Monday, November 11, 2019

HXR20YR RETROSPECTIVE: HXR039- PSYCHIC TEENS, "Hex" 12" EP


            My association with Psychic Teens was a complete fluke.  I had seen their first LP, “Teen” around here and there and it’s extremely simple cover art, for whatever reason, made me think they were some kind of pop-punk band in the Screeching Weasel vein.  Whatever the case I didn’t think I would be interested in them.
Around this time I had discovered another Pennsylvania-based band called Tile whom I thought were just amazing and I considered pursuing them in regards to putting out a record.  I saw they were playing a show at Siren Records in Doylestown, PA, a store I hold in high regard and a place I had been familiar with playing before (for real, take a gander at Siren Records if you ever find yourself in the quaint burg of Doylestown).  The lineup for the show featured Tile and Psychic Teens.  It was kind of a drive for me, but there was enough cool stuff close by (what’s up Vegan Treats) to make it worth the hike.  Plus, I wanted to see what Tile were like live, and as people, before I hit them up about recording something for the label.
            As it turned out this was probably the worst show Tile ever played.  They got through about three songs, broke a guitar, and then gave up.  I was heartbroken.  It was a rough night for them and temporarily soured my opinion on them.  I’d like to add, though, Tile are one of my current favorite bands and I highly suggest getting all of their records right now and playing them repeatedly until your head falls off.
            Feeling let down I wasn’t sure if I wanted to stick around and just drive back to Syracuse.  I watched the second band, who were decent, and then figured I came all this way, I may as well see if I was right about this Psychic Teens band before taking off, as they were headlining.
            Turns out I was totally wrong.  They lurched through weird post-punk, goth, and noise rock dirges all the while incredibly intense strobe lights pulsated from behind them.  Guitars screamed as frontman Larry Ragone remained hidden behind dark shades the entire set and belted out spooky, low-register vocals over everything.  I was thoroughly shocked.  I stuck around for a good portion of their set and then decided to hit the road since I had a long drive ahead.  Before departing I left some money on their merch table and grabbed a CD for the drive home, which had their second LP “Come”, as well as their first LP on one disc. 
            I started listening to it as soon as I began my drive and was so drawn in by the sounds that I wasn’t paying attention and totally got lost in the weird labyrinth of roads that is Eastern PA.  I eventually made it home, listening to Psychic Teens almost the entire drive on repeat.  I had just never heard a band that combined influences like that and made it work in this new and original way.
            Afterwards I dug in more and saw that they had made a couple of really funny and unique videos for their songs and had toured a bit as well.  I also learned that their drummer, Dave Cherasaro, had briefly done time in Gods and Queens, another Philly-area band that I adored.  So I figured I was in good company by listening to this trio.  I reached out to them to see about having them come up around my way to play a show and they ended up coming through on a few occasions, as they had other friends in the region they had played shows with before.  I also continued to travel to go see the band- Asbury Park with Coliseum and Child Bite, Ithaca with Restorations, and more. 
As I got to know them I reached out about releasing some material for them.  They had recently released an amazing 7” through Reptilian Records and were on the cusp of releasing their third LP, “Nerve” when I offered.
What ended up occurring was Psychic Teens released their third record through channels they already had set up, and not long after they reconvened and recorded the “Hex” 12” EP as a follow up since “Nerve” was a considerably huge undertaking.  For five songs “Hex” is pretty long and feels almost like a full length record.
Since that release Psychic Teens has remained active on and off as they all have adult lives, and also all play together in a second band called Ex-Maid with their friend (and occasional PT collaborator) Miranda Taylor.
But since it’s been awhile I got back in touch with Dave Cherasaro to discuss the band a bit and the making of the most-excellent “Hex” record from Psychic Teens.

 Psychic Teens (l to r):  Dave, Larry, Joe


I initially wrote off your band because I thought the art on your first release, “Teen”, resembled something a pop-punk band might use.

That’s funny.  It wasn’t necessarily intended to be a stand alone release like that, like a whole album.  The original intention was to be a combination of a couple of songs to put on the internet as a demo and then see if somebody wanted to do a 7”.  It was sort of a brain dump of the first 7 songs that we wrote, we went into the studio to record them, and they weren’t even all complete when we went into the studio, and there was one in particular that we weren’t sure if we were even going to use it and we ended up using it.  It’s a song that we still play, whereas a number of them have not been played in awhile.


I think the art on all the releases since then are more indicative of what you do insofar as being a bit unsettling, or oddly mysterious.  It seems like you all put a fair amount of thought into the artistic presentation side of the band.

And so Larry (Ragone, guitars, vocals) is the one who sourced a lot of that.  He has been the person who found the artists that he liked and artists he wanted to work with.  He went to them and figured out how to work with them and what parameters they wanted to work in.  But that first release Larry did the artwork.  He did that himself.
I think a little bit of it was that art was really a placeholder to put up on a bandcamp page with two songs, and then it morphed into ‘this is going to be a record’.  Our friend started a label and put it out.  So we ran with it and tried to make it a little more interesting than just the heart with the ‘X’ through it by doing the large die-cut ‘X’ sticker that was on the outside sleeve of the LP version.

I think that sort of mysterious, but oddly inviting, art plays out as well in the song syllable record titles and song titles as well.

Yeah, I agree.

After meeting you all it became apparent that a big part of Psychic Teens is approaching your music from the perspective of serious record collectors.

Yeah, that makes perfect sense.  We all like records.  You are correct, we do all collect.  We want to have something that looks good as a record package.  We want something we would be interested in.  We want something that we would want if we hadn’t put it out.  I think I would be a little embarrassed to admit how much time on Psychic Teens tours we spent in record stores.  That was pretty much our M.O. on every tour we have done.  We definitely have detoured through towns we weren’t even playing so that we could go to record stores on long drives just to break up the day.  We definitely spent a lot of time on Psychic Teens tours in record stores.
I can’t think of, offhand, of any towns, or cities, that we went to where we didn’t try to find at least one record store.

Tell me this- when you would book tours would you purposefully book tours to places where you knew there were good record stores.

No, we don’t have that much booking clout.  It’s more of ‘we just want to find a show where we can find a show’ and we will find a record store somewhere.

You’re not that obsessive.

No.

I’ve always liked the idea of how you had described Psychic Teens tours- they’re like vacations to visit record stores in different cities and then play shows.  I never got the impression that you treated the band like a career sort of thing.

For sure, that’s 100% how we have viewed the band.  We had the joke saying, and it still rings true, that Psychic Teens are regular adults.  We have never tried to make the band a full-time thing because I think we all are a little too old and maybe a little too far past that point in our life.  So we’re going to go out when we can.  We all work.  We’re going to take time off from work, but we’re going to have fun on that time off as best as we can.  So just like with the artwork and the record collecting, you hit the nail on the head.  We try to have fun and do as much as we can.

So rewind a bit and give me an idea of how the band came together and also how you came to choosing the style of music you played.  It’s a pretty niche mix of subgenres.

Well, the impetus of Psychic Teens was Larry.  He wrote the first few songs and had these ideas in his head and wanted to do a band.  I think he had a very specific influence in mind, and I don’t want to particularly call him out on it and name it, but I think it was a little bit bigger of a band than you would think given all the subgenres in there. 
So Larry wanted to do the band and he then approached me because we had been in a band together a couple years before that kind of fell apart.  So then we reached out to Joe (DeCarolis, bassist) because Larry and Joe have been friends forever and their old bands were on split 7”s together, played like 100 shows together.  And in-between when Larry and I were in a band him and Joe were in a band together that kind of fell apart after they recorded a demo and maybe never played shows or anything together.
You know that story of the insular world where everyone is trading band members.  So this is the combination that we came to this time.

I like, too, that you guys are Philly, or Philly-adjacent, and there has always been a wealth of bands to emerge from that region that are really onto something original.  I don’t think there’s a ‘Philly sound’, but instead a lot of bands all trying to do something different and keep it exciting.

Yeah, it’s very interesting how that has all played out over time.

How did the band come to use strobe lights and lights when playing?  Was that something you did right from the beginning or add them in eventually?

It took a little while.  I think it came about maybe 6 months after we started playing shows. It was intended to keep it interesting for ourselves and do something a little different.  There was one or two of our early shows where we tried to bring a projector and project stuff on us, or behind us, and that ended quickly.  We realized that was too much effort to have a laptop, to have a projector, to keep things going, and that wasn’t for us.
I had done another band, the story of all stories- and we had done the whole lights thing with cheap $10 Home Depot pots.  So I had some of that stuff.  I think one time Larry came to practice and was like, ‘I got a really good deal on a stobelight on Craigslist’.
It was this crazy strobe light that works very well.  We’ve played larger venues and it’s still effective in a large venue.
He got it on Craigslist and met some guy in a diner parking lot, or something, and got this crazy stobelight for pretty cheap.



Can you describe a bit of the process around writing and recording “Hex”?  It wasn’t that long after “Nerve” had been released that things came together for that record.

I think it didn’t seem like it was that long for other people, but for us it seemed really long.  And I think part of that was the process of writing and recording “Nerve”.  It took a long time to get everything together for that record because we entered the studio recording drum tracks a whole year before that LP was finally out.  We had spent a year and half, or two years, writing “Nerve”.  During that time we also did a live score for “The Shining”, which is a really long movie.
So we were writing all these songs for “Nerve”, and then took a break to do “The Shining” thing, and then pulled two songs off our writing to do a 7” with Reptilian Records, and by the time we finally got done and figured we were ready to record the “Nerve” songs it had been a really long time of writing and rehearsing those songs into the ground so that they were ready.
So after we went in and recorded we had a really long break where we were waiting on the availability of the studio to mix, and in that time frame we started the  writing process again because that’s just kind of what we do.  We like to write and practice, and always moving forward.
So I think before “Nerve” was even fully done we had laid the groundwork for a couple of the songs from “Hex”.  Those songs were some of the easiest songs we had ever written, and I don’t mean that in a way where we didn’t just phone it in.
We had over thought those “Nerve” songs so much we wanted to get back to something more towards how we started as a band.  We just wrote songs that went with what came through and not over-thinking a structure, or a part.  It was a bit more of an organic experience.

I think that does shine through on “Hex”.  Even though a couple songs are on the slower and longer side it just has a bit more of a feeling of being immediate, if that makes sense.  “Nerve” definitely sounds a bit more planned out and deliberate and “Hex” feels a little looser.

I agree.  I do like having a bit of the over-rehearsed thing.  But we spent so much time collectively between writing, rehearsing, and then recording and mixing “Nerve”.  And when we went to press that record it was at that peak of records taking a long time to get back from the pressing plant-era.  I mean, we knew it was going to take a long time to get back from the pressing plant so we planned our release show so far out and then our records came in really early.  We had them sitting in our basement for so long just because had built in this really long lead time to be on the safe side.
And all that time we thought let’s just write new songs, and play new songs, and not over-think it, and that’s what bore “Hex”.
 Check those neat-o records out!

I also recall “Hex” going pretty quick.  It wasn’t a super-long turnaround.  Maybe that too made me think it was a pretty quick follow up to “Nerve”.

Also, with that record, which I think confuses people to this day, is the packaging on it.  The spine is on the bottom, you can turn it around and it’s still the same thing, and then the sticker could be turned anyway and was still the same.  Was it deliberate to be that confusing?

I honestly don’t remember.  But it was likely just an idea to do something different and put the spine on the bottom and the opening is on the top.  As for the artwork, if you look at it long enough you see what side is right-side up.  But at a glance it is a little confusing, and the sticker did not help matters out at all.

(laughs)  Yeah, for sure.  So at this point the band has been pretty quiet for a bit and Ex-Maid seems to be the current focus.  Do you see yourselves keeping on with Psychic Teens, but just putting it on the back burner for now while Ex-Maid does stuff?

Yeah, I think that’s the idea.  As people get older and everybody is doing more stuff we have hit a couple of scheduling bumps where we just didn’t get enough time to practice on a regular basis.  It has caused some newer songs we had to not necessarily fall apart, but never really made it from that rough stage to the completion stage.  And when we have had the time to practice we have put that effort into Ex-Maid.  And some of the Ex-Maid stuff takes a bit longer because there is a fourth member and some of it takes more time because there’s a lot more stuff that happens in New Jersey than happens in Philadelphia, so there’s a bit more travel investment if we’re playing shows up in New Brunswick or Asbury Park.  That’s historically where we have played more than Philly.

What has been the best and worst thing about doing Psychic Teens?

I will forever say the best part is getting together in the basement and writing songs, playing the songs we have, coming up with new parts.  That’s my favorite part.  But at the same time I mentioned earlier that Psychic Teens the intention was never to do anything specific.  We’re just three friends playing together in a band, and I think overall the best part was that we have exceeded any expectations we ever had for ourselves.  We have played out more, put out more music, we’ve been together longer, played better shows, and done some longer tours than any other band we had all done before.  Psychic Teens has gotten more accomplished than we ever intended to do.
Worst part?  I don’t know.  I might have to get back to you on that one.  We’re all friends.  There’s no hate.  The worst part sometimes is the cycles of writing and then pausing to record and trying to figure out when to play shows.  It takes away a little bit of the fun of being in a band and playing shows.

What about that show in Ithaca in the record store?  Wasn’t that a really bad one because everything kept breaking on you?

Oh yeah, if you want to talk about really bad shows I can talk to you about specific bad shows.  And yes, that was a really bad show for us.  That whole tour was a specifically ‘everything-is-breaking’ tour.  It was a really great tour because we had a really great time and the shows were really fun, most of them anyway, but we were renting a van that we were perpetually having issues with.  It wasn’t anybody’s fault but we were renting this van that had just been tuned up and fixed and ready to go and we got right outside of Baltimore and it died.  We place we rented it from brought us another van, and we got into the other van and a day or two later that one started having problems.  So we spent an entire day in Kentucky getting the catalytic converter fixed while that same rental company was trying to get us another van.  We eventually got it fixed and we kept going on.  And then the day of that Ithaca show, right before Ithaca we went to some state park, maybe Watkins Glen?  So we were just walking around and when we got back to the van it just wouldn’t start.  I don’t even know what the final verdict was, something was off with the transmission, we had to put it in neutral just to start it.  So we drive to Ithaca, which is all hills, and the transmission was having trouble going from first to second, so that was a good day.
And the night before that show we were in Buffalo and Larry dropped his amp, so his amp wasn’t working right in Ithaca, which is a problem. 
It’s funny because for a band that loves records, and record stores, and record shopping, I can tell you that two of our absolute worst shows were in record stores.  And that was one of them.

(laughs)  So there ya go, there’s a ‘worst of’!  You think things will be great because you’re in a record store and it ends up sucking.

We have had good shows in record stores.  We have just had two particularly bad ones in record stores.

What was the other one?

There was a record store we played in Jersey City.  I don’t think it’s open anymore.  We played there right before “Nerve” came out.  So we played this store with a band that Joe was friends with and I’m not sure if it was conveyed to the store that we were a ‘loud’ band and I think the record store was expecting something not as loud.  Like we were going to play with combo amps or something.  But there was a problem with our volume.

I see.

That’s been a particular issue at a couple of places.  We’ve been cut short at a couple shows because we were told that we were too loud and we were told that we had to stop.
But that’s not the worst part of the band because that’s like some little badge of honor!

Yeah, right!  I can appreciate that part.

I got some records at some really great prices at that Ithaca show though so that was the silver lining!

There’s always a silver lining!

And now, if you'd like, you can get yourself a copy of "Hex" on LP, or CD, or digital, and it will be super cheap for the next week.  We're talking $5 for LPs, $4 for CDs and $3 for digital download.  And you can get it all HERELet's hope to hear more from Psychic Teens in the future, but in the meantime, check out their other band Ex-Maid.

Monday, November 4, 2019

HXR20YR RETROSPECTIVE: HXR037- GODSTOPPER, "Who Tries Anymore" 12" EP

In the first part of this interview there was a lot of discussion about how Godstopper came to be and quite a bit about some of the first Godstopper releases.  But it seemed right around when “Lie Down” came out Godstopper got really active with releasing more records.  Not long after splits with The Great Sabatini and Grizzlor were unleashed upon the world, as well as “Who Tries Anymore”- an EP on 12” format that was the impetus of what I had building up to in terms of working with Godstopper on new material.
            The “Lie Down”/”Children Are Our Future” CD was just making certain a physical version of two excellent releases would get out there, even if both had existed in the digital realm for some time already.  “Who Tries Anymore” was brand new stuff.
To my understanding Mike, and the rest of Godstopper, had already had some new stuff in the works.  Within a couple months the songs were fleshed out and brought to the studio where founder Mike Simpson laid out the basic tracks, backed by long time members Miranda Armstrong, Adam McGillivray, and Derek del Vecchio.
“Who Tries Anymore” was the most up-front about it’s pop leanings than any other Godstopper release to that point.  Whereas previous records hinted at hooks, melody, and clean singing by laying a sheet of feedback and distortion over everything this release put the singing up front and the cinder-block heavy riffs were relegated to the background (even though they certainly shine through on a few of the songs).  It was a very deliberate choice.  So naturally when it came time for artwork, and we were all at a loss as to what should be on there, I came across quite possibly the most brutal photo I could imagine adorning a record cover.  I mean, why not have eagles pecking away at a bison carcass in the snow and putting your band’s very metal-looking logo in a reflective spot-finish as the cover for a record that starts with piano and melodic singing?  Why would anyone think they didn’t know what they were in for?
It turned out to be a very cool release and I recall driving up to Toronto, records carefully hidden in my car trunk to deliver to the band, and feeling some trepidation as I crossed the border to see their record release show.  I remember the border guard asking me a rapid succession of questions about what I was getting up to in Canada- “Where you going?”  “How long you staying?” “What are you doing there?” “What’s the name of the band you’re going to see?” 
Godstopper. 
A long pause and a cold stare. 
“Are they any good?”
A brief pause on my end…  “Yeah!”
“OK, have a nice trip.”
            So travelling up to Toronto for the Godstopper record release show is, to date, the only time I have seen the band live.  It’s not like they’re coming out to the West Coast any time soon, and they simply do not play out very often period.  Mike has mostly focused on his one-man project Jack Moves for a couple years now, while Adam and Miranda also play in the band Humanities.  But when the stars align and everything comes together you might catch Godstopper emerging from the shadows to record or play here and there.
            So this is the second half of my interview with band founder Mike Simpson and delves a bit more into “Who Tries Anymore”, as well as why Godstopper remains a very part-time project.


I know the artwork for “Who Tries Anymore” is based on a photo a friend of mine took, who is a nature photographer, and I did the layout and all that.  And I know I pitched it to you and you were agreeable, but did you have any other art in mind for that release instead before I showed you what ended up being the artwork?

No.  I don’t recall having any ideas.  I can recall the title of the record coming about what I was thinking about at the time.  I wasn’t looking to spend a lot of time with the artwork.  The first record I went through four or five different artwork ideas before settling with the original thing I saw.  I admit, I may be a bit deficient in the visual end of the band because that doesn’t come to me automatically.
But the picture on that record is great.  I’m glad we have that in our discography.  I think it’s such an insane amount of overkill, it’s so intense.  I think it worked for the best.  I like that.


Throughout most of Godstopper’s existence you all have not played out too much.  What is behind that?  Yet you have a pretty decent-sized discography.

Being in Canada makes it one step more difficult.  It’s a large and sparsely populated country.  So that was something where you can’t just hop in the car and play ten shows to ten different markets.  And then to cross into the U.S legally is a lengthy and expensive process.  It makes it unnecessary in all those ways.  To do it the first time will probably cost you about $1000 between all the paperwork and forms.  You have to lie about how much money you are going to make there because if you say you’re going to make $75 because no one knows you and you’re going to be playing to 12 people in Philly it can be interpreted by immigration that you are less expensive scabs travelling to take the spot from other hard-working bands in Philly that they think are going to get paid more.  It doesn’t make any sense.  So you have to lie about what you’re going to make.  You essentially have to say you’re going to make more than Gwar.  So you’re going to lose money. 
You have to have contracts.  So, again, you have to get your buddy from Philly to fax over a contract for some gig you’re playing on a Tuesday.  So you have to forge some signatures, write up this fake amount of money you’re getting paid, and you have to submit it up to 7 to 9 months ahead of the tour.  It used to be only 45 days before you cross the border, but it was never mandated, it was just an agreement and I’ve had friends submit all their stuff, like I said, 7 to 9 months ahead, only to have to cancel their tour because the papers weren’t processed yet.  And the chances of booking something 9 months in advance in the U.S. is crazy.  You don’t encounter that at the DIY level.
So all those things make it really prohibitive to go across the border and lose money.  So there’s that.
And also the fact that everybody in the band was further along in their lives and other interests, and real jobs when the band started.  We were all already in our mid-20’s at least, no one was in their 18 or 19 year old prime.
I also don’t know if the touring lifestyle agreed with everyone in the group.  No one wanted to really commit to eating shit and I don’t blame anyone for that outlook.
 I'm proud of my ongoing run of timeless test press covers


I mean, “Who Tries Anymore”, right?

(laughs)  Yeah, that’s funny.

Where does that title come from anyway?

I don’t remember!  I was just thinking about that.  I think it’s something about trying to be cool by not trying?  It might be reflective of when people say, ‘it was a moment in time that I felt this way’.  Whatever it was it doesn’t resonate with me now.  When I look at the album cover and read the title it seems like there’s a sort of weird joke going on.  That’s what I think of.

Despite not playing out a lot you have a pretty thick discography and that it was mostly recorded and released in a fairly short amount of time.

I’d agree with that.  I feel fortunate to have been able to release like 8 different records.  I like there’s a progression there that I can go back and listen to and see how things changed.  I would say it was more on the prolific side.  I might not fully feel some of the earlier stuff we did anymore but I still like all of it.  There isn’t anything I feel like was totally off-base, or made mistakes. 

Do you think you might chalk that up to it being all your stuff and having control over it all?

I think it helps.  It’s not necessarily a given that if you wrote something you’re going to be into it 5 years later.  I think it’s more that Godstopper is the band that I found my own voice with.  I’d written music and come up with concepts before that, but it’s the one that I felt represented a unique enough combination of influences, as well as skill and talent, and a degree of conviction that created it’s own thing.  I think, for me, it was the time when everything sort of clicked.
It took a lot of people saying to me, ‘you need to find your own voice’ in order to internalize what that actually meant, and why that was important.

What has been the best part of the band and what was the worst?

I think the best part of the band has been the amount of possibilities that are available.  There’s not much off-limits in terms of what I can express in a song if I wanted to write it.  My musical vocabulary is quite broad.  The things I appreciate are quite broad.  So that’s why I feel like it’s an open book and I can go back to it at any point and it would feel right to do it.  I could make something that would work under the umbrella of what this band is.
I like playing live, just in general.  I like that it has given me the opportunity to learn how to perform a bit better on drums, or on guitar.  I like that it got some people’s attention, outside of myself.  It was the first time I had received some attention and assistance from some labels. 
On the opposite side, it doesn’t fit neatly into any one genre or scene.  I wonder, often, if that is a hindrance to others becoming aware of things I’ve done musically.  It’s a mix of several different things.  It’s not as simple as, ‘if you like this than you will like this band because they’re doing the same thing’.  When I saw that documentary “American Hardcore” someone in it was talking about how they saw the United States as each state being a different band.  So MDC was Texas and Poison Idea was Oregon, The Misfits were New Jersey, and D.O.A. was Vancouver, here in Canada.  And what I inferred from that is that listening to a lot of these bands to uninitiated ears sounds like different variations of Minor Threat or something. 
But in the 80’s there were only so many bands playing that style.  So if you were a junkie for that style when that one band came to town and it was an all ages show you just went, right?  Like when the Sex Pistols did a 10 date tour in the U.S. every single weirdo from the last two years that sprung up went because that was it.  That’s all there was.
Fast forward you get this network of bands.  I think the DIY hardcore network is great and was put together by these very level-headed young people who wanted an alternative to just being an idiot.  But I think the music can often be very predictable.  Very little has changed from 1982 to the present.  That’s how I look at a lot of the hardcore-turnover scene.  In my opinion, the music hasn’t really progressed.  I don’t want to turn this into me ranting about a scene I only know so much about.  But when you go into that scene you know what you’re going to get.  It’s very lock-step and that was my observation when I played in that powerviolence band.  You look a certain way.  You have certain political leanings.  You read the same things.  The soundtrack is always really close to what people going to a show in a warehouse were checking out 35 years ago.  There’s a degree of complacency and expectation of the familiar.
So this is turning into a long thing where I’m explaining why there’s too much of this, or too much of that and a band like Godstopper doesn’t fit into a scene where one word will tell people everything they need to know about the band.

It isn’t easily explainable.

Yeah.

And that’s the worst part of the band?

Yeah, I’d say so.


You’re not doing too bad then.

(laughs) You want me to say some horrible, acrimonious thing about interpersonal problems?

No, I’m saying that it’s nice that you don’t have that! (laughs)  You’ve had it fairly easy.  You’re Canadian after all, you’re very polite.

(laughs) I think if we went on some 45 day tour or something like that it would be a different story.  No one would want to be friends.  You ever read interviews with big bands who tour all the time?  People ask them if they hang out and they’re all like, ‘no’.  And just for the sake of preserving of whatever is left of the relationships you have, I mean, you’re in these touring situations where you’re spending more time with these people than you do with a significant other.  And when you’re with a significant other you can go off and do things, whatever you want.  With a band there’s always accounting for other people, and making group decisions like where to eat, or when to leave for the next town, all that.  It’s like when Metallica see each other and they’ve known each other for nearly 40 years, and they’re just like, ‘how are you?’  ‘OK.’  Like there’s this tension, but it’s really dull because they’ve known each other for so fucking long.  I think our band would be different if we were in a touring situation like that, just always being out.  There’s a danger of that happening.  It’s not for everyone. 
But the way that Godstopper would go about getting more known would require this intensive amount of touring that’s not really feasible for us.  I think it’s a pretty special scenario when you find four people who can sync up on something again and again, it’s not something that’s typical and not something I feel like humans have evolved to do.  You’re operating against certain human tendencies.  But if you find the chemistry, and it works, that’s great.


A snippet of "Halfway" from their record release show and some expert camera work by yours truly.

And that's that for Godstopper stuff!   Hopefully you all have a well-rounded overview of one of Canada's greatest musical exports (at least to me anyway).  And, naturally, if you act on it, you can get a deal for not only this 12" EP, but also the "Lie Down"/"Children.." CD.  Go HERE to capitalize on that.  Or, if you're just a digital tracks only type go HERE and grab those for cheap.

Monday, October 28, 2019

HXR20YR RETROSPECTIVE: HXR038- GODSTOPPER, "Lie Down"/"Children Are Our Future" CD


I first came across Godstopper pretty much by accident.  In fact, I suppose all credit is due to Ryan from Anthems For the Undesirable.  We did a trade on some records and he threw in a split 7” featuring the bands Tendril and Godstopper.  There was really no information about either band and I kind of sat on it for awhile to be honest.  But when I finally decided to give it a spin I was quite impressed really.  I mean, there wasn’t that much to go on, but I found something really interesting about Godstopper.  They had a way of being very heavy, very sludgy, but there was a hook underneath.
Not long after Ryan sent me another record by them, this time their debut full length “What Matters”.  Again, there was not much to go on.  In fact, by the simple photo of a field and the exceptionally crusty metal-looking logo (and the band’s name) one could assume that this was some dirtbag sludgy crust punk.  But once again, it wasn’t quite all that.  Sure, Godstopper was real aggressive.  They had some of the best heavy-dirty guitar tones going on.  The vocals often had a screamy feel to them, but there were also a lot of parts that were sung, like in a professionally good sort of way, like erring towards the clean vocals of Cave-In or Torche.  I sort of let the record linger for awhile and then sort of put it aside.  However, the hooks of the music seeped into my brain and kind of took up residence somewhere in the recesses of my mind.
Some time had passed.  And then, out of nowhere, I saw their name pop up again.  They had self-released a new EP, just online as far as I knew, and I thought, ‘oh yeah, this band!’  I checked it out and found that their style had developed exponentially, focusing mostly on clean vocals, but heavier sounds with more hooks and a better recording.  The “Children Are Our Future” EP really started to sell me on Godstopper.  But as much as I looked around I didn’t really see anything indicating that they were active in any regard.  Was it just a project?  A studio-only group?  Or was I just not in Canada enough to see them play around?  I attempted to keep a close eye on things.
And then came “Lie Down”.  Again, the band self-released this, and basically just on a digital platform.  This full length fully realized the band’s sound.  The riffs were so heavy and so incredibly catchy, the soaring vocals so on point, everything about this record was damn near perfect.  It was a crime against music that this was not out there more.  I pretty much decided I didn’t really care if they were known or not, I felt I had to do something for this music and get it out into the world.
I’m not sure how I came across finding Mike Simpson.  Someone likely told me he was the guy to talk to regarding all things Godstopper.  I tracked him down.  I let him know that I wanted to release something for Godstopper.  He got back to me and was incredibly casual about it all.  Some might say he was incredibly Canadian about it all.  Just a very polite and easy going guy.
What I learned was that Godstopper is basically the music of Mike Simpson.  He writes everything, he records all the instruments himself, and does all the vocals.  There is also the band Godstopper, who play out live, and have pretty much been a consistent set of individuals for the majority of the band’s existence.  However, they do not play out very much.  So once we got to talking I kind of had to go on faith that they would do some stuff here and there to promote whatever I would end up doing for them.
That resulted in the re-release, on CD, of “Lie Down”.  Since it had already been online for awhile I didn’t feel comfortable going all in on a big vinyl pressing, but I thought it was important for there to be a physical release of this album which I thought was so great.  As a bonus, the “Children Are Our Future” EP was included on there too.  I also released a 12” EP of brand new material called “Who Tries Anymore”.  This piece is going to focus on “Lie Down”, but I talked to Mike about both records and split it into two sections.  I also jumped ahead, as “Lie Down”/” Children Are Our Future” CD is HXR038, while the newer “Who Tries Anymore” is HXR037.  But seeing as I’m working from the beginning of the band to the present it makes sense to do these two releases backwards.  So next week look for part two of this, which is the previous release.  Does that make sense? 
Here’s what my man in Toronto had to say.




Take me back a bit about your musical history.  Were you in other bands prior to Godstopper?

Sure.  The first band I played in after high school, that I can recall anyway, was a band called Bulb.  If you’ve ever heard of the band Periphery?

They’re that really tech-y metal band right?

Yeah.  It might be a bit outside of what you’re into, and it’s a bit outside of what I’m into.  Anyway, the guitar player and sort of mastermind behind that group was going to school at University Of Toronto at the time with me and we played some shows together with a few other people that we knew from school.  That’s kind of the first ting that I really played in.
After that I started a band called The Womb.  There’s probably a MySpace page out there for that.  That was with a couple of buddies of mine that I sometimes still play music with.  The band started out with me trying to sound 100% like Phil Anselmo.  Pantera is still my favorite band out there, but where a lot of bands might have 10 influences there was like one for this band.  At least for me anyway.  I was the singer.
Gradually things started to evolve and we ended up putting out two CDs, as well as a few demos, and that was around 2007 or 2008.   We didn’t tour extensively, but we did some opening shows, like opening for Keelhaul and Yakuza. 
Concurrent with that I played in a band called The Great Collapse with my friends Brent and Luke.  That band was a 5-piece, female-fronted technical death metal band somewhere in the vein of Martyr or Gorguts, but with a lot more melodic vocals.  There’s a lot of overlap between the two bands I was in, especially with members.  I played bass in The Great Collapse and I played bass and sang in The Womb.  Eventually over time The Womb moved towards a Crowbar sort of sound while The Great Collapse was technical death metal but with melodic vocals.  So both those bands kind of ceased to be by 2010 or 2011.
I also had a weird funk, kind of Mr. Bungle, sort of band called Pure Finesse that I played in with like 8 people for a few years.  I wrote all the tunes in that and sang.
I started doing the first Godstopper demos around 2009 and I recorded them in a way where I finally felt comfortable releasing them around 2010.


So how did Godstopper start?  Was it always your personal project rounded out by other players, or did it start with more input from the other members?  What’s the working dynamic of the group?

It started with me and then I brought people in and for the most part the songs were always my compositions.  I would write them out, demo them, and then rehearse them for shows.  So from start to finish it’s been where I’ve come forward with the ideas and the other people would play them live.

It seems like there has been a pretty consistent group, for the most part, that have been the band since the get-go.  Have any of them ever come in with song ideas, or do they just leave it all up to you?

For the most part it’s just that.  It’s me presenting the ideas and different parts.  There was one song on “What Matters” that Tobin, who played guitar for several years, co-wrote with me.  And there was one song off of the split we did with The Great Sabatini that had a collaborative song.  For the most part, though, instead of people coming into the jam room with ideas it was me presenting all the stuff and then working it out.

Have you always been multi-instrumental?  I remember you telling me you filled in on drums for a band before?

To varying degrees I am.  It definitely progressed over time.  I actually started playing drums in Godstopper when we would play live. That was my introduction to playing drums, by playing them in my own band.  I didn’t want to have to go around trying to find a drummer because I found that to be near impossible.  Thankfully I haven’t had to do that in awhile.  But it’s so difficult to find a reliable and predictable drummer, so I just made the style and execution of the music in such a way that someone who is still figuring out drums could do it.  So yeah, I went to music school and there was a lot of that stuff going on there, with people who could play everything.  I had a friend there who was a mastermind sort of person who was very influential in terms of bringing everything in-house, in a sense, and presenting things that way.  Some of these people, like the friends I was in bands with and the guy from Periphery, were the types who would demo an entire project by themselves and play everything.  They weren’t opposed to having other people having ideas, but they would just come in with the whole thing.  All that, as well as looking up to guys like Prince, that’s where the whole way of approaching things went. 
It made it so I could diversify what I was able to play.  I figured out drums to any acceptable level so I could demo them.  Also, when I made that first Godstopper demo was in an era where stuff like Xasthur and Leviathan were getting more popular, and they were these one-man black metal projects and those were pretty influential for me as well.  It’s not because I really like black metal at all, it’s more because it was just these dudes making this music and playing all the instruments, and it was lo-fi, and that was OK.  So realizing that I could do that myself made it easier to do.

And just to be clear, even with a name like Godstopper, you sound nothing like lo-fi one-man black metal.

No, definitely not!  Overall, what interests me is how much control can I have over my music because I want to see it through.  When you have more people there’s the potential for more friction, that’s my experience.

So when you learned drums to do Godstopper that means you were also the live drummer?  And doing vocals?

Yup, total Phil Collins style.

So Godstopper is a pretty metal name if I ever heard one and people unfamiliar with the music might have some preconceived notions of what you all sound like based on that name.  Has that ever been an issue?

Yeah, the band has nothing to do with religion at all.  It was originally an idea that me and my buddy Greg who runs a studio had, and he does all these side projects.  So I said to him we ought to do a crossover thrash band and call it Godstopper.  It was a cool name.  He didn’t have interest in it though so I just kept the name and put it in a different context. I liked the idea it wasn’t metal because so much metal stuff is obsessed with critiquing religion.  I sort of went another way with that.
But yeah, the name caused some confusion.  When I went on tour with this band Column Of Heaven in 2013 we toured down the West Coast I brought some Godstopper records with me and a lot of people thought it was the band Godstomper.

I guess that was probably the scene you were playing to because Column Of Heaven was a powerviolence sort of band right?

Yeah, and Godstomper was in that world too.  So that’s the story of the name.

I think the name and some of the artwork you have used on various records might lead people to draw those conclusions but I like to think of Godstopper as a sort of pop band that happens to just be really heavy.

There’s a significant shift in terms of really emphasizing hooks and clean singing from “What Matters”, a little bit more on “Children…” and full-on with “Lie Down”.  Was that more a case of actively working towards that, or feeling comfortable enough with getting away from overtly heavy music?

Singing is always my favorite thing to do.  So it was a conscious choice to do things one way in the beginning and then change it over time.  My influences and overall motivations haven’t changed from the beginning, so I was more into, as a template, some of the bands that played locally in Toronto at the time.  I was into some of the post-hardcore, or weirder heavy bands of the time too, like Botch, Converge, and especially Today Is the Day. I always wanted some melody, but screaming felt like something that was more current, or belonged in the music. I liked the template of Steve Austin from Today Is the Day and Alan Dubin from Khanate doing this kind of pathetic, crazed person vocals.  I was initially going for stuff like that.  I thought both of those were cool, alternative options to doing by-the-book metal screaming.  So I wanted to avoid the typical screaming and do more of this unhinged, damaged vocal thing.
But after doing that I gradually wanted to dial it back.  It’s funny you mention it because on “Lie Down” it was a conscious decision that I made to have zero non-melodic vocals on that record.  I think it was partly because my outlook changed.  I wasn’t as into this misanthropic music anymore.  I wasn’t as into heavy music anymore.  A combination of those things and it’s a bit uncreative on other bands parts to just have some standard screaming going on.  It seems people really default on that style of vocals.  It’s like an afterthought for a lot of these people.  It’s a bit lazy.  You have this whole instrument and you’re just going to make it difficult for anyone to understand what you’re saying?  You want to anonymous? It’s just plain and angry? It’s sort of paint-by-numbers to me.
So I gradually shifted it a bit and made the music more vocal-centric.


Did you have to train your voice in another way?

No, not really at all.  I just dialed up the Ronnie James Dio and Andrew Lloyd Weber musical side of things that I always liked.  It was always sort of there, I just didn’t have a place to use it.

I think the vocals work in a unique sort of way.  You said you wanted things to be more vocal-centric with the music, but I feel like it’s 50/50 with this ‘here’s this very heavy background music that has a lot of catchy parts in disguise’, and the vocals.  That was the appeal for me when hearing Godstopper.  It’s got all these hooks buried under heaviness, sort of hiding in plain sight.  I love stuff like that.


Godstopper live video of "Young Queen" off of the the "Children..." EP

For sure.  I like hiding hooks in heavy music.  You want it to be memorable but you don’t want anyone to think that I did it on purpose (laughs)!
I mean, Torche, first and foremost, influenced me in that regard.  I used to do a radio show for around five years and I would interview bands on it.  I interviewed the bass player from Torche, and in doing some research on them for the interview I looked into some of their influences and was like, ‘who the fuck are these bands?’  They were into stuff like Cherubs and referencing stuff like My Bloody Valentine.  That’s the first time I’d heard those bands and definitely never thought of those bands as influences for a heavy band.  I came up from growing up in the suburbs listening to Hot Topic metal.  I didn’t have a hardcore background.  I didn’t have that cool DIY thing that influenced a lot of these guys.  I was kind of a Judas Priest-shirt wearing metal dude.  I liked things polished.
So I wasn’t up on stuff like Sunny Day real Estate, or whatever. The idea that these influences can be filtered through in another way to heavy music was unknown to me.  I mean, prior to that, it was probably something like Soilwork that I would think of using a shouted vocals-sung chorus, which felt pretentious and silly and I don’t think really worked.
So when people ask about what the influences were for Godstopper I would definitely say Torche in how they combined influences of their own.  People often say we sound like The Melvins, but I was never really a Melvins listener, so I can’t say they’re a direct influence.

So, to my understanding, you did very limited runs of both “Children…” and “Lie Down” on your own, but I take it they may have only been available at shows, of which that doesn’t occur all that often?

For “Lie Down” we actually only released that online prior to you doing a run of CDs.  But for the “Children Are Our Future” EP we did a small run of CDs.  I don’t think I’d do that again because I’m not too into CDs.
 Original art from the "Children Are Our Future" EP

Are you not a fan of physical media?

I like the legitimizing aspect of vinyl.  I don’t listen to vinyl much, I listen to stuff digitally mostly.  But I also believe that one should have physical copies of music both for collectors who are interested, but also to solidify the permanency of what you created.  I think that we’re in this weird generation that is like the 50’s in that you’re just supposed to churn out a continuous stream of singles.  It’s been sort of like that for my current project Jack Moves.  People keep saying to just put out singles like every month.  But what I found is that every song sounds different and none of them is a direct representation of what I sound like.  But even if I end up shooting myself in the foot, the next thing I release is going to be a full length because I feel like you have to see forest for the trees, ya know?  You have to hear the whole thing.  So I think having vinyl is sort of the physical embodiment of that.  It’s too ephemeral to have just a track, or tracks, on a streaming service.

I wanted to ask a bit about the art for “Lie Down”, which is just a yard with a kiddie pool, and it’s really simple.  It doesn’t tell you too much.

We ended up going with something simple, to be honest.  It’s a picture of Miranda (Armstrong, bassist) and Adam’s (McGillivray, drums) backyard.  The mask, which is the same one that’s on the cover of “What Matters” is floating in the kiddie pool, and there’s not much beyond that, to be honest.  There’s not to much to say other than that it’s hinting at there is something off.  The mask I made is floating in the pool, but it’s in this every day kind of scenario with a lawnmower.  That’s kind of the aim.  But insofar as how we selected it I wanted to get some artwork done by someone for a different kind of concept, but that fell through.  So we just went with the photo.
And I like the idea of the mask thing getting re-used because that’s a running thing through three of our records.

OK, so these two Godstopper releases are not on the Hex Records bandcamp because the band self-released them first so they get dibs.  If you want to check the digital tracks the links are embedded within this article.  If you, however, are the type of person who enjoys having physical media conveniently in one spot Hex Records released both "Lie Down" and "Children Are Our Future" on one disc and for the next week you can grab it for just $4 through the site HERE.  That's a nice deal for two albums of material.