing. Of course, riffs come to mind, and I record those riffs to my cell phone. There’s always a guitar at hand for playing a little bit. But, honestly, I’m really looking forward to going back to the rehearsal room. When we get back together, we’ll have to rehearse for the live shows, but we will also want to play some new shit. 

Johnny: As a band, we usually work together. It’s very rare for someone to bring a whole song to practice. Someone might bring a riff, and I might bring a section of lyrics. We usually do it all together. 

On Touring Dreams

Monster Riff: Like every other band in the world, you haven’t been able to tour and promote this album. But you have shared the stage with some really cool bands in the past. You’ve opened for Queens of the Stone Age, Kyuss Lives!, Fu Manchu, Slash… If you could be on tour right now and sharing the stage with anyone, who would you want to be playing with?

Johnny: I always love Monster Magnet or Corrosion of Conformity, like you probably read. I love Clutch. I love all of those southern Stoner bands. 

Raffah: For me, it would be Clutch. I would really like to see Clutch live. 

On Partying With COC and Other Stories

Monster Riff: Speaking of Corrosion of Conformity, you guys have a pretty great COC story, right?

Johnny: That’s the best story. I was 19, maybe 18 and a half. In those days, we didn’t have the internet. We didn’t have a lot of magazines. We didn’t know what the guys sounded like except for MTV and Headbangers Ball. And we got to meet the guys that we loved! 

I remember that night. I was wearing a COC t-shirt I had hand-drawn. I was holding my new CD of Deliverance and I was literally looking for them. We were looking for them and we found them, and the guys were very cool. They were very happy. We finally asked them, “Hey, do you want to come get drinks with us? We know this place where the drinks are really cheap.” And they were like, “Cheap? Let’s go!” Because this place was expensive. 

Raffah: They were in this really touristy place. They were having a really great time with these two girls that were friends of ours. They were having a good time, but it was really touristy. So we said, “Do you guys want to come with us?” They were like, “Yeah, man!” And Reed [Mullin] joins us, and he was with his girlfriend at the time. 

Johnny: And Nick Menza from Megadeth was there. He was hiding from Dave Mustaine. “Don’t tell Dave Mustaine I’m here, man!”

Raffah: They were telling us that Mustaine was in a sober phase and they couldn’t even have drinks on stage or anything. So the whole crew—all of a sudden you’ve got sound techs, light techs, the whole crew—everyone is getting shitfaced, just drinking and smoking, whatever. 

We were huge Corrosion of Conformity fans, and Pepper [Keenan] was very personable. He really liked hanging out with us. Reed, too. At one point, we were outside of this bar, a pool house, and we were talking about bands we liked. I asked Pepper, “I just heard in an interview that you recorded a version of ‘Lord of This World’ by Black Sabbath.” And he was telling us all about it.  

They were telling Johnny, “We’ll call you onto stage. Tomorrow at the show, wear that same t-shirt! I’ll bring you up on stage!”

Johnny: I was at the show, and Mike [Dean] was asking someone to sing, and Reed got out of the drumset and said, “No, no, no! Mike! Look for the guy with the t-shirt!” And I was right in front of him and he finally saw me. He pulled me right onto the stage

Monster Riff: Did he give you a microphone?

Johnny: Yeah, man. They brought two guys onto the stage. One was to play guitar and they taught him a very basic riff. And then they told me, “When I say, “Motherfucker,” you go, “Die!” And I was like, “Diiie!” all the time. I didn’t care! [Laughs]

Raffah: The next time they came to Portugal was a year later or two years later. They were opening for Metallica. We went to talk to Reed and he recognized us! He was like, “I took photos with you last time!” 

Years later, in 2012 or 2013, I went to South By Southwest. I went to see them, and they were only a trio. And I went to Reed and I was like, “I was with you all those years ago!” And he was like, “I have photos with you, man!” He was the greatest guy, you know? Very cool guy. 

Monster Riff: That’s awesome. The first time you get to see or meet one of your heroes like that is really special. So, you’ve met COC, which I’m sure was a crowning moment. But you’ve toured with quite a few bands over the years. Any other favorite rock ‘n’ roll stories?

Johnny: I have another good story, but it’s about Thrash Metal. I was a big fan of Coroner when they came to Portugal to play with Moonspell. Since I was good friends with the drummer from Moonspell, Mike, he asked me to come backstage and meet the guys. So I went before sound check. At the time, the new approach of the band was a little Gothic, and I was really into the new album. I really liked it. That helped us break the ice because they were unsure about the new album. So it was nice for them to talk with a guy who had all of the albums. I was so fond of Coroner that I spent most of my time backstage talking to Tommy about the band. They left to do sound check and they called me to come along. So it was only me and the band on the stage. I was like, “Man, if I was 10 years younger, I’d probably be crying at this moment.” I was with my teen idols with just me and the band on the stage. I remember Tommy saying, “This is the first time I’m going to play “Flag of Hate,” and I’m going to play it for you.” 

Monster Riff: What about you, Raffah? Do you have a favorite story?

Raffah: Not like that. We always go back to when we were kids because we live here in Cascais. It was the venue of the ‘90s and the early 2000s. Whenever we had a Metal concert, it would be in Cascais. I remember the first time Sepultura came over to play in Portugal, we were with them. We got backstage passes to go backstage after the show. I’m Brazilian, and when I first started listening to Metal, I wanted to be Max Cavalera. I had posters all over the bedroom, so it was a great time. 

I remember opening for Fu Manchu. They were really cool guys. And then there was Slash. We were in this huge venue, waiting for our time to sound check. Slash was there with his band, and they were jamming some Bluesy stuff with Myles Kennedy playing guitar with the bass player and the drummer. And then Slash comes along. He’s like, “Hey, man, how are you guys doing?” Really cool. And he just goes onto the stage and starts showing the drummer and the rest of the band how to play “Rocket Queen.” They were learning “Rocket Queen” at that sound check, and we were on stage, seeing that. That’s a good memory, of course. 

Johnny: Josh Homme was very friendly when we played with him. I remember trying to take a picture with him. “Can I take a picture with you?” He’s like, “Bring that beard over here, man!”

One of the friendliest guys I’ve spoken with was Chuck Schuldiner from Death. He was really a gentleman. I was in London and it was freezing cold, and the guy was barefoot in the street. And he talked with me for about an hour with no shoes on. He was very friendly. 

On Joining Small Stone

Monster Riff: You guys are with Small Stone Records, which is or has been the label for some notable bands in this space: Nightstalker, Sasquatch, Greenleaf—the list goes on and on. Obviously, Scott Hamilton has a penchant for picking out great bands. What’s it like working with Scott and Small Stone?

Johnny: It’s always been good. We’re very honored to be with Small Stone. I think the relationship has developed over the years. In the beginning, we had to adjust to the distance. You’re sitting there writing an email, and the person on the other side is five hours behind you. But we’ve developed a nice dialogue, and they’ve always been really supportive. 

I got to meet Scott in person the last time I was at South By Southwest. He was a really nice guy, and he was having a bourbon and asked me to have a beer with him. We were watching a band of Sasquatch’s bass player, his side project. 

It’s been a good ride, and it has become more and more solid over the years.

Monster Riff: How did you get connected?

Johnny: We released our first EP (Blues for the Dangerous Miles) through a Portuguese label called Raging Planet. We sent that album to everyone and it had a sort of impact here in Portugal. It was the first album we opened for Slash. We opened for Fu Manchu. MTV was still playing videos and it began playing videos from our first album. We sent the album out to different sites. I remember sending the album to JJ from The Obelisk. He reviewed it. 

So people were starting to write about us. And when we went to do our second album, we thought, “Hey, maybe we should do this with a different producer.” So we started thinking about doing the album with Matt Hyde. He had done a Monster Magnet album. He had done Slayer. And Deftones. So we went to Los Angeles to work with him. 

We ended up playing at Whisky a Go Go. I remember we sent out an email to all of the contacts we had, and we were sending everything to labels. Then a video came out that we shot in Las Vegas, for a song called “Ride.” I remember that Scott mentioned it on Facebook, and he started talking to us on social media. Then one day, an email comes in. “Hey, we really like this record. We want to put it on Small Stone, but we want to remix and remaster it.” So that was about it. 

Where to Learn More

If you’d like to learn more about Miss Lava, check out their website, get your copy of Doom Machine on Bandcamp, or follow Miss Lava on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter

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