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.
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.