As life seems to often go, 2020 has either had absolutely fuck-all going on or a deluge of tasks and events piled on top of one another. I write this as I’m awaiting the results of a Covid-19 test (my wife’s boss and his wife have come down with the virus) which has forced me to postpone a trip to South Carolina to help my mom with a cross-country move. I’m also confined to the house and unable to go to work until I get results, so the past few days have been a little… well, let’s say challenging. Yeah… challenging – that’s about right. While I have a little forced downtime, I figured I’d fill folks in on what’s been simmering.
First off, this Saturday, November 21st, will mark the airing of Butlerfest, a virtual event benefitting my old buddy Ryan Butler (ex-Unruh, Landmine Marathon, etc) who produced a bunch of records I’ve done from Exhumed to Dekapitator to even Scarecrow (more on that long-lost project later). We managed to get the Exhumed boys together in one state to perform and film a 20-minute set for this show and it was as fun and invigorating as it was exhausting and stressful.
Coordinating band activities when only two members live in the same state (and even then, we’re a four-hour drive away from each other) is never a cakewalk, but during a pandemic it’s even less fun. (quick note: Mike Hamilton was a longtime San Luis Obispo resident but moved to Ohio last year, leaving me as the only remaining Exhumed dude in town.) Generally, when we get together it’s in order to achieve a goal that we already know will generate cash in order to offset the cost of just bringing the band together – rehearsing for a tour, recording an album, etc. This time we got together to perform a benefit set and film additional footage for a soon-to-be-announced project (which should be fairly easy for the discerning reader to speculate about), where there was no label budget or guaranteed gig income – in short, no safety net. As you can imagine, every expense was spared. I want to commend Mike and Sebastian especially for toughing it out in California on a shoestring budget and never complaining – and their accommodations were far from four-star.
We rehearsed like crazy and spent a grueling fourteen-hour day filming that put everyone through the wringer – not just the band, but our fearless front-of-house engineer Alejandro, the good Dr. Philthy, the videographers at the Saucepot here in SLO, and even the folks at Hail Yourself zine who were there assisting us (all of whom I owe a massive debt of gratitude to). I can honestly say that I worked as hard on the day we filmed (November 4th) as I ever have. Hopefully the results will get people psyched.
Obviously there will be an announcement soon about the project we filmed, but in the meantime – if you’re able, please throw some support at Butlerfest. It’s affordable, the lineup is great (I mean, Dropdead, Lago, Fall Silent and Sorrower are already worth double the price of admission) and the cause couldn’t be more worthy. Ryan Butler has been a close friend of mine for over twenty years, and he and his wife Amy have opened their home to me and the boys countless times. His production skills have made records like All Guts, No Glory and Necrocracy what they are, and his exacting engineering standards have made me a better guitar player. He’s also a person of the highest integrity who lives by his ideals and never compromises on the important things – his commitment to anti-racism and anti-fascism has never wavered. In addition to all that, he’s one of the nicest people you’ll meet, as evidenced by breadth and diversity of the benefit lineup. His battle with Wilson’s disease (a genetic disorder that attacks the liver) and the process of getting a liver transplant have been financially devastating, and I can only imagine the emotional and psychological bruising he’s suffered, so anything you can do to help is strongly encouraged.
As promised, let’s circle back to Scarecrow – It’s been well-publicized that Death Angel drummer Will Carroll was put on a ventilator after contracting Covid-19 in Europe on tour with Testament and Exodus. He was the drummer for Scarecrow and every time we’d see each other in the Bay Area or at festivals, we’d always talk about the band being “the one that got away.” Will’s health issues reminded me that we don’t have unlimited time to do everything we wanna do in this life, and that we should take advantage of the facts that a.) Will didn’t die, and b). he and I both had a year free from touring. If we were gonna get some stuff recorded, this would be the time to do it. Despite only releasing three songs, we had an album’s worth of material written back in 2008 that has languished in pre-production ever since. We scheduled a session for his drums in mid-October, which – at the time – looked pretty free and clear on my calendar. Then Mike (Hamilton, Exhumed drummer) announced he was coming to California the same weekend for his dad’s birthday and if we wanted to schedule any Exhumed stuff, that was his window of opportunity.
And so the clusterfuck began.
I frantically worked to find a venue to film an Exhumed set at, tried to coordinate around Sebastian’s schedule (he just finished another awesome Noisem record and is also recording clients at his studio in Baltimore) and Ross’s work / life / Creepsylvanian slave-laborer balance. It was… challenging (sensing a theme here?) to say the least. On top of that, my Mom and Stepdad had asked me to help by driving my mom and their dogs from Myrtle Beach, South Carolina to Chandler, Arizona (coincidentally, the hometown of one Ryan Butler) and their timetable moved up to mid-November, pretty much a week after the Exhumed stuff wrapped up here in California.
I’m happy to report that Will came down to our studio in San Luis Obispo (about 4 hours south of his homebase of San Francisco) completely prepared for the Scarecrow session and utterly killed it. His recovery is complete and he’s playing drums as well as I’ve ever heard him play. I tracked the rhythm guitars and then had to turn my attention toward Exhumed. I’m very much looking forward to returning to this and doing the melody / harmony guitars and vocals in December, and then the demo will be completed by Bud (Burke, ex-Exhumed – lead guitar) and Damien (Sisson, Death Angel – bass) completing their tracks remotely. It sucks having to do this project in pieces, but I’m still dealing with the deluge of tasks I mentioned earlier. The five songs we recorded will more than likely be used as a demo to shop for a record deal. If you’re curious what the band is about, click the link to our bandcamp page, or take my word for it that it’s classic Bay Area Thrash in the Metallica / Exodus vein with a healthy dose of NWOBHM and punk influence.
While all this was going on, my ever-ambitious wife discovered that an unlikely door had opened for us – we could qualify for a home loan and afford to buy a condo in our neighborhood in Atascadero. That was incredible news, but it meant that in between working my day job, tracking rhythm guitars for Scarecrow, and rehearsing and coordinating Exhumed stuff, I also had house viewings and home inspections to add to my schedule – as well as signing lots and lots (and lots) of paperwork. Don’t get me wrong, I never thought we’d be able to afford to own property in the California, so I’m beyond stoked, but the timing was… you guessed it – challenging.
As all of this has been going on, I also finalized a deal for the digital release of a solo album with Relapse. There will be more to write about this as the release gets closer, but suffice it to say the record is quite different than anything I’ve done before. It’s essentially a sci-fi / adventure soundtrack album without a film. If you like John Carpenter, John Williams, Jerry Goldsmith, Hans Zimmer, etc. this will be up your alley. It’s a culmination of my love for film music and symphonic music in general and love for storytelling and specifically super-hero / adventure storytelling. It was a massive challenge (the fun kind) to hone my composition and production skills to a place where I could execute something like this, and I’m very excited that it will see release. I have no idea what the audience will be for the record or if there even is much of one, but I’ll soon be annoying people with news about it.
Meanwhile, Horrorama, the book that features my short story The Vessel, has gotten some very flattering reviews which have provided some nice moments of respite from the chaos of my life these past few weeks. I’m excited to continue writing and working on new projects which I’ve been stealing moments for whenever I can.
All the while, Pounder has been gearing up for the release of our second album Breaking the World, which will be released January 29th on Shadow Kingdom Records. The title and cover art concept were things I talked about 15 years ago (another prospective album title I dreamt up was “Welcome to the Night” which later was the title of a Night Demon single so I was clearly mining the right vein of “heavy metal tropes” ) and my good bud Cole Barrington came up with a killer concept sketch years ago. By the time we announced the album and revealed the final cover art, a German band Blizzen had already released an album called World in Chains in 2020 with very similar cover art.
Neither anyone in our camp nor at Shadow Kingdom was aware of the record, and a few keyboard warriors were keen on pointing out the similarities. Hopefully, if nothing else, it will get people talking about the record. We’re all extremely happy with how it came out and excited for people to hear it. I think it’s a big step forward from Uncivilized and we’ve all grown into our roles in the band. The first single will be assaulting your eardrums in a couple of weeks.
Lastly on the “news” list is that We Will Destroy… You Will Obey by Dekapitator is getting reissued on vinyl by Diabolic Might Records in Germany after a couple of decades of being out of print. This remains one of my favorite records I’ve done and I’m excited to see some interest rekindled in the band. We’re also working out some new merch designs for Dekap that should be available soon. I still have a bunch of riffs that were supposed to be for album number three that may see the light if this pandemic continues to make touring impossible. Clearly, I’m a glutton for punishment.
In conclusion, please don’t mistake my beleaguered tone for a plea for sympathy. I feel incredibly lucky to have a lot of great things going on in my life, especially in 2020. Of course, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a little overwhelmed and occasionally kind of grouchy because of it all, but it will all be more than worth it.
Unless some things really fall apart, I’ll be starting 2021 with a new home that my wife and I own, new records and releases coming out with multiple projects and Exhumed will have put together some killer new stuff for your eyes and ears. I can’t wait to share it all with you.
Thanks for reading – stay as safe and sane as possible.
Never let the bastards grind ya down!
November 18th, 2020
*A quick addendum: After two and a half anxious days of waiting I got a call a few hours after I posted this with a covid-19 negative test result, so I leave for South Carolina tomorrow morning!