[EDITOR’S NOTE: In addition to our latest Finland Tribute Week post (below this one), today we also have another contribution from our Midwestern correspondent BadWolf — this time, a most entertaining interview with guitarist Scott Hedrick from a most awesome band, Skeletonwitch.]
The following interview with Ohio thrashers Skeletonwitch was conducted on November 20, 2010 at Frankie’s Inner City in Toledo, Ohio by BadWolf.
S-My name is Scott Hedrick; I play guitar in Skeletonwitch.
BW-Rhythm or lead?
S-Both. We trade off and on.
BW-I love twin lead guitars.
S-I don’t think there’s any reason to have one lead or one rhythm player. We [Nate Garnette and I] have different styles of rhythm and of soloing, so I think it makes it more diverse—and we can do harmonized leads too.
BW-The old-school thing, the Iron Maiden thing.
S-I love it. Some of my favorite guitarists are Tipton and Downing from Judas Priest, the Iron Maiden players, Sharmann and Denner from Mercyful Fate. My favorite players are teams of players, so it makes sense that we would do the same thing.
BW-That leads into my next question. You guys have been in some weird way labeled ‘retro.’
BW– When I hear retro-thrash or neo-thrash, the first name I hear is… Well the first name I hear is Municipal Waste, who are great, but the second name is usually you motherfuckers.
S-Really? They kind of nailed us with this retro-thrash tag and it’s not something that we call ourselves. I think we do play a more classic style of metal, meaning we don’t play seven-string guitars, we don’t down-tune, we play in E-standard. There’s a lot of elements we have that represent a more classic metal sound. There’s also a lot of thrash metal elements because we love thrash but, not to sound too artsy fartsy, it’s limiting to be called a retro-thrash band. There are great bands that do it, like you mentioned Municipal Waste, but also Toxic Holocaust or Short Sharp Shock and Warbringer. One thing that we do differently is we have a lot of death metal elements, some NWOBHM guitar techniques. Whenever I hear this label retro-thrash I check out these bands and I think they all sound the same—intentionally. They’re re-writing an old Vio-Lence record or a Nuclear Assault record. We aren’t trying to sound like we came from that time we just happen to like that style of music and classic metal, and death metal and black metal. I don’t know why we get lumped in with that crowd. Maybe it’s because we have a heavy thrash basis—our songs aren’t exactly slow, but we do get into some mid-tempo Viking stuff.
S-Yes, and the black metal stuff. It always kind of annoyed us. One of the things Nate and I theorize is that a lot of people who call us that just look at a press release some asshole wrote, look at the cover and song titles and say ‘oh it’s another one of these.’ [laughs] They skim through it without really listening to the record. And it’s not like there’s anything wrong with [retro-thrash] there’s a lot of good bands that do it, but it’s not what we do or are looking to do so… there’s my rant on that!
BW– That’s interesting, because while I used to be sort of a re-thrash sort of guy you guys are doing something very different to me—sort of bringing the ‘black’ sound to the masses to an extent.
BW-That’s not traditionally a US thing, it’s a Euro thing.
S-Yeah. We just love a lot of black metal bands. We’re huge Immortal fans. Darkthrone and Bathory as well, just as much as we like 90’s death metal and 80’s thrash. We don’t deliberately write songs in a way that we say ‘now we need a thrash part, now we need a death metal part.’ We just play riffs we like to hear, just like I imagine anyone who plays music would. You write what you want to hear. Like if you were at the front of the stage listening what would you want to hear? What makes you excited? It’s self-gratifying in a way, which is why we get all those different styles. It’s not thought out. Which is why it burns my ass when we get labeled with that retro-thrash thing. People think we sought out to do that. We aren’t like these bands where you look at them and realize it’s like they went to E-bay and found an Exodus costume.
BW-[laughs] Who sells an Exodus costume on Ebay?
S-I don’t know! I guess you have to find the pieces, the elements. But you know Exodus doesn’t even dress like Exodus did back then. But people try to pretend. They try to dress like that, act like that. ‘Every day is a pizza party—check out my fuckin’ high tops.’ I like pizza and I don’t mind high tops, but some people try too hard to pretend it’s that time and it’s not. For us it’s natural—we like all these different styles and it comes out, which is why it’s so frustrating to be labeled one thing or another. We’re not fucking Picasso, but it sucks when someone throws some label on you and when people read it they gloss over us. If somebody doesn’t really like retro thrash but is a huge death metal fan they might actually really like our band, but if they read that label…
S-I got off topic again. [laughs] But yeah, the black metal element is something that we like and it just ends up in our guitar playing.
BW-Well, I know my friends got into your band through the Metal Swim download compilation album.
BW-You guys were on that, and when they were promoting it on TV they used your guys’ music video.
S-Yeah that’s what I heard. I haven’t seen it. Everyone in the band did but… me.
S-Of course I watched the video.
BW-I’m really interested in the video because it’s just so cool. It’s such a neat little idea and it’s so well done, and there’s so many ‘oh fuck!’ moments. So many metal videos aren’t creative, aren’t funny, don’t have any personality—they just go ‘I’m in a fucking warehouse, I can pig squeal ree-ree.’ But you guys went in this fuck 4Chan furries meets Mad Max white blood zombie apocalypse prison camp thing and it is so cool.
S-Aw thanks. We were on tour, maybe it was right before we were leaving for Ozzfest, and we got a call from the Adult Swim people saying they were putting out a compilation and wanted us to put a song on it. We said we were interested but wanted to see who else is on it first. We don’t just say yes to everything.
S– So the two things that helped us make the decision to put the track in were 1) who was on it. They said Boris, Torche, Black Tusk, Death Angel.
BW-That might be my record of the year.
S-It’s so good! So I told the band ‘fuck, this sounds so good.’ I was talking on the phone—I do most of the business stuff. So I told the band who was on it and they said ‘yeah, it sounds good, we’re in good company.’ They also sent us a link to—[Adult Swim has] done other compilations; a hip-hop one, an electronic one, maybe a folk. They all had cool artwork, were well done and had good artists that had done cool shit. Jesu—they’ve put some of that out in the past. I just noticed they had this really high caliber of artists who do their stuff outside of metal, and I saw the other bands that would be on it. We said yes, it’s good company and they really care about what they put out they aren’t just throwing it together. So we said yes. A couple weeks later they called us back and said ‘we’re doing one music video for [the compilation] and we want it to be for your song “Bringers of Death.’’ We wanted to know what the video was going to be like before we said yes. They sent us a treatment—which is the video you see.
S-we read it and we were like ‘in all honesty I don’t know…’
[BadWolf is cracking up at this point]
BW-It is very weird.
S-And paper to execution is… Well after we read the treatment we asked for some things to be cut out that were kind of ridiculous. As a band we’ve always—as individuals, in interviews, hanging out as a band—had a huge sense of humor. We think we’re pretty hilarious—most people probably think we’re fucking idiots.
S-So you know we always have a good time! But we take metal seriously. We don’t want to be a joke band. We don’t want to be Steel Panther.
S-It’s serious. We grew up loving it and going to shows. It’s motivated us and inspired us. It’s made us laugh at times. It became a question of: is this something people are going to get? It was for Adult Swim as a one-time thing that is over the top and funny but will people think ‘oh they’re just trying to cash in!’ Which is funny, because people think we get paid for it.
S-We knew we were towing the line of not wanting people to think our band is a joke but wanting people to think our band has a sense of humor. We try to convey that through—as much as I hate to use this term—social networking. I’ll tag pictures of us doing things on tour I think are hilarious. Fans that see that, or come see us and then hang out know that, but when you see the music videos or listen to the records there’s not a lot of hilarity there because we take the metal seriously.
Anyway, we read the treatment, got on the phone and talked to the guys. The video was done by Authority films.
[at this point in time a middle-aged homeless man interrupts the interview]
HG-Could you all spare some change?
BW-I got nothing.
HG-How about a cigarette.
S-Sorry, I bummed this one. Good luck though.
BW-Memo to myself; transcribe that entire thing.
BW-Welcome to Toledo.
S-We travel a lot. I’ve seen it all. We talked to the directors and they had done three Mastodon videos. We watched those and they were also kind of weird—the one with clowns [‘Blood and Thunder’]. We watched a bunch of their stuff and saw that it was all very good, the shots and everything were very well-done. We talked to them about taking stuff out putting other stuff in and got to a point where we were comfortable with it. Then, on the last date of Ozzfest, August 24th in Boston—we were flying to Germany on the 28th to tour in Europe—we get the phone call to shoot this thing. We had to go to Atlanta where their studios are to shoot it. We said ‘we get back from Europe on this date,’ and they were like ‘no, no, no, it has to get done before you go to Europe because it has to be ready by this date, we can’t change that.’ So we played the last Ozzfest show and they flew a friend to Boston from Ohio—which is nice of them, they helped with expenses getting us down to Atlanta as well. Our friend drove the bus back to Ohio, we flew to Atlanta with our guitars, went over the video shoot the first day, shot the video the second day, flew back to Columbus, did laundry, got the van and flew to Europe less than 24 hours later. It made our schedule a little hectic, but it was fun to shoot and turned out well. The response has been good. I was expecting like, some dude who is extremely into black metal and cuts himself all day to be like ‘fuck you! I can’t believe this!’
BW– ‘You guys go jump off a cliff, take Nachtmystium with you!’
S-Mmhmm. I could just see some guy saying… [distracted] what the fuck?
[a lowrider Coup De Ville speeds past us being chased by a wild barking Pit Bull. Badwolf laughs.]
BW-Like I said, welcome to Toledo, we got wild dogs chasing cars.
S-Feral dogs on main street!
BW– But you’re not in Toxic Holocaust, so I can’t post the music video to that.
S– That would have been a great lead-in!
BW-It would. ‘There actually was a wild dog.’
S-I planned that.
S-So that’s the story on the Adult Swim thing. It was great to be a part of.
BW-This is personal: I’m from Ohio, you’re from Ohio. Ohio in general does not get the love. The Midwest doesn’t really get the love outside of Chicago.
S-I think you’ve just got to earn the love. It depends what you mean, I suppose. We do get a lot of shit like [in faux-disbeleif] ‘You’re from Ohio? What the fuck is there?’
BW-Who says that?
S-Oh just random people from other states, other countries. As if we don’t have Columbus, Cleveland, Cincinnati—some really major cities. They think we all live in the middle of a cornfield or something.
S-We get some love. I love Ohio. It’s not too bad. Midnight from Cleveland is awesome. Our friends Deadsea that we just played some shows with this last week are a great Columbus band. There are a lot of cool bands here. We grew up in Ohio, we love it here. We don’t have any plans to move somewhere else because Ohio is apparently not very cool to be from. What’s been your experience where Ohio doesn’t get the love?
BW-You were the last time that there was a good band signed from Ohio—at least one I wanted to listen to. The thing in Ohio right now, at least in the Cincinnati scene is the three-chord deathcore. So much three-chord deathcore.
S-I hate that shit.
BW-I kinda like a breakdown now and then.
S-I can’t speak for everybody, but I’m not a fan. I can dig the mid-tempo 90’s death metal thing that people got the idea from—it almost sounds like a breakdown when you go back and listen.
BW-Like Incantation? Yeah. Incantation, to me, sounds like a breakdown for five minutes, which is not a slam on Incantation. Get it?
S-But I can’t do the tough-guy like ‘Here we go motherfuckers!’
S-and then it’s chum chum chum forever and kids just pick up change and beat each other up.
S-If that’s what they’re into, cool. I’m not going to knock it—I’m just goofing on it because it’s not my thing. They probably hate a lot of the shit I like. But to each his own.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Here’s that video for “Bringers of Death” that BadWolf and Scott were talking about in the interview. It’s a kick-ass song and the video is indubitably one-of-a-kind:
Man I fuckin love the ‘witch…partly because I *do* like retro-thrash but also because they do their own thing and they do it well. I’m also a big fan of the standard-tuning guitars. They don’t have to achieve heaviness through changing the tone, they do it with the riffs. Additionally, it makes it so I can grab the axe and try to play along (keyword: try) without making my strings feel too unresponsive. In fact, this is actually something I’ve wondered – does anyone else think thrash metal necessarily requires that the guitars are not downtuned to something silly like drop A? You know, because trem-picking on spaghetti noodles is kind of difficult.
Also, Islander, I had no idea Ohio was in Finland. This explains everything.
I am choosing my words carefully here. I have been to Ohio. I have been to Cleveland, more than once. In the wintertime. I have stayed in a hotel In Akron that was made from hollowed-out grain silos. In the wintertime. If I had only known that I was actually in Finland, surely it would have made those visits more memorable. That is, memorable in a good way. Which they weren’t.
i was introduced to Skeletonwitch ( the song Soul Thrashing Black Sorcery, to be exact ) in the Brutal Legend video game, and caught my attention right away, seriously, i was allways skiping songs just so i could re-listen to it. Great band, unique sound and judging by this interview they seem like a bunch of nice chaps aswell.
oh and as The Artist Formerly Known as Dan said, “they don’t have to achieve heaviness through changing the tone, they do it with the riffs”.totally agree, standard tunning kicks ass.
I’d like to throw my two cents in and say Drop D is THE metal tuning for me. But E standard and drop C are cool as well.
And yeah, wild dogs? That’s why I’m the BadWolf, son!
Skeletonwitch quickly became one of my favorite bands shortly after hearing Beyond the Permafrost and then came Breathing the Fire and I nearly soiled my pants. They are so much more than any one sub-genre can define. All Hail The ‘Witch!
Ahh, Toledo… a.k.a. Detroit-South 😛
But anywho, nice interview! Skeletonwitch kick some serious ass, yet I still haven’t managed to catch them live; soon hopefully…
I still remember being blown away by ‘Beyond the Permafrost’ when we got the cd at my college radio station when I was metal director there! Been a fan ever since!
I had originally not listened to Skeletonwith precisely because I thought they were re-thrash, and I have no interest in it. (I’m not a big fan of thrash either.) So thanks to this interview (and AWESOME video), I am finding myself interested.
Thanks to you, BadWolf!!