One of them is a Norwegian composer who has scored numerous European films and released his mold-shattering debut album, Thank You For Giving Me Your Valuable Time, on Ipecac Recordings in 2001. The other is the enigmatic frontman behind some of the most influential and original projects of the past 15 years, and the owner/founder of Ipecac Recordings. Now with one album, Romantics, by Patton/Kaada, they converge their talents and broad pallet of skill to redefine another plateau of music.

[Mike Patton and John Kaada]John Kaada, the Norwegian genius of sampling and varied taste, first hit the U.S. music scene with his first solo release in 2001. Before and during this album, he scored a slew of films which earned him the Golden Clapboard award at The Norwegian International Film Festival in August of 2002. I asked him what it was like to be the youngest person to ever receive this award and he answered, “It gives you a little confidence, but my parents snapped when they heard that I’d thrown the statuette in the garbage.”

Then there’s the man who everyone should have known since the early 90s, Mike Patton. He has fronted bands such as Faith No More, Mr. Bungle, Tomahawk and Fantasmas. How does one man find enough time and creativity to helm such a wide variety of profound groups, and what kind of musical background spawns such a character? “My musical education came from an appetite, really. I mean, I worked in a record store, I had an opportunity to listen to a lot of stuff. All of a sudden, that becomes your pallet in a weird way. You start imitating and stealing little things, and over a number of years, you start to get your own style by accident.”

Kaada’s influences are nearly impossible to pinpoint when listening to his record. Everything from 1960s doo-wap to avant garde electronics are spread across every second of sound. I asked him what got him to this indefinable style, “I’m influenced by lots of stuff. TV, musical equipment. To me, there’s no limits or borders when it comes to art. I’ve never thought about what kind of music I’m making when I’m making it.”

As far as Patton’s influences, I was dying to know if there were any specific artists that shaped his musical mind. “You know, it was just periods. I still hear things this way, and I still have the same interest. A couple of weeks ago I saw this amazing Cuban percussionist who blew me away, so I just went out and searched for everything I could, and so everything I was listening to that week was Cuban percussion music. It found its way into an improv gig I just did last week; I didn’t think about it at the time, but I’m sure it’s directly because of that.”

Knowing Patton’s lack of formal education in music, I wondered what Kaada’s might be. He was a member of an abstract Norwegian band called Cloroform for years before he decided to go out on his own. So were there years of sitting in front of a music stand and studying before he chose to begin performing? “Cloroform just started up one day as a heavy metal band. We were outsiders in school, and didn’t have many friends other than ourselves. It was in the 80s and we made pompous death metal. But we evolved over the span of eight years from that to a jazz band. We just practiced all the time; that was about it.”

From Faith No More to his most recent project Kaada, Patton has displayed an astonishingly wide range of styles. From the theatrical heaviness of Fantasmas to the silly prog-jazz of Mr. Bungle, he has run his voice over every horizon imaginable. Was there ever a time that one felt more natural than the other?

“Some bands feel like relatives,” says Patton. “Every now and then you’ve got to go visit your folks, so you do a record with that band. Other bands are just projects, ya know, ‘Let’s try this and see how it feels’. And that’s what Kaada and I did. He had a collection of music he was going to put out on my label, and asked if I wouldn’t mind singing on it. I was going to just be his guest, and I still see it that way; it’s his record. But, all of a sudden, I found myself adding percussion and progamming and it just became a collaboration. I guess it was supposed to be this way.”

Kaada remembers the collaboration the same way. “I don’t really remember how Romances came to be. It was supposed to be an album based on late romanticism, but performed with our sounds. A slow-moving, large composition consisting of nine pieces, almost like a symphony. There is a lot of music history buried in this album, but I hope it won’t be something that’s called a ‘crossover’ album between classical and rock. There have been too many bad attempts to do this over the last 35 years.

“The first vocal takes were done in hotel rooms on the Ipecac Geektour of 2003. Since then, we’ve been sending CDs to each other every month. It’s been a long process to finish this album. In January of 2004, I tried mixing it in a technical way. This isn’t an album where you have a drum track, then a bass track. This is a complex and colorful sound universe with tons of different instruments. Anyway, I sent over a CD in January thinking it was done. Wrong! We went on for another eight months in overtime. I promised myself that after this record, I would only record mono-guitar pieces, with one mic, one track! Not music with hundreds of tracks and instruments. We both had very strong opinions of what Romances should sound like, so that didn’t make it any easier.”

Romances separates itself as a record from any other recordings one may know or expect from either Mike Patton or John Kaada. It is a soundscape of melodies that never revisit themselves, constantly progressing away from where the movement may have started. Patton views this as Kaada going out on a limb for his second release. “I can hear his personality in there, but it really doesn’t sound like anything he’s done in the least. That’s why I encouraged him to take it even further.”

Mike Patton went on to tell me about the familiarity of working with Bjork on her newest album, Medulla, and how Buzzo from The Melvins has more music in his little finger than we all have in our entire bodies. It was quite humbling to hear these stories from an artist who is invited to play with and viewed as a peer to such amazing musicians.

Both Patton and Kaada are men who don’t take the time to dream, as soon as a thought comes into their minds, they just make it happen. Patton made his own musical universe possible with Ipecac Recordings, and has broken a lot of ground since then. Although he’s far too humble to see it that way, he knows the importance of music in everyone’s lives. It defines us in groups and cliques as we grow up, and plays as our own personal soundtrack as we drive to work, make out or eat dinner. Maybe if there were more people like these guys, life would be more interesting and beautiful to pass through on an everyday basis.

MastodonIn the winter of 2002, my friends asked me if I wanted to go out to Burt’s Tiki Lounge and check out some metal band from Atlanta named Mastodon. I declined since I had never heard of them and I was burnt out on bars in general. When they all told me how stupid I was the next day, I brushed it off. My friends liked so many bands at the time that I just assumed they were another power metal band, and I hadn’t missed much. Then I bought Mastodon’s first full-legnth album, Remission (Relapse Records). I’ve never forgiven myself to this day …

 

[Mastodon]Last year proved to be another year of destroying the planet for Mastodon. Leviathan (Relapse) was released in 2004, and has been hailed by Terrorizer Magazine, Revolver Magazine and Kerraang! as “Album Of The Year,” and rightfully so. Leviathan is just as complex, indefinable and crushing as 2002’s equally acclaimed Remission. In a vaguely conceptual manner, Mastodon re-tell Herman Melville’s classic tale of Moby Dick. The epic story of a man driven to manic obsession by his hunt for a great yet fictional white whale is just as twisted and gargantuan as the music of Mastodon. Last month, I had the honor of conversing with Troy Sanders (vocalist and bassist) about his band’s decision to follow the theme of Melville’s novel.

 

“Well, the story of Moby Dick paralelled the lives of the four dudes in Mastodon so much, it was too easy for us to pick and pull similarities to Captain Ahab’s character and the pursuit of the whale, and the dedication, persistence and sacrifice,” says Troy. “The longevity of his trip was almost like what we’ve done in our band for the past five years. So we just thought it would be cool to do something themed-not a direct concept album- but something themed with water and creatures, which we’re all fascinated with.”

 

The success within the past four years for these four guys has been unparalleled by any metal band I can remember. From their first release in 2001 with the Lifesblood EP (Relapse) and two full-length albums later, Mastodon has emerged with style and presence that no critic or fan can ignore.

 

“All of the reviews have been super positive, and it’s nice to know that beyond writers and critics, the whole spectrum of music fans have enjoyed it,” says Troy. “We didn’t ever go into it to write albums that would please everyone; we just wanted to do an album that we’d love. Playing an eclectic brand of heavy rock, it’s nice to know there is some ‘mass appeal’ for our range of listeners.”

 

Mastodon’s music has never been accessible in any sense of the popular music world. Each album is swept by signature acoustic intros and sandwiched by non-describable riffs of such a complicated and brutal nature that it’s hard to imagine a world of people who could withstand its demand of focused attention. The vocals are poetic yet monstrous, and yet again, entirely human and understandable. Rhythmically, Mastodon will make your brain swell (particularly if you’re a drummer), but they keep their tempos driven and direct. They walk a hair’s-width line between abstract art noise and straightforward power rock. By avoiding the confines of death-metal or black-metal or any other category of extreme music, they’ve afforded themselves the opportunity to create a truly monolithic sound that no one but Mastodon could ever take credit for or reproduce.

 

“Our influences are, of course, going to collectively come out through the music and we’re fortunate enough to really tap into it,” says Troy. “We made kind of a big brew, or concoction of what we do and the end result is a band that has hundreds of different hairs of varied influences. When we all got together five years ago, we were all collectively into Thin Lizzy, Iron Maiden, Neurosis, The Melvins and The Jesus Lizard, and it was that core of five bands we all loved. Individually, however, our tastes go through an entire rainbow of music.”

 

Scott Kelly (Neurosis) provides backing vocals on Leviathan’s “Aqua Dementia,” while Neil Fallon (Clutch) wails over the choruses of the opening track, “Blood And Thunder.” Although this record belongs entirely to Mastodon, the collaborations with these artists add even more horsepower to the final composition.

 

“Well, we’ve all been friends with Scott; he’s a great dude, and Neurosis is an enormous influence on all of us,” says Troy. “When we were writing that song (“Aqua Dementia”), it reminded us of early Neurosis, so we called him and he said he’d be honored. We were like, “Holy shit, we’d be honored!”. The Neil Fallon idea came up because we’ve done three different tours, 87 shows to be exact, with Clutch. We thought the vocals on that part should be like a captain, or just a demanding type voice. Neil’s face and voice just kinda popped in our brains, so we asked him. He flew out to Seattle and recorded; got back on a plane to DC the same day.”

 

Touring has been Mastodon’s life for the past five years. Like any real, great rock band, they’ve spent an obscene amount of time on the road. When I spoke to Troy, he had just gotten home three days prior from five weeks across Europe and a week across Japan with Converge and Isis. If I had any idea how to get away with armed robbery, I would have flown to the far East to see that, which easily must have been one of the most destructive tours in history.

 

“It was phenomenal,” says Troy. “While we were there, all three bands respected and appreciated each other’s music so much, but we got along great as friends as well. So, we talked about how that tour would just be crushing if we could take it across the U.S. At the same time, we’re all booked through the better part of the year. We’re booked through September ourselves, so I don’t know how or when that will happen, but we all agreed that we need to do this in the future.”

 

Along with their own headlining tour for the next couple of months, they will be one of the bands on this year’s Ozzfest tour. So I may be able to erase my regrets of missing them play to 10 people at Burt’s Tiki Lounge by seeing them twice this year.

 

“That lineup is a solid group of bands this year,” says Troy. “Arch Enemy, In Flames, Rob Zombie, Killswitch Engage and us, oh, and The Haunted. And then at the end of the night, you’ve gotta see Black Sabbath and Iron Maiden. Oh, life is tough, man.”

 

I’m not going to pretend I’m not biased. Mastodon is definitely my favorite metal band in the entire world, and they have been for the past couple of years. Actually, they’re in my top three of all time, with Iron Maiden and Neurosis. Don’t take my word for it, though. Regardless of what you’re into, you need to check these guys out. Buy their records and really listen to them as compositions, then come with me on Monday, April 11, to the Lo-Fi Café (127 S. West Temple) and see what kind of wreckage we can cause in our ear canals. Mastodon wield thunder that would make Thor jealous. I thank them for the restoration of originality in the metal scene when things were getting so dull and similar.

TATTOOING THE BEEHIVE (featuring an interview w/Kate Hellenbrand!!!!)

It’s quite possible you may have grown up believing that tattoos were the brand of an individual on the outskirts of society. Perhaps you figured they were the mark of a sailor, biker or outlaw. But in some cultures, one’s tattoos demands a great level of respect. It may represent a level of chiefhood, religious rank or the mark of a warrior. In today’s world, the sight of tattoos among celebrities, parents, young adults, professionals, etc. aren’t shocking at all. Whether it’s a beautiful young actress such as Angelina Jolie, a late-night talk show host like Jay Leno or an infamous popstar like Britney Spears, tattoos are commonplace in almost every home around the world. Salt Lake City saw its first International Tattoo Convention last year. For the Salt Lake Valley, it was historical to have such a vast amount of artists, clients and collectors from around the world in the city. Utah has always had a great deal of knowledgeable tattoo artists and studios, but the idea of an organized convention celebrating the very industry itself was a completely new idea.

This year, Lost Art Tattoo is putting on the Second Annual SLC International Tattoo Convention from Friday, Feb. 18 to Sunday, Feb. 20 at the Salt Palace Convention Center. International artists as varied as Horizaru Tattoo Art from Tokyo and Borneo Headhunters from Malaysia will be in attendance. Many North American artists such as Megan Hoogland, Dave Fox, Jeff Zuck and Kate Hellenbrand will also be gracing us with their various styles, knowledge and expertise. Of course, local Salt Lake heros like Big Deluxe Tattoo, Lost Art Tattoo, A.S.I. Tattoo and Good Times Tattoo will be in full representation.

For those of you who have tattoos and enjoy them, this will be an experience to take in different styles, artists and inspirations from people you may already admire or have never even heard of. For those of you who may be interested in eventually getting a tattoo someday, the opportunity to share ideas and collect knowledge from the dozens of professionals on hand will be as much information as anyone could ask for.

One artist who will be in attendance is Kate Hellenbrand from Shanghai Kate’s in Buffalo, N.Y. Kate began tattooing in 1972, and has worked alongside such tattoo legends as Sailor Jerry Collins, Ed Hardy and Jack Rudy. She has owned and worked in shops all over the U.S. (including Utah) in her 33 years of tattooing. These statistics may only impress one with a deeper knowledge of the tattoo industry, but Kate has also appeared on The Today Show, Prime Time Access, Travel Channel, Discovery Channel and TBS as a result of her respected career and work. She recently appeared on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno in January 2005; she has tattooed Howard Stern; and she appeared as a feature panelist at the International Women’s Leadership Conference at Columbia University. She is a two-time best-selling novelist and true professional. See the end of this article for an exclusive SLUG interview with Kate!

Credentials such as these may not be expected by many who still believe that tattoo art is strictly for misfits and social deviants. The fact stands, however, that these are talented, serious, knowledgeable people. There is a great level of hygenic, technical and fine arts education that is demanded of anyone who intends to succeed whatsoever in the industry. Most tattoo studios are so sanitary you could walk through with a white glove and still come out glowing. This convention is important for that reason as well, because many people may have reservations about the health issues that surround getting a tattoo. This will give any potential tattoo collector a sea of wise staff to swim through in search of reassurance and understanding of the procedures needed to ensure your safety and health while being tattooed.

Another great aspect of the convention is that of fine arts. Yes, tattoo artists do more than mark one’s flesh; they are artists in every way, after all. There will be an overwhelming amount of paintings, clothing and random vendors to send you home with original artwork that you don’t necessarily have to wear on your body forever.

The Borneo Headhunters were the first tattoo studio in Malaysia to provide world-class professional tattooing service. For the Iban community, tattooing connected the living to the spiritual world and marked a man’s success as a hunter and warrior. They are masters at conventional electric machine tattooing and traditional methods as well and have received a great deal of awards and praise for both. Their presence at last year’s SLC Convention was greatly talked about, and we are very fortunate to have them back.

If you believe your tattoos are worthy of international recognition, there will be contests in various categories. Winners may take home $100 and trophies for first and second place. There is a $10 entry fee and your tattoo(s) must be completely healed (with the exception of “Tattoo Of The Day”). Yes, there will be people tattooing in the convention center for all to see. Each day will have a separate itinerary for which categories will be judged by the artist panel.

Entry into the convention is $15 dollars per day (which runs approximately eight hours daily) or $30 for all three days. Purchasing is available at Lost Art Tattoo (348 S. State St. in Salt Lake) or online at www.24tix.com .

A listing of all artists and events can be found online at www.slctattoo.com .

 

INTERVIEW WITH KATE HELLENBRAND

 

SLUG: How does the tattoo industry differ from all other occupations besides the actual act of tattooing?

Kate Hellenbrand: Probably the most significant difference between tattooing and all other “occupations” is the difficulty in mastering the unique blend of art and science, magic and practicality. This mastery, by the way, has to take place without any formal educational training. The best way is through an apprenticeship program which should take five years minimum from someone who has spent a lifetime conquering the myriad of tiny difficulties. This work looks so easy, so simple, yet a hair’s breadth of difference in spring stock, coil size, pigment particle or needle grouping will make all the difference in the world between a successful tattoo and one that is regrettable due to technical qualities. But it’s not just the technique that counts. This is an ethical, moral line of work where the experience and energy transference can be as important as the transference of mere ink. But largely, there’s no real place where one can go to be “chosen” to begin to learn this trade. One has to really be the product of fate, luck, timing and karma to even begin to learn.

SLUG: How have conventions inspired or developed the tattooing community as a whole, and also you personally?

KH: I was at the very first tattoo convention EVER, held at Sailor Jerry Collins’ house in Honolulu, Hawaii, in 1972. We called ourselves the Council of the Seven: Me, Sailor Jerry, Jerry’s apprentice, Mickie-Ed Hardy, Michael Malone, Kazuo Oguri from Japan and Des Connelly from Australia. It was truly the first time a group of international tattoo artists got together in one place to discuss this very weird enterprise we were all struggling to define in our own minds. Then, in 1976 and beyond, other tattoo conventions began to pop up. And while they still were small (usually held in a hotel’s side seminar room — not even the ballrooms as they often are now), and the invitees were small in number — only several hundred, really, no real tattooing going on . . . just showing of portfolios and long nights at the bars . . . with all the beginnings of the political hierarchies we now see . . . these were family gatherings. Many conventions are still “family gatherings.” But now we have these MegaShows with 40,000 attendees and 160 booths. I like to think of tattooing today as a giant Cruise Ship with all my friends aboard. This shiphas a fluctuating roster of players and it cruises from port to port (city to city) and every once in a while I get to jump on for a weekend . . . but when I’m in my home, I think of that Cruise Ship out there sailing around from Detroit to Dallas and beyond with that divergent cast of characters all having a good time. Conventions and magazines have certainly exposed the general population to some of the best names and talents in tattooing. We come to you now, like the circus. We are the living art sideshow.

SLUG: From the many world-wide origins of tattoo art, have any made a larger impact on you as an artist?

KH: The very beginning of tattooing (probably around 300,000 years ago or >more) consisted of spiritual markings for lost loved ones — ancestors. >This >early development of spiritual life was the beginning of mankind’s >awareness and >consciousness. Therefore, tattooing was used as a way to remember those who >had >moved on . . . and the marks that early man made belonged to two schools: >graphic slashings with charcol (which I think resembles our tribal of >today) and >the animal style (which consists of all other figurative and literal images >like: cartoons, photorealism, portraits, etc.). I am influenced therefore >by >both styles but I respect black and grey work the best because it stays in >the >body until that body ceases to exist. Color platelettes are destroyed by >the >body’s own immune systems, seen as intruders like germs or bacteriums. I >love the >Polynesian style of authentic tribal and have a body suit of that work by >my >teacher in that field, Trevor Marshall. These images just seem to suit a >body >better than the other styles, to me.

SLUG: Over the years, how do you think the tattoo industry has changed stylistically?

KH: Everything has changed in the past 35 years. . . and yet little changes. This is part of that dilemma I was speaking about earlier. People still get the same kinds of tattoos for the same reasons that our forebearers did 300,000 years ago. Little really changes and yet with all the science and knowledge that we now have at our disposal, everything is new again. Just as we can look into an electromagnetic microscope to see dust mites, we can then refine metals, shapes, color make-ups, healing techniques, knowledge of the anatomy, physiology, biology, microbiology, chemistry, metallurgy, psychology, mythology, theology . . . all of these come into play in tattooing. So we find better machines, power sources, metals and needles, color pigments and techniques . . . that opens up the whole world of imagery to us. Things are being done in the photorealism and biomechanical fields of tattooing that warp the mind. With all these refinements, now visionaries can create art works on the skin that could never have been done in the 70s and 80s. It’s been a long gradual process by those at the top . . . who learn from the upstarts and yet take nothing for granted as far as what they already know. There are basic truths to tattooing . . .for instance, we know the human body will react EXACTLY the same to certain situations. That’s why doctors can do heart surgeries . . . they know where the heart is, how to get to it . . . how it should work, and how to repair an anomaly. We work with the human canvas so we know if we mistreat it in certain ways, our work will be unsuccessful. Or successful if we follow the steps of what has been learned before us, with subtle refinements by those who are coming after us. Gawd bless the random mistake. When I started tattooing there were only four colors: black, red, green and yellow. Now we have every color under the sun. That allows for big differences.

SLUG: How has it changed socially in the public eye and among fellow artists/clients?

KH: Tattooing has gone through such a turbulent history. At one point it was banned by the Roman Council of Bishops for over 1,000 years throughout the Roman Empire as an attempt to stamp out those pesky Christians . . . who recognized each other by the sign of the cross or fish. And they kept meeting in basements. Well, the Pagans that prevailed at that time did not want this upstart cult to gain membershp, so they began to crucify tattoo artists. That cooled us down, I’ll say. It wasn’t until the mid-1700s when the New World and the Pacific world and Japan were discovered that anyone in Europe remembered that tattooing existed! Now, we have the casualization of American culture with pop stars popping out all over with their awful tattoos . . .the sports stars, the music videos. With our instant fame culture, everyone wants to be in People magazine . . . so . . . let’s tattoo our FACES!!! Yeah!!!! That will get people to notice us!!!! It’s outta the bag now . . and it won’t go back in, I promise you. Charles Darwin, originator of the Species/Subspecies classifications of all life systems, said that all humans globally share four distinct activities: singing, dancing, dressing up and making rude pictures and tattooing. It is in our nature, just as a 11 month old will bop around to music. We go from being seen as rock stars to undesirables, depending on the viewer’s biases. Everyone it seems wants to be a tattoo artist, thinking this is so easy. And then they can’t get it and don’t know why their machines don’t work and then they ruin their friends and then they go back to being a roofer or whatever. We all, those of us who have managed to make a career through some stroke of fantastic luck, know we are, as Darwin also said: the magic makers. The priests, the shamans, the physicians, the soothsayers, the psychologies to this crazy world’s minions who sit in our chairs and tell us all their secrets. We know who we are.

SLUG: Are there any unspoken or commonly discussed things that tattoo artists won’t do as a result of ethics within the profession?

KH: The ethics have to be learned and this is where mentors are so important. Certainly this business draws some of the best and the worst to it. There are sinners and saints like no other place I’ve been. Debates rage over facial tattoos, underage clients, money or lack of it, sterilization procedures. With the “Old School” artists who have been around for a while, we pretty much share a common overview of the business, the clients, the other artists. We have seen things that those who are just beginning have not seen. Our knowledge is based on pragmatic understandings. But mentoring is fading away. We believe that you should earn the right to learn. We discuss everything. But it stays amongst ourselves. It’s too bad too because so many people die with their thoughts and secrets intact. That’s why I’m self-publishing a rough draft of a book by my mentor, Sailor Jerry Collins of Hawaii. At least he did the world a favor by writing down some of what he believed. He’s the only old school tattoo artist who did.

SLUG: When did you first get into tattoo art?

KH: I first started tattooing in 1970. I didn’t really want to. I thought I was set with my fabulous graphic art career working for an ad agency, Muller Jordan and Herrick, on Fifth Avenue in NYC. But I helped mount a show at the Museum of American Folk Art in New York about tattooing which got me involved with all these masters of the tattoo world (and remember, there were only a handful at the time). Then, as a favor to a friend, I did a small tattoo and that was it. A whole wonderful magic world was opened to me. I am forever indebted to that friend.

SLUG: What is your favorite style/subject matter to tattoo?

KH: In case you haven’t guessed, I love tribal (authentic . . . not that scattergraphics that so many people “think” is tribal) and photorealism and Japanese and “Old School” traditional, like Sailor Jerry’s designs . . . roses, bluebirds and pin-ups. But I love to tattoo . . . anything . . . as long as I’m tattooing, I’m tattooing — and that’s my passion.

SLUG: Has society come to understand the true talent and value of tattoo art?

KH: I don’t think Society will ever come to understand the true value of tattoo art. I think in fact that Societyhates tattoo art because it’s so difficult to grasp and understand. And we are seen as the outcasts, those who don’t conform, those who threaten Society in general. However, when in the presence of someone who’s naked but heavily tattooed, the power is felt. Rightly or wrongly. Remember Les on Survivor? Several seasons ago? He was also in the All-Stars, I think. He was heavily tattooed on both arms. He was spellbinding. You had a gut reaction when you looked at him. He was someone to deal with, he stood out, he looked like a warrior. That is undeniable. As long as advertisers can attract consumers with tattoos on people in their ads, we’ll still see them around. But when the final days come, and I’m still here, I’ll be tattooing for cans of Spam and Corned Beef, over by the burning fire — even if by hand.

SLUG: What other artists influenced you as an artist?

KH: There are too many influences to mention but here’s where I get to tip my hat: I’ll start at the beginning: Sailor Jerry Collins, Huck Spaulding, Paul Rogers, Zeke Owen, Ed Hardy, Bob Roberts, Jamie Summers, Jack Rudy, Freddie Negrete, Bill Funk, Mario Barth, Anil Gupta, Guy Atchison, Aaron Caine, Scott Sylvia, Trevor Marshall, Tony Olivas, Cap Szumski, Tom Renshaw, Bob Tyrell, Roberto Hernandez, Zsolt Sarkozi, Boris of Hungary, Tin-Tin, Horiyoshi II, There are too many to mention. Many I am thrilled to call my friends. This has been a wonderful ride and whether Society understands or approves doesn’t alter the fact that I’ve lived my life on my own terms — as a maverick, a rebel, an outcast with the most colorful and wonderful people alive. Not bad for a little Utah cowgirl who was told from the beginning that her highest aspiration should be to work in the secretarial pool. I earn the same amount as any man who does this work, I don’t have to wear pantyhose or expensive suits to work and there’s no glass ceiling for me. I can go anywhere in the world where there are people and make a living . . . one person at a time. And they will never forget me!

In September of 2002, a Boston-based band called Isis released its second full-length album, Oceanic (Ipecac Recordings), and shattered the boundaries of heavy/aggressive music. Back in 2001, the group released Mosquito Control EP (Escape Artist), which was epic in its heaviness, but still experimental enough to immediately draw comparisons to metal and punk heavyweights Neurosis and Bloodlet. That same year, they put out Celestial (Escape Artist) and its accompanying EP Sgnl 05 (Neurot Recordings).

[Isis]At the end of 2004 we now see the release of Isis’ new full-length record, Panopticon (Ipecac Recordings). Where Oceanic found itself very natural, earthy and atmospheric, Panopticon takes us to a place of claustrophobia, technology and surveillance. Inspired by French philosopher Michael Foucalt, it explores the Orwellian world of a society constantly being watched and recorded by the all-seeing eye of power.

After thoroughly listening to Panopticon for the first time, I got on the phone with vocalist/guitarist Aaron Turner at his office. I mentioned my admiration of the Mosquito Control EP and the gradual evolution of melodics and electronic synthesis through each release. He obliged the remark by giving me a brief history of their writing process so far.

“Ever since the beginning, it hasn’t been like a dictatorship or anything. Certainly for the first few releases, I wrote a lot of the basic riffs, but we’ve always contributed as a whole to the overall arrangement, especially with the newest album, we all collaborated equally.”

As varied and eclectic as Isis is, where do they find their inspiration, classical composers, avant garde jazz progressive musicians?

“It’s really hard to narrow it down to one specific thing, since we all listen to so much different stuff,” says Turner. “We started by basing the music off a lot of the contemporary underground heavy bands at the time: Today Is The Day, The Melvins, Neurosis, Godflesh, Eyehategod. But, as time has gone on, I think a lot of the other things we listen to have crept into the fold, from hip-hop to avant garde compositions to minimalist techno to black metal and classic rock.”i

Isis has drifted with one foot still planted in their forceful, stripped-down roots of grinding distortion and Turner’s wailing vocals to explore the wide territories of melodics and atmosphere.

“We kind of got a hang of the heavy, oppressive, dense riffing from the very beginning and it has been a journey ever since then into some of the more delicate and atmospheric melodic elements,” says Turner.

Isis is known for having a conceptual theme for their records. Whether it be the spacey science of Celestial and Sgnl 05 or the deep natural emotion of Oceanic, there is a constant movement of thought that continues through every album.

“We wanted to have albums that weren’t just grab-bags of songs but rather a cohesive experience from beginning to end, from the music to the lyrics to the layout of the record,” says Turner. “It’s almost a contradiction in a way, but the songs now feel more simplified to me because they flow so much better. Yet the parts individually are more complex.”

Unlike a lot of truly complicated bands today, Isis intertwine the talent and complicated musicianship of their music with minimalistic emotional soundscapes. It’s not music that was made for the sake of sounding talented or technical.

“That’s a problem that I have with a lot of hardcore and metal bands today, it’s so much about, essentially, guitar theatrics,” says Turner. “If someone is truly talented in that capacity, then that can make it interesting in and of itself, but now there’s just this glut of tech-death metal and hardcore bands and it has lost any appeal that it had at all.”

The heaviness of Isis hasn’t worn off; they’re not a bunch of seasoned old guys who lost their edge, going quietly into the mainstream of melodicism. Being “heavy” doesn’t follow a template.

“My definition of heavy isn’t limited to bands who have ‘chugga chugga’ guitar parts,” says Turner. “I consider a band like Dalek to be just as heavy as us, but in a different way. A band like Low is also very heavy to me; it’s just in their atmosphere and vibe. Isis fits that definition of heavy in that way, and there are certain elements of our music that are heavy in the traditional ‘metal’ sense of the word.”

Subject matter is just as threatening and powerful as the loudest or fastest blizzard of brutal music. The very physical layout of Panopticon is filled with Foucalt quotes, and where most bands may place lyrics, Isis input abstract passages which lead the reader/listener in no particular direction which establishes a tone of insecurity and a complete loss of privacy.

“It just seemed really relevant in the context of the lives that we’re leading right now,” says Turner. “I mean, technology has advanced to a point of science-fiction magnitude.

“On a side note, part of the inspiration of the record was how authors like Phillip K. Dick or George Orwell or Ray Bradbury wrote these fictional pieces that have become prophetic in a way. I just felt like now is the time to address this stuff; we tried as far back as Celestial, but weren’t really able to articulate it at the time.

“We’re not a political band, and it’s not an overtly political subject, but politics are pretty much impossible to ignore at this point. Historically speaking, back to the very dawn of civilization, artists have always been the heralders of protest. In this day and age, I think artists are somewhat responsible to use their political platform to make people aware. We’re not preaching one way or the other, but it’s for those who need a slight kick in the ass to investigate the world around them.”

Go see Isis with These Arms Are Snakes at Lo-Fi Café, Nov. 21. You won’t be the same afterwards.

Baby, I’m an Anarchist.

Vans Warped Tour 2005 14

The Vans Warped Tour has become somewhat of a traveling punch in the face to underground and independent punk music. With a slew of corporate sponsors, Clear Channel Broadcasting support and extended MTV coverage, some may say the tour has nothing to do with punk rock at all. All opinions aside, the tour goes across the U.S. every year and sells out auditoriums and ampitheaters of a size only bands like Sting or The Rolling Stones are used to. Many, myself included, may see this as a threat to the entire concept of counterculture and alternative music, but there are some who truly are blessed to have this show in existence.

 

[The New Transit Direction]No, I’m not talking about the kids who see their first “punk” show by way of the Warped Tour; I’m talking about the independent bands who are put on the bill. These are bands of people you know, you went to high school with them, you order your iced coffee from them at the local cafe, you take them for granted when they play two or three times a month in local venues.

 

For the past three years, local Utah bands have been fortunate enough to receive exposure to thousands of kids across the country while playing select dates on the Warped Tour. In the summer of 2003, Salt Lake’s The New Transit Direction were the first band in the beehive to do such.

 

“I think we played about five shows, all in the Midwest. It was hot and windy; it actually kinda sucked at times,” claims Josh Asher (vocalist/guitarist for TNTD).

 

“Yeah, I mean, if you’re just a little indie band in a van, like we obviously are, it’s pretty rough. You just drive your ass off and get there in time to set up, play and tear down to move to the next city. I’m sure it’s a lot easier for the bigger bands,” added Jake Hawley (guitarist TNTD).

 

When you think about a tour which has a dozen MTV bands on a main stage, miles of merchandise and swarms of vendors rounding teenage kids up under a ridiculously hot summer day, it’s probably a lot harder to get noticed than one may think when you’re a band on TNTD’s level playing on a small B-stage.

 

“Well, one of the good things was that we got to play with a lot of nice bands like The Letter Kills. Those guys were really cool. Overall it was pretty fun, and definitely a good experience for us,” Josh admits.

 

So, how does a little four-piece band from Salt Lake get on a bill like the Warped Tour?

 

“I think someone just asked us. You see, when we did it, we played on the Volcom stage,” explains Jake. (Every stage on the tour has its own individual corporate sponsor.) “I think someone who was booking bands for Volcom just approached us.”

 

“It was a little different that year, because most of the bands were just real fast pop-punk groups, and our style was a little more rock than most. So, I guess we stood out that way,” Josh remembers.

 

TNTD was formed in 2000 and released a three-song EP (recorded by J. Robbins) in 2002; that same year they were signed to Some Records, then, in 2003, they released their first full-length album, Wonderful Defense Mechanisms. Since then, they have done extensive touring and have played with an impressive list of bands. For them, Warped Tour was a nice stepping-stone and entry into the band’s resume.

 

“We did sell some merch; that was good,” says Jake. “We didn’t have the full-length out then, but we sold some T-shirts and EPs. We also took some other records with us to sell like The Kill’s Extended Play, and Hammergun’s Texas,” says Jake.

 

“Yeah, my advice to any local or independent band on Warped Tour is; set your merch table up next to the biggest band you can find. Because there is no order or reserved spot for merch tables, it’s just this huge area and you set up wherever,” Josh added.

 

Jake also interjects, “Yeah, and sleep as much as you can.”

 

TNTD are only playing the Salt Lake show this year. So, if you’re going, show them the love and go see them when they play our local venues as well.

 

2004’s Warped Tour only saw one SLC band on it. TNTD told me that Day Two played the entire Warped Tour last year. Had I known that previous to this article, I would have attempted to contact them as well, but I was unaware. Needless to say, it must have benefited them in some way to play the entire U.S. with that many bands and fans.

 

This year, the tour features acts such as Transplants, My Chemical Romance, The Offspring, Atreyu and The Explosion. The Warped Tour has gotten much more diverse with bands in the emo scene (Underoath), street punk (The Unseen) and metalcore (Avenged Sevelfold). The variety takes some of the brunt end of commercial abuse that many of the underground punks hated from previous tours. It has now turned into a traveling showcase of bands that you may see on TRL every day alongside bands that MTV would never let step foot on a TV screen.

 

Another Salt Lake band who will be on this year’s tour is our own Her Candane, who was invited to play the Ernie Ball stage. Her Candane plays a breed of heavy complex rock that a lot of the emo kids will run from, but their live performances are something no one can deny. Unfortunately, scheduling difficulties prohibited us from being able to sit down and chat. From what I gathered, they will be playing the Salt Lake leg of the tour, but beyond that, I’m unsure of how many dates they’ll be playing. Her Candane has a new record coming out in August on United Edge Records. If you haven’t seen them live yet, then get off your ass and go. Other Utah bands playing the Ernie Ball stage were winners of the Ernie Ball Battle of the Bands contest: In Camera, His Red Letters, Take the Fall, Side Dish, Kane Hodder, My American Heart, Big D and the Kid’s Table, Bleed the Dream, Monty’s Fan Club and Opiate for the Masses.

 

The third band on this year’s bill is Ogden’s Skint. Skint is an old-school, politically charged street-punk band who have been together for about eight years. They are the only unsigned band to get 12 shows on the Warped Tour. They have a very solid fan base in Ogden and Salt Lake, hopefully for them, this fan base will extend itself beyond this high plains desert into some other cities when they rock them on the Warped Tour. I spoke with Jason from Skint, and he seemed very excited about the opportunity.

 

“Well, we put in an application on the official Warped Tour website,” says Jason. “When they selected us, we only got Salt Lake City, but we were on tour three months ago with the Warped Tour barbeque band Left Alone, and they sponsor a stage and we were selected to play on that stage. So, that’s how we got so many shows,” Jason explained.

 

For an “old school,” heavier punk band, I wondered if there were really any bands on this year’s bill they felt they would identify with.

 

“Well, The Unseen. Of course, Left Alone. God, Billy Idol’s gonna be there, Transplants, Dropkick Murphy’s. Yeah it’s gonna suck, I’ve gotta see them everyday.” [Sarcastically spoken]

 

In eight years, Skint has done quite a few small tours out to the West Coast, Colorado and Arizona. They actually try to go out and tour every other month. They understand the importance of networking in the scene in order to advance as a band.

 

“We’re gonna be selling CDs, giving out samplers,” says Jason. “Just basically working 14-hour days in order to get our music out there and make some connections.”

 

I then decided to test the waters and mention the fact that bands like them and The Unseen would have to be sharing stages with some of the bands who created the “mall punk” genre. I asked how he felt about playing before masses of sheltered kids who, as of now, think those bands are the epitome of punk rock and have never been exposed to a band like theirs.

 

“I think everybody knows that if it’s good, it’s good,” says Jason. “I think kids will like our music. On the same page, a lot of kids that come to the Warped Tour now aren’t even into punk. There are a lot of emo bands and hardcore bands, so hopefully, we’ll get some of those guys to listen to us as well. We’re just totally blessed and fortunate to be doing these shows along the whole West Coast.”

 

At the end of September, they’ll be putting out a new record. They’ve put out three EPs, a full-length, Dead End Of Glory, and have played shows with Rise Against, Nashville Pussy, Throwrag, Thursday and Dwayne Peters. Skint seems to be one of the most ambitious and eager bands I’ve ever met in my life, which will hopefully lead to a great deal of success for them.

 

When we reach the end of this punk rock rainbow, I’m not sure if the Warped Tour will lead to a pot of gold, or another crack in the jaded foundation of the entire culture. It’s been very easy for me to bad-mouth the Warped Tour in the past, but that’s because I’m old. I was at the age that most of the tourgoers are now when you only saw a punk or hardcore band in a rundown venue that smelled like shit, usually on 300 West. There were no punk bands, or bands that called themselves punk on television or the radio, and you sure as fuck didn’t have a chain store in every mall across America selling their mass-produced merchandise. Like all things, punk rock may be getting re-packaged and re-sold to us, but at least bands on the real level of the culture are getting a chance to make a go of their careers in music through the Warped Tour. I would like to think that most bands cringe every time they look behind them while they’re onstage and see a big corporate banner waving behind them. There will always be music for the masses, and music for people who actually love music. I know that the three local bands playing this year love music and that’s why they’re doing this. They won’t be on commercials and they won’t be sponsoring clothing brands in the future. If anything, they’ll use Warped Tour like an old car. Get everything they can out of it, leave it when it’s done, and move on to doing their own new and exciting things; you know, like getting a new car, or a bike, or just fucking walking.