Machine Music's Albums of the Decade: An Interview with Intercourse
This is the 47th installment of the Albums of the Decade series of interviews. For the rest of the series go HERE.]
Album: Everything is Pornography When You've Got an Imagination
Label: Constant Disappointment Records / Eye Tape Records
Favorite Song: "Cum Kind of Monster"
The Bare Bones: Everything is Pornography When You've Got an Imagination is the second full length album by Connecticut hardcore/noise rock outfit Intercourse.
The Beating Heart: My first encounter with Intercourse was randomly clicking on their 2019 EP Bum Wine and feeling like my head was given an emotional facelift (kind of like that lady in the "Black Hole Sun" video, only worse). It had so many of the things I love about music – it was heavy, it was weird, it felt loose and strange. Above all it felt real. I realize that's a loaded concept when discussing art and representation, but it just felt real, like some actual weird person was having a profound emotional moment with fantastic, bent music rampaging in the background. Like he was at the show, and so was I.
I then fumbled my dazed body toward checking out what else this strange beast had to offer and stumbled upon their previous full-length, and the topic of our current conversation, Everything is Pornography. It was in that moment, listening to Intercourse frontman Tarek Ahmed screaming: "Fuck Dave Mustaine!" that I knew I had a new favorite band. A band that combined the ferocity of hardcore, the existential angst of noise rock, the incidental metal attack, and, more than anything, the feeling of something original happening, and that that thing is happening to your face.
So, what follows is my conversation with Tarek about that album, about how he approached music and lyrics (one of the absolute best lyricists out there today), and also about Megadeth. Yes, this interview includes a Megadeth-nerd-out section. A few, in fact. I guess you're just going to have to deal with it. Oh, and one last thing. This conversation actually took place a year ago, with the delay being due to life happening all the time and the absolute nightmare that is transcribing. I actually reference this fact at some point, for you eagle-eyed folks out there.
As always, before we get to my exchange with Tarek this is my chance to encourage you to check out the rest of the Albums of the Decade series and Pillars of the 90s interview series as well our kinda-dead, kinda-alive podcast (YouTube, Spotify and all that) and/or our latest compilation album MILIM KASHOT VOL. 3, and read our 2021 AOTY list. Also follow us on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Spotify, Tiktok and support whatever it is that we do on Patreon, if you like what you see here (for whatever reason). Thank you for your time and support. On to Tarek.
Is there a song or album that really changed what you thought about music? Obviously this happens a lot in an artist’s life, but I guess the emphasis would be as a younger person.
Well, I remember my mom played me Black Sabbath when I was five. I grew up on rock and metal. I just remember listening to that – it was Paranoid – for the first time and just going “Whoa. I remember hearing “Iron Man” and being really fascinated by that whole story and getting obsessed with that album. I also remember seeing the video for Marilyn Manson’s “Sweet Dreams” on MTV at two in the morning when I was about 12, and it scared the fucking shit out of me. I had a subscription to Spin at the time, and he was in it talking about the Church of Satan. I just remember one day after reading that and thinking: “What the fuck is this!? Who are these people? Can I go to this concert? Will I be murdered?”
Marliyn Manson is such a shitty topic right now, but that was a very formative “What the fuck” moment for me. It was so dark, it just weirded me out so fucking much.
Did you end up seeing him live?
Yeah, I saw him live in ‘97, on the Antichrist Superstar tour.
Were you murdered?
No, I wasn’t murdered, it was a great show. Years ago, about five years ago, my brother and I did a documentary about a band from South Florida called Flo, who were a local band with Manson in the early 90s, and everybody we interviewed knew them from back in the day. Our first interview was with Daisy Berkowitz, or Scott Putesky, RIP. And so Manson….. I mean, all the allegations [against him] are awful, but even before that I kind of had him ruined because so many people that knew him back in the day they all basically said: “That guy was the biggest dickhead ever.”
So, what did you mean by growing up on rock and metal? Your parents were into that? Why would your mom play Black Sabbath to you when you’re five?
Yeah, isn’t that weird? Thanks mom, I think you kind of ruined my life by introducing me to metal.
Yeah, stuff like Guns n’ Roses…. I remember Van Halen very specifically, all that 80s metal – Def Leppard, Van Halen, Cinderella, Aerosmith. The list goes on. Megadeth.
Just playing in the house?
Yeah, just playing in the house or in the car.
And Megadeth was part of that too?
Megadeth was the first band I got into on my own. My mom had no choice but to listen to Megadeth since I would listen to it in the car when I was 11. But she did not enjoy Dave Mustaine’s voice.
Well, her and most of humanity, but we might get to that a bit later. But you know it’s interesting since Marilyn Manson – dick as he is – is really a very theatrical musician, in that Alice Cooper shock-rock tradition. And Black Sabbath is kind of theatrical too in its way, with some of the themes and general vibe. And so I guess if someone got from there to something like industrial music of black metal or whatever. There’s a kind of through line there. But you got from that to punk and hardcore, which are on the face of it not that theatrical or anti-theatrical. It's an anti-show, the “real me.”
So I guess my question is whether you feel connected to that scaring-people part of it all? And if so, how do you go about doing that without all the bells and whistles of metal theatrics?
I would say "no," I don’t, at all. I actually had this conversation earlier today with my wife, and apparently I’m just a cartoon character.
One time when we were dating she came to one of my shows and I told one of her friends “Oh, I hope she doesn’t get freaked out because it’s all very theatrical.” There’s nothing theatrical in how I go about my stuff on stage, I just said that to a girl I was dating that I could just write off as being theatrical. But this is 100 percent…. Honestly, I always fucking hated those people who said: “Oh, my stage persona.” I don’t have a persona on stage, I have a persona when I’m at the fucking grocery store, when I’m going through Walmart, or when someone’s talking to me and I have to act all interested. When we’re playing shows I can just be honest. And people can just laugh it off and say I’m being a performer, but there’s no persona. The persona is for when I go into a job interview.
Well, I get that, but that doesn’t necessarily contradict my question. You can imagine a world in which Marilyn Manson doesn’t perceive his costumes as being dishonest. And I’m just going to through out this guess that there’s a chance he feels he’s being completely honest. But, other people would look at that same set up and say it looks fate or just a performance. I think often when people discuss “show” or “performance” they assume there’s a dishonesty or fakeness about it. Or, the other way around, there might be people who come in to see Intercourse and think that all that energy you put out during your performance is a persona, a way for you to be someone you’re not. So maybe your sense of being authentic and their sense of you performing a character, maybe they can exist at the same time?
Maybe it’s because I grew up on Marilyn Manson, I don’t know. My wife says I become a caricature of myself when we play live.
Would you agree?
Probably. I mean, I have a microphone and no one can talk over me.
[Laughs]. Yeah, I get that. I just think that maybe not all artists that are honest on stage might seem to be honest to be other people. I’ve been kind of grappling with this idea of authenticity and being real because obviously you could also perform “being real,” right? The acoustic guitar is a great symbol of this. Like you would come up after a couple Intercourse songs with just an acoustic guitar and sing “from the heart” with some soft lightning and people would assume that this is that rare honest moment whereas in all reality the other parts of the show were just as honest. And to me punk and hardcore are often places where authenticity gets performed. There’s a lot about the hardcore aesthetic that is about conveying authenticity. Does any of this make sense?
I think so, I don’t know. Now I’m just wondering if I sounded like a pretentious dick a minute ago.
No, no, I’m the one who sounds like a pretentious dick, trust me.
Yes, I am. I really, really am. But anyhow, speaking of the hardcore aesthetic, when you guys started out, was there a sense that you were working within a specific scene or were you just on your own, doing your own thing?
I was 29 when I started this and I had been in bands since I was 17. And during that whole time I had played in the metalcore and metal scene and it would cross over to hardcore every once in a while. And I just got to a point where I couldn’t scream over another fucking breakdown.
So, really, when I got into this, I had really no idea what I was getting myself into. I was introduced to the crust-punk scene a little bit, but I had no fucking clue what was out there. And I think we were just lucky enough that when we started a couple of other like-minded bands were also popping up, like Grizzlor and Sperm Donor. Like, literally within a month of us forming, as if someone had flipped a switch and suddenly there was noise rock in New Haven. We kind of just wanted to be in-between scenes, we wanted to be undefinable – noise rock but also 80s hardcore. To just be fucking weird and not be metal.
But it seems that decisions kind of went differently than you might have planned, since you wanted no scene and then suddenly a scene presented itself as you guys formed.
Yeah, but it was perfect, though. Because you have to have somebody you can play with. Because we always thought we were too weird for straight-up hardcore people and straight-up metal people, and so it worked out well for us.
Too weird how? In can’t/won’t book metal or hardcore shows? How were you made to feel weird?
Well, we’ll play with anybody, but then we just get fucking stared-at as if we have three heads the whole time. I mean, I would consider us a hardcore band, but if you go to our first EP, there aren’t any breakdowns or any two-step parts. It’s all just kind of noise-punk. Even Everything is Pornography has maybe two breakdowns. There aren’t a whole lot of “dance” parts.
I think you might be the first person I’ve talked to from that area, but there’s this whole thing with New England hardcore. It obviously has a deep history with Youth of Today and the Boston scene, and later on that kind of metalcore-ish scene that brought on bands like Isis, Cave In, and Converge. I guess to me it feels like the “Florida question” in metal: Why are so many bands coming from this specific area? So, do you have an explanation for that area’s deep-seated connection with hardcore?
Well, you have college towns. You have New York hardcore, that’s where hardcore sprung up. The Ramones was ‘77 and that’s where it started, really artsy, and then it shifted to Agnostic Front, Cro Mags. And then you have the Boston scene with SSD and Jerry’s Kids and all that. And Connecticut, well I guess I should know more about Connecticut’s history, but we have Hatebreed, and obviously Youth of Today. As far as the metalcore you’re referencing in the late 90s and early 2000s, there was a really fertile scene for that. There was this promoter in Springfield, West Massachusetts called Scott Lee who really cultivated it. That’s where you got bands like Killswitch Engage, Unearth, The Acacia Strain. He started the New England Metal and Hardcore Fest, which was a mecca for all of that shit. Oh, and I forgot Overcast and Shadows Fall were from that area too. So, everything kind of worked around that scene, and that’s why there was such a huge metalcore explosion here in the early 2000s.
So, basically it was down to the people trying to make something happen in that area along with the fact that there were enough college towns to supply the crowds?
Yeah. Plus, in Connecticut you’ve got to give Hatebreed its credit because Jamey Jasta was the guy who was booking all the shows, he was finding the venues, when venues went out he would find new ones, he was a promoter, he was bringing bands through. He’s a very well-known person in hardcore. It’s a good scene around here. People complain about Connecticut, but the cool this is that we’re an hour from New York, we’re a few hours from Boston, it’s a very central place with access to a lot of cool spots. As opposed to being from South Florida or Miami Beach. Florida is a huge state and you have to drive nine hours to get anywhere. So a lot of times bands from down there are fucked, because nobody wants to come through there and it takes forever to get out. Did I answer your question?
Yeah, I think you did. That it’s a combination of key figures who are motivated to do shit, like Scott Lee and Jamie Jasta. Which is important, because I think a lot of times artists aren’t motivated to do the logistics of shows….
Ha, true. Well, except for me. I’ve had to become a promoter these past four years. That shit sucks. I can’t imagine being a promoter and not being in a band, just doing it to be a promoter. You’d have to be fucking insane.
Why did you have to? Did no one promote you?
No. I mean, we could get on shows, and honestly I would love to be put on shows more because that way I wouldn’t have to book them. I think it kind of happened slowly. As we picked up some heat or a buzz, when bands would tour they would hit us up for shows and I would just end up booking the show instead of finding someone else to do it. And then next thing you know you’re a promoter for three or four years.
So, basically, motivated people, geography – which also factors in the proximity to all these college campuses –
And it’s a nice place to tour, just because it’s so close to everything. You can play Connecticut one night, Boston the next, play New York, play Philly.
And supposedly good pizza.
Connecticut has the best pizza.
I’m basing this solely on Julia Roberts movies from the late 80s.
[Laughs] You are correct!
So, usually what I do when I do these things is listen to the discography, a lot, just trying to find something to latch on to. And so I started at the beginning with Enablers.
That’s the worst one! [Laughs]
Not going to say that! But it almost sounded like a by-the-numbers hardcore album, in a good way. It’s gritty and heavy, but the weird wasn’t really there yet, for me. Then I moved on to Pissing in the Abyss, and that already had some significant changes and felt like really laying down the template for whatever it is you’re doing now. And it sounded different, there was a change of producer/studio, you might want to talk about that. But one of the things which really made it interesting for me was that it felt like you were becoming the main event. That’s not to the detriment of the band in any way, because they’re amazing and in a way have to be amazing in order to provide the kind of platform that allows you to be the focal point. You’re such a weird focal point, so the band has to be best band in the universe in order to hold up that frame for you to freak out over.
And then by the time we get to Everything is Pornography everything just falls into place. And I’ll just read my note about your performance in that album: “Sounds like Jackson Pollock decided to stop trying to paint a picture and just drip paint.” The vocals get more and more abstract and unhinged. And this is kind of apropos to the talk I had with Sean Ingram in that it sounds like you and the band are just doing very different things at the same time. They’re in a science lab and you’re just vomiting all over their experiment. And while your delivery isn’t the same and the bands are not the same, it feels like that kind of abstraction.
So, I guess the first obvious question is: What was different for you and the band going into Everything is Pornography that made it sound so different?
Well, as far as Enablers is concerned, the band was Jay [Barnes], the guitar player who was on that, and Caleb [Porter], the drummer, and all the music was written by a guy called Kev King, who then left the band before Pissing Into the Abyss. So that’s why it’s like a different band, because on Pissing it’s Jay and Caleb writing the songs and this other guy Ian [McNulty], who was in the band at the time. So, in a way, Pissing had the first lineup of the band, our first stab of writing as a band. And, yeah, in Everything is Pornography it was…. Something happens when a band gets together, the first songs are always cool but then once everyone gets used to writing together the second batch is really great. And that’s what happened there.
And you know, that’s funny, we get the “Jackson Pollack” thing a lot, that’s not the first time we’ve heard that.
Yeah. As far as vocals, I just got bored of screaming. Of doing that monotonous screaming vocal, and I got more into noise rock. And I definitely do try to play against rhythms and get weirder and weirder over everything. I don’t know, I like experimenting with my voice. I try to do something different with my voice in every recording, to add some kind of new element or new silly voice.
I’ve never been in a band, but I would think that, as in any human endeavor, one of the first things you need to overcome is expectations of how things should be done. And so if I were a singer – which I am not – I would assume that that would come with a certain set of expectations, one of those being that you need to fit with what the band is doing. So seeing that that might have been the case, was there a point you remember the moment you started painting over the lines and liking it?
Yeah, in my last band before Intercourse I was at a benefit for a friend who had lost his leg. And it was a bunch of metalcore bands, and I remember just sitting there watching them thinking “Everyone of those singers sounds exactly the same, if I closed my eyes they would all sound exactly the same.” They had a medium-pitched voice, and then they would go low or they would go high. To the point that I started hearing myself sound like that. And I was just like: “I don’t want to sound like that.” I had to unlearn screaming, because I had the technique for a metalcore screaming style and I wanted to sound like someone like David Yow, like someone who didn’t really know what he was doing and was just kind of yelping into the microphone and doing all different types of shit. So, yeah, for me that was the sole reason for starting this band, that I wanted to start doing vocals like that, and I guess I could have tried them over breakdowns or something, but, I don’t know, it was fucking stupid.
So, yeah, if you’re a singer you literally have one job. All you have to do is not sound like the next guy. You just have to be recognizable and carve out your own unique place. That’s what I’m all about. And, also, lyrics come first to me. So, I write lyrics and then try to figure out how to fit them over the song. I have something I want say and I say it, and then figure it out. Fuck the music.
Is the band OK with that? Actually, I’ll ask that differently: Was your band always OK with that?
Oh, the band loves it. Everyone knew what I was going for. Also, we would go in to record and no one would know what the lyrics were, and they told me that one of their favorite parts was always was sitting in the control room and listen to me record vocals, because they had no idea what I was about to say. I would finish a take and then look over through the glass and see everyone clutching their stomachs laughing.
[Laughs] That’s the best reaction you can hope for.
Yeah. I mean, I don’t know. It’s fun, it’s more fun to sing this way. Also, that hardcore screaming, that can hurt after a while. I’m 37. When I was 18 I could do that all fucking day, every day, there was no problem. By the time I hit 30 my voice was going. My voice is getting shot just right now, just from talking.
Sorry about that.
No, I love this shit. Now I know how to do vocal warmups and cooldowns, but even then – no one wants to do the same shit over and over again. When I was 17 I was doing vocals and I sounded like, I don’t know, Jacob Bannon or the first singer from Poison the Well. Can you imagine? Doing the same shit for twenty years?
I think that’s an interesting point, originality and personality and all that. Firstly because not everyone cares about that. For me I’ve noticed that the bands I like are those that, whether intentionally or not, try to be different or just happen to be different. And a lot of them have a similar story: Band comes up in scene X, starts feeling out of place because everyone is basically doing the same thing, tries different shit, feels ostracized, doesn't really have a crowd, and then finds their niche. That’s basically the template, right?
Right. There was no crowd. And that’s another thing. We’re always fun to watch…. People started caring about us when well, when Everything is Pornography came out. Six months before it came out we released a single and people started paying attention. I was 34. I had played for fucking three people with their arms crossed for fucking 17 years. So I didn’t get any clout or validation for doing it, I just did because I liked it that whole time. Now people get it. And that’s cool, I can’t complain.
So there wasn’t really a crowd.
But that’s kind of where it gets interesting for me, because that desire to be different, and take that and add it to that thing we talked about earlier in terms of performance vs. authenticity. Because if you want to be different, simply because that’s more in line with who you are. I mean, it sounds like a teenagery thing to say, but not in that way…
I’ve been an alien practically my whole life. So, there were many years where I tried to fit in.
And you gave up trying to fit in, right?
So, sometimes, and maybe this is your experience, people are forced into the corner of not being able to fit in, and some people could fit in but just won’t. At that point you kind of become this caricature of “You don’t want me to fit in, so fuck you!” And then at that point, if we travel to 1960s London, people would see someone like Davie Bowie performing as Ziggy Stardust and say: “All that dude is doing is putting on a show, a performance of someone he isn’t”. But David Bowie could say: “No, that’s who I actually am, I’m an alien.” And so I want to take those two points – not fitting in and being so-called “performative” into a conversation about Dave Mustaine. One of the reasons I feel that liking Megadeth is such a huge personality test for me is that liking Megadeth means you have to tolerate things you don’t like in the thing you love. That you have no illusions as to the perfection or lack thereof of the thing you are listening to. You never inhabit the dream world of thinking that you’re listening to the ideal frontman performing the ideal music. Dave Mustaine, and I’m sure you’ve heard it all before, sounds like a dead frog, or a crow, or whatever.
Yeah. “I love the music, but I can’t get over his vocals.” Where in reality it’s the other way around – that the vocals are the key to appreciating what they’re doing. That the most important thing isn’t sounding good – isn’t fitting in – but being whatever it is you fucking are.
Sorry about that
No! Don’t be. Though I should say I love Dave Mustaine’s vocals.
I prefer him over Hetfield. Hetfield is a metal vocalist. Dave’s a punk, and his voice is a punk rock voice. He sounds a lot like the singer from Gangrene. He sings with almost a Lee Ving sneer. And it’s just that, it’s imperfect and it’s spiteful and it’s snotty. I love Dave Mustaine. Remember when you messaged me about the “Fuck Dave Mustaine” [in “Cum Kind of Monster”] and I was like “No, no, you don’t get it! I say “fuck” and then I say “Dave Mustaine.” I love Dave Mustaine. I would probably cry if I met Dave Mustaine.
[Laughs] I actually wanted to get to some stuff about the lyrics, but we’re already talking “Cum Kind of Monster.” When we messaged about this you said, if I understood you well, that what that section of the song was really the voice of a very frustrated Lars Ulrich because Dave Mustaine is this ghost in his head that he can’t get out. I wasn’t sure I wanted to go there, but…. You’ve tried to fit in and couldn’t, which is basically directly addressed in “The Kids are Alt-Right.” And so to what extent that angry Lars Ulrich voice, eating its own self like battery acid, is a big “fuck you” to being just like everyone else? Does that make sense?
I mean, literally the way I exist and live my life is a big “fuck you” to that. Everything about this, about this band, in every lyric. That’s why everything is unfiltered and too-much-information honesty. But let me just explain real quick about the Lars Ulrich thing. In Some Kind of Monster there’s this part where Bob Rock has this confrontation with James Hetfield in the lunchroom. And Lards is pacing around and saying: “Fuck! That’s all I hear in my head all day, every day: ‘fuck!” So, that was just me quoting that, and then I just happened to scream “Dave Mustaine.” For whatever reason after I did that part, I started screaming “Dave Mustaine.” So it came out like I was saying “Fuck Dave Mustaine,” but that’s not what I meant.
I get that, but I actually think that works beautifully because the quoting Lars part that then morphs into “Dave Mustaine” is kind of perfect because it’s as if Lars only hears “Fuck Dave Mustaine” in his head. Sometimes in the track it’s Lars in the first person, sometimes he’s described, it’s just this whole emotional mess that then crescendos with “Fuck Dave Mustaine” is just perfect in that.
I love Lars. Lars is my favorite member of Metallica.
I think he’s my favorite too, but he’s also my least favorite. He’s my favorite because I think he’s will is and was always the only thing that was keeping that band moving. He’s also my favorite but I think that accidentally he’s one of the greatest drummers ever, just because he can’t keep time.
[Laughs] It takes talent!
It does! It takes talent to not be able to keep time and to think that it’s a good idea. So, he’s my favorite because if there’s a personality to that band, it’s his. He’s the only one there with a personality.
He is, you’re right.
But he’s the least favorite in a way that’s similar to why Dave Mustaine was my childhood hero and someone I’m often ashamed of liking. It’s a similar duality. Because sometimes originality brings with it things that aren’t pretty, that make you cringe that you then have to wrestle with while you enjoy its fruits. Which also makes it very clear for me why those two couldn’t coexist in the same band.
Because two people like that in the same room is bad news.
I don’t know if anyone realizes this – this is how much of a dork I am about writing songs – but the song [“Cum Kind of Monster”] starts off starting about masterbating and shifts into Metallica with the “James Hetfield told me so” part, but that’s because James Heffield narrated a documentary on pornography addiciton.
Yeah. I’ve actually watched it [laughs]
[Laughs] Is that real?!
Yeah, it was on Hulu. Just google it. There’s a documentary about pornography addiction that’s narrated by James Hetfield.
That’s insane. Anyway. I had a bunch of stuff I wanted to ask about specific songs, and maybe we can touch on the metal aspect that’s in much of what the band does. The blast beats, for instance. But out of all those smaller things there was this general theme in your lyrics that I wanted to ask you about. We already talked about your lyrics a bit, and how you don’t really care if the music and the words fit as much. And from all of that I assume that for you writing lyrics is kind of a free-flowing, associative process. That you maybe write them and then maybe tinker with them a bit, but it seems that a lot of it has to do with not thinking about what you’re doing.
Yeah. The best songs always kind of come out of you in one swoop. I’ll get an idea for writing, and then the pen hits the paper and it doesn’t come back up until I’ll finish the song, that’s just how it’s the most honest. Sometimes I’ll rearrange stuff or I’ll make them fit better or change words just so it’s good, rigorous English. But in general we try to try as little as possible. That’s why the songs are short, we just try to not overthink things.
So, given that’s your approach it might feel weird to talk about themes, since as far as you’re concerned there are no themes, just you being expressive. But from the point of view of a reader it seems that a lot of times your voice in the lyrics or the voice of the character speaking in the lyrics is that of a negative person: a lurking ghost, an alien, and sometimes just a bad person. When you say “people’s hearts are just chew toys” [in “The Book of God”], that’s not “nice guy” thing to say. But you always come across as a very nice person. So, I guess I wonder what it is about that position that’s interesting to you? Of the ghost, the alien, the person who’s being difficult or even sometimes cruel?
I don’t know. I mean, the “people’s hearts are just chew toys” that song’s about true crime. I’m a big true crime reader, so that’s just me wondering: “Why am I into this shit?” Also at: “If it wasn’t for this morbid curiosity I wouldn’t know anything at all.” I have so much dumb true crime knowledge and so much knowledge of the macabre and all kinds of fucked up shit that I guess it’s just me examining that. And it doesn’t bother me at all. The only thing that really makes me turn away is violence towards cats. Specifically. I can read any horrible true-crime thing and just go to bed. It does not bother me.
But even in “Beyond Human” and in “Naugatuck's Alright If You Like Suboxone,” there are all these people talking, and they all sound like pretty unpleasant people. As if they’re set apart from other people. As if there are people, leading relatively normal lives, and then there’s this person who’s either above it, or beneath it, or outside of it, but never really in it. A lot of “fuck this shit!” and not really caring about coming across as nice or as pleasant. Obviously in something like “The Kids are Alt Right,” whether or not it’s biographical, it’s maybe clearer why the person speaking is always made to feel like an outsider.
Yeah, that really happened to me.
So, maybe that outsider position is something you kind of weaponize. Maybe turning it from “I’m outside and I’m less than you” to “I’m outside and I’m better than you.” If that makes sense.
Yeah, I think I am super nice, and maybe because I do have all these negative, shitty thoughts I do kind of express them like that. A lot of songs start off as an idea for a short story. Like: This kid, who was a real piece of shit when he was younger” and…. One night I got so drunk. Did you ever get so drunk you couldn’t move? I was that drunk and this kid fucking punched me in the face three or four times. And he grew up to be an addict, and lived in a dilapidated old house. So I was like, what if I could do a song or a story about – and I would never honestly do this – going and hanging out with this kid just for the reason that you’re so petty that you’d like to take part in his suffering later in life. What if you hung out with him just to watch him kill himself on drugs? Maybe you Narcan him to bring him back, maybe you’ll do that a couple of times, just to prolong his suffering? Obviously that’s not something that I would do personally, but I bring that up as a concept for a song just for, I don’t know, have something fucked up to talk about that I haven’t heard in a song before.
You know what I think really fucked me up? When I was a kid I watched Seinfeld, and I always thought they were funny and great, I didn’t realize they were supposed to be bad, shallow people.
I just thought: “These people are funny!” So I took a lot of that shitty, shallow attitude.
Well, there is something…. I never thought of it that way before. There is something pretty metal about Seinfeld, in a way. They’re very petty, cruel people.
They totally are! I just had no idea.
Yeah, but you couldn’t have had an idea because the world of the show was the world in which they were normal and everyone else was crazy.
Exactly. But I would never. I have the utmost sympathy for everyone who uses, I have friends who are heroine addicts. I would never judge any kind of hard drugs. We have Narcan in our merch booth just in case someone OD’s during a show. And I do not wish death on anymore, including the dude who was shitty to me years ago and became an addict. It’s just that the thought crossed my mind as a narrative or a story or as something like that Stephen King book Misery. Just like: “What if someone had done something like that” and deciding to explore it and make it into a shitty punk song.
It’s not a shitty punk song, it’s a great punk song. But, do you write? As in fiction that isn’t for songs?
Not so much. I used to when I had a job where I was a receptionist and I would sit there and write short stories. I haven’t done it in years. But I’m constantly writing lyrics. When you work a song out I just come in with a shitload of lyrics and I just chip away at them until I have the best one. But I’m constantly writing. I’m very anal retentive about writing – I hate bad lyrics, I hate stupid lyrics, I hate generic lyrics. I hate lyrics that use a lot of words but don’t actually say anything. I like word porn. I’m a big reader.
You’ve probably haven’t seen this, but I did this thing on the website that’s kind of a primer on Megadeth. And just as a side comment, Dave Mustaine is a hugely underrated lyricist.
And actually my favorite Megadeth lyric is an interesting case in point. It’s in “Lucretia” where he goes: “In my place, I escape / Up into my hideout / Hiding from everyone / My friends all say "Dave, you're mental anyway" (Hey!)” with that punky chorus. That’s my favorite moment in terms of lyrics, because it’s self-deprecating, it’s emotional, it’s abstract, and it’s vulnerable. And despite the fact that he is know, and probably rightfully so, a Class A douchebag, I still want to see all the non-douchebags say in a song: “My friends all say, Dave you’re mental anyway.” It’s a juvenile rhyme on top of everything, almost like a lullaby. It’s stupid, but it’s so perfect because it’s him saying: “This is who the fuck I am!”
And it’s very punk too.
Very much so. Anyway. Fuck it.
You know what’s wild about Megadeth? Listening to Killing is My Business when that came out. That came out in 1985? Some of those riffs must have made heads fucking spin. There was nothing like that. That must have been like when we heard The Dillinger Escape Plan for the first time in 1999 [[Funny story, the other great Megadeth geek-out in my interviews was with DEP’s Ben Weinman. Read here – MM]]
Imagine being in Dave Mustaine’s mind from 1981 to 1985. That’s basically all the Megadeth albums just in that time. That’s a lot of cocaine.
And a lot of heroin.
A lot of heroin. OK, shit. Back on topic. Lyrics. “Comfort Measures.” Given everything we just discussed, of you being petty and cruel, and just in general trying that cruel position for size. “Comfort Measures” isn’t cruel. So, if I were to build a persona from all those lyrics we just talked about then it would be this “I don’t need you, you don’t need me” type of person. But in “Comfort Measures” that person kind of collapses. Because he’s revealed to be human. He just wants to get by. So, obviously this is another instance of “pen hits paper” for you, but given that it’s such a different mood for you I was wondering if there was anything different about that song.
Well, there are shades to things. Nothing’s really black or white. I always liked bands like Megadeth that didn’t just pigeon-hole themselves into always writing about the same things. So, I try to run the gamut of emotions when I have that many songs to work with. “Comfort Measures” is all about existential dread. Like: “What’s going on? When am I going to die? Is any of this worth it? Am I going to live to 75? Am I going to get into a car crash next week? Fuck. I miss being a kid.” Just all about anxiety and existential dread and wanting to go back to being innocent and being a child. Stuff like that.
The “synthetic heaven” part was written after I had listened to Joe Rogan. I think. I listened to someone talking about a machine that would go into your subconscious and feed you memories from childhood and I just thought it felt really comforting to think that that might be around by the time I’m 80, and you could just hook me up to that and I would die peacefully. Also, “comfort measures” is what they give you at hospice when they hook you up to morphine and you’re about to die.
So, within the context of that song, all these things that sound super dystopian, Matrix-type things, sound to you like hope?
Yes, exactly [laughs]
I hope we can go to a place where I can be 13 again, and be at the fucking mall, buying a t shirt. There won’t be internet, and I would walk into a record store and just be curious about things. Not knowing everything. Just this sense of wonder or mystery. So much hope for the future. And then you get to your twenties and it’s like: “Alright, what’s this” and then you’re looking at 40 and its “Oh, I better have kids soon otherwise I won’t be able to” and then “What are these wrinkles on my face? I guess I have a couple more good years. I mean, in reality I’m 37, I probably have 30 more good years. And I’ve worked in nursing homes, so I know people live to 90 and I’m not even middle aged yet. But, I also have anxiety. So that’s about that [laughs].
You see those signs in the back?
Those were made by my kids, because it was my 40th birthday two days ago [comment: I have since moved on to 41. Transcribing interviews is a problematic life choice, MM]. So, this is all very apropos.
But you see, I thought I was middle aged. You’re not actually middle aged until you’re 45.
Doesn’t matter. That’ll happen too. Might as well embrace it.
I know! I know! [laughs] You know what’s crazy? Time drags so much, and then you get to 30 and suddenly a year feels like a week.
It’s very discomforting. My oldest, she’s six and a half [seven and a half by now! God dammit! MM], and she’s pretty bright. But on top of being bright and anxious, which I guess any kind would be, there’s also the whole pandemic thing going on. And one of her classmates, their dad died in the hospital. It was rough. So, I would not know how it would feel like being a six-year-old through all of this. It’s really weird. And so lately she’s been asking a lot of questions about when we will die and when she will die, how it will happen. She’s very bothered by it. And so sometimes I kind of feel like complaining about being middle aged and being scared of dying, but I know she’s afraid too and I don’t want to do that in front of her. And it’s weird because it feels like the age where it dawns on you suddenly just how precisely you might morph into your parents. And then my kids will become teenagers and see me go through that and react to all that and think that's who I was. And this urge to say: “No, no, you don’t understand, I wasn't always like this!” Anyway.
Well, to be a child in the pandemic… Like, I didn’t do shit when I was six. I just hung out at home.
Yeah, but you were never told to stay home because there’s a deadly disease outside.
Yeah, that’s true.
I’ve already taken up way too much of your time, but I had one other very unrelated question about “Sundowning” [the closing track of their 2019 album Bum Wine, MM]. So the question is: What’s up with that song? And are your songs going to be more like that? The intro to that song is so weird and I love it. It sounds like a mix of Intercourse and Slint. Every time I listen to that album I really like it, and then that song comes on and it blows my mind.
Well, if you like that song you’re probably going to like our new album. I mean, we had gone through a lineup change since then, so the bass player and the guitar player who were on that album aren’t in the band anymore. Caleb, our drummer, wrote that song, the riffs, everything. Do you know what “Sundowning” is? What that phrase means?
I don’t think so
So, I worked at dementia wards of nursing homes. Sundowning is when people with neurodegenerative conditions like dementia or Alzheimers, as it gets darker outside they begin to act up. It happens a lot in mental health facilities as the sun goes down. But, yeah. The newer stuff is very noise rock, I don’t think there are any blast beats and it’s not metallic at all. And those lyrics [for “Sundowning”] are super old, they’re from 2006 and I’ve repurposed them. Which I kind of have to do sometimes because I’ve written a lot of songs. Just this year since January [three months], I’ve written a nine-song Intercourse LP [Rule 36] and a five-song EP for another band I’m doing. So sometimes it’s hard to come up with all those lyrics and I have to go back to old bands that on one cares about and take lyrics from them and change them around.
But, yeah. That song is about looking back at a life of drinking more than I should have and being a shit head and going” “Eh? What did I do? Now I’ll go fucking nuts, now my brain is pickled.”
I just love that song. Kind of reminded me of the kind of music Botch was doing on An Anthology of Dead Ends. Especially “Afghanistam,” because it’s such a weird, mellow song. Almost to the point that it doesn’t seem to fit with anything else they done at all [more on that in my interview with Botch, btw]. And “Sundowning” kind of reminded me of that.
One of the things we try to do is we try not to repeat ourselves and always kind of explore new weird ideas. We don’t want to be formulaic at all. I think that for the most part we’ve avoided it, and some of that is related to the fact that we’ve had four different lineups, but it works.
I mean, hey – it worked for Megadeth. Maybe you could have Marty Friedman join you in a future iteration of the band.
That would be the best!
You could have this noise rock collapse of emotions and a nice, pretty exotic-scale lead on top [laughs].
Ugh. In his fucking kimono! Bring it on!
[Laughs] Anyway, sorry, last question. And the question is this: Is there anything you’re especially proud of when you think back at Everything is Pornography? Something you feel held up well?
Honestly? The cover! [laughs]. I think it kicks ass. But, really, I love the whole album, I think it’s great. We turned into what I thought we would be initially. I got to spread my wings and try a whole lot of different shit. There were a bunch of bucket-list song ideas I’ve had that I got to use. Like “Cuckold The Family Ghost” and “Beyond Human,” a couple of subjects I wanted to write about. Yeah, I love it. I’m extremely proud of it.