MISERY INDEX – We don’t expect everything to be given to us
"We don't expect everything to be given to us."
"We just hope that we can give something back to the scene that has given us so much."
Misery Index og Origin hadde fått jobben med å varme opp før Necrophagist, som avlyste. Humøret var likevel bra når jeg møtte Sparky på Garage i Oslo noen timer før de skulle på scenen.
E-T: How are you doing right now?
Sparky: I'm doing fine. A bit tired after the long trip from the show last night (Aarhus, Denmark.) but not bad.
E-T: How did the gig last night go?
Sparky: It went great. It was in fact pretty cool. We played in Aarhus last year with Fear Factory so there were a lot of people that saw us at that show and decided to come back and check us out. Origin got a great reaction and that was cool.
E-T: The support job for Fear Factory last year must have been great promotion for you?
Sparky: It was a very good chance to play in front of a bunch of kids who might not know who we are or never really listened to grind-core or death metal so it really helped us out a lot.
E-T: While we are on the subject of the Fear Factory tour; I was at the show in Oslo, and somebody from your crew was taping the whole concert. Are there any plans of releasing a live DVD or was it just for your own entertainment?
Sparky: I've never seen it! Ha ha ha. The case is that people sometimes will ask if it is okay with us if they record the gig and we respond "Yeah, OK. Just send us a copy when it is done." Most times it just ends up on YouTube or something. I'd like to see it though.
E-T: Could you sum up what kind of music Misery Index plays for us?
Sparky: We play eighties disco with ska-beats. Ha ha ha.
E-T: Or maybe not?
Sparky: Actually it is grind-core/death metal with references to eighties metal and hard core. Some punk rock influences. Basically just a combination of all the styles of music we are fans of and we just write the songs as they come out. You can hear all the different influences but we try not to write the songs in a particularly direction, like "OK, this is going to be a death metal song" or "this is going to be a hard core song" The way it comes out is the way it comes out.
E-T: So there is no concept behind your albums? You just write twenty songs and the ten-eleven best makes the album?
Sparky: Usually we write ten and ten end up on the album. He he. We don't write that quickly.
E-T: What about your split-albums then? Where does the material come from?
Sparky: Usually that's a situation where we have a couple of songs that we have been working on. Someone will contact us and if it is something we feel confident about we will go ahead and record it. That has happened a few times now and it is a cool way to continuously have some kind of music coming out. A lot of bands only put out full length records and then the fans will have to wait a year or two between records. We prefer to let people have some stuff as we go, and every couple of years we will put out a full length album.
E-T: So that means that in 2008 we can expect a new Misery Index full-length album?
Sparky: Yeah. We already have a couple of songs written, but we toured so much last year that we didn't really have a chance to practise phase and get the whole record together. We decided to go ahead and continue touring this year, by the end of this year we will probably record and Relapse might release it around springtime 2008.
E-T: How will this new material sound? Will it be a continuing flow from Retaliate and Discordia?
Sparky: Yeah, I would think so. On the last record we kind of brought some different stuff in song writing wise since Mark and Adam joined the band on guitar and drums. They brought some ideas in that we had not tried to do before. With them continuing to write music, and Jason and I continuing to write music I think it will be more towards the direction of Discordia, but it's really hard to say. Some of the riffs that we are coming up with now don't sound anything like what is on Discordia. By the time all the songs are written it will have all the different elements we had on the other releases but I don't know if you will be able to compare it exactly to the other records. Hopefully it will be somewhat different.
E-T: You mentioned Relapse, are they going to release your next album as well?
Sparky: Yeah. We are signed with them for one million records! He he. We are signed to them for life, they have us! He he. No, I think we are signed to them for three records, it is really the best home for us, and they do a really good job with promotion. They are the same kind of people as we are really. Down to earth and easy to get along with. They work hard for their bands and are fans of the bands they sign and for us that is really important because you want to be able to believe what the person on the other end of the phone is telling you. If they say that they are going to do these things and help the band then it is nice to know that they actually are being truthful to you, unlike many other bands that have had problems with their labels through the years. Jason and I were in Dying Fetus and knew the guys from Relapse from years ago, we are really happy to be back with them. So; Yeah, they be putting out the next couple of records for us.
E-T: Relapse got a big umbrella with many bands playing similar music as Misery Index so that might help out with both promotion and the possibility of touring, just by being on that label. Some fans of other bands might pick you up by checking what is else is on the label.
Sparky: Exactly! When I was a kid, if there were a band that I was a fan of I'd look at what label they were on and I would go and buy other stuff from that label because I was like "Alright, cool! They have the right kind of stuff that I like to listen to"
E-T: But back when we were kids there were only like ten metal-labels. You liked about three of them and bought almost everything they released.
E-T: But now there are so many independent labels that you can not trust that any more.
Sparky: Yeah, it is hard to know what's actually coming out. But the cool thing is that with the internet now you can listen to something before you buy it, so it is not quite as big a surprise when you come home and put it on.
E-T: But then you get the problem that they can listen to it and decide not to buy it because they can download the songs for free.
Sparky: Yeah. It's definitively an issue, but for us I hope that people that burn our cd's, if they like what they hear they will tell their friends about it. You know? Give them mp3s, spread it around the internet because for a touring band the most important thing is for as many people as possible to hear the music. Everybody is not going to buy your record, but they might still come out and check out your show.
E-T: And there they can buy your cd's, a shirt or at least pay for the ticket and support you that way.
E-T: When we were younger we traded cassettes.
Sparky: Yeah, we did. He he he.
E-T: The sound quality were a lot worse but even with mp3s the core of metal fans still want the original package. They want the jewel case, the booklet, and everything that goes with it.
Sparky: That's the cool thing. A lot of times people come up to me after a show and I tell them to go ahead and burn it but they are like "No. I'm gonna buy this cd and let all my friends listen to it, and then I am going to make them buy it!" And that is great. They still believe in being able to hold the lyrics in their hand and being able to look at the artwork and not just having a big list of files in their iTunes. That's cool, and also good for us.
E-T: You, and other bands, go through a lot of work in compiling the total package. The artwork, pictures and so on. The band is more than just the music.
Sparky: That is totally true, and I am glad that "our people" still buy cd's otherwise record companies would go out of business and they are the ones that have lots of money for promotion. Without them it would be hard for bands to go on tour. That is the biggest problem; people are like "fuck record labels" "fuck them, they steal from us" but they are also the ones that buy ads in the magazines and pay for tour support. They are the ones that will get you on a festival or a good tour so you can get out there in front of more people. It goes two ways. Yeah sometimes they take advantage of the situation, but you need to have them. Otherwise you might never grow out of the pond you started up in. Of course we believe in a lot of "do it yourself" and we have more of an underground punk rock way of looking at things so if the label is gonna help us out its great but we are also willing to do a lot of stuff on our own. We don't expect everything to be given to us. Bands will still have to work, no matter what.
E-T: Great argument. To go a bit further down that road: Even thou the record label take most of the money from the sale of your cd, they are still the ones that put their money into the making of the cd. The recording, the promotion, and so on, without them you can't do shit. They take the money from your hard work, but without them you would not be able to do that work.
Sparky: Yeah. And that is the thing that gets lost in the argument. When people complain about the labels they really don't sit down and think about the tremendous amount of money that the labels put into the bands that they are promoting. And when a label signs a band, in the most cases, they do not know how much it is going to sell and might end up loosing money on giving them the chance. For every one ore two bands that end up earning there are probably hundreds that don't.
I'm not gonna let the record labels of the hook totally, but they are in business as well.
If you can have a good partnership and relationship like we have with Relapse, you don't feel like you are gelling screwed over. You work hard, and you feel like they are working hard for you. It's a good relationship.
E-T: Lets see now, where were we? Are you satisfied with the progression you have made from Retaliate to Discordia?
Sparky: I think the song writing has definitively progressed. We kept the original aggression and anger from the songs the band originally wrote, and expanded upon that. Other elements got added. There are some aspects of the production that I am not totally happy with but I think that most musicians will say that at the end of a recording. There are always gonna be some level of complaint but in general, when I put the cd in, I don't cringe. I can listen to it all the way through and I feel that it is a good representation of where the band was at that time. By the time we record the next album we will be going to a different studio and we will have some better ideas about how to do things. Even after recording for so many years it still feels like every time you walk into the studio you forget a lot of things you learned the last time so you need to re-learn them again. This time we will try to go in more prepared and have a better idea of what we want to relate to the engineer so that he can get that sound out of the recording for us.
E-T: I wrote a question some time ago, but I'm gonna modify it a bit since I have been listening to the Retaliate album a lot lately. The question originally was: "why did you destroy the otherwise excellent album Retaliate with the world's most obvious and painfully triggered drums?"
Sparky: Ha ha ha ha!
E-T: But I am gonna modify the question to this: Why did you put the triggered drums so up front in the sound?
Sparky: Ha ha ha ha. OK. This is pretty simple. J. F. Dagenais is an amazing guy, great guitar player in Katalysm, and engineer. But if you listen to most of the stuff he's recorded you see that he really prefers to have the kick-drums very far up front. If you listen to the later Katalysm records it's like drdrdrdrdrdrdrdrdrdr, it drowns everything else out. When we were in the studio we were actually very concerned about this, and we kept telling him to bring the bass-drums down because it was destroying the rest of the music. It was really like a battle back and forth, and when you are in a studio and listen to the recordings on some nice studio speakers everything sounds amazing. It was like "OK. I thing that it's all right now" but then you get home and listen to it on your little crappy radio and you realize that no, it's not really OK. He did the mixing job and then we had to leave the studio. We took it home and about a week later we wrote a list of comments addressing a lot of the issues to the guys that were doing the mastering. The bass-drum thing seems to come up a lot, many people ask us about that. But it really comes down to Dagenais vision of how he thought the drums should be produced as opposed to how we would prefer it to be. We don't really like the bass-drums to be up front that far. So in a situation where you are not completely locked in with the engineer in terms of what you are looking for in a recording you might end up with something other than you wanted by the end of the day. That is why.
E-T: I must say that I prefer the drum-production on Discordia.
Sparky: Yeah. We like to have a balance between all the instruments. Jason and I being kids from the eighties and listening to metal from that era where all the instruments are very nice across the board, the vocals might be a little bit on top to let the guy shine a bit. That is basically the type of production style that we prefer. Everything sounds balanced and more natural and in the face, but it is hard sometimes to relate that to someone that doesn't listen to the same kind of stuff so next time we will try to do better. Ha ha ha.
E-T: What does the future hold for Misery Index besides touring a lot and hopefully recording a new album soon?
Sparky: I think that we probably will do some festivals in Europe this summer. We are actually gonna do a tour here in June with Dew Scented and Coldworker and after that we will probably go back home and start putting songs together and then try to record by, I don't know, October/November? We will try to deliver the album by February 2008 hopefully, and maybe it will come out around May so that we can start touring again. We just want to get as much out of it as possible, to have as good a time as we can while the opportunity exists to do it. We realise that we are in a lucky position, we work really hard but you never know when the day arrives when people go "Fuck that band! We don't want to see them anymore, they are old" so as long as somebody, somewhere want to see us then we will go there and play as many shows as possible, but having a brand new record is gonna be really cool because we will be able to have new songs incorporated into the set. For us that will be a lot of fun because some of the songs we are playing now we probably played two-three thousand times. I still love playing them, but I could only imagine what it would be like being in the Rolling Stones or something. Ha ha ha. I mean; how many times can they play something like Honky Tonk Women? How tired would you get of that?
E-T: For their pay check I'd do it. Ha ha ha.
Sparky: Yeah, of course! Ha ha ha.
E-T: What do you do with your time when you are not focusing on Misery Index?
Sparky: When I'm home in Baltimore I work at a nightclub as a door guy or security, so even when I am home I'm in the music environment. I get to see many bands play just by virtue of being at the club. Any night there is a show there I want to see I can go for free so that's cool. I'm never very far away from this kind of life. Obviously it's a lot different from travelling all the night all the time and playing different places, but it's nice at home. I am not totally removed from everything. Jason does construction work sometimes, Adam and Mark lives in St. Louis and when we are not touring they usually go back home and when it comes time to write songs for the new record they will come out to Maryland and we will hang out for a few months living there. That was what we did before Discordia. So; generally I just try to keep my head straight, you know? Try to remember that this is the most important thing and not get stuck on a lot of bullshit at home and not getting dragged down by other people and their problems. Also, I like to go to a lot of ice hockey games. He he.
E-T: Which team?
Sparky: Washington Capitals. Alex Ovechkin, fabulous young Russian player. He scores lots and lots of goals.
E-T: OK. I'm not that far into hockey, so I don't know too many players, but everybody has heard about Wayne Gretzky.
Sparky: Oh yeah! I saw him play one time and it was pretty amazing.
E-T: The other name I remember is Mario Lemieux.
Sparky: I saw him play several times. Usually in the play-offs when his team was beating my team, so I respect him as a player but I don't really like him. He he he.
E-T: He is a great player as long as he's not playing against your favourite team?
E-T: He did a tremendous come back didn't he?
Sparky: Yeah he did. He had cancer and then he came back, then he retired again, and then he came back again. Now I think that he is officially retired, I don't think he's gonna come back now so… That's good. He he he. There is plenty of highlight videos I can watch if I want to, as long as it's not against my team.
E-T: What did you listen to as a kid?
Sparky: First of would be whatever my parents were playing, so there was a lot of ‘60s rock and such, The Beatles. And then, as soon as I started becoming aware of radio and what else was on besides what my parents were playing in the car I became drawn to heavy music. I started listening to things like AC/DC and Black Sabbath and thought that were great, and then kind of like a lot of the metal-heads I was trying to find more and more heavy stuff. Like; "This is the heaviest thing, no! This other thing is heavier" so you start searching and find yourself at record shops going through records and "whoa, this album cover looks cool". I made the entire trip all the way from Sabbath to Priest and Maiden and eighties thrash like Exodus and Slayer, Anthrax, Metallica, and shortly thereafter the grind-core movement started to raise, the bands on Earache, you know? Terrorizer and Morbid Angel and Carcass and everybody. It goes onwards from there, but another part of me listened to punk. My brother was a skateboarder so I got to hear a lot of punk-rock and hard-core, stuff like Suicidal Tendencies and Dead Kennedy's and Bad Brains, so all these different things together with living on the East-coast of the U.S. where the scenes crossed over a lot. There were not uncommon to have shows where you had metal bands and hard-core bands playing at the same time. Growing up in that environment really influenced me when I started playing guitar. The type of thing I was listening to and the songs that I was learning to play, it really continues from there. I still enjoy listening to a lot of good hard-core as well as metal and all kinds of varieties. Thankfully there are still a lot of good bands coming out now so there is something to be inspired by.
E-T: So the live shows inspired you to start playing yourself?
Sparky: Pretty much. I remember when I was in high school; I started hanging out with like metal-head guys, and my dad had been a guitar player for 30-40 years at that point. There were always musical instruments around the house, but I never felt like picking them up and playing. I always thought that it was cool that my dad was a really good guitarist, but it never had that big of an impact on me before I started hanging with the metal dudes and partying with them, they had all these hot little girls running around… It was like "hey! This is pretty fun" So it's like "Cool! Now I want a guitar!"
E-T: "I want to get girls, I want to get girls!" He he.
Sparky: I think we all still do! Ha ha ha.
E-T: "Hmmm. They throw themselves at guys with guitars… Hmmm…" Ha ha ha.
Sparky: So everything basically continues from there. Thankfully I can still find the same spark and enjoyment as I did when I was 16, a lot has to do with the fact that I get the opportunity to travel and meet different people and se bands in other parts of the world. It always keeps everything fresh; we are not staying at the same place doing the same thing all the time. I feel very fortunate that that's the way things have worked out, but the kids we see now man, we played gigs since forever, and they're just young guys, maybe played for two or three years but put us ashamed as far as technical ability. The cool thing is that I can't wait till they are a little bit older and get a little more well-rounded as musicians and the song writing comes along to match what they can do with their technical ability. There's gonna be some really amazing bands coming over the next several years.
E-T: But there are a lot of good guitar players that can play all the cords and practise a lot, but they can't write their own material.
Sparky: Yeah, but that's a mystery how that all works anyway to me. How do you write a song? For me it's like I sit down with the guitar and maybe there's a bong next to me and I start playing and try to find something that flows from piece to piece. But obviously everybody got their own song writing style, but it's hard for me after I write a song to go back and figure out how it came to be, all the necessary steps and so on. To try and explain to someone how to write a song, it's like; "OK, you can have a verse and a chorus and then another verse and a chorus and then a bridge and a solo and an outro", and then you got a pop song. How do you write a metal song? I don't know. There's no real handbook to explain how to take the technical ability and turn it into something that's actually pleasing to the ear. That's a mystery, but that's actually pretty cool because that's why there are so many styles and bands out there. If anybody could ever bottle it and figure out how to sell it I think that would take a lot away from the music, then it would just be contrived and everybody would play the same thing.
E-T: So, is music a form of therapy for you?
Sparky: Absolutely man! For whatever kind of mood you are in I think there's some style of music that matches it. To look at it the other way; if you are in a bad mood you don't want to listen to something that brings you further down. You got to find something that can bring you up again. Being on stage for thirty minutes a night is like totally at peace. It's when you can totally just be on the planet doing the one thing that you actually are supposed to be here doing. That is; as long as your equipment does not break and nobody comes on stage and kicks your ass. Ha ha ha. But even just to be sitting at home I think everyone just fall into the music and allow it to take your brain away from any problem you have at any given day, it can make your life a lot better. I think, with metal especially, most kids that we talk to, and I remember this especially from being a kid too, like some times your parents are giving you shit and school's giving you a hard time. What do you have to come back to? You got the music; because it's not gonna leave you. So yeah, I do believe music is therapy.
E-T: OK, so we covered the start now. What got you into music and everything, but what inspires you to keep going? Where do you get the motivation now, is it the shows? Travelling around the world?
Sparky: That's definitively a big part of it. Just to continually having a opportunity to experience different places and meeting people you otherwise never would have a chance to and learn about life in other parts of the world is a huge part of it. But that is not enough; you still have to actually enjoy playing. If you don't really like it and just look at playing as a hobby then you will not enjoy the rest of the stuff that comes around it. I like to sit down for a couple of hours each day and play the guitar just for the sake of playing guitar. I feel lucky that I found out that's what I'm supposed to do in life and that I'm able to actually do it. I know lots of people, like my friends at home, that hadn't had the chance, and I feel bad. I just want to grab them and take them with me so they can all see what everything is but it doesn't work out that way.
E-T: You must record a DVD from the road so they can se what it's like.
Sparky: Ha ha ha. That will probably come in a year or so. Ha ha ha.
E-T: Who influenced you the most: Jesus or Georg W. Bush?
Sparky: Wow! Ehmmm… I'm gonna go with beer! Beer is my biggest influence at this point. Jesus, back when I was a kid, was always hanging around and Bush is such an easy target, but the one thing I can always count on every day is beer. Ha ha ha.
E-T: What do you play in the bus?
Sparky: Anything and everything man. Everybody's cd-collection is pretty barn-wide, every style of music you can think of. When we are on tour in the states we don't usually listen to too much death metal in the van because we are usually touring with death metal bands and we want a break. But usually it's like; whoever the driver is gets to pick the music. We have our own van back in the states that we use on tour. The music could be anything across the board, there really isn't one band that gets played more than anything else. When we get sick of listening to something we don't play it again for a couple of weeks. We have any style of music you can think of in the van.
E-T: Can you answer questions about the lyrics?
Sparky: Not really. I am familiar with the lyrics, but I wouldn't try to clarify Jason's lyrics for him. The cool thing about the lyrics is that you can interpret them different ways depending on your own mind.
E-T: That what I need help to clarify! He he.
Sparky: Right. So when I try to explain the lyrics then it's just coming from me, my perspective, and what I think they are, but it's probably not what he intended. It might be best to ask him if you have some specific questions about the lyrics to the songs.
E-T: Or I can re-phrase the question! The lyrics are vague political but with a hint of hope, can you clarify or explain your interpretation of the lyrics?
Sparky: That's actually what I usually say when asked! Because they are critical, but not to the point of being nihilistic where everything is never going to never get better. It's like that you do have some control over your life, and you need to use that in order to make your situation better instead of just giving away all the power and throw your hands in the air saying "I can't do anything to change it". It is always hopeful and there is some part there where he is trying to say "alright, things are really bad, but we have seen through history that things will get better if people will band together and try to change the situation that surround them".
E-T: Is Jason a union man?
Sparky: Yeah. He's done some stuff, working with unions.
E-T: It shines through in some of the lyrics, real working class. Some are almost punk-lyrics.
Sparky: Yeah, that's definitively that aspect of it because you want to get people exited and wound up. When he was in Dying Fetus in the early days there were a lot of gore lyrics similar to Cannibal Corpse, but you can only talk about chopping someone's head of and shitting down their neck so many ways. I still enjoy reading that kind of stuff, but I think that he had different things inside him that he needed to get out. It's his way of expressing himself, the lyrics are his way of releasing all the pent up anger inside and spread it out to everybody else and hopefully impact somebody.
E-T: Cannibal Corpse still manages to write great songs about chopping someone's head of!
Sparky: Ha ha ha. Yeah they do! Don't get me wrong. I'm a huge Cannibal Corpse fan, I love the lyrics, but Misery Index needed to go in another direction. The later Dying Fetus lyrics are very similar to the stuff that's written about in Misery Index, on Destroy the Competition there were no gore lyrics at all.
E-T: What are the best and worst aspects of playing in Misery Index?
Sparky: The best aspect is that with this line-up that we have now, that we've had for a couple of years, I feel that everybody wants the same thing. Everybody wants to travel; we still want to write music. We don't want to sit at home and that's a cool thing. We've had guys in the band in the past that were not as "into it" as they acted as they were. And then you find out later when you are trying to plan things like going out on the road that they are like; "Oh, I can't do this" and whatever, so the best thing for me now is that I really enjoy the company of the guys I'm with and we are all on the same page. We all want the same things out of the band.
The worst aspect? Uhm, I don't know. I guess, on some levels, being away from home for so long. It does impact your relationship with family and friends. They all understand the fact that you are gone, but when you are not sharing your life with them this separation develops. You can always re-establish that because if you care about people then they should care about where you are and what you are doing and support you. It's no different than if you are travelling in any other kind of job in your life, but it still makes things kind of strange. But still; no regrets! I'm not gonna stop doing it because of that, they either have to deal with it or not. It's not like I'm gonna tell them to quit their job for me. Luckily for us most people that we know respect our choice and we have had some really good support at home. It's really cool to come back and everybody welcomes you with open arms. But sometimes you miss your friends and family thou, that is part of the worst part of being on tour.
E-T: What goes on inside your head?
Sparky: Wow! Ha ha ha. Constantly always thinking about… I don't know man… Ha ha ha. It's like so much man. When we are on tour a lot of it has to do with the business aspect of what we're doing out here. The playing aspect is the easiest one; it's what goes on between the shows that get you. A tour like this is great, because we've got a very good tour manager and we got a bus driver. At home thou we don't have a tour manager, we usually have just one roadie with us, I navigate everywhere, I am also the guy who manages the band basically and collects the money. If it's any issues or anything I have to settle them, so this is more like a vacation for me on this trip. I can just lean back and let things happen as they do, but at home there's a lot more business related stuff going on in my head. But on any given moment I might be thinking about a girl or where the next beer is gonna come from, to "did I change my strings two days ago?" to "damn, I've got to send some money home because my bills are late" to "where's the nearest payphone? I've got to call someone". It's just chaos in my head man. Ha ha ha.
E-T: To wrap this up, explain why anybody should buy an Misery Index album:
Sparky: Well, if you are really into death and grind-core I think that you will enjoy the kind of music that we play and you deserve to expose yourself to it because you don't want to miss out on something you might dig! I would also urge people to get our music any way possible, if you can find it online: grab it! If your friends can get you a burnt cd, get it that way! If you can come to a show to decide if you like it then we urge you to come and check it out! We just hope that we can give something back to the scene that has given us so much. The original inspiration for us to play is what keeps us going, so if we can be the same thing to other people and give them something to take away from it then that makes us happy and we would know that we have done the thing we were supposed to do.
This interview is a co-operation between Eternal Terror Webzine and Imhotep!