Friday, June 16, 2017

Interview with Pete Kowalsky of Ether (ex-Remembering Never, Bishop, Until the End, etc.)

I always get stoked to see people who have been into hardcore for a long time keeping it going, especially when they are continuing to take risks and push forward with new bands rather than resting on the laurels of their previous work. Pete Kowalsky is one such person.

Having served as the front-man for bands like Until the End, Remembering Never, and Bishop, Pete is a guy who has lived it for a very long time, racking countless miles on the road and releasing a deep and impressive back catalog.

In addition to running Dead Truth Recordings, in the last few years Pete has started a new project called Ether, which swaps out the socio-political straight edge mosh of his previous work in favor of a slower, gloomier approach.

Their new record “There is Nothing Left for Me Here”, was written in the midst of tremendous upheaval in Pete’s life, and will be coming out in a couple weeks on Dead Truth.

The band will also be doing an East Coast/Midwest run to coincide with the release of the record. If they’re coming your way, go get heavy with them.

For starters, talk a little bit about your background and childhood. Are you a lifetime Floridian? If so, how would you say coming up there impacted you....for better or for worse?

Hi, right into the deep cuts...I grew up in a broken family, single parent raising 3 kids after escaping an abusive relationship riddled with infidelity from NY to FL. I've been in FL since I was about 1, but I refuse to call myself a Floridian, especially where I live because there is 0 culture in south Florida. I would say because of my family situation I learned to detach from people easily.

I found hardcore when I was 13 by a weird coincidence that started with a death metal band called Hellwitch. Albeit separate, the late 90's had insane scenes weather it was hardcore, metal, rap metal, all of which were thriving and I wove in and out of all of them. Being so far south created a barrier to the rest of the country because we're fucking 5 hours from a border state, I think that’s a bit stifling. Also the heat cook’s peoples brains I think.

Holy shit! So in the aftermath of that, would you say you, your mom and your siblings became an even tighter support system than ever, or was everyone sort of reeling in their own separate ways?

Honestly, I think we didn't get that far because either one of my sisters lived elsewhere most of the time and my mom was at work from sun up until Sunday with a brief break to pick me up from school. My sisters are 10 years older than me so they had a different childhood than I did.
How did you stumble onto Hellwitch and what sort of spoke to you about underground music at that time?

As far as the Hellwitch thing, a family friend (sister’s ex-boyfriend) was super into metal and knew the drummer. He was the reason I got into metal at such an early age, so he brought me to their warehouse to watch them practice when I was like 11 or 12. A year later I rode my mom's beach cruiser to where I remember their warehouse was and sadly they were gone, HOWEVER, Malevolent Creation (and their side project band Hateplow) and LUNGS (formerly Collapsing Lungs) had warehouses in the same area so I hung around there as often as possible watching them practice. The dudes from MC/HP played full stacks and did coke and LUNGS was more friendly so they didn't mind me punishing them at least weekly. Tension also used to practice in their warehouse because they shared a drummer.

One day the drummer told me his old band was coming to town and invited me to the show. I went, the band was Murphy's fucking Law and they were touring with H2O (on their 1st record) and Shai Hulud opened (before the “Profound” EP)...and in that moment my life was changed forever. Hellwitch to hardcore. Music was always the only thing I was super into. No father figure to steer me in a direction, sports and bullshit. We moved often so I didn't have many friends so music was my only consistent friend. Any time I got any money ever, I spent it on cassettes and then CD’s.

FUN FACT: The guitar player from Malevolent Creation had a studio briefly and my high school rap metal band recorded there. One of our "riffs" ended up on the MC cd “The Fine Art of Murder”.
Damn that is wild!!! After the ML/H20/Hulud show what other local shows/bands did you start getting into? There are obviously lots of sick bands from Florida in the mid-late 90's, what was it like to come of age during that era?

It was a wild time really. I got into One King Down, Morning Again, Strongarm, Hatebreed, Earth Crisis, and New Day Rising super early, and that was my high school soundtrack basically. South FL was booming with tons of cool and unique bands, I felt like I hit the jackpot. Bird of Ill Omen, Morning Again, Strongarm, Glasseater, Keepsake, Poison the Well, Brethren, Where Fear & Weapons Meet... the list goes on, these are the bands that I saw every month or so and it seemed like every other weekend there was an insane show.

It was weird getting into HC at 13 as a metal kid, I felt out of place and these grown ass dudes were wearing visors and backpacks and baggy clothes, but after a while I made some acquaintances and then friends, and I started going to any show I could because I knew I was going to hear and see something thing new. Coming up at that time was weird, I saw many oddball shows like Hulud/Entombed and Coal Chamber/Bloodlet, and I existed in both worlds.

Talk about that first rap metal band, and whatever other bands you had before RN. Did you always do vocals or were you playing other instruments at that time?

Before that I played bass in a weird punk band called Incest, that was made up of old strangers. It was bad, I was never into punk music but wanted to be in a band. The rap metal band was a handful of friends that wanted to start a band and sound like Biohazard and Slayer somehow, and that sounds like an awful combination when I actually read that. I started playing guitar and vocals, switching off with someone else.

Our drummer would bail on practice so me and our bass player would go to a neighboring friends warehouse and he would play drums and I played guitar, and we used to play the first half of Hatebreed's “Satisfaction” record. This eventually led to forming the early version of Remembering Never, with me on guitar, Danny on drums (bass player of the rap metal band), and Justin on vocals (guitar/vox of rap metal band).

Alright so talk about the formation of both Until the End and Remembering Never, which both seemed to start around the same time. How did things get moving with each project, and as they started, which one would you say you were most excited about?

UTE had one practice before I joined I believe. It was Alan and Hornbrook from PTW, Wylie from MA, Dan from Keepsake, and Brendan from 200 North (now Circa Survive, weird). They wanted to be the straight edge version of Hatebreed, influenced by Machine Head. I knew Wylie from shows, he put the rap metal band on a show with The Judas Factor, it was awesome. That all kinda fell together, it was the first (and only) band I literally did almost nothing for. Obviously I was amped because I was in a band with strangers basically from bands that I was really into.

Recording the EP was a weird experience. Rich Thurtson (Culture) wrote lyrics for a song and sang it in the studio and our friend Brooklyn was losing it and carving X's into his hands. I remember feeling like I was a part of something that was important. Our first shows were super intense, everyone was super pumped on being straight edge and pissed off. It was 25 minutes of violence and pile ons.

RN started as I mentioned earlier, we just got serious from working on Hatebreed covers and started writing what was hot at the time in south FL. We wanted to sound like it all. We recorded our first record with our original lineup, which is still one of my favorite things I've ever done, and played some shows, recorded one song for a Ferret comp, and our singer quit so everyone shifted instruments basically. I started singing and we just left for tour forever.
I’m not sure which I was more excited about really, they both had their perks. I can say without a doubt RN wouldn't have ever taken off without UTE. I used to hustle RN demos on every UTE outing, made connects for shows, etc. There was some form of realization that occurred at a Hellfest during a UTE set, the dudes in RN were on the side of the stage and at one point I was laying on the stage with 30 people on top of me, nose to nose with the dudes in my band and just waving to them as they laughed hysterically. It was a weird time, man.

Haha that's incredible! So as you mentioned you got to tour a ton with both of those bands.... what were some of the best tours/shows/memories from that era?

I’ve played so many cool shows with huge bands for me that I learned to appreciate more after the fact. Perfect example, the first tour RN did was with a band called Suicide Note (imagine Black Flag and Converge joined forces)...their Ferret full-length was fucking insanity all the way through. Listening back to that record I still find new things to vibe on. Nicest guys too. I tried to get Casey to yell on an Ether track but I don’t think he does social media much.

The first out of country shows UTE did were with Cursed... that was a gut punch, before they even had a full-length out. RN toured with Ramallah which will probably be one of my favorite bands to tour with because I was such a huge fan of both their records and still love what they do. Touring with friends is always great, so tours with Most Precious Blood, On Broken Wings, Twelve Tribes, Zao, Scarlet and the like were always my favorite and are all wonderful bands in their own right.

Bishop's first Euro tour will always remain the best tour I've ever been a part of because all the best elements were there: good friends (Kingdom), good shows, good promoters, etc. There was the time in Romania that our fill in drummer got kissed by a very homely looking crust punk and at the same show Sam Kooby, being 3rd of 16 in line for food, in this case, piping hot stew, dropped the ladle in the stew and they had to find another to fish it out and serve it out. Everyone was pissed. Same show some dude was yelling "COCK MY SUCK!" at Kingdom during their set. I was steady on tour for years so a lot of it blends in really. Favorite memory was probably the Lit incident... I always get a good chuckle from that one.
Both bands (but especially RN with Ferret) rode the wave of bigger indie labels doing decently well, having good distribution, etc. to eventually crashing/fading out in many cases. What was it like to see that rise and fall first hand? I know you essentially self-released that final RN record after being on Ferret for many that point was it frustrating to have to do it yourself or was it more of a cool challenge?

Yeah, that was a weird time for hardcore. That was around the time of separation of metal-core and hardcore into more divisive scenes and the bigger HC labels (Ferret/Trustkill) got into some shit with big labels and lost their good names, which fucking sucks because both labels were those dude’s life’s work and have insane back catalogues. They got back on the horse and continued on with different names, but it’s still sad to not carry on the legacy with the original namesake.

RN fell apart due to internal bullshit that comes with 5 dudes all living together in a van and one of those dudes is doing alllll the wrong things and trying to pit everyone against each other. Starting back up was fun and the writing process was fun and I didn't know who would be interested so we just wanted to do it ourselves. We got some offers from some cool/bigger labels but I really wanted to do it ourselves which proved to be an awesome experience.

Was that the start of doing Dead Truth Recordings for you or had you been doing other stuff for a while before that? As a person who does a band and a label and thus sees things from both sides, what would you say are the most important lessons you've taken in terms of how to function in an era where so much of people's music consumption has gone digital?

With DTR we literally only planned on putting out the Remembering Never “God Save Us” record with no plans for anything else. We eventually went on to release most of the Bishop stuff and a few bands here and there (most of which broke up or stopped being active almost immediately after their album was pressed). We're just music nerds really, so any capacity that we can put out a record or band I like I will try to help in some way.

And lessons? Shit, it’s tough because taking a risk on a new band can turn out great or turn out terribly...and we've turned out more terribly than great. We were about to put out an EP for Full of Hell but my dude who sang for them quit and they had obvious lineup changes so that sank. Then we were supposed to put out a Kingdom/Axis split but some shit about the artwork happened and that got canned. We put out a really cool 7" by a band called Alarmed and it did pretty well, gave them some bucks to record their full-length and they broke up in the studio. Or Make It Reign, my dude Tony from AFB's band, imploded 30 minutes after the CD came out.

Lessons are, be prepared to get fucked and go into credit card debt. I really enjoy the process of doing my own band's releases cuz if it fails that’s on me entirely.
Talk about the origins of Ether. It’s quite a step away from RN, UTE, Bishop, etc. What made you want to explore the slower and more somber side of things?

Ether came about when RN was doing a short run with our original singer's band at the time, My Amends. I was riding with them from Philly to VA and bullshitting with their guitar player Devin (referred to as UD or Uncle Devin from here on out) and we were geeking the fuck out about NOLA bands and sludge and whatnot; Down, Crowbar, Eyehategod, etc. and just decided to try to lay some shit out along those lines.

We sent riffs back and forth, recruited our friend Chippy who always had gnarly bass sounds in previous bands and my roommate at the time on drums (who went on to play for Will To Die), then eventually Danny from RN on drums. We recorded a record, played a bunch of shows and had a ton of momentum and UD quit because he was struggling with coming out of the closet and kinda losing it a bit so he had to take a step back.

We tried to continue with a replacement but no one worked right and we just put it on hold. UD eventually joined RN years later and we figured it was as good a time as any to get back on the horse for Ether and everyone was down so we did that. With Ether it’s much more of an organic thing; the whole process, the writing, influences of stuff we listen to, the feeling, shows, etc. We don’t have to fit into a "hardcore" box because it isn’t a HC band but our work ethic is very much punk because that’s the only way I know how to do it. When I listen to music, its mostly sad or angry music, so normally I'm more inclined to play what I'm exposed to and what I identify with. Really, I'm just trying to get weird and sad with it, while trying to make ass-beater Sabbath riffs while ripping off Giant.

I think I saw somewhere that you described the new record as a "suicide note set to music". What sort of issues are you working through lyrically on this new record? I feel like your previous work has always been more social/political in nature...was it a challenge to turn inward, especially given the nature of the demons you have been wrestling with?

Hmmm yeah, musically, it’s a fucking miserable as you can get with heavy music. And on top of that, violins provide a last huge gut punch. But yea…we started writing the record a couple months before my wife left me, and the bulk of it was written during my whole grieving process (she left 2 days before I got home from a 2-week tour). All the lyrics were written after. There are only 2 (out of 7 songs with lyrics) that are about my personal shit, but that mood definitely creeped into the feel musically and lyrically for the rest of the record.
There is no good way to go about doing anything, let alone writing a record, when every day you wake up and all you want to do is kill yourself or find some kind of way out of feeling. That was all I thought about day in and day out, waking up, going to work, going to school, coming home and rotting amongst all of our stuff, begging her to come back and not understanding why she wouldn’t and not getting any sense of closure. I had friends calling me nearly every day just to check up on me, mostly to see if I was still alive.

The title of the record actually came from a conversation we had. She told me her parents told her not to work on her marriage so she could spend time to work on herself…the given reason for the split that she felt unloved. I truly believe she just didn’t want to be married anymore. I kind of knew when we started dating that she would leave one day. We signed the final papers last week or so, so there is closure on that front, but she has yet to simply say “I didn’t want to be married anymore”. I don’t think I need that closure anymore. Looking back now, it seems like such a different time.

There are still a lot of political themes on the record, most of which are based around feeling socially or politically isolated in one form or another, marginalization, how capitalism is the devil, the detriment of western ideology and normalization of Drumph (obviously). There is even a song that was based on a novel. I don’t think there is much on the record lyrically that is generally lighthearted.
I noticed you have Dan Weyandt on one of the new tracks. You've never been a big fan of organized religion (Christianity specifically) and while Zao's work has certainly grown more nuanced over time, they've always had a lot of religious themes in their material. Religious differences aside, what has drawn you to Dan's work over the years and how did you guys wind up getting him on the record?

Yes, that is correct. I’m less vocal about it in my old age because it is such an absurdity, but it’s a learned and programmed absurdity.

I liked Zao when I first heard them well enough (“Shards”), but when I heard “When Blood and Fire Bring Rest”… I lost my shit. It was the craziest thing I had ever heard and I’ve been a huge fan since. If you listen to one song on the first RN record, there is no doubt a song that would’ve fit on B & F or “Liberate”. RN was able to tour with them twice and became buds and that’s weird because I was still kinda star struck after having been a huge fan for a decade before that and that fucking voice man…it haunts.

When we were writing this record he was really the only person whose voice I felt fit perfectly in addition to our own, so he was kind enough to drop some lines on a couple songs. Perfect world; our next we write the music, he does the vox.

Alright final 2 questions. You guys are heading out for a couple weeks coming up here to celebrate the release of the new LP. What are you most looking forward to about the run...seeing old friends, playing the new material, other bands you get to share the stage with, etc. At this point you've been playing in bands for right around 20 years.... what is it about music (and heavy music in particular) that continues to draw you in?

That’s a loaded question. Since I’ve drastically slowed down touring to almost non-existence, I am able to actually enjoy being away from home and seeing places and people I don’t normally get to see, and I get to do it with some of my best friends. Everyone is vegan (except our fill in drummer who is veg/mostly vegan) so eating at new/old cool places is fun. I’m trying to ultimately hit whatever Chess records stuff possible in Chicago, Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame (which I have beef with because they have 6 miles of Paul Simon bullshit and like 3 Parliament outfits and a bass), Lasa Animal Sanctuary, and all the best vegan spots we can get to.

We’re playing with some awesome bands this run as well: Intercourse, Fashion Week, Axis, Hollow Earth, Yashira, A Film in Color, and some other cool bands. I don’t know, there’s so much, there is a life to live outside of working and rotting really, and I’m trying to experience what I can.

At this point you've been playing in bands for right around 20 years.... what is it about music (and heavy music in particular) that continues to draw you in?

In my old age and as corny as it sounds, music (heavy music in particular) has been the only thing that has been a constant since I was a kid. I’m just now learning how to be a “musician” (I don’t even know if I can properly call myself that, but I’m learning) and it’s like a new adventure. There is something that just resonates harder with metal/HC and aggressive music for me and always has.

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