Sunday, March 22, 2009


Originally published in: Chord Magazine
Album: Size Matters (Interscope)

Random thoughts: If there was ever a time when I was nervous for an interview, this was one of those times. I mean, it was Page Hamilton of fucking Helmet. One of my all-time favorite bands. I quickly realized, however, that Hamilton had a lot of dirt to spill and seemed quite full of himself. Still, one of my all-time favorite interviews and stories. I just absolutely love the part where he starts singing a Helmet riff. Watch for it.

Page Hamilton thickens his skin, again

By Jason Schreurs

For every Helmet fan teeming with ecstasy at the news of Page Hamilton’s groundbreaking riff-rock band making their return, handfuls more are complaining about the band’s new incarnation. Message boards are littered with diatribes about the new album being too wimpy (it rocks!), Hamilton not including the original members (they declined!), and even some shots at the recycled material on Size Matters, the product of a six-year Helmet hiatus.
In 1991, the then New York-based Helmet revolutionized heavy music with their jaw-dropping debut, Strap It On, and have since been met with constant criticism, their albums only being heralded years later. Just as everyone was disappointed in 1992’s Meantime (and Betty in ’94, and Aftertaste in ’96…), the new album is currently taking a lot of heat. So as the band’s founder, principal songwriter, and only remaining original member, what is Hamilton doing to deflect all of this negative energy?
“You just wake up and sort of naively write your songs and play the guitar and do what you love to do,” says Hamilton from his home in Los Angeles. “So you have to kind of take it with a grain of salt. If I sat around and thought about what everyone else thought about all of the albums, I would never make albums. It’s not why I do music.”
His almost round-the-clock topic of defense is the band’s new lineup, which includes Hamilton and mid-era Helmet guitarist Chris Traynor, as well as ex-Anthrax bassist Frank Bello and skin-basher John Tempesta (White Zombie, Testament), but none of the other original members. Ex-Helmet drummer John Stanier (Tomahawk, Battles) and bassist Henry Bogdan were approached to make the record but declined. Hamilton was then forced to borrow money from Interscope to buy rights to the Helmet name. Despite the new-look lineup, Size Matters is undeniably Helmet.
“Helmet is arrangement-based music. Meaning I’m not going in with a G and C chord and a melody and saying, ‘Here guys, I got this song. Let’s arrange it.’ It was arranged when I came in,” insists Hamilton about the early years. “Obviously, you know, [singing] ba-da, ba-da, ba-da, ba-da, ba-da-da, ba-da-da, ba-da. We didn’t jam that! I came in with it. So it’s my prerogative. No one’s going to tell me whether or not I can have my band.”
Another little tidbit that has Helmet fans in a tizzy is some songs on Size Matters were recorded in Hamilton’s former project, Gandhi, a gathering of New York buddies that, according to him, was never a serious band.
“Gandhi was a group of four dear friends of mine and they’re great musicians. So I was like, ‘Let’s go play some shows.’ We recorded a couple of songs together. We didn’t have a band,” he says incredulously. “I just knew I was putting an album together. I didn’t know if it was going to be Helmet or what it was going to be. I feel like I should be able to play any song I write at any time.”
Luckily, Hamilton is used to criticism and takes it in stride. Like all groundbreaking musicians, he has learned to ignore outside influences and focus on writing good songs. Judging by Size Matters, he’s not forgetting the importance of concentration.
“To be a writer of music you have to be kind of thick-skinned. It’s something I’ve been through from day one. We had been underground New York darlings for two years, we could do no wrong. We signed to a major label and then we kind of opened ourselves up to a wider audience and greater criticism. So if everyone thinks you’re wonderful, they’re just waiting for an opportunity to break your kneecaps.”

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Monday, March 16, 2009


Originally published in: Chord Magazine

Album: Potemkin City Limits (Fat Wreck Chords/G7 Welcoming Committee)

Random thoughts: This was a quickie interview with their bassist, Todd, and it felt like a chat with an old buddy, down by the river, while listening to Immolation...

Catching Up with…

Considering the enormous wait for Potemkin City Limits, the latest album by Winnipeg political punkers Propagandhi, it’s no wonder the band has half-joked about having suicidal thoughts during its recording.
Maybe it was the stress of finishing their first album in four years, or them just being sarcastic and overly dramatic (remember, their website bio reads “Propagandhi is a band, unfortunately”). By the sounds of it though, the suicidal tendencies weren’t too far from the truth.
“It was a bit dramatic, but barely,” chuckles bassist Todd Kowalski nervously. “We took a month just to bail on the whole thing and then come back fresh. The suicide thing wasn’t too much of a stretch, at all, actually…”
A particular struggle for Kowalski was trying to get song ideas he had in his head to emit properly from his hands and throat. He battled with it on an ongoing basis, even shelving a song about the Rwandan genocide he had been writing for over two years.
“I think that was my biggest problem, not having the skills or talent to get what was in my head into reality, and to fall short.” But they managed to deliver such a ripping album. How? “Just more hard work, I guess.”
Another major setback was when Kowalski realized he wasn’t happy with his vocals, and decided to re-record them. Forcing himself to actually sing gave the songs “more juice,” he says, but his ragged scream is also intact.
“I was trying to learn to sing just so I had another option if I shredded my voice any more. Then I thought, ‘Oh, screw it! I’ll just give ‘er again!’”
Propagandhi is known for being outspoken and has always been a shining beacon for the un-co-opted facet of punk rock. Even in today’s sterile punk scene, it’s hard to imagine the band will ever stop caring.
“That can’t be an option,” asserts Kowalski. “I would rather just end it all than join that sad little world.”
Equal parts raging punk and amped-up metal, it’s hard to decide if Potemkin… is a metal album, a punk album, or something else entirely.
“We kinda think of ourselves as a punk band,” explains Kowalski, “but to get the darkness we want you’ve gotta bite the strings with heaviness, you know? Not to mention I listen to [classic Quebec metal band] Voivod every single day, as opposed to listening to Rancid not one day of the year.”
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Sunday, March 15, 2009


Originally published in: Modern Fix Magazine

Album: The Code Is Red... Long Live the Code (Century Media Records)

Random thoughts: The weird thing is, if anyone had asked me, "Did you ever interview Napalm Death?" I'd probably say no. And the scary thing is, I don't even remember doing this interview. An emailer perhaps?

Long live the grind

By Jason Schreurs

Our collective jaw continues to hang agape at the latest album by grindcore legends Napalm Death, The Code Is Red… Long Live the Code.
I mean, how does a band who has been pounding stone into dust now for 20 years manage to capture such pure rage and madness on tape after all of this time? Their new one, and first on Century Media, is 15 songs of the best metal going today.
Fuck all those bands 20 years their junior, these old Brits have more youthful exuberance and need for speed coursing through their aging veins than the whole Ozzfest roster combined.
The machine that is Napalm Death -– drummer Danny Herrera, guitarist Mitch Harris, bassist Shane Emery, and vokillist Barney Greenway -– doesn’t seem to be slowing down anytime soon, and three cheers to that. Forget death metal automation, this unionized grind factory ain’t gonna do no downsizing. Sure, the US has been sold short to a scab, but if Napalm Death has anything to say about it, the scabs ain’t taking over the old country.
Greenway recently took time out of his hectic schedule to chat about the new album and what’s kept Napalm Death grinding for so long.

Congrats on the new album. It’s a real return to form for you guys.
The thing is, of course this is our opinion, but we believe we’ve always made really good albums, you know? This is just the latest in a long line of them. We do believe that in the wider spectrum we’ve been somewhat overlooked, when you consider some of the other bands that have come out, you know. I’m not saying that from any kind of perspective of bitterness or anything like that, it’s just merely an observation. So it was just a case of going back in the studio again and doing our best. I know that sounds very obvious, but that was literally the case.

It must feel good having a label like Century Media behind you?
It feels fucking great. It feels invigorating, actually. In turn, when you know you’ve got that behind you, you will try even harder to make what you do special and to reach out to a lot of people, both musically and ethically.

What do you think about the state of extreme metal these days?
It’s a mixed bag, really. There are positives and negatives to everything. There’s a little bit of a negative to the tough guy elements to it, which is certainly not the idea of the whole thing when we were doing gruff vocals when very few people were doing it. There’s that side of it, but that’s been inherent in the metal side of things for many years anyway, so it’s nothing new. There’s some great bands out there, for sure.

What’s kept Napalm Death going for so long?
It comes down to very simple things. We’ve been with the band for so long now, it’s just become part of the family. Sometimes that’s used in a very corny context, but it is literally the case. We’ve kept on going when a lot of other bands would have split. Shane said something very worthwhile to me the other day, he said, “You know, as long as we’ve got good albums in the locker and it continues to be fun, what’s stopping us?” He pretty much hit the nail squarely on the head when he said that.

How much longer can you keep it up? Do you feel like you’re getting old?
You know, that’s a pretty common question. I understand why, but it’s something I can’t necessarily answer… Everyone gets tired. But you know what? There’s a big tie-in with physical and mental state when you’re out on the road, because if things are bugging you when you’re out on the road, it’s going to affect you physically because it brings your mood down. It’s very simple psychology. You’re going to be more tired more quickly because you’re wondering what the fuck you’re doing there, so you’re not going to have the motivation to pepped up. So you have to deal with the road in a certain way… You have to be open-minded when you go out on the road, you have to try and stimulate yourself as much as you can. And that’s not meant to be a double entendre. When I say stimulate, I mean with books and stuff like that. Keep your mind active. When you turn up at the gig, don’t just sit at the parking lot all day. Granted, there might not be a lot of stuff around, but go for a walk and get some air in your lungs. Get out, walk, and enjoy yourself. That’s something that I’ve definitely learned over the years. When you’re on the road, you gotta get out.

A couple of experimental tracks show up near the end of the new CD. Tell me about how those evolved?
If you listen back to some of the albums you will notice [it]. For example, “Evolved as One,” which is one From Enslavement, “Cold Forgiveness,” and “Self Betrayal,” which is on Diatribes, I think, or something around that era. We’ve always had those songs… Yes, we’re influenced massively by fast hardcore and the quality death metal from the mid-‘80s and stuff, but Napalm had always had other influences and branched off.

What are some of your favorite albums lately?
There’s definitely some great albums that came out this year, I’d really have to sit and think about that one. It’s tough, man. Nothing totally jumps out at me. I guess, and I hate to sound jaded or anything, but as time goes on I’m finding less and less amazing albums per year. I was spoiled, you know? In my formative years, I had “Ace of Spades,” I had Discharge. I had Leather, Bristles, Studs and Acne by GBH, I had Scream Bloody Gore by Death. I had Celtic Frost, To Mega Therion. I had the early Swans albums… Can you really top those classics? It’d be pretty hard. [The] Septic Death album, Now That I Have Their Attention, What Do I Do with It? Don’t Be Swindled by S.O.B. I mean, it’s very difficult to come up extreme albums that would come anywhere near those.

What about bands like The Dillinger Escape Plan?
Yeah, Dillinger and Botch make great albums. There’s a whole number of bands that you could think of. I am kind of disappointed in the death metal scene. There is a couple of really fucking good albums out there, but I don’t think people are hitting the heights they used to. I mean, going back to the first couple of Entombed albums… fuck me, they were intense.

Again, congrats on the new one. It’s killer, and after so many albums, not a lot of bands can say that.
That’s cool, man. We always try our best when we’re in the studio, we always try to focus… I don’t think a lot of bands who go into the studio appreciate that it’s about capturing the moment. What you have those days that you’re in there, you’ll never get back again. Once it’s done and you get through an album and you’re on a budget… Because not every band is Metallica, you can’t afford to fuck about in a studio for a year on end. You gotta capture the moment. You have to fucking focus when you’re in the studio. A lot of bands make the mistake of not doing that. They might go in there and fucking drink like crazy and feel like shit, and they can’t do what they need to do.

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Thursday, March 12, 2009


Originally published in: Wonka Vision Magazine

Album: The Misery Index: Notes from the Plague Years (Equal Vision Records)

Random thoughts: One of my all-time favourite interviews. Read on...

Misery and Triumph: Notes from the Gray Years

By Jason Schreurs

Those who have followed Boysetsfire over the years are well aware of their enigmatic singer, Nathan Gray. But how many know his story? Gray’s modest upbringing in Delaware and Florida shaped him, and a tragic case of abuse almost broke him, but he remains the leader of one of the world’s most integral hardcore bands despite having lived 10 dangerous years that almost cost him his life. Gray has inspired so many people in the past decade with his heartfelt lyrics and impassioned singing (and, yes, screaming), something that is only magnified in light of what he’s gone through.

Where were you born and where did you grow up?
I was born in 1972 in Wilmington, Delaware. I grew in Newark until I was 13, and I grew up pretty fucking poor for most of my life. My parents struggled pretty hard. My mom worked in a diner and my dad worked in a factory for awhile and, at the same time, started thinking about becoming a minister. We moved when I was 13 from Newark to Pensacola, Florida so my dad could go to theological school. We struggled so hard but my parents always made sure I was fed, I never worried about getting hit, I never worried about them beating on each other, or getting loaded and leaving me abandoned somewhere. I had an awesome childhood because when you’re that poor, you don’t know it. That’s just how it is.

So when did you move back to Delaware?
Things weren’t working out in Florida and [my parents] wanted to move back. When I was 19, we moved to Maryland, which is right outside Delaware. We jumped from church to church for jobs for him.

How much was religion a part of your life when you were a kid?
Through no fault of my parents other than they didn’t notice, the one church in Pensacola really fucked me up. They were horrible, horrible people. And I have so many issues that I still deal with today. If you listen to the song “With Cold Eyes” [on Boysetsfire’s latest, The Misery Index: Notes from the Plague Years], it’s about that. I was abused by them in every shape, form, and idea. Up until I was 17, I was horrified of listening to rock music, drinking, smoking, having sex, or anything like that, and it wasn’t until I was 19 that I started becoming more comfortable with rock music—go figure, I’m in a band now. It wasn’t until 19 when I had my first drink. And I went fucking ballistic from there. That’s one of the most horrible things religion can do to kids. They repress you for so long and then you get to a certain point and you explode! I had 10 years of a near-death experience because of it. I was doing everything, trying everything, to the point where, seriously, it’s a miracle I’m not dead.
Why do we always hear rumors about you being gay?
[Laughs] I think it’s partially my fault and partially other people’s fault. During those 10 years, I was definitely a confused person. I was experimenting. Some things were good experiments. Some things were bad experiments. Coming from a repressed background, I did a lot of things I’m either proud of or not proud of, but they are a part of me. But I’m not gay, and I found that out pretty quickly.

Would you consider yourself bisexual?
No. And I went through both phases. Thinking I was bi, thinking I was gay, to the point I was convinced of both at one point or the other. And then it just wasn’t me. It just wasn’t. I went through a lot of soul-searching and realizing what I want out of life, out of a partner, sexually, emotionally, and it just doesn’t appeal to me. And I may be one of the only people that can say, “Yeah, I guess it was just a phase” [laughs].

Did some good come out of it because you were a positive role model for some kids in the hardcore scene?
Oh, absolutely. And even though I was confused, I’m glad I put that out there because I’m sure there were other people struggling with their sexuality, and that was probably a big help for them, either to think I was gay, or to realize I was struggling with my own sexuality and my own feelings, and to realize they’re not alone.

Does it get annoying having to answer the “gay” question all the time?
Only to the extent I don’t always care to talk about it because people make up their minds quick. They don’t know me. They don’t have any idea what I’m into. I am really glad I went through those years of experimenting and almost dying to find out who I was. Because now I’m so stable in who I am. I went through the homosexuality phase, I also went through a phase where I blew a good deal of money on coke and ended up in the hospital a couple of times before I realized, “This is stupid.” And I haven’t touched that stuff in years. This wasn’t that long ago, my experimenting with drugs probably ended around 2002 when Tomorrow Come Today came out, so I’ve been clean over three years. It was a rough time. That shit will fuck you. Cocaine is one of those drugs that you think is going to be fun, and it feels like a good time, but honestly it turns you into an asshole. There’s just nothing positive about that shit. It’s destroyed so many of my friends, it destroyed me, it almost killed me… yeah, I won’t get too preachy, but I’m glad I went through all of that. I know who I am now.

Do you feel like that phase of your life was a reaction to some of things that happened in your childhood?
It completely was. When I look back and think of some horrific things that happened to me as a child, especially with the church, it really shaped some of the dumb things I did sexually and with drugs. But I can look back at my childhood and not feel fear anymore. I can look back at almost any horrific incident in my past and say, “Hey, that taught me something. It’s for the better. Fuck it.”

How did you continue to be a spiritual person after what happened with the church?
The fact that I had one positive role model in my parents for my spirituality is probably what saved me from turning my back on it altogether. I’m not too stoked on it, and I’d say I’m more agnostic than anything, but I do still have a belief that there’s a God somewhere, and there’s something to it... But I’m not angry. I’m not angry at God. I’m not angry at my parents. I’m not even angry at people that have done me wrong in the past, because they’re gone; they’re part of my past.

Did you ever go through any therapy?
No. I’ve gotten to the point where I’ve almost lost my mind and I think I’m too stubborn to let it happen. There’s one part of my brain that says, “You’re talking crazy. Step back a minute…” Even when I’m having panic attacks, I know I’m having them and I can rationalize it and get through it really quickly.

Now that I’ve heard your story it makes a lot more sense that you’re up there screaming in a band like Boysetsfire.
It definitely makes a lot more sense when you get to know us; who we are and what we’ve been through. We’ve all been through some weird shit and it’s why the band is so schizophrenic, and why we’re so angry. The band is almost like our psychiatric couch where we just put everything out there. I think that’s what keeps us alive. I can tell you if it wasn’t for this band, that 10 years of near-death experience would have turned out to be five years until I died. It would have been over… We give to the band by giving our neuroses to the band, and the band gives to us by taking those same neuroses.

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Friday, March 6, 2009

Destroying the Airwaves: AT THE DRIVE-IN -- 2006

Any time these guys went on TV, it was a flurry of afros and hilarious herky-jerk dance moves. This appearance on David Letterman is no exception. I can only imagine what Paul Schaeffer must have been thinking about this one.

Thought that appearance was chaotic? Check out this version from Live in Jools Holland, a British TV show.