There’s never been a better time to be a pot smoking death metal fan. On the metal front, it’s easier now than ever to access any and every band, from the obscure to the most mainstream (well, mainstream for death metal), and bands are way more able to interact with their fanbase from all over the world. For the smoking side of things, American states are finally coming to their senses and starting to legalize both medical and recreational marijuana, providing millions of people with that most all-purpose of herbs. Ease of access to both life-enhancing creations is really making it the golden age of burning one while banging your head. Having Bonginator around certainly doesn’t fucking hurt either.
Combining their love of death metal and pot, Bonginator has been quickly making a name for themselves in the extreme metal world. Last year’s EP, The 1986 Doink City Massacre, introduced fans to the New England crew’s mix of absolutely monstrous riffs and weed-centric mayhem. The EP was one of the best death metal debuts in the last few years and has set the stage for their debut LP, The Intergalactic Gorebong of Deathpot, releasing on 4/20, naturally. If that wasn’t enough, Bonginator is currently out on tour opening for the red hot Escuela Grind and shows no signs of slowing down anytime soon. I recently caught up with Bonginator’s main man Erik Thorstenn to chat about the flagship band of a whole new era of weed infused death metal.
First off, how did Bonginator get started? How did you guys meet and what made you want to start this band together?
Erik: Yo! So Bonginator really started when I was in between bands and sitting on some death metal demos around late 2021. I wrote the story for “1986 Doink City Massacre” and put lyrics to the music. The demo really took off more than I thought it would and I knew quickly I would have to put a live band together so I recruited Ron [Bernhaut] and Jake [Thompson] from some previous projects we worked on.
What got you into death metal and who are some of the bigger influences for the band?
Erik: My love of death metal started in high school. I fell in love with old school death metal, especially Deicide and Obituary. Many people have noted I sound a lot like Corpsegrinder, and that’s a super sick thing to hear. Cannibal Corpse is easily one of my strongest influences, I’ve seen them like nine times. But beyond the classic death metal bands, we are constantly influenced by our contemporaries in this genre. All the new school bands: 200SW, Bogg, Creeping Death, Frozen Soul, etc. These guys inspire us every day, not only with their music but with their work ethic as well. It’s super inspiring to see what these guys have been able to accomplish.
What’s your writing process for the music? Is there a set routine or does it depend?
Erik: Up until super recently the writing process has been all me. Basically I’ll have a riff that’s like super sick. Usually it’ll be like a breakdown or some sort of groovy riff but basically it’s the riff that the entire song ends up revolving around. Shit’ll just hit me whenever so I sing it into a voice memo if I’m at work or something. Once I record that in a DAW and put drums on it, the rest of the song comes naturally. I can see exactly how I want the song to flow and write the other riffs as I go. It’s all about the pace of the song and what I want the listener to feel as the song progresses.
You guys have really killer lyrics that are pretty hilarious and that also use good wordplay. How do you come up with those and is it ever hard to get across the story you want to tell with each song?
Erik: Don’t let the EP fool you, we dropped the whole story thing pretty quickly after that. I wrote the story for 1986 Doink City Massacre thinking only some of the listeners would care to read the lyrics. Turns out people cared a lot more and many expected me to continue it into the next album, but we don’t. The lyrics remain just as funny though. Some of them are about horror movies, a lot of them are just about weed and killing people. I did take the time, however, to make another killer intro track. I think the old fans will dig it, I even hired the same voice actor as the first one.
Have you guys always been big smokers? Weed and metal just go hand in hand. There’s nothing better than burning one and getting lost in a riff. Do you feel that marijuana enhances your creativity and inspiration?
Erik: I’ve been a big smoker since high school. The other guys are as well but probably not as much as myself. I don’t think marijuana really “enhances” my creativity, but I can’t recall the last time I wrote without smoking. I’m smoking constantly throughout the day so it’s hard for me to really discern what it helps me with and what it doesn’t. I really enjoy growing it too. I think that’s really the fun part.
That debut EP, The 1986 Doink City Massacre, is fucking killer. What was the recording and writing process like for that one? What did you learn from the experience that you’ll take to future recordings? What does the title reference?
Erik: Thank you! The writing process for that was nothing special, I just laid out the demos during COVID. Recording it was a lot of fun. I did everything, myself just in my room, except for the drums. For that, I used a drum software for the kick, snare, and toms and recorded the cymbals in a church. The hybrid drum recording strategy like that is super fun and allows for a lot of freedom in mixing, but on this album we used totally real drums and it was awesome. I did layer the kick with a sample but that’s about it. I think it came out sick in the mix.
The title “The 1986 Doink City Massacre” refers to the overall battle that occurs in the story of the EP. It’s the major event that will determine whether or not humans will have weed in the future. Basically this evil dude in the future made an army of robots and sends them to 1986 to kill all the weed smokers. At the same time, a super macho buff dude is sent back in time to destroy them and save the weed. It’s a pretty wild story!
I wanted to ask about a few of the songs on there and get the musical/lyrical inspiration for those. What’s the story behind “The Doinkinite?”
Erik: “The Doinkinite” is the name given to our Rambo-esque protagonist. He is this super badass dude just absolutely hardwired to smoke weed and kill robots. He’s sent back in time to rendezvous with another resistance member and then he’s sent on his mission: “save the world, by smoking weed.”
How about “War; On Drugs?” That’s my favorite on there and I love what you did with the lyrics on that one lampooning the “war on drugs” and making it a literal war.
Erik: “War; On Drugs” tells the part of the story where the Doinkinite and the Bonginators meet to battle. I imagine the Doinkinite has a huge minigun with tons of ammo just shredding metal across the whole city. The joke of the title is pretty obvious, this guy is fighting a war while dosed on a lot of drugs. There is some other lore that didn’t get into the lyrics. I originally wrote the story so that Ronald Reagan’s ancestor was the one who made the robots, and he sends them back in time so that the republicans can win the War On Drugs. I felt like this detail created too many other small plot things to explain so I left it out of the lyrics, but I’d love to develop the idea some time.
What about the story behind “Dank Nugulus?”
Erik: Dank Nugulus is the final boss of the story. After defeating all of the Bonginators, the Doinkinite has to face Dank Nugulus, who is this super huge mecha robot with, like, machine gun fingers and missile launchers and everything you can think of. He ends up defeating it by pumping weed smoke into its coolant system, and thus saving the world by smoking weed. I needed to figure some sort of epic way to end the story so I figured a final boss would be perfect. The story just ends after it’s defeated and there is no explanation of what happens to our Doinkinite. I hadn’t thought that far but maybe that could be something to return to sometime.
The new single you guys just dropped, “Chopped 2 Pieces” is a killer track. What’s the story behind that one? Is that a reference to the film Pieces? I love that fucking insane movie if so!
Erik: Yes! It is a reference to Pieces! I friggin love that movie. My buddy Jack Shanahan showed me that movie and I fell in love. He’s always showing me cool niche horror movies but Pieces stuck out to me. It’s a super low budget slasher film about a perverted chainsaw murderer who stalks and kills girls around a college, all because his mom stole his porn when he was like 11. I thought it was a perfect premise for a Bonginator song.
What’s your local scene like out East and has it affected the growth of the band?
Erik: The scene in New England is stronger than ever. We have so many bands that are absolutely killer and we have so many new bands coming up all the time. That’s what a scene is all about, the new kids are meeting each other and starting the next generation of bands. Shit is exciting to watch. What’s also sick is that our scene is super young. We got kids in highschool that are fully engaged members of the local scene and that’s super sick to see. I’m currently working on my annual fest, The New England Death Metal Fun Time Bonanza. I try to get every New England band I can on that.
How stoked are you for the Escuela Grind tour and how did that come about? I’m seeing the show in Chicago and can’t wait!
Erik: Dude, we have been speechless since we got the offer. It’s so cool that a band like that wants to take us out on the road. We’re super stoked to see where this opportunity will take us and we’re even more stoked to just hang out and play shows with our buddies. We’ve been tight with the Escuela Grind homies for a while but I never thought they’d actually take us out on the road like this. It’s gonna be so sick playing places we’ve never been and making new friends.
Lastly, what’s next for Bonginator? What are your goals for the future of the band?
Erik: After this Escuela Grind tour, we release our debut LP, The Intergalactic Gorebong of Deathpot. We’re really hoping to land some sick tours this summer and get back out to the west coast. Our buddies in California have been begging us to come back. Even more so, we wanna get back to Boise, ID more than anything. Those kids are crazy and they’ve been really wanting us to come back. Hopefully some sick band will reach out and take us on tour over there. Who knows?!
Photo at top: The Intergalactic Gorebong of Deathpot album cover.