(Randy Radic contributed to this interview)
What is the most trouble you've ever gotten into?
I guess that depends on your version of "trouble". For me, trouble is when I can't do what I want to do, so the most trouble I think I have been in would be the hospitalizations for mysterious illnesses, months with a catheter, kidney stones, wheelchair days, and stuff like that. If you mean trouble with authorities, fights, or legal issues, well, I used to be a patrol leader for the Guardian Angels, served in the Army, conducted undercover investigations for animal rights groups, led protests, and was briefly a private investigator for some high profile political clients, so I've been in all kinds of crazy situations. I've been a professional troublemaker.
What are the five things you can't live without?
Aside from the obvious like water, air, food, and medicine, I can't live without Danzig memes. The source of life is in the dank Danzig memes. He who controls the Danzig memes controls the universe.
Comedy is essential too. I need to laugh often. That's why I watch Kanye West's interviews and twitter feed. Kanye West is the greatest unintentional comedian of our generation, the Forrest Gump of comedy, the hip-hop Sarah Palin. I'm really glad that Kanye unwittingly stepped up to take the position in our culture that was vacated when Stephen Colbert pulled the plug on "The Colbert Report".
I also don't think that I would want to live without genuine people. Genuine people make our brief time here much more pleasant. It makes all the difference in every endeavor.
It should probably go without saying that I can't live without fur people. I wouldn't be alive today without dogs and cats in my life. When I was a really little kid, and my older brother was dying in the hospital from heart disease and a botched blood transfusion, our family dog was the only one who really understood me. I would sit and look out the window and think, as a four year old child, about death, and life and what it meant, and Toby, our dog, would come and sit with me. It meant the world.
Lastly, I couldn't live without Italian food. Without pizza, lasagna, spaghetti, and garlic bread, the world would be a dismal and hopeless place.
What's your favorite song to belt out in the car or the shower?
I don't really have a favorite song, and I'll sing anything that I know the lyrics to, however everything usually comes back to a Misfits, AFI, or Nine Inch Nails song, which is why we have plans to highlight some of those songs on future releases.
What kind of guitar do you play? And why?
I play several. Eleutherios was recorded on a Breedlove acoustic, and I have an endorsement with them because I think they make really fantastic instruments. Great tone, durable, hand-made, constructed in the USA - can't beat that.
I have this old Ibanez from ages ago too. I mostly use it to write when I travel. It is the lowest grade, mass-manufactured, acoustic guitar that Ibanez has ever made. Absolute bottom of the barrel. Over the decades I've glued rubies, emeralds, and sapphires to it, covered it in stickers from the places it has travelled to, dropped it more than a few times, and it is still kicking and sounds great. You don't need to spend a bunch of money to get a good instrument.
What musicians influenced you the most?
My mother was the most influential musician to me. She would sing and play the guitar for us when we were really little, and I thought that was the coolest thing.
In terms of well-known musicians... that's tough. Of course, lots of musicians have influenced me, just like anyone else who ever picked up an instrument, bought a CD, or listened to the radio. Everyone who is doing their own thing in their own way is a positive influence. Even if I don't prefer their sound, or if their attempts at self-expression are lost on me, I still respect the drive, confidence, and passion that many artists exhibit. We are very fortunate to live in a time where people like Trent Reznor, Glenn Danzig, David Bowie, Davey Havok, Nivek Ogre, David Tibet, Praga Khan, and Buzz McCoy can find an audience, share their gifts, and inspire us with their originality and creativity.
I heard Lionel Richie in Conversation with Kevin Spacey the other day at a Musicares event, and I found Lionel's story really influential, even though our musical styles are worlds apart. I love that he was open and unashamed of the fact that, like me, he can't read a lick of music. He said that Frank Sinatra and Luciano Pavarotti were the same way. That was a pretty inspiring thing to hear.
In my review of your EP, I described your musical style as Gothic folk or Neo-folk. How would you describe it?
If you are talking about Eleutherios, I would actually describe it as an LP/Album since it is nine songs. As much as I love, and find inspiration in, the music of David Tibet and Current 93, I don't think that we really have much in common with neo-folk bands or neo-folk music. Gothic Folk is distinct from Neo-folk, and is not "Goth-Folk". We have a stronger rock sound than neo-folk bands normally do, and I can't think of any neo-folk fans, playlists, or websites who have picked up our stuff. Neo-folk tends to not have much variety in the vocals, the lyrics are often more blatantly esoteric than ours, and since we are defining what Gothic Folk means as an emerging genre we are not locked into a rigid definition or standard the way that an established genre like Neo-folk is.
I first used the term "Gothic Folk" about 16 years ago to my friends as a way to describe the slow, folksy-acoustic, grunge, metal, and punk covers I was doing and it seems to have stuck around. For the most part, I don't describe the music. Most of my interactions have been with people who already heard the music, so I didn't really need to define it, but when I was at the Grammys a few days ago and surrounded by people who hadn't yet heard the album I was asked "What kind of music do you create?" probably a hundred times, and I just kind of froze up when people asked that because I don't generally think in terms of genre. I like what I like, and dislike what I dislike, and you may not like what I like, and that's okay. Beyond that, I don't like to label, or put a lot of definitions on things.
When trying to define the music I usually quote what magazines and blogs say about it. For example, Scallywag Magazine called us "The King and Queen of Gothic Folk" and said "It's a pure gothic folk record". Static said "If you're looking for the lovechild of the genres Gothic and Folk, look no further". Contact Music recommended it "if you like Gothic folk music." New York Music Examiner, Verbal Slap, Delusions of Adequacy, Pop Dose, The Big Takeover and a bunch of other publications keep referring to Eleutherios as a Gothic Folk album too, and the Global Music Awards gave us a gold medal for "Alternative Rock Gothic Folk", so if that's the label that music industry professionals want to use I'm not going to stand in their way, but I'm not going to restrict myself to their opinions.
Personally, I think that "Eleutherios" is largely a folk-rock/acoustic grunge album with classical music influence, dark poetic lyrics, instrumentation that hints of punk, baroque, and Celtic music, and vocals that can be both low key and emotional, or a rock tenor belt... but that's what "Gothic Folk" is. They keep calling this album "Gothic Folk", so whatever "Eleutherios" is must be what Gothic Folk is.
Why Gothic folk rather than alternative rock or some other style?
Gothic Folk is a branch of Alternative Rock. We've won folk, rock, and alternative awards, so Eleutherios, and by extension Gothic Folk, is a hybrid of multiple styles and genres, while not restricted to any specific one.
This album is an acoustic album because that's how the music sounded when I heard it in my head. I hate trying to wrangle a live band and I wanted to have something that I could perform with just a microphone and a guitar, so I am glad that it came out this way.
Where do you find inspiration for your songs?
I wish that I knew. As things are now, the inspiration finds me. Usually in dreams, or just after I wake up, but sometimes at inopportune moments where I have to rush to the privacy of a public bathroom to hum the song into my phone before it fades.
What is your songwriting process? Does the music come first and then the lyrics?
Sometimes I pick up a new instrument and a song comes out, but usually I hear a song in a dream, or it flashes through my mind during the day, and I hum it into my phone. Later I go and plunk it out on guitar, and then a word will come to me which becomes the title. After that the lyrics happen. The whole process usually takes ten minutes to an hour. For the most part, I just listen to the music and the words I hear drifting through my head space and record them as they find me.
Will you be doing another Gothic folk album in the future? Or do you think you might try a different genre?
I can't control the music. It comes when it comes, and takes whatever form it takes. There is no criterion and I have no expectation for the music to come in any form. I have a couple of hundred parts and pieces of songs that have come to me. Some are marches, others orchestra pieces, some sound kind of pop-punk-ish. I don't know what the music is going to do. I don't anticipate it, and I don't project my expectations onto it.
For example, "Throe" was a collection of horror punk songs that I recorded 15 years ago and just found last year. That's what the music sounded like in my head, so that's what came out in the studio. My upcoming record "Torment - An Acoustic Tribute To Danzig" is going to be an acoustic collection of songs by The Misfits, Samhain, and Danzig. I heard the rough first draft of our cover of Danzig's song "How The Gods Kill" and so far I really like it. It sounds similar to Eleutherios in mood and atmosphere, but more developed and stronger. All in all, this is probable better termed a Gothic Folk tribute to Danzig, Samhain, and The Misfits, but most people don't know Samhain, and Gothic Folk is pretty new to many ears, so an Acoustic Tribute to Danzig will make more sense to most listeners.
Was Eleutherios well-received by the critics? By listeners?
We keep getting royalties from listeners who keep spinning it, buying the CD, and downloading tracks, and we have had dozens of very positive reviews, many of which were truly glowing. We've won top honors in the global music awards, radio music awards, indie music channel awards, IMEA awards, etc., in addition to 13 "For Your Consideration" placements in the first round of the 58th Grammy awards. The judges and critics for all of those competitions are seasoned industry veterans and they seemed to like "Eleutherios" well enough to put their names and reputations behind it in high-profile industry publications like "Billboard", so I think it would be fair to say that the album was well received by both critics and listeners.
Will you be touring in the near future? If so, where?
Yes. We have a short West Coast tour coming up, as well as a mountain cities tour, and then an extended European tour all scheduled for this year.
It's presumptuous to ask at this point, but are there any new songs on the drawing board? If so, when do you plan to go back into the studio?
Not presumptuous at all. I've been very vocal about the upcoming projects. I'm back in the studio right now working on "Torment - An Acoustic Tribute to Danzig". We also have a new full-length album of original content called "Tremble" that we need to record this year. The label is getting a bit grouchy because I have been dragging my heels, so I need to get on it. We have four or five songs for it already. I'm just waiting on the music to manifest, and then we will complete it.
I have a bunch of new instruments - handmade Greek lyres, traditional Indian instruments like sitars, really spacey sounding steel tongue drums, and electric guitars with the hottest pickups that can rage with the best of them. I'm not sure which, if any, of those sounds will end up on the full-length album of new original songs, but I think that it gives the music more opportunity to manifest in different forms.
If you look at the spine of Eleutherios you will see that it says "Sphere Ten". "Throe" has the words "Sphere Nine", so it would appear that we are counting down to something, which should tell you a bit about what we have planned as far as new material goes.
Gothic folk music is dark. That being said, what is it about Gothic folk that attracts you?
What you call "dark", I call romantic, and I mean that in the classical sense of romanticism as the glorification of all aspects of the human condition. Sure, songs like "Immured" contain themes of death, betrayal, and hauntings, but there's a reason the story of a bride immured into a wall on her wedding day has permeated European culture for centuries. There are beautiful, life affirming, themes in that story in spite of, and sometimes because of, the apparently tragic themes.
Life is a continuing struggle to balance the experiences of suffering and peace. Too much, or too little, of either one causes severe mental distress. If you listen closely to Eleutherios, both to the individual songs, and to the album as a whole concept, you will see this struggle, and go on a journey where that balance is sought, and eventually attained. The songs were arranged in a very specific way so that the entire album is a journey. The individual tracks have been able to stand independent of the whole on the radio and through sales as singles, but if you aren't listening to the entire album in sequence and going on the journey, you are missing out on most of the experience.
I am not especially attracted to Gothic Folk as a genre, especially since it didn't exist as a genre until very recently, and the few of us creating Gothic Folk music are still defining what that means. I don't think that I have any acoustic or folk artists on any of my playlists. Most of what I listen to falls into the rock, metal, punk, and industrial categories.