Sunday, February 25, 2018

A Ripple Conversation With Underground Hero Steven Kerchner, Part 1

I first met Steven Kerchner, Kerch, at The Sidebar in Baltimore, when I visited my future wife in the summer of 2007. His band The Seventh Gate played that night and turned my world upside down. Up to this point I had very little knowledge of extreme and brutal metal, but this band changed that forever. When I moved to the States 6 months later, our paths would cross numerous times through the years. I was soon intrigued by his diligence and perseverance with the music he plays, as well as by the many shapes he has taken on in different bands. Therefore, a conversation with the man was in order to focus on what keeps him going and what motivates him to write and record music. So over the course of a couple of months we talked about music and about….more music. Sit back and enjoy, dear waveriders.

What made you become a musician? What was the defining moment?

I used to sneak out with some friends of mine. When we got busted, my friend who had been asked to be the vocalist in a band with some other friends of mine was shipped off to boarding school. When he departed I was asked to join. My desire had always been to play the drums, but I found my introduction to sharing the creative experience of being in a band, would be as the mouthpiece of the music.

Did you have a masterplan when you became a musician? If so, did it turn out the way you planned?

I can't say that I have any masterplan other than that I intend to continue to create music until I live no more.  As long as I bare my own self and soul unabashedly and honestly, the integrity of the music will resonate truthfully. Art has a way of communicating with people timelessly and I'd like to continue to exercise the vehicle of expression and connection that sharing artistic creations affords.

What's your aim with music these days? Has this changed through the years?

My aim has been to achieve catharsis through creation and to leave something with the listener that is provocative, inspiring thoughtfully and or spiritually and or creatively, and to write something I enjoy playing and hearing back. My direction and focus, project to project, release to release is in ever constant flux and development mirroring the shifting dynamics of my own path and experience in life.

The Seventh Gate is the band that introduced me to you, and subsequently means a lot to me. The band eventually morphed into Palkoski, what brought on this change?

In 2005/2006, I began the initial manuscript for a character named Frank Palkoski. In reaction to personal experience and witness to the world, I created him as a vehicle to express my vehement vitriol for myself and for others. The turbulence of my inner thoughts paralleling the character Frank in his many personalities, developing upwards into a statement on victims of abuse, dictated the points of view and ideas expressed in the songs. In hindsight, I introduced the character poorly, and subsequently he was pigeon holed and diminished into (just) a serial killer character, just another part of the overall statement of who this character was (is) and how he mirrored the atrocities of modern culture. 

Beginning with (The Seventh Gate's) ‘AOTTMLHDYETP?’ release written entirely from the perspective of Frank Palkoski, all subsequent releases were written around the idea of this character. Songs took form to bolster the pieces of the story of Frank's life and experience as they were told (in song.) As the albums came out from his perspective the directness of his involvement grew and grew and simultaneously I had been thinking The Seventh Gate was a rather juvenile name for the band, didn't truly reflect the direction the band had gone and also due in part to the significance of the line-up changes. When ‘Random Antagonist Complex’ came out, it was October 14, 2010 and we celebrated the name change of The Seventh Gate to Palkoski with an album release show opening for Devourment and Cattle Decapitation.

Palkoski was a beast amongst beast, a rare deity within extreme music, if you ask me. It is such a sad situation with the passing of drummer Nick Crisostomo which hit everyone who knew him hard.. Palkoski subsequently ended but how did Nick's passing affect you? Did you ever consider quitting music all together?

Thank you so much, the direction Palkoski had gone, has steadfastly been the pinnacle of my years making artwork. Nick's passing was an absolute devastation. A true musical soul mate and brother in life, it was apparent that to honor him Palkoski would rest as well. At the time he passed, I had also acquired a shoulder and knee injury that would require surgeries that continue to impact my performance to this day. (Better in time, but still not the same.) ‘Never Again’ Palkoski's final release depicted a confrontation of all of Frank Palkoski's personalities with one another (in the epic), begetting the inquiry of a physical death to the character.  It was intentionally not disclosed to an audience perspective and the ‘Reflections’ EP – the uncompleted EP that opens the ‘Never Again’ album – was yet again another jump in the timeline. To clarify some, ‘The Oblivious Ape (Who Covets Its Own)’, was a look into the personal cognizance of the fragmentation of Frank Palkoski's mind and being that specifically focused on the development during ages 17-24. ‘Random Antagonist Complex’ was a focus from the perspective of one of the nine characters Frank would embody and the follow up ‘The Oblivious Ape…’ release prequels this effort in timeline of story, but not in writing or in release. ‘Never Again’ in the concept of the story and character development marked the furthest expression of the timeline the band had covered yet. 

Closing the chapters on Palkoski was intensely arduous. We had been working on recording the epic for years already, having scrapped all the drums from an initial recording of it – a huge undertaking of discarding one hour's worth of recorded material and starting from scratch. The drums were recorded with all predominately dynamic mics not tailored for good drum sounds and financial hurdles prevented the replacement of drum heads leaving us with a drum sound to mix that we struggled to find happiness in. 

I never considered that I would stop making music altogether however depression and surgical recovery derailed some productivity. Palkoski was a huge part of my life and had been since (as I consider it) the inception of The Seventh Gate in 2000. Todd and I agonized over the mix trying to get it to sound better, but we eventually had to accept we could only make it sound so good with the recorded material we had. I feel the recorded album really lacks the beauty that the live performance of the epic encapsulated, but with the resources we had at the time, it was the best we had.

The song, ‘The Great Communicator’ on LORD's ‘Awake’ album is a direct dedication to Nick. There is a related dominant influence on the lyrical content of the rest of the songs on that album as well and there continues to be an element of our brotherhood with me every moment of every day to the current day. Making music with Nick was an absolutely incredible part of my life and having been blessed by the opportunity to do so is something I will be indefinitely grateful for. He was a true friend in a world of enemies and we shared a supreme musical chemistry unlike any other I've experienced. 

You sing in most of your bands but you also play drums/percussion and electronics in a few. What do you prefer? Or is this current set-up the perfect balance for you?

In some projects I incorporate different elements of each. In Human Services, there had been a trade-off between noise, auxiliary percussion and vocals. On album, I even had the opportunity to write and record bass lines as well as violin and various other home-made instruments. In points in time with LORD, I utilized a sampler and noise as well, and currently am not adding noise elements but am handling lead vocals and auxiliary percussion. I find the balance in each project swoon to the call of the music and what is necessary to compliment it. I would like to incorporate more noise back into LORD's creative process in our next effort. In Palkoski, I found a height of pushing myself into the extremity of playing auxiliary percussion, noise, samples and lead vocals simultaneously. In my opinion it is unparalleled and one of the pinnacles of my creative and performing history in it's intensity and demand, both physically and artistically.

How did you come to join Lord?

I had known Will Rivera from years of bumping into each other at shows and we knew each other even more so after VOG and LORD did a mini tour together in 2006. We played a lot of local gigs together as well and eventually Will and I both found ourselves performing together in a band called Ol’ Scratch. There was a point where LORD was booked to perform at Krug’s in Frederick MD and Andy (LORD's former & founding vocalist) had not yet appeared as show time approached and to avoid embarrassment of cancellation I was asked to fill in. Andy ended up arriving just in time to perform, but that was one of the last straws that led the band to reconsider their vocalist, and I was asked to join as a permanent replacement. My first gig with LORD was in April of 2011 with Karma to Burn and Honky.

Lord had stuff going on when a series of unfortunate events almost meant the end for them. How did you and founder Willy Rivera turn things around? After all, Lord puts out master piece after master piece!

Well during my duration in LORD, there was a long period of time where all the members of the band were not on speaking terms, and after an extended hiatus of conversation we came together over a shared interest in keeping it going. I had actually written some songs (lyrically; 3/4 of ‘Alive in Golgotha’) and was ready to forge onward full steam ahead when we came back together. We met for lunch and discussed our ambitions and the associated realities of doing LORD again. After some more distress, we ended up completing that EP (Golgotha) as a three piece and at this time it was clear that Stephen, founding member and legacy drummer, was interested in focusing elsewhere musically. Will and I discussed continuing to work together and thought it would be disadvantageous to create a new band that sounded like LORD but was called something else.  Granted without Stephen's signature drumming style a shift of sound was inevitable, though the vocals and guitars would still share a similar finesse. Prior to Stephen's departure, we already had Chris Dugay lined up as a bass replacement and called him back once a new drummer was secured.

You mentioned Ol' Scratch. They were actually one of the first bands I ever watched here in the States. Saw the band with you so many times and you guys crushed it. It seems though that you and Andy Murray kept replacing each other in both Ol’ Scratch and Lord, or am I wrong?

Thank you so much, I have some really enjoyable memories with them. Though we don't keep in touch these days, I have fond recollections of the experiences we shared and the shows Ol Scratch played. I knew Ol’ Scratch pretty well already when I was asked to join them in February (?) of 2008. The Seventh Gate frequently played shows with them and those guys were really supportive of local shows at that time, always seen in attendance. 
The (Ol Scratch) 2008 fall tour, “Yer Ol is our Business,” is in my top two tours of all time, based on friendship, fun, quantity and quality of crushing faces, successfulness and adventure.

At one point, I had left Ol’ Scratch and been replaced by Andy. I then re-replaced him in Ol Scratch for another stint from early 2010 to the last Ol’ Scratch show in - I believe - August 2010. It was kind of comical how I was replaced by him in Ol’ Scratch and then I replaced him in LORD.


Read Part Two On 2/27/18!

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