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.

Sunday, October 27, 2019


These dudes play really fast.  As far as no-frills punk rock goes this is just what I’m into.  Imagine Hot Snakes playing shorter, faster, dirtier, and spit-frothing vocals instead of a raspy howl.  Bothers, from right here in Portland, OR are a fairly new band but wasted no time in blasting forth with this hot shit record.  They break out 10 songs in probably all of about 20 minutes and it’s that long in part because mid-record jammer “No Trust” takes up 5 of those minutes.  It’s a nice break from all the speed and puts forth another angle to the band, churning out some slower, strangely melodic vitriol and is possibly the best song on the whole record.  That nod to noisy-melodic anthem-jamming shows up on “Claw To Bone” and album closer “Deader Ends” as well.  The rest you need to strap yourself in…  or, you know, fuck it, just get loose and spazz the fuck out.  That’s kind of what this music is meant to have you do.  Thoroughly enjoyable and a heck of a debut.  (Dirt Cult Records)

CANDY, “Super Stare” 7”
From out of nowhere comes new material from Candy, one of the gnarliest and downright vicious newer hardcore bands out there.  This is in preparation for a new LP and I can only assume both these songs may end up on it.  But who cares, they’re two of the best songs they have written.  Candy seamlessly meld dirty, mosh-y hardcore with doses of Japanese –style d-beat, noisy samples, and some Integrity guitar solo worship.  And for those who love their completely off-brand design style this is another record cover that’s about as ugly as they come.  The casual observer may believe this to be a nu-metal band providing soundtrack music for a dystopian video game. But no, it’s Candy and they fucking rip.  So get moshed into oblivion for the title track, stick around for the quick ripper “Win Free Love” on the B-side.  If you live count your days until the new LP rolls around, or until Candy says die.  (Relapse)

These dudes play really slow. It’s like Jesu with more jangly guitars, or Young Widows on “In and Out Of Youth and Lightness” minus as many effects and more growled vocals.  The band uses a drum machine, but it’s tough to tell (from my perspective), so props to having a good drum sound. A couple of the songs are fairly long and add to the moody nature of the music and the whole thing sounds like it was recorded in a big, empty, sad warehouse.  If you want to feel down and mope around like a sad bastard this might do the trick.  It’s a bit too morose for me, but maybe I’m just hoping for a little more dynamic from song to song to keep it from getting too repetitive.  (self-released)

DRUGS OF FAITH, “Decay” 7”
Drugs Of Faith is a super-dependable, albeit infrequent, band out of Northern Virginia.  By this I mean they only emerge every couple years or so to release music and don’t play out all that often.  However, every time they do something it’s a guarantee it’s going to destroy.  This is no exception.  5 new songs (one of which is an intro) of face-crushing punk-rock n’ roll- grind.  This isn’t quite as heavy as previous releases and maybe that’s simply because it has a nicer recording and there’s an occasional cleaner guitar break (like on “Anonymity”), but that’s not really saying much because Drugs Of Faith still sound relentless.  Really, you can start anywhere in their catalog and get consistently solid releases.  They maintain a seemless mesh of faster, aggressive and metallic grind, with a punk attitude, and some bad-add rock riffs.  I fail to see anything wrong with any of this.  Get into Drugs Of Faith now.  (Selfmadegod)

DEN, “Iron Desert”
I feel like this record is one of those releases where the cover is rather indicative of the music.  Like, you start listening to it and as you take another bog hit, and dust the resin off the cover, staring into it like it’s some sort of Magic Eye trick, you think to yourself, ‘yeeeeah, this makes sense.’  Den, a trio out of Chicago, are a vortex where sludge, psychedelia, and sci-fi converge into a weird mosaic of sound.  Just based on that last sentence I know what you’re thinking and the answer is, ‘no, I do not do drugs.’  But I imagine Den indulge in copious amounts of them and that’s why they make the music that they do.  And I’m cool with it.  There are some sections that get a little too far-out into psych for me, but when they hit their heavier riffs they’re realllllly good riffs and very heavy.  Did I mention they don’t use guitar either?  Just drums, really distorted bass, and some very distorted and heavy synths.  And burly vocals too.  Sure, you’re thinking ‘synths can’t be heavy’.  OK, square.  Give a listen to the closing title track and let me know when you’re able to reattach your face.  So while all of “Iron Desert” doesn’t transport me to the riff-filled land, enough of it does in that I feel like I’ve enjoyed the ride.  (Corpse Flower)

LACING, “Without”
For fans of bands that have pedalboards the size of your kitchen table and like to sing in hushed, breezy tones.  At this point I have heard a lot of bands that do the atmospheric-to-somewhat-heavy shoegaze thing and Lacing are certainly a band of that ilk that do so quite well.  I’d say this album is a little on the long side and maybe having four different interludes of playing with every possible guitar pedal that wasn’t used on other songs might be a little much, but when they get down to it it’s pretty enjoyable.  There are several tracks which err on the more loose and lush side that can be a little hard to follow insofar as how atmospheric they sound.  I suppose I’m more a fan of when bands such as this lean on riffs to complement their MBV worship, as Lacing emphasize a bit more later in the album with a couple upbeat songs (including an album closer that sounds almost out of place, and totally like Smashing Pumpkins, “Geek USA" but comes off as so energetic that I don’t really care), but there’s enough hooks to go with their spacey moments to keep any fan of this style thoroughly entertained.  (Handstand Records

PROCESS BLACK, “Countdown Failure” 7”
There was a blip about this project a couple years back, which I’m guessing is relegated to just being a studio band, but now it’s a little more real.  I also think, at the time, most of the material on this 7” was up online and then taken down not long after.  It feels familiar to me.  Either way, this group features the vocals of Tim Singer, one of my favorite vocalists ever (Deadguy, Kiss It Goodbye, No Escape), being 100% Tim Singer as well as Aaron Edge (every Northwest band ever in the last 25 years) handling all the bass and guitars, and a drummer I have zero knowledge of.  The first song carries a super heavy Unsane vibe to it in both guitar tone, excessive feedback, and general pissed-off-ness.  It gets a little slower after that, but just as mean and grouchy.  I do like my grouchy mean music and Process Black does the trick, even if it’s just three songs that were sort of already released a couple years ago.  I am, however, just pleased to have it on physical format to play loud and annoy others.  Mean music as played by lifer punk dudes and design nerds.  My kind of folk.  (Deathwish Inc)

SALVATION, “Year Of the Fly”
On their new LP Chicago noise rock trio Salvation channel Jesus Lizard at their most unhinged and free-wheeling, while also giving a big nod to Nirvana “In Utero” in regards to it’s most ham-fisted moments.  At least on the first half of the record anyway.  By the midway point a couple completely out-of-place pieces emerge which almost made me wonder if another band had been shoehorned into the record by accident- one a short piano interlude, the other an acoustic ballad called “Failure”.  It kind of gets a bit more dark from there, even dare I say, a bit sketchy.  But when you kick things off with a song called “Dark and Stormy” I suppose it’s expected that things might get rough.  The record closes out with another brief instrumental that sounds like closing time at a funk-themed dive bar from the 70’s.  It’s a rather mixed bag from Salvation, but a welcome range of heavy and wild to calm and strange.  It’s worth a go.  (Forge Again Records)

Monday, October 14, 2019


Bleak were churning a path of destruction across the country, constantly on tour, taking shows wherever and whenever they could.  And through it all they were continuously writing and coming up with more apocalyptic sounds to destroy the world with.
At a point between the “We Deserve Our Failures” LP and what would become their next full-length, “No Light, No Tunnel” vocalist Scott Thayer left the band to move to Egypt.  The band was without a vocalist for a short period of time (a time which included playing a few shows with fill-in vocalists- myself included- as well as recording the Dialysis/Bleak split 7”, which also relied on contributing vocalists to fill the space), but soon found themselves pairing up with original vocalist Mike Watson once more and getting back on the road.
At this point original drummer Nick Shelton officially exited the group, as he could not commit to long stretches on the road.  The band had already worked with a few other drummers to tour with as needed, including former The Chariot and Architect drummer Mark McGee, as well as former Tombs drummer Andrew Hernandez.  Both would continue to play with Bleak throughout this time before eventually finding a permanent member in Ithaca resident Cam Meyers, who stayed with the band until their dissolution.
With Watson re-entering the fold on vocal duties he brought a different vocal style than Thayer in terms of larynx-shredding torturous screams versus Scott’s sturdy and gruff bellow.  It was a chaotic and genuinely painful bloodletting on the vocal front and it completely fit the idea behind ‘Bleak’ in a different way than what was presented on “We Deserve Our Failures”.
And things went pretty smoothly for the band for awhile as they got on the road and wrote the record.  The writing for this album was quite a bit different as the music became more chaotic, crazy time signatures swirled around, and a bit of the mosh-y tendencies of earlier material were replaced with truly violent sounding music.  Jeremy Lorenzson, a friend from the Philly area, started coming out to play second guitar with the band to fill out some of the sound and ideas that guitarist and primary songwriter TJ Calandra was putting together.
And then, after the record came out and the band went on tour in support of it a major blow came to the group when TJ was injured at a show, which sidelined him for basically the remainder of the band’s existence.  TJ had always had a number of health issues that had affected him since he was a kid.  Not to get too into detail (I’ll leave that for TJ), he eventually required needing a full heart transplant.  It’s nuts. 
So with the main musical drive of the band exceptionally restricted in terms of being able to play out Bleak slowly burnt out, playing only occasionally for the next several months before finally packing it in.  Honestly, it’s a pretty crazy ride and I caught up with TJ Calandra- who’s doing surprisingly well these days- to recount some of that wildness that was the later-era of Bleak and the record they made “No Light, No Tunnel.”

OK, let’s get it out of the way first- describe the injury you sustained on tour that kind of led to Bleak slowing down a bunch because you physically were unable to play out.

Well, It is sort of two fold: Somewhere on tour I developed an Inguinal hernia. This, of course, was due to lifting heavy things, most likely our gear in a horrible fashion. I think somewhere at the beginning of a spring tour, however it wasn’t, at the time, that bad. I have had one before that was repaired surgically back in 2006. So after that tour was over, it got worse and worse. I went to a general surgeon to see if could get it repaired, and they said that before he could operate I would need a Cardiac clearance from my heart doctor.
I was born with a congenial cardiac defect called L Transposition of the Great Arteries and had numerous surgeries throughout my life, including one when I was a week old, and an open heart surgery when I was seven, which resulted in me getting a permanent pacemaker placed inside me. So before I could this hernia surgery, they need a clean bill of health slip from my Cardiac doctor. Seemed easy; other than my hernia I felt like I was in excellent health. The doctors hooked me up to this machine that allows them, through a magnetic device, to get information from the pacemaker, run diagnostic tests, and make changes or adjustments to it. However, they saw something very wrong: I was in Atrial Fibrillation (A Fib) and had been in it for 88 days straight.
I have been in A Fib before many times, however I was able to feel it, and notice it due to my heart beating tremendously fast and losing breath very easily. So I was shocked. Being in A Fib is dangerous because unless you are on blood thinners, a blood clot could form in the heart that could eventually break off and go into your lungs or brain, to where you’ll have a stroke if you’re lucky, and if you are not lucky you’ll die.
When the doctor said I had been in A Fib for 88 days, I went back to see what I did 88 days prior, and it turned out it was on a previous Bleak tour at a house show in Tallahassee, Florida. We had unloaded the van and I was setting up the merch table. After I finished, I started doing inventory of some of our shirts. There were these two guys nearby that were friends but they were high or drunk or both. They started play-fighting, then wrestling, then actual fighting and threw themselves right into our merch table. I was pissed; I don’t let the other Bleak guys put their drinks or anything on it. And worst is that these two guys were still fucking around with each other as if they didn’t notice or care that they just messed up all of our stuff. I then grabbed both of them and literally picked them up and threw them off of the table and on to the floor, trying to separate them. Matt Jaime (Bleak bassist) came over then to stop the ordeal, but that is exactly the incident that could and did raise my heart rate to a level which would bring on sudden A Fib.
The only weird thing was that I didn’t feel it happening. I got my hernia fixed with surgery, however the doctors could not get me out of A Fib. Normally, they do what is called a Cartioversion, which is a controlled defibrillation under anesthesia; in the past I had this done numerous times and it successfully worked. Yet, the doctors did this on 3 different occasions with no luck. They tried bringing me out of it with medication, but again no luck. My heart slowly deteriorated due to the A Fib for so long, and I needed a heart transplant. There is no doctor in Syracuse, NY, nor any transplant center, so I went to New York City to New York Presbyterian Columbia on October 17th of 2016 (my mother’s birthday) and stayed there until I got a transplant on December 3rd, 2016 (the 49th anniversary of the first Heart Transplant).

So, “No Light…” is quite a bit different than “We Deserve…” in terms of it being a more musically complex record, definitely more chaotic, and I recall you describing the writing behind it to me as being more as a response to Mike’s vocal style.  Also, it seems like that record came together pretty fast after Mike rejoined.  Had you already been working on new music for it before he rejoined the band, or was it just a spurt of creativity?

Yes, it is different and it definitely is more frantic and trashy, while the songs off “We Deserve Our Failures” (WDOF) are mid-tempo groove, maybe one could call an Arrhythmic sludge. Funny enough, almost all of the songs on NLNT are older than those from WDOF; some were pre-Bleak even. And that is the reason why the record seemed to come together so fast after Mike rejoined the band. The first track off of NLNT, “Teeth” and later on “Crowley,” “Roses” and “No Time” were all songs we did as Bleak with original Bleak lineup of Nick, Matt, Mike and myself.  However, when Skot joined we stopped playing them. Side note: when a band I am doing has some significant member change such as a singer, I try to make the music fit their voice/singing style, as well as give them a fresh start so they feel as though they are creating something and not just learning 5 or 6 songs of someone else’s creation.
So we dropped those songs and worked on ones that were new at the time and Skot was writing lyrics for. But, when Mike rejoined the band, we decided to do those songs again. However, we added a thrash element to “Teeth” to make it coincide with the fast thrashy feel of the rest of the material on NLNT. The rest of the tracks pretty much were material I had for awhile that I didn’t think fit well with Bleak at the time of the band’s inception. Some of those riffs and structures I had for years.
For example, the riffs for the songs “I Can Not Die” and “Fuck Your God,” I was messing around with while my other band Architect was recording their second record in 2008. It wasn’t until Bleak at the time of “No Light No Tunnel”, where I felt the material could be Bleak songs done right by the band at the time, if that makes sense. Mike has a percussive element to his singing, that adds accents to what you are hearing: it is like an extra punch in a fistfight. Skot’s singing adds a counter melody to the music; it is like an extra set of hands strangling you.
When Mike got back on board, the I was able to use those older songs with the faster, chaotic, more complex rhythms, tempos and arrangements, because Mike’s voice, I thought fit perfectly with them.
"Give it up for Mr. Michael Watson, and his band Sexual Chocolate!"

What led to the decision to bring in Jeremy on second guitar, or how did you get to know him?

We met Jeremy on the first weekend we did with Scott singing for us. It was a show in Philly and Jeremy was in a band called Sovereign. For Bleak and Sovereign, it was love at first sight. We played so many shows together and even did a split 7 inch. So when my health problems arose, and I said I wouldn’t be able to do a lot of touring or playing out, Jeremy was who We went after to fill for me. However, there were two local shows that I was semi healthy enough to play, so we had both of us on guitar. There was a time when I started having lots of health problems and Jeremy was on board filling for me, that Bleak figured that when I got better, we would then do the band with two guitars. Especially after the show we played as a 5 piece with Pig Destroyer in Ithaca, and another show with Crowbar in Syracuse. I played the Crowbar show almost dying, and went into the hospital a few days later. My health diminished tremendously and I needed the heart transplant. Once I got it, and health got better Bleak dis play a benefit show for a friend and we played it as a five piece with Jeremy. It was a lot of fun. Looking back, I wish we brought him on sooner.

Mike is a pretty musical guy as well.  I know you have pretty much written most of Bleak’s material, but did he contribute at all to the music?  Conversely, did you contribute at all to any of the lyrics?

Mike is a very musical guy. Extremely, in fact. However, he didn’t really contribute to the music aspect of the band, and I didn’t contribute to the lyrics. When it comes to the songs on NLNT, a good chunk of the stuff was already written for awhile. I made some demos and sent them to Mike. Seriously within a day Mike would send me back a demo with a vocal arrangement on top of what I just sent him. With Bleak, if I did anything it would be a “don’t sing here, sing here” type of thing, but I don’t even know I did that for NLNT. I think perhaps maybe more so with our EP “Songs for Cowards.” Mike has a good sense of what is going with a song in general and what I am doing structure wise for a song. When I write, I definitely have vocals in mind when arranging, in terms of how many times some part is played, and sometimes how vocals will feel as it carries over some complex structure. For example, on NLNT, in the end of the song “Crawl” it is a very jagged, almost stochastic sounding rhythm over a simple 4/4 guitar, all of which is intended to crescendo in a beat with the whole band in unison. All I needed to tell Mike was to start singing a straight vocal pattern over top of it, and he got it. It was better than I could imagine. I didn’t even need to tell him to switch to a different time signature once the stochastic section was over. So he can know what I have in mind going for in vocal structure, without me telling him. And this even applies to music with enormous complexity.

Matt (Jaime, bassist) had mentioned previously that when it came time to record you recorded all the guitars and bass for the record and Mark McGee played drums.  Since Mark lives in Canada did it make rehearsing with him to get him ready for the recording tough?

It wasn’t difficult at all working with Mark long distance. He has been the drummer of Architect for a decade and we have been working on stuff over long distances for a long time. When it comes to working on NLNT, I made a demo of each song and sent it to Mark. He would then learn what I had programmed, add his own flare, and then record a video of himself playing the songs, so I can see and hear what he is doing. I loved it. He actually prefers this means of writing. Mark thinks that it is just not using the band’s time optimally learning a song part by part, instrument by instrument while all the other band members are standing there waiting. This makes sense because, at the time of recording NLNT, Mark was living in Iqaluit, Canada (to give you some reference to how far north this is, it is a city father north to New York City than Cuba is South). So flights out of there were scarce, and therefore time in Syracuse was both valuable and pressing. So we prepared months in advanced, and Mark knew the songs front to back like he had been playing them for months, because he had in fact been playing them for months. I think when he got down here we rehearsed for two days. One of them with Mike running through the songs with us, then we went to record. Mark got all of his tracks done in 8 hours.
A busted ticker cannot stop one from playing with their favorite band

OK, so I get the title and it definitely sounds like one Mike would come up with.  But I have to wonder- you almost died on more than one occasion.  Did you have any input into that title?

I have died on more than one occasion, in more than one country; and I can assure anyone who thinks knowledge is attained via subjective experience that when your are on the brink of shuffling off this mortal coil, that you see no light, walk through no tunnel, nor will you find yourself in some celestial appellate court combing through your transgressions like it’s your Facebook memories, but instead that death is more like the loss of definition; absorbed into what paradoxically, yet comfortingly can be called the substance of nothingness, as if you were a dewdrop placed in black lava. However, the title of the record was ultimately made up by Mike.  However he originally had “No lights, No tunnels,” but I suggested it be singular. At first Mike had a single word title, but I had a two-fold problem with it: first, it wasn’t strong enough (I can’t recall what it was now). The first record, “We Deserve Our Failures,” was such a strong, pessimistic title, the second record needed one of the same caliber. Second, I have an issue with single word titles when the band's name is one word. I know this is just an eccentricity of mine, but I don’t think it is aesthetically pleasing to have see just two separate words on an album cover, floating around as if it were the end result of someone playing around with their alphabet soup, nor do I think single word titles give one any sense of content or imagery. A band’s album title should on its own invoke an extremely vivid picture of what you the listener are about to be in for, and leaves no room, no gaps for the vagaries and the junk context the human automatically mind fills in on it own. A band’s album title should be more like a treatise on getting punched in the face, and less like a Rorschach test. But that is my thing. It has nothing to do with Bleak or any particular word Mike or Scott made up. I just have an aversion to single word album titles.
A drum cam on Cam, drums

So what did eventually lead to Bleak splitting up as a band? 

I probably could say with confidence that I think when it comes down to it, the reason why Bleak is not together anymore is because of me and my post heart transplant situation, and that would be a good portion of the truth, but not all of the truth. After any organ transplantation, the receiver has to take a number of immune suppressants because your immune system thinks the new organ is a disease, a tumor, or a parasite. Your body does get used to the organ which makes it so you can gradually decrease this medication, but never be off of it. This means I can get sick very easily, and when a heart transplant patient gets sick, no doctor wants to touch the patient, because there are so many factors that have to be taken into consideration anatomically and pharmacologically. This makes my condition not suited for touring or punk rock in general. Not just because of dingy venues or crusty punk houses, but also the need to be in relative proximity of a hospital with a transplant center. There is a cliché belief of someone who just had a heart transplant getting out bed, running marathons, playing basketball and coaching soccer, but this is a delusion. In reality, you are more like Howard Hughes isolated in a room, wearing gloves, and angrily asking people if they thoroughly washed the vegetables. Don’t get me wrong, I have played shows since my transplant with my other band Architect, my new project with Mike and Cam called Serial Sleepers, and as I said earlier one time with Bleak. However, the occasional show is not really Bleak's style; we are very much all or nothing. When I first came around after my operation, and came to terms with all the new lifestyle changes now forced upon me, I said to the other Bleak guys that the band can continue, but it would have to be without me on the road, much like how the band was operating at that time with Jeremy playing guitar. But they said that it wasn’t the same, without me and that I was an important character to the band as a live entity. So that is another aspect of Bleak's all or nothing philosophy. It’s either an orgy or abstinence.
Possibly one of the best flyers for a show ever

What was the best thing about Bleak and what was the worst?

The best and worst thing about Bleak were the same thing: playing out live. I write a lot of diverse types of music, and have been in bands that are all different genres. However, I really only like playing out live the heavy angry kind such as Bleak or Architect. I don’t know why exactly this is the case. It isn’t that the heavier stuff is my favorite songs I have written; those vary greatly. I can’t say that heavy music is more visceral, but I can say it is more fun. All music is hypnotism to the listener. You as the songwriter or band have cognitive and emotional control over those listening. So with Bleak, performing live, playing the songs, and crushing it was like bringing the audience to the brink of violence, and you could feel it. It is like controlling an army. And on tour, right in the middle of the tour, where the sweet spot is; where you are a killing machine, and every band member is carved out of wood, that is when it is the best. You could see it in the faces of people. They make that face where you see them grit their teeth, flare their nostrils in scorn, and lower their brow in anger; their shoulders clench forward and their necks bend downward as if they are pulling a plow. That is a person who is about to fight something, and that is what we did to people. At least that is what I thought we did, and what I enjoyed the most.
The worst part is, of course, playing out too: it is so exhausting, it is so hard to organize, it is so costly in money, it is so consuming in time, and it is so detrimental to anything else in your life that you value. Driving to a show in a snowstorm that any moment you could crash and die, you constantly ask yourself “why am I doing this?” This of course, I guess, isn’t specific to Bleak, but applies I think to any full time band. However, maybe it is just me. I have a love-hate relationship with playing live and Bleak of course did a lot of playing out.
And if you act now (or for the next week for that matter), if you go to the Hex site you can score one of the above records for just $5.  You can also get the CD for $4.  You can also get the digital for $4 as well.  Take your pick, but I think it best to just throw money at me and see what you get. 

Monday, October 7, 2019


There isn’t a big story to tell with Grizzlor really.  They are a group somewhat shrouded in mystery, but it’s not some marketing gimmick.  They’re just exceptionally anti-social people in the truest sense of the term.  I mean, they have released their own recordings under the name Hermit Cave Records if that begins to give an indication.  Typically, instead of using band photos they rely on retro sci-fi art of space monsters and bizarre horror scenes.

But what drew me to Grizzlor, which was quite randomly at that, was the simple clunk and thud of their monstrous brand of noise rock.  It was spiteful and mean, but with a sort of blunt directness to it that just distilled that salty, bitter East Coast curmudgeon attitude of being pissed off at everything into a laser-focused, 90-second beam of irritability.  I loved that they got in, honed in on one singular awesome riff, played it for a minute while going on about snow, or bad drivers, or space; then got weird for a second, and then got out.
At first I found it to be kind of funny, but bad ass at the same time.  And then I just couldn’t stop listening to them and decided I ought to track down these obvious weirdos and see what their deal was.
Their drummer at the time, John, was actually quite approachable and let me know that they were always writing music.  He figured that they had, at any time, probably at least 7 or 8 songs just lying around.  Additionally, they just recorded themselves for everything, as vocalist/guitarist Vic Dowgiallo operated his own studio when not furiously writing more and more riffs for the Grizzlor canon.  Pretty soon after the idea was born for the “Cycloptic” 7”- 7 quick songs packed onto vinyl and ready to go.  The band worked extremely fast.  They had an artist they worked with to create more of that weird sci-fi art of monsters and desperate situations involving beasts crushing puny humans in some dystopian future.  It was really the only part of the process that involved any money outside of pressing the record.  At this point I’d still never met these guys.
Finally, though, right after the record came out I saw they were playing this really kick ass show in Providence at one of my favorite venues- AS220.  It was a chance to not only see them and finally meet them, but also to kick it with friends in the Central Massachusetts and Providence areas.  It was a very brief and simple exchange.  They really were actual anti-social people as we exchanged some pleasantries, and then they went about their business of setting up, and getting ready.  I mean, there was no false pretense there.  I respected that.

Once the band played they were definitely one of those groups that sounds exactly the way you hear them on record.  Yeah, their stuff is relatively simple, but everything was dialed in perfectly and tight.  Kind of like the only thing they did was practice.  In a cave.  Maybe in the dark.  Away from humans.  They also had this wild microphone set up where instead of using a regular mic Vic used an old telephone on a stand, which gave the vocals that sort of static-y buzz and reverb that you hear on the records.  It certainly added to the anguish in the vocals.
The record was met with a great deal of praise and people seemed to like it.  I was happy to continue to carry on the relationship I had with the band if they chose to.  I mean, despite them being pretty reserved people for the most part they were an incredibly easy band to work with.  They were very self-contained.  They went out on the road pretty regularly, wrote a lot, recorded all their own stuff, and arranged artwork for their releases.  They just needed someone else to release it for the most part.  Done and done.

So for this I reached out to Vic as he has been the constant within the group since their inception and takes care of most everything associated with Grizzlor.  I pried him out of his cave for a chat and I wonder if he uses the same telephone to talk to others as he uses for a microphone?  In true Grizzlor fashion he kept things very brief and to-the-godamn-point.  It’s probably best if you just listen to their records, or watch live video, or stare at pictures of aliens blowing up astronauts instead and then question your existence and why you’re probably working a stupid job.  Grizzlor would want it that way.

So tell me how Grizzlor started?  You sort of just came out of nowhere.  And by nowhere I mean Connecticut.

Grizzlor started with me writing a few solo songs and then showing them to John, the original drummer. He said, "Yeah, let's do this." So, then we needed a bass player. We got Wade to join and we started playing in his basement.

Had you played in bands in the past of a similar ilk, or did you have an idea you were going for with Grizzlor?

There was somewhat of a basic idea in the beginning, of course, but you just keep doing it and then it progressed into what it is now.

I’ve noticed you never really use live photos, or rarely use band pictures, and instead just go with crazy sci-fi art for most things to promote yourselves.  Why is that?

Because band photos are stupid, but you have to do it. So, we did it and used them when necessary. Sci-fi photos are cooler.
 stupid band picture

I feel like “Cycloptic” came together really quick.  Were you sitting on stuff that you didn’t know what to do with?

No, we always kept pumping music out, so we would stay ahead as the projects came along.
 So listen, you got through all this in like two minutes.  For that you get a reward- "Cycloptic" is on sale for the next week for $4.  I have some white versions, some red versions, and you can even choose which one you want.  That's 7 songs for $4.  It's like just over $.50 a song.  Or go even cheaper and get the digital tracks for $3.  Seriously, just do it.  GET IT HERE.