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!”
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.”
Not too long after his surprising departure with Aborted, after three strong years, Danny Tunker did the obvious: release a killer jazz track.
…and work on a new video, start writing for another band, while working with his other band members for another band member on a project that is not for the band, but played by the band. And incidentally, the band members who just played for their other band member, but not for the band, also played on said killer jazz single, “Bare Trap.”
The guy is busy. But, it took some doors to close before all these others could open.
There is a distinctive breath of freedom exhaling from that groovy tune. But, it wasn’t the material or creative differences that caused the Aborted split; it was just time to abort. “We had done too much in too short a time,” Tunker explains, “and it was a situation I just had to get out of.
We were touring anywhere between six to eight months a year. It was fine for a while, but it started to wear thin. And as it happens, it just turned more and more into a workplace where you don’t go home at the end of the day, you just hang with your workmates. So, it kind of had a ‘submarine’ feeling, where you really like everybody, but there was something in everybody that just rubs you the wrong way.”
It was not a rash decision, either. “The next nine months, I was going back and forth all the time, also keeping in mind there were also good times, a lot of good times. The first three years with the band were just great, almost the whole time it was fun…but the next nine months until when we were in Egypt, it just, yeah, I had enough.”
He said, “I think it’s all for the better. I mean, it sucked for a bit. Once I had made the decision, I was 100 percent sure. At least a few weeks before I broke the news, I was entirely sure that this was what I wanted to do. If I had stayed, it could have ended badly.”
As for work itself, Abhorrent received the treasures that may have potentially been trashed. “There is a bunch of stuff that I originally wrote for Aborted, but wasn’t sure it could fit because it was kind of different. And with Aborted, essentially because it’s a pretty old band, there’s a certain mold. Not like everything has a formula, but there’s a certain mold that has to fit and Aborted is also pretty democratic. Essentially, there were five people writing music — well, four people writing music and one that didn’t write music but had conceptual ideas and also a lot of rhythmic ideas that he wanted to try. So, it was difficult to try different things.”
And now Tunker is giving Abhorrent, the Texas/Norway-based unit, his expertise, while allowing the lead guitarist, Marlon Friday, a chance to breathe. “I know the bass player,” he explained. “I know him really well. He sent me one of the songs before the album was released last year. I checked it out, liked it, but never really thought anything else about it. Then somewhere, I think, two months ago, we’re talking about the band and he was saying that Marlon could use some help because he’s still the main guitar player and he wants to bring in somebody else to bring in new ideas and maybe also help with live shows once they’re happening.”
As for a chance for a permanent gig, the thought is nice. But, Abhorrent, much like his staple band, Alkaloid, is “geographically challenged.” This phenomenon happens when artists are willing to think outside the borders to find the right person, for the right sound, with the right skills for the right project. It’s hardly convenient, but it can be very worth it, as both bands demonstrate.
Alkaloid, spearheaded by ex-Obscura and Blotted Science’s Hannes Grossmann, joined by Tunker, along with Florian “Morean” Maier, Christian Muenzner, and Linus Klausenitzer, are a natural fit, in spite of their long-distance challenges. The band’s winning formula of their bond in friendships and perfectly meshed, superior skillsets keep each other in constant rotation for each other’s side and solo projects when they are not each working on assorted commissions, teaching, touring, or other human pursuits.
In fact, the same line-up, including Tunker, has just finished supporting Grossmann with his second solo project, Hannes Grossmann II: The Crypts of Sleep, along with other extremely well-regarded talents such as ex-Obscura’s Fountainhead, Per Nillson, and Erik Rutan of Hate Eternal.
Yet, it was only last year that the five virtuosos, after many many moons, finally played together face-to-face, in September 2015. “I don’t think any of us had played together, at least not in the same room, which can always be a little bit weird. It felt like we’ve always done it — for me, anyway. The first rehearsal didn’t feel like a ‘first rehearsal’ to me.”
Aborted was headlining, supported by Alkaloid, along with a local band and Nader Sadek. It was the last show with Aborted, but the first real show with his comrades. Though they had technically played three tiny gigs in Ireland the week before, it was that night in Cairo that conjured true majick.
And it was there, in Egypt, where Danny ended one chapter to begin another.
“The Alkaloid show, for all of us, was the main thing,” Tunker said. “Turned out to be great. That show was a lot of fun. What I liked most about it is that we had done those three Irish shows the week before that…even though this was an early gig for us, only our fourth show and there were a lot of technical difficulties, still I don’t think anyone noticed because in those three shows before, we grew really tightly. So, we could work and just play on anything that would happen.”
And as it happened, something did. “At some point, something on the drums broke and it could have been really embarrassing because there were 800 people in front of you who were really into it…Without ever missing a step, Florian just started doing this a cappella thing where he did that Dark Fortress song, ‘Sycamore Trees,’ I think. He just did that and everybody just lost their minds. It was just so cool. And the best thing ever was that when he was finished, the drums were resolved and we could just go again. It was great.”
“I am glad we got those few rehearsals, and then those Irish shows, because we got to work out a lot of the problems before we did that Egypt gig. Even though all the songs are pretty easy to play, at least for me, I’m still glad we got to work out those ‘Dyson Sphere’ songs because those songs are a pain in the ass…”
There is a poetic irony in knowing a classically trained Death Metal icon was inspired by Bon Jovi.
However, if anyone else but Danny Tunker said so, they would be thrown into the pit without their boots on. But, Tunker can get away with it because he, in spite of bringing some of the most brutal and bloody meat to the table with his work in Aborted, never claimed to be a purist, which in itself, is very Metal. In fact, his shiny diamonds have many facets, which is what makes him the “Gene Kelly” in the long chorus line of Metal axemen. “I’m not really a death metal guy at all,” he said. “At least I wasn’t. I got into death metal really late. I mean, I’ve been listening to music for a long time, but to be honest, until 2006, I’ve only owned two Death Metal albums. I didn’t like any other Death Metal at all except for those two albums which were Domination by Morbid Angel and Vile by Cannibal Corpse, and those were only if I were in an extreme mood.”
“I liked Metal. I liked a lot of Metal, but essentially, the heaviest thing I’d ever listen to would be Slayer. There was a whole period when I wasn’t listening to Metal at all, when I was studying classical guitar, and that was for six years.”
He elaborated, “I was playing classical guitars with orchestras and playing electric guitars with orchestras for a long time, pretty much since I was 17 or something. So, I was doing a lot of cover band stuff, a lot of funk or even straight up rock or whatever. But, mainly I started working with orchestras because I can read music really well. I was doing a lot of teaching, too. I’ve been teaching guitar since I was 14, which was cool. So, I got to grow into that. And of course, I always liked…yeah, I was more of a Rock guy. I really, really loved the grungier bands like Alice in Chains. And of course, I love Iron Maiden, I’ve always loved Iron Maiden. But, the first band I really loved was Bon Jovi and the eighties stuff.”
“‘Wanted Dead or Alive’ is, like, the best song ever.” He grins jokingly, then backtracks, “Okay, maybe it’s not ‘the best song ever,’ but I really like that song.” Of course, he was only four or five at the time he first heard it. So naturally, cowboys on iron horses will score big over itsy bitsy spiders. In this case, in all seriousness, that video solidified his decision to take up the guitar for life.
But, it seems no revelations, epiphanies, or omens from the gods were responsible for bringing him into his legacy. The answer he gave as to how he became the Danny Tunker that is known, loved, and highly, sleeplessly utilized today is no different than how one usually loses one’s virginity: “It just kinda happened.”
For John Cobbett, founder and engineer of Hammers of Misfortune, though he’s grown some strange and beautiful fruit with his art over the years from Gwar to Unholy Cadaver to Hammers, his roots still hold deep. “I love being a fan,” he said. “Being a fan is so much more fun than being a musician. You’ve got to hold onto that part of yourself or else you’re done for.”
He said, “If you lose the fan in you, you’re never going to write compelling music. You have to be excited…you have to have that little kid enthusiasm or you’re going to sound like you’re phoning it in.”
Hammers of Misfortune was born in the midst of the Grunge and Skater era, flexing its muscles all over the Metal gym, from Old School to Thrash to Prog to Folk to basically whatever the cooks decide to fry up in the kitchen. With this, the fans have learned to expect the unexpected. But, this was more for himself than anything. Cobbett understands that art needs to be egocentric to distinguish itself from product, so why set unnecessary limits? “I wanted a band that I can be interested in for a long time,” he explained. “And I wanted it to be something where I could do pretty much anything that I wanted – a sandbox, a creative vehicle where I could use choirs and harmony and counterpoint and keyboards and anything I wanted so, basically that’s what it is.”
“Interestingly for ‘Dead Revolution’,” the title track off their latest dish set to be released later this month on Metal Blade records, “I was listening to the title track from the Scorpion’s Blackout album. And I was like, ‘Man, I’d like to write a song like that.’ It’s such a killer song. I thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be fun to write a song with just pure energy, just kick ass.’ And that turned into ‘Dead Revolution.’ In fact, the working title for that album was Whiteout…because it was a pun on Blackout.”
Dead Revolution touts to feature even greater versatility, which for a band like Hammers of Misfortune who is already all over the map, seems outlandish. But, his response to this was quite rational. “The way that people talk about versatility these days doesn’t make any sense to me because it doesn’t take much to be versatile in today’s climate where you have – look at the average Metal album; you have 10 versions of the same song. People want really specific ‘purity’ on their album, where they’re like, ‘This is a 40-minute slab of orthodox Black Metal’.”
But, then he added, “Which I love that. I love that kind of shit and I listen to that kind of shit all the time. But, that’s how records are marketed these days. You have one kind of album and it’s very strict within those boundaries.”
It would be easy to presume that establishing your brand as unsafe would be safe. But, there are two sides to that coin. “Safe is a double-edge sword,” he said. “Because ‘safe’ creatively, we’ve disappointed so many people already that I’m not worried about disappointing people.”
“Back in the day, the artist would do anything for their fans and the fans responded by really supporting the artist. That’s all gone. Bands now just do whatever they can, whenever they can, and then they go to work.”
And yes, work, meaning day jobs, which is an all-too familiar story, even for those who are playing arenas. Though technology certainly has its benefits, Cobbett sees the benefits do not outweigh the costs – one of which, the ability to make a living. “Google has monetized our energy as fans without telling us, without our permission,” he began. “My whole neighborhood [San Francisco] has been taken over by people who work for Facebook, Google, Apple, Twitter, Dropbox, Snapchat…This is really the poster child for rabid gentrification. And I’ve had these people tell me to my face, ‘This is the future of music, adapt or quit.’ And these are people who have been in the music business before and ended up in tech.”
“If I was against anything right now,” Cobbett said, “and point out where the tyranny is coming from, the conformity and the hegemony is coming from, it’s coming from the tech sector.”
Socially, as well. “There’s a lot of bullying online that’s like, ‘If you don’t accept this band, you’re closed-minded.’ Okay, then I better accept it before someone accuses me of being Hitler. People feel there should be no barrier to entry and everyone should be accepted. Any scene that doesn’t have a barrier to entry is not a scene that’s worth being in.”
Not trying to sound like the old man in the rocking chair, he explains, “The barrier to entry is important. That’s how you know that the people give a fuck about the scene they’re in. So, the barrier to entry – and this is coming from me being in the Punk scene in the 80’s and in the Metal scene – the only barrier to entry was that you had to love the music and know about it. You had to be at the show. You had to be a part of it. You had to be able to get out the door and participate. And we got a lot of good people that way. These weren’t ‘keyboard warriors,’ these were people out on the street, willing to get beaten up by rednecks.”
“I love this music and playing this music gives me a great deal of joy. It’s art and I want to make a piece of art and I don’t care if it sounds tacky or pretentious. It’s, ‘Fuck you, man. Don’t like and subscribe’.”
While the great German stingers did a highly publicized five-day stint at the Hard Rock Hotel, Vegas Rocks! magazine took the opportunity to host their “first” annual Hair Metal Awards on the other side of town. Red carpet guests included local talents, cover bands, a rapper, and assortment of others, as well as A-listers such as Rudy Sarzo, Twisted Sister, Doro Pesch, and of course, Vegas’ guests of honor, The Scorpions, themselves.
Opening for The Scorpions for this special event is the royal Queensryche. It is safe to say by now that these men have respectfully made a name for themselves over the last three decades, having sold nearly 30 million albums worldwide in the span of their career.
With both powerhouses, Geoff Tate and Todd LaTorre at the mic, the band enjoys a solid, loyal following with all the trimmings, especially the privilege to share the same stage with legends — Dio’s 1985 Olympian project, Hear ‘n’ Aid, notwithstanding. Just last year, they entered the billboard charts at number 27 with their latest project, Condition Human, and their video, “Guardian” has taken over half a million views.
Operation: Mindcrime, Empire, The Warning, and Evolution Calling, are still considered treasures among collections…
…but, they were not invited to the party.
Mr. LaTorre was generous to spare a few minutes to talk a bit at the Hair Metal Awards event, about the honor of opening for The Scorpions and the dishonor of nearly missing a chance to support his Metal brethren.
What is the dynamic between you and the Scorpions? This is your second tour with them, isn’t it?
Yeah, the first week of the tour for a month with them last year, the end of the year, that was awesome. So, they asked us to join them for the residency here, so…because we toured with them before, seeing them now is like a whole different feeling. We know all the crew, we know all the guys, so, it’s like, “Hey, what’s up?” There isn’t like that introduction phase, we’ve already had all that. It was really great and obviously really honored to be asked to open for them. We are doing nine shows total and five out here in Vegas, it’s pretty cool.
The Scorpions are using the same set as they used last year. Are you using the same set, as well, or are you supporting more of the new material this time around?
We are, but we only have a 45-minute set. As the opener, we realize that there are Queensryche fans there, but it is a Scorpions show. So, a lot of people that aren’t up to speed with Queensryche, we are playing a lot of the well-known hits and it re-familiarizes people with “oh yeah, I remember this” from Empire or something like that. We do one song, we open with “Guardian,” which is off the new record. We play “Queen of the Ryche” – we’re alternating, we’re changing one song each night, just to mix it up a little, but we pretty much have a stake hold of songs that we play.
And those songs are very demanding.
Yeah, all of the Queensryche songs are.
How do you prepare – or rather, how does the band prepare for a big residency like this?
It’s just another show for us. Whether it’s a club show or a festival show or a residency, we’re going to give 110 percent of our time and effort. So, it’s not like we’re psyched out or intimidated it’s just work. It’s just our business and none of us feel psychologically overwhelmed by it. It’s just what we do naturally. As far as preparation we’re always on the road. We’re usually a well-oiled machine. Sometimes, we’ll have a couple a weeks off and we may get a little rusty, just one or two little things that people won’t…But, one or two shows later we’re *snap* right back on.
But, it’s those little nuances that remind the audience that you’re actually human.
Yeah, right! That’s true.
So, talking about tonight, when Vegas Rocks! approached you about participating, what was your reaction?
Well, I’ll throw you a curveball: We weren’t approached, which was surprising. We’re here with the Scorpions, doing the residency and I was talking with Eddie Trunk and Chuck Billy and Alex [Slonic, both of Testament] and those guys the other night, and I said, “Awesome! Are you guys playing in town?” And they said, “Well, we’re doing the Vegas Rocks! thing.” I said, “I don’t know anything about it.” And that’s just the truth. We didn’t know anything about it.
I said, “I really would like to go. How do we get to go?” So, I had to work through channels to get tickets. We had four tickets and we couldn’t get another one for Michael [Wilton]. So, I had to pull some strings to see what I could do to get another…thing. So, we’re here in support of the event that we really weren’t invited to.
The awkwardness was very noticeable on the red carpet tonight. [Editor’s note: Queensryche was last to appear, after the award presenters and recipients].
Well, the guy looked through the thing and said “Queue?” And I said, “You’re not going to have anything in there. You’re not going to see anything in there that says, ‘Queensryche’.” And he didn’t. He said, “You guys definitely should be on the red carpet.” And I said, “That’s kind of you, thank you.” But, as I said, we’re fans of what’s happening. I think the Scorpions are getting an award and we’re fans of Doro and Testament and all these people. But, we had to pull strings to get to come here.
What are you going to do? We didn’t know even know about it. We’re busy playing and touring and whatever. I don’t know of every event that’s happening. It’s only that I asked why they were in town that we even knew about it and like I said, we had to go through some channels. I thought, “Oh, there’s an event. We’re playing here with the Scorpions as support for ten days, they’re receiving an award.” You would have thought somebody would have thought, “Hey…”
Well, sure, it’s not like you’re some garage band…
Right. Nevertheless, we are here, not out of obligation. So, if that is a testament of us being supportive and fans, that should tell you something.
Interview with Zach Householder with T. Ray Verteramo
June 12, 2016
Whitechapel named themselves well. By glorifying the setting of the most notorious crime scenes in history, rather than identifying themselves with the criminal, the band may have unknowingly set the precedence of their contributions to the industry.
Cities and places can evolve over time, psychopaths don’t. And these American southern boys know their bloody place.
This is a smart band. Providing “variety” and dynamics in the brutality, Whitechapel is considered one of the forerunners of Core, while giving Thrash a fresh new set of knuckles. By consistently thinking and performing outside the box, they have been able to evolve and denounce constrictive labels that can potentially suffocate an artist’s growth. Now, six years after their debut, The Somatic Defilement, Whitechapel enjoys their cake of top marquee billing and a possessive, devoted following while eating it, too in the studio, with the luxury of stretching their creative muscles.
Taking their ruthlessness to a new level, it looks like those muscles may have reached near yoga mastery with their new upcoming monster, Mark of the Blade, produced by Mark Lewis (Devildriver), set to be unleashed on June 24th. Their formidable guitarist, Zach Householder, gave Iron Raven a peek behind the curtain of what promises to be their most creatively ambitious and vicious show yet.
IR: Whitechapel has always been a demonstrative band. What inspired you to take a more progressively “dynamic” approach with Mark of the Blade? Was it a challenge finding this bigger sound to deeper material?
Honestly, it’s not really a challenge if you’re just simply FEELING the different approach when it comes to writing. I think that was the case for all of us on this record. We were just feeling a different vibe as a whole.
IR: Phil mentioned in Loudwire’s “Wikipedia: Fact or Fiction” that he likes to tap references from older material and bring them forward into the new work, which strings the dimensions of time together. When did this practice start to become a signature in his art and what can we anticipate to hear in this latest project?
I think it started with our third album A New Era of Corruption. The title was a line from one of the singles off of our second album, “This Is Exile.” Honestly, the only real stringing together comes in on one song which refers to our live dvd/album.
IR: Has the new material influenced your live performances or visual concepts for future videos?
Not so much live performances…but maybe with future production of live shows, yes. As for videos, it’s so hard to turn a decent concept into anything worthwhile due to videos costing so much and them having such little influence nowadays. There’s tons of ideas we’ve always had for videos but never the means (or budget) to do so. So for future videos, it’ll be more about showcasing the song without trying to make it look cheesy. If there’s a good concept that can be achieved with the tools at our disposal, then that’s just an added bonus.
IR: Your fanbase is intensely loyal. What do you believe has always set Whitechapel aside from other thrash bands which earns you such a devoted following? How does Whitechapel continually nurture that relationship?
Well, I wouldn’t say we’re exactly a “thrash” band more than just a “metal” band. As for our following, it’s hard to identify. I think a lot of it has to do with creating a brand with the music that people can latch on to. They want something they can hold inside themselves but also wear outside as well to fully express themselves and us along with them.
IR: Apparently, there was a little controversy over “clean singing” (Revolver, AltPress) appearing on Blade. Watain experienced a similar folly with The Wild Hunt in 2014. Why do you think fans and critics get so heated over using the technique? Do you think such a detail, or any kind of progression a band chooses to make for that matter, is worth getting worked up about?
Yeah, people got upset over a silly joke. When I noticed people flipping out over the “singing” rumors, I just playfully decided to mess with them and say “You all are getting worked up over nothing…there’s no clean singing on the record.” What I didn’t know was that Revolver, AltPress, or both had released an article at the time stating otherwise. This made them look bad. So it was an honest mistake of me just trying to joke on social media, but we all know by now that you just can’t make a joke anymore.
To answer your question, though, I really have no clue as to why anyone would get heated over it. If it was a band I liked, I would finally decide with my own ears when I heard it. I wouldn’t try and dismiss it beforehand simply because it was a little different. I think a lot of people still have some growing up to do.
Mark of the Blade: Original Release Date: June 24, 2016
“A lot of new bands are starting up now. But, they are like trying to play Black Metal the way we did in the early 90’s. The difference is that the bands that start today will not last for the next 20 years. But, the older bands like us, the bigger bands, they have lasted 20 years, Mayhem, like 30. But, the bands today will not play Black Metal for the next 20 years.” – Jontho Panthera, April 10, 2016
I genuinely enjoyed chatting with Mr. Jontho, one of the Norwegian fathers of Black Metal. Personable, straight-up, and a little conscious of his “bad English” (which I assured him is far superior to what I am usually subjected to), I got a unique and pugilistic perspective on the scene and conditions. Much of the foundation of Black Metal is laid with the demand to live one’s truth, in defiance of dogma and monotheistic control. This guy walks his talk, ever royal and loyal to his bloody pulpit, and still takes pride in his day job working with at-risk youth.
This was my first assignment for Metalen Fanzine and first centerfold article.
“There’s always got to be a certain aspect of darkness to Black Metal music, I think. That’s my personal belief because that’s the fertile ground for that music and it has to be part of it. But, what we try to handle darkness in a constructive way and as a natural part of the whole. Death and life are both equally necessary parts of existence.” – C.S.R. April 2, 2016
There is a divine gravity about the enigmatic Schammasch from Switzerland. I was intrigued by their critically-acclaimed “Contradiction” in 2014, like much of the international Metal community, so I looked forward to an opportunity to exchange words with their leader.
As Maximum Metal started to take a different direction, I was unexpectedly invited to write for Metalen Fanzine of Austria by the editor-in-chief — an oddity that CSR pleasantly mused over. Seeing this as a great platform to stretch my more Extreme Metal wings, as they are also distributors of merch and media, I accepted. When it was time to dole assignments, I proposed an interview with Schammasch to help promote their timely new release, “Triangle.” Without opposition, I reached out to the band through social media. I received an immediate and positive response, and had the delight of conducting the interview the very same day. As a further gift, I was the first reporter to receive the news about their upcoming tours.
The piece was featured as a beautiful three-page spread.