Fast approaching their 10th anniversary, SKELETONWITCH has spent the better part of the past decade spreading fear and heavy metal carnage with every tour. These guys had been through Vancouver a few times before already, but this was my first time seeing them. The show was held at the Biltmore Cabaret, a decent club well suited for a night of thrashing madness. Armed with a case of beer, I met up with SKELETONWITCH guitarist Scott Hedrick. Stepping inside the tour van, Scott, Kevin (the photographer) cracked open some beers and talked about just about anything that came to mind.
Conor: So, what do you think of Vancouver so far?
Scott: I love it! We've been here quite a few times. I think we played here with CHILDREN OF BODOM and we played here with HIGH ON FIRE of course, we've come through a bunch, the shows are always good, everyone is so nice. You'll see a bunch of people shooting up in the streets... *Laughs* I'm not sure what that area was called... we called it 'Bum Alley'!
Conor: *Laughs* Yeah, that's the Downtown Eastside, it's world famous for being one of the shittiest areas in North America!
Scott: Yeah! I remember one time I was helping Nate [Garnet] back up the van- we have a big-ass trailer attached to it- going through a narrow alleyway behind the venue and I was directing him, and there was this woman who was like "He's got it! He's going to make it!" She's looking at the other side [of the van] and meanwhile she's got some tinfoil pipe and was smoking crack, and I was like "Thanks!" *Laughs* I mean, that's not our entire impression of the city, by any means. I just joke about it because it's so visible... but it's awesome here! I absolutely love it.
Conor: This area [of the interview and show] is pretty decent. Over there, it's like Breaking Bad on steroids! *Laughs*
Scott: Yeah! But definitely not our picture of the city by any means. We've had so much fun here. And the 3 INCHES OF BLOOD guys are all coming to the show tonight; a couple of them already stopped by earlier and they're coming back... Nothing but good things to say about Vancouver!
Conor: What's the story behind the name?
Scott: SKELETONWITCH? Well, when we wanted to play our first show, we had a hard time getting gigs around town. Nate and I and some buddies built a stage in Nate's frontyard. We used to live in this college town- I still live there.
Scott: Yeah! Anyways, they have this street party where they block off the ends of the streets and everyone drinks and parties. So we basically made our first gig; we built a shitty plywood stage and decided we were going to play in the frontyard where we had a captive audience. Everyone was going to be there anyway, so they were trapped: a built-in crowd! We had everything ready including songs, and we still couldn't decide on a name, so a friend of ours who was in Nate's old band who is a fantastic, awesomely weird guy- used to be an acid-eating crazy guy... He was trying to help us come up with a name, he kept rattling off all these sorts of crazy names, and at first he was just like; "You should call yourselves Hard Shocker and speak in fake German accents..." Yeah, that's really stupid... "Come on... Hawd Shauka!" *Laughs* No, no... Anyways he kept coming up with different names and he eventually came up with Skeletonwitch and we thought that was pretty good, we'll go with that! So we did the show, and Nate and I were probably hanging out drinking beer like we usually do, and we were thinking we should come up with a permanent name because we weren't sure yet then when people saw us walking down the street they would shout out "Skeletonwitchhhh!!!" and throw up the horns and I guess it stuck! We just thought it sounded cool, there's not a great story behind it, we were super young and we didn't think we'd even still be here at the time, doing it today still; ten years later...
Conor: Yeah, I was going to ask: next year [for your tenth year anniversary] do you have any celebration plans?
Scott: I think we'll probably do some sort of 10 year anniversary tour... *Laughs* We'll probably just call it "The Ten Year Anniversary Tour!"
Kevin: A new album, maybe?
Scott: Yeah, definitely! After this tour, we have about a month off, then we have a really long US headline, it's like 65 shows or something...
Conor: Shit. *Laughs*
Scott: Yeah! It's pretty long! We're masochists. We're gonna do that, then nothing 'til the new record. That's going to take us half of September, October, and most of November. Then, the rest of January, February off, then we'll try to get in the studio in March... We're still not quite sure where we're going to record, but yeah; no more shows after that long US tour; at least not for a while. We've gotta get a new record, though; get it out, get it recorded.
Conor: For people who haven't heard SKELETONWITCH before, how might you describe your sound, what SKELETONWITCH is all about?
Scott: Let's see... Some people just like to say it's some sort of Retro-Thrash band, but I don't think that sums it up; I think we're a little bit more than that. It's really a natural amalgamation of all the different stuff we like, and alot of that stuff happens to be a lot of old school Thrash, like VIO-LENCE and NUCLEAR ASSAULT...
Conor: ...and Canada's very own VOIVOD?
Scott: Oh yeah!
Conor: You're alright with me then! *Laughs*
Scott: Definitely! And stuff like OVERKILL and so forth. And of course, there's plenty of Black Metal we like, lots of Death Metal we like, like DEICIDE and AUTOPSY, ENTOMBED, and DISMEMBER... And then we also like all sorts of older Rock 'n' Roll, JUDAS PRIEST, and of course LED ZEPPELIN... I love Bon Scott-era AC/DC so much! I love MC5 and THE STOOGES, so you have a group of guys who like all different sorts of music, alot of it overlapping, and it all gets thrown in. For journalists, I guess I like to call it 'Blackened Thrash Metal' but there's also some old Rock 'n' Roll and Death Metal, especially with the vocals and grooves. For us, we just call it 'Metal' *Laughs*, but for someone whose never heard of it before; yeah, Blackened Thrash.
Conor: Is that next album gonna be more of the same?
Scott: You know, I don't know yet! We have a song that's done, then we have a bunch of different riffs and ideas and things that we're tossing around. Based on how it is so far, I guess more of the same in the sense you're not going to be like 'what the fuck, is this the same band?!' but at the same time, if you listen to "Forever Abomination"- our newest record- and then "Beyond the Permafrost", there's a pretty big difference in terms of the metal stylings. It's a little more open now. Used to be very NWOBHM with some thrash and some death metal... I guess we'll do whatever we feel like doing! And by that I mean that it's not pre-meditated, we just start writing riffs, and if we're liking it then that's all there is to it! It could end up a little more Rock 'n' Roll and Black Metal, it could end up way more Death Metal. We'll just see what we like! *Laughs* It's sort of self-serving, but we write the kind of metal that we wanna hear. If we're getting stuck on it, we're not gonna say "This is too thrashy" or "This is too Death Metal..." If we're digging it, then we'll go for it, and hope everybody likes it, and if they don't, then oh well!
Kevin: "Breathing the Fire" was definitely one of my favourites from that year, 2009. Really fantastic!
Scott: Thank you! It's so funny because Nate was just saying the other day that that's probably- well maybe not his favourite- we don't listen to our own records too much but he put it on the other day and said "You know, I just don't know where I came up with some of these riffs!" He like, impressed himself! *Laughs*
Kevin: "Forever Abomination" is really good as well!
Kevin: I've gotta ask- as I'm a guitarist and bassist- what are your personal influences- what guitarists influence you the most in what you do?
Scott: Sure, sure! My favourite in terms of guitarists are Tipton and Downing from PRIEST, Chuck Schuldiner from DEATH. I also really like Sherman and Denner from MERCYFUL FATE...
Conor: Ahhh!!! AHHH!!! (King Diamond impression)
Scott: *Laughs* And of course, Smith and Murray from IRON MAIDEN, gotta love them.
Conor: They were awesome last night!
Scott: Oh dude, I bet! Actually something more modern is the guitarist from THE HELICOPTERS - they're a Swedish Rock 'n' Roll band. To give you some history on that - talk about a fucking nerd! *Laughs*- the guitar player and singer of THE HELICOPTERS is the original drummer and songwriter from ENTOMBED... He drums on "Left Hand Path," "Clandestine," "Wolverine Blues"... He did the drums, most of the lyrics and guitar playing was him. Then he left ENTOMBED. Totally different style, but I fucking love his guitar playing. What some of your favourites?
Kevin: I'm really influenced by IRON MAIDEN, John Petrucci from DREAM THEATER, I'm a bit more of a prog guy.
Scott: So you're more of a shredder prog guy!
Kevin: I wish I were that good! Alex Lifeson's also a big influence.
Scott: Dude, he's great!
Kevin: Seen them a couple times live; RUSH is fantastic! Also, Tony Iommi.
Scott: Oh yeah. And also, the guy from KING CRIMSON - can't remember his name...
Conor: Robert Fripp!
Scott: Yeah! Amazing guitarist.
Conor *Laughs* He has such balls to play Prog Rock and Metal while just sitting down in front of an audience while everyone else is standing up.
Scott: And a Les Paul, too!
Conor: Have you heard Ron Jarzombek?
Scott: I'm not sure!
Conor: He was in WATCHTOWER.
Scott: Oh yeah, I have heard!
Conor: Now he's in BLOTTED SCIENCE, a band with Alex Webster [of CANNIBAL CORPSE]!
Scott: Yeah! I haven't heard that new BLOTTED SCIENCE EP, but everyone says it's unbelievable.
Kevin: They've got one song on the new one that syncs up perfectly to King Kong!
Scott: I haven't seen that; I'm sure it's on YouTube right?
Scott: As long as it's musical - that's my problem with alot of prog; there's this English band called CAMEL...
Conor: I love CAMEL! You're talking to the right guy! *Laughs*
Scott: I love that band! Sometimes when it gets a little too shreddy I don't like it or wanky. See, like DREAM THEATER doesn't do it for me, but I love KING CRIMSON, I don't care for Satriani or Steve Vai, even though I could never play what they do,I get bored so easily, yet I don't get bored with a CAMEL record, even if it's proggy and drawn out. It's sorta contradictory, because I like alot of prog stuff, but I don't like it when it's less song-oriented and more 'look what I can do!', you know? Well, there are kids who work at guitar centres in the States who shred all day, and they're still at guitar centres for a reason!
Kevin: That's really my attitude towards a lot of Tech-Death.
Scott: Yeah, absolutely. Alot of those records sound productionwise like the parts were played by robots and it sounds like the robots were playing a video game.
Conor: *Laughs* I think that's the best way I've heard heard someone put it!
Scott: *Laughs* I said that the other day in an interview so I'm repeating myself, but I made myself laugh. You know, I also grew up listening to MC5 and THE STOOGES, so I can only go so far in the Prog direction before I'm like, looking for something with a little bit more energy in a song. My tastes vary on the prog end... but I love that you guys know CAMEL! No one knows them!
Conor: I'm a Prog nerd! *Laughs* I got into Prog and then slowly worked my way into Metal, with all the 'scary Metal voices'. Before that I was really big into YES and stuff.
Scott: I love YES! Another I really like is Peter Gabriel, alot of Metal guys are like "Ew, Peter Gabriel" but I love that shit!
Conor: Same here!
Scott: I guess that explains why you like VOIVOD! *Laughs*
Conor: Speaking of other bands, I was wondering what you thought of the legendary ABSU? Another mighty Black-Thrash act, although they certainly take it in a different direction.
Scott: ABSU's fucking great!
Conor: I was listening to "Breathing the Fire" today and I thought; "Shit, they're alot like ABSU in parts! ABSU mixed with the old school..."
Scott: Yeah, I can definitely see where you're coming from there. Have you ever seen them?
Conor: I wish.
Scott: I've seen them a few times...
Conor: You bastard!
Scott: *Laughs* I saw them once at SXSW in Austin Texas and once they played a festival in Germany and we got to hang out with them for a little bit; really cool dudes too!
Conor: Yeah, I think Proscriptor's into some Prog and Fusion too.
Scott: I can believe that for sure. He's a pretty progressive guy all around.
Conor: Do you know much about Vancouver's Metal scene?
Scott: To be honest I don't really, because we come here, play a show and then we're out the next day. I mean, we're friends with the 3 INCHES OF BLOOD guys, but I'm not familiar with it that much.
Conor: I guess you know Devin Townsend!
Scott: Yeah, I knew he was from Canada but didn't know exactly where.
Conor: Do you know of the band BLASPHEMY? They rule, I guess that's what British Columbia's known for as far as underground Metal goes.
Scott: No, it's sad because if Dustin our drummer was in here he'd be up my ass asking me how the hell I haven't heard of them! I guess they're Black Metal?
Kevin: Black Death Metal, War Metal it's called.
Conor: The bullet belts and gas masks and shit!
Scott: I'll have to check that out!
Conor: You were saying that you guys didn't think you could write those riffs on "Breathing the Fire" but what's the songwriting process for SKELETONWITCH look like?
Scott: Well I'll give credit where it's due. Alot of it is Nate, our guitarist. It varies from album to album, but he has a much better idea of composition and structure. We don't get together and jam for it, it doesn't work so well for us. We'll write stuff independently with a drum machine or 4 track, then share and usually what it ends up being is me sending a bunch of ideas- it could be a twenty minute chunk of ideas or thirty seconds of two different riffs I like. He's the cook, and I guess I'm the soux chef. Everyone throws something in. He'll be like "Oh, I took what you did, here's what it is now, I wrote this song" or "I liked those riffs you sent me, I changed them a bit and wrote this song" and he'll play it for me and most of the time it'll be pretty awesome! Usually he sends it to me first. Alot of the time he'll have an idea, maybe there will be two guitars harmonizing but it'll be too boring, so he'll ask me to write something on top of it to make it a little more interesting, a riff or lead. I just send him all the crazy shit I come up with, and he'll give me specific tasks. I work better when I have a specific framework to work in. That's sorta the process; I keep sending him stuff, and he sends back songs. Then we'll send it to everybody. Chance [the vocalist] will have lots of ideas; he used to be a drummer so he'll have plenty of ideas about fills or extending parts, and Evan [the bassist] writes some pretty killer basslines, he's a pretty active bass player, and even he'll send stuff. And of course, the drum machine is very static so Dustin will come up with ideas to change or accentuate parts, keep the general feel of the song but changing it. Maybe we're a little more guitar driven in the sense that it starts with the two guitarists going back and forth, but everything throws in something.
Conor: I guess it's more Chance's territory so to speak, but what could you say about the lyrics?
Scott: Yeah it's more of Chance's thing and most of the song titles and album names are his too- gotta give credit where it's due! To speak formally, we definitely steer away from something completely overt. We won't write a song and say "This is a song about high gas prices" or "This is a song about how much the government sucks", alot of people get on the soapbox and talk about stuff, but for us, music has always been something meant to be fun, or an escape, and not a reminder of that kind of shit. While it's good that some people use music as a way to raise awareness, for us we're more concerned with it being a more old-fashioned, good, evil heavy metal- a fun time! It's a little weird for a metal band to talk about 'fun', but there's too many people concerned with being 'grim'. There's so many black metal bands in Europe that act that way, then they get off stage and are quoting South Park and pinching each other- if people saw this, it would totally ruin their reputation! We're four guys from Ohio and one guy from Indiana that grew up loving heavy metal, so we're not gonna pretend we're something other than heavy metal fans playing heavy metal, so we don't have this big persona. Chance grew up living to CANNIBAL CORPSE, DEICIDE and OVERKILL, so he writes stuff that's horror movie-esque, sometimes its dreamy, sometimes he'll tell me the literal interpretation, but more often its just general themes like good vs. evil as opposed to specific things or cultural events.
Conor: I was actually wondering about the live performance. I've heard two of the bands- ANCIENTS, which are really cool, and BARN BURNER, which I remember listening to their first album back when it came out and thinking they had the most awesomely brutal song titles: "Beer Today, Bong Tomorrow"... *Laughs* What I was wondering is that these bands are a fair bit more downtempo than you guys, almost like Stoner or Sludge. I was wondering how you got into this crowd; how this tour was organized?
Scott: We played a festival, called CMJ music festival in New York, kinda like SXSW in Austin; all these different venues are involved and they have music from hip-hop to metal to punk and whatever. We did a show that BARN BURNER played, and we thought they were awesome and cool guys, so we had plans to tour Canada and found they were available and they thought it was a cool idea so there you go! We've had different support every day. Although we're friends with the bass player in ANCIENTS so I guess that's how that was figured out, never heard of BAPTISTS [the second opener] though! We try to have as much say as we can for who opens but it's so hard to search every single city, so sometimes we leave it up to the promoter. I guess today's a little less of an extreme metal show; that's just how today went though. Other times, we've had a Death Metal band, a Grind band, BARN BURNER and then us, then they're the outsider. This time, it's us! It's fun to play with different bands.
Conor: What can we expect from a SKELETONWITCH show tonight?
Scott: Let's see... Standard tuning, no triggers, Marshalls, Gibsons, it'll be loud, lots of headbanging, plenty of beer drinking, and you might even see Kevin from BARN BURNER do a bong hit from his guitar!
Conor: A couple more questions, here's the most important: favourite beers?
Scott: Oh... I don't know, I've had so many beers in Europe, and most I can't remember because you can't even get them in the States. Particularly Belgian beers, really fucking good. When I'm home, I'm such a broke-ass musician, I drink PBR, shitty ass dollar beer at whatever bar we're at. Definitely a fan of the Belgian beer, though. What was your other question?
Conor: I lie, I still have two more! What's your favourite place to get a cheeseburger?
Scott: Fuck, I'm not sure! You would think these would be the easy questions! God, I don't have a favourite place! No, I take that back: Kuma's Corner in Chicago.
Kevin: I've heard of them!
Scott: Yeah, you hear alot about them on Metal websites.
Conor: Oh! Are they the ones that have the Dio burger and stuff?
Scott: The burgers are so good. That's the one.
Conor: Last question; if you could give any advice to up-and-comers and young Metal bands, what would it be?
Scott: Don't do it! *Laughs* I'm just kidding, the best advice is- overall, don't expect things to just happen. If you're wondering why things aren't happening, try to make it happen. Wonder why you're not getting signed? Try contacting labels more, contact promoters for bigger shows. We had zero help, we paid for recording our first album, sent it out to labels and booked our own tour. We sent it to every label we could think of, in the States and Europe, and every one said "No." We thought, "Fuck." So we played harder, recorded more, booked another tour, recorded an EP, we booked better shows, we learned more about recording, we just grew as a band. This time they noticed how much work we had put in. At that point, the best advice I could give is do not expect that you have it made once you get signed. That's when you should start working even harder; the labels work for bands that work for themselves. I'll contact the label and say that we're doing such-and-such tour, playing these shows, then ask "What did you do for us today?" I like to bust their balls. It's huge! They tell me most bands don't do this. The label just sends out one blanket email asking for interviews, but we contact each local entertainment paper. I mean, we all try to pull our weight as a band. We wish it could just be where we try to write the most kickass album and the rest will take care of itself, but the way it works today; hell no! If all you want to do is play guitar and get on stage and once you're off you're done, you shouldn't have your hopes high. Expect to do alot of different work that's nowhere close to your guitar.
Conor: Cheers! Any final words for Metalheads around the world?
Scott: Yeah! Just a big thanks to anyone out there who has been out there and supported us, including you! Anyone who has listened to us or bought our records or come to a show, or bought us a beer, I guess you've done at least two of those today! Doing an interview AND bringing beer!
After this, there was much talk of shitty local beer, and more cheeseburgers. By the way, the show ruled.
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