When I was a kid, growing up in a house with Cat Stevens, Neil Diamond, and Simon and Garfunkel, the first time I ever heard Kiss's "Detroit Rock City," it was a moment of musical epiphany. It was just so vicious, aggressive and mean. It changed the way I listened to music. I've had a few minor epiphany's since then, when you come across a band that just brings something new and revolutionary to your ears.
What have been your musical epiphany moments?
A: For me, there are several. I knew I dug music early on listening to my mom's old 45s. In particular, I loved the Motown stuff, the Beatles, Roy Orbison, and my favorite was the Rolling Stones. The first time I heard "Honky Tonk Women," I was hooked on rock 'n' roll. In a couple of years I moved onto hard rock/metal. Guns 'n' Roses' "Appetite for Destruction" meant a lot to me, and then a few years later, upon hearing Megadeth's "Rust in Peace," I had to have a guitar. I was a thrasher for years (still am!) and it really helped me as a young guitarist, though it was challenging, so Black Sabbath opened doors because it was just as heavy, but without all the acrobatic playing. And it was a good time because all that wave of Sabbath worship bands were coming out: Sleep, Monster Magnet, Fu Manchu, Kyuss, etc. And right around that same time, I was big into Iron Maiden and Thin Lizzy. I love guitar harmonies. I would say those 2 bands and Metallica's pre-"Black Album" stuff really inspired me to write harmony lines.
Talk to us about the song-writing process for you. What comes first, the idea? A riff? The lyrics? How does it all fall into place?
A: It's all over the place. Typically it starts with Matt or myself and then we bring it into practice and mold it as a band. Recently, our bass player, Taylor, has brought riffs to the table, too. A lot of times Matt will have a song title and that will inspire things. From my perspective, he's sort of stream of consciousness lyric writer - often writing them on the spot as we jam the riffs. A lot of our songs lately start with Matt's riff ideas and then I'll come in with a harmony part or a different riff for the chorus or bridge. Then it comes together really easily. We don't like to beat a dead horse if it's not gelling, though.
Who has influenced you the most?
A: As a musician, it would be my first and only guitar teacher, Jeff. He's just amazing. He's a big Merle Travis/Chet Atkins guy, but grew up with Aerosmith as his favorite band in the 70s! Sometimes we'd just spend our lessons talking about the philosophy of music and the guitar's purpose in it. I still see him as much as I can for inspiration. As far as recording artists, for me it's Thin Lizzy for sure.
Where do you look for continuing inspiration? New ideas, new motivation?
A: Sort of answered above with my old guitar teacher. But lots of things are inspiring: film, books, music. I feel like sometimes I'll watch a movie and it will inspire music out of me. Or sometimes I'll re-visit a record for the first time in a long while and I'll just hear it differently. Those are totally rad moments! It's also been cool and inspiring playing with some of the Michigan bands we have played with: Blue Snaggletooth, Beast in the Field, Boss Mustangs, Against the Grain, Bison Machine - there's a great heavy rock scene in Michigan. And playing with bigger bands like Valient Thorr and Blue Oyster Cult has been cool. Valient Thorr are class dudes. Most of the touring bands we play with are too cool to be there, but not them - Valient Himself was in the front row jamming while we played and grabbing Thorriors to join him! Much respect!
We're all a product of our environment. Tell us about the band's hometown and how that reflects in the music?
A: Matt and I were small town dudes and there weren't a lot of musicians in our town with us. So we sort of grew up in the next biggest town, which was Kalamazoo. Not to date myself, but I've seen a lot of different music come and go in our hometown - some good, some bad. Really, it's always been a cool place to play music with a supportive audience. I don't think any of us have really been hugely influenced by our region because we're too selfish and only serve ourselves and play the kind of music we dig and would personally want to listen to.
Where'd the band name come from?
A: That's kind of funny. We were named by our friend Nate, who used to be the drummer of a band Matt and I were in for years. Nate was actually the original drummer of BoneHawk very briefly. We stole the name from him! It seemed like an appropriate name to match the sound we were making.
Tell us about witchcraft, what it means to you and your life?
A: I don't think it plays a big part in any of our lives. Though a couple of us have watched a high school friend sit on a glowing tombstone trying to channel the dead person in said tombstone's grave. Creepy shit!
A: Probably "Fast Times At Ridgemont High" or something directed by John Carpenter.
You now write for a music publication (The Ripple Effect?). You're going to write a 1,000 word essay on one song. Which would it be and why?
A: "Black Rose" by Thin Lizzy. It's just the perfect song in many ways to me. I could probably pick thousands more.
What is you musical intention? What are you trying to express or get your audience to feel?
A: Speaking for myself, I'm selfish. I just want to play the kind of music I'd want to hear, and play it as well as I can. I'd love it if every audience would feel some kind of connection to it, but that's just not always realistic. If they just let loose and have fun, that's cool.
Come on, share with us a couple of your great, Spinal Tap, rock and roll moments?
A: I've fallen off a very tall stage before. I wear glasses, but usually don't on stage, so it can happen! Otherwise, I sometimes say stupid stuff on the mic when I shouldn't. That's as close as it gets!
Tell us about playing live and the live experience for you and for your fans?
A: I think we have fun and we try to be energetic and let the crowd know they can be loose and enjoy themselves. We play the music fairly accurately to the records, but sometimes we'll go off on certain songs if the mood is right. If we headline in our hometown, we like to make a tongue-in-cheek "grand" entrance, and people have fun with it. We also have a large, lighted sign that has made an appearance. We like to make our shows an event if at all possible.
What makes a great song?
A: For me, I dig groove and melody and intensity one way or another. I'm a pretty basic verse/chorus/bridge kind of guy. But I like each part to make me want to move somehow. Lyrics are always secondary to me for whatever reason (even though I have a degree in writing!).
Tell us about the first song you ever wrote?
A: It was when I was in 8th grade and called "Bug of Destruction"! It was pretty thrashy. I was listening to a lot of thrash at the time: Metallica, Megadeth, Testament, Anthrax, Slayer, Exodus and stuff like S.O.D. and D.R.I. So it was like a poor man's version of those bands' stuff.
What piece of your music are particularly proud of?
I can't pick just one, so I'll give 3: "Desert Run" as a whole. I originally came up with the riffs in Matt and my previous band, Mesa, and they were way faster. Matt had the idea to re-write it so it was more mellow, and he put the melody to it, and it just clicked. Next is "Nomad" - particularly the parts I wrote - the chorus riff and the bridge harmony part. That chorus riff is the kind of riff I've always dug. It's heavy! The harmony is a little out there for me - it just kind of wrote itself. Lastly, the chorus riff in "Albino Rhino" - another heavy one that reminds me of "Sin After Sin" era Priest! I dig that.
Who today, writes great songs? Who just kicks your ass? Why?
A: I love Earthless. They're my favorite thing in the last 15 years. The interconnection between each of the players is beyond rad! Isaiah is an amazing guitarist. As far as songs, I'd say I like Red Fang a lot. They seem to have a grasp on how to write killer riffs with hooks, and they're really heavy and great live! I also really dig the Shrine because they have killer songs and fierce energy! And I saw them open for Clutch and CoC (with Pepper) and I think they blew them both off the stage. I also love Danava! They're rad in every way.
Vinyl, CD, or digital? What's your format of choice?
A: Vinyl and digital. I'm on the run a lot and don't always have a turntable where I'm staying. I'm ok with digital. It's nice to have 14,000 songs on one little device! But I tend to listen more when I have a record on the turntable. I'll sit and study the artwork while I listen and just let it help me get lost in the moment of listening to that record.
Whiskey or beer? And defend your choice
A: I don't drink a lot, but I'm more of a beer guy. I prefer higher gravity beers if I'm going to have them. More bang for the buck!
We, at the Ripple Effect, are constantly looking for new music. What's your home town, and when we get there, what's the best record store to lose ourselves in?
A: Within Michigan, there are some great bands: Blue Snaggletooth, Beast in the Field, Boss Mustangs, No Bails, Bison Machine, Seritas, Easy Action, Drink Their Blood, Moto, and probably dozens more I have forgotten! In Kalamazoo, we have two great, supportive record stores: Green Light Music and Satellite Records. I tend to go to Green Light more because the manager, Chris, has been pushing heavy music on me since I was a teen, so he's an old bro from way back. But both are super cool, and have really helped "Albino Rhino" be a success.
What's next for the band?
A: We have 4 new songs coming out on Ripple Music's "The Second Coming of Heavy Volume 3" as well as a supremely limited tribute to Thin Lizzy 7-inch on Hornacious Wax Records with 3 Lizzy covers. Ripple is also releasing "Albino Rhino" on CD with additional artwork/lyrics. And we hope to record "Albino Rhino's" follow-up this spring. Touring sounds imminent, too.
Any final comments or thoughts you'd like to share with our readers, the waveriders?
A: In the words of Jeff Spicoli, a great philosopher dude of our time, "Well Stu I'll tell you, surfing's not a sport, it's a way of life, it's no hobby. It's a way of looking at that wave and saying, 'Hey bud, let's party!'" And as Bill & Ted put it, "Be excellent to each other."