Interview with Ritchie Randall, Mike Jilge and James Hiser
The first incarnation of Gravehuffer in 2008 was Krom. What is the history behind it? How did the band get together and where were they musically and lyrically?
Ritchie Randall (guitar): Me, the bass player Mike and the drummer Larry were in a band together in 1997 called Initial Detonation. We were a crust punk band with hints of metal. We had dual male/female vocals and another guitar player. We were together until early 2000. There was a period of inactivity musically for several years. Larry and Mike got back together in 2007 and formed Aether Bunny, with Mike switching to guitar, our current singer James joined them, and they had a different bass player named Caleb. Their style was a bit different from Krom, more straightforward punk and not really much metal sounds. Caleb left in mid-2008, Mike switched back to bass and they gave me a call. They started teaching me a few of the songs they had and immediately the old chemistry was still there! I believe they had about four or five songs so we jammed on those for about a month and then started writing new stuff. We wrote eight or nine new songs in the span of a few months. The newer songs had a good mix of the metal and punk mix that we are now known for. The punk riffs are more of our bass player Mike's sound and the metal influences come mainly from me. Our drummer Larry tends to be a little more punk as well, playing strictly a single kick drum, but also throwing in some blast beats that give it some death metal and grind influence. Our singer James tends to have a good mix of punk and metal inflections in his voice. Lyrically at that time, he tended to write about the ills of organized religion, military involvement, outlandish Nazi history, pop culture, some personal issues, to comedic things like Dungeons and Dragons and fictional accounts like the song Dumpster Baby. We definitely are all over the place but we try to have the music and lyrics fit together so it makes sense. It's all about having fun and playing what we want to hear.
What was your local punk scene like before you started working in bands, and how did you watch it grow over the years?
Mike Jilge (bass): Seems like most bands were bar bands around here. Some amazing musicians but not many punk shows. Around 1987 more punk bands were popping up. And we started renting these local halls for shows. Seems like the scene here just exploded really fast. We were playing every weekend. Now with casinos all around, most bands are doing that whole thing. We love Joplin; it’s a small town with cool culture. There are some great bands, and great people living here.
What crust punk bands were you listening to when Initial Detonation started? What was its appeal in those days?
MJ: Oh man, there’s a ton of bands: Discharge, Amebix, Nausea NYC, Misery, Doom, AntiSchism, the list goes on. Mangel style music has influenced Mike mostly, Mob 47 being his favorite band in the whole world. It was the pissed off attitude towards playing that we liked. That whole "play every note like it’s your last", just playing with that soul power. Getting on stage and letting loose the fucking Kraken. That’s the appeal for us. It’s great therapy to let it all hang out. Pounding your instrument and being tight in the pocket. Everything slows down in the eye of the storm. It’s beyond description. Better than sex or any drug. I promise.
What would you divulge about the cultural history of Joplin and how it reflects on you and the band?
RR: For my part, the culture in this area does influence the music and lyrics. A lot of the times, it's in a negative light unfortunately. Religious upbringing is a huge part of the town so that does play a large part in shaping how we filter and process what goes on around us. I will say that the working class roots and forested landscapes also subliminally influence us. We have that southern sludge vibe creeping into our riffs to counter the fast, angry, and rebellious playing that is a big part of what we do.
Was there a sizable punk scene in Joplin, MO when Initial Detonation was performing and releasing material? Did you know one another from the scene before starting to play together?
MJ: There was a damn good scene here for such a small town. There still is. Mike was in bands around the scene since the 80's. Being a smaller scene everyone knows everyone. Especially back then when the scene was smaller, it was more cohesive, less cliques. Shows had heshers, punkers, jocks, goths, and weirdos. And no one worried about impressing anyone or if they looked stupid dancing. There were a bunch of great bands around that time here in Joplin.
The thrash scene in Long Island was more or less the same around that time. Toward the end of the 80s it was starting to become more elitist as several bands were copying other bands instead of doing something original. How did the scene in Joplin change or not change through the 80s?
MJ: There were "those" bands that just tried to copy popular stuff. But there was also a steady stream of bands doing their own thing, looking for their own sound. They are still around. Just go to The Cesspool here in town (a local venue for ten years, free all ages shows, run by Gene Cesspool). We need to go see more local shows. There will always be the bands that think their shit smells like roses. And the fans who buy into it. But you can watch a band play and see for yourself, if they are up there posing to look good or if they are putting heart and soul in it. Power from the soul on an instrument out does gymnastical-like-guitar-acrobatics every time. See Ramones or Celtic Frost or Sabbath. The list goes on...
How well known has The Cesspool become since it opened ten years ago? Is it mostly local bands who perform there?
MJ: The Cesspool is very big in the underground. Over a thousand bands have played there. It’s on Youtube under Cesspoolcastle and also on Facebook. Gene works with touring bands more than local bands. The shows are free, so he doesn't pay but you get a place to play, sell merch, eat, and sleep. It’s in a big basement, where Gene and Mike built a stage and put a huge sound system in there. During the summer there are a few shows a week. Bands from all over the world have played there, and some "big" bands.
What touring bands of note have appeared at The Cesspool last year? Is the club’s page on Youtube updated regularly?
RR: We haven't played Cesspool this year, so I’m not too sure what's been rolling through there. Bands of note that I can think of are The Mentors, Cemetery Rapist (both of who we opened for), Anal Blast, Satan's God, Stitched Up Heart (weird, but it happened), etc. Gene updates their YouTube page a few days after every show.
Describe the general atmosphere of The Cesspool and the kind of fans who usually attend shows there.
MJ: The Cesspool is a laid back attitude. It’s a good mix of genres there so each show has different fans going. There is a core group of fans that go to most of the shows. Cesspool fans are there for the music and they seem to "get it" more than the bar crowd. Someone should make a documentary about Gene and the Cesspool.
Do you know anyone who would consider producing a documentary about the club?
MJ: I know Gene and have asked him a few times if I could film him and talk to him on camera, but he's not into it at all. Maybe if I catch him in the right mood he will say yes sometime.
What led to the formation of Aether Bunny? Did Krom grow out of this band after Caleb left and they contacted you?
MJ: Mike and Larry continued to play together after ID, in an experimental band called Freakflag (with Gene Cespool). That kept them busy a few years til they started Aether Bunny with an old friend who played bass. Mike switched to guitar for fun, it didn't last long. After Caleb left Mike jumped back to bass and called Ritchie.
Was Freakflag a local band or was there any intention on their part to be serious musicians? Did they release anything?
MJ: Freakflag was an experimental band. They would surround the band with a huge screen and show slides, movie loops, and a video. It was a serious band, but no touring. Several releases since 1996. Even a boxset. The new incarnation of Freakflag has a new name. They make music videos and commercials. They do full movie soundtracks now. Metropolis, Phantom of the Opera, and the Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. They show the silent movie and play from behind the screen. That band is Skunkwerx Audio Unit. You can check them and Freakflag out, on Soundcloud or Youtube.
Which of Freakflag’s older releases are most worth checking out? Do you have links where they and Skunkwerx Audio Unit are being streamed? How does their material differ from most bands in your area?
MJ: The first Freakflag releases were on cassette in the mid to late 90's. You can get most of their releases from Stan at Reality Impaired Recordings here: 1265 E. Sunset Ct. Springfield, MO 65804. Send him a few bucks and he will send you some stuff. He refuses to do the internet, so he is still ultra-underground. Gotta respect that. The release that got the best reviews was Experiments In Evolution. Skunkwerx Audio Unit has the same circle of guys, but different main members now. You can check both of those bands out on Soundcloud or Youtube. There are quite a few noise/weird bands around this area, maybe something is in the water? If you check out Reality Impaired Records you will see most of the bands from this area that are being released. It’s a wide range of weirdness, haha, but there is a deep pool of great musicians here. Some have ventured out and have played all over the world, while most are content staying here. If you are ever near Joplin, go find a show; it doesn't matter who is playing. If they are from this area, you are gonna see some music from the heart, in most cases haha.
What are the reasons Stan of Reality Impaired Recordings prefers not to use the internet? Is he doing well regardless?
RR: We haven't had much contact with Stan in years, other than guesting on the new album and texting back and forth a bit about the CD/cassette release of the new album. He lived in Salt Lake City, Utah for the last four years and only recently moved closer to us in Springfield, Missouri. Stan has never been into technology much on a personal level so that may be part of why he doesn't want to go the internet route. As far as how well his label is doing, it seems to be doing well, as they were able to help us financially a bit more with this record than previous ones.
How much financial help has Stan helped the band with? Also, do you think the internet or snail mail and physical fliers are better for the underground in the U.S. as a whole?
MJ: Stan also does amazing Distro. He has been doing underground distro since the mid 80's. There is still a hardcore underground going that the internet has yet to dig up. We still put up real flyers as relying on social media for band promotion is a bad idea. It helps, but don't use it as the main source. I miss the days of collecting flyers for shows. Remember the days of having old flyers plastered on your walls? I guess we can save them on our cellphones now? Haha.
How many fliers have you collected from the old days/classic era? Are most of them still in good shape?
MJ: I have a box full of old flyers, I used to have them plastering my walls. My son has made off with most of them, records too haha. Most of the flyers are from local shows, just for memories. I would have to go look through them again to see what was left in there.
How long were you collecting filers made to advertise shows? Do you see as many being made today as back then?
MJ: From the mid-eighties to now. I don't see as many flyers around anymore. Some bands post them. Some rely on social media.
How many hardcore bands have managed to thrive without the benefit of the internet in the past few years?
RR: I would imagine they're out there but we're a bit out of the loop on the physical print zine scene. Personally I think it's wise to use both print and internet. We try to do both, especially with promoting shows. We always print flyers and hang them up all over town as well as plaster it all over social media.
At what point did Krom evolve into Gravehuffer? What were the reasons for the change and who thought up Gravehuffer?
MJ: Krom was just a working name really. Larry said it one day at practice, we all laughed and decided on Krom til we could find something better. Our good friend Dozer came up with Gravehuffer. He was gonna use the name for a rockabilly band. But it never happened. So we asked him if we could have it. A good band name is very hard to come up with these days.
Why do you think it’s difficult for bands to think of a name to represent themselves?
MJ: Finding a band name that hasn't been used is one challenge, but trying to get all members on board with a name is another. I bet we wrote down 50 names that we couldn't all agree on. You don't want to be fast and heavy and have a name like Michael Lilac and the Fluffy Boys, haha. Or maybe you do, no harm in that. But try to get four or five band members to agree on it.
How does Gravehuffer incorporate the southern sludge sound into their approach to crust punk and metal?
RR: I think a lot of the slower elements in our music come for our love of Black Sabbath. In our eyes, Sabbath were some of the original punk rockers, more with their attitude and approach to playing than their music style of course. Some of the southern sludge bands, particularly in the New Orleans area, definitely have a punk and even metal edge to their playing and approach as well. We enjoy a fair amount of those bands as well and it rubs off on us for sure. We like to have a variety in tempos, more like the classic bands from the 70's and 80's. Sometimes it's nice to have a slower song to break up the fast ones, especially live. To us, it gets to be boring and repetitive to play the same styles and tempos, so I think we mix it up just to keep things interesting for ourselves first and foremost. Plus it's so much fun to jam on a big fat heavy riff! Haha.
What sludge bands from New Orleans have you been listening to these days? Any you would recommend to the readers?
RR: Most of the bands that we listen to from there are older, like Acid Bath, Eyehategod, Soylent Green, etc. We do enjoy some recent bands from there like our new friends in A Hanging. Their bass player is a DJ on Metal Devastation Radio and has a show on Tuesday nights called Out Of Bounds. He plays a block of New Orleans bands every show and they're all killer!
I am familiar with Metal Devastation Radio as I interviewed people connected with them for this zine. How did you become acquainted with them and how much support have they shown?
RR: I can't remember exactly how I got aquatinted with Metal Devastation Radio, but I'm almost positive it was seeing their site on Facebook through mutual musician friends. I then looked into their station and decided to submit music to them. They have always been extremely supportive of us and have gone as far as buying a huge amount of our merchandise! Their DJs have bought more stuff from us than any other station by far! They do a great job of promoting all the bands as well, either on social media or on their website, particularly in their chat room. We've networked and made some great connections through them!
How well do you know the members of A Hanging? Have you or would you share a bill and perform with them?
RR: I only know Bobby Bergeron the bass player. I got to know him from checking out his show on Metal Devastation Radio. We talk on Facebook and chat during his show on http://www.mdr.rocks. They have actually asked us to come do a show with them in New Orleans. We would most definitely like to jam with them.
Has the band been to New Orleans previously or would your show with A Hanging be the first time? Have you heard anything from Bobby about the scene there?
RR: We've never been there so it would be our first time if we make it to NOLA. Bobby champions the New Orleans scene quite a bit so it sounds like a great scene there. He plays blocks of strictly New Orleans bands on his show and they're all really good. Definitely bands we'd like to play shows with.
What NOLA bands aired on Bobby’s show are you presently interested in? Did you hear of any clubs down there you would most like to check out?
RR: I'm usually chatting on the station's website with other people during his show and sometimes band names escape me. He's not mentioned particular venues on his show but his band does post where they play fairly often.
Have you read the print zine Bobby publishes? Did the band and he ever discuss doing an interview for that zine?
RR: I've read a little bit of the current issue online. He has them in PDF format as well as physical print. We ordered a couple of copies recently and are stoked to check them out. Our new album is reviewed in there and there's an interview with Saint Vitus among many other things. We haven't discussed an interview but hopefully it will happen soon.
How many personal topics in relation to your themes are written into song lyrics? How do these lyrics fit the band?
RR: The personal topics are something we try and keep vague, so that they're more relatable to the listener. In relation to the other songs, they are much fewer than the topical or even the humorous songs. We just write about whatever we're thinking about at the time the music is written. It seems to fit better that way as well. Occasionally one of us will suggest a topic and James will run with it, but for the most part he writes his lyrics on his own time or will even scratch a few lines and ideas as the song is being formed and arranged.
James Hiser (vocals): I try to stay clear of actual events in my life for lyrics. They wouldn’t make sense to anyone else and I like for people to be able to interpret lyrics the way they like. I like to write about stories I’ve read and historical events that interest me. Especially ones not too many people know about. I feel we’ve done a good job covering a wide variety of topics for songs.
Discuss the recording of your earliest demo or demos and how these represented Gravehuffer when they were released.
RR: When we were Krom, we recorded a five song demo to analog 4-track that was never physically released. We did however convert it to digital and put it up on our Myspace page and it got thousands of plays there. It was a great introduction for us to a new online crowd, which we never had prior. Three of the songs were Aether Bunny tunes but we did write two new tracks for inclusion on there that represented a little more of our current sound.
How much of a buzz did this demo generate in zine communities when it was circulating? Do you remember quotes from any reviews you read?
RR: The demo was not reviewed to my knowledge as it was only available to stream on Myspace at the time. Our first official CD release as Krom was the Chaotic Evil album and it was reviewed several times. I remember a couple of quotes like 'this sounds like Usain Bolt running to capture the last steroid supply' and 'the death metal cavalry of Krom are sabring all the gaping peacemakers in their succession'. Haha!!
How many copies of Krom’s debut CD were made for distribution among zines? Were the songs from the demo reworked for inclusion on it or were new songs recorded?
RR: We had 200 copies pressed total and sent out ten or so to zines. Stan sent out about the same amount. We re-recorded the songs from the demo for inclusion on the album, including new songs we had written in the time between the demo and the recording sessions for the new album.
Are the re-recordings of Krom’s demo material improvements over the first recordings? How many new songs were written and recorded?
RR: They were a vast improvement as they were recorded on an 8-track digital recorder. There were seven new songs recorded for the album, as well as a cover of Celtic Frost's Into The Crypts Of Rays.
What led to your covering Into The Crypts Of Rays by Celtic Frost? How many other covers did you consider for inclusion?
RR: We initially covered Into The Crypts Of Rays in the Initial Detonation days. We thought it would be fun to do again to help fill out the set list that we played at shows. At the time we only had twenty minutes or so of original material so we did the Celtic Frost cover as well as Black Sabbath's 'Hand Of Doom' and Venom's 'In League With Satan'. We only recorded the Celtic Frost song as it felt like it fit better with our original tunes on the rest of the album.
You also recorded a Ramones cover for Krom’s CD. What song was covered and why was this song chosen?
RR: We ended up choosing Commando. If I remember right, I was messing around with the riff at band practice one day, everyone else joined in and we just ended up learning it that day. We thought it sounded good plus it's a really fun song to play. Our singer is a huge Ramones fan so it was great for him!
What was the first material you recorded and released as Gravehuffer? Was the same amount of copies made as the previous release?
RR: The first tracks Gravehuffer recorded were initially six songs that were going to be released as an EP. We were going to call it 'Krom's Last Stand' and we had artwork for it. Stan convinced us that since we changed our name we should reintroduce the Krom material on the Gravehuffer album. We had a title for the album that Mike came up with called 'Blasphemusic', and we decided to have a different artist design the cover, as the previous art didn't fit this particular title. We used Karl Dahmer of Dahmer Art and he came up with a great album cover. We had 200 of these pressed initially but they sold out and we had another 100 pressed this summer.
How did you come up with the album title Blasphemusic for your debut? How well does the title fit the tracks you recorded?
RR: Mike came up with that title. We thought it fit the image we were looking for and the songs. There are quite a few songs that would be considered blasphemous in this part of the country, due to the outspoken views on organized religion and some of the explicit subject matter in the lyrics. Even our light-hearted song about Dungeons and Dragons would be considered taboo around the area in which we live.
Which songs on Blasphemusic were most considered offensive and for want reasons?
RR: Probably Dumpster Baby because it's about finding an abandoned infant in the trash. People are pretty messed up and truth is stranger than fiction a lot of times. Gutsick has lots of cursing and is about hating a person so much that it makes you sick to your stomach. Reacharound Rambo is another song we have received a little flak for as well, obviously because of the title and the lyrics deal with North America's desire to police the globe.
How did you get in contact with Karl Dahmer for cover art? Where can people view his work if they’re interested?
RR: We met Karl through mutual friends in a band called The Coventry Sacrifice. He was always coming to shows we played with them. He started his artwork business not long after that and we took notice of his pieces. He's prolific and active on social media so it's easy to get a feel for his style. We thought it would fit perfectly for us. He's also done a couple of our shirt designs as well as a hoodie design. You can find him on Facebook and Instagram by searching for Dahmer Art.
Blasphemusic was released in 2012. Is the band still promoting it as actively as when it came out four years ago?
RR: We don't promote it as much as when it was released, but we are using it to help sell other merchandise. We have hoodies and shirts that we sell and we throw in a copy of Blasphemusic for free with each purchase.
Did Karl Dahmer design your shirt and hoodie art as well as your album art?
RR: Karl did design the Blasphemusic cover and all of our merchandise designs. The current merch designs were drawn by Karl. In total, he's designed 2 shirts, a hoodie, an album cover, stickers, and an album insert for us.
Are you currently working on material for another full length recording? How soon would you expect it to come out? Will you be hiring Karl Dahmer for the next album’s cover art?
RR: We are actually done with recording, mixing and mastering of our new album. It is called 'Your Fault' and will be released on vinyl in March of 2017 on vinyl/download via Swamp Metal Records, and CD/cassette/download via Reality Impaired Recordings. The album cover was a painting this time, done by our great old friend Eric Sweet. He also did the back cover as well, which happens to be a comic book parody of the Black Flag album cover for 'Family Man'. Really funny! Karl Dahmer did do the art for the inlay and lyric sheet as well as the CD disc art and side B of the vinyl label art.
What songs are to appear on Your Fault and what inspired them? How do you plan to promote the release when it’s out?
RR: There are eleven total songs and I'll walk you through them in sequence. First song is Gravehuffer and we thought it would be fun to have a song named after the band, kind of like Black Sabbath or Iron Maiden. Next is Of Fish And Men and is an Aquaman parody song. Haha! We were basically dared to write a song about Aquaman. Then Kill For Sport follows and is loosely based on the killings of Henry Lee Lucas. Dead Peace follows and is a song by our bass player's old band Squirm. The drummer in that band wrote the lyrics. His name was Shane Chapman and he unfortunately passed away last year, so we recorded it as a tribute to him. Shut Up And Skate is a fun tune that our bass player came up with. He's a huge skateboard fanatic. Powers That Be was a song our singer wrote the lyrics for while he was on house arrest. Destroyer Of Worlds, which starts side B on the vinyl and cassette editions, is our most metal sounding song and it's about Oppenheimer and his involvement in the creation of the atomic bomb. Dead Peace is based on the Washington DC beltway sniper attacks. Worms Of God, as well as the last song Chains Around You, are again about the ills of organized religion. Prince With A Thousand Enemies is another song our bass player recommended lyrics for and it's inspired by the book/movie Watership Down. As far as promotion, our label, Swamp Metal Records will be heavily promoting the vinyl and download and we will self-promote the CD/cassette/download release on all of our social media as well as buy some well-placed adds in zines and online. We've sent the album out for review to lots of zines and blogs and are in the middle of doing lots of press for it. We're also planning on setting up a special album release show here in our hometown that will have us playing two sets: the first will be the album in its entirety, followed by a short set of tunes from our first album and a cover or two.