Friday, January 16, 2009


KEELHAUL – This Is Mental
By Panos Agoros 2004

Email interviews are often sterile. But when you deal with intelligent folks who feel like talking about their music, even if it takes to type in a shitty keyboard (when you cant even type fast) the answers for a couple of hours, it turns out good. In the KEELHAUL case, this is possibly the best (read: interesting, funny, sarcastic) email interview I’ve done so far. I simply love these guys. And by the way, they’re one of the best bands in the world! Check their latest offering “Subject To Change Without Notice” on Hydrahead (and if you are a vinyl junkie collect all four LP versions on Escape Artist!) & you’ll be convinced.
[NB: this interview was done in March’04. Parts of it (maybe 1/3) have been translated in greek & published as a 2-page feature in Metal Hammer GR.]

To start from the begin- ning, what is your name supposed to mean?
Chris: I must direct you to the dictionary for the literal translation: Keelhaul: To haul under the keel of a ship, by ropes attached to the yardarms on each side. It was formerly practiced as a punishment in the Dutch and English navies. I am assuming you understand that we do not celebrate the systematic torture of prisoners by the Dutch and English navies. But in relation to the band, the name seemed very logical in the sense that we were setting out to push the parameters of the type of music we were involved in. we knew that our cooking would not be to the taste of the masses, and that we were expecting to turn the ears and stomachs of quite a few. We were in a sense, out to torture people with music. Or more precisely, make people work toward understanding it. I have always had a taste for music that has greater qualities than a hamburger, french fries and a coca cola. Our touring experiences in the early days would prove our theories correct, we could empty a room in four songs.
Will: It’s in 
the dictionary, dude. It’s a form of wacky old-school pirate torture.
A lot of people seem psyched about “Subject…”, did you expect that?
Chris: Kind of. I was hoping people would be looking forward to it, and not forgetting about us. Plus I wonder how long we will have the audience we have. Everything that is born must die. And in the case of a band, that life can be very short. I would hate to end up like a band that puts out a good album or two and then make the rest of your career a rampage of shitty records living off the nostalgia of a few good tunes. I am glad to see the press is paying a good deal of mind to this record. Although I am a skeptic and a proponent of anti-industry ideals. I hope that all the press this album is receiving is honest and not just a lot of bullshit hype propagated by secret handshakes and advertising agreements.
Will: I don’t know. Are they? Like who? The pope? George bush? I guess I’ve read some good reviews & stuff, but I’m not really in touch with how we’re ‘getting over’ on any sort of audience. I don’t think any of us are.

Do you think your music, because of its nature, will have more impact on the european or US audience?
Chris: Oh god yes. I have seen from the experience of our first tour there two years ago, that the europeans are much more open to music on a much more cerebral level. And as well from other touring experiences there in the past. It is just so much more comfortable for us in europe than in the states. I am assuming that some of that is because we are from overseas, but I think that things are just very different in europe than the states as far as culture art and music go. I mean lets face it, america is the land of the hamburger. I can’t get into playing hamburger music.
Will: we do far better in Europe. We’ve given up on the states for the most part. It seems to me that people in Europe tend to sesek out there music, and people in the states like to let clearchannel feed it to them. We’re not on clearchannel’s menu.

How do you like europe?
Chris: A whole goddamn lot! To lump it into one basket, it is awesome. I just feel so comfortable being there. It is so old and new at the same time. I mean there is so much history there. thousands of years of history. America is so young and so spoiled. Face it, if you wanted to learn about life, love, history, etc. you would talk to your grandparents before you would talk to your 12 year old brother. I am sure there are plenty of fucked up things over in europe too, but existing there as we do, in the capacity that we do, it is really a fresh and exciting departure from life as we know it.
Will: Love it, love it, love it. Great crowds, 
great people, great hospitality. And a lot less knuckleheads.

The struc- tures of your songs are mostly instru- mental. What exactly matters the most for you guys, as far as a song is concerned? I mean what do you consider to be the highlight of your music & at the end of the day what makes you the most happy about a KEELHAUL song?
Chris: Getting through it. Hell, I don’t know. Probably just writing them. Some songs are better executed than others. Some are pain stakingly started and hastily finished. And some start off halfassed and then turn into really developed and critically tuned machines. I think the best part of it for me, is just the process that we go through writing the songs. But I think ultimately, the best part is being able to share something with other people.
Will: That’s hard to say. Never really thought about that one. It’s gotta sound like we want it to sound. We all get pretty bored with the standard song arrangements (4 of this, 4 of that, back to this for 4, then 4 more of that, then next for 4, 4 that’s, and out…..pretty predictable) so we try to break it up a bit. Musically speaking, I like surprises. But it’s all gotta make some ort of sense, too. Not just a bunch of riffs bolted together. So sometimes the trickiest part is transitions. Making stuff flow. It’s pretty jerky already. To me it sounds cool when you take a pretty riff & just hammer it out & make it heavy as hell. This answer is retarded. I mean what do you consider to be the highlight of your music & at the end of the day what makes you the most happy about a KEELHAUL song? When we’re done playing it and haven’t broken anything.

Do you feel you have special affinities with other bands, instrumental in their essence, like PELICAN, 5IVE (at least in the self-titled album), or even THE FUCKING CHAMPS?
Chris: Hhmmm....... We just played with Pelican last night, they were great, and very nice gentlemen to say the least. The song Tits of War, off the new album, is a blatant tip off the hat to THE FUCKING CHAMPS. I spent a short psychosis with their album IV. Hell, that song is practically a blatant rip off. As far as instrumental groups, it would be more in the vein of jazz and fusion that I feel drawn to. But as well some classical. Other bands, KING CRIMSON, THE MAGIC BAND, FZ, BOC, COC, RUN-DMC, LSD, PCP, GHB, GBH, THE DEFOLIANTS, THE DARVOCETES, PINK FLOYD, SPIRIT, THE ENGLISH DOGS, THE KNACK, really shitty AEROSMITH, any one who did a duet with TINA TURNER during the eighties, all bands that have guys in them that don’t play keyboards BUT do site thier number one influnce as EMERSON LAKE AND PALMER, any one who can name a song off of the self titled release of BILLY JOELS first band ATTILA, and anyone who sings along with his song “Pressure” when it plays on the juke box in an American themed sports bar in any mid-eatsern country. Any one who plays during half-time at the super bowl, street croner lunatics, bands that you can’t read their logos, bands that can’t read their own logos, bands that can’t tune thier guitars, bands that show up at gigs with no gear, bands that play home appliances. And last but not least, any band that has ever had a member in it that played bass in a FRANKIE GOES TO 
HOLLYWOOD tribute band in the south eastern united states. 
Will: We’re all too dumb to quit and none of us understand marketing.

the standards in the music scene, in terms of musicianship, have raised a lot these last years, from deathmetal to nu-metal & hardcore. Do you think that good musicianship is a good way to hide a lack of songwriting skills?
Chris: Oh hell yes. Some guys are just noodling away a thousand kilometers and hour, and they are impressing people. But listen closely, the are playing crap, total crap. The worse is when these metal guys start these jazz-fusion things. Some of them are just so wrong. Sure you are a great technical player, but the music is souless. Just some half-assed TWISTED SISTER drumbeat with a by the booked bassline farting along over top of it, and then some ego maniac ripping senseless guitar solos over and over again. See one thing that happens in music, especially in the more underground type genres it seems, is there are fads in the styles. Fads in the way that the music changes over the years. The change is not the problem so much, but the oversaturation with the new developements in styles is what bothers me. I have fallen victim to it in my musical past myself. Ten or fifteen years ago things were happening, like MURPHYS LAW played some reggae, well holy shit, that blew some minds. In less than a year it seemed like every fucking hardcore band had a reggae breakdown in at least one song. And the same thing went on with other scenes. Metal/Rap, Hardcore/Metal, Punk/Ska, Punk/Rap, Punk/Funk. etc, etc, etc. When the RED HOT CHILLI PEPPERS busted out on the scene, I thought, heck this is great, and produced by Goerge Clinton, hell that gives it some clout too. Then suddenly you are surrounded by hundreds of chilli peppers, overload!
Will: It seems to be working for us. But I certainly wouldn’t call what we do “good musicianship.”

“Subject…” ‘s music flows so smoothly that I really wonder what is your methodology of writing/rehearsing songs. 
Chris: Practice practice practice, if it doesn’t fit, make it fit. It has to have some sort of commonality or point-counterpoint capability. A lot of times, it is like algebra with fractions, you gotta find the least common denominators, and those are the points at which you can create the fit, and maintain the flow.
Will: It depends. Sometimes one of us will come to practice with like 5 or 6 riffs and a basic idea of how to put them together, and then we kind of all hash it out together. It tends to be me and one of the other guys, usually, getting the barebones of it together, then we show it to everybody else & it gets totally rearranged. On the other hand, I’m the nerd with the tape deck. I keep it near my drums. Whenever someone starts playing a riff that sounds cool (to me, anyway) I hit record. So I have mountains of tapes with riff after riff after riff. About twice a year, I dig out these tapes & start going thru riffs trying to piece ideas together. That’s how we wind up with portions of retarded songs 
like 360 or lakadasical Chinese tubesocks. I don’t know what to say about the flow of the record, but we do give a lot of thought to what song should go here or there, etc, based on which ones have vocals, how we can tie endings into beginnings, etc. we try to do a lot of that kind of segueing live as well. It works for us because if we have spaces in our songs at a show, one of us will have to get a beer, another one has to tune, or change a string, our drummer is always fucking with his rubic’s cube. Etc. we are retards.

Please give us all the back- ground of the album’s recording.
Chris: Well, most of it was written over the two years between the recording of “II” and this new one. But a few of the songs were written just weeks before we went to Boston to record. Thats kind of how it works for us alot, down to the wire. We are last minute about so much of the things we do. We are fueled by anxiety.As far as the recording itself, we needed to bring in some one from the outside. and after some thinking, we arrived at Andrew Schneiderm to come into the fold and produce. we originally wanted to bring him here to Cleveland and work with us at MARS RECORDING, where we had done both of our previous albums, but the logistics and finances proved to be too tight for us to pull that off. So the option was to go to Boston to do the record, as that was where Andrew was, and being we could work in his studio as well as studios that he was down with, it made it so much more affordable. Plus getting away from our daily lives was a very good thing to do, in enabled us to really think of nothing more than the neccesities; eating food, drinking beer and smoking pot. We also decided to leave the mixing up to Andrew as well, which proved to be one of the few really intelligent decisions we have ever made. So after about 80 hours in 7 days, we bid farewell to Andrew, leaving him with the tapes to do his mojo. And as a gift to me, he even let me play my own guitar on one song. He mixed that bastard down, and presto! there you have it.
Will: We wanted to use a producer on this one. We have been recording with our friend bill korecky for about 15 years, and decided we needed someone a little farther removed from the band to kick us in the booty. It was chris more than anyone who pushed for this, but I’m very glad that he did, because for once it doesn’t sound like there were 4 drunk fools all over the mixing board trying to bury each other. We did this one with Andrew Schneider in boston. He rules. We recorded most of the tracks at mad oak studios, then we went to new alliance for the finishing guitar work and the little bit of vocals. There’s a badass brazilian restaurant up the hill from mad oak and a good beer store down the street from new alliance. Then we went home and had andy mix the stuff by himself. One of the best things we ever did.

People who’have seen you live describe your gigs as a very special experience. What would you say & what should we expect about your forthcoming local gig in Athens in April (ed-the gig turned out plainly awesome)?
Chris: We may be dumb, we may be drunk, and we may be late. But we hope to pull off a great set for you guys. Hell, we may even have our shit together by the time we get there. We are really looking forward to playing Athens, it’s a shame we can only stay for the one day.
Will: If you like watching four drunk, sweaty, smelly old guys wheezing their way through a bunch of songs they can barely play, and breaking their instruments all the time, then I guess it’s special. I don’t know what these people are thinking. Expect us to be constantly on the lookout for a good corndog (a hot commodity in Europe). Expect us to have an excessive growth of facial hair. expect chris and dana to expect lots of weed. I’ve never been to Athens. I can’t wait. You guys have an elvis museum there, right?

I suppose a vinyl version of the CD is coming sooner or later. What about it (ed-it’s been out since Aug.’04, go buy it)?
Chris: It is planned for release on vinyl this spring, on ESCAPE ARTIST RECORDS.
Will: Escape artist is doing it at some point. We’re still haggling over the art. There’s also talk of doing a picture disc for the first record.

Are you vinyl fans yourself & if yes what are the favorite pieces of your collection?
Chris: Oh yes, I am a big fan of vinyl. Some of my favorite pieces in my collection are:
PERE UBU Final Solution/Cloud 149 7”
BLACK SABBATH Evil Woman/Wicked World 7”
BLACK SABBATH Sabotaged (live August 6 1975) 3 x 12” box
SPIKE IN VAIN Disease Is Relative LP
PUFFTUBE Boys Of Summer/Funtime Summertime 7”
HOT FOOT QUARTET Mongoloid/Lazinda Waltz 7”
BOULDER Dirt Cheap/Sac 7”
TED FRANKO Live Life Live/It’s Over Here 7”

to name a few.

Will: hell fucking yeah. (is my mom gonna see this?). My Italian version of “shut up & play yer guitar”. All my old sesame street records.My Italian version of “shut up & play yer guitar”. All my old sesame street records. 

Will you work on a videoclip? If yes, do you any ideas in mind for its implementation?
Chris: We have entertained the idea of doing some video thingy, but have yet to really put a plan together let alone execute anything. There are some professionally shot video of us, done by a few people, but they are just seeming to flake out on us, or just have lost interest in us. The thing that sucks, is these fools haven’t even sent us copies of any of the shit. If they would, then we may put some sort of video together out of that. But as far as any real conceptual video piece, nothing yet or planned.
Will: If someone wants to pay for it, hell 
yeah. But we’ll have to get someone else to perform in it. We’re pretty ugly. If yes, do you any ideas in mind for its implementation? We have tons of footage of all the wacky bands that we’ve played with over the years. So we want to take the most out-there ones and put them over one of our songs on a video. I think that would be a lot more fun to watch than us.

The audio-CD sales worldwide suffer from the rise of the DVD era & labels push their bands to release DVD’s as proper releases or as bonus to special editions or reissues. Do you think this will change the face of music industry & will Keelhaul will work on a DVD soon enough?
Chris: Good question. Hell if I know.
Will: Us? A dvd? Again, if someone wants to pay for it…. I don’t think that dvds are hurting cd sales. i think they’re suffering because the industry is putting out dogshit. It all sounds like itself. People are downloading stuff because they’re finally figuring out that paying 20$ for a cd is sodomy. Nobody wants to plunk down that kind of loot for something they haven’t heard yet, which will probably be mediocre at best. Also, it makes sense to try before you buy. The best thing that can happen to bands like us is people being able to download our stuff. The radio sure as fuck isn’t gonna play it, and we’ll never wind up on mtv. Shit, download all our stuff. Couldn’t give a fuck. Just make sure you come to the show & buy a shirt. Or a corndog. Fuck metallica, whining about napster. Do they have to work dayjobs? No. fuck ‘em. Shut the fuck up & let the little guys get heard. Back to Dvds…..they require total attention. In other words, if you put in a dvd that’s 2 hours long, you have to sit in front of your tv or puter or whatever to watch it. So it demands your total attention and time. And realistically, how many times are you gonna watch it? You can pop a cd in, and listen to it wh ile you do stuff. And listen to it over & over. Maybe I’m just old.

It seems that another trend that will sooner or later be a standard, is the 5:1 format. Have you already thought about a release in this format & do you think it will get mass recognition & change the way music is recorded/produced?
Chris: I don’t know what 5:1 format is, sorry.
Will: I’m old. I have no idea what that is.

I only have a promo-CD of the album, I don’t have the lyrics. How would you describe them?
Chris: The lyrics are of no poignant subject matter, and may be best left undescribed. They are the one element that is least serious with our band. They are about the equivalent of a tambourine or cowbell to me.
Will: Two guys yelling about stuff.

is the album title supposed to represent what Keelhaul & its members are all about?
Chris: I guess to some extent. We are here, but we don’t know how long. And we have no preconceived notions as to our purpose, longevity and direction. And neither should the listener.
Will: Pretty much. It’s kind of more about what happens to us on tour. Shit getting all fucked up all the time, the van breaking down at the most inopportune times. Getting to the club (hairy mary’s, Houston) and the club owner shrugs & says you’re supposed to play tomorrow, when your itinerary says today. Getting a call from peabody’s in Cleveland to open for MESHUGGAH. Getting another call from peabody’s saying meshuggah’s manager has to hear our stuff before we’re approved. Good god. Sending the stuff. Getting another call about the same thing. Sending more stuff. Jumping through hoops. Putting us on the bill. Getting a call 2 weeks before the show because meshuggah wants us to play last. What’s the point of that? Telling them to find somebody else. Subject to change without notice.

your photos in the hydrahead website starting page are funny. It’s really a pleasure when a band plays some seriously good music, while its members don’t take themselves too seriously. How would you describe yourselves as persons?
Will: Retards.
Chris: I think life is short, you should have a good time. You must be able to laugh at yourself in even the saddest of moments. I would leave the serious looking photos for all the Century Media bands. They need serious photos to make up for their hilarious music.

In the bio of one of your 1st releases I read that some you played in Integrity?
Will: Yes.
Chris: That would be I, Chris.

you hail from cleveland right. Has the clevo-scene influenced you? In what way?
Chris: I think that the influence I get from Cleveland is too retain as much of a sense of humor as possible, realize that you are living in a dirty working class town, deflate your ego every once in a while. The world will not be looking here for any new hip cultural phenomena. But the world might be looking here for overbearing meathead jock style burned out rehash pseudo straightedge hardcore.
Will: I don’t suppose one can help but be influenced by what he/she has crammed down his/her throat at clubs. You are what you eat. Cleveland has pumped out its share of good & great bands over the years. It’s a real sweat & blood/blue 
collar type of town.

Please tell me what you think of the following cleveland bands: Integrity, In Cold Blood, One Life Crew, Run Devil Run, The Spudmonsters, Mushroomhead.
Will: Integrity: I cannot even entertain that question. I would have some truly brutal answers.
In Cold Blood: When some members of Integrity decided they wanted to have fun again.
One Life Crew: Racist, Sexist, Homophobic, Xenophobic.
The Spudmonsters: They were fun before the coup. Hey Joe, where you going with that mic in your hand?
Run Devil Run: Errr????Uuhh.
Mushroomhead: I have talked to some of them. They like confetti.
Chris: Boulder.

Are there any other musical (or artistic in general) projects of you we should be aware of?
Chris: Do you mean what else are we involved in? if so, dana 
has a side project called COCOABUTTER. Aaron plays in ABDULLAH. Chris plays in the TERMINAL LOVERS. I play in CRAW and am about to record with some other guys from craw in a new project called BAT EATS PLASTIC.

I found track#11 funny, whats the deal with it & why did you put it at #11 & not #12?
Chris: That ball is in Will’s court.
Will: there is this religious zealot that lives in my neighborhood. His house is all painted with passages from the bible. And crazy prophecies, his I think. About 3 years ago he began making appearances at my house when I was fucking up my yard pretending to be productive. One day he was standing on a flower bed trying to talk us into trading him an old van of mine for some old boxes of kitty litter & ceramic tiles. I declined. I started running inside whenever I saw him coming. The resulting phone calls were pretty hilarious. I have more. it’s track 11 cuz that’s where it goes, man!  

if you have something for closers, do it now, thank you.
Will: Thank you for the interview. It was nice to have spoken at you. Shall we raise a glass together in Athens? Ouzo? Jameson? Both!
Chris: Dana likes cheese. Lock up your corndogs.

No comments: