Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Interview. DeathCrawl.

Damon Gregg-guitar/vocals; Jason Luchka-bass/vocals; Dave Johnson-drums/vocals

One of my favorite phrases to describe certain types of epic bands is "Earth shattering". I have used it positively in the past, but more often in sarcastic derision. Even on the occasions that I have used it in a positive manner, it tends to be a bit of an overstatement. However, in the case of DeathCrawl, "Earth shattering" doesn't even come close. If I were charged with compiling a list of bands most appropriate for the soundtrack for the end of the world, DeathCrawl would make the short list, along with Kiss It Goodbye and Bloodlet. While all three bands are incredibly heavy and (in my mind, at least) definitely metal, the only substantive quality all three share is movement. DeathCrawl has a way to move the listener, slowly and surely, against your will, towards an inevitability that may not turn out to be pleasant. This "movement" that I described can be attributed to superior songwriting and a certain "tunefulness" (is that a word?) many other "extreme metal bands" lack. 

I've known "Big Metal" Dave Johnson (drums, vocals) for an eternity and could have easily done the interview with him. But, I knew that it would quickly devolve into silliness and inside jokes. So, not really knowing Damon, I opted to speak with Jason, whom I've know for a couple years now. Jason was kind enough to subject himself to my amateurish line of questioning and here is the result.

Could you start with the basics; Who are the principles and how did this come together?

DeathCrawl is myself, Dave Johnson, and Damon Gregg.

I had met Dave through some friends i made working at 88.9 VRock in the late 90s. I had kept in touch with him via email/online and booked his early project studio in Medina to record my other band (the Gingerdead Men) in the summer of 2005. I think Dave was impressed by my gear and my gutteral shouting, because in January 2006, he approached me about joining a band with him and Joe Melnyk (sp?). He wanted loud, crusty bass to accompany him on guitar and Joe on drums. We practiced for a few months but Joe quickly lost interest, even though the songs were pretty rad. I asked my friend Shaun Yanovich if was interested in jamming with us, and one again we found ourselves with a drummer for a month or two. As luck would have it, Shaun lost interest in it and we found ourselves back at square one. 

Dave and I were really happy with the songs, so we decided to make it a recording project. He brought his kit to the practice space and we jammed drum and bass for the summer, gearing up for a fall recording session. One day, after tearing through a fun song in crazy time sigs, Dave said something along the lines of "this is too hard, let's play really low and slow." That was it. DeathCrawl was born. Scott Schumacher from Schnauzer sat in on guitar a few times, but his commitments with Schnauzer were more important. Dave asked Damon if he wanted to join us on guitar instead. They had previously jammed together in Pistols at Dawn and worked together, so it was a pretty easy gathering of people. Coincidentally, I also knew Damon through some other friends. It was really all quite incestuous.

You said "it was really all quite incestuous"; There seems to be a limited amount of musicians in the area to work with, at least as far as playing aggressive/extreme music. Has this ever hindered you creatively? If not for DeathCrawl, than in other situations?

Not really. I'm not the most social person, so working with people I'm comfortable with is easier for me. I don't have to learn a bunch of new quirks when I'm jamming with people I already know. I love music. Making it, listening to it... I really need it, and dumb as that sounds. I'm not the greatest musician, but I love rocking with friends. The OCD in me also always got a kick out of linking the various local bands to each other in my head when I was younger and going to shows. Oh yeah, that's so-and-so, he plays in whatever and whoever. I would like to work with a few other people I have never played with, but they are all people I have come to know, so again, that sphere of comfort comes to roost.

Since you don't feel limited creatively could you talk about some of the more uncharacteristic influences on your writing and the music written for a band like DeathCrawl? Do they manifest themselves in this format?

I have a secret affinity for what most people consider "circus music." Mr. Bungle, 16 Horsepower, Lozenge, etc... I love that wacky sense of undulating melody. Now, that does not get much airtime in a band like DeathCrawl, but sometimes I sneak something by Dave and Damon. The accordion overdub on our first record, for example, and I recorded a full intro to "Lucifer's Hammer" for the new record that Dave chopped up and made fit our sound better in the final mix. Otherwise, I would say my affinity for AmRep/noise-rock really influences my playing, as does my love of stoner-rock. Neurosis, Unsane, Melvins, Deadguy, Kylesa... these all undoubtedly color everything I do in DeathCrawl. I just want to deliver crusted out, chest-caving bass.

16 Horsepower happens to be a personal all-time favorite of mine as well.

Such a haunting sound... those dudes rule. I also love Slim Cessna's Auto Club and 99% of everything Jay Munly has done.
That Denver sound...

You talked about slipping things by the other guys during the songwriting process - How do the songs come together and how cognizant are you of other bands that might have some similarities in the songwriting process?

Our songs come together pretty easily. Sometimes, one of us will come to practice with almost an entire song's worth of riffs and bounce it off the other guys, quickly shaping it into a song. Sometimes, someone has just a riff - a seed that sprouts quickly. Everything else comes about from riffing at rehearsal. They joke on me for noodling all the time, but sometimes I will accidentally noodle my way into a bad-ass riff or melody. Since all of us are songwriters, in the most basic sense of the word, I think we each have a certain comfort level with presenting ideas at the risk of the idea being shot down. Nobody is afraid to say, "Hey, I was thinking this part could be cool if we tried-". I think that is part of why we put our songs together so quickly. I think that if it takes more than a few rehearsals to get the meat of a song together, you are wasting time. I don't think we worry too much about how the song will turn out, or who it sounds like, as long as we like playing it and we think it sounds right for us. Now, if it turns out that we're rehashing someone else's song by accident, we'll definitely shut that down.

Let me add that there are a few DeathCrawl demos that will most likely never see the light of day because although they are cool tunes, they just don't fit our catalog quite right. Dave definitely tries to cultivate a certain framework.

Well, how often does that happen-rehearsing another band's song? Since you have a framework that you create in, is it possible to actually push the envelope creatively? Isn't there the possibility of stagnating or at least feeling trapped? I mean, I understand adhering to a certain aesthetic - too many bands just throw things at the wall to see what sticks, but...

Sure, I think that could always be a possibility. Our framework is pretty loose - let's say we come up with a tune and we jam it out, build it, and then we demo it. It's a cool song, but we realize it has too much of a "stoner rock" vibe. We like mixing in elements of all of our influences, but when a song suddenly sounds like it's being played by a different band, you've probably gone too far.  

I don't know much about pushing the envelope. I'm not that good of a musician, but I think we have plenty of avenues ahead of us. Dave keeps getting better on drums, Damon and I keep coming up with riffs... There are plenty of songs still in us. I think the important part is, "do we like the song? is it fun to play? does it feel like it has a pulse?". You know what I mean? A lot of metal bores me to tears. I like hooks, I like heavy. I like hearing it all come together in such a way that i feel the need to bob my head or drum on the steering wheel.

Give me a personal rule or guideline regarding music, or art in general, that you have set for yourself? Are there any circumstances in which you might bend or break the rule?

I think lyrically, we really need to switch it up on the next batch of songs. "Accelerated Rate of Decay" is a bleak, unrelenting picture of a possibly not-so-distant future. I think we need to explore something else on the next songs.

Well, given your sound, where would you take things lyrically?

Let me come back to thee rules/guidelines and finish this tangent on lyrics... I think we need to back away from the urban combat, starvation, prison camp focus and get a little more surreal this time around. We have four songs recorded for a hopeful split, all sans vocals at this time. I have some stuff written, and yes, it is still bleak, but more imaginative. More abstract and less literal. "Lichen" or "November", on the first record, are a good example of letting imagination run a little more rampant.

As far as rules or guidelines-I don't want to come across as someone that panders, but I admit that I always think about how people might respond to a song when I'm putting riffs together. I will try to write a chorus vocal that people might actually want to sing along with, since that is what a chorus is supposed to do. I think a lot of heavy bands are afraid of the chorus. They don't want to "Sell out." What is "selling out" when you aren't making any money? I think of it as writing a song that people want to listen to. 

Now, there is definitely a fine line between writing something people intrinsically enjoy and dealing pre-fab poop to the masses. Nasum is a great example - brutal grind of the highest order, yet dang it if they didn't have parts you cannot help but bark along to. So, I consider that. I also consider, does this try something new? While DeathCrawl is relatively focused, we still have a fair amount of variety in our songs-Fast parts, slow parts, slamming riffs, chord progressions... It isn't the same song over and over. I hate that.

Another artistic guideline for me is trying to remain either intelligent or humorous, or both. I don't like to write lyrics full of senseless cussing. I'm not a puritan, I just don't see the point. I prefer to write stuff that uses the English language as properly as possible. I write so many excessive syllables to this end, that Dave has to cut and chop it to get it down to something we can actually pull off live. If we ran with my original lyrics, every song would be a battery of words and tongue twisters. I like using words...different words. Bands that cuss a lot always seem to be using those words as filler, and that seems like a cop out to me. Read a book. Reference a rhyming dictionary-mine has 1928 copyright date-and consider a thesaurus from time to time. I would bend any rule if I felt it made sense for the song.

But, what one of those "rules" would you consider breaking and under what circumstances? I don't think writing a chorus is a "sell-out" by any stretch. Is there anything that you normally would not do in the context of the band, but might...

I would not want to add in a part that blatantly is riding the coattails of some trend and I would not bend to that. For example, the breakdowns and crab-walking of crappy modern metal bands. Yuck. Otherwise, I'm pretty open to trying whatever makes sense for the tune. The way DeathCrawl writes, I'm not sure if my lyrical stance would ever be tested. Dave and Damon are always free to write whatever lyrics they want, and i usually will go along with whatever they want, but I probably would not want to sing something I really don't agree with. For example, I wouldn't want to sing about pedophilia or rape or anything. I'm not going to glorify that crap.

Sorry if I'm not answering that last question very well...

Right, but i was thinking more along the lines of; "I might sacrifice writing a song a certain way if...". The way that you are dodging the question is a thing of beauty.

They don't call me "Switzerland" for nothing.

So what you're saying is "I'm a Celtic Frost fan"?

From experience I know that playing such an aggressive type of music poses different challenges. Could you speak to those challenges if any? Do some of the challenges have any unforeseen benefits?

One challenge is that awkward encounter with your CEO, when he says "I hear you are in a band. I am a fan of the rock and roll. Please notify me of your next live performance, as I would love to attend." I have been dodging that for five years now. I'm mortified to think that the guy who decides whether or not I get to keep my job might come see me sweat, scream, and head bang in some dank bar somewhere, while his Mercedes is getting keyed in the parking lot. I'm not ashamed of what I do, but it is uncomfortable when people who don't like this scene ask me questions about it. I feel almost like they are mocking me sometimes. "Oh, what is this 'sludge' metal? Eyehategod? What a funny band name!" the other challenge is that DeathCrawl doesn't quite fit any one scene very well. 

We're too heavy for the post-rock dudes, not brutal enough for the death-metal dudes, and too loud for the art-school kids. There are definitely bands we fit with, and all of us are in the same boat. We tend to play small shows, attendance-wise, which is not a complaint. I just remember when I was younger, I went to so many shows with all sorts of bands. Now, it seems like there are almost no "kids" coming out. It's our peers. 30 year-olds have jobs and kids...they don't make it out to all the shows. I know that I don't. I have missed a ton of shows the past 2 years.  

One benefit of all this is that there is no doubting our motivation. People don't play this type of music unless they want to ruin people's hearing and rock as hard as physically possible. We aren't cashing in, we aren't wearing a mask. People know that we are real. I think they appreciate that. We're down-to earth guys who want to play some seriously heavy music.

Another challenge is trying to jump on larger shows. We don't seem to know the right people to hop on a bill with some national heavy hitters. That honor always seems to go to the same handful of bands. No complaints-I know it is all about networking, but it would be nice to actually play in front of a lot of new faces.

If there was one thing you would change about your band, what would that be?

I wish that I didn't have to do so much vocal work. I would rather do some backing vocals here and there and focus more on playing and enjoying the music. Sometimes I'm so focused on trying to play and sing and remember lyrics, that i forget to have fun.

I also sometimes wish we weren't tuned so low. The low A string is so unstable on my basses. Drop C is so much more stable. The low A sounds awesome though...really awesome.

Now you're talking tunings and have lost me completely.  Would you be comfortable with someone else communicating your thoughts if you wrote the lyrics for a particular song?

No more talk of tunings! Definitely. It already happens. I write the majority of DeathCrawl's lyrics, although Dave does edit them to fit better. In my other band, I've always written the lyrics and when we started playing live, I had friends sing them. My buddy Shaun, who I mentioned earlier, sang our songs for four years before he burned out last summer, and Jon Reider was cool enough to handle lead vocals on the last EP we recorded. 

My lyrics are not all that personal. I try to paint pictures and tell stories. Sometimes there is definitely a deeper meaning that may or may not be obvious to the listener, but I'm too guarded to write anything really personal that anyone but me would ever hear.

What are you plans for recording and playing live?

It depends. With DeathCrawl, everything we do on record, except synths and other insturmentation, we have to do live. This means any lyrics I record I better be able to play and sing simultaneously. Some of the other things that I have recorded, I had no notion of ever being performed live, so that becomes more of a free-for-all of creativity. Tons of overdubs, way too many syllables...

I appreciate you taking the time. Anything else you'd like to add before signing off?

It was my pleasure! I don't have much to add, other than that DeathCrawl will hopefully have a split out later this year with someone. Fingers crossed for Vulture. Also, we will be playing March 29 at Annabell's with our Columbus bass-dudes Bridesmaid and our Portage County pals in Goosed.

for more information and to hear DeathCrawl for yourself visit:

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