Having fun is sometimes an overlooked part of metal. Beneath all the buckets of blood, corpsepaint scowls, and arguments over who is or is not trve kvlt, the music is there to be enjoyed. Sure, some bands might not come out and say they want you to have “fun” with their ultra-serious endeavor and that it’s only there for serious, deep stares into your soul but, sorry, those records can still be pretty goddamn great music to crank while you’re driving along. The best bands know that, yes, the music and ideas they are presenting are oftentimes serious and pretty much always the result of tons of hard work, but that at its heart, it is there to entertain you, to grab your attention, to make your life actively more enjoyable. Great bands that truly want to get a message across while having a blast doing it find that line to walk between being so serious you’re a bore but so jokey that you’re a joke yourself.
California grindcore outfit Deathgrave is a band that knows how to have a good time while also keeping their serious musical chops in the forefront. The band’s 2018 debut, So Real, It’s Now, put the band’s blend of grindcore, death metal, and whatever the Hell else they want on full display. Follow-up, It’s Only Midnight, released April 14, is another slice of undefinable sonic ferocity that hits on some heady topics without sacrificing any of the lively nature of the first record. I caught up with guitarist Greg Wilkinson and vocalist Andre Cornejo over a couple phone calls to get the story on It’s Only Midnight and what makes Deathgrave so goddamn fun.
First off, I was kinda curious how the band got started in the first place?
Greg: Long story short, basically Fern [Alberts, bass], Andre, and I wanted to do a band together. Fern and Andre had been in a band together in San Jose that broke up. I kinda wanted to play with them anyway so we just sorta decided to form a band and we found the first drummer that worked out for us and stuff, which was our previous drummer [Matt Thompson]. It just kinda all hit the floor running from there.
Did you guys all talk about wanting to do a grindcore band or did that direction kinda just form naturally?
Greg: The initial concept was that I was really obsessed with this idea of starting a band that took rudimentary elements from Siege and wanted to kind of make something that was really weird and demented but with a lot of blast beats. I think all of us wanted something that wasn’t traditional old school death metal or what’s popular at the time. We wanted to be a little more weird and more applicable to different scenes, like grind scenes that weren’t as popular at the time. Now we sound nothing like any of that but you can’t blame us for trying! That was our discussion before we started. When we got in the room together, I think people’s natural personalities flesh out any preconceived notions. Since we all contribute to the music, to the songwriting, that kinda fleshes it out. I feel like you almost need one person to say this is exactly what we’re doing right now if you want to nail something as weird as that idea, which is not my style.
What was that process of recording the first record like?
Greg: It was good. We had been doing a lot of splits and every year we would record stuff so we had kind of gotten in the mode of doing it. I feel like when we were doing So Real, It’s Now, I think it was going pretty well. We had kind of peaked out, the four of us chemistry wise as far as what we were wanting, so I think after we recorded that and started writing on the stuff after that, I think that’s when we really started…it was becoming less intuitive, which I think is why we parted ways with our previous drummer. I think he was kind of wanting to go in a bit of a different direction than we were, which is nobody’s fault. I think the first one was pretty good because we were kind of on a roll, I guess, when we were doing that. I definitely think that anything after that would have been a struggle.
There’s a bit of a gap between that debut and the new record, what happened there?
Greg: We released So Real, It’s Now in 2018 and we did two tours after that release and then parted ways with our drummer, Matt. I think it was by the end of the year that we had actually tried out a couple of different drummers. [With] Clint [Baechle], the chemistry was just great so he was actually in the band by the end of the year. We kept going because we had a lot of tours. We were still touring on that record when Clint joined because it was still kinda fresh, it hadn’t even been out a full year. We continued touring with Clint and we started the songwriting and stuff and slowly started trickling a song or two into our set in 2019. Needless to talk too much about COVID but that kinda slowed everything up from 2020 through 2022 [laughs]. We kept practicing though. We did a livestream show and some lowkey things once the thick of the quarantine went down. We did actually do stuff and spent 2021 and 2022 finishing up recording and stuff. We spent 2021 writing everything and 2022 finished recording it. We kept the momentum but it got to a point where we were really like, we’ve gotta finish this record, which we submitted in 2022. We kinda needed to stop playing shows and just finish the thing [laughs].
How did you guys know that Clint was the right fit for the opening?
Greg: We definitely knew by the end of So Real, It’s Now that we are fucking weirdos [laughs]. And Clint is a weirdo, musically. The thing that’s cool about it; the thing that’s fun is that Clint is in San Jose all the time as well and lives in Oakland, so when Clint joined, there were two of us in San Jose, so that was nice. His musical sensibility…a lot of the time there’s stuff in your head and we are mining stuff from like Alice Cooper or weird old school stuff and translating it through a grindcore filter and stuff…Clint listens to all that and gets all that. He’s cut from that cloth. He’s a fantastic drummer too and we all know that, so we have a fantastic drummer who’s also a friend of ours who we hang out with in San Jose anyways. We also go camping and stuff together outside of Deathgrave so we were like, let’s bring this friend into the fray and so I think that was what made us instantly know that Clint is the guy for the job. He’s going to encourage the weirdness that we wanted to do, rather than fight it. We had opportunities to play with other drummers that were really good but we weren’t sure, as we get weirder and weirder, how they would adapt to that and if they would like it or if they would say hey, that’s not really what people are listening to. That would be more of a wildcard, where with Clint, he’s like, I don’t give a shit, let’s take it super weird!
It seems like you guys have a really healthy band dynamic and all get along really well. Having been in different bands over the years, how nice is it for this group to be all friends and not have those major kinds of conflicts?
Greg: You are in a band with friends. There’s always going to be some sort of drama but, for us, the drama is funny drama, you know? Like, oh he’s gonna get drunk after this third White Claw [laughs]! Just funny stuff. I’ve been in some nasty situations in bands where I haven’t been involved but I’ve watched band members do some stuff to each other and this is a difference with Deathgrave as opposed to other bands, not all bands, but I feel like bands that are currently in right now are all friends in the band. Friends first, band second and I have been in bands in the past where it’s a collection of people with the same objective but they don’t actually hang out with each other when they’re not at band practice or playing a show. I think it’s really important to have that because you’re going to be in a van together for weeks every year and you’re going to be in a practice space, paying for that space, and sitting in it every week. You’re going to be around these people all the time so I think it’s really important to be friends with them and stick up for them if they have a situation and they need help. I feel like I can say, in Deathgrave, politically, sociologically, whatever, for the most part we are on the same page and it does make things a lot easier.
Going into the writing process, what was the goal with album number two?
Greg: I definitely feel like we springboarded off So Real, It’s Now in a lot of senses because we wanted to push the boundaries harder. I think with So Real, It’s Now we kept the punk spirit, the hardcore spirit in our music. I think with It’s Only Midnight that we wanted to diversify our riffs so things kind of got more complicated within the actual songwriting. On So Real, It’s Now we really used a lot of lead guitar sections and vocal layering to kind of make our stuff more disorienting and alienating whereas on It’s Only Midnight, we really wanted to kind of encapsulate those ideas into the actual riffs that we were playing and have Andre sing over those. Clint, Fern, and I are kind of playing completely different things at the same time that all work together as opposed to Fern and I playing the same thing and the drums are kind of holding it down and then we throw something weird on top of it. We really accepted the fact that…I think we’ve always been exploring what kind of genre we are…and I think that on It’s Only Midnight we threw that out and don’t care anymore. I guess you could round us up to a grind band. I think for It’s Only Midnight, that was the goal. We wanted to express that we really are just doing our own thing and are not sure what it is. We wanted to make the actual meat and potatoes of the band more complicated but still have it be simple sounding. We’re not trying to be Meshuggah or something and be a musician’s musician’s band. We still want it to be fun and accessible and just play music.
There is a ton of complex playing on the new record though. What kind of a challenge was this one for you from that standpoint?
Greg: It’s weird to say this but I honestly feel like, on my personal level, these songs are easier for me to play than some of the stuff on So Real, It’s Now. I think the reason why is because, first of all, this is neither here nor there and I’m not saying anything bad about anyone, but I think Clint’s drumming style is maybe more familiar to me over the years of playing music than maybe Matt’s was so maybe it’s easier for me to figure out what Clint’s accents were and stuff. There’s that and I think that on It’s Only Midnight I kind of accepted the fact that not every single thing needs to be a barre chord and stuff. I still jump all over the neck doing barre chords but it seems a little bit easier because I can find myself within the drumbeat and if I were to fall off track, I know where to go. I think, to me, the trick is to try to write stuff that, if you’re going to go complicated…and we’ve got a lot of odd time signatures and stuff with weird chords and complicated hand patterns and stuff…if you’re going to go there, I think part of the goal is to try to make it sound like you’re not doing that as much as possible. You don’t want people to think this is a science class [laughs]. You want people to be here to let their angst out and have fun. In doing that, I feel like we were able to structure songs that were easier to play because you’re not thinking as much when you’re playing; it’s more from the gut even though the music is a lot more complicated. On this record, it feels more intuitive to me. I think that’s how we get away with it though, we take that fun and energy from practice.
You guys also did a really cool music video for “Your Rulers Are Here.” What was making that like?
Greg: First off, the song idea is such a fun song idea. We made a post and said hey, any animators out there want to make a music video? We had three different people hit us up and say that they would love to do a video for us, one being Douglas [Lawlor], who did it for us. What happened was Douglas was informed of our being by a fan and friend of ours who said, hey, you need to work with Deathgrave. We started having correspondence with him and pitched three different songs, “Ant Baby” being one of them, “On All Fours,” and “Tony’s Deli” being the three that we pitched. Basically, he said he wanted to do “On All Fours” but someone had already done that one. He said to send him our songs and we did and he said “Your Rulers Are Here,” that’s the one I want to do. Lyrically, he was like, the lyrics are amazing and I think that, for doing the short film, that would be the perfect one because there are all these homages to The Blob and different things that he can work with as a filmographer. He’s not a musician, he’s a film genius. It was actually kind of fun and it was amazing that he picked that song because it is a fun song and the lyrics are just fun. It was a great experience. He storyboarded the whole idea and was like, hey, we need to find a bar, we need to find a dumpster, we need this and this and he just went off. We were just like, ok, sounds good!
How did that cover come about? It’s one of my favorites so far this year and it does kinda go back to those old sci-fi movies like The Blob but with your own unique twist.
Greg: Max Rain is the artist and he actually did our cover for So Real, It’s Now. He’s done a lot of stuff for us, actually. He’s done shirts and tote bags and he did a couple of our other splits in the past. We’ve been working with him for years. He’s a childhood friend of Andre’s and an exceptional artist, as you can tell. He’s actually an art teacher so he can do many styles, he can do anything. What we did was, we had this idea, this concept for the album that this is all based in a neighborhood that has a tear in the fabric of reality where this other dimension that is totally Hellish and warped is breaking through in a normal kind of neighborhood. You’ve got your Cheers-type bar, you’ve got your deli, and as the fabric is tearing and getting more and more demented…these delis and bars and everything are getting a little more twisted with this alternate reality invading this town. We sat down with Max, as a band, and kind of explained all these ideas. I’m sure it was kind of an overwhelming amount of things to throw at him [laughs]. We had all these ideas but then he took them and incorporated them into it. He’s got Tony’s Deli, he’s got the monster ripping through the fabric of time, that teal blue color actually symbolizes the tear in the fabric and the normal neighborhood that has an alternate dimension ripping through. We had no idea what was going to happen but he’d give us these cryptic updates like, alright, I think I’ve got something pretty cool here. Then he eventually showed up to one of Fern’s jobs with the piece, and he had sent us photos right before, and we were just like holy crap! That’s next level! He did such a good job on it. He’s kinda like a weird fifth member in a lot of ways. He brings this imagery to the band that I think no one would interpret that way. If we said the same things to someone else, there’s no way they’d come up with that [laughs].
So after the album comes out, what are Deathgrave’s plans for the rest of the year?
Greg: The stuff we have that we can talk about…we’re going on tour with Necrot and Mortiferum in May, that’s mainly focusing on the Southwest region of the states. We’re doing that and then in July we’re gonna be doing the Northwest so we’ll be going up to Seattle and back for a week.
While I got you on the phone, I have to ask since it was one of my favorite records from last year, how stoked were you to join Autopsy and make Morbidity Triumphant?
Greg: Thank you! It’s surreal. In the past I’ve been offered…big bands asked me to come try out for them and I always said no. They were gigs that could have been cool or could have come to nothing but I always said no. When Autopsy hit me up about it, I told myself that I was going to try it out and say yes the next time, so when they hit me up, first of all it was surreal. It came out of the blue. I said yes and I’m very happy that I did it. It’s very fun, it’s cool being in a band with those guys. As a musician, I’m learning a lot and I feel very comfortable and at home with them. It’s really cool and it’s kind of fun to be playing bass again in a realm where the bass is, to a certain extent, showcased as an equal member as opposed to being in a metal band where you bury the bass. It was a cool band to join because they do pay attention to bass players. It’s a great honor and it’s super fun and it’s been a fun improvement to my daily life of playing music.
Did Static Abyss lead to you joining Autopsy or the other way around? I really dug that Static Abyss record too.
Greg: I would have to say that it put my name in the hat quicker to try out for Autopsy. When Joe [Allen] revealed to the band that he left, and he said this to the band way before the announcement…it was all amicable and everything and a healthy breakup…the band said hey, who should we have? I’m informed that there was a very, very, very short list of people and Chris [Reifert] threw my name in only because I know all the members, I’ve recorded Autopsy in the past, and not only them but also Eric [Cutler] and Chris’ other bands, so I’ve got a working relationship with them and they know my bands, I’ve played shows with them and stuff. It put my name in the hat because I was talking to Chris about Great American Music Hall when I had a studio there, which is what created Static Abyss. It was, hey, let’s just go make some noise and see what happens? It’s COVID and we’re not doing anything. We did that and Chris was just kind of like, hey, we could ask Greg [to try out] and I think the reaction was, I guess, everyone was like yeah, we should try him out. I went and tried out and, to my knowledge, I don’t even know if they went past me. It worked out well but yeah, I think Static Abyss did help at least remind him of my existence.
First off, what was your goal with record number two as far as music and lyrics go?
Andre: Musically, the first record we were a little disjointed, as far as the direction. We originally wanted to be kind of a punk band and we wanted to keep the music and vocal styles along those lines but it mutated as we started writing and coming up with more grindy stuff and the natural evolution was more extreme vocals. On the first record, there’s a lot more high and mid vocals but then as we kind of developed into the sound where we are now; [we’re] very comfortable with [it] and it opened up more room for a lot more low and grotesque and gory vocals so, musically, there’s a lot more presence with that lower range on the new record. There’s still a lot of highs and mids but there’s definitely a much more present low-end and a gurgly, kind of gory aesthetic with that.
Lyrically, it’s kind of along the same lines as the first record where it has to do a lot with the human condition, weird habits, mortality, and just odd things. I try not to do a lot of fantasy with this band. I like things to be realistic because there’s a ton of grotesque things to write about. First and foremost, I wanna make sure it’s not overly serious. I want it to have a little bit of tongue-in-cheek humor because, at the end of the day, I want it to be a fun experience.
Is that ever a hard line to walk?
Andre: Surprisingly not. If anything, it’s much easier. I’ve been in other bands and had other projects where I’ve had to treat things a little bit more seriously and not have it be so funny. It’s, quite honestly, a lot easier to just blurt out these things with humor intended and it comes out naturally that way because I’m having fun doing it. It’s a blast. Writing that record, I’d say, about 80% of that record I wrote while sitting in a local bar in San Jose, by myself, just drinking whiskey and laughing my ass off looking like a maniac in the corner with my little Moleskin just cracking up while I’m jotting shit down. It was a lot of fun writing that record. Of course there’s some dark stuff going on there but even those darker songs like “Atomic Narcotic Withdrawal” and “Lonely Streets,” I still was kind of cracking up a little bit.
Like I said, most of that record was done then and we finished up at Earhammer [Studios] and there were two songs that were pretty much done and I just needed a few more lines and I sat down with Fern and Greg and we were cracking up coming up with the last few lines just to finish it off. I remember for “Ant Baby,” we finished that one up and at this point I had already finished tracking for the day and was like, ok, we’ll record this tomorrow and they were like, “Fuck that, let’s do it right now.” I went in there and felt good about it at the time and then when we went back to listen to it, thinking that it might not sound good the next day, it was actually fine. Normally I don’t try to track wasted but that one worked out!
That kinda leads me into the actual songs cause I wanted to ask about the inspiration behind some of them. What’s the story behind “Ant Baby?” That’s one that really, really stuck out to me.
Andre: That one’s a little difficult to answer [laughs]. The original inspiration was from people that we know and how they deal with their children. We’ve talked about writing a song about it but of course we don’t want to attack anyone personally or have it get into the wrong hands or hurt anyone because it is a friend. That being said, and without saying too much more about that, that was the original inspiration and so we thought we could still write a song about an ant baby…just a little baby that’s fucked up and starts doing ant things. Fern thought it was hilarious, I thought it was hilarious, and I just started jotting stuff down.
Is that ever a difficult line to walk, making it inspired by somebody but not so directly that they can’t pick up on it?
Andre: Yes and no. That particular one would be because the person in question…everyone is different and that particular situation wasn’t so, how do I say…I need to be more sensitive with that one. But with “Resur’wreck’ed,” another song, that’s one where it’s directly inspired by a true story. A close friend of mine went through that whole exact scenario where he got into a massive car accident, died, flatlined multiple times, went through a coma, went through a record-breaking amount of medical procedures…his medical records are like an office filled with boxes of all the shit he went through. I asked him, cause I was visiting him, do you mind if I write about this? He said fuck no, go ahead, man. He was equally impressed about the weight of the whole situation. He’s definitely in there. I put him in the thanks list cause it’s his story.
Has he heard the song yet?
Andre: Oh yeah, he digs it, he’s down.
How about the story behind “Slurring Sermons?“
Andre: That one, inspiration wise, I used to be in multiple death metal bands where we’d write about the Satanic stuff and anti-Catholicism and I’ve always just liked the idea of writing a song that’s a little more tongue-in-cheek and not so dark and evil. This one was an opportunity to have fun about having a drug dealer church. What better way to get people in there than to get them all addicted to dope? Faith requires a lot of dedication so get ’em hooked [laughs]. That was just a fun one that came from past lyrical writing fun about writing about things like that but so much different than writing a song [just] about Satanism or anti-Catholicism. That’s just about that church and that song was a blast.
You definitely wrote it in a way that takes a more unique approach to a topic that’s certainly been written about a bunch in extreme metal.
Andre: Oh yeah, there’s only so many songs about Satan until they all become the same song.
How about the one you did the video for, “Your Rulers are Here?”
Andre: That was a fun one too! This particular album, while it’s not a concept album, there is an underlying theme that everything is kind of taking place in this one particular neighborhood and that neighborhood is depicted on the cover of It’s Only Midnight. All these songs are chapters of the stories that are happening in this community and they’re all linked by weirdness. Even though it’s not spoken on the album, one of the contributors to all this weirdness and all these chaotic things that are happening and why it’s all centralized…there’s gotta be a source, right? So, why not have a Lovecraftian monster lurking there and I was thinking, what would be a good place to place it? Inside the local bar so it gets spread everywhere. That was pretty much the inspiration to where the source of all this chaos was going to come from. Just being a huge fan of Lovecraft, it was really easy to develop in my imagination what the monster is, goopy and amorphous, and how it spreads. There’s a lot of addiction themes on the record, so I was like, ok, well, through alcoholism it could get inside from the local watering hole and people just constantly drinking and constantly having nightmares and shitting and puking and feeding this monster and it just perpetuates and spreads throughout the whole neighborhood. That was really fun to help me personally tie things together, even though it’s not truly spoken on the record.
I kind of picked up on that as I was listening to the record and looking at the cover and saw Tony’s Deli from the song and started wondering if they all took place in the same sort of universe there.
Andre: Oh yeah, absolutely. That’s definitely intended but it’s open to interpretation as well. That makes me really happy that you kinda picked up on that a little bit because that was my personal intention to make this little universe a little more fun. It helped; compiling everything into one enveloping setting actually made it quite easy for me to start developing more concepts for the record. Sometimes when you get writer’s block, it’s like, ok, what’s the general theme here? What are we going to do next? It was seamless after I had that concept and knew that everything was taking place in this neighborhood. It made it a lot more effortless to have fun.
Do you ever think about doing a full concept record?
Andre: Oh yeah, absolutely. I’ve definitely toyed with that in the past with other projects. With Deathgrave, it’s definitely always on the table. It’s something I’ll have to think about but, yeah, absolutely. I love the idea of concept records. Some of my favorite records from the past and present are concept records cause it takes a lot of creativity and it’s a really fun experience to read along with the lyrics to these records, especially with metal. You’re getting a sonic landscape and these lyrics are telling a story and it becomes more than just an auditory medium.
What are some of those favorite concept records of yours?
Andre: What I can name right off the top [of my head], that I was listening to last night, is Exhumed’s Death Revenge. It’s so good. The lyrics tell this great story and it’s so much fun. I’m happy you brought it up cause I was thinking about it earlier today when I was listening to it. I have it on wax and it comes with this poster, which I could never hang up, because on the back of this poster is all these awesome lyrics and illustrations and these illustrations are portraying the two vocalists in Exhumed, Matt [Harvey] and Ross [Sewage], and their likenesses are in these illustrations and there’s lines and dialogue and it’s like a screenplay and it’s a blast. That’s a really great concept album that I really love. There’s probably a few others in the back of my head but that one is the most fresh.
I love that album. All the little extra bits and information that they put into the booklet and whatnot are so cool and make it such a fun experience.
Andre: It’s such a wonderful effort. It’s so creative and very inspiring. It’s definitely a unique piece for them. They definitely took a step back from the grindy stuff and did more composed, melodic death metal.
Going back to your record, how stoked were you when you got the final cover and saw all those different bits that you put into the stories represented on it?
Andre: Max is second to none. I go way back with him. We’re practically family. We played in bands together, we grew up together, he’s always been the best artist I knew, even back when we were playing in bands together. I dabble in art as well. Every time I come up with something I try and draw it out and then hand it to him so he can refine it. That’s been a constant with Deathgrave. He’s done a lot of our art. He’s done some splits for us, the cover of So Real, It’s Now and now It’s Only Midnight. We met up with him and were conceptualizing the cover and what we had in mind and he said OK, and I could see the gears start to spin in his head. Every time I give him a concept, he takes it, refines it, and it turns out looking nothing like what I had in mind but it exceeds my expectations tenfold. He’s brilliant. He’s primarily a sculptor but his illustrations and paintings…he’s just got a ton of skill. He’s an artistic powerhouse. He can do everything. His sculptures are unreal, his paintings are great. The medium that he used on So Real, It’s Now as well as on It’s Only Midnight, it’s just marker, colored pencil, and shoe polish. Nothing digital about it. He can accomplish a lot with those things that you can find around the house.
I have no artistic ability whatsoever so I’m staring at the cover right now and that’s totally blowing my mind.
Andre: Marker, colored pencil, shoe polish. That’s definitely a bragging point for me. You see all these really cool covers and a lot of them you have all these great artists but on a lot of them you see for prominent bands and, whether it’s oil paintings or digital art, they’re on these big scales. Max did that particular cover to scale for an LP. It’s not big, it’s like the size of the record. It’s to scale. All that detail…I was thinking that you could have saved yourself some stress and made it a little bit bigger. He didn’t see a reason. He was like, oh, this is fine. He’s definitely exceptional.
Going back to the tracks, “Scratch, Sniff, Peel, Scratch” is such a fun, gross song. How did that one come to you?
Andre: That’s kind of a bleedover from some of the concepts from So Real, It’s Now. That record is primarily about mortality and the human condition and odd things that people find themselves liking and doing and habits. I just wanted a gross-out song and of course we all met that kid that eats scabs, that gross little kid that eats scabs, and I thought that I could easily write a song about that one cause I definitely knew that kid. He’d be in the neighborhood, skating around, and we’d be hanging out and you’d watch him peel a scab off and eat it. Super gross! That was a piece of cake cause the song writes itself.
How about “Lonely Streets?” You said that one was a little bit more serious for you.
Andre: That’s one of the more serious songs. I live in a downtown area of a pretty big city. There’s a lot of people here in San Jose. It’s not a bustling downtown but it’s a pretty big area and there’s a massive problem with displacement and homelessness here. Every day I’m walking down the street there’s not a single day that I don’t see it in front of me. I’ve seen people get by, people sleeping in their cars, to the extreme of absolute torment where there’s mental health [issues] and other people that really need help. I’ve seen these people abused and it’s really dark and it’s in front of me every day. It wasn’t something that I was excited to write about but that song, in particular musically, had a particular way to it because of the paces. There’s that little trudging, mid-paced riff at the beginning and then it becomes faster and more chaotic and I felt like there was a building anger and frustration and that’s kind of where I decided to place those lyrics of that song, just because sonically it reminded me about being frustrated and I can’t imagine anything more frustrating than living your life, growing up as a kid with family and comfort only to, in your adult years, lose your mind, not have a roof over your head, and try to struggle to stay alive. Yeah, that one’s not funny.
That’s something I dug about the record though. You guys do an effective job of changing moods and it keeps the whole thing from feeling one-note.
Andre: I’m glad. I don’t want it to be a barrel of laughs but there was an intention that I wanted this record to be fun, to be a fun experience. There’s not too many people out there that I know that take the time to bust out the lyrics sheet but, for those that do, I want it to be worth their while and to actually have fun and have these fun stories and tales and chapters of this record that takes place in a neighborhood. I’m glad that you read these lyrics because it seems like my intentions are paying off.
Oh yeah I’m a lyrics guy. Always gotta read those.
Andre: Same. It’s part of it, dude. There’s times where I’ll pick up a record and I’ll read the lyrics and it’s like, ok, that’s fine, I’m not going to go through that again. I’m glad that they’re there though.
When you do write the more serious songs, does that kind of help you process that frustration and anger that you feel in those situations?
Andre: Yeah, absolutely. I’m not thinking about it that way with the sadness and empathy that I have but, once the creative process is done, it’s like, there’s an understanding and, if anything, it amplifies my empathy because I grew a connection with what’s in front of me by trying to put myself in a position, even though it’s not the same, by using my imagination to try and figure out what is going on with this particular song. It’s messed up and the vocal performance definitely came through on that one with anguished screams that are a bit of different tones than are on the rest of the record. That was definitely part of acting out that frustration from the lyrics and I’m throwing energy out there that it’s not ok. Nothing is ok. It’s dark. I’ve never actually thought about it but now that I’m thinking about it, wow, I don’t know if it helps or hurts more.
The last song I wanted to ask about was “Rats Are Back.” Where did that one come from?
Andre: That’s another true story. I had an issue with, actually, the place where I still live. There was a lot of gentrification happening in the downtown San Jose area where they were tearing down buildings and homes and all these rats are there. They’re living underground but all that noise and clamor is throwing them all over the neighborhood and they are just looking for anywhere to hole in and they don’t give a fuck about your house or your comfort. The whole neighborhood…and it wasn’t just our house, we talked to our neighbors…rats just infested the whole neighborhood, it seemed like overnight. You’d hear scratching in the walls and hope it’s just a cat on the roof or something and oh, goddamnit, it’s a rat. It was an issue that I dealt with and it got very frustrating because it seemed like no matter how hard we tried, there were just so many and they were just multiplying. Eventually we had to go to extreme lengths to basically rat-proof the whole house. We went around the perimeters and [had to] cement all kinds of possible entrances because they’ll dig, they’ll find a way. They can eat through anything. You give them enough time and will and they can eat through anything, they can eat through metal. They will get in there if they want to so we had to put aluminum siding with steel grates underneath the baseboards. My place was Robocopped super hard and totally rat-proof and I’m happy to say I haven’t seen or heard any sign of a rodent since but it was super frustrating. At that point, me and my brother-in-law who I live with, were just like, let’s burn this fucker down cause it’s over, it’s theirs, but then we were determined. The cool thing is that I can look back on that and laugh at it now but it definitely wasn’t funny at the time.
I get you. We don’t have a rat problem but we’ve had mice issues at my house until we got a new cat and now he just deals with it.
Andre: Oh cats are the best. Mice…they don’t stand a chance.
Oh yeah he’s a crazy ass death metal cat. He’ll leave their heads in different rooms and we find them gutted everywhere.
Andre: Oh wow [laughs]. At this point I’m a qualified exterminator and know everything about rodents and their habits and mice are quite annoying because of how they reproduce. You see one and you don’t handle it and then next week there’s gonna be two and then the next week there’s gonna be four. Rats it’s similar but mice it seems to happen much more quickly.
Photo at top: It’s Only Midnight album cover.