Monday, March 3, 2014

Infest - Live Show Review 3/1/2014

Powerfulviolence: Infest Live Review
Infest/Iron Lung/Gehenna/Warcry/Gag
at El Corazon — Saturday, March1st, 2014

by Jim Walkley

            At the outset, Don't Be Swindle readers, I regret to inform you that vegetarian nachos are no longer being served at El Corazon.  Sad but true!  Instead, you may now choose between tater tots, a hot dog, a "Seattle style" hot dog, or a quesadilla.  Naturally, despite bumming out (hard) over this piece of dreadful news, I soldiered on.  I refuse to allow an absence of "weekend nachos", as it were, ruin the natural high of this historic show!  Hey, punk rock has never been easy.  (And truth be told, I didn't want a belly full of artificial cheese, anyway.)
            So there's this band called Gag.  They're from Olympia.  Did you read the interview with them in Maximumrocknroll?  I did.  I thought it was great.  However, I suspect that Gag as a collective may not care what supposed "journalists" (is that a thing?) write about them in "magazines" (do those still exist?) … because Gag can rest comfortably in the knowledge that when they're asked to, they can bring it.  It's hardcore for the hardcore, as the phrase goes, and resulted in the first circle pit of the evening.  The vocalist threw himself around the stage in finest rag doll fashion; guitarist Jose (who also handles vocals in the equally excellent White Wards) never failed to summon a sturdy rhythmic backbone; the second guitarist didn't muddy up the sound; drums pounded, the bass throbbed … sonic catharsis achieved!  Gag received quite a bit of hype in the punk scene last year — thankfully, it's deserved.  As you can tell from the artwork gracing their vinyl releases, this band has a highly developed artistic sense, which seemingly flows on tap in Olympia and nourishes its many sacred denizens!  (After all, "It's The Water", as the slogan for Olympia beer once had it; scores of incisive, thoughtful bands have called Olympia home over the years.)  Gag's t-shirts also demonstrate an eye for artistic detail.  Interestingly, in a strictly musical sense, you might not expect that to be the case, given that Gag's punk rock resembles a seeming patchwork of early '80's hardcore as it collides with the  elusive "mysterious" element of a modern throwback outfit such as Hoax.  Despite the relative simplicity and even tradition of their pounding caveman roar, Gag can't help but reveal a deeper, more advanced shade of creativity in equal measure.  Go see them if they play near you!
            Warcry hail from nearby Portland, Oregon.  Todd Burdette, their frontman and vocalist, has been active in music for decades — most notably, perhaps, in His Hero Is Gone, followed by the now-cult Tragedy; he's also mixed it up (in his apparent spare time) with occasional forays into "side projects" such as Severed Head Of State and Trauma.  In those bands, Todd usually plays guitar, but at least on this evening with Warcry, he brought his full menacing presence to bear on vocals alone.  I kept wondering if someone in the crowd would receive a glancing blow from the microphone, because when Todd wasn't howling into it, he twirled it like he was about to lasso something, or he'd wrap it around his neck, then loosen it, only to throw it around and seize it out of the air.  Todd also pumped his fists relentlessly and flipped off the crowd at every opportunity.  Fittingly for me, they played "B.S.B.S.F.B.S.", with its rousing chorus of "Bullshit/bullshit/fuckin' bullshit!"  As Bruce Roehrs might quip: "YES!"  That's my favorite Warcry song, but standout "When Comes The End" sounded incredibly tight and forceful as well, particularly with reverb and delay drenching the vocals.  If you attach negative sentiments to punk rockers who attain "lifer" status, and you look down your nose at Warcry as a result of that … well, it's your loss.  Warcry are a great band; I felt honored to see them live.  (And yes, I bought the t-shirt!)
            None other than The Infamous Gehenna took the stage next.  Prior to the start of the show, I'd been sitting on a couch in the back of a side bar at El Corazon, which was conveniently close to one end of the stage, while their guitarist and bassist warmed up unplugged on a couch right across from me.  The guitarist had sprayed some sort of lubricant on the neck of his guitar (an apple-red colored guitar which featured one of those crazy triangle/geometrically-shaped bodies, a sort of variation on the Randy Rhodes-esque "Flying V.")  I hadn't seen anybody spray oil on a guitar neck like that in years — usually, that's what you do when you want what's known as a "fast neck", so you can play a lot of hyper-fast riffs on it without causing your fingers to bleed.  ("What band are these dudes in!?", I wondered.  "They look like hardcore kids, but that riffing, it almost sounds like death metal …")  Come to find out, it's Gehenna — band of myth and lore; band with "notorious" vocalist Mike Cheese (who actually seems like a really nice guy … but keep that a secret); band of devious intelligence; overall feral, and long-lived, practitioners of Holy Terror.  Try the following experiment, if you will.  Take a Gehenna LP off the shelf, let the creeping darkness of the cover art filter into your senses, then flip it over and read through the song titles.  It's quite a daunting experience.  A few of these song titles stick with you for years: "Mescalinpsychosis"; "Spiraling Into My Demise"; "The Choking Sands"; "Covet Thy Crown" (which the band played tonight!), and many others.  With the looming, starkly intimidating shadow that Gehenna's art casts sonically, I half-expected to choke in fright as Cheese stormed the stage in an (imagined) destructive, suicidal rampage — a true disciple of G.G. Allin, perhaps?  Such was not the case.  Gehenna's set seemed almost murderously, methodically controlled; in a manner of speaking, they didn't have to be overly demonstrative as they slowly twisted the proverbial shiv in your side.  The band brought tight, professional drumming (unconfirmed rumor: Gehenna's drummer that evening also played on Infest's No Man's Slave), with brutally fast and efficient guitar that somehow never descended into pure metal; fluid bass playing that kept everything grounded; finally, and most importantly, Mike's vocals sounded as strong as if the band were playing in 1995, not 2014.  An all-around impressive set for a deservedly legendary band.  Gehenna closed with a Discharge cover, and the crowd went appropriately nuts.
            Iron Lung followed — what an incredible force this band was, is, and likely always will be … they had me from the very first moments of opening song "Sexless//No Sex," which was just as heavy and raging in real life as in its recorded version.  The sound was jaw-dropping; literally staggering.  I immediately rushed forward to be a little closer, personal safety be damned.  Iron Lung drummer/co-vocalist Jensen Ward wore a genuinely scary Von longsleeve emblazoned with skulls, pentagrams, and assorted homages to Satan, in the general spirit of what I'd expected previous band Gehenna to summon musically.  Yet the old cliché that "appearances are deceiving" holds true, because Jensen is in fact humble, approachable, and just plain nice in person, regardless of the "evil" vibe he might send off to a square.  He also has a rare sense of humor.  Jensen's between-song banter lightened the mood considerably and made many in the crowd chuckle.  "Well, now … here we have a bunch of students, just learnin' the game … yeah … all except one" — to paraphrase one of his comments, followed by: "Spending mommy's money — because community college doesn't pay for itself!"  That might not read as funny as it sounded in the moment, but Jensen had me laughing constantly — and it was welcome!  Not to mention, he's also an absolutely fantastic drummer, dead-on accurate, hitting with furious power while simultaneously screaming bloody murder into a mic by the drums … who knows how old he is, but Jensen's ceaseless energy could put a 21-year old to shame.  Iron Lung guitarist Jon Kortland occasionally joined Jensen on vocal duties, but mainly focused on that surgically accurate guitar playing, his hands a blur, with an enviably meaty, thick, heavy sound that can also be found on any of the band's many records.  I have to see Iron Lung again!  You should do the same (they tour a lot, so you'll probably get the chance.)
            Finally … at long last … it was time for Infest.  A heartfelt thanks to Mike Crow of Inimical Records, Jensen Ward, John Pettibone of El Corazon, and all those who helped to realize a Seattle show for one of hardcore's modern classic bands.  As the members took the stage, I noticed that Matt Domino, Infest's guitarist, had some of the thickest forearms that I'd ever seen … he looks like he could bench-press a car, then pick it up and throw it half a mile!  Well, I suppose that's all the better for playing those riffs (yes, those riffs! — you know the ones), in his offhand, effortless fashion.  Domino spent their set positioned next to his guitar cabinets, an immovable object amidst a churning sea of stage-divers.  Yes, of course the crowd went totally ape — it's Infest!  You have to laugh at that admonishing sign on the wall at El Corazon: um, does that white stencil actually read "No Stage Diving"?  Haha, indeed!  Vocalist Joe Denunzio was just as curiously tan as he appears in photos, and equally as expressive, contorting his face into pantomimes of anger, hatred, and that certain joyous feeling that arises in converting all of that negative energy into passionate performance.  Bassist Chris Dodge deftly avoided dozens of stage divers; when the band would crawl through that sludgy, feedback-drenched flipside to their lightning-fast powerviolence, Gag guitarist Jose could be seen doing his best "creeper" dance, arms dragging near his feet as he lurched about the stage, only to fling himself at the mercy of the front row.  Infest drummer Bob Kasitz proved (as if any proof was needed) that he's one of hardcore's best musicians — man, this guy can play!  Dodge often turned to face Bob's kit, intent on keeping the rhythmic grounding of the band in place despite the absolute chaos roiling throughout the club.  Musically, Infest's set was a revelation, with each successive song somehow topping its devastating, mind-melting predecessor.  Believe it or not, but the Infest live experience is just as awesome as this review would have it — and that's no hyperbole.  You have to see them for yourself!
            After a triumph like this evening, one's mind begins to wander to the next challenge: convincing Lack Of Interest to play Seattle again.  However, let's not get greedy.  As it is, the sheer power of this Infest show might just be enough to carry Seattle for months to come.  Who needs the Super Bowl when you have hardcore punk on such a peerless level?

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Weekend Nachos Interview with John Hoffman

Questions by Jim Walkley of Don't Be Swindle

            Weekend Nachos recently released Still, their fourth full-length LP as a band.  It's somewhat rare for a "powerviolence" band — if you could limit the Weekend Nachos sound to just that — to release full-length LPs; a band such as Sidetracked, for example, is mainly an EP and split-EP band, and genre titans Lack Of Interest (with whom Weekend Nachos shared a soon-to-be-classic split) have released only two stand-alone LPs in their storied existence.
            Despite being a "love them/hate them" band for some in the hardcore scene, Weekend Nachos are back — and with a wrecking ball of a new LP.  Still is slightly more metallic in places, displaying their continued integration of razor-sharp powerviolence speed with a surfeit of crushing breakdowns (causing everyone to go nuts live).  Haters beware — even if you dislike the Weekend Nachos aesthetic, you can't really argue with the music.  Repeated listens yield repeat results!
            I conducted this interview with John Hoffman by email … at the gates of winter, which is a bitter season for Chicagoland dwellers, and produced the "I Live In Frozen Hell" t-shirt that's been a favorite on the Weekend Nachos merch stand.

1).  Congratulations on Still, John.  Weirdly, the first time that I heard it, I gathered the impression that it might alienate some fans.  It's musically heavier (perhaps more metal-leaning), but doesn't seem at first to be as raw, punky, or loud as previous recordings.  On subsequent listens, however, Still starts sounding more natural in the Weekend Nachos discography.  And, not to mention, the band has always alienated music listeners in a kind of love them/hate them dichotomy.  Let me ask you directly: Are you happy with the way that your new LP turned out, both songwriting-wise as well as recording-wise?

            We’re deliriously happy with the way that “STILL” turned out! I hope this doesn’t come across as cocky or snide, but honestly we would never release an album unless we were happy with it — we have actually scrapped recordings before because we didn’t think they met our own standards. It’s always uncertain whether the public is going to be as happy with our new albums as we are … but that’s because you can’t predict how people are going to react to anything. But once it’s good enough for us, that’s when we know it’s ready for release. We also record our own music in Andy’s studio so we always have control over how that turns out, too.

2).  Weekend Nachos have played a lot of shows over the years and have also toured quite heavily.  I don't know if your "live shows played" number is up into Converge territory yet, but you and your fellow band members are hardly slackers.  As for you personally, you played drums for Pit Of Spikes on the 2011 Demo and you're also a member of Cyborg, although you've terminated your bass duties in Harms Way.  Are those aforementioned bands still active?  Is splitting time between touring and multiple band commitments difficult, or have you just become extremely efficient at getting things done?

            I’m pretty active, but I also don’t feel like I do this nearly as much as I wish I could. I have a full-time job and a relationship which take up most of my time. That’s all well and good, but if it could be 50/50 instead of 60/40, that’d be ideal. That being said, everything that I do besides Weekend Nachos, in a music sense, takes a back seat. I practice with Pit Of Spikes when I can, but my time is always devote first and foremost to the Nachos and the other band I play drums in, SPINE. Spine is actually becoming a lot more active lately, which is exciting to me. Spine and Weekend Nachos are my babies.

3).  Speaking of live shows, I'd encourage those reading this to see Weekend Nachos live — even if you're not really a fan of the recorded material.  In particular, you yourself manifest a much more positive, downright "happy" energy live, which totally doesn't come across on the records.  The presence of that "hardcore energy", for lack of a better term, is why Weekend Nachos live will change the way you listen to the EPs and LPs.  It seems somehow more complete.  What do you think about all that, and how can such a seemingly cheerful dude create such negative, mean hardcore, both lyrically and musically?

            We all have different sides to our personalities. The hatred and the anger is something I can’t hide … so I choose to show it through music. I consider recordings and albums to be a window into the side of yourself that you don’t necessarily want to show to the world physically, so you’re giving them an opportunity to see it on their own. When we play live, I kinda consider that to be the grey area between your recorded output and your social interaction. It’s like the world in-between that connects the two together … the live show. So I like to allow more of my social personality to seep into the WN live show. I want to express my inner rage while at the same time being an enjoyable person to be around. This is a foreign concept to some people … that’s fine, whatever works for them. I don’t feel comfortable being a tough, negative nancy on stage. I can be energetic and perhaps even a little violent while still maintaining a welcoming, positive vibe on stage.

4).  The lyrics on Still seem to be a bit more direct and judiciously chosen than on Worthless, your prior LP.  Overall, instead of trying an approach where you're breathlessly screaming paragraphs of lyrics (which, to be fair, has never been your vocal style), it sounded to me as if you're focusing on fewer words — but voicing them a bit deeper and more forcefully.  As for your lyrical themes specifically, what are the messages/thoughts/ideas behind the lyrics in new songs such as "S.C.A.B.", "Satan Sucker", and "Late Night Walks"?

            Every song is different, really. All of those songs you listed are coming from a completely different part of my brain … "S.C.A.B." is sociopolitical, "Satan Sucker" is about image and "Late Night Walks" is a personal song I wrote about relationship drama. So, unfortunately, I’m not exactly sure how to answer your question. However, I will say that the lyrics on Still are the most developed and crafted that they have ever been on a Weekend Nachos album. If there was a such thing as a “matured” Weekend Nachos lyrical style, then it has been achieved on this latest album for sure.

5).  I understand that Weekend Nachos contributed a song to the forthcoming To Live A Lie 100 Various Artists Compilation that Will Butler is releasing (hopefully soon!).  Is it a new track that's exclusive to that release, a cover of a classic band's song, an experiment of some kind, or something else altogether?  If pressed, I'd say that I anticipate your song on the TLAL Comp. to be short, choppy powerviolence akin to something in that brief/biting style of your awesome "Torture" EP, the band's debut recording.  What can you tell readers about this soon-to-be-released Weekend Nachos song?

            The song we contributed to that comp (which I’m very excited about, by the way…GO WILL!!!) was actually a song we recorded in the same session as the split with Lack of Interest. It didn’t really fit with the other material we did for the LOI split so we decided to scrap it from that recording…but we were still pretty happy with the song on its own, therefore it was a perfect selection for Will’s comp! It’s very much reminiscent of the classic WN style that you heard on “Torture” and “Punish and Destroy”, which is going to be weird for people to hear considering this comp is coming out AFTER our latest album Still, which sounds very different from our earliest albums. I also forgot a lot of the lyrics to the comp. song, for some reason I lost the ones I had written down when we recorded it … thus, for the first time in WN history, no lyrics will be included with its release. The song is about tattoos, though.

6).  In fact, that "Torture" EP came out on Tooth Decay, a record label that you ran at the time.  You're currently doing a new label with a similar name: Bad Teeth.  What caused the demise of Tooth Decay and the subsequent rise of Bad Teeth, and what's it like to run a label in these times of financial austerity and declining sales of physical records?  Personally, I'm looking forward to the upcoming Spine/The Repos Split EP on Bad Teeth; please feel free to talk about that 7-inch, because it sounds rad …

            Originally, I stopped doing Tooth Decay because I didn’t really have a lot of money and I needed to focus on my future a little bit instead of pouring cent after cent into a side project. Fast forward around 7 years and I was definitely in a better position to start doing a label again, so there you have it. As long as you have no ambition to make money doing it, and as long as you expect to lose a little or a lot here and there, then doing a label in these times is really no problem. You just need to set realistic expectations for yourself and understand that there is very little money to be made in the record industry these days, especially when you don’t really set it up like a business in the first place. At the time that I am doing this interview now, the Spine/Repos split has actually been released and the first press has sold out! It only took about a month, too … which is a record for Bad Teeth. Stoked on that! A repress of 300 copies is coming soon, so it will be readily available again.

7).  John … how about a Weekend Nachos/Sidetracked split EP!?  Or — yes! … a Weekend Nachos/Fever Split EP.  I could go on, but what I'm asking is: show Tacoma some love!  I mean, Weekend Nachos/Lack Of Interest was great, but what about Weekend Nachos/Hummingbird Of Death!?  (Well … they're actually from Boise, ID, not Tacoma, WA — but I'm on a roll here, man).  Seriously, though, will Weekend Nachos be sharing split EPs or LPs with any bands in 2014 or beyond?  So far, your band seems to primarily release stand-alone recordings, which you've done throughout a good-sized discography of EPs and LPs.  Do you think you'll ever have any desire to change that and become more of a "split" band?  Critically, I think the solo Weekend Nachos material is strong enough by itself without a band on the flip side — but would like to hear your thoughts on the subject.

            You seem to have a pretty good inkling of what we’re about … honestly, we don’t appear on a lot of splits. We’ve only ever done 2 during our whole existence … Chronic Bleeding Syndrome in 2005 and Lack Of Interest in 2012. It’s hard to say whether or not we’ll ever do a split again … I can see it happening but I can also see it never happening again. The only reason we did the LOI split is because we really couldn’t say no. Bob puts out all of our records and we were honored to do it. Sidetracked is an incredible band and so is Fever … to be honest, I didn’t even know Fever still played. Sidetracked is one of the very criminally underrated fastcore bands of our generation. Jay Tichy is a musical genius and should be recognized as such.

8).  People may not realize this, but Weekend Nachos definitely have a sense of humor.  That's something that I think the band's "haters" miss.  For instance, your drummer was wearing buttless chaps and a Discharge-like, spike-encrusted jacket with "Nachos" crudely scrawled on a back patch at your Rain Fest 2012 aftershow at the Black Lodge space in Seattle.  Man, that image was hilarious, gnarly, and intense, kinda similar in a way to that John Lennon/Yoko Ono-inspired photo of two Weekend Nachos members cuddling that graced the inside of the Worthless LP.  You're obviously not a guy who takes himself way too seriously.  Do you think that the average Joe music fan out there still misses your band's sense of humor?

            I think we are fun-loving dudes amongst a sea of try-hard clones out there, unfortunately. The extreme music scene places an unrealistic expectation on its musicians to be “brutal” and “hateful” all the time. That’s just not what WN is about, in fact we tend to laugh in the face of anybody who thinks that’s what it takes to succeed in these parts. Give me a fuckin' break. The hard stare and constant snarl on these death metal bands is something to laugh at. Come to a Weekend Nachos show and get your nose broken by a dude in a Hawaiian shirt, see how tough you look then!!  We just like to mix it up a bit. You can have songs about slitting throats and still find time to get naked or dance like a goddamn retard every now and then. Why not?!

9).  I purchased a download of Still from iTunes — and I realize that mp3 fidelity isn't great — but as I mentioned earlier, the recording seemed a bit quieter than previous Weekend Nachos efforts.  In actuality, did you intend it to be less loud than previous LPs, or am I just totally wrong and need to crank the volume?  Did Andy Nelson handle recording duties again?  Please discuss recording and artwork details for Still.  The cover art, for instance, looks a good deal like the image on your "I Live In Frozen Hell" Weekend Nachos shirts.

            The image on the front of Still is definitely very similar to the "Frozen Hell" t-shirt design … I don’t think that was intentional, it just sorta looked right. They are definitely different images that I just happened to stumble upon at different times. As far as the recording is concerned … I don’t think the recording is much lower in volume than the others, if at all. You may be right but I’ve just never noticed.  Andy recorded this as he does all of our albums, and it was mastered by Trevor Sadler. If it’s quieter, it was definitely not intentional, we would never willingly choose to make our album LESS loud than its predecessor, haha.

10).  Okay … Freddy Krueger or Jason from Halloween!?  Is it "Merry Christmas", or Happy Holidays!?  To elaborate, I know that Dom at A389 produced a Nightmare On Elm Street shirt for you guys; in addition, I've seen a Weekend Nachos shirt with a Gingerbread Man below the words "Merry Christmas".  Do you celebrate Christmas and are sick of trendily referring to it as "The Holidays"?  And who had the idea for the Nightmare On Elm Street-themed band photos and layout?  Do you take care of that aspect of the band — designing or planning official merchandise — as well?

            I am definitely the Freddy Krueger fan of the band, the other guys just kinda accept and go along with it. We all celebrate Christmas … there is no reason not to. Gingerbread cookies are amazing. Family is great if you have a good one. Presents are nice, personally I like giving them more than I like receiving them. People also feel the desire to cook around the holiday season so I enjoy that as well, give me a warm home cooked meal and I’ll stay a while, you know? I definitely prefer Freddy over Jason or Michael Myers. But they are all pretty legit spooks.

9).  In closing, please talk about upcoming plans for 2014, whether that relates to any of your bands or various other projects (such as your record label).  For instance, any exciting releases planned for Bad Teeth in 2014 that you'd care to disclose?  As for Weekend Nachos, will the band be playing any big Fests next summer, or at some other time in the upcoming year?  I'd also like to thank you for the interview, John … the Still LP is excellent and has been dominating my listening time for days on end!  Thanks man!

            No, dude … thank YOU. It means a lot. Anyways, 2014 is going to be a chilled-out year for all of my projects; however, I do have some cool things planned.  At the very beginning of the year, BTR will release a 7” by DRAIZE, an unbelievable Boston hardcore band that everybody should definitely check out, they’ve been around for years but are releasing their first new material in a long time in January.  Other than that, BTR will be laying low due to some other financial shit I have going on, but depending on when they’re ready, I may be doing a 7” single for FULL OF HELL … one of the greatest current bands right now, so that should be sweetness. As for Weekend Nachos and Spine, well WN will probably chill out until summertime when we return to the UK/Europe for our fourth tour overseas … obviously we are pumped for that. SPINE is working on our first full-length as we speak and we will hopefully record/release that in early 2014 on Youth Attack Records.  Keep an eye out and once again, thank you for the interview!