Sunday, June 1, 2014

Capitalist Casualties

    I moved to Arizona from New Jersey a few days before my 14th birthday. At the time, I was heavily into metal, mostly death and thrash, but I was starting to dabble in punk and hardcore. Within the first year of living in AZ, I started hanging out with more punk kids than metal kids, they were just more fun. I started going to a ton of punk shows at places like the Nile in Mesa. We hit the occasional death metal show too, my friends were into death metal before punk, just like me, but it was mostly punk and hardcore in those days.
     As I've previously delved into, I discovered the heavier side of punk rock through Logical Nonsense, and then grindcore through bands like Phobia and Brutal Truth. From there the floodgates were wide open. I started getting heavily into all the insanely fast hardcore bands being put out by labels like Sound Pollution and Slap A Ham. I loved stuff like Spazz, Capitalist Casualties, Assuck, Discordance Axis, Hellnation, and many other bands of that nature. My friends and I played in punk bands and went to shows whenever and wherever we could.
     For a short time in the late 90s, a bowling alley in Tempe became the center of our scene. We would go see local favorites like Unruh, Suicide Nation, and Carol Ann there regularly. My friends were in a great band called Misanthropic who played there several times, as did my band, Misled. I saw Converge there for the first time, as well as the mighty Assuck. In the summer of '98, Misanthropic and Carol Ann wound up on a bill with Hellnation and Capitalist Casualties there.
     The weekend of that particular show, I was attending a festival in Santa Fe, New Mexico to see Logical Nonsense, Noisear, the Fanatics, and many others. Myself and a few others left Santa Fe as soon as the fest ended and drove straight to Tempe without even stopping home, just so we wouldn't miss Hellnation and Capitalist Casualties. It was an awesome show. Hellnation was great, really fast and brutal, but Capitalist Casualties were the band of the night. They were everything I loved about hardcore at the time. They were fast and heavy, but they also had memorable songs that you could shout along to. I bought a t-shirt from them that I wore until it finally disintegrated just recently.
     16 years have passed since that show. Many of my friends have ceased being active members of the scene. I'm one of the only ones who still plays music regularly, at least here in AZ. Tons of bands have come and gone since then, but Capitalist Casualties are still going strong. They all live in different states, but still get together every few months to record a new 7" or do a quick tour or something. I saw them play at Maryland Deathfest back in 2010 and they were every bit as good as they were when I first saw them over a decade ago.
     So now it's 2014 and I'm at a strange point in life. I live out here in Surprise, which is pretty far from where anything fun happens in this state. I have a decent enough job that keeps me here, but my passion still lies with playing music. I know that I have no hope of ever making a living off of the stuff I enjoy playing, and I also know that I'd be miserable if I played something I didn't like just to make money. I've been playing and writing music for my band Sorrower since the summer of 2009 and we're just now getting in the studio to make our debut full length album. I just realized that something had to change. I needed to get out of the boondocks and relocate somewhere that I can play music far more often than I do. That means quitting my job and losing the small amount of security that I have.
     I had been wrestling with this for the last few months. I finally had enough at work after getting bitched out over something stupid for what seemed like the hundredth time, and I put in my notice. Not wanting to screw them over, I agreed to stay on until the end of our busy season in late May. Right around the same time, my old friend Shane, who I played in a band with for many years, called me up one night and asked if Sorrower would be interested in playing a show he was setting up for Capitalist Casualties. They were playing MDF again and were touring their way back across the US afterwards. Shane said we were the first band that he thought of when he agreed to book the show. I asked the guys if they were down to do it, and next thing you know, we were in.
     The show happened to coincide with my last day at work. I was scheduled to be done on May 31, we played the night before. As the date started approaching faster and faster, I seriously started to doubt myself and second guess my decision. What if I couldn't find another decent job in the city? Was it really worth it to give up my benefits and a steady paycheck at the age of 34, just so I could hit the jam pad one or two more times a week? I was in serious panic mode thinking about all the bills I had coming up, losing my insurance, everything a 34 year old man is told their whole life is supposed to be most important at that age.
     Then the night of the show came. We were a little rusty, since we had forgone regular practices in the month prior because we spent most of our time in the studio. We jammed out a quick set in the practice room, it sounded good enough so we packed up our gear and off we went. The spot Shane had chosen for the show was an outdoor area out on the Rez where some friends had held a punk and grind fest a few months back, but had been the site of little else since. We were worried that people might not venture out to a place so off the beaten path for this show, but we were pleasantly surprised to find quite a few people out there waiting for us. The overall vibe reminded me of the punk rock desert parties we used to go to when we were teenagers.
     A few other locals played before us, then we hit the makeshift stage for our brief set. We had only rehearsed 8 songs, so our set clocked in at a little less than 15 minutes. It wasn't half bad, in my opinion. After we finished, the stage was cleared for the legendary Capitalist Casualties. I had spent most of the evening before our set manning our merch table, which was right next to theirs. After some technical difficulties, they finally hit the stage and the four guys I had watched interact with each other and various people all night transformed into a violent whirlwind of speed and aggression. The place erupted. People were moshing, stage diving, a few people even climbed up on the roof to dive into the crowd! It was insane and awesome. Watching it unfold brought me right back to being a 17 year old kid watching them lay waste to a bowling alley all those years ago.
     After they finished, they turned back into the four guys that had been hanging out before the show. I chit chatted a bit with a couple of them and some various friends, then bought a shirt to replace my old, tattered one and headed out to unload gear and prepare for my final day of work. The next day, as I went through the motions at work, a strange calm came over me. I had somehow stopped being worried about what I was going to do and started feeling good about the reasons that I was doing what I was. I had just watched four guys, who were all probably about 10 years older than me, who had been in a band together for over two decades, who still did it out of sheer love of playing, and who all actually seemed to genuinely like each other and enjoy playing together still after all those years of grinding it out in cramped sweatboxes. There is no money in it, not for them, not for anyone who plays music like this. They just do it for the love of it, and 20 years from now there will be someone who was a kid at that show who remembers it as vividly and as fondly as I remember seeing them back in '98. That's what I want, to just play because I feel it in my heart. Jobs and money might come and go, but my love of picking up my bass and blasting away with good people will never fade.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

     I think there are a lot of people like me out there, people who live for music, who couldn't survive without it in their lives. Like me, I think many of them have certain people who helped create that bond, whether it's a person in their life who turned them on to a certain kind of music, or a band that captured their attention and opened up a whole new world for them. For me, as it turns out, I had a little of both.
     As I've stated before, I started getting heavily into punk and metal music when I was around 11 or 12 years old. Guns 'N' Roses led me to Metallica, which led me to Pantera, which led me to Sepultura, etc. I first discovered death metal by seeing Morbid Angel's "Rapture" video on Headbanger's Ball, back when they still played music videos on TV. At the time, I lived in a small suburb in northern New Jersey called Randolph. Randolph had a small, but rabid, death metal scene at the time. The local night club, Obsessions, would often host touring bands like Pungent Stench and Dismember, and local acts like Malfactor and Decollation would often be on the bill. My friends and I had our own fledgling metal band, Nineveh. At the time, we were in a bit of a transitional period. We had started as a thrash band, but our tastes began to lean more toward death metal and our style gradually changed. After I left for Arizona, they transformed into a full on death metal band. Years later, drugs and petty crime would ruin any potential they may have had, but when I was there, we were just kids trying to find our way.
     We practiced in our guitarist's basement and would often spend entire weekends there, either playing music or goofing off in the woods behind his house. Once a week, we would make the long trek through the woods to Ledgewood Mall, on the outskirts of Randolph. All the "cool" kids would hangout over in Rockaway, at the nice mall, but we always went to the "dirt mall" in Ledgewood, for two reasons. First, there was a music store there where both of our guitarists were taking lessons at the time, second, because of Record Town. If memory serves, Record Town was a regional chain on the east coast, kinda like Zia here in AZ, or Amoeba in California. It was one of the first places that taught me to really appreciate a real record store. The cool kids would go to Sam Goody in Rockaway and buy the latest Paula Abdul cassettes from some faceless drone in a stupid uniform who was just there for a paycheck, but Record Town was populated by people who wanted to work there for their love of music. Whatever kind of stuff you liked, there was somebody there who knew all about it and could help you find what you were looking for. Plus, it was the only place in town that you could go and get stuff that wasn't whatever over-hyped garbage the majors were trying to ram down your throat at the time.
     The person at the store that we naturally gravitated to was the one we always referred to simply as "the death metal guy." He was probably in his early 20s, long, dark hair, always wearing a death metal t-shirt. After seeing him at the store a few times, we started noticing him at shows, then we heard through the grapevine that he had once played in Revenant, the local thrash legends who still played from time to time. Being a bunch of kids, we ranged in age from 13 to 15 by this time, we desperately wanted to look cool to the older dudes in the scene. If death metal guy told us about some band, you can be damn sure at least one of us bought the tape.
     It all started with Morbid Angel, of course. He rang one of us up when we were buying "Covenant" one day, and the rest is history. After that, every time we went in it would be, "if you like Morbid Angel, check out this band." Obituary, Grave, Morgoth, Bolt Thrower, Pungent Stench, he turned us on to all of them. I can safely say that my musical tastes from the time I discovered death metal up until I moved to AZ a year later were entirely shaped by the death metal guy at Record Town in Ledgewood Mall.
     It had been many, many years since I had thought about death metal guy, or that time in my life. Then, a few months ago, I was sitting around a friend's house leafing through an issue of Decibel Magazine that I hadn't read, when I came upon a short article about death metal legends Incantation, a long time favorite of mine. Incantation had come up out of the same New Jersey scene that I did, they were from just a few towns away, in Bergenfield. Their bass player at the time, Ronnie Deo, was only about a year older than me and I knew a few people who knew him, but we never saw his band play. They weren't the legendary band that they are now yet, they had just started to make a name for themselves. Their first album came out right around the time I was leaving Jersey, and it had somehow passed me by. I didn't really get into them until a few years later, after I finally saw them play a show in Arizona.
     The article I was reading had a sidebar, where Incantation's legendary bandleader, John McEntee, talked about his band's contribution to the Decibel flexi disc series. For their entry, Incantation had chosen to do a cover version of the song "Degeneration" by none other than New Jersey's own, Revenant. McEntee talked about his origins in the scene, how he joined Revenant for a short period during their heyday, and how he had left to explore his own musical vision with Incantation. He also made mention of the fact that he had met some of the more luminous personalities in the New Jersey metal scene through his job at Record Town. That's when it hit me, John McEntee was the death metal guy from the mall when I was a kid!
     What a strange, yet wonderful revelation that was. I look back fondly on those formative years, before everything became about drinking and drugs, trying to get laid all the time, worrying about who's going to put out your next record, where you're gonna go on your next tour, when all that mattered was the latest tape you bought by some new band playing music like you had never heard before. To find out that one of the people who had guided me through that time went on to become a legend in our scene was a pretty awesome feeling. I guess if anyone who isn't into this crazy music I love were to read this, it would seem pretty mundane. It's not like it was some household name to the outside world, but to me it was pretty special. I hope that sometime in the future, my path will cross with his again. I think he'd enjoy the story.