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.