Sunday, December 30, 2012

Integrity Interview

Interview with Dwid Hellion (Vocals), Rob Orr (Guitarist), and Jon Gates (Second Guitarist)

Questions by Jim Walkley

(Interview conducted in a basement dressing room at the Neumo's venue in Seattle, the site of the last-ever Undertow show on June 30th, 2012, which featured Integrity as a supporting band).

Jim: What's cool about that S.O.B. album is that it's a classic example of a Japanese band that doesn't really speak English that well!  One of their songs is called "Let's Go Beach".  We could have called the zine that … but we decided to go with another song title: "Don't Be Swindle".  (Laughter)

Dwid: That's what I like about a lot of the Japanese stuff.  G.I.S.M. have a lot of that going on, too — that "mixed-up talk" … I like that!  Zouo does, too, with all of their recordings.  Do you like those groups as well, or do you mainly like the more thrashy stuff?

Jim: I do!  And I liked your cover of "No Power" by Zouo.

Dwid: That was a pain in the ass, to get the lyrics for that.  (Laughter)

Rob: It's true!

Jim: (Laughter)  Musically, I suppose it wasn't much of a problem …

Rob: I played all of the instruments on that, so I did it the same way that they did it — just one microphone on the drum set; all of that good stuff …

Dwid: I didn't have the right echo for "No Power", I think … I I used my C.B. radio microphone for that.

Rob: I saw that Shure now makes a trucker mic.

Dwid: They do!?  See, they're trying to steal ideas from me … (Laughter)

Rob: I saw it at a Mexican restaurant that I was at, that Shure makes that …

Dwid: I wonder what that costs?  Probably cheaper than my C.B. radio!  But, they probably have a better mic on it, though.

Rob: Probably.  It's like a 57, probably.

Dwid: You see, I bought this C.B. radio — you know, exactly as the truck drivers use … and I modified the tip on it, so it wasn't a C.B. tip — not an XLR; still a trucker format … well, actually, I think I did re-solder on an XLR …

Jim: Do you remember that movie Convoy?  And all the C.B.-related talk in that?

Dwid: Yeah!  "Come on mighty convoy" … but this one is special C.B., because now the C.B. truckers are trying to get experimental with those rigs.  And I have a dial on it for echo.  It sounds just like Zouo does!

Jim: And that's how you recorded the vocals for "No Power"?

Dwid and Rob: Yeah!

Dwid: … Zouo uses a "special" kind of echo — I suppose you could say, "wrong" echo … I don't know how to explain it.  The only way I could find to duplicate it was with that C.B. echo.  That worked, because it is that echo — it sounded similar … I was using an old-style one.  I had an old rack, at one point, that had that feature on it — but that was a long time ago, so I had to try and duplicate it; make it work …

Jim: Do you know if there's much of a C.B. radio network still out there?  (Laughter) 

Dwid: Well, I bought it on eBay, and I guess truckers still use it … maybe that's why they do it, to spice it up — so they throw echo on there.  Like the "Monster Truckers" … but I don't have that particular one …

Jon (Second Guitarist): After 9/11, the FCC really cut down on the bandwidth, so there's now a lot of noise on all of the channels.  It's really hard to get through.  Truckers now don't use C.B. radio primarily, either.

Dwid: What do they use now?

Jon: Cellphones …

Dwid: Yeah, I guess C.B. radio was more for telling you that the cops were coming.

Jon: That's Channel 9.  Channel 9 was the emergency channel.  I used to get on there with a handheld —

Dwid: Channel 19 was the emergency channel …

Jon: That's right — Channel 19; I'm sorry.  I used to get on there, just singing, drum rolls …

Everyone: (Laughter)

Dwid: See, that's the one they use with mine — all of that echo …

Jon: Right.  If you get the right kind of signal, it sounds like there's echo on it.

Dwid: When I was a kid, and they had college radio on, they allowed anyone to call the station during a certain program, and then they'd run your call through all of these effects … and then they'd put two or three callers with those effects on there, to make it noisy and weird — it was cool!  Take acid and call that up!  (Laughter)  If you recorded it and listened to it the next day, it'd be sweet!  I wish I still had that tape.  Maybe my son still has it.

Jon: I had a handheld C.B., and in my car — for awhile — I had a rotary dial that had thirty channels.  Instead of digital, you would just turn the dial.  I had a pretty powerful antenna, too.  It was loud.

Dwid: You had it at your house?

Jon: I had it in my car; it was like a radio unit that I had in my car.

Jim: I always wanted to learn some of the lingo that they had.  It's like in that movie, Convoy — the "bear in the air"; that was when there was a police helicopter in the air.  There were a bunch of them, though.  There were a whole ton of them.

Jon: I had this record called something like C.B. Radio Talk, and it had all these old country songs that were about C.B. radio.  On the insert, it had the different codes; for instance, 73, 86 — what all of those different codes mean.  When you'd see "bear", it meant "cop" —

Dwid: — a "bear in the air" is a helicopter?

Jim: Yeah.

Jon: Yeah, this record had all the different numbers and corresponding lingo …

Jim: "Steak on the grill" was when you'd hit a cow with your semi …

Dwid: I've never heard of that one!

(A conversation takes place regarding merch).

Jim: So, you guys played here — different line-up, obviously — in 1993?  I believe it was at Ground Zero.

Dwid: I think we played at this guy Big Jon's house.  Ground Zero … (attempts to recall) … perhaps we stayed at Big John's house after we played there.  And the Snappers played there.  [A reference to the band Snapcase].

Jim: I talked to one of the guitarists in Heiress, Wes Reed, and he told me that he'd seen Integrity at Ground Zero in about 1993 with Botch — in their demo period … last night I went to The Black Lodge and saw the Undertow secret performance there, which was where Wes told me that he'd seen Integrity play in Bellevue back in '93.  Do you remember that at all?

Dwid: No!

Jim: He also told me that Integrity had never played Seattle proper before, ever, in the history of the band.

Dwid: We did … it was something to do with a guy named Big John — he was the promoter — and we either played at his house, or stayed at his house; in his backyard, he had a stage …

Jim: Do you remember when that was?

Dwid: Snapcase also played …

Jim: Weird that they were out here, because weren't they from Syracuse?  [Correction: Snapcase were actually from Buffalo].

Dwid: The tours just happened to cross up.  Snapcase happened to be around here at the same time.  Same record company, too — but we don't talk about them!  And Snapcase were more of an "emo" band … you know, maybe that all-girl band played with us as well … [A reference to the all-female hardcore band The Doughnuts].

Jim: The Doughnuts played that show as well?

Dwid: I think so … They were touring with Snapcase …

Jim: It's funny … I did a zine in the '90's, and one of the bands that I interviewed was Fall Silent, who were from Reno, and their vocalist, Levi Watson, disparaged Victory Records in the interview.  I never sent it to him, but somehow, Tony Brummel got ahold of that, and wrote Levi a personal letter through the mail, asking him why he had all those negative things to say … And I thought, "Who the hell is this guy, to write some letter like this!?"  [Tony Brummel is the founder and owner of Victory Records, who at one point released Integrity recordings].

Dwid: He's a crazy guy.  He thinks it's okay to not pay bands.

Jim: I was really surprised by that letter.

Dwid: He's a goddamn pirate — that motherfucker.  You know …. when iTunes asked Victory to be on there, and he accused them of stealing — that is the pot callin' the fuckin' kettle black, right there!  (Laughter)

Jim: All of your records from that era are available for free download on Holy Terror.

Dwid: Yeah, because he was effectively stealing those records from us, and putting them up on iTunes —

Jim: Did he try to stop you from putting those up for download on Holy Terror?

Dwid: He can't, because he doesn't own the rights to those songs.  But, you know, it was like he was tryin' to pull an O.J. on us — he had the lawyers, so he could fight against us … and still refuse to pay us!

Jim: Let's talk about the new Integrity song.  I've heard a digital version of your new track from the Gehenna split, and I really, really liked it.  I don't yet own a physical copy —

Dwid: — We have the limited ones upstairs …

Jim: Cool!  I'll have to pick one up!  I heard that the 7-inch sold out at Holy Terror in about, what, two days?

Dwid: That was the pre-order …

Jim: On red?

Dwid: It was on pink.  Somehow, the labels were messed up on the regular ones.  At that same time, we went on a European tour — which we recently completed, just this past Sunday …

Jim: How did that go?

Dwid: It went great!  We had a great time.  What was it, three weeks?  Yeah, I believe it was three weeks over there …

Jim: Playing shows pretty constantly throughout that time?

Dwid: Every day!

Jim: Every day!?  Awesome!

Dwid: It was a lot of fun.

Jim: That was one question that I had for you, Rob.  There's so much talk with Integrity that revolves around "the classic line-up" — I seem to find it whenever I read something about the band, whether it's the Melnick brothers, or Frank Novinec … and I guess the typical response to a question like that is: Well, we don't really pay attention to what people say about that.  At the same time, is it ever frustrating — or annoying — that people focus so intently on that "classic" era of the band, when the band is in fact still going, and when your contributions to it, judging from that Gehenna split —

Dwid: — Well, we're all still friends with those guys.  In fact, Rob gave Aaron a guitar a little while back, because Aaron broke his guitar —

Jim: So, then, it doesn't frustrate you?

Rob: No, it doesn't frustrate me.  Like, here's the thing about it —

Dwid: — In fact, we partied with Frank about a month ago …

Rob: Yeah … down in Florida …

Dwid: — Yeah, we were down in Florida, playing there …

Rob: — I've been listening to Integrity since I was, like, thirteen years old!  And those former members don't care about that issue.  Which is more important than someone outside of the band, commenting on it.  It's like, if someone doesn't want to listen to something that I'm doing because of a pre-conceived notion of … "whatever" … you know?  That's not going to upset me.  We do it because we want to, not because someone …

Dwid: That's not to take anything away from the Melnicks.  Great guitarist, great bassist — and great songwriters … at a very important time for the band.  It was awesome to have them in the band.

Jim: But didn't they create that template, that the band has somewhat followed ever since?  You know — I don't know how to describe it, but that combination of mournful lead melodies with almost Japanese-sounding chord progressions.  The "Integrity sound".  Is it fair to say that they had a role in creating that?

Dwid: — Well, yeah… some of it, definitely.  But, it's hard to say.  For instance, the song "Judgment Day" was written by our friend Scott Stearns, from the band that Aaron and I had before Integrity, called Die Hard — that was the first Integrity song that we ever wrote … but Scott wrote that.  We then played as Integrity later.  And the song "Jagged Visions Of My True Destiny," our friend Bill McKinney wrote that.

Rob: He was in the band for three shows?

Dwid: Yeah … that was when we played with Pantera, and … fuck, I don't remember …

Jim: Didn't you tour Europe early on with Neurosis and Into Another?

Dwid: Yeah.  Those were our first European shows …

Jim: I bet those were good shows …

Dwid: Yeah!  All of those guys — they were a great bunch of guys, and it was an incredible tour …

Jim: So, it doesn't really affect you at all?  Just to compare it to something from my own life, it would be as if I was constantly judged as a creative person — or as an individual — against something that had occurred fifteen years ago … what about everything that's happened since that time?

Rob: Yes … if I were looking at it through that lens, then — sure.  But if you knew anything about the band, or cared about the band, you would know that it's a collaboration — beyond two people who haven't even been in the band for some twenty-odd years.

Jim: But what about people who claim that the "classic" line-up defines the band, and that today's Integrity just can't measure up against that?

Rob: Well … what I'd say is this: for me to try and sway someone's opinion — it would just be so … — well, something I don't want to do.

Dwid: We don't give a fuck what anybody thinks.

Rob: Yeah — to flail around and be, like, "Please pay attention!"

Dwid: Yeah — we can't get up there on stage and say, like, "Hey, www.check this out" — and, "Find us on Facebook" … (Laughter)  We play the songs we like to play.  We have a good time.  We sing about the things that mean something to us.

Jim: It is what it is.

Dwid: Everyone else can fuck off!

Rob: Yes — it might be said: "that answer is the veil we hide behind" … but it's the honest truth.

Dwid: Yes!  "1993" … or "2003" — it is always the same; people hated us then, people hate us now — they always hated us!  And to hear old people say, "Oh yes … back then, we loved Integrity" — but everybody hated us back then!  Always the same.

Jim: "Hated" you!?

Dwid: Yes, every record we've come out with … they hated it.  And people always try to lie and say they loved it back then — but they didn't like it.

Rob: Systems Overload was voted Worst Record Of 1995 by HeartattaCk!

Jim: (Laughter)

Rob: That's what I mean!  It's funny to go back and look at that stuff …

Jim: Well, how do you think the material has changed over the years?  Listening to the current records, it seems that the production is the main difference — since all of those past records were mainly done at the Mars Compound, with Bill Korecky.  What I think is so cool about the records today, is that it's sort of the ultimate punk rock vision — you're producing it yourself, you're recording it yourselves, and you're putting it out there yourselves … all at a cost that is fractional.  And it seems like the ultimate realization of the D.I.Y. ethic.

Dwid: Yeah.  The only thing that we did was have someone master it — to louden it up a bit.  That CD was a little too quiet.

Jim: I guess another influence that's come into the records is black metal.

Dwid: Probably.  But not, like, "arena black metal" —

Rob: — Much more obscure than that stuff …

Jim: More of a black metal "feeling", I guess I would say ...

Rob: Yeah.

Dwid: Yeah.  And, of course, "black metal" is too vague of a concept, anyway.  You have these groups that are "black metal", but they sound very polished, produced with just that screechy voice … And I'm not into that style.  But I do like the weirder, more obscure groups out of that genre.  Bands making tapes out in the woods; things like that … some of the French black metal groups, the modern Portugal scene, Australia as well and some bands of that raw nature …

Jim: Are you talking about records like that one by Ulver that was recorded in a forest?  [A reference to the Nattens Madrigal LP by Ulver, a black metal-inspired band from Norway; the album was released in 1997].

Dwid: No — well, I think Rob might like Ulver; I don't like Ulver, so much … what I mean is more like that band Black Legions, from France …

Jim: Did you like Deathspell Omega?  [A progressive black metal band from France].

Dwid: I like some of it.  Other parts of it I just found to be too … experimental, I guess?  Maybe too "psychedelic" — at times.  I do like some of their records.  However, my friend Tyler Davis put out some of their records.  He does Ajna Offensive.  I grew up with him.  As a child, he lived next to my mother's house.  And he was selling records back then, even when we were fifteen years old! haha And listening to Charles Manson music!

Jim: He lives in Oregon now?  I always found it sort of funny that he released so many obscure French bands, and things like that — yet he lives in Oregon.

Dwid: Yeah!  Even back then, he sought out wild stuff.  Different stuff.  I guess you could say: stuff that people wouldn't have known about … of course, back then, he was more into hardcore.  I remember, he had a distro back then with the Project X 7-inch that came with that magazine … Wishing Well records; stuff like that … this was around the time period of the later '80's …

Jim: So, like you, he came from more of a hardcore background, but graduated into listening to more —

Dwid: — Well, we were punk.  And metal.  Because, back then … you see, punk and metal: that is hardcore, the fusion of that.  Today, hardcore has become something of its own.  Back then, though, it was a blend of those two genres.  It's like this … punk became popular.  Metal became popular.  If you combined those, then both of those groups hated you — it became fashionable later on … but back in the late '80's, it was definitely not popular.

Jim: And speaking of more obscure hardcore, I heard that one of the first metallic hardcore bands you ever heard was G.I.S.M.

Dwid: First band I heard —

Jim: And so, if that's your first band —

Dwid: Right — I was lucky!  Septic Death was the other one.  I was lucky.

Jim: And that was a band without boundaries, in a sense, because they played a form of hardcore, but dressed up like …

Dwid: Yeah!  Like Motley Crüe.

Jim: G.I.S.M. are just fascinating, in that way.  The first metallic hardcore you heard was the V/A Peace/War double album?

Dwid: Yes, that was the first — but I had some metal stuff before that, and I had some punk stuff on tape … but, I went to buy a record with my allowance — I was thirteen years old? … This was the time that Dead Kennedys had released Frankenchrist, and the cops were cutting out — they were opening up the records and destroying that poster that H.R. Giger had made for them … I was going to buy Frankenchrist — really, only because the cops didn't want you to buy it … but, the record clerk said I couldn't have it with the poster included, so I thought, "Well, I'll buy something else" … The clerk suggested the Peace/War album.  And it came with a big book — it was roughly the size of Maximumrocknroll, with the same printing style … and it had G.I.S.M., and Septic Death — as well as all of the Pushead drawings … and all of the bands on that comp, it was just an eye-opener …

Jim: Pushead was a big influence as well, would you say?  [Pushead, whose real name is Brian Schroeder, was the vocalist of the legendary '80's hardcore band Septic Death.  He is also an acclaimed artist who has created many well-known album covers and contributed art for skate decks, among other things.]

Dwid: Of course!  I think Pushead had a big influence on everybody.  People have never given him enough credit.  In fact, Pushead was the reason that G.I.S.M. was on that comp!  He helped push G.I.S.M. to people who never would have heard them, otherwise —

Rob: — Pushead was a reviewer for Thrasher?

Dwid: Yes, Pushead wrote for Thrasher … he had a section in that magazine called Puszone; he promoted G.I.S.M. there — the only downside was, it was impossible to get those records.  That was the only downside.  And, you know, there was the second G.I.S.M. record, M.A.N., which came with a special poster insert that you could only get at certain stores in Tokyo — Pushead drew that poster.  [G.I.S.M.'s Militaly Affairs Neurotic LP from 1987 is sometimes abbreviated as M.A.N.].

Jim: And speaking of Septic Death — they always sounded Japanese to me, even though they were from America.

Dwid: Yeah.  Septic Death released a lot of stuff, just them alone — but then it's compounded by the fact that Pushead is a great fuckin' artist … those guys had a lot of creativity flowing.

Jim: And Pushead's record label, as well … Would you say that his example of record labels was an influence on what you've done with your own record labels?

Dwid: Yes, I would say so — the attention to details; not following what's necessarily the "selling angle" … just doing what you like.  But, you see, also … not to take credit away from him, but that had something to do with the '80's — in a way, that was how everyone had to think … you know, I "only" like this, or I "only" like that … no, you liked a lot of different things.  At least, most people did.  And there were spectrums of things you liked.  As I've said before: the metal people hated the punks, the punk people hated the metal people — so, if you liked them both, then everyone hated you!  There was that element to it — although, maybe that was more true in the place where I grew up … because, obviously, Pushead liked metal — he worked with the Metallica guys …

Jim: That was a little bit later, though, I guess.

Dwid: Well … it was in the '80's …

Jim: Later '80's —

Dwid: — Well, there are Septic Death records that the Metallica guys are playing on!  Did you know that!?  Where Metallica is his band, and he's singing!

Rob: "Kichigai"?

Dwid: Yes — the "Kichigai" EP … which means "crazy boy"!  (Laughter)  ["Kichigai" is a Septic Death 7-inch from 1988 that was released on Pushead's own Pusmort Records].

Rob: Yeah, there's a Thrasher interview I read where Pushead is interviewing Metallica before they did Master Of Puppets

Dwid: Yeah —

Rob: — And I believe he was the one who got them that Zorlac sponsorship deal.

Dwid: I don't know that for an absolute fact … but, yeah, it would seem like it … at that time, I believe both Pushead and Metallica were living in the same area of San Francisco …

Jim: About the U.S.: do you think you'll ever move back to the United States?  Or do you like Belgium too much to ever want to move back?

Dwid: It's hard to say — I mean, the beer here sucks!  (Laughter)

Jim: (Gesturing to the table and feigning surprise) You mean you don't like Pabst!?  (Laughter)

Dwid: (Laughter) I drink Duvel, Leffe … but, I have a house in Belgium, so …

Jim: And your wife is from there …

Dwid: Yeah.  She's from Belgium; however, it's much cheaper to live over here in the USA …

Jim: Yes, but I remember what you said about the landscape over there, and how it's so much more inspiring than something you would see in, say, Cleveland …

Dwid: It's always great to see a fuckin' castle! …

Jim: But, you think you'll be there for the time being.

Dwid: Yeah; I'm not going to move.  I built a house over there.

Jim: On a different subject, I always wondered who that was, who's talking throughout "Drowning In Envy" —  ["Drowning In Envy" is a track from Humanity Is The Devil, a lauded mini-album by Integrity originally released in 1995 by Victory Records.  The "song" features a long sample of conversation from a disgruntled former member of Integrity].

Dwid: Oh yeah — (Laughter)

Jim: I don't know if you can reveal that, but I've always wondered that.

Dwid: It was our ex-drummer — and he is a jealous, spiteful guy, but … we had fired him for stealing, and he did an interview with a friend of ours, who did a zine —

Jim: — Was it an interview with Brian Dingledine?  [Frontman of the '90's anarchist metallic hardcore band Catharsis and former editor of the now-defunct Inside Front magazine].

Dwid: No, it wasn't him — it was another guy … he interviewed him with good intentions, but he ended up saying, "You know, I can't print this.  You just talk shit about all these bands; that's stupid."  So, he called me up and described how this former member had been talking shit, and I was like, "Let me hear it!"  And me and Aaron just laughed at that interview.  We then took it and put it on my computer; chopped it up, and added sounds of, like, toilets flushing (Laughter) — and different stuff …

Jim: And you put that into a loop at the end: "People don't wanna know …"

Dwid: Yeah.

Jim: You did a zine yourself in the '90's, didn't you?  Blood Book?

Dwid: Yes: a "comedy" zine …

Jim: A comedy zine!?

Dwid: Yeah! … like a National Lampoon, or a Mad Magazine

Everyone: (Laughter)

Jim: Honestly!?

Rob: Yeah — seriously!  Did you ever read it!?

Jim: I was researching the band Gehenna, and there was a Gehenna interview in Blood Book.  It was a really good interview.

Dwid: Thanks!

Jim: Yeah, you were talking to Mike Cheese, and saying, "You seem rather composed today.  Is something wrong!?"

Everyone: (Laughter)

Dwid: If you know the Gehenna guys … that would ring true!  (Laughter)

Rob: Yeah … that's always remarkable … (Laughter)

Jim: How many issues of Blood Book did you do?

Dwid: Oh … maybe … six?

Jim: Wow.  When did you stop?

Dwid: I just kinda ran out of steam on it …

(Lori LeFavor, the owner of Infinite Productions, appears at the dressing room door along with her adorably cute pet dog.  Infinite was the promoter of this show, which — once again — was the final performance by Undertow that also featured Integrity as a supporting band).

Dwid: Let's pause the interview for a second.  I think that's Lori.  I'd like to say "hi" —