26 February 2010

BRUTAL TRUTH- Interview With Kevin Sharp: "Canada needs to step up and do their thing."

*This interview was originally supposed to be published in the most recent issue of Absolute Underground magazine, but without any explanation, AU appears to have bumped it in favor of the editor's own S×SW articles, all seven of them. So instead I'm bringing it to you here. I got the chance to meet with 3/4 of Brutal Truth when they were in town in February, and Kevin Sharp was kind enough to grant me an interview. Thanks to Betsey Cichoracki at Relapse for setting it up. And thanks to Verbalsniper at BloodRed Metalheads for allowing me to post his photos from the show.

When Brutal Truth folded in 1998, it felt like unfinished business. They had released Sounds of the Animal Kingdom the year before, and it was considered their most ambitious and embraced record to that point. They were at the top of their game, so it was a bit of a shock when they decided to call it a day. But there was always that back-of-the-mind feeling that it was only a temporary hiatus. You could tell from the way the band members kept bumping into one another in other projects. So, when the band announced its reunion in 2006, there was a relieved sigh from the peanut gallery. But would they be able to recapture that same vibe? Well, 2009’s Evolution Through Revolution was the first recorded result, and damned if it isn’t their best album yet. That same neck-snap-tight, vicious grind is present and accounted for, and they sound better than ever, the album finding its way onto many a ‘Best of 2009’ list.

After a very long time, they were in Vancouver recently (part of a Pacific Northwest mini-tour and smack dab in the middle of the Olympics) on a massive bill with Infernäl Mäjesty, Gross Misconduct, Nylithia, Fetal Butchery, and Entropia. Before the show, I had a chance to shoot the shit with vocalist Kevin Sharp. Of course, it’s been a while, so I make with the standard introduction:

When the hell was the last time you guys were here?
“I think we told the border guards it was 1994…? We were here in 1993 with Napalm Death, and then one more time after that, so it must’ve been 1994.”

Does Brutal Truth have hassles with The Man whenever ever they cross into Canada, something that keeps a lot of bands from making the trek to Vancouver?
“No, we were waiting in line for the border when you called. I think we were there maybe half-an-hour. It was uncomfortably easy this time, compared to the old days. Back in the day, Canadian border crossings were always… altering. Stressful. But these days, I think they see we’re old hands at this. Dan [Lilker, bass] lives in Rochester, and constantly crosses the border with Crucifist to play Toronto, so I think if they had anything to catch, they likely would have caught it by now.”

Was there a master plan, some grand impetus behind reuniting Brutal Truth?
“Well, Brutal Truth’s always been an instinctive thing. There wasn’t any real thought process –I mean, obviously the songs were thought out- but there was no directional concept or [thoughts of] ‘We’re gonna go this route’. Basically, we’d done what we’d done and we wanted to do something different. Every record changes a band – sonically, art-wise, the whole record is different from the last one.”

That was a longer timeframe than just a short hiatus, though.
“I think it was like 8 years apart before we got back together. But we all played in different bands throughout that time, and we wound up playing in each other’s bands anyway. So it was eventual." [Pauses to reflect] "You go back and figure out why you stopped playing gigs to begin with, and the truth is, it got out of our hands. There were a lot of people who had an interest in the band and made things uncomfortable [for us]. When you’re younger, you perceive things different. We’re older now, hopefully wiser.”

“See, one of the cool side effects to the record industry taking a nose dive, is that it shifted the control more into the hands of bands. Bands now have more say over when and what they’re gonna do, and they can’t be bullied into things as easily. It’s a good time to be in a band – these days we feel no pressure and do what we want and play where we want when we want –the decisions are ours. Like I said, we’re older and our schedules involve things like families. We have more important things to consider than promoters and booking agents.”

I'm curious to know what the band's relationship with Relapse is like at this point.

“It’s great. Matt [Jacobson, owner of Relapse] lives in Portland, so we’re headed to his turf on this jaunt. He saw us in Philadelphia recently with Municipal Waste, looking forward to seeing him again. What’s really cool about Relapse is that, from the upper whatnots in the company right down to last lowest mail-order guy, the people there genuinely like the music they’re putting out and genuinely care about what they’re doing. All labels have their tics that bands get stressed on but at the end of the day, they’re as good as what you’re gonna get. The label always does what’s reasonable.”
photo by Verbalsniper of BloodRed Metalheads

During that early-90s peak, when it looked like death metal was going to be ‘the next big thing’, was there ever any entertainment of the idea to sign Brutal Truth to a major label?

“No, I mean, not really. There was talk, back in the days of Earache’s association with Columbia – but that’s obviously never been our priority. Nowadays, the music industry’s shifted so much – that whole mentality in terms of making records, going out and playing shows – it’s like a 70s mentality. People played gigs, but their records also sold and that’s where the industry was making its money. It’s time for the record industry to get smart and get some next level technology. Christ, I mean, they’re still thinking 8-tracks sell!” [laughs] “But they’re gonna be pumping gas if they don’t figure out how to incorporate some young-kid mentality, and quick.”

“See, I also write for magazines, and my last Decibel column was about how this sad sack of shit at the Grammys [Neil R. Portnow, current president of the NARAS] was up there onstage begging people to buy records instead of downloading them for free. [The music industry] needs to fucking hire the next Steve Wozniak, or someone from the ‘University of Smarter-Than-You’ and get their shit in order, instead of begging people to keep buying CDs. It’s a dead format - nobody has the space to store them, nobody wants to carry CDs in their store anymore, As far as artwork, they never had a clue. When they first came out with CDs, and the longbox, they were so desperately trung to find a way to artistically recreate the album, and it just never worked.” [takes a breath and resumes] “I once read an interview with Roger Daltrey [from The Who], where he was talking about CDs; and dude was like ‘I should be super excited to sell my catalog all over again on another format – but it’s lost so much in the new format.' The record art’s not there and there’s no interaction with what’s going on. And if you think about Who records, they’re all very identifiable, you can look at that record art and you known them instantly. But you don’t have that with CDs – at this point, the CD is basically an 8-track. It never really took off – sure, they pushed it. They’re still trying to cram it down people’s throats –but why would you wanna buy a CD when you can download the tracks and listen to them on your iPhone or iPod?"

But, what about vinyl? Vinyl sales keep going up while the rest of the formats slowly stop selling.
“Well, vinyl you can hold in your hands. If they were smart, they’d realize that. Look at how USB turntables sell – people like the interaction of holding a record, seeing the gatefold sleeve, touching the pristine 180-gram vinyl.”

Sure, of course. That’s because (maybe more so to people old enough to have grown up with records) the entire process of listening to vinyl is ritual, from the removal of the disc from it s dust sleeve, and placing it gently on the turntable, placing the stylus on it, staring at the gatefold artwork in dimensions it was meant to be seen in, flipping the disc over.
“Exactly; it’s ritual – you said the right word, it’s ritual. [Laughs] It’s like smoking dope. Nine-tenths of smoking dope is ritual: Going to score the dope, getting the situation right, rolling the joint, getting the pipe that’s gonna work with what you’re smoking - the ritual process. Whereas, digital music, they just want it fed thru their iPhone, their BlackBerry, whatever.”

“But Jesus Christ, WHY have none of these labels developed apps in conjunction with these smart phones? Are you fucking kidding me?! If I was in charge of these labels, I would be all over cutting deals with iTunes, and creating apps on smart phones. But, no, instead they’re sitting around begging people to buy CDs like the people still give a shit - get smart, man! Most people nowadays have Bluetooth stereo shit in their ears, iPhones in their pocket, why can’t these fucks get the concept and get with the program? I would be so fucking in bed with apps, I mean even Team Z has one for fuck’s sake!”

“Honestly, set up music-club apps, so people could join some service that downloads x-amount of songs on your iPhone per month, then develop your market that way; or do label samplers showcasing the bands you have to offer and ‘free download’ that shit to subscribers as a gateway. There’s all sorts of things these retards could be thinking about, other than ‘please buy CDs.’”

So, with all these ideas, when are they going to be offering you the CEO job at Relapse?
“No, it’s nothing like that – I mean, it takes a bigger animal than just a label like Relapse. These people at the major labels that are trying to break their necks with the next boy band, or Lady Gaga, or whatever - they’re missing the whole point altogether –you need a different marketing scheme with social networks, it’s a whole different game altogether out there now.”

“The music industry could –and should- be coming up with all sorts of innovations but they keep on waiting for the movie industry to finally lose enough money to do something about it - because they have even more money. The music industry’s waiting desperately for them to resolve the problem, but what they should really be thinking is ‘Fuck the problem’. Move with the flow, you’re not gonna stop technology! There’s always gonna be a crack - don’t fucking lie to me. I steal all the time. No, not music, but there’s lots more than just music out there to download. I’m not an idiot… [pauses and laughs] Well, okay, I’M an idiot, so if I can download stuff for free, they need to rethink their action plan. But hey, make it idiot-proof and I’ll make a better idiot!" [laughs]

I'm curious to know about the songwriting process on Evolution, did the songs come together quickly?

“The songs came together in bits and pieces. I mean, we’ve been doing shows all along, and that’s just the way we write… doing these shows, rehearsing throughout, and first rehearsal three songs came out of it. We’ve been doing this a long time, so it’s kind of like [to one another] ‘Whaddaya think of this?’ Songwriting for us moves pretty quick.” With this record, since you all live in different cities, was there a lot of back and forth via email for the writing and recording process? “I’ve done stuff like that in the past – there were six of the songs on this album where I had nothing worked out prior to going into the studio. 'Get a Therapist, Spare the World' I wrote literally ten minutes before I tracked it. The way we work best is more spontaneous, versus begin too technically proficient. I follow a rule of thumb - music always gets overanalyzed. Part of the reason some oldschool classics work is because you hear the mistakes and that’s what makes those albums so intense. When you spend too much time being technically proficient, what you’re recording loses soul and chaos. …Animal Kingdom was a perfect combination of that whole thought-out-versus-reactive type of recording mentality You just don’t wanna sound too clean or too perfect because then it’s not real.”

And what about the most recent ‘live’ album, Evolution in One Take? Was it really ‘live’ and done in one take, as advertised?

“We just pushed record, no rehearsal. We were playing a weekend tour like this one, sort of an East Coast equivalent. One morning we had a day off, so we literally woke up, went to the studio, pressed ‘record’ and taked the whole set, one shot. I mean, it’s imperfect, but there are no overdubs. It sounds exactly like four dudes sitting in a room tracking and you can hear it. I have it on a disc a home with no track sequence on it and its actually better that way - as a whole. A lot of bands are too paranoid of showing humanity and mistakes in their performance. There’s mistakes galore on our live album but it’s honest, it’s real - it was an afternoon. It was a snapshot of what we were doing that weekend. After you’ve done x-amount of records, you look for different ways of entertaining yourselves in the studio. Maybe it sounds self-indulgent but whatever.”
photo by Verbalsniper of BloodRed Metalheads
How did you guys get hooked up with the Scion festival that’s coming up in Columbus, Ohio?
“Adam from Scion’s a big fan of ours. He brought us out to LA, and we did some shows for him in Brooklyn as well. It’s kind of a cool thing, what Scion’s doing with this festival, in the grand scheme of corporate marketing. They’ve found a non-offensive way of putting their product in placement. You’re not bombarded with emails to buy their car or anything like that. Though, they do hand out free socks [points to his socks] and I am DEADLY overdue for some new socks!" [laughs] "Sure, Scion collects your email when you download your free your ticket, but only so they can notify you of their next event, and that’s ALL they do. It’s a new kind of corporate marketing and product placement,. They’re just handing out socks! They spend a ton of money on marketing, so it’s not a lot of money for them to treat the bands they invite to their festivals with respect. Scion pays you fair, fly you out, put you up and place their name around the festival, and it’s not offensive. Of all people, I’d be the first one to call corporate bullshit! But the fest has developed – in years to come it may well become the North American Wacken. Scion could be the huge Euro-style fest over here and their product name will be all around it. As someone who thinks outside the box, I think its awesome market-spelunking. See, their budget is right for whatever they’re trying to sell. And the demographic is a great target. But whatever, the important thing is that Scion treats bands with respect, they provide free shows to kids - they’re not the demons everyone automatically perceives a corporate animal to be – they’re good people, so god bless ‘em and good luck.”

You guys have also been invited to play the upcoming Manitoba metal fest?
“Yeah, that and Maryland [Death Fest]… you know, Canada needs to step up and do their thing because there’s a LOT of respect for Canadian metal outside of Canada, especially in Europe. You guys could do a spot-on festival somewhere. Make it somewhere where bands travelling could afford to make it a stop, somewhere just far enough to where they can’t do Maryland or the Scion. Maybe this Manitoba thing will catch on, maybe develop into something international. I was talking to Noel from Inertia – he’s the king, he’s been promoting bands in Toronto since we were kids. I was telling him ‘You guys gotta pull [a big time metal festival]! Get together bands like Infernäl Mäjesty, Sacrifice, shit – get Anvil as a headliner! Invite the rest of them to play, and they’ll follow! I’m telling ya, get Kataklysm to draw that thing, it’s not complicated. Get everyone to jump in – you’ll get the Norwegian bands to come over here. They fucking LOVE it up here. So [points at me] why aren’t you doing that? [Laughs] What, were you waiting around for the Olympics this whole time?”

Speaking of Norwegians, have you developed developed any opinions on the whole Burzum thing: Varg’s out of jail, making metal music again, what’s your take on it?
“Whatever, people make more of a big deal about the story than the music. Sure, it’s a great story to tell – it presents a great villain, and everybody loves a villain. See when we came back, everybody was surprised that our new record was any good; most reviews were like ‘Wow, that’s weird – it’s good.’ - because everyone expected ours to suck. So, everyone’s gonna be expecting the world from this guy - he better kick it up! Shit, nazi story, or rickety-rock burning churches, stabbing your friend or whatever, he better deliver.”

Have you heard Belus?

“Oh, I’ll hear it… As you know, Dan loves his black metal so I’m certain I’ll hear it eventually. I understand what Burzum’s doing sonically but I get that from Sonic Youth.”

Winding down, what are the most shocking things you can tell us about your bands, and if there are any surprising facts your fans would love to know (*thanks to Kent Basky for the question)
“Ha ha, well, Venomous Concept loves ice-cream bars; we will play for Magnum ice cream bars which you can only get in Sweden.”

“Ironically, I’m pretty much a family man when I’m home – I’m Superdad.”

“Shane [Embury, VC/Napalm Death bassist] is a cat lover, much the same as Danny Lilker. Ask Danny about his cat’s comparison to King Diamond. Dan’s got a picture of his cat on his phone, side by side with King Diamond. You’ll crack up when you see it.”

And that was it. Brutal Truth went onstage later that night and slayed the slavering Vancouver audience who’d been waiting far too long to see them. Here’s hoping now that they’re back together, they’ll stop by more often.

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