Wednesday, January 21, 2009



It always feels good to interview one of your underground heros. It feels like home if you know what I mean... Fronting the assault of the formidable DISCORDANCE AXIS back at the time, we didnt hear anything revorded from vokiller Jon Chang until recently with fantastic GRIDLINK debut "Amber Gray" LP & HAYAINO DASUKI's "Headbanger's Karaoke Club Dangerous Fire" EP. We definitely grabbed the chance to borrow some time from the man and have a little chat, asking him also questions about the independent video-game BLACK POWDER|RED EARTH that he's currently developping with his team.

In “A.G.” you do high pitched vokills, while in the past w/D.A. you used to have some growls as well. How come?

As time went on in DA I shed a lot of the low vocal parts because they didn't have the same emotional intensity for me. In GridLink, Matsubara and myself discussed the ideas of different vocal styles other than pure highs but we decided to make the first release as pure emotionally as possible, thus we tabled several songs and ideas for future GridLink projects.

Why did D.A. split up back at the time, was that because of Rob Morton ear problem as we’ve heard?
Yes this was pretty much the reason, though considering how many times we had split in the past there was no guarantee we would've ever completed another project.

GRIDLINK is obviously a new band and not D.A. v2. Did you have to reinvent your vokill & lyrical approach, or it was sort of natural continuation?
Well I am a different person than I was 7 years ago so a lot of the lyrics, artwork and emotions tied up in producing them are very different. I think DA was very much the product of 3 intense and conflicting personalities, while GridLink has a similar dynamic, though now we have a bass player *gasp*!

Tell us a few things about the other GL members… Their background, how did you hook up.
I met Matsu while DA was doing it's final Japan tour in May 2001. His band Mortalized blew me away. Months later, I still remembered their presence, speed and style, so I contacted him via Hevi from Corrupted and we started talking via email. At the time myself, Dave Witte and Steve Procopio were discussing the idea of a new grind band called War Chalking so I wasn't looking for a grind band. However, Matsubara and I both shared a love for Japanese heavy metal and we decided to do a ultra fast thrashing heavy metal band with screaming vocals. GridLink came up about a year later when we shut down War Chalking. GridLink started as band with a all Japanese line-up plus me. We cycled through several drummers before I called upon Dave Witte to see if he was interested. Dave was over booked and connected me with Bryan Fajardo. As it turns out Bryan, was up to the task. Then our bass player, Okada, had to bow out and we brought Ted Patterson, who I'd known from Human Remains and Burnt by the Sun, aboard.

GL music eventhough it ressembles to D.A. is a bit more hardcore-sounding in my ears, as well as with more of thrash background plus a tiny bit of subtle melody (kinda like mutated heavy metal melody if you know what I mean). Do you think that description fits and how would you define the musical differences of the
two entities?

Hmmm, I think of DA as Rob Marton and GridLink as Takafumi Matsubara. Both are very gifted musicians who are pushing our art form to some place it hasn't been. The analogy we used to hear all the time was DA = Voivod playing grind and GL = Slayer playing grind LOL

You have Brian Fajardo on drums, who I admire for his playing with Uphill Battle & Phobia. As I said in the previous question, the GL material sounds to me a bit more hardcore than DA, and some parts made me think about U.B. in particular. Do you discuss what you want to play or does Matsubara come come to you with the songs complete?
Matsubara writes everything and we build around that.

I don’t have the lyrics so please give us the general framework. I was also wondering what “Crash Logs” talks about – the title intrigues me because I’m a UNIX systems engineer and deal a lot with those damn logs!
I believe my audience is smart enough to find their own meaning in what I create :) You can probably find the lyrics with a little google-fu or better yet, buy the record LOL

Do “Pattern Recognition” lyrics have anything to do with William Gibson’s excellent book of the same name?
Not at all. I actually stopped reading Gibson after Idoru. He lot his edge after Mona Lisa  Overdrive IMHO.

Let me get one thing straight: the cover artwork is one of the best I’ve ever seen and my friends who’ve seen it agree that it is grand! It has the 8-bit video game edge, the japanese mask, the assault rifle… Did you have something  particular in mind? Is this a precise character or you just came up with a combination of elements in order to represent the content’s atmosphere, aesthetics and soundscapes?
Being an artist the art always has significant meaning regarding the content. I came up with the idea for the "image" of GridLink while I was working on my current game/book Black Powder | Red Earth. I wanted to create a scene that conveyed endless conflict, so I teamed up with Michelle Bowlin of Assassin's Boutique to design a character which combined modern military armor and weapons and elements found in Shogun era Japanese warriors. We also wanted to show that the world that this figure was protecting has changed in ways the soldier could never understand, hence the scarred and damaged world in the background he watches over.

I totally believe that eventhough “A.G.” lasts only 12 minutes, it has the consistency of a full-length album in terms of musical density and the feeling of fulfillment it leaves you with after the listening is over. Still, why havent you eleased it as a EP?Is HH worried about the timing? Do you want to join the Guiness book of records? ☺
That was the complete work of Amber Gray. Thus it was released as a complete project.

What’s exactly the deal with Hayaino Daisuki? I have the “Headbangers…” CD and think it sounds cool. Is this a tribute to japanese metal right? Who are the other members?
Hayaino Daisuki was the first project I worked on with Matsubara. We wanted to take the Japanese heavy metal sound and push it to the limits of what could still be called metal. Many of the songs were actually written to be used in Scratch Trigger Era, an anime miniseries I worked on a few years ago. Despite the content of the songs(mostly original ghost stories) when it came time to name the band and record, we actually went with stuff that would capture the fun of being an gaming and metal otaku rather than using more traditional bleak imagery, hence the Headbangers Karaoke Club zine that came with the ep. We are working on issue 2 right now! Re the members, we are currently, Jon Chang - vocals, Takafumi Matsubara - guitars, Eric Schnee -Drums, Ted Patterson - bass, Michelle Bowlin - vocals and we've recently added Dorian Rainwater as our 2nd guitar.

In the H.D. CD booklet and packaging there’s quite a few references to video games, so are they one of the influences? What do you think about the video game tribute music scene?
I love video game music. I'm not as interested in the pure tribute music scene though.

In the cellophane wrapping the H.D. CD there’s a sticker mentionning that there’s Mortalized+D.A. members but “no its not Dave Witte”. I guess each time a Dave Witte’s release is out and “featuring Discordance Axis,etc members” is mentionned as part of the marketing blurb, people have been asking you if that’s
you? What do you think about Dave’s carreer after D.A. anyway?

I came up with the stickers for both the HD and GridLink releases as a "joke". Basically there is nothing you can put on a marketing sticker that does not sound totally contrived and stupid. It's sort of like band photos. As soon as you take a photo it's a fashion shoot meant for customers to identify with you. With my music I like to avoid that as much as possible. Re Dave's career, it's Dave's career. The man dips his toes in many pools :)

What’s exactly your relation with japanese culture? Are you of japanese descent/education?I love anime and I go to Japan and blow all my money whenever I can LOL

Let’s talk a little bit about your carreer as game developper. Which finished projects do you have in your CV, and is there any way to get hold of them?
Currently I run a game design shop in Astoria, NY where we are working on a Unreal Engine 3 based first person shooter and Facebook title based around our core property Black Powder | Red Earth. This has been a full-time gig for almost 2 years now and keeps me very, very busy haha. A lot of what we do is figure out how to boot strap gaming products so we can produce them with little/no outside investment and then control the content/quality ourselves. We have a small but hard core shop of passionate guys working on it every day.

In the past I designed a game called KETM which was ported to the Dreamcast many years ago. I've worked on maps for Return to Castle Wolfenstein, a few failed mods, a few canceled games, and had bit pieces of my work show up in other titles (I think there was a Punisher game that used a bunch of weapons I had modeled and textured).

I visited the website of Echelon Software and was very interested by the press release of the project you’re working with currect, “Black Powder, Red Earth”. First of all, this is supposed to be more than a multiplayer online FPS game. You mention that “BPRE uses framework already found on the Internet in social networking and e-commerce applications” such as Myspace, Face Book, iTunes & Amazon. What’s the use of this framework? When you mention a virtual currency, will players that want to upgrade their weapons/skills have to convert real currency into virtual in order to do it?
The idea behind our business is that PC is the premier platform for FPS gaming and it is a platform far more robust than any console. We are designing products that take advantage of lessons we've learned creating products for other people, that also cater to the needs of gamers such as ourselves. Since the product is not released yet, it is premature to discuss any details of implementation, but people can sign up for our newsletter on our website and hopefully we will have more information for them soon.

Game(-ish) environments such as WoW, Second Life, etc have been know to be highly addictive & suck away many people from real life. Do you want/have to achieve something similar in order for “BPRE” to be succesful and commercially viable?
Not to tip our hand, but the core concept of our game is that we want the depth of RPG type games(Wow for example) without the overhead of time that has kept people like us from enjoying them. Essentially, we want character customization, item collection, item tuning, item trading, etc and we don't want to be locked into doing it when we are only in front of a set top box.

I am a Call Of Duty 4 trooper on Xbox Live. Eventhough it is a pretty complete and awesome multiplayer game, there are serious network connectivity issues. A lot of lagging, players have to be the host of the game, server disconnects are not handled properly, and at the end of the day, often the game is not fair depending with who you play and the line he and you have. For example when I play with my buddies from Greece against americans and they are hosting (most of the time they do), we have to score more hits than they in order to kill & they have advantage because for instance, when we turn around the corner they see us first. How will you handle the network part in order to avoid similar frustrating issues?
Honestly, compensating for lag around the world is an impossible problem with current hard lines. It takes time for the information to be sent around the world or even across a country. Many multiplayer games in the US break the players into Pacific, Mountain, Central and East coast servers. Within your region is whole different story. Unfortunately all I can say is, "We have top people working on it."

“BPRE” has a modern/sci-fi warfare concept. What me and some friends of mine find a little bit terrifying is that with such games kids or adolescents (or even young –immature- adults) maybe be led to consider war as something “cool”. Maybe not joining the army (eventhough “America’s Army” has been ordered by the US Army as a proper recruiting tool), but still getting it all wrong. Do you acknowledge this side effect and do you think game developpers have a responsibility towards the public, by presenting the real face of war/conflict/violence?
I think games about being a soldier are no more going to drive someone to join the military than movies or books. That said, people are influenced by positive experiences in their life, so who's to say that joining the military is a universally bad thing? At the end of the day, in a free world people are responsible for educating themselves and making their own decisions. How they go about that is there business. Personally I am more concerned about the treatment of children who are trained by their parents to believe in "god/gods". These poor children are raised to believe in some sort of omnipotent easter bunny that will take them to a better life one day if they recite passages about how great this being is until they die.

What do you think anyways about the war in Iraq?
I don't think there are enough pages in your magazine for me to provide anything more than a topical and meaningless answer to this question. LOL

When is “BPRE”’s release date? To which platforms will it be available?
Currently we are developing the title for PCs. A release date has yet to be established. How about the old faithful, "When it's done." ^o^

The video game industry is dominated by half-dozen huge companies. It must be really hard for independent developpers to breakthrough... I am happy though that independent developpers of a game like BRAID had some positive response, so there’s possibly a demand for fresh stuff. What do you count on in order to make it happen?
We have to do things differently the same way independent bands or movie makers approach the world. It drives innovation and creativity, but also allows us to embrace and pursue a lot of different ideas we would never have the luxury of exploring if we had signed on with a larger entity.

What’s your role exactly in the project? I guess there will be in the soundtrack references and aesthetics familiar to underground music fans – I mean maybe not blasts but some noise/ambient parts.
Actually I am the world designer and design lead. I don't have anything to do with sound
design or music in the game other than to make suggestions about the quality of the final sound I want to have ^_^;

Well thanks so much Jon for your time. Message of the day is yours…The message of the day is, "Read more books." And listen to Japanese speed metal hahahaha

Interview conducted by Panos Agoros in late 2008 for a GRIDLINK feature that has been published in Metal Hammer Greece.

Live photos credit: Scott Kinkade.

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