May 2008 - CHOWDER
Again, it's about time for Cosmic Lava to take a look at Maryland. The reason therefor is the instrumental band CHOWDER and their first release which is downright convincing. That's heavy, psychedelic, metallic progressive rock of the first rate, that is simultaneously very emotional. It's the class and the long lasting experience of all three involved musicians, which is why head and heart play an equal role in their music. Needless to say, that they also unleash a pack of energy and that they know how to rock. Guitarist Josh Hart, who was also the bass player for Revelation and Unorthodox, answered my questions and due to his musical background it's quite plain that not only CHOWDER is the key issue of this interview, but also his old bands, Hellhound Records and many many more.... By the way, Josh detailed and honest answers are making this interview to one of the best in the 9 year old history of Cosmic Lava....
Josh, I was really surprised when I read in the CHOWDER biography, that you formed the band together with drummer Chad Rush in 1995. Why did it took so long until you released the first CD-EP in 2007?
Chad and I have had a rough road musically. We've been writing the music that would eventually be called CHOWDER for a very long time. When we first stared it was more of a hobby. It was 1991, I was still in REVELATION and Chad was drumming for a Baltimore metal band called SOWERS OF DISCHORD. Rich, the singer for Sowers was a good friend of mine who I had been in a hardcore band with called HARSH TRUTH. He called me up and asked if I wanted to have a jam session with this drummer he'd been playing with to just sort of see what happened. Chad and I clicked pretty much right away and reflecting on it now I guess Rich sort of knew we were on the same page. We got together randomly for the next couple of years, wrote a few songs for what was then known as "The side project" and stayed friends.
By the time we got serious about being a real band around 1995-96 it was a tough time to find people who were interested in doing what we wanted to do. CHOWDER was too progressive for most heavy music fans and too heavy for the prog fans I guess. So for a long time we had no bass player. On top of that we thought we would have a vocalist as well and that was even harder to find. We held it together until about 1999-2000 just writing songs in that dingy basement until it seemed like a lost cause. I always had hope that we'd get it back together though..
Fast forward 7 years.....When John and I started discussing the Doom Or Be Doomed Festival I decided to contact Chad and give it one more go. I asked Doug, the bass player in my hardcore band STOUT if he would be interested in joining and he came onboard. Doug is an amazing player and took to our way of writing like he'd been doing it his whole life. I am unbelievably happy about the whole situation and very lucky to have such open minded, talented musicians to play with. We really owe a lot of it to John Brenner who was so into our music and really made me feel like it was something worth pursuing again. The EP we did with his label was his suggestion and his enthusiasm to record and release it is really what made it happen after all these years.
Before we return to your own band I would like to talk with you about your musical past in the 90's. Most of the Cosmic Lava readers know, that you've been the bass-player in REVELATION and UNORTHODOX. At first, I would like to ask you about your time with REVELATION. You joined the band in 1991 and left the band two years later, shortly after John Brenner. What was the reason for your decision and how do you remember this years with the band?
This isn't my favorite topic of discussion but let me say first that I really enjoyed playing music with John and we became good friends during the short time I was in REVELATION. I learned so much about music and playing from him. When he left the band and there was talk of Dennis joining in his place I felt uneasy about it but sort of just went with the flow. I guess Dale Flood had heard about John splitting and asked me to play for UNORTHODOX which was pretty overwhelming at the time. They were playing the most complex music around the area back then and I was totally intimidated by the whole thing. I wasn't sure if I was able to handle the material.
You have to understand I was playing thrash and hardcore pretty much exclusively until I joined REVELATION so actually playing bass like a real bass player was all relatively new to me. It wasn't until I had conversations with Brenner and Terry Weston about it that I decided to make a go of it. Those guys totally encouraged me and made me feel like I was capable of doing it. So to make a short story even longer I had reservations about someone else taking John's place in REVELATION (even though it turned out Dennis did an amazing job and is a brilliant musician) and I had an offer to play for my favorite local band. It's just the way things worked out.
You was also part of the line-up, which recorded the legendary 'Never Comes Silence' album, which has been released by Hellhound Records in early 1993. Have you ever thought that this would become a legendary album?
In a word....no. Not because I questioned the material or performance, it was just the times. We knew we had something really good but in the early 90's no one really gave a shit about the kind of stuff we were doing. Death metal was just about to end its peak then and we were about as far removed from that scene as a band could be. THE OBSESSED, SAINT VITUS, PENTAGRAM and the bands that are revered in heavy music circles now were still pretty much unknown. A band like REVELATION was about as obscure as it got. I never would've guessed that 15 years later I'd be answering questions in an interview about it! All that aside 'Never Comes Silence' is one of my favorites and it's one of the few recordings that I can listen to, get caught up in and totally forget that I'm actually playing on it. There is so much raw emotion on that album and not one note of it is contrived.
When exactly did you joined UNORTHODOX? I think, it must be pretty amazing to be part of the next legendary band, and what do you think about the 'Balance Of Power' album today? Have you played a lot of shows together with Dale Flood and Ron Kalimon?
I think it was around the spring of 1993 when I first rehearsed with Dale and Ronnie. It was a great learning experience playing in that band. I had so much enthusiasm back then. I wanted so bad to be able to play that material that even though I was going to college full time and working in a restaurant in the evenings I would stay up all night after work practicing songs like "Zombie Dance" and "Unorthodox" It forced me to learn chops, to become a better player. It was definitely more military than REVELATION and was my first experience at just being the guy who plays someone else's music as opposed to being an equal member. I have nothing but love and respect for Dale but he and I are two very different people and it caused us to butt heads on a lot of things. Amazing? Yes and no. I definitely wouldn't change much about my time in the band.
I think 'Balance Of Power' is a good album that could've been great. The songs are some of my favorites but I think the mix is rather thin and I don't really care for the song order which was decided by Hellhound. We had different ideas for the order which would've made the album more dynamic in my opinion. I'm really nitpicky about stuff like this though so maybe it's just me. We recorded a few songs that didn't make the cut like "World In Trouble", "Dying Breed" and "Fade Away" and when I think about it now they really should've been on there too. I wonder what happened to those recordings?
We did play out a lot and I really dug that. At that time we had a solid following so the gigs were usually good. It was the first time I'd been in a band that would play two sets a night. It took a good bit of endurance. The alcohol helped! UNORTHODOX was also the first band I traveled out of the country with and I'll never forget that week in Germany. It was one of the most ridiculous, fun times I ever had. Ronnie Kalimon has a great sense of humor and had my stomach hurting from laughing so much. It was like being on another planet. I remember our first day off in Berlin, the morning after our first show. We bought some hash from some guys at the gig and smoked some (which was rare for me) while walking around, going into shops and talking to people. It was such an amazing, surreal day. I wish I had been more interested in the historical significance of Berlin and insisted on seeing more sights but I was young. The alcohol helped...
What is your personal point of view about Hellhound Records after all this years? Do you think, that they have ripped-off the bands and what do you think about their work and support for REVELATION and UNORTHODOX?
You know there is a lot of Hellhound bashing but in retrospect I have nothing personally against Tom and Mike. They supported the music because they liked it (at least in the beginning) I mean who else was going to release THE OBSESSED and INTERNAL VOID in those days? They couldn't have possibly thought they were going to get rich off of Dave Chandler back then! No, I think they were honest in their support of the early Maryland bands but like anything else there is always room for corruption. When bands like COC, SOUNDGARDEN and WHITE ZOMBIE started to break out of the underground, major labels were sniffing around all over the place looking for the next METALLICA. Hellhound got offers for some of their bands and I guess it wasn't enough to let certain bands out their contracts which I believe now to be a good thing for most concerned.
Look what happened with Columbia and THE OBSESSED! Since then I understand more about how a small label runs and while I'm sure those guys weren't angels I don't think they deserve the slagging they get by some bands. I mean they gave bands decent advances that increased with every recording, they paid to print the CDs and even flew some of us overseas to tour. It's a lot more than some labels that are around now can afford to do. Let's be straight here, I'm not defending any sketchy business practices but if it weren't for them I wouldn't be typing this right now. Micheal, Tom and Lee Dorrian (Rise Above Records) were all instrumental in getting this music out there for people to hear and we shouldn't forget that.
Have you written constantly new material for CHOWDER during the 90's, and what happened after you left Dale Flood's band? Did you focus your attention on your band?
Yes I have been writing CHOWDER music all along, I just didn't know what it was called until I came up that stupid name for it. It's what comes naturally to me and I like to think that the songs we write all have their own style and sound. The beauty of CHOWDER is that there are no rules and I can write anything that feels good and honest to me. No matter if it's dark and heavy or melodic or in some weird time signature or in 4/4, fast, slow. I just don't have to care. There are no boundaries. I think one of the failings of modern music is that people get so wrapped up in stylistic constraints. So much of it just seems forced to me. I can't imagine starting a band these days and saying "Okay, I want my band to be doom metal or death metal or prog rock" or whatever.
It totally distorts the creative flow before it even begins. I mean, what did a band like KING CRIMSON or CAPTAIN BEYOND or RAMONES or SWANS decide to sound like when they started? They didn't, they just wrote music to the best of their abilities and whatever influences they had were channeled in naturally. So while I've definitely played in bands that are this or that I always wrote the songs I'm playing now with Chad and Doug. Anyway, after I split with UNORTHODOX I floundered for awhile until Chad and I decided we might as well get serious about this music we'd been covertly writing for the last 4 years and the ebb and flow began.
I noticed on the website of Bland Hand Records the name SPECTRE in context with CHOWDER. Please, give me some infos about that group. Is this band still active?
SPECTRE was pretty much just CHOWDER in the larval stage and was the first name we used for "The side project". When I was still playing in UNORTHODOX our friend Rich mentioned that he had done some work for Drew Mazerick, who had recorded 'Never Comes Silence', and Drew was going to pay him off with studio time. Rich suggested we go in and record the 3 songs Chad and I had written together sporadically up to that point. We rehearsed once or twice and wrote a fourth track and some lyrics to 3 of them and went in to record them. Drew was out of town for that week so we pretty much engineered it ourselves all day and night. Rich sang and had his brother Steve come in to lay down the bass tracks.
It was so much fun having all that recording gear to ourselves for that week and on top of it recording songs that just felt so right and natural. When I listen to it now it sounds a little dated but I think some of the material is still pretty tasty at times, it's all very dark. We've tossed around the idea of bringing "Forsaken" back into the set, I still really like that one. Admittedly the recording isn't great. Luckily I somehow bribed Chris Kozlowski with beer into coming down to Baltimore and mixing it for us which definitely helped! We actually had Rich and Steve back in the band for a few rehearsals in the late 90s but it didn't pan out. Maybe we'll have them come up at a CHOWDER gig one day and play that SPECTRE demo live. That would definitely summon some old ghosts!
You received good reviews for the CD-EP on Bland Hand Records, and currently you're working on the first full-length. What are the latest news? Have you found a label or will you again work together with John Brenner's label?
We have received really good reviews for the EP. I'm so thankful that it took us so long to finally get this material out to people because they are so much more eclectic in their tastes these days. I'm not sure what folks would've thought of these songs in 1997. I mean, even hardcore kids listen to bands like EARTHRIDE these days. It's a good time to be in a weird band. The EP is supposed to be reviewed in Terrorizer next month so keep an eye open for that as well.
We start recording our first album the weekend of July 27th with John Brenner producing. The title is 'Passion Rift' and of the 10 songs 4 are old ones, 4 are brand new including the 15 minute title track and 2 are going to be short atmospheric things similar to "Hiki" from the EP that will be written in the studio for the most part. Sound-wise it's all over the place. We have some really cool ideas that I hope work the way I envision them. We recently contacted someone locally who owns a Mellotron and Doug just bought an electric cello so expect plenty of weirdness and progressive elements as well as some heavy shit that's all dark clouds and lightning. My original idea was to film a bunch of really strange footage and edit it with psychedelic effects to fit the length of the CD as kind of a companion DVD to watch while listening to the album as a sort of mood enhancer. I'm still interesting in some sort of video project but I don't think it will happen this time around.
We've had a couple of nods from labels but nothing concrete. At this point we're going to record it and then see if anyone wants to pick it up I guess as opposed to sweating a bunch of labels that probably could care less at this point. The ONLY reason I'm steering away from Bland Hand this time is it has always kind of been a romantic notion of mine to release an actual, pro-pressed CD of CHOWDER's music even if I have to pay for it. Just to be able to hold the finished product in my hands as I'm listening to it will be good enough and then I can check that off my list. I think even now we're grasping at straws with that way of thinking and I know what John is doing with Bland Hand Records is absolutely visionary and the future of recording. Hell, I'm sure he'll have the album up on the site sooner or later anyway. I just want people to hear it ultimately but I'm going to get this CD out first if it kills me!
As for the future, who knows really? Play shows, write music when it's there. I've been talking to Brian from DARSOMBRA about some kind of collaboration so that might be an interesting project. Brian is a great musician with a really creative mind. I continue to try and convince AGAINST NATURE to let me dork up one of their records with my keyboards noodlings. We're also really excited to play some new material for people at the Declaration Of Doom fest in July.
CHOWDER played at last year's Doom Or Be Doomed Festival in Baltimore. I guess, it must have been a great fun. How was your gig and can you tell me some interesting stories about these days?
Ahh, Doom Or Be Doomed...What an amazing weekend. No matter what I get into or out of musically from now on I know I'll always be able to look back at that 3 days in April 2007 with the same great memories I have now. It was really the catalyst for getting CHOWDER back together and it was a fucking terrifying and exhilarating experience debuting in front of that crowd. I had to look out there and see guys like Terry Weston, Dale Flood, Dave Depraved, Kelly Carmichael, John Brenner, John Gallo...just all these amazing guitar players that I have so much respect for and really look up to and I'm just quaking in my Adidas. After a song or two I think we hit our stride and it went pretty well and we got some nice compliments.
I was fairly uneasy about how we would be received because our songs are obviously a bit weirder than most of the bands on the bill. Two of the best comments I could've asked for that night were from Pete Patchy's friend from Massachusetts who said "I can't really say who you sound like." and Mike Smail who said "Just sounds like old rock to me." I couldn't have asked for more. Stories? hell other than Brenner and I tearing what's left of our hair out from stress in the months leading up to the fest it really did go off without a hitch. I wish something crazy would've happened so I had a funny story. I guess Bobby showing up was pretty great in a weird way. That made a lot of folks happy.
Apart of your love for progressive music and metal, you're also into Hardcore. You're involved into two Hardcore bands called STOUT and NEXT STEP UP. When did you discover your love for Hardcore?
STOUT is the band Dougie and I have been in for ten years now. They asked me to play when they heard I wasn't doing anything at the time. We have two albums out on London's Rucktion Records who are just the best guys on the planet and some of my best friends. STOUT is all about brutality and aggression and over the years I've managed to creep my CELTIC FROST and OBITUARY infatuation into their hardcore sound. It works pretty well, we get along and play about a dozen and a half shows a year mostly locally but we'll get out of town here and there and have toured Europe and the UK a couple times. It's really low key and laid back which is exactly what time permits for me. NEXT STEP UP were probably Baltimore's most well known hardcore band for years. Doug, Chad and I have all played with them over the years coincidentally. I think we work so well together because we've all come from that background and we understand the influence of hardcore in CHOWDER's music.
I got into hardcore during the first minute of the first time I heard the song "Hear Nothing, See Nothing, Say Nothing" by DISCHARGE. It was so raw and brutal and without any pretense. I think right before our friend played it for us Eric Little and I had been listening to some GRAVEDIGGER album or something and I was just like "Ok, this is my thing now." I just dove into hardcore and punk feet first and got every record I could get my hands on and went to every show I could. Interestingly enough the first show I ever saw was with Eric and Kelly in College Park with BLACK MARKET BABY and THE OBSESSED in 1985. Looking back it was kind of the blueprint for what I would be into musically in the years to come along with the SABBATH and MOTORHEAD and RUSH etc. I used to drive to CBGB many Sundays in the late 80s to go see bands like SHEER TERROR, BREAKDOWN and SICK OF IT ALL.
Those were great, great days. Hardcore was my life for many years growing up in Frederick where everyone was content to just kind of accept this mundane life their parents had laid out for them. I never fit in to any of that and I was an angry, depressed kid. Hardcore gave me the outlet I needed and I still love so much of the music but like everything else it's evolved into something not as pure as what I remember it being. It's very separated by sub genres now just like metal and prog and rap and all other styles of music. Not many bands breaking new ground or even doing things with the passion they used to and that's fine as long as someone is enjoying it. But let's face it there's never going to be another "Tied Down' or "Rock For Light" or "Age Of Quarrel" There are a few bands around like HELLBENT DIEHARD, WISDOM IN CHAINS and PULLING TEETH that totally kick my ass but they're the exception.
What do you think about the movie 'American Hardcore'?
I took my (then) 3 year old son to see 'American Hardcore' in the theatre. He loved it until the popcorn ran out. I thought it was a solid retrospective of what things were like in the early to mid 80's in America. Great old footage of bands lost in time like JERRYS KIDS and VOID as well as all the favorites like BLACK FLAG, SSD and MINOR THREAT is what made it for me. Not to mention that trainwreck of an awkward SSD reunion between Al and Springa! Too funny. I've talked to guys like Sab Grey and a few others from that period about it and they don't seem to care for Steven Blush much. I guess they feel like a lot of the things said in his book weren't 100% truthful. I wouldn't know personally. One thing that bothered me about the film is the ever popular "Hardcore died in 1986 when I became disinterested in it" attitude that some of the guys like Keith Morris from the CIRCLE JERKS have. All music evolves and whether you like what it's become or not, it's here to stay.
You're not only love to play bass, but also guitar. What is your favorite instrument and what was the first one you learned to play?
My all time favorite instrument is the original Moog Minimoog Model-D. I was given one in the mid 90's and it was my favorite thing I ever owned. I went to Chad's house for rehearsal once and it was sitting on the porch outside in the weather! I asked him to see what his father was doing with it and he just gave it to me. I didn't even know what I had! The first time I turned it on and played it I had an epiphany. It was like "OHH that's what makes that sound on the RUSH album, Oh Rick Wakeman was doing THIS!"
I used to stay up until morning twiddling around on that thing. It really opened me up to the possibilities of synthesizers and I believe it's the main reason I'm so into progressive rock from the 70's these days. Guys like Kerry Minnear and Tony Banks are just as important to me now as Tony Iommi and Robert Fripp have been. I fucking loved that Minimoog but was forced to sell it during some rough times. I still feel sick when I think about it. It's been my mission ever since to replace it but so far I've been more into working on my guitar sound and playing now that CHOWDER is back together. I own some other vintage analog synths but none of them cut it like the Mini does.I will definitely get another one when I can afford to.
The very first instrument I was exposed to was the piano. I wanted to play the guitar but my mother in her all too rational way convinced me that if I learned the piano I would be able to play every instrument. This is kind of true from a theory perspective. I gave that up rather quickly. I hated the practice and I think I was only about 7 or 8 so my attention span was very short. After that it was my first guitar, a total piece of shit Gibson SG copy from some store in the mall that I HAD to have when I was about 13. I can't even remember what happened to that thing.
Thanks a lot for your time and your answers! All the best!
Hey thanks to you Klaus, you have a really great webzine. I always look forward to your interview and review updates. Keep it up man, we need you! Hope I didn't put everyone to sleep with these self indulgent ramblings. Listen to CAMEL!