Thursday, June 27, 2019

Interview with The Raz of GRAVEYARD by Dave Wolff

Interview with The Raz of GRAVEYARD

When Graveyard formed in Long Island in 1991 grindcore was gaining in popularity and the local death metal scene was getting started. What do you remember from that point in time; the bands you knew, the clubs you attended etc?
Around 1991 grindcore was really starting to kick in with all the stuff that was released on Earache, Necrosis, and Vinyl Solution.
Here in the US there was not much label support for this kind of new sound. Back then Wild Rags Records had Impetigo, Nuclear Death and other extreme bands, but it was all still pretty very much underground.
I remember playing these bands on my radio show, and while part of the audience was into it, the others were like “WTF???”
We played a wide range of metal that you really couldn't place into a specific genre. Demos from local bands like Suffocation, Immolation, Ripping Headaches, Mortician, Prime Evil, Teste Fungus, Apparition, The Unsane, Winter. I mean they really covered a wide style of metal that eventually branched out into the many different styles we have today. We also played the heaviest stuff from all over America and around the world. It was all just really heavy, extreme metal; but universal, which made it all so interesting.
The main metal stages in New York back then of course were Sundance in Long Island. In Brooklyn and NYC you had L'Amour, The Ritz, and others. If I can recall correctly, these demo bands would only be allowed to play small bars and high schools at the start. That was before they got signed to a label. Once in a while they'd all manage to gather together and arrange a festival as say what was done with the Day Of Death fest at the Country Club Skyroom in Buffalo, New York in 1990.
That was also the time when I got to know Custodian Killer and we started GRAVEYARD. Later that year I left radio. I think if I had continued doing the show it would have gotten very interesting to see local bands like Suffocation and Immolation gain in popularity. I left the show off to Kevin "PARM" Page who actually gets credit for pushing and supporting the bands and grindcore acts of the 90’s on the radio.

With Eric Cutler of Autopsy
In Long Island and New York City there was also February’s, Right Track Inn, CBGB, Zone DK and Irving Plaza. Do you have memories of seeing bands at those venues?
Now that you mention, I forgot a lot of these places. We’re going back 30+ years here. CBGB’s was definitely the biggest venue to play if you were underground. I recall seeing Possessed / Dark Angel at Rum Runners in Oyster Bay, that was the day after Possessed had a record signing for their new release ‘Beyond the Gates’ at Sam Ash. I think that was in 1987, but in checking the internet I could not find a listing of such a show. That’s kind of scary. Also caught Coroner on their No More Color Tour in 1990; I think they played with Forced Entry at this place I called the ‘whipping parlor’ because there were some S&M acts on stage before and after the show. I can’t find that concert listed either. I vaguely recall Irving Plaza, but certainly saw some bands do shows there. You have to remember the consumption of inane amounts of alcohol and other illicit substances was the metal way back then (at least for me), so everything is kind of like in a haze. 

I knew and corresponded with several bands in their beginnings and played in a few local bands… Did you have a feeling the bands you were in touch with were onto something new?
You have to believe it’s all a natural evolutionary process. Out there is a sound, or a scene you want to be a part of. Ideas are conceived, kids get together and try to make it - in the case of metal; louder, faster and sicker. They can imitate the bands they love to get in good practice, but eventually everyone wants to be unique and stand out. That’s where the new ideas and styles come from. Record, get it out. From there it all comes down to commitment, talent, funding, contacts, and a bit of luck. The bands you mentioned had this enthusiasm to make it, just as you can still find this exact energy and occurrence happening in different areas of the world today.
Obviously they were all onto something. It eventually became part of the metal we have today. There are so many sub-genres now, you really have to follow the lineage. Unfortunately not everyone gets to win in this game. That’s just a law of life. Judas Priest says it in the line from “Screaming for Vengeance”: “Everyone who wins in the great escape, leaves a thousand more who suffer in their wake.”

Some people think there are too many subgenres in underground music these days.
Sub-genres for me are just labels, some bands create them to be unique. As an example, we call GRAVEYARD ‘Mindless Political Death Noise’. Now if that’s a recognized sub-genre or not, I don’t really give a fuck, but since we hold a very dark view of the contemporary world and society, that’s why it’s ‘political’. Most of our music is created spontaneously hence ‘mindless’. Our sound is a mix of everything, extreme, and metal that feels like the end, so that’s where ‘death noise’ comes from.
Since everyone wants to either ‘stand apart’ or ‘fit’ into some category, naturally, over time, you are going to develop new forms of musical sub-genres. As long as you respect your roots, know where your sound comes from, and stay true to the scene; then why not? It’s just difficult to keep up with all these different names.
When people who have no idea about what metal is, actually start labeling and promoting their music as heavy metal, or some sub-genre of heavy metal, I think that’s where we have a problem. A lot of record companies and smart PR people are responsible for these types of viruses in metal today; and are the reason why we remain committed exclusively to the underground.

With Samoth of Emperor
How many bands did you have the opportunity to interview for your radio program? Was leaving radio to become a musician an easy transition for you?
I’d have to go back to count, but it was a lot. On our final show on-air, I recall running the entire tape of station ID’s made with the bands interviewed over the four years I was there. I believe the tape ran for something like eight minutes; so that must be like more than thirty bands.
I don’t really consider myself a musician, although I’ve always loved creating noise and music since childhood. Being at the radio station really helped me listen to and meet many bands, and also learn a lot about how the industry works. I guess more-so than say I would if I was only going to start a band after listening to a bunch of records. I left the radio because it was starting to get really difficult for me to go every weekend from Nassau to Suffolk County to do a show. Considering I didn’t want to just lose touch with the scene and all the time I had invested in it; I believed starting a band would be a great way for me to keep involved with both the music and scene.

Offhand do you remember any memorable interviews you aired with a band? Are your interviews preserved on tape? Would you consider releasing a CD of those programs?
Wow, people like the late Keith Deen, Snake, Lipps, Schmier, Milli, Tom Arnold, Messiah Marcolin, Tony Portaro, Jeff Becerra…. the list goes on. Most of them were pretty insightful and open to discussion. I usually avoided the mundane questions while interviewing, and got to the heart of what drove the bands to make music. Try to find out what the real reasons were for their liking of the metal genre. Some of the most memorable happened live on-air, right at the radio station.
I had Sepultura visit the studio when they first came to the US. A friend in military had access to low cost Jack Daniel’s, and brought a bunch of bottles down to the show. That JD really brought out the best in heavy Portuguese bad English accents. It’s hard to imagine any of the audience quite understanding what exactly was going on at the radio station that evening. Pure chaos!
One other really fun time was when Ludichrist came down to the station. Glenn Cummings brought a balalaika or some weird stringed instrument to the show, just around the time when Metallica released ‘And Justice for All’. These guys did renditions of some of the songs on that album, I laughed so hard I almost pissed my pants. They were spot on about its lameness. Many people might disagree, but for me, the soul of that band left when they lost Cliff Burton. I honestly tried to find some redeeming value to their material after Master of Puppets, but like with an interview with Celtic Frost when they released Cold Lake, it just wasn’t on the same frequency that we supported.
A lot of these shows were recorded on cassette tapes by Custodian Killer. He has like a case of them. Maybe I’ll make like a POWERSURGE tribute CD. Filled with station ID's made by musicians, and zany skits we did during the show as well. It might be a pretty fun thing to bring back.

With Fenris of Darkthrone
Did you get to attend the 1990 Day Of Death fest when it was held? Who were the bands that appeared at that festival and how much publicity did it get? Was Day Of Death a yearly fest for some time or a one-shot deal?
Suffocation came to the radio station one Saturday night, grinning ear to ear, so psyched to tell me about this show that was supposed to be happening. They started rattling off the band names like: Deceased, Incantation, Mortician, Baphomet, Radiation Sickness, Lucifer's Hammer, Goreaphobia, Cannibal Corpse, Immolation, Disharmonic Orchestra, Repulsion, Autopsy. Suffocation also were to be a part of that lineup. It really all sounded too good to be true. Think about it. All those bands together with Autopsy headlining?!!!
So what does a diehard DJ do upon hearing this? Naturally, we announce about it on air and do a ticket give away to the Day of Death with hotel and transport included. Only a few selected die hard listeners of THE POWERSURGE (my show) could come with me on the 430 mile drive from Long Island to Buffalo to see the DAY OF DEATH. In order to understand their diehard dedication and commitment to the scene, I mailed out a questionnaire to the people that called in. Contestants returned the questionnaire back to me, and the ones with the best responses won. I still have the original questionnaire from one of the winners. I’d be really amazed if that guy is still living.
This was a special one-time event I believe. The Skyroom hosted many concerts in those days, but nothing like this. The publicity was mainly done by word of mouth. Word spread virulently and over 600 metal kids attended. Shows went on all day up to like 5am. People were completely exhausted from moshing, stage diving, and partying all day. Custodian Killer and I had the pleasure of hanging back stage with Autopsy. Funny thing, I saw Eric Cutler at Lord of Lands festival in Glasgow in 2017. We recalled the show and just laughed on and on about it. It was so cool to cross paths like that some 30 year later. I believe on the way home from The Day of Death Custodian Killer and I decided to really work on putting something out there as GRAVEYARD. I know that DOD served as a big inspiration to many of the bands there to continue, and for kids who wanted to start their own band and be a part of the scene.

At how many metal festivals has Graveyard appeared since they started? How memorable have your fest experiences been?
Graveyard does not play live, but we did play one gig in Ivanhoe back in 1994. No official Graveyard material was played; we just jammed heavy, radical sick shit for twenty minutes. Besides, no one there knew who we were, and everyone was tripping on acid anyway. We’re considering releasing the recording of that show, since now it looks to be a key part in the way make our music and how it sounds today.
When I was living in Europe I had the opportunity to hit several really nice festivals, the last being DYNAMO in 1998. Aside from the shows, I think it’s just so cool to hang out with people from other countries and share common feelings about metal and the history of the scene. It’s a beautiful thing to see how connected we all really are.

What do you remember from the 1998 Dynamo festival? How many fests have you gotten to see overseas, and who have you had the opportunity to meet?
I’ve seen a few, but when I think 1998 Dynamo, I get a really good feeling. I remember I met Chuck form Death backstage there. Funny thing is that my first ever radio interview was with Chuck backstage at Sundance in 1988. So, I just walked up to him and said, “Hail Chuck! The year 1988 Scream Bloody Gore tour, your first show in NY, backstage Sundance, we did an interview.”
He turned, gave me a perplexed look, then, slowly the event dawned on him. “Sundance…???! Shit, I remember that place. What the fuck are you doing here man?” We hung for a while and talked about his decade long journey. Great soul, may he rest in Peace.
That morning, I went to town in Eindhoven with some friends for breakfast. After, I picked up some ‘shrooms, threw ‘em down, jumped in the car and headed back to the event. They started to kick in just when I got back to Black Stage, and right when EMPEROR comes on. EMPEROR! That was truly an ethereal experience, words can never describe.
And again, it was May, spring, so the vibes were good. I ran into Anneke from The Gathering, Udo from Accept, was with a friend when he interviewed Billy Milano. I can’t really remember all the others. I just remember I wandered around, sat down, and chatted with metal kids from all over the world. This nonstop bombardment of meeting all these amazing people, with the same love for metal music, really made it a tremendous experience.
That was like the pinnacle for me, and felt that since I could never top it, haven’t been to an outdoor festival since. I take a similar view with stage diving. My final stage diving experience done at a Pungent Stench show that got so out of hand the police came in and stopped it. There is just no way this happens again in this lifetime.

Why did Graveyard make the decision not to perform live, and only release material instead? Does this give the band more time to write and compose?
There are a lot of complex things going on in our last release OPUS V, and even now in our upcoming release THE 6TH EXTINCTION. I think it would take a lot of technological prowess to pull it all off. But with Custodian Killer being in New York and I in Florida, we’re just going to keep making extreme underground music as we can. Playing live, maybe in the future, but we’re sticking to writing and creating mindless music for now. It is only going to get better, and we’re happy to be able to do it.

Where would you want to perform if you decided to start? Would smaller or larger venues be more beneficial to the band?
Naturally, I think smaller venues would be in our best interest to start with. Once we work out the kinks, move on to larger venues or festivals. If we ever did do a show, I would love to open as a supporting act for Hanzel unt Gretl. Der Ort muss zerstört werden! They understand.

Would playing out be a good idea for the band, to physically connect with fans of extreme music? Do you think there should be more of that with so many people on social media?
It can’t hurt to provide a live performance for the people who appreciate your music. Generally, fans of extreme music are scarce, as well as secluded. Fans of GRAVEYARD are even more scarce and secluded. Due to our marginalized cult fanbase of serial killers, sociopaths, and vagrants, a GRAVEYARD performance probably wouldn’t be the safest of events to attend. Who knows if anyone would even come out, let alone be able to afford a show. One fan I know invited us to be on the dark web. We’ll pass on that for now, but who knows for the future.
But realize that all this virtual shit is not real. It has to be physical. You own and hold an album. You take time and spend effort to go to a concert. You get blown away by the performance. Social media does not offer, and never will offer physical or real contact with a band. Youth growing up now in this environment may never realize this, and even scarier, may never be able to comprehend that such a thing is possible.
Concerning your second point, social media definitely provides fans with an easier platform to reach artists, however, we’re not going to waste our time for the sole purpose of reaching people for likes and clicks, as basically that shit is determined by some for-profit corporation anyway. The truest way to reach and communicate with the band you love is to write them at their PO box. It’s how it all started, and how it will be in the end once it all comes crashing down. 

You mentioned once, while we were discussing social media activity, one of your band’s pages doesn’t generate as much feedback as you would like to see. How much more of it would you like to see?
When we have the time we’ll post what we are going to post. If people like the music and are interested, they’ll eventually find us. We’re not about gaining an internet audience and tweeting every time we begin a fucking seance; that’s all ego shit. Like I was eluding to earlier, fuck for-profit social media. I mean the ‘game’ is quite obvious when you get an ad on your page that says “Reach 30,000 more people for just $5.” Die-hard fans can find all the best bands out there though underground sources like this webzine and others. The ones who are dedicated will remain, and the ones who stay true, NEVER sell out!

So you still feel that grassroots promotion is best for a band to make a name for themselves, as much as playing live would be?
Playing live and ‘wowing’ your audience is the best way to promote your music. If you are not going to tour (like GRAVEYARD), then of course you have to find ways to get the material out in the market. We do that ourselves. I wouldn’t recommend the way we do it unless you want to die unknown, ireful, and penniless. But honestly, I am quite content with what we're doing, and how we're doing it.

Many bands broke into the mainstream and built cult followings that lasted thirty-plus years by building from the grassroots. Also the internet helps obscure and unsigned bands promote their work, through net radio as well as streaming sites. Is this the route you are taking with Graveyard? How far do you intend to get through self-promotion?
GRAVEYARD is not about promotion, since none of it matters anyway. We are unattached to idealistic desires of success and fame. We produce our music with a message. The messages we bear are disturbing for many people. They are especially disturbing to people who embrace this system (whether knowingly or unknowingly). Since we are against THAT system and all who run it, we acknowledge the reality that our music may never be accepted by people in our lifetime. If by chance someone plays our record many years in the future (the reason we press vinyl); they will see things differently. We are purely vehicles for creation to create. We create a reflection of what is occurring in our world now. Whatever happens thenceforth is beyond our control.

What inspired the lyrics of your full length Opus V? Did you research the subject matter presented on it? In what ways is the music intended to represent the concept?
I just happened to be with Custodian Killer in Frozen Corpse Studios at the end of December of 2015. I can’t remember why I was there, but that evening while we were talking about old times, the news that Lemmy had just left the realm of the living hit hard. Something came over us, and it was just like: ‘let’s just pick-up the instruments again, and go off’; exactly the way we used do it, back in the early days of GRAVEYARD. Custodian Killer was also fresh out of recovery from carpal tunnel surgery at the time as well.
So that single session of immense forlorn basically laid the musical foundation for OPUS V. We also felt at the time, that the Donald Trump thing was going to get serious. This country was, and still is being run by special interest and doublespeak bullshit political advocacy groups like Citizens United. To think this will ever, ever change without all out-and-out bloodshed is pure nescience.
So yea, all this happening at once, brought out the real inspiration behind the lyrics of the album. Of course I did extensive research to back up the claims that are made. We’re not going to sing about religion, gore, or other BS horror fantasy. What we write about is all real for us, it’s also real for the innocent people dying all over the world because of it.
But these concepts are not new to GRAVEYARD. If you go back, even to our first demo, you will see we have very similar themes. Political figures of the time, puppets, and how DEMOCRACY is just a nice tag word to justify the exploitation and extortion of other countries and cultures. If your perception is keen, just look back and you’ll be able to see that essentially NOTHING has changed in the past thirty years.
Musically speaking, it has to be really raw and angry; almost rabid. We make “mindless political death noise”, so it’s this hatred of those who purport “freedom and liberty” that is the moving force behind our music. None of it is planned, none of it is composed, we just surrender to a force greater than us, and let the music be created.

What were your research points while writing the lyrics? Any printed material you referred to? Besides Orwell’s 1984, what works of fiction are still relevant today? A few that come to mind are Burgess’ A Clockwork Orange, Huxley’s Brave New World and Orwell’s Animal Farm.
These are all great literary works that we run similar themes with lines with. I don’t use their plots or concepts. Most of my stuff is material related to economics, and based on different perspectives of other countries and cultures.

How much of your new full length The 6th Extinction has been competed at this point? How soon do you expect to release it?
Our upcoming release will be called “The 6th Extinction”; again, we’re taking about a serious injustice which is happening in the world today, and a perfect topic for GRAVEYARD. The catch here: we’re writing about total extinction and annihilation of the planet. It’s over! And by over, we’re not just saying fauna or humanity dies. EVERYTHING within and on, including the living planet itself dies. So while these assholes rake in their billions on whatever their stint is, and pay out billions to cover up the lies they’ve been feeding the world for the last century, they will come to know that their existence will soon be finished. Nothing, nothing, nothing is going to save them, or can stop “The 6th Extinction”. Theirs is going to be a harrowing last moment before ultimate extinction. The album is really written at these fuckers who, at the expense of improving the lives of all humanity, persist on corruption and pollution of the planet for personal gain.
The music is complete and are we’re working on the small details. You realize, a topic such as this demands some really appalling music; so we’re not going to stop working, until we get it right. It’s material that no record company would ever dare put their hands on. Hence the beauty of us not having to make music to please some bottom line executive shit head whose tastes are guided by profit and not art. In the end, it will not matter anyway.
The 6th Extinction will be released by the fall or year’s end; whenever it forms into exactly the message we want to serve our audience.

What plans are the band devising to promote The 6th Extinction before and after its release date? Wil you be using the postal service along with some internet resources?
You know, promote is a funny word here. I had some foreigner tell me many moons ago that America was the greatest place in the world to make money. He said if he pissed in a bottle, and hit the American market with a fancy name and solid promotional strategy; lied to everybody how healthy and refreshing it was, he could make millions. Perhaps a little extreme, but can you see how the vast majority of people believe and buy everything they see on TV?
We’ll get the album into the hands of people who value what we do and the message we bring. If you like sick, twisted, and unique music, then GRAVEYARD is your cup of tea. We write about DEATH - the ultimate REALITY. Conceivably we could get a funeral director to promote our music (laughs).
As for promotion, we’ll put out the word to our loyal fans and get in touch with magazines true to the underground. Send cash or money orders to the GRAVEYARD PO BOX to purchase our material. No checks, we HATE BANKS!

Is the band going to go old school and spread physical fliers through the postal service and at shows? Are fliers still viable for bands?
You have to love the old black and white 3x4 flyers from bands of the past with the SASE tag line. Again, we are not into promotion but, we’d make fliers. As time goes on and people pass them on as they should, you find them winding up in the strangest places. I don’t see a better way to get information on your band out to listeners who purchase physical material.

Do you want to be reviewed exclusively in print zines or are you also considering webzine reviews? How well do you expect the new album to do distributing it independently?
We’ve done several webzine interviews so you have to look at the situation honestly. The internet is the fastest, easiest, and most cost effective way to attain information. For us to say we only do interviews with print zines would be pretty radical. Like, we only advertise our concerts by posting flyers on telephone poles in the neighborhood.
It’s the musical aspect where we would like to remain physical. Albums, cassettes, maybe CD’s. Of course, it will eventually wind up on the internet one way or another, but GRAVEYARD will never be sold as download on some 3rd party music site. We’d rather our material perish into the earth as opposed to having it vanish in thin air, or be turned off with a switch. We distribute our physical material to those who want it, and who want to know reality. HAIL!

-Dave Wolff

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