Thursday, November 9, 2017

Interview with Jonathan Hodges from Turmoil (Lickgoldensky, The Deadly, Lord Crow)

Turmoil. The Process Of. What the fuck.

If you’re anything like me, these iconic words are synonymous with each other. When you hear one, it immediately triggers the others. Surely if we ever reach a bizarre moment in the future where anthropologists attempt to make sense of what the hardcore scene was, their study will undoubtedly include mention of this groundbreaking Philadelphia band. Equal parts hardcore, metal, noise, and raw fury, their legacy, and “The Process Of” in particular, is firmly cemented.  

A few months ago my buddy Mike Phillips of Escapist Records suggested guitarist Jonathan Hodges would make for an interesting interview and that I should hit him up. I was super stoked at the invitation, and we got things going pretty quickly.

If you’ve followed this blog at all you know I love it when people are willing to delve deep into their personal histories and motivations, and I think you’ll agree Hodges delivers and then some.

Read on.

I always like to get a window into people's backgrounds a little bit, so talk about your family, your childhood, etc. Were there any particular defining moments for you as a kid?

I grew up in Jim Thorpe, PA which is a small town nestled between a few mountains in Northeastern PA. The majority of my family is up there. It's pretty picturesque especially in the fall and attracts a lot of tourists these days that are looking for a little natural beauty. I lived with my mother Andrea, grandmother Edith, grandfather Victor and Aunt Amy and Uncle Chris in a half of a double. My father at that point was already out of the picture and still in the San Francisco area where I was for my first 2-3 years. Living with my Aunt Amy and Uncle Chris ended up being a great substitute for being an only child. I got all of the benefits of having a brother and sister without having to share clothes/toys etc. because of the age gap. My grandfather Victor was a great father figure to me. From what I understand having a grandson really softened him up as he was a pretty quiet old grump before I was in the picture. He worked at the Bethlehem Steel and did some carpentry work on the side. He would do things like take me fishing and spotting deer and also bet me on football games.

My grandmother was and is still very involved in politics. She recently became the oldest woman in local history to be elected to a borough council seat. She's an amazing woman and shaped who I am as a man today. My mother is a very smart woman who had a pretty adventurous life. She left town after graduating high school and decided she wanted to hitchhike to San Francisco where all the action was in the late 60's. She met a lot of her favorite musicians there and has a million wild stories about people she's met along the way and things she's seen. She was integral in encouraging my love for music and always had records around the house.

My father Bill Hodges came from a big family in Iowa and joined the Navy out of high school around the time of the Vietnam war. He served during the war and was honorably discharged. Like many of the men of his generation it changed him. He met my mother in San Francisco through mutual friends and was a talented musician and artist. My mom often tells me I got all of my artistic ability and ear for music from him. My dad would play acoustic guitar on the corner and sing songs by The Animals, Bob Dylan and whatever was popular and my Mom would panhandle to make ends meet before I was born. After I came along they lived there for another 2-3 years. They would have bands like It's a Beautiful Day stop by and play music in their apartment. It seems crazy to think about raising a child in those circumstances but it was a different time with different standards.

My family back east had met my father shortly after I was born when we all flew back. He got along pretty well with them but that would be the last time they would see him. I left San Francisco with my mom when I was 3 and I would never see my father again. Occasionally I would get a postcard or birthday card from him and a rare phone call. I didn't know him much at all which made it a little easier to take when I heard of his passing when I was 14. The family that was present made sure I had a great childhood with a lot of positive male role models around.
How much of a presence did music and art have in your life as you were coming up? How'd you eventually fall into the world of punk, hardcore, metal, etc.? 

There was always music around the house whether it was the corny late 70's stuff my Uncle Chris was into like "Convoy" by CW McCall or "Beep Beep" by The Playmates or The Holdovers from the 60's my Mom was into like The Who and The Rolling Stones. My Aunt Amy dug some of the 80's new wave stuff that was going on like The Go Go's, Rick Springfield and The Hooters. I have a weird ability to recall very specific memories related to music. One that sticks is hearing my Uncle's 8-track copy of “The Dream Police” by Cheap Trick. Something about hearing that song got me going with music in a big way. The fact that it was a real epic song with a complex arrangement and the guitars and keyboards were so up front. I think it's one of the first songs that made me wish I knew how to play guitar.

I had a real thing for bands with good keyboard parts early on. Bands like Genesis, Journey and Saga really did it for me for a minute. I would still spend a ton of time running around with friends in the woods back then and playing football but I could tell music was what really got me pumped. Not long after we finally got cable TV and MTV was in its golden era. I was getting exposed to a lot of cool stuff. I had an endless appetite for music. The first cassette I bought with my own money was Motley Crue “Shout at the Devil”. That record changed my life. The intro was scary and then when the song shout at the devil started kicking in I knew I was hooked. From then on I made the slow transition from glam/cock rock like Ratt and WASP to stuff like Iron Maiden and Scorpions. From there it was a natural progression to Metallica, Anthrax and SOD.

Finding out about new bands was work back then, especially where we grew up. You had to drive about 45 minutes to a decent record store or hope to read about something cool in a magazine you stumbled across at the corner store. There was a college radio station from Lehigh University that would do a show called radiation sickness in the 80's that was about an hour or two long. I'd tape it even with the terrible reception we got where I was and try to find new stuff to get into. My first real concert was a Beastie Boys, Murphy's Law, Public Enemy show at Stabler arena in Bethlehem. That was one of my first experiences with any kind of punk/hardcore. I was pretty pumped on Murphy's Law after seeing how nuts they went. Around that time I was getting really into comic books too so I would spend most of my time reading comics and listening to music. I was probably in junior high at the time and I was looking for the most extreme shit I could get my hands on music wise. I was really into thrash and couldn't get enough. Luckily a record store in the next town started getting in imports and some pretty crazy metal and punk stuff since it was really popular. Stuff like DRI, Black Flag, Exodus and Kreator.

It was around then that I knew I needed a decent guitar so I could start learning how to play. Up to that point I had some broke dick Sears catalog guitar with a built in amplifier. It was a white Les Paul shape with a 4-inch speaker in the bottom under the bridge. So I eventually bugged my mom to the point that she bought me an Ibanez flying V (my buddy Dan Heaney had the pink one and I had the black one) and set me up with a couple lessons from a local dude on the other side of town. There were a couple of guys I knew through friends that were about a year or two older that were pretty good at guitar in town. I was pretty jealous of their ability and it really motivated me to hit the woodshed and get my shit together. I had a pretty good ear and it drove me nuts that it took so much time to replicate the songs I wanted to riff along to. Eventually after a lot of practice, I got more comfortable and stopped taking lessons. I figured I would be a rhythm guitarist so I wouldn't need to learn about leads and shit. One of my cousins Bill had heard about me being into metal and was pumped that I liked some of the same stuff he did. He was a little older so when I went to visit him he took me to my first metal show. Anthrax and Testament at the Airport Music Hall. It was perfect, Anthrax were touring for among the living and testament were touring for the legacy. It was transformational.

Around then I started becoming friends with some other kids like Hydro and Gula from Turmoil and some older guys that were old enough to drive to some of these shows we wanted to see. Gula came with me on a shore trip with my family and it was decided we were going to start a band when we got back. We started a band called Street Trash named after the horror movie that sounded kind of like a shittier DRI. It was what it was supposed to be. Local kids figuring out how to play together and write songs.

We all ended up going to see Exodus at the Airport Music Hall when “Fabulous Disaster” came out and at that point we had a decent crew of friends that were all into thrash. Two bands opened up that show. A local band called Forthright and Sick of it All. Forthright was awesome and their singer was super nice and approachable. Sick of it All was nuts and blew our minds. Seeing a local band like Forthright on that big stage but still be down to earth dudes really changed our perspectives. It was aggressive like thrash but humble and more interactive. We must have dubbed their demo 20 times for all our friends in town. I can still play it note for note and know most if not all the lyrics. Those dudes were super encouraging when they heard we were trying to do bands. I'll always be thankful for that. We were getting into Killing Time, Minor Threat and Cro-Mags but we still didn't know shit about anything.

This new girl at school found out we were into some hardcore bands and gave us a tape with Gorilla Biscuits, Uniform Choice and Hogan’s Heroes. Another game changer. All this shit was super hard to find for us since the chain record stores didn't really carry it and we had no idea that there were little mom and pop shops in Allentown and Bethlehem that carried this stuff. Then Gula and I go to see Dark Angel, Gothic Slam and Excel at the Airport. We meet this kid with a Uniform Choice shirt and chat him up. He starts name dropping all these bands and educates us about 7" records and tells us about this little shop called Play It Again Records. Mind fucking blown. We go there with some recommendations from him and pick up Outburst, Turning Point and Breakdown 7"s. We were totally hooked. It was so raw and compact. The drumming was totally different from what we were used to hearing and there was this honesty to it since it wasn't all overproduced.

Little by little we sought out more bands and would see some of the bigger bands come through Allentown. When we heard about this venue in Reading that was mostly hardcore I went down with the same kid who turned us onto the record store and saw Gorilla Biscuits. This was a real hardcore show. The stage was about a foot off the ground and kids were mobbing them. I knew I needed to be in a hardcore band. So we changed our name to forward step and started writing fast positive hardcore songs. We recorded a demo with the guy that ran the venue which got our foot in the door there. We got to play a few shows at that venue in Reading (The Unisound) with Burn and a few other cool bands. We probably went to a show every weekend there for most of that summer.
So Forward Step...did you guys record anything else beyond the initial demo? Did you start doing any weekends/start getting out of town at all or since you were so young was it mostly local stuff?
Forward Step only ever recorded the one demo with Jake from the Unisound. We only ever played at the Unisound and a couple house shows at our friend’s places. The idea of networking and playing in different places didn't really come into play for us. We were more than happy with the occasional Unisound show and goofing off with our friends. Gula and I started that band with Hydro's younger brother Randy on bass and Rich Murlo on drums who was in our vo-tech commercial art class. Rich was more of a jazz drummer although he could play anything. It was a struggle sometimes trying to get the beats I was hearing in my head through to him since he didn't listen to a ton of hardcore. Hydro ended up playing guitar for us after a while since the band he was in Public Outcry split up. Eventually Dave Weston who is the kid I mentioned earlier that we met at the Dark Angel show with the uniform choice shirt ended up drumming for us. We would get together and jam to turning Point, Judge, Side By Side and Gorilla Biscuits when we would hang out so I knew he would be a great fit. We ended up playing 1 or two shows with him and then the band kind of dissolved when I started art school in fall of 91.
How did Forward Step eventually disband, and at what point did Turmoil start up?
After I went to school and got over the initial adjustment of being in a new city (Pittsburgh) I was still thinking about writing for whatever Gula, Hydro and I were going to do next. I was getting into some death metal and noise/indie stuff out there along with still being pretty pumped on hardcore and thrash. A lot of touch and go and AmRep bands made their way through Pittsburgh which was awesome and opened me up to some cool bands. While I was out there I started writing a song called "Out of Reach" in the dorms that ended up being on the first Turmoil demo. It was definitely heavily influenced by Outburst, Dmize, and Breakdown.
 For a few months I did a band called Bad Blood with 3 other guys from around Pittsburgh. We wrote a few songs and played one show with Time Bomb and Sumpthin’ to Prove from Erie. It was okay but everyone had different ideas of what it should sound like that I wasn't 100% on board with.

It just made more sense to me to dedicate my time to writing stuff for the next project with Gula and Hydro. At least I knew we were all on the same page. So the summer of 92’ after my first year at school we started getting together with our buddy Keith who played drums in Public Outcry with Hydro. We wrote about 6 songs that we were feeling pretty good about. Keith came up with the name Turmoil and it kind of stuck. We recorded a couple songs at the Unisound and we weren't all that happy with how it came out. Seemed like it was time for a change. We wanted something harder and more metal.

We had been talking to Jim Winters since the Forward Step days and he told us about trauma studios in Colebrook, PA near Hershey. The engineer Joe Daub played drums for the Christian metal band Believer and recorded their stuff as well as Jim's band Conviction. We were able to book the day before I was supposed to head back to Pittsburgh so I knew it was important to get my shit done. Jim basically had us use his guitar rig for that demo and it was super abrasive and heavily gated…had a real Exodus meets Helmet vibe. Joe did a great job of coaching us up and getting us to sound better than we were previously. We were stoked and finally had a recording we felt good about. We headed home with something new that made it feel like a new band and not just an extension of our older efforts.

So did that session become the first 7" or just kind of demo #2?
That session was just the first real Turmoil demo. It went over pretty well for what it was. Got us on a couple of shows we might not have gotten on otherwise. Shortly after we got a different drummer in the band. Honestly can't remember the reason for the switch but it worked out. We were writing heavier songs and developing a little bit of an identity as a band as raw as it was. We were still playing local mostly but here and there started getting out of state shows in Ohio and Massachusetts. We were able to somehow get on a fest in New Bedford, Massachusetts with a ton of bands like Bloodlet, Earth Crisis and some others. That was a real eye opener for us. Bloodlet destroyed everybody and anytime we would see a band level all the competition it would make us want to hit the woodshed and get better.
It's rad to see you mentioning death metal, Am Rep, and hardcore all coming together because you guys definitely encapsulated all that stuff. Were you at all worried that you might not fit in with what was happening at that time? Who did you guys see as your natural peers in those early days?
As far as fitting in we always kind of seemed like we were a little off center. We weren't a straight edge band and didn't have a resume as far as being from other notable hardcore bands. I don't think aside from just wanting kids to be into our stuff we were worried about how we fit in. It seemed like hardcore was getting more metal anyway since there was an entire generation of kids that grew up on Metallica and slayer. We had already seen a bit of a shift from straight up posi-core bands being the thing to heavier bands in the span of a year or two.

As far as bands we were playing with I didn't really see us as part of a bigger group of bands early on. It wasn't until we had that first 4 song e.p. released on Century Media and Harvest Records that anyone really started to notice us. We did a short east Coast tour with the British punk band Chaos UK which was on Century Media and realized life in a van with our drummer wasn't tolerable. It was also another moment when we realized we could be working a lot harder on sounding more consistent.

Shortly after that the label got us on a Euro tour with Madball. Off a 4 song e.p.! Didn't understand it but who was I to argue a free trip to Europe and get to hear Madball every night. We enlisted our friend Brian Craig from Sideover to play drums and things were going. That tour was a blast. We were a little nervous at first since they had a rep for getting into brawls but within 5 minutes of meeting those guys we knew it was going to be a fun trip. It was another tour that reminded us that we had a lot of improving to do, we definitely grew up on that one. Madball showed us what a professional band sounded like. Every night was high energy and tight. We had a little bit of a rep for "going off" live but we quickly realized that didn't matter much if you sounded like shit.

Bands like Earth Crisis and Snapcase started becoming friendly with us through people like Jim Winters and here and there we'd get to play a show with them. They still seemed like they had their shit together on a much higher level than us at the time which was very true. Later on we ended up fitting on bills with the Victory bands and oddballs like Deadguy and Bloodlet, Damnation AD, Coalesce, etc.
I'd always associated Winters with you guys. Was he actually a member at any point or just a friend of the band?
We were real motivated early on to get to a level where we would be releasing records by a legit label. Seemed like a far off thing for a while since the only band we really knew from PA that was getting there were Conviction. Those guys were tight as fuck and much heavier the anything around at the time. Jim Winters from Conviction was a huge reason behind us doing anything at all. He helped us with contacts for shows not to mention hooking us up with Joe Daub from Trauma Studios. Later on we'd call on him to fill in for Hydro on an Earth Crisis tour that later ended up him just being in the band for that stretch of 97-99 or so.
How did you guys wind up connecting with Century Media? I remember getting the "Anchor" 7" and seeing it on that label and thinking it was kind of wild because in my head they were a straight up metal label.
The Century Media thing came about through Joe Daubs connections with roadrunner and other mutual friends. I'm not sure how exactly Borivoj Krgin got our demo but it might have been since he was tight with the band Atheist who Believer were friends with. Anyway Roadrunner wasn't into it. They wanted another Helmet or Quicksand type band. We already listened to that stuff but we weren't about to switch our sound up to get signed. Borivoj like it as is and arranged to come out and meet us with Robert Kampf who owned the label. We practiced at Trauma Studios for those guys and didn't suck enough to blow the audition. They were fun to bullshit with and it didn't seem real to us at all. A few weeks later we signed a deal with them and it blew our minds. They wanted to put out a couple of the demo songs along with one or two new ones. We didn't know a ton of bands on the label but we instantly lost our minds over Eyehategod ”Take As Needed for Pain”. If the label was headed in a weirder direction that could only be good for us. Ultimately I think they saw hardcore bands on labels like Victory and Revelation and in a more polished sense roadrunner doing well and wanted to get in on it.

As corporate or metal as that label might have seemed to outsiders (we got a decent amount of blowback from a small group of hardcore kids for selling out) those guys treated us like family. We stayed with Borivoj on one of our West Coast trips and Robert actually paid for Gula to go to the hospital on one of our Europe tours when he tweaked his ankle. They looked out for us and that's all that mattered. In the end it might not have been the best fit but those guys took a chance on us which we'll always be grateful for.

Holy shit dude, so I assume we're talking the Stigma/Henderson incarnation of Madball? What was it like to be touring with guys who at that point were basically already living legends?
Yeah it was Stigma, Henderson, Shepler and of course Freddie and Hoya. They were a machine. It wasn't real long after set it off came out but I had that and the first Madball 7" so I was pretty stoked. I knew about Hoya from his old band Dmize who I really dug and   The rest of the band from the AF “One Voice” era. Those guys were real down to earth nice dudes. Like I said we were a little intimidated at first but those guys were so chill we got along great right away. I don't think we were in awe or anything, especially since they weren't full of themselves. It was like getting an education watching them do their thing.
What did your family and friends make of this thing kinda taking off and giving you opportunities to hit Europe, etc.?
Our friends and family were all happy for us. It seemed like everyone was behind what we were doing. They seemed to take it all in stride. I'm sure they were just glad to see that we were building something out of this band. None of us had any real musicians in our families so it was all a new experience.
So like I kind of alluded to a little earlier, I picked up on you guys around the time "Anchor" came out and was lucky to catch you on Devil's Night of 97 with Torn Apart. My college roommate was originally from Maryland so he loved that band and I remember him being so stoked when we saw that show get announced. How did you hook up with the TA boys and how was that tour/what memories stand out, etc.?
I'm pretty sure Gula got in touch with the Torn Apart guys. I think we just happened to be booked on the same show at some point and it was just a good fit. After that we started doing some weekends together. We got along great with those guys right away and we were all into the same bands. Their bass player Drew and I would spit on each other when we played. It was pretty disgusting at times but it's the kind of thing you do to kill boredom on the road. We played this house in the middle of the woods in Virginia or Maryland that was like the plot to a horror movie. I thought only the kids that owned the house would show up but it ended up being insane. Most of the shows we did with those guys were a total blast.

Alright so let's get to "The Process Of". It's obviously become a classic not just of that era but of hardcore as a whole. By that point you guys had been a band for 6-7 years, had numerous other releases, and as you mentioned had toured with a lot of bands that pushed you in your craft. Talk a little bit about the writing process for that record as well as sort of the collective headspace of the band. What would you say you guys were trying to accomplish?
As far as the writing for the process of it was all Pushnik and I. Pushnik always had good vocal hooks in mind when we were writing. We had a practice space that we shared with Kid Dynamite in South Philly where we got to work a while after the “Anchor” e.p. was out, probably around 97-98. I think the first song we wrote specifically for that album was “Throwing Stones” which in hindsight wasn't really representative of where we were headed. Today it sounds like a Snapcase song to me. After that song I started experimenting with different tunings to get a little heavier sound which was pretty necessary to articulate the riff ideas I was working on. I was listening to a lot of Eyehategod, Buzzoven, His Hero is Gone, Iron Monkey and Entombed which was slowly seeping into what I was writing. I would record ideas at home on a shitty 4 track Tascam cassette recorder we had and show it to Pushnik but mostly we would just hole up in the space twice weekly and try to piece things together.
If there was one thing we were going for it was kind of a combination of hooks and aggression. We also wanted it to have some diversity of tempos and interludes between songs that would link things together like a good mixtape. A lot of other bands around us were starting to make legit albums and we wanted to make our statement so that we could get to that next level. Our goal was always to destroy every band we played with or at the very least be on the same level. We wanted to write songs that were punishing and unrelenting. We knew we weren't the type of band to write in a mosh part just so kids would dance so we were just trying to make something we would listen to and be stoked on.
Specifically, I think I'd be remiss if I didn't ask about the album's iconic opening. Was that something you guys discussed/planned out in advance or did Gula come to the table with that in the studio?
“Playing Dead” was an extension of a riff we used on the “Anchor” ep to close it out. I kind of like how Bad Brains did that with the intro on “I Against I” and then used it for “Voyage to Infinity” on “Quickness”. Pushnik came up with the "what the fuck" as well as the rest of the lyrics to that song. He had the vocal hook in mind for a while before we finished it. He wrote the lyrics for most of the album. I did the lyrics for “Every Man My Enemy”, “Dear Jon” and “The Locust”. Pushnik would tweak them here and there to work better with the song. Pushnik was definitely our Lars Ulrich as far as having the vision for what we should be doing. He was a huge driving force in the band conceptually and was always trying to do different things drum-wise. In hindsight I really wish we would've continued to write more stuff during that period because we had a bunch of riffs that were left over and half-finished ideas. When you're under the gun to get an album out though it's tough to have that kind of perspective.
Aside from the power of the songs themselves, I think many would consider the production on "The Process Of" to be sort of gold standard/flawless in its execution. You guys obviously did the record with Steve Evetts at Trax did you decide to go with Steve and how did the session compare with your previous recording experiences?
After we recorded the “Anchor” e.p. we were really happy with the entire experience with Steve Evetts at Trax East. It was a real studio that wasn't just a basement and seemed way more professional in every aspect. We worshipped Deadguy and he made them sound huge. He knew how to get the sounds we wanted and was tuned into the bands we liked. He was super easy to work with and always had great little production tricks to make things more atmospheric. The raw tracks sounded so good to us compared to the garbage experience we had recording for “From Bleeding Hands” I didn't know how it could get any better in the mix. So it was predetermined that we would record the LP with him. There was no question.
So correct me if I'm wrong, but I seem to remember you guys basically breaking up/going on hiatus semi-quickly after "The Process Of" came out.  What happened?
After “The Process Of” came out we did a month and a half long tour in the US and had one day off then did about 5 weeks in Europe. All in all, it was about 3 months straight of touring. The tours went well enough but we still felt like we weren't getting where we wanted to be. It didn't help that we didn't have a decent booking agent over here. We also didn't feel like the album was getting the push from the label it deserved. It was just business as usual and from what we heard it was hard to find the record in stores.

After the Europe tour Pushnik felt the pressure to put his degree to work and started working more seriously as a photographer. It bummed me out but I understood it. A few months later we toured as a 4 piece with Mike Bowen on drums and things were good but without Pushnik in the mix it was different. We probably should've just soldiered on in hindsight. I ended up writing some cool shit with Mike for Lickgoldensky and ended up using some riffs that would've probably been Turmoil songs. He was and still is a great drummer. I just think we had it in our head that without Pushnik guiding the ship that the results would be different. I remember we had a show I'm Cleveland booked with Snapcase, Boysetsfire, and Grade. Derek Hess did a poster for it so we were pumped. Gula was supposed to grab the rental van after work and was probably having a shitty day coupled with feeling like he was tired of being responsible for booking shows and renting vans then he called me and Getz and quit. That was it. We booked a last show in Philly that was promoted like garbage and Hellfest in Syracuse where our set was cut short after 3 songs. It kind of summed up our frustrations perfectly.

For years afterward Gula wanted to have a proper last show because of how badly that one went. After that I did a band called The Deadly along with Lickgoldensky with Getz. Gula and Hydro ended up getting together to start the Kiss of Death. Eventually Pushnik joined The Deadly with me to play drums and we ended up playing shows with Hydro and Gula's band. That was a weird feeling. Didn’t seem natural to not be on stage with those guys. Hydro and I had some shit to work out friendship wise (since I had to call him and tell him he wouldn't be doing the Europe tour with us in 97 with Earth Crisis) But eventually we ended up hashing things out and doing some stuff as Turmoil again in 2005.

Yeah I remember seeing you guys on tour with MPB in 05. How did those 3 songs and the Abacus discography release come together?
We thought the timing of the discography and a reunion show would be a pretty good idea. I'm not one for nostalgia as a motivation for doing a band and neither are most of the guys so if we were going to spend time doing this we were going to write some new material to go with it to keep us interested. We didn't plan a full scale rebirth at first. Initially we just wanted to do a Europe trip and maybe handpick a few shows here and there. It was going so well that it just seemed like we should keep at it. Things were easier and the quality of the shows we were being offered were pretty good at the time.
Did you guys go into that period of activity thinking it was going to turn into a full-scale rebirth, or was the plan just to record, do that run, and then put it back to bed?
Eventually the idea was to do a full album after the discography but as you can see it didn't work out that way. We recorded 12 new songs and a cover of “My War” by Black Flag. Gula wasn't really motivated to record vocals and seemed like he was over it. We had some real good songs for that record that I was proud of. I can't be sure but I think Gula didn't want to tarnish “The Process Of” with anything after it. Either that or he just wasn't pumped on the direction we were headed. It was a bummer and we wanted to finish it.

Alright so what came first, the decision to play TIHC, or the re-issue with Escapist? Also, I know in like 08' the LP got re-issued by War Crime Records with alternate artwork. What happened with that and what led to the 2nd re-issue?

The decision to play TIHC in 2014 came first. We were talking to someone about doing a fest (which ended up falling through) on the West Coast and figured we should do an East Coast show too. Joe from TIHC had always been a friend of the band and had asked us to play once before but the timing wasn't right for us. So I called him and luckily he was able to find a spot for us since it (the fest) was booked for the most part. 

As far as the reissue, I had been talking to Mike from Escapist for a bit leading up to the release but wasn't sure until it got closer to the fest that the reissue would be ready. As far as his reason for wanting to reissue it I think he just wanted to reintroduce the album to a younger generation of kids because he was stoked on it. It all came together pretty well thanks to his hard work. It’s always cool working with someone who is 100% behind a release and is passionate about the music. 

The War Crime reissue came out when we were still kind of finishing up our last run. It was cool but we weren't involved in it as much as the Escapist reissue.

You guys did one of the more intimate TIHC after-shows as well as a set at the main event. What was the vibe like in those rooms and how did it feel to be playing the songs again after a pretty decent sized lull?

TIHC was a real fun experience for us. Everyone involved in the fest and after shows are from the Philly scene so it's a real natural thing to be dealing with people that you've been to other shows with or who have bands that you've played with etc. They all (Joe and his crew) put a ton of work into the fest to make it the most enjoyable experience for the bands and kids.

I always like the shoebox packed tight shows more so the small show the night before was more fun for me. The fest show was a great experience as well and it was fun getting to see some of the other bands and friends we haven't hung out with in forever. It was a pretty big love fest all around. Couldn't have gone much better than it did. Of course I'll always pick apart every aspect of our shows and wish some little thing was better but that's just what I do.

Playing with the other Turmoil guys just feels right. Me, Gula and Hydro have been friends since about Jr high so we have a pretty deep connection. I have been playing music with those guys and Pushnik for more than half of my life and it still amazes me that we got paid to hang out, see the world and play music together. It's what we've always wanted to do. Playing those songs is a lot of fun and I'm glad they mean something to other kids (or grown men for that matter). I'm always thankful for the opportunities this band has afforded me. My life would have been a lot different without it.

Is there anything on the horizon for future Turmoil shows/writing, or was TIHC the last hurrah?

We've talked a little about possibly doing something in 2019 for the 20th anniversary of “The Process Of” but it hasn't gone far beyond that yet. It takes a lot of work to get this thing going when everyone is scattered around. For TIHC Pushnik and I practiced for about 3 months or more before the show just to make sure we didn't embarrass ourselves. Because he travels to the West Coast for photo assignments he was able to get a couple practices with Hydro and Gula. So it's kind of worked out. I'm sure we'll hash some plans out next year.

Beyond Turmoil, I know you've stayed busy with lots of other musical projects over the years....what do you have going on currently?

Right now I'm singing and playing guitar in a band called Lord Crow. It's along the lines of High on Fire, Torche, The Melvins, etc. We recorded an EP in April that's on bandcamp and are playing a few shows here and there. We're writing material for an LP that will hopefully be done next year. It's the first time I've done vocals full time so it's a new experience for me. It's much easier to just play guitar. I've been told I sound like Matt Pike (High on Fire) with a full set of teeth. I'm totally okay with that description.

I always love asking this question to people who have been around forever; how would you say hardcore and punk have changed over the years? What's better than when you were just getting started and what's worse? 

Hardcore is a lot more accessible then it was when I was just getting into it in the late 80's. You really had to seek things out and talk to people, read zines, visit brick and mortar record stores etc. It was more of an in person type of thing and I felt like there was a real sense of community.

I think the turnover with kids getting in and out of the scene is pretty rapid. We were even seeing that back in the mid-late 90's when we were touring a lot. I think social media has hurt and helped hardcore. It's a pretty quick way for bands to get out there but also it's not real like being at a show and seeing a band or making a new friend.

What's better is that bands can actually do bigger shows and achieve more success. Labels like Epitaph weren't really touching hardcore bands back in the day. It's not just a small niche scene like it was back in the day. I see these bands like Converge, Hatebreed and Dillinger escape plan doing some really cool tours/shows and playing with a more diverse group of bands. The shows (at least in Philly) are more organized and well run. There are more girls and women active in bands which is awesome. It was a boy’s club for a pretty long time. I'm the father of a 3-year old girl so I'd like to think she can do anything she's passionate about in this day and age.

As somebody who has pretty much done it all in terms of writing, recording, touring, playing with legends, playing to 5 people, etc., what lessons would you say you've learned/what advice would you give to young kids just cutting their teeth? 

My advice would be to stay humble, put in the work, push yourself and your band mates to continually improve. No one owes you anything and assume no one cares about your band until they do. Then, be grateful for it. Play with the same intensity for 5 people as you would 500 because those 5 kids will remember that shit forever. Talk to your favorite bands and ask them questions about how their band works, what gear they use, how they write and record. Work with an experienced engineer if you can afford to. You'll learn a ton about doing things the right way and get a great sounding record out of it. Be true to your vision of what you want your band to be. Don't be afraid to turn shit down if it seems out of character. Most of all have fun doing it. Get a side hustle and finish school because most likely you won't be able to make a living playing music.

1997, middle of nowhere Illinois:

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Interview with Jesse Price from Letters to Catalonia

 As you know if you follow this blog, I love the screamy stuff. Letters to Catalonia is a new-ish band in that vein from California. Their first couple of releases were decent imo, but when their new e.p. "Fragmentary" hit the web a couple months ago I was instantly blown away, as the band is firing on all cylinders and has things completely dialed in. 

As usual, I wanted to learn a little bit more about the band, so vocalist/guitarist/founding member Jesse Price got back to me and we had the following exchange. 

"Fragmentary" just came out on cassette via Skeletal Lightning in the U.S. and React With Protest across the pond in Europe. I highly suggest you track down a copy and blast that shit on your walkman, boom-box, or the tape deck of your mom's old station wagon.

I always like to get a feel for people's backgrounds a little bit, so talk about your family, your childhood, etc. Were there any particular defining moments for you as a kid?

I was born to a single mother in Orange Park, Florida. We were low middle class so we didn't have a lot when I was growing up but we had what we needed and I will always be grateful for that. My mother is a devout Christian so I had to go to church 3+ times a week until I was 16. I always hated going to church and it really made me hate my childhood. The two most defining moments from my childhood that come to mind are discovering heavy bands like Underoath, Norma Jean, and Comeback Kid. The other would be getting to the point when I realized how bigoted Christianity is and how much I just hate religion.

How much of a role did music and art have in your life or the lives of your parents, siblings, etc.? How'd you eventually discover punk, hardcore, DIY, etc.?

My mom and grandma are both singers and both sang with the church band when I was a kid, my mom still does. So I was around a lot of music as a kid. I went to a lot of metal core shows from the age 12-17 then shortly after I started getting in to punk and hardcore through bands like Pg. 99, Trash Talk and Ceremony. By the time I was 19 I started playing in bands in the DIY scene and getting involved with my local scene.

Was/is it hard to discuss religion with your mom given her commitment to it and your distaste for it? Is she open to hearing your critiques or has it become a sort of "agree to disagree" type thing?

When I was a kid it was really hard to talk to her about anything regarding religion, it's a little easier now but at this point it's definitely an "agree to disagree" type of thing.

How did you pick up an instrument and what was your first band like?

I started playing drums at age 8 and gave up around 12 because I wanted to learn how to play bass, and eventually stopped playing bass to learn how to play guitar. My first band was so bad, haha. We were basically an Attack! Attack! rip-off band and I was the singer.

So at what point did you start getting more into punk/hardcore/DIY stuff?

Around age 16 I started listening to more punk and getting interested in the DIY scene and DIY ethics. coming out of the metal-core scene, I just got tired of how money-based everything was and how much emphasis was put on a band's "image" and bullshit like that.

You mentioned earlier that you grew up in did you wind up moving to California and how did you start getting plugged into the music scene out there?

Oh, haha I should have clarified earlier, I lived in Florida the first 7 months of my life and then moved to San Diego. so San Diego is all I’ve ever known.

But I got in to the scene just by meeting kids in my town and starting bands with them. Once we started playing out of town and meeting other bands is when I’d say I first felt like part of a "scene”.

Talk about the formation of Letters to Catalonia. How did you all meet, and what were some of the initial influences you discussed, as well as the vision for the band?

Letters started after the demise of mine and our first drummer's old band, Recluse, and the demise of our old bass player's band, allmywisheswerethrowndownawellandshoulddiethere. 

I met Julian (drummer) at a hardcore show a few years prior and met PJ through playing shows with his old band. when we started I’d say our biggest influences were June Paik, Republic of Dreams, Battle of Wolf 359 and on top of that we wanted to incorporate breakdowns into our music.

So sonically I would say your 3 releases so far seem to follow a pretty natural progression. The one thing I notice most with "Fragmentary" is the absence of the super shrill, high pitched vocals. Was this more of a stylistic choice or due to the personnel changes?

So basically, the only reason we don’t have those vocals anymore is because the person who did them isn’t in the band now and none of us who are in the band currently want to do those vocals, haha.

Lyrically what sort of themes does "Fragmentary" explore?

Dominick wrote all the lyrics for this release and they deal with current political climate and human emotion.

I noticed the new tape is coming out via Skeletal Lightning and React With Protest. How did you guys hook up with Sean and Lars?

Skeletal Lightning has been with us since our demo. Sean just contacted us a few days after we posted the demo and asked if they could put it out and we were instantly interested. React With Protest bought copies of our demo and sold them in Europe, after realizing they bought copies I immediately contacted Lars and told him how much admiration we had for RWP and that we’d love to work together in the future. After that, Lars started to be a part of all our releases. We are eternally grateful for the support that we’ve gotten from both Skeletal Lightning and React With Protest.

So what's next for you guys in terms of writing, recording, touring, etc.?

We're currently halfway done writing our full length. We should be recording that in February as long as everything goes as planned. We'll be doing a West Coast tour in the Spring with Senza from Oregon, and we plan to do more tours throughout 2018 including a full US tour.

Letters/Ostraca Battle Set:
Photos by Kasey Dyann

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Interview with Mike Minnick from Less Art (Puig Destroyer, ex-Curl Up and Die)

I always feel kind of lame to be doing an online-only, blog version of a zine, because coming up in punk and hardcore when I did, actual physical zines were such a critical element of the subculture. One of my favorites was called Status, and if I remember correctly it was run by a kid named Seth, it was based out of a town called Thousand Oaks, California (not sure why I remember that) and I think it was given away for free.  Anyway, it totally ruled! Great design, cool bands, it was simply very well done.

At a certain point Status started releasing music as well, and one of the first records they put out was called “The Only Good Bug Is A Dead Bug” by a band called Curl Up and Die. I still remember sitting on my mattress, opening up the mail, popping the disc in my CD player and rocking the fuck out to some bad-ass metal-core, haha. CUAD quickly became a favorite of mine, especially as they got weirder, noisier, and more interesting over time.

After they broke up I assumed they would go on to form new bands as most musicians do, but in this case, it seemed like the members just vanished. Fast forward to a couple years ago when I hear about vocalist Mike Minnick doing a new project called Puig Destroyer, quickly followed by the formation of Less Art alongside members of Kowloon Walled City and Thrice.

To say I was amped would be an understatement, as I knew this would be pretty awesome. The bands’ sound definitely makes sense given their collective resume; heavy but not overbearing, smart but still accessible.

I never had any sort of personal connection with Mike when CUAD was active, but when I reached out he seemed more than happy to chat. Here goes.  

I always like to learn about people's backgrounds in trying to get a window into what makes them tick, so talk a little bit about your family and your childhood. How would you characterize your household and upbringing, particularly as it related to the presence of music, art, etc.?

I grew up in a pretty average family setting. Mom and dad that stayed together until I was a teenager. One sibling. A younger sister. Born and raised in Las Vegas. No one in my immediate family was musical or sang or did bands or anything like that. Though I was close with my uncle growing up and he got me into punk and skating. He was in bands and I would tag along and go to their shows as often as I could. At that time I had no interest in singing. Loved drums but they were too expensive. My uncle played guitar so I followed him in that pursuit. Though I was never very good.

At what point did you get turned onto punk, metal, hardcore, etc.? What bands, shows, venues were you first exposed to and what kind of impression did they make?

High school is where I branched out and started listening to other types of music besides punk and grunge and popular alternative stuff on MTV. That's when I first got into hardcore. I remember my friends showing me tons of more metal hardcore but a lot of it not clicking with me at first. I had that teenage mindset that if I started liking metal, I'd be turning my back on punk. This totally made-up either/or scenario. It was ridiculous. 

But bands like Endeavor and Chain of Strength were the ones I first loved because they played a more punk style but had more intense vocals. I remember my friend Matt (from Curl Up And Die) showing me the Endeavor/Envy split and I was blown away by how punk it was musically, but Mike Oleander screamed over it. The vocals were the most intense thing I'd ever heard. After hearing that, I was like damn, I want to do that in a band and sound like him.
That's crazy that you mention Oleander because when I think back to the most intense vocalists from late 90s/early 00s hardcore two of the people I tend to think about are BBTS-era Oleander and your work with CUAD, especially on “Robots”. How did you start to experiment with your voice/realize you could pull off some of the stuff you were wanting to emulate?

I loved vocalists that screamed with tons of power while still understanding what they were saying. People like Tim Singer, Karl from Earth Crisis, Dave from Botch. Oleander too. But I never had that much strength so I went in the other direction. Just hide all the words and bury the vocals under the song and use my voice almost as percussion, and hope the emotion of the vocal gets the lyrics across since there was no way the listener would understand the words. (That's what a lyric sheet is for. Though I don't know if that helped much either.) 

Another major factor early on was I was scared and had no idea what I was doing. I'm a pretty shy person and it sort of doesn't make sense that I ended up singing in a band. So covering up and obscuring and hiding behind the music as much as possible was my initial approach.

Talk about the origins of Curl Up and Die. How did you guys all meet/how did you wind up playing together?

CUAD started out when we were in high school. We knew each other from going to the same school or seeing each other at shows and becoming friends that way. It was a side project for most of us and the idea was to be more chaotic and heavier than the other bands we had at the time, which were more punk and almost youth crew style hardcore. We wanted to play more aggressive music live and didn't think too much beyond that concept initially.

One of the things that always stood out to me about CUAD was the sense of humor you guys always had (I'm thinking the "demons from fucking hell" shot on the first EP, the ridiculous song titles, the quirky designs, especially “The One Above”. etc.). Was that coming as sort of a push back against how serious a lot of hardcore was at the time, was it more related to the personalities of the people in the band, maybe a little bit of both?

We did push against some of the seriousness, I think intentionally and unintentionally. We weren't tough or cool. We were nerds. We liked fucking around. I think about punk and hardcore the same way I think about comics and movies and video games. It's something I'm drawn to because it's a subculture away from cliques and posturing and acting cool. A way of escaping without escapism. Where you can hang out with people and have fun while also exploring different ideas that are outside of what's normal or okay.

We definitely went the silly song title route as a way of injecting humor into the band. Since the music and lyrics were serious, it was a way of showing a different side of us. Also, I remember Simon from Drowning Man thinking we stole the song title idea from him like he invented that shit. Not true. Like most of my early musical ideas, I lifted the idea from Endeavor. The artwork was another element where we tried different things. We weren't into skulls and dark imagery and wanted to have artwork that was more representative of what we were trying to express. Even if it was jarring and didn't land every time.
As much as I love "Robots", your final LP "The One Above All..." is definitely my favorite.  I've always been struck by how moody and reflective it seemed as compared to the more chaotic material of your earlier work. What sort of headspace were you guys in when you wrote that record?

We started pulling from some of our influences outside of hardcore while writing the last record. I think, while flawed, it's our strongest album. It's where we figured some things out and came into our own. Definitely for me as far as lyrics and vocal style. It was frustrating at the time to feel that way after breaking up.

I also remember being so stoked when I saw that Alex Newport produced that record.... mostly because I loved Fudge Tunnel but also because I didn't even know he produced records at that time. How did you guys hook up with him and what was it like working together?

We wanted to branch out and try something new. Alex was one of the options we considered. We liked the experimentation on some of the records he worked on. It was a plus that he was located in L.A. too, which was closer to Vegas. He was less into experimenting than we expected, but we were on a pretty limited budget. 

The thing I learned the most from that session was that it was okay to not cover up my vocals and hide them with indecipherable screaming. He really made a point to focus on the lyrics and the performance of each line. Which was harder to do than I thought. I had to unlearn a lot of bad habits. But I think that was where I started to be more confident and feel okay about my lyrics and voice.

So as far as I know, after CUAD there was almost a decade of radio silence from you until Puig Destroyer and now Less Art. Were you doing music at all during that time or focusing on other life stuff?

A year or so after CUAD broke up, I moved to Chicago. I didn't do music during that time. I had the itch but never tried to start anything with people in the Chicago music scene. That was until Riley recruited me for Puig Destroyer. I was overjoyed that he asked and while I knew it was just a fun joke band about baseball, I took it very serious and approached it almost as a last chance audition. Something I could show to any potential future bands I wanted to do. And I secretly was hoping this would lead to a non-baseball band with Riley and the other members.

It worked out well that all of us got along and we seemed to write well together. As soon as Puig Destroyer was finishing up, I reached out to the guys about continuing, but in a more conventional way. A band that writes music and plays shows and exists and functions in the real world. That's how Less Art came about.
So talk a little bit about starting to work with those guys. Not to demean the musicians in CUAD at all, but those were people you had grown up with, whereas the guys in Puig/LA all have pretty extensive musical resumes. Given that gravitas, as well as the fact that you had not done music for a while, were you at all nervous when you started working together, or did you feel like you had enough rapport with them that it would all go smoothly?

I was definitely nervous. I think the other guys are really talented and I didn't want to be the weak link in the band. So that nervousness ended up being a benefit. It provided a good kind of pressure. It forced me to push myself and work harder than ever. Also, I've wanted to play music with these dudes for a long time and I feel lucky to get this chance. I wasn't going to let my nerves get in the way of that.

In terms of the writing process, what sort of influences were you guys drawing from, and what type of mood/vibe were you trying to achieve with "Strangled Light"?

When we set out to write these songs we weren't sure what the band was going to sound like. We have a few shared influences (i.e. Quicksand, Drive Like Jehu, Unwound, Cave In) but everyone just did what they do and brought that to the table. I like that everyone in this band writes and contributes. There isn't one songwriter steering the ship. It's a very collaborative process.

We didn't set out for a specific mood either. We let the songs take shape on their own and grow naturally, with some refinement as we finalized them. Lyrically, I had ideas I wanted to write about and explore, but I didn't force them into specific songs. I let the feelings I elicited from the music as I listened to them guide the direction.

You guys recorded at Antisleep/Sharkbite with Scott from Kowloon Walled City, with whom you share two members. I imagine for Jon and Ian the process was quite natural/comfortable since they have worked there before; for you how would you say it compared to your previous experiences working with Newport, Ballou, etc.

Scott is amazing. It was a pleasure to work with him. He makes great sounding records and works well with people and knows how to get good performances out of them. Which is a good skill to have when working with other humans and helping them capture their songs in a recording. He worked closely with me and helped me achieve what I was going for. He also pushed me to try different things, which helped me grow as a vocalist. It was a rewarding experience and I can't wait to work with him again.
Lyrically, the recorded is book-ended with songs about death, the first song chronicling loss in your own family, and the final song about dealing with it. So while it's an emotionally heavy and depressing record, I was struck by the glimmers of hope in lines like,  "What I can’t control won’t keep me down, I use optimism as survival" and "I know I must keep living, Though there will always be, Something missing".  You also reference that family history, "I can't help worry is that same blood in me?"

Talk a little bit more about sort of living in the shadow of death while seeming intent on beating those demons.

Lyrically, a lot of the record does deal with death and loss. I'm getting older and at an age where my friends and I are losing more people in our lives. I'm also getting closer to my own death. That realization was making me anxious about life and I became sort of death-obsessed and increasingly afraid because of it. I used this record to reflect on that and write my way through it. The good thing is it worked and after finishing the record I can say I feel easier about death and its inevitability. I'm not as scared of death and dying.

Aside from a lot of very personal content, there's a lot that seems to touch on our current social and political moment. What would you say most disturbs you about the kinds of things we are seeing right now?

I'm pretty disturbed by the all the bigotry and fear. People endlessly outraged and using mob tactics to censor or shame other people bums me out. Also, the 'if we don't completely agree, then we disagree' mentality is disconcerting.

Towards the end of the record in the song "What Is It In Man?" you talk about how religion is so often twisted and used to justify horrific things.  You ask the question “What is it in man, That takes the idea of God, Turns it into something it’s not".

As a hardcore kid who has managed to hang onto my faith over the years, I always get excited when I see people addressing these issues in a way that's more interesting and nuanced than your typical "No Gods! No masters!" sort of sloganeering; so for you, if the idea of God is so often turned into something that it's not, what would you say it is for you, and what role (if any) does spirituality play in your life?

Yeah, I kind of roll my eyes at religious people that know for sure that I'm going to Hell because of x, y, and z. I'm equally baffled by the type of atheist that is absolutely certain there's nothing after this life. I don't know how religious I am, but I am somewhat spiritual. I like the idea of God and faith and looking into what different religions are all about. I like taking some of their ideas and absorbing them into my belief system. I like questioning the parts I'm not as into as well. It's mostly all stories to me though. I think of God the same way I think of Spider-Man. It doesn't matter if it's real or not. It exists in my head and that's good enough.
Less Art’s debut full-length “Strangled Light” will be out July 28th on Gilead Media.
A couple songs are currently streaming on their bandcamp:

You can pre-order the record here:

The following live performances are scheduled:
August 4th-San Francisco
August 5th-Oakland
August 6th-Santa Anna
September 14th-New York
September 15th-Boston
September 16th-Washington D.C.
September 17th-Philadelphia

Photography by Less Art, Scott Evans, and Chris Barmonde