Interview with Producer: Johnny Zero-Forever Director: Brady Tulk Puppet Master / Puppet God: Carolina Govea
For socks, they’ve got a lot of sole…
Leave it to bunch of Metalheads, and a woman who made the mistake of telling them she knew how to sew, to create an empire where fist-banging is not only acceptable, but extremely cool, so long as there’s an undergarment on it. SPP You Tube channel
In the world of Sock Puppet Parody, cotton is Metal, fleece is brutal.
“There’s a sock multiverse,” director Brady Tulk said. “Everything that happens in the human world, happens in the sock puppet world.”
But, the troupe that brought us “Let the Laundry Hit the Floor” and an Immortal Christmas didn’t spawn the concept from the fruit of their loom. It started with a gimmick.
Brady explained, “Socks originate from the first video we made, which was a Rivethead Indiegogo campaign. And it didn’t really have any new donations coming in for this local band, so we needed to find a new way to market it, and the band actually had someone who made them sock puppets. They didn’t have arms or anything to them. Eventually, me and Puppet Master (Caroline Govea) decided that we would make a video with the band performing. At the end we had some sock puppets jamming out to some Metal and then it said, ‘Don’t let this happen. Help Rivethead.’ And that night, we brought a lot of donations and we learned that sock puppets really work.”
It took six months for it to sink in that Metal and socks are naturally paired. Inspired after a Static X show, the Muse was too much for them. So, they rang up their “Grammified” friend, J.T., otherwise known as “Kitty Violet,” to work on the musical arrangement for “Push It” at one in the morning, expected to get laughed off the phone. But, to their surprise, he loved it. Producer Johnny Zero-Forever said, “So that night we had our first song. Kitty is just as crazy as we are.”
Static X’s “Push It” was transformed into Static Cling’s “Sew It,” and Sock Puppet Parody came together.
Of course, the natural question would be “Why socks?” Very simple: “Because thumbs weren’t enough.”
However, there was no question about the Metal. Brady said, “I knew that something Metal with sock puppets just works. It’s something magical, some kind of energy. Metal is the most fun to film.”
Johnny Z concurred, “Yeah, the energy is what’s really important because that’s what makes it funny.”
And the public agrees; their You Tube channel has over 60,000 subscribers with some videos, such as their “Master of Puppets” and Slayer’s “Raining Blood” have nearly or over a half-million hits each with “Wait in Bleach” (Slipknot’s “Wait and Bleed”) with over a million. At this time, music producers are hitting them up for professional work with even a talk of a possible full-length feature. The probability of the Puppet Master/God finally being able to quit her day job could become reality, if they are able to bring in enough income to be self-sustaining.
She said, “We talk about this all the time.”
Johnny Zero stated, “We want our Sock God to be available to us at all times. She is not available to us at all times now.”
And the bonus, of course, is that Metal is not saturated in parody, so they are “not in any major competition and the bands really appreciate the new content.” The content being homemade crafts professionally produced by an award winning musician, fronted by anybody who can do the target band’s uncanny impressions.
And cardboard…lots and lots of cardboard, which can be most problematic. Johnny Z explains, “The first problem is finding the right cardboard. There are different qualities of cardboard by and large. Finding the right quality is hard.”
Brady continued, “So, all of the set could fall apart.”
To which Johnny Z finished, “Or the whole set could go on fire.”
Another major obstacle the Sock Puppets have to cross is the performance, itself, to pull it off. “Singing the notes and moving the mouths at the same time can be a challenge for some of the puppeteers. To bring them to life, they have to act like the human. So, like, the human Tom Morello had to have the guitar up to his chin during his solo thing and we had to make sure our sock puppet can do it the same way. So, we spend a lot of time practicing in the bathroom mirror.”
There can be other issues, as well, just like in any band. Do Metalhead socks risk having their bandmates show up to rehearsals high on fabric softener? Of course not, that would be silly. Johnny Z said, “It’s the detergent that can be a terrible problem.”
Brady added, “Especially the powder form of Borax.” But, then he said, “Some people would say that socks are expendable and that it’s really easy to replace them. So, if we have a problem with a certain sock, let’s just say that may be credence for the sock puppet.”
Not that it would be too surprising for a sock to be “bounced” – this is Metal, after all. “I think we live in a mismatched world,” Brady philosophizes. “Conforming to the belief that ‘socks must be matched’ is just an old notion. We need to have total anarchy.”
And apparently, a nice launder now and then, which overall seems to be their favorite, except Johnny Z who said, “I like the dryer cycle, especially when there’s a tennis shoe in it because then you get a nice rhythm.”
The Puppet Master said, “The one that goes like this…(Editor’s note: interview was conducted over the phone, so whatever gesture she made was unfortunately lost in translation).”
Johnny Z, “Soaked in suds.”
Puppet Master chimed in, “The one that goes back and forth really quick!”
If anyone has the right to speak, it’s Iron Maiden’s daddy.
“Personally I’m enjoying it more than ever, I’d say,” Steve Harris said in a recent feature by Stef Lach for Metal Hammer magazine. “We all are…we’ll definitely make more albums and we’re having a great time.
This is still the best job in the world.”
And indeed it would be for a multi-millionaire who worked his way from street sweeper to legend, who had the right chops with the right talent, managed by the right staff with the right resources at the right time. No doubt he remembers what it was like to sleep in the back of a station wagon with his bandmate’s foot up his nose before he and his dominion’s minions started travelling the world, twice over, first class.
But, he is in the minority. Not just because he is among the crème de la crème of the entire industry, but because he has the luxury to be able to do his one and only job and make a living from his one and only job.
Iron Maiden, as well as the other father and mothers of Metal, started in a time when an artist’s presence was exclusive and you couldn’t buy just one song without a b-side or an entire album.
Record labels could afford to front a band for studio time and publicity. It was easier to make that money back, once the band was invested in. Getting signed was essential.
However, once MTV came along, (when the “M” still stood for “Music”), the video destroyed the radio star. Suddenly, the novelty of being in the same room with your musical heroes was satiated with a moving picture in the comfort of your own home, raising the prices on concert tickets and personal appearances.
Now that the digital age has arrived, the game is changed again in ways which overfeeds the audience and starves the artist. It may be easier to be discovered, but it’s harder to remain relevant.
Nearly every musician in Metal today has a day job or even two. It has even become much more commonplace for a musician to be a member of more than one band, as well, whereas twenty years ago, it would have been considered rude or ridiculous. They have very little choice because 20 or 50 little cents of royalty, if that, cannot cover the hundreds of big dollars that it costs to write and record a single song.
Touring, if not budgeted correctly, can easily put a band in the hole as easily it could pull it out.
There was also a special role for management and admin during Metal and Maiden’s prime time. The “Rod Smallwoods” are an endangered species and the artist is now usually forced to double as their own gatekeepers.
The one thing we can learn from the Rap and Hip-Hop culture is the power of the posse. Metal bands don’t move in packs.
If the Rap artist can show their flow, they attract and draw people who support, promote, and pump them up. Those people aren’t just fluff; they know that if the artist is elevated, so will they. It is like a presidential campaign every day, with the clubs treating the fans and the artists as royalty. They understand that without either, they have nothing.
But, in Metal, we don’t. If a brand new Metal band can manage to get a gig — providing that the venue doesn’t prefer the safety of a tribute band and they can sell their own tickets — they’ll get some pats on the back and more demands. With that, they will have to work that much harder and dish out more money to make sure that their work is promoted, the music is heard, the fans get what they want, and the downloads are paid for.
It has officially come to the point where to accuse a Metal musician for doing it for the money is laughable.
Even the “selling out” doesn’t sell enough. Unless you were fortunate to be a golden child of the golden age to strike gold before downloads, “the best job in the world” is one of the hardest.
The only reason why anyone would be crazy enough to do it today is because it is in their bloodstream to do so. No other genre has that power — and that is what really proves Harry right.
A strong, slow, quivering hand holding the pen places itself gently upon the paper and slowly strokes upward, curving smoothly like a linear whisper, staining the image of whimsy, like a dark dream given life.
One line speaks millions. Daringly stylish as Alexander McQueen and bizarre as Lewis Carroll, this is the work of Daniel van Nes; frightening, beautiful, mysterious. Driven by both possibilities and impossibilities, escapism and Heavy Metal, no other artist was a better fit to illustrate the comparable visions of Dark Fortress’ glorious journey of abduction and transformation, Venereal Dawn — and Morean, Dark Fortress’ resident maestro and frontman, knew it.
“We connected like on that creative level,” van Nes said. “It’s like sometimes you don’t need to say a lot of words to know exactly what you need. So, when he asked if I wanted to work on the Venereal Dawn album, I knew that it was going to be great in the first place, so of course I said, yes.”
What sets van Nes’ work aside from the common market is that each two-dimensional piece animates the subject so vividly, the song can almost be heard in the silence. Where blood, guts, fire, trees, inverted crosses and pentagrams saturate the Metal art motifs, the Venereal Dawn collection is a complete package of color and shadow, weaving Fortress’ path that the album paved.
For Daniel, it takes more than just understanding one medium to achieve that accomplishment. With music being his principal muse for his own work, the connection was a natural one. “I think that the answer is in the fact that I, myself, I’m very interested in all kinds of music. While I grew up with Metal, I listen to Carcass, Deftones or even before that, I was listening to punk. So, every aspect of heavy music has passed and I’ve been there from the beginning.
You can see where in the music scene the record keeps going through the same tracks again and again and again, not going anywhere. Meanwhile, as a person, you develop and you listen to other kinds of music, you start appreciating others and I think the same goes for Morean.”
“When we got to talk about things,” he explained further, “we were working side-by-side while he was working on lyrics and music and the band was developing the songs and the tracks. It was a really natural process where I worked on the drawings and the painting, everything just came together. It was just a really great process. I don’t think there was any moment where I thought or felt not being free to do what I wanted. And from what I got from Florian is that this was exactly what he had in mind. I think the band, as well, was happy with the results.”
But, the journey didn’t stop there for Daniel. Since then, he has unveiled a project he orchestrated beyond high fantasy, called SellFable City, a living, electric-breathing entity to put The Matrix’s vision to shame. “The world that I’m working on that I’m kind of discovering…and the works that come from that world is actually not a manmade world. It’s just some parallel universe thing that kind of creeps into our world. And this world is ready to take over this world – it’s drawn by the electricity that we use and the energy that we have within ourselves.
I don’t even see it as one story. I see it as an actual world that, maybe, I have to explain a little background – it’s a very complicated concept I’ve been working on for years.”
The SellFable City’s debut, Circuit Circus exhibition at TETEM in Enschede, Netherlands, was received with awe. “We did a performance and we’re going to build on that and do more performances more towards theatre. There will be more people involved than just me doing the art. So it’s going to be very interesting it’s also a way to make that world more real, actually really creep into our world.
I know for myself, what’s happening is that it’s becoming more ‘real.’ I’m finding more ways to express – also, it’s still art and it’s still expressing myself through my art. While I’m kind of backing away from my name as Daniel van Nes as the artist and transforming it into the SellFable Archivist. I like to take things kind of slow. I probably think of things too much. But, it’s something I can feel becoming more real.
It’s like being in the dark in a full, complicated room with all these delicate things and you have to find your way through that room without breaking anything.”
The 80-page, full-color hardcover SellFable City, Circuit Circus (SFG Archivist, 2016) by van Nes, with downloadable accompaniment by Dutch composer Friso van Wijck, is now available: http://www.nessed.nl/product/circuit-circus/
“He keeps getting better at everything he does; writing, mixing, drumming.
And how dare he keep getting better at everything he does…dammit!” –
Alkaloid bandmate and guitar virtuoso, Danny Tunker
Hannes Grossmann is a drummer of the finest caliber, no question. But, he is further considered one of the most skillful and celebrated musicians in the world, not just a drummer. Ironically, though his mastery behind the kit and the soundboard earns him praise on their own merit, it is his ability to compose and exercise extraordinary adaptation to animate a song that sets him apart from other talents.
So, flexible, in fact, he has successfully drummed for Black, Prog, Tech, Death, Classic Metal, Power Metal, Jazz, and so many other genres with only his signature skill as recognizable, not a distinct style.
His chameleon fluidity with his work, as well as skill and experience, makes him a highly coveted studio and tour musician for hire. But, it is his Muse that earns him love and respect from the public, students, and peers.
Two years ago, Grossmann released The Radical Covenant to the delight of fans he left behind in Obscura and Blotted Science’s wake. Then, in 2015, he founded a new treasure in the Prog-Death chest with his own band, Alkaloid. Their beautiful debut, The Malkuth Grimoire, was shunned by labels, (with no hard feelings), only to be 169 percent funded through a crowdfunding campaign, which went on to earn no less than 96 percent of full critical marks in over fifty international online and print publications.
Spending most of his time on the road filling in for Dark Fortress and Hate Eternal, as well as enjoying a stint with Denner-Shermann members, Uli Jon Roth, and others at the Israeli Titans of Metal festival last year, Grossmann has reunited with his Alkaloid mates, along with other special guests, for his sophomore solo effort, The Crypts of Sleep. Once again, he brings it straight to the fans and the campaign has already met over 75 percent of its goal with one month left.
Ray talks to Hannes on what all the fuss is about, how he connects with his bandmates, the business end, and the endless pursuit of inspiration.
You’ve been busy!
It’s usually towards the end of the year where all the stuff gets pretty busy. It’s pretty quiet, actually. At the moment, the only thing I’m preparing for is recording in the studio, as well as I’m going to India for the first time with Nader [Sadek]. I’ll see how it turns out. Apart from that, it’s pretty quiet. It’s usually at the end of the year where everything usually stacks up. Last year, if I sum up all the songs I had to learn and also had to re-learn, as well as recorded for Alkaloid in 2015, I learned something like 80 to 100 songs total; Learning and playing or recording, something like that. So, like 80 to 100 different songs and most of them were not easy-structured, it’s all complicated stuff.
You also recorded for Eternity’s End [Christian Muenzner’s solo Power Metal project on Power Prog Records], as well.
True, yeah. I had to learn the songs and play them. So, all-in-all I think it’s been about at least 80 songs. I made a rough calculation.
But, I don’t mind because that’s how you get better, I think, practically. I’m not so much into practicing technique anymore. I’d rather try to expand and extend my abilities or skills with actual music and actual songs. That has been perfect. My goal was to play live more and more different stuff and so far, it works.
So, out of all the live experiences that you’ve had this year which have been the most fun or rewarding?
Fun? Dark Fortress was fun because I like the music. I also played with a fusion band called Counter World Experience. It’s instrumental stuff…and it’s some kind fusion Metal stuff. It’s great to play that kind of music. We only played one show to a few hundred people, but, it was fine because it was something different, and I played that kind of fusion stuff for years and I never had the chance to play it live. It was really, really fun.
And I mean, all the projects were fun. They were all different. Hate Eternal, for instance, is a blur — I would say almost towards ‘sports’ because you have to maintain a high speed for a very long distance. That was something I had to practice a lot for. And finally, getting onstage and seeing that it works, that was really a breakthrough moment. Anything new that I played live was fun and of course, the Alkaloid shows, finally playing together, that was awesome.
During this time, were the songs that you used for Crypts already written or did you write them on the road?
Oh, that’s a good question. Once in awhile there are riffs I’ve had for 10 years and some of the stuff is brand new. I don’t know, it really differs.
My biggest fear is to lose creativity and stop writing because I don’t have any ideas. It’s not happening, luckily.
Somehow, I don’t know, I can’t remember where actually, but today or yesterday I had an idea for an Alkaloid song. I wrote it down and without recognizing, three hours had just gone. Just spinning around ideas and working with some ideas and getting some structure. But also I think, really fun so I don’t realize or recognize how much work it is or how much time it takes. Usually I work best at home or in a studio where I can work something out. It’s somehow in between the work
Fear of losing ideas is pretty much universal for any artist. I think history has shown that as long as you’re alive, inspiration is there for you to hunt down and beat with a stick.
It always takes finishing one project, like this new solo record, to get one thing done and then it takes a while to get new ideas. Then it all, or a lot of it, comes in one big chunk and then another pause. There’s like phases, different phases where I’m creative and not so creative. It just alters.
But, yeah, these songs…yeah, good question. The last song I actually wrote for the album was the opening track or the one I already put online.
“To Sow the Seeds of Earth”?
Exactly. It’s the last song I wrote for the record because I thought, “Oh maybe I’m missing a good opening track, like something that’s catchy.” Sometimes, it just takes one idea like that, that’s like, “Hey, I could write a song that grabs attention.” That’s the general source of inspiration. When I come up with something, it’s like what Florian [“Morean”] says, “Sometimes we just have to sit down and get to work and eventually something will show up.”
There’s a lot of excitement surrounding this new project. The campaign is almost three-quarters finished and you still have a month to go.
It’s pretty amazing. I’m very positive that I will actually make the goal – and the goal is crucial to finance it and get it done because there are a lot of costs involved. So, hopefully, I’ll get something in return. After the crowdfunding thing is done, I’ll have enough to ship them worldwide…to me, that’s the most important thing, to get it out finally.
I don’t think you have to worry about that. You Alkaloid men seem to be charmed…
It’s a new way to get the fans more involved, people who might be interested in something, so we put out some perks. You know, not something like some of those by bands on a label or something and think, “Oh we can make big bucks from that,” and they offer something like “Hey, let’s have a party with us” or a phone call where they’ll charge you hundreds of bucks for a phone call. I always thought, “Hmmm…I’m not sure…” *laughs* I really want to offer something of value.
The workshops! The drum lessons and the songwriting workshops are a great touch.
Yeah, like the workshops, they’re something you get in return for putting some money there for supporting it. Actually, I want to work for a living and I don’t want to beg for anything. Some crowdfunding campaigns end up like that, with nothing to offer. But, that’s also why this and the Alkaloid campaign are so successful, because they offer something. It’s not just a cheap way of getting funded.
You bring up a point about that borderline prostitution thing: “For a hundred bucks, we’ll call you.” The VIP pass/phenomenon.
I have got to say, though, it seems weird but there’s one part. We all agree that the industry is changing and the records aren’t sold in a large extent so, every defender of the new way is saying you have to make up your mind on other ways of raising money other than buying records because that industry is dying.
I just wouldn’t do it. When you’re playing like smaller clubs, that’s one thing. Maybe if you’re playing big arenas, that’s different. But, if you’re not, you’re playing smaller clubs, you meet the people anyway…another thing is I don’t necessarily want people backstage. I just want to change my clothes or something and be on my own or something. It’s all got two sides, but I’m not really into that. Also I wouldn’t put any perks up there just to charge you for something. It’s just weird.
It is kind of prostitution, if you think about it, though. “If you’ve got the dime, I’ve got the time.” What’s the difference, right?
*laughs* There’s a tendency, I’d say worldwide, pretty much. The only thing we can do is not participate.
Let’s talk about the “Alka-shuffle,” when you have the same members of Alkaloid playing on different projects. What is the difference between a Hannes Grossmann album and an Alkaloid album?
The difference is that I write all the music and the lyrics and on Alkaloid I don’t. We write stuff together and other members are contributing.
I would say the next Alkaloid record, which we’ve also started writing, to answer the question, may sound a lot different. Maybe not completely different, but we’re going in a new direction, I would say. That’s where I’m at, at the moment. And I can see it shaping more and more in the direction that is really more Prog-Rock with some Death Metal elements. My solo record is a straight up Death Metal album with Heavy Metal elements.
Also, I don’t want to force all my songs on a band, and it’s an hour of material. If I put it out as Alkaloid, what’s the point? I think the Crypts of Sleep is much closer to my last solo album in terms of sound; it’s a lot heavier, much more Heavy Metal. But, musically it’s different.
And the reason why I ask the other members, that’s pretty easy, it’s like in any band…If you know some people that you’ve worked together with and work well with, then of course, it would make sense. If I don’t want to play the guitars myself, and I don’t, I would ask somebody like Danny [Tunker] because he’s the first to come into my mind to do it.
Initially, I had the idea to use other bass players on the album, and more on that in the future. But, it didn’t make sense. The songs don’t really fit for a lot of people I had in mind…and Linus [Klausenitzer] was just so perfect for those songs, so why mess with it?
And, since before you had mentioned it, because I had to learn all those songs last year and I was very busy, I could just give those notes to those guys and they record it at home and I know it’s going to be perfect. It just doesn’t make sense to exchange people just to exchange people.
It’s extraordinary that all of you are not only bandmates and friends, but you also seem to be fans of each other.
How much of that fandom between you influences your own work?
I would put it this way: For example, that Noneuclid record, Monotheosis, is my favorite death metal record of all time and that’s the reason why I wanted to do music with Flo. Also, because he’s a classical composer and that’s something I’m very impressed with. He just understands music on a different level. But, I also like his writing and that’s one more thing, and that’s with every band member, I would say.
I think that Linus got the gig in Obscura from his work in Noneuclid because I just love that album. And when Chris put out the Eternity’s End record, I didn’t know which direction it was going. But, when I got the final release, and I’m not so much into Power Metal, but I like the record, I like the songs. Not because Chris wrote them, but Chris writes stuff that I like.
When we work with someone we admire, it makes us “up” our game, keeps us on our toes. Does working with your bandmates help you become a better musician?
Definitely. I would say, and I would extend that to all the guys that I work with these days. I’ve been, ever since I’ve been a member of Blotted Science – and that was another thing, I was a big fan of Blotted Science, also…obviously, I’m a big Alex Webster fan, also. And that music is very challenging, so that made make a step forward in my playing, just by playing the songs of that band.
This is the same for Alkaloid. Once we got together for the last record, I just could feel that I could make a step forward as a musician, by writing and producing, learning so much by doing it. And the same goes for playing drums in Hate Eternal. I learned new things, I picked new things up…you definitely improve by playing with people.
I would definitely say that my biggest influences are the people I play with.
* * *
The Crypts of Sleep was released on August 30th, with the Indiegogo campaign successfully ending with reaching 130% of its 10,000 Euro goal, to rave reviews.
NOTE: This was a breaking news article which I was gifted with two excellent interviews the same day. The Equipoise project has since been very successful and is now producing merch. On September 3rd, Nick Padovani had appealed to his followers via the official Equipoise FB page: “…someone local to our scene is having financial issues due to cancer he was diagnosed with a while back. would any of you be upset if these shirts and cds went towards him for now? we would of course resume raising money for Jason during the full length.”
August 5, 2016
T. Ray Verteramo
Nick Padovani needed to do something.
“So I started writing music for this back in August, knocked out an LP worth of songs by early December,” founder Padovani said. “Then I began reaching out to some talents. Having my friend already involved, I then reached out to two musicians I have immense respect for, Stevie Boiser (vocals, ex-Sentient) and Hugo Karout (fretless bass, Beyond Creation).”
We released our first track about mid-January, then a second one towards the end of February. So as you noticed, we released an EP today, but in between that time we have since picked up the amazing Jimmy Pitts, who very graciously knocked out new parts in under a month.”
The result which was released is a skull-splitting, soulful EP full of classical phrasing and Black Metal brutality, in a shroud of atmospheric transience.
Eternity’s End and freelance keyboardist Jimmy Pitts commented, “I really lucked out there to get in on such an amazing project right at the end prior to the demo release. I’ve wanted to get back to my roots on some more extreme metal for a long time, in addition to all of the other stuff I normally do and also love, so one day I was just posting that I was working on some jazz fusion, power metal, and Classical all in one weekend and Nick asked me how I would like to do some tech death. I jumped at the opportunity before even hearing them so I remember thinking, ‘I hope they are good’!”
But, with an extraordinary product and eclectic line-up, Padovani was not content to shake it as his own moneymaker. He stated, “I think I knew very early on that I had philanthropic intentions for this band. I see too many bands focused on raising money for themselves, which is perfectly fine, but I instead wanted to try a different approach. I consider this a passion/hobby of mine, and I feel no need to profit from it. So I decided who else to raise money for other than Jason Becker, a man who has been met with an unfortunate fate, and is known as one of the best guitarists to ever live.”
Jason Becker was an 80’s up-and-coming guitar hero who wowed with the likes of Beck, Van Halen, and Malmsteen, until he started to feel a chronic pain in his leg. He was diagnosed with ALS over 25 years ago. Though completely paralyzed and mute, Becker’s father devised a contraption that allows him to continue to communicate and compose today.
Padavoni said, “I figured that he’s such a strong inspiration for guitarists and musicians alike that play music similar to mine (“noodly” guitars ha-ha), and I figure it’s only right to remind him that he’s still heavy on everyone’s mind.”
The Equipoise charity campaign to benefit the Jason Becker’s Foundation through Bandcamp will be ongoing and plans to extend to merchandising, as well. Though the fans may disagree, for Padovani, “The charity thing is probably more exciting for me than the release itself honestly.”