Keep on Spinning
John “DJ Crook” Molina, aka CrookOne, has been a staple Sacramento DJ for nearly 15 years. The Los Angeles native came to Sac in the mid-’90s, and we have claimed him as our own ever since. “My first official gig was at the Monkey Bar in 2002. That kind of got the ball rolling for me. Years later, and I’ve DJed at most places that will allow it in this town,” says Crook.
DJ Crook has been known to bring his funky music palette to countless party epicenters in our area. You may have experienced his work at the Golden Bear, where he has held a residency for more than a decade every Friday night and Second Saturday, or for his randomly occurring (soon-to-be-resurrected) FFFreak dance party at The Press Club to name just a few.
He is also one of those DJs who can seamlessly go from a late-night bar/dance party setting to providing backing sets for full rock bands. When he wasn’t manning turntables at nightclubs and bars, he was working with bands like Team Sleep, Decibel Devils and Deftones, where he would intertwine his work with the likes of Chino Moreno and Zach Hill.
As a new year approaches, Crook has a whole fleet of projects on hand to fill it. He met with me for a beer to discuss the current state of his DJing endeavors, and to prove that he’s not slowing down as the years pass. Not only is his band, Team Sleep, working on new material, but his weekly DJ nights are expanding to include at least one regular slot at the new B-Side vinyl bar. His work at B-Side will be experimental at first, and as Crook told me, “a lot of different crowds have come and gone … What I was playing back then is a little different from now, but I also have to adjust to mixing the old with the new. It’s all a matter of keeping up with it all. I am grateful to be doing this.”
How did you get yourself into DJing?
I’m gonna age myself now … It started way back in the ‘80s when I was in high school and trying to do the whole break/graffiti thing. I would listen to this radio station in L.A. called KDAY, and they had live DJ mix shows. It was probably around 1985 … and I thought it was pretty interesting and something I would love to do. I would just listen to the different guys DJing and study their techniques.
Then, I moved from L.A. to Whittier and met some guys who were DJs there. I hung around them and from there, got my own turntables. I was about 15 or 16 at the time. We were all just a bunch of kids, but they were all so good at what they did. I would watch them and then go home and sit in my room and create my own stuff.
What sort of records captivated you at that time?
At that time, I would say the Planet Rocks, Egyptian Lover, Run DMC and stuff like that. Early hip-hop and mid-’80s electro were my thing. At the time, I still didn’t even have a job, or was barely in the process of getting one, so I didn’t have any records. I would go into my dad’s or stepmom’s records and try to mix anything I could get my hands on; I would take something like a Madonna and mix it with something of my own.
How did you end up in Sacramento?
My friend, Frank Delgado, and a couple of other friends of mine, moved down here. Frank got a DJing gig and actually ended up meeting the guys from Deftones and eventually joined the band as a DJ. He would always tell me to come up, so I found myself visiting really frequently … pretty much just going home to work. The year 2000 is when I decided to make the move to Sac. I saw that I had opportunities here.
You eventually worked with Deftones when you moved to Sac. Tell me how that relationship blossomed.
It was 1996 when I first met those guys, and they were beginning to get really big at that time because their first record was just getting ready to come out. So the singer [Chino Moreno] played me the record and I played him a hip-hop demo tape, and he listened to the whole thing. Back then, it was cassettes. When I moved up here, they had put out their third record. My friend Frank Delgado really connected me with those guys, and I’ve collaborated on a couple of songs and projects ever since. Chino and I are both in the band Team Sleep.
Is Team Sleep alive and well?
We did a show last October in Woodstock, New York, and that record came out in July. We are working on the DVD part of the performance now. Currently, we are working on new material. Zach Hill has been super busy with Death Grips, so he hasn’t been involved this time around, but I’ll text him every now and then (mostly when I’ve been drinking), to talk about projects and catch up. He’s always working on a bunch of different things. We have Gil Sharone working with us on drums right now. He came with us to Woodstock last year, which wasn’t supposed to initially happen, but I am happy it did. He was originally scheduled to go on tour with Marilyn Manson at that time, but that somehow got delayed so he ended up with us. We are definitely working on some new things and will be chipping away at a new album for the coming year with a few shows in the works too.
How did you become connected with B-Side?
I know the owners. I’ve known Jason Boggs and Garrett Van Vleck for years, and actually Garrett used to be the door guy at Monkey Bar many years ago when I was a DJ there. Jason kind of told me what his vision for that bar was, and it was really exciting. I was just waiting and waiting for it to open, I was really anxious to just get in there.
It is really great. It’s so new, and I have only had a couple of nights there, but the environment and the way it looks is awesome. It has this old school ‘70s feel. They did such a good job with the interior. When I had my night there, we did the all-vinyl thing, and there was good energy and a good turnout. Me and a couple of guys are going to try different themed nights and see what really sticks.
What are your nights there like?
Thursday I am going to be DJing with my friend Ben [Johnson], of Delta Breeze Records in West Sac. We are focusing on modern funk. Also, on the first Saturday of every month, when he isn’t busy touring with Deftones, Frank Delgado and I will be trying to collaborate. Years back, Frank and I actually had a night at Monkey Bar we would put on called “Heavy Duty,” and we are looking to revive that concept; it has a really open format.
What sort of things are you looking forward to in 2016?
I am hosting a New Year’s Eve party at Press Club called “New Jack Fling.” I usually host it a few times a year. It’s more of a late ‘80s/early ‘90s new jack swing dance party, kinda like Tony! Toni! Toné! Also, same-era hip-hop and R&B will be included. It’s always such a fun night.
I will also be continuing to do my night at the Golden Bear. January will mark my 10-year anniversary of DJing there. Sometimes I forget how long I’ve been doing this.
Don your favorite pair of stonewashed jeans and swing down to The Press Club to see DJ Crook and others spin late ‘80s and early ‘90s hip-hop and R&B at their New Year’s Eve celebration, New Jack Fling, on Dec. 31 (duh). The party starts at 9 p.m. and the cover is just $7. Decade-appropriate attire is not mandatory, but it is encouraged. The Press Club is located at 2030 P Street in Sacramento.
Far’s Shaun Lopez and Deftones’ Chino Moreno let their creativity loose with Crosses
Shaun Lopez (guitarist for Far) and Chino Moreno (vocalist for Deftones) have left an indelible mark on the Sacramento music scene–as well as rock music beyond the River City. Sometime last year, the two (along with bass player and songwriter Chuck Doom) began meeting–more or less in secret–on a new project that would leave a new kind of mark, âœâœâœ, aka Crosses.
Lopez and Moreno worked closely together before, though according to the Deftones vocalist (who also provides vocals for Crosses), it wasn’t the most positive experience. Moreno says that the vocals for Deftones’ Saturday Night Wrist, released in 2006, were recorded at Lopez’s studio.
“We worked pretty close then–a little too close,” Moreno says. “It was a gnarly time. There was probably one point when we were doing that that I said in my mind, ‘I will never work with Shaun again.’”
Lopez adds with a laugh, “I said the same thing.”
One thing positive that did come from the experience was that the two remained friends, despite the difficulty. Moreno recalls that it was a rough time for him personally and that he felt a lot of pressure surrounding Saturday Night Wrist. This time around, however, things were different. Crosses didn’t bear the same level of expectations as did that Deftones album. In fact, for the most part, no one even knew that Moreno was working on new music.
“The music is pretty powerful,” Moreno says. “I hate to sound corny, but when we get together to make some stuff, it straight up sounds good. I think we just enjoy that.”
Crosses got off the ground with just Lopez and Doom at the helm. Lopez says that he’d met Doom two or three years ago through a mutual friend. Doom was looking for a space to lay down tracks for another project he was working on, but as he and Lopez began getting to know each other better, they began writing together.
“He started bringing in some other ideas that were different than what he was doing already,” Lopez says of Doom. “I thought that it was really cool, maybe I can throw some stuff on top of this. Maybe we could do some co-writing. That was sort of the birth of Crosses.”
Beyond that, Moreno calls the enigmatically named Doom a “very interesting guy.” Moreno says that Doom has a penchant for “really old gear” and still employs floppy disks as part of his recording arsenal.
“I think that’s inspiring to me, because it’s not like he’s got an iPad in some room and he’s making shit that sounds like everyone else,” Moreno says. He goes on to praise Doom’s tireless, and perhaps eccentric, work ethic.
“I’ll get an e-mail at 7:30 in the morning sometimes, and it’ll be a 30-second clip of four chords with this weird loop around it… It’s kind of cool to see how [Crosses songs have] evolved from something as little and abstract as that.”
Moreno was the final piece of the Crosses puzzle. Originally, Lopez had planned on having a revolving door of different vocalists to sing over the music he and Doom were creating, but once he heard Moreno sing over a track, it seemed like he needn’t look any further.
“Once we heard what he could do over it, and it just really made sense,” Lopez says. “It all just sounded like something we could hear Chino’s voice on. He basically told us, ‘I don’t want anyone else singing on these songs.’ It was nice that it worked out that way, that it was really natural and really organic, and nobody was forcing anybody to do anything. He was like, ‘I really like this. I want to sing over these songs.’ He heard it, and then we started writing more songs, and he said, ‘I want to sing on all of these.’ So we were like, let’s do it.”
“I’m just that good,” Moreno quips.
It must have been the right formula, because the partnership became pretty prolific. Moreno reports that the trio produced over 20 songs in about six months. The group released its first album, a five-song EP titled EP âœ in August 2011. The album was released for free download through the Internet (it can be downloaded at Crossesmusic.com). Another EP, EP âœâœ, will be released in the same manner on Jan. 24, 2012. The goal is to release a third EP thereafter, and Moreno hopes that they will then compile them all into a full-length album along with five new songs. Both he and Lopez are reveling in the fact that they’re making this music on their own, with little outside pressures or expectations.
“To me, that’s one of the lamest parts of being a part of a big label, at least from my experience,” Moreno says. “Every time you’re making a record, you have someone’s opinion who’s outside of making the record, it’s always a damper.”
“And not so much the label, but anticipation from outside the project…right away there are a million opinions of what it’s going to sound like, what it should sound like. We went into this without any of that. It was cool to do it for fun as it went along. Now that it’s done, I guess people will have their opinion now, but it’s done. It is what it is.”
What it is may not be what Moreno’s fans expect or even want to hear from the lead singer of Deftones. EP âœ is a dark and brooding, ambient yet heavy release, perfect for turning up loud in your headphones and losing yourself in. “This Is a Trick” opens the album with creepy organ sounds washing over a glitchy digital beat that gives way to a chorus in which Moreno’s voice fluctuates between an almost pleading tone to a more metallic yell. From there, the EP traverses down more of a trippy, atmospheric road. Lyrically, the album seems to hold common themes of fantasy versus reality. Moreno says that these are ideas that are actually apparent in his other projects.
“I have a hard time deciding that I’m going to make a song about this topic and just doing it,” he explains. “To me, that takes away all the fun. It puts up walls all around you… I think that’s where the escapism comes through in the lyrics, with all my projects. It’s not like I write differently for this project or that project. When I sit down to write, it comes out however it comes out. A lot of times, it’s a sort of fantasy/escapism, things that are so detached from everyday life or emotions or feelings. I think those things come through anyway.”
Similarly, Lopez and Moreno have a take it as it comes approach toward Crosses. The band will be playing a series of live shows starting Jan. 31, 2012 something they hadn’t really planned to do with the project at its inception. Crosses will play a string of four dates in California, and then two dates in South America (Santiago, Chile for Lollapalooza Chile and Quilmes Rock 2012 in Buenos Aires, Argentina) in late March/early April.
As for the upcoming EP, Moreno gave few details. He says that he doesn’t feel comfortable describing what it will sound like, but mentions that it was recorded at the same time as EP âœ, so it will have a consistent feel, though it will probably be more up-tempo.
“I don’t want to give anyone any pretense of anything,” Moreno cautions.
Those with adventurous ears may find Crosses very rewarding. If nothing else, it’s a shining example of what a group of talented songwriters can do when they’re free to create as they will.
“I think that’s a liberating thing, especially for Chino, that we write, we record, we mix the record, and we basically turn it in and it’s out,” Lopez says. “There still aren’t a lot of people who know about it, which is cool. There are more people learning about it every day, which is kind of what we wanted.”
Crosses will play Ace of Spades in Sacramento on Feb. 3, 2012. Also performing will be Secret Empire, Dawn Golden and Rosy Cross. Doors for the all-ages show will open at 7 p.m., and tickets can be purchased through Aceofspadessac.com
Grady Avenell Returns for first new Will Haven album in years
A calming flow of synthesizer builds gradually, luring in all curious listeners. And for the moment, everything’s serene–but secretly there are other intentions. The role of the antagonist for this song’s tale has become apparent and all are vulnerable; no one is safe. Unexpectedly, the once soothing hum is quickly ambushed by the constant, albeit macabre, pulse of keys chiming steadily like an old grandfather clock at a slightly higher pitch. The sound instantly signals the mood has now changed and there’s no turning back. Melodic guitar suddenly strolls by, equally not to be trusted as the composition is then met by shrieks grave enough to raise the hairs on one’s arms and neck. The screams forever burn images of neck veins into your psyche, and then the music fades. For now, you’ve survived this six-minute dark opus written by one of Sacramento’s most respected longtime metal veterans, Will Haven.
What should have been the perfect theme song to Wes Craven’s A Nightmare on Elm Street had it been written 20 years ago, the track (“Lost” off of Will Haven’s newest full-length album, Voir Dire, translated as “Speak the truth”) is only a snippet of what’s to come from this band in the future. With original vocalist Grady Avenell back at the mic, the addition of keyboard and synthesizer courtesy of Adrien Contreras and a new bass player who happens to be the percussionist for a little band called Slipknot, Will Haven is back on the scene and in full force.
“This record is the starting point to what we can do,” explained Jeff Irwin, guitarist and founding member of Will Haven, at their practice space off of Marconi Avenue. “To me, this album is definitely deeper. When I listen to our old records, I see the skeleton of what we’re becoming. We’re getting older and we’re taking our time now. Before, we put out a record just because we knew we were going to go on tour, but now, recording days have slowed down, we don’t play as many shows and that energy is put into the music and we feel we have a deeper passion for it.”
According to Irwin, throughout what most might see as a four-year stint of silence since the band’s release of new material, the guys of Will Haven have never stopped playing music completely. Whether they were playing in alternate side project bands to fill their musical voids, or deciding to come together to play music in support of a close friend in a coma, Irwin credits the return of original vocalist Grady Avenell for ultimately fueling Will Haven’s passion to once again begin writing and rekindling the family vibe the band was built on.
“We played some of the Chi benefits and I just got the itch to do it again,” Avenell said of the shows developed to support Deftones bassist Chi Cheng, currently in a minimally conscious state after a 2008 car accident. “We talked about it and went forward from there. I’m excited. It’s been almost 10 years since I’ve put an album out and here we have an album coming out. I’m just looking forward to playing some shows and having a good time.”
Formed in ‘95 right after high school, Will Haven have since paved a hard road releasing countless albums and EPs, touring the world with the likes of Deftones, Earth Crisis and Slipknot, where they would find a new member to welcome into their family unit of pure metal: Chris Fehn, percussionist for Slipknot turned bassist for Will Haven.
“He’s been in the band since this record. We toured with Slipknot in 2000 and we just became good friends with him and we’ve been close ever since,” explained Irwin. “He’s really passionate about music, he’s not in it for anything else and that’s hard to find nowadays. With him, he’s like, ‘I don’t give a fuck who you guys are. I love the music. I love you guys. I just want to play.’ And that’s exactly what we want, someone who has passion, loves the band and is here for the right reasons.”
However, touring with world renowned bands such as Slipknot or Deftones kept the band grounded. And instead of rolling up to venues with tour buses and crews of roadies, Will Haven took the more punk rock approach, pulling up in an old van with one goal in mind–to share their music with a crowd of thousands.
“When we did tours like that, I think that made the band what it is. We’d go on tours with Deftones or Slipknot and there’d be thousands of people there, but for us, it would be almost like a punk rock show because they’re in buses and have crews, and we pull up in this crappy, little van and our goal is to try and kill everybody. We aren’t there to sell tickets. We’re there to show people that this opening band just kicked your ass even more than the headliner did. I think that’s what drove us and what kept us grounded; we’ve put in our work,” Irwin said.
With the band’s average age being in the mid-30s, Will Haven recall the days when self-promotion was solely up to the musicians. A time prior to social networks like MySpace or Facebook, where one didn’t just Google a band and decide whether or not they’re worthy, but actually visit a music store, purchase an album and research them at their own discretion. A time when tacking flyers to poles and actually speaking to people in person was prevalent–which later turned into inviting fans personally out to shows. Those days, go figure, are now gone. To the members of Will Haven, this has become a lost art form and they blame the ever-evolving monster that is social networking.
“Before, it was all about the music,” says Irwin. “We started before Myspace, and we’re kind of new to the whole Internet thing, but when we started, you made a demo tape and gave it to a record label and see what happens from there. At our age right now we’ve seen the decline of the ‘rockstar days.’ The labels and getting signed for a crap load of money doesn’t happen anymore. In the late ‘90s it just seemed like that took a shit. It’s a whole different world. So, we got to see the height of [the music industry] and we saw the crash of it, too.”
With more than 10 years of music behind them and an unwritten future ahead, the guys of Will Haven have become a well-respected entity within Sacramento’s tight-knit music scene. Whenever their name is mentioned, conversations of praise and an air of respect are present. Irwin said the band’s local popularity stems from the guys choosing to be true to themselves and to their music, but other local musicians say Will Haven have earned respect because they’ve always kept it real.
“These guys have been grinding it out since ’95, always doing their own thing,” explained Jesse Mitchell of Red Tape/Kill the Precedent and longtime friend of Will Haven. “Since the beginning, they have been following their own path, but still staying true and recognizing Sacto as being home base. We as fellow Sacto musicians respect what they have achieved, not just locally, but worldwide. They have always been good friends with my bands and are cute as buttons to boot. Will Haven will be sonically slapping your face for years to come.”
Will Haven’s Voir Dire will be released Oct. 11 on Bieler Bros. Records.
Whitechapel is a metal band on the rise
It was an unseasonably warm February evening in the Northeast as Knoxville, Tenn. deathcore goliath Whitechapel prepared for its show at The Starland Ballroom in New Jersey. For his part, Whitechapel guitarist Alex Wade was preparing to slay the Garden State’s metal faithful in his usual manner. No, not bathing in the blood of virgins or devouring souls of the innocent–though considering Whitechapel’s aural assault, you wouldn’t be completely off base for thinking so–instead, Wade was taking a page out of the Zombieland survival handbook and limbering up.
“I definitely like to stretch,” Wade says. “I’m not that old. I’m 24, but not only is it a good habit to get into, but it definitely saves my body for when I get older. I like to stretch, warm up, get the blood pumping, because you can’t just go up on stage and just start going crazy and head banging and running all over the place. It puts a hard toll on your body.”
For Wade, the type of music he plays necessitates his desire to keep in sound physical condition.
“If you’re a band like Muse or something like that, you can stand up there and chill while the lights move around and stuff like that,” he explains. “When you play loud and aggressive music, you have to put on a stage performance that portrays the music as well, so you’ve got to be moving around and jumping all over the place and fucking cussing and spitting and all that crazy shit.”
It’s clear that Wade has a good head on his shoulders; he certainly needs it, considering Whitechapel’s fast rise through the metal ranks. Having just formed in 2006, the band already has three albums under its belt, each one more successful than its predecessor. A couple years after its inception, Whitechapel was already drawing a bidding war from interested labels and soon landed with venerable Metal Blade Records, which has been home to Slayer, King Diamond and Cannibal Corpse (and, strangely enough, Goo Goo Dolls).
Whitechapel’s most recent album, A New Era of Corruption, was released in June 2010 and has propelled the band to its greatest heights to date. As a result, the band finds itself headlining a juggernaut-sized tour (The Welcome to Hell Tour) that includes some of the modern American metal scene’s most intriguing and brutal bands, such as The Acacia Strain, Veil of Maya, Chelsea Grin and I Declare War. Wade says Whitechapel is excited to front a group of such heavy hitting bands, singling out The Acacia Strain as a group that really gets him and his band mates amped up to play.
“There’s something about that band that people just turn into animals and rip each other apart,” Wade says. “It definitely makes us want to up the ante and make our show that much better, because they’re putting on amazing shows as well.”
Wade took the time to speak with Submerge just about an hour before doors opened at the Starland. In the following interview, we discussed the stratification of metal genres and the band’s Sacramento ties as well as staying on top of the business of being a band on the rise.
Your most recent album, which came out last year, charted pretty high…
Yeah, we broke into the top 50 of the Billboard 200.
That’s high for a pop band, let alone a metal band.
Yeah, exactly. It’s crazy that you see bands like us breaking into the Top 50 in Billboard. Probably five years ago, bands that heavy weren’t getting into those slots unless you were like Slipknot or something, but obviously they’re on a whole other level.
Why do you think that is? Do you see a shift in fans in general or just the climate toward heavy music?
I don’t know man. The music business, and what’s cool and what’s not, all kinds of genres are fading in and out. This whole deathcore thing or whatever you want to call it has been getting big for the past three years or so, and just recently this dubstep thing has been getting really big. People have been going crazy over it, but to me, isn’t that just techno? That’s been around forever. Why is it just now getting big? I guess a lot of people feel the same way about metal. Metal has been around forever. Why is it just now getting big? I can’t really answer that question, but we’re glad it is, because our shows and CD sales are obviously reflecting it.
You mentioned the deathcore genre, and I think more than any other kind of music, metal is broken down to such specific subgenres…
Totally. There’s a difference between black metal and blackened death metal. Like, black metal is Emperor and blackened death metal is Behemoth. If you know metal, you know the difference. Obviously, Behemoth has more death metal influence. It’s heavier and not as shrill as true black metal, but it’s really funny how metal has its mini subgenres, and no other kind of music has that.
Your band’s lineup has three guitar players. When you get into the studio, how does it work out with you guys? Do you all trade off a lot of riffs when you get ready to write?
All three of us collaboratively write for the album. I’ll give credit where credit is due: Ben [Savage], our lead guitar player, definitely writes the most. We all have different things going on. I manage bands on the side and work for the company that manages us. I work for them managing smaller bands. I manage I Declare War, who are on the tour with us. Ben puts in the most effort and writes the most stuff, but Zach [Householder] and I do contribute. I would definitely say it’s a collaborative effort, though. It’s not just one or two people.
How did you get into managing bands?
I’ve always been kind of like the brains behind Whitechapel. Everybody says there’s a brains and a brawn to everything, and I would say I’m the brains. I managed Whitechapel up until the time when we decided, like, “Hey, this is getting to a level where I can’t really do much for us anymore. We need to hire somebody who’s going to take us to the next level.” I’ve always had my hand in developing bands and stuff like that. Our manager, Shawn Carrano, who works with Artery Foundation, which is located in Sacramento, I’ve always expressed to him that I like the music business. I like watching bands develop and grow. He was like, “I think you’d be a good manager. You did a good job with Whitechapel before I took over. Would you be interested in taking on some of our smaller bands? I’ll still help you with stuff, but you can handle the bulk of the material.” I knew I Declare War, because we’d met them on tour, and I knew they were looking for a record deal. Artery Recordings had just started, and I showed I Declare War to them and they were like, “Ask them if they want to be signed,” so we got them signed. I kind of took over the band, and it’s been great ever since.
Since you mentioned your Sacramento connection through Artery, I saw that Chino Moreno from Deftones had a guest appearance on A New Era of Corruption. Did you hook up with him through Artery?
Yeah, Shawn had been friends with Deftones and Chino for like 10 years or something like that. Our manager used to manage Chino’s side project Team Sleep. He’s gotten Chino guest appearances on the Norma Jean record and the one on the Dance Gavin Dance record. He’s always helped Chino out with that–getting guest appearances with young, hot bands. It helps out the band to have a big name on the record, and maybe it will help out Chino because it shows him to a younger crowd who hasn’t grown up listening to Deftones like I have. He hit up Chino and said, “My biggest band is heading into the studio to record. They’re all Deftones fans and they have this part on one song that they’d love for you to do.” He checked it out and liked it a lot and decided to do it, and that’s about it.
So you had Chino in mind from the beginning?
Yeah, totally. It was a riff that I had written, and I’m a huge Deftones fan. It definitely has a huge Deftones vibe to it. Stephen Carpenter is one of my main influences playing guitar. I was like, “Dude, if Shawn can hook up Chino as guest on that riff, it would be so sick.” And it actually came together, so I was really stoked on that.
I read a quote from Phil Bozeman [vocals] where he mentioned that you guys were trying to have more of a verse-chorus structure on your latest album. Was that something you’d all gotten together to discuss?
Oh totally, that was the whole point of A New Era… When it’s just riffing the whole time–when it’s just riff, riff, riff, riff, riff–there’s nothing that people can catch on to. There’s no hooks. There’s nothing catchy about it. But when you try to implement verses and choruses–you know, we’re not trying to be radio rock, where we have three parts to one song and just repeat them over and over again–but when you bring parts back that definitely gives the fans something to latch on to.
Before you mentioned you were amazed to be a part of a band that has reached this level of success, and it happened for you pretty fast. Within a couple of years after you formed, you were signed to Metal Blade, which is a really well established metal label. Have you had a chance to take stock of the whole situation?
It’s one of those things that the band has progressed so fast. If you’re outside of the band, it looks fast, but if you’re inside the band, it feels like it’s been forever. The life of a musician is repetitive. People have been like, “Things have changed so much for you in the past four years,” and I’m like, “Really?” Aside from the fact that we get paid more and we do bigger tours, it doesn’t feel all that much different from when we first started touring.
Deftones are back at the top of their game
Sacramento’s own marquis band, Deftones, have come quite a way since their inception in the late ‘80s. From gigs at backyard barbecues to sold-out shows at the Cattle Club, to landing a record deal and headlining huge tours all around the world in support of chart-topping, genre-busting albums, these guys have been through thick and thin and have maintained momentum, as well as a rabid fan base, along the way. During a recent interview with Submerge, drummer Abe Cunningham reminisced on the old days. “We’ve surpassed any expectations,” he said with a chuckle. “We wanted to play the Crest Theatre; that was the huge goal.” After agreeing that they’ve achieved that goal and then some, he went on to say, “Every day from this point on, not to be corny, is a blessing. We’ve been so wild over the years and just fucked off so much and just been out of our minds fucked up on everything, just having the rock ‘n’ roll time of our lives. And I’m not saying that we’re angels now, we certainly have a blast to this day, but we’ve chilled out a bit.”
Unfortunately, Deftones original bass player Chi Cheng remains in a semi-conscious state after a horrific car accident in early November 2008 left him in a coma. This near loss of a friend and band mate quite obviously sent a shockwave through the group, who at the time was done with a record called Eros. After much deliberation, the band ultimately decided to put the release of Eros on hold and quickly got back to doing what they do best: making music. They enlisted longtime friend and former Quicksand bassist Sergio Vega to fill in as Chi slowly recovers. As the group began gathering at their West Sacramento rehearsal spot, it was quickly evident that they were all itching to create again, despite having just shelved an entire record that they poured themselves into for over a year. Before they knew it, the band had an entire new album’s worth of material. That material, born of tragedy and heartbreak, became the band’s sixth studio release called Diamond Eyes. The album charted at No. 6 on the U.S. Billboard 200 in May of this year and is arguably some of the band’s best material to date. “We’re better now than we’ve ever been,” Cunningham said with confidence.
In the following interview, Cunningham chats about their new record, Cheng’s current status, the band’s new lineup and more.
I’m curious, who in the band still calls Sacramento home?
Stephan [Carpenter], our guitarist, he moved down to the Los Angeles area a while ago. Chino [Moreno, vocals] lives in the L.A. area too. He moved down there maybe about three or four years ago. Frank [Delgado, keyboardist] and I are still here, and Chi is here. Sergio, our buddy who is playing bass with us is from New York. But I mean, we’re still a Sacramento band, we still claim it.
That’s cool because you guys have become such an international force over the years. It’s nice to see you still claim Sacramento. I feel like some bands that blow up from here end up claiming the Bay Area or L.A. or something.
I am sporting a Giants hat, but hey, you know? [Laughs] I mean shit, it’s where we’re from. Everybody’s from somewhere. And it’s not even that bad, so what the fuck, you know?
How is it performing the material off of Diamond Eyes? The record was conceived, produced and released in a very timely fashion, how does that affect the way the songs are translated in the live setting?
I mean everything is new still; the songs are still all very new. This is really the first record that we went in [to the studio] with the material all done since probably Around the Fur, actually really since our first record. Since then, we’ve mostly written everything in the studio, which can be really cool, but it also can be just fucking crazy because it’s super expensive and if you’re not gelling and getting shit done, it can just be insane. It can be a really costly, mentally draining experience all around. So that’s the way it’s kind of been for the past four records, at least up until this one. We just went in and blasted it out. We wrote it so quick and had a blast doing it despite everything that had been going on with Chi. It was a catalyst for us getting down to it.
So it was a more organic approach than you took with previous albums in that you guys were able to completely play all of these songs live in your rehearsal room before ever hitting record, right?
Yeah, dude! We can’t even play some of the songs on some of our records [laughs]. We’re actually like, “Wow, we’re a real band again. We can play our own shit.” Not that we couldn’t play all our other shit. In the studio we’ve never tried to do anything so outlandish that we could never really perform it live. Studios are great for that. You can get down and you can make the most insane masterpiece, but can you pull it off live? That’s why we always tried to limit ourselves a bit, because we’ve always wanted to be able to do it live. This time around we just blasted it out and had a great time doing it.
If you don’t mind, I’m sure it’s a touchy subject, but I’d like to talk briefly about Chi and that whole situation. When’s the last time you saw him?
Chino and I went down right around Easter; we were taking off for tour for quite some time. He’s back down in Stockton.
So he’s at home now, not in a hospital, right?
Yeah, he’s been home for a while. It’s way better than being in a hospital somewhere.
How is he doing? I read on www.oneloveforchi.com that he is undergoing some crazy “wake up protocol” and being looked after by top-notch doctors. What can you tell me about that?
These doctors that took him on are apparently involved with a lot of people coming back from the Iraq war and Afghanistan. There’s been a skyrocketing number of people coming back with traumatic brain injuries–roadside explosions and shit like that. Anyway, these doctors I guess have had tremendous success with people that are in exact or similar states that Chi is in, bringing them back to some degree. Because, I mean, he’s awake, he’s there, but he’s trapped. It’s kind of like the Metallica “One” video.
I just got the goose bumps, because I was thinking the exact same thing. It seems like he’s come a long way already, though, like his eyes are open now and he looks more aware and you can talk to him and he engages, right? How encouraging is that, being one of his closes friends and band mates?
All I want is the best for him, man. I think about his son, he’s got a son. I think about his whole family obviously, but he’s got a 12-year-old son who’s just the raddest kid and that’s really on my mind. He needs his dad back. Fuck him playing in the band again, that would be awesome if that could happen, but…
When it came time to make the call to bring in Sergio on bass and to continue playing and writing music without Chi, was that a tough decision?
I mean not really, and I don’t mean to be insensitive. Obviously we took time off to just try and figure what the fuck we were going to do and why this happened, and you just realize that some things you can never ever no matter how hard you try find an answer for, and this is one of them. Well, I’ll tell you why it happened; he wasn’t wearing his fucking seatbelt. So, of course we were trying to figure out what’s up with the band, and we took a couple months just to breathe and figure some stuff out. We just said, “Shit, this is what we do, we play music, we make music and we play it. We’ve been doing it for a long time now and it’s really what we do.” It was as simple as that. It’s what we do.
Was everybody in the band on the same page or was there some struggle between members?
Well yeah, it eventually came back to that struggle. At first Stephan wanted to just like start over again with a new band and all this stuff. Hey, I can dig that but come on, you know? Everyone was just kind of juggling ideas around, and it just came down really to getting back into our little spot out in West Sacramento. We have this studio we’ve had out there for a really long time. We just wanted to get out there, and we started jamming again, just for the sake of playing music. We actually had a record pretty much done called Eros. We’d been working on that for over a year already, and that was pretty much done. The whole thing with Sergio is, we had a show booked and we had this one thing we needed to fill, this one obligation. He had played with us before, he’d filled in for Chi way back, but he also came from this band Quicksand that we loved and was totally a huge influence on us, so we were all buddies over the years.
Was there ever anyone else in the running or was it Sergio all the way?
Yeah, it was kind of funny. He’s all neurotic, all New Yorker and shit. He came out here and I think he thought in his mind there was going to be 50 or 100 people in line to try out like that Metallica movie. He came out and he was all nervous, and we were like, “Dude just come out here, fuck this, come kick it.” We kind of shot the shit for a little bit and in actuality we were like, “Dude, you’re the only person we had in mind. There was nobody else.” He was just like, “Phew” and took a deep breath.
Can you tell me a little about the decision to put Eros on hold and start the writing process all over again for what would become Diamond Eyes?
It was really a huge decision for us. When it was brought up, I was like, “Yeah, I’m down,” when inside I was like “Fuck, I really don’t know.” I knew we could do it, but I had some reservations. We had just done this Eros thing. We were totally tapped creatively and all this shit. I was like, “We can do it! But wait, can we really do it?” But everything just came, you know? And with Eros, honestly, if we would have put that record out right now, it just was not the right time for that record. It’s not that it’s bad, there’s some good stuff on it; it just wouldn’t be good for us, man. And really it was out of respect for Chi, too. We spent all this time writing and recording and making these songs with him, and for us to go out on tour with those songs without him would be a trip. We just said, “Fuck it, let’s not shelve it, let’s put it on simmer on the backburner and let it chill a while and Chi, hopefully he can join us.”
You worked with a new producer on this one, Nick Raskulinecz. How much of an influence did he have on this record? Was he there during a lot of the writing?
Oh yeah, he was in there every single day with us from the get-go until we finished the record.
Was that new for the band, to sort of have that outside influence when crafting a record? Have you ever let anyone in creatively like that?
Never. We did most of our records with Terry Date, who is a dear friend. He’s a producer, but he’s more of an engineer. If he had an opinion, of course he’d say it, but he never was hands-on up in our shit. Normally we don’t like that shit, we’re like, “Fuck man, we can do this. We’re doing OK, leave us alone,” but Nick is just a rad dude and is so much fun to be around. He was right up in there with us. Everyone totally gelled and trusted him. Our biggest hang up is we’ll be jamming for hours and hours and hours and have cool shit come out, but nobody will ever stop and say, “That was tight, do that.” What he did was just float around the room and encouraged us to do what we were already doing. He just made everyone confident, like, “Wait, I’m doing rad shit, cool!” It was like fire, man.
It seems like everything was in place, you know? Nick was a fan of the band and on board to produce, Sergio came out and fit right in, you all started creating music again together in your old band room. It’s pretty uplifting, and frankly I think Chi would be pretty proud.
That’s our whole goal; there will always be some people that don’t get it. They ask, “How could you? How dare you?” You know what, fuck you, you have no idea how this works. You can sit on your keyboard on the Internet and talk shit. It’s really not been like that though. For the most part everyone’s been very supportive. We’re out doing our thing in Chi’s name, in his honor. He’s right there with us in spirit. I know he’s around.
Deftones Diamond Eyes (Reprise)
Deftones fans are awesome. Each have their own strong opinions of which album is the best; swearing by some and oftentimes discrediting others. A vast majority like to save face by announcing that they only like the “old Deftones,” and then they’ll reference one of two songs they know off Adrenaline; “Bored” or maybe “7 Words.” That’s fine, I won’t hate on you. Love your old Deftones–I love it too. Others are more new school, and I hear a lot of, “It’s all about White Pony, man.” Again, I agree with you. I couldn’t live without songs like “Korea” or “Feiticeira.” The point that I’m trying to make here is that I can’t argue with you about your favorite record, because I love them all. Although, truth be told, the last three have taken me time to get to know–but ultimately I ended up dedicating hundreds of hours listening to them. So the million dollar question is, how does the new record, Diamond Eyes, measure up to the rest?
I regret to remind you that ex-bassist Chi Cheng is still in a coma after a car accident in November 2008, and the band decided to move forward without him. I’m sure this was an enormously tough decision, but a decision they all felt was the best for them as a band. In the end, Sergio Vega, a friend of theirs, stepped in and filled the role of bass player. This is extremely relevant to how Diamond Eyes turned out. An entirely different album titled Eros was in the works and would have been the band’s first record back with longtime friend and producer Terry Date. After Cheng’s accident, Eros was shelved and they began working on Diamond Eyes, which was written and recorded in the wake of all the emotion they were feeling at that time. What we get is a really fucking heavy record.
This album is already being compared to their second release, Around the Fur, due to the hardness of the record and the small amount of time that it took to write and record.
I’m going to go ahead and disagree with that. Diamond Eyes is more like a culmination of all the styles that the band has touched upon throughout the years. Take, for example, a song like “Sextape” where the band revisits that intergalactic, new frontier, blanket-star-gazing romanticism that they crafted so beautifully on Saturday Night Wrist, their previous record. With “Risk,” we hear Abe Cunningham’s drums sounding a lot like “Passenger” from White Pony. Cunningham is very reserved on this record, playing only what’s necessary and not overdoing his drum parts. If anybody shines on Diamond Eyes, it’s keyboardist Frank Delgado. Not to say that he didn’t before, but now he can’t be ignored and his talents as a true sound excavator are displayed so tastefully and importantly this time around. Especially on songs such as “CMND/CNTRL” where his croak-y synth-tones come slithering into the foreground as the song breathes to let him in. Deftones have always excelled at this subtlety; the art of opening the song up for a particular instrument to peek its head through.
After the first three songs, I was asking myself how I felt about the record so far. Before I could over-analyze, on came “You’ve Seen the Butcher.” This angry, impatient headbanger is the crux of the album and harks back to the days of Adrenaline with guitarist Stephen Carpenter’s “Bored”-like intro. The chorus almost has a classic rock feel to it with a very Zeppelin-esque melody that climbs and drops off. Moreno sings, “Don’t want to take it slow/I want to take you home.” At first it sounds typical of Moreno’s lyrics; sleazy but somehow romantic. But I read deeper. This could easily be speaking to Cheng’s progress in the hospital; slow. With other song titles like “Prince” and “This Place is Death,” it’s easy to imagine Cheng being the inspiration for a lot of the album.
One of my favorites on Diamond Eyes is actually one of the singles, “Rocket Skates.” The band rips on this song as Moreno belts one of his classic repeating choruses–“Guns/knives/razors.” I love it. My only complaint is that some of the songs sound a little too pieced together. Maybe this had to do with how quickly they put the record together, but I would have waited a while longer for them to spend some more time working on the verses. But all said and done, I foresee Diamond Eyes making its way into my top favorite records. And for the record, it’s all about Saturday Night Wrist.
Deftones have officially decided to head back into the studio to re-record their follow-up to Saturday Night Wrist. The band was set to release Eros in early 2009 until bassist Chi Cheng was seriously injured in a car accident on Nov. 4, 2008. The band announced on their official Web site that they “realized that this record doesn’t best encompass and represent who we are currently as people and as musicians.” The band, however, said it’s likely that Eros‘s original form, featuring Chi on bass, would eventually see the light of day. As we look forward to new Deftones material, the band asks that you continue to channel positive energy into the universe for Chi’s recovery. You can follow Chi’s status and donate to the cause at Oneloveforchi.com.
I Am Music Tour w/ Lil Wayne, T-Pain, Gym Class Heroes, Keri Hilson
Monday, March 30, 2009
It was 7:20 p.m. and already smoky inside ARCO Arena (not from a fog machine) when the stunningly beautiful R&B singer Keri Hilson took the stage wearing a sexy little black outfit. Hilson’s debut album, In a Perfect World, debuted at No. 1 on Billboard’s R&B/hip-hop album chart last week and made its way to No. 4 on the Top Album chart. The smash hit single “Turnin’ Me On” has been on top of the Urban Radio Charts for over six weeks, so it’s no wonder why the crowd was so excited to sing along when she busted into the song at the end of her short but energetic set. After a round of thunderous applause, Hilson scurried backstage to continue partying, saying she was in a “Celebratory mood,” presumably because of her recent success.
Gym Class Heroes took the stage next and completely changed the energy in the building with their full-band set up and non-traditional indie meets hip-hop sound. Two jumbo screens, one on each side of the stage, were turned on, giving those in the nosebleed sections a much clearer view of frontman Travis McCoy doing an incredible job getting the crowd involved. He briefly poked fun at his celebrity ex-girlfriend Katy Perry and got a good laugh from the audience right before going into their hit song “Cupid’s Chokehold.” “Take a look at my girlfriend, ’cause she’s the only one I got.“ Oh, the irony! Before the end of their set McCoy confessed his love for Sacramento claiming that Deftones are one of his “favorite bands ever.” The band closed with the song “Cookie Jar,” a very dance-y, synth-riddled number that got the entire crowd shaking their stuff.
As T-Pain was set to take the stage, it was apparent things were about to get crazy. Everyone was on his or her feet and the props on stage had a very circus-like vibe to them. After all, T-Pain is knows as “The Ringleader,” amongst his peers (take that, Britney Spears). As the first song started, the crowd erupted and two white-masked little people ran out and started doing the “two-step” dance alongside T-Pain and his other back-up dancer. It was quite entertaining and also somewhat creepy. Most of the songs T-Pain performed were shorter versions of the originals, which allowed him to pack countless hit tunes into his allotted set time. At a couple different points throughout the performance T-Pain did his best to prove that he can do more than sing through Auto-Tune by playing other instruments such as an acoustic guitar, keyboard and an electric drum kit. Unfortunately, his drum solo was nothing to brag about. It was too long, off beat and awkward. T-Pain did prove to be an extraordinary hype-man, though, doing everything in his power to make sure the crowd was warmed up for Lil Wayne, aka Lil Weezy, aka Weezy F. Baby, aka Mr. Carter, AKA”¦you get the point. Probably the coolest part about T-Pain’s set was at the very end when he confessed to the crowd, “I do not give a fuck how you get my music! Just get it!” After a few bows, he left the stage and made way for the night’s headliner.
By the time Lil Wayne’s set time rolled around it was so smoky inside the arena that one could hardly see across to the other side. A quick glance toward the stage made it obvious that the layout and lighting set-ups were on a much larger scale. An acoustic drum set, bass, guitars and keys were heard being sound-checked behind a giant white curtain, confirming that Lil Wayne would have a full band behind him and not just backing tracks. Before he came out, his band (which included a very talented female bass player) played a rather heavy rock intro.
When Lil Wayne finally made his entrance, it was in style. He was rocking a black leather jacket, signature sunglasses and as soon as he appeared he jumped up like a kangaroo and upon his landing a huge explosion went off and flames shot into the air from multiple spots on stage. It was quite an epic introduction and the performance didn’t slow down much after that. “Mr. Carter” was the set opener and proved to be a crowd favorite, along with other songs like, “A Milli,” “Mrs. Officer” and “Lollipop.” A couple different points throughout the set Lil Wayne announced, “I ain’t shit without you,” as he pointed out into the crowd. Crowd interaction was a key part of the performance. Like T-Pain, Weezy grabbed a guitar a couple times and basically pretended to play, but he wasn’t really fooling anybody.
After bringing about two-dozen different performers out on stage at different points throughout the set including T-Pain, Keri Hilson and the entire Young Money family, Lil Wayne was ready to wrap up the show. During the encore song he shot huge fireballs out of a flame-thrower that looked like something straight out of a video game. It was indeed a hot ending to a smoldering performance. Some of the last words Lil Wayne’s spoke before he left the stage were, “You all just made history because you witnessed the best rapper in the world.” Hey, at least he’s confident!
Sacramento’s Far Comes Home
By Mark Lore | Photos by Jeff Gros
They say you always want to go out on top. If that’s the case, then Sacramento’s Far did everything right. In the mid-’90s Sacramento was on the radar as bands like Cake and Deftones were signing to majors (remember those days?), while post-hardcore was bubbling underneath the city’s surface.
Far soon followed. After a pair of indie releases (1992’s Listening Game and Quick in ’94), the band signed with Epic/Immortal and released Tin Cans With Strings to You in 1996, in the process amassing a dedicated following. Hell, you know the story. Far released its best record in 1998—Water & Solutions—an album that harnessed punk, post-hardcore and even pop (?!) into 41 flawless minutes”¦then called it quits.
“I’m happy we stopped after Water”¦,” says vocalist/guitarist Jonah Matranga. “It was a good balance of all of our personalities.”
Those personalities have fueled various projects over the years—Matranga with his own project, Onelinedrawing, and bands like New End Original and Gratitude. Guitarist Shaun Lopez fronted The Revolution Smile. Drummer Chris Robyn and bassist John Gutenberger went on to form the more pop-oriented Milwaukee, while Gutenberger later formed Two Sheds with his wife, Caitlin.
But it always comes back to Water & Solutions—an album that a decade’s-worth of bands would nefariously hold close to their pained little hearts. In fact, Far might be one of the few bands that actually gained popularity after it broke up.
While it was surprising to hear that in November Far, after a decade apart, was planning on playing a few shows in the U.K., it’s been no surprise that the band’s recent reformation has been met with such unadulterated glee. But the members of Far have kept it loose and stress-free—they re-emerged under the moniker Hot Little Pony, recorded a cover of Ginuwine’s 1996 hit “Pony” (yes, Ginuwine), and are now gearing up for their homecoming show at the Empire on Jan. 15.
Submerge caught up with Matranga and Lopez, who filled us in on the not-so-elaborate Hot Little Pony marketing scheme, what the future holds, and why they don’t want to be blamed for Fall Out Boy.
The music climate has changed quite a bit in the last 10 years. Is that a good thing or a bad thing?
Shaun Lopez: It’s good for us, because we’re in a unique position in being able to go out on tour and be self-sufficient, and be able to make a little money on top of that. I feel for new bands starting up right now because it is tough out there. Record deals being offered to young new bands are not so great; they’re almost better off doing it on their own. For us it’s been OK. Luckily we’re in a position that we do have fans that are pretty dedicated—it’s something we’re very thankful for and very surprised.
Whose idea was it to start playing together again?
SL: It came close when we did the re-release of Water & Solutions [in 2004]. It never came to, and I think in all honesty it probably wasn’t the right time and it wasn’t for the right reasons. Chris [Robyn] and I had been talking about it off and on and then Jonah called me about a year ago and brought the idea of just showing up at a club and playing. I liked the idea of playing again, but I wanted to do it more professionally and go out on a tour.
Jonah Matranga: He always tries to be more professional than me; I’m always the guy that wants to go out and just bang it out. And he’s like, “No dude, gotta rehearse; make it good.” So we balance each other out that way.
There was this semi-elaborate scheme with the Hot Little Pony concept. Whose idea was that? And who decided to record a Ginuwine song?
JM: What looks complex from the outside is just us fucking around on the inside. We wanted to play a couple of shows, and I just really wanted to take the hype away from it because a) I don’t like it, and b) I wanted us to be as unstressed as possible. I think our friend Jeff jokingly thought of the name Hot Little Pony. And we just all laughed when he said it and thought, “Ah that would be really fucking funny.” “Pony” is a tune that we’d always play before shows back in the day. And it’s just a simple song, and so Shaun and Chris laid it down [in Los Angeles] and I came down and sang it. Shaun added his magic dust to it. I don’t know, it just came out; it was a fun, very quick thing.
Now you have your homecoming show in Sacramento. Is that going to be a gauge of whether this continues?
JM: I think it’s all a gauge. There’s nothing official on the books, but there’s a lot being talked about. I think we’re all just trying to take it as it comes. The first two Hot Little Pony shows were like, “OK, can we do this well?” Because it was really important to all of us to not go up there and suck. And then we did the L.A. shows and thought we pretty much ripped it. Then we thought, “OK, can we tour together? Can we not drive each other insane?” The whole “Pony” thing has definitely thrown it into a different gear. We’ve never had any sort of radio play like this so we’ll sort of look at that and see what that means, if anything.
Any shows beyond Sacramento?
JM: Just Sacto. We’re very excited about that. It’s a big enough show where I think it will be fun and exciting, but it still feels like home. We got some friends’ bands on there. I feel pretty sure that more shows will happen, but we have nothing on the books. And then we’re looking at trying to do a little recording together, see what happens with that. My particular take is just trying to do a couple of covers that suggest where we came from as a band. I’m very reticent to do original songs. I don’t want to do an original song just to have a new song, and have it not be as good as the old shit. Because all of our favorite old bands do that and it blows.
Water & Solutions has been touted as your masterpiece. Does that put more pressure on you to record?
SL: I realize that no matter what we do, people are always going to love that record. That’s going to be the record.
JM: Yeah, but some people, frankly, like Tin Cans“¦ more, which I don’t understand. That’s the thing with putting out records”¦I don’t get to control what other people think. But for me, there’s no pressure with people, there’s just pressure for me… I just want to know it kicks ass. We could put something out as good as Nevermind, and people will still be like, “Yeah, you know, I kinda like ‘Bury White.'” But I would just want to feel in myself that it came from an inspired place, and that I could go out with confidence and play it live and feel as strong as I do playing “Bury White” or “Mother Mary” or “Man Overboard.” Those songs, I just feel good playing them. And I don’t feel good playing them because I’m used to them; I feel good because they’re good, and they’re good 10 years later.
Far has influenced a style of music that is looked down on, although you sound nothing like those bands. Do you guys think about that?
JM: I’ve been asked that question a gazillion times in interviews, and my stock answer that sort of makes me laugh, that I totally believe is: I don’t blame Led Zeppelin for Whitesnake and I don’t want to be blamed for Fall Out Boy. We just came around trying to play rock ‘n’ roll that was less dressed up and more human, and mixing heavy shit and more anthemic shit we liked from big rock with this sort of humble, straight in-your-face element of punk. A lot of bands at the time were doing that. And as it happened, when that sort of caught on, there were a lot of bands that traded in their leopard jeans and whatever else the fuck for horn rims and tight pants. They took all the cheap parts and tried to make money off of it, and forgot the important part, which was the humanness of it.
You’ve all changed as people in the last 10 years. How is Far different today than it was in ’98?
JM: The funny thing is that we’ve all changed as people, but the personality balance still to me is working out relatively similarly. I think Shaun and I are better at recognizing that we’re different people, and talking it through, which rules.
SL: Yeah, the communication is much better. In the past a lot of the problem was that when shit would piss people off, they wouldn’t say anything.
JM: It feels good now to come in with a little more time to breathe. And I do think we’ve all, through our individual experiences, learned a little about how important it is to clear the air before shit gets crazy.
Being in a band is like being in a relationship “¦
JM: I liken it to a relationship where the sex is really good, but everything else is weird [laughs]. To me that’s the closest analogy I could come up with without sounding creepy.
From Concept to Creation
With numerous critically acclaimed albums already under their belts, Mukilteo, Wash. progressive rock trio The Fall of Troy are gearing up for their next release on Nov. 28. Phantom on the Horizon is a 37-minute-long collection of work divided into five chapters. Previously known to fans as Ghostship EP or Ghostship Demos, this album is a new take on old material.
“The songs that were on the demo are quite spruced up and the way they were supposed to be initially,” recalls lead singer and guitarist Thomas Erak. “We were a little too young to pull off some of the shit we were trying to pull off.”
This highly anticipated conceptual album will not see a traditional release, however. The band is only pressing 3,000 copies and will take them on a two-week-long West Coast tour that will bring them to the Boardwalk in Orangevale on Dec. 10. There are rumors of an East Coast record release tour to follow; but other than attending live shows, the only way to get it will be to download it.
“It was just very spur-of-the-moment,” remembers Erak of the decision to re-record and release the songs in such a manner. “We were trying to figure out a way to go on tour and have something new to play instead of just going out and playing the same songs.”
Every night the band will play Phantom on the Horizon in its entirety. Erak hopes this will help the experience feel like “more of a show than a concert.” He elaborates by saying, “You don’t stop a movie or a Broadway musical and ask them to do another one. This isn’t karaoke hour.”
Submerge recently caught up with Erak as he prepped for the tour from his home and talked about everything from the concept behind Phantom…, to message board trolls and his love for certain Sacramento bands.
How do you guys prepare yourselves for a tour like this?
Our bass player gets back in town from San Diego today and we’re going to start practicing. This tour is a lot different from the other tours we normally do, because the other tours we normally do are a mix of songs that span three or four records’ worth of material and on this one we’re going to be playing the new record front to back.
Tell me about the story behind Phantom on the Horizon.
It’s a fantasy story that has a lot of parallels; it’s very open to interpretation, though. I’ve been working on it for the last four-and-a-half years, as long as we’ve been working on the songs. It’s about a sailor that is on a ship with a crew of guys and they encounter a ship from another dimension, and he kind of gets trapped on that ship and encounters a lot of things in all these other dimensions that he passes through. I’m thinking about writing the whole short story out like maybe in a couple months and maybe try to put that out in one way or another.
How did an idea like that come about? Are you guys into comic books or sci-fi or what?
Our drummer is a sci-fi nerd, but I’m just a writer, you know? I play music and I write songs, but I used to write a lot of short stories and poetry and stuff like that. I guess it just kind of came from the love of writing and art; you know what I mean?
Yeah, it makes perfect sense for you at this point in your career to put the two together: the story and the music finally together to create a “concept record.”
Right. It’s also not your run-of-the-mill concept record, either. It’s very open to interpretation and you can kind of take whatever you want from it, and that’s kind of the way I like things. I don’t think anything with music should be too black and white; there should be some color in there. That’s what art is; it’s what it is to you. It shouldn’t be just straight up like, “This is what it is, and this is how it is!”
Are there any new tracks included that weren’t on Ghostship EP?
Well, in between every song there is a segue that we actually took from a long session of improv that we just rolled tape on. Everything totally flows together. There has never really been a good recording of “Part II” and there’s never been a recording of “Part III.” It’s just very mature, and the songs are in their entirety now as opposed to being demos of them.
I read some message boards online where kids were getting kind of pissed at you guys and saying things like, “They shouldn’t re-record those songs, they will fuck them up!” How would you respond to them?
Um, “Fuck you!” [Laughs] Quite honestly, fuck them, and they don’t know what they’re talking about because those demos were never even made to be heavily in syndication in any way, shape or form. They were demos we did when I was 19 years old that were supposed to just be for us and they got out. I mean, this record crushes those demos.
If you’re going to sit on the Internet and bash anything, go outside or go read a book or go to a concert or listen to a record. Do something other than sitting on a message board or Myspace all day.
I guess they’ll find out, won’t they? There’s always going to be haters, man. The haters are going to hate.
You’ve toured with two of Sacramento’s more notable acts, Tera Melos and Deftones, on different occasions. What’s your take on Sac? Have you spent a lot of time here?
Oh yeah! The whole Northern California area we are pretty familiar with and have a lot of friends. There is a lot of good music going on in Sacramento. You know, Hella and stuff like that; there is a ton of good shit. Yeah, I love the Deftones, and I love Tera Melos.