ShitKilling is my business and business is Heavy.

ShitKill at The Music Building, NYC, June 2014
ShitKill at The Music Building, NYC, June 2014

Earnest, authentic hard core music, for me, speaks to the part of us that feels good when we say, Fuck you. Or Fuck off. Or fuck that. ShitKill is all of the above and it feels great. Listening to their self titled, self-distributed CD, I feel confident that I could throw a chair through a Starbucks Window while beating up a bunch of nazi skins with one hand. There is something serious in how Damien Moffit (drums) and Josh Musto (vocals and guitar) communicate musically; it’s tight, it’s threatening, and considering they’re all under 21 years old, it’s only going to get sicker, heavier, faster, darker. Joined by Danny Chpatchev on guitar and Karina Rykman on bass, everyone who makes Shitkill, angry; the media, religion, God, the government, rules, and maybe even you, better watch out.

I had a vision of blasting ShitKill on 20th and 6th while burning Donald Trump in effigy, and our rock and roll church was reborn out of the ashes of naked consumerism. All of our holy sites came back, CBGB’s, the Roxy…read this interview to find out why. Oh, and fuck you.

TNL: Where did ShitKill come from? Did you all meet at THOR (Tomato’s House of Rock)?

Josh: Damien and I went to school together from 4th grade on. We had a strong bond over bands like Slayer and System of a Down…and then we played in a couple bands together in 8th grade that didn’t get too serious. We all got together at Smash Studios, it started out with 8 people. Five of us were on guitar…

Damien They were people we kind of knew from high school, like “Hey you guys can sort of play instruments, right?”

Josh: One by one they each sort of dropped off or we kicked them out and weeded it down to four. We wrote a bunch of terrible, terrible music, and then the songs started getting better and we figured out what we were doing. Danny actually wrote our first riff.

Rykman: I remember that very clearly.

Josh: We kept coming up with songs, they started out kinda silly. We had a tune called “Hot Dog Man.” That was pretty good.

Danny: A little bit peculiar.

Josh: We got our shit together, a little bit. Before that, I started going to the School of Rock, in 2007. I was 13, that’s where we met Tomato, who is now our manager. That’s where I met Danny. ShitKill started in 2009.

Danny: At Guns vs. Motley Crue. *

*Shows at THOR organized around a theme so students could perform covers live.

Josh: The first time I was ever on stage, I wore this really long sleeved shirt. I didn’t realize that was a rock violation and it muted out my strings when I tried to do finger tapping. It was a nightmare.

Damien: I was there to support you. I was the School of Rock supporter.

Josh: We started rehearsing and rocking. Our first gig was somewhere in Hudson, New York at an open mic night at a bar and it was just me and Damien. We played 2 SOD covers and our song “Goatrape” that we don’t play anymore.

We played on a float going around a Flag Day parade in Hudson and I think we scared the shit out of everybody there. I think we had 2 songs.

Damien: Yeah, we were still playing covers. We played Master of Puppets –

TNL: Are you guys particularly close to Flag Day? Is that a very important holiday for ShitKill?

Damien: My dad used to live there. I think he thought it would be funny to have this metal band being rolled around.

Josh: It was a bunch of patriotic guys with the hats and the flags and then us.

Damien: Playing lyric-less Metallica. We didn’t have a mic. We were looping the songs. We thought the float was just going to go the whole time. But there were stops and slowing down.

Josh: Us falling off the thing. We started doing that. Karina was our first booking agent. She booked us a whole bunch of shows at Don Hill’s.

TNL: No way! How old were you when you were booking at Don Hills?

Rykman: At the time I was booking ShitKill, I was 15, 16? That was fun. I knew some people at Don Hills, I was in a band called “False Arrest” that played several shows there when we were 13 or 14 years old. And I knew how to hustle the system which was, ‘Oh yeah, we can draw 60 people on a Sunday night.’

Josh: We did three of those shows in 2009/2010 before the place shut down and kinda learned how to fuck up really badly and recover and play. Not to have a guitar with a Floyd Rose cause it will break, and, always bring back up. We learned a lot from playing there.

Around the same time, THOR (Tomato’s House of Rock) started, and Tomato invited us there. We started rocking together, we recorded a bunch of Shitkill songs over the summer and did and EP with him. Tomato started getting us opening slots. We opened up for Paul Di’anno of Iron Maiden at BB Kings, we opened up for Anvil at Highline Ballroom. We played with Possessed and Six Feet Under and Twelve Foot Ninja. Tomato, our manager, has been awesome.

Damien: He’s like our “not douche bag” manager. You take a manager, and you take out the parts that make you hate your manager, and there’s Tomato.

Josh: He helps boost morale a lot of times when we need it. He’s got the vision and he’s really in it with us. I see a lot of bands who don’t have someone like that and I feel very lucky we do.

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TNL Is it difficult with being under age? I went to an all ages ShitKill show at Hippie Cafe and it was packed.

Josh: There have been a couple of shows where nobody showed up because the shows were 21 and over and we didn’t know anybody 21 and over. The kind of shows we’ve been playing have been opening slots at bigger shows that can be all ages, so it hasn’t been that much of a problem. The fact that most of these venues are 21+ like Mercury Lounge and beyond, every bar, we have played at some of them. It really has a negative effect of the metal scene because kids are the most powerful market obviously. And if kids can’t get in, what’s the point?

Damien: There’s countless shows of ours where I’m inviting people in our building and other adults that I know and they’re literally like, ‘I’m an adult, I have work in the morning! It’s past 7 pm and my kid’s gotta go to bed.’ Its’ shocking how much of the scene really is teenagers and young adults.

Josh: There are so many kids in the city and you see them at Mastodon shows and Gojira shows, but then they can’t go see local shows at Mercury lounge or Fontana’s or Trash bar, and those are great venues but the fact that the law is so strict in NYC, has a negative impact on the scene because everyone’s afraid of getting arrested.

TNL: Right, there are all these strange rules now, you can’t crowd surf… on the one hand, I guess I can see it, but on the other hand that’s so weird that they’re going to legislate how you rock out.

Josh: It’s so not rock and roll.

TNL: I was your age when I was listening to the music that you’re playing now. I didn’t realize that metal had this kind of staying power or that it would be attractive to young people 20 years later. Just because I grew up with it, I see it as older people music. So when you talk about Slayer, I wasn’t even 10 when Slayer came out, so it’s wild to hear how they influenced you. What was your attraction to metal?

Josh: The first metal band I liked was System of a Down which was Damien’s fault. He pulled me over during soccer practice with a cd player in 5th grade. He was like “Dude, you gotta hear this and he played “Cigaro” and I never heard someone say the word “cock” in a song before. And I was like “Holy Shit!”

Danny: For me it evolved from other things. Avenged 7 Fold was sort of like a gate way for me. From then on, I moved into Slipknot and Pantera. When I first heard Slayer, I didn’t really like them, I was like this is too much. It’s gradual, You start appreciating heavy stuff, heavier stuff. There was a time I didn’t want to listen to Nirvana, I was like, “this isn’t heavy, I don’t want to listen to this shit.” You start loosening up, and you realize, this is good, this isn’t really that good. In terms of just style and originality.

Damien: I had a weird and diverse musical upbringing. My mom was into 70’s airy, spacey funky music. I was always hanging out with my dad while he was lifting in his bedroom and I grew up listening to Helmet and Black Sabbath, weird cool crazy metal music. I can see it: in the living room it’s my mom’s music, in the bedroom, it’s crazy metal music. Something about going back and forth, I can like what ever I want.

But playing metal music, it has a lot to do with me playing drums. The drums are this crazy instrument where you just hit shit. That’s what metal does, it hits you. You hear a riff and you’re like, Holy shit I can feel that.

Karina and Damien, rehearsal at THOR, NYC
Karina and Damien, rehearsal at THOR, NYC

Karina: The power and the energy. I play in several bands, but ShitKill is the most fun because you get to attack your instrument, and just go fucking nuts on stage. I love that.

It’s not that I only listen to metal, I listen to a whole bunch of stuff. I was born in ’93, and I was a conscious human in the 2000’s and being a conscious human in the 2000’s and not in the midst of punk when it was big or not in the midst of thrash metal when it was big, it has allowed me to draw influence from all kinds of shit. Yeah, I listen to Dinosaur JR, and I listen to Slayer, and I listen to Black Flag, but I also listen to Donna Summer and Ween and the Allman brothers without being bound to one thing,

Danny: Just appreciating music-

Karina: I fucking love heavy metal, if that was the only thing I listened to I wouldn’t appreciate it, I like contrast.

Josh: There are so many bands that are so derivative of 3 bands, everyone’s a Pantera clone or a Lamb of God clone, I think it’s very important for us to come at it from a much more musical perspective.

Karina: You can always tell, especially with a metal band that has super limited influence, they’re kind of trapped almost and don’t have any ideas that come from any where else.

Josh: We still rip off metal bands, it’s just harder to tell.

Karina: If I was alive in the summer of ‘69 and I was only listening to Donovan and super hippied out shit… then you get more into a box. It’s kind of cool to be making music and thinking about music now after all that shit has happened, so you can draw on different genres.

TNL: When I was growing up the metal scene was the dominant thing, Metallica came out…everybody I talk to, no matter where they’re from, they’re like “and then I heard ‘Blackened’ and my life was changed forever.” So my generation had a definitive movement. Now, looking at the music scene there is nothing I see as the defining trend. I was in High School when PE came out and that was so ground breaking.

Karina: We get to pick and choose from a huge scope of great music, I remember where I was when I heard Master of Puppets for the first time, I remember where I was when I heard Licensed to Ill for the first time, 2 very different things, but I love them both.

TNL: When I was working on UnBlock the Rock, I always wanted to have a female presence on stage, and it was always you and Jennifer Hernandez of Escape. In New York City! And then I met Jessica Pimental of Alkehine’s Gun who wanted to participate but she was so busy. So there were 3 women that I could find in NYC who knew how to play metal. Was that ever intimidating or scary to you, the metal scene being so male dominated?

Karina : To be straight with you I had very few female friends my age, I only had older female friends, and I continue to live that way. So to me, whether I was playing music with dudes or just hanging out, it was kind of just the people I was hanging out with. The whole reason I started playing in the first place was my friend Bobby during 8th grade recess threw a guitar in my hands and taught me how to play. I was like ‘Holy shit, I can do this? Let’s do this!’ I started playing punk cause it’s easy to play and just kept going. I recently heard someone say, ‘I’m not a woman in music, I’m a musician in music,’ I kind of dug that. I’m just trying to play like every body else is, and trying to do a great job.

TNL: So, ShitKill comes together in 2009, tell us about the name.

Damien: It was in Hudson NY where my dad lived at the time and it was just me and Josh going to do an open mic.

Josh: We didn’t have a name, I think your dad put us down as “Children of Metal”. We had a whole bunch of terrible names, like “Blind Justice.”  We were driving up and looking at these signs, Fishkill and Sawkill, and Catskill, and you know what? Shitkill, just for the day, wouldn’t that be funny?

A lot of people we know tried to get us to change the name because they said no one would book us, but people are still booking us still.

TNL: Has it been an issue if you’re advertising a show on SOU and they can’t say your name on the air?

Danny: We had that one show in Long island and they listed us as Scrumkil.

Josh: At this point, it’s got to be more good for us than harm.

Damien: Even if we were on some talk show, it’s just got to be funny enough.

Danny: Because as soon as you say the name, people always ask, “Oh, so what do you play and how did you come up with that name?”

Josh: It’s an instant conversation everytime.

TNL: So what are your aspirations?

Josh: We want to play loud rock and roll music for a lot of people a lot of the time.

Damien: The aspiration is to share the craziness and the fun. Hopefully there’s enough money involved to stay alive. That would be a nice feature.

Josh: I assume I’m going to be eating ramen noodles for the rest of my life and I’ve made peace with that.

Me: After you opened for EHG the other night, Jimmy Bowers told you your future was bright. The music you played that night sound much more hard core than the music on your cd, is that a direction you’re evolving in?

Josh: I’ve been getting into a lot more hard core music, we’re kind of drifting a little bit, we’re finding out own thing.

Danny: It’s also the last sequence of shows we’ve been playing.

Josh: Metal played with that real disgusting evil raw energy, that’s why Slayer was so great, because they were into Minor Threat and Black Flag and Dead Kennedys. To me, that’s what makes it real.

 TNL: Was there a moment where you were like, this is it, this is what I want to do!

Damien: When we played in the THOR show at the Highline Ball room, and we were introduced…normally, clapping and screaming is next but that was the first time it all blended together into this roar. Hearing that sound, maybe that wasn’t the moment, but hearing that sound was, it was great.

Josh: Everytime you get on stage, whether there are 3 people or 500 people, getting up there and putting my foot up on the amp and getting my sound and screaming in the mic, I’m more comfortable there than any place in the world and I can’t imagine a scenario for my life where I don’t try to do that everyday. I don’t know if there was a moment I decided that, I just knew.

Danny: It’s always the most recent amazing thing that we do, whether that’s a show or a new song we wrote, it grows on top of what we already have. That keeps you going. There’s so many other things that I do, music is just not something I’m willing to give up.

Rykman: Going back to the H20 show at the Gramercy, and we shared backline with everyone and we had the entire stage. I hadn’t felt that feeling of being able to run around and occupy the stage…it just felt so fucking good. And the DRI show recently, a couple of songs I looked up and the place was crazy and people were going fucking bananas…

Danny: there were moments during DRI where I would reach out and shake hands with people I didn’t know, it was crazy

Josh: A guy came up to me at a ramen joint on 52nd and he was like, “Hey Shitkill, you guys were awesome! Just the fact that people know our name, that’s kind of amazing to me.”

 

ShitKill, Europa, BK June 2014
ShitKill, Europa, BK June 2014

Catch ShitKill July 13, 2014 at The Emporium in Patchoque NY, opening up for Coldsteel!

More info: www.shitkill.com

 

Break Everything and Smile: Godmaker

Godmaker, May 2014
Godmaker, May 2014

 I was initially blown away by Jon Lane when Bröhammer played a benefit at the Trash Bar in Brooklyn for UnBlock the Rock, a campaign for Cuban metal. Years later, I would meet Kyle, knower of all things metal in Brooklyn, at an Eyehategod show who said, “If you liked Bröhammer, you’ll love Godmaker.” Lo and behold, there was Lane once again, the brains and the beats behind the emerging band Godmaker. Friday the 13th brought me good luck and I got to skype down with Andrew Archey (bass) and Jon Lane (drums) and their dog to talk about their place in the Brooklyn metal scene.

 TNL: How was Godmaker born?

Jon Lane: I was playing in Bröhammer and I was in Crows on Vultures and they were both fun, they were all people I loved, but we weren’t playing the music that I was really wanting to, music that I felt like was me, so I sort of hashed out an idea in my head and there was a cute little door girl who worked at Guitar Center who kept trying to talk to me about music, who turned out to be Andrew Archey…

Archey: He’s not lying.

Lane: Seriously, he had amazing girl hair and a chin strap, it was fantastic.This kid who we worked with pulled us together to jam with him for some Lamb of God-y, not horrible, but very generic-y metal stuff, at Ultrasound, and it was just very obvious watching us that the only thing happening in that room was me and Archey jamming together. So, it started this long agonizing process of trying to put this band together.

TNL: You get the sense, watching Godmaker on stage, that what makes you so tight on stage exists off stage. How did you guys find each other?

Lane: After a year, our friend Jess who heard about what we were doing, introduced us to Pete (Ross, vocals), and the first time I hung out with him, he was talking about getting a hamburger tattoo, he was wearing a Floor shirt and a Godflesh hoodie. And I was like “This guy’s ok, we’ll talk to him.”

By the end of the first practice we knew he was the guy. A couple of practices later he came out with the main riff of “Megolith”, and I told him he no longer had the option of considering not being in our band at any time.

I had a random conversation with Chris (Strait, guitar) with whom I had been in a hardcore band, a very techy, mathy, cathartic hardcore band, in Kansas for many years. I hadn’t even considered him as an option because it was so far from what we had been doing. He told me he was going to move to LA and be in his friend’s band and play bass. I was like “Dude, you’re not a bass player, I don’t want to be a dick but you don’t waste hands like that on bass.”

Archey: I’m just going to pretend you don’t exist for the rest of the night.

Lane: I get that a lot. I was like “Dude if you’re talking about moving across the country to be in a band…A. fuck LA, B. our band’s better.” He responded with, Is this the band that’s “crushingly destructive, and very 70’s”?                                                                           We moved him in on St. Patty’s Day.

TNL: Let’s talk about Bröhammer for a second, that was such an incredible line up of musicians, Nick Cageo who is now in Mutoid Man, James Danzo who’s in Deceased…

Lane: That band started as a joke. Which is why it’s pronounced, “Brew Hammer”. It was originally me and Nick (Cageo), and Jeff. Jeff was already playing in Vermefug, Nick was playing in various bands around town, we worked with this guy Pete Macy (Early man), a giant sweetheart and ridiculous guitar player.

BroHammer was the original joke name, and then one of them, I forget who modified it. They were like “Dude, we don’t hammer bro’s, we hammer brews!” Genius. And then Joe Silver joined the band, and we’re like, Oh, this guy’s insanely talented. We conned James Danzo from Vermefug to jump in and suddenly it was a real band and we didn’t know what to do with it, which was a recurring theme.

TNL: Archey, where did you come from musically?

Archey: In the interim of us trying to figure out band members, I was just doing random hired shows, which caught me for about 6 months playing in a goth synth rock band. Which is a completely different story for a completely different time.

Lane: He or we are all lucky enough that he grew up in a family who knew the music industry pretty well and had a really vast catalog, like Archey knows shit about Kansas bands that I know people from Kansas don’t know.

TNL: How and when did you start playing drums? How and when did you start playing bass?

Lane: I started playing drums before Andrew Archey was born. That’s not a joke.           My brother was into music for like a month a half when he was a kid which was just long enough to bring home “And Justice For All”. By the time “Blackened” was over, I knew like 3 things: This is my new favorite band, I have to be a musician and I have to play the drums, get me lessons right fucking now.

With mild dry spells involving college –

Archey: What’s that?

Lane: I’ve been going for 25 years.

Archey: I started playing bass at about 9 years old. The thing is my dad used to work for Gibson guitars. I grew up in their office around instruments all day.

My brother started playing drums around the same time. All the bands I played with in NJ were with my younger brother, who is now off doing things I want to be doing instead of you know, working to pay my rent,

I had a bizarre upbringing ‘cause I was kind of exposed to just about everything. I would learn random rock and punk songs and all that kind of shit in the midst of taking lessons. Toward the end I was learning old Motown tracks and I think that’s where became not as white as I am or appear to be and I actually grew a bit of a pocket, which seems to be a little too deep every time we jam.

That’s about it. I wish I had something glorious . I could say I played tambourine when I was 5 for Hootie.

Lane: Let’s not gloss over that.

Chris Strait, Saint Vitus, May 2014
Chris Strait, Saint Vitus, May 2014

TNL: I think that ‘s crucial, that should be in the liner notes.

Lane: I’m looking at the tambourine right now.

Archey: Dude still remembers me, I don’t remember being up there.

Lane: How could you not remember that?

Archey: Would you want to remember that?

TNL: NYC is the place where it seems some people make it really easily, because they have certain connections. For bands who are just really trying and really talented and really amazing, is it much more difficult these days to break in?

Archey: There are definitely bands that happen to be in the right place at the right time, they were where they needed to be to be looked at by somebody. For everyone else it’s never not a struggle to get noticed, especially out here, because the metal scene out here has grown so much and has become so diverse. You definitely have to find ways to stand out, but you definitely have to work your ass off. You have to play and bring it every time you play a show find ways to separate yourself from everyone else.

It is difficult now because you have so many ways to absorb media, you have Youtube, you have Bandcamp, you have Facebook which links to all of the above, and there’s a million and a half record labels now, kids are starting them in their fucking basement. We want our ep out, it ‘s just that finding the right way so that it’s exposed to as many humans as possible.

TNL: Making sure it got out there and it’s distributed, more than before, artists have to be their own distributors, their own agents…

Archey: I know people who’ve done the whole DIY route and had great success with it, because they don’t have to pay anybody. You’re your own boss. Yeah it takes a lot more work to get it done with the way you can absorb media now, it makes it a lot easier for DIY bands to have a further reach because there’s so many outlets, it’s how you use them.

 TNL: But it’s time consuming, it takes time to post on FaceBook, it takes time to tweet, doesn’t that take away from your time to rehearse?

Archey: Between that and… keeping a roof over our heads, takes precedence, I kinda wish it didn’t, unfortunately money still rules 90% of our lives.

Lane: All of us work full time. Chris has two jobs, we’re working 40 to 50 hours a week.

Archey: Pete’s got a big boy job.

Lane: At the same time, Archey and I are just fucking waiting for the day when we shove all our shit into a storage unit and get the fuck out of town and tour. That’s kind of the goal.

TNL: How do you guys feel, as part of the metal community in BK, about this huge gentrification going on?

Archey: Ok, it’s pushing us out of the expensive neighborhoods, that used to be cheap, but with that it does expand places for us to play. The Acheoron is still in a fairly desolate area-

Lane: It still costs a fuck ton of money to live over there.

Archey: My biggest joy about being out here is that the metal scene is pretty much the biggest brotherhood of friends that I ever had. When I played in NJ, everybody hated each other, nobody liked each other, you had maybe one band you were friends with…out here we all hang out together, are possibly in two to three side projects together, hang out at each other’s houses, throw parties…

Lane: I grew up in Lawrence, Kansas, it was a tight little group, a handful of bands that were pretty successful. I’ll still rock a “Coalesce” t-shirt, I’m actually wearing an “Esoteric” shirt now that I look. It was a very positive scene, when I moved out here I never expected to find that again.

Saint Vitus to me is what the Bottleneck was in Lawrence, it has such a familiar vibe where you just walk in and know everybody, and there’s so many familiar faces, it’s like that everywhere.

TNL: It is very communal, I’m new to that scene but already I saw like 10 people I knew at your show the other night (Grand Victory, June 2, 2014). At the show, moreso than before, live Godmaker sounded like if the Allman Brother’s went really heavy. There’s such a country influence, something that seperates you from everyone else.

Lane: I wouldn’t use the word country. A thing that’s really important for me is swing. I need music to have a little swagger to it, I hate that teenage hip hop fans have ruined that word, I need that.

TNL: It’s not country perse, but if I heard the music and someone told me half the band is from Kansas, it wouldn’t surprise me at all.

Lane: What’s funny is that zero percent of that is Chris’ fault as of yet. Pete writes some pretty fucking redneck riffs now and then. There’s a song that will be on the next record that the first time Pete played the riff, I was like, “No, no. That’s awesome but you have finally done it, you have finally written a riff that is too hill billy I can’t do it.” I then walked around with that riff stuck in my head for an entire week and figured out a way to make it work and thought, Ok now, now we’re going to do that. I’m insisting that we call that song “Purple Drank”, so you’ll know it. But Kansas isn’t the South.

Jon Lane, Grand Victory, June 2014
Jon Lane, Grand Victory, June 2014

TNL: The south isn’t country either, I think blues is more the south…

Archey: There’s a lot of that with us too.

Lane: My friend Jeremy and I had a hard core band when I was back in Kansas. We both wanted a band that created this atmosphere that when we were on stage… I’m a total priss about my gear, because I was a po’ kid and never had nice shit, and spent a lot of money on my shit, but my goal in that band was: “I want this band to make me want to break everything on this stage that belongs to me and fucking smile while I’m doing it.”

I need that. And Godmaker does that times ten. I’ve never put so much into a band, and I’ve never gotten nearly as much out. We haven’t really done that much with it yet, but every time we’re on stage…

Archey: I don’t even think she saw Pete shake his ass yet

Lane: When Pete starts shaking his ass on stage it’s kind of the best thing ever.

TNL: I think I’m afraid to see that. That idea kind of terrifies me.

Lane: It’s wonderful.

Pete Ross, Grand Victory, June 2014
Pete Ross, Grand Victory, June 2014

TNL How did you come up with the name?

Lane: We spent an awful long time trying to find a name that was as big as we wanted the sound of this band to be. It took us forever. I remember stumbling over the name Kingmaker, and thinking that’s good, I need something bigger than that. Wait a minute, google search, google search, no one has used that yet!

 Archey: Pete actually suggested Pink Disaster.

Lane: Don’t look into that.

TNL: Tell me about the new EP coming out.

Lane: Well it’s us, so it’s four songs and it’s about 33 minutes. It’s kind of the “Hi, we’re Godmaker thing.” It’s fully done, it’s fully mastered, we’ve got cover art by Joe Silver, which is fucking ridiculous, as you would probably expect if you’ve seen our shirts which is also his.

TNL: If you were forced to label this record, if you were forced to qualify your music, categorize your music, how would you pitch it to someone, what genre would you put it in?

Archey: Loud.

Lane: Very fucking loud. I always thought the best bands that don’t know how to describe themselves are usually the best ones because they’re usually not aiming for a thing. Ours has always been about no boundaries, it’s always going to get weirder.

TNL: That’s the point right? To keep pushing yourself, and to not do the same thing over and over again.

Lane: People will lob stoner and doom and there are definitely even prog aspects to it, which I don’t like to use because then everyone puts on their glasses and starts counting beats…

 Archey: I kind of like to keep it as “metal”, the whole subgenre kind of annoys me to an extent because it confuses 90% of the people who don’t know what it is. They’re like what’s stoner metal? What’s prog metal?There are parts that are all over the place and touch a lot of different aspects in different subgenres and quite honestly, there’s a lot of straight up rock shit going on.

Lane: We’re a fucking band, you know?

You can catch Godmaker at The Acheron on July 18th, killing it with Mammal and Mortals at their CD release party. For more info on Godmaker: facebook.com/godmakerbk.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Eyehategod Iloveyou. Europa, Sat. June 7, 2014.

I want to place my palms on Mike Williams’ chest and ask a question because I know he will tell me the truth. He is wearing a Ouija board shirt, hanging out in the green (red) room of Club Europa before the show Saturday night. Mike Williams is the truest of the true, you know this intuitively when you see EHG live. There is no fucking around. There is plenty of fucking around.

Eyehategod rocks. Literally.  Drummer Aaron Hill’s pounding announces the beginning of the show and the band begins to sway, forward and back, as though in a trance, summoning? Exhuming? Doing whatever it is they do before bringing us, the audience, where we need to go. It’s a meditation, a private ritual we witness. It reminds me somehow of the ascension of a roller coaster; looking straight up into the sky with the anticipation of careening straight down with your hands up.

Jimmy Bower is wearing a t-shirt, on the back it says “We owe you nothing.”  They give us everything on stage, everything is up for grabs, for us to take and annihilate.

Eyehategod’s self-titled release on Housecore Records is the insides of Charles Bukowski, including his obliterated liver and sad and genius brain, reconfigured as a collection of punk rock sludge metal.

I was introduced to EHG by David Peisner, a writer who has written for, among others, Rolling Stone and SPIN. David and I collaborated on UnBlock the Rock, a campaign to bring Cuban metal to the United States back in March of 2013. To raise funds for airfare and visas, etc we put together a compilation, “The Red Album” including “International Narcotic” by Eye Hate God solicited by David. Which begins like this:

“They take the most holy man they got, you dig? And treat him as worse as they can, degrading, drag him through all kinds of shit, spit on him, cuss him, just do everything and then turn around and go to church and worship him on Sunday. And think you’re gonna get away with it….Don’t work that way.”

I email Mike, Is that you.

That’s Charlie Manson, he writes back.

Eyehategod’s self-titled release on Housecore Records is what punching someone in the face sounds like. And/or fucking.

Only EHG can do what they’re doing. Can play the music they’re playing. The heavily textured and complex wall of noise that is EHG sounds like mental illness, sounds like drug addiction, sounds like the inside of a prison cell. Sounds like a criminal record.

Eyehategod’s self-titled release on Housecore Records is finally here.

In November 2013, I was recovering surely but slowly from a long bout of depression where I did not leave the house. Depression is debilitating, mentally and physically, and sometimes I just could not open the door. With the help of some meds and an incredible support network, I could face the world again. The first place I went was The Acheron in Brooklyn, to see EHG perform for the first time.

I suppose a cousin of depression is anxiety and I was anxious about being around other people. I was anxious to be out. There is always a moment where I am wishing there is a flash flood or a regional earthquake that ruins everything and everything  is canceled so I can justify staying inside. Thankfully The Acheron is not a douchy rock club. Thankfully the people who go there just love metal.

Before EHG, I position myself at the front of the stage, where I meet Kyle, knower of all things metal in Brooklyn.  I am sandwiched in between him and another guy who is a metal afficionado. “Have you seen them before?” Kyle asks. “No, this is my first time.” Kyle exchanges knowing glances with the other dude, smiling. “I love seeing people at an EHG show for the first time,” the other dude says and then Kyle launches into a quick history of the band. I still don’t know what to expect. I’ve been going to shows all my life. I’ve had my share of black eyes and broken toes. Why are they smiling?

EHG takes the stage a couple of minutes later, and I am submersed in elbows and sneaker heels almost immediately. I am still shooting but nervous for my flash which lands at my feet. I am still shooting but nervous for me because now I am old and I smoked for a long time and took Depovera forever, and am a serious candidate for osteoporosis. I seek refuge, trying to navigate my way to the outer circumference of the crowd, but The Acheron is “intimate” so the crowd is dense. I make my way into the bathroom to investigate my flash. Not only is my flash ok, I am better too.

I am reborn.

Eyehategod’s self-titled release on Housecore Records is everything we’ve been waiting for.

As of June 10, 2014 EHG is all over Billboard, cracking the Top 200, and as number 7 on the Tastemaker chart right under Michael Jackson. A review of their show on Saturday was written up passionately by Ben Ratliffe for the New York Times. Their future is bright, it only took 26 years and the tenacity to continue after the death of drummer and founder Joey LaCaze last year. (LaCaze is the drummer on the album). There is no question where EHG is headed, although I’m not quite sure how much redemption and destruction they’ll leave in their wake.

Eyehategod’s self-titled release on Housecore Records is 1234567890 goodbye.

More photos of Eyehategod available here: https://flic.kr/s/aHsjYM3NHX

 

We Are the Mayor: The Election of Ras Baraka

I want to say I’ve worked on 3 campaigns for Ras; one when he was a 24 year old returning graduate from Howard University and ran against incumbent Sharpe James just because. Because no one else ran against Sharpe James. Two other campaigns when he ran as Councilman-At-Large for the City of Newark. I’ve worked on three campaigns, but I worked 5 election days for Ras, as he has always won, but for some reason or another, there was a run-off and he had to run again.

Working Election Day for an independent campaign is an eternal vacuum of time and space punctuated by a brown paper bag with a sad white bread cold cut sandwich and a can of warm coke. You arrive at a polling place at some ungodly hour in a ridiculously large t-shirt to zealously attack the unfortunate souls who go to vote on their way to work with your literature a designated amount of feet away from the door. Because of course, they left for work half an hour early to vote even though they weren’t sure who they were voting for until you jumped at them armed with a smile, a slogan and a sticker.

After a flurry of 2 or 3 early morning voters, you are left to commune with the facade of a school, the mailman and a tree should there be one. If you get too close to the entrance, someone will come and yell at you to go farther away. Until, around 5 pm, there is another flurry of voters, when the opposing, well-funded candidate’s people show up, in their well-fitting t-shirts, outnumbering you with their arms and hands and door tags, but they cannot outnumber your voice, they cannot shout you down, even though in your boredom you have smoked a pack of cigarettes, your only accomplice for the day, your only witness to the slow passage of time. You can shout louder, because even though you’ve spent the day alone, you are imbued with the power of the people. 8 pm arrives, and you are hopeful and hoarse.

The last campaign I worked on in 2000, I had an idea that I wanted to document the campaign, but I couldn’t stop working on it. I didn’t know then the difference between observing and participating, how you cannot do both. You cannot pick up a phone to call potential voters in one hand and a camera and a notebook in another. But I couldn’t not work on the campaign. I grew up in many ways campaigning for Ras, and in campaigning for Ras, campaigning for the people of Newark, and in campaigning for the people of Newark, campaigning for all of us. Campaigning for me.

I was a 20 year old Rutger’s student the first time I went to Newark and met the Barakas. In my subjective memory, as student organizers from Rutgers, my friends and I were immediately committed to waking up early every Saturday to go door to door and campaign in Newark. it was an easy sell. We liked going to Newark. We liked organizing. We were proud to be a part of this movement.

Six years later, I would move to Newark. I lived on Clinton and Fabian in the South Ward, only a few blocks up the street from the Barakas. The bus stop for the 34 which took me to work at Thirteenth Avenue School was right on the corner. As I waited for the bus in the morning, young men would stand, obviously, shuffling from one foot to the next with their hands stuffed in their pockets on the corner across the street. As cars, nice cars, I suppose from Montclair and other fancy places? Summit? pulled over to talk with the young men, old boys really, they ran over to where I was standing, past me to the doorway of the laundromat where, on the ledge above the door, they grabbed little packets and ran back to the cars, idling across Clinton Ave. We became friendly. “I totally thought you guys made your own hours!” I said, with a sense of wonder.

It was during this time that I would work on two more campaigns for Ras, campaigns born out of that Brick City pulse, campaigns born out of generations of theory and practice.

There is a very fine line between participating and observing, and once you master that line, that is where you find true art. It is the practice of going into real life, head first, emotionally, spiritually, physically, politically and culturally, openly, willing to be completely exposed and vulnerable and then knowing when to pull back for a moment and process everything that has happened. And then recording that experience. That is Picasso’s “Guernica”, that is Ginsberg’s “Howl”, that is the “When I’m the Mayor, We’re the Mayor” campaign for Ras Baraka.

Youth for Baraka canvassing in Georgia King Village moments before voting closes. May 13, 2014
Youth for Baraka canvassing in Georgia King Village moments before voting closes. May 13, 2014

The mastery of this fine line is what makes Amiri, Amina and Ras such great poets, such authentic revolutionaries. Consistently immersed in Newark, specifically, and the lives of black people more generally, and the lives of working people even more generally, they know exactly when to pull back and record the experience either as a poem, or a collection of poems, or a people’s campaign (which is poetry in action if you think about it). (Or the scientific application of love.)

I left Newark after living in three different apartments over a period of three years. I didn’t intend to leave Newark, Newark kind of kicked me out. It was for the best. I continued to teach in Newark, until 2009, after our amazing principal left and was replaced with some knucklehead dummy that the Newark Board of Ed, a visionless collective adorned in cheap suits, put there to carry out “No Child Left Behind” a nationwide educational policy imposed on public schools under a president who had every educational opportunity afforded to him but still could not negotiate proper, basic subject verb agreements.

Mayor-Elect Ras Baraka on the steps of City Hall after his acceptance speech.
Mayor-Elect Ras Baraka on the steps of City Hall after his acceptance speech.

I had not been back really. Newark was like an ex-lover it would be awkward to see, we would look down at our feet and make small talk not knowing really how to begin or what to say.

When I got to the South Ward HQ at around 1 pm on May 13th with another friend I had cut my activism teeth with, Barbara Horne, it wasn’t long before we ended up on the Baraka bus, splayed with, “When I become Mayor, We Become Mayor”. Gone were the days of the lonely poll worker.

Barb and I got on the bus with some dedicated supporters and drove around, and like renegades of injustice, blasting music and dancing at the polling places. In the streets. At the gas station. Where ever we showed up, volunteers for Baraka danced with us, sometimes even the volunteers from the Jeffries campaign would join in.

I wasn’t surprised at all to see the overwhelming, not support, but collaboration with Ras, his team and the people of Newark. Not only am I personally elated, not just for Ras and Amina, and Bird and Aziz and Juba and Mark and everybody who has been working with Ras to transform Newark for the last 20 years, but I am ecstactic that Chris Christie will have to contend with someone who is smarter and more compassionate, and who has ties with the people that Christie has been stomping all over for the last 5 years. Christie may have been able to buy Corey Booker, but Ras Baraka, and indeed the city of Newark, is not for sale.

That night after Ras gave his acceptance speech at the Robert Treat Hotel, Ras, followed by throngs of people, left the hotel and took to the streets marching toward City Hall. Around 10 pm? 11 pm? Everyone congregated at City Hall, some people assembled on the stairs of City Hall, some people assembled in front. It was that historic moment where the people of Newark stood, at once observing and participating, witnessing their own victory, seeing themselves as governing and governed, recognizing the relation between the two, and became the Mayor of Newark.

More photos on The Election of Ras Baraka here: https://flic.kr/s/aHsjY2JpV5

 

 

 

 

 

 

Godmaker, #becauseloud

Godmaker, #becauseloud

It’s almost impossible to reconcile the sweetness of  Pete Ross with his severe on stage presence as the lead singer for Godmaker. As they’re loading out of their rehearsal space, Pete says, “Tracey, do you want to see my new guitar?” He lovingly takes it out of his case and presents it like a first time father presents a new born. A little later we’re talking about all the events in his life that led him to Godmaker: Laguardia, Julliard, a hard core tour . “I was kicked out of my last band,” he tells me. “For drugs. This summer I’ll be sober for a year.” I’m kind of thrown by his openness, his willingness to be so vulnerable so immediately. Later, when Godmaker hits the stage, I realize it’s the same thing he forces from the audience; there is no small talk, it’s an immediate moment of truth.

Bassist Andrew Archey is covered in tattoos and recovering from a particularly social weekend packing t-shirts to bring to the show. This band is ambitious, they have every size in three different styles. While Jon Lane, one of the most powerful drummers on the east coast, breaks down his kit at the practice spot, they banter back and forth like brothers, and there is something so familial about it, it’s hard to believe they didn’t grow up in the same house. Archey is from Edison, NJ and Lane is from Lawrence, Kansas.

Chris Strait, Godmaker’s guitar player, also from Kansas, pulls up in a spray painted  Kombucha Brooklyn van, exuding health and wholesomeness. And there is something wholesome about Godmaker. Live, they have devised a way to find every empty particle of space and fill it with immediate noise. Every molecule is a hypnotic explosion.  If it’s not love at first sight, you can’t not like this band. They’ve taken everything that’s great about sludge metal and made it their own, but right when you think it’s going to get even heavier, you’re being lured toward some country. Cool country. Country you can smoke blunts to at a friend’s barbecue in their backyard on the 4th of July kind of country. Actually out in the country type country. Kansas type country.

There is something holy about this band. Something about their music will restore your faith in the power of metal. Come and be healed

June 10, 2014 at Grand Victory, 245 Grand St. Brooklyn.  More info about Godmaker here: https://www.facebook.com/godmakerbk

The Many Faces of Doc Coyle

When I think about Doc Coyle, the phrase, “Tall glass of water ” comes to mind. Or “towering mass of yummy.” A beneficiary of the sexual revolution and primary and secondary waves of feminism, it’s almost ok to objectify Doc and his dreamy dreaminess. Except, lucky us, Doc is so much more.

 I’m listening to “Do You Know Who I Am?” by Vagus Nerve, Doc’s latest musical endeavor that’s taking him out to the City of Angels this spring. Half way through I’ve lost track of time. The complexity of the song, the melodies that seem at odds with each other until they reconcile and play very nice together… “Do You Know Who I Am?” posits as many fronts as Doc does himself, it’s not a question, it’s a declaration.

 The following interview took place at my kitchen table on January 23rd, 2014 in Jersey City. It was a discussion more than anything, the way Doc conducts all his interviews, pouring himself out into the world, saying what we’re all thinking but too afraid to say, standing in his own truth.

 

 

My parents never got married. My dad is white, my mother’s black. My parents lived together til I was like five. We lived on Sanford St (in New Brunswick, NJ-ed note) and then we lived in a place called Simplex Avenue. My parents split up when I was in the 1st grade, or something like that, so I don’t really have a recollection of my parents being together. And the memories I do have, they were arguing like crazy, BAD. Horrible arguments. So my dad moved out and got an apartment on Livingston Ave.

Me and my brother would go there for a few days. Our mom had a house… based on our mother not being responsible, sometimes there wouldn’t be enough food, sometimes the lights would be cut out, there’d be no heat. She just wasn’t that responsible. Eventually we went to go live with my dad, I lived with him til I was 15 or 16 years old. I ended up living with my grandparents in Piscataway to go to this private school, Gil St. Bernard. It was the complete opposite, I went from total lower class, black/white urban environment to very wealthy, very white, very small, prestigious private school. But it was super liberal, laid back.

My grandfather was one of the most important and impressive black men in the area during that time. He was the first black real estate agent in Middlesex County. He made a lot of money, he lost a lot of money, he was really respected, he accomplished a lot. He was interested in a lot of things, he would referee basket ball games, and he would sing in church. He would referee games at that school, he basically did some wrangling and pulled some strings and got us in on a scholarship. We still had to get accepted but who knows? Maybe we weren’t that bright. Maybe there was a quota, I don’t know.

I was 15 when we (God Forbid) got together. We kind of started jamming by accident, we started writing original songs because we didn’t know enough covers. The first show ever we played was at The Court Tavern. We were called Manifest Destiny. It was the first time I was in a bar. The smoke affected me so much I had bronchitis the next day.

We played and I was like, “Dad, what did you think?” He said, “You were out of tune.” My dad was a piano player. He couldn’t say, “Great job!” No, “You’re out of tune. Get in tune.”

 We recorded 2 demos as Manifest Destiny that we never put out. They just weren’t that good, so we sat on them. Then we changed the band name to Insolubrious, it was a bad band name. But as a band we got, “Ok, this is not that terrible. This is actually pretty good.”

 

Eventually we got our bass player, John Outcalt, and everyone just got a lot better and we recorded “Out of Misery”. It was a demo we put out on tape, we started playing locally and got a nice little buzz. Our friend, Brian, who worked at a record store, Vintage Vinyl, was like, “Yo, what do you think about putting out your demo as an ep/cd?” We were like, “Cool.” And we put it out. We did some big local shows, we got some airplay on WSOU, people were passing around our demo, but we still couldn’t draw people.

We started hanging out in the hard core scene. There were people there who liked listening to heavy music and no one’s paying to play. We thought, “Our band is better than this band, our band is better than that band, if we could actually start playing in front of these people, we think they would like what we do.”

 Honestly I think we were just around enough and met enough people that eventually “no’s” started becoming “yes’es”. We were just persistent. We’d just keep bothering the same people. Any place that would let us play, we would just go and play. This guy in Pennsylvania got a garage? We would call up, “Does he have a show? Can we play?” Most of the time no, other times yes. You’d get a yes, you’d go down there and maybe there were only 10 people, but one of the guys that’s there is in a band. You meet him, you get his number, you stay in touch, then it’s like, “We’ll get you on a show out here.”

 We were pen pals with Mike D, who’s in Killswitch Engage now but at the time he was in Overcast, Back then a lot of guys in bands would have their cd with an address so you would send your demo to the band. He actually wrote us back, a hand written letter, “This is really cool, I really like this,“ things like that. I remember we played with Lamb of God when they were called Burn The Priest in a garage. We gave them our first cd and they gave us their Burn the Priest cd and we’ve been friends ever since.

We played with Everytime I Die in a book store in Syracuse, NY. We met them, they played their cd they were working on and we just became friends, fast forward 6 years later we were playing Ozfest together. It was definitely a different time, I don’t know if it’s that communal today among young bands.

We did “Out of Misery” and the same guy who put it out said, “I think it’s time to put out a full length album. We ended up doing “Reject the Sickness” with Steve Evans, the producer for Metalcore Records and he just to happened to work really close, at Tracks East. We had gotten a lot better, the material was way better, and he made us play way better than we were. And the record just sounded incredible, musically it was really cool, it didn’t sound like anything else that much, we knew who our influences were, but to a lot of people it was fresh.

Evans and Alan Douches, the guy who mastered “Reject the Sickness”. sent it to Century Media for us because they thought it was really good and that’s always a good sign. Literally I got a call from Tom B who was A&R from Century Media. That NEVER happens. Labels never call people without a multi-month/year long deliberation process of watching the band live and working on their songs and development. I think that gives you an idea of how strong the record was and how much it stood out. It was about a year from when we had the conversation to when we had to sign because of contracts and everything. And that basically changed everything.

Because we had a record deal we had a manager, because we had a manager, we had a tour, because we had a label we could have a bigger record budget. Once all that started happened, everyone quit their jobs and moved home with their parents and just went for it.

We came out in an awkward era, we didn’t come out early enough where everybody just made a lot of money being in a band making record deals. But we didn’t come out late enough where we were prepared for the new way of how things were going to be. If you came out in mid 2000, you basically understood the new way; that you had to promote, the new way you had to tour…we came, we had some decent success, and had some good footing and then everything changed, and not just for us.

 

It was easier if you were already really big and you had a good team with a really good manager and a good label and really basically doing the work to kind of convert to “music 2.0”, whereas the band just makes records, they tour, and everyone else is handling the promotional side, the marketing side, if you were doing it yourself and didn’t have a great aptitude for evolution…I think a lot of bands struggled with that transition.

I left God Forbid in August of 2013. I think I went through, what is that? Post-pardem depression?

I was working on this original project and a cover band project, but things weren’t moving at the pace I wanted things to happen. I took this gig with UnEarth, and the tour ended up getting cancelled.

God Forbid ended and whatever my “new thing” was going to be didn’t develop. I was single for a long time, my immediate family is not really what I think of when I think of a wholesome family environment, it’s just made me think about all these elemental parts of life that I didn’t really have, that I think are important. It’s the reason why people go to church, it’s the reason why people have children, because people want to feel a part of something and I wasn’t a part of something.

I did the same shit for 10 years. My band was everything. I wrote, toured, came home, wrote, toured, hung out with my bro. That was it. Then my brother left the band, my girlfriend broke up with me. Then my grandmother passed away. I was living with my grandmother, so it was like this cocoon where life was set in stone: This is where I live, here’s my band, here’ s my bro, here’s my girlfriend. Basically everything was gone, one after the other and I didn’t have feet to stand on.

One thing that should be stated, me and my brother had a very codependent relationship. More so on my end. I didn’t make a lot of friends when I was younger. I didn’t have a lot of my own friends. Because basically, my brother was my best friend. We did everything together.

When I was thirty years old, I was trying to develop friend-making skills. (laughing) And that’s really weird. It’s not common. I don’t have a normal learning curve for development. Sometimes I have to let myself be that because I beat myself up a lot thinking about being behind the ball about certain things. It’s a societal pressure. There’s all this stuff you supposed to be doing: you should have a kid if you’re this age, you should be married if you’re this age.

That weighs in on you. Because people look at you and think, “Oh, you’re a little, hmmmm?” That’s tough for everybody. But that’s the risk you run of being in a band and “going for it”. Like, I’m going to mortgage everything on this, if it doesn’t work out, I’m going to be 10 years behind everyone else in terms of doing normal stuff.

If the band was more successful, and I could buy a house with the money I was making from the band, then I’d be less behind the curve. It’s not like money is the most important thing but money does help you attain the essential amenities of “the adult” standard.

 Vagus Nerve, is actually the biggest nerve in your body that connects your brain to the rest of the nervous system. Me and Ravi Orr, the singer, met through a friend of a friend, started working on material sending traces back and forth, he lives out in Pennsylvania, so the distance always been an issue, as far as getting it going. This past year, we started putting a band together got some really good players but the guitar player was playing in another band, he’s really busy, so it’s been kind of difficult but both me and Ravi are both moving to California.

At the end of the day, you have to take risks. You have to see what else it out there. I if don’t do it now, I’ll probably regret it for the rest of my life. The only reason I was going to stay here was for Vagus Nerve, and me and Ravi had a discussion he & his wife want to move out there too. I’m going to LA because I think there’s more opportunity for a guy like me out there. It’s not zero. It’s zero right now. Zero degrees, zero opportunities, zero chances of going surfing right now.

Ever since I’ve been on my own, things have been consistently getting better. I’ve never done this before, and it’s scary the first time, you think, “Will I be able to eat?” So this is the next challenge. Can I go somewhere and actually make something of myself?

 

Communism and the Art of Detachment

I tried to find my zen initially in July of 2003, at a meditation camp in Thailand. At this world renowned Buddhist training camp, you cannot talk, you cannot write, you cannot read. You meditate for 10 days straight. It supposedly changes your life.

The night before I left for meditation, I went out with a man I had been traveling with, a man I now believe to be the one who got away, and drank my whole face off. In Chang Mai somewhere.

His name was Brett and he was, besides my sister, the funniest person I ever met. I don’t have specific memories of us together, per se. Looking back, I see myself hinged at the waist, mouth stretched back, eyes clenched tight, tears streaming down my cheeks and him by my side.

I met Brett on the train to Chang Mai. He was accompanied by a Belgian girl who had the affectations of a drunk heiress; her arms were forever bent at the elbows, at any moment you could pop a long fancy cigarette holder into her crooked fingers, her head was eternally engaged in an lolly neck roll. At any given moment, she might be facing the ground directly, or resting her forehead on her shoulder. There was also a french existentialist in our little group. In the movie of my memory, he is wearing a black beret.

We ventured out to a monkey park together because one night, eating our pad thai and drinking our Thai iced coffee, we bumped into a daddy tourist who told us he took his young son to the  monkey park where the monkeys played basketball. Monkeys playing basketball! I envisioned an arangutan dribbling the ball down the court with another arangutan about to steal the ball, and then the first arangutan, in a black and green sleeveless jersey of course, does a spin and twists in the air, lay up, Score! How big were they? I thought. How high was the net?

“It’s great,” the daddy tourist said, peeling a three year old off his shoulder and trying to stand. “You’ll love it.”

That’s not really how monkey basketball is played. The monkey is on a chain, nightmarish techno pounds in the background and a pretty young Thai girl is the sports commentator. There are no teams. There is one monkey. The monkey’s name, a spider monkey with a metal collar chained to what looks like a hot dog cart, bleeding from the ass, is Oscar, and the young woman is not commentating, she is screaming into the microphone over the techno, “Osca, go trow ball Osca!” The monkey approaches the basket, which is not that far away, and not that high, and nonchalantly tosses the ball more or less in the general direction of the basket. He wants to die. He is depressed. His ass is on fire. The Thai woman shakes her head yes, excitedly clapping with the mike in one hand, encouraging us with smiling eyes, her overzealous cheer telling us this is ok. “Ok Osca!” In the bleachers, there’s an apparently inebriated Belgian woman having a hard time sitting up straight with her rolly skull and a morose french guy disdaining Brett and I in his journal when we are trying to catch our breath. We have succumbed to a severe case of the giggles because it’s really the most horrific thing in the whole world.

They left our little travel group and Brett and I went on to take Thai cooking classes together, go to discos, get Thai massage and facials, ride elephants. I bought him an ethnic hat at the market that was a red, blue and fluorescent green thimble with a dangly sash bumping his nose. Ha ha ha. People in Thailand wear silly clothes! Ha ha ha. Ancient traditions are funny.

It came time for me to go to my meditation camp and change my life. A bender was in order. The night itself wasn’t so memorable, but the amount of beer we drank was.

Brett and I platonically shared a room that particular evening. I might have even left the festivities early the night before, in any event, I was the first one to wake up in the morning and I went for my breakfast that was included in my 7$ a night room. Eggs, tomato, toast, coffee. I remembered thinking, “Oh, my malaria pill. Let me take that now.” I popped one in my mouth.

It didn’t take long for my malaria medication to have a serious discussion with the alcohol careening through my blood stream. The label specifically said not to mix the two, they don’t play well together. Until that point, I had always interpreted warning labels on medication as suggestions. Waiting until the last day of antibiotics to start drinking, for example, was like using a dental dam. It’s a good idea but nobody does that.

Malaria pills and alcohol meeting each other has the same chemical reaction of a baking soda vinegar volcano. Except, in your ass. I was still at the breakfast table when the patron saint of puke gave me a sign. I ran upstairs to my room. Thankfully, Brett had emerged from the bed and I could pass on the warning.

“You should leave now,” I told him. I locked my self in the bathroom and was, is, eternally grateful the sink and the toilet were so close to each other.

This type of two way would happen to me only one other time; after eating seafood at Wakamba, a restaurant in Cuba, 7 years later. No malaria or excessive drinking required.

I left the bathroom, took a few steps and collapsed on the bed. Brett returned. I warned him, never, under any circumstances, go into that bathroom. From my pillow, I groaned, “Brett, my malaria pills made me so sick.”

“You might as well just get malaria then,” he said. This seemed logical, and I left my medication on the dresser.

When I left for meditation, perhaps Brett when back to bed. Perhaps he went into the bathroom. He never tried to contact me again.

This particular meditation group was free. Donations were accepted. It was 10 days long, and you meditated all day. There were occasional breaks where you could walk, but there was no speaking, writing, or reading. There were instructional videos we would watch at night. About how to detach. Aside from not being accustomed to meditation at all, I couldn’t find a comfortable position to sit in for eight hours. My back hurt. My knees hurt. My ADD was killing me.

My stomach was killing me. I tried to endure it, for three days. I thought I could meditate myself to better health. Then, on the third night, I thought maybe I was really sick, maybe there was internal bleeding. Maybe my intestines had burst. I had taken a detour on my journey to spiritual enlightenment.

To leave, you had to ask permission from the head yogi. This was kind of embarrassing. Something I would certainly scoff at had it been someone else. They called a taxi and sent me back to Bangkok. I went to the emergency room. It cost me 15$ for the visit and for the medicine. Apparently, I tore my stomache lining with my emmy worthy exhumation in the bathroom.

I got some medicine and a room in a hotel with a little pool in the front in city center. I was down, but not out. I spent a day in the pool and read a book by Jose Saramango. I watched BBC. There is something really special about watching the BBC news in a hotel room. It makes me feel fancy.

I left for Cambodia the next day. I think, for the most part, I was either complacent enough in my depression or content enough with my actual life, that I left any Buddhist aspirations to the side.

Six years later, it would occur to me that Buddhism might just be my salvation when the school where I worked for 9 years was collapsing. I was finding it really hard not to strangle 95% of my co- workers. I sat down and thought to myself, what can I do before I strangle that woman to death and go to prison? What alternatives do I have? I found a Buddhist retreat, for three and not 10 days, that was not so austere. We could talk to each other. We could read. There was coffee.

Kadampa changed my life, and I began practicing, irregularly, but still, practicing, at Dharma Punx in the East Village. Any one who has not died by my hands at my old school owes Josh Korda their lives.

I tell you all that to tell you this. I made a movie about heavy metal. I cashed in my pension, which probably would not be there in 30 years thanks to mismanagement by the state government for the last 25 years. I may or may not be here in 30 years. I quit my job, gave away all my stuff, said goodbye and left for Cuba.

Before I left Jersey City in June 2009, the very last thing I did was go visit my friend Hamlet. Hamlet has been living with HIV for over 20 years, with full blown AIDS for the last 6 or 7. He has been ready to die for a while, but life is fighting him. He lives in a hospice up the street. He has lived there, maybe 5 years. My darling friend Michael was driving me to my sister’s where I would live for the next 4 days. The car was packed. I had an hour to see Hamlet before I left.

Walking into the hospice center, you are accosted by the scent of decay and piss and ammonia. I hate that place. Somehow, it brings out the best in me. I am forced to be happy there. I am not rotting away on a gurney. When I am there as a tenant and not a visitor, push me down the stairs, pull the plug, drive me into the river. I am totally on Hamlet’s side. He is ready to go.

I have seen Hamlet corpse-like in an ICU. I have sat and read to him when he was a 60 lb shell, plugged into so many devices. This was different somehow.

Hamlet was in the bed, barely propped up. It was July 1st. It was hot and sunny. He was in the bed, with the curtains drawn tight. The room was dark. The room is always dark. Hamlet was in the fetal position with chalky remains of his insides all over his lips and the garbage strategically placed near the bed. Maybe he would lift his head and spit and it would land somewhere in the vicinity of the mouth of the garbage can. Not necessarily.

Hi honey, how are you, I ask.

Exquisite, he says. He was.

I wish now I had remembered that moment more while I was in Cuba. On my to do list of making a documentary, I didn’t put: #4. Confront my own limitations of discipline and/or patience. I didn’t know. When I left for Cuba, I loved Cuba. I wish, after being there for 6 months, I didn’t hate Cuba for being Cuba.

It wasn’t that the country was poor. It was. Or that things were difficult. They were. My biggest problem was accepting a whole cultural system which includes making everything a really difficult process. Es un processo, people would tell me, shaking their heads, like, I don’t know, martyrs in the Bible or something. Like time consuming, unnecessary procedures were like the the horizon separating sun and sea. That’s how it is. Man has no control, no agency. Cubans are resolved to believe that bureacracy and wasting your time is as inevitable as the next crisis of imperialism. Or sunsets.

I waited 6 hours to buy bus tickets! I would tell my adopted family. No es facile, the mommy, replied, shaking her head. But in regards to easy things. Like buying bus tickets. For some reason that is a really difficult, time consuming process. No es facile is the Cuban equivalent of in God we Trust. It’s engraved in the capital and imprinted on currency.

And I think, if I was in Guatemala, and it took a long time, I wouldn’t have been so annoyed. (and it does not take a long time in Guatemala, or anywhere else to buy bus tickets. And then they tell you that you cannot travel together because there are different busses for Cubans and foreigners. Ha! Martin Luther King Center my ass.) But this is in a country that posits itself as the vanguard in human development and progress. Well, I think your hepatitis vaccine is awesome. Why does it take an eternity to buy a fucking bus ticket?

I tried to be joyful. I tried to embrace everything I had and not focus on what I did not. I feel as though I cultivated more Buddhist zen in Havana in 9 months than I would have in India over a life time. My gurus: Escape. Do you want to hear something funny? Jenny would tell me, smacking her hands together and laughing. She tells me a story about how they waited for a bus for an hour at 2 am in the morning. Once it came, it only travelled one or two more stops until it made everybody get out and wait another hour for another bus. Isn’t that funny? she asks again. No, I say. No, that’s awful.

But in Cuba, awful must be funny. Because if you don’t laugh, well, you have no alternative. You can’t just walk around being angry all the time, because you will just be angry all the time. You certainly can’t protest. You can’t be funny and complain on video, because you will end up under house arrest. Maybe you can write a letter and complain to the CDR, if you can find a piece of paper and something to sharpen the pencil you’ve been holding on to for the last 2 years.

When I think about how I explained to Jenny, Yando and Alejandro how I was studying Buddhism when I first arrived in July, I laugh. They must think American buddhists have a strict diet of vodka and cigarettes and curse words.

I am not sure if it’s because everything here is easier, or if because we are allowed to complain when it is not. I am not sure if it’s because I learned the futility of complaint over there. I don’t like who I am when I am complaining. Even if I am right. But I have noticed that I don’t get stressed out anymore, that I am usually calm, or at least calmer, after my Cuban escapade. Namaste, Havana. Namaste.

Statement for Briant, Rockupation of City Hall, June 1, 2012

In dreams I see myself flying…                                                         -Invisible Wounds (Dark Bodies), Fear Factory

I know introducing a photo exhibit on Cuban metal with a Fear Factory  song is strange. I know.

I actually discovered Fear Factory in Havana after spending a month with Escape in 2007. And when I hear Fear Factory, I remember Alejandro Padron, the drummer of Escape, in a larger way, in a way that transcends any kind of sadness I might feel from missing him, from missing everyone in Escape. If I am out somewhere, at a club in NYC, and Fear Factory comes on, I remember Julian in the kitchen, Alejandro’s father, serving me coffee from his rations while music blared down the hallway from Alej’s bedroom. I remember nights at Madriguera, an outside music venue in Havana, where DeLa and Jenny and I got drunk and banged our heads to live metal. I remember the paralyzing swelter of Havana, the slow motion of our days together, the evening pilgrimages to Calle G where all the frikis convened with communal bottles of vodka that could blind the sun, the birds in the morning and again, Julian’s cafe.

Closer to the sun and I’m climbing

When I met Jennifer Hernandez in Alejandro’s apartment in 2007, she told me, “Vamos hacer vecinas.” It means, “We’re going to be neighbors.” I thought she said something about going to a pool. I was grateful. The heat was oppressive. “Great!” I told her. “I can’t wait! When?” This type of misunderstanding would characterize the entire process of documenting Escape and filming They Will Be Heard.

Briant1
Briant and Hernandez on tour with Escape, Holgin, Cuba. 2009.

 

Tried to touch the sun but the brightness burned my eyes

Two years later, I filmed Jenny as she walked through the doors of the airport check-in toward her terminal, waving one last time to her family, her boyfriend at the time, Yando Coy, who is the lead singer of Escape, and her friends, before reuniting with her father in New Jersey. Briant Garcia Rodriquez was there, waving goodbye.

Briant Rodriguez, sound tech for Escape 2007
Briant Rodriguez, sound tech for Escape 2007

Briant had worked with Escape for several years as their sound engineer. And he was an avid Escape fan, he had Escape tattooed on his arm.

As Jenny’s waving hand, seen above the crowd of people at the airport checking their luggage and getting their boarding passes, disappeared behind a red door, Briant turned to me and said, “The next time I come to the airport, I’m going to be the one leaving.”

Briant had three options. He could wait for normalization of relations between the United States and Cuba, he could become an international artist right away and get invited to another country, or he could get married to someone else outside of Cuba.

Unconscious or am I conscious?

Briant couldn’t wait to get married or become famous. Who can? Briant chose the fourth option: to get on a balsa and try and float 90 miles to Miami.

And I saw my own face in the dark and loneliness

Briant went missing in October. Jenny and I were hopeful, but there are instances in your life where the words being conveyed to you carry their truth, undeniable like the weight of the ocean. I thought of Briant in his last moments often, succumbing to that weight, as the truth of what was about to happen became certain…sometimes I think of it scientifically, when I am swimming; I am aware of how heavy the ocean is. Sometimes I can’t think of it, but I feel it in my chest and my face becomes frozen.

and I saw my own face like a spark frozen in heaven

One of the problems when someone you love goes missing is that there is no ritual of closure. You are aware of what has happened, you are aware they are gone, but there’s this window, this impossible window, and you think anything is possible.

Alejandro and Briant with their sons, 2010.
Alejandro and Briant with their sons, 2010.

Jenny and I have been very lucky in many ways. One, she came to New Jersey, and we were able to build and continue our friendship. We’ve been fortunate enough to meet and know and love incredible people who saw the potential of Escape and the entire Cuban metal community and understand the necessity of changing the world through heavy metal. We’ve been able to develop and build UnBlock the Rock with an amazing team of artists and organizers.

Jenny and I decided that we would dedicate June 1st, UnBlock the Rock Occupies City Hall, to Briant as our memorial for him. He is in these photos, immortalized with a smile and surrounded by friends. Tonight you will hear “Simbolo de Libertad” by Escape, performed by musicians from Venezuela, Cuba, Iraq, and the US, and we can remember Briant in a larger way, in a way that transcends missing him.

For more info, contact traceynoelleluz@gmail.com or                       (973) 868-6393

 

Cuba, Heavy Metal and Pope Benedict

Benedict said the “ambition and selfishness of certain powers” took “little account of the true good of individuals and families,” and added that it was impossible to “continue in the same cultural and moral direction which has caused the painful situation that many suffer.” (Wall Street Journal, on the Pope arriving in Cuba)

As the director of They Will Be Heard, and the Executive Director of UnBlock the Rock, I read these words and felt compelled to share my thoughts regarding Cuban heavy metal band Escape and the Cuban heavy metal movement in general.

Alejandro Padron, practice at Casa de Cultura
Alejandro Padron, practice at Casa de Cultura

I don’t think it can be stated clearly enough that the US imposed blockade against Cuba and the internal Cuban blockade against anything “that smelled American” effectively segregated two nations of people for the last 62 years.

 When heavy metal arrived on the island, and was warmly received circa 1986, it signified a population of Cubans who were hearing and understanding and embracing the language of resistance and rebellion young Americans had the privilege of accessing at our local record store or recording on to cassettes from the radio, or purchasing from those record clubs where you got 10 albums for a penny, or MTV, or U68 so easily.

It signified a major breakthrough between two communities who were deliberately politically and culturally isolated from each other. Beyond enjoying heavy metal, young Cubans, continued against all odds, to emulate heavy metal, to create and develop heavy metal, putting themselves under great scrutiny of the Cuban government, with little or no interaction, much less support of the international metal community, with the exception of Sepultura and Audio Slave performing in Havana.“

They Will Be Heard” is testimony from those courageous Cubans who have been fighting for their dreams for the last 10 years, who have been fighting to be heard.

Escape with John Lennon in Havana.
Escape with John Lennon in Havana.

UnBlock the Rock is our movement to bring Cuban metal band Escape here to perform with their head banging neighbors in the United States.

While I was filming in Cuba, I had the great honor to be there when Jennifer Hernandez’s father, El Negro Hernandez, came to perform at the Gran Teatro. When asked, “What do you think about this type of cultural exchange,” Negro, who defected from Cuba in 1989, replied, “The reason Cuban musicians and American musicians don’t perform together has nothing to do with musicians. We want to be together.”

For all of us, music is the way we externalize how we feel. It is the loudness of our love, the silence of our sorrow. It’s time for Cuban musicians and American musicians to be together. It’s our time.

For more information, contact traceynoelleluz@gmail.com or             (973) 868-6393.

 

 

It Explodes, An Open Letter to My Students at Thirteenth Avenue

Everyone will tell you “No”. People have been telling me “No” for the last two years. For the last 38 years. And people you would expect to be your allies, aren’t necessarily your allies. Don’t worry about them, they don’t understand what we are doing.

I never intended to become a teacher. In high school, I came equipped with a distinct set of beliefs about myself; that I was ugly, that I was worthless. That I was an outsider. That it was my privilege to be a spectator. But I loved learning.

I didn’t know anything about teaching, I didn’t know anything about children. Which was the same message you got walking into Thirteenth Avenue School in October of 1999. All I knew was that I was going to get dental insurance, so my life’s ambitions had been pretty much met. What else was there?

I had the privilege to teach at Thirteenth Avenue School for 9 years. Because no one at the Board of Education cared about our school or the children who went there, the staff and a new principal, the Mr. Lenny Kopacz, were able to create an educational oasis founded on love and imagination and creativity. We created a learning environment for the children and their families, and I would like to say publicly that I attribute all of my personal successes as a 6th grade teacher to never doing anything required by No Child Left Behind. Why? Because I was teaching them. And I refused to accept public education doctrine from a president who had every educational opportunity at his fingertips and squandered it, emerging as a grown man unable to negotiate the difference between an object and subject pronoun.

I discovered that I loved children. And that the children of Newark are amazing and courageous and loving and resilient. Much like, I imagine, Trayvon Martin was.

And so for 9 years, I would pass out copies of “What Happens to a Dream Deferred?” by Langston Hughes. “Boys and girls, who would like to read this poem out loud?”

What happens to a dream deferred?                                                           Does it dry up                                                                                                         like a raisin in the sun?

Or fester like a sore–                                                                                          And then run?                                                                                                    Does it stink like rotten meat?                                                                            Or crust and sugar over–

like a syrupy sweet?

Maybe it just sags                                                                                               like a heavy load.

Or does it explode?

No one told me to do it. It wasn’t a part of staff development. The poem wasn’t in any curriculum but, when we are fortunate enough to listen, what is beautiful instructs us.

Soon enough, it occurred to me that I had dreams too. I saw myself in the not so distant future wearing a lime green gown, steadying myself with the desk, pearls swaying to and fro, with a martini glass half filled with olives and vodka, “Boys and girls, tell me about your dreams,” I sneered. “I had dreams, I know the answer to the question Langston is posing.” Olives swishing to and fro.

I did want to be a photographer. I lamented the fact I didn’t study photography in college. Somewhere along the way it became embedded in my consciousness that being a photojournalist was something other people did, people who grew up in nice houses and didn’t suffer the constant chaos of being poor. Even afterwards, I allowed myself to shoot as long as it was a hobby. “I can’t imagine where I would be right now,” I told my sister, “if I had gotten some encouragement to do what I wanted to do when I was growing up.” Growing up, the mantra in my home wasn’t, Hold Fast to Dreams! but like most working class families, Make sure you find a job with dental insurance!

Certainly, no one wants you to consider and think about your dreams when you are growing up in Newark, NJ. You aren’t entitled to dreams. The Newark Board of Education is run by empty headed ghouls who lack vision or creativity, or love. (Incidentally, where is the line by line itemization of what happened and is going to happen with the notorious and well choreographed millon trillion dollar donation to Newark via Face Book and if that money is going to Charter Schools where do you go to school if you don’t win the lottery?)

Recently, I sat across my mother, who has worked hard all her life. We were sharing a sundae at a Friendly’s. In a moment that could have been stolen from a depressing and terrifying Joyce Carol Oates novella, she told me she was watching a craft show on television and she almost starting crying. “I could have done that,” she said. “I can’t imagine what I could have done with my life if I had someone encouraging me.”

No one read her Langston Hughes when she was little.

Some truths are irrefutable, smashing you in the face like a well-deserved hang over. Some truths wait for you before they open up, like a flower to a bee. That’s what I’m dealing in now, truth. I am addicted to it. And I don’t believe that those who are in power of controlling access to the truth necessarily have our best interests at heart.

In the two years of production for “They Will Be Heard“, I’ve found myself with all my resources invested in and drained by random footage on a hard drive. I don’t even have dental insurance.

There are times where I wake up and think, I can’t do this anymore, it’s too hard. And I think, just walk away. To this a more terrifying question: what will you do then? Now the question has become an answer. I’m obligated to live my dreams. I’m obligated to finish the film.

Young poets and dreamers of Newark who I had the privilege of teaching: Everyone will tell you no. They will tell you no because you’re not ready yet, or because they don’t know any better. In the pursuit of your dreams you will find yourself discouraged, depressed, elated, anxious, alone, empty. You will give everything you have and then be told it’s not good enough yet. Give more. Give again.

I thought, pursuing the dream would be enough. I thought that the fact that leaving my job to pursue the lucrative field of documentary photography and film making during the worst economic depression since the, well, The Depression, would entitle me to immediate success. Leap! Leap! Buddha said. And the net will appear. The net does appear, but it’s not comfortable. The purpose of the net is just that you almost die but you don’t.

After living in a closet-sized room for a year and a half, which was ironic because I didn’t have a closet, I moved across the street into a crooked apartment with an upstairs neighbor who is constantly puking. This is nice, my friends said. Don’t talk to me like I’m rebuilding my life after a terrible mistake, I told them. I made a documentary, I didn’t burn my babies in a homemade meth lab.

Be tenacious. Remember when the gangs kept spray painting the side of our school and every morning Mr. K would paint over it. And they would come back and tag the school again, and the next morning Mr. K would paint over it. One morning, they just stopped coming.

Remember, it’s all on you. People will help you out along the way, but even, hypothetically speaking, if you have a rock and roll fantasy threesome with an executive producer from MTV who should for all intensive purposes be slightly curious about your rock and roll documentary, it doesn’t mean he’ll like your FaceBook page.

Don’t worry, this only makes you better. It only makes you brighter. And you will always be able to find a decent bottle of tempranillo for $8. You will wake up in the morning and it will still be dark, it will be dark for days, but there is no turning back. You will feel jealous and resentful of those people who pass by you because they have the right contacts or better luck, but don’t worry about them. You will feel grateful for and honored to have those people who stand by you and tell you to keep going. They are out there. They are with me all the time. Keep going. Keep fighting. Ask questions. Find mentors. It’s not easy, but then again, nothing for you has ever been easy. You have always done twice as much with half as much. I know the light you possessed when you were 11, it’s only gotten brighter, stronger. Your time is now, take it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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