Always a wreck: an interview with Vanilla Poppers

Okay. What you have below is an interview with Christina Pap of the very excellent Vanilla Poppers.

The band play caustic-yet-catchy punk with a raw melodic edge, and they have releases out on labels like Lumpy, Feel It, Drunken Sailor, Negative Jazz and Christina’s own Blow Blood Records.

This chat was supposed to chime with the band’s European tour and that didn’t quite happen, and then it was supposed to coincide with the 7” that Drunken Sailor put out, but that didn’t quite happen either. Then I changed jobs, got sick a bunch of times, had some Life Upheaval and… somehow this thing stayed stuck in my inbox for the better part of two years.

In that time, the band has gone dormant – Christina has moved from the US to her native Melbourne, though the plan is for her to get back stateside at some point. In the meantime, she now plays in a band called SWAB, who you should most definitely check out.

That all makes this rather tardy, but the band’s records are still knocking around and Christina’s responses are thoughtful and interesting enough to be well worth a cup of tea’s worth of your time.

Please give us a quick Vanilla Poppers overview: who does what, how did the band get together, and what was the original motivation behind the band? 

Jo is on guitar, Steve on bass and I sing. Drew is the original drummer and still is but we’ve had a bunch of fill-ins over the duration of the band – to tour and also when we were based out of Australia for a half year in 2018. I moved to Cleveland for a few months in May 2015 and we started VP the day I moved there. Steve, Jo and Drew were already jamming for a one-off band participating in a fundraiser for Horrible Fest that year. Jo had some songs but I don’t think the original singer was keen on how mid-paced they were – they were more after what you’d expect when you think about Cleveland hardcore. I think everyone had their own personal motivations for wanting to the do the band but first and foremost we were all friends and got along and wanted to jam and hang out.

You have a couple of releases out now, so how would you say things have changed over time? 

I guess we’ve all gotten better or fine-tuned how we wanted to be or sound in the band; maybe not to a full extent. We’ve gotten tighter. I’d never sang before and didn’t know what I was doing (still don’t really). Jo was still fresh on guitar and was starting to write his own songs when we started. The only other band he’d being doing it in at that time I think was Perverts Again. Drew was used to a different sort of drumming so doing VP was a new style for him to adjust to. The whole thing has just been trying and learning and building. We’re still growing.

You’ve struck upon this really cool sound that’s both fresh and familiar. Did you genetically engineer the sound, or did things just come together by happenstance?

I don’t think anything was planned, Jo was experimenting and learning to write songs and so was Steve. It kinda just came what it became.

Am I right in thinking Vanilla Poppers is the first band you’ve fronted? Assuming so, how did you find stepping up to the mic? I’ve done it a couple of times and frankly found the whole experience terrifying…

Definitely terrifying, to the point I’d be nervous for weeks before the show. To the point I’d be black out drunk falling off stage, concussed, covered in scratches and bruises, not remembering the set…always a wreck. But I also just couldn’t give it up. As much as it made me so depressed to think that I wasn’t some perfect hot chick on stage and everyone was judging me or didn’t like the band because I didn’t look the part, or we didn’t fit the type of Cleveland hardcore, we weren’t fast enough or punk enough or cool enough. The thoughts would plague me and drag me down and I couldn’t cope but I was with my best friends and as much as it killed me it was still always the best time of my life.

How did/do you approach your vocals, and did anyone give you pointers in terms of style, technique or simply not shredding your voicebox? 

I shredded my voicebox a lot. Had to cut down on the cigs, try not to smoke before the gig and only have one after. Little rules you put in place for yourself to try work it out. Drink tea although I’d usually just drink coffee, which is bad because it dehydrates your vocal chords (or something like that). Don’t think anyone gave me any real pointers, I kinda just winged it and always wished I could be better.

There’s a real sense of desperation and ennui to the lyrics, as well as a darkly-comedic arched eyebrow when it comes to the punk scene and how people behave within it. What are you trying to get out of your system with your lyrics, and what kind of bugbears would you like to shine a light on? 

I don’t know if there’s any songs you’re thinking about in particular. ‘I Like Your Band’ was making fun of the Melbourne Punk Scene but also myself, because I did that shit too. My friends are party animals and speed is the drug of choice. The joke was that you spend all your time at the show in the bathroom doing drugs and then when you see your friend whose band played you lie and pretend you watched them and tell them how good they are. “I like your band”…

All the lyrics have come from something that’s been on my mind… problems I can’t shake that lead to self-oppression. Angry for not being able to move on in life, for not being better… also a lot of irrational and paranoid thoughts, reading into things or blowing things out or proportion. When you have those thoughts in real life you talk yourself out of it and know it’s in your head but with Vanilla Poppers I ran with it and became the crazy and paranoid I had to hide to try be a normal functioning person. I dunno, this shit is probably something I should be trying to work out in therapy more so than dissecting in an interview question.

How did you tackle the LP? Did you write it as ‘An Album’, or was it just a case of collecting songs you had and putting them into an order that worked? 

A bunch of songs we had, that we ordered the way we thought sounded best. The album is more just a snapshot of us in the year that we wrote it than writing it to be anything in particular.

How did the European tour go? What were the most memorable shows/events/aspects, and what kind of life-learns did you get out of the experience?

The Euro tour was a lot of things good and bad. The further in the past it becomes, the easier it is to forget the bad stuff and remember all the good things. It’s better to look back on it fondly than with resentment and annoyance, which is what I had a lot of after we had just finished it. There were six of us in the van – the four of us in the band and then the person driving and the person that booked the tour. None of us four had ever been to Europe before.

Obvious question that you’re probably been asked loads: how did you come to relocate, and why did you choose Cleveland, Ohio? 

I remember before I’d left, I would tell people that I was moving to Cleveland and their response was always the same – “Why??!!” or they’d point and laugh at me, hah…I had been to Cleveland a few times over the years and there was (still is) a place in my heart for that shitty city more so than any other place I’d been to. I was sick of the Melbourne punk scene at the time. Sick of dudes and their dumb boring crap in the scene. Sick of fighting to be a part of a scene that didn’t give a shit about me (or at least it felt like that at the time) so I got out. My plan was to stay in Cleveland for half a year and then move to Canada on a work holiday visa, which is what I did.

The first time I went to Cleveland was for Horrible Fest in 2011. It was the weirdest weekend I’d ever had at that point. I saw a car get smashed and flipped and set on fire (for fun). At the after party show, I couldn’t even watch the band playing because if I took my eyes of the bins being thrown across the room I was sure to get hit in the head by it.

Cleveland is crazy. It’s can also be super bleak. People ride on those stories about what Cleveland is about or used to be about. The fireworks, shows getting shut down, shit getting smashed, people getting beat up, whatever. They are really ignoring the other side of the coin – poverty, depression, being help up at gun point, having your house rolled constantly, drug and alcohol addiction… how would I know anyway, I was only there for half a year and I’m from Melbourne. But within that place and at the time, I found more acceptance in just being me than I’d ever felt in the Melbourne punk scene, a community I’d initially looked to find family, camaraderie, acceptance…

Upping sticks and moving to a new town (let alone a new country) can be pretty daunting, but I always think ‘the scene’ offers punx a semi safety net: it’s not entirely abnormal to contact strangers out of the blue (especially if they run a label or put on shows) and you find yourself meeting and knowing people by osmosis the more you go to gigs or schlep around record stores. How was moving cities, and how daunting/welcoming was getting involved with what was going on? 

 That’s definitely all true…I think I knew one person when I first went to the states in 2011 (Sam Richardson, who I knew from trading zines). Then I’d meet another, they’d recommend somewhere else to go or I’d go a place I knew no one and had to talk to people and make friends and suss stuff out for myself (Cleveland for example). By the time I moved to Cleveland in 2015 I knew a few people so it wasn’t a totally new experience. Plus I like being alone…I guess I didn’t really think about a lot of it, I just did it y’know. You do it and you work it out along the way. I couldn’t wait to leave Melbourne, doesn’t mean it wasn’t hard. I didn’t want to leave Cleveland, and it was some of the most heart wrenching shit I’ve been through. I remember going back for shows and on the bus back to Toronto I would cry for hours. Some of those people were my absolute family y’know, being forced to leave every time feels like something in me is dying over and over… maybe it sounds lame. I won’t ever forget it though. You learn to live. People over there were very welcoming and keen on what I was doing, doing the zine and later the label and generally trying to be active in some way in the scene and help out or hang out. It was more time than I felt anyone gave me in Australia at the time.


Unavoidable isolation: an interview with Dauðyflin

Dauðyflin is an intense and caustic hardcore band from Iceland with releases out on Iron Lung, Erste Theke Tonträger and Paradísarborgarplötur. In their short lifespan they’ve managed to make some of the most enjoyably difficult-to-listen-to music currently going, which is definitely something to applaud. All members of the band took the time out to answer some of my dub questions, for which I am infinitely grateful. The guilty parties are:

Alexandra (vocals)

Dísa (bass)

Fannar (drums)

Júlíana (guitar)

Okay, let’s start with the stock zine stuff: could you please tell us a bit about the band – how, where, when and why did the band get together? 

Júlíana: Me, Fannar and Alexandra had been in a couple of bands together before and we wanted to start another one so we brought in Dísa, who we knew was likeminded and could play bass.

What was the original thinking behind the band? Did you work out a specific game plan, or just start making noise and see how things turned out?

Fannar: I think the original idea was just make a band that people could mosh and pogo to, and to have anti-social, violent, tongue-in-cheek lyrics.

Dísa: Yes, we knew we wanted to play something kind of heavy and fast and then things just evolved from there. I don’t think we had a specific game plan in mind, we just wanted to play music together.

How (if at all) has the band’s outlook and approach to making music changed over the past couple of years? Have these been conscious shifts, or organic ones? 

Júlíana: I think the shifts have been mostly organic. They might have somewhat to do with us getting slightly better at playing together and me learning to play guitar.

There’s something weird about Dauðyflin’s music: there’s a lot going on and it all sounds crazed and thoroughly chaotic, but at the same time there seems to be a lot of focus. How do you go about constructing a song, and what would you say the essential ingredients of Dauðyflin’s sound are?

Fannar: We usually just start with a riff that someone brought to practice or stumbled on while just messing around between songs or whatever. Then we just kinda build on that. We’re not super focused on riffs being one way or the other, but we have a way of riffing and drumming and a sound that makes most of what we come up with fit into a sort of cohesive whole I guess.

Dísa: We usually just start out with a riff or two and then build the basic structure of the song from that. Then the layers get added on as we go until we think it sounds good and makes sense as a whole. The essential ingredients are basically just a lot of distortion and feedback, I think.

Fannar: Sometimes we’ll write riffs just by singing something that sounds like it’s from a 50s horror or sci-fi movie, like something that should be a cheesy organ or theremin line, and make a riff from that. Those are some of our best riffs.

To go with the wild music, I always think your artwork is brilliantly idiosyncratic: you use a lot of the punk tropes we might expect (Skulls! Knives! Vomit! Sigils!) but there’s a weird, sideways approach to them – like Nick Blinko designed it for the most warped children’s TV show imaginable. Who comes up with the artwork, and what’s the thinking behind it? Was it your aim to be different, and stand out from all the similar-looking punk records we flip through in the distro box? 

Fannar: Me and Júlíana collaborated on the first two releases and then I’ve done the last two. Personally, I just want the artwork to represent the music. I want people to be able to have a basic understanding of what’s on the record just by looking at the cover. It took a couple of releases to sort of figure out what that meant, but I think we got it with the LP and the ‘Dauþiflin’ EP.

Júlíana: The artwork reflects a lot of the aesthetic we are obsessed with, inspired by horror movies and weird cartoons. Me and Fannar can spend hours watching weird YouTube videos and cartoons.

Alexandra: We also wanted to have this juxtaposition of violent imagery and colours people associate with femininity.

What’s going on in Iceland at the moment? Are things healthy in terms of bands / venues / audiences? What kind of crowd do Dauðyflin bring in? 

Fannar: Things are pretty okay I guess. We have one small DIY venue downtown and a couple of bars that put on shows. There’s always a lot of music in Reykjavík and there’s a handful of hardcore bands. Almost everyone who is into hardcore in Iceland seems to come at it more from metal than punk, so we don’t really fit in anywhere. We’re maybe not really a heavy band but we’re still aggressive and fucked up. So I’m not really sure we bring in anybody, to be honest. But people seem to like us when we play.

I was lucky enough to go to Reykjavik a couple of years ago, and was struck by how utterly different the Icelandic landscape is – it’s like nowhere else I’ve been. Similarly, the sense of history is very vivid, the island is isolated and the language is very distinct (and very old – I seem to remember reading that the written language had remained largely the same, so that schoolchildren could effectively read the Eddas?). What I guess I’m winding up to here is me wondering whether this might create any sense of ‘apartness’ that you’re conscious of? The Icelandic music that comes my way (ROHT, Nornahetta, Bjork…) often seems pretty singular, but I don’t know if it’s just that I’m predisposed to digging out odd sounds…

Alexandra: I guess being a few hundred thousand people on a tiny island, the odds of finding music that’s different are higher than your average city. It’s easier to find something weird and special because it stands out.

Dísa: I think it’s unavoidable to have a sense of isolation when you live on a small island in the middle of the ocean, especially with such a small population. Of course it’s easier now to get in touch with people in other countries and hear new music through the internet but you have to make a conscious effort to do so. It’s not like in more populous places where something is going on all the time and you can just stumble on a show or something like that.

This is a far more crass, and a far less philosophical question: your country is insanely expensive, so how does the average Icelander (who, say, works in an office or a shoe shop or whatever) manage to survive? Does it mean you’re able to throw your money around like royalty when you visit other countries? 

Júlíana: I think most people just work A LOT. I myself have two jobs and usually not a lot of money left at the end of the month.

Alexandra: About throwing money around like royalty – it used to be like that. I remember being 17 in the US travelling with a friend and doing a lot of ridiculous shit and throwing money around like it was nothing. But the economic collapse in 2008 really changed things here.

You’ve toured the US and the UK – what were those tours like, and how (if at all) did the experiences change you as people or as a band? What, for better or for worse, were the most memorable moments on those tours? 

Júlíana: Well the first thing that comes to mind is that on the UK tour we rented a car that was wayyy to small. We were seven in a tiny car, us, the band ROHT and our driver Jake, all cramped together in a car about the size of a Yaris with two extra seats in the back, PLUS all our gear. We felt like we were in a clown car, it was difficult but probably brought us closer together.

Dísa: I think the best thing about touring was finding out that we could spend so much time together and still not end up hating each other by the end. Our U.S. tour was 31 days and most of them we spent about 7-11 hours in the van. It can be hard at times but I only wanted to kill someone a couple of times, which is probably a personal record for me.

Alexandra: We have some pretty weird stories from our US tour but the one that stands out for me is when this guy came to our show in Columbus, Ohio. He came because he thought he was my dad. He also thought he might Sadie’s (from G.L.O.S.S.) dad. He drove for five hours or something for this show but was kindly asked to leave, which he did but I was stressed and little bit scared the rest of our tour.

Fannar: There was so much weird shit that happened on that US tour. Some woman called the cops on us when we were trying to get gas and then chased after us in her car all the way to the next town where there were like three cop cars that seemed to be waiting for us. One of them followed us onto the highway and pulled us over for some bullshit reason. That tour was so much fun though. We played a show in a public park in the middle of the night in Denver after a Lumpy and the Dumpers / Warm Bodies show. All these people came out who seemed to be still pumped after the Lumpy set so, even though we played first, people just started dancing as soon as we started playing. We played this weird lot next to some train tracks in New Orleans, we played on a pedestrian bridge in Austin, a dog peed in my eye in Tucson. I was standing. With my big glasses on. It was fucked up.

Other than your first tape you’ve released records through non-domestic labels. How did you get involved with Iron Lung and Erste Theke Tonträger? 

Fannar: Erste Theke Tonträger got in touch almost as soon as we put out the demo. I’m not sure how Iron Lung found out about us, but they got in touch like six months later. It’s not easy getting heard when you live on a tiny island so we’re really grateful to both labels for helping us out.

What do you all do outside of the band? What kind of things do you do to fill your non-Dauðyflin time?

Alexandra: I’m on a tech and engineer pre-university course, play roller derby and have a part time job. When I actually have free time I usually lie on my couch in my underwear, watching sci-fi or playing video games.

Fannar: Me, Júlíana, and Alexandra also play in a post-punk band called Börn and I have a d-beat band, called D7Y, with both members of ROHT. I don’t have a job, I get disability benefits, but I do a little illustration work from time to time but most of my non-punk time is spent on animation.

Júlíana: I sell tickets at a theatre and work at a preschool. When I’m not working I like to drink beer or go swimming. And sleeping. I like sleeping.

Dísa: I also work at a preschool, it’s an integrated school but I mostly work with students who are on the autism spectrum. In my free time I like to watch Netflix, pet my cats and play video games. It might not sound very exciting but I’m only one baby away from completing the 100 baby challenge on the Sims 4 so at least I have that going for me.

What’s next for Dauðyflin? What do you have in the pipeline, and what would you ultimately like to achieve with the band? 

Dísa: Right now we’re writing songs for an EP we plan on releasing this year, hopefully in the summer. We are also playing Byllepest Hardcore Weekend in Oslo on June 20th-23rd. I don’t think we have any ultimate goals for the band besides just continue what we have been doing – writing songs, releasing records, playing shows and just having fun. Oh and also smashing the patriarchy.


Difficult chunks: an interview with The Great Sabatini

The Great Sabatini have been making great, weird, jagged-edged sludge for over ten years now. Their new album, ‘Goodbye Audio’ (out on vinyl via No List, Ancient Temple and No Why, and on cassette courtesy of Pink Lemonade) is an absolute beast, and you should really tuck into it if you haven’t already.

Singer/guitarist Sean Sabatini took the time to answer these questions by email, wherein we touch upon the new album (obviously), mutant toys and the perilously fine line of injecting a sense of ‘fun’ into a band’s music.

You must have told this tale a thousand times, so let’s start with the elevator pitch version: tell us how, when and why The Great Sabatini came to be.

We got together in Montreal in 2007 to start jamming and made an EP. After our first tour across Canada, our initial drummer Will left to travel and we connected with our old friend Steve, whose band, Tugnut, had just dissolved. He joined the band full time shortly thereafter and has been with us for ten years now.

The new album is ace! Tell us about it: what went into it and made it the way it is?

Thanks. We wrote it mostly apart from one another, which was a lengthy process, and decided to record most of it live off the floor in an effort to sort of bring the songs and performances to the most honest place possible. The last song, which was designed to be a sort of huge experiment, was recorded one piece at a time and meticulously mapped out.

Are there any underlying themes or ideas running through the album?

Well, the major theme of this record is mortality. Each song is different but they all are concerned with some aspect of the inevitability of death. It’s a sort of Memento Mori kind of thing.

Was there anything you wanted to build on following ‘Dog Years’, or, alternatively, anything you wanted to draw a veil over and start afresh with?

I think there was a very focused effort to halt our inclination to complicate our music. We like to challenge ourselves and push our musical abilities in the tunes, and ‘Dog Years’ has some pretty difficult (for us) chunks in there. So the bigger challenge this time was making the arrangements simpler, so that tracking them live would be easier, and also allow us room to perform them with more power or restraint, where necessary.

I love how your records are so varied: there’s the rugged, gnarly, sludgy skeleton, but all this other stuff is occurring along the way (the weird spidery melodies; the strings…). How do you decide to bring these factors in, and how do you know what’s going to work for a Great Sabatini song?

I think we all have musical ideas and tricks in mind whenever writing is happening. Whenever I have a specific idea for something to employ as a musical device in a tune, the guys will respond with further ideas and reactionary things, so that sorta makes for a variety of sounds and arrangements in our songs. If something isn’t going to work as a Sabatini song, it’ll die out pretty fast. But any idea is worth investigating. Sometimes an idea gets shelved for years but finds its way back. The back end of ‘Tax Season In Dreamland’ is one of those bits. That part is well over ten years old.

Tell us a bit about ‘The Hand Of Unmaking’ – that one’s pretty darn special.

Jeez, thanks, man. We had the idea to write something huge. It started with reading Michael Herr’s book ‘Dispatches’. I wanted to convey a feeling of fragility in the shadow of monolithic human violence. I didn’t think we could do that in the sort of song that we’d ever be able to perform live. So once we decided to compose something which was free from the restraint of the band as a four-piece band, the options just blew wide open. We threw a lot of stuff into that one. It was a huge undertaking for us, but it was a fun and interesting process, overdubbing one piece at a time and seeing it come together.

You’ve been a band for over ten years, released a stack of records and toured your asses off. How do you keep things fresh, and how do you prevent yourselves from burning out?

Well, the circumstances for us even being a band at this point are quite different, each of our lives are in different places than they were even five years ago. So working together has required some retooling just to make it happen at all. We’re adapting, simply because we love to make music together and we each find it rewarding in some way. It’s worth the effort to figure out how to work around geography and weird schedules.

‘You’re Gonna Die (Unsatisfied)’ alludes to this adherence to craft and the fact that holding yourself to an impossibly high standard pretty much dooms you to failure. How do you reconcile this as a band/musician? At what point did you make your peace with the fact?

I feel like it’s a seesaw. One minute you resign yourself to the fact that perfection or satisfaction will elude you, and then you wake up and start chasing it harder than you ever did before. It’s a perspective thing I suppose. Sometimes it’s ok to be at peace with that knowledge. Other times that knowledge is the fuel for some restless ambition.

Do you bring the same kind of work ethic to whatever you do in your dayjobs?

Speaking for myself, I do. I’m a tattooist by trade, and I work very hard at that. Steve is the hardest working guy I’ve ever met. He approaches every task with integrity and a strong work ethic. I feel like I’m probably the only guy in the band that currently has a job that he loves to do, but hopefully that changes. All of us attack the things we love with passion and some sense of pride.

I need to ask: what’s with the toys? ‘Dog Years’ had the demented Muppet, and ‘Goodbye Audio’ has what look to be a squadron of mutated He-Man figures on the cover. What the hell is going on? It’s like my childhood toy box having a glue fume-infused fever dream…

Well, that’s a great description. I like to make my own toys, mostly from pieces of old toys or other random objects. I like that there’s a sort of handmade feel to the covers for ‘Dog Years’ and ‘Goodbye Audio’. Some record covers I love had that as well, like some of those Primus album covers from the 90s, for example. I like to collect custom made toys and other weird stuff so it felt like a natural progression to build a diorama type of scenario for the album cover. I didn’t want to repeat myself with the puppet thing, and I wanted to make something visually striking, and maybe a bit out of the ordinary.

Do the creatures you fashion for the band have anything to do with what you do to pay the bills?

I have made some small run editions of custom made toys that I sold for a little extra money but it’s not my main source of income. I do plan to start making toys from scratch and casting/molding them so I can make larger editions of things that that’s a goal for 2019 for me.

Whether it’s the album art, the videos or the music itself, there’s usually a strange and warped sense of fun about The Great Sabatini. What feeds this playful side to the band, and how does it reflect n you as individuals?

I guess our sense of humour bleeds into what we do. We take it seriously and don’t want to come off as a ‘joke band’ but we are profoundly silly people in general. That is going to make its way into the music at some point if we’re being honest about the art of it. I also feel like that sort of thing has to be carefully placed in the context of the band and our music. We’re trying to strike a balance of feels and moods with this, and finding the right time and place to put something ‘fun’ is important.

I always think injecting a sense of fun or kookiness is a dangerous thing for a band: go too far and you invite dread words like ‘goofy’ or ‘wacky’ or ‘zany’. The Great Sabatini manages to keep things on track, but is this something you’re ever conscious of? Are there ever points where you think “nah, we’re going too far here…”?

I guess the last part of my previous answer sorta addresses this. Yeah, there are times when we discuss together what may or may not work for album art or a shirt design or some other visual element to the band, if it may be putting out a weird image or something. We’re very conscious of that sort of thing but the guys also trust me to a large extent to be the steward of that outside perception, because I write the words and do most of the art and design myself.

Canada belches out great music like it can’t help itself. How are you perceived/received in Montreal, and where would you say you fit into the country’s musical landscape?

We have a small niche audience in Montreal. That town is spoiled for choice in the arts. We fit only because of some stubborn refusal to go away. We’ve never for neatly into any genre or scene, so not many folks can latch onto us if they’re very genre-focused. But the folks who are into our band are INTO our band. I suppose at the end of the day if rather have those folks following our work than a high pile of fairweather fans or something. This seems to apply throughout the country. It’s hard to feel like we fit anywhere, but that usually makes for a more interesting experience at shows and with the people who find our music one way or the other.

What kind of local bands did you guys cut your teeth seeing when you were just getting into music? Did you ever see any of those old Great American Steak Religion or Spectra Sonic Sound bands?

That wasn’t really our cup of tea back then but as I said, Montreal being a town where we’re spoiled with choices there was never a lack of underground stuff to dig in to. And the third of us who are from here (Rob and Joe and I) were into different corners of the music scene when we were younger. I remember seeing the Expectorated Sequence in the early years and the Discord Of A Forgotten Sketch and being really into that spazzy hardcore/noisy thing. Those were interesting bands to me in town when I was starting to get into local underground music but we also all had friends in the death metal scene as well. Neuraxis comes to mind. Ion Dissonance. Joey just mentioned a band called Ire. His description of them is really piquing my interest, actually (sludgy metallic hardcore). Signed By Force had a cool thing going for a while and I was a fan of most of the bands on that label, like Trigger Effect, the Nymphets, Bionic.

What’s the weirdest thing to happen to you as a band?

The first thing that comes to mind was a time on our first tour when we stopped in Vancouver. We were staying with an old friend of mine and, after a few drinks, wound up hiking out to the woods and digging up the skull of her beloved cat Toulou. It’s hard not to be met with weird stares whenever I tell someone about that but it was a pretty poignant, though profoundly strange, moment we all shared together.

What’s next for The Great Sabatini? What are your immediate plans, and is there anything you’d like to do or accomplish that you haven’t yet been able to?

We are just finishing up the second weekend of gigs with our pals Cellos (from Windsor). It’s much harder to get out and do shows the way we used to, but we’re gonna try to get out and play some more next year. It’d be cool to get out and do some festival-type gigs which was never something we did very much of, but maybe that’s what makes more sense for a band that can’t get out to play as much as we used to, but we’re still trying to build something with our recorded output. We also had an idea for a film score project but that is maybe something we can try during the cold months this year.


Contrast and space: an interview with Bismuth

Bismuth are a two-piece playing doom metal that’s both considered and crushing. Their debut album, ‘Unavailing’ came out in 2015, and since then they’ve released splits with such horrors as Gnaw Their Tongues and Legion Of Andromeda. Their most recent LP is entitled ‘The Slow Dying Of The Great Barrier Reef’, and is out via Dry Cough, Medusa Crush, Rope Or Guillotine and Tartarus. You can listen to it here.

These questions were kindly answered via email by Tanya Byrne (vocals, bass, synth) Joe Rawlings (drums) /

Okay, get us up to speed with Bismuth: how did the band get together – what was the original impetus, and what were you initially setting out to do?

Joe: my previous band Spore (musically relatively similar) dissolved and a mutual friend put me in touch with Tanya, who was looking to start a project stylistically compatible with my own ideas – I was very lucky with the timing.

Tanya: I’d been wanting to play in a two piece for a while, so I put an ad up in Stuck On A Name Studios in Nottingham just before Christmas in 2011. I listed a few bands (ASVA and Burning Witch, I believe), and (most importantly) that the drummer would want to play REALLY slowly and hit REALLY hard. Joe responded to the ad and, when we first met up, we were wearing the exact same OM t-shirt, so that was a good sign!

Having played bass in many bands over the years, I wanted to experiment with what could be achieved with just bass, drums and vocals. It took me six months after starting the band to do vocals in front of Joe at practice – luckily it worked out. We really wanted to experiment with what kind of layering and atmosphere could be achieved with such a stripped-down setup. Space, timing and layers have always been the most important parts of this band.

It’s been a couple of years since ‘Unavailing’ came out. What’s happened in the interim, and how has this changed or challenged the band?

Joe: I’m loathe to use a cop-out, catch-all phrase such as ‘evolving’, but that, in essence, is what we’ve been doing. Tanya moved away from Notts which I suppose came with a small adjustment period, but I wouldn’t say it’s really been an issue. We’ve ramped down slightly in terms of general practicing, but conversely each session is approached with a heightened focus – quality over quantity, if you will.

Tanya: In the interim between the two albums, we put out a couple of splits; one with Gnaw Their Tongues and another with Legion Of Andromeda. The time has allowed us to refine our sound. As Joe said, we may practice a little less these days, but we are very focused when we do get together. That is the main change in the band – focus is more refined as we know how the other ticks as a musician. I moved away from Nottingham to study in Lancaster, so we always have a specific aim when we do meet up. In addition, some personal issues got in the way of writing an album, but I have repurposed these in a positive way; I am definitely angrier when we play live these days…

What can you tell us about ‘The Slow Dying Of The Great Barrier Reef’? Did your approach to writing/recording change, and was their anything you wanted to expand upon or develop with the newie?

Tanya: We really took time over this album, especially at the compositional stage. I had started using a slightly different backline and pedal configuration early in 2017. We really wanted to explore dynamics and ways of being heavy without relying on standard crushing riffs all the time. Contrast is always more interesting than just punishing the listener with volume; constant loudness diminishes in its impact over time. We wanted to expand on cleaner sections, to see if we could still make them sound ‘heavy’, without relying on the usual doom tactics (lots of volume and fuzz).

I really like the fact that the title track really makes you engage and listen: the quiet intro and the subtle changes mean you really have to concentrate, and there’s a definite sense that you’ve pieced this together with care rather than set out just to crush and crush alone. What was the thinking behind the track, and what was the process when it came to piecing it together?

Joe: The great thing about being a two piece band is there is one other person you have to gel with. Because of this, and if nothing else the length of time we’ve been doing this now, bouncing ideas around is an extremely efficient process – We’ll try something out (usually a riff) and see how it goes. As mentioned, we collectively know the nuances, styles etc. of each others’ playing inside and out by now, so it’ll either work or it won’t – rinse and repeat. I think it’s safe to say we are also both musically very like-minded, which helps.

Tanya: As Joe mentioned, we’ve played together so long together now that writing is very efficient, and we are generally trying to reach the same space within a song. We always record our practice and we discuss parts we think are working (or not). Communication is very important when writing together… and for us it is truly a collaborative process. If one of us isn’t happy with a section, it gets binned. Crushing for crushing’s sake can be fun, but that is not the point for us. Each section has a purpose, and if a part doesn’t need to be full of volume, it won’t be. Contrast and space are the most important aspects for us. Heavy riffs are enjoyable, but they are not needed all the time.

What would you say the knack is when it comes to writing a long, slow, heavy song that doesn’t bore the arse off the listener or render them wearily complacent?

Joe: this is a very difficult question to answer as this kind of listening (and playing) is my norm, and as such it’s next to impossible to bore me. I’d say the music needs to be purposeful, and to flow and conclude in a natural way – if you’re only going to hit four notes in a minute you need to be sure I as the listener am going to understand why.

Tanya, you’re a volcanologist. This is (a) perhaps the most metal job in the world and (b) really, really cool. What does it involve on a day-to-day basis, and what inspired you to follow this as a career?

Tanya: I’m still studying, but on a day-to-day process it involves a lot of programming and reading. There is always more to learn. I have always had an interest in volcanoes; they are the most perfect representation of the Earth’s power and beauty.  When I visited Mount St. Helens for the first time I knew I wanted to learn as much about volcanoes as I could.

Tell us something cool/mind-blowing about being a volcanologist…

Tanya: The landscape surrounding an erupted volcano is what I imagine a Martian landscape looks like. There is beauty in the sparseness, and it gets more amazing each time I see it. It is a great privilege.

Concern for the environment and what people are doing to the planet are themes that run through the record. Other than weighing their heads in, is there anything you’d like listeners to take away from blasting the hell out of ‘The Slow Dying Of The Great Barrier Reef’?

Tanya: My main hope is that listeners contemplate the effects our species is having on the planet. Inaction is the main driver of a lot of the problems related to climate change; governments are stuck in the blame game, but it doesn’t matter who is at fault. Our whole species must work together to negate these issues.

It seems like we’re at this weird point right now: many, many people understand that the world is messed up, but there’s a strange sense of inaction in terms of actually doing anything about it. While most normal folk are at a considerable remove from what politicians are(n’t) doing, witnessing the lack of personal change can by just as demoralising: I’ve just left one job where people liked to cluck loudly about how sad that episode of Blue Planet was and insist on having cardboard straws, but at the same time routinely chucked their recycling in the wrong bin. What can people do on a micro level to make a change, and how do you prevent yourselves from being utterly disheartened by how punishingly stupid and lazy people are?

Tanya: Most people are not stupid,  but I do think that many people in developed nations are only prepared to change when something directly affects them. It can be discouraging, as to reduce some of the worst effects, people will need to give up many of the little pleasures they are used to. One of the main ways to make a change at a micro level is to eat less meat. Cattle production makes up to 65% of all greenhouse gas emissions due to agriculture. I am not advocating that all our species goes vegan, but eating less meat would really help. A balance in how use we resources is needed… humans always seem to push resource-use to extremes.

I am disheartened by the state of everything, but all we can do is try to educate others. Ignorance and finger pointing will not prevent environmental decline.

You’re about to embark on a tour with Canuck sluggers Vile Creature. What are your top tour survival tips, and what are the best, worst and most challenging things about hitting the road as a two-piece?

Tanya: The worst part of touring is moving our backline, haha! Hmmmm tour survival tips, buy food at the supermarket rather than a service station! It’s much cheaper. Also, get enough rest. Sleep in the van, find a dark corner during sound check, ask if you can get an hour on your own in the van – being grumpy on tour is not good, and if you need alone time to recharge, like me, this tip is the most important!

The best part of touring is meeting new people and late-night discussions. Touring with other bands is always the best, you really get to know them!

Joe: Don’t shower so people leave you alone.

What’s next for Bismuth? How do you see things growing and developing?

Tanya: We are due to record our third album in August 2019. We have a few tours and festivals in the works. I suspect that we will explore more noise based music… and I may record more clean vocals!


More extremes in all directions: an interview with Brainoil

Brainoil are a long-running band from Oakland who bring together sludge, crust and filth-slicked metal like few others. ‘Singularity To Extinction’ is their third full-length in something like 20 years, and it’s also their mightiest release to date.

This interview was conducted by email with Greg Wilkinson (bass/vocals), Nate Harris (guitar) and Ira Smith (drums) as they readied themselves for a nine-date Japanese tour.

Listen to the new record while you read the words.

Okay, so let’s start off with a history lesson: how, when and why did Brainoil get together? What was the original impetus, and what did you hope to achieve with the band?

Greg: I started the band under the moniker ‘Mrbrainoil’ with the intention of creating a noisy sludge style band wrung through a punk filter. A few shows and some rare comp tracks occurred in this phase. This was over the period of ‘98/‘99. The intention of expanding the project into a full band was always the point once I was able to find likeminded people. Nate, who I was in a very short lived crust band with, first joined up later in ‘99. Shortly after, word got out that Grimple was throwing in the towel and Ira was looking for a new project. We snagged him fast. We were up and running in ‘00 with a demo tape as “Brainoil” and playing shows / recording our first two split releases in ‘01 as a three-piece.

Nate: I met Greg in 1997 through Ty, the drummer of a short-lived Oakland Swedish-style D-beat band called Squalor. That project dissolved after a couple years, and meanwhile Greg had started solo jamming on new ideas that blended heavy music with more rock and roll. I had always played and written guitar parts for punk and crust bands but never anything with a bit more rock ‘n’ roll influence and I was into the idea. We combined forces, writing songs with a drum machine at first and then became a full band with Ira on drums by late 2000. We continued on that thread to this day, making heavy music with no preconceived genre constraints, just concentrating on writing songs with interesting riffs and less-than-typical time signatures and song arrangements.

Ira: I joined the band after a mutual friend told me that Greg and Nate were looking for a drummer for a project. I was considering selling my drums at the time, but after listening to their drum machine demo and playing through the songs I realized that Brainoil was exactly what I was looking for.

What can you tell us about ‘Singularity To Extinction’? What went into the record and made it the way it is?

Greg: It’s difficult to say honestly considering we spent a seven-year course writing it. We trashed a few songs early on once we discovered the sound we wanted. We made a concerted effort to blend the first two LPs while adding more extremes in all directions, including tempo, genre, production, and vocal styles.

Nate: Singularity to Extinction is wider in scope and more polarized. The fastest and the slowest Brainoil material is on this record. There is a little bit more old school 1989 death metal and crust influence, but it is not a death metal or crust record. Singularity to Extinction as a recording is also a showcase for some of the best studio engineering work we’ve had to date, thanks in large part to the evolution of Greg’s recording skills at Earhammer. I dumped a lot of resources into getting exactly what I want out of guitar tone over the history of the band and this is the first release where we really nailed the guitar tone.

Ira: Lots of practice, arranging, rearranging, re-rearranging…

Did you face any particular challenges or issues when it came to writing or recording the new album?

Greg: Not really. Everyone in the band has a very specific style and contribution to our sound. Brainoil sounds like Brainoil because of the combination of musicians and songwriters. There is a specific swagger our songs tend to have no matter how far we try to push the limits. If you ask me, it’s quite favourable when considering a discography. It allowed us to expand our sound and production quite a bit without sounding like a different band.

Nate: The opposite of challenges and issues, for the first time we were able to take our time and record it exactly how we wanted to. For example, on tracking day we had more time to record multiple takes of a few of the tracks to get the tempo just how we wanted it to be, or rearrange microphones, drum heads or switch out pieces of the kit as we started tracking to get the best drum tones possible out of everything we had to work with. The same for guitar tone, bass tone and so on. Leading up to the official recording we also did scratch recordings every rehearsal for three months on my 18-year-old 16-bit digital 8 track – the same device we did our original demo with. Having those reference recordings really helped in completing vocals, fills and fine-tuning song arrangements. In short, we took more time beforehand to go into the session well-rehearsed and more time in the studio to document it exactly how we wanted to.

How have the seven years between ‘Death Of This Dry Season’ and the new LP affected or altered the band?

Greg: I don’t think it has considering the gap between the s/t and ‘Death Of This Dry Season’ was also seven years. The only thing I can think of is it gave us time to expand our songs with more craft while juggling a lot of responsibilities in our personal lives.

Nate: Seven years is the average span between all of our LPs, so the total perceived difference between the s/t and ‘Death of This Dry Season’ is probably equal to the difference between that album and ‘Singularity To Extinction’. There is change in each case, but the core Brainoil sound is still there. I think the next LP will be a similar rate of change but maybe not seven years from now until we get there. So by deduction, does that mean the next record will sound closer to this last LP? We’ll see.

Ira: Over the last seven years, I have been listening to more death metal, thrash and lots of punk. I think those influences come through on the new album.

To me the crust influences have been brought even more to the fore with this album. Was this a conscious move, or just how the songs evolved?

Greg: Both. Brainoil is its own living organism. It does what it wants. We are just along for the ride.

Nate: Not a conscious move, it happened naturally while writing songs for ‘Singularity To Extinction’. If you think of crust as punks playing slightly-sloppy, less-technical death metal, that is not a thought we will reject! We had a few different threads going in writing stuff for this release and some worked better than others across multiple songs to make a cohesive LP. Some of those other ideas were completed songs that we worked on over weeks or months, but ultimately shelved for now. I played crust and death metal influenced stuff with Destroy back in 1992 and then again with Stormcrow in the mid-2000s, to have a little bit of that style again with Brainoil is a welcome return. For me personally it is things coming full circle, and an opportunity to expand on and enjoy again playing a little bit more of a style that was the beginning of playing live music for me.

Ira: For me it kind of just naturally happened that way.

What do you think it is that makes crust and doom such comfortable bedfellows? The tone? The riffs? The general sense of dirt and desperation?

Greg: Not sure. We all listen to many forms of music and many sub factions of that. If you break riffs, production, gear, vocal styles and song treatment down to an unplugged guitar, you will notice these are no more than an outfit for the song. For example, I feel like you could have Bolt Thrower and Asunder play an identical riff and it would still in the end sound just like the respective band performing it cause of how each band treats the riff, tones, tempo etc. That being said, both genres do have a gnarly vibe and underground cult energy that do sleep well together.

Nate: There’s a natural tension/release between both crust and doom and when the two styles are mixed on the same LP it accentuates that tension further. I really enjoyed blending different guitar and bass tones to highlight the differences in some cases and meld them together in others. And that range of tones is something you will hear us recreate live with multiple guitar and bass amps. To your last point, yeah I will say there’s probably more than an ounce of dirt and desperation and frustration as part of the equation too.

Ira: Crust and Doom are complementary styles. Adding the right tones and riffs makes it complete.

In the time you’ve been together, both doom and crust have gone from being total outlier genres to (slightly!) more above-ground ones. Has it been weird seeing the terrain change like this, and has it had an impact on what you do with Brainoil?

Greg: Not really on either realm. The underground scene in regards to whether you discuss music, art, beer, film, literature, etc. will always become popular once it’s discovered and used by major label bands. The internet just makes all this become easier and work at a faster pace than before. As far as impact with Brainoil, I would say none. Stick around for 20 years and you get a lot of time to process things.

Nate: It is enjoyable in some sense to watch the styles change and for more people to get into it but I don’t personally read too much into it and I don’t think the band does either. I don’t think they will ever be fully above-ground genres and that’s fine.

It seems like Brainoil always makes us wait a good ol’ while between releases. Why the lag, and what is it that tends to bring you folks back together to make music?

Greg: In reality we practiced almost every week in between these two albums. It’s just we want a discography that is balanced. Not more of the same, but still keeping a consistent statement “this is Brainoil.”

Nate: Even when you don’t see a new release from us we have not been silent. We continue to play local shows, work on new material or just experiment with ideas. We won’t force something just to get a release out.

Ira: We continually practice and play local shows. We also set aside time for writing where we don’t play out as much. I can’t really explain the lag other than “time flies”!

You all have various other projects on the go, so what sort of itch does Brainoil scratch that your other bands/outlets might not?

Greg: The combo. I write very similar riffs across the board. Although, not super fast stuff for the most part in Brainoil. But every band will translate them so different. If you reference Deathgrave, for example, we don’t sound like Brainoil cause it’s a different filter. I alluded to this earlier how music gear and delivery is just an outfit. This is a strong example of that. No other band would sound like Brainoil without these members.

Nate: Brainoil is it for me at the moment and I am OK with dumping my guitar playing energy into this band. Brainoil has its parameters but they are not fixed, for me there’s a lot of room to try new guitar riffs and parts without specific constraints. Someday maybe I will decide again that I need a different outlet but maybe if I did it would be something very different like playing drums again. For now I’m happy not to be juggling two or more different band schedules.

Ira: Brainoil is my only outlet nowadays, so it scratches all the itches.

Greg, the work you do outside the band at Earhammer must bring you into contact with stacks of hungry, gnarly young bands. Do you think your work as an engineer filters into what you do with Brainoil, either in a proactive (e.g. “we should do this…”) or preventative (“we definitely shouldn’t do this…”) way?

Greg: In a way to both. But not in a marketing “the kids are into this so let’s incorporate that” sense. I write and record my own music to help me understand and work through obstacles I encounter while working other bands sessions. It’s usually inspiration that brings me to this. Some of these ideas wind up in bands. Song writing is a conversation. So if I wonder how can I get this fast riff to cut through some bands production? I may try recording myself playing fast stuff. With that, I am able to think “Brainoil needs a fast part and this one would fit them” so I will bring it to practice and bounce it off them. Oakland has a lot of inspiring musicians, bands and people in the scene which really keeps me writing frequently (obviously not only for Brainoil since we do take our time between albums).

Both crust and doom tend towards a negative, nihilistic world view, and it has to be said that records like ‘Singularity To Extinction’ serve as an effective soundtrack for what is a screwed-up and terrifying moment in human history. Do you think there’s any scope for hope right now, and what are the things that get you through the day as a band?

Greg: Although there are many great humans out there, the human race as a whole always resorts to greed and power. Right now it looks bleak as racism, sexism, homophobia, classism, nationalism, etc. are becoming more acceptable in this country (and world). But I really can’t predict. Escape through the underground community, culture, arts, and beloved friends deliver a temporary reprieve from the harsh reality. My practice spaces, studio and wife are my sanctuary.

Nate: The insanity will inevitably continue in one form or another, a comment not to be confused with hope or fatalism. And a troubling majority of people will continue to be complicit with the status quo, no matter what type of lies, discrimination and abuse becomes normalized. Any frustration and anger in the music for me is not coming from a place where it is a binary question of one person on the outside looking in and pointing the finger at others with simple answers. We are all in the middle of it and all complicit on one level or another. That anger or frustration becomes its own creative outlet, for me that’s playing and listening to heavy music and brewing and drinking beer and I’m lucky enough to be privileged enough to indulge my creative energy in those, at least for now. So if Brainoil connects with people as some noisy product of that greater dysfunction, awesome. I have no illusions about that though either.

What are your immediate plans for Brainoil, and is there anything you’d ultimately like to achieve with the band?

Greg: On a plane to tour Japan at the moment. That’s the most immediate. It’s hard to predict what will come after that. Guessing would only put the cart before the horse. At minimum, it would be great to play some west coast dates next year.

Nate: There is no specific push for lame growth metrics or some achievement goal schedule. Brainoil will continue on a path where there is room for us to do even more with the foundation we have, but on our terms. That might mean a tour here and there in places we’ve never been before, or it may mean working on a new release sooner than later. First and foremost, Brainoil has to be true to itself without being fixated on a specific strategy. This is not a business for us. Unfortunately, surrounding us obsessive, competitive strategy has become a way of life for many everyday people in the SF Bay Area, that complicates things for us to do as much Brainoil as we want to do. Thanks for this interview as it helps people know we are still alive and kicking.

Ira: We are on our way to Japan for a nine-show tour with Black Ganion. This has been a life goal for me and I’m glad I can share that experience with two of the best bandmates one could have.


An interview with The Last Crime’s Kevin Egan

The Last Crime were a short-lived band from Long Island, New York. As a going concern they released a four-song 10″ / five-song CDEP for boutique label The Omega and played gigs with the likes of Neurosis, Dystopia, Today Is The Day, Dahlia Seed, Garden Variety, Eucharist and Hail Mary.

CZ has long championed them as a taut and pained emo obscurity, but it turns out that vocalist/guitarist Kevin Egan wasn’t that way inclined at all. Live and learn, eh?

This interview comes about due to the surprise release of two unreleased songs, recorded by J. Robbins shortly before the band called it quits. They’re available digitally and as a limited-edition cassette via the newly-formed Sunken Temple imprint. Why not listen to them here while reading these words?

CZ: Ok, so can you set the scene for us a bit? How, when and why did The Last Crime get together?

Kevin Egan: I think it was the summer of 1994. I met Steve while he was going to Stony Brook University, which isn’t too far from where I grew up. We talked about doing a band for a while and then eventually we made it happen. He already had a drummer lined up (Rich) so it was really easy to just jump right into it. When it was time to add a bass player we asked Eric Svirda who was going to Stony Brook at the time.

What was the aim for the band? Did you have a set idea as to how you wanted The Last Crime to sound when you set out? 

We wanted it to be heavy and metal-ish. Also, a little trippy. We were really into Neurosis, Shellac, and Pink Floyd at the time. We hung out and listened to music together a lot, so eventually the band sounded like the music we listened to.

Kevin, you were in both Beyond and the 1.6 Band before The Last Crime. How did these experiences shape/inform what you’d do with The Last Crime, and how would you say your view of hardcore evolved/developed from band to band? 

The people in Beyond and 1.6 Band were all such great musicians; it was impossible not to learn an insane amount from them about music. They were my closest friends for a lot of years, so their influence on me is everlasting.

I think I took some of my vocal style from those bands and brought it to the Last Crime, though I was into different types of music with the Last Crime, so there were other influences as well.

I wasn’t listening to a lot of hardcore then. I was listening to metal bands and bands like Dinosaur Jr. I just wanted to try different things musically. There are limitations to hardcore if you view it in a very narrow way.

The classic (lazy?) view of New York hardcore tends to focus on stuff like Cro-Mags and Agnostic Front or, if you were weaned on Heartattack, Born Against and ABC No Rio. There was obviously a lot more going on, however, so it would be interesting to hear what your experiences of the scene were, and how you think The Last Crime fit in. 

We played with a lot of hardcore bands, but I don’t think we considered ourselves a hardcore band. Like I said we were into metal and bands like Shellac. We wanted to make things musical. It wasn’t about a political statement or even a personal statement, which usually is the case in hardcore.

That being said, I don’t think I ever stopped listening to the Cro-Mags’ ‘Age of Quarrel’. That is greatest hardcore record of all time.

To me the band pulled from the DC bands of the early/mid 90s, along with the darker, more groove-laden side of 90s emo (Shotmaker, Republic Of Freedom Fighters, Policy Of 3 etc.). Would these be accurate influences, or am I wide of the mark?

I’ve never heard of any of the bands you mentioned. There is some DC influence, but I would say Beyond and 1.6 Band was more influenced by DC. Like I said, we were really into Neurosis and Shellac.

Vin Novara from 1.6 Band wound up in The Crownhate Ruin – another post-hardcore band I think were criminally overlooked. I was wondering if you drew any influence from TCR, or whether there was any sense of friendly competition/rivalry with your old bandmate? 

We played with them once, but I don’t think I heard their record until after the Last Crime broke up. I don’t think we sounded anything like them. There was no competition. They lived in DC and we lived in New York.

Can you tell us what a typical Last Crime practice session was like? 

We burned through a lot of cases of Budweiser during Last Crime rehearsals. For most of the life of the band, we rehearsed in Rich’s bedroom in his parents’ house. It was tiny, and we had Marshall stacks up against the walls blasting our ears. I worried at the time about my hearing, but luckily, I didn’t do any damage.

I always liked emo/post-hardcore bands who managed to lock into that hypnotic, meandering groove – what was the motivation there, and what kind of headspace would you find yourselves in while the band was chugging away like that? 

We were really into trippy music. Pink Floyd especially. Their albums ‘Meddle’ and ‘Ummagumma’ were very influential on us.

I was thinking about the music. It was my job to help the bass player and drummer hold down the groove, so I locked into that.

Tell us a bit about the writing and recording of the 10” – how did the songs come about, what went into the lyrics and were you pleased with the final results? 

Steve wrote all the music. I wrote all the lyrics I sang, and he wrote his own lyrics as well. Again, the music was reflective of what we were listening to. I’d go to his dorm room and he’d have a song ready to show me and I’d take it home and write my vocal parts to it.

We recorded with Alap Momin out in New Jersey. Alap was a pro and a really nice guy. I think we banged it out in a weekend.

I wanted to write metal lyrics. I think that’s there on the record definitely. I also experienced a break-up with someone and that’s in there too. The first track on the record was written during a lightning storm in New Mexico. I was inspired to write as I was witnessing it. The rhythm of the vocals is influenced by Bob Dylan who I was also listening to a lot of the time.

I’m happy with the recording. We were a short-lived band, so I’m glad it was documented.

What was your relationship like with the label(s) who put the record out? The Omega only released a handful of things, but the ‘Ourselves’ comp had some interesting/important acts on it (Converge, Disembodied, Coalesce…) and the Khmer Rouge 7” was also pretty neat…

Ian Richter ran the Omega. He was a really nice guy who put up with a lot of bullshit from us. We were still children emotionally at the time and he was usually the only adult in the room.

How was the 10” received at the time? What were the reviews like, and did people ‘get’ you? 

People were into it. We would have decent sized audiences at our shows in New York and Long Island.

What were Last Crime shows like? I found it interesting that you played with bands like Neurosis and Dystopia, who were sonically very different indeed but nevertheless part of a wider underground scene of bands making odd, difficult, challenging music…

We played hard. We were definitely loud, but we also turned down at times because we knew it would work better in the room. Steve had a great ear for stuff like that.

What can you tell us about the two unreleased songs that Sunken Temple have exhumed? What kind of growth/development would you say they represented for The Last Crime, and how do you feel about the songs now?

I personally think they’re the two best songs we recorded. It was also our first attempt at writing songs in time signatures other than four/four. It’s challenging music to listen to. I still put those songs on and get excited. I just listened to them the other day. It’s really interesting music.

What was it like to be recording with J. Robbins at Inner Ear? 

I was excited because I grew up listening to Minor Threat and all those great DC bands that recorded there. J was very quiet and professional. Again, we were children emotionally, so he had to play the adult in the room.

What ultimately broke the band up, and how do you think things might have evolved if you managed to stick together? 

Steve was focusing on his career as an engineer. I don’t know what would’ve happened. I try not to think about stuff like that.

What were the best, worst and weirdest experiences you had while you were in the band?

The best moments were on stage when we were locked into each other. It was like magic.  The worst moments where when we were supposed to be on time for a show and couldn’t get there for whatever reason. As far as the weirdest, there’s a lotta stuff that happened that I could never talk about publicly. It was a wild ride for sure.

What did you take from the experience, and did your time with The Last Crime inform or inspire what you went on to do afterwards?

I learned to play guitar during the Last Crime. I could barely play when we first got together but Steve was very patient, and those guys were open to me learning as we went along. I’m a pretty good guitar player now and I definitely wouldn’t be if it hadn’t been for those guys.

Do any of you have any current projects or endeavours that we should be aware of?

I sing and play guitar in a band called the Lost Pilgrims of the Second Plateau, though I just started writing songs with someone else from another seminal Long Island band from the 90s. I’m not sure if he’d want me to mention his name. Anyway, we’re not sure where it’s going to lead, but I’m excited about that project also.

Rich plays in some sick bands The Third Kind , Vise Massacre and Gridfailure.

Is there anything you’d like to add, or anything I’ve missed?  

Thanks for taking the time to interview us!


After the sacrifice: an interview with Asschapel


Asschapel! A mighty band merging heavy metal thunder with roaring, crusty filth! They released a clutch of neat releases but were seemingly little-loved during their brief, explosive lifetime. Ad Fleet (who had the great fortune to see them live ‘back in the day’) and I frequently rue their passing, so when Southern Lord announced a discography it seemed like a fine time to get the lowdown on these Nashville smashers.

Questions are by Ad and Alex, all answers are courtesy of guitarist Dallas Thomas.

So, tell us how Asschapel came about: how did the band get together, what had you been doing beforehand and what was the initial aim?

Asschapel pretty much started when Erik [Holcombe, vocals]  and I were living together with a bunch of other dudes back in 1998. We a had list on our fridge of the worst fake band names anyone could think of and ‘Asschapel’ is the one that stuck and actually became a real band…

You hailed from Nashville, Tennessee: a place steeped in musical history and where brilliant musicians allegedly loiter on every given street corner. What (if any) kind of influence did your hometown have on the band or your playing?

Yes we were and yes it is… We all came up from the All Ages/DIY punk scene though, and I would say a collective influence of ours was a repulsion for the pop-country, nu metal and Christian metal that was common in Nashville at the time.

It was always struck me that there was a real fucking intensity to your music: it had this bold, invincible-making quality that makes me think of His Hero Is Gone playing ‘Ride The Lightning’ riffs. Where were you coming from as a band, and what did you want to be/sound like?

You pretty much nailed it. A fusion of crust punk and corporate rock/metal… ha! His Hero Is Gone and From Ashes Rise pretty much paved the way for us to get out of Tennessee. When we first hit the road we kind of got written off a little bit in that scene because of our name, which really pissed us off and looking back made us play more furious and harder as a band.

Despite being rooted in hardcore, the sound, imagery, song titles and lyrics were very metal-focused. I mean, you weren’t CROM or something, but they were still pretty ‘out there’. Was this a serious gambit, humorous/ironic, or were you using this aesthetic to mask something more serious?

Erik wrote all the lyrics so I can’t speak for him, but I feel it is/was all of the above… humorous/ironic/serious and then back again. But I will say it was always a cathartic release for us a band to poke fun at religion, violence and hate. However, when someone comes to you and say they just got back from a tour in Iraq and say that they were listening to Asschapel during a bombing raids it is a different pill to swallow…

Where did you feel Asschapel fit in while you were a going concern? You were your peers and allies?

We didnt really think about it we just went and did it on our own dime. Back in the day, we played shows with Mastodon, Baroness, Kylesa, Municipal Waste, and Black Tusk when they were all starting out. They all got pretty popular and we fell to shit but, hey, that’s the way it goes…

What kind of crowds did you draw? Were you conscious of any sort of dividing line between metalheads and punx?

At the time we were a band, we were half and half with both the punks and metalheads. But towards the end we also attracted people that didn’t like punk or metal.

Ad points out that, in later days, the merging of metal and punk would become pretty de rigueur with all the Japanese and MPDS stuff like GATES, Doraid etc. doing the rounds. Do you think you were maybe a bit ahead of the curve (as opposed to ‘born too late’)?

Yeah maybe. It’s hard to know… When people started finding out about us we were so broke and sick of each other that we broke up…

Who were the shittiest bands/people you had to deal with as a band?

You know I can’t really remember… We were probably the shittiest band and people that other bands had to deal with…Ha!

You covered ‘Raining Blood’ on your Satanation 7”. Bit of a bold move, that. How do you think it came off? Did you try your hand at any other thrash covers?

That was our only cover. It was always a crowd pleaser – here we are ten plus years talking about it!

What do you remember about your European tour? What were the high and low points for you and how were you received in the UK? What are your fondest – or weirdest – memories?

It was all a blur. We did two EU tours and the UK only once. Breaking down in the snow in north Sweden was not fun. Getting to play in Bosnia, Serbia, Macadonia, and Greece was a pretty surreal experience for sure.

What were reactions to you like in the punk press (MRR, Heartattack, Punk Planet, whoever) at the time?

If I remember correctly hit or miss, but usually we were kinda written off for our name and for being a non-political band. Like I said, that kinda pissed us off and made us a better band in the end.

Ad points out that you were touring at a point when it was still pretty common to have not heard a touring band before seeing them. While it was possible to be bowled over by an unheard-band, do you feel that this worked to your disadvantage? You obviously had the hook-up with German label Flowerviolence, but I’m not sure how well distributed you were this side of the pond before that?

Yeah, we were for sure in the last generation of bands to tour without cellphones and GPS! We never had any formidable backing, promo or distro while we were around. We just said fuck it and hit the road because that is what we all wanted to do at the time.

What put an end to Asschapel? Was it a slow death or quick and virtuous?

In my opinion, pretty much what made Asschapel great was what ultimately destroyed it. We didn’t start Asschapel as a business – we were just some pissed off friends from Nashville who wanted to play some catchy thrash-prog-punk. But when the money crunch comes in and everyone is broke and their personal lives start falling apart it’s hard to keep it fun and everyone on the same page… Looking back we would have been a band longer if we would have been little more business-minded and had better luck with vans – we broke down every tour…

What kind of a legacy do you think the band left behind? Is there anything that you would change, if you had your time again?

That’s hard to say so I won’t… But I think the legacy of Asschapel will now be solidified with Southern Lord releasing our discography to expose a new generation of pissed off kids to the Chapel of Ass…

How did the Southern Lord discography come about? Were you pals with Greg at the time, or did this only come about later by virtue of the Pelican connection? What kind of memories did putting the discog together dredge up? Were they all positive?

It’s kind of a long story… But, yeah, positive for the most part to look back 10+ years later with some objectivity and realize how much crazy stuff we pulled off and that people still talk about and care about Asschapel… About Two years ago, our original bass player JRob sent our first cassette demo to our old friend superfan Dan Emery at Black Matter Mastering to clean up which we put on Bandcamp. That really got us Assdudes all talking again. Fast forward about a year or so when Pelican toured, Goatsnake Greg from Southern Lord and I realised we had a mutual friend in Brad Boatright (From Ashes Rise/Audiosiege Mastering) and that, in a nutshell, is what ultimately led to Southern Lord Releasing the Asschapel discography.

What did you all go on to do after Asschapel? How would you say the band informed your latter endeavours, and did the experience ‘teach’ you anything?

Erik went on to play in the Nashville band Hans Condor. Chris the drummer plays in the Nashville band Tijuana Goat Ride. First bassist JRob plays in the Seattle Band Witch Ripper and Tom, the Moog/synth player, went on to play bass in a band called Ayebawl. Second bassist Nygard retired from music after Asschapel and started a family. I moved to Chicago in 2008 and started doing session work for Sanford Parker, started a band called The Swan King and then ended up playing guitar in Pelican around 2011.



What Price, Wonderland? – final shows / mission statement

Eh up, this is Joe C again, first of all thanks to everyone who read the “emo is fucking dead uk edition” post, it seems to have worked!

So this one is about my old band and a kinda official statement/info bomb about these shows we’re doing. Mostly waffle, some info.

What Price, Wonderland? is myself, James Wright and Andy Hemming. We formed when we were maybe 13/14 under various names and for the most part was basically mates jamming in a garage playing really poorly conceived covers by bands we liked such as Rival Schools, At the Drive-in etc. After a year or two we decided to try and do a proper band with “our own material” inspired by the mailorder DIY scene and bands we had been told to go see live by bigger kids we met on forums such as Collective-zine and the Kerrang! forums (rock on dude!), in the pre social media / Web 2.0 world.

Originally we had a second guitarist, Clyde Bradford, you may know him from another band of cry babies who are now outstretching everyone in this little scene…. Andy met Clyde at a Zao (yeah the Christian melodic metalcore band) show when we made some flyers asking for a guitarist to play stuff in the vein of “Indian Summer, Cap’n Jazz and Assfactor4”, which in retrospect was a fucking ask, but somehow we ended up doing something like that.  We did some shows and some ill fated demos under the name The Snowman, including some pretty hilarious shows with some top anecdotes I won’t bore you with here. Suffice to say at 15 we didn’t really know how to socially interact with people outside our dumb little group and we sacked Clyde, not even really sure why, but it doesn’t matter as we’ve ended up being close friends for years now (sorry Clyde).  We then dropped the “The”, called ourselves Snowman, I put out a 7″ with the money I saved from dropping out of school and working in washing machine sales and we subsequently imploded, again we were teenagers, no real reason why.

We made friends probably a few weeks later and decided once again to take the band another step more seriously. There was literally no one else around where we lived who liked this music anyway, so the theme of us breaking up and reforming with a new band and pretending it was a new thing was inevitable. This time though we decided to add a second guitar again and Mitch the Witch aka Mike Coley (yep of Belly Kids fame!) joined us but left after one recording. So back with the original three piece lineup we actually started to be a band. We did two slightly dodgy 7″s which we dropped the songs from not long after releasing and played with a bunch of bands. Meanwhile we were both working out how to be human beings and how DIY/punk rock could be the ultimate vessel for our shit.

I can’t speak for the other two, but the first record I can still listen to/stomach is “Claim”, which also marks our first record with our a long time recording man Boulty of Stuck on A Name (both this 7″, the first lp and the Syn Error split were done in his loft). We didn’t really know how to do a genre, but we loved a lot of the emo stuff around on Ebullition, Level Plane etc at the time and kinda got lumped in with that stuff. We played with bands like Raein, Louise Cypher, Daitro, Ultra Dolphins and probably loads more I have forgotten. Musically we tried to mix stuff we liked together without really caring if it fit (remember doing that before you started bands on sub-genre specific forums and Facebook groups?!), our favourite bands were stuff like Yaphet Kotto, Off Minor, His Hero is Gone, Infest, Cap’n Jazz, Blame Game, Assfactor4, Mohinder, Captain Speky… we didn’t really know which genres these fit into but liked bits from all their sounds and took where we pleased. Kinda funny to think we actually tried to play Cap’n Jazz chords over blastbeats and didn’t get laughed down by absolutely everyone, I dunno it made sense to us.

We went on to tour the UK a few times and got the touring bug we never lost. The most inspiration time in our life as a band was probably being asked to go to the continent with the band Syn*Error, completely on faith we turned up after a few Myspace messages between the bands and learned probably more about ourselves and music in that space of time than any other before or to come. We did another lp and some splits and kinda stopped as we lived far away and were becoming involved in our styles of music completely separate from punk rock.

We played the odd show, but didn’t really write new material and that leaves us where we are now. James went on to play in Bird Calls and Kin Shot, Andy is now in Arkless and I played in Plaids and now Soul Structure. The band never really ended and although at times we lost touch, we never stopped being friends at all. One ill fated reunion to play with Raein at the Brudenell in Leeds a few years back kinda put a spanner in things until I checked my personal Last.Fm page to find out what bands my girlfriend might want on vinyl for Xmas I saw a message from 6 months ago asking for WPW to play this fest in Berlin. Not thinking the other guys would do it I started seeing if perhaps Soul Structure could play, presuming the offer had passed long ago, but to my surprise within a day we had set up this fest slot, a warm up show in western Germany and a final goodbye show at the amazing DIY Space For London….

Thursday May 5th – DS4L with a mega lineup of old and new friends

Friday May 6th – Western Germany headline show on the way across to Berlin

Saturday May 7th- We Built The World And Miss The Stars fest in Berlin


Then we’re dead.




current and ex bands:



Joe C


emo is fucking dead get over it (united kingdom edition)


(Healing Powers at Fire As A Metaphor fest at JT SOAR, Nottingham by Kyle Jenner)

I wrote a thing out on tumblr a while back to help share some friends and my own bands stuff, its kinda weird trying to promote music which exists almost exclusively in the heads of insular weirdos, but as this information-super-highway fills up with lists, why not add one more?

So here is some info, words, links about some bands I consider somehow related, if not only by the fact me and my friends keep putting on the poor bastards at the same gigs.

Sorry it’s not completely exhaustive, I only listen to bluegrass and speed garage.

Here are some bands to check out…..


One of the handful of power trios in the scene right now, and one of the few bands who seem to really “get” the three piece thing for what it can be (answer: a lot).  They made this album this year after the 12″ combining two sessions from the past few years “Wonderkid” came out the year previous, and it kinda sucks to think that whilst most people who have heard it had their asses kicked by it, so many asses are left un-kicked.  The trio thing works, three personalities, three voices, three completely nailed sounds and playing styles bouncing into each other and dragging you along. Even being “isolated” in the land of oil barons  (Aberdeen (how many DIY bands from major cities moan about gig coverage even locally?)) they still managed to tour the mainland with those Yanks we love so much (Football Etc) and play tonnes of shows in the rest of the UK.

Musically they are a kinda desperate, churning, yet incredibly tight freight train that slows down to sob along at all the right moments.

You can hear their lp in full up there, probably illegally, I dunno…

Here is a recent live video from Strugglefest.




Somehow unrelenting in the fact they play possibly the most unfashionable music possible, are from the West Midlands and manage to play further afield than most bands I know to good sized crowds, Human Hands are very much still around and turning the mostly hardened crusties into Buckfasted wasted head bobbers and chest tappers. At the time of writing this I know for a fact (and have heard) two more records I can’t share, so have this one off the first lp and follow links below to their very deep back catalogue of small run international splits across many formats.

I managed to work out what they sound like while drunkenly shouting at their bassist and all round nice-man-of-the-scene Chaz: “It’s basically all those really uncomfortable bits on those more fucked up 90s records that never really got popular due to tightness, but looped into actual music”.  Their newer stuff has this kinda Neil Young Crazy Horse meets Red House Painters meets I Hate Myself thing going on. If you liked the first lp and recent splits you’re gonna really like this next stuff.

Here’s a video of them on their tour of Japan a while back with their standard japery and no fi sound quality


and another in a basement



Sticking this one the middle quickly and moving swiftly on coz its my band. I got andy malcolm to write what he thought it should say here:

Soul Structure – already moving on after an accomplished debut EP that wasn’t a million miles from the band singer Joe previously emoted in (Plaids, obvs), Soul Structure look set to lose 90% of their “fanbase” with an upcoming record that builds on their sound whilst introducing more introspective elements from all your fave ponderers including Polaris, Slint and Van Pelt. here is our stuff, the new lp will be up very soon. decent video here.



Related to the above via Chris (Soul Structure drummer, Blue Period guitar and vocalist), Nottingham’s the Blue Period kinda provide the night to the aforementioned band’s day. Now with added ex Plaids and JT SOAR bossman/goofball Phil on drums, their buddy Stephen on violin, Wolf Town DIY alien Sadler and Chris out from behind the kit they are now a proper full ensemble of nostalgic insomnia.  They have a split with Human Hands out when the Adele vinyl is finished in every pressing planet ever. They are also reissuing their demo (when they were just a kinda bedroom wig out) on a 10″, which is nice.

Awkward as hell live vid above.



Not a lot online from this lot yet, do they even belong here? I reckon so… young Welsh kids making a proper racket in the late 80s Dischord vibe.. less Cap’n Jazz.. more Soul Side.. nice! Insane live. Do vinyl please!



Relatively new band from London with folks from Bird Calls and What Price Wonderland doing some kind of introspective and hypnotic stabby vibe with constantly propositioning spoken vocals, if that’s your thing (it is mine if you cared, you didn’t).

EP coming soon, but here is a nice live recording from a gig they did at JT which I’ll come onto later.



This is the post Bonehouse band. That Dundeemo lot. Not a lot down yet, but worth keeping an eye on because Bonehouse didn’t really mess about when it came to being a band. They do a kinda breathless groovemo thing, not unlinke their Scotch buddies Carson Wells, but a little more direct.

Here is a live video:



The Wolf Town DIY in house band. Some kind of lost Ebullition Records compilation band via Birmingham and Mordor (is that the right one, they like some wizard and dragons thing or something)


Less a straight up emo band, but more their own super jangly, screamy take on things, but deserve a mention here for sure. Not sure how active they still are, but having provided us with the very cool photo at the top (by Kyle Jenner) it would be wrong to miss them out either way.

ok so that’s probably too short and scrappy but hopefully that opens up some stuff to any interested parties… put any links you wanna add in the comments

some labels to keep an eye on would be:

probably some more? maybe put them in the comments too

once a year I am trying to put these bands on together at this thing called Fire As A Metaphor at our venue here in Nottingham called JT SOAR, keep an eye out for that… and this…

“have you got any more beers?” quite

CAUTION HOT (Human Hands at Fire As A Metaphor by Kyle Jenner)

by Joe C


Pushing the punishment: an interview with WarHorse

WarHorse was a crushing, psych-addled doom band who released a handful of singles and, in 2001, an album entitled ‘As Heaven Turns To Ash…’. Southern Lord reissued it earlier this year, and bassist Jerry Orne, drummer Mike Hubbard and guitarist Todd Laskowski were decent enough to answer some of my questions.

Ok. Can you start off with the simple stuff for us: how, when, where and why did WarHorse get started?

Jerry: WarHorse started in 1996. Desolate (the death metal band I was in) had broken up and I was looking to start something new. I knew Krista VanGuilder and Mike Hubbard from their old bands.

Mike: The band was already being formed by the time Jerry called me up. I was between bands at the time. My old band Infestation has recently ended, so the timing was good for me. We didn’t really discuss a direction or anything, he just asked if I was interested in coming down to jam and I said yes.

What was the initial idea behind the band? Did you know how you wanted things to sound when you started out?

Jerry: We were all looking to do something heavy and crusty, but still pretty melodic.

Mike: Like I said, the band was already being formed by the time I showed up, so I can’t speak to the origins. But I know we wanted to do something heavy, something different, so we just sort of followed that path.

I think (?) some of you played in death metal bands in the early 90s. I’ve always been drawn to bands with that deathly sound to them, but it seemed for quite a while that people didn’t make the connection between doom and death metal. How did you see the two genres intersecting and cross-pollinating? Was playing slower stuff a ‘reaction’ to the speed of death metal, or was it some sort of logical extension?

Mike: Yeah, the early 90s was a good time for death metal. There were a few of us bands doing different takes on different styles at the time. I was drawn to bands like Entombed, Grave, Incantation, Autopsy which all had some elements of doom and slower parts. But I also liked fast stuff like Carcass, Napalm Death, Brutal Truth. But when I discovered bands like Cathedral, Eyehategod, the Melvins, I was hooked. For me, I felt like the slow to mid-pace vibe allowed for more punishment. You could hit a lot harder, and each beat felt massive.

Jerry: I think we just put our influences together: Sabbath, Sleep, Crowbar, Melvins, Autopsy, Buzzoven, Cathedral, etc.

Todd: Well, the guys in WarHorse were always into bands like Winter, Autopsy and Cathedral, so mixing in a little Sleep and EyeHateGod in just sort of came naturally. I mean it’s all extreme music and that’s what we all like. It was just an easy progression if you will.

Who did you view as your peers / comrades / competitors? Was there any sense that there was a ‘scene’, or were there just isolated pockets of slow-motion heaviness?

Jerry: We never really tried to figure out what we were. We played with metal bands, rock bands, punk and hardcore. Reactions were generally negative, really. Fine with me.

Mike: This was very early in the “stoner rock” thing, but I remember getting some of the first stuff from Electric Wizard and being completely blown away. Grief was another local band putting out slow, brutal stuff, but we never crossed paths. I think we would have been a good fit.

Todd: Ha ha, I’d say “isolated pockets” is a good way to put it. It all just kind of came to the surface. The influences just boiled up. It wasn’t a competition thing, but the bands I mentioned were definitely peers in our eyes.

Many of the US bands from that era I’d associate with more punk/hardcore-related labels and scenes (e.g. Noothgrush, Floor, Cavity and Grief being on labels like Bovine and Slap-A-Ham and/or playing fests like Fiesta Grande…) but I kinda think that WarHorse were very much a METAL band. Is this interpretation correct, and was there any crossover?

Mike: We were all into punk, hardcore, etc but metal was definitely the main thing we were going for. But we also had a lot of love for the early heavy stuff, 70s rock and heavy metal, 60s psychedelia. All of that started finding spots in our songs.

Todd – Yes, we love bands like Grief, Disrupt, Converge and Neurosis. We also all listened to a lot of D.R.I, Madball and Sick Of It All, but WarHorse is definitely mostly influenced by METAL!

What kind of bands did you play with? They were a bit earlier than you guys, obviously, but I remember talking to Stephen from Winter and him saying they were hated almost universally, whether they played with punk bands (with whom they shared certain ideologies) or bigger metal bands like Sepultura…

Mike: We played with a lot of that mid-90s alternative rock/metal that was all around us, and we were usually hated when we played with them. We’ve had the power shut off on us more than once. We opened for Godsmack when they were on the rise and people were visibly angry. Once we got into Boston, we had a little bit of a better reception. Fans there were much more tolerant.

Todd – We played with everyone from Bongzilla to Goatsnake to the heaviest death metal bands. We had a death metal background, so we pretty much fit in with everyone we played with but it was mostly doom-oriented bands that we did shows with (Evoken, Unearthly Trance etc.) or death metal bands that already knew us personally (Cryptopsy and the likes of them). We also played the first ‘Stoner Hands of Doom’ fest, which reunited Pentagram and Trouble.

Am I right in thinking you had a female vocalist when you first started out? Can you tell us about those early days, and what led to the change?

Jerry: Yes, Krista VanGuilder was first on vocals and guitar. Great player and singer. We did our first cassette, then CD with her. I’m not really sure exactly why she quit. She was in college. We still all get along great now.

Mike: Yeah, Krista was the original guitarist/vocalist when I joined the band. Those days were fun. We had some good songs I think, and at the time, heavy bands fronted by women weren’t that common. It made us stand out. Unfortunately she decided to leave the band to pursue college, which is fine. There was no animosity, and things worked out for everyone.

How would you say WarHorse grew and developed over the course of its existence? How would you characterise the changes – be they physical, sonic or personal – that the band underwent from release to release?

Jerry: We just kept pushing the punishment, getting heavier every step of the way.

Mike: With each incarnation of the band, we got heavier and more psychedelic, more nasty. After Krista, we played with Matt Smith for a while, did the ‘Lysergic’ 7″ and the ‘Priestess’ EP with him. He brought a lot of the experimental/noise elements into the mix. But that didn’t work out and it was just Jerry and I. At that point, Jerry decided he would take over vocals so that if we kept changing out guitar players at least the vocals would be consistent. I supported this decision. Never hurts to have a Lemmy worshipper as your frontman.

Todd: Well I lost 50 pounds between the USA tour and the European tour. But, other than that we definitely grew as a band. We became sonically tight. And, grew to know each others’ moves. I didn’t know how to play lead guitar when I joined. I was a rhythm guitarist. I learned to play lead really fast – just in time to record.

How would you describe a typical WarHorse gig, practise or recording session?

Jerry: Loud and loose.

Mike: Early gigs were pretty random. It took us a while to break into playing clubs, and like I said, we usually went over pretty badly. We were loud, tuned down, slow, with long songs. Everything people tend to hate in a live band. But we kept at it. Practices were usually pretty productive. We never had a proper rehearsal space, we always played in basements. We started out in Krista’s mom’s basement, then moved to Jerry’s. It was cramped and loud. Full stacks and no ear plugs. We played as often as we could, usually twice or three times a week. Didn’t have too many recording sessions. Basement tapes, a couple sessions with Bill T. Miller, and then the ‘Heaven Turns To Ash’ and ‘I Am Dying’ sessions at New Alliance. Everything we did was quick, usually in a day. Not a lot of takes, all live, then threw on overdubbed guitars and vocals. The AHTTA session was the most pro session we did, and we did that over three or four days.

Todd – Lots of weed and drinks. Just energy and lots of volume. In the beginning it was just serious power and fury! At the end it was a lot of tension at rehearsal, but the shows were always killer!

I think I read somewhere that Grief’s Terry Savastano was somehow involved in the band. Is this right?

Jerry: Yeah, after the last time we split up, Terry and I started writing songs for a new band. I called Mike and asked him to play drums. After a couple of practices, we decided to continue WarHorse. We did a few shows, but broke up after a few months.

Mike: Yes, this is true. It was months after we had called it quits after our European tour with Electric Wizard. Jerry and Terry started jamming on some new ideas for a new band, went looking for a drummer and Jerry called me again. The new ideas were heavy, and close to the WarHorse stuff, so we talked it over and decided we could reform the band with Terry, play some of the old songs and start working on new songs. Made sense to start with an established name. But, sadly, that didn’t work out either and we finally called it quits for good.

Todd: Terry was in a version of the band after we had broken up the last time, after I didn’t come back. It didn’t last long.

Beyond the sheer heaviness of the records, I always liked the more frazzled, psychedelic elements at play – they added another layer, and one that added to the unsettling vibe running through things. Where did this come from?

Jerry: Mostly from the bands we like, Hendrix, Allman Brothers, Skynard, Mountain, plus the psychedelic shit from the 60s and 70s.

Mike: This came from our love of 60s bands like Hendrix, Pink Floyd, etc. It seemed to create a lot of tension, but also some serene moments that helped set up the crushing parts.

Todd: Well I didn’t know how to play leads well, so I added a lot of effects (flanger, delay and fuzz). I would experiment with solos and it became natural to sound trippy. Eventually, it became ‘the sound’. But we were also into Hendrix and lots of 60s stuff and we also started out to intentionally have a psychedelic sound. I mean, we have a song called ‘Lysergic Communion’. It’s our roots – I grew up on my mom and dad’s Doors and MC5 records.

What would you say influenced WarHorse beyond music?

Jerry: Anger, Frustration, Stubborness, Hate…

Mike: Music was the main thing. We just wanted to make the heaviest stuff we could manage.

Todd: DRUGS! And Drugs! But, also just wanting to sound cool and trippy, you know?

How did you hook up with Ellington for the ‘Priestess’ 12”? To me, at the time, they seemed very much into the whole crazy, technical hardcore thing, what with releases by Barritt, Converge and Shadow’s Fall. I guess Ire were a bit slower and sludgier, but WarHorse kinda stuck out like a sore thumb…

Jerry: Yeah, that didn’t work out like we wanted.

Todd: Well, that was before my time. But, I know the guys were friends with the Ellington guys, and they dug WarHorse. I love the Priestess 12” but hate playing the song. I dunno why.

Mike: Mike Mannix was a local guy that we knew from the early death metal days. So he knew what we were all about individually, and was following the band. When he approached us to do the record, we didn’t think at all about what else he was putting out. We were just stoked that someone wanted to put our stuff out. That record came out great, and I still have people tell me how much they like it.

What was the motivation behind the Wargasm cover? I picked that album up in a charity shop many moons ago, and there always seemed to be something a bit weird about it…

Jerry: We recorded songs for a split, but no one would do one with us. Then we wanted to do a 10” but the songs were too long. The Wargasm cover was for a thrash comp, but it never came out. Ellington did the best they could; the red vinyl rules and the cover kicks ass but it’s just kind of a shit show. The Wargasm cover was done out of respect, and Mike is a big fan. I heard Wargasm hated it.

Mike: There was some talk of a possible thrash tribute compilation, and Wargasm was the biggest band around here for thrash. They were huge. For me, they were as big as Metallica or Slayer. We had the idea to do a slow version of that tune because we felt it fit with our vibe and the vibe of the original song. It was our attempt at a tribute to the band.

Todd: That was before my time as well. I played on ‘As Heaven Turns to Ash…’  and the ‘I Am Dying’ 7”. I ran into the drummer from Wargasm, Barry Spillburg, and he told me he hated the cover. I let him know I didn’t give a shit. He was a dick to me, straight up. And I loved Wargasm when I was a kid. I used to go see them play every week in Providence RI when I was like 16. It was my first realization that your idols can be shit. It’s ironic that Mike (drums) now plays in a band now that Barry was in.

What’s the story behind your relationship with Southern Lord? Who discovered/reached out to who?

Mike: I was following the label, and I liked their aesthetic and those first few releases like Thors Hammer, Goatsnake, etc were so heavy and good. I had sent Greg some demos and he was kinda lukewarm, but said he wanted to hear more. So we did some more demos, and he was a little more interested. As luck would have it, he was coming out to the East Coast to a show in NJ that we were playing, so he got to see us live. I won’t say we got “signed on the spot” at the show, but it wasn’t too long after that Greg asked us to maybe do a record for him.

What can you tell us about the writing and recording of ‘As Heaven Turns To Ash…’? What kind of themes/ideas were running through the record, and what kind of headspace were you in while you were putting it together?

Mike: By the time we went to record, we had been playing those songs for a while, so there wasn’t much to work out. We knew we wanted to create some cool intros and outros, some quiet parts to break up all the heavy stuff. Todd was the one to come up with the idea that it should be a ‘concept’ album, with the theme running through it. All the quiet stuff, like ‘Amber Vial’, was put together pretty quickly, in the studio, based on some ideas we had floating around. It all seemed to work out.

Todd: Well the record was complete when we went into the studio. We just worked out a couple of the instrumentals. But it was a great headspace. Andre Schneider was great to work with. He gave us a lot of space and he liked the music, so it went smoothly. It was a great time – the best recording experience of my life, and I’ve recorded at least six or seven releases.

Did you set out to do anything differently with the full-length, given that you’re previously only put our shorter releases?

Todd: We just ripped out the songs that we could tell were working when we played them live and we just had a good time doing it. It all just fell into place.

Mike: I think we just wanted to document all the material we had, and make a cohesive, heavy record.

Jerry: Well by then Todd was in the band, and we were all on the same page as far as pushing things as far as possible.

How do you view ‘As Heaven Turns To Ash…’ now, looking back on it? Do you think of it as any kind of landmark? 

Jerry: It’s definitely the best thing we did. And recording at New Alliance with Andrew Schneider was great. It really raised our profile enough that we got to tour the US, Europe and the UK. We got to meet and play with many bands we respected. It was pretty cool.

Mike: I’m very proud of that record. At the time, we just wanted to do something heavy. I never expected it be included in the same breaths as records by Sleep, Cathedral, etc, that it was later on. The fact that it’s still talked about enough to warrant the reissue it pretty crazy to me.

Todd: I love the record. It sounds great, and our contemporaries have really praised our shit, so… As far as a landmark? I mean it has its place in time and, it went over well. It’s not my place to say.

The album came out at a time when doom was just starting to peep above the parapet: it had been a minority concern for years, but with the internet and bands like Sunn O))) etc. raising its profile. Were you aware of this at all at the time? Did you notice things shifting around you?

Todd: Yeah, it came out at a time when doom was beginning to blossom so it was probably perfectly timed. I mean Anderson and O’Malley are no fools. I think they saw a bright light and went for it.

Mike: I just noticed that our shows were getting bigger and better, and we were playing with bands we were into. It was pretty great.

To this day, some my friends and I are seriously pissed that we didn’t get to see you when you played over here with Electric Wizard and didn’t even know it was happening. How was the experience for you, and how did you find the UK?

Todd – The UK was the time of my life. I turned 30 in London. I can’t say enough about the hospitality we received in the UK and all of Europe. I’m sorry you missed it. I would have loved to have seen those shows myself. I really wanna record and tour something again that can come close to the Electric Wizard/WarHorse tours. DOOM/STONER heaven man!!!

Jerry: Yeah, the tour was a trip for sure! I’ve always been into British motorcycles, Monty Python, The Young Ones, plus all the great bands, so the UK was a high point for me. Great people, great shows. The warm beer took some getting used to though…

Mike: Both tours with Wizard were pretty intense. The US tour was the first major tour we had done. Until then, it was nothing but one-offs and long weekend things. We learned a lot on those tours. I wouldn’t trade them for anything.

What led to WarHorse’s dissolution? Where do you think the band would have gone if you’d not broken up?

Jerry: We were getting along less and less, by the end we were just fighting all the time. It really started to suck, so that was it.

Mike: I think we just ran out of steam and it seemed like the right thing to do. I think we all needed a break. It was a tumultuous run.

Todd: It was just personality issues. I know that’s cheesy, but it’s true. We’ve all played together since. Nothing important. But, we jam well. It would have been big if we could have kept it together. But, it wasn’t in the cards at that time. Now? Who knows? It would’ve definitely been something great if we stayed together. I know. I have the material written, still.

What did you all go on to do after the band?

Jerry: I didn’t do much for years, but then Desolate reformed, and I’m also in a new band called Conclave.

Todd: Started a band called Sin Of Angels. Wrote one album with them. Never recorded. But, they put out an album with another guitarist called ‘Eucharist’ that I wrote. I’m definitely proud of that music but it wasn’t my cup of tea. They still play today. So…. It’s a business. This music world. And, if you can’t make your mark, you may as well keep on moving.

Mike: I took a break from playing for a couple of years, then starting kicking around in some small bands with friends. Nothing too serious. I did a rock band for a couple years called Cheap Leather, and after that I ended up getting the Gozu gig, which has been awesome.

What did your time in WarHorse teach or inspire in you? What have you ultimately taken away from the experience?

Todd: WarHorse was the shit, man. I took a lot away. It taught me a bit about the biz. Like I said. I love the recordings we did and I’m proud of them.

Jerry: It was great because of the things we got to do, the people we met. I still hear from people, sharing what WarHorse meant to them.