Alabama Thunderpussy - Interview
Back in 2004, our MetalBite Magazine featured an interview with Alabama Thunderpussy. Since then, they have developed quite a bit, and have undergone a few changes. We had a chance to find out about their newest release "Open Fire", as well as what had happened with them over the last couple of years. Prepare for a long interview with Erik Larson - courtesy of Kubiccy.
You have a new record called "Open Fire" that premiered in March 2007. What can listeners expect of it? Could you disclose some details concerning the album itself?
Well, I will say this: as far as the production is concerned, we went 180 degrees, completely the opposite direction from "Fulton Hill". Basically, we just recorded the band being a band. No crazy overdubs or 16 million guitar tracks or drums effects or any of that bullshit. What you hear on this record is exactly what we have been doing in the basement of Bryan's house for the past year.
All your earlier materials were recorded in Montana Studio, Richmond with Mark Miley as a producer. But the new record was recorded in The Etching Tin Studios and with Ian Whalen as a producer. What is the reason for this change?
There are a couple of reasons: 1. Mark Miley isn't recording bands anymore, he just got burnt out. 2. We really wanted to give Ian a shot at something that could get his name out there. He is a good and promising sound engineer and hopefully this will prove this fact to a wider audience. 3. The band was the real producer on this record (and always has been on the past records), we have always had a vision for what we do, we're just not the experts when it comes to turning knobs.
Johnny Weils isn't your vocalist anymore. He left the band under quite unclear circumstances. Could you explain what really happened then?
The Johnny Weils who joined the band is not the Johnny Weils we got when we began writing this record. I'm not going to hold back any punches on this dude because he dissapointed me so badly I don't think he deserves any respect. Basically he likes drugs more than making music, and found any excuse he could muster not to display even the slightest effort to be in the band. I called him out on it, and he tucked his tail under and left town w/out telling anyone, and quit in an email. He is a coward.
Are you satisfied with his (Johnny Weils') contribution to "Fulton Hill"?
Yes, but I worked really hard with him to get the best performance I felt he could give. There will always be things that bug me about that record with regard to him, but I can't dwell on it. ATP always looks to the future. Unfortunately, though I think the music on "Fulton Hill" is killer, it will probably be our "Gary Sharone" album. And to an extent I'm fine with that. I hope Johnny Weils IS forgotten.
Your new loudmouth is Kyle Thomas, who is known e.g. from the band called Exhorder. How did this cooperation happen?
Through a friend of ours that knew him, and who also runs the online merch store we work with, Karrie. Basically, we had the album almost written when J.W. jettisoned himself out of the picture. We didn't want to make a huge production about looking for another singer yet again, so we just spread the word to friends and Karrie passed the info on to Kyle, who then got in touch and from there the ball got rolling. It was very organic actually, and just felt right.
Undoubtedly Thomas's vocals sound much different from the vocals of Johnny Weils or Johnny Throckmorton. Don't you think that your fans may have some difficulties accepting him as a new member of Alabama Thunderpussy?
Maybe, but I don't really care. We've always been a band that just tries to do what we feel is right for the band. You always lose some people when a change is made. We lost some folks when Bill Storms (RIP) left the band in 1997, but it always works out for the best in the long run. I could no more picture Kyle NOT being in the band than I can picture Bill Rose being back in the band, or any of the previous singers (there have been 4 prior to Kyle) being back in the band. At the risk of sounding like an asshole, this band has always existed as a collective with Bryan and me being the navigators, so individuals that try to push their personality above that usually fall overboard, and rarely do we turn the ship around to pick those people up.
Some people say that Exhorder was a band copied by Pantera once upon the time. What is your opinion about this?
I don't really think there needs to be a dialogue about it. Neither band is functioning now, and both made great contributions to the world.
You all live in Richmond and only Thomas lives in New Orleans. Don't you think that this distance might cause some problems for the band?
Not really. It works pretty well, if not for the lack of spontaneity. We write the music and send it down. Kyle gets time away from the band to really dwelve into it and creates killer vocal melodies, than we all come together and hammer out the finer points. Not to mention, he has school- age children who need their dad, so we would never ever ask him to relocate for the band.
Since we are talking about vocalists, tell me one more thing. Your first singer Johnny Throckmorton blew off the band after "Staring at the Divine" release. Why was that?
Well, again to be honest, his time in the band had ended. We knew it, and he knew it, so an amicable parting happened. His musical vision was more "radio friendly" than what we do. And there had been a few blowouts on tour prior to that becoming obvious. Everyone is in a better place since the split.
At the beginning of your activity a certain Adrienne Droogas appeared behind the microphone. It was only an episode because she escaped from you very quickly. How did you discourage her from singing in Alabama Thunderpussy?
LOL! Interesting way of putting it. Actually, there was another singer prior to her, but he never actually performed with us because, in his words "we still sucked" and he wasn't gonna embarass himself. So we performed in basements and house shows instrumentally for a while. Adrienne saw us play at one of these shows, and she asked if she could join. So she did, and played one show with us before moving to New York because she fell in love with another friend of ours up there. He he, so yeah, she escaped the years of toiling on the road.
While we are at the personal changes. You have also a new basist. John Peters was replaced by Mike Bryant. How did you get a hold of him?
Mike has been in bands here that we've known here in Richmond. It's a small town, so everyone kinda knows who everyone is. So, when we were looking for a new bassist, word got to Mike, and we clicked. He's probably the most musically-minded bassist we've had. Including Mike, there has been seven.
Allegedly you recorded "Rise Again" within two days. And the work on "River City Revival" lasted only two days more. What does it look like at present?
Not sure what you're asking, but if you mean how much time was spent recording "Open Fire", the month of September, give or take a week.
Is playing live gigs important to you? Do you prefer work in studio or rather play concerts and be in a direct contact with the audience?
I think that first and foremost, we're a live band. So yeah, playing live is much more satisfying for us, but recording is also fun, just in a different way.
During your career, you've played a lot of concerts, i.e. with Pentagram and GWAR. Which band turned out to be the most useful as a tour mate? And what band would you like to share the stage with in the future?
As to who we want to play with in the future, the list is endless, but off the top of my head, my personal goals would be to play/tour with Entombed, Judas Priest, MotorHead, and maybe get on one of those traveling festivals. As to useful tour mates, I don't really think about a band's usefulness as a guide, it's more about if we click as friends and get along enjoying each others' music.
In the booklet of "Rise Again" re-release you put the letter written by Frank Kozik - the head of Main's Ruin Records, who offered you releasing the album. I must admit that he made you a decent proposal. How do you recall those times?
Those were good, fun times for sure. Being a young hungry band, unjaded by the machine and so forth. But I'm really happy with where we've come now as well. It's all a journey, and I try to savor each passing moment, whether pleasant or not.
How did you start to cooperate with Relapse? I guess that parting with Main's Ruin Records proceeded in friendly atmosphere?
Well, Man's Ruin went bankrupt, so we found ourselves looking for a label pretty ferociously. Relapse stepped up and the rest just fell into place.
How do you feel between all these queer and bizzare bands which make a Relapse catalogue? Do you like any of them? And if yes, which one is your favorite?
I like a lot of the Relapse releases, and maintain friendships with a lot of the artists on the label. I can't say I like everything they release, but I'm not supposed to. Relapse is a great label because of their diversity and dedication to pushing the envelope. But I'm not going to single any one band out as my favorite. They all deserve attention.
Why did you decide to change the covers of your first three albums which came out by Relapse?
Basically, because we didn't have the rights to the old artwork. Kozik owns that. And to be honest, I only really cared for the first albums artwork by him. We never got to see it before the records were released.
Who was the author of an idea to place the naked women on the front covers of "Rise Again" and "River City Revival" re-relases and also of "Staring at the Divine" release? You or Orion Landau's - the court graphic artist of Relapse?
"Staring at the Divine" was our concept, and was released before any of the re-issues. Orion at Relapse puts together the layouts for us, and the other two naked ladies were his ideas. We just seem to be the naked lady band on Relapse. he he he.
Fulton Hill is the name of one of Richmond's districts. Why did you choose this particular one and not the Oregon Hill where you were brought up?
Because we all lived in Fulton Hill when we wrote that album, three of us still do. Bryan and I own our homes there. It's just a part of us and what makes the band what it is.
What does the cover of "Fulton Hill" show?
That is a photograph of some iron gating that Orion took.
During the Civil War Richmond was the capital of the Confederate States of America. And the graphic settings of your records include some elements which make me think of confederates, e.g. Southern Cross that is a flag of Confederate States placed inside "Rise Again" re-release and e.g. the original cover of this album. Why is that?
Well, we are a southern band, and will never try to distance ourselves from that, but as far as the imagery surrounding that, it has mostly been placed on us by the record labels, press and industry types.
As early as "Constellation" release you always placed the six stars on the front covers of all your records. What do these stars mean? At first I thought that this was the number of the Confederate States of America but then I recalled that there were seven of them.
I never noticed that before, you have found something that maybe only the illuminati can explain.
Why in your opinion the music of the Southern USA is often called "southern rock" or "southern metal". And nobody coined the name of "northern rock". Which characteristic elements justified the name mentioned above?
Well, I guess it's just a fascination with the region that the rest of the country has. You know, everything southern is viewed as rebellious, dangerous or rough around the edges. Interesting point you make though. I have a friend who is writting a book about this actually.
Why one of the photos which appeared after opening your website presents the King Diamond's face?
Because King Diamond rules!!!! Why ask?; you knew the answer.
What is Virgil? And please, don't tell me that this is the name of your guitar.
It is the name of my main Flying V guitar, all my guitars have names, but there is a back story. Back when we were playing house shows etc., we all created silly band names for each other. Mine is Virgil Tate. When the first record was going to come out, I was the only one who wanted to use the names for us on the record, so it went to the guitar.
You started your music career as a drummer in the band called Avail. Why did you decide to switch over to the guitar?
Basically it just happened with the forming of ATP. I had been playing drums in Avail and Kilara, and wanted to do something different, and Bryan had already said he wanted to play drums, so this kinda put us on an even footing with neither of us having played our chosen instruments before. I'm playing drums again now in a crust punk band called Parasytic, and in a doom project called Hail!Hornet.
You've recorded two solo records. Unfortunately, I haven't had an occasion to listen to any of them. Tell me, does the music on these records much differ from the ATP's production?
Production-wise, probably not all that different, but musically they are pretty varied, more so with the first one. I always bring all my songs to ATP first, but they don't always fit for ATP, and I refuse to let them die, so I do solo records, or other bands (like Birds of Prey/ Axehandle/Hail!Hornet/Parasytic).
Who had hit upon an idea of Birds of Prey? Is it a one-time (single) project or rather a rightful band? And one more thing - what is your contribution into Birds of Prey's music?
Basically, Birds Of Prey is my baby. I picked the people I wanted to be in the band, and I wrote the album with Bo Leslie. But the direction was my choice. I'm hoping to do another record with those guys soon. It's hard since we all live in different cities and have working bands and families.
Was the fact that you are a member of ATP helpful to Birds of Prey to sign a contract with Relapse?
Yes, that and having Dave Witte involved, but I would like to think that it's a kick ass record that they genuinely wanted to release.
Are you satisfied with the debut album of The Mighty Nimbus? How did you land in Threeman Recordings?
Yes, that was a really fun record to make. I'm not involved in that project anymore though. They have recorded a second album which by all reports is killer. Not sure how the Threeman thing happened.
Could you tell me something more about Axehandle?
Basically it started as a project to help out friends in other bands that came to town, so that we could have another band to play the shows. And it just got more focused and song-oriented, so we made an album. There are no current plans to do another record as of right now, but I've got some ideas for it.
How do you manage to go about all these projects? Do you happen to sleep from time to time?
Occasionally I do sleep. A good friend of mine told me once "Do everything you want to do, all of the time". That combined with a couple of old pieces of advice from Che Guevarra, "!HASTA LA VICTORIA SIEMPRE! and "whatever you do, do it to the best of your ability", keep me going.
Thanks for the interview.
Thank you for the insightful questions and support.
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