An interview with Scott Carlson of Repulsion
Scott Carlson of Repulsion at The Power of The Riff 2010 (more by Adam L Murray)
A band pours its heart and soul into its music. Not many people give a shit. Band breaks up and its members decides to pursue other paths in life. Fast forward some years, key people discover this thought-to-be-lost music, go nuts over it. People ape from the band, sing their praises. Band gets back together, maybe with a new member or two in tow, and plays to more people in one night than they had in their formative days. Given such reception, band plays gigs in areas they couldn’t reach before. Cheers are had by all.
Heard this before? It’s a bit too common in metal and hardcore. Repulsion are definitely one of those lucky victims. The band was ahead of its time — they were pushing thrash and punk into limits that would become the blueprints for grindcore music. Of course, there wasn’t “grindcore” when Repulsion were first around. They were just playing metal much faster, nastier, and louder than their peers. The bands they’ve influenced are too numerous to list — hell, Black Breath took their name from a Repulsion song. When Horrified, their first and most revered demo, was finally released in 1989 through Carcass’ Necrosis Records, the band had already broken up. Since reuniting in the early aughts, with Marissa Martinez and Col Jones of Cretin joining original members Scott Carlson and Matt Olivo, they’ve played some well-received reunion gigs. Repulsion was even recently used in a study on music in the workplace! Sometimes, the second act of your life can be the best. And with a record as classic as Horrified? Repulsion deserves it.
Repulsion are playing the upcoming Power of the Riff East, joining on to the second day (9/2) with Sunn O))), Winter, Coffinworm, and more. Read our chat with Carlson below.
If you missed it, POTR recently added Hoax in place of Poison Idea, and tickets are on sale for Saturday and Sunday (now with a free screened poster for the event), OR you can purchase the newly released set of two-day passes that come with a free Southern Lord vinyl pack that contains an LP or 7″ and various other SL offerings.
Interview is below.
In these Power of the Riff lineups, Repulsion seems to serve as a bridge the more metal groups (Sunn O))), Winter, Pentagram) and the punkier bands (Off!, Negative Approach, Agnostic Front, etc.). What’s your thought on these diverse lineups?
We’ve been playing on bills like this since our inception. Out first ever gig was opening for hardcore bands. Back in the 80s we played with False Prophets, D.R.I., Corrosion of Conformity, Slayer, Dissonance. We grew up around the local influence of bands like Necros and Negative Approach. The Detroit area only had one really good metal band called Seduce. They were sort of a hair band but they were very heavy and influenced by Motorhead, NWOBHM. They did amazing covers of Dead Boys, Devo, T. Rex, Nine Nine Nine, etc. So, we had a really good, diverse education from local bands in addition to all of our favorite “name” acts that ranged from Priest and Maiden to Discharge and GBH. It all makes sense in my world. The ideology may be different from band to band but the situations are not that different. No one’s gonna roll up in a limo, ya know?
Scott Carlson at Maryland Deathfest 2011 (more by Fred Pessaro // BBG)
Repulsion has maintained a legacy pretty much on the strength of a small body of work. How do you reflect on Horrified now? Why do you think it’s held up?
I’m proud of the record because it came straight from our hearts, brains and hips. We made the record that we wanted to hear from our heroes. We had a very simple approach to creating our music. Whatever we were influenced by – speed, heaviness, noise, over the top lyrics – we wanted to take it further than anything we’d heard. It holds up because it is pure. That, I think, is what makes it timeless.
What do you remember of making Horrified? Were you actively trying to push limits and make one hell of a racket?
Yes, the “pushing of the limits,” so to speak, was very much intentional. It was pretty much our mantra. I remember feeling rushed in the studio because we didn’t have much money. The recording was self funded and the studio was in the engineer’s basement. It was the first time recording in a multi-track studio for all of us. Somehow, we managed to pull it out.
In particular, how did you get your bass tone? That intro on “Festering Boils” is nasty!
The distorted bass was always present due to the influence of Motorhead, Discharge and Venom. In the studio, we were laying down scratch tracks and I plugged my bass into a “name brand” distortion pedal and ran that directly into the board. It resulted in the crazy, bulldozer sound you hear on the album. One of those happy accidents!
Horrified is praised for its lo-fi sound. What makes a good, dirty sound? Can it be deliberate, or must it be natural?
I think the nasty sound comes from not only the distorted guitars and bass but also from the conviction with which the songs are played. If someone picks up Jimmy Page or Hendrix’s guitar and plays it through their amps, it will never sound like the real deal. There’s something in the physical makeup of those people that contributes greatly to the way they sound. Not that I’m comparing our accomplishments to those guys. You can certainly try to sound nasty but if you really are nasty it’s way more convincing!
Repulsion at The Power of The Riff 2010 (more by Adam L Murray)
The lyrics are very brusque, almost like if Discharge went on a binge of horror films. What were you trying to convey? What about the subjects of decay and death compel you to spew about them?
The lyrics are very much a product of my surroundings. Some songs are conveying real fears and emotion while others are just pure exploitative fun. When I was in grade school they still did air raid siren drills where you had to crawl under your desk and cover your head while the sirens wailed outside. This made the threat of nuclear annihilation seem very real. In addition, the splatter film movement was in full swing at the time with new classics popping up seemingly every other week – Zombie, Evil Dead, Re-Animator, The Gates of Hell, etc. Plus, I was reading Lovecraft, horror comics and listening to lots of Discharge and Crucifix! All of this had a profound impact on me that I still feel today.
Repulsion at Brooklyn Masonic Temple, 2009 (more by Justina Villanueva)
Repulsion are often credited with creating – or at least spearheading – grindcore. What do you make of the genre currently? What’s popping in your trunk nowadays?
I don’t really follow grindcore. Most of it is just too studio processed for me. Yes, it’s super brutal and extreme but I don’t hear a lot of soul in it. For me, Napalm Death are still the kings. In fact, I feel like they’ve actually improved their formula over the last several years. Nowadays, I listen to music in just about every genre. I’m a big fan of classic metal, punk, 70s hard rock, doom, progressive, psych, R&B, blues. Mostly old stuff. Even most of the newer bands I love harken back to an earlier era – In Solitude, Blood Ceremony, Black Breath, Uncle Acid, things like that.
Is there anything you miss about the days before Repulsion became a metal household name?
Youth! That and going out to buy records and knowing that every new release had the potential to completely rearrange the hierarchy. I don’t mean to sound jaded but it’s been a while since an album came along and completely changed the musical landscape.
You’ve expressed before how you’re not interested in recording new Repulsion music. Has that stance changed at all?
We are communicating more than ever and the lineup is really strong. If the material and motivation ever come together I think we could do something that would not tarnish our name. So yes, we have weakened our stance on the subject a little bit. However, we have nothing planned. One never knows….
How did Marissa come into the fold? What do you feel she brings to Repulsion?
She’s been a close, personal friend of both Matt and myself for many years. In addition, she’s a very good guitarist and a sick Repulsion freak! When Matt Harvey took his hiatus from playing in bands, we were left with a huge hole to fill. We wanted Marissa join us back then but she was busy sorting out here personal life. Once she had everything in order, we asked her again and since then she’s been sharing with us her amazing guitar skills and boundless enthusiasm! We are very happy to have her in the fold. It feels like a family.
Repulsion is in demand, given the reception of shows since reforming. Have you had any particular ridiculous offers you couldn’t accept?
Not really. We don’t want to play too much. The shows have to feel special for us. So, our acceptance of a gig offer is based as much on where it is, who’s playing and who’s paying rather than how much they’re paying. I don’t have the stamina for gigs that are just death metal for 12 hours. Events like Power of the Riff are very carefully curated and the acts are chose for other reasons than just “well, this shit fits together.” Having said that, if someone wants to make a really ridiculous offer we will consider!
Cathedral at Maryland Deathfest 2011 (more by Fred Pessaro // BBG)
In addition to Repulsion, you’re also in Cathedral now. Aside from the obvious tempo differences, how does playing in the two groups compare?
Both are great fun and I feel incredibly lucky to be able to do both. In Repulsion, I am the front man and usually the main point of focus. So, I feel more pressure to engage and please the audience. They usually make it pretty easy because our audiences are usually very high energy and “get” us. There’s always been a lot of underlying humor in Repulsion and most of our hardcore fans understand this. Our shows have a very light and upbeat atmosphere compared to most death metal bands. Cathedral have always been a favorite of mine. I played with them for two years back in the early 90s but had to quit because we were dropped by Columbia Records and I wasn’t in a position to move to the UK. When I perform live with them I try to stay back a bit and let their great front man, Lee Dorrian command the stage. They’re all great guys and they mad me feel very welcome when I returned last year. It’s been amazing riding out the final days of Cathedral with them. Also, the song and set lengths between Repulsion and Cathedral are like day and night!
More people have the opportunity to listen to Repulsion than ever – anyone with an internet connection can stream Horrified on Relapse’s bandcamp account. While some may lament that the music can be accessed easily, by no means is Repulsion – or most grindcore for that matter- accessible or palatable to most people. What’s your take on this duality?
It really is the same as when everyone bought records. Our record sold in minuscule quantities compared to major hit artists and it’s the same with internet streaming. If you go on Spotify or Pandora and type in Kelly Clarkson or Carly Rae Jepsen you are not going to stumble across anything by Watain or Cannibal Corpse. I have no problem with the accessibility of our music on the internet. Whether someone is stealing it or paying for it. Most people who steal it would never have bought it in the first place. Who knows, maybe they’ll listen to it and decide they must have it on vinyl or come to a gig and buy a shirt. I use the internet as a screening process before I go to a gig or buy a record by a band I’ve never heard.
Anything else you’d like to add?
Thanks for listening and please come out to see us in Brooklyn at Power of the Riff. We’ll show you a good time! HELLHAMMER!