an interview with Ringworm + “The Razor and the Knife” song stream
Cleveland's metallic hardcore vets Ringworm are one of the most consistent bands in their field. Working since the early '90s, Human Furnace, Matt Sorg and company have continued to churn out violent, riff-heavy gold with a distinctly midwestern, workmanlike focus on producing good work no matter the circumstances (lineup changes, label squabbles, Lebron's departure, what have you). I probably don't need to tell you much about the new Ringworm album Snake Church -- out July 29 via Relapse (pre-order) --if you're familiar with any of the band's output, you know what to expect, and Ringworm deliver on those expectations with all the panache of a band that knows what the fuck they're doing.
In Ringworm's chosen mode, consistency is a virtue, and this album rips in all the right ways. It's a riff machine, furious, smart, punishingly heavy, catchy and, weirdly enough, a pretty good bit of fun. Snake Church offers the particular satisfaction of hearing something just done right, and that's a rarer feeling than you might hope.
I caught up with Ringworm frontman Human Furnace to talk about the album and our premiere of the new song "The Razor and the Knife." The distinctive screamer and lone founding Ringworm member still with the group, Human Furnace embodies both the band's ferocious sound and their spirit of consistency and musical integrity. We talked about the new music, Cleveland, lineup changes, rock 'n' roll, the differences between metal and hardcore audiences, and plenty more. Listen to "The Razor and the Knife" and check out the interview below.
BV: Are you a Cavs fan?
Human Furnace: Yeah I guess so. I’m not a huge basketball guy but it’s definitely nice to have one of our teams win something for a change.
BV: Yeah, first time in 50 years or so.
HF: Something like that, yeah, I mean if I had my choice I’d pick the Indians to win the World Series but we’ll take what we can get here. It was pretty fucking crazy here yesterday. There was like a million and a half people packed into downtown for a celebration parade. I think people were pretty ready for something like that.
BV: Yeah and you’ve got the republican convention coming up.
HF: Yeah who knows with that man, that’s gonna be a fucking circus. It’s gonna be interesting to see what happens there. We’re pretty good at ruining stuff so, I mean yesterday went without a hitch, with a million and a half people in town there was hardly any violence, so I’m sure that someone or somebody will do something to fuck up the next thing that comes through here so, we’ll see. We’re good at ruining shit.
BV: Yeah should be crazy. So let’s talk about the new album; how was the recording, what’s new with this one?
HF: Well we don’t go into it doing anything different. We’re pretty simple, there’s just three dudes with guitars and then a drummer and then I scream over everything. Matt [Sorg, guitarist] writes some songs and then they record ‘em and then I write words and then I go in there and do my thing. So in a nutshell that’s pretty much what we’ve always done. I mean over the years we get a little bit better at what we do, I mean I’d like to think so. That process has kind of gotten streamlined. And plus we’ve been working with Ben Schigel for the past few records so, he knows us really well, like me in particular we work really well together, he knows what I do and we work real smooth together so it usually goes smooth. So really any problem with the recording process really has nothing to do with the recording process, usually it’s personal issues or you know, not that we’re fighting but like, the last record I was fucking sick as fuck so, that makes things an issue or someone can’t make it or, you know all that type of bullshit. But as far as the recording goes this one was pretty much business as usual, this one was pretty easy.
BV: Yeah, well it sounds awesome. So we’re premiering “The Razor and the Knife,” do you have anything specific to say about that song?
HF: Well, like almost all the shit that I sing about across almost every record, it usually deals with the same topics because, well why the hell not? You know, what else you gonna sing about? So that song, without going back and revisiting it, it’s mostly about depression and suicide and the battles therein, you know. So without getting too philosophical or deep with it, it’s about that. And like with all our songs really, I take a simple topic and how I look at it and how I feel about it, and I write about it but I really try to be creative with it and maybe make it a little more theatrical, so this way it’s not so blatant that someone can’t apply their own problems to something. ‘Cause I’ve written songs about one thing and then I have people come up to me and tell me their whole life story, why this song was so important to them, you know how much it meant to them, and I’m always like wow that’s weird because that song has nothing to do with any of your problems. But I mean that’s the beauty of it so, it’s cool.
BV: Yeah the guitar solo on that song is fucking awesome.
HF: Yeah it’s a good one isn’t it? They were like, ‘what song do you wanna premiere’ and I’m like yeah I like the solo on that one, it’s real classy right?
BV: Yeah it is
HF: Real smooth, it’s not like a ‘look what I can do on the guitar’ type thing, it’s catchy, that’s the kind of shit that I dig.
BV: So back when Hammer of the Witch came out, you kind of said something to the effect of you guys had been too metal for the hardcore people and too hardcore for the metal people, and you guys were psyched to go to Relapse from Victory because that would maybe help you find your audience more. So I just wanna know how that’s been now that you’re on your second album for Relapse.
HF: Yeah I mean it kinda played out exactly how I thought it would, I mean I still kinda feel the same way, you know that we’re a little bit too much for this and a little bit too much for that, but I almost hold that as a badge of honor. It’s kinda weird, like if you talk to your average basketball shorts-wearing type of hardcore kid, he’ll swear up and down that we’re like true honest hardcore. I mean, ok. But then you’ll talk to like a younger metal kid or even an older metal dude that just got hip to us through our last couple Relapse records they’ll be like, ‘yeah, sounds like crossover, they sound like Kreator,’ you know? They’re hearing what they want to hear in it, which is good, doesn’t really matter to me. People look at it in a lot of different ways and it’s all good. We’re all metalheads anyway, old skate-punk metalheads. When I was younger the hardcore scene wasn’t really as established or as popular or commercialized as it is now of course, or even ten or fifteen years ago. But I definitely think being on Relapse has been everything we hoped it would have been, in terms of the people who would never think to listen to us because we’re on Victory. Your average kid who has like a Bathory patch on his jean vest, you know he’s not gonna think to go to Victory to look for new bands.
BV: Yeah totally.
HF: And he’s not gonna get a chance to hear it. And he may love it, might be like ‘wow this is cool, it’s like old CoC, its crossover, there’s a Slayer riff here, a doom riff there, a dirty riff here,’ but he would never go on the Victory Records site to navigate through the sea of fucking haircuts and eyeliner to get to what we do. So being on Relapse has definitely exposed us I guess to a whole new audience.
BV: Yeah it makes sense for you guys to be on Relapse I think.
HF: It’s not like we weren’t trying. I mean after our second record for Victory we were very vocal about not wanting to be there anymore because their format had changed so drastically, and they were like ‘no no no, we know metal.’ And it was just like, c’mon dude let us go. But you know we had a contract and you gotta fulfill it so that’s what we did.
BV: You mentioned that the scene has changed, I mean you guys, and you in particular, have been doing this for a really long time. I know this is kind of a generic question but like, trying to set aside the obvious internet stuff, although that’s clearly hard to avoid, what are some of the biggest differences between then and now?
HF: Well, I mean, if you look at the bell curve of it...are you talking like in the hardcore scene or more the music scene in general?
BV: I guess more general.
HF: Well, It’s weird. I mean as much as things have been combined, like genres are combining and that’s a constant thing, you know that’s always been happening. For instance, when we started, back when we put our demo out, we were basically trying to blend early Earache bands with shit like Agnostic Front. We were kind of blending stuff back then, and it’s weird, it was different back then. Now, if you listen to like thrash metal bands or metal bands from the 80s, you’re like yeah that’s metal. Well, if you listen to hardcore bands now, musically those are all just straight-up 80s metal riffs, just played by kids with short hair, or now long hair because long hair is maybe a thing now, you know wearing a jean vest is now more of a fashion statement than anything. But everything’s all blended together, as much as the music and everything blends together there’s more labels now. You try to label everything, you know this is blackened crusted doom, you know, there’s like prefixes before every label. Ugh, I don’t know. I guess the more it changes the more it stays the same. I’m probably not the best person to comment on it because I don’t really see too much of it. I’m kinda older and I kinda work and do my thing, you know I work on my band, I mean I guess I can tell you how it’s changed since I was in my mid-20s, 30s, when you’re really out there on the scene doing your thing. But I think a lot of good stuff has gotten ruined by fashion, and that could be said across the board, but there’s something pure about something that comes out and it’s really exciting, no matter what genre it is, it’s new, and it’s underground, and that ties into what you were saying about the internet and how there’s money to be made off of stuff. So things become commercialized so fast, and a lot of bands start off now looking at blueprints of other bands like, how to get from A to B. Like first, we get a demo, then get on one of these big tours, and the days of just like, not really knowing what you’re doing and just having fun, that’s a rarity these days because you want to get to that prize. So you want to be commercialized that quick, you want to be the hip band, you want to be popular, you want to be on the scene, so you do things to make that happen and it kind of waters things down. You know, it’s just kinda weird these days, but what isn’t I guess.
BV: Talking about how you guys have always combined stuff, it’s funny the first thing that came up when I googled you is the thing you wrote for Vice about how you love the Foo Fighters.
HF: Yeah, that, ha.
BV: Which was really good, actually. And you’ve also talked a lot about Kiss and more traditionally rock ‘n’ roll stuff, and it kind of made me listen to the album differently, notice a lot of kind of fun little touches that seem kind of rock ‘n’ roll to me, is that weird to say given that you guys are obviously still pretty brutal?
HF: Well I mean, yeah, Matt‘s kind of the same mindset as I am, for the most part we’re kind of kindred spirits as far as, age, where we grew up, you’re kind of stuck where you’re at. You kind of like one thing and that’s it. I’m a little more liberal with what I like, I also like new music, and honestly I rarely listen to music in the vein of what we play. Like if we hung out for a day we’d probably be listening to some of the weirdest shit ever. But Matt’s a purist in the true sense of the word, but we both like have a huge appreciation for, it kind of sounds cheesy, but like the spirit of rock ‘n’ roll. I mean you can play anything and you can do it really stern and robotic and quote unquote metal, but I think a lot of the fun and the passion comes from just wanting to rock out. And that maybe comes through when you play live, I mean it does for me, I’m just ready to rock, I’m not up there to shred or like, get brutal, it’s gotta be a release. It’s rock ‘n’ roll, that’s what it all boils down to, it’s all rock ‘n’ roll. So maybe that comes into what you’re hearing in the songs, I mean basically Matt plays guitar and I scream and yell over it. Really no posturing or posing, just give me a microphone and I’ll fucking scream as loud as I can.
BV: Yeah I just thought the album was really fun I guess. I was a bit surprised.
HF: Wow, I’ve never heard anyone describe us that way, that’s great.
BV: Yeah there’s this one riff right at the end of "Innocent Blood" where everything drops out and there’s just that guitar riff, I kind of laughed out loud the first time I heard that.
HF: Ha, that’s good.
BV: So I also wanted to ask about that Brain Tentacles split you guys did. You covered Venom, that was also sick, tell me how that came about.
HF: Aaron, well all the guys in Brain Tentacles, Aaron [Dallison] and Bruce [Lamont] and Dave Witte, we’ve all been friends with those guys for a really long time, like Ringworm toured with Yakuza years ago when Bruce was doing that a lot, and Aaron was in Ringworm at the time, and Aaron knows a lot of people from his days in Keelhaul, which is a super under-appreciated band.
BV: Yeah they’re great.
HF: It’s one of those bands where, if we’re on tour, everywhere we went someone would bring up Keelhaul. It’s a very popular underground band that could’ve done a lot more if they weren’t so fucking dysfunctional, as bands often are. But Aaron lives really close to me and I see him quite often, and we were just talking about, you know, we should do something, let’s just put out a 7” and get Brain Tentacles on it. And he was kind of apprehensive about it because they’re such a strange band, you know, they’re an odd band. And that doesn’t bother me ‘cause I listen to odd shit, so I’m like I just think it’s cool, let’s just fucking do it. So I don’t know where the idea came from, but Ringworm always wanted to do a Venom song, so we were just like we’ll record this Venom song and you guys record something, and Aaron’s a huge Frost fan as we all are, and he was just like we’ll do one of those. So I’m like, sweet I’d love to hear you guys do something weird like that. Then once we did it, pretty much I did all the packaging for it and all the artwork for it, and we approached Dom at A389. He doesn’t do too much for the label, he just kinda does stuff here and there, and I’m good friends with him, so he was just like anytime you guys wanna do something weird and silly I’ll do it. So, sweet, you wanna do this? And it’s kinda cool because we’re on one side and you flip it over and you listen to those weirdos, a lot of people are, I mean like Aaron was apprehensive he was like ‘people are gonna hate it,’ but I was like I don’t know man, people like getting weird with it. And I think people are kind of appreciating the weirdness of it so, it’s pretty cool. It was a fun thing to do, of course when you do something like that that’s kind of a rip-off thing as far as packaging goes and all that shit, you’re gonna get a lot of purists being like ‘what the fuck man, why would you do that.’ But like, it’s all done in fun. I made sure to do it in a way that was obviously respectful, not making fun of them, a complete homage to both of those bands because we both grew up on ‘em. And everytime I post anything or write anything about it, usually the last thing I say is, don’t listen to this 7”, go listen to Venom. I mean we just did this for fun, and now that you listened to this that’s great, now go listen to the real stuff. Go listen to Frost because that’s where it’s at.
BV: I also wanted to ask about, I mean you mentioned in passing the bands that didn’t work because they were so dysfunctional. You guys have had a lot of turnover over the years but have had a relatively solid lineup for the past couple albums.
HF: Yeah, more or less. I mean the past two albums, we switched our drummer out. It’s kind of weird for us because as much as we’ve been guilty or accused of so many lineup changes, the one thing that’s stayed constant is myself obviously and our guitar player Matt. So as much as we change member’s we’ve had a constant from our second record on, the same songwriter, Matt writes 99% of our songs. So, we’ve changed drummers, that changes the feel of records a bit, and now we’ve got Danny and Chris, and then, we’ve also had Ryan, who’s been our constant fill-in, because there have been times when neither of our drummers could tour, at a time when we kind of needed to tour, and he’s always been there for us. He’s done more touring than any other drummer that’s actually been on our records. So when it came time for this new one, Danny’s health was kind of shot at the time, he had surgery, his knees were busted, and he was trying to get on with real life stuff, work, and he was like well, I’ll record the record but I don’t know if I can tour. And we were like, why should we have someone on the record who can’t tour. So Ryan was just like, why don’t I just finally be in the band already, and we were like “that’s cool.” And that worked out good, and I think maybe the fact that we do change, we’ve had different bass players, we had Mike Lare who’s fucking awesome, but he kinda got tired of the road life, which is understandable, and then we were able to get Ed Stephens who’s a complete, absolute monster on the bass. And he’s a local guy we’ve been friends with him, I don’t know if you’ve ever seen us play.
HF: Most eyes are on him, because he’s a complete monster.
BV: He’s got that bass solo on the new album that’s really sick.
HF: Yeah, he’s just, he’s the one true musician in the band, he went to school, he teaches, plays in a million different styles of bands. He’s legit. But as much as it’s always been me and Matt, I think maybe changing the bass player here or the drummer there has actually kinda benefitted us. We still keep the same feeling, the same direction with our music because we have the same primary songwriter and singer, but I think the little changes here and there make each record its own. I don’t think we’ve ever made a record with the same lineup as the one before it, although I could be wrong. But I think those subtle changes make each record similar, which, we’re not trying to reinvent the wheel when we do every record, we just kind of do our thing. But I think the subtle changes make us kind of progress at the same time, we’re not completely changing our sound but it makes each record its own separate entity. Which is cool.
BV: Yeah actually the one time I saw you guys was at the Joe’s Barber Shop party in Chicago a couple years ago.
HF: Oh shit yeah was that on Christmas or something?
BV: Yeah, that was really funny.
HF: Yeah that was something huh?
BV: Yeah how’d you get roped into that, do you know the Joe’s guys?
HF: You know, the dude that was hosting it, I guess he was a big fan, so we were asked to do it, and it was like, it’s a party. And I think at the time, I think Black Tusk was going to play it, then of course they had a death in their band unfortunately. So when we got there we kind of looked at the venue and we were like ‘this is weird.’ We’re kind of used to playing like, a few doors down, but they were like yeah it’s just you guys tonight. It was a lot of people dressed up all fancy for like holiday parties and stuff, but it was fun to do. We don’t take ourselves so seriously that we’d be like no, we cannot do this, we’re professionals we will not do this. We had fun, we got paid real good, we ate, we played pretty much everything that we knew, we played a shit ton of songs. We’ve done stranger shows that’s for sure, and we’ve done shows that are a whole lot worse. Even being as known as we are, and being around as long as we have, every so often there’s a fucking shit show that we do that makes us go ‘why the fuck are we still doing this?’ You know what I mean
BV: Yeah, sure.
HF: You know we’ll be in some town and there’s fucking five people there and you’re just kind of like, ‘ugh.’ But you know then the next day is great and you kinda forget those ones and you move on and laugh about it. Yeah but that was a fun time.
BV: Yeah Joe’s Barber Shop is pretty legendary in Chicago. That guy makes his own wine, you go get your hair cut and you can have some of his homemade wine.
HF: Nice, we didn’t get any of that.
BV: That’s too bad.
HF: I shoulda put that in the rider. If I had known he made his own wine I woulda put at least a couple bottles on the rider. Next time.
BV: Next time. So anything else you wanna say to people about the record or plans or whatever?
HF: Yeah, well, hopefully everyone digs the new record, not that I care (laughs), if people like it or not, because that’s not really the way to go about it. But I hope people dig it, I think it’s pretty good. It’s like your kids, you know, they’re all your kids and you love ‘em all but some you like better than others I guess. And then we’re hitting the road, we’ll be out on the road in October pushing the new record for about 3 weeks or so. After that, Europe’s in the crosshairs, we hadn’t been able to get over there for the last record, we were doing so much stuff in the states for the past couple years, it just kinda kept going and going, which is good, but we didn’t have time to get to Europe before we started wanting to do a new record. So this time we’re gonna go over there and we’ll be able to play a lot of new stuff, lot of old stuff, little bit of this little bit of that. And then after that, come January, I’m sure we’ll be back out on the road again, so we’ll be doing the whole thing. So, yeah, thanks for your time man