Yes. So the nice fellows at Metal Blade (including a nice fellow named Heather) offered me the chance to interview John during an all-day telephone press tour he was conducting. My telephone is too quiet to make a good tape recording from (as evidenced by my recent Blag Dahlia and Derrick Bostrom experiences - yeesh!), so I decided to try to type down everything John said. I got MOST of it, but not all of it. I know there was some stuff I missed, and probably some stuff I got wrong too. But hopefully not much! I mean, I'm pretty sure he said that Vehemence was a National League baseball team.
No, come now! I'm joking at you! In Soviet Union, joke tells YOU! Yakov Smirnoff has his own club in Branson, MO, by the way. Check out his web site. It's both depressing AND irritating! While we're on the subject, don't visit www.anorexicsex.com. Just don't do it.
So about John Chavez - He called RIGHT on time at 7:00 PM and was a very nice young man! Don't let them tell you that metal guys are all out to kill you, because he didn't try to kill me even once. He just loves extreme metal and is willing to work hard to raise a fan base for Vehemence. My questions are in bold, his answers are in plain text.
Hey! This is John Chavez from Vehemence calling from the Metal Blade Office.
Hey! How's it going?
Have you been doing interviews all day?
Are you sick of it yet?
No, I like getting the word out and knowing that more people will hear about Vehemence.
Oh, okay! You live in Phoenix, AZ -- have you been there a long time?
Yeah, since 1990.
Is there a big metal scene in Phoenix? Who else is out there?
The two most well-known bands from here are Flotsam & Jetsam and Sacred Reich that were signed to Metal Blade. But there are also others - Excessive Bleeding (R.I.P.), Structure of Lies and Occision.
Are there any other bands from Arizona that aren't metal that you like?
Well, Jimmy Eat World is from here.
Oh! You like them?
No, I don't like them! But they're from here and they're making millions of gay dollars.
Oh, I was wondering! They're not too good. Hey, on the Vehemence web site, you mention that you like web design. Did you design the site? Where did you learn web design?
I designed the web site. A lot of my friends know how to do all the Photoshop stuff, so I learned from them. Some are more into it than others, and they just keep getting more and more software. It's all experimentation. I'm not a very good web designer as far as putting stuff together, but I'll probably do a big site upgrade once a year or twice a year or whatever.
Did you play on the first Vehemence CD?
No, that was Scott Wiegand, a member of the original line-up. At that time, Jason Keesecker was just like a contributing keyboardist. He wasn't a regular band member in the beginning.
So how did you end up in the band? Did you just know these guys from the scene?
Yeah, I knew these guys just from going to shows. They didn't play that many shows when I started going to shows. Back when I was 14. But I met Bjorn Dannov because he worked at Guitar Center. I would go up there all the time and just say, you know, "Hey! What's up?" And he knew I wanted to be in a band. I've been playing guitar since I was 12, and metal since I was 14. So he introduced me to Brides of Christ at my age of 16, which was a Cynic/Meshuggah influenced type band that I really liked. So I started hanging out with the guitarist named K.C.Bradham and I bought a 7-string guitar because he had a 7-string guitar. And I bought the same processor as him, basically just trying to get into the ways of being in a band. They were all 27-year-olds, like ten years older than me, but they let me join the band and I learned a lot from them. But their lyrics were all political, and they all felt that independent was the way to go. They didn't want to sign to a major label or tour around the world or anything, and I wanted to be part of something bigger. So when I found out that Scott Wiegand had left Vehemence shortly after the recording of The Thoughts From Which I Hide recording sessions, and I immediately joined. I knew Vehemence pretty well by that time because every time my band would practice, I would go to their practice room and watch them play. This was back in November 1999.
Do your parents support what you're doing?
They support me financially as far as equipment is concerned. But for everything else, I do a lot of working with other people and trading CDs and stuff like that. They don't support the material, though. They thought I was gonna be the next Julio Iglesias or some kinda shit. I don't wanna play guitar in Shakira's band or something. I mean, the money might be good. If I could put a bucket on my head and be called Bucketface or something, that would be different because if you keep your anonymity, your public image isn't ruined. And it would be cool to do what you love and still make millions towards other projects you really care about. But it probably wouldn't happen anyway. It's too much hard work!
I don't know that this happens anymore, but I know it happened in the `60s. It happened to the Rolling Stones and the Beatles and some other bands. If somebody came up to you and said, "If you'd just replace that band member and play your music more like this, we'll make you the next Metallica," how would you react?
See, that's where I would want to stick to my guns and insist on creating my own type of project, instead of somebody else's gig.
Okay, as far as extreme metal goes, I've been buying a lot recently and getting a lot of great stuff from Metal Blade, but my favorite type of rock is probably hardcore punk. That's what I grew up listening to. So extreme metal is a BIG leap. It's much more complicated music. So as kind of an extreme metal novice, I have a really hard time telling the difference between - I mean, I know what I like and what I don't like, but I don't really understand the criteria that separates a great extreme metal band from a so-so one.
If you're a musician, this music is almost like FOR musicians, because the people that write it understand the complexity of it. Plus, we have to convince people that aren't musicians that the songs are really good. So that's the market we're up against - musicians who play in their own bands and know exactly what you're doing, and then non-musicians who are just looking to listen to music. So you gotta put up with their reviews and what they hear in your music. But as far as telling a good band from a bad one, you have to look at how good they package the album, who writes the fonts and the credits, and check out the lyrics to see what they're about and how hard they work towards their band. It's also important to read interviews to see what the musicians are like and what they're into. When you get into this music for a really long time, you shut everything else out, then you start going into the different subgenres, like black metal, power metal, death metal - you try not to listen to anybody else telling you what to listen to. You kinda gotta listen to stuff for yourself. I mean, our other guitarist Bjorn even has some influences like emo bands - Sunny Day Real Estate, .And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead, even stuff like that. He also likes metal, and he really listens to music and writes heavy compositions, but he's into those kinda bands.
As a new member, did they allow you to do a lot of the songwriting?
Oh yeah. It immediately became a partnership right when I joined, because that's what makes a good band. On the first album, Bjorn wrote all the music and taught the other members, but now it's us writing together, with our vocalist Nathan Gearhart writing all the lyrics. We don't touch the lyrics because that's his thing. He specializes in that.
I imagine that his anti-Christian concept for the new album didn't sit well with your parents?
My parents read the lyrics and they understand how blasphemous it is. Most of the other parents of the band don't take it too seriously though. Only the metal listeners take it to heart.
How long has the CD been out?
Since July 2nd in the U.S. and July 29th worldwide.
Is there any concern that with lyrics that extreme, you might attract not just normal metal fans but also actual weirdo evil Satanist people?
Well, we don't believe in Heaven OR Hell, so I think that type of person wouldn't be into it as much. In truth, people like that think that death metal people are just saying bullshit. Those types of believers would nitpick over the lyrics and say, "Oh, you didn't mention THIS belief enough, and you contradicted yourself.." I think it would take a true Satanist to like a Satanic album and a true Atheist to understand an Atheist album.
You mean like the Anton Lavey-type Satanist?
Yeah, the lyrics kinda go along with the way it's written in the book, so it would make sense in their whole spiel. But it's just an explicit horror story. It's all influenced by Ed Gein and horror movies and stuff. We think it's a very cool concept with a lot of interesting characters. I mean, you could make a cult music horror film out of it. We're actually hoping to, in the future, maybe create a DVD with characters from this concept - if we have the finances. Plus, we've got the artwork by Evil Dave - he's a big advocate. A lot of extreme metal fans like gory art, and he doesn't draw like anybody else. He's worked with Jon Zig from Texas, who is a major visual artist in the extreme metal scene. Our CD packaging overall makes a big difference - it helps people understand the lyrics right off the bat. They can just look at the images and get a feel for what we're trying to say.
If you ever look at the non-metal music message boards, you know the ones populated by people who only know heavy metal as stuff like Judas Priest or Cinderella or something, you sometimes see really anti-metal comments. Like one time I saw a guy post something like "Metal is by far the stupidest form of music." And I was like, "What are you talking about?" I mean, after listening to all the stuff that Metal Blade and Century Media have been releasing, I'm very tempted to say that extreme metal is probably the most intelligent and challenging music being created today. Are these complicated songs difficult to pull together? What is the songwriting process for a band like Vehemence?
Well, first you need to have heavy rhythm tracks. Unfortunately a lot of bands don't get past that - they just have two guitars that play really fast with the drums and that's it. But you need to develop good dual lead parts. Lead rhythm parts too. Then you gotta make some choruses. We're just used to songwriting - creating actual songs that flow really good. We want every album to have good quality songs instead of just a bunch of fast 2-minute or 4-minute things. We try to make every lyric count, every song flow, so it'll go to your heart. We want people to feel the music instead of just letting it play. There's a whole meaning behind what we're doing, and our music is full of true metal characteristics. We want our music to give you the same feeling that you get when you listen to early Metallica or Iron Maiden.
How can you tell the difference between a good extreme metal band and a bad one?
If the CD has lousy packaging that makes it look like they didn't put any effort it into it, or if you can't find any information about the band at all, chances are that they don't take it that seriously and they aren't too good. Most Indonesian bands are not good. They play mostly messy music - if it's messy, it's grindcore. Most death metal bands get stuck in that.
Do you not like grindcore?
Well I mean, I like grindcore, but not when bands get stuck in it. There are only a few really great grindcore bands. Some people love dirty music though. They love that sound. Even in black metal, they like badly recorded music for some reason. I don't know why!
Yeah, I know what you mean. Like Mayhem! Most of their stuff sounds like SHIT!
Yeah, you get some albums like Mayhem's - really low budgeted albums. Then you get their last album, and it had a great budget and you can see the potential they may have had from the beginning.
If you're a metal novice like me and you go look at the racks of extreme metal discs, it's just a bunch of bands with logos you can't read. How would you say Vehemence differs from the other bands? Explain why people should pick up God Was Created rather than some other disc.
First of all, the packaging itself is pretty cool. There are a lot of people who try to look for trademark artists like Jon Zig, Dan Seagrave or Wes Benscooter. We're trying to get Evil Dave well known worldwide. He does amazing stuff, and he does everything in like four days. I mean, we're coming from Metal Blade, which specializes in music that packages itself with a lot of sick artwork in the vein of people like Cannibal Corpse's artist Vincent Locke and Jon Zig. Some people I know search for bands by the name of the cover artist.
Are you serious? I had no idea that artwork was such a big issue!
Yeah. I mean, people know that Jon Zig really only works only with good artists. So some people just pick through the actual packaging artists. Another thing that distinguishes God Was Created from a lot of other CDs is the content - we have something interesting to say. Plus, Metal Blade shows great interest in us. We're a death metal band on a big label. Like I said, the only known metal bands from Arizona are Sacred Reich and Flotsam & Jetsam, and both of those bands are really big in the history of metal. I hope people will see our CD and say, "They're on Metal Blade and they're not from Europe?" Melodic death metal from the U.S. is a pretty big selling point right there. Plus we recorded it at Salt Mine Studios, where Megadeth and Soulfly have recorded and mixed it at Trident Studios with Juan Urteaga and his assistant Mike Blanchard.
I would imagine that with six people in a band, there are a lot of different tastes and opinions and whatnot - would you say that Vehemence is your vision of the kind of music you'd like to be playing? Or are there other things you would prefer to do in the context of the band that perhaps other members aren't into?
Well, we all bring something different to the band. Bjorn writes more of the softer parts - the melodies. Those are the parts I think help us out the most. I deal with the brutal heavy stuff. So with us writing at the same time, we make something really different. That's what we want to do with each album. We probably won't make another concept album. We mainly did this one because the first song had so many interesting characters, and we thought we could build them out and create even more characters. But we don't wanna do a King Diamond 10-album deal where it's all concepts, and we don't wanna have an Iron Maiden Eddie or anything. That'd be nice if we were the first people doing it, but you know.. And as far as mad squabbles on the road, we always come together and realize that we're just a young band trying to make it big.
How big can a death metal band get? Who are the biggest death metal bands?
Metal Blade carries the highest amount of successful death metal bands. Six feet Under is one of the biggest draws. Then there's Cannibal Corpse and Gwar. Metal Blade created Metallica's name and that's how this band got the finances to get where they are. This label is very expensive. Brian Slagel has enough money to die 50 times and come back with a kingdom of riches. Every time Metallica sells a CD, they make money off it. Another big band is Cradle of Filth, who got signed to Sony, which is a big accomplishment. It's almost a shame to call them Black Metal. To me, "black metal" is more like Immortal, A Canorous Quintet, Dark Funeral and stuff like that.
I couldn't believe it when I saw that Cradle of Filth was on a major label. I was like, "So is this a FAKE black metal band? Or what?"
Well, they were signed because of their image. If you have a gimmick, you're more likely to succeed than if you don't. Our gimmick is Nathan and his lyrics and artwork.
I know you're out of time. Is there anything else you'd like to say?
I would like to say that anybody could get our album through Metal Blade Records. And check out our web site - it's http://vehemence.brutaldeath.net And our email address is firstname.lastname@example.org If anybody would like a free God Was Created Pre Production 3 song demo and personal addressed newsletter, we'll send it for free if you give us your address and full name. A lot of bands have mailing lists and don't ever send anything. Like Cryptopsy and Nile - they're cool people, but somehow they never get around to sending anything out!
I have an album by Cryptopsy, but I don't think I've ever heard Nile.
Nile is one of the biggest bands right now. Arch Enemy is another one.
Are both of those bands on Metal Blade too?
No, they're on Relapse and Century Media.
Oh, I LOVE those labels! They have a ton of good bands. Are you into those labels much?
Yeah, I do like them. Actually, speaking of Nile, I kinda look at ourselves as being like them. It's our first year and we're signed to a big label and getting out there. In five years, who knows where we'll be? As big as Nile, I hope! That's one band that gives a good example of a hard working band that ends up really big.
Thanks so much for speaking to me. I of course wish you the best of luck, and if you ever come to NYC, I'll be there!
Yeah, we might! Maybe in November 2002 or February of 2003, we'll come to Brooklyn with Cannibal Corpse or Immortal.
That would be great. Thanks again. Have a good one!
Back to Mark Prindle's "Caddyshack Shrine, And Interview With The Guitar Player From Vehemence"