Exclusive Interview: Static-X (Ep 92)

[This interview was originally aired live on-air on WXLV Radio on 07.19.2019]

Celebrating 25 years since their debut release of ‘Wisconsin Death Trip’ and set as a memorial to their late charismatic frontman Wayne Static, Static-X is back on the road playing SOLD OUT shows all over the country. Utilizing Wayne’s final vocal recordings, the surviving founding members have been hard at work crafting a new album titled ‘Project Regeneration.’ Performing live vocal duties on the tour is a masked frontman who goes by XER0.

Old images of the band filled the large LED screens behind them as new animations, lyrics, messages of tributes to Wayne Static punctuated the background.  In fact, the screens led us through a protracted opening before the band came out and started with “December” before going right into “Bled For Days”.  The first 9 songs were all from ‘Wisconsin Death Trip’ before they launched into samplings of some of their bigger songs from most of the other albums.  “Get To The Gone,” “This Is Not,” and “Start A War” were personal highlights.  Of course things ended with “Push It” as a show of this magnitude without it would be woefully incomplete.

Before all of that, I was lucky enough to speak to Static-X bass player, and really, the guy who had the biggest part in putting all of this together, Tony Campos.  We talked a bit about the tour, the album, the old days, an interesting celebrity encounter and more!

Interview by: JJ Ellis
Photos by: Henry Chung

Children of Bodom, Swallow The Sun, and Wolfheart on the “Hexed Tour” at Reverb (Ep 90 + 91)

4/18/19 – Children of Bodom / Swallow The Sun / Wolfheart – Reverb Reading, PA.

After a hearty dinner at the nearby Pike Cafe and Bar, we made our way into the venue to catch the tail end of Summoner’s Circle‘s set.  Robes, makeup and doom.  Check.  Check. Check.  

Next was Wolfheart. Hot off of last year’s ‘Constellations of the Black Light’ the band came out with an energetic set, featuring a drummer who may or may not be the Energizer bunny.  This is the latest project (yet still rather long-running) of Tuomas Saukkonen.  The bass player frequently engaged the crowd and this was the point in the evening where the audience was beginning to congregate around the stage.

Wolfheart – Photo by Henry Chung

Swallow the Sun brought a more meditative and somber set.  The lights were mostly low and the more melancholy, less doomy material on their latest album, ‘When A Shadow Is Forced Into The Light’ was an appropriate pairing for the set.  First single “Firelight” was featured along with “Under The Water” and “Stone Wings” the latter of which especially seemed like a crowd favorite.  To be honest, a lot of the crowd didn’t seem to know what to make of the set for the first few songs.  The evening’s consistently low vocal mic didn’t do anyone any favors though it improved slightly as the show progressed.  At a certain point, everyone seemed to wake up a bit and respond to the music with most people seeming to be on board by the end.  While half of the set was new, they ended with their traditional closer “Swallow (The Horror Pt. 1”).  

Swallow the Sun – Photo by Henry Chung

Our headliners, Children of Bodom came out and so did the red and especially purple lights which was appropriate for their latest album ‘Hexed.’  “Are You Dead Yet?” was a pounding way to begin the show

Children of Bodom – Photo by Henry Chung

Interestingly, the band had recently toured on their very earliest material, so a fair amount of that was in the set along with a lot from mid-period favorites ‘Are You Dead Yet?’ and ‘Hate Crew Deathroll.’  Of course there were the new songs, the perfect first single “Over Grass and Clover,” along with “The Road,” “Platitudes and Barren Words” and “Hecate’s Nightmare.”  These tracks reflect a lot of the best aspects of ‘Hexed’ which many are considering a bit of a return to form for the band, embracing some of their neoclassical roots while having some catchier tracks than the last few albums.  

Relatively new guitar player Daniel Freyberg proved himself to be a worthy additional as he held up his end of the deal with the songs.  Of course, everyone else in the band are longtime constants so no questions there.  Seeing keyboardist, Janne Wirman, in action was especially a treat as his tremendous dexterity and manipulation of the keys is truly the X-factor that helps to set the band apart.  All of this was done on his backup keyboard which, itself, had some faulty switches, as he explained at one point in the set.  

Children of Bodom – Photo by Henry Chung

One of my personal favorites “Bodom Beach Terror” was played early and the rarely heard “If You Want Peace…Prepare For War” lent a bit of extra speed and heaviness to the show. Really, the selection was very good to appease fans new and old.  Of course, with ten albums out, there are always going to be few songs that don’t make the cut for this go-round but, all things considered, everyone in attendance should have been, and seemed very thrilled.  We even had some late-show crowd surfing. 

The encore started with another of my favorites “Hate Me!” and ended with “Downfall.”

Children of Bodom – Photo by Henry Chung

This package was a really rare treat as to have three wildly different bands from Finland playing in a little B-market (maybe C-Market?) like Reading in a tremendous convergence of unlikely factors.  More than that, it was a great time.

Before the evening began, I had the pleasure of speaking with Janne from Children of Bodom.  Of course, we talked about ‘Hexed’ but we also dove into their studios, some glaring omissions from the album, barbecuing, their beer and quite a bit more.

Interview with Janne Wirman, keyboardist from Children of Bodom

Pick up Children of Bodom’s ‘Hexed’HERE

Right after that, I tracked down Mikko Kotamaki, vocalist from Swallow The Sun.  The interview was conducted right outside the venue which of course, featured a passing train, passing fans, and angry yellow jackets. Distractions aside, we spoke about his vocal evolution, other projects, Nick Cave, Paradise Lost, and quite a bit more.

Interview with Mikko Kotamaki, vocalist from Swallow The Sun

Pick up Swallow the Sun’s ‘When A Shadown is Forced Into The Light’HERE

You can pick up Hedonihil ‘I’HERE

Words / Interview by: JJ Ellis
Photos by: Henry Chung

John 5 Invasion 2019 at the Sellersville Theater

An evening of guitar virtuosity was enough incentive to bring me back to one of the area’s nicest venues  The old timey feel of the Sellersville Theater and the strict seating arrangements lent a feeling of a more focused than usual audience.  Unlike my other time there, the pit area in front of the stage was occupied by tables and stools instead of a standing general admission audience.  The handful of people who stood were along the sides and not necessarily any closer than where I was lucky enough to be.

Indeed, I was in for a show more-so than a sweaty (yet also fun) human avalanche.

The first band up, Dead Girls Academy, represents a second chance for frontman Michael Orlando, formerly Michael Vampire.  The Victory Records band was, in truth, a little better than expected with a lot of sunset strip vibes but also some fairly impressive dual guitar harmonies.  With more seasoning and more adventurous songwriting, they might have potential to grow.

Jared James Nichols was the main support and the biggest surprise of the night as I had absolutely no knowledge or expectations.  They’re a very bluesy 3 piece anchored by Elvis (no, not that one) on bass and Dennis (from Sweden!) on drums, serving as the backbone for the impressive guitar work kind of bluesy singing of their frontman, the titular Mr. Nichols.  There were definitely nods to some classic rock like an Allman Brothers lick here and there.  At one point, someone from the crowd called out “Cat Scratch Fever” (there is a slight Nugenty resemblance) which Jared laughed off.  This kind of tour seems like an ideal opportunity to get this band’s name out there in front of audiences who would appreciate their skills while also being different enough to stand out.

The stage received a facelift for the headliner.  Inflatable Halloween characters adorned the stage, somewhat creating a carnival atmosphere.  During the set, an odd creature would stagger out: robot, clown, etc.  Along with flashing lights and the occasional light-up guitar further spiced things visually but six strings were what brought us out.  Oh, and guitar picks that were handed out to some lucky concertgoers.

Thing started with drummer Logan Miles Nix and bass player Ian Ross warming things up while a killer robot helped set the mood.  Then, John 5 himself came out and the fireworks began, starting with heaviness in the form of “Season of the Witch.”  There were a few nods back into the catalog but a lot of the material drew from his latest full-length ‘Season of the Witch,’ which was fine by me.  The other highlights were the new songs that have slowly rolled out on Youtube from his upcoming album.  Newbies “Zoinks,” “Crank It” and…one more that I’ll mention further down in this review, all held up extremely well live and bodes well for the album as a whole.

Those who either were in attendance last time or heard the live album (this is the venue it was recorded at) may recall he did a medley toward the end.  This year, the band had a brand new slew of songs:

Rush “Fly by Night,” Nirvana “Smells Like Teen Spirits,” The Knack “My Sharona,” The Police “Every Breath You Take,” Rob Zombie “Thunderkiss ’65,” Marilyn Manson “The Beautiful People,”  Van Halen, some Metallica and Megadeth, Rage Against The Machine, Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, Soundgarden, Pantera, really, too many to list.  There was also some Steve Vai-esque talking through the guitar.  At various points throughout the evening, a few mini guitars were employed along with a banjo, all making brief appearances.

As has been customary, Michael Jackson’s “Beat It” had a prominent place in the set before John wandered out into the crowd for some soloing.  At one point, late in the set, a young fan from the audience was even brought up on stage to tentatively strum on John’s guitar while Mr. 5 manipulated his pedal board to make some sounds.

Things ended with ‘I Am John 5,” a bold choice as it’s a new song but I certainly doubt that anyone left disappointed, as it had an inherent funkiness, speed and excitement to help empty the tank, so to speak.

An encore would have been great but as John said, he had to finish watching “Kiss Meets The Phantom,” something I think we can all respect.

Keep an eye out on www.john-5.com for more announcements, videos and news on that full-length and all happenings.

Words by: JJ Ellis

Exclusive Interview: Goatwhore (Ep 89)

The 2018 edition of the Metal Alliance Tour which began on Halloween came to a close on November 30th in Easton, Pennsylvania at One Center Square.

For reasons to be explained later, I was unable to see any of the local openers and much of Gozu’s set. 

For that reason, let’s resume with The Great American Ghost which brought intensity to the stage and brought their energetic stage show to a crowd that was, admittedly, still filling in. 

The Great American Ghost – Photo by Henry Chung

Georgia’s Black Tusk was next up and by this point, the room was filling up.  Their rough and tumble brand of rock, most recently heard on their album ‘TCBT’ brought a different vibe to the show, highlighting the lineup’s variety.  Being a fan for some time, I knew a lot of the music but didn’t particularly have a clear picture of the band, especially in light of lineup changes.  Seeing all four of the band members contributing vocals was very cool and showed a wrinkle that many of their contemporaries can’t boast.

Black Tusk – Photo by Henry Chung

Next was The Casualties, a very distinct punk act that dates all the way back to the 90s.  Their newest album ‘Written In Blood’ is certainly up to their usual high standard but I wasn’t aware that they had acquired a new frontman, David Rodriguez.  He contributed a ton of energy and, to be perfectly honest, they might have stolen the whole show.  The crowd was clearly pumped to see them, judging by the Casualties patches and punk attire in the crowd and the fact that the pit exploded during their set.  The set ended with Rodriguez somehow getting up to the second story of the venue and jumping down into the crowd where the audience (thankfully) caught him. 

The Casualties – Photo by Henry Chung

Finally, things got heavy and dark with the mighty Goatwhore headlining the show.  The set could be best described as unrelenting.  There were selections from newest album ‘Vengeful Ascension’ plus older favorites.  The songs varied from fast and pummeling to occasionally heavy and doomy.  This created the needed ebbs and flows for a dynamic set.  The rhythm section was tight but everything was led by the tasty riffs of Sammy Duet and the rasps and energetic stage presence of Ben Falgoust.  It was to be said, Falgoust spent a huge percentage of the set right up in the crowd’s face, slapping high-fives and fist bumps, really keeping the front row (at least) engaged.

Goatwhore – Photo by Henry Chung

As many would, presumably, hope, they ended the set with “FBS’.  There was no need for an encore as I think I can speak for many others, we were all spent.

Before the evening began, I was able to sit down with Ben to talk about all things Goatwhore.  It was also one of the relatively rare times I get to talk to someone on the last night of the tour and be able to get a true view of the tour with it being in hindsight.  We got into how to survive being the road demons that they are, the fact that this tour came on the heels of the previous tour being canceled, hot sauce, Queen and so much more.

Much respect to Ben for being such a cool guy to talk to and for the band existing and thriving for the last 20 years.

Pick up ‘Vengeful Ascension’ HERE

Exclusive Interview: Exmortus (Ep 88)

Friday, September 7th Reading, PA – Reverb

A violently rainy Friday night couldn’t stop truly devoted metal fans from a show. Eyes of the Living Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to catch any of Eyes of the Living’s set, as I was….occupied by an interview. They could be heard slightly from up in the green room and an excited concertgoer shared his enthusiasm about them as I stood in line for the bathroom. So…that’s something. Secret Face They were certainly energetic and the singer had a capable yell, but the detail that dominated was the drummer who provided nearly constant double bass thudding. I’m a fan of Kataklysm, but even they mix it up once in a while. Exmortus
Exmortus – Photo by Mark Morton
Oh man. Exmortus (Facebook, Instagram) was the band I truly came for and they did not disappoint. Judging by the rapidly increasingly crowded, pit, it’s probably a fair assumption that many others felt the same way. Since they were promoting their latest album ‘The Sound of Steel‘ they leaned on that release, heavily. So much so, they started the set with the first three songs on the album. From there, they mixed it up a little with some older tracks and did a rendition of Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata” before ending with “Metal Is King.” Exmortus - The Sound of Steel This was all the more impressive considering their regular co-guitarist, Chase Becker of Warbringer, had other commitments and couldn’t make the first half of this east coast tour. He was replaced by Richie Brown from Mindscar with only one rehearsal. Considering the neoclassical guitar pyrotechnics on display and the number of jaws that were on the floor, Exmortus made at least a few new fans this night. Obituary This marked only my second time seeing Obituary. The first time was in a dingy VFW hall in Wind Gap a few years ago. It was cramped, no-frills and just seemed like the perfect environment to see the band. This was a more traditionally produced show with bright lights, smoke and a stage that was more than 12” off of the ground. Of course, Obituary still puts on a great show under these circumstances, most bands would, but it seems a little counter to their aesthetic. Their latest addition and secret weapon, guitarist Kenny Andrews, has added a lot to the last few albums with his leads and this extends to the live show. That said, he stayed tucked away in a corner of the stage and dutifully shredded away. The sampling of new material “Visions In My Head,” “A Lesson In Vengeance,” and “Sentence Day” played to this. The set was varied and touched on all eras of the band. The encore included “Chopped in Half” (which audience clamored for all night), “Turned Inside Out” and “Slowly We Rot”. The headliner’s set seemed a bit short (about 45-50 minutes of the main set and maybe 15 with the encore for about an hour’s work) with a protracted introduction replete with southern rock and copious moments when the band seemed to check in with each other and joke around. It was still a quality show, though. I guess it’s always better the leave them wanting more, right? Before all of this happened, as alluded to before, I conducted an interview with Exmortus main man, Conan. There was a lot of ground and we covered every inch of it. There was the new album ‘The Sound of Steel,’ Conan keeping the band going despite being the last original member, Youtube, changing things up, keeping things the same, art, food, being underrated, movies, giving lessons (hit him up on the band’s socials!) and more.
This was a fantastic talk. Exmortus is a band that continues to grow, evolve and perseveres even though their first album came out a decade ago. The next time they come to your town, check out Exmortus, that is if you’re ready for the shreddy. Words by JJ Ellis Photos by Mark Morton

Exclusive Interview: Sinking Our Teeth In With Sharptooth (Ep 86)

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to be torn apart by a velociraptor?

I certainly hope not, that would be an odd and unpleasant thing to dwell on, wouldn’t it?

Perhaps the musical equivalent to this, though, would be experiencing Baltimore’s favorite co-ed hardcore band Sharptooth.

I spoke to their fiery frontwoman Lauren Kashan and we dove right into their full-length ‘Clever Girl’, Magic: the Gathering, dinosaurs, cruises and much more.

Words/ Interview: JJ Ellis
Photos: Henry Chung

Exclusive Interview: Doll Skin (Ep 85)

With the overwhelming number of bands at Warped Tour and the limited time, it’s usually easiest to try to just stick with the handful that you’ve known for years. While that can be fine, it can also be rewarding to branch out a little bit and get a glimpse at the next generation.

Speaking to Sydney Dolezal from Doll Skin was a joy. Though they may be young, the Arizona band are all excellent musicians (thanks School of Rock!) and magnetic stage performers. Their set was the only one I was able to catch beginning to end with no interruptions (thanks busy and strangely spaced-out interview schedule!) but it was memorable.

We talk about their full-length ‘Manic Pixie Dream Girl’, having their faces in unexpected places, slam poetry and character tropes, hiding bodies, the perfect doll-themed music festival and their ties to eastern Pennsylvania.

Words/ Interview: JJ Ellis
Photos: Henry Chung

Exclusive Interview: Digging Deep with Buz McGrath of Unearth (Ep 84)

The last we heard from Unearth, they had put out ‘Watchers of Rule’ in 2014 and had done some touring. That seems par for the course but the landscape around them had shifted.

Most of their New England brethren had undergone some transitions: Killswitch Engage had reunited with their original singer and was starting to build back momentum, dusk fell on Shadows Fall and All That Remains charted a melodic-radio ready course that challenged their entire fanbase.

Unearth – Photo by Henry Chung

Unearth did some touring but really went silent in 2017. This was not a cause for concern, though, they just recharged their batteries and were quietly working on new material. This will see the light of day in fall of 2018 on Century Media Records in the form of a full-length called ‘Extinctions.’

I spoke to guitar wizard Buz McGrath about this, collaborating, challenging themselves, bowling, the legend of Jimmy Phipps and more. Interestingly enough, the band had an extremely small sampling of Warped Tour in the early 2000’s but had wanted to get back on for a full run ever since.

In just under the wire, boys.

Words/ Interview: JJ Ellis
Photos: Henry Chung

CKY: LIVE at One Centre Square

July 28th 2018: One Center Square – Easton, PA

Seemingly perfect summer evening in Easton, PA was the setting for what was could be a very unusual collection of music. Even with a 90s cover band performing outside, the place to be was inside on a bill that could be described as “eclectic” to say the least.

After a parade of local bands, the main part of the evening kicked off with Awaken I Am, who came all the way from Australia. It’s good to see the band persevering after, apparently, losing a guitarist in a tragic accident early this year.

They were followed by one of the best bands from Atlanta, Royal Thunder, a band we had witnessed and interviewed nearly a year ago to the day in Northampton, PA. Last year’s set was largely drawing on Wick and had a lot of atmospheric grandeur. This set was decidedly a little more direct and varied. Perhaps being further down the bill forced them to be a little more focused but this was an appreciably different taste of the band. Their set ended with the drummer and a guitarist exiting the stage, leaving singer Mlny Parsonz singing with a simple accompaniment of a guitar.

All the way from Sacramento, CA was Slaves, a band fronted by former Dance Gavin Dance singer Johnny Craig. Whereas Royal Thunder created a pulsing, meditative, bluesy vibe, Slaves had a decidedly more R&B, soul vibe going. They largely drew from their latest release Beautiful Death.’ The crowd really got into the show at this point and the floor had really filled in with a lot of enthusiastically shrieking fans. Visually, it was a simple setup with two triangles throwing off colored light but, otherwise, the stage largely in darkness.

The entire Margera crew was in tow for CKY which is always a possibility for an Eastern PA show. With Bam upstairs taking in the show and holding court with fans, friends, family and the other bands, the headliners took the stage. This is a different version of CKY, being stripped back to a three-piece. It’s a different animal, but the spirit is still the same. The band itself has recognized their strengths and what the people want so the set mostly covered Infiltrate. Destroy. Rebuild with some Volume 1 and selections from their latest ‘The Phoenix’. “Wiping Off The Dead” was recently revealed as another single off of their new album and it translated live extremely well. We also got classics like “Escape From Hellview”, “Flesh Into Gear,” “Attached At The Hip,” and “Sporadic Movement.”

About ¾ of the way through the set, they unleashed their most beloved song “96 Quite Bitter Beings” which set off the crowd and caused the most frantic moshing of the evening, which was long overdue.

Before the 11:00PM conversion to a dance club, things ended with GG Allin’s “Bite It You Scum” a speedy, frantic number that wound everyone up and left them wanting more.

A theme of the evening was the vocals being slightly drowned out by the music. Not completely, mind you, but slightly. The sheer volume and the concrete walls were rather unforgiving. Still, it’s a relatively new venue with a lot of familiar faces from the good old days of Crocodile Rock Cafe in Allentown. This was an ideal introduction to the venue for me and certainly warrants another trip down the line.

This really set the bar high, though.

Words: JJ Ellis

Warped Final Thoughts

Less Than Jake Photo by Henry Chung

I was late to the Warped Tour party: my first one wasn’t until 2012.  No particular reason but I had been perfectly content going to club shows to see 2 or 3 bands at a time. Baking in the hot sun for 10 hours to see abbreviated sets didn’t really interest me.

Chelsea Grin Photo by Henry Chung

I finally relented and saw it as an interesting opportunity to knock out a few interviews and get samplings of a few acts both familiar and new.

State Champs Photo by Henry Chung

In hindsight, that’s exactly what I wanted and exactly what I got.

Unearth Photo by Henry Chung

While some felt that this year’s lineup didn’t acknowledge the earliest years enough, it really is a fair representation of what the tour has evolved into. There are some faces that have never left (Less Than Jake and Reel Big Fish, come to mind) some long-running acts that never really got a proper run before (Unearth) and the next generation is still being given a big boost (Sharptooth, Doll Skin).  There were some familiar bands who hopped on when they could fit it into their summers.  While this was a nice bonus and led to some last-minute surprises, in many ways, 2018 was just another year of the festival.

Sharptooth Photo by Henry Chung

If anything, this year was one of the least I was able to soak in the actual performances as my interview schedule and the layout made me less mobile.

Ice Nine Kills Photo by Henry Chung

With so many acts that have been on the tour over the years, there was no way to represent everyone and make everyone happy for this final run.  Would the older crowd even turn up for a nostalgia-fest?  Would the kids appreciate the history lesson?  What about the acts that did it for one year, got huge and never returned?  Would focusing only on all of the newest and hottest acts be financially feasible and even capture the spirit of the festival?  If you think about it, there’s really no way to appeal to everyone. It’s been the same argument every year and that’s been one of the most consistent parts of Warped.

Silverstein Photo by Henry Chung

These last seven summers have been truly important to me.  The festival has brought me scorching heat, pouring rain, the chance to see some bands I never thought I’d get to experience, introduced me to some new artists, allowed me to meet and interview some incredible people, made me push through some overwhelming crowds, and walk many, many miles.

Kosha Dillz Photo by Henry Chung

No one knows what the future will bring.  That’s not really important.  What is important is the great memories we have already made and will fondly recall forever.

Motionless In White with Kevin Lyman Photo by Henry Chung

Besides, it’s not like music is going anywhere.  There will always be something to lure us out for a day full of fun.

Doll Skin Photo by Henry Chung

Words by: JJ Ellis
Photos by: Henry Chung